Skepchick Quickies, 4.15


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. One of my old roommates was convinced quantum physics was not real because things “did not actually behave as they should according to the quantum ‘theory’, and therefore it cannot be true”. No joke, it was sad. Evens sadder that he wouldn’t really listen to anything to the contrary of his belief. It was very odd and yet his reaction to the logic that things indeed work differently on the smallest of scales was almost like that of a creationist.

  2. I’ll never understand this. It’s apparently totally believable that several thousand years ago Noah built a 400 foot long ark out of wood, rounded up two of every animal, survived a flood that covered the entire Earth, and landed on a mountain when the waters dried up. On top of that, all the animals survived (except the unicorns :( ) and went about their business with all the food they needed to survive(plants survived the flood somehow while no humans did, and fish and marine mammals need not be mentioned because water is water and all fish are the same), then these animals “changed” (can’t say evolved) into other animals with no inbreeding problems despite the fact that there were only two of each to start with. But evolution? That’s just ridiculous.

  3. I suppose its always possible that the ark was built because Hong Kong knows something about global warming that they’re not telling us.

    I propose, in true George Bush style, that we invade their “country,” obtain whatever information they have about global warming, subsequently ignore that information, and say we invaded for the human rights cause all along. Oh wait, that should be Tibet, right? Oh well, close enough.

  4. “First, independent replications are lacking completely but would be necessary before we can accept any of these treatments in routine healthcare. Second, nobody doubts that undiluted remedies can have effects; and interestingly, the positive studies here seem to be on such medicines rather than on the highly diluted treatments which are a hallmark of homeopathy. “

    So, the studies aren’t backed up by independent replication and, anyway, didn’t involve homeopathic preparations. And this leads to a headline like “Homeopathy ‘eases cancer therapy’ “?

  5. We don’t have a lot of emprical evidence, but from what we do have, 100% of the universes we have measured have constants that make life possible. The whole fine-tuning v multiverse debate is chasing a phantom. We don’t have any empirical evidence that the constants of the universe could be different. There is no need to create a theory (multiverse or fine tuning) to explain something we don’t observe (universes with different constants).

  6. I think the theory of the multiverse does science a disservice. Once argument that Creationists use when debating the Theory of Evolution is “It’s just a theory”. Then, Evolutionists point out that theory means more than “hey, what if…”. But then we turn to the Theory of the Multiverse. We have no evidence, and we specifically state that its unobservable. Yeah, without evidence, its basically becomes God Lite. Can we please officially change then name to the Hypothesis of the Multiverse, if nothing else than show there’s a difference between some idea that sounds nice and stuff we actually have evidence for?

  7. That homeopathy headline is very unfortunate. The article itself may be balanced, the Cochrane review quite correct in stating homeopathy remains unproven, but what will a lot of people (who may not even get past the first paragraph) retain from all this? That homeopathy is good because it ‘eases cancer therapy’. Sigh.

  8. I found the article about woo AdSense very interesting. In that respect, I sometimes feel like I’m fighting the Hydra: for every woo ad that I nix, other two take its place.

  9. The Klingon-thing doesn’t surprise me in the least. Let me explain….

    I was at an academic conference in New York City in mid-February. It was at the International Studies Association Annual Conference….big-time stuff full of politicians, military officials, state officials from around the world, commerce leaders, and of course, stuffy social-science academics like me…held in the heart of Times Square, and they even offered to pay for my hotel stay (@ the Marriot! W00t!)

    At the last panel discussion I attended, there were two big-league foreign policy academics from Belgium and Germany who have dabbled in economic and security policy in the EU, and have spent the last 5 years working on the following project (I sh*t you not):

    The ontological cultural ramifications of Santa Clause in security and resistance studies.

    I rudely walked out in disgust halfway through the second speaker’s discussion…muttering under my breath (but not so quiet as to be unheard), “…drive for 9 fu**ing hours to hear about fu**ing Santa Clause…”

    No wonder physical scientists make fun of us, if this is the kind of “connection” we have to offer.

  10. We do have indirect evidence that a multiverse of some kind is possible: all data to date point to an inflationary universe, which expanded with astonishing rapidity for a brief interval early in its life. The problem is that well-founded models of this process indicate that inflation should never stop: it may look like it ran out of oomph, but little bits of universe here and there should keep on inflating, becoming vast regions of space and time separate from our own.

    There’s even a song about it.

    Now, completely independently from all of this, another group of mathematicians and physicists discovered that string theory naturally produced the force of gravity, even though they said nothing about gravity itself when setting up the basic principles of the theory. This made the theory automatically exciting, since until then there had been fairly solid technical reasons to expect that we’d never even have a potential theory of quantum gravity. Problem: the theory demands more dimensions of spacetime than we observe. Where did the other six dimensions go?

    Proposed solution 1: the dynamics of an expanding universe are such that the extra dimensions stay small while the ones we know and love get big. This is the domain of string gas cosmology.

    Proposed solution 2: each different possible way of hiding the extra dimensions — curling them up small so they can’t be found, or what have you — gives a universe with different apparent physical laws. That is, the behaviour of the basic strings is always the same, but the emergent physics of larger-scale stuff built up from strings — protons, atoms, cats — can be different. Now, the mere potential of alternatives doesn’t mean those alternate universes actually exist. The expanse of different possible “compactifications” of string theory could be like an almost-empty movie theater, with only one guy sitting in it.

    (This richness of possibility is a good thing for people who want to use the mathematical tools of string theory to attack other problems, like the physics of what happens when a superconducting material is warmed up above its critical temperature and becomes an ordinary insulator, or what happens to ultracold atoms suspended in a magnetic trap. In these cases, lots of possibilities are a good thing. Do you ever hear about applications of string theory in these fields? Didn’t think so.)

    However, we know about inflation: a process which makes oodles of effectively independent universes. This could mean that more and more people are entering the theater, populating those seats with warm bodies. Interestingly, the population process is not expected to be uniform. It is also possible for people in their seats to rub elbows: those otherwise independent regions of spacetime could, sometimes, interact.

    All in all, I find most discussions of the “anthropic principle” to be, well, pointless drivel. For starters, it’s not even obvious that one and only one set of fundamental parameters is compatible with the existence of organic matter and life like ours (never mind some other, more exotic kind of life). Proton decay, for example, could be ten to the twentieth power times more likely without seriously inconveniencing organic life.

  11. I hope people visit the ark in droves. I hope they’ll take time to walk around it and through it. Then I hope it hits them: “Dang! There is just no way!”

  12. The spectacle of theologians and evangelists appropriating string theory, inflationary cosmology and all that to hawk their spiel is, I admit, an amusing one. First, we have the hubris involved, the sheer Beeblebrox-scale vanity that the putative Cosmic Agent behind it all is really the tribal god described in your interpretation of one translation of one version of one subset of all the books which self-identified “Christians” have called holy. And hubris is always entertaining to watch. Second, the god they describe has a certain Monty Python character, don’t you think? “Three shall be the number of space dimensions, and the number of space dimensions shall be three. Two shall not be the number of space dimensions, excepting that one then proceeds to three. Five is right out.”

    Remember: according to the “anthropic” claims of these theologians, if the physical laws were even the tiniest smidgen different, gay sex would not exist. Draw your own conclusions.

  13. @QuestionAuthority:

    Nah, he was just a generic hero type. To quote Worf – “Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennia ago. They were more trouble than they were worth”.

  14. I don’t believe in multiverses and I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in things that can’t be proven or known beyond a reasonable doubt, although I do accept the possibility that such things might be true. Particle physicists get paid (handsomely, I hope) to speculate about such things as string theory, a multiverse, and baby universes. I don’t, and I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on such speculations. When we communicate science to the public, I believe we should make a clear distinction between well-known scientific facts and more speculative propositions.

