SDARI Event Archives 2010
Event Archives 2010:
- November 28, 2010 Remembering COSMOS--a tribute to Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan was a Professor of Astronomy and Space Science, Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and the creator (with Ann Druyan and Steven Soter) of the Emmy and Peabody Award winning PBS series, COSMOS, still the most widely seen PBS series in the world.
Carl Sagan was a scientist and researcher who was adept at communicating scientific ideas to the public. He blended healthy skepticism with a child-like sense of wonder. He was a teacher who routinely disproved the unfounded and sometimes dangerous beliefs of his fellow humans without ever losing his belief in humankind.
COSMOS the series is now 30 years old. Tuesday, November 9, would have been Carl Sagan's 76th birthday, and on Carl Sagan Day people around the world celebrated his legacy. This month SDARI celebrated COSMOS, Carl Sagan, and some of the other founders of modern skepticism who are no longer with us. Our January meeting will continue this celebration.
- October 24, 2010 Dr. Jack Fisher of ACSH on Skepticism Is Not Enough.
Skepticism is not enough: That ought to make sense to a group of people comprising an organization which has been shouting into the wind, pleading for rational thought to replace superstition and the utter nonsense that has been flooding our country. For nearly two decades, SDARI has stood foursquare for the scientific method in the face of the plaintive call, "Oh scientists don't know everything," every step of the way.
October's meeting lecture was by a man who has been on the firing lines making the same pleas for a couple of decades himself now. He has been a 20-year member, and trustee for the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH). Since 1978, ACSH has grown from fifty scientists to nearly 400. Our Keith Taylor has been forwarding their daily notes to the SDARI message group.
- September 26, 2010 Richard Lederer on superstition and poker and word play.
What about poker? Is it merely a game of chance, or does skill trump good luck? Something's going on because even those guys or gals on TV raking in a million or two at the end of a poker tournament are starting to look familiar. If a player bets because "he's due for a winner" is that an advantage to one who understands that a run of bad luck is part of the law of averages? Our September speaker knows about such and entertained us immensely. He's a talented poker player in his own right. He's also the must successful breeder of world class poker players in history -- the father of Howard Lederer and Annie Duke. You've seen them on TV. Richard Lederer hit San Diego in 1997 and hasn't stopped running yet. He was SDARI's guest in 1999 and seemingly has addressed every civic minded group in town. He is the author of dozens of books on grammar and the use of the English language. An hour or so with Dr. Lederer is an hour or so you won't forget. Even more about Dr. Lederer is on his "Verbivore" web site and in Wikipedia.
- August 22, 2010 Dr. Rebecca Moore on Jonestown, Why would ordinary Americans do such a thing?
Few incidents shocked Americans as much as the murder and suicide of our citizens in a jungle commune in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. Dr. Rebecca Moore provided a fresh perspective on the events, locating the group within the context of religion in America. She offered a contemporary history that corrects the inaccuracies often associated with the group, and attempted to explain why ordinary Americans might join a collectivist, utopian project. Rebecca Moore has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Marquette University. She has written and published on medieval Christian theologians and their debt to Jewish biblical commentary. She co-authored the book A Portable God: The Origin of Judaism and Christianity, with SDSU colleague Risa Levitt Kohn. This effort can be seen on her Jonestown website. Her book Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple was published by Greenwood Press in March 2009.
- July 25, 2010 Keith Taylor led a group discussion. Topic: Whither SDARI
SDARI has been here for fifteen years and the world still does dumb things. Does that mean we have failed? Nah. It just means we aren't perfect.
To be sure, today's skeptics still have an abundance of deliberately ignorant things to worry about, even rant about. A recent Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works invited a science fiction writer to testify on climate change. Then the senator agreed with the author in calling global warming a hoax. Almost nightly on C-Span we see a Congressional Representative from Iowa holding forth on the virtues of ethanol to combat the climate change he denies even exists. This despite the fact that Iowa's ethanol, made from soy beans and corn, gives a us net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere while decreasing America's food supply. Despite all the evidence to the contrary about half of us choose to believe in creationism as if facts are chosen not learned.
Long time member, president, and program chair for SDARI, Keith Taylor thinks we must to take another look at where SDARI is and where it needs to go in this constantly changing world. Thinkers, not dreamers promising "pie in the sky" solutions to problems, must lead the way.
- June 27, 2010 Speaker: Erik Viirre PhD on Why Do We Mis-believe
Dr. Erik Viirre, of UCSD is doing new research on how the brain works and why we make mistakes. Viirre has done research for the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, DARPA and NASA. He is a consultant for groups such as the National Academy of Science and technology companies. He has worked on computer information systems for NASA and served as a medical consultant to X Prize, Zero G and to Virgin Galactic Corporations. He met with Sir Arthur C. Clarke in person and led the medical team that took Professor Stephen Hawking into weightlessness.
- May 23, 2010 Speaker: Dr. Kevin Burns on Birds: Showcases of Evolution.
SDARI is a skeptics group, and we defend science as the method of learning where we come from. Unfortunately, those of us who are untrained in the discipline have a hard time understanding, let lone defending, questions such as, “How on earth can little birds evolve from dinosaurs.” This month’s speaker recognizes that the lay public lacks a knowledge of concrete examples of evolution in action. However, he says, there are many examples of evolution that have occurred in an observable, historical timeframe as well as examples that have occurred over a longer timeframe, and these can be interpreted through the fossil record. This talk highlighted some of these examples, focusing on birds. Included in the presentation is a discussion of the ongoing changes in beak size and shape in Darwin's finches. In addition, the evolution of birds from their non-avian dinosaur relatives. Kevin Burns, is Professor in the Department of Biology at San Diego State as well as Curator of Birds for the SDSU Museum of Biodiversity. He earned his Ph.D at UC Berkeley in 1996 and his M.S. at Louisiana State University in 1991. He graduated with his bachelors in science from Texas A & M in 1988. He was recently elected an Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa in recognition of his contributions to human knowledge.
- April 25, 2010 Annual Science Fair program.
This year was a bit different at our Annual Science Fair Program. We first honored the science writer for the Union-Tribune, Scott LaFee with a plaque thanking him for many years of distinguished science writing. Then Scott, already a three-time speaker for SDARI emceed the program where science fair winners showed their projects and received awards. More about Scott LaFee here.
- March 28, 2010 Speaker: Johnathan Whitmore on Rational Thought at UCSD.
For fifteen years the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry has had a pretty good run, and we're still at it. Our last meeting nearly filled the Joyce Beers center. But what lies ahead? Where will new, vigorous, leaders come from? While critical thinking is inherent in any educational pursuit, and students graduate with the ability to reason and assess facts in the specific disciplines of their course work But some areas are not specifically addressed in formal courses and that is where students can step in. Recently a postgraduate student at UCSD resurrected a freethought group called "Adult Thought," changed the name to "Rational Thought at UCSD, and added the tagline "countering superstitions and religious thought by promoting scientific and rational thought." This young, and still small, group has been ambitious. It headed the effort to bring the eminent scientist, Victor Stenger, to campus for a lecture. On the same day of a huge meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this group drew 240 people.
The head of the UCSD group is Johnathan Whitmore, a PhD candidate in theoretical astrophysics. Whitmore graduated Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University in four years with three majors, Physics, Mathematics, and Philosophy. He is in his 5th year of graduate school at UCSD.
- February 28, 2010 Speaker: David Blair-Loy on The Perpetual Cross.
The cross on Mt. Soledad is a story that just won’t go away. Neither, apparently, will the cross itself. SDARI member Phil Paulson won his case and Judge Thompson ordered it removed in 1991. Then San Diego started appealing, losing every time. It was there and on city property, illegally. Then recently facing a $5000 fine per day for not complying with a court order, a local congressmen managed to transfer the top of a mountain where the cross sits to the federal government. Now it looks like another round of appeals with the case eventually being decided by the Supreme Court. What does all this mean? Where will it end up? Does it really matter? The ACLU thinks it is important. On behalf of the Jewish War Veterans it is still pursuing the case for removing the cross. David Blair-Loy, local legal director, for the ACLU brough us up to date on the case. After graduating Northwestern Law School, Mr. Blair-Loy clerked for the Hon. Dolores K. Sloviter on the Third Circuit. From 1997 to 2004, he was a public defender and a civil rights attorney in Spokane, Washington. In April 2006, he became legal director for the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties. The Daily Transcript named him one of our top ten lawyers in 2009.
- January 24, 2010, Speaker: Sherry Taylor-Englund on Living (to the end) With Dignity.
The San Diego Hospice was established in 1977. It’s mission is to prevent and relieve suffering and promote quality of life through patient and family care, education research and advocacy. They believe "No one should live in pain. No one should live in fear. No one should die feeling alone. Everyone deserves to be a partner in his or her care, not just a patient." Sherry Taylor-Englund is Community Relations Specialist with San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine. She has worked in the field of hospice since 2000. She began her career as a nurse in 1988 and has served 12 years as President of the San Diego Director of Staff Development Association.
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