Thanks to Jennifer Newport and the Chicago Skeptics for helping to host the James Randi Educational Foundation’s regional workshop in Chicago this past weekend. Twelve attended the workshop on divination with dowsing rods and pendulums, which was offered free to JREF members. Participants made their own dowsing rods and pendulums while learning how to set up a scientific study to test their effectiveness. The workshop also included a historical review of divination as well as an in-depth look at the dangers of contemporary dowsing including the ADE 651 “bomb detector”.
Attendees, presenters, and others were then treated to an evening of fun at the Drinking Skeptically event, again hosted by Chicago Skeptics. The night featured video from the JREF’s Amazing Adventure to the Galapagos, a talk by me on the pseudoscience of cryptozoology, a little magic, and plenty of good conversation.
Watch Randi.org for information about new JREF regional workshops in additional cities to be announced soon.
I am not an epidemioligist, histologist, or a scientist of any type. I'm just a lay person with an interest in science, and at a glance, that article looks like science to me. It's in a professional science journal, on a site that warehouses scientific content, and it's in a format that matches my vague understanding of how scientific papers are presented.
And, in that brief glance, I can see their conclusion: "Ultradiluted belladonna could inhibit JE virus infection." In other words, this study backs up the claim that homeopathy works.
For the last two years, I have had the great pleasure of being part of Camp Inquiry. Camp Inquiry is the summer camp put on every July in Holland, New York by the Center For Inquiry. The camp, for children aged seven to sixteen, offers the kind of activities that are found at most summer camps. You’ll see volleyball, water balloons, campfires, sing-alongs, and nature hikes, but there’s much more, and that’s what makes it so special. CI puts a special emphasis on helping children navigate the big questions that we all face: Who am I? Why am I here? What can I know? What ought I to do? This is done with the help of special guests including artists, writers, scientists, and public intellectuals who give lectures and workshops, but also share s’mores around the campfire and get into deep conversations . After just five minutes at CI, it is obvious that this place is unique. This year’s guests included Jennifer Michael Hecht, Dale McGowan, Ben Radford, and of course, James Randi.
I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts during the 70's. Salem is rather like a "Fisher Price" city, in that it has a little of everything. There's a downtown, some ocean front, a bit of woods, a train station, and on the outskirts, a few farms to round things out. Unlike most cities, Salem also has a history of witchcraft, UFOs and sea monsters.
None of those particularly concerned us, but all the kids knew about the monster that was killing 1000-pound pigs at the farm near Thomson's Meadow, a large forboding swamp.
There were actually two different incidents that I remember. One involved a very large dead pig, and tracks that resembed a "fishing cat." I learned that this was a cat from India, not to be confused with the "fisher cat" of the marten family, and that the theory was that some "Hell's Angels" had released one in the woods.
As a kid, I wondered why and how the Hell's Angel's would posses a large jungle cat. Did it ride in a sidecar? Several years later, another cat was supposedly sighted around the meadow. This time, however, I was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, and I went on a camping trip a few hundred yards from said meadow. I specifically remember being too scared to answer a night-time call of nature, and resolving to wait until daylight. I had a nightmare about being attacked by a giant cat, and woke to find that dawn had broken. I unzipped the tent, and slowy crawled out into the campsite. Then I heard the distinctive call of a mountain lion.
As an educator I always had to be on my toes, not only to prevent undesirable behavior, but also to be aware of something much more elusive. Teachers are always on the lookout for something called a "teachable moment". They are tricky because they don't appear in your lesson plans, you have no idea where they will come from or when, and they may not even be on topic. Even trickier, you usually have a limited amount of time in which to take maximum advantage. Very often, the next thing you say determines whether or not you let that teachable moment slip by.
I was fortunate enough to capture one with my son just the other day. My father-in-law believes in all kinds of woo, and after talking with him my 9 year old son came to me very excited, his head full of stories about reincarnation, past life regression through hypnosis, and the possibility that after I die I'll come back as his child. Well, you can imagine how I felt. I opened my mouth, fully intending to say "Your grandfather has fed you a load of crap", when it hit me: this was a teachable moment. Instead of declaring those concepts bunk and leaving it at that, we had ourselves a dialogue.