The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for August, 2009

“Proof” of the Loch Ness Monster? Hardly…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 29, 2009

Oh please… another news story about the Loch Ness Monster. How many times do we have to be subjected to the inane mutterings of cryptozoologists claiming to see “proof” of these mythical creatures in the most grainy of photographs?

Apparently, at least one more time…

loch ness monster

This amazing image on Google Earth could be the elusive proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists.

Sun reader Jason Cooke spotted “Nessie” while browsing the Web site’s satellite photos.

The shape seen on the surface of the 22-mile Scottish loch is 65ft long and appears to have an oval body, a tail and four legs or flippers.

Some experts believe Nessie may be a Plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile with a shape like the Google image.

“This is really intriguing. It needs further study,” said researcher Adrian Shine, of the Loch Ness Project.

Sightings have been claimed for centuries.

To see the object, enter co-ordinates Latitude 57°12’52.13″N, Longitude 4°34’14.16″W in Google Earth.

You’ve got to be kidding me…

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Posted in cryptozoology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Project Steve Tops 1100 Signatures!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education have topped 1100 signatures to their Steve-O-Meter! For those who don’t know, Project Steve is an effort by the NCSE to show how bankrupt are the claims of creationists that a significant number of scientists “dissent from Darwinism”.

Creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute have engaged in a long-running campaign to fool the public into believing that there is a significant section of the scientific community that disagrees with evolutionary theory.  In their “dissent from Darwinism” campaign, they’ve claimed that as many as 400-500 prominent scientists believe that evolutionary science is defunct.

In response, the NCSE started Project Steve, named in honor of the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould, which allowed scientists to sign the following statement:

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Progress in the Texas Social Studies Curriculum Fight

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Not too long ago, I posted about how the Texas Board of Education, which is run by religious zealots, has been attempting to infuse fundamentalist Christianity into social studies classes. As that article states, various groups have lined up to oppose this move, and it seems that – slowly but surely – the campaign to hold the Texas BoEd accountable is bearing fruit.

Here is an update from the American Humanist Association on the issue…

The Texas State Board of Education recently made public the first draft of their new curriculum—and it looks like your hard work has paid off! Bob Bhaerman, education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, has carefully reviewed the draft recommendations and overall has found them to be satisfactory. The curriculum does not appear to paint the United States as a “Christian nation” in any way, nor does it include other historically inaccurate or misleading standards.

Thank you for your support on this important issue.

Despite this welcome development, however, there are still a few sections of the curriculum that could call into question its ideological impartiality. We need to keep the pressure on the Texas State Board of Education to make sure the final version gets it just right. One particularly troubling area includes directives to teach about the influence of religious conservatives and the Moral Majority—without paying equal attention to progressive figures or movements.

Please click here to send a letter to the Texas State Board of Education, commending the first draft but urging them to maintain an impartial balance when it comes to covering ideologies in the final curriculum.

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

Superstition & Computer Technology

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Today I saw a great post over at the Tech Republic blog about the “10 habits of superstitious users” of computers.  I wanted to pass this along to you, partially because it is an excellent contemporary example of loose & magical thinking.  I am also sharing it partially out of deference to my wife, who has to deal with the computer illiterate all-too-often who view the computer as either some kind of malevolent entity or a magical box.

Here is the main text of the article [note that I've added relevant links to the text]…

Superstition: A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one’s behavior in some magical or mystical way (Wiktionary).

In 1947, the psychologist B. F. Skinner reported a series of experiments in which pigeons could push a lever that would randomly either give them a food pellet, or nothing. Think of it as a sort of one-armed bandit that the pigeons played for free. Skinner found, after a while, that some of the pigeons started acting oddly before pushing the lever. One moved in counterclockwise circles, one repeatedly stuck its head into the upper corner of the cage, and two others would swing their heads back and forth in a sort of pendulum motion. He suggested that the birds had developed “superstitious behaviors” by associating getting the food with something they happened to be doing when they actually got it — and they had wrongly concluded that if they did it again, they were more likely to get the pellet. Essentially, they were doing a sort of food-pellet dance to better their odds.

Although computer users are undoubtedly smarter than pigeons, users who really don’t understand how a computer works may also wrongly connect some action of theirs with success (and repeat it), or associate it with failure (and avoid it like the plague). Here are some of the user superstitions I’ve encountered.

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Posted in internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

World Health Organization Slams Homeopathy

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2009

In a PR win for medical science, the World Health Organization recently slammed the alt-med pseudoscience of homeopathy!  The main problem is, that when you get down to it, homeopathy is indistinguishable from magic. And the WHO knows this: in a scathing critique, the WHO stated, among other things…

Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB department at the WHO, said: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

This is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy
Paula Ross, Society of Homeopaths

The doctors had also complained that homeopathy was being promoted as a treatment for diarrhoea in children.

But a spokesman for the WHO department of child and adolescent health and development said: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit.

“Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration – in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

Dr Nick Beeching, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said: “Infections such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data.

“There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a healthcare worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness.”

Notice the interesting response by the homeopaths…

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

God’s Protecting Florida… Except When He Isn’t

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 23, 2009

We all know that politicians do and say silly things, but I think Gov. Charlie Crist deserves a special mention for the dumbest remarks in the last week.  Apparently, according to the governor of Florida (Crist), the reason why Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane for as long as he’s been in office is because of him.  And why does he take the credit for “protecting” Florida in this manner?  Because he was praying for the protection…

Crist noted that just before his election in 2006, Florida had been affected by a total of eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

“Do you know the last time it was we had a hurricane in Florida? It’s been awhile. In 2007, I took my first trade mission. Do you know where I went?” said Crist, a Methodist, referring to a trip to Israel.

He then told of going to the Western Wall and inserting a note with a prayer. He said it read, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.”

“Time goes on _ May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December _ no hurricanes,” Crist said. “Thank God.”

Unfortunately, Gov. Crist displays a great deal of selective thinking while making this claim, because in 2008 Tropical Storm Fay hit the state of Florida, killing 36 people and causing about $560 million in damages.  Also known as “counting the hits & ignoring the misses”, in this case Crist credits his prayers to God for “protecting” his state from deadly weather, but he then goes on to ignore the impact of Tropical Storm Fay.

I suppose God wanted those people to die, right governor?  Or is it that killer tropical storms aren’t covered under the prayer insurance plan, yet killer hurricanes are?  And all the other times God was answering your prayers for protection… except when God doesn’t answer your prayers it’s “just a mystery”, I suppose.  Gov. Crist, this one’s for you:


Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rep. Barney Frank PWNs Holocaust Deniers at his Town Hall!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 19, 2009

In the ongoing drama that are the August town hall meetings in the U.S., the stupidity displayed by some continues to amaze me. Probably the most vile thing being spewed by various rightwing nutbags are comparisons of health care reform to Nazism.  In fact, this can be viewed as a kind of Holocaust denial, because it ignores & distorts the real reasons why the Nazis murdered so many people in that dark period of human history…

Health care debate turns vile with Nazi analogy

Right-wing loudmouths distort history, diminish true evil of the Holocaust

Rush Limbaugh and those invoking the Nazi analogy to attack President Barack Obama’s effort to reform health care in America are not “insane” as David Brooks pronounced on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the rest of the loud-mouthed right wing are, when they even hint at an analogy to the Nazis in talking about Obama’s health reform effort, engaged in something far worse than insanity. They are engaged in the vile evil of Holocaust denial. …

But if you want a REAL treat, just take a few moments to watch this video of Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts putting one of these lunatics in her place:

Let me put this very simply: this isn’t about whether you prefer Obama’s health care plan or not, it is about crushing nonsensical, conspiracy theorist b.s.  Politicians of both parties should watch Frank’s response and copy it in their town halls. If they don’t have the balls to stand up to some fruitcake spouting “health care reform = Nazism” nonsense, then they don’t deserve to be in office. I don’t care who they are… Republican or Democrat. That sort of vile & stupid talk has no place in civil and mature discourse, and our elected officials should have the courage to stand up against it.

Frank’s response was spot frakkin’ on. Win :D

Posted in Holocaust denial, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Evolution in U.S. Public Schools: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2009

I got an update about the current state of the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools recently.  It contains both good news and bad news, but mostly good news.  And I wanted to share it with you…



How is evolution faring in state science education standards? NCSE’s Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates pored over the latest standards in all fifty states. In a new study forthcoming in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, they report, “The treatment of biological
evolution in state science standards has improved dramatically over the last ten years.” Forty states received satisfactory grades for the treatment of evolution in their state science standards in Mead and Mates’s study, as opposed to only thirty-one in Lawrence S. Lerner’s 2000 study Good Science, Bad Science, conducted for the Fordham

But the news is not all rosy. Five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia — received the grade of F, and a further six states — Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — receive the grade of D. Moreover, the “treatment of human evolution is abysmal,” Mead and Mates lament, with only seven states (and the District of Columbia) providing a comprehensive treatment. Many states “do not reference the Big Bang as the current scientific theory for the origin of the universe,” they add, and only 17 states provide a comprehensive treatment of the connections among biological, geological, and cosmological systems.

Mead and Mates also consider a few states that furnish “excellent examples of the successes and failures of the standards-setting process.” The grades for Florida and Kansas have vaulted from F to A, although not without controversy: “the Kansas standards have seesawed between abysmal and excellent no fewer than four times in the last decade.” In Louisiana, however, the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act undermined the treatment of evolution in the standards, which now receive the grade of F. And in Texas, the state board of education’s revisions in March 2009 served to undermine the treatment of evolution in the standards to the point where they, too, receive a failing grade.

In a companion article introducing the study, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “On the basis of Mead and Matesís results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education
standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue — as science standards continue to be periodically revised — to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards.”

For Mead and Mates’s article, visit:
http://www.springer content/9u061016 2rn51432/ fulltext. html

For Lerner’s study, visit:
http://www.fordhamf oundation. org/detail/ news.cfm? news_id=42

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sarah Palin: A Case Study in the Politics of Lies & Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2009

I recently posted about how irrational & uncivil the discourse on health care reform has become, and the role that extreme right wingers have in it.  Well, now former VP candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin has provided a perfect example of how insane & dishonest these nutters can be in the pursuit of their ideology.

Recently, Palin made an outlandish, and completely false, claim about President Obama’s proposals to overhaul health care – specifically, she made a claim about “death panels” that would encourage euthanasia of the elderly & children with birth defects which was subsequently & thoroughly debunked by non-partisan sources…

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong. Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes.

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Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptics Visit the “Creation Museum”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2009

I’m a Yankee by birth, but I was raised in beautiful south-central Kentucky.  Sadly, the state of my youth has become home to one of the worst insults to science & reason out there… the Creation Museum. This place is basically a “museum” for the fundamentalist Biblically literal interpretation of creationism, run by weirdo Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis organization. Folks, it is pretty hard to wade deeper into the woo than to visit this place.

But that is exactly what evolutionary biologist PZ Myers did recently with a large group of skeptics – talk about entering the Lions’ Den!  I was so impressed with his documentation of the visit that I wanted to share it with you…

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


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