Response to Ashley Smith — Part IV

Her first email read like this:

You are grossly uninformed and uneducated on this topic:

There is NO SUCH THING as “THE Scientific Method.” There is NO SINGULAR method that scientists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is WRONG.

Laws, theories and hypotheses have NO HEIRARCHY WHATSOEVER. NOTHING is upgraded. THEY ARE LIKE APPLES ORGANES AND KUMQUATS.

Science and spirituality are NOT at war, you uneducated Internet fool. They are totally SEPARATE entities and areas of life. Dawkins is blatantly and COMPLETELY MISUSING and ABUSING science for his AGENDA. The man should know better.

I STRONGLY SUGGEST that you EDUCATE YOURSELF about what science actually is and is NOT- what it can and cannot do.

THIS link, from the University of California at Berkeley is the BEST ON THE INTERNET ( and it is reputable) for information about what science is. YOU simply do NOT understand that God falls WAAAAAY BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES of what science can actually address. Science is SILENT on the matter- COMPLETELY SILENT. It does NOT get involved , NOR IT IS EVEN ABLE TO.

SCIENCE HAS LIMITS, YOU LAUGHABLE INTERNET GEEK A**HOLE. PLEASE EDUCATE YOURSELF, YOU FOOL !!!!!!!!

http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12″

[Censorship is my own]

Well that was lovely, calm, thoughtful and respectful!

On her first point, that there is no one ‘scientific method’ that all scientists follow. I have since challenged her in multiple emails she has replied to on that claim, each time she has restated her claim, but with no evidence what-so-ever. I asked her for one piece of published, peer-reviewed science that didn’t follow the Hypothesis-Test-Conclusion structure, but she has not presented anything. She has no evidence for her claim.

“Laws, Theories and Hypothesises have no hierarchy whatsoever, nothing is upgraded.” She then states. She’s right, I have never said anything to the contrary on my blog, or anywhere else, ever. So I don’t know what relevance it has to the topic. It is true, hypothesises are not the same as theories or laws, but that bares no relevance to the topic.

“Science and spirituality are not at war you uneducated internet fool” she goes on to say. Like I said earlier in response to a comment, I think that they are polar opposites and must necessarily be at war, because their beliefs and claims are in stark contrast to each other.
Its also worth saying that she claims science and spirituality are not at war, and then goes on to attack science in defence of her spiritual beliefs. Ironic really.

I suggest you all visit the link she sent me, it not that long so its not heavy reading. After you read it, formulate your own opinion as to the intent of the link.

okay… Its pretty weak isn’t it, and like her emails and comments, it has no evidence to back up its claims, and just says what it wants to say. It’s not in-depth, its not thorough, its quite a poor page, and its credibility is not great, seeing as there is no author. It may be on a university website, but some universities also endorse homeopathy and other ridiculous alt-med claims, so it is of little value credibility-wise.

On to the next email.

You are a total fool. The best cream of the crop theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS AT BEST. There are many theories outright WRONG.Even accepted quality science has been very wrong.

Our best scientific genuises in history were ONLY fog fighters struggling mightily to understand the world.

Get off the pedestal. Scientists are EXTREMELY FALLIBLE and no better than anybody else.

and followed shortly after, before I could respond, was this:

YOU ARE WRONG, A**WIPE. THERE IS NMO NEED FOR YOU TO MAKE SOME STUPID POST ABOUT THIS.

THE UNIVERISTY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELY HAS COMPLETELY DISCREDITED YOUR INTERNET BLOGGING A**, YOU F*CKING STOOGE.
YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT SCIENCE IS, IS P*SS PORR.

YOU LOSE.”

The first email she sends is a lot nicer, I wish she wrote like that more often.

I’ll talk about it first.
Her first claim, that our best scientific theories are estimations at best. This is just wrong. Our cream of the crop theories, Evolution, the Big Bang Theory, Germ Theory of Disease, General and Special relativity, these have all been tested countless times before, over and over again, to the utmost detail, and never has an experiment contradicted any of them to date. This doesn’t mean they are right, we can never prove anything completely correct in science, but it suggests that they are. Even if they are not, they are pretty close to how it would be. Just like Newtons Laws of motion, they’re pretty good, but relativity is just a little bit better. So if they are wrong, they are basically right because they fit every aspect of the universe that we have measured with precision.

Her second argument made in the email is that scientists are fallible, just like any other human beings. Again, she’s right, but it doesn’t prove her point at all. Scientists are fallible like the rest of us, but science was designed to eliminate those errors, and other things like bias which would interfere with observation. Science is the perfect way to eliminate the fallibility of humans.

I will now address her second email.
This is no more than a blatant ad hominem attack, it makes no arguments, it assumes it is correct without any evidence, and it uses vulgarity to try and beat me as opposed to actual evidence. Nothing needs to be said about this email other than that it demonstrates her style of argument, the level of her intelligence when faced with actual reason, and the rigidity of her arguments.

I made short responses to her again, warning her that vulgarity was not the wisest thing for her appearance. She responded to my thus:

YOU SILLY TEENAGER A**HOLE. SCIENCE ( as well as scientists) ITSELF IS VERY FALLIBLE. SCIENCE IS A HUMAN CREATION AND ENDEAVOR, YOU STUPID A**, PRACTIED BY SCIENTISTS.

SCIENCE ITSELF IS FALLIBLE- VERY FALLIBLE . IT IS FAR FROM PERFECT AND CONSIDERABLY LIMITED. Your views are SO ERRONEOUS AND UNINFORMED I FEEL BAD FOR YOU.

The best scientific theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- NOTHING MORE. Even they CAN be either wrong or need work . And some of the lesser theroies are likely wrong.

Don’t you understand ANYTHNING?

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD” BY THE WAY ……..

In another email shortly after
SCIENCE CANNOT AT ALL ADDRESS GOD, YOU SILLY TEENAGE A**WIPE. IT DOES NOT DEAL WITH THAT- AND CAN’T. IT IS NOT EQUIPPED. SUCH QUESTIONS FALL FARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT SCIENCE CAN ACTUALLY DO , YOU SILLY TEENAGE A**HOLE.

YOU NEED TO GET THAT THROUGH YOUR HEAD.

Science does NOT “prove” OR “disprove” ANYTHING ( including even scientific subject matter- which the supernatural and God are NOT ).

Furthermore, science CANNOT disprove God. This is BASIC knowledge. It does NOT deal with that. It is SILENT and NEUTRAL. YOU ARE A STOOGE. DAWKINS IS A TOTAL HACK AND ABUSING SCIENCE. HE IS A DISGRACE AND HAS AN AGENDA.

EDUCATE YOUR PATHETIC ASS:

http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12

READ UP. YOU HAVE A LOT TO LEARN.

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY ARE NOT AT WAR, YOU PATHETIC INTERNET BLOGGING STOOGE.

and one more!

YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW that there is NO SUCH THING AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD” IF YOU WERE EDUCATED.

There are MANY, MANY, MANY methods used in science, YOU FOOL. You have OVERSTEPPED THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT SCIENCE CAN ACTUALLY DO. YOU HAVE AN INFLATED SENSE OF IT.

EINSTEIN HAD A DREAM OF TEAHCING PHILOSOPHY NA DLOVED – ABSOLUTELY LOVED READING KANT.DID YOU KNOW THAT, FOOL?

She makes no new arguments in her first email in this series, other than bringing up a new layer to an old argument, that science itself is fallible too, because it is a human creation. Okay, lets look at that. Yes its a human creation, but it has been refined over the years to because a flawless way of testing reality. How do we know its flawless? Well we know it is prefect because the evidence surrounds us, if science was even a little bit long I surely wouldn’t be writing to you on my iPad, and you wouldn’t be seeing it almost instantaneously wherever you might be in the world. We wouldn’t be able to send probes across the solar system and track them precisely, reading from their instruments from billions of miles away. If it was even a little off, it wouldn’t work, so if it is wrong, its PRETTY DAMN CLOSE.

On to the second email in this series.
Her only claim here in this aggressive email is that science does not disprove god. Obviously, nothing can be disproved completely in science, just like nothing can be completely proven. But, in over 2000 years of observation of the natural world, we have not one scrap of evidence that god does exist, save a few holes in theories which always get plugged up over time. If there is no evidence for something, it doesn’t disprove it, but it very strongly suggests that it is incorrect.

Her response to this would be that God falls beyond the boundaries of science, and therefore cannot be tested by science. Well, like I have said before, If science tests reality (which it does) and God has an effect on reality (sure it would seeing as he made it all and performs miracles on it) then we should be able to find some ‘God’ lying around, but we haven’t. We haven’t seen anything. Anybody who denies that there is no substantial proof for god is clearly kidding themselves, as they can never produce any evidence themselves.

And her final email.
Her only interesting and non-ad hominem filled argument in this email is that Einstein dreamed of teaching philosophy and enjoyed Kant. SO WHAT?! I like Harry Potter, I like the moral story it teaches, just like I like the moral stories in Animal Farm, and I want every child to read both of these books, because they are amazing. It doesn’t mean I think any of it is science.

Philosophy is a broad topic, and the philosophy if Kant is a long way off the philosophy of your religion. This is also a prime example of the argument from authority, she seems to believe that Einstein is the be-all and end-all on what science is.

One more email remaining, this one came after the others.

This is it:

You need an EDUCATION badly. Feel free to use this because it IS TRUE:

THERE IS NO SUCH THINGS AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD.” There are MANY, MANY, MANY METHODS used in science. What we all learned in 6th grade is NOT an accurtae representation of how science works in the real world as used by professional scientists…….. IT IS WRONG.

You Internet twats are either STUPID or MISINFORMED.

Worth noting that this is all in 30pt red text, but I cannot make it appear this way with the iPad version of wordpress, and I didn’t pack my laptop when I came to Germany.

Also note the complete arrogance demonstrated on her behalf by saying “feel free to use this because it is true”, despite this claim she has presented no evidence to prove it, so she may as well be shooting herself in the foot.

That’s all, also note that I have once more challenged her to prove her main claim in the last email, and she has not replied yet. She has had plenty of time and opportunity, so I will assume she has none.

Summing up, Ashley has given no substantial evidence to support any of her claims, nor has she demonstrated any level of basic debating skills, quickly resorting to derogatory, ad hominem and vulgar attacks in order to try and prove her point. I look forward to her future response to this blog post, I’m sure she will be rather vocal, and I think I can say there will be another follow-up blog post when she replies again.

Response to ashley Smith — Part III

the third comment reads:

Science ITSELF DOES have limits. You are grossly uneducated and misinformed about this topic if you think it does not. You are MISUSING science.

Science ITSELF rests on several ASSUMPTIONS ( that we HOPE are true).

Remember, WITHOUT PHILOSOPHY, there would be NO science. Einstein himself said his reading of Kant ENABLED him to come up with and invent General Relativity.

We can be wrong, BUT we can NEVER be completely right in science. EVERYTHING in science is tentative.

Science is a HUMAN CREATION and ENDEAVOR. You have lost your way badly.
—END COMMENT—

I will address this comment briefly, as it is predominantly a summation of previous arguments, or not worth too much discussion.

The first paragraph fails to present any argument to support itself, it just makes a claim, so I will ignore it until an argument is made.

What’s the big deal with Philosophy? Okay, Kant may have helped Einstein get his head around relativity, in the same way the Hungry Caterpillar helped to get my head around the life cycle of a butterfly. Kant didn’t tell him the answer, Kant merely inspired him. Even so, philosophy is quite broad, it branches from science to spirituality to politics to humanity, so claiming one philosophy helped a scientist in no way validates another part of philosophy.

Of course science is tentative, that’s what makes it great. It never makes any assumptions, it always double-checks, triple-checks and checks a million times more everything it claims, so as to be absolutely rigorous in its claims. This is not a fault of science, and it only strengthens it, making it more correct. Unlike in spirituality where the answer has been determined before even the basic facts have been observed, and then the beliefs are held to…well… religiously… until the bitter end. The fact that science is tentative is good for it.

Its a human creation and endeavour, yes, but that in no way brings it into doubt. Science’s main aim is to eliminate the human element in observation, that’s what science does.

It was after this comment that Ashley took her arguments to email, and sent me an email. I responded to the email in a rather brief manner, not making any arguments, only telling her that my arguments would be in a few post I was putting up soon. She responded in a rather angry manner, and a few exchanges have happened since, mostly involving Ashley talking to a brick wall, seeing as I was not going make any arguments until I could put up a post. Email responses will be in the final part of my blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part II

Here is the second comment she left on my blog:

Science cannot demonstrate what I dreamed last night ( although it really happened) , nor if a mother loves her daughter, nor tell us how to live our lives, nor determine the value of something , nor tell us if Guns N’ Roses has betetr music than Soundgarden etc.

Science is great for APPROXIMATIONS of the natural world. Approximations-that is it. And it HAS LIMITS. A subject matter MUST be scientific ( natural- natural phenomena that is testable) for science to address it and study it.

There are many things that science is SILENT on.

Our greatest cream of the crop theories are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- nothing more. Our greatest geniuses in the area of science were ONLY fog fighters struggling to understand the NATURAL world.
—END COMMENT—

Okay. Lets discuss the first paragraph, which is her first argument in this comment. This is a very old argument always put up by religious people and spiritual people alike, whenever they wish to displace science or show that it is not perfect. So I’m quite familiar with the argument, and have thought about it in-depth before.

I’ll address each piece separately.
Yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night, science is unable to do it at the moment, but there is no reason to suggest that we cannot do it in the future. There are constant improvements in science relating to reading brain signals, and our understanding of the brain is getting better every day. Every piece of evidence points to the fact that everything you think, everything you dream, it all can be found somewhere in the grey matter inside most of our skulls. Similarly it is quite easily able to demonstrate that a mother loves her daughter by observing the levels of particular hormones and activity of certain areas of the brain.

The next thing brought up is science and morality, the claim is made that science cannot tell us how to live our lives. No, it can’t, because morality is a value judgement at its core, and science only deals with facts. Morality however is not a fact of reality, so it can be excluded from this topic. It is worth pointing out though that once a judgement has been made on the value of things, science is perfect for advising morality, as it gives the most likely consequences of actions, so that one can judge what is the best course of action. Not smoking, for example, is a way science can advise you on how to live your life.

The last point brought up in this paragraph is that science is unable to make judgements on art, specifically that science cannot determine whether Guns’N’Roses is better or worse than any other band. I say that to the extent of FACTS, which are what is important to science, and to the current discussion of reality, science can help us. Surveys, the most basic of science, can easily explain to us which band is best in the eyes of the public. Now this may not prove that Guns’N’Roses is better than Soundgarden, but ‘better’ is not a fact, it is a personal opinion.

I’m going to address the next 3 paragraphs in the comment together, because they are part of the one topic. They simply say that science can only judge on natural topics, those which are scientific, and that science only makes approximations, never concrete statements. It finally states that Science is silent on a number of topics.

She’s correct to some extent, but lets look at what that means.

The first point, that science only makes approximations. That is true, but they are so much stronger than approximations. The theory of Gravity, for example, is ‘only a theory’, it is just an approximation of reality. But it hasn’t been proven wrong yet so if it is wrong, to the extent we can measure it, its right.

Science is naturally tentative, because it can never prove something completely right or wrong, but that merit doubt in the uncertainty. Like I said, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are ‘only theories’, but they are theories which have not a single piece of evidence against them, which is why they are still accepted theories. In the words of Einstein, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
This is one of my favourite quotes, because it sums up science perfectly. This is how science works. The theory is still accepted because no experiment has proved it wrong. In the case of most theories, they have come up against millions upon millions of experiments, all of which have agreed with the theory.

So the claim that science is just a “best guess” is a claim which demonstrates little understanding of the true meaning of the word ‘theory’ when used in scientific terms.

The second point, that science can only judge on natural topics, is also true. But she neglects to see what that means for her religious beliefs. Seeing as there is no evidence to date of god, and the creator of the universe is surely a natural topic (he created it all, so he must be observable somehow) it is a safe judgement to say that either: God does not exist OR God has no tangible effect on reality, therefore rendering him non-existant.

The final point, that science is silent on a lot of topics, is also true. Science doesn’t get involved in politics, morality, everyday lives, personal decisions etc., science can inform these topics on the facts, but it cannot ever become involved in these areas because a level of judgement is always required. This doesn’t mean science is wrong, it just means science cannot make judgement calls, because they are not facts. However god is definitely not a judgement call. Your religion maybe, but not the facts of God’s existence. On to the third and final Comment, which is in Part three of this blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part I

Hello skeptics, Good evening, Good morning, whatever,

This is the first time I write on my own personal blog during my time in Germany, and strangely, it has nothing to do with Germany. I wish to discuss today a recent string of comments and emails sent to me by an “Ashley Smith” (I assume by the non-gendered first name and common last name that it is a pseudonym, I will refer to them as a ‘she’ for simplicities sake) concerning the topic of the distinction between science and the supernatural. This is a topic I find quite interesting, and it’s a topic that I have talked about before. I will discuss specifics through the post, but in general, this topic surrounds the question of what is testable and what is not testable by science, and what it means for the supernatural, and specifically a universe-creating, all powerful Deity.

The three comments left on the blog can be found in my article here Science is the Only Way to Test Reality if you wish to respond to them, or look at them first hand and the post that provoked them. However for the sake of making my own notes on the comments, I will have them here.

The first comment reads like so (Italicised to break it from the body of the post):
You have no idea what you are talking about. Science has its considerable limitations and things it does NOT do. It CANNOT and does NOT address the supernatural OR God. This falls WAAAAY beyond the BOUNDARIES of what science can actually do. Science and spirituality are NOT at war. That is an Internet MYTH perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. They do different things. Science does not get involved in that.

What Dawkins does is a complete misuse and abuse of science for his underlying dubious agenda. He should know better.

Lastly, there is NO such thing as “the scientific method.” There is NO singular method that all scioentists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is a VERY INACCURATE picture of how science works as conducted by professional researchers around the world. It is outwright wrong and far too simple.

I suggest you educate yourself. The Internet contains A LOT of MISINFORMATION.

—END COMMENT—

Lets tackle some of the claims made in this comment. I’ll try and respond to her points in order.

The first claim made by Ashley (can I call you Ash?), is that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science. This is the main claim I have a problem with from this commenter. YES, it is true that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science, because these hypothesises are unable to be disproved. There is no way that a testable hypothesis can be made about these two things, which means they fall beyond the realm of science. Lets look at it closer.

Now, science, as I discussed in the blog post I linked to, is, in my opinion, the only way to TEST reality. This is because science is the only effective method we have for testing things that exist. Things that exist are in reality. If we make the assumption that things that exist and have some tangible effect on reality can be observed in some way, then this means they can be tested by science.

Lets take God for example, because he’s a hot topic issue. We’ll take the claim that God exists, created the universe and occasionally comes down and messes with it in so-called ‘miracles’. We can make the assumption that such a being would have an effect on reality, quite a tangible effect, seeing as he created it all. So, we can also then assume that we should be able to measure this effect, by either observing a miracle or by looking into the past and finding that it just doesn’t add up without the huge assumption of a God who started it all. Is it only coincidence then that we haven’t seen any verified, proven miracles yet, and our knowledge of the beginning of time is getting greater and greater every day?

Nothing in Science points to God. Science is the only way that we can observe things that have an effect on reality. Therefore, by claiming that God is outside of the realm of science, a statement which I agree with, we are forced into two options. Either God exists but influences reality in no way what-so-ever, didn’t make it, doesn’t perform miracles with it, and doesn’t take our brain to his house when we die, OR God doesn’t exist. Neither option I think my commenter would like to agree to.

So she’s right, but it means God does’t exist.

Next is her claim that Science and Spirituality are not at war, and that the idea that they are is an internet myth perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. Uneducated people like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris? If you call them uneducated and clueless, then you are quite wrong, nothing else. It is not an internet myth, it is a fundamental problem with the two endeavours. The basis of Science and Spirituality are polar opposites. Science believes that the universe is orderly, follows a set of rules, is constant, and is ruled by cause-and-effect. Spirituality is exactly the opposite, the belief that all of the rigidness of reality science claims can be completely disregarded if you pray hard enough. They must be at intellectual war, there is no other way about it.

Next her statement against Richard Dawkins. She presents no evidence whatsoever for this claim, just makes it out of thin air. However she seems to be part of a group with a specific agenda against Richard Dawkins, one of those who thinks all atheists worship him and Charles Darwin.

The last point raised in this comment is the notion that there is no such thing as ‘the scientific method’. No evidence is put forward to prove that, but the claim is made that not all scientists follow the scientific method in their research. This is completely false. Every single piece of scientific research ever done follows the same process.
1. Observation
2. Hypothesis made from observation
3. Hypothesis is tested using rigorous standards and bias and variable control
4. Conclusions are drawn from results.
5. If hypothesis was correct, good, make another one. If it was incorrect, bad luck, make another one.
6. Rinse and Repeat.

