The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘skeptical’

Book Review: “Sharing Reality – How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 3, 2018

Many of you know that for some time now I’ve been particularly interested in how we skeptics (i.e. those of use who take an evidence-based view of the world) can engage those of a non-skeptical mindset. In fact, I’ve been explicit about this in past musings wherein I discuss how to have meaningful dialogue with creationists or self-declared ghost hunters. Now I am happy to report that there is a book out – Sharing Reality by Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan – which tackles exactly this topic in great detail.

As a professional high school and college science educator of 20+ years, and as a self-professed skeptic of all things supernatural, I found that Sharing Reality provided something that many of my colleagues have struggled with: a method for effectively communicating science and critical thinking without alienating people who are reachable. Sharing Reality is a must-read for those proponents of science, adherents to an evidence-based worldview, and defenders of secularism, because it provides a road map for how to engage in productive discussions with those who don’t necessarily share that worldview. If we are serious about advancing science, secularism, and evidence-based critical thinking in general (what the authors refer to as “evidism”) beyond our own echo chambers into wider society, then we would be wise to follow the advice contained within Sharing Reality to start engaging people in broader discussions of these issues.



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

The Unexplained: A Skeptical Perspective

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 29, 2016

Recently I was interviewed via Skype by Dan Schneider, author of the long-standing Cosmoetica Blog. I joined Dan and my skeptical colleague James Underdown of the Center For Inquiry and the Independent Investigations Group to discuss the question of the unexplained and how both skeptics and believers approach unexplained phenomena. It was a very fun and wide-ranging interview, and below is the link to the Youtube video that Dan uploaded. Check it out, and feel free to leave any feedback in the comments section below this post 🙂

Posted in aliens & UFOs, conspiracy theories, cryptozoology, ghosts & paranormal, internet, psychics, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Legends, Hoaxes, Frauds, and Frauds of Science” by Eugenie Scott

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 26, 2013

I just watched the following video by Dr. Eugenie Scott, formerly of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), wherein she goes over a variety of stories in an entertaining and enlightening SkeptiCal talk about urban legends, science frauds (like Piltdown Man), out-and-out silliness (like Australia’s Drop Bear), and more.  It is at times funny, serious, and challenging, even for die-hard skeptics.  Enjoy!  🙂

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

Confronting Anti-Vaccine Nonsense Effectively

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

I’m a bit late in posting this, seeing as how it was time-sensitive, but I would still like to share it because it is an excellent example of how to engage in effective skeptical activism.  My skeptical colleague – and general badass mofo – Elyse Anders, recently wrote an article at Skepchick regarding the appearance of actor Rob Schneider on a radio show.  Who cares about Rob Schneider? (It’s an honest question, in one sense, because I’ve never been a fan, but I digress)

Well, in this case we skeptics should care about Schneider, because it seems he has become one of the newest celebrity darlings and spokesmen for the anti-vaccination movement.  Elyse elaborates in her Skepchick post…

… Tomorrow [this was Friday, Oct. 5th], he’s going to be on the KXRK 96.3 in Salt Lake City to promote his new… oh, I honestly don’t know. Who cares? It’s probably more awful than measles. But the measles thing we can at least do something about.

Last time he was on the show, he was promoting something related to his “career” and decided the best way to fill that time was to start yelling about how Big Vax is in bed with Big Brother. Full-on foil hat style.

Reader Atropos provided a clip of the show you can listen to here (or by clicking the poster from his Oscar Winning Drama Hot Chicks which I’ve provided in place of an embedded player.)

Favorite points/quick and dirty highlights:

  • Polio just runs its course. It infects a few million people, gets bored, then stops infecting people. And eradicates itself. But then comes back again… maybe to avenge it’s eradication. Exactly how evolution works.
  • Vaccines are not tested. Ever. On anyone.  Or anything. A bunch of wild-haired men in lab coats run around making vats of Big Pharma’s HAHAHA WHATEVER patented mix then they stick it into vials and inject it into you then PROFIT!
  • Vaccines are not tested. And don’t work. And we know they don’t work despite not testing. Ever. On anyone. Or anything.
  • THE GOVERNMENT PAYS YOU TO GET AUTISM! Because??? Autistic people are easy to control? It seems like a poor long term government investment.
  • Rob Schneider can read. Why is no one talking about this? …

Yup, a lot of the usual anti-vax talking points and conspiracy mongering.  But what I wanted to point out isn’t so much that Elyse was venting her spleen about some idiot celebrity spewing nonsense on the radio, it was that she was willing to DO SOMETHING about it!!! (Which is one reason I love her 🙂 )

… If you’re local, tune into X 96 (96.3 FM) tomorrow morning at 7 am local time. If you’re not near Salt Lake City, listen online at 7 am MDT which is 10 am 9 am EDT. Call in during the show to talk to Mr. Schneider* and confront him with weird ass facts that he’s discussing.  877-602-9696

Brush up on your anti-vax arguments here:

CDC’s common vaccine misconceptions

Google Scholar: vaccine clinical trials (for reference, not for reading)

Anti-Anti-Vax’s The Truth About The Evils Of Vaccination and the Costs of Treating Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Oh… and a little site I like Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated.

So yeah, I missed the boat on this one.  But take a moment to learn from Elyse’s activism, and read her links.  The next time you hear that Rob Schneider (or Jim Carrey or Jenny McCarthy or any celebrity whack-a-loon) is going to be on a program where he could spew his anti-vaccine garbage, consider calling/emailing/texting in and holding him accountable.  If more and more skeptics take their cue from Elyse and act in a like manner more often when some pseudoscientist or conspiracy theorist spews their nonsense in a public forum, it will help go a long way towards countering that nonsense.

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

“Skeptical About Climate Skeptics” from NCSE

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2012

As many of you know, one of the best pro-science groups out there is the National Center for Science Education; they specialize in defending the teaching of evolutionary science while simultaneously battling attempts by creationists to push their non-scientific ideas into the public schools.  However, in recent months the NCSE has brought its expertise into a new fight: the climate science wars.  Many climate science deniers employ the same kinds of tactics in their denial of global warming as creationists apply in their denial of evolution, and the NCSE decided it was time to start exposing these pseudo-scientific tactics.  So, to help facilitate this process, I wanted to share with you a talk by NCSE’s climate expert Mark McCaffrey wherein he dissects climate change denial; the use of doubt, delay, and denial; myths and misperceptions deniers push, and more…

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More Evidence Against Those Supposed “Faster-Than-Light” Neutrinos

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2012

In the ongoing story of the supposedly “faster-than-light” neutrinos discovered last year, there is another big mark against this claim being the real thing: the failure to replicate the phenomenon in an independent experiment.  As I stated then, most especially when dealing with an extraordinary claim such as this, one cannot begin to draw any conclusions until there have been separate, independent attempts to verify and replicate the results.  Until then, we should suspend judgment and remain skeptical of extraordinary claims.

Well, more of that judgment is now in… in a recent BBC News article, it is reported that a team (called Icarus) independent from the original research team (called Opera) from the same facility, Gran Sasso, in Italy failed to find the apparent “faster-than-light” signal which caused such an uproar last September:

Neutrinos clocked at light-speed in new Icarus test

An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light.

Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein’s theory of relativity.

A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.

The results have been posted online.

The results in September, from the Opera group at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, shocked the world, threatening to upend a century of physics as well as relativity – which holds the speed of light to be the Universe’s absolute speed limit.

Now the Icarus group, based at the same laboratory, has weighed in again, having already cast some doubt on the original Opera claim. …

This is an excellent example of how real science, especially cutting-edge science, progresses.  Claims are not taken at face value; they are always open to criticism and are not necessarily accepted (especially if they go against well-established theories such as Einstein’s relativity) without good, strong, repeatable evidence.

In short, as Carl Sagan stated: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

And the evidence in support of the claims of “faster-than-light” neutrinos seems to be getting less extraordinary every day.

Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

We Shouldn’t Be Unreasonable About the Reason Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2012

**Update (3-20-12): In the spirit of promoting unity, as opposed to divisiveness, among our community in regards to the Reason Rally, its organization and promotion, etc. I would like to give my friend Phil at Skeptic Money a shout out.  That’s because Phil has really put his money where his mouth is, because his company – Polaris Financial – is the first corporate sponsor of the Reason Rally!  I think we could take a lesson from Phil on a few things…


So I just read a fantastic post by my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist about the upcoming Reason Rally in Washington, DC this coming weekend (Saturday, March 24th).  Hemant is one of the organizers of the Reason Rally, and he and a lot of other people have basically been working themselves like crazy to get this thing together.  Indeed, it promises to be a historic event: the largest gathering of secular/atheist/non-religious/skeptical folk ever in our nation’s capitol.  Check out the Reason Rally’s website if you haven’t yet…

This brings me to Hemant’s post.  It seems there is a LOT of complaining going on in our community about some of the speakers at the Rally.  Here are some points from Hemant’s post…

So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…

… Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

… You can argue that the Rally needs higher “standards,” but you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about us. This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. This is about getting all those people not attending the rally (or who don’t even know there are so many other atheists out there) to notice us and maybe — just maybe — get the courage to come out of the closet or attend a local atheist gathering. … [emphasis added]

There are many more good points that Hemant made in his post, and I generally applaud him for sticking to his guns.  I, for one, think that he and the other organizers have done a damn fine job of putting this whole thing together (despite the fact that I have my own criticisms, which I shall keep to myself, thank you.)  And I say that not just as an onlooker, but also as someone who, like Hemant, helped to organize a major conference (though nothing on this scale!) in Chicago back in 2004.  As such, I can appreciate the headache that Hemant and his colleagues are dealing with now. It was enough of a pain that I don’t think I ever want to do it again, so bully for the Reason Rally organizers!

All that said, folks, I think all of this complaining and infighting is in many ways a good problem for our movement to have. It shows that our skeptical/atheist/reason-based/anti-woo/whatever movement has grown so large that it is getting to the point of divisions showing.  That’s called growing pains, folks; and note the important word in that description: growing 🙂

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Faster Than Light” Neutrinos Likely the Result of a Bad Cable Connection

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 23, 2012

**Update (2-25-12):  It seems the situation is a bit more complicated than previously thought, and there is another potential source of error that has been discovered.  More details at this CERN link:


Last September you may recall quite a bit of buzz going around about the supposed discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos.  While the media was going nuts about it, and while various cranks were crowing about “the physics establishment being overturned”, a number of scientists and science bloggers (including me) expressed great interest in this experimental result while also providing a cautious dose of skepticism about the entire affair.  That’s because a theory that is so well-tested as Einstein’s relativity could be overturned or radically adjusted by such a result only if we were absolutely sure of the outcome; and, at the time, not even the scientists who announced the FTL result were very sure of it…

This tended to be the general view among physicists about the apparent “faster-than-light” neutrinos 🙂

Well, it seems our skepticism was well-founded.  From a recent post on the Science Insider blog, it looks as if the “faster-than-light” neutrino signal (which amounted to a discrepancy of 60 nanoseconds or 0.000 000 060 seconds) was probably the result of a bad cable connection…

BREAKING NEWS: Error Undoes Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Results

It appears that the faster-than-light neutrino results, announced last September by the OPERA collaboration in Italy, was due to a mistake after all. A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame.

Physicists had detected neutrinos travelling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva to the Gran Sasso laboratory near L’Aquila that appeared to make the trip in about 60 nanoseconds less than light speed. Many other physicists suspected that the result was due to some kind of error, given that it seems at odds with Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. That theory has been vindicated by many experiments over the decades.

According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed. Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis. [emphasis added]

If true (and my money is on it being true), it wouldn’t surprise me at all. When I was an undergraduate doing research work in a mass spectrometry lab, it took me and my lab mate a couple of days to figure out why the damn thing wasn’t working properly. After almost two days of checking everything (every setting, every seal on the chamber, every line of code), what was the error?

Answer: a bad BNC cable *facepalm*

And I was just working on a lousy table-top sized mass spectrometer.  I can barely imagine the level of complexity in dealing with an experiment of the scale of the CERN-OPERA operation; the fact that they could have missed a lone, loose fiber optic cable doesn’t surprise me at all.

While I’m pretty certain that this error (or similar ones) will explain the situation, I still think it is worthy for some outside research group to attempt a replication of the original, apparent FTL neutrino result.  I say that because it could be worth really nailing down exactly what went wrong in this whole experiment so that other researchers don’t make similar mistakes in the future.  Of course, there is the outside chance (however infinitely remote that may be) that perhaps there is something legitimate to the FTL result.

Either way, science marches on and we learn something about the universe.  Neat, eh? 🙂

Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Debunking Handbook

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 16, 2012

I recently listened to an episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast titled “The Debunking Handbook” which dealt with the question of how to most effectively go about “debunking” various myths, pseudosciences, and misconceptions.  The general thrust of the episode, which I highly recommend, is that most of us who call ourselves skeptics don’t really do that good of a job of communicating our debunking in a successful manner.  In fact, many skeptics actually make the problem worse by inadvertently reinforcing the bunk they are trying to debunk!

Needless to say, this kind of thing is right up my alley, and I think it is well worth your while to take heed of the advice given in “The Debunking Handbook”…

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

Posted on 27 November 2011 by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:


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

Resolve to Fight Deadly Anti-Vaccine Propaganda: Start with the NVIC’s New Years Ad

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 28, 2011

Just yesterday I learned that the National Vaccine Information Center, a deceptive title for one of the worst anti-vaccine propaganda groups out there, has a new ad playing in New York City’s Times Square.  Worse yet, this ad is going to be playing on the megatron screen there during the New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31st!  Folks, this is bad, not just because of the content of the ad, which plays on the “pro-choice” mentality that parents are better equipped to make medical decisions than doctors and also directs viewers to the NVIC’s website, but because of the timing: due to the fact that millions (perhaps even billions) of people watch the Times Square festivities on television, this ad could easily get worldwide exposure.

The NVIC and other anti-vax groups would rather this kid get whooping cough or another deadly disease than take a life-saving vaccine.

We need to fight back, and we’ve already started.  Elyse Anders has already written a post at Skepchick on this, and I’ve also blown the whistle via the JREF Swift blog.  But more needs to be done, so here’s what you can do:

1. Direct people to reliable and trustworthy outlets for vaccine information – a quick and handy one is the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s Hug Me I’m Vaccinated FAQ.

2. Sign the new petition demanding that ABC Full Circle pull the NVIC Times Square ad.

3. Join our Twitter campaign: Tweet @DisneyChannelPR using #ABCsSickNYE. You can copy/paste one of these or write your own:

I resolve to end deadly anti-vaccine propaganda. @DisneyChannelPR Pull NVIC’s anti-vax Times Square ad  #ABCsSickNYE

Whooping cough is on the rise thanks to things like NVIC advertising on @DisneyChannelPR screens in NYC. #ABCsSickNYE

4. Go to the NVIC YouTube video link and “dislike” the video.

5. Share this information on Facebook and other social media outlets.

6. Contact Gerald Griffin at ABC Full Circle by emailing or calling 212.456.7389 to voice your displeasure with them playing the NVIC ad.

And this campaign needs to be mounted from the inside as well as the outside: it seems we in the skeptical and pro-science community need media connections within the companies which rent out space for these high-profile ads.  We need to inform and educate these companies about the part they are playing in spreading this dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation, and we need to raise such a fuss that they’ll simply refuse the NVIC the next time they come wanting to rent the space.

Of course, none of this will work without you, because we are going up against an organization that has literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on anti-vaccine propaganda.  So please take some time to get involved and take action now – it really is a matter of life or death.

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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