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Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Skeptical Chat With…Jack Scanlan of ‘Homologous Legs’

This is a blog series where I interview writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. about topics relevant to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Today I speak with Jack Scanlan about his website called Homologous Legs, his podcast “The PseudoScientists” and he answers my questions regarding his interest in Evolution, rebutting Intelligent Design articles, and skepticism.

Hello and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your blog Homologous Legs and the Pseudo Scientists podcast.  Can you start off by introducing yourself to the readers of the Michigan Skeptics Association, please, about who you are, what made you create the Homologous Legs blog, and the circumstances that led to the Pseudo Scientists podcast? 

I’m Jack Scanlan, an Australian biology student, and I write under the name Naon Tiotami about evolution and its pseudoscientific critics – namely intelligent design proponents and creationists – on my blog Homologous Legs. I started the blog in April of 2008 to compliment the YouTube videos I was making at the time, responding to fundamentalist Christians who had a very poor understanding of evolutionary theory. Over time I stopped making those types of videos, but my blogging remained and became broader in scope, focusing not just on Biblical creationists but also on the influential intelligent design movement, as well as general skepticism and science communication.I’m heavily involved in the skeptical and secular communities and I’m one of the founding members of the slightly niche Young Australian Skeptics (YAS) group blog and community, which was created in late 2008 as a place for the younger people in the Australian skeptical movement to have a voice and meet like-minded people. Its official podcast is The Pseudo Scientists, which caters to the podcasting needs of the YAS’s members, needs that are often voracious. Continue reading

Group takes a friendlier approach to skepticism

Travis Roy of Granite State Skeptics had a nice article written about him and his organization in the Nashua Telegraph. It centers around the group and their philosophy of “Don’t be a Dick“, of which I’m sure Phil Plait isn’t tired AT ALL of hearing that term…

Halloween is a tough time of year for people like Travis Roy, one of the co-founders of Granite State Skeptics, because ghosts and goblins and the living dead are everywhere.

If you’re a skeptic – someone whose passion is helping people enjoy the world as it actually is, rather than a world diluted by weird stories – you could go crazy in October trying to debunk all that stuff.

Roy has a better idea: Enjoy it, in an educational way.

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America’s True History of Religious Tolerance

John Winthrop

As governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, right, led a theocracy that tolerated no dissent. (Bettmann / Corbis)

Wading into the controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned for a site near New York City’s Ground Zero memorial this past August, President Obama declared: “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.” In doing so, he paid homage to a vision that politicians and preachers have extolled for more than two centuries—that America historically has been a place of religious tolerance. It was a sentiment George Washington voiced shortly after taking the oath of office just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

But is it so?

In the storybook version most of us learned in school, the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since these religious dissidents arrived at their shining “city upon a hill,” as their governor John Winthrop called it, millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth. The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.

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A Skeptical Chat With…Dan Moutal of ‘Irregular Climate’

This is a blog series where I interview writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. about topics relevant to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Today I speak with Dan Moutal about his website and podcast www.IrregularClimate.com, and he answers my questions regarding his approach to providing information on global warming.

Hello and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the Irregular Climate podcast and blog.  Can you start off by introducing yourself to the readers of the Michigan Skeptics Association website, please, about who you are, what got you interested in the issue of climate change, and what led you to create the Irregular Climate podcast?

What can I say? Well I guess I can start by saying that I am not a climate expert. My formal education ends at a Bachelor of Science from the University of British Columbia in the Faculty of Forestry. Because I am not an expert I try to convey, not my opinion, but that of the mainstream scientific community; it is this opinion that has authority. This is the bedrock of reasoning as to why I accept global warming. I accept mainstream science, even when I don’t fully understand it.

But the great thing about climate is that much of the science can be understood ( at least qualitatively) by laypeople. Unfortunately in order to understand climate as a layperson one needs to be very good at weeding out bad sources. There exists a co-ordinated and well funded misinformation campaign and many well intentioned people have been mislead by it. No one wants to receive bad news after all.

I started blogging (http://mind.ofdan.ca/) many years ago as a way to catalogue interesting stuff I found on the internet. Slowly my blog grew, as did my readership (not that I have ever had many readers). I dabbled in political blogging (I have strong opinions on many political issues), but got tired of the predictable partisan nature of the political blog landscape. So overtime I drifted away from politics and moved slowly towards science. Having always been fascinated by science I preferred this subject even if my readership declined. One specific topic that has always both intrigued and worried me is the issue of sustainability. This inevitably lead to dealing with the climate. And I was astonished to see the gulf of opinion between the public and the scientific community. I was even more astonished by those why claimed to be experts but were peddling obviously flawed talking points. So I focused my efforts on climate. The issue is too important for the public to have such a poor understanding of it.

The Irregular Climate podcast began because I couldn’t find a climate podcast that covered all the topics I wanted covered. So I bought I microphone and started recording without really knowing what I was doing. I’ve learnt a lot since the first episode, but also realized how much more there is for me to learn.

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RDF sues Josh Timonen for Embezzlement

According to Courthouse News Service, Richard Dawkins, founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science  and the author of The Selfish Gene (my personal favourite) and a multitude of other books, is suing his aide for embezzlement.  Josh Timonen, to whom the book “The Greatest Show on Earth” is dedicated, is alleged to have stolen $375,000 over three years from the online store that Timonen ran.  This is in addition to the salary of $272,750 over three years that was paid out to Mr. Timonen.

Edit:  In the RDF.net-forums-in-exile (now entitled Rational Skepticism), it appears as if someone has dug up the actual legal complaint, if you’re so inclined to check it out.  Looks like the L.A. Superior Courts will be handling the case?

Obviously, nothing’s been proven as of yet, but it will be rather interesting to see how this plays out.  Josh Timonen is perhaps best well known (and a bit infamous) for his role within the scrapping of the RDF forums and the non-communicative way that the transition was handled.  I don’t have first hand knowledge regarding the particulars of the transition to the current forum format at RDF, but however it was done left a sour taste in many of the regulars of the forums.  Perhaps there will be changes afoot with the relieving of Josh Timonen from a position of authority.

On a more personal note, I know that I’ve spent money at the RDF store; this makes me wonder if my money got to where it was meant to go.  If there has been embezzlement, I’ll be happy to see it back to the RDF to further their cause of education in science and reason.

Carpe Carpem: Episode Two of the Drunken Skeptics Podcast

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The second episode of The Drunken Skeptics podcast is here!

In this episode, we talk to veteran journalist Jack Lessenberry.

We also talk to Dr. Gerald Smith about the potential fallacy of the Asian Carp issue.

As always, we also have our Whiskey & Shenanigans where we bring attention to the good things that happened (the Whiskey) and call out the bad things (the Shenanigans).

You can also find our show notes here.

A Skeptical Chat With…The Healthy Fellow

This is a blog series where I interview writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. about topics relevant to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Today I speak with JP Fanton about his website www.HealthyFellow.com and he answers my questions regarding his approach to providing information on natural health and holistic remedies.

Hello and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about natural health consultation, research, and writing.  Can you start off by introducing yourself to the readers of the Michigan Skeptics Association website, please, about who you are, your interests in natural health consulting and research, and what led you to create the HealthyFellow.com website?


Thank you for having me as a guest on your site, Chris. I’m very happy to be here. A little bit about me: My name is JP Fanton and I’m the content provider for HealthyFellow.com – a website that provides evidence-based information pertaining to natural health issues. My ultimate goal is to assist health care consumers and providers to select the best possible treatment options available. As you mentioned in your introduction, I also offer consultations to individuals and companies that may benefit from my knowledge.

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Skeptic Events For This Week in Michigan

There are many things to do in Michigan that is skeptically related this week.

On Thursday, October 14th:

In Grand Rapids, CFI Michigan is hosting Barbara Oakley, author of the soon to be released “Cold Blooded Kindness”.

Are some people predisposed to kindness to the point of being destructive to themselves and others? How much of our help is fulfilling our own needs—including those of our hidden passions?

Join us to hear Barb Oakley answer these questions and other topics addressed in her latest book Cold-Blooded Kindness, which is soon to be published.

The will be meeting at 7:00 PM in the Women’s City Club, 254 E. Fulton St. Grand Rapids, MI

In S.E. Michigan, the Ann Arbor Science & Skeptics group, run by our very own Chris Lindsay, is hosting a meetup to discuss Global Climate Change. His special guest is Dr. Nalalia Andronova. A Research Scientist and Undergraduate Advisor for Climate Impact Engineering.

A gathering of science enthusiasts, critical thinkers, and rational skeptics to enjoy some tasty Mexican food and cerveza/margaritas/soda at El Camino Real

The meetup is scheduled for 6:00 PM at El Camino Real 625 Hilton Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI

On Friday the 15th:

Melissa LaFavers is hosting the Metro Detroit Skeptics in the Pub.

This is a great opportunity for skeptics to talk, share ideas (and yes, drink) in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. We discuss the issues of the day and whatever else is on our minds. But most of all, we have fun while promoting skepticism, science, and rationality.

Don’t drink? Don’t let that stop you from joining us! Some of the world’s most famous skeptics are teetotallers, and we are happy to have you!

You can find them at 6:30 PM at The Claddagh, 17800 Haggerty Road, Livonia, MI

Also on Friday, Brian Gregory‘s Virtual Drinking Skeptically is having Daniel Loxton as a Special Guest. The VirtualDS is virtual so anyone can join in. They use the Tokbox web application to host a group video chat though you don’t need a webcam or even a microphone to join in. Though you do need headphones to be able to listen in. You can find some Tokbox tips here.

The VirtualDS Is on Friday night at 9:00 Pm on Tokbox. Brian posts the link to the chat usually 15 to 30 minutes before it starts.

On Saturday the 16th:

The Michigan Skeptics Association is having our second Get Together! Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

We will be having our next get together Saturday, October 16th at 4:00 PM. Join us for Drinks and Dinner! We will be in the back room or Ginger Restaurant located at: 8465 N. Lilley Rd. Canton, MI 48187. Here is a link to the menu for your perusal.

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