Skepchick Quickies, 5.26


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. “…Andrew Wakefield, the one who first claimed a link between autism and early-childhood vaccination…”

    If he was being payed to find this link by people claiming it in a legal case then he wasn’t the first.


  2. We have to make sure this is not an attack on Christianity. It is totally unfair to remove the two teachers, and allow the other teacher to remain.

    Why, yes, totally unfair. I’m sure the other two teachers were only asking the atheist one: “Why are you sprinkling holy water on yourself, eh? Why are you sprinkling holy water on yourself?”

  3. I wonder what they expected the holy-water sprinkling to actually do?
    To connect the atheist to God so she’s see the error of her ways? (If this worked, why don’t christians interested in proselityzing carry holy squirtguns?)
    To somehow burn the skin of the unbeliever thereby proving that God exists and does not fuck around? (And if they expected this result, should it not carry some pretty stiff penalties?)
    The mind boggles.

  4. @Rei Malebario: I imagine they view the holy water as some sort of “protection” — now the Devil can’t leave the Evil Atheists and reach the Holy People!

    Or something.

    Who knows.

    My level of crazy isn’t high enough to really understand.

  5. In retaliation can I pee on believers now?

    please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please

  6. Assuming future archeologists were to find a box set of DVDs, and assuming the technology still existed to read them, and assuming they knew the encoding necessary to decrypt the information on them, it is highly unlikely they would be able to retrieve any information off of them. CDs and DVDs suck at long-term storage. The polycarbonate layers protect the recording surface for a while, but eventually the aluminum layer tends to erode, and a single crack or a scratch deep enough to reach the recording surface is enough to render an entire disk useless. They would have to be stored in a secure, environmentally controlled vault to last more than a few decades, let alone “for all time.”

    High density magnetic tapes or some kind of flash memory device might have been a slightly more plausible literary device, if less well known to the general audience. But even those are prone to erosion. Storing data for all time will require people to maintain and preserve information by transferring it to newer, or more permanent storage mediums as the need arises. In the very near future, data will transcend the storage medium. We’re already seeing this; The page, the ribbon, the disk, the platter, matter very little compared to the ubiquitous nature of the data they contain. It’s the constant duplication and transfer of data from medium to medium that allows it to persist, not the medium itself.

    Sorry; just being my usual nitpicky nerdy self. Still, a pretty amusing story.

  7. @Rei Malebario: I’m curious of their motives as well. Maybe they were trying to get rid of a demon they thought the atheist teacher might have had. When I was a hard-core catholic, I heard how some people carried little creepers around with them that made them promiscuous, etc. I sprinkled myself with holy water so that I wouldn’t track one myself.


    The bible has got one thing right though: truth will set you free!!

  8. While the two teachers were idiots, the atheist teacher is being as unprofessional as the teachers who tell their students about the importance of being saved by Jeebus.

    You teach the goddamned material. You do your level best to keep your own biases out of it, especially on controversial subjects. It is not always possible; kids ask some damn personal questions. But you keep your biases out of it. Want them to become atheists? Teach them critical thinking. Inside a public classroom, that’s the best you can do.

  9. @Peregrine:

    CDs and DVDs suck at long-term storage. The polycarbonate layers protect the recording surface for a while, but eventually the aluminum layer tends to erode, and a single crack or a scratch deep enough to reach the recording surface is enough to render an entire disk useless.

    My CDs from the 80’s are still readable, and people keep telling me that they shouldn’t be. I doubt though that they’d be readable in 500 years, possibly less. In any event, any digital storage medium is problematic when moving forward. Just try retrieving data from a 8 inch floppy these days. Or any floppy for that matter.

  10. The story mentioned that the atheist teacher openly discussed her lack of belief with her class. The context of which, we may never know.

    It may simply have come up in the course of teaching; if it was a history class or whatever, I don’t know, it might come up.

    If it was simply “well, I don’t think so myself, but what do you think?” I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But if it was “I don’t believe, and you’re silly if you do,” that’s crossing a line.

    But either way, there are better ways of dealing with the situation than spraying holy water on someone, which at best is an annoyance bordering on harassment, and at worst is akin to workplace bullying, humiliation, or assault. Maybe the clergy should be at least as concerned about the conduct of their sheep among the general public as they are over whether or not Christianity is some kind of victim.

