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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Can’t the Pope bless someone without getting hell for it

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Last night on Virtual Skeptics, we had a blast. As usual, Brian showed us this week’s new robot shape – squid. Bob was just silly and will get us into trouble. AGAIN. Eve was just as puzzled as I was about the out-of-place coins in Australia story.

I talked about the “exorcism” hub-bub with Pope Frank and wondered what the church thinks of their go-to exorcism guy, Gabriele Amorth.

Tim gave us a great skepti-quiz; we all failed. But the sound effects were AWESOME.

It was fun! Check it out.

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Rumors, hoaxes and myths of the week, then I tell you how to sort through it

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I need a name for these weekly wrapups of activity. Suggestions?

Good week for crossovers. My post on Slenderman (Slender Man?) did well with the paranormal crowd. I’ll be working with some experts to develop another piece on this relating to pop culture. Looking forward to doing that.

I was able to connect with the local Bigfoot investigation group after a rumor broke that a Bigfoot was shot near Altoona. Turned out to be a bust. As is typical. The Bigfoot community is especially awash with hoaxes to the point that you can not take anything serious. I wrote about this for Huffington Post. That post got many positive comments and was passed on via social media. I was happy to see that. It’s really important to pass on things you like so they reach the maximum audience. Nothing is as depressing as doing a lot of work and having it go no where.

Therefore, I’m thinking about book projects… :-) Continue reading

Your Friendly Neighborhood Skeptic

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Another busy week!

The Huffington Post piece on hoaxes last week seemed to get good circulation, especially among paranormal folks JUUUUST a bit fed up with empty promises and lousy endings. I’m working on a followup on hoaxing these days.

I also got some promotions for my last post, on paranormal politics. That was sort of a brain dump. Got me thinking. Hope it helped others. I was so glad to see people like America’s Most Haunted (radio show) promote it. That was gratifying.

Kitty’s new piece triggered me to set up this facebook page

Your Friendly Neighborhood Skeptic

and, so far, it’s ALSO getting a good response, filling up with nice people who just want to talk about paranormal stuff and explore. Come on over, post some positive links. Continue reading

I’m just expressing my views. All (or no) apologies.

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This week I had a dispute with someone who did not like what I wrote. The week before, I overreacted to something someone else wrote on Twitter. The important part in this post is how the misunderstandings arose: assumptions about your audience. So often, it is that.

When I write at the various places I write – paranormal or skeptics sites, or for the general public – I’m very conscious of my audience. What do they already know and what is their viewpoint of the world? I have to tailor my talks too – for background, experience, age, etc. But that’s hard to get completely right because you never know if some expert or some complete newbie is in the audience and your words or actions fall short, sail overhead or explode with unintended casualties.

I got blasted by a speaker who assumed that everyone in the audience was sympathetic to her view. She assumed we all knew her background and, perhaps because we had chosen to be there, were supporters.

Never assume.

There are critics everywhere.

When you put yourself out in the public eye such as being a speaker at a conference, talking on any media, on the internet, or publicly on Facebook or Twitter, you should not be surprised that something won’t sit well with someone. For opinionated people who like to share, this happens every month. Maybe every week or every day.

As many skeptics have pointed out, disagreement with your views does not mean I don’t like you as a person, or that I’m your enemy, or that I’m a bad person, or that I’m deliberately out to get you. It’s not character assassination to express disagreement or to point out an error. I am not out to be nasty, just to express my view. 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

Homeopathy, paracelebs, food chemistry, and throw in some pro wrestling

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You just CAN’T get this stuff on Skeptics Guide to the Universe, people.

As usual, our Virtual Skeptics episode on Wednesday night was interesting. Brian had more scary robots, not only do they model their locomotion after insects as we saw previously, now, they move like snakes. This is why we have the Robot Apocalypse segment because it’s crazy and creepy. Check it out.

Bob talks about the removal of Edzard Ernst from the editorial board of the journal Homeopathy. Who reads that anyways?

Eve discusses the new proposed TV show about reincarnated children. It’s more than a little exploitative and disturbing.

I describe my trip to the Phenomenology conference last weekend and why EVERYONE should visit one of these events at least once. Black tee shirts notwithstanding, I had an interesting time.  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