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Skeptic Summary #249

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/16/2009

Our fifth Summer Spectacular!

Week ending August 15, 2009 (Vol 6, #31)

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

But wait! This is our fifth Summer Spectacular, so we will not only look at the week that was, but also the year that was! Yes, five amazing years! But we’re only going to look back at the last one.

Forum Highlights:
Ad hominems, again - …because you’re a skeptic.

Richard Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright - The most concentrated and distilled video-presentation of creationist claims to date?

Editor’s Choice: Socialism - Is the exact same thing as one social program, of course.

Highlights from the Last Year:
Bedini Motor - A new motor with over 100% efficiency that runs on lies.

The ‘Black Box’ of Peer Review - Um… duh.

Boron10 gets married! - Nothing skeptical here, it’s just cool.

Global warming deniers - Skepticism is not denial.

Hypermiling - After a year of data collecting, this thread has reached the end of the road.

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

Is the NCSE too accommodating to religion? - Maybe yes, maybe no.

SPR Study Day — The Psychology of the Sceptic - Or maybe it’s the psychology of the psychologists of the skeptic.

Stewart and Cramer - When economic journalism becomes a parody of itself.

Third-hand smoke - Where there’s second-hand smoke…

What would it take to prove… - My mortgage being paid off by the end of the week, that’s what.

Why Michael Shermer is a Libertarian - And Communism works, too, in theory.

New articles this past year:
Quantum Age Water - Fun new “scientific” facts about water. Impress your family! Bilk your friends!

Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade - Can I get an “amen?” Please? Someone? Anyone?

SkeptiCamp Atlanta: A Personal Overview - Our own Simon went to SkeptiCamp Atlanta, and all he got was a T-shirt and a bunch of new ideas.

TAM5 - An epic! Two years in production! One to write it and then sit on it. Then one to sit on it and then edit it.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience,” by Dr. Rory Coker. — 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 (1947–1985), 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 was pretty sure I would happily choose it again for the anniversary issue of our weekly Summary. So here it is.
Kil’s Eviler Pick:
Richard Dawkins: The Genius of Charles Darwin
Richard Dawkins: The Genius of Charles Darwin — God Strikes Back
Richard Dawkins: The Genius of Charles Darwin — The Fifth Ape

I chose the first episode in this series to honor the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. Here are all three episodes of this great series. I suppose you could say that this is an improved pick over my original pick because this time it’s complete. And, it’s not too late to say it again. Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin!
Kil’s Evilest Pick:
Well, look. I just love this kind of stuff and I can’t be serious all the time.

18 Vintage Sci Fi Posters: Robots, Aliens, Monsters and Hot Women,” by Yosef Solomon — I found this article and the posters by way of Chuck Shepherd’s weekly column, News of the Weird, a site that I figure I have picked for a past Weekly Summary. (It’s worth revisiting.) Anyhow, I do love old science fiction movie posters, along with all the other weird things that pretty regularly pleases me. Solomon opens:
From the 1950s to the 1980s, sci-fi films were pretty bad: bad acting, bad special effects and overall lackluster villains. This was, however, and era in which movie posters were still pieces of art in an [sic] of themselves. They were pulpy, and they featured strange-looking robots, aliens and monsters. But most importantly, many of them featured hot women. Below is a collection of some of our favorite posters from this time.
The first of eighteen posters:
Of course, you need not be a skeptic to appreciate these posters, but it’s the rare skeptic who doesn’t enjoy a bit of science fiction tack-o-rama.
Kil’s Bonus Pick:
Free The West Memphis Three — From a Brief Overview of the case:
Shortly after three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, local newspapers stated the killers had been caught. The police assured the public that the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. Evidence?

The same police officers coerced an error-filled “confession” from Jessie Misskelley Jr., who is mentally handicapped. They subjected him to hours of questioning without counsel or parental consent, audio-taping only two fragments totaling 46 minutes. Jessie recanted it that evening, but it was too late — Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols were all arrested on June 3, 1993, and convicted of murder in early 1994.

Although there was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or connection to the victims, the prosecution pathetically resorted to presenting black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as proof that the boys were sacrificed in a satanic cult ritual. Unfathomably, Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin received life without parole, and Misskelley got life plus 40.

In the years since the convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley for a crime they did not commit, their cause has gained support from all over the world, and these men have become known as the West Memphis Three. The story of the injustice they have endured at the hands of the state of Arkansas has never lost momentum, and in recent months, the evidence in their favor has grown to the point where it’s nearly impossible to view this case as anything other than a miscarriage of justice…
Go there. Learn about the case. This outrage has been going on for over 16 years now. Do whatever you can do. Nuff said.

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
— H.L. Mencken
SkeptiQuote of the Year:
Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning… You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma… but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.
— PZ Myers

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: What with Doomar back again, chatters were checking the phase of the Moon, the alignment of the planets, and even attempting to balance an egg to see if there was any correlation to Doomar’s drive-by. This also caused us to reminisce other forum characters like verlch and Coberst and wonder, “Where are they now?” Talk ranged from Simon’s Ph.D. thesis defense begin postponed, all the way to bit torrents, the RIAA, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy audio book (read by Douglas Adams). The night ended with a careful and detailed analysis of 7-11 coffee.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

And with those four, we have had 193 new members since our last Summer Spectacular.

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Conclave Obscurum

Darwin -> Hitler? Naw.

GEICO Pulls Its Ads from Glenn Beck Show

Hell Yeah, Hubble!

The long road to a Titan storm

Michael Ruse probably won't be able to read this, either

Skepticality #107 — Wild Justice

Skeptics Circle #117: The Chiropractic Edition

This column helps you lose weight. Honestly

What’s New by Bob Park

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.
Elsewhere in the Year:
6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (With Really Obvious Solutions)

DaveScot is No Longer With Us

Egnor shoots! He scores!

The final nail in the jail cell for Hovind.

Holocaust denier David Irving has found his calling

The “Intelligent Design” Movement on College and University Campuses is Dead

Jenny McCarthy “absolutely loves” injecting toxins into her bloodstream

Large Hadron Rap

‘Psychic’ gets 2 months in bilking of $108,000

Teach Them Science

Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish)

Vitamin C and cancer: Has Linus Pauling been vindicated?

Welcome to The International Year of Astronomy!

Win Ben Stein’s mind

Book of the Week:
Smallpox — the Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer, by D. A. Henderson.

“For more than 3000 years, hundreds of millions of people have died or been left permanently scarred or blind by the relentless, incurable disease called smallpox. In 1967, Dr. D.A. Henderson became director of a worldwide campaign to eliminate this disease from the face of the earth.

This spellbinding book is Dr. Henderson’s personal story of how he led the World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate smallpox, the only disease in history to have been deliberately eliminated. Some have called this feat the greatest scientific and humanitarian achievement of the past century.

In a lively, engrossing narrative, Dr. Henderson makes it clear that the gargantuan international effort involved more than straightforward mass vaccination. He and his staff had to cope with civil wars, floods, impassable roads, and refugees as well as formidable bureaucratic and cultural obstacles, shortages of local health personnel and meager budgets. Countries across the world joined in the effort; the United States and the Soviet Union worked together through the darkest cold war days; and professionals from more than 70 nations served as WHO field staff. On October 26, 1976, the last case of smallpox occurred. The disease that annually had killed two million people or more had been vanquished and in just over ten years.

The story did not end there. Dr. Henderson recounts in vivid detail the continuing struggle over whether to destroy the remaining virus in the two laboratories still that held it. Then came the startling discovery that the Soviet Union had been experimenting with smallpox virus as a biological weapon and producing it in large quantities. The threat of its possible use by a rogue nation or a terrorist has had to be taken seriously and Dr. Henderson has been a central figure in plans for coping with it.

New methods for mass smallpox vaccination were so successful that he sought to expand the program of smallpox immunization to include polio, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus vaccines. That program now reaches more than four out of five children in the world and is eradicating poliomyelitis.

This unique book is to be treasured a personal and true story that proves that through cooperation and perseverance the most daunting of obstacles can be overcome.”

— Product Description

Book of the Year:
Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne.

“Why evolution is more than just a theory: it is a fact.

In all the current highly publicized debates about creationism and its descendant ‘intelligent design,’ there is an element of the controversy that is rarely mentioned — the evidence, the empirical truth of evolution by natural selection. Even Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, while extolling the beauty of evolution and examining case studies, have not focused on the evidence itself. Yet the proof is vast, varied, and magnificent, drawn from many different fields of science. Scientists are observing species splitting into two and are finding more and more fossils capturing change in the past — dinosaurs that have sprouted feathers, fish that have grown limbs.

Why Evolution Is True weaves together the many threads of modern work in genetics, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, and anatomy that demonstrate the ‘indelible stamp’ of the processes first proposed by Darwin. In crisp, lucid prose accessible to a wide audience, Why Evolution Is True dispels common misunderstandings and fears about evolution and clearly confirms that this amazing process of change has been firmly established as a scientific truth.”

— Product Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. The Supper
  2. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit!
  3. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  4. Richard Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright
  5. Possum on the half shell
  6. Socialism
  7. Ad hominems, again
  8. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  9. Funny FAILS
  10. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Skeptic Summary #152
  4. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. Miracle Thaw Tray
  7. TAM5
  8. Cold Reading
  9. Scientific Truth
  10. Skeptic Summary #248
There were 13,083 daily visitors this week.
Last Year’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. The Supper
  2. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  3. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit!
  4. Possum on the half shell
  5. Beelzebufo ampinga
  6. Ready to rumble!
  7. A half of a wing & a piece of a prayer
  8. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  9. New World Order happening right now!
  10. Art or oxygen theft?
  11. We’d invite Hitler to speak, says Columbia dean
  12. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  13. Quote Mine warning propaganda poster
  14. Crop circles again…
  15. Funny FAILS
  16. What is photorealism?
  17. Are skepticism and Buddhism compatible?
  18. Hell, your final destination?
  19. Unknown ancient geometry
  20. Dracorex hogwartsia
  21. Really creepy illusions
  22. SFN 2009 Psychic Contest, Enter by Feb1, 2009!
  23. The water cooler, part 3
  24. Spider bite cures paralyzed man?
  25. Attenborough’s mother fish…
  26. The water cooler (Part 2)
  27. The Beatles, exposed!
  28. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West
  29. Al tells it like it is
  30. Wrong images of Saturn
  31. This year’s cynical holiday humor
  32. Favorite example of transitional fossils
  33. Former President George W. Bush is laid to rest
  34. Alex Chiu's Immortality Device
  35. What a strange shape on Mars
  36. BlackLight Power Inc.: too good to be true?
  37. Introduce yourself
  38. Parody Chick tract, ‘Myths, Lies and Miss Hinn’
  39. New topic limit
  40. Shirley Maclaine & Kevin Ryerson
  41. Mukasey won’t say if ‘waterboarding’ is torture
  42. Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill
  43. Another question answered
  44. Who would win, grizzly or gorilla?
  45. Nazi Christmas
  46. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  47. Crabby Catholic curses, well, everything in sight
  48. From Javier, the xian concept of ‘morality’
  49. LiLo (Behe) is back!
  50. Religion versus vaccines — sound familiar?
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Skeptic Summary #152
  4. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. Miracle Thaw Tray
  7. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  8. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
  9. Cold Reading
  10. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  11. Scientific Truth
  12. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  13. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
  14. Mesmer, Casino Monkey, and Video Sex
  15. Evolution is a Lie
  16. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome
  17. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults
  18. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 4
  19. The PQ Test
  20. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Argument Weak on Both Sides
  21. Evolution, Scientology Style
  22. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  23. The Bible Answer Man
  24. Astrology
  25. Calorad
  26. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist
  27. TAM4
  28. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it!
  29. Evil Skeptic and a Visit to Awareness 2000
  30. Quantum Age Water
  31. Bible’s Bad Fruits a Cheap Shot
  32. Spam Alert
  33. Tommy Debates the Bible Answer man
  34. The Laundry Solution
  35. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  36. Fence-Sitting
  37. Dr. Dino doesn’t like our Jack Chick spoof!
  38. Time Warner Cable: Trick or Treat?
  39. New Conspiracy Theories
  40. N. 6, January 2001: Split brains, paradigm shifts, and why it is so difficult to be a skeptic
  41. Newton’s Third Law
  42. Darwinism: Sorcery in the Classroom
  43. The Myth of the Missing Moon Dust
  44. B17
  45. Why Do Creationists Fear Evolution?
  46. Paradigm Paralysis
  47. You’re an Idiot
  48. The Polonium 218 Controversy
  49. The War of the Words: Revamping Operational Terminology for UFOs
  50. Henry Morris on Trial: Morris' Theological Distortions
There were 645,952 daily visitors last year.

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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