Robert Todd Carroll
December 20, 2004. Rump reading (aka rumpology) threatens to replace the chupacabra as the number one item of interest among viewers of the raunchy late-night talk show La Cosa Nostra on Spanish-language WJAN-TV Channel 41 in south Florida. Jose Miranda, a 53-year-old Little Havana soothsayer and self-proclaimed rumpologist, has become the hit of the show, much to the irritation of some of the local psychics.
"I can't imagine anyone wasting their time and money on someone like this when there are so many legitimate psychics out there," said Sheree Silver, a local spiritual leader.
Miranda learned his trade from Jaqueline Stallone, rumpologist to the stars, who seem to have re-invented rump reading while changing son Sylvester's diaper. She says the ancient Greeks and Romans read rumps to learn about fidelity and potential talent. (No comment.)
"The left cheek is the cheek of the future," Miranda said. "The right cheek is the cheek of the present. Your love life, your money, your career, everything is there. It's no different than reading a palm or someone's eyes."
December 18, 2004. You can be conned! as Bob Steiner says. Wendy Grossman, Chris French, Nick "Skeptics in the Pub" Pullar, and Paul Taylor were reminded of this unpleasant fact recently. Grossman, a founder of The Skeptic (UK) magazine, tells the tale. The tip-off? When the psychic you are testing is very hostile and claims to clairvoyantly see that you are incontinent or that your wife is having an affair.
December 17, 2004. Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column for Guardian Unlimited, has announced this year's winner of the Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data. The winner is the Daily Express, for claiming that "recent research" has shown turmeric to be "highly protective against many forms of cancer, especially of the prostate" on the basis of laboratory studies into the effects of a chemical extract on individual cells in dishes, and no (zero) trials in humans.*
[We now know that Wakefield was paid more than £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. The payments were part of £3.4m distributed from the legal aid fund to doctors and scientists who had been recruited to support a now failed lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.*]
The award for outstanding innovation in the use of the title 'Doctor' goes to Gillian McKeith, Ph.D. [Her doctorate is in Holistic Nutrition from the American Holistic College of Nutrition.] Of her deservedness, Goldacre writes: "anyone who claims that eating chlorophyll will really "oxygenate your blood", and that a seed contains "all of the energy necessary to make a fully grown plant", cannot possibly have a meaningful postgraduate qualification in a biological field."
The Bad Science product of the year goes to Space Tomato Number One, part of the Chinese government's "space breeding" project, where increased radiation supposedly has led to bigger and better vegetables.
The Bad Science celebrity of the year goes to Jeanette Winterson for her plan to send homeopathic remedies to treat HIV in Botswana.
Personally, I think Judith Reisman [see below] has all these folks beat.
December 14, 2004. While we wait for a federal judge in Georgia to decide the merits of a lawsuit against the Cobb County school district over requiring disclaimer stickers in biology texts, a new lawsuit has been filed in the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district, where the teaching of intelligent design (ID) was mandated. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the lawsuit is the first in the nation to challenge whether public schools should teach ID.* The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, PA. The complaint alleges that some parents "perceive the district's action as conveying a governmental message that students should subscribe to the religious views reflected in the assertion or argument of intelligent design."
Didn't we go through this 20 years ago with creation science?
Meanwhile, the ID folks are rolling up their sleeves again in Kansas and things are heating up in Gull Lake, Michigan. While out here in the wild west, we wonder why some folks want to teach their kids nonsense.
December 14, 2004. India Daily has provided the explanation we've all been waiting for regarding the "intelligence" on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Our remote viewers failed. This is very surprising because, as Richard Milton points out, one of our remote viewers once saw a big crane in a vision of something in Russia and it turned out the Russians had something like a big crane in the location the remote viewer was clairvoyantly visiting. It is hard to believe that our remote viewers weren't able to find WMD, Sadaam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden, since these psychics are so accurate. Lucky for India, however, that they now have remote viewers doing their intelligence. Soon India Daily will match Pravda and Weekly World News for accuracy and intelligence.
