The Skeptic Digest
Subject: Skeptical Digest 19.2 (Summer 2006)
Date: August 13th 2006
>>>Skeptical Digest 19.2 (Summer 2006)
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>>>Skeptical Stats>>>Dubious News>>>In this issue>>>Administrivia>>>Skeptics in the Pub>>>
1. Number of people living in New Orleans as of February 1, 2006:
2. Number of people living in New Orleans pre-Katrina: nearly 500,000
3. Price, with seven days to go, of an "image of Jesus on a piece of sheet metal New", on eBay: $1.025
4. Percentage of 562 surveyed British children who thought their fathers were the smartest people in the world: 27 5. Percentage who thought their mothers were: 19
6. Number of weeks London mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended by the Adjudication Panel for England for comparing a reporter from the Evening Standard to a concentration camp guard: 4
7. Number of Fairtrade products available in Britain: 1,300
8. Number of psychics helping search for a prize-winning show whippet
that escaped from a travel cage at New York's Kennedy airport: 12
9. Cost of a "Psychic Journey" at Uri Geller's and Jonathan Cainer's
Psychic Museum in York: £30
10. Number of "Aura Photographs" included in the price: 1
11. Number of British children who run away every year: 100,000 12. Percentage that are under 11: 25
13. Amount the Department of Homeland Security spent on antiterrorism devices between September 11, 2001 and June, 2005: $4.5 billion 14. Amount that was found to be ineffective, unreliable, or too expensive to operate: almost all
15. Average percentage of the UK population that the British believe
are immigrants: 21
16. Percentage of the UK population that actually are immigrants: 8
17. Number of networks that make up the Internet: 250,000
18. Estimated number of Chinese people who start their days by drinking their own urine: 3 million
19. Age at which babies have shown altruistic behavior: 18 months
20. Number of people in the European Union who identify themselves as Muslims: 20 million
21. Number of intergalactic lovers jazz singer Pamela Stonebrook claims to have had: 1
22. Amount pension obligations add to the cost of every vehicle General Motors produces: $675
23. Number of thymus organs German scientists discovered in 2006 that
mice have: 2
24. Number chickens have: 10
25. Percentage of British children receiving the MMR vaccine: 81
>>>Science fraud giveth, and science fraud taketh away. The announcement that Woo Suk Hwang's claimed stem cell research had not after all produced a human clone continues to reverberate, and the news continues to get worse. Not only did Hwang violate ethical principles (duh), but some of his egg donors became ill from the drugs used to stimulate production, he can't account for $2.6 million in missing research funds, at least five investigations are continuing in South Korea and the United States, and some of those investigations are criminal. Next to all that, the simple retraction of his papers must seem almost minor. Why do they do it? We know that about 50 percent of elite athletes, when asked, have said that they would take a drug that would ensure victory even though it would kill them in five years, but at least in such a scenario the athlete gets the glory and satisfaction that comes with winning. Do fraudulent scientists really believe that they won't get caught? Wouldn't they be better off claiming results less likely to capture worldwide media attention and therefore somewhat less scrutiny?
>>>The Citizens Advice Bureau issued an advisory in February about psychic scams: fraudsters who promise to tell people their fortune but instead take the money and run. Or they send threats, demand money, and keep demanding it: in one case reported to a CAB, a clairvoyant sent an elderly man numerous letters accusing him of owing money from a past life. The CAB stopped short, however, of tackling the question of whether any horoscopes (or clairvoyance, predictions, and so on) were actually worth anything. "For most of us reading our horoscope is an enjoyable way of seeing if we can predict what is coming around the corner. But it can turn from harmless fun into an expensive and worrying problem," the press release reads. We have to say that these guys are just lazy. With all the horoscopes posted on the Net and in the newspapers, you'd think it would be just as easy to throw together a few meaningless sentences to send the dupes. Oh, for the old days, when a fraudulent psychic did a little honest work.
>>>A poster to alt.folklore.urban noted that on a recent weekend morning a Strange But True short sandwiched between a couple of cartoons he was watching with his six-year-old son made the claim that babies don't have kneecaps. It turns out this is not an uncommon myth (as anyone who's ever actually looked at a small child's knees might expect) and there are a number of Web sites both promulgating and debunking this myth. They have kneecaps. The kneecaps just aren't ossified yet, and so they don't show up on X-rays. They are formed when the foetus is about three to four months along in development, and are cartilaginous for the first three (females) to five (males) years of the child's life. In an unrelated development, the Association of British Science Writers not only couldn't find a worthy award recipient in the category for TV programmes for 2005, it couldn't even find anything worth shortlisting.
>>>You know, we don't love Harry Potter, and we made fun of JK Rowling and the water sprite she purchased with her Scottish castle, but it does seem a bit much that a Vatican official has accused her of luring children to devil-worship because her books are tainted by the Prince of Darkness. The Vatican official in question, Father Gabriele Amorth, is apparently best known for having carried out more than 3,000 exorcisms since 1986. But he's not alone: the current Pope, before he assumed the Papacy, said three years ago that the books held "seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly". Kind of ironic, considering the source.
>>>We note without editorial comment that Ireland Online ran the story at the beginning of March that Uri teller, who publicly supported Michael Jackson during the Tatter's trial, has publicly criticized Jackson for lying to documentary maker Martin Bashir about having plastic surgery.
>>>Not exactly paranormal but definitely superstitious is the extreme paranoia with which parts of the US have begun to regard ordinary household dust and dirt. A recent article in Family Circle recommended: flushing the garbage disposal with bleach or anti-bacterial cleaner (and then cleaning the sink and counters to get rid of any matter that might have flown out); disinfecting can openers; closing the toilet lid before flushing lest bacteria fly out and contaminate your toothbrush; microwaving your sponges after use (and replacing them every two weeks); and cleaning sinks and counters with a solution of 10 percent bleach after they are touched with so much as a grocery bag. If that doesn't make you feel clean enough, change your towels every two to three days; dump your bar soap in favour of liquid because bacteria can grow on bars; get rid of all carpeting; disinfect doorknobs and remote controls; clean under the bolts holding down your toilet; and never, ever, ever wash your clothes with your underwear. The article doesn't say what to do to protect yourself if you actually dare to get dressed, brush your teeth, and venture out into the outside world.
>>>Science Magazine, the house publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ran an interesting essay by Mexican biology professor Antonio Lazcano, of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, about the deep roots of evolution in Mexican society - despite the fact that the country is notoriously Catholic. Many Americans, Lazcano notes, are under the misapprehension that the teaching of evolution must necessarily be limited in his country. But no: the Catholic church does not advocate a literal reading of the Bible, and Darwin's ideas and Catholic ones manage a peaceful coexistence, unlike the controversy in some areas of Mexico's bigger and more powerful neighbour to the north.
>>>The news came through in early February that James Randi was in hospital after bypass surgery. The most recent word is that he continues to recover well. Anyone who wants to write to Randi or send a card may do so via the JREF, 201 SE 12 Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316. Anyone who wants to help is asked to consider donating blood to the Red Cross, or joining or making a donation to Randi's foundation.
>>>IN THIS ISSUE OF THE SKEPTIC (19.2, Summer 2006)
- Natural Science and the Spirit World: Part 2 (Friedrich Engels) Just Your Imagination? Part 2: Feel The Force (Martin Parkinson) Discord (Lee Traynor) Mia Dolan on Granada's This Morning (Tony Youens)
- 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
- A Beginner's Guide to Reality by Jim Baggott Vampire Nation by Arlene Russo Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science by Steve Fuller Will Storr vs the Supernatural: One Man's Search for the Truth about Ghosts by Will Storr
>>>SOURCES FOR SKEPTICAL STATS>>> 1 Brookings Institution (www.brookings.org/metro/katrina.htm); 2 Reuters; 3 eBay; 4,5 Pocket-lint.co.uk; 6 press reports; 7 Observer; 8 Associated Press; 9,10 www.psychicmuseum.com ; 11,12 Children's Society, cited in Evening Standard; 13,14 Bruce Schneier's Weblog; 15,16 Harper's Index; 17 Vint Cerf, in testimony before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; 18 Outside Magazine; 19 Science (via BBC); 20 The New Yorker; 21 Metro; 22 Harper's; 23,24 Nature; 25 Durham University press release
Thanks to this issue's clippings contributors: Rachel Carthy, Sid Rodrigues,Steuart Campbell, Tom Ruffles, Ernest Jackson, the Wizard's Star List, Skeptic News,and Phil McKerracher. 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 24th August 2006
Note: Date change! Martin Poulter "Scientology: It's worse than you think"
Thursday 26th October 2006
Note: Date change! Richard Wiseman "Television and the paranormal, the need for positive skepticism, religious belief, magic, and the science of speed dating"
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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