ESP: not pseudoscience but a new European Skeptics Podcast

I’ve written previously on these pages about the active european skeptical organizations. I wrote about the European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm in 2013. I got it from good sources that this year in London was also a blast (couldn’t attend sadly because of other obligations), and now there is also a European Skeptics Podcast, ESP for short.

0a024695e0-ESP_logo_final_1500 for website

Another podcast you say? Yes, but this one has a very specific European focus. There are tons of good podcasts, but in the States and in Europe (both in English and other languages), but this one has a specific European scope. Their goal is to bridge the different skeptics and skeptical organizations in order to create a specific European skeptical forum and meeting place. / read more…

Enjoying Movies, with Science of Course!

With all the hype going on for the new Star Wars film release in a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea to also consider why we enjoy movies, from a scientific point of view. What makes us go to a crowded movie theater, sit next to a smelly Wookie, and watch an ultrafast flickering succession of still photographs, and enjoy it?

A frame from the Lumiere brothers’ movie “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” (1895), which is said to have made audiences jump in shock. Via WikiMedia.

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12.4.2015

Pop Culture Medical Mistakes

Grey’s Anatomy Via Wikimedia

As someone who works in medicine I find it difficult to be entertained by medical entertainments. From Grey’s Anatomy to Robin Cook’s novels I cannot suspend disbelief and live in the stories. This is mostly because I avoid conflating my work and my entertainment, but also at least partially because of the inaccuracies. Inaccuracies, falsehoods, and myths in medical fare jar me out of the moment. These aren’t the small technical errors you can see in any entertainment medium; I’m talking about convenient, often-repeated, easily fixed errors. I often wonder if experts in these field have their entertainment experience ruined like me. To me it is no different than watching the film Gladiator and seeing a helicopter fly over the Colosseum, or watching Sherlock and finding out “aliens did it.” Entertainment, for me, needs continuity—fine to stretch yourself out for comedy or artistic license, quite another for lazy plot contrivances.

I am sure airline pilots, police officers, astronauts, and others can be equally critical of their profession’s onscreen depictions. I hope that pointing out a few common foibles won’t ruin your experience, and perhaps they’ll teach a little and sharpen your critical thinking. Skeptoid is all about pop culture and myths; I will make a small attempt to purge the demons by sharing some of the most common or egregious medical errors seen in pop culture. Some are from TV, some from print, some are even from Skeptoid podcast. Hopefully I can enlighten some of us without ruining your favorite medical drama.

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12.4.2015

Bad Skepticism: New Live Show from Skeptoid

The Loch Ness Monster has inspired plenty of bad skepticism.

“Skeptics” often do as much bad science as anyone. We don’t like to admit it any more than anyone else does, but nevertheless there it is.

Some colossally bad explanations for things that either didn’t need explanations (because they never never happened) or that already had them (because the skeptical investigators stopped short in their research) have been put forth. This is not a criticism, rather it’s an opportunity for us all to take as a teachable moment. And that’s the gist of my newest live show, “Bad Skepticism”. 

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12.3.2015

Deepak Chopra Drinking Game

New Age spiritualism mouthpiece Deepak Chopra will be on the Conan O’Brien show on Wednesday, December 9, 2015. In this tweet, he threatened to attack science “discuss naive realism”:

IMG_6206It seems certain that Chopra will entertain. So I propose a drinking game: take a shot whenever he (1) utters a pseudo-profundity bedazzled with sciencey-sounding buzzwords, or (2) attacks science by dismissing it with a condescending weasel word like “realism” or “materialism”.

The trigger for all this, referenced in Prof. Cox’s tweet, was the November 2015 publication of “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” by Pennycook et. al. in the journal Judgment and Decision Making. A link is here; search the page for occurrences of “Chopra” and you’ll get the idea.

What you choose to drink is up to you, of course. This will be my choice. Not sure why the bottle shown here looks so empty; it was full when I got there.

12.1.2015

FDA Smackdown on GMO Fear Mongering

In my estimation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) incur fear mongering of the highest order, perhaps second only to vaccines, if at all. For reasons that escape me there has been a concerted effort to marginalize or outright stop the use and development of GMOs at all levels of the food supply. The expressed reasons are varied; objections range from conspiracy-laden anti-corporate narratives to Frankenfood fears about unknowns. I have noted a severe ideological bent to these objections, which defy scientific evidence of safety and efficacy. They’re narratives based almost exclusively on the nonscientific foundations of chemophobia, naturalistic fallacy, and fear of the unknown.

Over the last few years the fear mongering has grown. With that growth there has been a reasonable-sounding anti-GMO tactic demanded by some advocates, namely forcing labeling of GMO foods.

Protesters at New Orleans’ March Against Monsanto, gathering at Duncan Plaza before the start of the march. Via Wikimedia.

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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…

11.16.2015

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.

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11.6.2015

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.

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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:

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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
Scibabe
Mommy, PhD
Science Pony
Respectful Insolence