Weird facts about placebos

June 16, 2011

News From Around The Blogosphere 2.11.11

February 11, 2011
Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Passoria, Ne...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Jerusalem UFO video exposed as fake – Okay, so the video looked pretty poor to begin with, giving us nothing but a tiny moving ball of light but it’s still fun to apply more analysis to it anyway. Steven Novella had already done a great critical analysis of the video here where he observed that the video largely consists of a still image with added effects to create the illusion of shaky-cam video footage, but now Phil Plait has found a video posted on YouTube that actually exposes the specific digital editing tricks used to create the illusion of a shaky camera. Unlike other alleged UFO videos, there’s no ambiguity here. This video is a deliberate fake and its been busted cold.

2. Creepy head-mask to punish ‘rude, clamorous” women – Okay, I just thought this story was really cool. This mask was used between 1550 and 1800 to punish women considered to be spending too much time gossiping or quarrelling. When wearing the mask, it’s impossible to speak. Some of these masks, like the one pictured, even had a bell on them to add to the wearer’s humiliation.

3. Robots to get their own internet – European scientists are working on a network that would allow robots to share and store what they discover about the world:

Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data to when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

Researchers behind it hope it will allow robots to come into service more quickly, armed with a growing library of knowledge about their human masters.

4. Scientology continues to have a terrible week – I already briefly wrote about the incredible, super-long New Yorker piece by Lawrence Wright on Scientology apostate Paul Haggis, which mentioned that the cult is currently under an FBI investigation for human trafficking. But there are so many highlights to the piece. After finally managing to read the whole article, I got to where Wright talks about fact-checking L. Ron Hubbard’s claim that he was injured during military service and was miraculously healed by the methods now practiced as part of Scientology. After Scientology Spokesman Tommy Davis gave the New Yorker thousands of pages of documents and allegedly admitted that if this Hubbard story didn’t check out, it’d mean all of Scientology was a fraud, Wright and his New Yorker fact-checkers went through the pain-staking process of getting military archivists who are experts in such documents. Those experts concluded that the documents were false, that there was no record of Hubbard’s injuries or of the officer who allegedly signed some of the documents, and that the documents lied about his education and the metals he’d received. Now the New Yorker has even put up a copy of at least one of the documents to show readers precisely how we know it’s a forgery.  Wright has also been turning up on various radio shows to discuss his findings (here and here). It just keeps getting worse for Scientology and they can’t seem to catch a break.

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Brisbane Supreme Court denies Canadian ‘Lesbian vampire killer’ parole

September 26, 2010

Easiest image search ever!!

Gotta love that headline. In 1989, Tracy Wigginton killed a man. According to Lisa Ptachinski, her girlfriend at the time, Wigginton had vampiric tendencies and killed the man for the purpose of drinking his blood. She was only one of the four people accused to plea guilty and so there was no need for a trial.

On the night of the murder, Wigginton, Ptaschinski and two other women lured 47-year-old Edward Baldock to a park on the banks of the Brisbane River. There, Wigginton stabbed him 27 times, nearly severing his head

In 1991, Wigginton was given a life sentence with a minimum of 13 years. Since then four parole applications have been denied. And now after serving 20 years, she’s been denied parole again.I’d say she needs a minimum of seven more years so she’ll have served at least one year for every stabbing.


News From Around The Blogosphere 9.18.10

September 18, 2010

1. Buddhist monk caught for filming naked women – Net Khai, a Cambodian Buddhist monk was arrested for filming naked women. Not just a few naked women but over 600 naked women bathing in holy water at a temple. The article doesn’t make it clear whether it was with the knowledge and consent of the women or not, which is kinda an important detail. But what’s interesting is that he’s been stripped of his monk status for this, while Catholic priests weren’t even defrocked for raping children.

2. Finally an easier way to become a vampire – Want to become a vampire but having  trouble finding a vampire willing to turn you into one? Well now there’s an easier way. You can buy a vampire transformation spell.

3. David Silverman to be president of American Atheists – I’ve briefly met Silverman twice. Once last year at a Jolly 13 Club gathering and again a few months again at another big gathering of many skeptically themed groups at the same location that also happened to be on Silverman’s birthday. I have no idea how well he’ll do, but I wish him the best of luck. He takes over from Ed Buckner next week.

4. Burqas and niqabs banned from public spaces in France in 246-1 decision – To be fair, the Senate did have about 100 abstentions but still, it’s quite clear the French no likey the burqa. I remain still very undecided on this issue because on the one hand, I support free expression and oppose government telling people what they can’t wear but on the other hand, the burqa is an evil tool that’s been used to oppress Islamic women for a very long time. And as much as they claim to want to wear it, it’s only because they’ve been so indoctrinated as to embrace their own servitude. Now it can be argued that our culture is just the opposite, where women are pressured to wear less clothing. However, the cultural pressures are entirely different in the Western world and not nearly as dominant. As Richard Dawkins said when an imam commented about how we dress our women, “They dress themselves!”

5. IHOP sues religious fruitcakes – The Internation House of Pancakes (IHOP) is suing a Christian group calling themselves the International House of Prayer (IHOP) over illegal appropriating the brands famous acronym. After that trial is over, then maybe they can sue Steve Jobs.

6. Woody Allen comes out as an atheist…again – I don’t know why it came to a surprise to the NY Times that Allen was an atheist since this is hardly news but it was great to read Allen criticize both religion and psychics are nonsense.

7. Salman Rushie defends the “Mosque” “at Ground Zero” – If even a man who’s been on the run from a fatwa for many years has to defend Muslims, it really shows what a manufactured controversy this is.

8. Saudi woman killed for using Facebook – The woman’s own father murdered her.

The unnamed woman from Riyadh was beaten and shot after she was discovered in the middle of an online conversation with a man, the al-Arabiya website reported.

The case was reported on a Saudi Arabian news site as an example of the “strife” the social networking site is causing in the Islamic nation.

Saudi preacher Ali al-Maliki has emerged as the leading critic of Facebook, claiming the network is corrupting the youth of the nation.

“Facebook is a door to lust and young women and men are spending more on their mobile phones and the Internet than they are spending on food,” he said

Damn you Facebook! Wouldn’t it be ironic if with all our troops in the Middle East, if Facebook ended up being the thing that forces the region to join the civilized world?

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Superman to the rescue

July 24, 2010

Action Comics #1 is without a doubt the single most important comic book ever produced. It not only introduced the world to Superman but invented the superhero. It’s arguably the common ancestor of every costumed crime-fighter comic book ever since.

And now Superman, or rather the comic book that introduced Superman, has saved a family from foreclosure. The family accidentally stumbled upon a copy of this seminal piece of American history sitting in their basement.

The fortuitous find occurred when the anonymous family began the painful process of packing up their home due to a bank’s foreclosure proceedings. The house had been in the family’s possession since the 1950s, which is probably when the wife’s father stashed the issue in a box with some other, mere mortal titles.

“They said they came across a box that had magazines in it and some old comic books,” Fishler told Asylum. “And that they came across what appears to be an Action #1.” Fishler points out that “99.9 percent” of similar calls he receives turn out to be about reprints, so at first he was dubious. “They took a cell phone picture of the book and texted it to me, and I realized it was an Action #1,” he says.

Fishler is no stranger to this title, having brokered the record-breaking sale of an Action #1 in February (for $1 million), only to break that record a month later by selling another copy for $1.5 million.

This gave them the collateral they needed to save their home. And once again, the world is safe…thanks to Superman!

Superman, as depicted in a 1941 Fleischer Stud...

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News From Around The Blogosphere 7.17.10

July 18, 2010
Illustration of internal parts of a cochlear i...
Image via Wikipedia

1. Cochlear implant brings sound to deaf baby – Stem cells are curing the blind and now technology is solving deafness. Once again, science delivers the good. Click the link to see a video of this 8-month-old baby hearing sound for the first time.

2. Huff Po writer insists homeopathy works…even though she doesn’t know how – Well, I know how. It’s called the placebo effect. Rachel Roberts’ article basically amounts to a lot of anecdotes and appeals to the “I was a skeptic until I tried…” fallacy. There’s also a lot of unstated major premises like the one found at the end of this paragraph:

I admit I ruined that dinner party. I interrogated her about every detail of her diagnosis, previous treatment, time scales, the lot. I thought it through logically – she was intelligent, she wasn’t lying, she had no previous inclination towards alternative medicine, and her reluctance would have diminished any placebo effect.

Why would her reluctance diminish the placebo effect? And when people start just making up random assertions, I find that Dr. Cox has the only appropriate answer.

3. Researchers make cancer more mortal

Washington State University researchers have discovered a way to help cancer cells age and die, creating a promising avenue for slowing and even stopping the growth of tumors.

“Hopefully, we can make cancer cells die like normal cells,” says Weihang Chai, an assistant professor in the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences and WWAMI medical education program in Spokane. “Basically, you make the cancer cell go from immortal to mortal.”

4. Argentina passes gay marriage – Argentina’s senate voted 33-27 for gay marriage, making it the first country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage.

5. Antidepressants in the water make shrimp suicidal – This is a tragic story given that it has serious consequences for the ecosystem but I can’t help but find the concept of shrimp suicide funny. Is it just me?

6. $cientology goes to war with Anderson Cooper – After Cooper’s investigation into the Church’s physical abuse allegations recently, this was to be expected. Fortunately, the cult isn’t as powerful as it used to be and, like so many of their other retaliation attempts, will almost certainly blow up in their faces. Nothing can stop The Anderson Cooper!

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News From Around The Blogosphere 5.15.10

May 15, 2010

1. One thing I never could stand about New Zealand was all the damned vampires – Two people in New Zealand have been arrested and charged with “wounding with intent to render a man unconscious” following a report from a man who claims he was attacked by vampires after waking up in a park after a night of drinking to find bite marks on his neck. But don’t worry. They totally had a good excuse.

2. New fossil find reveals secrets of ancient marine life

Paleontologists have discovered a rich array of exceptionally preserved fossils of marine animals that lived between 480 million and 472 million years ago, during the early part of a period known as the Ordovician. The specimens are the oldest yet discovered soft-bodied fossils from the Ordovician, a period marked by intense biodiversification.

And for those keeping track, that’s between 479,994,000 and 471,994,000 years before the existence of the entire universe, according to Young Earth Creationists.

3. Australian church rejects vaccine denialists at the AVN – Meryl Dorey and her goons at the misnamed Australian Vaccination Network (AVN [snicker]) were told to get lost by a church after the AVN requested to use their church as a venue for spreading propaganda about the evils of vaccines. It turns out that prominent church members are experts in the field of ethics and public health, and they felt the AVN is not in line with the ethos and values of the Uniting Church of Australia. And so no Uniting Church venue will be made available to them.

4. Mirin Dajo had a lot of guts – This guy didn’t just swallow a sword; he had himself run through with numerous fencing foils…to entertain people!

I’m reminded of Todd Robbins, one of the few remaining sideshow vaudeville acts from the Coney Island tradition. I’ve seen Robbins swallow swords, perform the human blockhead (pounding a nail up the nose – I’m told not actually that hard), and most impressive of all, eating glass for your amusement. But I’d say Marin Dajo deserves recognition as an indestructible bastard except that he died at the age of 35.

5. Revenge is a dish best served with pubic lice – A British website has come up with a pretty badass way to help people get revenge on those who have wronged them…by selling pubic lice. The site, crabrevenge.com, has a disclaimer but a pretty insincere one:

While the disclaimer says the website creators “do not endorse giving people lice,” and the lice are for “novelty purposes only,” the website talks about using them for revenge.

. . .

The website says the company was started “by a group of fellows who happen to know a thing or two about biology and revenge.”

Well I can’t argue the revenge part. So please, don’t give me crabs.

6. New book further blows the lid on $cientology – Escaped and recovered $cientologist Amy Scobee has released a new book called Abuse At The Top, where she reiterates the now ubiquitous claims of leader David Miscavige’s violent assaults on members and gave some fun stories about Tom Cruise.