The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for December, 2010

ALERT: Anti-Vaccine Safe Minds Ad Playing in Some Theaters

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 26, 2010

This holiday season I am a bit bummed to share some bad news with you, but this is important… you may recall that a month ago I had announced that the anti-vaccination groups Age of Autism and Safe Minds were planning on running an ad in movie theaters. Also, you may know that thanks to the skeptical community’s quick action, we were able to get the ads pulled from AMC Theaters nationwide. That’s the good news, but the bad news is that, apparently, the Safe Minds ad is actually being played in at least some non-AMC movie theaters.

The news of these latest developments was broken by my skeptical colleague & one of the most awesome women I know, the scourge of anti-vax morons everywhere, Skepchick Elyse Anders…

Still playing at theaters near you: Safe Minds PSAs…

Last night, after I had a glass of wine and a delicious butter pecan cupcake, I got a disturbing text from fellow Skepchick Maria.

She was at Studio Movie Grill in Holcomb, Ga, and was about to enjoy some Christmas Eve movie wonderfulness when… BAM… in her face, 70 ft x 30 ft of nauseating news:

The Safe Minds PSAs, the ones we had pulled from AMC last month, are still playing in other theaters. (This may not be the exact PSA running, but the message is the same.) …

Boy, this sucks!  But rather than curse the darkness, let’s light some candles, folks… to hell with that, let’s light a motherf***ing bonfire! We’ve been here before, and we know what works – the threat of a widespread boycott will work; the problem is that we have to know exactly what movie theaters to target for the boycott.  And the anti-vaxxers are making it tougher this time because they haven’t advertised the theaters which are playing their ad.  So what we have to do is find out exactly what theaters are and are not playing the ad shown above.

If you’d like to help out, I suggest that you follow Elyse’s advice:

… Before you go [see a movie], I ask that you call your theater and find out if they are playing the SafeMinds ads. If they are, find an alternate theater. AMC Theaters have agreed not to run these ads in any of their theaters.

If you do see these ads, please leave a comment here [on the Skepchick comment thread], or if you’d rather not leave a comment, contact me using the Link? Question? Comment? link on the left side bar or email me at elyse(at)womenthinkingfree.org.

Once we have a list, we can work on writing letters, making phone calls and organizing our boycott. Jamie Bernstein of the WTFF is working on compiling a list as best she can… which is difficult without calling every single theater in the country today. …

Please consider getting involved, somehow.  We know that we can win these fights, but it takes commitment & persistence.  We cannot do it without you.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Climate Rapid Response Team: Scientists Fight Back Against Misinformation

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 26, 2010

I was listening recently to a Point of Inquiry podcast, where host Chris Mooney interviews John Abraham & Scott Mandia concerning the a new initiative called the Climate Rapid Response Team. I felt it worth passing along, so here ’tis…

John Abraham and Scott Mandia – Climate Science Strikes Back

November 19, 2010

Host: Chris Mooney

For the community of scientists who study the Earth’s climate, these are bewildering times.

They’ve seen wave upon wave of political attacks. They’re getting accustomed to a public that grows more skeptical of their conclusions even as scientists grow more confident in them.

No wonder there’s much frustration out there in the climate science world—and now, a group of researchers have organized to do something about it. Their initiative is called the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, and it pledges to organize dozens of researchers to help set the record straight. …

 

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Always Pick a Winning Stock

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2010

This time of year, money is on a lot of people’s minds.  And especially with the crummy economy, it is REALLY on people’s minds.  Unfortunately, this is an environment which is ripe for various kinds of money-related scams.  In that spirit, I wanted to share with you all an excellent blog post by my skeptical colleague Phil Ferguson over at the Skeptic Money blog. It’s all about those schemes to “pick winning stocks” and whatnot; I can’t do it justice, so I’ll just pass along Phil’s post…

How To Pick Winning Stock Every Time – The Skeptics’ Way

Today I will show you how great stock pickers are able to find the winners – every time.  Now when you get a tip via a call or an e-mail from a broker you will know how they do it.  Now you can do it too.  If you use this same method you can guarantee a correct prediction on a stock.  With this system you can win every time.

I found this video from Darren Brown.  He calls it the system and I will stick with that name.  He uses it on horses but, I will tell you how to do it with stocks.  It is even better with stock because they can only go up or down.  It is so easy – it will blow your mind.  The same secrets apply to stocks as it does for horses.  Watch this video to see how it works.  Don’t skip ahead… YOU NEED to see how well this works. …

And yes, there IS an angle to this whole thing, but to see the angle read all the way through to the end of Phil’s post plus watch the accompanying videos.  However, for those of you who are a bit ADD, I’ll skip to the end:

… Someone had to win with each bet.  A stock picker can do the same thing.  They will call dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people.  They will tell half of the people that a given stock will go up and the other half will be told that the same stock will go down.  Those that lose never get called again.  The winners are called again and get a new stock tip.  So with just 16 people to start with a stock picker can get 4 in a row for one lucky person.  Now that person will do just about anything.  Even borrow money from friends.  They may or may not make money.  It does not matter to the broker.  Each time you buy or sell a stock, you make will make the broker money.

Now, when someone calls you with a hot stock tip, you will know what to do – RUN!

Posted in economics, mathematics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eclipses, Moon Myths & Lunacy

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2010

This winter solstice, the night of December 20th and early morning of the 21st, will bear witness to a full lunar eclipse. It seems to me that every time such an event takes place it brings forth all manner of myths & misconceptions regarding the moon and its supposed effects.  So, in the spirit of this evening lunar eclipse, I wanted to pass along to you all the straight science regarding some of the more loonie (pardon the pun) claims regarding the moon.

First, here is some scientifically reliable information regarding lunar eclipses…

Now, on to some of the myths regarding the moon: I want to share with you two good articles that examine many of the pseudoscientific claims regarding the moon, one from LiveScience.com and the other from the Skeptic’s Dictionary

Moon Myths: The Truth About Lunar Effects on You

The moon holds a mystical place in the history of human culture, so it’s no wonder that many myths — from werewolves to induced lunacy to epileptic seizures — have built up regarding its supposed effects on us.

“It must be a full moon,” is a phrase heard whenever crazy things happen and is said by researchers to be muttered commonly by late-night cops, psychiatry staff and emergency room personnel. …

Full moon and lunar effects

The full moon has been linked to crime, suicide, mental illness, disasters, accidents,  birthrates, fertility, and werewolves, among other things. Some people even buy and sell stocks according to phases of the moon, a method probably as successful as many others. Numerous studies have tried to find lunar effects. So far, the studies have failed to establish much of interest. Lunar effects that have been found have little or nothing to do with human behavior, e.g., the discovery of a slight effect of the moon on global temperature,* which in turn might have an effect on the growth of plants. Of course, there have been single studies here and there that have found correlations between various phases of the moon and this or that phenomenon, but nothing significant has been replicated sufficiently to warrant claiming a probable causal relationship. …


Posted in astrology, psychology, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dover vs. Kitzmiller Decision is Five Years Old!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2010

Five years ago, on Dec. 20th, 2005, one of the most influential court rulings regarding the evolution & creationism battles in the public schools came down – it was the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision, and it was a devastating blow to the intelligent design movement (IDM). The IDM had been making some serious inroads in various venues in the early part of the decade, and this court case was seen as a critical tipping point as to whether or not ID-creationism would pass muster in public school science classes.  Fortunately, it lost and lost badly :)

So, happy birthday Dover vs. Kitzmiller!  In case you’re interested in seeing where things stand five years on, as well as hearing from some of the key players in the case, check out this article…

After 5 years, Dover intelligent design ruling’s impact still felt

Tammy Kitzmiller’s family jokingly refers to Dec. 20 as “Kitzmas.”

Five years ago on that day, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III handed down a 139-page ruling on her eponymous case, Kitzmiller v. Dover.

The case made Kitzmiller — and Dover — world famous in a legal battle versus Dover Area school board on whether intelligent design could be taught as an accepted scientific theory.

The battle ended with Jones banning Dover schools from ever enforcing an intelligent design policy and ruled intelligent design is religion, not science. …

Interestingly, some recent polling from Gallup seems to indicate that within recent years fewer Americans are accepting creationism and more are accepting the science of evolution as an explanation for the development of life:

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.

Folks, I think this is welcome improvement – nearly 55% of Americans accept some form of evolution (theistic or atheistic) while only about 40% accept creationism.  That latter number is still too high, in my opinion, but things look like they’re heading in the right direction, and I like to think that the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision had at least a little something to do with that.

The entire Gallup poll can be accessed here. Nice to see that on Dover vs. Kitzmiller’s fifth birthday we have something to celebrate :)

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

Noah’s Ark Theme Park in KY: Bad Science & Bad Economics

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 17, 2010

I’ve recently found out that the state of my youth, good ol’ Kentucky, has decided to make a theme park based upon Noah’s Ark. You might think this is no big deal, and I would normally agree, except that the organization behind this new theme park, the creationist outfit called Answers In Genesis, wants to set up the Noah’s Ark attraction – known as Ark Encounter – as an expression of reality.  I’m sorry, but this kind of strikes me as trying to claim that Disney World is showing kids the “real” world… ;)

Okay, enough snark, let me be serious for the rest of the post.  I know that Kentucky is a state awash in Christian fundamentalism, along with all the things that go along with that – such as young-earth creationism (YEC). This is evidenced by the fact that Kentucky is host to the Creation Museum, which is devoted to advancing the “reality” of YEC as viewed by the Biblical interpretation put forth by Answers In Genesis (such as that humans & dinosaurs lived at the same time – yeah, like in “The Flintstones”!).  So this is fertile ground for creationism & all the associated pseudoscience that goes along with it, and the people behind the Noah’s Ark project know it.

In this post, I’m not going to argue that creationism is bad science, non-science, or just plain pseudoscience, though it clearly is all of those. Rather, I’m going to argue that – despite the claims by KY Gov. Steve Beshear to the contrary – establishing Kentucky as a state known for harboring & encouraging non-science is actually a bad thing economically for the Commonwealth.

The Governor argues that Ark Encounter will create many jobs, which is undoubtedly true.  It will require lots of people to work construction over the next few years to build it, and then of course there are the jobs created for those who will work in the park once it is complete.  However, as many critics have pointed out, the vast majority of that second class of jobs will tend to be low-skill, low-paying, and seasonal positions, many of which are likely to be part time…

Ark incentives: cheap jobs, poor state image

… Despite some progress in economic development, Kentucky continues to use tax incentives in pursuit of mostly low-paying, part-time seasonal jobs that would further lower the state’s average wage and do little to increase the demand of higher education. This is similar to past shortsighted subsidies of chicken processing plants and customer call centers.

We understand that even low-paying jobs are welcome while rebounding from a recession and heading into an election year.

But these incentives could have been awarded without Gov. Steve Beshear’s public embrace of an expansion of the Creation Museum — a project rooted in outright opposition to science.

Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future. …

I have to agree with this criticism.  The fact of the matter is that if the Commonwealth of Kentucky wants to make good long-term economic development decisions, they need to foster an environment which encourages higher-paying jobs, a college & university-educated workforce, and – yes – an acceptance of & investment in science.  After all, modern science – evolution included – has yielded a host of technologies & economic development which has improved the standard of living for all of us drastically in the last couple of centuries.  Whereas creationist pseudoscience seems to be only good for producing reality-challenged theme parks that provide crummy jobs and encourages ignorance of science.