    Deal with grievances through proper channels, people! Don’t go sprinkling holy water on each other and then playing the victim when you’re called on it; It doesn’t help.

  11. @Mark Hall: From the article:

    “who was expressing her lack of belief in God with students. ”

    From what little is available, it doesn’t seem to me that the atheist teacher was bringing “bias” into the classroom — but instead was just answering questions asked of her. Answering questions =/= bring bias into the classroom. Expressing a lack of belief =/= bringing bias into the classroom.

    Religious teachers can talk about their religion when asked, and no one says anything. Because it’s seen as normal to believe in a god. No one bats an eyelash.

    But as soon an atheist does it? OH NO, keep the bias out of the classroom!!!

    This is fair how, exactly?

    A teacher shouldn’t be punished for answering a question honestly (within reason, of course), and it shouldn’t be thought of as “controversial” to be open about your atheism, as long as you aren’t pushing your views on others. It’s certainly not “controversial” when you believe in god, is it?

    Talk about double standards.

  12. The comments and the plus/minus ratings in the Florida paper seem to be running pretty strongly against the nuttery, but like all these polls, it could have been PZed… At least one commenter mentioned being Australian.

    I think there is also lots going on there that we don’t know about, including union politics and an overcontrolling principal.

  13. Indeed, the article doesn’t mention in what context the teacher mention being “an avowed atheist”. But saying you are or you’re not religious is not the same as teaching about it.

    What’s more, atheism is not a religion, so in the strictest, most literal sense of the law, the separation of church/religion and state doesn’t actually apply to it.

  14. On the absence of women scientists, especially at the highest levels, our local skeptical book club just read “The Madame Curie Complex” by Julie Des Jardins. Basically, women had to have virtual super-powers to achieve scientific success, or make enormous sacrifices: family, time, health, pay, and so forth. By the end of the period covered by the book (1980s) things seem to have improved somewhat, but obviously there is still a long way to go.

  15. Well, I think removing them from school was a little much. I think them going to the principle’s office for a meeting would have been an appropriate reation for a first offense. Then, if it were to happen again, that would call for removing.

    UNLESS-it was done in front of the kids. That changes everything. Were they both sprinkling her with holy water, or was one holding her while the other sprinkled? If that’s the case, I’d call that use of force, which would call for the teachers being removed.

  16. I find it hard to believe that they could find no qualified Women to fill one of 19 chairs.

    It looks like they may have managed to get one person of color in there.

    How gracious of them.

  17. @Mark Hall: And a teacher can, and often should, say that X is not an appropriate topic for discussion and my views are not germane in this setting. Yes, professional is the word.

  18. @Zapski: I had to use a 3 1/4″ floppy three years ago when I started in my current job. I was stunned and had to admit I’d never used one before and had no idea what to do with it. I think the client that required data on these disks has since upgraded their computer.

  19. There are many details still unclear about the holy water issue.

    First of all, the discussion seems to have started by a student repeating Pat Robertson’s idiotic quip about Haiti making a pact with the debil, causing the earthquake. I don’t know about you, but I think any teacher should counter that particular kind of stupidity no matter their personal idiology. She was then asked if she was an atheist, and the discussion apparently grew from that, causing the other teachers to enter. I’m drawing on the article linked from the one above here, but this version of events seems pretty well supported.

    Secondly, was the teacher actually sprinkled? The accused teacher’s lawyer has a quite different version of events, but if that was what actually happened, it seems unlikely that the school would do anything at all. It sounds like a cover story for the real events. It could be the media inflating the incident. Or it could be the atheist teacher being a drama queen. At this point, I don’t think anyone has enough evidence to call it either way.

    As far as the article goes, the teachers seem to be on suspension while the principal gets to the bottom of what actually happened. I’m a little surprised that it hasn’t been resolved yet, though.

    As always, feel free to correct any mistakes.

  20. @Rei Malebario: Part of my job involves occasionally moving data from legacy media. SyQuests are my favorite; giant, likely to fail just because you looked at it, and SCSI. Then comes the fun task of moving the file formats forward. Because that always works.

  21. @ Peregrin: Commercial CDs and DVDs are not made the same way as the ones you burn on your computer and recorder. Commercial discs have the data molded into the polycarbonate disc. The disc has a structure sort of like like a tray with raised edges. On the inside of the tray the data is actually molded into the plastic. A very thin aluminum disc is placed inside the tray and then covered with a resin that seals it all together and can accept nice artwork. So as long as the polycarbonate does not deteriorate the data will stay intact.

    Discs you burn are done completely different. In those there is a layer of dye placed inside the tray which changes color when the laser hits it with enough energy. Because the dye is light-sensitive it’s prone to degradation when exposed to light. Commercially recorded discs don’t suffer from this problem.

  22. you might understand about how the Texas BOE scares the H. E. double hockey sticks outta me. They are already doing the Historical Revisionism thing, not long till we have ‘hand maidens tale’ in Tejas. sad state of affairs.
    I do volunteering with our schools via the ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ project. When asked by students at school what I believe, I tell them I don’t, but that religion is not a subject for us to discuss in the school, take it up with their parents or clergy if they wanna talk about it.
    School is for learning physical truths, Church is for learning about the Supernatural (an oxymoron if I have ever heard one).

  23. @Buzz Parsec:

    I’ve actually had the feeling since I was very young that I had to be exceptionally smart so that nobody could possibly deny it, and I later found out that many other women have felt the same way, especially those who excel in math and science. I went to school for chemical engineering and while men far outnumbered women in my class, in the top “overachievers group”, it was about 50/50. I’ve noticed that if you’re clearly talented or excellent in any field, it’s hard for others to deny that. But when it comes to the average people, men will often be given the benefit of the doubt while women are overlooked. It’s just a bunch of little things, like encouragement from teachers and parents, or those few extra seconds that an employer looks at your resume, but it adds up over time.

    But anyway, hooray that Wakefield won’t be unethically experimenting on any more children! Now only if we had a time machine to go back and prevent this whole mess.

  24. @vbalbert: You may be right. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to recall a lot of this stuff without having to stop by a wiki. But even commercial grade media have a limited life expectancy. I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to survive long enough to be dug up by archeologists thousands of years from now, and still be readable; not to mention to survive the excavation process.

  25. @marilove: Mari, I spent four years in the classroom, plus a year and a half as a substitute. All in Texas. For most of that, I wore a Thor’s Hammer around my neck; for all but half a year, I had a Thor’s Hammer tattoo on my shoulder. I answered a lot of questions, and went back to the topic when questions got too much.

    I agree that answering questions don’t automatically indicate bias, nor do we have enough information to go on; the article is far too scant for that. But I’ve seen it time and again, for any number of topics. You get a teacher on their particular favorite topic and class goes out the window. IF that is the case, then the atheist teacher in question was behaving unprofessionally… perhaps understandably, but unprofessionally.

    @exarch: Atheism is not a religion, but I see attacking a religion as being part of that “respecting the establishment thereof”… and claiming that there is no God pretty much attacks the establishment of religion. If there is a wall of separation between church and state, it not only protects the state from religion, but also protects religion from attack by the state (except on purely legal grounds)… and if a teacher talking about Jeebus is the establishment of religion, then a teacher saying there is no Jeebus is attacking the free exercise thereof, for the same reasons.

  26. @Peregrine:
    I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to survive long enough to be dug up by archeologists thousands of years from now, and still be readable; not to mention to survive the excavation process.

    Well, if the DVD’s are still in their box, they would be protected from damage and light. (particularly the UV-light is really bad for most kinds of plastic).

    But 3000 years? While pollution is a problem, and many plastics are expected to “hang around” for centuries after having been discarded, I think about 500 years is about how much time nature’s expected to need to break down most plastics. Or is that just in the ocean?

  27. You know, I thought I was engaging in a purely pedantic exercise, nitpicking an obviously insignificant plot device, deliberately missing the point of the story for my own amusement, and pontificating on the pervasive nature of cultural information.

    But now I’m kinda curious. I’ve been doing a bit of Googling on artificial weathering of DVDs, and I kinda want to do an experiment myself, Mythbusters style and see if we can get a boxed DVD to survive a few centuries of punishment and still be readable.

    But, come tomorrow, I’ll be back to work, and forget all about it. Besides, it looks expensive.

  28. @jogleby: “I think the main question that we should be asking ourselves is: Why the hell are teachers walking around carrying holy water?”

    COTW! I’ve said it before, that shit should be regulated!

  29. @Peregrine, now you’ve got me researching too.

    It seems the time it takes the environment to make litter disappear is pretty long, but when you’ve got 3000 years to do it in, pretty much everything is gone unless it’s somehow been sealed/protected in ideal conditions (like ships on the bottom of the Black Sea or mummies in the desert).
    Wikipedia uses this article as a source for the estimated time to break down most common (packing) materials.

    So considering the time it takes paper to normally break down (2-4 weeks apparently) and considering we’ve still got some books around that were written over 800 years ago, I’d say exposure is the most important factor in determining how long something will preserve.

    When CDs and DVDs first appeared, people said that VCR and casette tapes would become badly degraded after 10-15 years. Well, some of my VCR tapes probably ARE 15 years old. Some people probably even have audio casette tapes maybe twice that age or older.
    Of course, they don’t get daily use any more.

    So do you really think that a DVD properly stored in its box in a safe, dry, dark, out-of-the-way spot is going to be lost forever that quickly?

  30. A DVD, properly stored, in its box, in some forgotten corner of a museum’s private collection to be figuratively unearthed by a historian going through long forgotten assets may well survive a few centuries, and with only a little suspension of disbelief, it’s plausible that it might even last a few millenia.

    However, the story describes worn, dirty DVD Box sets, unearthed from the ancient ruins of “old New York”.

    Now, if they were found in the ruins of a reasonably sealed New York museum vault, or even the ruins of the History Channel’s own archive, then maybe they might survive. Though, how the boxes got warn and dirty in that case suggests otherwise.

    If they were found in the ruins of someone’s Manhattan apartment, having been stored in an Ikea DVD cabinet made of particle board; I’m sorry, those puppies are quite likely toast.

  31. @Mark Hall: But there is no evidence at all that should lead you to believe that is the case. The only thing we know is that she admitted she as an atheist. That’s it.

    It is interesting to me, however, that you claim you answered many similar questions, and even had a tattoo that could be seen as controversial, and it was totally cool and on the up-and-up … but with this teacher, as soon as you see “avowed atheist” (and absolutely nothing else) you automatically say: “You teach the goddamned material. You do your level best to keep your own biases out of it, especially on controversial subjects.”

    She’s the one with the bias? Hmmm.

    “and claiming that there is no God pretty much attacks the establishment of religion. “

    Oh, fucking please. Saying, “I do not believe in a god. I am an atheist.” Is not fucking attacking anything. Seriously. No. Talk about pandering to the religious.

    So now we can’t even be honest about our atheism, because we’ll be “attacking” religion? Really? But telling me, an atheist, that “There is a god!” is not attacking me, I guess. Awesome double standard, man!

    Seriously: I don’t care if I say, “There is no god.” I am not attacking religion.

    Perhaps if I said, “You shouldn’t beleive in god, you idiot!” But, “there is no god” is not the same thing. It is not attacking. To think otherwise is ridiculous and pandering to the religious.

  32. @marilove: First of all, lay of the weasel words calling me a liar. It’s a horrible debate tactic, and led me to write an angry response (since edited a bit).

    I say “teach the goddamned material” because not teaching the material, but instead teaching one’s own biases, is a common problem with teachers of all stripes. I say it in this case about an atheist because the case is about what an atheist was teaching. When it comes to Christians, Wiccans, Asatruar, and Pastafarians, I say the same thing. Teach the material.

    As for your quote, please take things in context; in this case, the rest of the paragraph. To quote, “and if a teacher talking about Jeebus is the establishment of religion, then a teacher saying there is no Jeebus is attacking the free exercise thereof, for the same reasons.”

    If a teacher talking about their religion in the classroom counts as an attempt to establish religion (a true statement, both in my opinion and the majority of courts cases), then a teacher talking about their lack of religion is likewise an infringement on the free exercise thereof. It is NOT a statement that is neutral towards religion, which is the consistent standard of the Supreme Court in dealing with these cases. It is a government employee telling people that their religious opinion is held to be less valid than that of the governmental employee… that’s why it’s wrong when a Baptist tells it to a Jew, and that’s why it’s wrong when an atheist says it to a Catholic. If you, as a private citizen, say “There is no god”, you are attacking the foundations of most religions… but because you’re a private citizen, and not a representative of the government in a situation where the audience has no choice about being there, that’s within your rights. However, if a teacher (whose students do not generally have a choice about being in class, and who is in a position of authority granted by the local government) says the same thing in class… how is it different from saying “There is a God”? Both deal with the establishment and free exercise of religion. Both are statements of religious value, even if atheism is not, in fact, a religion. “Mohammed was not a prophet” is a statement of religious value, even if a-Mohammedism is not, itself, a religion. And since the first amendment protects people FROM religion, it also protects people from the establishment of atheism.

    As we have both said, we do not have a lot of information about this specific case. The article linked doesn’t say what led to the discussion, though it links to an article that does (here), and neither mention what she teaches. The article I just linked alleges that she began “refuting Christianity”. The statement is vague… but I see in it the implication that she was not simply going after the student’s statement, but that she was directly attacking their religion. Which, again, goes to her, as a government employee, favoring atheism over religion… again, not a proposition of neutral religious value.

    This is probably somewhat disjointed and repetitive; I was substantially distracted while I wrote it.

  33. @Mark Hall: I never called you a liar and I have no idea where you’re getting that from. I am only saying that you are being very disingenuous. And implying more than a little that society’s bias toward atheists are affecting you, thus your automatic reaction to almost no information about this “avowed atheist” that she’s somehow overstepping professional boundaries, even though it was acceptable for you to answer similar questions and even have a tattoo.

    I say “teach the goddamned material” because not teaching the material, but instead teaching one’s own biases, is a common problem with teachers of all stripes.

    But you’re reading far more into the story than there is. NO where, not once, did the article imply in any way, shape, or form that she wasn’t doing anything but answering a simple question. So your “teach the god damned material” is either completely irrelevant to the article being discussed, or you are implying that she was overstepping her professional bounds, when we don’t have enough information to go on. “She was refuting Christianity” is also not enough to go on. For many people, even just saying one does not believe in god is enough for them to claim you are “refuting” Christianity. You are taking a lot from what even you admit is a “vague statement”. Mmmm, delicious bias.

    I will give you “There is no god” – I don’t think it is an attack at all, myself, but it would be overstepping professional lines, at the very least — but saying you are an atheist or do not believe in god is in no way shape or form attacking religion, and at this moment, that is all we have to go on. We have no further information. So your claims that she was overstepping anything are based on nada and are seeped in bias.

  34. @marilove:

    RE: Weasel words. “It is interesting to me, however, that you claim you answered many similar questions, and even had a tattoo that could be seen as controversial, and it was totally cool and on the up-and-up.” In this case, I read “claim” as implying I am not telling the truth. Again, it has nothing to do with this teacher being an avowed atheist… it has to do with this teacher being a teacher, and my experience both as a classroom teacher and as a student. What is your claim that my bias stems from her being an atheist based upon?

    As for it not saying it anywhere in the article, it doesn’t… except in the article actually about the incident, linked directly from the article in question at least twice. While “she was refuting Christianity” is not a direct quotation of her arguments, or of anyone who was there, you seem to imply that the author of the article is using the widest meaning, instead of the literal meaning of the words… that she was arguing against the religion of Christianity. It might mean that she simply said she was an atheist… but that requires reading into the motives of the author of the piece.

    As for whether saying you are an atheist is attacking religion, a lot comes down to context. The simple statement of “I am an atheist” is not. However, an explanation of why you are is attacking religion in the same way that explaining why you are a Christian is establishing a religion. In private citizens, it is irrelevant… they’re free to attack religion as they like. In a government employee, especially with a captive audience, it’s a different story.

  35. AFAICT, from the story as written, the “I’m an atheist” remark seems to have grown organically from the discussion the class was having: Haiti had an earthquake, God caused it to punish the alleged selling of Haiti’s soul to Satan, I believe/disbelieve this BECAUSE…

    I also find it interesting that nowhere in the story the paper(s) wrote does it actually say that the atheist teacher accused the godly teachers of throwing holy water on them. It says they were “accused” but not by whom. Even the quoted parts of the official papers written by the school board and the principal don’t mention holy water. The principal’s letter mentions only a “complaint of alleged bullying/harassment.” The only thing I can say for certain about the story is that I don’t have all, or perhaps any, of the facts.

  36. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the atheist teacher stood up in front of class and said the most offensive thing possible, say “There is no god and your mothers are stupid for teaching you there is.”
    That still does not justify the other teachers spraying her with water. There are appropriate ways to report a colleague that is acting inappropriately.

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