Posts Tagged ‘science’
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 30, 2013
I’ve posted many times before about so-called ghost hunters and ghost hunting, and much of the time it has been in either good fun (by spoofing them) or a bit more serious in challenging them to be more rigorous in their methodology. However, in this post I want to point out the danger(s) involved in ghost hunting; as is so often illustrated on the What’s The Harm? website, when people buy into pseudoscientific and non-critical thinking, it can have profoundly negative effects.
Case in point: recently some moronic ghost hunters in New Orleans decided that in order to get the spirits supposedly inhabiting an old mansion from the 1850s to “come out and play” that they needed to set fire to the place. The result: it completely burned to the ground…
… The mansion, built in the 1850s, had survived through many incarnations, operating as a boarding house, a hotel and even an illegal gambling house. Though the mansion had been shuttered in recent years, its owner, the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, had plans to renovate the building. …
… The fire at LeBeau broke out at about 2 a.m. local time Friday, Nov. 21, and the building was almost completely destroyed by the time firefighters arrived. The ghost hunters had been trying to produce a reaction from the spirits they assumed resided there, by doing what TV ghost hunters call “provocation,” essentially making loud noises, yelling taunts at the ghosts and banging on walls. Frustrated that their efforts failed to yield any spirits, the group decided to light a fire. Whether this was intended to smoke the spirits out or simply burn the place down, the resulting flames soon reduced the mansion to ashes and four brick chimneys.
While many ghost hunters engage in harmless (and fruitless) fun, as this case shows, there can be a dark, dangerous side to the pursuit. In the wake of popular ghost-hunting TV shows, police across the country have seen a surge in people being arrested, injured and even killed while looking for ghosts.
In 2006, a woman was critically wounded looking for ghosts in a private house near a cemetery; she and a friend were trespassing, and the house owner mistook them for vandals and shot them. In 2010, a North Carolina man died while ghost hunting with a group of friends, hoping to see the ghost of a train that crashed years earlier. The ghost train did not appear — but a real train came around a bend and killed one man who couldn’t get out of the way in time. … [emphasis added]
Note the backwards thinking here: the ghost hunters in question were so hell-bent on “proving” the existence of the ghosts supposedly haunting this mansion that, when all else failed, they actually burnt the damn place down! It is revealing that the thought that perhaps there were no ghosts/spirits in the place at all seems to have never occurred to them, so strong was their confirmation bias in favor of all evidence pointing towards the existence of the ghosts/spirits…
Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: argument from ignorance, arson, burn, burned down, burnt, electromagnetic fields, EMF, equipment, extrasensory perception, fire, flame, ghost busters, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghost meter, ghostbusters, ghosts, harm, haunted house, historic, house, infrared, LeBeau Plantation house, library, mansion, New Orleans, old, orb, paranormal, physics, pseudoscience, science, skepticism, spirits, Whats the Harm, woo | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2013
Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is back in the news, and – surprise – it has to do with a questionable funding proposal to finance his floundering theme park, where people can pay to be told that the Flintstones is the real thing.
Yup, they actually teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted… just like in the Flintstones cartoon. Looks like a good investment to me – Yabba-dabba-doo! (Image source)
I’ve posted before (here and here) about the troubles the Creation Museum has had in securing funding for its Ark Encounter attraction (not to mention its dwindling profits – or should that be “prophets”?), and the following article indicates that Ken Ham is pursuing a constitutionally questionable strategy which could land him and the municipality in question into some dicey legal waters…
A city in Kentucky is working with Crosswater Canyon, an owned subsidiary of Answers in Genesis, Inc., to offer $62 million in securities for prospective investors to help aid the completion of a Creationist theme park and replica of Noah’s Ark. While the city of Williamstown is issuing the bond, Crosswalk Canyon is solely responsible for the bonds, not the city.
Beginning next month, Williamstown may oversee the amount of taxable securities for investors to the project overseen by Answers in Genesis, reported Brian Chappatta and Priya Anand of Business Week.
“Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called ‘Ark Encounter.’ Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year,” wrote Chappatta and Anand. …
But if things are going so well for Ken Ham and his cartoon attraction, then why the need for these so-called “securities” to fund the project? Let’s read on…
… Unlike the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter project has had its share of financial issues regarding funding and donations.
The official ground-breaking for the project has been delayed multiple times since 2011, with private donations not matching the necessary monetary benchmarks.
Mike Zovath, head of the Ark Encounter project, told The Christian Post about the current status of the park’s construction, namely that it is “under design.” …
Wow, that’s got to make potential investors nervous. So what’s the big deal about going through these “securities” issued by the town of Williamstown, KY?…
… Answers in Genesis’ efforts in Kentucky have garnered their share of criticism, including from the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In the past Americans United has criticized the alleged First Amendment issues with regards to the state support for projects that benefit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United, told The Christian Post that the bond offering is one of many examples of government aid proposed for the Ark Encounter project.
“The imminent bond offering is only one of several different kinds of aid being given to the Ark Park by the State of Kentucky, Grant County, and the City of Williamstown,” said Luchenitser.
“The array of government aid to the Ark Park raises very serious issues under the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the even stricter church-state prohibitions of the Kentucky Constitution.” …
Well, there’s that! And then there are other questions regarding the legality/wisdom of these securities from the standpoint of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). But don’t take it from me; take it from from people who actually know business and investment, like the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek. Here’s an excerpt from an excellent blog post on this particular point:
This is about an article at the website of Bloomberg Businessweek. Business Week was formerly an independent magazine, now it’s part of the Bloomberg international news agency, headquartered in New York. Their article is Noah’s Ark Depends on Faith in Default-Plagued Debt: Muni Credit.
From our recent post, Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Bonds, you already know about the bonds being issued to finance the proposed Ark Encounter project, which is owned by a company controlled by Answers in Genesis (AIG). AIG is the on-line ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the ayatollah of Appalachia. It also owns and operates the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.
It appears that Bloomberg has seen all the documents, and they routinely report on the bond market. Their analysis is far more sophisticated than ours. They say, with bold font added by us:
“Given the default history of unrated municipal debt, investors may have to pray for the success of bonds being sold to build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark.
The northern Kentucky city of Williamstown plans to offer $62 million of securities next month for affiliates of Answers in Genesis, a Christian nonprofit that operates the Creation Museum upstate. Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called “Ark Encounter.” Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year.” …
Ouch… but what the heck does Bloomberg Businessweek know? Sure they may have oodles of financial and investment expertise, but if creationists have shown us anything it’s that they don’t need no stinkin’ experts who spout off about pesky things like evidence and facts!
So head on over and buy some of Ken Ham’s bonds. You just have to have faith that you won’t be flushing your money down the toilet
Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: AIG, amusement park, Answers In Genesis, Bible, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Businessweek, bonds, business, cash, Christianity, creation, Creation Museum, creationism, donations, economics, economy, evolution, extinct, extinction, financial reports, funding, God, investing, investment, Jesus, Ken Ham, Kentucky, KY, money, science, securities, Williamstown, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 23, 2013
In honor of the epic 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I am going to re-post a recent post I made this past summer: SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS…
On my second day at SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels. The second panel was titled “The Physics of the TARDIS” and since the con had a “British Invasion” theme to it, Doctor Who was a big hit this year. And that meant that this panel was very well attended, so well attended in fact that it ended up being standing (and sitting) room only! In this panel we got into all manner of questions regarding the physics, realistic and speculative, regarding time travel, the TARDIS being bigger-on-the-inside, and more.
My co-panelists for this discussion were Steve Manfred, Renate Fiora, and Katherine Krantz. Check out the audio of the panel below, and enjoy! :)
[**Note: the audio is embedded in a PowerPoint file - just click the link to download the file]
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: 11th Doctor, 50 years, 50th anniversary, anniversary, BBC, bigger on the inside, convention, Convergence, Day of the Doctor, discussion, Doctor Who, fantasy, Fourth of July, July 4th, Minneapolis, Minnesota, panel, physics, relativity, science, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, Skepchicon, skeptic, skeptic track, space, TARDIS, television, The Doctor, time, Time and Relative Dimension in Space, time travel, TV | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 12, 2013
In an effort to continue lighting candles in the darkness, I wanted to pass along the following announcement from SHARE, the Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort – please consider helping out…
Please Donate Now for Philippines Typhoon Relief
Typhoon Haiyan has killed thousands of people in the Philippines, and the toll is rising. Of those who have thus far survived, 4 million people are estimated to be directly affected, right now. They need clean water, food, and shelter, right now.
We at the Center for Inquiry are asking you to help by donating to the S.H.A.R.E. (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Efforts) program to assist secular aid organizations to provide immediate and desperately needed relief and services. 100% of money raised goes directly to the relief efforts of Oxfam.
Click here to donate.
At CFI, all of our work is grounded in the values of secular humanism, values that consider every human life equal in dignity and respect. In the aftermath of this typhoon, there are millions of human beings in danger, millions in need. We’re asking you to please put your values into action, and help those affected by one of the most devastating storms in recent history, right now.
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: assist, Center For Inquiry, CFI, charity, damage, danger, disaster, donate, effort, food, Haiyan, help, hurricane, medicine, Oxfam, Philippines, Red Cross, relief, science, secular, SHARE, shelter, skeptics, Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort, storm, typhoon, weather, Yolanda | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 31, 2013
One of the things I like to do on Halloween, besides handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, is watch scary and spooky themed movies. I recently re-watched one of the great ones from the 1980s: Ghostbusters. Did you ever notice that the character of Peter Venkman is actually kind of a skeptic? This fact is outlined in the following hilarious scene from the opening of the movie, where Venkman essentially calls out his colleagues for engaging in an argument from ignorance in his typical deadpan way as they search for a ghost…
**Dialogue from 0:19 – 0:38**
Ray Stantz: “Look!”
Egon Spengler: “This is hot, Ray.”
Ray: “Symmetrical book stacking, just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.”
Peter Venkman: “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.”
Posted in ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: argument from ignorance, electromagnetic fields, EMF, equipment, extrasensory perception, ghost busters, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghost meter, ghostbusters, ghosts, Halloween, haunted house, humor, infrared, library, orb, paranormal, physics, pseudoscience, science, skepticism, spirits, woo | Leave a Comment »
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 28, 2013
Have you ever heard that phrase: truth can be stranger than fiction? Well, the topic of this blog post seems to fit that statement. In the history of creationism vs. evolutionary science, there have been all kinds of shenanigans played by creationists in their attempts to promote their religion as science; in the beginning, this often took the form of outright bans against the teaching of evolution. In fact, it was just such a state ban in Tennessee that led to the now famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.
Well, here we are nearly nine decades after that opening salvo in the creationist/evolution battles, and creationists in Kansas are taking a page from the old (and I mean OLD) playbook… they are filing a lawsuit to stop the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (since the NGSS promotes the teaching of evolution, which they claim “promotes atheism and materialism”). Read this report from the National Center for Science Education for more details:
Are the Next Generation Science Standards unconstitutional? A complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on September 26, 2013, alleges so. The complaint inCOPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.contends (PDF) that the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2). The plaintiffs ask for a declaratory judgment in their favor and for an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the NGSS in Kansas or, failing that, an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the sections of the NGSS to which they object.
NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau told the Associated Press (September 26, 2013) that it was a familiar argument, but “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.” He added, “They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” and dismissed the argument as “silly.” Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas’s Center for Science Education, concurred, citing previous court rulings as evidence that the new lawsuit “won’t hold up.” “This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case told the Associated Press. The Kansas state board of education voted 8-2 to accept the Next Generation Science Standards on June 11, 2013, as NCSE previously reported, and the lawsuit is evidently attempting to undo the decision. … [emphasis added]
I would like to speak to Josh Rosneau’s comment that I put in bold above; this really is the kind of thinking employed by creationists. They believe that you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no such thing as a grey area within their black and white thinking. Therefore, if you are not actively promoting their religious beliefs, then you are by default promoting the opposite of their religious beliefs which is atheism. Never mind that one can hold religious beliefs, even adhere to Christianity, and still accept evolutionary science; these creationists think that there can be no room at all for modern science within their belief system. So, if they view science as the enemy – as arch-creationist Ken Ham and his followers appear to believe – then science must be fought at every turn. Hence stupidity like this lawsuit…
Of course, I have no doubt that this lawsuit will go down in flames, as it should. And I have no doubt that it will prove to be yet another embarrassing blow to the creationist movement, maybe becoming as famous as the Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial a few years ago. But I also have no doubt that these creationists will not stop there; they will attempt to thwart every effort to teach good science in our public schools. And because of that fact, we must be ever vigilant.
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: atheism, COPE, courts, creationism, education, evolution, Kansas, lawsuit, materialism, Monkey Trial, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, pseudoscience, public, schools, science, Scopes, standards, teachers, teaching, trial, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 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.”
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: 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 September 6, 2013
The second panel in which I participated this past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon was a Skeptrack panel titled “Limits of Skepticism”. 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. In this discussion we ranged far and wide on the question of what is skepticism, what are the tools of skepticism, what are the limits of skepticism, and how skepticism can apply beyond the so-called “traditional” topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, creationism, etc). I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!
Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: belief, DC, Debbie Goddard, discussion, DJ Grothe, Dragon*Con, evidence, faith, God, limits, Margaret Downey, Massimo Pigliucci, method, methodological naturalism, methodology, Pamela Gay, panel, philosophy, philosophy of science, religion, science, skepticism, Skeptrack, Tim Farley | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 5, 2013
While at DragonCon this past Labor Day weekend, I had the good fortune to participate in two wonderful panels in the Skeptrack. The first panel was titled “Creationism and Intelligent Design”, and it featured me as the moderator, philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, and science blogger Jon Voisey. We had a wide ranging conversation on the topic of creationism, the tactics employed by creationists in their attempts to undermine science education, and related issues. I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!
Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: biology, creation, creationism, DC, Discovery Institute, discussion, Dragon*Con, education, evolution, God, ID, intelligent design, Jon Voisey, Massimo Pigliucci, panel, religion, science, skepticism, Skeptrack | 3 Comments »