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!
Posts Tagged ‘children’
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 2, 2014
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: art, artwork, children, con, Convergence, donate, donation, education, fundraiser, fundraising, I Love Science, Minnesota, science, science track, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, Surly Amy, track | 2 Comments »
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! :)
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: anti-vaccination, anti-vax, atheism, atheist, bed of nails, children, data, discussion, God, immunization, information, interview, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, martial arts, medicine, miracle, misconceptions, mysticism, myth, opinion, parents, physics, podcast, pressure, radio, religion, research, science, show, skepticism, survey, talk, TAM7, The Amazing Meeting, The Pink Atheist, vaccination, vaccines, vax, Women Thinking, WT, WT Inc | 1 Comment »
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!
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.”
Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: anti-vaccination, anti-vax, children, data, immunization, information, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, medicine, misconceptions, myth, opinion, parents, research, science, survey, vaccination, vaccines, vax, Women Thinking, WT, WT Inc | 1 Comment »
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 :)
“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)
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
Demon-Haunted World (book)
Scientific American blog
Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)
How Things Work – book
You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria
50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)
Bill Nye (who now has an app!)
Google+ has science Sunday
Free Range Kids
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: books, children, con, convention, Convergence, discussion, education, fantasy, film, Fourth of July, internet, July 4th, kids, library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, panel, parents, podcast, resources, school, science, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, Skepchicon, skeptic, skeptic track, teachers | Leave a Comment »
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.
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.
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: Adam Lanza, agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, children, Conn, Connecticut, conservative, crazy, CT, demographics, evangelical, fags, God, God hates fags, gun laws, gun violence, guns, homosexuals, mass hysteria, massacre, media, mental health, Mike Huckabee, Newtown, prayer, religion, religious, religious right, right wing, school, school violence, secular, secularism, separation of church and state, shooting spree, shootings, students, teachers, United States, victims, Westboro Baptist Church | Leave a Comment »
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…
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.
… 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.
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)…
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.
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: Adam Lanza, agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, children, Conn, Connecticut, conservative, crazy, CT, demographics, evangelical, fags, God, God hates fags, gun laws, gun violence, guns, homosexuals, mass hysteria, massacre, media, mental health, Mike Huckabee, Newtown, prayer, religion, religious, religious right, right wing, school, school violence, secular, secularism, separation of church and state, shooting spree, shootings, students, teachers, United States, victims, Westboro Baptist Church | 3 Comments »
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…
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?” …
Posted in education, free inquiry | Tagged: answers, blog, children, creationism, critical thinking, curiosity, education, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, kids, questions, religion, school, skepticism, Swift, teaching | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2011
Based upon my recent blog post concerning using mythology as a critical thinking tool for children, I was interviewed a few days ago by my skeptical colleague Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast. In the interview we discussed a variety of topics related to this issue, with a touch of fun thrown in for good measure. Check it out! :)
Recently Matt Lowry wrote a blog-post on Using Mythology as a Critical Thinking Tool: The Lesson of Santa for Kids – just as Tim Minchin wrote a piece for the New Statesman about his own efforts to balance a pro-naturalistic worldview and living a life unencumbered by superstition, while raising kids and encouraging a love of fiction.
Matt Lowry is best known as the Skeptical Teacher - a high school physics teacher, plus a part-time physics and astronomy college professor, contributor to the James Randi Educational Foundation Education Advisory Group and awesome presenter for kids’ shows at Dragon*Con.
For this interview we talk about all of these things (and whether Santa might actually be a Time Lord with a sleigh made out of quantum-something-or-other).
During the discussion, we also talk about Barbara Drescher’s blog-post at the JREF Swift: An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus. Here’s another great link to the Physics of Santa!
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: analysis, children, Christmas, critical thinking, education, evidence, Holidays, interview, kids, Kylie Sturgess, mall, myth, mythology, observation, physics, podcast, reality, Santa, santa claus, skepticism, Token Skeptic | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2011
As I’ve mentioned before, every year I do a quick physics lesson on Santa Claus, with the result being a devastation of the Santa myth (see my previous post “How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus for more on this :) ) Yeah, I admit it – I’m evil.
Of course, that lesson is more geared towards students who are in their late teenage years, because by then they already know that Santa isn’t real. So, while the humor involved in my analysis is quite dark (Santa dies pretty spectacularly in the end), there isn’t going to be any real psychological trauma done to my students.
However, this year it got something of a debate going among some of my students. Some wondered about the appropriateness of sharing such a lesson with young children, who might still harbor a sincere belief in Santa Claus. Personally, I expressed the view that if I were to try to get my own children (if I had any) to think more critically about the Santa myth, I certainly wouldn’t do it using the same method in my physics classes where he ends up bursting into flames and squashed to jelly by atrociously large g-forces!
So, the question was put to me: “How would you deal with the whole Santa Claus thing if you had kids?” It is a worthwhile question, because I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to be simply blindly believing in Santa just because all the other kids are doing it. Chances are, when the kids are of the appropriate age (I’d think 5 or 6 would be about right), I would ask them some leading questions about the nature of Santa.
Specifically, if I were at the mall with one of my children and there were a worker there dressed as Santa meeting with kids (you know the usual scene), I would encourage them to observe Santa closely…
I would encourage them to note carefully details such as how big is Santa, exactly what is he wearing, and so on. In order to help them with their observations, I would probably take photos for later analysis. Then I would make sure to tell them to pay careful attention to Santa’s voice as they sit on his lap to discuss what Santa and kids discuss (I might also record video of the event for this reason).
After that, I would take my children to another mall (because, let’s face it, most of us do our shopping at more than one place, right?). I would make sure to find the Santa at that second mall, and have my kid go through the entire process again. And so on.
Then, at a later time, I would take some time to sit down and look over the evidence with my children, leading them through it and noting inconsistencies between the multiple Santas they’ve observed. This would be especially interesting if we saw more than one in the same night! (“So Dad, how did Santa get from one mall to the other so quickly?” ;) )
The bottom line here is that I wouldn’t want to come right out and tell my kids that Santa is a myth (though a fun and jolly one at that). Rather, I would use the entire experience as a lesson for my kids to try thinking it through on their own, making careful observations, weighing the evidence, and drawing the obvious conclusions. I think this would be a far more useful way to introduce children to the reality that Santa isn’t real, and it would also be an excellent exercise in encouraging critical thinking and skepticism in youngsters.
For more on this topic and approach, I highly recommend reading my colleague Barbara Drescher’s well-written post at the JREF Swift blog titled An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: analysis, children, Christmas, critical thinking, education, evidence, Holidays, kids, mall, myth, mythology, observation, physics, reality, Santa, santa claus, skepticism | 6 Comments »