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How they do the voodoo that they do so well – Part 2

Posted in Photon in the Darkness by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

End Games:

Eventually, even the most successful, charismatic “alternative” practitioner will have a patient who doesn’t improve enough to satisfy the parents. Not only are these parents a real drag on the “alternative” practitioner’s ego, there is the very real chance that they might start to talk about how “the Emperor has no clothes”. For those situations, there are a number of strategies that are typically used.

Did you follow my instructions to the letter?:

One of the oldest dodges in the “alternative” medicine “biz” is to prescribe a regimen of treatment that is too complicated for most patients to follow. If they get better (by chance), then it was due to the “treatment” – if they don’t get better….well, they didn’t follow all of the instructions exactly, did they?

Much the same is happening in “alternative” autism therapy. One of the first chelation regimens promoted for treating autism required that the parents give their children a dose every four hours around the clock for two weeks. This meant waking the child up in the middle of the night – every night – for two weeks and getting them to drink a foul-smelling liquid.

The parents were cautioned that missing a single dose – or being late by more than two hours – meant risking having more mercury deposited in the brain. This – needless to say – was absolute nonsense. But no parent who failed to see the promised results could honestly say that they had given every dose on time.


How they do the voodoo that they do so well – Part 1

Posted in Photon in the Darkness by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

You’ve probably heard the story. A child is diagnosed with autism and the desperate (yes, I said “desperate”) parents search for answers. The “mainstream” doctors tell them that there is little that they can do (note: ”mainstream” doctors almost never say, “There’s nothing that can be done.”). Not satisfied with that answer (and what parent would be satisfied?), the parents try “alternative” practitioners.

And sure enough, the “alternative” practitioner has just the answers the parents are looking for. He or she can help them “recover” their child.

Or can they?

Over the years, I’ve shown how many of the “therapies” that claim to “cure” or “recover” autistic children haven’t been shown to work. But how do the practitioners keep the parents “on the hook”, even when the treatments aren’t working? That’s the topic of today’s lecture.

Before I get started, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. Despite being a hard-bitten cynic, I am convinced that most of the “alternative” practitioners truly believe that what they are doing is helping their patients. There are, of course, a minority that are consciously trying to deceive their patients (or their parents), but I believe that the majority are convinced that their treatments actually work.

Once again, being honest is no protection against being wrong.

So, with that disclaimer, what are some of the techniques that the “alternative” practitioners use to keep parents satisfied even when the treatments don’t work?

[Note: the same techniques are used by most “alternative” practitioners, but I will approach them from the perspective of the parents of an autistic child.]


How Are Atheists Like Smokers?

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

Rev. Keith Crosby from Green Bay, Wisconsin provides the answer to that question with the worst comparison you’ll hear all day:

Atheists are like smokers. Smokers know that smoking is harmful and yet they smoke while consciously suppressing the fact that harm will come to them if they persist. Atheists act as if their feigned unbelief somehow grants them immunity from responsibility vis-à-vis what politicians in the Watergate era once called “plausible denial.” Plausible denial won’t work with God.


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October 11 – Mark Your Calendar

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

Just a quick, but important, message this week: please mark your calendars for Saturday, October 11 and join all of us at The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe for The Perry DeAngelis Memorial Lecture in Perry’s hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.

Special guests Steve Mirsky, host of the ‘Scientific American 60-Second’ and ‘Science Talk’ podcasts, and Terrence Hines, author of ‘Pseudoscience and the Paranormal’ will be joining The SGU for a live panel discussion on a bevy of topics, all scientific, all skeptical, and all in honor of the memory of Perry.


More On Near Death Experiences

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

There has been a great deal of discussion about the planned study of near death experiences (NDEs) since I wrote about the study on Friday. I focused my attention primarily on the neurological and scientific issues, but other issues were raised with regard to this study.

GM Woerlee wrote an extensive piece on this topic focusing also on the medical aspects of what happens during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). His primary point is that CPR generates enough blood flow to the brain in order to explain the experiences that survivors report. He also emphasizes that this research into NDEs has been done enough to arrive at the reliable conclusion that it is the experience of an anoxic brain and tha this further research is unecessary.

This, of course, raises the question of the usefulness of this proposed study – to place signs near the ceilings in ERs and ICUs and then see if people with NDEs could read the signs, meaning they were actually outside their bodies and not just feeling as if they were. I agree with the argument that this is a questionable use of finite research funds. There are certainly more pressing medical questions with a greater probability of a practical outcome. Public interest and the ideology of individual researchers – not good medicine – is driving this research.


NIH wakes up

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

The National Institutes of Health has shut down a study based on antivaccination garbage.


The research was looking into chelation, the idea that an amino acid can be pumped into the bloodstream where it will remove some potentially toxic metals. What spurred this? The nonsense that mercury is present in the blood due to childhood vaccines.

Yeah, that crap again. So why was the study stopped by NIH?

