Alien Planet Signal Misleading Headline

Alien Planet

No one likes a Misleading Headline more than me and if you wrap it up in an alien life story, you’re sure to catch my attention. Scientist believe they’ve detected mysterious radio signal from alien planet blares the highly misleading although technically accurate headline.

The headline from Chron, and other sources to be fair, that’s just the one I clicked on, in no small way tries to entice the unwary clicker to a story about radio signals from an alien race residing on said alien planet. Nope, as you’ve probably already guessed by the fact this article is my weekly series of Misleading Headlines. The planet itself vibrates in such a way as to be detected from Earth based telescopes.

This is actually an interesting and important breakthrough in the search for exoplanets, that is planets not in our solar system. If the signal turns out to actually be an alien planet, that means we should be able to detect other such planets in the future. This is useful information to have and might well increase the number of such planets we can find by a considerable amount.

The story itself is fairly interesting but the intentionally misleading headline earns my disdain. Again, the headline is actually perfectly accurate. The radio signal does come from an alien planet or exoplanet. This is the kind of headline that is subtly misleading while the author of it can claim, in all dishonesty, hey, I wrote the truth, it’s not my fault you can’t interpret the words correctly.

It’s a headline designed to deceive someone into clicking the link and getting to the article. The main problem I have with an accurate but misleading headline of this nature is that many people don’t bother to actually read the story or even click on the link and thus misinformation can spread.

Interesting story, interesting astronomy, misleading headline.

Tom Liberman

Haim Eshed says Aliens waiting for Sane and Understanding

Sane and Understanding

There’s a story making the rounds about a fellow named Haim Eshed who says aliens are waiting to disclose themselves to the people of earth until we are sane and understanding. He makes a number of other claims and his credentials are being touted as the former head of the Israeli Space Security program although I’m not sure what that means.

Some research indicates he was the first director of the Challenge Program, a division of the Department of Defense’s Office of Weapons Research, Development, and Technology Infrastructure, although again, I’m not really certain how that makes him knowledgeable in this field.

In any case, the qualifications of Eshed are not what I’m here to debate today. He makes quite a few outlandish claims but even that is not the focus of today’s talk. I want to discuss one claim in particular, the aliens are waiting for the people of this planet to be “sane and understanding.”

Eshed claims there is a Galactic Federation and they contacted the United States some time ago but don’t want their presence revealed until we reach the sane and understanding phase of our civilization. That if we are not sane and understanding, panic and chaos might result. As many problems as I can find with all of his claims, that’s the one that I couldn’t manage to swallow.

I mean, really, sane and understanding? This is the old science fiction trope dating back all the way to H. G. Wells, that people aren’t ready to know about aliens and therefore they must be kept a secret. Was there ever a time when people would descend into chaos because aliens appeared?

It’s my opinion people are not any saner or more understanding today than they were in ancient Egypt. That being said, we are quite capable of dealing with the idea of alien races, as were the ancients. What are people doing to do? Run out in the streets and riot? My guess is a pretty healthy majority of people would jump for joy at the news.

We are not going to have an epiphany of sane and understanding sweep over the world. The claim we can’t handle the news is just a feeble excuse for why Eshed offers no proof, as is often the case with people pushing nonsensical claims with no evidence. I could show you but you just aren’t ready to hear it. Ha!

If the aliens are waiting for sane and understanding they’ve already waited too long. Our level of sane and understanding hasn’t changed at all and isn’t likely to change in the future. We are what we are.

Tom Liberman

General Relativity Misleading Headline

General Relativity

The Hill clocks in its second Misleading Headline of the Week in a row with a real doozy about General Relativity and research into Einstein’s groundbreaking theory. I’m a science geek, fully admitted, and I find the theory of General Relativity to be a fascinating contradiction of common sense. Therefore I was hoping for some interesting reading. Spoiler: Didn’t get it.

The headline promises a discussion on the subject of General Relativity but the article is all of five paragraphs long with three of them being but a single sentence. To quote a favorite YouTube food reviewer; My day is ruined and my disappointment is immeasurable. Well, not that bad but it was disappointing most certainly.

The article, what there is of it, has the scientist in question Joe Pesce discussing how time travel, which he doesn’t believe is possible, wouldn’t alter the world because the timeline would fix itself from paradoxes. Ok, well, I mean, I guess that sounds reasonable but it’s certainly not a discussion of General Relativity and it was absolutely not what I was expecting from the misleading headline.

Now, if you want to talk about gravitational lensing, the perihelion procession of Mercury, Frame-dragging tests, gravitational waves, or any other topic relating to the theory which my feeble brain tries to understand, well, bring it on! I’m game.

Tom Liberman

Government Responsibility for Fake Coronavirus Cures

Fake Coronavirus Cures

Coronavirus, Covid-19, is big news around the world these days and I like to examine what responsibility government has to protect citizens from the plethora of fake Coronavirus cures that are being promulgated far and wide.

As a Libertarian I don’t think the government has much responsibility in protecting us from ourselves. I oft rail against the War on Drugs as a failed attempt to do so. I’ve likewise spoken out against gambling laws but it is quite clear the internet is filled with fake Coronavirus cures and anyone taking these puts themselves, and others, at risk.

The basic idea for government intervention goes back as far as con-artists have been trying to take advantage of people. Someone recognizes a situation in which people are desperate, perhaps not thinking clearly, and attempts to take financial advantage of them with fraudulent claims. This constitutes a crime, fraud. The snake-oil salesperson sold you something under false pretenses and you are entitled to compensation for damages rendered.

In this case, the potential for damage is quite high as Coronavirus can be lethal. Perhaps you purchase a fake Coronavirus cure and then engage in risky activities because you think you are immune. Soon you or someone you come in contact with gets sick and dies. That’s significant from a legal perspective in awarding damages for fraud. Good. Damages should be awarded. This is the judicial branch of government doing what it should.

However, this situation involves the law enforcement arm of government ordering fake Coronavirus cures removed from sale altogether. In New York, for example, a silver cure offered by a religious figure is no longer legal to sell.

The question for me becomes, if someone believes an absolutely nonsensical claim and wastes money on a fake cure, is it the responsibility of the government to protect that person. You’d think the answer was quite simple. The threat is real, the cure is obviously fake, what is the harm in removing it from the public eye?

Here are my issues. Fake Coronavirus cures aren’t going away because the government bans them. While one particular phony cure will be eliminated from the market, a dozen others, rebranded and marketed will appear.

Can the government stop people from offering prayer as a way to cure or ward off the disease? Trust me, there are religious groups across the country offering this method as a curative. Should preachers who offer it be subject to arrest and imprisonment?

This is where government tries to protect us from ourselves. I have no problem with government agencies speaking loudly and clearly about the efficacy of reported treatments. I have no problem with media entities refusing to run advertisements for these products, I applaud them for doing so.

The reality is the government cannot protect us from phony Coronavirus cures. Only we can do that with critical thinking. When the government attempts to do so, they actually give people the impression there are no more fake cures out there, seeing as they have been restricted. Therefore, when you do see a cure, it must be real, right, because the government hasn’t banned it yet.

The only real solution is to be a responsible adult and make good decisions. Will people make stupid decisions? Certainly. That’s life. Does that mean we all might be infected because someone is an idiot, yep.

Freedom is free, it just isn’t safe.

Tom Liberman

Will Vegetarians Eat Cultured Meat?

Cultured Meat

Have you heard of cultured meat? It’s a process of growing meat from the cells of animals. Cultured meat is coming to a market near you probably within the next five to ten years. There are a number of questions about the product but I’m mainly curious about the attitude of Vegans and Vegetarians; although everyone’s comments are welcome.

There are any number of benefits that cultured meat provides and one of these is that animals don’t suffer in the process. I think even animal husbandry die-hards will admit animals suffer in their industry. We have to admit billions of male chicks being summarily tossed into the incinerator isn’t a pleasant thought, even for those of us that enjoy eating the animals. I will not venture further down that path as it is not the point of my article.

Certainly, many vegetarians don’t eat meat for health reasons rather than concern for the welfare of animals but I think most people who eschew eating meat do so, at least partially, because of the suffering animals must endure. People also do so because of the negative environmental impacts associated with raising so many animals. Both of these concerns are at least largely removed if we eat such meat.

That leads to the question I posed in the title of this post. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, would you eat cultured meat? Naturally, I’d like to hear from those who eat meat regularly also. I’m sure there are meat eaters out there who see cultured meat as a threat to the livelihood of those who raise cattle and chickens and would refuse to eat it for that reason. The situation is somewhat muddy as to who will partake in cultured meat and why they would be willing to do so.

One thing seems certain, like it or not, cultured meat is coming to a grocery shelf near you and it’s coming pretty quickly.

Will you eat Cultured Meat?

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Tom Liberman

Helen Sharman says Aliens Definitely Exist

aliens definitely exist

There’s a clickbait headline making the rounds this morning in regards to statements made by Helen Sharman and the idea that aliens definitely exist. Sharman traveled into space back in 1991 and the fact that she is making the statement would seem to lend it credence. To some degree it’s a misleading headline in that Sharman is not saying she knows aliens definitely exist, that the government has been hiding it, and she has evidence from her trip to Mir.

What Sharman is saying is the likelihood aliens definitely exist is extremely high. That there are so many stars, so many planets, that the chemistry of the earth is so similar to those places, the odds of life not being anywhere else in the universe is exceedingly small. She even goes so far as to speculate that perhaps aliens are already on earth but we cannot detect them.

Sharman is almost completely correct in everything she says. The number of planets and the physical makeup of life which corresponds directly to the most abundant elements in the universe, make it extremely likely that life does exist elsewhere. I think it’s very likely we are less than decades away from finding such life on the various moons of the solar system and even on planets like Mars or Venus.

Where Sharman goes wrong, and where she defies the scientific method, is when she states aliens definitely exist. We have no evidence of such. Certainly, it seems very likely that aliens exist. I argue that it’s all but impossible alien life does not exist. The universe is simply far too vast for there not to be aliens. There was life, there is life, there will be life. However, I have absolutely no definitive evidence to indicate there is life, nor does anyone else.

I do not think that Sharman is trying to start or validate nonsensical alien theories. I think her statements are made with honest intent. The reason this is a story at all is because she is an astronaut, well, technically a cosmonaut as she was aboard the Russian space station Mir. This fact make it seem as if she is saying something she is not, the human mind leaps to conclusions that are not actually articulated.

What many people unfortunately think when they read the headline, and even the story itself, is that Sharman is confirming some nefarious plot in which she met aliens while a cosmonaut and is now spilling the secrets. This is not the case and it was not her intent in making the statement, or so I believe at least.

What she is saying is that, to her, it seems impossible there is not life somewhere in this vast universe. That such life might be on earth right now. I don’t disagree but I also will not say aliens definitely exist for the simple reason that I have no direct evidence of that existence. Until I do, I’ll temper my statements.

In any case, I think the story is an excellent illustration of how we often read more into a statement than is actually there. We want words to mean one thing even when they don’t and we convince ourselves otherwise. Try to avoid this trap.

Tom Liberman

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.

KABLOOM.

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.

KABLOOM.

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
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books