The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for May, 2009

Good News from Texas: McLeroy Gets the Boot!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2009

For the last few months, I have been following the fight against creationists in Texas on this blog. Well today the side of science & reason won a big fight – the chairman of the Texas Board of Education, noted creationist & right-wing whackjob Don McLeroy, has just lost his bid in the Texas legislature to be confirmed for another term! :D

McLeroy Fail

This is great news, mostly because it shows that the legislature in Texas seems to have grown a spine and is now standing up to the creationist right-wingers. It seems that McLeroy’s antics and wild statements concerning the nature of science & education have rubbed enough lawmakers the wrong way – I suppose there’s a reason folks like McLeroy try to do their dirty work behind closed doors, because if people saw how they really think they’d rightfully conclude that such people have absolutely no business dictating how children get taught science.

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Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Scientology on Trial

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2009

An interesting bit of news… apparently, the leaders of the “Church” of Scientology (CoS) are on trial in France for fraud.  Here’s a news clip I saw from the BBC about it…

Now those of you who are familiar with the CoS won’t be surprised by this in the least.  But just in case you weren’t convinced by Tom Cruise’s public displays of frothing insanity that the CoS was nothing more than an international money grubbing, brainwashing cult, I suggest you check out Xenu.net (also known as “Operation Clambake” :) ) for more info.  If you know anyone who is expressing even a passing interest in Scientology and/or Dianetics, tell them to look at Xenu.net first, and that will set them straight!

I agree with the prosecuting lawyer in the case in that the fact that the CoS is being taken to court at all is a victory of sorts.  This is because the CoS has a history of attempting to silence their critics through a variety of intimidating tactics.

In any case, stay tuned for more info.  Apparently, the ruling from the French court will be handed down June 17th – it will certainly be interesting to see what happens.

Posted in cults, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Youtube Videos on Debunking CrAP

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 25, 2009

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to a series of videos on Youtube – Creationist Astronomy Propoganda Debunked (or CrAP Debunked :) ) – which address numerous bogus claims made by creationists regarding astronomy

CrAP Debunked

Since much of the whole discussion of creationism focuses on biology, I wanted to pass these videos along to show that these pseudoscientific nutters hold all of science in contempt, not just biology.  Please take some time to watch and pass them on!

Posted in creationism, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Origin of Life – How Will Creationists React?

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2009

Every now and then we are lucky enough to bear witness to a big scientific discovery, such as that outlined recently in the New York Times in the following article concerning the origin of life

Chemist Shows How RNA Can Be the Starting Point for Life

An English chemist has found the hidden gateway to the RNA world, the chemical milieu from which the first forms of life are thought to have emerged on earth some 3.8 billion years ago.

He has solved a problem that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the origin of life — how the building blocks of RNA, called nucleotides, could have spontaneously assembled themselves in the conditions of the primitive earth. The discovery, if correct, should set researchers on the right track to solving many other mysteries about the origin of life. It will also mean that for the first time a plausible explanation exists for how an information-carrying biological molecule could have emerged through natural processes from chemicals on the primitive earth.

There are those scientists who are skeptical of these claims, as they should be until further testing and corroborating evidence is revealed, but I am sure that the scientific community will reach consensus on this research soon.  What is more revealing to me is what the reaction of various creationist groups might be.

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Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

LHC Lunacy & Doomsday Scenarios

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 23, 2009

In my last post, I took various physics woo-meisters to task for being what I call “Einstein cranks”.  However, another class of physics crank deserves some notice, if only because they have made their cranky ideas so public and obvious.  These are the cranks who believe the Large Hadron Collider is going to destroy the Earth by the creation of a black hole or strangelet.

**Aside: Even if the worst-case scenario were to come true, and a planet-eating black hole were to be formed in the LHC, this blog entry explains quite clearly why there is no concern.

All I can say is… balderdash… complete and utter pseudoscientific fear-mongering & balderdash.  The following video from The Daily Show illustrates just how silly these arguments can be…

The arguments from these folks range from simply not understanding basic physics to delusional conspiracy mongering. Walter Wagner, the man in the video above, illustrates a perfect storm of woo regarding this issue.  Allow me to list some of the flaws in his reasoning more specifically…

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Posted in conspiracy theories, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

More Physics Woo: The Einstein Cranks

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 19, 2009

What the hell is it about Einstein’s theories of relativity?  For some reason, physics cranks seem to have a fetish for trying to undo or modify relativity in an effort to push their own “theories” of physics.  In the process, these folks often display a glaring lack of understanding of the very physics they are proposing to overthrow, and sometimes they even venture into the realm of conspiracy mongering. I like to refer to this particular species of woo as the “Einstein cranks.”

225px-Einstein1921_by_F_Schmutzer_4

In particular, I have had an interesting series of discussions recently with one such physics crank on the JREF Forum. Allow me to illustrate some examples of how various physics woo-meisters often get physics dead wrong and display logical fallacies of all stripes when making their arguments.

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Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

Shout Out: An Open Letter to Oprah

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 17, 2009

In keeping with Carl Sagan’s adage that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, I want to pass along something which I think does just that.  I recently blogged about Oprah Winfrey’s ill-conceived decision to give anti-vaccinationist Jenny McCarthy her own show.

Personally, I have been at a loss as to how to respond – but fortunately, Shirley at the “I was lost but now I live here” blog has a great response, and I wanted to share it with you here.  Please consider passing it along, so that perhaps we can get Oprah to rethink her decision…

An Open Letter to Oprah

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Judging Science & Faith

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 16, 2009

So here’s a tough question for you… in a nation where we respect religious liberty, how does the state handle situations where those religious beliefs are in direct conflict with established medical science?  I’m specifically referring to a situation in Minnesota where a judge has ordered that a boy receive chemotherapy for his cancer despite the parents’ religious objections.

Judge rules family can’t refuse chemo for boy

A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that a 13-year-old cancer patient must be evaluated by a doctor to determine if the boy would benefit from restarting chemotherapy over his parents’ objections.

In a 58-page ruling, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser has been “medically neglected” by his parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, and was in need of child protection services.

While he allowed Daniel to stay with his parents, the judge gave the Hausers until Tuesday to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.

If the evaluation shows the cancer had advanced to a point where chemotherapy and radiation would no longer help, the judge said, he would not order the boy to undergo treatment.

However, he said, if chemotherapy is ordered and the family still refuses, Daniel will be placed in temporary custody.

I posted about something similar in my entry titled “What’s the Limit on ‘Respecting Beliefs’?” but this is a far more serious situation – in fact, it is one of life & death.

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Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Camp Inquiry: A Summer-Camp for Skeptical Kids

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 14, 2009

In the spirit of promoting both skepticism & good education, I wanted to give a quick shout out to a group of folks who are working hard at instilling both in young people: the fine folks at Camp Inquiry.

Briefly, Camp Inquiry is a summer camp for youth which helps foster humanistic, scientific, and critical thinking skills in the children who attend.  The goal of the Camp is not “secular indoctrination”, but the promotion & development of critical inquiry among the kids.  Campers at Camp Inquiry come from many different backgrounds, including religious backgrounds. There are also various kinds of activities teacher-counselors and children engage in at Camp Inquiry, including magic, games, science experiments, workshops, skeptical investigations and secular ethical inquiry.

For more information on Camp Inquiry, visit their website, or listen to a recent Point Of Inquiry podcast interview with Camp Director Angie McQuaig. And if you know anyone who might be interested (parents or kids), pass the info along to them  :)

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Birthers Conspire Against Each Other

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 10, 2009

I’ve written before about the Birther Movement, which is basically a group of right-wing ideologues who are convinced there is a conspiracy to conceal the supposed fact that President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.

I won’t go into detail here about why the Birthers are off their collective rockers (see my earlier blog post – Citizen Obama – for more info).  What I wanted to do is just give a brief update about a hilarious development: it seems the Birthers are now conspiring against each other!

The following article in Salon.com elaborates on this latest development in the Birther drama…

Pity the poor members of the Birther movement, those people who believe that President Obama was not born in Hawaii or is otherwise ineligible to be president. They’ve been rejected time and again by a justice system sadly uninterested in their crackpot legal theories, and ignored by a media that’s for some reason unconvinced by the complete lack of evidence for the movement’s claims. And now, some of their leaders, once friends and allies, are very publicly slamming each other.

Politico’s Ben Smith reports that one group of Birthers (the “East Coast faction,” in his words), led by early crusader and 9/11 Truther Philip Berg, has filed suit against the West Coast branch of the movement, as represented by the dentist-slash-lawyer Orly Taitz. Berg and his fellow plaintiffs claim, among other things, that Taitz and her crew have been defaming them. The complaint, if you want to read it, is here — it is, as you might expect if you’ve been following this saga, long, rambling and a bit incoherent.

This sort of development is not unsurprising – when you have a group of people who are committed to a conspiracy-driven worldview like that of the Birther Movement, it is not uncommon to see members of that group eventually fight each other, claiming that they are the “true” believers while others are not.  Such is the level of suspicion and paranoia that is often displayed by conspiracy theorists – in fact, the behavior exhibited by the Birthers in this respect is almost cultish.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.  I’m always amused to see the nutters fight against each other :)

Posted in conspiracy theories | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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