Aug 27 2009
Over the centuries our understanding of the universe has progressed thanks to looking more closely at the objects and events around us. Both literally and figuratively.
On the literal side, looking more closely has been aided by the development of lenses and other devices that allow the user to clearly see the very small things right under their nose, or things so distant they are no bigger than a speck in the night sky – at least to the naked eye.
Figuratively speaking, to look more closely means to improve your understanding by spending time and energy examining events and claims. Coupled with that is the use of cognitive tools refined through the ages. Much of the refinement has involved the abandoning of ineffective and counter-productive thought-processes. (No, it is not helpful to conclude, “a spirit or ghost must have done it,” or to shrug your shoulders and mutter something about a god working in mysterious ways.)
In this 118th edition of the Skeptics’s Circle I will be alternately sharing items from both categories. On the literal level: historical advances in technology that have extended the human ability to see. On the figurative: blog posts that closely examine events or ideas. Enjoy!
By cooking on sand with high heat, Phoenicians “discover” glass. It would be a number of millennia before glass would be shaped into lens for the purpose of looking more closely at very small and very distant objects.
August 12, 2009
Will feeding your kitty the “Evolution Diet” help it live up to 3o% longer? Is the kibble manufactured by the pet food industry toxic? In his post, Evolution Diet – Selling Food with Fear and Lies, SkeptVet closely examines the claims of the “Evolution Diet” for pets. Other recent topics include orthomolecular medicine and the health benefits of organically grown foods.
Blog: The SkeptVet Blog
The first evidence of a magnifying device — a convex lens — is found in the Book of Optics published in 1021. During the 13th century Roger Bacon described the properties of the magnifying glass. Also in the 13th-century, eyeglasses were developed in Italy.
August 13th, 2009
Can drinking coconut water help prevent contracting the swine flu? What about refraining from masturbation? It seems that when fear and uncertainty enter the front door, religion and pseudoscience muscle their way in behind. In his post When Pigs Fly, The Chemist shares some of the crazy ways people have been addressing and inflaming the fears of the H1N1 influenza. Other recent topics include healthcare reform and summer movies.
Blog: My Chemical Journey
Roughly one hundred years after Christopher Columbus beached his ships upon a new world, the first microscope was constructed. Who designed and created it? Actually, three different eyeglass-makers have each been credited with the advance, including Hans Lippershey, the developer of the first true telescope.
August 17, 2009
Are the science standards for education in the U.S. going completely down the hopper? Or is there some hope for them yet? Wouldn’t you know it, the answer to the question of the progress or decline of state science standards isn’t a simple one. (Damn you, precise thinkers, always making things complicated!) In Evolution in U.S. Public Schools: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, Mattusmaximus (Matt) has provided both reason to frown and to smile. Other recent topics include the lies and nonsense of Sarah Palin and the ways in which God — He whom Florida Governor Crist has the ear of — protected Florida from hurricanes. Or not.
Blog: The Skeptical Teacher
The previously mentioned spectacle-maker, Hans Lippershey, assembled the first telescope. Although Lippershey of Holland is frequently given credit, there were likely others before him. But history highlights the best known. The first telescopes were of the “refracting” variety. Via clear lenses, they bent incoming light to enlarge the image. Galileo greatly improved upon this design.
August 18th, 2009
If there is such a thing as alternative medicine, does this mean there are other alternative fields? Is there such a thing as alternative zoology, which might teach that ducks are actually a species of moss? (Among my own alternatives, I follow alternative Buddhism, which teaches that if you meet a porcine Buddha in the road, eat him!) Cubiksrube enters the bizarro world of alternative medicine. Rather than beating them, he joins them. Sort of. Read Alternative medicine to find out. Other recent topics include the incompatibility of science and religion and reaction to Obama’s allegedly Nazi-based healthcare plan.
Blog: Cubik’s Rube
The second generation of telescopes, and later “field glasses” or binoculars, employed both refraction and reflection in their design. A mirror (or prism) could be fashioned to reflect and redirect light to an eyepiece, magnifying the image in the process. Any telescope that you don’t look straight through to view cosmic objects is a reflecting telescope. In the 16oos none other than Isaac Newton built reflecting telescopes. Parabolic mirrors would later play a great role in the construction of astronomical observatories.
August 20, 2009
If sex toys and role playing fails to spice up your mattress-based recreation, why not try a big dose of woo? Spirituality and orgasm go together like vibrational energy and OH GOD! Right? Maybe not. Blogger Zawtowers might be a missionary of sober thought. His position: keep New Age bologna out of the bedroom. (It’s just recycled Old Age, really). In, Get Your Woo-woo Out of My Bedroom!, he takes a hard look at an article about spiritual sex and the pursuit of multi-dimensional orgasms. (Are three not sufficient?!). Other recent topics include reporting on a mass baptism event held on public property and a mission from god involving marijuana.
Blog: The Mad Skeptic
The first binoculars were basically sets of dual telescopes. The modern design, in which light takes a few right-angle turns, relies upon prism technology, accredited to Ignatio Porro of Italy. He was granted a patent for it. The prisms in a set of binoculars will magnify and reflect the light, changing its path and resulting in an “upright image” vs. the inverted one in conventional telescopes.
August 21, 2009
How gullible are fans of the paranormal? The Skepbitch (a.k.a. Karen Stollznow) performed a stunt to find out. In Paranormal Punk’d she explains how she wrote and submitted a bogus article on “supernatural sex” to Haunted American Tours. Her piece reminded me of an episode of the Skeptoid podcast, in which Brian Dunning argues that scientists have a disadvantage when debating pseudoscientists, for they are limited to the facts. Karen hilariously ventures far from anything one could call a fact. And the ghost-loving crowd eats it up.
Other recent work by Karen includes an episode of the podcast Monstertalk, which covers the “mystery carcass” recovered by a Japanese fishing vessel and believed by some to be that of a plesiosaur. Is it more likely a large shark?
Blog: The Skepbitch
Visible light is but a single section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio telescopes, also called a radio antennae, are able to collect and magnify lighwaves outside the visible range. The first of these was built in the early 1900s. Later versions became steerable and hence more functional. One was developed here in the U.S. by Karl Jansky. He built a radio telescope in Illinois with a 30+ foot metal dish (collecting reflector), mounted on a moving cradle.
August 22, 2009
Is it advisable to debate frothing lunatics? What about the beloved-by-followers, well-scrubbed subset of advocates for supernatural magic and paranormal forces? On the topic of debating pseudoscientists, Martin R. covers a case of just that. The University of Lund is organizing a panel debate on . . . not plesiosaurs but something more ghostly: creationism. In his brief post, Swedish University Lends Creationist Credibility he laments the legitimizing of illegitimate ideas. Other recent topics include a blogmeet in Stockholm and demonic possession.
Grote Reber made the first radio map of the sky, detecting electromagnetic waves in the radio portion of the spectrum. With his radio telescope, he detected incoming, invisible energy from the Sun, the Milky Way, and other “bright” sources.
August 22, 2009
Is quantum physics the new astrology — something for sloppy thinkers to project their own hopes and beliefs onto? While pseudoscience is not limited by facts, it is also not limited by the appropriate domain of facts. In, Woo Enthymemes #4: The Myth of Passive Observation, Bronze Dog takes a scalpel to quantum woo in the “middle world,” the scale of the supra-atomic. Other recent topics: where science comes from and the future of human evolution.
Blog: The Bronze Blog
Built nearly 35 years ago, the Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico consists of not one massive radar dish, but of 27 independently movable antennas, each with a dish 80+ feet across. The dishes are mounted and arrayed along a number of railroad tracks. The data from the individual dishes is combined, in effect creating a single radio telescope as large as 22 miles across.
August 24, 2009
Can bacteria learn and plan ahead? My own contribution, The Problem of Loose-Fitting Words, criticizes the spurious use of language in the case of a science news release. While I don’t segue into the social lives of fungi, perhaps I could have. Other recent topics addressed by me (Andrew Bernardin) include how the confirmation bias influences political opinions and the failure of prayer.
Blog: The Evolving Mind
The Hubble Space Telescope is not land-based, but orbits the Earth. It is an optical telescope (vs. radio), and has two hyperbolic mirrors, making it a reflector telescope. With optical telescopes, the accuracy of the polishing determines the clarity of the image/data. While good optical telescopes have mirrors polished to about a tenth of the wavelength of visible light; the Hubble’s accuracy is more in the range of about 1/65th of the wavelength.
August 26, 2009
Finally, I love philosophical questions such as this one: is math a tool used to discover and describe reality, or reality itself? One Brow ventures into this territory. His post, The foundations of non-skeptical thinking, is a response to a blog post on the reality of mathematics and the belief of mathematicians. Other recent topics include discussions of evolution and how worldviews obscure reality.
September 10, 2009
The 119th Skeptics’ Circle, to be hosted by Cubik’s Rube.
Sources for historical content: