Tag Archives: local science

Someone Got A Picture

Well, someone out there took a picture. I sure didn’t. Even brought the fancy new camera just for that purpose, not really thinking about the fact that I’d be behind the table pointing out the fate of the Ewoks.

The Panel!

Sadly, I did not have time to get into costume.

It’s better than some pictures of me out there.

Some of us were more excited about the thing than others.


...though, I won't be naming any names.


Jackson Comic-Con 2010

Hello, long-ignored readers. I’m sorry for ignoring you all for so long. Really, I am.

Anyway, on to business!

The Jackson Mississippi Southern Fried Comic Con of 2010 is right around the corner. This years’ event is oh-so-worthy of attention from all you locals for a few reasons:

1: It’s geek city. I know we’re not all into that sort of thing, but judging from some of the Skeptics in the Pub conversations, we’ll fit right in. Or maybe you just like gawking at people in Stormtrooper outfits. I fit into both categories.
2: last year was a lot of fun. This year seems like it’s going to follow in that trajectory.
3: The Jackson Skeptical Society has a panel discussion! Yes, we do!

One whole hour (and maybe more!) – the overarcing topic: The Science of Science Fiction. Presenting Yours Truly, discussing the inevitable Ewok Apocalypse from the end of Return of the Jedi.

If this happens in the sky above you, it is a bad thing.

Dr. Patrick Hopkins of Millsaps College discussing Star Trek style teleportation.

This is how we are arriving for that part of the talk.

Physics Instructor Josh Winter from Mississippi State University will discuss 2012 and the Hijacking of Science by Psuedoscience.

Not pictured: Reality.

Local author/blogger and editor Tom Head will be presenting the realities and unrealities of extraterrestrial life.

Hint: They won't look like this.

And Scott Crawford, Science Officer of the local Star Trek group, the USS Haise, will regale us with findings about the potential for the future of warp speed, and what it would require.



The individual talks won’t take toooo long, I know mine will only be a few minutes (in which you’ll hopefully get to see a picture of an Ewok on fire, but – no promises) and I’m expecting us to be done with our talking in about an hour.

Then, the fun part begins! You’ll get to ask questions, point out what you think we got wrong, and belittle us for not understanding the difference between hypermatter and duracrete in the Death Star.

The Comic Con has a Facebook Page, and a small website.

The brief on when and where:

Cabot Lodge Millsaps.

When: Ten AM to six PM. June 26th and 27th

Our panel will be in the afternoon, I’ll know exactly what time soon enough!

Remember, Tomorrow!

Remember folks – tomorrow, seven o’clock, Millsaps.

here’s the info in case ya forgot.

Reading is fundamental.

Doctors Mystified, Scientists Baffled, Kid Doing Okay!

There’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot in the media, one that skeptics and scientists love to hate (or perhaps, hate to love) – “scientists baffled.”

This is a running gag for The SGU crowd and Phil Plait, amongst others. It’s a bit of a tube-meme and even has it’s own website.

So when one of our “local” newrags, The Rankin Ledger (owned by the Clarion Ledger, owned by mega-news-corp Gannett), had a “medical miracle” story, I was reallllly hoping to see “doctors baffled.” No such luck, but I got “mystifies doctors,” though. Not quite the same, but the feeling is still there.

I am of course not trying to make light of the situation the kid is in. Obviously, “child stays within odds and gets good medical attention, survives” is not an attention-grabbing headline, but it is very much more in line with the truth. I somehow doubt the doctors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital are actually “mystified,” they likely understand that not knowing why something happened is not the same as a mystical violation of natural law. The disorder he is suffering from, Noncompaction Cardiomyopathy, is not especially well studied, and fairly rare. In such a case, “doctors baffled” is a good thing for the advancement of medical knowledge, if not so much so for the patient.

Christopher Pena (the child in question) is in one of the best hospitals in the nation and has a caring family. We should all be so fortunate.

Remember, just because something isn’t a miracle doesn’t mean it can’t inspire you. A story with insight into the doctors, techniques, equipment, and science behind the survival of a kid like Christopher – that would take something that the Rankin Ledger doesn’t have, and something that a guy behind a keyboard using google on his day off doesn’t really have access to, either.

Information on H1N1

On Friday, August 28th, Dr. Paul Byers Jackson’s district health officer from the Mississippi State Department of Health gave a brief seminar to students from Belhaven College about the Novel H1-N1 “Swine” Flu, the flu that everyone’s been shooting pigs and freaking out over.

Swine flu is one of those handy viruses that can only be spread by person-to-person transmission, via those handy-dandy globules of spit, mucous, and germ that spray from the mouth during coughing and sneezing. So you don’t get it from eating pigs, and it’s not in an airborne cloud surrounding the sick. Also, it has to get in your face to be effective – so if you can stop rubbing your eyes, nose, and mouth (difficult when you’re rubbing your goatee and gloating) you can help yourself out a lot, there. Oh, and of course, you can wash your hands. I always think it’s kinda amusing to see health care professionals admonishing people to wash their hands. Or eat their fruits and vegetables. Or exercise. You’d think that this sort of thing would have settled into the background of “general common sense.” Of course, common sense is neither.

One of the points that was stressed during the meeting was that the death toll, infection rate, spread, and mutability do not seem to be any greater than your average flu season. Of course, since your average flu season kills approximately 36 thousand people in the United States, it’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, please don’t sneeze at it.

Something that IS different about this strain is the age of people who become infected. Usually, the flu strikes those in the 50+ age bracket. This flu, however, is more common in the 0-24 year old demographic. Students are highly susceptible, but we all know to stay away from students, don’t we?

Unfortunately, the highest death rate is amongst the youngest patients. And the virus is showing a remarkable resistance to the flu medication oseltamivir – aka “Tamiflu.” Most type-A flu does in fact show this resistance, according to Dr. Byers, the resistance in H1N1 types was nearing 100%. Does this mean you should panic, lock the house up, and start getting your shotgun shells ready for the inevitable zombie hordes?

No. Well, you should always be ready for zombie hordes, but they’re not going to be coming out of the flu. Dr. Byers isn’t the only one educating people on the flu (and doing a good job) but there’s certainly plenty of people out there who aren’t helping. Of course, in Mississippi, we may not be getting the discussions of the future, but we have done a slightly better job than some places when it comes to being a little bit common sense, and doubtlessly folks like Dr. Byers and all our skeptical readers are doing their bit to help.

Can we do more? Absolutely. After the talk, Dr. Byers had a few things to say about the anti-vaccine indignation, and thanked us for being realistic on this issue. Apparently, the folks at the health department feel it’s an issue somewhat akin to beating their heads against wall, and Dr. Byers said that the person I should talk to was the head epidemiologist, Dr. Mary Currier. So I did exactly that.

Dr. Currier was quite surprised to even receive a rational email about the vaccine mess. Apparently, most of the correspondence about this subject is less than knowledgeable. One of my favorite bits:

The self interest of the anti-vaccine gurus is
incredible, and it’s amazing that their self interest is not visible to
their followers… Thank you so much for writing – it is heartening to read a rational

Well that’s what we’re here for – being rational.

P.S: This just in. There’s a great article on swine flu vaccine fearmongering just up on Science Based Medicine.