Video: Media Guide to Skepticism

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A while back, I produced with the help of many others, this guide to skepticism for beginners and for journalists and whomever else was interested.

In May of 2013, I was asked to come to L.A. to do a live presentation on the topic and a Q and A session as well for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). The video is now online. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of me and Barbara Drescher talking and demonstrating.

It’s gotten some nice views and compliments already, so enjoy.

Doubt and About for last week in May

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Geez, it’s summer and my calendar is jam packed. I just got back from a FANTASTIC trip to L.A. to do a presentation for the JREF which will be on YouTube as outreach in a few weeks.

But my NECSS talk “Sounds Sciencey” has now appeared on YouTube. Check it out and see what you think. I have to rewatch it. I’ve gotten some feedback from the skeptic side. Not sure how it will play with the paranormal crowd. Please note that your talks are tailored to the audience you are speaking to. Therefore, each one will be somewhat different depending on that focus. When it goes out to the internet, it plays differently and the reaction will, subsequently be different. It’s important to keep this in mind if you don’t want to come off badly to one audience or another. But my job was to speak to the NECSS (science/skeptical) crowd.

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Paranormal politicking

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My interests are in paranormal topics, coalition building, policy, and problem solving. Having visited the paranormal side on several occasions, I’m one of those skeptics that is not hated or despised by those that disagree with the “skeptical” scene. Distilled rom those interests, one of my goals is to find a way to interact effectively with the paranormal community and maybe come up with new ways of doing things. In order to do that, you can’t just jump in and expect change. It’s complicated so I try to explore the issues.

That serves as an introduction to an introduction…

I started reading Jeremy Northcote’s The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth: A Sociological Account. It’s already marked up from when I referred to it for my thesis project but it was time I read it through. Odd that sometimes you pick up a book years later and it resonates with you in a completely different way from the first encounter with it, thanks to life experience and current events.

So, I digested the introduction and I found some zinger ideas that I wanted to write down and contemplate anyway so I might as well share them and see how everyone feels about it (in consideration of my propensity to be collaborative).

The following are notes and ideas taken from the Introduction, pages 1-11. Continue reading

It’s hard to milk an angel and we’re all going to hell

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I like to keep busy.

I did another paranormal-themed podcast this week. It went well – we discussed bridging the divide between the camps. That seems to come up a lot. It won’t be out for a week or two so I’ll keep mum about it. But I do like doing those. We should ALL be up for the challenge, both sides, to refine our own views.

I have a new piece out on Huffington Post. In this one, I take the Bigfoot mystery mongerers to task again. but it’s not just them, it was all media. Including the Huff Po! It was almost too good NOT to hype this story, but they failed in focusing on the interesting real story. I also touched on that in my podcast interview. I’m interested in the ANSWER more than the mystery. Which side are you on?

A new venue that I am pleased to be appearing at is Paranormal Pop Culture. My piece is a little different than what Aaron normally puts up. After a rocky start on Twitter, Aaron and I are now friends. We are going to disagree. A lot. But we are both very reasonable people. Again, challenge your views. It can only make them better. So, he was willing to put up my review of a skeptical convention, NECSS, in contrast to the other types of events he covers. I am very grateful.

In contrast, I have a somewhat controversial post up on Sounds Sciencey – a more detailed review of the paranormal conference I attended. I’ve gotten two thumbs down on the way I portrayed people. Sorry, but this is the way I interpreted it. And, I think I did not mischaracterize things. People really said this stuff. If I didn’t have all in the information or the speaker didn’t have enough time, then, as usually happens, not everyone is going to be approving of the talk. I did have some problems with a few things that were said, but I doubt other “skeptics” at a para-con would 1) even try to listen, and 2.) be as gentle as I was. I did not want to disparage anyone, not all talks can be stellar, but, in general, I pointed out the differences you would see between meetings of this nature from the opposite communities.

As far as I know, I’m not sure this has ever happened before – reviewing a skeptic convention on a paranormal site and a paranormal convention on a skeptic site both out within a day of each other. If anyone has done that before, you need to let me know. Because it’s DAMN hard. Either I made enemies on both sides today or I made some people soften up on either end of the spectrum. The latter outcome was my goal. Maybe I just confused everyone. When you strive to be in the middle, you have to turn and face one side at a time, it may appear you have turned your back on the other.

Don’t forget to visit Doubtful News everyday. Sometimes commenters have better ideas than me.

See everything else at my Flavors page.

This week’s Virtual Skeptics was a buffet of news goodness. Check it out. That’s where the crazy title comes from. I don’t know how these things happen… they just do.

If empathy is wrong, I don’t want to be right

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It’s been a downer week. I feel, like many others, that I need to withdraw from the insanity going on in the news. If you notice this week’s Virtual Skeptics (linked below), we are all kind of frustrated and down. There are ups and there are downs. That’s life.

I care what people think of me. Personal criticism by people I admire does sting but I try to improve. But this post is different. This is me, it’s who I am and in this case I don’t particularly care what people think about it. I’m just sharing a piece of me. We’re all people first and people are complicated.

I don’t get people who are right now reveling in Schadenfreude – joy in the misfortune of others (Brian Dunning right now and Mr. Randi a little while back.) That’s sickening to me and I actually think less of you as a person because of it. Why is it that people feel they have to give an opinion and comment on everything and that it should be taken seriously? Why so quick to discard all the good someone has done for something not directly related? It makes me wonder how you get along in the world at all – we all screw up, we all make mistakes. Do you punish everyone on a permanent basis whom you feel has screwed up? How short-sighted and shallow of you.

For those of you who call me a “bad skeptic” I don’t care. My work stands for itself. Opinions are like… well, you know. Opinions from several that I used to admire have ceased to be important to me now. I don’t even read that stuff. My goals are not the same as yours. I don’t see the world the same. I won’t be in the audience of the latest performance of outrage theatre that is just designed to gain attention for the performer. It’s been unconstructive and divisive. It’s not necessary or desirable to spout your opinion about everything to everyone. You begin to sound like Rush Limbaugh – a big bag of hot air. Go do something worthwhile that appeals to the public. WHAT A CONCEPT! Try it for a change.

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Virtual skeptics in real life: NECSS in NYC

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NECSS, the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, was last weekend in NYC. I had gone twice before. I had skipped last year because I was not fond of some speakers. But this year, I was invited to BE a speaker. NECSS is a high-quality event. The speakers are often stellar and many are not whom you would hear at other skeptically-themed events.

Hosted by Jamy Ian Swiss, the first several speakers I found enlightening. I talked about the key note speaker, Leonard Mlodinow, on Virtual Skeptics this week – see embedded video below. I made a connection with what he was saying and what paranormal believers miss – that we humans perceive stuff and perceive it wrongly all the time. This wrongness is just good enough but, I thought, NOT good enough to say “I KNOW what I saw”. Because you know what your brain is telling you it saw. But that has been constructed. Fascinating stuff. I bought his book.

Then Massimo Pigliucci gave me two of my favorite new words: eudaimonia and trolleyology

Eudaimonia: Having a good demon – flourishing, happiness, well-being.
Trolleyology – the study of the trolley ethical thought experiments.

I didn’t get a chance to thank Massimo in person for his help with the Media Guide to Skepticism. But I finally got to chat with Jon Ronson, meet Simon Singh, hug Debbie Berebichez, have lunch with John Allan Paulos, converse skeptically with Jamy Ian Swiss, and just kvetch with Barb Drescher and Bob Blaskiewicz (also on VS below). It was lovely to meet up with some of my NY area friends and I made new friends who follow my writing or who like Doubtful News. Continue reading

Posted: My atheism talk on skepticism

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I’m off to NECSS! The Northeast Conference of Science and Skepticism this weekend to talk about “Sounds Sciencey“. Should be an interesting time.

Just yesterday, PA Nonbelievers released a video of my talk from last September at their conference. Now, I was hesitant to speak at an atheist event because promotion of atheism is NOT what I do. I do skepticism. But Brian graciously allowed me to talk about whatever I wanted so I talked about skepticism in the crossover – the skepto-atheism conflation that was happening. It’s still happening. Just this past weekend, Matt Dillahunty gave a talk about skepticism and atheism. He is a great speaker, but the message, I felt, was flawed and weak. While it sounded fantastic, if it was written out, it would not stand up the same.

Skepticism is NOT atheism. He pooh-poohed the Media Guide to Skepticism. He even got the name of the website wrong. But I didn’t expect to see an uptick in downloads regardless because he told people what he thought about it so it was not an encouraging promotion of the document.

But THAT’S the thing. SKEPTICISM IS NOT ATHEISM. Atheists are going to possibly have an issue with it because it’s not written for them. This was a community document, an ideal, for skepticism.  Continue reading

When I’m disliked by only one side, then I know I have a problem

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Some of you may know I now blog for Huffington Post as well as the usual outlets. Some of you have been kind enough to read and retweet. I appreciate that. My latest piece is out.

Suspend Your Skepticism and Just Listen.

I’ve been circulating in the Skeptisphere for a good long while. But I have not forgotten the value of being challenged and seeing alternative views. This draws me to paranormal conferences and events. I go there to be immersed in highly unskeptical ideas. It is immediately clear, to me at least, that I am out of my comfort zone at these events. I do not feel free to talk to anyone lest they determine I am not of their “ilk” and decide I should be shunned. But I am curious, and no one berates me for wanting to listen and observe. What is it about the paranormal culture that draws people here? Why is this population of people happy to spend a weekend engaged in these particularly paranormal activities, listening to speakers and making new friends?

This is a piece I wrote after I returned from a paranormal conference. I would strongly suggest all capital-S skeptics read it and would love to know what you think. I find myself cringing when I hear people (e.g. “skeptics”) laugh at paranormal believers (not beliefs but BELIEVERS) and soundly state “Bigfoot is a myth. Grow up!” How narrowly you see people. Skeptics lack empathy in many cases. You may decry me for giving paranormalists the time of day but I think they have something to say about being human. I’ve not been treated kindly by some in the skeptic-athesist community and I’ve been stabbed in the back and teased by some of the “skeptical believers” (I don’t accept their soft definition of “skeptic”) and of course you’re doomed if you are the Skeptic on a pro-paranormal forum. But, honestly, I’m so used to that. I write policy for a living. If I make everyone happy or NO one happy, I’m doing something right. It’s when I am only liked by one camp that I know I have a serious bias problem.

On the flip side, a new Sounds Sciencey was published this week as well. Continue reading

Skeptics messing with your meridians

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It’s been sort of a rough week health wise. I’ve been attacked by the dreaded carpal tunnel monster so typing is a bit difficult right now but… I think, therefore I type. And, stupid daylight savings time switch… dumb.

Regardless, it was a productive week.

One big project completed is the Media Guide to Skepticism. Once upon a time, I came a cross a Media Guide to Volcanoes written by a scientist to help reporters with the basic concepts in a few pages. I felt this was needed for skepticism for several reasons. Lately, there has been much talk about the scope of skepticism, what we should or shouldn’t be doing and how to do it. An easy to read guide for those just discovering this brand of critical thinking might find it very helpful and not get sidetracked by those who have agendas that are something besides Skepticism but are still calling themselves “skeptics”. As part of a skeptical process, I know what I don’t know. So, I built the draft from references I trusted – Dunning, Novella, Shermer, Kurtz – and opened it up for public comment. One of my friends remarked on this process of collaboration. It seemed a bit odd when everyone is often out blogging for themselves and pushing their own take on things. But that was not the point of this document. This has nothing to do with my opinion as an individual. In the environmental and regulatory field, we have to work with many different interest groups and take their opinions into account. In the end, we almost NEVER make everyone completely happy but the compromise is fair and has some solid foundation. We can’t just make stuff up. I thought this was a good plan for agreeing on a foundation for today’s skepticism.  Continue reading

Bigfoot study getting skeptical attention

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My Bigfoot pieces on Doubtful News have been getting some attention. That makes me think that a (balanced) skeptical view is welcome on this topic. For one, it just SCREAMS “skepticism needed,” with even the Bigfoot researchers disgusted at the quality of Bigfoot evidence coming out and the seemingly daily parade of hoaxes.

Ketchum Bigfoot DNA paper released: Problems with questionable publication (Updated) | Doubtful News.

The up to date news is that the Melba Ketchum study is looking worse every day. The promised high-definition video from the associated Erickson project has yet to appear except for the short clip of what looks like (just saying) a carpet breathing a bit TOO deliberately. And perhaps the face looks a little too like Chewbacca? Hmm.

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