3.31.2015

L. Ron Hubbard’s Military Service

With the Church of Scientology in the public spotlight due to the recent HBO documentary “Going Clear,” numerous claims about the Church and its founder L. Ron Hubbard, are being debated by both Scientology-watchers and the general public. Most of these center around allegations against Scientology, counter-allegations by the Church and the alleged cult of personality that revolves around its high-ranking figures.

But there’s another way to look at Scientology, beyond the controversies about Xenu, billion-year contracts, punishment details, beatings and movie stars. And it starts before Scientology even existed, with the military career of L. Ron Hubbard – both what he did and what he didn’t do during the Second World War. / read more…

11 Skeptical Reasons to Read Playboy

There used to be an old wives’ tale back in my student days at the University of Leuven’s philosophy department: that we were “allowed” to read the Playboy—as if one would need permission for that. We didn’t read it for the vestimentary-challenged ladies; it was of course for the articles. More precisely, it was especially for an article by Leslie Fiedler, published in the December 1969 issue, that helped start the postmodernism.

Now I’m not a fan of postmodernism, not in literature and certainly not in philosophical matters, so I wasn’t actively following the magazine. It was only through Wil Wheaton’s interview of Patton Oswalt [link to Playboy.com] that I browsed their website and found the following list. As with most entertainment or even “news” sites, such lists are ideal clickbait with an attention-grabbing headline. Playboy plays the game rather well, feeding itself mostly on Reddit conversations about sexuality and related matters. But this one [link to Playboy.com] was not only (mostly) unrelated to sex, but also skeptical: 11 common “facts” that are incorrect, and only two related to sex (guess which ones…). The list is hastily compiled (as most of these lists!), they are really “common misconceptions” sometimes mixed with the correct explanation, as you can see in the list below.

/ read more…

3.23.2015

Have You Seen This Peruvian “Flying Humanoid” Video?

When I write about unidentified flying objects, I’m used to it being of the alien spacecraft variety. But apparently in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, there’s another phenomenon making the rounds: an unidentified flying humanoid. This is revealed in a new video posted to YouTube last week by Dr. Anthony Choy, who bills himself as an investigative journalist and National Coordinator of the Peruvian Association of Ufology (APU) (though it seems like he is the sole face and voice of the org, as well). He claims this is part of a “phenomenon” of flying humanoids he’s been researching since 2010.

First, let’s roll that beautiful flying humanoid footage:

/ read more…

3.18.2015

Joint Pain: Scams, Lies, And Exaggerations, Part 1

Matthew Bilancia, U.S. Air Force team member, straps on his knee brace as he prepares for track and field events during the 2011 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 17, 2011. The track and field events are the first ones during the weeklong Warrior Games. Via Wikimedia.

As an Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner I see a constant stream of joint pain complaints. They stem from a variety of sources: injury, age related changes, lifestyle issues and autoimmune disorders. Patients will often Google their problems and/or their symptoms, and like most medical issues you can find truth on the Internet, but it is never easy or quick. A lot of what I do with patients is teaching, with a good deal of that time spent addressing long-standing myths or marketing scams. I find the most prevalent and pervasive pseudoscience in orthopedics revolves around joint pain. Although Dr. Harriet Hall has occasionally reviewed some of these myths for Science-Based Medicine, she has made a few minor errors on some subjects and in my opinion been uncharacteristically generous with her opinion of glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation. Since this is my field of expertise, I felt it was finally time to dole out some advice and data on some of the more commonly marketed joint pain treatments.

/ read more…

3.17.2015

Strange Facts that Aren’t Strange and Aren’t Facts

Spend enough time on the internet, and someone is going to either email you or post a list of “facts” that are hilarious and unbelievable. Inevitably, some of these facts are going to be completely wrong, and others are going to be out of context or vague enough that you can’t tell.

WRONG!

WRONG!

I was forwarded one such list, one that’s been going around the internet for at least a decade, and has no clear source or origin. It’s the one that starts “if you yelled for 8 years…” and you can find it on an infinite number of sites and “facts”-spewing Twitter accounts called “strange facts” or “odd but true” or “life’s strange” or something like that. So I decided to do something that it doesn’t appear anyone had done: comprehensively fact check it and see how many of these facts are factual.

It’s surprising how many are – and not surprising how many aren’t. / read more…

3.16.2015

Can We Really Achieve a “Tobacco-Free World”?

smoking-baby-quitsjpg-421cd19bad0eb76cThe Lancet is celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the global health treaty aimed at worldwide smoking cessation. Accusing the tobacco industry of using “a business model of peddling an addictive product to children and young people, and sustained by practices that prioritise corporate profit over health,” the Lancet’s collection of articles are all dedicated to examining one idea: achieving “a world where over the next 25 years the sales of tobacco are phased out (although not prohibited), and in which fewer than 5% of adults use tobacco.” Or as the headlines are putting it: a tobacco-free world.

I was aware that groups around the world have been engaged in smoking cessation programs for years, but the notion that a tobacco-free world was not only possible but within reach waived a skeptical flag for me. Smoking is such a huge industry, and there are well-documented efforts to push back against any efforts at smoking cessation. Is it possible to do it in twenty-five years? Is it possible to do it at all?

/ read more…

Some More News from the Friar Lane

In October 2013 I followed up on on the Greyfriars archaeological site in Leicester, UK, where the remains of King Richard III were found by a team from the University of Leicester. Although the excavations were specifically targeted to find the remains of the last English king to die in battle, they also yielded a lot of information on the Greyfriars monastery and church. As I noted in another article, it was really odd to notice that the location was also Friar Lane, even though the monastery was torn down in the 16th century.

There is now another follow-up that is going around, namely that another coffin was found very close to the place where the last Plantagenet king was laid to rest. The nearness is not unusual, as burial places are quickly forgotten, within a timespan of tens of years (as I wrote elsewhere but other examples exist). It is therefore quite certain that the people burying their king were not aware of the other burials nearby. / read more…

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.

/ read more…

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.

/ read more…