CONvergence 2014 panel audio: It’s (Not) Written In The Stars

This was a fun panel about the cognitive dissonance and shared delusion necessary to believe in astrology despite all of science’s advances. It was a bit raucaus at times, but we had good audience participation and Brianne had some hilarious points throughout, relieving me of my usual role as snarker. With a real-life astronomer and two science teachers — one tenured, one a teacher-in-training — this panel covered all the perspectives. Well, except for the perspectives of true-believer. No wait, Nicole admitted to having been one herself at one point! So it covered all the perspectives! Yeah!

We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

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 It’s (Not) Written In The Stars mp3 – 24.7 megs)

My CONvergence schedule – 2014

It’s gotten so’s I gotta put a year in the title to make it unique! How weird is that.

My CONvergence schedule is a bit thicker this year than in years past — I’m invited to participate in six panels. That’s a record for me! One of them is even my own brain-baby — the Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons panel.

And as usual, I’ll be hanging out in the FtB / Skepchicks “party” rooms wherein we’ll not actually be partying, but rather fending off constant attacks from the encroaching Royal Manticorian Army and Klingon rooms. Also, there will be science sandboxes, commisserating with like-minded individuals, and modest amounts of alcohol to lubricate the conversation. I might also provide hilariawful Bible games on the big-screen TV, e.g. Super Noah’s Ark 3D, if I can manage a better setup than last year.

The panels are:

Friday, July 4 • 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Alien Conspiracy Theories

The truth is out there, and we’ll help you find it! We’ll cover a wide range of alien-centric conspiracy theories and discuss the implications these have on individuals and society at large.

Panelists: JD Horn, Jason Thibeault, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch

Friday, July 4 • 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Superheroes in Our Modern-Day Pantheons

Nobody really worships Hercules or Thor as Greek and Norse gods anymore, but don’t despair, because now they’re both members of The Avengers. This panel will explore the commonalities and differences between our ancient and modern pantheons.

Panelists: David Schwartz, Jason Thibeault, Roy T Cook, Jonathan Palmer, Ryan Consell

Friday, July 4 • 11:30pm – 12:30am
It’s (Not) Written in the Stars
We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Saturday, July 5 • 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Criticism and Empathy Online

When people abuse anonymity to give hurtful, damaging criticism, is this merely a failure of empathy, or is there something more there? How do you criticize people without triggering a flame war? Should you even TRY to avoid flame wars?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Wesley Chu, Kameron Hurley, Ted Meissner

Saturday, July 5 • 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down?

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6 • 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Urban Legends: Myths, Facts, and Half-Truths

From alligators in the sewer to clowns in the attic, urban legends walk the line between total absurdity and being just so outrageous that they might be true. Where do these stories come from, and why do they capture our imaginations so effectively?

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Anne Sauer, Naomi Kritzer, Bug Girl, Shawn van Briesen

Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t (a repost)

A repost, apropos of this weekend’s supermoon and the fact that people are going bugnut over it… yet again… and Taslima seemed lonely in being the only other FtBer covering this one. My original post is here, published March 17, 2011.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a SUPERMOOOOOOON!!

I have written at some length about the moon, with its wobble called libration, and how its elliptical orbit means that it varies in its distance to us between roughly 360,000km and 406,000km. That’s a difference of ~46,000km, or about ten percent of its distance at apogee. Apogee is what you call the moon’s furthest point in its orbit, and perigee the closest. As the moon orbits us about once a month (thus the lunar cycle), that means that during a predicted perigee, the moon is about two weeks away from apogee.
[Read more…]

Astrologers pick a fight with open-source software and history itself

Via a pingback ostensibly made by Astrology-X-Files (and maybe even Curtis Manwaring himself, no less!), this news about Astrolabe at Tech Dirt, where they’ve just filed suit against the maintainers of the public-domain Olson time zone database that is used in just about every open-source time zone related project imaginable:
[Read more…]

Are all astrologers fated by the stars to be douches?

Ed Kohout is one of THOSE kinds of trolls. The ones you know are just trolling from the get-go, but that you just have to feed anyway, just to see what levels of douchery they can realize. In my repost of “How does One Prove Astrology? By Starting Over”, our new friend Ed has taken it upon himself to go on several Gish gallops, spouting so much effluence and demi-truths at such a rate that no single human being could possibly keep up without giving up their job, their personal lives, and ridding themselves of the monkey-on-their-backs that some people call “sleeping”.

Ed has an irritating habit of, rather than merely blockquoting someone and referring to their names, instead including demeaning or degrading verbs in place of “said”. For instance, people “bleat”, “wail”, or “scramble for cover” every time they refuse to accede to his rhetorical demands. I will do likewise in each instance where I blockquote him. I will endeavor to pick the most appropriate verb for each quote (and reserve the right to verb some nouns). Sorry if it gets repetitive.

He’s ended his latest tirade with a demand that I show him one single astrology book that refers to gravity as being the source of astrology’s purported effects. To wit, Ed douched:

As for the perennial straw-man featuring gravity, Jupiter, babies and obstetricians, please cite the astrological claim that the gravity of planets determines the astrological effect.

I want a real citation of a real book, some text somewhere that makes this claim. Surely you know right where to go.

I will not partake in this thread any further until you do so.

Which is why I will reply! I’d never do anything to alienate my new friend Ed!
[Read more…]

RCimT: a quick science news roundup

Welcome to the first Random Crap in my Tabs posted to Freethought Blogs! Every once in a while, my browser’s tabs get far too full of “stuff that must be blogged”, stuff that I figured was too interesting to just read and close, and in order to free up resources so I can do other things, once in a while I aggregate a bunch of similarly themed items into a post with links and short commentary. It’s something like a blog carnival, but usually to non-bloggy stuff.

This one’s about some sciencey bits and bobs, and it’s all over the map. Allons-y!
[Read more…]

Astrology’s “obstetrician strawman” is no strawman

So, one among the dozens of ridiculous claims made by Ed Kohout in this thread was that the claim famously posited by Carl Sagan in Demon Haunted World, that the obstetrician in the room imparts more gravitational force on a newborn baby than does Pluto, is a strawman. Edit: To clarify, he referred to gravitational and tidal forces as proof that the planets have an effect on human lives (which we, of course, understand and can measure!), and handwaved away the Sagan quote preemptively as though it was a strawman caricature of the actual astrological arguments about gravity (which he didn’t, by the way, expand on). This strikes me as a bit of a Courtier’s Reply, and the fact is, the argument about gravity actually knocks gravity out as a potential vehicle for whatever influences are claimed about the planets’ influences — especially given that these influences are purportedly equally strong/subtle for any of the planets. The Sagan quote about Pluto’s gravity being less than the obstetrician’s is a sound-bite form of a knockout argument for one of the four fundamental forces.

Well, Ed said Jupiter instead, but I’m willing to crunch some numbers to see how right he is. For these calculations, since I’m no math genius, I’m using this Newtonian gravity equation calculator. Yeah, yeah, Newtonian physics have been superceded by relativity, but I’m not about to try to calculate this out using relativity, that would be ridiculous. Newtonian physics hold in this case anyway.

I’ve expanded out all the numbers from scientific notation to straight digits. Average baby weight is 3.4kg, so let’s go with that. As some commenters helpfully point out, this assumes the force from the center of a spherical mass, so assume a spherical baby and a spherical obstetrician. Because gravitational calculations are wibbly with oddly-shaped objects.

Jupiter at closest approach to Earth, weight rounded up:

object 1 mass (m1) = 3.4 kilogram
object 2 mass (m2) = 1900000000000000000000000000 kilogram
distance between objects (r) = 628743036 kilometer

Solution:
gravitational force (F) = 0.000001090388427237 newton

[Read more…]

The astrology conversation that DIDN’T happen

I would guess Robert looks something like this while posting any comment on astrology.

In the endless non-debate on astrology, I had held some measure of hope that, when Robert Currey resurrected the thread two weeks after it had abated, that there might actually be some discussion of the positive evidence for astrology. Robert has attempted to steer the discussion over the past 230 comments with little regard for the multiple attempts made by myself and my regular readers to redirect discussion in a manner more productive. (Mind you, others rejoined the field, including Jamie Funk and Marina, and there was a sidebar on rectification astrology by James Alexander, whom George W is dealing with elsewhere, so not all the 230 comments came from that discussion.)

Robert has, numerous times, flogged a piece he wrote on his own space claiming astrology to have an empirical grounding, though much of the content on the page seems like butt-hurt over certain skeptics’ tactics in arguing him and other astrologers in the past. There’s a hilarious passage about the “vested interests” line that skeptics use frequently that deserves addressing, mostly because (as is evident elsewhere in this conversation) Robert’s lack of reading comprehension skills causes him to miss the point of it by a very wide margin:

[Read more…]