Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on January 20, 2009

To the 95% of the world who embrace some kinds of pseudoscience in place of actual science, this might seem like an impressive statement. To the 5% of us that know better, this is about as impressive as being the world’s prettiest pile of horse manure.

The Rogues Gallery

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France looks into “magic cheese” case in South America

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 20, 2009

PARIS (Reuters) – France is investigating what it says is a scam mounted by a French woman who sold thousands of Chileans kits to make “magic cheese” for French beauty products, an official said on Tuesday.

Gilberte Van Erpe, who was arrested and placed under investigation in France last year, is suspected of setting up a vast pyramid scheme, telling buyers the fermented mass produced by the kits could be sold to cosmetics companies in France.

A French investigator, examining magistrate Sylvie Gagnard, will fly to Chile to register the lawsuits of thousands of people who claim they were victimized, said Isabelle Montagne, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office.

“We call it the ‘case of the magic cheese’,” Montagne said.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “REUTERS”

What is the Problem of the Anti-vaccination Lunatics?

Posted in Uncategorized by Skepdude on January 20, 2009

Brent council (among many other councils in England) had to start an awareness campaign to motivate parents to start vaccinating their children again! Thanks to some idiots who *still* promote the idea that vaccines cause autism (despite the mountains of evidence collected in recent years), measles have been on the rise again and people are now facing the consequences.

The anti-vaccination crowd is constantly moving the goalposts in order to cling to their favorite idea that somehow vaccines cause autism and other neurological disorders. In the beginning it was the mercury in vaccines (in the form of the preservative thimerosal). Then, when it became evident that this was not the case (partly because of the scientific studies showing not even a correlation, secondly because thimerosal had been removed from most vaccines yet autism still continued to rise), they switched to aluminium; the too many toxins in vaccines; and the overwhelming number of vaccines that overloads the “underdeveloped” immune system of infants. Of course they always fail to provide evidence for aluminium and metal-poisoning from vaccines; they never mention which toxins and why would they affect the immune system in such minute quantities; and they just conveniently bypass the studies showing the huge capacity of the “underdeveloped” immune system to tolerate and fight millions of pathogens of all kinds.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “JOURNEY THROUG A BURNING MIND”

Criminal brother killed sister for wearing make-up and mini-skirts

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 20, 2009

An attractive 16-year-old Muslim teenager was stabbed to death 23 times by her elder brother “to protect the family’s honour” after he tricked her in to meeting him at a McDonald’s burger bar car park.

Dark haired Morsal Obeidi was the daughter of an Afghan jet fighter pilot who fled the country after the Taleban came to power.

Together with his wife and five children the father settled in Hamburg, Germany in 1994 where Morsal grew up.

But although she had no problems adjusting to life in a European city her brother Ahmad (24) continually got in to trouble with police.

By the time he had tricked her in to meeting him, Ahmad had 30 convictions for assault and burglary. These also included a conviction for attacking a man with a knife after a drunken night out.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH.

VIP Interview – Rebecca “The Skepchick” Watson

Posted in VIP Interview by Skepdude on January 20, 2009

rebecca1

On this edition of the “VIP Interview” series I am very happy to have the original Skepchick, of Skepchick.org and Skeptics Guide to the Universe fame, Rebecca Watson. She was kind enough to take some time of her busy schedule to answer a few question for Skepfeeds. She thus joins a distinguished group of VIP Interviewees which includes The Amazing James Randi, Dan Barker and Brian Dunning. Furthermore she is the first female VIP to interview for Skepfeeds and I am quite happy to have her hold this position.

Whithout further ado, here is the complete interview. Enjoy!

Define the word “skeptic” in your own words.

A skeptic is someone who practices skepticism. The focus should always be on the action, not the label we apply to people. Otherwise, you get into the whole “no true skeptic” problem, in which we argue endlessly about whether or not someone who believes in X can still be called a skeptic, where X=religion, usually.

In your opinion, is formal scientific education necessary to be a good skeptic, or is skepticism available to anyone willing to put the time and effort into it?

The only scientific education someone needs to practice skepticism is understanding the scientific method and how it applies to the every day world.

Skepticism is just as much at risk of turning into a dogma as religion already is. How do we protect ourselves from becoming dogmatic with our skepticism?

By definition skepticism will never be a dogma, since “dogma” is generally understood to be a doctrine that can’t be questioned. The whole point of skepticism is to question, and to always maintain a healthy curiosity. I doubt anyone will ever fly a plane into a building in the name of skepticism.

How do we apply skepticism consistently, so that we don’t act like Bill Maher who is skeptical of religion but wholeheartedly embraces all kinds of woo?

It’s just a matter of not having any sacred cows, and always being open to the possibility that you are wrong. Once you forget that you’re fallible, you lose the ability to be skeptical.

Do you think a skeptical world view has any bearing upon one’s ethics?

In a way, I suppose it can, but I don’t have a deep answer to this. It’s more like, I have a set of ethics, and my worldview figures into that, mostly in the way that my skepticism over the existence of an afterlife leads me to make the most of my time, and encourages me to have more compassion for other people.

