Category Archives: Pseudoscience

Real Guys Immunize

guyzimmunize logo.jpgLast week I went to Philadelphia to a very interesting meeting – a Social Media Summit on Immunization. Sponsored by Immunization Action Coalition, this was a second annual meeting for health-care non-profits, organized (amazingly well, with great attention to detail) by Lisa Randall (and, I am sure, a small army of helpers).
Over a day and a half of the meeting there were two simultaneous sessions at each time slot, but I did not have much opportunity to ponder my choices as I was at the front of the room at three sessions, and participated actively in several others. The style was very ‘unconference-y’, with barely any PowerPoint – we talked and showed stuff on the Web as needed.
We discussed pros and cons of using various online platforms for spreading the message about vaccinations (which also means pushing back against anti-vaccination propaganda), making sure that all of the representatives of the non-profits understand they don’t have to use all (or any) of them unless this can be useful for the work they want to do and the goal they want to achieve. But if they do feel it is necessary, we were there to explain and demonstrate how to do it: static pages, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., the best practices and strategies for using each of these platforms, the metrics for measuring the spread of their message, etc. This was a LOT of stuff, and we covered a lot of ground, but I hope we were useful.
On the second day, we had a very interesting discussion following the presentation by Anna Kata, anthropologist from McMaster University, whose recent paper, A postmodern Pandora’s box: anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet, analyzed the arguments by the anti-vaccination groups use in their online discussions. What is most interesting is that every single one of these arguments is nothing new – each has been used from the very beginning of vaccination, in 1796, from personal attacks on Edward Jenner, to arguments about “playing God”, to fear of putting animal material into bodies, to suspecting a conspiracy by government, industry and medical profession, to arguments for personal freedom, to proposing alternative theories of health (and disease and treatments). It never really stopped, it just has some very prominent spokesemen right now, visible in the media.
What is important is that people who reject vaccination are not the uneducated and the poor. The poor tend to trust the authority of physicians and will gladly vaccinate – if they can afford it. It is the upper-middle-class, at least nominally well educated, that refuses to vaccinate their kids. Trying to change their minds by presenting them the information does not work – they do not treat that information as valid. They live in a post-modern world in which everyone is entitled to their own facts. Their notions of body, health, and disease are very holistic, very New-Agey, so medical information does not mean anything to them. But they (not the activists, but parents seeking information) can be swayed by peer pressure. And nothing works better than for them to hear, from their friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and physicians, over and over again “I vaccinated my kids, trust me, I know what I’m doing, you should vaccinate yours, too.” If people they trust vaccinate, they will start wavering in their beliefs and may end up vaccinating themselves in the end. It is that social pressure, and need to socially conform, that is much more powerful than all the medical information in the world.
As a demonstration of the way, and ease of the way, for putting together a social media strategy, a group of ‘Social Media Ninjas’, about 5-6 of them who have never met or worked together before, took over one of the rooms and all of its computers during the meeting. They had 24 hours from start to finish. They started by crowdsourcing ideas, then picking one and running with it. The one they picked was focused on explaining ‘herd immunity’ and the target audience was men.
Almost all of the activity in persuading people to vaccinate their kids targets women, as it is supposed that mothers are the only ones making decisions about their children. This leaves out half of the population. And that half of the population can really help. In some families, still in the 21st century I know, the father has the last word. In other families, mother may resist vaccines out of fear and insecurity and her husband’s support can make all the difference – they can study the issue together, discuss it and make the decision together.
So the Social Media Ninja team, in that 24-hour period, came up with the name – “Real Guys Immunize” – drew a logo, and built a static web page, which explains what this is all about, provides brief FAQs and links to external resources. It also provides an easy way for readers to post personal stories.
They started a Twitter account (and the #guysimmunize hashtag), a YouTube channel and a Facebook page. They designed an e-card for Father’s Day. They had a couple of participants write blog posts (see here and here). And they put together a cool slideshow:

They decided against making a video (24 hours was too short, and nobody in the room was a real video-maven) though this can be done later, and made other changes to the original plan as the 24 hours passed. At the very end, they presented all of that to the gathering, including the first metrics of their reach (whatever one can measure after such a short time):

The site (and everything else associated with it on social media) is not really owned by anyone – it was just an experiment done to show how such a thing is made. So, if anyone is interesting in taking over this initiative and moving it forward into the future, there is a contact e-mail there, just click.

Preaching to the choir

I got this video from Orac’s blog where an interesting comment thread is developing. This also goes against those who lament the “echo chambers” but those tend to be the same people who write HeSaidSheSaid articles every day – they live in a binary world where only “who wins the two-horse horserace” matters and anything more sophisticated than that is ‘elitist’ and to be ignored as ‘outside of mainstream’ which – the mainstream – they, the savvy Villagers with nice hairdos on TV, get to define.

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial

Michael Specter, author of Denialism, the Keynote Speaker at ScienceOnline2010, spoke at TED conference a couple of months ago. The video of his TED talk is now up, and Michael wrote an editorial to go with it:

All Science vs. Religion Conflicts are Essentially and Primarily Political Conflicts

In a recent post, my SciBling Jason Rosenhouse with whom I usually agree on these matters, voices a strong disagreement with this quote (from Thomas Dixon’s book Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction, published by Oxford University Press in 2008):

Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge.

Jason counters that Galileo affair, as well as the more modern Creationist wars, are primarily and perhaps entirely science vs. religion wars, not political. He writes:

Afficionados of science/religion disputes will recognize in this a standard gambit of the genre. Specifically, the attempt to recast situations that are obviously conflicts between science and religion into conflicts about something else.

Another SciBling, Mike Dunford, disagrees with Jason on the Creationism wars:

The conflict arises when creationists attempt to force their religious views onto the children of other people, who do not necessarily share those views. That’s not a dispute over what the most authoritative source of knowledge is; that’s a dispute over the exercise of secular authority. In other words, it’s a political conflict.

The commenters on both posts then lose the sight of forest for the trees and get bogged down in the historical minutiae about the Gallileo affair. Not very constructive. Let me cut through all that and come out strongly on the Thomas Dixon side. Step by step. This way:
1) Every conflict is about power. Ergo, every conflict is essentially a political conflict. Who gets to be the boss. Who gets the money. Who gets first dibs at the pretty peasant girls from the village that feeds the nobles in the castle. Who gets to kill whom. Who gets to invade whom. Who gets the territory.
2) Conflicts require troops. Better the troops are motivated, more likely the positive outcome will be for the power-hungry leader. In many conflicts, the leaders motivate the troops by recasting the conflict in terms of “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die”. Those are conflicts over facts: who has the better facts. If those facts relate to the way the world works, then those facts are amenable to empirical testing.
3) Throughout history, including today, the conflicts over facts have been conflicts over religious facts. While the core reason for the conflict is power for the ruling class, religion serves wonderfully to unite the troops around a common idea, common symbols, a shared destiny. Religion probably evolved to aid group cohesion in early human societies and can be wonderfully used to aid group cohesion when a battle needs to be waged, even today.
4) Most of these fact-based conflicts pit one set of religious “facts” with another set of religious “facts”. We call these conflicts “religious wars” despite religion being just an excuse for a power-grab or invasion or civil war. Both sides’ facts fail the empirical tests, but the “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die” is still the battle cry for both sides.
5) In some, more recent conflicts, facts of one side actually pass the empirical test. These are wars between reason and superstition. We like to call them wars between Science and Religion. Often they are not waged with real weapons, but with other political means: battles over control of the classrooms, the goverment, the military, etc. Clearly, religion is a troup-motivator for one side, but the goal is obviously political power. In the USA, the two sides have over the past three decades or so clearly aligned with the two major political parties. Democrats are generally realistic and ignore the pseudoscientific extremists from the far left who have zero influence on policy. Republicans are anti-scientific and anti-reality at the core – that is what defines their party, their platform and their conservative ideology – the most extreme anti-science forces from the far right ARE the party leaders, their members in Congress, and their most visible representatives in the public eye. It is them who write the policy, while the realistic conservatives are marginalized or kicked out of the party.
6) Creationism is just one of many weapons in a unified anti-reality political platform of the Right. Some Creationists are just indoctrinated, scared folks who provide ground troops in this conflict. Other Creationists are part of the power-hungry elite of the party who use Creationism as a motivator for a particular segments of their ground-troops (other populations are motivated in other ways, with other tools, e.g., greed, or fear of terrorists, etc.). The Science vs. Religion aspect of the conflict is just window-dressing – the essence of the conflict is political: it is all about Power.
To summarize:
Every conflict is a political conflict.
Some conflicts are also superficially about facts about the world.
Some of these conflicts happen to pit correct facts against incorrect facts.
Creationist wars, just like all Science vs. Religious wars, are thus a subset of a subset of a subset of all conflicts. And they are all essentially and profoundly political conflicts. Which is why I wrote this dissertation-long post the other day – read it.

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

Continue reading

Introducing the Skeptical Blog Anthology 2009 – the best of skeptical blogging

This is exciting! From Young Australian Skeptics: Skeptical Blog Anthology 2009:

Inspired by the annual The Open Laboratory, the Skeptical Blog Anthology is a printed anthology of blog posts voted the very best of 2009, managed by the Young Australian Skeptics in conjunction with the Critical Teaching Education Group (CTEG). The anthology is an attempt to bring a greater awareness of the skeptical content on blog sites and showcase some of the range and diversity in the blogosphere.
With an aim to provide text-based resources to classes and readers who may be interested or intrigued by what skepticism has to offer, entries from January 1st to December 1st 2009 are eligible for submission. Both a print and Portable Document Format (pdf) will be made available for purchase via, with estimated printing early in 2010.
Entries can be self-nominated or proposed by readers of skeptical blog sites. The guidelines proposed by the popular Skeptics’ Circle are a fine indicator of the kind of content suitable for the anthology, including urban legends, the paranormal, quackery, pseudoscience, intelligent design, historical revisionism, critical thinking, skeptical parenting/​educating skeptically, superstitions, etc.
Please use the following form to submit entries, which will continue up to the closing date.

