Life on Arsenic

I was reasonably excited to hear what NASA astrobiologists might have to say today after all the hooplah. As it turns out, it's a pretty neat finding, but not paradigm shifting in the way the blagospore had built it up to be.

Turns out, bacteria grown in an environment with tons of arsenic and very little phosphorus can learn to not only tolerate the arsenic, but to replace some or all of their phosphorus with it.

This is really a pretty cool demonstration of the flexibility of bacteria if it holds up. It is not terribly surprising though. Bacteria are the dominant life form on the planet for a reason: They are incredibly adaptable. Scientists have really only scratched the surface of the bacterial species on earth, most of which have never been successfully cultured in the lab. For that matter, ~90% of the cells in our bodies are non-human cells, mostly bacteria, and we still know very little about those.

I'll probably post a follow up when the results of this study are published. What's been released so far has just been media hype and teasers without any data.

Go read XKCD

Linky

I thought this was a brilliant little summary chart. Of course, he is really good at brilliant little summaries.

(I originally had the original figure posted here, but that felt a little too plagiarized.)

The Taliban isn't the same as atheist

According to an article on the Telegraph.co.uk, Lady Greenfield, the former head of the Royal Institution, has criticized physicist Stephen Hawking about his stance in his new book, The Grand Design, in which he said that the universe can be explained without a need for a god.

Greenfield criticized the smugness that she perceives in non-believing scientists like Hawking by saying:

Of course they can make whatever comments they like but when they assume, rather in a Taliban-like way, that they have all the answers then I do feel uncomfortable. I think that doesn’t necessarily do science a service.


I really don't think "Taliban" means what she thinks it means. The Taliban are an extreme religious group that repress women, enforce an brutal version of Sharia law, execute those that they disagree with, and deny many of the fundamentals of science. Atheists on the other hand, don't do any of that. If you deny religion, by definition, you can't be part of the Taliban. You would think that someone of her statue would know that.

If you don't want to hear my religious views, don't knock on my door with yours



When I was in college, I lived in a cluster of townhouses not far from a Jehovah's Witnesses' church. They used to stop by at least every other week in order to peddle their religious beliefs. Early one Saturday they knocked on my door. As anyone should know, you shouldn't visit a college student that early in the morning, especially on a Saturday. I was pleasant with them, as pleasant as I could be in my hung over state anyway. However, they seemed oddly uncomfortable as they told me the "Good News." After they handed me their weird ass magazine and left, I turned around and saw what was making them uncomfortable. The night before, which I had forgotten, some friends, who were Wiccan, and I had made a big pentagram on the floor, complete with candles and empty Keystone Light cans. Today, I can't remember why we did it. If I had to guess, to my friends it was sort of a cross between a sacred ceremony and an experiment to see if some spell actually worked. To me, I'm sure it was a cross between a joke and an FU to the gods.

If the spell was to keep the Jehovah's Witnesses from coming back, it worked.

That was really my last experience with that odd little sect. Even though I've moved several times since then, I can only remember Jehovah's Witnesses stopping by my house just once, and that seemed only halfheartedly. Maybe it is because they are on to me. In the new issue of their magazine Awake!, the have a very scary article called, "Is Atheism on the March?" Without the slightest hint of irony they write in the first sentence:

A new group of atheists has arisen in society. Called the new atheists, they are not content to keep their views to themselves.


That's right, ladies and gentlemen! The church that wakes you up early on the weekends so they can preach to you about how you should join their sect are upset that atheists won't keep their views to themselves.

It's enough to make you laugh, if you can get through it. It is really a pretty badly written article. They claim that the new atheists like to "wave the banner of science over their camp," which is true, but then they try to debunk the atheist's claims using science. It really is a train wreck of logical fallacies.

They pull up long debunked arguments that evolution it wrong, that Einstein is a Christian while Pol Pot is an atheist, and that morality can only be found through God. It's really quite annoying. Can't they make up any new arguments?

Here is a hint, if you are going to use science to combat atheists, don't use the Bible as your sole reference. Try using, I don't know,.... ACTUAL SCIENCE! But if you do that, you might find out that science undermines your entire religion and the atheists were right all along. And you wouldn't want to do that would you?

Yet to be Verified


When I see a headline like this, "Panspermia theorists say India's red rain contains life not seen on Earth", I can't help but think they left off the most important words. Yet to be verified.

In July 2001, red rain fell in India, most likely tinted by sand and dust from a desert. In this rain, a researcher named Godfrey Louis found cells. That in and of itself isn't that big of deal. There isn't a natural drop of water on earth that is sterile. However, Louis claims that these cells contain no DNA, only reproduce when above 121°C, and fluorescence under UV light. If this is true, WHICH IT HAS YET TO BE VERIFIED, it would be very interesting. But to Chandra Wickramasinghe, a leading panspermia theorist from the UK, this is proof of panspermia, the theory that life could travel from planet to planet by hitching a ride on rocks and comets. He has even narrowed down the origin.

