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Fraud abounds in talk of science

Aug 6, 2014 - By Carl Manning

But don't be so skeptical that you view anything new as wrong.

There was an interesting discussion the other day on the radio about scientific fraud, why it happens, and the fallout from the misinformation. They talked about peer pressure, about grant pressure, and about just being interviewed and allowing the interviewer go along with the misinterpretation of what was said.

Then there was the story in Discover Magazine about the Discovery Networks show reporting a bull shark stealing a fish right off a fishing line in Lake Ontario. The video went viral, and thousands of people believed it. It turns out that it was part of a promotion to get more viewers to watch "Shark Week." They had done similar things about mermaids and the megalodon shark, alluding that it still lived, but actually in small print saying "dramatized" or "fictional" in lightning-fast footage.

This blatant publicity stunt gets ratings but makes real science look bad.

People who do this are shunned by their peers, but television networks get away with it because it drives up ratings.

P.T. Barnum was the king of scientific hoaxers in the 1800s. Thousands of people left his shows believing in nonsense. It is still happening. With the number of new discoveries there will be mistake and miscues for whatever reason, but being skeptical is not a bad thing. Just because you read about something on the Internet or see it on TV, don't always take it for the truth. Do some more investigating and check it out.

Don't be fooled by scammers or publicity seekers. But also don't be so skeptical that you view anything new as wrong. There is a happy balance, but you have to be engaged in your learning.

Have a good month, and enjoy the beautiful summer evenings.

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A monthly look at the night skies of the northern Rocky Mountains, written by astronomers Ron Canterna, University of Wyoming; Jay Norris, Challis, Idaho Observatory; and Daryl Macomb, Boise State University"

One of the most beautiful nighttime visions is a full view of the hazy Milky Way on a clear, dark, Rocky Mountain night. It is best seen during the absence of the light of the moon in August, so pick a dark site outside of town and away from nearby lights.

To locate the Milky Way plane, first go to the southern horizon where the constellations Scorpio (see star Antares) and Sagittarius are located. The location of these constellations is actually in the direction of the Milky Way's center. The plane of the Milky Way then shoots up toward the zenith and north. The hazy light of the Milky Way passes through Aquila (star Altair) and Cygnus (star Deneb), Cepheus and Cassiopeia (the stretched-out "W"), and finally through Perseus on the northern horizon.

Once you locate the Milky Way plane, try scanning it with a small telescope or binoculars. The hazy light is the accumulative light of distant, unseen, resolved stars. With the binoculars or a small telescope, you can actually see more stars and, in many cases, small clusters of stars that are gravitationally bound to each other. Enjoy the Milky Way's beauty.

Finally, you can see both Saturn and Mars on the southern horizon shortly after sunset. In the morning, before sunrise, you will see both Venus and Jupiter close together. It is quite an impressive sight.

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