There’s an old children’s joke that goes like this:

“Did you know the word gullible isn’t in the dictionary?”

Then when the other child goes to look it up, you laugh at them for believing you.

On the face of it, it’s a lesson in not believing everything you hear.

But when it comes down to it, the child who goes to look it up isn’t necessarily being gullible; he or she is doing research to confirm their expectations. Yes, gullible should be in there, but let’s make sure. Once you’ve seen a number of dictionaries that all have gullible in them, you can safely ignore the next person who claims that it’s missing, and insist that they put up their evidence.

That’s science.

The child who says, “Really?” and then goes around repeating it? He’s the one who needs a lesson in skepticism.

So the next time someone sends along a bizarre “fact,” especially one intended to spur you to action…dig a little deeper. Sometimes all it takes is two minutes of fact checking to save your credibility. You don’t want to get known as the guy who really did think gullible wasn’t in the dictionary…over and over and over again.

Scientists have built a computer model of the Neanderthal vocal tract based on fossils, and have simulated the kinds of sounds they could have produced. Ever since I read Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax novels, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that there were two distinct human species, living side by side, for perhaps thousands of years. What happened to them? Did our ancestors kill them off, or interbreed with them? Did they fail to adapt to a changing climate? (via Slashdot)

On a related note, it seems that Expelled, the anti-science propaganda film that actually invokes Godwin’s Law by claiming that “believing” evolution leads to Nazis, opens this weekend. I’m curious to see how badly they misrepresent things (it’s always best to look for yourself, instead of just taking other people at their word—that’s the whole idea behind science, after all), but I can’t bring myself to support them by actually giving them money. Meanwhile, Expelled Exposed is interesting reading.

In software, explains why the AwesomeBar is awesome. That’s the nickname given to the new address bar in Firefox 3, which lets you search your browser history as you type. It’s the reason I never went back to Firefox 2 after trying out one of the later FX3 betas, and why I’ve installed Fx3b5 on two more machines. The Opera 9.5 previews have a similar feature, but Firefox’s implementation is better visually. It’s easier to spot the page you want, and over time, it learns which pages you visit more often. It’s so much faster to type a word or two than to hunt through the bookmarks menu. (via Asa Dotzler)

IEEE has an article on how copyright law applies to websites, What Can You (Legally) Take From the Web?

Finally, ***Dave relates an incredibly cool story of going to see Avenue Q and what happened after the show. I had no idea that (at least in New York), the “Give Me Your Money” segment was actually collecting for a charity.

There are certain ideas that I find completely acceptable in the context of science-fiction, but completely looney in the context of actual science.

Take, for instance, Erich von Däniken’s premise that gods were really ancient alien astronauts. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s way out there in terms of science. It assumes that (a) myths are historically accurate, (b) aliens exist, and (c) low-tech humans couldn’t possibly have created things like Stonehenge, pyramids, giant stone heads, etc. Not to say it’s not possible that aliens visited the planet in the distant past—just that comparative mythology and architecture aren’t exactly compelling evidence.

On the other hand, I have no problem with the concept in science-fiction. It’s the basic premise of Stargate. The movie and early seasons of SG-1 focused on Egyptian mythology and technology, and in subsequent seasons of the show, just about every ancient legend has turned out to have an alien race behind it. It also figures into the backstory of Babylon 5, with the Vorlons having visited nearly every known race in ancient times, insinuating themselves into local religions and engineering telepaths over the course of centuries.

(via Sclerotic Rings and *** Dave)