Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Global Warming, Religion and Politics...

..all wrapped up in a neat package (It is Christmas, after all!):

Science debate 2008

Given all the inanity that has gone on around belief, the bible and evolution in the presidential debates recently, it seems the time has come for a debate on science policy. It is this that will enable us to look forward as a nation and not backward to the days of myth, fairy tales and legend, which is what most of the candidates seem to want to base national policy on.

With this end in mind, a group of key Americans, including scientists and congressmen have called for a debate on science.

Their mission:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

I don't hold out much hope of the debate being held, since most of the candidates are ignorant of science, but you can add your voice to the crowd here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Speaking of Europe...

Came across this while looking for a graphic for the last post. I think it deserves it's own (there's lots more good stuff over at Russell's Teapot).

(click for larger image)

Who believes this stuff....I mean, really?

Today was another day where you just have to shake your head and wonder what most of the American public is smoking.

First up we had a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who seems to be a relatively reasonable guy as far as Republican candidates go, trying to twist himself into a pretzel (again) to pander to the religious nutjob right, for whom Mormonism is an even wackier faith than theirs, if you can believe that. Here's what he had to say:

"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom."
Really? Freedom requires religion? since when? Europe seems to be doing pretty well without relying on religion. Religion requires freedom? Huh. I'm sure the folks in Iran or Saudi Arabia agree with that completely.

There's a nice rebuttal to all of this crap in the Washington Post editorial:
"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government," Mr. Romney said. But not all Americans acknowledge that, and those who do not may be no less committed to the liberty that is the American ideal."
Speaking of the election, Romney is trying to counter Mike Huckabee, who, as a baptist minister is not shy about promoting his religion. Fred Thompson has also weighed in:
"I'm OK with the Lord, and the Lord is OK with me, as far as I can tell."
Great. So now another Republican talks to imaginary beings. That's another one crossed off my list. Look, it's one thing to pander to your base to get elected, it's quite another to be so desperate, unsubtle and to frankly look a little crazy while doing it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Winter has arrived.

Here's a shot of my driveway this morning.

It's a good thing I work from home. It's pretty unusual for this time of year here to get this much lake effect snow in early December. The wind isn't usually blowing in this direction. It's probably time to service the snow blower.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

...to all you US citizens out there. It's a holiday we can all get behind (well, all of us except the Native Americans, I would suspect), nice and non-religious. Kind of like Christmas.

From Daniel Dennett in the Washington Post on being thankful:

When I gaze in wonder at a starry sky, or the waves crashing on the granite shores of Maine, I am not just thrilled to be alive on this wonderful planet; I am grateful. But to whom?

There is no person who created the universe, or the planet, or the biosphere, so there is really nobody to thank for that.

(A God who is not a person is not an appropriate recipient of thanks. Or should we thank the Law of Gravity and the Second Law of Thermodynamics for all they make possible? I don’t think they care, do you?)

But there is a suitably responsible cause of my health, my security, my freedom from want and from fear, and it is composed of, and the achievement of, persons. I can thank goodness–the wonderful fabric of excellence created by individuals working together in human civilization to make this planet a better place.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Maybe sacrificing a goat will help?

Oh dear. 

Just watch this - Georgia governor Sonny Perdue praying for rain on the steps of the capitol in Atlanta, trying to end the drought.

Yeah, that's going to work.

Last time I checked - still no rain in Georgia.

Rewind back a few thousand years ago, and the Maya and Native Americans were pretty much doing similar kinds of rain dances, but they seemed to think sacrifices helped too. Look how far we've come. 

Sacrifices are silly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Golden Compass

The new movie based on Philip Pullmans first book in the "His Dark Materials" Trilogy, "The Golden Compass" is due on December 7th. Predictably, it's drawing the ire of Christians already, who have not seen the movie.

Philip Pullman is openly atheist, and he admits that "His Dark Materials" was largely inspired by his response to C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia", calling the series "one of the most ugly and poisonous things" he's ever read.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has called the film and books:
"These books denigrate Christianity, thrash the Catholic Church and sell the virtues of atheism,"

While we can argue about whether the focus of the books is denigration of the Catholic church, what's wrong with selling the virtues of atheism? Sounds like a good idea to me.

My son loves the books, and we'll be some of the first in line to see the movie.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Leopardy Goodness

Not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I'm a big Mac fan (not the hamburger, the computer). So, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my copy of Leopard the other day, not without a little trepidation, because the blogosphere was abuzz with FUD about the new OS.

Not surprisingly, everything went swimmingly with the upgrade, even on my less than new, barely above the minimum specs ibook.Leopard desktopThis points out, I think, a big issue with blogs and, more especially, commenters to blogs. As always, the squeaky wheel get the oil, and I would assume that the majority of upgraders have, like me, had no problems with the update. Those that have (and there are legitimate reasons why), have been very vocal. For an example of the hype, see the Macalope.

The upshot? Don't always believe what you read on the interwebs.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do you believe in Ghosts?

....seems like the "This Old House" crew does.

It's also appropriate that I'm posting this on Halloween, I guess.

I couldn't believe that this article made it to the front page of cnn.com last week, but amazingly, it did.

In my line of work, I often deal with people who have (or claim to have) ghosts in their houses. Inevitably, most of them ask me what they should do about it. Should they move out? Should they talk to the specters, or just ignore them?

But the most common question I get is whether or not they should contact a ghost hunter to come to their houses and investigate.

The whole article goes on like this. A factual, how-to article on ridding ghosts from your house.

I know most of the US believes in magical sky fairies, but I guess I've not been keeping up on other non-existent phenomena quite as well.

It has to be a joke, right?

Friday, October 26, 2007

More Pat Condell

I've blogged about Pat Condell before. Here's his latest, as he attempts to find something good to say about religion:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Atheism gaining ground in the USA?

A recent BBC report seems to indicate that it may be.

I think we've been seeing in general a resurgence of rational thought in the US, following a decade or more of extreme religious zealotry from the religious right. Maybe we're heading back to where mainstream America ought to be - a secular state, with no place for religion in politics or education.

Bad Week for England

It's not been a good week to be an English sports fan.

First, the soccer team loses to Russia, a result that almost certainly rules us out of the Euro 2008 finals next summer in Switzerland/Austria. Then on Saturday the rugby team lost the World Cup final 15-6 to South Africa. Finally, Lewis Hamilton managed to lose a 12-point lead with 2 races to go to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Formula 1.

It's just not our week, I guess.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Maybe the water was cold?

I've posted a few times on the hypocrisy of the evangelical ministry, but I can't even begin comment on this one.

An Alabama minister who died in June of "accidental mechanical asphyxia" was found hogtied and wearing two complete wet suits, including a face mask, diving gloves and slippers, rubberized underwear, and a head mask, according to an autopsy report.
The community seems stunned, but is not jumping to an conclusions just yet.
Church officials issued a press release asking community members to "please refrain from speculation" about what led to Aldridge's demise, adding that, "we will begin the healing process under the strong arm of our Savior, Jesus Christ."
I wouldn't even know where to begin to speculate.

Anti-Creationist Cartoons

Surfing around the interweb the other day, I came across this collection of cartoons attacking creationism. They're all good for a chuckle. My favorite (click to enlarge):creationism cartoon
You can pretty much sum up every creationist argument with this one flow chart.

Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize

It was announced this morning in Norway that Al Gore has won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Congratulations Al!

This makes it even more of a travesty the he was not elected President in the 2000 election. Who knows how much better off we'd be as a country and a planet if he'd not been denied the presidency, despite winning the popular vote.

To celebrate, go out and buy or watch An Inconvenient Truth.

Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Young People flocking from Christianity..

Well, looks like reason may win the day after all. A new survey from the Barna Group, a christian research institution, indicates that many young people are turning away from the church:

A new study by The Barna Group conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds shows that a new generation is more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago.
What's more,
One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).
I think the biggest issues here are the intrusions into politics by evangelicals - strongly aligning god with GOP is a huge turnoff for young people - and the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders (Ted Haggard etc.)

Either way, the chart is going in the right direction.

So, we just need to wait for all the old christians to die off :-)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Happy Sputnik Day

On October 4th, 1957, Sputnik launched the space age.

sputnikIt was a tiny probe, but had a huge impact. Just 12 short years afterwards, there would be a man on the moon. It's amazing to think about. In future centuries, it will be one of the watershed moments in human history. The Bad Astronomer has a nice write up about it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sanity in the Media.

The New York Times wrote a nice piece yesterday on the film "Expelled" - a controversial work which sets out to establish that scientists who promote "Intelligent" Design are being ostracized from academia.

What's interesting here is not the old re-hashing of discredited ideas, or even that Ben Stein narrates, or even that there's such a controversy about how real scientists like Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and PZ Myers were misled into being interviewed for the film (see here for some background), no.

What's really interesting that this is the first time in a long time that I can remember that the mainstream media hasn't pandered to every crackpot idea under the sun. It's refreshing to read that:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.” (emphasis mine)
Finally! The Times has the guts to call it like it is.

Eating Stars for Lunch.

It's been a while since I've posted on astronomy, but this is a good one.

Observers using the Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites have discovered a weird binary system - a neutron star devouring a nearby planet sized mass.

neutron star binaryArtist's Impression of neutron star system

The planet-sized object's minimum mass is only about 7 times the mass of Jupiter. But instead of orbiting a normal star, this low-mass body orbits a rapidly spinning pulsar. It orbits the pulsar every 54.7 minutes at an average distance of only about 230,000 miles (slightly less than the Earth-Moon distance).
"This object is merely the skeleton of a star," says co-discoverer Craig Markwardt of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The pulsar has eaten away the star’s outer envelope, and all the remains is its helium-rich core."
Astronomers postulate that the original system contained one very massive star, and one between one and three solar masses. The more massive star was very short-lived and ended it's life in a supernova explosion, leaving behind the neutron star.

Then, as the smaller star began to expand into a red giant, the neighboring neutron star's gravitational pull got a hold of it and started to pull material off onto the neutron star.

pulsar close binary
Today, the two objects are so close to each other than the neutron star’s powerful gravity produces a tidal bulge on its companion, siphoning off gas that flows into a disk that surrounds the neutron star. The flow eventually becomes unstable and dumps large quantities of gas onto the neutron star, causing an X-ray outburst. The neutron star has reduced the mass of it's companion to planetary sizes.

Once again, the quote "The universe is not only weirder than we imagine, it's weirder than we can imagine" applies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Quick plug...

...for the day job. We've started a new blog over here that touches on what I do every day - check it out if you're into developing software applications.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Weeping painting a fake (surprise!)

I caught this brief mention in Time magazine last week in the "Milestones" section:

FOR TWO DECADES, PILGRIMS flocked to the Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco, Texas, to lay eyes on what founder Samuel Greene Jr. and his fellow monks claimed was a miracle: a painting of the Virgin Mary that wept tears of myrrh. In 2000, after a fellow monk was convicted of indecency with a male monastic student, Greene also pleaded guilty to indecency. When the compound was closed, investigators found eyedroppers and bottles of rosewater used to fake the tears that prompted donations. Last year Greene confessed to the ruse, and his sexual relations with teenage students, to his probation officer. Greene, who died after taking medications, was 63. His death is under investigation.
Really, is anyone surprised? I would have thought that it's obvious that all of these crying/bleeding statues/paintings are either faked or are common, easily explained natural phenomena. Trying to cram as much irony as possible into the event, the fakers are also monks who were found to be sexual predators. I'm becoming more and more surprised when hypocrisy isn't a part of any religious article.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Atheists are everywhere...

While we're pretending to be Entertainment Weekly (see post below), I thought I'd mention how often it seems that we atheists are popping up, quite openly in mainstream media these days. It's not just Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, but folks from other walks of life too. For example, Jodie Foster is quite open about her atheism in a recent issue of EW also, and Cillian Murphy has been open about his conversion during the movie Sunshine.

It's good to see atheism becoming a subject that people have no problem admitting or talking about. Oh, and remember to see Contact.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Rules for Awards acceptance......

Apparently, there are new rules for awards acceptance speeches. As of last week, the only reason anybody wins an award is because Jesus helped them. No, there's no talent or hard work involved. God did it.

How do we know these new rules? Because Kathy Griffin dared to say at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards that:

"A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus," an exultant Griffin said, holding up her statuette. "Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."
Sounds OK, right? Well not according to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. He characterized the quip as "hate speech" and on CNN said that it was worse than racism and akin to what Don Imus did in insulting the Rutgers basketball team. What's more, when the awards are broadcast, the remarks will be censored.

We're moving one step closer to a theocracy here. Kathy Griffin makes one statement of fact at an awards show, and it's censored. "Blasphemy" is now not allowed on network TV. It's a sad day when a simple factual statement - that Jesus had nothing to do with winning an award - is associated with real hate speech. Looks like we can chalk up another victory in the war on terror to religious nuts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I want one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jesus and Dogfighting....

Michael Vick recently said that through his dogfighting, he had "found Jesus". Quote:

"I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God."
A couple of things here. First - Jesus shows up at dogfights? Who knew!

Second, and more seriously, I'm constantly amazed at how repentant people are after they've been caught, but never before. If they'd not been captured, they wouldn't have thought twice about apologizing, or saying things like:
"I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least."
So.....was he also ashamed and disappointed for the decade or so he was running an organized dog fighting kennel before he was caught? No. What's more laughable is bringing Jesus into this - where was Jesus when Vick was killing the dogs? Was he betting on the fights? Is Jesus only around to minimize prison sentences? As willing PR for criminals? Shouldn't he be intervening before criminal activity takes place?

I tell you, religion constantly amazes me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A real shooting star

This image from Nasa is amazing. It shows Mira, a star in the constellation Cetus. Turns out that Mira is a giant red star, and has been periodically shedding it's atmosphere as it moves along the main sequence to becoming a white dwarf, a path that our Sun will eventually take. What's cool about this though is that Mira has and extremely high speed relative to the interstellar medium - about 130 kilometers per second (about 80 miles per second). In the Interstellar medium is gas and dust, basically a thin fog floating among the stars. As Mira moves through this fog, the gas it is shedding blown backwards, leaving a long tail behind it, and resulting in the image you see below:

Now, you can't see this in visible light, but the these images were taken in the ultraviolet, which means the gas is emitting UV radiation. The images were taken by the Galaxy Explorer (GalEx) mission. You can see the differences in the image below (top is UV, bottom is visible, where Mira looks like a regular star.

This is why astronomy is so cool!

I hope they're not using Windows.

Researchers at Oxford University have concluded, given a couple of reasonable assumptions, that we're all just a simulation. Philosopher Nick Bostrom has worked out the numbers, and it's pretty conclusive.

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

So, it turns out that there may be a God - it's just that he's a nerd playing Second Life v20, a thousand years from now. Who knew?

Friday, August 10, 2007

You can't take the sky from me...

.....There's no place I can be,
Since I found Serenity.
There's a new Collector's Edition of Serenity coming out next week. If you're not familiar with Serenity, or the too-soon canceled Firefly that preceded it, now's your chance to get in on the action (and, who knows - maybe there's a chance for a sequel?)


Life, but not as we know it...

Life will find a way. That's the message from a new study in the New Journal of Physics that posits lifelike structures may form from inorganic substances in space. An international team has discovered that under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust can become organized into helical structures. These structures can then interact with each other in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and life itself.

Computer models were created to predict the behaviors of inorganic molecules in a plasma,
a state of matter common in space where electrons are torn from atoms leaving behind charged particles. As the plasma becomes polarized as the charges separate, the molecules self-organize into corkscrew structures. These structures are also charged, and attract one another. But there's more:

...they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers. They can, for instance, divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of the original structure. These new structures can also interact to induce changes in their neighbours and they can even evolve into yet more structures as less stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma.
According to V.N. Tsytovich of the General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, working with colleagues in Germany and Australia:
"These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," says Tsytovich, "they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve".
Finding life that evolved in a completely different way from life here on earth would be a huge step forward, and further refutes the arguments of creationists. It opens doors to contemplating myriad forms of life in the universe, in many different environments, and makes the discovery of life more probable outside of a narrow range of conditions on earth-like planets. Stay tuned!

This is sad....

The Yangtze River Dolphin may be extinct, according to Samuel Turvey, a conservation biologist at the Zoological Society of London, who took part in the latest, intensive six week search of the freshwater dolphin's native range in the Yangtze River in China that failed to find any evidence for the baiji for the first time:

He said the dolphin's demise -- which resulted from overfishing, pollution and lack of intervention -- might serve as a cautionary tale and should spur governments and scientists to act to save other species verging on extinction.

"Ours is the first scientific study which didn't find any," he said in a telephone interview. "Even if there are a few left we can't find them and we can't do anything to stop their extinction."
This is the first major cetacean species to go extinct directly at human hands, despite significant publicity over the years. Tellingly, the fate of Lindsay Lohan has gotten more play in the media over the last couple of weeks than the poor baiji.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A is for Atheist

So, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for All That Is Good And Right In The World Reason and Science has come up with the Out Campaign to allow

individuals to let others know they are not alone. It can also be a nice way of opening a conversation and help to demolish the negative stereotypes of atheists. Let the world know that we are not about to go away and that we are not going to allow those that would condemn us to push us into the shadows.
The Symbol of the Out campaign is the "Scarlet Letter" A that you see reproduced on the right of this blog. There's also T-shirts that you can buy that allow you to express your atheism in public.