The team also found an unusual pattern in the way the cells changed colour under UV light, known as "fluorescence behaviour". They said it was "in remarkable correspondence" with red emissions from the Red Rectangle planetary nebula some 2300 light years away, "suggesting, though not proving, an extraterrestrial origin".


A planetary nebula is a relatively short period in a star's life, last just a few tens of thousands of years. It happens toward the end of the life of a sun sized star when it blows off it's outer layers and forms a beautiful nebula. The Red Rectangle nebula is 2300 light years away, so we are seeing it as it was a couple of thousand years ago. Here is a key point to keep in mind, even if the life around a star or nebula did emit a corresponding light, WHICH IT DOESN'T, light travels a lot faster than rocks or comets. The light from the nebula has traveled 2,300 years to reach us. If a comet containing the seeds of life left that system at the same time, it wouldn't get here for millions of years, and by that time the nebula will have been long gone and there would be no way to compare the fluorescent life with the source nebula.

This is just shitty science reporting. There are a lot of other things wrong with this article, but I would like to hear Dr. Scott's take on it, as biology is his field.

Leading Global Warming Skeptic Reverses Course

Bjørn Lomborg, a very high profile climate change skeptic, has changed his mind. Perhaps he realized that with all the weird weather this summer, from the Pakistan floods to the Russian heat wave to the massive loss of ice from the Arctic ice sheets to the record high temperatures around the globe, the evidence for man-made climate change was overwhelming. Or perhaps he realized he could make more money by putting out a book embracing global warming.

Was Darwin Wrong?

No, no he wasn't. Like many other news sources, we are using that misleading headline as blatant attention grabber to get more views. However, there is a dispute that is evolving in the field (See what we did there?). As an article titled "Scientists Square Off on Evolutionary Value of Helping Relatives" in the New York Times reports:

Why are worker ants sterile? Why do birds sometimes help their parents raise more chicks, instead of having chicks of their own? Why do bacteria explode with toxins to kill rival colonies? In 1964, the British biologist William Hamilton published a landmark paper to answer these kinds of questions. Sometimes, he argued, helping your relatives can spread your genes faster than having children of your own...

But in the latest issue of the journal Nature, a team of prominent evolutionary biologists at Harvard try to demolish the theory.


Dr. Hamilton argued that since we share half of our genes with our siblings, sometimes we can pass on more copies of our genes by helping our relatives survive and have offspring than we could if we had children ourselves.

Each organism faces a trade-off between putting effort into raising its own offspring or helping its relatives. If the benefits of helping a relative outweigh the costs, Dr. Hamilton argued, altruism can evolve.


Dr. Hamilton called his theory inclusive fitness and published it in 1964. Since then, biologists have used the theory to explain how animal societies, such as bees and ants, evolve. It has even been applied to our own evolution.

However, a team of biologist from Harvard has cast doubt on Hamilton's theory.

The scientists argue that studies on animals since Dr. Hamilton’s day have failed to support (inclusive fitness). The scientists write that a close look at the underlying math reveals that Dr. Hamilton’s theory is superfluous. “It’s precisely like an ancient epicycle in the solar system,” said Martin Nowak, a co-author of the paper with Edward O. Wilson and Corina Tarnita. “The world is much simpler without it.”


The researchers developed a mathematical analysis of natural selection to test the differences between different behaviors in a population. They tested altruism versus selfish populations. What they found didn't support inclusive fitness theory.

The researchers found that inclusive fitness theory worked only under special conditions. All the effects that the animals had on each other had to take place on a one-to-one basis. In the real world, individuals may benefit from many other individuals as a group.

Standard natural selection, the scientists argue, explains everything inclusive fitness theory was supposed to, without these special conditions.


However, many scientists disagree with those findings and still back inclusive fitness theory. They argue that the study is flawed. It doesn't include how closely the animals are related, and therefore kinship can't be ruled out as a driving force in social evolution.

“This paper, far from showing shortcomings in inclusive fitness theory, shows the shortcomings of the authors,” said Frances Ratnieks of the University of Sussex.


The supporters of inclusive fitness theory are sending a reply to Nature to challenge the Harvard researcher's paper.

This is what I love about science. A vigorous debate is going on about the details of a larger theory. I have no idea which side will end up being correct, but I'm positive that scientists will weigh all the evidence and follow where it leads them. While I'm sure this news story will show up on some creationist's blog about how scientists are disagreeing over evolution, this in no way voids Darwin's theory. It only makes the theory richer and more subtle.

Journalism Warning Labels



I've noticed the last couple of posts I have just been stealing content from other blogs. This post is going to be no exception. As I work in the newspaper industry, I've found this extremely funny. Tom Scott is a geek comedian from Britian and he put together this list of warning labels for newspapers.

8 Bit Creator

I found this on the Godless Business blog. It has to do with religion and vintage video games! It's almost as if it was created just for this blog. Puntastic!

SUPERNATURAL CREATOR 2 from Mareike on Vimeo.

Ghost train isn't as deadly as a real train

I can understand the appeal of going ghost hunting. You are running around in the dark, listening for spooky noises and scaring yourself. It sounds like fun. Kind of like telling scary stories around a camp fire, only instead of a warm fire, you're in an old house, or a creepy theater, or on a bridge of an active train line. Well, that last one doesn't sound fun, but some people would disagree with me. Some of those same people are now dead.

I really can't comment on this story. It's just too stupid and too tragic.

Help Stop the Pertussis Comeback

There are some headlines that just make you sad. This is one of them.

"Whooping Cough Makes Whopping Comeback"

Whooping cough, or pertussis as it is also known, is a completely preventable disease that was once one of the leading causes of infant death. In the 1930's, pertussis killed an average of 8,000 infants a year while infecting another 250,000. After the vaccine was introduced, the infection rates dropped to almost nil. Pertussis should have went the way of the dodo.

However, due to low vaccination rates, pertussis is now making a comeback. A big comeback.

In June, California declared a whooping cough epidemic after the death of five infants. So far there have been nearly 3,000 reported cases across six states, according to the CDC, a sevenfold increase compared with this time last year. Whooping cough season doesn't really kick in until the fall.


Babies are dying because people won't get themselves vaccinated against this easily contagious disease. I can't help but think that this could be one of the reasons why:



That is some anti-vaccination propaganda from Mike Adams. It is so insane you can't tell if it is the ramblings of a crazy person, or a parody of the ramblings of a crazy person. Either way, if people listen to his message, people could die. Orac at the Respectful Insolence blog had a nice take down of this retarded video.

This topic hits home for me. I'm expect my second child and the end of September. He or she, we don't know which yet, will be born during a whooping cough epidemic and won't be fully protected until he/she is over a year old. The child's only protection is the immunity of those around him/her. That's why I'm getting my booster this weekend and I'm advising all my friends and family to get their boosters if they need them.


If anyone is going to DragonCon in Atlanta this week, Skepchick.org and the Women Thinking Free Foundation are having a free vaccine clinic. Stop by and protect some babies.

Pen & Teller talk about vaccines



Entertaining, as these guys always are. I think they are understressing that there is no link between autism and vaccines though.

To be a dick, or not to be a dick

I've been wanting to write something for a while in response to Phil Plait's "Don't Be a Dick" speech at The Amazing Meeting 8 last month. This speech has perhaps made the biggest waves in the skeptical community since I've known that there was a skeptical community a couple years ago. There is a shitstorm going on right now on the blogosphere.

One side of the debate is the "You'll Catch More Flies With Honey" side of the argument. That if you treat people with civility, it'll be easier to change their minds. On the other side, is the reasoning that ridicule and general dickishness are effective, especially when your main goal is to target a third party, not the person you are debating who probably isn't going to change his mind anyway.

Defenders of both view have taken to their blogs, and even PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have waded into the debate. Quite frankly, there are people being dicks on both sides, and I've felt that it was time to get my two cents in. I wanted to do a well researched post with scientific facts and lots of quotes, but that would take forever to put together. Thanks to my wonderful power of procrasination, somebody else wrote the perfect article that I would have wanted to write. Daniel Loxton at Skepticblog wrote a piece called "The War Over 'Nice.'" Loxton pretty much says everything that I wanted to say. I really can't add anything to it, you should just go read his article instead of wasting your time here.

This quote just about sums up my views on the whole debate:

Skeptics should passionately argue the merits of their case, and we should leave the ad hominems and snarling and hyperbole to the bad guys. Which is to say, don’t be a dick.

A NASA Satellite Retrospective of Hurricane Katrina


This weekend represents the 5th anniversary of one of deadliest storms in American history. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore as a Category 3 storm and obliterated coastal communities in Mississippi and Louisiana, flooded New Orleans, and killed over 1,800 people. While the storm weakened from a Category 5 storm the day before, it is hard to imagine how much worse the disaster could have been.

As hundreds of thousand of people evacuated their homes, NASA was keeping a close eye on the storm. They collected a wide range of data on Katrina from numerous satellites. For the anniversary of the storm, NASA-TV producer Jennifer Shoemaker created this video showing the amazing power of the storm as seen from NASA's fleet of satellites. The satellites captured data on rain fall, wind speed, ocean temperatures, and even the "hot towers" of powerful thunderstorms deep inside of Katrina that helped to intensify the hurricane. It is an amazing and sobering video displaying the power of nature.

Is the sun screwing up carbon dating?

I have a feeling the creationist are going to run with this one, and we are going to see this article popping up for years to come.

The media is reporting that the sun maybe emitting a mystery particle that is breaking the laws of known physics, specifically, the laws that govern radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the process when an atomic nucleus loses energy by giving off radiation and transforms into a different type of atom. A common example is carbon-14 emitting radiation and transforming into nitrogen-14. Different atoms decay at different rates, but those rates are all constant. For instance, the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. This means that if you have a sample of carbon-14, in 5730 years half of it will have decayed into nitrogen-14. By measuring this ratio of carbon, we can accurately date organic samples. This is the technique called carbon dating.

According to MSNBC:

But what if a well-known — and apparently constant — characteristic of matter starts behaving mysteriously?

