The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for July, 2010

Ten Reasons Why “Boycott BP” is a Stupid Idea

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 13, 2010

Like many of you, I have been hearing all summer long that we should all be boycotting BP gas stations in protest of their handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Now, while I am definitely one to get up in arms about corporate incompetence & malfeasance – especially regarding environmental issues – I have to say that I think this whole “boycott BP” meme is a really stupid idea.

I was planning on going into all the reasons why I think the boycott is dumb & misguided, but then last week I heard on my local radio station (good ol’ 95 WIIL Rock) a discussion of this very topic, and the DJs there posted a link on their website called “10 Reasons Not to Boycott BP”…

10 Reasons NOT to Boycott BP

June 22, 2010

(UnhappyFranchisee.com) by Sean Kelly

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

Despite the “oil crisis” in the 1970’s, the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and two oil-related Gulf wars, we continue to choose convenient self-delusion over logical, intelligent, honest and actionable thought.  We Americans prefer the illusion of environmental action to any path that might require us to modify, even slightly, our own oil-dependent lifestyles.

There’s no better illustration of this misguided thinking than the boycott of BP service stations.  Despite the obvious inanity of this non-solution, the Boycott BP Facebook page has nearly 700,000 fans.

BP franchise owners have become convenient, local scapegoats.  They’ve had oil-soaked animal carcasses chucked on their doorsteps, and had to withstand protests, vandalism, verbal abuse and sales declines… but to what end?

If you are boycotting BP stations or considering it, here are ten good reasons to reconsider:

#1  BP Stations Aren’t Owned by BP

The 11,000 BP-branded gas stations in the U.S. are owned by independent franchisees – not BP.  BP makes a tiny portion of its profits from retail gas sales, and can simply sell excess fuel inventory to other retailers… like the one boycotters are burning an extra gallon of unleaded to patronize. 

Bottom line:  Your boycott won’t hurt BP.

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#2  Gas at No-Name Mini-Market May Still be BP Gas

Boycotting BP gas isn’t as easy as you think.  Even if you fill up at Joe’s Mini-Market instead of a BP station, you may still be buying BP-refined gas.  BP, like other oil companies, sells “unbranded” gasoline to a wide variety of local gasoline retailers.

Bottom line: Even if you bypass BP stations, odds are you’re still buying BP products.

#3  You’ll be Attacking Small Business Owners, Not Big Business

Think your boycott is anti-big-business?  Think again.  BP franchisees are small business owners with the misfortune of being locked in to franchise & fuel purchase agreements with the corporate giant.  Some even chose BP because of its alleged corporate responsibility. 

Bottom line: Depriving BP stations of your gas/cigarette/green tea purchases isn’t an attack on big business, it’s an assault on small to medium-size employers.

#4  Boycotting BP Hurts Local Economies

BP franchisees are small business owners.  They are employers, taxpayers, homeowners & community members. They write paychecks to local citizens, pay  local taxes, purchase good & services from other businesses and draw traffic to the local area and nearby businesses.  What if your boycott is successful?  Is a vacant lot, boarded windows, and a longer line at the unemployment office your idea of success?

Bottom line: You’ll hurt your neighbors more than BP with this boycott.

#5   Korn, Lady GaGa & The Backstreet Boys

No catastrophe is so devastating that attention-starved celebrities won’t exploit it for their own financial gain.  To promote its upcoming album release, rock band Korn is exploiting the BP Boycott with a publicity push so inane it borders on self-parody.

Korn’s enlisted fellow 2D media hoors like Lady GaGa (pictured left) & The Backstreet Boys to take the bold step of filling their gas-guzzling tour buses at non-BP stations.

Bottom line: You’ll help the environment more by boycotting Korn, Lady GaGa & The Backstreet Boys.  Demand that they cancel their energy-sucking, oil-wasting tours altogether.

#6  You Can’t REALLY Boycott BP

In an The Atlantic Wire article, John Hudson quotes Kait Rayner at WJBF in Augusta: “BP does more than just sell gas. their petroleum is used to make tires, sunglasses, and cleaning supplies. It’s in your lipstick, your shampoo…and even in your toothpaste.”

Bottom line:  Boycotting BP completely is pretty much impossible. All you can do is pretend you’re boycotting BP.

#7  This Guy

Speaking of self-delusion, behold the picture of the fun, jolly guy who’s put more thought into making his pirate hat than thinking through the impact (or lack thereof) of the boycott he’s promoting.  The fact that he feels he’s taking meaningful action by promoting a counterproductive boycott keeps him from putting his time and energy into endeavors that might actually have a positive impact.

Bottom line: Feel-good boycotts divert time and energy from activities that might yield real, positive results.

#8 “Bankrupt BP!” Lunacy

We want BP to spend lots & lots of money cleaning up the catastrophe in the Gulf, right?  We want BP to continue to spend lots & lots of money for years to come, right?  So where is the logic in trying to diminish the revenue they’ll have available to put into clean-up efforts?  Where is the logic in diverting our gas dollars to competitors that are not being required to put a portion of those dollars into cleaning the gulf? 

Bottom line:  Cutting off BP revenue threatens its ability to finance aggressive and long-term cleanup efforts in the Gulf.

#9  Lack of a Worthy Alternative

So if you are going to award your business to a more worthy oil company, which pillar of ecological responsibility will it be?  ExxonMobil? ConocoPhillips?  Citgo?  Chevron?  Valero (Diamond Shamrock)? QuickCo? Sunoco? How about Shell?

Can you name an oil company you feel good about?  Maybe that’s why neither the Sierra Club, Greenpeace nor UnhappyFranchisee.com backs the boycott. 

Bottom line:  As Sierra Club spokesman Dave Willet says, “This is broader than just BP.”

#10  It Lets YOU Off The Hook

BP & 32 other companies are drilling deepwater wells in the Gulf for a simple reason:  to keep up with the demand created by you, me and our fellow oil-addicted Americans.  We’re consuming 800 million gallons of petroleum per week, and 25% of the world’s oil.  Will switching gas brands change that? 

Bottom line: Let’s stop doing things that make us FEEL LIKE we’re taking action, and actually TAKE ACTION.

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#11  (Free bonus reason!)  Let’s Boycott Stupidity Instead

We’re a smart, educated nation but let’s face it: the public puts more energy into choosing the next American Idol than addressing our energy addiction.  Let’s demand more fuel efficient automobiles.  Let’s demand greener energy practices for both individuals and businesses.  Let’s replace any governmental watchdog agency that’s laying down with the dogs they’re supposed to be watching.  Let’s actually develop and use the alternative sources we’ve been talking about for 30 years.

Most of all, let’s boycott our own stupidity. Boycott laziness. Boycott apathy. Boycott convenient self-delusion.  Let’s start by boycotting the moronic BP Boycott, and stop using phony environmental activism to attack innocent business owners.

Posted in economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Evolution Mythbusters

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2010

The final talk I attended at Convergence/Skepchicon was titled “Evolution Mythbusters”, and the panelists included Bug Girl, Greg Laden, Ted Meissner (moderator), and PZ Myers. It was a very wide-ranging discussion of the issues of modern evolutionary science and dealing with creationist nonsense. Check it out…

Evolution Mythbusters

Ted: What are some of our favorite misconceptions regarding evolution?

Bug: I think my favorite one is that “bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly”.  In Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” they said that bee’s should not be able to fly, so it must be a miracle.  But this is premised on the assumption that the wings of bees are fixed, whereas in reality they bend & are flexible.

Greg: The misconception that humans evolved from apes or that they didn’t evolve from apes, because they are both correct AND incorrect.  But there’s a new one most people don’t know about, and that’s that behaviors can be genetic.  Behaviors develop in individuals in ways that are mostly determined by the environment and not by your genes.  This relates to gender issues, race, etc.  My issue is that there is a Darwinian theory of behavior.

PZ: This has to do with sex & evolution and the panel last night… here’s what was happening all the time.  People raised their hands and asked “why am I gay?”  And people on the panel were trying to figure this out, whereas the reality is that most of what makes you human (and who you are) comes about purely by chance.  What has been subject to selection in the last few million years?  Our immune system and sexual selection.  And when you analyze the genome further you find a handful of proteins that show signs of selection, and most of them are doing very obscure sort of things.  For example, genes for lactose tolerance show up which show signs of selection.  Otherwise, all this speculation about a “gay gene” doesn’t just work – most of that is the product of chance, not selection.

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Women as Skeptical Activists

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2010

On the third day of Convergence/Skepchicon, I attended the “Women as Skeptical Activists” panel discussion.  On the panel were Rebecca Watson (moderator), Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, and Pamela Gay.  Especially since I’m a board member of the newly-formed Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF), I found the discussion especially interesting.  Read on…

Women as Skeptical Activists

What does it mean to be a woman as a skeptical activist?  What does it mean to be a woman in a subculture which is predominantly male?

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: “Physics or Fantasy?” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2010

At the end of day two at Convergence/Skepchicon, I had the privilege of being on the “Physics or Fantasy?” panel with Jennifer Ouellette, Stephanie Zvan, Lois Schadewald, Jim Kakalios, G. David Nordley, and Pamela Gay.  We discussed a lot of questions & ideas regarding modern physics and the reality and/or myths associated with it.  It was a very lively discussion that we had with a packed room (on Friday night, even!), and I was very happy to be included.  Unfortunately, since I was on the panel, I couldn’t transcribe the discussion – but I did record it for you.  Just click this link to go to the audio (it will open a PowerPoint file with audio embedded)… Skepchicon-Physics or Fantasy

Posted in physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Bull**** Detection Kit – Why Pseudoscience Doesn’t Deliver

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 4, 2010

The last talk/panel I attended at Convergence/Skepchicon on the second day was a nice general one on how to recognize & deal with pseudoscience in general.  It’s a long one, so here goes…

Bullshit Detection Kit: Why Pseudo-Science Doesn’t Deliver

Exploring pseudoscience and why it is highly improbable.  It’s called pseudo-science for a reason.

Ted Meissner (moderator), David Walbridge, Greg Laden, Steve Thoms, Bug Girl, Stephanie Zvan, Lois Schadewald

Ted: We’re going to talk about our favorite forms of pseudoscience.  Mine is Deepak Chopra talking about how meditation can cause an earthquake.

Stephanie: my favorite pseudoscience is parapsychology.

Lois: I’ve picked Flat Eartherism as my favorite pseudoscience.

David: My interest is psychics.

Greg: I’ll be talking about the pseudoscience of woo related to the brain (“you only use 10% of your brain”).

Bug: Surprisingly, there is a lot of pseudoscience related to emptomology – for example, electronic bug zappers (ultrasonic repellers) are total b.s.

Steve: For me it’s all about alternative medicine, and it really bugs me because this stuff kills a lot of people and hurts people I know.

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2010

On the second day of Convergence/Skepchicon, one event especially caught my eye – a talk titled “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review” given by Dave Schrader, the host of Paranormal Radio. Almost immediately I was skeptical, as I have analyzed the claims & methods of various ghost hunters before and found them to be quite dubious.  In addition, many of my skeptic colleagues cringed a bit when they heard his name and my mention of his talk.  Thus, in the spirit of learning more for myself I attended his talk and took many notes – in the end, I was both a bit impressed with Dave but also quite disappointed.  Read through my notes, which is a transcription of his talk, and please see my specific comments in italics. Also please make sure to read my closing question to Dave Schrader and his response…

The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

How to investigate the Paranormal, from setting up a team to reviewing evidence.  Presented by Dave Schrader, host of Paranormal Radio and author of The Other Side: A Teens Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.

Dave is walking around handing out info TAPS, ghost hunting, and talking about a local [Minneapolis] show called Ghostbustin’ 911 (lolz).

How many people have ever gone on a ghost hunt before? [a few hands raise, including my own]

I’m going to show you a bizarre, demonic picture from a possible demonic haunting.  The lady of the house claimed she was smelling weird smells like rotting meat or poop along with strange cries.  While there I was taking photos and got a shot of a demonic, and here it is… [shows photo of a little kid in a costume – laughter]

Title: A Common Sense Look at Paranormal Investigating and Evidence Review…

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Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Convergence/Skepchicon Day 1: Skepticism 101 Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2010

I said in my previous post that I would live blog various panels I attended here at Convergence 2010, but that was before I figured out I couldn’t get wireless Internet access because I’m staying in a different hotel.  Oh bugger – that’s okay, I’ll just pseudo-live blog 🙂

My first evening at Skepchicon consisted of getting checked into my hotel, running into PZ Myers in the lobby, meeting up with some of the lovely Skepchicks in a restaurant, taking copious notes at the Skepticism 101 panel discussion tonight in the Science & Technology track, and partying with the Skepchicks (btw, “Buzzed Aldrins” kick a lot of ass!).  While I could go on and on about it all, I will only elaborate on the Skepticism 101 panel – what follows below is my accounting (as best as I could do it) of the discussion.  Enjoy…


Day One of Skepchicon @ Convergence, 2010

Skepticism 101 Panel

with Steve Thoms (editor of SkepticNorth.com – a Canadian skeptic blog), Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast), Lois Schadewald (chemistry college instructor), Greg Laden (paleontologist)

Pamela Gay is introducing the panel and saying hello, and since we have no moderator at the moment, she’s taking over.  The panelists are introducing themselves now.

Pamela Gay says the real universe is far more awesome than the shit some people make up.

Pamela: How do you inflict skeptical thinking upon others?

Greg: Why are the skeptics in the room here?  I never really thought of skepticism as a movement until recently, by interacting with people via the blogosphere.  People engaging in this movement have to understand that this is not a highly monolithic thing.  Some people invited to panels like Skepchick panels are actually offended, because not all skeptics are like the Skepchicks.  It is an important community, but it isn’t necessarily a warm & fuzzy “welcoming” movement.

Pamela: At least skeptics are much more polite than people who tell you that you’re going to hell.

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