P&J Column 24.8.17

“I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark, I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks”

Prof Hector Schlenk, Senior Researcher at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, people are always asking me questions. Questions like; ‘Are Saudi Arabia’s decency laws compatible with a rationalist approach to human evolution? Should dancing the Macarena be banned in this country too? And if not, could we at least do something about the Slosh, please?”

But this week I have no time to ponder these earth-bound conundrums, as I have been on a whistle-stop trip to the USA to witness the most talked about phenomena of recent times.  Even on this side of the Atlantic it has been impossible to avoid the media coverage and in particular the startling images of a huge orange mass of combustible matter and life-threatening incandescent gases looking directly at the sun during the recent eclipse.

President Trump is, of course, no stranger to ignoring the accepted science in relation to matters meteorological. And in this case it is probably too much to hope that the corneal sunburn he will have suffered might serve as some kind of lesson. Certainly, the symptoms he is likely to have experienced – the feeling that he has rubbed his eyes with fine grit sandpaper – might go some way to explaining his sense of victimisation when speaking at yesterday’s rally.

I had travelled to the Land of the Free, of course, in my professional capacity, in an attempt to assist the citizens of the US to comprehend the science behind the amazing celestial event they were about to witness – the first total solar eclipse to be visible across America in a century. And I must say, I was sorely needed.

A recent survey revealed that, in America, a staggering 26% of the population do not believe that the Earth orbits the Sun. (Co-incidentally, and acknowledging that it is an important tenet of the scientific method that correlation is not causation, that is the precise percentage of the electorate who voted for the President.)

For over a quarter of the population to lack a grasp of basic science is alarming. It’s not even as bad as that in Huntly.

Allow me then, to share with you the explanation of the phenomena which I provided to our transatlantic friends: A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, and the relative distances are such that the area of umbra, or shadow, exactly allows one celestial body to obscure the diameter of the other. This is only possible because, while the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, the sun is 400 times further away, and so they appear to us to be the same size in the sky.

Interestingly, among all of the 3000 or so planets so far observed by astronomers both inside and outside our solar system, this phenomenon is unique to the Earth – prompting some theistic observers to claim it as evidence of intelligent design.

Initially, that idea may seem attractive, but it is fundamentally flawed. What intelligent designer worth the name would have arranged the Earth, Moon and Sun in these exact ratios and positions and then given the power to destroy the first to a man who is so wired to the second that he doesn’t have the sense not to stare at the third?

Cava Kenny Cordiner, the sports columnist who’s always Rrrrrready to Rrrrrumble.

I seen that the build up to the Mcgregor / Mayweather fight is building up nicely. This match has had it’s knockers, and a lot of citrics is saying say that boxing and other sports don’t mix. As someone who was quite happy to deck my marker with a juicy left hook whenever the ref wasn’t looking – and sometimes when he was – I am happy to stick my head above the parakeet and say that I disagree.

Some folks is saying that it’s a total mishmash, and the mixed marital aids champion Mcgregor hasn’t not got no chance against Mayweather, the unbeaten exfolliant of the noble art. But I is not so sure, he might not have much experience of the Marquee of Queensferry’s rules, but McGregor is no mug and must have fought his way out of twice as many corners as his opponent has, bearing in mind that in MMA they do their fighting in a octagon.