Archive for the ‘Amazing Meeting’ Category

Bill Nye Takes Flack Over Creationism Comments

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

As you may have heard, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” has been called a lot of nasty names and made the subject of a great deal of controversy after stating that creationism does not belong in US classrooms and that science should include teaching of the fact of evolution.

Here’s a video of Nye on a recent television newscast. It shows part of the original video and his explanation for the comments:

I’ve had the chance to meet Bill Nye and order a hamburger with him, and I can say, at least in my experience, he’s a pretty respectful and nice guy. Like all guests at The Amazing Meeting, he was only there to share his experiences and be part of the community – he was not getting paid for it. Bill Nye has been a popularizer of science and an advocate for strong science education.

He’s really not an overly confrontational type. Unlike some others who have been associated with the skeptic movement, Bill Nye never really goes out of his way to stoke the fires of controversy or get attention by making a scene. He’s usually pretty respectful. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that creationist interests have been fighting hard against good science education in the US and there’s only one side that any competent science advocate can take.

Are Bill Nye’s comments controversial? Some would think so, although it’s sad. His stance that evolution is science and creationism is not has been stated by nearly every major scientific organization in the United States. Many have used uncharacteristically strong language in their rejection of the notion of creationism or “intelligent design” in school curriculum. Not only that, but creationism can’t be taught in US public schools – at least that’s what numerous courts have ruled. Numerous school boards and even state education departments have tried to worm it in, but every time it has been brought before a competition judge, it has been shot down.

The fact that this is still controversial is just beyond me. But if you have any doubts, just search YouTube for the recent video responses to Bill Nye’s comments. They are so stupid, I won’t even dignify them with a hyperlink!

Neil deGrass Tyson Gets Titanic Stars Changed

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

This is nearly identical to the talk Neil Tyson gave about the movie Titanic and how the stars were not accurate in the sky during the final scenes of the movie at TAM last year…

A little anal? I’d say so, considering how bad science and history are generally portrayed in movies. I doubt anyone actually noticed this besides Dr. Tyson.

Whatever your side on this, I also think James Camron did have a pretty good shoot-down for Dr. Tyson.

But he did get his way…

Via Contact Music:

Cameron Changes Stars In Titanic
Moviemaker James Cameron has re-edited a scene in Titanic showing stars sparkling in the night sky – after a leading astronomer told him the astral alignment was incorrect.

The director unveiled a 3D version of his multi-Oscar winning classic last month (Mar12) and he resisted the temptation to use its reworking as an excuse to cut scenes he’s no longer happy with.

But there was one shot Cameron felt obliged to alter, because a top stargazer informed him the astral pattern onscreen was incorrect for the night the liner sank in 1912.

The scene involves Kate Winslet’s character, Rose DeWitt Bukater, drifting on a piece of wood and gazing at the night sky as the disaster unfolds.

Cameron tells British magazine Culture, “Oh, there is one shot that I fixed. It’s because Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of the U.S.’ leading astronomers, sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen, and with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in.

“So I said, ‘All right, you son of a b**ch, send me the right stars for the exact time, 4.20am on April 15, 1912, and I’ll put it in the movie.’ So that’s the one shot that has been changed.”

An Honest Liar: Upcoming Movie About James Randi

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Here’s a trailer for an upcoming documentary, which is still in the works, on the life of well known skeptic James Randi. They were actually filming this when I was at The Amazing Meeting last year.

What can I say about Randi that hasn’t already been said? He’s been a giant in the skeptic movement, and over the years he has been personally responsible for toppling many scam artists and exposing charlatans around the world. Now in his 80′s, he’s still a dynamo who is always out there advancing the cause of empirical skepticism.

I’ve disagreed with Randi on many occasions. However, he has still been one of the most important mentors I have had in becoming an activist for good science and skepticism. Randi’s most striking feature is that, despite his status, he is never too busy to provide some personal guidance or help to any aspiring skeptic. He’s easily approachable and has endless enthusiasm for helping others get involved in the cause.

