• Assaults on Border Patrol agents have been decreasing for years, but as Debbie Nathan of the Intercept reported earlier this week, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in fiscal year 2015, started quietly […]

  • US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared on 60 Minutes earlier this month, in part to plug her latest pyramid scheme: for-profit school choice.

    Yet DeVos couldn’t answer basic questions from host Leslie S […]

    • So the Secretary of Education is an ignoramus. And the Secretary of Defense is offensive. The Secretary of the Treasury is a bank robber (well, a banker and a robber). The Secretary of Agriculture is an herbicidal maniac. The Secretary of Health and Human Services is malignant and inhumane. The Secretary of State is, uh, what’s the opposite of stately? Someone want to help me? I don’t want to google the whole cabinet!
      BTW, welcome back, Melanie :-) I’ve missed you guys.

      • Berlusconian? Though the centrists are now trying to convince me Five Star Movement’s a leftist party.

        At the same time, there’s more and more Clinton’s cult of personality striking back. Now opposing anything either Clinton did is becoming a dealbreaker, yes, including things like DOMA and the Iraq invasion.

  • Remember, like, three years ago I wrote a post about how I was going to go back to school and get a bachelor’s degree in physics? Ever wonder how that turned out?

    I’m a lawyer, sort of. I mean, I passed the bar […]

    • You have to take a lot of physics as a chemist, at least I did. Did you not take Pchem 1 and 2?

      Sociology is definitely much, much easier than chemistry.

    • Awesome. I just finished my BS in Materials Chemistry, and it was pretty brutal. Most people don’t realize the harder chemistry majors take quantum mechanics. The class is called Physical Chemistry 2, in depth, and it was quantum and statistical mechanics, supposed to be 2 semesters, got crammed into one.

      My tutor is getting a PhD in computational physics, he had an undergrad in physics, said the material is a combination of their modern physics and quantum mechanics class, and just as difficult as what physics majors take.

      It has quite a reputation, I ended up with a B, had a half day off every week, no time to work out or do anything else.

      Not surprised on the lawyer thing you mentioned, most people don’t understand that a STEM degree is much harder than passing law school, not that that is easier, either.

    • Should be about the same difficulty as 38 years ago for a physics undergrad. You don’t do anything cutting edge in undergrad, just the basics, so it should be mostly the same. Also, I was in the Army, despite what the Marines say, we are about the same. Their basic is like 2 weeks longer, that’s about it.

      I did a materials chemistry degree, which was as difficult as Physics, as I took quantum mechanics my second semester. There’s actually multiple chemistry degrees, from somewhat easy, biochem to super hard, materials chem and biomolecular.

  • ThumbnailIt’s a new year, and that means it’s time to start getting excited about another SkepchickCon! As you’ll remember, last year was pretty sweet, what with our Science Salons, our interactive Sandbox activities, our […]

    • 1) The donation form and receipt say “SkepchickCon 2014”. Shouldn’t this be 2015?

      2) Also, is Skepchick LLC (the organization receiving the donations) a 501(c)3? (In other words, are donations tax-deductible?)

      3) Buzzed Aldrins are tiny and delicious. This makes it easy to drink hundreds of them. DAMHIKT.

    • Thanks! I must have deleted it while changing the order of the links. Fixed now.

  • ThumbnailRoman Bystrianyk and Suzanne Humphries have a cherry to pick with proponents of vaccination. Their article on the measles vaccine was recently published on Health Impact News’s Vaccine Impact website under a […]

    • Our Skeptics in the Pub reboot on Monday watched Invisible Threat, a DVD about vaccines made by some amazing high school students. They included the first chart (or one very similar) and explained exactly what was wrong with it (conflating morbidity and mortality). Well worth watching if you get the chance. (You can download it for $5 from Vimeo; I would try to watch it with some friends or a class or other group so you can discuss it. There’s a lot of material to digest in 40 minutes.)

      BTW, we had 12 people show up in the midst of a blizzard (12″ of snow, single digit temps), so this is definitely a topic a lot of people are interested in.

    • Mr. Spock has got his shots. Your kids should too. It’s the logical thing to do.

      Mr. Spock Wants You to Vaccinate Your Kids

  • ThumbnailSo you want to make a point about Americans’ skewed perceptions of race?

    Step One: Don’t use a racist chart. Even if your heart is in the right place. Even if you really, really didn’t mean to be racist while […]

    • Okay, so according to that chart, am I white, black, Hispanic, or Muslim? I mean, I know, mitochondrial haplogroup X is related to Kurds, but still…

    • Of course, the number of Americans who think ‘Muslim’ is a race is significant. Along the the flat-earthers and climate change deniers.

      Still, wow! No Asians, including South Asians, no non-Hispanic Native Americans….? Who took the survey? Who were the people questioned? Hobby Lobby shoppers?

      • I can’t help but point out that James Abourezk and Darrell Issa are both Arab Christians. (And that Christians are one of the groups targeted by ISIS.)

        Then again, they probably don’t even realize not all Middle Eastern ethnic groups can be called Jews or Arabs.

        In other MENA news, fuck yeah!

    • The silliness of the chart is astonishing. Aside from the fact that, biologically speaking, race is a bogus concept, neither Muslim nor Hispanic is a race by any reasonable definition. Asian is usually considered a race, and in my neighborhood a highly visible one. Some of the Asians are Muslims, and some aren’t.
      There might be some value in a good study of general perceptions of the distributions of different groups versus the statistical reality. This is either not a good study or a terrible presentation of the data, probably both. And a pie chart is only useful if it includes ALL the possibilities and the possible groups don’t overlap. Aside from those issues, it’s great.

    • I actually thought the research showed that in general most people overestimate the percentage of the population of their own ethnic group. It makes sense when you consider the fact that we live in segregated areas, so the people you live around are likely to look just like you.

      A lot (A LOT) of the Hispanic population is going to overlap with the “white” population since the U.S. census includes Hispanic in “White” with hispanic being a separate question. White Non-Hispanic was 64% in the 2010 census, so it looks pretty clear to me that about 10 percentage points of the “White” are overlap.

      Also, the Muslim population overlaps a ton with both White and Black. I mean, perhaps the person making the chart meant “Arab.” However, in the 2010 Census Arab Americans self identified as about 0.5% of the population, half of the 1% claimed here, but perhaps he rounded up? Muslims as a religion do make up about 1% of the population, but even if you assumed all American Arabs were Muslim (hahahaha yah no but just role with me here), then the other half of all Muslims still overlap with the other ethnic groups. Not to mention there are plenty of Asian Muslims who apparently are imaginary according to these charts.

  • Sunday Funny: Right Angles (via Tree Lobsters)

    Teen Skepchick

    The Physics Philes, lesson 127: Kinetic-Molecular Model of Ideal Gases, Part 2
    Mindy continues trying to parse the kinetic-molecular model of […]

  • ThumbnailThe State of the Union now comes with full-color illustrations, which is nice for the kids, Powerpoint addicts, and anyone who wants to add another layer to the SOTU drinking game. Don’t worry, you can just create […]

    • The fraction of income chart makes it look as if, at some point around 1990, the percentage of income of the top 1% actually overtook that of the bottom 90%. Incredibly misleading.

      • You’re right. It does look like that. I found it such a confusing mess to look at that I didn’t even draw that conclusion, but that is exactly what it looks like, Very misleading in a chart people see only briefly.

    • That Iran chart’s like something on Buzzfeed. But yeah, most of those are simple things.

    • “Up to” is only my second favorite spin phrase. My favorite is “up to … and more!” (it always has to include the exclamation point), because that not only includes $5.50, but also $550 trillionquadrillionquintillion. Phil Rizzuto used to advertise some high-interest loan company on late night TV that could lend you up to 30 thousand, 40 thousand, 50 thousand or more! Could I borrow <twist-pinkie-at-corner-of-mouth>ONE MILLION DOLLARS? </twist-pinkie-at-corner-of-mouth>

    • On going gluten free; if you don’t have an actual medical issue with gluten (Celiac’s or a provable intolerance) then I would liken going gluten free to prayer. Fine on a personal level as long as you don’t expect miracles, it might even make you feel better for any number of reasons, but completely irresponsible to recommend to others which is what I see happen all the time.

      I have a family member who have benefited from the no gluten craze as it’s allowed them to manage their Celiac’s with the myriad produces that have become available but it comes at a price, they have had to become extra vigilant when they eat out since there are some (a very small number I’m sure) that see any request for gluten-free as just another annoying fad and not the life threatening necessity that it is and do not take it seriously, they’ve ended up with a very painful and expensive doctors visits as a result.

