Monday, July 19, 2010

The Token Skeptic, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Righteous Indignation

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe was a live recorded show from TAM 8.  Actually, it was two separate live sessions edited into one episode.  All the Rogues were present and since there were no pesky Icelandic volcanoes with unpronounceable names erupting even Rebecca was able to make it.  This episode was purely to discuss topics in the news and answer questions.  No interview was performed in front of the audience.  

The Rogues have live shows down cold.  There were no sound issues.  Everyone seemed confortable in front of the crowd, and Dr. Novella worked the room well into the show.  At this point, there is almost nothing special about a live SGU other than the fact that I am extremely jealous that Karl was in the audience and I was in Virginia drinking wine at the time, or more likely driving down to Virginia looking forward to wine drinking.

The Rogues discussed the alleged Roswell incident, a 1962 atom bomb test in space, the panoramic Planck image of the universe, how we really do not know how to get from chubby to skinny as an entire society, gravitons and black holes, and how all the investigations into "climategate" are really not turning much stuff up to question the scientific global warming consensus.   

I find interesting the "Pepsi-gate" story where SEED magazine - owner of the Science blogs site - for a brief time took money from PepsiCo in exchange for a blog called "Food Frontiers."  Basically, Pepsi was paying for a tricky advertising blog.  The science blogosphere went nuts and after a few days SEED backed out of the deal.  The interesting thing is how corporate America is trying to sneak into the halls of science thought but not do it in the obvious banner ad method.  I hate the idea, but realistically it is likely bound to occur someday no matter what.  A blog has to take in money, and bandwidth does not grow on trees, and I sure am not willing to pay a subscription fee to read what I enjoying reading for free on Pharyngula by Prof. P.Z. Myers.  Yet, I hope to have my cake and eat it too as long as possible.  It reminds me of some of the latest ads certain automotive companies are placing in Motor Trend (I am sure other car magazines too) where it takes a minute of reading about the out and out wonder of the new Chevrolet Equinox to realize that this is not an article but a crummy commercial.  Sonuvabitch.  

Evan gave an interesting account of calling into a radio talk show where attorney turned woo-meister had a radio show about energy vampires.  No, I do not mean when you have your computer or dishwasher plugged in all day and it still is drawing a bit of current.  I mean people who suck your energy out and leave one weak and listless.  Clips were played by the Rogues and it was hilarious.   Also  of interest was an audience question on what the New England Skeptical Society does these days, and the short answer is the podcast (which has got to be quite demanding) and some investigations from time to time.  What I want to know is if they are still investigating why aren't they discussing them more on the show?  It would be quite interesting, I should think.  

There you have it.  The Rogues in Las Vegas and this year nobody was married.  

On the Token Skeptic, Kylie Sturgess interviews Christopher Chabris and Prof Daniel Simons, the duo who brought you the infamous video of people in white shirts passing around a basketball causing the viewer concentrating on them to miss a person in a gorilla suit walking through the shot.  Chabris and Simons are plugging their book "The Invisible Gorilla and other ways our intuition deceives us."  (The book can be ordered from Embiggen Books, Amazon, and it is available for your reading pleasure on your Kindle or Kindle application for your iPad.)  I have to be frank with the reader.  These type of interviews depress the heck out me.  Basically, we really do not see or notice everything that is important even though we all seem to think we do.  I have evidence of this when making a right onto Chocolate Avenue when a dark gray car comes up from my left.  More times than I care to admit I do not see the car until it is nearly too late, and frankly someday we may see how protective my Saturn is to a left sided impact.  It is not that it is not useful information to know, but I just like the idea that I know what is in my environment.  

The most interesting thing to me is that a criminal defense attorney tried to use the invisible gorilla video in a trial.  This was done in New Zealand, a fellow common law country, but I cannot fathom a judge in the States (at least not in Pennsylvania) letting such a video in for a jury to view.  The relevance would destroy it and the Frye motions would fly.  

The interview also discusses just how crummy peoples' memories are truly about advents, and how we are terrible at rationally thinking through correlation with causality.  For some reason, these topics bother me much less, so I suppose that is a bright side.  Anyway, I did not suffer an emotional breakdown listening to the episode while walking Ike.  Sturgess as always is prepared and offers a nicely paced interview.  

Meanwhile, in merry old England the Indignates - Trystan, Marsh, and Hayley of Righteous Indignation - interviewed Ash Price and Keir Liddle to discuss "Skeptics on the Fringe" and the events they will be holding during what sounded like an annual Edinburgh Scotland festival.  The festival is a general festival for the entire city, but they plan to have daily events including a live recording of Righteous Indignation. So I thought hum-m-m would it not be smashing if Lady and I hopped a trans-Atlantic flight from Harrisburg to Edinburgh to catch the Indignates in action.  I've never been to England other than Heathrow.  It would be something to lord over Karl, Mr. I-went-to-TAM8-so-I-am-so-cool, that I met Hayley Stevens.  Well, sadly the economics of two tickets to Edinburg and three nights stay (according to popular travel website Expedia) works out to be at least $3,000US plus.   The notion of spending all my eating money for the autumn of 2010 is less appealing than a few days in Scotland.  I could use the weight loss, but the notion of sneaking some of the pets' kibble is a low I do not wish to reach.  Sadly, no trip to Edinburgh is in the offing.  (If the Indignates want to do a show in Hershey, I'll put them up. We have chocolate!)

Anyway, the Indignates discussed pyramid power to stop traffic accidents, how "Der Spiegel" the German version of "Time Magazine" has an article taking apart homeopathy, and the Icarus Sect is vowing to take over the world.  My favorite part of the show was the Indignates discussing the fliers and website of "The Magnetic Zone" magnetic therapy bracelets.  The bracelets are so powerful that they can cure even a man's menstrual problems.  There are links to the sad website and even sadder fliers.  It smacks to me of a desperate conman, but it could be believer who is a poor marketer.  

I enjoyed gang's take down of the magnetic bracelet device and Marsh's take on the pyramid road safety cones or items a great deal.  I am sad that I will have missed the opportunity now to not only miss the SGU in Las Vegas but RI in Scotland.  

On Religion:

It seems one of the hot topics within skeptical cirlces is whether religion and skepticism mix, or put another way in my mind is do non-believing skeptics make religious skeptics sit at the back of the bus. This horse as of late has been well beaten, and then beat some more. This is not a topic that is going to go away anytime soon. So while I have a blog, why not join in the equine whooping. 

I come at this topic with individual bias which I am not sure how common it is with most skeptics, but I will lay it out. As an example, Prof. P.Z. Myers and Christopher Hitchens, two people I admire (particularly Hitch) appear to me to relish in their lack of belief in 'god' due to the lack of evidence for a god or some similar overarching intelligence. I am not such a person. To a certain degree I am envious of those who have faith. It does seem comforting to me for one to truly believe something or the other exists after we expel our terminal breath.  Death is not the end.  --I lack such a belief. 

I must admit the more vague the notion of a deity/god(s)/supreme intelligence the more sympathy I have for the position. Clearly, for myself, the more specific the religion the harder time I have understanding the reconciliation of a rational/scientific/skeptical world view and religious faith.  Therefore, I understand Hal Bidlack's diest beliefs more than I understand Dr. Pamela Gay's christian faith. I suppose it is because the more specific and interventional the faith is, the more ways there are to knock down the ideas.  For me a Young Earth Creationist, or a Creationist at all, and a science/rational world view is more cognitive dissonance that I can swallow and understand. Yet, I do understand to a degree how Dr. Gay can on the one hand have a rigorous rational mind when dealing with the natural world, and also believe that Jesus did what he is alleged to have done and taught in a not always literal way. It does not work for me, but I am happy for those who are like Dr. Gay.* 

I see no good evidence for anything other than what is in the natural world. I doubt I ever will. I like thinking of Mammy (my late beloved grandmother) hanging out with Pop-pop, and a lot of other  deceased people who used to be around the Thanksgiving, in heaven. I am also aware it is exceedingly unlikely. I find it difficult for those who struggle for a more rational based natural world, but also have some "irrational" based faith, to be viewed as anything other than fellow skeptics. Let anyone have a chance to sit next to the bus driver. 

There are no bright lines for me and a lot of gray. I am personally okay with it. 

*In case I have misconstrued Dr. Gay's or Mr. Bidlack's beliefs in any manner I apologize in advance.

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