Mr. Eccles Presents | Skepticism and the Law (P. Andrew Torrez)


“Skepticism and the Law: Or, How to Earn Billions With Your Birth Certificate AND Make Bernie Sanders President Using this ONE WEIRD TRICK” 🙂

“Presented by P. Andrew Torrez, Law Offices of P. Andrew Torrez “

“Video contains strong language and adult content which may not be suitable for children. Skeptics are well-versed in applying the tools of critical thinking to a variety of claims we see in everyday life, from quack medicine to religion to agriculture.”

“But for some reason, skeptics tend to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to equally preposterous claims about the law. As the co-host of the popular Opening Arguments podcast, Andrew Torrez shares some of the most preposterous and unbelievable real-life questions that he’s gotten from skeptics just like you about the law. Is there really a shadowy cabal of international bankers to whom your entire life has been pledged as collateral from birth? Did a watchdog group really file a petition before the Supreme Court to undo the 2016 Presidential Election? Do criminals frequently escape justice due to technicalities? “

“This talk will equip you with the tools to help separate legal fact from legal fiction — without having to earn a law degree of your own.”

“After nearly 20 years in big firms, P. Andrew Torrez founded his own law firm in 2015 to serve start-up and small businesses in Maryland and the District of Columbia. In 2016, he started the podcast Opening Arguments to explain legal concepts in the news to non-lawyers; today, the show is one of the most popular news & politics podcasts with nearly 2.5 million downloads to date.”

“Andrew Torrez is a 1997 graduate of Harvard Law School with honors, is a member of the Board of Governors of the Maryland chapter of the Federal Bar Association, has been named a Fellow of the American Bar Association, and has been repeatedly honored as one of Maryland’s top lawyers by Benchmark since 2011.”

“Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.”

Mr. Eccles Presents | Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: On Morality & Rationality


In this podcast by Sean Carroll, he gives a deep dive on the topics of morality and reason’s role in it. He also discusses the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW, not to be confused with the comic book label) in a mildly critical but fair way, without taking things out of context, without straw-manning, and without being too evenhanded.

Carroll lays out his views of some of the claims, ethical stance, and moral priorities of the IDW, but he says them much more nicely than I would, and more articulately in an audio format than I’m currently practiced at.

One downside to being a snarkitudinous eldritch entity from beyond space-time like yours truly is that sometimes I can be a bit rascally in my approach, which understandably rubs some the wrong way.

My old post from 2013 on the archaic morals and whiney privileged homophobia of Orson Scott Card is a case in point. One of my snarkier, and more satisfying, moments at the keyboard. While the late Carl Sagan is one of my role models, up to a point, I have to confess that no, Virginia, I just ain’t him.

I like how Carroll measures his words without inauthenticity, and in a way that would outrage only the most easily outraged IDW fanboy. He takes the “don’t-be-a-dick” approach here, which is commendable and wise, even though it’s not a big part of my own skillset.

You can listen in stages, or in one sitting, or you can simply turn your podcatching client to and subscribe to his podcast, then listen to this episode at your leisure.

Whatever works for you.

I recommend listening to the entire show using whatever means is most convenient. The IDW discussion really gets underway at about the 58 minute mark.

Enjoy.

Mr. Eccles Presents | How Alternative Medicine Has Infiltrated US Medical Schools


Presented by the National Capital Area Skeptics – http://www.ncas.org.

“Alternative medicine has become very popular over the past two decades, thanks to relentless promotion by the media, politicians, and a few highly visible celebrity doctors. Since the early 1990s, the NIH has spent over $2 billion studying complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but has yet to show that any “alternative” treatment is effective. Part of this funding has been dedicated to establishing training programs in U.S. medical schools. Through these programs, doctors-to-be today learn about treatments based on acupuncture and homeopathy that are little more than magical thinking. In the middle of an intensive training program, most medical students do not have time and are not encouraged to question these practices. These same academic medical centers that host these training programs also offer CAM therapies to unsuspecting patients.”

“This talk reviews some of the CAM topics now taught and practiced at major U.S. medical schools, and will discuss some of the conditions for which these CAM methods are used, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer. It will also cover the largely unscientific basis of these methods, and explain why proponents have succeeded in convincing both doc tors and patients that CAM is “worth a try” for many disorders.”

“Steven Salzberg is an expert on genomics and DNA sequencing whose lab has developed many of the methods used to decode and analyze genomes over the past two decades. He participated in the Human Genome Project and dozens of other genome projects for many plant, animal, and bacterial species He co-founded the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project and helped to decode the bacteria used in the 2001 anthrax attacks.”

“He is currently Professor of Medicine, Biostatistics, and Computer Science and Director of the Center for Computational Biology in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He holds undergraduate and Masters degrees from Yale University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Society for Computational Biology. He writes a widely-read column on science and pseudoscience for Forbes magazine, at forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg, which received the 2012 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.”

Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.

Mr Eccles Presents | Scientifical Americans: Sharon A. Hill


“In the 21st century, reality television and the Internet have fed public interest in ghosts, UFOs, cryptozoology and other unusual phenomena. By 2010, roughly two thousand amateur research and investigation groups formed in the U.S. – ghost hunters, Bigfoot chasers, and UFO researchers, using an array of (supposedly) scientific equipment and methods with an aim of proving the existence of the paranormal. American culture’s honorific regard for science, coupled with the public’s unfamiliarity with scientific methods, created a niche for self-styled paranormal experts to achieve a measure of respect and authority without scientific training or credentials. These groups of amateurs serve as a surrogate for scientists in examining strange claims. And, they provide a unique lens by which we can examine the wider public understanding of science and research. ”

“Sharon A. Hill is an advocate for science appreciation, critical thinking, and evidence-based inquiry, specializing in pop culture discourse on ghosts, monsters, mysteries, anomalies, and oddities. She is the creator of DoubtfulNews.com, SpookyGeology.com, and the host of the podcast 15 Credibility Street. She has degrees in Geosciences and Education with a focus on science and the public. Her personal website is SharonAHill.com.”

“Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.”

Ubi dubium… | The Conceptual Penis Hoax and Its Aftermath


A bit back, certain skeptical thought leaders like Shermer and Harris, who along with others not so affiliated with the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, such as Dawkins and Coyne, drew criticism for their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. The panel discussion on the video below, on the YouTube channel of the NECSS, discusses those involved and does a deep dive on what the hoax did and did not actually prove:

Pigliucci’s commentary starting at the 8:04 mark is pertinent. For myself, I’ve long found the idolization and celebrity culture of American movement skepticism increasingly problematic, especially in public figures embroiled in their own controversies and questionable public statements while also trafficking in the controversial claims of others. Yes, I know: Dawkins is from the UK, not the US, but the same celebrity status problem as the others exists at least in relation to his American fanbase.

The whole phenomenon reminds me a bit of megachurch pastors, who with fame and a large following become enmeshed in the same problems as any secular media star. Meh.

Beginning at 42:08 is I think a good assessment, that initial response to the hoax is a failure of leadership in the skeptical community, and a disappointment by those who are considered role models in that community, some of them world class thinkers, and who are all, presumably, smart enough to know better.

The problem, I think, is in essentializing skepticism, and so unconsciously imbuing prominent individuals with this quality, when I think it’s more accurate to say that skepticism isn’t an ontological property you have or any sort of thing that you necessarily are, or a thing that you own.

Skepticism is a set of ethical and intellectual values, a process of thinking, and a methodological (not a philosophical) approach to reality in the evaluation of testable factual claims. It’s a methodological approach because some skeptics are theists, as was the late Martin Gardner, or deists, like Dr. Hal Bidlack, and in any event not necessarily philosophical naturalists, non-theists, or atheists. Agnosticism is a separate matter as a position on how knowable any answer to the God-question is, and is compatible with any of these. There are agnostic theists as well as non-theists. One can believe or not, and still not be certain, or claim to know of the existence or nonexistence of the thing believed.

My understanding is that skepticism is something that you practice, something that you DO, and if you do it poorly or not at all, then whatever else you are doing, it isn’t skepticism, no matter your preferred label or identity, your organizational status or affiliation, what you ate for breakfast, the brand of suits you wear, or the name of the magazine you publish. Any crank or fool can call themselves a skeptic.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Language Hangups


Last evening’s Tamil language podcast listening was productive, and vastly more satisfying progress-wise once I got myself into the right headspace to immerse myself and process the dialogue and interviews.

Setup for that takes me about 15-20 minutes of quiet thought, and at the very least a full hour of immersion, whether to speak, read, write, or listen in any language I’m studying. I should work up to an entire day of immersion when family is away for extended periods.

There’s a bit of performance anxiety in that, stemming from previous study of both Japanese and Pilipino, the former in the early 90s and the latter just before the early 2000s.

Both taught me a lot, but in both cases I was not…well…at either time, and was to my eternal regret a bit of an idiot as a student even in my late 20s.

Without getting into personal details or drama, my experiences of both left me with a difficulty in switching between English and other languages quickly or in a public context, especially for interviews or social media posting, and dreading again making an idiot of myself as a learner, this time on the Internet for all to see.

There’s also a lack of patience on my part, as I must remind myself that even in formal study it takes several whole semesters for anybody to make progress at my age in any non-native language, even with an instructor and fellow students to interact with for feedback.

Hindi, Tamil, and Bangla are not easy languages to begin with, especially for non-native speakers like me!

All of my study to-date on the current languages, ALL of it, has been informal, but still marked by progress over time, even with my biases and impatience getting in the way of seeing that.

It helps to take, even in a passing moment of introspection, and actually immersing myself in the damn languages instead of whining, a long view, to see the forests of India’s Big Three languages over time for the trees of any given study period.

Maybe I’ll always be somewhat anxious about being the village idiot of students, but maybe too I can avoid that outcome, to keep up the long game toward what level of mastery I can achieve.

At my age, I’ll probably never reach native fluency in any of them, but that’s cool. I’m not trying to pass as a native speaker anyway, not perfect fluency, only to broaden my horizons and reduce my ignorance of the rest of humanity elsewhere in some small way, however imperfectly.

And d’you know what? I think that’s good enough.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Quid Novi? | Goodbye, Stan Lee (1922-2018)


Earlier this week, Marvel Comics’ icon and movie cameo star Stan Lee passed away at the venerable age of 95. As a boy, I grew up on the publications that he and others at the Marvel bullpen had created. Yes, he wrote about superheroes, with or without powers, but deeply human, flawed, and believable ones, and he created universes one could discover in the magic of ink on paper. I would eagerly catch these worlds, ripe for discovery each month from the magazine racks of the local convenience store.

That was a time when comics books were “still only 45¢!” and filled with enough stories to tide me over till next month, stories of wonder, no, stories of marvel, pun intended because I own my puns, stories that showed what it’s like to be human in a vast universe of the strange and superhuman. Stories that taught us things about ourselves, stories with real lessons. Through it all, Marvel has always had a humanistic bent, that humans, ordinary humans, were somehow special, unique, a force for both good and evil that could shake the cosmos even without super powers or fancy hardware. Even when rubbing shoulders with aliens, mutants, cyborgs, and among many others, even the gods themselves.

So it’s here I’d like to posthumously thank Stan for inspiring us with heroes we could relate to, heroes we could for the space of a few pages of text and image, believe and delight in, share their adventures in their delightfully flawed, limited, sometimes broken but deeply entertaining humanity, even in those with sometimes mutated DNA, extra-dimensional origin, or advanced technology.

Stan, your work has inspired, and I think will continue to inspire, those of us who carry on.

Peace out.

I’ll close this post with a tweet I found: