The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for October, 2011

WTFF’s “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” Campaign Gets a Shout Out from… the Huffington Post?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 31, 2011

Wow.  I’m pretty stunned by this development.  Many of you know that in the past I have been highly critical of the Huffington Post (a.k.a. the HuffPo) for their tacit acceptance and promotion of various kinds of medically-related nonsense, especially the fact they provide a big platform for anti-vaccination kooks.

However, in an interesting twist, one of their prominent writers – science correspondent Cara Santa Maria – has written a very solid and in-your-face pro-vaccine article.  Not only that, but she also gives a big shout out to the WTFF’s Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign! :D

Perhaps there’s hope yet for the HuffPo…

Talk Nerdy to Me: Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated

Yesterday I got a flu vaccine at work. The coughs and sneezes are beginning to sound like bad muzak around the office, so I figured it was time to give flu season the finger. I’ve actually never had a flu vaccine before. It just never occurred to me to do so. But now that I work in a corporate office environment, the handwashing signs over the bathroom sink and little pumps of antibacterial hand sanitizer glistening on individual desks are beginning to make sense to me. I don’t want these people making me sick. I don’t want to make them sick either. I like my coworkers a lot, but I wish we lived in a country that understood the value of a sturdy facemask. I live in Hollywood, a city so image-obsessed that the only time you see somebody wearing one of those is if they’ve just gotten their nose done.

But I digress. I noticed when I proudly bore the sticker proclaiming to the office masses today that I got my vaccination, a lot of people responded that they “don’t do that” or they “don’t believe in it.” That struck me as funny. It made me wonder why, if a free flu vaccination is offered to you only steps from your desk, you would opt not to partake. …

… The truth is, even though a new meta-analysis published in The Lancet only two days ago showed an overall efficacy for influenza vaccination hovering around 59% (in adults age 18-65, spread over the last 44 years), I’ll take 59% over 0% any day. And not getting a vaccine is 0% effective against the spread of influenza. By the way, if you are one of those people who opt out of prophylaxis, please do your part by washing your damn hands. And sneeze into your sleeve, not all over your disease-laden paws. Of course, I’m now a lot less worried about your germs making me sick. So, hug me! I’m vaccinated.


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

Carl Sagan Day on November 12th!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of astronomer Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos).  In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we can celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Saturday, Nov. 12th – look up an event in your area!

Specifically, if you find yourself in the Chicago area that weekend, you are more than welcome to join our public Carl Sagan Day event…

Saturday, November 12 · 6:00pm – 10:00pm

Robert H Lurie Medical Research Center of Northwestern University
Hughes Auditorium
303 E. Superior St.
Chicago, IL

You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2011! Come meet up and hang out with Chicago’s secular community, right in the heart of downtown. We’ll be hosting a panel on Science, Skepticism, and the Legacy of Carl Sagan!

(Panelists TBA)

Food* and drink** will be provided!

Sponsored by:
DePaul Alliance for Free Thought
Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance
University of Chicago Secular Alliance
Women Thinking Free Foundation

*includes apple pie from scratch
**includes cosmos (21+)

We look forward to seeing you there! Talk to your group leaders for travel arrangements.

(This event is free and open to the public.)

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

Support Science Debate 2012!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

You may recall a new effort in 2008 by the scientific community and backers of science to become more active in the United States’ political process, and I am happy to (re)announce that Science Debate is back for the 2012 election cycle!

Is America ceding its capacity to lead?

Science Debate 2012 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our “Call for Presidential and Congressional Debates on Science & Technology” include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, over 150 leading universities and associations, Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, major business leaders, presidents of universities and major associations, congresspersons of both major political parties, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America’s major science journals, writers, and many others.

We have noticed that science and technology lie at the center of a very large number of the policy issues facing our nation and the world – issues that profoundly affect our national and economic security as science and technology continue to transform our lives. No matter one’s political stripe, these issues pose important pragmatic policy challenges – challenges that are too important and too impactful on people’s lives to be left unaddressed.

We believe these scientific and technological policy challenges can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, inventing the best alternative energy sources, enjoying the most pristine and biologically wealthy environment, and graduating the most scientifically literate children in the world – or we can cede these economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.

Leadership is about articulating a vision for the future and making it happen.  Will America lead, or will it step aside and be swept along as others take the reins?

We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities, and it is hard to imagine any candidate not wishing to be involved in such an occasion.

Please join us and work to make Science Debate 2012 a reality nationally, and in your congressional district.

Sign the Science Debate Petition!

Support Science Debate 2012!

And, last but not least, if you harbor any doubts that now, more than ever, is the time for a serious national political discussion of science, science education, and its implications, then just take a few minutes to watch this video clip from the Daily Show…

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Halloween: The Perfect Opportunity to Promote Skepticism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011

My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween! :D

I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims.  Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things?  I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.

So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…

A Skeptic’s Halloween

Snopes: Halloween Legends

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

A Historical Halloween & Skepticism Lesson: The 1938 “War of the Worlds” Broadcast by Orson Welles

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Happy Halloween!!!

Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Study by “Independent Climate Skeptics” Actually Confirms Global Warming

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 24, 2011

[**Update (10-30-11): It seems the deniers have already started to respond to this news.  One interesting response is apparently to accuse Prof Richard Muller, the skeptical physicist behind the Berkeley Earth Project, of a Climategate-like scandal (I guess the deniers now view him as a "traitor"): ]

In a bit of news which kind of goes into the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, I wanted to share with you all the latest in the ongoing drama that is the “Climategate” fiasco.  (If you need to get up to speed on the whole “Climategate” thing, just see some of my earlier blog posts here, here, and here)

To date, there have been multiple investigations into the allegations that the worldwide community of climate scientists is somehow conspiring to cover up “the truth” that global warming is really just a hoax, and all of these investigations have shown the exact opposite.  However, in true conspiracy theorist fashion, many ideologically-driven climate change deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics”, because they are not skeptical in the positive sense of that word) have clung to the idea that somehow there is a vast plan on the part of scientists all over the planet to deceive the rest of us into believing that the Earth is warming and that humans are contributing significantly to it.

As such, it seems that there was an effort by many of these deniers to prop up their conspiracy theory by performing their own independent analysis of the climate data.  However, in an interesting twist, it seems that upon completing their analysis, the researchers tapped by the deniers actually concluded the opposite of what they had hoped: global warming is indeed real!  It’s all outlined in this recent BBC article…

Global warming ‘confirmed’ by independent study

The Earth’s surface really is getting warmer, a new analysis by a US scientific group set up in the wake of the “Climategate” affair has concluded.

The Berkeley Earth Project has used new methods and some new data, but finds the same warming trend seen by groups such as the UK Met Office and Nasa.

The project received funds from sources that back organisations lobbying against action on climate change. …

That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?  The climate change deniers decide that all the science on the topic isn’t trustworthy, so they hire a group of their own investigators to look at the data, and they end up getting exactly the same conclusions as has been stated for years by the international climate science community.  It gets better…

… The project was established by University of California physics professor Richard Muller, who was concerned by claims that established teams of climate researchers had not been entirely open with their data.

He gathered a team of 10 scientists, mostly physicists, including such luminaries as Saul Perlmutter, winner of this year’s Nobel Physics Prize for research showing the Universe’s expansion is accelerating.

Funding came from a number of sources, including charitable foundations maintained by the Koch brothers, the billionaire US industrialists, who have also donated large sums to organisations lobbying against acceptance of man-made global warming.

“I was deeply concerned that the group [at UEA] had concealed discordant data,” Prof Muller told BBC News.

“Science is best done when the problems with the analysis are candidly shared.”

The group’s work also examined claims from “sceptical” bloggers that temperature data from weather stations did not show a true global warming trend.

The claim was that many stations have registered warming because they are located in or near cities, and those cities have been growing – the urban heat island effect.

The Berkeley group found about 40,000 weather stations around the world whose output has been recorded and stored in digital form.

It developed a new way of analysing the data to plot the global temperature trend over land since 1800.

What came out was a graph remarkably similar to those produced by the world’s three most important and established groups, whose work had been decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles. [emphasis added]

In fact, below is a copy of that graph: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

MORE Rapture Fail…

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 22, 2011

I think the caption says it all… :D

Whoops!  Back to the drawing board… again.


Posted in doomsday, humor, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Everybody Got A Gris-Gris

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2011

I just had a guest post published over at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift blog, and I thought it worth sharing. Take a look…

If you’re like me, then when you became a more open and active skeptic (what I like to call a “coming out” skeptic) you may have made the mistake of thinking that you were going to make yourself into the best skeptic ever.  That is, you may have decided that you were going to aspire to being a really, really good skeptic and critical thinker on pretty much everything.  I recall my eager embracing of this kind of “hyper-skeptical” attitude, back when I was a newly minted “out of the closet” skeptic.

But, as I have matured, I have adopted a more informed, nuanced, and realistic view of skepticism, both on a personal as well as a broader level.  I have come to the gradual realization that while wishing to be “a good skeptic” in all areas, from the nuances of the alt-med vs. science-based medicine wars to issues related to various religious claims, is a laudable goal, but at the end of the day it is kind of unrealistic.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to comb through all the pseudoscientific, conspiracy-mongering, and woo-oriented claims out there and be totally prepared for them all.

This is why having a community of skeptics is so important: we each bring our own areas of expertise and activism to the larger group.  I, for one, tend to focus on issues related to what I call physics-woo and topics related to pseudoscience and education (specifically areas such as the creationism-evolution issue).  That way we can take the time to hunker down and focus upon a specific set of skeptical topics, while relying on the rest of our skeptical colleagues to cover other areas.

However, there is another reason why being plugged into a broader skeptical community is a good thing: because we are all human, and as such, despite our skeptical leanings we all have some aspect to our lives on which we are decidedly non-skeptical.  As the magician Penn Jillette once summed it up: “Everybody got a gris-gris.”  By this he meant that we all have some kind of gris-gris: a belief or superstition or viewpoint that is not supported by any kind of rational or skeptical analysis.  And, many times, these gris-gris are things that are very important to us, yet we may not even think of it as such, and we can behave in decidedly irrational ways when confronted with the possibility that our gris-gris is just another silly belief unsupported by evidence. …

Click here to read the rest of the article

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

Educator Grants Available from the James Randi Educational Foundation!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2011

I am happy to report that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now awarding education grants to help educators with the development and implementation of lessons and curriculum related to teaching skepticism and critical thinking skills.  Read on for more information…

… Right now, the JREF has a limited number of educator grants (up to $500 each) available to help offset the cost of developing or improving critical thinking and scientific skepticism programs in the classroom.  Preference is given to projects aimed at creating educational content related to science or critical thinking through examination of the paranormal and pseudoscience.

Funded projects can include (but are not limited to) working with JREF educational modules (and related media) or developing new content to be made available to the educational community through the JREF.

If you’re interested in working with the JREF to share critical thinking tools with your students at a time when it matters most, please reply and let me know. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, discuss your ideas for projects, and explain the simple grant application process. For more information or to apply, contact:

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

When Darwin-Fish Meets Plush Toy…

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 12, 2011

I think I’m in love. Like many a skeptic who supports good science education, my car sports a Darwin-fish, and I have people close to me who like those cute ‘n cuddly plush toys. Now I am happy to report the best of both worlds – advocacy for science education has met cute ‘n cuddly and the result is this little fellow who is bound to survive the natural selection of Internet markets.  Festivus is coming up, so consider this neat little thing when you think about the skeptic on your gift list… :)

This little sucker is too irresistible – I’m off to buy one now.  Get yours today!

[**Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm pimping this product for a colleague through the WTFF (I'm on their Board), but I'm doing it because I think this is a really good idea for a skeptical product.  I don't get my name behind junk, folks.]

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

Physics Demo Show @ Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 9, 2011

In this quick post, I wanted to share the footage from the physics demonstration show I did at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA over Labor Day weekend, 2011. Working with me on the show was Dr. Pamela Gay (of Astronomy Cast fame) and Jerry Hester (physics demo expert at Clemson University). We had a really fun time doing all of these demonstrations, and I think you can see the show was quite a hit!  So sit back and enjoy the show :)

It should be noted that at one point in the show, right before the final bed-of-nails demo, the audience is watching a video off to the side. To see what they were watching and why they were laughing so hard at the end of it, see my “Bed of Nails Blooper” video at (start at the 3 minute 45 sec mark).

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


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