Fluid Dynamics and Physics not Needed for Blood Spatter Analysis

blood spatter analysisIf you’re a fan of crime drama then you’ve almost certainly heard of Blood Spatter Analysis. It’s a technique used to determine how a crime happened. It doesn’t work. That’s very clear. The experts testifying about it generally know nothing of Fluid Dynamics or Physics and earn a certification after a forty-hour course. Yet, it’s an accepted science in almost every part of the United States. Lovely.

I just read an amazing article about how all of this came to be. Basically, one fellow invented the so-called science in his basement and was convincing in the courtroom despite having no scientifically backed evidence to back it. Now a horde of experts, almost all of whom trained with and were certified by him at his forty-hour course are testifying against one another in cases across the country. It’s not hard to find someone who will testify a blood spatter is evidence of absolute guilt while another person from the same discipline argues for complete innocence.

People’s blood is different in consistency and even different throughout the body. Weather can play an enormous role in fluid dynamics. Gravity plays a part. The setting on the air conditioner will make a difference in how blood behaves in various circumstances. There is good reason no readily repeatable experimentation on blood spatters exists. Yet, the testimony has resulted in any number of people being exonerated or convicted.

There is currently an effort by scientists with strong backgrounds in fluid dynamics and physics to try and make this actually work but the problems persist. It’s largely a field mired in confirmation bias. The result you want to get is the one you get. There just isn’t enough consistency in results to come to reliable conclusions.

There is a lot of sad in all of this. But, being the Libertarian that I am, I’m going to reserve my outrage mostly for myself. Why didn’t I realize this entire methodology is bunk? There is nothing in the article that I couldn’t have figured out simply by thinking about it for a bit. Obviously, blood splatters are going to have huge inconsistences based on wind, temperature, pressure, blood thickness, angles, and who knows what else.

Yet I ate it up on crime shows and assumed it was based on scientific principles all this time. Bad Tom! Do better.

Tom Liberman

Pluto is What Pluto is

PlutoIs Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? This question has roiled both the scientific and public world for the last twelve years. When it was discovered way back in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh it was given the designation of planet. In 2006 the definition of what is a planet was changed and the little, relatively, world was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

I well understand the need to classify things so that we can communicate. Without definitions we have a difficult time expressing meaning to one another. In this case the reality is the only thing of importance. The designation means nothing. Pluto was discovered by humans back in 1930 but it has been galivanting about the solar system for billions of years in largely the form it is today. There is no name we can call it that will change its nature. Planet, Dwarf Planet, Kuiper Belt Object, whatever, it is the same. It is only we people who are upset about the classification and that is, to my way of thinking, somewhat telling.

Why do we care? Will it make any difference in your life? If Pluto is a planet are you better or worse? Is Pluto any different? The designation is merely so we can communicate effectively and the reality is in this case it doesn’t make any difference. The only chance of any confusion occurs if we are talking about the Disney character rather than the orbital body.

The question becomes why is it such a contention issue? Why do people have their own self-worth wrapped up in the fact that Pluto is or is not a planet? I cannot say for certain but I suspect the cause is related to our ego. We want to be right. We want to be better and smarter than the other people. We find like-minded allies and pat ourselves on the back at how smart we are because we know Pluto is one thing or another. This somehow validates our feelings about ourselves and that’s a shame.

Pluto is what Pluto is, regardless of the designation we give it. You are who you are, with no importance given to what others may call you. Nothing changes. The kind of person you choose to be is defined by other things: The way you behave towards others, the things you say about other people. Your behavior defines you. Your existence. Not the names people call you, that’s their problem.

What makes you a better or worse person has nothing to do with how others designate you. You are you and so Pluto is Pluto.

Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

No Recess During Eclipse

eclipseIf you were a child and told you could not go outside during a solar eclipse because looking at the sun was dangerous; would that make you more or less likely to go outside on the sly? I think the answer to this question gives us great insight into the problems associated with a state that tries too hard to protect us from ourselves.

The Cumberland Valley School District sent a letter to parents explaining that recess will be cancelled on Monday August 21st during the full solar eclipse. I think it’s a mistake and I’m happy to tell you why. I don’t disagree that looking at the sun is dangerous. I think children should be warned not to look at the eclipse as it could damage their eyes. I understand the danger of litigation. I just think preventing children from going outside during the event is a silly way to go about protecting the children.

A far better solution would be to assemble outside with all of the students and have a telescope with appropriate lenses on it for them to use. Another solution would be to have an assembly where a live broadcast of the eclipse is shown on screen. Perhaps parents could be asked to purchase eyewear that will protect the student and send it to class with their child that day.

There are many, many solutions available to the district and they chose the one that is probably going to endanger the students the most. By telling them they can’t go outside at all, they work against human nature. Just looking at the sun during a normal day will cause blindness. Children go outside quite frequently and manage not to blind themselves. I understand the special circumstances of the eclipse will generate more interest in looking at it, I just think the solution is utterly silly.

This attempted solution mimics what government does when they try to force behavior on its citizens. Using mind altering drugs can be dangerous. Getting married is a good thing. The government rewards behavior they think is useful and punishes behavior they think is dangerous. The problem is that such actions generally create new and bigger problems than those they are trying to solve.

I don’t want to give a series of examples, starting with the War on Drugs, to show the generally negative outcome of such laws; I just want you to contemplate what happened in school when you were young and there was a solar eclipse. Were you denied recess? Were you herded into a dark room to mitigate the chances you’d blind yourself? How many kids were blinded?

It’s always important to consider the result of any rule or law you might want to enforce. If the only good it’s going to do is make people feel like they are doing something useful, then maybe you should reconsider.

Tom Liberman

My Problem with the Multiverse or Why Infinity Does not Equal All Encompassing

multiverseI’m quite confused by why people seem to think that infinite equals all-encompassing. This seems to me to be one of the core ideas in the concept of the multiverse. This is to say, if there are an infinite number of universes, then all things must be represented in them somewhere or another.

Let me preface my article with the simple fact that I am not a theoretical physicist. My understanding of the Multiverse, or at least the postulations of such, might be mistaken. I’m going to continue on with my thoughts here as if my understanding is correct. If that’s not the case, I’m hopeful someone will explain it to me more clearly.

I’ll further mention one of the main purposes of this discussion is to further my ideas of atheism, rather than a fundamental understanding of the universe.

My understanding of the Multiverse is that it is infinite. That there are an infinite number of universes within the multiverse and therefore in one of them I am dating Jennifer Aniston. Now, this is certainly a pleasant thought, but I don’t think it is true. My main problem is the supposition that infinite must mean all-encompassing. If there are infinite universes, then all things must be represented in them.

Where this correlates with my atheism is when I hear this argument from those who believe in an omnipotent and omniscient god. If there is a multiverse then there is the possibility of such a god. If such a possibility exists, then it must exist because of the infinity issue.

The entire idea that infinity equals all-encompassing seems to me to be quite easily falsified. If I have an infinite list of even numbers, nowhere on it is an odd number. Nor can any delightful bowls of Ben & Jerry Cherry Garcia ice cream be found on said list, sadly. Infinite clearly is not all-encompassing. Therefore, it stands to logical reason that while the Multiverse might well be infinite, that does not mean any particular thing can be found within it. In none of the universes am I dating Aniston, again sadly.

It’s clear to me there are many things that do not exist in the universe. The last digit of Pi for example. The last digit at all. An integer that calculates exactly the square root of any prime number. There are almost certainly far more things not in the multiverse than are in it. Is there a pink unicorn named Edwina? Are any of the characters from my novels a real person in any of those universes? Of course not, although perhaps we can’t prove it logically as we can with mathematics. It’s mere common sense.

That’s pretty much it. Infinite doesn’t equal all-encompassing. As I stated earlier, perhaps I’m misunderstanding the ideas presented about the multiverse. I’d happily love to learn more.

Tom Liberman

Can an ICBM be Intercepted?

ICBMI’m of the opinion the general belief of people is that the United States is currently capable of intercepting Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). That such attacks heading toward our country from an enemy like China, North Korea, or Russia can be stopped.

The U.S. military has certainly claimed, via the Missile Defense Agency, that such interceptions are completely possible. To date, tests against ballistic missiles have been fairly unsuccessful. In controlled environments, the interceptions have been successful only sporadically. These tests don’t include all the variables of a real attack.

The Israeli Arrow system has been proven effective against Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) and that’s a good thing. However, such missiles are moving at significantly lower speed than ICBMs.

The reality is somewhat disturbing. ICBMs are coming in at a speed of around seven kilometers per second. This velocity means any intercepting device has to calculate the course of the incoming attack, pass the information to a computer, analyze an interception path, and implement said path very quickly. Perhaps too quickly.

There are absolute laws in this world, the laws of physics. I’m not a mathematician and I also don’t want to underestimate human ingenuity. That being said, it seems likely to me that such an intercept might well be impossible. I’m not saying we should stop attempting to create a system that intercept such attacks, I’m just suggesting that we understand the difficulties involved and the fact that, currently, such attacks cannot be thwarted with any reliability.

I think it is important in our decision-making process to understand these facts. If our leaders, military commanders, and even the general population is under the impression we can stop such attacks, then we are likely to engage in activity that risk them.

Reality is sometimes unkind. It’s wonderful to imagine we can intercept ICBM attacks and prevent nuclear devastation. It’s even nicer to imagine that if we can’t do so today, with a lot of hard work and dedication, we will be able to do so in the future.

I think it’s entirely possible that it is physically impossible to prevent an ICBM attack on our country. That no matter how hard we work at it and how much money we spend on the problem, we will never be able to do so.

I certainly hope I’m wrong. It would be wonderful if a defensive umbrella could be created to prevent any country from using ICBMs on another country. Nuclear devastation is a bad thing. We shouldn’t want to use nuclear weapons on another country and obviously, we hope they are unable to do so to us.

An unpleasant reality is that we cannot currently prevent an ICBM attack on our country. This being the case, we need to base our political policies upon this fact. Anything else is foolish.

Tom Liberman

Radishes Grown on Mars – Martian Soil – Martian Like Soil – Misleading Headline

martian-soil-experiment-minScientists are About to Eat Radishes Grown in Martian Soil blares the headline.

The implication is that we’ve grown Radishes on Mars or at the very least that we have Martian soil here on Earth that we used to grow some radishes. The reality, not so much.

The radishes were grown in a nutrient poor soil designed to be similar to Martian soil. I’m guessing it wasn’t grown under the same conditions we’d find on Mars.

Interesting experiment, no, not even that. There are all kinds of people working on growing crops in nutrient poor soil. Pure click bait. The experiment itself, the story, and the headline especially.

I do love me some radishes though!

What do you think about the Radish Story?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Flat Earth, Columbus, Rap, and Interesting Facts

flat-earthThere’s a great little story making the rounds about a singer named B.o.B who is telling his fans the earth is flat and the backlash from Neil deGrasse Tyson and others. It’s a great story because it shows the degrees to which people will give credence to a popular figure in areas where he or she is not credible.

Let me try to explain by going on a little journey in time.

Where is that time travel hat of mine … it was in the upstairs closet … no … wait … here it is under the kitchen sink. How did it get there? Oh well, never mind. Pop it on the old noggin, spin around three times, wooo-woo-flashing-lights-special-effects, and KABLOOM.

Here I am in Ancient Greece watching a balding fellow taking measurements on the shadow of a little triangle set in a rock.

“Whatcha doing?” I ask.

“Measuring the circumference of the earth,” he replies (in Ancient Greek but luckily my time travel hat is also a universal translator).

“Really?” I reply.

“Yep,” he says. “By measuring the shadow here and also at Syene on the same day at the same time I can calculate it based on the distance between Alexandria and Syene and difference in the cast of the shadow. About 252,000 stadia (my hat tells me that’s 46,620 kilometers).”

“Da-damn,” I reply. “That’s some smart ass poop. Well, gotta be going.” I don’t want to tell him his calculation is off by about 16%, it’s pretty good work he’s done. He just doesn’t know the earth isn’t a sphere but bulges in the middle and that the distance between the two cities is a bit off. I put my hat back on … and well, you know.


Still in Ancient Greece but this time looking at a man with a full complement of curly hair drawing very pretty maps.

“Watcha doing?” I ask.

“Drawing a map of the world,” he replies.

“Cool, where did you get the information to determine how big it is?”

“Well, there was this fellow, Eratosthenes, he did some calculations with sun and shadows but I’ve traveled all over the world and I think just by looking at things I’m a better judge of how big it is than all that silly math. What better judge than our own eyes?”

“Hmm,” I say. “That’s one way to look at it.”

Back on with the hat.

KABLOOM (getting a little dizzy now).

Now I’m in Middle Ages Italy looking at a fellow drawing really nice maps.

“Whatcha doing?” I ask.

“I’m making a map of the world,” he replies.

“Cool, you’re a really good artist. These are amazing. How did you determine its size?”

“There was this fellow who drew nice maps back in Ancient Greece and I’m using his model.”

“Why not the math fellow’s models?”

“He didn’t draw maps, just calculated the size using math. Better to go with the guy who traveled the world and was a good artist!”

“Got it,” I reply with a sigh and slip the hat upon my head once again.

KABLOOM. (Feeling a bit nauseous at this point)

Wow, I’m on the deck of ship. Short interlude of vomiting.

Stagger over to the captain, “Watcha doing?”

“We’re sailing to India for trade. Money to be made you know.”

“It doesn’t look like you’ve got enough stores to make it that far,” I say with a raised eyebrow.

“According to these very pretty maps the world is about 30,000 kilometers in circumference.”

“Have you done the math?”

“Why do that? Look how pretty the maps are.”

“Right,” I say, take a breath, and don my hat once again.


Here I sit in front of my computer at the end of my extremely simplified tale of why Columbus thought he could sail around the world when the distance was much more than he realized.

I hope you’ve learned something.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Sharks Swim in Boiling Water – Misleading Headline

Boiling Water SharksI’ve been derelict in my Misleading Headline duties for a few weeks, finishing up The Girl in Glass I: Apparition taking priority but I’m back with a doozy.

It’s Shark Week on Discovery and that brings any story on sharks out of the woodwork and into the headlines.

Amazing footage of sharks swimming in boiling water around a volcano is completely baffling scientists screams the ridiculous and misleading headline.

The story, as is often the case in these situations, is actually quite interesting.

A team of scientists lowered a camera into an inactive, underwater caldera. Basically the giant hole from a collapsed volcanic eruption. The keyword here is, of course, inactive.

Yes when the underwater volcano is erupting it spews forth highly toxic gases and heats up to thousands of degrees. When it’s inactive it’s simple ocean habitat. Sharks swim in the ocean. So there you go. Still it is pretty cool footage. Go take a look at the article but ignore the headline.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition – Release date: late August 2015

Refused Chemo in Remission – Misleading Headline

Connecticut Teen RemissionThose darn misleading headlines! I’m aware and wary but this one got me!

Connecticut Teen Who Refused Chemo Now in ‘Remission,’ Seeks Freedom blares the headline. There have been a number of stories in the news in the last few months about young people who did not want to get chemotherapy. In several cases the parents of the teen essentially ran off to avoid the state forcing medical care their child.

This was not one of those cases. In this case the state took Cassandra C. (full name not released to protect the minor) from her home, strapped her to a hospital bed, and forced chemotherapy on her. It worked and she’s now in remissions. She says she’s committed to finishing her treatment and wants to go home.

The headline was clearly designed to draw in people who thought the girl refused chemotherapy and is now in remission. The reality is that if she had been allowed to refuse such care she would likely be dying or already dead. The statistics on chemotherapy are overwhelming. I’ve had discussions with people on this subject and I’m not going to get into a debate today. Look up the one year, five year, and ongoing cancer survival rates for those who take chemotherapy and those who don’t. You can choose to disbelieve the numbers, that’s your call, me, I’ll go with the statistics.

Back to the story; it’s interesting for a number of reasons. Does the state have the right to force medical treatment on a minor who refuses such? Minors don’t have the same constitutional rights as adults so it’s not a simple question for a Libertarian like myself. A parent unquestionably has the right to force an underage child to take medical treatment against their will. This goes without saying. Does the state?

If a child has a 90% chance to die without taking the treatment and a 99% chance to live with the treatment is the state obligated to step forward?

I discussed this issue more fully in a post about child endangerment but I’ll recap quickly. If parents imprison and abuse their children can the state step in? If you agree with that then it’s hard not to agree with stepping in for medical treatment. The child will likely die unnecessarily without said treatment. Child abuse is not usually fatal although the long term outlook is certainly awful.

I’m not going to cover all my points again today, please read that post if you’d like know my opinions.

This story is really just about another misleading headline that lured me in!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Matt Taylor and the Woman Hating Shirt

MattTaylor ShirtI spotted a headline the other day but didn’t get around to clicking on the story until just now. It’s a doozy.

A fellow by the name of Matt Taylor is a member of the Rosetta team that guided the Philae lander onto a comet. During the hours leading up to the landing a number of news outlets were interviewing the various scientists. Taylor chose to wear an interesting shirt to work that day and his choice is raising some questions.

My initial reaction to the headline was that some feminist organizations were over-reacting to a relatively harmless shirt. Then I clicked on the story and saw the shirt. I do think Taylor should be able to wear whatever shirt he wants and if his employers have no problem with such attire in the workplace, so be it. However, if I wore a shirt like that to work I’d be sent home. I’d be told to change it. It’s clearly inappropriate for the office and to wear it on the day you know news media is coming in droves is clearly a poor judgment call.

I’m sure Taylor is very good at his job and that should outweigh what shirt he chooses to wear. However, there are dress codes for a reason. I’d certainly be uncomfortable if one of my co-workers chose to wear a shirt like that at work.

I’m certainly not saying that Taylor views women solely as sex-objects. He could be, and probably is, a great guy. He could love women and be turned on by intelligent, attractive, and powerful women with an attitude; I know I am!

He is probably not in the slightest bit misogynistic. That’s why it’s a shame he chose to wear that shirt to work on that day. He portrayed himself in a certain light. By choosing to wear that shirt on that day, he presented himself in a particular fashion willingly and knowingly. If people are offended then he only has himself to blame. If people have no problem with it then that’s their business as well.

Certainly only his employer has a right to enforce a particular dress-code. The media has no say, nor does anyone offended by the shirt. If I find it inappropriate it has no weight with Taylor or his bosses. It’s their company, it’s his shirt.

Now, off to go find some hot pictures of Supergirl. (I prefer my intelligent, attractive, and powerful women more towards the trim and athletic side, but hey, that’s me).

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
The Black Sphere Coming Soon!

Are Artificial Turf Surfaces Toxic?

crumb rubber turfThere’s a story making the rounds about the carcinogens in artificial turf and the dangers they bring for people who play on such fields. Is it hysteria? Is it a real threat?

The idea is that artificial surfaces these days are largely made up of small particles of rubber called crumb rubber. Strips of green plastic are mixed in with the rubber to give it a grassy look. If you’ve seen any game played on such a surface you know it immediately as the crumb rubber sprays up under impact. Crumb rubber is made from old tires. It generally contains things like zinc, sulfur, black carbon, and oils that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAH sounds like one of those nasty, toxic chemicals that cause cancer but the reality is that it’s quite common and found in almost anything made from carbon. It is a carcinogen but is also largely inert which means it’s very difficult to ingest enough to cause any harm. The main way people get high-levels of PAH is by ingesting things like coconut oil. It is also found in wood, coal, tobacco, incense, and other places. Your chances of ingesting PAHs largely come from burning these sources, not from crumb rubber.

The idea is that people who spend a lot of time on artificial fields will incidentally ingest some of the small rubber pellets through their mouth and nose. That such small amounts eventually add up to a toxic mix that might contribute to a kind of cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This disease tends to effect young people in their teens and early twenties. A few such cases involving young athletes sparked some concern about artificial fields.

I’ve looked over a few studies and, to date, there has been no correlation between athletes who play on artificial fields and an increased health risk. There are not that many studies and those that have been completed aren’t particularly broad in their scope. New York State is now conducting a large scale study because of the recent alarms.

One must also take into account that if the artificial fields were replaced with natural grass that this would entail the accompanying regular spraying of chemicals that contain carcinogens.

I’m not willing to dismiss the claims of those who think artificial turf is causing cancer but a perusal of the existing evidence makes me largely skeptical. It’s one of those situations where some people get sick and someone else leaps to a seemingly reasonable conclusion that turns out to be completely unrelated.

How many of you saw Erin Brockovich and came away with the belief that the town of Hinkley had major contamination problems that caused a large outbreak of rare forms of cancer? It turns out that that rates of cancer in the region are lower than would be expected.

How many of you remember the silicon breast implants that caused many women to develop cancer? Subsequent studies have shown no link between the implants and any form of cancer.

I’ll wait for the major studies to be completed before I’m completely willing to dismiss the claims as nonsense. What I’d like you to do the next time someone begins talking about this subject is interject a few of the points I’ve made here. Talk to them reasonably and suggest that it’s likely the fears are without merit. Mention that young people tend to get Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and sometimes they are athletes.

Remember that correlation does not imply causation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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We Are Alone – So Far …

GalaxiesI just read an article about the nature of movies in regards to the special qualities of Earth that seem to attract so many invaders. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but there are some valid points. Why would an advanced alien civilization visit Earth?

The question I’m going to think about today is along the same line although from the opposite position. Why wouldn’t advanced aliens visit the Earth? Because that’s the real question if you believe the galaxy is teeming with technologically advanced civilizations. I’m one that finds it difficult to believe that such civilizations do not exist. The universe appears to be some 14 billion years old and current estimates have our galaxy clocking in at 13.6 billion years. There are some 200 billion stars in our galaxy and possibly a lot more. Recent evidence suggests that most stars form planets, that water is abundant in the universe., the buildings blocks of life are everywhere, and places where life might thrive seem common.

And yet, silence.

One common explanation is simply the massive distances involved. If the speed of light is the maximum then getting to our little world is no easy trick even for a race that’s been around millions of years. I find that explanation very appealing.

One of the main factor’s driving human exploration of space is simple curiosity. We want to know what’s out there and we particularly want to know if we are alone. What if the answer was an unequivocal no. What if there is microbial life on Mars, a thriving underwater community on Europa. What if life is, as I suspect, everywhere. What if almost every star system eventually allows for intelligent life? What if you know all about it? What if you are communications with tens of thousands of other species? Does this dim your curiosity? What interest is there in a young species just reaching out to the stars?

What if finding such a new species was common-place? What sort of regulations would you put in place around such a community. We certainly understand the idea of the Prime Directive of the Star Trek world. Don’t influence young races, don’t contaminate them. It’s a reasonable explanation.

Perhaps life is so abundant that such advanced races just don’t care until we get to a certain level of technology. We just have nothing to offer them.

I’m sure there are other explanations and any of them might or might not be true. There is just no way of knowing. The reality is that we have yet to have any credible contact with a species from another planet. Perhaps we are alone. Perhaps the aliens walk among us, studying or plotting. Perhaps they are out there keeping their hands off for the moment because of their own rules of conduct. Perhaps the distances are just too daunting.

Maybe someday we’ll learn the answers to these questions and that’s a good thing. We’re here, we’re striving to find more, to learn more, to explore our world, to understand the universe. What more is there to do?

I guess that’s my point. Don’t be daunted by the lack of information. Keep looking for more. Follow the facts, don’t be fooled by those theories you want to be true. It’s fun to speculate, to guess, but when it comes to reality, stick to the facts. I’d love the universe to be teeming with intelligent life but the evidence of such does not exist. Therefore I cannot argue that it does.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Frenchmen on the Podium at Tour de France for First Time in 30 Years

PERAUD_JEAN_CHRISTOPHEThe 2014 edition of the Tour de France is scheduled to end tomorrow afternoon and something rather remarkable is going to happen. Two Frenchmen,  Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot, are likely going to finish in second and third place respectively. This will mark the first time since 1997 that a man from that nation has finished in the top three at the Tour de France.

Why is this notable? Because of events that occurred during the Tour de France in 1998 and the reaction of the sports federation of France to those events. In that year’s race there was a huge doping scandal in which virtually every rider of the race was implicated. During the race not a single rider was found to have illegal substances in their body but subsequent revelations and testing showed that virtually every sample taken during the race was contaminated. An exception was George Hincapie whose two samples were found to be clean although he has since admitted to using illegal substances before and during that race.

The aftermath of this event triggered cataclysmic changes from the anti-doping agency in France although other countries did not act with the same level of alacrity. Lance Armstrong’s dominance of the Tour de France began the next year in 1999 and those who wanted to compete with Armstrong and his doping machine had to take the same path. Frenchmen could not because of the stringent testing policies created by their federation after the scandal of the 1998 Tour.

Suddenly, after nearly a century of domination, not a single Frenchman could be found on the Podium at the conclusion of the race nor even frequently among the top-ten finishers. All because they were riding presumably without the aid of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). What does that tell you?

Of further interest is the nature of anti-doping regulations now in place for all of the riders of the Tour de France. They are subject to what are called Biological Passports which keep track of all vital information of an athlete and anything out of the normal range is considered a violation. This removes the element of masking filters which eliminate PEDs from the system and yet allow for their use and thus increased performance. The masking efforts are apparently always going to be ahead of the testing efforts and therefore the Biological Passport seems to be the best method to detect the use of PEDs.

The use of Biological Passports does not extend to the professional leagues of the United States.

If the authorities largely cannot catch those using PEDs then the result will always be the use of PEDs by athletes. All results are tainted. Athletes from nations with progressive testing can almost never defeat their counterparts who are using such methods.

The world cycling federation  now uses methods long in place in France. Frenchmen stand on the podium once again. I think that says it all.

What do you think would happen if the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and other top leagues in the United States adopted a Biological Passport? I know what I think.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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The Sun is Really Hot

Solar FlareI don’t know if this actually qualifies as a Misleading Headline because it is so obviously ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine anyone was fooled. The Sun Could’ve Destroyed Civilization Two Years Ago blares the headline from many-time winner of my weekly award, The Daily Caller.

Clearly they are talking about solar flares that have the potential to destroy electronic equipment. There was a big one a couple of years ago but it did not hit the earth. In reality the world is a lot better prepared for solar flares than in the past and much of our electronic infrastructure is shielded from such assaults. I’m certainly not saying that a flood of charged particles from the sun couldn’t do a lot of damage but destroying civilization is probably beyond it’s power for the next few billion years.

It’s also interesting to note that the solar flare mentioned in the article was rated as a X1.1 which, while large, is hardly the biggest in 150 years as the article claims. There have been significantly larger flares spotted on any number of occasions since we’ve been closely observing such events.

