Friday, October 30, 2009

H1N1 - The Asshole Acoustic set

You know how in the middle of a big-assed concert, the drummer will come out from behind the kit and the roadies will bring out the acoustic guitars and a free-standing pair of toms and a stand-up bass and the band will 'bring it down for an acoustic set?' Today I'm turning the volume down a bit and getting a little more intimate.

I haven't really weighed in on H1N1, despite my general rage with anti-vaccination, and the obvious connection there. But right now it's the discussion du jour over on Skeptic North, and over on the related Facebook H1N1 info group.  I've made my presence known over there, presenting information when I have it.  But when it comes right down to it, this is not a subject - H1N1 specifically - that I as a non-medical professional know a lot of details about.  And right now I am swamped with other work.  Bad timing.  I just don't have time to read up.

For the most part I've kept out of the discussions except for a few points that I am willing to hammer on as I am reasonably well versed in - they are anti-vax issues foremost, and not H1N1 specific - and staying away from the more complex concerns, leaving them to the pros we have in our court

So, due to bad timing and a lack of specific information I have kept out of the detailed arguments - though I have read along.  And holy smoke have some of the folk out there who are refusing the H1N1 vaccination (many of whom are not anti-vax in general) manufactured some complex arguments.  I am truly not in a position to keep up right now.  I'm just patiently waiting for the window for vaccination of my demographic to open up.
But it may be too late for that.  This week two people who work in my office came in sick.  WTF!!!??!  I think that's bad news in a regular flu season.  But right now?  You have got to be kidding me.  One of them was practically hemhorraging phlegm.  Anyhow, guess what.  I am not at the office today.  Thanks guys, I guess I needed the day off.
But there's something a bit more disturbing happening.  I may have mentioned that I have a friend who is a naturopath.  She is someone who I have always been fond of, but there is a big gap in there in that she is both a ND and a Christian, so... not fond in the serious way.  In spite of said fondness it's not an easy friendship due to the previously mentioned factors.  We really just have to ignore our conflicting worldviews or not be friends.
Today she posted on Facebook that her boys are really sick.  She was defiantly challenging H1N1 and touting the values of Vitamin C.  All of a sudden I felt sicker than I am.  It's never hit so close to home before, and if it is H1N1 that her boys have, this could be really serious.  They of course are not vaccinated.  Naturally I don't want her kids to be badly sick, but if they get better it's only perpetuating her belief system.  All of a sudden the pernicious nature of that vicous cycle is really clear in an ugly way.  I'm still processing this.  There will probably be more no matter how this episode plays out.
I couldn't shoe horn this in further up in a more appropriate place.
On top of largely being on the outside of the H1N1 discussion in my immediate skeptical community - which I heartily defend, me trying to advance the cause without information would be distinctly un-skeptical and ironic - I had a series of posts for Skeptic North lined up.  A two parter on hockey, which has already been posted... uh yes, a skeptical article on hockey.  Yes it was silly.  I felt sillier posting it in the middle of all of this.  And this Sunday I've got a post ready for Hallowe'en... feels kind of lame posting this stuff when there's important things going on.  I'm just saying....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Picking Your Moments

One of the most important things a critical thinker can do is admit they're wrong when they are wrong.  That is most important in cases where you consider the evidence and realize that the position you've been taking is in fact bunk.  If you don't, then you aren't being open minded.  But you can extend that to your general demeanor too... especially if you happen to be an Asshole Skeptic.

I know who I am.  I believe that leading with my emotions is an important aspect of who I am and how I handle my skepticism, but there is an issue associated with that; I can at times be a bit of a loose cannon.  Quite honestly, I'm not willing to temper that, and even if I were, there's a platitude about old dogs that springs to mind.
Sometimes this means I get carried away.  And seeing as that isn't really going to change, I have to chose to deal with the fall out of that in other ways.  Learning to apologize and/or to admit when you've gone too far is a core part of that.

I blew it this weekend.  In an online discussion I got fed up with someone and had something insulting and, in my mind, amusing to say.  I said it.  And I contend that the recipient of my ire had it coming.  He was not behaving well either.  He was failing to provide evidence or citations when asked, he was deliberately poisoning an information source with his opposing worldview when it was fairly clear what the intentions of the source was.  And when asked to voice his opinions in an appropriate place on the same site, he repeatedly failed  to comply.  He was not playing well with others and I simply had to comment upon it, though not in the most constructive of ways.  He followed up with some sweeping generalizations about everyone who opposed him, when really it was me who was poking him with a sharpened verbal stick. 

When the dust settled, he did start playing fair - to his credit he recognized that if I had to play nice, so did he - and he did stay in the conversation.  So in the end, my actions didn't actually hurt anything except for his fragile feelings. (Honestly I think he wasn't hurt at all, but was just needing to grab on to some kind of straw.)  But here's the thing - I know damned well that I got lucky on that one.  All rationalization of how my action ultimately led (with intervention by an admin) to a good end, doesn't really change that I didn't pick my moment well at all.

I am convinced that this particular woo-monger will never come around, and there is a point where the only value these sorts can serve is to be the object of well placed ridicule.  But this was not well placed on my part.

Upon reflection, I'm thinking that riducule is most appropriate when used generally (I.E. "Homeopaths' insistence that the known laws of the universe be changed so that their medicine can work is an un-reasonable demand from a vocal minority.")  or when used against a distant individual who has gone far beyond the pale (I.E. "You would think that Sylvia Browne could have forseen the disgusting ravages that chain-smoking would have on her body - even without her psychic powers."), but not in direct engagement.

Anyhow, I know I'll blow it again someday - it's an inevitable part of the loud-mouth I inherited.  But I've had some insight that will hopefully winnow the places I mis-apply my Irish.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Food for Thought

I'm going to let this speak largely for itself.  It strikes me as a good argument in favour of Asshole Skepticism, and a bit of perspective on the well behaved scientists in our movement.

Extremists More Willing To Share Their Opinions, Study Finds

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Open Letter to the two Navy Guys at Last Week's Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub

Sorry, guys.
I hope I didn't come across as a dickhead.
I've been doing jobs for twenty years where getting recognized by total strangers is part of the deal.  I've never been comfortable with that, but I know it's the way it works and I need to accept it.
From six years in a touring comedy troupe, which I quit in part because I wasn't comfortable with our growing popularity; to being stopped as I got off SeaBus and told how much "I love your work" (which co-incided poorly with an actual stalker in my life); it has always been something I have not fully embraced.
I've been telling myself for years to get over it, 'cause it's getting in the way of my career.  I even had myself convinced that I am ready to deal with it... and I hope I am, what with a feature film ready to show the world and all.
But being recognised and approached on Tuesday was the first time that has happened to me in years, and it was a reminder that like it or not, I need to get a bit more accustomed to it, both as a skeptic and as an artist, 'cause the things I am doing in both realms are necessarily going to draw attention if they are going to be considered successful.  That is, as I said above, part of the deal.
Anyhow, again, if you happen to be reading this, my apologies if I came across as a knob.  (Oh the irony, the guy who calls himself the 'Asshole' is apologising for being a jerk.)
If we cross paths again, remind me who you are (I'm terrible with that stuff too.) and offer up a piece of proof or two like where you came from to be at SitP and how you knew who I am (I have both of those seared in my memory.) and I'll buy the first round.  Despite being an asshole and coming off as a dickhead-knob, I'm not actually a jerk.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The OTHER Skeptic North

I've been away for a combination of my birthday and Thanksgiving.  I could blame on and off internet, but the fact is that even if I had worked out the internet angle better, I still wouldn't have got much if any posting done on any of my blogs.  Today I catch up with some simple posts to hold the fort while I get to work on some of the more indepth stuff I've thought of to write about.

One of the things I did while in Victoria was meet up with the editor of Jr. Skeptic, Daniel Loxton, at his studio... Skeptic North.  (I also briefly met Jim Smith, who was on his way out the door.)  Daniel and I have exchanged a few emails over the past six months.  I felt a need to congratulate him on his work on his major mandate publications "Where We Go from Here?"  and "What Do I Do Now?"  I also knew we had a mutual skeptical appreciation for cryptozoology.
He and I met briefly in Vegas at TAM7 and have had some connection over the Skeptic North blog project.  When he found out I was going to be in town he invited me to drop by.  We had a good discussion and he showed me the studio where Jr. Skeptic is produced - appropriately called Skeptic North.
I got to see the layout sheets for his upcoming kids book on evolution, and hold a copy of the Portugese version which is already complete.

I'm going to be curious to see how he and I interact as time goes on.  We clearly have a lot in common - both being the relatively rare artists in the skeptical community; both being Canadian skeptics and more specifically BC skeptics who lived on the spoils of the forestry industry, yet ultimately fall into the category of being ecologically progressive; both having a great interest in cryptozoology... and yet, we appear to have different views of skepticism's role in society.  I would say that Daniel is caught between the worlds of the classic skeptic and as he puts it "skepticism 2.0".  I think it would be dishonest for me to not self-identify in the latter group, but he has been inthe movement for a much longer time.  Like many classic skeptics... actually, I'm changing that term.  "Classic" ought to mean at the very least, pre John Stuart Mill (I.E. Pre-scientific method) skeptics - I mean to say er... "20thC skeptics" (at least 'til I identify a better term).  Like many 20thC skeptics, Daniel is also what I think of as an olive branch skeptic.  A serious one.  No secrets here, I am not.  I see and embrace it's value, I just believe heartily in the many pronged tactical approach.  He also has opinions about what skepticism can and cannot tackle - most of which I do believe is on the money, but I haven't given the whole package enough consideration to have made up my mind.  No doubt I will and that I'll muse about it here when I do.

In any case.  It was excellent to meet with him, I feel confident we shall exchange much thought back and forth.  Whether we call that colleagueship or friendship remains to be seen, but I have little doubt that he is going to be an interesting person to know.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Canadian Wins Nobel Prize

This was so cool that I had to do my second post in a single day on Skeptic North.

In fact, I almost had to arm wrestle fellow SN-blogger, Kimberly Hebert for the right to do so.  Willard Boyle is from the Maritimes, so it's in her region, but the technology is key to modern film-making, so it's kinda in my domain too. 

Luckily I spoke up first and called dibs.  'Cause I don't know how that arm wrestle would have worked out - my reach isn't that good.

The Epistemology of Blogs

Over on Skeptic North I've got a new post in my reigned-in voice about the ways - most of which can be read as "failures" - in which blogs disseminate factual information.

Sorry to say I couldn't paint a sunny picture.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vaccines & Autism Correlation as Explained by a non-Asshole

The downside of being on the emotionally charged asshole side of the skeptical spectrum is that detailed explanations aren't really your baliwick.

So sometimes you need to piggyback on someone else's measured explanation.

This pair of videos KICKS ASS.  I'm not even going to say more.  Just watch:

Now that I've learned all that I have to note that there is a distinct correlation between Jim Carrey trying to play serious roles and the rise of autism.... I'm just sayin'!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Heidi Anderson - Asshole Skeptic Honour Roll

Apparently Skeptic North was mentioned in the latest episode of Skeptic Zone. Haven't actually got to that part yet, but earlier in the show Kylie Sturgess interviews Heidi Anderson at DragonCon.

In the interview Heidi admits that she is an 'in your face' skeptic and that she recognizes that tag-teaming with a gentler skeptic is going to be the most effective approach to reaching people. But both sorts of activists are necessary.

I'm happy to see that someone else 'gets' it.

I have so much respect for the scientists that adhere to the measured and rationed response that marks the mind-set of their academic approach. Coming forward with the olive-branch is absolutely how to reach those people who are teetering on the brink between ration and credulity.

Hooray Heidi. You are the second person to make the Asshole Skeptic Honour Roll.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It’s Imperative to Maintain a Science of Humour

I was recently listening to Richard Wiseman's podcast and the notion of skeptical-burnout was mentioned.
I'd heard of skeptical-burnout before, but it was this mention where it really penetrated my consciousness. The idea that the on-going act of banging your head against the wall of credulity can take its toll makes perfect sense. Feeling that you aren't being heard; aren't making a difference; are only singing to those who already have the libretto – that's going to wear upon you.
Some of us will have the jam to last it out and some won't. I have no idea what the stats are or even how to start measuring them. I would posit that the established explosion of the skeptical community will have a significant effect on the attrition rate, and keep more of those of us who stay active from turning bitter about 'all the rest of those fools' who we share the big blue marble with.

Skeptic North Launches

I have a funny feeling that some where in the 'hood of half the people who read this blog already know this and that half of those are contributors... but...

Skeptic North is alive, Johnny 5!

The first pan Canadian Skeptical blog. I am a featured contributor as are a host of noteworthy skeptics from coast to coast.

I'm excited about (that's "aboot" for people in Ontario) the project, and I'm hoping big things come from it.

My posts there will be.... more polite... than you will typically see here, but there may be some cross posting when I can keep my tongue - errr... typing... in line.

Not much more to say that can't be better discovered by heading over there... but keep coming back here......... please. (I may never say 'please' again - so savour it.)