Doing Social Science Skepticism Right

I’ve said before that presenting social science in a way that encourages skepticism and gives a sense of the complexity of the science involved is very difficult. The situations are complex. The number of variables is enormous. The research is of varying quality, not easily spotted from the outside. We all have biases that make it difficult to sort through the mountains of data that have been collected.

This is one of the reasons that CSICon made me so happy. They did it right, in two different sessions. The first was on gender differences, and the second was on the interaction of political positions and scientific denialism. Either one of these could have gone badly. Each would have been difficult for a single presenter to remain impartial about over the course of a talk and Q&A.

So the schedule never had just one presenter on this sort of topic. They had multiple presenters with multiple, competing viewpoints whose presentations directly addressed each other’s. I suppose it’s possible that topics like these could be addressed better from a skeptical point of view, but I don’t know how, and I’ve never seen it done this well.

To give you a sense of how this worked, I’ll give you some of the live-tweeting of the session on gender. Ron Lindsay moderated the session. Richard Lippa and Carol Tavris spoke. Lippa, who researches gender differences, spoke first.
Continue reading “Doing Social Science Skepticism Right”

Doing Social Science Skepticism Right

Access to Civil Rights History

A number of the Donors Choose donors from this blog have found this project appealing, and it’s no wonder why. There is only $185 to go to fully fund it. Can we push it over the top?

Researching Our Past

My Students: My 4th graders attend a Title 1 School and have limited access to technology outside of school. We live in a technological age, and my students deserve the opportunity to be exposed to as much technology as possible.

My students face the world already at a disadvantage. Our school is in one of the poorest counties in South Carolina. It has a 15.6% unemployment rate, so these children face tremendous challenges in their life away from school. Most of the students receive free or reduced lunches and free breakfast everyday. The only computers and technology they are exposed to is at school and they come eager to learn to use it.

My Project: Having an iPad available in my classroom for my students will allow them the opportunity to research Civil Rights and the Civil War using state of the art technology. The iPad will give them access to websites with pictures, videos, and key information about the leaders and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War. Not only will my students learn about our past, they will also learn how to use an iPad (something that they would never see outside of school).

This project is so important for us because it is vital we remember those who spoke out for change and because it allows my students to do that using amazing technology. Please help me expose my students to the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War in a way that they will never forte, using a cool iPad!

My students need an iPad to help assist them in using technology to research the Civil Rights Movement.

Access to Civil Rights History

What You Do

Expect a few posts about CSICon over the next few days. It was a good time. It was good skepticism. It was good discussions with the people who are or will end up running our movements.

One type of conversation I had repeatedly this weekend is a discussion I’ve been having a lot these days. It generally starts like this:

I really appreciate what you’ve been doing the last few months. I feel like I should be doing more to help, but… Continue reading “What You Do”

What You Do

So You Want a Third Party

PZ has just saved me work, summing up most of my thoughts on third-party presidential candidates.

I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.

The right place is everywhere else. Maybe the primary campaigns would be better: we need to get candidates in place that don’t require us to hold our noses in order to vote for them. The Republican field is always a race to find the one candidate just crazy enough to satisfy a badly deranged base, while not so obviously crazy as to alienate everyone else, so forget them. The Democrats always seem to be looking for the moderate who won’t really change the system (that would be scary) and who will inspire just enough to squeak into office…but not inspire so much that people will wake up to our problems. I suspect that both parties will fundamentally resist change.

So maybe that’s not even the best place to work on fixing the election system. Especially in this election, the power of incumbency is so great that no one was even going to look seriously at an alternative to Obama.

You know where the elections really matter, where you really have a choice? At the local level. The Green Party is stupid to throw so much effort into a presidential campaign right now — they ought to be focused on building a base. I would vote for a Green for city council or district representative in a heartbeat. And once they’ve built a deep party structure, they become serious candidates for higher office, because they will have the backing of people doing good work on the ground.

There’s more. Read it.

Since PZ did so much, let me add a few specifics on leveling the playing field at a local and state level. Continue reading “So You Want a Third Party”

So You Want a Third Party

Vacula: Ladies, Y U No Quit?

A week ago, I put up a post contradicting Justin Vacula’s suggestion that what the slimepit does is criticism rather than abuse. I noted then that I wondered whether he could tell the difference. I’m still wondering, even though he’s put up the post he’d been promising “on conflation of criticism with abuse and responsibility and the internet”…or at least left a comment on my post pointing to one of his.

What does his post have to say about the difference between the two? Well, nothing, actually:

Poster saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Actual image used in Vacula’s post. In this post, however, clicking the picture will lead to the owner of the image.

It seems extremely obvious to me that people should consider the results of their actions before they make them and then act appropriately depending on various factors including their coping skills, past experiences, support systems, financial stability, etc. This line of reasoning is quite uncontroversial in some areas of the secular community when people consider ‘coming out’ as an atheist; many will say persons should not come out if they will have to face dire consequences for doing so. People who give this advice are almost never told they are ‘blaming the victim’ or ‘giving a warrant for bullies,’ but when the topic is changed to people who write on the internet — and often engage in vitriolic writing — all bets are off for some reason.

In fact, not only does this post not describe the difference between criticism and abuse, it seems to suggest the difference doesn’t matter. Continue reading “Vacula: Ladies, Y U No Quit?”

Vacula: Ladies, Y U No Quit?

The Hand of Paul Kurtz

This year’s CSICon is dedicated, unsurprisingly, to the memory of Paul Kurtz. Many of the CSI/CFI/CSH staff here worked with Kurtz. They all work for organizations that he built, fulfilling missions he believed in. At the same time, those who worked with Kurtz lived through the difficult end of his tenure there. Listening to them, it’s hard to come away with anything but a complicated sense of the man and the effect he still has on the modern skeptic and atheist movements.
Continue reading “The Hand of Paul Kurtz”

The Hand of Paul Kurtz

Students Building a Curriculum

One of the best ways students can truly learn their subject is to teach it to someone else. This Donors Choose project allows gifted students to do just that, helping them and their peers learn now and into the future.

Project Lab

Oak Grove Lower Elementary School in Hattiesburg, MS

My Students: Save our work! Students are creating authentic projects to share with other classes by developing “Learning Kits.” It is hard to motivate students to put forth their best effort if their materials will not hold up to long-term use. Knowing that their work will be “saved” will inspire them!

My students are second grade intellectually gifted students in one of Mississippi’s fastest growing school districts. These students come from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. All have been identified by set criteria to participate in this one day per week pullout program to promote higher level thinking skills.

My Project: With the help of the laminating system requested my classroom will be transformed into a project-based learning environment where students eagerly work on authentic projects to demonstrate their own learning and enhance the learning of others! We will call our classroom the “Project Lab” because our room will be like a lab with students working to create outstanding projects to share with others. Students will learn how to research, plan, set goals, and follow through to completion on a project of their choice based on each unit of study. By using the classroom laminator student’s work will be protected from wear and tear caused by use over the year. The “Learning Kits” they create with laminated educational reports, lessons and activities will be shared with other students. Without this laminator, these projects can only be shared for a short time; however, with this laminator system these projects can be used indefinitely and many students will benefit from our effort

Not only will “Project Lab” inspire my students to put forth their very best effort on authentic learning projects, but it will also allow them to produce high-quality projects that will enhance learning for their peers in our school. Once completed student-created “Learning Kits” will be available yearly to enhance the learning for many students.

My students need a laminator so the “Learning Kits” they create can be used by other students in our school.

Can you help these students learn through teaching? There are only two days to go on this challenge.

Students Building a Curriculum

Embracing the Euphemism

I’m at CSICon this weekend with very limited writing time, so have a fun repost. Originally posted here.

I’ve long had a complicated relationship with euphemisms. On their own, I don’t like them much. I’m annoyed by people’s inability to talk about the things they clearly want or need to talk about. Many of them reflect the negative attitudes that keep us from speaking plainly in the first place. And some of them are just gallingly twee.

However, put a bunch of them together in one place, and they go from an act of denial to a demonstration of our creativity in the face of repression and a testament to the fact that we will talk about these things, no matter how much we’re told we shouldn’t. One lovely example is this song, brought to my attention by Sex, Etc., a sex education site aimed at teenagers. I don’t need to tell you this isn’t work-safe, do I? Continue reading “Embracing the Euphemism”

Embracing the Euphemism

Saturday Storytime: Younger Woman

You’ve probably heard of Karen Joy Fowler. The Jane Austen Book Club made quite a stir when it came out, and it’s been going strong since.  This particular story is nominated for a World Fantasy Award, the winners of which will be announced next weekend.

Jude gives Eli fifteen minutes in which to go calm Chloe down. God knows, nothing Jude could say would accomplish that. She waits until he’s up the stairs, then follows him, but only as high as the first creaking step, so that she can almost, but not quite hear what they’re saying. Chloe’s voice is high and impassioned, Eli’s apologetic. Then everything is silent, suspiciously so, and she’s just about to go up the rest of the way even though the fifteen minutes isn’t over when she hears Eli again and realizes he’s in the hall. “Let me talk to your mom,” Eli is saying and Jude hurries back to the table before he catches her listening. 

She notices that he manages the stairs without a sound. “She’s fine,” Eli tells her. “She’s on the computer.”

Jude decides not to finish her drink. It wouldn’t be wise or responsible. It wouldn’t be motherly. She’s already blurred a bit at the edges though she thinks that’s fatigue more than liquor. She’s been having so much trouble sleeping. 

She eases her feet out of her shoes, leans down to rub her toes. “Doesn’t it feel like we’ve just put the children to bed?” she asks. 

Eli’s back in his seat across the table, straight-backed in the chair, looking soberly sexy. “Forgive me for this,” he says. He leans forward slightly. “But are you trying to seduce me? Mrs. Robinson?” 

Jude absolutely wasn’t, so it’s easy to deny. “I wouldn’t date you even without Chloe,” she says. Eli’s been polite, so she tries to be polite back. Leave it at that. 

But he insists on asking. 

“It’s just such a waste,” she says. “I mean, really. High school and high school girls? That’s the best you can do with immortality? It doesn’t impress me.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Younger Woman