I am sort of curious if any of my readers saw the headline and clicked on the story with any expectation of reading about a real threat to civilization. Did you see the article? Were you tempted to click? Did you think it was obviously silly? If you did click it did you believe the nonsense about it being the largest such event in 150 years?

Let me know in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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The Ice Cream Sandwich that Defied the Power of the Sun!

Great Value Ice Cream SandwichI have an ice cream sandwich problem. I’ve written about it before and it’s haunted me since childhood. I’m a little less tempted now. It turns out the ingredients in some ice cream sandwiches make them resistant to the power of the sun, in other words, they don’t melt.

Technically, according to the article, they do melt, they just don’t lose their solid shape. This does make even an addict like myself begin to wonder what I’m putting into my body when I purchase those delightful treats and down them without hesitation. I will admit that I generally purchase a higher-class of ice cream sandwich simply because I’ve reached the point in my life where I prefer something tasty and more expensive over something cheap but rather icky.

I’ve never had the Great Value sandwiches from Walmart so I can’t speak to their flavor but I have enjoyed Klondike Bars which apparently have many of the same ingredients and are somewhat, although not completely, resistant to melting as well.

I think everyone tries to eat at least a little healthier to some degree or the other and the people of the United States spend a great deal of money on diet products. This indicates a desire to eat better food. The problem is that providing certain kinds of healthy food without particular ingredients is not so easy.

However, I’m willing to bet that the media storm surrounding the Great Value Ice Cream Sandwiches will put a fairly big dent in the sales of the product. That Walmart will probably have to change the ingredients and perhaps even re-brand the product. What’s interesting is that the ice cream sandwiches were not hurting anyone. The ingredients have been tested by the FDA and approved for use in food. Such ingredients are tested fairly thoroughly and if they were toxic would be banned. So what we have is the sandwiches being judged in court of public opinion. I’m all for this. The more information people have about anything the better decision they are going to make.

It’s interesting because I came out with an article not long ago about how Monsanto is helping to feed the world safely using genetically modified food (GMF). There’s a significant body of evidence that they don’t do any harm, can be grown more easily in pest-heavy and environmentally unfriendly regions, increase yields, and can provide more nutrition than their counterparts. Those opposed to such products are vehement in their opinion despite the facts. Those that will boycott the Great Value Ice Cream Sandwiches will likely be just as vehement.

The question I ask myself is how do I reconcile my rather immediate distaste at reading the article about the ice cream sandwiches with my complete lack of concern with GMF?

I guess it just that I’m comfortable with the idea of eating GMF because I’m aware of the amazing good they do in helping prevent starvation world-wide. If I want to eat a delicious ice cream sandwich without churning my own ice cream and baking my own sandwich material then I’m forced to put up with some chemicals in my food. There is a price to pay for the conveniences of modern society and the fact of the eight-billion people that inhabit our world.

In the end it’s best to avoid processed food as much as possible but it’s not so easy … especially when you have a problem.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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The Largely Unregulated Supplement Industry

supplement regulationThere’s a rather humorous John Oliver video making the rounds on Facebook discussing the largely unregulated supplement industry in conjunction with the appearance of Dr. Oz before the Senate. I wrote about that appearance a week ago and I thought I should revisit the entire subject of the supplement industry from a Libertarian point of view.

It’s a nuanced issue for a Libertarian because as such I think government intrusion into our lives should be kept to a minimum but the government certainly has some duty when it comes to criminal activity. So where do I stand? Should supplements be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or should the buyer beware?

I’m of the opinion that the FDA should not be involved in deciding if a supplement is ready for the market or not. I do however think they have a role in making sure a particular supplement is not toxic and I absolutely think they have a right to make sure they do what they are reported to do. Barring that I think their regulatory powers are very limited.

I’ll try to explain what this entails from an enforcement point of view. The FDA has the right to test new and ongoing supplements to ensure they are not toxic. I have no problem with the agency testing supplements to ensure that they will not kill people and they certainly have the right to remove toxic supplements from the market. However, there is the much murkier ground of whether a supplement is actually effective or not. I don’t think the FDA has the right to ban a supplement that has no health value.

People can choose what supplements they take and anyone who ingests a supplement without doing a little background check on its medical value deserves what they get. The vast majority of supplements have no health value. I think the scientific community should be running tests to determine if a supplement works. It’s not the job of the government to protect people from themselves. If some people want to believe the outlandish words of Dr. Oz then that’s their fault, not the government.

What completely baffles me is that according to testing at least 33% of supplements have no trace of the items that they are purported to have in them. That’s just fraud. Plain and simple. It’s fraud on a vast scale because every bottle of those supplements that crosses the state line between Illinois and Missouri is a federal crime. Everyone from the owner of the company to the driver who took it across the state line is guilty of millions of counts of fraud and could be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.

