I’m no fan of Jenny McCarthy, especially given her anti-vaccination views. I think that most of her arguments are invalid; she insists on perpetuating long debunked myths about vaccines, and seems to refuse to look at the actual evidence regarding vaccines. For that she needs to be criticized as much as we, politely but strongly, can. Nevertheless, it troubles me to witness ad hominem attacks, and the use of logical fallacies against McCarthy. One such argument that seems to have gained a bit of popularity these days goes along these lines:
Jenny McCarthy speaks of dangerous “toxins” in vaccines, yet she gets Botox shots, which include botulinum, one of the most toxic substances around, right on her face.
Unfortunately, even the one who is recently threatening to become my favorite active skeptic around (James Randi of course is on a category of his own, I’m talking mere mortals here), the Bad Astronomer himself made a similar comment at his Bad Astronomy blog.
I see. So injecting kids with scientifically-proven medicine that can save their lives and the lives of countless others is bad because of a fantasy-driven belief that it causes autism, but injecting a lethal pathogen — in fact, the most lethal protein known — into your face to help ease the globally threatening scourge of crow’s feet is just fine and dandy.
I’ve also heard a similar comment being made in an episode of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, fairly recently.
Now, as satisfying as taking shots to people we whole-heartedly disagree with may be, I fail to see what the above comment adds to the vaccine discourse. Jenny McCarthy is wrong because of what she’s choosing to consider evidence, and due to poor critical thinking about the issue at hand, not because of her personal, adult live-style choices. Think about it; it is a non-sequitur, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand, and I’m not even sure what it is supposed to highlight about Jenny McCarthy herself.
If you are not convinced, let us do the usual experiment and replace the word “Botox/Toxin” with something else, smoking for example. Now let us assume for a second that teachers can smoke in the classrooms and McCarthy was advocating against smoke in the schools. Also assume she was a smoker herself and had said the following about cigarettes:
I love smoking, I absolutely love it,” she said. “I get it minimally, so I’m not a chain smoker. But I really do think it’s a savior, when I’m stressed and tired.
Now ask yourself: would her own personal love & consumption of tobacco, invalidate her arguments against smoking in schools? Of course not, and for the same reason her own personal use of Botox is not an argument against her anti-vaccine views. It is not related in any way; it is a non-sequitur and using it amounts to nothing more than an ad-hominem, or a poisoning-of-the-well, logical fallacy.
We skeptics take pride in our allegiance to logic and evidence; we are aware of our own shortcomings; we are aware that we are fallible and that we make mistakes. In my opinion the above comments about Jenny McCarthy are a mistake that we should own up to and make amends, and stop using it. If you really want to counter Jenny’s anti-vaccine views, choose one of the claims she makes, do some research, and write a nice blog entry showing where she goes wrong and what the evidence says, but do not resort to ad-hominem attacks. We are skeptics and we ought to be better than that.
Yes I’m very late to the game, and yes it’s quite a cheesy title I know, but upon finishing reading Phil Plait’s excellent book I felt deliciously satisfied, if that makes any sense. If you’re gonna read just one science book this year, make sure it is Death From the Skies ; hell if you’re gonna read just one book this year, make sure it is DFTS. (Amazon had the paperback for only $6.40! Good deal, worth every penny!)
I mean where else are you gonna get a book that starts by telling you that the Universe wants to kill you? Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in a book anyway? This gem is not a work of fiction, but it is stranger than fiction. I mean what did he say is going to happen to the Sun? What did he say will happen to the Universe? This can’t be true, but aparently it is.
I’m not gonna spend too much time doing a real review, I just wanted to give Death From the Skies many, many thumbs up. If I had to use just one word to describe it, I’d say this: It’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful.
<Skeptical Heresy> Phil Plait may have what it takes to be this generation’s Carl Sagan </Skeptical Heresy>
It is the greates show not to have graced your TV set…yet! Phil Plait, Steve Novella, Michael Shermer, Brian Dunning and the whole gang from the Skepticblog, are trying really hard to get it to your TV. But they need your help, you have to write and tell them why you are so thrilled about The Skeptologists. They need as many writen testimonials as possible to use as leverage whne talking to TV companies. So go, go, go, go…GO now! In their own words:
It’s a daunting task to track down and collect all the opinions of TV viewers. We have what we know is a hit series, but in order to make it happen, we need to hear from the most powerful people affecting our success: You! You, our fantastic TV viewer. What do you think about this show concept? Have you heard of any of these talented stars? What network would you like to watch this on? Would you support the advertisers that supported The Skeptologists? Tell us here, place your comments below, we are watching and so are the networks!
All the elements of TV production are difficult and require much attention, time and money.
Landing a network TV production deal to have the opportunity to show all that hard work to a nation, and even the world, is much like hitting the lottery.
Too bad I don’t play the lottery.
Convincing entrenched, and complacent programming TV executives that you have a program that will change the way people consider their TV entertainment seems to be next to impossible.
I set out on a journey to do just that, and with the help of an amazing production team and an all-star skeptical cast, we’re going to make it a reality!
In my last blog, I shared some of the process to get this idea off the ground. In this second installment, I want to give you an idea about how we came to decide who should be on our esteemed panel of brilliant minds for the show.
As you no-doubt have gleaned by the official contributors of SkepticBlog, the Skeptologists are: Brian Dunning, Steven Novella, Phil Plait, Yau-Man Chan, Kirsten Sanford, Michael Shermer and Mark Edward. One doesn’t just open a book and check the boxes next to: Awesome Skeptical Soon-to-be-TV-Celebrities. Much thought went into who should be a cast member and the type of background each individual should have.
Among science communicators, there’s an ongoing discussion on how best to reach people. There’s the Carl Sagan-route, full of awe and gentle wonder and turtlenecks, and there’s the Mythbusters-route, which relies upon explosions and goofy shenanigans to teach while entertaining. And now there is the Phil Plait-route, defined by educating the audience while scaring the pants off them.
Death from the Skies: These are the Ways the World Will End is a gripping, well-written follow-up to Dr. Phil Plait’s first book, Bad Astronomy. Those of you who have read Bad Astronomy — or who follow Phil’s fantastic blog of the same name — already know what to expect in DftS, and you won’t be disappointed. Phil excels at conveying complex scientific ideas in an easy-to-grasp manner. He’s the science teacher you wish you had in high school, who can relate to your frustration when the formulas get long and the Universe seems to ignore all those laws you learned in freshman Physics.
Of course, Phil’s knack for simplifying science is only half the battle, as a wise GI Joe once said. What really sets this book apart is the brilliant concept: death and destruction on a scale that makes Godzilla v. Mothra look just silly. I mean sillier. You get my point.
The Large Hadron Collider became the biggest science news story of 2008, purely because of a public misconception that it might bring about the end times. Other popular headline-grabbers this year: the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, at least two blockbusters involving the destruction of New York, and the lack of solar activity possibly signaling an incoming mini ice age. Obviously, this is the sort of topic that grabs attention.
The problem is, how do you capitalize off of society’s innate morbid curiosity without freaking people out about scenarios that are not very likely to occur? In DftS, Phil manages to present a believable scenario of destruction and explain the science behind it, without necessarily inspiring any new doomsday cults. Take, for instance, a gamma-ray burst (GRB). This is seriously freak-tastic stuff: a star a few trillion miles from Earth, like say Eta Carinae, dies. From our perspective, we see a pretty cool flash of light in the sky, and then a few hours later, 2/3 of the Earth is covered in a lethal dose of radiation. Phil uses this scenario to explain topics like black holes and the accretion disks surrounding them, neutron stars, the weird-but-true theory that as an object’s gravity increases as it gets smaller while retaining its mass, and the penetrative power of muons (hint: don’t bother hiding from them less than 2,000 feet underground). Throughout the chapter he throws in things like, “To make this more clear: we are in no danger from a GRB, Eta or otherwise, in the near or even mid-term future.” And then he continues to scare the pants off everyone by speculating further. At the very end of the book, he includes a helpful chart showing the chances of each scenario happening. Death by GRB appears to be about 1 in 14,000,000 and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it anyway, meaning that you’re quite literally better off worrying about shark attacks.
