Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Russia bans texts by Scientology founder

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2010


MOSCOW — Russian prosecutors said Wednesday that dozens of texts and recordings by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had been ruled “extremist” and would be banned in Russia.

“Materials on Scientology by Ron Hubbard have been found extremist and will be banned from distribution in Russia,” the Russian prosecutor general’s office said in a statement.

The ban relates to 28 books and audio-video discs containing lectures by Hubbard, a US science fiction author who founded Scientology in 1954, the statement said.

The ruling was the latest blow to the Church of Scientology, an organisation that some countries treat as a legitimate faith but that others consider a cult designed to trick members out of large sums of money.

The ban on the Scientology materials was imposed by a court in the city of Surgut in eastern Siberia, which decided they should be added to a list of literature banned in Russia for extremist content, the statement said.


The illogic of belief

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2010

Via Unreasonable Faith we get this straight to the point comic:

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Is Brian Dunning being too soft on Bill Nye?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2010

It appears that Bill Nye, the Science Guy, has thrown his weight in support of some product that supposedly “ionizes” water to endow it with amazing cleaning powers!  In his latest Skepticblog entry, Brian Dunning quickly dispenses with the nonsense claim, but then he goes into a sort of defense of Bill Nye; a defense that made me raise an eyebrow (emphasis mine)!

After some consideration, I think the way to react to this is probably not to criticize Bill personally. There are realities that we all have to live with in this world, and one of those is the need to earn a living. There is, unfortunately, little or no money in science journalism (or in critical thinking outreach), and if you check Bill’s IMDB page, you’ll see that not even he has been nearly as busy in recent years as we’d all hope. My guess is that Activeion made him a much-needed offer, and I think we’d be jumping to conclusions to say that he accepted it lightly or without reflection.

There’s an obvious benefit in being able to live to fight another day. The Activeion product is a bottle of water; it’s not going to hurt anyone except in their wallet. If you have to choose a snake-oil product to promote, this is as harmless as it gets. There is probably a number that Activeion could offer me and I’d have done the same thing Bill did. I’d reason that if I took that job, it could fund Skeptoid and my other projects for some time. It could pay my kids’ tuitions, and there’s value in that — there are certainly snake oil salespeople out there whose money I’d be glad to leverage to my own advantage under the right circumstances. I’m not saying I would, I’m not saying I wouldn’t; I’m saying I’d definitely weigh the pros and cons. Whether or not you agree with the choice Bill made, you at least owe him the benefit of the doubt and recognize that it’s neither a simple nor an easy decision.

I certainly HOPE, wholeheartedly that Brian Dunning would not, in fact, do the same and support something he believes to be woo, solely out of an economic interest. Since when does the need to earn a living justify supporting woo? Are we really assuming that the only way Bill Nye could put food on his table is by lending his scientific credibility to woo? I don’t accept that excuse, not for a single minute.

It seems Brian here is voicing the belief that “everyone has a price“. That may well be true, but then on what basis do we, the skeptics, go after the woo meisters who are milking people out of millions, if we’re saying that we’d probably do the same, for the right amount? Wouldn’t that makes us hypocrites? Shouldn’t we, at least naively, believe that we wouldn’t support woo, regardless of how much money is thrown are way? What kind of supporters of Science and critical thinking would we be, if we thougth that we’d throw them out the window the moment we can make a buck or two? Something tells me that the other Skepticblog authors will differ with Brian on this point.

Brian says he’s considered this issue, but I think he needs to go back to doing some more thinking. If this Activeion product really is nothing but water, and if Bill Nye is supporting a clearly unscientific product, then hell yes we should criticize Bill personally. We should criticize anyone who does that, regardless if it is Nye, Dunning or Randi himself! “I need money” is not a good excuse, nor does it get one off the hook, because guess what:  Trudeau needs money; Browne needs money, the BCA needs money. All are in the game for the money, and if we allow the need for money to be an excuse then just what in the hell are we, The Skeptics, doing?

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Measles claims almost 200 in Africa

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2010

In less than three months, a measles outbreak in Africa has killed 185 children . the UN is asking for help to increase vaccination efforts in the affected areas. As it stands, only about 80% of the population is vaccinated, quite below the desired level of 95%. These low levels of vaccination means that outbreaks,  such as the one gripping the continent now,  can be expected every 3-4 years. I send Jenny McCarthy a tweet pointing her attention to this issue and asking her to change her stance on vaccines. Do you think this story will change her mind at all? …..we can only hope!

2 sought for allegedly taking $62,000 in ‘cursed money’ in psychic healing scam

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 22, 2010


When she saw the “for rent” sign in the Far Northwest Side home, a Park Ridge woman realized the mother-daughter team of self-described psychic healers had not taken her money to cleanse it of evil spirits — they stole it.

Laura Santini, 61, and her daughter, Rosann, 35, were indicted this week in Cook County on felony theft charges for allegedly scamming the woman of $62,000. The two haven’t been seen in more than a year, authorities said.

“They basically were able to convince the victim that some money she had gotten was cursed money and that somehow that curse had transferred to other money that she had,” said Chicago police Detective Milorad Sofrenovic of the Grand Central area. “They told her that in order to be able to remove this curse, they needed to take this money physically to a shrine in Indiana and with prayers drive the curse from the money.”

The alleged scam began in early 2007 when a flurry of fliers began peppering car windshields on the Far Northwest Side and nearby suburbs.

“One does not live without problems such as love, health, marriage and business,” the flier read. “Why endure them when a gifted psychic can help you with whatever your problem may be?”


I try to be understanding…..

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 19, 2010

But then sometimes I fail miserably. Case in point, Iranian cleric displays this bit of…….”logic”:

Many women who dress inappropriately … cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes

Oh boy…must…not…get…angry!

*Facepalm* ….*deep sigh*….barely containing tears here.  It saddens me deeply to see this level of ignorance being displayed by human beings. That an adult can say the above with a straight face completely befuddles me. I wonder what has to go wrong in someone’s brain; what level of intellectual devastation is needed to produce this kind of moronic statement. Clothes lead to earthquakes!!! Wow, just WOW!

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Church doctrine in a nut shell

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 16, 2010

Don’t worry this won’t take long. Apparently Mexico gets it, their education officials that is, and as always the church completely misses it, the point that is.

MEXICO CITY – Mexican educators and officials defended the country’s public school sex education Friday from criticism by a Roman Catholic bishop who said such teachings make celibacy vows more difficult for priests to keep.

Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio told reporters that public-school sexual education texts “seek to make our boys and girls responsible, to take responsibility for their actions, and for that they need information.”

Lujambio said the programs are careful to avoid “hurting any social sensitivities.”

On Thursday, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi said that “when there is generalized sexual licentiousness, it is more common to have pederasty.”

“In the midst of the invasion of so much eroticism, it is not easy to remain faithful in celibacy, or in respecting children,” Arizmendi, the bishop of the San Cristobal de las Casas diocese in Chiapas state, said at a meeting of Mexican bishops.

Of course! Because teaching children to use protection and safe sex when engaging in consensual sex, obviously sends the message to grown up men that raping children, non-consensually, is acceptable.  That makes perfect sense: what better to reduce the priestly carnal desires for young flesh than keeping said kids ignorant about safe sex? Elementary!

Judge Declares National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

Posted in News by Skepdude on April 15, 2010


A year-old, incorrect story about Barack Obama “canceling” the National Day of Prayer made the rounds today. Meanwhile, in reality, Obama’s Justice Department was defending the Day of Prayer to a U.S. District Court that just ruled it unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared section 119 of US Code 36—establishing an annual National Day of Prayer—to be unconstitutional. Her decision is available here. We certainly agree with everything she writes, and we’re sure there will be no major controversy over any of this.

The Freedom from Religion foundation brought the suit, claiming that the statute calling on the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer each year is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Crabb found that the plaintiffs had the standing to challenge section 119 itself, but not presidential proclamations generally.

In Crabb’s reading of the case law, the government can encourage prayer when it has “a significant secular purpose,” but the National Day of Prayer has no point beyond encouraging everyone to pray.

Unfortunately, § 119 cannot meet that test. It goes beyond mere “acknowledgment” of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience. “When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual’s decision about whether and how to worship.” McCreary County, 545 U.S. at 883 (O’Connor, J., concurring). Accordingly, I conclude that § 119 violates the establishment clause.


PZ Myers is a witless wanker who peddles pablum

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on April 15, 2010


No, not really, but I got your attention, yes? On the other hand, these are precisely the words used by PZ in a recent post, aimed at criticizing Michael De Dora’s observations about a recent debate in Knoxville, TN on the wording of a biology textbook.

Let me start with a full disclosure: Michael is a friend, and of course one of the contributors to this blog. But this post has little to do with that, it deals with the substance and the tone of PZ’s remarks, both of which are highly relevant to the quality of discourse within the atheist community (currently, pretty low), something I deeply care about.

First the form. PZ’s post reads like it was written by an intemperate teenager in the midst of a hormonal rage. Among other things, he calls De Dora “witless,” “wanker,” “wishy-washy,” and “sloppy-thinking”; he accuses Michael of engaging in “cowardly intellectual dishonesty” and of using a “quisling” approach. So that we are crystal clear on just how low these ad hominem (a logical fallacy!) attacks go, let me refresh your memory about the dictionary definitions of some of these terms:

Quisling = a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country;

Wanker = a person who masturbates (used as a term of abuse);

Wishy-washy = feeble or insipid in quality or character, lacking strength or boldness;

Witless = foolish, stupid, to such an extent that one cannot think clearly or rationally.

If PZ thinks that this sort of language belongs within any thoughtful writing about rational discourse, he really needs to look up the dictionary definitions of rational, thoughtful and discourse. Then again, it is precisely this sort of theatrics that apparently makes him so popular, as nothing gets people’s attention on the internet so much as shouting as LOUDLY as possible, regardless of the vacuity of what one is actually saying.

And speaking of content, what was so witless, wanky, wishy-washy, and witless about De Dora’s post? Oh, he dared question (very politely, and based on argument) one of the dogmas of the new atheism: that religious people (that’s about 90% of humanity, folks) ought (and I use the term in the moral sense) to be frontally assaulted and ridiculed at all costs, because after all, this is a war, and the goal is to vanquish the enemy, reason and principles be damned. Michael had simply noted that the recent controversy in Tennessee was a bit less clear cut than usual: while of course creationism doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and of course biology textbooks should teach evolution without apologies, De Dora also noted that using the word “myth” when the book refers to the biblical story of creation was an uncalled for breach of the principle of separation of Church and State (if invoked in the context of a biology class in a public school). Therefore, on that narrow technical ground, and on that ground only, the creationist who complained had, in fact, a point.

Contrary to PZ’s invective, acknowledging this point is in no way a cowardly act of intellectual dishonesty. On the contrary, it is a paragon of intellectual honesty because one is able to maintain the nuance that is necessary in distinguishing positive science education from gratuitous religion bashing. (And please, do note that I’ve got plenty of credentials in the department of religion bashing, but I try to do it in what I consider the appropriate manner and context.)


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On the fallability of skepticism

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 15, 2010

No one is infallible. Not I, not Plaitt, not Randi, no one! We all make mistakes sooner or later. I am sure that in my years of blogging I have made many errors, committed logical fallacies, reported or commented on something too soon, based on insufficient evidence etc. That’s because we are human; we all come with baggage, biases, emotions that, try as we might, we cannot completely isolate or stop from affecting our thinking.

Today was a great day for skepticism. Simon Singh emerges victorious from his libel suit against the BCA. I am very happy, but that event brought something into my mind. For the past few days I have been engaged in the arrest-the-pope saga, specifically in the “should organized skepticism get involved” side of it. Many prominent names in skepticism have voiced their opinions, and they range from “not our job” to “could be our job depending on the defence the Church uses” approaches. Since the beginning, I had a strong feeling that yes skepticism should get involved, but that was a gut feeling, I coud not quite articulate properly why. Could be due to an inherent bias, the fact that I strongly believe that skepticism, properly applied to the god hypothesis, should lead to atheism. Maybe that is why I feel that the Church, the “enemy” must be held accountable. Perhaps!

But then, the Singh news brought it all into perspective. Because, you see, the Libel Law Reform case, that the whole of organized skepticism got behind, is not a purely skeptical issue either. The BCA made no claims that fall within the skeptic’s sphere when they sued Simon Singh. They said he had defamed them and proceeded to sue him. THAT is not a skeptical issue, anymore than the arrest -the-pope issue is. Yet, we, the skeptics, got behind Simon and endorsed and loudly advocated for reform in the British Libel Laws. AS WE SHOULD!

However, how is the libel law case different from the pope/church case? They are both legal issues, neither of them falls within the skeptical sphere of expertise; yet we support one but remain silent on the other? Why? Because, someone may say, the libel laws are being used, or can be used, to silence skeptics. Hmmm, interesting, but if the church is left to its method, doesn’t that mean that it can continue practices that can lead to a child of skeptical parents being molested? Would it then become something we can get behind? I find that excuse unsatisfactory. Clearly, the skeptical world has, and still can, get behind causes that do not fall within its area of expertise; the Simon Singh case proves that. Then the question becomes: how do we choose which causes we’ll get involved in? That’s a more interesting question, but we cannot have our cake and eat it too. Either we stay “pure” and do not get involved in anything that cannot be examined skeptically, or we do; but we cannot, at the same time,  claim to only want to get involved in “skeptical issues” and, as a movement, support Simon Singh’s battle, a purely legal issue! If I have to choose, I choose to support Simon, but that implies that we should be open to support other issues as well, if logic so demands. If we do not, when we do not, we only prove that skepticism isn’t immune from fallibility either.