More Carnivals

January 25, 2007

I’m caught up with work at the moment, so I’m slow in linking to two recent carnivals, the Skeptics’ Circle – which is up at Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist and the recent Tangled Bank at The Voltage Gate.

Next week I’ll be belatedly linking to Carnivalesque at Memorabilia Antonina.


Last Chance to C/2006 P1

January 11, 2007

Comet McNaught

Comet McNaught is visible for the next few nights in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here is a pretty good photo of it as taken from the University of Leicester campus

It’s the brightest comet to be seen in the last 30 years. Don’t expect to see it again though – with an eccentricity of 1.00003, the orbit of McNaught is taking one swing past the sun and is off in to the wide black yonder, so get out and see it while you can!

If you’re in the British Isles, and you look W – WSW at about 5pm (and the skies are clear), you should be able to see it.

Ithaca Found?

January 10, 2007

[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Borehole drilling
Drilling for Ithaca. © Robert Bittlestone.

Some tremendously exciting news was announced yesterday. Ithaca, the home of Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, may have been located. The reason why I’m finding it so exciting isn’t so much that from what they’ve found, but from the way that different strands of evidence are coming together to confirm the idea.

Locating Ithaca has long been a puzzle, complicated by the fact that Homer may have been making some of the description up for dramatic effect. For instance he refers to wealthy Corinth, which was nowhere special at the time of Trojan Wars and didn’t become a major power till much later. So there was the possibility that something similar was true of Ithaca.

Ithaca was described in the Odyssey:

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.

Odyssey 9, 19-26 (trans. James Diggle)

The island known in modern times as Ithaki is currently thought to be Ithaca, but there are problems. Ithaki is hilly, among other islands and slopes to the east. Paliki would be a much better fit for the description, but there’s a problem there too. Paliki isn’t an island, it’s a peninsula on Kephalonia. Robert Bittlestone has looked at the isthmus connecting Paliki to the rest of the island and he’s come up with a solution. He thinks the isthmus is infill of a marine channel and that, in ancient times, Paliki was an island. However the isthmus is up to 180 metres above sea-level. Is this reasonable?
Read the rest of this entry »

A new breed of fear

January 10, 2007

Via CanuckHockeygirl

Black Sheep

Help PBS pick a new science show

January 8, 2007

Courtesy of Scott McNulty @ TUAW:

PBS is in need of a new science show, and they have a conundrum on their hands. They need one new science show, and they have three pilots for science shows. What’s a non-profit network to do? Why, make all three shows available for free on iTunes (and other places) and let the viewers choose which one will make it into full pledge series-dom. The three shows are (all iTunes Store links):

Watch them, and let PBS know which one is the best.

Sense about Science

January 4, 2007

Here’ some positive news. A new campaign has started to appeal to celebrities, Sense about Science. It has its own celebrity backer, Derren Brown, who has written recently about the dangers of sensationalist science reporting in the press. How dangerous are some of the claims being made?

Homeopathy is not just useless, it is worse than useless in the case of malaria because it dupes people into thinking that they are protected when they are not. I was shocked that there was such willingness to give advice and sell products that would leave people exposed to a highly dangerous disease…

Beforehand I suspected that one or two homeopaths might offer pills to protect against malaria, but it turned out that ten out of ten were guilty of such irresponsible practice. This makes me think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way homeopaths are regulated.

Simon Singh

The danger is magnified when celebrities attract attention to what they think is a good cause. The willingness for celebrities to try and do their bit was one of the major segments of the series Brass Eye.

You can also watch celebrities tackle the menace of Cake. If you’ve not heard of Cake it is not a natural drug but, as Bernard Manning described, a made-up drug from the Czech Republic. No-one doubts the sincerity of someone like Noel Edmonds, who explained that Cake stimulated the part of the brain known as “Shatner’s Bassoon” which alters the users sense of time. “Sounds like fun, but tell that to the Czech boy run over by a tram. He thought he had two weeks to cross the street.” But if people like Tania Bryer can tell a camera that inverted clouds are raining upwards into space and causing drought, then there is cause for concern about the damage a well-meaning spokesman can cause.

I think an advisory panel where public speakers can get another point of view before committing themselves to what might be dangerous nonsense is a good thing. It would mean that campaigns about genuinely important matters do get a better chance to be put before the public.