The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘WTFF’

More Vaccine Awesomeness at Dragon*Con!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2011

I’m happy to report that we had another successful free vaccine clinic at Dragon*Con this year.  In total, we gave out about 125 vaccinations for TDaP (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) and 100 vaccinations for the flu!  In addition to the vaccines, the clinic also provided free HIV testing.  Props to the groups that put on the clinic, including the Women Thinking Free Foundation, Skepchick, the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated campaign, and the Cobb & Douglas Public Health District of Georgia.

Yup, that’s us… saving lives and giving Andrew Wakefield the finger, all in one go 🙂

Take THAT, germs!!! 🙂

 

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Vaccine Clinic at Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 1, 2011

Well, very soon I’ll be on my way to Dragon*Con 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia, where I’ll be engaging in all manner of sciencey, skepticky fun and general weirdness (if you’ve ever been to Dragon*Con, you know what I mean 🙂 ).  While there I will be giving a lecture on cosmology, participating in a panel on skepticism and education, and helping put on a kick-ass physics demonstration show.  But in addition to all of that, I am proud to say that I’ll also be helping out with another free vaccination clinic!

Here are some details on the clinic from Skepchick.  If you’re at Dragon*Con, come by to see if you’re up to date on your shots…

Vaccinations at Dragon*Con

Me and Skepchick Rebecca Watson, showing off our freshly vaccinated guns from last year’s D*C clinic 🙂

We’re very excited to announce that this year’s Dragon*Con will once again feature a vaccination clinic!  The Atlanta Skeptics, in coordination with the Cobb & Douglas Public Health District and the Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign, will be providing free pertussis boosters, plus flu shots and STD testing! So if you’re attending Dragon*Con and checking out Skeptrack, make sure you stop by and get your shot

When: Sept 3-4, 2011, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Where: Atlanta Marriott Room M 109.  (On the Marquis Level)

Why? For a first hand story about why it’s important to get your pertussis shot, check out Mickey’s story!

Note: You *will* need a Dragon*Con badge to get to this area.

Want to help out? Donate a few bucks to the Hug Me campaign to help offset the costs for promoting and setting up the event!

** DONATE **

Some of you who have been around a while will remember that we (hastily) put together a clinic last year but were not able to host it on Dragon*Con premises. This year promises to be even bigger and better as we’ve had the time and it will be at Dragon*Con itself! Many thanks to the folks at Dragon*Con who have worked with us to make this happen, as well as to Bill Atkinson, with the CDC who is the driving force behind the clinics we’re able to put together.

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Vaccination Clinic at TAM9 is a Great Success!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2011

Once again, I would like to toot my own skeptical horn 🙂  This past weekend at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 a group of organizations – the Women Thinking Free Foundation, the James Randi Educational Foundation, Skepchick, and the Southern Nevada Health District – worked to bring a free vaccine clinic to the conference.  And boy did we kick all kinds of ass!  Look, I have photographic evidence…

Me and Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, kicking ass with our official Hug Me gear (T-shirts and teddy bears for sale via the WTFF)!

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Like the WTFF’s previous clinic at Dragon*Con last September, we offered free TDaP vaccinations for anyone who came into the clinic (TDaP stands for “tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis”) and it was also part of the WTFF’s “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign to reach out to the general population, and parents in particular, about the need for vaccines and how anti-vaccinationist propaganda can be deadly.

At the Dragon*Con clinic, we vaccinated over 200 people in two days, which was – according to the clinic workers – a massively successful clinic.  But we aren’t satisfied with that success, which became apparent when our clinic at TAM9 blew that record away by vaccinating a whopping 306 people in 5.5 hours!  W00t!!! 🙂

A lot of people came up to me during the clinic and thanked me and my skeptical colleagues at the WTFF and JREF for doing this work, but I have to say that one of the biggest reasons why we can do this at all is because of the generous support from people like you.  We want to keep doing these clinics, and we’re planning to do another one at Dragon*Con 2011 – but we cannot do it without your support.  So please consider making a donation to this worthy cause…

 **DONATE HERE**

Thanks again for all your support – YOU kick ass! 😀

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

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Vaccine Clinic at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2011

As most people within the skeptical community know, next week The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 will be coming to Las Vegas.  It will probably be the biggest gathering of skeptics ever, and the lineup of speakers and workshops (one of which I’m helping to run) promises to be quite illuminating and informative.  Something else which will be taking place at TAM9 is a vaccine clinic, held in conjunction with the JREF, Skepchick, and the Women Thinking Free Foundation as part of the WTFF Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated! campaign; this will be very similar to the highly successful clinic held at Dragon*Con last year.  The clinic will be giving away free vaccinations for TDaP (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) to anyone who wishes to receive one – so if you’re at TAM9 and you’re not sure you have had your vaccinations updated, come on by the clinic!

In addition, even though these vaccines are free for those obtaining them, they still cost money, so we are looking for donations to help us facilitate future clinics.  If you are interested in donating to this worthy cause, click here…

DONATE

 

And here’s more general information about the Hug Me campaign.  Who doesn’t like good health AND hugs?  What a deal…

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Notes from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2011

Well, another Skepchicon/Convergence has come and gone, and once again I had a blast in Minneapolis.  Of course, it wasn’t all play – though there was plenty of that (as evidenced with the photo of me below in the Mos Icee Cantina 🙂 ) – because I participated in a number of good panels on a variety of topics related to skepticism and science.  I recorded every panel in which I took part, and I reproduce this audio along with a brief description of the panel for you below.  Enjoy!

Modern Day Snake Oil – in this panel, the topic of various forms of alternative “medicine” were discussed, from homeopathy to magnetic therapy.

To Vaxx or Not To Vaxx – here we discussed the anti-vaccination movement and why their pseudoscience is dangerous.  Also discussed were some facts about how vaccines do and don’t work, and why it is so important that people vaccinate even if they think it isn’t necessary.

Stuff I Didn’t Know – the panelists share with the audience some of the neat things they’ve learned recently, and the audience gets in on the action as well.

Common Hollywood Science Myths – we all like going to the movies or watching our favorite shows on TV/cable, but boy oh boy does Hollywood screw up a lot of science in the process of entertaining us.  The panelists share some of their pet peeves and also compliment Hollywood when they get it right.

Ask A Scientist Open Forum – just as the name suggests, this panel consisted of audience members asking the panel a variety of questions on everything from the Big Bang to dentistry!

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SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2011

It’s time for SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis!  Actually, it will be time in a week for SkepchiCON (specifically June 30-July 3).  For those who don’t know, Convergence is a big science fiction and fantasy convention which takes place annually in the upper Midwest, catering to all manner of sci-fi/fantasy fans, as well as those who just like to dress up and have a good time 🙂

I’ll be going to SkepchiCON again this year, because in addition to being a science teacher/professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on.  Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, SkepchiCON is geared towards presenting the skeptical & pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun & friendly environment.  Actually, on a serious note, it is worth paying attention to the fact that these sorts of venues are perfect for spreading the skeptical message beyond hard-core skeptics; if we are to truly encourage others to think critically about paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, then we need to preach less to the choir and go more public.  This means exploring new venues such as these fun and freaky conventions, and it also means putting ourselves out there in more direct interaction with many people who harbor these nonsense beliefs.  Even though it can sometimes be quite galling to have to put up with various kinds of woo-woo nonsense and its adherents, we can all enjoy a good party 🙂

I will be attending SkepchiCON and participating in a number of panel discussions, in addition to generally checking things out.  I’ll also be there as a representative of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, dedicated to promoting critical thinking and skepticism among women of all ages who are so often targeted by the woo-meisters.  If you get a chance, find me and say hello!

Last, but not least, in case you are interested… I plan to live blog many parts of SkepchiCON, so watch this space!

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Women Thinking Free Hosts an Un-Psychic Fair in Indianapolis!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2011

I just wanted to pass along to you some news which might interest those of you in the Midwest next weekend: another Un-Psychic Fair!  You may recall the first WTFF Un-Psychic Fair in Chicago last year, and we hope that this one will be even more fun, more skeptic-y, and more un-psychic-y!!!  Read on for details…

John Edward, un-psychic douchebag, endorses this event 🙂

… This event launches our presence in Indianapolis, a city where we’ve found great skeptics and the potential for a truly bad ass skeptical mofo community. Our only option was to invade Indy and bring some mofos together to help us save them from their little notch on the Bible Belt.

Come out to the Unpsychic fair this weekend and be a part of WTF Indy! We’ll give you all you can eat food and buy your first drink. Then, we’ll be raffling off an entire bottle of alcohol. And we’ll do unpsychic readings… by real fake psychics!

The Women Thinking Free Foundation has arrived in Indianapolis!

Please join us on June 25, 2011 for our first ever Indy event: Mysteries of the Totally Explained, an Unpsychic Faire.

Tarot card readings!

Psychic predictions!

Discover your fate with a oujia board!

You will be amazed at the occasional accuracy of your readings!
We can already sense your presence!


Tickets are $20 and include all you can eat appetizers, cash bar with drink specials and your first drink is on us!
FREE admission for ghosts entering through the Ouija board or other spiritual portal.
We predict an awesome time!

Register to attend

Contact

Louise Kellar
Women Thinking Free Foundation
louise@womenthinkingfre.org
312-869-9833

When

Saturday June 25, 2011 at 6:00 PM EDT

Where

Loughmillers Pub
301 W Washington St
Indianapolis, IN

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

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2011

Like many within the skeptical community, I have been reading with interest the recent discussion which has been waged (or, should I say, raged?) on the topic of diversity within the skeptical movement.  Apparently, it all goes back to this article – Why White Men Should Refuse to be on Panels of All White Men – which led to this blog post over at Skepchick.  It also seems that there is a bit of a “storm” of controversy swirling as a result of the discussion generated by these articles.  I think Amy Roth, the author of the aforementioned Skepchick article, articulated it well with the following commentary:

What do you think? Are women and minorities just being ridiculous? Are the majority of public panel seats going to white men because they are the authorities on the topics and have the most interesting and valuable things to say? Should the members of minorities politely and quietly wait in the shadows until someone asks us to be on a panel? Should white men in positions of power speak up and refuse to sit in these circumstances? Is this favoritism, racism or ignorance?

So, since I suffer from the delusion that people care what I think, I shall share my thoughts on the matter here.  To begin with, here are a few reasons why I think some might give a rat’s ass what I think about this issue:

1. I am a skeptic, some would say a slightly prominent one (I remain skeptical of this, but whatever).  As such I sometimes appear on discussion panels at skeptical events.

2. I am white (actually, there’s a surprise here – read on), and I am male.

3. I am on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, a skeptical organization dedicated to skepticism in regards to women’s issues.

4. I am a high school and college teacher, and as such I am in a profession which includes (compared to many other professions) a relatively high percentage of women and ethnic minorities.

I think the question of diversity within the skeptical movement is one we, collectively, should be addressing right now (however messily and/or noisily), especially given the demographics of the wider population and related generational issues.  That is, a generation ago when the modern skeptical movement was in its infancy, it was no surprise that the leaders were white men.  At that time in pretty much any walk of life (on the professional level), most leaders tended to be white men – I’m not saying this was right or wrong, I’m simply stating it as a fact.  As time went on, more and more women and ethnic minorities rightly concluded that they could do the work and contribute to society in a positive manner just as much as the standard white male.  Since that time, society has evolved (in a positive way, in my view) on these issues.

Now there are those who think that perhaps the skeptical movement is a bit behind the times in this sense, while there are those who think there is no issue to discuss.  Personally, I find myself agreeing with certain aspects of both these views (the notion that one must be “on one side of the issue or the other” is a false dichotomy, I believe, as such complex issues are not black-and-white).  Allow me to clarify…

I do think that those of us who are beginning to take more of a visible leadership role should be encouraging diversity within the skeptical movement.  I say this for multiple reasons, some which are idealistic and others which are simply pragmatic.  I agree with the idealistic egalitarian notion that all people – without regard to gender, race, etc – should have a fair chance to rise through the ranks and present their viewpoints, because someone from a different ethnic background or with different gender experiences than me will be able to approach various skeptical topics from an angle that I, as a white male, simply cannot do.  Please note that I am not endorsing a woo-filled post-modernist notion that “all views are equally valid”; that’s not what we’re talking about here, folks.  We are all still bound by the idea that there must be some kind of objective reality out there that we can interact with and understand using the tools of critical thinking, science, and skepticism.

What I mean is that I must, as a reasonable skeptic, to be willing to consider that I have an inherently limited perspective on certain topics that is the result of my cultural upbringing.  Thus, on topics related to issues of sexuality, gender, culture, and so on I would do well to interact with those who have a broader and different cultural perspective.  In fact, of the times I have participated in various skeptical panel discussions over the years, I have found the most diverse ones to be the most fruitful.

There’s also a practical side to the issue as well: if we wish to spread the skeptical message effectively, then we need to be able to reach out beyond that stereotypical audience from one generation ago – the white male.  As society has become more diverse, so must the skeptical movement become more diverse in order to keep up and avoid being viewed as an anachronism.  For this reason, because I believe in the broad message of the movement, we must encourage more diversity in terms of attendees to conferences and – yes – for participants in speeches, panels, and workshops.

However, in our desire to become more diverse, I must add a note of caution: this has to do with the surprise that I mentioned about my ethnicity above.  We must be very, very careful about making assumptions and snap judgments regarding the background of, say, potential panelists because we skeptics all fall victim to the same biases as everyone else.  Specifically, I am referring to the question of the ethnicity (or, shall I say, the apparent ethnicity?) of a person.  Case in point: I have identified myself as a “white” guy all throughout this article, and – truth be told – I typically self-identify as white/Caucasian when I fill out paperwork and whatnot.  After all, don’t I look white?…

Well, here’s the surprise: I’m about 1/16 Native American, specifically Choctaw Indian.  But I’m betting that you never would have guessed that about me if I had never told you, right?  I certainly don’t look like what many of us might assume a Native American might look like, and there’s the rub.  We skeptics are humans first, and as such we have all the failings of our fellow humans – including the tendency to make unfounded judgments about people based upon their appearance.  Food for thought, folks.

In closing, I would like to share one more observation on this matter: the fact that the skeptical community appears to be having a lively discussion of this topic is a very good thing.  That is because it speaks to the fact that we are a growing demographic, and as a growing demographic we are pushing beyond the once comfortable boundaries into uncharted territory.  That makes some people a little apprehensive, but personally I welcome this development because as skeptics we should be willing to push the edge, especially when it makes some (and even us) a tad edgy.

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Why We Need to Fight the Anti-Vaccinationists

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2011

[**Note: This is a guest post I made over at the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s blog, WTF Is Going On?!, and I thought I would share it with you]

by Matt Lowry, WTFF Secretary

As another part of the WTFF’s effort to simultaneously inform the public about the benefits of vaccines while also countering anti-vaccinationist propaganda, we make an effort to keep tabs on what the anti-vaccination movement is doing.  This includes having some of our Skeptical Ninjas attend anti-vaccinationist conferences, such as last week’s Autism One Conference in Lombard, Illinois.

You know how we often hear pseudoscientists and other folks make the claim that skeptics are not interested in allowing dissenting views or that “they” (academia, the establishment, Big Pharma, whatever) are “expelling” those brave scientists and activists who dare to challenge the orthodoxy of scientists, etc?  Yes, we’ve all heard this tired old argument many, many times and rolled our eyes at the overly melodramatic and irrational nature of it (which is simply a blatant attempt to avoid the facts of the argument in favor of making an emotional appeal).  Well, the interesting thing is that some pseudoscientists, such as the anti-vaccintationists, appear to want to have it both ways: they wish to make this argument while simultaneously “expelling” their critics.

Case in point: two Skeptical Ninjas – the WTFF’s very own VP Jamie Bernstein and journalist Ken Reibel – were “expelled” from the Autism One Conference because… they paid for their registration and showed up.  Yup, that’s it – these anti-vaccination loons kicked them out of the conference, even though they had paid to be there and were not causing any disruptions whatsoever.  In fact, they not only kicked them out, but the organizers actually had seven (seven!) security personnel escort Jamie and Ken off the premises – the hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a knife!

To read more about the incident in question, here are a variety of perspectives from various skeptical blogs on the matter:

Jamie’s views — Skeptics will be Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (via Skepchick) and How I Got Kicked Out of the AutismOne Con: Part 2 (at The Friendly Atheist blog)

Ken Reibel’s perspective — Expelled 2.0

Orac of Respectful Insolence blogs here — Expelled!, anti-vaccine style, 2011 edition

Jamie is interviewed by the SGU Rogues

Now, I’ve never met Ken Reibel, but I personally know Jamie Bernstein and I have to say that she is about the most least intimidating person I know.  In fact, here is a photo of her standing next to James Randi (who is about 5 feet tall)…

The ultra-menacing Jamie Bernstein next to James Randi – if you add their heights together, they might reach up to the usual person’s knee ;)

So the obvious question is: WTF Autism One?!!  Why are you throwing Jamie and Ken out simply because they attended the conference?  Folks, this sort of mindless Orwellian crap doesn’t occur at skeptics’ conferences, I know that for a fact.  Last year at TAM8 I met both a renowned self-declared psychic and one of the world’s leading Moon hoax conspiracy theorists.  Both were perfectly welcome at TAM8 and, while there were understandably a lot of skeptics rolling their eyes and laughing at these folks, nobody was entertaining the idea of having them thrown out.  We don’t play that game.

And there’s the rub: when it comes to questions of real free inquiry and open discussion, the skeptics such as those represented by the JREF and WTFF practice what they preach.  While we may not agree with them, we welcome our critics and allow them to participate within our discussions.  On the flip side, pseudoscientific scare-mongers like the anti-vaccinationists at Autism One openly display their hyprocrisy by saying one thing and doing another, and in so doing they show that they’re not driven by an objective search for truth but rather an ideological zeal which is dangerously disconnected from reality.

And that is why they must be opposed at every turn: because in the distorted reality-challenged worldview of the anti-vaccinationists, a lot of innocent people will die of perfectly treatable and curable diseases if they get their way.

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Announcing Joint Vaccine Survey Effort Between Women Thinking Free & JREF!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2011

I’m very excited to (finally!) let you all know about a behind-the-scenes project that I’ve been assisting with for quite some time now: a joint effort between two skeptical organizations, the Women Thinking Free Foundation and James Randi Educational Foundation, to conduct survey research & understand the opinions of parents regarding vaccines, vaccine safety, and the effect(s) that anti-vaccine propaganda might have upon their decisions.  We feel that this information is vital to have if we are to be effective in countering the spread of this deceitful & dangerous fear-mongering.

For more details on this joint effort, I now refer you to this press release from the JREF…

Opinion Research Effort by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Will Support Childhood Immunization

LOS ANGELES—At the start of National Infant Immunization Week, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) announced they are joining together for a new research project aimed at understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children.

“Misinformation about vaccines isn’t just a concern for scientific skeptics, it’s now a public health concern.” said WTFF President Elyse Anders. “There are millions of parents right now who are making decisions about immunization for their children, who are trying to make sense of the conflicting information they’re getting from the media. The research we’re conducting with the JREF will help us understand how parents make those decisions, and what information will help them give their kids the best start in life.”

The joint project is an opinion survey, already underway, that will include data from hundreds of parents of young children by the time survey gathering is complete. The surveys are being collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to anti-vaccine messages. When the research is completed next spring, the JREF will be make the results freely available to public health advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“Our goal is to help save lives,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, we don’t really know what information is getting through to the parents who need it. We want to help parents get the unbiased information they need to know that they’re making the healthiest choice when they give their child immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTFF project aims to fill gaps in the skeptical movement’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asks specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. The survey should identify the ideas and information parents have heard both for and against immunization, and which they found most important in making their decisions. …

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