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Trump won’t attend White House correspondents’ dinner

Why Evolution is True Feed - 6 hours 5 min ago

From my CNN news feed:

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter on Saturday that he will not attend this year’s White House correspondents’ Dinner.

“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year,” the President tweeted. “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

Here’s the damn tweet:

I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017

There’s no more information than this. I can’t recall any other President skipping this dinner, which of course is a lighthearted but sarcastic affair, with comedians and others taking the podium to make fun of the President.

Trump, of course, is a narcissist, and narcissists can’t take criticism, especially when they’re sitting there having to listen to it. And this expresses further disdain for the press, which I find reprehensible in a democracy.

Stay classy, Donald!

Categories: Science

Tigers versus drone: no contest!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 9 hours 11 min ago

Here’s a bunch of Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica: there’s only one species of tiger; all the named versions are subspecies) in a Chinese “tiger park” being photographed by a drone. Although they’re largely fat and out of shape, they take the gadget down handily in the last bit of the video.

I wish they didn’t fence in these magnificent beasts, which have large territories in the wild. Perhaps they’d go extinct without this kind of captivity, but sometimes I think that would be the best alternative if they or their descendants can never be put back in the wild.

Categories: Science

Senator Rand Paul ridiculed small grant to study indigenous supernatural beliefs

The Doubtful News Feed - 11 hours 20 min ago
In the paranormal news feeds today is a rehash of a story from 2016 where a nonprofit research organization, serving the people in the Bearing Strait region, received a grant of nearly $150,000 to study and document the supernatural beliefs of the locals. Rand Paul, in his “Waste Report” rants, hit on this grant from…
Categories: Skeptic

Here’s the snake!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 11 hours 41 min ago

I’ve circled the snake from today’s earlier “spot the ____” puzzle, and enlarged it. Did you find it? Do you know the species?

Categories: Science

Good news: U.S.’s biggest retailer of Christian books and merchandise closed after bankruptcy

Why Evolution is True Feed - 12 hours 41 min ago

Reader Alexander sent a link to an article in Publisher’s Weekly (PW), which Wikipedia describes as “an American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents. Published continuously since 1872, it has carried the tagline, “The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling”. With 51 issues a year, the emphasis today is on book reviews.”

The report on that site is about the retail chain Family Christian Stores, formerly America’s largest chain of stores purveying Christian merchandise (books, jewelry, movies, geegaws and the like) I say “formerly” because the chain is closing. (You can read the CEO’s official announcement here, signed “In His Service”.) After declaring bankruptcy in 2015, the chain is shutting down: lock, stock, and barrel. And it’s no small chain, either, as it has 240 stores in 36 states. As PW reports:

Family Christian Stores, the largest retailer of Christian books and merchandise in the country, is closing all of its outlets. The chain, which went through a bankruptcy proceeding in 2015, cited changing consumer behavior and declining sales when it announced its decision to shutter on Thursday. FCS operates 240 stores in 36 states.

According to various sources, a board meeting was held at FCS’s Grand Rapids, Mich., headquarters on Wednesday afternoon to determine whether the beleaguered retailer would close or finance another year. To continue, sources said, board members said that they needed to see a path to profitability by 2018.

. . . “We prepared for this,” said Jonathan Merkh, v-p and publisher at Howard Books. The planning, though, doesn’t take away the sting. “Financially, it may not affect the industry in the short run, but it will in the long run. There are 240 less stores selling books.”

Mark D. Taylor, chairman and CEO of Tyndale House Publishers, told PW that it will be hard to lose a company which has been a cornerstone of the segment for so long. “The entire Christian community—indeed the entire nation—will be poorer as a result of this pending closure,” he said.

The Christian community may be the poorer, but I think the nation will be the richer, for this not on facilitates the secularization of the U.S., but is a strong sign of that secularization. People just don’t want to buy Christian stuff any more, and that coincides with the rise of the “nones”: those Americans who don’t identify with an established church. While people like Rodney Stark keep claiming that Christianity is doing better than ever, they’re like the captain of a ship proclaiming how sound the vessel is as it’s going down

By the way, here’s PW’s list of subject editors. It’s supposed to deal with the entire publishing industry, but notice that there are three religion editors and no science editors! We still have a way to go.

Calvin Reid

John Maher

Diane Roback, Children’s Book Editor
John A. Sellers, Children’s Reviews Editor
Emma Kantor, Associate Editor
Matia Burnett, Assistant Editor

Please contact Matia Burnett for queries concerning review submissions of children’s books.

Carolyn Juris

Seth Satterlee, Religion Reviews Editor
Emma Koonse
Lynn Garrett

Gabe Habash

Peter Cannon
Rose Fox

Alex Crowley
Annie Coreno
Everett Jones

Adam Boretz

This is an ex store. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. it’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off the mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible!!

Categories: Science

New National Security advisor rejects connection between Islam and terrorism

Why Evolution is True Feed - 13 hours 26 min ago

On February 13, Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s National Security Advisor, and he’s now been replaced by H. R. (Herbert Raymond) McMaster. Nobody can argue that McMaster is not qualified, what with his extensive experience in the military and as a security specialist in the Middle East. Even Slate approves of him, calling him “the Army’s smartest officer,” though noting that McMaster has little experience in Washington and, as a renegade of sorts (i.e., he doesn’t favor torture), he may not have free reign to diverge from Trump’s plans.

As yesterday’s New York Times reports, McMaster also differs from Trump on the issue of “Islamic terrorism,” taking the apologists’ view that groups like ISIS, or those who practice terrorism in the name of faith, are “perverting Islam”:

President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.

That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.

It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn, who was also a three-star Army general before retiring.

Well, we know why previous administrations have rejected the connection between Islam and terrorism, despite groups like ISIS explicitly drawing that connection—groups that certainly wouldn’t consider themselves as un-Islamic. One reason is simply to privilege religion in general and Islam in particular: it’s a rule of American government that religion of any sort must not be criticized. Further, some Islamic states give us oil or let us use their land for military bases, and presumably would be angered if Islam were dissed in any way. The Times gives a third reason, one connected to the second:

In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists.

“This is very much a repudiation of his new boss’s lexicon and worldview,” said William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse.”

I have to say that on this one issue, I think that Trump is closer to the truth than is McMaster, at least acknowledging a connection between Islam and terrorism, even though people like McMaster and Obama were, as we all knew, playing a semantic game. (I’m not, by the way, endorsing the totality of Trump’s views on Muslims or Islam!) But it still puzzles me that even Shia Islamic states like Iraq, who are constantly under religiously-based attack by Sunni Muslims, must also play the game, pretending that religion has nothing to do with these internecine battles. (The possibility that they’d be angered by invoking Islam is what, the Times says, has kept the issue euphemistic.)

In the end, the failure to acknowledge the religious roots of hatred and terrorism will impede a solution. Why, for example, should we turn to moderate or ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Maajid Nawaz as a strategy for to de-fanging extremist Islamism if the problems have nothing to do with Islam? A whole group of strategies becomes off-limits if you rule out a priori that religion plays some rule in terrorism.

(From the NYT): President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, left, as national security adviser on Monday. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

h/t: Eli

Categories: Science

The Skeptics Guide #607 - Feb 25 2017

Skeptics Guide to the Universe Feed - 13 hours 41 min ago
Interview with Greg Dash; Forgotten Superheroes of Science: Wang Zhenvi; News Items: Restoring Hearing, Smartphone Tricorder, Science of Smoking Bans, Seven Earth-like Exoplanets; Who's That Noisy; What's the Word: Pathology; Science or Fiction
Categories: Skeptic

Caturday felid trifecta: Cinnamon, an elderly cat; a guide to cats at the Milwaukee Art Museum; and a “nurse cat” from Poland

Why Evolution is True Feed - 14 hours 26 min ago

We have another three felid-related items today; the first is the 6-minute story of an elderly cat who, after losing her owners and then being abused, found a forever home—even if she won’t last that long. It was sent by reader Diane G., who wrote the following:

I have a strange feeling I should be cynical about this, but I don’t know why…Meanwhile, taken at face value it’s simultaneously the most heartbreaking and, ultimately, uplifting vid I’ve seen in a long time.


If you’re like me, when you’re in an art museum you eventually ask, “Where are the cat paintings/statues/icons?” Well, the Milwaukee Art Museum anticipated the needs of ailurophiles, and prepared  “A comprehensive guide to finding cats at the Milwaukee Art Museum.” Every Museum, especially big one like the Louvre, needs one of these. It shows what cat stuff is on display and where it is. Here are five paintings, with captions showing what they are:

Mihaly Munkacsy’s “The Rivals (Little Kittens)”

Two sculptures

“Tea Service,” a 1756 painting by Charles-Eloi Asselin

Drossos P. Skyllas’ 1955 oil painting “Young Girl With A Cat”

Jean-Leon Gerome’s 1883 painting, “The Two Majesties,”


From Bored Panda we have the story of a “nurse cat”. It’s hard to believe that this cat is doing this, but Malgorzata and Andrzej tells me that the cat is famous in Poland:

Radamenes, an angelic little black cat in Bydgoszcz, Poland, has come through hell and high water to help the animals at the veterinary center there get better. After the veterinary center brought him back from death’s door, he’s returning the favor by cuddling with, massaging and sometimes even cleaning other animals convalescing from their wounds and operations.

Radamenes has become a local attraction, and people have begun visiting him at the center for good luck!

He even helps d*gs!

The people at the office call him a “full time nurse”. What say you—is this cat really dispensing empathy to sick animals?

h/t: Gregory, Diane G., Alexandra M.

Categories: Science

Today’s Google Doodle: The Bravest Woman in America

Why Evolution is True Feed - 15 hours 11 min ago

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates someone I’d never heard of, but should have: Ida Lewis (1842-1911). She tended the Lime Rock Lighthouse off Newport Rhode Island, and saved many lives, winning her the monicker of “the bravest woman in America.”

The Doodle (click on screenshot below to see it) gives ten scenes from her life, which you can see by clicking on the arrows to advance the pictures:

Here’s a bit of her biography from Wikipedia:

Ida Lewis was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the oldest of four children of Captain Hosea Lewis of the Revenue Cutter Service. Her father was transferred to the Lighthouse Service and appointed keeper of Lime Rock Light on Lime Rock in Newport in 1854, taking his family to live on the rock in 1857. When he had been at Lime Rock for less than four months, he had a stroke and became disabled. Ida expanded her domestic duties to include caring for him and a seriously ill sister and also, with her mother’s assistance, tending the light: filling the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight, trimming the wick, polishing carbon off the reflectors, and extinguishing the light at dawn.

Since Lime Rock was completely surrounded by water, the only way to reach the mainland was by boat. By the age of 15 Ida had become known as the best swimmer in Newport. She rowed her younger siblings to school every weekday and fetched supplies from town as they were needed. She became very skillful at handling the heavy rowboat. Responding to criticism that it was unladylike for women to row boats, Ida said that “None – but a donkey, would consider it “un-feminine”, to save lives.”

Ida and her mother tended the Lime Rock Light for her father from 1857 until 1873, when he died. Her mother was then appointed keeper, although Ida continued to do the keeper’s work. By 1877, her mother’s health was failing, leaving Ida with increased housekeeping and care-giving responsibilities. Her mother eventually died of cancer in 1878. Ida finally received the official appointment as keeper in 1879, largely through the efforts of an admirer, General Ambrose Everett Burnside, a Civil War hero who became a Rhode Island governor and United States senator. With a salary of $750 per year, Ida was for a time the highest-paid lighthouse keeper in the nation. The extra pay was given “in consideration of the remarkable services of Mrs. Wilson in the saving of lives”.

Lewis made her first rescue in 1854, coming to the assistance of four men whose boat had capsized. She was 12 years old.

Her most famous rescue occurred on March 29, 1869. Two soldiers, Sgt. James Adams and Pvt. John McLaughlin, were passing through Newport Harbor toward Fort Adams in a small boat, guided by a 14-year-old boy who claimed to know his way through the harbor. A snowstorm was churning the harbor’s waters, and the boat overturned. The two soldiers clung to it, while the boy was lost in the icy water. Ida’s mother saw the two in the water and called to Ida, who was suffering from a cold. Ida ran to her boat without taking the time to put on a coat or shoes. With the help of her younger brother, she was able to haul the two men into her boat and bring them to the lighthouse. One of them later gave a gold watch to Ida, and for her heroism she became the first woman to receive a gold Congressional medal for lifesaving. The soldiers at Fort Adams showed their appreciation by collecting $218 for her.

Because of her many rescues, Ida Lewis became the best-known lighthouse keeper of her day. During her 54 years on Lime Rock, she is credited with saving 18 lives, although unofficial reports suggest the number may have been as high as 36. She kept no records of her lifesaving exploits. Ida’s fame spread quickly after an 1869 rescue, as a reporter was sent from the New York Tribune to record her deeds. Articles also appeared in Harper’s Weekly and, Leslie’s magazine, among others. The Life Saving Benevolent Association, of New York, sent her a silver medal. A parade was held in her honor, in Newport, on Independence Day, followed by the presentation of a sleek, mahogany rowboat with red velvet cushions, gold braid around the gunwales, and gold-plated oar-locks. When she was 64, Ida became a life beneficiary of the Carnegie Hero Fund, receiving a monthly pension of $30.

Here’s Ida:

And here’s the lighthouse. The house was 13 feet tall, and the light was 40 feet above the water, but rested on a small island:


Categories: Science

Spot the snake!

Why Evolution is True Feed - 16 hours 10 min ago

The readers’ wildlife photo tank is running low, though I still have some pictures, but we’ll take a hiatus today and play “spot the nightjar”—with a snake. Matthew sent me a copy of this tw**t by Kelly O’Connor (a researcher at Florida’s Archbold Biological Station), and I’ve enlarged the photo. Can you spot the snake? I’d call this one medium-hard, but there are many sharp-eyed readers.

I’ll put up the reveal at noon.

Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue (with extra Hili)

Why Evolution is True Feed - 17 hours 11 min ago

Good morning on Saturday, February 25, 2017. The warm weather is over in Chicago, at least for the nonce, and temperatures will hover around the freezing point today, not rising much for most of the week. Today is an odd combination of food holidays: National Chocolate-Covered Peanuts Day and National Clam Chowder Day: a pairing guaranteed to make you ill. I’ll have the chowder, thank you, but only the New England “white” variety without tomatoes. Today is also celebrated as Meher Baba‘s birthday in honor of the amiable guru (1894-1969) who never uttered a word for the last 44 years of his life, communicating via an alphabet board or hand gestures (he didn’t write by hand, either). Nevertheless, he collected many followers, including The Who’s Pete Townshend, who dedicated the rock opera “Tommy” to Meher Baba.

Here’s the guru in a short 1932 newsreel, when he had already been silent for for 7 years. He’s shown using his alphabet board, though I must say that I don’t see how he could point fast enough to convey the translated message:

And here’s a card I still have on my office wall, given to me by my friend the biologist Russ Lande, who got it from a Baba acolyte. The guru’s smile is so infectious that simply looking at this card would cheer me up. (I wonder if his words inspired the Bobby McFerrin song.)

On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to ever join the United States Congress; he was a Republican from Mississippi. Here’s his photo:

Hiram Revels

And on this day in 1932, Hitler obtained German citizenship (he was born in Austria), allowing him to begin his ascent to power in Germany. On this day in 1994,  Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American Jewish extremist, killed 29 Palestinians and injured another 125 after firing an automatic rifle at Muslim worshipers in the city of Hebron. He was beaten to death on the spot, and it’s a sign of sickness and hatred that his grave is still worshiped by Jewish extremists.

Notables born on this day include, beside Meher Baba, Karl May and Ida Lewis (both 1842, see today’s Google Doodle, soon to be posted, about Lewis), Enrico Caruso (1873), Zeppo Marx (1901), Sun Myung Moon (1920), and George Harrison (1943).  Those who died on this day include Christopher Wren (1723; the simple stone plaque marking his grave inside St. Paul’s, a cathedral he designed, reads in part [in Latin], “Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you”), Elijah Muhammad (1975), Tennessee Williams (1983), and C. Everett Koop (2013). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili ponders her lineage:

Hili: My feline ancestors liked to sit beside kerosene lamps. A: Probably. Hili: Don’t argue with me.

In Polish:

Hili: Moi koci przodkowie lubili siedzieć przy lampach naftowych.
Ja: Prawdopodobnie.
Hili: Nie sprzeczaj się ze mną. Sarah Lawson, who is visiting Andrzej and Malgorzata, is taking lots of pictures of Hili (no visitor can resist!), and here are three of her snaps: Cyrus and Hili on the sofa (my sofa!): Hili on a red blanket, pleased that it complements her fur coat: Malgorzata and Hili at the kitchen table:
Categories: Science

New pop-up strategy inspired by cuts, not folds

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 1:06pm
Origami-inspired materials use folds in materials to embed powerful functionality. However, all that folding can be pretty labor intensive. Now, researchers are drawing material inspiration from another ancient Japanese paper craft -- kirigami.
Categories: Science

Having a cigarette may make your body crave coffee too

New Scientist Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 12:32pm
People who smoke may metabolise caffeine differently to non-smokers, leaving them needing to drink more to get the same hit from their coffee
Categories: Science

The Cepheus Constellation

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 12:30pm

Welcome back to Constellation Friday! Today, in honor of the late and great Tammy Plotner, we will be dealing with the King of Ethiopia himself, the Cepheus constellation!

In the 2nd century CE, Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (aka. Ptolemy) compiled a list of all the then-known 48 constellations. This treatise, known as the Almagest, would used by medieval European and Islamic scholars for over a thousand years to come, effectively becoming astrological and astronomical canon until the early Modern Age.

One of these is the northern constellation of Cepheus, named after the mythological king of Ethiopia. Today, it is one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the IAU, and is bordered by the constellations of Camelopardalis, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Draco, Lacerta, and Ursa Minor.

Name and Meaning:

In Greek mythology, Cepheus represents the mythical king of Aethiopia – and husband to the vain queen Cassiopeia. This also makes him the father of the lovely Andromeda, and a member of the entire sky saga which involves jealous gods and mortal boasts. According to this myth, Zeus placed Cepheus in the sky after his tragic death, which resulted from a jealous lovers’ spat.

Cepheus as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c. 1825. Credit: Library of Congress/Sidney Hall

It began when Cepheus’ wife – Cassiopeia – boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids (the sea nymphs), which angered the nymphs and Poseidon, god of the sea. Poseidon sent a sea monster, represented by the constellation Cetus, to ravage Cepheus’ land. To avoid catastrophe, Cepheus tried to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to Cetus; but she was saved by the hero Perseus, who also slew the monster.

The two were to be married, but this created conflict since Andromeda had already been promised to Cepheus brother, Phineus. A fight ensued, and Perseus was forced to brandish the head of Medusa to defeat his enemies, which caused Cepheus and Cassiopeia (who did not look away in time) to turn to stone. Perhaps his part in the whole drama is why his crown only appears to be seen in the fainter stars when he’s upside down?

History of Observation:

As one of the 48 fabled constellations from Greek mythology, Cepheus was included by Ptolemy in his 2nd century tract, The Almagest. In 1922, it was included in the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Notable Features:

Bordered by Cygnus, Lacerta and Cassiopeia, it contains only one bright star, but seven major stars and 43 which have Bayer/Flamsteed designations. It’s brightest star, Alpha Cephei, is a white class A star, which is located about 48 light years away. Its traditional name (Alderamin) is derived from the Arabic “al-dira al-yamin“, which means “the right arm”.

This Hubble image shows RS Puppis, a type of variable star known as a Cepheid variable. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA/H. Bond/STScI/Penn State University

Next is Beta Cephei, a triple star systems that is approximately 690 light years from Earth. The star’s traditional name, Alfirk, is derived from the Arabic “al-firqah” (“the flock”). The brightest component in this system, Alfirk A, is a blue giant star (B2IIIev), which indicates that it is a variable star. In fact, this star is a prototype for Beta Cephei variables – main sequence stars that show variations in brightness as a result of pulsations of their surfaces.

Then there’s Delta Cephei, which is located approximately 891 light years from the Solar System. This star also serves as a prototype for Cepheid variables, where pulsations on its surface are directly linked to changes in luminosity. The brighter component of the binary is classified as a yellow-white F-class supergiant, while its companion is believed to be a B-class star.

Gamma Cephei is another binary star in Cepheus, which is located approximately 45 light years away. The star’s traditional name is Alrai (Er Rai or Errai), which is derived from the Arabic ar-r?‘?, which means “the shepherd.” Gamma Cephei is an orange subgiant (K1III-IV) that can be seen by the naked eye, and its companion has about 0.409 solar masses and is thought to be an M4 class red dwarf.

Cepheus is also home to many notable Deep Sky Objects. For example, there’s NGC 6946, which is sometimes called the Fireworks Galaxy because of its supernovae rate and high volume of star formation. This  intermediate spiral galaxy is located approximately 22 million light years distant. The galaxy was discovered by William Herschel in September 1798, and nine supernovae have been observed in it over the last century.

The Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946). Credit: Simon Driver (University of St. Andrews)

Next up is the Wizard Nebula (NGC 7380), an open star cluster that was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1787. The cluster is embedded in a nebula that is about 110 light years in size and roughly 7,000 light years from our Solar System. It is also a relatively young open cluster, as its stars are estimated to be less than 500 million years old.

Then there’s the Iris Nebula (NGC 7023), a reflection nebula with an apparent magnitude of 6.8 that is approximately 1,300 light years distant. The object is so-named because it is actually a star cluster embedded inside a nebula. The nebula is lit by the star SAO 19158 and it lies close to two relatively bright stars – T Cephei, which is a Mira type variable, and Beta Cephei.

Discovered by Sir William Herschel on October 18, 1794, Herschel made the correct assumption of, “A star of 7th magnitude. Affected with nebulosity which more than fills the field. It seems to extend to at least a degree all around: (fainter) stars such as 9th or 10th magnitude, of which there are many, are perfectly free from this appearance.”

So where did the confusion come in? It happened in 1931 when Per Collinder decided to list the stars around it as a star cluster Collinder 429. Then along came Mr. van den Berg, and the little nebula became known as van den Berg 139. Then the whole group became known as Caldwell 4! So what’s right and what isn’t?

The Wizard Nebula (NGC 738). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

According to Brent Archinal, “I was surprised to find NGC 7023 listed in my catalog as a star cluster. I assumed immediately the Caldwell Catalog was in error, but further checking showed I was wrong! The Caldwell Catalog may be the only modern catalog to get the type correctly!”

Finding Cepheus:

Cepheus is a circumpolar constellation of the northern hemisphere and is easily seen at visible at latitudes between +90° and -10° and best seen during culmination during the month of November. For the unaided eye observer, start first with Cepheus’ brightest star – Alpha. It’s name is Alderamin and it’s going through stellar evolution – moving off the main sequence into a subgiant, and on its way to becoming a red giant as its hydrogen supply depletes.

What’s very cool is Alderamin is located near the precessional path traced across the celestial sphere by the Earth’s north pole. That means that periodically this star comes within 3° of being a pole star! Keeping that in mind, head off for Gamma Cephei. Guess what? Due to the precession of the equinoxes, Errai will become our northern pole star around 3000 AD and will make its closest approach around 4000 AD. (Don’t wait up, though… It will be late).

However, you can stay up late enough with a telescope or binoculars to have a closer look at Errai, because its an orange subgiant binary star that’s also about to go off the main sequence and its accompanied by a red dwarf star. What’s so special about that? Well, maybe because a planet has been discovered floating around there, too!

The location of the northern Cepheus constellation. Credit: IAU/Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

Now let’s have some fun with a Cepheid variable star that changes enough in about 5 days to make watching it fun! You’ll find Delta on the map as the figure 8 symbol and in the sky you’ll find it 891 light-years away. Delta Cephei is binary star system and the prototype of the Cepheid variable stars – the closest of its type to the Sun.

This star pulses every 5.36634 days, causing its stellar magnitude to vary from 3.6 to 4.3. But that’s not all! Its spectral type varies, too – going from F5 to G3. Try watching it over a period of several nights. Its rise to brightness is much faster than its decline! With a telescope, you will be able to see a companion star separated from Delta Cephei by 41 arc seconds.

Are you ready to examine two red supergiant stars? If you live in a dark sky area, you can see these unaided, but they are much nicer in binoculars. The first is Mu Cephei – aka. Herschel’s Garnet Star. In his 1783 notes, Sir William Herschel wrote: “a very fine deep garnet colour, such as the periodical star omicron ceti” and the name stuck when Giuseppe Piazzi included the description in his catalog.

Now compare it to VV Cephi, right smack in the middle of the map. VV is absolutely a supergiant star, and it is of the largest stars known. In fact, VV Cephei is believed to be the third largest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy! VV Cephei is 275,000-575,000 times more luminous than the Sun and is approximately 1,600–1,900 times the Sun’s diameter.

Artist’s impression of VV Cep A, created using Celestia, with Mu Cephei (Garnet Star) in the background. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Rackshea

If placed in our solar system, the binary system would extend past the orbit of Jupiter and approach that of Saturn. Some 3,000 light years away from Earth, matter continuously flows off this bad boy and into its blue companion. Stellar wind flows off the system at a velocity of approximately 25 kilometers per second. And some body’s Roche lobe gets filled!

For some rich field telescope and binocular fun from a dark sky site, try your luck with IC1396. This 3 degree field of nebulosity can even be seen unaided at times! Inside you’ll find an open star cluster (hence the designation) and photographically the whole area is criss-crossed with dark nebulae.

For a telescope challenge, see if you can locate both Spiral galaxy NGC 6946 – aka. the Fireworks Nebula – and galactic cluster NGC 6939 about 2 degrees southwest of Eta Cepheus. About 40 arc minutes northwest of NGC 6946 – is about 8th magnitude, well compressed and contains about 80 stars.

More? Then try NGC 7023 – The Iris Nebula. This faint nebula can be achieved in dark skies with a 114-150mm telescope, but larger aperture will help reveal more subtle details since it has a lower surface brightness. Take the time at lower power to reveal the dark dust “lacuna” around it reported so many years ago, and to enjoy the true beauty of this Caldwell gem.

The Iris Nebula (NGC 7023). Credit: Hewholooks

Still more? Then head off with your telescope for IC1470 – but take your CCD camera. IC1470 is a compact H II region excited by a single O7 star associated with an extensive molecular cloud in the Perseus arm!

Yes, Cepheus has plenty of viewing opportunities for the amateur astronomer. And for thousands of years, it has proven to be a source of fascination for scholars and astronomers.

We have written many interesting articles about the constellation here at Universe Today. Here is What Are The Constellations?What Is The Zodiac?, and Zodiac Signs And Their Dates.

Be sure to check out The Messier Catalog while you’re at it!

For more information, check out the IAUs list of Constellations, and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space page on Canes Venatici and Constellation Families.


The post The Cepheus Constellation appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

New Zealand ho!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 12:30pm

As I mentioned a while back, I’m traveling to New Zealand for about a month, just for fun—though I would be glad to give a few talks (or have discussions) on science, humanism, atheism, free will, etc.. I’ll be arriving in Auckland on March 17 and immediately flying to Queenstown on the South Island. I’ll then have a month to travel around, slowly working my way north to leave in Auckland on April 17.  It’s a pretty free-form trip, as I don’t usually have rigid itineraries on vacation jaunts. But, as I wrote before, I’ll be glad to meet any Kiwi readers:

I’d love to document the trip not only with descriptions and photos of what I see and do, but with information about and pictures of readers and their animals (preferably cats, of course). If you want to say “hi” on this trip, shoot me an email with your location. I already know many of you through either your comments or your emails, and think it would be fun to meet readers in person along with the several friends I haven’t visited in a while.

By “visit,” I don’t mean that people should feed me or put me up: I’m just looking for a brief peek into the lives of some of the readers. I can’t visit everyone, of course, but I’ll try to see some of the people I’ve gotten to know on this site [and new ones, too].

 Anyway, I’ve been in contact with several Kiwi readers, so let me know if you’re around. Also, as I haven’t had time to do proper research on the country yet (I have a Lonely Planet guide and type I plug converters), travel tips are most welcome. Oh, and I love lamb and mutton. Because my itinerary isn’t fixed, that might make it hard for anyone to schedule a talk, except perhaps in Auckland at the end, but I could still meet groups informally or do something on the spur of the moment.  Readers have my email, so do write if you have either travel recommendations (I’ve saved all those that came after my first post) or want to say hi.

Categories: Science

Cincinnati zoo: prematurely born hippo given a new pool, tiger cub subjected to chiropractic adjustment

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:45am

Fiona is a baby hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) born prematurely in the Cincinnati Zoo. For a while it was touch and go: she was dehydrated and needed IV fluids, tube feeding, and then bottle feeding, and was removed from her parents. As Fox 8 Cleveland reported:

Fiona is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years. She was born Jan. 24 at 29 pounds, well below the usual. She’s nearing 50 pounds now.

Now she’s been given a bigger pool to help strengthen her (in the wild, hippos spend more time in the water than on land), and she’s near her parents. Here’s the video, courtesy of reader Michael:

Fiiona getting IV fluids; what’s lovely is that staff from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital helped find the veins to insert the tube:

On the downside, the Zoo also hired a chiropractor to help a baby tiger.  I don’t have much truck with these charlatans, and am surprised that any zoo would use one. This one apparently cured “a failure to thrive” by adjusting the alignment of the top cervical vertebra (a dangerous operation at best). The chiropractor said, “hey, it can’t hurt.” But of course it can, and it has in humans.

You can see these adjustments in the video below, which the quack chiropractor says is backed by a “lot of science”.  I’m appalled. Really, Cincinnati Zoo, have you no shame at long last, hiring somebody to adjust the spine of a baby tiger? JEBUS!

h/t: Michael


Categories: Science

Pope insults atheists, comparing them to bad Catholics

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:00am

Yes, yes, Pope Francis is more conciliatory than his predecessors, but he’s still coming out with some howlers. The latest is this, reported by Reuters:

Pope Francis delivered another criticism of some members of his own Church on Thursday, suggesting it is better to be an atheist than one of “many” Catholics who he said lead a hypocritical double life.

In improvised comments in the sermon of his private morning Mass in his residence, he said: “It is a scandal to say one thing and do another. That is a double life.”

“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association’,” the head of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church said, according to a Vatican Radio transcript.

He said that some of these people should also say “‘my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my employees proper salaries, I exploit people, I do dirty business, I launder money, (I lead) a double life’.”

“There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”

Well, I’d say that’s as much a criticism of atheists as it is of bad Catholics.  Yet it contravenes what the Pope said in 2013. As CNN reports:

It isn’t the first time the Pope has mentioned atheists, either. In 2013, he raised questions for saying that heaven is open, potentially, to all people.

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

If taken literally, that last statement contravenes virtually everything I know about Catholic dogma. If you don’t accept Jesus as your savior and fail to confess your sins before you die, you’re not going to Heaven. But atheists never formally confess their sins! In other words, if you’re a good person, you’re going to heaven, and you just don’t need the Catholic Church.

Apparently the Vatican “explained” this statement as follows: “The Vatican later issued a note clarifying that the Pope was simply saying that God’s grace is free to all, even atheists, and urging Christians and non-believers to work together.” But as far as I remember—and Catholics can help me out here—the Church by and large believe in “salvation by grace” (right belief), and if that’s free to all, then apparently salvation is still free to all. Good news for atheists! Even if you lose Pascal’s Wager you can still go to Heaven!

It’s interesting that I’ve never heard someone compare a bad atheist to a believer. On the other hand, I take that back: people like Richard Dawkins are often described by believers as “fundamentalists” who are “operating on faith as well.” What those detractors don’t seem to realize is that what they’re really saying is this: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”


“Don’t worry, heathens: you can go to heaven, too!”

Categories: Science

New software allows for 'decoding digital brain data'

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 10:39am
New software allows for 'decoding digital brain data' to reveal how neural activity gives rise to learning, memory and other cognitive functions. The software can be used in real time during an fMRI brain scan.
Categories: Science

Nano-sized hydrogen storage system increases efficiency

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 10:39am
An efficient hydrogen storage system has been developed that could be a boon for hydrogen powered vehicles.
Categories: Science

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 75

Center for Inquiry News - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 10:11am

Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible. Become a member today!


The Main Events

The Story of an Incredible Year 

Once again, it’s time to tell the story of yet another remarkable year with the latest Center for Inquiry Progress Report. Of course, 2016 was a year like no other—our merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science being just the beginning!—so we have a new and better way to deliver our Progress Report to you, so you can get a clearer, more immersive view of all you helped us accomplish in 2016. We proudly invite you to explore our 2016 Progress Report website.

More than a page-by-page account of our year’s activities, it’s an engaging visual representation of the full spectrum of CFI’s work throughout an unforgettable year. You’ll find at-a-glance data points, timelines, and personal testimonials all bound together by a unifying story of our shared mission for reason, science, and secularism.

From saving lives in Bangladesh to bringing accountability to the marketing of homeopathic junk medicine, from major national events to thriving local CFI communities, and from grassroots activism to the United Nations, your support allowed CFI to make a meaningful impact throughout 2016. Come and see what we mean.

There’s no doubt 2017 will bring even greater challenges, such that we can’t predict. Just as CFI’s mission is more crucial than ever, we’ll need your support more than ever to carry out that mission. Be a part of it, and join us today.


CFI Advocacy: Taking On Each Challenge to Equality, Secularism, and Freedom

With a new presidential administration heavily staffed with appointees hostile to secularism working alongside a Congress—as well as several statehouses—with similarly regressive inclinations, there’s rarely been a more important time for our reason-based community to get involved in advocacy and activism. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been firmly speaking out, and our Office of Public Policy has been putting out action alerts on legislation that we need your help to stop.

This week, we learned that the Trump administration would reverse the protections for transgender students put in place by the Obama administration last year. Despite previous campaign statements that he did not oppose transgender people using the public restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, President Trump has acted on the wishes (again) of the Religious Right by rescinding these protections for this vulnerable group, leaving their fates up to states and localities. CFI Legal Director Nicholas Little warned in our statement that this reversal “will subject transgender students in much of the country to discrimination by school administrations, and unprotected from bullying by fellow students and school employees.”

CFI is also pushing back against the cynically named Free Speech Fairness Act, introduced simultaneously in the U.S. House and Senate (H.R. 781 and S.J. 264). This is aimed at the Johnson Amendment, a law that keeps tax-exempt nonprofits—including religious organizations and secularist groups such as the Center for Inquiry—from endorsing or opposing political candidates. If the Free Speech Fairness Act becomes law, all bets are off, and churches will suddenly have the ability to use their tax-exempt donations to electioneer. Plus, they’d be able to do so without any public scrutiny of how they spend their money, which is a privilege enjoyed only by religious institutions. Call and write to your House Representative and your Senators to tell them to reject this bill and let them know that the Johnson Amendment needs to actually be enforced.

Next, we turn to the state of Florida, where State House and Senate a bill dubbed “The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” seeks to turn classrooms into pulpits. The teaching of science and history would be polluted with the addition of creationist myths, schools could sanction student and teacher-led prayer meetings, and LGBTQ students and those of non-Christian faiths—or no faith—would be overtly marginalized. If you live in Florida, get in touch with your state representatives and tell them to reject this effort. If you live outside Florida, chances are you know folks who do, so pass this alert on to them and urge them to take action.

Finally, there is some good news, at least for now: As you might know, the District of Columbia is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, even though no citizen of DC has any voting representation in Congress. Last year, DC made true humanistic progress when the DC Council passed and Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose the time and manner of their own death by requesting life-ending medication from their physician. But certain Members of Congress believe that their own personal views on the “sanctity of life” as prescribed by their religion must trump the wishes of the people of Washington, DC. Resolutions in the House and Senate were introduced to repeal DC’s Death with Dignity Act, and we asked you to take action. You did, and eventually the deadline passed for Congress to pull the trigger on repeal. That’s good! However, they still have the option of passing measures to defund or otherwise hamper the new law, so this might not be the whole story.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

Dawkins Marks Forty Years of The Selfish Gene in Skeptical Inquirer

One of the most influential works of science communication, written by one of the most brilliant science communicators of our time, reached a major milestone in 2016, as Richard DawkinsThe Selfish Gene marked its fortieth anniversary. To celebrate, the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer presents a cover feature by Dawkins himself, as he reflects on the impact of his landmark work and marvels at the progress that has been made in our understanding of evolution and genomics since the book’s publication in 1976.

“The gene’s eye view of life,” writes Dawkins, “illuminates the deep past, in ways of which I had no inkling when I first wrote The Selfish Gene.” Adding, “The Cooperative Gene would have been an equally appropriate title for this book, and the book itself would not have changed at all.”

This edition of Skeptical Inquirer also features highlights, presentations, and firsthand accounts of last October’s CSICon Las Vegas, as well as the long-awaited return of the amazing James Randi to the magazine he helped create, back as a regular columnist—this issue focusing on the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement and misinformation about autism.

The March/April 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores now.


CFI Branches Celebrate Darwin and Democracy

February was packed with big events for several of CFI’s local branches, with celebrations of science and discovery with Darwin Day and some crucial training and inspiration for taking part in our democracy. 

CFI–Austin went all-out, attracting over 540 guests and volunteers to take part in fifteen interactive activities, including fossil excavation, investigating microorganisms, live arthropods, a Paleolithic role playing game, and arts and crafts. Five speakers gave talks throughout the day for both kids and adults, and attendees were served four birthday cakes and what we are told were “several gallons of lemonade.”

That’s not all! At CFI–Los Angeles, ninety-five attendees enjoyed a Darwin Day presentation from biological anthropologist Dr. Amy Parish, who discussed the fun topic of sex and dominance in bonobos(!). CFI–Tampa Bay welcomed almost ninety of its own attendees to hear Dr. Jeff Lipkes discuss the future prospects for human evolution and the impact of culture on the evolutionary process.

On February 7, CFI–Michigan partnered with the Grand Rapids Community College’s Biodiversity Club & Biological Sciences Department for the 6th Annual Charlie’s Evolution Emporium, where 125 kids and grownups hunted for fossils, handled reptiles, and learned about evolution. In a separate event, they hosted a special Darwin Day lecture: “Charles Darwin; a Retrospective and Perspective View” by Dr. Greg Forbes, National Course Director for the National Science Foundation’s Chautauqua course on evolution and evolution education for college and university professors.

CFI–Indiana did something different, getting people prepared and inspired to become better advocates for the issues we care about. On February 11, they held their annual Civic Day with about 130 attendees. Guest speakers included Americans United for Church and State’s Erin Taylor, former Indiana Assemblymember Christina Hale, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Julia Vaughn of Common Cause, The Midwest Eagle Editor Rick Sutton, NOW’s Emily O’Brien, and Tim Skinner of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. CFI’s own legal director, Nicholas Little, was also on hand, delivering a presentation that was very well suited to the times: “Advocacy in a Hostile Environment.”


CFI Highlights on the Web and in the Media
  • ABC News’ Nightline profiles a self-proclaimed “psychic detective,” one Troy Griffin, and for the skeptical, reality-based perspective, they wisely speak to CFI’s own Joe Nickell. “What people should realize is psychics cannot do what they claim to do.”
  • Joe’s reputation being what it is, the New York Times also seeks out his wisdom, this time for a story about the various paranormal topics discussed on the Coast to Coast AM radio show.
  • CFI–Northeast Ohio’s Monette Richards is quoted in a Columbus Dispatch report on our effort toward legislation making it legal for Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages in Ohio.
  • The Openly Secular campaign adds a new celebrity voice to its growing roster: Actress, comedian, and author Annabelle Gurwitch, who more specifically identifies as a “caffeine addicted secular humanist Jewish mother.” We’re happy to have her.
  • CFI Senior Research Fellow Ron Lindsay takes a look at the grim state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people, lamenting, “The Middle East conflict is a microcosm of humanity’s flaws.”
  • On a lighter note, Ron takes to Huffington Post to offer a modest proposal for maintaining the mental well-being of our Commander-in-Chief: “A bipartisan congressional team, in collaboration with White House staff and major media outlets, should create fake newspapers, television programs, and websites.”
  • Susan Gerbic interviews attorney Bob Knaier about his experience at CSICon 2016 and his work on the failures of “expert testimony” when it comes to pseudoscience such as homeopathy.
  • Despite the fact that the president has newly emboldened the anti-vaccine movement, Matt Nisbet writes that the recent measures for mandated vaccinations and removing exemptions are having a real, positive impact.
  • CFI Director of Libraries Tim Binga introduces us to a 1920s Scientific American investigation, in partnership with Harry Houdini, of Mina “Margery” Crandon, who claimed to be a spiritual medium.
  • In Skeptical Inquirer, we get to know Michael Marshall, project director of The Good Thinking Society in the UK, and his perspective on grassroots skeptic activism.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.


Upcoming CFI Events


February 24:

March 5:

March 19:

March 20:

April 22:

  • The March for Science: “A celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.”

April 29:

May 13:


Thank you!

Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values.  Donate today!

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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at 


Categories: , Skeptic


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