Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Project Yourself

Our previous CotW winner punked out and totally didn’t send in an Afternoon Inquisition today! So instead, I turned to Twitter. @abrogdon suggested this question:

What skeptical project are you working on and do you need help on it? (everyone has one, just not the time to finish it)

Because I’m not positive everyone has a skeptical project, I’ll add this:

What Big Idea do you have (preferably skeptical/sciencey) that you’ve yet to make happen?

Speaking of skeptical projects, Boston Skeptics in the Pub: RACE TO THE MOON is this Monday! Be there.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. I’ve been thinking about trying to hold a skeptics in the pub here in New Orleans, so I’ll follow LinzeeBinzee’s lead and officially “shout out.”

    Now if only I could find a bar somewhere in New Orleans … :)

  2. Hello, my name is Aaron, and I suffer from a serious brain crack addiction.

    My latest skeptidea* is for a pro-vaccine comic book. I was inspired by the anti-antivax panel at TAM7.

    (* Is it just me, or does “skeptidea” sound like it should be the name of a genus of insect?)

  3. I had an idea to write a book about teaching religion in schools. Not like “God is God and He is Great, Bow Down and Worship!” but more like “Here are the big religions in the world… lets look at what they actually teach / believe/ do. (Taught in grade school as a way to understand the world…. Since our world is becoming more and more multicultural, even if you don’t agree with the different religions out there (and who could blame you?) it is a good idea tohave a basic understanding of what they are.)

    It would have looked at the programs already in place, the proposed programs, the backlash… the idea of teaching a small sampling of the major religions vs one vs none… with parent’s thoughts, what teachers think, essays by people both for and against the idea….

    The idea would be to see if this sort of thing could actually help foster critical thinking.

    And it hasn’t really gotten past the whole: “Gee, here’s a thought….”

    (Anyone want to team up and write it with me?)

  4. Being a bit of a maths nut, I’ve often thought it’d be nice to have a site looking at how the media misuses statistics and exploits the general public’s lack of understanding of maths to suit their editorial bias. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw something in The Sun saying something like “80% of Sun readers say bring back the death penalty”, when in actual fact, 99% of their readers didn’t even vote in their phone poll.

    Unfortunately various other important things keep cropping up, not least finishing that maths degree I started back in 2001!

    Of course such a site may already exist and I’ve not found it yet!

  5. I have a project to bring skeptical thinking to the classrooms via stage magic – at TAM I had an excellent conversation with Jeff Wagg and a similar one with DJ Groethe where I laid out my master plan, and both of them said they’d be receptive to sponsoring / helping out. Now I have to *write* out my master plan (always a struggle for a lazy bastard like myself), the next step in the game. Once it’s written out I’ll send it to DJ and Jeff (there’s a joke in there somewhere), and hopefully move it forward.

  6. I’ve always had a “big idea” to be a voice for safer sex education, as opposed to abstinence-only education in Florida schools. However, it’s been hard to find anything I can just jump into being a part of.. Planned Parenthood doesn’t seem to do anything useful in that respect; and the only programs I’ve come in contact through local schools have been plainly abstinence-only. Frustrating.

  7. I designed a website that helps parents through the decision of whether to vaccinate using interactive elements (e.g. multi-agent models of herd immunity) based on constructionist learning theory. I originally did it for a class, and now I’m cleaning it up and moving it to a permanent domain. I’ve got the learning theory covered, but I’m not an epidemiologist nor do I have a lot of experience building computer environments, so I’m struggling a bit in those areas.

  8. I’m terrible when it comes to seeing projects through – we’re awash with daft ideas, but lacking the time to press them all through unfortunately. I really want to run an online ouija board to see if the ideomotor effect works online, plus I need to visit a Scientology ‘church’ and a Christian Alpha Course first hand. And I’ve had the number of a local psychic in my phone for the last month or so.

    Plus of course there’s our blog (*plug* *plug*)

    I think Zoltan’s idea about taking stage magic to the classroom to teach skeptical and critical thinking is excellent too, I think I’d have loved that when I was a kid!

  9. I want to figure out how to do start a pro-vax outreach program.

    I’m also pretending that I’m going to start a Skepchickal radio show in Chicago… but I pretty much need someone to do everything but the talking for me.

    Also, I have about a billion half-written blog posts that I’d like to finish.

  10. I’d like to help develop our local Skeptics group more, but I’ve been out of town for the past three meetings or so.

    I’d like to tackle some specific skeptical topics on my blog, and my boyfriend/editor can tell you that these huge posts have been started and not finished b/c I’m a perfectionist… and busy. I’m particularly interested in local examples of “woo”, which would then tie into my first item!

    Oh, and I love doing astronomy outreach, so I’ve already got my hands in that. I’m trying to get more active doing that specifically with radio astronomy, since I don’t think it gets enough love!

    My biggest thing is just time I think… by the time I get back from the office/lab, I’m pooped!

  11. I have one of those crazy web page things ( which is usually at least tangentially involved in any of my harebrained schemes.

    I love writing about the science behind other things which I also find cool–like rock-and-roll, bicycling, and stylish hats. My main problem is that I don’t know how to translate cool-to-me into cool-to-everyone-else. This, along with an inconsistent upload schedule, has led to a small readership, and the small readership means I get little feedback on how to do what I want to do in a way that will engage others, which puts my future book a really long way down the road.

    Also, I think I might be too wordy.

  12. Working on updating and modifying our local natural history museum’s approach to conveying the evolution of birds and whales.

    Yeah, we need to get back to them and finish this. We’re working under some odd constraints, though.

  13. I love the idea of teaching critical thinking. Magic is a great idea but I think kids would enjoy it in any interactive setting where they’re shown that they can be empowered by using critical thinking.

    My husband teaches grade 9 English and he got them to read the Chrysallids by John Whyndam, in which the major theme is religious dogma. The class he taught weren’t the greatest students and yet they all got really excited when they realized that religions are immoral and that they contradict each other etc, and they got into really good discussions.

    I was wondering if there are any transcripts fromthe TAM paper presentations? There was one guy who teaches critical thinking in a theraputic setting and I was hoping to find some info about him but I can’t remember his name…

  14. I’ve been falling behind on this RepRap thing. I’m supposed to be a core team member and at one time I was contributing pretty heavily but I’ve done virtually nothing on it for about 6 months. I built a Darwin, experimented with it for a bit, then sold it to a local college student with much more time and energy. I’ve been considering building a MakerBot instead but haven’t got around to it. There always seems to be something else distracting me.

  15. I’ve been trying to learn how to write my own app for the iPhone so I can try to add to the meager choices for atheist apps. Right now I’m thinking that I might have to take a step back, and write something as a desktop widget first.

    I’ll throw the question out there. Any suggestions for an app or widget?

  16. @Kaylia_Marie: It’s already been done I’m afraid. RE is compulsory in the UK and it’s mostly instruction about the many different religions of the world. My Aunt teachers RE in a Catholic school where 90% of the students on role are Shia muslims (the irish immigrants moved up and out to be replaced by pakistani immigrants while the school stayed put)

    @Andrew Nixon: Already been done (by amoungst others ME!)

    @LinzeeBinzee: Critical Thinking is the fastest growing A-level course in the UK. I’ve taught it myself, it’s a lot fun AND slots together with most other A-level courses in a benificial way.

  17. I’m working on a project (with a team that includes at least two Skepchicks) to try and facilitate increased communication and coordination between local skeptics groups. I’ve mostly been keeping it quiet, since I can’t devote much time to it until after the bar exam, but this AI was too relevant to ignore. You can get more information (when there’s more information to get, which won’t be until August, at least) by signing up here.

  18. @russellsugden I’ll tell my husband that…he’s expressed interest in starting a course up at his school. I wish I had it growing up, I might’ve become a skeptic a lot earlier and saved myself a lot of money (it’s been less than a year for me). There’s a night class at a uni here on critical thinking, it’s a philosophy class, I’m hoping to take it & maybe convince my mom to take it with me.

  19. I’ve started writing a book to get my revenge on my high-school mathematics teachers. Tentatively titled To Calculus and Beyond!, it would explain at a high-school level the sorts of mathematics I actually use as a science person, or as much of those subjects as I can. I aim to be heavy on motivation and narrative, to provide the story which too often doesn’t get told until too late. 44 pages in, still finding the right voice.

  20. @Steve: That’s a great idea, a skeptical Google mApp type thing would be very cool! If you could just visit a city and immediately see any skeptic events that are nearby, well, that’s pretty awesome.

  21. I guess the Skeptictionary is as close as anything I’ve got to being an ongoing project, though really it’s mostly there to give myself an illusion of organisation, and remind myself of what I’ve already written about so I don’t keep absent-mindedly covering old ground.

    (It’s kinda like the Skeptic’s Dictionary, but… um… in a different place. And written by me. That guy totally ripped off my idea. Several years retroactively.)

    And since we’re talking about local meetups, here’s a long shot – anyone from Bromley in? (For those times when taking a twenty-minute train journey into London just seems too much like hard work.)

  22. I have a blog that i am still looking for content for, or finding the time to add some of my own. It’s called skeptalk (, and is mostly done.

    I am also working on a new idea of a microblog, a contentless blog if you will. The codename for it is “QFT”. ;)

    If anyone is interested in collaborating, send me an email :)

  23. When a news story about science education (or rather, lack thereof) outrages me I purchase a decent book about dinosaurs online and have it shipped to the library of a school in the district that the article was written about. (Dinosaurs hooked me, right? And I’m pretty much an oversized kid. That’s my totally logical reasoning.) It is fairly cathartic. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making this into a sort of annual book donation drive but not to the point where I’ve actually done anything with it.

    My latest personal project is writing fun science articles for kids’ magazines with the hopes of, well, showing how cool it can be. It’s a much better way to spend my time than letting current events make me hulksmash things on my desk. And there’s a big demand for non-fiction for children. (But like, back of my game or I’ll cut you. Kidding. Sorta.)

  24. I’ve been working on blogging about pretty much any bad science I see (a tiring prospect, it turns out, but it keeps me busy), but most recently I did a bunch of research on the claims that methylparaben in cosmetics is linked to cancer.

    No evidence that I could find, and I had a lot of fun digging through government sites, Wikipedia, and a lot of other bits and pieces. :)

  25. My big project is to find a Big Project. I am interested in too many things. I’d love to do something fun and cool like a podcast or good blog, but I can’t think of a way to tie all my various interests together in a coherent manner that someone not me would be interested in!

  26. I’ve long wanted to create a website or blog or interactive computer program to teach people about how computers work in a constructionist* way. Most people seem to think there’s something magical about computer systems, when there’s really just lots of layers to peel away.

    And I think getting people to discover the mundane (yet magnificent) underpinnings to one sort of “mysticism” in their lives could help break down others! I hope, anyway.

    * Thanks to @pryce for finally giving me a word for that!

  27. I’ve wanted to work on some sort of skeptical/critical thinking/humanist themed sci-fi electronic opera (didya get all that?), but I can’t seem to find a decent story that could easily be turned into a libretto. It would probably be something generally along the lines of Tod Machover’s VALIS, but with even more of a humanist angle. If anyone has any story suggestions (or is a fiction writer themselves), that would be awesome!

  28. @jtradke: “Most people seem to think there’s something magical about computer systems, when there’s really just lots of layers to peel away.”

    After taking Semiconductor Physics I’m not ready to discard the magic theory altogether.

  29. Ugh,

    I feel really bad about missing my submission for AI. I was away for the weekend, and only found out I was in for it on Monday. Then I started drafting what was going to be a masterpiece of an AI, but I came down with something and slept for two days.

    Now I’ve had to drag myself to the office to do some work, and I’d rather be sleeping it off.

    Of course, I could have probably shot off any old question for my AI debut, but it had to be PERFECT! And so we all missed it.

    Thanks skepchicks for the opportunity, and thanks for those who nominated me (and Rebecca for selecting me!)

    Projects for me – I have been thinking of getting together with a local skeptics group in Vancouver, BC – but the meetings have always coincided with work commitments, or something.

    I’ve always wanted to start a blog about skeptical issues, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to maintain the commitment to make it worthwhile.

    @Andrew Nixon – Check out

    I’ve neglected reading it lately, but in the past he’s had some great stuff.

  30. I’ve thought about writing a book and/or trying to put together some kind of forum/society that would seek to champion critical thinking in public discourse — politics, issues and problems like global warming, etc. There’s already a strong skeptic movement that’s debunking pseudoscience and the paranormal, but there’s no similar group trying to fight the growth of intellectual arrogance and apathy in the social/political realm.

  31. I have about 10 big ideas in the works. The ones I can think of right now are.

    1. a blog called “Is it science?”
    2. a master’s degree in big ideas (starting in Jan ’10)
    3. a backyard which I have killed, cut the sod out of and am trying to xeriscape (at this point it needs no water as I have killed it all purposely — which I suppose could be considered xeriscaped but not exactly what I was going for)
    4. publishing my book on being of assistance to people in crisis without saying “it was god’s will”.

    and more…

  32. Norwegian schools are almost devoid of the extracurricular activities of the American Senior High of movies and TV. But I’ve been toying with the idea of a science/debate/nerd club where I could try to balance my two goals of instilling unquestioning obedience to me and teaching skepticism. I just don’t really know what we’d be doing there…

    I’ve also considered giving more thought to implementing the skeptic bits of the curriculum and adding a trickle of skepticism to other bits of the curriculum.

  33. I want to start a blog about skepticism as it relates to pets and animals and whatnot. There’s already a blog called Pet Skeptic…but it hasn’t been posted to…Ever. I’ll make a blog someday. I swear!

    I would also like to be involved in a skeptical club on campus. Unfortunately, I’m already the president of another club, and I don’t think I could handle being an officer in two organizations and still pass any classes.

  34. @Spatula:

    Actually, you’re going about it the right way. Just thinking about it and not actually doing anything should be about the right intent/action ratio that is needed.

    If that’s not working, for greater potency, try forgetting about it altogether.

  35. I’d like to write a book (can’t be a comic book, because I can’t draw) about some skeptifriends. I keep trying to start it, and realize, “No, that’s lame”.

    In a random aside, I just got called “closed minded”. Do I get my “Close Minded Merit Badge”? Granted it was a political topic, not a science/skeptical one, but, does that count? In case you’re wondering, I did go back and back up my claim, as a good like skeptiscout should.

  36. @Elyse: Yep, I managed to have a conversation with Jeff Wagg – as a performer, I’m a persuasive (and when I want to be, concise) speaker. Plus, I can be intense and intimidating…

    @Eliza: I love the idea of sending skeptical or rational thinking-themed books to schools that promote any sort of woo-thinking. I’d like to see that happen more – heck, I’d donate money to it. Imagine if we got the authors on board so we could get the books in bulk, and when the time was right we donated a handful of books to the schools that clearly need ’em.

    Also, just reading through everyone’s post, it’s great to see so many people being active. If there’s one thing that I took away from TAM it’s that one person, if they’re determined, really can have a little (or a big) impact.

    Man, I should really get cracking on my proposals for Jeff and DJ…

  37. I just found out that there is a Ghost Hunters Society in my town. They want to write a book. They go on ghost-hunts. I’m asking them if I can come.

    I don’t want to go all Borat on them, and I truly am interested in seeing what they do first hand. The letter I’m sending them will be on my blog tonight, then the ball will be in their court.

    Stay tuned.

  38. Hi there!

    Samantha and I … [looks around] Hey, where is my colleague Samantha? She’s a skeptic and a chick, so I thought that she’d have her own profile and posting privileges by now. :(

    Anyway, She and I are both librarians by profession, and we’re trying to combine our mutual loves for library science and skepticism by making the comparison between modern libraries and churches. Our contention is that the positive functions of a church community in ages past are now being fulfilled on the secular front by libraries. Libraries are increasingly taking on the role of community center and meeting hall that once belonged to a local church or parish, and they’re doing it secularly.

    We’re also going to get into the conceit that many librarians tend to the think of themselves in a nearly “clerical” role, as the imparters of knowledge from on high. But whereas churches would impart “truth” as incontrovertible fact, libraries are more concerned with the development of knowledge and the critical assessment of data.

    We’re hoping to publish a book on the subject. I’m personally hoping that this book will see press and become popular enough to get us both speaking engagements at the American Library Association Annual Conference as well as TAM-whichever-one-they’re-up-to-by-the-time-the-book-comes-out. [nods]

    Okay, ambitious … yes. But no one ever accused me of false modesty. :D

  39. Science-y/Skeptical art projects are fun.
    My wife and I are setting up an arts event based on Phil Plait’s “Death From the Skies!” If you are in NYC in October, you can all come!
    Also, working on my own stuff which is a essentially drawings and paintings pwning homunculus quack-medical modalities.

  40. I love projects!

    I taught a course at my university in May called “Literature of the New Atheism.” You can see the syllabus HERE if you’re interested.

    Right now I’m trying to start a skepticism panel for the SW/TX Popular Culture/American Culture Association conference. Anyone interested in submitting a paper can view the CFP HERE.

    I would love to get submissions from Skepchick readers, so please consider it.


  41. @Yossarian:

    Are you in Vancouver BC? Cool. So am I.

    What Big Idea do you have (preferably skeptical/sciencey) that you’ve yet to make happen?

    Convincing (my favouritists bloggy in the world), and the various skepchicks and skepdudes that frequent it, that there are far too many double standards and irrational emotoinal responses where there should be science, critical thinking, and calmly rational discourse.



    And everywhere.

    @Some Canadian Skeptic:

    Yahoo! I can’t wait to here what happens. Do keep us informed.

  42. Hi there.

    Well, my big project is already up and running:

    For those of you planning to create pro-vaccine/anti-anti-vax websites please be sure to email me at [email protected] when they are online and I will add you to the links page.

    My other big project that I really need to finish is my research into the Billy Meier Case for the Independent Investigations Group:

    The one thing that I need help with is that I don’t know how to add an avatar to my comments. How are you people doing that?

  43. I’ve only skimmed the responses up to this point, so pardon any redundancy. (Also: I’m new here. Hello!)

    I’d like to see something like, but for global climate change. So often, I’m confronted with quite peculiar arguments against climate change. I have to believe someone smarter than me has already addressed them, but I never know where to find evidence supporting such a rebuttal.

    Anyway, I haven’t done it myself because I clearly don’t know the topic well enough.

    As a more likely runner-up: I chickened out of presenting at Skepticamp Ohio this year, so I’m going to force myself to give a talk next time.

    Finally, I’ve been playing around with the iPhone development kit for a while. I’m willing to assist on any projects that @MathMike, et al., are interested in.

  44. I started uploading designs for sale at Zazzle. I was planing to promote critical thinking with those, but the “humorous” side of me started fighting out, so I have mixed results!

  45. @Wallace Finch:

    I just noticed your URL and, in fact, one of my designs is precisely a pun/homage to Charles Darwin.

    (netiquette suggests that shameless plugs are Verboten)

  46. I think the most commonly asked question on Skepticality is “so when did you become a skeptic?” or along those lines. I had a course that was an introductory to American folklore last spring, and I’ve been thinking about trying to find some skeptical folklore. Collecting stories such as what made people realize they had a sense of skepticism, stories involving skepticism, and what brought them to this skeptic’s society.

    I’m not aiming for something academic, though that would be a neat thing to get a nod for. I don’t think I should put together a website or archive per se, but instead compile a collection of links to blogs, publications, and websites where there those stories could be found.

  47. I really wanted to write a book called “The Skeptic Psychologist”. When I hear podcasts, people talk a lot about pseudoscience, but rarely about the huge amount of bs that psychologists try to pass as science.

    Oh, i’m a neuropsychologist from Brazil, by the way.

  48. I’ve started a skeptic blog in Italian, mainly relaying news from blogs such as Skepchick (of course), Bad Astronomy and the like. Unfortunately in Italy there are few such resources and people who can’t understand English have nowhere to turn to find some rationality against mainstream media: right now one of the most popular private channels is broadcasting a show “Mistero”, mistery, mainly about a woman who claims to have been abducted by aliens and that she gave birth to 18 man-alien hybrids (she showed one “fetus”, that is, in reality, just a skinned earless rabbit, but people are buying it!!).

    I would also like to start a skeptic group in Zurich, where I am currently based (anyone out there? ;-))

  49. I’ve been trying to find a skeptic group in Madrid, Spain, but have had no luck. I would like start one, but I don’t know that many people here, let alone skeptics.
    Is anyone in this forum located in Madrid? Or Spain? Hay alguien ahi? Hola!?!?

  50. Oh my, projects. I have SOOO many ideas. I wish I could update my blog daily or at least 3x per week.

    I have a whole wiki full of ideas for articles. I started a book for middle readers years ago about mysteries of natural history – it’s a book I would have wanted as a child. There are not nearly enough skeptical but interesting books for kids on apparent “anomalies”. That will have to wait because :


    I’ve spent the last 2 months obsessing over it. I really want it to be about the skeptic/critical thinking community. I’d like to get milage out of it, build it into something important. The degree is a EdM in Science and the Public.

    My main idea is related to the recent sea change in skepticism. I’ve noticed this community it is getting more connected, more gender neutral, a bit less white-haired (Randi excluded) and the older guys are stepping down with more younger women stepping up! Yea!!! I think the internet has a lot to do with that. I was actually planning on contacting people I know from each of the main organizations (like Rebecca, since Steve N. doesn’t answer emails) and asking them what kind of metrics they have for their blogs, web pages, downloads etc. If anyone wishes to help with logistics for such a project, please contact me. I give lots of credit !!!! And, I think it would be important to show what’s happening and how to keep the momentum going. ([email protected])

  51. I’m currently outlining a full-length play script. The plot involves using gravity tractors to divert the path of a near-earth asteroid. The B16 Foundation and Dan Durda are helping me get the science right.

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