The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for the ‘skeptical community’ Category

Denying Evolution and Climate Science Panel at DragonCon 2014

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 20, 2014

This past DragonCon, I moderated one panel at the Skeptrack titled “Denying Evolution and Climate Science” which was meant to address the issue of science denial in modern society.  We all know that for decades science deniers (most notably creationists and climate science deniers) have done all they can to sow confusion and doubt on key topics in science.  Throughout the years, they have “evolved” a number of tactics for doing so, and now it appears there is a new one on the horizon.  Recently they have begun to explicitly acknowledge that they aren’t scientists, but that it shouldn’t matter because “why should we listen to those scientists anyway?”  This panel discussed this trend, its implications for science in general, and how to respond to science denial.

Participating with me in this panel was Skepticality’s Derek Colanduno, the SGU’s Dr. Steven Novella, David DiSalvo, and Barbara Drescher.  And, thanks to Derek, we have an excellent audio recording of the panel courtesy of the Skepticality podcast – forward to the 33:40 mark to get started…


Image Source

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SkepchickCon 2014 Audio

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 23, 2014

I’ve finally caught up on things, and in so doing I came to the realization that I hadn’t yet uploaded the audio of the panels upon which I participated at SkepchickCon this past July.  So, without further ado, I will place a brief description of each panel below followed by a PowerPoint file with the audio of each embedded within it.  Enjoy!  :)

Teens Ask A Scientist
Our panel of scientists will answer questions, with the answers geared for the teen crowd.

It’s (Not) Written in the Stars
We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Build a Better Iron Man
The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe described *everything* you need to build your own Iron Man armor and Mjolnir. How scientific were they?

Physics of the Whedonverse
How much of the physics in Whedon’s work has parallels in reality? Scientists will discuss the physics behind everything from terraforming, stellar formation, space travel and alternate realities to magic, superpowers, and Buffy’s fighting ability.

Why Do We Believe in Ghosts?
Why do people, even some skeptics, still believe in ghosts? What accounts for the popularity of ghost stories and ghost-hunting in real life, on TV, in movies? We’ll discuss the psychological and sociocultural reasons and differences in ghost beliefs.

SkepchickCon 2014 Audio

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“The Limits of Skepticism?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2014

In honor of the upcoming Skeptrack at Dragon*Con 2014, I wanted to share the video of my favorite panel from last year’s Skeptrack, titled “The Limits of Skepticism?”  In this panel, we discussed a variety of heady topics related to skepticism, philosophy, religion, God, politics, cultural issues and how far skepticism can and cannot go.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.

And, with that, here’s the video.  Enjoy! :)

The Limits of Skepticism?

The Limits of Skepticism 2 - DragonCon 2013


Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SkepchickCon 2014 at CONvergence!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2014

Coming up this Fourth of July weekend in Minneapolis, MN is that annual gathering of sci-fi and geek fun: CONvergence.  And where there’s CONvergence, there’s also SkepchickCon! :)


I’m happy to announce that the usual fun science and skeptical endeavors will be on full display at this year’s SkepchickCon events.  This includes a number of panels and discussions related to all things science, skepticism, and feminism; and yes, yours truly will be participating on some of these panels!

In addition, the Skepchicks are planning a variety of interesting “skeptical salons” and other activities related to learning some fun skepticism and science while also partying like you’re at CONvergence :)

So if you’re at CONvergence this year, drop on by some of the cool panels and check out the Skepchick party suite.  And for those of you who couldn’t make it, then I will – as usual – provide a full account of my experiences via this blog, so stay tuned!

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Anti-Science and Science Denial: It Isn’t Just for the Political Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2014

I have used up many electrons on this blog discussing the problem of anti-science and science denial regarding creationist and climate science denier movements.  I have also discussed many times about how those movements seek to destroy the credibility of science in order to prop up either their religious or political worldviews, which usually tend to be quite right-wing in nature.

However, lest we cease to be critical thinkers about the problem of anti-science and science denial, let us not over simplify the issue in to being a problem of only the political right.  Case in point: many of the worst of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) are strongly left-leaning in their politics.  This is emphasized rather hilariously in this recent Daily Show segment:

An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy


 No, this chart isn’t the idiocy.  The idiotic part is that anyone would seriously deny that vaccinations are the reason why these deadly diseases went away.

In the segment, the Daily Show interviewer discusses the topic of vaccines with someone who can only be described as an ideological science-denier… who is on the political left.  I really like how Orac at Respectful Insolence breaks this down:

In the piece, in particular Bee makes fun of a crunchy lifestyle blogger, Sarah Pope, who, after establishing her liberal-crunchy bona fides (after Bee’s amusing prompts, of course), rattles off pretty much every antivaccine trope and bit of misinformation and pseudoscience in the antivaccine canon, claiming herd immunity is myth, that vaccines cause autism, that they don’t work, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yesterday, Pope wrote about the interview thusly:

” “The Epidemic of Idiocy” that The Daily Show segment labels the no-vaccination movement is head scratching given that the anti-vaccine movement is being led by the most educated in our society.

Are all those parents with college degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and, yes, even many MDs that are saying no to shots for their kids complete idiots?

Highly doubtful!

No-vax parents aren’t the real “science deniers”. In fact, they the ones most interested in the science because they are digging into the research and demanding unbiased, objective data to support vaccination, not the slanted version presented by the CDC and conventional pediatricians like Dr. Offit who makes millions supporting the very industry that handsomely maintains his lifestyle.”

Uh, no.

No matter how much Ms. Pope wants to claim the mantle of science through the University of Google, she and her fellow antivaccine activists are just as antiscience as anthropogenic global climate change denialists and creationists (a.k.a., evolution denialists). They also share another important trait with people holding those antiscience beliefs. They’re just really, really good atmotivated reasoning, and one reason they’re so good at motivated reasoning is because they are educated and smart, which is why vaccine denialists and other science denialists are sometimes referred to as “smart idiots.” It’s a very apt term. I do, however thank The Daily Showfor making me aware of Ms. Pope. Her blog looks like—shall we say?—a highly “target-rich” environment for potential future blog posts.

However, we should take care to not oversimplify the AVM and the political affiliations of its adherents, because while there are many AVMers who are left-wing, there is also a strong (and apparently growing) right-wing element to vaccine denial.  More from Orac:

However, there is also a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well, including General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules.

Indeed, many of the the antivaccine people and groups whom I monitor tend to be anything but liberal politically. For example, The Canary Party, a rabidly antivaccine group that pushes the idea that toxins in vaccines are responsible for autism and all sorts of health issues and that autism “biomed” quackery is the way to cure vaccine injury recently teamed up with the East Bay Tea Party to oppose vaccine mandates in California. Moreover, the Canary Party has also recently been sucking up to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), with one of its major financial backers, Jennifer Larson, contributing a lot of money to Issa’s campaign (indirectly, of course) in order to buy influence and win a hearing by his committee examining autism and focused on vaccines as one potential cause. Fortunately, Issa’s hearing in 2012 was a bust.

So what are we to conclude about this question of anti-vaccination and political affiliation?  Well, the answer appears to be “not much” because it seems the question hasn’t been rigorously studied…

Unfortunately, there aren’t actually a lot of good data examining whether there is a correlation between political affiliation and anti-vaccine views. I blogged about this very issue a three years ago, discussing an article by Chris Mooney looking at polling data and doing the best he could to characterize the politics of vaccine denialism.

At this point, about the only thing I can say is that regardless of the political motivations of those who buy into and promote the dangerous nonsense espoused by the AVM, their lies and pseudoscience must be countered.  So how do we do that?  How do we in the skeptical and pro-science movement formulate an effective message to counter the AVM’s noise and misinformation?  Well, I am happy to say that last year a study was published (via the JREF and Women Thinking, Inc.) on this very question.  Please give it a look :)

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap” Video from Skepticamp 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2014

I posted about a year ago the audio of my talk on how to more effectively communicate with creationists from the 2013 Chicago Skepticamp, and now I’m happy to share with you all the actual video of that talk.  For reference, here is a link to an earlier blog post I made on the topic.  Enjoy! :)

Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap

Skepticamp 2013 Talk



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

Fight Against Cancer Quack Burzynski Goes to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2014

Last year I blogged about how this blog has joined a coalition of skeptical blogs titled the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).

