Phil Plait’s Bad Universe comes to Discovery Channel

July 23, 2010
Phil Plait speaking at TAM London October 2009
Image via Wikipedia

Last year, Phil Plait left his position as president of the James Randi Education Foundation after one year in office because of a television project he’d been offered but could not yet talk about. Well, now the cat’s out of the bag. Phil Plait is getting a three-part science show on Discovery Channel called “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe,” where he debunks astronomy myths and shows us how the world will end.

There was a trailer for it but the video is no longer working. It’ll probably be back up soon.

But in any event, congratulations Phil!

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A series of news stories about apes and monkeys

June 22, 2010

I’ve come across a number of interesting ape/monkey-related stories over the past few days.

The first is a finding by Japanese researchers that monkeys like watching television:

Researchers used near-infrared spectroscopy to determine that when monkeys watched circus animals perform acrobatics on TV, their brains’ pleasure centers lit up in roughly the same way a human baby’s does when it sees its mother smile. Just one more thing we have in common with monkeys.

Then came a story about the discovery of a 3.6 million year old ancestor of ‘Lucy’:

Cleveland Museum of Natural History Curator and Head of Physical Anthropology Dr. Yohnannes Haile-Selassie led an international team that discovered and analyzed a 3.6 million-year-old partial skeleton found in Ethiopia. The early hominid is 400,000 years older than the famous “Lucy” skeleton and is significantly larger in size. Research on the new specimen reveals that advanced human-like, upright walking occurred much earlier in the evolutionary timeline than previously thought.

For those keeping track, that’s 3,594,000 years before the existence of the entire universe, according to Young Earth Creationists.

I'll make you an offer you can't refuse.

And then finally came the very unexpected story about chimpanzee gang turf wars. Yes, that’s right. I said “chimpanzee gang turf wars.” I think that may have been the name of my band in college.

Bands of chimpanzees violently kill individuals from neighboring groups in order to expand their own territory, according to a 10-year study of a chimp community in Uganda that provides the first definitive evidence for this long-suspected function of this behavior.

University of Michigan primate behavioral ecologist John Mitani’s findings are published in the June 22 issue of Current Biology.

During a decade of study, the researchers witnessed 18 fatal attacks and found signs of three others perpetrated by members of a large community of about 150 chimps at Ngogo, Kibale National Park.

I guess the banana doesn’t fall far from the tree.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.2.08

December 3, 2008

The Royal Society of Chemistry is looking to take the work “chemical” back from the pseudo-scientists – For too long they’ve allowed the advertising and marketing industries to associate the word with “poison.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently defended an advert which perpetuated the myth that natural compounds are free of chemicals.

The truth, as any right-minded person will say, is that everything we eat, drink, drive, play with and live in is made of chemicals – both natural and synthetic chemicals are essential for life as we know it.

And now the Royal Society of Chemistry, perhaps taking a cue from James Randi, is offering up a million pounds to anyone who can present any material that is 100% chemical-free.

“Should anyone do this, we will see thousands of years’ worth of knowledge evaporate before our eyes. We would have to tear up the textbooks, burn the degree certificates and retrain the teachers.”

Update on yesterday’s story about the Cincinnati Zoo terminating their agreement with the Creation “Museum” – Apparently, it made Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis sad. Awww! When a bunch of creationists succeed in affecting policy by writing in mass complaints that’s just fine but when the same tactic is used against him, it’s written off as. . .

. . .the zoo received hundreds of complaints from what appear to be some very intolerant people. . .

You got to love the inconsistency of his position.

“These people basically worship Darwin–they worship evolution and cannot tolerate anyone who doesn’t agree with them!”…”Sad that someone with an atheistic agenda can cause a business relationship to be dissolved”…”they resort to censorship and underhanded campaigns”…”we are used to such integrity bashing.”

Where exactly is his righteous indignation when fellow Christians bitch and complain in mass. . .ALL THE TIME?! But then of course comes the bravado where he feigns gratitude to his enemies for giving him publicity (yeah, bad publicity and if we knew you wanted it all you had to do was ask. You’re most welcome):

Thank you, P.Z. Myers, for thousands of dollars’ worth of media promotion for our Bible-upholding museum! Actually, this will benefit the Creation Museum much more in the long run.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation gets an atheist sign put up next to a nativity scene in Washington – I love you, Dan Barker! And the text on the sign is outstanding:

At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Oh, and the added bonus is this surprisingly seems to have pissed off Bill O’Reilly. Sweet!! And he proves once again to be the master of the false analogy. He even gives out a phone number to complain. . .which begs the question: Will Ken Ham condemn this mass complaining and call O’Reilly an intolerant bigot? How about it, Ken?

Secular Coalition for America’s Year-End Report – And it’s been an awesome year for separation of church and state. Keep up the great work, Lori and everyone else at the SCA!

Christianity: The Ultimate Death Cult – a new museum exhibit called:

Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes includes a full-scale replica of Pope John Paul II’s crypt, an exact reproduction of the coffin used in the funerals of three previous Popes as well as replicas of other Papal vestments by the tailor shop that has made the vestments of the last seven Popes.

