What do skeptics believe, anyway? Take our survey!

2 September 2009 by

Many skeptics I have known have their own ideas about what skepticism is, and what being a skeptic is all about. In an effort to better understand the skeptical community, I’ve designed this questionnaire to get a sense of some of the attitudes and beliefs amongst skeptics. Please take a moment to complete this questionnaire; the link will remain open until September 11th. Be sure to look out for my report of the results the following week.

Take the Survey

Science fair project takes on major corporate claims

1 September 2009 by

In 2004, two 14 year old girls in a New Zealand secondary school conducted an interesting science project. They wanted to test their favorite drinks for vitamin C content. Using a simple iodine titration technique, when they tested the blackcurrant drink Ribena, the girls stumbled across some surprising results. The Ribena brand has been a staple of the UK market since the 1930’s, but despite the advertising claim that “the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges,” the girls found almost no vitamin C content in the fruit drink, in fact, it appeared that Ribena had far less vitamin C than almost every other product they tested.

The girls then sent a letter to the makers of Ribena, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), about their findings, then an email, finally a phone call. The girls received little response from the corporate giant:

“They didn’t even really answer our questions. They just said it’s the blackcurrants that have it, then they hung up,” Jenny said. Read the rest of this entry »

Science + Courtrooms = Bad Science

31 August 2009 by

There’s an article in the LA Times from last week all about how the US Chamber of Commerce wants a trial about Global Warming. What’s really weird about it is that they’re calling it “The Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century,” and the thing about that is… the Scopes monkey trial is the perfect example for why this shouldn’t be in a courtroom.

John T. Scopes, circa 1925, unpublished photograph donated to the Smithsonian Institute

John T. Scopes, circa 1925, unpublished photograph donated to the Smithsonian Institute

The first weird thing about the Scopes references is that they’re being made by the members of the Chamber of Commerce. They’re trying to imply that they are the Scopes of this trial, and that the EPA is in the role of William Jennings Bryan. Well… no. To begin with, Scopes was the defendant, and not the prosecution. By going after the EPA, the Chamber of Commerce has clearly placed itself in the role of aggressor. Secondly, and more importantly, like Bryan, it is the Chamber of Commerce who are going against established science. In fact, the metaphor sort of makes perfect sense when you realize that it’s the US Chamber of Commerce that’s playing Bryan in this third adaptation of “Inherit the Wind”. Read the rest of this entry »

Flash Friday – August 28

29 August 2009 by
  • The Village Voice covers Paul Grosswald’s recent NYC Skeptics Public Lecture on “Cults & Coercion”
  • Professor Richard Wiseman will be at NECSS! Professor Wiseman will join the “Why is it so tough to be a skeptic?” panel and be the special guest on the live Skeptics Guide to the Universe taping.
  • The NECSS schedule has been released, and can be viewed here.
  • We have a limited number of NECSS tickets still available for purchase at nycskeptics.org (no fees!). To ensure delivery before September 12, these tickets will only be available for sale at at nycskeptics.org through August 31 (or while our supplies last). At that point all remaining tickets must be purchased through Ticketmaster or the French Institute box office.

Skepticism starts at home

27 August 2009 by

In “What Do I Do Next?” a list of 105 ways to become an active skeptic , editor Daniel Loxton and his colleagues discuss personal relationships at length.  Karen Stollznow, editor of The Skeptic magazine reminds us that:

We are always representatives for skepticism, and should always be ready to discuss a skeptical perspective, where appropriate, with our children, family, friends, colleagues and strangers. This isn’t proselytizing; this is promoting science, education, logic, and healthy skepticism.

This is a tall order. Being put on the spot, potentially about topics you are not well versed in, can be difficult. I would add to the litany detailed in “What Do I Do Next?” that skepticism starts at home, and it is likely that your family is a good place to start discussing the consequences and reality of pseudoscience. They might get a little pissed off, but unlikely to hold a grudge. Read the rest of this entry »

Sightings

27 August 2009 by

Over the last week or so, Nessie was caught via satellite footage and a mermaid was sighted in Israel. Atheists appeared at the Creation “Museum,” and the HuffPo wrote about pseudoscience without supporting it. This mish-mash of contradictions and coincidences can only mean one thing, our world is characterized by a series of stochastic events. Or wait… does it mean that the apocalypse is coming? I always get those two mixed up.

Pausing for reflection

26 August 2009 by

So, Gotham Skeptic has been chugging along for a few weeks now. I wanted to take a moment today and put out a call for feedback. The purpose of the blog was to provide a forum to explore topics that are important to NYC skeptics. And now that our contributors have spent a few weeks cutting their teeth on topics they have some experience with, we want to hear from you out there in internet-land. What topics would you like further explored? What are the burning questions that New Yorkers are skeptical about (or are unsure whether or not to be skeptical about)?

I will be at Drinking Skeptically this evening, and am eager to hear from you! Drinking Skeptically is held at the Four Faced Liar, in the West Village on 165 W 4th St. 8pm until whenever.

In addition to topic feedback, let me know if there is a particular niche in which you have some expertise. We would like to welcome guest bloggers with knowledge they would like to share with our growing number of readers.

In the near future, we will be giving the blog a facelift, and enhancing some features. If you have particular preferences when reading blogs, let me know those too. And if anyone has experience with CSS editing and wants to do some consultation I’ll buy you a beverage!

Thanks, and hope to hear from you!

WWCDD

25 August 2009 by
A Venerable Orang-outang, a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine

"A Venerable Orang-outang", a caricature of Charles Darwin published in The Hornet, 1871

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-authors of “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future,” wrote an op-ed piece for the Guardian yesterday rehashing their views on the tumultuous relationship between science and religion. Their points have all been made before… and have all been criticized before, e.g. But in this piece, they wrapped up their discussion of how the rift between science and religion might be assessed and resolved by asking the question: What would Charles Darwin do (WWCDD)? Read the rest of this entry »

The Poles in the Big Tent

24 August 2009 by

George Hrab began his last episode of the Geologic Podcast with an approximately 9 minute long statement of frustration about the response he’d gotten to his previous week’s “Religious Moron of the Week.” What struck me as odd was the moment when George read one of the e-mails that said that because he wasn’t libertarian enough, that meant he wasn’t a good part of the skeptical movement. Now, first off, I’ve heard George do segments where he just talked for about 15 minutes over his amazement at the abilities of his local fire department, and actually ended the bit with pretty much telling free market people to suck it. So what podcast have those people been listening too? But what’s more than that, when the hell did skepticism become synonymous with libertarianism?

Read the rest of this entry »

Cults, religion, and the spectrum of social manipulation

21 August 2009 by

Photo by swthmal08 via Photobucket

Last Saturday, the New York City Skeptics hosted a lecture called, Cults and Coercion: How Ordinary People are Turned into Extraordinary Fanatics at the New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Branch. The lecturer was Paul Grosswald, a former Scientologist who left the infamous cult 20 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »