Thursday, June 23, 2005

The 11th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle

Skeptics Circle
Welcome to the 11th Skeptics' Circle that has become a wonderful tradition of skepticism and critical thought.

Anne’s Anti-Quackery & Science Blog is proud to host this wonderful carnival.

The hottest topics this time around are quackery and especially anti-vaccinationism, then creationism, other pseudoscience, religion, history, and with a few others to round out the list.

Table of Contents

- Quackery and Medical Misinformation
- Intelligent Design and Creationism
- Other Pseudoscience
- Urban Legends
- Critical Thinking
- Religion
- Astrology
- History
- Science and the Scientific Method

Quackery and Medical Misinformation

This Skeptics' Circle provides useful information in the battle against quackery and for people just wanting to find out more about how real medicine works.

Quackery is not confined to individuals who fit the popular image of a quack. Significant numbers of well-trained physicians have strayed from science into "fad diagnoses" and unproven treatments that lack a rational basis.

Quackery often leads to harm because it turns ill people away from legitimate and trusted therapeutic procedures.

Many people are turning to "alternatives" such as chiropractic, homeopathy, "organic" foods, vitamin supplements, herbs, chelation therapy, and occult "healers" because of superstition and wishfull thinking.

As Orac pointed out flushes its credibility down the toilet by writing an article so one-sided and uncritical about the supposed link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism that is being promoted by antivaccine activists as an indictment of the government and pharmaceutical companies.

Ali at Blendor commented on the article too in his Relegating Salon to the Dustbin of Irrelevance. His take on the thimerosal distortions is that the evidence wasn't sufficiently conclusive, or the data was too correlative to risk releasing information to the public that would result in mass abstention of vaccination. As he mentioned, cases of autism in Denmark continue to rise though thimerosal was banned in 1995.

Josh from Thoughts from Kansas made his Prescriptions to the autism/thimerosal flap. He looked at the value of skepticism and the importance of the government as an independent arbiter of facts.

Then Richard at Skeptico took apart Robert F. Kennedy Junior's completely dishonest thimerosal article. He actually read the 286 page transcript of the meeting Kennedy refers to and found the meeting is nothing like Kennedy describes.

Josh from Thoughts from Kansas took a slightly technical look at some ways the Heritage Foundation and other dishonest people lie with statistics.

Paul at Confessions of a Quackbuster pointed out in his Placebo Illusion that the placebo effect influences the mind, but cures no real illness. He made the connection between placebo tricking the mind and sCAM tricking the patient. They are both frauds.

Kylie Minogue's alternative cancer therapies gives her "the good feeling of placebo" but it will not help her to beat breast cancer. She can afford paying, but it's rather annoying to see all these quacks taking money from people by claiming medical benefits which simply don't exist.

Orac followed up and pointed out that Kylie Minoque will be Another Suzanne Somers in the making. Suzanne Somers decided to opt for injections of the mistletoe extract Iscador rather than chemotherapy after her surgery. Olivia Newton-John turned Kylie on to therapeutic touch. Both have become a "testimonial" for alternative medicine, and it looks as though Kylie Minogue may be heading down that path, Orac said.

Ali at Blendor saw 60 Minutes from CBS and experienced how Anderson Cooper did a great job of exposing a bit of alt-medicine quackery called hydrogen peroxide therapy. Ali doesn't think a Bachelor's degree in business from Southwest Texas State and a chiropractic degree will qualify Dr. James Shortt to evaluate the efficacy of an unapproved treatment and I certainly agree.

Paul from Confessions of a Quackbuster made it clear to us that State medical board suspends license of Dr. James Shortt. Doctor James Shortt is an alternative medicine doctor and a "serious threat" to public health.

Rich from Evolgen wrote a short piece in Clone me a pony about the new breakthrough in cloning from South Korea (a British team has been doing so too). Of course the religious will freak out because of goofy ideas about the sacredness of eggs. Like Bush's position on stem cell research and cloning is based on faith and religious doctrine, the horse racing community is adhering to its traditions without understanding the science behind racing performance.

Intelligent Design and Creationism

Bora aka Coturnix at Circadiana indeed has no problem dealing with a creationist's circadian rhythm argument, that 24 hour rhythms have been programmed initially into all biological life forms by the Creator (Jesus Christ) himself. Here it is answered: Reverend William Paley's Circadian Clock. If William Paley knew about the existence of circadian clocks, he would not have got it all wrong.

