The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for April, 2010

Boobquake Follow-Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

**Addendum (4/2/10): Jen McCreight, the creator of Boobquake, has a series of great follow-up posts regarding Boobquake, the science behind earthquakes, and related feminist topics.  Check them out…

The Iranian and Muslim response to Boobquake

Why boobquake isn’t destroying feminism

My article on the science of Boobquake at The Guardian

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This past Monday, April 26th, marked the first Boobquake – which was a light-hearted attempt to poke some fun at an Islamic cleric’s utterly hateful & stupid comments about promiscuous women somehow causing… earthquakes.  Let’s see how it went…

Here is some video footage courtesy of Phil over at Skeptic Money :)

CNN: Boobquake Rocks Web

Boobquake on the Colbert Report

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Noah’s Ark Found… Again?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

Recently a story getting a lot of press is yet another claim by yet another Christian-oriented organization that they’ve discovered the mythical Noah’s Ark. For many Christians of the more fundamentalist stripe, the myth of Noah’s Ark is kind of like the Holy Grail – many of them believe that if it can be found that it somehow proves the validity of their particular interpretation of the Bible.

noahs ark mt ararat

However, some deeper investigation past the headline shows that this story is likely just another exaggerated claim, because – as skeptic Ben Radford points out – we’ve been here before… numerous times.  Yes, apparently, the mythical Noah’s Ark has been discovered (and re-discovered) a number of times “with definitive proof” that it is authentic.

Noah’s Ark Re-Rediscovered

A Chinese Christian filmmaker claims to have found the final resting place of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung says he and a team from Noah’s Ark Ministries found the remains of the Ark at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). They filmed inside the structure and took wood samples that were later analyzed in Iran. He claims the wood was carbon-dated to around the reputed time of Noah’s flood, which would be remarkable since organic material should have long since disintegrated in the last 5,000 years.

Yeung said that he is “99 percent certain that it is Noah’s Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating.”

While news of the find is making headlines around the world, there’s one part of the story that Yeung is conspicuously silent about: He is only the latest in a long line of people who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen others – all of them funded by Christian organizations – who have claimed final, definitive proof of Noah’s Ark. So far none of the claims have proven true.

Noah’s Ark is routinely re-discovered, because there are many who fervently want it to be found. Biblical literalists – those who believe that proof of the Bible’s events remains to be found – have spent their lives and fortunes trying to scientifically validate their religious beliefs.

There are several reasons why the new claims should be treated with skepticism. For example, Yeung refuses to disclose the location of the find and is instead keeping it a secret. This of course is inherently unscientific; for the claims to be proven, the evidence must be presented to other scientists for peer-review. Nor has the alleged 5,000-year-old wood been made available for independent testing.

… There is a long and rich history of Ark finds. Nearly 40 years ago, Violet M. Cummings, author of “Noah’s Ark: Fable or Fact?” (Creation-Science Research Center, 1973) claimed – without evidence – that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” (Scholastic Book Services) “there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah’s Ark really does exist…. Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark’s exact location on Mt. Ararat.” Yet again, no real evidence was offered.

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Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

U.S. Public Only Seems to Like “Practical” Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

I just caught this post over at the Woo-Fighters blog, and thought it worth sharing.  The results of these polls give me some reason to hope, but it also shows that those of us in the pro-science community certainly do have our work cut out for us.  Read on…

Science? Only when it’s practical, please.

April 25th, 2010 | Author: Matthew Newton

When the idea of “science” is brought up, most people agree that this so-called science is a good thing. In fact, in a somewhat recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans surveyed believed the science in their lives to have a positive influence on society, with only 6% indicating the opposite. 70% said they believed scientists to have a positive influence on society, which is even more than doctors!

While the magical idea of “what science is to me and not to you thank you very much” sounds preferable to your average consumer of science, the reality behind belief in American scientific progress is a bit more bleak. From the same poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed America to among the “best in the world” when it comes to scientific research, with 49% believing America to have the best scientists in the world. It’s a lot easier to deny an intangible idea, isn’t it?

Three separate Gallup Polls taken between 1990 and 2001 measured public beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Notably, and in spite of the 84% of Americans putting their faith in science, a large portion in all three time periods (50%) said they believed in Extrasensory Perception (ESP) , with only 21% definitively certain about its nonexistence.

How do Americans, who are so sure of science’s contributions to society, have such a poor misunderstanding of such basic concepts? Principal researcher Heather Ridolfo’s recently published paper entitled “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” examined differences in perception of ESP based on both public and scientific opinion. What was found is that while people tend to evaluate the validity of claims based on how many other people support said claims (a cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect), the support of the scientific community (or lack thereof) has no impact on evaluating the validity of claims made about ESP.

From this, the researchers concluded that their finding “may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science”. Whatever the reason, the romantic idea of science and the reality behind science have a long way to go before they meet.

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Evolution/Creation Thoughts from a Thoughtful Christian

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very vocal advocate for good science education (including evolution).  They also know that I am an unapologetic skeptic in all things, including religion – I am, in fact, an ardent atheist and non-believer in all things supernatural (god being one of those things).  However, despite my philosophical position, I count among my friends & acquaintances many religious people: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Mormons.  I do not like the idea of defining skepticism to equate with atheism, because I’ve known too many religious people who are good skeptics in most areas, and I’ve known too many atheists who have absolutely gone into the deep end of the woo pool.  It just smacks too much of a false dichotomy to make such an argument.

That said, what I’d like to do is introduce you to a colleague of mine… let’s call him Fred (not his real name).  Fred and I know each other because we’re both science educators and we’ve worked together in various capacities before.  Fred is also a very devout evangelical Christian, and he is on a journey of investigation regarding skepticism, creationism & evolutionary science.  When I recently posted to an email list we both frequent, Darwin’s Bulldogs, about an anti-evolution letter in the local paper, he spoke up about the letter & writer.  His story is very poignant and quite reminiscent of what I like to call a “thoughtful believer” who is attempting to balance what he was once told (“brainwashing” he calls it) in church versus the truth he now knows.  I think his story is best told in his own words, so with Fred’s permission, I now share those words with you here…

Having grown up in very conservative  churches with a “strong faith,” yet having a scientifically inquisitive mind, I was immersed in YEC [Young Earth Creationism] for many years, even trying to convince others using some of the so-called arguments based on the Bible and Christianized science that I had at my disposal.  As I have gone through my own evolution toward embracing evolution as revealed by the evidence, these Christianized arguments make me a bit ill in their display of uneducated bias, blind “faith,” and inability to see past assumptions that “we” are convinced simply MUST be true in order to have a valid belief in God. This comes out strongly in the last part where the evolutionary “archeaologist” will have to either embrace the bones as evidence for his “hoped for” link in the descent of man, or as a creationist who will see them as the APE THAT THEY ARE.  No evidence given… no attempt to consider that maybe there is room to really CONSIDER the evidence one way or the other… just the confident (arrogant?) proclamation that they are from an ape.  This is followed by the Christianized theology that only mankind is made in the image of God, not apes.  What does THAT mean?  We Christians tend to throw that “image of God” thing around as though it’s a trump card, and I’m more and more convinced that not a one of us has a CLUE what it really means (notwithstanding the legitimacy of the Biblical statement itself of course!).  Yet there is a tendency of smug assurance that the “image of God” is really understood, and that WE KNOW WHAT IT MEANS AND WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN, so case closed.  No evidence needed.  The Bible is clear, and we know exactly what the Bible means, so why work hard to figure out what in fact is real as revealed by nature and open for ALL to see?

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry 5

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

First off, let me apologize in advance, because I’ll likely have to cut out before the end of this particular lecture.  That said…

Speaker #4: Dr. Dario Maestripieri, professor of evolutionary biology, on “What Primatology and Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us About the Evolution of Human Behavior”.  Some evolutionary biologists consider the study of behavior to be outside the realm of their field – this is because behavior is notoriously difficult to quantify and measure.  Another reason is that many think that behavior is an effect of environment and culture.  Then there is the dreaded “free will” problem, and some people are uncomfortable with the idea of their behavior being the product of some kind of deterministic evolutionary process.

The Lieberman Experiments: people were wired up to electrodes and asked questions, and the result was that the electrodes read that their brains had actually made decisions before they had consciously decided on the answer.  The point is that it seems that we have the illusion of control and that we make decisions even before we are aware of them!

Most evolutionary biologists study fruit flies, but Dr. Maestripieri studies monkeys and other primates, in order to study and make conclusions about human behavior.