The impetus for this is a particularly loathsome man – Stanislaw Burzynski – who is a quack that promises to cure people of their cancer, despite the fact that decades of research show that his claimed cancer cures don’t work.  Unfortunately, Burzynski has been able to skirt common decency, good medical science, and the FDA regulators and continue to practice his quackery, resulting in an unfortunate number of people going to him in the hopes that he can cure them.  A good rundown of Burzynski’s history of fraud can be found by listening to this recent podcast of Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the SPCP has decided to take down Burzynski due to the particularly flagrant manner in which he practices his dangerous pseudoscience; it will also serve as a message to all other medical quacks and charlatans to be on notice because we in the skeptical community are watching.

Burzynski SI Title

Well, now things are going to the next level – straight to Congress.  Burzynski has been able to get away with so much for so long because he has political allies in high places, so we’ve decided to fight fire with fire.  My skeptical colleagues at the SPCP have put together a petition asking Congress to step in and force the FDA to do its job and properly investigate, regulate, and (hopefully) put out of business Burzynski and his quack clinic.

Please consider signing and passing along this petition; the text of the petition follows – click here to sign:

Protect Desperate Patients from the Houston Cancer Quack

Petition by Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients

We are writing to request your urgent attention to a matter that involves the exploitation of cancer patients, their families, and their communities.

For nearly 40 years, Houston cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski has been treating cancer patients with an unproven chemotherapy he calls “antineoplastons.” Following an agreement in the 1990s with the FDA, he has recently only been able to administer the drug under the auspices of clinical trials. For this questionable treatment, he charges patients exorbitant fees (often hundreds of thousands of dollars) to participate in a trial, and he claims to cure the most difficult, almost uniformly fatal pediatric brain cancers. His claims are not supported by science and evidence; despite opening more than 60 trials in the last 15 years, he has not published the results of a single completed clinical trial.

On Friday, November 15, 2013, many concerning issues about Dr. Burzynski were detailed in a front-page exposé in USA Today, including his past use of antineoplastons as an AIDS and Parkinson’s treatment. Sickeningly, critics of the Clinic have found a pattern going back 20 years of patients publicly celebrating unambiguous signs of disease progression as signs that antineoplastons were working.

The FDA recently released site inspection notes about Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinic. Their findings were horrific:

– Burzynski “failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care.”
— “Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses“
— Burzysnki allowed overdoses continue: “Overdose incidents have been reported to you [....] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.”
— All baseline tumor measurements were destroyed: “Your [...] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment [...] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” Without any measurement there is no way to determine any actual efficacy of the treatment, making Burzynski’s claims unsupported and unpublishable.
— Burzynski’s reported success rates are inflated: He “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response [...] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” Nonetheless, these inaccurate outcomes are used to convince dying patients antineoplastons can save them.

Other issues cited by the FDA included:

– Paying patients who failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study were admitted to Burynski’s trials;
— Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols, and many exhibiting toxic effects were not removed from treatment;
— Adverse events were not reported in a timely fashion (in one case 7 years);
— The FDA received two different versions of a pediatric patient’s records during an inspection, especially significant because the child apparently died of a known side effect of antineoplastons.

Shockingly, these observations were made after a decade of abysmal site reviews by the FDA. Currently, Burzynski’s trials are subject to a partial clinical hold, which means Burzynski is still treating patients already on his protocol.

We are asking that you:

– Encourage the FDA to dissolve the Burzynski Research Institute’s clearly deficient Institutional Review [ethical oversight] Board and toplace a permanent hold on any more cancer patients receiving antineoplastons;
— Investigate how Burzynski has been allowed to conduct experiments on pediatric cancer patients while repeatedly cited for violating rules designed to prevent uncontrolled human experimentation.
— Investigate why the FDA allowed this abysmal researcher to advance to phase 3 clinical trials without publishing a single phase 2 trial;
— Protect cancer patients from abuse through legislation and FDA oversight reform.

Please help end a medical ethics scandal that involves eight times as many patients as the Tuskegee Experiment. I look forward to your response on this important matter.

Click here to Sign the Petition!

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Help Donate to Fund LogiCon in Arkansas

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2014

In my most recent post, I mentioned the biggest and most famous of skeptical conferences, The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014; however, we in the skeptical community should also be aware there is much being done at the local and regional level that deserves our support.  And sometimes this is happening in places you’d not normally expect… like in Arkansas.


There is a free skeptical/atheist conference called LogiCon taking place at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR over the weekend of April 19-20th, and they need our help.  Their funding fell through and they need only $3000 to keep this conference running.  And if you are wondering what will take place at this event, just take a look at their page and you’ll see why I’m advertising this request for donations on my blog.

Whether it’s hosting Dorian Sagan (yes, that’s Carl Sagan’s son) or premiering a new documentary about atheism called “A Scarlet Letter”, I think you can agree with me that this is a worthwhile endeavor… all the more so since it is taking place right in the middle of the Bible Belt, where critical thinking can often go by the wayside.

If you can help with a cash donation, please contribute here.  Otherwise, please spread the word – thanks! :)


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The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014: Skepticism and The Brain

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014

I just wanted to pass along the news that registration has opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas this July.  This year’s theme is “Skepticism and The Brain”, and it promises to be an educational and enlightening experience.  Read on for more…



We are thrilled to announce that The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) returns in just a few months: July 10-13, 2014 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Our theme this year – Skepticism and the Brain – is focused on the cognitive and brain sciences and how they inform the project of skepticism. Keynote speakers include the acclaimed philosopher, cognitive scientist, and best selling author Daniel Dennett and Scientific AmericanEditor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. Other speakers include neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, Australia’s Dr. Karl, Evolution & Human Behavior Editor-in-Chief Robert Kurzban, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience authors Scott Lilienfeld and Sally Satel, M.D., influential memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, clinical neurologist Steven Novella, M.D., immunologist Paul Offit, M.D., National Center for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott, Skeptic Editor-in-Chief Michael Shermer, psychologists and best selling authors Carol Tavris and Richard Wiseman, and many, many more!

The inimitable George Hrab returns as our Master of Ceremonies. As Pacific Standard magazine recently described, Hrab’s “vaudeville-style” has set the tone for “what is perhaps the world’s preeminent gathering of self-proclaimed skeptics.”

This annual celebration of critical thinking is an unparalleled opportunity to make like-minded friends, enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief. TAM has become the must-go-to event for skeptics and science advocates.

Join James Randi and over a thousand other like-minded folks for four days of fun, friendship, and critical thinking!


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Help Get Charles Darwin on an E-Book

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2014

One of the most memorable science and skeptical experiences I had was to organize a Darwin Day event a few years back wherein my local group – Darwin’s Bulldogs – hosted Charles Darwin impersonator and historian Brian “Fox” Ellis.  Brian is an amazing performer, and we packed the room with people who were mesmerized by his work.

Now I’d like to help Brian out with his campaign to create an e-book (that incorporates both audio and video) through a campaign called “History… In Person!” that features Charles Darwin and many other figures of historical and scientific note.  Read on for more information, and please consider donating to his cause…

Darwin impersonator and excellence in science educational policy advocate, Brian “Fox” Ellis is working with a great team of educators, artists and techies to help produce a series of living books, HISTORY… In Person! They are using crowd sourced funding, which means that if you want to support this project you purchase books before-hand to help them move forward. You can be part of this team and produce a living book that you can Print on Demand, read on your tablet, listen to as a podcast and download as video, giving you an intimate encounter with historical characters as portrayed by Brian “Fox” EllisYou get to help decide which characters get produced. Join this crowd sourced funding campaign and win cool perks including a chance to be a costumed character in the film! Share this link on social media and invite your friends to vote! If we get enough folks to support Darwin, he has agreed to offer a free program in the Chicago area for Darwin’s Bulldogs and donate Biography Cards to the Clergy Project! Follow the link and choose your perk for supporting HISTORY… In Person!


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