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« Medium: The Dubious Claims of Allison DuBois - Part V The RantsSome Sunday Links »

The Fourth Edition of the Skeptics' Circle
2005.03.17 (Thu) 08:44

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Skeptics' Circle — a blog carnival aimed at gathering the best skeptical writing from around the blogosphere into a handy bi-weekly digest. In case you're just joining us, it's not too late to catch up by reading the first, second, and third editions — we highly recommend them!

For this edition, we have 24 different topics, from 18 authors, spanning 35 posts. The topics range from medical quackery, to creationism, to the paranormal (and then some), and all of the posts are outstanding examples of skepticism and critical thinking. Before we get to the categories, we wanted to kick things off with a post from a blog which was new to us, but which we will definitely be reading in the future.

— • —

When we read Richard Rockley's "Five Apples" on Skeptico, we knew right away we'd be using it to start off the Fourth Skeptics' Circle. It's a lovely little parable pointing out the tremendous difference between those who think critically, and those who rely on blind faith.

— • —

Entries on Quackery and Medical Misinformation

We were pretty outraged when Bill Maher started spouting off nonsense about health care and vaccination on a recent episode of Real Time, and were extremely grateful to Orac of Respectful Insolence for blogging about it. He asks the very valid question: is Bill Maher really that ignorant? Be sure to read parts two and three too!

Whatever your opinion on euthanasia, we can all agree that it is at least important to have the correct information when making such important decisions. Over on Majikthise, Lindsay talks about the Terri Schiavo case in "Red herrings 17 'medical experts' threw at me." You can get a bit of back story by reading an earlier Majikthise post.

On Confessions of a Quackbuster, Paul Lee declares that there is "No justification for the existence of chiropractic." As Paul says, it's "Another nail in the coffin of chiroquackery." Hey, debunking chiroquackery is always a worthy endeavor.

A bout of flu and a free sample inspired Clay of Cacoethes Cognitum to research the true efficacy of "Oscillococcinum for influenza." A great example of homeopathy in action! Or inaction as the case may be...

Tom steps up when the "Telegraph cover osteoarthritis-acupuncture study," debunking alleged scientific validation of acupuncture on quackblog :: pseudoscience exposed, and doing a great job of it. Why anyone would think a millennia-old tradition of sticking pins in people would be grounded in science is beyond us.

Good Saint Nate presents "White Matter, Red Herrings" over on his blog. In it, he introduces us to some more people deserving of our undying hatred — those who hawk bogus cures for multiple sclerosis. Really, how low can you get?

Saint Nate also awards the king-of-all-quack-sites prize to a very deserving site. Wow. No really, wow.

Richard on Skeptico has a bit of fun with "Bottled sea water." Yes, it's (apparently) quite a miracle elixir — how fortunate that it covers the majority of our planet!

On Deltoid, Tim Lambert laments pundits "Spreading the DDT hoax." Tim's covered this subject before, and seems to be getting justifiably fed up with such nonsense.

And on her Anti-Quackery and Science Blog, Anne nicely trounces a variety of medical misinformation in "Debunking some of the most common myths about disease."

— • —

Entries on Critical Thinking

Not limited to just medical blogging, Orac of Respectful Insolence offers what we're calling the Kentucky Zombie Saga. The story itself aside, it's a beautiful example of how even a skeptic can sometimes be fooled — but an even better example of what a critical thinker does upon discovering his mistake, in contrast to those who are too set in their ways to ever admit to one. Go ahead and read parts one, two, and three.

Bill Adams has a puzzler for you in "The Da Vinci Head Code" on Idler Yet. Despite the Catholic Church's denial of the truth of The Da Vinci Code, the rumors persist. Bill demonstrates that it's just another silly conspiracy theory.

In "Biodefense: a (very) bad idea whose time has come?" Revere of Effect Measure discusses and refutes the idea that "biodefense" is good for public health, science, and the world, and shows how the Bush administration's distortion of facts and science can lead to serious risks.

Mudfud wonders "What's the Deal with Neuromarketing?" over on Tales of a MD/PhD Student. He discusses whether the phenomenon of neuromarketing is effective and ethical.

In "Still Two Cultures," Paul of North Gare fisks Philip Pullman's Guardian piece, which displays Pullman's remarkable lack of understanding of both science and science fiction, along with anything and everything related to human endeavors in both knowledge and art. If you meet Paul, thank him very much.

Paul also turns a skeptical eye on the barking mad statements of Antonin Scalia in his post "Begging the biggest question of all." Politics aside, we'd all be wise to treat Scalia's views with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Bora Ziv Kovic, on Science And Politics, talks about "Teaching Scientific Method." Teaching critical thinking is part of what makes us good skeptics and smart observers; Bora gives a wonderful example of how to teach inquisitive students to use their minds.

And in "On the origins of Brownian motion," Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas gives us a great moment in science, and proves that the "god of the gaps" solution is never the right one.

— • —

Entries on Religionists

Lambic of Be Lambic or Green has some advice on a sensitive subject: "Don't label your baby" which examines the line between influence and indoctrination.

No Skeptics' Circle would be complete without that curious mix of religion and pseudoscience: creationism! On Pharyngula, PZ Myers dealt with the lunatic ravings of creationist David Berlinski, starting with "Berlinski: I can't believe I'm wasting time on this guy." The epic battle continues in "Repeating myself because I can hardly believe it" and "Berlinski says he is NOT an astrologer," and at the time of this writing winds up with "Berlinski babbles some more." This is why PZ is one of our heroes.

And another from Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas: "Religion and Reconstructionism," which smartly implies that religious belief itself isn't the direct scourge of civilization, but rather the practice of religion (including its imposition on others) is to blame.

— • —

Entries on the Paranormal

Skeptico's Richard Rockley weighs in with the highly intelligent "Astrology Challenge," which dares proponents of astrology to explain just how those ancient astrologers figured out the "rules" (such as they are) of astrology. Richard is sending the link to some leading astrologers...we'll be waiting to see if any of them are up to the challenge. (We won't hold our breath, though.)

This brings us to our own submission. In honor of our turn at hosting the Skeptics' Circle, the Two Percent Company has declared March 14-18 to be Allison DuBois Week. If you don't know who Allison is, then consider yourself lucky. She is the self-proclaimed medium whose "real life adventures" the NBC show Medium is modelled after. If you'd like to see the results of our investigation into Allison's claims, check out our week long Rant:

The Two Percent Company's Allison DuBois Week:
% Monday: An Introduction to Allison DuBois
% Tuesday: Dr. Gary Schwartz's Research
% Wednesday: Allison's Track Record Assisting Law Enforcement
% Thursday: The Success Rate of Allison's Powers
% Friday: Allison's Answers to Skeptics

— • —

This brings to a close the fourth edition of the Skeptics' Circle. We hope you had as much fun reading it as we had compiling it. The fifth edition will be hosted over at Science and Politics on March 31, which is a mere two weeks away. We'll post a link to the call for submissions as soon as we can.

Thanks to Saint Nate for getting this whole thing started, and thanks to the hosts who have come before us for helping to create a wonderful tradition of skepticism and critical thought. And now we're off to the pub to raise a pint (or more) for skepticism, St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA Tournament. Cheers!

— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/89

Comments (7)

The Two Percent Company, 2005.03.17 (Thu) 14:54 [Link] »

Science and Politics will be hosting the next edition of the Skeptics' Circle on March 31, and Coturnix has issued a first call for submissions — no sense wasting time!

% Trackback » 2005.03.18 (Fri) 09:59
"Skepticism" from Dean's World

The latest Skeptic's Circle is available at The Two Percent Company.


% Trackback » 2005.03.18 (Fri) 19:23
"Psychics don't solve crime" from Secular Blasphemy

Skeptico , a brilliant skeptic blog, informs me that NBC is running a programme called "Medium" about an alleged psychic medium helping the police with crime mysteries. [More]

Mad House MAdman, 2005.03.19 (Sat) 15:01 [Link] »

Great stuff

Carrie, 2005.03.21 (Mon) 18:37 [Link] »

Good heavens, I'll be reading for months! Interesting posts. I'll check them out. Most of them anyway.