Why the anti-vaccine movement even exists? And how it got started?

An article that is likely to make the rounds of the science/medical blogosphere (and get the anti-vaccer trolls out of the woodwork):

Researchers long ago rejected the theory that vaccines cause autism, yet many parents don’t believe them. Can scientists bridge the gap between evidence and doubt?

Writes Liza Gross in the latest Feature article in PLoS Biology: A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine-Autism Wars:

Until the summer of 2005, Sharon Kaufman had never paid much attention to the shifting theories blaming vaccines for a surge in reported cases of autism. Kaufman, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Francisco, knew that the leading health institutions in the United States had reviewed the body of evidence, and that they found no reason to think vaccines had anything to do with autism. But when she read that scientists and public officials who commented on the studies routinely endured malevolent emails, abusive phone calls, and even death threats, she took notice.
“Hecklers were issuing death threats to spokespeople,” Kaufman exclaims, “people who simply related the scientists’ findings.” To a researcher with a keen eye for detecting major cultural shifts, these unsettling events signaled a deeper trend. “What happens when the facts of bioscience are relayed to the public and there is disbelief, lack of trust?” Kaufman wondered. “Where does that lead us?”
Struck by how the idea of a vaccine-autism link continued to gain cultural currency even as science dismissed it, Kaufman took a 26-month hiatus from her life’s work on aging and longevity to investigate the forces fueling this growing divide between scientists and citizens (see Figure 1). She wanted to understand how parents thought about risk and experts, how these attitudes shaped parents’ decisions about vaccination, and what the vaccine wars might teach us about the long-term erosion of public trust in science….

Read the whole thing

On open-mindedness

I know everyone and their grandmother has already posted this. But, if there is going to be a virally spread internet meme, this one is much better than most:

What is science’s rightful place?

In our heads, of course. All of our heads.
But Seed is asking, so let me elaborate briefly.
As I said before, science is not just active participation in research. Science is a mindset.
We are all born scientists, exploring the world around us and experimenting with it. When we grow up, we continue being scientists in our day-to-day lives.
If you walk into a room and flip a switch and the light does not come on, what do you do? I doubt that you throw yourself on the floor in fear, speaking in tongues, praying, blaming the Aliens or asking the Government to help you. You calmly go about dissecting the problem into pieces: is there electricity in the house? If not, did you pay the bill? If yes, should the fuse be flipped or replaced? If not, perhaps the light bulb burned out: replace and see what happens. If that does not work, perhaps replacing the socket will work. If not, checking the wiring may help. You go through the problem systematically, testing each element, until you find the problem and fix it. You do the same if water is dripping in your kitchen sink, or your car is running funny.
But when it comes to bigger problems that affect the broader society, some adults forget their inherent scientific mindset and let indoctrination and ideology take over. As the problems become more complex, and the science behind it more difficult to understand, other social influences tend to take precedence. See: global warming denialists, HIV/AIDS denialists, anti-vaccination crowd, Creationists of all stripes, New Age proponents, medical quackery believers, animal rightists, and so on. Faced with complexity that goes against the dogma received by parents, teachers, priests and media, people shut off their natural scientific mindset and go with what “feels” right to them, instead of with reality.

“I’m not a fan of facts. You see, the facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are.” – Stephen Colbert

[Thanks to Tamara Lackey for the quote]
This, of course, translates into politics and policy. I may disagree with Obama on some things. I may not like some of the people he hired to work for him. But what I like, and what he said many times including in his inaugural address, is that he will use the scientific method in all policy decisions.
Identify the problem.
Gather all available empricial information about the way the world really works in respect to that problem.
Fund the additional research to come up with missing data if needed.
Come up with a rational plan to solve the problem.
Implement it, test it and monitor if it works as planned.
Modify if needed, until the problem is solved.
I hope that this approach spreads into the broader national psyche – making decisions from the head, not the gut. Basing policy on data, not emotions. I feel that Obama won primarily because of his pragmatism and rationality as he is so non-ideological (heck, I wish he was more ideological!). People are tired of policy based on wishful thinking and fairy tales.
If this happens, it will be much easier to defeat the anti-rationality movements and to teach the kids how to apply their natural scientific mindset to all aspects of their lives as they grow into adults.
It’s not just research. It’s not just specific science education. It is about making rational thinking the respectable norm, and emotion/ideology-based thinking a laughing-stock.
That’s the science’s rightful place.

The year in crackpottery, and what it costs us.

The Touch That Doesn’t Heal :

Is there anecdotal evidence that unconventional therapies sometimes yield positive outcomes? Yes. There’s also anecdotal evidence that athletes who refuse to shave during winning streaks sometimes bring home championships. It was George D. Lundberg, a former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who said: “There’s no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data.” We’d do well to keep that in mind as we plot the future of American health care. It’s not like we’ve got billions to waste.

7 (Stupid) People Who Sued the Scientific Method:

Scientists study for years to give us advances like computers. Lawyers sue scientists on behalf of people who can’t operate computers, earn ten times as much and, in doing so, raise horribly relevant questions about which group is actually smarter. Here we see seven of the worst offenses of law against science:

The poison of positive thinking: How self-help culture helped create the credit crisis:

You might think the advocates of personal empowerment would feel chastened by the fact that all this rude interruption by reality comes at a time when positivity is being celebrated as never before. Think again. Rather than concede the fallibility of an unfailingly positive attitude, they counter that some negativity must have snuck in, queering the deal. (This is the logic Byrne used in blaming Hurricane Katrina victims for failing to repel the storm with upbeat vibes.) Vitale characterizes America’s doldrums as a byproduct of “the media bad-news scenario,” making it sound as if unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and the looming collapse of major industries didn’t exist until the media reported them. He argues that what we need now is even more pie-in-the-sky.

Celebrities are not very bright, suggest scientists:

We live in times when celebrities become mayors, governors, even presidents. They use their good looks and power to speak out about all the important things in the world. Like cancer. And fur. Which is, perhaps, why Sense About Science, an organization that exists to give a little scientific perspective in the midst of our madness, has published the Celebrities and Science Review 2008. This delightfully downloadable pdf shows celebrities for what they really are: somewhat deficient. Scientifically speaking. The report barely conceals its glee at what it sees as some of the magnificent nonsense that has emerged from celebrity brains, navigated celebrity tonsils and popped out from celebrity mouths in 2008.

The Year in Bad Science:

It’s only when you line these jokers up side by side that you realise what a vast and unwinnable fight we face.There was the miracle pixie dust which made a man’s fingertip grow back, although fingertips do just grow back by themselves.

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati:

Talking sense: Two who got it right
*The writer Jilly Cooper gets nine out of ten for making a stab at why alternative treatments might work: “If you believe them, then they work.” That describes the placebo effect, where a harmless but useless remedy seems to work because the patient feels as if it is working.

Good – Jilly Cooper writes awesome sexy equestrian novels.

Young Australian Skeptics

Young Australian Skeptics site is an excellent example of supporting other skeptics’ writing. There’s essays there by several of the ‘regulars’ of the Australian Skeptics of Carlos Blog Carnival, including: Karen Stollznow of Bad Language/Skepbitch; Kylie Sturgess of Podblack Blog / Skeptic Zone; Jack Scanlan of Homologous legs and Dr Rachael Dunlop of the Skeptic Zone – and will feature even more essays very soon.
There is a forum board, opportunities to network and is the brainchild of Elliot, a 21 year old student from Melbourne, Australia.

I get silly e-mails

Hmmm, they did not actually see the blog – if they did they would notice it has been abandoned more than two years ago and that the top post says, in large bold letters: “This Blogs Is Dead!”.
And they probably did not see when I hosted Skeptic’s Circle (three times). Bwahahahahaha! Anyway, too busy now, but if you want to debunk and make fun of this piece of quackery, go ahead, it’s all yours:

from F B
date Thu, Sep 18, 2008 at 3:47 PM
subject Interested in a review on ?
I’m the webmaster of
I wanted to know if by any chance you would be interested in doing an unbiased review of our site on your blog
If you agree you can choose between receiving a product sample or receiving a payment.
If you choose the product sample instead of the payment the sample is yours to keep and you don’t need to send it back.
The product sample that you can get is a subliminal mp3 and you can see it there:
Please let me know if you are interested.
Thank you
F. B
If you want to receive more paid review proposals, just click the following link:
If you don’t want to ever receive mails from us, just click the following link:


Just an hour or so ago I was in the car, listening to This American Life on NPR, when this story (Act Three) came up on the air:

Bob Berenz had a good job as an electrician. But he wanted to do something bigger. He came up with an idea for an invention. But as he studied physics texts to see if his invention could work, he happened upon the biggest idea of his life: a revelation about physics that would disprove Einstein, and Newton. That is, if Bob’s right.

It is a great story to listen to, and quite revealing about the psychology and the emotional motivations for crackpottery.
Ah, what a Great Cosmic Synchronicity – me and a bunch of other science bloggers, mainly biologists, physicians and philosophers, all got this e-mail today:
Except, it is not a synchronicity. This show first aired in 2005. And no matter when it aired, that would be at least within the same week if not the same day when we get one of these crackpot e-mails. Usually, I spend about a millisecond before sending such things to Trash, but listening to the show made me fish it out again just so I can show it to you.
These kinds of e-mails are a constant in many science bloggers’ mailboxes. I get roughly one per week. I bet PZ gets a dozen a day. I cannot imagine how many of those are received and promptly deleted by real physics professors, or the editors of physics journals!
There are some things in common to all of them.
People who come up with these theories have no science background. They think they are very smart (and may innately be so – they usually do not sound stupid, just ignorant), but do not have any idea how much they do NOT know.
If they knew anything, why would they send their physics theories to a bunch of biologists?
They want to become famous scientists but are too lazy to do the necessary work to get there. They are much more interested in becoming instantly famous than becoming scientists.
They really do not know what constitutes knowledge, and the way one gets to knowledge. They do not understand how science works, because they were never trained in it.
They are incapable of taking criticism, or admitting they are wrong. Big egos help in this regard, and so does a lack of scientific training (which makes you quite humble pretty quick in grad school).
Once they try peddling their impressionistic ideas, they get rebuffed which makes them resort to conspiracy theories about the walls surrounding the academia. As Bob from the NPR show says at one point, scientists are too engrossed in all that mathematics to be able to see the Truth (I am confident he meant it with a capital T).
As it is impossible to talk sense to them, and as they are unwilling to put effort into some real training, the only thing one can do with e-mails like one above is to quickly delete them as they come in – there is just no reason to waste time on it.

Obligatory Readings of the Day

Orac: The American Academy of Pediatrics versus antivaccinationist hypocrisy
Drake Bennett: Black man vs. white woman
Sheril R. Kirshenbaum: The Presidential Science Debate That Happened TODAY In Boston! and The Boston Debate
Mike Dunford: The Role of Science in Politics: A Plea for Activism
John S. Wilkins: The ‘design’ mistake and, Brian Switek: No thanks, Ken; that argument is poorly designed
Ed reports on how we are messing up with future historians: I Always Wondered Where Those Things Went. How many historical artefacts and writings we believe to be true, but are not?
Paul Jones: Gorillas on my mind

I get mail, too

Bloggers often highlight e-mail they get. I also get a bunch of loony stuff (and if it is not loony I try to respond, unless it is a medical question which I cannot ethically answer as I am not an MD, or a “do my homework for me” requests from students which I ignore) which ends up in Trash in nano-seconds. The loony stuff is soooo easy to recognize at first glance, there is no need to actually read that stuff and I am usually not compelled to use that kind of stuff as inspiration for blog posts. Just a waste of my time.
But what I got last night is something I just cannot help but wish to share with you because it is beyond loony. At first I thought it was a parody, the way it uses every quackery theme in the book. But it appears this is real. Yes, my friends, some people’s brains actually think this way – enjoy the laugh:

from Margaret McElroy
date Jan 10, 2008 6:36 PM
subject For Immediate Release – Photon Energy to Peak in 2012
Photon Energy to Peak in 2012
She says that people are finding there aren’t enough hours in the day because of something called the “Photon Energy” which peaks in 2012. “No, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s going to feel like it to many.” Who is she? Her name is Margaret McElroy, or Margaret M as she is known. An Australian now living in Seattle with her husband Alan, Margaret says “The Photon Energy is causing so many problems for people all around the world. We think there are 24 hours in the day, but really there are only about 6 – 8. So many people don’t have the time to do the things they plan each day. They go to the bank and, before they know it, it’s lunchtime. One more appointment when they should have had two or three, and it’s time for dinner!”
Scientists have long recognized that the Universe has been growing larger since its origin 13.7 billion years ago, but it was assumed the expansion should be slowing down due to the pull of gravity. In 1998, two teams of astrophysicists discovered that the expansion is actually speeding up. Scientists call it the “Dark Energy” because they have absolutely no clue as to what it is. Margaret said her friends in the world of spirit have told her it is called “Photon Energy,” a band of energy traveling the Universe that is speeding everything up.
Margaret also says the Photon Energy is causing many problems in the world today. It is compressing time, pressuring people, causing road rage, and bringing a lot of anger out. Metaphysically, it is designed to do just that – to bring out of humanity all the trapped energy that the majority on the Earth plane have, not only from this lifetime, but – as Margaret says – from previous lives. Margaret is renowned around the world for her accurate past-life readings both on radio and in person that tie in with people’s lives today. She is uncannily accurate if one listens to the radio show “The Sixth Sense” which is broadcast on WARM FM 106.9 HD3 in Seattle, KCAA 1050 AM in San Bernardino, California and also streamed and archived on and As soon as Margaret hears a person’s voice she tunes in to their energy and hones into a past life and the problem it is causing in their life today.
“If people understood the Photon Energy, many of them would feel better about their lives instead of thinking there is something wrong with them because they do not have enough hours in the day. I am not a scientist,” Margaret says, “but I do have the metaphysical reason for the phenomenon and, for those who have discovered what it is, it has created a great deal of relief in their lives.”
Margaret’s office is at 2260 152nd Ave. NE, Redmond, WA 98052. She can be contacted at (888) 644-3263, fax (888) 643-3593 or e-mail

Perhaps this could be used in the classroom, training 1st grade kids in critical skills, starting with something easy to debunk like this one, before moving on to more sophisticated quackery and pseudoscience in higher grades.

Besides shooting out a big blank from your buttock, you can feel as if your root chakra leaked sweet hot mucus.

This is woo of the decade! Priceless: How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way? by Hiroyuki Nishigaki is, according to the Amazon reviewers, absolutely hilarious – reading it will make you laugh (and thus constrict your anus) at least a 100 times, thus completely good-bying your depression. The title of this post is an actual sentence from the book, according to one of the reviewers. Hat-tip: Vaughan

There is no Soul. Deal with it.

Galilei kicked us out of the Center of the Universe.
Darwin kicked us off the Pinnacle of Creation
Freud kicked the Soul out of our Brains.
Few remain adherents of Geocentrism.
The opponents of evolution are legion and very vocal (in this country, and a couple of Middle Eastern ones), but they have been defeated so soundly so many times, they had to concede more and more ground, and though they are getting sneakier with time, their efforts are becoming more and more laughable and pitiful.
So, the last Big Fight will be about the Soul. The next area of science to experience a big frontal attack will be Neuroscience.
There is no Soul. Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. Period. But for many, that is the last straw. And the attack will, unlike Creationism, be coming from all sides of the political spectrum, as there are as many adherents of Spirituality crap on the Left as there are believers in the Soul on the Right. They just cannot bear the idea that there isn’t “something more to it” than “just materialism”!
Witness the new book “Spritiual Brain” which is so bad that it cannot even be fisked argument by argument as no arguments are actually presented (at least Creationists have their usual list of idiotic statements that can be effectively demonstrated to be wrong). Shelley Batts and PZ Myers tried hard, but there is just no ‘there’ there.
And even serious neurofolks, like Alvaro and colleagues who are organizing a meeting in Aspen on some of the coolest aspects of neuroplasticity – a hot area of neuroscience that studies how events in the internal and external environment modify the functioning of the brain, which affects the subjective experience, something that is potentially useful in treating people with mental or emotional problems, get slammed for being too materialistic.
If it is non-materialistic, then, by definition, it does not exist. Not just that it is not amenable to scientific study. It.Does.Not.Exist.

Obligatory Reading of the Day – Global Warming

Naomi Oreskes, the author of the 2004 paper in Science about the scientific consensus on global warming, recently had her work attacked by regressive denialists (including on Senator I-hate-science-Inhofe’s blog). Her full response is now available on Stranger Fruit. Go and read it. Now.

How to deal with HIV denialists online

My Scibling Tara Smith together with Steven Novella, published an article in PLoS Medicine last week that all frequent readers of science blogs will find interesting:
HIV Denial in the Internet Era:

Because these denialist assertions are made in books and on the Internet rather than in the scientific literature, many scientists are either unaware of the existence of organized denial groups, or believe they can safely ignore them as the discredited fringe. And indeed, most of the HIV deniers’ arguments were answered long ago by scientists. However, many members of the general public do not have the scientific background to critique the assertions put forth by these groups, and not only accept them but continue to propagate them. A recent editorial in Nature Medicine [32] stresses the need to counteract AIDS misinformation spread by the deniers.

A very, very good and important article! Especially if you are struggling with various kinds of denialists on blogs all the time.
And you can also see other cool papers published today in PLoS Medicine.

Biologists Helping Bookstores

Ha! Check out this brand-new blog! Ste is going to bookstores, checking out the Science section and moving pseudo-science, anti-science and nonsense books from it to the New Age section. Just a couple of Behe books in the La Jolla Bookstar, but I bet there will be more egregious miscategorizations in other stores. I wonder if this practice will spread virally to other cities and towns of the world…
(Hat-tip: Reed)

How NOT to think about human behavior

Echidne, Amanda Marcotte, Laelaps and Larry Moran beautifully destroy the “Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature” article from the recent issue of ‘Psychology Today’, the latest garbage from the Evolutionary Psychology crowd. Much fun was had by all….

Good News about the Bosnian “Pyramid”

It’s been a while since I last blogged about the Bosnian Pyramid (I did follow the story superficially, though, but was sick of trolls attracted to the topic), but I have to break the silence for this piece of good news:

The Culture Ministry found the “research” conducted by Osmanagic’s team to be questionable and the collaborators of Osmanagic to lack the credibility needed to allow for continued funding of their “project.” Also criticized by the Bosnian government, according to Javno, is the methods by which Osmanagic et al presented their findings, particularly the fact that they routinely kept their data from experts in relative fields.
The Bosnian Culture Ministry consulted experts including those in the fields of geology, mining, archaeology, and cultural preservation and arrived at the conclusion that Osmanagic’s foundation was not acting in the best interest of Bosnian cultural preservation and that the foundation is in violation of archaeological regulations. The Ministry even concluded that the nature of Osmanagic’s registration with the Bosnia-Herzegovina Justice Ministry may be suspect and should be “looked into.”

They are shutting Osmanagic down. Whew – that took a long time, but at least the story has (so far) a happy ending. In the end, Reason prevailed.

Malaria and DDT

I often blog about malaria because it is a fascinating disease which has to be studied in a highly integrative manner, is a great teaching topic and I could tie it in with my own field.
If you share my fascination, than your Obligatory Reading Of The Day is this post by Bug Girl (via) about the truth about DDT, Rachael Carson, malaria and the wingnut lies about it. Follow the links within it as well for more information.

More than just Resistance to Science

In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.
Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

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Conception Date Affects Baby’s Future Academic Achievement (!?)

It could be the seasonal use of pesticides, as this study suggests, or it could be seasonality in nutrition of mothers and infants, or seasonality of environmental stressors, or seasonality of mothers’ hormone profiles. Most likely all or most of these and other factors play a role, and the relative importance of the factors differs between geographic regions, between socioeconomic strata, and between times in history.
But there is one factor that has been repeatedly demonstrated to play no role at all: the position of planets, moons and stars, as seen from Earth, at the moment of birth of a baby….

Circadian Meditation?!

How does one fisk a medical quackery when there is no attempt whatsoever to explain what it is all about – not even a string of New-Age mumbo-jumbo, nonsensical, vaguely English-sounding words. All it says is: Buy The Book. Yeah, right…
Related: Circadian Quackery

Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf

Blog%20Against%20Theocracy.jpgMy SciBlings Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet just published an article in ‘Science’ (which, considering its topic is, ironically, behind the subscription wall, but you can check the short press release) about “Framing Science”
Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers, Mike Dunford (also check the comments here), John Fleck, Larry Moran, Dietram Scheufele, Kristina Chew, Randy Olson, James Hrynyshyn, Paul Sunstone and Alan Boyle have, so far, responded and their responses (and the comment threads) are worth your time to read. Chris and Matt respond to some of them. Matt has more in-depth explanations here, here and here (pdf) that are worth reading before firing off a response to the whole debate.
This is not a simple topic, but I will try to organize my thoughts in some way….

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Bosnian Pyramid Update

I really did not have time to follow up on the whole case, but Alun has so check out his latest…. And you can always be up to date by following the postings on the APWR Central blog. I wish the whole thing was just an April’s Fool joke, but unfortunately, it is just one’s fool’s joke that threatens to destroy some real archeological treasures in the region.


Chris and Mark Hoofnagle have recently started a new blog – which I warmly recommend.
Wanna know what denialism is? Check out their definition, or even better, their article: The Denialists’ Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts

Pale Blue Dot

A tribute

Yes, they really think that the whole world revolves around them

ptolemaic.gifGeocentrism: the True Believers

Style over Substance

Remember this, and use it next time you are debating religion, politics or pseudoscience:

“….someone wearing nothing but a Peter Gibbons-esque cheerful smile and having nothing but kind words for anyone will always be wrong if he says 2 + 2 = 5, and that if I call him a douchebag on wheels and use terms like “donkey punch” in the course of correcting him, it doesn’t change who is right; it just changes the input into the popularity contest…

Reality will bite you if you choose to ignore it

Alan Sokal (famous for attacking the Lefty postmodernist abuse of science in the 1990s) and Chris Mooney (famous for attacking the Republican War on Science in the 2000s) sat down and wrote an excellent article in LA Times that came out today:
Can Washington get smart about science?
The article gives a historical trajectory of the problem, how it moved from political Left to the Right and what the new Democratic Congress is doing and still can do to bring back the respect for science, or for that matter, the appreciation for reality (which, no matter what the Bushies wish, they cannot make out of thin air):

For, in the end, all of us — conservative or liberal, believer or atheist — must share the same real world. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not spare deniers of evolution, and global climate change will not spare any of us. As physicist Richard Feynman wrote in connection with the space shuttle Challenger disaster, “nature cannot be fooled.”
To avoid nature’s punishment, we must take steps now to restore reality-based government.

Much more eloquent and up-to-date than this related, but old rant of mine.

The Elephants of the Atlantis

I love it when Archy blogs about mammoths and the latest post is perhaps his best yet!

Randi, spoon-bending and the gullible blog-commenters

It appears that Ed Cone gets some commenters who desperately need to tune in next time Skeptic’s Circle comes around! They defend this crap (and, in turn, attack Randi of all people) in the comment thread! Oy vey! Some people still believe in spoon-bending and are vehemently defending it in a public forum with no sense of shame! What woo!

Verizon reps never graduated from the 5th grade of elementary school – they failed the math

Mark points out to this amazing example of innumeracy:

Yup, it is 25 minutes long and it is frustrating as hell. And there is no resolution in the end.
To make a long story short, the guy went to Canada and before the trip he asked Verizon what his charge would be while there. He was quoted 0.002 cents per kilobyte. When he came back, he found out he was charged at the rate of 0.002 dollars instead. A nice, clean 100-fold difference.
He got on the phone (and recorded these 25 minutes of the conversation) and went through one rep to another, tryng, in vein, to get them to understand that there is a difference between the two numbers! The basic incomprehension is stunning – they do not see the difference between the two numbers. When presented with large numbers, e.g., 1 dollar or 100 cents, they get it, but once a decimal point starts figuring in, they get lost in the math! They do the calculation in cents and proclaim the final result to be in dollars! The last rep was the most infuriating – she actually said that there is NO SUCH THING (as in a “physical object”) as 0.002 dollars (or cents, for that matter) so it is impossible to charge that little! In the end she asserted that this was a difference in OPINION!!!!!
And then we wonder why people don’t get evolution or global warming or simple economics of the effects of slashing taxes…

Running out of ideas for a post for the next Skeptic’s Circle?

Or the Carnival of the Godless? You can mine this site for ideas. Ooooh, scientific materialism! Scary! Papa Jeebus, protect me, please, because I am a coward!


For real?

On the Bosnian Pyramid in English

If you are interested in the saga of the Bosnian pyramid, it may be difficult for you to follow it as the members of the Anti-Pyramid Webring write mainly in some version of Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian language. But now, they have started a new, central blog for posts in English – the APWR Central. Contributors are needed.

Reverend William Paley’s Circadian Clock

Reverend William Paley's Circadian ClockAn oldie but goodie (June 12, 2005) debunking one of the rare Creationist claims that encroaches onto my territory.

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The Saga of the Bosnian Pyramid

The Saga of the Bosnian PyramidYou may have heard about the crazy “discovery” of a pyramid in Bosnia, the scientific nonsense about it and the political heat it provoked. I have covered the story last winter and spring in a lot of detail (see my posts from December 07, 2005, January 30, 2006, April 17, 2006, April 22, 2006, April 29, 2006, May 02, 2006, May 07, 2006, May 13, 2006, May 16, 2006, June 02, 2006 and June 07, 2006), but have lost touch since then. And a lot of stuff happened in the meantime. The members of the Anti-Pyramid Webring have been pursuing the story with vigor and I’ll try to catch up with them and write a summary of the news and views within the next week or two (almosty all of their work is in one variant or another of Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian language so I’ll have to do some translating). In the meantime, to get you all up to speed, here are the re-posts of all of my earlier coverage – lots of links for your enjoyment:

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If it quacks like a duck…it is in an echo-chamber!

Just in case you have, as a child, heard the myth that ducks’ quack does not produce an echo, and have never outgrew the myth (possibly by never even thinking about it ever since), a potential IgNobel winner for next year has been published and, yes, ducks’ quacks produce echoes. Shelley has the details of the experiments and the link to the sound-file of the quack and the echo. Ah, the power of the scientific method! Though alternative methods have been proposed:

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What This Blog Is NOT About: Biorhythms

What This Blog Is NOT About: BiorhythmsOne of th efirst posts on Circadiana, just defining what the blog was about (January 17, 2005):

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On Velikovsky

Archy sums it all up in An object lesson in Wiki research. Nice to see a professional historian take a look at history of pseudoscience.

Skeptics in Heaven…

…and no means to get back! See how that happened on the latest Skeptics’ Circle – On a Mission from God, up on Left Brain/Right Brain. Then use the Quackometer (the last link at the bottom of the carnival) to rate the quackiness of the claim debunked in each post.

Astrology Academy in Serbia

Astrology Academy in SerbiaIt’s been a year since this first appeared (September 21, 2005). I wonder if the “academy” is still open or what are they studying there….

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Morlocks and Eloi, oy vey!

Razib and commenters are commenting on this article which appears to be 19th century SF-fantasy repackaged as “serious science” about the future evolution of the human species. Actually, the article is so silly, Razib does not even want to waste time on it and points out only one of the obvious fallacies of the argument, the one about skin color. On the other hand, Lindsay does a thorough and delightful fisking that you may enjoy!
I don’t even know in which ‘channel’ to put this post. I guess it is “biology” but only nominally… as we do not have a “nonsense and having fun with it” channel here on scienceblogs.
Update: John Wilkins adds his 2 cents – and you should listen to him, speciation is his area of expertise.
Update 2: John Hawks and PZ Myers also chime in.
Update 3: Mouse Trap and Darren Naish have their own takes on the story.

Atlantis, lost and found, again

John bemoans the state of science journalism, with some added history of the Atlantis hypothesis.


You can read and LISTEN TO the 45th Edition of the Skeptic’s Circle at The Inoculated Mind

Watch out for medical quackery!

Bill Bailey reports that an organization called ‘Screening for Mental Health’ offers free screenings for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But then, they push drugs on people they “diagnose”. The only problem – SAD is not treated with drugs!!! It is a circadian disorder, treated with light therapy and behavioral therapy. Quacks!