The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

No, Facebook is NOT Banning Atheism

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 7, 2015

Lots of nonsense and misinformation gets spread around the Internet; it was true back in the “AOL days” (wow, now I feel old) when fake email chains got blindly forwarded, and now it’s still true in this age of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). I and many of my skeptically-minded friends and colleagues also identify as atheists, extending our skepticism of pseudoscience into the realm of religion, but that doesn’t necessarily make atheists think any more critically than many of the religious believers whom we often criticize.

Case in point: this morning I opened Facebook to see the following post from one of my atheist Facebook friends; the last comment is particularly relevant:


Of course, there could be a number of reasons why Facebook would block a specific link, but note how quickly this comment thread jumped to the assertion that Facebook was banning atheist pages and links. You see similar comments all the time from many religious believers, which ties into the oft-emphasized (and completely false) claim from pastors and politicians alike that there is a “War on Religion” on Facebook or the Internet. Fortunately, someone else jumped into the thread rather quickly and corrected this erroneous claim by linking to the following article from :)


On 24 May 2015, the fake news web site (a spoof of the popular site) published an article titled “Facebook to Ban Atheism from their Social Network over Cyber Bullying.” Echoing earlier fake news claims that Facebook was banning religious content…

… Of course, the statement (and claim) were cut from whole cloth, as is one of many fake news peddlers making hay out of outrage-based shares on social sites such as Facebook. As noted in an earlier article, the site has successfully duped readers into mistaking their “satirical” content for that of its more credible doppleganger by way of initial visual similarities. However, there are a few notable differences:

  • uses the tagline “100% Mostest Official and More Sciencey.”
  • As of May 2015, only has a few hundred likes on Facebook, while has millions.
  • The Twitter icon links to the satirical Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter page.
  • The logos used on and are only similar to one another on first glance:

For more tips on spotting fake news sites, check out our article on its most common tells.

And if you stop and think about these false claims in more detail, they make no sense given the broader societal context: recent surveys show that secularism is on the rise in the United States (and Facebook is centered in the U.S.) and that the religiously unaffiliated comprise roughly 23% of the population now. So if nearly a quarter of the population in the country which is home to Facebook identifies as non-religious, then how does this claim that “Facebook is going to ban atheism” make any sense? It doesn’t.

The lesson here is that whether or not you are religious, it is far too easy for us to believe satirical stories and spin them into conspiracy theories which seem to target things we hold dear. When it comes to something that means a lot to us, we often emote first and think rationally later, and the tools of social media make it far too easy for us to continue spreading such misinformation. So before you hit “Share” or “Forward”, take a moment to investigate a little bit and be certain that claim you’re passing on is accurate.

Posted in internet, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Creationists Whining About “Censorship”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 1, 2011

You may have already seen it: the video of would-be Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann commenting that not teaching creationism (or, “intelligent design”, as she calls it) in public school science classes is “government censorship.”  Check it out…


Wow, there are so many things wrong with what she’s saying, it’s hard to know where to begin.  While these arguments from creationists are nothing new, I’ll just hit some of the high points:

1. The “Teach All Views” Argument: I think this one bugs me more than any others, because it is a disingenuous attempt to play off the American sense of fairness.  “Just teach all the theories” says Bachmann, but she makes a very interesting omission – what she omits in her argument is that creationists don’t actually want “all ideas on the table” as she states.  What they really want is to insert their very narrow religious ideology (typically, the view of young-Earth creationism) into public school science classes.

If Bachmann and her ilk were really genuine in their argument, then they would have no problem with “equal time” for a large variety of creationist ideas: old-Earth creationism, day-age creationism, gap creationism, flat Earth creationism, geocentrism, Islamic creationism, various Native-American creation myths, Scientology, and even Raelianism.  I especially like proposing “equal time” for Raelianism under Bachmann’s plan, because the Raelians are an atheistic UFO-cult which believes that humans were not created by God but aliens.  You have to wonder how willing Bachmann and her pals would be to give “equal time” to the Raelians!

