Is there some kind of epidemic of stupidity right now?

OK, I’ve dealt with creationists. I’ve bumped into flat-earthers and walked away moaning. But now, people are claiming that there’s something suspicious about the snow in Texas? That it won’t melt? Do they think liberal agents of the lizardoid government were dumping millions of tons of artificial snow on good Republican states? Rebecca Watson is on it.

She links to a clip of a Texas dumbass using a lighter on an icy snowball made of wet snow (I couldn’t do that when it’s really cold, for instance — the snow is too dry and powdery). He seems…impressed. My opinion of Texans plummeted. Sorry, all you Texans reading this, I’m sure you are exceptions.


  1. lakitha tolbert says

    Well, not just right now. I think these people have been around, for a while, but didn’t have quite so many public platforms, on which to display their deep levels of proud ignorance.

  2. Ridana says

    Oh no, don’t tell me Rebecca is one of those “exposure is payment enough for your services” people! Even worse, she wants to charge Phil for the exposure? He should be billing her for consulting fees!
    (I know, I know, she was joking, stand down)

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Over the last few years, as I watch a portion of our nation’s citizens slide further down the rabbit hole of fascism, solipsism, and defiant ignorance, I’ve become convinced that there is no way that America cannot exist any further as it is. Our nation’s social and economic progress is being held hostage by the violently bigoted, superstitious, and greedy, and no amount of reasoned debate or education will convince them that they’re wrong. Meanwhile, our environment deteriorates, the plight of the poor worsens, and our society teeters on the brink of falling back into an age of right-wing despotism.

    I fail to see why we should be forced to live with these people. I fail to understand, why we need a mother-may-I from those who are demonstrably wrong–be they Red State yokels or Wall Street moguls–to enact the laws and policies that science, economics, and basic reason require of us. We need to find a way to cut the cord that binds the societal millstone that is right-wing America from our necks, and we shouldn’t be afraid of liberal and centrist scolding over our lack of “bipartisanship” or “unity.”

    Time is running out. We no longer have generations or decades to correct the course with destruction that capitalism, racism, and religion has put us upon. We now only have years. Either we find a way to carve out of this world a place were we can create a rational and humane society, or we shall all die.

  4. kathleenzielinski says

    It’s nothing more than confirmation bias. If you’re predisposed to believe that everything you hear on the news is a lie and there’s this grand conspiracy, then that’s how you’re going to view the world, and suddenly snow that won’t melt makes sense as another part of the conspiracy.

    It reminds me of a play I once saw in which one child is attempting to explain to another child that no, Santa Claus really doesn’t exist. After explaining that Santa couldn’t possibly visit millions of houses in a single night and his sleigh couldn’t possibly hold all those presents, the believing child says, “Oh wow, Santa is even more awesome than I thought.” Same mindset.

  5. says

    “I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”

    But that’s kind of been the play with the right, hasn’t it? It’s just a misunderstanding of the concept Watson closes with – “I don’t know anything so I’m smarter than the people who know stuff. Plato said it!”

  6. steve1 says

    Also it takes a lot more energy for water to change from solid to liquid. This is called latent heat energy. I wont bore you with the formulas. Just google latent heat and change of state. This is why you don’t see people melting snow as a source of water. It takes lots of fuel. A lighter is a really inefficient way to melt snow.

  7. says

    Ice is remarkably tough stuff. In WWII the brits experimented with making ice-crete movable islands (to use as aircraft carriers) and they turned out to be damn hard to get rid of. Turns out they were slippery, too.

  8. PaulBC says

    Have the Rothschilds now equipped their space platforms with freeze guns? (I shouldn’t say it because someone will probably believe it!)

  9. stroppy says

    My opinion of Texans plummeted.

    Seems like it ought to be a short fall to do much plummeting.

    As they say, you can always tell a Texan, but you can’t tell ’em much.

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    richard guru @ 8

    To be fair, reassigning stupid people to a different species does sound kind of fashy.

    (I know you’re kidding. I’m just grumbling along.)

  11. drew says

    Is this the democratization of media? Is this a wonderful distraction for progressives from the monster that is Biden? Both?

