Episode 44 of The Pseudo Scientists: Eggless chickens, science vs. religion, and Eugenie Scott

The Pseudo Scientists – Episode 44

In this episode of The Pseudo Scientists, the official podcast of the Young Australian Skeptics, Richard, Belinda and I discuss eggless chickens, analytical thought and its effects on supernatural beliefs, and the compatibility of science and religion. Plus, Belinda interviews Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education about recent developments in anti-evolution legislation in the US. This marks the third time Eugenie has been interviewed on the podcast – which means that 6.8% of all the “proper” episodes contain an interview with her. You can’t say she doesn’t deserve such attention though, come on.

This week’s “Houston, We Have A Problem” clip is from a trailer for the evangelical Christian movie “IndoctriNation”, featuring Answers in Genesis’s Ken Ham. Don’t you just love him?

You can find out more about the National Center for Science Education at their website.

What are you waiting for? Listen in the audio player above, subscribe via iTunes or Libsyn RSS, and become a fan on Facebook.

Episode 40 of The Pseudo Scientists: Ancient seaweed, ultrasonic primates, and Eugenie Scott

The Pseudo Scientists – Episode 40

In this episode of The Pseudo Scientists, the official podcast of the Young Australian Skeptics, Elliot, Belinda, Richard and I discuss the oldest living thing in the world (seaweed), shrill/cute tarsiers and genomics revealing how our ancestors got it on with other human subspecies. Plus, I interview Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Education, about climate change denial and evolution education (recorded at TAM 9 in Las Vegas, in July 2011).

This week’s “Houston, We Have A Problem” clip is my evil counterpart from some sort of Internet cult. Freaky.

What are you waiting for? Listen in the audio player above, subscribe via iTunes or Libsyn RSS, and become a fan on Facebook.

The Pseudo Scientists, Episode 31 out now!

The Pseudo Scientists – Episode 31

In this episode of The Pseudo Scientists, the official podcast of the Young Australian Skeptics, Belinda, Jason and I, as well as new panelist James Cooper, discuss faster-than-light neutrinos, the Blackmores pharmacy deal, and secularism in the Israel/Palestine conflict; there’s an On The Street by Martin Pribble at Think Inc. 2011; and I interview Eugenie Scott, from the National Centre for Science Education (recorded at TAM Australia, back in November 2010).

Also, we have a new logo, as you can see, thanks to Joel Birch! Cheers, Joel.

What are you waiting for? Listen in the audio player above, subscribe via iTunes, and become a fan on Facebook.

Jack’s TAM 9 Adventure to a Land “Up Over”: Day 4

As I said on Tuesday, I’ve been a little busy while uni starts up again (it’s Semester 2 here, non-Australian readers, not Semester 1 – our end of the teaching year is in November, near the start of our summer), but I’m here once again to begin to finish what I started: telling you all about my amazing TAM 9 experience. In order to compress things a little, I won’t comment on every single thing that happened – you can find out the rest from other people’s blogging - but only on personal highlights and talks that really connected with me.

Friday the 15th

I was up bright and early Friday morning (having gotten over my fairly mild jet lag), the main reason for this being my scheduled interview with Jen McCreight (from the well-known blog Blag Hag) at 8:30am. The continental breakfast being provided outside the Grand Ballroom at The South Point may have been motivation as well: I know it’s incredibly strange, but in order to interview people I first need to deal with the crippling hunger that envelops me every morning. Bagels and jam1 certainly helped in that respect.

The interview went pretty smoothly, at least for a novice interviewer like myself, and I started to realise something about the “style” of interview I am most comfortable conducting: a fluid discussion between two people – more weighted towards the interviewee, obviously, but one in which they don’t feel obliged to necessarily adhere to specific talking points that have been highlighted ahead of time. When I think about what I want, as a listener, out of a podcast interview, it’s genuine thoughts, impressions and ideas in a relaxed context, not a rigid back-and-forth where the guest can only get out stock answers before the subject is changed. Then again, that’s just me.

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  1. Americans call it “jelly” – but us Australians and Brits know its proper name.

TAM Australia – more like WHAM Australia, am I right?

Alternatively: DAYMN Australia or BLAM Australia. SHAM Australia is completely inappropriate.

It’s over! I flew back to Melbourne from Sydney today, and TAM Australia officially finished yesterday afternoon. What a weekend and a bit! Starting midday Friday, it was a whirlwind of wonderful talks, panels and entertaining presentations from well-known skeptics from all over the world. It’d be impossible to wrap it up completely, so I’ll only briefly touch on what were the best bits, in my opinion.

Forgive me if I fail to be eloquent, my brain needs to rest from the intensive skepticism I’ve been exposed to over the last few days. Once this blog post is finished, I may fall asleep for days.

George Hrab on stage Friday.

George Hrab’s short performance on Friday was truly excellent. He performed his songs “‘Ya Famous”, “Everything Alive Will Die Someday”, “When I Was Your Age” and “Small Comfort”, as well as a “Misinformed Science” sketch with some help from audience members. His talent as a performer is immense and even people who had not heard of him came away appreciating him and his music.

The Skeptical Activism 101 panel

Also on Friday was the “Skeptical Activism 101″ panel, featuring Elliot Birch and Jason Ball (from the Young Australian Skeptics), Jason Brown, Travis Roy, Evan Bernstein and Rebecca Watson. It was two hour panel and worth every minute of everyone’s time – the speakers talked about how to approach skepticism at the grassroots level, how to get started, how to allocate resources and general tactics. Unfortunately I didn’t liveblog it, mostly because I couldn’t get a seat in the crowded room where it was held. I would almost suggest people buy the TAM Australia DVD (when it is available) simply for the video recording of this panel.

Yours truly talking to and interviewing Dr Eugenie Scott from the NCSE.

Of course, you can’t have a podcast and not want to interview all your skeptical heroes while at an international skeptics conference. So, for the Pseudo Scientists, my friends and I interviewed: Simon Singh, Dr Eugenie Scott, Dr Paul Willis, George Hrab, Rebecca Watson, Simon Taylor, Lawrence Leung, James Randi, Brian Dunning, Kylie Sturgess, Jason Brown, Dick Smith and Pamela Gay. Too many famous names, too many star-struck YASers.

I personally had a great chat with Eugenie Scott, an interview I hope will go up on the podcast in the coming weeks. It’s amazing I actually was able to speak around her at all. Arrgh.

George Hrab in the middle of a karaoke performance on Saturday night.

Oh, and George Hrab sang karaoke on Saturday night after the harbor cruise. I have no words for how great that was. Hopefully there’s video out there, and if there is, I can die happy. “Bohemian Rhapsody”, anyone?

Pamela Gay’s talk was great, as was the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe live podcast recording and anything James Randi said. Too many things to mention.

For more (and better) blog posts about TAM Australia, visit Podblack Blog and Codenix (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). Actually, from Codenix:

Following Dr Scott was another panel, with James Randi, George Hrab, Julian Morrow from ABC’s ‘The Chasers’, and Illusionist Simon Taylor. Whilst entertaining, this panel had a serious side, and a point Simon made very well before he stormed off stage to highlight the effect of “always leave them wanting more” – Celebrities are taken at their word for so many absurd claims and endorsements partly because of the power we defer to them as the audience. He mentioned that earlier we as the audience all clapped and cheered when Randi responded to a question about celebrities with “they’re stupid” – but we all clapped because Randi was our celebrity, thus illustrating the power of this relationship between performer and audience. Randi has spoken about this himself before, and it’s something illusionists particularly rely upon, as it’s all about trust.

That was another great moment. Simon’s outburst made his point perfectly, and I made sure to congratulate him afterward, even though he was being interviewed by Kylie at the time.

All in all it was a wonderful conference, filled with great speakers and useful panels. And yes, at the end of TAM on the Sunday afternoon, James Randi himself pretty much confirmed that it will all be happening again next year, but that time in Melbourne. What does that mean? I’m going to be very busy for the next year of my life.

The Prominent People Project, Eugenie Scott and the process of evolution

Martin Pribble, on his blog Martin S Pribble (which used to be called Atheist Climber), has been conducting series of written interviews with “people who are prominent in the worlds of atheism, science, skepticism and rational thought”, collectively entitled the Prominent People Project. His latest interview is with Eugenie Scott, the director of the US’s National Center for Science Education and tireless campaigner for creationism-less science education in public schools.

While Martin was preparing for the interview he asked if anyone wanted to submit questions to Eugenie – and it just so happened I had something I wanted to ask her, related to some recent tangential comments made by a few bloggers at the Discovery Institute over the issue of some biologists questioning the Neo-Darwinian model of evolutionary progress.

Here’s my question and her response, from Martin’s interview:

MSP: [The following question comes from fellow blogger and online friend Jack Scanlan, author of the Homologous Legs blog] Jack says: The Discovery Institute has recently taken to quoting scientists who are critical of the Neo-Darwinian model (also known as the modern synthesis) of evolutionary change out of context, implying that the problems they identify with the model can be extrapolated to the entire theory, while in reality they are simply promoting what has been called the “postmodern synthesis”, a newer model of evolution that has a larger role for neutral and non-adaptive mechanisms, and places less emphasis on natural selection as the dominant evolutionary force.

Some ID proponents at the Discovery Institute have claimed the NCSE supports Neo-Darwinism, using the growing anti-Darwinian/pro-postmodern trend in academic circles to cast you in a dogmatic light, seemingly holding onto a failed theory as it crumbles around you. Does the NCSE support Neo-Darwinism, or is it neutral with respect to the broad model of evolution that is supported at any one time?

ECS: This is why I encourage people to understand evolution as a three-part idea. The big idea is common ancestry, which we study by examining the patterns of evolution (how the tree of life branches) and the processes of evolution (the mechanisms that affect it). Neo-Darwinism and the new-new-synthesis are both in the process category and it is a category mistake to, as do the creationists, confuse that if scientists argue about the process, then the big idea of common ancestry is called into question. Personally, I think it’s obvious that evolutionary biology like any other science is going to modify its explanations over time. We’re not in the 1950s and ‘60s, and we know more about how biology works. The post-modern synthesis folks it seems to me are just expanding the ideas of Mayr, Dobzhansky, et al with new insights, mostly from molecular biology. In academia there tends to be a somewhat unfortunate tendency to present every new interpretation as a big breakthrough, but the “old guys” of the neo-Darwinian synthesis were more pluralistic than they are held to be by some of the neo-neos! And you can probably guess that I don’t have a dog in that fight.

While she didn’t answer my question directly, she made it clear that the NCSE has a far better understanding of the true nature of evolutionary theory than the Discovery Institute, which continues to equate the various processes of evolution with the overall theory itself. The post-modern synthesis is just an expansion of Neo-Darwinism and doesn’t conflict with what we already knew, except that it stops scientists from making claims like “Natural selection is the only important evolutionary force for producing complexity”.

Also, Eugenie shied away from using the term “post-modern synthesis”, and I don’t blame her – it’s an ugly term that I shouldn’t have used, one that draws parallels with various anti-scientific movements in philosophy and popular culture. Her alternatives, “Neo-Neo-Darwinism” and “the new-new-synthesis”, aren’t bad, but they don’t really roll off the tongue very easily. So, I’ve constructed a list of a few of my own hip and trendy candidates:

  • The Ultramodern Synthesis
  • The Trés-Modern Synthesis
  • Chic-Darwinism
  • The Fast and the Furious: Genetic Drift
  • Selection v. Drift, feat: MC Genome and Kid Phylogeny

They’re not going to stick, are they? Damn.

The 2002 Miller, Pennock, Dembski and Behe ID debate

I thought you might be all interested in this fascinating debate between Kenneth Miller (whose book “Only A Theory” I’m currently reading – it’s great, you should definitely buy it) and Robert Pennock, two vocal critics of intelligent design, and William Dembski and Michael Behe, two of the most prominent intelligent design proponents from the Discovery Institute. The debate was held in 2002 at the American Museum of Natural History, and was moderated by Eugenie Scott from the NCSE.

It’s funny how the pro-ID arguments haven’t really changed over time, isn’t it?

Eugenie Scott’s tips for writing about evolutionary biology

The NCSE‘s Eugenie Scott is one of my personal scientific heroes: she’s been fighting in all the tough battles over evolution education in high schools in the US in recent years. It’s a bit of an understatement then to say that she’s knows what she’s talking about when it comes to science communication, so any advice from Eugenie in that area should be listened to and implemented as soon as possible.

This video of a talk by Eugenie Scott was recently posted by the NCSE, and it’s a valuable resource for anyone wanting to start writing about evolutionary biology in any popular context: blogging, newspapers, etc. Give it a listen, it’ll be worth your time if you’re unsure about how to go about communicating this popularly misunderstood scientific field.

(h/t to A Natural Evolution)

Most influential female atheist of 2009? Eugenie Scott!

After Debunking Christianity set up an online poll for the most vocal atheist of 2009 (which was won by PZ Myers – no surprise there, his followers are used to destroying polls in his favour), Jen over at Blag Hag set up a similar poll, but this time focusing solely on women – entitled “Who was the most influential female atheist of 2009?”

There are a lot of excellent people on that list, including Greta Christina, Annie Laurie Gaylor (of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and Ariane Sherine (the creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign), but do you know who I voted for?

Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education – the tireless organisation that fights the inclusion of intelligent design creationism into the public school system in the US.

The reason I chose Eugenie is because, while she’s not an outspoken atheist by any means, she works tirelessly defending science education everyday against those who would subvert the meaning of science and inject religion into the public school system. I’ve taken the ambiguity of the poll’s title and run with it – “influential” could mean a lot of things, and it might not necessarily refer to the promotion of atheism. But if you look at real influence in terms of the quality of science education that Eugenie is promoting, then it’s hard to choose anyone else.

Eugenie is currently at 15% in the poll, on 426 votes, coming second behind Ariane Sherine, who’s at 17% on 467 votes. If you agree with me, then let’s try and get her over the line and into the spotlight like she deserves.