The Mad Aardvark

Critical commentary on culture…

Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Women and Nerds

Posted by madaardvark on November 17, 2014

Shirt StormIf you hadn’t heard, the Rosetta rocket launched a probe that landed on a comet. Nice work, rocket scientists! Anyway, during an interview about it, one of the lead scientists was wearing a bowling shirt adorned with comic book chicks, all cleavage and butts. A feminist blogger pointed out that it was unfortunate that the guy didn’t think anything of wearing that shirt because that kind of clueless attitude about women drives women away from the scientific fields. The internet exploded with opinionated garbage on both sides. They started calling it “Shirt Storm” (instead of shit storm. Clever internet people.) The poor clueless nerd-with-metal-tattoos apologized during another interview about the probe (no questions were asked about the shirt – he just volunteered the info), and was visibly shaken up while doing so. People were all over this guy calling him all kinds of names, and his defenders were all over THOSE people, calling them all kinds of names…

Anyway, the shi(r)t storm seems to have died down, now, especially since the probe died down, too (it’s solar-powered and pointed away from the sun – D’OH!). But nobody once said that this poor nerd has little social skills, along with being totally clueless about his own inherent sexism. The original blogger, though, was clearly pointing out that sexism is becoming more about being totally clueless about these things, not about being aggressively ignorant or hateful, and the internet uproar very clearly showed that.

So, even if the guys was NOT a socially inept nerd guy, he’s still a product of the system. The shirt was actually made by a woman (so the claim goes), and it looks like both the scientist and his tailor are part of the rockabilly culture, which is also totally sexist. (Don’t get me wrong, I personally really enjoy it, but the Cramps have more than one song about beating women, one of them presented as a new dance step – “Do the Crusher!”).

Women, too, are totally confusing me and themselves in this debate, as some of them claim that a woman should be in control of her own sexuality and may dress however she sees fit, but when the media presents a woman like that, they get upset, claiming that the media shouldn’t dictate such things to us. Musicians (or whatever they are) like Niki Minaj use that excuse to showcase themselves half-naked in music videos (“I’m showing how strong women can be by controlling my own sexuality.”) So far, nobody seems to buy that bullshit except her fans. Personally, I think that whole concept is just superficial, whether it shows women being strong and in control or not. Either way, they’re just relying on their outward appearance as the vessel of their so-called self-empowerment. That’s probably why everyone, men, women and nerds, are so confused.


Posted in science, sexism | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Dying Art of Ghost Hunting

Posted by madaardvark on August 28, 2010

First, let me express my condolences to the family and friends of Christopher Kaiser, who died early Friday morning.  He was struck by a train in Statesville, North Carolina while he and others were walking along the tracks on a 300-foot bridge.  Reportedly, he showed incredible strength of character by sacrificing himself while throwing his girlfriend clear of the oncoming train.  She fell from the bridge and is now in serious condition, but she survived thanks to his efforts.

The group was investigating the rumors of a ghost train that is reported to race across the bridge on the anniversary of a massive crash that occurred in 1891.  They say that the sounds of a train, a crash, and more can be heard, and sometimes one can see the train itself.

“Professional” paranormal investigation teams point to the dangers of their profession and urge people to go through proper channels when investigating hauntings.  They also encourage safety, caution and preparation.

However, the explosion of ghost hunting is starting to fade away, at least in “professional” circles.  Of what constitutes professionalism I am not sure, but it seems that anyone who can assemble friends, promote themselves as an organization, and contact the proper authorities before entering purportedly haunted locations can call themselves a professional.  With these simple qualifications in mind, it is no wonder that the ghost hunting community is starting to splinter.  Television shows like Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted have been criticized by “real” ghost hunters as sensationalism and fiction, and I think it’s safe to say that we are hearing about those big programs less and less.  This may have something to do with fading interest by typical television watchers and active boycotts by “professional” ghost hunters.

That doesn’t mean the phenomenon of ghosts is going away.  The focus now has been on individuals rather than objective teams.  Two programs in particular, Celebrity Ghost Stories and My Ghost Story focus on an individual relating personal experiences, with no investigation, counter-examples, or even base interview as a balance.  Nor does the show need those things.  The idea is of a person telling a story that is a combination of what they heard and what they may have experienced (sometimes the storyteller isn’t even sure).

