Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The Skeptologists want to hear from you!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 19, 2009

It is the greates show not to have graced your TV set…yet! Phil Plait, Steve Novella, Michael Shermer, Brian Dunning and the whole gang from the Skepticblog, are trying really hard to get it to your TV. But they need your help, you have to write and tell them why you are so thrilled about The Skeptologists. They need as many writen testimonials as possible to use as leverage whne talking to TV companies. So go, go, go, go…GO now! In their own words:

It’s a daunting task to track down and collect all the opinions of TV viewers. We have what we know is a hit series, but in order to make it happen, we need to hear from the most powerful people affecting our success: You! You, our fantastic TV viewer. What do you think about this show concept?  Have you heard of any of these talented stars?  What network would you like to watch this on?  Would you support the advertisers that supported The Skeptologists?  Tell us here, place your comments below, we are watching and so are the networks!


Scientists hail stunning fossil

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 19, 2009


The beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old, lemur-like creature have been unveiled in the US.

The preservation is so good, it is possible to see the outline of its fur and even traces of its last meal.

The fossil, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a “missing link” between today’s higher primates – monkeys, apes and humans – and more distant relatives.

But some independent experts, awaiting an opportunity to see the new fossil, are sceptical of the claim.

And they have been critical of the hype surrounding the presentation of Ida.

The fossil was launched amid great fanfare at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, by the city’s mayor.

Although details of the fossil have only just been published in a scientific journal – PLoS One – there is already a TV documentary and book tie-in.

Ida was discovered in the 1980s in a fossil treasure-trove called Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany. For much of the intervening period, it has been in a private collection.

The investigation of the fossil’s significance was led by Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.

He said the fossil creature was “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor” and described the discovery as “a dream come true”.

The female animal lived during an epoch in Earth history known as the Eocene, which was crucial for the development of early primates – and at first glance, Ida resembles a lemur.

But the creature lacks primitive features such as a so-called “toothcomb”, a specialised feature in which the lower incisor and canine teeth are elongated, crowded together and projecting forward. She also lacks a special claw used for grooming.

The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Dr Jens Franzen, an expert on the Messel Pit and a member of the team, described Ida as “like the Eighth Wonder of the World”, because of the extraordinary completeness of the skeleton.

It was information “palaeontologists can normally only dream of”, he said.

In addition, Ida bears “a close resemblance to ourselves” he said, with nails instead of claws, a grasping hand and an opposable thumb – like humans and some other primates. But he said some aspects of the teeth indicate she is not a direct ancestor – more of an “aunt” than a “grandmother”.


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Extraterrestrial Space Ships to Rescue us out of the Energy Crisis?

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 19, 2009


To most of us, UFO’s solving our energy problem will sound, at best, like wishful thinking, and most likely will be dismissed as insane.

A solution to our energy problems from out of this world, or is it just insane?

A solution to our energy problems from out of this world, or is it just insane?

But if energy lobbyist Stephen Bassett has his way, President Barack Obama will release information that the government is secretly hiding on “extraterrestrial vehicles” –according to Mr. Bassett’s claims– which can be used to solve the nation’s energy problem and limit climate change in one fell swoop.

The power source, he said, chronicled in a report Greenwire did on the subject, behind a flying saucer the weight of a tractor-trailer which hurtles through galaxies at 20,000 miles per hour is astronomical.

“What is the energy system operating that craft?” Bassett said. “They’re not burning kerosene. It eliminates oil. It eliminates coal. If it’s as good as we think it is, it transforms everything.”

Mr. Bassett is the founder of the Paradigm Research Group (PRG), which launched the “Million Fax on Washington” campaign, calling for the President to release all files, call for congressional hearings, and make available extraterrestrial (ET) derived technologies to the public domain.

Bassett claims that the government has flying saucers in its possession.

He is a firm believer in the cause, and is even working free of charge to lobby on behalf of the Exopolitics Institute, an educational organization which describes itself as “dedicated to studying the key actors, institutions and political processes associated with extraterrestrial life.”


