Circular Reasoning

An archive site for the Skeptics' Circle. It includes a list of past Skeptics' Circles, future hosts, and announcements.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Ninth Skeptics' Circle

[NOTE: The Ninth 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.]


Hello and welcome to the Ninth Skeptics' Circle. We've got some great posts here on how to apply critical thinking to a wide range of endeavors from familiar experts and several new names.

Before we get started, I'd like to note the rules have tightened somewhat since previous editions. While I stand by the work of the past hosts, I decided it was time to take this carnival back to its roots, to the good ol' fashioned skepticism and critical thinking instead of critiques of mass media or social issues. When considering posts for submission, I asked myself "What would people who read The Amazing Randi every week want to read?" and worked from that.

With that paradigm in mind, let's start reading:

Ghosts, Aliens, Psychics and Stars
There is a logical explanation to everything, but there is also a illogical one. We can apply science to uncover the truth, or we can believe what we want to or is fashionable or easier to accept and start a profitable cottage industry by peddling books about superstitions. The former may be more honest, but the latter is often much more profitable.

Trish Wilson is the kind of person who takes the logical route. In Ghost Sightings, Alien Abductions, And Sleep Disorders, she notes a situation with a perfectly feasible medical explanation is often barely acknowledged by those who perpetuate stories about aliens or ghosts. To be fair, she acknowledges she only has two answers of many possibilities, but that's still two more than the ghost hunters have.

One of the newest skeptical bloggers, Rockstar of Rockstar's Ramblings, pulls no punches with Sylvia Browne is a Big Fat Idiot. Instead of looking at Sylvia's current predictions, he uses the Wayback Machine to look at what she said would happen versus what actually happened in 1998. The great thing about this experiment is that he can repeat it in 2012 with Sylvia's predictions for this year and will probably have the same results.

While Sylvia's vision may be cloudy, the stars are shining brightly. Skeptico looks to the night sky in Astrology as Psycho-Analysis and realizes how gazing at gaseous bodies light-years away does nothing to help us understand our true nature. (Hey, he's a Libra too. Could that be why we have so much in common?)

Bad Medicine
There's been a lot of buzz about The Huffington Post since it started a couple of weeks ago, but when scientist and cancer surgeon Orac checked it out he found Antivaccination rhetoric was running rampant throughout the blog. He takes a good, hard look at the data trying to link vaccinations to autism and shows why it never really adds up.

I don't know about you, but the whole spine-cracking subluxation thing kind of worried me long before I watched the Three Films You Must See about the dangers of chiropractic neck manipulation at Confessions of a Quackbuster. It's too bad Anne of Anne's Anti-Quackery & Science Blog didn't see them sooner; she could have spared herself the experience described in Is chiropractic really complete garbage? I was under the impression it was a legit medical thing.

After sharing this tale, Anne took a look at The 20 Most Popular Herbal Medicines. Strangely, her two favorite substances weren't included in the list, even though they have to be better sellers than most supplements or even most foods.

And if you would like to do more medical reading, check out Grand Rounds XXXV.

Actually, I may have to change the name of this section. The Bad Astronomer makes a strong case in Pseu-pseu-pseudio (geez, now I have that old song stuck in my head) makes a good case for the word "antiscience" as a way to describe this section. After all, it's often not so much fake as it is an attack on the established and proven ideas. I wonder if this means we can call quackery "antimedicine" too.

Well, BS by any other name would smell just as foul, and the mark of a good skeptic is the ability to recognize it in any form. Thursday of Polite Company runs down a list of red flags that indicate you're not dealing with an empirically proven useful technique/device/book in Pseudoscinece Detection Part 3. I actually saw all of these words at a psychic fair I recently attended, so I can verify this list is spot-on.

Of course, the hottest issue in pseudo- or antiscience right now is the intelligent design debate underway in Kansas. Both The Two Percent Company and Brent Rasmussen of Unscrewing the Inscrutable have been tearing the IDers' arguments apart straw by straw, showing that the science usurpers really don't have a clue what they're bickering against. Skeptico puts the ID ideology through a simplified scientific process in Let the Kids Decide and shows it doesn't touch any of the bases.

But then, some proponents of ID are calling for it to be taught as an alternative to biology, or at least another option to make them aware. The Politburo Diktat says if we Let the Students Decide on that matter, why not let them choose other pseudoscientific courses too? He already has the class schedule ready.

However, IDers may not have much of a sense of humor for this kind of thing. When Orac tries to answer criticism about how he deconstructed a satire about intelligent design in "Intelligent design" apologia: Pot. Kettle. Black., he sets off a debate that runs on for 44 comments as of this writing. It's like a little piece of Kansas in the blogosphere.

But as long as the anti-ID jokes are as funny as they are accurate, they'll keep coming. The Canadian Cynic weighs in with Evolution and "direct observation": Be careful what you wish for, where he makes the point through a hilarious analogy that there's more to evidence than what you see happening. Oh, that John Q. Creationist - caught up in his own logic. I hope CC knows a good artist because this would make a great comic tract series.

Finally, Dr. David L. Morgan weighs in with a historical perspective in On the Shoulders of Giant Mistakes... He shows how the very man who invented the laws of motion did not have the imagination to think beyond a designer himself and comes up with a very appropriate motto for the ID movement.

If we take the compromise out of intelligent design, though, we're left with nothing but the book of Genesis. Over in Kentucky, the young Earth creationists don't let a little problem like a lack of evidence stop them from building a museum dedicated to their point of view. Danny Boy of the Heathen Hold doesn't even need to visit The $25 Million Creationism Museum to point out some of its major flaws. Well, they may have their museum in a couple of years, but if OutEast at Ockham Mach3 gets a good response to his Modest Proposal, the skeptics could have the last laugh by setting up a pseudoscience sting.

I'm going to close out this section by saying that although we took some of shots at those who seek to put biblical doctrine over science, the religious aren't the only ones prone to pseudoscience. Indeed, as PZ Myers learned at a Minnesota Atheists meeting, the "people of reason" can be bamboozled by Omniscientific Cosmology, a theory that incorporates all scientific disciplines and arranges them on shifting charts to create a presentation painful to a biology professor.

Rethinking What Happened
What's done may be done, but those who try to reinterpret how the past is told may try to control the future. Retelling how history happened can have a dramatic effect not only on current perceptions, inconsistencies be damned. For example, in Star Wars: Does The Past Change The Past, Me shows how the tweaks of the prequels have changed our perceptions of what we now think about the trilogy my generation grew up with.

Charlie Kilian at Shades of Grey gives us another fictional example in his sort-of book review of the Da Vinci Code. He goes into how the fast-playing facts can appeal to someone who wants to criticize religion, their veracity be damned.

For more bad takes on the past, be sure to check out the next Carnival of Bad History at Science and Politics.

Proving What's Proven
The Mad House Madman takes a critical look at some issues that could lead to bias in a clinical trial in Prove it Prove it and I Still Don’t Believe it. A physician himself, he looks at most of the arguments about how the studies could be influenced, weighs in with his opinion, then tells us how the older doctors handle it.

Inbox Suckerpunch
Finally, let's wrap this up with a warning: There are more dangerous things that can appear in your e-mail account than frequently forwarded urban legends. Lord Runolfr in The Saga of Runolfr spotted the hook in a phishing scheme's bait and describes the experience in Beware of Your Email. Fortunately, the SCAdian was hip to these information superhighwaymen and did what he could to make them sorry for trying to steal his identity.

See You In a Fortnight
I'd like to give a big thank-you to all of this edition's contributors. The next Circle will be hosted on June 8 at Skeptico. Send your submissions to rrockley AT pacbell DOT net.

I'm also looking for more hosts from apolitical blogs with a skeptical interest. If you're interested in hosting an edition of the Skeptics' Circle, send me an e-mail at saint_nate AT hotmail DOT com.