Blasphemy Day 2011 is here!

September 29, 2011
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Elevatorgate and Rebecca Watson haters

September 29, 2011
Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

I’m pretty sure that I managed to completely ignore the so-called “Elevatorgate” controversy that’s been brewing for months until now. I still don’t know why it’s called Elevatorgate, given that whichever hotel the inciting incident occurred in, it definitely was not named The Elevatorgate Hotel. (Ya see, folks, the Watergate Conspiracy was only called that because the hotel was called Watergate, not because the suffix “gate” means conspiracy or controversy).

Anywho, I’ve tried to avoid the topic because it seemed to be a complete distraction from the core mission of skeptics and rationalists that only served to divide us. But with the recent posts by Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers, I’ve decided to briefly break my silence.

First, let be begin by saying that this shit’s got to end already.

Second, as demonstrated by Rebecca’s post above as well as various websites I’ve seen, some people in our community who didn’t like what Rebecca had to say have fucking lost their minds and have gone so far over the line that they can’t even see the line anymore. Some of the behavior I’ve seen is disgraceful and all the more disturbing given that it’s coming from inside the skeptical community.

Third, not to be one-sided, I’ve also seen some people completely overreact to Richard Dawkins’ rather idiotic  response to Rebecca by basically writing him off entirely as some kind of misogynist. That, I think, is also unreasonable.

Now it might be that both Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins made some mistakes. Though I think Dawkins’ mistakes are far worse than any Rebecca may have made. I also think Dawkins made another mistake by remaining silent on the issue. If it were me who had said something that stupid and I saw the enormous controversy that it sparked, I’d feel obligated to open the doors to communication and try to turn this ugly incident into a teaching moment. I’d also apologize. I don’t know what motivated Dawkins’ response, whether he was just having a bad week and vented his frustrations on the wrong person or if he didn’t fully understand the nature of what Rebecca was saying. But whatever it was, it’s certainly beneath him. And while he has remained silent, the wound has only festered and diminished his reputation among many people.

It seems to me that Dawkins breaking his silence to have a civil conversation with Rebecca, explaining his behavior would be the best thing for everyone since some people feel they needed to pick sides. The anti-Dawkins crowd could start to forgive him and the vitriolic anti-Rebecca crowd might feel less of a need to defend Dawkins’ honor or whatever.

Dawkins screwed up, plain and simple. But he’s not a misogynist and he’s still a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism. Likewise, Rebecca Watson may not have effectively conveyed her message earlier on, causing some to think she was saying something far more unreasonable than she really was, but she too is a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism.

So let’s cut the crap and get back to what unites us rather than waste our time on petty feuds and unproductive internet drama.

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Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’ condemns anti-vaccine internet conspiracy theorists

September 20, 2011
Actor Jude Law at the 2007 Toronto Internation...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been meaning to write about the recently released Soderbergh film, “Contagion” for about a week now. The film is quite good though it certainly has it’s flaws, such as a scene where a man with an infected disease is told by an infectious disease expert to get off a bus immediately instead of insisting neither he nor anyone else get off the bus so it could be quarantined or various scenes where the same expert needs to teach the Minnesota Center for Disease Control the most basic information about their job.

But otherwise, the film mostly proved to be a strong film that was both pro-science and uncompromisingly anti-pseudoscience with Jude Law playing an amalgam of anti-vaccine cranks that are quite familiar. It’s the panic and hysteria Law’s character helps create which gives the film it’s title far more than the actual disease itself. In an interview, Law said that he read a lot of crank sites and built his performance around numerous figures, opting not to name any names. Of course, I know their names. I’ve been in the same room with several of them. Law seems to be channeling Mike Adams, Joseph Mercola, Andrew Wakefield, and Dan Olmsted, among several others. Law’s character is the closest the film has to a real villain.

I hope more people will go out and see this film. Rarely do such strong skeptical films where science is the hero get made in Hollywood.

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10 years later, the ‘Truthers’ are still spinning their wheels

September 12, 2011
Cropped screenshot of Edward G. Robinson from ...

Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity

I take 9/11 very seriously. Just just because I was thirty blocks away from Ground Zero that day but also because, like other New Yorkers, I literally smelled 9/11  and inhaled 9/11 every single day for many months following that fateful day, something the media almost never mentions.

That day certainly changed us all. It was one of several important events of the first decade of the 21st century that inspired the “New Atheist” movement if you can call it that. And it certainly contributed to my desire to become an atheist activist.

What I’m saying here is 9/11 is a big fuckin’ deal to me. So you’ll have to understand that it really ticks me off when I hear a bunch of ideological, denialist assholes perpetuate lies about what really happened that day…long after the claims they make have been thoroughly discredited.

So for some time now I’ve been compiling some of the best 9/11 denialist debunking resources on the web, which includes such great articles as this one, and this one, and this one, among many others.

Yet sadly, no matter how much they’re shown to be wrong, it seems these pests won’t go away, as this recent appalling comic book from Image Comics proves. It seems I even have Facebook friends who are still true believers that it was all just a big conspiracy. For instance, just today one had the audacity to post the following message on her Facebook wall:

“Silverstein Properties made billions from the insurance policies he set up on the WTC complex just a few weeks before 9/11. He specifically took out insurance policies to cover terrorist attacks, then a few weeks later 9/11 happened. What are the odds on that?”

First, I tried to explain to her that the exact odds was 100% since, ya know, it happened. What are the odds that the American Civil War would happen? 100%. In hindsight, everything that has happened already has a 100% likelihood of happening given all the same causal conditions. At this point, I was actually shocked she didn’t end her comment with the conspiracy theorists’ famous catch phrase , “Coincidence?” Of course, as with the quoted comment above, it describes the very definition of the word coincidence.

