The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Santa, Skepticism, and the Holiday Season

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 19, 2015

A recent article posted by skeptical writer Greta Christina titled No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus over at Freethought Blogs caught my eye. In it, she makes a compelling argument for why it is that children should be skeptical of some adults’ attempts to hoodwink them…

… You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

I agree wholeheartedly with Greta’s thoughts on this matter, and I recommend that you read her entire post on the topic. That said, I’d also like to take this opportunity to share (or re-share) some of my previous work on the entire matter of skepticism, education, Santa Claus, and the Holiday Season in general.

1. If Santa ever existed, he didn’t live for long

This is perhaps what I’m most famous (or infamous) for on this topic: I use physics to kill Santa Claus; to be more accurate, I use physics to kill the idea of Santa Claus (because it’s impossible to kill something that doesn’t exist in the first place). Originally, I made a post years ago outlining how, assuming the jolly old elf existed in the first place, Santa would be simultaneously fried to a crisp and squashed into jelly in his attempts to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

Then, last year, I decided to up my game a bit. I got commissioned to write an article for a UK Education periodical on the topic, and I went so far as to perform the explicit calculations showing that not only would Santa have to absorb the equivalent  energy of 20 Tsar-Bomba nuclear weapons every second due to air drag, but he’d also experience roughly 192 million g’s worth of acceleration in the process – more than enough to make short work of him!

Now, I’d like to share with you the specific PowerPoint I use to annihilate the Santa Claus myth. Feel free to download and use it as you will 🙂

Physics of Santa 2.0

Physics of Santa

2. The Santa Myth isn’t all bad and can serve a skeptical purpose

I’ve argued before that I think the myth of Santa Claus can actually be a very useful tool to promote skepticism and critical thinking in young children. Please note that my argument here is not in any way, shape, or form in opposition to Greta Christina’s well reasoned post above; I simply think that it is good for children to work out for themselves that Santa isn’t real, and once they’ve done that they should give the stink-eye to anyone who tries to give them grief or make them feel bad for not believing in the fairy tale. Even better, once kids figure it out, they should go forth and argue with their peers about the existence of Santa; what could be better than skeptical children promoting critical thinking to other kids?

3. It isn’t all about Santa

While it is perhaps true that Santa Claus is the most popular aspect of the Holiday Season, it certainly isn’t the only myth of the Holiday Season. Once children become skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus, then why not encourage them to ask questions and become more critical of other aspects of the season? For example, they can take the following myths and misconceptions quiz on the issue, examining everything from the more pagan aspects of Christmas to blatant falsehoods regarding the Gospels in the Bible. After all, once one starts to question one myth, then why not another?…

santa-dear-children

 

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Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptical Panels & Discussions at Chi-Fi Con

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2015

At Chi-Fi 2015 in Chicago this past March, the Skepchicks ran a track on issues related to skepticism, critical thinking, and science (and, I might add, ours was one of the more well-attended tracks 🙂 ). I was honored to participate in a number of these panel discussions, and I recorded the audio of them all to share with you here. To access the audio files, simply open up the PowerPoint linked below; each panel recording is on its own page.

Chi-Fi 2015 SkepchickCON Track

Chi-Fi Bigfoot 2

One of our panels at Chi-Fi’s SkepchickCON. I’m making a cameo appearance as Bigfoot 🙂

For reference, the panels in which I participated were:

Ask A Scientist: Ever wonder how black holes work? Want to know why we get brainfeeze? Do you really know why the sky is blue? We have you covered from asteroids to zoology as our panel of science experts answer your burning questions.

Star Trek, the Skeptical Paradox: Boldly go where no SkepTrekker has gone before as we discuss the unusual, yet amiable marriage between secular humanism, religion and spirituality within the Trekverse.

Science of Stargate: Black holes, wormholes, naquadah, and symbiotes. It’s fantastic science fiction, but how do the stories of Stargate fit in with real science? Find out!

Science of the Apocalypse: This is the way the world ends! Or is it? We’ll explore some of our favorite ways the “end of the world as we know it” might happen and the science behind these fantastic scenarios.

Science vs. the Humanities: Some people think that science and the humanities are destined to be in conflict. From postmodernist nonsense to looking at science as “the only way to know anything about the world,” there are many times when the two fields of study appear to be at odds. But does it have to be that way, and how can they get along? Come to this panel to hear a variety of perspectives on this question.

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The Physics of Santa 2.0

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2014

Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth.  In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK.  I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays! 🙂

lowry1

lowry2

lowry3

lowry 4

Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

50th Anniversary of Doctor Who: The Physics of the TARDIS

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 23, 2013

In honor of the epic 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I am going to re-post a recent post I made this past summer: SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS…

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The second panel was titled “The Physics of the TARDIS” and since the con had a “British Invasion” theme to it, Doctor Who was a big hit this year.  And that meant that this panel was very well attended, so well attended in fact that it ended up being standing (and sitting) room only!  In this panel we got into all manner of questions regarding the physics, realistic and speculative, regarding time travel, the TARDIS being bigger-on-the-inside, and more.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Steve Manfred, Renate Fiora, and Katherine Krantz.  Check out the audio of the panel below, and enjoy!  🙂

[**Note: the audio is embedded in a PowerPoint file – just click the link to download the file]

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS

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SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Three – Ask A Scientist

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2013

On my third and final day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in the “Ask A Scientist” panel.  This was a general Q & A between the audience and expert scientists from a variety of fields.

I moderated the panel, and my co-panelists for this discussion were Laura Okagaki, Lori Fischer, Tom Mahle, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers, Indre Viskontas, Nicole Gugliucci, Bridget Landry, and Bug Girl.  Check out the audio of the panel below, and enjoy!  🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Ask A Scientist

conv

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SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The second panel was titled “The Physics of the TARDIS” and since the con had a “British Invasion” theme to it, Doctor Who was a big hit this year.  And that meant that this panel was very well attended, so well attended in fact that it ended up being standing (and sitting) room only!  In this panel we got into all manner of questions regarding the physics, realistic and speculative, regarding time travel, the TARDIS being bigger-on-the-inside, and more.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Steve Manfred, Renate Fiora, and Katherine Krantz.  Check out the audio of the panel below, and enjoy!  🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Physics of the TARDIS

conv

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SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children

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“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

SkepticalTeacher.org

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books

Mythbusters

Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast)

BrainsOn.org (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Zuniverse.org

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

CoolTools.org

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day One – Time Travel in Film

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 14, 2013

Well, I’ve been back from SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013 in Minneapolis, MN for about a week now, and I am finally getting caught up on everything.  As usual, it was an absolute blast, and I recorded all the panels in which I participated.  On the first day I participated in the “Time Travel in Film” panel, wherein we discussed in what movies has time travel been done well? Does bad time travel make it a bad movie? What are our favorite time travel movies?

My co-panelists were Charlie Jane Anders, Courtney Okey-Wernimont, and Sean E. Williams, and I took it upon myself to inject a bit of realism into the discussion, since I’m a physics professor.  However, despite me trying to be a wet blanket, we had a rousing discussion which I hope you will enjoy 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Time Travel in Film

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SkepchickCON at CONvergence this July!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 2, 2013

I’m happy to announce that once again SkepchickCON will be taking place at CONvergence this July.  CONvergence is a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota area.  And specifically, SkepchickCON is a series of science and skeptic-oriented panels and events organized and run by those lovely ladies of skepticism, the Skepchicks. I will also add that yours truly will be appearing on a few panels as well 🙂

For more information on the various panels, events, speakers, and panelists – as well as an opportunity to contribute to SkepchickCON – read on…

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Image source

SkepchickCON is the science and skepticism track of CONvergence, a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis area. This year, we’ll have panels on everything from food science and mythology, science vs. religion, and penises of the animal kingdom to a live riffing on Prometheus with Rebecca, PZ, and MST3K’s Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.

We’re also hosting more interactive workshops than ever—bioluminescence with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, hands-on astronomy with Nicole Gugliucci, and geek art with Mad Art Lab.

Plus, every night, you can meet the Skepchicks and other scientists and skeptics in the Skepchick Sideshow party room, where we’ll have more info on science and skepticism as well as delicious chemistry demonstrations by mixologist Anne Sauer.

You get four days of science, skepticism, and all-around geektasticness for the cost of a CONvergence badge—$60 for all four days if you register by May 15, 2013. In addition to SkepchickCON events, the badge gives you access to everything happening at CONvergence, including all panels and workshops, multiple themed parties, the costume masquerade, and more. …

Click here to read more

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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!

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