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Skeptic Summary #340

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/14/2011

Our Seventh Summer Spectacular!

Week ending August 14, 2011 (Vol 8, #28)

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 seventh Summer Spectacular, so we will not only look at the week that was, but also the year that was! Yes, seven fantabulous years! But we’re only going to look back at the last one.

Forum Highlights:
Dennis Markuze petition - Generating news we have been waiting for.

Filthy - Proof-of-life from a missing SFN-veteran.

Proposed name change for website - Doomar returns for his yearly spamming

Highlights from the Last Year:
Am I being a dick? — No, you’re standing up for what’s right and true.

Are you a real skeptic or just faithing it? — I have faith that I am.

Atheist/Agnostic — The similarities and the differences.

Atlantis found! — Google Earth picture prompts unskeptical speculations.

Bad Universe — Phil Plait on Discovery Channel gets thumbs-up.

Bombs away — comparing the reasons for military interventions in Libya vs historical oopses.

Burning the Koran: how stupid is this? — A lot, and it’s not only coming from Terry Jones.

Christopher Hitchen’s cancer — Are smoking and critical thinking compatible?

Critical thinking — The thread includes several exercises.

DADT Survey — A survey with heavily biased language to skew the results, but for what purpose?

I do not like Rebecca Watson (aka skepchick) — Elevatorgate generated a lot of opinions.

Election day — Comments on the election result, with rhetoric on top.

ETs are here, despite guesses to the contrary — A self-proclaimed abductee wants to tell his story.

An evolutionary psychologist said — …but his racist blogging wasn’t peer-reviewed

Free will as a depletable resource — Living in different demographics gives various amount of willpower drainage.

The God-Science shouting match — The author got the science label wrong.

I hope these aren’t the first shots in a civil war — Outrage after Congresswoman Giffords was shot.

I… WTF…? — A mosque near Ground Zero stirs discussion.

Intelligent Design is Stupid — And stupid arguments for it won’t make ID look less stupid.

An intro to Intelligent Design for skeptics — An ID-apologist tries to pass the same-old, same-old.

Japan — Tsunami causes nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan.

Keith Olbermann’s suspension — In an attempt to do good, he shoots himself in the foot.

Liberalism and Manliness — Is there an inverse relation, as Fox News implies?

Miracle Mineral Solution — Getting cured from drinking bleach would be a miracle!

Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up — An astronaut takes a stand on the woo side.

The next black president? — Who cares when we could discuss the health reform?

Presidential facebook statement — Became an interesting debate on oil, market economy, and supply-and-demand.

Really courageous, these teabaggers! — A pack of teabaggers assaults a woman.

Religious indoctrination of children child abuse? — Which religion? Any particular dogma, or all of it?

Too many atheists? — Can there be too many godless atheists at a skeptic convention?

Women skeptics — Mostly men talking about why there are fewer women.

Yeah, but will it float? — The AiG-planned Ark addition to the Creation Museum.

New Article This Week:
How Do Vaccines Work? - Pretty well, actually.

New article this past year:
The Curse of Being a Skeptic with a Cold — A dilemma like the one ’s’not any fun.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Jenny McCarthy Body Count — Well… It’s never too late to promote an important site in the world of science and skepticism.

What has taken me so long I can’t really say. The funny thing is I have been using the Jenny McCarthy Body Count site as a resource when confronted by anti-vaxers for some time now.

Here, Derek Bartholomaus, the creator of the site, pretty much cuts to the chase. From June 3rd, 2007, and last updated on July 30th, 2011, the homepage features three boxes of numbers under the title of the site. The first box displays the Number of Preventable Illnesses, due to people not being vaccinated, which at the moment numbers 81,727. Box two displays the Number of Preventable Deaths, due to people not being vaccinated, which numbers a chilling 736. And most notably, for the anti-vaxers looking at the site, and the main reason I send them there, is a third box that contains the Number of Autism Diagnoses Scientifically Linked to Vaccinations, which numbers 0. That’s right. A big fat zero!

Health expert (in her own mind) Jenny McCarthy

Those numbers are supported by links to tables published online by the Center for Disease Control and very regularly updated.

Under the boxes we are introduced to the rest of the site with this quote by Jennifer McCarthy, from Time Magazine, April 2009:
I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.
Bartholomaus then explains that Jenny McCarthy made herself the anti-vaccination movement’s celebrity spokesperson with a brief history of how she became involved in the movement and her subsequent television appearances and her books advising parents to not vaccinate their kids. He goes on to say:
Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name. This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened in the United States since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines…

Oprah probably did more to help Jenny McCarthy spread her message than anyone.

There is also a menu that includes a FAQ, a vaccine schedule, an anti-vaccine history, illness timelines, a what’s the harm? page with photos and videos, and links to outside sources. The Jenny McCarthy Body Count site is a great resource.

I’ll tell you what though: Given the amount of research that’s been done in the area of vaccinations, and in light of the retraction by The Lancet of Andrew Wakefield’s study (which was cited as proof-positive that vaccinations cause autism), after conflict-of-interest and fraud were exposed and the study was never replicated, and after Wakefield was so completely discredited, you would think that that much repudiation would have taken some of the wind out of the anti-vax sails. But anti-vax is now a parent’s movement powered mostly on anecdotes and suspicions of a medical industry conspiracy to protect some nefarious goings on by moneyed interests. And much of the thanks for the conspiracy mongering go to Jenny McCarthy. So a site like the Jenny McCarthy Body Count is properly named.
Kil’s Eviler Pick:
Oh no. We will not be getting out of this issue without some serious geek! After a lot of deliberation, I just couldn’t get by this one. With all I had to choose from, and there were some pretty geeky ones back there, this is my hands-down favorite:

The science of Godzilla, 2010 — This pick was inspired by last night’s Speaking Up portion of the Skeptically Speaking #88 radio show and podcast. (That’s the pre-recorded part of the show.) Host, Desiree Schell had Palaeozoologist, Darren Naish on to discuss… Well… The science of Godzilla. Darren Naish has a site called Tetrapod Zoology which is well worth exploring, but today we are focusing on his The science of Godzilla, 2010 page because, you know, it’s my pick. From the opening:
…To begin with, let’s get things straight and admit up front that Godzilla is not a real animal, nor was it ever. It’s an unfeasibly big late-surviving dinosaur (belonging to the hypothetical taxon Godzillasaurus, according to some), mutated by radiation, with a radioactive heart. Godzilla is virtually impervious to other gigantic monsters, and also to robots, artillery, laser blasts, lava and fire. Not real. Sorry about that. But by posing questions about fictional entities we can still learn stuff, and you may be surprised to learn that Godzilla has, on occasion, been discussed semi-seriously by various biologists and palaeontologists. Ok, that won’t surprise you if you already know anything about Godzilla, but what the hey.

A little bit of introduction to Godzilla first. To date, Godzilla — and here I mean the real Godzilla, and not the thing that appeared in the 1998 TriStar movie (known variously among Godzilla fans as Fraudzilla, Deanzilla [after writer/producer Dean Devlin], GINO* or Zilla) — has appeared in over 20 movies, dating from 1954 to the present. If you’ve seen any of the new films, you’ll know that they don’t follow on chronologically from their predecessors. The films are still being made, with the latest being Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)…
Naish goes on to explain the biology, anatomy and physics of my favorite atomically mutated really really big rubber suited fire breathing reptilian monster. With lots of photos, including anatomical drawings of Godzilla and lots of links to other important things to know, including more anatomical drawings and more on the biology of the big fellow.


But wait! There’s more!

The anatomy of Zilla, the TriStar ‘Godzilla’:
I recently posted an updated version of the ‘Science of Godzilla’ article, and what a great success it was. But I’m kicking myself, because I totally forgot something else I should have mentioned: Tracy L. Ford recently had cause to produce a number of anatomical drawings of Zilla (aka GINO*/Deanzilla/Fraudzilla), the monster bipedal reptile that invades New York in the 1998 TriStar movie Godzilla. Like all Godzilla fans, I don’t regard Zilla as a ‘Godzilla’ at all; rather, it’s a charlatan, an imposter. And the movie itself is awful…

…Anyway, Tracy has been kind enough to let me use his drawings here. Here they are, with a bit of commentary.

We begin with a full skeletal reconstruction (and anatomical life drawing) of the creature. In the skeleton, note that Tracy has provided Zilla with a pelvis where both the pubis and ischium are relatively short: indeed, Zilla’s body and pelvic region is not particularly deep, so it cannot have had long-shafted, rod-like pubes and ischia like those present in theropod dinosaurs. Tracy has also given Zilla a lizard-like, fenestrated scapulocoracoid. We don’t know whether Zilla has gastralia or not: if it is a mutated lizard (see below), the presence of inscriptional ribs incorporated into the abdominal musculature would be predicted…
Heh. This is science folks! And it goes on like this with more drawings and a scientific lowdown on the imposter Zilla’s anatomy. Godzilla fan or not, this is some cool stuff!
Kil’s Evilest Pick:
Funny. Last year I chose Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as one of our anniversary picks. There’s really no getting around Sagan’s importance to skeptics, as perhaps our greatest teacher. And in his role as a popularizer of science, he excelled and succeeded, probably beyond his own expectations.

And yet we live in a land of changing priorities. At least here in the US, funding for science is being cut back and a lack of educational standards has pushed scientific illiteracy among the general population to alarming levels. If ever there was a good time to revisit the words of Carl Sagan, this is it:

Carl Sagan Collection — Wouldn’t it be nice if all of my picks were as easy to decide on as this one is?

The Carl Sagan Collection was put together by the CSI, and I can’t do better than to quote their introduction to it:
Since its creation in 1976, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly known as CSICOP — the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) has been honored by its association with founding member Carl Sagan, David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and the Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Peabody-winning television producer, and recipient of the National Academy of Science’s highest honor, the Public Welfare Medal.

Many of us first came to science and skepticism by way of Sagan’s PBS series, COSMOS, but his dedication to skeptical inquiry began long before we saw him on television. Early efforts to inform the public about science, pseudoscience, and the difference between them began in the late 1960s, and from them Sagan created one of the key principles of the skeptical movement: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. From his later work came the other pillar of skeptical inquiry: The Baloney Detection Kit. With these principles, his TV appearances, and his popular and prolific science writing, it’s no exaggeration to say that Sagan inspired an entire generation of scientists and skeptics, the very people who now carry the movement in his absence.

As this collection of articles, both by Sagan and about him, shows, Sagan was that rarest of individuals. He was a true scientist and researcher who was also adept at communicating scientific ideas to the general public, a person equally comfortable with solving strings of equations and creating strings of words, a skeptic who routinely disproved the unfounded and often dangerous beliefs of his fellow humans without ever losing his belief in humankind. We hope you enjoy this look back at Sagan’s work and are as inspired as we are to continue bringing his unique blend of skepticism and wonder into the future.
My fave rave from this collection of articles is Sagan’s 1987 essay, “The Burden of Skepticism,” which I have referred to and quoted from often on our forum. It might be another one of his articles that resonates for you as “Burden” does for me. Does it matter? The beauty of Sagan’s prose and the ideas he conveys are so breathtakingly consistent and always on the mark that it’s almost silly to choose a favorite.

Other articles, including two by Ann Druyan, complete the collection. Read them all!
How I miss that voice with its mesmerizing blend of passion, brilliance, warmth, humor, and honesty. Carl spoke and wrote with equal measures of skepticism and wonder; never one at the expense of the other. He managed to maintain an exquisite balance between these two competing values. His life’s work to awaken us to the wonders of the universe revealed by rigorous, skeptical science was a joyful labor of love. — Ann Druyan

A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.
— Edward Teller

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Terry lost a bundle in the stock market last week. We had a fairly long conversation about the difference between climate change and weather. It seems that it’s been very hot everywhere but where I live. It’s always nice here in Santa Monica, usually. There was some TAM talk because ThorGoLucky and Allarcher, a friend of mine from Facebook were there, as was I. We talked a bit about our dinner with PZ Myers, the FMS that landed on his plate, Penn’s doughnut and bacon party, and some general observations about this year’s event. Like the fact that both Thor and I looked like a couple of hippies there, but were not particularly out of place. We also talked a bit about the scope of skepticism, and the current debate about that. All in all, it was a good chat session.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

And with that one more, we have had 232 new members this last calendar year!

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Crop circles ‘created using GPS, lasers and microwaves’

Donations revive SETI quest

Invasive Research on Chimpanzees No Longer Makes Sense — Scientifically, Financially or Ethically

Jebediah’s Wager

Malapa Fossils

Mystery Minnesota Monster Sparks Speculation

Paranormal Investigator Joe Nickell Reveals the Truth Behind Modern Cryptozoological Myths

The Psychic-Union

Researchers don’t mean to exaggerate, but lots of things can distort findings

What’s New by Bob Park

Where did our smallpox vaccine come from?

Who’s to Blame for Anorexic Children?

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

Book of the Week:
How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions, by Christopher W. Dicarlo.

“What can I know? What am I? Why am I here? How should I behave? What is to come of me? The way you answer these questions will tell you a lot about yourself. And if you ask others these questions, their answers will tell you a good deal about them, how they think, and what they value.

Of course, if you persist in asking these questions, others may think you’ve become a really good pain in the ass. According to philosopher Christopher W. DiCarlo, you shouldn’t be insulted by such a reaction, but treat it as a mark of distinction. For it means you’ve learned to think critically.

In this witty, incisive guide to critical thinking DiCarlo provides you with the tools to allow you to question beliefs and assumptions held by those who claim to know what they’re talking about. These days there are many people whom we need to question: politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, clergy members, bankers, car salesmen, and your boss. This book will empower you with the ability to spot faulty reasoning and, by asking the right sorts of questions, hold people accountable not only for what they believe but how they behave.

By using this book you’ll learn to analyze your own thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, and why you act on them (or don’t). This, in turn, will help you to understand why others might hold opposing views. And the best way to change our own or others’ behavior or attitudes is to gain greater clarity about underlying motives and thought processes.

In a media-driven world of talking heads, gurus, urban legends, and hype, learning to think more clearly and critically, and helping others to do the same, is one of the most important things you can do.”

— Book Description

Book of the Year:
Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There, by Richard Wiseman.

“‘People are emotionally drawn to the supernatural. They actively want weird, spooky things to be true … Wiseman shows us a higher joy as he deftly skewers the paranormal charlatans, blows away the psychic fog and lets in the clear light of reason.’ (Richard Dawkins, Professor). Richard Wiseman is clear about one thing: paranormal phenomena don’t exist. But in the same way that the science of space travel transforms our everyday lives, so research into telepathy, fortune-telling and out-of-body experiences produces remarkable insights into our brains, behaviour and beliefs. Paranormality embarks on a wild ghost chase into this new science of the supernatural and is packed with activities that allow you to experience the impossible. So throw away your crystals, ditch your lucky charms and cancel your subscription to ‘Reincarnation Weekly.’ It is time to discover the real secrets of the paranormal. Learn how to control your dreams — and leave your body behind. Convince complete strangers that you know all about them. Unleash the power of your unconscious mind.”

