Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

To The Followers of Christ, Oregon City

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on February 4, 2010

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT RANDI.ORG

Oregon City teenager Neil Beagley died in June 2008 following complications from an untreated congenital urinary tract blockage that flooded his system with urea, causing renal failure, heart attack, and death.beagleys

Neil Beagley didn’t die in a hospital. He didn’t die surrounded by doctors who were stumped regarding his next stage of treatment. Sixteen-year-old Neil Beagley didn’t die peacefully with an IV in his arm pumping in morphine to lessen what must have been excruciating pain. He died in his grandmother’s bed, without having received any medical treatment of any kind. Doctors say that Neil’s illness was treatable right up until the day he died.

Jeff and Marci Beagley, Neil’s parents, are members of Followers of Christ Church of Oregon City – a fundamentalist organization that teaches a literalist interpretation of scripture, and relies heavily on faith healing. The cemetery behind the church contains graves belonging to seventy-eight minors. It is estimated that at least twenty-one of these children’s lives could have been saved with medical treatment.

However, Followers of Christ Church shuns medical treatment – and the devout followers of the church refuse all medications and treatments, and visits to medical professionals of any kind.

Jeff and Marci Beagley have been found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in Neil’s death, and they are scheduled for sentencing on February 18th of this year. Of the twelve jurors deciding the case, ten found the couple guilty. Two found them innocent.

Oregon, prior to 1999, viewed faith healing as a Get Out Of Jail Free card. An individual could not be convicted of homicide in a case where religion was used instead of medical care. Then an act was passed that allowed for a compromise – faith healing could still be used as a treatment, but could not be the only treatment in cases involving children. Parents were thereafter required to (and it seems this should be obvious) take care of their children, despite their beliefs in deities, the laying on of hands, or the efficacy of anointing someone’s body with oil.

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For Good Reason with D.J. Grothe Premiers

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on January 26, 2010

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D.J. Grothe, host of the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry for the last four years, has launched a new podcast in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. Each episode of the new show will feature long-form interviews with leading thinkers on issues at the intersection of skepticism and belief. For Good Reason will also feature regular audio essays by acclaimed magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, The Honest Liar. Grothe’s podcast compliments the format of the popular Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, which is also produced in association with the JREF.

The first episode of For Good Reason, featuring an interview with James Randi on the importance of the JREF, is now live at www.forgoodreason.org.

Randi discusses his recent experience of chemotherapy, and pseudoscientific cancer treatments, such as acupuncture.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT RANDI.ORG

FURTHER SUPPORT OF QUACKERY EXPRESSED!

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on January 25, 2010

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Concerning the current ADE-651 dowsing-rod brouhaha in which the “inventor” and manufacturer James McCormick was arrested and then released on bail, BBC news has just quoted a senior Iraqi interior ministry official, Assistant Deputy Minister General Tareq al-Asl, as stating:

The reason the director of the company [James MCormick] was arrested was not because the device doesn’t work, but because he refused to divulge the secret of how it works to the British authorities, and the Americans before them.

Well, I don’t think so.

It was because UK agencies finally looked into this farce and found that the ADE-561 is one example of the widespread delusion so many people have that they can use sticks, twigs, wires, rods, or pendulums to detect people, explosives, lost dogs, gold, oil, or almost anything else. Ah, but Iraqi Assistant Deputy Minister General Tareq al-Asl is now eligible to win the JREF million-dollar prize, folks!

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I Am Not “Denying” Anything

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on December 17, 2009

Randi Responds

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Well, my piece on AGW — Anthropogenic Global Warming — has elicited a huge response, both positive and negative. The subject, dealing with the influence of our species on the observed increase in overall temperatures around the globe — said to be about 0.7º Celsius — is apparently a matter of great contention, and I almost regret having entered into it. Almost…

I must say that much of the commentary I see refers to “about one degree” without specifying Celsius or Fahrenheit scales. I’m so old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy that I sometimes refer to the Celsius scale as Centigrade, though it was Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius — almost two centuries ago — who came up with the plan to divide the span between the temperature at which water ice melted, and water boiled, into 100 parts. Only at -40º do the Fahrenheit and Celsius thermometers agree, but life is complicated, and we have to deal with such facts. Since about 1980, Celsius has become fashionable. For some perverse reason, and at risk of another storm of comments, I rather think that the USA should drop Fahrenheit — a German/Dutch scientist even more dead than Celsius — along with inches, pounds, quarts, miles, yards, furlongs, and other cute but incompatible units we inherited from the UK. But then, I’m a confirmed fuddy-duddy, as you know.