  • ThumbnailShocking news from the unironically named website The Mind Unleashed: “MIT Researcher’s New Warning: At Today’s Rate, Half Of All U.S. Children Will Be Autistic By 2025.”*

    Autism: a fate worse than death for […]

    • Bonus benefit of getting rid of your calendars and clocks: you won’t age!

    • “Is it the use of two y-axes whose values can be adjusted to make the data fit as closely as you like?” Just elaborating on this point a bit, both overlaid graphs show approximately exponential growth. Lots of things show approximately exponential growth. E.g., Moore’s Law describes the change in processing power of computer chips as exponential growth. And, when rescaling the y-axis, all exponential growth curves can be made to look the same.* So I could construct a similar graph to show that the rise in autism follows a similar curve to the rise in computer processing power, and by similar reasoning argue that faster computer chips are causing autism. This point should be extremely obvious to any research scientist, so creating a graph like this one displays a willingness to use numbers to distort rather than inform. It is not inconceivable that chronic low doses of environmental toxins like pesticides could contribute to autism, but this is not evidence for that, and I’m not aware of any such evidence that is actually based in solid research rather than irresponsible speculation.

      * Explanation: the general exponential growth formula is y = b * e^t, where y is the response variable, t is the independent variable (usually time), and b is a growth constant. Rescaling the y axis of any graph is equivalent to replacing y with c*y, where c is the amount by which to rescale. But this gives c*y = b * e^t, or y = (b/c) * e^t. Since b and c are both constants, this is the same as the original growth formula with a new value for b. So if I have two approximately exponentially growing phenomena with growth constants b1 and b2, I can always make them look the same by rescaling the graph of the second one by c such that c = b1/b2.

      (BTW, sorry if there’s a double post on this — the site is really slow and from Cloudflare it looks like Skepchick might be getting DDOSed, so I’m not sure if my first post took.)

    • A lot of Indians celebrate Christmas, even if they’re not Christian, FWIW.

    • My wife (jewish) and I (atheist) have created a good ritual for ourselves at Hannukah. We light candles, she recites prayers, and then I read something meaningful I’ve found on the web. I’ve collected a bunch of stories over the years – the story of a menorah rescued during the holocaust, a funny poem about jewish folk heading out for Chinese food on Christmas, the story of a human encounter when a woman lit a menorah in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show.

      As an ex-Catholic, I’ve had enough dead rituals to last a lifetime. But I appreciate when people make an effort to create their own, human rituals that are meaningful to them.

  • ThumbnailI took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory, in high school, and when I got my horoscope results, I admit that I was pretty amazed at how well it described me—and, apparently, Hitler.

    Then I […]

    • I am ok with *maybe* being a potato. The existential uncertainty is riveting and makes me want to write poetry to express the unending struggle of my inner possible-potato demons.

      • I feel that answering the Great Potato Question only leads to further questions. If I am a potato, what kind? Red, new, Idaho? If I am not a potato, am I a squash, a sandwich, a Pez dispenser?

    • When I was a ICI sponsored student I got sent on a course where they gave us a Brigs-Myers type test then put us into two role playing sessions. In the first they put the like personality types together, in the second they had balanced teams.

      The bogosity of the test was evident from the names they gave the groups, ‘Resource Investigator’, ‘Chairman’, ‘Completer-Finisher’, ‘Plant’. I scored in the last one which was an incredibly silly and demeaning name to give to the group that the engineers fit into. At the time the test was written, engineering had second rank status in the professions. In a company built on engineering like ICI, engineers were never second rank, most of the senior managers were engineers. The principal objective of the event was to recruit engineers because they were in greatest demand.

      So anyway, the point of the experiment was meant to be that people are happiest working in a balanced team. And that was true for five out of the six teams because all the imaginative types that drive a project along were in the ‘plant’ group. And we were having a great time thank you very much. So the intended lesson was a flop.

      When it came to the second exercise, found the group rather dull and just wanted to get through it as fast as possible. So I dropped down into my chairman persona despite the fact that I (and everyone else pretty much) had essentially scored zero on it.

      • The strict dichotomies of the MB types are the worst flaw, as though we all always fit into perfect categories, unchanging, discontinuous. When I took it in high school, the teachers used it similarly, to put us in diverse groups for projects. I don’t remember it making any difference at all. We were always changing groups for different projects, and it was a class of motivated students who got along well, so any group was fine. The idea of it being used in employment is pretty scary to me.

