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Robert Todd Carroll

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Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Issue # 21

February 12, 2003

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science." --Charles Darwin

Subscribers 1,827

(Past issues posted at



      1)   The Amazing Meeting
      2)   New or revised entries
      3)   Feedback
      4)   News


 1) The Amazing Meeting

I didn't meet all of the folks from all over the country and the world who attended the first annual Amazing Meeting hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. But I got to meet James Randi and Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomer). I also got to meet José Alvarez, aka "Carlos." It was some fifteen years ago that Alvarez hoaxed Australia as a channeler of the 2,000 year-old spirit "Carlos." I wonder if any of you in Australia would care to comment on whether there has been any residual effect of the Carlos hoax or is it pretty much forgotten now?

It was nice to make new friends and see old friends like Ray Hall of Cal State Fresno. The folks at JREF are already planning on a larger arena next year. The presenters provided entertainment and education, and the meeting went on more or less as planned despite the news about Columbia. We were fortunate to have amongst us Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack who made the announcement to the crowd of about 250 immediately following Michael Shermer's keynote address. Hal put it this way

I'm a career military officer. This is a tragedy. But these people were doing exactly what they wanted to do, in exactly the place they wanted to be. When Dave Scott set foot on the moon on Apollo XV he said, "Man's fundamental nature is to explore, and this is exploration at its greatest." Gus Grissom gave an interview a week before the fire on Apollo I and he said, "if there's an accident, for God's sake, don't let it stop the program." This is a tragedy, but they understood, and that's what we do in the military.

We took a break for about an hour and a half and then resumed our meeting as best we could. Fortunately, we had some very interesting speakers that morning, including Dan Garvin, who told us about his 25 years in Scientology, and Phil Plait, whose presentation on Planet X surpassed all expectation for information and humor. Phil is an even better speaker than writer, and he's an excellent writer.

My talk came in the evening, sandwiched between Hal Bidlack's re-creation of Alexander Hamilton and Randi's performance. An expanded version of my presentation is available in pdf format online.


 2) New or revised entries in The Skeptic's Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge

Since the last newsletter I have

  • added links to the latest news in cosmology, to Randi's Encyclopedia, to a story about debunking UFO stories, to Michael Shermer's latest article for Scientific American on why most scientists do not believe in ESP, to an article about the SciFi channel's new program on dream interpretation, and to a story about a woman who says she was swindled out of thousands of dollars by a phony psychic who sold her magic wands that could eliminate bad energy. It's hard to feel sorry for some people.

  • revised the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research page;

  • commented on Michael L. Dini, an associate professor of biology at Texas Tech University, who refuses to write letters of recommendation for students who deny evolution;

  • commented on the first episode of Penn & Teller's 13-part debunking series;

  • commented on a pair of scientific articles regarding the evolution of feathers;

  • and I updated the Skeptical Links pages for Young Thinkers.


 3) Feedback

Ken Saladin, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Georgia College & State University and author of  Anatomy and Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function, followed the link to Stein Carter's page that I gave in the last newsletter regarding the suburban myth that women have more ribs than men. Carter gives his argument and then advises readers

If you’re still not convinced, OK, don’t take my word for it. Be skeptical — it’s good for you. However, don’t stop there. Go do your own research and find out for yourself. Find a local university, nursing school, or medical school that has cadavers, and find somebody at that school who has some time to spend with you. Arrange to go there, grab a scalpel, and start counting.

Professor Saladin points out that "There is no way that any university or medical school would let someone "off the street" come in and start dissecting cadavers for this purpose." Of course, he's right. For many reasons, few people outside of faculty or health-professions students are permitted access to a cadaver lab, much less to mutilate the cadavers to satisfy private curiosity. "Moreover," he says, "any properly scientifically-minded person would not be satisfied to draw a conclusion from just one dissection of each sex, but would insist on dissecting several cadavers of both sexes to be sure of the count. Carter might have done better to refer readers to various photographic atlases of human anatomy to count ribs -- although even then, I know of none that show multiple skeletons of both sexes."

In his textbook, Dr. Saladin simply notes:  "There are 12 pairs of ribs, with no difference between the sexes." Finally, he says,

It could also be noted that people who think males have one fewer rib that females apparently believe in the long-discredited Lamarckian theory of heredity -- that just because a rib was removed from Adam, his descendents would lack that rib. If this kind of heredity were true, then once a Doberman pinscher had its ears and tail cropped, all its descendents would genetically exhibit the same trait and this operation would never need doing again.

I'm anticipating a response from Answers in Genesis to the effect that since God didn't clip the Doberman, the analogy won't work.


4) News

A fellow named Julian Berman from an outfit called offered to send me a free copy of  “The Totally New Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM” in exchange for writing a review of it. Why Mr. Berman would want me to write a review of anything written by Edgar Cayce is a mystery. Anyway, I agreed to the proposal. Then I got another e-mail from Mr. Berman explaining the terms of the agreement. In order to get a free CD, I had to agree to the following:

Robert Carroll agrees that said review shall contain his personal option [sic] and impressions of “The Totally New Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM” but shall not contain any negative or negatively oriented content about “The Totally New Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM” or All Edgar Cayce LLC. If Robert Carroll cannot write a review that is totally positive about “The Totally New Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM” it shall be agreed upon that the review will be replaced by an announcement about the existence of “The Totally New Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM” along with a link to the All Edgar Cayce web site (

Why do I only get offers that are easy to refuse?


I was interviewed by Reggie Finley, a.k.a. the Infidel Guy, on his live radio show on February 10th. You can listen to the hour-long interview at Stream it..!! We talk about the Discovery Institute's war on science and a few other things like atheism and ethics.


My editor at Wiley tells me I should expect the proofs for the The Skeptic's Dictionary within the next few days. I don't think you will hear from me again for at least a month. Publication is set for July or August.