Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Headmaster: No Vampires At Our School

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

The headmaster of one of the city’s most prestigious exam schools is dealing with an unusual rumor sweeping student classrooms.

There are no vampires at Boston Latin School, says headmaster Lynne Moone Teta.Seriously.Students at the school, which was founded in 1635, began e-mailing news organizations Wednesday night with the strange story of vampires roaming the halls.

“Supposedly 3 students believe that they are vampires and today when a student was bitten the police were informed,” wrote one student in a message to TheBostonChannel.com. “I heard that one girl was arrested another suspended.”

Police, however, denied reports that anyone at the school was bitten.

The rumors were strong enough to cause anxiety among the student body and disrupt classes on Thursday.”I seek your cooperation in redirecting your energy toward the learning objectives of the day. Please do not sensationalize or discuss these rumors,” Teta wrote in a notice obtained by the Boston Globe and sent to faculty, students and parents.

Teta said she was concerned that some students’ safety might be jeopardized because of the rumors.

“At no time was anyone’s safety in jeopardy,” she wrote.

In its long, rich history the school’s students have included revolutionary firebrands Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Hancock, but likely never vampires.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “WCVB BOSTON”

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How to waste limited research money

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

Let’s try experimenting on talking to tomatoes to make them grow more/faster. I kid you not (Hi Gov. Palin!)

Much-derided claims that talking to plants can help them grow are being tested in a serious study at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) gardens.

For 30 days tomato plants at Wisley in Surrey will “listen” to voices through MP3 headphones attached to their pots.

Growth will be measured before, during and after the experiment and compared to “control plants” left in silence.

Wisley gardener Colin Crosbie says there is “solid evidence” certain sounds encourage healthy growth.

“We’re taking it very seriously. A lot of people are thinking this is an April Fool but it’s quite serious,” he told the BBC.

“We want to get a great diversity of voices. There’s great variation in the human voice, and there might just be the perfect voice for talking to plants.

Well I think this is an April Fool too, just for the record. Because this is quite silly, and I can’t imagine a serious researcher actually going through with this. Although I must say, for the sake of the truth we must do research on ridiculous claims as well, but I am willing to go on the record with this prediction: Study will fail to show that “talking” has any effect on plants. True believers will immediately rationalize that you can’t use headphones, or the volume wasn’t quite high or low enough, or that it has to have “intention” behind the talk, or that it takes a certain kind of voice etc. etc.

And the silliness does not end here, for it appears they have high hopes for this experiment.

“We’re having fun too, but it could be very beneficial.”

“For the first time we will be able to advise people not only whether it’s worth talking to their plants but exactly how it should be done.

“We may even be able to standardise the practice by recording the perfect voice for those less confident in conversing with their plants.”

Toby Buckland, lead presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World, said: “A lot of thinking behind this is that if a gardener is relaxed, it helps the plants grow better.

“Plants do pick up on your stress, that’s something that’s well known, and if you’re not confident, it’s as if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.

“As soon as you’re relaxed, it comes together. It’s well worth looking into and I’d be interested to see the results.”

You know I still think is is an April’s Fool joke, but then I saw something that kinda makes me reconsider. The article has a photo of Prince Charles. They may be serious about this after all!

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Top Ten Tips For Creating Your Own New Alternative Medicine

Posted in The Quackometer by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

The economic downturn may mean that you are thinking of retraining as an alternative healer. You might be tempted to invest your redundancy money or savings in training courses and equipment. Think again. It may be far cheaper and much more lucrative to invent your own brand new form of quackery. Most forms of alternative medicine are at most only a few decades old or have only become popular recently. If others can become famous and wealthy by doing this, why can’t you?

Here is the Quackometer’s Guide to inventing a new branch of alternative medicine in ten easy to digest and holistic tips:

1. Minimise specific effects

Right. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Your newly designed alternative medicine is very unlikely to actually work. Progress in medicine does not happen with people just making stuff up, but instead relies on remarkable insight, careful analysis, detailed research and long and expensive clinical trials, with lots of false starts and wrong turns before progress is made. You will not have the time, inclination, money or intellect for this.

So, with little chance of being able to offer real benefit to your clients, the best you can do is to ensure you do as little as harm as possible. To this end, make sure your new quackery is inert, neutral and inconsequential in action. Take your inspiration from existing and successful alternative medicine. Homeopathy is just plain sugar pills. Acupuncture is just little pin pricks. Reiki is just hand waving. Bach Flower Remedies is just a few drops of brandy. Reflexology is just a foot massage. Even chiropractic is just a vigorous body rub.

