The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for January, 2012

12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 31, 2012

I just wanted to share with you a blog post from my friend Phil over at Skeptic Money titled “12 Hottest Celebrity Atheists and Agnostics” which outlines some really good looking celebrities.  But more important than the sexy pics (rowr) are some of the things they say. Check out Phil’s post; meanwhile, I’ll share my favorite… Mr. George Clooney :)

George Clooney on why he's an atheist/agnostic

I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life–the only thing I know to exist–to be wasted. (LA times)

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Fun of “Sh*t Skeptics Say”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 28, 2012

While presenting at the totally awesome Chicago Skepticamp today, during a break I saw something really funny: the “Sh*t Skeptics Say” video on YouTube.  The video is the work of the fine folks at Skeptically Pwned!, a group of comedic skeptics who spoof various kinds of nonsense and woo.  Check out their newest video, and tell others about their channel… (warning: NSFW)

Posted in humor, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Educating/Debunking: What’s the Difference?” Video from Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2012

This past September I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and I participated in many events and interviews, etc.  However, in my role as both a skeptic and a teacher, one of the most fruitful things I did was to participate in the Skeptrack discussion of how to approach the question of debunking in the context of education.  The panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect.  The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture.  Below is the video footage of the discussion; I hope you find it useful…

Image and video footage courtesy of the fine folks at Skeptrack.org :)

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

NCSE Now Taking on Climate Change Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2012

There was some very welcome news this week on the science education front: the National Center for Science Education, long associated with the strong defense of evolutionary science curricula in public schools, is now joining the cause of defending climate science from the deniers.  This statement from the NCSE illustrates why they’ve taken this important step…

Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help. …

In true NCSE fashion, they provide a page of resources for teachers, scientists, parents, and concerned citizens to help with the promotion of good climate science education while also battling back against the climate science deniers.  Check it out and pass it along…

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Debunking Handbook

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 16, 2012

I recently listened to an episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast titled “The Debunking Handbook” which dealt with the question of how to most effectively go about “debunking” various myths, pseudosciences, and misconceptions.  The general thrust of the episode, which I highly recommend, is that most of us who call ourselves skeptics don’t really do that good of a job of communicating our debunking in a successful manner.  In fact, many skeptics actually make the problem worse by inadvertently reinforcing the bunk they are trying to debunk!

Needless to say, this kind of thing is right up my alley, and I think it is well worth your while to take heed of the advice given in “The Debunking Handbook”…

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

Posted on 27 November 2011 by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

 

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

ANOTHER End-of-the-World Prediction…

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 15, 2012

Despite the faux-surprise in the title of this post, I am not in the least surprised that there’s yet another true-believer who is trying to convince their followers that the end-of-the-world is just around the corner…

Former Worldwide Church of God preacher says Jesus Christ is returning on May 27, 2012 and that today marks the end of time and beginning of “half time”

Ronald Weinland

Ronald Weinland, who considers himself a prophet of God, continues to warn that Jesus Christ is returning on May 27, 2012.

For those who do not believe him and mock his message, Weinland claims that they will die from cancer.

His website, Church of God – PKG, claims that various end times events were triggered by the scattering of the Worldwide Church of God after the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong.  With Armstrong no longer at the helm, Weinland claims he “is the pastor of God’s Church on earth, has also been appointed by the God of Abraham to be His end-time prophet and one of the two end-time witnesses (and spokesman of both), preceding the return of Jesus Christ on May 27, 2012.” …

I like the whole “you’ll die from cancer for mocking me” bit; it just seems to show that the good “Prophet” Weinland is full of Christs’s love.

Seriously though… this again?  Wasn’t it just last year when there was another high-profile failure of the end-of-the-world prediction?  Now here’s another prediction of doomsday (but this time it’s the real thing, honest!). Wouldn’t you think that, given their terrible track record of failed religious predictions of this nature that people would learn to just ignore these loons by now?

Thankfully, most people will wisely ignore doom-mongers such as this self-proclaimed “Prophet”, but there will be those will be bamboozled.  As for me, I just cannot wait to see what sort of excuses are offered on May 28th ;)

Posted in doomsday, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A New Year and New Challenges from Creationists

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 10, 2012

Well, I have to say this much for creationists: they certainly are persistent.  Despite mountains of solid scientific evidence proving evolution (and thus disproving most views of creationism, such as the most common variant – young-earth creationism) and decades of court rulings against the promotion of religiously-oriented concepts such as “scientific creationism” and “intelligent design”, the creationists just keep on coming.

Case in point, here are some recent legal developments from Kentucky (no surprise there) and… New Hampshire?  Okay, Kentucky I can understand, but seriously… NEW HAMPSHIRE?!!  Wow, methinks some of my Yankee brothers and sisters up north are going to have a serious case of voters remorse.

Once you read the proposals out of Kentucky and New Hampshire, it is easy to see the same old tired (and flat wrong, both scientifically and legally) creationist arguments.  From the Kentucky case:

The Herald-Leader reports that Superintendent Ricky D. Line of Hart County public schools believes a new state-wide test for Kentucky high school students treats evolution as fact, not theory, and that the test will require schools to teach accordingly. Line raised the issue with state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Kentucky Board of Education (KBOE) members. Line wants them to reconsider the “Blueprint” for Kentucky’s new end-of-course test in biology.

Line contends that the test essentially would “require students to believe that humans … evolved from primates such as apes and … were not created by God.” “I have a very difficult time believing that we have come to a point … that we are teaching evolution … as a factual occurrence, while totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us,” he said. “My feeling is if the Commonwealth’s site-based councils, school board members, superintendents and parents were questioned … one would find this teaching contradictory to the majority’s belief systems.” …

Hmmm, so the superintendent’s argument is that people shouldn’t be taught anything which doesn’t fit with their preconceived notions?  Interesting, seeing as how most preconceptions that people have regarding science are incorrect, the superintendent’s argument basically boils down to an argument for remaining ignorant.  Nice.  I have to wonder if we’ll hear the superintendent and his colleagues complain about how KY students are not properly prepared to compete in the modern world of 21st century science and technology?  With an attitude like the one he’s displaying, he’d better get ready for a LOT of complaining regarding the latter…

Also note the implication in the article about how teachers could teach both (all) views, as if creationism is on par with evolution as a scientific theory.  To that argument, I have one response…

Yup… a picture is worth a thousand words :)

Now on to the New Hampshire situation.  Fortunately, the National Center for Science Education is on the case, and here’s their update:

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Questions vs. Answers

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2012

I recently wrote another guest post for the James Randi Educational Foundation over at the Swift blog, and I just wanted to share it here as well.  I hope you find it thought-provoking…

Questions VS Answers

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no children of my own, and in all honesty I try to avoid little kids when I can.  However, there is one thing I find really endearing about kids, especially the younger ones: their unbridled curiosity and willingness to ask questions.

I think the reason why I like this curious nature in children is pretty simple: to them the world is so new and fresh, everything is wondrous and interesting.  In addition, they come at things so much more openly and honestly than most adults, because they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word and have no embarrassment whatsoever about asking direct questions about pretty much anything.  To them, no subject is off limits or taboo; they manifest the spirit of free inquiry in its most unblemished sense.

And this sense of free inquiry and curiosity usually comes out in the form of asking question after question on all manner of topics.  I think it is most especially interesting when it is related to topics regarding mythology, religion, life, death, the afterlife, etc.  And how many times have you been interrogated by a particularly precocious young child, only to be bombarded by more questions once you’ve provided what you thought were adequate answers?  I have had this happen to me more times than I can count, both as an educator and an uncle.

Sadly, this wonderful behavior of kids doesn’t often last into their adult years.  Somewhere between those wonder-filled years of curiosity and college age, a lot of kids are too often encouraged by the adults around them to specifically not ask questions, especially on certain topics (often on the most important topics).  Why this is I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses…

I think part of the problem is that some adults are made quite uncomfortable by the questions that little children can ask, precisely because they tend to break those social taboos which have been conditioned into the adults.  Another thing that happens is that some adults tend to discourage children from asking questions because the adults don’t have the answer to the question, or they’re just tired of the kid asking questions, so rather than admit ignorance (or frustration) they tell the child to stop asking questions.  And while kids are innately curious, if they get exposed often enough to the adults in their life telling them not to ask such questions, then they’ll eventually start to believe that they shouldn’t be asking such questions.  And that’s a sad thing to see.

For example, I witness something along these lines a couple of years ago as I was traveling to Utah with some of my family.  One of my nieces, a little girl of six years of age, and I were looking out over the gorgeous scenery of Bryce Canyon, admiring all of the columns, stratigraphy, and erosion patterns within the canyon walls.  And, in accordance with that curiosity of young children, my niece asked me where the canyon came from.  I proceeded to explain to her about the idea of erosion due to rainfall and the flow of water, pointing out to her some very small rivulets in the dirt off to the side of the trail due to a recent rainstorm.  I further explained that given enough time, these erosive processes can eventually produce wondrous geologic structures such as the canyon which stretched out before us.

I eagerly awaited her next question, when something very interesting happened.  My little niece’s older sister (a teenager) came along and told her that “God did it, just like we learned in Sunday school and the Bible says in Genesis”.  I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from my older niece, seeing as how the members of her immediate family tend to be young-earth creationists who believe the Earth was created in six literal days about 6000-10,000 years ago.  But what did surprise me (and delight me greatly) was my younger niece’s response to her older sister’s “explanation”; she looked up at her older sister and, without skipping a beat, simply asked: “Yeah, but how did God do it?” …

Click here to read the rest of the post at Randi.org

Posted in education, free inquiry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the Skeptical Movement Needs “More Than Men”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 5, 2012

**Note: for some background you may find reading my previous two posts on this issue to be useful…

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Note to My Fellow Men at Conferences: Women Don’t Dig Douchebags

********************************

Those of us who have been in the skeptical movement for some time have noticed something very interesting happening of late: the movement is becoming more diverse.  For example, when I attended my first skeptical conference, TAM 4 back in 2006, I noticed that most attendees were white men (I certainly have nothing against white guys, especially since I’m one of them).  By the most recent Amaz!ng Meeting this past summer, a mere five years later, I saw much more diversity, especially in the context of the ratio of men vs. women: about 40% of the TAM 9 attendees were women (while roughly half of the conference speakers were women).

Of course, I see this as a good thing.  But there will be some inevitable growing pains within the movement as the skeptical demographic grows larger.  Evidence of this fact is readily apparent from seeing numerous online arguments (some say flame wars) regarding various diversity issues within the last year or so.  Most of us will remember “Elevatorgate” and the ensuing discussion it set off; then there was the touchy question of how physicist Lawrence Krauss handled a situation regarding a friend’s run-in with the police over questions of inappropriate sexual behavior; and it seems the discussion set of by these (and other) situations shows no signs of abating.

Take, for instance, this recent blog post and related comment thread over at my skeptical colleague Stephanie Zvan’s “Almost Diamonds” blog titled “Dammit, DJ” (tip o’ the hat to Stephanie for letting me know I was invoked in the ensuing comment thread, hence this post).  I won’t go into the details here (read Stephanie’s post for yourself), but I would like to make a few quick, general remarks.

First, while some people within our movement seem to want to plant flags or “take sides”, I urge caution in this regard. I have seen some in the discussion of Stephanie’s post come down “on the DJ [that is, DJ Grothe] side” while others have come down “on the Rebecca [Watson, of Skepchick] side”, with many barbs and arrows slung back and forth.  I think this is a bit silly, folks.  I know both DJ and Rebecca, and I have worked (and partied) with both of them, and I can honestly say that I respect them both not only as skeptical colleagues but as social acquaintances as well.  I also think that both of them make valid and invalid points regarding this whole diversity issue; but I am willing to let them get out there and slug it out, because I view that sort of debate as not only critical, but fundamentally unavoidable, as the skeptical movement grows.  I, for one, am happy to see people such as DJ and Rebecca on the front lines of this argument.

Now, having said all of that, let me get to my second point: that is about the tone of these arguments.  I have seen far too many people act like utter assholes in these kinds of online disputes, to the point of seeing real threatening and insulting language being tossed about quite loosely.  It isn’t all one way (such things rarely are), but some of the most disturbing stuff seems to have been directed at women from men, so since I’m a guy I will briefly address that.

What is it about the Internet that brings out the worst in some people, to the point that they say the most foul and irresponsible things?  Men (and I use that term loosely) who try to use the Internet as a venue for spewing some of the filth that I’ve seen directed at some women are hardly worth the label of “men”, because that label only applies to mature males who are secure in both their manhood and their relationships with others (specifically, in this context, with women).  The douchebags who talk this smack anonymously are simple cowards, because I strongly doubt that most of them would ever dare to speak in that manner directly to a woman’s face in a public setting.  In short, the following picture describes these clowns pretty well…

Which brings me to my final point: the fact that these knuckle-dragging goons feel the need to use such thuggish language and behavior towards women illustrates perfectly well the need for more diversity within skepticism.  This also illustrates the need for more white guys like me to call out our fellow white male skeptics on this sort of bullshit and argue for more diversity.  Thus, I am happy to announce my involvement in a new effort to promote diversity and understanding on these topics via the More Than Men project: a project run by white guys with the purpose of speaking in white-guy speak to other white guys in the hopes that we can “talk to our own” and foster more understanding on these issues.  If you would like, I encourage you to check out the More Than Men website and consider making a contribution (not money, but thoughts) there.

So in closing, let me send a message to my skeptical brothers and sisters out there: guys, don’t be ashamed of who you are, but also understand that there is a profound need to understand things from a non-male, non-white perspective; and if you wish to grow the movement you cannot get around this need.  And ladies, please understand that it really is hard for some guys to gain this understanding of things from a non-male perspective; it takes time, and sometimes we will challenge you on certain points while agreeing on others.  And, quite frankly, on some things some men and women may never be able to see eye-to-eye, but we shouldn’t allow that to stop us from continuing the discussion.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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