Author Topic: Episode #595  (Read 1047 times)

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Offline Steven Novella

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Episode #595
« on: December 03, 2016, 12:03:50 PM »
Forgotten Superheroes of Science: Maria Telkes; News Items: Fake News and Online Reasoning, Santa Myth, Farmer Ants, Diamond Batteries; Who’s That Noisy; What’s the Word: Endemic; Name That Logical Fallacy; Science or Fiction
Steven Novella
Host, The Skeptics Guide
snovella@theness.com

Online lonely moa

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2016, 02:04:12 PM »
From the horses mouth, re batteries:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04hlc7f
“You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.”

Garrison Keillor

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2016, 04:35:16 PM »
In order for the carbon-14 diamond batteries to have an impact on nuclear waste, there would have to be a market for the batteries at the actual cost of production. Since they don't specify the cost of the batteries per watt produced, this looks to me like pure journalistic hype. Who is going to pay, say, ten million dollars for a "battery" that can power their entire house for five million years? It's too expensive compared to conventional means of powering your home, and it's overkill, because your home is not going to last that long, nor are you.

If indeed there are applications for such a "battery" they are not going to be sufficient to use enough carbon 14 to have any real impact on the nuclear waste problem.

And why are they calling this thing a "battery" anyway? From the description it's not a battery at all; it's a power generator. And an extremely weak one. As for using it to power interstellar travel, that's bogus too, because it's weight-to-power ratio is much too high. For space travel you want a very low weight-to-power ratio.

This thing may be interesting physics, but it's not going to have any real applications because there are cheaper solutions and it's too heavy for anything but fixed-position applications or applications that need so little power that your own body heat would provide sufficient energy.

Daniel
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Offline cupofkona

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2016, 06:25:05 PM »
Next episode 'what is that sound'...Black Balls into Reservoir

Offline werecow

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2016, 09:00:27 PM »
Even if you take away the "personalized search" component of a search engine like google, the search results are still ranked by some kind of search algorithm. In google's case, that algorithm is based on social network analysis, which basically means it's a popularity contest of a sort, and it also takes into account things like your location. You could obscure that with a proxy, but that still doesn't eliminate the fact that there is an algorithm that's trying to rank your search results based on your query and a lot of data it has from around the web. So you may eliminate some of your search-history-related biases and replacing that by selecting sources that are based on something like a population average, but it won't eliminate general media bias, biased language used in your query, or stories that have already gone viral, and obviously it won't stop you from still selecting the websites you think contain "good" information. When you type in your query, the adjectives or nouns you use, including something as subtle as the difference between words like "opinion", "conviction", "view" and "belief" can give away your political opinions, and different forms of slang or simply different dialects (with their own quirks in preferred synonyms) may expose different social backgrounds that can be subject to a certain political bias, and thus, depending on the exact details of the language (pre)processing (and things like dimension reduction) and search algorithm used, may inadvertently influence your search results.

A friend of mine recently told him he thought I was in an echo chamber. We were talking about Trump at the time and I pointed out how I felt the guy had bizarre and frequently changing views on many issues - he didn't offer me any reason to assume the contrary, but I think he was triggered by the fact that I started by mentioning some typically left wing topics like LGBT rights and his apparent misogyny. Anyway, it is probably true to some extent; I tend to look to other skeptics and science related websites, and I tend to seek out information critical of other news stories, but that in itself is a bias, and thus it is unlikely to be representative, politically speaking. So there's a definite political bias to my search results, though I pointed out to him that I also get a lot of search results from creationists, climate skeptics, and general quacks and pseudoscientists exactly because I read their arguments as well, and they tend not to be on my side of the political isle. But on political topics what I read is probably very much biased towards the left of the political spectrum.

The thing is, he said this as if he was bias free because he has anonymized his google search (he has an app that shoots random search requests at google periodically). That's a dangerous delusion to be under. I remember how Hitchens (was it on the SGU perhaps?) talked about the differences between American and British newspapers; the main difference was that the British newspapers were upfront about their biases, whereas the American ones pretended to be impartial. I think the moral of the story was that it is better to be aware of the bias in what you're reading, than to think you've somehow escaped it entirely when you really haven't.
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Offline davidlpf

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2016, 10:06:47 PM »
So Jay's kids favorite  uncle is Joe.

Offline 2397

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2016, 04:57:46 AM »
The Internet being such a volatile place, and governments being more concerned with crippling encryption than educating their citizens about what precautions they should take, I'm not all that optimistic about an increasingly digital and interconnected future. From self-driving cars, to cyborgs, to personal realities running on public infrastructure, there seems to be a great deal of potential for people to attack, control and steal from others.

Edit: On Santa, I have no problem with the "gifts from anonymous entity"-aspect, because parents shouldn't expect their children to care about what they do for them until they're old enough to realize what the parent-child relationship is about. And then they'll be able to look back.

What I do take issue with is the concept of naughty and nice and using this entity as a way to threaten the kids, in place of proper parenting and talking honestly to the kids about why there are some things they shouldn't do, or why it's good to be helpful to others.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2016, 05:37:17 AM by 2397 »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2016, 07:29:11 AM »
There are lies it's okay to tell. ("You look nice." "I'm happy to see you." "I hope everything works out well for you." The social lies.) But intentional deception IMO is generally not a good thing. There's nothing wrong with playing a fantasy game, as when the children know Santa Claus is make believe and the parents pretend that he's involved. But actively telling kids that he's real is an intentional deception. OTOH, telling kids that Claus is real is not nearly as evil as telling them that God is real.

But I don't think that intentionally lying to kids so that as they grow older they'll recognize that you are a liar is a good idea. Most people, once they learn that Claus is not real, accept that their parents were just playing a game. But as with religion, the Claus myth teaches kids at a very young age to believe in magic, and even after they learn this was false, they may retain the counter-factual thinking style. It's better not to lie about things that matter.

And as has already been pointed out, using the mythological figure as a threat is both dishonest and damaging, and plays directly into the more serious threat that kids are also subjected to, that if they do not obey an impossible list of injunctions God will burn them forever.

And BTW, Santa Claus's name is not "Santa." It's Claus. Santa is an honorific proclaiming him to be a saint. It's more obvious in the other form of his name: Saint Nicolas.
Daniel
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Offline 2397

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2016, 04:33:49 PM »
Santa is a title, sure. In Norwegian he's referred to only by a (job) description. "Julenissen", the Yule gnome.

I'd imagine if you follow Santa over time it would be like The Doctor or 007. He'll be replaced somehow, but the next one is also Santa.

Online The Latinist

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2016, 11:24:34 PM »
The energy density of a diamond battery is awesome at, by my calculations, something on the order of 5 million mAh per gram.  The problem is the discharge rate, which is fixed at .17 mW for a 1 gram battery.  To power my hearing aids, one of these diamond batteries would have to be 20 times as massive and more than 80 times the volume of my current zinc-air battery.  Of course, it would power my hearing aid for 5,000 years; but that's quite a bit more than I need.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2016, 09:36:56 AM »
Why do people keep calling this thing a battery, when it's actually a nuclear power generator, generating power from the radioactive decay of carbon 14? A battery is a chemical-energy-storage device. This is a nuclear-energy-generating device. If this is a battery then so is a conventional nuclear power plant, or a coal-fired power plant for that matter. Being small, portable, and self-contained does not make it a battery. Storing energy in a chemical form is what defines a battery.

There are other ways to store energy as well, such as heat in rocks, compressed gas, or as hydrogen produced by electrolysis, but we don't call any of these "batteries." This carbon-14 diamond thing is not a battery even if its output does come in the form of electricity.
Daniel
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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2016, 11:33:01 AM »
I think that's really beside the point.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline dwilton

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2016, 01:59:12 PM »
Regarding SF commentary on modern society, Swift and Gulliver's Travels (1726) was far from the first. Which was the first SF story is debated, but one of the earliest contenders is Margaret Cavendish's The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World (1666). That work is quite well known and well worth a read. For instance, Philip Pullman drew upon a lot of the Cavendish's ideas for his Dark Materials trilogy. And Cavendish may also have invented the concept of the "Mary Sue," writing herself into the story.

Offline Bob_Calder

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2016, 05:34:40 PM »
News Items: Fake News and Online Reasoning
Steve, I liked your conclusions about critical thinking curriculum. I'm one of the teachers that tries to do it. I'm in a Title One school in Fort Lauderdale. The comment about private schools teaching it points to the value of curriculum independent of outside pressure. My official course content is visual communication for society and the internet, but the curriculum is video editing and web design. It can be difficult to wedge in the subject of low quality information.

There are likely several ways students could fail to get the researcher's questions "wrong" in the news story. I don't find the paper awfully persuasive. Many middle school students do not have fully developed critical facilities to start with. By ninth grade they are ready to start thinking, though it's true there is going to be damage from belief in mermaids, UFOs, and magical thinking in the meantime. Younger students tend to apply rules in a rigid way for some reason. My younger students have a very negative opinion on Wikipedia that is utterly unfounded for instance.

I am interested in why students create search strings the way they do. We are framing some questions for research in my department. In the meantime, I have had some conversations with self-aware students that have helped me frame critical thinking in a way that they find useful and engaging.

I would like to point out that libraries and teachers provided critical filter function as trusted authorities pre-internet. Just as professional journals keep out pseudoscience.

Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: Episode #595
« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2016, 08:06:10 PM »
I think the SGU does a great job of discussing ideas about how to teach critical thinking skills. Sometimes I wish they'd give teachers a little more credit, though. Most teachers recognize the need to teach these skills, and they are constantly trying new pedagogical techniques. It's a really, really tough problem, especially given the diverse skills sets that students bring to class. If all classes were filled with Novella kids, teaching would be the easiest job in the world!

In general, I think we all should be more generous in our judgement of teachers. I see them like cancer docs. They are highly skilled, hard-working professionals tackling a fiendishly difficult problem (or suite of intertwined problems). It sucks that they haven't solved the problem yet (whether it be scientific illiteracy or cancer). We should demand that they keep striving to solve the problem, and point out ways they can do their jobs better. But we should do so with some humility, because they probably know the complexities of their profession more than we do as outsiders.

ps I don't mean to criticize the SGU on this. They are almost always extremely positive about educators. This is more a gripe I have with the portrayal of our education system in society at large.