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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes)Newsletter 30

September 2, 2003

"When teaching evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."

In this issue: The two Skeptic's Dictionaries; a list of entries not found in the Wiley book; our first review; a list of changes in the web sites since the last newsletter; responses to selected feedback on apple cider vinegar, multi-level marketing, astrology, homeopathy, applied kinesiology, and alternative knowledge about a starchild skull; and some news: a new web site devoted to Marcello Truzzi, some stats on how many of us believe in such things as the Virgin birth of Jesus, an interview I did with a Brazilian journalist, the Skeptic News and Skeptics Newssearch, Amazing Meeting II, CSICOP conference on Hoaxes, Myths and Manias, The Skeptic's Toolbox, my Borders fiasco, the Bible bookmark and library programs, and politics for skeptics.

1) Skeptic's Dictionary, the book

I hope none of you have been confused by the fact that there is a toastmaster's book by Robert Simmons called The Skeptic's Dictionary. It has a little devil head on the cover and is full of witty definitions like this one: Primal Scream (n) The sound a man makes when his zipper catches.

My Skeptic's Dictionary has a subtitle and a picture of Ray Wallace on the cover (holding his uncle's Bigfoot shoes). It is said to have many little devils between the covers and is published by John Wiley & Sons. I selected Wiley because it has a stellar reputation as a publisher of science books. But I was especially attracted to Wiley's desire to produce an affordable paperback. We contracted for a book of 320 pages. The hope was to get out a book we could sell for about $15. The book ended up being 446 pages, or 40% longer than expected, but Wiley still managed to keep the price below $20. However, that's deceiving. Originally, the book was to have a smaller trim size and be single column. By going to two columns and a larger trim size, my editor Jeff Golick was able to squeeze about 600 pages into the current 446. So, the finished product is about twice the size I contracted for. Even so, I cut about 100,000 words from the web site version, which runs about 350,000 words. Much of this reduction involved removing redundant material and tightening up the prose. However, thirty-eight web site entries were not published in the book.

  • The James Van Praagh entry was eliminated because I was able to incorporate the essentials of the Van Praagh entry in the entry on mediums.

  • The papryomancy and scapulamancy entries were incorporated in the divination entry.

  • The Amway and multi-level marketing harassment entries were incorporated in the multi-level marketing entry.

  • Several philosophical entries were eliminated, either because they were redundant or too difficult to reduce to a reasonable length: the appeal to authority, cosmology, determinism, the divine fallacy, empiricism, free will, the gambler's fallacy, logical positivism, Baron d'Holbach, materialism, mind, ontology, pantheism, paradigm and paradigm shift, philosophical skepticism, and transubstantiation.

  • Some were eliminated because they were redundant or I didn't think they fit with the tone, quality, or style of the other entries: abracadabra, cabala,  codependency, Inset Fuel Stabilizer, IQ & Race, the New Millennium, moment of silence, multi-frequency detectors, occult statistics, Psi-Tronics Super-Sensor Dowsing Rod, psychology, Quadro Tracker, Catalina Rivas, Slick 50 & other oil additives, substance abuse treatment, and the swastika.

After I submitted the manuscript to the publisher I added six more entries to the web site. These are not in the book: animism, Brights, gods, instrumental transcommunication, orbs, and shamanism. A new entry on cognitive dissonance is in the works and will be posted soon.

Those web entries with the copyright date of 2003 in black have been revised to match the print version. There are only a few such entries so far. However, those with an r after the copyright date have been revised after publication of the Wiley book.

So far as I know the only newspaper to review the book has been the Savannah Morning News. There are seven reviews posted on Amazon. I've found that Amazon Canada seems to post reviews before and keeps a more accurate tally of how many reviews there are. To post a review, go to this page and click on Write a review.

I have no idea how sales are going. I get my first report from Wiley at the end of October. I do know that within a day of my sending out an announcement that the book was available the Amazon ranking went from 56,142 to 224. Of course, it could be coincidence.