This is exactly what has been noticed in recent years; the decay rates of radioactive elements are changing. This is especially mysterious as we are talking about elements with "constant" decay rates — these values aren't supposed to change, school textbooks teach us this from an early age.

This is the conclusion that researchers from Stanford and Purdue University have arrived at, but the only explanation they have is even weirder than the phenomenon itself: the sun might be emitting a previously unknown particle that is meddling with the decay rates of matter. Or, at the very least, we are seeing some new physics.


The study by researchers Jere Jenkins and Ephraim Fischbach of Purdue, and Peter Sturrock of Stanford, compared their measurements with the decay rates published by other researchers. They found that not only were the radioactive decay rates not constant...

but they'd vary with the seasons. Decay rates would slightly decrease during the summer and increase during the winter.

Experimental error and environmental conditions have all been ruled out — the decay rates are changing throughout the year in a predictable pattern. And there seems to be only one answer.


That the sun was influencing the decay rates as the earth travelled along its elliptical orbit. Not only that, the scientists observed a drop in the decay rate of manganese-54 just before a large solar flare erupted on the sun in 2006.

The sun link was made even stronger when Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics, suggested that the Purdue scientists look for other recurring patterns in decay rates. As an expert of the inner workings of the sun, Sturrock had a hunch that solar neutrinos might hold the key to this mystery.

Sure enough, the researchers noticed the decay rates vary repeatedly every 33 days — a period of time that matches the rotational period of the core of the sun. The solar core is the source of solar neutrinos.


If this is true, and the rates of radioactive decay can vary through solar activity, it will be much harder to accurately date archaeological objects. While the rate of change is slight, and I'm sure it would only increase the error rate a few percent, I'm sure that the creationist will use this as another wedge to discredit carbon dating. If they can imply that carbon dating is flawed and inaccurate, they can then fill that uncertainty with the idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

But they can only claim that if this study turns out to be correct. Many scientists are skeptical. In an article for Discover, Gregory Sullivan, professor and associate chair of physics at the University of Maryland, said,

"My gut reaction is one of skepticism.” The idea isn’t impossible, he says, but you can’t accept a solution as radical as the new study’s with just the small data set the researchers have. “Data is data. That’s the final arbiter. But the more one has to bend [well-establish physics], the evidence has to be that much more scrutinized.”


He had several reasons for his skepticism:

Many of the tiny variations that the study authors saw in radioactive decay rates came from labs like Brookhaven National Lab—the researchers didn’t take the readings themselves. And, Sullivan says, some are multiple decades old. In their paper, Fischbach’s team takes care to try to rule out variations in the equipment or environmental conditions that could have caused the weird changes they saw in decay rates. But, Sullivan says, “they’re people 30 years later [studying] equipment they weren’t running. I don’t think they rule it out.”

The Purdue-Stanford team cites an example of a 2006 solar flare, saying that they saw a dip in decay rates in a manganese isotope before the occurrence that lasted until after it was gone. Sullivan, however, says he isn’t convinced this is experimentally significant, and anyway it doesn’t make sense: Solar neutrinos emanate from the interior of the sun—not the surface, where flares emerge. Moreover, he says, other solar events like x-ray flares didn’t have the same effect.

If it were true, the idea would represent a huge jump in neutrino physics. At the Super-Kamiokande detector, Sullivan says only about 10 neutrinos per day appeared to interact with the 20 kilotons of water. Sullivan says the Purdue-Stanford team is proposing that neutrinos are powerfully interacting with matter in a way that has never before been observed. “They’re looking for something with a very much larger effect than the force of neutrinos, but that doesn’t show up any other way,” he says.


While the scientists at Purdue and Stanford could have made a huge discovery, they could have just as easily misunderstood the data or have come to a wrong conclusion by comparing different data sets. The only way to tell is a lot more testing in more carefully controlled experiments to either verify or falsify the idea.

Hell is an invention of the church

Normally I spend my day wasting my time on the Internet. A large portion of that time was spent at Digg. I love browsing through stories and finding what was interesting. However, yesterday Digg became New Digg, and in my opinion it sucks. This isn't a tech blog, so I'm not going to going in to the reasons why other than the fact the new My News feature is a lot like Google Reader. I already subscribe to my favorite websites through Reader, so now Digg has just become redundant.

So what does this mean? That means I will hopefully be updating this site more often. It has been neglected lately and I hope to correct that. It has been a busy summer for all of us here at Beer, Bullshit & Brains, and we owe it to you, loyal reader, to put more time into this site.

Rebecca Watson of Skepchick fame, tweeted this video this morning that I thought you would enjoy. It is of John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop from Newark, N.J., being interviewed by Keith Morrison for Dateline, NBC in 2006. For a bishop, he has a very interesting view of Christianity.

XKCD's take on Homeopathy

Smart and Funny is a great combination. XKCD is always both. If any of you didn't know about it before, Now You Do.

Being a Better Beer Snob

We've been on hiatus providing the BS for a while, but that's no reason to not talk about beer every now and again. I am currently taking a beer judging class from the BJCP, so I'm including a few useful resources here that I've found useful (or necessary) for the class.

