The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘children’

What If We Extended Anti-Vaccine Arguments to Other Technologies?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2014

I saw a great meme going around Facebook the other day and thought I should share it here.  Often anti-vaccination activists make loaded claims about how vaccines are “toxic” and whatnot; of course they are playing fast and loose with the facts, and they are trying to use loaded language in an attempt to scare people from vaccinating their children.  When confronted with such nonsense, I often tell on-the-fence parents “You wouldn’t put your child into a car without securing them in a car seat, would you?”  It’s a pretty effective message for playing the odds and protecting your kids by vaccinating them.

Of course, here’s another way to counter anti-vax propaganda: apply their same ludicrous arguments to all kinds of other technologies, and see how quickly it all descends down the rabbit hole of stupidity.  Here you go (make sure you read the entire graphic; my personal favorite is the one about the fire-ax)…



Image source

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

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 »

Help Raise Funds to Send People to SkepchickCON 2014

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 2, 2014

One of my skeptical colleagues, Surly Amy, is once again launching a worthwhile effort to spread the message of skepticism: she is using her art to raise money to help buy passes to help people go to science and secular events. This will be her 5th year doing this fundraiser project to help people attend the science track at Convergence in Bloomington, Minnesota (a.k.a. SkepchickCON.) This year’s track is jam packed full of educational science programming, led by scientists with activities for children and adults!

You can also help by donating (there is a donate link in the post) or just passing along the word.  The process is quite simple:  If you want help buying your ticket just put your name in the comments here:
And if you want to help pay for people by buying a necklace go here:
Also, if you are someone in need of help paying for their ticket and want to learn more about the sciences by attending this event, then simply “add your name to the hat” in the comment section on the blog post.

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

Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! :)

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization :)

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them :)

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children


“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books


Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast) (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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

Follow Up to Religious Fundamentalists’ Reaction to Sandy Hook Massacre

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2012

As I recently blogged, there was the all-too-predictable nutty and inhuman reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from the religious zealots in our nation in the past few days… it’s the fault of gays and atheists, don’t ya know!  Thanks to all who have reblogged (thanks to Phil at Skeptic Money :) ), tweeted, commented, and emailed me with feedback about that blog post.  I wanted to share with you all a really good bit of correspondence I got from my online friend “Other Jesus”, because it goes to the root of some deeper questions related to religion and how people do/don’t think about it.  Read on…

I liked your article. I was actually waiting for these groups to emerge. Most of the responses on all sides of the background debate have responded in predictable manner. I know the main characters are the anti- and pro-gun groups, the “more mental health” people, and the “we need more God in school…” religious folks. But some of the most annoying folks are the “prayers and hugs” crew in the periphery. Every tragedy like this evokes a “hug your kids and pray for the family of the victims”. How’s that working? (Don’t quote me on the above!)

The Huckabee premise deserves a more blatant study and response. So Mike thinks we need more God in school for protection. Meanwhile, some folks are calling for full-time armed security in schools (Sean Hannity, eg.). So what if God applied for the security guard job at a school? Well the principal would need to review His resume and he/she might ask for more explanation about the following:

1) Where was God during the murder of Able? Was it preventable?

2) Where was God during the murder of the Egyptian first born in the 10th Plague? What about His alleged
ties to the Angel of Death?

3) Wasn’t God in the land of His “chosen people” during Herod’s “murder of the innocents”? Did He take any steps to prevent the slaughter?

4) During the Great Flood, what did God do to protect the babies and young innocent children? Did he have any role in the cause of the flood?

Now these are events from long ago, so the principal might accept God’s excuse that “that was then, this is now”. So how about a more modern example? A school like Huckabee wants: With God fully in-place. Maybe God’s checkered resume can be redeemed.

5) Where was God on December 1, 1958? Was he watching a student play with matches in the basement of Out Lady of Angel’s Catholic school in Chicago? What did he do when the young man ignitee a trash barrel? Did he take any action to stop the fire before it killed 92 kids and three nuns?

I don’t think that the principal conducting the interview would have a hard time deciding whether or not God was qualified, despite the endorsement from Mike Huckabee.

(NOTE TO SELF: Be very skeptical of anyone Mick Huckabee refers.)

And here are some other good points brought up by various people who read my article:

What really irritates me are those who claim that shootings happen at schools because God is not allowed in schools. However, that does not explain why students at a Jewish school in France (earlier this year) were killed by a gunman. Does God only dwell in Christian schools? The point is, belief in God has nothing to do with these tragic events. Horrible things happen because horrible people cause them to happen – it is not the result of divine punishment.

… and…

So how is it that shootings have occurred in churches, religious schools and if no sin is greater than another; why all the child molesting and rape in churches?   Has God been removed from there as well.

… and…

Also, I’d like to know how Mike Huckabee explains the fact that slavery and segregation were legal while much of that praying was going on in schools.

Hmm, good questions.  Food for thought, folks… food for thought.

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

The Real Cause of the Sandy Hook Massacre: Gays and Atheists, Of Course!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2012

You’d pretty much have to be living underneath a rock to not have heard about last Friday’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  All told, 20 children and 6 adults were killed by the shooter, Adam Lanza, before he killed himself.  Understandably, people all over the nation are numb and puzzled about how something like this could happen.  I know that at the high school where I teach, it has certainly been a topic of much debate and conversation.  One of the most asked questions is “Are our schools safe?” – in general, the answer is yes.

In addition, at a time like this people are looking for answers and asking “Why?”  In answer, some are talking about the issue of gun control (the shooter had easy access to guns), while others are talking about mental health issues (society doesn’t pay enough attention to mental health); what seems to be common to these, and other, analyses is that they are based mostly upon media-fueled speculation at this stage.  Speculation runs rampant, and facts are frustratingly few and far between…

… Enter the God Squad.  These are the dim-witted troglodytes whom you could have easily predicted would crawl out of their caves spewing the usual disgusting, vile-filled claptrap about how this is all somehow “God’s punishment”, and how they know God’s feelings on the matter!  Here’s just a sample of the putrid idiocy pouring forth from the fundamentalist faithful…

MIKE HUCKABEE: Schools ‘Become A Place Of Carnage’ Because ‘We Have  Systematically Removed God’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested Friday that the absence of God  from the nation’s public schools may have contributed, in part, to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people,  including 20 children.

Appearing on Fox  News, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was asked by host  Neil Cavuto how “God could let this happen.” Here’s his response:

It’s an interesting thing. We ask  why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from  our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of  carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about  eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that  we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but  one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then  we don’t fear that. And so I sometimes, when people say, ‘Why did God let it  happen?’ You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be  there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of  ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in  on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up it’s all said and  done at the back end.


School carnage: Blame church, not God or guns

… My mother, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, fought to make the public schools  the armed camps they are today by removing prayer, the recognition of the  authority of God. In 1962 and 1963, I was attending an all-boys public high  school in downtown Baltimore, Md. The school was a magnet school before the term  even existed and was intended to prepare young men for college, majoring in  science and engineering. There were 1,800 teenage boys in the school, and there  was not a cop in the building – ever. The doors were unlocked and often the  un-air-conditioned rooms had open windows. There were no metal detectors, no  picture IDs, and students went in and out the doors on the honor system.

What  happens when you’re raised by America’s most famous atheist? Read William  Murray’s riveting and redemptive new book, “My Life Without God”

The authority of God was present, even though I am very sure many of those  young men, including myself, had some pretty vile thoughts that were not in the  least way moral. The presence of the authority of God, vested in the teachers by  His recognition every morning, was reinforced by the churches and the families  of the students.

That high school has since merged with a girl’s school in another location,  for purposes of political correctness. The last time I checked, the old building  itself was the headquarters of the Baltimore City Schools Police Force,  something that did not exist when Baltimore’s population was nearly  double what it is now. Every kid at every school now has a photo ID. All  the doors of every school are locked. All doors have metal detectors and  drug-sniffing dogs roaming the corridors. I am told that every school in  Baltimore has at least one armed “safety officer.”

In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has  been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without  the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public  schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same  situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in  Newtown. …

and (of course it wouldn’t be complete without these assholes)…

Westboro Baptist Church Says It Will Picket Vigil For Connecticut School Shooting Victims

The Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial group known for protesting outside funerals of slain U.S. service members, announced that it will picket a vigil for the victims of Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the group and, like most members of the organization, a relative of the group’s founder, Fred Phelps, announced on Twitter on Saturday the group’s plan “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” …

So what are we to take away from this incredibly frakked up display of asshattery?  Apparently, we are to all repent and come to the realization that God’s pissed off at us (“us” being the United States) for not forcing children to pray in public schools (and by “pray” I mean “pray to Jesus Christ”, because that’s what these morons really mean), or because our nation actually has the audacity to recognize and respect the rights of atheists and gays, not to mention in the United States we actually acknowledge the separation of church and state.

Omaha, Neb., Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Yee-haw… Fun with Fundamentalism. Image Source

So what are we to make of this reaction on the part of the ultra-religious to the Sandy Hook massacre?  As I’ve noted before, the fundamentalist right-wing segment of our nation is starting to slowly dwindle, and there is a more secular demographic rising in this country.  I think part of what we may be seeing here is the gradual, but inevitable, unhinging of the religious right as they start to see their power over the rest of us who don’t share their twisted worldview slowly slipping away.  They cannot handle the fact that their worldview isn’t THE worldview which is forced upon the rest of society through the power of the culture and the government, and that is making them nuts.

I predict more of the same in the future: every time there is a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster; every time there is a man-made disaster (such as the Sandy Hook massacre); every time anything bad happens, these self-described servants of the Almighty (who, of course, have the message straight from God himself, you know) will scurry in front of the TV cameras to spread their message of doom and judgement in a vain attempt to appear relevant.  And as time goes on, they will get ever more extreme with their message, as they marginalize themselves even more.

And that’s the key thing right there… what these preachers, prophets, and fundamentalist believers really fear is exactly what’s happening to them: they are slipping into irrelevance.  Let them, I say, because civilized society has no need for their sociopathic mythologies.

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

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 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 »

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?” …

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