The bottom line is this, folks: real science & its associated discoveries, including evolution, creates new technologies which drives the economy, creating higher paying jobs, a better cost of living, and a more educated workforce.  If you want to do right by the economy, especially in the long term, encourage science & science education and invest in scientific research.  If the state of Kentucky continues on this path, then they shouldn’t be surprised when more lucrative, science-oriented companies & institutions look to base their operations elsewhere, taking the good jobs with them.

Too bad this lesson seems to be lost on Kentucky’s political leaders; they seem to be stuck on appeasing religious fundamentalists as a way of winning votes.  Too bad that won’t help solve the actual economic problem.

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

The Blurring of Science With Media Spin: NASA’s Announcement About “Arsenic-Based Life”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2010

I have to say that last week I was pretty upset with NASA, because – if you recall – there was a lot of hay being made by NASA about a big scientific discovery they were going to announce.  In the process, there was a great deal of media spin & speculation on whether or not it was going to be an announcement of the discovery of “alien life” or something similar.

But when it came time for the announcement, it ended up being something quite less spectacular: it was about how a group of NASA scientists had uncovered a form of bacterial life which seems to have adapted itself to living in the harsh conditions of a lake laced with heavy concentrations of arsenic – the original NASA press release can be accessed here.

NASA has made a pretty big deal out of this discovery, but there are some problems with how they’ve rolled it out, in my opinion.  I am of the view that they’ve oversold this thing, with overly dramatic phrases (from the above press release) such as…

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

and…

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.

Upon hearing about this discovery, and not being a biochemist or evolutionary biologist myself, I decided to look past the spin being put on this by both NASA and the news media in general and go to people who know the field far better than me.  In a short amount of time, I found a great post by PZ Myers over at Pharyngula on the matter, wherein he states, among other things…

It’s not an arsenic-based life form

… I finally got the paper from Science, and I’m sorry to let you all down, but it’s none of the above. It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future. …

… So what does it all mean? It means that researchers have found that some earthly bacteria that live in literally poisonous environments are adapted to find the presence of arsenic dramatically less lethal, and that they can even incorporate arsenic into their routine, familiar chemistry. …

… This lake also happens to be on Earth, not Saturn, although maybe being in California gives them extra weirdness points, so I don’t know that it can even say much about extraterrestrial life. It does say that life can survive in a surprisingly broad range of conditions, but we already knew that. [emphasis added]

And, unfortunately, it seems that the story could get worse for NASA, because if you know anything about how the scientific community operates, you know that when someone makes a really bold claim (such as how the NASA researchers did) then other scientists are going to want to review the work & offer criticism.  Well, upon doing so, there has been some quite withering criticism coming from many DNA & biochemistry experts about the manner in which the NASA researchers conducted their work…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fun Science Tricks for Christmas & New Years

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 9, 2010

I wanted to quickly share with you all some neat science-related tricks from Professor Richard Wiseman; these will no doubt make for all manner of fun at those end-of-the-year Christmas & New Years gatherings.  Enjoy! :)

Posted in magic tricks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Send an Awesome Skepchick Some Love as She Kicks Anti-Vaxxer Ass

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 7, 2010

I want to pass along a story to you all.  This story is about my good friend & skeptical colleague-in-arms, Elyse Anders, who is quite possibly the most awesome skeptic I know (and I know a lot of them, folks).  I say this because Elyse not only talks the skeptical talk, she walks the skeptical walk, even if it means walking right into the jaws of some folks who are not very pleasant people to deal with (and that takes serious guts).  You see, Elyse was one of the driving forces behind getting the Age of Autism’s anti-vaccination “PSAs” pulled from circulation at AMC Theaters before the Thanksgiving weekend.

Well, now the folks at Age of Autism are pissed and they’ve started their counter-attack, which is no surprise.  Sadly, also no surprise, they are not attempting to counter our skeptical display of facts with facts, research, and so on; rather, they have started to attack Elyse personally – very personally – and I think it would be good for us to send her some love.  Below I share her account of the events of recent days…

From Ads to Ad Homs

December 6th, 2010 by Elyse · 78 Comments

No Gravatar

… My morning started with a coffee while checking FB to see who’s got good snark and who’s got stupid cartoon profile pictures. Instead of snark and snorks, I got an email from Kim Wombles informing me that Age of Autism has started their attack against me.

