Happy birthday, Carl Sagan!

November 9, 2011

I’m proud to share a birthday with the late great science communicator, Carl Sagan. In honor of Carl, here’s a collection of great Carl-related videos:

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The fall of SETI

April 28, 2011

It is the end of an era. The U.S. government is retiring its space shuttle program and now due to a lack of funds, SETI, the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is being forced to mothball their Allen Telescope Array, a group of 42 radio dishes in northern California. This is a great loss as SETI remains arguably the most likely means of us making contact with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe

If you wish to donate to this important organization, visit their donation page.

Perhaps no one is better at conveying the importance of this endeavor better than Carl Sagan, the author who gave us the SETI-centered novel Contact:

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New skeptic videos

April 10, 2011

Okay, so NECSS 2011 is over and it was a big success. There will be a NECSS 2012. So now I can hopefully get back to business as usual shortly. But in meantime, here are some great videos to enjoy.

First up is a new animated video for Tim Minchin’s beat poem, “Storm”:

Also, NECSS this year ended with George Hrab performing his song, “Death from the Skies” featuring Phil Plait. While the video of that performance hasn’t surfaced yet, they also performed it the night before at the post NECSS Day 1 Drinking Skeptically. And that performance can be seen here:

And finally, there’s this new animation of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”:

Though to be honest, I still prefer the one featuring movie clips:

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Reports of bacteria from space mildly exaggerated

March 8, 2011

By now you may have heard that we’ve found evidence that we’re not alone in the universe. It was reported several days ago that alien microbes born in outer space had been found in meteorites on Earth. However, according to NASA, that story is not entirely accurate…which is to say, it’s not at all accurate:

The US space agency formally distanced itself from the paper by NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology, which is available free online.

“That is a claim that Mr Hoover has been making for some years,” said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute.

“I am not aware of any support from other meteorite researchers for this rather extraordinary claim that this evidence of microbes was present in the meteorite before the meteorite arrived on Earth and and was not the result of contamination after the meteorite arrived on Earth,” he told AFP.

“The simplest explanation is that there are microbes in the meteorites; they are Earth microbes. In other words, they are contamination.”

This response at least seems far less political than their sheepish initial response, which PZ Myers harshly criticized. But I am glad that Myers took a moment to acknowledge his desire to see the discovery of life from elsewhere other than Earth as one of the tough things I’ve experienced in the three plus years since I abandoned my belief that aliens have already visited Earth is always being viewed as someone who doesn’t want to find evidence for life elsewhere in the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Statistically, the odds of other life–even other intelligent life–are almost certain and as Carl Sagan said, if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.

And now that we’ve detected water elsewhere in our own solar system, that increases the odds significantly that we’ll find evidence that at least single-celled life live or once lived not far from us. And given such discoveries, I’ll even speculate that I wouldn’t be surprised if such evidence emerged within the next five years. Of course that’s just my baseless speculation and time will tell if it proves accurate.

Also check out Phil Plait’s more detailed piece on this non-news story here.

And just for fun, here’s what you get when you mix Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot with an Old Spice commercial:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 2.7.11

February 8, 2011

1. FBI investigating Scientology for human trafficking – A recent profile on ex-Scientologist and Oscar-winner Paul Haggis in the New Yorker also discussed an ongoing FBI investigation into the allegations of abuse by Scientology’s leader David Miscavige, and the enslavement of members of  the Sea Org:

The laws regarding trafficking were built largely around forced prostitution, but they also pertain to slave labor. Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members…

And speaking of Scientology…

Tom Cruise

2. Is fictional Unitology in ‘Dead Space 2’ related to Scientology? – The videogame’s creative director says the similarities are just a coincidence, saying the inspiration came from Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”, but his dismissal seems less than convincing given the similarities.

3. One flu vaccine to rule them all? – Researchers may have found a universal flu vaccine to end all flu vaccines. Though it’s worth noting that the trial had only 22 subjects, but bigger studies are in progress.

4. That time of year again for another ‘invisibility cloak’ story – Every year there’s another story about an invisibility cloak on the way with the requisite reference to Harry Potter. Here’s the latest one about a cloak that hides objects, rather than people, and without the use of metamaterials.

5. 1 in 8 U.S. biology teachers are creationists– This is a shocking statistic. Roger Ebert had an appropriate response to this on Twitter, analogizing this to the hypothetical statistic of 1 in 8 math teachers believing 2+2=5.

6. Florida court sides against anti-vax mom in custody battle – This is great news to hear a court rule so decisively against a parent specifically because their anti-vaccine beliefs directly endanger that child’s life. Hopefully, this will help set a precedent in all U.S. courts.

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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

November 19, 2010

The Centre for Inquiry Canada is beginning a new skeptical campaign featuring bus ads and various educational events. It’s called the “Extraordinary Claims Campaign”, named after the quote that is often attributed to Carl Sagan. This is a campaign I hope gets brought to the U.S.

Symphony of Science – ‘The Unbroken Thread’ (ft. Attenborough, Goodall, Sagan)

January 6, 2010