Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Barack Obama: A pro-vaccine pharma shill who doesn’t care about autistic children?

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

Well, here’s a rare bit of good news in the endless tedium that has become the U.S. election. It appears that Barack Obama has ticked off the antivaccine contingent. I know, I know, I said I would try to lay off this topic for a few days, but this is just too amusing. Apparently, he’s gone a long way towards redeeming himself for his previous gaffe when it came to vaccines and autism, and the antivaccine zealots over at Age of Autism are all in a tizzy over it:


More Thoughts on a Wiki Science Textbook

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

Last week I discussed some ideas I had about what constitutes good science education and offered a suggestion that might improve the current state of science education. I appreciate all the feedback and discussion, which is exactly what I asked for. I recognize this is an extremely complex topic with no easy solution and so ideas from a variety of backgrounds is useful.

My premise for that post and this one is that science education is currently inadequate, as evidenced by the high level of scientific illiteracy in this country and to some extent more generally. Specifically most students seem to graduate high school without sufficient critical thinking skills and appreciation for the process of science.

On resource that might help, I suggested, is an online science curriculum that properly focuses on teaching scientific method and critical thinking in an engaging way.

Let me address some of the specific points that were raised.


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Dazzling the innumerate

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

I was sent the following argument by email.

A new breed of ID is in the process of supplanting the former fact-free versions on U.S. university campuses. The new breed looks like this (from recent lectures on several University of California campuses):

The following design argument does not require evolution to produce a specific result. It calculates the probability that evolution reaches a certain level of biological complexity (measured in terms of the number of protein-coding genes) and compares this probability with the number of trials available for evolution to that level.

Any of the thousands of extant vertebrate species possesses at least 10,000 more protein-coding genes than the primordial single-celled organism from which all these vertebrate species evolved. Thus, at least 10,000 protein-coding genes must have been added during the course of vertebrate evolution. Assuming that the probability is 10-3 that a new gene useful for vertebrate evolution came into existence, the probability that evolution just happened to produce any one of the vertebrate species is 10-3 multiplied by itself 10,000 times, which equals 10-30,000.


VIP Interview – James “The Amazing” Randi

Posted in VIP Interview by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

I was going to call this entry “The Amazing Interview”, but I realized that in order to have an amazing interview you need both an amazing interviewee and an amazing interviewer. While I had the former I lacked the later as such I settled for the more subtle VIP Interview title.

It is true folks, James Randi agreed to answer a few of my amateurish questions and he took the time to go back and forth with me via e-mail. And he did all of that the same day I e-mailed him asking if he was willing to be interviewed (and I do use that term loosely, all my journalistic “training” comes from reading news sites and blogs!). It takes quite a mature, kind person to take the time to speak to a complete stranger for some tiny little blog that nobody ever heard of. For that I am very grateful to James Randi. It is good to have someone like him on our side.

Below you will find the complete interview, un-edited, including his grammatical correction (I have lived in the US for just 10 years, which tends to show in my writings from time to time. Damn Microsoft Word only catches misspellings!). Here it goes (my questions are in bold font, his answers in regular font)!

You always say that you do not approach the various paranormal claims with the goal of debunking them, but with interest in investigating the actual claim,  the same approach Joe Nickell takes in his investigations. This implies that you allow the possibility, however remote, that some of these claims may actually turn out to be true. Let’s assume that one, and only one, of all such claims will turn out to be true in the future. Which one would you pick as the most likely (or least unlikely, whichever way you prefer) to be true? Which one are you almost 100% sure will never pan out?

No such implication exists.  I see no likelihood of any paranormal claim being true, judging from those already being touted by the believers and woo-woo artists.  I’m 80 years of age, and I’ve been investigating these matters since I was 15.  In all that time, with hundreds upon hundreds of claims having been examined – and all having failed – the chances of the next one being true, is remote.  However, we have to treat them all the same: fairly, carefully, and honestly. And we do.

Do you think that certain claims, after having been shown wrong over and over again, loose their “right” to be viewed with an “open mind” and deserve to be dismissed without any effort, or do you think that each generation must test these claims independently and not reject anything out of hand regardless of its prior history? Why?

(you mean, “lose”…)  I always maintain an open mind, but some claims become too silly to be re-tested again and again.  Would you go out and measure chimneys just to see if a fat guy in a red suit could squeeze down in December…?

I agree with you that some claims have become so silly that they do not merit further review. In fact, I think almost all paranormal claims fall into this category. I also don’t see any likelihood of any paranormal claims being true. Nevertheless, I think we both agree that it is important for skeptics to continue investigating such claims, however I think that one of the reasons skeptics ought to do this (besides protecting the public) is because such investigations strengthen skepticism and prevent it from becoming just another dogma, not necessarily because we should treat such claims fairly. What are your thoughts? Why should skeptics continue to investigate paranormal claims?

We should only look into these matters when they are properly presented – with evidence – which is only a tiny fraction of those we encounter… But I must point back to my Santa Claus reference. Where do we draw the line? Spending one’s life looking at nonsense, produces nothing…

What is the wildest idea you temporarily entertained and then ultimately discarded?

I “entertain” no ideas; I consider them, test them, and discard them when they fail the tests.

Please give me an estimate of how soon do you think that either major party in the US will nominate an atheist for the president/vice president position?

Not within the next 50 years… Americans can’t believe that a person can be just and moral if he/she doesn’t fear the imagined agonies of Hell.

How soon can we expect your next books? Will you ever write an autobiography/life stories collection?

My biography is being written by Penn – of Penn & Teller.  My next two books, “Wrong!” and “A Magician in the Laboratory” will see print within 14 months.

You are an inspiration to millions (my estimate) around the world. Is there any living person that has had/still has the same effect on you that you have on the millions of people who idolize you?

My idols – such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Dick Feynman, and Sir Arthur C. Clarke – have me…  I’m currently greatly inspired by Richard Dawkins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Sam Harris.

What would we find in your Tivo (or similar device)?

“The Closer,” some NOVAs, and Bill Maher…

Which podcasts does you subscribe to as a regular listener (you’re not allowed to pick “The Amazing Show”)? What are some of your favorite skeptical blogs?

None, actually.  Far too busy appearing on them.

What is your favorite pastime, besides your lifelong passion of fighting the likes of Uri Geller?

Astronomy, photography, writing kids who are with “Plan USA,” my favorite charity.

What does James Randi have in store for us in the next decade?

Lecturing, writing, working, till I drop…

Afternoon Delight With The Discovery Institute – #4

Posted in Enemy Combatant by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

When Kate expressed her interest in the legalities of teaching ID, Casey’s beady eyes lit up as I imagine they might were he presented with proof of a creator. Like a toddler having just managed to make poopy in the toilet for the first time, he proudly exclaimed that he was a lawyer, and could really, really, honestly for reals tell us anything we wanted to know about the legal issues.

But first, since we were standing here, wouldn’t we like some handouts to take home with us? Some teaching guides, some books he just happened to co-author, maybe a pamphlet or six? Wouldn’t we like copies of several different versions of a thing called “Icons of Evolution”?

Would we EVER.


Amazin’ news – Randi agrees to be interviewed for Skepfeeds

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

James Randi, of the amazing fame, has generously agreed to be interiviewed for Skepfeeds. James “The Amazing” Randi! Yikes! Stay tuned!