13 August 2011

Weekend Digest- Skeptical Dictionary for Kids

Posted by Dan Satterfield


Click to visit the SD for Kids.

The Scientists are the real skeptics

Skepticism is the heart of science. Nothing is accepted by faith, you must have a ton of evidence and observation  for something to reach the level of  consensus and thus the status of theory. This level is reached only after hundreds and in most cases thousands of independent observations/experiments. Any one observation or experiment can bring the whole thing crashing down.

Richard Feynman put this most succinctly “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”

This is really the fundamental foundation for science and unfortunately it does not seem to be taught to students. Adults for the most part have no inherent understanding of this. Just this week someone messaged me on twitter demanding that I show proof that humans are causing the climate to warm. This the common refrain of those who disbelieve accepted science like the age of the Earth or evolution. It is often reversed by those who make claims about astrology, or other forms of magic by the claim that you offer no proof  that it does not work!

Phil Plait’s fantastic blog Bad Astronomy has a link to a much-needed Skeptics Dictionary for Kids. It’s designed for kids, but from my experience a lot of adults could learn some things from it as well. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of this before, its well worth showing to your kids when they ask about such questions.

Arctic ice questions

An interesting paper published in the AGU Journal Geophysical Research Letters about Arctic Sea ice is gathering some attention this weekend. The gist of it is that while the ice is likely in a slow death spiral, the melting may slow or even stop for several years due to negative feedbacks and internal climate oscillations. It’s common to want to ascribe one cause to an event, whether in science or hum a fairs, but this is usually a mistake. Nature simply does not work that way.

You were probably taught that Gavrillo Princep’s assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand (and his wife, which history books tend to leave out) was the primary cause of World War One. It’s just not that simple, and neither is the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and their effect on sea ice. The AGU press release has more. I have started reading the paper on my iPad and it looks quite interesting.

The Sun is hotting up

The sun released an X class flare this week as it approaches the top of the 11 year activity cycle. X-class flares are the top of the line and if directed at Earth can cause major problems, especially for satellites. Astronauts on the ISS are also at risk but have an area on the station that has protective shielding.

Flares are rated according to  a system that is very similar to the scale used for earthquakes. It’s a logarithmic scale where each letter increase is a factor of ten higher in energy than the one before. The scale uses A,B,C,M and X and an M flare is ten times more powerful than a C etc. A flare stronger than M9 becomes an X1 flare and there is no upper limit on the X scale,with the X23 in Nov. 2003  the record holder. This week’s X class flare was an X 6.9, although flares above X20 have been seen, and if one of these were directed at Earth, it could cause massive damage to communication satellites and the electrical grid.

Brought to you in living colour

The true colour images produced by the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Aqua and Tera satellites have sent back some amazing pictures of our home in the cosmos, but this image released by NASA is a composite of many, producing a true look at our tiny speck in the vastness of space. My only complaint is that the image is North America centric.

In the Mercury Theatre broadcast of War of The World, Orson Welles referred to Earth as “this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood”. True indeed, but it’s our home in the unimaginably vast inky black of space.

Addition Sat. 13 Aug:
CWM’s and climate change

David Roberts at Grist wrote about a paper being published entitled Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Anyone who writes about science can tell you that any mention of climate change in a blog post will get you emails (many times in all caps with many misspellings) from angry CWM’s. This paper attempts to explain the denial and the anger. I would also recommend the book by Bob Altemeyer that goes into this even more deeply.