Dr. Maestripieri also does research on humans in order to analyze the evolutionary processes which influence human behavior.  This sort of work is very controversial because of a variety of reasons, so not many evolutionary biologists do this kind of research.

In fact, some evolutionary biologists think that the field of evolutionary psychology is non-scientific.

Basic Outline:

*brief history of primatology

*some basic concepts

*primatologists, evolutionary psychologists, human behavioral ecologists, and their critics

*evolutionary psychology: science or bunk?

In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” where he focused on the behavior & emotions of animals and how that reflects the psychology of man.  He felt that these behaviors in animals (primates) formed a continuum with human behavior.  In the process, like in his earlier research, he gathered evidence from around the world and attempted to formulate a theory of human behavior via evolution.

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

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry 4

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Now it is time for some fun… The Mentalist ‘Mystopher’ and Carolee, “Serving Fork-Fulls of Magic and Imagination”.  Mystopher used to be a Baptist preacher back in the day…

He became interested in magic & deception from the shell game which takes place all too often on the streets of Chicago.  He calls himself Mystopher because when he wanted to bring this magic show to his church but ran into resistance his fellow church-goers didn’t want to do it because “magic”, “illusion”, etc were somehow evil.

Okay, Mystopher is now working on his tricks, so I’m going to stop blogging because I’m going to miss them!…

What’s the difference between magic, luck, and miracle?  “God did it!” (joke from the audience)

I just got pwned in a great card trick by Mystopher – very slick & well done! :)

Now the straight-jacket is coming out – this is going to be good… he has been put into the straight-jacket, tied up with locked chains, and is now escaping this mess – wow!!!  He has one arm free and is opening an envelope to get a deck of cards so he can perform a reveal… undoing the back of the jacket now, both arms free… less than one minute to go!

30 seconds to go… he’s free and the revealed card is coming out of his mouth! Awesome!!!

The next trick is to disappear a $20 bill, make it into a $1 bill, and the original $20 bill (signed) was reappeared into a lemon.  I have no clue how he “miracled” the $20 bill into the lemon. Nice…

Now for some mentalism.  Mystopher’s wife Carolee has come to the front and been blindfolded by Adam Walker’s tie.  In the meantime, Mystopher is regaling us with some poetry… miracles for less.

Now some interesting mentalism from Carolee, using “clairvoyance” to tell people’s names on their nametags, what is in their pockets, how many fingers they’re holding up, the name on the back of a man’s tie, a picture in an envelope, etc.

Posted in humor, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry #3

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #3: We’re back from lunch!  Our speaker is Dr. Ron Pine, explorer, retired biology professor, and debunker of “Intelligent Design”…

He’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and he’s here talking about evolution & creationism (and the newest version of creationism – “intelligent design”).  One argument by creationists often used is to “teach the controversy”.  In ID, there are basically no new arguments – the roots of ID are actually older than Flood Geology, Biblically based Young Earth Creationism.  Thus, these ID arguments have been thoroughly refuted for a long time, yet the argument is back with new terminology.  Essentially, the ID argument boils down to claiming that “we have proved the existence of God using science!”

That’s a pretty enormous claim, especially considering that there is no science in modern ID – it’s just a bunch of essays written by the proponents.  They use all the standard creationist arguments against evolution which have been debunked for many years.

William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument: from the modern ID movement, it is clear that their version of the Intelligent Designer is their view of the Christian god.

Irreducible Complexity & Specified Complexity – IC is complexity which can not be broken down any simpler.  SC speaks to specific functions (i.e., DNA, etc)

Law of Conservation of Information: basically, it is impossible for natural processes to come up with SC – wtf?!

The entire ID argument boils in large part down to an argument from incredulity – “I cannot conceive that God didn’t do it, therefore evolution is wrong & God did it!”  When presented with explanations via evolution for what we observe, they essentially deny the evidence & rationalize it away.

Another ID argument is known as god-of-the-gaps… in the past, in the absence of natural explanations for various phenomena (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, etc) the explanation of “God did (does) it!” comes to the front.  However, as we learn more and more about the natural world, the god-of-the-gaps gets smaller and smaller, which is one reason why intelligent theologians do not like this line of argumentation.

