The PASS is looking for writers for short monthly pieces on topics of skeptical interest. They can be about anything from classic skeptical topics like UFOs, psychics, and conspiracies, to modern issues like vaccines, evolution, and climate change–and just about anything else of interest to skeptics (science, food, finance, government, health, technology, consumer protection, pop culture, etc.)
If you’re interested in contributing to the local skeptical movement in the greater Phoenix area, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This book club meeting was a point/counter point between two books with varying views. We read The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley (2003) and Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine. The group felt that each of these books strongly took one side of the nature vs. nurture debate. The Red Queen argues that gender differences are based in nature and Delusions of Gender argues for nurture. Members discussed the idea that culture and genetics inform each other; culture can affect genetics just as genetics can affect culture. In a sense, culture is a continuum that is constantly changing and “evolving” from previous renditions. The group discussed the authors’ biases towards their standpoint given Ridley’s background in zoology and Fine’s background in psychology. The group was somewhat skeptical of the quality of evidence presented, particularly in the Delusions of Gender which argues that cultural assumptions cause gender differences. The group would have liked to see more concrete examples of studies including information on methodology, sample size, effect size and resulting significance tests. The group conceded that if the evidence Fine produced held up under scrutiny, society may then need to consider Fine’s arguments about our culture causing gender differences.
Join us next month on March 15 for a discussion on Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain. From Amazon.com:
Science writer Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.
March’s book club comes immediately after an upcoming special event: A Evening With Chris Mooney on Monday, March 11, 2013. It will be interesting and fun to discuss Mooney’s book after meeting him in person. Don’t miss either event!
(Special thanks to Rose for helping with this entry in my absence.)
January’s book club explored the issue of our food supply: Why do humans eat what we eat? Where does it come from? How have humans changed food? Has food changed us? To begin, we discussed Michael Pollen’s “Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” In this book, Pollan claims that flowers and plants are not passive participants, and instead are lively participants in the process of coevolution with humans. Pollan asserts that some plants satisfy basic human desires. In his book Pollan details four such examples: (1) apples represent sweetness, (2) tulips represent beauty, (3) marijuana represents pleasure and (4) potatoes represent sustenance. In the depiction of these plants’ abilities to satiate human desires, Pollan paints a picture of coevolution whereby plants aren’t passive and may actually be using humans to survive similarly to the way humans use plants to survive. In general, book club readers liked this book but some members found this book to be a bit to verbose and lacking sufficient scientific support.
Next we discussed Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Food by Federoff and Brown. This book attempts to tackle the issues of whether genetically modified food is safe and whether common safety concerns are valid. The book describes the history of agriculture and plant modification beginning with the so-called “natural” breeding processes to the more modern “genetic modification.” The authors argue that genetically modified food isn’t much different from “natural” hybrid crosses farmers have been using for many years, and assets that this method is less likely to result in error. The authors also explain how the use of genetically modified food could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers in the environment while simultaneously feeding a fast growing population. Those members of the book club who were wary about genetically modified food were somewhat swayed by this book’s pervasive and well-backed arguments regarding the safety of genetically modified food and its potential for environmental conservation.
Join us on Friday, February 22 for our next Skeptic Book Club Discussion on Gender Differences. We will be reading two books with varying views on the issue: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley (2003) and Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine (2011). Please check out Phoenix Skeptics in the Pub at http://www.meetup.com/phoenixskeptics for more information and to RSVP.