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Robert Todd Carroll


 

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logo.gif (2126 bytes)the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 37

January 26, 2004

"I started thinking and got carried away." --Dan Garvin on why he left Scientology after 27 years.

In this issue: Darwin Day Sacramento; radio interview posted; a new book you won't find at the Grand Canyon Association bookstore; the Amazing Meeting 2; the SD's attempt to go global; and a few boring stats.

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Darwin Day Sacramento

I'll be selling and signing copies of The Skeptic's Dictionary at the Darwin Day celebration in Sacramento on February 7 from 2:30-3:30 PM in Curtis Hall at Sierra 2 Community Center, 2791 24th Street. The featured speaker is Taner Edis. Here are a few words from the flyer for the event.

Born in Istanbul to Turkish and American parents, Taner Edis completed his undergraduate work at Bogaziši University and his Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University in 1994, in condensed matter physics. Working in diverse areas, from atmospheric modeling with collaborators at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to the philosophy of machine intelligence, he is currently assistant professor of physics at Truman State University, Kirksville, MO.

Dr. Edis has written numerous articles on the topic of anti-evolutionary thought, appearing in The Skeptical Inquirer, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, and Skeptic. His critique of "Intelligent Design" in the March 2001 Skeptical Inquirer attracted national media attention, including notice in a front-page New York Times article of April 8, 2001. His writing has characteristically combined scientific rigor with an ability to reach a broad audience. Edis's book, The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science, an accessible defense of a naturalistic view of the world, was published by Prometheus Books and received the Morris D. Forkosch award for "best humanist book of 2002." Edis will be available after his presentation to autograph his books which can be purchased in advance or at the event.

I hope to see some of you there. The program begins promptly at 3 PM. Doors open at 2:15 PM.

The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science
Map to Sierra 2 Community Center

Changes

I've posted a radio interview with Jack and Ali: of Spin 103.8 Dublin (Oct. 7, 2003) and a couple of comments on neuro-linguistic programming.

Feedback

One of our readers recommends a book that is a takeoff on the Left Behind evangelical series of Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The takeoff is by Earl Lee and is called
Kiss My Left Behind.

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In the last newsletter I said I would let you know if I heard from our National Park Service about selling creationist literature at the Grand Canyon National Park bookstore. I heard from Maureen Oltrogge, Public Affairs Officer, Grand Canyon National Park. She writes:

National Park Service (NPS) current policies and direction to park staff require teaching the latest scientific methods for explaining the formation of geologic features in the parks. These methods are endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation and numerous professional scientific organizations. We use these scientific explanations in our interpretive talks, visitor center films (Grand Canyon currently does not offer a film), and wayside exhibits and other teaching opportunities.

The Grand Canyon Association, a non profit organization whose mission is to cultivate knowledge, discovery, and stewardship for the benefit of Grand Canyon National Park and its visitors, currently offers the book "Grand Canyon: A Different View." The book is by Tom Vail and claims that the Grand Canyon is a few thousand years old, developing on a biblical rather than evolutionary timeframe. Shortly after the book went on sale, individuals raised concerns about its appropriateness in an association bookstore. The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has sent the book to the NPS Washington Office for review in terms of its appropriateness as a sales item in a national park. Once the review has been completed and an opinion rendered, that information will be made available to the public.

I quote from the NPS Management Policies Web site: "Factual information presented will be current, accurate, based on current scholarship and science, and delivered so as to convey park meanings, with the understanding that audience members will draw their own conclusions."

So, the Ranger (mentioned in the last newsletter) who provided a creationist alternative to current scholarship and science, claiming he was required to do so by law, was not following Park policy.

2001 NPS Management Policies - Chapter 7: Interpretation and Education
Grand Canyon Association

Amazing Meeting 2

We skeptics are an odd lot. We worry about whether somebody is taking vitamins without scientific proof that it is doing him any good and we worry that people commit suicide because they believe a space ship is going to pick up their bodily shells and transport them to a "higher level." We worry that people are drinking filtered tap water and think it is "pure" or "healthy." And we worry that some people are trying to fight cancer by wearing a crystal. We are concerned that very few in our movement are non-white. In short, we're concerned about the big and the small, the trivial and the monumental. Some of us are off pursuing academic questions. Some of us are passing on our personal experiences with the paranormal or the supernatural. Some of us are trying to educate others about deception and self-deception. We're a mixed lot and when we get together the mix seems to work pretty well most of the time. The Amazing Meetings have been no exception.

