Robert Todd Carroll
November 6, 2003
In this issue: Talk at Sacramento City College; The Skeptic's Dictionary selected for the Quality Paperback Book Club and reviewed in the Skeptical Inquirer and by the Irish Skeptics; a few new entries; conference on hoaxes a success; a couple of interviews; some feedback on the Brights, my one-sidedness, and my pedigree; and some news about government grants in Norway for psychics.
Announcement: Tonight, Nov. 6, on Frontline: The Alternative Fix (or view it on your computer), a one-hour program exploring the ins and outs of alternative medicine.
On November 11 at high noon in room LR105 (Learning Resource Center) at Sacramento City College, I will be discussing my book and some of the benevolent hoaxes mentioned therein. The question I'll be addressing is "Do 'Enlightenment' Hoaxes Do Any Good?"
The Book and the Web site
The Skeptic's Dictionary is featured as a selection this month by the Quality Paperbacks book club. The print flyer, if folded out, juxtaposed my book to two books on witchcraft. Coincidence?
The book was favorably reviewed by Amanda Chesworth in the Skeptical Inquirer (November/December) and by Paul O'Donoghue in the Skeptical Times (Vol. 1 Issue 5, November 2003), the newsletter of the Irish Skeptics Society. I have been corresponding with Mr. O'Donoghue and Mike Reen of the Irish Skeptics about addressing their group in Dublin next June. I'll keep you posted once a firm date is established.
Because of some complaints from M., a spiritual healer, I have removed my critical thinking mini-lesson on fallacies (from Newsletter 29) that used his letter to me as an exemplar of fallacious reasoning. I will post another article in its place soon.
Since the last newsletter I added a critical thinking mini-lesson on the straw man fallacy and revised the EMDR entry to correct a misleading claim I made about the American Psychological Association (APA). While it is true that the APA does not approve of the therapy, it doesn't disapprove, either.
I posted a reader's criticism and my response regarding the argument from design.
CSICOP Conference on Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias
I don't know if CSICOP considers the conference a success but from my perspective it was great. More than 200 people showed up for my talk on "Hoaxes From Around the World" and the conference bookstore sold out of The Skeptic's Dictionary (25 copies). I also met some very nice people from around the country. I met Alex Boese, for example, who is finishing up his doctoral dissertation at my alma mater, the University of California at San Diego. Alex has a wonderful little book out called The Museum of Hoaxes: A Collection of Pranks, Stunts, Deceptions, and Other Wonderful Stories Contrived for the Public from the Middle Ages to the New Millennium (based on his Web site of the same name). I highly recommend both the Web site and the book.
Phil Plait was there ranting about Madame X (or was it Planet X?). Anyway, Phil was very entertaining and very informative, as usual.
I won't go through the litany of saints, however, but I must mention Jim Alcock's wonderful speech as he presented Ray Hyman with CSICOP's In Praise of Reason Award. You can read the entire speech on the Skeptical Inquirer website.
I should note that the conspiracy guy, Jonathan Vankin, was a no-show.
I was interviewed about creationism by Toby Henry, a reporter at the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper in Vermont, on October 29th. Mr. Henry was preparing for an interview he's going to do with Steve Grohman, curator of the Mobile Creation Museum, who will be lecturing in Brattleboro about creation science. One of Grohman's pieces of evidence for a young earth (no more than about 6,000 years old) is "Niagara Falls' erosion rate (approx. 2 feet per year) indicates an age of less than 10,000 years. (Don't forget Noah's Flood could have eroded half of the seven-mile-long Niagara River gorge in a few hours as the flood waters receded through the soft sediments)." Geologists place the age of the falls at about 12,000 years, but why this is relevant to creationism needs some explaining. Maybe it has to do with an error made by Charles Lyell and accepted by others that the falls are about 35,000 years old, a date that contradicts Archbishop Ussher's calculation from the Bible that the earth is about 6,000 years old. But unless one assumes that nothing existed at Niagra Falls until it was created at the same time as everything else on earth, the erosion rate of the area is of little significance in establishing the age of the planet.
I bring up this particular argument from Grohman because Mr. Henry asked me about it and I told him I'd never heard of the argument but I was very familiar with the tactic used by creationists to find errors or questionable claims made by scientists and use those errors or questionable claims as support for creationism. For a list of such claims, go to Grohman's Web site. All I could say to Mr. Henry was that the tactic is a good one because it leads to a Never Ending Quest. No matter how many pieces of evidence for a young earth we explain away, the creationist will dig up ten more. But will the creationist ever develop a theory of anything that will provide a basis for research and discovery? No. The creation scientist is not interested in scientific research. He thinks he already knows the truth so his job is an apologetic one: defend the faith by whatever means necessary. This requires being very selective in what pieces of evidence one does put forth. Don't mention geographical places where the evidence indicates millions of years of development. And throw in a few claims that might befuddle the naive, e.g., "The erosion rate of the continents is such that they would erode to sea level in less than 14,000,000 years (destroying all old fossils)." If true, this means that the erosion rate wasn't always what it is today. And so it goes on and on and on.
I was also interviewed by Patrick Beach of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman for an article on the JFK assassination and conspiracy theories. The article is to appear in the Nov. 16th issue. It's hard to believe that we are coming up to the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the President by the Military-Industrial Complex because he planned to withdraw from Vietnam. Of course, this was done in conjunction with the Mafia who had him killed because he refused to invade Cuba again after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Now I don't mean to imply that Castro didn't have him killed in retaliation for CIA efforts to assassinate the Cuban leader. Nor do I mean to imply that the CIA didn't orchestrate the whole thing nor that Lyndon Johnson wasn't a co-conspirator. What is most interesting is that at least half a dozen conspiracies to kill the president took place simultaneously in Dallas and they all suckered Lee Harvey Oswald into taking the rap. What are the odds of this happening by coincidence?
Bright? Too fraught with innuendo and baggage. Skeptic. That's it. Definition not fully understood by the public in general but still concise and accurate and has a long and honorable history. Atheist? Takes too much hubris on my part to go against the thinking of so many minds down through history. Agnostic. Says all that needs to be said without getting into anybody's face.
Regards, Robert H. Galloway
A reader of my FAQ said he feels "uncomfortable" reading my writings because I don't include responses from pseudoscientists. Those familiar with my work know that I have included hundreds of such responses in the reader comments sections of many articles. In fact, quite a few readers have told me that they find the reader comments with my responses to be the best part of The Skeptic's Dictionary. Anyway, I added a couple of paragraphs to the FAQ to make it clear that even though mine is intentionally a one-sided book, I have allowed "the other side" to have their say. The new paragraphs reads
A reader who identifies himself only as J. Chambers wrote
I have taken the liberty of capitalizing Semitic, Jewish, and Arabic. Chambers had them in lowercase, though Anglo-Saxon is capitalized in the original. I didn't reply to the impertinent Chambers but had I, my remarks would have been along the following lines:
Norway has awarded a government grant worth 53,000 kroner ($7,500; £4,500) to Lena Skarning so she can start up a small business devoted to witchcraft. Forest Witch Magic Consulting, according to the 33-year-old witch, will tell fortunes, teach magic tricks at corporate seminars, and offer potions and creams to cure problems ranging from sleeplessness to bad habits.
Officials from the regional development fund said that her proposal was "pretty reasonable and well thought out." As evidence of their own reasonableness, they made it a condition of the grant that she not cast any harmful spells.
Skarning, who claims she has been a witch since she was about 20, was quoted in a BBC article as saying: "I'm an ordinary witch who came up with an original business idea." She noted that she is "Norway's only state-backed witch."
How did she come up with idea of asking the government for seed money for her witchcraft business? Did she cast a spell on government officials, causing them to temporarily lose their senses? No. She said came up with the idea after attending a seminar on entrepreneurship.
More bad news for the Brights movement. "The Irish Skeptics had a discussion on it recently and the unanimous verdict was that it was a terrible idea which needed to be reined back in as soon as possible."
I stumbled across something on the WWW called International Skeptics Meetup Day, the 4th Saturday of every month. The Web site says: "Had enough of astrologers, UFO buffs, psychics, homeopaths, and spirit channelers? Yearning to talk with someone rational for awhile? Meetup with other local skeptics for some refreshing and sane conversation."
Anybody heard of this outfit? Apparently, Meetup.com will set up meetings around the world for anybody on any subject or issue.
The Skeptic's Dictionary was reviewed along with several other non-fiction works in The Times (UK) on October 25, 2003. If anyone has a copy, I would appreciate seeing it. My editor tells me the review said "Use this book as protection against attacks by New Agers, alternative therapists and others who have chosen to abandon reason."
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