Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Headmaster: No Vampires At Our School

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

The headmaster of one of the city’s most prestigious exam schools is dealing with an unusual rumor sweeping student classrooms.

There are no vampires at Boston Latin School, says headmaster Lynne Moone Teta.Seriously.Students at the school, which was founded in 1635, began e-mailing news organizations Wednesday night with the strange story of vampires roaming the halls.

“Supposedly 3 students believe that they are vampires and today when a student was bitten the police were informed,” wrote one student in a message to TheBostonChannel.com. “I heard that one girl was arrested another suspended.”

Police, however, denied reports that anyone at the school was bitten.

The rumors were strong enough to cause anxiety among the student body and disrupt classes on Thursday.”I seek your cooperation in redirecting your energy toward the learning objectives of the day. Please do not sensationalize or discuss these rumors,” Teta wrote in a notice obtained by the Boston Globe and sent to faculty, students and parents.

Teta said she was concerned that some students’ safety might be jeopardized because of the rumors.

“At no time was anyone’s safety in jeopardy,” she wrote.

In its long, rich history the school’s students have included revolutionary firebrands Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Hancock, but likely never vampires.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “WCVB BOSTON”

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How to waste limited research money

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

Let’s try experimenting on talking to tomatoes to make them grow more/faster. I kid you not (Hi Gov. Palin!)

Much-derided claims that talking to plants can help them grow are being tested in a serious study at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) gardens.

For 30 days tomato plants at Wisley in Surrey will “listen” to voices through MP3 headphones attached to their pots.

Growth will be measured before, during and after the experiment and compared to “control plants” left in silence.

Wisley gardener Colin Crosbie says there is “solid evidence” certain sounds encourage healthy growth.

“We’re taking it very seriously. A lot of people are thinking this is an April Fool but it’s quite serious,” he told the BBC.

“We want to get a great diversity of voices. There’s great variation in the human voice, and there might just be the perfect voice for talking to plants.

Well I think this is an April Fool too, just for the record. Because this is quite silly, and I can’t imagine a serious researcher actually going through with this. Although I must say, for the sake of the truth we must do research on ridiculous claims as well, but I am willing to go on the record with this prediction: Study will fail to show that “talking” has any effect on plants. True believers will immediately rationalize that you can’t use headphones, or the volume wasn’t quite high or low enough, or that it has to have “intention” behind the talk, or that it takes a certain kind of voice etc. etc.

And the silliness does not end here, for it appears they have high hopes for this experiment.

“We’re having fun too, but it could be very beneficial.”

“For the first time we will be able to advise people not only whether it’s worth talking to their plants but exactly how it should be done.

“We may even be able to standardise the practice by recording the perfect voice for those less confident in conversing with their plants.”

Toby Buckland, lead presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World, said: “A lot of thinking behind this is that if a gardener is relaxed, it helps the plants grow better.

“Plants do pick up on your stress, that’s something that’s well known, and if you’re not confident, it’s as if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.

“As soon as you’re relaxed, it comes together. It’s well worth looking into and I’d be interested to see the results.”

You know I still think is is an April’s Fool joke, but then I saw something that kinda makes me reconsider. The article has a photo of Prince Charles. They may be serious about this after all!

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Top Ten Tips For Creating Your Own New Alternative Medicine

Posted in The Quackometer by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

The economic downturn may mean that you are thinking of retraining as an alternative healer. You might be tempted to invest your redundancy money or savings in training courses and equipment. Think again. It may be far cheaper and much more lucrative to invent your own brand new form of quackery. Most forms of alternative medicine are at most only a few decades old or have only become popular recently. If others can become famous and wealthy by doing this, why can’t you?

Here is the Quackometer’s Guide to inventing a new branch of alternative medicine in ten easy to digest and holistic tips:

1. Minimise specific effects

Right. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Your newly designed alternative medicine is very unlikely to actually work. Progress in medicine does not happen with people just making stuff up, but instead relies on remarkable insight, careful analysis, detailed research and long and expensive clinical trials, with lots of false starts and wrong turns before progress is made. You will not have the time, inclination, money or intellect for this.

So, with little chance of being able to offer real benefit to your clients, the best you can do is to ensure you do as little as harm as possible. To this end, make sure your new quackery is inert, neutral and inconsequential in action. Take your inspiration from existing and successful alternative medicine. Homeopathy is just plain sugar pills. Acupuncture is just little pin pricks. Reiki is just hand waving. Bach Flower Remedies is just a few drops of brandy. Reflexology is just a foot massage. Even chiropractic is just a vigorous body rub.

If you make the mistake of delivering real effects, then you may well be found out and your new business will come to sticky end. That is why we do not see old sorts of quackery anymore such as blood letting and trepanning.

2. Maximise placebo effects

Make your treatment theatrical. Make your customer feel as if they have been listened to, been taken seriously, and then had lots of effort made on them to create a cure. This will ensure any available placebo effect is maximised. People will feel better about themselves if you make the effort. We know that the more dramatic the intervention, the greater any placebo effect will be.

So, spend at least an hour with your customer, asking lots of detailed questions, just like a homeopath. Use arcane terms and be thoroughly paternalistic, just like an old-fashioned doctor. Wear a white coat and have a brass plaque outside your spick and span clinic – just like a chiropractor. Get an impressive Harley Street address. Use equipment with dials and flashing lights. Take x-rays. Put certificates on your wall and, if you are doing well, have attractive receptionists. Give the impression you are creating your cure just for this patient. They are special. Make them feel so.

3. Choose what you want to cure carefully

The bread and butter illnesses for alternative medicine are the self-limiting (hayfever, flu, morning sickness) and the chronic but variable and cyclical (bad backs, arthritis, mild depression). The number one reason for people believing in alternative medicine is that it ‘works for them’. What this means is that their particular complaint just happened to improve sometime after rubbing whatever magic beans they had chosen.

Chronic illnesses are ideal – they represent repeat business. Bad backs are a classic. People will come to you when their backs are really playing up. Cast your spells, crack their bones and stick a pin in them and their pain will become less noticable. It will have gone away anyway. But now you have a loyal and evangelical customer. Correlation is causation to your customer. “Regression to the mean” is your friend. Understand it and use it.

Have excuses ready if things are not quite getting better yet – or even if things are getting worse. Homeopaths expect to see ‘aggravations’, that is, things getting worse before they get better. To them, it is more proof that the sugar pills are ‘working’. Have a story ready for every outcome, good or bad. Never admit you have failed.

Avoid illnesses with obvious end points, like death. Getting payment may be the least of your problems. If you want to be heroic and tackle illnesses like AIDS and cancer, best do it offshore. Find a country with fewer regulations, much lower standards of healthcare and more vulnerable people. Homeopaths tend to go to Africa to treat AIDS or prevent malaria. They might be imprisoned here. Find a nice spot in Spain for treating cancer. Or Mexico, if you are from the US.

Invent a ‘wellness’ programme. Tell people you can help them even if they are feeling fine. It’s preventative, you see. Chiropractors are masters at  roping people into prolonged, expensive and unnecessary treatment programmes, all in the name of ‘wellness’. Nutritionists ensure people are popping highly ‘personalised’ lists of vitamin and mineral pills and creating a continuous and easy revenue stream for you.

Perhaps the most lucrative path is to invent illnesses. Create your own problems, diagnostic techniques and cures and you can provide an end-to-end service of imaginary illnesses and cures. The Detox industry has thrived on this. Food intolerances and allergies have made shed loads for vitamin pill sellers. Electrosensitives have been sold millions of pounds worth of useless EMF trinkets and neutralising boxes.  People love their daily aches and pains, tiredness and mood swings to have a name and to have something to blame. You can provide a wonderful service by filling in the gaps for them.

4. Embrace the language of quackery

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE QUACKOMETER”

Why Are Americans Resistant to Science?

Posted in The Doctor Weighs In by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

This question often puzzled me. I can understand the need for a God, as an embodiment of people’s moral ideals. So the fact that our society, which views itself as based on moral principles, is fertile ground for the belief in an über-moral deity. The Brits, on the other hand, have a long history of scandalous, sometimes murderous, behaviors of their political leaders and royals. They are well-versed in their Shakespeare and, like him are cynical about assertions of moral superiority of authority figures. Is there any wonder why only a small minority of the British go to church? This could also be the reason why the most ferocious critics of religion are British. See, for instance Richard Dawkins “the God Delusion”, in which he argues that God is, well, a delusion, religion is a virus, and the U.S. has slipped back to the dark ages. If this sounds extreme, try “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens.

Why should a belief in a deity clash with acceptance of science? In fact, Dr. Francis Collins, a physician and scientist par excellence, is the director of the Human Genome Project. He is also deeply religious.

But consider this little nugget: In a 2005 Pew Trust poll, 42% of respondents said that they believed that humans and other animals have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, a view that denies the very existence of evolution. And in a 2008 Republican presidential debate, none of the five, or was it six, candidates raised their hands when asked whether they believed in evolution. Michelangelo%20story.jpg

This is not the only domain where people reject science: Many believe in the efficacy of unproven medical interventions; the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences; the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies; and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination.

It all begins in childhood.

In a review titled “Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science”, two Yale professors of psychology, Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnik Weisberg, posit that the winter of our ignorance began in childhood. They review evidence from developmental psychology suggesting that some resistance to scientific ideas is a human universal. This resistance stems from two general facts about children, one having to do with what they know and the other having to do with how they learn.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN”

If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly Smrat

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

Chances are you’ve seen this in your inbox:

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Chances are you also understand it. It purports that the order of the letters inside a given word doesn’t matter, as long as the first and last letters of each word are in the right place.

You can read the words because the human mind reads words as a whole, and not letter-by-letter.

Well, that’s what it says. But while it’s entertaining and ego-boosting (that is, if you can read it), it ain’t exactly so.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FOXNEWS”