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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes)Newsletter 32

October 21, 2003

"He uses statistics the way a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination." --Mark Kleinman

In this issue: Interview on Dublin radio station; James Randi tell his readers to buy The Skeptic's Dictionary and I plug the Amazing Meeting II (again); talk in Albuquerque; some interest in a radio series based on The Skeptic's Dictionary; dim week for the Brights; the Cable Science Network; new pseudoscience based on sleep positions; and the new and improved Skeptiseum and Inquiring Minds programs from CSICOP.


Some of you may have heard my recent interview with Jack and Ali on Dublin's Spin 103.8 radio station (also online). Conor O'Loughlin, producer of the show, contacted me after receiving a copy of The Skeptic's Dictionary from Wiley. We did the interview on October 8th and I'm told that  it was played on the air sometime during the next week. If anybody out there heard the interview, please let me know. The first question I was asked was whether the election of our new governor in California proved my point that the world is getting more irrational. I can't say that there is any connection but I have noticed that since October 7th my golf shots have gone noticeably further to the right. Coincidence?


Our publisher finally got a copy of The Skeptic's Dictionary to James Randi and, kind gentleman that he is, he promptly advised the readers of his weekly column to buy the book! Thank you James! Speaking of the Amazing One: I have my registration form filled out and ready to send in for the Amazing Meeting II to be held in Las Vegas next January 15-18. Amazing Meeting I was fantastic and II looks to be bigger and better.


This Friday I'll be talking at the CSICOP conference on Hoaxes, Myths, & Manias in Albuquerque. All are welcome. Students with I.D. are charged just $79 for four days of talks. Check it out.


Simon James of Festival Radio is interested in producing a series of features based around entries in The Skeptic's Dictionary.  "These would be self-contained pieces no longer than 12 minutes in duration produced by Festival Productions." Festival Productions is an independent production company in the UK. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.


It was a bad week for the Bright movement. Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine and Chris Mooney of CSICOP (Doubt & About) posted rather negative articles on the idea of using the term 'Bright' (a noun) to replace such words as atheist, naturalist, skeptic, agnostic, secular humanist, and others similar terms. Mooney's title lets us know immediately what he think of the idea: Not Too "Bright". Shermer doesn't back off from his earlier stand in favor of the term, but he provides a lot of negative feedback from those who let him know what they think of the idea. His essay is called "The Big “Bright” Brouhaha - An Empirical Study on an Emerging Skeptical Movement."

Personally, I don't mind admitting I'm a Bright, but I feel much more comfortable being called a Skeptic. And I agree with those who think this one will not catch on simply because it is too natural to take the term to imply that believers are Dims. I tell my students, when they ask, that I'm an atheist. I also explain to them that I'm an agnostic in the sense that I don't believe rational proofs for or against the existence of God can ever resolve the issue, i.e., we can't know whether there is a Being beyond the apparent universe that is the cause of the universe being here and being like it is. I also tell them I don't see any reason for believing in such a Being and that I consider God to be an unnecessary hypothesis, along with souls and pixies. They don't seem to be too outraged at my confession but I think they might giggle a bit if I outed myself as a Bright.

By the way, Shermer's latest Scientific American column describes his involvement in the establishment of a Cable Science Network (CSN) that will broadcast science programs and science news 24/7/365. I might have to plug in my television again.


I received a very humorous letter from an admirer of The Skeptic's Dictionary who let a devout Catholic visitor to his household thumb through his copy of the book. The devout lad came to my definition of a theist, which is the only definition (I swear) that is tongue-in-cheek and semi-consciously mimics Ambrose Beirce's Devil's Dictionary. "A theist is someone who denies that God doesn't exist. Theism is the denial of atheism." After reading the definition, the devout Catholic described me with a vulgar expression for a part of the anatomy used for elimination. I love devout people. They make our job as atheists so much easier.


The pseudoscience of the week award  goes to the BBC and Professor Chris Idzikowski for their work in promoting the notion that there are six personality types and that the position one takes while sleeping is the key to determining what type you are. So, the enneagram folks are wrong and so are the Myers-Briggs folks. Unfortunately for me, I sleep in different positions depending on how bad the pain is in my knees (bursitis). I alternate among the positions called foetus, log, and soldier (for a graphic of these positions see the BBC article.) Thus, I have a very complicated personality: I'm sensitive and shy, quiet and reserved, but I'm also easygoing, sociable, and gullible. I'd say that's me in a nutshell.

You may be pleased to know that Prof. Idzikowski found that "one arm or leg sticking out of the duvet is Britain's most common position, followed by both feet poking out the end." I hope this is not the kind of science we are going to see on CSN. If it is, I'll leave the TV unplugged.

 Thanks to Jason Koskey for alerting us to this exciting new scientific development.


The Skeptiseum has a new URL ( and a new look. The new design is first-class, easy on the eye and easy to navigate. Very professional. Check it out. The Skeptiseum is a virtual museum of the paranormal and pseudoscientific hosted by CSICOP. Each item in the Skeptiseum galleries is represented in the real-world collection of  Joe Nickell, who has been an avid collector of paratrinkets for many years.

CSICOP's Young Skeptics program has been replaced by the Inquiring Minds program ( Check it out as well. It, too, has had a facelift and is very easy to navigate. It is now much clearer that the primary purpose of the program is to foster inquiry-based education, celebrating science and critical thinking. Concern with pseudoscience and the paranormal is not primary but is aimed at stimulating interest in science and scientific investigation.


Since the last newsletter, I posted another critical thinking mini-lesson and several letters from readers. See the updates page for details. Lately, I have been working on my talk for the CSICOP conference and on a revision and expansion of the entry on homeopathy, and some new entries on isopathy, nosodes, complex homeopathy, and anthroposophical medicine.


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