The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Eugenie Scott’

“Legends, Hoaxes, Frauds, and Frauds of Science” by Eugenie Scott

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 26, 2013

I just watched the following video by Dr. Eugenie Scott, formerly of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), wherein she goes over a variety of stories in an entertaining and enlightening SkeptiCal talk about urban legends, science frauds (like Piltdown Man), out-and-out silliness (like Australia’s Drop Bear), and more.  It is at times funny, serious, and challenging, even for die-hard skeptics.  Enjoy!  🙂

Posted in humor, internet, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dealing With Different Views: An Interview on the Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 10, 2012

While at Dragon*Con 2012 this past Labor Day weekend, I did many things (check them out here and here) but one of the things of which I was most proud was an interview I did with Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist website and podcast.  In the interview with me and Ted was Melissa Kaercher and Melissa “Missy” Lee, and we had a wide-ranging and fruitful discussion of how skeptics can have productive and civil conversations with believers in woo and the paranormal.  Whether you call yourself a skeptic, a believer, or something else entirely, I think this podcast is well worth a listen…

Episode 142 :: Melissa Lee, Matt Lowry, Melissa Kaercher :: Dealing with Different Views

| November 10, 2012

How often do we have conversations where all participants agree, completely, on all points? Just shy of never. Every day, we are going to run into an expected variety of thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. Some of these will be held quite strongly, others not so much. It gets difficult when the passion about ideas is fierce, and the divergence between ideas is wide.

When we do find ourselves in situations where the discussion is going to happen, how can we engage in ways that not only leave doors open, but actively create bridges? Today’s episode is based on a situation that occured at DragonCon, during the science track in a panel discussion about evolution and creationism. It was recorded in a crowded bar, so I thank you for your patience with the background sounds and ask for your understanding that we don’t always have the benefits of quiet, Skype based conversations.

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry is a high school physics teacher with a strong interest in promoting science education & critical thinking among his students and the population in general. He is a self-described skeptic, someone who believes in Carl Sagan’s adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His blog The Skeptical Teacher is to allow Matt to expound upon various topics related to skepticism, science, and education.

Melissa Kaercher

Melissa Kaercher is a professional colorist, letterer, and web designer from Minneapolis. She is an active part of the skeptic community, participating in Mad Art Lab events, and is a frequent panelist in conventions across the country. Melissa is also co-host of The Geek Life podcast.

Melissa Lee

Melissa (“Missy”) Lee is the head of Minnesota Skeptics, and is what you might call a “convert” skeptic: once a true believer in all kinds of assorted woo. She values critical thinking skills, and hosts the MN Skeptics Newbie Nights and monthly Drinking Skeptically get togethers in Minneapolis.

Posted in creationism, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Skeptical About Climate Skeptics” from NCSE

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

NCSE Now Taking on Climate Change Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2012

There was some very welcome news this week on the science education front: the National Center for Science Education, long associated with the strong defense of evolutionary science curricula in public schools, is now joining the cause of defending climate science from the deniers.  This statement from the NCSE illustrates why they’ve taken this important step…

Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help. …

In true NCSE fashion, they provide a page of resources for teachers, scientists, parents, and concerned citizens to help with the promotion of good climate science education while also battling back against the climate science deniers.  Check it out and pass it along…

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Thoughts on Skepticon 3.0 and the “Skepticism Equals Atheism?” Discussion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 23, 2010

Okay, for days now I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked into the insanity that seems to have become the whole “skepticism equals (or doesn’t) atheism” can of worms which got opened (or re-opened) recently as a result of Skepticon 3.0 this past weekend.  I’ve already spoken my mind on this particular topic before, but for the sake of having my voice & point-of-view heard I want to just make a few quick points which I may have neglected in my earlier post…

First, I admit that I wasn’t at Skepticon 3.0, so I am going on secondhand reports when forming these opinions – so please bear that in mind.  Second, in the spirit of being fair to all of those involved, here are some views being expressed by those with a favorable or unfavorable (or perhaps ambivalent) view of how Skepticon 3.0 went down:

Jeff Wagg provides his criticism of the branding of Skepticon 3.0: Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3

JT Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon 3.0, responds to Jeff Wagg: A response to Jeff Wagg

PZ Myers jumps into the fray: I had no idea I was stepping into a controversy

Here’s an active thread on the JREF Forums about the issue.

And there are other active blogs whose authors are sharing their views on the matter, such as Blag Hag and PodBlack Cat. I’m more than certain that with the highly viral & mutagenic nature of modern Internet discussions, there are plenty of other blogs out there going on about the same thing, but I fear that if I have to read anymore on this particular topic then I’ll end up stabbing my eyes out with a rusty spoon.  So, rather than read more I will share my own thoughts…

1. Skepticism does not equal atheism: I think it makes no sense to make this assertion, for the simple reason that there are people who are both religious and excellent skeptics on many scientific subjects (for example, astronomer Pamela Gay) as well as atheists who are absolutely lousy skeptics on some very important subjects (for example, comedian Bill Maher).  Are a great many skeptics also atheists?  Yes, but it is not a requirement – allow me to explain further in #2…

2. We are not all equally skeptical of every topic – we all compartmentalize: Or, as I think magician & skeptic Penn Jillette so eloquently put it – “Everybody got a gris-gris”.  There are some topics about which we are more skeptical (or, perhaps, better at applying our critical thinking skills) than other topics.  This is basic human nature, folks; it is known in more academic circles as a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.  That is why we need a community of skepticism, to spread out all of that dissonance so that it doesn’t concentrate too much in any one area and thus blind all of us.  We all come to the table with our own biases & preconceptions – for some it is political, others religious, others some form of pseudoscience.  The sooner we acknowledge this basic fact of ourselves & our fellow skeptics, that fundamentally we are really no different from “believers”, the better.

3. Of course religion should be open to free inquiry – duh: I’ve said it before and will say it again… religion should not be “off limits” from critical analysis and skeptical thought.  Every topic should be on the table, including potential logical fallacies involved in some forms of atheist argumentation.  And no, I’m not conflating atheism with religious belief, I am simply stating that a bad argument is a bad argument, regardless of the source.

4. Disagreement & debate is healthy, but trash-talking isn’t: With the growth of the skeptical movement over the last couple of decades, we are seeing a natural consequence of that growth – the fact that we’ve grown so large that we are seeing healthy debate & dissent from within the movement itself on some key questions (say, on the question of religion).  Folks, this is a good thing!  I say this is good because it is a sign of the success we’ve had – we are no longer a movement of old, white, bald academic men who sit around in college classrooms rehashing the same ol’ same ol’.  We are spreading out, reaching deeper into society, getting our message out there, and running into the inevitable controversies which will confront any growing social movement.  I’m not sure why anyone is actually surprised that this sort of thing has happened – again, we skeptics are not fundamentally different than anyone else.

In short, we should and we must have these (and other) discussions.  I don’t mind the discussion & debate, but what does bother me is the tone taken by – in my opinion – too many skeptics.  Charges of “you aren’t a real skeptic”, “you’re just being a dick and alienating people”, and similar silly & immature sputterings have come lately from far too many people in the movement whom I have grown to know and respect over the years.  Seriously, folks, we are better than that; or, at least, we should be.  On some things, we simply have to agree to disagree, lest we eat our own.

5. To be broad based, the skeptical community should avoid myopia: Is the question of religion an important one?  Yes, it is.  Is it the only question upon which we should focus?  No, it isn’t.  I acknowledge that for some people addressing the flaws in religion is the most important thing, while for others it isn’t, and while for still others they’d rather not discuss it at all.  Personally, I am a fan of many of the prominent atheistic critics of religion who have written so prominently in the last few years, but my particular skeptical focus is different.  I am personally committed to simply getting as many people as I can to simply think more critically, no matter what the particular subject matter.  And the avenue I have chosen to follow is that of the formal educational system in the United States.

My concern is that the conversation of “skepticism equals atheism?” could potentially be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room, with the risk of snuffing out other aspects & issues within the skeptical movement.  If some people want to focus upon this particular subject, fine by me (remember #3 above) and more power to you; but if it isn’t my particular cup of tea to focus specifically upon this topic, don’t diss me for it.

Lastly, let’s not spend too much time & energy focusing upon the issues that divide us; I would much rather see a more constructive conversation on the things that we can agree upon than some of the nasty bickering I’ve seen of late from my skeptical colleagues.

Okay, there are my thoughts on the matter.  For what it’s worth.

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is There a Need for a National Center for Science Education on Climate Science?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2010

The answer is YES! That’s because when you compare the tactics employed by climate-change deniers to those employed by creationists, they are practically identical.  Eugenie Scott, the director of the NCSE, elaborates in more detail…

Please consider supporting the NCSE and their important work. They are a valuable resource, one with whom I have consulted (and helped others consult) on numerous occasions.  Their experience in matters such as these is invaluable, so if you have any questions and/or concerns, contact them.

