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From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 9 No. 1

11 Jan 2010

"Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal." --Will and Ariel Durant

In this issue

What's new?
Dr. Beetroot
Neanderthal body art
Climate change politics
Islamic Europe
Contaminated supplements
Punking the audiophiles
News from China
Scum of the minute
Philosopher's hand signals

What's New?

I've been invited to be a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). I said yes, provided I don't have to pay any dues, go to any meetings, or sign any loyalty oaths.

The Skeptic's Dictionary is now on Facebook. Join us. Add your comments and join in a discussion.

New Dictionary entries: freethinker and manufactroversy.

New Skeptimedia posts:

Cell phones, brain cancer, and other cheery thoughts
Vaccinations & Swine Flu Update;
Woo-woo is alive and well;
Keeping a cool head about global warming;
Abusing children for fun & profit;
Honesty, law, and the free market; and
Autism rates are up or down.

A new essay was posted: 2010: A Time for Reflection; and a link was made to Roger Ebert's essay New Agers and Creationists Should Not Be President.

I posted a review of Evolution Rx by William Meller.

Reader comments were posted for blood type diet, prayer, multiple personality disorder, philosophical skepticism, neuro-linguistic programming, iridology, and EFT.

Occasionally we get letters that don't condemn us to hell or to being strapped in a chair and forced to watch Deepak Chopra or Jenny McCarthy for eternity. Here's one I'd like to share:

This is in response to your latest post: “2010: A Time for Reflection.”

I’ve been reading your website daily for many years now and I just wanted to say “A Time for Reflection” is probably one of your finest articles to date. In a time when it seems America is becoming more and more anti-rational with regard to religion, fringe right-wing politics, pseudoscience, etc, your article crystallizes the actual state of such things.

These are all dead-end movements and subconsciously they probably know it. You make the perceived takeover of anti-rational thought feel more like the convulsions or death throes of a dying mindset. Rational thought is winning out, but it’s taking time. It’s frustrating to see it happen in fits and spurts, but you have really put things into perspective.

Thanks and Take Care,


It's letters like Josh's and the following one from Stephan in Germany that keep me energized.

I found your article [on the law of attraction] after a long-lost "friend" contacted me, reporting that the film "The Secret" had changed her life and we definitely had to see it. Seeing that the change in her life meant that she added to her career as a supermarket cashier part-time employment as a dominatrix in a BDSM bordello made us skeptical and inspired us to check it out. Your well-written article gave us enough information to let this long-lost friend stay lost a little longer. Thanks.

One new post was added to What's the harm? Faith healing and medical care failure.

Many files were updated. A complete list with links to the updates may be found at skepdic.com/updates.html.

Dr. Beetroot Dies

Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister who oversaw her country's discredited AIDS policy, is dead at the age of 69. She and her boss, Thabo Mbeki, are responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands by promoting dietary measures (such as garlic and beetroot) instead of medicine for those suffering from AIDS.* While serving as health minister, Tshabalala-Msimang said that medicines used by traditional healers should not be subject to clinical trials. (Why waste time proving that medicine in use for 1,000 years works just as well as any placebo?) While in exile in the Soviet Union Tshabalala-Msimang received a medical degree. She also studied obstetrics and gynecology in Tanzania. She was derisively called Dr. Beetroot.

A kinder, gentler Neanderthal

Scientists have found evidence that Neanderthals wore "body paint" 50,000 years ago. Neanderthals used shells as make-up containers to hold their pigments. Professor Chris Stringer, a paleontologist from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, said: "These findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted." He admitted, though, that the discovery is unlikely to change popular thinking about Neanderthals as brutes. He's probably right. Imagine the response of my local grocery clerk, whose arms are covered with colorful artistic designs, were I to announce: "Hey, Neanderthals did that, too!"

Global Warming, Climate Change, Science, and Politics

Below are some comments on a brief unsigned note I received taking me to task for being driven by my political views in my unkind attack on Steven F. Hayward's politically motivated analysis of the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (Keeping a cool head about global warming).

Your defense of 'Climategate' (I HATE THAT TERM) wandered off into ad hominem attacks on conservatives. Science is in trouble when your political beliefs determine your scientific opinion.

The 'hacked' emails expose clear corruption of science: Fudging data to conform to a political agenda. Refusing to share raw data. Trying to destroy careers of those who disagree with your results and preventing them from publishing. A forecasting program so full of bugs as to be ludicrous. A frank admission of how data contradicts catastrophic AGW.

And you can't see it. A skeptic goes into denial when we need honesty.

P.S. The "criminal hacker" of those emails deleted personal info -- email addresses -- to protect the scientists from harassment. Funny behavior for a hacker.


Exposing conservatives for shoddy, misleading interpretations of the emails isn't engaging in ad hominem attacks. (The distortions continue, by the way.) The writer is correct in noting that science is in trouble when political beliefs determine scientific opinion. That was my point with regard to Mr. Hayward. He and many other conservatives seem not to care about the science at all. They are willing to distort and exaggerate the material in the emails to fit their preconceived ideas about climate change and the scientists whose data supports anthropogenic global warming.

The hacked emails didn't expose "clear corruption." If you read the PEW Center's report on the hacked emails, you will find that there is no evidence of corruption of science. The claim that the scientists fudged data to conform to a political agenda is a lie. I referred the reader to several sources to demonstrate how Hayward had twisted the facts:

Hayward devotes a good amount of heat and space to statistics. Remember the hockey stick? Remember the email by Jones that says he used "Mike's Nature trick"? Yes, the "trick" that was published in a science journal and was no secret. Rather than respond to Hayward, I urge the reader to go here and here and here and here [link to story in San Luis Obispo Tribune is defunct] for less biased evaluations of the "trick."

Here's another source for you to check out and another. It is true that some of the emails reveal strong feelings of contempt for contrarians and diminish the aura of indifference and objectivity we expect from scientists. A small percentage of the emails are impolite and some express animosity toward opponents, but when placed in proper context, they do not appear to reveal fraud or other scientific misconduct. I addressed this point in my response to Hayward:

I don't think it's fair, however, to characterize advocates for catastrophic climate change as having "preconceived conclusions" simply because they are engaged in a real-life polemical war with politicians, oil companies, and propagandists for the "expanding markets is God's will" party.

Climategate is a manufactorversy and the ones manufacturing the controversy are all conservatives. That's not an ad hominem. That's a fact. (For an overview of the current state of climate science see Presidential Address: Reflections On: Our Planet and Its Life, Origins, and Futures by James J. McCarthy.)

Finally, the writer says the hacker didn't reveal personal information. I don't know if that's true, but I don't know how the writer would know the motivation of the hacker unless the writer is the hacker or is in contact with the hacker. What I see is not a skeptic going into denial when we need honesty but a horde of contrarians going into blitzkrieg mode at the slightest opportunity, providing a lot heat, no light, and no substance. These kinds of "analyses" are about as useful as those from weathermen and weatherwomen who call themselves "meteorologists," don't know the difference between weather and climate, short-term patterns and long-term trends, and find "proof" that global warming is a hoax because it's freezing in Florida in January. I can't wait to hear how the latest addition to the Fox News pundit corral, Sarah Palin, will cover climate change and other sciency topics. Fair and Balanced? All part of God's plan?

Are Muslims Taking Over Europe?

According to the retiring Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the fall of Europe is looming because of Islamization.* Cardinal Vlk said that immigration and Muslims’ high birth rates have helped Muslims “easily fill the vacant space created as Europeans systematically empty the Christian content of their lives.”

A similar concern was expressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who told the BBC director general Mark Thompson that the "Christian voice" was being sidelined by the recruitment of Aaquil Ahmed, a Muslim, as the BBC's new head of religion and ethics last year.*

Contaminated Weight Loss Products

If you are using a weight loss product to help shed some of the extra pounds you put on over the holidays, you might want to consider that many such products are contaminated with various prescription drugs and chemicals. Because they're marketed as dietary supplements, they do not have to be tested by the FDA and may be harmful to your health.

Skeptics Punk the Audiophiles

Take a look at the comments for the Wattgate 381 Audio Grade Duplex Socket on both the Parts Express page and on Amazon. What? You wouldn't pay $150 for a wall socket you can get at the hardware store for $2? Maybe you have a tin ear or a working brain.

The News from China

An Associated Press investigation has found that some Chinese manufacturers have been using cadmium in place of lead in children's charm bracelets and pendants, sometimes at extraordinarily high levels. Cadmium can hinder brain development in the very young.

Scum of the Minute

The co-winner is Earthcalm for its Omega Laptop Protector, which uses "Scalar Resonance Technology" to prevent EMFs from causing asthma attacks, panic attacks, arthritis, joint pain, or high blood pressure. Get the scoop from Skeptic North.

Earthcalm shares the prize with Dream Products 3-in-1 miracle bracelet: it invokes Jesus, copper, and magnets for a trinity of healing power, comfort, and delusion.

Philosopher's Hand Signals

If you are philosophically inclined and want a laugh, check out Philosopher's Hand Signals.

Written by Bob Carroll with the assistance of John Renish
a tip of the hat to Tim Boettcher

* AmeriCares *

Books by R. T. Carroll

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