When you find errors in the book, let me know. I'll at least correct the web site version and should there be a second printing, I'll make corrections in the Wiley text as well.


 2) Changes in The Skeptic's Dictionary or Skeptic's Refuge

Since the last newsletter I have

  • revised the multiple personality disorder entry;

  • revised and updated the prayer entry;

  • revised the paraskevidekatriaphobia entry;

  • revised the astrology entry and posted some comments on a news article about a new study by Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly called "Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?" (the article appeared in the Journal of Consciousness Studies );

  • added a critical thinking mini-lesson on replication (the mini-lessons will now be posted separately instead of being part of the newsletter);

  • revised the Course in Miracles entry;

  • updated the Randi Paranormal Challenge page to include a link to a radio interview Randi did with Paul Harris;

  • updated the shark cartilage page to include a link to an article about the National Cancer Institute's funding of a study of the ability of shark cartilage to hinder the growth of blood vessels feeding cancerous tumors in late-stage lung cancer patients; (For more on the current status of research and funding of such studies see the current issue [Sept/Oct] of the Skeptical Inquirer, "The Ongoing Problem with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine," by Kimball C. Atwood IV, M.D.)

  • posted some comments on killing children by prayer, naturopathy, and conventional medicine;

  • updated the exorcism entry to include a link to an article about mutilation killings of children in Brazil;

  • posted an announcement that Ira Flatow's radio interview with Michael Shermer and Stuart Vyse on science and pseudoscience is available on-line.


 3) Responses to selected feedback

Several grammarians reminded me that to whomever should be to whoever. Thanks. (Don't blame John for that one. I put it in after he had proofed the newsletter.)


Pablo Zadunaisky of Bolivia writes:

About changing highway 666 to 491: Jesus claims somewhere in the bible that men should forgive not seven but seventy times seven the sins of men. 70x7=490. Therefore, 491 is the highway of the unforgivable sins... I'd rather have it named highway 61


Bill Jirles wrote to suggest I respond to the Amazon reviewer who criticizes The Skeptic's Dictionary for being superficial because it has no love in it, not even an entry on the topic.

I thought you might consider responding to this person in your newsletter in a generalized fashion. I've heard this fallacy used before and it was even used in the movie "Contact" w/Jodi Foster when she confronts Matthew McConaughy about proving god's existence - and MM responds by saying something to the effect of, "you loved your father?" she respond affirmatively, and he says, "prove it."

So this issue of emotions, particularly love, being unprovable but actually existing has become somewhat of a bastion for many folks who believe in god. Seems to me that an emotion involves some action and if this action is not present then it is likely that the emotion is also non-existent. But this isn't a good argument as emotions can be present even if the person does not act on them and an action could be faked indicating an emotion but the true emotion not being present. A person who is being disingenuous and saying they love someone, even acting like they love them, could in fact not have any of the emotions a person would consider love.

I suppose that the issue of emotions and provability is similar to proving that a person has "good" in them or "bad" in them. It can only be proved by the outward expressions of such intangible qualities and over a duration of which would provide a clear understanding of one or the other (of course separating opposites like good or bad into categories is likely unworkable but is only given as an example for clarity). Anyway, I thought you might consider looking at the comments readers have left for you on Amazon and discuss them accordingly. Also, I'm surprised that on Amazon there isn't a page that shows the contents and index. That's something that might be of additional benefit to the potential buyer.

I think Bill  has said all that needs to be said on this subject so I won't add anything. As to showing the subject indexes on Amazon: I think it's a great idea. I'll see if it can be done.


Pat wrote: "I would like to know the truth about the claimed health benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar [ACV] and honey tonics." I always turn to Quackwatch for information on questionable medical practices and I suggest everybody else do the same.

A recent issue of Dr. Stephen Barrett's Consumer Health Digest just happened to have a way to find the answer:

Three apple cider vinegar marketers warned to curb claims. The FDA has warned three Internet marketers of apple cider vinegar tablets to stop making claims that their products are effective against various diseases:

  • HCC DemoMarketing, LLC, of Germantown, Tennessee, was told to stop suggesting that its products are useful for arthritis, osteoperosis [sic], and sore throats.
  • Apple-Cider-Vinegar-Diet-Pills.Com, of Dayton, Ohio, was warned to stop claiming that their pills can relieve arthritis pain, fight infection, fight osteoporosis, control cholesterol, help people with high blood pressure, and relieves sore throats, laryngitis, and nasal congestion.
  • Sharon L. Bush, of Birmingham, Alabama, was warned to stop suggesting that her pills are useful against arthritis, prostate problems, multiple sclerosis, and high cholesterol levels.

ACV tabs are also part of the lucrative diet-pill scam business. See "Vinegar and Weight Loss: The Sour Truth Will vinegar pills help me lose weight?" by Elizabeth Somer, MA,RD. The Nutrition Forum (Vol 14 No. 6 November/ December 1997) contained the essay "The Sour Truth about Apple Cider Vinegar" by Beth Fontenot, MS, RD.


Jay wrote to complain about his doctor who has a sales office in his examination room.

A quick missive to THANK you for exposing the despicable, coercive tactics of MLM [multi-level marketing] recruiters. One of the worst I have encountered in recent years is a physician I visited who had all sorts of vitamins, supplements and magnetic therapy (!) products prominently displayed in his office. As he was poking away at my foot with all manner of sharp instruments, he began to pitch me on these products, especially a magical magnetic mattress cover that sold for THOUSANDS of dollars! How totally unethical! And how much of an argument am I going to give the guy who's holding the scalpel? I think MLMs ARE a cult!

I have no idea why Jay thinks this guy is involved in an MLM. Trying to sell you something is one thing; trying to recruit you to sell the product is another. Both would be unethical, in my view, for a doctor to do out of the examination room.


An anonymous reader wants everybody to know about Jack Rudy's infotainment site called The Institute of Celestial Sciences where you can go to change your astrological sign should you be unhappy with the one you were born with.


Mark Werner wrote to inform me of an airing of Randi's test of homeopathy that took place some time ago in England. The show is called "The Million Dollar Molecule" and it was on TechTV. I'd never heard of TechTV but it sounds like my cable company, which provides me with at least 100 channels of worthless stuff like the Wisdom channel, ought to get it on board. (I must admit, however, that I watch so little TV that I may get this channel and have just never found it among the hundreds of offerings made to me.)


For several months now I have intended to do some serious investigation of a Dr. David R. Hawkins, who refers to himself on his web site as "a nationally renowned psychiatrist, physician, researcher and lecturer." He publishes his own books from an outfit he calls Veritas Publishing. His degree is from Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited diploma mill that was shut down by a judge. He co-authored a book with Nobel laureate Linus Pauling called Orthomolecular Psychiatry.  I became interested in Hawkins when a reader of The Skeptic's Dictionary (who has asked to be anonymous) informed me of Hawkin's claim that he can tell the truth of any statement by using applied kinesiology. He teaches this stuff in books and seminars where he touts himself as an internationally renowned author and psychiatrist. He sounds to me like a classic case of self-deception and delusion, but he says he has been endorsed by the likes of Mother Teresa, Leo Iococca, and Sam Walton. As soon as I think I will have time to investigate Dr. Hawkins further, another reader will tip me off about another character who is equally worthy of investigation.

For example, John Nielson informed me of a follower of  Zecharia Sitchin named Lloyd Pye, who calls himself "an author, researcher, and lecturer in the field of alternative knowledge." John is concerned that Pye is "running around giving lectures to wide-eyed New Agers about alien-human origins" while toting a skull he claims is that of a star child. The skull in question was first shown to Pye by a couple in west Texas in 1999. He thinks it looks like it belonged to a "grey" alien.

Pye is the author of a book that gives his alternative version of human origins called Everything You Know is Wrong, which is probably true in Pye's case. However, unlike Hawkins, Pye has a degree from a real university, a B.S. in psychology from Tulane where he went on a football scholarship. John wrote me that Pye "won't allow scientists to examine the skull he totes around." This is a bit misleading. Pye has already had the skull tested by two geneticists. They found, via mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), that the mother of the skull was human. Pye has put the skull away for the time being, he says, until the science catches up and it is possible to extract a good specimen of nuclear DNA. Fair play to him.

Apparently, when Pye was about 30 he became convinced that there are "four basic types of hominoids (Bigfoot/Sasquatch, The Abominable Snowman/Yeti, and two other types Westerners know next to nothing about: Almas and Agogwes)." Since he couldn't fit the skulls of our pre-hominid ancestors into this schema, he concluded not that his schema was probably wrong but that the skulls of our pre-hominid ancestors were not really those of our ancestors. On the postive side, one can say that Pye offers an alternative to those who don't believe in either creationism (intelligent design) or evolution.


I got a nice offer from "Ben" who claims to be in  Sales/Marketing Psychic Revenue. He said he was interested in buying ad space on my site. Since Ben markets psychic revenue, I didn't reply. He should be able to read my mind on this one.


4) News

George Hansen has written to inform me that he has set up a web site in honor of Marcello Truzzi, who died earlier this year. Truzzi was one of the founders of CSICOP but left in the very early going due to a fundamental disagreement over what skepticism is. Marcello sent me several e-mails over the years and was always very cordial, even though, as I put it, he was a Pyrrhonian and I am an Academic skeptic. My entries on the blue sense and psychic detectives were inspired by a book by Truzzi and David Lyons.


This is old news but I find it fascinating. In 1998, a nationwide Harris poll found that 83% of all Americans believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus. An amazing 47% of non-Christians also believe in the Virgin birth. In 1997, a Gallup poll found that 49% of Americans believe that life is governed by a process of evolution over vast periods of time. Only 10% of us believe God had nothing to do with it. 44 percent of Americans agree with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

I dug up these old gems because my wife sent me to an article by New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wherein the author bemoans the growing mysticism and anti-intellectualism of Christianity, comparing it to what has happed to Islam over the past several hundred years. Kristof claims that a Gallup poll found that only 28% of Americans believe in evolution, but I found several articles on Gallup polls and they all agreed with the 49% figure.


If you read Portuguese, you might enjoy my interview with Nemo Nox of Brazil. Click here for the English version.


The Skeptic News has shut down but Wally Hartshorn promises to return with "recharged batteries." Joe Littrell's SkepticNewssearch shut down some time ago but has recently been turned on again. I rely heavily on the latter for a quick look at the zany things happening around the world. I'm sure constructing it is very time consuming and the rewards few and far between. I bring this up to remind you that your e-mails with links to weird, wonderful, or troublesome stories about the paranormal and the occult are often the only way I have of keeping up with what is going on regarding items that would be of interest to skeptics.


James Randi has announced The Amazing Meeting II to be held at the Tuscany Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, January 15-18, 2004. Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Penn and Teller, William Barrett, Ian Rowland, Banachek and several others will be featured, as will the Amazing One himself and JREF staffer, magician, and author Andrew Harter. The registration fee for non-JREF members is $285 ($250 for members). Add another $150 to attend the special session on deception taught by Randi and Harter. Add another $60 to see Penn and Teller perform at the Rio Hotel. And add another $250 to have dinner with Randi on Friday evening. But the rooms are cheap: $69 on Thursday and $89 on Friday and Saturday.


My next scheduled appearance is at the CSICOP conference on Hoaxes, Myths, & Manias in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 23-26, 2003. A super lineup of Ray Hyman, Barry Beyerstein, and Kendrick Frazier will start things off on Thursday evening. Jan Brunvand, the father of urban legend studies, is the featured speaker Friday night and Banachek will provide the entertainment on Saturday night. Also appearing: Phil Plait, Wally Sampson, Joe Nickell, Eugenie Scott, Ken Feder, Eric Kreig, Donald Simanek, and many others. The range of speakers and topics is truly amazing. My talk is scheduled for Friday morning at 11 am. The registration fee is $159 ($79 for students). The Banachek show is an additional $40 and includes dinner. To hear Eugenie Scott is an additional $25 and includes lunch. There will be a field trip to Sandia Labs ($15) but it is fully booked already. However, the trip to Roswell on Sunday afternoon ($45) still has some openings. Rooms at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center are $69 a night for those attending the conference. A very informative page about the conference and the city is posted here.


I know some of you were hoping I would report on The Skeptic's Toolbox held at the University of Oregon but I haven't had time to look at my notes since I returned. Generally, though, I can say that it was great value. Ray Hyman, Barry Beyerstein, and Wally Sampson opened the meetings and Jim Alcock and Lawrence Pankratz joined the faculty on Friday and Saturday for some extremely interesting presentations and discussions on evaluating scientifically based claims of the paranormal and the occult. About fifty people attended and I think most would agree with me that the lessons we learned in a few days were invaluable. Jerry Andrus was there as well with his amazing collection of optical illusions and mind benders. I was sorry I had to leave early Sunday morning to drive home and prepare for the beginning of the new term at Sacramento City College on Monday. Sunday morning was the reports session, where each of several groups who had been given a study to evaluate reported back to the whole group. My group evaluated Dr. Elisabeth Targ's study on healing prayer, a very scientific looking study based on a deception that didn't seem to bother David Spiegel, the chief reviewer of the paper for the Western Journal of Medicine, when he found out about it. Targ changed the goal of the study and had a statistician mine the data after the original study was completed. The original goal was to see if prayer could lower the death rate for AIDS patients. The published study claimed it was aimed at measuring prayer against a long list of symptoms. It wasn't really a double-blind study after all and a biased researcher got to go through all the data after the original study was completed to determine which patients had which symptoms. It was a bit of a fluke that Targ's deception was exposed by Po Bronson in Wired magazine. As many of you know, Targ died of a brain tumor last year.


My appearance at Borders Bookstore in Eugene was less than spectacular. First, my contact informed me shortly before the event that he wouldn't be there. Then, on the night of the signing not only was my new contact not working, but the staff at Borders had no idea I was coming. There was no sign in the window, no table by the door, nor had there been any publicity as promised. I told the person who seemed to be in charge of the store that since I had announced on my web site that I would be there, I was going to the coffee area and would meet with anyone who happened to ask for me. The store did have two copies of the book, which turned out to be twice as many as it needed. Several people did turn up and a table was set up for me in the Art section of the store where I chatted with four or five people for about an hour and a half.


I am calling off my program to put Skeptic's Dictionary bookmarks in motel copies of the Gideon Bible. On my recent trip to Oregon I stayed in four different motels and placed a bookmark in each Bible I found. However, I think those bookmarks will last a long time as none of the Bibles showed any evidence of ever having been opened before.

I am not calling off my program to get copies of The Skeptic's Dictionary in every library in the world, however. Ivan Kelly informed me that he bought two copies for libraries in Saskatchewan or somewhere north of the border. Another reader in New Zealand let me know that his local library has ordered a copy. Well, that's a start.


Whenever I touch on anything even vaguely political I touch nerves that irritate some readers. I know I have crossed the line from time to time and offered my partisan, biased political opinions on issues that most readers think I should leave alone. But sometimes I get attacked even when I think I'm being "neutral" (not obviously liberal, conservative, or libertarian), especially when the issue involves religion. Such was the case with my commentary on religion and violence, which led Dave Mellert to write "Your mass media funk entry for today definitely holds a political bias. You are obviously totally sure that it is the right bias to have, or you wouldn't hold the political views that you hold." I reworded a few things to avoid misunderstanding (I was trying to get a point across about self-deception). I am quite aware that nobody reads my writings to find out what I think about politics. However, I'll stop writing about political issues when politicians stop meddling with religion and alternative medicine.


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