Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Why can't they just get domestic energy policy right?

They are screwing up again. Our politicians listen to scientists a little bit, and then bring in the lobbyists to see how they can screw up perfectly good policies.

We already knew that if you take corn and soy out of the food chain and put it towards fuel, there will be a smaller supply of food. Why was this surprising? Worse, Soy and Corn are of the two worst plant from which to get fuel from. Palm oil has the highest yield of current crops, but its cultivation is ruining the rain forests. We spent 20 years learning how to grow algae, we know how to get orders of magnitude more oil from the algae than from any other crop.

There are other processes being developed that use non-edible parts of plants to create fuel and energy.

When scientists said, "let's get oil from plants" They didn't mean "Lets see what the lobbyists have to say about that". They meant to endorse the idea of spending money to complete this development and start getting cheap energy again from what is ultimately the sun.

Hybrid technology came into play, and the politicians said "Hey! Let's give tax breaks for people who employ them!". Idiotic! Why should someone gets a tax break for a car that gets 20-30 MPG just because it has a hybrid drive in it, when other people buy ICE cars that get 40 MPG.

No, when the scientists said "Lets endorse high efficiency cars" they didn't mean "Lets give tax breaks for a technology whether or not it gives any efficiency improvement at all"! The tax break should have been simple, the more mileage you get, the more of a tax break you get. Technology independent. Believe it or not, I just heard a similar idea coming from the McCain camp.

"For every automaker who can sell a zero-emissions car, we will commit a 5,000 dollar tax credit for each and every customer who buys that car. For other vehicles, whatever type they may be, the lower the carbon emissions, the higher the tax credit."
Of course it would have been nice if it was actually the consumer who got the tax break and not the car company, but at least there was a little clue in there.

So, what's the latest? Again they are focusing on the specific technology, not the goal. Its idiotic. Instead of actually getting people to recognize their immediate costs regardless of technology, they figure that if gallons per mile was what was specified, people would be more aware of the differences between one car and another (because the numbers would appear farther apart).


I have a better plan: how about simply mentioning dollars/mile. Now the car can be electric, air, gas or diesel driven and all the cars will have the same standard. I realize that electricity, gas, and diesel cost differently around the country. Also the value of a dollar changes with time. So what? Choose a standard and apply it to all of them. Choose the dollar value of the year 2000, or use the most recent year, for all I care. Choose average electric costs, choose average gas or diesel prices. It doesn't matter, just choose one and compare them all the same way. Its really not that hard.

I'll even help them out to start.

Ignoring maintenance costs, using average nationwide electricity costs, average gas price, and reported mileage per tank/charge:

Average price of electricity: $0.11 / kWh
Average Price of Gasoline: $4.10 / gallon

mpg $/mile
Bicycle - -
Electric Bike - 0.01
Electric Car - 0.03
motorcycle 56 0.07
Toyota prius 46 0.09
Honda Fit 31 0.13
Ford escape Hybrid 27 0.15
Chevy Malibu
23 0.18
Jeep Wrangler 16 0.26
hummer H3 15 0.27

Look at that! If you choose to drive an electric car you could reduce to driving costs by an order of magnitude!

The calculation is easy, you can do it for your car. Simple divide your average local price of gas by your miles per gallon (from the government fuel economy site).

For electric vehicles its a bit harder. You need to find the total Watt hours your battery can hold (total stack voltage times the amp-hours of one of the batteries). Multiply this number by the cost of electricity in your area. Then divide this number by the estimated range for your battery pack. This will give you $/mile.

There is one more thing the Government could help people out with. Make it mandatory to install MPG gauges in all cars. These gauges should not be able to be be turned off. Everyone could improve the mileage they are getting in their cars if they have something that could help them learn to drive it efficiently. If its out of sight, its out of mind. They would see temperature effects, effects of driving 70 MPH, effects of acceleration and so forth.

Here are some other tidbits:
  • 85% of you drive less than 25 miles to work. All of the modes of transportation mentioned above will work for you
  • if you work at an industrial site, you can often charge up for half the price! (you coudl probably convince you boss to let you charge up for free)
  • Mass transportation is better than everything (except biking).
  • If you commit to a high efficiency car for you daily needs, rent a car for your infrequent long trips!
  • Buying a used car is better than buying a new one.
  • Don't buy a new car unless you have driven you current car into the ground

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Tech's Prediction

Now that gay marriage is fully legal in California, I predict that the next serious earthquake will be followed by one idiot or another claiming that it was God's way of punishing them for allowing it, despite the fact that we have been predicting a big one long before this event .

Or is that like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow?

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a Mechanism for Telepathy

I'm not a long time reader of Pharyngula, but I do enjoy his posts. He is prolific, entertaining, on some occasions his writing style would be the envy of any modern day Shakespeare. Every once in a while he posts truly fascinating dissertations on biology. On other occasion he posts good answers to honest questions from people who do not fully understand evolutionary mechanisms or evolution as a whole.