Do you agree with the following statement: “Fear is the number one reason why people believe in pseudoscience, the paranormal and supernatural”? Why?

I suppose that could be justified, but it’s not something I’d say. I think there are a myriad of reasons why people believe stupid things, mostly because of simple ignorance. If someone is raised to believe something, and is never taught to question, it’s no wonder that they grow up to believe anything they’re told. That said, you could say that fear is the reason why people want to believe in life after death, or why dying patients seek alternative treatments.

Recent studies have pointed out that when people perceive not having control, they tend to see patterns where none exist. Do you think this has any implications for skepticism?

Oh, definitely. That research has always fascinated me, because I have a hypothesis that women tend to believe more wacky things because of a few millennia of not having control over their own lives. To draw that to its logical conclusion, we might reduce superstitious belief by promoting equality and giving people control.

In your opinion, what is the worst thing a skeptic can do to hurt the skeptical movement?

Make a habit of attacking other skeptics, I suppose. Criticism should always be allowed, but often I see silly in-fighting over whether or not one way is the “right way” to reach believers. There is no one right way, and the sooner people recognize that, the better.

Do you think pseudo-skepticism exists? If yes, how do we spot it?

Sure, there are plenty of people co-opting the word “skeptic,” like Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. It should be fairly obvious in most cases, when honest skepticism turns into paranoid ravings. When people continue to argue for a conclusion that the facts don’t support, that’s when skepticism has left the building.

Where do you see the SGU in 3-5 years? What would you like to see happen with it?

I’d love for SGU to still be going five years from now. Ideally, the show would be supported financially by someone and the hosts handsomely paid. I’m interested to see where podcasts go in general, whether they can find a way to survive and whether or not they’ll be able to work hand-in-hand with traditional radio.

What is the one guest you’d love to have on the podcasts, but haven’t been able to reach?

Ricky Gervais. I adore him, and tried half-heartedly to get him on last year. I think I’ll push that a bit more this year.

Hypothetically speaking, if one area of woo were to be verified by the evidence at some point in the future, which said area of woo would you be most glad to see come true and why?

Global Orgasm Day, in which adherents believe that everyone having an orgasm at the same time will improve world peace. That, or The Secret. If we could really affect the universe just by wishing hard enough, we’ve got a cure for cancer, for poverty, for everything.

Everything else being equal, do you think a skeptic makes a better candidate for positions of great responsibility, such as President of the United States?

Yes, definitely. The key being “everything else being equal,” since being skeptical doesn’t automatically make you qualified. That said, we need fewer fundamentalists with their fingers on big red buttons.

What is your stance on religion and God? Do you consider yourself an atheist?

Yes, I’m an atheist, or an agnostic if you prefer. There’s pretty much zero chance that any gods exist as posited by religions.

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?

I do agree with Dawkins. Religion, overall, is a serious roadblock on our species’ journey. Religions claim to have all the answers, but every day we find another answer they got wrong. They stop discussion at exactly the point when the discussion becomes most interesting.

Do you think religious belief predisposes one to paranormal belief? The other way around?

Not necessarily, no. They’re the same thing – belief in, for instance, a virgin giving birth to a god is a paranormal belief. The only reason why most people consider the two to be separate is because we, as a society, are more accepting of ridiculous beliefs labeled as “religion.”

I prefer the term “freethinker” to any other label, including skeptic and/or atheist. What is your position?

I find that it’s a wash. There will never be one label that satisfies everyone, so I generally don’t worry about it. I refer to myself by whatever label I think will be best understood by the audience I’m trying to reach.

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?

I think that future generations should pay attention to the work done by previous generations in that regard. So, for instance, in 200 years someone may wonder about homeopathy – they don’t have to perform vast experiments, but they can easily read up on all the experiments that have proven it wrong centuries ago. On an individual level, there are some claims that I will dismiss without effort. Someone smart once said “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence,” or something like that.

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

Christianity. I was really into it growing up, and once I left home for college, it suddenly struck me how absurd the whole deal is.

You have expressed a desire to publish a book at some point in your life. What kind of book do you think you will publish first?

Probably a skeptical reader in the tradition of Randi and Martin Gardner. I like the idea of covering a lot of subjects in one, accessible volume.

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

I don’t have a television, but I do have dozens and dozens of DVDs. I just got Flight of the Conchords Season 1, and I watch it over and over again because I’m in love with Jemaine.

What are some of your favorite skeptical blogs?

Besides Skepchick? I use Google Reader to help organize tons of blogs, but my faves are probably Pandagon, Feministing, Bad Astronomy, Pharyngula, Bad Science, Science after Sunclipse, Respectful Insolence, and of course Neurologica.

What is your favorite pastime, besides your passion for skepticism and rationality?

I have a lot of pastimes, actually. I just bought an 88-key weighted keyboard so I can teach myself to play the piano. I also play the guitar, juggle, and play flag football.