Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Skepnews – 8/21/08

Posted in Skepnews by Skepdude on August 21, 2008

  • Marla Steele makes pet talk a two-way street – For as long as I can remember I’ve had psychic dreams. And I’ve always had lots of pets — dogs, cats and horses. Sometimes when my cats were away from the house for what seemed like a long time, I would call them home in my mind and they would show up a few minutes later. Or when I was in bed and wanted to snuggle up with my dogs I would do the same thing, call them in my mind and they would come into my room. This happened enough times that I knew it wasn’t just coincidence. The more I paid attention to my dreams and the information I was picking up from my animals while I was awake, the clearer they became.
  • Woman gives birth to cups !!!A Mozambican woman recently gave birth to three cups in the southern province of Gaza, independent television channel Stv reported on Thursday, showing images of the crockery. The Mozambican association of traditional healers (Ametramo) told the station that there was nothing strange about the story.
  • Records show more Texas sect members wed minorsFive men from a polygamist sect raided by Texas authorities in April stand accused of sexually assaulting children, but they may not be the only ones. Church documents disclosed as part of a separate child custody case over the last several months identify at least 10 other men as allegedly having married girls who were 16 or younger. The girls’ fathers and stepfathers blessed the unions and sometimes even presided over ceremonies between other young girls and adult men, the documents show. In all, about 20 underage girls, a few as young as 12, are identified in the documents as having married jailed sect leader Warren Jeffs or one of his followers.
  • Man accused of killing stepdaughters in Satanic ritualProsecutors say 26-year-old Lawrence Douglas Harris Sr., who faces two counts of first-degree murder for allegedly killing his 8- and 10-year-old stepdaughters in January, was practicing satanism and carefully planned the killings as a part of a spell or ritual from “The Satanic Bible.” Harris owned a spell notebook, prosecutors say, that contained references to and drawings from “The Satanic Bible,” widely considered the founding document of the Church of Satan, “Necronomicom,” the so-called dangerous book of the dead invented by author H.P. Lovecraft and “Pagan Ways,” an introduction to Paganism. Firefighters found the girls, 10-year-old Kendra Suing and 8-year-old Alysha Suing, stabbed and strangled in their bedrooms on Jan. 6. Authorities had been dispatched to the house at 1420 Nebraska St. for a fire in the basement.
  • Increase in measles spread mostly due to anti-vaccination parents The number of measles cases in the U.S. is at its highest level since 1997, and nearly half of those involve children whose parents rejected vaccination, government health officials reported Thursday. Pediatricians are frustrated, saying they are having to spend more time convincing parents the shot is safe. The CDC’s review found that a number of cases involved home-schooled children not required to have the vaccines. In a typical year, only one outbreak occurs in the United States, infecting perhaps 10 to 20 people. So far this year through July 30 the country has seen seven outbreaks, including one in Illinois with 30 cases, said Seward, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases. Of this year’s total, 122 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Some were unvaccinated because the children were under age 1, making them too young to get their first measles shot.
  • Nigerian man faces death over his 86 wives – Nigeria’s Islamic authority has told the man who has 86 wives to choose only four and repent within three days or else he will be sentenced to death. Talking to the media then, Mr Abubakar challenged Muslim scholars, saying there is no punishment stated in the Koran for having more than four wives. “A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them,” he told the BBC.

Marla Steele lies to pet owners and takes their money

Posted in Skepchick by Skepdude on August 21, 2008


I suggest you never sign up for Google to send you alerts whenever the word “psychic” appears in a news story, because before long you may become like me — prone to slipping into a fantasy world inside your head where journalists write investigative articles about people claiming to have paranormal powers. This will develop as a defense mechanism against the stark reality where journalists write long advertisements for frauds in the form of softball question-and-answer sessions, ending with a convenient way for the target consumer/reader to contact the fraud about his or her services.

So it is that this morning I opened my Google “psychic” alert and read an article titled “Marla Steele makes pet talk a two-way street,” prompting electrical impulses to travel through my brain, first activating areas devoted to basic reading comprehension and understanding the meaning of the words, then jumping to my understanding of the phrase “pet psychic,” then to my understanding of reality, eventually hitting upon the key phrase


which finally threw a switch that sent my brain into survival mode, where I retreated to a fantasy world resulting in me thinking I was reading the title of this post.

From the article:

Last winter, a good friend of mine consulted a pet psychic to help her comfort and care for her cat Mambo who was battling cancer. As a gal who is inherently wary of everything woo-woo, I

” . . . investigated a local pet psychic and found that she was full of at least seventeen different variations of BULLSHIT and she couldn’t even psychically connect with the bull from which it emerged.”

How did you learn to communicate with pets? I believe that we’re all born equipped to do this, but most of us get distracted and wrapped up in a completely different way of relating and communicating in the world. Being a pet communicator requires practice just like any other kind of work. It’s a muscle that needs to be flexed or it goes away.

When did you realize that you

” . . . could rip off naive pet owners?”

For as long as I can remember . . . they . . . paid.

Where do your readings take place? Usually over the phone or by email.

Um, over the phone? And email? Really? How does that work?

“. . . because it sounds like total bullshit.”

How long have you been

” . . . ripping off pet owners?”

I first heard about animal communication from a coworker at Nordstrom’s who was paying $100 to talk to a pet psychic in Oregon about her German Shepherd. I always listened politely to her stories, but secretly thought she must just have money to burn, or be crazy, or both. Now we laugh because I not only became a pet psychic, I also appear on radio and television talk shows all over the country.

“Wow, that sounds exactly like you know “pet psychics” are complete bullshit, but you realized how easy it is to scam people out of much more money than you could make working in retail the rest of your life, you cruel, sniveling fraud.”

Here are some other questions the real reporter missed but my fantasy reporter asked:

“Can you demonstrate your ability?”

“Can you perform under controlled circumstances so we can make sure you’re not just making things up?”

“Can you tell me what my last dog died of?”

“Can you tell me my cat’s name?”

“Can you tell me what illness this randomly chosen shelter dog has?”

“Can you prove you have any of the paranormal powers you’ve claimed?”

Here’s one last quote from the real article with emphasis added:

The Pet Specialist Showcase is an ongoing Tails of the City series. Please send your suggestions for future posts to

One more thing: Boston Skeptics in the Pub is coming up this Monday, Aug. 25. It’ll be skeptical trivia again hosted by yours truly. I’ll post all the details tomorrow, but here’s the Facebook event page in the meantime.

Also, I’ll be in New York City next weekend, so stay tuned for a possible meet-up!


An ex-chiropractor speaks out

Posted in improbable science by Skepdude on August 21, 2008

On 18th August I was surprised and delighted to get a letter from a young man who qualified at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic. His experiences in many ways justified what I said in my editorial, Dr Who?,, and in some cases went further. His inside knowledge is precisely what is needed.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the threatened legal action in the light of evidence like this. Now Jonathan has sent a version of his letter that he wishes to be publicised. It is a great pleasure to reproduce it below. It takes some courage for someone in his position to go public in this way. He has done an enormous service to openness, to honesty and to science itself.


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Slave Brides

Posted in Muslims Against Sharia, Religion, Religious Extremism, Religious Idiocy, Sexism by Skepdude on August 21, 2008

“Shaikha,” a 16-year-old Saudi girl, drank bleach in an attempt to kill herself because her father was forcing her to marry a 75-year-old man. And why? So that Shaikha’s father could himself marry the elderly man’s 13-year-old daughter! Shaikha begged and pleaded not to be forced into this marriage–even her mother supported her plea; all to no avail.

While such normalized atrocities continue in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Muslim world, Random House cancels the publication of a novel, The Jewel of Medina, based on the life of Aisha, the prophet Mohammed’s beloved wife whom he married when she was either six or seven years-old. The marriage was presumably consummated when Aisha was nine-years-old.

Can there possibly be a connection between what Mohammed did and what other Muslim men do? Is the mere suggestion heretical? Is telling the truth about Mohammed heretical?


Doctors aren’t preachers (or at least they shouldn’t be)

Posted in Denialism, Medicine by Skepdude on August 21, 2008


I’ve written a number of times about how a physician must be careful not impose his or her personal beliefs on patients.

Another interesting case has hit the news. The decision of the California Supreme Court hinged on interpretation of state non-discrimination law. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know a bit about medicine and medical ethics. Regardless of law, this doctor’s behavior was wrong. The details are a little sketchy, but an unmarried lesbian woman was denied fertility treatments by a California doctor because the treatment conflicted with the doctor’s faith.

Conflicted with the doctor’s faith. There’s the rub.

This is a particularly perverse form of prostelitizing. It doesn’t involve having coffee with an acquaintance and teaching them the Word. It involves a vulnerable individual, who comes to a qualified professional for help, and is turned away because of “improper” living and thinking. In this case, it is disputed whether the patient was denied care because of being gay or because of being unmarried. It doesn’t really matter. Either reason for discrimination is wrong. What matters is that the doctor felt that treating the patient would violate her own religious beliefs.

The measure of whether a treatment is appropriate is whether it conforms to standard of care, is safe, effective, and ethical (non-coercive, etc.). If a patient presents for infertility treatment, and is medically qualified, she should receive the treatment (assuming she doesn’t breed babies for snack food). The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recognizes this in several position statements. One specifically addresses unmarried and homosexual patients:

–Unmarried persons and gays and lesbians have interests in having and rearing children.
— There is no persuasive evidence that children raised by single parents or by gays and lesbians are harmed or disadvantaged by that fact alone.
–Programs should treat all requests for assisted reproduction equally without regard to marital status or sexual orientation.

When you decide to become a doctor, you immerse yourself to the neck in ethical problems for the rest of your career. Patients make bad decisions. Other doctors make bad decisions. Ethically grey conundrums pop up on a daily basis. Standards set by professional organizations help to sort some of these out, but not always. The “most wrong” decision in an ethical debate is the cop-out. For a physician to deny a patient care based on their own beliefs is a cop-out, and is a coercive use of their paternalistic powers. This decision doesn’t just deny them your personal services. It may cause permanent psychological harm to the patient. And that’s not what doctoring is all about.


I am embarrassed

Posted in Denialism, Woo by Skepdude on August 21, 2008


by the San Francisco Chronicle for giving a lot of uncritical coverage to a pet psychic in “Marla Steele makes pet talk a two-way street.” This “psychic” discusses Reiki (and the ability to do it from a distance–“energy broadcasting”), among other thing. And here’s the reporter’s hardball question:

What do you say to skeptics? I completely appreciate people’s skepticism. I first heard about animal communication from a coworker at Nordstrom’s who was paying $100 to talk to a pet psychic in Oregon about her German Shepherd. I always listened politely to her stories, but secretly thought she must just have money to burn, or be crazy, or both. Now we laugh because I not only became a pet psychic, I also appear on radio and television talk shows all over the country.



#41 God

Posted in Humorous, Religion, Stuff God Hates by Skepdude on August 21, 2008


Prepare thyself, he who reads this, to tremble and sob before the Wonderful Words of The Lady Madonna, as written by The Blessed Virgin Mary herself!

Shalom! Shalom everyone! It’s me, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I thought I’d take a break from appearing to you all in grilled cheese sandwiches and restaurant drains to give you my perspective on God.

Now listen up bubbalas, you would think that being nailed by the Omnipotent Jehovah would have been the thrill of my life. Well I’m here to tell you, not so much. Oye. Truth be told, the whole immaculate conception experience was terribly overrated.

God’s schmeckle must be puny because I didn’t feel a thing. There was no foreplay, no fondling of the breasts, no licking my loch, no divine sweet nothings whispered in my ear, no nothing. Just schtup, schtup, schtup and “see you ’round the stable, Mary.” Typical man.

God didn’t even have the common courtesy of telling me Himself that I was knocked up. He sent one of His angels, Gladys, to break the news. I was heartbroken.

A single mother indeed! I’ll tell you something else. Although I was quite the looker in those days (good skin, long brown hair, great tits), I was only 13. That’s right, God is a sexual predator. Imagine, He could have picked any woman in the world to carry His Son, and that schmoiger chooses a 13-year-old girl. That meshugeneh God has got some chutzpah!

Jesus was an ugly baby.

Jesus was an ugly baby.

So 8 and a half months later, there I was, full-blown and ready to plotz, when Joseph makes me schlep all the way to Bethlehem just to be counted in some fakakta census. What, they couldn’t make an exception for one pregnant girl? Oye! That Joseph, what a schmendrick he was!

So when we get there, do you think God had any of his angels call ahead to reserve us a room? Oh no, that shmageggi let me give birth to His faygala Son in some schlocky barn full of donkey dreck. Feh!

And who does he send to meet us there? These three fershtinkiners bearing worthless gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and more myrrh. Oye gevalt. And don’t believe that dreck that one of the kings brought us gelt either. Those greedy goys didn’t even bring me any water or at least something to nosh. Now that I could’ve used!

So what was supposed to be a mitzvah ended up getting all fakakta, and all because God is such a cheap schvantz-sucker. Oye gevalt! I hate that schmuck. If it’s not too much trouble, I suggest you all stop praying to him and pray to me instead. I’m a good Jewish mother, and a much better parent than God. You want some matza-ball soup? Eat! Eat! You’re skin and bones!