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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #371

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/26/2012

Our Eighth Summer Spectacular!

Week ending August 26, 2012 (Vol 9, #20)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

As you know, we lost a major voice for reason late last year. While we can’t say that we have been in agreement with all of his views, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the freethinking community, he was a giant. It is to the memory of Christopher Hitchens that we, the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, dedicate this eighth anniversary edition of our Skeptic Summary.

Forum Highlights:
Accurate representation of Christianity or not? - Comparison with spousal abuse syndrome.

Awesome job NASA! - Great cheers as Curiosity makes touch-down.

Man jailed for capturing rain - A small lake is more than "just some" rainwater...

Poltergeist phenomena - Where do we even start the investigation?

Editor’s Choice: Publisher pulls The Jefferson Lies from shelves - But of course it’s all a liberal plot.

Highlights from the Last Year:
Anti-vaxers are sending viruses through the mail — Having their babies get sick is good (regardless of the legal aspects)?

Bulk homeopathy — The secret Big Alt Med doesn’t want you to know.

Christian/Humanist meeting to share perspectives — “Christians and Humanists meet on neutral ground” video recording.

Christianity, immaterialism and falsifiability — What’s the difference between absolute truth and objective reality?

Christopher Hitchens has died — The loss felt by atheists and skeptics is huge.

Cowardly Agnostics — A True-Believer atheist bashes a straw man he calls agnosticism.

Experiment, evidence, and theory — A good illustration.

Global Warming boiled down to a simple view — Pascal’s Wager applied to climate change.

Hate speech — What’s the definition of censorship?

Rebecca Watson not appearing at TAM — Another important storm rising around sexual harassment.

RIP Steve Jobs — Appreciate the man and his accomplishments.

Skepticism about the Big Bang — What does Dark Matter have to do with it?

Unarmed Trayvon Martin gunned down — A fatal shooting, and interpreting gun laws.

Yeast evolves multicellularity in lab in 60 daysAnswers in Genesis disagrees, and so does an ID shill.

New articles this past year:
Free the Glutens, or When a Cookie isn’t Just a Cookie &mdash Michelle Shires shows us that free isn’t always free, even in nutrition and health.

Natural Childbirth: Under the Skeptical Movement’s Radar? — Should skeptics be examining the natural childbirth movement more strenuously?

Sports Fandom and Soccer — Why don’t Americans like soccer? (Hint: What sports media pundits have been telling you is wrong.)

Kil’s Evil Pick:
The SciShow — The SciShow is a video blog that is about, guess what? Four times a week, Hank Green hosts science news, general interest science, science history, really fun science and just lots of stuff, all presented in an engaging and enthusiastic as well as a somewhat geeky style of the kind that makes me happy. I only became aware of this YouTube channel a few months ago, and I’m now officially addicted to it. I’ve been posting the videos on my Facebook page, and it occurred to me that I should give it a shout out here in the SFN weekly Summary, because why not?

Hank Green has been knocking around video blogging for a while now, as the hotlink on his name suggests. Music too! And I mean music that he and his brother have made themselves. They are also involved in charities. Just click on his name and you will get the Wikipedia low-down on him. But the page needs updating because SciShow isn’t even mentioned, and it really should be.

Anyhow, Hank Green has a Facebook page and he describes himself like this:
Hank Green is a professional Internet Dude. He is hungry and wishes that he had a corndog. And apparently Google Chrome spellcheck doesn’t think that corndog is a word. PREPOSTEROUS!!!


Former bio-chemist, former web developer, former freelance writer.


Younger Half: Vlogbrothers
Chief Trivia Officer: Truth or Fail
Principal Organizer: VidCon
Chief Editor: EcoGeek
Co-Owner: DFTBA Records

Well sheesh! Even there he doesn’t mention SciShow. What’s up with that? But on his page he links to it regularly. He also has a SciShow page on Facebook that does feature the show. Thank goodness for that! Here’s how he describes the show on that page:
Where the Science goes.


