Our favorite posts of 2012

Here are our top posts of 2012. Now you can enjoy them all over again!

The science questions Obama and Romney need to answer

During the 2008 election, writer Shawn Otto lead a charge to get the presidential candidates to unambiguously and publicly explain their positions on key questions concerning science and public policy. The questions were chosen through a process that involved the general public, as well as scientists and engineers. Science Debate 2008 was intended to be a televised debate on PBS—but neither Barak Obama nor John McCain would agree to participate. Eventually, after a lot of pressure, the candidates finally answered the 14 questions ... but only in print, online. No follow-ups.

Now Science Debate is trying again, hoping to engage President Obama and Mitt Romney and get them to treat science with at least the kind of seriousness politicians give their religious beliefs. (The Republican primary, for instance, featured debates that were themed solely around the candidates' faiths.)

With the help of concerned citizens, scientists, engineers, and the nation's leading science and engineering organizations, Science Debate has put together a list of 14 questions for the 2012 presidential race.

2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

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Newly-discovered Mayan calendar in Guatemala proves (again) the world won't end in 2012

William Saturno, a Boston University archeologist, excavates a mural in a house in Xultun. Photo: Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic

An archaeological expedition in the northeastern lowlands of Guatemala yields an amazing discovery: the "9th-century workplace of a city scribe, an unusual dwelling adorned with magnificent pictures of the king and other royals and the oldest known Maya calendar."

From Thomas Maugh's report in the Los Angeles Times, on the dig in the ruins of Xultun led by William Saturno of Boston University:

This year has been particularly controversial among some cultists because of the belief that the Maya calendar predicts a major cataclysm — perhaps the end of the world — on Dec. 21, 2012. Archaeologists know that is not true, but the new find, written on the plaster equivalent of a modern scientist's whiteboard, strongly reinforces the idea that the Maya calendar projects thousands of years into the future.

To paraphrase modern-day Maya priests I've spoken with on past travels in rural Guatemala: "Well, duh."

The findings were first reported Thursday in the journal Science. The full text of the report requires paid subscription, but a recent Science podcast covers the news, and is available here (PDF transcript or MP3 for audio).

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"Lord Cain," by Tim Heidecker (music)

Herman Cain speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa October 22, 2011. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank.

Because Herman Cain's actual campaign ads just aren't weird enough:

"Lord Cain," an opus by Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric fame), as promised.

Download: MP3, Ogg, and other options here. You should follow Tim's Tumblr.

UPDATE: Dylan Mitchell-Funk created a fan-video. Eric Wareheim sure is looking good these days!

 Herman Cain sings God Bless America Cain Train: Herman Cain campaign ad by Tim Heidecker Yet another weird Herman Cain campaign ad: "He Carried Yellow ... Herman Cain sings Lennon classic "Imagine There's No Pizza ... Read the rest

The annotated apocalypse: Anthropologists tackle 2012

It's August of 2011, do you know when your Apocalypse is?

There are 1000s of people who think that something important—if not the end or the world, then something—will happen on December 21, 2012. These speculations spring from a well-seasoned cultural melting pot, but a key ingredient is the writings and beliefs of both ancient and modern Maya people. In fact, the folks promoting the 2012 movement often frame themselves as experts in Maya traditions.

Here's the thing, though: There are actual experts in ancient Maya traditions, and actual experts who study the culture and religion of modern Maya living today. These archaeologists and anthropologists have, inadvertently, created some of the pop culture legends that spawned the 2012 movement. But, until very recently, they've largely ignored that movement. This is starting to change, however. Last January, archaeo-astronomers held a symposium on the 2012 phenomenon and those papers were recently published in The Proceedings of the International Astronomy Union. Meanwhile, a new scholarly book, collecting essays on the 2012 phenomenon by Mayanist researchers, is set to be published soon.

One of the researchers featured in that book is John Hoopes, an archaeologist and one of my former professors when I was an anthropology student at The University of Kansas.

Hoopes does field research, digging at archaeological sites in Costa Rica and other parts of Central and South America. But, as a side project, he's also developed some expertise in the way archaeology—and, particularly, pseudo-archaeology—influences pop culture in the United States and Europe. Read the rest