Archive for February 16th, 2009

Non-news Travels Fast

| February 16, 2009 | Reply
Non-news Travels Fast

I was reading about a couple of meteors (bolides) spotted in the last couple of days. One point made by BadAstronomy is that misinformation spread much faster than fact. We discuss this sort of issue regularly, using terms like “counterknowledge” and “agnotology”.

In this case, last week’s news about two satellites colliding gently about halfway out to geostationary orbit got muddled in with these meteor reports. Note: Gently in astronomical terms means a collision as if only one ton of TNT had been detonated in them. There may be pieces large enough to see if they eventually drift low enough to burn up at night. But not like the fireballs seen in the last couple of days. The entire satellites were not fast or large enough to glow like the recent events.

But Twitter was apparently abuzz with discussion of the (non-happened) satellite re-entry. BA clearly explains why this is silly. But the rumor is still propagating. Unfortunately, several news outlets initially reported it as fact.

It’s like the virus warnings (hoaxes) that well-meaning acquaintances send me about once a month. Most of their dire “this is real!” warnings were documented at Snopes between 3 and 10 years ago! I usually politely respond with the link to the particular case at Snopes, and suggest they add Snopes to their Bookmarks/Favorites.

Share

Read More

Facebook addicts

| February 16, 2009 | 5 Replies
Facebook addicts

Over the past week, on two separate occasions, middle-aged adults spontaneously blurted out to me that they had recently become Facebook “addicts.” Today, I stumbled across this delightful essay by Tara Styles, who has thought deeply about her own recent Facebook addiction. Styles’ writing style is engaging and you’ll enjoy her many observations about Facebook.

I am apparently immune to Facebook, given that I am already obsessed with writing for a blog. But Facebook is apparently catching fire, based on the rapidly growing number of times I hear it mentioned on the streets. Sometimes, it makes you wonder whether the people mentioning Facebook so often would rather be at their keyboards than talking with you in person.

From what I’ve seen and heard, Facebook is being used as both a tool to rekindle real friendships but also as a means to concoct the illusion that you have real friends (when you actually don’t). I’m not a critic of Facebook per se. As I see it, Facebook is merely a tool and, like so many other tools (knives, alcohol or religion, for example), it can be used or abused. But perhaps Facebook is more addictive than some other tools. Certainly, as a communications tool, it seems to be more addictive to most people than a piece of paper and a pen.

Share

Read More

Creationists blather their way through Darwin Day

| February 16, 2009 | 5 Replies
Creationists blather their way through Darwin Day

If you visit Ken Ham’s creationist site, you’ll see an article titled, “Did humans really evolve from ape-like creatures?” Here’s a key concern raised in this article:

Perhaps the most bitter pill to swallow for any Christian who attempts to “make peace” with Darwin is the presumed ape ancestry of man.

It’s difficult to believe the ignorance displayed by this sentence. Why can’t creationists understand that not only did humans evolve from other ape-like creatures (the scientific evidence is abundant and irrefutable), but that humans are apes. Check the features listed here:

The similarities can be seen throughout our bodies. For instance, humans and the African apes all lack external tails and have hands with a thumb that is sufficiently separate from the other fingers to allow them to be opposable for precision grips. Humans are also sexually dimorphic–males are 5-10% larger on average and have greater upper body muscular development. Like chimpanzees and bonobos, we are omnivorous. We kill other animals for food in addition to eating a wide variety of plants. Internally, our bodies are even more similar to the great apes. We have essentially the same arrangement of internal organs and bones. We share several important blood types. We also get many of the same diseases.

Share

Read More

Barack Obama extols the virtues of Abraham Lincoln and that other guy

| February 16, 2009 | Reply
Barack Obama extols the virtues of Abraham Lincoln and that other guy

In today’s speech, Barack Obama extolled the virtues of Abraham Lincoln, mentioning Charles Darwin along the way. It’s a terrific speech articulating the balance between individual liberties and the common good. A key quote: What if we were “consumed with small things–petty things–when were were called upon to do great things.”

To hear an American President actually mentioning the work of Charles Darwin in a good light, listen in starting about the 6-minute mark.

Share

Read More