Friday, April 25, 2008


I'm going away for the next week, further into deep dark Africa. I don't know whether I'll have internet access there, but I very much doubt it. As a result, I'm not going to be posting at all until I come back. So someone else has to be on point, and fight the good (sciency) fight if someone is wrong on the internet...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Encephalon #42 & 43

I'm a bit behind with my blog carnivals, here are the two most recent editions of Encephalon...

Encephalon #42 was hosted at Of Two Minds 'by', of all people, Paris Hilton. Pieces to check out: GNIF Brain Blogger on spanking children; Neuroscientifically Challenged on the evolution of our sweet teeth; and Advances in the History of Psychology on common errors in psychology textbooks.

Encephalon #43 was hosted an GNIF Brain Blogger. Recommended entries: Neuroanthropology on bad brain studies (and bad evolutionary psychology / evolutionary economics); PsyBlog on the psychology of money; and Pure Pedantry on caveats to interpreting the "ruthlessness gene" study.

Skeptics' Circle #84

The 84th edition of the Skeptics Circle is up at Archaeoporn. Pieces to check out: American Chronicle on homeschooling; Evolving Thoughts on the different epistemologies of science and religion; and Ecstathy on the benefits of woo (because of the placebo effect). Good stuff, check it out!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

PsyBlog on Mind-Myths

The most excellent PsyBlog has just finished a series of ten articles on Mind-Myths: those persistent fables about our minds that many of "the folk" subscribe to. My favorite myth busting pieces: we don't use only 10% of our brain, the placebo effect cannot affect cancer and hemispheric specialization in the brain is much more complex and you might think.

I highly recommend PsyBlog by the way, it's certainly one of the best psychology blogs on the web. Check it out!

Video: Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, militant atheist and inspiring science advocate might not be on top of all the complexities of the philosophy of religion, but I'm certainly glad we have him. In the interview embedded below (or click here) Dawkins covers a couple of familiar points but, amusingly, also calls Francis Collins (who led the Human Genome Project and became a devout Christian after seeing a frozen waterfall [?!?]) 'not a very bright guy' and contends the new atheist movement arose because people became fed-up that fundies insisted on shoving their imaginary friends down our throats.

An interesting topic Maher asks Dawkins about is the rate at which theists have been converted to atheist as a result of reading The God Delusion. Dawkins concedes the rate isn't very high (but some people apparently were, see "Converts' Corner" at Dawkins' website) but insists he has influenced a lot of people who were previously on the fence. In fact, reading Dawkins had an impact on me too (and I was not a fence-sitter): while I had been an atheist for a long time by the time I read The God Delusion and while few of his arguments were new to me, he inspired me to get off my arse and 'come out' to my family. (Previously I had been open to all my friends and some of my family members, but kept my true views from my more conservative kin). So, at least in one case, Dawkins had an impact even on someone who considered himself a "hardcore" atheist.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jonathan Swift's damn interesting debunking

Damn Interesting, a non-commercial website dedicated to short essays on interesting topics founded in 2005 by Allan Bellows, is a genuinely remarkable site overflowing with well-written, properly researched and fascinating articles. One of their recent pieces, "The Extraordinary Astrologer Isaac Bickerstaff," is particularly noteworthy and worth reading. The article details one of the wonderful exploits of that master of satire, Jonathan Swift. Writing under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, Swift managed to ruin one John Partridge, an astrologer and quack, by hoaxing Partridge's death.

It's a wonderful story, and a nice anecdote to know about. Alas for the modern skeptic, according to Wikipedia at least, Swift (who was a clergyman) attacked Partridge because of a sarcastic comment the latter made about the Church of England. So it's not quite the undiluted victory of reason and science over superstition.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Video: Carl Sagan with Charlie Rose

Carl Sagan is sorely missed - perhaps more so by those of us who were too young to have benefited from his erudition, wit and good humor while he was still alive. (Sadly, I heard Sagan's name for the first time many years after his death). Luckily, modern technology allows us to glimpse what meeting Sagan might have been like. In the video embedded below (or click here) the excellent Charlie Rose interviews Sagan just before his death, primarily about his book The Demon Haunted World.

101 Atheist Quotes

I just came across a very good list of 101 atheist quotes collected by The Atheist Blogger; there are several gems so check it out. My favorite (among the ones not familiar to me): "The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike." - Delos B. McKown.

There are, I should note, a number of apparent misquotes and misattributions. Mark Twain (d. 1910), for example, surely could not have known the universe was billions of years old and the quote attributed to Hobbes (assuming "Thomas Hobbs" refers to Thomas Hobbes) fails my smell test (and Google knows it not).

Hat tip: David Spurrett.

Late Friday fun: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says

I really should start calling it weekend fun... but, anyway. As I've said several times before, when confronting nonsense sometimes ridicule and satire are far more effective weapons than cool analysis. And the single best source of satire, in my opinion, is The Onion, "American's Finest News Source". In the hysterically funny video embedded below (or click here) the Onion's "Onion News Network" takes on the 9/11 conspiracy theorists...

9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says

Light posting apology

I'm sorry for the light - well, non-existent - posting recently. Sickness, a supervisor, rolling blackouts, the enormous incompetence of the people who run my university's computer system and other factors have conspired to keep me away from blogging. In any case, my posting should return to normal from today, assuming (1) there is power and (2) the internet is not down on campus.

(Living in a third-world country has its upsides. Really.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Follow-up: Water Drinking Myth

I bogged recently about five medical myths, one of which was drinking 8 glasses of water a day (or similarly large amounts) is good for one's health. I cited a review of the literature by Heinz Valtin that found no evidence for the claim. Now Dan Negoianu and Stanley Goldfarb have conducted a similar review (no free version alas), that comes to exactly the same conclusion. In other words, there really doesn't seem to be any evidence that drinking large amounts of water is a good idea. Encouragingly, Negoianu and Goldfarb's study has received a large amount of media attention, so hopefully this myth's grip on the public will be loosened somewhat.

(See also: the Reuters piece on the article).

Expelled Exposed

The National Center for Science Education is soon going to launch a website dedicated to exposing Ben Stein's silly pro-creationist movie Expelled. (By now I'm assuming I don't have to remind anyone about the infamous PZ Myers expulsion from Expelled...). In any case, the website is Expelled Exposed - it's live with some content and the full version will be launched sometime this month. Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science education, was interviewed [mp3] this week on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and requested link love to the site to improve its search rankings.

So here is my very minor contribution: Expelled. Expelled Exposed. Ben Stein Expelled. Expelled criticism. Expelled science.