Tag Archives: local skeptics

Someone Got A Picture

Well, someone out there took a picture. I sure didn’t. Even brought the fancy new camera just for that purpose, not really thinking about the fact that I’d be behind the table pointing out the fate of the Ewoks.

The Panel!

Sadly, I did not have time to get into costume.

It’s better than some pictures of me out there.

Some of us were more excited about the thing than others.


...though, I won't be naming any names.


Comic Con Complete

Well, we’re back from the 2010 Comic-Con. It didn’t take long, since the convention was, quite literally, right around the corner.

And it was great! We had an impressive turnout for the Saturday panel; “The Science of Science Fiction,” which easily had significantly higher attendance than any of the other panels Saturday or Sunday. We only regret that there wasn’t more time!

We got off to a worrisome start – next year we’ll remember extension cords and get the projector and computer squared away long before the last minute.

But begin we did. Local writer and editor Tom Head started off after a mad-science introductory by Yours Truly. Tom drove home the point that any extraterrestrial life out there would be highly unlikely to look anything like us, and the only reason that such things haunted the Sci-Fi circuit was because, well – you need a guy in a suit, and you need that rubber-suited actor to have something that audiences can relate to. The character of a hive-minded insect might be fascinating, but it’s quite difficult to relate to.

Tom also presented me with a copy of this issue of Skeptic Magazine, as his collection of Carl Sagan interviews was the one featured on the cover. If we’d had more time, Tom could have gotten into the joys of working with so much Sagan material, but, alas, we had only a single hour – much to the dismay of the audience.

Even with the small amount of time, Tom got to expose those in attendance to the heady speculative work of real exobiology, and how it could sync up with the demands of fiction without losing an edge.

Since a full 3/5 of the panel seemed to be avid Star Trek fans, I felt a bit out of place with my own bit; a few minutes on The Ewok Apocalypse. While this was the first time in my life to ever have to A: Do a powerpoint presentation and B: talk about physics in front of a crowd, and C: Talk about the death of millions of Ewoks, reports from the crowd were favorable.

(I got to work this picture into my first powerpoint presentation. Thank you very much, internet.)

Then Millsaps College own Dr. Patrick Hopkins gave us a little information on teleportation. Even with his limited timeframe, he was able to quickly run down the ideas and misconceptions behind Star Trek style teleportation – even including the infamous “Heisenberg Compensator.” Though, of course, he was not able to really explain the device; even the series’ “inventor” of the device, Michael Okuda once said, when asked how the HC worked “very well, thank you.”

So I guess we couldn’t expect much more – but Hopkins did fill in the assembly on how the infamous “quantum teleportation” could have been more accurately called “replication,” but for the vagaries of science reporting and funding cycles.

This happens more than you'd think.

He then explained the problems and psychological unease most people would have with replication-teleportation – and right before the entire science enchillada wrapped itself around a sticky core of Star Trek, MSU physics instructor Josh Winter came in with a nice presentation on the malapropriation of science by 2012 Apocalypse Promotion.

(Also, SMBC has been known to explain the quantum replication-teleportation conundrum this way.)

Josh had an excellent presentation prepared – plenty of references to some silly science movies like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core (the mere mention of which can still cause a room to chuckle and groan, apparently).

Josh reassured us that there was no reason for the Earth to explode on 2012, he laid out the mechanics behind the Equinox and Solstice, pointed out the ridiculous nature of “galactic alignments” by showing us that the sun is aligned between us and the galactic center every solstice, and should we be so unfortunate to have some shooting cosmic death-rays coming from the galactic center then, how lucky we’d be! The sun would be in the way! He also informed the unwary that we’re going to be safely within the galactic plane in 2012, so not to worry. The man was the exact opposite of reading Death From the Skies, is what I’m saying.

Josh gave us a brief rundown on the magnetic poles – how we know they migrate, and more – but before we could really settle into his entertaining lecture, the panel-mistress was giving us sterner and sterner looks.

We’ll have to get more time next year – or maybe host an event that’s not tied to the smooth operation of dozens of comic book shops.