If you make the mistake of delivering real effects, then you may well be found out and your new business will come to sticky end. That is why we do not see old sorts of quackery anymore such as blood letting and trepanning.

2. Maximise placebo effects

Make your treatment theatrical. Make your customer feel as if they have been listened to, been taken seriously, and then had lots of effort made on them to create a cure. This will ensure any available placebo effect is maximised. People will feel better about themselves if you make the effort. We know that the more dramatic the intervention, the greater any placebo effect will be.

So, spend at least an hour with your customer, asking lots of detailed questions, just like a homeopath. Use arcane terms and be thoroughly paternalistic, just like an old-fashioned doctor. Wear a white coat and have a brass plaque outside your spick and span clinic – just like a chiropractor. Get an impressive Harley Street address. Use equipment with dials and flashing lights. Take x-rays. Put certificates on your wall and, if you are doing well, have attractive receptionists. Give the impression you are creating your cure just for this patient. They are special. Make them feel so.

3. Choose what you want to cure carefully

The bread and butter illnesses for alternative medicine are the self-limiting (hayfever, flu, morning sickness) and the chronic but variable and cyclical (bad backs, arthritis, mild depression). The number one reason for people believing in alternative medicine is that it ‘works for them’. What this means is that their particular complaint just happened to improve sometime after rubbing whatever magic beans they had chosen.

Chronic illnesses are ideal – they represent repeat business. Bad backs are a classic. People will come to you when their backs are really playing up. Cast your spells, crack their bones and stick a pin in them and their pain will become less noticable. It will have gone away anyway. But now you have a loyal and evangelical customer. Correlation is causation to your customer. “Regression to the mean” is your friend. Understand it and use it.

Have excuses ready if things are not quite getting better yet – or even if things are getting worse. Homeopaths expect to see ‘aggravations’, that is, things getting worse before they get better. To them, it is more proof that the sugar pills are ‘working’. Have a story ready for every outcome, good or bad. Never admit you have failed.

Avoid illnesses with obvious end points, like death. Getting payment may be the least of your problems. If you want to be heroic and tackle illnesses like AIDS and cancer, best do it offshore. Find a country with fewer regulations, much lower standards of healthcare and more vulnerable people. Homeopaths tend to go to Africa to treat AIDS or prevent malaria. They might be imprisoned here. Find a nice spot in Spain for treating cancer. Or Mexico, if you are from the US.

Invent a ‘wellness’ programme. Tell people you can help them even if they are feeling fine. It’s preventative, you see. Chiropractors are masters at  roping people into prolonged, expensive and unnecessary treatment programmes, all in the name of ‘wellness’. Nutritionists ensure people are popping highly ‘personalised’ lists of vitamin and mineral pills and creating a continuous and easy revenue stream for you.

Perhaps the most lucrative path is to invent illnesses. Create your own problems, diagnostic techniques and cures and you can provide an end-to-end service of imaginary illnesses and cures. The Detox industry has thrived on this. Food intolerances and allergies have made shed loads for vitamin pill sellers. Electrosensitives have been sold millions of pounds worth of useless EMF trinkets and neutralising boxes.  People love their daily aches and pains, tiredness and mood swings to have a name and to have something to blame. You can provide a wonderful service by filling in the gaps for them.

4. Embrace the language of quackery

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE QUACKOMETER”

Why Are Americans Resistant to Science?

Posted in The Doctor Weighs In by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

This question often puzzled me. I can understand the need for a God, as an embodiment of people’s moral ideals. So the fact that our society, which views itself as based on moral principles, is fertile ground for the belief in an über-moral deity. The Brits, on the other hand, have a long history of scandalous, sometimes murderous, behaviors of their political leaders and royals. They are well-versed in their Shakespeare and, like him are cynical about assertions of moral superiority of authority figures. Is there any wonder why only a small minority of the British go to church? This could also be the reason why the most ferocious critics of religion are British. See, for instance Richard Dawkins “the God Delusion”, in which he argues that God is, well, a delusion, religion is a virus, and the U.S. has slipped back to the dark ages. If this sounds extreme, try “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens.

Why should a belief in a deity clash with acceptance of science? In fact, Dr. Francis Collins, a physician and scientist par excellence, is the director of the Human Genome Project. He is also deeply religious.

But consider this little nugget: In a 2005 Pew Trust poll, 42% of respondents said that they believed that humans and other animals have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, a view that denies the very existence of evolution. And in a 2008 Republican presidential debate, none of the five, or was it six, candidates raised their hands when asked whether they believed in evolution. Michelangelo%20story.jpg

This is not the only domain where people reject science: Many believe in the efficacy of unproven medical interventions; the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences; the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies; and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination.

It all begins in childhood.

In a review titled “Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science”, two Yale professors of psychology, Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnik Weisberg, posit that the winter of our ignorance began in childhood. They review evidence from developmental psychology suggesting that some resistance to scientific ideas is a human universal. This resistance stems from two general facts about children, one having to do with what they know and the other having to do with how they learn.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN”

If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly Smrat

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

Chances are you’ve seen this in your inbox:

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Chances are you also understand it. It purports that the order of the letters inside a given word doesn’t matter, as long as the first and last letters of each word are in the right place.

You can read the words because the human mind reads words as a whole, and not letter-by-letter.

Well, that’s what it says. But while it’s entertaining and ego-boosting (that is, if you can read it), it ain’t exactly so.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FOXNEWS”


JREF account suspended-Let YouTube Management Hear It!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 30, 2009

I did my part and let them hear it Skepfeeds style. I do regret that they only allow 350 characters in their comments box, because I had so much more to unload on them, all in good style obviously, but it is really hard to take someone to task with 350 characters. Please follow the directions below the video to give them a piece of your mind. But a word of caution, KEEP IT CIVIL, no foul language and no cursing; that can only backfire on us. Be firm but polite. You can hand out a criticism without being rude, so let’s make sure we do that. I think that will be our best chance to bring the venerated JREF back to YouTube.

To complain to youtube FOLLOW THIS LINK. Scroll to the very bottom and click on “new issue” Select “suspended account” from the options and express your opinion

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Religious Persecution Wolf in Anti-Defamation Sheep’s Clothing

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 30, 2009

The Inquisition is back, and this time it has set up shop at the United Nations. Consider the resolution “Combating the Defamation of Religions” passed by a comfortable margin last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (and passed by the General Assembly every year since 2005).

The resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions,” intensifying since 2001, in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions” (read: Islam) and “sacred persons” (read: Muhammad). It urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the excesses of the war on terror, the language conflates peaceful criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle speech in the name of “respect for religions and beliefs.”

In my capacity as UN representative for the secularist think tank Center for Inquiry, I spent a surreal two weeks at the Council participating in the negotiations over the language of this resolution, sponsored by a 57-member intergovernmental body called the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC.

After one of these sessions, I found my way into a private conversation with the chair of the negotiations, a delegate for the government of Pakistan. We were soon joined by the representatives of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. There we were, “the West,” standing at the front of an empty conference room, gingerly trying to reason with this feisty, yet solicitous, Pakistani diplomat.

The American delegate noted that, “History shows that criminalizing speech doesn’t work,” when the chair interrupted her to propose a case he hoped would hit home. Suppose someone were to say that the Virgin Mary was not a virgin but a promiscuous woman? What could be the purpose of this statement, he asked, except mockery?

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RELIGION DISPATCHES”

Dr. Emoto’s water woo metastasizes

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on March 30, 2009

Indiana Jones had a saying: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” This line was most famously delivered in Raiders of the Lost Ark after he and his friend Sallah had opened the Well of Souls and were staring down into it. Sallah noticed that the ground appeared to be moving within; so Indy shined a light down the entrance, only to see thousands of snakes waiting for him at the bottom.

Sallah then drily observed, “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.”

As we knew from earlier in the movie, Indiana Jones hated snakes and was afraid of them; so it was only natural that later in the movie he would encounter a floor literally writhing with thousands of them. So it was when I innocently picked up the latest issue of TIME Magazine and started perusing it yesterday. What to my fearfully wondering eyes should appear but an article entitled Mind over Chocolate. Because I like chocolate, I was curious and began reading:

Move over, organic, fair trade and free range–the latest in enlightened edibles is here: food with “embedded” positive intentions. While the idea isn’t new–cultures like the Navajo have been doing it for centuries–for-profit companies in the U.S. and Canada are catching on, infusing products with good vibes through meditation, prayer and even music.

My reaction was much like Indy’s: “Intent. Why’d it have to be intent?”

To which my imaginary companion replied, “Emoto. Very woo-ey. You go first.”

So I will, because as much as the whole concept of “intent” in various “alternative medicine” and other woo irritates the crap out of me, it also holds a bizarre fascination as well.

Before I go on to deal with these products, let’s take a trip back down memory lane to nearly two and a half years ago. That’s when I first encountered the infamous Dr. Emoto and his amazing water woo. Naturally, being the…pioneer that he is, a lot of this business of “imbuing” water and food with happy “intent” can trace back to him, at least as a business plan, given his H20m water. The long story is in the link immediately preceding this; the short story is that Dr. Emoto believes that water can somehow be altered by “vibrations” sent from someone focusing his or her intent upon it and that those vibrations leave behind residue of that intent that can then be imparted to the people who consume H20m. As “evidence” for this, Dr. Emoto cites “studies” (I’m using the term very loosely here, as you might imagine) in which he claims to be able to differentiate different ice crystals on the basis of whether “good” or “bad” intent had been directed at them. Being of an entrepreneurial bent, Dr. Emoto decided to scale up his focusing of intent on water into an industrial process, infusing the water with happy thoughts thusly:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”

Christ and Satan have both incarnated.

Posted in Uncategorized by Jeff Randall on March 30, 2009

I just don’t know what to say… But WOW!

I’m leaning towards this being a Poe, but I’d love to hear the ideas of others on what is going on here…

[Posted at: This is a total conspiracy nut-job website, I mean AboveTopSecret.com]

Here’s what I’ve learned from my sources.

Both Satan and Christ have incarnated on Earth a while ago. The rule
of Hell is left to Satan’s son, Santanas. Who I have had the displeasure
of meeting

personally in his lair, the 5th circle of Hell. He tortured my
soul.. for what seemed ages, before I was rescued. Luckily the memory
of the actual pain that was caused to me, was erased from my mind. I
was returned to my body after my rescuers broke the chains that held
me.

However, the Christ that has incarnated on Earth, is not the same Jesus
Christ from 2000 years ago, it is a different soul, but with the same
strength, the same abilities and probably even more.. because the battle
that is going to be fought in 2012, between the Christ and His forces, and
Satan and His forces, will be unlike anything this planet has ever seen.

Just like in the time when there were only God and His Angels, when one
of the angels rejected God, everyone has to make a choice now, either
you choose for Darkness and join the fight against the Light, or you will
choose for the Light and you join the fight against Darkness.

I suggest everyone chooses now, before it’s too late to choose. I have
made my choice long ago, I will join the Armies of Light of the new Christ.
I’m told I am meant to become some sort of warrior/healer, but everyone
has a task that suits their abilities. I’ve even bought a battle ready katana
on advice of my spirit guides.. just in case someone susceptible has been
influenced to attack me in my home. These things happen all the time now.

The events will be larger than any prediction in existence.. because both
sides underestimated each others power. The clash is going to be terrible.
Choose now, then educate yourself in the Light or in the Dark.

I have seen Hell, Heaven, Archangels, the most terrible demons, black
dressed armies of Darkness, the shining armor of Light Warriors, I have
seen several battles already with my own eyes, while outside of my body,
what I say is not what I’ve read somewhere, it is what I have experienced
firsthand.

You’re free to ignore, or to accept my words, if you have any questions,
ask me anything you want. That is what I enjoy doing, helping other people
awaken the way I have started awakening, as well as many others.

With all my love,

Hans

[Posted at: This is a total conspiracy nut-job website, I mean AboveTopSecret.com]

So, you wanna be a skeptic?

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on March 30, 2009

If you read this blog, chances are you’re skeptical about something. Maybe you think all psychics are frauds, or Jenny McCarthy is a massive health threat, or homeopathy is killing people who should be taking real medicine, or the 911 Truthers are full of it. I’m sure there’s some form of bad thinking out there that sticks in your craw. And maybe, like me and many, many other folks, you’ve had enough.

Knowing that stuff, reading about it, is a whole lot different than getting off your keister and doing something about it. If you’ve got the itch, the need, the desire, the passion to get up and do something about all the nonsense facing the world, what can you do?

What’s the next step?

What Do I Do Next?

I’m glad you asked. Daniel Loxton, a long-time skeptical activist, gathered together a dozen other go-getters to create a guide for people who want to fight the good fight. Called “What Do I Do Next?” (PDF), it’s chock full of advice to get you off your sofa and into the action. It has tons of great information for you, with details on how you can accomplish your goals. There’s also an online Quick Reference Guide, a shorter version if you’re impatient like me. The bulleted list has just the facts with quickie advice. There’s also a Skeptical Activism page on Skeptics.com, and a forum where you can interact with other like-minded folks

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

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