    • I’m a corporatist Summer Xander non-Potatohead. No wonder I didn’t fit in well with the rest of my college’s SDS chapter steering committee. I guess I should have eaten more starchy breakfast food (i.e. home-fries.)

      • I don’t fit neatly into a quadrant if I take everything into account (even with the original chart). I suspect I’m the hamster inside running on the wheel.

        You raise an interesting question, though, about self-identified potato cannibalism.

    • The more I look at that original chart, the less sense it makes. Thank you.

    • They validate personality tests by the takers’ self-assessment? I thought it was by looking at answers’ correlation over large samples, and at individual takers’ consistency over time.

      • I wasn’t talking about validation. Takers’ self-assessment just points to the flaws in these types of tests. I’m not sure how they would look at the correlation over large samples without getting some kind of self-assessment from the takers, though.

        And the MBTI does have a problem with consistency over time, largely because it sets up personality types as dichotomous and discontinuous. If you barely fit into the E category on one test, you could easily fit into the I category on the next, for example. This paper talks a bit about the problems: http://melindabrackett.com/Myers%20Briggs%20article.pdf

    • So, being a mathematician, I guess that makes me an extremely conservative fascist?

    • Social conservatism and the Christian right are in the quadrant associated with rationalism?
      OH! So is anti-environmentalism!
      Yeah, seems legit.

    • This will be long, and I’m getting ready to make a copypasta just to avoid typing it every time I see ‘circumcision prevents AIDS’ stories.

      I’m wondering why the CDC is recommending circumcision. Most of the articles promoting it these days are no longer in high-impact medical journals. Mostly because the early studies were never replicated. But also…there were a couple scandals related to it, if I’m not mistaken. Robert Bailey, for instance, didn’t tell patients if they seroconverted. In addition, the studies were often cut short, pardon the pun, before they were completed, because ‘the results were so dramatic we decided it would be unethical’ not to offer the control group circumcision.

      But the most obvious scandal is all the times Daniel Halperin cited or promoted sites, such as Circlist and the Gilgal Society (whose webmaster is currently serving time), that were really just thinly-veiled porn. Including people lamenting that stories involving children were ‘merely’ fictional. I know, I know, Rule 34, no exceptions and all, but that’s just disgusting. Halperin also claims in his book to have come up with the idea that limiting your number of sexual partners prevents STDs. Seriously.

      On top of all this, they’re preaching to the converted: 88% of white men and 79% of black men in the US are circumcised. Then again, they promote circumcision to prevent AIDS in parts of sub-Saharan Africa where 100% of men are circumcised, so I must wonder, what planet are they living on?

      Finally, there are some weird, ex culo assertions in their circumcision recommendations. Why would circumcising infants be safer? Anyone? Anybody?

    • I seriously doubt that anyone would spend a moment considering circumcision as a disease prevention strategy except as a means of continuing an existing tradition. Think how we could make breast cancer a thing of the past by routinely performing mastectomies on pre-adolescent girls?

      Pro-circ arguments are always justifications for not stopping it. If the practice weren’t already entrenched, the idea would be laughed away on sight.

      And suggesting that circumcision is ‘cosmetic’ is pretty absurd as well. Oddly, I was born with a facial hemangeoma, which I still have, though I was circumcised as a matter of routine. An internal portion of my hemangeoma blinded my left eye by the time I was seven.

      • Sounds about right. There’s another thing going on, though: Most AIDS patients in developed countries are men who have sex with men. The fact that two stigmatized groups have such a large intersection increases the stigma for both.

        Of course, I would say it’s more important to get medicine to people who need it instead of wasting your money giving woo to people who don’t because stigma.

  • ThumbnailThis week’s chart is not recent, but I missed it the first time around, and it’s so terrifically bad, I have to share it in case you missed it too.

    The chart depicts election results from the 2013 presidential […]

    • Nice takedown Melanie!
      I love the way Moros in his photograph appears like a shining white angel while Radonski is made to look like the dark horse.

    • It’s a perfectly cromulent chart. It’s just been cropped. The bottom 4 feet 2 inches (1.27 meters) have been chopped off*. Can’t you tell from the vertical scale on the side? Oh, err, never mind. No vertical scale. But the numbers make it mathy. Don’t they? Huh?

      [*] You just need to get a new 132″ monitor (like they use at sports stadiums) to see the whole thing.

  • Load More