11.1.2016

No, that’s not Amelia Earhart’s skeleton.

amelia_earhart_1935I can hardly believe it — Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR are once again hoaxing news outlets with yet another absurd claim that he knows where Amelia Earhart is, in blatant defiance of known history. And, once again, the news outlets are parroting his press release without the slightest fact checking or skepticism.

No, there is no chance that the old skeleton from Nikumaroro is Earhart, and no serious scientists think so.

For decades, TIGHAR (a nonprofit formed by Gillespie to fund his Earhart obsession) has been successfully persuading National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and others into funding its various wild goose chases around the South Pacific. This time he is asking for $1.75 million. I guess it’s not bad work if you can get it. Gillespie’s claimed alternate histories for Earhart have never been persuasive to any serious historians, but since he’s the only one making noise, he’s the one whose press releases get trumpeted by the media. / read more…

QED 2016 in Manchester: A Complete Success

Last weekend I attended the QED (Question Explore Discover) conference in Manchester, UK. It was the sixth installment of this very successful skeptical conference. It was the first I’ve attended, and I regret only one thing: that I didn’t go to the previous ones. It was an absolute blast, a weekend full of skepticism and science together with 650 like-minded colleagues.

opengraph

Describing the program in a detailed fashion wouldn’t do it justice, especially since there were sometimes as many as five events being held simultaneously. It was difficult to choose at times. Luckily, I’ve been informed by one of the organizers that the talks in the main hall will be put online soon, and a few podcasts who recorded live shows at the conference—including Cognitive Dissonance, God Awful Movies, InKredulous, and Skeptics with a K—are already beginning to post their live shows online, too. / read more…

10.20.2016

If You Know Anyone Afraid of the Flu Shot, Show Them This!

Internet memes are constant reminders of how unstructured information sharing is. I see memes through the prism of scientific skepticism and critical thinking and the most frustrating aspect is how they can be used to disseminate dangerous ideology and disinformation. There is no end to the structured disinfo out there—from creationism to anti-vaccine doggerel—everywhere on the Internet. Fear mongering has become an art form in promoting the agendas of ideologues, often using reasonable-sounding but myopic anti-science propaganda. This is especially dangerous during flu season.

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Do Not Try This Paleo Diet

Cannibalism is of one those topics that automatically gets a lot of eyeballs and clicks on the Internet. I’m sure there are a lot of psychological and sociological hypotheses to explain this but that’s not why I’m bringing up the subject. I want to talk about cannibalism and archaeology, because the latter (not the former!) is one of my favourite subjects.

A Neanderthal, our friendly cousin helping us out with a couple of DNA strands .... photo by Flickr user Erich Ferdinand, Creative Commons License 2.0

A Neanderthal, our “friendly” cousin … photo by Flickr user Erich Ferdinand, Creative Commons License 2.0

The topic of eating one’s own kind came up in the published results of studies of the Goyet caves, not too far from me here in Belgium. These results were published in Scientific Reports (part of Nature Publishing Group) by an international and multidisciplinary team. They analyzed Neanderthal bones dating from 40,000 years ago, and found that there is very strong evidence for “butchery activities” and “bones having been used for retouching stone tools.” In short, Neanderthals ate other Neanderthals, and even used the remaining bones to fix up their tools. / read more…

10.5.2016

Does Turmeric Need a Warning Label?

Many of the more popular pseudoscience websites have a standard article about the powerful benefits of turmeric. Claims about its benefits range anywhere from treating cancer to diabetes, and they abound in these articles, usually followed by a tiny warning at the end of the article that what they said isn’t really medical advice, though the tone of the article might say otherwise.

Turmeric root and powder via Wikimedia

Turmeric root and powder via Wikimedia

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10.1.2016

Whoops: How I Accidentally Became a Shill for the Plastics Industry

I usually write about art, only occasionally taking a swing at topics in science and skepticism. But a recent essay attempted to address the way that people perceive global warming and the actions that they take in trying to remediate it. This difference between assumption and reality is something that drives my writing about art and probably drives a lot of skeptical inquiry. You can find it everywhere, and I found it very loudly in the response to my essay.

Tote bags. Photo by BRRT via Pixabay.

Tote bags. Photo by BRRT via Pixabay.

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9.19.2016

Zika: Truth, Rumors and Misconceptions

 

Marvin Recinos-Getty Images

Marvin Recinos-Getty Images

The Zika virus is very serious business, but am I the only person who when they hear the word “Zika” think of the vile tasting clear adult beverage “Zima” that was popular during the wine cooler craze of the 80’s? Perhaps I’m just old.

Be that as it may, one thing is for certain.  For pregnant females, being infected with the Zika virus does  run a serious risk of causing birth defects of very specific types.  Microcephaly, a neurological condition in which the head of an infant is significantly smaller than what is expected of children of the same age and sex, is perhaps the most serious of these.  There is no specific treatment for this condition, but early intervention with speech and occupational therapies may help increase quality of life for the patient. / read more…

9.19.2016

Giving the TV thing another go

It seems a surprising number of years ago now, but a while ago, Skeptoid Media partnered with New Rule Productions to form Skeptologist Partners. We shot a 1-hour TV pilot called The Skeptologists with an all-star cast of the top personalities in scientific skepticism. We had a great agent and partnered with one of TV Land’s top production companies, and got very close to a network deal. But the concept wasn’t quite right. We wanted to be too skeptical, and the networks wanted a paranormal explanation to turn out to be the true one — at least some of the time. That wasn’t the show we brought them, so as close as we got, we never sealed a deal (our slot was ultimately taken by Hairy Bikers, and I wish I was kidding). We went back to the drawing board. / read more…

Far from Bulletproof Science

Like a lot of people in the Western world, I used to be a bit overweight—you know, a spare tire, nothing special. But in one of those classic New Year resolutions last year, I decided enough is enough and started going on a diet. Scientifically backed, of course! / read more…

8.31.2016

Alternative Medicine and the Post-Hoc Rationalization

If you follow me on the Skeptoid blog you’ll find that I take a dim view of complementary and alternative medicine. My opinion is based primarily on a rational evaluation of the research. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as a whole, is chock full of poor studies, index studies and weak correlational studies. There is a minority of well done positive research that subsequently fails to show any benefits and goes unreplicated. Alternative medicine as a whole has all the failings of an old west medicine show plagued by scam artists and ideologues. Scammers and ideologues use the freedom that discarding the scientific method offers to reinforce an emotional response. This summer, BioMed Central, a peer-reviewed open-access journal, published an overview of alternative medicine treatments and the benefit in getting injured or sick people back to work, undertaken by researchers at Columbia University. This study, titled “Complementary and alternative medicine use and absenteeism among individuals with chronic disease,” was a retrospective correlational review of data collected from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey data. / read more…