4.21.2017

Like They Do on The Discovery Channel

‘Sweet youth,
Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?’ He said, ‘My name is Love.’
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.’
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.’

So wrote Lord Alfred Douglas back in 1894, in a poem titled “Two Loves.” Homosexuality was controversial (to put it mildly) back then, but that controversy seems to be fading. In the United States, for example, only 33% of Americans believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society. Even so, Americans are divided on whether or not being gay is a “choice.” 42% of Americans believe that it is “just the way some choose to live,” with a nearly equal percentage (41%) believing that “people are born gay or lesbian.” 8% believe that sexuality is due to upbringing, and 9% were undecided.

Now, as I’ve had to say with distressing frequency thanks to the topics I choose to write on, Skeptoid is not a political organization. We’re not here to tell you to vote one way or another, or to back any specific candidate or party. That’s not what we do. Sexuality is a highly politicized topic, but we just look at the evidence, and encourage you to do the same. So, with that in mind, let’s examine the question:

“I was born this way, born this way”?

/ read more…

4.14.2017

Let’s Talk About Sex

Well. That’s a headline that catches the eye, isn’t it?

Sexual orientation and gender identity are all over the news right now, and have been for… well, since ever. It’s a politically charged topic, and everyone—everyone—has an opinion on the subject. Sexuality is a powerful current running through questions of ethics and morality, religious belief and cultural expectations, and survival and propagation of the species. “Everything in the world is about sex except sex,” as Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said. “Sex is about power.”

Despite this—or, perhaps, because of this—there are a lot of misconceptions about the subject. A whole lot of misconceptions. As skeptics, it’s important that we try to step outside our own biases and preconceptions and look at the actual evidence for a topic, even one so important and integral to our species as sexuality. Or, perhaps, especially one so important.

So, Salt-N-Pepa? Take it away:

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex

/ read more…

3.31.2017

…Then How Are Unvaccinated Children a Danger?

I still can’t believe I’m writing this.

Last time, which was sadly much longer ago than I intended, I was writing about whether or not vaccines work. Which, of course, they do. Every disease we have a vaccine for has seen the rate of infection (and the death rate) decline by several orders of magnitude since the vaccine was introduced. Really, this isn’t even a discussion we should be having anymore.

Except that we still have memes—like the one above—floating around. Because we still have people deliberately pushing an anti-science agenda, who are trying to put their mad ideology above human life. Why? I genuinely don’t understand. But rather than dwell on that, let’s move to the other half of that meme:

“How are unvaccinated children a danger to vaccinated children?”

“Old fool! Why, there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”

/ read more…

3.22.2017

Mythbusters topics, from the Skeptoid files

The new Mythbusters: Jon Lung and Brian Louden

Awesomely, a new season of Mythbusters is afoot, with new hosts Brian Louden and Jon Lung. They were selected by winning Mythbusters: The Search hosted by Skeptoid friend Kyle Hill (you may have also noted Skeptoid Media’s The Feeding Tube host Tamara Robertson on the show).

And, equally awesomely, Brian and Jon are super friendly and approachable, and love engaging with us on social media. (This is soooo important, especially considering Mythbusters’ potential for impact on society and the world.) And recently, Brian asked me the following question: / read more…

3.20.2017

The news on the new film is…

My new film from Skeptoid Media, Principles of Curiosity, is finally in post production. This is the long-awaited sequel to my 2008 amateur film Here Be Dragons, and it is what I had originally hoped that film would be and more. It is professionally produced, super amazing, and will be released free worldwide under a Creative Commons license allowing free public and private showings. It teaches a simple method anyone can follow to learn to determine what’s real and what’s not. Think of it as a practical guide to scientific skepticism and critical thinking, enjoyable for general audiences, and optimized for classrooms. / read more…

3.3.2017

If Vaccines Work…?

I… I can’t even believe I’m writing this.

That image up there showed up in my Facebook feed, posted by a smug JAQer who—I assume—hates the idea of health and not dying of horrible diseases. And who possibly hates children as well. Thankfully, I saw it because a friend of mine who does not pine for the glory days of 16th-century medicine had laid into the JAQer with a will and a vengeance.

Distressingly, this is a trope. It’s a common tactic used by people who hate health and children and science and reason (also known as “antivaxxers,” the term I used is longer but probably more accurate) to sow confusion and spread misinformation about the benefits of vaccines by “just asking questions.” Questions that have answers, mind, but JAQers are often too intellectually dishonest to bother acknowledging those answers. It gets in the way of the soundbite.

If vaccines work?

If vaccines work?

This… this will require more than one article.  Because there’s a couple of questions to address here:  “Do they work?” and “How are unvaccinated children a threat?”.  And answering a JAQoff’s questions takes time and effort.  So, let’s just jump into the first question.

“Do vaccines work?”

Yes they work, you primitive screwhead.

/ read more…

2.17.2017

Don’t Feed the Trolls?

Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

Here’s the context: I’d written about “birth certificate bonds,” and someone had come along to attempt a rebuttal that essentially started with “wake up, sheeple” and ended with “you are all fools.” It’s classic trolling behavior, really. Brian Dunning responded to him first, and I weighed in as well. Shortly thereafter, Fred asked the above question and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

It was obvious that the poster here wasn’t asking genuine questions, or hoping for answers, or even engaging in a genuine discussion. But I answered him anyway, and in retrospect, Fred’s question is a good one. Why did I respond? Was it out of sheer bloody-minded belligerence, or did I have some other motive? And, to be honest, the answer is “yes.” I am bloody-mindedly belligerent (online, at least), but I did have another reason. But to understand it, we’ll need to talk about a couple of dishonest debate strategies.

/ read more…

Jade Eggs for Your Kegels

There is no shortage of health fads and nonsense on the Internet, but when it comes to women’s health, actress Gwyneth Paltrow seems to lead the charge on the wackiest and most dangerous woo. Her lifestyle website and newsletter, called GOOP, recently promoted (and began selling) a dangerous and implausible practice for improving female genital health and sexual performance: the vaginal insertion of egg-shaped pieces of jade.

Jade eggs for use in Kegel exercises. Via Wikimedia

/ read more…

2.3.2017

Can You Lose 5kg in Three Days With This One Weird Trick?

So many of my article ideas come from social media. “You Can Lose Up To 5 Kg in 3 Days With Potatoes & Yogurt!” the headline on the shared post declared. Well, naturally that got my attention. I write a lot about my own efforts to lose weight, so both food science and food woo are a topic of interest for me. So, gritting my teeth, I clicked the link. The new page informed me that:

The main ingredient of the potato diet, as you can conclude is the potato. This diet also includes low-fat yogurt.

Potatoes will keep you full for a longer period of time and that way you will consume less calories. While you are on this diet you will need to eat only cooked potatoes and to drink yogurt but only the one with low fat.

Varieties of potatoes. From Wikimedia

/ read more…

1.27.2017

But You Should Question Some Things…

I’m ashamed to admit that, recently on Facebook, I failed as a skeptic.

Here’s how it went down: I logged onto Facebook as I do, checking my feed to see if anything interesting had been posted. And I saw the following image:

Wait! Come back! I promise this isn’t about politics!

Without stopping to think about it, I hit the button to share the image. Yes, I have certain political leanings that may be safely inferred from that statement. Relax. This isn’t about those political leanings, and I’m not trying to turn this site into a soapbox for any specific political agenda. This is about a failure in critical thinking. Because I failed to think critically, when I shared that image. Because there’s a single, important question I should have asked first.

/ read more…