How to misuse the word “skeptic”

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 19, 2009

Compliments of Wave 3 and their article on Latifa Meena, the pet psychic! You got it, she talks to pets. I wonder if she sees dead pets as well??? So how do they abuse the word “skeptic”? Like this ( emphasis added ):

Elizabeth Hench, a skeptic by nature, believes Latifa has a gift. “I am in medicine,” Elizabeth said. “I am a scientist. There is absolutely nothing … that I can tell you that is proof.”

She says Latifa knows things about her dogs that nobody else could – and talking to a psychic just for pets helps them feel better. “You can look into their eyes and know that they want to tell you something,” Elizabeth said. “There is a message they are trying to get to you. Latifa hears it a whole lot stronger than I do.”

Ah the pain! And the funny thing is that we’re all “skeptic by nature”. If someone was to come up to any one human being and told them to give them $100, that he was going to run around the block and come back with $200 for them, most of us would not do it becasue we are skeptical by nature.

But let me do a nice thing and educate the good folks at Wave 3 : If someone believes that another human being is literally talking to their pet AND their pet is talking back to this human being, that someone IS NOT A SKEPTIC but a gullible moron!

Repeat after me: Acupuncture does not do anything for hot flashes!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 19, 2009

Why is it that every few months there has to be yet another worthless, badly designed study to make a ruckus about acupuncture and hot flashes? Or hypnosis and hot flashes? What is it about hot flashes that has people so intrigued? I have had entries in the past about hot flashes and alternative medicine (here, here and here are some examples). A new study has been published, yet again making the claim tha acupuncture works well to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. Here we go again!

Objective: This study compared the effectiveness of individualized acupuncture plus self-care versus self-care alone on hot flashes and health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women.

Red Flag There was no control group! Giving one groups acupuncture and the other nothing does not constitute a control group. The control groups should have gotten fake acupuncture and self-care in order to be effective. The authors have no way of controlling for the placebo effect. The comparison between the two groups is rendered meaningles.

Methods: This study involved a multicenter, pragmatic, randomized, controlled trial with two parallel arms. Participants were postmenopausal women experiencing, on average, seven or more hot flashes per 24 hours during seven consecutive days. The acupuncture group received 10 acupuncture treatment sessions and advice on self-care, and the control group received advice on self-care only. The frequency and severity (0-10 scale) of hot flashes were registered in a diary. Urine excretion of calcitonin gene-related peptide was assessed at baseline and after 12 weeks. The primary endpoint was change in mean hot flash frequency from baseline to 12 weeks. The secondary endpoint was change in health-related quality of life measured by the Women’s Health Questionnaire.

Results: Hot flash frequency decreased by 5.8 per 24 hours in the acupuncture group (n = 134) and 3.7 per 24 hours in the control group (n = 133), a difference of 2.1 (P < 0.001). Hot flash intensity decreased by 3.2 units in the acupuncture group and 1.8 units in the control group, a difference of 1.4 (P < 0.001). The acupuncture group experienced statistically significant improvements in the vasomotor, sleep, and somatic symptoms dimensions of the Women’s Health Questionnaire compared with the control group. Urine calcitonin gene-related peptide excretion remained unchanged from baseline to week 12.

Conclusions: Acupuncture plus self-care can contribute to a clinically relevant reduction in hot flashes and increased health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women.

StopCareful wording, but insufficient to say the least. At the very least the authors should have mentioned that the way their study was designed, it was impossible for them to separate the placebo effect from any real effects due to accupuncture. It is such a glaring omission that it makes you wonder how it could have been missed? Do you want to bet the the sCAM crowd will jump all over this study, proclaming that yet another study shows acupuncture’s efficacy?  I give the authors a D for effort and an F for their science.

AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on May 19, 2009


Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism. It is mandated by the courts, accepted by mainstream medicine, and required by insurance companies. AA is generally assumed to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism, or at least “an” effective treatment. That assumption is wrong.

We hear about a few success stories, but not about the many failures. AA’s own statistics show that after 6 months, 93% of new attendees have left the program. The research on AA is handily summarized in a Wikipedia article.  A recent Cochrane systematic review found no evidence that AA or other 12 step programs are effective.

In The Skeptic’s Dictionary, Bob Carroll comments:

Neither A.A. nor many other SATs [Substance Abuse Treatments] are based on science, nor do they seem interested in doing any scientific studies which might test whether the treatment they give is effective.

In the current issue of Free Inquiry, Steven Mohr has written a thorough and incisive article “Exposing the Myth of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Mohr characterizes AA as a religious cult. The founder, Bill Wilson, had a religious experience while under the influence of strong psychotropic drugs.

He had a vision of a bright light and the revelation that he could be saved only by giving his life completely and fully to God – and that an important part of his recovery would be to bring the news of his epiphany and recovery to other suffering alcoholics.

The 12 steps of AA refer repeatedly to God. They require admitting you are powerless, accepting that only a Higher Power can help you, turning your will and your life over to God, taking a moral inventory, admitting your wrongs, being ready to let God remove your shortcomings, making amends to those you have harmed, improving your conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation, and spreading the word (proselytizing).

Criticism of the religious orientation led AA to switch emphasis from “God” to any “higher power.” One member allegedly designated a doorknob as his higher power and believed that praying to the doorknob helped him maintain sobriety.


Giraffe Necks

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on May 19, 2009


The story of the giraffe’s neck is a classic of high school biology textbooks. For this reason everyone “knows” that giraffes evolved longer necks in order to reach the leaves at the top of trees. However, this has never been clearly established and the real story is much more complex. There is, in fact, an enduring controversy over exactly what factors lead to the elongation of the giraffe neck, highlighted by a recent study examining one hypothesis – sexual selection.

But before we get to that study, some background on giraffe necks.

The most obvious feature of the giraffe is its long neck. For some reason the evolution of the giraffe neck became the standard example in textbooks. Stephen J. Gould did a survey of biology textbooks and found that 100% used giraffe evolution as the example to distinguish Lamarckian evolution from Darwinian evolution (which itself is based upon a misconception of Lamarck’s career, but that’s another story). Meanwhile, Darwin did not use the giraffe’s neck as an example of natural selection, and regarded it as a speculative “just so” story.

Since Darwin there has been speculation and controversy over the evolution of the giraffe’s neck, but never any consensus. There is therefore a stark contrast between the scientific reality and the textbook fiction regarding giraffe evolution – but what’s new.

The standard (textbook, that is) story is that ancestral giraffes were selected for longer necks because that enabled them to reach leaves higher up in trees than other animals. Therefore in times of scarcity they would have access to food that other animals could not access, and this conferred a survival advantage. There is nothing wrong with this story, and it likely holds a kernel of truth. There is simply no evidence to support this particular selective pressure, and there are plausible competing hypotheses. Unfortunately the giraffe fossil record is sparse, so we cannot turn to fossil evidence to settle the question.

It is true that the giraffe’s reach does give them access to leaves in tall acacia trees. It also gives them access to leaves deep within trees. However, giraffes also feed off low bushes by bending their neck, and they do not show any preference for high or deep leaves during the dry season when food is scarce. So at least at present the long neck does not seem to be a significant hedge against starvation.

An alternate hypothesis is that the long neck evolved in response to the evolution of long legs, which themselves evolved for some other reason, such as speed in evading prey. Giraffes cannot support themselves with their knees bent. In order to drink water on the groun they must splay their forelegs (with knees straight) and then use their long necks to reach the ground. Therefore it is possible that necked elongate simply to keep up with the growing limbs.

Other hypotheses include the increase in skin surface areas for cooling, and increased head height to keep a better eye on predators