Rap: Partial Reporting on Partial Rhymes

I just don’t “get” rap music. That is not a value judgment, just my personal opinion, and your own may vary. The bad lyrics, the (lack of) music, the bling… it’s just not for me, I guess. However, one needs to keep an open mind, so I went and read an article about the rhyming qualities of rap at Scientific American

One of the redeeming qualities is that it rhymes. That is nice, but I prefer a good text and don’t bother too much about the rhyme. Still, it’s at least something.

Another rapper ... but with a good text! No it doesn't always rhyme ...

Another rapper… but with a good text! (Though it doesn’t always rhyme…)

There are different types of rhymes. The worst ones are just repeating the same word: “Silent Night, Holy Night” is not a good rhyme. / read more…


No More Comments at Skeptoid.com

After much deliberation, we have decided to follow the lead of other prominent web sites that have removed public comments from their principle articles. Skeptoid episode transcripts no longer have comment sections.

Why? / read more…

Finally, Some Good Science Reporting!

My last couple of posts had a theme: it was about how news gets spun or derailed (for instance by a sensational title) into something that’s no longer about the actual facts. So time to point out something good this time!

This article from Futurity, for instance, does everything right, which is good, because it is about a topic that ruffles a lot of feathers (sadly) as it pertains to global warming. The article discusses a study showing that the movement of some of Greenland’s ice sheets is slowing down. This is an interesting study, which in no way diminishes the real and urgent issue of global warming, but at the same time it seems to be good and solid science. So reporting on it is a really good thing; it shows the increasing advance of science and our understanding of the world.

/ read more…


Kevin Folta Silenced, Skeptics Mourn

I haven’t signed into my Skeptoid blog account in about a month now. My responsibilities to my students, my family, and my own well-being make it difficult at times to write a well thought-out piece. It is even more difficult to try to keep up with the comments; some are engaging and interesting, while others are emotional defenses of unscientific positions. It certainly takes a toll.

The news from the day I am writing this (November 4th, 2015) is a demonstration of the emotional toll this can take. Science communicator and biotechnology expert Kevin Folta has communicated he is indefinitely suspending his activities to communicate science. He posted a brief blog post stating as such.


Many of the skeptical pages I follow on social media expressed their sadness and understanding for his decision. Folta certainly loves communicating science. He explained a little further on his public Facebook page:


I don’t want to compare myself to Folta in the impact or reach of my science communication. I know what I deal with is very small to what Folta has had to deal with this year. I simply wanted to express I have a level of empathy, because I imagine the days where I feel attacked by those in the anti-science camp is multiplied by many times in Folta’s case. What a horrible feeling to be attacked nearly constantly doing something you love and honestly know is doing good in the world.

I communicate science to give back in a small way what other science communicators have done for me. People like Steven Novella, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian Cox reignited my desire to help others understand more about the world. I get to do this teaching physics. I get to do this on this blog. I can’t imagine being attacked so fiercely that I would need to give any of it up. I hope I never have to give it up.

Dr. Folta: good luck to you. I hope you come back and communicate with us really soon. If you choose not to, I don’t think there is one supporter of science who faults you for decision. Thank you for everything you have done to help support science; I know you will continue to do great things training the next generation of scientists.

To those vicious people who attack scientists for their honest effort to make the world better: shame on you. You benefit from science so many times a day it is nearly impossible to count. You harm progress and scientific literacy when you choose to only believe evidence you like. Your actions are the true harm to society.

And to the skeptic community: thank you for showing such resolve already today. It is nice to know that even though we won’t have Kevin’s voice, we will all pick up a little piece of it and carry it forward together. I know I feel better knowing all of us working together can keep those who profit from fear in check.

Links to other skeptics’ thoughts:

The Credible Hulk
The Farmer’s Daughter
Mommy, PhD
Science Pony
Respectful Insolence



Are You a Crank?

FullSizeRender 2When recreational mathematician Martin Gardner died in 2010, he left us a huge number of books. One of these is called Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science. In his first chapter, Gardner went into some depth on characterizing cranks. Cranks are folks whom I encounter quite frequently in my work on Skeptoid; not only from the side promoting pseudoscience, but also from the side of skeptics. I find that a few skeptics are little different methodologically from the pseudoscientists they so fervently argue against, and so I believe it’s of great value to everyone to familiarize himself with Gardner’s list.

Michael Shermer wrote a column in Scientific American that discussed this in somewhat more detail, and if you’re not a subscriber, you can get his article online here. It rang quite true with me, so I wanted to take a look at Gardner’s thesis from the perspective of being a science outreach professional. / read more…


“The Fear Babe” is the Takedown Vani Hari Deserves

My first encounter with Vani Hari, food crusader who calls herself “Food Babe,” came in April 2014. A friend of mine asked me to check out a blog post going around Facebook called “8 Beers that You Should Stop Drinking Immediately.” Since I like doing things for my friends, and I like beer, I took a look at it.

It turned out to be a cut and paste of a cut and paste, with the original content coming from someone called “Food Babe.” I’d never heard of her, and in retrospect, kind of wish I hadn’t. Because her post, called “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer,” was so wrong that it actually made me slightly dumber. It was full of hyperbole, lies, scare tactics, weasel words, and poorly done “research” – all of which would become more familiar to me as I read more of her nonsense, and attempted to debunk it for Skeptoid. / read more…

The Art of Selling a Mule Story

I’m convinced that there are two distinct career paths in journalism. One is (hypothetically speaking) the journalist proper who pens a well-written piece showing the different, nuanced aspects of a story. The other one is the title editor, whose job it is to capture the essence of the story in a short and concise title that entices the reader. However, more often than not (perhaps especially in the click-bait ridden Internet nowadays) the title editor overdoes it, giving priority to catching the reader’s attention over accuracy.

I was reminded again of this problem when reading the following story of a recent archeological discovery (hat tip to Reddit). The article relates the very interesting discovery of a 5th-century cemetery in France’s Lorraine region, which borders Germany. They discovered of eight human remains and one horse burial dates from a couple of months, but now the analysis of that skeleton has shown an even more interesting thing. The horse was in fact a mule, a hybrid made by mating a female horse with a male donkey.

/ read more…


When I Lost My Respect for Tom Brady

Tom Brady New England Patriot Quarterback Dec 4th 2007 Via Wikimedia

In the US, American-style football is big, both as an entertainment medium, and as a business. Worldwide, people are aware of the sport’s premier contest, the Super Bowl, even if they don’t watch it. Last year the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. Their quarterback Tom Brady was embroiled in accusations that he changed the air pressure in the footballs to gain a distinct advantage in the an earlier tournament’s championship game, which they won to get to the Super Bowl. Personally I found the whole discussion to be puerile and arbitrary. I don’t hold any professional athletes in very high regard, but Brady is transcendent of his sport in the public eye for a host of reasons. He is a success story at a premier position in the National Football League, the sport’s governing body, having risen from relative insignificance to become a Hall of Fame player. Similar to David Beckham retired UK footballer, he is married to his wealthier international super model wife, and he has name recognition and fame status that supersedes his sports status.

/ read more…


Why Mythbusters Ended

mythbusters‘Nuff said.


No, Sniffing These Mushrooms Will Probably Not Give You an Orgasm

For a week or so now, the Interwebz have been abuzz with an amazing “scientific” discovery: that a species of Dictyophora mushroom found on Hawaii will give some women an “instant orgasm” merely by sniffing it. The story has been getting reposted and retweetered like crazy, as we often see with such miraculously sensational products or discoveries. But is there anything to it? / read more…