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Skeptic Summary #358

By The Staff
Posted on: 2/27/2012

Aliens, politicians, shyness, creationism, unworkable devices and more!

Week ending February 26, 2012 (Vol 9, #7)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
Aliens and advancement - Did aliens teach proto-humans to evolve?

Are American politicians really this stupid? - Apparently some conspiracy theorists are.

God’s “shyness” makes ID hard to prove? - The Discovery Institute doesn’t see lack of evidence as a problem.

The Missing Universe Museum - A slick cover can't hide the creationist agenda.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
The Museum of Unworkable Devices: Perpetual motion machines as physics puzzles — Way back (WWW time) in the January 20th, 2008, issue of our Skeptic Summary, I chose as my pick, Donald Simanek’s Pages. Hopefully, whether because of my advice or not, you have been there. It’s a wonderful site, and rather vast. I still wholeheartedly recommend the site, and being that it has been years since that pick, I thought I would recommend it again, only this time with more focus on the section of the site that looks at perpetual motion machines. This is a museum of fascinating machines that can’t work along with the physics on why they can’t work, and even some puzzles and quizzes for those who want to delve deeper into the physics of where exactly the inventors have gone wrong.

Or as Donald Simanek says in his introduction to The Museum of Unworkable Devices:
This museum is a celebration of fascinating devices that don’t work. It houses diverse examples of the perverse genius of inventors who refused to let their thinking be intimidated by the laws of nature, remaining optimistic in the face of repeated failures. Watch and be amazed as we bring to life eccentric and even intricate perpetual motion machines that have remained steadfastly unmoving since their inception. Marvel at the ingenuity of the human mind, as it reinvents the square wheel in all of its possible variations. Exercise your mind to puzzle out exactly why they don’t work as the inventors intended.

Like any museum, the site is divided up into Galleries. There is a menu of galleries that are off of the homepage, and a Main Gallery on the homepage that starts with a section called It’ll never work! which goes a way to explain the fallacious thinking of those who think that physical laws may not apply in all cases or that science being what it is, certain physical laws of nature are being held dogmatically by scientists and the inventor’s ideas should not be so easily dismissed.
Of course physicists don’t claim that any physics laws represent final and unalterable truth. The perpetual motion (PM) machine inventor pounces on this and says “Such laws would have us give up trying to discover anything new! What if there were a flaw in these laws, a flaw that we could discover and exploit?”

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

It’s a historical fact that the laws of thermodynamics were initially proposed to describe the fact that all previous attempts to achieve perpetual motion had failed. We’ve learned more about these laws since then, and have a much better understanding of them and why they are so powerful in describing what can and can’t happen in nature.

There are also many galleries that are off of the homepage. The first one of those is The Physics Gallery, an educational tour. It includes Principles of Unworkable Devices and Physics 101 For Perpetual Motion Inventors. The Principles of Unworkable Devices includes this little list of dicussions:
  • The principle of unlimited possibility. Anything is possible in nature.
  • The “heavier on one side” seduction.
  • The “more weight on one side” distraction.
  • The “unbalanced torque” deception.
  • The cyclic disappointment.
  • The elastic/inelastic dilemma.
  • Failure to isolate the system.
  • The static/dynamic trap.
  • The apples/oranges equation.
  • The artistic illusion.
  • Experimental “gotchas”.
  • The “dog chasing its tail” principle.
  • Reinventing the square wheel.
If you are getting the idea that the site is dry, than it’s because of my writing skills and not because of the site. I have only linked to the first article in each of the two main menus, and they are fun and highly readable. (And that’s coming from a guy who has to look up even simple physics questions!) Also included on the fairly long menu lists are the machines themselves, how to build a fake perpetual motion machine, The Gallery of Ingenious, but Impractical Devices, and even a Gallery of 3d stereo artistic impossibilities. Not everything on the site is about perpetual motion. Just most of it is.

Anyhow, along with a fun visit to Donald Simanek’s Pages, spend some time at The Museum of Unworkable Devices: Perpetual motion machines as physics puzzles. As a reference and for sheer educational and entertainment value, it’s a skeptic’s paradise.

David Jones has built a number of ingenious “fake”
perpetual motion machines for museums and trade shows.

Production of useful work is limited by the laws of thermodynamics, but the production of useless work seems to be unlimited.
— Donald Simanek

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Posh Skeptics started out discussing wine, while the more down-to-earth harped about boxed or Jack&Coke. Storm was greeted on her birthday, then we started talking music. And dreams. Weird dreams. But we don’t expect them to be normal, how could we when our minds are asleep which gives our brains free range on what to dream about… Someone mentioned Zoo, and the discussion immediately and inevitably turned to politics, and politics and creationism. We learned from Storm and Valiant Dancer there are many different spiritual paths in Wicca. After a gap in the chat-log, we discussed different aspects of what psi was defined as, and how they were named.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Archaeologists strike gold in quest to find Queen of Sheba’s wealth

Archaeology: More details emerge about Roman ruins in Bulgaria’s Bourgas

‘Abyss Box’ to keep deep animals

A beast with human skin?

The beautiful and incredibly violent Eta Carina

Best Supporting Role: 8 Celebs Who Promote Science

The Boy Who Played With Fusion

Changing the Face of History: Forensic Anthropologists Reconstruct First President’s Real Looks

Cracking a Very Cold Case: the Killing of Ítzi the Iceman

Dogs On The Scent Of Better Behaviour

Doubtful Newsblog

Fossilized Pollen Unlocks Secrets of Ancient Royal Garden

German soldiers preserved in World War I shelter discovered after nearly 100 years

God Hates Checkered Whiptail Lizards!!!

Grief without God is a challenge for nonbelievers

The Grinches That Stole Valentine’s Day: Creatures That Say No to Sex

Help for Thunder-Phobic Dogs

If Modern Humans Are So Smart, Why Are Our Brains Shrinking?

Is It Just A Mystery Whether God Exists?

Life on Earth Began on Land, Not in Sea?

“Light Echoes” From Monster Star’s Eruption Found — A First

‘Manly’ Fingers Make For Strong Jawline in Young Boys

Mercury Again Ruled Out as Autism Cause

Muslims and Christians Team Up To Target Secularists

Asian Negritos are not one population

New Insights Into an Ancient Mechanism of Mammalian Evolution

Norwegian princess offers advice on talking to angels

Official Word on Superluminal Neutrinos Leaves Warp-Drive Fans a Shred of Hope — Barely

Planck All-Sky Images Show Cold Gas and Strange Haze in Milky Way Galaxy

Prehistoric cybermen? Sardinia’s lost warriors rise from the dust

Risks of placing scientists ‘on message’

Quantum Dots Can Get Nearby Neurons Firing

Scientist Vows To Reverse-Engineer Dinosaur From Chicken

Scottish Scientists Are Trying to Create Inorganic Life

Solent’s Stone Age village ’had modern high street links’

Tasmanian Devil Cancer Traced Back to ’Immortal’ Devil Girl

To Escape Chinese Espionage, You Must Travel “Electronically Naked”

Using ‘Dominance’ To Explain Dog Behavior Is Old Hat

What Really Prompts The Dog’s ‘Guilty Look’

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True, by Guy P. Harrison.

“Maybe you know someone who swears by the reliability of psychics or who is in regular contact with angels. Or perhaps you’re trying to find a nice way of dissuading someone from wasting money on a homeopathy cure. Or you met someone at a party who insisted the Holocaust never happened or that no one ever walked on the moon. How do you find a gently persuasive way of steering people away from unfounded beliefs, bogus cures, conspiracy theories, and the like? Longtime skeptic Guy P. Harrison shows you how in this down-to-earth, entertaining exploration of commonly held extraordinary claims.

A veteran journalist, Harrison has not only surveyed a vast body of literature, but has also interviewed leading scientists, explored ‘the most haunted house in America,’ frolicked in the inviting waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and even talked to a ‘contrite Roswell alien.’

Harrison is not out simply to debunk unfounded beliefs. Wherever possible, he presents alternative scientific explanations, which in most cases are even more fascinating than the wildest speculation. For example, stories about UFOs and alien abductions lack good evidence, but science gives us plenty of reasons to keep exploring outer space for evidence that life exists elsewhere in the vast universe. The proof for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster may be nonexistent, but scientists are regularly discovering new species, some of which are truly stranger than fiction.

Stressing the excitement of scientific discovery and the legitimate mysteries and wonder inherent in reality, Harrison invites readers to share the joys of rational thinking and the skeptical approach to evaluating our extraordinary world.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Yeast evolves multicellularity in lab in 60 days
  2. A disturbing trend, ’er no?
  3. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  4. Shit New Age Girls Say
  5. God’s “shyness” makes ID hard to prove?
  6. Funny FAILS
  7. Alcoholics Anonymous
  8. The Missing Universe Museum
  9. Jesus tempts Satan
  10. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  3. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  4. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  5. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  6. TAM4
  7. How Do Vaccines Work?
  8. Skeptic Summary #287
  9. Skeptic Summary #357
  10. Scientific Truth
There were 6,866 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

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