Native Skeptic

Native Skeptic
Apache Crown Dancers 1887: http://www.firstpeople.us/photographs2/Apache-Spirit-Dancers-1887.html

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this site, please feel free to read my "Diary of a Native Skeptic" page, especially if this is your first visit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why I Care About Science and Skepticism and Why You Should Too

I get excited when I am talking about science, it's process, and the power it bestows. I am supremely passionate about the importance of critical thinking skills and the pivotal role scientific skepticism plays in making any endeavor successful. What draws me to both science and scientific skepticism, is how they can both be useful to everyone at any level. Kids, young adults, and up to professionals in any field. 

How does science and skepticism tie into your life?

I grew up hearing all kinds of stories from different cultures and as a kid I was a fan of reading scary camp fire tales. I was always a pretty avid reader and amongst the collection I consumed were books on the paranormal and supernatural. My cultural beliefs were full of the supernatural, so I already had a foundation in me for things like psychic, ghosts, and monsters like Bigfoot. Not too far removed from that, was new age mysticism. After I started getting into martial arts, I entered a world of eastern philosophy that is filled with energy charts and acupressure points. At some point, I just realized there must be a way to discern what is real and what is the truth as best as it can be defined. 

Being such a heavy reader as a child helped with my writing as I got older. The philosophy of martial arts from Bruce Lee lead me into studying Taoism, which prepared me for abstract thinking when I got to ethics and philosophy courses. I feel that my journey on the outside fringes of science ultimately lead me to where I am now. So, I speak from a place of personal knowledge on things I once believed whole heartedly. I make it a point to not dismiss the things I know nothing about. I usually only give my opinion on the things I have experience with and researched myself. 

After I got to college, my writing progressed from doing so many essays, technical papers, and projects. After college, I used those skills and combined them with a newfound love for science. Once I discovered how poor the general understanding of science was amongst the public, I quickly identified myself as being one of those people. Science literacy became my new interest. 

Why do I care? And why should others?

Carl Sagan was one of the most famous scientists to promote this brand of scientific skepticism. A large part of his work was in informing the public about the dangers of pseudoscience and the importance of being able to differentiate the good from the bad. "Our world is built upon science and technology that people do not understand." If people are not informed, who will make the important decisions that affect the future of where science will take us? That decision should be left to the people. With all of the misinformation on the Internet and the fact that some beliefs can have harmful consequences like those concerning health, the question should be, why doesn't everyone care? Why don't you?


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Greatest Accomplishments Have Humble Beginnings

One of my proudest accomplishments to date was for something that I did for the Committee for Scientific Inquiry and the Skeptical Briefs newsletter. I was asked to write some articles special for the subscribers to the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine. For my first article, I decided to investigate the subject of Native American Thunderbirds. 

I was proud of the work and how the piece came out, it was more exciting to see the finished product amongst other skeptics that I hold in high regards such as Sharon Hill of the Doubtful News website and one of the most prolific scientific paranormal investigators, Joe Nickell. I would print out copies to hand out to my friends and family. However, for this particular subject I got much more involved. For instance, I did not just include pictures for the sake of including them. I went out and around the city, even visiting a museum, to capture the Native American influences specifically depicting Thunderbirds.

Like most with most scientific investigations, I ended up spending most of the time in the library. I remember being excited to see that first issue come in the mail. It wasn't until months later that I received an e-mail from my then editor, scientific paranormal investigator extraordinaire Benjamin Radford, asking me if he could reference my article in his new book. I was floored. 

Somewhere down the line, I moved, got away from writing for a while and just when I forgot about the article, my Mom called me with the news that she had gotten the book, Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Magic, and Monsters In the Land of Enchantment. It meant more to me that she got to see it before I did. Once I got that copy in my hand, I found and flipped it to Chapter 7 Thunderbirds: Mysterious Giants in the Sky to find my name amongst the list of references. 

I guess there was never a feeling of real accomplishment until that moment. You don't really know if people are actually reading what you write. But, once someone contacts me or something like this happens, it makes it all seem like it was a successful endeavor. That was probably one of my most proudest accomplishments to date. It is weird to see my name in the work cited page of a published book, and at the same time, I always knew I would be in a book someday. Perhaps, I will write my own book next!

If you would like to read the Thunderbird article, click here.

Image from: http://benjaminradford.com/books-by-ben-radford/mysterious-new-mexico-miracles-magic-and-monsters-in-the-land-of-enchantment/an-excerpt-from-mysterious-new-mexico/

Friday, November 27, 2015

Enlightenment Through Empowerment

The thing that most consistently makes me happy, is helping others. I love it when people I know, or don't know, ask me questions. Whether it is about Native American culture or even things like the paranormal or supernatural, I am always intrigued to hear the next story. But, mostly my friends just ask me if a story is real or fake. I have had people write to me and introduce new mysteries and interesting research topics too.

People appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the responses more than the actual answers themselves. Usually, I think people are already leaning towards something not being true before they even ask me. Sometimes, things are just confusing due to all the noise on the Internet. Pick any subject, and like Alice go down the bunny hole where the information gets messy quick. Medicine has alternative medicine, astronomy has astrology, and physics has quantum new age mysticism. There is an imposter trying to cheaply imitate nearly every field of science. 

It is nice when people thank me for helping them find an answer, but the thing that makes me feel happy is when I can show them how to do it on their own. It's like helping others get fish by catching them myself. But, what my goal is for them to be able to catch their own fish. I would like it if people could better find things out for themselves. That is a good feeling. These are things I would do without being paid to do them. 

Ultimately, I like leadership roles and seek out teaching opportunities. That is probably why the most influential people in my life have been my Mother, philosophers, and science giants like Carl Sagan. Coaching is something I am passionate about because I understand the importance of learning and the ways that education can help people living in poverty to get out of it. So, there is no better feeling to me than knowing I have helped to give someone the tools to figure things out for themselves. That's real empowerment. 



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Makes You Angry About the World and What Do You Wish Was Different?

What constantly makes you mad about the world? What do you wish was different about it?

The thing that constantly makes me angry about the world is pseudoscience. It's misleading, often unethical, and even dangerous. People that use pseudoscience to knowingly deceive by operating off of others ignorance and vulnerabilities is the worst of the worst to me. The modern day snake-oil salesman. 

I wish that everyone could distinguish science from pseudoscience. I wish the world paid teachers good salaries, admired their roles more, and were held with more respect. Maybe that would turn out better science teachers and in effect improve general science education. 

I wish critical thinking was taught on a scale that rivals other subjects like the most common academic ones so that people would be given decision making and tools for reason to figure things out for themselves. It would make it tougher to be taken advantage of, and at the same time, easier to acquire new knowledge. Learning critical thinking is like self-defense training for your brain. Mental Jiu-Jitsu. 

I wish that science was as big a part of popular culture as any celebrity is today and scientific language was more a part of the public lexicon. A world with less pseudoscience, is a world filled with less noise. 

Science is something we all like to think we know, but my personal experience has shown me that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Back in 1989, American astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan spoke about the problem of having such a lack of science literacy amongst the general public in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer. He cites a then recent survey which suggested that, "94 percent of Americans are 'scientifically illiterate'" (Sagan 1989). An example of it appearing in our culture came with a story about an encounter he had with a driver picking him up from the airport named Mr. Buckley who recognized his name and excitedly wanted to ask the popular scientist a few questions. 

"Mr. “Buckley”—well-spoken, intelligent, curious—had heard virtually nothing of modern science. He wanted to know about science. It’s just that all the science got filtered out before it reached him. What society permitted to trickle through was mainly pretense and confusion. And it had never taught him how to distinguish real science from the cheap imitation" (Sagan 1989).

That is the perfect way to describe pseudoscience, cheap imitation. 


Image from SkepticalRaptor.com Pseudoscience and Science - Bullshit vs Rational Thought.

