Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Skeptic on a Ghost Hunt

Sometimes, as skeptics, it is really easy to get bored with those same old “woo woo” topics that have been done to death again and again. And it is so easy to dismiss claims and experiences off the cuff because, dammit, we know these things have been investigated before. Ghost hunting is one of those topics where the techniques have been talked about and exposed and, dare I say, debunked time and time again. And yet, they are still so popular in the mainstream. Why? I decided it was about time to find out with a first hand experience into the dark and spooky world of the ghost hunt.
Okay, really? The opportunity presented itself while I was doing something completely different, so I figured, why not? I was at a small local sci-fi and fantasy convention some months ago where I had been asked to speak about astronomy and skepticism. While browsing some of the fan tables, I noticed that there were several local ghost-hunting groups in attendance. Even better, they were planning a ghost hunting experience right there at the Con for free! How could I NOT sign up?
Late that night, my ever-faithful boyfriend and I came back to the conference center for our spooky experience. Tim is, may I say, quite a good sport. He lets me drag him around to all sorts of crazy events related to science and skepticism and now this ghost hunt. Thought he would never self-identify as a “skeptic,” he didn’t exactly expect to make contact with the other side and probably thought I was silly for wanting to do this. I, however, was damn determined to treat this like a mini-science project and observe all that I could about the experience. If any ghosties wanted to make themselves known, now was the time with a skeptic in the room!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Enron scandal

The Enron scandal, revealed in October 2001, eventually led to the bankruptcy of the Enron Corporation, an American energy company based in Houston, Texas, and the de facto dissolution of Arthur Andersen, which was one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world. In addition to being the largest bankruptcy reorganization in American history at that time, Enron was attributed as the biggest audit failure.

Enron was formed in 1985 by Kenneth Lay after merging Houston Natural Gas and InterNorth. Several years later, when Jeffrey Skilling was hired, he developed a staff of executives that, through the use of accounting loopholes, special purpose entities, and poor financial reporting, were able to hide billions in debt from failed deals and projects. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and other executives not only misled Enron's board of directors and audit committee on high-risk accounting practices, but also pressured Andersen to ignore the issues.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Why "Armchair Skeptic"?

I first heard the term "armchair skeptic" about two years ago, on the JREF cruise to Alaska. One of the guest speakers was complimenting the others for all the work they had done promoting skepticism and fighting against the purveyors of pseudoscience, and in trying to encourage the attendees to be skeptical activists, the speaker made a rather sneering reference to those who aren't activists as being mere "armchair skeptics".

That set my back up a bit. I certainly admire and appreciate the work that skeptical celebrities like James Randi, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, and others have done over the years to promote science, skepticism, and critical thinking. I also admire the hard work put in by field investigators, like Joe Nickell, who spend countless hours looking for evidence and explanations for paranormal claims.

I also think it's terrific that ordinary people have had the wherewithal to start projects like Stop Sylvia Browne and What's the Harm?. But there are a lot of us out there with busy lives that don't have the time, energy and resources to be a skeptical activist or investigator.

That doesn't mean the rest of us are just sitting on the sidelines. Applying critical thinking in our daily activities &mdash at home, at work, with our friends and families &mdash may not be activism, but it sets an example. If even one of your friends, colleagues, or family members follows that example, you've made a difference. You don't have to set out to change the world; realistically, most of us can't. That's nothing to be ashamed of or to be scorned. The world needs armchair skeptics, too.