10.1.2014

Bigfoot in My Backyard

I have known for awhile that Bigfoot is reportedly stalking the shadows of my home state of Michigan. Our fair state has even been graced with televised visits by both Finding Bigfoot and Bigfoot Bounty. But until recently I never knew that that Bigfoot was in my own backyard!

Well, okay, not literally. But apparently there’s a recent tradition of reported Bigfoot sightings in Isabella County, MI, home to Central Michigan University. I earned my degrees from CMU and then lived for several years after that. And in all that time, I never saw Bigfoot! So disappointing.

I never heard one, either. I was not as fortunate as Squatcher Jim Sherman, who has recently released what he thinks may be a “double howl” vocalization. Check out this video he posted of supposed Sasquatch vocalizations in the woods of Isabella County. / read more…

10.1.2014

Return of the Black-Eyed Kids?

Over a yVia https://www.flickr.com/photos/soulnoire/3202669120/ear ago, I examined the paranormal stories of the Black-Eyed Children. The Skeptoid podcast also did an episode on them not long ago. It appears that these haunting, demonic, alien, and frightening apparitions have returned to trouble us again! Or, maybe not, let’s take a look! / read more…

9.30.2014

A Fun Quiz About Chemicals: The Answers!

Last week’s Skeptoid post took a look at the maxim of “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” and found it to be silly and simplistic. Judging a chemical (or anything, for that matter) to be “bad” because it has a long and hard-to-say name is chemphobic and displays a lack of basic understanding about what a chemical is. Everything everywhere is made of chemicals, and while some are indeed toxic at the right dose, many others are essential for life. / read more…

Whales’ Pelvic Bones: Evolutionary Science at its Best

This summer I took my kids to the Royal Museum for Natural Sciences here in Brussels. Apart from the usual dinosaur exhibits and a very nice exposition on evolution, there was also a large room (evidently) for the display of whale skeletons. Impressed by the sheer size, I added an educational note to the experience by pointing to the remains of the hip or pelvic bone. Explaining that whales were actually land mammals that returned to the sea, I told my kids this small bone was just what remained of the hip, where the now-lost legs attached. The correct word for it is “vestigial,” and some researchers have even speculated that, given a few million years, this bone will probably disappear altogether.

A sperm whale drawing. The pelvic bone is the small bone right from the middle, that is not attached to the rest of the skeleton. Source: Wikipedia.

But science keeps on evolving and getting better, so I probably need to give my kids a new tour of the museum with updated information. / read more…

9.26.2014

The Tragedy of History’s Smallest Underground War

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave has been known since the late 1700s, and exploited for its saltpeter wealth through the War of 1812. Thereafter it became a tourist attraction, passing from owner to owner throughout the 1800s, each of whom had a clever marketing plan. First it was promoted with the display of a mummified Native American woman (imported from another location), nicknamed Fawn Hoof. Later, cottages built half-a-kilometer inside the cavern were offered as a cure for consumption and other ailments; and after the Civil War, a counterfeit Fawn Hoof took the place of the original counterfeit. Visitors were encouraged to snap off a stalactite as a souvenir. Mammoth Cave was not the only commercialized cave around, but it was by far the best known; and by the opening years of the 20th century, its proprietors were banking substantial profits.

But to reach Mammoth Cave, tourists had to drive through not only the Mammoth Cave region, but also the Flint Ridge cave region. Both were full of competing caves. In about 1920, this competition turned ugly in what became known as the Kentucky Cave Wars.

Contemporary photos from the era of the Kentucky Cave Wars. Courtesy of the National Cave Museum.

Contemporary photos from the era of the Kentucky Cave Wars. Courtesy of the National Cave Museum.

 

/ read more…

9.25.2014

Rasputin’s Prophetic Death Letter

Rasputin_EyesWriting my first episode of Skeptoid on the death of Rasputin was a great experience. The man lived a fascinating life and I loved uncovering the actual story of his death. One aspect of the writing process that frustrated me, though, was how little space I had to work with. To keep things within a certain word count and reading duration some really interesting aspects of Rasputin’s life had to be left on the cutting room floor.

One such aspect was Rasputin’s prophetic death letter. Before Rasputin died, he purportedly wrote a letter predicting both his own death and the fall of the Romanov dynasty. In some tellings of Rasputin’s life, it is claimed that this letter is a true psychic or spiritual vision. In the kind of casual history pages that commonly come up in Google searches this letter is often mentioned as an authentic prediction written by Rasputin before he died.

/ read more…

9.24.2014

Is the Evidence for Inflation and Gravity Waves Just Dust?

Planck Spacecraft

Planck Spacecraft. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the strengths of science and the scientific method is that it is self-correcting. As new evidence is found, old ideas are tested against that evidence. Should they fail, they are either modified or discarded and new ideas take their place. In such ways we improve our knowledge and better understand our Universe.

/ read more…

9.23.2014

A Fun Quiz About Chemicals

The cautionary maxim “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” became popular thanks to food writer and activist Michael Pollan. In an NPR story from 2008, he wrote it as an easy to remember phrase: “Don’t buy products with more than five ingredients or any ingredients you can’t easily pronounce.”

Oh really?

Oh really?

Since then, popular alternative medicine websites and food activists like “Food Babe” have run with this simplistic notion, turning it into a virtual crusade against anything that sounds like it might be harmful, artificial or created by a corporation.

This has lead to an explosion of chemphobia, massive windfalls for the organic and supplement industries and an almost pathological fear of “toxic chemicals in food.” The maxim essentially boils down to chemicals = bad, big words = bad, natural = good, simple = good. If you eat simple things, you’re healthy. If you eat things with hard-to-pronounce ingredients in it, you’re fat, sick and about to die. / read more…

9.20.2014

I’m a Science Babe/Big Pharma Shill

Rob_SchneiderWhile I work on a more detailed post this week on the continued terrible job the media is doing on reporting science, I have been sidetracked by a little Facebook activism. While what I am doing might border on slacktivism, there are times when using similar tactics to the anti-science crowd (like the Food Babe for example) both feels good and might actually do something good in terms of getting out the message of science. So watch for my detailed post next week—for now I will tell you what I have been doing this week.

/ read more…

9.18.2014

The Heisenberg Principle of Scientific Knowledge

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is one of the more misunderstood concepts in particle physics. The uncertainty principle says that we cannot measure the position (x) and the momentum (p) of a particle with absolute precision. The more accurately we know one of these values, the less accurately we know the other. The inaccuracy is not a function of the measurement, rather just an inherent property of wave mechanics at the quantum level. This is counter-intuitive to how we perceive the Universe. Practically, this uncertainty only exists on the atomic scale.

Scientific certainty is in one way, a lot like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. No matter how precisely science measures we will never achieve 100% certainty. Most people think of scientific knowledge and associate it with absolute certainty. Science is commonly presumed to be the final answer. Actually, science is a method to systematically answer questions using careful logic and precision. Most people’s superficial understanding is that science delivers answers with unequivocal certitude. Factually, this is just plain wrong. The scientific method is by far the only reliable method to understand the natural world, just never with 100% certainty. The media will often present every little bit of new scientific evidence as if it is 100% accurate and infallible. We see examples of this error every time the evening news promotes new research. Presenting the research as an unassailable new truth about the subject. Reports presented this way can lead people to assume that research is a fact to a 100% certainty.  Assuming that facts can only have 100% accuracy is a logical fallacy. That instinctual assumption that fact equals 100% certitude, makes the discovery of scientific uncertainty so troubling for people. / read more…