The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014: Skepticism and The Brain

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014

I just wanted to pass along the news that registration has opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas this July.  This year’s theme is “Skepticism and The Brain”, and it promises to be an educational and enlightening experience.  Read on for more…



We are thrilled to announce that The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) returns in just a few months: July 10-13, 2014 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Our theme this year – Skepticism and the Brain – is focused on the cognitive and brain sciences and how they inform the project of skepticism. Keynote speakers include the acclaimed philosopher, cognitive scientist, and best selling author Daniel Dennett and Scientific AmericanEditor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. Other speakers include neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, Australia’s Dr. Karl, Evolution & Human Behavior Editor-in-Chief Robert Kurzban, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience authors Scott Lilienfeld and Sally Satel, M.D., influential memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, clinical neurologist Steven Novella, M.D., immunologist Paul Offit, M.D., National Center for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott, Skeptic Editor-in-Chief Michael Shermer, psychologists and best selling authors Carol Tavris and Richard Wiseman, and many, many more!

The inimitable George Hrab returns as our Master of Ceremonies. As Pacific Standard magazine recently described, Hrab’s “vaudeville-style” has set the tone for “what is perhaps the world’s preeminent gathering of self-proclaimed skeptics.”

This annual celebration of critical thinking is an unparalleled opportunity to make like-minded friends, enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief. TAM has become the must-go-to event for skeptics and science advocates.

Join James Randi and over a thousand other like-minded folks for four days of fun, friendship, and critical thinking!


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Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

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

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.


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 »

Psychic Charlatan Sylvia Browne Gets a Dose of Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012

While at TAM2012, I saw some fine folks engage in some skeptical activism.  It ended up that at the same time TAM was taking place in Las Vegas, the queen of psychic scammers and charlatans – Ms. Sylvia Browne – was scheduled to do her show.  Well, the activist crowd thought it would be altogether appropriate for people to make an informed decision about Browne and her claims before attending her show, and they caught it on video…

**Note: I totally stole everything below this point from my skeptical colleague Kylie Sturgess – Thanks Kylie! 🙂

A group of skeptics organized by mentalist Mark Edward and Wikipediatrician Susan Gerbic gather to protest the presence of Sylvia Browne at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on July 13, 2012. Recording by Susan Gerbic; editing by Ross Blocher.

The group handed out a list of cold reading techniques that psychics use to give the illusion of knowing intimate details about their subjects. Another handout listed some of Sylvia Browne’s worst mistakes as a psychic. We encourage people to look them up: Opal Jo Jennings, Holly Krewson, Shawn Hornbeck, the Sago Miners, Terrence Farrell, Lynda McClelland, and Ryan Katcher.

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

Science Confirms the Bible? Hmmm, Not So Much…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 2, 2011

So while I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as I was hanging around the vendor tables I encountered a nice man who came up to me, handed a small pamphlet to me, and said, “Carl Sagan would want you to read this.”  He then went on his way and repeated this process all around the hall.  When I looked at the pamphlet, I was rather amused by what I saw: it was titled “Science Confirms the Bible”.  A virtual copy of the handout can be found at Living Waters, the website of evangelical Christianity espoused by none other than Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort.  Here’s what it looks like…

Yup, the folks over at Living Waters are seriously making these arguments.  Ray Comfort should have just stuck with the banana thing; at least that bit had a sight gag 🙂

Now I’m going point out just a couple of specific things about this pamphlet that shows it (as well as the argumentation behind it) are just way off base.  Suffice it to say that others have already analyzed some of these points, such as at a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, but I’ll just give my thoughts here:

First, look at the format of this pamphlet: it shows a Biblical verse, a claim about what science “then” was saying (btw, “then” was supposedly 2000-3000 years ago), and a claim about what science now says.  The implication is that current science supports what the Bible is saying.  Now before I get to specific claims in this pamphlet, let me first say that it is ironic that Ray Comfort and his band of evolution-denying evangelicals are claiming that modern science supports their interpretation of the Bible, because their interpretation of the Bible conflicts with modern evolutionary science!  So if Ray Comfort is claiming what he is in this pamphlet, then he’s messing things up from every direction (but what do you expect from a guy who thinks that banana’s are “The Atheist’s Nightmare”?)

Not to mention, if a literal reading of the Bible (according to the manner in which Ray Comfort would read the Bible “literally”) is supposed to be scientifically accurate, then how can one account for blatant inconsistencies such as that in these verses from Genesis?

Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

[Addendeum (8-2-11): How could there have been light before there were stars?  The only scientifically viable option is to invoke the big bang model of cosmology, which many creationists such as Ray Comfort are loath to do, since they don’t like the fact that it clearly shows the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  So there’s another contradiction.] Okay, so there was day and night in the sky and on the Earth before there was a Sun (the greater light).  How exactly does that jibe with our understanding of modern astronomy?  Oh wait… it doesn’t.

Folks, this sort of thing is just a taste of the multitude of inconsistencies found between a “literal” reading of the Bible and modern science.  If you really want to see more, I suggest checking out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, on to some specific criticism regarding this Living Waters pamphlet.  Let’s just take a look at the very first line in the claims about how the Bible supposedly predicts that the Earth is a sphere, from Isaiah 40:22.  What exactly does Isaiah 40:22 say?  Here it is…

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

So the Earth is described in this Bible verse as a circle.  A circle.  For those who may not have mastered basic, high school geometry, a circle is a flat, two-dimensional object.  Yup, basically the Bible is arguing for a Flat Earth (because remember that, hey, circles are FLAT!!!) This is in direct conflict with the findings of the ancient Greeks (about 2000-3000 years ago) when natural philosophers such as Erastothenes of Cyrene proved, using simple measurements and geometry, that the Earth was a sphere.  Two additional points should be noted:

1. The fact that the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was NOT flat is also in direct conflict with the claims in the Living Waters pamphlet, which states that the ancients two or three thousand years ago thought the Earth was flat.

2. Modern science actually states that, due to the Earth’s rotation, our planet is not perfectly spherical.  In fact, it is an oblate spheroid.  So this fact is two steps removed from the text of Isaiah 40:22 – first that verse states the Earth is a circle, not a sphere; and second, if the Bible really were so accurate scientifically, why didn’t it just say “oblate spheroid”?

[Addendum (8-2-11): I would think that if the Bible were so amazingly accurate in predicting the behavior of the universe in scientific terms that it would have said something about quantum mechanics, general relativity, or how to do something practical like build an airplane or make a vaccine.  Nope, nothing like that in the Bible, either.]

I could go on, but I think that by now you get the idea.  Feel free to take a look at some of the other loony claims made by this pamphlet, read through the Bible verses for yourself, and have a good hearty laugh.  Because that’s all this pamphlet is good for: a laugh 🙂

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

TAM9 “Skepticism in the Classroom” Workshop

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 27, 2011

This year at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, I had the honor of presenting once again at the Skepticism in the Classroom workshop with my skeptical education colleagues, Michael Blanford of the JREF and Barbara Drescher of  Together we put on a workshop for about 200 people, mostly teachers, on the topic of how to incorporate skepticism and critical thinking into the classroom.

After a brief introduction from Michael, I tackled the issue from the standpoint of a high school teacher and shared some of the practical tips and tricks that I use in my classes to “sneak in” skepticism into lessons I normally teach.  I really like how my partner in the workshop, Barbara, described my contribution:

Photo credit: Dean Baird

Matt recapped the most important concepts from his piece last year and presented more of his fun and interesting demonstrations. I used to think that cognitive psychologists had all of the fun because we study the interesting ways that our brains and minds fool us and can blow those minds by showing them. However, after some thought I realized that the physics teachers I know have the coolest, scariest, ickiest, and most surprising demonstrations. They deal with the physical world and there are almost as many bizarre things in the physical world as there are in the mind.

Matt did not walk on fire or lie on a bed of nails, but he has done those things and has the video to prove it! What he did do is show the audience that getting your hands dirty can be a great way to reach minds.

Barbara then gave a very interesting lecture on the importance of trying to get students to think critically at an early age, such as in elementary school, and how to use the basics of philosophy and philosophical discussion to engage students.  I found her points to be very thought-provoking, and I am seriously considering working something like this into my own teaching if I’m able.

I could go on and on about it more, but I think it would be more useful for you to see and hear for yourself.  Below is my PowerPoint lecture from the workshop, complete with an audio recording of the workshop.  In addition, you should take a few minutes to go see Barbara’s ICBS blog post on the workshop; and while you’re at it, see this link to the resources that both Barbara and I are providing for anyone interested!


More stuff you might find useful:

TAM9 Lecture: Inquiry-Based Skepticism for the Classroom (my PowerPoint file I presented)

Audio of TAM9 Skepticism in the Classroom (Audio file embedded in PowerPoint file – about 1.5 hours long)

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

Solution to the “Self-tying” Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2011

This is the solution to the puzzle presented in my previous blog post – Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9  – wherein I show you how to supposedly tie a knot in a length of rope without releasing the ends. Of course, it is a trick, so watch the video carefully to see just how the trick is done. And have fun with some friends, family, or (if you’re a teacher) students with this puzzle.  It is a wonderful exercise in critical thinking!

Check out the Youtube video for the answer…

One last thing: I cannot claim credit for inventing this trick. I learned about it from Penn & Teller’s old book “Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends”, so credit should go to them 🙂

Posted in education, magic tricks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Vaccination Clinic at TAM9 is a Great Success!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2011

Once again, I would like to toot my own skeptical horn 🙂  This past weekend at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 a group of organizations – the Women Thinking Free Foundation, the James Randi Educational Foundation, Skepchick, and the Southern Nevada Health District – worked to bring a free vaccine clinic to the conference.  And boy did we kick all kinds of ass!  Look, I have photographic evidence…

Me and Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, kicking ass with our official Hug Me gear (T-shirts and teddy bears for sale via the WTFF)!

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Like the WTFF’s previous clinic at Dragon*Con last September, we offered free TDaP vaccinations for anyone who came into the clinic (TDaP stands for “tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis”) and it was also part of the WTFF’s “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign to reach out to the general population, and parents in particular, about the need for vaccines and how anti-vaccinationist propaganda can be deadly.

At the Dragon*Con clinic, we vaccinated over 200 people in two days, which was – according to the clinic workers – a massively successful clinic.  But we aren’t satisfied with that success, which became apparent when our clinic at TAM9 blew that record away by vaccinating a whopping 306 people in 5.5 hours!  W00t!!! 🙂

A lot of people came up to me during the clinic and thanked me and my skeptical colleagues at the WTFF and JREF for doing this work, but I have to say that one of the biggest reasons why we can do this at all is because of the generous support from people like you.  We want to keep doing these clinics, and we’re planning to do another one at Dragon*Con 2011 – but we cannot do it without your support.  So please consider making a donation to this worthy cause…


Thanks again for all your support – YOU kick ass! 😀

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 18, 2011

Well, I’m back from The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, and I’m slowly but surely getting caught up on things.  I just wanted to take a moment to share with everyone a trick I showed off during my “Skepticism in the Classroom” lecture at TAM9.  In this video, I show how to use a simple nylon rope to perform a *seemingly* mathematically impossible feat: having the rope tie a knot in itself without releasing either end of the rope. I show this to my students as a lesson in skepticism and critical thinking, and it never ceases to catch their interest.

Can you figure out the trick? Stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the solution 😉

Posted in education, magic tricks, mathematics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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