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Robert Todd Carroll

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Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Issue # 10

September 1, 2002

If you don't stand for anything, you don't stand for anything!
President George W. Bush

Subscribers 1,143

(Past issues posted at



      1)   Spam alert
      2)   New or revised entries
      3)   Responses to selected feedback
      4)   Books we're reading
      5)   News


 1) Spam alert

A reminder. I don't spam and I don't give out my mailing list to anyone. I do not use attachments. So, if you receive spam purporting to come from me, it didn't come from me.

Recently, I and several others who run skeptical Web sites were notified by an unhappy person that we had spammed him. We hadn't, but a malicious anti-skeptic has been spamming people with mail that appears to originate from either The Skeptic's Dictionary, The Skeptical Mind, The Skeptic Tank, Jim Lippard's Skeptical Information Links page, Astronomical Pseudo-science: A Skeptic's Resource List (from The Astronomical Society of the Pacific), Doug Weller's Archaeological/Skeptical Resources, Critiques of cult archaeology, Roman Britain links, or the World Wide Skeptical Web (a dead link). This list strikes me as rather odd. The subject line on the spam reads: "Truth about Planet X." I've never written anything true or false about Planet X. However, Phil Plaitt's Bad Astronomy page covers this hoax in detail. Yet, as far as I know, the spammer didn't claim to originate anything from Bad Astronomy.

The source of the list chosen by the spammer was most likely The Skeptical Mind, a site seemingly devoted to exposing the lunacy of conspiracy aficionados. (I must admit that I'd never heard of the site until now.) Along with CSICOP, the sites mentioned above are the only external links listed on that site.

Those on the CSICOP announcement list were spammed recently. The subject line read "1999 PBS Online and WGBH" and was infected with the Klez virus. There may be no connection between the CSICOP hoax and the rest of us, however. The anti-skeptic spammer pretending to be from CSICOP seems to have infected their list-serve and to have sent out the virus to everyone on the list. My virus checker caught and quarantined the virus and, as far as I know, my list has not been compromised. (In case you are wondering, I do not use Outlook.)

Whoever the anti-skeptic spammer is, he obviously has a bug in his bonnet about the non-existent planet X and the non-imminent dire catastrophes awaiting us in May 2003. He also sent his mail from and uses the name "". I have sent this information to Silvia Browne and several experts in remote viewing, but so far they have been unable to locate the spammer. Browne told me that she only gets messages from the truly dead, not the brain dead, so she couldn't help me find the spammer. The remote viewers, however, did have a "picture" of the person that was coming through to them from the other side. You may view the suspect here. If you spot someone resembling the suspect, please do not contact the FBI. I have already done that and they have assured me that an arrest is imminent.


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

Since the last newsletter I have


 3) Responses to selected feedback

One reader wrote to tell me that the new book I'm working on sounded like Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things. If it did, then I didn't explain myself very well. Shermer tried to explain why people believe weird things, and he provided evidence and arguments against those weird things. My interest in Reasons for Believing (working title) is not the psychology of belief. I plan to examine weird beliefs, as Shermer did, but I plan to examine both weird beliefs and skeptical arguments against them from a logical and epistemological perspective. In short, I'm not going to focus on things like wishful thinking or hope. I'll be noting fallacies and epistemological blunders, and examining the consequences of those fallacies and blunders. It would be pointless to try to duplicate Shermer's fine work and I don't plan to do that.


4) Books we're reading

I'm currently reading three books by people who are convinced that there is scientific evidence for reincarnation, the existence of God, channeling, life in other dimensions, and psychic phenomena. I can't recommend them, but for the record the books are: Old Souls - The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives by Tom Shroder, Body, Mind, Spirit - Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality (edited by Charles T. Tart, who also authored three of the thirteen articles), and The Conscious Universe - The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin. Shroder is a reporter who followed Ian Stevenson around for a year. Stevenson is a psychiatrist who gave up his post as head of the department at the University of Virginia medical school in favor of collecting scientific proof of reincarnation. A review of his 2,265-page tome, Reincarnation and Biology, appears in the most recent issue of Skeptic magazine (Vol. 9, No. 3). Leonard Angel's review is (shock of shocks!) not favorable. The cost of the book isn't favorable, either: $250. The reason many of you have not heard of Stevenson is that he doesn't write for the general public and he rarely does interviews. In my new book, I'll explain in detail why scientists don't pay any attention to him.

By the way, the latest issue of Skeptic also has a review of Gary E. Schwartz's book The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death. Marc Berard's review is not likely to stimulate a stampede at the remainder tables of bookstores, especially when readers discover that Schwartz claims that skeptics suffer from skeptomania, a neurosis caused by lack of love. Schwartz's work, along with that of Raymond Moody and other kindred spirits will be thoroughly examined in my new book.

The current issue of Skeptic has a feature story on the connection between religious belief and ufology, as well as many other worthwhile articles. I highly recommend subscribing and recommending it to your school or public libraries.

Many skeptics will find it difficult to take Radin seriously after they read the introduction to his book. He seriously distorts the ideas of Carl Sagan and Ray Hyman by quoting them out of context. Not a good start. The critical reader will have to wonder what else he has distorted. But we'll try to give it a fair hearing. The Tart book should prove interesting. I'm especially looking forward to reading Michael Grosso's essay, "The Parapsychology of God." The title alone is worth what I paid for the book ($3.49 used).


5) News

  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics has taken some heat for allowing "Jedi" to be ticked as one's religion in the 2001 census. According to a BBC story, 70,000 Australians claimed the Star War's cult as their religion. [thanks to Joe Littrell]

  • The Farmer's Almanac has been predicting the weather incorrectly for 186 years, but it still keeps publishing and people keep buying it. Tradition has it that the Alamanac is 80% accurate, but a recent study found that it is no better than chance in its predictions. [thanks to Joe Littrell and Hal Drellich]

  • John Edward plans to include more celebrities in next season's "Crossing Over" programs. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. [thanks to Joe Littrell and David Martin]

  • When the end of the world comes--and it will come soon according to Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins--the authors of the Left Behind series will have a lot of money that they won't be able to take with them. Their books about the end times being near, as prophesied in the Bible (a kind of Farmer's Almanac in its own right, some might say), continue to be bestsellers. [thanks to Joe Littrell]

  • If the world doesn't end, I'll be back with another issue in a couple of weeks. Cheers!