Is Perception Reality? #psychology #science #education #WW2 #history

There’s a lot of discussion these days about how media influences people – both real and fake news. I ran across an interesting example that predates our current political mess by decades: Mad Gasser of Mattoon in 1944

Mrs. Kearney and Daughter First Victims
Both Recover; Robber Fails to Get Into Home

Even for a newspaper, that’s a lot of assumptions: first, that these were only the “first” victims; second, that the prowler was using some sort of anesthetic; and third, that he was a robber. But it was enough. Within days, several more people called police saying that they too had been attacked by the prowler they read about in the newspaper. Their stories were published in the paper on September 5, owing to no publications on Sunday and the Labor Day holiday.

And that’s when the real melee began.



[Then] the character of the newspaper reports changed dramatically. The headlines became: THE MANHUNT FOR MR. NOBODY

And as soon as that became the tone, suddenly there were zero more police reports.

No residue of gas or lasting symptoms were observed, no gas is known to cause all the symptoms reported, and no prowler was ever caught – though there is an anecdotal suggestion that the initial attack could have been real.

In 1945 the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology published one research article on the Mad Gasser.

Comparing newspaper space in square inches to the number of reports showed a very apparent causal effect. If the morning newspapers dedicated more space to the Gasser, more reports came in that day. And the Mad Gasser was as silent as the newspapers during that initial 2-day Labor Day publishing break.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon became one of the most famous case studies in mass hysteria.

A tense and fearful public was primed during wartime to believe with little evidence.

Consider Americans today, reading and viewing stories over and over, day after day. Maybe a single story gets repeated a dozen times – it feels as if it happened a dozen times.

As individuals zero in on fewer outlets, they get caught in the echo chamber of their own fears, hopes, and biases. Depending on which rabbit hole each of us chooses to fall down, we end up in living in different worlds. With so much media available, one outlet abandoning a debunked story has little affect.

No one can save us from ourselves.

Sometimes Astronomy is Jaw Dropping – maybe all the time #astronomy #space #exoplanet #astrophysics #spacetelescope #NASA

That’s the star – dead center. Looks a lot like any other star in visible light.

Astronomers have spotted water vapor and evidence of exotic clouds in the atmosphere of an alien planet [HAT-P-26b]… about 430 light-years away from Earth.

How’d they do that!?

Sing, Wakeford and their colleagues analyzed observations made by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes when HAT-P-26b crossed its parent star’s face from the telescopes’ perspectives. The planet’s atmosphere filtered out certain wavelengths of starlight during these “transits,” allowing the study team to identify some of the molecules swirling in HAT-P-26b’s air.

I have to wonder how many photons that passed through HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere made it to Earth – to capture and analyze that tiny amount of data is awesome. The planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, but it’s the trace elements that are most fascinating. The planet doesn’t fit the pattern we see in our own solar system regarding planet size, distance for the star, and composition.

There’s so much to learn, and our tiny sample size of one solar system isn’t nearly enough to figure it all out. If you’re wondering what difference it makes – well, it won’t change what I eat for breakfast tomorrow. I’ve never regretted learning something, even if it didn’t put a penny in my pocket. If we don’t look up at the stars how will we ever get out of the mud?

Here’s one description based on HAT-P-26b’s atmospheric composition to marvel at as you look up.

This would be a very alien sky… you’d see a kind of scattery, washed-out, gray sky.

Of course, when working on the edge of detection it’s easy to get things wrong. But a staggering amount of data is rolling in, many researchers are busy, and even more amazing telescopes are in the works – hypotheses will turn into theories.

It’s only getting better.

PS: Oddly enough, I had trouble finding an easy source to tell me where in Earth’s sky HAT-P-26b’s star is located – not that I expect to see it with my eyes, but it seems like a fun thing to know. I think I found the coordinates: RA = 14:12:37.5, DE = +04:03:36. Those are the coordinates I used to get the image above. And according to my trusty W. Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.0, that puts it in the constellation of Virgo. But I’m a bit rusty – can anyone confirm or correct me?

Does Swearing Make You Powerful? #citizenscientist #scienceiscool

I suppose I should post a picture of Dr. Richard Stephens, but this fair use image was easier to find 🙂

This is one of those fun articles on science: the power of profanity.

There were two studies – one used 29 people and the other used 52 people, so I’d guess the results point the way but are hardly conclusive.

The team isn’t sure the swearing is the cause of the strength. Other measurements they expected would be affected by the sympathetic nervous system did not show significant changes…

‘We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain,’ said Dr. Richard Stephens from Keele University.

Ah ha! That last bit sends me to another resource – my favorite citizen scientists:

A 2009 study claimed that swearing comes with the positive side effect of improving your ability to withstand pain. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage unleashed their potty mouths to find out whether the ‘grin and swear it’ theory holds true.

Spewing expletives indeed increases suffering stamina by an average of 30 percent (when done during the event.) mythbusters

We miss you Mythbusters. At least you’re archived.

