Skeptics In The Park – New Site

September 22, 2009

We’ve taken the first steps to organizing as skeptics and parents. We’ve written about  regularly meeting. A few of us have dipped our toes in the water. Now, I’m hoping that we can move forward and mobilize our community and initiate some actual meet-ups.

I’ve created a “Skeptics in the Park” page on the Ning platform. For those who don’t know, Ning is a free service that allows you to customize your own specialized social network and discussion board.  Within our niche “Skeptics in the Park” site, you can create and customize an S.I.P. group for your home city, and if you want, you have the option of customizing your own page. That’s three levels of organized customization! If you already have a group on meet-up, you can double your chances of being found by replicating your plans on the Ning site.

There’s one disadvantage – it requires motivation and mobilization.  Go there, register, create a group, invite your fellow skeptics, and plan playgroups, picnics, meet-ups, and events. The more people who jump on board, the better the chance of success for this project.

As of this moment, I’m the only member. Hopefully, by next year, we’ll have a thriving group of skeptical families. So, get over to the new Skeptics In The Park site and spread the word!


Watch a homeopathic remedy be made

September 13, 2009

Crispian Jago has posted on his blog a 7-minute video where he creates a homeopathic remedy for his own urine.  The starting point is some of his own freshly acquired urine (we assume – he discreetly closes the doors while he gets the sample), and the end result is a “30-C” homeopathic remedy, which he promptly drinks.

If you’d like to see it — and it’s very educational for anyone unclear on exactly what homeopathy is — head over to Crispian’s blog at http://crispian-jago.blogspot.com/2009/09/if-homeopathy-works-ill-drink-my-own.html

To save you some time, though, what he does (and what the homeopaths do) is to dilute the solution 1:100 with each “C”, so by the end of the experiment, the urine-to-water ratio would be:

1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,…

…000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 10^60 – I had to wrap the line to not mess up the style of the blog.)

To give some perspective to that ridiculously large number, there are roughly 10^50 atoms on (and in) the earth.  So if you drank 10^10 (or 10,000,000,000) Earths of water (not just the water on those 10 billion earths, but convert everything – crust, core, everything – to water and drink it all), you would drink ONLY ONE ATOM of urine*

* – I know, we should be doing one MOLECULE, since there’s no such thing as an “atom” of urine, but that’s not the point…  Even just to get one of the atoms that was in the original urine, you’d need to drink 10-billions earthfulls of water.

Put another way (if all my math is right)…  You’d need a giant ball, roughly 17,000,000 miles in diameter, full of water, for there to be one atom from the original urine.

A 30-C toast to Phil Plait and Skepticality‘s Derek Colanduno for the tip.

..Rob T.


I’m not a skeptical celebrity, how can I be involved?

September 11, 2009

Just posted over at Rational Moms…  I’m not a skeptical celebrity, how can I be involved?

My wife, Laurie T., breaks down six easy ways that regular people can get involved in the skeptical community.

I won’t steal her article’s thunder (i.e. go read it!), but the six main points are these:

  • Attend a local skeptics group
  • Start a new local skeptics group
  • Donate to a national skeptical organization
  • Attend a convention
  • Get to know the skeptic superstars
  • Teach skepticism

These are things that just about anyone can do.

So head on over to Laurie’s article, and see how you can get involved!

..Rob T.


Science Is Real – A Skeptic’s Anthem

September 9, 2009


Brian Dunning’s inFact

August 24, 2009

Brian Dunning, of skeptoid.com, has a new project called inFact.  It’s basically mini Skeptoid episodes on youTube (and also subscribable from iTunes).  He just launched it this evening with three episodes, and they are all worth checking out.

Episode 1: The 2012 Apocalypse (3:23 runtime)

Episode 2: The Pacific Garbage Patch (3:26 runtime)

Episode 3: Wheatgrass Juice (3:21 runtime)


Between this, Skeptoid, The Skeptologists, and everything else he’s got going on, I wonder when the man sleeps…

–Rob


Louisville Area Skeptics in the Pub

August 21, 2009

I don’t know if any of the readers here are anywhere near Louisville, KY, but if you are, have I got an event for you!

