They had me going for a moment


This “news” article lead in with some rather positive statements, and had me wondering for a bit how life could exist on a comet.

Evidence of alien life is “unequivocal” on the comet carrying the Philae probe through space, two leading astronomers have said.

The experts say the most likely explanation for certain features of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, such as its organic-rich black crust, is the presence of living organisms beneath an icy surface.

Rosetta, the European spacecraft orbiting the comet, is also said to have picked up strange “clusters” of organic material that resemble viral particles.

Hmmm. I could imagine bacteria living deep in a organic-chemical-rich rock in space, but it would have to be metabolizing at an extraordinarily low rate — how would a probe that wasn’t designed to detect life even see it? Are there cues other than that the surface is dark? Because that’s kind of routine, and doesn’t require life.

And then that bit about viral particles…how would they know? Does Philae carry an electron microscope on board?

Despite the emphatic wording, this article is extremely suspect. But it’s Sky News, a real UK news source! Just like Fox News in the US! They would at least check with real scientists, wouldn’t they?

Nope. All is revealed.

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Move over, Eye of Argon


The Eye of Argon is a legendary work of bad fiction (you don’t have to trust me, just read a page or two), but we have to be fair: its author did not try to publish it, didn’t try to tell the world that it was the greatest work of fantasy ever, and didn’t brag about his book and movie deals.

That modesty is not a property of Gloria Tesch, author of the Maradonia Saga, a series I was introduced to just this past weekend. It may not be as badly written as Eye of Argon (although it comes close), but the ego of the author is astonishing.

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#cvg2015: Episode IV, A New Hope

It’s the last day of Convergence! We partied into the wee hours last night, and now comes the dreaded time when we have to break down and clean up the party room. It’s going to be drudgery all morning.

But I’m not done with the con! I have two science panels this afternoon before I can escape.

At 12:30 in Atrium 7, we’re discussing Human Augmentation.

We may not be able to fly or record our lives with memory implants, but existing developments are exciting, from 3D printed hands to mind-controlled exoskeletons and neuroprosthetics. We’ll discuss the latest advances and what’s possible for the future. Panelists: PZ Myers, Christopher Hunter, Tim Shank, Brian McEvoy, Cassandra Phoenix

At 3:30, it’s time for Genetic Engineering: From Fiction to Fact, in Atrium 7 again.

Dystopian books, movies and video games are filled with genetic engineering nightmares, from Oryx and Crake to Gattaca and Bioshock. We’ll discuss how much of this fiction is becoming fact (and the implications) in the growing field of synthetic biology. Panelists: Kris Coulter, PZ Myers, Ross Conklin

I’m also going to have say goodbye to my daughter and son-in-law, who have been tending bar all weekend and making sushi, and will be driving back to Colorado; my oldest son is heading back to St Cloud after his long weekend as a party gopher; and the middle son has a few more days with us before he flies back to Korea. I think we’re all going to sleep well tonight.

Save the retconning for comic books

The push-back against equality is now trying to rewrite history and retroactively rehabilitate Bora Zivkovic. In a terrible article that ignores all the facts and instead throws around sexist terms (“witch hunt”, “bitches”, “pussies”, “harpies”) utterly oblivious to the fact that they undermine her own argument, we get this ignorant bullshit.

As I noted above, what Bora did in no way met any legal or reasonable standard for sexual harassment — a crew of harpies who accused him just said it did; and all these supposed “skeptics” who make up the science-writing community just piled on.

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#cvg2015: The day that we’re supposed to rise from the dead

Day 3 of Convergence! Feeling a bit frazzled around the edges…I was up until 2am last night. And today I have a morning panel to attend, Getting Students Into Science, at 9:30 in Atrium 3. Coffee sings a siren song this morning.

As our society gets more technological, being scientifically literate becomes increasingly critical. Come discuss ways we can attract more non-scientists to be familiar with the subject matter. How can we keep young children’s interest as they grow? Panelists: Renate Fiora, PZ Myers, Dan Berliner, Steven Theiss, Matthew Lowry

This afternoon we’re going to have a few more salons in room 228 as well. Jason Thibeault will be leading a discussion on Ethics in Video Games at 2:00, and at 3:00, Jeremy Messersmith will be stopping by for a conversation about the Neurobiology of Music.

Yes, the party room will be open again at 8pm. We get a lot of people stopping by because in addition to vodka shots, we have a water dispenser and watermelon slices available. Hydration matters! Drink water in addition to all that booze, people!

#cvg2015: Electric boogaloo

We’re up all bright and shiny this morning, after partying until 1am last night with celebrities: Amanda Marcotte and Rachel Swirsky stopped by, along with milling hordes of people who burned through our party supplies a little faster (OK, a lot faster) than we expected. We’re making a grocery store run this morning.

Then at 12:30, we’re showing people how to do a simple alcohol extraction of DNA from fresh fruit. At 3:30, I’m off to the Edina room to answer science questions.

Working scientists take time away from their undersea labs and volcano lairs to answer your science questions! Panelists: PZ Myers, Gwen “Bug Girl” Pearson, Steven Theiss, Rachael Acks, Raychelle Burks

At 5, it’s Science vs. Religion in Dystopia, in Atrium 4.

Authors like Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien have often pitted religion against science, blatantly or through symbolism. How do these authors tilt their respective playing fields? How do their dystopian portrayals of the “other side” compare? Panelists: PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Emily Finke, Jairus Durnett, Cassandra Phoenix

Then, at 8pm, the party begins once again! I missed you there last night, I hope you can make it now.

#cvg2015: The beginninging

Today is the opening day of Convergence. Yesterday, we got all our stuff moved in, today we get it organized and pretty.

What I’m doing today: this afternoon at 2 Mary and I will be in the Sandbox showing kids how to identify bones in owl pellets. It will be disgusting and fun.

At 5pm in Plaza 1 I’ll be on a panel that is optimistic: “Technology won’t destroy us.”

Paranoid predictions about the technological downfall of mankind abound in media, but technology has also made human lives immeasurably better. We’ll talk about more realistic portrayals of tech, science, and human improvement. Panelists: Renate Fiora, PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Dan Berliner, Jason Thibeault

I’ll do my best to bring everyone down.

Then at 8pm, we open our party room (228) to the world. We’ll be there until 1am, talking and drinking and shaking our fists at god or whatever it is we atheists do.

Come on out!

Milo Yiannopoulos is just the worst

He’s at it again, as Phil Plait notes in a post that says all the smart things.

And now another attack piece on St. Louis has been posted on the far-right-wing Breitbart site, saying she has become immune from criticism because she’s black.

Yes, you read that right. And that’s not all. In a sentence so tone deaf I’d swear it’s parody, the author, Milo Yiannopoulos, writes*:

St Louis is responsible for the sacking of Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist who became the target of an online lynch mob after his comments about women in science were taken out of context.

Yes, again, you read that right. You might ignore the obviously incorrect statements in that one sentence (Hunt wasn’t sacked, he was asked to resign from an honorary position; and as we’ve seen his comments were not taken out of context), but it’s much harder to ignore that, in an article attacking a woman because she’s black, Yiannopoulos used the phrase “lynch mob.”

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