Understandably, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week in the atheist community, because getting a bunch of us together to agree on anything is, as people have so ably pointed out, much like herding cats. For differing viewpoints, see Pharyngula and The Island of Doubt. The main problem seems to be that "coming out" as atheist has many of the same issues that coming out as gay had for many years - the potential to jeopardize careers, families and friends. Also, atheists are not a uniform demographic - the only thing we have in common is that we actually think. Dawkins tries to address the controversy in his post here.

The bottom line is if you're comfortable with your atheism and want to help to raise the profile of atheism in your community go for it, but there are understandably those who fear retribution. No-one is saying you have to join in - it's your choice, as it should be.

Einstein's Fish

Here's something to do while you're whiling away those long hours at work. It's called Einstein's Fish, and it's a puzzle.

This brainteaser, reportedly written by Einstein is difficult and Einstein said that 98% of the people in the world could not figure it out. Which percentage are you in?

There are five houses in a row in different colors. In each house lives a person with a different nationality. The five owners drink a different drink, smoke a different brand of cigar and keep a different pet, one of which is a Walleye Pike.

The question is-- who owns the fish?

Go to this page for more details on the multinational street of drinkers, and, ultimately, the answer. I am proud to say I worked it out, but I did need a pencil and paper and silence for ten minutes :-)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More GalaxyZoo!

The folks at Galaxy Zoo (see my previous post) sent out an update today on their progress so far:

To date, unbelievably, 80,000 of you have viewed and classified more than 10 million images of galaxies. Our initial target of having each galaxy (there are
a million in our initial sample from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey) viewed once is more than done, but we still need your help. Our NEW target is to have each and every galaxy classified by 20 separate users.
Obviously, with more people looking at a galaxy, the better statistics they get on the classification. It won't be too long, I think, before they achieve their goal. In the meantime, here are a couple more cool images of galaxies I've been assigned to analyze in the last few weeks:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

BBC Horizon - War on Science

For some reason, this video made it to the front page of Digg today, even though it's over a year old. Still, it's an excellent overview of the "debate" between Evolution and Intelligent Design, including all your favorite good guys like Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough. Horizon begins by going into detail about Intelligent Design, before demolishing the arguments pretty thoroughly. I found the full video on Google Video.

I'm not sure anything this in depth or well done would make it onto TV here in the US.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

God and Voting

Here we go again. An article in yesterday's New York Times shows US voter's reactions to candidates with certain traits, and whether they would be more or less likely to vote for them. As usual, atheists rank dead last, with 63% less likely to vote for someone who doesn't believe in God.(click for larger version)

This puts us behind groups like homosexuals, muslims, drug users and adulterers.

What's really interesting, is that 3% are more likely to vote for someone who has no college education, so apparently really don't want to see educated people running the country. My guess is that they'd be voting for Christians too.

I know! I know! God did it!.......

Saw this on the 'net last week. You know it's going to be used by creationists as proof of the flood. A paper published in Nature last week proposes that:

...a significant flood event eroded a network of large ancient valleys on the floor of the English Channel.
Of course, the creationists will only read that part, and not the following sections of the abstract (or, let's face it, the whole paper). Reading further:
...we analyse a new regional bathymetric map of part of the English Channel derived from high-resolution sonar data, which shows the morphology of the valley in unprecedented detail. We observe a large bedrock-floored valley that contains a distinct assemblage of landforms, including streamlined islands and longitudinal erosional grooves, which are indicative of large-scale subaerial erosion by high-magnitude water discharges. Our observations support the megaflood model, in which breaching of a rock dam at the Dover Strait instigated catastrophic drainage of a large pro-glacial lake in the southern North Sea basin.
Apparently there were two separate flood events. During glacial periods, the North Sea's connection to the Atlantic would be blocked by ice, resulting in a glacial lake fed by melting ice and many of the rivers of Western Europe. Once that lake filled to the point where it ran over the top of any barriers between it and the Channel, rapid erosion would force a catastrophic failure. The image below shows evidence for the two events - the features suggest that an initial flood carved a broad valley about 45 km across into the bedrock of the channel, and the second carved a number of deeper and narrower channels into the floor of this valley.
It's interesting to speculate that flood events like these are probably responsible for the flood myths we see in many religions - as stories passed down from generation to generation recount memories of local floods, some (as here) clearly catastrophic. No magic sky fairy required.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Doctor Who FTW!

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer. Here's what to do the next time a religious freak comes to your door:

This is a panel from a two-part segment over on Home on the Strange. Click the image for part 1. Part 2 is here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I'd just like to point out that 100% of anything is perfect.

I've been tagged again. This time by Pharyngula. I am to take this test of my personality defects, post the results, and pass it on.

I'm a Robot.

You are 100% Rational, 28% Extroverted, 14% Brutal, and 42% Arrogant.

You are the Robot! You are characterized by your rationality. In fact, this is really ALL you are characterized by. Like a cold, heartless machine, you are so logical and unemotional that you scarcely seem human.

For instance, you are very humble and don't bother thinking of your own interests, you are very gentle and lack emotion, and you are also very introverted and introspective. You may have noticed that these traits are just as applicable to your laptop as they are to a human being. You are not like the robots they show in the movies. Movie robots are make-believe, because they always get all personable and likeable after being struck by lightning, or they are cold, cruel killing machines. In all reality, though, you are much more boring than all that. Real robots just sit there, doing their stupid jobs, and doing little else. If you get struck by lightning, you won't develop a winning personality and heart of gold. (Robots don't have hearts, silly, and if they did, they would probably be made of steel, not gold.) You also won't be likely to terrorize humanity by becoming an ultra-violent killing machine sent into the past to kill the mother of a child who will lead a rebellion against machines, because that movie was dumb as hell, and because real robots don't kill--they horribly maim at best, and they don't even do that on purpose. Real robots are boringly kind and all too rarely try to kill people. In all my years, my laptop has only attacked me once, and that was only because my brother threw it at me.

