8.28.2015

Oh No! Oh Yes! The Ig Nobel Prize is Coming

Fall is approaching, and hence the annual Ig Nobel Prize is, too. The prize was created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research. Although its name recalls the Darwin Awards—given to people who help evolution by opting out of the gene pool in accidental calamities of their own stupid creation—it’s not at all so callous. The award is sometimes described as a parody of the Nobel prizes, and in some ways it is. But it also highlights real, (basically) serious research done by actual scientists. In a recent interview on New York public radio’s Leonard Lopate Show, Abrahams stressed several times that the primary qualification of nominees is that their research first make you laugh, then make you think.

A 2002 Ig Nobel Prize winner is informed by a nine-year-old that his speech has run too long and he'll have to leave the stage. Photo: Eric Workman, courtesy of the Annals of Improbable Research.

A 2002 Ig Nobel Prize winner is informed by a nine-year-old that his speech has run too long and he’ll have to leave the stage. Photo: Eric Workman, courtesy of the Annals of Improbable Research.

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8.24.2015

Small Rocks Do Occasionally Float; It Doesn’t Make Me Wrong About Everything

Pumice_on_20_dollars

Pumice being balanced on rolled up currency to demonstrate its low density. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I was wrong. I am wrong often. As an educator of science, I try to be careful about avoiding speaking in absolute terms. When the rule holds a majority of the time, it is hard not to just say something is true, instead of saying it is true in most cases or under normal conditions. For example, Newton’s Laws only work in an inertial frame of reference. We observe Newton’s Laws working on Earth, yet Earth is not an inertial frame. But because it is close, we state the Earth is assumed to be an inertial frame because the effect is so small at the speeds and distances of everyday objects. I’ll say more on this a little later in the post.

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8.23.2015

Is There a Scientific Reason to Make Foods More “Natural?”

chemical-reaction-24562_640

Oooo! Scary Chemicals! Via Pixabay Creative Commons License.

Skeptics are very familiar with the use of the appeal to nature by pseudoscience peddlers such as the Food Babe and others. Foods with “chemical” ingredients are to be avoided according the these sellers of nonsense, which shows a basic misunderstanding of science. Although their reasons for removing things like artificial colors might be wrong and based in pseudoscience, there are sometimes good scientific reasons for removing added ingredients. And thinking about the pros and cons of unnecessary food additives might serve the skeptical and scientific community well. (Note: The last sentence of this paragraph was reworded significantly to more reflect my intention.)

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8.22.2015

The FDA is Pushing a Big Pharma Agenda to Get Our Kids High

A child suffering from cancer, who can benefit from the FDA's improved understanding of the risks and benefits of palliative drugs and other medicines for pediatric care. Via Wikimedia.

A child suffering from cancer, who can benefit from the FDA’s improved understanding of the risks and benefits of palliative drugs and other medicines for pediatric care. Via Wikimedia.

Outrage media is a big contributor to the scientific illiteracy of the general public. While it is true scientists have to do a better job of communicating science, the media needs to do a better job of balancing views and clicks with being intellectually honest.

One of my recent outrage-generating discoveries was a site called The Anti-Media. Giving the appearance of going against the grain or shunning the authority of “the mainstream” or the government is cool, so right there they can generate clicks. A recent article titled “The FDA Just Approved OxyContin to Be Prescribed to Children” talks about the outrage of “over-medicating” children and how dare the FDA give the OK for this, but yet limit access to marijuana. I won’t go into the marijuana dichotomy in this post, but for more on that you can look at other posts on Skeptoid, such as this one by Stephen Propatier, and one I recently wrote.Inline image 1

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8.21.2015

You’re Wearing the Wrong Bra

Bra sizes can seem complicated and confusing, but getting the right fit means more comfort. And it's easy. Via Wikimedia.

Bra sizes can seem complicated and confusing, but getting the right fit means more comfort. And it’s easy. Via Wikimedia.

Adjusting your bra constantly. Straps digging painfully into your shoulders. Breasts moving around when you use the stairs. Feeling relieved when you take your bra off at night. If any of this resonates with you, you’re wearing the wrong bra. Don’t feel at fault. Hardly anyone is wearing the correct bra. But why?

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8.19.2015

RAF Vulcan and a UFO

XH558 UFO1I came across this tiny gem of a UFO sighting via the Huffington Post, UK. According to the article, Elaine Costello, a resident in Sussex, England, was filming a RAF XH558 Vulcan bomber flying overhead. Upon reviewing the video, she noticed an oddly moving dot in the sky, after the bomber had passed out of frame.

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8.18.2015

Can Your DNA Tell You Your Ancestry?

The Romanov family tree. Via Wikimedia.

The Romanov family tree. Via Wikimedia.

For those of us living in the United States there’s a cottage industry for ancestry determination. For a fee, websites like ancestry.com or familytree.com claim to research your family history. I have long been fascinated by these advertisements. I always thought it unlikely that a website could accurately track down my family tree without physically researching it. Still, it is possible that they could have a vast database of computerized immigration records. Recently, there have been advertisements purporting the use of DNA testing to tell you your “true” ancestry. DNA testing, unlike a family tree, is a well developed science. Is this feasible? Can your DNA tell you your ancestry? If so how? Since DNA is in the realm of science, I think taking a look at it skeptically is worthwhile. / read more…

8.17.2015

Aspartame-Free Diet Pepsi is Here

pepsicanI would be remiss if I didn’t pen a brief follow-up on a post I wrote a few months back about PepsiCo removing aspartame from Diet Pepsi in hopes of increasing lagging sales. The new formulation hit the shelves last week to a very little fanfare from some news outlets (but not, at least in my area, any rush to the stores to try it out). Whether it does in the long run what PepsiCo hopes it will do — boost sales — remains to be seen.

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Education Myths in a Corporate Context

There are different ways of learning, but they are not mutually exclusive.

There are different ways of learning, but they are not mutually exclusive.

Battling and countering myths is, of course, something we skeptics do a lot, especially here at the Skeptoid podcast and blog. But once in a while, some organization outside of the skeptical circle also tackles the topic of countering common myths. No, this time I’m not talking about Playboy, but about the consulting company McKinsey.

In their July issue of their McKinsey Quarterly, they critically analyze three myths about learning. As others have said elsewhere (such as Jozef Van Giel, on his Belgian skeptical podcast Kritisch Denken) and as I’ve experienced myself, the workplace and HR are sadly riddled with a lot of myths and woo. So it is refreshing to see a respected institution like McKinsey tackle these. Hopefully this article gets read by a lot of people in charge.

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8.11.2015

Jade Helm 15: The Hell Has Begun

Greetings from Jade Helm internment camp #17-B, somewhere in the heart of Federally Annexed Territory Formerly Known as Texas (FATFKAT). After weeks of scoffing at the idea of UN-financed, Obama-controlled government enforcers knocking down my door and dragging me out in the middle of the night under the guise of “my own protection,” the joke was on me, because that’s exactly what happened. I was informed that martial law had been declared, and that I was suddenly living in an Agenda 21 non-human zone. Even though I knew this wasn’t true, there was nothing I could do, and I was relocated immediately to my comfortably accommodated FEMA camp. I was told further relocation to a local urban stack-and-pack habitation tower was coming soon. / read more…