The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘PZ Myers’

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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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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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

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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

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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.

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Skepticon 3 – The Biggest Skeptic Event EVER?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 13, 2010

I wanted to pass this along from my friend Phil over at Skeptic Money. If you’re able, see if you can make it; sounds like it’s going to be epic 🙂

Skepticon 3 – 1,800 Skeptics! It Will Be The Biggest Skeptic Event Ever And It’s FREE!

Skepticon 3 is coming Nov 19 – 21 2010.  The event was limited to 500 guests and as of last week it was sold out and there was a waiting list.  All of this and there is still over 3 months before the event.   If only they could afford to get a bigger space.  Well Polaris Financial Planning, the only investment company that specializes in helping skeptics plan for retirement, has stepped up with a donation to put Skepticon 3 in a place that will hold 1,800 skeptics.  Skepticon 3 is now on target to be the biggest skeptic event ever!

Here are some of the reasons to love Skepticon 3

– It’s in the heart of the bible belt!

– It could have as many as 1,800 skeptics in one place!

– This skeptic convention does not give religion a free pass!

– It’s FREE!  Donate Here.

And…. There is an amazing list of speakers!

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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 »

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Evolution Mythbusters

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2010

The final talk I attended at Convergence/Skepchicon was titled “Evolution Mythbusters”, and the panelists included Bug Girl, Greg Laden, Ted Meissner (moderator), and PZ Myers. It was a very wide-ranging discussion of the issues of modern evolutionary science and dealing with creationist nonsense. Check it out…

Evolution Mythbusters

Ted: What are some of our favorite misconceptions regarding evolution?

Bug: I think my favorite one is that “bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly”.  In Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” they said that bee’s should not be able to fly, so it must be a miracle.  But this is premised on the assumption that the wings of bees are fixed, whereas in reality they bend & are flexible.

Greg: The misconception that humans evolved from apes or that they didn’t evolve from apes, because they are both correct AND incorrect.  But there’s a new one most people don’t know about, and that’s that behaviors can be genetic.  Behaviors develop in individuals in ways that are mostly determined by the environment and not by your genes.  This relates to gender issues, race, etc.  My issue is that there is a Darwinian theory of behavior.

PZ: This has to do with sex & evolution and the panel last night… here’s what was happening all the time.  People raised their hands and asked “why am I gay?”  And people on the panel were trying to figure this out, whereas the reality is that most of what makes you human (and who you are) comes about purely by chance.  What has been subject to selection in the last few million years?  Our immune system and sexual selection.  And when you analyze the genome further you find a handful of proteins that show signs of selection, and most of them are doing very obscure sort of things.  For example, genes for lactose tolerance show up which show signs of selection.  Otherwise, all this speculation about a “gay gene” doesn’t just work – most of that is the product of chance, not selection.

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Facebook Update: Evolution Winning vs. Creationism… by Natural Selection?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2010

In a recent entry I informed you of a clash on Facebook between two pages, a creationist page & a pro-evolution page – each promoting the goal of gathering 1,000,000 fans before June 2010.  I just wanted to give you all an update: the update is that the creationists are getting royally PWNed!

More specifically, as of this writing (Feb. 11th) here are the page stats…

Creationists:  53,331

Pro-Evolution: 242,429 – W00t!!!

To give you a fuller picture of the trends here, which are clearly leaving the creationists in the dust, take a look at the updated graph of fans per page…

At this rate, we shouldn’t have any trouble reaching 1,000,000 by June – keep it up! 🙂

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Evolution & Creationism Clash on Facebook

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 1, 2010

In another example of the science vs. pseudoscience battles that rage across the Internet, there is currently an interesting clash between evolution and creationism taking place on Facebook.

In mid-January, a group of fundamentalist creationists started a page on Facebook titled “We can find 1,000,000 people who don’t believe in Evolution before June” and it started to gather hundreds, then thousands, of fans within days.  Needless to say, this caused a bit of a stir among those of us who actually like science.

In response, a group of pro-science types started another Facebook page titled “We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June”.

Now what’s interesting about all of this is that the creationist page started off ahead because it got a jump start.  If my records are correct (they start at January 14th, 2010), the creationist site was at about 3000 when the evolution page got started.  But the creationists didn’t stay ahead for long – by about January 18th the evolution page passed the creationist one in fan number, and since then has left the creationists in the proverbial dust.  In fact, a good skeptical friend of mine put together a nice graph of the population of each page as a function of time…

The vertical axis is the number of fans, and the blue series denotes the population of the evolution page whereas the red series denotes the population of the creationism page.  To date (February 1st), the creationist page is at 26,300 whereas the evolution page is at 115,400!  I wonder if this is the result of natural selection on the Interwebs? 😉

Long story short: the evolution Facebook page is kicking the crap out of the creationists, but we shouldn’t get complacent because we know how sneaky they can be.  Remember, the goal is to make it to 1,000,000 members by June, and we’re well on our way having already gotten over 10% of the way there.  But we won’t make it by resting on our laurels.

So, to keep this explosive population growth going, I suggest we all spread the word and take a page from noted evolutionary biologist P.Z. Myers when he blogged about this over at Pharyngula. And, one last thing, let’s take a bit of advice from P.Z. on something about the word “believe”…

Don’t get all pedantic and academic over the word “believe,” either. We know that the nature of our belief in evolution is very different than the creationists belief in their god: we have a provisional, non-dogmatic acceptance of the overwhelming evidence for a powerful theory. It’s just that that phrase is ponderous and pretentious when “belief” is a simple English shortcut to the meaning.

Amen, brother! 🙂

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Skeptics Visit the “Creation Museum”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2009

I’m a Yankee by birth, but I was raised in beautiful south-central Kentucky.  Sadly, the state of my youth has become home to one of the worst insults to science & reason out there… the Creation Museum. This place is basically a “museum” for the fundamentalist Biblically literal interpretation of creationism, run by weirdo Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis organization. Folks, it is pretty hard to wade deeper into the woo than to visit this place.

But that is exactly what evolutionary biologist PZ Myers did recently with a large group of skeptics – talk about entering the Lions’ Den!  I was so impressed with his documentation of the visit that I wanted to share it with you…

Read the rest of this entry »

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