The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘2012’

Kyrsten Sinema: First Open Non-Theist Elected to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 8, 2012

Wow… this was one hell of an election!  I just want to point out a couple of notable races.  In this post, I want to focus on Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District who looks to be the first openly non-theistic (atheistic?) person elected to Congress!  I say “looks to be” because 1) the race hasn’t officially been concluded (votes are still being counted, but Sinema has a lead which only seems to be growing), and 2) Pete Stark, Congressman from California, is openly non-theistic, but he didn’t originally run as an out-of-the-closet non-theist.  Here’s more on Kyrsten Sinema:

Kyrsten Sinema: ‘We’re Optimistic’ in Arizona

… Election for Sinema would be no small feat in the state that produced U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer, whose exceptionally conservative immigration policies have regularly made national news. In many ways, Sinema, who is also an open nontheist and was raised Mormon and attended Brigham Young University, is an anomaly in Arizona politics. But she’s ahead in some polls in the final stages of her race against Parker, though it’s one of Congress’s tightest races. …

As I’ve stated before, this is the wave of the future, folks.  With the rise of a more openly secular demographic in the United States, coupled with the inevitable decline (read: dying off) of the most religious demographic, the good ol’ U.S. of A. will move towards more diversity in both popular culture and political representation.  And that includes non-theists 🙂

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

Congressional Answers to Science Debate 2012 Questions

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2012

As many of you know, I have been touting the Science Debate effort for many months now, because issues of science, technology, and science education are too important to be sidelined in our political discourse (especially in an election year!)  This year, the fine folks at Science Debate have not only been holding the presidential candidates’ feet to the fire, but they have also been putting Congressional candidates on the spot.  And now some Congressional candidates have answered the challenge 🙂

Congressional Answers to the Top American Science Questions

ScienceDebate.org and Scientific American asked 33 leaders of science-oriented congressional committees to respond.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington — October 16, 2012. Americans have all heard about the scandalously anti-science comments made by certain members of the House committee on Science, Space and Technology. ScienceDebate.org and our media partner, Scientific American, the nation’s oldest continuously published magazine, wanted to see what other members of congress in key leadership positions relative to the nation’s science policy had to say about science.

We prepared a subset of eight of the fourteen Top American Science Questions which President Obama and Governor Romney have answered, ranging from climate change to science in public policy, and asked thirty-three members of congress in leadership positions on the nation’s science-oriented congressional committees to respond.

Six of them declined outright, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, who were asked to participate because of their overall responsibility for the flow of legislation through congress. Several more ignored numerous requests from ScienceDebate and Scientific American. Nine of the thirty-three responded.

“Americans should be concerned that only nine of the thirty-three key leaders on science-related congressional committees feel the need to let the public know their views on science,” said Shawn Otto, CEO of ScienceDebate.org. “As to the nine who did respond—members of both parties—their leadership should be applauded.”

Senators who responded

Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Chair, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Tom Harkin, D-IA, Chair, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Jay Rockefeller, D-W, Chair, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Representatives who responded

Timothy Bishop, D-NY-1, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Ralph Hall, R-TX-4, Chair, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

John Mica, R-FL-7, Chair, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Nancy Pelosi, D-CA-8, House Minority Leader

Chris Van Hollen, D-MD-8, Ranking Member, House Budget Committee

Henry Waxman, D-CA-30, Ranking Member, Energy and Commerce Committee

Their responses, including those who declined or failed to respond, can be found at http://www.sciencedebate.org/congress12/ and at Scientific American.

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Carl Sagan Day 2012 Approaches!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2012

In the next few weeks, supporters of science and secularism will be celebrating the 78th anniversary of the birth of Carl Sagan, scientist, astronomer, skeptic, and popular advocate for science and critical thinking.  For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos).  In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we in the Chicago area will celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Thursday, Nov. 1st – look here for more information!

**Aside: To find a Carl Sagan Day event in your area, just use Google.  If there isn’t one, consider holding your own 🙂

Carl Sagan at The Planetary Society in 1980.  Image source

You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2012! Chicago’s secular community is gathering once again to celebrate the life and legacy of the great science popularizer, the beauty of discovery, and the fun of exploration. The event will be held in Schmitt Academic Center Room 161, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The building is handicapable accessible, and accommodation can be provided upon request. …
Apple pie (made from scratch, of course) and cosmos will be served.
Speakers: “Carl Sagan’s Life and Legacy” Dr. Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and a former colleague of Carl Sagan
[Topic Undetermined] Dr. Angela Olinto, Chair of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Chicago
“Citizen Science” Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchantz, Associate Professor of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Studies Department at DePaul University
Emcee: Matt Lowry High School Physics Teacher, writer at The Skeptical Teacher.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Update from Science Debate 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2012

I recently recieved the following encouraging update from Science Debate 2012.  Please take a few minutes to read it and consider donating some money towards this worthy attempt to push issues of science, technology, and science education more into the forefront of the political discussion!

The coverage of the the ScienceDebate responses continues to expand, and we are moving the conversation into other races.

In addition to coverage in hundreds of media outlets, specific organizations like Scientific American and The National Academies Press have used the questions as a basis for a series of further explorations.  This is helping to slowly steer the juggernaut of US political news coverage toward focusing more on key science issues, and encouraging candidates to engage.

Additionally, project media partner Scientific American has assembled a team of science policy and editorial advisers to grade the Obama and Romney answers.  Those grades will be announced on October 16.

We are also expanding the effort in other ways.  ScienceDebate and Scientific American invited about three dozen members of congress who lead key science-related committees to respond to a congressional subset of the questions, and will be publishing their responses on October 16.

ScienceDebate has also been working with the Northwest Science Writers Association to refine a subset of six of the questions that are most appropriate to a Washington State gubernatorial debate, and today invited the candidates to respond.

By continuing to work to expand the conversation, we hope to remind candidates and citizens alike of how critical science and engineering topics are to our success as a nation.

Please give today to support these efforts.  It’s tax deductable, and we can’t go on without your support.  And thanks.

Best,

-Shawn Otto and the team at ScienceDebate.Org

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Higgs Boson Lecture at Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2012

While at Dragon*Con 2012, I gave an incredibly well-attended lecture (standing room only!) on the recent “discovery”(?) of the Higgs boson and our modern theories of particle physics (known as the Standard Model).  The lecture was followed by a very fruitful Q&A session which was made all the more interesting because attending the lecture was an engineer who actually works on a detector at the Large Hadron Collider and a theoretical particle physicist!

I recorded the audio of the lecture in order to share it, and I have embedded that audio into the PowerPoint file I used for my lecture.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Higgs Boson – DC Lecture with Audio

Posted in philosophy, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“We’re All Doomed… Or Are We?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I attended Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia where I was heavily involved in the Science Track.  I helped to run three panels and gave a lecture while there, and I wanted to share those with you here.  The first panel I helped to run (I moderated it) was on the question of how real and/or dangerous are various doomsday scenarios.  The panelists included me, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bob Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, psychologist Barbara Drescher, and disaster researcher (and science consultant to the Stargate franchise) Mika McKinnon, and we had a wide-ranging and alternately funny yet serious discussion.  I recorded the audio and share it with you below.  Enjoy! 🙂

We’re All Doomed, DOOMED!!! Or Are We?

Killer asteroids, LHC-generated black holes, nuclear meltdowns, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, global ecological collapse, financial recession/depression, the Mayan 2012 prophecy… AAAGGHH! Run for your lives! We’re all doomed, DOOMED!!! Or are we? What are some real or imagined doomsday scenarios, how dangerous are they really, and how likely is it that each could occur? If you’re looking for a good scientific look at these questions, with a few chuckles along the way, then this is the panel for you. Join us for a discussion of all things apocalyptic, because talking about the end-of-the-world is fun!

Posted in doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

U.S. Presidential Candidates Answer Science Debate Questions

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 7, 2012

I am happy to announce that both presidential candidates – President Barack Obama and his rival Mitt Romney – have answered the top questions posed by Science Debate 2012.  You can read more about their responses below:

Candidates’ Answers, a Side by Side Comparison

Innovation | Climate Change | Research and the Future | Pandemics and Biosecurity
Education | Energy | Food | Fresh Water | The Internet | Ocean Health
Science in Public Policy | Space | Critical Natural Resources | Vaccination and Public Health

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Members of U.S. Congress Refuse to Address Science Debate Questions

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 2, 2012

As I’ve written more than once this election season, there is a big effort by Science Debate 2012 underway to get the U.S. presidential candidates – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – to address questions oriented around science, technology, and engineering as part of their campaign.  Thankfully, both campaigns have agreed to address those questions.

By extension, the Science Debate team decided to expand their effort to include key members of the U.S. Congress, including both the House of Representatives and Senate.  Unfortunately, to date, only two members of Congress have responded to these questions!  Shawn Otto from Science Debate has more on this…

I’m a pretty reasonable guy, but this is stunning to me.  Of the many committee leaders in Congress who deal with the nation’s science policy, just two — Reps Henry Waxman and Chris Van Hollen — have responded to the ScienceDebate questions.  And House Speaker John Boehner’s team has outright declined!

Science drives over half of US economic growth and lies at the center of several of our most critical challenges and opportunities.  Many of the leading science organizations in the United States arrived at a consensus on the Top American Science Questions: Congressional Edition, and the effort is supported by nearly two hundred science organizations and universities, and tens of thousands of individuals, ranging from concerned citizens to Nobel laureates and corporate CEOs.

And yet, members of Congress are ignoring the ScienceDebate questionnaire, submitted to them by Scientific American magazine, or declining to answer any questions about their policy views!

Please contact the following Congress Members’ offices right now and ask them to respond to the ScienceDebate and Scientific American questionnaire immediately.  Be respectful, and tell in your own words why this is important.  Ask them to send their responses back to submit@sciam.com.

Thank you!

Senate

Lamar Alexander: Tennessee (R)—ranking member, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Barbara Boxer: California (D)—chair, Committee on Environment and Public Works

Jim DeMint: South Carolina (R)—member, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson is retiring)

Michael Enzi: Wyoming (R)—ranking member, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Dianne Feinstein: California (D)—chair, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Tom Harkin: Iowa (D)—chair, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

James Inhofe: Oklahoma (R)—ranking member, Committee on Environment and Public Works

Mitch McConnell: Kentucky (R)—Senate minority leader

Patty Murray: Washington State (D)—member, Committee on the Budget (Chairman Kent Conrad is retiring)

Lisa Murkowski: Alaska (R)—ranking member, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Harry Reid: Nevada (D)—Senate majority leader

Pat Roberts: Kansas (R)—ranking member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Jay Rockefeller: West Virginia (D)—chair, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Jeff Sessions: Alabama (R)—ranking member, Committee on the Budget

Debbie Stabenow: Michigan (D)—chair, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Ron Wyden: Oregon (D)—member, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Chairman Jeff Bingaman is retiring)

House of Representatives

Timothy Bishop: New York State–1 (D)—ranking member, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

John Boehner: Ohio–8 (R)—speaker of the House

Scott Garrett: New Jersey–5 (R)—vice chair, Committee on the Budget (Chair Paul Ryan is the Republican vice presidential candidate)

Bob Gibbs: Ohio–18 (R)—chair, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Ralph Hall: Texas–4 (R)—chair, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Doc Hastings: Washington State–4 (R)—chair, Committee on Natural Resources

Eddie Bernice Johnson: Texas–30 (D)—ranking member, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Frank Lucas: Oklahoma–3 (R)—chair, Committee on Agriculture; member of Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Edward J. Markey: Massachusetts–7 (D)—ranking member, Committee on Natural Resources

John Mica: Florida–7 (R)—chair, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Nancy Pelosi: California–8 (D)—House minority leader

Best,

-Shawn Otto and the team at ScienceDebate.Org

Folks, we need to change this situation.  These are our elected officials, placed onto committees which decide issues of great scientific, technological, engineering, and educational importance which affect all of our lives.  Most especially if you are a constituent of theirs, please consider contacting the Congressmembers above and tell them you want them to respond to the Science Debate challenge.

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Good News from Science Debate: Both U.S. Presidential Candidates Accept!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2012

As I reported last month, President Obama’s campaign has accepted the Science Debate 2012 challenge to address their Top Science Questions.  I am now happy to report that Mitt Romney’s campaign has also accepted the challenge 🙂

For your reference, here are the Science Debate questions:

Innovation | Climate Change | Research and the Future | Pandemics and Biosecurity
Education | Energy | Food | Fresh Water | The Internet | Ocean Health
Science in Public Policy | Space | Critical Natural Resources | Vaccination and Public Health

Let us hope these candidates take the time to make it a priority to seriously consider these important issues of science, engineering, technology, and education.  Stay tuned to the Science Debate website for the candidates’ responses!

In addition, the folks over at Science Debate have also now launched a Congressional version of their candidate challenge:

House Committee on Science, Space & Technology member Rep. Todd Akin’s recent remarks regarding a woman’s body’s natural ability to “shut that whole thing down” and prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape” help illustrate why science needs to be a higher priority in the national dialogue when selecting candidates for office.

Working with America’s leading science organizations, we’ve developed the Top American Science Questions: Congressional Edition to help address this need.

Working with us, Scientific American has asked key Members of Congress who have influence over science policy to answer these eight critical questions.  So far, only a handful have indicated they will.

If you are a constituent of one of the following Members of Congress, please contact the Member’s office and ask them to respond to the ScienceDebate and Scientific American questionnaire immediately.  Be respectful, and tell in your own words why this is important.  Ask them to send their responses back to submit@sciam.com.

Thank you!

Senate

Lamar Alexander: Tennessee (R)—ranking member, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Barbara Boxer: California (D)—chair, Committee on Environment and Public Works

Jim DeMint: South Carolina (R)—member, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson is retiring)

Michael Enzi: Wyoming (R)—ranking member, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Dianne Feinstein: California (D)—chair, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Tom Harkin: Iowa (D)—chair, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

James Inhofe: Oklahoma (R)—ranking member, Committee on Environment and Public Works

Mitch McConnell: Kentucky (R)—Senate minority leader

Patty Murray: Washington State (D)—member, Committee on the Budget (Chairman Kent Conrad is retiring)

Lisa Murkowski: Alaska (R)—ranking member, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Harry Reid: Nevada (D)—Senate majority leader

Pat Roberts: Kansas (R)—ranking member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Jay Rockefeller: West Virginia (D)—chair, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Jeff Sessions: Alabama (R)—ranking member, Committee on the Budget

Debbie Stabenow: Michigan (D)—chair, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Ron Wyden: Oregon (D)—member, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Chairman Jeff Bingaman is retiring)

House of Representatives

Timothy Bishop: New York State–1 (D)—ranking member, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

John Boehner: Ohio–8 (R)—speaker of the House

Scott Garrett: New Jersey–5 (R)—vice chair, Committee on the Budget (Chair Paul Ryan is the Republican vice presidential candidate)

Bob Gibbs: Ohio–18 (R)—chair, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Ralph Hall: Texas–4 (R)—chair, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Doc Hastings: Washington State–4 (R)—chair, Committee on Natural Resources

Eddie Bernice Johnson: Texas–30 (D)—ranking member, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Frank Lucas: Oklahoma–3 (R)—chair, Committee on Agriculture; member of Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Edward J. Markey: Massachusetts–7 (D)—ranking member, Committee on Natural Resources

John Mica: Florida–7 (R)—chair, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Nancy Pelosi: California–8 (D)—House minority leader

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 22, 2012

Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the last few days, you know about the brouhaha surrounding the comments by the Republican candidate for the Missouri U.S. Senate seat, Congressman Todd Akin.  Just in case you haven’t heard/seen them, here are his comments on abortion and rape which (rightly so) have created a storm of controversy:

Wow… the words almost escape me… almost.  At the very least, Congressman Akin displays an appalling lack of scientific knowledge regarding rape and pregnancy (this despite the fact that he is on the U.S. House Committee on Science *facepalm*).  To understand just how scientifically ignorant he is with his “legitimate rape” and “women’s bodies can shut that [pregnancy due to rape] down” comments, take a look at this medical study on the issue (Hint: pregnancy due to rape isn’t “very rare”, as Congressman Akin asserts).

So how is it that a Congressman on the House Science Committee (did I *facepalm* already?) has such an out-of-touch and ignorant view of science?  I think part of the answer is Akin’s religious ideology, which he shares with a number of social/religious conservatives in the United States.  It ends up that this “legitimate rape” and related myths are not that uncommon among that demographic; take a look at these examples:

‘Legitimate Rape’? Todd Akin and Other Politicians Who Confused Science

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape

‘God’s Little Shield’: A Short History Of The False No-Pregnancy-From-Rape Theory

Doctor behind Todd Akin’s rape theory was a Romney surrogate in 2007

And my absolute favorite, religious right-wing groups such as the American Family Association and the Family Research Council are fervently defending Congressman Akin’s ignorance in favor of their twisted religious worldview:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

 
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