First-Night Effect: A Well-Known Nuisance for Humans Abroad

Holidays! Time to get away from school or work and leave the daily grind behind oneself when you part on a holiday trip. Sounds great, right?

Sure it does—but there is a catch for many people, including me. I seem to sleep less well when I’m not in my bed. For a couple of months now I’ve tracked my sleep using an app on my smartphone. It gives me a scoring per night, but it also analyzes trends. So for instance, when I’m not at home (checked via GPS), I sleep less well, especially on the first few nights. I travel for family and work reasons, which didn’t make a difference; I lost about 10% of sleep quality overall.

Tossing and turning in a hotel ... you now know that's "FNE"!

Tossing and turning in a hotel? That might be the “First-Night Effect”!

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6.30.2016

A Jug of Atomized Aluminum, A Loaf of Ammonium Perchlorate, and Thou Beside Me

This week, I was invited by NASA to join them at a static firing test for the motor to power the SLS (Space Launch System), NASA’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket system, intended for a first flight in 2018. Enjoy this 2-minute video of a great big giant kablooey:

Spoiler: the test was a success. / read more…

Scoring a Goal Just Before the Break: A Myth That Doesn’t Score

The European Football Championship is currently running in France. This has occasioned, of course, multiple self-declared experts and whatnots to discuss various aspects of the game (sometimes called “soccer”): how the players, the fields, or the coach’s tie color might be influential to the match’s outcome.

image by freeimageslive.co.uk - gratuit

Image by freeimageslive.co.uk – gratuit

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6.7.2016

Are People Who Swear More Intelligent?

sample2

Found on Facebook, 2016

Recently, I’ve been seeing variations on a meme floating around my social media feeds. The most common version says something to the effect of “Science says that intelligent people swear more than stupid motherfuckers” (see image) or some variation thereof.  The meme is meant to be a counter claim to the conventional belief about swearing that was voiced by so many of our parents, teachers, and religious leaders whenever we mistakenly uttered a shit! in front of them. “Only dumb people swear,” they’d admonish, or “Smart people know better ways to express themselves than by swearing.” If you were a child like me, such comments were met with an internal eye-roll and a quiet note to self to avoid swearing again when Mom was in earshot.

If it were true — if swearing really was a marker of intelligence — then it would be a wonderful vindication of my ten-year-old potty mouth. But if you’re a regular reader of Skeptoid, I’m sure you already see where this is going. / read more…

Grinding Grains, Then and Now

In many science and heritage museums, especially when there is a focus on archaeology or how our ancestors lived, there is the possibility to grind your own grain. You have two stones, throw some grains in it, and grind away by moving one of the stones back and forth. A lot of people, especially kids, tire of it quickly, and go on to the next exhibit.

But I wanted to try this a bit more in depth. So this weekend I looked around for some stones, threw in some grains and started grinding away. The kids soon joined. Our conclusion was that it takes really a long time to get flour. Even considering that we were inexperienced and spilled some flour during the process, it took us still about half an hour to get the amount shown on the picture below. My daughter was especially keen on this archaeology experiment (she did most of the work).

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6.3.2016

Don’t Worry, You Can Still Give Your Rat that New Phone for its Birthday

Don't do this to your phone!

Don’t do this to your phone!

By now, most people have read something from one or both sides of the story regarding new preliminary data published about cell phones and cancer, which Mother Jones referred to as “game changing.” As I would expect, David Gorski wrote a great summary at Science-Based Medicine. He includes links to several stories, and runs through some of the science. I’m going to highlight and concur with a couple of his points, and take issues with one or two others.

What is being reported is that the electromagnetic radiation (which I will abbreviate going forward as EMF or RF) from cell phones can increase the incidence of cancer. This initial reporting comes from the preliminary publication of a large study being done with rats and various doses of frequencies associated with the two frequency bands most commonly used in cellular signals. It is important to note this is preliminary data, that has had some internal review, but no peer review as it has not been formally submitted for publication in a journal. It is not out of the ordinary to do this, but it is important not to draw firm conclusions without having all of the details. But many media outlets ran with the fear anyway.

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Turmeric: What is it Good For?

The supplement industry historically is a conga-line of promoters selling unproven or disproven health products. Supplement claims are crank whack-a-mole for the most part—knock one down and another comes up. It is an industry that markets with a constant drone of miracle cures that fail to deliver the miracle. Turmeric is a newly popular herbal supplement. I see patients using it in ever-increasing numbers. Most of my patients are taking turmeric as an osteoarthritis remedy, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Historically there have been rare exceptions to the failure of herbal supplements; let’s take a look at turmeric and see if it’s good for something other than a tasty dinner.

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5.18.2016

Clinton’s Campaign Promise and Carter’s Barium Cloud

Barium cloud from launch (via NASA)

Barium cloud from launch (via NASA)

So apparently Hillary Clinton is something of a UFO buff. In recent interviews, the Democratic hopeful has been vowing to publicly release secret government files on Area 51 and other UFO phenomenon, so long as there was anything substantive to release and that releasing the information wouldn’t threaten national security. She made the promise most recently on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

While I’m sure such claims send at least a little flutter of hope through the hearts of UFO believers everywhere, it’s worth noting that even if she’s sincere, she isn’t the first president to make such a promise. Way back in 1976, then-candidate Jimmy Carter made a similar promise: to “make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists.” Nothing much came of Carter’s campaign promise concerning UFOs, though whether this was because there was nothing to release or because the Syndicate successfully suppressed his efforts to do so remains an unanswered question. / read more…

4.25.2016

Better to Call Saul a Skeptic

From left: Better Call Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and actors Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean at The Paley Centre For Media's 33rd Annual Paleyfest in Los Angeles. Photograph by AFP.

From left: Better Call Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and actors Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean at The Paley Centre For Media’s 33rd Annual Paleyfest in Los Angeles. Photograph by AFP.

As a kind of echo to Brian Dunning’s recent episode about skepticism and commercial entertainment on the Skeptoid Podcast, I offer this as an example of an interesting use of skepticism on a popular TV show. (Just FYI: I’m going to try not to spoil anything, but I’m not going to make any promises.) I’m not a diehard fan of Vince Gilligan and his shows. I watched all of his beloved series Breaking Bad, and I enjoyed it. I never thought, though, that it was as good a show as many other people seemed to. Nonetheless, seeing a science-minded (anti-)hero onscreen was great. I haven’t checked the actual scientific accuracy of that show, but I’m sure someone has and found it wanting. (Falk Harnisch and Tunga Salthammer at the chemistry education hub chemistryviews.org seem to have done this work, and their critique appears pretty predictable, if less cinematic than the flaws.)

I’m now watching Gilligan’s spin-off/prequel, Better Call Saul, which stars Bob Odenkirk (who I am a big fan of), and which was co-created by Peter Gould. Gould and Gilligan give pretty good credit to skepticism and scientific thinking, if only in a secondary, though important, plot. Jimmy McGill (the series protagonist, played by Odenkirk), has a brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), who claims to suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity. Light and electronic devices seem to cause him enormous distress. His family members, neighbors, and coworkers make taxing accommodations for him, though they are evidently doubtful of his purported condition. They care about him and are sensitive to his suffering.

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Never Throw Anything Away: The Wealth of Science Archives

Our sciences are advancing at a rapid pace. New technologies emerge that help scientists dig deeper into the fundamental particles or peer farther away into our Universe. So I was quite happy when the following news item appeared. It combines two of my passions: history and astronomy, and it shows that there are some things you should never throw out. (Please tell my wife!)

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