Saturday, July 23, 2016

A day in the life of a skeptic

As an advocate for skepticism and science, I find myself in some rather interesting places and even more interesting discussions.  I find that I have little time to contribute to my blog though my passion and advocacy, I'd argue, is probably stronger and more regular today.  Throughout my day, I'm often confronted with bad ideas and hear mentions of or references to "pure stupid" far more often than I'd hope from my circle of friends and acquaintances.  

I'd like to find it funny when a friend mentions something stupid and, in some ways, I'd like to simply be able to silently laugh to myself and ignore it.  As my wife can attest, that's seldom what happens and I'm more than willing to question an idea or, at times, ridicule it (ridiculous ideas deserve ridicule - though my wife is probably right, more often than not, that there could be a better way to tackle it). 

Recently when a colleague asked about an absence from work, rather than directly answering the question, I explained that I had attended a science rally.  To respond to further questions, I explained that I was advocating against anti-science propaganda and the danger that religious belief brings with it.  As they could not see the obvious connection between religion and anti-science to bad public policy, I had to point out recent laws passed to further legitimize discrimination against certain groups of people (LGBTQ community, women, etc.) and church supported misinformation regarding dying with dignity laws, birth control options (Crisis Pregnancy Centres) and, possibly more importantly, public acceptance of (near) settled science on evolution, climate change and vaccination.

The discussion, like many I have, started with much agreement - they were either surprised that people believed some of the crazy things we talked about or suggested that nobody actually believed them - age of the earth being < 10,000 years, that evolution wasn't true, that vaccines cause autism, that the story of Noah and the Ark was historically accurate and much more.  And, as with nearly all of my discussions, it touched on something that they held a firm, but not supported by evidence, belief or disbelief in.  In this case it was the idea that I supported vaccination.

I pointed out that their dismissal of people who claimed that evolution wasn't true and their almost hysterical laugh at the idea that people believe the Noah's Ark myth is the same feeling that many people have about people who claim/believe vaccines cause autism (and some of those people who accept the science of vaccination may also believe in astrology or homeopathy).  It was at that time that I explained how I blogged and that I couldn't think of a single friend who agreed with all of the propositions that I've made or the positions I've taken and it wasn't my goal to list items until I found something they disagreed with - I actually thought I was listing areas that we'd have in common so they could understand my desire and passion around fighting ignorance and anti-scientific ideas and I wasn't looking to have a disagreement or argument.

Anti-vaccine ideas are often based on ignorance of vaccines or limited scientific understanding.  The position that my colleague held, however, was that vaccines caused autism and, unlike most views on vaccination, this specific claim is almost entirely the result of a fraudulent study by Andrew Wakefield.  I felt it important to educate my co-worker about skepticism and vaccination in general so my (our) lunch later that day turned into a fairly deep discussion about the autism/vaccine controversy and eventually vaccination in general.  

It was clear (and they admitted) they'd not heard the Wakefield study was retracted, that it was found he committed academic fraud and that he lost is license to practice medicine.  They also didn't realize that there have been numerous studies that fully supports there being no link between pediatric vaccines and autism.  I further explained thiomersal (thimerosal), how vaccines work and concepts related to herd immunity.  As a result of our conversation, I think they actually accepted that the "vaccines cause autism" claim is probably false but they (almost) ended our conversation with, “well, it doesn't really matter to me, my children are grown so it's a non-issue”.

I say "almost" ended because it was at this point that I was able to explain "why it matters" that I am a skeptic and why I don't shy away from potential conflict when it comes to doing my (little) part to fight bad ideas wherever they present themselves.  

It matters because they disagreed with something I had said and they perpetuated a disproven myth about vaccines.  It matters because if they were willing to say that to me, would they agree with their children when they suggested they may not vaccinate their kids because of this fraudulent idea?  It matters because if one of their friends/family members were on the fence about vaccinations, would repeating the lie push them to be less likely to vaccinate than they, otherwise, would have been?  It matters because them holding the idea that pediatric vaccines cause autism will likely have them less inclined to getting vaccinated, themselves, for other preventable illnesses (influenza, HPV, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, etc.).  It matters because they may be less certain about other beliefs they have.  

And, most importantly, it matters because I (we) care about our fellow humans and I understand that bad ideas can have impacts that negatively affect us all.

The spreading of bad ideas has to stop somewhere - do your part in dispelling myths whenever you can because bad ideas can have bad consequences.  


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When the bush is gone, what are you going to beat around?

For more than a dozen years, values that most of us feel to be true humanistic values have been openly and flagrantly under attack and when the people that should be the most defensive of those values are afraid to truly stand up for them, we're definitely heading in the wrong direction.

