Archive for September, 2011

Sep 12 2011

24 Hours of Skeptical Activism

Published by under Skepticism

On September 23rd starting at 8pm Eastern time the cast of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (SGU) will produce a 24 hour live audio and video streaming event – SGU-24. The event was my idea, which the Rogues never let me forget, especially as we approach the event and panic starts to set in. This is the first time we are doing anything like this, which reminds me of how experimental our entire endeavor is.

I am not just talking about the SGU, but skeptical activism in general. As a community we seem to be willing to take risks and try out new technology. In early 2005, for example, podcasting was a brand new idea. They were not even included in iTunes. Yet several skeptical podcasts popped up – Skepticality was the first, followed shortly by SGU, and before long there were also Skeptoid, Point of Inquiry (which already existed as a radio show) and others. Skeptical podcasts have always had a solid representation among the top science podcasts, and I think this is partly due to getting established early.

As I have observed before – adopting Web 2.0 and social media early on was critical to the recent surge in skeptical activism. We went from a loose collection of small local groups rallying around three national groupsĀ  to a large and thriving activist community.

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Sep 08 2011

The Billy Meier Affair – Wedding Cake Edition

Published by under UFO's / Aliens

I continue to be fascinated with the Swiss farmer who has, in my opinion, been engaged in a many-decade UFO hoax – Billy Meier. My fascination comes from the obviously terrible quality of his hoax and the lameness of his excuses for failure, combined with the fact that there are still those who believe him. It is, if nothing else, a natural experiment in human gullibility with the conclusion that there appears to be no limit this phenomenon.

Here are some examples: Billy Meier produced, among other bits of “evidence” for his alleged ongoing encounter with aliens, photographs of what has come to be known as the “wedding cake” UFO (what Meier calls a “beam ship”).

There it is next to that tree. That’s a remarkable bit of UFO piloting there. The pilot appears to have a wide open field in which to navigate, but chooses, for some reason, to nuzzle up next to the one tree standing in the middle of the field.

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Sep 06 2011

The Unbroken Chain of Expertise

Published by under Education

This past weekend I attended DragonCon – mainly to participate in the science and skeptics tracks. It is a great outreach program, teaching the science behind science fiction. I sat on one panel that discussed the science of zombies. Zombies, for whatever reason, are currently very popular. Similar to the panel idea, the CDC has exploited this popularity to promote disaster preparedness – preparing for a zombie attack is the same, essentially, as preparing for any natural disaster. It’s a good hook for public service information.

One point that came up on the panel was the consequence of a zombie apocalypse, specifically if the vast majority of the population are now dead (or undead, or at least seriously brain-damaged), how will we reboot civilization after the zombies are defeated. This is an interesting thought experiment.

My fellow panelists spoke about where to find stores of information that would likely have survived, such as rural university libraries. It is a good thing that we still print books and journals in large numbers. After any apocalypse such hard copies will be our best source of technical and scientific information. Well – perhaps our second best source. The best source will be surviving experts. That, of course, will also be the very problem – the loss of most experts.

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Sep 05 2011

More Coulter

Published by under Creationism/ID

As some of you realized, I am at DragonCon this weekend busy in the science and skeptical tracks with many panels. Further, today is a holiday in the US. I was therefore delayed in approving comments, but I am caught up now.

So – just a quick post today before I head out for my last two panels and a trip home.

Ann Coulter has written another piece about evolution. PZ Myers has something to say about it, and he links to a Carl Zimmer piece about it as well. She seems to be recycling material from her previous book on evolution. It is little more than a sequence of factual misstatements and flaming rhetoric. Coulter seems to think that she can win an argument simply by being the best at insulting the other side.

She continues to pretend that her blistering arguments are unanswered by scientists, but this is so wrong it is hard to characterize it as anything other than a lie. Her points have all been thoroughly refuted. She is simply repeated crusty creationist canards and tactics. For example she claims there are no transitional fossils. I have written about this numerous times – you can only make this argument if you ignore all the actual transitional fossils that paleontologists keep finding.

The willful ignorance of this position is astounding, but it does make Coulter’s intellectual approach to this topic crystal clear.

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Sep 01 2011

Science by Intimidation

There has been a disturbing trend lately in the relationship between science and the public. Actually, I am not sure if it is a trend or if this sort of thing has been going on as long as there has been institutionalized science – but it has been more apparent to me recently.

The issue is with segments of the public trying to intimidate scientists, with various methods, because they don’t like the conclusion those scientists are coming to. This is a potentially serious problem.

A recent example of this phenomenon is the death threats being made against researchers who study chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It’s ridiculous when you think about it – researchers are just trying to understand a common and troubling syndrome, and some of the people who suffer from that syndrome are trying to inhibit the science by intimidating those scientists. How does this happen?

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