Archive for April, 2011
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 29, 2011
I just wanted to update everyone about a very interesting development concerning the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery and the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) – you may recall that I blogged about this initially last summer, when it seemed an investigative team from IIG might go to the Montana Vortex to test their paranormal claims. Well, it seems that vortex expert of the Montana Vortex, Mr. Nick Nelson, has finally agreed to the terms of IIG’s $50,000 challenge:
The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) at the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles offers a $50,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The IIG works with the applicant in designing the test protocol, and defining the conditions under which a test will take place. IIG representatives will then administer the actual test. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform an informal demonstration of the claimed ability or phenomenon, which if successful will be followed by the formal test. The IIG conducts all demonstrations and tests at our site in Hollywood, California, except in special circumstances.
However, there is a twist. Apparently, Nick Nelson has traveled to Los Angeles to conduct the test, as opposed to the IIG team going to Montana – this is because, in addition to all manner of other interesting claims he makes, Nick Nelson now seems to be claiming that “his vortex” (and its related effects) travels with him! Wow…
In any case, the IIG is going to be conducting their test of Mr. Nelson’s claims/abilities this Saturday, April 30th. The test will be streamed live via the Internet, and if you are interested in keeping up with the latest developments on this skeptical investigation you can check for updates at IIG’s investigation page.
Stay tuned :)
Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: anomalies, anomaly, auras, Center For Inquiry, CFI, challenge, energy, field, Golden Vortex, gravity, House of Mystery, IIG, illusions, Independent Investigation Group, investigation, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, light, magnetism, Million Dollar Challenge, Montana Vortex, New Age, Nick Nelson, optics, orbs, paranormal, physics, plank illusion, quantum, supernatural, tilted house, tricks, vortex | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2011
I’m very excited to (finally!) let you all know about a behind-the-scenes project that I’ve been assisting with for quite some time now: a joint effort between two skeptical organizations, the Women Thinking Free Foundation and James Randi Educational Foundation, to conduct survey research & understand the opinions of parents regarding vaccines, vaccine safety, and the effect(s) that anti-vaccine propaganda might have upon their decisions. We feel that this information is vital to have if we are to be effective in countering the spread of this deceitful & dangerous fear-mongering.
For more details on this joint effort, I now refer you to this press release from the JREF…
LOS ANGELES—At the start of National Infant Immunization Week, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) announced they are joining together for a new research project aimed at understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children.
“Misinformation about vaccines isn’t just a concern for scientific skeptics, it’s now a public health concern.” said WTFF President Elyse Anders. “There are millions of parents right now who are making decisions about immunization for their children, who are trying to make sense of the conflicting information they’re getting from the media. The research we’re conducting with the JREF will help us understand how parents make those decisions, and what information will help them give their kids the best start in life.”
The joint project is an opinion survey, already underway, that will include data from hundreds of parents of young children by the time survey gathering is complete. The surveys are being collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to anti-vaccine messages. When the research is completed next spring, the JREF will be make the results freely available to public health advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.
“Our goal is to help save lives,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, we don’t really know what information is getting through to the parents who need it. We want to help parents get the unbiased information they need to know that they’re making the healthiest choice when they give their child immunity from dangerous diseases.”
The JREF-WTFF project aims to fill gaps in the skeptical movement’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asks specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. The survey should identify the ideas and information parents have heard both for and against immunization, and which they found most important in making their decisions. …
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: activism, anti-vaccinationist, anti-vaccine, anti-vaccine movement, anti-vax, AVM, children, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, opinion, parents, research, safety, skepticism, survey, vaccines, vax, Women Thinking Free, Women Thinking Free Foundation, WTFF | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2011
If you have been involved with the skeptical movement for any amount of time, then you understand that women are traditionally under-represented in those circles. Over the years, there have been more & more women getting involved, but progress is slow and I am of the strong opinion that we should do all that we can to address this disparity as efficiently as possible.
So in the spirit of lighting candles, I want to pass along to you a project in which I’m involved with the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Skepchick Surly Amy: we are doing The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (TAM9) grants for women. In other words, eligible women can apply for this grant and, if they get it, they will have their expenses paid (that is, the membership & registration fees for the meeting, not hotel or travel) to send them to TAM9 in Las Vegas this coming July!!! :)
Surly Amy provides more details in her blog post over at Skepchick…
It is a fact that women are underrepresented in science and in skepticism and while I may not be able to change the world overnight, I can at least help to change things in my general vicinity right here and now. I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and quite literally get more women involved.
I have spoke with the JREF and I have pledged to pay, out of my own pocket for at least one other women to go to The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas this year. And I have bigger aspirations. I am going to try to pay for even more women to go!
I have joined forces with The Women Thinking Free Foundation to help me. They will handle the application process so I have time to implement phase two. Phase two is making awesome art you can wear.
I have made (and am in the process of making) a series of LIMITED EDITION TAM 9 Surlies. Each is one-of-a-kind and hand-painted, ceramic-awesomeness made by me. I am rolling up my sleeves and getting to work to make a palpable difference.
When you purchase a TAM 9 Surly you help us raise the money for MORE women to attend TAM 9. Together we can encourage other women to learn about science and critical thinking AND YOU get an awesome, handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir. Even if you can not attend the conference you are still a part of making this year’s event better than ever! WIN!
Last year, I helped raise $2,000 for the American Cancer society with the help of Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. This year, I want to raise money for women in skepticism but I need your help.
You can help out the cause by purchasing a limited edition TAM 9 Surly here. Let’s level the playing field and learn about science and critical thinking together.
Or if you do not want a necklace but still want to help the cause you can click the donate link here and donate directly to the fund.
I can’t promise that I can raise enough for all the women I’d like to send to TAM this year but I promise, I will personally pay out of my pocket to send at least one woman.
More info about TAM 9 can be found here.
To apply for The Surly and Women Thinking Free TAM 9 Membership Grant please download and fill out this form. You can download it as a .doc fill it out and email it to: Grants@womenthinkingfree.org
We will notify the grant recipients via email.
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: Amy Roth, conference, convention, gender, grant, James Randi, Las Vegas, meeting, minority, Randi, Skepchick, skepticism, skeptics, Surly Amy, TAM, TAM9, The Amazing Meeting, The Amazing Meeting 9, women, Women Thinking Free, Women Thinking Free Foundation, WTF, WTFF | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2011
The Easter season is upon us, and members of the world’s most populace religion – Christianity – will be celebrating the traditional event that serves as the foundation of their beliefs: the supposed death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, I’m not really interested in getting into all the philosophical & metaphysical questions regarding the beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ here. Rather, I am more interested in asking a much more direct question: did Jesus actually exist as a historical figure?
To address this question, and the related issues which are presented in a (pardon the pun) newly risen branch of theological discourse called the Jesus/Christ myth theory, we must take into account the physical evidence (or lack thereof) for the existence of Jesus.
To address these questions, I would like to reference this excellent article from LiveScience.com:
Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up?
Jesus Christ may be the most famous man who ever lived. But how do we know he did?
Most theological historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that Jesus really did walk the Earth. They draw that conclusion from textual evidence in the Bible, however, rather than from the odd assortment of relics parading as physical evidence in churches all over Europe.
That’s because, from fragments of text written on bits of parchment to overly abundant chips of wood allegedly salvaged from his crucifix, none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny. [Who Was Jesus, the Man?]…
This is a particularly interesting point that I think some Christians need to address. Many insist that the world around us provides evidence for their beliefs: that God is real, and Jesus died for our sins to save us, etc. However, when we really analyze the world around us to address questions such as “Did Jesus really exist?” the evidence seems lacking; and then those same believers dismiss this lack of evidence and then proceed to point to the Bible as “evidence”. People who argue in such a manner are not being consistent in their argument nor are they being intellectually honest, because they want to stack the deck of evidence, so to speak.
[**Addendum (4-22-11): Even for those who wish to try gathering all of their “evidence” for the historical reality of Jesus from the Bible, there are very troublesome inconsistencies. To see why, try taking this Easter Quiz on the Biblical account of Jesus’s death & resurrection over at Skeptic Money]
So let’s talk about the supposed physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and see just why it is that it doesn’t pass muster. For example, a recent “documentary” claimed that the original nails used to crucify Jesus on the cross could have been found, but according to the LiveScience.com article…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in religion | Tagged: belief, Bible, books, carbon 14, carbon dating, Catholic Church, chemistry, Christ, Christ myth theory, Christianity, codex, codices, crown of thorns, crucifiction, crucifixion, Easter, faith, God, Good Friday, Greek, historical, holy relic, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus myth theory, Jesus of Nazareth, Joe Nickell, lead, miracle, myth, nails, Passion, pious fraud, radiocarbon dating, religion, ressurrection, resurrection, Shroud of Turin, Shroudie, skeptic, True Cross, Vatican | 25 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2011
[**Update (4-21-11): 41 Nobel laureates are backing Zack’s effort! :) The laureates today sent a letter to Governor Jindal and members of the Louisiana legislature urging them to repeal the LSEA. The AP has the story: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Nobel-laureates-push-repeal-of-La-education-law-1347159.php ]
You may recall some time ago that I wrote a blog post about a grassroots campaign to repeal the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana which would give creationists cover to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools. The driving force behind the repeal effort is a high school senior – Zack Kopplin – who has gotten so much attention that a bill has been introduced in the Louisiana state legislature to repeal the law!
We need more kids like Zack Kopplin – this kid is all kinds of awesome!
**Aside: read my previous post on this to learn why it is that this “academic freedom” language is quite troublesome for science & fact-based education.
Please take some time to get involved in this effort…
Check out Zack’s “Repeal Creationism” website
Look up the movement on Facebook and become a member
Here are more details on the latest developments of the repeal effort from the National Center for Science Education:
Senate Bill 70 (PDF), prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on April 15, 2011, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort is Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The repeal effort is endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators.
“Louisiana’s ‘job killing’ creationism law undermines our education system and drives science and technology based companies away from Louisiana,” Peterson said in a press release dated April 17, 2011, with Kopplin adding, “Louisiana public school students deserve to be taught accurate and evidence based science which will prepare them to take competitive jobs.” The press release pointedly asked further, “How many businesses will locate elsewhere because they want well trained scientists? How many researchers will take their talents elsewhere or never come to Louisiana because of this anti-science law?” …
Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: academic freedom, Bible, bill, Christ, Christianity, creationism, creationist, Discovery Institute, education, evolution, God, history, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, Karen Carter Peterson, Louisiana, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, politics, pseudoscience, repeal, SB 70, science, Senate Bill 70, teach all views, teach the controversy, YEC, Young Earth Creationism, Zack Kopplin | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 15, 2011
I just wanted to post a follow-up to my earlier posts on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis (for reference, those earlier posts are here and here) and the related ideologically driven, anti-nuclear hysteria that is being pushed by far too many people. An excellent example of this kind of zealotry is on display on the comment sections of my two previous posts, and I just want to focus on a few particular comments made here by people who are misrepresenting facts at best and engaging in some pretty despicable fear-mongering at worst. I think it serves as a pretty useful exercise in critical thinking to examine such claims…
Comment #1: Here is the first comment I want to examine, regarding my blog post titled Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!…
Well, I’ve been keeping track of all this fallout business from the beginning and I have to say, it’s not looking good. There are reports from Arkansas and several other states concerning elevated radiation levels in milk and municipal water supplies, as anyone who’s been keeping track of this has probably heard by now.
So if this is all B.S. then why is radiation showing up all over the U.S.? And most importantly, why isn’t the media talking about it?
First of all, this commenter is equating the detection of “elevated” radiation levels with “dangerous” radiation levels, and they are not the same thing. As has been pretty thoroughly reported, radiation from Fukushima has in fact reached various parts of the United States (as well as other nations); however, what this commenter is not saying is that such levels of radiation have been detected in trace amounts. In the context of radiation, “trace” essentially means “so small that you don’t have to worry about it.” And whether or not the amount of radiation detected is higher than the normal background isn’t as relevant as whether or not the amount is near the danger level – and, in all the cases of such radiation detected in the U.S. the danger level is no where close to being reached.
