In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

sagansense:

child-of-thecosmos:

Radio and television broadcasting may be only a brief passing phase in our technological development. When we imagine alien civilizations broadcasting signals with radio telescopes, are we any different from earlier generations who imagined riding cannon shells to the moon? Civilizations even slightly more advanced than ours may have already moved on to some other mode of communication, one that we have yet to discover or even imagine. Their messages could be swirling all around us at this very moment, but we lack the means to perceive them just as all of our ancestors, up to a little more than a century ago, would have been oblivious to the most urgent radio signal from another world. 

But there’s another more troubling possibility: Civilizations, like other living things, may only live so long before perishing due to natural causes, or violence, or self-inflicted wounds. Whether or not we ever make contact with intelligent alien life may depend on a critical question: What is the life expectancy of a civilization?

- Episode 11: The Immortals, Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey

Recommended reading:

Everything you need to know about this book can be found in this wonderfully thorough review by Astrobiology Magazine from 2003.

I plan on doing a full writeup/review about this book; however, I can tell you it’s one of the best Carl’s ever written and is still heavily referenced by scientists across multiple fields regarding the search for extraterrestrial life, be it intelligent or otherwise. A review on the book and the study of astrobiology itself can be via a PDF by Charley Lineweaver of the Planetary Science Institute at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Research School of Earth Sciences.

The most fascinating aspect of this book is that it was originally written by I.S. Shklovskii in Russian, re-translated into English, whereby Carl adds his scientific “two-cents”, expanding on subjects and explaining further in a way only Carl, himself, can. For instance, the last paragraph in Chapter 31: Interstellar contact by automatic probe vehicles:

At this point in the Russian edition of the present work, Shklovskii expresses his belief that civilizations are not inevitably doomed to self-destruction, despite his description of contemporary Western literature as filled with details of atomic holocaust. He expresses his belief that as long as capitalism exists on Earth, a violent end to intelligent life on the planet is probable. There is reason to assume, he asserts, that future peaceful societies will be constructed on the basis of Communism. I am able to imagine alternative scenarios for the future. No one today lives in a society which closely resembles Adam Smith capitalism or Karl Marx communism. The political dichotomies of the twentieth century may seem to our remote descendants no more exhaustive of the range of possibilities for the entire future of mankind than do, for us, the alternatives of the European religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Shklovskii says, the forces of peace in the world are great. Mankind is not likely to destroy itself. There is too much left to do.

Also recommended:

SETI Scientist Jill Tarter provided a beautiful TED Talk about this subject, and in this interview with NOVA, she speaks on being the inspiration for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s book/film ‘Contact’ whereby Jodie Foster portrays Dr. Tarter.

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer for SETI, presented an enriching TED Talk about why he’s convinced we’re closer than ever in detecting, contacting, or receiving signals from ETI; and recently, had a Q&A conversation with Science 2.0 appropriately titled “Why I Believe We’ll Find Aliens.”

…stay curious.

Pastor Josh Feuerstein recently put up a $100,000 challenge to anyone who could prove that God doesn’t exist.

Seth Andrews, host of www.thethinkingatheist.com, responds.

What do you think science is? There’s nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. Which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?

Steven Novella

It is right that we should stand by and act on our principles; but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness, or retain them when proved to be erroneous.

Michael Faraday, renowned 19th century scientist (via whats-out-there)

How Rocks Move - The mystery of the sailing stones has been solved.

The Racetrack Playa — a barren lakebed in Death Valley National Park — is home to one of the world’s natural wonders: “sailing stones” that mysteriously meander across the dried mud, leaving tracks in their wake. Since the 1940s, these rocks have fueled wonder and speculation because no one had seen them in action — until now. More at Discover Magazine

A man who is certain he is right is almost sure to be wrong.

Michael Faraday, renown 19th century scientist (via whats-out-there)

Spark of life: Metabolism appears in lab without cells

Metabolic processes that underpin life on Earth have arisen spontaneously outside of cells. The serendipitous finding that metabolism – the cascade of reactions in all cells that provides them with the raw materials they need to survive – can happen in such simple conditions provides fresh insights into how the first life formed. It also suggests that the complex processes needed for life may have surprisingly humble origins.

"People have said that these pathways look so complex they couldn’t form by environmental chemistry alone," says Markus Ralser at the University of Cambridge who supervised the research.

But his findings suggest that many of these reactions could have occurred spontaneously in Earth’s early oceans, catalysed by metal ions rather than the enzymes that drive them in cells today.

The origin of metabolism is a major gap in our understanding of the emergence of life. “If you look at many different organisms from around the world, this network of reactions always looks very similar, suggesting that it must have come into place very early on in evolution, but no one knew precisely when or how,” says Ralser.

5 Brainiac Brain Facts (in TED-Ed GIFs)

teded:

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1. We like to think of romantic feelings as spontaneous and indescribable things that come from the heart. But it’s actually your brain running a complex series of calculations within a matter of seconds that’s responsible for determining attraction.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The science of attraction

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2. Playing an instrument is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout. As you play, your brain simultaneously processes different information in intricate, interrelated, and astonishingly fast sequences.

From the TED-Ed lesson How playing an instrument benefits your brain

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3. The human brain consumes an astounding 3.4 x 10^21 ATP molecules per minute, making it a legitimate energy hog!

From the TED-Ed Lesson What percentage of your brain do you use?

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4. As we grow, we install pain detectors in most areas of our body. Just like all nerve cells, these detectors conduct electrical signals, sending information from wherever they’re located back to your brain. But, unlike other nerve cells, nociceptors only fire if something happens that could cause or is causing damage.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How do pain relievers work?

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5. On a per weight basis, humans pack in more neurons than any other species. That’s what makes us so smart!

From the TED-Ed Lesson What percentage of your brain do you use?

More fun facts at ed.ted.com!

jtotheizzoe:


Bill Nye Fights Back!
"Let’s say that I am, through my actions, doomed, and that I will go to hell. Even if I am going to hell, that still doesn’t mean the Earth is 6,000 years old. The facts just don’t reconcile.”


I sure wouldn’t cross him.

jtotheizzoe:

Bill Nye Fights Back!

"Let’s say that I am, through my actions, doomed, and that I will go to hell. Even if I am going to hell, that still doesn’t mean the Earth is 6,000 years old. The facts just don’t reconcile.”

I sure wouldn’t cross him.

(Source: popsci)

What else do you call it when someone knows nothing about science and thinks they can blather on and on about it anyway? What do you call it when someone refuses to change their beliefs when faced with evidence? What do you call it when they try to tell us there’s some nonexistent “controversy” to be debated? What do you call it when they think their own intuition and baseless conjecture are more reliable than any research? And what do you call it when they don’t even care that this lack of acceptance makes life so much worse for trans people? I sure wouldn’t call that a secular value.

How is believing I’m a woman any different from believing in God? Really? Here’s a question: How is believing that transitioning is “mutilation” any different from believing that vaccines cause brain damage? How is believing that trans people have an unfair advantage in sports any different from believing the earth is 6,000 years old? How is believing in an epidemic of transgender rapists any different from believing in “irreducible complexity”? And how is believing that trans people are “deluded” any different from believing that atheists are just angry at God?

Sorry, but you’re not Neil deGrasse Tyson giving a science lesson to middle America. You’re Ken Ham telling an audience of faithfully ignorant sycophants how Adam and Eve rode around on a T. rex. Science and observation and reality should matter to everyone, and I hope they matter to you. But if you’re leaving out the science, the observation, and the reality, you suck at being a skeptic.

The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Not Real

The 10,000 hour rule—first proposed by a Swedish psychologist and later made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—states that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. The best of the best (the Beatles, Bill Gates) all amassed more than 10,000 hours of practice before rising to the top, Gladwell argued. So greatness is within virtually any person’s grasp, so long as they can put in the time to master their skill of choice.

A new meta-analysis, however, indicates that the 10,000 hour rule simply does not exist. As Brain’s Idea reports, authors of the new study undertook the largest literature survey on this subject to date, compiling the results of 88 scientific articles representing data from some 11,000 research participants. Practice, they found, on average explains just 12 percent of skill mastery and subsequent success. “In other words the 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense,” Brain’s Idea writes. “Stop believing in it. Sure, practice is important. But other factors (age? intelligence? talent?) appear to play a bigger role.”

While this is the largest study to date to arrive at this conclusion, it’s not the first. Soon after Outliers was published, experts began calling foul—including the expert who supposedly coined the rule, Anders Ericsson. As the Guardian pointed out in 2012:

There is nothing magical about the 10,000 figure, as Ericsson said recently, because the best group of musicians had accumulated an average, not a total, of over 10,000 hours by the age of twenty. In the world of classical music it seems that the winners of international competitions are those who have put in something like 25,000 hours of dedicated, solitary practice – that’s three hours of practice every day for more than 20 years.

Ericsson is also on record as emphasising that not just any old practice counts towards the 10,000-hour average. It has to be deliberate, dedicated time spent focusing on improvement.

So despite the new evidence that the 10,000 rule is bull, like the studies and articles that came before it, that message will likely fall on many deaf ears. The 10,000 hour rule seems to have entered into the common lore about success: it’s a nice idea, that hard work will actually pay off. And no peer-reviewed study has so far succeeded in toppling that catchy message.

Esoteric energy and fanciful forces

People use this tactic when they want you to accept something that has no scientific evidence to support it. They try to convince you that there is a mechanism which justifies their claims. All sorts of terms are used – life force, cosmic power, psychic energy – it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. Each one is meaningless. It’s simply an attempt to congeal wishful thinking into a pseudo-explanation. The tactic is widespread in alternative medicine, being employed in such practices as thought field therapy, reiki, cosmic energy healing, touch therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, life force energy healing … and so on.

9 year old Emily Rosa cuts through the bullshit WITH SCIENCE!

Chi, Healing Hands, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki; it goes by many names. Is there any validity to the idea of human energy fields which play a central role in alternative New Age medicine? This is a straight forward question that should be easily testable so that’s just what 9 yr old Emily Rosa did. She designed an experiment and tested it. Will believers in Chi Energy accept the results?

Her results were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association

(Source: scienceornot.net)

Shark Week Lied to Scientists to Get Them to Appear in “Documentaries”

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is misleading the public again this year with several documentaries. So why are scientists allowing themselves to be featured in these pseudoscience disasters? There’s a simple reason: Shark Week producers have been lying to them…

Shark Week Lied to Scientists to Get Them to Appear in “Documentaries”

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is misleading the public again this year with several documentaries. So why are scientists allowing themselves to be featured in these pseudoscience disasters? There’s a simple reason: Shark Week producers have been lying to them…