Lord Runolfr from The Saga of Runolfr commented in his Appreciation for the Ancestors on our historical legacy of scientific research and innovation and how Creationists attack the foundations of modern civilization. Thinking of the scientific method in recent days, he tied some of his SCA experience to the subject and then he made a simple response to "scientific Creationists" and ID-ers who demand that we treat them like scientists. See if they're up to the challenge in his Ask for a Prediction.

Paul from Aurora Walking Vacation made a long defence of evolution. He was surprised by a friend who touted young earth creationist propaganda in an e-mail. His answer is not an attack on religion. It is merely a defence of science.

Other Pseudoscience

Judging the credibility of extraordinary claims we have to think wether it is possible to scientifically prove or make probable that the purported phenomenon actually exists.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Carl Sagan

If the claim is not testable at all it's probably mere speculation or fantasy.

If the claim is testable, we have to ask if it's been tested? Which methods were used? Are the results reproducible in a way that makes them statistically significant? Is there a complete (i.e. trustworthy) documentation available to the public?

The burden of proof lies upon the claimant. That's the rules.

Jeff and the team at The Two Percent Company's Rants is "Calling All Psychics: Help Natalee Holloway". They simply couldn't resist when a commenter on a previous post demanded that psychics help authorities to find the missing girl in Aruba. They transformed that plea into a full-fledged challenge to all psychics, mediums, dowsers, or whomever - anybody who claims to be able to know first-hand facts and events they haven't observed with the normal human senses. Unsurprisingly, no "real" psychics have responded yet.

In his article called "Remote possibility", Richard at Skeptico (inspired by the Two Percent Company) gave Allison Dubois, Sylvia Browne et al the ideal opportunity to prove their powers to the world, and do some good to boot, by finding the young girl who has sadly gone missing in Aruba. It's about the remote viewers at PsiTech - an analysis of how they "remote viewed" the murder of a young girl in the US a couple of years ago AND the perpetrator. The girl was later found alive and PsiTech removed the report from their website, but Richard found it on the Wayback Machine. He emailed them to ask if they could help find another missing girl (Skeptico knows of course that they can't). I would expect more in that case from Skeptico if I were you.

Kelly from Time to Lean was sure that nursing schools and hospitals had stopped teaching energy-field based treatments. But actually in 2003 Kelly was required to attend a laboratory seminar on TT, reflexology, and other pseudoscientific practices. This was before she heard of the JAMA study, before she wrote her debunking of Therapeutic Touch. And as you can see apparently the large, unnamed hospital hasn't read the JAMA article yet.

Kelly encourages the University of Minnesota to check in with the James Randi Educational Foundation first to make sure they could get their hands on the one million buckaroos they are offering for a good scientific study showing benefits of Therapeutic Touch.

There is no scientific evidence that the "energy transfer" postulated by proponents actually occurs. Any reactions to the procedure are psychological responses to the "laying on of hands", nothing else.

Richard at Skeptico thought so too, and now he wonders why the Therapeutic Touch training facility won't respond to his questions and why they won't touch that $Million.

I can't think of anyone not interested in collecting an easy $1 Million. What are they waiting for?

Mark over at Be Lambic or Green discovered that Psychic surgery is a crime in Canada. Mr Orbito uses the old and oft-debunked trick of pretending to push his fingers into the bodies of his victims and extracting blood and tumors. The trick has been debunked so often but it's still in use.

Alex Orbito calls himself one of the world's "top psychic surgeons" but it's all an illusion and even an amazing skeptic will be able to perform a "psychic surgery". I will give you some alternative ways to look at the different kinds of "surgery" offered by sCAM.

Urban Legends

Urban legends are stories that are either funny and/or contain horrifying content that may or may not be true. They spread quickly, and often have many different variants.

Most urban legends are false -- but some are true.

Nate at Saint Nate's Blog set up the Tales of the Trail after coming down from the mountain. It's got ghosts, bigfoot, true crimes and faked ones and urban legends all set in a 2,150 stretch of America. There will always be more amusing stories and there's really nothing anyone can do about it. We aren't going to let a few dumb stories sway us.

Critical Thinking

The key to critical thinking is teaching how science works, and not just what science has discovered:

"Science is a way of thinking, much more than it is a body of facts." - Carl Sagan

If you don't learn how science works you are not able to apply your scientific knowledge to evaluate pseudoscientific claims.

Phil from Bad Astronomy Blog saw The Amazing One performing what is called "psychic surgery" and it inspired him to become a skeptic.

I, the Hostess, watched the psychic surgery performed by James Randi and it (he) was really Amazing! The link can be found at Phil's blog.

In Mystery investigators Phil pointed out that we should teach kids what science really is. Show the kids where thinking goes wrong in a funny way and they'll listen, just like the team of Alynda Brown and Richard Saunders do.

