Marshenge: Seeing Squares and Circles Where There Aren’t Any

I’m all in favor of citizen-science. It’s great that people are, for instance, poring over photos from NASA’s HiRISE mission to Mars. But sometimes that leads to aberrations: people mistaking very normal things to “mysterious” remains of civilizations. A recent one (which I found through the Daily Mail and GMX) has already been dubbed “Marshenge,” a portmanteau of “Mars” and “henge,” as in Stonehenge.

The low-resolution so-called Marshenge

A low-resolution of the so-called Marshenge. Courtesy of NASA.

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Malaria Medicine from Chinese Herbs

There’s a common refrain you’ll find on Skeptoid blog entries about traditional out alternative medicines: “Alternative medicine that works is just called medicine.” A lot of this stuff comes from supposedly ancient Chinese treatments of questionable derivation. One recent example is goji berries, which boast a long heritage, but appear to be basically unheard of anywhere in the world before they began to be marketed in the West in the late 1990s.

Tu in her lab, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Xinhua.

Dr. Tu in her lab, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Xinhua.

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September 23: The Aftermath

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, a group of self-proclaimed prophets, doomsday preppers, and conspiracy theorists proclaimed that “something would happen” at some point in September, 2015—and on September 23rd, specifically.



As I also wrote about, the majority of the reasons they cited for knowing that “something would happen” were either irrelevant coincidences, such as Pope Francis and President Obama meeting on the same day as Yom Kippur, or completely made up, such as the Large Hadron Collider opening a portal to another dimension and destroying the Earth—or something. / read more…

Basque DNA Analysis Shows They Were Isolated a Long Time

That the Basque people are a bit special in Europe was already well known. The Basque are the inhabitants of a region in southwest France and northern Spain. They have a language (Euskara) that is difficult to link to other known language groups like Celtic, Germanic, and Romance languages. They also have the largest percentage of Rh- (rhesus negative blood), indicating a long period of isolation.

Map of the Basque language

Map of the Basque language region. Via Wikimedia.

A recent DNA study has now confirmed this fact. BBC News reported on a study published in PNAS, in which Swedish researchers analyzed skeletons from 3,500 to 5,500 years ago in the Basque region. They managed to extract DNA and prove that these people (probably farmers) are closely related to present-day Basques.

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Beware the Squatty Potty

The Squatty Potty is an invention by Robert Edwards; its express purpose to to improve the quality and ease of your bowel movements while on the toilet. It has a catchy name and is sold everywhere from Target to The squatty potty is a stool that is designed to fit around the front of a standard toilet bowl, providing lift to your legs and resulting in a squatting-type position rather than sitting position while moving your bowels.

An ad for the Squatty Potty. Via the coupon website hip2save.

An ad for the Squatty Potty. Via the coupon website hip2save.

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How Does an Airplane Stay in the Air?

For the longest time, I thought I knew why an airplane stayed in the air. It was because the wings were curved, and in such a way that the top was more curved than the underside. Air moving over the top of the wing had to move faster to keep in sync with the air below, resulting in less pressure (same amount of air over a larger volume), thus creating an uplift, called the Bernoulli Effect.

I remember reading about that in some popularizing books, and even right now you can find plenty of websites—even at NASA’s—touting this description, which is illustrated below.

Not really correct ... (courtesy NASA)

This isn’t really correct. Courtesy of NASA.

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Is Alkaline Water the Next Great Miracle Cure?

In late August, Good Morning America ran a story about the health benefits of alkaline water. The story claims a multitude health benefits from drinking water that has an alkaline pH. Alkaline water is slightly less acidic than tap water, and remarkable effects have been promised by those who promote it. Promoters claim this water this will provide better hydration and protect against a variety of diseases. Skeptoid is all about looking into potential health benefits. Let’s turn our skeptical eye on these claims and see if they do in fact hold any water. / read more…


The September 23rd Apocalypse

Biblical prophecy watchers, apocalypse predictors, rapture preachers, and doomsday preppers are buzzing about an upcoming day that might finally usher in the End of the World As We Know It: September 23, 2015. This is supposedly the day that a confluence of events, both political and scientific, is going to herald the destruction of humanity.

Oh man, not broken down cars!

Oh man, not broken down cars!

It’s clear that in prophecy circles, this is a big deal. A search for “September 23 2015 apocalypse” brings up 11 million hits. References to the “events of September, 2015” are all over major conspiracy websites, talking about everything from rapture to asteroids to aliens to Biblical blood moons. YouTube is brimming with videos showing “the signs” of what’s about to happen. Even Isaac Newton is said to have prophesied the end of the world for this date. / read more…


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


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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