Inmates Running the Asylum

Yup, a Climate Change Denier Will Oversee NASA. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

This is very worrisome. NASA is one of the key scientific agencies studying global warming and climate change. A good fraction of NASA’s annual budget goes to Earth-observing satellites critical in looking at various factors of climate change (like the recently launched OCO-2, which monitors CO2).

This is as close to the analogy of putting the fox in charge of the hen house that there is. It would be as ludicrous as putting the rabidly anti-science Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oh, wait.

Whoops, I Did it Again

A paper by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel was accepted by two scientific journals

Much like the incident I linked to a few weeks ago. This has a nonsense paper, fictional authors (literally) and a fictitious university.

One journal immediately accepted it, while the other took a month before accepting (perhaps as part of an effort to fake peer review), but has since published it — and now keeps sending Smolyanitsky an invoice for $459.

The fact that these journals would accept the paper is absurd, and the Simpsons connection is pretty funny. But it’s also a troubling sign of a bigger problem in science publishing.

Oh, Fudge

… except I didn’t say “fudge”

“Get Me Off Your F—ing Mailing List” is an actual science paper accepted by a journal

They don’t say fudge in the paper, either.

There are a bunch of journals out there, many advertising themselves as “open access” that will print basically anything — for a fee. Many claim to be peer-reviewed, as does the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, who accepted the paper.

IJACT … is a highly-selective, refereed journal. Manuscripts that appear in the IJACT Articles section have been subjected to a tiered review process. This includes blind review by three or more members of the international editorial review board followed by a detailed review by the IJACT editors.Although feedback ordinarily will be given, the editors reserve the right to reject a manuscript for publication without a rationale for their decision.

Oh, really? A reviewer marked its appropriateness as “excellent”. It was accepted; the only reason it wasn’t published was that the submitter didn’t want to pony up the $150 it would have taken.

The article chronicles other deliberately substandard submissions that were submitted to, and often accepted by, similar journals. Their sleaziness can’t be blamed on Schwartz.

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There is Nothing New Under the Sun

I was poking around on the internet, following up on something I had read about the longitude prize (300 years old as of this summer)

Thomas Jefferson and the search for the longitude in America

Not surprising: Jefferson was interested in the longitude issue. He was very scientifically minded, so it’s reasonable a major science/technical issue of the day would be of interest. But here’s the thing — as a prominent face of things scientific, he was a crackpot magnet. (Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say a crackpot lodestone)

Jefferson apparently rued his status as an unofficial scientific clearing house, writing to a friend after a longitude projector approached him in the street that his ‘false reputation […] has made me a kind of Vortex into which the projects of our country are very much emptied’. Although he responded considerately to most supplicants, he feared ‘the sacrifice of the remains of my life in the investigation for others of projects which very often require a great deal of consideration, much research, and sometimes elaborate calculations’.


One troublesome consequence of his undaunted advocacy of a “method of ascertaining the longitude by the moon’s motion without a time piece” was a flood of methods more controversial than his own. Among his papers are even more letters from discoverers of longitude than from inventors of perpetual motion machines. Fellow longitude addicts seem to have been particularly hard for Jefferson to rebuff.

I find it interesting that he referred to his as a “false reputation” as an expert — I’m guessing that he properly viewed it that no matter what he knew, there was much that he did not, so he didn’t consider himself as an expert, even if he had the ability to debunk. Also that he was an advocate of the lunar method of determining longitude (making him a lunatic, of sorts)

But mostly it’s interesting to note, although it should be thoroughly unsurprising, that crackpots existed back in the day, and they would pester someone with a public presence and some sort of science credentials to comment on (and presumably endorse) their ideas.

MAD is not a Viable Strategy

How anti-vaccination is like a nuclear bomb

How quickly the disease spreads, if it spreads at all, depends on the number of people vaccinated. Again, we find very simple math: if, on average, an infected person encounters less than one unvaccinated person while he/she is contagious, the disease will die out. If, however, an infected person encounters more than one unvaccinated person while he/she is contagious, the disease will multiply: each new infected person infects new ones.

A fairly decent analogy (even if I have a terminology nit: induced reactions are not decays)

Wow, A Free Lunch. Made by Unicorns!

While I was on vacation there were some ripples in twitter-land about NASA announcing a rocket propulsion system that didn’t need fuel. Here’s a representative sample: ‘Impossible’ Space Engine May Actually Work, NASA Test Suggests

Sadly, no. And I say sadly not because of disappointment that gizmos that can’t possibly work don’t end up working, it’s that NASA was involved and gave this two thumbs up. They need to be better than this.

This being the internet, rebuttals to the NASA report already exist. The one from John Baez is pretty good

The tl;dr version. Lots more detail in the link.

1. They tested a device that was designed to work and one that was designed not to work. They both worked.

2. They tested the devices in a “vacuum chamber”, but they didn’t take the air out.

3. They didn’t carefully study all possible causes of experimental error… like their devices heating the air.

That first one is mind-boggling. It’s as if you weighed something at two pounds, and when the scale was empty, it read two pounds, so you conclude the test object weighs two pounds. (Insert joke about not having to be a rocket scientist to understand calibration runs. But … apparently it helps to not be a rocket scientist, in this case) That’s some sloppy science.

So, no. You can’t get from

Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust.


Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.


Choprafication: The act of adding of “quantum” to a description to make it sound all science-y and stuff

Me (no relation)

Quantum and Consciousness Often Mean Nonsense

I hold degrees in physics and have spent a lot of time learning and teaching quantum mechanics. Nonphysicists seem to have the impression that quantum physics is really esoteric, with those who study it spending their time debating the nature of reality. In truth, most of a quantum mechanics class is lots and lots of math, in the service of using a particle’s quantum state—the bundle of physical properties such as position, energy, spin, and the like—to describe the outcomes of experiments. Sure, there’s some weird stuff and it’s fun to talk about, but quantum mechanics is aimed at being practical (ideally, at least).

Yet the mysterious aspects of quantum physics and consciousness have inspired many people to speculate freely. The worst offenders will even say that because we don’t fully understand either field, they must be related problems. It sounds good at first: We don’t know exactly how some things in quantum physics work, we don’t know exactly how to go from the brain to consciousness, so maybe consciousness is quantum.

The problem with this idea? It’s almost certainly wrong.

Is There Anything the Government Can't Do?

Atlanta Storm Was a Government Conspiracy? Snow Way!

Here is where it gets weird. Some people went outside and made snowballs. Then—and I have no clue who would think to do this in the first place, but there you go—they held a lighter to the snowball. What they claimed then is that the snow didn’t melt and drip away as you’d expect. That’s odd enough, but then they saw scorch marks on the snowball! Ice can’t burn, so why were there black streaks on the snowballs?

Naturally, if nature doesn’t conform to your preconceived notions, nature must have been compromised somehow.

The stupid, it burns.