Fox’s Cosmos Isn’t About False ‘Balance’

degrassetysonquote_science_fullI really had to do a double-take when I read last week that the creationist group Answers in Genesis recently complained Fox’s prime-time science show, Cosmos, lacks scientific “balance”. The group criticized host Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creative team behind the show because it provides no alternatives to the theories of evolution or the Big Bang for like-minded fundamentalists like themselves. The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice. What makes it even better is that Cosmos would indeed cover the creationist viewpoint if there was any scientific substance to it what-so-ever, but there isn’t.

Creationism is not science, it’s religion pure and simple. There is nothing that can be quantified, tested or proven when it comes to religion, by definition it’s a matter of faith. If science could be applied to the concept of an all-knowing intelligent designer, it certainly would have been, but it cannot and so a portion of religious believers cry foul. What I think truly irks them however is not simply being left out, but being excluded from such a genuine media event as Cosmos. Such science series air pretty much weekly on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel and others but we hardly hear so much of a peep from the hard right as we have now. The fact the reboot of Sagan’s science series airs on a major network such as Fox, and in prime-time to such critical and popular success is the straw that broke the creationist’s camel’s back.

As far as I’m concerned Danny Faulkner and his creationists group have as much right to complain about not being given air time on Cosmos as flat-earthers have on the NASA channel. Evolution is a proven scientific theory. It happened and is still happening today. It has withstood decades of rigorous tests and is the fundamental foundation of all biology on earth. I’m personally tired of the pressure put upon the media by conservatives to give false balance to any and all issues in today’s society. 2 + 2 isn’t 5, men really did set foot on the moon and the earth isn’t a mere 6,000 years old. If you cannot understand those simple scientific facts, change the channel, Cosmos isn’t your cup of scientific tea.

UPDATE: The creationists are back after last night’s episode dealing with Edmond Halley and the origins of comets. Yes, they apparently even have an issue with the science behind comets. All kinds of problems arise when your belief system centers around young earth creationism. Anyway, head on over to Mother Jones to read more about it.

My Anti-Anti-Vaccination Post That Wasn’t

I had been writing a post about the growing anti-vaccination movement in my head for the past few days. I was figuring out how to structure my argument about why parents who decide not to vaccinate their kids against preventable diseases like measles, mumps, polio and whooping cough are endangering not just their own kids, but our society as a whole. Then I got into an online argument with the husband of a family friend on the topic and I’ve decided to take a pass. Not because he convinced me that not-immunizing his kids was the right choice, scientifically, no.

I’m not going to bother because it’s obvious there’s really no point. Anti-vax parents are just as dead-set in their belief system as flat earthers or climate deniers. They tend to ignore the bulk of the science as well as the overwhelming good vaccines have done that say immunizations are not only safe, but save thousands upon thousands of lives each year. At the same time, they are motivated in their deep-seated belief by the well being of their child, which is the first tenant of any good parent, and so I cannot fault them for that. But trying to convince them, in any way, that their decision not to protect their children against potentially deadly diseases was the wrong one will fail each and every time. This is a conclusion that the CDC also recently reached themselves which spells trouble for any hope of stopping the very recent rise of preventable diseases in the United States.

The more I think about it, the only way I see to slow the growing anti-vacination movement is to discover the true cause (and eventually the cure) for autism. The ever-increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism in this country is the catalyst that fuels these parents and rightly so. Autism is a scary neurological condition that places heavy burdens on both the afflicted and their families. Until the true causation for the condition is known, vaccines will continue to be blamed, and more and more outbreaks of preventable diseases will occur. We can (and should) pass laws that mandate vaccinations but even those won’t completely work because there will always be parents who will willingly break such a law to “safeguard” their child. Unfortunately, the cause(s) of autism may never be found and that, more than anything else, is what scares me most.

Cosmos Mobile Wallpaper

I’ve created a simple, fun wallpaper for your iPhone or iPad to help commemorate the premiere of the new Cosmos series on Fox. If you love all things space, head on over to the updated Goodies page to download the wallpaper for your iDevice of choice. Don’t forget to also check out my profile on Dribbble for more fun iOS downloads.

The Cosmic Voyage Begins

I first wrote about the upcoming reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series, Cosmos, back in July of 2013. To say I’ve been waiting patiently is an understatement. The new series is set to air this Sunday night, March 9th at 9pm and is hosted by noted astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The trailers we’ve seen over the last few months look impressive and both Fox and the show’s producers have been in full PR mode on Twitter and social media promoting the series premiere.

When the series first aired back in 1980 I was enthralled by its scope and soaked up every bit of spacey goodness in the 13 part series. Like the original, the new Cosmos series promises to take us both to the far reaches of the universe as well as examine the human condition right here on Earth. We’ll examine how life on our planet started, where we’re headed and beyond. As I’ve learned about this new series I’ve gained a new respect for producer, Seth McFarlane who was also a huge fan of the original series and wanted to help bring its message of discovery to a whole new generation. The fact that he and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, were able to convince Fox to broadcast Cosmos during prime time is nothing less than a minor miracle. I sincerely hope fans everywhere tune and and prove to Fox their faith in an educational series in the meat of their line-up was not misplaced.

Tyson and McFarlane have said that the series contains a bounty of new information about our universe so this won’t simply be a re-telling of Carl’s original journey. The series will draw inspiration from his teachings but the state of human knowledge has advanced considerably in the last 30 years so there should be plenty of new ground to explore. I also hope that the show’s creators take their time and explain complex concepts in ways that average people can understand. One of the best parts of the original Cosmos were segments when Sagan would simply sit and tell a historic story or explain the origins of complex theories like evolution or the formulation of the Drake Equation. I’m really hoping the new Cosmos isn’t edited like a music video, going from cut to cut trying to keep kids from losing interest in the face of all that science.

As a fan I’m glad our wait is finally over and the journey is about to begin. Tyson and company have some huge shoes to fill but something tells me they’ll do just fine. If you’re a fan of science, NASA, the human condition or you are looking for a great way to spend some time with your kids, tune into Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey this Sunday night on Fox. Then be sure to leave a comment here and let me know how you liked it.

UPDATE: You can now buy the soundtrack to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey by Alan Silvestri on iTunes. Cool!

COSMOS Is Coming

I’ve been a fan of the late Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking PBS TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, ever since it first aired in 1980. When the news came last year that FOX was teaming up with National Geographic, executive producers Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and Neil deGrasse Tyson to remake the series in 2014, I was over the moon. Now we have an official trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con and it’s positively astounding. From the trailer we can see Neil will re-introduce viewers to the Spaceship of the Imagination, the cosmic calendar and other scientific concepts that made the original both fun and educational. Because the series will air in prime time, FOX is giving Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey an amped up, epic treatment that’s sure to lure new viewers both young and old. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 can’t get here fast enough!

My God, It’s Full of Stitches!

What do you get when you combine subjects like science and crafting? If you’re tumblr user pardalote, then you turn your considerable embroidery talents towards the heavens and the results speak for themselves. The level of detail contained in this amazing chain stitched version of the planet Jupiter was recently featured in MAKE craft zine and it’s easy to see why. The creator used images from NASA as a reference to capture the subtle colors and swirls of the gas giant in way that reminds me of van Gogh’s Starry Night. Even though the work is not for sale it’s safe to say any space geek would be proud to display this in their home. Check it out. Wonderful!

One Small Step…

Aldrin took this picture of Armstrong in the cabin after the Apollo 11 EVA

Sad news today that the first man ever to set foot on the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong, has died at the age of 82. Armstrong recently underwent surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries but died today as a result of complications. Ever since I was a boy and first learned of he and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s voyage to the moon, I’ve been fascinated with all things NASA. Both his name and the famous words he spoke as he stepped off the lunar module will forever be taught to children around the world. Indeed, the name of Neil Armstrong is surely one of the most recognized in human history along with other men of discovery such as Sir Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus and Charles Lindbergh.

The historic irony is that for the last 20 years of his life, he did his best to stay out of the lime light. He refused to sign autographs after 1994 and in 2005 became embroiled in a legal battle with his barber after Armstrong discovered the man sold a lock of his hair to a collector for $3,000 without Neil’s knowledge. Many have sought to use his name, and likeness for their own personal agendas but in the end Neil remained a man of dignity and quiet restraint. I can’t imagine what it what was like for him to become one of the most famous men in history overnight, but I’m sure the pressures to live up to other people’s expectations were intense.

It is also ironic in that Armstrong might not have been first to set foot on the moon if it were not for a series of random factors that resulted in he and Aldrin’s mission being selected to actually land. There’s a wonderful scene in Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s epic mini series, From the Earth to the Moon, where Deke Slaton gathers all of the astronauts to let them know that one of them will be the man to actually be first. Although he did not know it at the time, Neil Armstrong was to be that man. The sense of history and significance that this realization represents is incredible and if you’ve never seen the mini series before, now would be the perfect time to check it out.

Today Armstrong passes from the realm of the living into those remembered, but even as he does so, it is certain his name and deeds will never be forgotten. I hope we one day set foot in the Sea of Tranquility again or perhaps upon the plains of Olympus Mons and remember all the small steps taken by men like Armstrong. Isaac Newton famously said “If I can see further than anyone else, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of giants”. Armstrong was one such giant. Farewell Neil, we’ll miss you.

A Good Day for Physics

Amazing, historical news today from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), who says a new particle they’ve discovered fits the description of the elusive Higgs boson. If true (scientists are almost 100% certain), the discovery will likely unlock new age in the field of physics and greatly expand our understanding of how mass and gravity work. The so-called “God Particle” has implications for scientific discovery that I don’t pretend to even *begin* to understand, but I do appreciate the magnitude of today’s announcement. Although researchers stressed the preliminary nature of the results, the findings will most likely be supported by more data later this year.

The geek in me is overjoyed that the efforts of the CERN team in Europe have been realized, and that the discovery, first proposed by physicist Peter Higgs in the 1960′s has been made within his lifetime. I can only imagine how satisfying it must have been to see the results of these experiments confirm a theory you’ve held your entire life. About the only question left in my mind is how producer/writer Bill Prady will work the announcement into next season of The Big Bang Theory. Doctor Sheldon Cooper will be beside himself, and that’s no bazinga!

Thinking Critically

The older I get the more difficult it becomes to separate emotion from logic when making an argument. I find my increasing experiences and biases towards aspects of religion and politics and even science have made it more and more difficult to look at the world objectively. This is particularly acute when I get upset about political arguments made by those who lean right, be they on Twitter, on radio or TV. I’d like to think of myself as an open-minded person who takes in as many of the available facts before making a judgement on a particular subject, but that’s not always the case.

So when I came across this excellent series of videos by TechNYou dealing with critical thinking, I absorbed the presented information like a sponge. If you need a refresher on how to make an argument logically or how to recognize confirmation bias in your day to day life, I highly recommend them. Each part is very short so you can watch the entire series in no time. Enjoy and remember to ‘Think Critically’.

Part 2 – Broken Logic
Part 3 – The Man Who Was Made of Straw
Part 4 – Getting Personal
Part 5 – The Gambler’s Fallacy
Part 6 – A Precautionary Tale

Greenland’s Disappearing Ice Lakes

While the battle rages between climate deniers and the consensus of the scientific community, strange things are afoot in Greenland. The PBS series NOVA documents the country’s rapidly changing landscape with the help of survey photographer James Balog. Extreme Ice is broken into six parts but the most ominous segment deals with Greenland’s strange disappearing lakes.

In recent years the summer melt season in Greenland has grown hotter and now lasts two weeks longer than it did only a decade ago. This has resulted in huge, fresh water lakes forming on the ice sheet surface. Some of these lakes are miles in diameter and up to 50 feet deep. Although these melt lakes contain hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, satellite imagery has recorded their disappearances in just the span of a few hours. Years ago it was believed the water was simply re-absorbed into the surrounding ice, but recent surveys have discovered something more dangerous. The water is boring down through the ice to the bedrock below and lubricating the entire ice sheet of Greenland. The implications of this, if true, are staggering.

One such amazing lake event was witnessed first hand by the NOVA team and documented for the special. The entire 60 minute broadcast is available on the PBS website and is worth your time. Watching these incredible frozen landscape melt away is strangely beautiful but deeply unsettling. As climate skeptics dominate the media and introduce measures in government bent on denying action to stop the effects of man-made warming, Greenland is slowly but surely slipping away. The debate about what’s causing climate change may never end, but the real question now is what are we doing to prepare for the coming disaster?