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.

$5 million is being held in your name, all you have to do is…

Today New York prosecutors unveiled charges of wire fraud conspiracy against several men linked to swindling $2 million from people in a “Princess Diana Lottery” email scam. If convicted, these men could face up to 30 years in prison each.

This story is so new there are relatively few media sources reporting on it, but this will definitely be a trail to keep an eye on. On the one hand I am thrilled that these types of people who are ruthlessly taking advantage of people’s trust, are being brought to justice. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder about the circumstances surrounding the victims that allowed them to get taken in by such a transparent (to me) ploys. Whether it is gullibility, desperation, or a lack of critical thinking skills, it seems like there could be some preventative medicine that the skeptical community might provide. … continue reading this entry.

To degree or not to degree?

On Tuesday, Lisa Bauer introduced us to the “Oz Fallacy,” the belief that the simple possession of a symbol of a skill or talent equates with the possession of that skill or talent. Using the petitioners of the Great and Powerful Oz to illustrate this point, Lisa pointed out that the tokens bestowed on the story’s heroes by the Wizard merely symbolized their gifts, not unlike how a diploma is a symbol of formal education. She went on to make the point that possession of a diploma, of any sort, is not a guarantee that the holder also possesses intelligence.

It is an illustrative analogy and an absolutely valid point. However, I was left feeling somewhat uncomfortable by the tone of the comments that the post produced on the Gotham Skeptic and on the Facebook site for NYCS. And thought it was worth developing my response in a post rather than as an additional comment (‘cause I can).

Many of the comments reduced Lisa’s argument to something along the lines of:

[Diplomas]… are supposed to be “proof I know what I am talking about”. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. To often, this just means, “I was well off enough to get myself into a good school.” … continue reading this entry.

The ‘you haven’t read everything I’ve ever written’ fallacy

Several days ago, I came across a link to a web forum hosted by Dorothy M. Murdock, also known as D.M. Murdock, but far better known as Acharya S. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Acharya S is an author and proponent of the Christ myth theory.

But while numerous historians share the position that Jesus was a myth, few go as far as Acharya S, who, from my understanding, believes Jesus was deliberately invented as part of a grand conspiracy. Acharya’s popularity particularly rose after she was prominently featured in the first part of the controversial Zeitgeist film, which became an instant hit among 9/11 deniers. To date, I can’t find any instances where Acharya has made any public statements regarding her own beliefs about who caused 9/11.

But all that is just background. Since I’m not a historian myself, I can’t comment with any authority on the validity of Acharya’s fringe historical claims one way or the other. That is best left up to the experts. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Appeal to Popularity

It’s been too long since I’ve written an installment of the series on faulty logic. It’s time to continue it, with…

Appeal to Popularity

There was a time when pretty much everyone thought that the Earth was flat. There was a time when anyone who thought about it was sure the sun went around the Earth. Come to mention it, there was a time when that was widely attributed to its having a ride on Apollo’s chariot. These were popular ideas.

But an idea’s popularity doesn’t make it right; it only makes it popular. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Argument ad hominem

It’s time for the next in the series on logical fallacies. This time…

Arguing ad hominem

From Latin for “to the man,” an ad hominem argument is one that attacks the speaker, rather than the issues. We all know this one; we see it all the time. We likely use it all the time ourselves, even though we try not to. “Oh, don’t listen to him; he’s a {kook | liberal | wing-nut | Nazi | moron | …}.” C’mon: tell me you’ve never said anything like that. … continue reading this entry.

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