The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for April, 2009

Where Education & Skepticism Meet: The CTEG

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2009

I just wanted to take a few minutes to give a quick shout out to a new group which caters to both educators and skeptics: the Critical Thinking Education Group (CTEG).


The CTEG formed as a result of a group of classroom teachers and education researchers meeting informally at The Amazing Meeting 6 (TAM6) in Las Vegas in June 2008. At that meeting, we decided that one aspect of the skeptical movement that seems to have been a bit neglected is a more formal analysis of and involvement with the educational community.

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The Hand of God?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2009

There is an image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory which is all over the Internet these days. Here it is…

What do you see? Most people, when asked, say they see what looks like a large ghostly hand reaching towards the nebula to the upper right of the photo. In actuality, according to NASA, the picture is an x-ray photograph of a young pulsar, or rotating neutron star

A small, dense object only 12 miles in diameter is responsible for this beautiful X-ray nebula that spans 150 light years. At the center of this image, made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand.

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Posted in psychology, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Scientists Fight the sCAM Quacks

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 6, 2009

It seems that the current economic & political climate might be giving actual scientists the opportunity to take on a pseudoscience called CAM (Complementary & Alternative “Medicine”) – what I like to call sCAM – which has wormed its way into various U.S. medical institutions over the years.

As the Washington Post reports in a recent article…

The impending national discussion about broadening access to health care, improving medical practice and saving money is giving a group of scientists an opening to make a once-unthinkable proposal: Shut down the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

The notion that the world’s best-known medical research agency sponsors studies of homeopathy, acupuncture, therapeutic touch and herbal medicine has always rankled many scientists. That the idea for its creation 17 years ago came from a U.S. senator newly converted to alternative medicine’s promise didn’t help.

This is great! Apparently, there is some belt-tightening going on at the National Institutes of Health, and the real scientists – you know, the ones who practice actual medicine – see a good opportunity to cut funding for the NCCAM woo.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 2, 2009

Every year when I teach my students about electromagnetism, I take some time to discuss with them the physics of electromagnetic waves (a.k.a. “light”). EM-waves go by another name common to scientists, electromagnetic radiation, and it’s that second word – radiation – which scares the hell out of so many people and makes them vulnerable to all manner of woo.

Case in point, there is a lot of bunk out there concerning EM-radiation and cancer. Specifically, there is a group of folks who try to push the idea that cell phones, power lines, and wi-fi are emitting radiation (called EMFs, or electromagnetic fields) which will give people exposed to them all manner of cancers. I’m here to tell you that this is just plain b.s. – people who make these pseudoscientific arguments do not understand the physics of EMFs, at all.

First off, the physical mechanism which creates an electromagnetic wave (or “EM-radiation” or “light” or “EMFs” – they’re all the same thing) is basically wiggling an electric charge back and forth. This process generates a self-reinforcing set of electric & magnetic fields which form the wave, and the frequency of these waves (which matches the frequency at which the charge is wiggled) is what determines exactly what kind of EM-radiation is created. Depending upon the frequency of the wave, it will fall along what is called the electromagnetic spectrum…


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Posted in environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

The Death and Rebirth of Science Reporting?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 1, 2009

There has been a disturbing trend in recent years in journalistic circles: the decline of science journalism in many areas of the media, specifically print media (newspapers, magazines, etc). However, it’s not all bad news, because Internet-based blogging provides a new venue for science reporting.

science blogs

As this article in NatureNews states…

Traditional journalists are increasingly looking to such [science-based] sites to find story ideas (see ‘Rise of the blogs’). At the same time, they rely heavily on the public-relations departments of scientific organizations. As newspapers employ fewer people with science-writing backgrounds, these press offices are employing more. Whether directly or indirectly, scientists and the institutions at which they work are having more influence than ever over what the public reads about their work.

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Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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