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Print Your Own Gun… or Not

by Brian Dunning, Apr 18 2013

RepRap Mendel 3D printer

This is one of those blog posts that will likely be laughably obsolete within a couple of years.

It’s not exactly news that 3D printing technologies have been used to print parts of working guns. So far, the firing chamber still needs to be a piece of real metal, and can be purchased off the shelf; but the main mechanical part — where bullets are loaded and triggers are pulled and shells are ejected — can be printed at home on a common 3D printer. It is this part, usually called the lower receiver, that constitutes the legally controlled “gun”. In other words, the part of the gun that makes it a gun, and that you’re in trouble if you make without being a licensed firearm manufacturer, is the part that’s easiest to print yourself. (continue reading…)

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Can We Be Clear On Something? It’s STEM, Not STEAM.

by Brian Dunning, Mar 14 2013

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The STEM fields are of special significance in the United States, as they are considered by the government to be strategically important, and because we have a shortage of experts in these fields. As a result, many government and educational agencies have STEM programs, and we’ll discuss some of those in a moment.

My purpose today is to nip a growing trend in the bud, which is the tendency for people involved in the arts to expand it to STEAM (A = Arts). Nearly everyone in my family (except me) is musical, and so I sit through a lot of fundraising presentations at concert halls, always hearing the pitch of why STEAM fields are so important. It’s in the high school newsletters, it’s in the local performing arts community brochures; it’s everywhere you look when you go to an art show. (continue reading…)

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In Defense of Vulcan

by Brian Dunning, Feb 28 2013
Pluto and its moons, July 2012

Pluto and its moons, July 2012

The votes are in, and Vulcan won the naming contest for Pluto’s P4 moon. Pluto’s two newest moons, currently named P4 and P5, were discovered in 2011 and 2012 by a team led by SETI chief scientist Dr. Mark Showalter. Such discoverers have the right to recommend names to the International Astronomical Union, who then has final authority on the naming. Showalter and SETI thought it would be fun to solicit votes from the public from a list of 21 names, and the names Vulcan and Cerberus won. The IAU does not reuse names, and since there is already an asteroid named Cerberus, the SETI team plans to submit the Greek spelling of Kerberos instead.

This blog post is a serious pitch to the P4/P5 discovery team and the International Astronomical Union to not assign the name Vulcan to P4, but rather, to save it for the exoplanet Gliese 581 c. (continue reading…)

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A Visual Tour of Earth Meteor Impacts

by Brian Dunning, Feb 21 2013

Considering all the recent fun involving asteroids and meteors, I thought it would apropos to show a visual history of major impact structures around the world to answer the question: Are we “due”?

In fact, we’re never due, in the same way a die is never due to roll a three. So in the same sense, we’re always due. And we have been as long as the Earth has existed. This interactive chart I made shows 51 impact structures that have been identified over the past 750 million years, each of which left a crater at least 20 kilometers across. The size of the circle represents the size of the crater. For reference, the largest included in this dataset is the Shiva impact structure in Asia, 500 kilometers across, from an impact event 500 million years ago. (continue reading…)

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You Are Such a Racist

by Brian Dunning, Feb 14 2013

stroopMost of us are familiar with the Stroop Test. The subject is shown a series of words, each of which is written in a different color. The only task is to say what color the word is. What’s so hard about that? Well, nothing; it would be easy, except that each word is the name of a color, and usually different from the color in which it’s written. You can try it online here, and see how surprisingly difficult it is. Believe it or not, a similar test can reveal your hidden racial biases. (continue reading…)

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In Defense of Fast Food

by Brian Dunning, Feb 07 2013

It’s no secret that I’m not a giant fan of CNN.com’s science reporting, especially in recent years. But when I happened upon this story by chef Virginia Willis on CNN.com’s “Eatocracy” section, I felt that it went a little too far over the line of rhetoric trumping responsible reporting, and deserved some response. Here are the two opening paragraphs, verbatim:

As a chef and food writer, I rarely eat fast food. The quality is generally atrocious and much of it is radically unhealthy. The menu offerings are the polar opposite of local and seasonal. There are dire implications concerning worker’s rights and wages, as well as animal welfare and factory farms.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, every interstate exit is identical with the same usual suspects offering the same sad sacks of chemically laced, artificially flavored fare, all swimming in high-fructose corn syrup. Cheap, fast food is at the core of what is wrong with our food system. (continue reading…)

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No, I’m Not on the Payroll of (Name Your Evil Entity)

by Brian Dunning, Jan 17 2013

IMG_3777Welcome. You are reading this post because you’ve been directed here by either myself or one of my listeners to whom you’ve suggested that I’m on the payroll of {insert the name of your preferred Evil Entity here}.

I am a full-time science writer who has tackled over 300 different pop-culture urban legends on my podcast Skeptoid, and many other subjects on other online/offline publications. Most likely, you read, watched, or heard something of mine, found that it disputed a cherished belief of yours, and you decided that no rational person could actually come to such a conclusion as I did unless he was on the payroll of Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Food, Big Toxins, Men in Black, what have you. (continue reading…)

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What Is a Consensus?

by Brian Dunning, Jan 03 2013

IMG_3741Anyone who has ever pointed out that a scientific consensus exists on a certain matter has probably been meet with laughter and derision. The word consensus has practically become a punchline. It is reminiscent of the famous corollary to Godwin’s Law which states that the first person to mention Nazis has automatically lost the argument; so it frequently goes with the first person to mention consensus. So many highly visible personalities deny and deride scientific consensus that the term has, in popular usage, become synonymous with a fatally weak argument. (continue reading…)

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Do You Want to Know?

by Brian Dunning, Dec 20 2012

Mustachioed Englishman JBS Haldane, FRS (Public domain image)

If you’ve ever listened to my podcast Skeptoid or heard me speak in person — whether you agreed with me or not — one thing that I hope you’ve taken away is my genuine enthusiasm for learning. I have the best job in the world, spending the better part of a full week immersed in a subject, a different one each week. I don’t ever remember being bored with it or running out of threads to follow. I’ve read the adventures of handlebar-mustachioed colonial Englishmen, I’ve traced the genesis of ghost stories back to their unexpected origins, I’ve gone as deep as I’ve been able into hard sciences that are all just a little bit over my head.

Since the point of all this is to distill it into a narrative that I can share, I get a lot of questions. For the most part, these come in two basic varieties. First, there are honest questions by interested people like myself who want to know more. Second, there are argumentative or rhetorical “questions” from those who disagree with my conclusions and want to prove me wrong. These are not really questions. They’re public challenges, intended to rebut. I think you know the kind of “questions” I mean. They often sound something like this: (continue reading…)

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Skeptoid Podcast Now Available in Mandarin Chinese

by Brian Dunning, Dec 13 2012

In a major expansion, the Skeptoid science podcast, in English since 2006, is now available in Mandarin on the Chinese iTunes Store and at http://skeptoid.com.cn. This effectively triples the potential listener base, making the award winning show available to more listeners worldwide than any other podcast in any genre.

Host Zhe Li (Lizzie to her English speaking friends) was selected as the favorite from a field of test hosts whose recordings were evaluated by a large focus group of Chinese natives. As a professional translator, she brings a wealth of experience and resources translating even the most obscure technical and scientific terms from Skeptoid. (continue reading…)

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