The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘skeptic’

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014: Skepticism and The Brain

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014

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



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

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

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

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

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


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Global Warming Deniers Confuse Climate with Weather, AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2014

If you live in North America, then no doubt you’re aware of the so-called polar vortex which has come down from the Arctic to freeze the hell out of the continent.  And, just as surely as the temperatures started to drop, global warming deniers began to shout about how this supposedly proves that global warming isn’t real.

Okay, so you see here’s the thing… it’s called *global* warming because the whole globe, on average, is getting warmer.  Saying that a cold snap disproves global warming is like saying that the IRS no longer exists because you got a tax refund once.


See all that red?  Yeah, that’s where the climate is getting warmer.  And notice how there’s more red than blue? [image source]

I’ve blogged about this very topic before, namely that “climate” isn’t the same thing as “weather”, but seeing as how the deniers are once again spouting their nonsense, it bears repeating…

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

… The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend. …

There are some other really good articles about this latest confusion regarding how the polar vortex fits into the broader picture of global warming.  For your reference, I’ll suggest two of them:

1. Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

This article is really good because it goes through some of the basics about global warming and climate change in general, and then it emphasizes the importance of temperature trends and statistical analysis of the data.  My favorite part is as follows:

Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.

Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. …

2. Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.

This is a humorous and informative post from my skeptical colleague Greg Laden wherein he lays out just how it’s possible for global warming to actually account for the polar vortex phenomenon:

… The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. …

Of course, I don’t expect any of this to phase the hardcore global warming deniers, because they’re off in a fantasy world of their own.  No doubt that next time winter strikes the northern hemisphere, they’ll be back spouting this nonsense once again; it’s just plain sad and predictable.  I almost feel sorry for them.  I mean, how can you not feel sorry for them when this moron is one of their primary spokesmen?

trump daily show GW

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Season of Reason” Returns!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2013

This time of year it seems that just about everyone celebrates some kind of holiday.  Some are explicitly religious in nature, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, while some secular holidays are being celebrated at about the same time.  It is in the spirit (pardon the pun) of furthering critical thinking & skepticism among the population at large that I share with you the JREF’s annual Season of Reason initiative. Whether you are religious or not, I think we can all agree that reason is something we need more of in our society, so I hope that you consider donating to this worthy cause…



The James Randi Educational Foundation invites you to give during our annual Season of Reason fundraising campaign. Over half of our annual support comes during this critical year-end period and we couldn’t continue fighting charlatans and promoting critical thinking without it.

This year, we’re asking you to help us raise a total of $200,000 to support our unique educational mission in 2014. Such support helps the JREF to continue to extend the important work of James Randi, influential skeptic and social critic who has for decades stood against the prevailing cults of nonsense and supernatural charlatans of every stripe.

Every dollar counts! Your Season of Reason 2013 contribution will help us equip more educators to teach students skepticism, support more grassroots campaigns to fight charlatanry, and take on more public figures and celebrities who promote dangerous nonsense. To make a tax-deductible donation to the JREF right now, please fill out and submit the form below.

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“Doctor” Oz Fails at Medicine AND Physics as He Pushes Cell Phone Fear-Mongering

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2013

This recent silliness by “Doctor” Oz came to my attention: apparently, during a recent show he took seriously the notion that women shouldn’t carry cell phones in their bras because it could give them breast cancer.  My skeptical colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine summarizes Oz’s idiocy and fear-mongering here…

… The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.

There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one. …

If you want a good analysis that thrashes the hell out of Oz’s claims from a medical perspective, definitely read through all of Dr. Gorski’s blog post.  Seeing as how I’m not a medical doctor, I won’t rehash his analysis here; but I am a physics professor, so what I can do is go through the basic physics of why it is implausible that cell phones are even physically capable of causing cancer.  In fact, I’ve written numerous posts on this topic already…

Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths

This first post is probably the most thorough on the fundamental physics of how electromagnetic radiation/waves (also known as light) are generated and propagate; also included is a basic primer on the different kinds of EM waves, the EM spectrum, what role frequency and energy of light play in these issues, and the all important difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Here’s the upshot: cell phones emit non-ionizing (i.e. non-cancer causing) radiation.

Maine Legislator Pushes Cell Phone-Cancer Woo

This article about a hysterical politician in Maine points out the implications of allowing basic scientific literacy to be trumped by the kind of psuedoscience and fear-mongering propagated by “Doctor” Oz and his ilk.

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Just a more up-to-date article outlining some more research from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark after it looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.  Conclusion: even while looking for supposed long-term negative effects, none were found.


Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Vatican Pulls a Boner with St. Peter’s Alleged Remains

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 29, 2013

In light of the upcoming Holiday Season, I wanted to do a quick post regarding an interesting bit of news out of the Vatican recently; apparently, the Vatican is putting the supposed bones of St. Peter on public display for the very first time.  However, these may not be the bones true-believers are looking for…

Saint Peters Bones - maybe

It would be a real boner if the remains turned out to not be those of Saint Peter, wouldn’t it?(image source)

St. Peter’s Bones: Vatican ‘Verifies’ Remains Despite Archaeological Skepticism

As far as St. Peter’s bones go, many Catholic’s will no doubt be planning a pilgrimage to the Holy See, to view the bones purported to belong to St. Peter. The remains were revealed Sunday at St. Peter’s square, and the revelation was performed at St. Peter’s Square at the conclusion of the Catholic church’s “Year of Faith.”

This also happens to the first time St. Peter’s bones have ever been put on display since being discovered in 1939. But there is no DNA sample with which to make a comparison and no way of proving who the skeletal remains actually belong to. But the Vatican is declaring their “verification” regardless.

Pilgrims 8.5 million strong have journeyed to see the Vatican’s relics collection over the last year, but many are questioning whether or not the bones really belong to St. Peter. Peter was believed to have been martyred in Rome in 64 C.E. by being crucified upside down, and then buried in the city. Pope Paul VI said of St. Peter’s bones:

“[They had been identified] in a manner which we believe convincing.”

… Despite the lack of verification, and the fact that archeologists have disputed that they actually found St. Peter’s bones, the Vatican has found the identification “convincing” and has officially declared the bones to belong to St. Peter.

Pardon me if I’m just a bit skeptical of these claims, especially since there has been no independent verification that the remains are indeed those of St. Peter.  Sadly, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of pious frauds (such as the much-lauded Shroud of Turin) passed off on the faithful as the real thing when, at best, their authenticity is highly dubious.

Of course, in a time when the Church is struggling to keep asses in pews and money coming into the coffers, I suppose they’ll grab onto anything – no matter how questionable or tenuous – that they can.


Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

50th Anniversary of Doctor Who: The Physics of the TARDIS

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]

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS


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Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2013

I don’t often make posts about this particular topic, though I have definite feelings on the issue.  If you call yourself a skeptic and/or atheist and you’re involved in the movement, you would have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of years to have missed how the issue of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault has come to the front of much discussion in our community.

What follows is a video made by a very brave woman whom I know, named Ashley Paramore.  I’ve known her for a few years through our mutual involvement in the skeptic/atheist movement.  She is a smart, beautiful, and talented woman who is quite passionate about skepticism/atheism, much like many of the women (such as those ladies at Skepchick and the Women Thinking, Inc) whom I have had the honor of meeting and working with these last few years.

**Please note: what is described in this video may be disturbing to some**

It saddens me to say that I personally know of at least two other women (as well as one man) who were similarly harassed and/or assaulted at skeptic cons in recent years.  In one situation, I actually had to get physically involved to stop the assault and eject the perpetrator from the venue.

Ashley is right: this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than many people might think.  And while I applaud the efforts of various cons to set up methods of dealing with such situations as they arise (and yes, I also have my criticisms of other cons for not doing so), the best thing to do is to create an environment where such harassment and/or assault doesn’t occur at all.  And for that, it takes all of us to be more aware of what is going on around us; it requires us to be willing to call out inappropriate behavior; it requires us to be willing to listen more and treat the experiences of women (and men, too) like Ashley seriously and in a non-judgmental manner; and it means that we need to provide support, either in public or private, for those who are willing to make a stand against such reprehensible behavior.

**On a personal note: I have found, as a man, that my experiences with women like Ashley over the years and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences (as well as my willingness to listen to them) has served to deepen my love and respect for the women in my life who are closest to me.  It has made me a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and colleague, and I want to say to all of those women something I should have said long ago: Thank you :)

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Three – Ask A Scientist

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2013

On my third and final day at  SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013, I participated in the “Ask A Scientist” panel.  This was a general Q & A between the audience and expert scientists from a variety of fields.

I moderated the panel, and my co-panelists for this discussion were Laura Okagaki, Lori Fischer, Tom Mahle, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers, Indre Viskontas, Nicole Gugliucci, Bridget Landry, and Bug Girl.  Check out the audio of the panel below, and enjoy!  :)

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Ask A Scientist


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

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2013

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!  :)

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS


Posted in 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”

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