Archive for the 'Antiscience' Category

You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time

The Latest Update in the Hydrino Saga

Real scientists, doing real work, don’t pull nonsense like this.

Excellent takedown of the latest nonsense from Blacklight Power and their mythical hydrinos. I’ve mentioned them before.

"In the Pocket of Big Sphere"

An Open Letter to the Editors of the Los Angeles Times

[D]on’t forget Geocentrismgate, where scientists’ emails revealed they say “The Moon rises at 8:30 tonight,” showing they clearly have been lying about heliocentrism, too.

Pure gold.

Knock Me Down With a Feather*

*Knocking me down with a feather is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

Copper Bracelets, Magnetic Wrist Straps Fail to Help Rheumatoid Arthritis

I had noted a long time ago that based on the proposed mechanism, there was no basis to expect magnetic bracelets to work. No real surprise that they don’t.

The research published in PLOS ONE, show that both the standard magnetic wrist strap and the copper bracelet provided no meaningful therapeutic effects beyond those of a placebo, which was not magnetic and did not contain copper.

I like that they point this out about the placebos.

Science Pudding

Bad Astronomy: Global Warming Denial Is Science-Proof

Antiscience cranks, such as global warming deniers, never seem to pass up an opportunity to equivocate if it helps them look good (to the choir, at least, since the dishonest arguments are transparent to people who know what they’re looking for). If a scientist uses a lay definition, hold him/her to the scientific one, and vice-versa.

Phil is right — science doesn’t deal in proof; that’s the realm of math (or alcohol). Science deals in evidence, and in confirming models to a high degree of confidence. If a scientist says that we’ve proven something to be so, they are using a lay definition, meaning that we have very strong evidence.

Like gravity. You can’t definitively “prove” gravity but you wouldn’t want to bet against it.

I hold [the rock] over my foot. I know that our understanding of gravity is not 100% perfect, that Newton’s laws are an approximation, and that Einstein’s rules are more accurate. I can even argue over proof versus evidence versus reasonable doubt, but in the end, once that rock is falling, the science is good enough to know I should move my foot.

Don't Believe the Financial News

This Mysterious Ancient Egyptian Statue Has Started Moving On Its Own

“I noticed one day that it had turned around,” museum curator Campbell Price told the Manchester Evening News. “I thought it was strange because it is in a case and I am the only one who has a key.

“I put it back, but then the next day it had moved again,” Price said. “We set up a time-lapse video and, although the naked eye can’t see it, you can clearly see it rotate.”

Yes, you can see it rotate — during the time that people are walking past it, and not at night, when the place is empty. It’s settling from the vibrations it experiences.

Protip: pay attention to the actual scientists’ explanations, and not the wacky notion that the statue is trying to show off its backside. Also, if you offer the possibility that it’s magnetic, you should know that the idea is easily tested.

This Just In: Cold Fusion Still Not Working!

Starts With a Bang: The E-Cat is back, and people are still falling for it!

Ethan critiques a “cold fusion” effort. I have a few comments.

Look, let’s get a few things out into the open first. If there is a cold fusion device that actually works, that can harness the power of nuclear fusion to create energy, it would change the world.

I think this is too strong a statement. The requirement for cold fusion to change the world is more than it simply existing. If the device produces energy but we can’t harness it, it’s not particularly useful — if it can’t boil water to make steam and drive a turbine, thus producing electricity (or the equivalent via some other means), all we’ve made is a nifty hand-warmer. Thus, the bar for cold fusion is a little higher than simply seeing it occur. What we really want is warm fusion, at the very least.

However, this particular claim is about a device that gets hot enough to do so. But Ethan is correct in terms of the tests one needs to run in order to confirm this as legitimate.

[T]hey’re again claiming that this is nickel + hydrogen fusion, which should result in copper. Now, it’s important to know, the last time this was claimed, the nickel that was analyzed was found to contain the isotopic ratios of normal nickel mined on Earth, while the copper (10% of the product) was found to contain the isotopic ratios of copper found naturally on Earth, not the ratio you’d expect to find copper in if nuclear fusion had occurred! (Since only Nickel-62 and Nickel-64 can fuse with hydrogen into copper, it’d be impossible to get a 10% copper product in any case!)

