Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The 10,000/25 Quest

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

I have a simple, modest goal. By 12/31/08 I am trying to get 10,000 hits (as measured by the counter on the top left hand side) and 25 subscribers. Currently my hit counter is at 6,464 and I have 7 subscribed readers. If you have your own blog please link to Skepfeed on your blogroll, and if you feel especially generous you can also give Skepfeeds a little plug. Thank you and keep reading and writing good skeptical blogs. Who knows, your entry may be featured in Skepfeeds. With soon to be 10,000 hits and 25 regular subscribers, imagine what that could do for your readership numbers.

PSSST: I am the one that made Pharyngula so famous, did you know? LOL!

Rain man? Or: Does rainfall cause autism?

Posted in Uncategorized by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

So it came as no surprise that a number of my readers have e-mailed me about a story about a rather odd little study about autism. Actually, it was a bit of a surprise when the first e-mail arrived, mainly because I hadn’t known that this study was in the pipeline or that it had been published, but soon I became aware that David Kirby was using it as “exoneration” and my usual sources started to weigh in. To some extent I was blindsided on this one, but I quick. So what is this story that’s buried my e-mail in box under, oh, around a dozen e-mails or so? (Hey, this isn’t Pharyngula, you know. I don’t get hundreds of e-mails about anything.)

There were stories in USA Today and MSNBC about a study that concluded that rain causes autism.

OK, that’s not really what the study claims to have found. In fact, the authors were pretty conservative about drawing inferences. However, it did claim to find a correlation between precipitation rates and autism prevalence on the Pacific Coast. The study, published in the November issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine by investigators whose lead author is Dr. Michael Waldman of Cornell University and with collaborations with investigators at Purdue University, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Paul Offit must be having kiniptions over this) and entitled Autism Prevalence and Precipitation Rates in California, Oregon, and Washington Counties. This study purports to provide evidence that autism prevalence is associated with precipitation. It seems to show just such a correlation, but there are a number of reasons to be very skeptical of the conclusions being drawn from this study, not the least of which are the uses to which mercury militia apologist puts it.


Rainman – Link Between Precipitation and Autism

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows a positive correlation between counties in California, Oregon, and Washington with greater precipitation and a higher incidence of autism. While the results of this study are interesting, it needs to be put into proper context. Also of note, the authors had presented early results from this data previously.

Correlation is not Causation

This type of study is a correlational study, which means it asks whether or not there is a statistical correlation between two variables – in this case the rate of autism and the amount of precipitation.  This type of data is extremely useful to medical science, but it has known limitations, which can be summarized by the statement that correlation is not causation.

I often see this principle used to dismiss correlation data entirely, but that is not the correct approach. Correlation, rather, needs to be considered in the proper context. When A correlates with B there are various possible interpretations: the correlation is a statistical fluke (coincidence); A causes B, B causes A, or both A and B correlate with another variable C, and there can be a variety of causal relationships among the three (or more) variables which would cause A to track with B.

Therefore, finding a correlation is a way to generate several hypotheses which can then be tested by further observations or research. That, in my opinion, is the best way to view correlational data – as a beginning step to help generate hypothesis. But they should not be used to reach firm conclusions.

It should also be noted that further correlations can be used to test various causal theories, and if multiple correlations all triangulate to a single causal hypothesis that can lead to a fairly confident conclusion – even in the absence of other evidence. For example, smoking correlates with certain types of lung cancer. There are no prospective studies in humans to establish that smoking causes lung cancer, but we can be confident that it does because the correlation holds up no matter how you choose to look at it. If smoking causes cancer (as opposed to other causal hypotheses stemming from the correlation) then we predict that increased duration of smoking increases risk of lung cancer, that stopping smoking decreases risk, that smoking unfiltered is more risky than filtered, etc. Each of the predictions turns out to be true, supporting the smoking causes lung cancer hypothesis.


California Proposition #8

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

Unfortunately for human rights, it looks like Proposition #8 will pass. With 95% of precincts reporting both Proposition #8 & Proposition #4 have a  52% to 48% lead (Passing is bad). You can check the updated results yourself at the CNN Election Center.

For your infor here are the short summaries of these propositions as reported at the CNN website.

Proposition #8This measure would amend the state constitution to specify that only marriages between one man and one woman would be recognized as valid in the state. If passed, the measure would trump a May 2008 ruling by the California Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.
Proposition #4This measure would amend the state constitution to require physicians to notify the parents or legal guardian of a pregnant minor at least 48 hours before performing an abortion involving that minor. The measure does not require that parent or guardian’s actual consent in order to perform the abortion. Exceptions are provided in the cases of medical emergencies. Also, an adult family may be notified instead if the minor fears abuse from the parent or guardian. Parents may also waive the notification requiremen

Can someone clarify something for me though? Doesn’t a constitutional amendmente require 2/3rds of the votes to pass? Or does that apply to the US constitution only. I don’t know much about that.

Hindu Buddha Allah, bigger than God

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on November 5, 2008


God’s own reputation was at stake in yesterday’s presidential election. That’s not my opinion, obviously. It was the opinion of Arnold Conrad, the former pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church in Davenport, who took it upon himself at a McCain rally a few weeks ago, to warn God of the implications of an Obama win:

There are millions of people around this world praying to their god—whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah—that [John McCain’s] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their God is bigger than you, if that happens,

OK, well ignoring for now that Allah is just another name for the God that the Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship, and that Hindu and Buddha are not gods anyway, what can we conclude from last night’s Obama victory? Presumably that the Christian god is smaller than that of the other religions. According to pastor Conrad, anyway. And he should know, being a pastor and all.

Alternatively, prayer has no effect on anything. Perhaps any Christians reading this can tell us which.

I guess we should all be grateful Conrad didn’t call on any really powerful gods. For example Thor, who would have beaten them all with his big Smashum hammer!  Phew – close call!


“Death with dignity” act passes

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

Washington will become the second state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill patients seeking to hasten their deaths.

Initiative 1000 — referred to by supporters as a “death-with-dignity” act and by opponents as an “assisted-suicide” measure — was leading in most counties across the state Tuesday.

“I’m elated,” said former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who filed the initiative and was one of its biggest campaign contributors. Gardner is battling Parkinson’s disease, though Parkinson’s is not considered a terminal disease that would qualify under the initiative.

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a national right-to-die organization based in Denver that has provided financial backing for I-1000, said her group hopes to pass similar initiatives in other states in the future, though it hasn’t selected any specific states yet.

“We think the citizens of all 50 states deserve death with dignity,” she said.


Vaccines: Separating fact from fiction

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

Yet underneath all the debate and impossibly good intentions (after all, everyone hopes to be doing the best for their child no matter how or whether they immunize), there are some solid facts about the benefits of shots that cannot be ignored. “We live thirty years longer now than we did a century ago, thanks to purified water — and vaccines,” says Paul Offit, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

But as soon as compliance wanes, the protection we have against many devastating, and sometimes fatal, diseases wanes right along with it. This year’s measles outbreak — the biggest in nearly a decade — may be the first warning shot, says Dr. Offit. Nearly all of the 131 people affected so far, many of them children, were purposely not vaccinated against the disease, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We have to take this seriously,” says Anne Schuchat, M.D., director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “I do not want to see the day where thousands of kids get this disease and die when we have the tools to prevent it.” Read about the vaccines your child is getting

So what’s a worried mom to do? Between the scary claims about shots themselves and the scary news about what can happen without them, you might feel like you need a Ph.D. in immunology, toxicology, and biostatistics to make sense of it all. To help, has highlighted four of the concerns heard regularly, and dug through the science to get the facts. The bottom line: No medical intervention is 100 percent risk-free, and no one but you can choose what’s right for your child. Our job is to help that decision come a little easier, so here goes:


Skepdude says-excellent article. I started reading it with a little bit of apprehension as I was affraid it was going to turn into one of those “listen to your mommy instinct” pieces. I am happy to announce it isn’t. Very nice little primer on vaccines and what worries most parents, and cool little debunking of the major lies about vaccines.


Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 5, 2008


Now can someone tell me how is this any different from the virgin Mary/ Jesus christ water stains? Why does the latter deserve any more respect and adulation than this Nebula? Well, it doesn’t.  That’s the point!