In short, your personality defect is that you don't really HAVE a personality. You are one of those annoying, super-logical people that never gets upset or flustered. Unless, of course, you short circuit. Or if someone throws a pie at you. Pies sure are delicious.

To put it less negatively:

1. You are more RATIONAL than intuitive.
2. You are more INTROVERTED than extroverted.
3. You are more GENTLE than brutal.
4. You are more HUMBLE than arrogant.


Your exact opposite is the Class Clown.

Other personalities you would probably get along with are the Hand-Raiser, the Emo Kid, and the Haughty Intellectual.

Sounds about like me.

Here are the unlucky souls who are tagged by me:
Tantalus Prime

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I'm an equal opportunity offender when it comes to religion, so this image made me laugh when I came across it on the Net:

Apparently, some enterprising souls decided that the Giant of Cerne Abbas needed a friend. And look - he brought donuts!

This time, it's the pagans who are up in arms about the "desecration" of their "sacred" site, a site, the evidence shows, that was probably created in the 17th century. The pagans have pledged to perform rain magic to wash the figure away. Coincidentally, this is the wettest summer on record in Britain.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Do as I say.....

.....not do as I do apparently. According to CNN, three protesters disrupted a prayer by a Hindu chaplain Thursday at the opening of a Senate hearing, calling it an abomination and shouting slogans about Jesus Christ:

Religious figures from various faiths have said the prayer, which is normally recited by a Christian chaplain.

Barry Lynn, executive director of religious watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the protest showed the intolerance of the "religious right."

"I don't think the Senate should open with prayers, but if it's going to happen, the invocations ought to reflect the diversity of the American people," Lynn said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had invited Zed.

Here's a video of the incident:

I don't think there should be prayers of any kind before the Senate, but this act by some of the religious right shows just how hypocritical their point of view is. Apparently, bringing religion into everyday life (schools, politics etc.) is fine, as long as it's their religion, and anyone who has a differing viewpoint or religion should be shouted down.

Hoist by their own petard.....

Found this on the intertubes yesterday. Seems like the best way to refute creationism is to use their own literature. Ricky Gervais reads from the bible.....

Thanks to GrrlScientist over at Living the Scientific Life

Galaxy Zoo!

Today's astronomical telescopes of all kinds, ground and space based, take millions of pictures of the distant reaches of the Universe. All that data takes some analyzing, so a group of scientists working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have turned to the public for help. Galaxy Zoo gets amateurs involved in classifying galaxies as spirals or ellipticals. These are images that maybe no-one has ever seen before, tucked away in dusty corners of digital images. It's important work because:

...visitors will help astronomers to understand the structure of the universe. The new digital images were taken using the robotic Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope in New Mexico.

‘It’s not just for fun’ said Kevin Schawinski of Astrophysics at Oxford University where the data will be analysed. ‘The human brain is actually better than a computer at pattern recognition tasks like this. Whether you spend five minutes, fifteen minutes or five hours using the site your contribution will be invaluable.’ Visitors will be able to print out posters of the galaxies they have explored and even compete to see who’s the best virtual astronomer.

I signed up (it's a fairly easy process), and I've already found a couple of interesting objects:

One word of warning though.....it's addictive!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bible Coloring book

Thought this was hysterical. Over on Flickr The Searcher, who posts all kinds of cool artwork (including stuff with a comic book theme) has this:

The blurb under the picture is almost as funny as the pic. Especially this:

I don't want to be a scientist!
Ha! That's ok, son. It's better to be right, than smart. C'mon, wanna learn how to flip burgers like your Dad?
Forever more, Velociraptors will now be officially known as "Jesus Horses".

Random Facts.

Oh dear. I got tagged. Twice. Thanks to Psychodiva and Tantalus Prime. OK. Let's do this.
First, the preamble:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.
Now the fun facts. OK, well, they may not be fun, but they are facts.
  1. Fact the first: I'm originally from England - grew up in the Vale of Evesham (Google map here) in Worcestershire. I lived in the UK until I was 21, when I moved Stateside.
  2. I came to the US to pursue the love of a good woman, and coincidentally to study Physics at the graduate level at Florida State (go Seminoles!).
  3. I studied undergraduate physics at Brunel University in London (now the University of West London). Seems I made a big impression, since they don't offer Physics any more.
  4. While at Brunel, we had a reputation (probably apocryphal), that we had the highest intake of beer per capita of any student bar on any campus in the UK. Probably had something to do with the lousy male-to-female ratio at the time.
  5. I broke my shoulder cycling through Basel in Switzerland in 1987.
  6. My cats have been named for alcoholic beverages. First Whisky, now Bailey. Not sure what's next.
  7. Let's see.....struggling now. I always wanted to go hiking in Nepal. Not done that yet, but if someone can help finance a trip, or come along with me, then let's do it!
  8. What else. Oh, I know....where would I be without the kids! 9 and 12, growing up fast - I need to figure out a way to pay for college. This pretty much precludes #7.
Well, that's it. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but don't make me go through that again. Now all I have to do is find some unsuspecting poor suckers to do this to. Not sure I can find 8 though that haven't been tagged. How about these to start:
I'll edit more in later as I think of them

Indycars @ The Glen

I spent most of the weekend over at Watkins Glen for the IRL Indycar event. I'm a big fan of open-wheel racing, and Formula One specifically, but it's fun to go and spend a weekend at a racetrack and soak in the atmosphere. IRL is no F1, but the Glen is only an hour from home, so it makes for an easy trip.

American Open Wheel racing has been sadly mismanaged over the last decade or so, to the point that a sport that once surpassed NASCAR in popularity now languishes, divided into two camps - IRL and Champcar, neither with the support they previously had.

I'm not sure who to blame - and there's more than enough to go around, but there's tremendous potential - it's a sport that skews more upmarket than NASCAR (no rednecks here!), with a tremendous technological base and terrific action. Getting the two camps together could re-energize the sport and bring in premium sponsors. Here's hoping.

Harry Potter is back...

...and my son and niece wanted to go to the first screening, which happened to be midnight last night. Nothing like coming back to work after not going to bed until 3am. Pretty good movie though. Here's a link to the trailer:

The movie's definitely darker than previous movies - Harry and friends are all grown up now, with more adult concerns. It's a nice progression in the series. The beginning and end are very exciting, but the middle tends to drag in places. All in all, if you're a Potter fan, it's a must see.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Awkward moments.....

It was my birthday recently, and, as usual I received a good many interesting books from my wish list. My wife, bless her Catholic heart, is more than willing to feed my atheist appetite. It did get a little awkward, however, when I opened "The God Delusion" in front of her rabidly religious family members. The silence was deafening.

Actually, I'm becoming somewhat more militant in front of everyone these days. I'm trying to balance, on the one hand, my comments about magic sky fairies with my wife's desire to remain on speaking terms with her family. It's an interesting tightrope act. Any suggestions on how to introduce rationalism gently into conversations?

By the way, here are some of the books I'm reading at the moment. All well worth it:

Also, I'll be on vacation for July 4th this week, so I probably won't be blogging. I'll be back next week. Enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Science Idol: The Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest

The Union of Concerned Scientists is running a contest to find the cartoon that best demonstrates political interference in science. You can vote for your favorites here. Here's my favorite of the 12:The reason behind this contest is:

Recent investigations and surveys show that the censorship, manipulation, and suppression of federal government science has become pervasive in recent years. Political interference in science has hurt our air quality, allowed FDA approval of harmful drugs, and prevented the public from hearing the truth about global warming.

This spring, creative minds throughout America took the opportunity to show off their artistic and comedic talents in support of independent science by entering the 2nd annual Science Idol: the Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest. We received hundreds of compelling cartoons and our panel of celebrity judges helped narrow those entries to 12 great finalists.

So vote! You have until July 23rd!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don't miss Saturn and Venus!

Tonight and tomorrow night, June 30th and July 1st, Saturn and
Venus will share the same patch of sky.
If you have a telescope or binoculars, with a magnification of 50x or less you;ll be able to see Venus' crescent and Saturn's rings in the same field of view. It should be spectacular! Don't miss it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Evolution in the Times

The New York Times today devotes it's entire Science section to evolution - and not a creationist nut in sight! It's a good read, and should send those folks over at the Discovery Institute into a frenzy, although I'm sure they'll be able to quote-mine as usual.

One of the things I find most interesting is that the science continues to evolve (pun intended!). As new discoveries come to light, the theory is constantly being refined and updated, and old ideas are tossed aside if they don't fit the facts - see this article for an example. This is, obviously, the complete opposite of creationism.

Friday, June 22, 2007

More Hitchens

Pharyngula points out a new interview with Christopher Hitchens, by Simon Mayo if the BBC. As usual, Hitchens is eloquent in his answers.

It also points up the huge difference between the soundbite style of interviewing here in the US, and a more reasoned, longer-form, debate style of interviewing that is more common in the UK. No screaming and shouting here.

Check it out while it's still available.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

God of the Gaps

I was browsing physorg.com yesterday, and one thing really stood out for me. Yesterday was just a random day, but many of the stories dealt with areas where science is understanding more and more aspects of how the brain works - the last refuge of God in the form of the "soul". Here's a couple of stories:

  • Brain's inertial navigation system pinpointed - Researchers have discovered a sophisticated neural computer, buried deep in the cerebellum, that performs inertial navigation calculations to figure out a person’s movement through space.
  • Zeroing in on the brain's speech receiver - A particular resonance pattern in the brain’s auditory processing region appears to be key to its ability to discriminate speech, researchers have found. They found that the inherent rhythm of neural activity called “theta band” specifically reacts to spoken sentences by changing its phase. The researchers also noted that the natural oscillation of this frequency provides further evidence that the brain samples speech segments about the length of a syllable.
My point here is that science progresses, and as more research is done, and more understanding is gained, there are fewer and fewer places for religion to hide. There's no need for God in creation anymore, and now there's no need for God in the brain or soul either. The gaps are getting smaller all the time. Speaking of evolution - new discoveries there too yesterday:
  • Dinos' demise spurred rise of the mammals, new fossil suggests - A fossil discovered in the Gobi Desert has unlocked the most emphatic evidence to date that the mass extinction of the dinosaurs helped placental mammals -- of which Homo sapiens is a member -- become masters of the planet.
  • Surprising origin of cell's internal highways - Scientists have long thought that microtubules, part of the microscopic scaffolding that the cell uses to move things around in order to hold its shape and divide, originated from a tiny structure near the nucleus, called the centrosome.
And this is just a couple of stories for one day, on one website. Multiply this by all the peer-reviewed science journals, and extrapolate to a year or more, and the weight of evidence becomes overwhelming. There's no need for God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Satanic Verses, indeed.

So, Salman Rushdie (he of The Satanic Verses, amongst other works) has been awarded a knighthood in the UK. Rather predictably, the religious loonies are having a field day with this news. From the Guardian:

The award of a knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie justifies suicide attacks, a Pakistani government minister said today.

"This is an occasion for the 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision," Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister, told the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad. "The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title."

So, let me make sure I got this right: Muslims are seen as terrorists by a large part of the world, so, in order to make clear that this isn't so, they're advocating blowing people up?


And, just for those Americans who may be feeling all righteous about this, if Pat Robertson were running things here, it wouldn't be very different. We'd just be burning witches and gays instead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Science and Religion in America

I found an interesting post over at Marginal Utility last week, dissecting data from the General Social Survey about belief in science among Americans. In the post, scientific knowledge is broken down by religion, on a range of "controversial" (in the sense that deniers don't want to believe the evidence) scientific subjects. For example, here's the one on evolution:What it clearly shows is that as religious belief become less fundamentalist, scientific understanding grows. Much of this may be due to the lower schooling standards in the parts of the country where fundamentalist protestantism is ascendant, and it points up the growing divide in the U.S. regarding science and reason on one hand, and religion on the other.
As an aside, I recently saw a review of an interesting new book "Deer Hunting with Jesus" by Joe Bageant:

From the Amazon review:

After thirty years spent scratching together a middle-class life out of a “dirt-poor” childhood, Joe Bageant moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, where he realized that his family and neighbors were the very people who carried George W. Bush to victory. That was ironic, because Winchester, like countless American small towns, is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass. Two in five of the people in his old neighborhood do not have high school diplomas. Nearly everyone over fifty has serious health problems, and many have no health care. Credit ratings are low or nonexistent, and alcohol, overeating, and Jesus are the preferred avenues of escape.
I think that description applies here - poor families with no education and no future are the backbone of the fundamentalist faith, so it's no surprise to see results like these.

Even more astounding, only 40% of fundamentalist protestants believe the Earth orbits the sun in one year. That's less than half. Frankly, I think this may invalidate most of the rest of the data, because even for those with no religious affiliation, the numbers are only around 60%, which clearly indicates to me that most Americans are unqualified to answer questions on any scientific topic. It does however seem to me that on the whole, those people categorized as having no religious affiliation, or those who are jewish or catholic, are more highly educated and open to scientific reason than fundamentalist protestants.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I've been away....

Sorry that there hasn't been much activity here in the last couple of weeks - I've been away on business in Orlando. I know, I know, it's a hard job, but someone's got to do it :-) I should be back on a full blogging schedule next week.

Meanwhile, for those who may have missed it, the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal last week end was incredible, to say the least. Here's just a sample - Robert Kubica's BMW exploding into millions of tiny pieces.

The amazing thing? He walked away with a sprained ankle, and will race this weekend at Indy. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Religious Tests...

According to the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, section 3 states that:

...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
It doesn't seem like it though, does it? - especially when the Republican candidates were asked about their religious beliefs again in their debate last night. A few quotes (from CNN):
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,"
"A person either believes that God created the process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own."
"If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it."
That's from Mike Huckabee, a baptist minister, so it's about what we'd expect. He follows up with a claim that his ignorance of science isn't a problem though:
"I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States."
Exactly. If he doesn't believe, or want to believe, the scientific consensus on evolution, what will he believe the scientific consensus on? Global warming? gravity? I don't think we want someone in the oval office who doesn't listen to reason. We know how that works out.
McCain wasn't much better. He was backpedaling so fast on evolution, his legs must hurt:
"I admire [Huckabee's] description, because I hold that view. There's no doubt in my mind that the hand of God was in what we are today. And I do believe that we are unique, and [I] believe that God loves us."
With all the god-love going on in this debate, and in the Democrat's forum on faith, values and poverty you have to wonder what office they're all running for - Pope?

Only in America. In the UK, Tony Blair has acknowledged his deep faith, but has never, as far as I know, highlighted it in a campaign or as part of public policy debates. That's how it should be.

Why are we discussing belief in magic sky fairies when we should be addressing issues of far greater national importance?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


NASA's MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) mission to Mercury flies by Venus late this afternoon.

MESSENGER will fly within about 210 miles of the surface of the Venus, and get a gravity kick toward its ultimate destination, Mercury. As it flies past, the probe will begin a carefully planned sequence of science observations that are designed to practice activities planned seven months later at the first flyby of Mercury.

MESSENGER has been on a long flight to Mercury. One of NASA's low cost missions to the planets, the probe was launched in 2004, and after an Earth flyby, 2 Venus flybys and 2 Mercury flybys, will eventually end up in orbit around Mercury in 2011.

Let's wait to see what happens at Venus today - should be some good data coming back.

Friday, June 1, 2007

iTunes U

Apple has updated it's iTunes store to version 7.2. One of the updates is access to iTunes U, which includes free lectures, speeches, sports clips and more from top universities like Stanford and MIT. I've been perusing the offerings, and it includes such courses as:

  • Modern Theoretical Physics from Stanford
  • Introductory Astronomy from UC Berkeley
  • Electricity and Magnetism from MIT
and many more, including courses on Biology and evolution from a variety of high profile schools. I wonder if we should pass this information on to the Discovery Institute or Ken Ham at the Creation Museum. They could use some grounding in basic science.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Billy Graham has the wrong answer

I was browsing through the local paper yesterday while my car was being serviced, and I happened across the "My Answer" column by Billy Graham. Here's the question that was asked (I found it online here at the Wichita Eagle):

DEAR REV. GRAHAM: My neighbor is the nicest person I know, and she'll do anything for anyone who needs help. And yet she isn't at all religious, and says she's never found any need for God. How do you explain this? I thought only religious people were supposed to know what it means to love others. --S.G.
You can guess what's coming, right? Not content to say that it doesn't matter what the person's religion (or lack thereof), and that moral behavior isn't limited to fundamentalist christians, Graham states:
DEAR S.G.: Your neighbor's concern for others is commendable -- but if she had Christ in her heart, I believe she'd be an even more loving and compassionate person.
Pray for your neighbor, that she will come to understand the greatest love of all: God's love.
So what he's saying is that she'd be even nicer if she knew god.

Religious fundamentalists believe that the only Christians are moral people, and everyone else is evil, especially us atheists. Moral behavior has nothing to do with religion, and, as studies are beginning to show, has everything to do with evolution and the survival of the societies that tended to cooperate.

Laying into a woman "the nicest person I know" and saying that she could do better, even though he doesn't know her at all, hardly strikes me as "loving and compassionate"

M81 writ large

The sharpest ever image of the spiral galaxy M81 was released yesterday at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Honolulu.
The galaxy is 11.6 million light years distant (practically next door!), yet the image can resolve individual stars. The Hubble data was taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2004 through 2006. You can download the high resolution image here, although be warned, it is 690MB (yes, 690!!) in size, and full resolution is 22620 X 15200 pixels. What's really cool is picking an area and zooming in to see the individual stars (assuming your computer can handle the image).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ham-fisted science

Sorry for not blogging for a while - I've been away on business with only limited connectivity (how is that even possible these days?!).

Anyway, I wanted to weigh in on the whole Creation museum issue. For those of you who've been living under a rock recently, the Creation Museum in Kentucky is designed to show the literal biblical view of creation. It's great if you think the Flintstones is a documentary.

Lawrence Krauss, the noted theoretical physicist, debated the museum's founder, Ken Ham last night on Fox. Here's the clip:

Krauss has also posted an article that lays out the facts about the age of the Earth, and let me tell you, it doesn't add up to 6000 years.

The media has, surprisingly given the museum pretty much a free pass. I won't bother to go into details here (you know who you are, and I'm looking at you, NY Times). At least the LA Times has done a much better job of reporting on the Yabba-dabba science.

The museum, a 60,000-square-foot menace to 21st century scientific advancement, is the handiwork of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the "young Earth" movement. Young Earthers believe the world is about 6,000 years old, as opposed to the 4.5 billion years estimated by the world's credible scientific community. This would be risible if anti-evolution forces were confined to a lunatic fringe, but they are not. Witness the recent revelation that three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.

If you want a (very) detailed rebuttal, Pharyngula has a creation carnival that's a must read.

Here's the deal. $27 million was pumped into this travesty of science. That's $27 million that could have gone into helping the cause of science education in this country, or providing clean drinking water for the poor in Africa for example - that would be a much more Christian activity.

Good science education is under attack from all sides, and as a start, let's use the opening of this "educational" "museum" to go to our local school boards and make sure good educational standards for science are enshrined in their teaching guidelines. And look out for those Flintstones documentaries!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Draft Gore

If he would just decide to run, I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. Who? Al Gore. That's right, Al Gore. Not only is he actively, passionately trying to communicate the dangers of global warming across the world, but it seems he's the only voice of reason left in US politics. In an passage from his new book "The Assault on Reason", excerpted in Time, Gore writes:

"Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.
We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the rule of reason.
Gore is right. We've got to get rid of pseudoscience and religion from politics. We've got to launch a new Age of Reason. Draft Gore in 2008!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pat Condell (a British Stand up comedian) has been accused of spreading ‘racist hate speech’ in California. Except he wasn't there.

He posted a bunch of anti-religious clips to YouTube, including one that got passed around the commissioner's office in the City of Berkeley on Islam. Here's one on the "United States of Jesus"

Hmmm....nothing wrong with that! Check out his other clips (you can find them on the same page as the one above), or check out his homepage at http://www.patcondell.net.

As Pat says:

I think this is clearly more about their internal politics than it is about me. I'm glad they included a link to the video so people can make up their own minds.
You know, I think he's right.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dark Matter: It exists!

A remarkable new image was revealed yesterday that constitutes strong new evidence for dark matter:

Dark matter is matter which makes up the bulk of the mass of the universe, but which has escaped detection by conventional means. It's required because observations of things like the rotational speeds of galaxies and orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters, Gravitational lensing of background objects by galaxy clusters and the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters of galaxies don't make sense unless there is additional, undetected mass. Dark matter also plays a central role in galaxy evolution and has measurable effects on the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background. All these lines of evidence suggest that galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole contain far more matter than that which interacts with electromagnetic radiation.

Unfortunately, because it doesn't interact with electromagnetic radiation, it's hard for us to see directly - we can only infer its presence via gravitational effects. That's what the new study, to be published in Astrophysics Journal, has done.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a ghostly ring of dark matter that formed long ago during a titanic collision between two massive galaxy clusters. The ring's discovery is among the strongest evidence yet that dark matter exists. Astronomers have long suspected the existence of the invisible substance as the source of additional gravity that holds together galaxy clusters. Such clusters would fly apart if they relied only on the gravity from their visible stars. Although astronomers don't know what dark matter is made of, they hypothesize that it is a type of elementary particle that pervades the universe.

This Hubble composite image shows the ring of dark matter in the galaxy cluster Cl 0024+17. The ring-like structure is evident in the blue map of the cluster's dark matter distribution. The map was derived from Hubble observations of how the gravity of the cluster Cl 0024+17 distorts the light of more distant galaxies, an optical illusion called gravitational lensing. Although astronomers cannot see dark matter, they can infer its existence by mapping the distorted shapes of the background galaxies. The map is superimposed on a Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys image of the cluster taken in November 2004.

This ring will prove important to astronomers for many reasons. This is the first time a dark matter halo has been discovered that's different in shape from the other mass in a cluster, and it will allow researchers to make better predictions of how dark matter behaves, and how it can be shaped by normal matter. Plus, the image is just way cool!

Respecting Religion

Saw this over on Pharyngula today:

I think it makes the point perfectly that we live in a world where you have to respect religious beliefs, no matter how ridiculous they are. Religion is the last major area in life that is untouchable from serious skepticism and scrutiny, in public at least.

Why should this be? You wouldn't ordinarily respect someone for having outlandish beliefs with no proof - look at 9/11 conspiracy theorists for example - they're dismissed as deluded. Why can't we have the same levels of scrutiny for religious beliefs - they're no less crazy.

Oh, that's right. You have to respect belief in a magical sky fairy.