Recently in Slightly Off Topic Category

Meditation on The Mind’s Eye

| 19 Comments

I am a physicist, with a specialty in optics, so I was especially interested in The Mind’s Eye, by Oliver Sacks (not to mention the less well known The Island of the Colorblind). The Mind’s Eye is a fascinating book about the visual system, many of the things that can go wrong with it, and what we learn from them. It is also the book in which Dr. Sacks reveals that he suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness; is not a surgeon because he cannot visualize; and functions only with great difficulty now that he has monocular vision as a result of a retinal cancer. I have great difficulty recognizing faces, but nothing approaching prosopagnosia, and it is a marvel to me that he could cover it up for the better part of 80 years.

JesusOnToast.jpg

Credit: Abnormal Interests. Creative Commons copyright CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US.

Kang Lee, a 2014 Ig Nobel Prize* winner, asks, “Have you ever seen the face of Jesus on toast? No? … Your brain is completely normal if you see nonexistent faces in everyday objects. In fact, if you don’t, your brain may actually lack the essential ingredients for a vivid imagination.”

The research was actually mildly interesting, if unsurprising. I could not read the original article, which was published in a proprietary journal, but I found synopses here and here. The gist, at any rate, seems to have been that when observers think they see a face, even in random noise, the face-recognition area in their brain lights up.

OK, it is normal to see patterns where none exist. More-imaginative people see more patterns. Fine.

But too many people who ought to know better think that such patterns are real.

*The Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded in September, but I did not catch up with them till a broadcast on NPR the other day. Dr. Lee added, by the way, “And I have some good news for you, for those without a good imagination, I just found out, you can buy a Jesus toaster on eBay .…” You may see him at about 19 min into the tape. For the record, seeing patterns where none exist is known as pareidolia.

… because it (gasp!) uses the word, “abortion.” But wait – there is a glimmer of hope: The new superintendent, who was ordered to offer a plan for redacting the textbooks, says that the books comply with the law already and instead plans to hold a public discussion.

Meanwhile, as a service to the affected high-school students, Rachel Maddow has posted the offending page on a blog, ArizonaHonorsBiology.com, which her show apparently owns. If you are curious or have a prurient interest, you may also see the verso of The Page, as well as several other pages on human reproduction.

For the record, the book is Reece, et al., Biology: Concepts and Connections.

Philae craft lands on comet

| 70 Comments

Rosetta headquarters announced a few moments ago that the Philae lander is now sitting on the surface of the comet and transmitting data. Unfortunately, the European Space Agency is not exactly releasing a trove of pictures. I know this is not biology, but where did you think those hydrocarbons came from in the first place?

Or, as Right-Wing Watch puts it, Neo-Confederate Republican Michael Peroutka Wins Maryland Election. Mr. Peroutka operates the family foundation that donated the allosaurus fossil to the Creation “Museum,” as we reported here. I will not synopsize the Right-Wing Watch article, but I think that you will find that being a neo-Confederate is the least of Mr. Peroutka’s problems; if he is not completely crackers, he is giving a convincing imitation.

Kent Hovind in trouble again

| 36 Comments

I haven’t got time to investigate further, but Hovind watchers might be interested that Mr, Hovind (Dr. Dino) has been charged with filing a lien on property that had already been forfeited. Or something. A Forbes columnist, Peter Reilly, suggests that the government is piling on, and I suspect he is right; you may read about it here.

Acknowledgement. Link provided by the truly indefatigable Dan Phelps.

IMG_4248Eclipse_600.JPG

Pinhole-camera images of solar eclipse formed by spaces between leaves in canopy. According to Jon Grepstad, this phenomenon was explained by Aristotle. The eclipse is just ending; the picture was as close to total as it got here (Boulder, Colorado).

Giant panda fakes pregnancy

| 3 Comments

The Xinhua news agency reported the other day that a giant panda, Ai Hin, had faked pregnancy, possibly in order to receive better treatment in the form of a private room, air conditioning, and luscious bamboo. This observant and inventive panda is, of course, a distant relative of Professor Steve Steve.

Panda cub is 1 year old

| 2 Comments

That cub is Bao Bao, the cub born at the National Zoo in Washington. See here for a short video or here for still photos. Bao Bao is the second panda to have been born at the zoo and survived to her first birthday. She is, of course, a distant cousin, once removed, of Professor Steve Steve.

A dam at a toxic waste pond burst last week and spilled 10 Mm3 of water and about half as much presumably toxic sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia. If you want to see what 10 Mm3 of water looks like, watch the video posted by The Guardian.

The Fraser River empties into the newly named Salish Sea at Vancouver, B. C.

The Guardian article barely mentions salmon, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls it British Columbia’s Exxon Valdez and suggests that over 2.5 million salmon could be affected. Although the water is apparently safe to drink now, no one knows what the long-term effects might be, after the toxic sludge enters the food chain. NBC news reports that the spill has already destroyed spawning beds for endangered Coho salmon, and there is fear that chinook and sockeye salmon, which are running upstream right now, may also be in danger.

The Provincial government is minimizing the danger.

You may get an idea how science really works from an article by Boston science writer Kate Becker in today’s Boulder Daily Camera. (I think the column is exclusive to the Daily Camera.)