There is no doubt that Mr. Randi is largely responsible for the recent explosion of skepticism and expansion of skeptical advocacy to include those who had not previously been heavily involved. For many years, one of the biggest problems with skepticism is that it has been limited primarily to older white male academics. Randi, with his charisma, showmanship and understanding of the importance of inclusion, has helped transform it into a movement which now includes more young people and a greater diversity of gender, race and background than ever before.

Information on the Explosion at The Marcoule Site

Monday, September 12th, 2011

If you have been watching the news or seen any news sites today you have likely heard about the reports of an explosion at a French nuclear facility. The explosion has repeatedly been reported to have happened at a “nuclear power station” or “nuclear plant.” This is false. Reports of fears of radiation releases are also not accurate since the explosion did not actually occurs anywhere near high level waste material or any nuclear reactor.

Background of the Marcoule Site:

The Marcoule site is a large industrial site that conducts activities related to nuclear technology and nuclear energy. It was first setup to produce and process materials for the French nuclear weapons program in the 1950′s. The last French reactors dedicated to plutonium production for weapons were shut down in the 1980′s and activities related to refining and processing weapons materials at Marcoule ceased in 1997.

Beginning in the 1970′s, the Marcoule site has shifted from weapons-related activities to nuclear energy and nuclear materials-related activities in support of the French nuclear energy program. This includes research and development of nuclear energy systems, fuel fabrication and materials processing, remediation and disposal. In 1995, a MOX fuel fabrication plant opened at Marcoule, making the site an integral part of France’s nuclear fuel reprocessing program.

Activities at the site also include such things as the remediation and recycling of low level materials from nuclear reactors, processing of medical radiological waste and the fabrication of components and materials for nuclear systems. Marcoule is the primary site in France for receiving materials from decommissioned nuclear reactors.

There are currently no active nuclear reactors on the site, although it has hosted some nuclear reactors in years past. The site has three inactive UNGG reactors, which were built starting in 1955. The last of these reactors was shut down in 1984. These reactors are gas cooled, graphite moderated reactors, similar in principle to the British Magnox reactors, though developed entirely separately. Like early Magnox reactors, the UNGG reactors did produce electricity, but were primarily built to breed weapons-grade plutonium. The site is also the home of the Phénix reactor, an experimental fast-spectrum sodium cooled reactor which was operated from 1968 until 2009. Phénix is now in cold shutdown and is expected to be fully decommissioned in the near future.

As an industrial nuclear site which now functions largely for civilian purposes, but which was originally built for weapons material, the Marcoule site may be considered analogous to the Savannah River or Hanford Site in the United States or to the Sellafield site in the UK.

Information On the Explosion:


Tonight: Primetime Nightline Featuring Psychics and the JREF

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Tonight the ABC News program Nightline Primetime will be featuring a segment called Beyond Belief: Psychic Power.

I happened to have the opportunity to go to attend the taping of a portion of this program. It’s actually a bit of a long story but they needed 12 men to participate in a psychic evaluation. I volunteered but it turned out they had more than 12 as it was (additional persons were called in case someone could not make it.) Thus I became an “alternate” and ultimately was not used for their evaluation group.

However, I still did get to hang around and help out a bit in the psychic evaluation, which was done by the James Randi Educational Foundation as part of their Million Dollar Challenge. Several self-proclaimed psychics were tested to see if they could read the test subjects accurately. I can’t actually tell you if any won the million dollars. You will have to watch to find out.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this show. Although it’s hard to tell what it will be after it is finally edited, the producers and reporters were generally very friendly to the skeptical side of the story. It’s a rarity to have skeptic organizations made a part of any media report on the paranormal and when they are, they usually are only given a chance for a token comment. In this case, skeptics were a major part of the production and the producers were extremely accommodating of the JREF’s protocol to assure the tests were valid and properly controlled.

I feel very privileged to have been a part of this production.� You *might* even see me in the background when the psychics are being lead into their interviews.� I don’t know if the footage with me in the background is actually going to be used.

The show will be airing at 10 PM Eastern, 9 Central in the US.

Check local listings outside these time zones.� If you are outside the US, the episode will likely be available after it airs.

Finally, for what it’s worth, if anyone happens to come out and claim the psychic tests were rigged, then all I can say is that I’ll attest to the fact that they were not.�� Documentation of this can be provided, of course, but I’ll also say that I was there, I saw the items being places in envelopes and the sequestering of the test subjects.�� Everything was double and triple checked, agreed upon protocols were followed to the T.

There is a segment of the show where a psychic works with pictures of persons in sealed envelopes.�� Each picture was placed in two folders and then in the envelope.�� *I* personally put them in the envelopes.� This was witnessed and verified by an ABC news producer, production assistants and members of the JREF staff.�� They were then sealed and placed in a secure area until they were used.�� This is how the challenge is always done:� extreme measures are taken to make sure it’s unquestionably valid.

Back From Tam-9

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Okay, I just got back from Las Vegas where I spent this past weekend with 1600 other skeptics, amateur and professional science enthusiasts, entertainers, magicians, free thinkers and other generally fun people.�� I saw a lot of familiar faces and met many new ones.

And I’d really like to post about it, but I have work piled up, since I took a whole week off, and because I also didn’t get back until very early this morning and I really need some sleep.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone from the James Randi Educational foundation for all the work that went into the Amazing Meeting 9 and all the speakers and presenters who contributed to it.

Sorry for the lack of posts for the past week. They will resume soon.

“Hotel Elevator Rape” Is Less Common Than “Man Bites Dog”

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

If you happen to be at involved at all in the organized skepticism community, then you likely know about “elevatorgate.”  Basically it’s a rather unfortunate series of events involving Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins and others.  I’m intentionally not linking to the quotes (you can find them easily on Google if you so choose) but I will paraphrase the situation:

Watson was at a hotel for some conference she spoke at. She stayed out late, going to the bar or whatever. Then, at 4 AM she went back to her room, taking an elevator.   Some guy from the conference was on the elevator. He tried to strike up a conversation. He said he found her interesting and suggested she might want to come back to her room for a cup of coffee. She declined. They exited the elevator and that was that.

Now according to Watson this made her very uncomfortable. It was an elevator, which is the quintessential (if not factually supported) place for rape to occur. She was a woman and he a man and our society is one in which women are most often the victim of sexual assault and men most often the aggressors. It was forward and the act of inviting a woman back to your room in a hotel has some obvious undertones (even if it didn’t necessarily mean anything other than he actually wanted to have some coffee.)

Richard Dawkins took Watson to task on this with some rather sarcastic comments which seem to be intended to point out that she really wasn’t a victim of anything and in a world where women are having their genitals cut in Africa, can’t drive cars in much of the Middle East, are sold into slavery in the Middle East and Southeast Asia and where many places still operate in a near-feudal manner, Watson is not really in that bad of shape and should just get over the fact that someone asked her an awkward question in an elevator, which probably was not the best venue.

What followed was a lot of really far-out feminists coming to Watson’s defense and attacking Dawkins. They said he didn’t understand because he was a heterosexual Caucasian male from a privilege background, while Watson is a … heterosexual Caucasian female from a privilege background. They repeatedly said how men “Just don’t get it” – that women live in a world of terror where every guy they encounter is a potential rapist and where the very act of making a social invitation means they must fear that you are planning on assaulting them. Some either didn’t get Dawkin’s sarcasm and disgust for the culture of victim-hood that has permeated western society or thought he was somehow putting down women who actually do suffer horrible acts of violence by asking those who were asked to coffee to grow some thicker skin.

Of course, I’m a man so I can’t ever understand this. Somehow others can know what I can understand but I can’t understand what they can. Somehow they know what my background is and my life experiences but I don’t know there experiences. And also, apparently every woman knows “what it’s like to be a woman” because there is only one single experience of being a woman, it’s not like, they are all different or anything, or like there is no one ‘anywoman’ who can tell you what the experience is for all XX chromosome members of humanity.

