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Posts Tagged ‘Skepticism’

Skeptical Battlegrounds, a review

Posted by Skeptigator on December 15, 2008

Steven Novella, of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe fame, is currently writing a series detailing many of the Skeptical battlegrounds that must be fought now and in the future. The series is hosted at the SkepticBlog, a group blog dedicated to the hosts of a skepticism-themed TV series called the Skeptologists.

Here are the first 3 posts:

I’m looking forward to additional parts to this series, they are concise and well-written. Once it’s completed we may very well have a working plan of action.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Posted by Skeptigator on December 10, 2008

I wanted to drop a quick note regarding a fairly new blog (started October 2008) dedicated to and run by Rational Moms. It’s called, a very appropriately named if a bit unimaginative name. I tease, of course.

As their About page states,

Thinking rationally and critically is not easy when there is so much information—and misinformation—all around us.  Not only is it tough to question certain issues without a medical degree, it’s tough to even know what to question.

Our goal is to help sort through all the information out there and point people, including ourselves, in the right direction so that we can spend less time worrying and more time with our families.

And in case you needed more of an incentive to add their feed to your favorite feed reader, here’s a sampling of topics, with little tidbits to make you want more.

The Myth of the “Sugar High”

A couple of my friends [informed] me that there is no such thing as a “sugar high”.

This seemed crazy to me, I thought it was common knowledge that eating a lot of sugar gives you a buzzed feeling and makes you hyper. Kids go crazy and run around like Tasmanian devils at birthday parties and holidays because of all the sugar, right? Wrong.

You do not walk up to a complete stranger and criticize their parenting

The entire exchange lasted only a few moments, but I distinctly remember that I led Jillie away from the Crazy as quickly as possible. I wanted to smack that lady across the mouth.

The funny thing is that I do, to a certain degree, believe in evolution. I also believe in God. and I also believe that YOU DO NOT WALK UP TO A COMPLETE STRANGER AND CRITICIZE THEIR PARENTING.

In defense of formula

I understand that breast feeding is natural, but we shouldn’t forget that high infant mortality rates are probably also natural. I’m sure formula has saved many babies from malnutrition. I am glad breast feeding has become accepted in my generation, because it’s enjoyable, good for my son, and well, cheap. I don’t think I’d want to pony up for formula every week. But formula feeding sisters, I’ve got your back. You’ll never get the stink eye from me.

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Posted in FreeThought, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

You only think you need more sleep

Posted by neuralgourmet on October 16, 2008

Do you need more sleep? You might think you do, but sleep researcher Jim Horne says otherwise

Do you need more sleep? You might think you do, but sleep researcher Jim Horne says otherwise

I just had a nightcap and I was about to turn in for a good night’s sleep when I spied this fascinating article on sleep over at New Scientist. Everybody could use more sleep right? We’re all chronically sleep deprived. I know I believed that. And it seems a constant refrain in the media. Heck, my pulmonologist even told me that the night before my sleep study to determine sleep apnea.

But sleep researcher Jim Horne says it is indeed a myth.

ASK people whether they would like more sleep, and most will say yes. Does that mean they are not sleeping enough? The apparent desire for more shut-eye, together with oft-repeated assertions that our grandparents slept longer, all too easily leads to the conclusion that we in the west are chronically sleep-deprived. Adding to these concerns are recent claims that inadequate sleep causes obesity and related disorders, such as diabetes.

Plus ça change. Claims of widespread sleep deprivation in western society are nothing new – in 1894, the British Medical Journal ran an editorial warning that the “hurry and excitement” of modern life was leading to an epidemic of insomnia.

Even then it probably wasn’t true. The fact is that most adults get enough sleep, and our collective sleep debt, if it exists at all, has not worsened in recent times. Moreover, claims that sleep deprivation is contributing to obesity and diabetes have been overblown. My assertion is that the vast majority of people sleep perfectly adequately. That’s not to say that sleep deprivation doesn’t exist. But in general we’ve never had it so good.

While it’s hard for me to disagree with Horne’s studies, I’m not sure I agree with all of his conclusions though. For instance:

To gauge the respondents’ determination to make up their perceived sleep debt, we then asked, “If you had an extra hour a day, how would you prefer to spend it?” The alternatives were playing sport or exercising, socialising, reading or relaxing, watching TV or listening to the radio, working, sleeping, and “other”.

Only a handful of people opted to use their extra hour for sleep. It seems that wanting more sleep is not necessarily synonymous with needing more sleep, and that given a choice, people will happily forego extra sleep in favour of other leisure activities.

Before my sleep apnea was diagnosed and treated if I was asked what I’d do with an extra hour a day I’d definitely have said something like reading, or socializing. Yet I was most most certainly sleep deprived in a massive sort of way.

We’re conditioned in American culture at least, I think, to think that if we have extra time we should be doing something productive. Horne makes that suggestion too. So it seems only natural for someone to not admit to a need for more sleep. Still, this is an fascinating article that deftly dismisses several pop-cultural tropes about sleep and Horne gives us much to consider. I’ll be adding his book Sleepfaring: A Journey Through The Science Of Sleep to my long, long list of books to read. You know, that list I keep for the day I suddenly find myself not needing sleep.

Posted in Science | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by dystressed on October 9, 2008

Radar Magazine has a great interview with Bill Maher.

I’d like to put in a plug for these people because they do a really good job in discussing the problems with Scientology and they profiled the Rational Response Squad. They also take stabs at 9/11 conspiracy cults,  Kabbalah, and tons of other touchy subjects.

I think that this magazine has some great intelligence with it, so I think everyone should at least add it to your bookmarks. I have a charter subscription, but I’m not asking you to go that far.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big Foot Press Conference

Posted by Andy D. on August 27, 2008

SETI produces a great podcast (Are We Alone) on critical thinking. The latest one (Aug 25th) examines the Big Foot press conference and photos. This is a great way to teach evidence based reasoning and see how easy it is to pull off a media frenzy. They interviewed the costume manufacturer (wasn’t part of the hoax) who did a great job of making and selling the costumes for $495. Who knew there was a market to sell $495 big foot costumes? The show is 50:31. Are we alone is available on I-tunes for free.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hate the Supernatural (Belief), Love the Superstitious

Posted by Andy D. on July 30, 2008

I first heard that line from Joe Nickell on this Point of Inquiry interview. I was listening in the car and almost lost control because it is such a funny play on the religious outcry “hate the sin, love the sinner” line about homosexuals.

The thrust of the interview is how skeptical folks should be polite to the superstitious and he is an investigator not a debunker. James Randi has said the same thing many times. Sure we can be skeptical until their is evidence, but we have to look at the evidence and really listen to witnesses. Joe said he was known as being nice and listening. In an example, he suggested rational explanations to a supposed supernatural events that were not correct at first. However, because Joe was polite and engaged the superstitious person’s concern completely that superstitious person found the actual non-supernatural cause for the phenomenons on his own later. It was due to Joe’s prior attempt to rationally explain the event. Joe was later thanked.

In the last FreeThought Fort Wayne meeting, we talked briefly about how we engage in teaching skepticism to a lay person. I know we think there are many overly superstitious people out there. That may be true but it is not like they all have the same superstition. (The religions sects have different levels of unreason.) Most folks have one or two sacred cows and when stepped on the emotion center of the brain kicks in and overrides the reason center in the frontal cortex. (You can see that in the death threats in PZ Meyers it’s just a cracker drama. For the record that is a free speech lesson and I support it).

I think the safest way to try to engage the superstitious person is to ask them what they don’t believe in. Big Foot and Flying Saucers are usually pretty safe. You can go to other gods and worship such as cargo cults, Scientology, Joseph Smith, Heaven’s gate, etc (whatever they are not)

**Joe Nickell did make the distinction that he will attack charlatans when they abuse the superstitious.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Did the American Physical Society reverse its stance on global warming?

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 19, 2008

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

The right wing blogosphere has been all atwitter the past couple of days over a blog post by Michael Asher at DailyTech alleging that the American Physical Society (APS) had reversed its previous position that human activity was fueling global warming.

“The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming “incontrovertible.”

In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,”There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.”

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity — the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause — has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.”

The APS is the second largest organization of scientists in the world and one of the most prestigious. It publishes over a dozen scientific journals with Physical Review and Physical Review Letters among them, as well as organizing over twenty scientific meetings a year. So if the APS issues a statement that it doesn’t think anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real, then the world has good cause to sit up and take notice. “Deathly news for the religion of Global Warming,” as one right wing pundit put it.

Except that’s not what happened.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Getting The Message Out ~or~ How Not To Preach To The Choir

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 5, 2008

How Web 2.0 works

How Web 2.0 works

I’m going to forgo my normal weekly blog post here and instead point you to Tim Farley’s new blog Skeptical Software Tools. Tim only has one post of note up as of now, but it’s a doozy chock full of information on harnessing the power of Web 2.0 to promote skepticism. It’s based on a presentation given at The Amazing Meeting 6 a couple of weekends back.

In particular, Tim sees the primary goal of the skeptic as battling misinformation, and the internet is an important front in that war. As wonderful a tool as the internet is for disseminating information, misinformation is everywhere on the net. And the sad truth is that those who wish to spread misinformation tend to be far more numerous and much better funded than those who wish to combat misinformation. Like Tim says, “we are outmanned and outgunned.”

So what do we do? Tim argues that we need to be more systematic than we’ve been in the past. While blog posts and google bombs are all well and good, they are both primarily reactionary and often preaching to the choir. We need to find ways of getting the message out to people who won’t seek it out for themselves. And to that end, he believes that Web 2.0 technologies have a key role to play because they offer community, specialization, programmability and the ability to build a new site out of data provided by other sites (this is called a mashup). He also believes that we must tailor our message to those who are neither skeptics or believers and that specialization is crucial.

Tim goes on to give very specific examples of how skeptics can employ Web 2.0 in the service of contradicting misinformation. In particular he champions the use of RSS, Yahoo Pipes, Google Alerts, Google Custom Searches, iCalendar, microformats (particularly hReview), geo-coding, mashups and open data.

I won’t bother to summarize Tim’s excellent post any further because it really should be read by every skeptic seeking to use the net to get the message out. Ideally these techniques should be adopted by regional skeptical organizations as a way of both amplifying their own efforts and as a way of furthering skeptical community.

Tim Farley created and writes the web site What’s The Harm? dedicated to highlighting the plight of those who have suffered because of their, or others’, beliefs in misinformation.

Posted in Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

What’s the harm?

Posted by neuralgourmet on June 21, 2008

One of the common refrains heard when someone is challenged on their paranormal or supernatural beliefs is, “What’s the harm?” After all, if someone believes their grandfather’s ghost gave them solace during a crisis or that the tarot-reading neighbor is able to offer them some slight advantage in navigating life’s choices, who is harmed? At worst the person seeking other-worldly guidance is out a few dollars and maybe, just maybe they get some tangential benefit from their belief. And often that’s the case. No real harm comes from anomalous belief, and many people do derive, at the very least, comfort from their beliefs. So why burst their bubble?

But it’s easy to think of instances where the opposite is the case. Perhaps the most famous instance in popular culture where supernatural beliefs led to great atrocity are the Early Modern European witch trials where tens of thousands of victims were executed and tortured. However, less remembered are the everyday tragedies arising from unexamined belief such as the credulous senior citized bilked out of their life savings by a crooked clairvoyant preying on their desire to reconnect with lost loved ones.

Most recently there’s the case of Colleen Leduc. Colleen is the mother of an autistic child in Barrie, Ontario, about 60 miles north of Toronto. Her daughter attends a public school because Colleen is unable to afford private therapy. On the morning of May 30th, Colleen received a frantic phone call from the school telling her that she was urgently needed back at the school. She wasn’t prepared for what awaited her.

At the school, Colleen was confronted by the principal, vice-principal and her daughter’s teacher with the disturbing news that they believed her daughter had been sexually abused based on a report from her daughter’s educational assistant and that the Children’s Aid Society had been notified. What was even more shocking was the basis for their accusations — a psychic!

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'”

Later Colleen was visited by a representative of the Children’s Aid Society but the questions of her daughter being sexually abused were quickly put to rest because Colleen had equipped her daughter with a GPS tracking unit that continuously recorded both her movements and the audio around her. While it might seem odd that Colleen had equipped her daughter with a tracking device, it’s understandable after one learns that this same school had allegedly lost Colleen’s daughter several times. The geographic and audio data handily contradicted the psychic’s claims and thus the CAS case was closed, although an investigation into the school and how a psychic’s word came to be accepted as proof of sexual abuse is ongoing.

While it might be reassuring to think that cases such as Colleen Leduc’s are abberational, neither are they unheard of. While in the Western world we may no longer have witch trials, people are harmed by their credulous beliefs, or the beliefs of others, everyday. Often times instances of harm arising from beliefs in the paranormal and supernatural never come to public attention. Furthermore, we have a short memory for the fraudulent, thus people like Uri Geller are able to continue their careers despite having been repeatedly exposed.

So harm does demonstrably follow from paranormal and supernatural beliefs, and that is reason enough to challenge those beliefs where we might find them while the fact that harm does not always follow is insufficient cause to leave believers to their blissful ignorance. And since it is impossible to predict which anomalous beliefs will result in harm (leaving aside some radical religious beliefs for the moment) it becomes necessary to critically examine all beliefs in the extraordinary. I doubt this sort of belief can ever be eradicated since humans are quick to believe, and slow to doubt, but increased skepticism can only help further reduce the harm from irrational belief.

Posted in Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Beyond Belief relationship issues. (The mini-series continues)

Posted by Andy D. on June 18, 2008

This is a follow up from my earlier post and Mighty’s asking, “Are you out with your family and friends about not believing in the supernatural?”

I spent a week in northern Michigan with my grandparents, brother, and his fiancée. In the summertime it is unbelievably beautiful. See some of the pictures from my many hikes and wine tasting. My grandparents built a cottage (a summer house) in a small town off of Lake Michigan.

The main reason they choose that area is due to a very friendly and, I fully admit, fun Lutheran camp and resort. They vacationed there in the late 60’s and it does feel heavenly during the summer months. (It isn’t so nice in the winter.) This to them was the perfect vacation spot for all the extended family. After the cottage was built we crammed into every room and visited cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles each summer. We all had an incredible time from the beach, playing tennis, volleyball, softball and hiking. That beach is where I experienced my first kiss and make out session. There was a lot of sand everywhere after words….

As a kid, I went to all the youth group activities at the camp, and I believed and sang along. In my later teen years, I attended the adult lectures. I enjoyed listening to the very smart and charismatic pastors and theologians such as Paul Maier give lectures on defending the faith. I never received any skepticism training until recently so I didn’t know people were criticizing the faith. Of course, I didn’t buy it due to all the other religions and the nasty reaction religious people had to the present day messiahs. (Isn’t that normal and what would of happened in Jesus’ time?) Paul proudly lectured on how he was able to prove Jesus’ existence by secular methods. Think Josephus, etc. I had no idea what he was talking about. He even played back a debate he had with a secular scholar. It seemed to us he won, and his point at the end of the session was he could prove Jesus existed but he cannot prove Jesus was who they say he was…. In other words, the miracles and divinity were not provable via evidence. Looking back, I think that turned out to be my first look at Christian apologetics. I was mostly disinterested and had other things to do. I would have some questions now!

More recently, I was amazed when Penn and Teller had Paul on their Bull Shit show about the bible. They pointed out the faulty logic Paul used when explaining away the miracle of Moses parting the Red Sea. Paul said that it was probably the REED sea that the Hebrews walked across and it was a marsh so they could walk across it. Penn asks where is the miracle then? Paul knows his scholarship and is very bright, yet he begins like all of us do most of the time with what he thinks is true and then follows that up with reasoning. Critical and scientific thinking are not very natural.

Ok since this recent visit was in the early summer, the camp wasn’t really started yet. I spent my time hanging with my brother and visiting the grandparents. My grandfather is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was tough to have to tell him every day that I was no longer at my old job. This was quite the shock to me because grandpa was always very active and sharp. (I am not sure how people still hold on to the soul concept when you can see a mind degenerate right in front of you). He could beat me at tennis just a few years ago. (I don’t play but still that is quite good.) My grandmother is very sweet and is very much with it. We had a great visit and I had plenty of time to reflect.

The grandparents are the only ones in my family who do not know I have embraced reason instead of myths. It would upset both of them greatly. I prayed with them at dinnertime. We all did including my brother. (As I said in the earlier post, engaging in the religious activity doesn’t affect our worldview.) It would be cruel to tell them or not pray. I am frustrated with the established power religion has on me even now and it wedges me from being able to share with my loved ones this great journey of discovery. Suddenly, I am a jerk if I am truthful. Our intention is not to harm or upset but to share. I guess many folks are like this. With the status of my grandfather’s mind he could not handle it or even grasp it.

He picked up a book I was reading by Paul Kurtz entitled “Science and Ethics,” and he said it looked like a deep book while flipping a few pages. He instinctively put down the book and did not dig deeper. Later, I answered the phone and it was a far right wing organization calling to warn Grandpa of the dangers of the ACLU. I thought, “You mean the folks who actually protect our civil rights and the constitution!” I gave the phone to my grandfather and he hung up on them. He didn’t understand what they were saying. Yes, somehow my grandfather supported some of these right wing organizations earlier. I don’t think he knows why. He has been republican for his entire life and his Christian background has made that decision for him. (An evolutionary meme shortcut instead of thinking critically?) Yes, I know there are many religious folks on the democratic side, like my parents, but there is something powerful about the values argument with overly religious folks that is silly and against freedom when you actually look at it. I love free markets and low taxes but this crazy religious zeal on that side makes my stomach turn…

My grandfather thinks being a Christian is the right thing to do and it is the most important thing someone should be. He is a good person, he works hard, invests, studies, stays physical, gives, loves, and he is leaving a wonderful legacy. Those ways of living are secular principles and deal with this world. They can apply to all faiths and those who have none. I learned those qualities from him. These are truly transcendent and universal. I want him and Grandma to live the rest of their lives in bliss and in love. I won’t break the spell for them, but we need to turn the tap of ignorance off at younger ages. Religion gets a free ride from criticism and that is changing. I would have loved to share my entire joy with them. Love is definitely enough but I would have enjoyed sharing more. To be continued….

Posted in Religion, Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »