2010 This Year In Skepticism – February

January 5, 2011

Here is the second part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I just reviewed last January here. And here’s February. Hopefully, I’ll cover more than one month of the year in the next installment.

Homeopaths admit their products have no active ingredients – The 10:23 homeopathic overdose campaign has driven the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit that their products do not contain any “material substances”:

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.

Lancet retracts1998 Wakefield study

Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, guru of The Secret was officially charged with manslaughter – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

Kevin Trudeau pissed off the wrong judge – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

The Desiree Jennings case may have been exposed as a fraud, though the damage was already done

Andrew Wakefield booted out of Thoughtful House

The Secular Coalition met with the White House

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James Ray is a dispicable human being

July 2, 2010

Back when the story first broke, I’d written about the arrest of The Secret’s James Ray following the deaths of several individuals taking part in his sweat lodge workshops. Now Anderson Cooper has done a great piece following up on the story.

James Ray is a dispicable human being, posted with vodpod

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News From Around The Blogosphere 2.25.10

February 26, 2010

1. A new study suggests acupuncture is good for depression in pregnancy. . .or does it? -

In other words, acupuncture specific for depression produced an effect that was not different from that of one of the controls. But by creating a group that combined non-specific acupuncture (ineffective) with massage (effective), they were able to create a composite that was ineffective, and then they compared the experimental group with the composite. But that doesn’t change the fact that acupuncture for depression was no better than massage.

Have the authors shown that acupuncture specific for depression is effective for treating depression in pregnant women? I don’t think so. If it offers no advantage over massage, we can forget about acupuncture and simply offer depressed pregnant women a day at the spa. It is no less effective and probably far more enjoyable.

2. Smile or Die:  How positive thinking fooled America and the world – In her new book, Barbara Ehrenreich presents the evidence of numerous studies demonstrating that positive thinking has no effect on survival rates. She also provides testimonies that suggest that possibly great harm comes from this false hope.

Pity, for example, the woman who wrote to the mind/body medical guru Deepak Chopra: “Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps re-occurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude.”

New Age mysticism may sound harmless enough but here is a great example of how dangerous such irrational beliefs are.

3. A gene mutation is linked to autistic symptoms in mice – Once again, this is research that would not exist if J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy, and their anti-vaccine cohorts were making the decisions because they have zero interest in exploring the genetic basis for autism.

4. Stem Cells restore sight to blind mice – I feel like this news story is a rerun. Anyway though, once again this is research that might not have existed if George Bush was president.

An international research team led by Columbia University Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. This strategy could potentially become a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a leading cause of blindness that affects approximately one in 3,000 to 4,000 people, or 1.5 million people worldwide.


News From Around The Blogosphere 2.4.10

February 5, 2010

1. 1000 rabbis warn against gays in the military – Their claim is that gays in the military will lead to more natural disasters. Well, considering that natural disasters have occurred throughout human history, that seems like a pretty unfalsifiable claim. Are they suggesting then that if gays are kept out of the military that there will never be another natural disaster again? I’d love to see them put their nickel down on that claim. Ugh! Silly rabbis. Trix are for kids. But I am curious. Do you think if a 1000 rabbis were typing on a 1000 typewriters, they could reproduce the Bible?

Alternate title: How to profit off friends and kill people

2. Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, guru of The Secret, has finally been officially charged with manslaughter over the three people who died after a northern Arizona sweat lodge ceremony he led last year.

Ray has built a multimillion-dollar empire as a self-help superstar who teaches people about financial and spiritual wealth, and uses free seminars to recruit followers to more expensive events. He soared in popularity after appearing in the 2006’s Rhonda Byrne documentary “The Secret,” and he promoted it on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.”

The Oct. 8 sweat lodge ceremony was intended to be the highlight of Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event at a retreat he rented near Sedona. He told participants, who paid more than $9,000 each to attend, that it would be one of the most intense experiences of their lives.

Well, he can’t be sued for false advertising. It was intense all right.

About halfway through the two-hour ceremony, some began feeling ill, vomiting and collapsing inside the 415-square-foot structure. Despite that, Ray urged participants to push past their physical weaknesses and chided those who wanted to leave, authorities and participants have said.

Two people – Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee – passed out inside the sweat lodge and died that night at a hospital. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and died a week later. Eighteen others were hospitalized.

According to his attorney, this was all just a freak accident, an isolated incident. Yeah, I bet.

3. Anti-evolution bill in Mississippi proves unfit for survival -

Mississippi’s House Bill 586, which if enacted would have required “scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution” to be presented in the state’s schools, died in committee on February 2, 2010, according to the legislative website. In 2009, the bill’s sponsor, Gary Chism (R-District 37), introduced a bill, HB 25, requiring biology textbooks in the state to include a hybrid of two previous versions of the Alabama evolution textbook disclaimer; that bill also died in committee.

