Posts Tagged ‘skepticism’
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 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…
It would be a real boner if the remains turned out to not be those of Saint Peter, wouldn’t it?(image source)
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: archaeology, bones, Catholic Church, crucifixion, faith, fraud, God, holy relic, Holy See, Italy, Jesus Christ, miracle, pious fraud, religion, remains, Saint Peter, Shroud of Turin, Shroudie, skeptic, skepticism, St. Peter, True Cross, Vatican, Year of Faith | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2013
The title of this blog post may seem harsh, but when it comes to douchebag charlatans who bilk the desperate and grieving out of their money, self-declared psychic Sylvia Browne was the bottom of the proverbial dung-heap. And now she’s dead. Ironically, in 2003 she predicted that she would die at the age of 88, yet she died 11 years earlier than that…
Good riddance to bad rubbish (image source)
Over the course of writing this blog, I have dedicated some posts specifically to the late Ms. Browne in order to point out just how much of a self-aggrandizing and deceitful person she was, claiming to have psychic powers and often failing spectacularly in her “predictions” (none of which she ever apologized for, even given the pain she caused). In honor of her death, I shall reproduce those posts below in the hopes that people do not celebrate her as a “lost light to the world” or similar rubbish. Rather, it is my hope that people take the time to reflect upon Ms. Browne’s life and death and think carefully about just how much damage she did by hoodwinking the most gullible and vulnerable among us. Hopefully, perhaps people will be a bit more skeptical of the next psychic scumbag who comes along.
Posted in psychics | Tagged: abduction, accuracy, Amanda Berry, charlatan, cherry pick, Cleveland, cold reading, dead, death, died, dies, esp, fail, failed, fake, hits, hot reading, kidnapping, medium, mentalism, mind reading, misses, Montel Williams, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, Shawn Hornbeck, skeptical activism, skepticism, Sylvia Browne, talking to the dead | 3 Comments »
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 October 13, 2013
Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve done is to work on the Educational Advisory Board of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). One of this board’s functions is to help assemble a variety of lesson plans and modules which emphasize skepticism and critical thinking that can be distributed to teachers everywhere.
I am happy to pass along to you some of the latest lessons from our work at the JREF. Please feel free to share these as you see fit
New “JREF in The Classroom” Lesson Plans!
The James Randi Educational Foundation is pleased to announce the release of four new additions to our JREF in the Classroom offerings:
Pareidolia: Do You See What You Think You See?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]
Illusions: Our Visual System
Teacher Edition [PDF]
Cognition: Are You Rational?
Teacher Edition [PDF]
Power Balance: Sports Enhancement, or Placebo?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]
These are downloadable lesson plans for use in high school and junior high school science and psychology classes that use topics in pseudoscience and the paranormal to teach critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Each lesson is designed to expose students to concepts identified in the National Science Content Standards and AAAS science literacy benchmarks.
These free lesson plans for teachers (and parents) are additions to JREF’s growing catalog of grade-specific standards-focused resources including lesson plans, activity guides, multimedia materials, and more. JREF’s aim with these free resources is to inspire an investigative spirit in the next generation of critical thinkers, providing the intellectual toolkit needed to navigate a life full of difficult decisions, confusing information, and conflicting claims.
Teachers can contact email@example.com for a free printed classroom kit for any of the eight topics available so far, and to get more information on ways to incorporate JREF’s critical thinking materials into their classrooms.
More information on these and other classroom resources can be found here ≫
And don’t miss JREF President D.J. Grothe’s appearance on the syndicated radio show America Weekend where he discusses JREF’s new free classroom resources. Listen now ≫
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: advisory, board, classroom, content, critical thinking, education, educators, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, lesson plans, modules, school, skepticism, standards, student, teacher | Leave a 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 »
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: Ashley Paramore, assault, atheism, atheist, con, conference, convention, flirting, harassment, men, misogyny, rape, respect, sex, sexual, Skepchick, skeptic, skepticism, TAM, testimony, The Amazing Meeting, women, Women Thinking Inc | 6 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2013
I am very pleased to announce that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now accepting applications for educators to attend The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013 in Las Vegas this summer. I have been involved in many previous TAMs on the educational outreach side, and one thing I can say is that we need to get more teachers, at all levels and from both science and non-science backgrounds, to events like this as much as possible. So, if you are interested or know someone who is, please spread the word and take a look at the information below; alternately, you could also consider donating to the educator grant fund.
TAM 2013 EDUCATOR GRANTS
Are you an educator who would like to bring more skepticism and critical thinking into your classroom? Would you like to be inspired, energized, and informed? The Amazing Meeting is a great place to meet and network with other educators, get educational resources (including printed copies of the JREF’s education modules for classroom use), pick up tips, and be inspired.
In addition to three days of superb talks and panel discussions, TAM 2013 offers a full day of workshops, including one which will focus on incorporating skeptical thinking lessons into non-science classes.
The Amaz!ng Meeting is attended by people from all walks of life and all over the globe. Speakers include scientists, philosophers, journalists, educators, activists, and even entertainers. Simply put, TAM is the James Randi Educational Foundation’s yearly celebration of science, education, and critical thinking.
Veteran TAM goers know the feeling of community and inspiration that a weekend with skeptics provides. The yearly meeting recharges our batteries and sparks new ideas for projects to promote skepticism and scientific thinking.
Educators are in a unique position to reach our target audience, but they need good resources, the opportunity to discuss methods, and the kind of inspiration that events like The Amaz!ng Meeting provide. Educators who attend TAM will be able to bring what they have learned into their classrooms.
Click here for more information
Donate to the Educator Fund here
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: 2013, conference, convention, education, educator, grant, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, meeting, money, science, skeptic, skepticism, TAM, TAM2013, teachers, teaching, The Amaz!ng Meeting, The Amazing Meeting | Leave a Comment »