"I am all in favor of the skeptical mind. Do not believe anything unless you have experienced it. Do not believe anything - go on questioning, however long it takes." - Osho

Friday, 27 May 2011

What do Jesus, Mayans, and the Large Hadron Collider have in common?

There seems to be something ingrained in human nature that makes us completely obsessed with death. Maybe it’s something about its inevitability that fascinates us- or maybe we’re all just kind of morbid. Either way, it can’t be denied that every time a new theory about how the world is going to end emerges, thousands of people buy it hook, line and sinker.

Apocalypse predictions come in many shapes and sizes, but they all seem to have an irresistible appeal for a lot of people. Take the Large Hadron Collider, for instance. Remember when this was first set to be switched on back in 2008? I certainly do- because a load of my classmates came into school crying and being generally dramatic about how it was going to create a massive black hole that was going to SUCK IN THE EARTH! Oh wait, hold on a second; that didn’t happen. It’s actually been fairly promising and is still being used now- almost without incident. Scientists said all along that fears were unfounded. The main problem there is that tabloids see “black hole”, and report as such. The public at large pay attention to the newspapers, not the scientists. Mock the Week have a hilarious take on the issue. Although perhaps not so sceptical.

Then there are the Mayan predictions. We’re all supposed to die on 21st December 2012 because that’s when their calendar ends, which is somehow assumed to be a death sentence for us humans. Even assuming that the Mayans had been amazingly accurate in their predictions (they weren’t), the end of this calendar still doesn’t signal the apocalypse. The consensus opinion between scholars is that this was just when their date cycle ended, signalling the beginning of “the 13th era”. It’s a similar concept to having centuries or millenia in modern culture. Besides, would the Mayan gods be cruel enough to kill us all in the holiday season? We could try to sate their thirst for blood with a big cup of eggnog instead.

Lastly, there’s the reason I chose this week to blog about apocalypse predictions- Harold Camping and the somewhat anti-climactic “rapture”. If you haven’t heard about this guy- as I hadn’t until last week- I suggest looking him up. Camping predicted that Judgement Day was coming back on the 21st May 2011, but unfortunately for him all of the non-believers are still here- in fact, nothing happened at all. He then revised the date to October 21st this year, as only a silent, spiritual judgement had taken place. In October the real rapture is going to happen, and that’s when all of the sinners are gunna get it.

People have freedom of religion of course, and if Christians believe that Judgement Day will come, nobody should judge that. However, guessing when it’s going to come is a different matter. It seems downright silly that after predicting the rapture in 12 different years since 1844, they haven’t given up yet. Why are people so eager to have the world end? It certainly doesn’t seem to be something that most folk would look forward to.
However, there’s no use denying that life as we know it can’t last forever; it can’t. But in reality, the earth has around 7 billion years left. That’s a really, really long time. The bad news is that life on earth is only supposed to have another billion or so years left- but then again, that’s also a really long time. Who can say what science will bring in that sort of time? We might have civilisations all over the universe and beyond, or we might find a way to save our own little planet from destruction. At the moment it looks like we still have a good few years left- and the end of the world should probably be the least of our worries.
I feel like I should grovel for going so long without posting anything new, but I won't. Hope you guys like the post, keep the feedback coming in! I want to hear about all of the apocalypse theories you've heard!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Extremists suck.

I was watching a British TV show this morning called The Big Questions. It airs every Sunday, and normally asks three different political or religious questions which an invited audience then proceed to debate over. However, today they asked only one question: does Britain have a problem with Muslims?

That isn't the debate I want to get involved in- it's a smaller issue within that which someone in the audience mentioned. During a discussion about Muslim extremists, it was asked why the world tends to focus on Muslims when they're talking about extreme religious views. This is a question which I've often wondered about myself.

File: Wikimedia Commons
The most profound example, for me, is America's invasion of the Middle East (I know that Britain also invaded them, but this is not as applicable to British society). How can America- more specifically the Bush administration-  justify invading another country partly due to religious extremism when they seem to have a huge problem with it on their own soil? In my mind, it should be more important to counter the growing religious fundamentalism and racial hatred in their own country.

In an age when Neo-Nazism and similar movements appear to be on the rise in America, something should be done about countering this craziness at home before a hypocritical move is made into other countries for the same thing. Although I'm aware that this isn't the only reason why Iraq was invaded, it can't be denied that it is a factor- Bush wanted revenge after 9/11.