So, I say to Bachmann: go for it, but if you really mean “teach all views” then be prepared to open the door to every kind of creationist idea out there.  And perhaps after all views have been equally represented, the science teachers in U.S. public schools just might have a couple of weeks at the end of the school year to teach actual science.  Who cares if our students will be effectively scientifically illiterate and we start to have massive brain-drain as compared to China and India?  At least we can all feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that we “taught all views”.  Gee whiz, thanks Ms. Bachmann!!!

The logical conclusion of applying the creationist idea of “teaching all views”…

2. The Whiny “Censorship” Argument: here again we have another facepalm moment.  These creationists actually believe, or they try to make us believe, that just because the U.S. government doesn’t give their particular set of religious beliefs some kind of priviledged status in public schools that it means they are being “censored.”  Purre rubbish, plain and simple.  For one thing, there is this little thing in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which is called the separation of church and state.  It basically means, in this particular context, that the public schools don’t get into the business of favoring one particular religion over another – that is, the government remains neutral on the question of the “correctness” of various religious beliefs in the public school classroom.

And that means specifically not giving any previledged status to a particular religious view in schools.  So while it would be appropriate to have a class on, say, comparative religion where the topic of creationism is studied, it wouldn’t be appropriate to insert those views into a science class since that crosses the boundary between science and religion.  Religious ideas are taught in religion class, and science is taught in science class!

3. “Scientists don’t agree on the origins of life”: while this is technically true, because the subject of abiogenesis (the study of life’s origins) is a subject of much discussion in the scientific community, Bachmann plays fast and loose with the facts by erroneously equating abiogenesis with the well understood and accepted theory of evolution.  These are not the same thing, and it is a common tactic of creationists to equate the two in an effort to give the sense that the scientific community doesn’t support evolution.  That’s just plain wrong, because – as these statistics point out – evolution is well-established in the scientific community.

4. Evolution is “just a theory”: this is another tried and true argument used by creationists to denegrate evolution.  They try to make it sound like a “theory” in scientific terms is equivalent to a hunch or a guess, but this is incorrect.  In science, a theory is a well-established and tested set of ideas that ties together a large set of observations and evidence into a coherent explanatory framework.  An analogy in physics would be to talk about the theory of gravity – would Bachmann or her creationist ilk try to seriously argue that gravity is “just a theory”?

If so, I invite her and anyone who agrees with her to take a dive off the nearest tall building without a parachute :)

I jest, of course, but in my jest there is a note of seriousness: if these creationists truly believe that evolution is “just a theory” (that is, a guess) then why do so many of them continue to use modern vaccines and antibiotics which are made as a direct result of the application of evolutionary theory?  If we didn’t understand evolution, we simply wouldn’t have those medicines.  So to avoid being labeled as hypocrites, I think creationists need to at least acknowledge that evolution is more than just a simple guess.

But I won’t hold my breath.  One thing’s for sure: creationists certainly are persistent, and as long as they’re up to their shenanigans we have to be equally vigilant.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Defending Free Inquiry in Iran

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2009

I don’t usually delve into strictly political waters, but recent events in Iran have compelled me to share some important information with the readers of this blog.  One of the key things that drives all skeptics & scientifically-minded folk is the spirit of free inquiry.  Without the free flow of unfiltered information, science & skepticism in their purest & most useful forms wither.

Well, right now in Iran, there seems to be a revolution of sorts in the offing. There are huge protests, numbering in the 100s of thousands for days, alleging widespread & deep fraud on the part of the Iranian government and incumbent president & hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The challenger, a moderate politician named Mir Hossein Mousavi, is stating publicly that he will not accept the results of a fraudulent election, and he is demanding a revote.

Unfortunately, the Iranian government has responded violently to these protests, and they are also attempting to impose a media blackout.  This includes kicking foreign journalists out of the country and keeping them locked in their hotel rooms so they cannot cover the events unfolding in Iran.  In addition, the Iranian government is also attempting to silence dissent on the Internet by shutting down popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

This is where you can come in.  I found the following information on a thread at the JREF Forum:

If you have geek skills, an extra computer/server, and an interest in undermining fascist censorship, please help!  Here’s how you can set up an anonymous proxy server to help Iranians bypass the Internet barriers.

Mac OS X


There are people calling for anyone with a twitter account to change their location to Tehran and their time to +3:30 GMT in order to throw off government searches for Iranian students who are tweeting.

Please consider helping out; if you don’t have the skills necessary to set up a proxy server or set Twitter accounts, pass along this info to someone who can.  Help defend free inquiry in Iran!

Posted in free inquiry, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Three Must-See Skeptical Youtube Vids

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 23, 2009

I decided in this post to share with you three special Youtube videos that have come to my attention, all related to skepticism & the ongoing battle vs. woo. I encourage you to view and share every one of them.

The first is an awesome video by Dr. Richard Wiseman, whom I had a wonderful dinner conversation with at the latest TAM in Las Vegas. Dr. Wiseman illustrates just how easy it is for us to be fooled with his video, the “Colour Changing Card Trick”

Were you fooled the first time you watched this? I certainly was, and as an amateur magician & skeptic, I was looking for deception. It just goes to show how easily any of us can be fooled, plus it’s a really cool video. To learn more about the psychology behind this trick, take a look at Dr. Wiseman’s website – Quirkology.

Unfortunately, the next two videos aren’t as uplifting. However, the response by the skeptical & free-thinking community to these videos has been very encouraging.

The first video deals with a radio-show rant by anti-vaccine nut Jeni Barnett (who seems to be the UK equivalent of Jenny McCarthy in the United States) in the United Kingdom earlier this month. Here is the Youtube of Ms. Barnett’s broadcast (this is roughly 40 minutes long, if you can stomach it for that much time)…

When this radio broadcast came out, UK skeptical activist Dr. Ben Goldacre posted the video on his site – – and took Ms. Barnett to task for promoting her pseudoscientific garbage. It seems that Ms. Barnett, and the company for which she works, decided to threaten Dr. Goldacre with a lawsuit if he didn’t remove the video from his site, which he eventually did. The irony here is that if you listen to Barnett’s radio broadcast, she repeatedly states that she thinks there should be “open debate” about these questions, yet here she (and her company) was stifling any debate & criticism about her woo. The hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a knife!

The good news is that, like the now-infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video that was (for awhile) removed from Youtube, the Barnett broadcast has been splashed all over the Internet. And the skeptical community has certainly rallied around Dr. Goldacre – I actually think this entire affair could end up being a tipping point in the campaign to take down the anti-vax movement. Much more about this subject has been blogged about over at PodBlack Cat, so I encourage you to take a trip over that way for more details. And tell them I sent you :)

Last, but not least, is a video that deals with Youtube itself, and some unsavory practices that have been going on over there. There is a famous user at Youtube, who goes by the moniker “Thunderf00t”, who is well-known for his “Why do people laugh at creationists?” videos.

Well, it seems that the creationists have been engaging in a dirty trick called “voteboting”, in which they attempt to take down the rating of pro-science videos like those by Thunderf00t through an organized campaign. Essentially, voteboting is a form of censorship, as lower rated videos get less visibility. Fortunately, there is now a growing number of people in the Youtube community who are getting wise to this nasty trick and fighting against it – here’s a video showing how. Unfortunately, Thunderf00t recently made a video critical of Youtube for not addressing the problem of votebots, and he got suspended for it & his video was yanked.

However, the video is back because many people saved it and have posted it in multiple places, including other spots on Youtube. Here it is – Youtube vs. Users…

I guess the lesson from both Dr. Goldacre’s and Thunderf00t’s experiences is that it is pretty damn hard to censor information on the Internet, and that’s a good thing. It also displays the hypocrisy & dishonesty of many woosters – such as the anti-vaxxers and creationists referenced in this post – in that they constantly whine about how they “just want open debate”, and at the same time they’ll do everything to silence & censor their critics. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I hope you found these Youtube videos educational and useful. Please pass them along!

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


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