Recent Entries in Skeptic

  Remember Flim-Flam

Or, "How to be a modern skeptic".

In line to get my badge for this year's skeptics conference in Pasadena, Calif., I recognized the little man standing behind me. He was bald, with a full, white beard, and he looked older than I would have imagined. "Excuse me," he said, "is this the line for the skeptics meeting?" When I nodded, he looked me up and down and replied, "Oh, I doubt that."

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the world's most famous skeptic, the Amazing Randi.

Remember Flim-Flam - How to be a modern skeptic. By Daniel Engber

Status: Some true; many false, exaggerated, or out of context

The hardships and losses endured by many Americans during the struggle for independence were not visited upon the signers alone, nor were they any less ruinous for having befallen people whose names are not immortalized on a piece of parchment.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: History (The Price They Paid)

The nondescript red-brick block in north London barely warrants a second glance, but inside one of the flats is concealed a bizarre world barely comprehensible to most people.

This is the home of Malcolm Poussaint, a self-styled "voodoo priest" who performs harrowing exorcism rituals on children as young as six whom their parents believe are possessed by demons.

Telegraph | News | My exorcisms get results, says voodoo priest of north London

Woohoo! Go Canada!

Canadian discovers Atlantis using PC and satellite imaging.

While searching for the secrets of the Bermuda Tri-angle, Chris Shearer stumbled upon a picture of what he believes is the concentric rings and canal system where Atlantis once flourished. Finding even more pictures on the subject he then concluded that with earlier pictures of the area showed much more sedimentary sand deposits. The hurricanes and tropical storms that happened last year and some of the previous years removed some of the sedimentary sand that was on top of the parts of Atlantis which are now visible. Back in the thirties Edgar Cayce who was a world renowned psychic was quoted as saying that parts of Atlantis would rise in 68 or 69, and indeed they did. The Bimini roads were then discovered along with under water temples which are also visible.

The belief that vitamins can cure radiation sickness, cancer and postpartum depression is a well-established psychological condition that is known widely in the medical community as CFH, short for "completely fucked in the head." L. Ron Hubbard was CFH. Tom Cruise is also CFH. If Tom Cruise wants to give advice on what makes Katie Holmes hot or what Nicole Kidman likes for breakfast, that's fine. Write a book about it. However, on behalf of all sane people everywhere, I respectfully request that Tom Cruise and any other megastars with absolutely no knowledge or training in medicine or whatever other subject may be bothering their puny little minds, shut their mouths and keep their stupid, backwards, malformed, mystical, bullshit ideas to themselves.

What Tom Cruise Doesn't Know Might Hurt You : Mr. Cranky's Culture War : What Tom Cruise Doesn't Know Might Hurt You

  Condemned to Repeat It

Funny story about a world where the skeptics have lost the battle.

Condemned to Repeat It

More roughly than what was probably required, the Bailiff pushed the shackled defendant into the courtroom. The RV-Prosecutor was already seated, as was the Court-Astrologer.

The Psychic-Stenographer entered next, and sat down at her tiny desk. She looked disapprovingly at the older-style manual stenograph machine which sat in replacement of her computerized one. They had dug this relic out of storage when her well-used electronic machine had finally stopped working.

The repairman had done everything he could to fix her original machine before he hauled it away, including Therapeutic Touch and crystal healing. The Psychic-Stenographer wasn't terribly surprised when the TT didn't bring a response (computers had never struck her as the type to respond to warm, human contact), but she had really held out hopes for the crystal amulet to do the trick. She seemed to remember reading long ago that something like a quartz crystal was the heart and guts of these ancient machines. Surely there would be some kind of simpatico. But nothing.

Status: True.

Aficionados of crop circles may continue to debate whether those phenomena are earthly or extraterrestrial in origin, the result of human activity or natural forces, and carry meanings or are purely random, but there's no mystery about the creator, intent, or meaning of the crop field message shown above.

In November 2004, a 46-year-old, third-generation North Dakota farmer named Curtis Wiesz was poring over some of his great uncle's records from 1946, and he discovered that corn sold for $1.45 a bushel that year �€” the very same price his corn crop had fetched in 2004. Frustrated by this seeming lack of economic progress, Wiesz decided to make a point about it by hopping on his tractor and carving a giant message in his 160-acre harvested barley field.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Message from the Field)

  The Skeptic's Dilemma

I wish I had a Blogger account, so I could leave this person a nice comment. 100% agreement on this one, friend. Keep up the good fight.

You Already Know This Stuff: The Skeptic's Dilemma

So, when you read that title, did you automatically draw a conclusion in your mind about what a "skeptic" is? Did that word have a negative or a positive connotation in your mind?

I must admit, when it first occurred to me to write about skepticism this morning, I was thinking about those people who never trust anything unless they have proof; those people who want to live in what they KNOW, not what might be possible; those people who won't support anything new; people who are basically difficult to have a conversation with because they question the logic of every idea. For me, the word had a negative connotation.

