Thursday, September 01, 2005


The 16th Skeptics Circle

Welcome to the 16th Sceptics Circle: A biweekly carnival for bloggers who apply critical thought to questionable stories, such as Urban Legends, the Paranormal, Quackery, Pseudoscience, Historical Revision. Posts dealing with the meta-analytical process behind sorting reason from the misinformation – Critical Thinking – are also welcome.

Speak your homeopathic remedy
Exhausted by all that tiresome mixing of homeopathic remedies? Richard Rockley’s Skeptico blog helpfully reports on a promising new technology – the voice programmed, full function Radionic Potentiser / Homeopathic Remedy Maker – only $395 while supplies last!

They didn’t planet that way
Phil Plait, proprietor of the Bad Astronomy blog, observes that “astrology is funny… does not work, will not work, cannot be shown to work, can be shown not to work, and has no reason to work. Yet, people believe in it.

Plait has an interesting question for anyone who thinks astrology works: Astrologers claim they can predict your future, or your personality type, or whatever, based on the position of the planets with great accuracy. Every planet is important to the prediction process, from Mercury to Pluto. So the question is this: how come astrologers have never, not once, accurately predicted a previously unknown planet?

What I did on my summer vacation: "Proof of "intelligent design" (and an old friend)
Respectful Insolence (a.k.a. “Orac Knows”) promised to restrain himself from blogging while he was on vacation, but ended up blogging “a fair amount” nonetheless.

When he wasn’t staring intently at his computer screen, he “looked diligently at every natural object, plant, and creature he saw, searching carefully for evidence of design, evidence that it could not have come about without the intervention of intelligence, without some sort of ‘design’ behind it.”

Vacation over and nearly resigned to failure, he was saved when Mrs. Orac Knows, quite unexpectedly, found the Gollum of Mount Doom lurking in the back yard. There are pictures.

I wish
Chris Hallquist, the Incredible Hallq, ponders the science of truth, with a capital “T.” On a visit to a New Age bookstore, Hallquist and friends find a book that promises that any idea can be quickly, easily, and certainly evaluated by its consistency with the great Conciousness… or something like that.

Rationalism, Hallquist observes, provides good tools for discovering the truth, and nothing more. Not great, maybe, but it’s the best we’ve got.

Vanier quackery
Mark, who writes the Be Lambic or Green blog, has a post about about a one of Montreal’s most respected colleges which is offering religious and pseudo-scientific course material, such as “Tarot - The Spiritual Journey,” “Relationship Astrology,” and a “Numerology Workshop.”

Mark called the university’s attention to the fact that they were teaching pseudoscience to the masses, and they replied in the best corporate fashion, saying nothing. Could it be that there’s money to be made and product to move?

The devil is in the details (scroll to the post dated Sat. Aug. 20)
David Weisman lives in the solidly blue state of New York. That’s why he was surprised to open Newsday to find intelligent design “theory” rearing its ugly head in his neighborhood. He went straight to The Art of Peace – his blog about politics, especially the corner of it that intersects his life, closer to the left than the right, but not wasting bandwidth repeating anyone’s party line -- to take on the rude beast that is creationism and intelligent design.

Saying that hemoglobin and proton motors couldn’t have evolved, writes Weisman, is quite different than showing how they work and explaining that we don’t yet have all the answers about how they evolved.

Statistical deception
“There are lies, damn lies,and statistics,” said Mark Twain, and that is the subject at the Skeptic Rant blog where LBBP serves up random thoughts on matters political, scientific, and religious.

This particular Skeptic Rant examines the counterintuitive assertion – made on the pro-war Ten O’Clock Scholar and Powerline blogs that G.I.s serving in combat in Iraq are actually safer than those serving stateside during peacetime.

LBBP’s check of Department of Defense statistics and a comparison of Irag combat deaths, with peacetime military, and civilian accident statistics reveals that – contrary to what Ten O’Clock Scholar and Power Line say, a US soldier is 720 percent more likely to die while serving in Iraq.

Atlantis and creationism
Our fellow Kansas blogger, Josh, at the Thoughts from Kansas blog – firmly in the reality based camp – looks at connections between the archaeology of Atlantis and creationists, and finds some general principles about how people recognize the truth. “Creationists,” writes Josh, “regard truth as something one can impose on data, as do other pseudoscientists, including Atlantis theorists (also Kennedy conspiracy buffs, psychic advocates, anti-vaccine advocates, and a host of other fringe movements).

William Paley was not an anthropologist
Mike Huben, writing on his Critiques of Libertarianism blog, takes on the old William Paley argument – so well loved at Seattle’s Discovery Institute – that design in nature is self-evident. Here’s how Paley put it in Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, first published in 1802:

. . . when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive. . . that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. . . . the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker -- that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

Huben looks at this line reasoning from the point of view of an anthropologist, far in the future coming across Paley’s watch. He concludes that his hypothetical anthropologist would conclude that the watch was designed by an intelligent being, but “the anthropologist would not stop there. There is much more information inherent in the watch. Everything about the watch shrieks that there is more than just a designer. The diverse materials of the watch speak of commerce, of industry, of technology. No one designer would have assembled all those raw materials, purified and processed them into glass and metals and alloys.” Hey, sounds a little like science to us.

The psychic challenge, part I
Ryan, the shop owner over at Rockstar Ramblings, has an envelope on top of his television set. Very simply, he wants those of you who posses paranormal powers to tell him what's inside? For bonus points, let him know what is written on the envelope. Think the challenge is unfair. He’s willing to accommodate. So, what’s the problem?

The debate
Violetta, over at the Sneezing Po blog, finds the evolution versus intelligent design debate a bit too heated for her tastes, but she does see a connection between intelligent design and pornography. No, we’re not going to tell you what it is. You’ve got to go there to find out.

Wandering to Shangri-La
Over at the Cosmic Watercooler blog -- fresh-ground, slow-brewed coffee served daily – beajerry takes a little jaunt through spiritualism.

Have you ever been intrigued by “that rich, early twentieth century world of smoky detective work that leads a character away from the comforts of modern civilization across treacherous oceans and into exotic lands where mysterious clues and shady contacts hint of ancient mystical secrets to be found in some hidden valley which has been kept safe for centuries by some powerful, cryptic person or society...”

Follow beajerry from Madame Blavatsky through Franz Mesmer as he suggests how a “perpetual Shangri-La has been built that forever entices modern man with it's revelations of ancient wisdom and secret cures.”

Who am I?
Matt, the force behind the Pooflingers Anonymous blog, takes a look at at his least favorite logical fallacy: the two-model system.

“When trying to build a supportive case for something, negative evidence is basically useless,” Writes Matt. “There are simply too many options to consider, even if one doesn't know those options exist. Why would eliminating evolution as a model for life as we know it make the Bible any more probable a solution than, say, the Bhagavad Gita or any of the primitive origin myths from any tribe on the planet?”

Violent crime wave expected in UK
Oh, oh, “the maharishi is leaving the UK and taking his meditation groups with him. This is expected to make no difference at all,” writes Richard Rockley Skeptico blog, “although if you want to bounce up and down on a mattress you'll have to do it alone now.”

Apparently, disgusted at Tony Blair's support for the US in the Iraq war and the British electorate's failure to unseat the prime minister in the general election, the 95-year-old guru says there is no point continuing to waste the "beautiful nectar" of Trancendental Meditation on a "scorpion" nation.

Skeptico wonders, if this is so, why the maharishi, isn’t pulling out of the U.S., as well.

Science debunks the homeopaths (but they have no need to worry)
Over at the Secular Blasphemy blog, Jan, reports on a paper published in The medical journal, The Lancet, that concludes “doctors need to be bold and honest with their patients about homeopathy's lack of benefit.”

Still, that may not be a problems for homeopaths, for one thing, they’ll no longer have to go through the very lengthy and expensive process of having their drugs tested and approved.

An autistic boy dies during chelation therapy
Respectful Insolence (a.k.a. “Orac Knows”) reports on the tragic death of a 5-year-old autistic boy in a Butler County doctor's office while undergoing the increasingly popular, though controversial medical treatment, touted by some as a cure for the lifelong neurological and developmental disorder.

DI figures it out
Josh from Thoughts from Kansas observes that, despite their fancy "design detectors" the Discovery Institute can't separate "chance accident" from "design." You'd think that all that brain power would be able to distinguish a chance typo from a designed slight.

I think I’ve had it
Ryan, at the Rockstar Ramblings blog, is going to the dark side. He’s tired of debunking claims, such as those made for the White Mountain voice programmed, full function Radionic Potentiser / Homeopathic Remedy Maker (see “Speak your homeopathic remedy,” above).

He says he’s going to create his own Woo-machine, make a ton of outrageous claims about it, use real big scientific-sounding words, charge a shitload of money for it, and scoff when the so-called skeptics say it doesn't work.

He’s looking for ideas, business partners, and he has a number of intriguing positions he needs to fill. Be the first on your block to be Vice President in Charge of Apologetics.

Bob in the seventh house
Richard Rockley over at Skeptico blog – critical thinking for an irrational world – sees a looming problem for astrologers. Won’t the recent discovery of a 10th planet (2003 UB313) have a dramatic effect on the star charts of astrologers everywhere? The new planet – astronomers are still discussing whether it really is a planet or a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) – is said to be as large as Pluto.
The planet's temporary name is 2003 UB313. A permanent name has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name.

Does it matter whether this new celestial object is a planet or what it’s named? Skeptico reviews how astrologers reacted to the discovery of KBO Sedna last year to provide the answer.

The Upanishads and Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana
Rich Reynolds, posting on the The RRRGroup blog, a contingent of media guys who look for the offbeat and bizarre in the world -- most media related, some not – is thinking about the problem of alien abduction claims. He suggests that ufologists should explore the quasi-religious aspect of abduction claims, not in the context of Western religious experience, but rather through the lens of Hindu transcendence.


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