Don’t Take Medical Advice from Gwyneth Paltrow — My latest Paste Magazine article

Launched in 2008 by Gwyneth Paltrow as a personal newsletter, Goop has since evolved into a lifestyle blog and online store. The website features a wide variety of recipes, travel tips, expensive clothing (seriously, $1,500 for a dress?), detoxes and “holistic” health advice. Recently, for example, Goop did an interview with “earthing” expert Clint Ober, who claims that walking barefoot in the grass can cure depression and insomnia. “The earth has an infinite supply of free electrons,” he explains, “so when a person is grounded, those electrons naturally flow between the earth and the body, reducing free radicals and eliminating any static electrical charge.”

There’s just one problem: there’s no evidence for Ober’s claims. “Our cells don’t need an infusion of electrons,” wrote Dr. Harriett Hall in a 2016 Skeptic article. Hall also explains that there’s “no evidence that EMF [electromagnetic fields] disrupts communications in our body or that grounding protects us from any hypothetical ill effects of using cell phones and other technology,” or that you can absorb elections through the ground. Plus, although feeling grass between your toes feels great, you’re more likely to absorb parasites from the soil than electrons.

Sadly this is just the latest example of Goop trying to pass pseudoscientific woo as legitimate medical advice. Not only are these tips not based on science, but they can also be dangerous.

Click here to read the rest.

The Anti-Vaxx Movement: Where Pseudoscience Meets Ableism — My Latest Paste Magazine Article

In 2015, Sesame Street announced they were introducing a new character with autism named Julia. She first appeared in the 2016 digital storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” and made her official television debut on April 10th of this year. While many believe Julia will help autistic children feel less alone, some aren’t too pleased. According to the anti-vaxx website Natural News, “The rollout of autistic Julia is Sesame Street’s attempt to “normalize” vaccine injuries and depict those victimized by vaccines as happy, ‘amazing’ children rather than admitting the truth that vaccines cause autism in some children and we should therefore make vaccines safer and less frequent to save those children from a lifetime of neurological damage.” The article further claims that Elmo is “exploited as a literal puppet by the vaccine industry to push a pro-vaccine message” using “social engineering propaganda.” With its debunked claims and disturbing rhetoric, Natural News sums up why the anti-vaxx movement is dangerous: it’s based on both pseudoscience and ableism.

Read the rest here.

The Biskeptical Podcast #23: Debunking Transgender Myths

CN: Transphobia, Sexual Assault

Today’s show comes from our friend Ingrid who suggested we talk about myths surrounding being transgender and transitioning, which is exactly what we do on this episode. We get into the science behind gender identity, deconstruct what sociologists actually mean by “gender is a social construct” (spoiler alert: it’s complicated), and, yes, explain why there’s no comparison between Rachel Dolezal and being trans.

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #23: Debunking Transgender Myths” on Spreaker.

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Is the March for Science “Playing Identity Politics?”–My latest for Paste Magazine

CN: Michael Shermer

In the wake of fake news and President Trump’s anti-science policies, organizers announced the March for Science, which will be held on April 22, 2017. “The March for Science demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community,” the official website states. “It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.” Like the successful Women’s March back in January—which had an estimated 4,000,000 attendees nationwide—the March for Science will be held in Washington, DC, along with many other satellite marches worldwide.

Unfortunately, also like the Women’s March, the March for Science is facing controversy over diversity.

Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptic Society, recently voiced opposition to the March for Science’s diversity principles on Twitter. “By making the March for Science political,” he tweeted, “it will be less inclusive & effective [because] ‘social justice’ means different things to people.” Shermer then wrote a blog post further explaining his position, claiming that society has made a lot of progress “since the 1960s … to correct the biases of the past and open the doors to more people in more fields,” including science. Therefore, as Shermer recently tweeted, the March for Science’s emphasis on diverse representation is “identity politics defining who participates in science. Science is for all.”

“He’s totally missing the point if you ask me,” says ecologist Dr. Kaberi Kar Gupta. She is the Principal Scientist for the Urban Slender Loris Project, which aims to educate people about urban biodiversity and conservation by studying the effects of urban life on slender lorises in Bangalore. According to Kar Gupta, there is still a lack of women and people of color in science because of the way science is taught in schools. “The way we teach science with this very type of fixed mindset that science is not for everybody and you have to be smart enough to do science,” she says. “By saying that, we are actually chasing the students away or making students go away from science instead of being interested in science.”

Click here to read the rest.

The Biskeptical Podcast #22: Big Bird Meets Big Pharma

Today on the show we find out how Sesame Street is a shill for Big Pharma with the introduction of the new autistic character Julia. We also go over where this whole idea that vaccines cause autism came from, why the anti-vaxx movement is basically ableism, and why it’s better to have a nonverbal child than a dead child.

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #22: Big Bird Meets Big Pharma” on Spreaker.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #93: Science Enthusiasm with Dan Broadbent and Natalie Newell

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My guests for today are Dan Broadbent and Natalie Newell, hosts of the Science Enthusiast Podcast. Dan is the creator of the Science Enthusiast Facebook page, and Natalie is the co-director of the upcoming “Science Moms” documentary which features Kavin Senapathy, Alison Bernstein, Anastasia Bodnar, Layla Katiraee, and Jenny Splitter. Today we’re going to talk about their backstories, the podcast, and how to make America skeptical again.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #93: Science Enthusiasm with Dan Broadbent and Natalie Newell” on Spreaker.

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Is Gender a Social Construct? Kinda

“Social construct” is one of those weird terms that gets tossed around a lot online without knowing what exactly it means. A lot of people think “social construct” means “made up” or “fictional,” but it’s more complicated than that. Now I’m not a sociologist, so don’t take my word as gospel, but based on what I’ve read, hopefully I can clear up some things.

For starters, according to Dictionary.com, a social construct is “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’through cultural or social practice.” Wikipedia goes a bit deeper and explains, “A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event.” So when it comes to gender being a social construct, it means our society’s ideas about what it means to have either a penis or a vagina are determined by society, not necessarily biology.

Simone deBeauvoir sums it best with the classic line from The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” To be a woman in society is to meet certain preconceived expectations and roles, and if you don’t meet those roles, society says you’re not doing it right. Judith Butler echoes deBeuvoir’s observation by explaining “gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time–an identity through a stylized repetition of acts.” Hence, according to Butler, gender is performative.

Unfortunately, the social construction argument overlooks one key factor that goes into gender: the scientific basis for gender identity.

As I’ve mentioned before, several studies show a connection between neurological patters and gender identity, so the catchphrase “gender is a social construct” doesn’t always show the full picture. I think trans activist and biologist Julia Serano explains it better than I can:

While [queer theory and post-structuralist] feminism differs from [identity-politics-focused/cultural] feminism in many ways, it shares its predecessor’s tendency to artificialize gender expression. This is often accomplished via gender performativity, a concept developed by Judith Butler to describe the way in which built-in expectations about maleness and femaleness, straightness and queerness, are constantly imposed on all of us. Butler uses the term “performativity” to highlight how feminine and masculine norms must constantly be cited. She uses the example of the child who becomes “girled” by others at birth: She is given a female name, referred to with female pronouns, given girl toys, and will, throughout her life, have her “girlness” cited by others in society. Butler argues that this sort of reiteration “produces” gender, making it appear “natural.” However, many other [queer theorists and post-structuralist] feminists have interpreted Butler’s writings to mean that one’s gender is merely a “performance.” According to this latter view, if gender itself is merely a “performance,” then one can challenge sexism by simply “performing” one’s gender in ways that call the binary gender system into question; the most often cited example of this is a drag queen whose “performance” supposedly reveals the way in which femaleness and femininity are merely a “performance.”

In other words, the idea that gender is just performance doesn’t tell the full story.

I think a better way of explaining it is this: gender identity has a scientific basis, but gender roles are social constructs. Rosey Grier isn’t less of a cis man because he crochets. Dori Mooneyham isn’t less of a trans woman because of her butch presentation. AFAB non-binaries are no less non-binary if they present as feminine. Society may say they’re not performing their genders right, but that’s because our society has some fucked up views about what it means to be either a man or a woman. We’re better than this, right?

So yeah, hopefully this clears things up some.

Bi Any Means Podcast #90: Debunking Woo with Kavin Senapathy

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My guest for today is Kavin Senapathy. She’s a skeptic blogger who writes about pseudoscience and woo for Forbes and Grounded Parents, and is the co-author of the book “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House.” Today we’re going to hear about her backstory, her work, and why you shouldn’t get nutrition advice from the Food Babe.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast #90: Debunking Woo with Kavin Senapathy” on Spreaker.

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The Biskeptical Podcast #20: Vagina Woo

Today we discuss all the weird and wacky pseudoscientific woo surrounding vaginal hygiene. We talk about vagina lipstick, jade eggs, steaming, and everything else designed to awake your inner goddess. Plus I read a Dr. Seuss parody written by friend of the show Revan Reborn. Enjoy!

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #20: Vagina Woo” on Spreaker.

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