Unfortunately, Scott Crawford didn’t get a chance to break out the really speculative science with the ideas behind a workable warp drive (available in the year 4000), but we can always hope for next year. The JSS members and the Comic-Con Crowd are a great match.

I’d like to thank the speakers in public (once again) and thank the JSS member who paid for their tickets.

The Sunday meeting wasn’t quite as exciting; nor well-attended, but we managed to amuse some people with our Science Quiz (10 questions, 11 points available) – perfect score could have gotten you the aforementioned issue of Skeptic Magazine, but one knowledgeable man by the name of Mark from Flowood won himself a one year subscription by getting 8 out of 11.

Just so you all know, the gram measures mass, not weight. More people got that one wrong than any other.

And we’re going to do a meeting this month – maybe not even one in a bar. We’ll see, soon enough.

Jackson Comic-Con 2010

Hello, long-ignored readers. I’m sorry for ignoring you all for so long. Really, I am.

Anyway, on to business!

The Jackson Mississippi Southern Fried Comic Con of 2010 is right around the corner. This years’ event is oh-so-worthy of attention from all you locals for a few reasons:

1: It’s geek city. I know we’re not all into that sort of thing, but judging from some of the Skeptics in the Pub conversations, we’ll fit right in. Or maybe you just like gawking at people in Stormtrooper outfits. I fit into both categories.
2: last year was a lot of fun. This year seems like it’s going to follow in that trajectory.
3: The Jackson Skeptical Society has a panel discussion! Yes, we do!

One whole hour (and maybe more!) – the overarcing topic: The Science of Science Fiction. Presenting Yours Truly, discussing the inevitable Ewok Apocalypse from the end of Return of the Jedi.

If this happens in the sky above you, it is a bad thing.

Dr. Patrick Hopkins of Millsaps College discussing Star Trek style teleportation.

This is how we are arriving for that part of the talk.

Physics Instructor Josh Winter from Mississippi State University will discuss 2012 and the Hijacking of Science by Psuedoscience.

Not pictured: Reality.

Local author/blogger and editor Tom Head will be presenting the realities and unrealities of extraterrestrial life.

Hint: They won't look like this.

And Scott Crawford, Science Officer of the local Star Trek group, the USS Haise, will regale us with findings about the potential for the future of warp speed, and what it would require.



The individual talks won’t take toooo long, I know mine will only be a few minutes (in which you’ll hopefully get to see a picture of an Ewok on fire, but – no promises) and I’m expecting us to be done with our talking in about an hour.

Then, the fun part begins! You’ll get to ask questions, point out what you think we got wrong, and belittle us for not understanding the difference between hypermatter and duracrete in the Death Star.

The Comic Con has a Facebook Page, and a small website.

The brief on when and where:

Cabot Lodge Millsaps.

When: Ten AM to six PM. June 26th and 27th

Our panel will be in the afternoon, I’ll know exactly what time soon enough!

Welcome Back, Jackson

Well, Jacksonians. I’m back.

I was back a couple of weeks ago, actually – but I took a blagging break.

I’d meant to open the New Year (happy 2010, break out the rocket boots) and new decade with a rundown of our last meeting of the decade, but… something too delicious to pass up has come by.

Our local free paper, the Jackson Free Press has gone and printed an article about – reiki.

I made a polite reminder style comment in the online edition in the hopes that anyone who read it might realize that reiki is not for medical conditions (not evident from the article). However, it appears to be in moderation hell, which is hilarious given the sort of ignorant statements that get made on the site.

So for your reading pleasure: the JFP reiki article.

And my response (for the public consumption, not the dick-joke vulgarity that passes for blagging):

I do not doubt that Jankovitz did in fact feel “more awake and …calm” after her visit to a reiki practitioner. Of course there are many ways that can happen, most of them cheaper than sixty dollars an hour and without the dubious “healing energy” involved. One can go for a walk, relax and eat a bit of fruit, do some situps, have a good beer or a cup of tea – all of these things will provide quite the benefit – especially if you load them up with your own personal meanings and significance.

What is healing energy? It cannot be measured, nor detected. Bear in mind that even neutrinos, whose defining characteristic is their near-total lack of mass and reactivity, can be detected. Even if such an energy could be detected, what does it do? There is no phenomenon for “charging” the human body, no discernible method for storing any sort of energy – other than the food that you eat and the fat that you keep. We are not machines. We do not have batteries.

Reiki has time and time again been shown to be exactly as effective as a placebo and anyone with a real medical condition should not seek it out. Healing at a distance has never been shown to work – and repeatedly been shown not to work. If it did in fact work, the world we live in, full of sickness and death, would not reflect well on the motivations and actions of distant healers.

This “body-soul” piece comes in the same issue where the editor urges people to take responsibility for their own city and well-being – and not accept fantastic claims from other people who seek to save us. If you are seeking a more relaxed, fulfilled life, you can do that without shamans and gurus – you could make honest changes to your life, instead. You’ll save some money and you might learn something real about yourself along the way.

Patrick Jerome
Jackson Skeptical Society

Were it on the blog, I’m sure you can imagine how it might sound a little different.

Your daily ORAC reading: Anti-Vaxxers vs. Free Speech.

Amusing bit for the day: Philosophy Hand Signals. These will be in play at the next meeting.

And tying into the reiki bit: are placebo treatments ethical?

Catholics vs. Reiki. The JSS agrees with the Catholic church! (which agrees for all the wrong reasons).

Ah well. I’ll talk about the meeting to everyone who wasn’t there, soon enough.

Monday Linklistings

Well, it’s finally cold here in Mississippi, and we’ve even had snow, so huddle around the faint heat of your computer monitor and prepare for some linkins.

First off, the idea that vaccines are causing autism – an oldie but goodie – is once again worked over on Science Based Medicine. Here you can also find an experiment, where a researcher who tried to reproduce Andrew Wakefields results – using the same techniques – failed to do so.

And of course, should you be one of those people who are terrified of all the generic “toxins” in the world, then this Skeptoid is not for you. Perhaps you should go and get an dangerous treatment applied for all the wrong reasons.

Wrong reasons? Surely there’s some sort of study proving the efficacy of Chelation Therapy for something other than it’s intended uses?

Well, there are, but they suck. The author has a great quote on this study:

n fact, if I were to try to design a study that couldn’t show any results, I would be hard-pressed to do better than this one. The fact that the authors are so convinced that the DMSA did work is a testament to their pre-conceived notions.

One of my favorite services that Photon in the Darkness has provided is the indictment of low-quality lab testing that finds the all-purpose “toxins” when you want them to. Great for worried mothers who think their children are strange because of lead or mercury, and not because their kids are just weird, these labs are the basis of many a person asking for the ole high-dollar health-store detox.

But maybe you’re tired of all the medical woo. Maybe you want to try a relaxing trip to Iraq, where you can be safe in the knowledge that no bombs are getting through military checkpoints, since the police have the best possible detection technology – no, not bomb-sniffing dogs – those are unclean!

I’m talking about dowsing rods. Sure, they’re fancy, dressed up dowsing rods, but they’re dowsing rods nonetheless.

For those of you unfamiliar with dowsing I present first a wikipedia article and then my own account.

Dowsing is holding a stick, forked or otherwise – or just standing around (most people use a stick) and then claiming that the stick points towards water – or electrical conduits, precious metals, treasure, buried bodies, whatever you’re looking for, really.

The reason it works when you’re not under controlled conditions is the ideomotor effect (if you ask me, which you didn’t explicitly do, I know, but still) combined, probably, with some ideas about where water (or buried whatever) might be. I imagine that many of the old-time water witches were actually people who knew where to dig a well. You can charge a lot more, however, if you run around with a stick and claim magic.

So while this bomb-dowser does find bombs, I imagine that’s got a lot more to do with the operator seeing the bomber panic at the sight of a “magic wand” ready to catch him than any sort of “Ion like-charged fluctuation.”

You may have heard recently that goddamn Deepak Chopra is ticked at us skeptics (quick, change your mind before he actualizes our potential to suffer!) for pissing on his ideas.

My favorite just all-out wrong part is this:

It never occurs to skeptics that a sense of wonder is paramount, even for scientists. Especially for scientists. Einstein insisted, in fact, that no great discovery can be made without a sense of awe before the mysteries of the universe.

Apparently not a big fan of Phil Plait. Or Carl Sagan. Or – ah, hell, we all know what’s quantum-entangled with Chopra. Cash money.

But if you want to see a much better dissection of this wrongness, Novella does a good turn at it. A commenter includes this wonderful quote I think I may start using:

“Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found.” [Miguel de Unamuno, “Essays and Soliloquies,” 1924]


So Mr. Plait is leaving the presidency of the JREF to the equally wonderful (but not as bizarre, and I say bizarre is what the kids want!) D.J. Grothe. If you were to remix Point of Inquiry podcasts, would you be DJ DJ Grothe?

Still, getting kids involved in science is a good thing, and it’s easy when you’ve got a series like The 300 Million Year War.

Of course, if you’re feeling like you need more evil in your life than antivaccination creationists you can always get on eBay and find this ring.

And if you’re going travelling on the holidays (like maybe to our last meeting of the year?) be careful. Keep your eyes on the road and don’t just blindly stare at your GPS.

Final Meeting of the Year

Well it’s running on into Christmas time, and you’ll all soon be listening to aunts who heard “something” on Oprah, uncles who have a few “theories” about evolution, and plenty of family-based insanity.

Since you gotta love the family (to their face, at least) why not vent a little bit of your woo-caused frustrations and pony up to the bar for the final JSS meeting of 2009 – our first year is down the hatch already!

There’s been a lot in the news of skeptical and scientific interest; from the Pope hunting Martians, Coma-Man, the H1N1, 2012 – you need to catch up!

Once again, the Time will be 19:00 (7 PM for you 12 hour clockers)
The Date: December 22nd (a Tuesday).
The Location: The Ole Tavern on George Street (clicky)

So there ya go.

Be prepared to discuss Christmas myths, wear fun T-shirts, and everyone’s favorite skepticism topic: Do you tell kids about Santa?

Plus, tearful recollections about where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and a cheerful debunking of 2012. The phenomenon, not the movie. I’m pretty sure that, at least, exists.

I’ll see you there. Remember to ask about the free beer.

The Danger of Hoaxes, Plus Woo-Mad Libs

One of the things that I’ve always wanted to get the group together for is some good old fashioned hoaxing. Toss a few pie plates around, take pictures, turn over a canoe, claim it’s a lake monster, that sort of thing – then when gullible members of the public claim it as truth – enter the dramatic reveal!

Well, there’s a bit of a danger to this idea – that, no matter how much you cry foul, someone is going to keep taking it seriously.

But what do you readers think? (Do I still have readers?)

Also, a hilarious game was suggested to me through Skepchick recently. Woo mad-libs!

You remember mad-libs, right? The game where you fill in the blanks to make a (hopefully) hilarious story?

Well try it with woo-words.

Here’s your framework, all you have to do is fill in the blanks (***) with your favorite words of woo.

“This *** product uses a combination of ***, ***, and the ancient study of *** to *** and *** the human ***. Our technicians, certified by the *** College of *** test each sample for the optimal level of *** power. *** and rejuvenate yourself with *** as the *** returns your body to the natural healthful state of ***, completely removing any and all toxins that may occur when you are not *** and ***.”

So that’s 16 woo words you’ll need. Let’s try this:

ayurvedic, natural, qi, life force bits, crystal energy, radiomacroscopic rays, homeopathic, naturopathic, detoxifying, chelation, balance, bio-identical hormones, vigor, magnetic, infared, quantum focus.

Rearranging them (and tense-changing) gives you something you might well find on the shelf of your local whole foods:

“This natural product uses a combination of life force bits, bio-identical hormones , and the ancient study of ayurvedic to balance and detoxify the human qi. Our technicians, certified by the Naturopathic College of Homeopathy test each sample for the optimal level of radiomacroscopic ray power. Chelate and rejuvenate yourself with magnets as the crystal energy returns your body to the natural healthful state of vigor completely removing any and all toxins that may occur when you are not in infared quantum focus

I urge my readers (if you actually exist) to give it a shot. Start flinging those woowords around and we’ll have something marketable soon enough! I don’t think that the state of Mississippi minds too much.

Comment away!