Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 9, 2015

Podcast Episode 136 – How Science Journalists Go from Scientists to the Public (#NewHorizons)


Media embeds
On New Horizons describe
Good commun’cation.

I was able to sit down with one of the public outreach and one of the science journalists who are embedded with NASA’s New Horizons mission. I had a very brief conversation with them about how they work to convey what we give them into something that the public can easily consume and get excited about.

It’s a very brief (bonus) episode, but I think it’s very topical, and it’s something that I’ve been curious about.

On a personal note, one of the people on the interview – Ron Cowen – is a man whose work I grew up reading on the pages of Science News. It was neat to finally meet him. And so’s not to be lopsided, the other person, David Aguilar, has been incredibly generous with his time when I’ve had questions or wanted to get involved with the public outreach efforts, making time to talk with me when he easily could (and sometimes, probably should) have told me that he was too busy.

July 7, 2012

Creationists and the God Particle


Introduction

If you were living in a box this past week, you may not have heard the announcement by CERN that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over in Europe has found evidence with 99.9999042% certainty of the long-theorized (since the 1960s) Higgs Boson. Big news in particle physics, probably the biggest news in science all week, if not month, possibly year.

Unfortunately for those of us who deal with pseudoscience, the Higgs Boson is popularly known as the “God Particle” — especially in the media. Which of course means that the young-Earth creationists have to comment on it.

Background

Okay, I’m going to assume here that if you’re reading this blog, you already know the jist of what’s going on. So I’m not going to go into a lengthy background, rather I’m just going to summarize:

  • The Standard Model of Particle Physics explains a lot but we don’t really know what “gives” particles any sort of mass. We know stuff has mass — I’m reminded of that every morning when I attempt to get out of bed.
  • The Higgs field was theorized in the 1960s to be a field that particles interact with that give them their mass.
  • The Higgs field is carried by / transmitted by / etc. the Higgs boson (the boson being a type of fundamental particle. This was predicted by and is a requirement of the Standard Model.
  • The Higgs boson was the last fundamental particle that was only in theory and hadn’t been yet observed.

And the results this past week are of the decay products that would be required from the Higgs boson, so by back-tracking those decay particles, they have the discovery of the Higgs.

Standard Model predictions found to be accurate, Higgs boson found, therefore Higgs field confirmed and we know why things have mass.

Since mass is a fundamental property of matter, and the Higgs field is commonly said to “give” particles mass (when it’s really a quantum interaction between the pervasive field and the particles), it has been deemed to be known as “The God Particle.”

That’s really about it.

Comic Sans

I suppose a very brief interlude needs to be made to discuss the Comic Sans font. Let’s be frank: It’s a stupid font that most people hate. It is childish. It was designed to be for dialog bubbles in comics (“Comic” in the name). It should never ever ever be used in anything professional.

Do people use it in professional settings? Yes. I’ve seen presentations at conferences that are written in Comic Sans. My friggin’ advisor made our entire poster for a conference in Comic Sans font. I gave him hell for it.

The media presentation at CERN for this discovery this week was done in Comic Sans. They should not have done it in Comic Sans. I don’t think there’s any excuse for this because any press officer worth anything would have told them to change the font. Period.

Does it change the results? No. I’m reminded of when a gay kid came out in his blog and it was all basic early 2000s formatting with plain background, plain text, nothing else. All his friends on Facebook gave him hell not for coming out, but for the 1990s HTML coding he used to do it. So let’s get beyond the stupid font the CERN folks used.

Creationists Respond

As most would probably expect for a particle physics news item, many people in the so-called “mainstream media” invented all sorts of things that the “God Particle” could do, though most didn’t. Many things could be taken out of context to lead people to false conclusions about what the Higgs boson “does,” and they’re ripe for quote mining.

And as we would expect, with something called the “God Particle,” every single creationist outlet I read had some reaction to the announcement this week.

