The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Snopes’

CNN Taken to Task Over Its NON-Critical Thinking on the Boston Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2013

As I mentioned in my last post regarding this past Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, there has been a huge amount of rumor, misinformation, and innuendo floating all over the place, and we should do what we can to combat it.

Of course, one would hope that our media outlets, such as “The Most Trusted Name in News” CNN, would take such a task to heart, making certain to get their facts straight before they report the news.  But, sadly, in the era of the 24-hour “news” cycle, it appears that getting it right takes a back seat to getting it first.

I can think of no other way to illustrate this point more clearly than to reference The Daily Show’s incredible smackdown of just how badly CNN botched some major news regarding the bombing:

CNN-The Human Centipede of News

Yup, that’s CNN… the most busted name in news.

Posted in humor, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rumors and Misinformation in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2013

As you well know by now, there was a horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon yesterday on Boston’s Patriot Day.  Like many people, I spent much time last night discussing the situation online.  And, of course, in the aftermath of such an emotionally charged and upsetting situation, rumors, speculation, and – sadly – conspiracy mongering will run rampant.   However, I am of the feeling that knowledge is power, and it is better to say “I don’t know” than to speculate wildly; after all, as I told someone online last night: “rumors =/= knowledge”

So, in the spirit of spreading accurate information and squashing rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy mongering regarding the Boston Marathon Bombing, I would like to refer the reader to this collection of rumors and junk debunked from our friends at Snopes.com:

snopeslogo

Please take a few minutes to check that link, and by all means spread it far and wide over the Internet and via social media, because we do ourselves no favors by giving into our fears and allowing them to make us act irrationally.

Posted in conspiracy theories, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Halloween: The Perfect Opportunity to Promote Skepticism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011

My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween! :D

I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims.  Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things?  I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.

So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…

A Skeptic’s Halloween

Snopes: Halloween Legends

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

A Historical Halloween & Skepticism Lesson: The 1938 “War of the Worlds” Broadcast by Orson Welles

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Happy Halloween!!!

Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2011

[**Update (3-16-11): There also appears to be a fake text message warning people of “fallout” coming their way.  Just an FYI, folks.]

You know, over the weekend when I was doing a bunch of research for my last blog post - Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria – I briefly ran across an image about the supposed “fallout pattern” from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.  I thought, “What a bunch of bullshit” and then moved on; not until later did I think that we’d probably be seeing that image again in the context of a hysterical, ranting chain email.  And I was right – here it is…

This is a completely, 100% bogus map, as is the email associated with it! As the fine researchers at Snopes.com have discovered, it has no association with the Australian Radiation Services, and any implication by the map that there will be nuclear fallout, a large release of radiation, or any kind of far-reaching health/environmental damage is nothing more than rank fear-mongering.

I don’t know what kind of asshole puts something like this image out there at a time like this, but I don’t find this funny in the least.  Most especially at times such as these, what we really need is to slow down, act calmly & coolly, and think about things in as rational manner as possible.  Freaking out, going hysterical, and blindly buying into & passing along garbage such as this “map” is only going to make a bad situation far, far worse.

[**Update (3-17-11): On the question of the Fukushima site and radiation, if you want to get more regular, reliable updates, I suggest using the World Nuclear News website – here’s more from that site in a recent update…

… peaking at 400 millisieverts per hour (40,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 3, and 100 millisieverts per hour (10,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 4. At the highest exposure rate, a nuclear worker or soldier could remain in the area for less than 40 minutes before leaving the site, unable to return. …

… Despite high levels of radiation close to the units, levels detected at the edge of the power plant site have been steadily decreasing.

17 March, 4.00pm  — 0.64 millisieverts per hour (64 mrem/hour)

17 March, 9.00am — 1.47 millisieverts per hour (147 mrem/hour)

16 March, 7.00pm — 1.93 millisieverts per hour (193 mrem/hour)

16 March, 12.30pm — 3.39 millisieverts per hour (339 mrem/hour)

This means that if you are at the edge of the Fukushima site itself, then receiving about 60 mrem/hour is like getting 2 or 3 chest x-rays per hour, which is a very strong dose of radiation.  However, the intensity of the radiation gets a lot weaker the further away you get from the source (I believe it follows an inverse square law).  Thus, it should be noted that if the radiation levels are that low at the edge of the power plant site, then they are most likely well within acceptable levels by the time you get to the edge of the evacuation zone, 30+ km away.  And there’s certainly no danger to people far beyond that point, including here in the United States and Canada.  Thus, despite the fact that some radiation has been released on the Fukushima site itself, the notion that any kind of “fallout cloud” will spread far & wide beyond that site is utter nonsense.