The BJCP Style Guidelines go into great detail about the categories of beer that are used to judge competition entrants. These are the guidelines that a beer will be judged against, in addition to the technical merit of the brew. You can also find a beer scoresheet, which is nifty if you want to get really serious about comparing beers or if you are a homebrewer.

If any of you are interested in a nice Homebrewing 101, How to Brew is now available online for free!

Bonus Beer Reviews

I sampled two new beers last week that I thought I would share here in addition to the normal reviews.

The first is Sierra Nevada's "Torpedo" IPA. I absolutely loved this beer. It's everything an IPA should be. It looks pretty in a wine glass, has a great nose and really citrusey hoppiness from tons of (i assume) Cascade. Joy in a glass.

The second would make a good beer for people who don't like beer. Orange Blossom Cream Ale from Buffalo Bill's brewery basically tastes like a lightly hopped fizzy orange drink. Think Orangina or carbonated Tang. It's not unpleasant, but doesn't quite scratch that beer itch. Good thirsty summer drink though.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #18

In this episode we talk about Tony's love of volcanos, the National Day of Prayer, and Justin learns the difference between facts and questions.

Episode #18 Show Notes



After our beer reviews, we discuss the Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which is unpronounceable. When it erupts, Katla, a nearby volcano, may erupt shortly afterwards. Also, a federal judge rules the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. And of course, zombies.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #17

It's our shitty beer edition! We sample the worst beers that we could find. After controlling our gag reflexes, we discuss Texas elections, creationists, and standards in education. Also, our Bullshit Question of the Week!

Episode #17 Show Notes

We shorten it up in this episode. We discuss the Texas Republican primaries for the State Board of Education and the changing of history standards. Also how creationists are teaming up with global warming deniers to change textbooks.

Beer, Bullshit + Brains Top 10 Zombie Movies of All Time


Illustration by Tony Knaak. Photograph courtesy of KangleStock via Deviant Art.



As anyone who has listened to the podcast knows, we love zombies. We could talk for hours about the subtle intricacies of the living dead and how to best survive the inevitable plague. Zombies are gloriously gory, mindless killing machines with an endless appetite for brains and we love them.

I am currently listening to the audiobook version of Max Brooks' World War Z and now I have zombies on the brain, which explains this post. I have read the book before and I am a little disappointed that the audiobook is abridged. In my opinion, World War Z is the pinnacle of zombie fiction. It is a very realistic story about mankind's battle to survive the zombie apocalypse. Unlike most other zombie stories, it is an epic worldwide look at the affects of an undead pandemic, and not a character story of a small group of survivors slowly getting picked off by the horde.

Ever since I heard that they are making a movie version of WWZ, I've been like a kid trying to wait for Christmas morning. If done right, the movie could be the greatest zombie movie ever made. It could be an epic work on par with The Lord of the Rings, which as you know, we also love. On the other hand, it could as easily be the biggest crapfest since The Phantom Menace with multiple story lines tripping all over each other and CG zombies that look like Jar Jar Binks' abortion. Obviously, I am hoping for the former.

While I eagerly await the film adaption of World War Z, I've asked our podcasters to come up with a definitive list of the top 10 zombie movies of all time. While we each came up with our own list of personal favorites, I've taken the average of those separate lists to come up with the Beer, Bullshit & Brains Top Ten Zombie Movies of All Time.

What is a zombie?

While compiling this list, I've noticed that several of the movies on it can be argued aren't zombie movies at all. If you just use "undead creatures feeding on the flesh of the living" as the sole criteria, we would have to exclude movies such as The Serpent and the Rainbow and 28 Days Later, while including that sparkling piece of shit known as Twilight. Wikipedia defines zombies as:
"a creature that appears in books and popular culture typically as a reanimated dead or a mindless human being."

Does a zombie actually have to be undead, or can it be a person lacking the higher functions that make it human? Do zombies have to infect others with some sort of zombie virus, or can they be created and controlled by a scientist or witchdoctor? People will be arguing over these details for generations. Is Pet Semetary a zombie movie? What about Frankenstein? This is part of the reason the zombie genre is so rich, it is a big tent for the creatures in allows under it. The zombies on this list may take many forms, but we all agree, they are great movies.

10. Night of the Living Dead (1968)


Coming up with the number ten spot on this list was surprisingly hard. With formula that I was using to make this list, Idle Hands should have been in this spot. However, I can not bring myself to put it on here, especially after that last line I wrote about agreeing these are all great movies. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is on here because it invented the modern zombie genre. Zombies have been around since the movie White Zombie in 1932, but Living Dead removed all the voodoo and replaced it with the shuffling corpses that we all love today.


9. Fido (2007)


The story of a boy and his zombie. This movie takes place in an alternate 1950s where zombies have been tamed. It is a twisted comedy that puts an undead twist on the conservative sensibilities of the day. It is sort of like Lassie, if the dog occasionally devoured the neighbors.

