Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Opals for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXVI

low-quality synthetic opal
Everyone's heard of the Turing test, right? Can you tell whether the entity you're corresponding with is human or artificial? Yeah, that one. Of course, parrots can communicate, too... but no one gives them a Turing test, because we already know they aren't human. Likewise, English majors who attempt to parrot scientific facts flunk their own sort of Turing test... just like eHow's Michael Adkins¹ failed miserably in his Sciencing.com article, "How Are Opals Made?"

We've seen several questions of this type "answered" in the Leaf Group niches (Leaf.tv, OurPastimes.com, Sciencing.com), but they always made us wonder: does the OQ really want to know how to synthesize a gemstone? It typically takes serious lab equipment and lots of time: isn't it likely that they actually wanted to know something about the natural process? Adkins decided that the answer is, "No." That's why he forged ahead with an attempt to reword someone's description of the process. Seriously, though, it would have helped if he'd gotten the basics right; but he didn't: nowhere does he mention that opal is a polymorph of silica (SiO2), chemically similar to quartz and chrisobalite...

...but he didn't. Instead, he attempted to reword a couple of articles he found about opals, in the process munging up some of the science. Here; see what we mean:

  • "Currently, there are at least three types of synthetic opals: Slocum stones, opal essence and opals created from the Gilson process. Both the Slocum stones and opal essence stones are difficult to tell from naturally occurring opals to the naked eye." - According to Michael's reference, Slocum stones and Opal Essence are either glass or plastic with foil inclusions to add "fire." Duh.
  • "The Gilson process uses silicon to grow opals and, once the silicon seed that will become an opal is created, the opal will develop from this seed in 14 to 18 months." - That's not exactly useful information about how to grow an opal, is it! Check out this description of the Gilson process, written by someone who "speaks science."
  • "Very few differences exist between natural opals and Gilson opals. In fact, Chemical Engineering News states that the only element that is not present in Gilson opals is water." - We dunno, but we think the difference between a lattice of artificial silica spheres and naturally amorphous hydrated silica is pretty major, Mike!
  • "...opal chips are being manufactured that can carry and transfer information through the Gilson opal's photons." - Does Adkins even know what a photon is? We doubt it.
     Not only did Adkins not actually answer the question – he studiously avoided technical details of the Gilson process and sidestepped any mention of other synthetic opals – he also botched what little science he attempted to pass along to his readers. For his efforts, DMS paid him a stipend, but we're giving him an award: the Dumbass of the Day.

¹ We immediately wondered whether Mike's related to fellow eHowian and DotD, W. D. Adkins...

SI - MINERALS

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Roof Shingles for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXV

A roof vent must be nailed in place
If the staff of the Antisocial network were the type of people to be driven nuts; freelancers who do little more than copy, reword, and paste someone else's work would rank tight at the top of nut-drivers. They're easy enough to spot, of course, if you're already familiar (even a little bit) with the topic they've cribbed. One of our staffers has done a little roofing, which is why he was pretty sure that LoveToKnow.com's Beth Asaff hadn't – at least based on the article she posted, "How to Shingle a Roof."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Roof Rakes for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXIV

Roofing terminology, including rake
It's not unusual for one of our staffers to run across freelance content that trips a little alarm somewhere deep in their minds. That's especially likely when they find a content-farm post written well outside the areas of expertise of the freelancer in question. Today's DotD nominee is precisely that: based on her bio at HomeSteady.com, Bridgette Austin is an accomplished buzzword-user, but it's also clear that she knew nothing about a "Roof Rake Definition" before googling it. Out staffer, on the other hand, did...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Knockout Plugs for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXIII

garbage disposal and knockout plug
When it comes to explaining the "why" of a set of "how-to" instructions, we occasionally run across some pretty doofus reasons for performing a task. Some of the worst are in automotive repairs, but they're scattered all across the universe of DIY projects. Today's explanation, about "How to Remove the Knockout Plug in a Garbage Disposal" is one such case. Sit back and observe as Hunker'com contributor Steffani Cameron explained what she thought might be the reason for doing so to a while back

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Density and Temperature for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXII

density vs temperature graph for water
Look back over the thousand-plus entries in this blog, and it's a safe bet that you'll find hundreds of places where we've bemoaned the scientific illiteracy of liberal arts majors attempting to freelance about STEM topics. Maybe thousands of places... In a lot of cases, we've let potential DotD candidates slide because, like the proverbial blind pig and its acorn, they've stumbled over the right answer. Sometimes, though, the journey to the answer is every bit as telling as the answer itself. That was sure what caught our eye in "How to Calculate Densities at Various Temperatures," posted to Sciencing.com by Athena Hessong.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Acceleration of Gravity for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXXI

ball and ramp experiment
Although our scientifically-literate staffers are constantly irked by the half-baked copy-reword-paste jobs performed by journalism and creative writers "explaining" science, scientific illiteracy coming from people who claim to be scientists is even more irritating. That's why we're pleased to be able to present today's DotD award to an eHow contributor who claims to be studying physics. Were that the case, though, Lee Johnson would likely have done a better job of describing "Science Project: The Effect of Mass on the Distance a Ball Travels" for Sciencing.com.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Borax for Dummies - The Freelance Files MCLXXX

Borax crystals
We admit that there are some journalists and "communicators" who either have an innate understanding of science or work hard to get it right even if they don't understand it. They're the ones who manage to get jobs as science reporters or who publish well-researched books on scientific topics. On the other hand, there are those who know jack about science but are greedy enough to pretend they know what they're talking about. To that second group, we once again add the name Brenda Priddy, at least on the basis of her little post "How to Make Borax Powder" at Sciencing.com