The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for September, 2009

Blasphemy Day, Bill Maher, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2009

Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone!  For the last 5 years, to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of the now infamous Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, on Sept. 30th the Center For Inquiry has celebrated International Blasphemy Day.

**Aside: Even if you’re religious, read this article all the way to the end.  There’s an interesting twist at the bottom – and a very important message for my fellow skeptics/atheists.

International Blasphemy Day isn’t about the non-religious thumbing their noses at the religious so much as it is about defending free inquiry and demanding that the free & unfettered exchange of ideas be respected.  More specifically, in CFI’s own words…

Free speech is the foundation on which all other liberties rest. Without having the right to express our opinions, however unpopular, those willing to use political clout, violence, and threats will stifle dissent, and we must all suffer the consequences of this. As George Bernard Shaw quipped, “Every great truth begins as a blasphemy.”

Blasphemy Day International is a campaign seeking to establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal. The event was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs that have been given a privileged status over other beliefs.

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Posted in free inquiry, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Website Rates Best & Worst Cellphones… by Radiation Output

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2009

While cruising around the Internet I stumbled upon this website over at Engadget.com where they ask people to rate their cellphones – by the amount of (spooky word here) RADIATION output!

The irony here is the fact that a website which seems to advertise itself as tech-savvy would appear to embrace such a stupidly pseudoscientific concept as cellphone radiation being dangerous.  As has been outlined repeatedly in the scientific literature – as well as in my Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths blog entry – there is NO danger from cellphone radiation… none!

As for the Engadget article, note the scale they show and the subsequent commentary…

You’re surely aware that your cellphone bleeds radiation into your face the whole time you’re on the phone with your mom, best friend or lover, right? Yes, it’s a fact we try not to think about most of the time, but now there’s a tool out there on the internets for the more reality-facing folks among us. The Environmental Working Group’s launched a website dedicated to rating cellphones on their radiation output alone. Ranking highly (meaning they put out the lowest levels of radiation) are the Motorola RAZR V8, and AT&T’s Samsung Impression. In fact, it seems that Samsung is cranking out the healthiest phones these days! Phones with poor showings includes T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G and the Blackberry Curve 8830. So hit the read link and tell us, how does your phone rate?

The scale leaves out one important fact… that all of these phones likely operate at the same frequencies of radiation.  The only thing this scale is studying is the intensity, which is entirely different!  For example, the frequency of a photon of electromagnetic energy is what determines how energetic (and therefore how dangerous in the context of causing cancer) the radiation is.  Low-frequency radiation like that from cellphones simply cannot cause cancer, as far as we know, because it is non-ionizing radiation. The fact that these goofs at Engadget.com can’t even get this basic bit of physics right will ensure that they won’t be getting any of my business.

I don’t know about you, but I know how I’d rate this website for scientific validity.  I give it a rating of FAIL.

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Conspiracy Theorists Gear Up After Release of Oklahoma City Bombing Video

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2009

Recently, the FBI released some video footage from cameras in the area around the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19th, 1995.  The video came from a variety of cameras from sites surrounding the Murrah Federal Building, the target of the bombing.  And, true to form, conspiracy theorists have already jumped all over the release of the videos…

Attorney: OKC bombing tapes appear edited

Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday.

“The real story is what’s missing,” said Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney who obtained the recordings through the federal Freedom of Information Act as part of an unofficial inquiry he is conducting into the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. …

… The tapes turned over by the FBI came from security cameras various companies had mounted outside office buildings near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They are blank at points before 9:02 a.m., when a truck bomb carrying a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the building, Trentadue said.

“Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence,” Trentadue said. …

… “The interesting thing is they spring back on after 9:02,” he said. “The absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn’t want anybody to see.

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

World’s Longest Basketball Shot?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2009

Okay, I just couldn’t pass this one up… I saw this video today on Yahoo Sports where they claim to show recent footage of the world’s longest basketball shot. I’m a bit skeptical, because such videos have been released to the Internet before and many are found to be digitally altered or tweaked.  So it’s tough to take something like this at face value.

But I’m willing to be convinced – most especially because, if true, it’s a pretty damn cool feat!  And it does make sense that, given enough attempts, something like this could be done – there is, after all, nothing in the laws of physics which would prevent it.  With that, here are two videos showing the claimed shot…

So, my fellow skeptics, what do you think?  Real or fake?  Let the games begin!  :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Pew Science Knowledge Quiz

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 21, 2009

I saw today that the Pew Research Center has posted an online Science Knowledge Quiz at their website as a way of testing the general public’s scientific knowledge & understanding.  Click here to take the quiz…

My thoughts on this?  First, the good news: this is a great idea, and I’ve already seen it making the rounds like crazy on the Internet.  I also have more than one teaching colleague who has incorporated into their lessons (or at least plans to do so).  This is great PR, in my opinion, for pointing out our collective strengths & weaknesses when it comes to understanding science.

Now the bad news: the questions are pathetically easy, but what is really pathetic is that only about 10% of the people taking the quiz get all 12 questions correct (full disclosure: I’m in that top 10% :) ).  In addition, the questions are merely fact-based in nature – all multiple choice with no questions geared towards testing the critical thinking skills of the test-taker.

All in all, I think the popularity of this little online quiz is a plus.  I encourage you to take it yourself, and then pass it along to others.

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Natural Cures” Douchebags Use Patrick Swayze’s Death to Push Their Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2009

Like many of you, I was saddened to read the news of Patrick Swayze’s untimely death – Roadhouse will forever be one of my most favorite movies.  Unfortunately, there are those who will look to take advantage of any opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense, just as the douchebags over at NaturalNews.com have done regarding Swayze’s death.

