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From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 9 No. 3

8 March 2010

"We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances." --Roger Ebert

In this issue

What's new?
Magic tape
Another missing link
It never ends
A fatwa on terror
Scum of the minute
Internet nonsense
Morons in South Dakota
Variations on shopworn themes
Journalistic bottom feeder
Another bottom feeder
Giving evolutionary psychology a bad name
Forums and feedback
For our German readers
For our Turkish readers
Pat Robertson and the Chilean earthquake

Science and skepticism conference
Is atheism unconstitutional in Ireland?

What's New?

New SD entries: quack Miranda warning, ener-chi art, Sacred Santémony. The cognitive dissonance, applied kinesiology, and palmistry entries were revised.

New Skeptimedia posts: Should governments fund faith-based groups?; Warning: Your Magazine May Be Hazardous to Your Health (junk journalism re cell phones); The deadliest animal on the planet (some real science on fighting malaria); Stupid politicians and cops (junk legislation re cell phones & Chicago cops chasing ghosts); atheists in foxholes, gods on benches (interesting church/state issue); Amaz!ng Meeting 8; Hope is all you need - just ask Jenny McCarthy (journalist exposes and explains the McCarthy factor); and Lying for God (a priest and a journalist conspire to make the shroud of Turin controversial).

New reader comments: acupuncture and EVP.

New What's the harm? posts:

Self-Proclaimed 'Psychic' Charged with Investor Fraud.

Chinese herbal pills destroyed UK woman's health.

Scientologist claims she was forced to have an abortion at 17 (she signed on for a billion years when she was seven). Another claims he was beaten several times by the head of the church.

When a psychic's love spell failed, her client had her murdered.

New in memoriam: Helen Kagin.

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

Magic Tape

Joe wrote:

My wife came home from physical therapy with Kinesio Tape on her hip.

I can't seem to find if this is quackery on any site. Can you check into it and post about it?

The Kinesio website says it's been around for over 25 years and is the world's "most trusted elastic therapeutic tape." Kinesio tape [KT] was developed by Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor who trained in the United States.* According to Wikipedia, the tape was used in therapy in the 1970s and '80s mainly in Japan, but became popular worldwide after the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. 50,000 rolls were donated and the tape was seen on many Olympic athletes, most prominently on the shoulder of volleyball player Kerri Walsh. Supposedly the tape supports muscles while offering an unimpeded range of motion. Lance Armstrong and Serena Williams have also been seen in competition wearing the tape. The tape also allegedly increases blood circulation and relieves pain. Perhaps it does...of the men who are watching ladies in bathing suits or tennis apparel.

Most of the evidence for the claims about this magic tape is in the form of anecdotes. I was able to find one randomized, double-blind control study involving 42 college students with shoulder problems. The results were less than overwhelming.

Our results are partially consistent with previous reports showing that KT can have a positive effect on ROM [range of motion] when thought to be limited by musculoskeletal shoulder pain. The immediate statistically significant difference between groups no longer existed by day 3. These findings may indicate that the potential benefits of KT application are limited to partially improving pain-free ROM of shoulder abduction immediately after application. No short- or long-term benefit related to pain or function occurred over the 6-day period of tape application....

The physiological mechanisms by which KT is presumed to work remain hypothetical, and we can only speculate what they might be....

Pain and disability measures, as a result of taping, were not different between groups in our study. This is in contrast with other published literature using similar outcome measures. This lack of agreement could be due to a number of factors. Although the 2 previous studies were also short term, they were both case series and had no control group, making it difficult to ascertain causation. [click here to see an abstract of one of those studies]

The conclusion of the researchers was: "When applied to a young, active patient population with a clinical diagnosis of rotator cuff tendonitis/impingement, KT may assist clinicians to obtain immediate improvement in pain-free shoulder abduction ROM. However, over time, KT appears to be no more efficacious than sham taping at decreasing shoulder pain intensity or disability."

So, at present, the scientific evidence for this magical tape is rather thin.

Another missing link found

Scientists have discovered a dinosaur-like creature 10 million years older than the earliest known dinosaurs. Dr. Paul Barrett, a paleontologist from the Natural History Museum in London said silesaurs share a lot of features with dinosaurs. "They show us an intermediate step between more primitive reptiles and the more specialized dinosaurs." Asilisaurus kongwe was a herbivore about the size of Labrador retriever  and lived during the middle Triassic period - about 245 million years ago. The silesaurs were the "closest relative of the dinosaurs," said Dr. Randall Irmis from the Utah Museum of Natural History. "It was to dinosaurs much like chimps are to humans - kind of cousins. It was a weird little creature. We always thought the earliest relatives were small, bipedal, carnivorous animals. These walked on four legs and had beaks and herbivore-like teeth."

It never ends

A new way to potentize homeopathic water has been invented: serve it up with acupuncture in a dish you call homeopuncture! Hear all about it from Orac at Respectful Insolence. I love the way these alternative thinkers consider self-serving observations made in the office "research."

A fatwa on terror

An influential Muslim scholar, Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri of Pakistan, has issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. He describes al-Qaeda as an "old evil with a new name" and says that Islam forbids the massacre of innocent citizens and suicide bombings.

It's about time. But it may be too little, too late. An American born convert to Islam has also issued an order to his brethren in America, not that it has any more authority than flatulence in a mosque. Adam Gadahn grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County, California, and converted to Islam at a mosque in nearby Orange County when he was 17. He moved to Pakistan three years later. In a video posted on several websites, Gadahn calls on US Muslims to attack America. According to the AP, Gadahn said fighters should target mass transportation systems in the West and also wreak havoc "by killing or capturing people in government, industry and the media." Apparently he thinks his god orders such behavior. This should be a lesson for those who think god must exist in order for moral rules to be absolute.

The FBI has been trying to find Gadahn since 2004. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction. He's wanted for treason. Whatever happens, somebody's prayers will be answered.

There were reports recently that Gadahn had been captured, but it appears they were mistkaen.

Scum of the minute

You can't beat CardioFuel for attracting scum for easy removal. Hurry, though. Skeptics won't have CardioFuel to push around for much longer. The website for this osteopath-created energy booster says "We are re-naming CardioFuel for legal reasons. Suggest a name and if it is used you will get a special surprise gift." Ooooh. For more on this superfluous supplement, see Peter Lipson's "CardioFuel—another magic pill."

Orac recently wrote of something deserving of some sort of sarcastic mudslinging: a facial with nightingale droppings. A website called Ten Thousand Waves claims that bird feces have been used for centuries by geisha in Japan to brighten and smooth their skin. And all this time I thought their bright white skin was from pancake flour.

John Renish notes: Traditional geisha up to the 1930s used a compound of lead or mercury, later zinc, to whiten their faces. Obviously it led to skin problems and, I suppose, chronic heavy-metal poisoning. Their traditional lipstick was made with cinnabar, a mercury ore. One site I found says the nightingale poop was used to remove the makeup.

Internet Medicine: spreading nonsense at the speed of light

One of the more persistent errors being spread by quacks on the Internet is the notion that good health depends on a balance between an alkaline and an acid environment, on having the right pH in your body. One site that has been promoting this garbage for years is pH Health. Kevin Trudeau makes the same false claim about pH, as does Robert O. Young, author of several pH "miracle" books.

Gabe Mirkin, M.D., warns:

Anyone who tells you that certain foods or supplements make your stomach or blood acidic does not understand nutrition.

You should not believe that it matters whether foods are acidic or alkaline, because no foods change the acidity of anything in your body except your urine. Your stomach is so acidic that no food can change its acidity. Citrus fruits, vinegar, and vitamins such as ascorbic acid or folic acid do not change the acidity of your stomach or your bloodstream. An entire bottle of calcium pills or antacids would not change the acidity of your stomach for more than a few minutes.

All foods that leave your stomach are acidic. Then they enter your intestines where secretions from your pancreas neutralize the stomach acids. So no matter what you eat, the food in the stomach is acidic and the food in the intestines is alkaline.

You cannot change the acidity of any part of your body except your urine. Your bloodstream and organs control acidity in a very narrow range. Anything that changed acidity in your body would make you very sick and could even kill you. (Mirkin 2003)

The morons in the South Dakota legislature

Carl Zimmer of The Loom writes:

In the fine tradition of creationist legislation that claims that evolution is “just” a theory and that requires the teaching of alternatives, the South Dakota legislature has passed a resolution on the teaching of climate change.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-fifth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature urges that instruction in the public schools relating to global warming include the following: (1) That global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact; (2) That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect [sic] world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative…

That red color is mine [i.e., Zimmer's]. This resolution was not just offered, folks. It was approved by a majority of the legislature. Astrology and all.

Enough said.


