Posts Tagged 'Pharyngula'

Women and Skepticism

If you’ve ever been to a meeting of skeptics, chances are you’ve noticed a big gap between the number of men and the number of women in attendance. When I started this blog I remember trying to think of what would set my point of view apart from the thousands of other skeptical blogs out there. All I could think of was that it might be interesting that I was formerly a believer of many of the things I now criticize, but it took some comments on my gender to make me realize that being a female skeptical blogger is actually pretty rare.

I’ve never gone and counted, but in my anecdotal experience most skeptical, atheist, and science-related blogs are written by men. So why is this? Skeptifem recently blogged about this, and her thinking was that it’s because women are busier, as we are generally tasked with looking after the kids or the home. I have no doubt that this contributes to the lack of ladies at skeptical gatherings, but I think there has to be more to it than that, otherwise we should expect women to also be underrepresented at things like Mind, Body, Spirit Festivals and in Church activities, no? Thankfully, PZ Myers recently posed the question on his blog:

So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of telling you my opinion, I’m going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is “Me! Me!”) and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance.

There was a lot of interesting discussion, so I recommend looking at the comments. Personally, I think it largely has to do with it being less socially acceptable for a woman to be outspoken, confrontational, and intellectual. I’m not sure what the solution is to this issue, maybe you can post your suggestions in the comments, but I think that promoting female skeptics is a good place to start. If more women are seen to be participating in skepticism at least online, then maybe we won’t be seen as a novelty simply by virtue of our gender.

So I’ve gone through the comments on that thread on Pharyngula and compiled this list of skeptical blogs/podcasts/websites that happen to be created by women (hopefully I didn’t miss any, there were over 600 comments). Enjoy!

Feel free to add more links in the comments!

I also want to take this opportunity to say that I’ve been wanting to find other contributors to this blog since my posts are so sporatic, and this whole topic of women in skepticism has made me think that it would be great to get some other women posting on my blog. If you’re interested (even if you want to cross-post from your own blog), shoot me an email through my contact page.

PZ Myers Braved Winnipeg…in January!

Yeah okay, he is from Minnesota, but still!

On Saturday night I was pleased to be able to see one of my favourite bloggers, PZ Myers of Pharyngula, speak on “the war between science and religion”, thanks to the Humanist Association of Manitoba.

Although I wasn’t sure how the topic related to Canada, American issues tend to spill over the border so it was relevant nonetheless. (The talk was recorded, but I’m not sure where or when that will be posted. I’ll post a link as soon as I find out.)

The main point that PZ was trying to get across was that atheists need to be “out”, and unafraid to talk about atheism, unafraid to criticize religion, and unafraid to criticize ideas that contradict science. I agree with him. I think that atheists are afraid to talk about their lack of beliefs for fear of offending somebody, this is certainly something I’m guilty of. I have the Out Campaign “A” on my blog, but I still have close friends and family members from whom I hide my atheism.

The conversation on beliefs really needs to be opened up. Even among atheists, there seems to be a tendency to think that we should just stay quiet and avoid causing a ruckus. But maybe it’s this tendency that makes it okay for religious people to deride atheists, and maybe it’s the fact that atheists are such a closeted group that makes them America’s least-trusted minority.

After PZ’s talk was over, I had a conversation with my mom about whether his cracker controversy was really necessary. If you don’t know the story, you can read his blog post about it here. The short version is that he desecrated a communion wafer…but really, read his version. I know that a lot of people think this whole thing was a silly exercise that accomplished nothing more than pissing off loads of Catholics. That was my first reaction. Think about it though, all he did was trash a cracker (as well as some pages from the Qur’an and the God Delusion). What he really did was demonstrate how ludicrous religious thinking can get. Some of the emails he received from angry Catholics illustrated how some people put the importance of the cracker above the importance of other human beings.

He has posted some of these emails on his blog, but one in particular that he showed at the talk really shocked me. It basically said that desecrating the wafer was worse then the holocaust or 9/11. Seriously. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be challenged publicly. PZ did something utterly harmless: he threw a few things that he didn’t hold sacred into the trash, and by doing this he was showing that not everyone was bound by superstitious beliefs. That’s something I can support.

What was your reaction to “The Great Desecration”?

Moving along…

My favourite part of lectures is pretty much always the question period, and there were a couple of questions in particular that stood out.

First, there was a local blogger (if you end up here let me know because I’d like to read your blog!) who mentioned that Canada doesn’t have any official separation of Church and state. I actually didn’t know this…I had made some lazy attempts to find out whether we had something similar to the US’s establishment clause, but came up empty. His question was did PZ think that we would benefit from making the separation of Church and state official. PZ’s answer, briefly, was no, and I agree. It might come in handy on occasion, but Canada has done great without it, compared to the US with its White House Faith-based initiatives, its national prayer breakfast, and its presidents (both the current and the previous) that can’t seem to make it through a speech without mentioning god or Jesus.

What do you think? Should Canada have an official separation of Church and state?

Second, a brave creationist showed up! His question: What do you have to say about molecules to morals? It was a weird question, but pretty much just a different wording of “can you be good without god?” PZ handled this well, and you can read the discussion on this in the comments on his blog, but how would you answer?

I’m always puzzled by this idea that we need someone (a god) to tell us what to do in order to be good. It just makes sense: if I don’t want to be harmed, I won’t do harm to other people.

Time to wrap this up…I’ll conclude by saying that I think atheists in general are moral and thoughtful people, and we should be loud and proud of our ability to think for ourselves. Cheers!

The Slippery Slope of Gay Marriage

You may have already seen this comic if you read Pharyngula, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a fantastic comeback to the slippery slope argument against gay marriage:

You can find more fantastic comics like this one at  SMBC.

Moose Mania

So the other night my husband was checking his email and saw something he thought was really cool. He said “you have to see this!” and, us being a modern family, he forwarded it to me (sitting 10 feet away) on my laptop.

The contents of the email were these two pictures:

big moose 1

big moose 2

Along with this text:

Look at this Moose! By the length of his beard and the grey legs, I figure he must be over 10 years old. He looks to be well over 8 feet at the top of the shoulder hump,and with his head up the height to the top of his antler must be about 12 feet .This guy is king of the forest, no bear or pack of wolves would dare come after him when he has this rack……Considering that a dirt road can fit 1 1/2 cars across … this fellow is HUGE …THIS IS ONE BIG BOY!

Now I’ve never seen a male moose before, but my dad’s work has taken him to all sorts of small towns in Northern Canada where moose are common, and he’s told me about moose whose legs were as long as he is tall (and he’s a big guy), so I had no reason to be skeptical.

Every Monday, PZ Myers posts an animal picture for his “Monday Metazoan” on Pharyngula, and I thought this was a cool enough picture for that spot, so I forwarded it on to  him. I was happy on Monday morning to see that he had used it. But my happiness was short-lived when I saw the comments claiming that the picture was photoshopped!

The whole thread turned into a big debate over whether the picture was real, but I think Pharyngula commenter Steven Mading did a good job of summarizing:

Sigh: The obvious rebuttals to the arguments being used here claiming this is done with an image editor:

1 – Complaint: “But on other sites they’re claiming it’s from other locations – the location keeps changing! It’s an urban (or rural) legend and therefore the image is faked!” Obvious Rebuttal: Just because the claim of the location the photo was taken is incorrect doesn’t imply the image itself is edited. Editing the image and telling the truth about where it is from are two entirely different issues. I could take a very real photograph of Lake Mendota where I live, and simply put a caption on it saying “This is in Saudi Arabia – amazing that there’s a lake here!” and that still doesn’t mean I photoshopped the image.

2 – Complaint: “But you can’t see the moose’s shadow on the ground!” Obvious Rebuttal: It’s already standing in a shadow! The woods are already casting a shadow on the road, as you can plainly see. Putting an additional object into the umbra of another object doesn’t make the shadow any darker than it already was.

3 – Complaint: “The second image is clearly just a rotated copy of the first!” Obvious Rebuttal: No, it’s not clearly rotated since if it was then one picture would look like a flat cardboard cutout since it would be rotating a 2-D image.

4 – Complaint: “Moose don’t get that big!” Obvious Rebuttal; Yes. They Do. Check your encyclopedia.
Now, none of that means the image can’t have been photoshopped – just that the reasons being quoted here for making that conclusion are pretty weak.

The whole thing is ridiculous. Most likely the location was wrong or inaccurate, but why would somebody photoshop an image that could possibly be real?

I got over my disappointment in the skepticism over the image, and took amusement in the controversy, especially when I saw that this online newspaper had done a story on the moose photo:

Is there really a moose this big? Or is it a hoax?

This picture, purportedly taken by someone named Lindsay of a rather ginormous moose “near Elliot Lake, near Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” was posted this morning on ScienceBlogs.com, which describes itself as “the largest online community dedicated to science.”

At time of writing (9:44 a.m. on Monday) 27 readers had posted comments on the picture, some rather skeptical.

“PhotoShop is one of my favorite software programs,” writes Neil B. “I wonder why Lindsay didn’t include a silly squirrel with that moose. :-)”

I didn’t say that I took the picture, nor did PZ’s post, so somebody wasn’t reading too carefully!

As for the title of the article, writer David Helwig only needed to check Wikipedia to find out that moose can get that big. If it is a hoax, then I’ve been had, but it’s the lamest hoax ever!

There was an editor’s note added after I made a comment on the post at Pharyngula:

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after SooToday.com posted this article, Lindsay, the purported photographer, posted this comment on ScienceBlogs.com: “I didn’t Photoshop it, but why would I need to when moose really get that big? I didn’t take the picture, it was passed to me in an e-mail. If I were there I would probably have been running as fast as I could in the opposite direction!)

I think we’re all just so jaded because of previous photoshop hoaxes that people are quick to call any surprising image a fake. For your amusement:

shark helicoptor

worlds largest dog hoax

moose harness hoax

It’s Been a Year Since I Lost My Religion

A year ago today my life began to change in a big way. On October 3, 2008 Bill Maher’s movie about religion, Religulous, was released in Canada. At the time I was a Christian, but I decided to see the movie because I was intrigued by the previews. I had never been exposed to such outright criticism of religion.

I didn’t know who Bill Maher was (honestly…people find this hard to believe), so I didn’t know what to expect. What I saw was a crass, in-your-face dump on faith. But rather than feeling offended I felt inspired by the closing scene of the movie. Maher said:

Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking…keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and distruction.

The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt.

I started to allow myself to doubt my beliefs, and to consider that the Bible was probably just a fairy tale.

A short time after I had seen the movie I was in a book store and noticed Christopher Hitchens’s book God is not Great, and decided to pick it up. By the time I finished reading the book I was an atheist, and wondering how I ever believed in a god in the first place!

I was now very fascinated with the topic of religion, and picked up Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Dawkins introduced me to the world of skepticism of all sorts of beliefs. I discovered that there was a whole online community of skeptics.

I filled up my iPod with podcasts that allow me to learn while I’m working:

The Atheist Experience
The Conspiracy Skeptic
Hunting Humbug 101
Point of Inquiry
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
The Skeptic Zone
Skeptoid

I also got into reading blogs that kept me up to date on the big stories in the atheist and skeptical communities:

Bad Astronomy
Friendly Atheist
NeurologicaBlog
Pharyngula
Skepchick

And I’ve been doing my best to get a fairly well-rounded understanding of science. Some of my favourite books:

The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
Death From the Skies! – Phil Plait
Quirkology – Richard Wiseman
Trick or Treatment – Simon Singh
The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

I’m being opened up to a whole new, fascinating, mind-boggling, incredible, inconceivable, evidence-based, beautiful and awe-inspiring universe.

It has been quite a year! I’ve been taking in so much information that I needed to start this blog in order to articulate some of my thoughts, and to try to take part in what others in the skeptical community are doing. I’m learning and growing every day, and I can’t wait to see where I’m at in a year’s time.

If any of the people involved in the podcasts, blogs and books I mentioned above happen to stumble upon this blog entry, I just want to say thanks!

I think that the best thing that I’ve learned in the last year is the importance of science. Science is the most useful tool that we have, and I’m excited every time I see someone promoting it to the wider public. It seems to be on the increase and that’s so encouraging.

I’ve rambled on long enough, but I just felt the need to reflect on the past year. Thanks for reading!

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“Orb” Over PZ’s Shoulder in Creation Museum

Jesus? Is that you?

CreoZerg Orb

CreoZerg! PZ Myers and 285 Atheists Visit Creation Museum

Today PZ Myers and a whole lot of godless folks made a trek to Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum” in Kentucky and provided my entertainment for the day.

By following te #CreoZerg tag on Twitter those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be there in person got live updates…and the results were both hilarious and disturbing.

Dank Finke over at Camels With Hammers did a nice job of summarizing the best tweets and twitpics throughout the day, so I’ll just point you there.

The best part of today by far, though, was when PZ himself got atop the famous saddle-wearing triceratops (wearing his crockoduck tie and with squid in hand). I’ve made my own version of a “motivational poster” with the picture, in honour of the day:

Atheist Motivational Poster Creozerg PZ Myers


ETA: I’ve also posted some more in-depth thoughts here, and here‘s PZ Myers’s blog post about the day


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