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.

A Skeptic Examines the Death Penalty – Happy Independence Day!

These Americans were all wrongly convicted to die.

These Americans were all wrongly convicted to die.

The day you’re reading this is the fifth of July, and our great country is doing one of the things it does best, celebrating a holiday after the holiday’s happened because we want a day off.  So I figured I’d do my best to write about another quintessentially American pastime, the death penalty.

Your initial thought may be that when it comes to something like the death penalty, we’re talking about a political issue, and therefore something that this blog shouldn’t be touching.  I would disagree whole-heartedly. The death penalty may be an issue which is political but that doesn’t mean that skepticism can’t inform us on the subject. … 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.

The Narrow Precipice of Political Action

I was out at lunch today with Scott Stafiej of the CFI, ostensibly to discuss a new project of his, which I hope we’ll be able to tell you all about in the weeks to come.  As tends to happen in conversation with fellow skeptics, our conversation sort of meandered to all manner of places, but for a little while we started talking about politics. … continue reading this entry.

Cool thing to check out! Shawn Otto’s Nobel Keynote Address

I’m a little ashamed to say that I always thought the science debate was a stupid idea. It just always seemed oxymoronic to me. “The political candidates are going to get together to debate ‘science!’” What the hell did that even mean? Were they going to sit around and debate whether or not water froze at zero degrees Celsius? Would they actually have a “debate” about evolution, and just show that one side used facts and the other a bunch of baloney? It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was important to have the candidates discuss science. I knew that we needed to have the information out there. I knew that the American public had to realize that science was an important issue and actually focus on it, but a debate? … continue reading this entry.

Political Values Make Skeptical Blinders

While cruising around on a site all about the recent protests against mandatory H1N1 flu vaccination in Albany, I found their list of sponsors and saw a few crazy right-wing organizations (Albany 912 Org/Albany Tea Party Org) listed.  “Wonderful!” I thought to myself.  “Here’s an opportunity to really get Benny’s goat [that’s, of course, Benny Pollack, prominent NYC Skeptic] and write a screed about how right wingers don’t understand science!”  But my brain started nagging at me.

“Hey!  Jake!” my brain was tapping on my shoulder.  “This whole ‘anti-vaccine’ thing?”

“Yes, Brain?”

“It’s a left-wing thing.”

Ouch.  My brain had a point.  The anti-vaccine movement is far more an artifact of the hysterical left than the government-hating right.  Going against these vaccine protesters and trying to talk politics while just attacking right-wingers, that’d be completely and totally dishonest.  But hold on a second, this was a rabid fringe movement on the right lending their support to a rabid fringe movement on the left.  There should be no two groups that hate each other more.  Was there something inherent about the H1N1 vaccine that made left wingers and right wingers both go crazy?  Or was there something inherent about politics that make us all irrational? … continue reading this entry.

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