Daily Archives: December 14, 2011

The Freshwater case still continues

With a brief filed (PDF) in Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals, John Freshwater is appealing a court’s ruling to uphold his termination as a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio. It is the latest twist in a long saga that began in 2008, when a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity — including teaching creationism — and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011.

Read the whole story here.

Why do they call Higgs Boson the “God Particle”?

First, let’s just quickly say what it is. The Higgs boson may or may not exist. If it does exist, it is a boson.

Matter is made up of smaller and smaller things, down to a point. A chair may be made of pieces of wood, which in turn are made up of plant cells, etc. etc., until we get down to the atom. Atoms are made up of “subatomic particles” and at this point it becomes 100% spooky and weird.

Below the level of the atom there are fermions, vector bosons and a scalar boson. These things combine to make up many and varied subatomic particles, some of which the average reasonably well educated person has heard of, many obscure.

Think of it this way: First, imagine a two dimensional world … it’s easier that way … then imagine that any thing that makes sense to you is a collage, like an artists makes. Now, imagine a set of different flat fabrics, cloths, or kinds of paper (the details are not important) that are so flat and boring that if you put any of it on a collage you may not even notice it is there. But, if you wrinkle or crease or otherwise mess up a bit of the surface of one of these flat sheets of stuff, that little bit there becomes visible. Like if you emboss (without ink) a letter on a piece of paper. The letter exists because the paper has been reshaped slightly.

Now, imagine that bits of the cloth or paper sheets exist as part of the collage … the thing that you can experience, the thing that makes sense to you … are always (from your perspective) the parts of the cloth or paper sheets that are scrunched up, creased, folded, embossed, whatever.

The “subatomic particles” I mentioned above are the wrinkled up parts of the different kinds of cloth or paper. That’s how they get to exist: By being a wrinkled or folded up part of this sheet. They can stop existing as described just like a mushed up piece of cloth can be flattened back down again.

Just as you might imagine that the nature of a collage …. what it means to you, what it looks like, what it is … comes from the arrangement of the collection of bits of visible scraps of stuff that you can see on it, the nature of matter and stuff, including energy, and including things like mass and time and everything else you can experience, comes from the flat stuff variously mushed or folded and arranged. Different sheets of cloth/paper provide different aspects of reality to the collage.

The various bosons and such emerge as ripples of what are called fields. Light and other forms of radiation are ripples in the field that gives us photons. Physicists postulate that there is a field that gives us gravity, which if it ever rippled just the right way might appear to us as “gravitons” just like the field that gives us radiation can be “photons.”

One of the bosons is the Higgs boson, which comes from the “Higgs field” and provides our collage with a property we might best describe as “mass.” It would technically be called a “scalar boson,” in case you were wondering.

OK, so some years ago a guy named Leon M. Lederman wrote a book called “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?,” and that is where the Higgs boson got its nickname.

Leon M. Lederman won the Nobel Prize for Physics for work on neutrino beams and the structure of leptons. In other words, he’s all about these wrinkles in cosmic cloth. According to one source, he originally wanted to name the book “The Goddamn Particle” because, as everyone knows, the Higgs Particle is the most annoying of the subatomic particles. But, his publisher thought this would annoy the American Fundies, so instead they named it the “God Particle” which ever since has annoyed everyone else.

Let’s try to remember to not call this thing the “God Particle” for now. The damn thing may, after all, exist. If later it proves not to, then fine.

The Nightmare That Was Christmas (Death Never Dies)

I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday, even though it happened years ago, even before you were born. I screamed silently, pinned on my back by the massive weight of a cotton blanket, legs frozen, the dark lights flickering as the human-like form approached, its arms raised, hands ready to grab, closing in. A strange net-like pattern covering the heartless humanoid shape moved around on its surface like gasoline spreading on a puddle, undulating, letting off light, disintegrating and reforming and making a crackling noise.

rum pum … rum pum … rum pum …

The ever-repeating chant that was once barely audible, then louder, then deafening, is now pounding terribly in my ears and once again, I scream, but it is once again a silent scream and the cotton cloth that covers me once again grows heavy and pins me down.

rum pum … rum pumrum pumRUM PUM

Finally, the creature’s hands come down around my neck and take hold, it’s head, faceless, now pressed against mine and I think it may be growling, but since it has finally grabbed me, and only now, because those are the rules in this particular nightmare, my scream of terror can break loose so it does breaks loose and I cry out …


And I sit up with a start, drenched in sweat, panting heavily, and I can hear adults heading for my room in response to my horrific scream and uncontrolled sobbing.

DAMN YOU BING CROSBY!!! Continue reading The Nightmare That Was Christmas (Death Never Dies)

The Skeptic Awards 2011

Nominations for The Skeptic Awards 2011.

The Skeptic Magazine is delighted, for the first time, to be giving awards celebrating skeptical activity in several categories during 2011. As well as an ‘Editors’ Choice’ award for lifetime achievement, we have five other categories – and for those we’re going to need your help.

GO HERE to learn more and to vote.

Here’s my choice for best skeptical video clip: