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Skeptic Summary #295

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/15/2010

Our sixth Summer Spectacular!

Week ending August 14, 2010 (Vol 7, #30)

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

Forum Highlights:
Health insurance companies — failing us? - Yes. And arguments are also failing.

Lurkings of the Discovery Instituite - The fifth anniversary of Kitzmiller v. Dover.

Stan Lee’s superhumans - History Channel’s humans weren’t that super.

Highlights from the Last Year:
Ad hominems, again - You’re wrong because you’re something else.

Christopher Hitchen’s cancer - Can a True Skeptic live with vices?

A funny thing in the land of woo - Too much! Can’t breathe! Laughing!

Interesting discussion at Panda’s Thumb - Are we misunderstanding each other by design?

Is the NCSE too accommodating to religion? - Where does the evidence point?

Israeli blockade incident - One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

James Randi’s current take on Global Warming - An important tempest in a tea-pot.

Kurtz ousted from CFI - CFI leaders described as “fundamentalist board-members.”

On Santa and other harmless fibs - How dangerous are childhood fantasy stories?

The ‘opinion’ thread - That’s just your opinion.

Phoenix Lights flare debris - Lots of fun arithmetic.

The ‘tone’ debate - What’s wrong with getting in-your-face when warranted?

Unscientific America - Must be the atheists’ fault.

And let’s not forget all the fun we had with the Holocaust denialists this year:

New articles this past year:
A Review of Leaving the Land of Woo - Need a good book about skepticism? This is one.

Strategy Ideas for Skeptics - How do we get people to reject Woo? Bob Lloyd has some suggestions.

The Truth About The Bible And Evolution - We really don’t know.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
TAM8 — I don’t often use one of my own threads as a pick (Have I ever?), but in this case, I am. It’s not complete, but I feel there is enough here, as a blogish sort of thing to highlight my trip to Las Vegas this year to attend The Amazing Meeting. I hope you enjoy my take on this year’s skeptics gathering, which continues to grow and is still, easily, the largest event of this kind.

Click for larger version
Kil’s Eviler Pick:
Cosmos, by Carl Sagan — It’s all here! All thirteen episodes of arguably the greatest special event science series ever produced for television.
In 1980, the landmark series Cosmos premiered on public television. Since then, it is estimated that more than a billion people around the planet have seen it. Cosmos chronicles the evolution of the planet and efforts to find our place in the universe. Each of the 13 episodes focuses on a specific aspect of the nature of life, consciousness, the universe and time. Topics include the origin of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere), the nature of consciousness, and the birth and death of stars. When it first aired, the series catapulted creator and host Carl Sagan to the status of pop culture icon and opened countless minds to the power of science and the possibility of life on other worlds.
If you have never seen Cosmos, please do. If you have seen it, here is a chance to remember why we fell in love with it all those years ago. Also, for many of us, Cosmos introduced us to Carl Sagan who still reigns supreme as the greatest popularizer of science of all time. Cosmos shows us why that is and why he is still so relevant to skeptics and all lovers of science today.
Kil’s Evilest Pick:
WorldWide Telescope — This was probably my happiest find and my geekiest pick of the year. But what a site! I’ll run the risk of repeating what I wrote for our Skeptic Summary #280 because I really can’t improve on it.

Okay, I’m simply blown away by what the Worldwide Telescope can do. Whether it’s to explore the universe, take guided tours of various locations in our solar system, galaxy and the universe, or go exploring on your own, you now you have a powerful tool for doing those things right on your computer. What is it?
The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope — bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe.

Choose from a growing number of guided tours of the sky by astronomers and educators from some of the most famous observatories and planetariums in the country. Feel free at any time to pause the tour, explore on your own (with multiple information sources for objects at your fingertips), and rejoin the tour where you left off. Join Harvard Astronomer Alyssa Goodman on a journey showing how dust in the Milky Way Galaxy condenses into stars and planets. Take a tour with University of Chicago Cosmologist Mike Gladders two billion years into the past to see a gravitational lens bending the light from galaxies allowing you to see billions more years into the past.

WorldWide Telescope is created with the Microsoft high performance Visual Experience Engine™ and allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky, planets, and image environments. View the sky from multiple wavelengths: See the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then crossfade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the Hydrogen Alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures lit up by the high energy radiation coming from nearby stars in the Milky Way. These are just two of many different ways to reveal the hidden structures in the universe with the WorldWide Telescope. Seamlessly pan and zoom from aerial views of the Moon and selected planets, as well as see their precise positions in the sky from any location on Earth and any time in the past or future with the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine.

WWT is a single rich application portal that blends terabytes of images, information, and stories from multiple sources over the Internet into a seamless, immersive, rich media experience. Kids of all ages will feel empowered to explore and understand the universe with its simple and powerful user interface.

Microsoft Research is dedicating WorldWide Telescope to the memory of Jim Gray and is releasing WWT as a free resource to the astronomy and education communities with the hope that it will inspire and empower people to explore and understand the universe like never before.
As a Mac user, I rather enjoy making fun of Microsoft, but their WorldWide Telescope is way cool! It works on both PC and Intel-based Macs, which is a good thing for me. Go explore the WorldWide Telescope site. Start touring the universe. There is so much information along with the use of their stunning virtual telescope that you will surly keep going back for more. This thing rocks!
Bonus Evil Pick:
The West Memphis Three — ’Nuff said.

Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven.
— Richard Dawkins

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Job security, Canadian prisons, French, chocolate milk, strip clubs, economics, health care, conservative embarrassment, the Skepticality forums, Dr. Buzz, Ben Stein, the War on Brains, Conservapedia, liberal plots, political nuts, Skype, webcams, Shaft, seal clubbing, cassette tapes, Half-Man Half-Biscuit, Kil’s recording session and much, much more.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

And with that one, we have had 105 new members this last calendar year!

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Andrew Mayne — Magic, Mischief and Mayhem

The Anne Rice defection: It’s the tip of the religious iceberg

Artificial life forms evolve basic intelligence

Drug firms hiding negative research are unfit to experiment on people

‘Exorcisms’ performed on Chechen stolen brides

Here Be Dragons — The Movie

Inside the Minds of Animals

A Message to Those Praying for Christopher Hitchens

Poll: Teen Girls Not Fooled by Airbrushed Fashion Photos

Rebutting climate science disinformer talking points in a single line

Skepticality #126 — VooDoo History

Stephen Hawking’s Warning: Abandon Earth — Or Face Extinction

Story Before Facts: Steven Slater’s Media Rise and Fall

Thinking Critically and Social Responsibility

Traveler to the undiscovered country — Roger Ebert on Christopher Hitchens

What’s New by Bob Park

Wirehead Hedonism versus paradise engineering

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.
Elsewhere in the Year:
How Sure are we that the Big Bang is Correct?

Creation Museum Part 1

Creation Museum Part 2

Discovering Ardi

Suzanne Somers carpet bombs the media with napalm-grade stupid about cancer

Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe

Bill Maher flames out in a pyre of stupidity over vaccines — again

The Paradoxical Future of Skepticism

Tim Minchin: Storm

Voicing our disbelief

The miraculous quest for quantum woo

Secret of levitation in India

Is Google making us less rational?

Two chimps walked into a bar…

Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets

Insects are crustaceans!

A nutritional approach to the treatment of HIV infection — same old woo?

Preachers who are not Believers

Affirmative Atheism

UV, You See? Black Light Reveals Secrets in Fossils

About Sam Harris’ claim that science can answer moral questions

All That and a Skeptic

Scientific Skepticism: A Tutorial

Hey Hubble, Thanks for 20 years of Awesome

NDE Update

Skeptically Speaking — Science Education

Miracle cures for what ails you

The Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries

Scientists and Religion

Andrew Wakefield Fights Back

Learning from Martin Gardner

Promoting Dangerous Pseudoscience — Not Really A Fairy Tale About Meryl Dorey And The AVN

Straight Talk about Straight Camp

Saving Lives with Skepticism

The Secret Life of Chaos, Part (1 - 6)

Penn and Teller Sometimes Argue Really Badly

When the scientific evidence is unwelcome, people try to reason it away

The Irrationality of Human Decision Making

Distorting Darwin

Topic of Cancer — Christopher Hitchens

Book of the Week:
A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, by Cordelia Fine.

“Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with others — more ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This ‘distorting prism’ of self-knowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our ‘vain brain.’ Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflict less pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with ‘retroactive pessimism,’ insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of ‘self handicappers’ concocts non-threatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So ‘pigheaded’ is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The ‘secretive’ brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. ‘Never forget,’ Fine says, ‘that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets.’ So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves ‘to lessen the harmful effects of the brain’s various shams,’ she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. ‘Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge,’ Fine asserts. ‘They are the clinically depressed.’ Case in point.”

— Scientific American

Book of the Year:
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, by Daniel Loxton, illustrated by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith.

‘The best damn evolution book for kids, period.’

— Michael Shermer

‘A wonderfully clear, up-to-date, and well-illustrated account of how evolution works. The scientific content is first-rate.’

— Donald Prothero

‘A full-throated defense and explication of Darwin’s theory… kept light and accessible by Loxton’s sense of humour and breezy prose style.‘

— Quill & Quire

Can something as complex and wondrous as the natural world be explained by a simple theory? The answer is yes, and now Evolution explains how in a way that makes it easy to understand.

Based on acclaimed articles from Junior Skeptic (Skeptic magazine’s science insert for kids) Evolution is a gorgeous hardcover with dust jacket, packed throughout with dazzling full-color art.

This spectacularly illustrated introduction to the theory of evolution takes us from Charles Darwin to modern-day science. Along the way, Evolution answers common questions (and clears up misunderstandings) that sometimes confuse people about the history of life on Earth.”


This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  2. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  3. Funny FAILS
  4. Christopher Hitchens’ cancer
  5. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  6. The Supper
  7. The Battle of Tehran
  8. The benefits of self-delusion
  9. Super generator? Perpetual motion? Another grift?
  10. The Truth about the Bible and Evolution
  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. The Truth About The Bible And Evolution
  6. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  7. Scientific Truth
  8. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  9. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  10. TAM5
There were 7,154 daily visitors this week.
Last Year’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. The Supper
  2. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  3. Funny FAILS
  4. New World Order happening right now!
  5. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  6. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  7. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  8. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit!
  9. Quote Mine warning propaganda poster
  10. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
  11. Beelzebufo ampinga
  12. Jesus tempts Satan
  13. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  14. Dracorex hogwartsia
  15. Possum on the half shell
  16. What is photorealism?
  17. A literal jewish conspiracy
  18. Crabby Catholic curses, well, everything in sight
  19. Nessie and Bigfoot and mermaids, oh please!
  20. ‘Big Farmer’ condemned for disease, suffering
  21. Wrong images of Saturn
  22. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  23. Dennett answers NY Times on Dawkins’ book
  24. Crabby Appleton
  25. Scattershots: Hammer Orchid
  26. Art or oxygen theft?
  27. Scattershots: the stone art of Mesoamerica
  28. What is the physical evidence for the Holocaust?
  29. The water cooler, part 3
  30. Really creepy illusions
  31. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  32. Science / Religion Flow Chart
  33. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva
  34. Blago ‘better’ after removal of cranial parasite
  35. Crankwatch: UFOlogy nonsense.
  36. Neti pots, sinus disease, and migraines
  37. Unknown ancient geometry
  38. Are skepticism and Buddhism compatible?
  39. A half of a wing & a piece of a prayer
  40. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West
  41. We’d invite Hitler to speak, says Columbia dean
  42. Parody Chick tract, ‘Myths, Lies and Miss Hinn’
  43. Predator X
  44. Attenborough’s mother fish…
  45. Nazi Christmas
  46. SFN 2009 Psychic Contest, Enter by Feb1, 2009!
  47. Former President George W. Bush is laid to rest
  48. Federal Reserve Act of 1913
  49. Big-@$$ snake photo?
  50. Obama’s speech to schoolchildren
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Scientific Truth
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. TAM5
  7. Miracle Thaw Tray
  8. Newton’s Third Law
  9. Cold Reading
  10. Evolution is a Lie
  11. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  12. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  13. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  14. Skeptic Summary #152
  15. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  16. Mesmer, Casino Monkey, and Video Sex
  17. Quantum Age Water
  18. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
  19. SkeptiCamp Atlanta: A Personal Overview
  20. Calorad
  21. Laetrile
  22. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist
  23. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
  24. Astrology
  25. Evolution, Scientology Style
  26. The PQ Test
  27. Tommy Debates the Bible Answer man
  28. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Argument Weak on Both Sides
  29. Evil Skeptic and a Visit to Awareness 2000
  30. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  31. The Laundry Solution
  32. The Polonium 218 Controversy
  33. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults
  34. New Conspiracy Theories
  35. B17
  36. N. 6, January 2001: Split brains, paradigm shifts, and why it is so difficult to be a skeptic
  37. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  38. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome
  39. Spam Alert
  40. A Review of "Leaving the Land of Woo"
  41. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
  42. Skeptic Summary #18
  43. The Myth of the Missing Moon Dust
  44. You’re an Idiot
  45. Paradigm Paralysis
  46. Evolution is a Satanic Lie
  47. Dr. Dino doesn’t like our Jack Chick spoof!
  48. Thanks for Good Articles
  49. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it!
  50. TAM4
There were 568,641 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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