The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for August, 2010

Cracked.com: A Wonderful Combintation of Humor and Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2010

Do you remember a rag of a magazine way back in the day (well, way back in my day) called Cracked?  It was kind of like the unpopular wanna-be version of the more well-known and liked Mad Magazine.  Well, Cracked has come back with a vengeance, because now they have a really well-written & hilarious online presence over at Cracked.com – if biting satire & rough language is your thing, check them out 🙂

So why am I going on and on about Cracked.com?  Well, every now and then they come out with a really good skeptical article – and I mean really good.  I wanted to share with you one of my favorites which I ran across awhile back, called 5 Ways “Common Sense” Lies To You Everyday…

Albert Einstein said common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18. It is also a result of some pervasive and extremely stupid logical fallacies that have become embedded in the human brain over generations, for one reason or another. These malfunctioning thoughts–several of which you’ve had already today–are a major cause of everything that’s wrong with the world. …

I highly recommend this article as required reading for anyone who wants a quick primer on sloppy, uncritical thinking & how we fool ourselves.  Not to mention, it’s funny!  Read more: http://www.cracked.com/article_17142_5-ways-common-sense-lies-you-everyday.html

Posted in humor, internet, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Time for Back-to-School Vaccinations!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2010

I wanted to pass along a quick video about vaccinations and sending your kids back to school.  Starring in the video is Elyse Anders, president of the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and generally all-around awesome Skepchick!  Check it out 🙂

For reference, the WTFF will soon be publicly launching our “Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated!” campaign, so stay tuned for more information on that.

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

Skepticism & Criticism of Religious Claims is Not “Intolerence”, It’s Necessary

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 3, 2010

I just got done reading an excellent article from the Scientific American website by Dr. Lawrence Krauss, the theoretical physicist who wrote The Physics of Star Trek and avid defender of science & reason, whereupon he discusses something to which all allies of rationality & free inquiry should pay attention.  It seems that recently there has been a growing movement to staunch the criticism of any religious belief, even if said belief is demonstrably harmful to the believers or to others, by labeling those who question or criticize said belief as “intolerant”.  I suppose the implication is that if we are “intolerant”, then we are somehow mean, nasty, and morally bad people who should be dismissed.

Allow me to point out some selected section’s of Dr. Krauss’s article, along with my own comments…

Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous

Every two years the National Science Foundation produces a report, Science and Engineering Indicators, designed to probe the public’s understanding of science concepts. And every two years we relearn the sad fact that U.S. adults are less willing to accept evolution and the big bang as factual than adults in other industrial countries.

Except for this time. Was there suddenly a quantum leap in U.S. science literacy? Sadly, no. Rather the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.” In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.

I blogged about this particular screwup on the part of the NSF in an earlier post. The thing that concerns me about this move on the part of the NSF is how the influence of this politically-correct “we can’t criticize religion” or “we can’t even mention religion when it is an obvious contributing factor to the rejection of science by many Americans” has crept its way into the upper echelons of scientific institutions.  If we aren’t willing to face the hard fact that almost half of Americans outright reject the theory of evolution because of their religious beliefs, then how can we expect to address the problem of scientific illiteracy in this country?  Ignoring the problem or sweeping it under the rug won’t fix it.

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Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Skeptic Track at Gen Con in Indy!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 1, 2010

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to some of my Midwestern skeptical friends who are, for the first time, getting a skeptic track going at Gen Con – one of the largest gaming conventions!  If you find yourself in or near Indianapolis, Indiana next weekend – August 5-8 – check it out…

If you go, tell them I sent you!  Some things to look forward to in the Gen Con skeptic track…

*promoting vaccination & dealing with anti-vax malarkey

*evolution & creationism

*cryptozoology

+ a lot of other interesting & fun stuff.  For more information, check out the Gen Con skeptic track website. 🙂

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptical Psychic Fair in Chicago a Hit & How Ouija Boards Fail

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 1, 2010

On Friday, July 23rd, the Women Thinking Free Foundation held a skeptical psychic fair in Chicago as a fundraiser while also having some fun exposing the various tricks & techniques that go into all manner of psychic nonsense.

Among all the drinking & merriment, there were a number activities that we had, including a tarot card silent auction, a “psychic showdown”, along with some fun mentalism & magic tricks.  We also handed out many copies of Michael Shermer’s Learn to be Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons! which outlines the tricks of the psychic trade, including such time-honored (and completely NON-paranormal) techniques such as cold reading.

My primary contribution to the event was to bring a Ouija board to demonstrate a lesson in critical thinking regarding these supposed “spirit boards”…

The whole trick behind the standard operation of a Ouija board is a well-documented & understood phenomenon called the ideomotor effect, whereby the people holding their hands on the pointer of the board (the planchette) subconsciously maneuver it around without necessarily knowing it.  In fact, with Ouija boards, tests have been performed that illustrate that when the people using the board are blindfolded, and the board is randomly rotated without their knowledge, then all the supposed messages from the “spirit world” turn into gibberish.  Just take a look at this footage from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit where they tested a Ouija board in just this manner… 🙂

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Posted in ghosts & paranormal, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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