Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Why is Comcast Referring to Ben Stein as the “Smartest”?

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on June 22, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT THE “FRIENDLY ATHEIST”

As a Comcast customer only because I have no other choice in my area, I’m used to their shitty customer service.

But when you see the following, it’s clear they’re not even trying to improve…

Here’s a promo for “Comcast Digital Cable with On Demand and HBO.”

The headline: The Best and the Smartest.

The picture to go along with that: Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Stein.

SteinSmart

No one’s ever accused Shaq of being the smartest man around… so I presume they mean he’s the “Best.” Even that’s arguable since he didn’t win the NBA championship this past year…

But that means Ben Stein represents “Smartest.”

Say what now?

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT THE “FRIENDLY ATHEIST”

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Death in slow motion: Part 2 of 3 in a special report on the Church of Scientology

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 22, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE “ST PETERSBURGH TIMES”

The night after Lisa McPherson died, the leader of the Church of Scientology sent word for one of his top lieutenants to wait by a pay phone at the Holiday Inn Surfside on Clearwater Beach.

When Marty Rathbun answered the ringing phone in the lobby, David Miscavige let him have it:

Why aren’t you all over this mess? The police are poking around. Do something.

“Yes sir,” Rathbun said.

McPherson, a 36-year-old parishioner in apparent good health, had spent 17 days in a guarded room at the church’s Fort Harrison Hotel. Scientology staffers tried to nurse her out of a mental breakdown, but she became ill. She drew her last breaths in the back seat of a van as they drove her to a hospital in the next county.

Her death on Dec. 5, 1995, triggered nine years of investigations, lawsuits and worldwide press coverage. Alive on the Internet, it stains Scientology’s reputation still.

Now, for the first time, comes an inside account from the upper ranks of Scientology — from the man who directed the church’s handling of the case.

Rathbun, who defected from Scientology’s staff in late 2004, admits that as prosecutors and attorneys for McPherson’s family prepared subpoenas, he ordered the destruction of incriminating evidence about her care at the Fort Harrison.

He and others who have left the church disclose for the first time that Miscavige was involved in McPherson’s Scientology counseling. Just weeks before her mental breakdown, they say, it was the leader himself who determined that she had reached an enhanced mental state that Scientologists call “clear.’’

For years Rathbun was adamant that the church did nothing wrong. Now he says that McPherson’s care was a debacle from the start. It was a “perfect storm of incompetence and irresponsibility” within the church, he said. “You couldn’t justify it.’’

He disclosed that the church was prepared to pay almost any price to make the case go away. He said he sent an emissary to McPherson’s funeral in Dallas with authority to give her mother, Fannie, whatever she wanted. The approach was rebuffed because the family didn’t trust the church.

“Whether it was financially or any other thing, we’re taking care of that woman because it was on our watch. If she needed $5 million, we would have come up with $5 million.”

Church officials say Rathbun is a bitter ex-member who inflated his importance in Scientology and whose motives are suspect. They say Miscavige demoted Rathbun in 2003 in part for missteps he made in the McPherson case.

A settlement agreement with the woman’s family forbids them from providing specifics, said Monique Yingling, a long-time Scientology attorney and friend of Miscavige. Still, she said that Rathbun botched the case from the start, and “possibly caused the whole thing.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE “ST PETERSBURGH TIMES”

Scientology: The Truth Rundown, Part 1 of 3 in a special report on the Church of Scientology

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 22, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT “ST PETERSBURGH TIMES”

Part ONE of THREE

The leader of the Church of Scientology strode into the room with a boom box and an announcement: Time for a game of musical chairs.

David Miscavige had kept more than 30 members of his church’s executive staff cooped up for weeks in a small office building outside Los Angeles, not letting them leave except to grab a shower. They slept on the floor, their food carted in.

Their assignment was to develop strategic plans for the church. But the leader trashed their every idea and berated them as incompetents and enemies, of him and the church.

Prove your devotion, Miscavige told them, by winning at musical chairs. Everyone else — losers, all of you — will be banished to Scientology outposts around the world. If families are split up, too bad.

To the music of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody they played through the night, parading around a conference room in their Navy-style uniforms, grown men and women wrestling over chairs.

The next evening, early in 2004, Miscavige gathered the group and out of nowhere slapped a manager named Tom De Vocht, threw him to the ground and delivered more blows. De Vocht took the beating and the humiliation in silence — the way other executives always took the leader’s attacks.

This account comes from executives who for decades were key figures in Scientology’s powerful inner circle. Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, the highest-ranking executives to leave the church, are speaking out for the first time.

Two other former executives who defected also agreed to interviews with the St. Petersburg Times: De Vocht, who for years oversaw the church’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, and Amy Scobee, who helped create Scientology’s celebrity network, which caters to the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

One by one, the four defectors walked away from the only life they knew. That Rathbun and Rinder are speaking out is a stunning reversal because they were among Miscavige’s closest associates, Haldeman and Ehrlichman to his Nixon.

Now they provide an unprecedented look inside the upper reaches of the tightly controlled organization. They reveal:

• Physical violence permeated Scientology’s international management team. Miscavige set the tone, routinely attacking his lieutenants. Rinder says the leader attacked him some 50 times.

Rathbun, Rinder and De Vocht admit that they, too, attacked their colleagues, to demonstrate loyalty to Miscavige and prove their mettle.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT “ST PETERSBURGH TIMES”

You can also access the paper’s Special Report page for more info.

Tip of the Skepticap to PZ Meyers.

The Telegraph and Woo sitting in a tree

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 22, 2009

What is it about woo-woo and the Telegraph, the (in)famous british paper, that makes them stick together like wet farts and but cheeks? Why is the Telegraph so woo friendly? How can they even half-seriously entertain the idea that a lock of hair can hold the key to health?

First cut a strand of hair from your head. Next, fill in a questionnaire about your state of health and send it, with your hair, to an address on the other side of the country.

Then sit back and, while not exactly by return of post, you will in due course receive relief from whatever ailment is troubling you. It could come in the form of a pill or a potion, but it’s just as likely to come in the form of healing vibrations, transmitted from the person to whom you’ve sent your hair.

What is it? Magic? Witchcraft? A load of twaddle? No, it’s radionics, the largely unexplained art of healing someone you’ve never met, who is hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

Oh shoot, I actually, for a brief moment, thought they were going to call bullshit, but nope they do not. Radionics is an art alright, just not of the kind the Telegraph wants you to believe.

There are only 80 or so practitioners of radionics in Britain and Rebecka Blenntoft is one of them. She’s also the secretary of the UK Radionic Association and, like her colleagues, she gets to the root of her patients’ problems by holding a pendulum over their hair sample (or “witness”, as it’s called), and seeing what happens.

I knew the ideomotor effect was going to come in at some point! Well, actually no I had no idea, it just feels like the right thing to say. So they hold  a pendulum over a hair sample and see what happens? I suspect the pendulum will swing, and that’s about all that will happen. I wonder if it makes any difference where the hair sample comes from???

“We get the information by interrogating the witness,” she claims. “I will ask question after question, some looking for a yes or no answer, some looking for an answer that will quantify the health or otherwise of the patient’s various physiological systems [aural, visual, skeletal].”

Wow, that’s some tough sounding words no? Interrrogating the witness, sounds like some pretty conclusive stuff will come out of this “interrogation”. How can one doubt the acuracy of the information? They’re interrogating the witness for god’s sake.  Do they put the hairball on a table underneath a table lamp and play the good-cop-bad-cop routine on it?

So, as well as rotating in a clockwise direction for “yes”, and anticlockwise for “no”, the pendulum also gives scores out of 100 when placed over a sort of healthometer chart.

“It’s quite a time-consuming process, because you have to go through every part of the body,” says Blenntoft. “It’s also quite tiring, because you have to stay very tuned in and focused on the person you are treating.”

Sure, making shit up takes time and effort, I can agree with that. And they go through every part of the body by interrogating a few strands of hair? Sounds mightly wooful to me!

Once she’s identified the problem area, she enters an eight-digit numerical code into a black-box-like radionics machine (they prefer the word “instrument”), either via a digital keyboard or a set of dials. Followed by the relevant treatment instruction (restore, rejuvenate, elasticise, for example). Almost simultaneously, it is claimed, the patient will experience some form of improvement in their condition.

You don’t believe it? Neither did Blenntoft, until she saw the effect a radionic diagnosis had on a dog in her local village (the treatment can be used not just on humans, but on animals and even crops and soil).

This is coming full circle. On top of the vibration, interrogation, mumbo jumbo we get an actual woo-machine, distant healing through some sort of waves or vibrations and it also works on pets. Folks, welcome to the Land of Woo. Michael Jackson has got nothing on these people.

For the Radionic Association’s chairman, Geoffrey Bourne, the proof came in two-footed form. “A local farmer had a very bad recurring kidney infection but had become allergic to penicillin,” he recalls. “There was nothing the doctor could do, but the radionics practitioner traced the problem back to a tetanus injection the farmer had been given at the age of 10. It took a year of treatment, but that farmer, who was in his seventies, went on to live till the age of 96.”

There is nothing more pathetic than a testimonial from the chairman of the woo organization itself. Couldn’t they find a deluded person to testify on their behalf? And notice how after “a year of treatment” we are not told that the farmer was cured of this bad infection, instead we’re told that he lived to 96. It’s a testimonial that doesn’t even testify to the effectiveness of the woo in question! That has got to be the lamest anectodal evidence ever. It’s a Guinees world record of crappy woo testimonials. Pop that champagne open!

So how exactly does it work again? Best guess is that we all plug into some kind of universal energy grid and radionics constitutes a kind of battery recharging rescue service. From afar.

Sure, why the hell not?

“Believe me,” says Blenntoft. “There’s not a single person involved in radionics who hasn’t gone into it thinking ‘This can’t possibly work’.”

Oh, I belive you Blenntoft, I believe you!

Why George, why?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 22, 2009

Why did George Clooney have to go and hire a psychic to talk to his dead pet pig? I hope the Examiner is full of shit on this story, because I think Clooney is one of the coolest Hollywood stars out there (top spot of course goes to Mat Damon), and I wanted to believe he was not one to fall for this sort of charlatanism. Ah, George please tell us this is BS.

George has reportedly told a friend: “The psychic told me Max had a great life with me. He is very happy in spirit and still hangs out with me sometimes. I am not sure she was telling the truth but I do want to believe her,” he said.

Not sure? Well George, I know my word probably means nothing to you, but be sure that she was, most definitely, not telling you the truth.