Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 89th Skeptics Circle: The I'd Rather be in Vegas Edition

Welcome to the 89th edition of the esteemed Skeptics' Circle! This is, I believe, the very first time the Circle has been hosted from Africa (I had to fend off psychic lions to get this edition up. Srsly) so hooray for that. This will also, however, be the bitterest Circle yet because, as much as I love you guys, frankly, I'd rather be in Vegas... Some of us, you see, live far, far away and are terribly poor so we can't afford to attend Randi's Amaz!ng Meeting 6 that's starting today. (I didn't know about the scholarship until just now. Dammit.) So, yeah, I suppose we can get started. Sigh...

First off is the inimitable Greta Christina who takes on the vexed question of how to think about progressive religious claims that are neither contradicted nor supported by science. (Plus: Russell's teapot in the context of his original article!)

The keynote speaker at TAM, you know, is Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson!!! Mr. Science Preacher himself! And I'm missing (1) his talk and (2) the opportunity to meet him. Great...

Redonkulous Redundancy is a new blogger and first-time Circle participant (be nice!) who aptly skewers CAM advocates for their bait-and-switch tactics: yes mainstream medicine has (serious) problems, no, CAM is not the answer.

Have you seen the TAM line-up?? It's so damn awesome I want to scream for missing it... Steven Novella - Dr. Omniscient I-have-a-full-time-job-and-a-family-and-two-podcasts-
and-three-blogs - is speaking. And the whole SGU crew is there! They're recording a show! Holding parties! And here I am fighting lions in Africa.

Oh, and hosting a Skeptics' Circle. Right... Hyphoid Logic ("Mentations of a Mad Mycologist") submitted not one but two posts on crazy creationist nonsense: the first deals with the silliness emanating from Don McElroy (Chair of the Texas state board of education), the second with a looney lawyer who thinks he knows something about Darwinism.

Okay, so I'm trying to hold back the bitterness but c'mon! Greydon Square! Skeptical hip hop!! Hip hop!!

The Bad Idea Blog is next in line with a post on the dark chasm of woo that is The Secret, specifically, with a motivational speaker in Hawaii who promotes that bollocks. Yes, the cover is cool-looking, but that doesn't mean The Secret has any merit.

Mythbusters. Without doubt the best (non-fiction) show on television. And who co-hosts the show? One Adam Savage. And where is Adam? In Vegas. And what is he doing in Vegas, pray tell? He's at TAM. Where am I? Thousands of kilometers away.

Denialism Blog (over at them fancy Science Blogs) submitted a post that deals with how "naturopathic doctors" are legislating legitimacy for themselves. (Sorry about the alliteration... Hyphoid Logic started me off and now I can't stop).

I have two letters for you: PZ. Yes, the author of the most widely-read science blog in the world is at TAM. And I'm not.

Don't hold the fact that Podblack Cat is Australian against her - neither g'day, mate nor Shane Warne is her fault (as far as I know...). Anyway, the skeptical Cat asks a vital question: how best do we teach skepticism to the young?

Dr. Michael Shermer... urbane, smart, knowledgeable, funny... and he's giving a talk that I'm not going to see... Maybe if I use the 'law of attraction'. Hmmmm...

Then there's Reality Dysfunction (featuring an awesome header) with a post that takes on the mercury militia and their spokespeople (spot the PC!) among celebrities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conclusion is not that comedians and former Playmates are among the intellectual elite who's opinions we should take seriously...

Dr. Art Benjamin's show "Mathamagic" is just stupendous, utterly unbelievable. Have you seen this guy's TEDTalk? He does math in his head a calculator would have trouble with. Oh, to see him live...

Humbug! Online discusses two issues that arose out of Richard Dawkins' excellent documentary series, The Enemies of Reason. The first post concerns the special pleading practised by dowsers (among many others) and the second how astrology may be as offensive as racism and other forms of prejudice.

When it comes to combining skepticism, rabid libertarianism, gratuitous nudity and magic... no one can possibly beat Penn & Teller. These guys actually live in Vegas. Frankly, I think it's utter bullshit that I'm not there.

No edition of the Skeptics' Circle could possibly be complete without an entry from Orac, the Respectful[ly] Insolen[t]. Orac reviews a recent rigorous trial (conducted by, would you believe, naturopaths) that found, to no skeptic's real surprise, that St. John's Wort is ineffective as a treatment of ADHD in children. Hooray for evidence.

Talking about magicians... James Randi's protoge Banachek - the master mentalist - is at TAM 6 too. Imagine the anecdotes about Project Alpha I'm missing out on...

The excellent Holford Watch skewers Dr. John Briffa for becoming, well, Holfordesque. On a bit of a tangent: I saw today at the airport that Holford's Optimal Nutrition Made Easy (or something) is the third best-selling book in South Africa's largest book store. Sigh.

Who do you call when someone sprouts nonsense about astronomy? Well, Phil Plait, "The Bad Astronomer," of course. And guess where Phil is at the moment? Yeah, that's right... where I'm not.

'Heathen Mike' of Mike's Weekly Skeptical Rant, well, rants about a new television show featuring 'psychic children'. Apparently one of the hosts is 'just as accurate as John Edward'. Wait. That might actually be true...

Even the only holder of a professorship in the public understanding of psychology is going to be at TAM. I'm talking, of course, about Richard Wiseman, the Quirkologist... Apparently, he has an amazing, closely guarded presentation prepared. Dammit.

The Lay Scientist takes on a topic new to me: the pseudoscience (and conspiracy theories) of oil. Is there no field exempt from fuzzy thinking and woo?!

TAM, of course, means "The Amazing Meeting"... named after The Amazing James Randi... And Randi (along with Carl Sagan, Paul Kurtz and so on) is the granddaddy of the skeptical movement. So, Randi, the legend, is in Vegas too... Man, I'm bitter.

Finally... Archaeoporn continues his series on 'Impossible Knowledge'. Part II focuses on ever popular pseudoegyptology.

That's it... The next edition of the Skeptics' Circle - the 90th! - is going to be hosted by The Millenium Project on July 3rd. Check out the guidelines for the Circle and get your posts ready...

Oh, and damn those lucky bastards in Vegas.


  1. Excellent stuff! Thank you for putting it all together.

  2. Congratulations for getting it up and thanks for including us.

    Par for the course for Holford's books, but still dispiriting. Why do people part with money for science-y looking stuff that isn't at all evidence-based. And, going on past performance, quotes references that don't support the text; obscure references that you have no chance of tracking down (like catering reports from companies that went out of business years ago or books that aren't even available in the British Library); references that don't exist; or references that have been retracted from the scientific literature.

  3. That's guys... glad you liked it.

    I discovered today that my mother has one of Holford's books... and that she's been following the diet. I'm going to have to look into it a bit closer now and do some debunking myself. Holford Watch, of course, will be my first stop...

  4. My mother too Michael, you're not alone

  5. Sorry, that was supposed to be "thanks guys"...

    I think I've managed to get her to have second thoughts...

  6. Michael,
    You think you got it tough. I was in Las Vegas for a few hours 2 days before TAM but couldn't stay. That really hurts.

  7. i am as bitter as you are for not being able to listen to all those wonderful speakers in TAM. damn it. so upset now - i am yet to read all the posts. will do it later.
    by the way, if it would be of any consolation, i envy you too - for being able to switch from social sciences to cognitive science
    damn again ;)

  8. Well, the JREF do record the proceedings and then sell the DVDs... if I can afford it, I'll try and see the talks that way.

    Switching took quite a bit of guts - but nothing's stopping you! :-)