Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Final word on the eclipse

I posted a more detailed post on my thoughts on the eclipse, superstition and the media here on Skepchick. Enjoy!

Solar eclipse freaking people out

And on the heels of the article I posted yesterday about astronomers in India throwing superstition to the winds and watching the eclipse while in mid-flight, here's the other side of the coin.
Most pregnant women hope to avoid giving birth during an eclipse.
"None of the expectant mothers under my treatment are willing to have deliveries on Wednesday," Shivani Sachdev Gour, a gynecologist at New Delhi's Fortis La Femme hospital, told CNN.
In fact, there are critically ill patients who do not want to be in the hospital on the day of the eclipse, she said.
"It may not cause any physical harm to the baby, but it may affect the child's overall personality," said R.K. Sharma, who describes himself as a "remedial astrologer."


Sigh.

And what exactly is a 'remedial astrologer'? Was he held back a grade in Bullshit school?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where's Masala Skeptic?

It has come to my attention recently that some folks actually read this blog! Or at least, have it in their RSS feeds and have been wondering where the heck I have been.

Unfortunately, I've been very busy and any blogging time I've had, I've focused on Skepchick. I have been working on several skeptical projects in conjunction with and addition to Skepchick:

  1. Just got back from TAM 7 and SkepchickCON in Vegas and Minneapolis respectively. Both were unbelievably cool and I got to hang out with so many wonderful skepchicks, skeptics and others who I've come to know and love.
  2. I'm working with the Atlanta Skeptics to organize a local charity event, A Full Moon for Cancer, a star party hosted by Phil Plait and Pamela Gay and benefiting the American Cancer Society.
  3. The Atlanta Skeptics are also still doing Skeptics in the Pub meetups every month and I'm helping coordinate that.
  4. I'm starting to get involved with the Southern Skeptical Society, a group that hopes to become an umbrella organization for local skeptic groups in the South.
  5. I'm still blogging semi-regularly at Skepchick.
  6. Oh, yeah, and last week, I turned in my notice for a job I've had for 11 years to go work for a new, smaller company. More fun, more risk, more work, probably. :)
All this is not to make excuses, you must understand! I am absolutely loving every minute of all this. Unfortunately, it has taken my focus away from the Masala Skeptic site. It's also for you readers to know that I haven't fallen off the planet and you can find me in some way or another online. If you really want to see what I'm up to, follow me on Twitter.

Anyway, with all that being said and done, I'm going to try to post here a little more often. Be warned, my posts here won't be of the quality or depth of my articles on Skepchick. And they may not always be related to skepticism. I'll probably use this as a way to exercise my writing skills, post interesting links and generally babble.

Speaking of interesting links, here's an interesting piece coming out of India. Astronomers and others are chasing the solar eclipse in unusual ways. And ignoring the folk beliefs about bad luck and superstition. Yay!

Like I said, not much depth, a few links and whatever other babble is on my mind. My guess is, readership will plummet!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One fish, two fish, dead fish, boo fish...

The Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005 and is the biggest aquarium in the world (eat it Chattanooga!). Housing over a million creatures in over eight million gallons of water, it was an immediate attraction in Georgia and across the country. In fact, it was hard to even get into the aquarium initially - for over a year, the museum was busier than an Ikea on opening day. As a local Atlantan, I am thrilled to have this cool venue in my city, particularly when the aquarium's mission is:

To be an entertaining, educational, and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, offering engaging guest experiences, and promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world.

Yep, science and education hand-in-hand with entertainment. Certainly this simple mission statement won't end up dripping with irony.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Aquarium wants to focus more on the 'entertainment' part of that mission and less on the 'science and education.'

A few months back, the aquarium opened a new exhibit of Titanic artifacts. Some of these artifacts have never been on display before but that's not important. What's important is that the exhibit is HAUNTED. You heard me HAUNTED. Read more... IF YOU DARE.... oooOoooOooOooo....

It started when museum workers started reporting "strange encounters" when in the exhibit. The museum, seeing an opportunity for science shameless self-promotion, decided to bring in the Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators to 'scientifically' investigate what was going on. I'm familiar with RGPI because my husband and some other members of the Atlanta Skeptics went on their Roswell Ghost Tour last year. Anyway, I won't go into all the details - you can read their findingshere (Spoiler: it involves someone whispering "Iceberg" and "Who's there." OOoOOOoooooOOOOh!). What are the odds that people who make their money convincing people that ghosts exist and that they can track them down would find some there?

Apparently pretty darn good. It got the attention of the 'big guns' of ghost investigation. The Ghost Hunters Sci Fi TV show decided to show up and do an entire show on the 'haunted' exhibit. It'll be on tonight.

Last night and today, a bunch of us on Twitter sent in our opinions to the Georgia Aquarium twitter feed. You can see all the relevant tweets herebut the only response we've received from them so far is this:

Re: Ghost Hunters, we know it isn't "hard science," just something fun to share. Not everyone believes in ghosts, but some think it's fun!

Where to begin? I'm so annoyed that I could just bullet:


  • "Some think it's fun" - First of all, over 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank. Pretending there are ghosties and ghoulies running around the silverware that they left behind is an insult to them and their memories. Isn't there enough drama in this story without making it up? Not cool, people.

  • "We know it isn't 'hard science'" - The Ghost Hunters and Paranormal investigators are looking for ghosts. They're not doing 'hard science'; they're not doing any science at all. They're running around in the dark with infrared lights and squealing when their machines go PING. They're trying to invent a story on top of the compelling real story, and they have nothing to do with science. But the Georgia Aquarium is promoting what the Ghost Hunters and RGPI are doing as science. In their explanation of their special event this week that featured the RGPIs, they say:
    The Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators will give an overview of how their group attempts to scientifically study and document cases of authentic paranormal activity. Then, small groups will test their ghost-hunting ability as they walk through Titanic Aquatic, escorted by paranormal researchers.

    This means that they are promoting pseudoscience as real science. The problem with many of these paranormal investigators is that they tend to use the cloak of real science by using hi-tech devices and a vague semblance of scientific lingo. In actuality, they don't have a good understanding of the scientific method at all. Check out the SAPS Skeptical Analysis site for much more information than I can provide about the methods and missteps of various ghost hunters.

  • I understand that getting on a syndicated cable TV show will mean additional publicity and revenue for the Georgia Aquarium. In an economy where people are staying home more and spending less, I do understand the temptation to get a quick fix like this. But if you say that ghosts are more entertaining, you imply that real science is less entertaining. In a world where we just discovered a fish with an entirely transparent head and eyes inside its face, I simply don't buy it. Screw ghosts - can we get to the real science?


Interested in speaking out?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Zaloom Update

A few months ago, I blogged about puppeteer and political satirist Paul Zaloom, formerly of Beakman's World.  At the time, Paul's web site and contact information was not live but he just sent me an email letting me know that his sites are up and running now.

So this is just a quick blog to add his sites. And to brag that effin Paul Zaloom sends me email periodically.  Life doesn't suck :)

Check out Paul at his web site, Beakman Live or at the site for his film, Dante's Inferno! Remember, parents - Zaloom's Beakman's Live show is great for kids - his other stuff tends to be adult-only so be wary :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yay Science!

I've spent the past couple of days in and out of hospitals and dealing with surgeons, doctors and nurses. A few months ago, my husband's doctor discovered a cyst on his thyroid that was 'suspicious for papillary carcinoma' and he needed to have the gland removed. You can read more about his adventures on his blog - he does a much better job of describing it all than I would. But as I was sitting in his hospital room late the other night, watching him recover from getting his throat sliced open, it occurred to me that the people out there who are anti-science and anti-medicine are complete assholes.

I know this is not news to anyone on this blog. But experiencing a medical procedure this close up really gives you a better understanding of how freaking lucky we all are because of science. There seems to be a general vibe in the media, movies and popular culture that science is dangerous and technology is bad. People tell us that we should back away from new media and new technology because these things are somehow de-humanizing. To those people, I say "Fuck off" and here's why.

Let's forget for a moment the incredible amount of technology and science that led to the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. Let's just focus on the procedure and hospital process itself.

In less than 48 hours, Christian went from having his throat sliced open to walking about, eating normally and resting comfortably at home. Here are some of the things that allowed this 'miracle of science' to have occured:

  1. The germ theory of disease. Until it was proposed that tiny, invisible creatures were running all over us and could be the cause of disease and infection, doctors and surgeons didn't worry about hygiene and sterilization. Today, the hospital has an entire system in place to maintain a sterile environment in the surgery itself and to keep risk of infection to a minimum.

  2. Sutures. Christian had his THROAT SLICED OPEN. Seriously, he has a wound across his neck and they sewed it up with some stuff that will just dissolve over time; no painful removal of stitches and minimal scarring. He has some pain from the wound itself but that's honestly been the least of his problems (the most pain was from the intibation tube down his throat during surgery).

  3. Pain medication. When he woke up he was in some pretty severe pain and his recovery would have been significantly prolonged and much harder without pain medication. He got all sorts of drugs, including morphine, loratab and some incredible stuff that made him feel better when the morphine wasn't making a dent in his pain.


It also occurred to me that there are a million tiny technologies to be grateful for:

  1. Bendy straws. It sounds silly, but when you have a wound in your neck, being able to drink without looking down is a big freaking deal.

  2. Crocs, NurseMates and the other brand name shoes that keep the nursing staff more comfortable and able to stay on their feet longer and be less cranky. The nursing staff was fantastic, probably not just because of their shoes but isn't it nice to have technology to make their daily lives easier?

  3. Adjustable beds and chairs. We could move his head up, down, forward and backwards, whatever we needed to get him into the right position to eat, sleep, breath better etc. (My only complaint was that the bed was too short for his 6'6" frame). And I got a fairly comfy recliner that I slept in overnight, which allowed me to be a lot less cranky in the morning.

  4. Blackberry, cell phone, wi-fi and laptop technology that allowed me to keep all our friends and family updated (more than they probably wanted!) about what was going on during the surgery and recovery. Plus, IM, email, chat, Twitter, Facebook and text messages that all allowed for different methods to communicate. Suck it Sam Ogden, I'm OK with having options! :)


Ok, you get my point, right? Technology and science rocks. Every minute and penny that people spend on bad science, pseudoscience, 'alternative' medicine and plain old bullshit is time and money that could be inventing the next bendy straw! Think of the opportunity cost of that plus, the time and energy that us skeptics spend debunking and arguing and trying to portray the truth about these idiots and the bad information they spread.

But, when we were up most of the night, watching late night TV and trying to get some rest, we both noticed that pseudoscience is alive and well. Every other commercial was homeopathy, Kevin Trudeau or herbal supplements. The assholes are alive and well. There's much work to do. I take solace in the fact that the science and technology has progressed so much in spite of them. Maybe there's hope for this war after all. If nothing else, we'll probably live longer. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Panties for Peace

Yes, it's Valentine's Day. As we found out yesterday, some people have pretty strong feelings about this holiday. But there are few who care as much about this holiday as this guy:



What's up with scowly guy? His name is Pramod Mutalik and he's the chief of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sene (Lord Ram's Army). The group believes that Valentine's Day is 'un-Indian.' They are threatening to attack any Indian couples celebrating Valentine's Day. That's right, if you celebrate a holiday that is about love and intimacy, they want to beat the snot out of you.

The group members consider themselves the caretakers of Indian culture, which of course means their own, very specific definition of what Indian culture is. They want to get back down to good old-fashioned Hindu values, by threatening to attack or expose couples showing affection in public. In Pramod's words:
Valentine's Day is definitely not Indian culture. We will not allow celebration of that day in any form.

What an old softy. He's not kidding. Last week, members of the Sri Ram Sene launched an attack on a bar in Mangalore, in India. Women were attacked for being in the bar, men were attacked for taking women to the bar. Parts of the incident were captured and are on YouTube.

But wait! There's more to the story. And it involves pink underwear.

There are those who agree with the SRS, but there has also been a huge amount of outrage expressed in India over the attack. Lord Ram's Army remains unabashed. They believe that they are in a cultural war for the identify of the country and that their tactics are fully justified. From SRS general secretary V.K. Rajesh:
"We are not against love. But we are against loose morals we see among the younger generation who are blindly aping the West. And we will not spare these people and we will take whatever action is needed within the law."

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell V.K. that assault is not technically within the law. Several of the attackers were arrested but released on bail a week or so later. They continued to make threats against couples seen celebrating Valentine's Day, including threatening to force couples to marry (it's unclear how they were going to accomplish this. One can only assume they had a fleet of ugly bridesmaid's dresses, drunk uncles and 80's music on standby).

But the authorities aren't taking any chances on that either. Yesterday, police rounded up almost 100 of the activists and took them into custody as a preventative measure.
The detentions follow calls by federal Home Minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram urging Karnataka's Hindu nationalist administration to take "preventive and punitive" action to ensure law and order in the state.

So I guess they're within the law now, literally. But there's more.

My favorite part of the story is how a group of Indian women is responding to the SRS with a very traditional Indian approach. Gandhi first introduced the concept of Satyagraha or nonviolent resistance during the British occupation of India. Gandhi broke British laws by hand-spinning his own cloth and walking to the sea to make salt. The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women is sending Pramod Mutalik pink underwear. In large quantities. Called the Pink Chaddi campaign, they are asking their supporters to send them pink chaddis (Hindi slang for knickers) which they will then forward en masse to SRS. After all, all armies need the basic necessities, right? The group is also encouraging women to go to pubs on Valentine's Day. Founder Nisha Susan says:
People have signed up to drop chaddis at collection points in their cities, which will be sent to Bangalore. Those who have signed up also plan to go to pubs with their partners or friends on V-Day. Most of the members don’t drink and some haven’t ever visited a pub, but the spirit is to band together against moral policing and curbs on women’s freedom.

Awesome. So, no matter how you feel about Valentine's Day, I encourage you to join the Facebook group and send some knickers to Pramod. Or a Valentine's Day card or a box of chocolate. Or even better, go to a bar and raise a toast to the Pink Chaddis. Best. Protest. Ever.