3.22.2017

Mythbusters topics, from the Skeptoid files

The new Mythbusters: Jon Lung and Brian Louden

Awesomely, a new season of Mythbusters is afoot, with new hosts Brian Louden and Jon Lung. They were selected by winning Mythbusters: The Search hosted by Skeptoid friend Kyle Hill (you may have also noted Skeptoid Media’s The Feeding Tube host Tamara Robertson on the show).

And, equally awesomely, Brian and Jon are super friendly and approachable, and love engaging with us on social media. (This is soooo important, especially considering Mythbusters’ potential for impact on society and the world.) And recently, Brian asked me the following question: / read more…

3.20.2017

The news on the new film is…

My new film from Skeptoid Media, Principles of Curiosity, is finally in post production. This is the long-awaited sequel to my 2008 amateur film Here Be Dragons, and it is what I had originally hoped that film would be and more. It is professionally produced, super amazing, and will be released free worldwide under a Creative Commons license allowing free public and private showings. It teaches a simple method anyone can follow to learn to determine what’s real and what’s not. Think of it as a practical guide to scientific skepticism and critical thinking, enjoyable for general audiences, and optimized for classrooms. / read more…

3.3.2017

If Vaccines Work…?

I… I can’t even believe I’m writing this.

That image up there showed up in my Facebook feed, posted by a smug JAQer who—I assume—hates the idea of health and not dying of horrible diseases. And who possibly hates children as well. Thankfully, I saw it because a friend of mine who does not pine for the glory days of 16th-century medicine had laid into the JAQer with a will and a vengeance.

Distressingly, this is a trope. It’s a common tactic used by people who hate health and children and science and reason (also known as “antivaxxers,” the term I used is longer but probably more accurate) to sow confusion and spread misinformation about the benefits of vaccines by “just asking questions.” Questions that have answers, mind, but JAQers are often too intellectually dishonest to bother acknowledging those answers. It gets in the way of the soundbite.

If vaccines work?

If vaccines work?

This… this will require more than one article.  Because there’s a couple of questions to address here:  “Do they work?” and “How are unvaccinated children a threat?”.  And answering a JAQoff’s questions takes time and effort.  So, let’s just jump into the first question.

“Do vaccines work?”

Yes they work, you primitive screwhead.

/ read more…

2.17.2017

Don’t Feed the Trolls?

Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

Here’s the context: I’d written about “birth certificate bonds,” and someone had come along to attempt a rebuttal that essentially started with “wake up, sheeple” and ended with “you are all fools.” It’s classic trolling behavior, really. Brian Dunning responded to him first, and I weighed in as well. Shortly thereafter, Fred asked the above question and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

It was obvious that the poster here wasn’t asking genuine questions, or hoping for answers, or even engaging in a genuine discussion. But I answered him anyway, and in retrospect, Fred’s question is a good one. Why did I respond? Was it out of sheer bloody-minded belligerence, or did I have some other motive? And, to be honest, the answer is “yes.” I am bloody-mindedly belligerent (online, at least), but I did have another reason. But to understand it, we’ll need to talk about a couple of dishonest debate strategies.

/ read more…

Jade Eggs for Your Kegels

There is no shortage of health fads and nonsense on the Internet, but when it comes to women’s health, actress Gwyneth Paltrow seems to lead the charge on the wackiest and most dangerous woo. Her lifestyle website and newsletter, called GOOP, recently promoted (and began selling) a dangerous and implausible practice for improving female genital health and sexual performance: the vaginal insertion of egg-shaped pieces of jade.

Jade eggs for use in Kegel exercises. Via Wikimedia

/ read more…

2.3.2017

Can You Lose 5kg in Three Days With This One Weird Trick?

So many of my article ideas come from social media. “You Can Lose Up To 5 Kg in 3 Days With Potatoes & Yogurt!” the headline on the shared post declared. Well, naturally that got my attention. I write a lot about my own efforts to lose weight, so both food science and food woo are a topic of interest for me. So, gritting my teeth, I clicked the link. The new page informed me that:

The main ingredient of the potato diet, as you can conclude is the potato. This diet also includes low-fat yogurt.

Potatoes will keep you full for a longer period of time and that way you will consume less calories. While you are on this diet you will need to eat only cooked potatoes and to drink yogurt but only the one with low fat.

Varieties of potatoes. From Wikimedia

/ read more…

1.27.2017

But You Should Question Some Things…

I’m ashamed to admit that, recently on Facebook, I failed as a skeptic.

Here’s how it went down: I logged onto Facebook as I do, checking my feed to see if anything interesting had been posted. And I saw the following image:

Wait! Come back! I promise this isn’t about politics!

Without stopping to think about it, I hit the button to share the image. Yes, I have certain political leanings that may be safely inferred from that statement. Relax. This isn’t about those political leanings, and I’m not trying to turn this site into a soapbox for any specific political agenda. This is about a failure in critical thinking. Because I failed to think critically, when I shared that image. Because there’s a single, important question I should have asked first.

/ read more…

1.20.2017

I Got Trolled by My First Anti-Vaxxer!

Recently, I logged onto Facebook and found the following article in my feed:

Screen capture from www.washingtonpost.com

I was in a bit of a sour mood at that moment, so when I hit the share button I wrote a vitriol-filled post to accompany it. To my surprise, it got shared quite a bit—meaning 15 or 20 reshares compared to my typical two. Honestly, I was a little surprised. And then, I got my very first screed from anti-vaxxer troll, a self-described “old school hippie, loving mother and proud grandmother, happy and joyous and free” who “studied at the School of Hard Knocks”:

richard, please let me inject you and your babies with mercury ok?

I replied, of course. But the response got me thinking, and it got me wondering, and it got me asking questions.

/ read more…

1.13.2017

Birth Certificate Bonds: What’s the Motivation?

Originally, I hadn’t planned to write a second part to this “birth certificate bond” thing. I figured it was a “one and done” deal, and I’d move on to trying to decide what to write for the next week. But then, a reader named Menzo made this comment about my article:

Rich,
You truly are a financial geek. TMI to the extreme. What I wanted to know almost immediately, but never got answer to, is what is the motivation for a person to post a website about “birth certificate bonds”? Is this a scam or some kind of a silly joke or a conspiracy theory?

I’ll cop to the charge of being a “financial geek.” But, in retrospect, I have to confess I’m not geek enough. It never occurred to me to ask why someone would believe what is, on the surface (as well as after a deeper dive), patently obvious nonsense. But now, thanks to Menzo, I can’t stop wondering. So fasten your seatbelts: we’re about to wade deep into the woo.

This simple chart explaining a “birth certificate bond” somehow overlooks the why of this scheme.

/ read more…

1.6.2017

Your Birth Certificate Is Not a Bond. Really.

If you’re like most people, you read that title and scratched your head in confusion. “Rich,” you may have said, “what on earth are you talking about? Of course my birth certificate isn’t a bond. It’s a birth certificate.” And now you’re reading this, because you’re wondering what sort of foaming madness I’m spewing forth onto your screen.

I work in the financial sector in my day job, and I come into contact with a broad slice of the general public on a daily basis. That’s how I first encountered this nonsense. About six years ago, I received a call from a gentleman who said he wanted to redeem his bond. So I got the particulars of his account, looked it up, and scratched my head in confusion. There were no bonds. There weren’t any bond-based mutual funds. He had nothing that even looked like a bond. All he had was a checking account, and that held less than a hundred dollars.

“Sir,” I said, probably sounding extremely confused, “did you mean you wanted to take a withdrawal from your checking account?”

“No,” he assured me. “I’ve got a bond, and it’s worth a million dollars, and I just need to get enough out to buy a new car.”

/ read more…