Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shadow of a Doubt - November 2016

 The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • November 12 - "Debunking the Nonobot"by Quinn Spadola
  • December 10 - Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima
  • The Fiction of Memory
  • Recap of the "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost!" Tour 
  • Torn from today's headlines
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically on hiatus
  • Member renewals
NCAS Public Lecture Series

Debunking the Nanobot
Quinn Spadola, PhD, MFA
Program Manager for Education and Outreach
IITRI Inc, Contract Staff
National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

Saturday, November 12, 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

Self-replicating, sentient, consuming, or creating, nanobots are a popular tool in science fiction to explain fantastical abilities or threats worse than death. But what is the reality?

What is a nanobot? What might they be able to do? Scientists and engineers can't even agree on a definition for a nanobot–does the entire robot need to fit at the nanoscale or does it just have nanoscale components? Does that make your smart phone a nanobot? Artistic renditions of nanobots feed into ideas of spidery machines patrolling (or, perhaps, controlling) our bodies. Some scientists envision nanobots safeguarding our environment, removing pollutants, and monitoring exposure. Others are trying to harness nature's nanobots and use viruses to do our bidding. The hype around nanobots and the natural inclination to assign them agency can lead to outlandish ideas about what nanotechnology will be capable of delivering, but does it hurt to dream of manufactured nanobots?

Quinn Spadola is a biophysicist who discovered her love of science education and outreach while completing her PhD. After receiving her doctorate, Dr. Spadola entered the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program at Montana State University. She was an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office from 2014 to 2016 and joined the contract staff in September 2016. There she works to build community around the National Nanotechnology Initiative, create engaging nanotechnology-themed content, and share the awesomeness of nanotechnology.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

December NCAS Lecture

Dr. Brian Sheron will talk on "Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima".

The Fiction of Memory

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of social ecology and professor of law and cognitive science at University of California Irvine (and Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) will speak on "The Fiction of Memory."  Monday, December 5 at 6:30 PM at the Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P Street NW.  Free, but requires registration:

Recap of the "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost!" Tour

Was President Garfield (fatally shot at a train station that stood where the National Gallery of Art is today) a victim of a curse that claimed the lives of Harrison, Lincoln, McKinley, Harding, FDR, and JFK? Speaking of curses, what about the Hope Diamond (at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History)?  Does an actor's ghost haunt the National Theatre?  Are there ghosts in the White House and other historic sites nearby?  The answers to these and other spooky questions were revealed to a group of 13 (perfect!) by guides Grace and Chip Denman, Sharon Hill, and Scott Snell during the fourth annual NCAS SkepTour, held on the strangely balmy evening of Thursday, October 20, 2016.

SkepTours are an ongoing NCAS project, to include locations across the VA-MD-DC area. If you would like to contribute suggestions, please write to

Torn From Today's Headlines

By Scott Snell

Professional Polls, and Redskins Box Score, Couldn't Predict Outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election

It's just a coincidence, and no one is claiming otherwise, but the "Redskins Rule" held true for 17 (or 18) of the first 18 US presidential elections since the NFL's Redskins moved to DC from Boston in 1937.

The "rule," as originally developed, states that "if the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the political party that won the previous presidential election wins the next election and that if the Redskins lose, the challenging party's candidate wins."

Steve Hirdt, the executive vice-president of Elias Sports Bureau, noticed this pattern in 2000 while preparing for the October 30 broadcast of a Redskins home game on ABC-TV's Monday Night Football.  Searching for an election-related fact that commentator Dennis Miller could use, Hirdt made "a list of the last home game before the election because that was the game we were covering. I tried to align it with the Democrats or the Republicans and then looked at the incumbents.  I was shocked to see it lined up exactly right, that whenever the Redskins won their last home game prior to the presidential election, the incumbent party retained the White House, and whenever the Redskins lost their last home game prior to the election, the out-of-power party won the White House."

Producer Don Ohlmeyer decided to use the information on-air that night as a two-page, full-screen graphic, and the rule has been roaming the memetic wilderness ever since.

Four years later, popular interest in the Redskins Rule was revived prior to the final home game before the election.  The Redskins lost, but the incumbent party won the election, breaking the pattern of 16 consecutive correlations.  Hirdt then devised "Redskins Rule 2.0," noting the unusual outcome of the 2000 election, for which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College: "If the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the political party that won the popular vote in the previous presidential election wins the next election and that if the Redskins lose, the challenging party's candidate wins."

The rule, in both forms, held true in 2008, but failed in 2012 and 2016.

For skeptics, the rule can serve as a somewhat well-known and uncontroversial example of coincidences to share with the lay public.  To date, apparently none of the mystical "everything happens for a reason, there are no coincidences" crowd is embracing this as a portent of the nation's destiny.


Also in the News...

Be sure to check out Sharon Hill's skeptically-themed news site, Doubtful News (, as well as the blog ( for her book reviews and other writings.

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!

When shopping at, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the third quarter of 2016 came to $10.94, meaning that over $2000 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's more than enough to cover a half hour of a Montgomery County library lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

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