Guardian Article Lists Same Old Movement Problems

Beat me, Alom! Beat me!

This morning, Page sent me an article from “The Guardian” where Alom Shaha complains about certain activities perpetrated by skeptics.  Alom spends the first third of his article making obvious strawmen about skeptics, attempting to get you and I pissed off before telling us that’s what he’s doing and actually starting to put together some sort of argument.  I have no idea if he actually means anything said in the first third of the essay or not so I’m going to do the adult thing here and leave it be.  For the rest of Alom’s essay, he goes into what he sees as failings of the skeptical movement, and some are valid points, but I can’t help but feel there is an unintended irony to the whole article.  Alom’s article points out a number of areas that skeptics like to talk about as problems without often posing solutions, and Alom winds up positing not a single viable solution. … continue reading this entry.

Skepticism and Cynicism

Apparently, cynics wear robes made of stone. No wonder they think everything's going down the crapper. The last time they bought new clothing, their robes kept them from moving for millennia...

When I first told my friend Charlie that I was going off to my first drinking skeptically, he asked me if we were just going to sit around “thinking about nothing.”  I had to point out to Charlie at that point that he was confusing skepticism with nihilism, which is weird, especially when you think about the fact that everyone else confuses skepticism with cynicism.  Which is also not correct.  As you probably know though, most folks out there don’t really understand what skepticism is.  I’m sure you’ve had to explain it to them when telling them what your views are, I know I have.  It’s a hard thing to grasp at first, and I’m going to put this out there right now, I think the knee-jerk confusion of skepticism and cynicism is there for a reason.  It’s been discussed on the JREF, it’s been talked about on Yahoo! Answers, it’s even been picked up by certain newspapers, the delineation between skepticism and cynicism is fraught for a reason.  I think that as skeptics, we are constantly in danger of becoming cynics. … continue reading this entry.

24 Hour-News: Home to Great Journalism

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, it's a UFO. You decide which one this is. Here's a hint. The "tobacco" was "harvested" by "aliens."

Now, I haven’t seen the original research the various 24-hour news sources put into their new expose on Churchill and UFOs, but it must be really phenomenal.  The most compelling article is from Fox News who put up an article that says that Churchill classified a UFO back in the 50’s!  ABC News added in an article as well, but it uses all these stupid words like “alleged” – at least they didn’t try and cover it up, right?  Because you can’t hide the truth!  This stuff is important!

It seems that Britain just declassified a bunch of previously classified UFO data, about 5000 pages of it.  And one of those pages is a letter from a pilot who says he saw a UFO!  Whoa!  Are your minds blown?  This wasn’t anybody, guys.  This was a pilot.  And we all know the truth: pilots are infallible. … continue reading this entry.

An Anti-Vax Tea Party (Part 2 of 2)

Who has a question for "Dr." Wakefield?

During the Q&A, I’d wanted to ask Wakefield what vaccines he was in favor of giving to infants as it’s clear that many of his supporters are far more anti-vaccine than he professes to be but someone asked a similar question first. When I finally did ask a question, I simply asked for clarification about the studies he claimed supported his research. At times during the Q&A, it seemed as though Wakefield was among the least insane in the room. But his answers were so slick as to somehow appease both less fanatical anti-vaccinationists as well as those who believe vaccines have no benefits at all and are used to deliberate poison the populous. … continue reading this entry.

I wasn’t a skeptic this morning

There was this really scary moment in my apartment this morning.  It was a bit before noon, my father had stayed the night because he had some work to do, and we got a call from one of my aunts.  My mom had been supposed to meet up with her sister (not the initial aunt) in Albany at 11:00, and by now it was 11:45 and my mother was nowhere to be found.

Some things that should be known about my mom.

1 – My mother is not late.  She is one of the most reliable people on the planet.

2 – My mother has no cell phone.

Now… we can’t get in touch with my mom, but apparently she was going to be taking along another friend of hers who does have a cell phone to where she’s meeting her sister.  We call up the friend.  The friend decided not to go along.  And now we’re getting nervous.  And it gets worse because all of a sudden her sister is calling us and she’s getting ready to panic.  Which puts my father into a panic.  Which puts me into a panic.  In the space of about 25 minutes, we go from “There’s nothing to worry about” to “How do we get in touch with the Albany highway police?” … continue reading this entry.

On PZ and Michael

This is your skeptical movement on Muhammed Ali.

This is your skeptical movement on the Sweet Science.

My first reaction to PZ Myer’s post lambasting Michael De Dora was that PZ was an evil bastard who no longer had a place in polite society.  I’ve since calmed down.  It’s here where I place the obligatory statement that I indeed have a personal relationship with Michael, which is what I think this all comes down to. Since NECSS, I’ve been trying to be a bit more skeptical in my day-to-day life, and part of that is thinking in terms of evidence.  One of the speakers at NECSS and I spoke about the PZ/Michael rigmarole at dinner, and he had some things to say about it.  “The reason you feel that way,” he told me, “ is because Michael is a friend of yours. He is my friend, too, and that was my initial reaction, as well. But the more I thought about it, I realized that if PZ Myers were on the radio, no one would bat an eye.  No one gets shocked when Howard Stern is Howard Stern. PZ’s is a polemicist, and his blog is a persona, to great effect. I generally agree with his point against Michael, but don’t like the way he said it, and generally favor the way Michael makes his points, even if I disagree with some of his points themselves. In the end, I don’t think we skeptics and secularists should scold others for having a different style than we have.” … continue reading this entry.

I’m becoming skeptical of my optimism

Plum pox-resistant plums (Photo from the Agricultural Research Service)

The argument I’m getting into lately is the one about Genetically Modified crops. I tend to take the position that 1- these are the most tested crops in the world 2- they’re completely healthy 3- what we’re doing is not fundamentally different than what we’ve been doing through selective breeding since agriculture began – we’re just doing it smarter now and, oh yeah 4- without them, approximately 1/3 of the world will starve to death. “Their” position is that corporations are evil. I generally come back with “Yes, but we’re talking about science here,” but… honestly I can’t shake the juggling feeling that these organic folk have a bit of a point. The business end of GM crops actually does make me kind of uncomfortable. The laws and patents that go into these things, seed laws, charging farmers when their crops are accidentally pollinated by GM crops planted in the vicinity… It all does feel kind of… wrong. I’m starting to worry that perhaps, my intended science advocacy has become a sort of science idealism, and to me, that means I’m not being very skeptical. … continue reading this entry.

Dangerous Legal Games

Shackling Reason

(Image Pelham Library)

The anti-vaccine community is at it again, launching inane legal assaults in an attempt to gain a foothold in their war against science and reason. This time, Barbara Loe Fisher, infamous founder of the ironically-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), has launched a libel suit against Paul Offit, renowned vaccine expert and Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I can only hope some good will come of this idiocy. First, some background. … continue reading this entry.

James Randi, global warming and the meaning of skepticism


James “the Amazing” Randi is an icon of skepticism. The man has done more — over a span of several decades — to further the cause of critical thinking and to expose flimflammery of all sorts than arguably anyone else in the world, ever. That is why I was struck with incredulity and sadness yesterday when I read Randi’s latest take on global warming. He begins by stating that, contrary to scientists’ own self-image as almost preternaturally objective human beings, “religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.” Well, true, to a point. Many philosophers and sociologists of science have said that before (and documented it), but your baloney detector should go up to at least yellow alert when someone starts a commentary on global warming with that particular observation. … continue reading this entry.

Why Skeptics Don’t Have to be Atheists


Michael De Dora speaks about atheism and skepticism at Skepticamp NYC 2009.

[You can read Michael De Dora's response to this post here, and an additonal commentary by Massimo Pigliucci here.]

A disclaimer.

It is Sunday Night.  I have just returned home from Skepticamp NYC.  It’s been a long day, I may not be thinking my best, and right now I’m getting ready to piss off… I dunno, maybe half of you.  Joy of joys.  Let me go back a step.  Right before we broke for lunch today, Michael De Dora Jr. gave a talk he called “Skepticism Includes Atheism (So Deal With It).”  After the talk, I pulled Michael aside.  “Hey Mike,” I said.  “I’ve been writing for the Gotham Skeptic and, well I’m like the only person still writing two pieces a week (okay, sometimes Page does too…), and I’m really trying to find a way to only write one this week.  So I’m going to write up why I think you’re totally wrong, and if you want, you can have my Thursday spot to refute everything I say.”  He agreed.

I’m an idiot.  I should have just found a way to turn some skeptical story into a dick joke.  Oy.

This is always true, but sometimes, like right now, I feel it should be stated loud and clear.  The views expressed here represent only me, Jake Dickerman.  They are not representative of everyone who writes on the Gotham Skeptic or the NYC Skeptics in general.

Why Skeptics Don’t Have to be Atheists … continue reading this entry.

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