The Solar System’s Ocean Worlds

If we ever overcome our differences and make it into space, there's a universe of wonders waiting for us. This month, NASA unveiled another of those wonders with the announcement of hydrothermal vents on Enceladus.Enceladus is one of Saturn's moons. Although it's tiny, barely 300 miles in diameter, it has a long history of tantalizing skywatchers. It's the most reflective body in the solar system because it's entirely covered in ice. The Voyager 2 flyby found a smooth and geologically young … [Read more...]

Movie Review: Arrival

Content note: Minor spoilers.I'm behind on movies, but I'm trying to catch up on the ones I missed when they were in theaters. The 2016 film I most wanted to see was Arrival, and it was worth the wait.Arrival is a first contact sci-fi story, based on Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life". It begins with twelve huge ovoid spaceships appearing silently, simultaneously, at twelve locations across the Earth. Every eighteen hours, a hatch opens in each of the ships, and the human beings … [Read more...]

The Next Hop

For all the madness and cruelty on earth, we're privileged to live in a time when scientists are confirming that the skies are overflowing with planets friendly to life. And another big discovery that expands our cosmic horizon has just been announced:NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most … [Read more...]

Science Is Partisan, Like It Or Not

I've written about the March for Science already, but there's another critique I wanted to address. This one is from a surprising source: Robert Young, a geologist and one of the authors of the famous North Carolina report that predicted rising sea levels from global warming, to which the Republican legislature responded by passing a law banning state agencies from taking these facts into account.You'd think someone in his position would be the ideal person to speak out against politicized … [Read more...]

Science Is For Everyone

In the years to come, science will be under threat in America as never before. Every branch of science that makes conservatives unhappy, from evolution to climate change, is on the chopping block. Birth control and abortion will be assaulted with religious pseudoscience. Federal agencies from NASA to the EPA to the National Park Service will be silenced by executive fiat, forbidden to speak facts that don't align with the reigning worldview. And, of course, an indiscriminate immigrant ban is … [Read more...]

Generations

I was at a family gathering last weekend, and after dinner, we were looking through some old photo albums that had been discovered in the attic of my grandparents' house. My attention was grabbed by this one, a picture of my great-grandfather Hymie, which is in excellent condition considering it's over a hundred years old:Born May 10 1890 Romania Came to US Nov 1907 Picture taken 1908This one is a little more faded, but here he is together with my great-grandmother … [Read more...]

Facebook’s Fake News Poisons Democracy

In the past couple of months, I've noticed a significant dropoff in page views on Daylight Atheism. From what I've found out, it's not just me and it's not even just Patheos. It's an industry-wide problem, affecting media companies large and small, and it's being driven by Facebook changing its algorithm to deemphasize links to external sites in favor of native content, like photos and status updates from your friends.In a sense, this is an understandable business decision. Whenever you see … [Read more...]

The Deserved Death of Coal

I grew up in a house with a coal-burning furnace. Once a month or so, a dump truck would back up to our garage and refill the coal bin. I was fascinated by those soft, glossy black chunks which looked like rock but burned with ferocious fire in the belly of the furnace, keeping the house toasty warm on even the coldest winter days.I mention this just to show that I feel a little bit of nostalgia for coal. And as a New Yorker, I have to concede that coal-fired ovens make the best pizza. But … [Read more...]

Scott Adams Can’t See the Elephant

In the past, I've mocked the privileged obliviousness of Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoonist and Man Who Knows One Thing. I have to revisit Adams, because in this election, he's come out of the closet as a Donald Trump fan.As Ben Dolnick hilariously outlines, this makes sense because they're kindred spirits in many ways. Like Trump, Adams has a pronounced narcissistic streak and an extremely high regard for his own talents. (Remember the sockpuppet incident?) He also shares Trump's belief that … [Read more...]

Human Reproduction Is Ridiculous

Over the past year leading up to the birth of my son, Elizabeth and I (her more than me, obviously) have had an intimate view of what it takes to bring a new human being into the world. And going through this has only cemented a view that her and I both held, namely that human reproduction is ridiculous.Contrary to those who assume that pregnancy is "natural" and therefore easy, it's the most burdensome and dangerous thing most ordinary people will ever do. At every step, there's an … [Read more...]