The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘con’

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 »

“How to Save the Polar Bears” Global Warming Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2012

Now that I’m back from TAM 2012, I am finally catching up on some blogging.  In this post, I wanted to share a rough transcript I made of another panel I saw the weekend before TAM at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 titled “How to Save the Polar Bears” – as the name implies, the subject was on how to address questions of the effects of global warming as well as climate change denialism.  Read on…

How to Save the Polar Bears

with Greg Laden, Shawn Otto, Maggie Koerth-Baker, John Abraham, and Desiree Schell (moderator)

Introductions

Desiree: Let’s all commit now that climate change is indeed a real thing that is occurring. Greg, can you start with telling us the effects of climate change?

Greg: I’ll first talk about the effects of all the CO2 being released. The first effect is that it is warmer. For example, we are now experiencing the warmest year on record (so far). There are also likely to be drastic shifts in the weather patterns due to the amount of heat the atmosphere can hold. It probably means in more areas more rain in short bursts – so more droughts interrupted by heavy rains.

Also, the oceans will become more acidic, so organisms which are affected by high acid water will be hurt.

Finally, see level rise… glaciers melt, water expands, so the ocean level goes up. It could be a big factor in the short term.

Desiree: there are other more tangible effects like on agriculture.

Greg: yes, for example, many trees are getting killed by parasites because those parasites valve moved into regions (due to climate change) they never were before. Also, plants are drying out due to drought and this is leading to a lot of nasty wildfires.

People think that climate change effects is a future thing, but since the 1970s we have seen agricultural failures and desertification which are likely already linked to climate change. It is currently occurring.

Desiree: one thing that might change is disease patterns.

Greg: yes, many disease patterns have changed. Most epidemic diseases we as humans experience are due to things we have changed about our environment.

We have become a bit complacent about diseases, because in the 1930s we developed antibiotics. The problem is with the changes we are making now due to climate change, these disease effects are not so easily fought.

Desiree: Maggie, can you speak to power usage?

Maggie: the biggest energy usage we have now is buildings, more than transportation, and we use most of that energy to perfect our indoor climate (AC) which affects the outdoor climate, and so on. This also affects our power grids, because there is an increase in demand for electricity due to the higher temperatures. And the grid is much more sensitive than people think, and in these extremes you can get blackouts.

Desiree: Shawn, what was the political response to these issues?

Shawn: Nothing. An attempt was made in 2010 to address these issues, but about 500 million dollars was poured into Congress by the energy lobbyists to defeat any kind of climate bill. And the Obama administration had to make a calculated decision to go with healthcare reform instead.

There have been many on the right who have attempted to downplay climate change mitigation. Many people are pushing a “teach the controversy” argument against the teaching of climate change science. They wish to replace political opinion with actual science. There have been political attempts to make sea level rise “illegal” – North Carolina almost passed a bill making it illegal for communities to consider the effect of sea level rise unless the legislation gives prior permission, and if they do the community cannot go with the science
(about 1 meter in a century) but instead about 8 inches.

Virginia recently followed suit, saying we cannot talk about “sea level rise” but “frequent flooding” instead. This kind of throwing up political smokescreens is what is going on now.

In a way, you cannot blame the (public) corporations for this so much because they are required by law to pursue profits for shareholders on quarterly basis. So money drives a lot of it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Misogyny in the Skeptical Movement: “Don’t Feed the Trolls” Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2012

While at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 this past weekend, I did a lot of things, but one of the most fruitful and important was to attend the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” panel on the second day of the Con.  The panel consisted of a number of prominent female skeptics (Rebecca Watson, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy) along with a couple of male colleagues (Greg Laden and Jason Thibeault) discussing the issues of gender attitudes, sexism, and misogyny in the skeptical movement.  I think having these discussions in an open, public format is important, because there are a number of trolls out there who are not interested in reasoned, calm discussion on these issues; instead they are interested in intimidating those with whom they disagree and are attempting to silence them.

So, in an effort to light candles rather than curse the darkness, I wanted to share with you the discussion I was able to (very roughly – I was not able to get every word down) transcribe.  The talk was extremely well-attended (about 300-400 people were present) and the audience Q&A was very useful.  If you are at all concerned with these issues, please read my transcription and pass it along…

Don’t Feed the Trolls

with Greg Laden, Rebecca Watson, Jason Thibeault, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy

Introductions

Rebecca: Rebecca is told that she should be raped, that she’s a prude, that she’s a whore, and so on.

Some emails from men have included how they would like to service her regularly. These kinds of comments have come through email, YouTube, Facebook, her Wikipedia page.