The board determined that there was no clear evidence for direct benefit to the children who would participate in the chelation trial and that the study presents more than a minimal risk.


God in the News – Guardian Angels

Posted in Stuff God Hates by Skepdude on September 22, 2008


Prepare thyself, he who reads this, to tremble and quake before the Incredible Word of God, as written by THE LORD HIMSELF!

Greetings humans. You know, I’ve been rather down in the dumps lately; My latest smite on China only managed to kill a measly 3 babies; sacrilegious scientists are getting ever closer to finding My Divine Particle; and one of My Angels failed to smite these two douchebags for Me. Also, I’m on bad terms with Jesus and that slut-whore Mary right now. But then just when things couldn’t get any worse, I read about this and felt completely restored:

Most Americans Believe in Guardian Angels

I love Americans! They are so good to Me. Sometimes I feel like the American people are MY guardian angels.

No matter how hard I smite them, those wonderful little sheeple just keep on believing in Me! Their faith is truly astonishing.

I can ravage their country over and over and over again with My Hurricane and Tornado Smites, destroy their tallest buildings AND their economy, and even make the entire Universe hate them…and yet they never stop loving Me.

America is indeed a great country. She is like one of those wonderful beaten wives; you can fuck her and beat her and then fuck her and beat her again, and she will just be grateful if you let her live!

The infinite faith Americans put in Me -and in My Army of Angels – makes me very happy. But in reading this article, what makes Me happier still is how they always assume My Angels are on Earth solely for their protection. What a conceited fallacy!

American Angels NEVER look like this. They are fat.

American Angels don’t look like this. They are unsightly slobs.

I would put the amount of time the average Angelic foot soldier spends protecting a human to be about 5%, at best. Most of the time they are carrying out various smite missions. Perhaps the reason Americans believe in ‘guardian’ angels is because, like Americans themselves, the Angels I have covering the U.S.A. are rather incompetent.

Take the case of these two dirty rock music bastards. I signed a standard form #747 Plane-Crash Smite Order for their deaths, and one of My American Angels screwed up the hit-job because he smoked a fat blunt beforehand. And yet these two rocker idiots (and their fans) will likely attribute their continued existence to the presence of a ‘guardian’ angel. HA!

Americans, you are very lovable little fools. You just keep believing in Me and My Angel Death Squadrons no matter what, ok? I like that. One of these days I will get around to tossing a few more blessings your way. I swear to Me.


VIP Interview – Dan Barker

Posted in Uncategorized, VIP Interview by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

On this edition of the VIP Interview feature, I am pleased to  have Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Here is a short introduction to Dan from the FFRF website:

DAN BARKER is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist are published by the Foundation. His newest book, Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, was published by Ulysses Press in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation’s musical cassettes, “My Thoughts Are Free,” “Reason’s Greetings,” “Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now,” a 2-CD album “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” and the CD “Beware of Dogma.” He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was elected co-president in November 2004.

See Dan’s bio.
See Dan’s online writings.

The complete interview follows below. Enjoy!

SD: Do you agree with Richard Dawkins who has called religion a virus of the mind and regards it as an evil (so to speak) that humanity must eradicate? Or are you solely concerned with religion’s unwelcome intrusions in the public square?

DB: Yes, I do agree with Dawkins. The world would be much better off without religion, as it would be without sexism, racism, or other opportunities for social conflict.

SD: A lot of atheists seem to think that ” you can’t convert a true believer”. You were a true believer who converted. Do you see your case as the exception to the rule, or is there more to this than some atheists seem to believe? What was the cause of your conversion?

DB: I don’t think anyone can “convert” a true believer. We all have to convert ourselves, from the inside, as the result of a sincere desire to know what is true. My case is not an exception. Not only are there MANY former believers who are now atheists, but I know of dozens of former preachers and ministers who are now atheists or agnostics.

SD: Do you think there is any merit to the “evangelical atheist” accusations thrown towards Dawkins, Hitchens and others like them? Does that term make sense to you?

DB: I would not call it an accusation. It is a compliment! Why should we not be evangelical about that which we are passionate about? If it is wrong to be “evangelical” (which simply means spreading the “good news”), then all preachers are wrong.

SD: Do you think that the current 2 presidential candidates are violating the Constitution with their continued proclamations of faith and participation in faith forums? Is it true that, practically, there is no religious test for public office in the US?

DB: No. It amounts to a de facto (not actual) violation of the “no religious test for public office.” However, I do think they are culpable of promising to unite religion and government, in various ways, and if they followed through, then they would indeed be violating the Establishment Clause.

SD: 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?

DB: Forty years.

SD: The Bible is full of violence and atrocity. If you had to pick one, what would you choose as the ugliest, most immoral verse/chapter?

DB: Psalm 137:9. “Happy shall he be that takes and dashes the little ones against the stones.”

SD: Do you consider yourself a skeptic? What are your thoughts on the paranormal, homeopathy, cryptozoology, UFOs and the likes?

DB: Yes. All of those things are vulnerable to skeptical cricitism. (Depending on what exactly is being claimed.)

SD: Do you think religious belief predisposes one to paranormal belief?

DB: I think they are both symptoms of an uncritical mind.

SD: I prefer the term “freethinker” to any other label. What is your stand on the whole “bright” movement (although that seems to have died away!)?

DB: I don’t care what people call themselves. Bright is nice, though I don’t prefer it personally. “Freethinker” is a good umbrella term for atheists and agnostics.

SD: What is the one guest you’d love to have on the show, but haven’t been able to reach? Have you ever considered Bill Maher?

DB: Yes, we have tried Maher. We invited him to our convention, met his price, but he is too busy this year. Maybe next year!

SD: Can you tell us something about your book ” Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher became one of America’s leading Atheists”?

DB: It tells my story, my life as a preacher, why I changed.

Here are some blurbs and Contents:
– – – – – – – – – – –

BLURBS ———————
“Valuable in the human story are the reflections of intelligent and ethical people who listen to the voice of reason and who allow it to vanquish bigotry and superstition. This book is a classic example.”
Christopher Hitchens
author of God Is Not Great
– – – – – – – –
“The most eloquent witness of internal delusion that I know — a triumphantly smiling refugee from the zany, surreal world of American fundamentalist Protestantism — is Dan Barker.”
Richard Dawkins
author of The God Delusion
– – – – – – – –
Godless was a revelation to me. I don’t think anyone can match the (devastating!) clarity, intensity, and honesty which Dan Barker brings to the journey — faith to reason, childhood to growing up, fantasy to reality, intoxication to sobriety.”
Oliver Sacks
author of Musicophilia
– – – – – – – –
“In Godless, Barker recounts his journey from evangelical preacher to atheist activist, and along the way explains precisely why it is not only okay to be an atheist, it is something in which to be proud.”
Michael Shermer
publisher of Skeptic Magazine
– – – – – – – – –
Godless is a fascinating memoir and a handbook for debunking theism. But most of all, it is a moving testimonial to one man’s emotional and intellectual rigor in acclaiming critical thinking.”
Robert Sapolsky
author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
– – – – – – – – –
“Dan Barker’s esteemed reputation is richly deserved. I recommend getting three copies. You will need one as a source of evidence to which you will frequently refer. There sill be miles and miles of underlining as you mark the pages of special interest to you. You will need your second to lend to others. You will be enthusiastic about this book, and you will want to share its wisdom with family and friends. Others will likewise want to share it, and the book will never be returned to you. Finally, you will want a third copy to be in pristine condition on your bookshelf, since Dan Barker has created a volume which will only grow in its historical significance.”
David Mills
author of The Atheist Universe
– – – – – – – –
“This book profoundly affected me. It’s funny, and poignant,and most importantly, true! You msut read this book.”
Julia Sweeney
comedian, actress, Saturday Night Live alum, author of Letting God of God
– – – – – – – –
Foreword by Richard Dawkins
Part 1-  Rejecting God
1 The Call
2 The Fall
3 The Fallout
4 The New Call
Part 2- Why I Am An Atheist
5 Why I Am an Atheist
6 Refuting God
7 Omni-Aqueous
8 Cosmological Kalamity
9 Dear Theologian
Part 3- What’s Wrong With Christianity
10 The Bible and Morality
11 Murder, He Wrote
12 For Goodness Sake
13 Biblical Contradictions
14 Understanding Discrepancy
15 Did Jesus Exist?
16 Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
SECTION 4- Life is Good!
17 We Go to Washington
18 Adventures in Atheism
19 Life and Death Matters
– – – – – – – –
Description at FFRF’s website
After 19 years as an evangelical preacher, missionary, and Christian songwriter, Dan Barker ‘threw out the bathwater and discovered there is no baby there.’ Barker, who is now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (America’s largest organization of atheists and agnostics), describes the intellectual and psychological path he followed in moving from fundamentalism to freethought. The four sections in Godless–Rejecting God, Why I Am An Atheist, What’s Wrong With Christianity, and Life is Good!–include chapters on bible problems, the historicity of Jesus, morality, the Kalam Cosmological argument, the unbelievable resurrection, and much more. Barker relates the positive benefits from trusting in reason and human kindness instead of living in fear of false judgment and moral condemnation. Godless expands the story told in Dan’s 1992 book, Losing Faith in Faith–the two books overlap about 20%–but a lot has happened in 16 years, and Dan updates the story with four new chapters, including ‘The New Call’ (lessons from the debate circuit), ‘Adventures in Atheism,’ and ‘We Go To Washington’ (FFRF’s Supreme Court lawsuit, in which Dan was a plaintiff).
Forward by Richard Dawkins. Paperback, 376 pages (Ulysses Press, September 2008)
– – – – – – – – – – – – –

What is one thing about Dan Barker that most people don’t know (that you are willing to share!)?

I have synesthesia . . . numbers and letters in color. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage, at times.