Thursday, May 21, 2020

No, they didn't (part 3)

It was about time for more bullshit sensationalist "science" headlines. This time people are geeking out over the possibility that a science experiment in Antarctica detected "evidence" of a parallel universe where time runs backward.

Of course they didn't.

The latest Internet frenzy comes to you via this article from with the headline, "We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time". Other news outlets dropped the "may" from their headlines and simply reported it as "fact". You can thank sloppy headline writers for the hype... again. Which gives me the opportunity to pull out this graphic one more time, and award it to all the media outlets that have copied it from one another without the slightest effort toward critical analysis.

The source of the data is the Antarctic Impulsive
Transient Antenna (ANITA), a NASA-sponsored balloon experiment. You can read the report here [PDF]. The report details four anomalous particle detections over the years, the results of supposed neutrino collisions. A problem with these detections is that they appear to have originated from the direction of the Earth, which would be unlikely given the way these are known to originate. Note, please, the word unlikely. Note that it does not mean "impossible". Rather, it hints at a possibility. It is possible, for example, that the readings were erroneous. It is possible that the current models are not accurate. It is possible that some other factors, as yet unknown, were involved. For instance, while the polarity is inconsistent with a reflection, multiple reflections, as unlikely as they may be, may account for it. It is possible that, as unlikely as it may be, the detected neutrinos made it through the Earth. It is also possible that a very unlikely hitherto unobserved event did in fact occur.

What is less likely than any of those possibilities is that the readings have revealed a hitherto-unknown entire universe, along with evidence of how the laws of nature operate in same. There is no evidence that there is a universe where left is right, up is down, and time is reversed. While in the right hands these may become hypotheses, as reported they are speculations and fantasies. Not evidence. At the moment what we have is four readings in need of explanation.

Let me be clear, though... the NASA report is not at fault. The authors are exceedingly clear about what they discovered. They don't say what it is; rather, they say what it's unlikely to be, and why they think that. And as they state in the report, "Current or future data may be able to confirm or falsify whether neutrino interactions are the origin of this event." These are scientists, not click-mongers and sensationalists.

In case you've forgotten previous hype, the following once-major headlines are also bullshit:
  • Scientists have discovered cold fusion
  • Study finds scientific reproducibility does not equate to scientific truth
  • Bristol academic cracks Voynich code
  • Satnavs ‘switch off’ part of the brain we use for navigation
However, one headline that is decidedly not bullshit is this:

Keep calm and carry on. Your life hasn't changed after all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Critical Thinking Skills are Harder to Find than Toilet Paper

This bit of faulty logic was seen on Twitter:

Yes, we all know that the President of the United States has had his eye on you for some time. His cup of hate runneth over for you and your family. The logical fallacy here really shouldn't have to be explained. If you can't see it, it's because you're not thinking very well. And unlike the President, I'm directing that comment directly at those who re-tweet this nonsense. If that's you, then I'm talking to you. The one who doesn't see the fallacy. It's certainly possible that at one time you exhibited a fine measure of intelligence, but you have chosen to set it aside. Your thinking skills have been quarantined with the rest of you, and you're not letting them loose on the world.

Let's see if some other examples of the same fallacy might make it clear.
  • 1.25 million people die in road crashes every year. When the government granted you a license to drive, it's because whoever was President at the time personally wanted you... yes, you... and everyone in the car with you to die. Not some abstract percentage. You.
  • 320,000 people die annually from accidental drowning. When your parents took you to the beach or lake, it's because they wanted you to die. Not some abstract percentage. You... their own child. Your parents want you to die.
  • All retirement plans are invested in the stock market. When clueless idiots like the one who posted that faulty tweet wish to trash the market, it's because they personally want you... yes, you... to spend your retirement in dependence and poverty. Not some abstract percentage. You. They mean your mom and your grandparents should suffer simply to lift their image as "social influencers". This poster wants you to starve.
I could go through a long list of these things, in each case citing WHO fact sheets and other objectively verifiable sources, but it should be unnecessary. Of course none of those people want these horrible consequences to fall on you personally any more (or less) than the President does, but they are the inevitable result of freedom of action. Some people hate this simple truth: then again, simple truth isn't very popular in this age of wishful thinking and magical ideals.

As noted above, all pension and retirement plans are kept solvent through investments. Sheer ignorance results in the mistaken impression that it's the "rich" and "one-percenters" who unfairly take advantage. There are people who do get rich off of the stock market. They're doing what the socialist mouthpieces are not, but could. But millions of blue collar people depend on that same stock market, and they're foolish desire to 'stick it' to the few rich adversely affects those millions proportionally more.

Just. Because. Of. Jealousy.

At least, that's the way it is among the rank and file. Socialist leadership is another story. Their attempt to keep you distracted with misinformation and feed your envy is calculated to gain power. To make socialism look good, they have to make capitalism look bad, and that requires that they frighten you into acting against society's best interest, and your own.

Stargirl: I LIKE IT

With the vast array of on-screen superheroes, you'd think we were in the middle of a renaissance. Sadly, I haven't felt that way until recently, with the screen debut of Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018.

Here's the thing: since Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, live-action comic adaptations have tried to be "grounded in reality", with varying levels of success. But for me the successes have been "nice try" at best. At worst, they've been horrible failures.What they fail to do is capture the sense of excitement that you feel when actually reading a really good comic book. And to find a really good comic book, you're going to have to go back a couple of decades, as this live-action miasma has wended its way back into the parent medium in recent years.

DC's Stargirl Reveals Justice Society of America and Villains ...Historically, Marvel has been better about their live action adaptations than DC, which is a shame since I think DC has the better characters. DC, on the other hand, has been producing superior quality animated series and movies for some time now. When watching a DC animated movie I've often found myself asking "why don't they do this in live action?" Instead, for the most part what they've done is bury mediocre material under layers of leather, armor, and bad CGI. The best comic book heroes are not encumbered with such things. They are larger than life.

What I like about Stargirl -- and I'm having to judge it by the first episode alone, not being a privileged critic -- is that it is unashamedly comic book material, with no excuses. It gets in there, gives you an origin story, a backstory, and jumps right into the action. One episode. Why? Because nobody reads comics for the origin story. You have to have it, yeah; but you just get it out of the way, usually in a few panels or at the most one issue. What Geoff Johns has done is take something that he knows very well -- comics -- and scripted it into television format.

Stargirl vs Vector & X-Ray - Battles - Comic VineIn this one pilot episode you know who the Justice Society of America (JSA) were and what happened to them. You know who the bad guys are. You know who the new heroine (Courtney Whitmore, played by Brec Bassinger) is going to be, and you how perfectly ordinary her "known world" is. You know that she has some skills already (she's an aspiring gymnast, and the boxing gloves in her room hint at at least some training in pugilism). You're introduced to the mentor (Pat Dugan, played by Luke Wilson) and to the magical item (Starman's Cosmic Staff). And you take your first step outside of the known world. Time to get this Hero's Journey underway.

I have no doubt that paid critics are going to blast the series for the speed at which this happens. Pay no attention to them. This is how comics are done. Pay no attention to their subtly racist prattling about Courtney being a "generic blonde girl". Physically, the casting of the lead is perfect (go ahead and compare). The casting of secondary characters likewise. Casting comedic actor Luke Wilson as Stripesy was inspired. He brings just the right touch of innocent acceptance to the role, leading to a moment of gravitas that somehow manages to be poignant and genuinely funny at the same time. And though I really don't want to go into spoilers here, I adore the fact that the Cosmic Staff is not just an artifact, but a character in its own right.

This is pretty hard to spoil anyway. There are some things you're able to glean from the poster alone. You know that there will be a new Justice Society. You know that they will be young and multi-ethnic, and you know on first meeting who they're going to be. But knowing that stuff in advance doesn't ruin the story for me. I'm just jazzed somebody finally decided to bring actual high-quality comic book fare to the small screen without miring it down with an entire season of origin story and angst. Do you hear me, Doom Patrol? Titans? In my opinion, this pilot does for superheroes what The Orville did for Space Opera. It's a great start. Let's hope they don't screw it up.

Stargirl can be seen on The CW and on DC Universe. Give it a shot.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Listening to the Professor

Alright, this one's been making the rounds:

It's far too easy to point out that the fictional castaways were stuck on that island for 15 years. If you really want to point to someone who can get you out of a mess, perhaps you should choose a better example.