NOTE: The First Skeptics' Circle is being republished here because St. Nate retired from blogging, and I would like to save it for posterity in case Nate ever decides to delete his blog.
THE FIRST SKEPTICS' CIRCLE
Image taken from this classic CSICOP article
It all started a couple of weeks ago, when I surfed through three consecutive blogs that repeated the story about Bill Gates's Teen Beat photo spread. Then I became curious - I started to wonder if there were other people out there interested in counterbalancing the urban legends with critical thought. Like a true skeptic, I was driven by curiosity instead of doubt and I would only accept answers from evidence.
Tonight, I'm glad to say there are definitely a lot of bloggers interested in using their online forums to examine fads, solve mysteries, and correct misinformation. My vision has become a reality in a rather short space of time. So, with no further ado, it is my pleasure to host the First Skeptics' Circle.
Even a story that is often seen as being what Bora Zivkovic calls a "benign superstition" can come back to hurt you if it's not critically evaluated. In his case, he lost points on a test for not paying attention to a class presentation on biorhythms. He's become such an expert on the subject since then he can explain them while demonstrating how a Baloney Detector works in What This Blog Is NOT About: Biorhythms.
Busting Ghosts in the Machines
The movie White Noise sure had a catchy ad campaign, didn't it? The trailers tried to drum up interest for the film by encouraging people to visit a web site dedicated to electronic voice phenomenon to imply there was a kernel of truth to the whole thing. However, that wasn't enough to keep this poorly reviewed turkey from tanking, and The Two Percent Company explain away the deliberate attempts at misinformation in their rant Based on a True Story? White Noise and EVP.
Back in the 80's they were associated with Satanic Ritual Abuse; today they're associated with abusive Catholic priests. For the last 20 years the veracity of recovered memories of traumatic situations has been debated on talk shows, in courts of laws, and among those who dedicate their lives to understanding how the mind works. Shrinkette falls into the last category, and she presents both sides of the argument in Trauma Memories: "Recovered" vs. "False."
Some Things We Should Never Forget
Last week leaders from all over the world braved a harsh Polish winter to meet at the site of one of the worst atrocities in human history - an event some are trying to deny ever happened. Orac at Respectful Insolence recounts how he first learned about those who refuse to accept history in Musings on the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: How I Discovered Holocaust Denial.
Dr. Charles provides an enlightened perspective on history. Rather than try to deny, justify, or explain away a dark chapter in American history, he puts himself in the shoes of past physicians and puts the Ghosts of an Evil Medical Legacy to rest by giving them human faces.
Hypnotize With Gypsy Eyes
One interesting aspect of rumors is how they frequently reflect the prejudices of those who choose to believe them. For instance, if a Russian journalist is inclined not to like Gypsies, it doesn't take a lot to make him believe those vividly dressed nomads are using their secret powers to rob people. Bill Adams notes this is exactly the case in his post on Gypsy Hypnotists, The Purple Man, and You.
While it's a virtue to think critically about strange news stories, it's even more important to be skeptical about advertisements. This is especially true for any medical procedures or products that are being marketed to you instead of your doctor, because sometimes the advertiser doesn't want your doctor to know what they're up to. Dr. Enoch Choi gives a very good example of how scammers funning full-body scan centers made unsubstantiated claims and ignored potential adverse effects in Medmusings.
Speaking of bad advertising, Orac takes issue with the chipper testimonials for alternative medicine's "cancer cures." As an academic cancer surgeon, he knows how evidence is more valuable than endorsements when determining how effective a treatment is. He shares his expertise and experience in Understanding Alternative Medicine "Testimonials" for Cancer Cures.
Intelligent Design in the Pipeline
Like most people with just enough training in science to have an idea of how little they know, this world is a mystery to me. For instance, how does plumbing work? I've never seen pressure, so how do I know it actually exists? Does God dictate the flow of water, or does it adapt to its surroundings? Or did God allow water to form from hydrogen and oxygen so someday it could fulfill its divine role by washing my dishes? These are questions for someone far smarter than I - someone like PZ Myers, who answers them in the form of A Plumbing Parable.
I've noticed that doctors and chiropractors usually manage to co-exist by practically ignoring each other's practices. However, when Florida State University announced it was thinking of starting up a school for future spine crackers, it upset more than a few faculty members. Radagast weighs in on this debate by examining the evidence - or lack thereof - in FSU Chiropractic.
While frequently repeated rumors make me wince after I've read them on five different blogs, I have to admit most of them are harmless. To use a previously cited example, does it really matter whether or not Bill Gates posed for Teen Beat? Are any of us really that concerned about someone's friend-of-a-friend's uncle's wife's mother's friend who had some Snopes-worthy event attributed to them? I encourage spotting urban legends, but I don't have the time or energy to research every one I come across.
However, every now and then something starts circulating that could probably get someone killed if taken seriously. Liz has taken issue with one particular oft-repeated piece that could be dangerous - Doug Copp's insistence that his "Triangle of Life" will save you every time while "Duck and Cover" will get you crushed - in a four-part series.
Part I: Is Doug Copp a disaster hero or a massive fraud? Liz looks at the evidence and shows why there is a stronger case for the latter.
Part II: After Liz reflects on all the interest in the Triangle-of-Life, Copp responds - and what a long-winded tirade full of misspellings and foul language it is. You may want to pack a lunch if you plan to read all of it.
Part III: Real earthquake experts debunk Copp, dissecting his claims piece-by-piece. Copp, like any other liar caught up in his own web, continues to struggle furiously .
Part IV: No matter how many times it is discredited, the Triangle of Life pops up in yet more blogs. Copp thickens the plot by spitting venom at the American Red Cross's tsunami relief efforts; Liz responds with more rebuttals from those with more credibility.
I know I said no political posts, but this one is too good to pass up. Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas has a series of posts investigating extremist groups with pseudo-scientific and pseudo-historical agendas. And it starts with a simple skeptical question fueled by a rumor: Is a local candidate really funded by racist groups?
I'd like to thank you for reading the first edition of the Skeptics' Circle and everyone who has supported this endeavor. This has come off better than I would have thought possible.
The Second Skeptics' Circle will be held on Thursday, February 17 at Respectful Insolence (a.k.a. "Orac Knows"). I hope to have a static archive site set up for this carnival along with a schedule by Monday.
UPDATE: The advance schedule is posted at Circular Reasoning. This site will serve as the archive for this and all future editions.