The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘TAM’

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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Karen Stollznow’s TAM Talk: What an Excellent Day for a Talk about Exorcism

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2013

In the spirit of both Halloween and skepticism, I wanted to pass along to you this very well done talk on demonic possession and exorcism from Karen Stollznow.  Enjoy!  🙂

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2013

I don’t often make posts about this particular topic, though I have definite feelings on the issue.  If you call yourself a skeptic and/or atheist and you’re involved in the movement, you would have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of years to have missed how the issue of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault has come to the front of much discussion in our community.

What follows is a video made by a very brave woman whom I know, named Ashley Paramore.  I’ve known her for a few years through our mutual involvement in the skeptic/atheist movement.  She is a smart, beautiful, and talented woman who is quite passionate about skepticism/atheism, much like many of the women (such as those ladies at Skepchick and the Women Thinking, Inc) whom I have had the honor of meeting and working with these last few years.

**Please note: what is described in this video may be disturbing to some**

It saddens me to say that I personally know of at least two other women (as well as one man) who were similarly harassed and/or assaulted at skeptic cons in recent years.  In one situation, I actually had to get physically involved to stop the assault and eject the perpetrator from the venue.

Ashley is right: this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than many people might think.  And while I applaud the efforts of various cons to set up methods of dealing with such situations as they arise (and yes, I also have my criticisms of other cons for not doing so), the best thing to do is to create an environment where such harassment and/or assault doesn’t occur at all.  And for that, it takes all of us to be more aware of what is going on around us; it requires us to be willing to call out inappropriate behavior; it requires us to be willing to listen more and treat the experiences of women (and men, too) like Ashley seriously and in a non-judgmental manner; and it means that we need to provide support, either in public or private, for those who are willing to make a stand against such reprehensible behavior.

**On a personal note: I have found, as a man, that my experiences with women like Ashley over the years and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences (as well as my willingness to listen to them) has served to deepen my love and respect for the women in my life who are closest to me.  It has made me a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and colleague, and I want to say to all of those women something I should have said long ago: Thank you 🙂

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

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

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“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 »

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

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“Skepticism in the Classroom” at the American Association of Physics Teachers

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2011

I had a recent blog post about my presentation at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9’s “Skepticism in the Classroom” workshop, but that was just a warmup, folks!  I’m happy to say that this past weekend, while at the American Association of Physics Teachers summer meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, my skeptical physics colleague, Dean Baird, and I presented a more detailed and physics-oriented version of Skepticism in the Classroom 🙂

Our workshop was about 4 hours long, and we took turns presenting a wide variety of physics lessons that incorporate some aspect of skepticism and critical thinking into them (what I like to call “guerrilla skepticism”).  For reference, all of Dean’s lessons are available at this link over at his Blog of Phyz.  I share my lessons with you below, so feel free to use, adapt, and share them as you wish:

1. Astrology Debunking Activity  and Solutions – This activity allows you to test out the notion of astrology with your students in a controlled manner.  It illustrates pretty clearly that astrology doesn’t really work.

2. Bed of Nails – I’ve made a very detailed blog post already on the subject (at the link).  However, at the end of that blog post the Youtube video of the moron cutting his arm with a razor sharp machete doesn’t work – try this one instead [warning: not for the squeamish!]

3. Board Breaking & Karate – This is another subject on which I have written before (click the link).  However, included in my blog analysis of the topic are some additional materials: an article about the physics of karate and a notesheet that I use in my classes to illustrate the physical principles behind this not-so-miraculous feat.

4. Einstein Cranks – This is a link to a blog post I wrote earlier about how many physics cranks and pseudoscientists abuse physics and the rules of science in an attempt to promote their nonsense.

5. EMF Woo – These are a collection of blog posts I have made over the years regarding the nonsense and pseudoscience surrounding EMFs (electromagnetic fields).  These posts – and the lessons associated with them – range from addressing claims of low-frequency EMFs inducing cancer to ghost-hunting woo (and the companies that promote such nonsense).

6. ESP Claims – Here I have collected a couple of lessons dealing with the claims of ESP and psychics.  Most notable are the notesheet for James Randi’s Secrets of the Psychics video and an article from Skeptical Inquirer magazine I have my students read on the issue.  You can find Randi’s excellent video for free on Youtube…


7. Glasswalking – This is just a blog post and video of why it is that walking barefoot on broken glass won’t cut you, provided you don’t slide your feet.  Hint: nothing paranormal or supernatural is required!

8. Haunted Lab – Every year around Halloween I do a special, exploration-based lab that incorporates a lot of cool physics concepts in with some debunking of paranormal claims.  It’s great fun!

9. Hot Stuff! – In this collection of lessons I address pseudoscientific claims from the standpoint of thermal physics.  Specifically, I have my students learn about how firewalking isn’t paranormal, and I also have them look at the claims that a man uses his “chi” to avoid getting burned when he puts molten lead into his mouth!

10. Magnetic Therapy – This lesson is an article and notesheet regarding this time-honored classic of alternative “medicine” woo.

11. Mega-Woosh Water Slide – A couple of years ago, this Internet video went viral, supposedly showing a man making a near-impossible jump across a valley using a huge water slide.  Well, it wasn’t real, but a basic analysis of physics also shows it is highly implausible as well.

12. Neat Tricks – These include some nice, off-the-cuff critical thinking exercises for your students: my “Uncle Harry” card trick, and my self-tying knot trick (the solution is here).   Enjoy! 🙂

13. Optical Illusions – This is a really broad category: it includes a PowerPoint I give on illusions and pareidolia, an article I have my students read on so-called “mystery lights”, and some stuff about how spirit orbs are not what New Agers claim.

14. Ouija Board – At the link is a blog post I wrote on a lesson I use involving magnetic fields to get students to question the claims behind Ouija boards.

15. Pyramids & Aliens – These lessons focus on addressing claims by various UFOologists that aliens built the Egyptian pyramids.  I have my students read an article from Skeptical Inquirer on the subject, then I give them a lecture on the physics of how humans (using simple technology) can build a pyramid, given time and a large workforce.

16. Movie Physics – In this end-of-the-year lesson, I get my students to think a bit skeptically regarding the physics presented in various movies.

It is our hope that through these workshops we can get more and more teachers to consider pursuing these skeptically-oriented topics in their own classrooms. We have plans to try doing workshops at future teacher conferences, such as the upcoming National Science Teachers’ Association meeting in 2012.  Stay tuned! 🙂

Posted in education, physics denial/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 »

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