Physical Sciences

Homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All. There, I've started off this post the way I start off most posts about homeopathy, with a statement of just how enormous a pile of pseudoscientific (or rather prescientific) quackery that it is. You'd think that in 2015 no one would believe that diluting a substance (with vigorous shaking between each serial dilution step, of course, in order to "potentize" it) makes its effects stronger or that water has some sort of mystical "memory" that remembers the therapeutic substance but forgets all the other impurities, chemicals, and urine with which…
One of my favourite journal-club comments, from back in the days when I did science, about a previous Hansen paper that failed to find favour. I'm hoping to actually read the Hansen Noveau, and hopeful that it isn't just old wine in new bottles, but first a brief comment about comment policy. Blogs without a comment policy but with any degree of popularity tend to have a comment section full of mush. So what of the EGU open review journals? Generally, they're saved by lack of popularity, but as Tamino points out, one of the recent comments is just raving nutjobbery. Revkin, in his much-…
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small." -Neil Armstrong This past week was the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing for humanity, and yet at Starts With A Bang there was so much going on in the Universe we glossed right over it! Here's what you might have missed: Can moons have moons? (for Ask Ethan), The best mining destination (for our Weekend Diversion), Out of the darkness (for Mostly Mute Monday), Astronomy at the…
Homeopathy is quackery. There, I've said it for the hundredth or even thousandth time, but I don't care if it's repetitive because it can't be emphasized enough times that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, with the possible exception of reiki and other "energy therapies." I also find it useful to make it clear right where I'm coming from right off the bat. If you're a homeopath and are offended, quite frankly, I don't care. Any "medicine" whose very precepts break multiple laws of physics and chemistry, laws that wouuld have to be proven not just wrong but spectacularly wrong…
Focusing on Earth, but also a few tidbits on wind, fire, and ice, some current news and observations about global warming. Earth As humans release greenhouse gas pollutants (mainly CO2) into the atmosphere, the surface of the Earth, and the top 2000 meters of the ocean, heat up. But some of the CO2 is absorbed into plant tissues and soil, as well as in the ocean or other standing water. Historically, about 30% of the extra CO2 is absorbed into the ocean, and another 30% converted into (mainly) plant tissue. We hope that enough CO2 is absorbed that the effects of greenhouse gas pollution is…
Orac note: Congratulations on California and everyone who reads this blog who helped pass SB 277 to protect California's children. Here's hoping Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill! I had a big talk to give this morning that required a massive rewrite of my slide set last night; so there wasn't time for the usual Insolence. Some of you might have seen a different version of this post elsewhere. Some of you might not. Either way, I hope you can enjoy! Two weeks ago, I attended the Center For Inquiry Reason for Change Conference, where I participated in a panel on—what else?—alternative…
I've been really busy with year-end wrap-up stuff, but have also posted a bunch of stuff at Forbes. which I've fallen down on my obligation to promote here... So, somewhat belatedly, here's a collection of physics-y stuff that I've written recently: -- Using Atoms To Measure Tiny Forces: A post reporting on some very cool atom interferometry experiments, one working to measure the very tiny (but known to exist) force of gravity, the other searching for a possible "fifth force" sort of thing. -- Making And Shaking New Materials With Ultracold Atoms: A post reporting on a couple more DAMOP…
"Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details." -Heraclitus This past week at Starts With A Bang put on quite a show, and you -- as always -- didn't disappoint. If you missed anything, here's what went on: Learning to chill (a guest post from Paul Halpern), Does a black hole have a shape? (a fascinating Astroquizzical from Jillian Scudder), Muons, relativity & a new record? (for Ask Ethan), Keep the Universe going (introducing our Patreon, for our Weekend Diversion), Sunsets from space (for Mostly Mute Monday), Pluto's unique moons, and What would you…
Recently, a paper published in a Chinese journal of science by Monckton, Soon and Legates attracted a small amount of attention by claiming that climate science models "run hot" and therefore overrepresent the level of global warming caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. The way they approached the problem of climate change was odd. The Earth's climate system is incredibly complex, and climate models used by mainstream climate scientists address this complexity and therefore are also complex. Monckton et al chose to address this complexity by developing a model they characterize as "…
Epigenetics. As I've described before, to alternative medicine practitioners, epigenetics seems to mean something akin to what the word "quantum" means: Magic. I've covered, for example, the woo-filled stylings of Deepak Chopra invoking things like "quantum consciousness," and seemingly for quite a few years the best way to slap a patina of "sciencey"-sounding credibility on a pseudoscientific medical treatment has been to add the word "quantum" to it. Perhaps the epitome of this tendency was the infamous Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface promoted by a rather—shall we say?—flamboyant…
Once again, the yearly autism quackfest known as Autism One is fast approaching. In fact, it will begin in Chicago tomorrow: five days of "autism biomed" quackery and antivaccine pseudoscience. Ever since the Great Schism in the autism antivaccine quackery community, which severed Generation Rescue from Autism One and ended Jenny McCarthy's run of being the keynote speaker every year, it just hasn't been the same. Well, not quite. It turns out that a lot of the speakers are still the same, Generation Rescue or not, Jenny McCarthy or not. Just take a look at the speaker list, and you'll see a…
By High School Student Connor Smith, who is attending Cornell next year and studying chemistry. The two speakers I enjoyed most at the 2015 X-STEM conference were Andrew Zwicker, a physicist from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and William Pomerantz, the Vice President of Special Projects at Virgin Galactic. Dr. Zwicker talked primarily about his work on fusion reactors using high energy plasma, and the need for the development of clean energy technology. Read more 
I've discussed on many occasions over the years how antivaccine activists really, really don't want to be known as "antivaccine." Indeed, when they are called "antivaccine" (usually quite correctly, given their words and deeds), many of them will clutch their pearls in indignation, rear up in self-righteous anger, and retort that they are "not antivaccine" but rather "pro-vaccine safety," "pro-health freedom," "parental rights," or some other antivaccine dog whistle that sounds superficially reasonable. In the meantime, they continue to do their best to demonize vaccines as dangerous, "toxin…
I recently noted that there are reasons to think that the effects of human caused climate change are coming on faster than previously expected. Since I wrote that (in late January) even more evidence has come along, so I thought it was time for an update. First a bit of perspective. Scientists have known for a very long time that the proportion of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere controls (along with other factors) overall surface and upper ocean heat balance. In particular, is has been understood that the release of fossil Carbon (in coal and petroleum) as CO2 would likely warm…
“The heart can get really cold if all you've known is winter.” -Benjamin Alire Sáenz If you didn't read everything this week on Starts With A Bang, it's hard to blame you. Each week, on practically a daily basis, we've got new pieces coming at you, sharing the wonders of the Universe in our own unique fashion. The past seven days alone saw the following: Hubble vs. the Big Bang (for Ask Ethan), The horrible conditions of s'more factory farms (for our Weekend Diversion), NASA's greatest observatories view the galactic center (for Mostly Mute Monday), What happens to light when it hits the Sun…
Well, it's over. I'm referring to the two day hearing held by the FDA in Bethesda seeking public comment regarding how it should modernize its regulation of homeopathic products. Actually, as I discussed before (as did Jann Bellamy over at my favorite other blog, Science-Based Medicine), in fact it's arguable wither there is currently much, if any, actual regulation of homeopathic remedies. Oh, sure, sometimes when a foolish company or true believer tries to market something as unremittingly dangerous as a homeopathic asthma nasal spray, the FDA takes notices. However, for the most part, the…
The American Biology Teacher has hosted a guest editorial by Glenn Branch and Minda Berbeco of the NCSE. The editorial points out that climate science is under a similar sort of anti-science attack as evolution has been for years, though generally with different (less religious) motivations. Also noted is the problem of fitting climate change into the curriculum, especially in biology classes. Indeed, biology teachers are already having a hard time getting the standard fare on the plate. In recent years, for example, the AP biology curriculum has jettisoned almost everything about plants…
Dr. David Katz is undoubtedly a heavy hitter in the brave new world of "integrative medicine," a specialty that seeks to "integrate" pseudoscience with science, nonsense, with sense, and quackery with real medicine. In fairness, that's not the way physicians like Dr. Katz see it. Rather, they see it as "integrating" the "best of both worlds" to the benefit of patients. However, as we've documented extensively here, on our personal blogs, and even in the biomedical literature (plug, plug), what "integrative" medicine means in practice is indeed what I characterized, the infiltration of woo…
Maybe, maybe not. There is a new paper that looks at what climate scientists call “synoptic midlatitude temperature variability” and the rest of us call “cold snaps” and “heat waves.” The term “synoptic” simply means over a reasonably large area like you might expect a cold snap or heat wave to be. Specifically, the paper (Physics of Changes in Synoptic Midlatitude Temperature Variability, by Tapio Schneider, Tobias Bischoff and Hanna Plotka, published in Journal of Climate) concludes that as human-caused greenhouse gas pollution increases, the frequency of cold snaps in the northern…
Predatory open access journals seem to be a hot topic these days. In fact, there seems to be kind of a moral panic surrounding them. I would like to counter the admittedly shocking and scary stories around that moral panic by pointing out that perhaps we shouldn't be worrying so much about a fairly small number of admittedly bad actors and that we should be more concerned with the larger issues around the limitations of peer review and how scientific error and fraud leak through that system. I'm hoping my methodology here will be helpful. I hope to counter the predatory open access (OA)…