Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sky Is Falling...According To "The Internets"

I try to be aware of the news.  I listen to NPR as I get ready in the morning and also I read through articles on Google News during breaks at work .  I’ll admit that I get a lot of my news from The Daily Show & The Colbert Report too.  And yes, I agree:  that last sentence is a sad commentary on modern T.V. news.  What has crept up on me in the past few years is how the dissemination of information has changed.  It's incredible to me the amount of breaking news I get from my friends or "likes" on Facebook:  celebrity deaths, earthquakes, political squabbles, and so on. 

Earlier this week I was scanning through my Facebook feed and saw a few posts that took me aback:
“Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building” 
"BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage." 
"Police helicopter just ordered to pull back after Rep. Trent Franks tried to take it down with a shotgun. #CongressHostage." 
"BREAKING: Congress demanding $12 trillion ransom or "all the kids die" #CongressHostage."
WHAT!?!?!  Should I switch on the TV or maybe has more info on …oh wait, that’s a post by The Onion.  (!/Theonion)  Whew.  Not their best joke, but whatever.  In reality it took about as long for me to dismiss this "news" item than it took you to read the “W” in “WHAT!?!?!”  As far as I’m concerned that’s where this story should have ended.  It didn’t…

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Slinky Physics!

From the Lightning Round, here is the slinky youtube video.

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value=";hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src=";hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>

Click on one of the choices embedded in the video to see the answer.

(Sorry: the embedding doesn't seem to be taking right now)

Episode 025 was edited so fast that it was uploaded before it finished recording

Download it directly here or get it on iTunes

EXTRA: Poe's Corner (not available on iTunes)

This Week: (hh:mm:ss)
01:30 Texas Freethought Convention Oct 7-9n 2011, Live recording at TFC, petition, shoutout to Donna's

sister-in-law (ish), UARS update
7:58 Speedy neutrinos
23:33 Schroedinger's Cat redux
36:12 55%, 33%, 7% and Left and Right Brain training myths
46:38 Aborigine Genome Sequenced
91:05 Holistic Chamber of Commerce
96:18 Lightning Round
EXTRA:  this weeks Poe's Corner, which was cut for time. It's worth your time.

...and Gary spends most of the podcast keeping/stopping Calliope from needfully greeting the Skepticwirians, pawing the mic stands, or licking...everything. For a very difficult drinking game: drink everytime you hear Gary snap, clap, or stage whisper "tshh!". [And Gary's long topic is what happens when he doesn't stinkin' prepare!]

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Poe's Corner For Episode 025 - School Bans

GET POE'S CORNER HERE. it ain't on no iTunes!

In the UK David Attenborough & Richard Dawkins are calling for creationism to be banned from school syllabus and evolution to be required and started earlier.  Meanwhile in the United States…

A group in one Massachusetts town wants to ban students from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools, saying it has no educational value and is reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.  Brookline Political Action for Peace will ask town meeting voters in November to pass a nonbinding resolution on the idea. The pledge is already optional in the Boston suburb's schools.  Marty Rosenthal, a lawyer and co-chairman of the group, tells the Boston Herald the pledge is "at odds with America's most important traditions." He says he is not being unpatriotic.

The water bottle ban started at the beginning of the school year for McKenzie School District middle and high school students.  "We can't have closed water bottles at all," said high school student Sydney King. "We have to have them open, we have to fill them up between passing periods."  According to superintendent Sally Storm, the ban is in response to students caught sneaking alcohol into school in water bottles over the past few years.

The De Pere School District however thinks it has figured out a way to fight childhood obesity. Now on picture day, children are not allowed to say cheese anymore—but instead have to say peas.  "We are trying to promote healthy living and options," said Dr. Stuart Mart, Superintendent of De Pere's school district. "Let's face it, cheese is not that good for people to eat."  St. Norbert's professor of psychology, Dr. Phillip Schmitt, did a study and found that when kids hear something, they want to have it immediately.

Which is the satire and which two are the actual stories of efforts to change U.S. schools "for the better"?  Links to the source articles after the break...

Quick Update

It has recently come to my attention that a subject we discussed on The Skeptic Wire is in desperate need of an update

First: Republic Missouri School District has reversed its decision to ban the book Slaughter House Number Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I really wouldn't call it a reversal per se, because while the book is in the school library, its essentially been relegated to the restricted section and requires the parent to come and check it out.

Read about it here.

And another addendum to this issue. The American Library Association has a new campaign and they need your help to make it a success.

They are sponsoring a new channel on Youtube and encouraging viewers to post videos of themselves reading from a banned book

Go and make a video!!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Episode 024 finds that Mario Brothers is a metaphor for folding proteins and jeans

Download it directly here or get it on iTunes

 This Week: (mm:ss)
00:42 Stuff that has happened and shoutouts (yo.)
 07:04 Domestic PArtner Benefits for San Antonio City Employees
16:05 US Military releases Religious Neutrality Memorandum
 27:50 Poe's Corner
32:27 Pseudoscience Versus Science
46:30 Global Warming question
49:40 Crowd Sourcing Gamers solve AIDS enzyme
 54:00 Scientists disarm AIDS virus
59:14 Lightning Round

 And the dogs agree with many things that are said (finally!)

 Follow on twitter: @theskepticwire
Write us at:
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 The big board:

David/ Calliope standoff...or sit off...or something

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Apple A Day Does NOT Equal Death

I’m adult enough to admit that when I was a kid I watched G.I. Joe.  Looking back now the plots were silly and the animation was kinda crude.  They actually did an episode where one of the Joes was freaking out because a “Viper” kept calling; ominously saying he would “be there tomorrow.”  Turns out it was just the window “wiper” with a heavy German accent.  An entire episode based on a lame joke.  It was not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination. 

There was one episode that has stuck in my brain.  It was called “The Germ.”  Here’s a synopsis: 
Psyudomondo U Bacteria, better known as Bacteria X, is stolen by the Crimson Guard, when they double cross Destro. In usual Cobra form, the Crimson Guard drops the Germ and a growth formula that Destro was working on, and it forms a giant blob that's eating everything in its path. The Joes throw everything at it from missiles to insecticide, and even send Airtight into the blob with explosive antibiotics. The blob separates in two after the Joes' attack, and one blob is weakened after going through an apple orchard. The Joes figure it's the poison in the apple seeds, so they bombard with blob with apples, which destroys the Germ.

I remember a bizarre scene at the end of the episode where the good guys and bad guys all team up launching thousands upon thousands of apples at this amoeba/blob to kill it with the poison in the apple seeds.  I’ve since learned that apple seeds (and some other fruit seeds) actually do have a tiny bit of cyanide.  (  I’ll leave it for another discussion how unrealistic it was, even to me as a kid, that they were all firing apples out of cannons and bazookas.  I guess what stuck in my mind was the concept that sometimes a little bit of poison won’t hurt the big bad beast, but a thousand times that, all at once, could.  A little bit of actual knowledge among the silliness.  And knowing is half the battle!

G.I. Joe may not have been as science minded as Sid The Science Kid ( or as skeptical as the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You (,_Where_Are_You!), but the idea of that apple-poison story stuck with me. 

I guess Dr. Oz never watched G.I. Joe.  (  I’m not a doctor, but I do know that the body can handle minor doses of many poisons.  Dr. Oz is a doctor.  He’s supposed to know about the dose-response.  He’s supposed to know that some compounds that contain arsenic (or mercury, etc) are actually safer and more easily metabolized than others.  He’s supposed to know better that his arsenic-in-apple-juice story is yelling "FIRE!!!" in a crowded theatre.  Unfortunately these stories just get thrown out there and people don’t remember the corrections.  G.I. Joe might have been a stupid and silly cartoon, but at least this once they got some science correct. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Episode 023 XTRA: HCoC

We had to cut this portion for length reasons. So here it is for your perusal and enjoyment. It isn't on iTunes, however. For no reason except my hand is tired and my eyes don't see as well as they used to, and my elbows are blunted, my knees ornate, my teeth double-jointed, and my duodenum needs dusting. Or is that my credenza? I always thought a credenza was a plant. Silly me. Um. Get the XTRA bit here.

