Review: Sid the Science Kid

Hey Sid, What do you say! What do you want to learn today? I want to know what things happen and how, and I wanna know everything now. How does this thing work? Why does that stuff change? How’d it do what it just did. What’s up with the sky do you think i can fly The world is big and I wanna know why Got a lot of questions and big ideas, I’m Sid the Science Kid.


Those words begin one of NHL’s favorite shows: Sid the Science Kid. Sid constantly tries to figure out the big questions in life like: Why does a banana turn mushy? Or why does it need to rain when you have an outdoors activity planned? Those might not seem like big questions to adults, but to kids questions like these are huge. And for good reason too. Children are just figuring out how the world works and questions like these are key.

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NHL the Astrologer

A few weeks ago, we looked through a local community college’s summer camp brochure trying to figure out which sessions to sign NHL up for. We definitely wanted a dinosaur one since NHL loves dinosaurs. (Even moreso after we saw Walking With Dinosaurs.) For the other session, this listing caught my eye (click to enlarge):

Did you notice something wrong with that listing? That’s right, they’re calling the study of the planets, space and stars “Astrology.” I wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t be teaching my son about birth signs and how the alignment of the planets determines our destiny so we called to confirm. Yes, they meant “Astronomy”, not “Astrology.” While I found this mess-up a little funny, it was also a little scary to imagine that someone in the community college didn’t know the difference between the two. I’d recommend whoever messed this up head on over to the Bad Astronomy blog, run by the wonderful Phil Plait, and find out just why Astrology is wrong.

Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!

As so many others have mentioned, it is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 program and the first human to walk on the Moon. Unfortunately, the original, high-quality tapes of the Moon landing seem to have been lost. Overwritten with new data during lean times when magnetic storage tapes were hard to come by. It’s a small consolation that NASA is working hard on finding the best available footage of the Moon landing and have hired experts on video restoration to clean it up as much as possible. Already, they’ve released a partially cleaned up copy of the video. A more complete copy is expected in September.

In addition, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter just sent back photos of some of the Apollo landing sites. The resolution isn’t perfect, so the details are grainy, but they are there. The LRO should be able to send back some higher resolution shots when it gets into its ideal orbit.

Of course, all of this isn’t going to be enough for the Moon hoaxers out there. Sadly, there are all too many people who think that the Moon landings were a hoax. Ignoring all science and evidence to the contrary, they insist that the Moon landing was actually filmed Hollywood-style on a soundstage. A thorough debunking of their claims is too in-depth for this posting (I’d recommend reading the Bad Astronomy website and seeing the Mythbuster’s Emmy nominated Moon Hoax episode), but suffice it to say that their claims do not survive scrutiny. 40 years ago, man actually walked on the Moon. Neil Armstrong pushed his boots down onto the Moon’s surface and left footprints that will (thanks to the Moon’s nearly-nonexistant atmosphere) last for hundreds of years.

The space program used to inspire our children to become scientists and engineers. Nowadays, kids yawn when presented with people going into space. Is it a coincidence that we’re dropping behind in science scores in school? Here’s hoping that NASA gets the funding (and the management organization) to do some truly dazzling things in space. We’re scheduled to head back to the Moon in 2020 and I’ve been told that it will take that long to do it right, but I’d love to see it happen sooner. Since the last Apollo mission was Apollo 17 in December of 1972, we haven’t gone to the Moon in my lifetime. We haven’t even gone beyond Low Earth Orbit with anything other than robots. Don’t get me wrong, robots are cool and all, but you still can’t beat the thrill of knowing that there’s an actual human walking around up there. My only consolation is that, by the time the next Moon mission rolls around, NHL will be 17 and JSL will be 13. That will be prime “influencing their future careers” time.

So here’s thanking those who bravely went where no man went before, those who followed them, and those who are working hard to ensure that we return there. We may have gotten side tracked along the way, but I hope that we will soon be watching images broadcast from almost 239,600 miles away as men (and women!) walk on the moon again.

Autism, Amish, and Logical Fallacies

There was a post on today referencing an article about the Amish and Autism.  The article claimed that the Amish don’t raise their children and also don’t have any instances of Autism.  This, the article implied, was proof that vaccines caused (or at least were somehow linked to) autism.  Something about their reasoning didn’t sound right to me, so I did some digging.  It wasn’t hard.  A simple Google search for "autism Amish" turned up another article.  This article pointed out that many Amish do indeed vaccinate and that there are autistic Amish.  Their rates may appear lower, but there’s a reason for that:

[Dr. Kevin Strauss, MD, a pediatrician at the CSC] says a child in the general population is more likely to have autism detected early and to receive a diagnosis than an Amish child. "Amish child may not be referred to an MD or psychologist because the child is managed in the community, where they have special teachers," he says. "We know autism when we see it, but we don’t go actively into the Amish community and screen for ASD."

So the Amish aren’t as likely to take their children to the doctors who would diagnose the child as autisic.  Since the child wouldn’t be diagnosed, the autistic Amish child wouldn’t be listed in the statistics and the Amish would appear to have few, if any, cases of autism.

However, there’s a deeper flaw in the original Amish-Autism article that goes beyond lack of facts.  Even if the Amish didn’t vaccinate and even if the Amish had a lower, or even zero, rate of autism, that wouldn’t mean that vaccinations cause autism.  Correlation does not imply causation.  There are a lot of other factors that could lower the Amish rate of autism (assuming still that it was indeed lowered and not a statistical fluke caused by low reporting numbers).  Perhaps all the fresh air helps the development of the brain.  Perhaps working in a field has some benefit.  Perhaps the Amish simply tend to reproduce within their own community and their gene pool doesn’t contain as many genetic risk factors for autism.

To put the Correlation-Causation link another way, imagine a study that was made counting the number of firefighters at a blaze and how big the fire was.  You’d be sure to find out that there were more firefighters at the biggest fires.  If correlation equaled causation, you might conclude that firefighters caused fires and a lot of firefighters caused BIG fires.  In truth, the cause of the fires would be completely unrelated to the firefighters’ presence.

The Internet is a great resouce, but with the good information comes misinformation.  One must always take articles one reads online with a grain of salt and a critical eye especially if said article claims a conspiracy theory (that the author somehow uncovered despite the best efforts of the hugely powerful conspirators) or a scientific breakthrough found out by someone who hasn’t had (or won’t have) their work peer reviewed.  If the author is claiming a scientific conspiracy to keep something quiet, then your BS detector should be blaring sirens and flashing red warning lights like crazy.

The autism-vaccine link has been looked into multiple times and, save for a few isolated instances, no link has been found.  (One of the major studies used to back up the autism-vaccine claim was recently accused of falsifying data.)  If multiple studies don’t uncover a clear pattern, then any outliers that seem to indicate links are likely the result of other factors.

No, we don’t know everything about autism, but a few things are clear:  1) Vaccines protect us from dangerous diseases.  Look up Polio one day.  Images like this one have all but vanished in our modern world thanks to vaccines.  2) Not vaccinating your child puts them at risk.  Many diseases (e.g. measles) are making comebacks thanks to a growing number of unvaccinated children.  You can’t simply not vaccinate and trust that your child will always be surrounded by vaccinated children.  3) Children are exposed to millions of germs every day.  The one to five that they get in one vaccine is nothing for their immune system.  It is certainly preferable that they be exposed to the vaccine versions of the germs (which are mostly incapable of causing the disease) rather than be exposed to the full disease-causing version.

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