Evolutionary psychology is the idea that we can explain peoples' behaviors by making reference to the imagined lives of early hominids and also by finding animals whose behavior explains why it's not tenured professors' fault that they tried to have sex with their undergrads.
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Phrenology (the fake science of predicting personality from the shape of your cranial bones) is like Freddy Kruger, an unkillable demon who rises from the grave every time some desperate huckster decides they need to make a few extra bucks.
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George writes, "AntiPolygraph.org has released the 5th edition of its free ebook, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, which provides a thorough debunking of the pseudoscience of polygraphy and explains how to pass or beat a polygraph test." Read the rest
Move aside Fail Whale, now the internet has a Snail Whale (and other strange beasts).
Digital Culture's interactive Hybridizer app allows you to digitally create cryptozoological creatures using the 17th c. art of engraver Matthäus Merian. His work has been digitized, split in half, and animated by the team of Kajetan Obarski, Igor Hardy and Tukasz Kozak.
Give it a whirl.
(Nag on the Lake) Read the rest
Lots of people still think homeopathy works. Scientific studies do not support its purported efficacy. This excellent animated video by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell does a great job of explaining why homeopathy doesn't make sense, and also why it is so popular (over $17 billion worth of homeopathic nostrums are sold every year). Read the rest
Over the weekend, flat-Earther and DIY rocketeer Mike Hughes tried again to launch himself into space. Unfortunately, he failed. As a result, his belief that the Earth isn't round stands. The Washington Post has been following Hughes's misadventures:
All critics would be silenced, Hughes promised then, when he finally launched on private property outside the town of Amboy, Calif., on Saturday....
“I pulled the plunger five different times,” Hughes said. “I considered beating on the rocket nozzle from the underneath side. But you can't get anyone under there. It'll kill you. It'll scald you to death. It'll blow the skin and muscle off your bones.”..
Hughes's plans are unclear now. He said he'd take apart the rocket to see what went wrong, but he has commitments to think of besides science. He was supposed to be in court on Tuesday, he told the crowd, because he was suing the governor of California for unspecified reasons. He was also trying to claim the legal right to Charles Manson's guitar. He is a man of many ambitions...
“Guys, I'm sorry,” Hughes said. “What can you do?”
"A flat-earther finally tried to fly away. His rocket didn’t even ignite." (Washington Post)
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Back in April, experts warned that Trump's plan to hire 5,000 new Customs and Border Patrol officers was unlikely to succeed: the agency already loses 1,000 employees per year and a significant number of applicants are disqualified on the grounds of past bad actions, from theft to rape to drug smuggling. Read the rest
The beverage industry has been pushing the idea that you need to be drinking water and sugar water all day long, but according to Oakland University exercise physiologust Tamara Hew-Butler DPM, PhD, that's not true. "Our bodies already possess an extremely sensitive measure of dehydration," she says in this entertaining mythbusting video. "It's called thirst." Read the rest
The Morbid Anatomy Museum recently acquired a 19th-century phrenological death mask. Liza Young, a museum studies student at St. John's University, tracked down its history. Read the rest
"This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others." — Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (an early predecessor of the DEA). Read the rest
The Mutter Museum — a freaky fantastic collection of medical curiosities — is trying to restore and preserve a collection of 139 skulls that were once used to debunk the pseudoscience of phrenology. You can help by adopting a skull for $200. Read the rest
It's not just that bad information on the "dangers" of vaccines is working to reduce the number of children getting vaccines — a fact that affects herd immunity. Now, there's evidence that the fake scares (and efforts to debunk them) are getting in the way of scientists publishing real evidence about actual problems with certain vaccines. These aren't the kind of broad "vaccines are poison" claims you're familiar with. Instead, we're talking about legitimate science documenting side effects that are usually very rare, but still have an impact on certain subsets of the population and need to be addressed. Read the rest
Some pseudoscience is pretty obvious. I think most of us are comfortable saying that the world will probably not end this December, in accordance with any ancient prophecy. But distinguishing fact from fiction isn't always simple. In fact, "fact from fiction" might be too simple a way to even frame the question. In reality, we're sometimes tasked with spotting misapplication of real science. Sometimes, we have to tell the difference between a complicated thing that nobody understands yet very well but which is likely to be true and a complicated thing that nobody understands yet very well but which is not likely to be true.
