Category Archives: Skepticism

What’s your point?

In March of 2008, just a few years after Web 2.0 had really taken hold on the Internet and people were interacting with content (i.e., commenting on blog posts was becoming common; newspapers were opening up fora; social media were launching left and right; etc.), a guy named Paul Graham wrote a commentary about how people often disagree with what they read on the Web (and elsewhere, of course).

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.

Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.

Mr. Graham anticipated the slapdash nature of disagreement that we’ve become accustomed to reading on the Internet since the first decade of the new millenium. He offered a preliminary seven-level hierarchy of categories of disagreement, ranging from “name calling” to “refuting the central point.”

I shan’t reproduce the details of all seven levels here. Interested readers should review Mr. Graham’s full descriptions on his original page. Also, however, someone sometimes identified as “Loudacris” (AKA: “Rocket000”) from CreateDebate.com created a nice graphic representing these seven levels of disagreement. The accompanying graphic shows them.

We might want to stretch the levels a bit. Those scientifically based readers might refine the top couple of levels of Mr. Graham’s hierarchy by making references to trustworthy or replicated studies. Sure, but maybe that’s included in “explains by it’s mistaken” or “explicitly refutes.”

Those would be good discussions to have, provided we get away from employing name-calling, ad-hominem, responding to tone, and such as our primary forms of argument.

So, what are you arguing?

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Skeptic’s Dictionary for Kids!

Bob Carroll announced that he’s completed his latest project, a Skeptic’s Dictionary for Kids, in his weekly newsletter dated 7 August 2011. In the newsletter he explained why he took on this new complement to his massive and long-standing Skeptic’s Dictionary:

I wrote the SD for Kids to promote science and scientific skepticism among young people. I haven’t seen anything else like it on the Web or in print. I was encouraged to do an SD for kids by one big person who thinks kids deserve an SD of their own and by some little people who are already questioning some of their teacher’s beliefs. My 12-year-old consultant took down from her parents’ bookshelf a copy of The Skeptic’s Dictionary to look up “astrology” after her teacher told her class that she believed the stars and planets affect who we are and what happens to us. My consultant thought my writing was a bit obtuse. OK. She said “hard” and “too long.” My 10-year-old consultant wanted more pictures. He especially wanted to see a picture of Area 51, which was mentioned in some movie he saw. He wanted to know more about aliens and UFOs, too.

Mr. Carroll recommends SD for Kids for children ages nine and older and suggest that they start with the about pages and the introduction to scientific reasoning. It’s all at http://sd4kids.skepdic.com/

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Arctic Ocean: Ice melt

polar bear photo from M. Zinkova
Photographed by Mila Zinkova

Amid the concern about diminishing sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean, and there’s plenty of concern to go around, came a report adding to that unease: An announcement from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center indicates that the sea ice extent averaged only a little over 3.06 million square miles during the July 2011, down more than 80,000 square miles below the low that was recorded in 2007. Apparently, weather patterns have changed in the last couple of weeks, but the overall effect is still dramatic.
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JREF Pigasus Awards

In “The 5 Worst Promoters of Nonsense,” the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) announced this year’s awards to folks who promote misleading, dubious and sometimes downright disingenuous ideas and products—essentially, pitching poop.

The foundation calls these awards “Pigasus Awards” and refers to them as “a Dubious Honor for Dubious Claims.” Its Web site continues, “The Pigasus Awards have been bestowed on the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudo-scientists, and faith healers—and on their credulous enablers, too. The awards are named for both the mythical flying horse Pegasus of Greek mythology and the highly improbable flying pig of popular cliche.”

Here is a list of the awardees for this year:
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Randi Rocks!

Oh, no! James Randi wants us to think seriously, skeptically, sensibly?

Oh, yes! He’s challenging us and—horror of horrors!—the manufacturers and the sellers of homeopathic remedies to prove that those ‘remedies’ actually work. Here’s his pitch.

Check out http://1023.org.uk/ and http://www.randi.org/. Keep your eyes open!

They say, “Homeopathy – There’s Nothing In It.”

Thanks, ‘Mazing.

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More 10-10-10

Check this: Bill McKibben, who’s written books about environmental matters and is a founder of 350.org, is throwing down the gauntlet. Here’s his pitch:

We’re holding a Global Work Party on 10-10-10. All over the world, people will be putting up solar panels, digging community gardens, and laying out bike paths, all in an effort to show some actual leadership in fighting climate change. It’s an effort, in part, to shame our political leaders—to show them what actual work looks like.

And a week in advance, I’m willing to make two predictions about the event: one that I’m pretty sure will come true, and one that I hope proves wrong.

That’s the lead (“lede?”). To read his predictions, go to his post, “Bill McKibben: ‘I Dare the Media to Cover This’.” Please promote 350.org.

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AAI Conference

Wooohooo! I’ll just run the 1st three paragraphs of the press release here:

Ottawa, Ontario — (SBWIRE) — 09/30/2010 — Atheist Alliance International (AAI) in collaboration with Humanist Canada (HC) announce their joint convention, to be held October 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 2010, uniting atheists and humanists in an international movement transcending political and cultural borders.This will be the first ever explicitly atheist convention in Montreal, as well as the first North-American AAI convention held outside the U.S.A. The event, organized with local support from Atheist Freethinkers and CFI Montreal, will welcome hundreds of participants and be held at the Delta Centre-ville Hotel on 777 University St. in the heart of the city.

This bilingual event will feature a plethora of both anglophone and francophone convention speakers. A partial list of those confirmed so far includes: anthropologist Daniel Baril speaking on the evolutionary origins of religion; Philippe Besson, French freethought leader; Daniel Dennett, celebrated philosopher and author of Breaking The Spell; Belgian historian of atheism Serge Deruette; Belgian philosopher and secularism advocate Nadia Geerts; Louise Mailloux, founder of Citizens’ Collective for Equality and Secularism; famous evolutionary biologist and Pharyngula blogger P.Z. Myers; Jeremy Patrick, legal expert on blasphemy legislation; screenwriter and comedian J.D. Shapiro; Skeptical investigator Karen Stollznow, a.k.a. SkepChick; Rodrigue Tremblay, economist and author of The Code for Global Ethics.

The 2010 Richard Dawkins Prize will be awarded to Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Several other activities will take place in conjunction with the convention: for example the September 30th party to mark International Blasphemy Rights Day and underline the importance of freedom of expression; and an evening of stand-up comedy on Comedy Night.

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