As you know, I just recently returned from Dragon*Con where I got to spend some time with a lot of very awesome skeptics. By far, one of the biggest perks to attending the conference was the fact that I got to spend some quality time with Atlanta local, Masala Skeptic. I followed Masala (aka Maria) around for four days, took sexy photos of her, shared a hotel room with her, and asked her some of the burning questions that had been on my mind for quite some time. She truly is an amazing gal who put up with my surliness like a champ! I hope the interview will help you to get to know the lovely Maria a bit better, and although I am still trying to get the complete vegetable masala recipe, I think the interview was a huge success!
1. What originally got you interested in skepticism?
My husband (www.themanversion.net)! He had been a fan of James Randi and Carl Sagan for many years and a few years ago, he suggested we go to TAM 4 because he wanted to see Daniel Dennett and the Mythbusters (what a combination!). I mostly wanted to go to Vegas and didn’t really think much of the conference itself. I showed up and fell in love. I remember sitting in the hall, listening to Carolyn Porco show us images from the Cassini mission to Saturn and thinking “I’ve wasted my entire life.” It was an introduction to a whole new world for me and I dived in and have never looked back.
2. What skeptical topic do you enjoy debunking the most?
I am not sure I’m much of a ‘debunker’ as such. I prefer to help people find their own path to realizing things are bullshit. But when I do go after something, it’s usually related to India. Indians seem to be very susceptible to various forms of pseudoscience and alternative medicine. Plus we have the wackiest gods, which seem to get very involved in our lives!
3. Who would you rather tongue kiss for 5 minutes straight, Bill Maher or Kevin Trudeau?
I would have to go with Bill Maher because Kevin Trudeau has the tongue THEY don’t want you to know about. Bill endorses a bunch of his own crazy pseudoscience, but I did thoroughly enjoy “Religulous” so I’d give him a little for effort.
4. When we live on our own private Skepchick island, who would you recommend for the bartender position?
Atlanta Skeptic Joe Anderson (www.thebiot.com) who makes the best margarita I’ve ever tasted and has been known to make Special Skepchick Booze Runs in emergencies. Joe always comes through.
5. What one skeptical topic do you wish there was evidence for?
God. I think things would be a lot easier if there was a clear answer to the God question and we could all agree on it. I also think it would be awesome to shut the extremists up, on both sides :) Plus, I would have a *lot* of questions.
6. How do you make vegetable masala?
The most important part of making any masala curry is how you brown the onions. Patience, people – get them just right and don’t burn them. Also, don’t use too much chili. Focus on flavor, not heat. Finally, most Indian food is best if you cook it a day ahead and let the flavor soak in a little.
7. What one skeptic (alive or dead) has influenced or inspired you most?
Robert Lancaster. The first time I heard him speak, he was doing a paper presentation at TAM 4. This was before he created StopSylvia.com. He was talking about his StopKaz.com site, which was a site he created to stop a woman who was going around to church groups and telling them that she was a 9/11 survivor. She spoke at Robert’s mother’s church and when he found out, he started to investigate and discovered her to be a fraud. Robert took a very personal, immediate problem of wanting to stop his mother from being cheated out of her money and used a logical, rational approach to investigating and deconstructing this woman’s story piece by piece and provide a clear, unemotional overview of the facts to let people decide for themselves. Robert hasn’t stopped inspiring me since. I’ve got to meet a lot of skeptic celebrities and heroes in my life but Robert always reminds me that a regular person can make a difference.
8. You have 5 minutes with Oprah Winfrey and she absolutely must pay attention, what do you say?
Hi Oprah, I’d like to show you this site. It’s called WhatstheHarm.net and it will give you real, concrete anecdotes of situations where alternative medicine and therapies can cause real harm to real people. Please use this as a reference before you endorse a form of pseudoscience on your show. I know it’s just anecdotal evidence. If you want real facts, here’s Stephen Novella’s phone number. Use it. Seriously.
9. You can have any one skeptic on speed dial and they HAVE to answer, regardless of what time you call or how drunk you are. Who is it?
A Kovacs. She usually *is* the person I drunk dial or call regardless of what time it is. She kicks ass, always is willing to talk and knows EVERYONE so if she doesn’t have the answer, she’ll find out who does.
10. You get a call from Amanda Palmer. She wants to crash at your place for the night. You agree. She shows up at your house, and suddenly 50 tween girls are on your lawn. You ask her WTF is going on. She looks at you confused and asks if you got the message from her earlier. You say no. She tells you she needs your house to host a Twilight party consisting of a Twilight book signing and movie marathon. The cast of the film will be camping out in your back yard. Amanda hands you some glitter and tells you to “sparkle up” for the party. What do you do?
It depends. If she’s alone, I tell her very politely that my back yard isn’t appropriate for teenager campouts because of the vast quantities of dog poop back there. If Neil Gaiman is with her, I’d be glittering before you could say “Coraline.”
11. What book(s) would you recommend to our readers for learning more about science and/or skepticism?
Richard Wiseman’s Quirkology. It was one of the first skeptical books I read and it was fun, an easy read and it makes you think about your own mind and its susceptibility to being tricked.
Thanks to Elyse for her question contribution ;), thanks to Maria for spending time with me and I hope you all enjoyed this edition of Get to Know Your Skepchicks!