Donald Trump bungles even the simplest photo op

Given the horrendous couple of weeks that Donald Trump has had, his advisors must have been pleased to have the opportunity to schedule a feel-good photo op with the two American women astronauts who did the first all-female space walk. It should have been a slam-dunk, where all Trump had to do was congratulate them on achieving a milestone. And yet he managed to bungle even that when he thought it was the first time that any woman had done a space walk. The astronaut had to gently correct him.

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The need to tighten vaccination mandates

The editors of Scientific American magazine have come out with a strong editorial arguing that the present exceptions for vaccinations given to people based on their religious and philosophical beliefs is threatening public health. While many of the people seeking exceptions do so on religious grounds and come from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities or Muslim or Christian academies or alternative-learning institutions, quite a few claim philosophical exemptions because they have been frightened by the refuted study of Andrew Wakefield that has been touted by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and spread widely over social media.
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National Weather Service being undermined again

John Oliver looks at how the Trump administration is trying to limit the services provided by this very important agency because the private sector cannot compete with it. It is doing so by trying to appoint the head of a private weather company AccuWeather to head the NWS. So much for the claims that the private sector can do things much better than the government can. This comes after the earlier failure in 2005 of another attempt to prohibit the NWS from giving its information away for free.

The Great Paradox of Science to be released on November 20!

I am pleased to say that my book will be released next month and can now be pre-ordered. You can read more about the book and order it here.

As you can see from the flyer below, you can get a 30% discount from the list price of $34.95 if you order from the publisher and use the promotional code so that the cost becomes $24.47. Barnes & Noble is giving a discount of 35% so the cost drop even lower to $22.86. The book will eventually be available at all retailers in print and digital formats.

Oxford University Press will start shipping out copies starting November 20, other retailers in the US on December 18, and in the UK on January 1, 2020. I have no information as yet about the rest of the world but I assume it should be around the same time as the UK.

Jonathan Pie on the Extinction Rebellion protests

The climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has organized protests that shut down central London and elsewhere to highlight the need for urgent action on climate change. Jonathan Pie takes aim at those (including newspapers like the Guardian) that snicker at the supposed hypocrisy of the people involved in the protests and moan about the disruptions caused, while ignoring the biggest issue, that those who have known about the climate change crisis for a long time and could have done something about the problem, refused to do anything. (Language advisory)

The 20 companies that are the main sources of carbon pollution

When it comes to climate change and carbon pollution, we have to always remember that while we as individuals can help in small ways by reducing our carbon footprint, the main sources of the problem are certain industries and we must never let up on shaming them so that they feel pressure to change. The Guardian has published a list of the 20 companies that most contribute to pollution, making up 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide

The 2019 Nobel prizes in physics

The awards for 2019 were announced today and half went to P. J. E. (James) Peebles for his theoretical work in physical cosmology and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for the first discovery in 1995 of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star. By now more than 4,000 exoplanets have been found.

Directly observing a planet orbiting a star other than the Sun is not easy since stars are distant and planets are ‘dark’ (i.e., not primary sources of light). We directly see stars but not planets. Mayor and Queloz tried to see if they could detect the existence of a planet by the fact that due to gravity, the star and the planet orbit around their common center-of-mass. As the star moves towards us during its orbit, the light is blue-shifted and when it is moving away it is red-shifted and it is this ‘wobble’ that they were looking for. But since stars are so much more massive than planets, this wobble is usually tiny. For it to be significant, the planet’s mass should be large but usually large mass planets have large orbital periods, making the detection of variations in light frequency hard. For example, the largest planet in our Solar System is Jupiter that has an orbital period of almost 12 years.
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The enduring allure of near-death experiences

One of the most common arguments that are presented for the existence of the afterlife are the reported near-death experiences, where people say that they died, entered the afterlife, and then for some reason returned to life again and were able to report what they saw. I can’t count the number of times religious people have told me that such experiences are real and prove that their god and heaven exist.

There seems to be an inexhaustible desire for such stories and are eagerly lapped up by religious believers, even though no real evidence has been produced to substantiate them. This article by Arthur E. Farnsley II describes the case of one person who said he actually died (not merely that he was near death) and returned from the dead, not once but twice. Of course he wrote a book about his experience. The article explores how rationalists might respond to such claims.
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