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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

WikiLeaks: Free Speech and Private Speech

I have a problem with nearly anything being connected to skepticism.  I admit readily that it’s kind of a knee-jerk thing, but from values to beliefs, I don’t want to be told that really anything is required to be a part of skepticism.  That said, I do feel that the one value skeptics do need to defend is the right to free speech.  When we are saying “no” to the status quo, we need to be able to do that without being imprisoned or sued by the nation.  All that said, I’ve been having some issues with the recent WikiLeaks exposure of hundreds (so far) of private documents written by diplomats and government officials within the US. … continue reading this entry.

Supplemental Nightmares

I am generally skeptical of any claim (made by EITHER the alternative or modern medical camps) that Americans are deficient in any particular vitamin or nutrient. “Americans are not eating enough X,” the headlines cry! It just does not seem logical to me that in this day in age, where obesity has become an epidemic, that Americans are not ingesting enough of anything! But the up and down claims about vitamins are enough to send any rational consumer into a tailspin of confusion. One day we need to double our consumption of a particular nutrient, the next day we are told that too much of said nutrient is harmful then we are told that we weren’t deficient in the first place! This is the roller-coaster story of vitamin D. … continue reading this entry.

SafeMinds propaganda blocked by skeptics

This week the anti-vaccine propaganda organization SafeMinds is rolling out a commercial in some movie theaters that makes bogus claims designed to scare people away from getting their annual flu shot.

Initially, I heard about this from an article in Skepchick that reported which cineplexes would feature the commercial and urged skeptics to contact the management to voice their outrage. One of the theaters set to air the commercial was the AMC Empire 25 in New York City.

Fortunately, only a few hours after I added myself to the over a thousand who participated in the campaign by contacting AMC and writing a Letter to the Editor for my local newspaper, a representative from that company responded by saying they will not air this commercial or any other ads on the topic. … continue reading this entry.

It’s All Semantics – That Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Argue It

You can handle one more article on this before it blows up all over again at Skepticamp, right?

Once again that membrane which has been pierced so many times on this blog, has been broken, allowing us to once again wade hip-deep into the demarcation between skepticism and atheism.  Joy of joys.  On the bright side, I think I can safely say that this time it wasn’t my fault, but that the lance wielder du jour has been my dear Mr. Rosch.

There’s this funny thing that happens whenever we start talking about where skepticism ends and atheism begins.  Someone brings up the word “agnosticism” and all of a sudden people pounce on that person shouting that they don’t want to get embroiled in an argument of semantics.  I have unfortunate news for those people: the discussion on atheism and skepticism already IS an argument about semantics.  The confusion people have, however – and trust me, I’ve had this one wrong in the past – is that the discussion isn’t really about the definition of atheism.

The definition of atheism is one that atheists have fought for a good long time about.  That definition, that atheism is a lack of belief in god(s), has been whittled into this sort of perfect non-positive statement.  By definition, an atheist doesn’t have to prove anything and believers are, by default, on the defensive side of the argument.  Any believer foolish enough to say “well why don’t you believe in God?” has broken the rules of argument, that the one with the claim is the one with something to defend, and can be summarily told so.  Well done, atheists. … continue reading this entry.

Skepticism = Skepticism, X = X

Michael Rosch posted an article on GS on Tuesday about another article by Jeff Wagg. The following was originally a comment I was posting to his piece, but it got so involved I decided to just submit it as it’s own piece. Please to enjoy.

I read the Wagg article, and I think you’re misunderstanding it (or perhaps I did, maybe), but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that atheists don’t belong involved in skeptical movements. A large proportion of skeptics seem to be atheists (I have data to support). But I think there’s an important distinction between atheism and skepticism.

I’m a lot of things: a feminist, an atheist, a liberal, a Joss Whedon fan, a grad student, a bisexual, a nerd, a gamer, a woman…a skeptic. And yes, I’d say there is significant overlap in the various things I am. For example, my experience as a woman might have made me more likely to self-identify as a feminist. My skepticism might led me to the sort of examination resulting in the conclusion that I’m an atheist. My general nerdom might have led me straight into the Whedonverse. However, if I found that a majority of feminists were Joss Whedon fans (he does favor strong, female characters), could I say that being a Joss Whedon fan and being a feminist are the same thing? I certainly couldn’t. Because even if the experiences and characteristics I had that led me to Buffy also inspired my strong feelings about the equality of men and women in society, they are still two different parts of who I am. … continue reading this entry.

Extraordinary [religious] claims require extraordinary evidence

Beware of dragon

“George Bush says he speaks to god every day, and Christians love him for it. If George Bush said he spoke to god through his hair dryer, they would think he was mad. I fail to see how the addition of a hair dryer makes it any more absurd.”

- Sam Harris

If you replaced the phrase “Christians love him for it” with “skeptics must shut up” in the above quote, Sam Harris could be describing the current state of the skeptical movement.

Recently, one of my least favorite issues has resurfaced, what role, if any, atheism has within the skeptical movement. The controversy seems to have begun with Jeff Wagg writing a blog singling out a flyer and four scheduled talks at Skepticon3 focused on atheism or more accurately religious criticism, one of which with a heavy emphasis on physics. Though Wagg hadn’t seen the talks yet, he expressed more than mild disapproval of them based on their titles and his opinions of the speakers themselves. In fact, he suggested these topics have no right being discussed at a skeptical conference at all. According to Wagg, this doesn’t look like a skeptics conference at all, but rather something entirely different, “an atheist conference”…or worse “an anti-Christian conference.”

BUT DON’T PANIC!!! … continue reading this entry.

What is the responsibility of a Local Skeptical Group?

Some douche meeting DJ Grothe after NECSS.

I think the goal of these [local skeptical] groups – we shouldn’t kid ourselves.  They are not professional science education organizations.  A local skeptics group does not and should not be expected to teach the public science or critical thinking.  We don’t offer courses in science, we’re not scientists and professors and people schooled in pedagogy – not all of us.  Steve [Novella] of course is and there are a number in our midst who have that background, but most local skeptics groups, yes they do a kind of outreach, but what they also are and we should be unapologetic about this for gosh sakes, they are clubs for people of like minds.  They are groups where skeptics can get together and love on one another and enjoy each others’ company and have fun over a pint or ten.  So I think we should leave it to public education organizations to do the heavy lifting when it comes to public education and these [local] groups should be supportive of those ends.  In other words, these organizations should be science boosters and as they grow and mature maybe some of them, you know, achieve non-profit status, have membership programs, can hire folks or have experts who will volunteer – they can do more heavy lifting.  Like the New England Skeptical Society does, like NCAS in DC, like Bay Area Skeptics in the San Francisco Bay area has done.  A number of other groups as well.

- DJ Grothe speaking on “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe,” episode 279 at 57:10

I like DJ Grothe on a lot of levels and for a bunch of reasons.  One of the big things I appreciate about DJ is that I think he’s willing to say things that people in the skeptical community may disagree with him on.  For a leader of a flagship organization in the movement, he seems ready to make statements that challenge the people in those organizations.  I am glad DJ Grothe has his position in the JREF and in the skeptical movement.  This particular statement from DJ has come out at time when I’m a bit sensitive on these issues and it strikes a chord for me. … continue reading this entry.

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