Afternoon Inquisition 12.29

This weekend I met the amazingly awesome kevinf, creator of the Buzzed Aldrin and all around really cool guy.  More on that later when I write my Drinking Skepchickally wrap-up report. Towards the end of the evening, Kevin asked a question of the group. It was a great question, so I’m going to ask you guys now:

What is your skeptic soapbox/passion/pet peeve? And what are you doing about it? I’ll also add: If you’re not doing anything about it, what could you be doing?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. People that continue to waste money on products that don’t do anything, and refuse to listen when presented with the facts about it. As in the magnetic cures, the cold cures, memory, or member enhancers. I always get the same responce, “what’s the harm, it can’t hurt.” Which of course in some cases it could, also the harm is making people that make a promote this crap rich, and getting nothing in return.

  2. I’m big on taking on CAM and also informing people about what the scientific method is. Currently this consists of slipping into angry rants whenever offensive commercials or Jenny McCarthy come on my television and I have become a master at writing angry indignant letters. I also have become the go to source for my friends and family for the “is this bullshit?” questions. I also would like to think that all my english/ poli sci major friend have gotten better at understanding how science works. It’s a small personal crusade, and sometimes I think about doing more, but then I realize that I am kind of lazy.

  3. Blind obedience to tradition. Why must families try to come together in late December? In the northern hemisphere it is the worst possible time to attempt travel. If the point is to bring families together then why not pick an arbitrary time, more convenient to everyone, and get together then? This not only makes the holidays safer and less stressful, but brings the focus back to what is most important. People. Relationships. Family.

    What I did about it was announce to my friends and family, some years ago , that except for emergencies, big emergencies, major emergencies, I will not travel between November and March. After some initial unpleasantness it has worked out rather well. The result is we each have lovely, low-key winters, and fun summer gatherings. I can also read news reports of people stranded in airports and on interstates with a dollop of schadenfreude. Wake up, people!

  4. All the BS (pseudoscience/UFO’s/”mysterious disappearances”/monsters like yetis, ghosts and hauntings/psychics/homeopaths/miracles/ad nauseum) that poses as “truth,” especially on TV channels and other media that should know better.

    They claim that it’s “entertainment” or “being fair” to allow this stuff. I call it pandering for ratings and dumbing down the population.

  5. As far as what I do about it, I write, e-mail, scream in frustration, etc. ;-)

    Doesn’t seem to help much, though.

  6. My personal bugbear is the tendency for people — including many skeptics — to get totally suckered by dubious journalism.

    I first started following skeptic blogs during the “Kentucky Zombies” outrage back in 2005. Remember that kid who got busted for writing zombie stories, and every civil libertarian got up in arms, only it turned out that William Poole was lying and probably disturbed as well? I used have a little blog where I wrote about the horror genre, and how it intersects with popular culture, news, politics, and history. And it was clear to me from the outset that the whole story was full of holes.

    And for weeks, I was the only person making this case, while progressives and libertarians and, yes, skeptics were taking the preposterous story at face value.

    Anyone can be critical of a news report that contradicts their basic assumptions about the world. But I think skeptics should also question stories that confirm their preconceptions. Just because you agree with someone doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth.

    I think that people are getting better at casting a skeptical eye on journalism, but they’re still far more willing to take a credulous view of straight news reporting than, say, op-eds or features. But an AP wire story or a quick segment on a TV news show is not a priori any more reliable than a UFO sighting or a psychic reading.

    As for what I’m doing about it, well, other than complaining about it here, whenever I encounter “water-cooler” conversations about the latest faux-outrage, I speak up. I point out the holes in the story and encourage people to think critically about what they read in the papers. I tell people never to rely on a single source for news. I remind people that it can take months or years for the facts to emerge to a degree that one can assemble a coherent narrative and draw conclusions.

    Is there something else I should be doing?