I think I really like this Orac person. I hope they'll ley me borrow liberally from their response, in case any smart 14-year-old creationists post on my website. (as opposed to the loser who called me an "athiest bitch" a little while back:


You state that "evolution is a theory, not a fact!" You are half correct in this statement. In actuality, evolution is both a theory and a fact. It is a fact in that evolution has definitely occurred. Indeed, one reason that creationism "evolved" from its original Biblically literal young earth variety to its current "intelligent design" concept is because the evidence that living things evolve is so overwhelming that even most creationists were ultimately forced to acknowledge that evolution has occurred. Evolution is also a theory in that it is a set of ideas that attempts to explain how and why evolution occurs. However, I'm wondering if you are aware of what the word "theory" means to scientists; in science the meaning of the word is different than it is in colloquial use. To most laypeople, the word "theory" in essence suggests an "educated" guess. Indeed, the famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said this about the "just a theory" claim about evolution: "Creationists make it sound like a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being out drunk all night." That they do so (often, but not always, unknowingly) is mainly because of the more rigorous meaning that scientists give to the word "theory" compared to its more common meaning.

You must understand that, to scientists, the word "theory" has a much more specific meaning. To scientists, the word "theory" means a supposition or statement of ideas intended to explain a natural phenomenon (such as the "theory of evolution"). But it is more than that. To scientists, the word "theory" implies that the supposition or statement of ideas at present best explains the available data, has utility as a conceptual principle, and makes predictions regarding the behavior of natural phenomenon. To be recognized as a "theory," such a statement of ideas must be supported by an enormous quantity of data, so much so that scientists at present cannot think of a better set of suppositions that explains the data and makes predictions of natural behavior. So it is with the Theory of Relativity, and so it is with the Theory of Evolution. No other set of ideas comes close to explaining the wealth of fossil, observational, experimental, and molecular biological evidence regarding how species adapt and evolve and how species come to be. Creationism, regardless of whether it's the "intelligent design" or Biblical "young earth" variety does not come close and even contradicts much of the known evidence. That is why scientists do not consider creationism to be a theory. Also, to be useful to scientists, theories must be falsifiable. That means there must be evidence that, if found, would prove the theory incorrect. Creationism fails as a theory in that respect as well, because there is no way any scientist could ever prove that there is no God. That is one reason why scientists consider creationism to be religion or philosophy and not science, and thus not properly part of the teaching of biology. The problem with creationism, as far as scientists go, is that the explanation for unanswered questions becomes, in essence, "God did it." That answer may be fine as a matter of faith, but it does not help science progress.

Respectful Insolence

Angela contacted the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) in an attempt to win their $1,000,000 prize. To become a claimant for the prize, an applicant must first pass a preliminary test that shows whether they have the capability to succeed under stringent conditions. Since Angela lives in the United Kingdom, the JREF asked Tony Youens to organize a test.

Prior to taking the test she seemed very confident and she said she was amazed that no-one had previously won the prize — she seemed to believe that there is a large group of genuine psychics in the world who can win the prize at any time of their choosing. After the test, I suggested that no-one had won the test because paranormal powers aren't real. She did not believe that suggestion and reiterated her idea that James Randi is a very powerful psychic.

Commentary, June 3, 2005, A Preliminary Test for the JREF Prize Is Completed

False.

One of the signs of creeping old fogeyism is finding out how many of the irrefutable truths we learned as youths turned out to be false. Today's being Flag Day reminds me of yet another cardinal rule I assimilated as a child which I later discovered was wrong: that if an American flag is allowed to touch the ground, it should be burned.

The rules we observe with respect to our flag are laid out in the U.S. Code. (These codes specify how the flag should be displayed, but they do not establish any legal penalties for those who violate them.)

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Holidays (Burning Desire)

Journal Gazette | 06/12/2005 | Skeptic's writings challenge 'baloney'

"Science," Michael Shermer writes, "is a great Baloney Detection Kit."

Founder of the Skeptics Society, publisher of Skeptic magazine, columnist for Scientific American, editor of "The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience" and author of "Why People Believe Weird Things," Shermer is a veteran baloney detector.

Fortunately, that is not all science is, or Shermer is. There is plenty of debunking in his new collection of essays, "Science Friction" -- of �€œcold (i.e., psychic) reading,' 'sports science,' recent scandals in anthropology and especially of 'intelligent design' theory as a competitor to evolutionary adaptationism. But there are also meaty accounts of such interesting problems as counterfactuality and complexity in history and of recent controversies in evolutionary theory, entertaining discussions of the most famous episode of "Star Trek" and the causes of the mutiny on the Bounty, along with the author's personal accounts of caring for his dying mother (very affecting) and of his life as a professional skeptic (less so).

Rob McConnell, host and executive producer of the internationally syndicated late night talk show The 'X' Zone Radio Show (www.talkstarradio.com) has once again exposed yet another hoax being committed in the world of the paranormal and the science of parapsychology.

On Tuesday, May 31, Bill McDonald a self proclaimed paranormal researcher was a guest on The 'X' Zone Radio Show and he claimed that two American college students who were spending part of their 2005 March Break in Scotland had hired a local guide and his boat to take them on a tour of the famed Loch Ness so they could take photos of the shore from the Loch.

It was during the photo tour that the boys saw a half eaten carcass of a deer on the shore. Imbedded in the ribs of the carcass was what McDonald claims to be a tooth of the Loch Ness monster.

Canadian Broadcaster Exposes $100,000 Cash Reward for Return of Loch Ness Monster Tooth a Publicity Stunt And Hoax

In real life there are no amateur detectives like Hercule Poirot to bail out bumbling police inspectors and solve cases with nothing more than a few civil interviews and the focussed application of their "little grey cells". So regardless of any perceived imperfections, we have to rely on the professionals who make up our modern police force.

However although there are few, if any, wannabe Hercule Poirots around to trample over police procedure and generally get in the way we do have the entirely superfluous phenomenon of the psychic detective. I honestly try to be charitable to those who believe in what I consider to be the most unlikely of abilities but I am fast developing a special loathing for this particular breed of non psychic.

Commentary - A Skeptic's opinion

Why does the Sydney Morning Herald condemn the pseudoscience of cosmetics while uncritically endorsing baloney such as reiki on the next page? Of course you feel relaxed Ms Brown. You are in a quiet room without a cell phone or the internet, and you probably have some pan-pipes music playing in the background, while your reiki master bores with tales of pilgrimages to the Far East. This is nothing to do with energy fields. This is junk science being used to back up expensive nonsense. Ms Brown has been undergoing reiki treatments for 18 months, which means 36 treatments, probably costing several thousand pounds.

The Times Online guest contributors Opinion

  Dissing Darwin

The invitation was straightforward enough: "The Director of the National Museum of Natural History and Discovery Institute are happy to announce the national premiere and private evening reception for The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe," on June 23. But for the museum's directors, the decision to allow this film to be shown in one of their auditoriums turned out not to be straightforward at all. The Museum of Natural History is known, among other things, for its collection of fossils and its displays describing Darwin's theory of evolution. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, by contrast, is known for its efforts to undermine the teaching of Darwinism in schools and to promote the theory of "intelligent design" -- life is so complicated it must have been designed by an intelligent creator.

For these reasons, the Smithsonian and its Museum of Natural History should have been wary of this project. But the film itself also should have given them pause. The museum's policy, according to its spokesman, is to allow private groups to use its auditorium for a fee -- in this case, $16,000 -- so long as the material shown is not religious or political in content. While "The Privileged Planet" is an extremely sophisticated religious film, it is a religious film nevertheless. It uses scientific information -- the apparently "perfect" position of Earth in its orbit and in its galaxy, the uniqueness of its atmosphere -- to answer, affirmatively, the philosophical question of whether life on Earth was part of a grand design, and not just the result of chance and chemistry. Neither God nor evolution is mentioned. Nevertheless, the film is consistent with the Discovery Institute's general aim, which is to drive a wedge into the scientific consensus about the origins of life and the universe and to give a patina of scientific credibility to the idea of an intelligent creator.

Dissing Darwin

There are creatures that lurk out there in the dark, that haunt the isolated forests of the world, that hide in the icy depths of the deepest lakes. They appear unexpectedly and inexplicably, then vanish just as mysteriously, usually leaving witnesses dumbfounded, frightened and, unfortunately in most cases, without a shred of evidence. Yet the eyewitness stories of these creatures persist, haunting the darkness as well as our imaginations. Here, for your consideration (and in no particular order) are the top 10 most mysterious, unexplained creatures of all time. Some are more likely to really exist than others, but we'll leave that judgment up to you.

The Top 10 Most Mysterious Creatures of Modern Times

True.

This legend combines one of the ultimate academic wish-fulfillment fantasies -- a student not only proves himself the smartest one in his class, but also bests his professor and every other scholar in his field of study -- with a "positive thinking" motif which turns up in other urban legends: when people are free to pursue goals unfettered by presumed limitations on what they can accomplish, they just may manage some extraordinary feats through the combined application of native talent and hard work. And this particular version is all the more interesting for being completely true!

Urban Legends Reference Pages: College (The Unsolvable Math Problem)

The razor-toothed Tyrannosaurus rex, jaws agape, loomed ominously over the gentle Thescelosaurus, looking for plants to eat. Admiring the museum diorama were old and young visitors, listening on headphones to a stentorian voice describing the primeval scene.

But the Museum of Earth History is a museum with a controversial difference. To one side, peering through the bushes, are Adam and Eve. The display is not an image of the Cretaceous. It is Paradise. 'They lived together without fear, for there was no death yet,' the voice intoned about Man and Dinosaur.

Nestling deep in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, in the heart of America's Bible Belt, this is the first dinosaur museum to take a creationist perspective. Already thousands of people have flocked to its top-quality exhibits which mix high science with fundamentalist theology that few serious scientists accept.

The Observer | International | Would you Adam 'n' Eve it ... dinosaurs in Eden


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