Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Autism ruling fails to convince many vaccine-link believers

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 13, 2009

A special court’s Thursday ruling that no proven link exists between autism and certain early childhood vaccines seems to have done little to change the sometimes-passionate opinion fueling the debate.

Thousands of parents have sought compensation saying, early childhood vaccinations triggered their children's autism.

Thousands of parents have sought compensation saying, early childhood vaccinations triggered their children’s autism.

Amanda Guyton, a mother of a 6-year-old boy with autism, was “incredibly happy” with the decision and said it reaffirmed her belief that her son’s autism has nothing to do with vaccines.

“We’re ready for them to get on real research like educational strategies and help for kids,” she said. “An awful lot of money and effort and time were spent on vaccines when three or four studies said no, there isn’t a link.”

Meanwhile, John Best, the father of a 12-year-old boy with autism, said: “The whole thing stinks.”

Guyton and Best were not involved in the cases, but were following the news because of their interest in autism.

Three families — the Cedillos, the Hazlehursts and the Snyders — had sought damage awards from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for their children who have autism, a disorder that the parents contend was triggered by the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella combined with vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative.

The panel of “special masters” ruled that these petitioners had not presented sufficient evidence to prove that the childhood vaccines caused autism in their children.

A vocal segment of autism parents has contended that childhood vaccinations recommended by the government cause the disorder. Health agencies and the scientific community have disputed that notion. In defending its conclusion that no link exists, the Institute of Medicine cited five large studies that have failed to prove any connection between autism and thimerosal and 14 large studies finding no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.


Friday the Thirteenth

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 13, 2009

[Originally posted at: Center For Inquiry]

Friday the thirteenth makes three appearances in 2009 (in February, March, and November), no doubt each being an anxiety-filled day for friggatriskaidekaphobes. The label, with its origins in Nordic mythology and ancient Greek, identifies those with a fear of Friday the thirteenth. But where does this unnatural trepidation originate?

As any reputable scientist or mathematician will confirm, “luck” does not exist. Good fortune is randomly distributed and not dependent on the day. The superstitious, however, will cite a long history of misfortune associated with the number thirteen. As the story goes, in order to understand thirteen, one has to understand the history of twelve. The number twelve has traditionally represented completeness. There are twelve months of the year, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve signs of the zodiac and twelve apostles of Jesus.

Thirteen exists just one digit beyond twelve, and is symbolic of the first departure from completeness or the initial step towards evil. Thus Jesus was the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper (to cite a silly if oft-mentioned example) with tragic consequences.

[Read the rest of this post at: Center For Inquiry]

Why Evolution Is True: Creationists don’t deserve credence–especially from Forbes

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 13, 2009

[Originally posted by: Forbes]

Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. For the sake of his patients, one must hope that he understands the brain’s anatomy better than its provenance. In an article on this site, “A Neurosurgeon, Not A Darwinist,” he claims that the theory of evolution is bogus.

After studying Darwinism, Egnor apparently discovered that “claims of evolutionary biologists go wildly beyond the evidence.” Indeed, he says, the only way complex biological systems such as biochemical pathways could have arisen is via direct divine intervention. Egnor concludes that “Darwinism itself is a religious creed that masquerades as science”–“atheism’s creation myth.”

While Egnor’s misguided attack on evolution tells us nothing about the truth of Darwinism, it does prove one thing: Doctors aren’t necessarily scientists. Some, like Egnor, seem completely unable to evaluate evidence. Why does he so readily dismiss a theory that has been universally accepted by scientists for over a century?

Apparently because a rather old book, Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, first published in 1985, convinced him that evolutionary theory was underlain by very weak evidence. If Egnor had bothered to look just a little into Denton’s book and its current standing, he would have learned that the arguments in it have long since been firmly refuted by scientists. Indeed, they were recanted by Denton himself in a later book more than 10 years ago.

[Read the rest of this post by: Forbes]

Getting it Monsterously Wrong

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 13, 2009

[Originally posted at: The Good Atheist]

A few weeks ago, i wrote an article calling for Catholics to abandon the church in light of the recent news that Pope Benedict XVI was behind the cover up of child abuse scandals. Obviously, I didn’t actually think that any Catholics would hear me out. I mean, I am a filthy heathen after all. I’m finding it difficult, however, to stay silent for long about the general attitude some Catholics are having about the revelation that corruption runs at such high levels. Here is a journalist who claims that some things are best if they stay hidden (the article itself is called “How much truth is too much truth”).

Rob Dreher used to be a Catholic, but after studying all the facts, it was too difficult for him to go on. It’s why he states that he is intentionally ignoring any bad news that might come his way about his new church, The Orthodox Church in America. He had to; the church came under investigation in autumn of 2005 for embezzlement of church funds.

Rob believes that society needs powerful institutions in order to function properly, and that the most important thing is to not allow cynicism and mistrust erode people’s faith in those institutions. His call for “selective blindness” not only baffles me; I find it personally insulting to be told that human beings are simply unable to make decisions for themselves, favoring instead the guidance of corrupt church leaders.

[Read the rest of this post at: The Good Atheist]

The Art of Deception Revealed

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on February 13, 2009

The great fake psychics are great improvisationists. This means that a really good pseudo-psychic is able to produce phenomena under almost any circumstance. A quick mind and a good knowledge of the techniques and psychology of deception are all that is needed. Sometimes, only a quick mind is enough.

In one early test of telepathy, in 1882, pseudo-psychic G.A. Smith and his accomplice, Douglas Blackburn, were able to fool researchers of the Society for Psychical Research. In a later confession, Blackburn described how they had to think fast and frequently invent new ways of faking telepathy demonstrations.

Once, for example, Smith had been swathed in blankets to prevent him from signaling Blackburn. Smith had to guess the content of a drawing that Blackburn had secretly made on a cigarette paper. When Smith exclaimed, “I have it,” and projected his right hand from beneath the blanket, Blackburn was ready. He had transferred the cigarette paper to the tube of the brass projector on the pencil he was using, and when Smith asked for a pencil, he gave him his. Under the blanket, Smith had concealed a slate coated with luminous paint, which in the dense darkness gave sufficient light to show the figure on the cigarette paper. Thus he only needed to copy the drawing.

I was lucky enough to learn the art of improvising from one of the greatest “teachers” on the subject, the Amazing Randi. I had met him only a few hours before, nearly twenty years ago, and he was already teaching me how to conduct a perfect swindle!

A puzzle

Randi had come to Italy to help us promote CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and he was expected to be on a talk show in Rome to discuss his work and talk about the Committee. The host, an actress called Marisa Laurito, asked him what he was going to do in front of the cameras, and he said that he planned to duplicate a drawing made by her in secret. She agreed and asked what was needed.

Just some paper and some envelopes,” said Randi.

“Chiara,” said Marisa, addressing her secretary, “please, go and get those things from the office.”

Randi shot a glance at me and said “Massimo, maybe you should accompany her, to see if they are the right size.”

The right size? I did not know what the right size was; I had never seen him perform up close, and I could not imagine what was needed. But, as soon as I was going to open my mouth, Randi smiled and said, “Go, Massimo, please,” pushing me ahead.