December 14, 2004. Just when I was about to rethink the utility or futility of the word pseudoscience, along comes Judith Reisman. She has a doctorate in communications but has promoted herself as an expert in neuroscience.* According to today's Sacramento Bee (B6), she also considers herself an expert on addiction. Reisman represented the California Protective Parents Association at a recent congressional hearing convened by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). She testified that "pornography triggers myriad kinds of internal, natural drugs that mimic the 'high' from a street drug. Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub erototoxins."* Reisman proposes that we ban all sexually explicit images as mind-altering drugs because they cause the release of opioids.
Jerry Satinover, author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, testified that "pornography really does, unlike other addictions, biologically cause direct release of the most perfect addictive substance. That is, it causes masturbation, which causes release of the naturally occurring opioids. It does what heroin can't do, in effect."* (I'm tempted to comment on Satinover's observations, but I think I'll let his words speak for themselves.)
As the Bee editorial points out:
December 11, 2004. I have just read an interview with 81-year-old British philosopher Anthony Flew about his conversion from atheism to "theism." I put theism in quotes because I still do not have a very clear notion of what Flew's concept of god is. He says his view is quite like Aristotle's and that he thinks of god as intelligent, knowing, and in some vague way the designer of the universe, yet devoid of other aspects of personality. He says that science has led him to his new belief [which, he now denies is a new belief], but he only mentions genetics. He speaks favorably of the intelligent design argument, so I take it that he thinks that science has produced evidence of some complex phenomena that he doesn't think can be explained by natural laws or forces. Yet, he still maintains that the concept of a disembodied consciousness or soul is incoherent. He clearly still does not believe in immortality, but he seems to have some vestigial beliefs in psychic phenomena. "If I wanted any sort of future life I should become a Jehovah’s Witness," says Flew.
He doesn't think morality proves the existence of god, nor does he find any merit in the ontological argument or various causal arguments for the existence of god. He describes himself as sort of a deist. The one thing that is very clear in the interview is that he does not think highly of the prophet Muhammad nor the religion of Islam.
"I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear," says Flew, "because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam." And, "to read the Qur’an is a penance rather than a pleasure." Of Muhammed, he says: "the Prophet, though gifted in the arts of persuasion and clearly a considerable military leader, was both doubtfully literate and certainly ill-informed about the contents of the Old Testament and about several matters of which God, if not even the least informed of the Prophet’s contemporaries, must have been cognizant."
Update (December 15, 2004). Flew's letter printed below was written in 2001. It was not written in response to current rumors that he has converted to Christianity. For Flew's latest word on what he believes see Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of by Richard Carrier (The Secular Web). In short, "The fact of the matter is: Flew hasn't really decided what to believe."
Carrier notes that Flew "confesses he has not been able to keep up with the relevant literature in science and theology, which means we should no longer treat him as an expert on this subject." Here is Flew's letter, written in 2001:
Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist!
December 8, 2004. About a month ago, the Grantsburg, Wisconsin, school board revised its science curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism. That policy has been changed by a 6-1 vote. The board now says that the curriculum won’t include classroom lessons on religious explanations such as creationism.
The new policy reads: “Students are expected to analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.”
I wonder if students will be required to explain the weaknesses of any other scientific theory.
Meanwhile, 12 members of York College's biology department signed a letter to the York Daily Record that states that the decision by the Dover (Pennsyylvania) Area School Board to require the teaching of intelligent design "reflects a genuine lack of knowledge about the data supporting evolution by natural selection."
December 1, 2004. Is it
quackery or medicine, faith healing or science? Is temporary mood
improvement being mistaken for cure? Decide for yourself after reading
this article about a doctor in China who is experimenting on humans by
injecting fetal olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) into their brains and
spines. As a bonus, you can get a quick lesson in how to turn a moral
absolutist into a utilitarian: offer a hopeless case the chance for
recovery by using cells from an aborted fetus.
November 24, 2004. It sounds like an urban legend. Cell phone explodes when boy tries to call 911! Yet, according to our federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there have been 83 complaints about cell phones exploding or catching fire during the last two years.* According to CPSC representative, Scott Wolfson, the problem is the batteries.
To avoid a cell phone explosion, Wolfson said consumers should take the following safety precautions:
There have been some battery recalls. Two kinds of batteries have been voluntarily recalled -- 140,000 Kyocera 7135 model phones and 50,000 counterfeits found in some LG TM-510 phones. There has also been a recall for 1 million counterfeit Kyocera batteries.
November 23, 2004. The banner in the home team's locker room is called the "Competitor's Creed." It includes the lines "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.” A public high school in Texas? Nope. This is the work of Air Force Academy coach Fisher DeBarry, who agreed on Friday to remove the banner, a day after the school’s Superintendent announced it would do more to educate students on religious intolerance.
It seems the Academy is cracking down on those who are using their authority to promote Christianity. Apparently, this action was in response to a survey in which a third of nonreligious cadets reported that they felt Christian cadets were given preferential treatment. Air Force Academy officials are also cracking down on a practice by some staffers to put Bible verses at the bottom of their academy e-mail.* Apparently, the problem began or began to escalate when some cadets got passionate about their religion after seeing the movie The Passion of the Christ. Academy commanders had to admonish cadets for using academy e-mail to encourage people to see Mel Gibson's movie about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
I guess the Academy won't be changing its fight song to
Onward Christian Soldiers. Unless the White House intervenes, of
update 18 Dec 2009: Military Advance: Religious Tolerance On The Upswing At The Air Force Academy "More than four years have passed. How are things at the Academy now? We’re pleased to say they’re much better. As the Associated Press reported recently, the Academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, spearheaded the launch of a campaign to promote religious tolerance and acceptance of people of many different faiths and none."
November 22, 2004. Last month, the Dover School District announced that it was adding the theory of intelligent design to the biology curriculum. The board has changed its mind. Instead, it will require teachers to read the following to all biology students:
There are a few things wrong with this directive that are very troublesome. Is this board as ignorant as it appears to be? Darwin's theory of natural selection is an attempt to explain how species evolved. That species evolved is a fact. How they evolved is what a theory of evolution tries to explain. The statement "Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence" is a nonsensical statement. Theories don't have gaps. No amount of evidence will "fill a gap" in a theory. Intelligent design does not respond to any gap in the theory of natural selection. It is an assertion that some things in nature can't be explained by natural selection but can be explained by asserting that an intelligent designer intentionally put several things together to achieve some function. The only scientists making this claim are adamant anti-evolutionists who think evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Mainstream scientists do not find intelligent design any more sophisticated than saying that a miracle happened. Talk about a theory with gaps! What could have more gaps than a theory that exclaims a miracle happened every time it can't explain something?
Intelligent design may well be an explanation of the origin of life, but natural selection was not put forth by Darwin as an explanation of the origin of life. Darwin's theory only begins to apply once there is life; it makes no claim about the origin of life itself. In any case, if the school board truly believes that intelligent design and natural selection are different explanations of the origin of life, then they shouldn't be teaching either. Their policy, they say, is to leave "the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families." There seems to be a gap in this directive, a logical gap.
November 22, 2004. I suppose it is inevitable that quack authors will soon be claiming to channel books from Shakespeare, Tolstoy, James Joyce, or Ronald Reagan. The belief that spirits are talking to psychics is very popular, so soon we should see publishers fouling up bookstores with hot-from-the-grave potboilers by famous dead people. The idea that psychic Rochelle Sparrow plans to publish a book called John F. Kennedy is Alive! may be a hoax, but it is only a matter of time before somebody claims to be writing a book dictated by John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby, his father Joseph, and Marilyn Monroe as well.
Robert Todd Carroll
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