[First published on skepolitical.com on 9/15/12]

A Links Post! (With commentary.)

I’m very excited to see what comes out of the newly formed Center for Applied Rationality. Julia Galef, of whom I’m a fan from the Rationally Speaking podcast (for which I have had much success evangelizing), is President. You can listen to her talk about the program on the RS podcast page here. This looks like it has the potential to be a great resource for my pet project of promoting skeptical critical thinking education. I may try to see if I can do something with it on the UMBC campus.

When I noticed that Eliezer Yudkowsky is involved with CFAR, it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read his “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” fanfic. I’ve never tried fan fiction, but this one comes highly recommended. I would describe it as Harry Potter reimagined with Harry as an over-the-top precocious Skeptic. Eight Chapters in and I’m loving it.

The atheist/skeptic community has been dealing with a problem of sexism and a lack of diversity. In response, blogger Jen McCreight suggested a new focus, to be called Atheism Plus (or “A+”). It is basically the atheist movement with a focus on social justice. It’s being billed as the next wave of the atheist movement, and in fact grew as a reaction to the “New Atheist” movement, with it’s Four (white male) Horsemen: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Secular Humanists respond with: “Hey, we’ve already been doing that for decades!” See: Ronald Lindsay at the Center for Inquiry; Massimo Pigliucci of Rationally Speaking. Gary Berg-Cross of Secular Perspectives. (Pigliucci and Lindsay each criticize Richard Carrier in these posts for his “intemperate” and “strident” support of A+. I’d never heard of Richard Carrier before this.)

I wrote about Jill Stein last month. This month, I learned in a Reddit thread that the Green Party embraces alternative medicine (one of the low-hanging-fruit targets of the skeptic movement). Soon after, she did an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session on Reddit, in which she criticized the Green Party platform on the issue of alt-med, but not quite to the satisfaction of the skeptic community (including yours truly).

Steven Novella of Science Based Medicine dissects the report claiming positive results for acupuncture effectiveness. I am inclined to agree with Novella that acupuncture is probably just a placebo. I think Robin Hanson has it partially right that placebos “work” because the show care, although he goes on a bit of a flight of fancy about the mechanism. Novella has pointed out on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (my gateway to the skeptic community and identifying as a skeptic) and elsewhere that the placebo effect is also largely response bias, experimenter bias, and other experimental artifacts that cannot even be described as a true benefit of placebos.

Salon.com has done some good reporting regarding atheism recently.

Tim Burke (history professor at my alma mater), has been providing really valuable perspectives on some social issues I’ve been thinking about in the past few months. For example: Gun Control; whether Niall Ferguson still deserves to be called an intellectual, scholar, or expert (Ferguson produces some of the most odious social commentary that has ever found its way into any publication I [used to] read. In this case, Newsweek); and Journalistic Framing.

Larry Lessig, who will be interviewed by Dan Carlin in the next episode of Common Sense, has a promising-looking program called “Rootstrikers” working to fix America’s corruption problem.

Speaking of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, the most recent episode was all about the importance of having a flexible mind able to adjust to circumstances. Naturally, I took it as another indication that he should embrace the Skeptic Movement. I reminded him via Twitter that he promised us an episode on education. I am eager to hear his ideas. (He also had a great Gun Control episode recently that helped shape my thinking on the matter.)

I’ve applied to join the new skepticblogs network and am in the running. (98)