Episode 023: makes some illogical leaps and barely survives to tell of it

Download it directly here or get it on iTunes This week: 00:01 Intro: - Update on Soyuz - NASA gets a new rocket plan - FFRF and Lindale, TX algebra teacher - Bachmann vs. Perry and the HPV vaccine 14:25 iPhone acne apps 21:10 Spongebob and brain function 31:30 Poe's Corner 39:30 Near Death Experiences 49:35 Contagion is pro-science 59:20 Lightning Round Go to the blog for this week's "Holistic Chamber of Commerce" newest member! Yeah: it got cut from this week's episode. I blame the dogs. Follow the blog at: Follow on twitter: @theskepticwire Write us at: Leave us a voice message through the iPhone PodPoster app (coming to Android soon?) Friend us on Facebook Subscribe on iTunes ...leave a review, if you are so inclined! The Big Board
Calliope awaits reply to her argument

Update: Michelle Bachman and Vaccinations

During last night's recording of The Skeptic Wire Podcast, we mentioned the exchange between Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michelle Bachmann during the recent CNN/Tea Party/GOP debate. Rep. Bachmann slammed Governor Perry's decision to issue an executive order requiring pre-teen girls in Texas to take the Gardasil vaccination for Human Papillomavirus. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. While Governor Perry admitted fault in how he issued the order, through executive order instead of going through the state legislature, he stood by his decision to make this particular vaccination a priority in Texas.

For the record, as much as I cannot stand Governor Rick "The Hair" Perry, I must applaud him on this decision. That is simply an aside and now back to the conversation regarding Perry vs. Bachman.

Bachmann, it seems, has firmly entrenched herself with bad science and the anti-vaccination movement. For the record, I'm not sure if this was said during the debate or in any of the many interviews afterwards. But Michele Bachmann said that she had spoken with a mother whose daughter had been harmed by the Gardasil HPV vaccination. She claimed that this mother said that her daughter suffered from mental retardation the very next day after receiving the inoculation.

Rep. Bachmann has come under some serious fire from science bloggers, and the medical community for this comment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following statement

"The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation, here is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record."

Now, the challenge has been issued to Rep. Bachmann: Prove your statements regarding the Gardasil vaccine. Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of Bioethics at the University of Minnesota says he is willing to put up one thousand dollars if Rep. Bachmann will provide the medical records for the young woman who was supposedly hurt by the Gardasil vaccine. His former boss, Dr. Caplan, with the University of Pennsylvania Bioethics Department, has matched the challenge and upped the ante to $10,000.

And in typical fashion, now Rep. Bachmann is backing away from her statements about the HPV inoculation. She said she was simply repeating a statement that a distraught mother told her. Even Rush Limbaugh has called Rep. Bachmann out on her statements, saying that she had "jumped the shark"

I'm not expecting Rep. Bachmann to take up Dr. Miles and Dr. Caplan on their offers. If she does, I'll be sure to update on that event.

Poe's Corner From Episode 023

For this week's Poe's Corner we have a few examples of weird battle of the sexes headlines.  Which is the satire and which are actual studies?

#1  Study: 92% of babysitters hired by moms are butt-ugly
A study conducted by Harfold State College on Harfold dads … shows that the vast majority of babysitters found by their childrens' mothers are not pleasant to look at.  More than nine out of 10 babysitters or 92% of those hired by moms only were deemed to have facial and body qualities that were less than desirable in the opinions of the dads.

#2  Women's Tears Reduce Sex Drive in Men, Study Hints
In multiple experiments, male subjects smelled either women's fresh tears …or a control liquid of saline, which was trickled down the faces of the same women.  When the men were shown photographs of ordinary women not involved in the experiment, those who had sniffed real tears were less sexually aroused than men who had sniffed saline—as revealed by the men's heart rates, skin temperatures, and testosterone levels, among other cues.

#3  Wealthy men give women more orgasms
Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner’s bank balance.  They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms.  “Women’s orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner,” said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research.

Links with the answers after the jump...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Religion In The Classroom...When Will They Learn?

T'is that time of year again.  A time for children everywhere in the U.S. to plod reluctantly back into the classroom after a glorious summer of swimming in the creek, playing tag at the park, rolling hoops with sticks, and trying to retrieve their Frisbee from old-man-Wilson's back yard...that's what kids still do in the summer right?  Among the many start of the school year activities is getting new supplies.  New jeans, pencils, paper, etc. ...Trapper Keepers are still cool right?

In Lindale, TX students of eighth grade algebra teacher Amy Priddy got some unusual items on this year's start-of-year supply list.  The bible was included as a required classroom supply item (along with pencils, paper, etc) and the list also stated that a classroom expectation was to "Listen: to the Spirit of the Lord."  This wasn't on the district approved list, only on the list Mz. Priddy made up herself and gave directly to students.  Whoa Nelly!  If there was ever an obvious example of a rogue teacher going over that church/state line, this is it. One of the parents was understandably uncomfortable with the list and contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  Last week (8/30/11) the FFRF released a statement that they were contacting the Lindale, TX school district and middle school principal regarding this fairly blatant violation of the 1st Amendment separation. (
...noted FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt in her letter. "Mrs. Priddy’s decision to include 'Listen: to the Spirit of the Lord' and a Bible as classroom expectations distributed to parents and students crosses the line [of state-church separation] because she is endorsing and promoting religion while acting in her official capacity as a school district employee,"

I hadn't found much follow-up in the google-able press this week, so I contacted the FFRF directly to see if there was an update.  It turns out that the teacher had previously worked for a private school (I assume a parochial one) and made a "simple mistake" in forgetting to update it.  Annie Laurie Gaylor pointed me to this local press follow-up story:
"We take it very seriously," Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt said. "We're very aware of the law. It was just a simple mistake."  He says Priddy never meant for those requests to make it to students.  "She knows that's not allowed at our school," Surratt said. "It was just a harmless error." 

A statement directly from Priddy says she used to teach in a private school and "used a previous supply list and inadvertently failed to cut [the religious requirements] from the current supply list."  (
Sometime this week the school sent home a new supply list to parents.  Priddy's classroom was also reviewed to make sure there weren't any other materials that would illegally promote a "religious point of view" and it turned out clean.  The district took this complaint seriously, talked to the teacher (no word on discipline yet), and corrected the list.  The FFRF has responded to this resolution with language along the lines of "the district did the right thing" and "we are pleased."  I guess there's no way to verify that Priddy's actions were actually 100% innocent.  At least these school officials REALIZE that Priddy's list was not appropriate.

This is a good win, but the minimal press coverage bugs me a bit.  Unfortunately we almost always only hear about the  intransigent school board, city council, or other government officials digging in their heels and making a big stink when they're reminded that they're not allowed to blend religion with government.  I know it's not realistic with today's "if it bleeds it leads" media culture, but I wish we heard more about these simple, civil resolutions.  One of our best secular watchdog organizations brought this violation to the attention of the relevant authorities using direct "you can't do this" language and the school officials took the appropriate actions to correct the situation.  FFRF used a civil, measured response and the school officials took the law seriously.  Mz. Priddy hasn't made any further comments to the press, that's fine.  She has a right to privacy.  Good job FFRF.  Good job Lindale school district. 

But it would be nice if the broader public knew that most of the time these violations get respolved quickly with a direct, polite letter and a minimum of fuss.  Atheists aren't all litigious, frothing at the mouth bullies and school officials aren't all fundamentalist brick walls refusing to acknowledge the law.  Maybe if more of these stories got a wider distribution both sides wouldn't feel they have to dig trenches and raise an army when government and religion collide.

Oh well, it was a good win.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Episode 022 thinks that anniversaries are important

Download it directly here or get it on iTunes This week: 01:00 Intro: - TX burns - Shoutout to Eric for his review, - Emily Davis- freethinking musician, - Updates TX Sonogram, Warren Jeffs 09:05 9-11 Remembered a wandering discussion 10:24 Truthers in the Pub 14:00 The buildings 18:21 Why the conspiracy? 24:40 WC 7 (building 7) 27:49 Pentagon 31:10 Who are the truthers 35:35 Religious effects 47:00 Memorial Service 53:49 Where were you? 60:29 Lightning Round for a good resource on 9-11 Myths, read Popular Mechanics' "Debunking 9-11 Myths" And the dogs feel inclined to chime in at least once, though they had yet to have been concieved in 2001. Follow on twitter: @theskepticwire Write us at: Leave us a voice message through the iPhone PodPoster app (coming to Android soon?) Friend us on Facebook Subscribe on iTunes ...leave a review, if you are so inclined! The big board:

Friday, September 2, 2011

How Church/State Separation SHOULD Work

This past Monday (August 29th, 2011) 39 prisoners at the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will begin a program to earn a four year degree in biblical studies. Some of these men have a decade or more left in their sentence, others are going to be in prison for life. Once trained (and ordained?) by the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, they may be assigned to other prisons as inmate ministers.

I'll admit that I have my reservations. I really wish the article I found wasn't full of syrupy language from politicians such as, "The hand of God has been in this project," but we can't always get everything we want in life. I've also seen all six seasons of the HBO series "OZ." On that show having prisoner religious leaders NEVER ended well. Besides the obligatory theological battles; there were turf wars, revenge plots, assassinations, and the guy from 90210 was buried alive in a friggin' brick wall!

Despite having those prejudices, I (surprisingly) have no strong objection to this TDoCJ program. It all comes down to one sentence in the Associated Press/Houston Chronicle article: "The Texas project, an extension of the Fort Worth-based seminary, uses no state money and is financed with private donations." (Emphasis mine)

None of my tax money is being used to fund this program. Maybe there are some minimal costs that I'm technically paying for, but I'm willing to pay for paper and pencils for these guys (I'll get to that later). This is exactly how the separation of church and state should work. You want religion in prison? Fine. YOU pay for it. They call this a "nondenominational program," but it is obviously christian and probably very baptist. I would want to make sure that any equivalent muslim, jewish, pagan, norse, or secular program would get the same treatment, but the important thing is that the state of Texas is not financially endorsing this program. It's also a separate issue to make sure these prisoners do not receive any special treatment simply because they're training to be ministers (cushy minimal security cells, early release, or commuted sentences). To be clear: the narrow point I’m trying to make here is that the state is not pushing religion with its wallet. We could use more of that kind of thinking here in Texas (cough-rick-cough-perry-cough-cough).

This is a battle I would choose NOT to fight. I’m going to borrow Hemant Mehta's “Atheist Threat Level” concept and give this a “Level One:

This program can have a practical, and non-religious, benefit. This is a "bachelor's degree in Biblical studies." Even if I personally disagree with the subject matter, these inmates will be getting an education. They will have to study, work on their communication skills, and develop self-discipline. In a prison environment those social and reasoning traits could come in handy in a very constructive (and secular) way. Even if it's just becoming an example of a fellow prisoner who has learned how to resolve conflicts without a fight, that's progress.

Now, arguably, I will go off the clear path for a while. From Dan Barker to Julia Sweeny I've heard so many stories of people who have actually lost their faith when they studied their religion in a more academic way. It's amazing how many people come out of seminary as secret atheists. I've heard many anecdotal tales that simply reading the bible (or koran) cover to cover is enough to turn people into non-believers. I'm sure this Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary program is awash with cherry-picked niceties, platitudes, and apologetics ...but maybe, just maybe, these men will get the benefits of an education and also find some reason along the way.

Either way, I don't have to pay for it

Source URL:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Photos From Episode 021

We just posted some pictures from our first LIVE show (Episode 021) on our Facebook page.

We need a few more "Likes" on the FB page and then we can register a user name (and a shorter URL). So before you gawk at our lovely photos, please give us a "Like." *

Maybe next time you can join us in person. We don't have any plans yet, but Greg votes for a 1 AM Saturday gathering in our hotel room at the Texas Freethought Convention (Oct 7-9, 2011) in Houston, TX. Thanks to everyone who made the show a lot of fun for us!
* Some reviews on iTunes would be nice, while you're at it. :)

Episode 021 is drinking age and LIVE! With absolutely no overdubs whatsoever

...maybe a little bit of editing, though.

Download it directly here or get it on iTunes

This week:

Live recording in front a group of skeptics! Our first live recording, as our podcast hits #21 and has a beers [sic].
Oh, lawzzy it's a long'un!

1:36 - Homeopathy in the HEB (grocery store to you non-Southerners) plus a personal anecdote
00:06:12 - Greg's brother gets a PhD
00:07:23 - Hurricane Irene and a Bachmann self Poe
00:09:38 - Update on Warren Jeffs
00:12:55 - Update on Doctor James Corbett

Long Topics:
00:18:40 - Indiana students, racy photos, and the right to have a life outside of school
00:25:46 - Vaccines and autism: no link. Again.
00:41:01 - Right to Die case
00:53:35 - Soyuz and ISS and NASA

01:00:20 SA Holistic Chamber of Commerce - Kagan Water

01:11:35 Lightning Round (ends with a rant by Greg on the new placenta-as-food fad from 1:27:00)

1:33:20 Q&A: Is bisexualilty the only sex, with other sexual identities being merely social constructs

1:47:35 Outtakes

And because we were away from the studio: no dog inturruptions, but we did have a fallen cup incident. Bad cup!

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