From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 12 No. 5
"I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death." - George Carlin
The Skeptic's Dictionary: new entry on Procera AVH and Cereplex.
Unnatural Virtue podcast on Skepticality: Bradley Nelson's Emotion Code and Body Code.
Interview on Life Elsewhere with Norman B. (mp3) The topic is astrology.
What's the Harm? update Jim McCormick (he of the fake bomb detector) is sentenced to 10 years..
The Mail I Don't Answer
A poor fellow writes that the way to stop the voices is to build an orgone box as suggested by Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). If that doesn't work, the fellow writes, build more boxes. Another wanted me to review his new theory on star formation. Another addressed me as Mr. Shermer and informed me that Time magazine had validated Myers-Briggs. The magazine, he wrote, "shows the pictures of 16 famous people and their designated type. It looks like you're not nearly the intellect you thought, Mr. Shermer." Another fellow--named after a favorite Scotch--wrote: God Damn! It is people like you who are contributing heavily to "the problem". You would have been collected by the forces of Mao, and I think rightfully so. Another implored that I spread the word about Antoine Fabre d'Olivet.
Finally, a lady mildly chided me for not having an entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary for Tesla's Purple Plates, another set of gizmos and placebo jewelry that allegedly harmonizes vibrations to improve your health and enhance your energy. There are so many of these energy-healing devices, it makes me sick.
Mail I Do Answer
One email I did answer this week was from a woman who wanted to tell me two things. 1. Alphabiotics works. She knows because her boyfriend hit her on the side of the head during an argument and aggravated a "severe neck and upper back" problem. She determined that she needed someone to "adjust" her atlas and neck. "I had the adjustment done and felt more balanced, less nervous, and no pain in the neck area." 2. She wanted her abusive boyfriend who, she says, suffers from PTSD from serving in the Iraq war to go to her alphabioticist but he refused after reading my SD article on the practice. She concluded her missive: "This is unfortunate for him and me. This modality could have helped him recover. I hope you get some sort of compensation or it is worth it for you somehow because your information is false and shortsighted. You do not help people. I am sorry for my boyfriend and other people who could get some help from many sources if it weren't for sites like yours."
I wrote back that I was sorry her boyfriend hit her but that she was naive if she thought alphabiotics would change his behavior. If you are wondering, alphabiotics is one of dozens of so-called alternative health practices taking advantage of the belief many people have that their physical and mental problems are due to stress. Alphabiotics sells itself as designed to relieve stress. I first wrote about it many years ago when a large group of chiropractors took the alphabiotics training and decided to call themselves a religion instead of having to deal with all the rules and regulations that govern medical practices. (Alphabiotics, by the way, is not a medical procedure. It is some sort of neck manipulation that claims to relieve stress allowing the body to heal itself.) Those folks seem to have dissolved and now there are several alphabiotics websites that promote the idea that their modality is scientific and not chiropractic, not energy medicine, not massage. The reason alphabioticists must notify potential customers of what they are not is that many of them in the past did promote themselves and practice in ways indistinguishable from chiropractic, massage, and energy medicine. Now they make claims about directly affecting the brain by manipulating nerves in the neck. The bottom line is that alphabiotics is placebo medicine and if it helps anybody it is because it relaxes them. You need no medical training to get certified as an alphabioticist. The odds that it will relieve the stress boiling over in many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are slim to none.
Skeptic's Annotated Bible
Every skeptic should keep a copy of the Bible around, if only to prove to your Bible-believing friends that the Holy Book is pretty profane and disgusting in parts. I can't imagine any sane person actually reading the Bible from cover to cover. But it's been done by Steve Wells. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible will save you the trouble of trying to figure out where all the immoral and insane stuff is to be found. Wells has done a great service by going through every line of this tedious collection of books that have seemingly been haphazardly thrown together by religious authorities who apparently didn't think any member of any church would actually read the stuff.
I'm pleased to announce that the first printing has sold out and that pre-orders for the second printing are now being accepted.
Facebook Threatens to Ban Me
Facebook censors threatened to ban me and removed a post I put up on the Skeptic's Dictionary Facebook page about Femen's jihad. The post was a link to a Guardian article by Jonathan Jones with a quote from the article. The quote reads:
Tyler has asserted in her own words, on her own body, that she belongs to herself and is not an object of moral scrutiny or male honour.
The article is titled "A gloriously crude topless 'jihad' from a Femen activist" and features a poignant photo by Fred Dufour of a man kicking a topless woman who has written on her torso what she thinks of the morals of Islam.
The note I received from a faceless, nameless person at Facebook threatened to ban me for good if I violated Facebook's policy on posting again. There was even an instruction to click 'here' to find out more about Facebook's policies. I clicked and it took me back to the Skeptic's Dictionary Facebook page with no way to retrieve the original message. Maybe that was a sign.
Ads on the SD
In 1994 I started The Skeptic's Dictionary with a free account on the Davis Community Network. I was using a German-made Basis computer that cost about $5,000, used floppy disks, and had 64k of memory. After overloading the DCN server with hits on the Nostradamus page after 9/11 (2001), I was politely asked to move to larger quarters where I had to start paying significant fees for server space, e-mail accounts, and data usage. Ads help pay the bills.
I've been an Amazon affiliate for many years. I became a Google affiliate several years ago. In the beginning, I didn't use Google very much because the ads Google would place on my pages were based on the content of those pages. Many of the ads were for psychics. Now Google follows our searches and posts ads on any page we view with ads from places we've recently visited. For example, my wife asked me to test a link to a page run by Brooks Painting. Guess whose ads I keep seeing on sites that are Google affiliates? I also recently viewed the websites for a lodge and a fjord trip in Alaska and guess whose ads are also popping up on pages I view that are Google affiliates? I now have hundreds of pages with Amazon and Google code on them and don't plan to remove them any time soon, but I am no longer accepting ads from other parties. Let's just say that it isn't worth the time spent keeping track of the ads.
Some readers haven't liked some of the ads I've posted. Most readers recognize that an ad is not an endorsement. Anyway, when the current batch of paid-up ads have run their course, Amazon and Google ads will be the only ads on pages of the SD.
CFI Conference in the Pacific Northwest
The Center for Inquiry is bringing secular humanists and skeptics together for debate and discussion regarding religious beliefs, fringe science, critical thinking, and other subjects. The event takes place next October 24-27 in Tacoma, Washington. Bill Nye and Susan Jacoby headline the conference. For more information check the CFI webpage.
Secular humanists are known for their belief that religions aren't needed for ethical or social guidance. Applying reason and science, the values of democracy, equality, and liberty assert themselves in opposition to the oppressive inegalitarian values imposed by traditional religions. Skeptics are known for a lot of things, but you might want to read the next section to find out more about them.
Media Guide to Skepticism
Doubtful News has posted a media guide to skepticism. It includes printable guides that may be useful as handouts and as a quick guide to people new to the idea of scientific skepticism.
The Dark Side of Open Access
Many scientists and journalists have discovered that there is "a parallel world of pseudo-academia, complete with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that sponsor them. Many of the journals and meetings have names that are nearly identical to those of established, well-known publications and events." Steven Goodman, professor of medicine at Stanford University and editor of Clinical Trials, calls this phenomenon “the dark side of open access,” the movement to make scholarly publications freely available. Gina Kolata of The New York Times has the story. Several respected scientists have been duped into becoming editorial board members or conference sponsors for bogus journals and conferences. Being published in a peer-reviewed journal doesn't necessarily mean much these days..
'Psychic' takes on new meaning
Geoff Perston was intrigued by the headline in The Age (Melbourne, Australia): "Karate experts are psychic: research." Nowhere in the article is there anything about psychic research or research on psychics or psychic karate experts. The story is about a study by Dr Sean Muller of the School of Psychology and Exercise Science at Murdoch University in Western Australia and an unnamed researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne. According to the unnamed author of the article, the researchers " found karate masters are able to anticipate how an opponent will strike even before that opponent has moved a muscle." Actually, the research was into reaction times and anticipation of moves by an opponent from a still stance. Muller has also done research on reaction times in cricket batsmen.
The research may be interesting and valuable, but it's not about anything psychic. We call this kind of headline a 'hook.' Perston wonders if it is headline licentia poetica at its worst. It's misleading, for sure, but it caught his attention and probably that of many other readers. Sometimes hooks are an accident due to ambiguity, e.g., LYING EXPERT TESTIFIES AT TRIAL. I don't think this one was an accident, though.