These stories are a great example of folk tales as tools of enculturation.  Many stories are similar, supposedly because the nature of ghosts is consistent.  Variations, of course, add to the mystique and suspense because,since ghosts can not be completely defined, the true nature of these things can not be determined.  The ghost tale is about confronting the unknown and coming to terms with it – especially the experience of death and what may happen afterward.

This experience is a personal one, which may be why ghost hunting as an institution is deteriorating.  This is also a result of postmodern religious thinking.  Either way, when a group begins claiming specialized knowledge that other groups within the same field do not have, that inevitably leads to in-fighting and unhealthy criticism.  Everyone disassociates themselves from everyone else, hostilely derides one another, and splinters off into their own factions.  The ones on top of the heap (namely the TAPS organization on the Ghost Hunters show) are both prime targets for criticism and often the most likely to criticize.

It’s a strange situation.  Scientific investigation relies on peer review processes.  Articles written for scientific journals receive such peer reviews both before and after publication.  There tends to be consent among scientists because of this reason, but new ideas are treated with the most critical observation, comment, and review.  Ideally, this would happen to paranormal investigations as well, and it seems to be occurring ever-so quickly.  Unfortunately, there is no consensus to even basic principles of that “discipline.”  Combine that with the aforementioned personal nature of the event being studied, and you have a flux of interest and communication.  Everyone claims authority, willing to afford it to none.

Such is what happens with a folktale developed for transmitting beliefs in personal validation.  How can a group or institution possibly sustain itself when what is perceived as a too rigid and impersonal draconic organization (science) is brought into question?   If the belief is to sustain itself, it has to relinquish some form of organizational authority and become one of personal validation and unorganized learned beliefs.  Even when ideas and ideals are shared and encouraged, the path to such knowledge has to be one of individual discovery.

That is one of the ironic manifestations of postmodernism.  How do we reconcile a group belief in individuality and unique experiences that must be reached through those experiences?  When the Truth that everyone shares is that there IS no Truth, or that Truth is subjective, how can we be sure of that?  It becomes a paradox unless one arbitrarily decides what that Truth is.  Some will allow for it to be whatever we decide it is, while others insist on their version of it.  Then Truth becomes synonymous with God.  (Is there Truth? How do we know what Truth is? Everyone has their own path to discover Truth.  Your Truth is not my Truth.  etc.)

And that’s where ghost hunting stagnates, at least as a manifestation of a belief system.  As a science, well, ghost hunting certainly leaves something to be desired, but that’s another post for another time…

Related Sites:

Ghost Hunters TV Show – Fake?

Don’t Watch Ghost Hunters Tonight!

Amateur “Ghost Hunter” Killed in Toronto

‘Ghost Train’ Hunter Killed in North Carolina

Posted in america, pseudo-science, science, television | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Science poetry

Posted by madaardvark on July 14, 2010

The human soul is a singularity

existing in theory, but as yet undiscovered,

emitting virtual particles, undetectable,

that can only be observed indirectly

by the effect they have on nearby systems:

the heart, the mind, the world.

We observe the effects,

hypothesize and experiment,

and we call this experiment Art.

Posted in Art & Literature, poetry, science | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Evangelical Reporting

Posted by madaardvark on April 28, 2010

As some of you may have learned, evangelical groups are claiming to have found Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey very recently.   This discovery was covered very differently by two news sources: FOX News, and MSNBC.

FOX news took an expectedly ‘open-minded’ approach to the topic.  That means they have taken the discoverer’s claims and published them without checking facts or other sources.  They simply present the material as it was in the press release sent out from the Noah’s Ark Ministries research team.  Of course, FOX News represents a predominantly conservative Christian viewer base, and to question or poke fun at such irrational topics as Noah’s Ark would drive them away.  You won’t find objective reporting here.

MSNBC has taken a different approach.  Instead of interviewing the research team, or publishing much of its press release, MSNBC reporters interviewed a few academicians – anthropologists, archeologists, historians – to give a scientific view of the discovery.  Of course, their reaction was less than enthusiastic and contained more than one accusation towards the evangelical research team of poor scientific skills, bias, and/or fraud.  MSNBC, it should be noted, has a predominantly liberal viewer base.