But then I thought about a particular problem with this common argument by 9/11 deniers that rarely gets mentioned. I was reminded of the brilliant film, Double Indemnity, in particular, the Edward G. Robinson character. I’m  not going to get into the plot of the film. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to Netflix it as it’s one of the greatest films of all time. I will say though that it’s about an insurance scheme/perfect(?) murder plot. The main character is himself an insurance salesman. Robinson plays his boss, a brilliant mind who can sniff out an insurance scam a mile away and send the scammers packing.

By now you might see where I’m going with this. Believe it or not, but insurance companies, like everyone else, don’t like to give away their money. In fact, they’d much rather not have to, especially when there’s strong suspicion of foul play. If you paid any attention to the long political debate over public healthcare or have even seen Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” (regardless of how honest or manipulative you find that particular film), you should know that health insurance companies have all sorts of crazy excuses they will invent to justify keeping their money from even the very sick or injured. In fact, they have employees whose entire job is to literally find reasons to disqualify medical patients from receiving their benefits. Until recently, one of those excuses was the infamous “pre-existing condition.”

So to summarize, insurance companies aren’t easily parted from their money. Yet for some reason, 9/11 deniers would have us believe there are no Edward G. Robinsons working at Larry Silverman’s insurance company. Apparently, despite the claims of obvious gaps in “the official story” and Silverman’s allegedly amazingly suspicious coincidence in Silverman buying new insurance policies only weeks prior to 9/11 that led him to make “billions” of dollars, the insurance company, the very people who would have the most incentive to expose such an insurance scam, didn’t notice anything suspicious at all and handed over all that money. Boy, a whole lot of people must have been asleep at the switch on that one, huh?

So I pointed this out in a comment and got two responses from another 9/11 denier that I just have to share:

silverman didn’t plan the event. he was just following orders.

And:

the insurance companies will do what the government tells them they will do, just like all the rest of us.

So even though Silverman is the one who allegedly most profited off this, it wasn’t anything he particularly wanted; he was just doing what he was told and apparently didn’t care one way or the other whether this allegedly insurance fraud made him a billionaire. Yeah, okay. And how that addresses my points, I have no idea.

But it’s that second comment that is just priceless, isn’t it? So now the insurance companies will happily give away billions of dollars because they just do whatever the government tells them. So now the conspiracy’s been expanded yet again, beyond just the entire government on all sides of the aisle, the media, the employees at the World Trade Center, and tons of demolitions experts, engineers, airport personnel, firefighters, arson experts, police, and military personnel. Now it’s also the very insurance company that had most to lose, the very people who would have the most to gain from exposing the “big lie.”

This is exactly the sort of non-answer that leads people to not take 9/11 deniers seriously. With asinine statements like that, you can make up any story you want. Maybe the government’s working with the space aliens who did it but millions of completely amoral people are just doing whatever the government says despite the long history of whistleblowers exposing government scandals in countless other cases. Or maybe the government’s working with the mole people. When you have to conjure up millions of people with absolutely no sense of compassion, remorse, or human feeling of any kind to dodge the giant plot holes in your ideology, it’s not a good sign.
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Marie Claire vs. the psychics

September 11, 2011

I know I’ve been gone awhile. I’ve been a bit busy lately, but I hope to be back to posting more regularly soon.

In the meantime though, I just wanted to highlight an recent article a friend pointed me to in Marie Claire magazine of all places, entitled, “Are Psychics the New Dating Gurus?

The article is surprisingly pretty considering the source. The author managed to do a better reporting job than most mainstream news media when discussing alleged “psychics” by not providing false balance by extensively quoting “psychic” defending their claims against critics. Instead, the writer doesn’t make much of an attempt to editorialize about psychic claims in the broader sense and just points to how wrong many specific predictions are and how they tend to always closely resemble vague and obvious guesses about the wishful thinking of whoever is receiving the reading. For instance, a remarkable number of customers are told they’ll meet their soul-mate within a short period of time after receiving the reading.

The article also mentions how women are disproportionally much more likely to believe those selling psychic services. This is why I’m particularly glad to see such a strong skeptical piece in a magazine like Marie Claire with a readership that’s almost exclusively women. This isn’t just some sensational TV special that will only attract viewers interested in seeing an investigation into psychics but a publication where women will see this skeptical article with its sensational title without having to go out of their way.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 8.31.11

September 1, 2011

The pale blue dot--that's home. That's us.

1. Earth:  home to 8.7 million species – At least that’s the latest estimate. Two of each of them fit on Noah’s Ark. And if you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

2. Sam Harris corrects David Eagleman about atheism – I was unfamiliar with the term, “possibilianism,” but I certainly recognize the position. Eagleman thinks he’s found a position in between atheism and theism; he’s wrong. As Sam Harris says, what he describes is by any other name…atheism.

3. Bill Nye teaches climate science to Fox Business’ Charles Payne   – Bill demonstrates in this clip what a superb science communicator he is. He manages to hold court and deliver a fairly lengthy speech without even once being interrupted by a Fox pundit. It’s remarkable! Even better, when Payne tries to move the dialogue away from the science towards a personal attack on Al Gore, Bill brilliantly takes a moment to first repeat his key message, that global warming is an indisputable fact,  before giving a perfect political response that manages to neither “defend” Gore, who denialists like to pretend personally invented the “myth of global warming” nor falling into the trap of saying something that might be later taken out of context to portray Gore as some wacky alarmist. It’s a perfect performance and a solid win for science communication. That’s why we call him “The Science Guy.”

4. An atheist billboard rejected in Nashville – So what was so shocking that it was too hot for Nashville?

“You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live.”

How dare those mean, ol’ nasty Gnu Atheists!

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