Swayze died of pancreatic cancer, and he fought the disease as best he could using science-based medicine.  But in an article apparently based in an alternate reality, these anti-science-based medicine folks state that it is precisely because he relied on science-based medicine that he died.  You’ve that right, folks: according to these deluded people, science killed Patrick Swayze!  *facepalm*

Patrick Swayze dead at 57 after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Beloved actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday evening after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Having put his faith in conventional chemotherapy, he largely dismissed ideas that nutrition, superfoods or “alternative medicine” might save him, instead betting his life on the chemotherapy approach which seeks to poison the body into a state of remission instead of nourishing it into a state of health.

Okay, so these morons start pushing the “chemotherapy = poison” line right off the bat.  This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to scare people about a useful & serious method for combating cancer.  By equating it with poison, they try to leave the reader with the impression that nothing good comes out of chemotherapy, despite the fact that it is one of the most reliable methods of treating cancer available.  Which leads to the next part of the article…

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Three Reasons Why the Large Hadron Collider Will NOT Destroy the Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2009

One of the things I did at Dragon*Con a couple of weeks ago was to give a talk on the physics of the Large Hadron Collider.  The last part of the talk dealt specifically with the claims that the LHC will destroy the Earth.  My response to this nonsense claim:

dont panic

No, really, don’t panic… the Large Hadron Collider is NOT going to destroy the Earth. Yes, I know what the cranks have said, and I know that words such as “black hole“, “strangelet” and “exotic matter” get thrown around to make them sound like they know physics from their buttholes… but really, it’s going to be fine.  Here’s why:

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Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific Sells “Ghost Detectors” & Other Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 14, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of something that, as both a skeptic & science teacher, shocked me: Edmund Scientific, one of the oldest & most respected outlets for selling science equipment for educational use, has gone over to the dark side.  They are actively marketing & selling paranormal woo…

edmund-woo-meter

What are these products that Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific is now selling on their website?  They are…

EMF Ghost Meter – This is nothing more than a standard EMF (electromagnetic field) detector, which usually detects EMFs that are low frequency, such as radio & microwaves.  I have no beef with Edmund selling EMF detectors (I even have one in my classroom), but what galls me is the manner in which they are marketing this device.  They are actually calling it a ghost detector – and by doing so they are giving credence to the pseudoscientific flummery of the paranormal woo-meisters!  As they say on their website:

Detect Paranormal Presences

The preferred unit of paranormal investigators, this Ghost Meter can be used by laymen with professional results. The unit responds instantaneously to EMF fluctuations and spikes in energy with a detecting range of 50 to 1,000 Hz. The VLF range is 1,000 to 20,000 Hz. An easy-to-read LED display and silent on/off push switch make for seamless, simple operation.

Such devices are often used by so-called ghost hunters as they bumble around in the dark, freaking themselves out at every cool draft of wind & creaky sound they hear.  In reality, there is absolutely no reason to think that EMF meters are detecting any kind of “ghostly entities”, as a simple application of Occam’s Razor often shows that what the meters are actually detecting is the low-frequency EM-waves given off by nearby lighting fixtures, electrical lines, or even the other equipment carried by the ghost hunters themselves!

But if you thought that was bad, it gets worse.  Here are some other gems that Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific is now selling…

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Posted in education, ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Skepticism & Love: “I Married a Woo!”

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 13, 2009

Recently, I saw a post on the JREF Forum by Robert Lancaster, a skeptic who is widely known for his website StopSylvia.com – dedicated to exposing supposed psychic Sylvia Browne for being a fraud.  It is fair to say that Robert is a hardcore skeptic, willing to go to extraordinary lengths to expose fakery and hold such liars to account for their actions (like willfully deceiving & bilking the credulous).

However, the content of his post is not what you might think… it is his account of how he met his current wife, Susan, and how he – a hardened skeptic – and she – a believer – gradually grew to love each other to the point of getting married.  In the process, Robert showed how his patience & understanding and willingness to carefully & thoughtfully express his skepticism to one who did not share it eventually won her over.  I think there are lessons here from which many of us can learn…

HPIM3880

I Married a Woo!

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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Challenge to Skeptics: Pithy, Non-Offensive Sound Bytes in Response to Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2009

This will be a quick post, one which I hope garners a lot of attention because it addresses an important unanswered question: can the skeptical community come up with a quick, pithy, 30-second sound byte that is non-offensive which conveys the importance of teaching evolution whilst tamping down creationist pseudoscience?

Allow me to provide some context for this question… during my time last weekend at Dragon*Con, I participated in a panel discussion called “Darwin’s Bulldogs, Teachers on the Front Lines” which addressed the question of how educators can deal with creationism in the context of the classroom.

HPIM4066

In the photo on the far right is Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, who was on the panel with me.

After the panel discussion, we had audience Q&A, and a woman who works at a history museum came up to the microphone and presented us with a tough question – the one I named above.  In museums, they don’t have the advantage of a science teacher who has many months to educate students and the luxury of being able to craft pro-science arguments & experiments.  A museum worker can find themselves in a sudden situation where they’re on the spot to explain to, potentially hostile, people the importance of evolution.  As Eugenie Scott said in our panel, this is a particularly tough situation to deal with, and we all agreed to try putting our collective heads together in an effort to address the issue because we do not yet have a good response.

So, if you have a suggestion for a sound byte, please leave it in the comments section below and pass this blog post on to everyone you know.  I’ll share my findings with others in the hopes that we can come up with something workable!

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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