Artificial Womb is Coming – Are We Ready? #science #biology

A problem on the verge of being solved:

Extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination

Concept from 1955 – this problem’s been studied for a long time

of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success.

Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. [my emphasis]

There have been several articles about this study – I’ve quoted the researchers’ abstract. Don’t you love science-y phrases? Extracorporeal systems – so specific. Take a look at the pictures on the link – both creepy and fascinating.

This version of an artificial womb isn’t ready for use on humans – yet. But if these researchers don’t make it, someone else will. Premature babies will live healthy lives and parents will be spared tremendous grief – for them it would be utopia.

But there’s no Yin without Yang. We have some big decisions coming up. If every embryo could be raised to a healthy child, is there ever a reason to discard unused embryos from fertility treatments? Should abortions become fetus transfers? If so, who should pay for the baby – not only for birthing it, but for raising the child? Our current foster care system has a lot of problems already – I don’t see it absorbing more children.

And yet – birth rates are dropping in industrialized nations. Some governments are offering tax incentives to women to have more babies. Maybe governments would want to raise all the unwanted babies. Don’t just think of Dickensian orphanages – remember the “lying down rooms of baby houses” in the old Soviet Union. It’s the beginning of a lot of science fiction dystopias.

Yee ha – Colonize Mars with Top Rated Scifi Story #mars #sciencefiction

Thrilling for a new author – my latest Mars colony story earned a top 5% in its Amazon Best Sellers Rank category. I want to share the story with my blog readers – download a free copy today. Go to Smashwords and use coupon code LL42T. If you’d like to say thanks, leave a review – if you have an Amazon account, a review there helps readers find me – Amazon is The Big Dog in book selling.

Thanks everyone! 🙂

Are You Being Cheated? However Will You Know? #economics the dismal science #shopping #bigdata

If the price of a can of cold soda from a vending machine varies with the outdoors temperature… are you being cheated in July? Or given a bargain in December? (Or the other way around if you’re down under.) Is a higher price okay when the vendor meets you in the park?

  • If my shopping history says I’m cheap, should I be offered a lower price than you – a person known to splurge?
  • Should the price of pumpkin pie spice go up as Thanksgiving nears?
  • If you got 50% off the list price of $999 for a patio furniture set, would you be angry to find Walmart’s everyday low price sticker on the box – reading $247?
  • Major brick-and-mortar stores like Borders, Blockbuster, Circuit City and Radio Shack are going bankrupt.

Welcome to the world of shopping in the digital age.

Since about the 1860s, a standard asking price replaced haggling in industrialized countries – in part because Quakers and other groups felt charging different prices for the same item was immoral. (In the USA, the 1860s was our Civil War and maybe we were too distracted to haggle – I don’t know what the rest of you were doing.)

But the endless arms race between buyers and sellers takes on a new urgency in the internet age. Is it fair for buyers to view items in a brick and mortar store, then buy cheaper on-line? What do you think of stores that jack up list-prices so sales look better?

Online purchases peak during weekday office hours, so retailers are commonly advised to raise prices in the morning and lower them in the early evening… [Today] Big Data could discern every individual’s own personal demand curve—thereby turning the classroom hypothetical of ‘perfect price discrimination’ (a price that’s calibrated precisely to the maximum that you will pay) into an actual possibility

Perhaps all this confusion will drive people to rent-not-buy everything from a car ride to party supplies.

Personally, I’m retired in a small rural county of New Mexico – definitely not affluent. I’m a few sigmas off the average American.

  • I have the time to spend days researching large purchases.
  • My last pair of jeans cost $5 at a thrift store and that was a splurge for me – I usually wait until donations overwhelm them and they sell as much as you can stuff in a bag for $1.
  • I never go to a mall for entertainment – the closest one is a 2 hour drive! I go for a walk in the forest instead.
  • I notice my neighbors are more likely to set out their own hand-made lawn art than anyone would in suburbia.

I’ve withdrawn from the battle, but what will you do?

Read a fascinating article at on shopping. Did you know one reason for ending prices in 0.99 was to force cashiers to open the drawer to make change – thereby recording the sale and stopping them from pocketing the money?

New Collection of Short Reads in Science Fiction and Fantasy is Crazy Popular #scifi #fantasy #shortstory

My new collection of short reads has rocketed to top 6% of its Amazon Best Sellers Rank category in only five days. That’s crazy for a new author like me 😉

Thank you 🙂

This collection’s only available on Amazon and is included in Kindle Select / Unlimited / Lending Library / Amazon Prime. If you’re a subscriber you’ve already paid for these stories so why not give them a read?

Miners plunder Jupiter’s atmosphere – and finds more than expected. An angel has a photo op on Mars. A time traveler leaves a lonely woman behind. A desperate man seeks help from a witch. Vignettes and excerpts from the On Mars series – the first colony on Mars.

These stories and more wait for you, short reads to fill a break in your day or an afternoon curled up in your favorite chair.