3.3.2015

Is Alex Jones Actually Bill Hicks?

February 26th marked the 21st anniversary of the untimely death of comedian, writer and social critic Bill Hicks. If you’re not familiar with the late stand-up’s work, just go to YouTube, search for his name and be prepared to lose several days of your life. Just as a warning, much of Hicks’ material was extremely vulgar, and pretty much everything he does should be considered extremely not safe for work or for religious conservatives.

Hicks ruthlessly skewered consumerism, popular culture, anti-intellectualism, politics and the hypocrisy of religious figures telling you to do one thing while they do the opposite – all before his untimely death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. While Hicks was unabashed in his disgust for the plasticity of modern entertainment, the faux-jingoism of the Gulf War and the moralistic meddling of social conservatives, he was also something of a conspiracy theorist.

A still from the Hicks/Jones video (YouTube)

A still from the Hicks/Jones video (YouTube)

He regularly went off on stage about the “official story” behind the JFK assassination (he claimed the reconstruction of the Texas Book Depository was accurate because Lee Harvey Oswald isn’t in it), as well as making allusions to government mind control, CIA plots, and the botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. So it’s only fair that Hicks himself be embroiled in one last conspiracy theory, twenty years after his death – that he didn’t die at all, but faked his cancer and re-emerged some time later under a new persona: conspiracy theorist and Infowars head Alex Jones. / read more…

3.2.2015

About That Disneyland Ghost Video

inverted_disneylandThis weekend was apparently a slow one in the news cycles, because a ghost video from 2009 has suddenly found its way onto websites such as the Daily Mirror and Redbook. Why is this 2009 video news in 2015? Because someone posted it to Reddit and it got over 800 comments. This alone speaks volumes about the state of journalism in 2015 (though if you need further evidence, see last week, when Don Lemon interviewed a llama).

I missed this video’s first round of fame back in 2009. Since the video is viral again, and since we’ve just gotten a primer on ghost photography from Blake Smith, we may as well take a look and see what’s going on here.

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Can You Predict A Hit Song?

There was a time I listened to the Top 30 charts every week . Not so much anymore. But apparently the top hits are still interesting for scientists. A Belgian team for instance, from the University of Antwerp, has analysed the last 20 years of dance hit songs through machine learning. The goal of Drs. Dorien Herremans, David Martens, and Kenneth Sörensen was to identify which, if any, musical features guarantees a song will be a hit, and if there was an evolution over time.

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2.28.2015

Does Water Fluoridation Cause Diabetes, Obesity, Or Depression?

For some reason water fluoridation seems to generate fear and dread. Brian Dunning covered this in Skeptoid episode #58. Generally anything can be toxic if given in high enough doses. Conversely anything is safe at low enough doses. Fluoride, like all things, can be toxic at high enough dosage. Fluoride at recommended dosages can be beneficial when added to drinking water. It helps reduce the incidence of dental caries by strengthening tooth enamel during early growth of permanent teeth.

Recently some research has made the news media cycle. In that research, a correlation is drawn between water fluoridation and low thyroid. Low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is a medical condition. Mostly it is endogenous medical problem like diabetes or high cholesterol, meaning outside factors influence but don’t cause the condition. Rarely hypothyroidism can be induced by low iodine intake. Modern iodized salt has mostly eliminated this problem in the western world. Hypothyroidism causes symptoms similar to depression, and can cause weight gain, fatigue and affect other endocrine systems. Although the symptoms are similar they are not the same diseases. Weight gain, diabetes, and depression are really completely different from hypothyroidism. It is patently incorrect to say that fluoride can affect the thyroid and can therefore give you diabetes. It is also misleading and medically untrue to say that if fluoride affects the thyroid it gives you depression or obesity. If it affects the thyroid it may give you symptoms similar to depression, and make you gain weight. Nonetheless, such claims have been extrapolated by media outlets reporting on the aforementioned new research. The real question is, does fluoride affect your thyroid? Let’s take a look. / read more…

2.27.2015

Goodbye To Leonard Nimoy, Dead At 83

Leonard Nimoy at the Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. via wikimedia from Gage Skidmore

This is not a Skeptoid post, I have one that will go up later today. This is a personal post for a person that helped inspire me to be a skeptic. I am saying goodbye to an actor/director and I am thanking him. He smoked cigarettes and early reports indicated that he died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Of all the behaviors I see that are self destructive, that one is the most insidious and prevalent. / read more…

2.27.2015

Devil(ish Illusion) in a Blue (and Black) Dress

thedressYesterday was a momentous moment for the Internet. Not because we won Net Neutrality; not because the 24-hour news cycle chose to devote all their resources to following two llamas around Arizona; but because we all had a night-long freak-out about a dress and in the process learned a little something about color theory and optical illusions.

If you missed out on the fervor over the dress, don’t feel bad. It probably means you had actual things to do with your life on a Thursday night. But if, like me, you were trying to enjoy a quiet night at home, and you just happened to be browsing Twitter or Tumblr for the latest on the llama drama, you almost certainly got caught up in the crazy. It was a drama so pervasive that Taylor Swift even Tweeted about it; and that’s when you know it’s serious.

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2.18.2015

Bruce Jenner, Paul McHugh, and Transgender Denialism

The Transgender Pride Flag

The Transgender Pride Flag

The media has been full of speculation recently about whether or not Bruce Jenner is transitioning to live life as a female (and it is all still speculation at this point, no matter how many anonymous sources TMZ speaks to). This has fueled a sometimes raucous and angry reaction online about what it means to be transgender and what the proper treatment is for gender dysphoria, the mental distress that comes from the conflict between a transgender person’s gender role and gender identity. I’m not interested today in speculating on whether Bruce Jenner is or is not transgender. I’m more interested in the high amount of science denialism the Jenner story is bringing out on the Internet, regardless of how accurate the reports are.

And yes, the crass, transphobic responses many have expressed to the Jenner story can be classified as a form of science denialism. just as climate change deniers reject overwhelming consensus about the damage we have done to the environment; just as evolution deniers ignore overwhelming consensus about the origins of life; just as vaccine deniers ignore overwhelming consensus about vaccination; so too do those who deny the validity of transgender identities and the proper treatment for the mental distress of gender dysphoria do so by ignoring overwhelming medical consensus on these topics.

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2.17.2015

Reader Feedback: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Conspiracies

As a reader, I try to live by a simple maxim: never read the comments. While this might mean I miss out on valuable discussion, it’s far more likely that I’ll miss out on insane theories, racism, weaponized anti-science and a whole lot of crazy.

However, as a blogger, this maxim can’t really apply. I try to at least give a cursory read to all of the comments left on anything I write. After all, if someone took the time to respond to what I wrote, that presumably (though clearly not always) means they read it. They gave me some of their time, the least I can do is give them some of mine.

Personal and professional obligations have kept me from reading the comments on my recent blog posts, but with a little time on my hands, I thought I’d dive in and check out what people had said. / read more…

Explore Your Inner Geek… By Cooking!

When I listened to this week’s Skeptoid Podcast by Craig Good on Cooking Myths, I had to think about a book I read a couple of years ago. Sure enough, I located it in my library (I confess, I never throw away a book). It’s called “Cooking For Geeks,” by Jeff Potter and is published by O’Reilly.

cooking for geeks

It’s a hefty book, more than 400 pages. It’s not just a cookbook; it’s also a science manual and full of tips on how to prepare your food and getting the best gadgets tools for your kitchen. Mixed in between are interviews, food safety tips, and really interesting tidbits on how to cook better and on common myths.

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2.11.2015

IMO: Safety

Safety is something that weighs on the minds of most folk, I think it’s safe to say. We worry about many perceived risks and dangers of the world around us. Parents worry about keeping their children safe, people worry about their own safety, pet owners about their beloved animal’s safety, and so forth. Safety is a major component of advertising, Internet campaigns, political agendas, and lifestyle choices.

 

One of many possible ways to map risk assessment. By Stuart G. Hamilton, via Wikimedia.

One of many possible ways to map risk assessment. By Stuart G. Hamilton, via Wikimedia.

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