Back to business. Somehow, my AGW commentary was seriously misunderstood by some. Part of the reason for that is probably due to the fact that I took a much longer, 5,000-word piece, and cut it down to about 1,400 words to better fit Swift‘s needs. Along the way, some clarity was lost. For that, I apologize. But here are a couple of the typical negative comments I received, which are unfounded:

“Randi just came out against the science that indicates that Global Warming is happening, that it is man made, and that it will harm our biosphere (and is currently doing so).”

“I was also saddened by Randi siding with the GW denialists. He seems to have fallen for a number of logical fallacies, and apparently prefers self-deception and ignorance when it comes to this issue. Very, very sad.”

Sad? Yes, if it were true. But it’s not. There were a good number of other, similar comments, all quite wrong. I do not, and did not, deny the established fact — arrived at by extensive scientific research — that average global temperatures have increased by a bit less than one Celsius degree. My commentary was concerned with my amateur confusion about the myriad of natural phenomena that obviously bring about worldwide climate changes and whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences. Yes, I’m aware of the massive release of energy — mostly heat — that we’ve produced by exhuming and burning oil, natural gas, and coal. We’ve also attacked forests and turned them into fuel by converting them into paper at further energy expense, paper that is also burned, in turn. My remarks, again, are directed at the complexity of determining whether this GW is anthropogenic or not. I do not deny that possibility. In fact, I accept it as quite probable. I remain respectful of science and its participants. I stand outside the walls of academe, in awe.

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AGW, Revisited

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on December 16, 2009

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Though this subject is not one that directly concerns the JREF, I’m very frequently asked if I’ll turn my skeptical eye to it. As a year-end fling, I’ll give it a try. To wit:

An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to “belong” in the scientific community. Why do I find this “unfortunate”? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by “politically correct” survival principles than by those given them by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr. (Granted, it’s reassuring that they’re listening to academics at all — but how to tell the competent from the incompetent?) Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a group of thousands of scientists in 194 countries around the world, and recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize — has issued several comprehensive reports in which they indicate that they have become convinced that “global warming” is and will be seriously destructive to life as we know it, and that Man is the chief cause of it. They say that there is a consensus of scientists who believe we are headed for disaster if we do not stop burning fossil fuels, but a growing number of prominent scientists disagree. Meanwhile, some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming that Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous.

Happily, science does not depend on consensus. Conclusions are either reached or not, but only after an analysis of evidence as found in nature. It’s often been said that once a conclusion is reached, proper scientists set about trying to prove themselves wrong. Failing in that, they arrive at a statement that appears — based on all available data — to describe a limited aspect about how the world appears to work. And not all scientists are willing to follow this path. My most excellent friend Martin Gardner once asked a parapsychologist just what sort of evidence would convince him he had erred in coming to a certain conclusion. The parascientist replied that he could not imagine any such situation, thus — in my opinion — removing him from the ranks of the scientific discipline rather decidedly.

History supplies us with many examples where scientists were just plain wrong about certain matters, but ultimately discovered the truth through continued research. Science recovers from such situations quite well, though sometimes with minor wounds.

I strongly suspect that The Petition Project may be valid. I base this on my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the facts about planet Earth. This ball of hot rock and salt water spins on its axis and rotates about the Sun with the expected regularity, though we’re aware that lunar tides, solar wind, galactic space dust and geomagnetic storms have cooled the planet by about one centigrade degree in the past 150 years. The myriad of influences that act upon Earth are so many and so variable — though not capricious — that I believe we simply cannot formulate an equation into which we enter variables and come up with an answer. A living planet will continually belch, vibrate, fracture, and crumble a bit, and thus defeat an accurate equation. Please note that this my amateur opinion, based on probably insufficient data.

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Enemy Territory

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on September 29, 2009

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On a recent trip to Sedona, I decided to feign naiveté and enter a few shops in the guise of an open-minded seeker of knowledge. (Wait, I really do try to be that! Guise not needed!) I was prepared to have my worldview changed completely based on what I was told and what happened. I simply would keep my opinion to myself.

I have a friend who has a serious heart condition. It is as yet undiagnosed, and it causes considerable discomfort. Many of the shops in Sedona sell crystals which are supposed to solve health problems such as these, so I presented my case to the shop owners and asked for help. It went like this:

ME: Hello, can you help me? I have a friend who’s suffering from a heart condition, and I’d like to see if crystals could help.

CRYSTAL MERCHANT: Oh yes, they’re excellent for that. Crystals are very powerful, and don’t have the side effects of pharmaceuticals.

ME: What should I buy?

CRYSTAL MERCHANT: Let me consult a book.

She pulled out a large tome called The Crystal Bible. I could see that it was simply a matter of looking up the word “heart” in the index. She took out a notepad and wrote down the names of twelve different crystals.

CRYSTAL MERCHANT: This one is for heart problems… this one is for.. um.. problems of the heart, yes. This one is for issues with the heart chakra. (pause) There are different approaches, but they won’t interfere with each other so it’s safe.

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Connie Sonne Preliminary Challenge Test at TAM 7

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 17, 2009

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At the Amaz!ng Meeting 7, we conducted a Preliminary Challenge Test for the JREF million-dollar prize – the first time we’ve ever done this in front of a live audience. It was done with total transparency.  We invited all TAMgoers, as well as media representatives and famous skeptics and magicians, to attend a preliminary Challenge test of Ms. Connie Sonne.

For those who weren’t able to attend in person, we streamed the test live so those at home could watch from their computers. We had six hundred people watching from the audience, and 1,600 watching from home. The in-person audience included people like Penn and Teller, Mac King, Jamy Ian Swiss, Dr. Joe Albietz, and, of course, Randi. The video was viewed by people from all over the world, just as it happened in real time.

Connie Sonne had designed the parameters for her own test. She chose to dowse for the contents of double-enveloped playing cards on stage with the supervision of famous skeptic and mentalist, Banachek. She needed to identify three cards using her dowsing ability in order to pass to the Formal Challenge. She failed: she did not correctly identify any of the three cards, and her Challenge file has been closed – though she will be free to re-apply one year from the date of her test, assuming that she qualifies under the rules governing the Challenge at that time.

Sonne had agreed to give interviews and to participate in an exclusive press conference to discuss the procedure, following the test. Many in the audience were impressed at how gracefully she conducted herself despite having failed her test, while maintaining a firm belief in her dowsing abilities. The audience attending both the test and the press conference applauded her courage in appearing before so many people.

That opinion has since changed.

Sonne now claims that Banachek, who she agreed to accept as the official tester, had cheated her out of passing the preliminary test. As it happens, many individuals on both the JREF forums and attending the in-person press conference wondered aloud at our willingness to allow a “magician” to run the test, so I want to set the record straight.

Firstly, Banachek is a mentalist, not a magician. My response to the dissent in the press conference was pretty simple – Banachek simply did not have the opportunity to cheat in any way whatsoever. Even if you call him a “magician,” he is not actually magical. If I give a magician a top hat that I bought and searched, and never gave the magician any information on it before putting it in his hands, and then demanded that he make a rabbit appear from inside it, he would most probably be unable to do so. Magic seems unfathomable to an audience, but let’s face it, there is an explanation for each illusion that fits the laws of physics.

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Randi’s TAM 7 Opening Speech transcript

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

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Written by Phil Plait

Today marks the official start of The Amaz!ng Meeting 7! The ceremonies were opened by Randi himself, and below is a transcript of his talk.

Greetings, all! First, welcome to The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. The JREF staff and I have been repeatedly astonished – if not “amazed” – at the steady growth of this annual event, and we are appropriately grateful and humble for your presence here. But, I must explain my somewhat subdued appearance…

This is what I call a major bummer. During a routine medical examination more than a month ago, it was discovered that I had a nasty visitor inside me – yet another stunning example of Intelligent Design at work, friends. My doctors went in and removed it, and things are looking up again. I’ll be pretty weak for a couple of months, but I assure you all that I’m fighting this thing with the very best technical help – I’m not at all shy about embracing technology! – and I’ll be able to keep up with my regular duties as the treatment proceeds.

This is the reason you’ve not seen any recent videos from me. Of course, I’m very fortunate to have good folks like Phil Plait, that Bad Astronomer, along with the ever-present, ever-diligent, and very fierce Linda Shallenberger, to back me up. They stepped in to manage and resuscitate TAM 7, and I think the results speak for themselves…!

The public response to my illness has been very generous and flattering. I’m now all the more aware of just how important our work is, and I intend to stay around for a long time because I’ve got a lot to do. My prognosis is good, even though I’ve decided to go along with this old-fashioned “orthodox” medicine, cutting back on the prayers and faith-healing, and opting for minimal voodoo ceremonies.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT RANDI.ORG

The Story So Far: Vikings In The Bar, Envelopes, Randi’s Big White Limousine, Some Notes On Food, The Conference Begins

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

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Written by Brandon Thorp

The Del Mar bar is empty right now, which is weird. It is a big bar, roughly the shape of an oyster shell, separated from an ocean of evil-looking slot-machines by several hundred feet of polished brass railings. Each of the slots advertises an ever-growing jackpot, which had edged up near $1,300,000 last time I checked. But we are not interested in slots. We are interested in the bar. By 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, a small band of early-bird skeptics led by a large and improbably cuddly Danish Viking named Toby had colonized one of the Del Mar’s central tables. We were a small bunch, but loud, and The South Point Casino’s more traditional patrons eyed us curiously as though we were some rare, geeky species of desert fauna.

The South Point is a glittering, T-shaped hunk of rock and metal rising up out of the desert a couple miles south of the Las Vegas strip. It is owned by Michael Gaughan, the man who, it is said, originated the practice of plying gamblers with free booze. South Point, once known as South Coast, is the biggest building around. It is so big that the Casino hasn’t yet found time to mention all of its restaurants on its website. Somewhere on the first floor there is an “Equestrian Arena” with room for over 1,000 horses, and South Point is so big that no one I speak to has yet set eyes on this arena, nor can say with any certainty where it is. The casino’s hotel contains over 800 rooms on 25 floors. You could get lost here, and many have — it’s like something out of a Steven Milhauser novel; a place that you never need to leave, and which can very quickly rejigger your Circadian rhythms and leave you completely indifferent to the comings and goings of the outside world. I haven’t seen sunlight or been outside for over 24 hours, and I don’t feel weird at all. Here, the casino floor is the outside; the public square through which one must pass to get from here to there. The ceilings are high, and the thousands of machines give off a diffuse, twilighty glow that makes every second look and feel like happy hour.

The five skeptics in the bar at 3:30 on Tuesday had turned into a dozen by 5:00. Jay Novella arrived. Hal Bidlack swooped down from somewhere, and so did Richard Saunders. By sundown we had five tables, and by the time I went to bed we had ten. 24 hours later, the bar was ours entirely and the non-skeptics had fled. They must have wondered: Who are these people? And what’s up with all of these origami pigs?We didn’t give up the Del Mar until this morning, when the TAM registration desk opened up on the second floor and people began arriving for the Science-Based Medicine workshop. The specific chain of events that led to our launch this morning is too complicated to explicate comprehensively here — not to mention too boring — but here are some notes.

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Tam 7 Begins!

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

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For those of you not attending TAM, I can understand if you’d rather not read about it. After all, you’re missing out on the premiere skeptical event of the year, and possibly the largest skeptic gathering of al time. But, I urge you to read this, because technology has moved forward, and you can actually attend TAM in the comfort of your own home. Ok, not really… but you can share the excitement in a bunch of new ways:

  • If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow @TAMLive for frequent updates with photos. Also, search #TAM7 for a lot of chatter about the event.

  • We will be trying to UStream some of the event, including the live Million Dollar Challenge on Sunday. For the uninitiated, UStream is a live video streaming web application that will allow us to send audio and video of the event straight to your computer.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT RANDI.ORG

Skepdude says: I want to be there. I WANT TO BE THERE! Why am I not there? **sobbing uncontrollably**

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