July 23, 2009
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction supports science
It appears that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett accidentally got added to a list of speakers at the so-called Creation Evidence Expo. We are told that Bennett met with Rev. Fredrick Boyd, the conference's organizer about an unrelated issue and agreed to speak at Rev. Boyd's conference without knowing the topic.
Fortunately, when Mr. Bennett learned the nature of the conference he asked to have himself removed from the speaker's list. I am especially heartened by the last line of the article:
"Bennett, a former science teacher, agrees with the Indiana standards for science, which include the teaching of evolution, Savage [his spokesman] said."
April 25, 2008
Rare events and paranormal experiences
As adults most of the time we go about our lives following a fairly regular routine. It isn't often that we encounter something that really needs explanation.
Here in Indiana we have had two such events recently.
As described below a military jet accidentally broke the sound barrier over a populated area where supersonic flight is not normally allowed.
An earthquake of that magnitude is an exceedingly rare event here in Indiana. It probably will happen less than half a dozen times in a typical human lifetime. Because it is so rare our brains are not able to understand it immediately. Strange paranormal ideas sometimes jump in and try to fill this gap between strange phenomena and our understanding.
I am not the type of cynic who thinks people who experience strange things are crazy. Strange and very rare events do indeed occur in our world. Things even more rare than earthquakes in the Midwest are possible. The important thing is that these strange events need to be evaluated using the scientific method. It is the most powerful tool we have for getting real explanations for strange events.
The paranormal ideas that may leap to mind when our day-to-day routine is interrupted by a very strange event may seem mysterious and interesting at first. However, much like junk food filled with empty calories paranormal explanations ultimately don't do us any good or increase our knowledge of the universe.
April 24, 2008
UFOs over Kokomo no longer unidentified
On April 17th bright lights were seen in the skies above Kokomo. Shortly thereafter an incredible boom was heard. It was so loud that it rattled windows and woke people sleeping in their bed. This caused some people to immediately suspect extraterrestrial involvement.    
Evidence of alien life would be a fantastic scientific discovery. However, careful investigation eventually revealed that the lights and sound were caused by pilots from the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard engaged in a practice exercise.  
The lights were caused by the flares and chaff that are used to fool heat seeking missiles. The sound was caused by a sonic boom generated when one or more of the jets accidentally broke the sound barrier.
Despite this perfectly rational explanation there are some like Glen Means of the Mutual UFO Network who refuse to accept any amount of evidence.
November 27, 2007
Halloween Ghosts 2007
I am more than a month late in adding this year's spooky media roundup. There is always a flurry of ghost related articles around All Hallows Eve. However, it seems that this year there were slightly fewer "serious" ghost stories than in years past. I only include a story if it takes seriously the idea that ghosts might really exist. Thus articles about ghost stories for children and the like are excluded.
- The Indiana Daily Student (2007-10-31) shares stories of buildings on campus that are rumored to be haunted.
- The Rensselaer Republican (2007-10-31) teams up with The SouthLake Chapter of the Indiana Ghost Trackers for a rare show of skepticism while debunking the myth of "Old Man Moody". Kudos to both the reporters and the SouthLake IGT.
- WTHI, broadcasting out of Terre Haute (2007-10-25), shares the views of an Indiana woman who was one of the 34% of respondants to an A.P. poll who profess a belief in ghosts.
- The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (2007-10-28) offers what amounts to free publicity for the IGT chapter up in Fort Wayne. Their chapter doesn't appear to have nearly the necessary level of skepticism.
- The Evansville Courier Press (2007-10-27) repeats an old yarn about a lady in gray haunting the Willard Library. They even treat a local "psychic" as a valid journalistic source.
- The USI Shield (2007-10-25) looks for haunted sites around Evansville, including the aforementioned "lady in gray".
- The Bedford Times-Mail (2007-10-18) reports on how the Lawrence County Museum of History is raising money with frightening tales of Historical murders. Sounds like a fun and informative event. I only wish they had left the ghost hunter off the speakers list.
October 26, 2007
Pacers Ad Features Crop Circles
This funny advertisement for the Pacers makes use of all the trappings of kooky UFO/conspiracy films. The San Antonio Express-News (2007-10-32) has an article about the ad or you can watch it below.
October 07, 2007
Recent Creationist Activity in Indiana
There have been a couple of recent creationist events in the state. These folks are very tenacious, which is admirable, but they don't seem to understand that you cannot disprove almost 150 years of good science that has vast amounts of supporting evidence by holding conventions.
From September 21st through the 27th The Creation Evidence Expo was held in Indianapolis. According to the billing this event:
Is an incredible experience of exploration into the mysteries of our universe and the Truth of how we were all created! The Darwinian evolution theory will be exposed!
These kind of events never seem to contribute anything to science, but hey, people hold science fiction conventions where they spend a week talking about Klingons. Not everything has to contribute to science.
What worries me is the section of their website that says:
Parents! There are school field trips being planned - contact and encourage your child's school principal to RSVP a tour date NOW before they are all booked up!
More discussion of that in a moment.
The other recent event that caught my eye was a presentation to public school children in Wabash County (Wabash Plain Dealer, 2007-09-28) given by Dr. G. Thomas Sharp, president of the Creation Truth Foundation, Inc. For those who don't pay attention to creationist politics, the Creation Truth Foundation maintains the tiny (about 3000 square feet) and dubiously named Museum of Earth History in in Eureka Springs, AK.
Now the article in the Wabash Plain Dealer assures us that:
[Dr. Sharp's] presentation to the school children did not delve into religious interpretation.
So what is the concern? Both of these incidents illustrate the deceitful way that creationists are trying to bend the rules to get themselves into public schools. Parents are urged to pressure school officials to take children on field trips to creationist events. Creationists go into public schools and instead of really teaching about the past they present a narrative about dinosaurs and the scientific method so confusing and wrong that children are bound to be puzzled when they are exposed to the real science.
These people have tricked a lot of well meaning teachers, who may be very religious themselves, into believing that religion and evolution are completely incompatible. They then make the teachers complicit in their plans to smuggle religion and bad science into the classroom. The amount of deceit involved is staggering. What is so defective about their world view that they can't just explain it to people in the marketplace of ideas like everyone else?
October 02, 2007
SpiritFest Held at Camp Chesterfield
Camp Chesterfield is the location of a Spiritualist Church near Anderson. For those not up on their history Spiritualism is a religious movement that enjoyed some popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century. The most notable tenant of Spiritualism is that it is possible to talk to the dead.
Recently Camp Chesterfield held their 4th annual Spiritfest (The Shelbyville News 2007-09-13). We are told of this event:
Dozens of psychic readers will be available for readings, and a variety of body workers will be on hand offering therapeutic massage, Reiki and other healing techniques. There will even be a healer offering "drummings" which uses a Native American healing technique as a way to balance the body's natural energy centers and to help clear negativity from the person's energy field.
In addition, Camp Chesterfield mediums will be giving messages from loved ones on the other side [...]
So they have the trifecta of (1) almost certainly false information about the future, (2) "healing" techniques shown in scientific studies to be completely useless, and (3) telling lies about deceased friends and family.
I really shouldn't be so certain about their events because I wasn't able to go and check it out myself, but how many times do these tricks need to be debunked before their fraudulent nature can be taken for granted?
April 09, 2007
The Life and Death of Peoples Temple Tonight on WLFI
Tonight at 8:00pm there will be a documentary on PBS concerning Jim Jones his cult. Few people know that Jones started out in Indianapolis as a civil rights leader. Those in the Indy area can tune in to WLFI (channel 20) at 8:00pm tonight to watch Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.