He is also a raving atheist. Its not my style of helping the world understand, but it is entertaining, thoughtful (for the most part), and invigorating.

But a recent post got me thinking on a subject I had thought about posting on. Basically. in (very) short, Sheldrake claims that telepathy is possible and even common. He even has a few articles on it. He claims that in his experiments people are able to have telepathic abilities, and that it is not an extraordinary ability, but instead is an ordinary one. More on that later.

PZ problem with it is that Sheldrake doesnt hypothesize a mechanism for this ability.

You can't just simply carry out a Fortean exercise in collecting odd anecdotes and unexplained phenomena. You have to propose mechanisms — you need to make hypotheses that can be used to guide tests of the idea. What is the mechanism behind the claimed ability of people to sense who is calling them on the telephone?
Its true, no mechanism is put forth by Sheldrake to explain this ability. But this is one of those cases where PZ is wrong. You don't need a mechanism to make a claim that something happens. The plethora of commenters pointed this out.

Newton didn't know why masses are attracted to each other. But he empirically came up with a formula to describe this. Newton didnt have to run experiment to create a Unified Field Theory to explain the mechanism behind gravity. He just explained that it was the masses that pull towards each other. The claim itself doesn't require a mechnism, it simply requires evidence of its truth.

But, let me propose one based on some recent articles. Here it is:

OK here is the scoop. Someone proposed that the spiral nature of a sweat pore, plus its condition of being filled with conductive water, provides the ability of a sweat pore to act as an antenna. Why not?

We know that nanscale antennae can be used to transmit information successfully
There are nerve endings in your skin which conduct information to the brain.

It doesn't seem a hard step to think that we may be able to use these pores to receive some sort of information about people.

What about transmit? We know that muscle contract based on a signal from the brain out towards the muscles. Is it truly so hard to imagine that we may have signals the come from the brain that excite these antenna?

As some of the commenters mention, the existence of this mechanism would provide a huge evolutionary advantage and would quickly become common to the entire species. In fact this is exactly what Sheldrake is saying. His claim is that everyone does in fact have this ability to some extent or another. But the fallacy in this line of thinking form these commentors is that there is nothing to say that this minor ability (no one is claiming that the 'biological telepathy' is as clear as talking on the phone) as as strong as advantage as say vision, or opposable thumbs. Those traits may be for more useful than this ability, which may bring nothing to us that a small sense of empathy, or laughably the bizzare ability to have caller ID without paying for it.

There is of course one little problem with this hypothesis. As far as I can tell, there is no good evidence to suggest that this ability exists in the first place. Every time a psychic ability is actually tested for as people claim, it falls flat on its face. Often simple statistics or confirmation bias explains the 'paranormal' phenomenon better than some Theory of Woo.

But what about Sheldrake? He wrote articles. He performed scientific studies. His claim in the article is that Dawkins was unwilling to even look at the evidence that he has gathered. But other people have looked at other claims of his. For example, his claims about staring were examined. His claims about morphic resonance (telepathic group effort).

The scientific step that Sheldrake is suffering from is verification. So while he seems to be performing tests that delineate the effects he is claiming, they are not double blind, they can't be verified and it leaves us with a glaring lack of support for his many claims. Pulling out one study at random we see:

Non Blinded Study: "one of us (P.S.) served as participant and the other (R.S.) as experimenter"
Participants who are already biased :"Our advertisements read: “Do you know who is ringing before you pick up the phone?"
Having participants design the test : "most were unable to find four people to whom they thought they might respond telepathically and who were also able and willing to take part"
The ability for participant to change answers: "A few minutes after the tests, the experimenter rang the participant to ask what his or her guess had been" (this pretty much makes any statistics and conclusions irrelevant)
Oh cripes, gimme a break: "one of them would be selected at random by the throw of a die. For the throw of the die, we used high-quality casino dice and a ribbed casino-style dice cup, purchased in Las Vegas."
Poor interpretation of statistics: "Out of these 9 participants, all but one made more than 25% correct guesses. The p values for each participant’s results are shown in Table 2." (none of the p value show statistic significance).

That is just a small sampling from one single 'study'. Someone needs some help.

Its this same shoddy science that leads to mass delusions *. When Wakefield produces a crappy study linking MMR to autism, the whole world wants to believe it. Then we spend decades and millions of dollars trying to eliminate misconception. Same goes the global warming deniers trying to come up with evidence-weak cosmic ray theories, or sun spot theories, or what not.

At this point, the very least that Sheldrake can do, is to A) learn to run double blind tests and B) perform these studies with skeptic. Get Dawkins to run a series of studies with you! Don't show him unverified papers! Or perform a study with me! I'll help you.

Its all well and good to have an open minded attitude. Sure "Why Not?" is a good way to go about things. But if you are going to actually put actions towards one of your "Why Nots" lets make sure the evidence for the claim exists first.

* Yes, I yanked three links directly form PZ post. But I wanted to describe the mechanism for the belief in this stuff. Maybe I was just lazy.

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Something is wrong with my dog

Something doesnt seem right. Poor dog :(

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