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, 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.