Balticon: Scientifical and Real Mad Scientists


Balticon is a conference done by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. I was asked to participate in their new mini-skeptic track that was developed by Marv Zelkowitz of the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS). I thought it was a success. Throughout the day I was there, on Sunday, I saw a big skeptical respresentation. But, also, there were many people who hold that critical, thoughtful mindset but don’t associate themselves with that community. I was glad to speak to them.

My talk was on Being Scientifical: Amateur Research and Investigation Groups. I looked at 1000 web sites of these groups in the U.S. who investigate ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and general paranormal phenomena. By mimicking science, or doing what they think is science (hence “scientifical”), amateur investigation groups appear serious and credible to the public. This image is effective in selling the public the idea that they find legitimate evidence of the paranormal. It’s concerning.

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Warnings of impending danger: Science and Social Factors


Those who consider prediction* a part of their research and responsibility range from weather forecasters to seismologists and volcanologists. Warnings of impending danger cause predictable social and economic effects that must be considered along with the primary goal which is safety. If a disaster prediction is wrong, several million people might be unnecessarily affected (Olsen, 1989) and the region may suffer economic losses. If it is correct, but delivered inadequately, disaster is inevitable.

Accuracy of predictions is based on what is possible to observe and data that can be collected. For example, hurricane predictions are very accurate because scientists have extensive weather instruments and well-tested forecasting techniques to use. Volcanic hazard areas and those prone to tsunamis are mapped based on zones identified through historical records – scientists can find geologic evidence that the land was affected by lava, ash or debris flows.

For some forecasted events (such as volcanic eruption and severe weather), there is time to deliver the message and prepare for the event. The worst situation is certainly earthquakes because there are no widely accepted precursors and data-based forecasts are long-term probabilities — relatively unhelpful for short-term preparation. With the potential for large seismic events to kill huge numbers of people, earthquake prediction theories have been particularly problematic and fraught with ethical dilemmas for the scientific community, public authorities and media. Continue reading

Building a wall with values


Throughout the day, I’m reading books and news stories and listening to podcasts. This week, I saw a recurring theme in my media selections: values and the entrenched position.

I guess I was predisposed to thinking about it. I spent last week preparing a lecture on ethics for a professional licensure exam review. I included a bit on bias in science and the ooze of politics into the scientific endeavor.

I came across an article about last week’s EPA hearing on regulating greenhouse gases where opposing sides (which happened to be along party lines…surprise!) brought their scientific experts to argue their points. Continue reading

The tilted playing field


I’ve been at a leadership training event for women for the past two days. It’s sent my mind off on various tangents – about being a leader in other movements (like the skeptical community), taking risks, and the validity of these psychological assessments that are the foundation of the class. Primarily, I couldn’t quite figure out if/why we still needed a Leadership academy for WOMEN exclusively. Shouldn’t we be owning equality rather than exclusivity?

Then, I heard a few things that answered that issue. Continue reading

Not the news


I’ve been observing the interesting (but infuriating) process of how “news” gets fed to the internet and major news outlets. My curious position has been one where I have firsthand knowledge of a situation (or pretty close to it) but am not obliged to comment on the “news” as it’s portrayed. So, I’ll be general. Continue reading

Not much for name calling


I’m not an advocate of name calling, but it can serve a purpose. Palin has her “haters” for everyone who disagrees with her. (The overly simple translation she makes is that I hate her, not just her ideas. That’s not necessarily true but some people are very narrow in their thinking about the connection between belief and believer.)

There are the “birthers”. That seems to quickly encompass the issue at hand and make people sound ludicrous at the same time. Convenient. It was ludicrous so that was justified.

To label those incapable of having a rational discussion of the issues, might we call these town hell criers the “shriekers”?

Is labeling a good thing?

Labels tend to lump lots of people into a big group without attention to the individual. It’s too easy to label someone who is not deserving of such a label. Easy to be served with a label – harder to shake it off.

However, I’m feeling favor towards dubbing these exhibitionists “shriekers” since this is a derogatory term that may discourage such behavior to continue. Plus, it’s pretty obvious to all if you are one or not.

I sure would like society to reject this kind of irrational, emotional, tantrum-throwing behavior over serious issues that affect us all. (Yo, buddy, it’s not just you paying taxes.) When I see shrieking, I immediately think, “Oh, this person has no reasonable opinion and is too easily swayed by emotion and fear-mongering.” I don’t trust their judgment. But, that’s just me. Apparently, Congress finds it intimidating. They want to grease the squeaky wheel and soothe their anger. That’s bullshit. It’s like giving a toddler the biggest lolly in the store for embarrassing the hell out of you with his hissy-fit. For a healthy, respectable, functioning society, it should not be tolerated.