The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Skepchicamp’

Skeptical Teacher Lanyard Page

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 1, 2014

Over the years I’ve made a huge number of blog posts here (well over 730 by now), and I’ve also participated in a number of public lectures and/or discussions.  Many of these events were recorded on video, and I’m happy to share with you a collection of those public events through my Lanyard page…

“Science Resources for Children” at SkepchickCON 2013

“Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap” at Skepticamp Chicago 2013

“Educating/Debunking: What’s the Difference?” at DragonCon 2011

“Bringing Skepticism into the Physics Classroom” at Skepchicamp 2010

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Walking Barefoot on Broken Glass – Not Paranormal, Just Physics

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2010

While at Skepchicamp 2010, one of the woo-busting physics demonstrations I performed was that of walking barefoot on broken glass shards.  Here’s a close up of the action…

This is a standard carnival trick, also used by various New Age gurus to display their supposed mystical, paranormal, or supernatural powers to their gullible followers.  Sorry folks, no woo is required to explain this (pardon the pun) impressive feat.  This is some video shot by a few of my students earlier this year when we were discussing the physics of pressure

It can all be explained with a simple understanding of basic physics: by walking flat-footed on the shards, I spread my body weight evenly over the entire surface area of my feet, which means that I’m touching a large number of glass shards at once. Thus, since my weight is distributed over so many points, the pressure (force per unit area) at any one of those points is so small that it isn’t enough to stab or cut through my skin.

Thus, through a simple application of Occam’s Razor, we can conclude that nothing paranormal is required to explain what’s going on, just good physics!

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Skeptic Money: Guaranteed Mutual Funds?

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2010

This past weekend at Skepchicamp 2010, one of the most interesting presentations was given by Phil Ferguson, the author of the must-see Skeptic Money website. Phil specializes in applying skepticism & critical thinking to an area where I am admittedly very weak: money, finances, and investing.  During his presentation, Phil was gracious enough to give some very useful skeptical advice on “Guaranteed Mutual Funds”, and I’m reposting his blog entry on the topic below…

That’s Phil on the left, along with The Friendly Atheist 🙂

NOTE:  This post is part of an ongoing education series.  This information is for educational purposes only.  This information does not constitute investment advice.  No rational person would make investment decisions based on a blog post.  Please consult with your financial advisor before taking any action.  If you think it is OK to make investment decisions based on a blog post, then for the love of the FSM – Stop reading my blog.

Below is a description of an investment product.  This is based on real and available products but does not represent any specific product.  Numbers below are estimates and are only intended to show how this product works.

The Pitch.

There is a new product it is a combination of the best of bonds and the stock market.  It is a guaranteed mutual fund.  Part of the money is invested in an index fund and some is invested in Zero-coupon bonds issued by the US Government – AAA Grade.  You get the benefit of the stocks and bonds.  The best part of all is that in the next 10 years, you are guaranteed a 40% return.  That’s like getting 4% each and every year.  That’s right you will make at least 40% return on your investment and you have the unlimited potential to make more if the stock market goes up.  Just sign here and give me $100!

The Reality.

Now for all of the details that the sales person did not tell you about.  The odd thing is that they did not need to tell you verbally because all of the details are in the prospectus – 72 pages of 6 point font written in the best legalese.  You signed a form that said you read it.  Now they can do almost anything to you.  You thought if you invested $100 you would have $140 in 10 years.  Now we will get the details.

10 years – You will want to keep this investment for 10 years because if you sell it early you have to pay a 10% penalty.  Whoops… did we forget to tell you that.

4% per year – Actually it is closer to 3.3% per year compounded but hey it’s only money.

The Load – oh…  did we forget to tell you there is an 8% load.  A load is a sales fee that is collected from you and paid to the sales person.  8% is on the high side for mutual funds but, this is a really good investment so it is a small fee to pay.  The $140 after 10 years was based on an investment of $100 you only invested $92 ($8 covers the load).  You do not make $40 but $37 (remember you only invested $92).  So when it’s all done you have $129 – still really good.

Annual expense ratio – We told you the 40% return is guaranteed – and it is.  So is the annual expense ratio.  This is to cover the cost to the company that manages you money – and they deserve it for getting you such a great product.  The fee is just 1.8% per year.  Just above the industry average but your worth it.  Total cost is just $18 over ten years.  Your total return is still $111 that’s great.

Insurance – Your money is guaranteed, it’s a kind of insurance.  You pay for auto and home insurance – of course you have to pay a little something for this insurance.  The cost is just 1.5% per year.  Total over 10 years is about $15.  Your total return is $96 – isn’t this, a wonderful investment.

Taxes – The IRS does not want to wait and tax you on all the money you are going to make with the Zero Coupon Bonds.   So they created a thing called imputed interest. They collect tax on the money you are going to get.  Don’t think that you lost money.  You did not!  You made money but agreed to a lot of high expenses.  That’s your problem not the IRS’s.  So…. ya gotta pay the tax.  I will call it $6.  So now your awesome investment of $100 after ten years is now worth around $90.

Who wants to buy now?

Umm… not me, Phil.  Thanks for the tip.

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Skeptical Teacher Displays Awesomeness at Skepchicamp!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 9, 2010

Well, I’ve had a couple of days to process all that took place during the first Chicago SkeptiCamp, also known as Skepchicamp. In addition to outlining what I contributed, I’d also like to provide some of the thoughts & feedback from others in attendance…

My presentation, titled Bringing Skepticism into the Physics Classroom, was a display of my belief in “sacrificing myself for science” whereby I perform a variety of extraordinary and dangerous demonstrations in the hopes of dispelling any notions of paranormal woo.  Specifically, I performed three impressive physical feats: walking barefoot on broken glass, breaking five wooden boards with my fist, and laying between two beds of nails while a concrete cinder block is crushed on my chest. Talk about fun times! 🙂

As I told the audience, when I perform these demos for my students I’m not proving that there is no such thing as chi/ki/qi or whatever other New Age “life force” paranormal woo-woo is often invoked to explain these phenomena.  Instead, what I’m encouraging my students to do is simply apply Occam’s Razor to the scenario: their understanding of basic physics is all that is necessary to explain things… no woo required.

For a fuller view of the awesomeness I displayed, check out this great footage shot during my presentation (hat tip to the Bolingbrook Babbler)…

… and here’s another one from a fellow Skepchicamp organizer…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Photos from Skepchicamp 2010!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 8, 2010

All I can say is… WOW!!!

I’m still coming down from the high of the first ever Skepchicamp, and there is so much that went on that it will take quite some time to assimilate it all.  In fact, Skepchicamp kicked soooooo much ass that not even Chuck Norris will be able to sit down for a month 🙂

Stay tuned for more updates and post-camp thoughts from me.  But for now I want to share some photos taken by our official event photographer, Ivan Phillips… Enjoy!

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Attend Skepchicamp! Register Now!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2010

Brought to you in part by


The very first ever Skepchicamp! It’s Skepticamp, but Skepchickier!

Complete with real live Skepchicks!

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.

Unlike formal conventions, everyone who attends Skepchicamp is expected to participate in some way – giving a speech, serving food, helping to set up a room, or donating money.

The goal is to create a laid-back event driven by the participants.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. There are, however, there are many things that skeptics do believe in. Like love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports because we know these things to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

The organizers invite you to attend the first event on March 6, where you can both learn and teach others about skepticism.

“In the end, the Skepchicamp in which you partake

is equal to the Skepchicamp you make.”

If you’d like to attend but still have not made a contribution, please contact Elyse to find out where we still need help.

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Skepchicamp – The First Chicago SkeptiCamp – on March 6th at the Brehon Pub!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 3, 2010

I just wanted to share the news with you about the first Chicago area SkeptiCampSkepchicamp – being hosted at the Brehon Pub on Saturday, March 6th – Yeehaw!!!

For those who don’t know, the basic idea behind SkeptiCamps is that they are informal, community-organized conferences borne from the desire for people in the skeptical movement to share and learn in an open environment. Everyone from casual skeptics to the experienced participate, give talks and get to know each other.  Over the last couple of years, successful SkeptiCamps have been hosted in New York City and Denver and there are new ones planned in Atlanta, Ohio, and Vancouver, British Columbia… but our very own Skepchicamp is the first one to be hosted in the Midwest!  Woot!!! 🙂

Please note that if you wish to attend, in keeping with the spirit of SkeptiCamp, you must contribute to the cause in some tangible manner – this doesn’t necessarily mean a monetary donation (though we like loot 😉 ), as some people donate their skills & labor to help the camp go off without a hitch.  If you’re interested in volunteering to help out somehow, please contact the organizers of Skepchicamp. Here are the event details…


Saturday, March 6th @ 1pm-10pm

Brehon Pub

731 N. Wells Street

Chicago, IL

The Brehon Pub is an awesome venue for Skepchicamp!  This River North bar is easily accessible by public transit, has a strong wifi signal, and great food and drinks. For one day, the Brehon Pub will be half-Irish, half-Chicago, and all Skepchicamp.  We hope to see you there!  Contact the organizers for more info!

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Last Call!!! Skepchicamp FUNdraiser!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: Though I am helping to organize Skepchicamp, the first Chicago Skepticamp, I totally stole this announcement from Elyse Anders at Skepchick 🙂

Today the Skepchicks have their hats out. All we’re asking for is money, and all we’re promising is booze and Skepchicks and amazing fun and great skeptical topics and great skeptical women/role models and some chances to actually learn some things.

So, on top of our fundraising campaign for SkepchickCon2010 in Minneapolis, we’re also raising funds to Skepchicamp 2010 in Chicago.

This weekend is the first ever FUNdraiser for the first ever Skepchicamp, and time is running out to buy your tickets. We only have about 20 left!

What you get for $30:

  • Food
  • Booze
  • Fun
  • The chance to enter a cashitty cash cash raffle.
  • The chance to bid on a date with the Friendliest (and quite handsome) Atheist, Hemant Mehta
  • The address to the location

Skepchicamp is turning out to be far more popular than we ever imagined it would be… which means we’re going to need money to pull it off. Not only do we need funds for this year’s camp, but to help us form a stronger organization with bigger plans and events in the future. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves, but we need your help. Please?

All you have to do is free up your Saturday night and $30 for a great cause.

So all you have to do is register at our Eventbrite site, or click the kick ass widget on the Skepchicamp blog!

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Skepchicamp Fundraising Party!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2009

On March 6, 2010, Chicago will play host to the very first ever Skepchicamp, Chicago’s and Skepchick’s take on the popular Skepticamp.

To make this event happen, and make it happen again, we’re going to need money. And to get that money, we’re going to offer you free* booze and food! The Skepchicamp planning team will be holding a fundraiser on January 23, 2010 at 7:00pm in the South Loop home of Chicago’s own skeptical pediatrician, Dr Jennifer Newport.**

Only 50 tickets available, so get them before they’re hot!

Ticket Price:

$30 until January 16

$40 after January 16 (if available)


Black Tie and Pants Optional

SurlyRamics suggested

*Free with purchase of fundraiser ticket
** Dr. Newport’s address will be emailed to the guest list one week prior to the event. Approximate address is mapped.

Event Page:

Buy your tickets now! 🙂

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Skepchicamp Venue Set!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 13, 2009

Chicago’s Galway Arms site of the first Skepchicamp

Skepchicamp, Chicago’s first skepticamp, will be held at the Galway Arms on Saturday, March 6.  Co-sponsored by Surlyramics, Skepchicamp will be held in the upstairs room of the Galway Arms, located at 2442 N. Clark ST.  Skepchicamp will run from 12:30 PM to about 10 PM, and includes a dinner buffet.

Over twenty area speakers will give skeptical presentations on various subjects, including critical thinking, cults, science-based medicine, and diversity within the skeptical movement.  Notable local speakers include Hemant Mehta, creator The Friendly Atheist blog, and Elyse Anders, a blogger with Skepchick,

Skepchicamp will also include a panel discussion with other Skepchick bloggers.  Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson is scheduled to join the discussion over the Internet.

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.  The goal is to create a laid-back event, driven by the participants.  Admission is free, but all attendees are required to help to organize Skepchicamp.  Interested volunteers should contact Elyse Anders at for more information.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. However, skeptics believe in many things, such as love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports, because we know them to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

William Brinkman
Phone: 630 663 0194

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