— Product Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Funny FAILS
  2. Dennis Markuze petition
  3. The water cooler, part 3
  4. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  5. The B**BQUAKE — 911 — the end of atheism
  6. The Mask of Nostradamus
  7. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  8. Ozone
  9. Proposed name change for website
  10. I do not like Rebecca Watson (aka skepchick)
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Miracle Thaw Tray
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. The PQ Test
  7. TAM4
  8. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  9. The Laundry Solution
  10. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome
There were 5,895 daily visitors this week.
Last Year’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  2. Funny FAILS
  3. The Supper
  4. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  5. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  6. The Battle of Tehran
  7. The B**BQUAKE — 911 — the end of atheism
  8. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  9. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  10. Webcam, bald eagle nest
  11. ETs are here, despite guesses to the contrary
  12. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  13. The Mythicist position
  14. Dracorex hogwartsia
  15. Beelzebufo ampinga
  16. Alan Grayson to Chris Matthews on the swine Cheney
  17. Crabby Appleton
  18. Quote Mine warning propaganda poster
  19. Jesus tempts Satan
  20. Neti pots, sinus disease, and migraines
  21. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  22. Intelligent Design is stupid
  23. The Secret KGB Abduction Files rant
  24. Water covering the Earth
  25. Stan Lee’s superhumans
  26. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
  27. Crabby Catholic curses, well, everything in sight
  28. The Zeitgeist evidence
  29. Wrong images of Saturn
  30. I… WTF…?
  31. What is the physical evidence for the Holocaust?
  32. Scattershots: Hammer Orchid
  33. Bills planned to legalize abortion murders??
  34. Are skepticism and Buddhism compatible?
  35. Big-@$$ snake photo?
  36. Scattershots: the stone art of Mesoamerica
  37. Blago ‘better’ after removal of cranial parasite
  38. Latest on the "Antikythera Mechanism"
  39. I do not like Rebecca Watson (aka skepchick)
  40. Meet Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi
  41. New World Order happening right now!
  42. The water cooler, part 3
  43. Parody Chick tract, ‘Myths, Lies and Miss Hinn’
  44. Evidence For Zeitgeist’s claims?
  45. Crankwatch: UFOlogy nonsense.
  46. Bedini motor
  47. Burning the Koran: how stupid is this?
  48. ‘Big Farmer’ condemned for disease, suffering
  49. Poll: Scott Brown to win Massachusetts
  50. Behe vs. Abbie Smith in Meangirl Comic
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Scientific Truth
  5. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  6. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  7. Cold Reading
  8. Miracle Thaw Tray
  9. TAM5
  10. The PQ Test
  11. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  12. Evolution is a Lie
  13. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  14. N. 25, June 2002: Ecology vs. ecophily — being reasonable about saving the environment
  15. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults
  16. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  17. Evolution, Scientology Style
  18. Newton’s Third Law
  19. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome
  20. Quantum Age Water
  21. The Laundry Solution
  22. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
  23. Evil Skeptic and a Visit to Awareness 2000
  24. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  25. Calorad
  26. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist
  27. The Truth About The Bible And Evolution
  28. Tommy Debates the Bible Answer man
  29. Founding Fathers' Beliefs, Two-Spirits
  30. The Myth of the Missing Moon Dust
  31. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
  32. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
  33. Spam Alert
  34. Laetrile
  35. TAM4
  36. Alternative Medicine and the Death of Candace Newmaker
  37. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  38. B17
  39. The Myth of the Missing Moon Dust
  40. The Curse of Being a Skeptic with a Cold
  41. New Conspiracy Theories
  42. Astrology
  43. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  44. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it!
  45. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Argument Weak on Both Sides
  46. The Polonium 218 Controversy
  47. Spam Scams and Slams
  48. The Bible Answer Man
  49. N. 45, January 2004: On Tolerance vs. Respect
  50. A Review of "Leaving the Land of Woo"
There were 354,163 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 2011, all rights reserved.

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