I'm not saying that Muslim extremism isn't a problem- of course it is, and we've seen this repeatedly over the last few decades. I completely condemn any person or organisation who would think to harm people over what they do or do not believe in. I'm also in no way saying that I believe that soldiers who fought and died in the ongoing war did so for nothing; ultimately, peace and religious freedom are worthy causes, and we should be proud of our military for fighting for them. I simply believe that before other countries are invaded, we should first address the same issues in our own nations.

This might fuel a debate... So go ahead and comment. I'm interested to hear other people's views.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Magneto boy!

What the heck? Just read this story on a few websites.

Six year old Ivan Stoiljkovic claims to be able to carry metal objects of up to 25kg stuck to his skin. But his family claim that this is because he is literally magnetic. Right. Perhaps a more likely reason is that he has sticky skin? A similar thing happened with this Malaysian man in the early 2000s. His skin produced incredible amounts of friction, which gave it a "suction" effect.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

He also claims to be able to heal people by holding his hands over the area of their body which is sore. His family then claim that his hands become hot, and the pain goes away. Of course, this can be attributed to their expectation that his doing so will make him feel better, and their desire to believe that their child is miraculous.

An interesting story to examine methinks. I'm no expert on the science of this one, but I can't say that the idea that the kid is a walking magnet really sticks with me. Any opinions?

Beccy :D

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Whimsy is good, right?

As surprised as I am about it, I somehow managed to snatch a little time away from studying and sitting exams to write a partway decent post. Just thought I would share a little bit of interesting-but-not-very-important science with you.

I was thinking about the evolutionary benefit of different features, and started thinking about cuteness. Is there an evolutionary benefit of being cute? The idea seems to make sense; most people find babies cute, right? At a very basic level, that might be part of the reason why people feel an urge to care for babies, regardless of whether they're their own.  It might even be useful for other species to have cute offspring- you look at a super cute kitten, and you don't want to kill it and eat it or anything, do you? If you're normal anyway. That could be useful, because if we aren't killing adorable cat-babies, and we're looking after adorable human-babies, they can grow up, and reproduce, and carry on their genes. It's a cool thought. 

So I looked it up, and found a couple of articles examining exactly that question! It's interesting to see other peoples' views on this type of subject.

Here's one in the New York Times about why cuteness is so appealing.

And here's one about why we find animals in specific cute, and empathy between animals.

Interesting, right? Besides... Everyone loves cute pictures of my pets. SAY AWW. If anybody has other sources, or is an expert in a related topic, leave a comment! I'll check them out and edit this post accordingly.

Lastly, I've volunteered for the Woo Zoo piece in TS for next week. This is a post in which the contributors relate times when they've given up on woo, for various reasons. However, all of their posts seem to be pretty deep and thoughtful- largely about religion, or triggered by a monumental event. Having been brought up in a completely non-religious household, I'm struggling to find something profound to write about, so I've settled for something a little more light-hearted.

Should I write about abandoning homeopathy, or about abandoning belief in the Loch Ness Monster?

Beccy :D

Monday, 9 May 2011

A quick update...

Just promising everyone that I'm alive. I'm annoyed that I haven't had time to write a decent post; such is life I'm afraid. Had my biology exam today, kind of thankful it's over, but there are a bunch more this week and next I'll have to deal with before I write a proper post again.

Studying is a bore. I started drawing fractals yesterday instead, and generally doodling, before slapping myself like a bootcamp leader, and yelling in my own face to hurry up and get some work done. So I did, eventually. But I still prefer doodling.

But cheers to everyone checking the blog out- I promise it won't be this lame in a couple of weeks. Life, sadly, is interfering at the moment. Also- vote on my poll and look at the stats. They're hilarious! It's pretty obvious that most of my readers have been directed here from the Skeptic's Guide!

Ciao! Beccy :)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Permission to squee like a fangirl?

Just listened to the most recent episode of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (#303)- they read my brother's email and gave me a mention- I couldn't believe it, didn't even realise it was being read until someone commented my blog saying so. But basically, thanks to the folks at the Skeptic's Guide for taking the time to do that for me- and to anyone else that doesn't listen to their podcast- go forth and download!

I've been thinking of a few things I might write for Teen Skepchick; haven't decided on anything specific as of yet, but I probably won't be able to post right away thanks to having four darn exams next week and two the week after. However, after that, I'll try to start posting and prove that I'm alive, and will pull my weight.

Off to study more biology. I'm a good little scientist, I swear (Although after five hours, plants and cells and organs begin to lose their charm). So thanks to anyone checking out my blog due to the podcast. You're all awesome, and I less than three you. <3

Friday, 6 May 2011

The SNP make me want to hit stuff. ):

Great, just great. A landslide victory for the Scottish National Party in our elections was announced today. I am not overly happy about this, because Alex Salmond is not someone I love and the SNP are not a particularly likeable party. To give them some credit, for anybody that doesn't know- they're in no way involved with the BNP, who are a significantly less likeable party. Just in case you maybe thought they were, like, the Scottish counterpart. 

I just read their manifesto, and they do have a couple of good policies. Loving the free education thing, obviously. No university fees for little old me = yay! On the other hand, their main focus is making Scotland independent. We would fail at independence. I shall now proceed to tell you why... But feel free to tell me why you disagree.

If Scotland was separate from the United Kingdom, it would lose most, if not all, of its political influence in the world. For example, Alex Salmond campaigns for fishing rights, but if Scotland was separate it would have to give in to the European Union and accept the common fisheries policy. Scotland is a small country, with a population of only 5.09million people. This is only 8.5% of Great Britain’s population. There are fears among many Scottish voters and some political parties that Scotland may not be taken seriously as a single independent nation.

Secondly, Scotland cannot afford to become an independent nation. There is a gap between public spending of £40billion and revenue of £27billion raised here. This means that a Scottish government would have to choose between raising our taxes and cutting our public services, neither of which would be beneficial to the people. The truth is that Scotland does receive subsidies from the UK government annually to boost our economic growth. We receive more from the government than we gives to it. The income from oil reserves alone would certainly be insufficient to maintain Scotland’s current growth rate, and as oil is a fossil fuel, the reserves will run out eventually, so we cannot rely on this as our sole income. If we want to climb higher up the economic ladder, an independent Scotland would not help to propel us to greater heights. The integrated British economy is much more capable than an independent Scotland would be of meeting the challenges of globalization. Likewise, having independent defence and security structures in Scotland would put far too much strain on Scotland’s resources. 

AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF. <- most intelligent part of my argument.

But I've been distracted, because I've been asked by Teen Skepchick to become a contributor. This makes me incredibly, utterly happy. Also, I should credit my brother- he forwarded my blog on without my knowledge. (= best brother ever)

But yeah. Gimme your opinions on independence people! 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Psychics, and that horoscope thing!

And I shall go forth, and I shall educate thee about the dangers of Sylvia Browne, John Edwards and psychic surgeries...

Perhaps not in that tone. Though. Just sayin'.

I was talking to a couple of my friends today about what I should do my next longer, editorial-style piece on, and we settled on a take-down of psychics. One of them wanted me to tackle astrology as well, but it's a pretty separate issue so I'll save it for another time.

If you want a little something to research in the meantime though, look up this bundle of supernatural joy.

Her name is Sylvia Browne. You can see her various FAIL moments plastered all over the web. I do not like this woman very much. And I can't promise to stay away from the ad-hominem attacks, because she's too much of an idiot. But hopefully you can see through that to the actual evidence, whenever I get round to ruining psychics with words.

And if you're not sure what ad-hom means, this is a brill wee site to get your brain ticking. Have a read and tell me what you're thinking. 

Also, if you have any suggestions of what you would like me to write longer pieces on, give me a bell (or just a comment but a bell would be cool).

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Osama is dead, then?

Looks like Osama Bin Laden is dead. This, of course, is good news, but as my brother so wisely pointed out, all of the dancing and celebrating in the streets seems a little distasteful. However, at least the no.1 most wanted man in the world died, and can now make place for a new one.

I understand why they dumped his body at sea; they didn't want it to become a shrine for religious extremists to flock to. However, I wish the press and government would stop bullshitting us and telling us it's part of Islamic tradition; the single thing that was Islamic about it was quick disposal of the body. Another thing, though, is that this lack of physical, concrete evidence is going to give rise to a whole lot of messy conspiracy theories. The 9/11 "truthers" will be all over this one like a fat dude on a beefburger. But we'll have to see how it pans out.

One good thing that comes of it is a huge upsurge in support for Obama all of a sudden. Democrats are so much more science- friendly than the other main parties, to me it's important to see them get another term in office... Not to mention, I really love Barack Obama. A lot. Not that I can vote.