Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Skeptical Inquirer Newsletter

Wrapper Header CSI News

In this edition of SIN:

  • Test Your Psychic Powers for CSICon's Halloween Bash
  • The Stars of CSICon on the Challenges of Skepticism
  • Skeptical Inquirer Gets Artsy
  • Highlights from the Web
  • One more thing...

Test Your Psychic Powers for CSICon's Halloween Bash

Ron's Big Idea
CSICon 2, the must-attend skeptic event of the year, is little more than a month away. October 25-28, science-loving skeptics and doubters of all kinds will descend upon Nashville, Tennessee, to fill their brains with knowledge during the day, and then quickly shed their dignity at night.
You probably already know that CSICon is host to the world's nerdiest Halloween costume party and that awesome prizes are awarded to folks with the best costume as well as the best skeptically-themed costume. But to up the ante, CSI's president Ron Lindsay has concocted a scheme to both entice your attendance and test your (undoubtedly potent) psychic powers. 
Ron challenges you to predict what costume he will wear! If you can do it, you'll win $100 and free admission to next year's Halloween party. Check out the full story here, as well as Ron and Barry Karr's masterful performances in this short video docu-drama all about Ron's big idea.

The Stars of CSICon on What Moves Them to Take On the Challenges of Skepticism 

scott pratkanis hillA quick glance at the list of speakers for CSICon 2 will give you a good idea of the fantastic array of thinkers that attendees can look forward to hearing from. In the run-up, CSI's communications director Paul Fidalgo has been chatting with some of those speakers to talk about their CSICon presentations and how their own lives have informed their work.
Eugenie C. Scott, science education champion of the NCSE, talked about the political battle for science being waged in Tennessee, site of this year's CSICon, and about the ways in which the opponents of science are growing cleverer in their manipulation of legislation and language, saying:
The careful avoidance of any reference to religion makes these [anti-science] bills more difficult to challenge on constitutional grounds. They also are difficult to challenge because they invoke cultural values like fairness and freedom of speech and academic freedom. Opposing these bills is often framed as opposing these important cultural values.
Anthony Pratkanis, a.k.a. "Master of the Noosphere," will enlighten us on the ways con artists practice their bamboozling, and in our interview he talked about what led him to this field of study:
My scientific efforts are motivated by one question: Why would anyone do or believe such a thing? This leads me to study things such as why someone might believe in the Devil's Triangle, join a cult, vote for the Nazi Party, among other similar issues. Influence is the weapon of choice in fraud crimes.
And skeptic writer Sharon Hill will help us process the implausible claims made in the modern news media and offers some wisdom about how to talk about skepticism with our less-skeptical friends and family:
I try to consider that a person's beliefs are their rock. The best way to disavow them of a dangerous or nonsensical belief may be to gently chip at the rock, crack it, or persuade them it might be time to let it go. Being harsh usually does nothing but make the other person dig in deeper.
You can see all three of these thinkers, plus the full roster of other skeptic luminaries, at CSICon in Nashville.

Skeptical Inquirer Gets Artsy

si august sept 2012Challenging the common misconception that those who produce works of the intellect cannot appreciate works of emotion, the latest edition of Skeptical Inquirer examines the deep connections between art and skepticism, exploring the ways in which they complement and enhance each other with a host of skepticism's top thinkers and artists.
Highlights include science journalist Samuel McNerny's explanation of the similarities between one's predilection for the Beatles and another's addiction to the rants of Glenn Beck, as he shows us that our tastes for certain kinds of art may be just as subject to "confirmation bias" as any other closely held belief; Jeremiah Ross investigates the origins of the mysterious diner in Edward Hopper's 1941 painting Nighthawks and is baffled more by what he doesn't find than by what he does; and interviews with skeptic musicians Damon Martin and Marian Call.
All this, plus: a critical look by Joe Nickell at some new theories about the death of Vincent van Gogh; Ron Lindsay offers a critical review of Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain; a roundup of the best online resources for skeptical performers and videos; and much more. 
The September/October 2012 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is on newsstands now, or available for order or subscription at csicop.org/si/.

Highlights from the Web

Reporting from SETIcon II
This summer, scientists, thinkers, and artists gathered in Santa Clara, California, for SETIcon II to talk about the prospects and possibilities for life throughout the universe, and CSI's LaRae Meadows was there. LaRae came back with a series of reports and interviews from the conference: She talks to Ariel Waldman about the democratization of space exploration, gives an overview of the panels and presentations, reviews the recurring theme of the perception of the public's fear of science, and interviews SETI's "professional alien hunter" Jill Tarter, as well as he of the eponymous alien-predicting equation, SETI founder Francis Drake.
Also at CSICOP.org:
Sharon Hill: Weird news: Believe It? Or Not?
Sharon recounts her experience talking to Camp Inquiry kids about all the news of the paranormal they hear day in and day out, and how they can parse the sense from the nonsense. 
Kylie Sturgess: Robin Ince – Comedy, Skepticism, and Happiness Through Science
Kylie interviews skeptic comedian and author Robin Ince about his twin enthusiasms, comedy and science, and how the "trite" mass media has opened the door for a greater public appreciation of science.
Rebecca Watson: Xoçai. The "Healthy" Chocolate
Rebecca gives us taste of the miracle cure-all chocolate Xoçai and even tells us how to pronounce it: "it's 'show-sigh,' as in 'SHOW me the evidence that this candy bar can do what you claim' and 'SIGH, I guess I'll see myself out.'"
Rebecca Watson: A Chat with Ron Lindsay about CSICon, Costume Contests, and Jerks
A humorous, if not taunting, interview with CSI's president about CSICon, in which Ron assures us that fun has not been outlawed.

Okay, One More Thing About CSICon

In case you haven't yet been convinced that this is an event you absolutely must attend, listen as CSI executive director Barry Karr definitively makes the case to Skepchick's Rebecca Watson.

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