Science sneaks up on squirrels: a reenactment

Scicurious (alias: Bethany Brookshire, alias: Squirrel Terrorist) reenacts a scientific paper’s methodology about squirrels’ ability to detect predators, as her Act of Whimsy (read: forfeit) for Geek Girl Con fundraising.

Remember, if we get to $5000, I’ll be playing Battletoads, beginning to end, with infinite lives, on twitch.tv. Surely you’ll want to see me get progressively more and more frustrated as I replay sections of the game over, and over, and over again. Donate now to punish me!

(We totally did not coordinate the silent movie thing in advance, I swear.)

CONvergence 2014 panel audio: Alien Conspiracy Theories

It took a bit of wrestling with my own damn operating system to get this to work, but here it is: Alien Conspiracy Theories, starring JD Horn, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch, and yours truly.

Come join us as we talk about some of the alien conspiracy theories that have entered into popular culture, what’s implausible, what’s impossible, and what’s just good OBEY clean family STAY ASLEEP fun.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(or download the Alien Conspiracy Theories mp3 – 24.2 megs)

The specific gravity of cold-press coffee

Okay, a bit of a misleading title, but I like it nonetheless.

I just had a minor bit of unpleasant SIWOTI, only in meatspace instead of On The Internet. I don’t think I handled it entirely appropriately but that’s mostly because as a nerd, these things do matter to me. But interacting with other people also matters to me.

Caribou Coffee is a local answer to Starbucks that falls about halfway between Tim Horton’s and Starbucks on the scale of fancy-fancy frou-frou (which is a scalar value, obviously). They have a trivia question on a chalkboard next to their menu every day, and getting it right will knock ten cents off your order. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a fun little thing. Today’s question was: “What is Mars’ gravitational pull (relative to Earth’s)?”
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The Constitutionality of Abortion Policy in New Brunswick – cover

Tia Beaudoin, a recent Political Science Honours graduate at University of New Brunswick, has kindly offered her thesis as a series of guest blog posts on the subject of the abortion policy in NB, with particular regard to the laws that have resulted in abortion being virtually inaccessible for much of the Maritimes.

As it’s very long, I’ve broken it up into multiple posts:

Cover / Works Cited
Introduction
Chapter 1: A Social and Legal History of Abortion in Canada
Chapter 2: New Brunswick: Openly Defying the Canada Health Act
Conclusion

As an editor’s note, I should point out that Dr. Henry Morgentaler died last May, and after his death, the clinic he founded in New Brunswick — which he’d been fighting to force the government to cover the costs of the procedures done there in the courts over the last 11 years — was forced to close for lack of funding, despite the Canada Health Act requiring funding of abortions. The provincial government, thanks to Regulation 84-20, only covers funding for abortions recommended by two doctors as “medically necessary” — a law that makes it nearly impossible to obtain the two doctors’ sign-off during the mandated first twelve weeks of the woman’s pregnancy. Those two facts essentially make it impossible to get medical funding, and the clinic under Morgentaler had mandated to never turn away a woman in need. As a result, it has lost close to $100,000 over the past ten years.

Worse, the lawsuit was dropped in the wake of the ongoing backlash against Regulation 84-20.

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Skeptech Gameathon Fundraiser – March 22nd!

Last year, the first Skeptech conference was, entirely unsurprisingly, a big success. With some big names talking about some big topics in and around the intersection of science, technology and skepticism, they’ve got a tough act to follow this year.

And yet, they seem to have managed just fine on the speakers front, with Jesse Galef, Tim Farley, and Debbie Goddard, to name a scant few.

They’re still in a drive for fundraising though, since the rocket packs they’re strapping to all these cats don’t come cheap. So, I’ve agreed to host a twelve hour gaming fundraiser telethon, with games broadcast via Twitch TV while we concurrently run a Google Hangout On Air. Brendan Murphy and Chelsea DuFresne will be the real hosts, while I play video games and run tech and probably get more than my fair share of screen time regardless. Stephanie Zvan will visit in person, as will Brianne Bilyeu; we’ll have a number of guests join us via the Hangout, including Rebecca Watson, Scicurious and Surly Amy.

From the teaser:

On the 22nd, this page will be outfitted with a Google Hangout, Twitch Stream & Chat, and an easy way to donate to the Skeptech conference (paypal).

Here are some initial incentives (more will be added):

$5 to be a member of our Organ Trail team.
At $200, we’ll buy Super Meat Boy and fail horribly.
At $1000, we’ll buy Amnesia, and play it at full-volume in the dark. You’ll be able to watch our horror on the hangout.
We hope you’ll join us! Stay tuned for a rough schedule of what we’ll be playing, who will be joining us, and when.

I don’t have this rough timeline myself, but I can reveal a few other incentives we have on tap. For $20, you can jump into the Hangouts for 15 mins and try to go all debate-club on us, while we try to multitask and out-debate you while also staying on the course on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart or some other such outlandish gaming stunt. Wanna talk about gaming handicaps, there you go.

For $100, I’ll write the blog post of your choice — you get to pick the topic, the side you want me to argue (and I’ll even steel-man some positions I’d otherwise never take or even strongly disagree with!), and you can even give me a specific phrase to work in. Minimum of 1200 words, to boot, EXCLUDING blockquotes. This is a quote-miner’s goldmine, and it could be yours for a mere hundred clams.

