Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

He doesn’t know me very well, does he?

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

I get all kinds of personal requests — requests to flog someone’s blog, links to articles people think are really neat, that kind of thing. I don’t mind at all. If you think I’d be interested, go ahead, drop me a line. But, you know, I would appreciate it if you at least had the courtesy to actually look at my interests and send me stuff I might like, instead of random spam.

Mike Koelzer did not have those kinds of manners. Mike Koelzer really screwed up. This is the email Mike Koelzer sent me.


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You know you must be doing something right…

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on September 15, 2008


… When both the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research get on your case! These two outlets of religious-centered non-thinking vehemently attacked my recent post on the inanity of choosing Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate — which focused on her positions on teaching (she supports “equal time”) and censorship (she has attempted to remove “offensive” books from a public library, going so far as threatening a librarian with being fired).

The Discovery Institute blog, Uncommon Descent (how cute!) called me “a worrisome character” because I dared to suggest that education is not about having kids debate “the two sides” of every issue (to begin with, because there often are more than two sides, and straightjacketing the discussion in that way commits the logical fallacy of contrived dualism). Dave Scot, at Uncommon Descent picked up on an analogy I gave about the silliness of the “two views” doctrine and commented: “Massimo doubts that the science establishment can present the evidence for a round earth, like live satellite images, well enough to let children use critical thinking skills to decide if the scientists have made a compelling case.” Ah, so indirect observation now is enough to convince children (or anyone) of a scientific notion, is it? Well, we can observe evolution and natural selection happening under (indeed, inside, in the case of the influenza virus) our very noses, but still 50% of Americans refuse to accept it. Fossils are readily observable by anyone who cares doing so, but of course they are dismissed as the handiwork of the devil. Surely Mr. Scot is aware that some (“adult”) Americans reject images “allegedly” generated by space missions (like the ones to the Moon) as fabrications by a conspiracy-prone government, so why on earth would one trust satellite photos of the round earth? That’s the beauty of faith-based worldviews: they are impervious to mere facts.

Even more amusing is Christine Dao’s commentary on the ICR’s web site, whose title is “Palin slammed for supporting open debate” (if there is anything we have learned recently about Sarah Palin is that she is a vindictive politician who cannot bear dissent, let alone encourage open debate). Ms. Dao deserves to be quoted extensively to be appreciated: “Logic and evaluating evidence are tools used to analyze the world around us, and so far that same logic and evaluation has led many scientists and others to believe that the evidence speaks of a Creator God rather than random chance and natural selection.” Oh really? Which scientists would those be? The faculty of the ICR, who has to swear allegiance to a literalist interpretation of the Bible to be kept in employment? I don’t recall being forced to sign a document committing me to Darwinism when I was hired at Stony Brook University. Maybe it was in the small print.

Again, Dao: “Limiting how the evidence can be interpreted puts educators in the interesting position of not teaching students, but instead conditioning them to recite the ‘correct’ answers without a second thought to other possible explanations.” Except that I advocate the teaching of critical thinking skills, so that students can in fact inoculate themselves — of their own accord — against the nonsense propagandized by the Discovery Institute and the ICR. But critical thinking takes time to learn, you don’t just serve up two options without tools for assessment and say “here, you decide.”

More from Dao: “Individuals such as Pigiliucci [sic] have taken their cue from Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Meyers, and other evolutionary supporters in their active condemnation and ridicule of anyone who doesn’t agree with their own platforms.” First of all, if anyone thinks I have much agreement with Richard Dawkins they have not been paying attention (as for P.Z., I have discovered him many years after I started writing about these things, back in 1997). Now, the charge of ridicule is one that needs to be carefully assessed, however. I take the position that most people who believe in creationism are victims of blind religious propaganda and of the failure of our education system (though the roots of creationism are of course much more complex than just that). They, therefore, deserve consideration and help (in the form of good science education). Demagogues like Scot and Dao, on the other hand, are willfully engaging in a concerted effort to undermine the use of reason in our society, an attitude that among many other things has given us eight disastrous years under a “commander in chief” who belittles expert advice while thinking with his gut (which apparently advised him to support “equal teaching”). This same anti-intellectualism may well give us several more years of an even worse version of the same in Sarah Palin. It is people like Scot and Dao, and a fortiori their sponsoring organizations, that deserve to have all the ridicule that thinking people can amass heaped on them.


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

God is an unnecessary assumption.

Just coined by yours only.

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A quick note to creationists

Posted in Edger by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

Dear creationists,

As much as I love you all to death for making it clear why good science education is an absolute necessity, I have recently come across one of the most irritating straw man arguments I have heard from you, namely the misconception that evolution is atheism. I know that although not all of you think that this is the case, a lot of you do – enough to make me decide to write this quick note.

The simple fact is that you creationists need to understand that the theory of evolution has nothing to do with atheism or even religion for that matter. Failing to understand this makes us skeptical people want to smash our heads on our desks in frustration, and I don’t think that you want to be responsible for any injury sustained by another human being, do you? I have noticed that whenever I pose a seemingly simple question to you creationists along the lines of “Where in the theory of evolution does it say that there is no god?”, most of you start fumbling, fudging, preaching or quoting from the Bible. This does not help your cause, creationists. This makes you look really ignorant. Just so you know.


Denying Intelligent Inference

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

Listener Dex Wood sends us the following question:

I am kind of concerned about proving our ability to extrapolate with past evidence.  This concern came from a discussion I was having with someone about evolution.  I claimed that the large body of evidence allows us to determine the course that evolution took in the past.  They returned with, “You weren’t there, and there was no direct observation.”  It is true that I was not there to directly observe it, and showing someone that evidence being used as observation is valid, seems difficult.  How do you deal with someone arguing that things could have been different a long time ago?  This can apply with radioactive dating or physics in general.
Thank you for your reply,

Dex Wood

This is a classic strategy of denial, used most prominently in evolution denial (i.e. creationism/intelligent design). It is simply an attempt to deny one form of legitimate scientific evidence and reasoning.

First, I want to point out that “extrapolation” is not the best word to use for what Dex is asking. Extrapolation specifically means to find a pattern within existing data and then to project that pattern beyond the data. The specific example he gives, figuring out the path of prior evolution, is mainly interpolating – filling in data between existing data points. The fossil evidence represents snap-shots of the evolutionary past and we infer what happened between those snap-shots.


An Important Victory Against HIV Quackery

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

Ben Goldacre – one of the pillars of science-based medicine in the UK, and a splendid chap – has recently emerged victorious from a libel law suit filed against him and his paper, The Guardian, by Matthias Rath. Rath recently pulled the suit. He is now responsible for the 500,000 pound legal expenses of The Guardian, and has already been made to pay half that amount.

Rath is a vitamin pusher – not unlike any snake-oil salesman, making unsubstantiated and far-fetched claims for his concoctions. He is a particularly insidious and odious quack, using populism and conspiracy theories to scare people away from science-based medicine and into his waiting arms. Look at his website, it is chock full of utter nonsense all presented as cutting edge science being oppressed by the powers that be – but he assures us we are at a turning point, looking upon the cusp of a brave new world where he is the king. Right.


James Randi: I Doubt That!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

Join New York City Skeptics as we celebrate our first anniversary with a special lecture by James “The Amazing” Randi.

Date: Friday October 10, 2008
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Caspary Auditorium @ Rockefeller University – 1230 York Avenue (66th St.) New York City (see map below)

Admission is free and open to the public

In recent years, the skeptical movement has emerged and flourished, attracting major academics, authors, and media agencies. At the same time, the media itself has been essentially responsible for promoting what we refer to as the “woo-woo” element – everything from astrology to talking-to-the-dead have been prominently featured in newspapers, books, and on television, to the detriment of the public. This retreat from reality and rationality has brought government, academic, and cultural agencies to recognize the hunger of the public for nonsense, and the fact that ignoring that need can cost them money and acceptance. Even PBS features quacks and charlatans in its fund-raising campaigns. Hospitals and pharmaceutical vendors accept all sorts of pseudoscientific treatments as valid. And no politician dares fail to invoke supernatural forces in closing an appeal for support. This is the situation with which the skeptical movement is faced..

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a “genius” Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. His lectures and television appearances have delighted — and vexed — audiences around the world.

In 1996, the James Randi Educational Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. The Foundation offers a $1,000,000 prize to anyone who can prove, under proper observing conditions, the existence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult phenomenon. It remains unclaimed.

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Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution

Posted in News by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.