Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Pitchman Ben Stein Gets Economist Ben Stein Fired at the New York Times

Posted in News by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


Ben Stein‘s TV ads for a scuzzy “free” credit product have finally caught up to him: The New York Times has fired Stein as a Sunday business columnist for violating ethics guidelines.

Stein was pilloried online for his endorsement of the bait-and-switch operation, which offers a free credit score but charges an outrageous $30 per month to see the credit report behind the score. As Reuters blogger Felix Salmon pointed out, consumers can get a free online report under federal law.

The Times’ issue, though, is that Stein has violated its ethics policy, which states “it is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid.” Salmon blogged about that issue, too. It’s surprising that it hasn’t come up until now; Stein has been a regular contributor to the Times for four years, and is quite recognizable to TV audiences. After playing a high-school teacher in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (R.I.P. John Hughes), Stein went on to host two shows on Comedy Central, including the Emmy-award-winning Win Ben Stein‘s Money, and a show on VH1. He also frequently appeared in cameo roles on sitcoms like Seinfeld.

A tipster informed us this morning that Stein had been given the boot, and Times spokesperson Catherin Mathis has confirmed, writing:


Skepdude says:  Hahahahahaha!

A Question to a Professor of Organic Agriculture

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


am in receipt of an interesting email exchange between a Skeptoid listener who prefers to remain anonymous (let’s call him Gump in retaliation for his anonymity) and a professor, Jim Corven in the Organic Agriculture program at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts.

Gump read on the school’s web site the following:

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Its earth-friendly, resource-gentle approach to providing food and fiber attracts a generation who worries that the overuse of synthetics and agribusiness techniques deplete the earth’s health and resources out of the world. The sustainable farming movement uses fewer nonrenewable resources and in that way nurtures not only our bodies, but our earth.

All perfectly reasonable statements. The doomsday scenarios described are indeed worries that some people have. But the web page continues:

Learn the techniques and science behind the movement with the new Organic Agriculture Technician certificate at Bristol Community College. The certificate is designed to prepare people to use ecological production techniques that minimize pollution and create a healthier, tastier product.

Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier? Obviously this is a tired old claim that organic proponents have been making for decades, but it’s neither been evidenced nor is it plausible. And where do they get “minimize pollution”?

Gump began by emailing Professor Corven with a reasonable question, one that all too few people seem willing to ask:

I was reading the front page about organic farming.  I read the sentence about how organic farm produces tastier and healthier foods.  I am wondering how that comes to be. Does organic farming alter the foods DNA in someway making the foods tastier or healthier in someway?  Is there some test that can prove the foods are healthier?  I find it disingenuous that organic farming is being promoted as something that is better than modern farming techniques which use less land to produce more food.

Professor Corven had a most un-professor-like reply:

I’d like to suggest that you might like to study some scientific literature and read up on the issues of soils, agricultural productivity, and nutrition before making the kinds of erroneous comments contained in your email.


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 6, 2009

Homeopathic “remedies” are licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority. But Professor Michael Baum, of University College London, says: “This is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile.”

“Regulating quacks helps them prey on gullible patients” – The Sun Newspaper

No Evidence That Therapy Can Turn Gays Straight

Posted in News by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


Gays and lesbians have long been encouraged to change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments, on the assumption that homosexuality is merely a lifestyle choice.

That advice should change, psychologists now say.

Mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments, according to a new resolution adopted by the American Psychological Association.

The reason: It won’t work, the group has concluded.

Parents, guardians, young people and their families would also be wise to avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder, the resolution states. Instead, they should seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services “that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”

The resolution, crafted by a task force, was adopted yesterday at the group’s annual convention.

“Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation,” said Judith M. Glassgold, chair of the task force.

Researchers have not firmly concluded to what extent homosexuality is genetically inherited, but many think it is a mix of nature and nurture. Several studies have shown that genes are involved, however.

While conflicting research on the therapy issue is cited by some, studies have found that “sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose,” Glassgold said. “At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex.”

Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others’ sexual orientation, the APA said in a statement.


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I love me some Australian Skeptics

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 6, 2009

The Australian Skeptics are doing an amazing job of taking their version of Jenny McCarthy and Age of Autism to task in the public sphere. They just came out with a nice add in the Australian Newspaper and Podblack Cat has posted a great press realease of the Australian Skeptics which quickly destroys most of the arguments used against vaccines with links for further research for those interested. Go read it and re-post, and Twitter it ad infinitum!

The Australian Newspaper – Page Nine Today

Posted in Podblack Cat by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


I think I can let these pictures pretty much tell the main story. Here is the text of the advert (pdf).

Yes, that’s Richard Saunders. He has a habit of photographing everything with his phone. And after he’s photographed it? I get an email and Dr Rachie gets an email. And we usually try to fire back some sharp comment about the food he’s got a snap of, or the scenery or how he’s clearly got himself into another pickle of some sort.

One of these days he’ll get lost in some weird circumstances and only she and I will have the ability to trace back his steps over the past few hours and alert the authorities.

Oh, look! That’s me! I has paper too! Must be a national publication, because he’s in Sydney and I’m in Perth.

Heee!!! And to think that today started with someone trying to make me feel like I contribute nothing to the world. With friends like these and times like this – I think that maybe being a skeptically-minded person isn’t a completely divisive thing to be. A refreshing change and always welcomed.