Becker describes the Bicep2 experiment, which looked for evidence of cosmic inflation by examining the polarization of the cosmic background radiation. The authors of the paper announced its conclusion before the paper had been submitted for review; since then, others have criticized their method and thrown the conclusion of the paper into doubt. Specifically, some think that cosmic dust may polarize the radiation in such a way as to give a false positive, in this case a polarization that mimics that of the cosmic background. The researchers have considered cosmic dust and disagree. At any rate, their article has finally been published, and you may find the abstract here. I read the abstract, but as Casca said, it was Greek to me, and I have no opinion concerning the conclusion. We will, as Becker notes, wait until other telescopes weigh in or the Bicep2 data are further evaluated.

This novel by Lauren Grodstein is about Andy, a once promising biology professor now languishing in the tenure-track of a third-rank university in New Jersey. Andy teaches a course nicknamed There Is No God, whose principles are these:

1: Evolution is the explanation for everything

2: Darwin is right

3: And people who don’t believe Darwin are wrong

That is about right, at least to first order and as far as biology is concerned, but naturally such an explicit statement is bound to attract attention. Indeed, it attracts the attention of Lionel, a Campus Crusade type who has received permission to take Andy’s course for a second time in order to make a case against Andy. More importantly, as it turns out, Lionel sets Andy up by encouraging another student, Melissa, to ask Andy to mentor her in a reading course on intelligent-design creationism. Andy resists but finally gives in, with predictably dire consequences.

Quote without comment

| 35 Comments

Ken Ham, who runs a tax-exempt nonprofit and has received various tax breaks and subsidies from the city and the state, writes,

“The Nation’s T. Rex” will be a centerpiece for the Smithsonian–a museum funded by our tax dollars. In reality, then, the government is imposing the religion of evolution and millions of years on children visiting the Smithsonian, while also claiming a supposed separation of church and state! Our tax dollars are funding the religion of naturalism (atheism) and its evolutionary story to be exhibited in the Smithsonian in the nation’s capital!

Since everyone is all het up about Noah, I thought I would resurrect (sorry) a narrative I wrote 15 years ago for my book on science and religion. The “Friedman” I cite is Richard Elliott Friedman, author of Who Wrote the Bible? I used the section primarily to explain why scholars are convinced that the Hebrew Bible is a composite of two different but related methodologies (the documentary hypothesis), but it also shows the utter incoherence of the Bible when read as a literal history. The excerpt may be found below the fold.

I occasionally receive a request to print or post a photograph that has appeared on Panda’s Thumb, but this one takes the cake: A magazine called Creation Illustrated, which bills itself as “The Christian answer to National Geographic,” requested permission to publish this photograph

IMG_0393_CastleRock_600.jpg

in its magazine. Fat chance!

Their e-mail was datelined, “URGENT - Matt Young’s photo of Table Mountain needed.” Needed, eh? I am afraid I was not very kind to them:

Thank you; I am glad you liked my photograph. Unfortunately, under no conditions will I allow this photograph (or any other to which I own the copyright) to be published in any creationist publication. So my answer is, “No.” Did you not notice that the website, Panda’s Thumb, where the photograph was published, is devoted to scientific reality, that is, evolutionary science? “Christian answer to National Geographic,” indeed!

Until now, I was blissfully unaware that National Geographic needed an answer of any kind.

By Dan Phelps ([Enable javascript to see this email address.])

This is a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who participated in a sort of warm-up debate before the infamous Nye–Ham debate. Mr. Phelps’s contribution was inspired in part by a challenge for a formal debate by his interlocutor, Terry Mortenson, who, astonishingly, admitted that he has “no credibility in the scientific community and little even within Christian circles.” Mr. Phelps evidently looked further into Dr. Mortenson’s background and discovered at least some of the reasons that Dr. Mortenson lacks credibility, period.

By David MacMillan. The author has a B.S. in physics from the University of North Alabama and once wrote a very positive review of the Creation Museum.

It’s rare to see a prominent scientist or educator agree to a public debate with someone from the creation science movement. Giving equal time to both sides might be a foundational principle of American dialogue, but it paints the issue as more of a controversy than it actually is. That’s why it surprised a lot of people when Bill Nye, science educator and TV personality, agreed to debate the president of Cincinnati’s Creation Museum, Ken Ham.

Oooh, do I smell a book deal! NPR today ran an interview with a Christian pastor who supposedly made a New Year’s resolution to live for a year without God. Ryan Bell was the pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation but was asked to resign when he expressed doubts about God.

A reader asks weather anyone knows what book this page comes from or not:

MysteryWorkbook_600.jpg

I say, wind, shmind, the whether on the moon was stormy that day or not. Anyway, how do they know weather there is wind on the moon – were they there (or not)? Read and understand.…

Submitted by the Whether Underground.

Comet Ison: Perihelion is now

| 11 Comments

Nice video here, along with a sky map telling you where to look in the early morning. Instructions for viewing it in daylight here – wear sunglasses and take their advice to use a stationary object, not your thumb, to block the sun. And latest images here. I am going out now with my trusty camera and looking for a lamp post, but it may be too close to the sun already.

Update: Here is a remarkable picture from the Nasa site above, taken on November 25.

CometIsonNasa_600.jpg

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Slightly Off Topic category.

Shoptalk is the previous category.

Steve Steve is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter