Shoutouts to great skeptical blogs/podcasts

Despite all the nasty blogs and even worse twitter battles, there remain shining examples of good skepticism and reasoned discussion.  I’ve avoided getting involved in the recent disturbances in the skeptical force for a couple reasons.  The first, is that I think most of what’s gone on the last month has been so unproductive and so damaging.   Not damaging to the movement of skepticism, for it’s bigger than a few nasty blog writers.  I mean it’s damaging to yourself.  All that negativity and bile is not good for you.  The saying  ”You don’t change the devil, the devil changes you” is probably apropos.

The second reason is because while I rarely care about what I say publicly about things like supporting drug legalization, supporting total unencumbered abortion rights, total support of gay marriage, and being an public atheist, what I don’t want associated with my name is the kind of accusations that have been thrown own too loosely by too many bloggers.  I do have a professional side of me where I deal with issues of sexism and bias as best I can within my power, and the last thing I need is someone making public accusations about me because I follow someone on twitter or because I dislike nasty tone. So, unfortunately, I remain more quiet than I normally would.

So that brings us to the blogs and podcasts that I want to give shoutouts to.

The first blog is ICBS Everywhere written by Barbara Drescher.  Barbara writes somewhat infrequently, but when she does, her writing is a great example of skepticism done right.  Her use of language, rhetoric, and argument far surpasses my own abilities to write so every post is like a lecture in itself, in a good way.  Her dedication to the core principles of skepticism has taught me much about how to  improve my own ideas, such as the intersection of skepticism and veganism.

The second blog is Doubtful News run by Sharon Hill, a daily news site that brings you interesting stories on the paranomal, strange and unusual from the skeptical point of view.  The blog is never boring, always updated, and one of the most impressive collections of news stories out there.  Sharon’s writing is not cynical in the least, and she is fair to everyone involved.  It’s probably the second thing I read every morning after I check my email.

Ben Radford writes a lot and is also on one of my favorite podcasts, Monster Talk.  Ben writes so many articles, covers so many topics that it is inevitable that he writes stuff that I really like, and stuff that I really have a problem with, sometimes based on my own biases.  There is not a thing wrong with this, and in fact, it shows that Ben is not afraid to go after everyone’s sacred cow.  He has also shown the ability to admit when he was wrong, but above all, Ben keeps everything professional and is open to reasoned conflict based on facts and logic.

Brian Dunning is the creator of Skeptoid, a weekly podcast that is a staple of my podcast listening habits.   Much like Ben, Brian hits so many topics that he often touches on subjects that I have a problem accepting I’m wrong on.  Skeptoid is unafraid to go after sacred cows and really push the boundaries past the common consensus.  Not every episode is one hundred percent correct, and Brian has shown a willingness to admit he gets it wrong sometimes.  Skeptoid has something for everyone to love and hate.

For the record, this post is not a comprehensive list, it’s just the starting point, and I hope to highlight a few more blogs, podcasts and people in the days leading up to TAM.

Shoutouts to great skeptical blogs/podcasts

Despite all the nasty blogs and even worse twitter battles, there remain shining examples of good skepticism and reasoned discussion.  I’ve avoided getting involved in the recent disturbances in the skeptical force for a couple reasons.  The first, is that I think most of what’s gone on the last month has been so unproductive and so damaging.   Not damaging to the movement of skepticism, for it’s bigger than a few nasty blog writers.  I mean it’s damaging to yourself.  All that negativity and bile is not good for you.  The saying  "You don’t change the devil, the devil changes you" is probably apropos.

The second reason is because while I rarely care about what I say publicly about things like supporting drug legalization, supporting total unencumbered abortion rights, total support of gay marriage, and being an public atheist, what I don’t want associated with my name is the kind of accusations that have been thrown own too loosely by too many bloggers.  I do have a professional side of me where I deal with issues of sexism and bias as best I can within my power, and the last thing I need is someone making public accusations about me because I follow someone on twitter or because I dislike nasty tone. So, unfortunately, I remain more quiet than I normally would.

So that brings us to the blogs and podcasts that I want to give shoutouts to.

The first blog is ICBS Everywhere written by Barbara Drescher.  Barbara writes somewhat infrequently, but when she does, her writing is a great example of skepticism done right.  Her use of language, rhetoric, and argument far surpasses my own abilities to write so every post is like a lecture in itself, in a good way.  Her dedication to the core principles of skepticism has taught me much about how to  improve my own ideas, such as the intersection of skepticism and veganism.

The second blog is Doubtful News run by Sharon Hill, a daily news site that brings you interesting stories on the paranomal, strange and unusual from the skeptical point of view.  The blog is never boring, always updated, and one of the most impressive collections of news stories out there.  Sharon’s writing is not cynical in the least, and she is fair to everyone involved.  It’s probably the second thing I read every morning after I check my email.

Ben Radford writes a lot and is also on one of my favorite podcasts, Monster Talk.  Ben writes so many articles, covers so many topics that it is inevitable that he writes stuff that I really like, and stuff that I really have a problem with, sometimes based on my own biases.  There is not a thing wrong with this, and in fact, it shows that Ben is not afraid to go after everyone’s sacred cow.  He has also shown the ability to admit when he was wrong, but above all, Ben keeps everything professional and is open to reasoned conflict based on facts and logic.

Brian Dunning is the creator of Skeptoid, a weekly podcast that is a staple of my podcast listening habits.   Much like Ben, Brian hits so many topics that he often touches on subjects that I have a problem accepting I’m wrong on.  Skeptoid is unafraid to go after sacred cows and really push the boundaries past the common consensus.  Not every episode is one hundred percent correct, and Brian has shown a willingness to admit he gets it wrong sometimes.  Skeptoid has something for everyone to love and hate.

For the record, this post is not a comprehensive list, it’s just the starting point, and I hope to highlight a few more blogs, podcasts and people in the days leading up to TAM.

Applied Skepticism: Example 3 – Legalization of Drugs

Legalizing marijuana is a pretty popular idea, especially in younger demographics.  I go a step further: legalize it all.  Pot, heroin, coke, crack, meth, etc, make it all legal.  My view is that the government has no right to tell me what I can and cannot consume as long as I’m not hurting anyone.  If the government feels the need to involve itself in the consumption of narcotics, it’s participation should be limited to treatment, not incarceration.

When I was younger, I was hesitant to open the floodgates to legalizing drugs.  I couldn’t get past the thought that people would do drugs more often if drugs were legal.  Then I went to college.

In college, despite being underage for almost the entire time, I was able to procure alcohol as often as I wanted.  Alcohol was illegal, but a dorm full of college kids were able to get anything they wanted.  It’s awfully dumb, but often we’d just leave the empty bottles out in the open for anyone to see.  The only thing I ever got dinged for having in my room was a toaster oven.

I tried pot in college and found out it was not a lot of fun.  Some people love it, I find it extremely annoying.  I never had the interest in doing anything more, even though I had access to other drugs.  I’m still not interested.  Legalize it all and I’d still not be interested.  

After seeing how poor prohibition laws worked in practice, I had to rethink my stance.  I started looking at the statistics and what the statistics told me changed everything.  Illegal drugs were not nearly the killer they were made out to be.  Based on death rates, one could easily conclude that the cheeseburger was a bigger threat to the nation’s health than drugs.

Incarceration rates in this country have risen since I was in college to the point that in some states close to 50% of inmates are in for marijuana related offenses.  Billions of dollars are spent trying to prevent drugs from getting in the country.  People become felons for smoking pot in their own home, while politicians joke about having glasses of red wine in their own homes.  It makes no sense.

In almost every measure I could find the “War on Drugs” was a failure.  So what did I do with this information?

I changed my mind.  I learned that everything I’d been taught about drugs was either wrong or exaggerated.  I saw that government force did not stem drug usage.  I saw the number of young people getting criminal records for what looked like small offenses.

I became a supporter of legalizing, not just pot, but all drugs.  If you’re 18, do whatever you’d like in the comfort of your own home.  Applied skepticism once again got me to change my mind, when all my preconceived notions were challenged.  I had to look at causes and effects and see how they fit in with my own values.  I’m never afraid of changing my mind, especially when I really, truly believe it would mean helping people.

Applied Skepticism: Example 3 – Legalization of Drugs

Legalizing marijuana is a pretty popular idea, especially in younger demographics.  I go a step further: legalize it all.  Pot, heroin, coke, crack, meth, etc, make it all legal.  My view is that the government has no right to tell me what I can and cannot consume as long as I’m not hurting anyone.  If the government feels the need to involve itself in the consumption of narcotics, it’s participation should be limited to treatment, not incarceration.

When I was younger, I was hesitant to open the floodgates to legalizing drugs.  I couldn’t get past the thought that people would do drugs more often if drugs were legal.  Then I went to college.

In college, despite being underage for almost the entire time, I was able to procure alcohol as often as I wanted.  Alcohol was illegal, but a dorm full of college kids were able to get anything they wanted.  It’s awfully dumb, but often we’d just leave the empty bottles out in the open for anyone to see.  The only thing I ever got dinged for having in my room was a toaster oven.

I tried pot in college and found out it was not a lot of fun.  Some people love it, I find it extremely annoying.  I never had the interest in doing anything more, even though I had access to other drugs.  I’m still not interested.  Legalize it all and I’d still not be interested.  

After seeing how poor prohibition laws worked in practice, I had to rethink my stance.  I started looking at the statistics and what the statistics told me changed everything.  Illegal drugs were not nearly the killer they were made out to be.  Based on death rates, one could easily conclude that the cheeseburger was a bigger threat to the nation’s health than drugs.

Incarceration rates in this country have risen since I was in college to the point that in some states close to 50% of inmates are in for marijuana related offenses.  Billions of dollars are spent trying to prevent drugs from getting in the country.  People become felons for smoking pot in their own home, while politicians joke about having glasses of red wine in their own homes.  It makes no sense.

In almost every measure I could find the “War on Drugs” was a failure.  So what did I do with this information?

I changed my mind.  I learned that everything I’d been taught about drugs was either wrong or exaggerated.  I saw that government force did not stem drug usage.  I saw the number of young people getting criminal records for what looked like small offenses.

I became a supporter of legalizing, not just pot, but all drugs.  If you’re 18, do whatever you’d like in the comfort of your own home.  Applied skepticism once again got me to change my mind, when all my preconceived notions were challenged.  I had to look at causes and effects and see how they fit in with my own values.  I’m never afraid of changing my mind, especially when I really, truly believe it would mean helping people.

Applied Skepticism: Example 2 – The Great Chain of Being

This post about applied skepticism is a little less straightforward then the last one I did.  This time I’m focusing on the concept of the “Great Chain of Being” idea and how it relates to veganism.  My personal version of veganism consists of me avoiding using animal products in my every day life and believing that animals deserver much greater consideration that they receive now.

The “Great Chain of Being” is a concept that reaches back thousands of years and is a scientifically illiterate way of categorizing supernatural elements and living creatures.  Gods are above man, man is above wild animals, and wild animals are above domesticated animals.  There are more layers than this, but purposes of this post that’s all we need to be concerned with.

The idea that humans are better than animals pervades our society even amongst the agnostic and atheist groups in the country.  Scientists who sequence DNA and understand how linked we are at a DNA level with other animals still eat meat, weather leather, etc.  I believe it’s this idea of the “Great Chain of Being” that still holds sway over almost everyone.

Applied skepticism comes into play, because when I first became a vegetarian (not a vegan at first), I did look into the reasons people consider some animals only worth of of eating while others become members of the family.  Religion plays a big part in these views, as in most religions in the United States, humans are special.  However, religions going all the way back to the time of Aristotle have placed humans above animals.

A skeptical look at our views on animals brings up all sorts of other questions.  With the advent of genetics, how much different are we than animals?  Do the ranges of intelligence of chimps and humans overlap?  If we say that human intelligence makes us special, why do we treat the brain dead with dignity?  

Skepticism has answered all these questions for me yet, but they do poke holes in the idea of the “Grain Chain of Being”.  Our place in the world is based, not on science, but on scientifically outdated views on biology.  Without this concept, there is no reason I can think of that gives humans any right to take the life of an animal just for food.  

That’s why I will remain a vegan until the day my brain shuts down.  I don’t view animals as “lesser” creatures, but instead as fellow creatures living on Earth.  I’d also like to make clear that, again, skepticism did not lead me to be a vegan, but once again, it allowed me to examine the claims around why people eat animals, and then I made my own conclusions.

Applied Skepticism: Example 2 – The Great Chain of Being

This post about applied skepticism is a little less straightforward then the last one I did.  This time I’m focusing on the concept of the “Great Chain of Being” idea and how it relates to veganism.  My personal version of veganism consists of me avoiding using animal products in my every day life and believing that animals deserver much greater consideration that they receive now.

The “Great Chain of Being” is a concept that reaches back thousands of years and is a scientifically illiterate way of categorizing supernatural elements and living creatures.  Gods are above man, man is above wild animals, and wild animals are above domesticated animals.  There are more layers than this, but purposes of this post that’s all we need to be concerned with.

The idea that humans are better than animals pervades our society even amongst the agnostic and atheist groups in the country.  Scientists who sequence DNA and understand how linked we are at a DNA level with other animals still eat meat, weather leather, etc.  I believe it’s this idea of the “Great Chain of Being” that still holds sway over almost everyone.

Applied skepticism comes into play, because when I first became a vegetarian (not a vegan at first), I did look into the reasons people consider some animals only worth of of eating while others become members of the family.  Religion plays a big part in these views, as in most religions in the United States, humans are special.  However, religions going all the way back to the time of Aristotle have placed humans above animals.

A skeptical look at our views on animals brings up all sorts of other questions.  With the advent of genetics, how much different are we than animals?  Do the ranges of intelligence of chimps and humans overlap?  If we say that human intelligence makes us special, why do we treat the brain dead with dignity?  

Skepticism has answered all these questions for me yet, but they do poke holes in the idea of the “Grain Chain of Being”.  Our place in the world is based, not on science, but on scientifically outdated views on biology.  Without this concept, there is no reason I can think of that gives humans any right to take the life of an animal just for food.  

That’s why I will remain a vegan until the day my brain shuts down.  I don’t view animals as “lesser” creatures, but instead as fellow creatures living on Earth.  I’d also like to make clear that, again, skepticism did not lead me to be a vegan, but once again, it allowed me to examine the claims around why people eat animals, and then I made my own conclusions.

Kansas City Cryptids

It’s a busy Saturday, so today’s post will just be a little reminder legends and stories exist everywhere we live.  Currently, I’m living in the Kansas City area, and I didn’t know much about the area until recently concerning cryptids.  The two that seem to be the most talked about are Olathe’s Hairy Man  and the Beaman Monster.

The Beamon Monster has a classic cryptid ring to it.  Sightings around the Kansas City area started around the early 1900’s.  Russell Holman of Sedalia has said his father told him about a circus train crash, that while all the other animals were retrieved, a twelve foot gorilla had escaped into the wilderness.  The Beaman Monster is said to be the offspring of said gorilla.

Reports of the Beamon Monster consist mainly footprints and lore.  While no specific encounters revolve around a hominid creature, another native of Sedalia, Daemon Smith, claims the Beamon Monster is more like a wolf or coyote due to a sighting he had when he was young.  Others say the Beamon Monster is just a local “bogeyman” designed for one part fear and one part fun.  The stories continue, but the evidence does not.

Another cryptid reported in the Kansas City area is Olathe’s Hairy Man.  Sighted in 1893, the Hairy Man is said to “to be fully seven feet tall with a heavy covering of brown hair, and perfectly naked. It stands in a half stooping posture, with long arms crossed over its breast, but when startled or in pursuit, it gets over the ground rapidly with a swinging gait.”

The creature was said to have killed a number of cows, and while a hunting party was organized, nothing but spooked and slaughtered cattle were ever found.  A newspaper is quote as saying “It is thought by many to be an African gorilla that has escaped from some traveling menagerie, and the people fear it will kill human beings before it can be captured or shot.”  Once again, a circus is the source of the creature.  While it doesn’t mean or prove anything, there must have been hundreds of circus crashes with hundreds of gorillas released into the world if you believe all the legend.  I really don’t know what to make of all the claims of animals escaping from circuses.  Perhaps, it’s just an easy solution for most people don’t care enough about the “problem of wild” hominids.  

In any case, these two cryptids show how much history about your local area there is to learn.  Just doing some cursory searches about “Kansas city cryptids” was enough to get me started.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaman_(cryptid)
http://cryptozoo-oscity.blogspot.com/2009/09/beaman-monster-bigfoot-or-wolfman.html
http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/olathe-wildman/
http://www.sedaliademocrat.com/articles/0px-20175-style-font.html
A Strange Monster,” Sioux Valley News, Correctionville, Iowa, June 22, 1893