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Skeptic Summary #200

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/9/2008

Our fourth Summer Spectacular!

Week ending August 09, 2008 (Vol 5, #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 fourth Summer Spectacular, so we will not only look at the week that was, but also the year that was, so get into your nostalgia groove! First, however, Kil would like to tease us with some photos from TAM6:

The view from my room.

PZ Myers and me. The first of many blurry shots.

Richard Wiseman. It took me three TAMs to catch up with him.

Our friends, Derek and Swoopy. They were busy doing interviews
for Skepticality most of the time.

Hal Bidlack. Sincere, smart and running for congress…

Did I say “sincere?”

Kil also tells us, “unfortunately, the rest of the picts, including the one with Neil deGrasse Tyson, were too blurry to publish. I’m hoping that someone got a picture of the conversation about the asteroid heading for us. There were lots of flashes going off…”

On a more somber note, we would like to mention some of the people who are no longer with us. One of our members, BlueCollarScientist, died just this past week. Jerry Andrus, Perry DeAngelis and Arthur C. Clarke all died within the last year, also. They will all be missed.

One thing that died, but which will probably not be much missed, is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed! DVD sales this fall may bring it back to life, but it will necessarily be in the Intensive Care Unit.

Oh, and let us not forget that Kent Hovind is still in jail.

Forum Highlights:
The expanding planet of Neal Adams - This is odd.

Phil Plait becomes new JREF foundation head - This is fantastic!

Robert Lancaster has had a stroke - This just sucks.

Editor’s Choice: The duty to believe according to the evidence - Immorality abounds!

Highlights from the Last Year:
An international team of MMGW deniers (scientists) - Both the thread and the climate change pick up speed…

Beware the Believers - An enigma wrapped in a flash animation.

Darwin’s debt to Christianity - Uhmmm… nothing?

Discovery Institute rips off Harvard animation - Even though nothing will change, this event is important to remember.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed! - Don’t miss part 2 of the thread, ’cause this film is the gift that keeps on giving.

Hell, your final destination? - Probably not.

I’m going to be a dad! - We need to wait a bit for the cheap cigars.

If I get a haircut - It still doesn’t mean I know what a phenotype is!

Military deaths for twenty-six years - We do have some real numbers on this.

Super generator? Perpetual motion? Another grift? - It’s spinning… spinning… spinning…

The money quote - Dembski apparently tripped over himself trying to put more nails in ID’s coffin.

Theists win themselves the greatest atheistů - Well, winning certainly isn’t everything (especially when you cheat to do so), and “greatest” is very arguable.

What is religion? - Not an easy question to answer.

This Week’s Poll:
Ready to rumble! - We are.

New articles this past year:
Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark - The story of Noah and the Ark leaves much to be desired, from many different fields of knowledge.

Ms Christel - Stringing the scammers along, tra-la!

Newton’s Third Law - Michelle Shires explains how a simple law of the universe, one that actually exists and you have probably heard of, can be an extraordinary self-development tool. Trust me.

Time Warner Cable: Trick or Treat? - Kil girds his loins to do battle with a modern-day monster.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Improbable Research - Back in early May I chose as my pick The Sleep-Retardant Properties of My Ex-Girlfriend, culled from the pages of Improbable Research. Upon further examination, I think I should have picked the whole site. Now, I am. What are they about and why should you care? From their about page:
What is Improbable Research?

Improbable research is research that makes people laugh and then think.

Improbable Research is the name of our organization. We collect (and sometimes conduct) improbable research. We publish a magazine called The Annals of Improbable Research, and we administer the Ig Nobel Prizes.

Things We Do

Our publications and activities include:
  • the magazine (every 2 months)
  • the newsletter (every month)
  • the newspaper column (every week)
  • the blog (every day)
  • the Ig Nobel Prizes (every year)
  • the TV series
  • the live shows
  • the books
Why We Do It

Our goal is to make people laugh, then make them think. We also hope to spur people’s curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?
I didn’t include the links from the about page, so go there and click away. Explore the site. Read the articles and watch the videos. Come to think of it, I probably could have gotten several more picks out of this one pick!
Kil’s Eviler Pick:
I Speak With Sylvia Browne, by Robert Lancaster — Lancaster, who runs that thorn in Sylvia Brown’s side, the Stop Sylvia Browne site, his wife Susan, along with skeptic Clause Larson, editor of the Skeptic Report, attended a performance of Browne’s in Las Vegas, on the Sunday afternoon after the closing of TAM6. What a happy coincidence that a Browne performance and TAM6 were going on at the same time in the same town.

Lancaster is a classy guy, as demonstrated by his recounting of the visit to the Browne show. His restraint in the face of the confrontations that he faced during and after the show makes him the perfect person to fight this particular battle.

As an aside: someone asked me, and I can’t remember who it was, if I would be interested in going to the Browne show. Hell no! It makes perfect sense for Lancaster to go but I will do nothing that would move even a cent of my money to her pot! Anyhow, Robert Lancaster rocks!

Note: Since this pick first appeared at the end of June, there have been updates including letters that Mr. Lancaster received from a couple of people who attended the show, and his replies.
Kil’s Evilest Pick:
Donald Simanek’s Pages is a really, really fun site. It pleases me on several levels not the least being my interest in the whacky and the absurd. As an introduction, there is this:
We can’t claim to fully understand what science is until we know what it is not. The science/pseudoscience interface can help us understand both the strengths and the self-imposed constraints of science. Science is a self-correcting process, continually weeding out errors of thought and errors of methodology, thereby narrowing the region where truth may reside. While science claims no absolute truths, it has accumulated a larger body of reliable and testable understanding of nature than any other method of human inquiry.

The human imagination is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we have the ability to imagine many things which just aren’t so. The universe has no obligation to behave as we’d like, or even to be understandable to our minds.
I’m including the table of contents:
  • The Museum of Unworkable Devices. Perpetual motion machines as physics puzzles.
  • Intelligent Design Creationism: Fraudulent Science, Bad Philosophy.
  • Myths and Mysteries of Science. Removing the mystery.
  • Cutting Edge Science. Profundity or parody?
  • Illustrated Lectures on these subjects.
  • Uncle Don’s Notebook.
  • Bob Schadewald’s Corner.
  • Physics and Astronomy.
  • Physics Abused.
  • History and Philosophy of Science.
  • Skepticism, pseudoscience, urban Legends.
  • Humor, satire, parody, mostly about science.
  • Hoaxes.
  • The Ed-Biz.
  • Quotes.
  • Illusions and 3-D.
  • Uncle Don’s Attic (3d and photo items).
  • Uncle Don’s Bookshelf (books and toys).
Click on to any of these areas and you’ll get more things to click on to, to look at and read. And all of them are fun! Donald Simanek’s Pages is a fabulous site and has earned my choice as the evilest pick of the year!

…I think it’s fair to say that Carl Sagan would never have called someone a demented fuckwit who needs to be smacked upside the head with a biology textbook. However, you all know me, and I am no Carl Sagan.

Chat Highlights:
Sunday: Our Sunday chat host is on vacation.

Wednesday: Chat started out as a staff meeting since no one else showed up until later. And by then it was too late to change direction. After a brief discussion on the features we like in our cell-phones, Boron10 mentioned that the Circle Jerks will be playing at the House of Blues. That naturally segued into a discussion of my favorite cause, The West Memphis Three and whether they will be my Evilest Pick for this year. That’s The West Memphis Three. Again, The West Memphis Three. I have done that for the last couple of years, and I decided to do something new (as above). So I will not be putting The West Memphis Three in our annual anniversary Summary. Anyhoo, we worked on names for the new poll. Then Dave posted it. Something went wrong so he posted it again. Mab rambled incoherently. Something about “AE59041104.” The Ignored broke the tension by bringing up a late-breaking story about some churchy guy in Edmonton, Canada, who attacked a fellow passenger on a bus, and then cut him up and ate him while other passengers looked on in horror. A good time in chat was had by all…

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:
Rayven Alandria

And with those four, we have had 244 new members this last calendar year!

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Criticizing religion = shooting up a church

Framing Science Embraces the Willie Horton Strategy

Silly season, silly machine

Skepticality #82 - Rationalist Rap

Swift, August 8, 2008

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:
Al Gore wins Nobel Prize

Asteroids Named For PZ Myers, Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, Michael Stackpole

Einstein on God and the Bible

Exploring Life’s Origins

The Great Desecration

The Morning After Judgement Day

My morning at Mensa

Naked-eye Gamma Ray Burst

No Intelligence Allowed! — Interviews: Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Michael Shermer

Orderly Universe: Evidence of God?

Peppered Moths: We Told You So

Phoenix Mars Lander

Science v Intelligent Design: Public Retraction v Dembski

Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…

Skepticality 80 — Skeptic Rockstars at The Amazing Meeting 6

The Wedgwood Document

Book of the Week:
The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It, by Robert Zimmerman.

“The Hubble has been called the most productive telescope in history and has hypnotized us all with its cosmic postcards, but it’s a wonder it was ever built…

Congress deleted the telescope from NASA’s budget in 1974, almost killing it. The NASA administrator Noel W. Hinners, in a calculated move, eliminated the telescope from its 1976 budget, but the news was leaked (illegally) to astronomers ahead of time and they were able to have an intense lobbying campaign in place…

All this, of course, was just prelude to the sickening discovery, after its launching in 1990, that the telescope’s mirror was misshapen, with a spherical aberration — an amateur’s mistake that Mr. Zimmerman attributes to a make-no-waves look-the-other-way attitude formed by the need to stay under Mr. Fletcher’s original budget ceiling. His description of how the mirror was bungled and the agonizing days when astronomers struggled to understand what was wrong and how to fix it takes up a quarter of the book and is worth the price of admission by itself…

Hubble was restored to its full glorious potential by the original astronaut servicing crew in 1993, and was hitting its stride when NASA was hammered by the loss of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. The agency’s administrator, Sean O’Keefe, an admitted bean counter confronted with death and issues of serious rocket science, canceled the final servicing mission on the grounds that it was too risky. That ignited a national outcry and a whole new round of lobbying reminiscent of the old days in the ’70s.

Eventually Michael Griffin, Mr. O’Keefe’s successor, reversed that call. The saga continues this fall. Like I said, it’s a great story.”

— Dennis Overbye, New York Times

Book of the Year:
The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, by George Johnson.

“From the acclaimed New York Times science writer George Johnson, an irresistible book on the ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science — moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply.

Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were dazzled by light, by electricity, and by the beating of the hearts they laid bare on the dissecting table.

We see Galileo singing to mark time as he measures the pull of gravity, and Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his eye to learn how light causes vibrations in the retina. William Harvey ties a tourniquet around his arm and watches his arteries throb above and his veins bulge below, proving that blood circulates. Luigi Galvani sparks electrical currents in dissected frog legs, wondering at the twitching muscle fibers, and Ivan Pavlov makes his now-famous dogs salivate at ascending chord progressions.

For all of them, diligence was rewarded. In an instant, confusion was swept aside and something new about nature leaped into view. In bringing us these stories, Johnson restores some of the romance to science, reminding us of the existential excitement of a single soul staring down the unknown.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in! (16,580 views)
  2. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit! (431 views)
  3. Ready to rumble! (345 views)
  4. NASA doctors photos from Mars (307 views)
  5. A Christian (Catholic) sense of proportion… (300 views)
  6. Possum on the half shell (288 views)
  7. Crop circles again… (273 views)
  8. Black hurricanes (241 views)
  9. Fundamentalists Hate Noah's Ark (217 views)
  10. What’s wrong with this nightmare scenario? (195 views)
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two (1,452 views)
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark (998 views)
  3. Skeptic Summary #152 (153 views)
  4. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle (100 views)
  5. Miracle Thaw Tray (65 views)
  6. The Bible’s Bad Fruits (40 views)
  7. Evil Skeptic II: A visit to the Conscious Living Expo (40 views)
  8. Cold Reading (39 views)
  9. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults (34 views)
  10. Skeptic Summary #199 (34 views)
There were 16,171 daily visitors this week.
Last Year’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. We’d invite Hitler to speak, says Columbia dean (133,156 views)
  2. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in! (65,904 views)
  3. Hell, your final destination? (43,045 views)
  4. LiLo (Behe) is back! (36,758 views)
  5. What are your favorite words? (28,357 views)
  6. Rejoice Republicans, the Savior approacheth (24,358 views)
  7. 9/11 was an inside job! (12,228 views)
  8. Possum on the half shell (11,301 views)
  9. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit! (8,531 views)
  10. What is photorealism? (8,450 views)
  11. Religion versus vaccines — sound familiar? (6,805 views)
  12. Really creepy illusions (6,557 views)
  13. This year’s cynical holiday humor (6,314 views)
  14. Owl on the dollar bill… (6,140 views)
  15. New features? (6,020 views)
  16. Four reasons to believe in God (5,848 views)
  17. When cdesign proponentists attack (5,773 views)
  18. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed! (5,746 views)
  19. PZ’s Playhouse (5,577 views)
  20. The water cooler (Part 2) (5,152 views)
  21. Are skepticism and Buddhism compatible? (4,857 views)
  22. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West (4,765 views)
  23. What a strange shape on Mars (4,377 views)
  24. Cyclops among us (4,351 views)
  25. Beelzebufo ampinga (4,248 views)
  26. Q’s on atheism (3,928 views)
  27. Al tells it like it is (3,768 views)
  28. Super generator? Perpetual motion? Another grift? (3,562 views)
  29. Unknown ancient geometry (3,546 views)
  30. A Half of a Wing & A piece of A Prayer (3,464 views)
  31. Nazi Christmas (3,292 views)
  32. Brights’ opinions of select UFO sightings P.S. (3,277 views)
  33. Darwin’s debt to Christianity (3,255 views)
  34. Fish fin gene gave us the finger (3,209 views)
  35. Former President George W. Bush is laid to rest (3,059 views)
  36. Sam Harris / Andrew Sullivan debate (3,030 views)
  37. A Christian (Catholic) sense of proportion… (3,011 views)
  38. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed! (Part 2) (2,903 views)
  39. Consensus falling apart by the day (2,878 views)
  40. Taking back the default position (2,845 views)
  41. Muslim jihadists (2,837 views)
  42. Introduce yourself (2,811 views)
  43. Olympic myth? (2,796 views)
  44. Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill (2,760 views)
  45. Can Jack Chick get even more retarded? (2,718 views)
  46. Crop circles again… (2,658 views)
  47. Mukasey won’t say if ‘waterboarding’ is torture (2,634 views)
  48. Global communication — beta (2,614 views)
  49. Jesus the evidence (2,520 views)
  50. BlackLight Power Inc.: too good to be true? (2,495 views)
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark (86,671 views)
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two (54,665 views)
  3. The Bible’s Bad Fruits (23,891 views)
  4. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle (5,702 views)
  5. Skeptic Summary #152 (4,814 views)
  6. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome (3,051 views)
  7. A Cherry Picker’s Guide to Choosing Evidence for Traumatic Repression or False Memory Syndrome (3,030 views)
  8. Cold Reading (2,817 views)
  9. Miracle Thaw Tray (2,544 views)
  10. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down? (2,494 views)
  11. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Argument Weak on Both Sides (2,271 views)
  12. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda (2,184 views)
  13. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony! (2,021 views)
  14. Evolution, Scientology Style (1,668 views)
  15. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults (1,627 views)
  16. Evolution is a Lie (1,547 views)
  17. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 4 (1,547 views)
  18. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy (1,449 views)
  19. Mesmer, Casino Monkey, and Video Sex (1,435 views)
  20. TAM4 (1,410 views)
  21. Scientific Truth (1,300 views)
  22. Evil Skeptic and a Visit to Awareness 2000 (1,209 views)
  23. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism (1,168 views)
  24. Time Warner Cable: Trick or Treat? (1,088 views)
  25. The Bible Answer Man (1,056 views)
  26. Tommy Debates the Bible Answer man (1,049 views)
  27. Darwinism: Sorcery in the Classroom (983 views)
  28. Calorad (965 views)
  29. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist (952 views)
  30. Spam Alert (940 views)
  31. Dr. Dino doesn’t like our Jack Chick spoof! (894 views)
  32. The Laundry Solution (851 views)
  33. Fence-Sitting (847 views)
  34. You’re an Idiot (847 views)
  35. Bible’s Bad Fruits a Cheap Shot (818 views)
  36. Astrology (793 views)
  37. Evil Skeptic II: A visit to the Conscious Living Expo (759 views)
  38. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! (742 views)
  39. New Conspiracy Theories (739 views)
  40. The PQ Test (711 views)
  41. Spam Scams and Slams (693 views)
  42. The Skeptic Friend’s visit to the ICR (689 views)
  43. Paradigm Paralysis (661 views)
  44. The Polonium 218 Controversy (628 views)
  45. Why Do Creationists Fear Evolution? (627 views)
  46. The Fred Flintstone Hoax (589 views)
  47. American Scientist Review (March/April 1998) (574 views)
  48. Evolutionists Wrong, Don’t Account for ‘Sons of God’ and the Great Space Seeding (527 views)
  49. N. 57, January 2005: Nonsense on Stilts, an Example (523 views)
  50. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun (513 views)
There were 659,556 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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