Thursday, April 28, 2005

Skeptics' Circle #7

Flowers from Kansas
It's that time again, a time when we put on our thinking caps and ask the hard questions.

Why should that be true? Does it make sense? Do extraordinary claims offer extraordinary proof? And, most importantly, what are the bloggers saying?

Well, here we go. Some authors were good enough to give me blurbs. While I may have edited them a little, I want to thank them for the help, and take responsibility for any errors in them.

One thing you realize in trying to categorize these links into useful categories is that the line between quackery and pseudoscience is very thin. Are psychics pseudoscientists or quacks? What about astrologers? What about astrologists?


Tom of the Two Percent Company says that Only God Can Prove a Negative, and There Is No God. The Company observes that, as skeptics, when we debunk the claims of various purveyors of bullshit, we often hear the comment that what we've done is all wrong, and that we instead should have "disproved" the claim in question. Most recently, they heard this complaint in regard to posts about Allison DuBois' from a reader who suggested that they should have disproved Allison's powers instead of debunking her claims. They outline why this all-too-common request is impossible, for Allison's claims and for paranormal claims in general.

Orac of Respectful Insolence discusses his own special powers by showing How not to win friends and influence your enemies. At a meeting of cancer researchers, he was asked for his opinion on a quack. Calling a quack a quack may not make friends, but it may save lives.

Skeptico calls wheatgrass madness Wheatgrass Madness. Many people swear by it, even claiming to get a high and more energy. Since you can't digest the stuff unless you're a cow, those anecdotes are pretty hard to accept.

Ampersand of Alas (a blog) has trouble accepting Why Men's Rights Activists Prefer Data from before 1990. Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) often claim that wives murder husbands about as often as husbands murder wives, but they back up this claim with one study, from a government study of intimate murders in 33 urban counties in 1988. Ampersand was skeptical about that, and explains why the MRA claims of "equal victimhood for men" are not true, and why they've chosen to focus on that particular data set and others like it.

PZ Myers subjects an astrologerist to some equal victimhood. If Dr. Myers is to be believed, changing the orbit of a comet won't actually change all of our fates. The astrologist may not recover damages.


I nominated Chad Orzel's post at Uncertain Principles on bad science in Childrens' Ministry publications. "[T]heir version of the egg-in-the-bottle trick (which is meant to show that with God, nothing is impossible), … includes the explicit instruction to ask the child "Why do you think that happened?" and then doesn't provide the answer."

Danny Boy examines Saint Malachy, the Pope, and prophecy fulfillment, which also don't provide clear answers. Saint Malachy offered a prophecy of the popes to come, which was lost and rediscovered. "Regarding our present pontiff, Ratzi, the latin verse says Gloria olivæ (The glory of the olive). The problem here is that this doesn't say anything at all. Does this mean that the current pope likes olives? Or will he beatify Olive Oyl?" You'll just have to read it to get the answer.

Orac notes the appearance of the Virgin Mary in salt stains under a bridge in Chicago. Oddly enough, he doesn't buy it.


St. Nate, founder of the Circle, writes about The Conrad Phenomenon, a strange incident noted in the field of acquired linguistics that has became accepted as a fact, despite the fact that it is based on purely speculative evidence. The phenomenon: Josef Conrad (Ms. TfK's favorite author) wrote poetic English, but spoke English (his third language) with a thick accent. It's National Poetry Month, so this is particularly relevant.

Sen "The Walloper" Marcellus offers A response to Howard Hayden, in which a student organization hosts a presentation, also based on speculative evidence, on renewable energy at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. Hayden, a professor emeritus from the U. of Connecticutt, Storrs, and apparently a shill for Big Energy, spent time making fun of environmentalists and making a hash of the science.

Brian O'Connor passed on a series of articles showing Dr. Jerry Vlasak (pt. 1), an animal rights activist (pt. 2) who advocated "making a hash" (pt. 3) of researchers who use animals. I'm fascinated by people who think that it's OK to kill people to protect life, especially non-human life.

PZ Myers of Pharyngula spares the life of a creationist on the Star Tribune's Op-Ed pages. Dr. M. was lucky enough to have his own Op-Ed run next to the creationist, and you should click through and read around the site for more.

I have a piece showing that, even after death, You can't win. I pick apart some creationist claims, and show how language meant to shield you from having your language misappropriated can still be appropriated against you. People who like that sort of thing might also enjoy a little time Down in the Quotemine, sparring with Dembski.

DarkSyd sets his sights a bit higher, checking out Super Novae, Creationism, and the Fate of the Cosmos, at Unscrewing the Inscrutable. He takes down Young Earth Creationism by exploring astrophysics.

Skeptico gave in to peer pressure and watched "What the ____ Do We Know?". As he expected, it took quantum physics down some strange paths. But, how can you argue with a 35,000 year old warrior spirit from Atlantis? The Amazing Randi called this review an "excellent analysis," but you'll just have to judge for yourself.


TTN of Threading the Needle points out that Expertise Matters. In particular, bloggers should be cautious, even skeptical, about using data care of Google without having the expertise to back that up. I'm sure we're all guilty of using Google to make our posts sound smart, we should take this to heart.

lambic from Be Lambic or Green uses his expertise at critical thinking to defend Critical Thinking. Is critical thinking the same as closed-mindedness? No, and I hope that a few of our posts this week show just how useful critical thinking can be.

That's it. That's the blogosphere's best skepticism from the last couple weeks. Don't forget to tip your waitresses.

According to the Skeptics' Circle homepage, the 8th Skeptics' Circle will be at Pharyngula. Go crazy.

I Should Have Known Better” by The Beatles from the album A Hard Day's Night (1964, 2:44).

Special update: A submission got lost somewhere along the line. Erin of Polite Company offers
this tour through the psychics (and part 2), touching on the Amazing Randi, hero to all.