Or for $50, you can point me to a post by anyone on any topic, and let me blog whatever I’d like about it, taking whatever angle I so choose. Minimum 1500 words — a better value, but you don’t know necessarily what I’ll argue or how!

And I’m sure if you come up with specific gaming stunts or bounties, we could come to some arrangements. It’s interactive entertainment, all to serve a higher cause: dispelling the demons of ignorance and delusion while talking about the science and technology that proves our side is the side of angels.

See you there!

“Smokey Joe” Barton’s long history of antiscience propaganda

Remember how Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum for the government’s mild reproach and slap on the wrist after their oil spill destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and created a dead zone that will last for decades? Turns out he was one of the bigger names involved in the disinformation campaign waged by the tobacco industry.

Those of us who weren’t old enough or politically aware enough might not have known this fact about Barton, or might have let that information slip into the memory hole; we might otherwise think that this antiscience campaign waged by the oil industry against climate scientists is a unique phenomenon. Spreading this information about Barton’s and others’ tactics is therefore vital.

Normally, ad hominem is a fallacy. However, establishing a pattern of behaviour and modifying one’s treatment of or trust in another person based on such patterns of behaviour is entirely reasonable and rational. Seeing this man (and others, like Boehner) repeat the same tactics that worked so well in forestalling public acceptance of the truth behind tobacco’s deleterious health effects, used in a fight with vast and far-reaching consequences about the deleterious effects we as a species are having on our environment, is rather galling, but definitely useful information. It means we are forearmed against these tactics and can counter them. It means we are aware in advance of the fact that the people with their hands on the levers of political power in this country are not principled actors, and that they are more than willing to lie about reality for a quick buck to everyone else’s detriment.

Elsewhere, another community handles similar events differently.

It’s no surprise the science blogging community, even the “mainstream media” parts of it like Scientific American, intersects heavily with the community of atheists and freethinkers that make up the skeptical and atheist communities. Not all the members of the science blogging community, though, have any inclination toward being part of the atheist/skeptical communities. In fact, a surprising number of people who are out as atheists couldn’t give half a damn about these secular online communities, what with our acrimony, our pockets of outright hatred and our various unevidenced delusions. A large number of them have given up on our communities over the very same fights that FtB features heavily in — fights in which vocal minorities claim that we, the people who try to hold others’ feet to fires for believing in and for saying and for doing objectively harmful and antisocial things to one another, are the ones who are truly evil, with their cries of “witch hunts” and “political correctness” and “fascism” and their cries that they’re defending “free speech”, as though they even knew what the term meant.

The result of this divergence in community makeup is palpable this past week.
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The costs of action vs the costs of inaction on global warming

By our inability to prevent a global 2+°C warming, by virtue of there being very nearly 400 parts per million CO2 despite our scientists’ constant warnings to do whatever it takes to reduce that number to at least 350, we’re going to cost ourselves a hell of a lot of money. Both in the short term and in the long term.

Firstly, the Arctic is thawing. Within the Arctic is a time-bomb of methane gas that’s gonna cost us almost as much as the global economy.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.

“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modeling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.

That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.

The methane bomb is a one time event though, as it has a significantly different impact life span of 20-ish years, compared to CO2‘s 5 years in the atmosphere til it gets either taken up by biological processes or the ocean. The problem with CO2 is that while any individual molecule stays in the atmosphere for a few years, it also might return to the atmosphere after a stint in the ocean or in the trees. The individual molecules stick around for thousands of years compared to methane’s 20-ish, and we’re pumping out twice as much CO2 as the planet can apparently sink per year.

Plus, the repercussions of more CO2 in the oceans is acidification, which kills coral and marine life and could destroy the entire fishing industry and any culture that relies on it for food.

Global warming doesn’t just mean it’ll get warm and stay warm — it means there’s more energy in the system, so you have wilder weather swings. You’ll therefore see superstorms in all weather: tornadoes and hurricanes, blizzards and thunderstorms, floods and droughts. The more energy, the bigger and more frequent the energetic releases. And we all know how much damage each of those events can do, money-wise.

All of this, compared to the costs of finding a less carbon-heavy way of feeding ourselves, finding a less carbon-heavy way of powering our electrical gadgets and climate control systems and personal conveyance, and industry. It’s possible to beat this issue without all of us turning into cave-dwelling survival nuts, but we need to fix a lot of processes that are well and truly entrenched — and as far as I can tell, they’re only entrenched at this point because certain people are still making money off the carbon economy. A carbon economy the American government subsidizes heavily by giving huge kickbacks to the oil industry. How much is THAT costing us? How much would carbon really cost if not for the invisible hand of the marketplace sticking a heavy thumb on those scales?

When some climate denialist says it’s too expensive to do anything about CO2 emissions — show them these costs. The cost argument evaporates when you take into account how much inaction will cost.

#FtBCON: Atheism Is Not Enough panel

As proven by the deep rifts that exist within movement atheism, a common acknowledgement that there is no god is often not enough ground on which to build a coherent, lasting community. Social justice movements often encounter tipping points where they either take into account the natural allies that are other movements, or they fail. Debbie Goddard, Desiree Schell, James Croft, Kimberley Veal, Kim Rippere and Yemisi Ilesanmi all joined me to discuss atheism and social justice, and how atheism shouldn’t be the endpoint of a journey into freethought, but the beginning.

This was a two hour panel. It will be a beast to transcribe. I will pitch in when I can, if someone sets up a transcription project for this.