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Skeptic Summary #296

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/21/2010

Friends, puzzles, confusion, islamification, fraud, history and more!

Week ending August 21, 2010 (Vol 7, #31)

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:
H.H. and Emsby - A welcome back to a (we hope) no-longer-absent Skeptic Friend.

I have never solved Rubic’s Cube - The 80s puzzle solved by computers, quicker than ever.

I… WTF…? - It began with disappointment in politicians, but descended into a free-for-all.

Sam Harris on Park51 - The debate on the (almost) Ground Zero Mosque rages on.

Editor’s Choice: Another case of scientific fraud? - Yes, unfortunately.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
“The Scientist and the Anarchist,” Eric Michael Johnson, part 1, part 2 and part 3, a part of the The Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour — This is a fascinating historical account of two very important naturalists, Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin, both devoted Darwinians, and how 19th century politics played a role in their interpretation of evolutionary science that eventually pushed them into conflict.

In parts one and two, we are introduced to the main characters and given their respective historical and political backgrounds that came to influence their views. This background information is very important if we are to understand why and how these two men of science clashed.

And now I am going to commit the unthinkable. I am going to include as my reason for choosing this Evil Pick (beyond the fact that it’s a great read), Eric Michaels Johnson’s concluding paragraph of his three-part blog. I promise that it will not spoil a thing.
While it is a truism that good science is fundamentally apolitical, all scientists live in a specific political and cultural milieu that influences how they seek to understand the natural world. Huxley and Kropotkin are no different than any of us, though they faced different concerns than we do today. That either individual should have been engaged in political pursuits shouldn’t undermine the quality of their science, except for in those instances where the political took precedence over evidence from the natural world. As we survey our world today, how much of East London have we simply exported while we maintain the same standards of inequality? How many unspoken assumptions do scientists have in the questions they seek to ask and the way in which they frame their inquiry? Are we all, as Pablo Neruda wrote, nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead of human eyes? When we navigate the distant star do we simply reel ourselves back in again? The historical is relevant insofar as the questions from the past remain current. For the scientist and the anarchist of the nineteenth century the political and the natural were inextricably bound. How are we any different today?

We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.
— Sam Harris

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Yes. Gosh it was great. We talked about food and fundamentalism and music and food. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure we also talked about the weather. It’s hot in some parts of the country. Oh, and at least one auto accident was reported on.

Okay, so here’s the deal: Ricky, our regular chat host, wasn’t there. Dave left early with the promise to send me the log from chat, and I, after a very long day at work was dosing off during chat. So, while I’m sure everyone had a nice time in chat, this is this week’s chat summary… Oh! I just remembered: we did talk about the best books to learn skepticism from. Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan was the clear winner.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Are exams getting easier? Nobody knows

Are psychics liable for crackpots?

Critical Thinking About Art

Deadly Whooping Cough, Once Wiped Out, Is Back

Don’t Be a Dick, Part 3: the aftermath

Evolutionary psychologist under investigation for shoddy research at Harvard

Fact or Faked: Cemetery Phantom Analysis

How to make a difference — Responsible vaccine advocacy

Medical Journal Retracts Jesus Miracle Paper

My Boycotting Dilemma

A Nut Allergy Skeptic Learns the Hard Way

Revealed: Sh*t My CEO Says

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:
The Scientific American Brave New Brain, by Scientific American.

“This fascinating and highly accessible book presents fantastic but totally feasible projections of what your brain may be capable of in the near future. It shows how scientific breakthroughs and amazing research are turning science fiction into science fact. In this brave new book, you’ll explore:

How partnerships between biological sciences and technology are helping the deaf hear, the blind see, and the paralyzed communicate.

How our brains can repair and improve themselves, erase traumatic memories

How we can stay mentally alert longer — and how we may be able to halt or even reverse Alzheimers

How we can control technology with brain waves, including prosthetic devices, machinery, computers — and even spaceships or clones.

Insights into how science may cure fatal diseases, and improve our intellectual and physical productivity

Judith Horstman presents a highly informative and entertaining look at the future of your brain, based on articles from Scientific American and Scientific American Mind magazines, and the work of today’s visionary neuroscientists.”


This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  2. I… WTF…?
  3. Atheist/agnostic
  4. Funny FAILS
  5. The Supper
  6. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  7. The Battle of Tehran
  8. The Truth about the Bible and Evolution
  9. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  10. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. N. 45, January 2004: On Tolerance vs. Respect
  5. Skeptic Summary #295
  6. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  7. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  8. Cold Reading
  9. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  10. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
There were 6,119 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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