Every bottle of supplement that cannot be scientifically shown to do what the advertisement claims it can do is a criminal act. It doesn’t matter if Dr. Oz sells the supplement or not. If he claims it does something while fully aware that scientific evidence says it does not, he’s guilty of a crime. It’s illegal to sell someone a coin claiming it is gold when it is iron. It’s illegal to have a booth where other people sell iron coins as gold when you know they are iron. It’s even illegal to tell people to go to the booth to buy gold when you know it’s iron if doing so benefits you financially. That’s all fraud. You are engaged in defrauding people of their money.

This is a huge point of Libertarians who are often accused of having no compassion. I think the FDA has no business telling a company not to sell a product. If a company says Green Coffee Beans might cause weight loss and people buy them, tough luck. But if a company says Green Coffee Beans will help reduce weight knowing full well there is no scientific evidence they do so, well, forget the FDA, let’s talk about the FBI. You are engaged in interstate commerce fraud. If such laws were enforced we wouldn’t need the FDA to regulate our supplement industry. Put some truck drivers in jail for transporting fraudulent material across state lines and watch how quickly the supplement industry immediately cleans out the bad apples. Why this is not happening mystifies me.

I do think your state legislature or even your municipality has a right to say, hey this supplement is useless, let’s ban it. That is a right reserved for the states and the people just as they can ban alcohol.

We Libertarians are compassionate. We do care about people and this country. We just think that asking the federal government to get involved in areas over which the Constitution gives them no jurisdiction makes things worse, despite the good-intentions of the laws so passed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Dr. Mehmet Oz Testifies about Weight Loss Scams

Dr OzI’ve long known that most diets are merely money-making scams designed to fleece desperate people from their money and I don’t really follow the industry with much interest. Today I spotted a blog post about a fellow named Dr. Mehmet Oz who has been invited by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to testify to the Senate about weight-loss scams.

I’m a bit jaded when it comes to irony, hypocrisy, and outright lying from our elected officials but when a senator from my home state invites possibly the biggest purveyor of fake diet scams to the rather less than hallowed halls of Congress to testify about the dangers of weight-loss scams, well, how can I not write a post about it?

The original post from Orac at Science Blogs does a great job of providing all the links you need to determine for yourself the nature of Dr. Oz and his various business operations. Oz is a recipient of the Randi Pigasus Award for Refusing to Face Reality and his various forms of weight-loss and medical advice are cited as doing more harm than good.

All that is well and good. It’s clear to me that Oz is a charlatan preying on people’s desire to lose weight quickly and easily so as to fleece them of money. As far as I’m concerned he’s allowed to do that as long as his actions don’t cross over into criminality. Apparently he has not yet crossed that line so he continues to sell goods on his television show without interference.

We live in a free country and if people are gullible enough to believe his obvious fabrications and exaggerations and want to hand him their money then that’s their right. Those who see through his lies don’t give him money. That’s the way freedom works. You’re free to do what you wish even if it’s foolish.

What really bothers me is this invitation to appear before the Senate. It’s not even that he is going to be railing against that which he is himself guilty of that bothers me. It’s not that I think the Senate still has the gravitas of the old days and that anyone who testifies there must be of good character. Those days are long gone. Still, why should he be a given legitimacy by our government that he clearly does not deserve? Are my tax-dollars going to house him, feed him, and transport him to these sessions?

Why does the United States government need to be involved at all? There are laws on the books about false advertising both from the Federal government and from various states. If Oz is breaking the law, arrest him. If he is skirting the law then it is up to people like Orac and the Randi Foundation to spread the word. It is up to people who want to lose weight to do due-diligence when looking for solutions.

The government can’t protect us from ourselves. If you’re foolish enough to purchase Green Coffee Bean extract in order to lose weight you deserve what you get. If Oz lied about the studies which showed its value in weight-loss he should be charged with a crime. Our politicians should focus on the real problems that this nation faces and not on inviting likely snake-oil sales representatives to speak to them about weight-loss scams.

The entire visit is a classic example of our politicians doing things that appear to be good in order to gain political capital. Look, we’re here to help you, they say. Vote for me.

I’ve got news for Congress. They are not here to help me. They are here to run the country properly.

I’ve got news for all my readers out there trying to lose weight. It’s hard. You have to cut your caloric intake not just today, not just this month, but long-term, day after day after day. You have to exercise regularly. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Go to the gym at least four days a week. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying it’s hard. You can listen to me or you can listen to Oz. Your choice.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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