Monday, March 03, 2014

Shadow of a Doubt - March 2014

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • Mar 8 NCAS Lecture: Evaluating Alternative Sources of Energy:Solar Energy from Space, Paul Jaffe, PhD
  • Mar 8 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award Presentation 2013
  • Mar 12 Drinking Skeptically, now in MD and VA!
  • Apr 5 NCAS Lecture: Author Jesse Walker discusses his book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.
  • NCAS YouTube Channel - new videos
  • New Martin Gardner Web Site
  • Torn From Today's Headlines: Looking for Travelers from the Future, by Scott Snell
  • NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
  • Shadow Light
  • New Skeptic Line Number 
  • Time to Renew?
NCAS Public Lecture Series

Evaluating Alternative Sources of Energy:
Solar Energy from Space

Paul Jaffe, PhD

Saturday, March 8, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA [map] [directions]
(Ballston-Marymount University Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th N & N Stuart Streets.
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Concerns about global climate change have focused attention on a range of alternative energy sources that have minimal or greatly-reduced carbon emissions when compared with conventional energy sources. Assessing how feasible and economically viable these alternative energy sources might be is important from a public policy standpoint in order to ensure taxpayer money is invested wisely.

For decades, proponents of Space Solar Power (SSP) have advocated for the development of satellites that would collect and transmit energy for use on Earth essentially 24 hours per day, all year round. This approach is billed as a way to overcome the shortcomings of terrestrial solar, wind, and other energy sources which suffer from intermittency, locale dependence, and other problems.

By using a quantitative means of comparing the possible costs of Space Solar Power, provisional conclusions can be drawn about the markets and conditions that might or might not argue for its development. Likewise, other possible alternative energy sources can be compared on an order-of-magnitude basis by using simple models that identify key sensitivities.

Paul Jaffe is an expert in space systems development and integration. He has over 20 years of experience as an electronics engineer, project lead, and principal investigator. At the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, he has been part of over a dozen NASA and Department of Defense space missions.

His interests include novel space systems and technologies, renewable energy sources, and efficacy in K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. He received B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park and an M.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Jaffe has twice been a recipient of the Alan Berman Research Publication Award. He received the Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., STEM and Diversity Champion of the year award for 2012.

He was president of NCAS from 1998 to 2003, and he is a proud lifetime member.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

2013 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award Presentation
Preceding Dr. Jaffe's lecture, the 2013 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award presentation video will make its premiere.  Recorded by Stuart Robbins in Boulder, Colorado on February 5, 2014, astronomer David E. Kaufmann presented the Klass Award to Phil Plait, "The Bad Astronomer," on behalf of NCAS.  Copies of the award citation will be available.

April NCAS Lecture
Jesse Walker, books editor of Reason magazine, will discuss his book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.  Saturday, April 5 at 1:30 pm at Bethesda Library.  (Note that this will be on the first, instead of the usual second, Saturday of the month.)

NCAS YouTube Channel
Steven Salzberg's February lecture – "Bad Medicine: How Alternative Medicine has Infiltrated U.S. Medical Schools" – is the most recent of many NCAS lectures available at the NCAS YouTube Channel:

New Martin Gardner Web Site
December 2013 NCAS lecturer Colm Mulcahy ("Martin Gardner: Skeptic Supreme") announced that a new web site dedicated to Martin Gardner is launching this month:
One of the pages is devoted to collected testimonials: "What does Gardner's extensive written legacy mean to you?"  Submit your answer at

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
Looking for Travelers from the Future
In late December 2013, a short paper entitled "Searching the Internet for Evidence of Time Travelers" was submitted to the Cornell University site, an online repository of scientific preprints (i.e., papers that have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal).  Classified as "Popular Physics," the paper attracted a good deal of attention from news media organizations.  It even got into The Colbert Report.

Authors Robert J Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson of the Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University state in the paper's abstract:
"Time travel has captured the public imagination for much of the past century, but little has been done to actually search for time travelers. Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated. No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date."

When word of this paper first reached the "NCAS-Share" email exchange list, one participant wondered if it was a parody.  But an article at the Michigan Tech news site confirmed that it was no joke, although arising from a whimsical conversation.

NCAS board member Chip Denman commented, "I love this sort of thing.  When I was teaching my Science & Pseudoscience course [at the University of Maryland], I tried to challenge my students to see how science could be applied robustly to questions that seemed, at first blush, to be out of bounds.  Nemiroff's paper would have been a great example."

Fans of NASA's popular "Astronomy Picture of the Day" site ( may recognize Nemiroff as one of its two authors/editors.


Authors Robert J Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson with their paper, "A Search on the Internet for Evidence of Time Travel," at a poster session of the American Astronomical Society meeting in National Harbor, MD on January 7, 2014.  (Photo by Scott Snell)

NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The upcoming 2014 NCAS election will use electronic voting.  When voting begins, each member will receive an email from NCAS (via containing a unique web address usable as a single-cast secret ballot.  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at  NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs.  To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail.  To opt out, send us an e-mail at

Drinking Skeptically, now in MD and VA!

On Wednesday, March 12 at 7:00 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skeptically events:
                                    Skeptically Bottle Cap LogoNew Location: McGinty's Public House
Upstairs bar
911 Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, MD

The Front Page Arlington
Rear patio / National Science Foundation atrium
                              4201 Wilson Blvd (across from Ballston Common Mall) in Arlington, VA
                              (703) 248-9990

Drinking Skeptically is an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals. There's no cover charge and all are welcome. Don't drink? Don't let that stop you from joining us! Some of the world's most famous skeptics are teetotalers, and we are happy to have you! Remember that drinking skeptically means drinking responsibly. If there's one thing science has taught us, it's the effects of alcohol on the human body.

New Skeptic Line Number
As of March 2013, NCAS has switched telephone numbers, from 301-587-3827 to 240-670-NCAS (6227).

Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to  Use the online membership form to renew.