- The Truth Behind Washington: Edwina Rogers
- Science and Morality: Michael Shermer
- Skepticism for Everyone: Sara E. Mayhew
- Science with a Side of Atheism: Cara Santa Maria
There are still more to come. We will get out as many as we can.
We'll continue with regular posting of videos of talks, panels and workshops from TAM 2013. Click on the link to head to the YouTube Channel:
There are still more to come. We will get out as many as we can.
By William M. London
The late medical ethicist and pediatrician William G. Bartholome included in his talk at the 1988 National Health Fraud Conference in Kansas City a discussion of the concentric circles of Hell described in Dante’s Inferno. Thinking about those circles reminds me of the importance of combating health fraud and quackery.
The first (outermost) circle, called Limbo, is reserved for the otherwise virtuous who failed to accept Christ. If your idea of Heaven is the RMS Titanic in all its glory, Limbo would be the steerage deck.
But as you go deeper into Hell, accommodations get increasingly dreadful. Within the seventh circle of Hell, immersion in a river of boiling blood and fire is a relatively tame fate. Supposedly it’s even worse in the region where inhabitants are forever stuck in scorching sand and showered with flakes of fire.
The seventh circle is designated for violent people. But there are even deeper circles for supposedly worse people. Yes, even worse!
I’ll spare you a description of the eighth and ninth circles, but their inhabitants might regard the seventh circle as a realm of luxury.
Dante envisioned the eighth circle for the conscious frauds (sorcerers, astrologers, false prophets, alchemists, thieves, corrupt politicians, perjurers, impostors, and other intentional deceivers) and the ninth circle for the treacherous: those who betray others in social relationships.
I’m not sure I have a solid grasp of Dante’s distinction between the fraudulent and the treacherous, but I agree with this point Dr. Bartholome made about Dante: He took fraud seriously.
So do I. However, I’m not sure I think about fraud quite the way Dante did.
First, I don’t see fraud as categorically worse than violence (although it’s clear that some frauds cause more harm than some violent acts).
Second, I don’t see fraud as limited to intentional deceit—even though legal dictionary definitions of fraud such as the definition at law.com refer to intentional deceit or perversion of truth.
When Bernie Madoff intentionally deceived his clients and made off with their money, it’s clear that he defrauded them.
When health care providers intentionally bill third-party payers for services that they know they didn’t provide, that’s fraud. (It’s called health insurance fraud or health care fraud and, as I’ll explain, it’s not the same as health fraud.)
But what about people who strongly believe in their own false or misleading promotional claims for health-related uses of products or services? Is it fraud—or the equivalent of fraud—when promoters truly believe the baloney they promote?
I suggest that being a well-meaning dupe is no excuse for deceptively promoting health products and services. Indeed, being a true believer in your cherished nonsense gives you an advantage in projecting sincerity, which enhances the illusion of credibility and therefore makes you more effective at misleading unsuspecting people.
Two more videos to bring you today from the TAM 2013 collection.
First up is Max Maven’s talk on deception called Truth Lies Here
This is the “Magicians vs Psychics” panel discussion featuring Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, Max Maven, Mark Edward and Banachek, moderated by DJ Grothe. Things get testy between Jamy and Mark near the end. Now you can see it for yourself.
By Sharon Hill
They are described as pale-skinned, robotic, and exude a sense of menace and dread. But it's just a child - a child with jet black, soulless eyes. As with other paranormal themed entities, believing is seeing.
The Birmingham Mail (U.K.) posted a story related by a local paranormal investigator, Lee Brickley from Stafforshire back in 2013. He received an email report of a sighting of the Cannock Chase black eyed child.
A leading paranormal investigator has scoured a Staffordshire beauty spot following chilling sightings of a spectre known locally as The Black Eyed Child.
By Sheldon Helms
I just have to say this and get it off my chest. There were times last night when I felt a little sorry for Chip Coffey, self-described “Psychic, Medium and Spiritual Counselor,” during his pathetically-titled “Coffey Talk” show in San Jose, California.
I'm sure it looked really cool in his mind when he was planning it, imagining a full house of screaming fans, and his cheap-looking scarf (copies of which were on sale in the lobby for $20) wafting in the wind during his jog toward a secure place to chill out as we all anxiously awaited his return. But, in a harshly lit meeting room of mostly empty chairs, watching a fey, middle-aged man – in jeans and a black zip-up jacket from North Face, no less – jogging and wheezing his way down the center aisle to the back of the room, where fewer than a hundred people half-heartedly applauded until he finally just walked out (presumably to the men's room) was just sad and depressing.
That feeling of empathy was short lived, however. Undercover and playing the role of “Wade,” I, along with my fellow Operation Bumblebee investigators, felt anger and scorn for what, in our opinion, was obvious charlatanism.
“Operation Bumblebee” was the brainchild of Susan Gerbic, co-founder of the Monterey County Skeptics, and creator of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project. She and several others had been working for months on the project, gathering the funds necessary to purchase tickets, arranging various strategies to control for “hot reading” (online and other research tactics that some psychics use to increase their hit rate), as well as attempting to find people willing to participate. Once I learned about the project, I jumped at the chance to take part. Although I came late to the mission, I also came particularly well suited for the task. I serve on the board of directors for the Bay Area Skeptics, I have a flexible work schedule, I trained as a stage actor in college, and for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s I was a true believer in all manner of New Age nonsense. My instructions were to devise a character for myself that: a) had lost a loved one; b) wanted to regain contact with that loved one through Chip; and c) totally believed in psychics and otherworldly claptrap. This would be my first foray back into the world of psychics and New Agers since my conversion to rationality and sanity. It was, to put it mildly, a surreal experience. And, much to our delight, the plan went off without a hitch.
By Harriet Hall
Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.
Do doctors pay attention to negative randomized clinical trials? (David Gorski) Sham surgery studies of vertebroplasty for osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures have shown it is not effective. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons issued a guideline advising against its use. Use has declined in some quarters but it is still being promoted in others. It seems conventional medicine can fall prey to the same kind of fallacious thinking that drives the advocacy of CAM modalities like homeopathy.
Bad News and Good News from Down Under: Science-Based Medicine in Australia (Harriet Hall) The bad news: some Australian pharmacies are offering in-house consultations with naturopaths, including bogus diagnostic procedures like iridology. The good news: the Australian organization Friends of Science in Medicine and other Australian skeptics are working vigorously to combat quackery and have had a number of noteworthy successes.
“Mystery” Illness in Colombia (Steven Novella) More than 200 girls in Colombia have been hospitalized with vague symptoms; all were found to be healthy and were discharged. This is not a “mystery” illness, but a classic example of mass psychogenic illness that was spurred by irrational fears surrounding the HPV vaccine Gardasil.
If you don’t buy this supplement for your child, you’re a terrible parent (Scott Gavura) Supplements like Kids DHA and Cerebrum promise to improve cognition and learning, and also to promote healthy eye and bone development, softer and healthier skin, and even to help in childhood depression. There’s no evidence to support those claims.
Hiccups: From Acupuncture to Quantum Touch (Clay Jones) We don’t know for certain what causes hiccups, but we do understand a few things about them. At least 250 cures have been suggested, from pharmaceuticals to home remedies to “Quantum Touch” to homeopathy. Since hiccups usually resolve spontaneously, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking a treatment works.
TAM 2013 featured a workshop and a panel discussion on the topic of "woo" (pseudoscientific ideas and superstitious thinking) that exists in the martial arts community. It's a unique topic that had not been discussed at such length at TAM before. If this is piques your interest, have a look. The panel is about 45 minutes and the workshop (which unfortunately, is not the greatest video quality) is one and a half hours.
Doubtful News website posts evidence-based critiques of news of the paranormal, pseudoscience, health claims, and anomalies.
Here is a selection of the most important "doubtful" news stories of the past week.
It’s not magically harmonized water – just snake oil A company in New Zealand says it treats water with "standing waves" and then sells it as a supplemental treatment for a multitude of illnesses. The advocacy group Society for Science-Based Healthcare is on the case, filing an official complaint and telling the media, "It's just water!". The company is steadfast that it's "Science". Want to make a bet on science or snake oil?
Espanola police conclude “ghost” is the only possible explanation for an insect on the camera A New Mexico police office tells the media they are convinced there is a ghost captured on their surveillance camera footage. Even though it looks exactly like an out-of-focus insect crawling across the lens, it's a ghost, they say. Isn't this sort of embarrassing to admit that the police investigation stops there?