% Trackback » 2005.03.23 (Wed) 14:32
"Carnival of the Carnivals" from King of Fools

Here is your weekly dose: Carnival of the Vanities Christian Carnival Bonfire of the Vanities (Not Posted Yet!) The Watcher's Council Carnival of the Recipes Carnival of the Capitalists Carnival of the Cats Carnival of the Dogs Best of Me Symphony... [More]

jess, 2005.11.16 (Wed) 10:20 [Link] »

Hi I have just read the biggest debates ever on your websites! Fair enough you don't believe in physics or anything in that category. I don't believe in anything either, unless proven. I do think it is amazing that alison does have the talent to solve crimes, but I also believe I think it's wrong to charge people. I have been watching the show 'medium' and I think it's great but I do wonder sometimes if it is really true. I must admit I HAVE had a few encounters with some of my family who have past away. But I don't like to talk about it much, as I would like to keep it personal as I just felt they were watching over me through the hard times. I think it's wrong how much Alison charges to just speak to someone who isn't here in the flesh and blood anymore. People shoud live their life to the full. Yeah we will loose close ones but if there really is an afterlife, don't you think we should not make a big debate about it and we may find out for ourselves oneday. I must admit I don't know what to believe in this subject. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what they believe in, there is no need for anyone to get cocky about it until someone gets proof that afterlife does or does not exist. I do believe that you like to debate on a lot of things now. I just wondered, what DO you believe in?

The Two Percent Company, 2005.11.17 (Thu) 00:07 [Link] »

Well, jess, if you want to know more about what we believe, there are two posts that you can read — "Believe What You Want to Believe," and "An Ongoing Conversation About Beliefs." Be sure to read the comments on the latter post as more of our beliefs and the reasons for them are spelled out there.

Regarding your comments, you seem to contradict yourself when you say:

I don't believe in anything either, unless proven. I do think it is amazing that alison does have the talent to solve crimes,...

If you truly mean what you say in your first sentence, then we find it hard to believe that you would write your second sentence. You may or may not agree with the case that we've compiled that casts Allison's claims into serious doubt, but facts are facts: her claims to have "solved crime" have not been "proven" by any stretch of the imagination.

In general, and as we say in our "Believe What You Want to Believe" Rant, it is our opinion that everyone is free to hold any beliefs they feel like holding — as long as they don't infringe on the rights of others. You seem to be in agreement with us that, by taking advantage of the suffering of her victims in order to make a buck, Allison is infringing on the rights of others. Even though you have some beliefs that we would classify as faith-based — since they don't have any compelling evidence to back them up — you certainly don't appear to be infringing on the rights of others, which makes you a far better person than Allison in our minds (no matter what we may think of some of your actual beliefs).

jess, 2005.11.21 (Mon) 12:53 [Link] »

hi guys,
thanks for your comment, I must admit that I did contradict myself, but I always do wonder if there is paranormal things that go on in this world. maybe its because I want to believe it but then when you think about it and look at the facts with no physical evidence then it does make you wonder what are actually in these peoples minds, for example alison, has she told herself so many times that she sees dead people that she has actually started to believe it herself and giving herself illusions or is that she actually does and wants to make a buck out of it, either way!
I just wondered if you have ever thought that it may be true or not just like me.

The Two Percent Company, 2005.11.21 (Mon) 16:09 [Link] »


It's important to note that we would love it if claims of the paranormal were true. Hey, we admit it — that'd be pretty cool! We would love for there to be an afterlife, and for people to be able to communicate with their friends and relatives once they've die, and we'd love to believe the people who claim to be able to bridge that gap. However, we face the facts: there is simply no evidence to support such claims, and as such there is no rational reason to hold such beliefs.

Our journey as skeptics has been an interesting one. We started out very much open to the idea of considering fantastic claims of all kinds, mostly in our younger days. Over the years, we tested these notions by taking part in paranormal research (both formal studies and our own experiments), and by studying and analyzing the results of others. All of this has led us to where we are today — faced with the realization that the probability of claims like Allison's being true is as close to zero as to make no difference.

Of course, we maintain an open mind, and if evidence comes to light for a given phenomenon, we will gladly examine it and incorporate it into our point of view as appropriate. As far as Allison's claims, we have caught her in far too many contradictions, hypocritical statements, and outright lies to ever take her bullshit seriously.

The best advice that we can give you is to do exactly what you seem to be doing — do your own research and analysis, ask questions, and formulate your own opinions. Tools like the Skeptic's Dictionary and the James Randi Educational Foundation can be invaluable in applying critical thinking to the paranormal, but ultimately, the answers must be your own.

— • —

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