Robert Todd Carroll

 logo.gif (4146 bytes)

Click to order from Amazon

The Skeptic's Refuge

vertline.gif (1078 bytes)


January 1, 2004. Tim Radford of selects his all-time favorite science frauds and hoaxes from Piltdown man to elements 116 and 118.

December 31, 2003. Did you know that your National Park Service is displaying religious symbols, selling creationist materials and is contemplating adding 'conservatively correct' images to government videos? It's all part of President Bush's faith-based everything. Read about it here. Imagine going to the Grand Canyon Bookstore and finding a book with the creationist version of the way the canyon was formed.

further reading

[thanks to Iva Krauss and Joe Littrell]

December 9, 2003. Dan Garvin, who spoke at the first Amazing Meeting on his 30 years as a Scientologist, will be Reggie Finley's guest on his Internet radio show this Friday. Here's the news from Reggie:

I thought you might be interested to know that a former member of scientology will be appearing on my radio program this Friday. 12/12/03 - Scientology Exposed

Dan Garvin was a Scientologist for 27 years and a Sea Org member for 25 years. He worked for ten years in their intelligence, PR, and Legal branch, the Office of Special Affairs (OSA). Dan got out two and a half years ago because a series of realizations that lead him to atheism and skepticism. Dan spoke at James Randi's Amazing Meeting last February and has posted extensively about his experiences on the Clambake message board and alt.religion.scientology.

Maybe your site visitors may find this program interesting as well. This will be a live call-in show beginning at 8PM ET. 888-503-0802.

Listeners can access the show via this link:

Sonique, Real Player, Winamp and many other mp3 streaming software programs will be able to access it.

November 2, 2003. On Saturday, October 25th, Ray Hyman was presented with the In Praise of Reason Award by CSICOP. About 250 people, gathered in Albuquerque for the conference on Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias, were there for the presentation. Nobody deserves it more, including past recipients such as Ken Frazier, Murray Gell-Mann, Stephen Jay Gould, Elizabeth Loftus, and Carl Sagan. The presentation was made by CSICOP Fellow James Alcock, whose remarks will be published in the March/April issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.

October 28, 2003. Boston Globe Columnist Alex Beam has an interesting article today in praise of Marcia Angell, former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Angell brought the wrath of feminist hell upon herself in 1992 when she wrote an editorial challenging the Food and Drug Administration's decision to ban the manufacture of silicone breast implants. She dared to challenge the FDA, even though nobody had done any medical studies on the issue. It didn't matter. The lawyers extorted a $4.25 billion settlement against the implant manufacturers without needing any scientific evidence that the implants were harming women. Angell got a book out it: Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case. Recently, an FDA advisory panel voted to lift the ban on silicone implants.

"The whole sequence was upside-down," Angell says. "First we had the lawsuits, then the FDA ban, and then the announcement of the largest class-action settlement in history. Only two months later did we get the first scientific study of the issue in question. What causes this is the use of expert witnesses. The expert gives an opinion, and that becomes the evidence. Since they are hired by the adversaries, they get the most extreme people they can find. In science it's the opposite. It doesn't matter who you are; what matters are what your data say."

The data didn't support the lawyers or the feminists. [update: Nov. 17, 2006. The ban on silicone implants has been lifted by the FDA.]

October 27, 2003. Anyone who has ever said "If I'm lying, may God strike me with a lightning bolt" will probably enjoy this story from the BBC. As many of you know, Mel Gibson is working on another documentary. The first one was called Signs and covered crop circles, alien invasions, and the value of squirt guns. His latest is about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which should infuriate many Christians when Gibson reveals that God is a Jew.

October 19, 2003. Michael Shermer's latest column for Scientific American is about his involvement in the formation of a new cable network devoted exclusively to science: CSN, the Cable Science Network. It sounds fabulous and we wish them well.

October 16, 2003. For those who are praying for Rush Limbaugh, a new study indicates that you may be wasting your time. Prayer studies are win-win situations for believers, however. If your prayers are answered, that's because there is a God who listens. If they aren't, that's because you shouldn't test God. If Rush beats his addiction or any legal charges filed against him, will it be because of his superior willpower or because God answered the prayers of those who responded to his request to pray for him? If he loses either battle, will that prove he's weak-willed or that God doesn't like hypocrites? Either way, God wins. For my part, I'm enjoying the way Rush and his fans are dealing with this little bit of cognitive dissonance. It's almost as enjoyable as watching the "Morals Czar" William Bennett deal with his smoking and gambling addictions. (For those fans of Rush who are about to send me a nasty note telling me to stay out of politics, pay attention: This isn't about politics.)

September 10, 2003. About 150 scientists gather in Cambridge, Mass., for the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion last week. It was about twelve years ago that Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, of the University of Utah, announced that they had done the impossible. Shortly afterward,the U.S. Department of Energy declared that cold fusion was "a mirage born of bungled measurements and wishful thinking."  Now, some scientists are claiming that they have done more and better experiments, but nobody will take them seriously, except, of course, those who attend the annual cold fusion conference.

If these scientists want people to pay attention to them, they should write in German and change their topic to "How George Bush Masterminded 9/11 so he could take over the world." Three very popular books are maintaining such rubbish as you read this.

They may have been inspired by Donna Walker, who has been ordered to undergo a mental competency examination. Walker is the strange lady who posed as a couple's long-missing daughter and has apparently told other imaginative tales.

The witch hunts of the 1990s for satanic ritual abusers still reverberate in Canada where it all began many years ago with the publication of Michelle Remembers by  Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder more than twenty years ago. A $10-million lawsuit filed in 1994 by a dozen people wrongly accused of ritualistic child abuse has finally gotten underway. The case involves three children, all of whom "have since admitted they made up the stories under pressure from prosecutors, social workers and police. In reality, the older boy was abusing his two sisters."*
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

September 9, 2003. Elizabeth Loftus is interviewed by New Scientist on the trials and tribulations of being a memory scientist.

Meanwhile, Australia has another pharmaceutical shut-down (remember Pan?), only this time it is the Kingsgrove plant of one of Australia's biggest pharmacy chains, Soul Pattinson, that has suspended manufacture of more than 900 products.  A government watchdog agency found serious breaches in factory standards.
[thanks to Kerrie Dougherty]

September 8, 2003. Theresa Rice informs us that creationism has made it big time in the UK. A wealthy car dealer has ponied up a good part of the £20m needed to start The King's Academy in Middlesbrough, a sister facility to Gateshead's Emmanuel College, which already has a creationism curriculum. According to the BBC News, the schools teach evolutionary theory along with the belief that the Old Testament account of creation is true. There are plans for more such schools throughout the UK.

Bully for them. In no time, their educational system will be a match for ours. Richard Dawkins said: "To call evolution a faith position equated with creationism is educational debauchery. It is teaching something that is utter nonsense."

According to Sir Peter Vardy, the new creationist school is over-subscribed.

Maybe some day these creationist schools will arouse opposition like Robert Weitzel's "Theory puts a serpent in the garden of education." Or Munir Attaullah of Pakistan who once toyed with the idea of setting himself up as a guru in Los Angeles ("If a moronic amateur like the Maharishi could make it work why not me?"). Attaullah quotes Lady Macbeth: To beguile the time, look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it. It is not only in the U.S., the U.K., and other "Christian" nations where reason has been exchanged for a handful of snake oil. (The poor serpent doesn't deserve this, I know.)


Joe Littrell has sent out another batch of Skeptic News. The New York Times reports that the U.S. Energy Department says it is sharply cutting the number of lie detector tests it will give to people with access to nuclear secrets from about 20,000 to about 4,500. In other words, they are reducing their pseudoscience to 22.5%.

Superstition is alive and well at the Hermitage in Russia where an icon of Christ has been removed because a museum official (Boris Sapunov) believes it has a negative bio-field and is killing people. Of course he has done a scientific study of the matter and will be publishing his results in the next issue of the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

The South Bend Tribune reports that a local resident, Brad Hardy, may have the first video tape of ball lightening. They are waiting for experts to analyze it. Hope they don't call in somebody from the Creation Science Institute.

There are no minority chiropractors in Florida and state Senate President Jim King, a moderate Republican from Jacksonville, want to reward a loyal ally of his by allocating $2.8 million in tax dollars to create the nation's first public chiropractic college.

A Brazilian witch doctor who is also a medical doctor has been sentenced to 77 years in prison for his part in the murder and sexual mutilation of boys in the Amazon town of Altamira between 1989 and 1993. It is hard to believe but there are still many people who believe in the power of sympathetic magic.

David Blaine appeared to have engaged in a bit of self-mutilation, slicing his ear with a pen knife during a press interview. Chris Heard of the BBC wonders about Baline's motives and credibility as he prepares to starve himself for 44 nights while hanging in a box above the Thames river for no particular reason.

Finally, another baby has died because the parents tried to cure an infection with faith and failed. The infant’s death was the third such death involving untreated children at the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn. Rhiana Rose Schmidt, two days old, died of a treatable infection in Johnson County, Indiana.

September 7, 2003. Several readers have been trying to keep me updated on the weird and wonderful things happening in the world. Ken Saladin is upset at an article on MSN Health that claims all kinds of positive things for negative ions.

I've looks at many a web site now that keeps touting their health virtues, but they're all very vague about just what the negative ions really are. Some of them say ozone, but there are two problems with this: (1) ozone is not an ion, negative or otherwise; (2) ozone has well known detrimental effects on health; it is very damaging to human tissues. Some sites nebulously say "negative oxygen." I don't know what they could mean by this except maybe the superoxide anion. This is a well-known free radical that also is very damaging to human tissues. It's what causes most of the tissue death in cases of spinal cord injury and myocardial infarction. In lesser but steady lifelong doses, it's thought to be a cause of the degenerative changes of old age. It is so harmful that the body has defenses against it -- organelles called peroxisomes and an enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Dietary antioxidants such as selenium and alpha-tocopherol also work by neutralizing superoxide. Aside from these fallacious and silly references to ozone and "negative oxygen," I have yet to see any web site identify what the alleged negative ions are.

Nor do they provide any plausible explanation of how they would work. Some say ozone or "negative oxygen" gets carried by hemoglobin, so the brain gets a better oxygen supply. Nonsense. Hemoglobin cannot bind ozone, and superoxide anions don't bind to hemoglobin, they destroy it. Furthermore, even with normal breathing in a normal atmosphere, hemoglobin leaving the pulmonary alveoli is pretty nearly as saturated with oxygen as it can possibly be (97-98%), so it is not possible to get hemoglobin to load up with any significantly greater amount of oxygen. This is why I find "oxygen bars" so funny -- people forking over good money to breathe oxygen that goes to waste because there already is no more "room" on their hemoglobin to carry it. Breathing oxygen-enriched air for any length of time generates superoxide anions in the body and causes oxygen toxicity. I had to laugh at Michael Jackson sleeping in that coffin-like enclosure with oxygen-enriched air, thinking it would keep him younger. He was actually loading himself up with superoxide free radicals, the very agent of accelerated aging!

Waterfalls, ocean beaches, and sunlight: It seems to be assumed that the crashing of water, or sunlight, will generate anions. The MSN site you referred me to says, "Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water." Baloney. First of all, how are moving air and water going to break molecules apart? Secondly, even if they did, for every anion they created, a cation would also be generated -- and the whole idea of air ionizer "philosophy" is that anions are good for you, cations are bad for you. You can't ionize a molecule and produce only anions; cations will necessarily be created in equal numbers. Any place that has, or any device that produces, "good" anions in the air is going to load that air with just as many "bad" cations.

Monasteries and mountain air: Who says mountains are "great places for negative ions"? Who has ever measured this? I'd like to see the evidence. And ocean beaches and mountaintops are generally pretty windy places. Even if anions were generated there, how could they become concentrated with all this air movement? You'd have to assume very still air to even have a plausible argument for an accumulation of negative ions in such places. Moreover, since the air on mountaintops is so thin, it will inevitably have a significantly lower concentration of anions, or any particles for that matter, than the air at sea level.

Ken wants me to debunk negative ions but he's done a pretty good job of that himself and doesn't seem to need any help from me.


Several readers have suggested I add an entry on The Apollo Moon Hoax Hoax. Even though this one has been adequately covered by other such as Phil Plait, I'll probably add an entry eventually if only because so many poor teachers have to respond to student inquiries every term, inquiries based on having seen things like the Fox network (fair and balanced) mockumentary on the Apollo mission. Neil Ford of Sydney, Australia, writes:

Interest in this was stirred in Australia last year by a couple of documentaries, one "serious" and one a bare-faced hoax - as I eventually realised! Under the end credits was a blooper reel in which the "interviewees" fluff their lines and joke around. (Also, a couple of the witnesses had names from Hitchcock movies.) I was quite angry about having been fooled, until a friend pointed out the date of the airing: April 1st. This French documentary is variously known as "Opération Lune", "Kubrick, Nixon and the Man on the Moon", and "Dark Side of the Moon". I am still somewhat irritated by the whole thing, knowing that some people won't realise that this documentary was supposed to be a joke...

I understand Neil's frustration, as do many teachers around the world.


Another frequent contributor from Australia, Kerrie Doughtery, has sent this along about the latest on the Pan pharmaceutical scandal. "What really irritated me was that they had a program on our national broadcaster (the ABC, our equivalent of the BBC or PBS) last week which as good as presented him as a struggling 'small businessman' who was just going through a bad patch!"


Florin Clapa sent a note about the discovery of a large ape in Africa that some link to Bigfoot.

Interesting reading but the connection to Bigfoot is lost on me.

Florin also sent a link to a pair of  interesting articles on parallel universes, one in Slate and the other in Scientific American.


Alison Bevage, also of Australia, sent an update on the Australian naturopath being tried for his responsibility for the death of a toddler (whom he treated with natural therapies when he in fact had a serious heart defect). The naturopath has been found guilty. He will be sentenced at a later date.


Madhu Menon sent in an item about Scientologists signing an agreement not to sue the church, nor to seek psychiatric help. Dave Touretzky, a research professor in the Computer Science Department and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University, has published an account of the document the church is requiring members to sign. Very interesting but not surprising.


Larry W. sent in a link to an article from MSN on a police department in Kentucky that hires "ghostbusters." They might want to call in Richard Wiseman.


Finally, Mike Ford sent in a story about Sweden's Lund University, one of the oldest seats of learning in Scandinavia. Lund is about to hire its first "professor of parapsychology, hypnology ["the science of the phenomena of sleep and hypnosis"] and clairvoyance." Somebody has given the university the money needed to fund the hiring. The article from CNN notes that "Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Scotland's Edinburgh University also have chairs in parapsychology." From which I would like to infer that there are no more such chairs in Europe.

©copyright 2003
Robert Todd Carroll

larrow.gif (1051 bytes) The Skeptic's Refuge

More Mass Media Funk rarrow.gif (1048 bytes)