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Monday, November 16, 2015

Skepticism and critical thinking in Oklahoma

Oklahoma seems to be known for a few things. Cattle, cowboys, tornadoes, OU, football, James Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Sally Kern, farmers, the bible belt, rodeos, meth labs, and country musicians. And did I mention the tornadoes and meth labs? (there's a movie idea. MethNado! starring Jodie Sweetin, Eddie Van Halen and Ted Haggard)  But we have something else in this state. We have some very good skeptics and critical thinkers.  Not too bad in a state that regularly is in the news for people doing some really weird shit because of magical thinking. We do have a few notable skeptics that I feel really need to be talked about and get more attention from the larger skeptical community. I can't mention everyone in the skeptical community here in Oklahoma, though I think everyone in all the skeptical, free thought, and critical thinking groups really do deserve more notice than they currently get. So, first of all, to everyone, thank you for fighting the good fight, and if I don't mention you, I am truly sorry. You all deserve more recognition for what you do. Unfortunately, I don't know you all personally, though I would really like to. So if you ever see me in public, come up and say hi. I haven't bitten anyone in weeks now. I am only going to talk a bit about the few I know personally, and hopefully get more people interested in what they do.

Dr. Bryan Farha:
Dr. Farha (better dressed fellow on the right)


Dr. Bryan Farha is the first skeptic I'm going to talk about. He is the professor and director of Applied Behavioral Studies/Counseling at Oklahoma City University (OCU). and slightly notorious with the psychic community. I met him originally when I asked him to come and speak to OSS about his books "Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis" and "Pseudoscience and Deception: The Smoke and Mirrors of Paranormal Claims", which you can buy on Amazon, and I highly recommend reading them. He has also written for The Huffington Post and Skeptic Magazine. I had been following his work for years and didn't realize it. He is also notorious for challenging the late Sylvia Browne concerning her acceptance of the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge. She had accepted the challenge, then back down, claiming there was no money. Dr Farha sent a certified letter to her showing the money. She still didn't respond, so when she appeared on the Larry King show, he called in, and he does admit he lied to get through the screeners. When he got to talk to her, he asked her why she still hadn't done the Challenge like she had said she was going to. You can read a bit more about it on Quackwatch.com. He is very personable and funny, and has been willing to help out or answer questions any time I've asked. He was also on a panel during Oklahoma's first skeptical conference. along with 2 other skeptics and 3 believers in various pseudoscience. He has probably been involved in the skeptical community longer than any of the others that I'm going to talk about, but he doesn't really have much of an online presence.

Dr. Caleb Lack:
Dr. Lack presenting at SkeptiOKcon

Dr. Caleb Lack is an author of quite a few books a blogger for the Skeptic Ink Network, and is also an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Counseling Practicum Coordinator in the Department of Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), as well as the sponsor for the UCO Skeptics. I met him, much like Dr. Farha, when I asked him to come and speak at a Skeptics in the Pub for OSS. He is an excellent presenter and funny as hell. In terms of his books, Dr. Lack primarily writes about psychological issues and anxiety disorders. You can but them on Amazon as well. His books are written so even a layperson like myself can read them and understand what he is discussing. Dr. Lack has also been very active in the local skeptical community, presenting several talks on research concerning paranormal beliefs, hosting Oklahoma's first skeptical conference, SkeptiOKcon, handing out pamphlets in right before a psychic's show, doing interviews for podcasts, and attending several SiTP's. He also has a pretty good online presence. He has a website, www.caleblack.com, he's occasionally on Twitter @professorlack, and he has a public Facebook page . You can also read his blog, The Great Plains Skeptic on the Skeptic Ink Network, or watch him on YouTube, which has videos of some of his lectures. He has always been willing to give me a hand or answer a question, and has even gone out of his way to help with a certain project I was attempting.

The Blueball Skeptics:

The Blueball Skeptics is a podcast hosted by a couple of fellow Oklahomans, Damion Reinhardt and Chas Stewart. The don't put out a lot of episodes, but what they have are pretty good, including an interview with Caleb Lack and another with DJ Grothe. Personally, I think episodes 6&7 are their best to date. Damion and chas are both fairly active on Twitter, and you can follow them @D4M10N and @BirdTerrifier respectively. You can also follow the podcast @BlueBallSkeptic. Damion also writes for The Skeptic Ink Network under Background Probability. Damion has also given a presentation for OSS that ended up being titled "Listen to Data or people gonna die!" and I created an image for it:
                                 (Not too bad, if I say so myself)
I met both of these fellows at Dr. Lacks presentation for OKSS. They were funny, and very sharp. They can be a bit acerbic at times, but it's mostly meant in good humor. Like everyone else I've already mentioned in this post, I greatly enjoy getting to talk to these guys, and they've been a big help whenever I've had questions or needed help.

Beth, Collin, and Riley:
Finally, I have to mention the three most important skeptics in my life. My wife is the one that actually introduced me to the skeptical community, though at the time it was a misunderstanding on my part. (I know I've told the story already, but it's still funny) She told me about a little podcast called "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe". I thought it was a continuation of the "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy." I listened to them and realized that I wasn't the only person that thought the way I do, and was instantly hooked. Since then she has not only tolerated all my wild and crazy ideas, like starting a scientific skepticism organization in Oklahoma when everything else seemed to be more atheist based, doing the SiTP's, finding speakers, writing this blog, and joining 2 podcasts and starting one of our own (coming soon! Working Title is now "Those Blasted Skeptics!"), but she has actually encouraged me to continue, even when I get so frustrated or depressed (yes, I do deal with depression) that I just want to give up. She has been my base when I need a reality check, and the ice to my inferno when I get pissed about some BS woo that's cropped up. I've known her for nearly 20 years, and she has always been able to keep me in check, which she will probably admit, isn't easy. She is one of the main reasons that The Skeptical Okie even exists. My sons are also important skeptics in my life, though one of them is only a few months old. Collin, the older boy, has already debated with a Bigfoot believer, (ask Caleb if you follow him on Twitter), introduced me at an SiTP, and spoken a bit in front of the crowd. I believe that makes him officially the youngest person to speak at a Skeptics in the Pub. (Our SiTP events aren't held at an actual pub. I live in Oklahoma, so there aren't really such things as English pubs. Ours are held at a restaurant called Picasso Cafe in Oklahoma City) He also has a segment on the upcoming podcast called "5 minutes with Collin". He also encourages me to continue fighting the good fight, and actually reminds me to keep asking questions.

I hope that this demonstrates that Oklahoma doesn't have just the stereotypical gun toting, tobacco chewing, bible thumping, right wing rednecks.
The skeptical community here in the land of crazy is actually surprisingly large and active. Many folks have been doing what we would now call skeptical activism for years. There are many very active critical thinkers that manage to combine the values of skepticism and the typical Oklahoma traits of compassion, helping one another, and alcohol. I mean good natured fun. Yes, we are a slightly unique breed of skeptic in Oklahoma, but we do our damndest to help make the world a better place for everyone. I really want everyone that reads this blog to look into what Bryan, Caleb, Damion, and Chas have been doing, follow them on the various social media, buy, or at least borrow their books, and give them some love.

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