Loose Marbles III

Shanksville / Flight 93The last of the four planes hijacked on 9/11 was Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently attempted to storm the cockpit and regain control of the plane. Here it is somewhat difficult to tell what the filmmakers' hypothesis is, other than their certainty that Flight 93 did not crash in Pennsylvania as reported.00:57:15 The film extensively cites a video clip from 9/11 where a reporter from a local Fox affiliate at the … [Read more...]

Loose Marbles II

The World Trade CenterThe second part of this series deals with claims made in Loose Change about the collapse of the World Trade Center. Unlike the Pentagon, there is video evidence explicitly showing the two planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and so LC does not deny this (although other conspiracists have explained this away by appealing to secret Star-Trek-like holographic technology). Instead, the film asserts that the proximate cause of the Twin Towers' collapse was not the plane … [Read more...]

Loose Marbles I: Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

It seems to be part of human nature that any event of great scale or significance will inevitably engender conspiracy theories. The Kennedy assassination and the moon landing are two recent events that have spawned some of the most durable and complex examples, but there are many more, swirling around nearly every major world event and ranging from the nearly plausible to the outright ridiculous. (An example of the latter category would be the assertion that Hurricane Katrina was caused by … [Read more...]

Science is a Way of Knowing

A common accusation leveled against science by its enemies is that it is too closed-minded, too dogmatic, too authoritarian. From creationists to "alternative medicine" advocates to New Agers, the defenders of pseudoscience argue that science is closed to new ideas, set in its ways, unwilling to challenge conventional wisdom. If only science would examine our claims with an open mind, goes the refrain from each fringe community, they would see that they are fully deserving of inclusion.There … [Read more...]

Another Brief History of Time

I recently came across a gorgeous Flash presentation briefly chronicling the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to humanity. Check it out: Evolution - What Next? Click on the red "Time Slider" arrow to get it started, then click and drag the slider along the timeline. I haven't explored the rest of the site in detail yet, but there seem to be many more Flash animations on other topics relating to biology.Credit to Table of Malcontents for the original link. … [Read more...]

Hello, Beautiful

Tiktaalik

It has been a hundred and twenty-five years since Charles Darwin passed away, but his legacy is alive and well. The theory of evolution which he was first to propose has become the unifying pillar of modern biology, drawing together a vast array of evidence from genetics, paleontology, biochemistry, ecology and other scientific fields. Contrary to the creationists who are perpetually (and wrongly) forecasting its imminent demise, today evolution is in better shape than it has ever been. And one … [Read more...]

An Oft-Asked Question

Turn on the TV, turn to the back pages of a newspaper, or peruse the best-seller lists, and you're almost certain to come across one of those angels in human form, the psychics. Every day they display their powers to the wonder of believers and the astonishment of skeptics, presciently predicting startling information such as, "The body will be found near water", or "I see the letter 'R' in connection with you."Though these incredible insights revolutionize the lives of many, it is undeniable … [Read more...]

Pulling Back the Curtain

The previous post in the Observatory, "On Presuppositions", discussed a few of the many ways in which bias has been shown to affect our decisions. When we expect or believe something to be true, we very often act as if it is true, and disregard contradictory evidence.Given these undeniable facts, what hope is left for us to know the truth? A cynical interpretation would be that science, the organized quest for truth, has ironically proven that science is hopeless, that every conclusion is too … [Read more...]

On Presuppositions

Malcolm Gladwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2005.D.L. Rosenhan. "On Being Sane in Insane Places." Science, vol.179, no.4070, p.250-258 (19 January 1973).In 1973, the peer-reviewed journal Science published a now-classic study in psychology. In its introduction, the study's author, D.L. Rosenhan, pointed out that the criteria for determining whether someone is mentally ill are highly subjective. The provocative question Rosenhan asked … [Read more...]

Living Up to the Renaissance Ideal

In my previous post in this category, Know Everything, I expressed my desire to know every fact there is about the universe, to know how to solve every problem that has been solved. This goal is, of course, impossible. We cannot do that, so what can we do?I have always admired the Renaissance ideal - the person who is knowledgeable in many areas, and constantly learning about more. Given that we can never know everything, this is probably the best we can achieve, and I think it is what we … [Read more...]


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