Logical-LA to be held February 9-11, 2018: Scientific Skepticism Celebrated

In support of the scientific skeptic movement, LogiCal-LA creates a place for critical thinkers to meet face-to-face and to experience presentations from nationally recognized speakers who will share their knowledge and insights.

LogiCal-LA 2018 presents internationally known theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Lawrence M. Krauss as keynote speaker.

What is scientific skepticism?

Scientific skeptics believe that empirical investigation of reality leads to the truth, and that the scientific method is best suited to this purpose. They attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.  Scientific skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science.

Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on a priori grounds—rather they argue that claims of paranormal or anomalous phenomena should be critically examined and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence before they can be accepted. From a scientific point of view, theories are judged on many criteria, such as falsifiability, Occam’s Razor, and explanatory power, as well as the degree to which their predictions match experimental results. Skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance, an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently.

For further information, see this article about scientific skepticism.

For the full schedule:

http://logicalla.com/blog1/schedule/

Antifa is not training to throw glitter

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

Shane Bauer, Investigative Reporter for Mother Jones, published “What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley” on August 29, 2017.

What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley

As a first-hand account of what he witnessed, Bauer says, “The violence I saw was only part of the story.”

While this may be true, his characterization of Antifa borders on suggesting they are merely masked superheroes spreading glitter and handing out cupcakes.

Bauer explains away Antifa’s use of masks and ninja costumes with the following assertions:

“Antifa activists are press-shy in part because they’ve been identified and targeted online by white supremacists.

What’s more, in a country with strong press freedoms, journalists often feel entitled to photograph whomever they wish. Rather than acknowledging that some people don’t want a camera in their face—especially when, like antifa activists, they’ve been identified and targeted online by white supremacists—some reporters grow testy.”

But a closer look at training sites for Antifa organizers belies this message. Antifa can “dox” with the best of them, meeting white supremacists head to head. (Definition of dox courtesy Merriam-Webster: slang :  to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge)

Excerpt: Forming An Antifa Group: A Manual

TAKE ACTION!

Now that you have a group, what do you do?

1) Establish an online presence

If you are a public group, establish an online presence. Again, we recommend limiting this to a webpage and/or twitter. If you make a facebook group for an event, make sure you set the invite list to private: many people have been doxxed based on information from invites. For some more ideas on basic online security, see: https://itsgoingdown.org/time-beef-defense-against-far-right-doxxing.

2) Start monitoring

Find out about your local Far Right groups and collect information about them, including organizations, names, pictures, addresses, and work places. These can include AltRight activists, KKK, Nazi skinheads, neo-Nazi parties, suit-and-tie white nationalists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, anti-immigration activists, Patriot and militia groups, and others. The SPLC’s Hate Map lists groups by state, although itwill be incomplete. You can also look at established national groups such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Partyand see if they have local chapters in your area. Also, reading reports by other anti-fascist groups may give insight into who is recruiting in your area.

3) Stickering and wheatpasting

If racist groups are stickering or flyering in neighborhoods, organize patrols to tear them down. Use a scraping tool, as there have been occasional instances of razors being placed behind the stickers. Create anti-fascist stickering, flyering, wheatpasting, and graffiti campaigns of your own.

4) Doxxing

After doing your research, present information about racist organizing in your community. The information you release should present enough information to convince an average reader that the target is clearly a racist. Information should include, if possible: a picture, home address, phone number, social media profiles, and employment information. Be sure to include organizational affiliations and screenshots showing concrete evidence of racist and fascist views. Follow up the doxx with a pressure campaign: call their work and try to get them fired, and inform their neighbors through flyering or door-to-door campaigns.

When you present your intel, you’ll have showed your hand, however, and generally it’s difficult to collect more after that. Also be aware that you will enrage your target by naming them: you might have been ignored as a public group for a year doing antifa stuff, but once you refer to a local racist by name, they will fixate on you.

Make sure your intel is correct. You will lose credibility and create unnecessary enemies if you list a home address or work place that the fascist is no longer associated with. The majority of research can be done online, but some things can only be verified in the real world.

5) Event shutdowns

Pressure venues to cancel racist or fascist events. Make sure you have your dossier on the subject prepared beforehand to present, as the first question will always be “How do you know they are a racist?” Approach venues with a friendly phone call, as often they are not informed about the politics of events at their space. However, if they don’t cancel immediately, they will almost always need to be pressured. Collect phone numbers, emails, and social media contacts and call for a shutdown. (We have found that it is helpful to make easily sharable graphics and short videos.) Threaten a boycott of the venue if they event goes on, and follow through on this. In Montreal, one racist concert was cancelled after antifa physically blocked the entrance.

So far, I have yet to find any Antifa source material on rational debate or reasonable discourse. I will keep looking.

For more on Antifa training regarding self-defense and guns, http://skepticreview.com/2017/08/29/antifa-forming-antifa-group-manual-excerpt/

Spirit photography: William Hope Cashed in on Grief

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

Spirit photography, or photos claiming to document ghosts of loved ones, became popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as hope rose that photography could finally provide scientific proof of the afterlife.

The impetus behind the proliferation of these highly sought after photos was three-fold:

  1. The photographer mastering this technique could get rich quick, often hanging out with some of the upper echelon of society.
  2. Subjects were anxious to believe their dearly departed loved ones were now heavenly spirits. Too often, subjects photographed were in the throes of a recent loss and were easily exploited. Post-war eras were particularly fruitful.
  3. Cameras were viewed as documenting truth; public knowledge about photographic manipulation was limited.

As early as 1869, American William Mumler, spirit photographer to the stars–not the least of whom was Mary Todd Lincoln–was tried for fraud, but was ultimately acquitted because the prosecutor simply couldn’t quite figure out how the photographs were fraudulently made.

    • Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln as photographed by William Mumler, ca.1869.

Enter English spirit photographer William Hope (1863-1933) who garnered a prestigious clientele including an enthusiastic endorsement from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Below is a mere sampling of spirit photos produced by William Hope courtesy National Science and Media Museum:

 

Despite being labeled a “common cheat” by Scientific American, support for Hope persisted. William Hope was also the subject of a sting operation conducted by “paranormal investigator” Harry Price (Harry Price merits his own story, to be discussed in a separate article coming soon).

Price’s investigation prompted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to publish The Case for Spirit Photography in 1922 “to show the overpowering weight of evidence which exists as to the reality of Mr. Hope’s most remarkable gift.”

 

Allegory of the Cave: A Visual Primer

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

My recent review of Reasons to Believe, a new film by Ben Fama Jr., prompted me to refresh my understanding of “The Allegory of the Cave,” also known as “Plato’s Cave.” Fama opens Reasons to Believe with his own depiction of this famous parable, endowing the allegory with tremendous significance as a precursor to a most serious discussion on the nature of belief and its real world consequences, carried out by modern scholars Michael Shermer, Peter Boghossian, Caleb Lack, Jennifer Whitson and Chad Woodruff. (To read my full summary and review of “Reasons to Believe,” click here. http://skepticreview.com/2017/08/20/skeptic-review-f…m-by-ben-fama-jr/)

Neither Socrates nor Plato would want me to give you my interpretation of the allegory. That is for you decide on your own. I must say, however, that a few key concepts stood out to me:

Enlightened vs. Unenlightened                         Light vs. Shadows

Upper World vs. Underground Cave                 Reality vs. Illusion            

Do yourself a favor and please spend a few moments of your day on these three delightful renditions of “The Allegory of the Cave.” Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments in the section below, or just thank me for making your day.

DEPICTION ONE: The Cave: A Parable Told by Orson Welles (1975)

Full citation:  Welles, Orson, 1915-1985, Wismer, C. B, Wolff, Larry, Oden, Dick, Bosustow, Nick et al. The Cave : a parable told by Orson Welles. CRM/McGraw Hill Films, [Del Mar, Calif.], 1975.

DEPICTION TWO: The Cave: An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay (2008)

Bullhead Entertainment presents the award-winning animation film featured in over 100 film festivals worldwide. This 3-minute film took first place in animation at the USA Film Festival Short Film and Video Competition.

DEPICTION THREE: Allegory of the Cave (2014)

The product of an Advance Placement Language Class,  high school students move the allegory into today’s modern world. This short film would be an ideal and relatable teaching tool targeted to young adults.

 

FACTITIOUS: Game helps users learn to spot fake news

Real or fake? At a time when the reading public daily grapples with the question of fake news, the American University Game Lab/JOLT has created an accessible, easy-to-play game that helps you sort fake news from real.

The brainchild of former AU JOLT Fellow Maggie Farley, she pitched the concept more than a year ago, before the 2016 presidential campaign brought the challenges of fake news to the spotlight. For purposes of the game, “fake news” is defined as stories fabricated for fun, influence or profit, as well as satire, opinion and spin.

“Fake news is impossible to stop, so we wanted to playfully teach people how to recognize it,” said Farley. “But the game is fun to play in itself.”

The game engine in the next phase should also be available to newsrooms, schools, or groups that want to adapt a version for their own use.

PS: My first crack at the game yielded 93%. Second crack, not so much. I highly recommend you try this game! It’s fun, enlightening and horrifying. I am especially excited to hear it will be available as a teaching tool. My nephew asked me this week if I had read the warning that “people are injecting the AIDS virus into bananas.”–Gretchen Mullen, Editor, Skeptic Review

Edvard Munch

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PLAY FACTITIOUS HERE:

http://factitious.augamestudio.com/

 

Tweets We Love

Reasons to Believe: 2017 film by Ben Fama Jr. Now Free on YouTube

By Gretchen Mullen

UPDATE: Filmmaker Ben Fama has now made the full film available for free on YouTube. See link at the bottom of this article.

Filmmaker Ben Fama Jr. was kind enough to provide us with a private screening of his new film Reasons to Believe. Here’s our take on this exciting project available for general release on September 11, 2017.

Allegory of the Cave

The film begins with a cinematically pleasing vision of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where humans are imprisoned in a cave and denied knowledge of the outside world. In the allegory, humans move from darkness to light, from false beliefs to truth and reason.

The Questions

Fama then poses the following questions:

  • How do beliefs shape our reality? Why do we believe?
  • How are we influenced to believe?
  • How do other people affect our thinking?
  • How do our beliefs hold us back?
  • How do we free ourselves from false beliefs?

The Experts

  • MICHAEL SHERMER, Author, The Moral Arc; The Believing Brain
  • PETER BOGHOSSIAN, Author, A Manual for Creating Atheists
  • CALEB LACK, Coauthor, Critical Thinking, Science, and Pseudoscience: Why We Can’t Trust our Brains
  • JENNIFER WHITSON, Author, “The Emotional Roots of Conspiratorial Perceptions, System Justification, and Belief in the Paranormal”
  • CHAD WOODRUFF, Author, Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion

The Discussion

Fama’s questions are carefully considered by each expert and are addressed through carefully interwoven comments on each topic.

The film takes us through the human brain’s need to understand the world, often through a process in which beliefs come first and evidence comes second. In other words, beliefs are often not evidence-based, but make us feel better, perhaps even superior to others. These sometimes false beliefs are further influenced and reinforced by family, community, education, and the time period in which we live.  While our beliefs often make us who we are, or who we feel we are, they also have the power to divide us into ideological communities.

The discussion expands on the idea that we may be predisposed to accept certain beliefs because they are often confirmed by intense personal experiences. However, we are reminded, that experience does not equal objective truth.

The experts then explain that much of our human propensity for superstitions, magical rituals, and religious beliefs are rooted in the fact that life is random, unpredictable, and downright scary. We seek to avoid anxiety and a feeling that we like control; we seek comfort and meaning; we want to make sense out of chaos; we want to cope with uncertainty. This magical thinking is reinforced by the brain as we seek out patterns, even if these patterns are false and illogical.

So if false beliefs make us feel better, why does it matter? In the long run, false beliefs can lead to problems, the greatest of which is violence. Bad ideas lead can easily lead to bad behavior. Science teaches us that it really does matter what is right and what is wrong. Faulty beliefs lead to real world consequences and must be combatted. We must update our view of the world and weed out bad ideas. We must use data as opposed to anecdotes.

The film ends on an encouraging and positive note. The experts make practical suggestions to embrace reason. Some of the best:

  • Be comfortable with the words, “I don’t know.”
  • Model the behavior of a skeptic.
  • Use the scientific method.
  • Don’t attack beliefs—be polite, be thoughtful, use humor, listen to others and then respond with statements that open a conversation such as “I wonder how that could be true? What do you think?”
  • Study scientifically why religion has been viewed as so beneficial and how we can address that need in other more rational ways.
  • Help others to trust reason and value correct information.
  • Introduce critical thinking in early education. Teach children to recognize that our brains can fool us.
  • Assert that a more thoughtful and examined life has value.
  • Suggest that an alignment with reality will help humans flourish, that science and reason can and will lead to justice, freedom, prosperity and peace.

Reasons to Believe is well-organized and builds nicely from a primer on the brain to the foundations of belief, ending with a lovely, positive message about the future of skepticism and science and practical solutions we can embrace as individuals and as citizens of the world. It is a film you will want to view more than one time to take it all in.

Michael Shermer ties it up nicely at the end of the film: “I think we have a new enlightenment—a science-based enlightenment.”

View the trailer

The filmmakers

BEN FAMA JR: DIRECTOR

Ben Fama Jr. is an award-winning filmmaker, podcaster, and entrepreneur noted for his work on his short film A Virus Called Fear and his documentary Reasons To Believe. He has been featured in Huffington Post and his films have been featured on PBS, Medibiz.tv, and IndieFlix. Ben’s films and talks reflect the social and psychological behavior of humans and their social constructs on society. He is a very outspoken skeptic and atheist, as well as an advocate for mental health. His goal is to challenge the way we think and see the world, as well as what we believe.

He is the owner of Fama Media Productions, LLC. and the host of the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.

MESA FAMA: PRODUCER

Mesa has produced three award winning films with Ben Fama Jr. including two documentaries and a narrative. She holds a degree in psychology as a graduate from Arizona State University. She continues to produce and manage Fama Media Productions and sometimes is a guest host on the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.

Release date: September 11, 2017

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News: Godless Billboards Return to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

News: David Silverman: 2017 Recipient of The Richard Dawkins Award

David Silverman Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America
David Silverman Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America

Atheist Alliance of America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science are pleased to announce David Silverman as the 2017 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award. Silverman is President of American Atheists and was the creator and executive producer of the 2012 Reason Rally.

The award will be presented to David Silverman at Atheist Alliance of America’s convention in Atlanta, September 1-4, 2017, which will be held at Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, where Atheist Alliance of America will be celebrating its 25th-year anniversary.

The Atheist Alliance of America celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017.

AAoA 25th Anniversary Convention at DragonCon

Courtesy Atheist Alliance of America. Photographer: Mark W. Gura.

Previous winners of the Richard Dawkins Award:

2003: James Randi

2004: Ann Druyan

2005: Penn & Teller

2006: Julia Sweeney

2007: Daniel Dennett

2008: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

2009: Bill Maher

2010: Susan Jacoby

2011: Christopher Hitchens

2012: Eugenie Scott

2013: Steven Pinker

2014: Rebecca Goldstein

2015: Jerry Coyne

2016: Lawrence Krauss