As many of you may know, Daniel Loxton has written a children's book on evolution: Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be. It's gotten rave reviews from the science, skeptical, and atheist communities. The book is a science book, but Loxton felt he should have a short section on religion because "the concept of the book was to raise and discuss common concerns. This question, 'What about religion?', is without any doubt the single most common concern people have when they consider the evidence for evolution. I could hardly ignore that." Personally, I think he marred his science book with his short excursion into the philosophy of science. Anyway, here's what he wrote in his science book:

What about religion?

This is a question people often ask when wondering about evolution. They want to connect the discoveries of science to their religious understanding.

Unfortunately, this isn't something science can help with. Individual scientists may have personal opinions about religious matters, but science as a whole has nothing to say about religion.

Science is our most reliable method for sorting out how the natural world functions, but it can't tell us what those discoveries mean in a spiritual sense. Your family, friends and community leaders are the best people to ask about religious questions.

These few paragraphs generated over 200 comments on Loxton's blog. It seems false on its face. After reading what he says he was trying to say, I have to say that his book doesn't say what he says he meant to say. (His explanation is on his blog and is fairly long. I think he's right, but I don't think he needed to say anything about religion in his book.) I hope, if he writes a geology book for kids, he won't feel a need to let his readers know that geology can't prove or disprove the existence of gods. Anyway, he now has enough material for another book: on religion and science.

If Loxton had said nothing about religion, he might have avoided the controversy over his comments on science and religion, at least in the US. Some legislator might have required that his book on evolution bear a warning sticker: WARNING! This book contains science and may offend Republicans and others who still adhere to ancient superstitions. For those who think this is a cheap shot at Republicans and fundamentalists, remember that a Gallup poll in 2007 found that 68% of Republicans don't accept evolution. The same poll found that 74% of weekly churchgoers also reject evolution. A recent Pew poll found that only 18% of Republicans think there is solid evidence of rising global temperatures due to human activity. Of course, only 35% of all Americans think that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures. That's only 10% more than think vaccines cause autism. There seems to be something wrong with our educational system, our mass media, and the public relations wing of our scientific community (what? there is no such thing?). We're moving toward a society where empirical beliefs are more influenced by televangelists, legislators, and celebrities than by scientists.

Variations on shopworn themes

The climate change deniers have joined evolution deniers in an effort to bypass scientists by legislating that science teachers must consider the deniers' views when teaching about climate change or evolution. The New York Times has the story. Efforts along these lines are going on in Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Meanwhile, as the Earth warms, cold reading is getting a workout by a fellow named Robbie Thomas who claims he is a "psychic profiler." He is in the midst of a tour of North America that he calls the Psychic Justice Tour. His ads promise to reveal whether spirits truly exist, whether deceased loved ones can direct affairs in our lives to bring justice, closure and resolve, whether criminals can be named and arrested through direction by a deceased loved one, and how a true psychic profiler receives information from the other side. He even suggests that if you come to his show he might provide information about a crime you've been wondering about. His website suggests that he's especially good at finding missing children. Maybe he should get a scum of the minute award.

He's currently in Canada, where tickets are going for $45 a show. Next, he hits California where the tickets are $33US for his performance in San Francisco on March 26. It's nearby, but I won't be there.

[update: According to Mark Edward, the Psychic Justice Tour has been cancelled: "he has been given the boot by his promoter John Ramses, who turns out to have been put under quite a bit of stress and coercion short of being blackmailed by his one-time buddy."]

Another theme we're seeing manifest itself in a new form is the "especially sensitive" theme. When the evidence overwhelmingly showed that vaccines do not cause autism, there were those who claimed that some children are "especially sensitive" to vaccines and so scientific studies don't apply to them. Now we have a fellow who claims that despite the overwhelmingly strong evidence that cell phones are not hazardous to our health, they are hazardous to his health because he's "especially sensitive." After reading his story, I agree that he is especially sensitive and it is the sight and sound of a cell phone that knocks him out. I also think he needs treatment for a phobia, not for radiation sickness. He's getting more radiation from sunlight than he is from other people's cell phones.

A bottom feeder in journalism

Douglas Todd, twice-benighted Templeton Reporter of the Year, has written an absolutely inane article on 12 theories of evolution our children need to know. Todd wants schools to teach not only ID and a few other lame notions, but also Ken Wilbur's "attempt to thoroughly integrate science, developmental psychology, and mysticism into a comprehensive form of evolutionary understanding." He gets the award because his bit of creative writing and pretense of having some understanding of science was published not in a religious rag, but in the Vancouver Sun. Todd shares the award with the guy he parrots on the 12 theories: Carter Phipps. Phipps wrote the article that Todd parrots. According to Phipps, his work provides "everything you always wanted to know about evolution but the mass media wouldn’t tell you." Right, we've all been overproducing cortisol while waiting for a reporter to explain Madame Blavatsky's "theory" of evolution.

The bottom of the barrel in science news reporting

The BBC have found someone whose cancer was cured by homeopathy. Ben Goldacre has the story.

Giving Evolutionary Psychology a Bad Name

The CNN headline reads Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ. It's true. They were linked by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science. PZ Myers says that this fellow is

the Fenimore Cooper of Sociobiology, the professional fantasist of Psychology Today. He's like the poster boy for the stupidity and groundlessness of freakishly fact-free evolutionary psychology.

Now, that should sufficiently poison the well for what I have to say about the "link" Kanazawa says he's found between liberalism, atheism, and male sexual exclusivity. But first we'll look at what he has to say about religion. (It is de rigeur among intellectuals today to offer some sort of comment on religion, no matter what topic they're discussing.) Religion helps people become paranoid and being paranoid "helps life." "Because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere," Kanazawa claims. Maybe we should call Kanazawa the Rudyard Kipling of sociobiology.

Kanazawa got his data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and the General Social Survey, two good cross-national data collection sources. What "link" did he find? He found a small difference in IQ between adolescents who said they were atheists and adults who said they were religious. From this he inferred that there is a link between intelligence and having "novel" religious views. His study defined liberal "in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people....Liberals are more likely to be concerned about total strangers; conservatives are likely to be concerned with people they associate with." By this definition, I am a conservative. By any other definition, I am a flaming liberal. Kanazawa found a small difference in IQ between conservative adolescents and "very liberal" adults. From this he inferred that liberals are more intelligent than conservatives. Need I go on?

Kanazawa smilingIt seems that Kanazawa is fishing for data to support his belief (which he calls a "theory") that "more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years." Whatever. He also thinks that there is a natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God and for more intelligent children to become atheists. Intelligent atheists also get more chicks. No wonder he's smiling. (Is it true that “atheist” gets more responses on dating sites than almost any other self-description except "liberal"?)

Forums and Feedback

I've been asked a few times why I don't have a forum on my website. Many readers would like to post responses directly to the site. Not being allowed to do so irritated one fellow to the point that he asked me: "Why isn't this site right now a wiki? Are you omniscient or a solipsist?" Anyone out there have the answer? (Hint: the answer isn't 'yes'.)

For our German readers

If you can read German, please help a psychology student at the University of Münster with her bachelor's thesis on Probability Misjudgment and Belief in Astrology. It takes only 10 minutes to fill out: http://www.unipark.de/uc/ae_hell/bd9e/. Please don't write to tell me that Internet surveys are not scientific and of little value.

For our Turkish readers

The Turkish translation of The Skeptic's Dictionary is under way. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Pat Robertson and the Chilean earthquake

You may have heard that Christian televangelist and universally recognized dipstick Pat Robertson blamed the Chilean earthquake on God's wrath for a pact made by former president Salvador Allende with a chupacabra. Not true. It was due to an engineering mistake in the creation of the planet: the creation went to the lowest bidder, who used inferior materials.

Science and Skepticism Conference in Berkeley

The Sacramento Area Skeptics and the Bay Area Skeptics join forces to present the 2010 SkeptiCal Conference on Saturday April 24th at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. The conference will feature lectures as well as breakout discussions on media and skepticism, psychics, alternative medicine, UFO and extraterrestrial investigations, denialism, and climate change. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education and President of the Bay Area Skeptics. Other participants include David Morrison, Brian Dunning, Ian Faloona, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Wallace Sampson, Seth Shostak, and Karen Stollznow.

Atheism in Ireland

Gary J. Byrne of Dublin raised a very interesting point in a letter to the Irish Independent: is being an atheist in Ireland today unconstitutional? Mr. Byrne notes that the preamble of the Irish Constitution states: "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority. . . Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ. . ." And Article 44.1 reads: "The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God."

In addition, says Mr. Byrne, every person appointed as a judge under this Constitution must declare: "In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise. . ."

I'd like to raise a pint myself. How does an atheist celebrate St. Patrick's Day? (Without much difficulty, I would suppose, but I would like to hear from the experts on this.)

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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