Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Unsolved Serial Killings Haunt NM; Where are the Psychics?

Posted in Center for inquiry by Skepdude on April 22, 2009

My home town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is making national news again, and it’s not the kind of press Mayor Chavez wants. It seems that there may be a dozen or more victims of a serial killer whose bodies were buried in a vacant lot on the West Mesa, dating back at least several years.

As writer Sarah Netter noted in the Feb. 17 Albuquerque Journal, “The bodies were found by chance, starting with one bone sticking out of the dirt…The bones were believed to have been unearthed by excavation work in the area.” At last count, the remains of eleven people have been found at what Police Chief Ray Shultz describes as one of the largest crime scenes in New Mexico.

It’s a horrifying story that brings up a curious issue. There are hundreds of psychic detectives across the country who claim to locate missing persons and solve crimes for police. I’d guess that there are dozens of psychics in Albuquerque who, if they have the abilities they claim, could do the same. Yet Albuquerque has about 25 open cases of missing adults, and hundreds of unsolved homicides dating back decades.

It’s a fair question to ask: Why haven’t any psychics helped locate missing persons, bring their killers to justice, or save lives by stopping serial killers before they could kill again? Why are police forensic teams and the Office of the Medical Investigator spending weeks identifying bodies on the West Mesa when gifted psychics could presumably do it in hours? Why are the remains of these victims being discovered only nowby accidentinstead of years ago by psychic-led search teams?

Among New Mexico’s high-profile missing persons cases:

* Albuquerque native Nick Garza disappeared after a party at Vermont’s Middlebury College, where he was a student, on February 5, 2008. For months, his family and police searched in vain; at least one psychic claimed to communicate with Garza’s spirit, but could not help locate him. Garza’s body was finally found by police and cadaver dogs in a creek near the college on May 27, 2008.


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Headline writers do it again-Acupuncture cuts dry mouth in cancer patients

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2009

Actually, I cannot fault the journalists too much on this one. While their headline is highly misleading, given that the pilot study was done on 19 subjects, with no blinding or placebo control or anything of the sort, the fault rests more on the study’s authors, one of which apparently is a certain Mark S. Chambers, a professor in the dental oncology department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who was the Senior Author. According to these guys:

CONCLUSIONS: Acupuncture was effective for radiation-induced xerostomia in this small pilot study. Further research is needed.

I call bullshit. Why a professor in the dental oncology department of the University of Texas would make this sort of conclusion, based on such a poorly designed study, baffles me. You’d expect him to be much more careful with his wording and load his conclusion with words like “it appears”, “it suggests”, but no, not Marky. He is positively sure that in “this small study” acupuncture was effective. Not even the slightest hesitation that maybe the result was an artifact of the way he ran the study, not even the slightest worry that his study would score a big fat 0 on a simple Jadad Scale. Nope, in his study acupuncture worked and he’ll tell the world goddamit.

Another thing that baffles me is that there would be an actual press release about this. A press release about a 19 patient, not randomized, not controlled, unblinded study. Wow, here is a real scientists doing exactly what we acuse the quacks of doing, highly sensationalized claims about some highly implausible CAM modality based on a highly badly designed study. I guess this is how you find scientists that will sign Intelligent Design petitions and stuff right?

A Champion Grubby Speaks Out

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on April 22, 2009

I hardly know where to start… First, see This account is just so packed with mis-statements, outright lies, and scientific howlers, it would take me all day to itemize them – but it can still do a lot of harm just because the ignorant reporter – Peter Fotis Kapnistos – has published the material. I suggest he may now want to return to his former calling in fashion and advertising photography, rather than continue to pose as a “journalist.”

To quote him, he says, first:

…it was alleged that Uri Geller was caught cheating in an Israeli TV documentary that has lately also circulated on YouTube.

No, it was proven that Geller was doing one of the only five tricks he knows, and second, that was not any “TV documentary,” at all.  It was simply a TV entertainment show. Kapnistos continues:

The accusation was that a slow motion shot revealed him producing a small magnet from behind his ear or out of his hair to influence a compass needle.

Well, anyone who might have said that, would not have been a magician, I’ll tell you that. In any case, I’ve never seen such a statement, except from Geller himself – because he knows that it’s a ridiculous scenario, as I’ll show you up ahead, one that can’t be supported. No “slow motion” was required to show that Geller blatantly placed a thumb-tip – a very common and often-used magician’s prop – onto his thumb, which then seemed somehow magnetic, because it caused the very sensitive marine compass to turn as soon as it was brought near the instrument. Kapnistos, again:

…we see a wide overall view of the controversial Israeli TV video scene where Uri Geller’s critics accuse him one way or another of allegedly plucking a slightly thick “hidden magnet” from the edge of his hairline.

No, that’s not true. The magicians – particularly the Israeli magicians, who are seriously embarrassed by this crude trick from their countryman – never made any such silly statement. That’s like saying that a magician produced a rabbit from a hat by having it shot there from a concealed offstage cannon. But this “journalist” really reveals his ignorance by this next statement:

…the video footage makes it readily understood that Uri could not possibly have placed pointlessly thick thumb magnets on both of his hands.

“Both his hands”? Suddenly we have two “thick thumb magnets” being wielded by the magician? Believe me, one is more than sufficient, folks, as I’ll show you next week. But just how “thick” – or massive – does a magnet have to be to dramatically affect a marine compass, one of the size that Geller used on the TV show? Just 1/16″ thick by 3/16″ diameter – and you can easily get a number of those tiny discs into any thumb-tip! Does Mr. Kapnistos really think a responsible journalist would describe such a miniscule object as, “thick”? The fact is, that we magicians are astonished that Geller actually chose to use a plastic thumb-tip, rather than just taping a tiny disc to his finger!

As for the Swedish person Kapnistos says has so carefully researched magnets and their effects on compasses, he’s an incompetent, too. His ignorance of the subject is apparent. One statement by Kapnistos says that

…a magnet small enough to hide in someone’s hairline can’t possibly make a compass needle shift as much as it does in the Uri Geller video.

Au contraire, both of you “experts”! A tiny neodymium magnet contained in a plugged-on thumb tip sure can!


Edgar Mitchell is at it again. Yawn.

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on April 22, 2009

A lot of folks have been asking me if I heard that Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has been talking about UFOs again, and CNN felt the need to carry the story.

The thing is, this isn’t a story. Mitchell isn’t saying anything new, and it’s certainly not surprising that CNN would write this fluff piece.

I’ve written about this before: Mitchell is an Apollo hero, but that doesn’t give him any authority at all when it comes to flying saucers. And, of course, he still has no real evidence at all for his claims. It’s a rehash of the same tired old stories, and there aren’t even blurry photos for this one.


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on April 22, 2009

Among professional organizations that defend the teaching of evolution, perhaps the biggest offender in endorsing the harmony of science and faith is The National Center for Science Education.  Although one of their officers told me that their official position on faith was only that “we will not criticize religions,” a perusal of their website shows that this is untrue.  Not only does the NCSE not criticize religion, but it cuddles up to it, kisses it, and tells it that everything will be all right.

Why Evolution is True