The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Ask the U.S. Candidates to Debate Science!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 16, 2016

Last summer I posted about how Science Debate is gearing up for the 2016 elections in the United States, in order to encourage the presidential and Congressional candidates to publicly debate science policy and science-related issues.

uncle_sam_sd

Now that the heat of the 2016 U.S. campaign season is upon us, with the first public debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump (and possibly Libertarian Gary Johnson) a bit over a month away, it is imperative that we speak out to get the debate hosts and these campaigns to make science a part of these debates. In fact, it isn’t just science geeks like me calling for such a debate, as – according to this 2015 poll – vast majorities of Americans (of all political stripes) wish for such a debate…

Poll2015A

“An overwhelming majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues, including majorities across the political spectrum (92% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans and 79% of Independents). Americans also say the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States, such as healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation and the economy, with  91% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 78% of Independents agreeing.”

So please pass the word, sign the Science Debate petition, or donate to the cause. One of the best ways to spread the word is to push for a ground-swell of support on social media and by contacting the campaigns directly. Toward that end, here is some advice from Shawn Otto, the founder of Science Debate…

Please alert your networks. Here is sample tweet language:

ScienceDebate’s
https://twitter.com/SciDebate/status/764063589078474752

or mine:
https://twitter.com/ShawnOtto/status/763755796626755584

or Sigma Xi’s
https://twitter.com/SigmaXiSociety/status/763742160743124994

Separately, here’s a tweet from MediaMatters emphasizing our urging of the press to do a better job of covering science, engineering, tech, health & environmental issues this cycle:
https://twitter.com/mmfa/status/763379155777880064

When using social media use the #ScienceQs hashtag (hint: search here for other tweets). You may also reference the twitter handles of ScienceDebate and the candidates: @HillaryClinton @realDonaldTrump @GovGaryJohnson @DrJillStein @SciDebate @ShawnOtto @Sheril_ @aaas @theNASEM

English http://sciencedebate.org/20questions

Spanish http://sciencedebate.org/20preguntas

A sampling of some of the initial domestic coverage on the questions (which should also be shared on social media – the more this is out there, the more pressure candidates will feel to respond promptly):

http://time.com/4445585/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-science-climate-change/?xid=tcoshare

http://www.cnn.com/videos/spanish/2016/08/11/exp-cnne-20-questions-about-science-for-candidates.cnn

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/debating-science-in-the-2016-election/

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/us-science-groups-have-20-questions-candidates

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/08/10/challenge-to-presidential-candidates-debate-about-science/

http://www.univision.com/noticias/planeta/las-20-preguntas-que-cientificos-urgen-a-clinton-y-trump-a-responder

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/46754/title/Questioning-the-Presidential-Candidates-on-Science/

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/groups-ask-candidates-what-about-science/article/2599053

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10082016/scientists-call-presidential-candidates-address-key-science-issues-hillary-clinton-donald-trump

http://www.geekwire.com/2016/presidential-candidates-science-debate-quiz/

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0811/Scientists-have-20-burning-questions-for-presidential-candidates

https://www.inverse.com/article/19467-twenty-science-questions-for-the-next-president

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2016/08/10/fifty-six-prominent-organizations-urge-media-press-presidential-candidates-science/212293

News releases by some of the partners:

http://wildlife.org/groups-urge-presidential-candidates-to-address-science/

http://fisheries.org/2016/08/afs-joins-over-50-leading-american-nonpartisan-organizations-in-call-for-presidential-candidates-to-address-major-issues-in-science-engineering-technology-health-and-the-environment/

http://www.sfpe.org/news/303359/SFPE-Partners-With-Leading-Scientific-and-Engineering-Societies-on-ScienceQs.htm

All best,

Shawn Otto

Chair, ScienceDebate.org

 

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These are the dumbest Clinton conspiracy theories. Ever.

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 10, 2016

It wouldn’t be a true U.S. presidential election season without the obligatory failure of logical and skeptical thinking on the part of those arguing for or against this or that politician. And one of my favorites of failed reasoning is the conspiracy theory, that go-to argument that a die-hard fanatic (of any political leaning) can fall back on when all their other arguments get blown apart. This article from RationalWiki does a good job of outlining the flawed thinking among conspiracy theorists and how to counter their arguments. (Hint: don’t try converting a committed conspiracy theorist, because they’ll likely just dismiss you as being part of the conspiracy. But it’s worth knowing how to identify and counter their nonsense for the benefit of others watching the conversation.)

This year, it seems that politically-oriented conspiracy theories abound. In this post I’m not talking specifically about the rampant conspiracy-mongering espoused by Donald Trump, though there is ample evidence of it (if you’re interested, check out his birther views or his denial of global warming science) and, no doubt, “The Donald” will oblige by providing more such nonsense in the future.

Right now I’m talking about the conspiracy theories that seem to swirl around Bill and Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of them, but my two favorites include one of the oldest and also one of the newest: the first is the claim that Bill Clinton “did away with” a number of people who had evidence of his numerous crimes, while the second is the claim that Hillary Clinton’s current campaign is somehow in cahoots with Google to manipulate Internet searches (ostensibly to cover up her supposed crimes).

Clintons

[Full disclosure: I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in either 1992 or 1996 (I voted for Ross Perot both years), and this election season I have been a supporter of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.]

If you come across either one of these conspiracies, here’s a couple of resources to reference in countering them. The first deals with the “Bill Clinton body count” claim (which I’ve seen morphing into a similar claim about Hillary Clinton), and it’s from our skeptical friends at Snopes.com:

FALSE: Clinton Body Bags

Decades-old political rumor claims Bill Clinton quietly did away with several dozen people who possessed incriminating evidence about him.

… We shouldn’t have to tell anyone not to believe this claptrap, but we will anyway. In a frenzied media climate where the Chief Executive couldn’t boff a White House intern without the whole world finding out every niggling detail of each encounter and demanding his removal from office, are we seriously to believe the same man had been having double handfuls of detractors and former friends murdered with impunity? …

The claim about Hillary Clinton working in conjunction with Google to manipulate Internet searches is even more silly, because it is so painfully easy to debunk. This article at Vox.com does an excellent job of quickly and easily dispatching this particular bit of nonsense:

There’s no evidence that Google is manipulating searches to help Hillary Clinton

There’s a video making the rounds purporting to show that Google is suppressing the phrase “Hillary Clinton crimes” from autocomplete results, thereby boosting Clinton’s candidacy.

The video points out that if you type the phrase “Donald Trump rac,” Google will suggest the word “racist” to complete the phrase. But if you type “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google will suggest words like “crime reform” and “crisis” but not “crimes.” This despite the fact that Google Trend results show that people search for “Hillary Clinton crimes” a lot more than “Hillary Clinton crime reform.”

So what’s going on here? The folks behind the video suggest that this reflects an unholy alliance between the Clinton campaign and Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and current chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But there’s a simpler explanation: Choose any famous American who has been accused of a serious crime and Google their name followed by the letters “cri,” and in no case does Google suggest the word “crimes.” That’s true even of people like Kaczynski and Madoff, who are famous only because they faced prosecution for serious crimes.

Apparently, Google has a policy of not suggesting that customers do searches on people’s crimes. I have no inside knowledge of why it runs its search engine this way. Maybe Google is just uncomfortable with having an algorithm suggesting that people search for other people’s crimes.

In any event, there’s no evidence that this is specific to Hillary Clinton, and therefore no reason to think this is a conspiracy by Google to help Clinton win the election.

Now whether or not you plan to vote for Clinton this year is not the point of this post. The point is that you don’t have to make up stupid conspiracy theories to justify your political beliefs. Argue your political point of view, but don’t buy into or spread lies and deceit to justify it.

Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Science Debate is Back and Gearing Up for the 2016 Elections!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2015

[**Update (8-16-15): The recent manufactured controversy over the funding of Planned Parenthood is an excellent example of how anti-science has crept into U.S. politics. For more details on that, see this more recent post🙂 ]

You may recall that in the 2008 and 2012 national election cycles, a new and extremely important effort to inject some serious discussion of scientific topics was introduced: Science Debate. The whole point of Science Debate is to get the presidential candidates (as well as other politicians) talking about science and science-related topics, so that the public can make informed decisions. And with the 2016 elections coming up next year, it’s time to get the word out about Science Debate and its place in the political discourse of the country. So please, read more about Science Debate below, sign their petition, submit questions you’d like addressed, spread the word, and donate to support this worthy cause!

uncle_sam_sd

About Science Debate:

Science Debate is a 501(c)(3) organization cofounded and run by volunteer citizens from a variety of walks of life who share the common vision of Thomas Jefferson that “Whenever the people are well-informed, the can be trusted with their own government.” In an age when science influences every aspect of life and lies at the heart of many of our thorniest policy challenges, we believe that candidates for office should be debating and discussing these issues, just like they debate and discuss economics, foreign policy, and even faith. Science Debate is dedicated to elevating science and engineering questions in our national civic dialogue.

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Speak Up for Science: Stop Sequestration!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs.  As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit.  To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.

So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:

Petition

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.

Click here to sign the petition!

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

Tell Congress to Support the Darwin Day Resolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 5, 2013

I am pleased to pass on the news that there is a resolution pending before the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution in favor of Darwin Day!  There is more information available on how to get in touch with your Representative and Senator from the Freedom From Religion Foundation below…

Ask Congress to adopt Darwin Day

February 5, 2013

Continuing the tradition of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution designating Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, Feb. 12, 2013, as Darwin Day. The resolution “recogniz[es] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

Holt was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I hope we can hold hearings, where people can hear about Darwin and science and the jobs it creates, the lives it saves, everything.”

Holt’s resolution touts “the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution,” “the monumental amount of scientific evidence” that supports the theory, and notes that evolution’s “validity … is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics.”

The resolution chastises science-deniers: “the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change” and “the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems.”

Our country faces a crisis of ignorance. To the shame of the United States’ international standing, about half of Americans reject evolution. Globally the United States ranks just above Turkey in public acceptance of evolution. How can we compete in a global, technologically advanced community when a majority of U.S. citizens deny basic reality and embrace creationism?

The voices of science and secularism must be heard. Ask the U.S. House to hold Darwin Day hearings.

Take Action Today!

Contact your U.S. Representative to support the resolution and ask for hearings.  To find out who your representative is, type in your zip code on this website http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ to find your representative. Click on their name to contact them.

If you already know who your representative is, find their contact information on this alphabetical list http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Call, email, fax, write, or Facebook them. Do whatever it takes to be heard!

Contact the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where the bill was referred, to ask for a hearing.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) http://science.house.gov/contact-us/email-us 2321 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Phone: 202-225-6371 Fax: 202-226-0113

Thank Darwin Day Sponsors

Take a moment to thank Rep. Holt. Rep. Holt, a nuclear physicist by training, self-identifies as a Quaker and deserves our gratitude for his efforts. Do feel free to identify yourself as a nonbeliever, atheist, etc., so he knows the secular bloc has clout (and good manners)!

Letters: 1214 Longworth HOB Washington DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-5801 Fax: (202) 225-6025 Webform: https://forms.house.gov/holt/webforms/issue_subscribe.htm (Representative Holt will only accept email from residents of New Jersey.)

While you’re at it, thank Holt’s cosponsors (especially if they represent you). They are:

Rep. Michael Honda (CA-17) Rep. Edward Markey (MA-5) Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2) Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) (If your representative’s name isn’t on this list, ask why not!)

Contact your Senator

Ask your Senator to introduce a Darwin Day resolution, while you’re at it!

Find and contact your U.S. Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Write a letter to the editor

Supporting Darwin Day would make an excellent and timely topic of a letter to the editor to your local or favorite publication. Don’t forget social media and online news comment sections to help spread the word.

Thank you for your activism. Freedom depends on freethinkers, and Darwin Day deserves your support!

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

Non-Religious on the Rise… In Congress!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2013

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’ve touched on the topic of a rising secular and non-religious demographic in the United States; in fact, now 1-in-5 Americans label themselves as non-religious.  I also wrote about Kyrsten Sinema, a newly elected Congresswoman who has openly identified herself as atheist.  Well, it seems that there is now a convergence between these two things emerging, because this new Congress now contains the highest number of openly non-religious members in history!

US-Congress

It’s not just for religious fundamentalists anymore🙂

This Politico story has more details:

Non-believers on rise in Congress

By CHARLES MAHTESIAN | 1/5/13 2:34 PM EST

The number of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion is on the rise, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

In the 96th Congress (1979-80), not a single member of the House or Senate said they didn’t belong to any particular faith, didn’t know or refused to disclose their religion. But in the new 113th Congress, 10 members fall under that category.

That’s twice as many as in the 111th Congress (2009-10).

Pew notes there’s still a great disparity between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion. …

… The numbers here caught my eye, not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it. … [emphasis added]

Exactly.  I, and many others, have long suspected that there are a good number of closeted “nones” in our Congress, but up until now they’ve been cautious about self-identifying as non-religious for fear of electoral backlash.  However, it seems that, slowly but surely, those days are drawing to a close🙂

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The Demise of the Religious Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2012

In a recent post, I outlined how secular Americans are starting to make inroads into the political process, partly due to the rise of a non-religious demographic in the United States.  On a related note, I find it worth pointing out the fact that the power and influence of the socially and religiously conservative movement known as the “religious right” seems to be on the decline.  Evidence for this can be found by looking at the results of the 2012 elections.  The following article from The Atlantic magazine goes into more detail; I shall share my thoughts on a few excerpts…

An ‘Evangelical Disaster’: What Happened to the Religious Vote?

… “I think this [election] was an evangelical disaster,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told NPR. He’s right, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The late Falwell’s Liberty University gave former Gov. Mitt Romney its keynote spot at its 2012 commencement and backed off previous language calling Mormonism a “cult.” Billy Graham uncharacteristically threw his support behind the Republican candidate, and his evangelistic association bought full-page newspaper ads all but endorsing Romney. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition spent tens of millions in battleground states to get out the religious vote.

As a result, 79 percent of white evangelicals voted for Romney on Tuesday. That’s the same percentage that Bush received in 2004, and more than Sen. John McCain received in 2008. The evangelical vote was 27 percent of the overall electorate — the highest it’s ever been for an election.

Their support wasn’t enough. Not only did President Obama win soundly, but four states voted to allow same-sex marriage. …

So why is it that the religiously conservative vote didn’t win out?  Here are some reasons:

… First, the size of the evangelicals’ base is a limitation. While white evangelicals comprised a quarter of the electorate, other religious groups that lean Democratic have grown substantially. Hispanic-American Catholics, African-American Protestants, and Jewish-Americans voted Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Additionally, the “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — are now the fastest growing “religious” group, comprising one-fifth of the population and a third of adults under 30. Seven out of 10 “nones” voted for Obama.

Second, evangelicals’ influence is waning. Conservative Christian ideas are failing to shape the broader culture. More than 3,500 churches close their doors every year, and while Americans are still overwhelmingly spiritual, the institutional church no longer holds the sway over their lives it once did. The sweeping impact of globalization and the digital age has marginalized the church and its leaders. …

… Third, evangelical leadership is wanting. A quarter-century ago, Christian mobilization efforts were rising, Christian advocacy groups were sprouting, and charismatic Christian leaders were popping up in every corner of the country. This is no longer the case.

Politically influential pastors like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have died, James Dobson retired, and Pat Robertson has been relegated to the fringes of his own community. By any reckoning, few charismatic figures are able or willing to fill these voids.

The leadership vacuum became painfully obvious during the Republican primaries, when 150 “high-powered” evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer, met behind closed doors in Texas to determine which candidate should receive their endorsement. They chose Rick Santorum, but in the South Carolina primaries a week later, Newt Gingrich and Romney split two-thirds of the state’s evangelical vote.

Additionally, organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are either defunct or defunded, while Focus on the Family has made clear its intention to move in a less political direction. The number and influence of evangelical organizations shaping the public square is greatly diminished. …

Will the religious right end up dying off?  I’m not sure, but whether or not you view this as a good thing (personally, I see it as a positive development that fundamentalist religion is having less influence on our modern society), I think it is safe to say that things are changing in the United States.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Kyrsten Sinema: First Open Non-Theist Elected to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 8, 2012

Wow… this was one hell of an election!  I just want to point out a couple of notable races.  In this post, I want to focus on Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District who looks to be the first openly non-theistic (atheistic?) person elected to Congress!  I say “looks to be” because 1) the race hasn’t officially been concluded (votes are still being counted, but Sinema has a lead which only seems to be growing), and 2) Pete Stark, Congressman from California, is openly non-theistic, but he didn’t originally run as an out-of-the-closet non-theist.  Here’s more on Kyrsten Sinema:

Kyrsten Sinema: ‘We’re Optimistic’ in Arizona

… Election for Sinema would be no small feat in the state that produced U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer, whose exceptionally conservative immigration policies have regularly made national news. In many ways, Sinema, who is also an open nontheist and was raised Mormon and attended Brigham Young University, is an anomaly in Arizona politics. But she’s ahead in some polls in the final stages of her race against Parker, though it’s one of Congress’s tightest races. …

As I’ve stated before, this is the wave of the future, folks.  With the rise of a more openly secular demographic in the United States, coupled with the inevitable decline (read: dying off) of the most religious demographic, the good ol’ U.S. of A. will move towards more diversity in both popular culture and political representation.  And that includes non-theists🙂

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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