Oh and if you see a paradox here, that just proves you’re already a bigot and a rapist.

But before going into this any further, there’s a question nobody seems to have asked: DO RAPES ACTUALLY HAPPEN IN HOTEL ELEVATORS?

Sure, they have happened. In the history of human race and the billions of hotel stays that have been made, they have happened. But lets get something straight: people have also been struck by meteors on at least two occasions.

As Wattson suggested, if you Google “Hotel Elevator Assault,” you will find plenty of pages, but then take a closer look. Many of them are about how to avoid it, some of them are about her and others simply have all three words together in the same page, such as “Kobe’s accuser said after the assault, she went to the hotel elevator” or “The alleged attacker was seen on a security camera exiting the elevator on the 11th floor.”

But what about actual occurrences of women being raped or assaulted in hotel elevators. Is it common? Sure, it’s commonly feared. People fear dying because of nuclear power plant accidents too. People fear having their throat slit by an intruder in their bed at night. Yet these are pretty small risks.


Be sure to watch “Bad Universe” tomorrow (Sunday) at 10 ET

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Tomorrow night, the 29th of August, the show “Bad Universe” will premier on the Discovery Channel at 10 o’clock eastern time.� If you don’t live in the eastern US, check your local listings.�� The show looks pretty cool, and it stars my friend Phil Plait, (AKA The Bad Astronomer) who is a very active member of the skeptic community and has been debunking bad science for years.�� It’s really huge that Phil would get a show like this on a major television network, and it’s definitely a great way for him to help spread skepticism and good science.

More videos from the show can be found here.

One nitpick: Phil can’t actually shoot rays of energy out of his eyes. If he could, I’m pretty sure I would have been zapped by now.

Those Sinister, Big-Pharma Supporting, Lying Skeptics…

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Oh I just love seeing a post like this on a site like “Age Of Autism”, an anti-vaccine, anti-science site that promotes every wacky idea on how to treat autism and what causes it.

Health Fascism in Australia.

The sinister Skeptics group, agents of what used to be CSICOP now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) organised from the US and linked to the major corporate lobby groups, American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) and American Council Against Health Fraud (ACAHF), which is in turn linked to the Australian CAHF) are making ground in Australia. Supported by authoritarian ideological influences in government and Big Pharma, the Skeptics are running constant attacks on homeopathy, natural cancer treatments, those who question vaccination and those who support any form of alternative medicine.

With the present world fiscal crisis, all those linked to Big Pharma and Science are fighting a bitter battle to preserve drug company competitiveness. But where fascist influences in government and health with most force come together is in attacking anyone who speaks out about freedom of choice and expression in relation to vaccination.

Over the last year the international corporate lobby Skeptics, have been behind a campaign against the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). In 2009, one of their trolls, a lay person with no standing in medicine or government complained about the web site of the AVN to the office of the State Government funded Health Care Complaints commission (HCCC) an organisation that accepts complaints against groups found be giving out false information about health.

The remit of the HCCC, did not actually cover parent groups which discussed the pros and cons of vaccination, so the State government slightly changed the remit to satisfy the Skeptics. The government then proceeded with a year long investigation into Meryl Dorey the woman who established and runs the AVN and the AVN itself.

Dorey was asked to answer their first 30 odd page report against her and the organisation, within a few weeks. She did this with a magnificent document that argued every point with brilliance. The complaint investigation actually argued against almost every sentence that had appeared on the AVN web site. If the AVN had said that vaccines contained toxic elements, such as mecury and aluminuim the HCCC argued with pseudo science that this was not true, giving pages of bogus evidence to support the vaccine manufacturers.

Oh how very sinister!

TAM 8 Links from GESS

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Back from The Amazing Meeting 8, which was indeed Amazing, I’ve found a pile of work to get to even as I get over the modest jetlag that traveling across three time zones will cause.�� Luckilly, I don’t have to describe the event all by myself because others have.�� Better still, my friends at the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society (GESS) have put together a roundup of links from other blogs and news sites describing the amazing events of the Amazing Meeting!

Check it out here