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I finished my absolutely last undergraduate physics final on Thursday in Thermodynamics, and had just enough time to pack my closet and hop on a train to DC and start my 9.5-week adventure. So far? Awesome.
Here it was again this year, The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas, organized by the James Randi Educational Foundations (JREF). As you may remember from last year’s updates, TAM is usually awesome and this year was no exception. I also had a great time experimenting with sounds from beer bottles at the pub with Richard Saunders and friends. Totally awesome.
Awesome news came out yesterday about the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation, that is responsible for The Amazing Meeting, among other things): Phil Plait (“The Bad Astronomer“) is the new President of the JREF! How awesome is that?
Okay, beyond the fact that I have met Phil in TAM6 and he truly is a great guy, he is also an Astronomer, which means that the odds of having a TAM on the moon just increased… Okay, maybe not. But that won’t keep me from hoping.
So lots of luck and “Mazl Tov”, Phil Plait, for the new position! And if I am allowed a moment of pure selfishness: I hope this new (probably time-consuming) position decrease the amount of the quality posts in the Bad Astronomy blog so that I – and the other fans – can keep having quality Astronomy to read. It’s all about me, of course.
So head on the the Bad Astronomy blog and send Phil your congratulations!
So CNN was its usual alarmist-self yesterday, and published a full-blown story about a weird-looking animal that washed ashore in Montauk, Long Island. The alarmist-tone they shared wasn’t surprising – CNN tends to go to the extreme whenever a bee flatulates in the far east. What could have been amusing (if only people wouldn’t be so eager to fall for it) but wasn’t (because they do), was their pick of a title for the segment:
“Montauk Monster” Discovered
Leathery Beast Washed Ashore
Ignoring the claim for a ‘discovery’ (Nobel prize, anyone?) of a Montauk Monster (is ‘monster’ the species and ‘montauk’ the subspecies?) I had one big issue here that jumped to my mind and wouldn’t let go:
What in the name of all that is science’y, is a “leathery beast?” I couldn’t find an explanation or definition for “Leathery Beast,” so I decided I should do what the editors should have done, and research. After all, when in doubt, try it out – or in this case, when in doubt, check it out.
So, some quick google-searches revealed interesting correlation between these similar terms:
The common thread here is obvious, and can only lead to one conclusion: A Leathery animal is an animal that is covered with leather. Like this one.
But unlike fur, scales and feathers, animals do not naturally have leather. They have skin. Animal skin (or ‘hide’) can be stripped and processed to produce leather. It isn’t something an animal wants to have, I’d gather, seeing as it needs to die and be skinned to produce it.
There is no such thing as a leathery animal, just like there is no such thing as a carpet’y animal.
So, CNN, and all ye other mega-news-agencies out there – please try and remember to check your definitions, if not your proper facts. A semi-decomposed corpse of an unidentified animal (note: unidentified does not mean unidentifiable) washes out to shore and someone takes a picture of it. That is — really — the entire story. Maybe if you confuse your viewers enough with weird, incomprehensible and alarming titles like “Montauk Monster!” and “Leathery Beast Washed Ashore!”, they will forget that this story isn’t actually very interesting.
As far as rational thinking in the fear-driven media is concerned, I think we will all do best to remember that when in doubt, we should first check it out.
And as for the “leathery corpse,” well, I wouldn’t expect any experiment videos about it anytime soon.