From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 9 No. 9
3 September 2010
"A lot of people will pooh-pooh what I do-do."--psychic Ian D Montfort, alter ego of comic Tom Binns
In this issue
A mosque at ground zero
Australia's school chaplains
Dumbest website ever
Scum of the minute
iPad, Kindle, & iPhone4
A dictionary entry for Patience Worth was added. She was the Sylvia Browne of the early 20th century. There are also new entries for the logical fallacies of affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent.
Several Skeptimedia posts were made: Dying to tell the truth (Christopher Hitchens speaks about deathbed conversions); Amazing! Electrifying! Stories (about a man in China and another in Serbia who claim to be able to take huge electric jolts without negative effect); and It's not psychokinesis (brain-wave toys hit the market).
There was one addition to What's the harm? Chechen Islam rears its ugly head.
Many files were updated. A complete list with links to the updates may be found at skepdic.com/updates.html.
Boy, did Shannan Stevers pick the wrong guy to send the following e-mail to:
I am writing to tell you of an online class our company is holding on September 19, 2010 about our PreVac Profiler software. PreVac is an experimental computer program designed to identify the potential negative reactions to immunizations and vaccinations through Vocal Analysis. If you or anyone from your organization is interested in attending the class please contact me at email@example.com for more information. We have to send invitations to the class so please respond ASAP. You can find out more about our company on www.guardiansofthepeople.com or www.soundhealthoptions.com or www.nutrasounds.com. We specialize in the emerging field of Human BioAcoustics and the founder and director of our company is Sharry Edwards, the pioneer in this particular field. This could be a useful tool in the fight against vaccinations. Please do consider. It is our goal to help whomever we can by getting this information out to them.
5151 Alton St.
Albany, OH 45710
The emerging field of Human BioAcoustics? I've never heard of this emerging field, so I did a little investigation. First, I checked out the Guardians of the People website and found that Sharry Edwards considers herself at war with "the American Health Care System." She thinks that "more than ever alternative health-care techniques are needed" and her BioAcoustics is just what the alternative doctor ordered. She presents her work as cutting edge stuff: computer software that can determine whether any negative outcomes can be expected from an immunization or a vaccine by analyzing your voice. In case you're thinking that she's just making this stuff up, think again. She's rediscovered some ancient wisdom:
Novel research supports the assertion that ancient Templar cross architecture contains math codes that support frequency-based medicine. The idea of revisiting lost knowledge through the use of computer constructed biometics [sic] provides a new paradigm that will change the face of future medicine.
It changed my facial expression just by reading about it.
Edwards has a master's degree in education, according to the Sound Health Research Institute, of which she is the "research director." These folks have their own journal, the Journal of BioAcoustic Biology and they have their own association for granting themselves awards. In 2005, The International Association of New Science (IANS - http://www.newsciences.org, a domain that is now for sale to any bidder) awarded its top honor to Sharry Edwards.
What has Edwards discovered in her role as research director of this exciting field of her own invention?
The frequencies and architectures found in the human voice can be used to identify the innate mathematical biomarkers that represent states of health and wellness. Intrinsic networks of biological signals, called biofrequencies, provide information and direction to produce and reproduce inherent form and function. Tapping into these self-healing biological pathways from brain to neuron to cell has long been a goal of scientific investigations as an approach to promote optimal health.
Edwards claims that her institution "tested and successfully used countervailing frequencies to quell the symptoms of Swine flu last fall. Now the Institute has been asked to attempt to do the same for the toxins released during the US Gulf Coast BP oil disaster." She doesn't mention who's asked her to save the day after the oil spill in the Gulf or where her flu work took place. These are minor details that only a skeptic would worry about.
If this nonsense sounds familiar, that's because it is. The noise Edwards is making about biofrequencies is an echo of Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924), the "dean of twentieth century charlatans."* This is not Knights Templar wisdom but early 20th century charlatanism. You can read all about it in The Skeptic's Dictionary entry for radionics.
If you doubt that Edwards is running a medical scam, then consider the disclaimer she posts on her website:
Disclaimer: Human BioAcoustics, as originated by Sharry Edwards, M. Ed., does not diagnose or prescribe for medical or psychological conditions nor does it claim to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure such conditions. HBA researchers do not provide diagnosis, care, treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles.
What is this woman offering, then? Training and an affiliate program. Where do I sign the petition to have her arrested?
If Muslims shouldn't build a mosque near ground zero, then Catholics shouldn't build a church near a playground. (via Richard Wiseman)
Australia, led by atheist prime minister Julia Gillard (at least for the time being), has allocated $437 million for school chaplains. School chaplains come from organizations such as Scripture Union, which sees them as a means by which they can make "God's Good News known to children [and] young people" so "they may come to personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and become committed church members." The chaplains are prohibited from counseling students. They're also banned from providing educational or medical services, as well as from proselytizing. So, what exactly are they supposed to do for their $20,000? Inquiring minds want to know.
The group of Christian conservatives (led by Andrew Schlafly) who run Conservapedia call their confabulations and rewriting of history, biology, and everything else under the sun, an alternative to "liberal" Wikipedia. Worse, they call their own set of fairy tales "the trustworthy encyclopedia." They swear to it on a stack of Bibles so it must be true. Their delusions are matched only by the paranormal evangelicals at Skeptical Investigations.
The Conservapedia folks have an entry for "Skepdic," where they chide me for not listing global warming and evolution as "junk science." To these puerile jabberwocks, vorpal swords in hand, theology is the queen of the sciences. Under the "contents" heading for their Skepdic entry, they note: "The website also contains articles attacking Biblical history such as Noah's Ark." The story of Noah is literal history to these choir boys.
I'm referred to as a "militant" atheist, whatever that is. If you click on "atheist" you find these neo-con confabulators writing: "Unlike Christianity, which is supported by a large body of sound evidence, atheism has no proof and evidence supporting its ideology." A man could crack a few ribs with falling-down laughter at the claims these clowns make. By proof and evidence I suppose they mean faith. They get very nasty--nasty as only a religious zealot can get. The nicest thing they say about atheism is that it is an ideology. It isn't an ideology, by any definition, but correct usage of terms is as irrelevant as getting the facts straight to these theocrats. The rest of their diatribe against atheism qualifies them for the Phil Plait certifiable-dick-of-the-year-award.
It would be impossible to identify the dumbest website ever, but in addition to Conservapedia I would put Saberpoint in the top ten. Saberpoint's motto is "riding roughshod over the asinine and idiotic" while "supporting the conservative cause and the tea party movement."
Jim Humble's Miracle Mineral is the thumbs down choice. Humble calls his concoction of sodium chlorite mixed with an acid such as citrus juice "the answer to AIDS, hepatitis A, B, and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancers, and many more of mankind's worse diseases..." Health Canada calls the elixir "a chemical used mainly as a textile bleaching agent and disinfectant." According to Quackwatch, the FDA says that Miracle Mineral, "when used as directed, produces an industrial bleach that can cause serious harm to health....The FDA has received several reports of health injuries from consumers using this product, including severe nausea, vomiting, and life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration." Other than that it's a swell product offered by a swell guy to all the sick people of the world.
[/update] Also a top choice: Jimmy Moore and his promotion of a phony cure for Alzheimer's disease. No matter what a likeable, chatty old woman says, a low-carb diet and phosphatidylserine won't reverse Alzheimer's disease. In fact, the bad news is that nothing that's been tried so far has any effect on preventing Alzheimer's disease. However, some research looks promising.
Follow-up on e-books, iPad, and Kindle (with a few choice words about the iPhone4)
In the last newsletter, I described reading books on my iPad and noted that I'd ordered a Kindle. Since then I've also purchased two iPhones, so I thought I'd provide a brief overview of the highs and lows of all this new e-gadgetry for those who are interested. For those who aren't, you might want to move on to some other activity at this point.
Things I love about the iPad: the reading is easy (good choice of fonts and font sizes, good backlighting), navigation is easy (just a slide of the fingertip to move from page to page or a tap to get to or away from a small menu at the top of the page). Two taps on a word brings up a 4-item menu. Selecting 'dictionary' immediately brings up a definition with an example of usage, plus information on derivatives and the origin of the word). One tap on the screen removes the dictionary window. Selecting 'highlight' does just what you'd think it would do. A single tap on a highlighted word brings up a menu that allows you to choose a color, write a note, or remove the highlight. If you want to highlight a passage, there will be small dots above and below the highlighted word, which you can drag up or down across the passage you want to mark. Selecting 'note' brings up a note window and keyboard. The keyboard is large enough to allow fairly fast finger pecking, but not large enough to allow rapid typing. (A single tap removes the notepad and keyboard.) The last item of the 4-item menu allows you to search your book, Google, or Wikipedia. My iPad does not have 3G, so I must be connected by Wi-Fi to utilize these last features. At the wireless cafe, I can read the online version of The Skeptic's Dictionary in crisp print on the iPad or the iPhone. With my iPhone4, I can read the online version of the SD anywhere I can get reception. I can read the online SD on the Kindle, but I wouldn't recommend it. If you want to read the SD on the Kindle, get the Kindle version of the book.
Things I dislike about the iPad: reading a Kindle book on the iPad removes most of the features just mentioned. You can still read the text and navigate rather easily, but that's about it. The size and weight of the iPad makes it a bad choice if you are looking primarily for an e-reader and have arthritis.
The iPad is more than an e-reader, of course. Prices start at about $500. The Kindle starts at $139 (for a 6" screen without 3G). Mine cost $189. The Kindle that I have is also more than an e-reader. It has wireless and 3G. Push the Home button and type a word or expression on the really tiny keyboard buttons, then use the tiny cursor pad to move through a succession of search choices (the book you're reading, Google, Wikipedia, or a dictionary). The dictionary is excellent, but the small screen and lack of color make viewing anything on the Internet a chore. (Reasonable viewing requires screen orientation and font size changes. For sites like The Skeptic's Dictionary, readable viewing also requires using the cursor pad to fit the middle cell of the webpage into the reading area of the small screen.) Despite the Internet capability of the Kindle, I wouldn't buy one expecting to use that feature. The Kindle is mainly for reading e-books.
Amazon allows you to download your Kindle book to four devices. I was about half-way through The Price of Altruism when my Kindle arrived. The instructions were simple. You are reminded immediately that even though you have a book on two devices, you don't have the book. Amazon has the book. It even knew exactly where I had stopped reading on the iPad and loaded on the Kindle directly to chapter 8. A big-brother-is-watching-me feeling is probably not unusual when you switch between devices and find that all your notes, highlights, etc. switch with you. I should note that while you can take notes and highlight text while reading on the Kindle, it is not as easy to do so as on the iPad.
Both the iPad and the Kindle download books extremely fast. The Kindle is very light and the high-contrast e-ink screen is easy to read. Navigating to the dictionary while reading is easy but annoying. You have to use the cursor pad to move a cursor up, down, right or left to the front of a word. The dictionary appears at the top of the screen and quickly shows the meaning of each word as you are scrolling to the item you want to look up. When I read Hitch-22 as an iBook on the iPad, I used the dictionary feature many times. While reading The Price of Altruism as a Kindle book on the Kindle, I haven't used the dictionary feature at all. The value of the dictionary depends on the book and the reader's vocabulary.
If you have strong hands and all you want to do is read books, the iPad is the better deal. However, it does cost at least $300 more and it is much larger and heavier than the Kindle. If you want to play games, find out where on Earth you are located, store and look at photos, play your iPod music or movies, check your mail, use the Internet, order from Netflix, and utilize any of the other iApps available, the choice is a no-brainer.
The nice thing about having both the iPad and an iPhone is that all the apps available for one are available for the other. A fellow named Jonathan Johnson created an app for TAM8 and for Dragon*Con. The look and the navigation for the IPad and iPhone are identical. You can even read The Skeptic's Dictionary on the small screen of the iPhone; the resolution is that good and the pinch feature makes it easy to center the text in a readable size. The iPhone4 also has a very nice camera, which the iPad doesn't have. The iPhone4 also has a feature that allows you to see the face of the person you are talking to if he or she also has an iPhone4. The camera aims front and back, so with the tap of a finger you can use it to show the person you're talking to where you are and what you're looking at. The only complaint I have about the iPhone4 is that it's not a very good phone. My house seems to have a lot of dead spots. If my phone is in the dining room, it might ring. If it is in the study, you'll get voice mail. If I do get lucky and complete a call, odds seem greater than 50/50 that both caller and receiver will sound as if they are under water. If both caller and receiver are in hot spots, the device works as any reasonable person would expect a mobile phone to work.
While driving, one phone may get a good signal, but the other won't get any signal. (This does make a difference if you are en route and have the hands-free set up for the phone that isn't getting a signal. In my Prius, I would have to stop the car to use the phone menu and change wireless connections.) I spent a lot of money for two iPhones, but I'm not sure the money was wisely spent. I do want to use the iPhone as a phone, but apparently it wasn't designed to be an excellent mobile phone. I think Apple is aware of this weakness and to appease those of us who are complaining about the phone quality of our phones Apple is giving us a free bumper or case (worth $30, it says). Even worse, I had to sign a two-year agreement to use AT&T. (I understand this requirement for buyers of the iPhone4 will be lifted soon.) Don't get me started about having to deal with AT&T....
Lest the reader get the wrong impression, let me say that I am glad I purchased the Kindle. (I'm not so sure about the iPhone4.) I am enjoying reading my first Kindle book. I really like the small size of the reader and I am getting used to the physical buttons for navigating pages. Do I prefer the fingertip swipe method of navigation? Yes. Would I like a smaller and lighter iPad? Yes. Would I buy one if it were a reader with G4 connectivity but lacked the capacity to play music, movies, games, etc.? Yes. As they are now configured, I don't think either device is ideal, but both are serviceable and enjoyable.
* AmeriCares *