What I'm speaking about is the idea that is being referred to, generally, as regressive leftism.  I encourage people to look up the term and to understand about it (both arguments for and arguments against - learning benefits us all).  There's one specific point of it that this blog is going to be about - not identifying the problem with the correct terms.

When the attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred, many people found it acceptable, though, on all other occasions, they would argue that the right to free speech is absolute, to say that the cartoonists were "stupid" for "offending" Islam.  This is victim blaming and, as you'll see in other parts of this blog, I think it is abhorrent.  There is nothing that the cartoonists/publishers did to deserve death.  (Just as leaving your laptop in the back of the car does not make you responsible for its theft and putting the box from your new large screen TV at the curb does not make the criminal less responsible for the later theft of it.)

When the second major terrorist attack occurred in France (though wrongly, as it should have never been a situation of victim blaming), the conversation could very well have changed.  It hardly did.  The Islamic terrorists, though pledging allegiance to an Islamic terrorist organization, were very sparingly identified as such.

The Pulse nightclub massacre occurs and the conversation (though I completely agree that guns are a problem, more on that later) turns to gun control and assault rifles.  Reports quickly tried to distance the attacker from a "true" Islamic terrorist suggesting that he didn't know "true" Islam.

Then, only days ago, an Islamic terrorist drives a large truck through a crowded area and kills 84 (or more) innocent people.  ISIS was quick to claim the terrorist as one of their "soldiers" and it has become (as if it wasn't almost certainly going to turn out that way) absolutely clear that he was driven by religion to commit such an atrocity.

Today, I scroll through my wife's Facebook feed to see people defending religious belief -- that this attack was an aberration of faith and/or that the Islamic terrorist wasn't well educated about Islam.  One part of that argument is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy - that anyone who does anything that doesn't agree with your definition of a thing isn't a "true" one.  The second part of the argument could be completely true (and it is something that this blog has touched on a number of times) - that most followers/believers are far less educated about their faith than many atheists and critics are.

I apologize for the digression but I think it helps illustrate the point.  When Catholics were polled about acceptance of evolution, only 68% of them believe "humans evolved over time" -- despite acceptance of evolution being the actual position of the church.  Recent interviews with Christians revealed general ignorance of the bible - the vast majority of people in the pews are not familiar that the bible stories about Jesus were not written by eye witnesses.  This is a fact that educated theologians, almost without exception, completely agree with.  From a personal experience perspective, when speaking with "average" believers, I have yet to come across one that is familiar with many bible stories/references that I often bring up - a large number of Christians simply know only what is told to them from the pulpit or they are just willfully ignorant and have been sold on the idea that claiming to be a Christian or blindly defending the bible and the church is the right and moral position to take.

It isn't a defense of religion to say that its adherents who are committing atrocities aren't educated enough about that particular religion - it is a scathing indictment of the dangers that religions and faith poses.  It is completely possible that ISIS is using a misinterpretation of the Islamic texts or it may be that ISIS is using religion as justification or even that ISIS is taking advantage of Islamic adherence.  Either position you want to take on that, the finger still points to religion in general and Islam in particular.

Given that this entry is already in excess of 600 words, I won't be thorough in the discussion about what the Koran, Bible and other "holy" books actually say, it is important to not gloss over the fact that the actions and claims of religious terrorists are well supported in the books/doctrines that they adhere to.  Many Christians will probably read this and argue that this is an Islam only problem but, until the Enlightenment (and even now with their record on equal rights (on everything), abortion, birth control, science education and much more), Christians were no better (arguably worse) than Islamic terrorists of today.  The Christian bible has countless horrible ideas and stories and any Christian that denies such only further goes to illustrate the point that whenever a Christian tells me to "read the bible", I'm often correct in stating "it isn't me that hasn't read the bible".

I'll be absolutely clear - Islamic terrorism is real and belief in the unbelievable is to blame.  As Jim Jefferies says "This isn't a war on Islam, it is a war on religion".  Let's call it what it is and the sooner we start to, the better off we'll all be - hopefully it happens while there's still even a bush left for you to beat around.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

And you're certain you've chosen the "One True God"?

A follower of this blog sent me the idea for this blog topic (and some great ideas - thank you!).  You may, too, have encountered this.

"I am amazed, to no end, at the ignorance of some believers - when I suggest that I am a skeptic or an atheist and they respond with: 'So you are into Scientology' (often not even stated as a question)"

He suggested that he tries to respond with "You have no idea about Scientology and other religions but you're certain you chose the 'true' one?".

I have often encountered the "Are you a Scientologist?" or "So you believe in Christian Science?" when I mention that I accept the theory of evolution.  It is clearly a sign that the person knows little about science and nothing about either Scientology or Christian Science.  (I've often remarked that 'Christians' will argue with me against Christian Science - they'll say "It's not Christian" and I'll say "It's not science".)

Scientology, for those that don't know, was created by man (as most religions seem to be - given their misogynistic views) - a man - L. Ron Hubbard.  He was a science fiction author (many would argue that Dianetics was his greatest work of fiction) who created Scientology in the middle of the 20th century.  It is not based on science, it is not based on reality - it is a money hungry cult (the difference from other religions is so subtle that there isn't one).

Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) was created by a woman (wow!), Mary Baker Eddy (and she didn't do anything to shed the "master" teachings of Christianity and other monotheistic religions) in the late 1800s.  Christian Science preaches about healing oneself without medical intervention and, as I recall, about the idea that matter only exists if you believe in it (and that matter really doesn't exist).

For someone to ask if I'm a Scientologist or if I'm a "Christian Scientist" suggests that they are not aware of the teachings and beliefs of either of those religions and one must wonder if they know much about competing religions aside from a headline in the newspaper or what their church leaders have decided to tell them about it.  I don't think it'd be a stretch to say that they probably don't.

In reality the problem is deeper than that - many people know little about their own faith and only have heard or accept the whitewashed versions told to them.  Many haven't read their bible in its entirety and many are rather ignorant about the history of their faith.  In street-level debates, I've seldom encountered a believer who is even aware of completely undisputed facts about Christianity.  During a recent conversation with a believer, they expressed utter disbelief when I stated, factually, that the gospels were not written down until decades after Jesus' supposed death and resurrection (I could only imagine their response had I mentioned that Jesus had as many as 18 foreskins!).

I think this only goes to demonstrate that believers don't accept their religion to be true because they've carefully examined a variety of faiths and picked the one they believe is most plausible.  It's likely that they hold to their current faith because they were indoctrinated into it and haven't dared question it because of the strict protestations of their supremely jealous non-existent sky-daddy.



Friday, April 15, 2016

My Dear Friend Robbie Thomas

(Update 4/16/16: Late last night, I was informed that Robbie Thomas has resorted to threats of physical harm.  As a result, all comments are going into moderation and the Sarnia Police have been notified.  If your answer to criticism of your claims is to threaten physical harm, you've already lost the argument.  However, Robbie Thomas (Robbie Poulton) is either a real physical threat to participants in this blog and http://robbiethomas.sarnia.com or this is further evidence of his lies.  If he honestly believes that he is psychic, he's delusional.  If he's delusional, he may very well act out on his threats.  If he knows the psychic game is just a sham, that makes him an even bigger scumbag but not likely to assault someone.  For the safety of all of us, we're not taking any chances.)

My identity is one of the worst kept secrets in the world.  I have been pretty public about who I am and about my beliefs. And for a good number of years, I've been extremely critical of Robbie Thomas who claims he is psychic (he isn't).  He's tried to find out who I was -- he even called people who I blogged about to see if they would identify me.  No such luck.

For the past few months, I've been, as ME, not my pseudonym, me, the real me, calling people that Robbie has abused, been writing emails to people that Robbie claims support him and even identified myself to Robbie in person.

So he's now trying to blackmail me - threatening to tell people who I am or where I live (he's wrong, which makes it even funnier) if I don't take down the blog about him (http://robbiethomas.sarnia.com - which, by the way, isn't mine to take down) and apologize. That's not going to happen, Robbie.

Robbie Thomas, the truth is not on your side.  You can continue to lie and I will continue to point out your lies.  You can continue to harass and abuse people and I will continue to expose you for what you are (not psychic and a pretty big asshole).

And, Robbie, if I'm wrong, prove me wrong.  Identify a single case that you've solved with your psychic abilities and I'll post a retraction as well as petition to have the Stop Robbie Thomas site taken down.  In other words, the blog will live forever.




The Church of Chiropractic

I've blogged before about the church, err, practice of Chiropractic before.  The "DC" after a Chiropractor's name is short for "Doesn't Count".  They aren't medical doctors, they don't practice real medicine and they are often anti-science. Chiropractic is far from what they want you to believe it is. 

Mark Crislip reviews a recent paper that has been pretty actively discussed in and outside the Church (of Chiropractic).  To quote his background section in the article:
The basic theory and practice of chiropractic, as pulled out of thin air in 1895 by DD Palmer, is complete, utter, 100% nonsense. There is no subluxation complex, there is no inane, er, I mean, innate, intelligence (I think my spell check has become conscious), no disease caused by misaligned vertebrae that is fixed by having the spine adjusted by a chiropractor.
If a patient is seeking care for neck pain and receiving diagnosis and treatment based on chiropractic, they are receiving pure, unadulterated pseudo-science.
The article, as are almost all articles over at sciencebasedmedicine.org, is definitely well worth the read.  Check out the whole article.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's so nice to be back

Wow, so much has changed in the past couple of years yet so much has stayed the same.

First of all, I've corrected the old Stop Robbie Thomas site so that it can be viewed again (http://stoprobbiethomas.blogspot.ca) -- I'm told that the stoprobbie.com domain didn't get auto-renewed because of an expired credit card.  Oh well, the posts are back and hopefully a few of us can spend a bit of time getting new content on the site.

Secondly, I'll try to get back to regular posts on this site but there's always so much going on in my life and my horoscope suggests it is only going to get busier for the next month or so.  (If you believe in horoscopes, this blog might not be your cup of tea.)  If you have a topic that you'd like me to blog about or if there's something you think I might be interested in, skeptic@sarnia.com is the best way to get in contact with me.

For a different dose of skepticism, I encourage you to check out http://www.meetup.com/Sarnia-Port-Huron-Freethinkers.  The organizer has been quite active and pulled together a number of events already.   


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Collect the million bucks or shut up & It's YOUR god, you prove it exists

I get email - often from people who agree with my desire to get people to think critically or from people who have something that they think might interest me or the 2 people who read my blog.  However, I also get email from crazy people, people who firmly disagree and others who think/claim that I'm stupid.

First of all, I don't want you to accept what I say - learn for yourself and come to your own conclusions.  I would like for you to understand what constitutes evidence and data and to understand how to evaluate it. 

"Psychics"
Since the majority of my blogs covered psychics for a while, I seem to get a lot of email from people who "want (me) to know something" or to "get the facts".

Explain to me how he was able to give the name of my uncle who had passed away and even the day he passed away. He couldn't have known any other way.
This is a common statement that I hear from people who disagree.  There are a number of things that I think need to be addressed when statements like this are made.  Asking for a copy of the "reading" (ie. video or audio) might help in ruling in/out some approaches.  (I've NEVER been given a copy of a reading by someone who firmly believes in psychics - I have asked numerous times.)

First of all, I'm skeptical to the suggestion that it is as it is stated.  I am fairly certain that the "psychic" didn't say "So, let's first talk about your uncle Jack Smith who died on August 12, 1984."  The "psychic" likely approached it as most cold reading is done - "I'm getting contact from a person, their name starts with a "J" or an "R" or a "S"".  To which the person probably responded "Maybe my uncle Jack?"  "And it seems to me that he died possibly in the summer." "Yeah, he died in August." 

Another thing to consider is that the "psychic" may have been able to get the information another way.  Since appointments are often made, the "psychic" could have searched genealogy sites, newspapers, facebook, etc. for information on the clients before they attended.

The reality is that stories are often exaggerated, details are left out and new information is added.  If your psychic could really do what you're claiming, send him to http://www.randi.org/ to collect his million bucks or shut up.

Real psychics don't charge for their services and they don't profit from it. (In response to my "collect the million bucks")
Right! Errr. Wrong.  I would suggest, then, that psychics don't exist simply because I've never met a self-claimed psychic who offers their services and doesn't charge for it.  By your statement, Robbie Thomas, Sylvia Browne, John Edwards and others are not psychic.  The evidence of their claims would also support your statement.

Pick on the people who are doing the real harm like drug companies.
I've talked about the REAL harm that psychics do - check back through my blog you lazy (or information ignoring) baffoon.  Or check out http://www.whatstheharm.net/.  If it were true that drug companies were causing real harm and offering no benefit, it does not make psychics, all of a sudden, less wrong.  It doesn't make them smaller liars or more honest.  (I do disagree with the suggestion that drug companies are "all bad" - though I'd be the last to suggest that they couldn't be better but that's not the point of this blog entry.)

"God Exists"
(If) you're so certain that god doesn't exist, present your evidence.
This is a tired claim - I'm not the one making the suggestion of existence so the burden lies on YOU (the god believer) to proof that he/she does, in fact, exist.  Until then, god almost certainly does not exist.

May god have mercy on you.
And may my invisible purple unicorn treat you fairly.  Ridiculous statement answered with the ridiculous.  It is like threatening someone who doesn't believe in hell with eternal suffering in hell.  I'm not worried about your god because I'm not concerned about smurfs, fairies, gods or anything else that doesn't exist.