Archive for June, 2012
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2012
SkepchickCon at Convergence 2012 in Bloomington, MN is coming up next week from July 5-8! For those who don’t know, Convergence is a big science fiction and fantasy convention which takes place annually in the upper Midwest, catering to all manner of sci-fi/fantasy fans, as well as those who just like to dress up and have a good time :)
I’ll be going to SkepchickCon again this year, because in addition to being a high school and college physics professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on. Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, SkepchickCon is geared towards presenting the skeptical and pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun and friendly environment. Actually, on a serious note, it is worth paying attention to the fact that these sorts of venues are perfect for spreading the skeptical message beyond hard-core skeptics; if we are to truly encourage others to think critically about paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, then we need to preach less to the choir and go more public. This means exploring new venues such as these fun and freaky conventions, and it also means putting ourselves out there in more direct interaction with many people who harbor these nonsense beliefs. Even though it can sometimes be quite galling to have to put up with various kinds of woo-woo nonsense and its adherents, we can all enjoy a good party :D
Also, I plan to do as much live blogging as possible from SkepchickCon, so stay tuned to this page for info as I can upload it. In addition to the live blogging, I’ll be on two panels at SkepchickCon and running a workshop at Connie’s Quantum Sandbox:
Thursday, July 5th @ 10pm, Atrium 7
Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios – The zombies are right outside the door. Which geeks do you keep close and which to you push into the parking lot as bait. Surviving apocalyptic scenaries convention style! Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Adam Whitlatch, Robert Smith?, Matt Lowry, PZ Myers
– AND –
Friday, July 6th @ 5pm, Bloomington
Ask a Scientist: A general Q & A with expert scientists from a variety of fields. Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Miriam Krause
– AND –
“Magnets: How Do They Work?” workshop at Connie’s Quantum Sandbox Sunday @ 2pm
Come to the Magnet Lab with Professor Lowry, and he’ll show you all kinds of cool demonstrations with magnets. We’ll explore how magnetism originates and what you can do with it, plus you get to make-and-take your own electromagnetic motor!
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: apocalypse, armaggedon, con, Connie's Quantum Sandbox, convention, Convergence, doomsday, end of the world, fantasy, Fourth of July, how do magnets work, July 4th, magnets, Minneapolis, Minnesota, science, science fiction, scientist, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, Skepchicon, skeptic, skeptic track, zombies | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 25, 2012
I’ve written here before about the state of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law which is essentially a backdoor attempt to push creationism as science in public school science classes. As many critics of the law pointed out when it was passed, this would serve to dumb-down science standards and inevitably harm the education of students in Louisiana by placing pseudoscientific notions such as creationism on an equal (or better) footing than accepted evolutionary science. Well, as predicted, the consequences of this law are now becoming realized, and I’m sorry to say that things in Louisiana are getting even more stupid than I had predicted. Read this article for more detail:
For the 2012-2013 school year, thousands of Louisiana students will receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools, many of which hold religious affiliations.
One of these schools — Eternity Christian Academy, in Westlake, Louisiana — utilizes the A.C.E. Curriculum Program, a Christian fundamentalist course of study that teaches students to “see life from God’s point of view.” And unbeknownst to most theologians, scientists, and amateur monster hunters, the Lord’s viewpoint apparently incorporates Scotland’s favorite cryptid.
Herald Scotland reports that a certain textbook in the A.C.E. curriculum transcends standard Creationist teachings and instead informs students that the Loch Ness Monster is proof positive that evolution never happened. (And here I always assumed Nessie was The Great Beast from the Book of Revelations.) Explains Herald Scotland:
“One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”
Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It’s unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.
Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.”
The Loch Ness Monster as “evidence” of creationism?!!… Oh… my… FSM.
So it’s come to this, folks. As a direct result of the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana, some versions of creationism which are probably even too extreme for many creationists are being seriously pushed as part of the “alternate science” curriculum available to teachers and students…
Apparently, this is the new cover for biology textbooks in Louisiana – image source
I wish I could say that I was surprised, but honestly I’m not. This sort of development is the inevitable result of making science standards so loose (through the invocation of so-called “academic freedom”) that just about any kind of stupid, pseudoscientific nonsense which is completely unsupported by the scientific community can pass muster and be taught as if it were science. As I wrote recently, perhaps this is just the kind of thing we need to have happen in states like Louisiana that try to give a thinly veiled wink and nod to creationists under the auspices of “academic freedom”; perhaps it is time to advertise far and wide that any kind of nonsense can be taught in Louisiana schools. And perhaps there will be a point where the politicians in Louisiana may become so terribly embarrassed at what is passing for “education” (after all, one has to wonder how amenable they would be to Islamic creationism, for example) in their state that they might act to remedy the situation.
Until that day comes, however, I think we should be prepared for much more silliness to come out of Louisiana. One thing’s for sure, it will be entertaining.
Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education | Tagged: academic, Accelerated Christian Education, ACE, biology, Christianity, creationism, cryptids, cryptozoology, curriculum, dinosaur, education, evolution, freedom, fundamentalist, government, ID, intelligent design, Loch Ness, Loch Ness Monster, Louisiana, Nessie, origin of life, politics, private, public, religion, school, schools, science, separation of church and state, teach all views, teach the controversy, theory, vouchers | 6 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2012
In some of my recent blog posts, I wondered about the utility of calling the bluff of creationists and going with their argument of “teaching all views” regarding evolution, creationism, etc. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this June 18th cartoon from Non Sequitur just nails it :)
Posted in creationism, education, humor | Tagged: alien, biology, cartoon, Christianity, comedy, creationism, education, evolution, fundamentalist, funny, government, humor, ID, intelligent design, Non Sequitur, origin of life, public, Raelians, religion, satire, schools, science, teach all views, teach the controversy, theory, truth | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2012
As many of you know, one of the best pro-science groups out there is the National Center for Science Education; they specialize in defending the teaching of evolutionary science while simultaneously battling attempts by creationists to push their non-scientific ideas into the public schools. However, in recent months the NCSE has brought its expertise into a new fight: the climate science wars. Many climate science deniers employ the same kinds of tactics in their denial of global warming as creationists apply in their denial of evolution, and the NCSE decided it was time to start exposing these pseudo-scientific tactics. So, to help facilitate this process, I wanted to share with you a talk by NCSE’s climate expert Mark McCaffrey wherein he dissects climate change denial; the use of doubt, delay, and denial; myths and misperceptions deniers push, and more…
Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: AGW, anthropogenic, climate change, creationism, delay, denial, denialism, denier, doubt, education, educators, Eugenie Scott, evolution, Genie Scott, global warming, GW, ID, intelligent design, Mark McCaffrey, misperceptions, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, public, schools, science, skeptical, skeptics, teachers, teaching | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2012
In recent weeks, it seems the controversy within the skeptical movement over misogyny and women’s issues appears to have heated up somewhat (that’s putting it mildly, I think). While I do welcome this discussion and the debate it has kick-started, I wanted to comment on the one thing which really, REALLY chaps my ass about the whole thing: misogynistic Internet trolls.
Whether we’re talking about so-called Elevatorgate or the creation of sexual harassment policies by various skeptical conferences (which I fully support, because I think it is needed), it seems to me that these sort of discussions bring out the worst in some people. And by “some people” I mean some men. And by “some men”, I mean, specifically, the misogynistic Internet trolls who are basically bullies who want to slap a woman (or women) down for having the gall to publicly disagree with what they think women should accept.
Some of these men think that women speaking up about issues that concern them is somehow a threat to them, or a threat to what they perceive as their manhood, or a threat to their “freedom” and society in general; and some of these men decide to express their disagreement with these women through the worst kind of insults, ranting, and trolling I’ve ever seen. It is a bully tactic intended to shut these “uppity” women up for having the audacity to hold an opinion contrary to their own.
And it makes me sick. In fact, it makes me so sick that rather than continue in my own words, which would doubtless be laced with rage and profanity at these sorry excuses for men, I would like to reference an excellent source on the issue (many thanks to Jason Thibeault for posting this video on his blog):
While this video isn’t explicitly about the skeptical movement, it is about the broader issue of misogynistic Internet trolls. My favorite part is right at the end of the video (at the 3:21 mark) where Jay Smooth says:
“No matter what scene on the Internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the Internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who’s outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need speak up, we need to treat this like it matters, we need to add some extra humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.”
You said it, brother. Gentlemen, let’s not allow these trolls, these pathetic excuses for men, these losers speak for our gender and represent us to the wider community. Let them speak for themselves in their sad little corner of the Internet, and let us follow Jay Smooth’s excellent example and call them out for their lack of humanity. Only by enough of us doing that can we hope to bring a more respectful tone to these important discussions.
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: abuse, bully, conferences, cons, Elevatorgate, feminism, feminist, harassment, internet, intimidation, Jason Thibeault, Jay Smooth, meetings, men, misogyny, sex, sexism, sexist, sexual, skeptical community, skeptical movement, skeptics, trolls, video, women | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 15, 2012
I wanted to take a few moments to update you all about a really worthwhile endeavor regarding how to more effectively spread the skeptical message: editing Wikipedia. As you probably know, Wikipedia – the world’s largest and most extensive encyclopedia – is edited pretty much solely by volunteers. This means that the people who express the most interest in a topic typically end up editing it.
Now, sometimes this is a good thing, as when those who are experts in a particular field take the time to reasonably and thoughtfully edit a Wikipedia entry on a particular topic. However, sometimes this is a bad thing, as when those with an agenda edit various Wikipedia entries in an effort to distort the facts.