Hank Green enriches your world with Science four times a week.
Well… Maybe he isn’t running that page? He links to it from his videos. I dunno.

The thing is, the SciShow is great. So never mind the lack of info on it. Just go ahead and subscribe to the channel and watch it. I know you will like it, because if you weren’t the kind of person who likes stuff like the SciShow, you wouldn’t be here reading this!
Kil’s Eviler Pick:
Perpetual motion machines wins a spot in this, the eighth summer spectacular edition of our sometimes-weekly Skeptic Summary. Just think of the countless hours of thought and tinkering that goes into this quest for the physically impossible. Its success literally depends on the violation of the first and/or second Laws of Thermodynamics. And still those intrepid inventors searching for the Holy Grail of perpetual motion tinker on, sometimes coming up with very creative ideas and results, the flaw being that so far, non of them have worked.

The Museum of Unworkable Devices: Perpetual motion machines as physics puzzles — Way back (WWW time) in the January 20th, 2008, edition of our Skeptic Summary, I chose as my pick, Donald Simanek’s Pages. Hopefully, whether because of my advice or not, you have been there. It’s a wonderful site, and rather vast. I still wholeheartedly recommend the site, and being that it has been years since that pick, I thought I would recommend it again, only this time with more focus on the section of the site that looks at perpetual motion machines. This is a museum of fascinating machines that can’t work along with the physics on why they can’t work, and even some puzzles and quizzes for those who want to delve deeper into the physics of where exactly the inventors have gone wrong.

Or as Donald Simanek says in his introduction to The Museum of Unworkable Devices:
This museum is a celebration of fascinating devices that don’t work. It houses diverse examples of the perverse genius of inventors who refused to let their thinking be intimidated by the laws of nature, remaining optimistic in the face of repeated failures. Watch and be amazed as we bring to life eccentric and even intricate perpetual motion machines that have remained steadfastly unmoving since their inception. Marvel at the ingenuity of the human mind, as it reinvents the square wheel in all of its possible variations. Exercise your mind to puzzle out exactly why they don’t work as the inventors intended.

Like any museum, the site is divided up into Galleries. There is a menu of galleries that are off of the homepage, and a Main Gallery on the homepage that starts with a section called It’ll never work! which goes a way to explain the fallacious thinking of those who think that physical laws may not apply in all cases or that science being what it is, certain physical laws of nature are being held dogmatically by scientists and the inventor’s ideas should not be so easily dismissed.
Of course physicists don’t claim that any physics laws represent final and unalterable truth. The perpetual motion (PM) machine inventor pounces on this and says “Such laws would have us give up trying to discover anything new! What if there were a flaw in these laws, a flaw that we could discover and exploit?”

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

It’s a historical fact that the laws of thermodynamics were initially proposed to describe the fact that all previous attempts to achieve perpetual motion had failed. We’ve learned more about these laws since then, and have a much better understanding of them and why they are so powerful in describing what can and can’t happen in nature.

There are also many galleries that are off of the homepage. The first one of those is The Physics Gallery, an educational tour. It includes Principles of Unworkable Devices and Physics 101 For Perpetual Motion Inventors. The Principles of Unworkable Devices includes this little list of dicussions:
  • The principle of unlimited possibility. Anything is possible in nature.
  • The “heavier on one side” seduction.
  • The “more weight on one side” distraction.
  • The “unbalanced torque” deception.
  • The cyclic disappointment.
  • The elastic/inelastic dilemma.
  • Failure to isolate the system.
  • The static/dynamic trap.
  • The apples/oranges equation.
  • The artistic illusion.
  • Experimental “gotchas”.
  • The “dog chasing its tail” principle.
  • Reinventing the square wheel.
If you are getting the idea that the site is dry, than it’s because of my writing skills and not because of the site. I have only linked to the first article in each of the two main menus, and they are fun and highly readable. (And that’s coming from a guy who has to look up even simple physics questions!) Also included on the fairly long menu lists are the machines themselves, how to build a fake perpetual motion machine, The Gallery of Ingenious, but Impractical Devices, and even a Gallery of 3d stereo artistic impossibilities. Not everything on the site is about perpetual motion. Just most of it is.

Anyhow, along with a fun visit to Donald Simanek’s Pages, spend some time at The Museum of Unworkable Devices: Perpetual motion machines as physics puzzles. As a reference and for sheer educational and entertainment value, it’s a skeptic’s paradise.

David Jones has built a number of ingenious “fake”
perpetual motion machines for museums and trade shows.
Kil’s Evilest Pick:
Doubtful News — A little less than a year ago I picked a new site that I felt worthy of wide attention in our community. At the time it was called Doubtful Newsblog, and although it had a somewhat different look than it does now, the mission was clear and remains pretty much unchanged. Doubtful News has made it to the coveted (in my own mind) spot as Evilest Pick because it has more than exceeded my expectations for the site and in the process, it has become my number-one news feed and my favorite resource for strange goings on in the world of interest to me and many other skeptics. I post links to the site from both my personal Facebook page as well as SFN’s Facebook page. And the site often shows up in the Elsewhere in the World section of this, our sometimes-weekly Skeptic Summary.

Unfortunately for me, I can’t simply re-post my pick from last September, because there have been too many changes in the format and look, probably due to a couple of server changes. Many of the links that I posted back then don’t work anymore. So it goes.

Last year I asked co-creator Sharon Hill to describe the Doubtful News site. She responded with this:
Updated daily with stories hot off the internet, the Doubtful News blog is an essential news site for those interested in paranormal, pseudoscience and news from the skeptical community. The site features links to the original sources, gives credit to the source of the story and may contain some skeptical remarks from the admins, Sharon Hill and Torkel Ødegård. Comments about the news stories are encouraged. MANY of the stories are featured DAYS ahead of hitting major news outlets. News can be accessed via the webpage, RSS feed, Twitter (@doubtfulnews) and Facebook page (Doubtful News)

Now there is a whole about page that includes this list of goals:
1. Be the one-stop source of breaking news of interest to critical thinkers. There are a lot of topics gaining attention in circles you may not be aware of. Hopefully, showing the public that these issues are out there (yes, people really believe this stuff) will bring attention to them.

2. Be first or really fast to deliver something you may not find on your own. The DN format, with multiple updates daily, allows for stories to be posted days ahead of their appearance in larger outlets, the skeptical literature and even before appearance in blogs and podcast, which makes it an ideal source for subject material. Because we look at sites with non-skeptical views, we find some interesting things you might miss in your regular browsing.

3. Provide the alternate view from a credulous media. The theme woven through the stories is that critical thinking is essential when consuming media or products and for understanding what is going on in the world. Many incredible stories are put out there as credible. DN gains many site hits through web searches. People now have a resource to hear the critical pieces the media has left out in order for them to be more thoroughly informed about a subject. Also, you rarely hear about the solving of a mystery story. We will post the results of debunking or investigations so you know what really happened.

4. We’d like to be a place where all views are welcome. Thoughtful comments between people who disagree spark new ideas and realizations that promote better understanding. Therefore, pro-paranormal beliefs are open for discussion. Bring your best evidence. Comment moderation is in force so it won’t get nasty.

And look, I could spend a lot of my time linking to specific stories at the Doubtful News site. But to really get an idea of the number and scope of news stories that make it to the blog, you really do need to check it out for yourself. Here’s what I can say: if it has currently made it into the media and it’s weird, anomalous or dangerously credulous reporting, in need of a critical look and comment, it can probably be found at Doubtful News.

The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday the 8th: When Dr. Mabuse came back from his holiday no one else was there. After ten whole minutes of emptiness chat slowly got repopulated, starting as usual with a Wall Street report from Terry. Kil couldn’t help himself and posted a pun within a minute of logging on. We spent some time discussing the nomenclature of relatives, then places to go on vacation. TAM and Dragon*Con got mentioned. We talked about gun fighters and dueling, on the silver screen and real life. More stories from TAM which were never told on the forum (hint: join our chat sessions). Chat ended with space exploration and landscapes and weather of different states.

Wednesday the 15th: Chat started out talking about Wall Street and taking a smaller loss to avoid ending up with a larger one, and how it relates to gambling addicts. Derren Brown got a mention as well as a Swedish mentalist called Henrik Fexeus. We also talked about the USA and its war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the lack of adherence to the Geneva Conventions. Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan was discussed and what damage a vice presidency with him will do. We all seemed to agree that his nomination will help get Obama re-elected. The chat was really slow, so we didn’t get more than this to put in the Summary this time.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

And with those six, we have had 125 new members since our last anniversary edition!

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools

All chickens descend from south east Asia

Army claims hate groups in uniform not as big a problem as portrayed

Bacteria transform the closest living relatives of animals from single cells into colonies

Behind the Scenes at the Creation “Museum”

Bullies are bullies: Online and in real life

Catholic Bishops Throw Fit Over Contraception in Africa

Changing Ideas About The Origin Of Life

Curiosity’s Descent

Doubtful News

Fake IDs part of ‘fantasy life,’ Florida man tells police

Flaming Cheerios: a weapon of mass destruction

How Did Insect Metamorphosis Evolve?

Louisiana School Forcing Pregnancy Tests on Students

Magnet surgery is a success for baby

My Spidey Senses are… Itching? Horrifying Urban Legend Comes To Life

Skepticality #188 — Hope in Small Doses

U.K. church claims olive oil drink is miracle cure for cancer, HIV and diabetes

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory?

What’s New by Bob Park

Where does morality come from? A demonstration with monkeys

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

Book of the Week:
Your Inner Fish: a Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, by Neil Shubin.

“Fish paleontologist Shubin illuminates the subject of evolution with humor and clarity in this compelling look at how the human body evolved into its present state. Parsing the millennia-old genetic history of the human form is a natural project for Shubin, who chairs the department of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and was co-discoverer of Tiktaalik, a 375-million-year-old fossil fish whose flat skull and limbs, and finger, toe, ankle and wrist bones, provide a link between fish and the earliest land-dwelling creatures. Shubin moves smoothly through the anatomical spectrum, finding ancient precursors to human teeth in a 200-million-year-old fossil of the mouse-size part animal, part reptile tritheledont; he also notes cellular similarities between humans and sponges. Other fossils reveal the origins of our senses, from the eye to that wonderful Rube Goldberg contraption the ear. Shubin excels at explaining the science, making each discovery an adventure, whether it’s a Pennsylvania roadcut or a stony outcrop beset by polar bears and howling Arctic winds. I can imagine few things more beautiful or intellectually profound than finding the basis for our humanity… nestled inside some of the most humble creatures that ever lived, he writes, and curious readers are likely to agree.”

— Publishers Weekly

Book of the Year:
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, by Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean (Illustrator).

“Magic takes many forms. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world before they developed the scientific method. The ancient Egyptians explained the night by suggesting the goddess Nut swallowed the sun. The Vikings believed a rainbow was the gods’ bridge to earth. The Japanese used to explain earthquakes by conjuring a gigantic catfish that carried the world on its back — earthquakes occurred each time it flipped its tail. These are magical, extraordinary tales. But there is another kind of magic, and it lies in the exhilaration of discovering the real answers to these questions. It is the magic of reality — science.

Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.

Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist and one of science education’s most passionate advocates, has spent his career elucidating the wonders of science for adult readers. But now, in a dramatic departure, he has teamed up with acclaimed artist Dave McKean and used his unrivaled explanatory powers to share the magic of science with readers of all ages. This is a treasure trove for anyone who has ever wondered how the world works. Dawkins and McKean have created an illustrated guide to the secrets of our world — and the universe beyond — that will entertain and inform for years to come.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  2. Little-a versus big-A atheism
  3. Ozone
  4. Rebecca Watson not appearing at TAM
  5. Bedini motor
  6. Poltergeist phenomena
  7. Johnny Carson — skeptic and humanist too!
  8. Funny FAILS
  10. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  5. Laetrile
  6. Cold Reading
  7. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  8. Skeptic Summary #370
  9. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 4
  10. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
There were 7,514 daily visitors this week.
Last Year’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  2. Little-a versus big-A atheism
  3. Funny FAILS
  4. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  5. Cowardly agnostics
  6. The Battle of Tehran
  7. Bedini motor
  8. Proof of cover-up of time-travel technology
  9. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  10. Stan Lee’s superhumans
  11. Of Serpents and Men
  12. Jesus tempts Satan
  13. Shit New Age Girls Say
  14. Scientist: No knuckle-walkers in human ancestry
  15. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  16. Rebecca Watson not appearing at TAM
  17. The Supper
  18. Crabby Appleton
  19. Is a major event going to happen on 28th October?
  20. If I get a haircut (Part 2)
  21. Skepticism about the Big Bang
  22. Scattershots: Cleaning out the pipes
  23. Wrong images of Saturn
  24. Evolution questions
  25. Beelzebufo ampinga
  26. Parody Chick tract, ‘Myths, Lies and Miss Hinn’
  27. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  28. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  29. An evolutionary psychologist said
  30. A disturbing trend, ’er no?
  31. The water cooler, part 3
  32. The Zeitgeist evidence
  33. ‘David Mabus’ (Dennis Markuze) vs. Nostradamus
  34. Behe vs. Abbie Smith in Meangirl Comic
  35. Encouraging hints about EEStor supercapacitor
  36. Latest on the "Antikythera Mechanism"
  37. Science / Religion Flow Chart
  38. Yeast evolves multicellularity in lab in 60 days
  39. Random fun
  40. Nitrofill your car tires
  41. What is the physical evidence for the Holocaust?
  42. Crabby Catholic curses, well, everything in sight
  43. Scattershots: Hammer Orchid
  44. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
  45. Former President George W. Bush is laid to rest
  46. I do not like Rebecca Watson (aka skepchick)
  47. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva
  48. How the divine pen of N crushed the atheists
  49. Who would win, grizzly or gorilla?
  50. HOWTO: make hyperlinked text, insert a URL-link
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  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. Evolution, Scientology Style
  9. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  10. Miracle Thaw Tray
  11. Newton’s Third Law
  12. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
  13. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  14. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
  15. How Do Vaccines Work?
  16. TAM4
  17. TAM5
  18. Natural Childbirth: Under the Skeptical Movement's Radar?
  19. N. 25, June 2002: Ecology vs. ecophily — being reasonable about saving the environment
  20. Quantum Age Water
  21. Free the Glutens, or When a Cookie isn’t Just a Cookie
  22. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
  23. Calorad
  24. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  25. Laetrile
  26. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  27. The Truth About The Bible And Evolution
  28. Questioning the Validity of False Memory Syndrome
  29. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist
  30. Evolution is a Lie
  31. The PQ Test
  32. The Laundry Solution
  33. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  34. The Myth of the Missing Moon Dust
  35. B17
  36. Tommy Debates the Bible Answer man
  37. Skeptic Summary #340
  38. Astrology
  39. Evidence Cited as Hard Proof of the Existence of Satanic Cults
  40. Henry Morris on Trial: Morris' Theological Distortions
  41. Skeptic Summary #358
  42. Suggested Readings on Evolution
  43. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  44. Skeptic Summary #287
  45. Skeptic Summary #348
  46. Spam Scams and Slams
  47. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it!
  48. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 3
  49. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Argument Weak on Both Sides
  50. The Polonium 218 Controversy
There were 374,747 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 2012, all rights reserved.

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