This, to me, is a dealbreaker, though it took me a few minutes to decrypt the statement*. Nickel has several stable isotopes, so at first glance one might think you could get many isotopes of copper. However, absorbing a proton to become Copper is only energetically favorable for two of them, Ni-62 and Ni-64, which would form Cu-63 and Cu-65, respectively (the two stable isotopes of Cu). All the other candidates that might become Cu undergo electron-capture to become Ni again, which means you have to add several MeV of energy to run the reverse reaction — and cold fusion only has a fraction of an eV of thermal energy. Even if by some miracle these reactions occurred, the decays are quick. By the time you assayed the sample, there would be essentially none of those isotopes left.

In a naturally occurring sample of Ni, only about 3.6% is Ni-62, and just under 1% is Ni-64, which why Ethan can correctly say that a sample of nickel could never become 10% copper — there isn’t enough raw material for that to take place! If fusion were actually happening, you would expect the sample to be depleted of only these two isotopes of Ni, and you would expect the Cu isotopes to be present in just short of a 4:1 ratio, rather than the ~7:3 split that we see in a naturally occurring sample.

Given the blatant impossibility of this result, I don’t really care if or how the energy readings were fudged, or if it was an error on their part. It doesn’t work as advertised.

*It turns out I could have gone to his previous post on the topic for the answer, but it was a nice exercise to figure it out. All the details are there. Same result.

Scientific Illiteracy

Scientific Illiteracy

There is certainly a problem, but when it reaches the level of elected officials it has gone beyond a problem of literacy. I’d venture to say that Paul Broun being Chairman of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is not so much illiteracy as bordering on the abdication of responsibility on the part of the GOP. That someone like this could be elected is surely a symptom of the illiteracy in the US, but brings with it a whole new level of problems.

When elected officials, the very people we ask to lead our country, are ignorant of how the world works, how can our country be expected to survive much longer?

Also, I can’t help but think that if meteor impacts had been brought up as a point of discussion a few weeks ago, there would have been a backlash of anti-science opposition, attacking the science and scientists involved and accusations of fear-mongoring. (Now, of course, there’s a possibility of an overreaction and advocation of programs that will be nothing but safety theater.) There seems to be a tendency to deny there is any problem until it has reached a crisis level.

Crank Physics

Bad Physics, Bad Investment

He incorrectly claims that a cyclist can get more torque by having a crank arm that’s “longer” but bends back towards the center, keeping the pedals the same distance away from the axis as a traditional straight crank. Levers don’t work like that. It doesn’t matter what shape the lever arm is, it only matters how far away the pedal is from the center of rotation.

Good to note that the Kickstarter attempt failed miserably, not so good that there’s a smaller-scale attempt elsewhere.

It's All a Lie

Just Because I Can

To render those images interpretable, to make them available for communication to each other, we need to perform an act of translation. That’s what’s going on above, when you see images labelled “gamma ray” or “radio continuum” with your own eyes, dressed up in lively shades of red and yellow, purple and blue.

To some (and now I’m getting to it) such coloring is a lie, propaganda with which NASA and space scientists in general trick us into paying for the observatories in space and on earth that generate the data behind the fibs. To sane people, it’s what you do to help you think about and understand what it is you’re looking at/for.

Scientists represent information in (one hopes) useful ways. At a fundamental level, false-color is not any different than a chart or a graph.

Science Gone Bad

A letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and bad science

Lots of good stuff here, on some warning signs of dubious science, stemming from some suspect talks at TEDx. It’s directed toward medical/life sciences material, but there are many points that apply to science in general. This is related to an ongoing issue in journalism — whether your task is to just offer material, or whether you have a responsibility to vet the material. I’m of the latter opinion — I think that a “let the audience decide” or “I need to present both sides” approach is a cop-out.

There’s also a list of behavior that one might see if one declines to give a platform to someone peddling the dubious science, and to me, this is old hat. The claims of endangering freedom of speech/bias/suppression and the assertion that they hold a special insight (often despite no formal training) are pretty standard crackpot positions.

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