So, I love the scary parts of the book, I love the care taken to put those scary parts into perspective, and I especially love the science — speaking as someone with basically no formal science education, I learned an awful lot about astronomy, physics, chemistry, and even biology. The breadth of information in the book pretty much guarantees that everyone will learn something. Probably something really terrifying, but something.
To balance that glowing review, just in case you all think I’m only saying these nice things because Phil is my pal, I’ll also mention that the book is not perfect. Now, I did read an advance proof that may not be exactly like the final version, but I feel I should warn you just in case: Death from the Skies is absolutely infested with puns. Puns made up by Phil, and if you know Phil, you know what that means. Luckily, most of them are bolded and set apart from the rest of the text as subheads, so if you’re prepared then you will know to glance over them as you read. Here are a few:
Current Events (about magnetic fields)
Sirius Danger? (about the star, and yes, he went there)
The Hole Truth (about black holes)
I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up (no, seriously)
Pasta-ta (about black hole spaghettification)
Man Hole (about Phil’s trip to his favorite dance club)
I’ll stop there before your eyes melt.
Of course, I’m only (half-) kidding. Phil’s goofy sense of humor is why I love him, and it’s why scientists and laypeople alike enjoy reading about the Universe from his perspective. His love of science is infectious, and I’m optimistic that Death from the Skies will introduce a new audience to the wonders of astronomy. I’d like to give this book to all those people fretting about the various made-up ways the world might end (the LHC, the Mayan calendar, Godzilla, Armageddon), to open their eyes to what’s actually happening out there. Reading the book, what struck me above all is not just the specifics of what we know through science, but simply that we know at all. Death from the Skies will take you trillions of years into the future and beyond, using actual science to speculate about what will happen to our planet, our Sun, our galaxy, and our Universe. That is so very cool, and so much more satisfying than anything you’ll get from the vague predictions of your average Doomsday crowd.
Yes, it’s been released. Here’s a photo I got of Michael Stackpole enjoying his copy – but mine has been edited, ha ha ha!
And I’m thinking I might just donate my copy that I got (ah, Amazon.com, you are so nice to send on zippy post!) mine to whoever wants to send in what we judge to be the best idea for a new shirt logo and slogan to the Skeptic Zone Podcast…
It’s kind of a mini-episode, featuring on the Skeptics in the Pub over in Sydney, with Rachael, Richard and a lot of the skeptic gang enjoying a good time. There may or may not be references to ghosts wearing ‘Choose Life!’ 80s shirts and perhaps the Goodies. I cannot give too much away.
As for giving away what I think about Plait’s book? Well, from my first read that has taken me from writing much over the past day or so – bugger space. Save me from prions: progressive neurodegenerative disorders suck far, far worse than black holes and at least in your last few minutes you can actually think ‘cool!’ if it really was the highly unlikely cannibal galaxies. ‘Death From the Skies’ is probably better for Arthur Dent than a big guide with ‘Don’t Panic’ written in large, friendly letters on the cover. Because it actually does show why ‘don’t panic’.
I first gave a copy of Plait’s first book, Bad Astronomy, to a student who completed an investigation into moon hoaxes as a part of her submission to a skeptic report writing contest. The amount of detail she went into led to her asking on Dr Plait’s BAUT board about the Van Allen belts.
His response: “…they were in the belts for just a few minutes. Inner, outer, it doesn’t matter. Since they weren’t in them for long, they didn’t get a lethal dose of radiation. Elevated levels, yes,; lethal, no.If you sat in the belts long enough, you’d die from radiation, but that would take hours or days, so it wasn’t a concern for Apollo. As I like to tell people: of course the van Allen belts are deadly– there’s no air in them!”
That same sort of matter-of-fact breakdown is evident in Death From The Skies: These Are The Ways The World Will End and in fact I think it’s a little better this time around. It reminds me more ofTrick Or Treatment: Alternative Medicine On Trial in the breakdown of chapters.
Since Bad Astronomy was published, I’ve been quietly moving the few rare copies that I can find left, into the ‘horoscope’ section of the bookstores I go into (there’s all sorts of things you can do with multiple copies on the shelves – I’ve had Lynne Kelly’sSkeptics Guide to the Paranormal fit quite nicely next to the latest Sylvia Browne and the like – another book that deserves your support and a republish!). I would therefore suggest that ‘Death From the Skies’ would go quite nicely next to anything by a certain William E Burrows regarding “Teh deadly space!!” and does fit neatly on a shelf in any of the young teen reference sections in the bookstore. I’ve done enough poking around the bumper editions by DK Publishing, Usborn, Wiley and the like to see that, like Bad Astronomy, it can certainly get a good audience.
Anyway – I’m donating mine, start sending in some suggestions for t-shirt logos and slogans (you can get an idea of our style already, from the picture I have here of Plait holding one) – to richard (at) skepticzone.tv and we’ll see about the winner on a future ep!
And you can catch Plait talking about his book on the THIRD episode of Skeptic Zone, next week! Head to www.skepticzone.tv to prepare for your downloading pleasure.
By the way – last call for the Linneaus Legacy Blog carnival at podblack at gmail – it’ll be out on Monday!
Since I’ve seen enough of Plait around the conference already (even observed him giving Michael Stackpole a copy of his ’still got a few edits’ new book!) – meh. I’ll ask Richard Saunders for the rundown, as he’s attending. I need a coffee more.
Especially after reading this. I used to work in the same town where the serial killer operated – many thanks to Andy D for the tip – From The Western Australian Newspaper:
The father of Claremont serial killer victim Sarah Spiers has described how he fell into chronic depression because of harassment by clairvoyants who demanded money to help find his daughter.
Don Spiers detailed his harrowing experience yesterday as police continued to field phone calls from the public after the release on Thursday of security footage of another victim, Jane Rimmer, speaking to an unidentified man moments before she disappeared.
Mr Spiers, who has long been reluctant to speak to the media, was candid yesterday about his emotional and mental trauma.
He said up to 400 psychics and clairvoyants from across the world had contacted him since Sarah disappeared on January 27, 1996.
He said they were offering false information and “looking to make a name for themselves or get money”.
He had been so desperate to find his daughter in the first six months after she disappeared that he had listened to the “shysters” and often followed their instructions.
“They hounded me to death,” Mr Spiers said.
“I’d be getting it every day. It was just an onslaught.
“They were sending me to certain locations, just running me around. They were telling me all sorts of things. They’d give me cryptic clues.
“They had my emotions on a rollercoaster. You’d be full of hope and you’d be out (searching) and there’d be nothing and then you’d go down (in emotion) again.
“I can’t understand why anyone would do this to someone in my situation. Why would they want to make it worse for me?
“They probably all wanted to be recognised as being high-profile clairvoyants. They are shysters, there’s no question about it.”
He said the relentless approaches from clairvoyants and the false hope they created had led him to have a breakdown late in 1996, when he found himself sitting in an armchair at his home ripping chunks of hair from his scalp.
…As he struggled with depression, he continued to fend off clairvoyants and psychics and was even abused over the phone by members of the public. “We had phone calls from people saying we are the perpetrators or saying that we deserve it,” he said.
If people wish to know more about the case, I highly recommend the book ‘Devil’s Garden: The Claremont Serial Killings’, which features an excellent interview that emphasises the media and the police force stance, refusing to engage psychics in the cases.
I have a big announcement to make:
James Randi has offered me the position of President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. I am extraordinarily honored, and I have accepted this duty.
Wow. Just writing that seems incredible to me.
If you want the official news, you can read our press release. That tells you the facts. It gives you a taste of all this, but I want you to get the flavor.