Web Information Analysis
I have collected a number of different topics for you to investigate.
Mostly the information will come off of the web, but feel free to use other
sources. You will do an anlysis of the information for at least
two topics, due March 25. One of the topics is assigned
to you, and others you may choose based on your own interests. This
project will be worth two homeworks.
You will make a web page which analyzes the problem, presents the best
argument on all sides of the issue, and give your conclusions.
It is not enough to simply state ``facts'' as you find them on the web,
but you must justify why one should trust the particular source.
A good site for guiding you is www.lib.umd.edu/UES/evaluate.html
Use your ``Baloney Detection Kit'', as provided in class in your analysis.
Your final analysis need not be balanced to give equal weight to all sides.
Sometimes the evidence is far stronger on one side, so that should be reflected.
You should, however, investigate all sides equally (without any prior expectations),
because there may be some suprises!
Document everything, with proper references.
Collect all of your files (html, image files, etc.) into one .zip file,
which you will place in the digital drop box of blackboard. Name
the file with your name, and a one-word topic, like: blais_ufos.zip.
I will place these files on the website, for everyone to view.
(*) Some of these topics were taken, verbatim or slightly modified, from
Denman's ``Science and Pseudoscience'' class. They are marked
with an asterisk.
(*) The summer of 2001 was given the name ``Summer of the Shark'', especially
after the attack on eight-year old Jesse Arbogast in Florida. Shark
attacks are a terrible thing, but was the summer of 2001 particularly
bad for shark attacks?
(*)``Electronic pest repellers'', like www.pestfree-electronicpestcontrolrepeller.com,
claim to use ultrasound to drive away insects and rodents. From the
above site: ``Pest Free the patented electronic pest control repeller that
plugs into any electric outlet and produces a controlled electronic signal
that drives out pests by disturbing their nervous systems.'' It sounds
impressive, but does it work?
(*) I have heard that tubs and toilets drain in a clockwise direction in
the southern hemisphere, and in a counter-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere.
This is supposedly due to the Coriolis force. Is this true?
If not, why would someone suggest it?
(*) In 1998 Georgia Governor Zell Miller proposed that parents of newborns
in the state be given recordings of classical music. He cited scientific
studies linking intelligence and listening to Mozart. Is this public policy
well grounded in science?
Magnetic therapy devices are sold in many places, with a wide range of
claims from curing arthritis to cancer. Most claims say that the
magnets increase blood flow, and have a beneficial effect on the ions in
the body. Many people swear by them. Are these claims supported by
observation? If not, how can so many people claim to have benefits
The dangers of cell phones is widely reported in the media. It is
claimed that cell phones, near your head, cause tumors and other forms
of cancer. I have heard advertisments for devices which allow you
to keep your cell phone at a safe distance from your head, and avoid these
problems from the radiation emitted by cell phones. Is this all hype,
or is there a real danger here?
(*) Advertising experts say ``sex sells.'' Apparently, science sells,
too. A designer perfume ``Pheromone''
(www.marilyn-miglin.com/pheromo.htm) has been on the market for over
20 years. More recently, other products have claimed to have harnessed
science to the service of love -- for instance, ``Androstenone
Pheromone Concentrate'' (www.peakview.net/apc/home.html). The testimonial
page says, ``Never before has science produced such a powerful product...''
How solid is the science that's being used to sell such products?
(*) I've heard that 9 months after a major blackout or snowstorm (like
the Blizzard of '78), there is an increase in the number of babies born.
It sounds plausible, but is it true?
(*) Sword-swallowing! We've seen it in cartoons and movies, and maybe at
a carnival sideshow. It looks so real and dangerous. But is anyone REALLY
going to swallow a 3 foot steel blade just to make a buck?
(*) Magicians Penn and Teller perform a trick in which they appear to catch
-- in their teeth! -- bullets fired from across the stage. Legend has it
that other magicians have died doing this bizarre trick. Trick or not,
it certainly looks dangerous. Are Penn and Teller risking serious
injury for their art?
The Alpine company claims to make Air Purifiers that clean the air without
a filter. The air purifiers use two methods to do this. One
method uses an ``ionizer'', which electrically charges the dust particles
in the air so that they cling together, and fall out of the air (and can
be simply swept up). The other method produces ozone, which they claim
kills the bacteria and molds in the air, the primary suspects for allergies.
Are these claimed purifying methods really effective?
In the seventies, it was claimed that millions of children died in Africa
due to starvation. Are these numbers true, or exaggerated?
In the nineties and now, it is claimed that millions of children have died
in Iraq due to the sanctions against Iraq by the US and the UN. Are
these numbers true, or exaggerated?
John Edward claims to speak to dead family members, and relay messages
from them. His television show ``Crossing Over'' is very popular,
and the people on it claim that he gave them information which only a very
close relative would have. Is John Edward really speaking with dead
people, or is he putting people on?
Many many people have claimed to see a UFO. Some have even
claimed contact with aliens, and have brought forth physical evidence of
the contact. Even the government has done extensive study of UFOs.
This many people can't be wrong, can they?
Sasquatch (a.k.a. Bigfoot) has been sighted many times, and even caught
on film! Despite this, as far as I know, no one has ever captured
such a beast. Is there real reason to believe it exists?
I have heard many times about giant squid, but have never really investigated
whether the stories are true. These squid presumably are exeedingly
large (the suckers on the tentacles have been supposedly found in the stomachs
of whales), and have never been captured alive. Do they exist at
Anti-bacterial soap is claimed to kill 99.9 percent of germs, and reduce
the risk of getting sick. I have also heard it claimed that they
are a way of breeding ``super germs'', which are resistant to treatment
by modern medicine. Are any of these claims true?
Global warming is a topic of great interest. Some experts say that
humanity is in great danger due to our own pollution, by making the Earth
uninhabitably hot. Other experts seem to think that it is all exaggerated,
and that there is no real evidence for global warming. They can't
both be right, can they?
Although we haven't heard about it in a little while, acid rain occupied
the media throughout most of the seventies and eighties, and motived the
Clean Air Act in the early nineties. Again, our pollution is blamed
for destroying forests and buildings. How significant is the problem?
Almost everyone has heard of Roswell: UFO's, alien bodies, a government
cover-up. Any truth to it all?
I have heard so much recently about these electrical abdominal exercisers,
that stimulate your muscles with electrical impulses. Supposedly
you can lose weight while watching TV! If this it true, I'll take
one, but it seems too good to be true. Is it?
According to metatech.org/planet_x_nibiru_earth_changes.html
there is good evidence for a 10th planet, which is going to come near the
Earth and cause massive amounts of damage. Do we need to start preparing
for a disaster? What is the basis for the statements about this 10th
planet? How much can we trust them, and why?