I wasn’t surprised. After the AMC awesomeness just before Thanksgiving and the Grant Park rally last May I knew I was on their radar. And Orac’s been warning me for months, and called their shot Thanksgiving Day. I was waiting for them. I was prepared… I thought.

Unfortunately, I’m naive. I expected them to come at me with information. I expected them to be angry. I expected them to call me names. I expected them to take my words out of context. I expected them to paint me as a bad mother. I expected them to use my son’s developmental delays against me. I expected them to show up here and on their own blogs.

But they play dirty.

They’ve taken my FB profile pic and posted it on their FB page with the caption:

This is the woman who fought to pull the SafeMinds PSA’s from the theatres. It’s her FB profile page photo. She is anti-choice and wants to tell you that mercury is safe and that Thimeosal is good – according to her blog. She trolls AofA regularly. As do all the pro-vaccine-injury bloggers.

It’s sly. A thinly veiled call to arms against me. They’ve called me ugly. They’ve called me negligent. They’ve threatened to call child protective services on me. They’ve vaguely threatened violence. They’ve threatened my face. They’ve threatened to rape me with broken thermometers. They’ve posted my full name and my face… and worse…the pic is not just me; it’s me and Delaney, my infant daughter. They dragged my daughter into this. They’re attacking my baby. She’s 6 months old. And she’s being threatened. …

Folks, this sort of thing is just downright despicable.  It is also revealing to see the tactics being employed by these anti-vax loons when their primary response to a grassroots skeptical campaign to stop their pseudoscientific propaganda is to personally attack, smear, and even threaten the organizers of that campaign (not mention, to drag their kids into it all).  Pardon me while I puke…

Go on, read the Age of Autism Facebook post on this, read the comments, observe the vitriol and hatred being expressed there for yourself. And then, send Elyse some love – because what right-thinking person wouldn’t want to give such a charming, awesome, and determined woman (who, after all, is in a real way fighting for all of us) some love, especially in her hour of need?  You can send the love by commenting on her entry over at Skepchick, or (even better) buy some of the new “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” T-shirts from Elyse’s Women Thinking Free Foundation.

Let’s go skeptics: time to get makin’ with the love!!! ;)

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Where are the Psychic Security Agents?

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 3, 2010

With all of the attention that airline security has gotten of late, specifically regarding new security procedures put in place by the United States’ TSA, I think it is worthwhile to ask a seemingly tongue-in-cheek question which has a serious side: where are the psychic security agents?

Think about it, seriously… if psychics really could read minds, or talk to the dead, or somehow get “forbidden” information through whatever method of divination they employ the way many of them claim, then why the hell aren’t these people working for the TSA by probing the minds of suspected terrorists?  The question kind of harkens back to one asked by many people a little over 9 years ago: Why didn’t any of these psychic gurus see 9/11 coming before the fact?

In any case, I want to give the last word on this to skeptical investigator Ben Radford, who wrote a really good article on the matter.  Check it out…

Psychics and Airline Security

Analysis by Benjamin Radford
Thu Dec 2, 2010

Security-zoom

Amid all the discussion, anxiety and outrage over heightened airline security this holiday season, there’s one group of people whose important information is conspicuously absent: psychics.

There are thousands of people who claim to have psychic powers. Some, like convicted felon Sylvia Browne, are New York Times best-selling authors; others are seen on talk shows; still others, like Alison DuBois (of NBC’s Medium), serve as consultants for their own television shows.

While many dismiss psychics as frauds or mere entertainers, tens of millions of Americans believe in psychic abilities. For example, a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey found that nearly one-fifth of American women (and one-tenth of men) believe that psychic powers exist.

What do psychics have to do with national security? Everything — if they are real. [emphasis added]…

Posted in humor, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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