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Posts tagged "Pecier Decierdo"

By Pecier Decierdo

Now that the hoopla over Curiosity’s landing has died down, let us stand back and examine what has been achieved to see if it was really worth all that hype.

Below is a picture of Mars as seen from Earth. That reddish dot in the sky is an alien world hurtling and spinning through the unimaginable vastness of space at astounding velocities, billions of kilometers away from Earth. The smartest members of our species have just sent a laboratory on wheels to that dot. But they did not just aim for that dot, they aimed for a tiny pixel within a pixel within that dot. And they hit the mark. Soon, that lab on wheels will rove its way around a very tiny portion of that little bright spot in the night sky. If that does not make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on their end, then I do not know what will.

Mars as seen from Earth. [Photo credit: stars.astro.illinois.edu]

A pixel in a pixel in a dot in space. [Screenshots from Google Earth.]

And now that we have placed things in perspective, I believe it’s time for Curiosity itself to tell us the rest of its story.

Curiosity Speaks

Hello, my name is Curiosity. I am the rover of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) program. I know I am animate only in the broadest sense and that my artificial intelligence is comparable to that of a fly, but allow me this conceit of having conscious thought, if only to tell the story of my mission in Mars. It is, after all, also the story of my cousins, Spirit and Opportunity. It is also the story of Mars. Ultimately, it is also the story of life on Earth. My story is your story, too.…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

Beauty and Beast

And art thou, then, a world like ours,

Flung from the orb that whirled our own

A molten pebble from its zone?

How must the burning sands absorb

The fire-waves of the blazing orb,

Thy chain so short, thy path so near

Thy flame-defying creatures hear

The maelstrom of the photosphere!

-   Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Flâneur

When, in 1882, Venus appeared to pass in front of the Sun’s disc in an event known as a transit, little was known of the planet, except perhaps that it was one of the brightest objects in the night sky (third only to the Sun and Moon) and that it was both the “morning star” and the “evening star”. Much about Venus, and even the Sun, was therefore left to the imagination, and this is what gave the doctor, poet, and amateur astronomer Oliver Wendell Holmes the liberty to write the preceding verse. As can be surmised from Holmes’s poem, which was inspired by his witnessing the 1882 transit of Venus, he imagined the planet – “a world like ours” – to be populated by “flame-defying creatures” who would be audience to the “maelstrom of the photosphere.”

To put Holmes’s romantic visualization of Venus in context, note that in 1882, space probes are yet to be sent to Venus. In fact, space exploration hasn’t begun then. (The world had to wait for nearly three quarters of a century for the first space probe.) The most intriguing aspect of Venus known to scientists at the time of the 1882 transit came from the poet and astronomer Mikhail Lomonosov who, in 1761, discovered that Venus had a substantial atmosphere. But even under the intense scrutiny of generations of starry-eyed telescope users, Venus refused to give up her secrets. Ironically, the same atmosphere that made Venus so alluring, and that made her the brightest object in a moonless night sky, also constantly veiled her from the prying eyes of astronomers. Since her cloud cover never parted, successions of space lovers were given the freedom to imagine what lies beneath Venus’s curtain of vapours. Thus Holmes’s The Flâneur.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Pecier Decierdo

The Biggest Sucker

So, do you want to suck big time? What I mean is, do you want to be a black hole? You’re in luck, because this guide will teach you some of the basic tricks on how to be one of the biggest suckers in the universe!

But before we turn our attention to actually becoming a black hole, let us first start with the fundamentals. Let’s begin by talking about what two blokes named Newton and Einstein said about this thing called ‘gravity’.

Why I Am Attracted To You

Legend tells us that a fellow named Isaac Newton was inspired to formulate his theory of gravity when he saw an apple falling (not very far) from the tree. The truth of this story is not that important; what’s important is that Newton’s supposed observation made him realize that the same force that made the apple fall towards the ground also made the Moon go around the Earth! In fact, this is the same force that keeps the planets in orbit around the Sun, and that keeps the Sun and all the other stars of the Milky Way Galaxy in orbit around the galactic center (which is probably home to a gigantic black hole, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

As a matter of fact, Newton said that everything in the universe that has mass pulls towards it every other thing that has mass. In short, everything with mass attracts everything else with mass! This means that I am attracted to you, gravitationally speaking. After all, you and I both have mass. And yes, you are attracted to me too (gravitationally, of course, and perhaps otherwise). And yes, there’s also mutual (gravitational) attraction between myself and this nearby bottle of wine, and between myself and the binary star Sirius 8.3 light years away.

Newton: a science big wig.

Yes, I know, Newton’s idea sounds loony, to say the least. But, like most crazy-sounding ideas in physics, it comes with an equation that has proven effective for centuries…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

By Pecier Decierdo

“But It’ s The Solar System!”

In keeping with the spirit of Year of the Solar System, I am going to write about two of my latest obsessions in one post: the Solar System and the BBC series Sherlock.

Who will watch Sherlock and Watson?

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Sherlock. (And, in case you’re wondering: yes, the homoeroticism is one of my favorite aspects of the series.) After having said that, I will now proceed to criticize a view of science encouraged by Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. In other words, I am going to argue why Sherlock should give a damn about the Solar System.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.


Year of the Solar System

It’s the Year of the Solar System!

Happy Year of the Solar System! The planets are so happy to greet you they decided to move too close to each other just so that they could fit in a family portrait to show you. Also, so as not to dwarf their smaller siblings, the giants of the family had to move a lot farther from the camera.

Shown below is a more candid family portrait. Here, the planets are shown in their correct size relationships.

All planets great and small. (I know, Pluto should not be there.)

But how far are the planets with respect to each other? When I taught high school astronomy two years ago, I tried to draw a Solar System that’s to scale on our classroom’s white board. Good luck to me! I ended up either trying hard to include Jupiter in my drawing or attempting to carefully draw the crammed orbits of the inner planets just so that they’re distinguishable from each other. In the end, I used a number of steps to illustrate the relative distances of the planets to each other. (“If the Sun were here, then Mercury would be so and so paces away.”)

Before we go to the relative distances involved in our cosmic neighborhood, let us first have a word about the units we use to measure the Solar System.…

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

DepEd, Y U No Teach Science to Kids?

The news that our Department of Education decided to remove the ‘Science’ subject in the first and second grades released a flurry of criticism and commentary in the past two months. Since science education is one of the main advocacies of the Filipino Freethinkers, the issue was tackled in a couple of articles on this site. To read the articles, go here or here.

Now, if there’s one thing worse than DepEd’s dropping ‘Science’ in the first and second grades, then it is their reason for doing it. In the words of Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, they decided to jettison science in order to “decongest the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) and to make learning more enjoyable to young learners.” In other words, they believe that in postponing the teaching of science, they are doing the students an act of kindness.

Science, the School Bully

That many people believe science is not “child friendly” is sad on so many levels. The other levels have already been excellently discussed in the other articles on this site. I want to concentrate on this one level in particular: DepEd and the Philippine public as a whole view science as a congestion because they do not understand the first thing about it.

Given how they view the subject, I am in fact happy that DepEd dropped ‘Science’ in Grades 1 and 2. I don’t want an institution that views science as a congestion to teach it to the future generation because if they do, they will only end up alienating the kids to science.

In fact, we are better off with a public ignorant of science than a public alienated to science. Scientific ignorance can be remedied by a few years of quality education and public information. I know this because I am the product of our public elementary school system, and when I entered high school I was almost a science ignoramus. A few years of good education cancelled all my years of bad education. 

Bad science teaching causes alienation toward science.

Before we move on, let me illustrate how bad my elementary education was. I had one science teacher who taught us that a monkey-eating eagle was a monkey. I also had one science teacher who was a creationist, and another who was a moon hoaxer. I also remember being scolded by another teacher for bringing encyclopedias to school and allowing my classmates to revel in them. The encyclopedias were “too advanced” for us, that teacher said. To be fair, I had good elementary teachers too. Sadly, the effect of one bad teacher requires the correction of five good ones.

Now let us proceed to the main point. There is a fundamental difference between being simply ignorant of science and being alienated to it. Good education can only be effective in minds that are not yet alienated to science. For my part, I am very thankful for my few good science teachers – who are, by the way, glowing embers in the dark world of our public education system – for keeping my sense of wonder alive throughout all those years of horrible science teaching. I believe I wouldn’t be writing this essay right now if it were not for the fact that my sense of curiousity survived all those years in a public elementary school.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

Can Everyone Be A Texan?

Many opponents of the RH Bill and of population management in general deny that the world is overpopulated. To support their denial of overpopulation, conservatives usually claim that everyone alive today can fit inside the state of Texas, leaving the rest of the planet blissfully empty of humans. A moment’s thought is enough to come up with definitive arguments against this everyone-can-be-a-Texan scenario. Unfortunately, the said scenario keeps on getting parroted, and by no less than our own anti-RH senators like Tito Sotto.

So how do we elegantly debunk the we-can-all-fit-in-Texas scenario and other similar baloney “arguments” commonly used by RH Bill opponents? The answer comes from the environmental sciences.

My Very Own Patch of Earth

How does your lifestyle affect the environment? To answer this question, environmental scientists William Reese and Mathis Wackernal invented the simple but powerful concept of ecological footprint. Your ecological footprint is the total area of bioproductive land and sea needed to sustain your lifestyle. The name ecological footprint is therefore well chosen because it essentially measures how heavily you tread on planet Earth.

The Energy Library gives the following definition of a bioproductive patch of Earth:

 1. able to produce and sustain living organisms

2. specifically, describing land area that is capable of providing natural substances that support human activities; e.g., land used for growing food crops

In other words, a bioproductive patch of Earth is an area that produces goods and performs services that have economic value to humans.

Now, let us get back to ecological footprint. I wanted to know what my ecological footprint was, so I went here to take a test that gives me a rough estimate of its value. After taking the test (I tried my best to give the most accurate and honest answers possible) I found out that my ecological footprint is around 1.8 hectares. That’s 18,000 square meters of the Earth’s sea and land that’s dedicated to support my lifestyle. (I tried other tests, and they gave me answers ranging from 0.90 hectares to 5.5 hectares. I think 1.8 hectares is the most accurate. I encourage the reader to take other tests, for example this or this.)

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

Typhoon Sendong: An Avoidable Tragedy

With the death toll recently going over 1000 deaths, the number of human lives ended by Typhoon Sendong is heartbreaking. What makes it more tragic, however, is the fact that many of these deaths could have been avoided.

It is good to see that the government is doing its job of helping the survivors of the calamity in the cities of Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Iligan. (You too can help the survivors. Start by clickinghere.) However, it would have been better to see the government preventing a calamity of this magnitude from happening in the first place. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The prevention would have been as simple as making decisions that were scientifically informed. As this report shows, scientists have already warned both local and national government of this calamity. By not heeding the scientists’ warnings, some government officials are guilty of indirectly causing the tragedy in CDO.

The aftermath of Typhoon Sendong and the flashflood it caused.

Scientific Literacy in the Philippines

We live in an era when human life should be most enjoyable. For what else is all our scientific knowledge if it is not used to make everyone alive live a long, safe, happy, and healthy life?

We at Filipino Freethinkers believe that the principal purpose of modern science is the improvement of the human condition. This is why we do our best to defend science, combat pseudoscience, and further the cause of science education in this country. (To see the most recent example, read the excellent article Of Heroes and Hoaxes: Painting a CNN Hero in a Dangerous Light).

But defending science and advocating its consistent application in all aspects of life is difficult here in the Philippines. For one, many of the powers that be apparently have a stake in the public’s scientific illiteracy. A good example of this is the CBCP’s opposition against the passage of the RH Bill. The proliferation of many pseudoscientific objections to the bill is another sign that the cause of scientific education here in the Philippines still has a long way to go.

To say that our public is scientifically illiterate is an understatement. As a case in point, recent reports that many young Filipinos take soda-detergent mix as contraceptives reveal the dismal state of reproductive health education in our country.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

So Long and Thanks for all the Hitch

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the spice and sting of the Four Horsemen, will be sorely missed. Hitchens did not have a deathbed conversion and his statements during the months before his death guaranteed that nobody is to take advantage of his death and sickness to further their personal agenda.

Hitchens the Dionysian.

But why expect a deathbed conversion from a bon vivant who uttered the following words?

“Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

Taunting a Dead Man

While Hitchens will be sorely missed, Rick Warren will be sorely with us still. In the wake of Hitch’s death, this “friend” of Christopher’s mustered up the gall to tweet the following words:

My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.

I believe it is one thing to be a Christian and to assert the superiority of your beliefs, and it is completely another thing to rub your beliefs on a dead man’s face. True, it is Warren’s right as a Christian to believe that Hitchens must be somewhat surprised right now to find himself in the afterlife. (Although we who know Hitch are sure that he can wit his way into heaven or hell, depending on whether he wants great climate or great company.) True, it is also his right to voice out this belief. True still, it is his right to place a thin veneer of taste over this belief by simply calling it “the Truth” with a capital T.  But doing it to someone who cannot answer back is simply going below the belt. Six feet below, to be precise.

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.

by Pecier Decierdo

The RH Bill and Exponential Growth

In my article What the Debate on the RH Bill Should Not be About, I argued that overpopulation is a non-issue in debates over the passage of the RH Bill. There I reasoned that the battle over the RH Bill is a women’s rights battle and that overpopulation has little if anything to do with it. While I am still convinced that the RH Bill is a women’s rights issue, the following observations forced me to reconsider the relationship between the bill and the Philippine population problem:

  • The world population has exceeded 7 billion. What’s worse is that it shows no signs of stabilizing on its own anytime in the foreseeable future (contrary to the claims of the laissez-faire advocates).
  • The successful population management measures in many countries around the world, particularly in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, have yielded very positive effects. In fact, the said countries have already overtaken the Philippines in terms of social and economic progress.
  • Our legislators, particularly Senator Sotto, continue to use overpopulation denial myths as arguments against the passage of the RH Bill.
  • Conservative estimates have pegged the Philippine population at 101 million as of July 2011.[1]
  • The Philippine population grew by 1.904% in the year 2011.[1]

The above observations should be enough to convince any rational person that the RH Bill is not only important but is urgently needed. Sadly, many of our politicians aren’t really of the rational sort.

Seven billion. That’s a pretty big number, dontcha think?

Sotto Voce?

On a Senate interpellation on the RH Bill held last December 5, Senator Tito Sotto parroted the same old ridiculous arguments that supposedly prove that the world is not overpopulated. Worse still, Sotto went as far as to claim that the world would never experience overpopulation. In his own (?) words, “These people think that they are smarter than God. Sa tingin ba nila gagawa ba ang Diyos ng mundo na mapupuno? [Do they think God will create a world that will be overpopulated?]”

Read the full article on the Filipino Freethinkers website.