Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Skeptic – It’s Behind You!

In the latest issue of The Skeptic a two-page spread was devoted to our staring experiment from several weeks ago. They have kindly made it their feature article which means you can download a PDF of it for free.

Even better though would be to subscribe! It’s very cheap, very worthwhile and goes towards a very good cause.

Do it. You’ll feel good about it tomorrow.

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SkeptiCamp 2011

SkeptiCamps are day long events where anybody interested can put their name on a list and give a short talk, around 20 minutes or so.  Last year I introduced my group to an audience which while small did contain certain sceptical luminaries such as Dr. Rachie and Lawrence Leung.

Below is a video of the talk I gave for you to either enjoy, or fast forward through to the end.

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That time of the month

You know what I mean.

You’re cranky. Irritable. Everybody’s rubbing you the wrong way and all you want to do is drive a bus load of the idiots off a cliff.

It’s the full moon and you’re feeling a little bit crazy.

Most of us have heard stories about how wild people can get during a full moon. There are supposedly more crimes committed and hospital emergency rooms are busier. Animals go on biting rampages and werewolves come out in force.

I posed this idea to my kids and asked them to come up with as many questions and comments as they could. What might they say to somebody who believes this? What questions could you ask them? What evidence could be collected?

The first idea mentioned was that of higher crime rates. This seems like a very testable suggestion. Surely all it would take is a quick look at crime rate statistics and see if there’s a rise on full moons. Of course, if it actually does turn out that there are more crimes being committed, the explanation might be simpler. Perhaps more criminals are being caught. A full moon makes for a brighter night so it’s presumably harder to skulk around in a balaclava and striped skivvy.

The extra light might also explain animal behaviour changes. Do nocturnal animals have a harder time on bright nights? Are diurnal animals kept awake at night and bite people out of grumpiness? The students came up with several fairly plausible explanations for behavioural changes, all of which made more sense than the supernatural.

A girl pointed out that the moon is always there. It’s always roughly the same distance away so what could change? Some people suggest that the gravity affects us. The moon creates the tides and our bodies are mostly water. Can’t the moon create a tidal effect within us?

Well, not really. First of all, high tides occur when the moon is overhead or on the other side of the planet. They aren’t necessarily stronger during a full moon. Also, if the amount of water found in a typical lake is too small to have tides, clearly our bodies don’t have enough either.

It was also suggested that confirmation bias would have a large part to play here. If a nurse notices a busy night during a full moon it might be reinforced by somebody pointing this out. On a non-full moon night though it would probably go unnoticed. According to a few nurses I know the biggest factor involved is how many drunken parties are going on nearby.

At this point the conversation got a little bit awkward. At least for the younger boys. One of the girls raised her hands and suggested that maybe the idea came from the fact that women can go a little… crazy. Y’know, once a month.

Her words, not mine!

Anyway, it promoted a very interesting discussion on whether or not this could have led to the full moon belief. The idea of a connection between women’s cycles and the phases of the moon is a very old one. It seems reasonable to me for people to have assumed that a full moon would have the biggest influence.

A great conversation, once again cut short due to time constraints. If only I could somehow convince management to make lunch an extra hour longer. I’m sure a lot of teachers would support me on that.

For more information on the full moon myth, check out: http://www.skepdic.com/fullmoon.html

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When students catch you slacking off

So here’s my embarrassing secret. When I started this group I decided to make a website for it. Not a blog like this but a site dedicated to information on the numerous scams, pseudosciences and the like out there. I got about a fraction of a percentage into it and decided to stop. One, because the site would have simply been one in a thousand already in existence and two, it seemed like a lot of work.

The other day one of my kids mentioned that he’d been looking through it and noticed how empty it was. He suggested that instead of leaving it that way I give the kids access to it and let them fill it themselves.

Brilliant!

So other than a brief discussion about Neil Armstrong and how silly the “he was killed because he was just about to spill the beans on the moon landing hoax!” conspiracies are, we spent most of the lunchtime discussing the site. The kids have decided to research different topics themselves and write up a page on each. They may even give presentations on them at our meetings.

Hopefully they do as I say and not as I do.

The McKinnon Secondary Sceptical Society website (ex-defunct)

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