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The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 10 No. 12
21 December 2011
"The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species." --Christopher Hitchens
In this issue
A New Book and a New Blog
My eBook Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! has been published by the James Randi Educational Foundation (ASIN: B006ONRGT0). You don't need an eReader to enjoy the Kindle book. Free apps available from Amazon will let you read a Kindle book on your Mac, iPad, Windows PC, iPhone, Android, Windows phone 7, or Blackberry. The JREF has published the eBook for the Kindle (available from Amazon), the Nook (available from Barnes and Noble) and the iPad (available from iTunes). The price is $9.99.
I am proud to become a partner with the JREF. Purchasing Unnatural Acts benefits both The Skeptic's Dictionary website and the JREF.
For more information about Unnatural Acts, click here.
Chapter one, "Believing in the Palpably Not True," is available free online.
In conjunction with the publication of Unnatural Acts I am starting a new blog called "Unnatural Acts" as a follow-up to a recommendation I make in the last chapter of the book. Even if you don't read the book, I hope you'll follow the blog as I work my way through 59+ cognitive, perceptual, and affective biases, illusions, and fallacies.
In Memoriam Christopher Hitchens.
New Dictionary entries on Phillip Day (self-promoter of natural cancer cures), Jon Barron (promoter of detox and nutritional cancer cures), and Bradley Nelson (chiropractor offering multi-dimensional delusions as truths from "upstairs").
New Skeptimedia post: Deception on the Burzynski Clinic website? Stanislaw Burzynski and the Burzynski Clinic, which has been doing phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials on an experimental cancer treatment, are under fire.
New reader comments: EFT (a wise guy tells a tale), electrohypersensitivity (personal experience trumps the science....as usual), Q-Ray bracelet (Liz defends junk science, sort of), and alternative health practices (the drive to find a causal narrative exemplified).
New suburban myth: #102 synchronized menstrual cycles
autism: It is because Autism Speaks has been pushing the vaccine/autism link—despite the overwhelming evidence of there being no causal connection—that Alison Singer gave up her $187,000/yr job as the organization's communication director. Singer went on to found her own organization, the Autism Science Foundation (ASF), which Scientific American describes as "a tiny New York-based charity with a relentless focus on rigorous science, a niche supporting the youngest researchers and a guiding principle that 'vaccines save lives; they do not cause autism."
Bigfoot: The Patterson Gimlin Film Hoax PROVEN "I'm claiming that during the footage of Patterson casting a track there should be an impression visible past the one he is casting. There is not. During the footage showing 4 impressions there is now a footprint present past the one Patterson was casting previously. The ground in the footage of Patterson making the cast shows flat mud and no impression. (no following track present!) I'm also identifying the two scenes as one in the same location and impression. (the right impression being cast, is the same right footprint cast Patterson represents coming from the film subject)."
chiropractic: The Cochrane Collaboration says "there is currently no evidence to support or refute the claim that combined chiropractic interventions provide a clinically meaningful advantage over other treatments for pain or disability in people with low-back pain."
climate change deniers: CO2 sensitivity possibly less than most extreme projections "A new study in the journal Science suggests that the global climate may be less sensitive to carbon dioxide fluctuations than predicted by the most extreme projections, and may be slightly less than the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
doomsday prophecies: Chris Nelson has created a Brief History of the Apocalypse, a listing of many, many failed doomsday prophecies.
false memory: Lisa Nasseff claims therapist Mark Schwartz brainwashed her A woman is suing a St. Louis therapist, claiming he hypnotized her into falsely believing she had been a part of a satanic cult, had multiple personalities, and had taken part in satanic rituals.
fluoridation: The Campaign for Dental Health, a network of organizations, scientists, and health professionals, has begun its educational efforts to promote fluoridation. Check out http://www.ilikemyteeth.org/
integrated medicine: Kimball Atwood takes on the myth of "patient-centered care."
multi-level marketing: Taylor J. M. 2011. The Case for and against Multilevel Marketing: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Countering the Effects of Endless Chain Selling and Product-based Pyramid Schemes. Consumer Awareness Institute.
NCCAM: Culling Non-Science From Scarce Medical Resources by Eugenie V. Mielczarek and Brian Engle NCCAM has awarded $1.3 billion from 2000-2011. So far there have been no discoveries that would justify this waste of money.
neuro-linguistic programming: Neurologica (Dr. Steven Novella) - Neurolinguistic Programming and other Nonsense "...the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behavior and emotions can be 'programmed' by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk."
Power Balance: Power Balance files for bankruptcy after retracting health claims The company suffered a net loss of more than $9 million in the 10 months ending in October 2011 after earning a $11.7 million profit last year. Power Balance claimed that its bracelets contain hologram technology adopted from Eastern philosophies that improve and enhance people’s lives. Advertisements claimed that the wristbands improved balance, strength, and flexibility--claims for which there is no credible scientific basis.
Power Balance likely to bow out as Sacramento Kings arena sponsor Power Balance's business is scheduled to be auctioned off. Hanyang LLC is in line to buy Power Balance. The majority owner of Hanyang is married to a woman who owns the Hong Kong firm that supplies Power Balance with its wristbands.
supplements - antioxidants: Antioxidants and Exercise: More Harm Than Good? "The evidence is inconsistent and generally unimpressive when it comes to the effects of antioxidant supplements on exercise. So we’re challenged to make decisions based on incomplete information. In light of what we know about antioxidants and exercise, the trend in the data is strongly suggestive of zero benefit, at best, with the real possibility that there may be negative consequences to supplementation. Overlay the epidemiological evidence that looks at mortality, cancer, and other outcomes, and the attractiveness of antioxidant supplements drops even further."
Antioxidants? It’s a Bit More Complicated by Harriet Hall, M.D. (a.k.a. the SkepDoc) "Study after study has shown no benefit of antioxidants for heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or longevity. One study did show that an antioxidant combination slowed the progression of established moderate-to-severe macular degeneration, but more research is needed to confirm those results."
supplements - fiber:High Dietary Fiber Intake May Not Reduce The Risk Of Colon Cancer "The largest study examining the association between the incidence of colon cancer and dietary fiber consumption was published (New England Journal of Medicine 1999; 340:169-76). The authors report that they found no such correlation in a study of 89,000 US nurses. This finding suggests that the hypothesis that dietary fiber prevents colon cancer is false or, at least, that the effect of fiber is too insignificant to be discerned. Moreover, there was no association between fiber intake and the development of colon polyps, which are believed to be precursors of colon cancer.
....a recently-published, scientifically strong study (New England Journal of Medicine 1999;340:101-7) demonstrated that calcium supplements prevent the formation of colon polyps, which are believed to be the precursors of colon cancer.....
Finally, in view of the other demonstrated benefits of higher fiber diets with respect to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and colonic diverticular disease (diverticulosis), higher dietary intakes of fiber can continue to be recommended. If fiber also helps prevent colon cancer, all the better."
vibrational therapy: ....there is a treatment being offered for osteoporosis called whole-body vibration therapy based on some experiments with astronauts and a few rodents. Before submitting to this therapy, which has not been scientifically tested on humans in a randomized controlled study, read this article.
Andrew Wakefield: More evidence of Wakefield's incompetence or fraud. Commentary: We came to an overwhelming and uniform opinion that these reports do not show colitis. There are no grounds to believe that any new inflammatory bowel disease was discovered by Wakefield et al.
American Religious Identification Survey
The latest American Religious Identification Survey (for 2008) reports that 15% check the box "no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic." Christianity is down 10% from 1990 to 76%. 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist or agnostic, and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God). Researchers used random-digit-dialed telephone interviews and the open-ended key question “What is your religion, if any?” 54,461 respondents were questioned in English or Spanish.
Religion and Atheism
Philosopher Julian Baggini has resurrected the idea that there might be a rational religion or at least a core set of notions that religious defenders might accept. John Toland has a similar idea in 1696 with Christianity Not Mysterious: A Treatise Shewing, That there is nothing in the Gospel Contrary to Reason, Nor Above It: And that no Christian Doctrine can be properly called A Mystery. John Locke, also writing in the late 17th century wrote several treatises with "the reasonableness of Christianity" in their titles. Later, Immanuel Kant wrote about "Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone." And, of course, the idea of "natural theology"--the idea that reason alone can grasp many divine things--has been around for many centuries. Baggini's variation on this theme is to challenge religious critics of the so-called New Atheists. These critics seem to think that atheists attack straw men and caricatures of religion. Atheists, these critics say, attack views that are "crude and simplistic." Finding anyone willing to accept Baggini's four "articles of 21st-century faith" has proved harder than getting a camel through the Eye of the Needle.
Baggini's effort at dialogue between atheists and theists began with a little piece in the Guardian called To debate religion, we must first find out what people believe. Getting no takers, says Baggini, means "admitting many of the things that are claimed of religion by 'crude and simplistic' new atheist critics." That is a nice way of saying that the New Atheists are right in calling out the crude and simplistic beliefs held by religions and religious people. In his latest article on the subject, Baggini asks Is common ground between atheism and belief possible? For now, he seems to have given up hope that there is any common ground that centers on beliefs. It's possible, he thinks, that there might be some common ground between atheism and religion that centers around "commitment to certain values around enquiry and coexistence." If the history of religion is any indication, I'd say the chances of that happening are about as good as the coming of the Messiah.
A View from the Outside
"Medieval scholars quipped Ubi tres physici, ibi duo athei (Where there are three physicians, there are two atheists), but from ancient Rome’s adoption of Christianity until fairly recent times expressing such doubts was dangerous."--Colin Brewer, BMJ, 30 November 2011
Skeptical Blog Anthology
The 2011 Skeptical Blog Anthology, edited by Kylie Sturgess for the Young Australian Skeptics is now available.
"This book is a collection of reader-nominated blog posts, representing the best of a new wave of online skepticism. Collected over a year, it features a plethora of posts on topics ranging from the vaccination debate, paranormal claims, the ongoing creep of creationism into politics and education, conspiracy theories, homeopathy, outreach, all kinds of alternative medicine and even attempts to tackle the question “What is skepticism?” The Skeptical Blog anthology features essays by: Dr Phillip Plait, Barbara Drescher, Dr Karen Stollznow, Sharon Hill, Dr Petra Boynton, Brian Thompson, Yau-Man Chan, Dr Chris French, Jack Scanlan, Laurie Tarr, Dr Amy Tuteur, Daniel Loxton, Jake Dickerman, Lisa Bauer, Desiree Schell, Michael Marshall, Andy Lewis, the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’s Evan Bernstein, Robert T Carroll and many others."
New Science Podcast and Website
The Inconvenient Truth: Exploring the facts that influence the fictions has been set up by Guy McCardle, an American science writer and skeptic. He is a certified Infection Prevention Specialist and served as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. Guy provides clear and accurate information on vaccinations, among other topics of public interest.
SkeptiCal-2012, the Northern California science and skepticism conference, will be held Saturday, April 21, at the Berkeley Doubletree Hotel.