Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Doubting Florence Presents: What Do I Do Next? Part Une: Motivation!

I sit here now, fueled by a lot of coffee and inspired by the latest podcast of Skepticality, attempting to compose a Doubting Florence column on the future of what I like to term as "personal skepticism." I define that as skepticism towards stuff that you feel the strongest about- stuff that chaps your butt more than most pseudoscientific subjects. This is a heavy post, so I am gonna break it down into two parts. This is part one, entitled "Motivation."

For those of you who do not know, Jr. Skeptic editor Daniel Loxton has edited a 70 page PDF as a follow-up to his spectacular "Where Do We Go From Here," entitled "What Do I Do Next?" I haven't read the PDF yet (I plan to, and trust me, I will blog about it here if no other Richmond Skeptic wants to tackle it), but from what it sounds like, "What Do I Do Next?," is less a disertation and more like a supercozy literary skeptical think tank featuring such notable merry mischief makers as The Skeptic's Guide Jay Novella, Skepticality's Swoopy, Dr. Karen "Skepbitch" Stolznow, Skeptoid Guru Brian Dunning, JREF's Jeff Wagg, Aussie Skeptic Spitfire Kylie Sturgess, Loxton and other s discuss how they use skeptical activism in their lives to correct the tripe of pseudoscience, to promote good science and critical thinking, and to expose frauds associated with such pseudosciences (pseudoscience and fraud appear to be bastard twins). I just got through listening to Skepticality #098- a dialogue between "What Do I Do Now?" collaboraters Daniel Loxton and Swoopy, which has peaked my interest to become a bit more of a skeptical activist.

Sometimes it's hard to be a skeptical activist. People get RULLLLLY testy when you question their gris-gries and beliefs. It's certainly no fun at parties when you're the skeptical one, listening as your friends and loved ones rile on blissfully about "insert pseudoscience-du-jour here" as being the bee's knees. It's a no-win situation- subjecting your friends to a powerful well-intentioned skeptical rebuttal can cast you as the wanka' who tinkled in everyone's peteunia bed; staying silent makes you feel lousy and like a skeptical sell-out. It's even worse here in cyberland. There's always going to be someone who could wander in to your world, and despite your beautifully worded and brilliantly factual blogposts, will declare you and all you associate with as stuffy intolerable group of pee pants...or worse, attempt to hijack discussion threads and launch into verbally cruel and abusive ad hominem attacks. It's happened to skeptical sites I admire and like to visit- Skepchick gets a Cold Prickley on a rather frequent basis, and it seems like it's a daily occurance on Science Based Medicine. It's such a turn-off for me when I run into these folks online. I handle a disrespectful so-and-so by ignoring them and leaving them to stew in their own venom, so sometimes I miss out on a lot of cool stuff because I want to avoid jerks. It's something I'm working on- a sort of cyber-agoraphobia, one could say. I have a lot of opinions on those who appear to sadistically enjoy this type of harassment, but the goal here is to stay positive and tell you how I try to keep my skeptical chin up during these difficult times, and, to get back to Loxton's premise, what I plan to do next.

Getting back on the subject of personal skepticism, the things that chap my big butt mainly involve pseudoscience in nursing. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait once said that the universe is cool enough without having to make crap up about it. Although he was addressing pseudoscience in astronomy, I feel his idea also could be applied to nursing and medicine. One only has to flip through Gray's Anatomy to see that the human body's coolness factor is high. It doesn't need B.S. like chakras or invisible pathways or snake oil or magic beans or whatever. Anyone who has studied pathophysiology (the study of how the bod works) will tell you it's a mother of a class that is chock full of scientific parts and processes. The pancreatic functions are fascinating enough to fill a PBS miniseries! And the wonderful thing is, most of the good science can be found in extremely inexpensive situations- local college libraries (especially those universities known for their science and medical department) are bursting with volumes of wonderful stuff that would keep most anatomy buffs like yours truly happy for hours. Real medicine and nursing is cool enough without having to make crap up about it. Being a skeptic helps me fall in love with nursing over and over again as new discoveries are being made. Looking at something you adore with a critical eye can be therapeutic as well as practical. The constant change that I see and adapt to my practice- new procedures, equipment and so on, helps me become a better nurse and smarter advocate for my patients. It's also hard to burnout when you've got so much exciting stuff to discover, examine, pull apart and discuss with others who share your zeal. It's freakin' awesome!

This is the end of Part Une. Don't worry. "Part Deux: Intervention" is in the works and coming up very soon (maybe in the next day or so!!)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Reason Comes In From The Cold," by Susan Jacoby

If you are a feminist or love one, you might be interested in picking up the new issue of Ms. Magazine. One of the articles is "Reason Comes In From The Cold" by Susan Jacoby. It basically outlines how the antiscience movement has been allowed to grow the past several years, as well as the impact of a lack of reason on women's issues (especially health and sexuality), and outlines the first steps needed in the long process to reverse the damage. On a nonrelated note, the issue features President Barack Obama in a very cool comic book pose with a T on that says "This is what a feminist looks like." Indeed.

Susan Jacoby's book "The Age of American Unreason" is scheduled for paperback in February by Vintage Books. I'm intrigued, how about you??

Friday, January 2, 2009

Be A Cool Dude(ette), Join The Skeptics Society

We here at Richmond Skeptics probably wouldn't rock and rule as hard as we do if it wasn't for two main organizations- The James Randi Educational Foundation, and the topic of today's blogpost, The Skeptics Society.


THE 411: The Skeptics Society, like the JREF, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization dedicated to investigating controversial claims (i.e. vaccines cause autism), promoting science (physics rules!), and promoting critical thinking (ruling out other options than "magic" when discovering how something works).

SKEPTICAL PEEPS: A "skeptic" as defined by the Skeptic Society, is anyone who adapts a provisional approach to any claim, applies reason to any and all ideas, and consistantly uses this method despite any temptation towards any sacredly held beliefs. Skeptics want tangible, testable proof that can be repeated in a variety of controlled settings. The Skeptics Society's head brainiac is a guy by the name of Dr. Michael Shermer, who is freakin' everywhere nowadays (here he is with me!)!!! Dr. Shermer is the author of some dozen books on skepticism, belief, evolution, and critical thinking. He travels constantly and is often the Skeptical Go-To Guy when media interviews and fluff pieces on psychic stuff are written. Dr. Shermer, despite being a busy bee, is very congenial, and remains a valuable resource for any skeptic. The main publication of the Skeptic Society is Skeptic Magazine, which features many skeptical writers, bloggers, artists, and average joes like me who do their small part for the promotion of science in our spaceship Earth. A very fun and extremely hip feature of Skeptic Magazine is Junior Skeptic (featuring the fabulous Emily "TT Busta" Rosa, the gorgeous drawings of Pat Linse and the ultra-clever Daniel Loxton at the helm- according to a recent interview, Loxton said the mini-mag was inspired by a fave fictional read of animated dynamo Lisa Simpson!) which is geared toward school-age kiddies who are starting out on the right foot by thinking critically. The Skeptic Society also has a semi-regular podcast, Skepticality (hosted by the awesome Derek and Swoopy) and a weekly email newsletter, eSkeptic.

WHY A BLOGPOST TODAY? Glad you asked, Sillybeans-it's because today my husband and I received in the mail our pre-membership renewal packet as a result of sending in a small amount of moolah for membership renewal fees (we became members in 2008- FYI: Skeptics Society members also receive Skeptic Magazine). Enclosed was a letter from Dr. Shermer as well as a pamphlet entitled "Learn to Be Psychic In 10 Easy Lessons" which outlines the cold reading and slight-of-hand tricks a lot of con artists pretending to have paranormal ability use on the unsuspecting public. The pamphlet totally rocks (and has that yummy thick paper-y smell), but the important thing is how much the Skeptic Society is contributing to society. According to Dr. Shermer's letter, 2008 was the biggest year that the Skeptics Society had in getting their message out. The small amount of moolah you send, along with all the other gargantuan tasks the society undertakes, goes toward funding science education projects in schools as well as to the general media (anyone here in RVA knows our local media could really benefit, n'es pa?). The Skeptics Society has just completed a contract to put 10,000 evolutionary science books in European schools and hopes that goal could be achieved here in North America. The books were developed by Junior Skeptic and The Junior Skeptic Baloney Detection Book Series. Speaking of, Junior Skeptic has just launched their own website with hopes that it will eventually become a universal resource for teachers. And, last but not least, the really cool (at least, in my opinion) project for 2009 is a documentary on belief- it's power, it's psychology, it's construction, and how to distinguish between true and B.S. belief systems. Wowsa.

KEWL. I WANT IN TOO; WHAT DO I DO NOW? If you have a small amount of moolah and want in on this too, you can visit the Skeptics Society by clicking on any mention of it in this blogpost (do yourself a favor and join- Junior Skeptic ALONE is so totally worth the cheap fees it takes to obtain membership!).