I mentioned this briefly in my introductory post, but didn’t bother with the details.  So here are the details…

Laurie T. (one of the Rational Moms) and I have started up a group for Skeptics in the Louisville Area.  After hours of consternation and hand-wringing, we decided to name the group the Louisville Area Skeptics, and this Saturday, August 22, at 7PM, is our first Skeptics in the Pub!

This meetup will feature a presentation by David Ludden, Ph.D., on the topic of “The Psychology of Belief”. Dr. Ludden is an associate professor of psychology at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, where he teaches courses in cognitive, physiological and evolutionary psychology. One of his research interests is in the evolutionary basis of religious belief, and he has published on this topic in magazines such Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, and Free Inquiry.

We’ll meet just over the river in New Albany, Indiana at our friendly neighborhood microbrewery, The New Albanian Brewing Company, in their private Prost! party room.

Head to our meetup page for directions.

We’re totally psyched (yes, I just used that word) that we’ve got 37 people planning to attend right now. It should be a great crowd, with great beer, and a great speaker.

If you’re in the area, come on by!

If you’re not in the area, you should find a Skeptics in the Pub in your area, and enjoy some time with like-minded folks.

If there’s not a Skeptics in the Pub in your area — start one! We did!

(She did, really…  I’m just riding Laurie’s coattails.)

–Rob


Review: Jane and the Dragon

August 17, 2009

One of the challenges that all skeptical parents have to face eventually is the question of media exposure. What books, television shows, music, oral histories, and movies should you show your children? How much should you control that conversation? Is there any skeptically appropriate children’s media in the world? For toddlers?

My theory with TV is the same as my theory with books: I expose the Highlander to stuff that is over his age level, on the theory that he’ll work harder to understand it, and that this will be good for him. And this is why he was being read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” when he was a little over a year old, and why he is watching Jane and the Dragon now.

It helps that I like the show too. In fact, when I first saw this show I immediately decided that I would have to have a daughter just so that she could watch it, and I’m looking forward to the Phoenix growing old enough to watch and realize that, like Jane, she can have a gigantic fire breathing dragon for a best friend.

Or she could absorb the slightly more prosaic message that older children don’t have to follow the expectations of society or their parents, but should use their minds and their own sense of right and wrong to guide them in tough situations, which is what the show seems to really be about. In an interview on Scholastic.com, Jane and the Dragon creator Martin Baynton says that “The central message is about standing up for yourself and for others. If you see something which is wrong, be brave enough and strong enough to speak out.”

I guess if my kids end up being theists, or credulous new-age twerps, or even Mets fans; if they keep that message from their childhood, they’ll at least be human beings I’m proud to have raised. Which is one point in the shows favor.

But another point is that it is surprisingly skeptical and scientific for a show starring an enormous fire-breathing dragon and a twelve-year-old girl training to be a knight. Baynton was very concerned that the books and the show have a sense of historical and scientific accuracy, and they do. In answers to viewers questions on qubo.com, he uses the dread word “evolution” several times, and clearly has given a lot of thought to the making of the show. When asked how the dragon flies with small wings, he writes

Dragon would be very upset if I showed him your question, Morgan! He believes he is structured magnificently and is a fine product of evolution. He produces vast amounts of methane gas from eating vegetables and stores the gas in large belly bladders.

Which I think we all know is sort of a hack, but it’s a better hack than “it’s magic.” And that spirit of inquiry comes through on the show. I read through a lot of the questions to the author, and they include questions about science, history, anatomy… viewers really engage with this show, and it gets them thinking. And that’s a good thing for skeptics of all ages.

Jane and the Dragon is available online at qubo.com and probably on youtube. Judging by my two-year-old and the viewers questions on qubo.com, it’s appropriate and engaging for all ages.

-philosodad


Hi, I’m new here!

August 16, 2009

Hi, everyone.  I thought I’d introduce myself before I started posting (plus, this buys me time to get some actual posts written…).

My name is Rob, and I’m excited to be part of the skeptical world.

I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which was the setting for the book and movie The Perfect Storm.  But now I call the Midwest my home.

I was baptized and raised Catholic, but we were not devout. Most years we only went for Christmas and Easter; occasionally we went more often. I did go through First Communion as well as Confirmation, but all along it felt like my parents were simply checking off the boxes on some scorecard they kept buried beneath the socks in their drawer. You know, the “just-in-case-this-God-stuff-is-right-we’d-better-make-sure-we-do-everything-we’re-supposed-to-so-our-kids-don’t-burn-in-hell-for-all-eternity-because-we-screwed-up” list.

Meanwhile, science and math were always my favorite subjects in school (read: “I was a nerd and probably still am.”).  I loved learning how things worked in the universe, and astronomy and cosmology were probably my two favorite areas. More about that in a later post.

I wish I could point to some galvanizing moment where I had an atheistic epiphany, but I don’t think it happened like that (nor does it for most people). I think any religious notions just simply faded away as I learned more and more about the science of the universe. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series was definitely an early influencer when I was a kid. While I was always a decent critical thinker, it wasn’t until I came across Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy website (from long before he moved to Discover.com) that I first started really focusing on critical thinking, and fine tuning my woo-detector.

Nowadays, I also like to take in some Skeptoid, some Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, some Skepticality, and more.

I’m really happy to be where I am now. I’ve got a wonderful wife (you might know her already – Laurie T. over at Rational Moms) who refers to me as the Handsome Skeptic Husband*, two kids (the now-eight-year-old Little Skeptic Girl and her little brother, the soon-to-be-six Little Skeptic Boy), and a growing activity level in the skeptical community.

Laurie and I are less than a week from our inaugural Skeptics in the Pub meeting of the Louisville Area Skeptics! And we’re going to our first major Skeptical gathering when we head to Atlanta for Dragon*Con! And TAM8 is firmly affixed on our radar.

So anyhow, thanks for taking the time to read my introduction. As your reward, I’d like to share a quick video I captured while I was watching a Red Sox game the other night (I mentioned I was from Massachusetts, right?). You know how they sometimes zoom way in on the moon? Well, some smart cameraman zoomed in on Jupiter. It looked better on TV, unfortunately, than it does here, but you can still tell.

The best part is, I showed it to Little Skeptic Girl, with no explanation. Right away, she said, “Is that Jupiter?”

That’s my girl!

I don’t know about you, but that’s (as we say back in Massachusetts) wicked awesome.

–Rob T.

* – She doesn’t realize the quandary into which she’s placed me.  See, I have to come up with some equally fitting name for her.  If it’s not as complimentary (“Average-looking Skeptic Wife”), I’m obviously in big trouble. And if I go to the other extreme (“Totally Smokin’ Hot Skeptic Wife”), well then I’d be accused of being silly (despite the fact that it would be accurate). And, of course, you don’t call a woman “handsome” unless you want a drink thrown in your face…

…Looks like I’m just going to call her “Laurie T.” for now, and try and come up with something to fit that narrow band of acceptability later


My Trip to the Creation Museum

August 9, 2009

I finally made it to the Creation Museum.  No, I didn’t make the trip with PZ Myers, and the other 300 or so day-tripping atheists, along with the Secular Student Alliance .  Parental responsibilities got in the way.  However, a few days ago, after a trip to the dentist with my daughter, we found time to stop by.  Oh, don’t worry though.  She’s 8 years old and has a finely tuned skeptical filter that nothing gets by without question.

So, I posted a few of the photos I took, and soon after, I was asked a question from a good friend of mine, whom I believe is a Christian by birth, what did I think of it?  This is my response:

What I thought of the Creation Museum?  Well, there were dinosaurs.  Lots of dinosaurs.  Dinosaur paraphernalia was sprinkled all throughout the place.  I like dinosaurs, as do my children, and probably your children too.  Dinosaurs are cool.  So, they definitely have the cool factor going for them.  Though, overall, I thought it was disturbing, especially when I saw children there, young impressionable children.  Children, whose minds are being manipulated to think, that to be in good favor with their religious social group, or even with their parents, they have to put aside everything they’re taught in school and buy into this garbage.