Suck it, creationists!

4. More Catholic child buggery – Only a few short months after the final report came in about the Catholic conspiracy to cover up decades of child rape in a Catholic-run reform school in Ireland, now comes news of numerous accounts of child rape in a top German school run by Catholics:

Almost 30 alleged victims have come forward with claims against three Jesuit staff, saying that they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s at Canisius college in Berlin, alma mater of some of the country’s political, business and academic elite.

Peter Riedel and Wolfgang Stab left the school in 1981 and 1979 respectively while the third alleged perpetrator, named as Bernhard E (70), was suspended from the Jesuit order yesterday after admitting one case of sexual abuse.

Stab (65), a former gym teacher, now living in Chile, has confessed to the allegations and last week wrote an open letter of apology, while Riedel has denied the allegations.

You’re telling me that a guy with a name as innocent-sounding as “Stab” has committed heinous crimes? I’m shocked. Again, I’m forced to wonder how the world would respond to Coca Cola Co. if hundreds, if not thousands of its employers were found to have raped children? Why is the Catholic corporation treated any differently?

5. Lancaster, California Mayor claims to be “growing a Christian community” – Both Muslim and atheist groups have condemned Mayor R. Rex Parris’ comments:

Parris made the remarks last week during his annual state of the city address before an audience of mainly clergy and their spouses.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,” he said, according to the Antelope Valley Press. Parris is also promoting a ballot measure that supports prayer at public meetings with reference to a specific deity such as Jesus.

Someone has already come up with an awesome name for a website critical of him:  www.parrisites.com.


The Onion nails the power of positive thinking movement

January 14, 2010

more about “The Onion nails the power of positive…“, posted with vodpod


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.13.09

October 13, 2009

1. James Arthur Ray’s ‘Secret’ turns out to be death -

CRIMINAL charges are possible against The Secret author James Arthur Ray after two people died in a “sweat lodge” that was meant to provide spiritual cleansing for the 64 people crowded inside.

Now you know why it’s a secret.

2. Mormon says LDS is treated like blacks in the civil rights era – Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Moron–err, I mean Mormon Church compared anti-Mormon sentiment after their role in Prop 8 to blacks in the civil rights era. . .without irony.

3. Secular Student Alliance (SSA) needs help to raise $50,000 -

An SSA member/donor named Todd Stiefel has presented us with a challenge:

Any amount we raise — up to $50,000 — by December 21st, he will match dollar-for-dollar.

4. I iz sertifide hypnotherapist -

The regulation of hypnotherapists in the UK is so lax that even a cat can become accredited, the BBC has found.

Chris Jackson, presenter of Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria, registered pet George with three industry bodies. Each one accepted a certificate from the non-existent Society of Certified Advanced Mind Therapists as proof of George’s credentials... In the UK, George was registered with the British Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming (BBNLP), the United Fellowship of Hypnotherapists (UFH) and the Professional Hypnotherapy Practitioner Association (PHPA).

Suck it, hypnotoad!


Woo for kids

July 24, 2009

1. Girl Scout honored to teaching kids creationism – A Wisconsin teen, Annie Wichman, received the Girl Scouts of America’s highest honor, the Gold Award, for. . .

. . .amassing a library of creation literature for her church, building a model of Noah’s ark, and teaching creationism to elementary schoolers. She called her project Alternate Universe.

Now according to the Girl Scouts of America, this was not an endorsement of creationism but rather the award honors personal fulfillment and community involvement:

“…something that a girl can be passionate about—in thought, deed, and action. The project is something that fulfills a need within a girl’s community (whether local or global), creates change, and hopefully, is something that becomes ongoing.”

But it’s interesting how this at least superficially seems to mirror a topic I was discussing yesterday, Bill Maher being given the Richard Dawkins Award for promoting atheism. I disagreed with the choice given Maher’s infamous status as someone who promotes quack medicine while condemning real medicine. But a lot of people argued that he’s strictly being honored for his efforts with atheism and that his other beliefs shouldn’t play a factor in the decision regardless of how “religulous” they are. In this instance, I don’t actually know how the Gold Award process works and if every girl who completes their project receives the same award. But if not and this is a special award that she was being singled out for achieving, I would have definitely thought twice about choosing a girl who promoted pseudoscience as her project to be the recipiant of the high honor, lest it appear to be a tacit endorsement of evolution denialism.

2. The Secret for kids – The writers of the scam known as “The Secret” are now out to get your kids with a new book called “The Secret to Teen Power.”

religious-censorship3. A Christian couple, Ginny and Jim Maziarka of Wisconsin, are out to cleanse their local library of weapons of mass destruction that I like to call books. Specifically, sexually explicit books. Even more specifically, books that talk about homosexuality. And even more specifically, books with the title “Baby Be-bop,” about a gay teenager, which they claim is “explicitly vulgar, racial and anti-Christian”.


Newsweek takes on Oprah

May 31, 2009

Newsweek has done the unthinkable; they’ve criticized Oprah. It’s about time the mainstream media took an interest in crititizing Oprah Winfrey’s dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense.

Sadly however, the authors of this article aren’t very optimistic that Oprah’s devoted followers will abandon her and adopt reason instead:

At some point, it would seem, people will stop looking to Oprah for this kind of guidance. This will never happen. Oprah’s audience admires her as much for her failings as her successes. In real life, she has almost nothing in common with most of her viewers. She is an unapproachable billionaire with a private jet and homes around the country who hangs out with movie stars. She is not married and has no children. But television Oprah is a different person. She somehow manages to make herself believable as a down-to-earth everywoman. She is your girlfriend who struggles to control her weight and balance her work and personal life, just like you. When she recently related the story of how humiliated she felt when she arrived for a photo shoot to find that she couldn’t fit into the clothes she was supposed to wear, she knew she had every member of the audience in her hand. Oprah’s show is all about second and third and fourth chances to fix your life, and the promise that the next new thing to come along will be the one that finally works.

I’m kinda reminded of a character in the TV series “Nip/Tuck” named Kimber. Kimber is a character that has the determination to really go far but due to her own insecurities manages every season to some new self-destructive direction in her life in the guise of self-improvement, and gradually break free of it, only to fall victim to some new self-destructive behavior next season. That last paragraph quote above describes the Kimber character to a T.

The Newsweek article also takes some nice skeptical shots at Suzanne Somers, The Secret, HPV myths, and of course the queen of pseudo-scientific medical nonsense herself, Jenny McCarthy.


Best Amazon Book Review of “The Secret” EVER!

March 9, 2009

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid ever hearing of this piece of shit book, here’s everything you need to know about it right here. Now onto this one review of it on Amazon:

The Secret saved my life!,

December 4, 2007

Please allow me to share with you how “The Secret” changed my life and in a very real and substantive way allowed me to overcome a severe crisis in my personal life. It is well known that the premise of “The Secret” is the science of attracting the things in life that you desire and need and in removing from your life those things that you don’t want. Before finding this book, I knew nothing of these principles, the process of positive visualization, and had actually engaged in reckless behaviors to the point of endangering my own life and wellbeing.
At age 36, I found myself in a medium security prison serving 3-5 years for destruction of government property and public intoxication. This was stiff punishment for drunkenly defecating in a mailbox but as the judge pointed out, this was my third conviction for the exact same crime. I obviously had an alcohol problem and a deep and intense disrespect for the postal system, but even more importantly I was ignoring the very fabric of our metaphysical reality and inviting destructive influences into my life.
My fourth day in prison was the first day that I was allowed in general population and while in the recreation yard I was approached by a prisoner named Marcus who calmly informed me that as a new prisoner I had been purchased by him for three packs of Winston cigarettes and 8 ounces of Pruno (prison wine). Marcus elaborated further that I could expect to be raped by him on a daily basis and that I had pretty eyes.
Needless to say, I was deeply shocked that my life had sunk to this level. Although I’ve never been homophobic I was discovering that I was very rape phobic and dismayed by my overall personal street value of roughly $15. I returned to my cell and sat very quietly, searching myself for answers on how I could improve my life and distance myself from harmful outside influences. At that point, in what I consider to be a miraculous moment, my cell mate Jim Norton informed me that he knew about the Marcus situation and that he had something that could solve my problems. He handed me a copy of “The Secret”. Normally I wouldn’t have turned to a self help book to resolve such a severe and immediate threat but I literally didn’t have any other available alternatives. I immediately opened the book and began to read.
The first few chapters deal with the essence of something called the “Law of Attraction” in which a primal universal force is available to us and can be harnessed for the betterment of our lives. The theoretical nature of the first few chapters wasn’t exactly putting me at peace. In fact, I had never meditated and had great difficulty with closing out the chaotic noises of the prison and visualizing the positive changes that I so dearly needed. It was when I reached Chapter 6 “The Secret to Relationships” that I realized how this book could help me distance myself from Marcus and his negative intentions. Starting with chapter six there was a cavity carved into the book and in that cavity was a prison shiv. This particular shiv was a toothbrush with a handle that had been repeatedly melted and ground into a razor sharp point.
The next day in the exercise yard I carried “The Secret” with me and when Marcus approached me I opened the book and stabbed him in the neck. The next eight weeks in solitary confinement provided ample time to practice positive visualization and the 16 hours per day of absolute darkness made visualization about the only thing that I actually could do. I’m not sure that everybody’s life will be changed in such a dramatic way by this book but I’m very thankful to have found it and will continue to recommend it heartily.

Ari, you made my day. Thank you for that.


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