Juan Williams makes me think reporters should be biased

You won't see this guy around anymore! Wait... he was on radio... how do we make that cliche work now...

This past week saw the departure of Juan Williams from NPR.  The firing happened in the wake of an interview with Williams on “The O’Reilly Factor,” thanks to a clip circulated by Think Progress where Williams admitted a discomfort to seeing people in Muslim garb on planes.  It is doubtful that the firing was due to the O’Reilly interview, looking into the transcript slightly deeper than the Think Progress clip reveals that it’s a total quote mine and that Williams was trying to set-up a statement about how we can’t let that discomfort rule us in how we deal with the Muslim world.  Rather, Williams was fired for a history of stating his opinion over the air.  This has not stopped Think Progress from quote mining Williams into opinions that he did not actually espouse.

Here’s the clip Think Progress made sure to get out to the web:

I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts. … continue reading this entry.

The False Equivocation and The Mosque

"Which is the best citrus fruit? Some Americans said 'oranges' but others said 'apples.' Tonight, at eleven."

This whole Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site thing has just gotten ridiculous.  Actually, let’s revise that.  This whole Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site thing started OUT ridiculous and has just gotten absurd.  News sources all over the world, from LA to NY, from the Christian Science Monitor to CNN, just about every news source has gotten the story wrong.  Either they’ve pussy-footed around the issue, presenting the stories of those still grieving in order to bolster their non-argument with emotional pleading, or they’ve just presented insanity.  The fact of the matter is this: the Islamic religion as a whole was not responsible for the events of September 11th and acting as though a building for the study of one of the world’s largest religions should be a hot-button issue in any way is just ludicrous. And I’m not saying people don’t have a right to their emotions or something, I’m saying we shouldn’t let blind fear and hatred overwhelm our common sense.  It’s about realizing that sometimes, two points of view do not carry the same weight.  Just because someone out there believes something, that does not automatically make it a valid point of view, and the only group out there in the mainstream media that understands that is Comedy Central. … continue reading this entry.

How do you know to trust a source?

Fun fact! Richard Nixon started referring to news sources as "The Media" because "The Press" sounded too trustworthy! Also, he apparently didn't like jews...

The skeptical mindset seems to have two principle tasks it must perform on just about any issue.  The first is to not take the information presented at face value.  The second is to determine whether or not the source of the information is reliable.

There are various questions that have to be asked when vetting a source.  Does the source have a bias?  Does the source have an agenda?  Does the source have reliable access to the information they are presenting?  Is the source capable of presenting the information in an accurate way?  By answering these questions, we can start to see whether or not we can (generally) trust the information coming in from a source.

The first two questions may appear to be similar, and they are.  They are not, however, the same.  … continue reading this entry.

Penn and Teller Sometimes Argue Really Badly

Warning: This logo does not always mean skepticism is ahead.

Warning: This logo does not always mean skepticism is ahead.

I don’t like Showtime very much.  It’s a personal thing… I used to work for them, well I worked for a company that was partnered with them, the whole thing collapsed on us and now I find it very easy to see what’s bad about the company’s programming.  Here’s my typical line about a Showtime program: “I do something bad.  But I do it for good reasons.”  Hey look!  It’s “Weeds!”  Sure, Nancy sells pot, but she does it because her family needs it!  Look!  It’s “Californication!”  And Hank may be a real womanizer, but don’t you see how much he loves his daughter?  And hey!  “Dexter!”  He may be a serial killer, but he only kills bad people.  “Nurse Jackie!”  It’s time to flip the formula and make it about a person who’s kind of bad, but she’s doing something good!  How original.  But anyway, off that tangent – the one show on Showtime that I have always been able to unambiguously support is Penn and Teller’s show, “Bullshit.”  For eight years, these guys have been managing to put out a show that, when it talks about a subject with scientifically verifiable information, takes a hard-core skeptical view, and does it in an entertaining fashion.

And now that I’ve praised them a little… I have to make a complaint.  I recently watched the first two episodes of this new season (their eighth) and I really thought the arguments they were using were pretty weak.  … continue reading this entry.

The business of denial

Despite the tobacco industry's "defense strategy" campaign against prevailing scientific evidence, smoking has declined in the last few decades (National Center for Health Statistics, NIMH).

I am usually horrid at coming up with titles but I think “The Business of Denial” is a better lead for this interesting story in The New Scientist that caught my eye this week: How Corporations Manufacture Doubt is one article of several in The New Scientist’s Special Report: Living in Denial. In this article, author Richard Littlemore provides commentary on the PR campaigns that have changed corporate strategy on dealing with scientific evidence that affects their bottom line.

Whether we are talking the “defense strategy,” “teaching the controversy,” or debating the difference of theory vs. fact, the game of promoting public doubt in scientific evidence has grown and is profitable.

The doubt industry has ballooned in the past two decades. There are now scores of think tanks pushing dubious and confusing policy positions, and dozens of phoney grass-roots organisations created to make those positions appear to have legitimate following. … continue reading this entry.

The News Convinced Me that Bigfoot Exists

And I used to think this was a fake... I feel like such a fool.

And I used to think this was a fake... I feel like such a fool.

Did you know that Bigfoot is real?  No?  Neither did I, until I watched a story from an upper Minnesota ABC station KSAX, that is.  Take a few minutes and take a look, I’m sure you’ll be amazed!


There!  Did you see it?  Did you see any evidence which could possibly contradict the Bigfoot hypothesis?  No?  Neither did I!  Let’s take a look at the evidence one piece at a time.

Let’s start out with the “amazing footprints” found near Bena, Minnesota.

Each track was a bit different, different pressures, different depths, eliminating the possibility of some sort of footprint stamp. … continue reading this entry.

The Other “Skeptics”

Im not saying hes not necessarily a dick, but that doesnt mean hes wrong.

I'm not saying he's not necessarily a jerk, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

Our self-professed title has been popping up in the news, have you seen it?  There are skeptics going against Brits and skeptics going against the USA.  There are skeptics all over the place!  And they’re going around… denying science.  Hmmm… Maybe these guys aren’t us?  You know, there was a time when the word “skeptic” was full of negative connotations.  Skeptics were doubters, people who just wouldn’t try things because they didn’t believe in them.  And then something happened.  Do you happen to know what that thing was?  Oh yeah, it was us.  We happened.  We’d tinkered with words like “rationalist” and “bright” and figured out that painting ourselves in a way that painted everyone who wasn’t us in a negative context was probably a bad idea.  So we claimed the word “skeptic.”  We doubt.  We admit that.  Without evidence, we don’t accept claims about the world that we can test.  And it’s probably to our credit that a group of folks who want to ignore the reality of anthropogenic global warming want to claim the moniker of “skeptic” as well, now that we’ve gussied the term up.  It’s flattering!  But it’s also incredibly annoying.  So called “climate skeptics” are not using the term in the same way that we do.  They are holding onto their claims against a theory no scientifically recognized organization on the planet is going against anymore.  They’re making our name look bad all over again. … continue reading this entry.

The Desiree Jennings Case, a Win for Skepticism

I don’t usually write a post that solely tells you to read another blog post, but in the strange case of Desiree Jennings, Steve Novella has become something of a primary reference. I recommend his post on this case penned at Neurologica.

Desiree, if you will recall, was the young woman who presented with a mysterious suite of symptoms, coincident with receiving a flu vaccine last fall. Enter the Anti-Vax contingent, and a controversial diagnosis of a rare neurological disorder. Being that neurology happens to fall squarely within the purview of Dr. Novella, he and many other science and medical bloggers raised educated criticisms of Desiree’s diagnosis, cause, and subsequent treatments, which included chelation and other pseudoscientific panaceas. … continue reading this entry.

An Intellectual Dichotomy at the New York Times

The home of a paper of record and a website of crap.

The home of a paper of record and a website of crap.

The New York Times kindled a love of science in me at an early age.  My parents, at the time, were trying to get me to a place where I would actually read the paper.  I was more of a comic books and… well… nothing else kind of guy, and they wanted to me to be educated about the world.  My mom handed me a copy of the Tuesday Science Times.  “Here,” she told me.  “You kind of like science, give this a look.”  Though I cannot for the life of me remember when this occurred, I still remember the article about the new ion drive scientists were installing onto the Deep Space 1 probe.  I clipped it out of the paper and put it up on my wall, right by my bed.  Though I don’t always read my copy of the New York Times, since that Tuesday long ago, I always look forward to what I’ll get from the paper on Tuesdays.  That was… until the internet.  The New York Times is beginning to become vaguely schizophrenic as far as science is concerned.  Though the Tuesday times is still, on the whole, doing well, the times foray into blogging has been less than scientifically valid.  Is this simply the problem of too many contributors, or are we looking at a possible shifting view in a paper of record? … continue reading this entry.

A skeptical book review: Denialism

Published by The Penguin Press, 2009

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to our discussion last week on atheism and skepticism.  I think it’s fantastic that we have a community in which we can talk about these things.  I want to give a special thanks to Michael De Dora for agreeing to cross post with me, and send my thanks to Massimo for continuing the conversation further.    And now for something completely different.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post inspired by hearing Michael Specter speak about his book, Denialism, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.  I figured it wasn’t quite right for me to rave about Denialism without, you know, reading it, so a couple weeks back I went out and picked it up.

Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives is probably not a book with a plethora of information which will shock skeptics.  The biggest surprise for people in our camp will probably be that the book exists at all.  Specter takes a hard line, pro-science approach to vaccines, organic food, and alternative medicine, before moving into the frontier sciences of genomics and synthetic biology.  Throughout the book, Specter builds a case for why we must embrace science, all while using the Vioxx scandal as his launching point for why many people don’t. … continue reading this entry.

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