  7. I have 2 major peeves: Blind belief in a religion and UFO Aliens/Paranormal believers…oh…wait…one more…psychics believers.

    I do two things. I blog about it and point people to many of the great links on this website, Bad Astronomy and the SGU sites. I also post “ufo/paranormal” pics on my flickr page to show how easy it is to fake or mistake them.

    About my flickr pics: even though I tell people its a dust, humidity, lens flare or an airplane in the pic, they still believe. Strange.

  8. Mine is anti-vaccination people. It just gets under my skin. Why are children dying from measles? Fucking measles? In the 21st century? Really? They are dying becuase it has become hip to not vacinnate your children. It has become a type of good parenting. Are you kidding me? These are 19th century diseases. Polio, mumps, reubella? What is the matter with you people? get your children vaccinated or I will personally come to your house and kick you in the groin repeatedly until you get them vaccinated.

  9. CAM and all my allegedly educated bright friends who spend their hard earned money on chiropractors, acupuncture, therapeutic healing massage and acupuncture. And bull shit cancer cures that demand lots and lots of money for false hope and no help.

  10. @Gabrielbrawley: That’s one of mine as well. I should ‘fess up to not getting a flu vaccine for either me or my daughter, but that’s due to the wicked allergic reaction I’ve always had from flu shots. However, now that she’s been diagnosed with asthma, she’ll at least be getting her jab next fall.

    My other pet peeve is the state of science education in the public schools here in the US. More specifically, the state of science education in my daughter’s school. Since my parents and sister are (or have been) all involved in chemistry in some way, it’s been slightly easier to get our daughter interested in science. We’ve been getting a couple of her closest friends involved, too – one’s a budding entomologist, and the other wants to be a “dinosaur hunter” like Lena. I occasionally write ranty blog posts about science education, but I don’t feel like I’m quite qualified to do so.

  11. @Gabrielbrawley:

    I’m hesitant to believe that one man, touring the earth, kicking people in the crotch is going to be effective in promoting vaccinations. I think you’re going to need at least 10 men touring and kicking, preferably ninjas. And you’re going to need a catchy tagline to yell at the moment of foot-groin contact… nuts to measles or polio’s a kick in the balls or something like that.

  12. I’m sorry I missed the meet up but the holidays require us to make sacrifices.
    My skeptical pet peeve is Mysticism. I pick it because my dear sister is so taken with it and doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate her powers to anyone that brings it up. She’s a “trained” Rikki healer after all. I’ve tried to discuss it with her rationally but she just brings up arguments of ignorance as a defense.
    The Catholic Church is my other windmill (for the rest of my family).

  13. My pet peeves can be lumped together in to either misunderstanding, or abusing science. That’s a pretty broad topic, but as some specific examples, using quantum mechanics as evidence that the world is unknowable, or as a mechanism for things like curing disease with water that’s, shaken, not stirred.

    I don’t mind, as much, the way out there ideas, the god in the gaps sort of thinking. The gaps keep getting smaller, for one, and you can hold those kinds of ideas and some degree of science together, unlike ideas that fly right in the face of reality. But when those little gods try and climb out, I’ll be there to whack them on the knuckles until they fall back in.

  14. Martial Arts.

    Or as we used to call it in the boxing gym “pretend fighters”. It’s a false sense of security that will get you killed.

    Now, those MMA guys are a rather different story. They’ve got it going on. I’m not talking about them.

    No, I’m talking about Tae Quan Doe, Kung Fu, Kenpo Karate and all those other shams out there.

    What can I do?

    Volunteer my time to work as a boxing coach for under privileged kids that get picked on by bullies and or ganstas.

    Wait…I’m doing that already.

    Never mind,


  15. Not really a pet-peeve, but what bothers me is people who’ll dismiss an entire type of martial art without actually having tried it, or – for that matter – even knowing the first thing about it.

    At the same time, what also bothers me, is people who think they “know their shit” after having trained (almost regularly) once a week for barely a year.