Enter the brainchild of my skeptical colleague Susan Gerbic: Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia. As Susan once told me, why shouldn’t skeptics start getting more involved in the editing of Wikipedia? After all, it is the largest and most easily and readily accessed source on just about any subject, and when people go search for something related to skepticism or pseudoscience, why wouldn’t we want as much factual information available to them as possible? If skeptics don’t step up and take on the task of getting more involved in this editing process, then are we not simply ceding this fertile ground to the peddlers of woo and nonsense?
The Wikipedia Logo
For more information or to get involved, take a look at Susan’s blog: Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia.
And I have to say, I agree with Susan. Fortunately, a lot of other people have agreed with her as well, and it appears to be having a positive impact. For instance, take a look at techophile and skeptic Tim Farley’s post on how a Google search tool, the Google Knowledge Graph, is benefitting from this form of guerrilla skepticism…
Last week Google introduced a new feature to their flagship search product, which is called Google Knowledge Graph. I believe it has only rolled out for users in the United States so far, so you may not see it if you live elsewhere, yet.
There are several interesting aspects of Knowledge Graph, and I encourage you to read more about it. The technology behind modern search engines is surprisingly complex, and this is the latest advancement.
But one of the main user-visible features of this product is a panel that you will see on the right side of many search results. This panel shows a summary of what Google believes you are looking for. The aim is that many times the answer you seek will be right there on the results page.
Because this new feature draws a great deal of information from Wikipedia, all the great effort by Susan Gerbic and the other skeptics who work on her skeptic Wikipedia project is now paying off in yet another big way. …
Posted in internet, skeptical community | Tagged: edit, editing, encyclopedia, entries, entry, facts, Google, Google Knowledge Graph, guerrilla skepticism, information, internet, knowledge, nonsense, online, psuedoscience, skepticism, skeptics, Susan Gerbic, Wikipedia, woo | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 13, 2012
Well, we’re ramping up again for another summer of skeptical awesomeness (including SkepchickCon at CONvergence, The Amazing Meeting 10, and Dragon*Con), and as in years past I am assisting with vaccine promotion. Along these lines, I wanted to pass along to you a recent blog post over at Skepchick by my colleague, Elyse Anders. Read on and please consider donating to help support this worthy cause:
From the Vaccine Clinic at TAM9: Who’s that handsome guy next to me? Oh yeah, it’s just Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer :)
Right now, we are in the middle of a severe pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. In Washington state alone, cases over tentupled (which is a word that I made up for up more than times) since last year. In 2011, there were 146 confirmed pertusis cases through the first 20 weeks of the year. This year? 1738. That’s really bad, people. Really bad. And Washington, frankly, I’m a little disappointed in you.
Pertussis is a disease that, if contracted, often kills infants. And once they contract the disease, the only treatment they receive is to stop them form spreading it. There is no shortening of the illness. There is no medicine to help the body fight it. There’s just medication to stop you from spreading it.
And that “whoop” that gives whooping cough it’s name? That’s the sound of the sufferer struggling for air, being suffocated from inside their own body.
But worst of all, where they usually catch it is from an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated against pertussis.
So over here, in my little corner of the internet, with my tiny organization, we’re trying to fix this in every way we can… which is the only way we can, and that’s by vaccinating people against pertussis. If you can’t get infected with it, you can’t spread it.
The Women Thinking Free and the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign have partnered with the JREF and will be bringing yet another Tdap clinic to TAM2012. …
Read the rest of Elyse’s post at http://skepchick.org/2012/05/how-to-help-vaccinate-everyone/
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, activism, clinic, Convergence, DC, Dragon*Con, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, skeptic, skepticism, TAM, The Amazing Meeting, vaccination, vaccine, Women Thinking Free, Woment Thinking Free Foundation, WTF, WTFF | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 9, 2012
As a quick follow-up to my last post, I wanted to share with you all the following YouTube video from a symposium on the topic of how creationism has mutated and spread around the world in the last 25 years, after the famous Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision which found that teaching creationism as science violated the U.S. Constitution. Give it a look…
Symposium | Why Does the Debate Matter?
On May 11th, 2012 Stanford’s Constitutional Law Center, along with the Center for Law and the Biosciences and the National Center for Science and Education (NCSE) hosted the symposium, “Science and Religion in the Classroom: Edwards v. Aguillard at 25.” Nathan Chapman (Stanford) moderated the panel, “Why Does the Debate Matter?” featuring Michael McConnell (Stanford), Hank Greely (Stanford), Ronald Numbers (Wisconsin), Michael Ruse (Florida State) and Eugenie Scott (NCSE).
Posted in creationism | Tagged: biology, Christianity, creationism, discussion, education, evolution, fundamentalist, Genie Scott, government, ID, intelligent design, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, origin of life, panel, politics, public, religion, schools, science, separation of church and state, Stanford, symposium, teach all views, teach the controversy, theory, university | Leave a Comment »