25 random things about me

I got tagged by one of my Facebook friends and tasked with writing this list. I thought I might just as well post it here - it is an interesting exercise in introspection and critical (self) thinking. I recommend you do the same - it is not as difficult as it sounds. Here they go:

1. I like cats since I was a small kid. I have "quality time" with my cat every day I am not traveling.

2. To my knowledge I am the first person from Latin America to have passed the STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist. That was in 1997.

3. I like to play the guitar. Not that I still play it... but I like it. I have an Applause which is a poor man's Ovation - sweet!

4. I snore. My wife pokes me on occasion to stop me when I am snoring too loud.

5. I am a Cancer. Not that it means anything... but I am a Cancer. I kind of like the little crab.

6. My first dog was a chihuahua. I don't own dogs anymore but my wife does.

7. My wife is a Leo. My mother is a Cancer and my father was a Leo. Is that a coincidence?

8. I don't drink because after the third or fourth drink I look drunk. I am not drunk but I look every bit the part.

9. When I was a small kid my hero was Captain James T. Kirk. I was in love with Yeoman Janice. She was cute.

10. Before having brothers I had an imaginary friend.

11. My earliest memory is from before I was 3. Look at the picture in my father's blog elsewhere on my profile.

12. I miss my father every day since he died.

13. A very close relative of mine is gay so I have been to all-men-gay parties. They are, well, gay!

14. I sell lubricants. Few of my customers know I am an electrical engineer! I've never worked as an electrical engineer!

15. My mother wanted me to be a doctor (MD). Fortunately, one of my brothers did become a doctor!

16. The first car I wanted to own was a 1965 nightmist blue Mustang Convertible. I was 4.

17. My first car was a 1966 nightmist blue Mustang Coupe, with a 289 V8 engine. I was 22. That car was a pain in the butt but I loved every minute of owning it.

18. I changed my Mustang for a Toyota Corolla. My girlfriend (now my wife) never got over it. She liked the 'stang.

19. I speak german. Or at least I used to...

20. Few of my skeptically minded Facebook friends in the US, UK and Australia realize my native tongue is spanish. Surprise!

21. I learned english by listening to the Beatles and learning EVERY song. Try me!

22. My daughter loves the Beatles' music. She has hijacked my CDs. Luckily, they were ripped before and now reside in my Ipod.

23. I don't listen to music in my Ipod. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I do have a lot of music in it though.

24. I used to be very catholic. My wife still is. That is why I go to church every Sunday.

25. The prettiest woman I have seen on screen (and in Playboy) is Stella Stevens. I am a big fan. She doesn't know...

(And this is to show that these are random thoughts as Stella comes after the church thing - no relationship!)

Skeptics should not be dogmatic

I have been listening to this wonderful Podcast "Escape Pod" (www.escapepod.org) which features a short science fiction story every week or so. They also have "flash" episodes which are even shorter stories, typically 5 to 7 minutes in length. It is a must listen for us, Sci-Fi geek/trekkies/fans.

One of the latest "flash" episodes, "Standards" by the (recently) late Richard K. Lyon gives us skeptics a tongue-in-cheek lesson in healthy skepticism. I suggest you listen to the episode but, without spoiling the fun, it deals with rejection of a scientific paper due to its implausibility even though the author is out there (and can be seen through the windows) demonstrating the very facts that the paper is about!

To listen to this short story is, as I mentioned, hilarious, but it brings home a very serious lesson: We, as skeptics, shoud not be dogmatic and must keep an open mind. Everything may be possible and we should, at least, examine the evidence before declaring a fraud. But we cannot just deny what we think is impossible adopting this very dogmatic posture we so strongly criticize in the fundies (as regards to religion) and the Stanton Friedmans (as regards to UFOs) and so on and so forth.

Skepticism means applying critical thinking to the evidence and weighing the pros and cons in order to reach a conclusion. Skeptics have to be inquisitive, curious and open-minded. Applying the scientific method is the way to the truth for a real skeptic and evidence (or lack of it) will determine whether a given phenomenom exists or not.

Skepticism is not disbelief. In reality, skepticism is not related to belief. The concept of belief implies acceptance of facts based on faith and faith has no place in the scientific method. Acceptance of facts, basis the evidence, is what substitutes belief for a skeptic. And this acceptance (or lack of it) will be subject to change as new evidence surfaces.

And this is the whole point of this posting. A dogmatic posture is not amenable to change; by definition it is fixed and cannot be changed. And a true skeptic will always be willing to change his/her mind as long as the evidence is there.

A fallacious appeal to authority

Our esteemed James Randi is said to always answer when someone introduces himself as an skeptic "I doubt that". I was reminded of that answer a couple of days ago when Facebook indicated the birthday of a new skeptic friend, who writes an interesting blog, in spanish. I wrote on his wall saying "Although I doubt it is your birthday, given the lack of evidence (I haven't seen your birth certificate) congratulations are not wasted so happy birthday!".

I didn't really expect a direct reply but he wrote back thanking me and asking me to forgo evidence and accept his falacious authority.

It was good and clean fun between skeptics but it illustrates what critical thinking is. Why should I believe it was Antonio's birthday? Because he says so? Granted, you might say that the biggest authority on all things Antonio is himself. However, people have been known to lie about their birthday and it really does not prove that such and such a day is my birthday just because I say so. (Especially if I am proven to celebrate my birthday more than once a year or on different dates every year).

This is the "appeal to authority" fallacy - just because someone says it, it does not mean it is true. There most be independent proof or corroboration.Especially when the person stating the fact is talking about something outside of their normal field of expertise - being an authority in comedy or nudism (Jenny McCarthy?) does not make you an expert on public health (vaccination and autism?)

So, don't believe everything you hear and say. Even if it is in the Bible, it does not mean it is true because it is written in the Bible. (Hear that Corny?) There must be a way to independently prove the point or we will be no better than those who believe vaccination is bad because Jenny McCarthy says so.

And everyone is always trying to have us believe claims basis an appeal to authority - just watch informmercials or Larry King Live and have fun debunking all those claims!

Happy new year to all!