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Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story

December 2001

To the Citizens of Kansas (along with those from Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, and a dozen other states contemplating the teaching of “Intelligent Design” creationism as a “balance” to the theory of evolution in public school science classes), I present you with a small literary sampling of how the opening chapters of Genesis will have to be revised to accommodate modern scientific theories and data. I call it Genesis Revisited.

In the beginning — specifically on October 23, 4004 B.C., at noon — out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang. The bang was followed by cosmological inflation. God saw that the Big Bang was very big, too big for creatures that could worship him, so He created the earth. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He commanded hydrogen atoms (which He created out of Quarks and other subatomic goodies) to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light. And the light maker he called the sun, and the process He called fusion. And He saw the light was good because now He could see what he was doing. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (continue reading…)

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More Baloney Detection

December 2001
How to draw boundaries between science and pseudoscience, Part II
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When exploring the borderlands of science, we often face a “boundary problem” of where to draw the line between science and pseudoscience. The boundary is the line of demarcation between geographies of knowledge, the border defining countries of claims. Knowledge sets are fuzzier entities than countries, however, and their edges are blurry. It is not always clear where to draw the line. Last month I suggested five questions to ask about a claim to determine whether it is legitimate or baloney. Continuing with the baloney-detection questions, we see that in the process we are also helping to solve the boundary problem of where to place a claim. (continue reading…)

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Baloney Detection

November 2001
How to draw boundaries between science and pseudoscience, Part I
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When lecturing on science and pseudoscience at colleges and universities, I am inevitably asked, after challenging common beliefs held by many students, “Why should we believe you?” My answer: “You shouldn’t.”

I then explain that we need to check things out for ourselves and, short of that, at least to ask basic questions that get to the heart of the validity of any claim. This is what I call baloney detection, in deference to Carl Sagan, who coined the phrase “Baloney Detection Kit.” To detect baloney — that is, to help discriminate between science and pseudoscience — I suggest 10 questions to ask when encountering any claim. (continue reading…)

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I Was Wrong

October 2001
Those three words often separate the scientific pros from the posers
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My friend James Randi speculates — with only partial facetiousness — that when one receives a Ph.D., a chemical secreted from the diploma parchment enters the brain and prevents the recipient from ever again saying “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.” As one counterexample I hereby confess that in my column on Chinese science in the July issue I was wrong in my conversion of Chinese yuan as 80 to the dollar (it is eight).

More serious was a statement I made in the June issue about a Fox television program claiming that the moon landing was faked. I said that the lunar lander rocket showed no exhaust because there is no oxygen-rich atmosphere on the moon. I was partially wrong. The lack of an atmosphere plays a minor role; the main reason is that the lander’s engine used hypergolic propellants that burn very cleanly. In both instances, readers were kind enough to provide constructive criticism. (continue reading…)

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Nano Nonsense & Cryonics

September 2001
True believers seek redemption from the sin of death
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Cryonicists believe that people can be frozen immediately after death and reanimated later when the cure for what ailed them is found. To see the flaw in this system, thaw out a can of frozen strawberries. During freezing, the water within each cell expands, crystallizes, and ruptures the cell membranes. When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.

Cryonicists recognize this detriment and turn to nanotechnology for a solution. Microscopic machines will be injected into the defrosting “patient” to repair the body molecule by molecule until the trillions of cells are restored and the person can be resuscitated. (continue reading…)

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