The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for March, 2012

Quick View of Evolution vs. Creationism

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2012

In my next post on the whole creationism thing, I ran across the following graphic (I cannot recall where) that I think sums up much of the creationist view quite nicely.  Essentially, much of what they believe boils down to an extremely egocentric view of the world, where they are – of course – the “pinnacle of creation”.  Of course, the scientific reality differs from this view

For those interested in a deeper analysis of this idea, take a look at something called The Great Chain of Being.

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

The “Center for Unintelligent Design” and How ID-Creationists Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2012

So I figure that I would make some posts regarding the good old evolution-creationism issue, and I wanted to start with this little gem: The Center for Unintelligent Design.  It’s a website which shows just how unintelligent it would be for some Higher Power (i.e., God) to purposely design organisms in the manner in which they exist on Earth; as such, it decidedly calls into question the whole basis of the so-called “intelligent design” argument by creationists.   While their current list is over 130 examples long, here are some of my favorites:

“The fact that the liver is the only internal organ that can spontaneously regenerate when damaged.”

“Human conception – having to throw 250 million darts at the bullseye!”

“Giving birth through the pelvic girdle instead of through the abdominal wall
is the direct cause of endless horrors. Deaths in childbirth, and, if possible
even worse, brain damage during delivery either mechanically or through
perinatal anoxia. And anyone who quotes Genesis 3:16 in excuse is a moral monster.”

“Putting the recreational area right next to the sewage outflow.”

In addition, on their main page is a very interesting email discussion between the website author and Dr. Steve Fuller, a sociologist who is supportive of intelligent design (as a science, seemingly) and also a proponent of various dubious views on postmodernism in regards to science.  Fuller testified in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial on the side of the ID-creationists, and his testimony was apparently quite detrimental to their arguments.  And once you read the email exchange below, you’ll understand why…

From: Steve Fuller
Sent: Sep 18, 2011
To: Keith Gilmour

Dear Keith,

Thanks for this. You might perhaps make more headway with ID people if you understood the position better. The problem of apparent ‘unintelligent design’ in nature is one that people with ID sympathies have long tackled. Simply look up the literature on ‘theodicy’.

Steve Fuller

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

From: Keith Gilmour
Sent: Mon 19/09/2011
To: Steve Fuller
Subject: Thank You

Dear Prof Fuller,

I am immensely grateful to you for your ‘stunning’ reply to my recent email. In just one line, you inadvertently ‘destroy’ the notion that ID is science:

“The problem of apparent ‘unintelligent design’ in nature is one that people with ID sympathies have long tackled. Simply look up the literature on ‘theodicy’.”

By admitting that ‘unintelligent design’ is a branch of theology, you necessarily admit that ‘Intelligent’ Design is also a branch of theology.

Not quite what I was expecting, but absolutely priceless!

Many thanks again,
Keith Gilmour

[emphasis added]

For those who don’t already know, theodicy is the branch of theology which seeks to address the philosophical and religious “problem of evil” in regards to God’s nature.  Yes, religion… not science.

I love it when the pseudo-scientists shoot themselves in the foot :)

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

Freedom From Religion Foundation to Air Ad on CBS

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 24, 2012

Given the amazing success of the Reason Rally this weekend in Washington, DC (roughly 20,000 secularists/atheists/non-religious people showing up in the rain is a success to me :) ), it seems more than appropriate that the Freedom From Religion Foundation runs an ad which will receive a nationwide airing on CBS on Sunday and Monday.  The ad opens with President John F. Kennedy’s famous remarks about an absolute separation between church and state.  Here’s the ad:

Wonderfully done, and well-timed.  This is an especially important time for those of us in the non-believing community to step up and be counted, given the preponderance of religiously-oriented stupidity on display in election-year politics these days.  If we hope to uphold church-state separation and fight back against those who would turn our secular republic into a theocracy, we need to get vocal and get active!

