Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel at Dragon*Con's Skeptrack called ‘How to Combat Woo'. I was honored to be invited to speak with Phil Plait, Jeff Wagg, D. J. Grothe from the Center of Inquiry, and Maria Walters, a founding member of the Atlanta Skeptics and blogger on Skepchick.org. Phil has written about this here and about a new Grassroots Skeptics site here, which I'm excited about. The theme for my part of the panel was "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day."
I enjoy attending TAM and Dragon*Con, and was fortunate to attend several of the JREF-sponsored cruises. In addition to have my skeptical batteries recharged, I enjoyed the community, and miss it when I go home. I live in the Houston area, and had been meeting informally with locals who I met at these conferences or through the JREF forum. In discussing the lack of a skeptical group with fellow Houstonians Sam Ogden (also a blogger on Skepchick), friend Eric Prim and friend Elaine Gilman, who started the Denver Skeptics meetup group, now known as the Mile High Skeptics, we formed the Houston Skeptics site on Meetup.com. I often talk to people who say ‘there is no skeptics group in my area', but as you will see, it's a relatively simple matter to start a group.
As many of you know, I recently spoke at Dragon*Con, which was an absolute blast. Dragon*Con's crowd is a bit different than what you'd encounter at TAM or any of the other skeptics conferences in that the people there aren't necessarily skeptics. This leads to questions like... "Where can I learn more about skepticism?" That's a larger topic than this article will allow, but I CAN tell you what should be in your mailbox.
There are several excellent publications out there. I consider these "must read" material.
We encounter many interesting people in the course of our daily dealings with the JREF $1,000,000 Challenge applicants. Many folks are sincere and believe they truly have a paranormal or supernatural ability that they can demonstrate to us. Of these, some are simply mistaken. Dowsing, the most common claim, can easily fool average people into believing in the paranormal, and though we can completely explain what's happening, they find it hard to let go of that "special" feeling.
a brief analysis of criminological psychic predictions
Psychics as a whole seem to exhibit an almost parasitic attraction to spectacle - the more strange, outrageous, horrific or violent some event is, the more likely that some psychic will invariably allege gross incompetence and negligence upon the parts of those charged with preventing such disasters by claiming that they predicted the event far in advance and, undoubtedly, will wistfully decry on a time-lost web page "If only I was believed!" This has always galled me - as a criminology student, I like to think I am better informed about police and investigative methodology than most, and seeing the sheer amount of time and effort put into crime prevention laughed at is exceptionally aggravating, not to mention offensive.
It's gratifying to see the name of a real hero grace the headlines of the papers today. Norman Borlaug was 95 when he died in Dallas this Sunday. Not familiar with that name? I'll admit that I wasn't either. But I was familiar with the man who developed plants that saved an estimated 1,000,000,000 lives. No, that's not a typo - that is one billion (American usage).
Borlaug's passing gives us time to reflect on a man who used science and technology to improve the world. In fact, the Wall Street Journal article claims that because of his advances, all hunger in the world today is the result of political disasters, not natural ones.
Borlaug's dwarf wheat crop, known as triticale, was responsible for a mutli-fold yield increase. Star Trek fans will recognize the name "triticale" from an episode featuring "tribbles" - it's what they were feeding on.
Borlaug also helped create so-called "Golden Rice" which contained beta carotene, - an essential nutrient often lacking in the diets of the impoverished.
So here we have a man that used science to do incredible things. He won the Nobel prize, and demonstrated once again that a thoughtful man can do more than all the prayer in the world. I dare say that no one else in the history of mankind has ever saved as many lives. I would call him a super hero.
And yet I'm a bit bothered by something I saw on Twitter.