News From Around The Blogosphere 8.21.11

August 22, 2011

1. Bionic leg gives amputee natural gait – Once again, science achieves where gods have failed, creating a practical prosthetic leg that closely simulates the function of a biological one. Now unfortunately, the article was unclear whether the leg comes with a Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman sound effect option.

2. A pro-science GOP candidate? – Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman has come out in support of both evolution and climate change. It began with a Twitter post where they tweeted: ”To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”  He then went on ABC’s Sunday morning show This Week and came out even stronger in support of science. And in doing so, he’s proven to be the only GOP candidate who seems to have graduated from elementary school and has immediately moved up to the top of my list of who I’d like to see running in the general election against Obama…at least out of the options that are currently on the table…which admittedly doesn’t say much.

I'm pretty sure this is the right Rhett S. Daniels

3. Science blogger silenced by quack’s lawsuit – Fortunately, U.S. libel cases are notoriously hard to prove and Rhett Daniels doesn’t seem to have anything even resembling a good case. But at least for the time being, René Najera has been successfully silenced by this intellectual coward’s bullying tactic.

4. Can science engineer a human with bulletproof skin?

By mixing the genomes of spiders and humans, researchers say they can create genetically altered human skin that could withstand a bullet fired from a .22-caliber long rifle.

They just better make sure this spider-man is taught that with great power comes great responsibility. This story sounds pretty far-fetched but it still makes for an interesting read.

5. JREF targets famous ‘psychics’ following Nightline episode – Last week’s episode of Nightline looked at the world of alleged psychics. It did a pretty decent job of representing the skeptical side, featuring guys like Banachek and James Randi himself voicing their criticisms and mimicking standard mentalist tricks. And now the James Randi Educational Foundation is following up the piece by issuing personal invites for several of the famous psychics featured in the show such as James Van Praagh to apply for their Million Dollar Challenge. Of course, one doesn’t have to be psychic to predict they’ll either ignore the challenge or refuse to take it with a silly excuse.

6. Psychic family caught in fraud case:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 5.4.11

May 4, 2011

1. Mark Geier is stripped of his medical license – For those who don’t know, Mark Geier and his son David have been “treating” autistic children with chemical castration for several years now. As far as I’m concerned, that puts them pretty much write behind Osama bin Laden on the list of worst human beings alive. Oh, that’s right. Osama’s dead. That might possibly bump father and son Geier up to worst people on Earth. So I’m delighted to hear that the Maryland medical board decided to strip Mark Geier of his medical license. You can see the official 48-page decision in .pdf format here. Also, Orac chimes in on the news here.

2. Robots learn to share -This article is deceptively more about the evolution of altruism than robots, but still pretty interesting and worth the read:

Using simple robots to simulate genetic evolution over hundreds of generations, Swiss scientists provide quantitative proof of kin selection and shed light on one of the most enduring puzzles in biology: Why do most social animals, including humans, go out of their way to help each other? In the online, open access journal PLoS Biology, EPFL robotics professor Dario Floreano teams up with University of Lausanne biologist Laurent Keller to weigh in on the oft-debated question of the evolution of altruism genes.

3. Acupuncture needle found in former South Korean president’s lung

Former South Korean president Roh Tae-woo was admitted to hospital with a bad cough and ended up on the operating table to remove an acupuncture needle from his right lung.

So let’s look at the cost/benefit ratio. Acupuncture has no benefit, and it can possibly kill you.

“I can’t figure out how the needle got into there,” Dr Sung Myung-whun was quoted as telling reporters at the hospital after the operation. “It is a mystery for me, too.”

Call me crazy, but I suspect the needle “got into there” while you were callously jabbing them into the man’s body. Just a thought. How appropriate that “woo” is in the ex-president’s name. I think comedian Dmitri Martin had the best response to acupuncture.

4. The illusion of being watched can make you a better person – We’re already well past the final nail in the coffin of the Christian view of morality, but here’s just another interesting incite into human behavior. Not only do we tend to act more morally when being watched, but we even do so when we see posters of staring eyes.

5. Facebook finally answers age-old question of who’d win in a fight: Jesus or Batman?

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.27.11

April 28, 2011

1. Borg-like eye-tracking mini display gives wearer Terminator vision – The really geeky-looking monocle overlays digital information on top of what you normally see in front of you. The downside is that it also gives wearers a unceasing compulsion to track down and kill anyone named Sarah Connor and that the article makes not a single reference to the Geordi LaForge visor.

2. Bogus colic relief treatment sold to children – The company Brauer is selling homeopathic “medicine” as a treatment against colic in children. This is repulsive and shows that, as PZ Myers says in the link above, “Brauer profits off the pain of children, and offers nothing in return.”

3. NJ maintains low vaccination levels -Last year it was reported that  my home state of New Jersey had the sixth lowest vaccination rate in the country. Incidentally, New Jersey was also number one in autism (you do the math). While I don’t know where the state falls on the national scale now, a new report shows that Jersey’s vaccination rates remain embarrassingly and shamefully low:

67 percent of New Jersey children ages 19 to 35 months have received the recommended vaccine doses compared to the national average of approximately 70 percent, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

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Dr. Steven Novella vs. Dr. Oz

April 26, 2011

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t care for Mehmet Oz. And it’s not just because the beliefs he espouses are so wacky he feels he needs to always be seen in his medical scrubs to convince people that he is a legitimate doctor. No, it’s because of the actual beliefs he espouses and the harm it does to those who follow his crackpot advice.

Now don’t get me wrong. He is a real doctor. He’s a heart surgeon, and from what I understand, a very good one. The problem is that despite his expertise in one very specific area of medicine, he insists on speaking out of school by talking about all manner of medical treatments, real as well as bogus, playing off of people’s ignorance about medical specialization. People generally think any medical doctor is some form of general practitioner who knows everything about medicine when more often than not, they just know a lot about one area of medicine. A cardiac surgeon may know an awful lot about the heart but there’s no reason to assume they significantly more about the foot than the average laymen.

But why I’m talking about Mehmet Oz now is because my skeptical mentor Dr. Steven Novella was invited onto Oz’s show to argue a more science-based point of view on bogus–err, I mean”alternative” “medicine”:

Surprisingly, according to Novella, the piece wasn’t that poorly edited against him. Unfortunately, the format in which the show was structured was heavily weighted against him. As can be seen from the clip, the show was framed around the highly biased idea that doctors who don’t share Oz’s particular brand of faith are “afraid” of discussing it when obviously Novella talks about it almost every day on his podcast and many blogs. Also, Oz always got the final word on each topic and Novella wasn’t given a real chance to rebut those rather large claims. For instance, when discussing acupuncture, a promoter of the bullshit treatment was given the platform to insist it was backed by copious research after Novella said it wasn’t, and then Oz reiterated what she said as the final word on the topic without given Novella another chance to speak.

Suffice it to say, it was very clear why such shows make terrible venues for having real scientific debates about fringe medical claims. Though it was still great that Novella had the opportunity to speak before Oz’s audience and dispel a few myths about what Oz’s critics are saying.

Orac also wrote about this here.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.20.11

April 20, 2011

1. Siberian YouTube alien is a hoax – This week a YouTube video has been making the rounds that seems to show the discovery of a dead space alien in the ice. Of course, as it turns out, the tiny “dead alien” is just skin from chicken filled with bread that was painted in “alien colors,” whatever that is.

2. Dilbert’s evolution-denying creator caught using sock accounts – Many people don’t know this but Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, doesn’t believe in evolution. What you might also not know is that he often defends himself against critics online under the anonymous account, PlannedChaos in order to give the illusion of impartiality. And when his dishonesty was caught, his excuse was that since it hardly even registers when compared with the worst immoral behavior imaginable that that somehow makes his actions acceptable. PZ Myers offers this hilarious response:

Great. So if ever I’m caught kicking a puppy or lying on the internet, all I need to do is explain that I didn’t kill six million Jews, so you can all forgive me.

Myers perfectly demonstrates what a pathetic argument that is and how it can be used to justify literally anything.

Exhibit A:

3. Jesus loves Kit Kat viral video – Whenever I hear a pareidolia-themed news story about people seeing the face of Jesus in some random object, I love to post about it. Hell, I’m even making a short film mocking the phenomenon. And last year, when a video emerged showing people who allegedly found Jesus’ face in a Kit Kat bar, I probably reported it. But it turns out that it was a Poe, a deliberate hoax that was indistinguishable from a genuine news story. In actuality, it was an experiment to see if they could get the video to go viral.

On a related note…

4. Canadian-Israeli director Simcha Jacobovici claims to have found the nails that crucified Jesus – How does he know? Well, they’re really old. What more proof do you nned?

5. Mitchell and Webb bring us Holistic ER – The group that has given us Homeopathic A&E, also has another video mocking holistic medicine of all kinds.

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New School University embraces woo with new ‘Creative Arts Therapy’ Program

March 11, 2011

Tragically, the school I received my Masters Degree from has now introduced a whole program devoted entirely to nonsense. They call it “Creative Arts Therapy”:

The field of creative arts therapy is now widely recognized as an essential component of healthcare in our society. Creative arts therapists integrate modalities of music, drama, the visual arts, and dance/movement into the practice of psychotherapy in a variety of clinical settings. These include psychiatric, rehabilitation, and general hospitals; nursing homes; group homes; outpatient psychotherapy clinics; special education; and private practice.