In general, though, I was okay with what they wrote (apart from the whole, “True knowledge can only come from a literal reading of God’s Word!” part). The Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International all had articles that were basically saying the same thing: (1) Don’t believe the hype that with this discovery we now know all the deepest darkest mysteries of the universe, (2) “God Particle” is a misleading name, (3) it doesn’t have anything to do with the origins of the universe, (4) Praise Allah Jesus.

Final Thoughts

In my own opinion, the reporting by the young-Earth creationists on this matter is not bad, nor is it very distorted at all. They’re really just trying to reassure their followers that this discovery (which they can’t dismiss) in no way affects their faith in their god. And I’m okay with that.

February 10, 2010

Another Winter Storm, More “Global Warming Hoax” In the News


Introduction

Well, the intro to this is basically the title of this post: Another winter storm blankets the eastern U.S., and of course we have, as a result, people trying to use it as evidence against global climate change.

Good Time Article

Last time I made a post like this – last month – I gave kudos to ABC News and their article explaining that climate is NOT the same as weather. This time, I would like to draw attention to Time article, “Another Snowstorm: What Happened to Global Warming?” by Bryan Walsh. Another good article that understands “it’s a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season’s worth of storms — to disprove climate change.”

The most relevant part are the following two paragraphs (emphasis mine):

“Climate models also suggest that while global warming may not make hurricanes more common, it could well intensify the storms that do occur and make them more destructive.

“But as far as winter storms go, shouldn’t climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32°F [0 °C], it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms. And while the mid-Atlantic has borne the brunt of the snowfall so far this winter, areas near lakes may get hit even worse. As global temperatures have risen, the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has shrunk, which has led to even more moisture in the atmosphere and more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Climate.”

The article also points out that the fallacy of equating weather and climate is used by people on both sides of the debate – both by people claiming winter storms disprove climate change and by people claiming that droughts or record highs during a month period mean that global warming is definitely happening.

Final Thoughts

Wow! A short blog post! Okay, but anyway, as is generally the case with a politically charged issue, and with one where there are people who are dogmatically set on a premise that fundamentally misunderstands the basic concepts, any ray of hope that can be grasped by a current event is used and exploited to its fullest. As I’ve mentioned before, unsurprisingly George Noory had on guest Robert Felix at the beginning of tonight’s Coast to Coast AM show to talk about how this storm and other record lows and snows prove his own pet ideas – that we’re going into an ice age, not a warming period. Sigh.

But, this Time article is an example of more good science reporting, and trying to explain to a misunderstanding public that weather and climate are two different things.

January 8, 2010

ABC News Gets It – “Weather” Is NOT “Climate”


Introduction

It’s cold here in Colorado. Last night after I walked from my car to my apartment after a meeting, just spending about 2 minutes outside, my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t type for about 15 minutes. The temperature was 3 °F, and as the evening progressed it got down to -6 °F (that’s way below zero for you Celsius users).

And then, I was supposed to receive a UPS package today. But, when I checked the status, it was: “ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS – LATE TRAIN” and UPS doesn’t know when they’ll actually deliver it (I’m guessing Saturday if they do a Saturday delivery, or just on Monday).

And then there are other “cold snaps” throughout the rest of the continent of North America. Could this mean that global warming is just another leftist environmentalists ivory-tower-loving scientists conspiracy?

No

Well that about sums it up.

Okay, Really …

I’ve already addressed this before, over a year ago in my post “Record and Unusual Snows and Cold – Proof Against Global Warming?” I suggest you read that if you need a primer. The very basic idea is that weather ≠ climate. For those of you who may not be mathematically inclined, “≠” means “not equal to.” The ability to predict weather patterns on a day-to-day basis is very different from predicting general climate trends years out.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to get into that again, but to point out an article and give kudos to the author, Bill Blakemore. The article is entitled, “No, the Cold Doesn’t Mean No Global Warming” and can be found by clicking that link, hosted on ABC News.

I’ll quote the most relevant part:

Bottom line — fast and simple? Three points:

  1. Weather is not climate.
  2. 2. Manmade global warming means less frequent cold snaps (not none at all) and more frequent heat waves — just as we’ve been having.
  3. 3. You know (don’t you?) about the record high temperatures this week in Washington State, Alaska and Bulgaria in the Northern Hemisphere — plus, down south, the record-breaking high temperatures in New Zealand, and the second hottest year on record (after 2005) in Australia?

Why am I pointing this out? Because I think that it’s very important that the news media actually get the science right. On a topic that is a scientific one – global warming – that just so happens to be one where people make it a very political one, it is even MORE important for reporters to get their facts right, and Bill Blakemore has done a nice job.

Final Thoughts

I listen to a lot of Coast to Coast AM radio episodes in order to get ideas for blog posts, and often during these times (I’m a week behind so don’t know if he’s done it for this), the host, George Noory, will bring on Robert Felix, a man who has the book Not by Fire But by Ice that insists we’re plunging into an ice age rather than a warming period. George himself – I think – doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, but he seems to not have made up his mind about whether we’re warming or cooling, but he does believe that it’s a purely natural cycle rather than human-made. But, he gives people like Felix a platform to spread their conjecture and misunderstandings.

And Coast is the largest late-night radio show in the world, with at least 528 syndicates (last I heard) and over 10 million listeners. And judging by the comments on the ABC story, people like him make a difference. I’ll leave you with a sampling of a few of the comments:

“Global Warming is just a big hype pushed onto the people of the world to invoke fear in order to further an agenda. There are as many scientists that discount it as there are that push it. The climate of the earth has had warming and cooling trends as long anyone knows. 25 years of “warming” is not that much time in relation to the age of the earth itself.”

“Global Warming is a farce used to keep 3rd world countries from developing,and taxing everyone else.It’s not gonna stop pollution as big corporations will just trade carbon credits with smaller non polluting companies.It’s just gonna be another stock market.The msm plays it off as a left/right issue but that’s just the ptb’s using the divide and conquer trick on us.Wake up they’re all liars on both sides.Gore was given this agenda to push in order to not contest the 2000 election that the neo-cons stole.He and the Rothchild’s stand to make billions. It’s just another fear tactic put forth to keep us scared and under control.GW is just another UN conspiracy to take away more of our soverignity. The world’s climate has always fluctuated even to the point that in the 70’s they wanted to prevent Global cooling.Just like everything else we’ve been lied to.The climate scientists at East Anglia were caught changing stats and dropping other inconvienient truths. This is the next big scam just like the war on drugs and the war on terror.As long as we’re scared and rely on the so called “news” we’ll continue to be sheep to the elite’s.From Foxnews,CNN, BBC or MSNBC they are just corporate propaganda pushers.The ptb’s continue to suppress new energy to stick with oil and keep us in the Middle East.The Bilderberg group and Club Rome decide everything and there elitist opinions trickle down to the UN,CFR and Trilateral’s.These groups represent Big Oil, Big Pharma and the Military Industrial Complex.All the while we get milked by the Federal Reserve,the IMFand the IRS.Even the enviromental groups are crooked.We’re living in a backwards world.I lost all faith when Time gave Ben Bernanke the person of the year award and Obama who expanded Bush’s bs wars gets a Nobel.Just to let you know I have no party affiliation whatsoever but consider myself a constitution minded libertarian.I’m sick of these corrupt globalist/eugenists who really run the US and most of the world.No to NWO!”

“I can blow #2 right out of the water where I live. Thus far this Global Warming nonsense has NOT been proven to me whatsoever. The earth, well it’s been a changin’ since it’s creation and we the youngsters of this planet, the newest animal to it are just around now for one of it’s changes. We haven’t been kind to the planet; you can not be Capitalistic and Materialistic with continual reproduction without there being ramifications, however the Global Warming they say exists can be simply another of earth’s changes like the times of volcanos, earthquakes, glaciers, etc., Stop with the nonsense!”

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