8. Planet Terror (2007)


A campy homage to movies of old with burnt frames, missing scenes and an assload of babes and zombies. When it comes to over the top zombie action, this has it in spades. Often overshadowed by Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, which was released as the other half of the Grindhouse doublefeature, Planet Terror is a great blend of 70s style action and cheesy plot. If you are curious about what kind of movie it is, look no further than the poster. Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg. How awesome is that?

7. Day of the Dead (1985)


Scientists stave off zombie attacks and do creepy experiments on them in an underground bunker in George Romero's 3rd movie in his zombie legacy. The characters aren't as sympathetic as the group hiding the mall during Dawn of the Dead, in fact, there are a lot of assholes and you are rooting for zombies just to kill everyone. Being as this is a Romero movie, you get your wish.

6. 28 Weeks Later (2007)


This movie, unlike its predecessor, is a broader look at how an entire country would deal with the a zombie plague. 28 weeks after the plague, the government begins to repopulate England. This film deals with a society trying to reform and recover, which really contrasts the survivor story of 28 Days Later. This movie takes a lot of shit for not being nearly as good as 28 Days Later, but I think those complaints are unfounded. It is an entirely different kind of movie and doesn't pretend to be rehash of the first movie. It is the next logical step in the series.

5. Zombieland (2009)


The most recent addition to the list. It is a great blend of action and comedy and the funniest zombie film since Shawn of the Dead. This movie really highlights the joy of killing zombies. I almost wish for the zombie apocalypse just so I can drive around smashing my car door into a zombie's head. The highlight of Zombieland is quite possibly the best celebrity cameo of all time. I won't spoil it here, you'll just have to watch the movie.

4. Army of Darkness (1993)


Come get some! Army of Darkness is the last of the Evil Dead trilogy. Ash, the dimwitted hero played to perfection by Bruce Campbell, is transported along with his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 to the year 1300 where he must retrieve the Necronomicon and defeat the Deadite army. This movie is perhaps the funniest film on this list; it definitely has the best one-liners. If you haven't seen this cult classic, go rent it today. And remember, Hail to the king, baby!

3. 28 Days Later (2002)


The premise of 28 Days Later is creepy, just creepy. Imagine waking up from a coma to find the world empty of people, and when you do finally find someone, they turn out to be mindless creatures whose only purpose is to rip your face off. Danny Boyle reboots the zombie genre in this movie by making the zombies more realistic. They are no longer undead, but infected with the Rage virus. Also, they're fast. Gone are the shuffling hordes of the past, they've been replaced with bloodthirsty sprinters that want to tear any survivors limb from limb. When you add the truly scary running zombies to the oddly sad and eerily empty landscape, the result is a very haunting film.

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)


Dawn of the Dead is the Godfather of zombie films. The second of George Romero's living dead movies, Dawn of the Dead follows the story of a small group of survivors as they take refuge in a mall. Unlike the 2005 remake, this movie is a parable of the fragile nature of society and a critique of the rampant consumerism of the late 1970's. Dawn has so many layers of meaning to it, that it is worth repeated viewings. Many films of the genre are just excuse for cheap horrors and gore, but Dawn of the Dead is not only one of the goriest films ever made, it is filled with an underlying sense of dread that stays with you long after the film has ended.

1. Shawn of the Dead (2004)


Shawn of the Dead is at the top of the list for several reasons. First, it invented the Zombie Romantic Comedy genre. It took the zombie apocalypse, which other movies had envisioned as a horrific end-of-days senerio, and re-invented it as ridiculous, piss-your-pants-funny comedy. Shawn of the Dead took all of the conventions of zombie movies and, instead of trying to reboot them without the campiness like 28 Day Later did, SotD embraced them and their absurdity. Not only was this movie the perfect parody of the zombie genre, it was such a good zombie movie in and of itself that it re-launched the current zombie craze. If you look back at the 90's, they were a wasteland for zombie movies. The genre was way past its Ramero golden years. The few zombie movies that were made were god-awful. After Shawn of the Dead was released in 2004, dozens of zombie movies have hit the theaters and many of them were so good that they made our list. Those movies owe their existence to Shawn of the Dead. And that is why it is at the top of our list.


Our Individual Lists

For those of you wondering what our individual lists were before we averaged them together, here they are:

Justin's Picks
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
2. Shawn of the Dead (2004)
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
4. Army of Darkness (1993)
5. Zombieland (2009)
6. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
7. Fido (2007)
8. Day of the Dead (1985)
9. Planet Terror (2007)
10. Night of the Living Dead (1968)


Tony's Picks
1. Shawn of the Dead (2004)
2. Army of Darkness (1992)
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
5. Day of the Dead (1985)
6. Planet Terror (2007)
7. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
8. Zombieland (2009)
9. Idle Hands (1999)
10. Land of the Dead (2005)

Scott's Picks
1. Shawn of the Dead (2004)
2-10. I'll leave this to you guys.

Snake Oil or Supplement?

Information is Beautiful has a wonderful interactive graphic illustrating the scientific evidence for health supplements. What is surprising to me, is that many supplements that I had written off as crap actually have strong evidence for treating certain conditions. Like St. John's wart for treating mild depression. Who would have thunk? However, what is no surprise, by far most supplements fall in to the categories of having little to no scientific evidence for the claims that are made about them. Vitamin C, ginseng and gingko biloba are all a waste of money. My favorite thing about this graphic is that it shows that even if some claims are correct about a supplement, that doesn't make it a cure all. Green tea for example is has cholesterol reducing properties, but there is little evidence that it can prevent cancer or help in weight loss. If you are spending money on supplements or are thinking about it, please check out this site. You might end up saving a lot of money.

Dr.Rachie Wins a Shorty

Dr. Rachael Dunlop, who tweets under the feed @drrachie, has been honored as the winner of the health category during the second annual Shorty Awards. The Shorty Awards recognize excellence on Twitter. The runner-up was homeopath and quack, Dr. Joseph Mercola. Dr. Rachie's win represents a real win for science and skepticism. Congrats.

Pssh . . . Amateurs

The NY Times takes a stab at reviewing some delicious Belgian-style beers.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #16

We decide to keep this episode short and utterly fail. After our beer reviews, we talk about facilitated communication and the coma guy. Then we have a very special Bullshit Question of the Week for Tony.

Episode #16 Show Notes

In this craptacular episode, we discuss Rom Houben, the man who everyone thought was in a persistent vegetative state for 23 years, but was really fully conscious the whole time and trapped in his body and now can finally tell his story through a method called facilitated communication. Well, it turns out that Houben is actually in a persistent vegetative state and facilitated communication is a load of crap.

George Will is wrong on climate change

I would like to first state that George Will is an intelligent man. Will is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist known for his conservative views. His column is syndicated across the nation and he has taught at Harvard University. He has more awards than I care to list here. Like I said, he is a very smart man. However, he is also wrong.

Will recently wrote this article in which he claims global climate change isn't real. To make his point, Will fills his article with logical fallacy after logical fallacy and with all the same denialist claims that have been debunked years ago. His column is really no more that the global warming deniers talking points regurgitated back up and wrapped with a bow. It is really sad that this came from a Pulitzer Prize winner; he could have done such a better job.

George Will is an ideologue. He has a particular world view and he refuses to change it, even if it is clashing against reality. He is afraid that carbon credits or cap-and-trade will raise energy prices and tax and will hurt the economy. He may or may not be right, I don't know. But instead of finding an alternative to those policies, he simply denies the science. If global warming is real, then we will have to spend money to deal with it. He doesn't want to do that, so therefore, global warming can't be real. Will, however, is mistaken on the nature of reality. As science fiction author Philip K. Dick once wrote, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

In his column, Will uses ad hominem attacks against climate scientists. He quotes Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ranting against deniers. Pachauri said:

"They are the same people who deny the link between smoking and cancer. They are people who say that asbestos is as good as talcum powder — and I hope they put it on their faces every day."


While Pachauri wasn't tactful at all, you can clearly see his frustration with the deniers. Pachauri probably shouldn't have said that. He let his emotions get the better of him. But George Will fails to separate the man from the science. He sees a flawed man, so everything Pachauri said must be wrong.

Will also claims that there has been no warming for the last 15 years, that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today, and implies that the current harsh winter disproves global warming. You can read the debunking of those claims here, here, and here. In fact, this site throughly debunks ALL the deniers arguments. I suggest that everyone gives it a read.

My main contention with George Will's piece, is his comparison of science to religion.

George Will:

A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions that everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.


In this case, George Will is an idiot. Either that, or he is willfully ignorant, and I don't know which is worse. Science is a process. Science doesn't care about the results, the theories, or the scientists. It is simply a process so that we can try to understand the truths of the universe. Many people would prefer that the world wasn't warming; I'm one of them. However, there are dozens of independent lines of evidence that says otherwise. Any one line of evidence by itself would be intriguing, but all of them together is overwhelming.

Scientists are just as human as the rest of us. No one is denying that politics, bickering, and infighting doesn't take place in science. But this doesn't mean that there is a grand conspiracy, in fact, it is just the opposite. If a scientist can prove the conventional wisdom wrong, and has the evidence to back it up, that would make that scientist's career for life. There will be those trying to disprove him, but if he has the facts to back his theories, science will come around, and his ideas will become mainstream. There are thousands of people working on climate change. If someone could prove that global warming wasn't real, he would win the Nobel Prize. But that hasn't happened, because the evidence doesn't support that.

While I don't agree with many conservative view points, there are some valid ones that George Will could have made. He could have said that the cost of stopping climate change is too high and would wreck the economy and that the money would be better spent adapting our infrastructure to a changing planet. He could have said that money would be better spent building levies around our coastal cities to protect them from rising seas, or developing drought resistant crops to feed the population is the mid-west dries out. He could have said that saving the polar bears wasn't worth sacrificing the potential riches of oil and gas deposits in the Arctic Ocean. I wouldn't have agreed with those points, but at least they would be a valid argument. Denying that reality exists on the other hand, is beyond a lazy or ignorant argument, it is dangerous.

Clueless idealogues get to decide what your kid learns in school

Most people in blue states probably aren't aware that the Texas school board basically decides what the entire country's textbooks say because of the huge number of textbooks sold in Texas.