Okay, now where’s the “Lives” part? Creepy!

Campus Crusade For Christ to target preschoolers? – Or is it satire? Read the story. Decide whether you think this is fact or fiction. And then read on to find out if you’re right.

Last month I blogged about the most recent study that the media was tauting as proof that racy television watching leads to more teen pregnancy before. And I think he did a fairly good job, albeit briefly of illustrating how all the same flaws that existed in similar studies in the past were still there. But here is basically a much lengthier version of what I said but coming from others.


groin-kickMan says God ordered him to ram vehicle at 100mph – God apparently told him “she needed to be taken off the road.” And in a delicious bit of irony then, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kyle Coleman said:

“God must have been with them, ’cause any other time, the severity of this crash, it would have been a fatal.”

God’s a bit schizophrenic, don’t ya think?


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyAntioxidants Unlikely To Prevent Aging? – “Diets and beauty products which claim to have anti-oxidant properties are unlikely to prevent aging, according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust. Researchers at the Institute of Healthy aging at UCL (University College London) say this is because a key fifty year old theory about the causes of aging is wrong.”

Cell Phones Powered By Sound Waves? – “Imagine a self-powering cell phone that never needs to be charged because it converts sound waves produced by the user into the energy it needs to keep running. It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem thanks to the recent work of Tahir Cagin, a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University.”

Creating ‘Handedness’ In Biological Molecules – “The basic molecules that make up all living things have a predetermined chirality or “handedness,” similar to the way people are right- or left-handed. This chirality has a profound influence on the chemistry and molecular interactions of living organisms. The inception of chirality from the elementary building blocks of matter is one of the great mysteries of the origin of life.”

Virus In Lemur Could Shed Light On AIDS – “The genome of a squirrel-sized, saucer-eyed lemur from Madagascar may help scientists understand how HIV-like viruses coevolved with primates, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine. The discovery, to be published online on Dec. 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could provide insight into why non-human primates don’t get AIDS and lead to treatments for humans.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.17.08

November 18, 2008

Australian internet being censored – Of course, as is often the case the excuse is to block child porn. Yeah, sure it is.

Age of Ignorance is born – Since the infamous antivaccinationist blog Age of Autism censors all critical comments (and most important, all of my comments), someone has put together a blog where skeptics can actually comment about posts on AoA without knowing that those comments will never see the light of day.

Only 2% of the scientists in Texas accept or even respect creationism – Wow, didn’t see that one coming.

New Evidence For Martian Oceans? – Well, maybe.

Hawaii County Council to ban genetically modified coffee and taro? – Ugh!

The Sad Box

People who claim to be generally unhappy watch more TV than those who claim to be generally happy. That’s according to a survey of 30,000 American adults conducted between 1975 and 2006.

Of course, like so many other studies, it’s inconclusive. Even if we can accept there’s a legitimate correlation, that does not prove causation or even which direction that causation would go.

Did Allah give this guy the strength of Superman?

Let’s look at the claims:

  1. Egyptian guy claims that the doctors (never named them or the hospital or anything) told him he has strength equal to 300,000 men, approximately 260 horsepower.
  2. He has 4 wives, needing 4 to satisfy his sexual appetite without wearing one out over the course of the 15 times per day he needs booty.
  3. He eats a lot of meat and drinks melted butter.
  4. He can’t work because he is afraid his boss might provoke him into going crazy and killing him.
  5. He refused to demonstrate his strength by picking up a car by saying that there is a risk for an energy surge that might make him destroy the car and everything around him.
  6. He refused to shake the host’s hand because he was afraid he would crush his hand.
  7. He demonstrated his “incredible strength” by bending an Egyptian coin with his thumb and eye socket, and it didn’t hurt him.
  8. He throws “Praise Allah” and other completely irrelevant things into the discussion (I went to the store today to pick up ice cream. Praise Muhammad, Prophet of Allah).

Well I don’t know about you but I’m convinced.


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyCould Stem Cells Regenerate Injured Liver? – “A novel protein marker has been found that identifies rare adult liver stem cells, whose ability to regenerate injured liver tissue has the potential for cell-replacement therapy. For the first time, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine led by Linda Greenbaum, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, have demonstrated that cells expressing the marker can differentiate into both liver cells and cells that line the bile duct.”

TV causing teens to like sex? Um, I don’t think so

November 5, 2008

But so says a new study that the media is claiming suggests not only that television is to blame for turning teens onto sex but that its to blame for higher teen pregnancy. Of course, this interpretation of the study seems to suffer from many of the same obvious problems as the many, many similar studies in the past. For instance, it shows correlation and not causation. Therefore, an equally plausible interpretation is that sexually active teens are more drawn to sexually explicit television. Further, as the article points out, there are many other factors not considered in the study. So like all the similar studies trying to blame the media for social problems, I’m just not buying it.