I arrived at SkeptiCamp Ohio around 11:30 or so, with my daughter, ‘E’, in tow. She was going to attend the Camp Quest mini-session that day. We were obviously early, but Kim and Amanda were very welcoming and E immediately set about playing. I did check in on her once or twice during the day, and each time, she was having so much fun, that I ended up trying to leave her alone. I was hoping she would learn at least one new thing today as a result of Camp Quest. On the way back to the car we had this conversation:
E: We played dinosaurs outside today.
D: Ah, is that what you were doing out there… how did you play ‘dinosaur’?
E: Well we went through the bushes looking for things to eat. Some of us ate leaves and plants, and some of us ate meat.
D: (guessing where this was going). Ok. What do you call a dinosaur that eats plants? A Herbivore, or a Carnivore?
E: A Herbivore.
D: And if it eats meat?
E: A Carnivore! (Said with a kind of hungry growl).
Mission accomplished, there. Thanks to Amanda, August, and all the Camp Quest volunteers for not only helping to keep our kids safe and happy for the afternoon, but to help them grow just a little bit. Read more →
Last night, I was talking with my wife, and she pointed out a bumper sticker that her father had just purchased. “See, they include science.”, she said, knowing that I am both an Atheist, and a cheerleader for science.
My initial reaction was pleased, then as I thought about it, I became a little irked. “The problem I have with that…”, I said, “…is that science is not a religion. It’s a totally separate thing, and shouldn’t be included in that list. I’ve seen that bumper sticker before, where the I was the Humanist symbol. That would make more sense. But to include science in a list of religions is wrong.” Read more →
There are lots of reasons that people don’t question claims, and most of them fall into the bucket of one logical fallacy or another. There’s the Argument from Personal Incredulity: I just can’t believe that xxx could be right, so it must be this other thing that I understand better. There’s the Argument from Ignorance: We don’t know everything about xxx, so yyy is probably true. Then there’s one of my favorites: the Argument from Authority: Well, So-and-So said so, and she ought to know, she’s an expert! Read more →
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Fish, a journalist who currently writes for BusinessWeek.com and who has his own blog on skeptic topics, World of Weird Things. Since he also happens to be based in Columbus, he contacted me and asked if we could chat about modern skepticism. You can read the interview here.
Here’s a question – are you a skeptic in the workplace?
Let me give a little background. I am a librarian, and with that comes the responsibility of removing my personal beliefs/opinions from what I do. When I answer questions for customers, I have to be sure to give them appropriate information without interpreting it for them. If I remove books from our collection, I have to make those decisions based on circulation data, date of publication, and how much additional information is available in the subject area – and NOT on whether or not the author is a crackpot. And when I talk to customers face-to-face, I have to be careful not to show my feelings toward either side of an issue. I think that I do this well, but it can become difficult in certain situations.
For example: A customer calls in and asks about Kinoki Foot Pads. The skeptic in me wants to tell this customer all about how ridiculous it is to even consider for a second that these pads do anything for your health. However, I have to be careful to consider what is being asked. If they just want to know how to buy them, I will give them all the information they need to purchase this product. Sure, I might not agree with the purchase, but I can’t make that decision for them. But if the question is about how they work… well then, that’s different. Unfortunately, even when I’ve had the opportunity to tell someone about a hoax or a product that has been shown not to work, they often ignore the facts I give them and continue to believe whatever they want to believe.
How do you handle skeptic issues in the workplace? Do you have the freedom to express your opinions to coworkers or customers? And if you are in a position similar to mine, have you ever had a time that you’ve really struggled to maintain your neutrality?
As a Christmas present to my nephew Collin, I took him to a COSI family workshop. He wasn’t too excited about it until he found out the workshop included a tadpole to take home. Don’t worry–I checked with his mom first. My idea was to trick my nephew into learning some science. His idea was to put up with the science to get some tadpoles. Win-win, I say.
COSI has a new exhibit called Frogs: a Chorus of Colors, which explores the diversity of frogs This workshop was meant to explore in a little more depth the life cycle of frogs. I entered into it thinking it would be a talk about frogs, and then after you sit through the talk you get the tadpoles. I was so wrong.
The workshop was held in a large room with containers of water on the floor throughout the room. As we picked a container and sat down, Collin noticed that in the water were tiny little tadpoles swimming around. These were the tadpoles we were going to take home. The whole workshop focused around these little tadpoles. The moment Collin saw the tadpoles swimming around he was hooked.
We began by picking out our tadpoles and putting them in their new home. We could pick as many as we wanted, but I stopped Collin at two (I didn’t want to push my luck with his mom). We learned how to clean their water and how to feed them, what they needed to survive and why. They gave us a poster with the life cycle of the frog pictured, and we did a craft project illustrating the transformation from tadpole to frog. After we had our tadpoles in their new home and named them Michael and Jackson–not my choice; my choice was Aunt and Kim–there was a table set up to see frog eggs and to see the actual different stages from egg to frog.
When they wrapped up the workshop we went downstairs to see the new frog exhibit, which is really cool. If you see it, make sure to check out the poisonous frogs. They are so cute! All workshops also include admission into COSI and to the Extreme Screens. Before we arrived I had asked Collin if he would want to stay and look around afterward, and maybe see a movie, but he informed me he was too old for COSI. After the workshop, as we were leaving, he decided we might as well look around since we are here. In kid talk that means “I am actually having fun, although I won‘t admit it.”
In the end the workshop did just what I was hoping it would do: it made Collin excited about learning and discovering something new. We had fun looking around COSI, and it was great spending some quality time together. He left excited to watch the tadpoles turn into frogs. If you have a chance to take your son or daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild to a family workshop, I say go for it! It is definitely worth the money, and they did a great job of making learning and discovering fun. They offer workshops for almost any age group, and different subjects, so find one that is interesting and try it!
I’d like to dedicate this blog post to Michael and Jackson, whose lives were cut short after being with us for just one day. They will be missed. You will be happy to know COSI replaced the tadpoles and now Aunt and Kim are doing just fine.
Michael Shermer – Why People Believe Strange Things Thurs February 19th – 7:00pm 200 Campbell Hall
Ever wonder why people believe in UFOs and alien abductions, mind-reading and psychics who talk to the dead, reincarnation and life after death, out-of-body and near-death experiences, urban legends and satanic panics, not to mention Intelligent Design creationism and the pernicious myth that the Holocaust never happened? Dr. Michael Shermer, the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and a monthly columnist for Scientific American, is a genuine ghost-buster, a relentless crusader against junk science, bad science, voodoo science, pathological science, pseudoscience, and plain old nonsense. Based on his bestselling book, Why People Believe Weird Things, Dr. Shermer’s lecture is filled with humor, insight, magic, illusions, and personal anecdotes—a highly entertaining wake-up call that has become a wildly popular presentation at hundreds of college campuses. Students and professors alike rave about Dr. Shermer’s show, calling it one of the best presentations ever. Books will be provided for sale by Barnes & Noble with a signing to follow.
Students for Freethought, The Psychology Department, Your Student Activity Fee
Friday morning on Jan 30 got me up a little more excited than usual. (Aren’t you always excited to go to work?) I was going to my daughter, E’s, school that day to participate in the COSI on Wheels event. I am, of course, a total science nerd, and love to play with stuff, so the thought of having some fun with the hands-on exhibits seemed like a perfect day.
I was not to be disappointed. The COSI rep there was bright and cheerful. She clearly loved her job. The rest of the volunteers were a little sluggish at 7:15 in the morning, but with a workday that usually starts at 6:00 AM, after an hour’s drive, I was Mr. Perky. That and the exhibits were already set up and ready to go, looking super-cool. That day’s theme was “Space”, which was a big hit with everyone, both volunteers and participants alike. We did 6 sessions that day with different grade levels, so everyone got a chance to play with something. Here’s a brief rundown of the hands-on exhibits.
Glove Boxes. In space, in order to do some experiments, the astronauts must use boxes containing the materials or tools with which the experiments are done. The boxes have a pair of gloves embedded in them, that are open to the outside, so that the astronauts can place their hands in the gloves and work inside the boxes. This has the additional advantage of being able to create a vacuum in the boxes, or fill them with a different gas. There were two of these available for the kids to play with, containing legos, and a Mr. Potato Head. I attempted to assemble Senor Potato, with minimal success.
Space Food. At this table, a sample of dried and powdered foods were available for the kids to examine. Water equaling weight, most of the food sent into space is powdered or dried, and must be re-hydrated in orbit. Here, the kids were given the task of re-hydrating some potato flakes. Once done, they had to invert their containers over a bowl. If the powder, or any excess water fell out, then that would be what would be floating around the cabin in orbit. I chose not to attempt this one, knowing my record in the kitchen.
Spectroscopy. Here were four gas tubes, set up like neon lights, along with several diffraction lenses. The diffraction lenses were like the old Kodak slides, but clear, and when held to the eye and looking at light source, would show a small rainbow of colors to either side of the light. Each tube was filled with a different gas, and the last tube was the ‘Mystery Star’. The idea is, by looking at the light spectrum given off by the different gases, it is possible to tell what elements a faraway star is composed of. Though I must admit, since only one of the test gases was bright red, and the ‘Mystery Star’ was also bright red, it made things pretty easy.
Rocks & Minerals. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play with this one, but there were several mineral samples there, and four very sturdy looking microscopes. I would have like to get to check those out, but time was short before the kids showed up. I will have to keep an eye open for this one next time I do this.
Micro-gravity. At this table, there was a video player, and a set of tubes where the kids could attempt to mix oil and water. I say attempt, because in standard gravity, where water is more dense than oil, that is not possible. But the video showed how, in micro-gravity, oil and water do indeed mix.
Vacuum. Here we had a bell jar with a vacuum pump attached. The idea was to illustrate what happens in the vacuum of space. The kids got to decorate marshmallows with little faces. The marshmallow heads were stuck onto a space man action figure body, and the setup was placed in the bell jar. It was fun watching Mr. Space Man’s head swell to about twice it’s size. It was even more fun to watch it practically implode once air pressure was restored.
Made For Space? This was a type of quiz show that had several different objects on a table, and kids were to decide if the different things were made for use on earth or in space. A good example: Pudding Cup? Earth. Powdered Pudding? Space. Here’s a quick quiz for you: Tell me if these were made for use on earth or in space. a) Velcro. b) Cordless Screwdriver. c) Tortillas. d) Dust Buster.
Mass vs. Weight. Here, a set of scales were placed on the floor, each one representing your weight on a different planet. The moon, Venus, Uranus, and Jupiter were represented. I weighed in at about 440 on Jupiter, myself.
Air-pressure propulsion. This is where I spent the day. First, I’ll cover the experiment and then I can talk about the experience. The kids were given graduated cylinders, water bottles, and plastic test tubes with rubber stoppers. The kids would each measure out a quantity of water, and place that in the test tubes. Each kid would then get a small helping of Alka-Seltzer. That would be dropped into the test tube, and then the stoppers would be put on very quickly. As the gas pressure built up in the test tubes, the tops would pop off. We also had some inclined racks to put the tubes in, and a measuring tape on the floor so we could get a gage on how far the corks went.
I worked the air-pressure propulsion table. It was, in my limited estimation, the most popular table there. We had a good line of students there the entire time, for all 6 sessions that day. I was running the experiments with the kids, and there was another person there to handle crowd control. Seriously. Students would basically do the experiment, then try to get back in line two and three times. I needed the help.
I can’t describe how much fun I had that day. It was like playing the caller at a carnival tent, except everyone wanted to be there. A few of the students needed more help than others, but the excitement was contagious. Everyone had fun, regardless of age, knowledge or experience. It was a joy to see the curiosity and playfulness in the kids as they ran to and from each experiment. Some of the kids gently tapped the cork into the top, producing a mild pop. One of the kids got a rather large piece of Alka-Seltzer, and shoved his cork about a third of the way down the length of the test tube. That one flew almost the length of the measuring tape and bounced against the far wall. The reaction from the students was awesome.
At one point, one of the parent volunteers brought their child over to our table, specifically because the child didn’t get the chance to do the experiment during the main session. I took her through it, explaining a bit about air pressure, and how the gas built up inside the tube, forcing the cork out of the top. That, I said, is basically how rockets work, and how the Space Shuttle gets into orbit. I think she understood at least a fraction of what I said, but it was her mother’s reaction that caught me off guard. She took the time to thank me for the explanation, stating that it was good to learn new things, and she was glad she had the opportunity to learn something.
This, I think is what puts me where I am in the realm of skepticism at the moment. It’s the joy of being able to help people expand their knowledge. Showing people how the reality of the universe is far cooler than anything we can imagine we can imagine. (No, that’s not a typo. Read it again.)
So with that good feeling in my pocket for the rest of the day, I helped to clean up, load the truck, and take my leave for the day. I left feeling that I did something positive for the kids’ curiosity, and maybe, just maybe, helped to get someone more interested in science than they were before. That’s worth a day off of work, any day.
Greetings, David Maxwell here… As part of the discussion on our last podcast, Mark Plaid, one of our CORICast members, granted me permission to post his Facebook note regarding his 2011 New Year’s prediction party. … Read more →