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Science Debate 2012 Answers

by Steven Novella on Sep 10 2012 is a group dedicated to promoting the discussion of important scientific issues in American politics. They formed around the idea of holding a science-themed debate in the 2008 presidential election, and have continued since then. They were never successful in getting the two campaigns to agree to a live debate concerning scientific topics, but they did agree to submit written answers to questions. This time around, in the 2012 presidential election, it also appears that there will be no live debate, but both campaigns have submitted written answers to science questions.

The idea behind ScienceDebate is this – from their website:

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking.

I remember Carl Sagan hitting this theme often, in Cosmos and in his interviews. He said, for example:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

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A Wild Weekend

by Mark Edward on Sep 05 2012

From the New York Times – in My Evil Lair

Dragoncon 2012 is over and after five days of the craziest in public and press related fanfare, things are hotting up with “Psychic Blues.” Some folks don’t seem to be doing their homework or paying much attention to the actual text, preferring to focus on more personal attacks on my motivations for writing the book and my so-called shady past. (continue reading…)

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Echoing the Past

by Daniel Loxton on Sep 05 2012

Daniel Loxton poses with Paul Kurtz at The Amazing Meeting 8 conference

Daniel Loxton poses with Paul Kurtz at The Amazing Meeting 8 conference

In my previous post, I quoted from a 1988 Skeptical Inquirer article written by philosopher Paul Kurtz, a founder of the first successful North American skeptics group (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP—now called CSI). There’s nothing I find more inspiring than rediscovering the older skeptical literature. Copies of the journal-format Skeptical Inquirer of the 1970s-80s are especially valuable for historical perspective. (I have most of these in my research library, but also now benefit from the very affordable and searchable DVD collection.)

Reading that 1988 Kurtz article, a passage leapt out at me for its similarity to something I wrote 19 years later. First, here are some lines from the end of my 2007 manifesto essay “Where Do We Go From Here?” (PDF) (a manifesto written partly in response to arguments Paul Kurtz was then making about widening the scope of skepticism away from our traditional mandate of critical, science-based evaluation of paranormal claims.1 I argued that we should instead re-focus on testable paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, despite the exhaustion skeptics sometimes feel at the endlessness of that task):
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Teaching evolution through Pokemon?

by Donald Prothero on Sep 05 2012

Pokemon is full of interesting “evolving” sequences of form, some of which resemble normal ontogeny of metamorphosing insects

The dogs days of summer were finally ending, and I was glad. The heat waves that have fried the U.S. all summer long were still hanging on in late August. The kids were trapped inside the house in the air conditioning, since there’s no way to play outside in the 105-degree heat, humidity, and smog, and even running an errand is unpleasant and potentially dangerous when the car is 140 degrees inside after you open it. Besides, there’s no place to go for them to get exercise in the air conditioning: they’ve outgrown McDonalds play lands, and I don’t want to spend money in a mall or in those overpriced indoor entertainment complexes. The boys had a few days left before school starts, and then they resume  a regular healthy routine, and they’re occupied again. In the meantime, they lounged around the house in their pajamas till afternoon, with the TV blaring Cartoon Network non-stop while they play with and build their Legos. Any time we suggested an activity for them, they may engage for a while, then it’s back to goofing off. It’s summer, they’re kids, and they have no obligations. We already did the family trip to Colorado for my field work, and had our planned activities back in June and July.  And I was counting the days until they were back in school and on a healthier routine.

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The Long Road

by Daniel Loxton on Sep 04 2012

On the road in Alberta, Canada.

Howdy, folks! It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been buckled down hard under deadlines for my next two books (the followup to my children’s paleofiction book Ankylosaur Attack; and my hefty skeptical tome with Skepticblog’s own Don Prothero, Abominable Science). But now that I have the chance, I thought I might stop in with a few personal thoughts before jumping back in with more new posts. (continue reading…)


Do Ghosts Exist?

by Brian Dunning on Aug 30 2012

Ignorance and Want from A Christmas Carol, John Leech, 1843. Public domain image.

Since so many of my acquaintances know me as “that skeptic guy”, it’s not rare for one of them to challenge me with an experience they had, often reporting something like a ghost experience and saying “Disprove THAT, Mr. Skeptic.”

Of course, this completely misrepresents what I do, and where the process of skeptical science leads us. I’m far less qualified than my friend to prove or disprove his ghost experience; I wasn’t even there. In fact I’m always a little disappointed to find that my friends think I’m obsessively out to tell people that they’re wrong. If there is one thing that obsesses me, it’s the challenge of finding solutions to interesting mysteries — and telling people that they’re wrong is not relevant to that process. Proving alternate explanations wrong is collateral damage when a mystery is eventually solved, but it’s never the goal. (continue reading…)


The republican brain on science

by Donald Prothero on Aug 29 2012

A Review of The Republican Brain: The Science of Why they Deny Science—and Reality by Chris Mooney, John Wiley, New York, 327 pages.

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

—Stephen Colbert


Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

—Isaac Asimov


You can’t convince of believer of anything, for their belief is not based on evidence but on a deep-seated need to believe.

—Carl Sagan


Hearing the speakers at the GOP convention spout their ideas this week, I’m again reminded that an entire American political party is proudly and openly espousing views that are demonstrably contrary to reality, from claiming that rape does not cause pregnancy, to claiming that global climate change is a hoax, to even weirder idea, like the bizarre notion that the President of the United States is a Kenyan Muslim. For years, I’ve puzzled over why people can believe such weird things as creationism or other kinds of pseudoscience and science denials. In my 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, I devoted an entire chapter to asking why creationists can so confidently believe patently false ideas, and refuse to look at any evidence placed in front of them. I’ve compared it to Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass, where Alice steps through the mirror and finds that the objects and the landscape look vaguely familiar—but all the rules of logic are reversed or turned inside out. How can people continue to believe things that are clearly wrong, and refuse to change their ideas or look at evidence? (continue reading…)


Mystery UFO Photo

by Michael Shermer on Aug 28 2012

I thought I would share with you an email and photographs submitted to me by a gentleman named Marc Richard. Instead of telling you what I think it is, I’d like to hear from you what you think is the best explanation. Submit your best guess in the comments section below.

Hello, I’m not sure where to send these, or if your even looking for this kind of thing, couldn’t find a submissions page on the site. I have eight photos, I’ll send you two, if your interested I’d be happy to send the rest. Here’s what I wrote about the photos at the time I took them:

“On Oct, 19, 2009 at around 6:30pm, I was working on the 18th floor of my apartment building in downtown Detroit, when I noticed something floating around the two smoke stacks on the power plant near my place. It seemed to be hovering directly through the smoke of the stacks, and then around the two stacks, in between the two stacks, and then it would float a few blocks away and then back to the stacks. At this point I had been watching this thing for about 8 minutes or so when I ran to grab my camera and returned with my girlfriend and my brother in law. So I snapped off these pics which I can’t explain. It seems to be pretty small (about the size of one of those little smart cars?) I sent these photos to UFOs Northwest shortly after taking them. They’re still up on that site, nobody seems to have an explanation for them. If you have any questions I’d be happy to try and answer them.” (continue reading…)


Looking Back at TWA Flight 800

by Steven Novella on Aug 27 2012

On July 17, 1996 TWA flight 800 took off from JFK airport on its way to Paris. Fifteen minutes into its flight, shortly after climbing to about 13,000 feet, the jet exploded in mid air. The nose of the jet fell off into the Atlantic while the rest continued to fly, erratically while on fire and spewing smoke, until 42 seconds later when there was a second explosion. The right wing and the rest of the fuselage separated and descended as two separate streams of burning debris until they hit the surface of the water 7 seconds later. All 230 people aboard lost their lives.

Sixteen years later there are still those who believe that TWA flight 800 was shot down by a missile. This is despite the fact that the largest and most expensive investigation in history into the crash of a commercial airliner came to a very different conclusion. I had the opportunity this past week to speak to six different eyewitnesses of this tragedy, some of whom firmly believe a missile took down the jet, while others are unsure. The incident remains a classic historical case demonstrating the fallibility of perception and eyewitness accounts.

The Official Version of Events

The NTSB, FBI, FAA, CIA, and even NASA were involved in the investigation of the explosion of flight 800. At first everyone assumed it was a bomb. Jets don’t just spontaneously explode in mid-air. Then eyewitness accounts of a missile strike starting coming in and that became a viable theory (and that is also when the CIA became involved). The FBI interviewed 270 different eyewitnesses, mostly people on Long Island, who had an excellent view of the entire episode from the beach or further inland. There were also eyewitnesses on boats, surfing, and even aboard other airplanes.

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Coast to Coasting

by Mark Edward on Aug 25 2012

Against my better intuitive judgement, I went on the highly popular “Coast to Coast AM” radio show to talk about “Psychic Blues” last night. It was an eye opening experience for everyone, not the least of which was me. I knew I was trending head first into the lion’s den by going this route, but without taking some chances, life can become quickly predictable – in a common sense way that is. (continue reading…)


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