This is Gotham Skeptic signing off

It is a bittersweet goodbye that I deliver to Gotham Skeptic on its last day. Sweet because the amount of free time in my schedule just expanded dramatically, and bitter because I personally gained more than I had ever expected from my time working on the blog. I came to the project hopeful to cut my blogging chops, never having keyed a post in any forum before. Lo and behold, I quickly found myself handed the hat of web designer and editor in addition to contributor. Yikes! Can you say inexperienced?

Prior to becoming the Editor of Gotham Skeptic, it had been my dream to be a skeptical blogger. A dream I had nurtured for, oh, a good 6 months before it became a reality and the opportunity of GS fell in my lap. My interest in blogging about skeptical issues (or issues that were in need of skepticism) were mostly selfish. Frequently, I would find myself researching a particular controversial topic to help myself develop an educated and informed opinion, but to what end? So that I might deliver a factoid from a reputable resource should the topic come up in conversation in the hopes that factoid would change the mind of the fuzzy thinkers? Unlikely. However, writing up my research into a pithy (I hoped) format that others might stumble upon when doing their own research served as a terrific incentive to actually synthesize the information I was cobbling together. A skeptic is not someone who has critical thinking skills; a skeptic is one who constantly endeavors to further develop their critical thinking skills.

But in addition to the obvious lessons involved in running a blog, I gained new insight and found a voice I had lost. Fresh from graduate school where any trace of personal voice in my writing was beaten out of me (no, not literally), writing for the Gotham Skeptic forced me to share opinions and reexamine how I feel about topics of science and policy and society. This lesson was more valuable to me than any web development or social networking skills I gained.

So it is with heavy heart, but full mind that we bid adieu to the Gotham Skeptic blog. But fear not! We will have all of the tremendous content that was produced by our fantastic contributors over the last couple of years available online into perpetuity (in one format or another).

Thanks to all of our contributors:

The quixotic meanderings of Jake Dickerman
Michael Rosch’s adamant commitment to rooting out unfounded conspiracy thinking
Lisa Bauer’s statistical and methodological take on society and ourselves
Gracious contributions by star skeptics like Massimo Pigliucci, John Snyder, Michael Dedora, and Kylie Sturgess
And the thoughtful contributions of AJ Mell and Barry Lieba

And special thanks to our readers, both those who drink the Kool-Aid and those who do not (I’ll let you decide which group is which in this analogy). Your thoughtful comments, critiques and occasional illustrative You Tube videos always reminded us that had to give careful consideration to our words, resources, and analyses.

Finally, thanks to the New York City Skeptics who have dutifully hosted this site.

-Page

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Why I was a Gotham Skeptic

I sat on the subway today hastily running from the classes I taught in the morning to the class in which I would take my final exam. I love riding the subway, especially in the middle of the day when the train is crowded, not quite rush hour but, standing room only.  There is a vibration, almost like a harmony, in the way people flow in and out of a crowded subway car.  One can always spot the tourist; the klutz at the dance.

I arrived at Penn Station. We spilled out of the train, down the stairs, as if choreographed, and then up onto the street. I walked across 34th street, headed east towards 6th Avenue. It was mid-afternoon, the streets were filled, but not clogged, with holiday shoppers. I stopped and looked up at the Empire State Building.

I had been thinking since first receiving word that the Gotham Skeptic was going offline what I would write as a final piece. And as I stood there, I felt dwarfed by the enormity of New York; tiny. I then tried to imagine how truly small I am in the universe. It’s difficult, really, to picture just how contextually microscopic all of us are, or conversely, the enormity of the universe itself. It was challenging to do, as I paused there, undoubtedly in someone’s way, for that moment. But the difficulty I experienced revealed something rather surprising, something I hadn’t considered. … continue reading this entry.

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Farewell, Gotham Skeptic

Three years ago, I believed a lot of strange things and only had a faint awareness of the skeptical movement. Then on November 15, 2007 I attended an atheist event where Michael Shermer happened to also be in attendance. I’d only just discovered  a few clips on YouTube featuring him as well as a few  featuring James Randi. At the event, I remember talking to Shermer briefly about a television show running at the time featuring Uri Geller as well as the skeptical magician Criss Angel.

As I was leaving that night, I saw several fliers for other upcoming events and one of them was a Saturday afternoon lecture hosted by a group calling itself the New York City Skeptics. The speaker was someone I’d never heard of by the name of Steven Novella. It sounded interesting enough and so I attended. There, I found myself so impressed by Dr. Novella’s lecture that when he mentioned he hosted a podcast, I decided to check it out. Today, it’s own of my favorite podcasts.

In many ways, that NYC Skeptics lecture was my introduction to skepticism. So when Page invited me to write for the organization’s blog over a year ago, I was honored. Though I’m not nearly as articulate as Steven Novella, I hope that in the time I’ve been writing here, I’ve helped inspire others towards skepticism and skeptical activism.

So I’d just like to thank everyone at the NYC Skeptics as well as my fellow Gotham Skeptics and my readers for indulging my rants. And while I will no longer be writing for this great organization, I will  continue to contribute to it in some other form.

So with that, I bid you all adieu.

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Happy Trails to Gothamites Everywhere

I have to ask you to imagine the person on the horse riding into this picture, because I can't find a public domain picture of it...

There’s something particular that writers get scared of when no one else is around.  It’s not writers block.  That comes and goes, younger writers tend to let it overwhelm them, but as you get older you learn that the best way to deal with writer’s block is to write through it.  It doesn’t matter what you write to write through it, just write something, feel your fingers typing, maybe the mechanical action of writing alone will make your brain work again.  But there is one fear that never goes away: the fear of the blank page.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that fearing the blank page is similar to writer’s block.  You’d be forgiven for thinking so, of course you’d be wrong too, but it’s an understandable mistake.  Writer’s block is about not being able to write.  It’s about the inability to get past a sentence or two without thinking that the ideas embodied in that sentence are worthless.  This is why you need to write through the block, force yourself to get past those ideas.  The fear of the blank page is more primal, more urgent.  It’s a fear of the limitless possibilities that page represents.  You don’t know what will come up on that blank page.  You don’t know if it’ll be good or bad, you don’t know if it’ll become something that you wish you’d never written or something that finally makes you as a writer. … continue reading this entry.

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Gotham Skeptic to Shut Down

After more than a year and a half of daily posts from the Gotham Skeptic bloggers examining skepticism, critical thinking, personal exploration, science, society, and even a little bit of politics, the Gotham Skeptic, the official blog of the New York City Skeptics is signing off. But don’t think this implies that New York City Skeptics is slowing down, in fact, quite the opposite. The Rationally Speaking Podcast has become very successful and is reaching out to a broad audience that goes far beyond our local membership. The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism has sold out for the first two years of its existence, and NYCS with the help of the NESS are growing the conference to make it the premier skeptical event of the year on the East Coast. Add in our public lecture series and NYCS organizers are busy bees.

Therefore, it is with some sadness that we say goodbye to the blog, but also with excitement as we look to our other projects which are growing like gangbusters.

Keep an eye out this week as each of our most frequent bloggers bid adieu with a final note.

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Goodbye, New York City!

I’m sitting right now in JFK airport, Christmas songs are blaring at me from every direction, but I wanted to take a few minutes and write a quick message to the members of the New York City skeptical community.

For the past few years, you have made a home and a community for me.  Because of my involvement with this organization, I’ve been able to take in a variety of public lectures, I’ve been able to go to a number of great skeptical events, but more I’ve been able to reach out and connect with a great skeptical community.

There are too many people to thank for making the New York City Skeptics into a home for me, so I won’t even try.  You know who you are.

Tomorrow I will wake up on the west coast.  It’ll be the wrong time of day and for some reason, despite it being December, it will be 72 degrees.  

Again, thank you all for making the New York City Skeptics such a great community.  I look forward to continuing this skeptical conversation.

- Your Windmill Charging Friend

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Cause of death: Oprah

Over the last few years, there’s been a huge sensation in the Self Health and Actualization Movement (SHAM), and it’s name is The Secret. It essentially co-opted the long-held Self Health and Actualization Movement (SHAM) tradition of combining humanity’s notorious tendency toward insecurity with our equally notorious sedentary nature by promising to lead followers to big positive changes in their lives by utilizing the path of least resistance…sitting on our asses doing nothing.

But what exactly is The Secret?

Well, it’s death. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.

Kim Tinkham is finding that out the hard way, thanks to Oprah, The Secret’s biggest (which sense of the word I’m using there I’ll leave up to the readers because I’m too classy for childish insults) and most influential supporter.

Tinkham had stage 3 breast cancer when she was dissuaded from using proper medical treatments, opting instead to change her diet and use a bogus one, The Secret, or as we used to call it, just wishing real, real hard.

Science offered her a very respectable 50% chance of a positive outcome whereas The Secret promised a 100% positive outcome even though in fact, it only provided a 0% chance of a positive outcome. And not surprisingly, Tinkham didn’t beat the odds.

So what’s Oprah’s role in all this? Surely, I’m not assigning blame to her because she happens to be another just another sucker who fell for charlatans selling magic beans? You see, Tinkham was a guest on Oprah’s show four years ago. And that show uncritically encouraged her to continue to use The Secret’s magic in lieu of legitimate medical science. But two other facts that seem to be secrets to Oprah are that magic isn’t real and that Tinkham has no horcruxes to keep her alive indefinitely [Author's apology: I just finished watching seven Harry Potter films, six of which for the first time, in eight days].

And Oprah never brought her back on the show for a follow-up so people could see for themselves what The Secret is or even invited her to sit in the audience on a day Oprah placed the elixir of life under everyone’s seat as a gift to her whole audience. And somehow I doubt she’ll mention Tinkham’s death on an upcoming show.

Orac and Skepchick have proposed a letter writing campaign to Oprah’s producers expressing our outrage over the show’s promotion of this toxic scam that has caused undeniable harm to Tinkham and others. And since the Skepchick letter writing campaign to AMC Theaters proved so effective, I’ve decided to hitch my wagon to their latest campaign.

Here’s the contact page for the show. You can write your own response or use Skepchick’s open letter to Oprah from 2007.

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Upcoming Must See NYC Skeptics Events

Of course you love Gotham Skeptic.

And all of the cool kids attended Skepticamp NYC this past weekend.

And you you might be rejected from the East Coast if you don’t make it to the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NECSS 2011 will be held April 9-10th).

But did you know that NYC Skeptics puts on several special events throughout the year? The next event will be a live taping of the podcast of NYCS, Rationally Speaking: How to Tell Bunk From Science. Join the hosts of the Rationally Speaking Podcast, Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef, January 29th, 2pm at the Jefferson Market Library. In the meantime, the new episode of the podcast is out now featuring Carol Tavris discussing her book (co-authored with Elliot Aronson) “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.

Keep informed on all our events at www.nycskeptics.org!

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Was there a theme to Skepticamp NYC 2010?

Thanks to Craig Sachs for the use of this early Skepticamp photo.

It might just be me, but every one of our skeptical events seems to develop its own meta-theme. Our first NECSS seemed to mostly revolve around skepticism and the media, our second about how can skeptics represent themselves in today’s media world. With that in mind, what do folks think this year’s Skepticamp NYC 2010 revolved around. Personally, I’d argue the meta-theme of the event was “How do Skeptics interact with the outside world,” but maybe that’s because it was what MY presentation was about. What do you guys think?  Is my belief that every skeptic event surrounds a meta-theme confirmation bias or not? And if not, what do you think the theme around this year’s Skepticamp was?

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Generation Rescue denies autism

I often refer to those pushing the “vaccines cause autism” lie anti-vaccinationists or vaccine deniers because more often than not, their real target is the vaccines while the autism claim, though the most often mentioned in the media,  is just one of many evils these ideologues try to link to vaccines. Really, in the same way Scientologists blame all the evils in history from the Holocaust to 9/11 on psychiatry, the vaccine deniers try to blame vaccines for everything.

In fact, on any given day, if you visit the Age of Autism blog, you’ll find infinitely more entries condemning vaccines for all sorts of things than you’ll find articles actually discussing autism.

But that being said, they can just as easily be referred to as autism deniers given that they quite literally deny the most basic facts about the condition, particularly the role genes play in causing autism. Of course this position is just a means to an end because since their real target is the vaccines, any science that demonstrates something other than vaccines contributes either a little bit or entirely to causing autism hurts their vaccine unifying theory of evil and therefore must be denied. It’s like how Jack Thompson can never admit to anything other than video games playing as a main role in causing school shootings or why creationists can never accept evolution because it demystifies what in their mind is the majesty of divine creation. … continue reading this entry.

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