Sources:

1. Sagan, Carl. 1990. Why We Need To Understand Science. Skeptical Inquirer. (Vol. 14.3). Available online: (http://www.csicop.org/si/show/why_we_need_to_understand_science).

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Blog That Matters...


Never have I felt so humbled, insignificant, and at the same time connected to everything than I do with a scientific worldview. Hopefully, I will start even more connections as this process goes on. For the next few weeks, I am going to start the exercise of writing new posts on the regular. One every other day. This first post will be a short story about my background, why I decided to start this blog, and what I hope to get out of it.

There are countless blogs out there, and you pick almost any subject, there are hundreds of them dedicated to it. So, that begs the next question, what will make my blog site different from the plethora of science and skeptics blogs? 

Firstly, I wanted to do something that would make a difference. Something that would matter. Initially, I just wanted to put things in my head out there and found a larger community of like-minded individuals that inspired me to do better. I felt a gained responsibility to help others not be taken advantage of and grew into a consumer advocate. It felt like it was my civic duty. These are the things I feel to be most important and promoting scientific literacy and critical thinking are causes I believe to be worth following. This is my way of doing something to make the world to be a better place by helping others. These are things that changed my life and I know they will do the same for others. 

I had the unique experience of growing up going between a major metropolitan city to a lowly reservation. Throughout my childhood, I would visit my family on and around the reservation during my breaks from school. Eventually, I spent a great deal of time living there. After being in these somewhat compete opposite places, I still feel like I am not fully here or there, but still wondering somewhere in between. 

In a long round about way that brings me to why I decided to start this blog in the first place and what I hoped to get out of it. While everyone has their own unique experience and perspectives, there are not many Native American scientific skeptics. Even less Apache, Navajo, and Hopi skeptics. As am I. 

From the beginning, my intentions were to show my work of how I began the transition from a spiritual person seeking answers to the meaning of life and the universe and obsessed with knowing God, to the heathen obsessed with science and reason that I am today. In the midst of all that, I was also forced to confront all the tribal belief systems that were just as big a part of my personal identity as the Christian one. So, maybe this is my way of talking to my younger self and giving the advise I needed to shorten the journey and better filter out all the noise. A way to save people from wasting it on the unlikely; paranormal, supernatural, Qi fields, alternative medicine, and eastern medicine modalities. Instead of starting my investigations on what we don't know, I flipped the script and focused in on what we do know. 

Thus began my adventure traveling through hundreds of years of science history! But, I will save that story for another time. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Never Give Up


What is a movie if there is no audience to watch it? Is it still a movie? 


Over 22 years in the making...this is a story of never giving up. River Phoenix was just as thoughtful in life as he was passionate and committed to the roles he portrayed. He was mindful of people and their connection to each other. But, that thoughtfulness did not just end there. His love and respect for Indigenous people brought up another issue which included a much broader picture, the environment. 

This is how I got involved. Years ago, I wrote a post about the subject of Downwinders, a term used to describe the people affected by the harmful levels of radiation due to the mining of uranium or the nuclear bomb Nevada Test Site. The term started with the Navajo uranium miners becoming sick and now has extended to include those exposed to contamination of the soil and water surrounding these dangerous abandoned mines. 

In the film Dark Blood, Phoenix's character storyline encompasses this very subject. 

A sound designer from the Netherlands named Harold Jalving contacted me inquiring into some of the details of the Downwinders article, and through that, began to tell me about the film crusade he was currently on. I found his story to be absolutely compelling and wanted to help with the journey in any way that I could. 


While this account of past events has a somber beginning, leading with memories of the untimely death of River Phoenix, its' ending doesn't have to be all gloomy and starless too. With your help, there is hope at the end of a dark tunnel. 

Like the page on Facebook, or share the story and show your support at these links to the Indiegogo and YouTube video pages. 




For more about the film Dark Blood, you can read a review by Variety on their website: (https://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/dark-blood-1117948612/)