What this commenter also neglects to mention is the fact that, as I’ve stated before, there are other (natural & artificial) sources of radiation around us all the time! As this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows, there are sources of radiation everywhere – from the sky, the ground, your house, your food, etc. Hell, chances are that you have received a higher dose of radiation from reading these words on your computer screen than you’ve gotten from the Fukushima power plant.
As for the last comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” – I have no idea where this innuendo of conspiracy comes from, seeing as how the media has been going on and on about this story for well over a month now, and all along most media outlets are screwing up the science just as is this commenter.
The comment continues:
Telling the public that radiation levels are only “slightly elevated” and causes no health hazards. Just like our Government “experts” told the natives living around the Atoll islands out in the Pacific the same line of nonsense after they tested twenty-three nuclear devices including the first hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1958. 10 years later 90% of them had died from cancer.
Again, this smacks of blatant conspiracy mongering. Also note the outlandish claim that 90% of the inhabitants of the islands within the Pacific Proving Ground had died of cancer within ten years – there is evidence that those people were negatively affected (through higher rates of cancer & birth defects) by the related fallout, but nothing to support the claim of a 90% death rate within 10 years time. This is precisely the kind of hyperbole which displays zealotry trumping facts & reason.
Also it has been announced that Fukushima will most likely surpass Chernobyl as far as radiation emission levels are concerned.
Now, if radiation from Chernobyl was detected all over the northern hemisphere (and that is a fact)and the Fukushima event is supposedly far worse, what fool in their right mind would question whether or not radiation from the Fukushima event would make it to the U.S.?
It has and it will continue to do so.
While Fukushima has been upgraded to a level-7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the same INES rating as Chernobyl, to claim that it is just as bad – or even worse! – than Chernobyl is simply laughable. First of all, it has been clearly documented that the total amount of radiation released from Fukushima is only about one-tenth that of Chernobyl, and that radiation release is much more localized & less lethal than Chernobyl ever was. In fact, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a direct death toll of 56 (due to immediate radiation sickness) as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, the larger city of Pripyat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned. It should be noted that, so far, there has yet to be a single death confirmed to be related to radiation released at Fukushima.
So, despite the similar INES rating of 7, comparing the two events – in terms of severity of radiation release & dispersal as well as human fatalities – is like comparing apples and hammers.
As for the rambling about radiation reaching the United States, see my previous notes on that. Once again, “detectable” does not equal “dangerous”.
Last, but not least:
Now to say this is “fear mongering” is ridiculous, I have checked my facts and I suggest everyone else does the same. Because it doesn’t seem like the people we pay to keep us informed concerning such things, are doing their jobs very well. As far as hair and teeth falling out, I don’t think it will get anywhere near that bad but, the long term health effects of low level exposure should be considered at least.
More conspiracy mongering. I think this section of this person’s comment can be best summed up as follows:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in conspiracy theories, environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: anti-nuclear, Chernobyl, core, damage, danger, disaster, earthquake, energy, engineering, environment, explosion, exposure, Fukushima, half life, health, hype, hysteria, INES, International Nuclear Event Scale, Japan, Japanese, know nukes, media, meltdown, misinformation, news, no nukes, nuclear, nuke, nukes, physics, plant, power, quake, radiation, radioactivity, reactor, science, sensationalism, tidal wave, tsunami | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 10, 2011
Every now and then there is a controversy which rips through the skeptical community, because – whether we like to admit it or not – skeptics are humans, too. As such, we are subject to the same limitations & failings as are all people, and this latest frackus has certainly put that on display.
Apparently, prominent skeptic and defender of science Prof. Lawrence Krauss – a man whom I have admired for many years – has, how shall I put this, rather stupidly inserted not only his foot but the majority of his leg pretty firmly into his mouth. He did this by coming out and at least giving the impression that he is publicly defending a known & convicted pedophile – oooh, ick.
I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time writing on this topic, and I’m certainly not going to get into the whole issue of underage sex, prostitution, pedophilia, and that related morass. I choose to leave it to the reader to check out the Skepchick link on the matter (as well as the rather colorful comment section in which Krauss defends his remarks and others respond) and come to their own conclusions. Suffice it to say, I think Krauss is on the losing side on this one, and rightly so.
What I’d like to speak to is something more general and, in my opinion, far more important that what I’ll call the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco has illustrated: even prominent skeptics & scientists are capable of making horrendously stupid mistakes, especially where emotions (such as one’s allegiance to a close friend) are involved. In this, they are every bit as human as you and me.
I like the way in which the question was put on this post to the JREF Forum:
One reason I find this so disturbing is because it seems so obvious to the rest of us that Krauss is relying on nothing more than gut feelings right now, yet he’s 100% sure that this is enough to support his personal opinion. In other words, a well-known and well-respected skeptic is acting like a complete woomeister, it’s been pointed out to him repeatedly, yet he’s refusing to acknowledge it. Does this mean that any one of us could be subject to the same embarrassing lapse in judgement?
My response… in a word: yes.
We are all subject to cognitive dissonance, in one form or another. I’m sure we can all relate to experiences in our lives where, upon looking back on them, our cognitive dissonance and lack of skepticism & critical thinking was obvious. Thankfully, though, I’m guessing that most of us don’t take it to the extreme or do so as publicly as Prof. Krauss has done in this case.
This is why having a community of critical & skeptical thinkers is so important – it gives us the capability to hold each other to a higher standard. By doing so we root out loose, sloppy, and – sometimes – downright repulsive argumentation & reasoning. By not putting all of our intellectual eggs in one basket and engaging in demagoguery via some kind of twisted hero worship, we as a community can sit back & objectively examine the reasoning & opinions of our leaders. And, as in the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco, we have seen that it can be a very useful method of calling out even our most prominent skeptics when they are dead, flat wrong.
And, for the record, the day the skeptical community ceases to engage in this necessary & vital form of self-reflection & criticism, then that’s the day I call it quits. But that day isn’t anywhere close, from what I can see :)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: abuse, billionaire, child, cognitive dissonance, critical thinking, girls, Jeffrey Epstein, Lawrence Krauss, morality, pedophile, pedophilia, prostitutes, prostitution, rape, sex, sexual, skepticism, slave girls, trafficking, under age | 12 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 9, 2011
[**Update (4-15-11): The American Academy of Pediatrics has requested that CBS pull the anti-vax ad.]
[**Update (4-11-11): It seems the ads have already started to run. Here’s more information from Elyse Anders over at Skepchick on this developing situation. Please take action now!]
Okay folks, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get skeptically active. I have found out that CBS plans to air an anti-vaccination ad on the Jumbotron at 42nd Street in New York’s Times Square starting on April 28th. The sponsoring organizations are the notoriously anti-vaccinationist Mercola and National Vaccine Information Center. These are a couple of the biggest groups out there promoting the falsehood that, among other things, vaccines cause autism (they don’t, btw). And while their ad gives the impression that they want to simply inform people about their “vaccine choices”, what they are really about is spreading flagrantly non-scientific, incorrect, and fear-mongering bilge about vaccines. If you’d like to see some accurate info on vaccines, check out this link to the Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated website.
Folks, we have to do something to stop this. Why? Simple: because vaccines save lives. Period.
Thus I propose that we not only light candles in the gathering darkness, I propose that we start up a huge frakkin’ bonfire! So what can we do about this nonsense? Elyse Anders of Skepchick has a few ideas on that…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: 42nd street, activism, ad, advertisement, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccine, anti-vax, autism, AVM, boycott, CBS, Change.org, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, Jumbotron, Mercola, National Vaccine Information Center, New York, NVIC, petition, Skepchick, skeptical, skepticism, thimerisol, Times Square, vaccine, vaccines | 16 Comments »