News From Around The Blogosphere 10.27.11

October 27, 2011

1. Skeptical zombies ignored by James Van Praagh – In possibly the best PR stunt the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has ever come up with, their president, DJ Grothe led an army of zombies on a mission to get self-proclaimed “psychic” James Van Praagh to finally take the JREF’s Million Dollar Psychic Challenge. Not surprisingly, Praagh’s goons kept the zombies from meeting with him but of course that doesn’t matter as this story is getting a lot of press.

2. Church’s bogus AIDS cure causes 3 deaths – Though this is an isolated incident, this is precisely the kind of tragedy that can be expected in a culture that demands unquestioned belief and condemns skepticism.

3. 60 Minutes pisses off anti-vaxxers – As part of their Steve Jobs-centered episode this week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the remarkable benefits that iPads and other tablet devices have demonstrated for people with autism. And somehow by simply highlighting an important, practical tool in helping autistic people communicate, they’ve pissed off Age of Autism. And bravo to Age of Autism’s commenters for declaring war on Temple Grandin of all people. That takes serious balls. Maybe their next target will be blind nuns, adorable puppies, and AIDS-infected orphans. I’m just shocked Age of Autism didn’t rant about the fact that Pfizer is a major sponsor of the show.

4. ‘Sybil’ admits she never really had multiple personalities – The most famous alleged case of multiple personality syndrome, or what’s now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder was based on lies and manipulations.

5. Atheists doing volunteer work – This is something I want to see more of in atheist groups. This is one of the ways we’ll change people’s negative stereotypes about atheists.

 

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Psychic Sally exposed as a fraud

October 12, 2011

BUSTED!

Back in the 80’s, James Randi exposed “faith healer” Peter Popoff as a charlatan on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It seemed that Popoff was being fed information about his audience by his wife through an earpiece. When Randi and company found the right frequency, they managed to record Popoff’s wife feeding her husband everything he needed to know to appear as though “God” was directing him to the specific person he was to “heal.”

The earpiece has been a common tactic for those pseudo-psychic mentalists who are just too lazy to cold read and just want to have everything they need to know spoon-fed to them. Now  one such lazy “psychic” is Psychic Sally Morgan, who is clearly spotted in HER OWN VIDEO removing a hidden earpiece at the end of her act.

Of course, coward that she is, she’s actually threatening her accusers with legal action. I for one hope she does. It will be very entertaining listening to her try to prove her magic powers in court…which of course she would have to do in a defamation suit because, among other requirements, defamation cases demand that the defendants’ accusations are actually false. She’d also have to prove the defendants knowingly lied. Good luck with that, Sally. It doesn’t take a psychic to figure out that her threats of legal action are empty and that, if carried out, would only end in embarrassing defeat for her.

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Marie Claire vs. the psychics

September 11, 2011

I know I’ve been gone awhile. I’ve been a bit busy lately, but I hope to be back to posting more regularly soon.

In the meantime though, I just wanted to highlight an recent article a friend pointed me to in Marie Claire magazine of all places, entitled, “Are Psychics the New Dating Gurus?

The article is surprisingly pretty considering the source. The author managed to do a better reporting job than most mainstream news media when discussing alleged “psychics” by not providing false balance by extensively quoting “psychic” defending their claims against critics. Instead, the writer doesn’t make much of an attempt to editorialize about psychic claims in the broader sense and just points to how wrong many specific predictions are and how they tend to always closely resemble vague and obvious guesses about the wishful thinking of whoever is receiving the reading. For instance, a remarkable number of customers are told they’ll meet their soul-mate within a short period of time after receiving the reading.

The article also mentions how women are disproportionally much more likely to believe those selling psychic services. This is why I’m particularly glad to see such a strong skeptical piece in a magazine like Marie Claire with a readership that’s almost exclusively women. This isn’t just some sensational TV special that will only attract viewers interested in seeing an investigation into psychics but a publication where women will see this skeptical article with its sensational title without having to go out of their way.

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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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Julia Galef on The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation

August 17, 2011

My friend, Julia Galef, recently moderated a panel at The Amazing Meeting 9 on the topic of The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation. Since then, she has put up on Measure of Doubt, the blog she shares with her brother, these two videos discussing her own further thoughts on the subject:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 6.23.11

June 24, 2011

1. Introducing the solar-kini – A designer has created a bikini with embedded solar panels that can charge your mobile technology while your sunbathe.

2. Granite State skeptics hand out psychic bingo cards to John Edward’s audience

The cards had a five-by-five grid of vague “hot words” and scenarios that often come up in cold reading, a term used to describe how it’s possible to elicit information from people without their knowing it.

Mentalist Mark Edward also weighed in on this story here.

3. Hundreds of Mormon ads appear in NYC – Maybe this is just a really elaborate campaign to promote the Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, but something tells me not a single one of these ads mentions the Mormon home planet of Kolob. Maybe if Mormons were a little more honest about their beliefs and practices, more would trust them more and they wouldn’t need the improve their image. And if you’re embarrassed by your own beliefs, maybe you should change your beliefs. Just a thought.

4. Self-help guru James Arthur Ray convicted in sweat lodge deaths – He was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his followers during a botched sweat lodge ceremony.

5. More proof that reality TV is not real – I’ve worked in reality TV, so I don’t need convincing. But for those who aren’t convinced yet, the opening to “MasterChef” featuring a crowd of allegedly thousands of applicants has been exposed as a clumsy Photoshop job that just pastes the same groups of people multiple times.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 6.9.11

June 10, 2011

I’ve been away for almost a week, so I’m going to have to play catch-up for the next few days.

1. New Pew Poll suggests atheists still unelectable – If the poll is accurate, atheists are less electable than a candidate who is Mormon, gay, divorced, or even an adulterer.

2. ‘Psychic’ leads Texas Rangers and FBI down dead end  – Police followed a tip by an alleged psychic who told them where to find a supposed mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies. Now Craig McNair, head of the county commissioners, is looking to hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating havoc.

3. ‘Expelled’ production company expelled from existence – Premise Media Holdings LP has gone bankrupt and its shitty creationist propaganda film starring Ben Stein is going up for auction:

The high bidder will become the owner of the movie that The New York Times (2008 Apr 18) described as “[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time … a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry … an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike” and that was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for its “profound dishonesty” and condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for its “outrageous” misuse of the Holocaust to “tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution.” (NCSE’s Expelled Exposed provides a collection of reviews, commentary, and resources documenting the extensive problems with Expelled.)

4. Tennessee passes law banning images that “cause emotional distress” – Though it remains to be seen if anyone will actually try to enforce this new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, it’s hard to imagine a greater offense to the First Amendment.

5. Hot nun fired over lap-dancing past – Wasn’t there something in Christian mythology about turning the other cheek? Which cheeks the passage was talking about is unclear.

And on a related note…

6. Pole dancing for Jesus causes controversy – There’s a pole dancing class that allegedly is intended to help women stay in shape while simultaneously bringing them closer to God:

Set to Christian music, church-going women spin and slither around poles. But the instructor and the students say it’s not about sex.

7. South Carolina prison insist lingerie ads lead to “deviant behavior”

But the organization says the jail has gone even further in its screening of mail to inmates by banning publications that contain any level of nudity, including beachwear and underwear.

Oh, and there’s a video in the link above.

 

And finally…

8. Congratulations to my friend Page Van Meter, who’s been named the new president of the NYC Skeptics!

 

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