Immanuel Kant, Skeptic

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is one of the greatest philosophers the world has seen. He is especially known for his “critical” works, namely Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Critique of Practical Reason (1788), but he also wrote a small treatise on a skeptical subject.

That seems a bit out of place given his other works in metaphysics. I must admit that I consider him one of the greatest in philosophy, but I might be a bit biased. Before we delve into the details of his skeptical work, do remember that he anachronistically refuted the myth that you can only be productive (in literature, business, science, music, or any other pursuit) in your twenties or thirties. Kant was 59 when he published Pure Reason. At least that gives me some more time to plan and write my magnum opus

Immanuel Kant (c) Wikipedia

Immanuel Kant. Via Wikipedia.

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8.29.2014

Organic Ghost Detector

The seal of the USDA Organic Certified label. Via Wikimedia.

Organic food labeling is marketing, not science. Organic marketers utilize any bit of data that can be spun to promote a significant difference, producing a constant drone of nonsense. This week an article in Science World Report tops my nonsense list for organic agriculture promotion. The article “New Test May Detect Organic Food Fraud: Is Your Produce Really Organic?” is a subtle but effective promotion of organic foods’ purported benefits. This article is based on a press release offering the idea that there may be a test to separate falsely labeled organic produce from true organic produce. / read more…

8.28.2014

In Which I Admit Defeat in Being Beaten to Filming Death Valley’s Moving Rocks

Me with one of the largest of the moving stones in 2011. Photo by Richard Saunders.

Me with one of the largest of the moving stones in 2011. Photo by Richard Saunders.

First of all, my congratulations to Richard D. Norris, James M. Norris, Ralph D. Lorenz, Jib Ray, and Brian Jackson for their publication in PLOS ONE of Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion. Although many different mechanisms have been proposed by other publications over the decades, these authors finally got it right. And they beat me to the punch, right under my very nose. They were already collecting data by the time I was just starting to think about taking this on seriously.

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8.26.2014

Top Ten (Extremely Silly) Ways to F*** the System

Once in a while, it’s fun to take a Facebook meme and pull it apart like a piece of taffy. These can be lists of bogus quotes, chemphobic nonsense, or things “they” don’t want you to know about. But the list I want to destroy today is a little bit of all three. It’s called “Top 10 Ways to F*** the System” and it’s about as bogus, phobic and conspiratorial as they get. / read more…

8.25.2014

Do Brain Parasites Make Me Love My Cat?

The author's precocious jellicle cat.

The author’s precocious jellicle cat.

I am the happy roommate of a precocious cat named Olivia. I protect her from harm, I feed her decent cat chow, and I let her sleep next to me at night if she wants to. I am, in other words, a responsible cat owner, and Olivia is a friendly and well-adjusted animal. I would like to think that my care and affection for her is a refletion of my better nature as a human being.

So why is it that people want to tell me that I’m infected with a brain parasite?

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8.22.2014

What The FDA Doesn’t Want You To Know

The logo of the Food And Drug Administration. Via Wikimedia.

Conspiracy theorists and cranks, such as Mike Adams or Dr. Joseph Mercola, like to say that the Food and Drug Administration is keeping the truth from you. Like all good lies there is a grain of truth to that statement. Experimental research is submitted to the FDA without ever being made public. Overall there has been a push in the US to have more transparency about drug research. This is a thorny issue on many levels. How much transparency is too much, and at what level does full disclosure become a problem? Many laypeople would say that full disclosure is best. Factually that is not always true for a variety of reasons. Scientific American recently published an online article discussing this very issue, called “FDA Debates Secrecy Surrounding Experimental Drugs.”

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8.20.2014

The Day I Met Dr. Edward Teller

Dr. Edward Teller in 1987 (Wikimedia Foundation)

Dr. Edward Teller in 1987 (Wikimedia Foundation)

Dr. Edward Teller, the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,” is often known for his uneasy relationship with fellow Manhattan Project member J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” Their rivalry was not limited to the specific type of nuclear weapon each was the “father” of, but was most publicly aired when Teller was one of the very few people to recommend that Oppenheimer be stripped of his security clearance during the McCarthy era commie witchhunts—a motion that succeeded.

This effectively ended both Oppenheimer’s work with the government and Teller’s support from much of the scientific community. The rift was somewhat healed when Teller recommended John F. Kennedy’s 1963 presentation to Oppenheimer of the Enrico Fermi Award, but by that time Oppenheimer was largely retired to the US Virgin Islands, and Teller was just starting a long and prosperous career with US atomic programs. / read more…

8.19.2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge: Awareness is Not Money

Like the rest of you, my social media feeds are being inundated by people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. Friends, relatives, celebrities, athletes. Big Deal Important People like Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk. If you’ve heard of someone, chances are they’ve either already taken or are about to take the Ice Bucket Challenge – publicly immersing themselves in the aforementioned ice water, then daring three others to do the same thing.

Why are they doing this? For charity, specifically to raise money in support of the ALS Association. The point of the challenge is that you either accept it and dump freezing water on your head, or decline it and make a donation to fight ALS, a figure generally given as $100.

But why does a video of someone chilling their brain help fight ALS if the person doesn’t make a donation to go along with it? Because it makes people feel like they’re doing something good. And, of course, it “raises awareness.” / read more…

8.18.2014

It’s Quantum Mechanics… Or Something

Aerial View of the Spallation Neutron Source

Aerial View of the Spallation Neutron Source

Scientists get things wrong very often. I, for one, am thankful they do. Being wrong is an opportunity to learn new and interesting things about the world. Or it might simply mean we need to do more work in order to see how our hypothesis was wrong. Giving scientists an opportunity to be wrong and the opportunity to simply explore is one of the best things we can do to make better and more useful technology. And in the last couple weeks we’ve gotten to see hints as to what this powerful research can bring about.

First, I want to explain the humor of my title. Those of you familiar with scientific skepticism understand that there are many pseudoscience peddlers that try to use quantum mechanics as a way to explain their bogus claims. The recent news I will briefly explain next actually does involve quantum mechanics. Even for physicists, it is not an easy concept. I will use an explanation that involves quantum mechanics, but at a very basic level. Please forgive me if you have some background in the subject and I over-simplify it, but I want to make this accessible for a wide range of readers. / read more…

The Loss of Vitamin C: One More Proof for Evolution

Evolution never ceases to amaze me. It’s one of those scientific facts that has been proven correct over and over. I didn’t know however what to expect when one of my favorite podcasts, Irreligiosophy, tackled “5 Evidences for Evolution.” Apart from the unpronounceable name, it’s quite a good podcast. Its main focus is a critical discussion of religion (Mormonism in particular), but from time to time they also tackle skeptical topics, like this one. The episode is marked as “explicit” since they talk about anatomy and use strong language, so be forewarned if you wish to avoid such content.

I was however pleasantly surprised to hear 5 cases that contained recent research, like the following one (the 4th, just before the 35-minute mark). We humans, as almost all simian species (lemurs and prosimians excluded) are not able to synthesize our own vitamin C.

“Eat More Fruits And Vegetables High In Vitamin C.” above the lettering is a green pepper, below, one half of an orange, inside up. From the 1989 published by the National Cancer Institute (USA)

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