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Skeptic Summary #222

By The Staff
Posted on: 1/25/2009

Consciousness, methane, Barack, Trudeau, pseudoscience and more!

Week ending unknown 24, 2009 (Vol 6, #4)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
Is there anything called consciousness? - Depends on what your definition of “is” is.

Methane discovered in Martian atmosphere - Does Mars have a flatulence problem?

President Obama - Once you go black…

Editor’s Choice: Judge orders: Trudeau must pay $37 million! - Nailed the $*%#!

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience — This is a gem of a site put together by Dr. Rory Coker of the Physics Department of the University of Texas. He goes to great care explaining in detail, usually not found on most skeptic sites, how pseudoscience differs from the real deal. He opens:
The word “pseudo” means fake, and the surest way to spot a fake is to know as much as possible about the real thing, in this case science itself. When we speak of knowing science we do not mean simply knowing scientific facts (e.g., the distance from earth to sun; the age of the earth; the distinction between mammal and reptile, etc.) We mean that one must clearly understand the nature of science itself — the criteria of valid evidence, the design of meaningful experiments, the weighing of possibilities, the testing of hypotheses, the establishment of useful theories, the many aspects of the methods of science which make it possible to draw accurate, reliable, meaningful conclusions about the phenomena of the physical universe.

However, the media provide a continuous bombardment of sheer nonsense, misinformation, fantasy and confusion — all proclaimed to be “true facts.” Sifting sense from nonsense is an almost overwhelming job.

It is therefore useful to consider some of the earmarks of pseudoscience. The substitution of fantasy and nonsense for fact leaves behind many different clues and signs that almost anyone can readily detect. Below are listed some of the most common characteristics of pseudoscience. The presence of any one or more of these symptoms in any material in question marks it conclusively as pseudoscience. On the other hand, material displaying none of these flaws might still be pseudoscience — the pseudoscientists are inventing new ways to fool themselves nearly every day. What we have here is a set of sufficient, rather than necessary, conditions for pseudoscience.
After that introduction, he goes on to give real examples of pseudoscience and how pervasive it has become. There is an amazing amount of information on the main page alone, but he doesn’t stop there. At the bottom of the page is a list of links to real examples of pseudoscience. Those include Astrology, Avoiding Facing Death, Coincidences, Cities on the Moon, Creationism and “Intelligent Design,” Crystal Myths and Powers, ESP, ESP Experiments, Flying Saucers (19471985), Fortean Phenomena, Gods from Outer Space, Ghosts, Higher Dimensions, Interstellar Travellers, Kirlian Photos and the Aura, The Moon Woman, Martian Canals, Monsters and Ape Suits, Medical Quackery, Mystery Spots, Mystical and Bogus Physics, The New Age, Pareidolia, Perpetual Motion (Part 1 and Part 2), Prophecy, Postmodernism versus Science, Psychic Detectives, Pyramid and Crystal Powers and Pseudoscience, Science Fiction and Pseudoscience, Our Space Brothers, Spiritualism, UFOs 1985-2005, Velikovsky’s Colliding Planets and Weeping Statues.

With each example of pseudoscience listed above, there is a concise history of the subject, often including pictures, charts, dates, cartoons, the people involved, what’s being done about it, and more. This is a dream resource! I have checked several of the links out and really, I don’t know what more I could have asked for. I started with Creationism and “Intelligent Design” because that was the first page I opened, after being specifically directed to it. And it blew me away. I had to know more so I clicked the link back to the homepage.

It’s only January, but I will be amazed if this pick is not featured again in the anniversary issue of the our weekly Summary.

Life is too short to occupy oneself with the slaying of the slain more than once.
— Thomas Huxley

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Cune has an identity crisis while trying to figure out how to fake his IP address. Meanwhile, Kil was trying to setup a page on FaceBook, leading to several members of the SFN now becoming “friends.” Talk drifted to local skeptic groups and TAM, as well as the costs for this upcoming year. Then a quick video, two comics and the Magic Castle. The night ended with some music: Thomas Dolby, Oingo Boingo, The Vandals, and a math/statistics puzzle.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Abort a doughnut today!

Blue Monday? That’s just too depressing

Bush’s Final Approval: Where Do They Find These Idiots????

Darwin was wrong…ish

Skepticaly #93 — Tales of the Investigative Atheist

Teach Them Science

What’s New by Bob Park

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
Thomas Paine: Collected Writings, by Thomas Paine and Eric Foner (Editor).

““I know not whether any man in the world,” wrote John Adams in 1805, “has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine.” The impassioned democratic voice of the Age of Revolution, Paine wrote for his mass audience with vigor, clarity, and “common sense.” This Library of America volume is the first major new edition of his work in 50 years, and the most comprehensive single-volume collection of his writings available. Emphasizing Paine’s American career, it brings together his best-known works — Common Sense, The American Crisis, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason — along with scores of letters, articles, and pamphlets.

Paine came to America in 1774 at age 37 after a life of obscurity and failure in England. Within fourteen months he published Common Sense, the most influential pamphlet for the American Revolution, and began a career that would see him prosecuted in England, imprisoned and nearly executed in France, and hailed and reviled in the American nation he helped create. In Common Sense, Paine set forth an inspiring vision of an independent America as an asylum for freedom and an example of popular self-government in a world oppressed by despotism and hereditary privilege. The American Crisis, begun during “the times that try men’s souls” in 1776, is a masterpiece of popular pamphleteering in which Paine vividly reports current developments, taunts and ridicules British adversaries, and enjoins his readers to remember the immense stakes of their struggle…

Rights of Man (17911792), written in response to Edmund Burke’s attacks on the French Revolution, is a bold vision of an egalitarian society founded on natural rights and unbound by tradition. Paine’s detailed proposal for government assistance to the poor inspired generations of subsequent radicals and reformers.

The Age of Reason (17941795), Paine’s most controversial work, is an unrestrained assault on the authority of the Bible and a fervent defense of the benevolent God of deism…”

— The Publisher

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  2. Really great website & reference
  3. Possum on the half shell
  4. President Obama
  5. Beelzebufo ampinga
  6. Third-hand smoke
  7. New World Order happening right now!
  8. A half of a wing & a piece of a prayer
  9. Art or oxygen theft?
  10. Is there anything called consciousness?
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Skeptic Summary #152
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. Miracle Thaw Tray
  7. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  8. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  9. Cold Reading
  10. Skeptic Summary #221
There were 9,748 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2008, all rights reserved.

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