I'm not going to write a complete review of the events or talks. I did learn of a few Web sites you might want to check out. First, I want to thank those of you who were there and took the time to tell me what you think of my work. Thank you.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), mentioned a site called GuideStar. Here you can find out about the finances of non-profits. The latest data seem to be from 2002. For example, the JREF had assets of $1.75 million. It had revenue of about $400,000 (about half of which came from contributions) and expenses of about $350,000. Compare that to the Discovery Institute (the outfit pushing intelligent design). The folks there have a bit more in assets but their revenues are 6 to 7 times more than the JREF ($2.7 million, most of which comes from contributions) and they had expenses of about $2.2 million. Here is what this non-profit lists as its mission and program:

Mission: To promote thoughtful analysis and effective action on local, regional, national, and international issues

Programs: Production of public service books, articles, conferences, radio, and television appearances.

Yet, about the only thing this outfit does is promote the idea that intelligent design is a worthy competitor to natural selection! (The NCSE is mostly devoted to keeping religion and bad science out of the science classroom.)

For comparison: Shermer's Skeptics Society has about half the revenue of the JREF. CSICOP (which is under the umbrella of the Center for Inquiry) had $1.3 million in revenue. Think about it. There are only three big skeptics groups in this country and together they barely match the financials of just one non-profit with a singularly deceptive religious goal. Fortunately, there are many local skeptics' groups and dozens of groups in other nations. Many of these groups have a Web presence.

By the way, when you look up the National Center for Science Education on GuideStar, you get the following message:

This organization is not required to file an annual return with the IRS because its income is less than $25,000. It is a 501(c)(03) public charity.

www.ncseweb.org
www.guidestar.org

There is a similar site to Guide Star for info on charities in Canada.
 

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Another great site is the one run by Steve Shaw (a.k.a. Banachek). Shaw is a great entertainer and educator. He's the one who for four years fooled the scientists into thinking he has psychic powers.

www.Banachek.com

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Check out Dean Cameron's page if you're interested in a weird way to deal with all that e-mail you get asking for your help to receive money on behalf of SESE-SEKO WIDOW OF LATE PRESIDENT MOBUTU or somebody else with equally large letters and credentials. (This request is also known as the Nigerian 419 scam.)

www.deancameron.com

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RatbagsDotCom is a site run by Peter Bowditch of Australia. It is the site many of us wish we had created. Peter single-handedly lists more than 1,000 Web sites that he thinks are run by "dangerous lunatics." My only problem with Peter is his excessive use of euphemisms. His "Quintessence of the Loon" page exemplifies his fear of being blunt in his criticism of others. Peter also has a site called Full Canvas Jacket, which is about 'people who rant and rage incoherently at length.' There he posts "a collection of Noteworthy Unhinged Lunatic Rants." He's a sweet guy, too. And wears very colorful shirts.

www.ratbags.com

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Peter Bowditch is mainly concerned about health fraud (or snake oil) and recommends the site of the Australian Council Against Health Fraud.

www.acahf.org.au

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Dave Ewalt spoke about getting your message to the media. He has a Web site called Dropping Science.

www.droppingscience.com

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I don't mean to suggest that these were the only Web sites mentioned at the Amazing Meeting 2. But these are ones that are new to me. I've already mentioned many times in these letters the Web sites of the JREF,
Skeptics Society,
Quackwatch, and
Bad Astronomy.

***

Some final comments about the Amazing Meeting 2. Atheism and evolution vs. creationism came up quite often, especially in the panel discussion sessions, which is interesting since the JREF's focus is mostly on paranormal claims. This interest in atheism/evolution/creationism should continue next year, as Randi announced that Richard Dawkins will be presenting in 2005. Since this topic is still of such interest to so many people, I'm putting a link here to the paper I delivered at the first Amazing Meeting.

Onward Christian Soldiers: The Holy War on Science

Randi has announced in his latest newsletter that Dr. Michael Shermer will be the keynote speaker at the Amazing Meeting 3. Shermer's latest book is in the field of evolutionary psychology and philosophy. It's called The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule. Shermer's talk at AM2 was about his book.

Once again, Randi saved the best for last. The Sunday morning session of invited papers was first-class. Lt. Col. Matt Morgan, Ph.D., USAF, gave an excellent talk on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Dr. Ray Hall, a physicist from Fresno State University, then made a thought-provoking presentation regarding the demarcation issue of Karl Popper. Ray made a persuasive case for thinking of science as existing on a continuum from poor to good science, rather than trying to distinguish science from pseudoscience. While Ray didn't go into the politics of science education, one does not have to think too deeply to see that the battle being fought around the country regarding intelligent design (ID) would take on a very different aspect were the defenders of science to stop trying to show that ID is pseudoscience or non-science. What would happen if it were admitted that creationism or ID is science, but crappy science? Would we then argue that we should no more teach ID in biology classes than we should teach Aristotle's theory of motion in our physics classes or Deepak Chopra's ideas in our quantum mechanics courses? Would we argue that politicians shouldn't decide between good and bad science? That's the job of the scientists and the science teachers. We've already seen what can happen when the politicians determine what is good science: Remember Lysenkoism?

The final paper was given by Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, a geologist, who instructed everybody on what crystals really are, what kinds of preposterous claims the New Age folks are making about crystals, and why people seem to believe these preposterous claims. I was very pleased when he announced that his source for why people believe these weird things about crystals was The Skeptic's Dictionary.

Many people enthusiastically expressed their approval of the talk given by Julia Sweeney. She described her transformation from good Catholic girl to good atheist. Having gone from good Catholic boy to good atheist, much of what she said resonated with me. I was very pleased when my friend Liam McDaid introduced me to Ms. Sweeney. She told me that she had my book and especially liked the astrology entry. However, she didn't call it a page-turner. She reserved that expression for Darwin's Origin of Species. When she spotted Randi's copy of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, she said that Dennett's book was the one that most changed her life.

There were several memorable lines uttered at this meeting, but one I'll never forget was Julia Sweeny saying "Losing my faith was the most spiritual thing that ever happened to me." It turned her into an activist. No baby Moses syndrome for her.

Translations

I'm happy to report that George Moustris, who is translating The Skeptic's Dictionary into Greek, has already translated more than one hundred entries. Soon we'll also have some entries in Icelandic. Matthias Asgeirsson and a few friends in Iceland run a Web site called vantru.net and they plan like to put up a section with translations of SD articles. According to Matthias, "vantru" in Icelandic means something like disbelief. I also heard from Kami Rousseau of the Quebec skeptics. There are quite a few entries now available in French and more to come. And I recently heard from Rouven Schaefer of Berlin who calls himself "the vizechairman of the German skeptics" (www.gwup.org). Rouven wants to do even more translations of Dictionary entries into German.

I am quite humbled by the fact that people in more than ten countries have asked permission to translate my work. All the translators have volunteered their time and have asked nothing in return.

Stats

Note: I advise those not interested in Web site statistics to skip this section of the newsletter. The bottom line is that every month we're getting about 450,000 hits on html files from about half a million visitors.

I haven't bored you with Web site statistics in recent issues but I am running a new program (WebLog Expert) and want to share some of the data with you. I have a problem, however, because the log file for The Skeptic's Dictionary for just one day is 30 MB. Since I am only renting 100 MB of space and my Dictionary  files take up about 37 MB of space, I can't gather statistical data on my site for much more than a day or two at a time without exceeding my allotted space. So, I am guessing at what the data for one day might mean when projected over a month or a year. But on January 5, a Tuesday, we had 177,064 hits. About 2,000 of those hits were from search engine spiders. If this were an average day, that would put the monthly tab over five and one quarter million and the annual tab at over 60 million hits. The number of unique visitors on January 5 was 19,286. Again, if this were an average, that would mean more than half a million visitors a month and 6 million a year. There were 39,319 page views that day. That would be over one million page views per month. Finally, we used 791.63 MB of bandwidth that day. I rent 25 GB of bandwidth a month. At this rate, I will come in just under my allotment of bandwidth for the month.

The most popular content page on January 5 was the Myers-Briggs page (546 hits). (I'm not counting the homepage or the table of contents page.) Amway was second (491) and the face on Mars was third (415). This last may have had something to do with the first color photos from the Spirit rover on Mars being published. Lunar effects had 415 hits. Coming in 50th for the day was the magnet therapy page with 131 hits.

The file most downloaded that day (3 downloads) was Jim Alcock's speech praising Ray Hyman.

Fifty-eight percent of the visitors were from the U.S. About 7 % were from Canada and about 6 % were from the UK. Web Log lists the top 50 countries accessing the site. Number 50 was Iran with 16 visitors.

I repeated the above analysis for a 22-hour period over January 8-9, beginning at 7 AM on Thursday the 8th. (The reason there are only 22 hours in the second test is that the server was shut down for one hour and I stopped the test at 23 hours for my convenience.) The results were: total hits = 160,238. About 2,000 hits were from spiders. That averages out to about 4.75 million hits a month or about 57 million a year.

We had 17,962 visitors on the second run. That would average to over half a million a month and more than 6 million a year.

There were 35,117 page views, which averages to more than one million a month.

We used 687.73 MB of bandwidth which projects to about 21 GB for the month.

The most popular page on January 8 was the Amway page (480). Second was the Myers-Briggs page (442). The lunar effects page was third (342). Number 50 was magnetic therapy with 131 hits. My essay on intelligent design was the most downloaded file (2) that day. Tied at 49th among the countries accessing the site were Saudi Arabia and Cyprus with 15 visitors each. Brazil was fourth, with 673 visitors, and Portugal was 9th with 194. Italy was 7th with 255 visitors. (I host the Portuguese and Italian translations of The Skeptic's Dictionary on my server.)

Now, wasn't that interesting?

For those who enjoy statistics, I've posted a complete report for activity from 6 AM January 9th to 6 AM January 10th.

Google
 
Web skepdic.com

Click to order from Amazon