The New School’s certificate program in Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) curriculum is both didactic and experiential, grounded in the latest developments in psychology and mind-body healing. Our program is unique in encouraging students to work in more than one artistic modality in developing therapeutic insights and mastery. We integrate mind-body techniques such as creative visualization, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, and therapeutic touch with more traditional arts therapy and psychodynamic approaches.

Recognized by who? Certainly not any reputable health organization in the world. Art therapy? Music therapy? Aroma therapy? Mind-body healing? Gimme a break! The placebo effect is not a healing modality and you certainly can’t be taught as one in a classroom.

Here’s the program’s FAQ page on Facebook:

How much does the program cost?

The cost of each course is $620.00.  Nine courses are required to graduate, so the total is approximately $5,580.00.

[Spit take] WHAT?!

Taking students’ money in exchange for providing them courses whose curriculum is based on pseudoscience and thus lack any legitimate practical application is not only an academic disgrace but is arguably fraud. Why not teach homeopathy or Scientology courses while you’re at it?

To give you an idea of what they’re selling, they’re hosting an upcoming event to be held on April 10 (Fuck! Same weekend as NECSS!) called “The Voice of Trauma: A Sound Approach to Healing the Wounds of Childhood Trauma,” which prescribes a whole bunch of touchy-feely, hippy pseudo-therapies for serious childhood trauma:

Trauma themes are explored through musical story telling, vocal improvisation and drumming.

Participants also learn to externalize and transform resistant sub-personalities commonly found in traumatized individuals through the vocal giving-and-receiving feedback loop. Clinical case examples are shared that document the effectiveness of voice-centered music therapy in transforming the ravages of early trauma. Special focus will be given to assessing strengths and weaknesses of the traumatized client, the effects of early trauma on the nervous system, and contraindications for uncovering/releasing techniques. No singing experience or musical background necessary.

I take it back. This IS fuckin’ Scientology!

For a more detailed account of what this program entails, here’s an incredibly long video presentation about it that attempts to sell it as some sort of legitimate curriculum:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.4.11

March 5, 2011

1. John Connor, it is time.

Whenever the military rolls out a new robot program, folks like to joke about SkyNet or the Rise of the Machines. But this time, the military really is starting to venture into robot-apocalypse territory: swarms of little semi-autonomous machines that can team up to manufacture complex objects (including, presumably, more robots).

That’s right, the only thing scarier than a swarm of intelligent military mini robots is a swarm of intelligent military mini robots in control of the means of production. And your Navy is hard at work on making it a reality.

2. Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist Church – As detestable as the WBC is, I think the Supreme Court made the right call, which I’ve argued previously over at the Gotham Skeptic. Alito was the only Justice who sided with the Snyder family against the WBC. Between this decision and the vaccine court decision last week, the Supreme Court has been batting a 1000 lately.

3. Anti-abortion billboard goes down in NYC – The billboard tried playing the race card, a gambit anti-abortionists have been using for some time now. And while I don’t condone censorship, this wasn’t government censorship:

Councilwoman Letitia James and her legislative aide Aja Worthy-Davis that yesterday they launched a Change.org petition targeting Life Always and billboard owner Lamar Advertising, asking them to remove it. Later in the day, Lamar Advertising announced that it would take the billboard down.

Of course this notion that Margaret Sanger was a racist eugenicist, and that Planned Parenthood’s true agenda is to exterminate black people is complete bullshit.

4. Third-grader allegedly heals friends with magic – Okay, let’s settle this once and for all by seeing him heal Christopher Hitchens.I understand why a kid could buy into this fantasy but adults who report the news have no excuse.

5. Age of Autism cries misogyny – The same blog that suggested journalist Amy Wallace was blowing Dr. Paul Offit is accusing Doonesbury of misogyny over a cartoon that suggested Jenny McCarthy makes Playboy bunnies look bad. That is too funny. If anyone can explain to me why, feminist crusader that she is, Katie Wright had no objection to her own blog’s attack on Wallace, let me know. Also, if you can explain how the content of the cartoon is criticizing all women instead of just criticizing Jenny McCarthy alone for speaking out of school, I’d love to know that too. Oh, and one more thing. If you can explain to me how a website that accuses its critics of being a “loyal Pharma-funded wife” without even the slightest bit of evidence of any conflict of interest can maintain any moral high gound, let me know that too. Sullivan writes about it here.

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