12.31.2016

Stop Criticizing Fracking and Pipelines

Many of my friends and colleagues often criticize me for refusing to embrace the popular anti-fracking rhetoric — or, as some like to fallaciously describe it — my “pro-fracking stance”. There’s a reason I refuse to condemn fracking, and it’s the same reason I wouldn’t jump on the ultra-fashionable anti-pipeline bandwagon; and I believe it is an important reason. Getting off of fossil fuels should be one of our highest priorities as a species. To persuade those who disagree, we need a bulletproof argument. Invented boogeymen like fracking and pipelines, when presented as reasons to get off fossil fuels, weaken that argument. When our loudest messages are so weak that they collapse under the slightest scientific scrutiny — as do the pop criticisms of fracking and pipelines — we are gravely harming the process of moving away from fossil fuels. / read more…

12.30.2016

Shaving with Occam’s Razor

I was on Twitter on Christmas Eve, wasting time that should have been spent working out what my very first blog post should be, when I saw the following tweet:

sorry to bother you @BrianDunning -& plz forgive me if it’s been covered- but people butchering occam’s razor needs to be addressed i think

Well, there was my inspiration. Sure, Brian Dunning responded to the tweet by pointing out that it will be addressed in Principles of Curiosity (go fund it on GoFundMe), but it got me curious. And indulging my own curiosity is why I write.  So, let’s start with the obvious question:

What is Occam’s Razor?

Not so much this, really. Via Wikimedia.

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12.25.2016

Son of Holiday Myths Debunked

Over the last few years, I’ve occasionally written posts on some myth or another. Every time I accumulate enough interesting ones, I tend to write a short article. So here we go.

References to religious facts were gathered quickly. If I haven’t nailed all the subtleties of your particular belief system, I ask for understanding that it is not a knock on your belief system. Corrections are welcome in the comments, but please reference them if you do.

Menorah photo © 2006 by Tomasz Sienicki via wikimedia

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12.9.2016

Does Drinking White Wine Give You Melanoma?

Brown University put out a press release this month about some of its soon-to-be-published research. The study, named “Alcohol Intake and Risk of Incident Melanoma: A Pooled Analysis of Three Prospective Studies in the United States,” appears this month in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. It looks at the drinking habits of more than 210,000 participants, and found bad news for those who enjoy a glass of white wine: the findings suggests that drinking white wine will significantly raise your risk for melanoma! Or so the media reports would have you think. Regular Skeptoid readers will be familiar with the paucity of such science reporting: sensational headlines with unsupported conclusions often dominate such news. Let’s take a close look at this research and determine if this pop-science flavor-of-the-week is in fact science, or just science fiction.

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11.18.2016

Still No Reason to Suspect ‘Earthquake Lights’ Are a Thing

Since the November 13, 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, my inbox has been bursting with reports of EQLs (earthquake lights). A number of YouTube videos have surfaced from locals who were quick on the draw with their phones in the middle of the night, and predictably, it re-ignited the popular belief in a phenomenon called earthquake lights. / read more…

11.17.2016

3 Things for AGW Deniers to Stop Saying

I suppose it’s good for shipping traffic, but not for much else. Sea ice reflects a lot of solar radiation back out to space. When there’s a lot of it, it’s easier for the Earth to get cooler (the “Snowball Earth” effect); and when there’s less sea ice, it’s easier for the Earth to warm even more. / read more…

11.14.2016

God Help Me, I’ve Joined a Co-Op

A loaf of sprouted bread. Via Wikimedia.

A loaf of sprouted bread. Via Wikimedia.

I capitulated to friends and followed them into joining a food co-op. It’s a members-only collaborative grocery store that is governed, operated, and patronized by the people who join it, with everyone participating in some way, typically volunteering a few hours of labor each month—stocking groceries, working the checkout registers, cleaning, doing clerical jobs, etc. It has a mission to operate on behalf of its members, with extremely low mark-ups on almost all the products sold there, and with the aim of essentially breaking even, income-wise, as its members are basically just collectively buying in bulk. (This is not to say that the foods it sells are striking a blow against corporate greed: the products there, like all stores, come from capitalist businesses that have a profit motive.) The fruits and veggies and things are all top notch, it carries national brands and health food offerings with some more gourmet products; everything is really affordable. I enjoy it, but the place is rife with woo.

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11.9.2016

What Skeptoid is doing about the election…

I just sent this email to everyone on Skeptoid Media’s opt-in mailing list (join in the Members Portal):

For many, yesterday’s election was a stunner; for others, a victory. Whatever your thoughts on its social or economic implications, my wheelhouse is its ramifications for the public understanding of science. The unfortunate reality is that the US will spend the next four years with a presidential administration that has openly expressed contempt for these scientific facts: / read more…

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…