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Your own personal geek-to-English translator, in handy Podcast form! Equal parts topical science background, correction / explanation of poorly reported science & tech issues, and just plain interesting points to ponder. A 20 minute helping of critical thinking every week, presented in conversational style and with a dash of dry humor.
 
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Now that we've gone through the science behind climate change, and knocked down most of the kooks surrounding the issue, it's time to talk about what we're up against. In this episode, I spend a bit under 30 minutes laying out the most likely future impacts of climate change -- and while I wouldn't call it a catastrophe, things don't look too prett…
 
Since the opponents of the climate change consensus have had their turn, now it's time to give the supporters of the consensus a little working over. Since this is the seventh episode in a series, I'd recommend that before listening to this episode, you first listen to episodes 45, 47, 54, 56, 57, and 58.…
 
A couple of Geek Counterpoint listeners (thanks, Travis and Bill!) pointed me to a show recently aired on BBC channel 4 called "The Great Global Warming Swindle." It purports to be a documentary, and is uniformly critical of the science behind climate change and the global warming concensus. It's generated a lot of heat both in British papers and o…
 
Now that we've simplified things by covering the more common arguments made by climate change skeptics, this episode is devoted to discussing some specific climate change skeptics and their arguments. Since this is the fifth episode in a series, I'd recommend that before listening to this episode, you first listen to episodes 45, 47, 54, and 56. In…
 
When the Chinese government demolished one of its aging weather satellites a few weeks ago, they did more than just test out a potentially useful technology. They also cluttered up low Earth orbit with a huge amount of debris, and stirred up a comparable amount of controversy in the press. While nobody is yet quite sure what the motivation behind t…
 
It's taken some time to do a reasonable level of fact checking, but my climate cats have now been successfully herded, so it's (finally!) time for another climate change episode.Since (at least in the media) the discussion over climate change has been boiled down to two "sides," I'll start with the case made by various parties skeptical of the main…
 
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of a giant of space exploration -- Sergey Korolyov (sometimes also transliterated as Sergei Korolev). For much of the 20th century, Korolyov was the prime driving factor behind the Soviet space program. He led the efforts to launch Sputnik, put Yuri Gagarin into orbit, and hold up the USSR's end of the ra…
 
Sure, it's not much to look at -- but this humble lump of corroded bronze completely demolished our previous understanding of the history of mechanical inventions. The Antikythera Mechanism was built late in the 2nd century BC, and is the earliest example ever found of a geared mechanism, but represents a level of mechanical technology not seen aga…
 
Yes, I know -- I just talked about Stardust in episode 50. But in the meantime, the first batch of preliminary science papers was released on the 15th of December in the journal Science. There's a full set of material available (currently, at least, freely available) on the Science website, but many folks could probably use a bit of help in interpr…
 
Yes, it's time for another "grab bag" episode to get everybody caught up on recent and semi-recent developments in topics I've covered in past episodes. This week's fodder includes updates on the following subjects:Mars -- see episode 41 (September 2006)Asteroids and comets and dinosaurs -- see episodes 16, 17 (January 2006), and 24 (April 2006)RFI…
 
It's the holy grail of flight -- propulsion without the expenditure of reaction mass. A practical reactionless drive system would render wheeled vehicles (flying cars, anyone?), aircraft with wings, and rockets as we know them obsolete. But is it real? Can it ever be real?This episode covers the history of attempts at reactionless drives, and some …
 
I talked at length about the Neanderthals just a few months ago, and then as often seems to happen, a bunch of new Neanderthal news popped up shortly afterwards. Listen in this week, and you'll get caught up with some really interesting recent discoveries on our beetle-browed friends (and relatives?).Before you listen to this episode, I'd recommend…
 
This episode, the second in a series on climate change, is intended to give everybody a little background in logical fallacies. In particular, a number of logical fallacies seem to be particularly prone to use in news reports, political debates, and various pundits' writings on climate change -- so this episode will cover my own "top 10" list of cl…
 
A few weeks ago, researchers finished the first exhaustive study performed of the wreck of the USS Macon, a U.S. Navy airship. What's unique about this particular wreck is that the Macon isn't alone on its piece of ocean floor off the California coast -- it's debris also contains the wreckage of four fighter aircraft. The Macon was one of a handful…
 
At least in the U.S. (and judging by material on the net, increasingly in Canada and Australia as well), debate about climate change long ago left the scientific arena, and entered the world of politics. As a result, if you're trying to figure out for yourself where the truth lies, you're confronted with a confusing mess of information -- some of i…
 
A few days ago, the White House released an update to the United States' "National Space Policy" document. In a sense, an update is overdue as this document hasn't been tweaked since 1996, when Clinton was president. It's release got a number of folks spun up, labeling the document agressive and unilateral. Some commentators got even more excited, …
 
So-called social "Darwinism" and eugenics are two intertwined topics that always seem to come up whenever somebody wants to insult, or at least disparage, the scientific community in general. Realistically, though, neither one is really "Darwinian," and both represent the misuse and abuse of some basic biological concepts when applied in social and…
 
We recently had a family reunion of sorts in Ohio, and after some pretty stiff negotiations, I managed to finagle some time at the "National Museum of the U.S. Air Force" in Dayton. Anybody who's even slightly interested in military aviation, or the history of aviation, could easily spend a whole day here just looking at all the airplanes (and a fe…
 
MRO, a.k.a. the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, just got into its science orbit. As a result, you should expect to soon see a flood of new images and other interesting data coming back from Mars (adding, of course, to the goodies already coming back from MGS, Odyssey, and the MER rovers). Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to get folks up to …
 
This week's episode is a "grab bag," including news on three broad topics:* Stem cells -- see episodes 18 and 20 (February 2006), and episode 21 (March, 2006)* Evolution vs. "Intelligent Design" -- see episodes 4 (October 2005) and 11 (December 2005)* The "Hobbits" of Flores Island -- see episodes 15 (January 2006) and 30 (June 2006)Also, a brief c…
 
This episode started as an examination of political interference in science. But while doing research for the episode, I ran across two studies on the brain activity involved in partisan politics, and decided to also look at what science has to say about politics (or at least, partisan thinking).Listen in this week, and find out how politics really…
 
We recently got back from a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, and I thought the park would make a nice subject for a quick video podcast episode -- OK, and it gave me an excuse to test out a new camcorder. Aside from the fun tourist aspects (although any place out of pager & cell phone range is a good vacation spot in my estimation), th…
 
Planetary science used to be so simple. Our solar system had 9 planets, and a bunch of little leftover scraps called asteroids and comets. But over the last few decades, improvements in observing technology have helped astronomers to discover hundreds of new objects -- and they don't all fit the old, tidy categories (many of them don't even fit wel…
 
2006 has been dubbed "The Year of the Neanderthal," since the first official discovery of Neanderthal remains was made 150 years ago this month in a limestone quarry in Germany's Neander Valley, east of Dusseldorf. Listen in this week, and you'll learn where things currently stand with respect to Neanderthal's place in our family tree, as well as l…
 
Now that Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 1 module is in orbit, the concept of inflatable spacecraft is starting to get a little bit of press attention. Genesis 1 is not the only inflatable space vehicle ever made -- and definitely not the only one ever proposed. It's not the first, or the biggest -- but it's by far the most ambitious. Tune in to this w…
 
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a French biologist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and can be credited with a number of advances in the study of species origins and (in particular) invertebrate biology. Lamarck was an early proponent of evolution via natural causes, decades before Darwin's introduction of natural selection as the mechanism beh…
 
This is the third in a scattered series of episodes that I'm in aggregate titling "20 Minute Lessons in 20th Century Physics." Tune in this week, and I'll give you a brief introduction to quantum mechanics. This episode makes references to general relativity (ep. 27 -- May, 2006), so make sure you've listened to that episode first if you're new to …
 
There's a battle under way in the U.S. Congress over Net Neutrality -- and it's got broad implications for all internet users, regardless of where they live. Unfortunately, the mass media haven't been paying much attention to the debate, and some of the internet-based coverage tends to be a bit TOO focused to give a balanced view of things. In this…
 
Many a blog entry has been written in complaint about the difficulties of working in space with the U.S., or about the hurdles U.S. aerospace companies face in dealing with partners abroad. As is often the case, these difficulties come from good intentions, and revolve around a valid need -- for regulations on export of sensitive technologies. The …
 
Anybody that's been keeping up with the news lately (at least in the U.S.) has heard about the recent allegations that the NSA is collecting call routing information on most phone calls made within the U.S. Social network analysis (SNA) seems to be the leading candidate for the presumed use of all this data. So in this week's episode, I struggle mi…
 
A quick overview of an excellent book by the same name -- a description of the career of Harry Harlow and his studies of the science of affection, with special attention to the conflict between Harlow and the then-prevailing view of the subject. Whether you love Harlow or hate him, the animal studies that he and his students conducted resulted in d…
 
This is the second in a scattered series of episodes that I'm in aggregate titling "20 Minute Lessons in 20th Century Physics." Tune in this week, and I'll give you a brief introduction to general relativity. This episode makes lots of references to special relativity (ep. 22 -- March, 2006), so make sure you've listened to that episode first if yo…
 
This week, I wrap up my treatment of the loss of the Titanic with a simplified (if not brief) failure analysis. How the ship broke up and sank is fairly straightforward -- so I don't spend much time on that. On the other hand, the decisions that went into how the ship was built and operated are less often discussed, and far more pertinent to the mo…
 
April 15 is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and it's been just over 20 years since the ship's wreck was found, so I thought it'd be a good time to talk about some aspects of the tragedy that aren't often discussed, but still hold lessons for our day. Listen in, and you might learn a thing or two about the loss of (what one satirical …
 
No sooner had I uplinked last week's episode, than related news showed up. This, a study doubting the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction. Disappointingly, the study was presented non-critically by a number of media outlets (even popular "science" magazines). In particular, it was presented as "new" hypothesis, when it's really just the latest v…
 
We've all heard or read about some scare or another based on the potential future impact of an asteroid or comet. Often, the core issue behind such scares (leaving aside an occasionally over-excited member of the press) is weak communication between astronomers and the mass media. Not that it's due to any lack of trying. In this episode, I give you…
 
As I mentioned in the last episode (#21), I've got a whole list of topics I'd like to discuss that require at least a cursory background in modern (non-Newtonian) physics. So this week's episode is the first in a scattered series of 3 episodes that I'm in aggregate titling "20 Minute Lessons in 20th Century Physics." Tune in this week, and I'll giv…
 
This week's episode contains updates to previous episodes based on recent news, and a little bit of news about Pluto (I don't have enough material for an episode all about Pluto, so it gets tossed in here). I also go through the results of the "Topics" survey I had on the website last month. Just to sweeten the pot, I wrap up with previews of comin…
 
Now that we've got a little background in stem cells (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, make sure you listen to episode 18), let's talk about recent news. This week's topic is South Korea's own Hwang Woo-Suk -- his meteoric rise to prominence, and his even faster fall from grace. The story has patriotism, vast sums of money, and interna…
 
The White House just released its proposed 2007 budget for NASA, and it seems the administration has an interesting perspective on both science and its own "Vision for Space Exploration" (VSE). While the Bush administration isn't reducing anything it's asking NASA to do as part of VSE, the White House is increasingly reluctant to actually provide m…
 
Stem cells have been in the press for a while now -- but many media outlets seem to be covering them more for the excitement of controversy, than in any attempt to educate people. You know how it goes, a lot of heat but very little light... In this episode, I give you a quick working background on the various types of stem cells, where they come fr…
 
Last week, I gave you the story of where the Stardust mission came from -- technically, scientifically, and politically. With the background out of the way, we're ready to dive into the really good stuff. In this week's episode, we continue the Stardust story -- but focus now on Stardust's mission and science. The end result was a historic success …
 
On the 15th of January, a special package was delivered to a dry lake bed in Utah -- and nobody complained that it took 7 years to arrive and covered 3 billion miles in the meantime. This particular package cost $212M to produce, but its contents are (at least in scientific terms) priceless. This week's episode is a discussion of the Stardust missi…
 
In 2003 and 2004, a team of Australian and Indonesian anthropologists made some interesting discoveries in a cave on Indonesia's Flores island -- bones from small creatures, that may just prove to be cousins of humanity. Since these bones came from adults, but they apparently stood only about 3 feet tall, they were almost immediately christened "ho…
 
When push comes to shove, it's tough to make a fossil. Tougher still is gathering enough of them to put together a coherent story (the Earth is, after all, a big place). In this episode, I talk about fossilization and why there are "gaps" in the fossil record. Thanks to Daryl for suggesting this topic...…
 
Now that the commercial spend-fest that is a modern Christmas has passed, I thought it'd be a good time to discuss one of the more promising (as well as disturbing) commercial technologies now appearing on store shelves -- RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). Maybe it's a godsend for commercial inventory control, maybe it's the biblical "Mark of …
 
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