In addition, a good reference on the levels of radiation exposure (and related health effects) can be found here – http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/health_effects.html#anyamount – note that those values are in rems, whereas most of the exposure I’ve been referencing in these reports is in milli-rems (mrems).  Bottom line: the people who are going to be affected the most are the workers right there on site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are getting a potentially lethal dose; as for everyone else, I think the danger is practically non-existent.]

Posted in environmental hysteria, internet, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 28, 2010

I want to share with you all a couple of Halloween-related lessons I give to my students every year.  That’s because this time of year is the perfect time to inject some explicit critical thinking & skepticism of all things spooky that go “bump” in the night.  I also tie it all in to scientific inquiry…

The first lesson I give my students is that I show them James Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics” video from NOVA. Though it was released in 1993, it is still one of the most well-done videos on the topic, and it is the perfect length & tone for a high school or college class.  Below is a link to Youtube where you can access the entire episode (50-60 minutes long), and I would also like to share with you the notesheet that I have my students fill in as they’re watching the video – Secrets of the Psychics Notesheet

Over the next few days, I will share with you part 2 of my Halloween lesson.  I’m certain you’ll enjoy it, so stay tuned :)

Addendum: In addition, I share some good Halloween & skeptically-themed weblinks with my students on the course website.  They are the Snopes.com page on Halloween urban legends and the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on Halloween – I highly recommend sharing these with your friends, family, and students.

Posted in astrology, education, ghosts & paranormal, magic tricks, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2010

In this post, what I want to do is address a right-wing smear campaign which has been making the rounds on the Internet recently; it states how “Obama is the first U.S. President in history to not attend Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day”, with the implication being that he somehow “hates America”, I suppose.  Apparently, there are emails on this going around, as well as articles from various right-wing blogs & “news” outlets.  People who get snagged up in stuff like this don’t even have to receive the email directly, they just have to talk with someone who received it or heard about it, or they just have to hear/read about it from some other news outlet which merely repeats the story uncritically – that’s how memes like this propagate.  Basically, for bad or incomplete information to propagate, all it takes is gullibility & uncritical thinking, either on the part of individuals or the media.

For example, how many of those partisan emails or “news” outlets mention that Obama did indeed visit Arlington National Cemetery in 2009?  Here’s a photo of him at the event…

Not only that, but a quick search of Snopes.com – an excellent website for checking the validity of all manner of Internet nonsense – reveals plenty more information which the partisans who forward this garbage are omitting…

Claim: Mike Savage [a right-wing shock jock] stated that President Obama was not going to Arlington this Memorial Day but is sending VP Biden in his place. Obama is going to Chicago instead. Savage stated that this is the first time in history that a President has not laid a wreath at Arlington on Memorial day. Is this true?

No, it’s not true.  Specifically, the claim that Obama is the first U.S. president to not lay a wreath at Arlington on Memorial Day is not true.  Snopes.com elaborates…

Origins: Memorial Day, now observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of the year set aside for Americans to commemorate the men and women of the United States who died while in the military service. On Memorial Day the President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, where America’s honored dead are interred, to deliver a speech in remembrance of those who died in service to their country and to lay a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

News that President Obama would be spending the 2010 Memorial Day weekend in Chicago rather than attending services in Arlington were attended by claims (like the example cited above) that he would thus become the first U.S. president to skip the Arlington wreath-laying ceremony since the inception of Memorial Day. This claim is inaccurate: On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), while other administration officials represented them at the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush was in France on Memorial Day and participated in ceremonies at Normandy (site of the D-Day landings) honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II. In his place, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President George H.W. Bush (himself a World War II veteran) attended no ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery during his four years in office. In 1989 he was in Rome on Memorial Day (where he led observances at an American military cemetery south of that city), and from 1990 through 1992 he spent the Memorial Day weekend vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, while Vice-President Dan Quayle laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President Ronald Reagan was away from Arlington on Memorial Day on four occasions during his eight years in office: In 1981, he (who had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt six weeks earlier) spent the Memorial Day weekend at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, while Vice-President George H.W. Bush laid the wreath at Arlington. In 1983, he attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer represented the administration at the wreath-laying ceremony. In 1987, he spent Memorial Day at the Camp David presidential retreat while Navy Secretary James Webb participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. And on Memorial Day 1988, he was out of the U.S., attending a summit meeting in Moscow.
  • (NOTE: President Bill Clinton has no entry in this list because he attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington each year throughout his eight years in office.)

On Memorial Day 2010, President Obama is scheduled to honor America’s fallen heroes with a speech at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago, while Vice-President Joe Biden takes his place at Arlington.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

More Martian Madness

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 6, 2009

My last entry focused on a supposed “alien” skull found on the surface of Mars, which is really nothing more than a classic case of pareidolia. Well, just today I received a bogus email from a colleague which recycles the old “Mars is going to be closer than EVER!” myth which has propagated over the last few years.

picture11

The email reads, in part…

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter’s gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That’s pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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