    It doesn’t really matter what you do, you won’t be taking on somebody with ten times more experience. But that doesn’t necessarily mean “Self defence in ten lessons” is BS, just that it’ll only work against some drunk with NO experience.

    Anyone who pretends that their stuff is “better than anything else out there” definitely deserves the kick in the nuts they’ll invariably get once they end up in a real-world test of their skill thinking they can now kick ass because they’ve had a few lessons.

    That said, there IS a lot of crappy martial arts out there, most of them developped by somebody who had an above average degree in a classic martial art but still had too much ego and figured they now knew enough to start their own “improved” brand. Invariably the’ll end up teaching what can best be described as “a bag of tricks”. They look pretty cool, but under pressure you can’t even remember the most basic one because there were too many of them and they’re all far too complex. Which is why endless repetition of basic motions is important (but boring as hell and not likely to entice new students).
    Hence the spawning of countless martial arts styles that fail at teaching any of the basics properly, either because the person teaching it doesn’t know his style thoroughly enough to realise what the basics are, or fears he’ll lose “paying customers” if he makes it too boring.

    Sorry, I guess it kinda IS a pet peeve. Just not one I encounter frequently enough to be conscious about. Or connected closely enough to skepticism to be related to this question.

  16. @exarch: Agreed. Martial arts gets shit on a little too much for my liking. I don’t buy into any of the flowery parts, but the parts grounded in logic I understand. Practice (procedural learning) = automation. I can’t speak for other clubs, but my karate instructors emphasize defense and escape at all times. So that in an emergency situation maybe your reaction time to get the fudge outta there will be improved slightly. Or your reaction (both in time and technique) to block a blow will be improved slightly. I have about 2 years of karate, but I am under no delusion that I can take anyone down. Particularly as I’m short and smaller than most attackers would be. But my confidence has been slightly increased so that hopefully instead of panicking and going hysterical that I’m going to die, I can think to myself “I have the power to get out of this”. Inevitably there are people that don’t get it and think they’re an expert after one lesson, but that can be said about a lot of things.

  17. My personal skeptical soapbox/pet peeve:

    The overall lack of critical thinking among the general public, particularly in social and political discourse. People have become far too opinionated. Everyone knows everything, and noone’s ever wrong. The degree of intellectual arrogance today is staggering.

    What I’m doing about it:

    I run a critical thinking blog, The Thinker, that seeks to educate people on the importance of critical thinking.

    More recently I have begun contemplating the creation of a “critical thinking society” that would focus on advancing the cause of critical thinking in social/political discourse in the same way that, e.g., the Skeptic’s Society has done to fight pseudoscience and other “woo”. Details can be found here.

  18. @Kimbo Jones: The problem is that some instructors tell students that the students will become unstopable killing machines. I’ve been practicing kenpo for about 20 years. When I was 18 to 25 I was pretty tough. But then I am a really big guy and had a lot of free time to exercise and practise for hours every day. Now I’m 36, the father of 3 and am not nearly that tough. But in the end someone who trains and practices is much better off than someone who doesn’t. Nothing is perfect and none of it is magic.

  19. Gabrielbrawley,

    I think those are the same instructors who think they themselves are already unstoppable killing machines. They’ve trained something for a few years. Maybe even getting as high as a 4th dan grade. But then suddenly start seeing lots of “flaws” in the things they do. Often not realising that “basic techniques” are meant to teach you basic reflexes, not to make you an instant, unstoppable killing machine. So they throw out the basics and teach beginners stuff that is way too advanced, resulting in beginners who are shit at everything because they don’t have the basics to work from.

    It’s like gymnasts doing a double backwards somersault when they can’t even do a single somersault properly, or even a decent backflip. Sure, the double one is going to get you more points when done right, but it’s going to look like crap if you’ve never properly learned how to move your body, to tuck in your knees, or even the way get the most height out of your jump.

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