The Center for Science & Culture via the Discovery Institute pushes ID through their Wedge Strategy, internal memos which explicitly state that they are attempting to push a Christian theocracy on U.S. society.  They believe that this “wedge” will lead to a replacement of evolution in science by ID, and this will better society as a whole – note that they say specifically that they aren’t interested in science, rather they are interested in pushing their ideology.  Questions such as Young Earth Creationism vs. Old Earth Creationism are said to be answered after evolution is replaced.

At least in YEC, there is some kind of model to be tested, making it at least a legitimate pseudoscience, whereas the modern ID movement is not even wrong, it’s not even a pseudoscience, because it doesn’t even have a model which can be tested in the first place!

ID proponents claim they have a theory, yet they don’t – no model to test – just a bunch of articles.  They take advantage of the public’s misunderstanding of the word “theory”, which they imply is “just a guess.”  Sadly, many high school texts don’t help with the manner in which scientific terminology is mangled (e.g., hypothesis is more than “a prediction”).  This includes mixing up various terms such as scientific law, theory, etc.

There is no ID “theory” – it is simply an assertion.  And scientists shouldn’t even use such language in reference to ID, because it gives them more credit than they deserve. …

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” – Entry #2

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #2: Dr. Michael Albrow , physicist at FermiLab, talking about “What’s True and What’s Untrue in Physics Today?”

Opening joke: please take away from this that physics is much simpler than biology! :)

Some knowledge is as certain as certain can be, while some things are necessarily uncertain.  There is much we know is not possible, but there is much which we know is also outside of our domain.

The beginning of modern science probably started with Galileo and his conflict with the Church.  Differences between science & religion…

Science:

*distrust authority / only Nature is authority

*criticism encouraged

*all hypotheses are testable by repeatable experiments / observations

*try to fault existing theories, make progress

*theory = explanation

*disagreements are healthy

*accepted standards of statistics & evidence

Religion/Nonsense/Nonscience:

*dogmatic

*questioning / criticism not encouraged

*not fundamentally upheld to testing

*”theory” = speculation

*disagreements discouraged / when scientists disagree that mans they’re wrong

*poor understanding or misuse of statistics & numbers

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

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Conference – Entry #1

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Well, here I am at the Chicago CFI’s conference titled “Dangerous Nonsense: Exploring the Gulf Between Science and Its Imposters” in lovely, foggy downtown Chicago.  Adam Walker, director for Chicago CFI is getting ready to get us started this morning.

There’s about 100-120 people in attendance today, and a nice number of people who are from out of town (about 20%).

Adam Walker is talking about how we should (as Americans) be reigniting the love of learning, learning how to ask questions, digging deeper, rejecting pat answers.  However, we see tens of thousands of young people tromping through the Creation Museum in KY – of course the Grand Canyon was carved in a weekend!  We also see the Obama administration appealing the ruling by a federal court ruling that the National Day of Prayer is a constitutional violation of church-state separation.  We also grit our teeth as the State Board of Education in Texas is giving Phyllis Schlafley the same status as Thomas Jefferson’s framing of the Constitution equal importance in history textbooks.

This is where groups like CFI Chicago comes in: we stand for reason & rationality.  We also provide opportunities to skeptics & freethinkers to join together and socialize.

Today’s topic is “Dangerous Nonsense”, because when America allows itself to be influenced by fakers & deniers because it eats away at our core principles of the Enlightenment & rationalism.

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Boobquake: Breasts That Rock the World!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

I wanted to pass along a hilarious & fun example of skeptical activism that I stumbled upon a couple of days ago: Boobquake!!! If you recall, you may have heard that earlier this week, an Iranian cleric declared that women’s “immodesty” and promiscuity was to blame for recent earthquakes that have struck various parts of the world.  I cannot even think of a non-vulgar response to such blatantly superstitious, misogynstic idiocy, but fortunately I don’t have to – that’s where Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag comes in :)

In the name of science, I offer my boobs

This little bit of supernatural thinking has been floating around the blogosphere today:

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader.I have a modest proposal.

Sedighi claims that not dressing modestly causes earthquakes. If so, we should be able to test this claim scientifically. You all remember the homeopathy overdose?

Time for a Boobquake.

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that’s your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it’ll be one involving plate tectonics.

So, who’s with me? I may be a D cup, but that will probably only produce a slight tremor on its own. If you’ll be joining me on twitter, use the tag #boobquake! Or join the facebook event!

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

 
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