NASA Decommissions Its Galaxy Hunter Spacecraft

NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the telescope used ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies.


This image from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) shows Messier 94, also known as NGC 4736, in ultraviolet light

NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the telescope used ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies.


NASA’s Voyager 1 Explores Final Frontier of Our ‘Solar Bubble’

Data from Voyager 1, now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, suggest the spacecraft is closer to becoming the first human-made object to reach interstellar space.


This artist's concept shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun

Data from Voyager 1, now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, suggest the spacecraft is closer to becoming the first human-made object to reach interstellar space.


The dunning-kruger effect

We’re all familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people who are unskilled think that they are great experts, whereas true experts tend to be more modest in their self-assessment.

One of several graphs showing that people who know little (as revealed by tests) still think they know a lot.

One of several graphs showing that people who know little (as revealed by tests) still think they know a lot.

“I know one thing: that I know nothing”
—Socrates
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”
—Bertrand Russell
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
—William Shakespeare, As You Like It
“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
—Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

Most of the readers of this blog are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect (even if we don’t always know what the name means). Although the idea is an old one, going back at least as far as Socrates and Shakespeare, it was first formally named only 14 years ago by Cornell University psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning (not the Brian Dunning of this blog). Their title said it all: “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” In other words, ignorant or unskilled people tend to overestimate their level of competence and expertise, while those who are truly expert sometimes underestimate their true level of expertise. Since its proposal and naming, it has become a well-known effect in cognitive psychology, and people have become even more aware of it in recent years due to non-experts trying to shout down people with expertise, or demagogues using the label of “elitism” to push their policies as they ridicule the experts who challenge them.

Since the original paper came out in 1999, there has been a lot of research into why the Dunning-Kruger effect is so common and what drives it. It mostly boils down to a cognitive bias related to confirmation bias (seeing only what we want to see, and ignoring the misses). In the case of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the bias is one where we cannot believe that we are wrong or less intelligent than others, so we have an artificially inflated sense of self-esteem. (And this effect is an ancient human foible, so it can’t be blamed on recent efforts to boost the self-esteem of young people, even at the expense of telling them the truth about their level of competence and intelligence).
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Most of us can identify many recent examples of incompetents who don’t recognize their incompetence, often shouting out their inanities and attempting to drown out their expert critics. Some of my favorite examples include:

    —Deepak Chopra and other woo-meisters misappropriating the ideas of quantum physics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to give their mystical ideas a false scientific veneer. When challenged by a physicist (such as Leonard Mlodinow) who DOES understand quantum physics (as I’ve seen during debates hosted by the Skeptic Society), Chopra weasels out of the fact that physics does not support his woo, and uses rhetorical tricks to cover his ignorance of the subject. Then, in front of the next friendly audience, he goes right back to misleading his followers into thinking he’s an expert on quantum physics.
    —Creationists like Duane Gish and their ilk who have absolutely no training or firsthand experience in fossils or paleontology writing whole books about fossils as if they actually had studied them. As I showed in my 2007 book on evolution, when a real paleontologist goes through their writings, it is painfully obvious they don’t know one bone from another, but are just parroting stuff they’ve read in kiddie books, and quote-mining real paleontologists to sound like they don’t support the idea of evolution.
    —The follies of the Bush Administration, when they openly mocked the qualified experts who warned them about their disastrous policies (from chasing the non-existent WMDs in Iraq to their economic ideas, to their denial of climate science and evolution). Bush himself bragged about not thinking through things too much or using reason, but making decisions “from the gut”—and spawned a whole industry of experts who revealed that “gut-level” decisions are usually wrong, as well as comedians like Stephen Colbert whose character avoids using logic and reason and data, but makes decisions based on their “truthiness.”
    —The purveyors of quack medicines who blather on about the great benefits of their untested snake oil, and then demonize the FDA and the scientists who rigorously test their products to determine if they really work (and vigorously attack doctors like our own Steven Novella or David Gorski or Harriett Hall when these scientists point out that their “medicine” is pure snake oil).
    —The various global climate change deniers who have absolutely no training in climate science (including TV weathermen, who do not actually work on climate), who jump on the climate denial bandwagon and nitpick details in the scientific literature that they didn’t work on, and don’t understand enough about to critique it.
        —The comically incompetent efforts of Andrew Schlafly (son of right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly) to rewrite science to fit conservative Christian ideology on his Conservapedia website. As I pointed out in

previous post

        , this includes his uninformed and ignorant attacks on evolution, climate science, geology, astronomy and cosmology, and other areas of science that creationists try to deny. But his most hilarious efforts are his attempt to deny Einsteinian relativity because he confuses it with the philosophical idea of relativism, because Barack Obama once talked about relativism, and because it’s not in the Bible! Then he shows his complete inability to understand it by bumbling through mathematical equations that prove nothing except that he doesn’t understand physics.

These examples can be multiplied endlessly, so I won’t continue them here, but let the commenters add their own personal favorites.

El tramite de vivir

Juan Villoro

En “Más Pequeños que el Guggenheim”, extraordinaria obra de teatro de Alejandro Ricaño, un personaje descubre que hay becas para Jóvenes Creadores y solicita una amparado en este argumento: desde un punto de vista burocrático, puede ser joven (el Estado benefactor ubica el límite de la juventud en 35 años, y el personaje en cuestión tiene 37, pero también eso se arregla

Juan Villoro

En “Más Pequeños que el Guggenheim”, extraordinaria obra de teatro de Alejandro Ricaño, un personaje descubre que hay becas para Jóvenes Creadores y solicita una amparado en este argumento: desde un punto de vista burocrático, puede ser joven (el Estado benefactor ubica el límite de la juventud en 35 años, y el personaje en cuestión tiene 37, pero también eso se arregla

El Horizonte

Comienza a circular “El Horizonte” en Monterrey

Publicado por Francisco Vidal Bonifaz en abril 23, 2013

El día de hoy comenzó a circular el primer número del diario gratuito El Horizonte en la ciudad de Monterrey.

El diario es presidido por Guillermo Salinas Pliego, hermano del Ricardo Salinas Pliego, presidente de Televisión Azteca.

Guillermo Salinas también es consejero de la

Comienza a circular “El Horizonte” en Monterrey

Publicado por Francisco Vidal Bonifaz en abril 23, 2013

El día de hoy comenzó a circular el primer número del diario gratuito El Horizonte en la ciudad de Monterrey.

El diario es presidido por Guillermo Salinas Pliego, hermano del Ricardo Salinas Pliego, presidente de Televisión Azteca.

Guillermo Salinas también es consejero de la

Who’s To Blame For Fraud?

By now most readers have probably heard that Jim McCormick, the maker of the fake bomb detectors, was convicted on three counts of fraud and was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail. My reaction to this, echoed by many other skeptics, was – only 10 years? To recap – McCormick repurposed fake […]

By now most readers have probably heard that Jim McCormick, the maker of the fake bomb detectors, was convicted on three counts of fraud and was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail. My reaction to this, echoed by many other skeptics, was – only 10 years?

To recap – McCormick repurposed fake golf ball detectors, which were basically fancy dowsing rods, as bomb detectors. He sold the $20 novelty items for thousands of dollars. He then made his own version of the devices, still worthless dowsing rods, but made to look fancy. He sold them for tens of thousands of dollars each as bomb detectors. They were used at Iraq checkpoints, among others. At checkpoints where his fake devices were used, undetected bombs exploded, killing and injuring hundreds to thousands of people.

This has raised several questions. The first is the appropriateness of the sentence – just 10 years. Apparently that is all the law allowed for. The judge in his decision, in fact, felt the need to justify giving him the maximum sentence. He is quoted as saying:

Judge Richard Hone at the Old Bailey court said he was taking the rare step of passing the maximum possible sentence because of McCormick’s “cavalier disregard for the potentially fatal consequences of his fraudulent activity.”

My question is – why didn’t the “cavalier disregard” for killing people with his fraudulent scheme warrant more than just 10 years? This seems to be a hole in the law. (I’m sure this varies widely from country to country.) There should be a separate charge when fraud predictably leads to horrific outcomes, such as death. I know that if someone dies in the course of committing a crime, even though the death was not intended, it’s still felony murder. Why doesn’t this also apply to fraud?

If you read the comments to the above article and others like it you will also see vigorous discussion about who, exactly, is to blame. After discussing this issue on the SGU we also received similar feedback. There are those who believe that the governments who purchased and used the devices are to blame.

My conclusion is that everyone involved in the chain carries some amount of blame. McCormick I grant the largest share – the whole thing was his evil plan. But right behind him are those government officials who apparently accepted bribes in exchange for purchases the fraudulent bomb detectors. They are additionally guilty of betraying their public trust.

Even those officials who were not bribed still made horrifically irresponsible decisions. There did not appear to be proper due diligence – how about testing the devices, or consulting an expert before making the purchase and using the devices? These devices are obvious frauds that cannot possibly work. Believing that they do work, in my opinion, requires profound scientific illiteracy.

The final step in the chain were the soldiers and others who used the devices. They are the least to blame, as it is not necessarily their job to authenticate equipment that is given them. I have to wonder, however, how many of them suspected the bomb detectors were bogus, and how much of a stink did they make about it to their superiors.

This gets close to blaming the victim – we can’t necessarily expect every soldier to recognize a dowsing rod when they see one, and to have seen through the scam. They were likely convinced that it worked because of the ideomotor effect.

It seems statistically likely, however, that some of the people handed the device to use had serious reservations, or flat out knew they were bogus, but failed to act due to complacency or a “not my problem” attitude.

In order for these devices to have been used as bomb detector there had to be massive failure along the entire chain, and everyone involved deserves some measure of blame.

caballos famosos

A lo largo de la historia ha habido muchos caballos famosos por algún concepto. Caballos históricos y reales (famosos por méritos propios o por la notoriedad de su propietario), caballos mitológicos, caballos imaginarios de fama literaria, caballos campeones en las carreras o los deportes hípicos, … En cada caso los detalles sobre la gloria de cada caballo-o, a veces, los aspectos menos

A lo largo de la historia ha habido muchos caballos famosos por algún concepto. Caballos históricos y reales (famosos por méritos propios o por la notoriedad de su propietario), caballos mitológicos, caballos imaginarios de fama literaria, caballos campeones en las carreras o los deportes hípicos, … En cada caso los detalles sobre la gloria de cada caballo-o, a veces, los aspectos menos

poverty and terrorism

Gunmen have killed at least nine foreign tourists after storming a hotel in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, police say.Initial reports say five are from Ukraine, one from Russia and three from China. A Pakistani woman is also said to have been killed.Th…

Gunmen have killed at least nine foreign tourists after storming a hotel in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, police say.

Initial reports say five are from Ukraine, one from Russia and three from China. A Pakistani woman is also said to have been killed.

The attack happened near the base camp of the Nanga Parbat Mountain, in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan.

No group has so far said it carried out the attack.

Police had at first said 10 foreign tourists were killed. The motive for the attack is not yet clear.

Part of the Himalayan Range, Nanga Parbat is one of the highest mountains in the world and a popular tourist destination.

“Unknown people entered a hotel where foreign tourists were staying last night and opened fire,” Ali Sher, a senior police officer, told Reuters.

A senior official said the area had been sealed off and police were hunting for the killers.

“Since the area is very remote with no roads or transport, their bodies will have to be retrieved by helicopter,” he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have condemned the attack.

Mr Sharif, who was re-elected earlier this month, said such acts of cruelty and inhumanity would not be tolerated.

Meanwhile Gilgit governor Syed Mehdi Shah is set to hold a meeting with regional law enforcement agencies on Sunday to discuss the security situation in the area, Radio Pakistan reports.

Correspondents say Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders China, had been considered one of the more secure areas under Pakistani control.

However, in recent years it has suffered a spate of attacks by militants targeting Pakistan’s Shia Muslim minority.

The area is famous for its natural beauty and the main city of Gilgit is seen as a gateway to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges.

Published on Dec 21, 2012

United Nations, December 2012 – Pakistan – it’s a country rich in culture and history, but it’s also a country struggling with rising threats of terrorism and in some regions, radical ideology. But now, many of Pakistan’s youth are fighting back, determined to shape a future of prosperity ….and peace.

21ST CENTURY SHOW # 73

Transcript:
http://www.un.org/webcast/pdfs/21century73.pdf