From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 9 No. 12
26 November 2010
"Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so." --Bill Bryson
In this issue
Book review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.
Skeptimedia: Diets, Supplements, and Health: It's complicated: The scientific evidence is too complicated for a simplistic "commonsense" view that supplements can't hurt you and they might help.
Science Friday: Cats, Apps, and Occult Stats: A look at three recent works in science that use quite different methods of investigation, including the much-hyped article by Daryl Bem who claims to have found evidence for precognition.
reader comments: Daryl Bem's precognition study: One reader took issue with my review of Bem's work. I respond to his concerns and explain why I so dislike parapsychology.
Bigfoot: an astronomy teacher who says he does "hard science" tells me I'm wrong about Bigfoot. He saw one in the woods from his seat on a bus. Guess what I think.
revisions: blood type diet: D'Adamo's wrong about the chronology and ages of blood types and he's wrong about the development of agriculture, but his popularity increases.
affirming the consequent: I added some more examples in an attempt to clarify how this fallacy differs from the valid form of reasoning known as modus tollens.
biorhythms: All my references to this set of beliefs as a theory have been removed.
control group study: I've added more commentary on James Lind and others involved in the discovery of vitamin C, demonstrating that it may take many years to get from a controlled study that strongly supports a causal event to the point of understanding the causal mechanism.
Kirlian photography: In response to a reader's concerns about claims made by Russian "scientist" Konstantin Korotkov, a promoter of a bio-electrographic camera called Gas Discharge Visualization instrument, I've revised this page to include mention of Korotkov and a few other pseudoscientists who promote the medical diagnostic value of electrophotography.
Leonard Horowitz: In response to a reader's concerns about Horowitz's belief that the illuminati were behind the setting of 440Hz as the frequency of A above middle C on the 12-tone musical scale, I added a section on this paranoid conspiracy.
What's the harm? Exorcism kills again.
updates: Many files were updated. A complete list with links to the updates may be found at skepdic.com/updates.html.
Black Friday Recommendations
I have two kinds of recommendations to make. 1. If you are buying from Amazon.com, please consider going through one of the links on a Skeptic's Dictionary page. Any link to Amazon from one of the SD's pages will insure that we get a small sum for sending you to the Amazon site. These small sums add up and help pay for the maintenance and publication of this site.
2. Consider buying for yourself (or as a gift) one or more of the following books:
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. This is a wonderful book and includes important historical information about both scientific and alternative medicine, as well as detailed critiques of what the science says about acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, and herbal remedies. This book is available in Kindle, hardback, and paperback.
The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science that Made Our World by James Kakalios. I'm on chapter five of this amazing book that is destined to be a classic. Many readers will know Kakalios from his work on The Physics of Superheroes. The Amazing Story is available in Kindle, hardback, and audio. (Thanks to Swoopy of Skepticality for interviewing Kakalios and making me aware of his fine book.)
new Other books I've reviewed and recommend are listed at http://skepdic.com/refuge/randr.html. I especially recommend SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable by Bruce Hood (HarperCollins) and Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries by Benjamin Radford (Rhombus 2010).
For the kids, don't forget Daniel Loxton's
If you are in the market for a book reader, I recommend both the Kindle and the iPad. The iPad is much more expensive, but it's almost as versatile as a laptop. The Kindle is cheaper, smaller, and lighter. I love mine. My wife's an iPad hog, so we need both devices in our family.
Catholic bishops preparing for Satan
More than 50 bishops and 60 priests signed up for a conference in Baltimore on how to conduct exorcisms. Organizers cautioned that there is much skepticism about chasing Satan out of people's houses or bodies with incantations, holy water, and crucifixes. It's easy to perceive such behavior, they warned, as "magic or superstition." No kidding.
The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Catholics should get together. Some kind soul sent me a copy of a JW Watchtower via U.S. mail, accompanied by a note that said since I like critical thinking so much I'd probably enjoy reading the article within about how Satan is a deceiver. A very successful deceiver he is, as evidenced by all the wicked things going on. This master of deceit has even tricked some people into thinking that the Bible isn't the infallible word of god. Imagine that. How could anyone not recognize the clear divinity of this collection of books that has such wonderful advice?
In case you're wondering, signs of demonic possession accepted by the Roman Catholic Church include violent reaction to holy water or anything holy, speaking in a language the possessed person doesn't know, and abnormal displays of strength. Hmm. Others consider speaking in a language you don't know (xenoglossy) as a sign that the Holy Spirit has embraced you. Go figure.
For more information on exorcism and demonic possession from Satan's point of view, I suggest Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer's Exorcism and the Church Militant. He apparently is on a first name basis with Satan. According to Euteneuer, Harry Potter and the Twilight vampire books of Stephanie Meyer "glamorize the power of evil and this has led to many, many cases of possession among young people." Really? You'd think their parents would have noticed. Maybe they have; thus, the urgent call to train more exorcists.
Greta Christina's righteous
Greta Christina explains why she, as an atheist, is angry. If you're interested, check out her blog. I particularly liked the comments of one reader who identified herself as a Methodist.
"As a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church, I just want you to know that I appreciate your post. You have plenty of good reasons to be angry; everything you said is valid. If I could somehow speak for other Christians, I would apologize to you. I would abase myself and grovel. Nobody deserves that. Despite the force and legitimacy of your anger, you still chose your words carefully, so that your anger is directed like a laser beam, rather than a shotgun blast."
Steven Novella has put out a call for help in promoting The Skeptologists. You may be happy to know that the TV series a group of skeptics hopes to sell has changed the title of the program.
The working title of the show is now The Edge. And, rather than try to get a commercial TV executive to bite on the idea, the producers (Brian Dunning and Ryan Johnson) are trying to get a grant to produce a season for public television. It’s still an uphill battle, but they are making progress. Phil Plait has moved on with his Discovery Channel contract, including Phil Plait’s Bad Universe. So, Pamela Gay has stepped in to fill his role on the show.
Pamela is also helping with the grant – and she has asked for help. She needs to show that there is demand for the kind of content we aim to produce, and this is where you (potentially) come in: send an e-mail to Pamela Gay (email@example.com) with a letter addressed to her and Brian Dunning that says you would use the content in your class.
For more information, see the link above to Steven Novella's Skeptic Blog posting.
So many blogs, so little time
John Renish pointed me to Encyclopedia of American Loons. Check it out.
Scum of the minute
Heidi Diaz, promoter of the Kimkins diet and owner of the website http://www.kimkins.com/, claimed she lost 198 pounds in one year. The tabloid Women's World ran a story about her with before and after pictures. After the story ran, Diaz hauled in nearly $2,000,000 from subscriptions to her weight loss program. The story was phony, however. Diaz remains morbidly obese and the after photo was stolen from a Russian brides website. A class action suit was filed and a judge awarded the class members restitution of $1,824,210.39, an additional $50,000 in punitive damages, and attorney fees. The website was still up on 25 Nov 2010 with these before and after photos.
The judge ordered Diaz to acknowledge on her Web sites that she had lied about her weight loss, after-diet pictures, testimonials, and the photographs used with the testimonials. That was on October 15. Diaz gets my vote for the Kevin Trudeau award. That award goes to the person who commits a great fraud, gets caught and fined millions, but who continues to defy the law and attract more customers.
Giving Heidi Diaz a run for her money is Nancy du Tertre, an attorney who calls herself "The Skeptical PsychicTM." Yes, she's even got a trademark for her clever moniker. She has a book out that explains her "new approach to psychic ability that combines intuitive imaging with rational feedback." In addition to doing private readings, running workshops, and making personal appearances, she also offers free remote viewing to law enforcement agencies.
Brian S. Peskin was just barely edged out by Diaz and du Tertre. Peskin has a book that proclaims on its cover: "Find Out Why Cancer has Physicians on the Run and How a Simple Plan Based on New Science Can Prevent It." Can you imagine? There have been complaints in England that this claim is misleading and unsubstantiated Guess what? In 2003, a Texas District Court issued an injunction ordering Peskin and a company he ran to pay $100,000 to the State of Texas and to refrain from (a) making a long list of unsubstantiated claims about their Radiant Health Products and Peskin's credentials and (b) distributing or referring to Peskin's book "Radiant Health-Moving Beyond the Zone" in connection with marketing his products: Herbal Essence, Mineral Essence, and/or Basic Essence. Quackwatch has the story.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to Natural News for its promotion of suburban myth#22, that Randolph Byrd's 1988 study on healing prayer actually showed that healing prayer is effective. The study showed no such thing. I don't think the folks at Natural News care one way or the other whether what they print is true. Their pages seem to exist solely for the purpose of luring people into reading their ads for cancer cures, wrinkle removal, and longevity shampoos.
Until next year.....
* AmeriCares *