CNN, the usual leader in sensationalist reporting, remains suspiciously silent on the issue.  Back logs of CNN reports, however, contain stories about previous Ark discoveries that turned out to be bogus.  Maybe, on the Noah issue at least, CNN has learned a hard lesson from the past.  More likely, though, is that they are intentionally not speaking on the issue because of audience alienation.  Their viewer base is about as lowest common denominator as it gets, as the news network panders to ignorant atheists and Christians alike.

Now, I looked through some of the comments on this new story on both the FOX and MSNBC News sites.  Most of the pro-ark comments are misinformed about many things, so I thought I would clear them up here.

1. Science is based on peer review.  For some reason, people seem to think that just because a scientist had an idea, that everyone will blindly accept that idea.  The truth is, every scientific discovery is scrutinized down to the smallest detail before the scientific community comes to a consensus.  There are very few biases that spring from nowhere.  Most of them are based on my next point…

2. Consistency.  Science is consistent.  We know when science is correct because the end result was predicted correctly.  Ark discoveries have been consistent, too.  Each one has been consistently debunked and forgotten.  There is no surprise, then, when scientists admit to a certain level of skepticism when confronted with a new ark discovery.  Not only that, but

3. Carbon dating.  It’s consistent, too.  Stories of false data from insufficient collection practices are false because of the time, care, and repetition of carbon dating techniques.  A big controversy (if you want to call it that) in the Ark commentary is a question of who admits to carbon dating being useful when.  I want to point out that scientists are, again, very consistent with their carbon dating.  In the case of this ark that was supposedly dated to 4,800 years ago, scientists dismiss the evangelical team because DATING WAS ALREADY DONE ON THIS SITE, and the results were different.  Several times.  As MSNBC points out, “previous tests reportedly came up with more recent dates.”  That’s right, TESTS.  Plural.  As in more than one.  Consistent.  When there is a suddenly different result, that indicates a problem, mistake, flaw, or falsity with the testing method that one time.

And finally,

4. Science is not atheism.  There is no law anywhere, except in specifically literal-minded fundamentalist prosperity-religions, that believing science makes someone an atheist.  Arguing with science on subjects such as these is a veil for promoting literal-minded Creationism, not for promoting Christianity as a whole.  Most Christian sects – most world religions, for that matter – do not have a problem with science or  that unspoken subject, Evolution.  And that, folks, is the big, big issue with ark discoveries.  Inevitably, the new find will be debunked (if the scientific community gives another thought to it at all) and people will move on.  BUT a few folks, believers hope, will be fooled long enough for their minds to be opened to chicanery and lies.

Below are some links to pages on about religious views on evolution.  Enjoy

Evolution and religion overview

Christian beliefs about evolution

World Religion beliefs about evolution

Pagan/aboriginal beliefs about evolution

Posted in creationism, pseudo-science, science | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

This just in – the dinosaurs are still dead.

Posted by madaardvark on March 6, 2010

Here is the location of the asteroid hit that lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs.  What’s important about this is that we have a definitive answer from the scientific community about how the dinosaurs all died off.  A full article can be found here.

Posted in science, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ghost Stories and the Waking Dream

Posted by madaardvark on October 3, 2009


Fuselli's "Nightmare," inspired by 18th century misunderstandings of sleep paralysis

I love the feeling in the air during this time of year.  The crispness and chill after the warmth of summer reminds us of mortality.  With that comes the hopes and fears of life after death, coupled with the limitless imagination of the human mind.  It’s beautiful, frightening, confusing, and a whole lot of fun.

I’m going to tell some ghost stories.  I’m going to tell as many personal anecdotes as I can.  Despite my personal beliefs on their credibility, I believe that it’s important that certain of these kinds of stories repeat in our culture.  There are important things that can sometimes only be conveyed through the personal anecdote of unverifiable paranormal accounts.

So I was watching the first of these ghost story documentaries that they’ll be playing for the rest of the month.  The formula is pretty standard now.  Tape some people sitting in a dark room, throw some dramatic lighting and the optional odd camera angle, and get them to tell ghost stories.  Meanwhile, actors reenact the events, complete with film-student camera cuts and special effects.  Cue creepy music and suggestive text or narration that pretends to act ‘objective.’

Now, there are a lot of standard stories that you hear on these shows.  I propose that they’re always similar because 1) people hear them a lot already, 2) people tend to make judgments and leaps in logic toward those things they already believe in, and 3) there’s something about the values and beliefs of our culture that bears repeating again and again in similarly coded symbolic interpretations of events (as I said above).

My favorite television show ghost stories are ones that involve children waking up in the middle of the night and seeing something at their bedside.  Creepy in the extreme, surely.  These stories are followed by the child (now an adult) insisting to their parents that what they saw was real and not a dream.  This is usually followed by coincidental experiences after the event that seem to support the idea of a ghostly encounter.  The moral of the story is that children are somehow more attuned to things that adults take for granted (as symbolized by the ‘spiritual’ world), perhaps due to their perceived innocence (i.e. lack of full cognitive ability and the talent to blissfully ignore social norms that adults are conditioned into), and that adults should really listen to children more often.

I have a kid of my own, who woke up in the middle of the night last month screaming that there was something in her room.  I ran in there, fueled by parental instinct and ignoring the voice of reason telling me that she was mistaken.  Sure enough, there she was, sitting up in bed in terror, pointing at a stuffed monkey sitting on her bed that she had won at the fair.  We shared a good laugh, but she still ended up sleeping in my bed.

In the words of Bill Cosby, I told you that story so I could tell you this one.  My heart sank when I heard her scream, not because I thought there was something there, but because I empathized with her terror.  My childhood was fraught with sleepless nights due to nightly events that would leave me frightened and exhausted.  I spent a lot of time either getting to bed as early as I could, to get as much sleep in as I could before things happened, or staring at the walls, not sleeping at all.  When I would drift off, my eyes would snap open, my heart would pound, and I’d wait for whatever it was to happen.

First, I would wake, but I would be frozen in place.  I would be incredibly drowsy and have a hard time fighting the inevitable return to sleep.  I would be in a panic for seemingly no reason at all.  Worst of all, I was convinced that someone or something was at my bedside, forcing this experience on me.  For some reason, I was trapped, unable to move, while something was there, doing God-knows-what.  Sometimes I was convinced it was a ghost, sometimes a demon, sometimes aliens.

While I was getting used to being used, the events started to take a new turn.  Sometimes I would wake up, not feeling paralyzed, and see things in my room.  I once saw a prison inmate, complete with striped suit and shackled to a ball and chain, crouching in my closet, grinning.  Once, I saw a man in black clothes standing at the foot of my bed, looking at me.  Another time a man and a woman looked at me over their shoulders while I woke up, saw that I had noticed them, and rushed towards me with malicious intent.  Every time I saw these things, they would fade in a few moments.  I started to get so used to seeing them that I would casually discount them.  One night I saw only a floating pair of hands that motioned around like a stage magician, clearly there just to try and scare me.  I yawned and went back to sleep.

I never knew what the hell this all was, but it would happen to me regularly until I was about 22 years old.  I never quite knew if all of this was just in my head, if my soul was in danger, or if I was experiencing some kind of psychic feedback from the alien abductions.  These things weighed on my mind so much through my life that they would of course enter into my dreams.  Nightmares of ghosts, demons, aliens, government experiments, etc. never ended.  Then one night that all changed.

I was sleeping on the lower bunk of my dorm room, alone, after my room mate had dropped out.  I started to wake up, I felt the usual feelings of terror, and I struggled to open my eyes and fight the sensation.  That’s when I saw him walk past my bed:


He walked past my head, looking towards the door.  He stopped, looked down at me for a second, then he moved on.  I woke up as soon as he was out of my field of vision, and I jumped to my feet.  I was alone, of course, except for the big cardboard cut-out of Jason Voorhees that I bought at a video store just two weeks before.  This was the sign from my subconscious that I have been making all of this up myself for years.

When I realized it was just a sleeping disorder, I felt great.  I would still have episodes on occasion (my last one was a few months ago), and the immediate feeling of terror will always come with it, but I started to get a lot more sleep and the problems declined immediately.  I spent the next few weeks looking on the internet for people with similar problems.  Lo and behold, I learned about ‘sleep paralysis’ and how it occasionally comes with hallucinations (both visually and audibly – I have had some, but very few, sound hallucinations in this state).

I would encourage anyone who has had childhood imaginings like this (and at least three people I have known have) to look into this.  Alternately, don’t do anything of the kind, and keep spreading ghost stories.  I like to hear them, but please keep them out of science classrooms and academic discourse.  They do not belong there except as examples of contemporary folklore and mythology.  Fascinating!

Posted in america, pseudo-science, science, television | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

New Dinosaur Fossil and Unpopular Pandas

Posted by madaardvark on September 25, 2009


Another fantastic find, this time in China. The fossil record keeps getting flushed out; controversies within the scientific community keep coming to an end. There had been some controversy about the evolutionary path of birds. Some scientists have pointed out that the fossil record did not support the idea that birds descended from dinosaurs, because feathered dinosaurs and birds existed together. This new find, a complete fossil of Anchiornis huxleyi, shows up long before birds and represents a ‘missing link.’ The new fossil shows up about 25 million years before the appearance of birds and the only other known feathered dinosaurs.

There is one thing about ‘missing links’ I would like to clarify, though: there is no such thing. Every creature represents a transitional form, so there will always be some kind of creature that existed between two forms. Those people (creationists) who demand more ‘missing links’ and ‘transitional forms’ between known fossils will never be satisfied.

MEANWHILE, also in China, the pandas are dying despite our efforts to save them.  Chris Packham, a British conservationist and wildlife television show host, suggested that it’s time to stop throwing money at a problem that isn’t getting any better.  Granted, pandas would probably be fine if human beings just fell off the face of the earth (just like a lot of animals would), but that isn’t going to happen any time soon.  It’s sad to say that I somewhat agree with Packham.  It isn’t a popular idea, and it really does say something about what we value and spend money on.

Here’s my question: how many people have donated money to preserve pandas, but wouldn’t donate money to support human beings that live in poverty?  What is more important?  I admit to not donating money to either.  My contribution isn’t going to prevent humans OR pandas from becoming extinct, and a few human deaths may actually preserve some animals in the long run.  In fact, if people are going to die, “then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Posted in creationism, science | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Mini T-Rex is cute!

Posted by madaardvark on September 24, 2009


I love the fact that we’re thinking about a 10 foot-tall monster as a ‘miniature.’ It makes the discovery of Raptorex more fun, and gives me the image of a tiny dinosaur park in my daughter’s sandbox.

In other news, I saw the new episode of Community tonight, and I still feel like it’s rushed. I want an hour-long show and more development. The secondary characters don’t feel real enough and there are too many for me to meet and get to know. Where was the psychology professor that was so important in the pilot?

Lastly, I think I’m going to try video blogging soon. As soon as I find quiet time in a household with a three-year-old and two incontinent cats.

Posted in science, television | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by madaardvark on September 2, 2009

Reported by BBC News, new studies show (link) that we all have between 100 and 200 mutations in our genes.  Mutation is a step necessary to evolution, even if none of the mutations in a single specimen (any one human being) go on to bec0me ev0lutionary advantages.

Mutations also are the reason we get cancer and any number of other diseases.  Basically, a genetic disease is a mutation in the genetic structure that has been duplicated, passed on over and over again.  Scientists hope that the information they have found will help eliminate unwanted mutations and help develop more understandings of evolution.

I follow science and scientific discoveries, but I am no scientist. So I pose a question.  Would the elimination of mutations serve to stunt out evolution?  Even if we’re attempting to control so-called ‘malevolent’ mutations, isn’t it a disservice to the evolutionary tract of the species to attempt to reign us in to a relative similarity to one another?  Or would we develop the ability to discern between positive and negative mutations?  Or would we only have to worry about the mutations that we have discovered, meaning we could filter out what we did and did not want in the future?

Because it seems to me that even malevolent mutations could, in certain circumstances, be beneficial to us if those mutations were tempered, reduced in severity, etc.  I think of a child with muscle mutations that cause him to develop musculature at an alarming rate.  Certainly having a 13 year-old Hercules means that he’ll die of a heart attack by the time he’s 35, but if that was taken in a smaller dose, wouldn’t it benefit us to have such a mutation?

Posted in science | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

An Interim

Posted by madaardvark on August 16, 2009

For your enjoyment and education…

Posted in pseudo-science, science | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »