The Skeptic Digest
Subject: Skeptical Digest 19.1 (Spring 2006)
Date: May 28th 2006
>>>Skeptical Digest 19.1 (Spring 2006)
--Please forward as widely as possible without spamming anyone--
>>>Skeptical Stats>>>Dubious News>>>In this issue>>>Administrivia>>>Skeptics in the Pub>>>
1. Number of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions produced annually by
the average American: 12,000
2. Percentage this represents of CO2 emissions worldwide: 36.1 3. Percentage the US represents of the world's population: 5
4. Percentage of executives at large companies who say their communications are unmanageable: 25
5. Number of UFO sightings in 2005 in the eight-mile of North Yorkshire between Scarborough and Filey: 85
6. Amount of money spent annually in Britain on gambling: £64 billion
7. Length of time it takes mass-produced British bread to rise, ready for baking: 3 minutes
8. Number of Britons who consult homeopaths each year: 470,000 9. Amount Britons spend annually on homeopathy: about £25 million 10. Percentage of British GPs who refer patients to homeopaths: up to 40
11. Percentage of British school-aged children who will be obese by 2020 if current eating habits persist: more than half
12. Percentage of airline passengers in 568 crashes between 1983 and 2000 who survived without serious injury: 95
13. Price of a magnetic device called MoodMaker intended to cure impotence: £49.99
14. Percentage of mercury found in Fufang Lulhui Jiaonang capsules by the MHRA in an unannounced April 2005 inspection: 13
15. Amount fraudsters operating a letter-writing scam and claiming to be clairvoyant asked Thames Valley residents to pay to protect themselves from an evil presence: £17
16. Number, out of nine, of Dover, Pennsylvania school board voted out
after the debate over whether to teach Intelligent Design landed in
17. Percentage of the population who voted: 16 18. Kansas Board of Education vote to redefine science so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations: 6-4 19. Number of US states that have had some local or state level anti-evolution activity: 40
20. Percentage of Americans who go to church at least once a week who
voted for Bush: 61
21. Percentage of American church attenders who never attend church who voted for Bush: 37
22. Estimated number of people in Britain who claim to have psychic abilities: 150,000
23. Number of pieces of peer-reviewed research that has been published about Flying Spaghetti Monsterism: 2
24. Number of cows a Leeds woman was told by a local healer to slaughter to save her relationship: 3
25. Percentage of US meals consumed in cars: 19
Thanks for contributions to Sid Rodrigues and Jason C. Snowden.
>>>Anyone who has an email address knows that a mainstay of the torrent of junk that bombards us daily is the offer of breast enlargement. Spammers are always coy about the exact method by which the enlargement will be accomplished (we refuse to say "enhancement"; bigger is not always better). Steve Burgess, who runs a National Therapy Centre in Beverley, North Yorkshire, however, has a method we suspect the spammers are not using: hypnosis. Yes. We first heard of Burgess via a clipping from the Hull Daily Mail sent in by one of our Yorkshire correspondents. It credulously recounted the usual stuff: depression, alcoholism, smoking, weight loss, past-life regression, alien abductions, in which he now believes because of his patients' stories, yada, yada, yada. And then we looked at his Web site, where he claims this more unusual service "really works". Exclamation point. Burgess claims that success in this area has been documented as far back as 1949, and says, "It's a well known fact within the hypnotherapy profession that the mind can effect phenomenal changes on the body". If, he argues, hypnosis can cure illness and get rid of pain, then it's only logical to use it to increase the flow of blood to the breasts and reposition fat. "The fat is usually taken from the waist area, so there is often a reduction in waist size or shape also." Of course, you can achieve the same effect with better posture... "Don't laugh," his Web site advises before explaining all this. Sorry. Will too.
>>>The Daily Mail revealed in October that the TV show Most Haunted was a fake, when one of its own stars, resident parapsychologist Dr Ciaran O'Keeffe, blew the whistle, saying people were being deceived by "showmanship and dramatics" and that, "In my opinion, we're not dealing with genuine mediumship". The Mail also said it had obtained unedited footage in which the show's presenter, Yvette Fielding, and her husband faked ghostly knocks and bumps. O'Keeffe, who is a psychology lecturer at Liverpool Hope University, is (according to his Web site, at www.theparapsychologist.com) working on a doctorate under the supervision of Richard Wiseman.
>>>There's been a lot of discussion lately about alternative remedies and their funding by the NHS. You can see why the alternative therapists would want it: there's a]ot of gold in them thar government hills. The government's own ideas are likely to be more divided between the expense of funding more types of treatments and the savings due to the fact that things like faith healing and homeopathy are cheaper than things like MRI scans and Avonex. Long-term, of course, while some people's bodies will heal naturally, with or without any kind of remedy, the really serious ailments will become much more expensive because the later you begin to treat a condition, the more expensive the treatment is likely to be. Opinions seem to be seriously divided, sometimes within the same publication. The Yorkshire Post, for example, wrote an admiring piece about the prospects for using acupuncture in A&E. And of course most publications frequently run credulous pieces about this or that fashionable therapy. One that stood out, however, was Nick Cohen, writing in The Observer, who argued that spending public money on alternative remedies, even if doing so is popular, is wrong because "the government is dealing in deceit...a government which is prepared to deceive about medicine will deceive about much else besides". Like that's a new phenomenon?
>>>Yet another prospective cold remedy has bitten the dust: a study in the New England journal of Medicine in July found that Echinacea does not protect against (or cure) the common cold (or what one friend calls "man-flu"). The Observer's writer, Dr John Biffa, didn't like the conclusion, and therefore carped about the study's methods, complaining that instilling rhinovirus into test subjects' nostrils isn't how people are actually exposed to colds in the real world. Well, it isn't - but it's how colds have been studied for decades. You might expect people to be more prone to catch a cold with such a method, but if Echinacea had a protective effect you'd still expect the symptoms to be less severe. We have a little more sympathy with Biffa's complaint about Wallace Sampson's editorial in the same issue of NEJM questioning why scientists test such remedies as Echinacea when they are unproven; rather, he thought that research and public funding should be focused on things that have a reasonable chance of working. Sampson's reasoning: people continue to use things like Echinacea even when they've been shown not to work, so why bother? In the end because, we think, consumers deserve to make an informed choice, even if the choice they make is a stupid one. Still, not much comfort if you have a cold: Echinacea doesn't work, vitamin C doesn't work, going to bed and drinking hot lemon and honey doesn't work. You might as well try the final suggestion from Mark Twain's How to Cure a Cold, written in 1863: two quarts of whiskey every 24 hours. "Let them try it - if it doesn't cure them, it can't do more than kill them."
>>>We may, just may, have seen the last of the sane phase of the fights over whether MMR vaccines are linked to autism. In late October, the Cochrane Collaboration released its systematic review of the literature and concluded that MMR is probably safe and not linked to autism. However, as Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP and author of MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, points out in a Spiked Online editorial, this hasn't stopped the Daily Mail from insisting that the Cochrane review has it all wrong, while Private Eye has gone on saying that the scare's originator, Andrew Wakefield, has been unjustly vilified but adding that it's been pro-immunization all along. Wakefield's original claim was published in 1998; we suspect it will go on being repeated for the rest of our sceptical lives. As "Bad science" columnist Ben Goldacre wrote in the Guardian, "Health scares are like toothpaste: they're easy to squeeze out, but very difficult to get back in the tube". We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
>>>It was with a heavy heart that we read online that Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, the comic strip that exposes the utter absurdity of modern office life, has posted a defence of Intelligent Design on his blog (http://dilbertblog.typepad.com). A careful reading of what Adams actually said shows this isn't true: what he says is, "I'd be surprised if 90 percent-plus of scientists are wrong about the evidence for Darwinism. But if you think it's impossible you've led a sheltered life." After all, he argues, in a corporate setting lots of reasons are given to justify beliefs that when examined don't hold water. The ID people allege that within each field where evidence is found to support Darwinism there are some experts who are not convinced. Therefore, isn't it possible that scientists are giving in to peer-pressure? Naturally, we hope that science doesn't work like any of the corporations Adams has known. Unfortunately, there are human beings everywhere, so you never know. Meanwhile, the best argument we've heard comes from a friend who is seven months pregnant: "No one would make ribs this unbendy if they had planned such a large person to be kicking them / fitting behind them along with all the other stuff that normally takes up the space. Intelligent design my arse".
>>>The Center for Inquiry, the parent organization of CSICOP (which assists us with production, printing, and posting The Skeptic), has been granted special consultative status as a non-governmental organization under the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This status will allow the Center for Inquiry to participate in meetings and conferences open to NGOs, which can only be good news for the endeavour of spreading scientific rationalism. Congrats to CSICOP.
>>>IN THIS ISSUE OF THE SKEPTIC (19.1, Spring 2006)
- Second Sight? Or Just the Blind Leading the Blind? (Krissy Wilson) Just Your Imagination? Part 1: Acting (Martin Parkinson) The Mystery of Hellfire Pass: Part Three (Paul Chambers and Robert Bartholomew) Natural Science and the Spirit World: Part One (Friedrich Engels)
- Editorial (Victoria Hamilton and Chris French) Hilary Evans's Paranormal Picture Gallery Hits and Misses Skeptic at large... (Wendy M. Grossman) Rhyme and Reason (Steve Donnelly) Philosopher's Corner (Julian Baggini) Sprite (Donald Rooum) ASKE News Letters
- Darwin's Legacy: What evolution means today by John Dupré Eight Preposterous Propositions by Robert Ehrlich The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson The Science of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Michael Hanlon
>>>SOURCES FOR SKEPTICAL STATS>>>
1 The New Yorker; 2 BBC; 3
http://www.bep.treas.gov/store/section.cfm/73/435; 4 Business Week (McKinsey report); 5 Yorkshire Post; 6 The Times; 7 Daily Telegraph; 8,9,10 The Independent; 11 Barnardos research study; 12 Skeptical Inquirer (statistic from NTSB); 13 www.dash.co.uk; 14 www.mhra.gov.uk; 15 BBC; 16,17 Austin American Statesman; 18 Independent; 19 National Center for Science Education; 20,21 Business Week; 22 Channel 5; 23 The Panda's Thumb blog (www.pandasthumb.org); 24 Yorkshire Post; 25 Harper's (Culinary Institute)
Thanks for contributions to Sid Rodrigues and Jason C. Snowden. Thanks to Rachel Carthy for administrative support and Phil McKerracher for managing the digest subscription list and the Skeptic's Web site.
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>>>SKEPTICS IN THE PUB>>> Skeptics in the Pub meets (usually) on the third Thursday of every month at 7:30pm at the Old King's Head, 45 Borough High Street, London (nearest tube: London Bridge). The entry fee is £2 to cover the guest speaker's travelling expenses and sundries. Free sandwiches and chips are provided first-come, first-served, at 7.00pm. Non-skeptics welcome. Turn up at any time during the night. Detailed directions, a list of upcoming speakers and a map of how to get to the pub can be found at www.skeptic.org.uk/pub.
Thursday 22nd June 2006
Note: Date change! Lynette Davidson "Bad History?"
Thursday 24th August 2006
Note: Date change! Martin Poulter "Scientology: It's worse than you think"
The talk will be followed by informal discussion in a relaxed and friendly pub atmosphere. Skeptics in the Pub is a regular evening for all those interested in and/or skeptical of the paranormal, alternative medicine, psychic powers, pseudo-science, UFOs, alien abductions, creationism, Fortean phenomena, cult religions, water-divining, lost civilizations, etc. Further information and mailing list announcements available from pub at skeptic.org.uk or Nick Pullar on 07793 158697. Suggestions for speakers or offers to speak are gladly welcomed.
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