Tag Archives: discovery

Phil Plait – Active Skepticism Online


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Phil talked to us about science communication online, and how the “new” (now teenaged, in more ways than one) media has affected it. Specifically how instant info – passed on Twitter – can actually make misinformation spread faster than good info, and how freaking hard it is to clean up once that happens.

Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, blogger, and skeptic… which means you better have some good evidence for any claims you make to him! In fact, Phil is the President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit based on the works of noted conjurer and skeptic James Randi – famous for debunking the spoon-bending efforts of Uri Geller. The critical thinking movement is growing by leaps and bounds, and the JREF has been at the center of a grassroots effort to bring more skepticism into everyday life, especially online.

Phil writes the Bad Astronomy Blog, now hosted by Discover Magazine, and he blogs for the JREF and for SkepticBlog.

His books debunk many misconceptions about astronomy, and to his chagrin he still deals with Moon Landing deniers, astrology, and UFO believers to this day.

In his opinion – and he’s right – the Universe is cool enough. Why make up stuff about it?

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Ask.com RSS Search – NOT!

Okay, I’m not making this up, folks: Ask.com’s RSS Search isn’t outputting RSS properly. Actually, it is and was – according to the RSS 2.0 spec, the link element is completely optional – though I must admit this was the first time we had encountered an RSS 2.0 feed that lacked the link element altogether. I completely stand corrected As with any Web service that outputs RSS for search queries, I immediately integrated it into Gada.be results. You’ll certainly find Ask.com listed on Gada.be today, but the links to results aren’t working properly (a discovery pointed out by a few of our regular users). I looked at the source, and it seemed normal to me. When Shayne went to troubleshoot it this morning, he came up with an amazingly ironic discovery: “This may sound stupid, but when I tried to filter Ask.com to work using my methods… I came to find out, they’re not putting a <link> node in their RSS!!!” Okay, now that’s just too funny. ROTFLMAO funny. No, what’s funny is that I didn’t realize the link element was optional – because to me, it would seem to be obligatory, and I can’t help but wonder if other news aggregators had issues with Ask.com RSS feeds. I’ll be sending a note to my friends at Ask.com immediately, as I can’t imagine this being a difficult fix. Wasn’t really a fix, but they did update it to include the link element rather quickly – speaking to the dedication and understanding that’s happening behind the scenes over there. There ya go – Gada.be makes for an excellent troubleshooting tool sometimes (as it also discovered feed discrepancies in MSN’s feeds a few months ago). Boo-ya! Here’s a screen shot for posterity. Just to show I’m not completely nuts – only partially. If it’s possible to be right and wrong at the same time, I did it.