  12. nomaduk says

    Living for many years in New Mexico ensures that ones opinion of Texas is properly calibrated to anticipate this sort of thing.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    The goobers made the totally unremarkable observation that snow absorbs water, and totally misinterpreted it.

    steve1 @6:

    it takes a lot more energy for water to change from solid to liquid

    Yeah, there’s latent heat of fusion, which a lighter will easily supply, locally. Take an ice cube from your freezer and apply the flame from a lighter. You’ll see water dripping off it very quickly. The packed snow is also melting, but the water is absorbed.

  14. ajbjasus says

    Oh dear.

    Learning some basic physics, like other science, is a wonderful thing.You know, where you do some experiments with water, ice and thermometers and learn what is happening.You don’t read a load of opinions on the the internet and decide who to believe. You learn some real life, tangible facts and principles, and throughout life, they are useful little tools that you can use to problem solve and understand what is happening.

    So much of my intellectual energy is now used trying to decipher opinions, or figure out how to do something on a bit of IT – in the latter case this is far removed from basic principles of computing, but down to the way some software engineer somewhere thought it should work, so I have to be a bloody mind reader, or a Google search nerd. Meh.

  15. KG says

    Is this the democratization of media? Is this a wonderful distraction for progressives from the monster that is Biden? Both? – drew@13

    Are you a blithering idiot, or a Russian bot? Both?

  16. PaulBC says

    I sometimes wonder if very realistic-looking special effects (as in MCU movies) have warped popular understanding of what is actually possible, so maybe it seems totally reasonable that weather events could be engineered at the scale of Texas.

    On the other hand, I may be overthinking. It might just be that the same people who were blaming the witch next door for turning their milk sour have absolutely no trouble extending blame to anyone they see fit for any reason.

  17. says

    It is fine; I know that I am pretty stupid here in Houston, TX. Particularly since I only earned Master’s degrees in Physics and Material Science (I could not put in more than 45 hours a week due to medical issues). Sadly, I am the smartest person that I know around here.

  18. jenorafeuer says

    Pretty much. There was a ship built up in Alberta just made out of ice (my grandfather wasn’t directly involved, but he did serve in Alberta at the time as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan), but that approach was sidelined and replaced with Pykrete, ice mixed with sawdust or other wood pulp.

    (The Wikipedia page on Pykrete mentions that even the plain ice version took the entire summer to melt. Granted, this was in Alberta.)

  19. outis says

    Well, two things:
    1) it’s not Texas fault! It already happened elsewhere this year, for example in Spain, with exactly the same scenes:
    dumbassery is international it seems.
    2) it’s also undeniable that we are seeing a damn lot of similar stories. I’d venture to say the obvious: it’s all dem new-fangled social media. Back in the grim dark pre-Internet time, such people were confined to their immediate social circle, swiftly branded as kooks, and their only recourse was muttering in their own beer steins. Now they band together and attain critical mass, or should I say critical ass.
    I really miss the shiny future of 60s SF.

  20. Reginald Selkirk says

    Experiments a normal person could try with only a little bit of equipment:

    Snow is powdery. This means it has a lot of surface area. Make a snowball of known volume by packing (but not too vigorously) into a measure. A beaker works, but so does a kitchen measuring cup. Melt the snow. compare how much volume the resulting water now takes up.
    A lot of people are aware that ice takes ~10% more volume. But the difference you see in this experiment should be more than 10%, because fresh flaky snow is not taking up all that volume the way an ice cube would. The unaccounted volume difference is due to the air space within the snowball.

    Experiment 2, requires a scale. Weight the snowball first, then melt it and check the weight of the water. The difference will be miniscule, which will discount the sublimation hypothesis.

    Experiment 3: Throw the snowball at a conservative. Do they turn into a gay libtard? No, probably not. They just get angry.

  21. davidc1 says

    @3 Na nana nahh, na .You Americans have 75 million wackaloons ,over here in GB we only have 17.5 million .
    I know it is not much ,just a crumb of comfort as the HMS United Kingdom plays bumper cars with the biggest ice berg
    in the world .

    Why are they acting so surprised ? After sitting in our hire car in Marathon TX because it was peeing down ,i remarked to a waiter in a restaurant that i didn’t know it rained so hard in the desert ,he said that they get snow there sometimes.