Footballer states he did not kill his friends to further his career Imagine this happening in the U.S. -- A sports star is accused of murdering his friends in a ritual sacrifice to improve his career and team chances of winning. And people really believe it! He has to publicly deny it. The locals in Ghana will remain suspicious until the two missing bodies are found.
FDA issues warning letters to companies marketing Ebola “cures” The US Food and Drug Authority issued warning letters to three companies who are selling "cures" to diseases including Ebola. The companies market essential oils, colloidal silver, and other preparations that have not been show to medically treat anything and are not FDA approved drugs. They've been told to quit the advertising as it's a violation of federal laws to make such a claim for an unapproved drug.
State Farm is there – dropping anti-vax spokesperson Schneider State Farm insurance company dropped an ad campaign featuring comedic actor Rob Schneider after receiving many complaints about how ridiculous it was for an insurance company (who supports vaccinations) to have an outspoken anti-vaccination ranter for their ads. Schneider, angry, pulled the "free speech" card. Well, State Farm did too. They have the right to fire him for promoting such ignorant nonsense.
By Sharon Hill
Do you do "skepticism"? You hear people say "I'm skeptical" all the time, using it to mean general doubt. But that's not what you mean, really. Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies tools of science. Skepticism is most often applied to extraordinary claims – those that refute the current consensus view. In a nutshell (or as an elevator pitch), the Skeptical process considers evidence obtained by systematic observations and reason.
There are problems with the words “skeptic” and “skeptical” but they are what they are. We can choose to embrace that and work with it or come up with another word for utilizing evidence to evaluate extraordinary claims. Other words aren’t catching on but that shouldn’t stop us from advocating an evidence-based and rational approach.
I wrote the Media Guide to Skepticism for the public – whether that be journalists or anyone else curious about the use of the term "skepticism". It’s valuable to put your concepts on paper, hash out the details, find the common ground, and finalize the document. So, that’s what I did. Now I link people to it when they say "I'm a skeptic".
TAM 2013 had an excellent array of philosophers. Today, we bring you four outstanding talks that you will enjoy. Don't be put off by "philosophy" -you will get valuable insights out of the four featured speakers.
Try it, you may be surprised.
by Sharon Hill
Monsters are both reflections of our basest fears and a complicated social topic. Monsters evolve to suit human needs. Sometimes that need is… publicity and tourism dollars.
The infamous Lagarfljótsormurinn of Iceland is a notorious snake-like monster that lives in Lake Lagarfljót in eastern Iceland. Apparently, the monster has been reported since 1345.
Lagarfljótsormurinn is back in the news once again as the Fljótsdalshérað council has declared a 2012 video of it as “real”. Science by democracy of a public council? That’s not how it works. This is not a real animal but it is a way to get people to notice your area and perhaps come visit to see the “worm” for yourself.
On the morning of 2 February 2012, Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf took a video out of his kitchen window in Hrafnkelsstaðir, Fljótsdalur. The video shows something undulating horizontally in the glacial river Jökulsá í Fljótsdal. The river is the largest tributary of Lake Lagarfljót. It does not appear to be a hoax - there really IS something in the river.
Take a look at the uncut video:
Talk about "Found Footage"!
The JREF is excited to bring you more videos from TAM 2013.
We have 24 ADDITIONAL talks, 8 workshops, 4 panel discussions, the opening ceremony, and a sit down interview with James Randi about his bio pic - An Honest Liar.
The videos will be rolling out on You Tube in short order. Subscribe to the JREF channel here.
To begin, let's start with the kickoff by host George Hrab - it's not a TAM unless something in the opening audio-visual goes awry - it makes things more hilarious.
And hold on for tons of skeptical goodness coming your way, day after day...
by Kenny Biddle
Direct experiments reveal how easy it is to manipulate one of the most popular “ghost hunting” devices and reveal that basic understanding of this gadget is clearly out of the range of "sciencey" ghost hunters.
A simple hand-held device has become a standard paranormal investigation tool and cultural phenomenon - the now-famous “K2 Meter”. Since its debut on a popular paranormal show, the K-II (K2) EMF Meter has become a must-have device in every ghost hunter’s equipment box. It’s hard to find a team or television series that isn’t using the K2 Meter, many times as their main source of “ghost detection”.
By observing this device in person, on TV, and over a few hundred YouTube videos, some interesting observations can be made. The most obvious is that no one is using the device as it was originally designed - as an electromagnetic field meter.
The sole purpose for which many investigators and ghost hunters purchase an Electromagnetic Field Detector is to help them locate ghosts. Furthermore, the reason the majority of these ghost hunters specifically purchase a K2 meter is because they believe the device allows for communicate with alleged spirits. Obviously, an EMF detector does neither of these, nor was it ever designed for these purposes.
The incredible Dr. Genie Scott discovered the Museum of Hoaxes website (lovingly curated by Alex Boese) and based her TAM 2014 talk on what she found there. We bring you her entertaining presentation...
I contacted Genie to see how she was enjoying her retirement from the National Center for Science Education (hasn't gotten the hang of it yet, she says) and why she picked this topic this year.
A Milwaukee, Wisconsin woman is scammed out of $20,000 after a psychic scares her into thinking a spell has been placed on her.
How does this stuff happen?
Such curse threats are common and prey on superstition and cultural beliefs of the community.
Every year, TAM, the Amazing Meeting, hosted by the JREF, is a celebration of science and reason. The keynote speaker at TAM 2014 was the ever-enthusiastic Bill Nye, the Science Guy. The JREF is proud to bring you his uplifting performance recorded this previous July in Las Vegas.
It’s funny how some audiences can be inspired by preachers or politicians, but the TAM audience was inspired by Bill’s dedication and excitement about science and the great things that come from it. Bill starts out his talk with the insider’s view of the debate on Creationism that he participated in last February at the Creation Museum in Kentucky against Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham (Video of the debate). He was in front of the home crowd, in the facility dedicated to their idea about how the 6000-year old world works – the “lion’s den” as Nye calls it. Bill was open about his trepidation and need for preparation. He praised the NCSE – Josh Rosenau and Genie Scott, Don Prothero and Michael Shermer for the assistance. He understood that this could be a giant mistake. Yet, it was the right thing to do – to stand up to nonsense ideas that send society backwards. And he was victorious.
In this just over one-hour talk, Bill’s passion for communicating science comes alive. He talks about the geology of Kentucky (oh the irony!), the beauty of evolution and the utility of the theory, while scratching his head about how Ham’s congregation can ignore such fabulous things right under their feet.
A second important topic was revealed during the Creation debate, Ham’s denial of climate change. Bill discusses why this is such an important concept for humans all over the world. He points out the critical need to be science literate and, as a country, to be innovative. As examples of problems we can solve, he discusses energy production and distribution, deflecting asteroids, thinking about the MH370 mystery, all with his witty, comedic style. We can solve problems, but will we?
Bill appreciates that TAM is an appreciative audience. Even though we are all just little specks on a speck in space, we can comprehend our position in the universe and have the capability to solve problems. And we can, dare I say it… “CHANGE THE WORLD”.
Doubtful News has returned to SWIFT!
Doubtful News is an evidence-based critique of news of the paranormal, pseudoscience, health claims, and anomalies. I'll be writing pieces especially for SWIFT that take a sharp-eyed look at claims in the media.
Today, we examine a piece that appeared in Harborough Mail in the U.K.: Another sighting of the infamous Black Beast!
Claim: A panther-like "black beast" creature is in the Harborough area.
Evidence: Eyewitness accounts
What should we think about this claim based on the information we are provided in the news piece? Let's unpack things.
From the local news story:
by Cherry Teresa
On social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, several pages with "Facts" in their names have an impressive number of followers and shares . The fact is, many "facts" sites are filled with hogwash. People who otherwise fact check before spreading nonsense are quick to share these posts. I wonder if having the word "facts" in a name makes some people more trusting of it.
A popular assertion made on these "fact" feeds is that strangers in your dreams are actually people you've seen before in real life. The claim is that our brains can remember people we may have only briefly encountered once in our lives but cannot make up original images of people's faces. This sounds fascinating, but the only references I could find that agreed with this, aside from other "facts" pages, were sites related to psychics and astrology - two "junk science" fields. And they did not cite their sources.
A collection of tweets:
It's your friendly JREF neighborhood content editor here, trying to work through the new blogging format and bring you some good stories and information.
I'm lining up new contributors for SWIFT. You may see a bit of a change in tone and focus. Behind the scenes, the JREF is hammering out a new, more descriptive mission, and specific objectives and goals for the organization. A substantial part of that mission is aimed towards the general public, those that hopefully will look to the JREF for a rational take on extraordinary and questionable claims.
Expect to see some new voices that may address topics that are well-trodden in the skeptical literature, such as the paranormal and quackery. These topics could be a turn off for those who would assume that anyone who subscribes to such nonsense is stupid or overly gullible. The facts are that millions of people still believe in miracles, paranormal activity, UFOs as alien spaceships, faith healing, witchcraft, demonic possession and psychic powers. Millions tune into TV shows every week to watch people pretend to play scientists and hunt ghosts or find Bigfoot. Millions and millions take medical advice from celebrities or quack doctors, subscribe to conspiracy theories, or spend billions on useless or potentially dangerous consumer products.
Not all nonsense beliefs are harmful. Some are just fun and society can get along fine entertaining them. And many extraordinary claims are simply amusing and a normal part of society. Yet, millions have no inkling that those claims may be bogus. They may not find out in time that a treatment or advertisement is a scam. Every day, well-intentioned people hurt themseves physically, mentally, and economically because of bad decisions based on misinformation.
I will try to make SWIFT a means to reach out to families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, policy makers and interested individuals from the young to the wise with solid information and commentary about assessing extraordinary claims.
Please share posts that you find important with others in your family and your social network. That's an easy and effective way to spark some critical thinking.
If you would like to add your voice to SWIFT, take a look at our Guidelines for SWIFT contributors and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editors Note: SBM is one the BEST sites on the web addressing "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" (CAM) with a rational and scientific viewpoint. It features renowned experts on a variety of medical topics including popular claim, legal issues, quackery, dentistry, and more. The JREF is pleased to bring you a convenient weekly summary of the posts that appeared in the past 7 days courtesy of The "Skepdoc" Dr. Harriet Hall.
Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.
Fluoride: Still Not Poisoning Your Precious Body Fluids! (Grant Ritchey) Myths about the alleged dangers of fluoride refuse to die. New guidelines for children include fluoride toothpaste as soon as teeth erupt, fluoride varnish every 3-6 months, and avoidance of fluoride rinse in young children. No, dentists are not trying to poison their patients.
Medicine past, present, and future: Star Trek versus Dr. Kildare and The Knick (David Gorski) TV shows and movies make us wonder how much of current medical practice will be considered barbaric a century from now. Contempt for doctors of the past is unjustified. Science advances incrementally, and doctors can only go by the best evidence available to them at the time. Science is what got us from the world of The Knick to where we are today.
Only two months until Skepticon (David Gorski) Dr. Gorski will be speaking at Skepticon in November.
The Human Mold: Another Example of Self-Deception (Harriet Hall) José Jarimba has convinced himself that our bodies are physically molded into an asymmetric form by our mothers’ sleeping positions during pregnancy, that this causes lifelong pain and illness, and that he can fix the problem with shoe lifts. He is a prime example of self-deception, scientific ignorance, poor critical thinking skills, and closed-minded hubris.
Privileged Antivaxxers (Steven Novella) Some LA communities have vaccination rates as low as third-world countries. Well-educated and well-to-do parents are rejecting science and responding to irrational fears. They are putting their own children at risk and endangering others; vaccine preventable diseases are coming back.
Missouri tackles primary care shortage with “assistant physicians” (Jann Bellamy) In Missouri, a new law will allow medical school graduates who have not completed a residency to practice in underserved areas. Their practice will be limited and supervised. This contrasts with the less cautious, less rational approach of licensing naturopaths or chiropractors as primary care physicians.
Rationalizing the Ridiculous (Mark Crislip) Promoters of acupuncture and naturopathy are attempting to integrate fantasies with science. They rationalize away the evidence and resort to logical fallacies. Our patients deserve better.
Announcement: “Integrative oncology” – Really the best of both worlds? Dr. Gorski has published a commentary on integrative oncology in a high-profile peer-reviewed medical journal. Link provided.