  15. Best quote

    Mr. Lu says the park isn’t promoting religion. “We’re promoting meaning,” he says.

    Yeah, and I’m not punching your face, I’m applying pressure.

  16. From the Klingon Jesus one: Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” However, Page insists that undercutting one argument for god does not defeat the whole case for divine creation. “The multiverse is not an alternative to design by god,” he says. “God could have designed the whole thing.” Collins has also argued that multiverse models are consistent with god’s creative capacities. “If you start thinking about god as infinitely creative,” he says, “it would be totally unexpected for god to just create us.” And, Stanford cosmologist Andre Linde says that his work “allows you not to have to beg for the help of religion.”

    It seems to me that Page is essentially applying the first cause argument and that Collins implies that the multiverse accounts for the elements of design but wants to attribute them to god. If I am right, does this mean we now have some people forwarding a design argument for god that requires no designer?

  17. @QuestionAuthority: & @Lyc:

    I would totally nerd-out here, and argue (but not for very long) that Kahless was less of a Jesus or generic hero, and more like a Muhammad type character.

    But again, I don’t want to argue that point very much. Not because I’m afraid of offending people, but because it’s an incredibly retarded point to make.

    I’m sorry I brought it up.

    I’m lame.


  18. @PrimevilKneivel: COTW

    Also, this whole Noah’s Ark business reminds me of one of my favorite lines from “Firefly” when River is digging through the Bible and says, “Noah’s ark is a problem. We’ll have to call it ‘early quantum state phenomenon.’ Only way to fit five thousand species of mammal on the same boat.”

  19. rasmur is exactly correct, which makes one wonder about crackpot statements like the one by Blake Stacey; We do have indirect evidence that a multiverse of some kind is possible…

    A strict differentiation between what we actually know, and what these theoretical speculators believe with all their little hearts… is vastly different, but their “supported” arrogance knows no bounds whatsoever…

    You can’t even begin to hold these guys to the kind of strict conservative thinking that prevailed up until about the time that string theory came on the market, but they are not the only group of physicists that does it.

    The hard observational fact of the matter is that THE observed universe, has a bio-oriented commonality with the structure mechanism, of the universe.

    Anyone that rejects the implication for a bio-oriented cosmological principle out of hand because of their ideological dispositioning is practicing the anti-scientific religious belief known begrudgingly to clowns like Stacey as… “copernicanism”. And you could very well be advocating the same anti-scientific dogma that has delayed us for so many years of wasted effort chasing fantasies, because we simply refuse to recognize what we are looking at.

    What makes it all really sad is the fact that it does absolutely no good to point any of this out, even if you can clearly define an empirically supported bio-oriented energy conservation law that explains the structure of the universe from first principles, something that string theorists don’t even dream about anymore…

    And please don’t even pretend to reply to me unless you have thoroughly researched the linked articles including *all* of the .edu sites and linked scientific papers that are link within those articles, or you are likely just going to appear to be willfully ignorant of the relevant facts.

  20. Some billionaires in Hong Kong have decided the most sensible way to spend their money is to build a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. (Thanks to Jenea.)

    If the completed life-size ark does not have a coconut-eating Tyrannosaurs Rex with a saddle, I’ll very, very disappointed.

  21. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.”
    I used to know someone who simply could not grasp the fact that not everything was all about her. If you couldn’t go out because you had too much work to do, it was because you just didn’t want to hang out with her. If you hated something she liked, or vice versa, you were doing it on purpose to rile her up. And so on. The idea that her reactions and responses to the circumstances of your life never even crossed your mind when making a decision (or, if they did, you didn’t particularly care) just whizzed right over her head. She was a spectacularly frustrating person to deal with.
    I used to wonder how she ever expected to get along in the world, but now I know she can just join the clergy where she’ll fit right in.

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