In short, the Internet is no longer a safe, fun place for Rebecca. It is where she works.

Greg Laden: one of the things that bothers him about Elevatorgate is that a friend of his was recently sexually assaulted on an elevator. So it happens. His main experience with trolls started in dealing with the evolution-creation debate online. Even more serious troll issues began two years ago in June when he and other bloggers were blogging about “rape month” (in the Congo). There were a lot of guys who were upset with him, because some of these men didn’t like the fact that he was pointing out that a lot of men do bad shit.

There are also trolls regarding the climate change discussion. There were people threatening to sue in England due to the libel laws. Greg points out that much of the stuff that goes to these blog comments is filtered and most of us never see the truly nasty stuff.

Definition of trolling (Stephanie): it started out years ago as goofy silliness, but in many ways it has now morphed into behavior towards trying to silence discussion. It is no surprise that many of the panelists are atheists and feminists, because those are groups a lot of people want to shut down.

Christina: there is a difference between trolls and haters. Eventually, I tried to go about ignoring the haters with their death and rape threats, but it gets very hard to continue. And sometimes you want to quit just to make it stop.

Stephanie: there is an idea that these trolls are just people in the Internet who are not dangerous. However, some of these people actually do try to find you in the real world. I put up a “do not talk to this person” post and this person ended up having restraining orders put on them.

Rebecca: in the past several years, there have been many high profile examples of men murdering women. In many cases, the offending males have a history of online misogynistic ranting. When she sees men doing this online, including very dehumanizing language, it makes her think of the potential danger.

Jason: one potentially probable death threat can be enough to stop you from going to a conference, for example.

Heina: I used to be Muslim, and once people figured out how I was blogging online, I was receiving threats about it. And I ended up taking down my blog due to the threats.

Least helpful advice in dealing with trolls…

Rebecca: “Don’t feed the trolls”
I now refer people who give this advice to a link on which why this is not helpful. It’s kind of like saying that a woman who doesn’t want to get raped shouldn’t wear a mini-skirt. Many people think that the trolls want attention, but what they really want is to silence me and other women like me. And it worked for awhile, because all the emails and comments started to pile up and it was wearing me down. Once I shared this stuff with my friends, it helped lift a weight off me.

Now, with haters on Twitter, I now simply RT and block. And now the haters have to spend their time blocking people who are pushing back against them. And if we can make this an issue for our community, we can increase the social cost of trolling. Now there are going to be consequences, and they will be put on a stage and be made to go on the defense.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Convergence 2012 Day 2: “Ask a Scientist” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2012

During Day 2 of Convergence/SkepchickCon, I was fortunate enough to (once again) be on the “Ask a Scientist” panel for the third year in a row 🙂

The whole point of this particular panel is to get a small team of scientists from a variety of backgrounds (physics, geology, biology, mathematics, medicine, forensics) together to hold an hour-long Q&A session with the audience.  And boy what an audience it was – the room was packed, standing room only, with roughly 400 people in attendance!  I recorded the entire discussion and you can access it all at the link below – enjoy!

Ask a Scientist – Convergence 2012

Image Source

A general Q&A with expert scientists from a variety of fields.  Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Mirian Krause

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

Convergence 2012 Day 1: “Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2012

The first day of Convergence 2012 involved the usual… checking into the hotel, getting registered for the Con, and so on.  But for me it also included a very fun, late-night panel about various doomsday scenarios, including killer asteroids, massive solar flares, outbreaks of deadly infectious disease (think the Black Plague), the potential failure of the Internet, release of so-called “grey goo” nanites, nuclear war, and everyone’s favorite – zombies!

While it was a serious discussion, there was also much humor involved (I will never forget Jason Thibeault’s quip: “I tried to start a nuclear war, until I took an arrow to the knee” 🙂 ), and the audience Q&A was very lively.  If you’d like to listen to the panel discussion, just click the link below to hear my recording:

Final CONvergence Doomsday Scenarios – Convergence 2012

Image Source

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

Posted in doomsday, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts on Calling the Creationist Bluff

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2012

I’m happy to say that I received a bit of a shout out from my scientific and skeptical colleague Greg Laden over at Science Blogs for my recent JREF Swift post “Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?” I think Greg makes some excellent points and observations about my post in his analysis, so I wanted to return the favor and make note of some of his points.

[**Aside: If you’re in the Minneapolis area this July 5-8th, drop by Convergence 2012 and see both Greg and me.  We’re both participating in the Con, and I look forward to discussing these topics with him (plus anyone else interested) more there.]

For Greg’s full breakdown, check out his entire post…

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

My comment: What’s next? Teaching “The Flintstones” as scientifically-verified, historical fact?  *facepalm*

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. …

Exactly.  The basic premise is this: if you want to allow one non-scientific “alternative” (such as young-earth creationism, the standard form of creationism pushed by fundamentalist Christians in the United States), then you’d better be damn well ready to allow every other alternative that comes knocking at the public school door.  That means, as Greg points out, Islamic views of creationism (that’ll get the Christian fundies’ knickers in a twist), Raelianism (basically the atheistic idea that aliens, not God, created humankind – kind of like in the science fiction movie “Prometheus”), and perhaps even Scientology (which is so nutty I’ll just refer you here for more on that weirdness) should be expected to receive “equal time” in the public school science class.

Greg goes on…

… Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art….

Exactly, again.  Of course, I’m not being serious – at least, I’m not being serious in the sense that I actually want our public science education system to collapse into a deepening, spiraling abyss of stupidity.  Which is what would happen if we allowed every goofball with a hare-brained “theory” to promote their nonsense as science.

Finally, some closing points from Greg on precisely why we shouldn’t be allowing YECs (or Islamic creationists, or Raelians, or Scientologists) to push their religious/pseudoscientific agenda in our schools:

… First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. … [emphasis mine]

Yup.  Just picture this… we allow the pseudoscientists to push whatever nonsense they wish, under the auspices of “equal time” and “teaching all views”.  If we were to seriously do that, how much time do you think would be left over to teach actual science to kids in our schools?  I’m thinking… around two weeks… which should really boost those ACT scores!

Greg continues:

… Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. …

I spoke to this above, but it bears mentioning again because Greg nails it here.  The danger to our public school system goes beyond watering down the science curriculum in school; it also goes to the broader question of funding.  If we allow these creationists to get away with pushing their nonsense as science in schools, then we will reinforce their arguments that funding should be deviated from the public schools to the kinds of blatantly religious schools Greg mentions.  And the less money for the public schools, the less they can afford to teach science (because it’s expensive!), and so on… I think you get the idea.

Greg’s last point, which is also (in my opinion) the most important one:

… Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. …

That’s it, in a nutshell.  We teach science in science classes, period.  If you want to talk about religion and God, there’s a place for that, even in our secular public schools: it’s called comparative religion or philosophy/humanities class.  And if you want to worship a particular deity, there’s also a place for that: it’s called church.

Posted in creationism, education, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

SkepchickCon 2012 Coming Your Way!

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 😀

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Notes from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2011

Well, another Skepchicon/Convergence has come and gone, and once again I had a blast in Minneapolis.  Of course, it wasn’t all play – though there was plenty of that (as evidenced with the photo of me below in the Mos Icee Cantina 🙂 ) – because I participated in a number of good panels on a variety of topics related to skepticism and science.  I recorded every panel in which I took part, and I reproduce this audio along with a brief description of the panel for you below.  Enjoy!

Modern Day Snake Oil – in this panel, the topic of various forms of alternative “medicine” were discussed, from homeopathy to magnetic therapy.

To Vaxx or Not To Vaxx – here we discussed the anti-vaccination movement and why their pseudoscience is dangerous.  Also discussed were some facts about how vaccines do and don’t work, and why it is so important that people vaccinate even if they think it isn’t necessary.

Stuff I Didn’t Know – the panelists share with the audience some of the neat things they’ve learned recently, and the audience gets in on the action as well.

Common Hollywood Science Myths – we all like going to the movies or watching our favorite shows on TV/cable, but boy oh boy does Hollywood screw up a lot of science in the process of entertaining us.  The panelists share some of their pet peeves and also compliment Hollywood when they get it right.

Ask A Scientist Open Forum – just as the name suggests, this panel consisted of audience members asking the panel a variety of questions on everything from the Big Bang to dentistry!

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

SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2011

It’s time for SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis!  Actually, it will be time in a week for SkepchiCON (specifically June 30-July 3).  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 SkepchiCON again this year, because in addition to being a science teacher/professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on.  Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, SkepchiCON is geared towards presenting the skeptical & pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun & 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 🙂

I will be attending SkepchiCON and participating in a number of panel discussions, in addition to generally checking things out.  I’ll also be there as a representative of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, dedicated to promoting critical thinking and skepticism among women of all ages who are so often targeted by the woo-meisters.  If you get a chance, find me and say hello!

Last, but not least, in case you are interested… I plan to live blog many parts of SkepchiCON, so watch this space!

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

 
%d bloggers like this: