Did you know you can buy many college textbooks through Amazon? Flowers? Chocolates? Power tools?
I know I appreciate a good table saw.
If you buy your Amazon purchases via the link, JREF gets a commission, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.
To participate, go to the James Randi Educational Foundation home page and look for the JREF Amazon link, on the lower left hand side of the page. It will bring you up into the selection of skeptically-themed books; however it you do not wish to purchase any book listed here, click on the “powered by Amazon” icon in the upper left corner. Although it won’t show a JREF link or any mention of James Randi, anything you put into your cart at this point will earn the JREF a commission, with very few exceptions.
Privacy: Amazon does not report any identifiable information in its earnings reports to the JREF, so your purchases are private.
As you probably know, you can buy nearly ANYTHING on Amazon, and frequently they have the best price, even when you include the shipping costs. When you do your holiday shopping, consider Amazon and help out the JREF.
If you enter the Amazon site via the link on randi.org, nearly anything you order results in a small commission to the JREF. This means big ticket items, like cameras and TVs, and small ticket items like a pair of socks! You don’t have to buy anything specifically listed in the JREF Amazon Library to earn comissions. Personally, I’ve ordered electronics, most of my son’s college textbooks, kitchen appliances, and a Kindle, as well as way too many books. The commission also applies to items that are shipped from third-party companies that sell from within Amazon. There are exceptions, but they are rare.
When you go to the James Randi Educational Foundation website, you will see an advertising banner above the latest SWIFT blog post. These rotate through several different subjects, so it you don’t see «JREF Amazon Library», refresh your page until it appears. You can browse through the books, DVDS, and other items listed there, or you can proceed to Amazon to search and select for what you are buying, and log into your own account. It’s that easy.
As far as privacy concerns: The JREF receives a general report of items ordered with the estimated revenue, but Amazon does not send any personally identifiable information, only quantities ordered under the JREF icon.
It costs you nothing extra, and really helps out the JREF!
Thank for your support. Your JREF Librarian….
(This article first appeared in slightly different form on the SWIFT blog of the James Randi Education Foundation.)
Opportunities to expose people to critical thinking occur frequently. Last week I received one of those emails we all get on occasion, one that had been forwarded several times, each time with a dozen or so addressees. The oldest email in the chain was dated November 16, but referred to an event that occurred mid September, 2009. I’ve posted it below, with the copy exactly as it appeared:
I hope this makes it to every person in Texas….we need to shut this store down FOR GOOD!!
Today I went to the Harwin Central Mall to pick up some crystals. The very first store that you come to when you walk from the lobby of the building into the shopping area had this sign posted on their door. The shop is run by Muslims. I couldn’t stay in the building, it made me so sick.
Feel free to share this with others.
Imam Ali flew one of the planes into the twin towers. Nice huh?
The first thing I did when receiving this was to Google for a list of the 9-11 hijackers, which I easily found on several sites, including an FBI press release. Of course, Imam Ali was not on the list. Since I’m a bit of a history buff (although by no means an expert), I knew that “Imam Ali (A.S.)” was the assassinated fourth Caliph, and the son-in-law of Mohammed. Disputes regarding the successors to Mohammed and Ali’s murder contributed to the conflicts that led to the split of Islam between the Sunni and Shia sects.
Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the anniversaries change dates as related to the Western calendar, and this year the anniversary of his murder happened to fall on September 11. This is a holy date to the Shia community, and each year millions gather to mourn and commemorate. This is a religious event, but it is also important historically.
I’m not a fan of any religion. However, I am against discrimination, stereotypes, ignorance of history, and a failure to check out facts. The news story was carried on Houston affiliates, such as the local ABC station, who covered the story : “The sign was posted on a store…What it said caused so much controversy it’s been blogged about on the Internet and store managers have been threatened and harassed.” (Emphasis added). Other news articles, referred to angry Internet bloggers, but also people who expressed apologies for overreacting without knowing the facts.
Those reactions, and the threats received by the store owners, were based on ignorance. Most Westerners have little or no knowledge of world history in anything but general terms, and that tends to be dominated by northern European or western hemisphere political events. History about religions is not typically addressed. Like everyone, I also get many emails forwarded to me that contain warnings, urban legends, and other false information that can usually be quickly verified by checking on online – in fact, Snopes covered this within days. Warning someone about flesh-eating bacteria on banana peels probably doesn’t cause anyone harm, but threats to boycott and false information that leads someone to be threatened or abused, can cause injury.
The store owner, Imran Chunawala, closes his shop every year for this anniversary, and was surprised by the reaction. When informed about the controversy regarding the date, he issued an apology and posted a new sign explaining who Imam Ali was, and the coincidence on it occurring on September 11 this year. (Note: The Christian holiday of Easter is also based in part on a lunar calendar, which is why it falls on a different date each year.)
The brouhaha was based on a misunderstanding, which has been cleared up, at least locally. However, the email came from a friend in another part of the state, two months after the incident. When I received it, I wrote a “reply all” to my friend, explaining the significance of the date, asked her to not forward it again and to send my note back to the person from whom she had received the email. Reactions were mixed. From her, a reply that ‘how could she possibly know about Imam Ali’ and from one other person, a thank you. I wonder how long that email will be passed along without being critically reviewed, researched, or even questioned, and what continued anger it may generate.
Houston Skeptics Society member, Skepchick Blogger, and snappy dresser Sam Ogden recently interviewed Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson in Houston. Dr. Tyson is a well-known scientist, host of PBS’s Nova Science series, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, former keynote speaker at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s The Amaz!ng Meeting, and once voted “sexiest astrophysicist” by People, sat down with Sam for a few minutes. Enjoy!
Skepchick blogger and Houston Skeptic Society co-organizer Sam Ogden recently sat down with Dr. Eugenie Scott last month when she was in town to lecture at the Houston Natural Science Museum. Society member Chris of Dropframe Video (firstname.lastname@example.org) did a fantastic job of capturing and editing the interview, which is presented on You-tube. Part one of the series can be found here, from where you can link to the subsequent parts to allow for easier uploading. Enjoy!
Below is an adaptation of a talk I gave as part of a panel at DragonCon, called “How to Combat Woo”. My fellow panelists included Phil Plait, PhD, also known as the Bad Astronomer, D.J. Groethe of the Center of Skeptical Inquiry and host of the podcast “Point of Inquiry”, Jeff Wagg, Communications and Outreach Manager of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and Maria Walters, founder of the Atlanta Skeptic Society and columnist on the Skepchick.org blog.
My son attended the Naval nuclear power school a few years ago, including a crash course in chemistry, physics, electronics, thermodynamics, other subjects needed to operate and maintain a nuclear power plant. The students tend to be top achievers, interested in science and math, and would frequently ask for the theory. They wanted to know WHY not just how. The instructors would answer “this is outside the scope of this course, please just accept this so we can move on.” So my son and his classmates drew large black dots on the backs of their calculators, with Sharpies. When they were told to accept information for the sake of expediency, they’d ‘push’ this button and say “I believe.”
I told you that story so I can tell you this story. All of us have a button labeled “I believe” that we push. The button may be as simple as “I believe that my spouse loves me.” Or “education is a positive thing for society.” But most people of the world have other buttons that they push. I believe in magic, ghosts, witches, homeopathy, aliens, psychics, conspiracy theories, or one of a hundred versions of a god. And that button might as well be drawn in Sharpie, because it doesn’t work anymore, it is ALWAYS pushed.
I’m an engineer by training, and like to draw diagrams and pictures. I can’t think without a pencil or marker in my hand. If you’re like me, you think that if you can just explain something, a scientific topic for example, clearly enough, that your audience will nod their heads and say ‘oh, yes, now I see! You’re right, and I will adjust my thinking.”
The problem with those buttons that are painted on, they have to wear off. We, as skeptics, want to slice right through the armor that believers have plated up around themselves, which have built up by custom, upbringing, anecdotes, personal experiences, fuzzy thinking, and from lack of exposure to the scientific method.
It took me almost three years to get my own mother to check Snopes before she forwarded emails to me. I’m her daughter, you think she would trust me, but I still have to carefully work with her on issues with her health. Just this week, she told me, rather reluctantly, that she had gone to a chiropractor for some lower back pain, because ‘she was desperate”. This, from a woman with chronic kidney disease that reads my blog posts. I had to persuade my aunt to throw away her bowel cleansing kits and pills to ‘improve her liver function” even though she couldn’t tell me what her liver function was supposed to be functioning as. But, now they check Snopes, and were at least embarrassed to tell me about the chiropractor. These are intelligent women, but they have been told their entire life that these things work.
And, indeed, they DO feel better after a visit to the chiropractor. It’s a bit harder to explain the concept of ‘regression to a mean’ to them. But I could not do it AT ALL with a single clear, simple, unemotional explanation.
Rather than creating the Grand Canyon in a 40-day flood, presenting skepticism to those with a painted-on “I Believe” button is more a process of rain beating the mountains down into the ocean, of the weeds splitting the foundations. It is slow, it is one-on-one, and it can be frustrating. However, this is how we teach, one person at a time.