Brian from Animal Crackers educates us in PeTA: Indoctrinating Kids, Encourging Harrassment, Exploiting Staged Brutality, by explaining the fundamental difference between indoctrination - useful for producing cult members - and enlightenment, the better to produce thoughtful, skeptical citizens. Read about one of the more odious tactics used by PeTA.


Pamela from Atlas Shrugs wanted to share a photo taken with the aid of NASA telescope. It is called the eye of G-d and it only happens every 3000 years. Most people think the eye of G-d (i.e. the eye of God) is symbolic of the watcher. This picture is revealing the meaning of the symbol of the eye of God. Gaze upon this and make a wish, even if you do not believe in it - with God all things are possible, aren't they?

Joseph from The Rest of the Story pointed to the flaws in the US government's position in his President Bush and Heritage Foundation Say Religion is Not Necessary, that abstinence-only sex education is effective. Here he shows how the use of science to promote a moralistic position is the same as saying that science can be used to reach morally proper conclusions.

Richard over at Skeptico commented in his article Stressed by Scientology how "auditing" with the E-Meter is the hook to get someone to purchase the Scientology book. The book will suggest Scientology training courses. These are free until it is revealed you need more advanced courses that have to be paid for. The idiotic "E-Meter" is their way to determine what is wrong with you.


Astrology is believed by millions of people and it has survived for thousands of years - but this is completely irrelevant to its "truth".

Ryan from Rockstar's Ramblings signed up for a free week of "personalized" horoscopes to be e-mailed. He compared what the "predictions" said to what really happened the next day in a diary-style format. The end came when she seriously tried to sell Ryan a magic pendulum.

The only planet of real importance to humanity is the earth. I can't find a single good reason for believing any of this astrology and horrorscope-shit.

But I am a Taurus and we all know how stubborn I should be (ha ha)!


If someone's promoting a crooked timeline to try to deny or ignore a major event in history or forcing an incorrect view of the past, we have to prove them wrong:

Holly Aho over at Soldiers' Angel - Holly Aho wrote the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Email - Beware because the history of this tomb, and the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard) deserves an accurate history. We don't need feel good stories to learn facts through retellings that aren't actually true.

Alun encountered the Black Pharoahs and asks why some people think a black Tutankhamen is necessary and what we stand to lose if genuine black history is ignored.

Science and the Scientific Method

The scientific method is the "tool" that scientists use to find the answers to questions. It is the process of thinking through the possible solutions to a problem and testing each possibility to find the best solution.

William Connolley from Stoat is Betting on climate change, or is he? He mentions Jamen Annan as the "king" of the bets and he linked in particular Jamen Annan, who wrote an extensive RealClimate post.

William also did some speculation on The need for science. He pointed out it's a problem pushing away the bit of science that does not fit within the rest.

Bill Adams from Idler Yet analysed the Head Games and concluded that a videogame brainscan experimenter has his own problems with reality.

Jeff Shaumeyer at Bearcastle Blog has written a short piece about "Faith-Based Fear of Flying" in an attempt to mock the idea of "faith-based science", suggesting that it could be dangerous for People of Faith to fly in airplanes.

Thanks for visiting

This brings to a close the eleventh edition of the Skeptics' Circle. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to contribute and help me make this session of Skeptics' Circle a success. At least that is my hope.

I had a wonderful time reading your entries. Thanks to St. Nate for letting me host the Skeptics' Circle. This has been a wonderful experience and I highly recommend hosting the Skeptics' Circle. I may even volunteer to do it again all by myself. If you’ve never hosted a Blog Carnival before, give it a try, you won’t regret it.

If I somehow forgot anyone's article, e-mail me and I will, besides apologizing, take care of it as soon as possible.

I feel rather old right now and my shoulder is hurting, after having to pull together all those links and I am going to have a well-deserved rest.

If you find skepticism to be of interest, here is a collection of related weblog entries that are coming up next week:

On June 26, The Carnival of the Godless will be held at Positive Liberty. Send links to jason AT positiveliberty dot com.

On June 28, Grand Rounds, a carnival of medicine, will be held at Health business blog. Send links to Mr. Williams dwilliams AT mppllc dot com.

On June 29, The Tangled Bank, a celebration of science, will be held at Techno-Gypsy. Send links to kevin AT technogypsy dot net.

In addition, the next edition of the Skeptics' Circle will be hosted by Unscrewing the Inscrutable on July 7, which is a mere two weeks away. So start getting your posts ready and send them to Brent immediately.


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