Thursday, April 14, 2016

Monster Talk: Skepticism Primer

The latest Monster Talk podcast is an unusual episode.  Instead of focusing the discussion on a particular monster or cryptid, the episode was a primer on scientific skepticism.  To discuss the basics of Skepticism, hosts Blake Smith and Karen Stollznow had the Grand Poo Bah of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast Dr. Steven Novella as the guest.  As one might expect Dr. Novella has his skepticism down pat.

Stollznow & Novella (wiki)
 A few interesting takeaways was the tone of the episode felt a bit late night phony infomercial at points.  Karen would ask a softball pre-packaged sounding question that Dr. Novella would just have a spot-on answer.  Now, as someone who has heard a number of Dr. Novella interviews and knowing the background depth of knowledge of Stollznow and Smith, I suspect Dr. Novella would be able answer certain questions in his sleep.  However, the feel of the exchanges might seem suspicious to one not already steeped in Skepticism.  Clearly, it did not end in a pitch to sell the listener for three easy payments of $19.99 one’s very own Baloney Detection Kit if you act right now! But still, it seemed too pat.

The episode was tinged with a bit of world weariness.  I cannot help but ponder that had this episode come out in 2010 it would have been more upbeat.  It was not a dirge, but Smith shared that he has learned not to get into arguments on questionable claims on social media.  Dr. Novella shared how he hopes that rational-minded people might rise above human group dynamics, but this has been shown to clearly not be the case.  The schisms within the skeptical community clearly show just how very human skeptics are in practice.

Against this backdrop were some interesting tidbits and reminders.  A positive is that the skeptical community is much larger today than before the advent of modern social media and internet services.  There was a good discussion on the proper use and misuse of logical fallacies, and what is the difference between a skeptic and cynic.  Pointed out is how skepticism and science interact as well as skepticism and intellectualism.

Overall, I found it an interesting and worthy listen that might be of some interest and use for friends who are on the skeptical fence to give a listen, or as just a nice reminder to ponder one’s own skepticism.  It is nearly worth the listen to hear Dr. Novella give the rationale (believe me, it is well thought out) for his favorite monster that is asked of every guest at the completion of their interview.  It really is a window into how Dr. Novella's mind ticks.  This episode was entitled Skepticism 101.  I would not mind a Skepticism 102 some point down the line either with Dr. Novella or some other solid skeptic such as Sharon Hill, Robert Blaskowicz, or Dr. Stuart Robbins for a slightly different take.

On another topic, Dr. Robbins recently put out a brief podcast that given all of his time being taken up by doing actual science he will likely not resume regular production of his excellent Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast until later this summer.  While this is a bit disappointing, it is good to know that Dr. Robbins has not abandoned his podcast.

Also, Karl Mamer is back with a brand new Conspiracy Skeptic podcast with guest Dr. David D. Perlmutter who is a Dean at the College of Media and Communications at Texas Tech University.  He and Karl engage in a discussion of how images are used to portray and mis-portray history with reflection on how this influences politics and then informs the public's worldview.  Unfortunately, Karl has not be keeping up with his website, so just search for the episode on iTunes or your podcast app of choice.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reflections on The Amazing Meeting and Skeptoid tackles a {future} Saint

Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid Podcast, which I listen to like clockwork on my drive home from work every Tuesday, recently posted a piece on the Skeptoid blog regarding the ceasing of The Amazing Meeting.  I also read a couple posts recently on social media positing if CSICON or NECSS could be the successor to T.A.M. as the premier skeptical conference.  One post wondered if the spirit of TAM could be repeated at one of them.  I nearly posted a comment on Dunning’s piece, but my thoughts are a bit too much for a comment.

We were only lucky enough to attend one T.A.M.  This was T.A.M. 2014.  The final one held at the South Point Hotel Casino Spa, and the second to last T.A.M. to be held.  After attending in 2014, I posted two pieces on my attendance.  My thought in authoring them was for the two posts to be read by people thinking of attending a T.A.M. to help in making a decision.  One post focused on the location and the logistics of attending the meeting, and the other post gave my thoughts on the event itself.  Little did I know my posts intended target were never to be materially useful ever.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bag of History

Damn it! Dan Brown & Nostradomus made it
to this shelf of history. (skepreview) 
I always am heartened when I stumble upon solid skeptical thinking and advice on not explicitly skeptical media.  I have been listening to The Modern Scholar series entitled Medieval Mysteries: The History Behind the Myths of the Middle Ages by Professor Thomas F. Madden.  I have listened to a rather large number of Prof. Madden's lectures.  In part, because he pretty much represents the guy I wanted to be when I was earning my B.A. in History at Gettysburg College.  Except instead of lecturing on the Crusades and The Byzantine Empire, I would be lecturing on the War of the Rebellion or San Juan Hill.  Anyway, he's a dynamite lecturer.  I hold him in high regard.  He has a really entertaining style.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Skeptic's Hangover

It was a good idea at the time. (skepreview) 
Now that the initial hubbub over Professor Richard Dawkins removal as speaker at the upcoming NECSS conference has died down, I have that same feeling I get after any intra-skeptical argument, and to some extent any extended disagreement I have been involved in or observed.  It's a hangover.   Like most hangovers, I am left wondering was all the vitriol and clambering worth it?  Has anything been accomplished?  Has anything been learned? The last tequila was not 100% agave so why did I drink it?  

I cannot say I agree with the decision of the NECSS board of directors to cut Dawkins.  On the other hand, I would not bet the farm that if I had been on the board I would not have done the same thing.  Whether I would look back at the decision and decide it had been a mistake would be speculation upon speculation.  I have read a lot of speculation on what was motivating the board as a whole to make their decision.  Even with some insights gained by the carefully worded response by Dr. Steven Novella on the NECSS board's decision, there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Exercising charity, I realize that I have made plenty of errors in my professional career only to look back at the aftermath of those decisions and thought "drat" that was the wrong choice.  Maybe the board feels this way, overall maybe they do not.  I cannot fathom them backtracking either, and on that I cannot really blame them.