The “alternative” and opposing information that is provided there is just simply bogus and destructive.  They are anti-science, anti-progress, anti-education and anti-reason, and admittedly so.  The children who are indoctrinated into this sect are being robbed of vital critical thinking skills.  Skills that are vital to the progression of society as a whole.  As cliché as it sounds, an investment in the minds of children is an investment in our future.  Yes, there is a future to care about.  The End Times are not coming.

It’s one frame of mind to believe in some sort of omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent ultimate consciousness that set forth into motion time and matter, but does not otherwise interfere.  It’s another frame of mind to believe in a “one true god” and to say you’re a Christian and yet another to be a Christian fundamentalist and believe the Bible might contain accounts of actual historical events, and act as an infallible source of morals.  That’s a person’s right and prerogative.  It’s something different altogether to just make things up to manipulate the public and more specifically, the group that calls themselves Christian, into thinking they have to throw out what bit of reason or logic they allow themselves to believe the nonsense they have to offer, to maintain their good status in their religious group.  As an example, this sect puts the phrase “God’s word” as an opposition to reason, as it shows in one particular exhibit of posters displaying actual scientific discoveries and offers, what is known as Ockham’s razor, a simplified answer to every question that may arise, it is “God’s word.”  This implies a person has to choose one over the other.  A book of bronze-age mythology over current scientific advancement and inquiry.  Religious authority over freethought.  Religious dogma over observable, empirical and measurable evidence that is subject to correcting and integrating previous knowledge, also known as science.

Rest assured, you can call yourself a Christian and accept the scientific method, too.

The word, museum, used in the name of the place, is very deceiving.  In my opinion, the place, which is reminiscent of an overly produced, but well done, carnival side show might be more aptly named, “The House of Creationism.”  Even then you might wonder what the deal is with all the randomly placed dinosaurs.

You might also raise an eyebrow to the heavily armed guards posing as the Creation Museum Police, whom upon inquiry, will let you know in a well scripted brief, although they have so far been without incident, they are ready to detain, arrest and subdue with force, anyone causing trouble.

Fortunately, with my military ID I got got in free and a half price admission for my daughter.

-Lee


About Me: A New Contributor to Science-Based Parenting

August 9, 2009

As an introduction, here are a few words about myself, of which will be familiar to those close to me, and to those who’ve taken time to read the “About Me:” section on that popular online social network.

I am not superstitious or religious. If you are, please, do not expect me to regard highly your superstitions or religious beliefs because they are in fact not sacred to me. I can’t apologize for that. Luckily, I grew up in conditions which left me to search out answers to my questions myself, rather that relying on the opinion of what ever authority there were. That being said, I was not indoctrinated by any loved ones’ version or interpretation of religious dogma, or maybe it was just that nothing ever really stuck. Hence, I don’t have any sort of mystical, magical ideas about the inner workings of human life, or all that is natural. I don’t look for meaning in life. I think nature is absolutely beautiful by itself without trying to pretend there is something mystical about it. I don’t need meaning as justification to enjoy a natural life. I do not have self righteous, self important, prejudice, ego maniacal, dogmatic, biased, or narrow minded views, beliefs, convictions, or opinions about any other persons’ personal prerogative. You may disagree if you like. My life and thinking is generally aided by humanism, rationalism, secularism, reason, critical logic, skepticism, freethought, and common sense. I will continue to think freely and live a meaningful, fulfilling life based on reason, compassion and logic. I think you have the right to believe in whatever deity or supernatural explanation you choose, just as I have the right to accept reality based on the natural laws that govern the universe, and truth sought out by the method of science, rather than ancient or current myth.

…and yes, I am a parent.  I’m a father of four girls.

-Lee


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