Time: You’re On Notice!

In its quest to avoid irrelevance, Time Magazine has boldly surged into idiocy.

Remember a while back when this magazine-of-former-repute told us that “You” were the person of the year? As it happens, one of the Blagnet’s pixel-stained wretches predicted their choice over two months in advance, suggesting that no, we don’t need magazines to spout this kind of vanity — amateurs will do just as good a job for free.

A pragmatic person, given the job of managing a wood-pulp publication in these wild days of Web 3.1, would direct that publication’s efforts into doing things which the amateurs cannot. For example, they could send reporters to far-off locales, pull their strings to get inside connections, invest serious money in fact-checking and so forth. Alternatively, they could decide to outdo the Blagopelago through sheer force of idiocy. It’s not easy, but it could in theory be done.

Today, that theory has received empirical support.

Richard Dawkins is number 73 on the Time 100, and guess who they paid to write his profile.
Continue reading Time: You’re On Notice!

Bad Non-Journalism (Updated!)

This post originally written 28 April 2007 and updated the following week.

I’ve already wasted some of the Universe’s limited supply of ones and zeros writing about bad science journalism. I’ve even looked at one particular case in some detail (and believe me, I’ve got more on the way). Hopping over my various regular stops on the Blagnet this morning, however, I realized that bad journalism can be easier to spot than no journalism at all. In order to fix the system, we need to understand all of its failure modes.

Carl Zimmer writes of a story which should be making the rounds but isn’t:

You may perhaps recall a lot of attention paid to methane from plants back in January 2006. A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute reported in Nature that they had found evidence that plants release huge amounts of the gas—perhaps accounting for ten to thirty percent of all the methane found in the atmosphere.

It’s not hard to imagine why people would get excited about this. Heck, anything which says plants are pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is pundit food. “Trees cause more pollution than cars do!” Etc.

Now, the irritating thing about science is that bold claims can be tested, which a team of Dutch researchers have just done. Yesterday, their paper went online at New Phytologist. Tom A. Dueck et al. write the following in their summary:
Continue reading Bad Non-Journalism (Updated!)

Wired: Low Voltage

Wow, the hunt for extrasolar planets is really looking up:

NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, is already underway. The artist’s rendering shows a traditional telescope on the left — a visible-light chronograph — that will launch in 2016 and pick out likely candidates. An array of infrared telescopes (right) will launch four years later and look for life signatures.

So says a short in today’s Wired magazine by Bruce Gain and Kristen Philipkoski. Unfortunately, it looks like Wired is not fully plugged in. Keith Cowing of NASA Watch wrote well over a year ago,

According to NASA’s FY 2007 budget documentation “The Terrestrial Planet Finding project (TPF) has been deferred indefinitely.” In other words, it is dead. NASA is just afraid to say so.

As of 18 April 2007, the lack of funding means that TPF has no launch date. So, Wired notwithstanding, TPF is grounded. It just couldn’t get past the budgetary resistance.

Every once in a while I get the feeling that reporters can be real dim bulbs, you know?

(Via Steinn Sigurðsson.)

Even Though Mom Is Watching

I have to post about Quantum Tantra.

I’m a very ambitious physicist; I was trained at Stanford. I want not merely to find a new particle or equation but to discover an entirely new way of doing science. Quantum tantra aims to put humans in direct touch with nature without the mediation of instruments, without even those instruments called the senses. My needs are simple: I’d like to invent a truly gooey interface that connects my mind to other minds in the Universe. Modern physics is fully erect science; quantum tantra is physics on all fours.

Touching nature directly, and without the senses, eh? Sounds like, ahem, Tanuki-sized bollocks. Honestly, now, who wants to have sex where each motion is too tiny to be detected, and as soon as she observes you getting ready, your wavefunction collapses? (Besides, if there were anything legitimate in this, Richard Feynman would have discovered it already.)

This does, oddly, synchronize with the Attack of the Skinny Vixens which Dr. Joan Bushwell so kindly warns us about. Dr. Bushwell alerts us to this BBC story whose tagline reads, “Scientists are developing a pill which could boost women’s libido and reduce their appetite.” (Gee, I thought we were all supposed to be hunting down the God particle.) According to the BBC, Prof. Robert Millar of the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproduction Unit (in Edinburgh) believes that a pill based on “Type 2 Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone” will ramp up the libido of the human female whilst simultaneously lowering her appetite. Hey, it works with monkeys and shrews!
Continue reading Even Though Mom Is Watching

Call for Papers

I find it both interesting and heartening that several people’s first reaction to this was, in a word, “Sokal.”

High quality papers for the International Journal for Creation Research (IJCR), sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research, are now invited for submission. IJCR is a professional peer-reviewed online technical journal hosted by the ICR website for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific research from the perspective of a recent Creation and a global Flood within a biblical framework.

If this were the Discovery Institute, I’d say you should go for some blather about reverse engineering and Shannon information. Unfortunately, ICR wants Young-Earth papers:

Papers should be up to 10,000 words long, and color diagrams, figures and photographs are encouraged. Papers can be in any scientific, or social scientific, field, but must be from a young-earth perspective and aim to assist the development of the Creation Model of Origins. Papers should be submitted in a plain text, single line-spaced Word or RTF file. Formatting should be kept to an absolute minimum. Do NOT embed graphics, tables, figures or photographs in the text, but supply them in separate files, along with captions.

Naturally, the minions of darkness use Word. It was there in the beginning, don’cha know? I reproduce the following paragraph merely to include their e-mail address and increase their likelihood of being spammed:

Papers should be emailed as attached files to the IJCR Editor-in-Chief at aasnelling@ozemail.com.au, and other requirements followed as per the Author Checklist in the Instructions to Authors Manual. We aim to publish submitted papers within six (6) months of receipt.

Question: given the known distaste young-Earthers have for Intelligent Design advocates, would theobabble about “complexity” meet their standards? I’m genuinely curious. Are they more likely to accept anything which supports their cause, or to reject it because it sounds too much like those Old Earth science-appeasers?