The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for January, 2010

Vote for Dr. Rachie & Science-Based Medicine on Twitter!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2010

With the advent of new technologies such as the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, the skeptical movement has been able to make great strides in connecting, networking, and growing over the years.  Unfortunately, various woo-based anti-science groups are doing likewise, often clogging up the ol’ Intertubes with all manner of nonsense.

In a recent example of this tension on the new media, Twitter is holding a contest called the Shorty Awards, where Twitter users can vote for their favorite Twitter users in a variety of categories.  Right now there is intense competition for the top spot on the Shorty Award health category between Dr. Rachel Dunlop and alt-med woo-meister Dr. Mercola.

Dr. Dunlop, or DrRachie as she likes to be called, is a great advocate for skepticism and science-based medicine, and it would be a shame to see her lose out to the likes of Dr. Mercola, who dismisses much of modern medicine as part of a conspiracy by Big Pharma to cover up “the truth” of various “natural cures” via his website Mercola.com.

The vote is pretty close now – with DrRachie ahead by about 100 votes – and it closes today.  So if you’re on Twitter, take a moment to go vote for DrRachie!

Posted in internet, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Clergy Letter Project & Evolution Weekend 2010

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2010

If you’ve followed the battle against creationism over the years, then you’ve no doubt heard the oft-repeated claim by fundamentalist creationists that one cannot accept the science of evolution while also holding religious beliefs.  This is a variation on the bogus “evolution is atheistic” claim made by creationists, and it is clearly a false dichotomy, as I know many people who are both religious AND accept evolutionary science.  And, despite my own atheism, I more than welcome any allies – religious or not – who are willing to fight the battle against anti-science fundamentalism.

This mean-spirited tactic is clearly meant as a method to intimidate & scare religious people into choosing between their beliefs and modern science, while at the same time painting those who support evolutionary science and atheists as somehow “evil”.  Well, the creationists are just plain wrong

In an effort to put a more public face on battling against this misconception pushed by creationists, there is a group called the Clergy Letter Project made up of over 12,500 Christian clergy, 450 Jewish rabbis, and 200 Unitarian clergy who have signed the following statement(s)…

The Clergy Letter – from American Christian clergy – An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

Clic aquí para leer la carta en español
Cliquer ici pour la version francaise
Clique aqui para ler a carta em português

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Read the Rabbi Letter here

Read the UU Clergy Letter here

In addition to the letter writing campaign, the Clergy Letter Project holds public outreach events every year to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin while promoting good science education.  They call this event Evolution Weekend, and I’m happy to say that this year there are almost 800 Evolution Weekend events planned around the world, more than ever before!

If you are a supporter of science, whether you’re a religious believer or non-believer, a scientist, clergy, or just a concerned citizen, I encourage you to check out the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend websites and pass them along to others.  Together, we can stand up to the forces of anti-science :)

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

129th Skeptic’s Circle @ SkepVet

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 28, 2010

The Skeptic’s Circle comes rolling along for another round of skeptical goodness from all corners of the Interwebs – this round is being hosted by the SkepVet Blog, a place where “A Vet Takes a Science-Based Look at Complementary and Alternative Medicine”.  Read on to soak up the awesomeness :)

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

Suicide by Homeopathy?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2010

If you’ve been running around in skeptical circles for any amount of time, then you’ve no doubt heard of the quackery called homeopathy. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on homeopathy…

Classical homeopathy originated in the 19th century with Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843) as an alternative to the standard medical practices of the day, such as phlebotomy or bloodletting. Opening veins to bleed patients, force disease out of the body, and restore the humors to a proper balance was a popular medical practice until the late19th century (Williams 2000: 265). Hahnemann rejected the notion that disease should be treated by letting out the offensive matter causing the illness. In this, he was right. On the other hand, he argued that disease should be treated by helping the vital force restore the body to harmony and balance. In this, he was wrong. He rejected other common medical practices of his day such as purgatives and emetics “with opium and mercury-based calomel” (ibid.: 145). He was right to do so. Hahnemann’s alternative medicine was more humane and less likely to cause harm than many of the conventional practices of his day. …

Homeopaths refer to “the Law of Infinitesimals” and the “Law of Similars” as grounds for using minute substances and for believing that like heals like, but these are not natural laws of science. If they are laws at all, they are metaphysical laws, i.e., beliefs about the nature of reality that would be impossible to test by empirical means. Hahnemann’s ideas did originate in experience. That he drew metaphysical conclusions from empirical events does not, however, make his ideas empirically testable. The law of infinitesimals seems to have been partly derived from his notion that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimize this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. Most critics of homeopathy balk at this “law” because it leads to remedies that have been so diluted as to have nary a single molecule of the substance one starts with.

And this is the real rub with a notion as loony as homeopathy.  We already know from modern science-based medicine that, in the case of drugs, there must be a certain amount of active ingredient in the drug in order for it to have the desired effect.  Of course, there are dangers from using medical drugs: one of the most common is that of over-dosing.  If someone takes too much of a certain active ingredient, it can be harmful or – in the worst case – fatal.  For example, we all know about stories of people committing suicide by over-dosing on sleeping pills.

However, with homeopathy, this is all turned completely on its head.  Homeopaths, invoking their magical “law of infinitesimals”, insist that by diluting the active ingredient to the most ludicrous extreme (i.e., imagine diluting a solution so much that only one molecule of active ingredient remains in it) this will somehow transfer the healing power of the ingredient to the patient and actually make the solution more potent.

A classic example of debunking this particular woo-woo claim has been performed numerous times by James Randi as he lectures on the topic of homeopathy & other quackery.  As he lectures, usually for roughly an hour, Randi will consume an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills that he’d purchased earlier from a nearby pharmacy.  Needless to say, despite performing this feat numerous times, James Randi has yet to die from such an “over-dose”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Secular & Skeptic Help for Haiti

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: This is essentially a repost of Phil Plait’s recent entry at Skeptiblog, but it is worth spreading the message far and wide; so please take a moment to read it and pass it on…

The James Randi Educational Foundation has teamed up with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and a dozen other secular groups to set up a way to donate money to help out the people of Haiti after the huge earthquake last week.

As Randi says,

We at the JREF are very proud to be part of the concerted effort to aid Haiti to recover from this catastrophic event. To my mind, there is nothing more disturbing than hearing the distressed cries of children who are subjected to grief and/or injury, and my personal contribution has already been added to the encouraging total that mounts hour by hour. Please be generous and help us to reach out to Haitians of all ages, of any and all philosophical orientations.

Richard Dawkins will cover $10,000 of PayPal fees, so if you use that method 100% of your donation will go to help.

You can donate here. Please help.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Last Call!!! Skepchicamp FUNdraiser!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: Though I am helping to organize Skepchicamp, the first Chicago Skepticamp, I totally stole this announcement from Elyse Anders at Skepchick :)

Today the Skepchicks have their hats out. All we’re asking for is money, and all we’re promising is booze and Skepchicks and amazing fun and great skeptical topics and great skeptical women/role models and some chances to actually learn some things.

So, on top of our fundraising campaign for SkepchickCon2010 in Minneapolis, we’re also raising funds to Skepchicamp 2010 in Chicago.

This weekend is the first ever FUNdraiser for the first ever Skepchicamp, and time is running out to buy your tickets. We only have about 20 left!

What you get for $30:

  • Food
  • Booze
  • Fun
  • The chance to enter a cashitty cash cash raffle.
  • The chance to bid on a date with the Friendliest (and quite handsome) Atheist, Hemant Mehta
  • The address to the location

Skepchicamp is turning out to be far more popular than we ever imagined it would be… which means we’re going to need money to pull it off. Not only do we need funds for this year’s camp, but to help us form a stronger organization with bigger plans and events in the future. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves, but we need your help. Please?

All you have to do is free up your Saturday night and $30 for a great cause.

So all you have to do is register at our Eventbrite site, or click the kick ass widget on the Skepchicamp blog!

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

William Shatner Sets Phasers for “Debunk” and PWNs John Edward

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 16, 2010

During my random Friday-night web surfing, I stumbled across this little gem that I had to share.  William Shatner (who played Captain Kirk on Star Trek) is interviewing psychic charlatan John Edward on his show “Shatner’s Raw Nerve” and definitely had his phasers set for “debunk”.  Check these clips out! :D

“Is it possible you’re psychotic, not psychic?”

“John, it’s woo woo.”

Mr. Shatner, this one’s for you!!!

Posted in humor, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

128th Skeptic’s Circle @ Ionian Enchantment

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 16, 2010

The Skeptic’s Circle is back for 2010 with the first installment over at Ionian Enchantment. There are a lot of interesting skeptical posts in this installment, so go over and check it out… :)

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pat Robertson is an Asshole

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2010

I’m taking a bit of a departure from my usual routine to state something which should be patently obvious to anyone with even a shred of common, human decency: Pat Robertson is an asshole. Actually, to say as much would be an insult to assholes, but I cannot think of any other way to put it.

Of course, I’m referring to his recent comments regarding how the people of Haiti somehow deserved the earthquake which has killed & maimed so many because it is a punishment from God for Haitian slaves practicing voodoo (and swearing “a pact with the devil”) hundreds of years ago when they revolted against the French.  But don’t take it from me, take it from the Big Asshole himself…

Wow… I… am… speechless… well, not quite.  But these comments are truly shocking in their insensitivity, immorality, and intellectual vacuity.  They are insensitive for obvious reasons.  I contend that they are immoral because Robertson is using this tragedy to push his own narrow, fundamentalist version of Christianity – while neglecting the fact that roughly 85% of the population of Haiti is Catholic!  Of course, some jerks like Robertson will rationalize the argument by saying something like “Catholics aren’t real Christians” (which is a version of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy) while conveniently ignoring the fact that Catholics (with the exception of Eastern Orthodox Christians) were the only Christians for about 1500 years of history!  Arrgh!

**Aside: not that it should matter what the victims’ religious, or lack thereof, beliefs are; basic human decency should sway us to help them in their hour of need.

The comments are intellectually vacuous because they display the logical extension of a worldview rooted in superstition instead of science, reason, and rationality.  In Robertson’s worldview, there is absolute good and absolute evil (personified in his versions of God and Satan), and he creates a false dichotomy of a pure black-and-white world where those who share his beliefs are on the side of good (God) while those who disagree with him are on the side of evil (Satan) – recall how he made similar comments right after 9/11 about how the U.S. “deserved” to be attacked. Of course, his ignores the reality of how the world is rarely so simplistic, and there are complexities & shades of gray that pop up in many aspects of life.

Another aspect of Robertson’s commentary is disturbing: it views the world through the lens of supernatural forces beyond the understanding of humanity.  There isn’t a natural world which can be examined and understood through a reasoned analysis of natural causes (i.e. the scientific method); rather, the world is governed by good and evil spirits.  It’s all about God & angels versus Satan & demons – a view which, more than anything, propagates fear, ignorance, division, and humanity’s most negative tribal tendencies.

Alas, now that I’ve vented my spleen about Robertson’s stupidity, I shall cease cursing the darkness by lighting a candle (to use Carl Sagan’s analogy)… perhaps the best way to deal with assholes like Pat Robertson is to stay rooted in the real, natural world and actually deal with problems using reason & rationality as opposed to moaning about ghosts, goblins, fairies, and other vestiges of superstitious nonsense.  In other words, we are empowered and can actually do something because we realize that we live in the real world and can change it for the better – we are not slaves to supernatural powers beyond our control and/or comprehension.

If you want to help the people of Haiti (and I sincerely hope you do), a good start is to consider making an immediate cash donation to a reputable international relief agency, such as the Red Cross.

Go forth and light candles.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 13, 2010

One of the most public scientific topics in recent years has been that of human-influenced global warming, also known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  As I’ve posted before, for a variety of reasons – ranging from basic ignorance of climate science to the outright promotion of a cynical ideology – some people insist upon claiming that AGW (or even GW in general) is “false”, a “lie”, or a “hoax”.  In fact, some of the more extreme folks are claiming – in spite of all data to the contrary – that the Earth is actually in a period of global cooling.

Their evidence?… the most recent cold snap that has gripped the United States over the last week or two.  No, I’m serious – that is their “evidence”.  I’d be laughing my head off if it weren’t so sad that there are actually people who are seriously making this argument, so in true skeptical teacher fashion, I shall explain exactly where this argument falls apart and why it is inaccurate…

The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend.

Lastly, I should point out that the intellectual vacuity of the “cooler” argument above cuts both ways.  Case in point: where I live in the upper Midwest we have, of course, been gripped by the recent cold snap, but weather (not climate) projections show that starting tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 13) through the weekend – at least – there will be an unusual warming trend.  In fact, temperatures will be well above freezing throughout the region, and this is in the middle of January!  ZOMG!!!

Thus, using the “cooler” method of cherry-picking, I could start going on and on about how this “proves” global cooling is false and “proves” that global warming is true.  I could also cherry-pick by stating that very high temperatures in some regions during the summer are “proof” of global warming.  But these would be ludicrous assertions, and I only mention them in jest as a way of making fun of the “coolers” and their pseudoscientific tactics.

So, putting such silliness aside, I suggest that we focus on actual climate science in this discussion, as opposed to using methods such as purposefully confusing weather with climate, cherry-picking, and so on.  In the long run, a rigorous application of the scientific method will allow us to see what’s really going on, and all else will be revealed as hot air. :)

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109 other followers

%d bloggers like this: