Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The NECSS of Thought and Reality - Year 4 (Part 2)

Yesterday, I shared my review of the first day of the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS), which took place April 12-13 in New York City, a joint effort of the New York City Skeptics and the New England Skeptical Society. The conference is an opportunity to bring together individuals from around the world who share an interest in science and critical thinking. This was the sixth year of NECSS and my fourth year attending.

The first day of the conference covered a wide range of topics, from how to teach kids to be critical thinkers, to the clash between religion and medicine, the neuroscience behind whether or not we have free will to women in science. Always a highlight was the live show of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe just after lunch, with special guest Dr. Paul Offit. Keynote speaker Lawrence Krauss gave an engaging and informative talk about spherical cows and simplified physics to close out day 1 of the conference. For those who didn't want it to end there, however, the SGU private show gave about 40-50 people the chance for a behind-the-scenes look at the popular science podcast, while others headed to the pub for some casual chatting and socializing over drinks at Drinking Skeptically.

An eventful day and informative start to the two-day conference, I was left contentedly exhausted and looking forward to day two.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The NECSS of Thought and Reality - Year 4 (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently attended the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) from April 12-13 in New York City. NECSS is a joint effort of the New York City Skeptics and the New England Skeptical Society, bringing together individuals from around the world who share an interest in science and critical thinking. Speakers and attendees alike have widely varying backgrounds. There are scientists, philosophers, astronauts, teachers, clinicians, activists, bloggers and artists. For their sixth year, the conference attracted over 400 people from 27 different states and 7 countries. This was my fourth year attending. To get a sense of past years, read my reviews of NECSS 2011, 2012 and 2013 (part 1 and part 2).

For those new to the scene, you may be wondering what all this "skeptics" and "skepticism" is about. Most people may think of it as simply doubting or questioning something, and nothing else. But it is a great deal more than that. The skeptical outlook, for me at least, involves critically examining claims and evidence, evaluating their validity, and accepting or rejecting the claim as the evidence warrants. It is the application of critical thought to every aspect of life. The same methods can be applied to figuring out whether or not Bigfoot exists, whether a medical product works or deciding which politician is full of crap and which one is...less so. Skepticism demands that we not only think critically about others, but apply the same unflinching inquiry to ourselves. We may not be comfortable changing our views, but we must go where the evidence leads.

NECSS attracts these types of people. And it's a good chance to reconnect with people you may have met online or at past conferences, as well as meet new people. This year, I met Clay Jones, a pediatrician and contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog, and documentarian Scott Thurman, director of The Revisionaries. I also got to chat with some of the speakers and see friends from NECSSes past.

But enough about all that. Let's see what this year's conference had to offer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dr. Jay Gordon and "Irrelevant" Vaccines

This past weekend I was at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS). This was their sixth year, and the fourth that I've attended. I was going to work on my review of the conference last night, but something popped up that I just had to address. So, the NECSS 2014 review will have to wait a little longer.

I realize that I just wrote about Dr. Jay Gordon back on April 1 when he mistakenly tried to say that the incidence of measles in the latest outbreak in California could be calculated by dividing the cases by the total population of the state rather than by the susceptible population. But I made the mistake of checking Twitter to see if Dr. Jay Gordon had responded to a couple questions/comments I directed to him, as well as to see if anyone else said anything. I've noticed that he's taken to pretty much ignoring me when I point out his mistakes or clarify something he's said, so I wasn't surprised that he hadn't responded to me. What caught my attention, though, was a brief video shared by someone else.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dr. Jay's Magical Math

You would expect pediatricians, especially Fellows of the American Association of Pediatrics, to know at least a little bit about epidemiology and to give others a proper, fact-based picture of what vaccine-preventable diseases can do. At the very least, you would not expect them to get things so spectacularly wrong that you wonder how they ever managed to get their license, let alone their degree. Yet that is exactly what one pediatrician does on a fairly regular basis. In fact, the things I'm about to describe I actually wrote about three years ago. I'm speaking of Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP, and in the time since that 2011 post, he doesn't seem to have learned anything. You'll see what I mean in a bit.

For those who don't know, Dr. Gordon is a California pediatrician who regularly downplays the risks of disease and advocates alternative vaccination schedules, as well as skipping vaccines altogether as "unnecessary". He is a darling of the anti-vaccine movement, since he supports their views that vaccines may be, somehow, dangerous. In fact, he is (or was) the pediatrician for Jenny McCarthy's son. Jenny, as you may or may not known, made quite a name for herself as the celebrity spokesperson for the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue. Yet Dr. Gordon also appears to desperately crave the acceptance of his science-based peers.