The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘JREF’

Announcing Educator Grants for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now accepting applications for educators to attend The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013 in Las Vegas this summer. I have been involved in many previous TAMs on the educational outreach side, and one thing I can say is that we need to get more teachers, at all levels and from both science and non-science backgrounds, to events like this as much as possible. So, if you are interested or know someone who is, please spread the word and take a look at the information below; alternately, you could also consider donating to the educator grant fund.

TAM 2013 EDUCATOR GRANTS

Are you an educator who would like to bring more skepticism and critical thinking into your classroom? Would you like to be inspired, energized, and informed? The Amazing Meeting is a great place to meet and network with other educators, get educational resources (including printed copies of the JREF’s education modules for classroom use), pick up tips, and be inspired.

In addition to three days of superb talks and panel discussions, TAM 2013 offers a full day of workshops, including one which will focus on incorporating skeptical thinking lessons into non-science classes.

The Amaz!ng Meeting is attended by people from all walks of life and all over the globe. Speakers include scientists, philosophers, journalists, educators, activists, and even entertainers. Simply put, TAM is the James Randi Educational Foundation’s yearly celebration of science, education, and critical thinking.

Veteran TAM goers know the feeling of community and inspiration that a weekend with skeptics provides. The yearly meeting recharges our batteries and sparks new ideas for projects to promote skepticism and scientific thinking.

Educators are in a unique position to reach our target audience, but they need good resources, the opportunity to discuss methods, and the kind of inspiration that events like The Amaz!ng Meeting provide. Educators who attend TAM will be able to bring what they have learned into their classrooms.

Click here for more information

Donate to the Educator Fund here

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

Purveyor of Fake “Bomb Detectors” Found Guilty of Fraud

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2013

Wow, sometimes the good guys win one. In case you didn’t know, there has been a long-running skeptical campaign against a pseudoscientific fraudster, James McCormick, who sold bomb dowsing kits to the Iraqi military. Yes, you read that correctly, dowsing kits – as in “water witching”! And no, dowsing doesn’t work. And yes, it resulted in a lot of people getting killed, because these things didn’t do squat to detect bombs. And yes, it pleases me greatly to see this criminal finally receive justice…

James McCormick guilty of selling fake bomb detectors

James McCormick arrives at the Old Bailey
McCormick’s fake bomb detectors were used at Iraqi checkpoints staffed by the British military

A millionaire businessman who sold fake bomb detectors to countries including Iraq and Georgia, knowing they did not work, has been convicted of fraud.

James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, is said to have made £50m from sales and sold more than 6,000 in Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.

Police said the devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.

One Iraqi bomb victim described him to the BBC as a “morally bankrupt” man.

During Tuesday’s hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.

Richard Whittam QC, for the prosecution, said: “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”

McCormick’s claims

McCormick had claimed the devices could bypass “all forms of concealment”, detecting drugs and people along with explosives, the court heard.

He claimed they would work under water and from the air, and would track an object up to 1km (3280ft) below the ground.

The bomb detectors came with cards which were “programmed” to detect a wide array of substances, from ivory to $100 banknotes.

Other substances could be detected, it was claimed, if put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its “vapours” and was then stuck on a card that would be read by the machine.

In reality, McCormick’s device was based on $20 (£13) golf ball finders which he had purchased from the US and which had no working electronics.

Police said McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. …

Serves this scumbag right.  I hope they throw the book at him, not only for his crimes but also to send a clear message to the other fraudsters and charlatans out there: we’re watching you.  Skepticism matters.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi” Kickstarter Campaign

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2013

One of my biggest skeptical heroes is James Randi.  He is a small man with a big laugh, an even bigger heart, and an even bigger love for the pursuit of skeptical analysis into all manner of paranormal, mystical, or odd-ball claims.  For Randi, no questions are off limits and skepticism knows no bounds; he and his legacy are one of the primary reasons why I am here, doing what I do on this blog and in my daily life as a skeptic and teacher, and I know his work (through the James Randi Educational Foundation) has reached and inspired countless others.  Now there is a movie being made about him, called “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story”.

However, such an undertaking requires money, so please consider donating at the Kickstarter page to help get this movie made.  Click the picture below for more information, and please spread the word…

An Honest Liar

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

“Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” Clinic a Success at TAM2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012

One of the most rewarding things I did at TAM2012, which was full of rewarding things, was to help run and staff the Hug Me! vaccination clinic.  Hug Me! is a campaign by the Women Thinking, Inc to educate women and parents (and pretty much anyone else) on the importance of vaccinating their children and themselves.  While at TAM2012, we gave 161 free TDaP – that’s Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) – booster shots to attendees of the conference.  If you are interested in learning more and possibly supporting our work, by donating or buying a Hug Me! shirt, click here 🙂

**Update: if you want to buy a Hug Me! shirt (as pictured below) send an email to marsmattus [at] yahoo [dot] com

The volunteers from the Women Thinking, Inc posing with James “The Amazing One” Randi (note our mascot, the sloth)

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

Women Thinking Free Has Morphed Into Something… Even… MORE Awesome!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2012

Some of you might be aware that in addition to all the work I do regarding skepticism and education, I am also proud to declare that I’m on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation… except that the WTFF no longer exists.  But that’s just because it’s now even MORE awesome, and it has been renamed to Women Thinking, Inc.  😀

We’ve been really busy behind the scenes with our rebranding and some amazing stuff we’ve been working on for the last year-and-a-half regarding vaccine survey research in conjunction with the James Randi Educational Foundation.  This research is REALLY a big deal, and there’s no doubt you’ll be hearing all about it in the weeks and months to come – stay tuned for that.

But rather than tease you anymore, I’ll refer you to this post over at Skepchick where our fearless mofo leader, Elyse Anders, has dished out all the info on our big switchover.  Check it out…

Women Thinking Free is no more…

When we started this organization back in 2010, we never dreamed that we’d be presenting ourselves far outside of the skeptical movement. Our goal was always to bring more women into organized skepticism, if not just to encourage women to think more critically. The Women Thinking Free, or WTF, was a name that said that we were free thinking women who didn’t take ourselves too seriously and that we had a sense of humor in our mission. As an organization with roots deep in the Skepchick community, I felt that the WTF was a name that expressed a lot of my persona, and reflected the tone of the community.

But the Women Thinking Free is growing. And we’re growing up. We’re doing more work on a national level and putting ourselves out to organizations who are less or maybe totally un-familiar with skepticism and the skeptical community. We do great work, and we intend to keep on doing that great work.  And while I loathe to take myself seriously, it is time to take my organization seriously. We have a hardworking core of board members and volunteers who work tirelessly, and they deserve to be taken seriously. And we need to tell those who don’t know us that we are an organization worth investing in and believing in. We’re not a dopey bunch of girls who don’t know what WTF means… and we’re not a group who doesn’t care how your organization will look being affiliated with “WTF”.

So we’re changing our name.

We’re still a fun group. We still don’t take ourselves too seriously. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve realized we’ve created something good enough to present in a way that won’t be dismissed out of hand… and without having to argue over adverbs.

We are now Women Thinking, inc. See? Not a lot has changed. Just a couple of words. We’re still women. We’re still thinking. We’re just a little classier.

We also still need your help in raising funds to do all the great stuff we have planned over the next year.

Click here to read the rest of Elyse’s post at Skepchick!

Oh yeah, and one last thing… we still have our groovy Hug Me I’m Vaccinated! campaign where we promote vaccination and help to run free vaccine clinics, but our mascot is no longer a cute n’ cuddly teddy bear.  Our new mascot is a cute n’ cuddly sloth, because sloths love to hug and hang on… but only if you’re vaccinated 😉

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Spread the Vaccine Love!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 13, 2012

Well, we’re ramping up again for another summer of skeptical awesomeness (including SkepchickCon at CONvergence, The Amazing Meeting 10, and Dragon*Con), and as in years past I am assisting with vaccine promotion.  Along these lines, I wanted to pass along to you a recent blog post over at Skepchick by my colleague, Elyse Anders.  Read on and please consider donating to help support this worthy cause:

How to Help Vaccinate Everyone!

From the Vaccine Clinic at TAM9: Who’s that handsome guy next to me?  Oh yeah, it’s just Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer 🙂

Right now, we are in the middle of a severe pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. In Washington state alone, cases over tentupled (which is a word that I made up for up more than times) since last year. In 2011, there were 146 confirmed pertusis cases through the first 20 weeks of the year. This year? 1738. That’s really bad, people. Really bad. And Washington, frankly, I’m a little disappointed in you.

Pertussis is a disease that, if contracted, often kills infants. And once they contract the disease, the only treatment they receive is to stop them form spreading it. There is no shortening of the illness. There is no medicine to help the body fight it. There’s just medication to stop you from spreading it.

And that “whoop” that gives whooping cough it’s name? That’s the sound of the sufferer struggling for air, being suffocated from inside their own body.

But worst of all, where they usually catch it is from an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated against pertussis.

So over here, in my little corner of the internet, with my tiny organization, we’re trying to fix this in every way we can… which is the only way we can, and that’s by vaccinating people against pertussis. If you can’t get infected with it, you can’t spread it.

The Women Thinking Free and the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign have partnered with the JREF and will be bringing yet another Tdap clinic to TAM2012. …

Read the rest of Elyse’s post at http://skepchick.org/2012/05/how-to-help-vaccinate-everyone/

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

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2012

[**Note: The following post is a guest post hosted over at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s blog.  Enjoy! 🙂 ]

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state’s public schools to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

“Maybe it has a no-religion clause,” the Tennessean characterized the law’s critics as arguing, “but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose.” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, “waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection.”

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes. …

Click here to continue reading the entire post

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

2012 Pigasus Awards are Here!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 1, 2012

As is the skeptical tradition, every April Fool’s Day the James Randi Educational Foundation releases its annual Pigasus awards (so named for the notion that certain crazy ideas are to be believed “when pigs fly”).  Below is James Randi himself announcing this year’s winners… or are they losers? 😉

Read more about each of these recipients and their related nonsense:

Daryl Bem

Facilitated Communication at Syracuse University

The Long-Island Medium on TLC

James Van Praagh

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

An Honest Liar – The Story of James “The Amazing One” Randi

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 18, 2012

One of my biggest skeptical heroes is James Randi.  He is a small man with a big laugh, an even bigger heart, and an even bigger love for the pursuit of skeptical analysis into all manner of paranormal, mystical, or odd-ball claims.  For Randi, no questions are off limits and skepticism knows no bounds; he and his legacy are one of the primary reasons why I am here, doing what I do on this blog and in my daily life as a skeptic and teacher, and I know his work (through the James Randi Educational Foundation) has reached and inspired countless others.  Now there is a movie being made about him, called “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story”.

Watch the trailer, pass it on to your friends (even if they aren’t card-carrying skeptics), and consider helping to get this film made.  As is stated early in the trailer, “This is a film about trickery, fraud, about lies…” 🙂

James Randi – An Honest Liar

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Can Science Test the Validity of the Supernatural?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 15, 2012

I wrote another article for the JREF Swift Blog recently, and this one focused on science, philosophy, and religion.  It gets to a pretty fundamental question regarding those three endeavors, and I wanted to share it with you here.  Enjoy!

Can Science Test the Validity of the Supernatural?

Those of us who consider ourselves skeptics and supporters of science, and most especially those of us who are involved at some level in defending good science from the efforts of creationists to water down (or even eliminate) the teaching of evolution, will be familiar with this question. I think the answer is not simple and is much thornier, both philosophically and practically speaking, than many people (including many skeptics) would like to admit.

Let me first take a few minutes to outline some basics of the philosophy of science that are relevant to this discussion. This has to do with the nature of naturalism in science; more specifically, we need to make a very clear distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism.

Methodological naturalism is the practice of naturalism in science; in other words, as it is most commonly stated, there are naturalistic answers sought for scientific questions, and the question of potential supernatural answers (“miracles” if you will) is not even considered. It was the application of methodological naturalism in what was in the 19th-century still referred to as natural philosophy, which helped to define and distinguish modern science as it is currently practiced. In the view of many scientists, science as practiced doesn’t necessarily speak to the validity or non-validity of the supernatural precisely because it is constrained to seeking only natural causes for the phenomena we observe in the universe. In the view of pure methodological naturalism, science is agnostic on such matters, and this gives many believers in the supernatural an “out” for accepting science while retaining their beliefs.

By contrast, philosophical naturalism is usually defined as a philosophical position that there is no such thing as the so-called “supernatural” because the natural world is all that exists. This view assumes, a priori, that there is no separate realm of existence, which is distinguished from the natural world. Thus, in this view, anything, which is claimed to exist within the “supernatural” realm, either doesn’t exist at all or is being confused for some other kind of natural phenomenon which isn’t necessarily well understood by the claimant. It should come as no surprise that in the world of the philosophical naturalist there is no such thing as a miracle and there are no gods per se. There is no comfort for the supernaturalists in the worldview of philosophical naturalism.

Having laid that foundation, let us now get back to the specific case of the entire evolution-creationism discussion, where we can see this distinction between the methodological and philosophical view of naturalism on display. There are many pro-science groups, such as the National Center for Science Education, which take the view usually credited to the late Stephen J. Gould called non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) when discussing the thorny issues of science, religion, their intersection, and their conflicts. Basically NOMA takes a kind of modified position of methodological naturalism and is described by Gould as follows: “the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).” [1]

Even the National Academy of Sciences in the United States takes a viewpoint based upon NOMA, wherein, in regards to the evolution-creationism issue, they state: “Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each.” [2]

Note that in the cases of taking the NOMA stance, there is nothing said one way or the other regarding the existence or non-existence of gods, miracles, or any kind of supernatural phenomena. However, there are many for whom the position of NOMA is rather unappealing, most notably because it seems to have the effect of stacking the deck in favor of what are considered unfounded beliefs and claims. For example, while the Catholic Church can tell its followers that the science for evolution is ironclad and therefore acceptable, that same religious institution routinely turns its back on science and completely ignores it regarding questions related to the authenticity of supposed religious relics such as the Shroud of Turin (which is, in case you didn’t know, a fake). This is merely one example where the believers and purveyors of the supernatural will try to have their cake and eat it too, the critics of NOMA would say, as they with one hand embrace science while with the other hand reject it. …

Click here to read the rest of the article

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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