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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #289

By The Staff
Posted on: 6/13/2010

Dowsing for dollars, blockading for cruelty, leaning on purpose, a filthy infection, metering quackery and more!


Week ending June 12, 2010 (Vol 7, #24)

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:
ADE 651 - Dowsing for a stash of cash.

Israeli blockade incident - Well, it is technically piracy, but is it unusual for powerful nations to do this?

New leaning tower - Does it count if it leans by design?

Editor’s Choice: Filthy is okay - But his computer isn’t.



Kil’s Evil Pick:
The Quackometer — Imagine there was a way to determine, simply by copying a URL into a box, if a suspected site is a quack site? That’s what The Quackometer is all about. Using key words and such, the Quackometer is an experiment to see if a determination can automatically and reliably be made as to whether or not a site is a quack website.
The quackometer is a project based around the automation of debunking quack medicine on the web. The web is full of pages supporting dubious medical claims and inflated capabilities for cures. The freedom that the web gives us to express our views, entertain and do business also gives quacks a way to make a living by promoting nonsense treatments to unsuspecting people. Spotting these web sites appears to be easy when you know what to look out for. If it is that easy, can the process be automated? The quackometer project intends to find out.
Just for fun, I ran Herbal Remedies for Diabetes from a site called How Stuff Works through the meter. (Finding a site pushing quackery with a neutral name is not all that easy to do, by the way. Words like natural and alternative are used as selling points and are in most of the quack product descriptions.) The result?
The black duck says…

This web site has more quackery than my village pond. It is full of scientific jargon that is out of place and probably doesn’t know the meaning of any of the terms. It shows little or no critical thought and so should be treated with caution! It also looks like this site is trying to sell stuff. Buyer Beware!
The site earned ten canards with a graphic of ten ducks in a row. Ten being the worst.

I then ran Diabetes Basics from the American Diabetes Association through the meter and received this result:
The black duck says…

This web site looks OK — but keep your guard up and don’t rely on the black duck to spot all quackery! This site has a has a currently measurable quackery content of 0 Canards
So there you go. Mine was a humble little test. And the Quackometer was accurate. But as the duck says, “don’t rely on the black duck to spot all quackery!”

Along with the actual Quackometer there is an-up-to-date blog with highly readable and informative entries. Take a gander at the The Quackometer! (I know, I know…)

SkeptiQuote:
Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism
— David Suzuki


Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: The night began with mention of how Filthy has been AWOL from us for the past three weeks or so. After a little reminiscing about the old AOL chat rooms, chat soon turned morbid with a mix of necrophilia and morticians. Dave reveals that he was once in the movie which included a female necrophiliac coroner, but for the rest of the night he couldn’t recall (or find) the name of it. This left many of us trying to guess what the name would be, so Kil blurts out, “Deadwood.” The mention of Dave’s short-lived stardom started a chain reaction with everyone recalling stories of meeting famous celebrities. Eventually chat moved on to forum talk, most notably these threads, focusing on our (lack of) moderation rules. Later in the night we turned our attention to everyone’s location in the political spectrum (chart). Politics carried us through the rest of the night, as well as an awesome Star Trek video.

Come chat with us.


New Members This Week:
There were no new members this week.

(Not a member? Become one today!)




Elsewhere in the World:
12 children die during bad luck ceremony

Alcoholic Vervet Monkeys! — Weird Nature — BBC animals

Are the Ten Commandments really the basis for our laws?

Armenian cave yields what may be world’s oldest leather shoe

At least the walruses are safe, and any day now @Nifty will save the Gulf

Bigelow Aerospace building first private space station

Children Waiting for the End of the World

Clearing the Air: CFI White Paper and Media Release on Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment for Autism

Comparing Male Circumcision and Female Genital Mutilation

Earth and Moon Formed Later Than Previously Thought, New Research Suggests

“Evolution vs. Creationism” is free

Facts Of Evolution: Retroviruses And Pseudogenes

Galileo, the Church, and Apollo 15

Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price

Is this what you really want atheism to become?

Libertarians are the true social parasites

Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer

Many studies great news for mice, not so much for humans

Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues To Gush From BP Headquarters

New intelligence test results are a mixed bag

New Vatican campaign to clamp down on ‘liberal opinion’

Official Agora Trailer English HD

Original antigenic sin

Psychic pleads no contest to defrauding victims

Raw Meat and Bone Diets for Dogs: It’s Enough to Make You BARF

Researchers report new autism genes discovered

Roman gladiator cemetery found in England

Stephen Hawking on Religion: ‘Science Will Win’

Should This Be the Last Generation?

The Skull of Doom

What is Darth Vader’s diagnosis?

What’s New by Bob Park

Why crossing your fingers works… if you’re lucky

A YouTube Homeopath Cites POSITIVE Evidence

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



Book of the Week:
Physics for Future Presidents, by Richard Muller.



“Sometimes I see a book title that is so brilliant that I can’t help feel (as a writer) ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ This is just such a title. It’s a brilliant concept — the physics any decent US president really ought to know to be able to make the decisions that face him or her.

What’s more, the contents live up to the title. Physics professor Richard A. Muller delivers some real surprises, separating what many of us think we know from reality. In five sections, handling terrorism, energy, ‘nukes,’ space and global warming he delivers some devastating truths, putting across information that it’s hard to believe any president has really grasped — yet it’s so important that they do.

I don’t want to go into too much detail — read the book — but, for example, in the terrorism section he points out that petrol (and aviation fuel) has more energy per ton than TNT. This was why the Twin Towers came down on 9/11 — not because of the impact of the planes, but the energy released by the burning fuel. Each section uses the main theme as a starting point, but then pulls in other ideas. So, for example, while the space theme has plenty about the fact that manned spaceflight is not undertaken for scientific reasons (he argues strongly against it, encouraging much more unmanned space work), he also covers the use of gravity for remote detection, and the use of non-visible light (infra-red, radar etc.) in intelligence gathering.

One small gripe and one big one. The small gripe is that it’s a shame there isn’t a European edition of the book. Muller has used US units throughout, rather than scientific units (Fahrenheit temperatures instead of Celsius, for instance), which is ideal for the target audience of would-be US presidents, but less helpful over here. The big one is I think there is one big section missing — pure physics. It doesn’t really come through that there’s any need to do physics without an immediate application. In the past this has meant passing the crown for nuclear physics from the US, with the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, to Europe with the Large Hadron Collider (due to go live days after this review was written) — future presidents should understand the implications of not putting money into such valuable research.

All in all, without doubt, both the best concept I’ve seen in ages and an excellent fulfillment of the promise of the title.”

— Brian Clegg for Popular Science




This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  2. The Supper
  3. Israeli blockade incident
  4. Funny FAILS
  5. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  6. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  7. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  8. Dude: UN charter
  9. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  10. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
Articles:
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  5. Scientific Truth
  6. TAM5
  7. Miracle Thaw Tray
  8. Cold Reading
  9. Skeptic Summary #288
  10. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
There were 14,003 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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