Skeptic Coffee Break

The podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute.

Skeptic Coffee Break Episode 4 - Appeal to Popularity, Acupuncture and Chiropractic

Episode 4 can be listened to here or downloaded via iTunes. The following are the show notes with links to further content. My supporting blog can be found here.

Intro

Hello and welcome to the fourth episode of Skeptic Coffee Break, your short form podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute. My name’s Robert Sacerich, your host.

For today’s episode we’ll be examining the logical fallacy called Appeal to Popularity. This fallacy is used when someone uses the fact that something is popular as a way to prove its validity. For example, there was a time when the most popular notion was that the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around us. Anyone arguing for this point could easily point to the fact that it’s the most accepted and popular explanation. We now know this to be incorrect, that the earth revolves around the sun. What is popular is not always correct.

Today, we see this very blatantly in defense of chiropractic or acupuncture. The proponents of these practices insist that, because they are so popular, everyone seems to use them and insurance companies often pay for them, then there must be something to them. This, however, is not correct. Both of these modalities require magical thinking to operate. For chiropractic, it means subluxations and for acupuncture it means specific meridian points. Neither of these things exists. Both practices have often been shown to cause more harm than good and any well designed, blinded study has shown them to be no better than placebo at best.

So, when someone tries to convince you that something works based on how popular it is, always double check the facts. Thank you and I hope you’ve enjoyed your skeptic coffee break. Come back again and join me for a cup.

Intermission Episode

Hello and welcome to Skeptic Coffee Break, your short form podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute. My name’s Robert Sacerich, your host.

This episode is a bit of an interlude to explain the new format for the podcast.

I’ve been playing with ideas and I’ve decided to change the format of the podcast. Until now, I’ve been covering a range of topics over 5-15 minute episodes. I’ve decided to make it easier and more accessible to those with little time each day, and break it down to single topic episodes. The cool part is that I’ll be doing these episodes now a lot more frequently. I’ll be able to cover a single topic in only a few minutes sort of in the style of 60-second science or The 365 days of Astronomy podcasts. I hope you enjoy the change, and as always, your feedback is always welcome. Thank you.

The episode can be downloaded on iTunes or found here.

Skeptic Coffee Break Episode 3 - Scientific Paradigms, How Science Works, Climate Change, GMOs, Creationists and more!

Episode 2 can be listened to here or downloaded via iTunes. The following are the show notes with links to further content. My supporting blog can be found here. Also, there isn’t any intro music on this episode. I’m working with my audio software and working on a few new solutions for the sound, effects and quality. Thank you.

Intro

Hello and welcome to the third episode of Skeptic Coffee Break, your short form podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute. My name’s Robert Sacerich, your host.

The goal of this podcast is to keep you up to date with a quick overview of current events and topics. My goal is to keep things fairly brief, as short at 5 minutes, and no longer than 15 minutes. I want this podcast to be able to be comfortably listened to on a coffee break or your morning commute. I’ll be touching on topics with a brief overview and a bit of commentary, then posting the show notes on tumblr with links and more detailed information on the topics I cover in the show. This way, you get a good taste of what’s happening and can quickly and easily access more information at your leisure.

Scientific Paradigms and How Science Works

Today, I’m going to discuss scientific paradigms and how science works. This seems to be a problem in the population at large. There are huge misconceptions about how science works in general, which leads to bigger problems when something within science is financially, politically or religiously inconvenient from an ideological sense. This is where we get climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, GMO conspiracy theorists, creationists and CAM proponents that mislead society into an anti-science bent. We’ve all had to deal with these people time and again, but how many really understand how these people come to exist? That’s what I’ll attempt to explain.

First, let’s discuss what a scientific paradigm is, how it works and how it can be changed. For this I referenced experiment-resources.com as well as several philosophy of science texts for more detailed information.

Thomas Kuhn described a paradigm as “the practices that define a scientific discipline at a certain point in time.” 

Evolutionary theory in biology is a great example of a scientific paradigm. It is the overriding theory that defines what is researched, the type of questions asked, etc within the field of biology. If you want to completely change a paradigm, the new theory not only needs to explain the world better than the previous one, but it also needs to explain why the first theory seemed so right when it wasn’t. Often, as was the case with Newton’s Laws, the new paradigm takes from the first and adapts it into a better explanation of the world.

Now, the concept of a theory is also something that people have a limited understanding of. In everyday conversation, we misuse the term fairly often. “I have a theory about who stole my stapler.” That’s an example of a hypothesis or conjecture, not a theory. In science, when we use the term “theory” what we’re referring to is a large body of evidence that has been tested and has had scientists trying to falsify for a long time to where the probability of its accuracy is so high that it can be rightly called a scientific theory. A theory in science holds an incredible amount of weight.

Now that you know a bit about the concepts, let’s look at scientific claims and a consensus means. A consensus of scientific opinion exists within a field of study. This is true within climate science, biology and honestly, every scientific field is in consensus about certain aspects of it. When this happens in regards to a scientific claim that is politically charged or disagrees with certain ideologies, then it gets contested. However, when you look at the science that is contested in the public discourse, there are some trends you need to be aware of.

Look at the credentials of those refuting the science. Even if they are experts in a field, if they are not experts in the field they are refuting, then their opinion holds no scientific weight. For example, if Stephen Hawking decided to weigh in with an opinion on the mating habits of chimpanzees that contradicted what the agreed upon science is within anthropology, no matter is fame or credentials, that opinion would be discarded unless it was backed up with a large amount of evidence, data and brought within the peer review. When people bring out a scientist to talk about a field they aren’t an expert in, for example, you have plenty of psychologists for some reason who refute evolution, this is no different than if you became sick and went to a mathematician instead of a doctor for diagnosis. While they may be an expert mathematician, they have no bearing on medical science.

Ok, this was just a brief overview, but I hope it gives you an idea about how science works. Now, let’s look at some of the big quote un-quote controversial sciences that we hear about all too often.

Climate Change Deniers

The first topic of choice is climate change. This is about as political charged as it gets. Why? Because admitting it’s true means having some responsibility to create legislation and spend money to combat it. That’s the hang up. There isn’t disproving science. The only scientists they waltz out against it are not within the climate change field. It’s funny, actually, I had a debate over the last couple of days. The person I was debating with was an intellectually dishonest as possible, and more than mildly irritating to say the least. He, like so many vehemently against a type of science, didn’t understand how science works. The arguments were as follows:

“There are tons of scientists who don’t believe in climate change!”

First, you don’t “believe” in a science. You accept the evidence and the studies and you move on. Also, the lists of scientists he cited were people who do NOT study climate change. When this was pointed out, I received the reply of:

“Of COURSE climate scientists say it’s true and fudge data, because that’s how they get money and awards and prestige!”

Ok, first, warning warning, dingdingding, conspiracy theory alert. Secondly, within science academia, you get far more prestige and renown for disproving a consensus or paradigm than you do for publishing yet another study that supports it. That’s common sense.

Then he insisted on a reference of a meteorologist who denies climate change! This was his big ace in the hole. Well, hate to break it to you, but weather and climate are two vastly different things. People who study weather concentrate on the here and now and still manage to have trouble predicting next week. That’s because weather is dynamic and intrinsically hard to predict. As someone versed in meteorology, sometimes, you just never know. Climate, on the other hand, is based on date over a geologic time scale. What happens over a matter of days isn’t even on the radar. When you look at climate trends over hundreds of thousands of years, you can figure out patterns and get a good grasp on how climate changes and acts. That’s why the meteorologist is NOT an authority on climate. In the end, I was called willfully ignorant for ignoring the right pundits.

Oh yes, and he went on a tangent about Al Gore as if discrediting Al Gore disproves climate change. Um, ya, ok, Al Gore isn’t hard to discredit…he’s a politician, not a scientist. Don’t get your science from politicians.

Anti-Vaxxers

Now let’s look at the anti-vaxxer movement. This is a fun one, because these people have an ever growing death count on their heads. They are fervently causing children to die. Why? Two reasons, actually, on top of the general lack of knowledge of how science works.

The first is a quack by the name of Andrew Wakefield. This guy, some years back, published a study that linked vaccines to autism. Not long after, however, it turned up that he was getting paid to make that “discovery” and had heavy financial interests in making vaccines dangerous. A little further digging found that he faked a lot of his data and that conclusion was grossly inaccurate. He then lost his medical license in the UK. So, of course, we let him practice here with the other quacks….and lo the people listen!

The second is even more absurd. Jenny McCarthy, a former porn star whose child went from being a magical indigo child to being diagnosed with autism. According to her, her child became autistic due to being vaccinated, and even though the science says otherwise, her “mommy instinct” tells her she’s right. Now, to quote the song “skeptic in the room” why do we take medical advice from someone to whom we used to masturbate? There’s something horribly wrong with this picture.

In reality, vaccines are perfectly safe. They save a lot of lives and you should always have your child vaccinated. The reason autism diagnoses follow vaccinations is because that’s when we’re able to detect autism, about that age. Why are we seeing more autism now, in the age of vaccines? Simple. We know how to detect and diagnose it now! Huzzah! But such simple logic is long on the idiots promoting this very, very deadly myth.

GMO Conspiracy Theorists

Next up, GMO Conspiracy theorists! Now, I’ve covered this before and on my blog, but it bears mentioning in this context. When you claim that any dissenting science is being kept down due to some big conspiracy, you have no idea how science works. This goes back to the concept that disproving accepted science gains you far more than supporting it, so long as your science is sound. The problem here is, there are plenty of studies showing that GMOs are perfectly safe. The handful of studies that say otherwise are not done with the same rigor as scientific studies should be done. If you results are as good as you think they are, hold yourself to the same standards as everyone else, and you may gain some traction. Otherwise, you aren’t doing science.

Creationists

Creationists! The age old bane of anyone with a rational bone in their body. They, like climate change deniers, like to waltz out scientists from unrelated fields to try and prove their point. The problem is, there is NO science there. None. Nada. Zippo. Zero. Zilch. Did I mention none? The only ideas they keep pushing out are things like irreducible complexity, which have been disproven every which way possible for years, yet they keep recycling it. Evolution is accepted within the scientific community as the overriding paradigm for biology. Period. Have a problem with that? Try actually doing science.

CAM Proponents

Finally, I want to touch briefly on CAM, complimentary and alternative medicine. This is far too large of a topic to even cover in a full episode, let alone a blurb, but let me just give a quick example. Homeopathy is the big one. The idea that if you dilute a substance in water to the point where there is not even an atom of the original substance left, and saying that the water “remembers” what was in it. Yet someone it forgets all the feces that was in it over the years of being open water. There’s even a nobel laureate trying to claim it’s true. The problem is, the scientific community at large knows it’s garbage. Why? Because it breaks the laws of physics. It’s impossible. 

Conclusion

I hope I was able to enlighten you a bit on the politically charged issues and how science works. I won’t do a skeptical education this round, since that was the entire episode, but I hope I at least gave you some food for thought. So, until text time, this is skeptic coffee break. Have a great week.

Skeptic Coffee Break Episode 2 - Jessica Ahlquist Update, Nigeria Religious Violence, Placebo Bands, Cold Fusion and more!

Episode 2 can be listened to here or downloaded via iTunes. The following are the show notes with links to further content. Thank you.

Intro

Hello and welcome to the second episode of Skeptic Coffee Break, your short form podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute. My name’s Robert Sacerich, your host.

First, a little about me. I currently serve on the board of directors for the Greater Sacramento Humanist Association as well as Atheist Alliance International. I’ve been involved actively in the secular and skeptic communities for a few years now. 

The goal of this podcast is to keep you up to date with a quick overview of current events and topics. My goal is to keep things fairly brief, as short at 5 minutes, and no longer than 15 minutes. I want this podcast to be able to be comfortably listened to on a coffee break or your morning commute. I’ll be touching on topics with a brief overview and a bit of commentary, then posting the show notes on tumblr with links and more detailed information on the topics I cover in the show. This way, you get a good taste of what’s happening and can quickly and easily access more information at your leisure.

Announcements

For those of you who have been following my blog, Meanwhile, Back in Reality, I’ll soon be starting a few series’ where I’ll be covering some specific topics further in depth over many, longer posts. I’ll be doing one on Martial Arts and Magical Thinking, looking at various styles of martial arts and the mystical type practices that infuse themselves into that lifestyle. I’ll also be doing one entitled “Christian” as a blanket term, looking at what the effect of the George W. Bush classification of Christian to encompass so many has had on the social and political landscape in America, and the more moderate and liberal Christian groups that don’t necessarily fit that mold. I’ll also be doing an in depth look at the social and philosophical ideas on Morality.

Also, I’m beginning another blog project called Scriptural Analysis where I’ll be taking the Christian bible verse by verse from Genesis to Revelation and looking at it as literature. I’ll be examining the historical context, scientific accuracy and the way those verses are used today. I’m really excited about this project and I hope you’ll all check it out.

There are two great events coming up in the skeptical world. The first is the Reason Rally on March 24th in Washington, DC. A lot of great speakers are attending including Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage, Tim Michin, PZ Myers and many, many more. It’s turning out to be the event not to miss for 2012.

The second event is SkeptiCal. This is the skeptical conference in Berkley, CA on April 21. It’s going to be a great event with speakers to include Author Christopher Burt and well known scientist and radio host Dr. Kiki Sanford.

Now, for our news topics for the week.

Jessica Ahlquist Update

First, an update on Jessica Ahlquist, the young girl who won the court case against the prayer banner in Rhode Island. Well, the news on this is good and bad. The good news is that the moderate Christians of Rhode Island have stepped up to speak in Jessica’s defense. This is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve always agreed that moderates only serve to shield the extremists from appropriate criticism and that they should be the first to call out those they think are doing it wrong. Well, I’m glad to see that this time, they’re doing just that.

Unfortunately, there’s a bad side to all of this as well. It’s being reported that Jessica has stopped attending school due to the hostile atmosphere. Now, I’m having some trouble finding more detailed information on this to verify it, but I’ll keep you all updated once it’s confirmed on my Meanwhile, Back in Reality blog.

Nigeria Violence

My second topic today is frightening, to say the least. MSNBC reported recently:

A radical Muslim sect attacked a church worship service in Nigeria’s northeast during assaults that killed at least 15 people, authorities said Saturday, as Christians vowed to defend themselves from the group’s widening sectarian fight against the country’s government.

The attacks by the sect known as Boko Haram came after it promised to kill Christians living in Nigeria’s largely Muslim north, exploiting long-standing religious and ethnic tensions in the nation of more than 160 million people. The pledge by the leader of an umbrella organization called the Christian Association of Nigeria now raises the possibility of retaliatory violence.

4 days ago, the death toll was reported to be in excess of 150.

People often ask, what’s the harm in people believing in what they want, if it makes them happy? Well, this is the harm; this and more.

Whole Foods

My next news item follows a recent blog post I made outlining foods containing GMOs, or genetically modified organisms and the conspiracy theories that argue against the peer reviewed science surrounding them.

Whole foods, a major organic food chain, has admitted to selling “natural foods” as well as the certified organic foods. Natural foods aren’t held to the certified organic standards, and generally contain GMOs. Whole Foods has been selling these natural foods at organic prices, though they are far less expensive due to the GMOs, and raking in the profit. Most of the anti-GMO sites I’ve found are spinning at “despite best efforts, even Whole Foods can’t keep GMOs off their shelf.” It’s funny the cognitive dissonance people have when they believe things that are counter to the consensus of scientific opinion. They can’t imagine that Whole Foods perhaps knew what it was doing while making a huge profit off of it.

Placebo Bands

Here’s a plug I can behind. Get the latest is holographic technology to increase sports performance! Get the placebo band

For those that have been involved in skepticism for some time, you know about the Power Balance band. It claims to use holographic technology to increase sports performance. Now, a new group has come out with the Placebo Band. This is a brilliant way to show the foolishness of Power Balance’s pseudoscientific claims.

Cold Fusion

Well, here we go again. Italian physicist and inventor Andrea Rossi claims to have attained cold fusion! How many times have we seen this before? James Randi covered the subject quite well on a recent episode of the Randi show, so I won’t go much into it here, but check the links on the show notes page and see for yourself.

Skeptical Education

Well, that’s it for the news. Now for Skeptical Education.

Today I’m going to cover a logical fallacy known as the Appeal to Probability. This is the fallacy whereby something is assumed based on the probability or lack thereof. One example is a recent conversation I had, actually, where the person I was debating with presented me with pages of probability data showing how low the probability is that life would exist on earth. He used this to assert “therefor, God did it.”

Now, the problem with this particular argument is that we have the science to back the fact that, even with the improbability, life must exist somewhere, if not many places, given the size and scope of the universe. Astrophysicists use several well supported theories that don’t require god to have had any hand it.

So, consider this the next time you’re face with a wall of statistics in a debate.

Conclusion

Well, that’s all for episode 2. I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast and will subscribe for future episodes. As I go along, I’ll be tweaking the format to see what works and what doesn’t. Your suggestions are always welcome. Thank you, and have a great week.

Skeptic Coffee Break Episode 1 - Jessica Ahlquist, NCSE takes on climate change science, SOPA and more.

Episode 1 can be listened to here or downloaded via iTunes. The following are the show notes with links to further content. Thank you.

Hello and welcome to the first episode of Skeptic Coffee Break, your short form podcast designed for your coffee break or morning commute. My name’s Robert Sacerich, your host.

First, a little about me. I currently serve on the board of directors for the Greater Sacramento Humanist Association as well as Atheist Alliance International. I’ve been involved actively in the secular and skeptic communities for a few years now. 

The goal of this podcast is to keep you up to date with a quick overview of current events and topics. My goal is to keep things fairly brief, as short at 5 minutes, and no longer than 15 minutes. I want this podcast to be able to be comfortably listened to on a coffee break or your morning commute. I’ll be touching on topics with a brief overview and a bit of commentary, then posting the show notes on tumblr with links and more detailed information on the topics I cover in the show. This way, you get a good taste of what’s happening and can quickly and easily access more information at your leisure.

Today, for my first episode, I have a few news items that I thought would be of interest. I’ll talk about Jessica Ahlquist, the NCSE takes on climate change science, SOPA, and more. I’ll touch on each subject and provide further information, as well as links on the show notes blog at skepticcoffeebreak.tumblr.com. Feel free to message me through that site or @skepticcoffee on twitter if you have any suggestions for show topics.

On January 11, Jessica Ahlquist, a 16 year old atheist from Rhode Island won a court case to have a prayer banner removed from her public school. The banner was titled “School Prayer” and addressed to “Our Heavenly Father.” This was a clear violation of the separation of church and state. 

Since the decision, Jessica has received numerous death threats and vitriol from christians in her school and around the country. When the Freedom From Religion Foundation attempted to send her flowers, they were refused because of her atheism by most of the area florists. In the end, Glimpse of Gaia, a local florist, was more than happy to take the order. They deserve our praise for standing up.

Things have gotten so bad that even State Representative Peter Palumbo has referred to Jessica as an “evil little thing.” She’s had to have police escorts to school board meetings and even classes. This young woman has shown so many of us what it means to be brave in the face of adversity.

Evil little thing t-shirts

Fundraiser

On January 16th, the NCSE, National Center for Science Education, announced the start of its new initiative to address climate change science education. Eugenie Scott has mentioned this initiative in interviews leading up to the launch and honestly, in America, this is sorely needed. The consensus of scientific opinion points to the existence of global warming and the effect that humans have on it The amount of denial in the country has spilled over into the schools, giving teachers problems from parents for teaching the climate change science that is part of their curriculum. Well, thank you NCSE for standing up for science education once again.

On January 18th, many popular websites shut down in protest against SOPA, including Wikipedia and Reddit. SOPA is a congressional initiative to combat internet piracy, but it goes much further than that. The legistlation allows for any suspected infringement of copyright, even from website members, to allow for the shut down of a website to investigate. This would shut down most social networks, wikipedia and many, many more sites. It looks to have been successful, as 13 more members of congress changed their votes in light of the protest and the intitiative has, at least temporarily, been shelved.

Now, a bit of skepticism education.

Here’s a red flag to be mindful of for the week.

When someone makes a scientific claim contrary to the consensus of scientific opinion and claims that any dissenting scientists are quickly silenced, this is a major red flag. It points at a conspiracy theory mentality behind the claim. Whenever claims like that are made, it requires an ever growing conspiracy to be taking place; one that cannot possibly be sustained for any length of time. Always keep an eye for these claims when evaluating things you’re told.

Well, that’s all for episode 1. I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast and will subscribe for future episodes. As I go along, I’ll be tweaking the format to see what works and what doesn’t. Your suggestions are always welcome. Thank you, and have a great week.

Introduction and Information

As promised, here’s the information of my social networks.

Facebook, Google+ - search for email neurotraveller.philosophies@gmail.com

Twitter - @SkepticCoffee

Reddit - Neurotraveller

My primary blog is Meanwhile, Back In Reality
http://mbireality.blogspot.com/

Following is a transcript for this show.

Hello and welcome to the skeptic coffee break. My name is Robert Sacerich and I’ll be you host. First, a little about me. I currently serve on the board of directors for the Greater Sacramento Humanist Association as well as Atheist Alliance International. I’ve been involved actively in the secular and skeptic communities for a few years now. 

The goal of this podcast is to keep you up to date with a quick overview of current events and topics. My goal is to keep things fairly brief, as short at 5 minutes, and no longer than 15 minutes. I want this podcast to be able to be comfortably listened to on a coffee break or your morning commute. I’ll be touching on topics with a brief overview and a bit of commentary, then posting the show notes on tumblr with links and more detailed information on the topics I cover in the show. This way, you get a good taste of what’s happening and can quickly and easily access more information at your leisure.

For your reference, the tumbler address is skepticcoffeebreak.tumblr.com. You can also follow me on twitter @NeurotravPhil. I’ll have links and information for the other social networks and my other blogs, such as Meanwhile, Back In Reality, on the show notes for this introduction podcast.

Well, I look forward to hopefully creating an informative and entertaining podcast for you all to enjoy. Thank you.