The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘blog’

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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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! :)

cropped-skepchickconAtConvergence_960x250

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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Skeptical Teacher Blog: 2012 in review

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 220,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 4 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

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Skeptical Teacher Blog Now on Facebook

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 20, 2012

In what is little more than a shameless plug, I would like to announce that the Skeptical Teacher blog now has a Facebook page :)

If you’re on Facebook, go check it out.  And if you like the blog, then please display your appreciation with  a “Like” and possibly some “Shares” if you are so inclined!

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Thoughts on Calling the Creationist Bluff

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2012

I’m happy to say that I received a bit of a shout out from my scientific and skeptical colleague Greg Laden over at Science Blogs for my recent JREF Swift post “Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?” I think Greg makes some excellent points and observations about my post in his analysis, so I wanted to return the favor and make note of some of his points.

[**Aside: If you're in the Minneapolis area this July 5-8th, drop by Convergence 2012 and see both Greg and me.  We're both participating in the Con, and I look forward to discussing these topics with him (plus anyone else interested) more there.]

For Greg’s full breakdown, check out his entire post…

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

My comment: What’s next? Teaching “The Flintstones” as scientifically-verified, historical fact?  *facepalm*

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. …

Exactly.  The basic premise is this: if you want to allow one non-scientific “alternative” (such as young-earth creationism, the standard form of creationism pushed by fundamentalist Christians in the United States), then you’d better be damn well ready to allow every other alternative that comes knocking at the public school door.  That means, as Greg points out, Islamic views of creationism (that’ll get the Christian fundies’ knickers in a twist), Raelianism (basically the atheistic idea that aliens, not God, created humankind – kind of like in the science fiction movie “Prometheus”), and perhaps even Scientology (which is so nutty I’ll just refer you here for more on that weirdness) should be expected to receive “equal time” in the public school science class.

Greg goes on…

… Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art….

Exactly, again.  Of course, I’m not being serious – at least, I’m not being serious in the sense that I actually want our public science education system to collapse into a deepening, spiraling abyss of stupidity.  Which is what would happen if we allowed every goofball with a hare-brained “theory” to promote their nonsense as science.

Finally, some closing points from Greg on precisely why we shouldn’t be allowing YECs (or Islamic creationists, or Raelians, or Scientologists) to push their religious/pseudoscientific agenda in our schools:

… First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. … [emphasis mine]

Yup.  Just picture this… we allow the pseudoscientists to push whatever nonsense they wish, under the auspices of “equal time” and “teaching all views”.  If we were to seriously do that, how much time do you think would be left over to teach actual science to kids in our schools?  I’m thinking… around two weeks… which should really boost those ACT scores!

Greg continues:

… Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. …

I spoke to this above, but it bears mentioning again because Greg nails it here.  The danger to our public school system goes beyond watering down the science curriculum in school; it also goes to the broader question of funding.  If we allow these creationists to get away with pushing their nonsense as science in schools, then we will reinforce their arguments that funding should be deviated from the public schools to the kinds of blatantly religious schools Greg mentions.  And the less money for the public schools, the less they can afford to teach science (because it’s expensive!), and so on… I think you get the idea.

Greg’s last point, which is also (in my opinion) the most important one:

… Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. …

That’s it, in a nutshell.  We teach science in science classes, period.  If you want to talk about religion and God, there’s a place for that, even in our secular public schools: it’s called comparative religion or philosophy/humanities class.  And if you want to worship a particular deity, there’s also a place for that: it’s called church.

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

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2012

[**Note: The following post is a guest post hosted over at the James Randi Educational Foundation's blog.  Enjoy! :) ]

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state’s public schools to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

“Maybe it has a no-religion clause,” the Tennessean characterized the law’s critics as arguing, “but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose.” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, “waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection.”

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes. …

Click here to continue reading the entire post

Posted in creationism, education, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Cognitive Dissonance in Partisan Politics: The Case of Gas Prices

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 9, 2012

In a follow up to my recent posts (here and here) on the issue of rising U.S. gas prices and how the President and Congress really have little power to affect them, despite the belief by some that they do, I heard an excellent piece on NPR this morning about this very subject.  Of course, in NPR fashion, they went a bit deeper and actually started to discuss in a scientific fashion why it is that Republicans are blaming President Obama for higher gas prices now whereas a few years ago it was Democrats blaming then President Bush for higher gas prices.  Check it out…

Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts?

Charlie Reidel/AP — President Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry shake hands at the end of a presidential debate in 2004 in St. Louis. Researchers want to better understand why partisans’ views of the facts change in light of their political loyalties.

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.

But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.

The flipped perceptions on gas prices isn’t an aberration, said Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan. On a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard. …

Click here to read the entire story

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President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 27, 2012

I was inspired to write the following JREF Swift blog post as a result of my earlier posts (here and here) on the question of gasoline prices in the United States and the powers (perceived or real) of the U.S. president.  I hope you find it enlightening…

President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

On my blog, I recently put together a post – Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction – about higher gas prices and how people are blaming President Obama for it.  As I pointed out there, Republicans blaming him for the increase in the price of gasoline (and oil in general) are wrong for the same reason as when Democrats blamed former President Bush back in 2007: the President doesn’t really have that much power to influence oil and gasoline prices.

So, if it is true that no such power exists for the leaders of our government to affect the price at the pump (and that is true, as the prices are set more by market factors such as global supply and demand of oil), why is it that people want to lay blame upon our mostly blameless leaders?  I struggled with the answer to this question for some time, but I think I have finally hit upon a possible answer: many people, either consciously or not, attribute powers to the President of the United States and Congress that simply do not exist.

And that asks the next obvious question: why do people attribute such powers to our political leaders?  Why is it that many of us assign almost god-like abilities to our decidedly non-god-like and wholly fallible authority figures?

I think the answer is multi-faceted and can give some interesting insights into how we think about a lot of things, especially regarding politically oriented topics.  In addition, an analysis of this topic can lead us into a deeper discussion of a philosophical concept known as “agency”.

First, I think (somewhat cynically) that there are some, if not many, politicians in government who, either actively or inactively, encourage the notion that they have more power than they are in reality.  After all, this is one of the reasons why people vote for candidates running for political office: because they make promises and we expect them to deliver on those promises, whether or not those promises are in any way, shape, or form realistic to achieve.  This also goes for the various subsidiaries which surround the government, such as lobbying groups, political action committees, etc.  But it’s too easy to stop there.

Second, I think that in many ways we are somewhat hard-wired to make inferences to the existence of things which are not there.  In philosophy, this is sometimes referred to as “agency”, where we assign some kind of powers and abilities to an entity through our beliefs about that entity or our behavior towards it.  For example, how many of us have been in the middle of some very important work on the computer when suddenly the program crashes?  No doubt that many of us then engaged in a certain amount of cursing at (not necessarily about) the computer, as if it could not only hear but understand us.  (Aside: my wife works with computers for her career, and she will swear up and down that “they know what we’re thinking”)  The computer itself is real enough, but what about the agency which we assign to it?

But when you step back and think about it, it’s downright silly to rant and rave at the computer.  The most obvious reason for this is that it simply doesn’t work.  Yell at the computer all you want, but that won’t fix the problem; actually trying to solve the relevant hardware and/or software problem will fix things.  The other reason is that, let’s face it, at the end of the day the computer is simply a collection of circuits, wire, switches, and assorted electronics.  Does it really have a mind with which to interact?  The answer, so far with today’s common technology, is a negative, yet for some reason we engage with the computer as if it did have such a mind.  And in so doing, we assign agency to the computer. …

Click here to read the rest of the post

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Politics and Gas Prices Redux: “Obama Has Doubled the Cost of Gas”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2012

As a brief follow up to my recent post titled Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction, I wanted to pass along some deeper analysis that my fellow skeptical blogger Phil over at Skeptic Money did.  It puts a bit more meat on the bones of my previous argument that (duh!) the President of the United States actually has very little power to affect the price of gasoline at the pump.  Read on…

Obama Has Doubled The Cost Of Gas

Blog idea from The Skeptical Teacher. [That's me :)]

This is one of the new right-wing talking points. The interesting point is that it’s true.  Well, the part that the cost of gasoline going up.  However, Obama had nothing to do with it.

“Gas prices since Obama took office have risen by 103.79 percent. No other presidents in recent years have struggled as much with soaring oil prices.” – US News

Here is a graph from DShort.com.

Notice the green line.  It is the price of oil.  In 2008 while the recession was going strong the price of oil was bid up to almost $150 per barrel by crazed speculators.  When the speculators faced the fact of decreased demand due to a global recession the price of oil collapsed to around $40 per barrel.  The result is a dramatic drop in the cost of all things that come from oil – including gasoline.

Obama took office on January 20, 2009 at the very bottom of the price drop.  Many countries are doing much better now than in 2008-9 and global demand has increased.

Just the other day someone told me that the price of oil was going up because Obama was limiting the production of oil.  I thought he was full of crap so I went and searched out the facts for myself.  If you ever want data on energy production go to eia.gov.

I found this specific data that shows US Crude Oil production.  In 2008 (The year before Obama became president) the US produced 4,950,000 barrels per day.  In 2011 the US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day.  An increase of 14.3%.

They also claimed that Obama has reduced off shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2008 The US produced 1,152,000 barrels per day and in 2011 it was 1,318,000.  Wrong on both accounts.

Their third claim was that more off shore drilling would reduce the cost of gasoline and maybe back to what it was 3 years ago.  The US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day in 2011 and 23% (1,318,000 / 5,659,000) from the Gulf.  US oil production is about 11.6% of the worlds total oil supply.  If the Gulf is 23% of this total and you doubled this amount (this could take 10-20 years) then that would increase world production by less than 3%.  I’m sure that this hypathetical and dramatic increase would lower the cost of gas.  However, I would guess by $0.10 to $0.15 per gallon. [emphasis added]

Posted in conspiracy theories, economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Science Does “All the Damn Work”

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2012

From my skeptical colleague and fellow blogger Steve over at TreeLobsters.com…

‘Nuff said :)

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