The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for May 22nd, 2010

Live Blog of WTFF Kickoff Event with Jen McCreight

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2010

**Addendum: If you’re interested in watching video of the presentation, check out this link to Vimeo. Hat tip to Bruce Critelli for shooting the video! :)

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Well, here we are at the inaugural kickoff event for the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) at the Galway Arms in Chicago.  Our featured speaker is Jennifer McCrieght, author of the Blag Hag blog and the savvy skeptic behind the infamous Boobquake of 2010 :)

We’re in the process of setting everything up, and we’ll be up-and-running in about 30 minutes.  The title of Jen’s talk is “What Boobquake Taught Us About Skepticism & Feminism”… stay tuned!

Btw, if you’re interested in following the event via live Tweeting with the Bolingbrook Babbler go to .@BolingbrookBabb

Our reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times just arrived!  The Bolingbrook Babbler just whispered in my ear: “Look at that, a press release that worked!” :)

It’s 7:25 and we’ll be starting the lecture in about 5 minutes.  We’re giving people time to settle, order drinks, and get some food…

Dr. Jennifer Newport, the Vice President of the WTFF, is now introducing the event officially, describing the WTFF and its mission.  She’s talking about how there seem to be not as many women in the skeptical movement as there should be, and part of what we’re doing is to get more female speakers in the skeptical movement.  She’s describing future WTFF events, such as our tour at FermiLab, the skeptrack at GenCon, Skepchicon at Convergence, and TAM!  There is also the WTFF Hug Me initiative, which is a campaign to promote vaccinations.

Dr. Jen is now introducing Jen McCreight – it would be Elyse Anders doing the intro, but she had her baby daughter, Delaney, just a day or two ago.  What a cute kid! :)

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The Verdict on the War on Drugs: It’s Useless

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2010

I don’t usually post on purely political topics, but some recent news is making me get out of my usual rut.  I want to talk in this post about the U.S. drug problem… specifically, about how the “War on Drugs”, a.k.a. Drug Prohibition, is beyond useless – it has actually done far more harm than good.

Take a look at this recent news article showing how Drug Prohibition is a complete waste of time, money, resources, and essentially a civil war against our own citizens…

U.S. drug war has met none of its goals

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric. …

Not only that, but at the high school where I teach there used to be a student supervisor who was a retired cop.  Over the years of his time on the force, he spent considerable time working the drug beat.  Just before he left the school, he confided in me a revelation he’d had: that all the work he and his colleagues had done in enforcing drug laws, fighting the dealers, and so on had done absolutely nothing to stop (or even limit) the drug problem.  Nothing.

That’s a startling revelation from someone whose profession it was to enforce the very laws and carry out the very War on Drugs which are supposed to protect us from this supposed scourge upon humanity.

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Creating Skeptics: Why Every Kid Should Have a Teacher Like Matt Lowry

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2010

I wanted to toot my own horn a bit and repost a wonderful account of my recent talk at the Center For Inquiry Chicago titled “Teaching Freethought: How to Create a Skeptical Kid”. The account comes from Alan, a.k.a. the Jewish Atheist, who was in attendance at the event.  Alan’s other musings regarding myth, magic, and how easily believers allow themselves to be fooled are worth considering.  So, with that, I refer to you to Alan’s post…

Creating Skeptics: Why Every Kid Should Have a Teacher Like Matt Lowry

May 18th, 2010 by Alan

“Science, I maintain, is an absolutely essential tool for any society with the hope of surviving well into the next century with its fundamental values intact — not just science as engaged in by its practitioners, but science understood and embraced by the entire human community. And if scientists do not bring this about, who will?”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

“We must trust to nothing but facts: these are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.”

Antoine Lavoisier

Matt Lowry is the teacher you wish you had (and some of us were lucky to actually have had), be it in physics or literature. In Matt’s case it is physics, which he teaches in high school and college in Lake County, IL. I recently attended, in Chicago, his Center for Inquiry presentation on how he cultivates skepticism in high schoolers, through science.

His scientific knowledge is hugely impressive, as are his demonstrations – walking on burning coals, broken glass; lying on bed of nails – which powerfully hook kids on curiosity and skepticism. He teaches them Carl Sagan’s “Dragon in the Garage” analogy and lets them draw their own conclusions.

At Halloween he stages an interactive Haunted Physics Lab (including demonstration of the magnetic forces that make the Ouija Board seem to work), once again teaching kids that all magic is done by someone just a little smarter than you.

His high school students come from various religious backgrounds. Some actually believe the world is only a few thousand years old. Some come away enlightened (“My grandmother should hear this – she’s really into that Bible stuff”), others with only a seed of doubt planted. As Matt says, you cultivate wonder and skepticism and “take what you can get.”

I’ll come back to Matt’s clientele later (and remember, they’re somewhat self-selected — lots of kids stay away from physics classes; it takes an outstanding teacher to bring them in)….

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