  22. Reginald Selkirk says

    Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Weather

    On average, thirteen inches of snow equals one inch of rain in the US, although this ratio can vary from two inches for sleet to nearly fifty inches for very dry, powdery snow under certain conditions.

    Volume of Water after Freezing

    a given volume of liquid water at room temperature will increase in volume by about 9.05% after freezing.

    Ice takes ~9% more volume than water. Snow takes over 1000% more. What is actually taking up that volume difference? Air.

  23. raven says

    Is there some kind of epidemic of stupidity right now?

    Yes, there is.
    One of the snowflakes of the current stupidity blizzard just dropped by, Drew . Another data point that we don’t need. It’s really too bad that they don’t melt away in the spring though.

    Drew the idiotic troll

    Is this the democratization of media? Is this a wonderful distraction for progressives from the monster that is Biden? Both?

  24. raven says

    I really miss the shiny future of 60s SF.

    I know the feeling.
    When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s, the future was going to be jet packs, flying cars, and colonies on Mars.
    Here it is, the future of 2021.

    I spend a huge amount of time dodging death from a viral disease that didn’t even exist a year ago.
    I’ve already been exposed several times and been in 14 day quarantine those times.
    One of my friends lost parts of both legs to Covid-19 virus blood clotting.
    Another long hauler is starting to come down with immune thrombocytopenia, which is low platelets and lack of blood clotting. It’s treatable sometimes. The fatality rate for old people at 5 years is…50%.
    We all know about the Trump/GOP Disaster.

    The future is way overrated.

  25. PaulBC says

    raven@25 It’s not really that this is a less “shiny” future. It’s just less focused on public works and space, and more on personal technology. While sending cat videos may seem like a disappointment if you were hoping for a moon base, the current state of digital capture, recording, and transmission is way beyond the future envisioned by authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote about “tape worms” in Imperial Earth, who could record their whole life, but really envisioned something a lot bulkier in 2276 when it was set. In 2021, video recording is just a normal feature that everyone has in their phones (granted, few people record everything, but the technology is there to put a camera on a helmet and some people do).

    Going back further, you get the oft-noted absurdity of magazine cover art of “space pirates” with slide rules. In Clarke’s far future The City and the Stars (from the 50s) there is a domed self-sustaining city and some kind of genetic engineering and immortality. It’s advanced for its time, but even there the computer is centralized and large. There are types of technology developed in my lifetime (the past five decades) that are way beyond what science fiction authors envisioned.

    But what don’t we have? Well even in terms of computers, our AI is crap even if it is finally getting impressive in some domains like face recognition, chess playing, and language translation. It still lacks even an animals level of autonomous decision-making. (Could you make a robot that survives as well in the wild as a rat?)

    In terms of space, we’re far behind what you might have even reasonably projected from the success of the Apollo mission. That’s largely a choice, not a lack of technological ability. Another thing that’s not like science fiction is we haven’t met any extraterrestrials. That’s beyond our control though. It’d be very interesting if SETI ever finds something. Even then, we can’t travel to see them (I guess a friendly ET could send us advanced tech plans, but even 2-way communication at lightspeed is pretty slow).

  26. leerudolph says

    Reginald Selkirk@23: “What is actually taking up that volume difference? Air.”

    So you say. I am assured that it is souls.

  27. blf says

    @28, Ah, that’s why styrofoam burns so fiercely, it’s a gateway to Hades and its many souls.

    Real story (which I suspect I’ve told before, so apologies if this is familiar): My father was the plant engineer at a factory which made styrofoam, and some products made from the stuff at the time. Since styrofoam in quantity is a fairly major fire hazard, not only were the fire suppressant systems in the factory rather robust, there were relatively frequent fire drills, and the local fire department would show up every year or so, for an inspection, demonstration of the hazard, and their own training.

    One year the demo / training didn’t go quite right. Styrofoam is produced in sheets by extruders, and the sheets stored as giant rolls (fairly heavy, about a ton as I now recall?). Massive. The demo / training was to deliberately set fire to one of the those rolls in a safe area outside the factory, giving a rather spectacular show of the flames, heat, and smoke, before the fire department then extinguished the blaze they started out. That particular year, however, they tried to use water delivered through a small-ish rubber(?) hose from the firetruck’s internal water tank. Wasn’t working, much to the obvious frustration of the hose crew. So eventually they had to hook up to a hydrant and use a pair of the big canvas hoses to extinguish a by-now larger fire than intended (albeit still safely contained in the safe area).

    I have no idea how many souls or daemons were singed or escaped.

  28. unclefrogy says

    I really miss the shiny future of 60s SF.

    i know the feeling.
    I once went to a lecture by Arthur C. Clark about the future and he spent the first part going on at length about imagining the future involved basically extrapolating from the present and there are often some details that are left out or not considered that make the predictions miss the mark sometimes by a wide margin. i have always wondered what was missing. I think I am beginning to see how we end up in a world much more similar to the one William Gibson draws then any utopian dream. thanks to the wonderful events of the last few years
    uncle frogy

  29. rblackadar says

    Rebecca Watson is great, as always, but I have to say — minor nerdy point — her take on sublimation isn’t quite right.

    It’s not about the speed at which heat is applied. Rather, it’s all about temperature and pressure. For any substance (ok, except He) if the T and P are low enough, solid and vapor can exist but liquid cannot. At atmospheric pressure and a temperature below 0C, H2O is in that region. Hang out the wash under those conditions and your clothes will freeze solid, but after some time, the water will be gone. That’s sublimation. And by the way, it will happen faster under vacuum — that’s called freeze-drying.

    But this is not what’s going on in the snowball videos (except to a tiny inconsequential degree) and it’s a terrible answer for the question “why don’t we see any liquid water here?” If this explanation was given by “experts” (Rebecca’s word) then these experts were wrong, for reasons that have more to do with arrogance and lack of thought than with the current state of knowledge in the relevant scientific field. It’s a flaw in Rebecca’s video that she leaves this up in the air at the end, but I’ll grant that that’s the best she could do and indeed it reinforces her larger point: when you don’t know something, don’t pretend that you do.

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    rblackadar @32: It’s not a minor nerdy point. Looking around online, there are a lot of people saying it’s just sublimation. A good example of how a crappy ‘explanation’ can gain traction these days, despite the efforts of folk like Phil Plait. And a good example of “a little learning is a dangerous thing”.

  31. rblackadar says

    Right — though I was just about to add (following my own advice) that I don’t claim to know the minute details of how the water retreats into the snowball when a flame is applied. It’s a process that is far from equilibrium, and that makes things complicated — surface effects will dominate, etc. I do not claim to be an expert! But speculating, at the outermost crystals the solid surfaces will be superheated, and that must cause some increase in sublimation; but I think that should still be small compared to the heat transfer into the bulk of the crystal as it melts. So I think the mass transport is primarily liquid phase, not gas — though it should be said that most of any vapor that is formed will quickly condense elsewhere in the snowball rather than be carried away.

    And by the way, I am pretty sure that the flame will add more water to the snowball than it takes away. (Similarly to the observed soot deposition. Water is a product of combustion!) But this is really getting off topic.

  32. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@33 I agree. The big point is that it’s just snow, and there are a lot of good reasons to believe that even if it doesn’t do what you naively expect it to do when you put a lighter under it. It would be nice to explain what it’s actually doing, but there are other ways to convince yourself it’s snow. Have these same people tried to melt it in a saucepan? I assume the result will be liquid water. If not, then you’ve got something. If it merely “fails the lighter test” it may mean that’s a bad test (for reasons that need not be explicated if you have some effective tests).

    The bigger tipoff that it’s snow is that it fell from the sky, and secondarily, you might even see “snowflakes” with hexagonal symmetry if you look close. There is no earthly reason to suspect it is anything else.

    I have not watched the video, but the premise that “snow is more complicated than you think” is surely correct for the vast majority of people.

  33. Tethys says

    The video of the dude who claims the snow doesn’t burn is both stupid, and basically disingenuous.

    A. Of course it doesn’t burn. It’s frozen water.

    B. He clearly did several takes to get that footage. It took some trial and error to get a chunk of snow that would pack down densely enough so that a pocket lighter would have little effect. Especially when held in the blue cone area of the flame, which is not hot. The tip of the flame is the hottest part.
    If the snow was packed lightly, the lighter would have made a dent in the snow. If he continued the dent would become deeper, as it became liquid and resorbed into the main mass.

    C. He did not show his wet cold hands, which is what happens when you make snowballs and try to melt them with a lighter.
    I’m positive the snow melted quickly once the filming stopped.

  34. anbheal says

    The end of the vid reminds me of something Rumsfeld was roundly excoriated for, on the Left. There were so many other reasons to despise him, but this wasn’t one. He said something very close to: “there are the things we know we know; there are the things we know we DON’T know; and there are the things we don’t know we don’t know; and those are the treacherous things.” Oh hardy har har, isn’t he a mumbling stumbling Bush-ista stooge? Well, if you actually parse the words, he was making a valid point. As Ms. Watson did here.

  35. rblackadar says

    Just to nerdily correct myself, there can’t be an increase in sublimation (on average) if water from the flame is being deposited, as I think it is. I forgot that although the outer ice surface is superheated, the vapor in contact with it is supercooled.

    Fun science: light a candle, and take something from the freezer (e.g. a carton of ice cream) and pass it through the flame. (Try to do this quickly, before any frost forms on the carton.) You’ll get a deposit of soot, and the soot will be wet from the candle flame.

  36. PaulBC says

    anbheal@38 Yes, well I think Rumsfeld reached peak assclown with this statement about the, ahem, WMDs.

    “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat,”

    The point about “known and unknown unknowns” isn’t that it’s incorrect, just that I don’t need uncertainty explained to me by that pompous ass. It also presented the veneer that his “team” had gone into their Iraq adventure with a careful risk analysis, when very clearly they had not. It was a forgone conclusion that Dubya was going to “take out” Saddam because of some daddy issues, and his neocon pals had their own reasons for supporting him. The rest was pure rationalization.

  37. stroppy says

    Lots of quotes about knowing from Yes Minister / Prime Minister. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the one that is most apropos.

    But here is some other government speak:

    Bernard Woolley:
    Apparently the fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known, and therefore those that needed to advise and inform the Home Secretary perhaps felt that the information that he needed as to whether to inform the highest authority of the known information was not yet known and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not at this time known or needed.

    Sir Humphrey Appleby : I need to know everything. How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?
    Bernard Woolley : So that means you need to know things even when you don’t need to know them. You need to know them not because you need to know them but because you need to know whether or not you need to know.

    Hacker : They have the right to know!
    Sir Humphrey Appleby : No, they have the right to be ignorant. Knowledge implies complicity, ignorance has a certain Dignity.

  38. PaulBC says


    No, they have the right to be ignorant. Knowledge implies complicity, ignorance has a certain Dignity.

    I concur.

  39. davidc1 says

    “I really miss the shiny future of 60s SF.”, Then came the 70s ,the film Silent Running ,and all that kind of stuff .

  40. Rob Grigjanis says

    rblackadar @35:

    I don’t claim to know the minute details of how the water retreats into the snowball when a flame is applied

    Even packed snow is much lighter than ice, suggesting air pockets throughout the snow. As the outside of the snowball melts, the absorption is just capillary action, like with a sponge.

  41. outis says

    @25, 26, 31 & 43:
    I’d put it this way: luverly gadgetry oh yes, think about the Earth-Moon ride in Odyssey 2001! Me want. With classical music in the background please.
    But aside from that, I probably liked those shiny utopias because there was so little, let’s say “confusion” in them. Even when evil was there, it was clear-eyed and had logically-selected targets; people were mainly depictions of the classic “rational agent”. The authors had little truck with humanity’s fallible judgement, and it’s obvious to see how optimistic that was. Even in the works of authors such as the first W.Gibson, quite dystopian compared with what came before, the baddies tend to behave rationally at least most of the time. They imaginatively kill, maim and sushify others for money and power, so nothing strange there.
    What was missing were the millions of people consistently (and proudly!) acting against their own best interests, being unable to logic their way out of a wet paper bag and refusing to see even the most obvious facts, all the while having every bit of necessary information dangling in front of their noses. And thinking snow is plastic.
    Such things will drive one to install ear plugs and scream LA LA LA I DIDN’T HEAR THAT every time the news is on – now let’s see, I had some carrots in the fridge…