Hat tip to The Friendly Atheist for bringing this to my attention! :)

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

More Evidence Against Those Supposed “Faster-Than-Light” Neutrinos

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2012

In the ongoing story of the supposedly “faster-than-light” neutrinos discovered last year, there is another big mark against this claim being the real thing: the failure to replicate the phenomenon in an independent experiment.  As I stated then, most especially when dealing with an extraordinary claim such as this, one cannot begin to draw any conclusions until there have been separate, independent attempts to verify and replicate the results.  Until then, we should suspend judgment and remain skeptical of extraordinary claims.

Well, more of that judgment is now in… in a recent BBC News article, it is reported that a team (called Icarus) independent from the original research team (called Opera) from the same facility, Gran Sasso, in Italy failed to find the apparent “faster-than-light” signal which caused such an uproar last September:

Neutrinos clocked at light-speed in new Icarus test

An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light.

Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein’s theory of relativity.

A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.

The results have been posted online.

The results in September, from the Opera group at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, shocked the world, threatening to upend a century of physics as well as relativity – which holds the speed of light to be the Universe’s absolute speed limit.

Now the Icarus group, based at the same laboratory, has weighed in again, having already cast some doubt on the original Opera claim. …

This is an excellent example of how real science, especially cutting-edge science, progresses.  Claims are not taken at face value; they are always open to criticism and are not necessarily accepted (especially if they go against well-established theories such as Einstein’s relativity) without good, strong, repeatable evidence.

In short, as Carl Sagan stated: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

And the evidence in support of the claims of “faster-than-light” neutrinos seems to be getting less extraordinary every day.

Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

We Shouldn’t Be Unreasonable About the Reason Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2012

**Update (3-20-12): In the spirit of promoting unity, as opposed to divisiveness, among our community in regards to the Reason Rally, its organization and promotion, etc. I would like to give my friend Phil at Skeptic Money a shout out.  That’s because Phil has really put his money where his mouth is, because his company – Polaris Financial – is the first corporate sponsor of the Reason Rally!  I think we could take a lesson from Phil on a few things…

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

So I just read a fantastic post by my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist about the upcoming Reason Rally in Washington, DC this coming weekend (Saturday, March 24th).  Hemant is one of the organizers of the Reason Rally, and he and a lot of other people have basically been working themselves like crazy to get this thing together.  Indeed, it promises to be a historic event: the largest gathering of secular/atheist/non-religious/skeptical folk ever in our nation’s capitol.  Check out the Reason Rally’s website if you haven’t yet…

This brings me to Hemant’s post.  It seems there is a LOT of complaining going on in our community about some of the speakers at the Rally.  Here are some points from Hemant’s post…

So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…

… Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

… You can argue that the Rally needs higher “standards,” but you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about us. This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. This is about getting all those people not attending the rally (or who don’t even know there are so many other atheists out there) to notice us and maybe — just maybe — get the courage to come out of the closet or attend a local atheist gathering. … [emphasis added]

There are many more good points that Hemant made in his post, and I generally applaud him for sticking to his guns.  I, for one, think that he and the other organizers have done a damn fine job of putting this whole thing together (despite the fact that I have my own criticisms, which I shall keep to myself, thank you.)  And I say that not just as an onlooker, but also as someone who, like Hemant, helped to organize a major conference (though nothing on this scale!) in Chicago back in 2004.  As such, I can appreciate the headache that Hemant and his colleagues are dealing with now. It was enough of a pain that I don’t think I ever want to do it again, so bully for the Reason Rally organizers!

All that said, folks, I think all of this complaining and infighting is in many ways a good problem for our movement to have. It shows that our skeptical/atheist/reason-based/anti-woo/whatever movement has grown so large that it is getting to the point of divisions showing.  That’s called growing pains, folks; and note the important word in that description: growing :)

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

NASA Video Crushes Mayan Doomsday 2012 Predictions

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2012

The fine folks at NASA have put together a nice, quick video debunking the claims of doomsday related to the supposed end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012.  Check out the video over at Life’s Little Mysteries…

NASA Crushes 2012 Mayan Apocalypse Claims

by Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries Staff Writer

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have put out a new video to address false claims about the “Mayan apocalypse,” a non-event that some people believe will bring the world to an end on Dec. 21.

In the video, which was posted online Wednesday (Mar. 7), Don Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at NASA/JPL, explains away many of the most frequently cited doomsday scenarios. [See video]

Addressing the belief that the calendar used by the ancient Mayan civilization comes to a sudden end in December 2012, and that this will coincide with a cataclysmic, world-ending event, Yeomans said: “Their calendar does not end on December 21, 2012; it’s just the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one. It’s just like on December 31, our calendar comes to an end, but a new calendar begins on January 1.” …

Read the rest at Life’s Little Mysteries

 

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

Sports and Skeptical Activism: Vax Your NCAA Bracket!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2012

The Women Thinking Free Foundation, an organization of which I’m a board member, has come up with a great idea for skeptical activism: setting up NCAA tournament brackets and giving the proceeds to the promotion of vaccinations via the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated campaign!  And how do I know this is such a great idea?  Simple: because I know little to nothing about sports (and I don’t really care about them much either), and this got me to sign up for a bracket!  Check it out and spread the word…

Vax Your Bracket! NCAA Tourney Challenge!

Do you like basketball? Do you hate deadly diseases? Have you been trying to find a way to use basketball to fight deadly diseases? Well, now you can by joining the Vax Your Bracket NCAA Tournament Pool. It costs a mere $10 to enter! Half of the proceeds go to the winner …and the other half go to Women Thinking Free Foundation to help us do things like run our Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated! pro-vaccination campaign. Check out http://www.hugmeimvaccinated.org/to see where the money will be going.That’s right! You can now combine sports with saving the world!

We’re using simple CBS Tournament rules and there will be prizes for the top 3 winners. Plus, did I mention that you’ll be helping to save the world by promoting vaccinations?

Prizes:
1st place: 1/2 of the $$ collected
2nd: Hug Me T-shirt or Hug Me bear
3rd: Money back

The directions are simple:
1. Go to http://www.womenthinkingfree.org/ and click on the “Buy Now” button on the bottom right.
2. Once we get your payment, we’ll send you an invite to the Pool at the email you provided. You’ll have to create an account with CBS Sports. The deadline for sending us payment to join the tournament is Wed March 14 at 9am.
3. Starting on March 11, you can log on to CBS Sports and make your bracket. You must make your bracket before the first tournament game is played on Thursday night.
4. Log into CBS Sports during the tournament to see where your standing is compared with all the other players. We also approve of trash talk.
5. Save the World!

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

The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience: A Humorous Lesson via the “Faster-Than-Light” Neutrinos

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 11, 2012

Okay, I was just browsing online a bit, and I came across this funny little gem.  Yeah, I had to share it, because it makes a really good point about the difference between science and pseudoscience/religion…

NewTrinos

by Nadir on March 9, 2012 at 8:14 am

newtrinos

A lifetime ago by internet reckoning and two weeks ago via calendar, news came of the faulty cable/GPS-sync connection as a possible reason for the Faster-Than-Light Neutrino scandal of late 2011. This is not yet completely confirmed but I won’t say I’m not going to be disappointed if this is verified as the cause, though it seems likely. It’s anticlimactic. Not that anyone actually expected FTL travel here, I was at least hoping for a more interesting explanation for the error. The 60 nanosecond fast data is apparently explicable as a result of a bad connection between the GPS receiver and an electronic card in the computer.Yawn.

Now, in fairness, no one involved ever claimed FTL travel, only that they got that result. And they kept trying to disprove it. So what I’m saying is if you got overexcited and invested in fraudulent companies such as ‘the Neutrino-Warp-Drive Enterprise” you only have yourself to blame.*

One thing however, did come out of all this that shined a recent if not really new, light on a fundamental difference between science and religion. Many scientists were sought for comment and every one I saw or read, despite being pretty skeptical and awaiting further data, never completely rejected the idea out of hand. Solid, time tested ideas exist in science, and dagnabbit the universal-speed-limit is one of ‘em; but there are still no sacred cows or prophets. Knocking down or modifying a theory (or just trying to) only serves to strengthen the endeavor for truth, and never weakens it. This is the opposite of how religions operate, and anyone trying to make science and religion comparable, as seen in arguments time and again, has to deal with this massive cleavage.

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo, religion, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Kony2012″ Meme and the Need for Cautious Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 9, 2012

So this week the Internet basically exploded with a massively-popular viral video titled “Kony2012″ by the non-governmental organization Invisible Children.  Apparently, it is about a brutal Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, who leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Africa and has perpetrated horrendous crimes (think mass rape, kidnapping children and forcing them to be soldiers, and that sort of monstrous stuff) in the name of doing the sort of nasty crap that warlords do in their pursuit of power.  The purpose of the video is, according to Invisible Children, to aim “to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

Here’s the video in question; it’s long (~30 minutes), but a visit to the Invisible Children website will fill you in on the basic idea behind the video.

However, while bringing scumbags like Joseph Kony to justice is no doubt a laudable goal, the fact that this video and related message seemed to spread so quickly (and uncritically, it seems) across the Internet and Twittersphere made me express some cautious skepticism about the whole thing.  And it seems that my skepticism was not without some validity – check out this interesting article from Time.com on the whole “Kony2012″ meme because I think it provides a bit of perspective that should be appreciated…

Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012′ Video

Stuart Price / AFP / Getty Images
Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, answers journalists’ questions in Ri-Kwamba, southern Sudan, Nov. 12, 2006.

Most Americans began this week not knowing who Joseph Kony was. That’s not surprising: most Americans begin every week not knowing a lot of things, especially about a part of the world as obscured from their vision as Uganda, the country where Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commenced a brutal insurgency in the 1980s that lingers to this day.

A viral video that took social media by storm over the past two days has seemingly changed all that. Produced by Invisible Children, a San Diego-based NGO, “Kony2012″ is a half-hour plea for Americans and global netizens to pay attention to Kony’s crimes — which include abducting over 60,000 children over two decades of conflict, brutalizing them and transforming many into child soldiers — and to pressure the Obama Administration to find and capture him. Within hours of the slick production surfacing on social media, it led to #StopKony trending on Twitter, populated Facebook timelines, was publicized by Hollywood celebrities and has been viewed some 10 million times on YouTube. Suddenly, a man on virtually no Westerner’s radar became the international bogeyman of the moment. …

… Yet for the video’s demonstrable zeal and passion, there are some obvious problems. Others more expert in this arena have already done a bit of fact-checking: the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda, which “Kony2012″ seems to portray still as a war-ravaged flashpoint — instead, its presence has been felt mostly in disparate attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation with its own terrible history of rogue militias committing monstrous atrocities. Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends (save perhaps, in one embarrassing moment of blustering sophistry, for American radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh.) The U.S. military’s African command (AFRICOM) has deployed its assets against Kony since at least 2008— a fact that goes conveniently unmentioned in Invisible Children’s video. …

… Not once in the half-hour film do we hear the name of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, whose quasi-authoritarian rule has lasted over 25 years. Arab Spring-inspired protests last year were ruthlessly suppressed and the country’s opposition complains bitterly about the entrenched corruption of the Museveni state. The U.S. State Department voiced its concern over Uganda’s rights record last November. Speaking to the Washington Post, Jedediah Jenkins, a member of Invisible Children, shrugs off charges that the NGO is too much in bed with the status quo in Kampala:

“There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa. If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn’t partner with anyone.”

So I guess the take-away from this one is pretty simple: just like with those chain emails that everyone used to get (and no doubt still does, in all likelihood), when you get a Tweet from someone about ‘an amazing new video’ or whatnot, perhaps it might be worthwhile to spend some time to investigate the issue before you re-Tweet.  Food for thought, folks.
———–

Posted in internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Incredible Time-Lapse Footage from the International Space Station

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 8, 2012

I came across this Youtube video recently of time-lapse footage from the International Space Station’s low-light camera, and it was so awesome I just had to share it.  This video is breath-taking in its artistry, beauty, and it also speaks to the power and utility of science to illustrate our world to us in a manner inaccessible otherwise.

Enjoy the show! :)

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

 
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