Basically, it's messy.
Emily Willingham at Forbes has some helpful hints for how to make these distinctions. She offers ten questions that can serve as guidelines for approaching new topics you're skeptical of — questions that, taken all together, can help you see the patterns of pseudoscience and make informed decisions for yourself and your family.
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3. What kind of language does it use? Does it use emotion words or a lot of exclamation points or language that sounds highly technical (amino acids! enzymes! nucleic acids!) or jargon-y but that is really meaningless in the therapeutic or scientific sense? If you’re not sure, take a term and google it, or ask a scientist if you can find one. Sometimes, an amino acid is just an amino acid. Be on the lookout for sciencey-ness. As Albert Einstein once pointed out, if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.
At The Guardian, blogger GrrlScientist is passing out Nobel Prizes for Quackpottery in the fields of physiology, physics, and chemistry. The prizes are awarded to actual Nobel Laureates who have made deep and long-lasting contributions to undermining their own credibility by latching onto hypotheses they can't back up with evidence and then continuing to promote those hypotheses despite the lack of evidence. It's a nice reminder that scientists are human, and that even very, very smart people are not always rational people. Read the rest
Alexis Madrigal on the weird tape that Olympic athletes are sticking on themselves:
It's called kinesio (or just 'k') tape. Athletes use the tape as a kind of elastic brace that they say helps relieve pain. The tape and technique were developed by Kenso Kase thirty years ago in Japan. Since then, many companies have developed similar adhesive tapes and they are in something of a marketing war. Unfortunately, the evidence that k tape does much of anything is scant.
Huh, I never would have thought that athletes, trained to succeed at all costs and given a perfunctory education, would be so easily sold on quackery and the promise of biological shortcuts.
That Weird Tape Olympians Have on Their Bodies: Does It Do Anything? [The Atlantic] Read the rest
Over at Download the Universe, Ars Technica science editor John Timmer reviews a science ebook whose science leaves something to be desired. Written by J. Marvin Herndon, a physicist, Indivisible Earth presents an alternate theory that ostensibly competes with plate tectonics. Instead of Earth having a molten core and a moveable crust, Herndon proposes that this planet began its existence as the core of a gas giant, like Jupiter or Saturn. Somehow, Earth lost its thick layer of gas and the small, dense core expanded, cracking as it grew into the continents we know today. What most people think are continental plate boundaries are, to Herndon, simply seams where bits of planet ripped apart from one another.
The problem is that Herndon doesn't offer a lot of evidence to support this idea.
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Once the Earth was at the center of a gas giant, Herndon thinks the intense pressure of the massive atmosphere compressed the gas giant's rocky core so that it shrunk to the point where its surface was completely covered by what we now call continental plates. In other words, the entire surface of our present planet was once much smaller, and all land mass.
I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of this, figuring out the radius of a sphere that would have the same surface area as our current land mass. It was only half the planet's present size. Using that radius to calculate the sphere's volume, it's possible to figure out the density (assuming a roughly current mass). That produced a figure six times higher than the Earth's current density — and about three times that of pure lead.
Seriously. If you haven't figured out by now that the world is not ending and that any Mayan predictions claiming otherwise are largely fabricated pseudoarchaeology, then I'm not sure that I can help you. One last try, though. Please read this excellent FAQ, written by actual archaeologist (and my former professor) John Hoopes. I did an interview with Dr. Hoopes last year about the 2012 as a phenomenon, but the new FAQ covers, in detail, why a 2012 apocalypse is bunk, and what sources you can check out to find further accurate information about the confluence of ancient Mayan mythology and modern Western mythology. And that is all I have to say about this for the rest of the year. Coming in 2013, though: Lots of stories about Mayan archaeology. Just to mess with you. Read the rest