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Question of Whether Skeptics Should “Accommodate or Confront” Religion is a False Dichotomy

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2010

Last weekend the Council for Secular Humanism held their 30th anniversary conference in Los Angeles, and it was attended by many of the greatest minds in the humanist & skeptical movement.  One of the headlining events of the conference was a panel on the topic of religion – titled “Science and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation?” – and it has subsequently generated a great deal of discussion within the skeptical community.

The panel included such illuminaries as Jennifer Michael Hecht, PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, Chris Mooney, and Victor Stenger.  Essentially, the entire discussion – which can be can be watched on U-Stream (part 1 and part 2) – revolved around one question:

How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education?

There have been a couple of interesting things I’ve read and/or listened to on this question…

PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog – Confrontation all the way

Point of Inquiry’s episode – New Atheism or Accommodation?

… and I’ve either read online discussions about this or had personal conversations about it with other skeptics.  Thus, since it is now a focal point for discussion, I’d like to include my thoughts on this whole issue, because I think that in large part the skeptical/humanist/non-religious communities are missing the forest through the trees…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Skeptic Zone Podcast: “Darwin’s Bulldogs” Panel from Dragon*Con

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2009

I wanted to pass along the audio of a panel discussion I moderated at Dragon*Con this past Labor Day weekend – the title of the panel was “Darwin’s Bulldogs: Teachers on the Front Lines” and it was about creationism & how to deal with it in public schools.  I proposed the panel, and I was joined by Kylie Sturgess of the Podblack Cat blog, C. Kevin Barrett (a writer and biological anthropologist), Martin Bridgstock of Griffith University and author of the forthcoming book ‘Beyond Belief: Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal‘, Barbara Drescher, a cognitive psychologist and lecturer at California State University, Northridge, and our guest of honor, Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

The audio file is available at the Skeptic Zone podcast website; it’s their October 30th recording.  Hat tip to Kylie Sturgess at Podblack Cat for passing this along to me 🙂

Click here or on the image below to download the podcast…

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Challenge to Skeptics: Pithy, Non-Offensive Sound Bytes in Response to Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2009

This will be a quick post, one which I hope garners a lot of attention because it addresses an important unanswered question: can the skeptical community come up with a quick, pithy, 30-second sound byte that is non-offensive which conveys the importance of teaching evolution whilst tamping down creationist pseudoscience?

Allow me to provide some context for this question… during my time last weekend at Dragon*Con, I participated in a panel discussion called “Darwin’s Bulldogs, Teachers on the Front Lines” which addressed the question of how educators can deal with creationism in the context of the classroom.


In the photo on the far right is Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, who was on the panel with me.

After the panel discussion, we had audience Q&A, and a woman who works at a history museum came up to the microphone and presented us with a tough question – the one I named above.  In museums, they don’t have the advantage of a science teacher who has many months to educate students and the luxury of being able to craft pro-science arguments & experiments.  A museum worker can find themselves in a sudden situation where they’re on the spot to explain to, potentially hostile, people the importance of evolution.  As Eugenie Scott said in our panel, this is a particularly tough situation to deal with, and we all agreed to try putting our collective heads together in an effort to address the issue because we do not yet have a good response.

So, if you have a suggestion for a sound byte, please leave it in the comments section below and pass this blog post on to everyone you know.  I’ll share my findings with others in the hopes that we can come up with something workable!

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skepticism & Science at Dragon*Con 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 7, 2009

Well, I’m starting to wind down here at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, which I have basically concluded is Mardi Gras for geeks – a lot of people dress up & party, and I was no exception.  Below was my small contribution to the party atmosphere 🙂


On a serious note, while Dragon*Con is essentially a big science-fiction convention & general geek-fest, there is a very serious science & skeptical presence here.  The Skeptics track is now in its second year, and it seems as if it grew out of a desire to counter or provide a rebuttal to some of the more woo-ish paranormal nonsense that you see here.  For instance, there is a track which seems quite heavy on the paranormal woo called the X-track where all manner of ghost hunters do their thing.  With so many people attending Dragon*Con who can actually distinguish fact from fiction, it’s no wonder that many people are interested in the actual science & skepticism tracks.

I will outline all the things I did here – lecturing on the Large Hadron Collider & particle physics, participating on the Science of Star Wars panel, moderating the Darwin’s Bulldogs panel on teachers combating creationism, and participating on the Skepticism in the Classroom panel – in future posts.  What I want to discuss for the rest of this post is why it is that I think having skeptics present at events like Dragon*Con is important in the first place…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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