I challenge Ash to present one piece of published, peer-reviewed, credible scientific research (if she’s ever read a scientific paper) which does not follow the structure of hypothesis-test-conclusion. Then we can discuss the scientific method and how it’s not true. Now onto the next comment, which will be in the second instalment.

Have Scientists gone beyond absolute Zero?

Today I put up my first post with the newly revamped Young Aus Skeptics blog, you can check it out on the site at http://youngausskeptics.com/2013/02/scientists-go-below-absolute-zero/ this link and have a look around the site. Its a great blog, I recommend it to you all. Its all on a very similar topic to my posts here, so I’m sharing it with you now:

Hello everybody, Jack here, with my first post for the newly improved Young Australian Skeptics.

Today I’m going to be writing about a recent hullabaloo in science news, about a group of scientists at the University of Munich who had apparently created temperatures below absolute zero. That’s right, below 0º Kelvin. This should immediately sound fishy to any physicist or person with rudimentary knowledge of temperature. I was definitely skeptical when I first heard about it, as this whole issue sounded very similar to some of the online science reporting around the “faster-​​than-​​light neutrinos” story a while back.

I decided to look into it, and found a much more mundane explanation after further research, also much like the neutrinos. What was the explanation, you say? You want me to explain why everybody thinks scientists have gone below 0º Kelvin? Okay then.

The most important thing to understand about this whole topic is that, while scientists created negative temperature systems, they never went below 0º Kelvin. How is that possible? In the winter it goes “below zero” all the time, and the weather man calls that “negative” 5 degrees. “Negative” often means “below zero”, but not in this situation.

In the experiment conducted at the University of Munich, scientists isolated a cluster of about 1000 atoms in a vacuum, and used a web of lasers and magnetic fields to arrange the atoms into a lattice, where they could control everything about them, including temperature. What scientists ended up creating was a new state of matter which they stated was at a “negative temperature”. Okay, they have negative temperature, but why isn’t this below zero?

Well, it’s called negative temperature because of the distribution of atoms described as the Boltzmann distribution. In a normal temperature system (normal is a much better description of non-​​negative temperatures than positive because it erases the idea of positive and negative temperatures), the Boltzmann distribution means that the majority of atoms in a system will be in a relatively low energy state, with a smaller amount of atoms in higher energy states, and the fewest atoms in the highest energy state.

In a negative temperature system, this pattern is the opposite, hence the term “negative temperature”. In this state, the majority of atoms are in the highest possible state, with fewer atoms in lower states and the fewest atoms in the lowest energy state.

The easiest way to think of this is to imagine a negative colour picture. Just as white is replaced by black, red by green, blue by orange and so on, high energy atoms are replaced by low energy atoms, and visa versa. It’s not below zero degrees, but it is negative.

They didn’t do it here, but is there any way to get to negative Kelvin? No. It’s impossible to go below 0º Kelvin. This is because of the definition of temperature. 0º Kelvin means all the atoms are motionless. No movement. The higher the Kelvin, the faster and more excited the atoms are. It’s therefore impossible to go below absolute zero, because atoms cannot move less once they are motionless.

Okay, so we can’t go below 0º Kelvin, but how about getting to precisely 0º? Is there some sort of quantum effect we can exploit to get there? No. It’s impossible to get to 0º, even with quantum mechanics, thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This is the physical principle that does not allow you to know exactly where an atom is and its exact momentum at the same time. There is always some uncertainty with every atom. This isn’t a limitation with our measuring equipment, this is actually how particles work. Applied to temperature, it means that if something is exactly 0º Kelvin, you know its exact position (because it’s not moving) and momentum (zero, because it’s not moving), which is impossible, so it always has to be slightly above 0º Kelvin.

It’s impossible to remove the last tiny amount of heat in a system, because it would require an infinite amount of energy to do so, exactly like how an infinite amount of energy is required to reach the speed of light in general relativity.

I hope this has cleared up some possible confusion caused by bad science reporting on the internet, and I look forward to writing more for the Young Australian Skeptics in the future. If you wish to learn more about the topic, check out Ars Technica’s writeup.

Golden Rice and GM Modified Foods

Hello everybody,

Today is the first time I blog to you guys for over 4 months, and I deeply apologize, I have not found any time to blog for ages, and with it being summer down under, the nights just fly away, when I usually do my blogging.

But recently, I have been re-inspired to resume blogging frequently, by a science camp named The Science Experience (TSE), a 3 day camp run by the Young Scientists of Australia (YSA, check out their website, www.ysa.org.au). TSE brings together senior high school students from around Brisbane and beyond, to University campuses all over Brisbane for 3 days, to hear lectures and do science. Amongst other fascinating lectures which I may talk about later, and a brilliant keynote speech by Joel Gilmore (follow him on twitter @joelgilmore ), I listened to a lecture by Neal Menzies. He discussed food for the world in the future, agriculture and its impact on global warming (not so much cow farts, but the extra nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle thanks to commercially produced fertiliser, and GM modified food.

Tonight I wish to talk about GM food, and specifically golden rice, a genetically modified rice variety created for use by farmers in areas where there is a Vitamin A shortage in the population. Golden rice, so-called due to its golden colour, was created by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Freiburg, respectively. By inserting two genes responsible for the biosynthesis of beta-carotene, the researchers where able to create rice which contained a precursor of vitamin A. Deficiency in Vitamin A is responsible for the death of over 670 000 children under the age of 5, each year. Science published the scientific details of the rice in 2000.

At the time it was published, golden rice was considered a significant breakthrough in biotech, as it was the first time that researchers had engineered an entire process and placed it in a species. It is known of as the first genetically modified plant to have no known negative side effects, and to be fully beneficial.

Golden rice is one of many genetically modified foods to have been created by scientists which have been beneficial to society. Round-up ready varieties of crops, which are resistant to a cheap and effective weed killing spray named round-up, allowing for entire fields to be sprayed with no effect to the crops, while eradicating all weeds in the field, are one very successful variety of genetically modified crops.

One GM crop which may become very useful going into the future is a genetically modified variety of Sorghum which is about 30% easier to digest than current varieties of Sorghum. This is important for two reasons, one being the fact that Sorghum is harder to digest than other grains which are main staples of all people’s diets, rice, wheat, barley and corn. The other is that Sorghum is different to other grains in that it grows better in tropical and subtropical climates, as opposed to grains which grow better in dry, mild climates. If a more digestible variety of Sorghum can be produced, and the widespread use of GM crops in subtropical areas such as Australia becomes accepted, this would result in food able to be grown in places other grains could not.

The use of GM crops going into the future will increase, and once the majority of people grow out of their fear of GM food, it will increase dramatically. It will result in the decrease of various agricultural impacts on the environment, such as the use of herbicide, pesticide and fertilizers, and allow for greater amounts of crops to be grown in an area, more efficient varieties and in places recently considered not fit for food production.

The Skeptical Teenager:

I just wrote this article at the blog I co-author, seeing its got math all over it, I thought you all would enjoy it.

Originally posted on NBA Aussie Style:

Now, as you may have picked up by the nature of some of my blog posts, I’m a big fan of statistics, I try not to be to technical with them but I definitely think they are very useful for determining a players skill, utility or value on a team. When I saw this new analysis, I new I had to share it.

Go to the article

I’ll let the article explain, but basically, a statistician and basketball fan at a data visualization has taken the box score of hundreds of basketballers and determined 13 new positions which better determine a players play style on the court, and help coaching staff to better organize their playbooks and rosters. By making sure to have players of all specific spots, a team can better organize the team and get the best out of their roster.

Its interesting to see how players such as Rajon…

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Pioneer Anomaly: New Physics or Bad Maths?

1972 and 1973, NASA sent two unmanned spacecraft on a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system and beyond, Pioneer I and Pioneer II. These two spacecraft were sent to take pictures of the gas giants and give us insight into their structure, they did their job, scientists oohed and aahed at the results, updated all the relevant textbooks, and moved onto the next big project in science. But because scientists are inquisitive, and care about the well-being of the Pioneer craft, they kept tabs on them, to make sure they stay fit and healthy. This was meant to be just a routine check-up every now and then, just to see how far they go, but physicists discovered something strange. The distance between where Einsteins physics predicted the spacecrafts should be and where they actually were was different. Somehow, the crafts where slowing down. Now, they amount of deceleration was very small, less than one nanometer per second per second, but this was enough for scientists to really consider revising physics books, because nobody could think of anything that would cause this extra deceleration.

For scientists, this was a prime time to witness a paradigm shift, something key to the process of science. Some may think that science is just a steady progress of learning about nature, but its not. It actually involves rapid changes of ideas most of the time, in so-called paradigm shifts. This is a stage in science which occurs when evidence comes up which is contradictory to current science. After new evidence shows up, there will be further investigation from scientists to try to figure out what is the correct model, if the first evidence is overturned, and science stays with the current theory, this is not a paradigm shift. When the evidence is confirmed and new evidence supports it, scientists will formulate a new model which accounts for this evidence, and this is known as a paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts are very important to science, as they mean deeper knowledge of the universe. But a possible paradigm shift which turns out not to be one is good too, because it means that our current model is pretty good. Pioneer was worthy of study to find out if the physics textbooks needed a re-write.

For almost 30 years, there hasn’t been enough evidence to formulate a hypothesis either way, and it has been an unsolved mystery to science, often called the Pioneer Anomaly. But now, a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have an answer. The team published a paper in Physical Review Letters in which they demonstrated that some electronic components on the craft where producing small amounts of heat, and the force imparted on the craft from this heat was enough to cause the deceleration. “I think it is solved for good” said lead author of the report Slava Turyshev.

Great! The mystery is solved. Just put this down as another proof of Einstein’s Gravity. As a good scientist, you should know that any result is a good result. Confirming evidence just means one more piece in the puzzle which proves our theories, contradicting evidence means new physics, which is also good.

Pope Drops Catholic ban on Condoms

Hey skeptics, quick news item for you all,

In a historic change of mind, current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, has reversed the official Catholic stance on Condoms. He has come out saying that they are not immoral, and that they are effective for reducing AIDS.

He hasn’t completely permitted them though, he stated that they should only be used to prevent the spread of disease, so as to preserve life; then they are moral.

Of course, the Pope is still endorsing abstinence as the number 1 prevention of STD, and I have to agree with him… abstinence is a very good way to stop STD (seems rather logical), but so are condoms, and the Pope is finally endorsing that fact.

Infanticide VS the Atomic Bomb

Greetings and Salutations skeptics,

While watching a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, a particular question was put forward to Hitchens by an audience member. it went along the lines of “If you are so critical of all of the harm caused by religion, then surely you must be more critical of the atomic bomb, created by physicists, the most dangerous weapon in all of history”. In today’s blog post, I will answer the question, and point out a vital difference between the screw-ups of religion and the screw-ups of science.

When Hitler decided to wipe out the Jews, as well as other historical events enacted for purely religious reasons, the decision was made to intentionally perform violence against a particular race, religion, culture or age group. These groups of people made the choice to go out and kill, abuse, rape, torture, pillage or conquer particular people for religious reasons.

When Physicists embarked on creating the atomic bomb, they were simply doing what scientists do, following the evidence to see where the research leads. By looking at Einstein’s most famous formula, it is obvious that a great amount of energy is potent in every atom in the universe, so physicists decided to go out and test it, to see how they could tap into this energy. It could then be argued “Why didn’t the physicists just stop at nuclear power stations, and avoid an atomic bomb?”

Well, its not that simple, seeing as the same mechanisms are used in both apparatus, and they are both using the same underlying physics, but there was reason behind the decision to create an atomic bomb. It is the same reason that almost every dedicated scientist has for creating ruthless killing machines, they are trying to end warfare. By creating the atomic bomb, physicists where aiming to end world warfare, by making it so ruthless, so destructive and so vile that it just could not be done. The same aim was shared by Alfred Nobel, who created dynamite. It didn’t work with dynamite, it just made war more efficient, but it worked with the atomic bomb, eventually. Warfare between the large countries is impossible today, as any one of them could wipe out an entire country with its nuclear arsenal, so they have to be very friendly with each other.

There is the vital difference, religious people are simply going out, to kill or harm a particular group of people, where as physicists are just following the research where the evidence leads, and trying their hardest to end world war. It is only symbolic of the underlying process of religion, as opposed to science.

Science is a process of testing a hypothesis critically and rigorously, and drawing from those tests a theory or subsequent hypothesis, which you test again, and again, to try and best understand the reality we live in. There is no a priori assumption in science. Whereas in religion, there is one big assumption, god. All of religion revolves around the god hypothesis being true, and any evidence for god presented by religion has been cherry-picked to prove the a priori assumption which is god.