The NY Times recently ran a great article summarizing the situation with the Texas state school board and the undue influence of these fifteen people on what children learn based on their personal opinions instead of the input of recognized experts. This year, the school board is revising American history to suit ultraconservative Christian views (read: ignorant and/or heavily biased against observable facts), much like they tried to do recently to the state science standards. Seven of these fifteen people vote in a bloc with the STATED intent of eventually redefining America as a Christian nation, and the most vocal and influential member of the board in this past years is a literal-interpretation fundamentalist.

For those of you in Texas:
This is the reason not to ignore mid-term elections. Your local and state politicians have far more influence over your day-to-day lives and the direction of this country than the federal government does. As added incentive, due to appallingly low voter turnout at mid-term elections, your vote counts for far more than it does on presidential election years. Primary elections are taking place right now. If you're registered with the Republican or Democratic parties, please consider participating in the primary elections, and at bare minimum make sure to vote in the elections in May and November.

V&Z

Following our podcast tradition of zombie and vampire love, I just watched a double feature of "Zombieland" and "Daybreakers."

After this immersion into our favorite alternate reality, I pose a question. Why doesn't anyone ever where armor? More specifically neck armor to thwart vampire attacks? You never see that. Think about it.

Climategate scientist cleared

Dr. Michael Mann, one of the scientists at the center of the "climategate" email scandal, has been cleared of any wrongdoing, and has had allegations of manipulating and hiding data dismissed. This is according to an ABC News story.

Mann is a climatologist working for the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University and it was his hacked emails that the climate change deniers claimed as proof that scientists were manipulating data that global warming is man made. While Dr. Mann has been cleared of all allegations of misconduct, I think we can assume this won't affect the deniers at all. I am betting tomorrow that I read a story that the investigating body is part of the conspiracy and cover up.

NASA Scientists to Approach Girl by 2018

I wonder if we can get Ryan, our NASA insider, to comment on this.


NASA Scientists Plan To Approach Girl By 2018 

Happy Darwin Day!

Intelligence Squared

Recently I have been enthralled with the Intelligence Squared channel on YouTube. Please check out this video and I hope you check out the rest of this series on "Atheism is the new fundamentalism."

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #14 Repost

Apparently this episode didn't go up on iTunes. I must have posted Episode 13 twice. When I do shit like that, let me know. Come on people, you have to pull your weight a little too.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #15

After our beer review, we talk about Dr. Andrew Wakefield being a douchebag, poor building codes in Haiti, and sci-fi movies!

To Twitter, or Not To Twitter

You've probably noticed that I don't post updates on this blog very often. I'm usually really busy and don't have time, unless I get a bee under my bonnet ( How's that for a 1800's euphemism?). Well, Facebook is down, I can't watch Lost because my wife is giving our kid a bath, so I have some time to waste. Also, I'm half drunk.

I've been thinking about getting a Twitter account lately. I've been putting it off because I thought it was just about worthless and a waste of my time. However, now I feel like I'm missing out. The has be lots of drama lately in the Twitterverse and I don't get to participate at all. Now that I would be doing a lot of twatting or tweeting or whatever it is called, but there are a lot of people that I would like to follow. People like Phil Plait, Rachael Dunlop, PZ Myers, and even Kevin Smith. And without an account, I can't vote in the Shorty Awards.

The Shorty Awards is Twitter honor for the best tweeters of the year. Dr. Rachael Dunlop, who tweets under Dr. Rachie, is in first place under the health category. The polls are open until Friday. I consider Rachael a friend of the show. We interviewed her in episode #10, and I would love to do it again. Dr. Rachie is one of my skeptical heroes. She has be battling quacks, and they don't like it at all. I'm not going to relate the whole controversy here, but the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait did a good job of telling the story. Anyway, if you have a Twitter account, go vote for Dr. Rachie. I'll do it as soon as I start an account.

Pat Robertson is an asshole

As most of you know, a massive earthquake stuck Haiti on Tuesday, leveling Port-Au-Prince and leaving hundreds of thousands dead and even more homeless. There has been a huge outpouring of aid from around the world. This is a terrible disaster and the people of Haiti are in the thoughts and prayers of people across the globe. That is why it is such a shock when televangelist Pat Robertson said yesterday on the 700 Club that the Haitians were "cursed" because they all "swore a pact to the devil."

Pat Robertson:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."


What the fuck? Really? Why is this man still on the air? Robertson is no stranger to controversy. In the past he has called for the assassination of Hugo Chávez and for God to smite Dover, Pennsylvania for rejecting intelligent design.

Here is the video:



While most people realize that Pat Robertson is a bigoted idiot, he has millions of followers who believe every word that he says. Robertson is spreading fear, hatred, and his own sense of self-righteousness. Instead of being compassionate and helping those in need, he is telling us that people deserve what they get. There are no victims, only sinners of some imagined past discretion that must be punished by a petty, vindictive deity.

Pat Robertson is wrong. Here is how to help:

The UNICEF Haiti Earthquake Fund

The American Red Cross International Response Fund

Or text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross.