Fwd: Skeptical Inquirer News
Skeptical Inquirer News Vol. 2 No. 2
hey, CSI is really getting a good out reach program
Vol. 2 No. 2, February 2010
Welcome back to the Skeptical Inquirer News. In this edition we congratulate a CSI fellow for an upcoming prestigious award and CSICOP.org for topping a writer’s list of resources, explore another writer’s dubious interpretation of three Skeptical Inquirer articles on the Shroud of Turin, and announce three new hosts for the Point of Inquiry podcast. Also, congratulations and thanks are in order for big-hearted skeptics everywhere who helped bring relief to Haiti in record numbers.
- CSI News and Reviews
- Only Online—Free Skeptical Inquirer Online Extras
- Voice in the Dark (theater)
- Now in Print and Coming Soon in Skeptical Inquirer
- In Case You Missed It on Point of Inquiry
- Media Coverage of CSI and Skeptical Inquirer
- In Other News—Links of Interest
- Just for Fun
CSI Fellow Eugenie C. Scott to Receive Public Welfare Medal
National Academy of Science’s Most Prestigious Award
The National Academy of Sciences Council has announced that CSI Fellow Dr. Eugenie C. Scott is to be the 2010 recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the Academy’s most prestigious award. The medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. According to a press release from the National Center for Science Education, the Council chose Scott for championing the teaching of evolution in the United States and for providing leadership to the NCSE.
The medal was established in 1914 at the suggestion of George F. Becker and initially supported by the Marcellus Hartley Fund. The first recipients were George W. Goethals and William C. Gorgas in 1914 “for their distinguished services in connection with the building of the Panama Canal.” Other notable recipients include Herbert Hoover (1920), J. Edgar Hoover (1939), John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1943), and Carl Sagan (1994). An updated complete list of recipients is available on the Academy’s Web site.
The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Scott on April 25 during the Academy’s 147th annual meeting.
From the release:
“Through lectures, television appearances, and articles, she has explained the process of scientific inquiry and defended science education against creationist challenges. Scott and the NCSE have served as pro bono consultants in state and federal court cases on science standards, including the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, in which the teaching of intelligent design was held by a federal court to be unconstitutional.
‘Eugenie Scott has worked tirelessly and very effectively to improve public understanding of both the nature of science and the science of evolution,’ said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. ‘She makes the case for science again and again.’
‘Dr. Scott has been a champion in protecting the teaching of evolution in the U.S. public schools and a central figure in improving the public’s understanding of evolution and the nature of science. We honor her for many years of organizing coalitions of scientists, parents, teachers, business people, clergy, and others to defend the teaching of evolution,’ said John Brauman, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the Public Welfare Medal selection committee.”
The medal reads, “Awarded for Eminence in the Application of Science to the Public Welfare.”
CSICOP.org Tops the Top 5 Web Sites to Research Weird Science Claims
Professional writer-for-hire and engineer Ryan Dube, in the January 21 edition of MakeUseOf.com, has listed the top five Web sites he uses when pursuing his self-described passion for “researching and either verifying or debunking strange and wild claims”—and CSICOP.org is number one. He writes:
“Exploring the world of the strange and unusual can be difficult for a lot of people. While you want to open your mind enough to the possibilities — as a friend of mine once told me, you also don’t want to open up your mind so much that it becomes a wind tunnel. To truly explore the edge of science, you need to maintain a conservative, guarded yet open-minded approach. The following Web sites will help you with that, so that you can explore these amazing new areas of science without slipping off the cliff and falling down a bottomless rabbit hole.
The first Web site is also one of my favorites — The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
As a team, and with the support of Fellows and writers from across the world, this organization and Web site stands as a beacon of truth for all serious investigators in the areas of the paranormal and fringe science.”
The other four Web sites listed (including two run by CSI fellows) are those of Popular Mechanics, new CSI Fellow Robert Carroll’s The Skeptic’s Dictionary, the James Randi Educational Foundation, and Physics Forums. Each section has a short write up on what makes these particular sites so valuable, including this amusing, if not quite accurate, description of our dear friend and new (again) CSI fellow Randi:
“Today, James Randi is considered the ‘hit man’ of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry — mostly because he takes a no-holds-barred approach to attacking especially ludicrous paranormal claims and driving them directly into the ground.”
Well, OK, it’s mostly accurate.
Shroud of Turin, ‘Amazing Evidence’
I came across a press release this week that was posted November 23, 2009, to a release service by Frank Jakubowsky, president of Bold Books and self-styled “writing pattern expert.” Jakubowsky cites three articles in the Spring 1982 issue of Skeptical Inquirer about the Shroud of Turin by Marvin M. Mueller, Walter McCrone, and Steven D. Schafersman and writes that he’s made an “amazing discovery” that supports the claim that the cloth is the authentic holy relic believers insist it to be, despite all evidence to the contrary. From the release:
“In the three articles in The Skeptical Inquirer there were 52 names mentioned. Ten had the same letter beginning the first and last name. That is 19.2%. I sampled a phone book and got 5%. The 19.2% is almost four times the expected value. 18.2% of the names mentioned had a first name beginning with the letter J. A sample from the phone had 11.1% So 18.2% instead of the expected value of 11.1% points to Jesus. Then the last names that began with the letter J was 7.8%. The phone book had 3.1%. That was over twice the expected value. I used the Oakland phone book. The overabundance of the letter J points to Jesus.
The letter C was stressed by the name of Walter C. McCrone. His name has the very rare two adjacent C’s. On page 50 the name McCrone occurred 14 times. That really was stressed. Look closely and symbolically at his name: Walter C. McCrone. Doesn’t it seem to say: Walter see Him, see Christ...”
Well, how scientific. This is a classic example of starting with the answer you want and then working backward to create and twist evidence to support your claim. But maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on him, since he only just arrived on Earth (or wouldn’t he agree that that because “Jakubowsky” ends with “sky,” his own logic suggests the “amazing discovery” that he recently landed in a spacecraft?).
It’s “amazing” how those who want so much to believe can ignore that an artist confessed to having “cunningly printed” the image in the mid-1350s, and the cloth was carbon dated to exactly that period; the “blood” stains yield the chemical signatures of red ochre and vermillion pigments, the herringbone striped-twill weave pattern of the linen doesn’t show up in the Jerusalem region until the Middle Ages, and even the relic-obsessed Catholic Church refuses to acknowledge the cloth’s oft-claimed authenticity. No, no. A Skeptical Inquirer article has more Js per page than the Oakland phone book, therefore the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus. No need to look any further.
Perhaps Jakubowsky should use some of his free time, which is apparently ample, to read Joe Nickell’s Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings, (Prometheus, 1983, 1998 ). It could shed some light on the subject for him. And if it doesn’t, he could always count the Js and Cs.
Skeptics Pitch In for Haiti
Speaking of counting, skeptics are continuing to donate generously to the Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE) campaign for Haiti. The record-breaking and still-rising amount donated to date is $99,132. About half of that—$47,000—rolled in during the first 24 hours of the campaign, and $88,262 was donated in the first seven days. The largest amount recorded since SHARE began in 1994 was about $80,000 for aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
One of the appealing aspects of SHARE is that all donations—100 percent with no operating costs retained—are sent directly to secular aid groups who are actively helping in the affected area. In this case, donations benefit the secular aid group Doctors Without Borders, which suffered the loss of all three of its medical facilities.
It’s interesting, and heartening, to know that while people can donate directly to Doctors Without Borders, many choose to go through SHARE in order to add to the collective voice that is the skeptical community. It’s a voice that is getting louder and harder to ignore, and the press is starting to pay attention. Can we push this campaign past the $100,000 mark? If all 19,522 readers of this newsletter gave a nickel, we’d be more than $100 over that goal. Visit our secure page to donate.
Three New Hosts Announced for ‘Point of Inquiry’ Podcast
The Center for Inquiry has announced that there will be three new hosts for its popular podcast, Point of Inquiry. Joining the podcast are Chris Mooney, Karen Stollznow, and Robert Price.
“All three are smart, articulate, witty individuals, with a depth of knowledge in their respective areas of expertise,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We expect the podcasts to be thought-provoking and engaging—an entertaining intellectual feast. Moreover, given the scope of topics to be covered, we anticipate we will be able to broaden the audience for our podcast.”
Mooney is expected to host about half of the approximately 50 new shows per year, with the balance evenly split between Price and Stollznow. The first episode to feature this new format is tentatively scheduled for February 12.
Read the full press release with host bios.
Point of Inquiry is the premier podcast of the Center for Inquiry, drawing on CFI’s relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists, public intellectuals, prominent authors, and social critics and thinkers. Each episode combines incisive interviews, features, and commentary focusing on issues of science and public policy, pseudoscience and the paranormal, and religion and secularism.
Frank’s Box: The Broken Radio
By Karen Stollznow, The Naked Skeptic, and new host of Point of Inquiry
One person’s broken radio is another’s groundbreaking invention that enables human contact with aliens, angels, and the dead. Instrumental Transdimensional Communication (ITC) refers to the use of electronic devices such as tape recorders, fax machines, television sets, and computers to attempt to contact nonhuman entities. These are usually standard machines used in nonstandard ways to collect “paranormal” images and sounds. Read the full article.
The Decline of the Decline of Arabic Science
By Austin Dacey
Just as soon as anyone notes the dismal state of science in contemporary Muslim-majority countries, someone else with a little knowledge of history will observe that the Islamic world was once the center of the scientific world. From the eighth to the end of the fourteenth centuries, the most important work in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, optics, and medicine took place under Muslim rule. Read the full article.
Reading, the New Media, and the New Skepticism: What’s Going On?
By Kendrick Frazier
Newspapers have been under economic pressures from television since the ’50s, but their rapid decline now—in this new Internet age—is unprecedented. And sad. Kids these days don’t read newspapers. They barely know what they are. It is terrible for newspapers and those who love them, and it may be terrible for education and for democracy. But are those lamenting the decline looking at the matter through their own generations’ prism? Read the full article.
Creation: A Cinematic Look at Charles Darwin
By Ben Radford
The new film Creation, which opened January 22, tells the true story of the circumstances surrounding Charles Darwin’s crowning creation, On the Origin of Species. The film is not really about Darwin writing the book; that would be cinematic suicide (as any screenwriter can tell you, watching someone write a book is about as dramatic and interesting as watching someone read a book). Nor is the film a biography of Darwin’s life, though earlier adventures on the H.M.S. Beagle are told. Instead the film is about one of the world’s greatest scientists and his family, about how he was deeply in love with a religious woman who profoundly disagreed with much of his life’s work and the revolutionary theory it birthed. Read the full article.
Interview with Randall Keynes
By LaRae Meadows
Creation author and conservationist Randall Keynes sat down on an extremely rainy Monday in San Francisco to discuss his book, the movie adaptation that hit theaters on January 22, and the controversy surrounding the movie’s release. For those who do not already know, the film Creation, based on Keynes’s book by the same name (also published as Annie’s Box) has been followed by a wake of controversy in the religiously charged United States. Read the full article.
Anti-Witchcraft Campaign at CFI/Kenya
By George Ongere
CFI/Kenya organized a series of lectures and a workshop when Leo Igwe of the Center for Inquiry/Nigeria visited. Igwe engaged students at the University of Nairobi and Kenya Polytechnic with a talk on the dangers of superstitious beliefs. Read the full article.
In Creation, a film adaptation of Randall Keynes book of the same name, Charles Darwin comes to terms with the death of his daughter Annie, the meaning of his work, and the pain his discovery causes his devoutly reverent wife, Emma. Heart-grasping acting and beautiful cinematography occasionally lose their shimmer due to momentary cases of the doldrums. Read the full review.
Daybreakers begins ten years after an outbreak causes vampirism, when the world is running out of humans necessary to feed the vampire population. Gritty, dark, gory, and full of insight,Daybreakers left me bouncing between perceptive reflection and entertaining bloody revolution. Read the full review.
Coming soon in Skeptical Inquirer
- Oprah Winfrey: Bright, (and Gullible) Billionaire, by Martin Gardner
- Joe Nickell takes on John Edward, “spirit huckster”
- David Morrison: Disinformation about Global Warming
- Special report by Robert Shaeffer: Entertainment, Fakery, Ambiguity: Examining New York State’s ‘Fortune-Telling Law’
- Encounters with aliens (the local kind)
- The devil of Great Island: witchcraft and conflicts in early New England
Wisdom from the Archives
Every so often we get inquiries about the availability of past articles, and one that seems to get requested more than others is James Lett’s A Field Guide to Critical Thinking. Lett addresses some of the key hurdles including the irresponsibility of mass media, pervasive American irrationality, and the ineffectiveness of public education, which generally fails to teach students the essential skills of critical thinking. The article rings as true today as it did when it was published in the fall of 1990.
Skeptical Inquirer science magazine is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In addition to news, articles, book reviews, and investigations on a wide variety of topics, including critical scientific evaluations of paranormal and fringe-science claims, Skeptical Inquirer has a stellar stable of regular columnists. To subscribe, visit our secure order page online, or call toll-free 1-800-634-1610 (716-636-1425 outside the U.S.).
In Case You Missed It...
...on Point of Inquiry
Banachek is an American mentalist and skeptic. He has written numerous books and invented various magic and mentalism effects, and is often sought out by top entertainers such as David Blaine, Lance Burton, James Randi and Criss Angel. He has been the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, and is renowned for fooling scientists at Washington University into believing that his supposed psychic abilities were genuine during the Project Alpha hoax in the early 1980s.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Banachek recounts his origins as a mentalist in South Africa, including how James Randi’s books influenced the development of his worldview. He talks about his involvement helping develop Penn and Teller’s bullet catch, the current finale to their Las Vegas show. He describes his role in Project Alpha, and explores to what extent he thinks the researchers involved were aware of his and his colleague’s deceptions.
He details the role that magicians and mentalists may play in informing the public about psychic and other paranormal claims, and describes the virtues of being an open-minded skeptic as opposed to a “debunker.” Listen to this episode now.
The classics never go out of style. Feel free to peruse the extensive Point of Inquiry archive, or listen to a producer favorite:
November 16, 2007
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of America’s leading spokespersons for science. The research areas he focuses on are star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. In addition to many scholarly publications, Dr. Tyson is one of America’s most respected science writers, and he writes a monthly column for Natural History magazine simply titled the “Universe.” He is the on-camera host of PBS-NOVA’s program ScienceNOW, which explores the frontiers of all the science that shapes our understanding of our place in the universe. He is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan, where he also teaches.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Tyson examines various approaches to informal science education, his experiences teaching science through pop-culture media outlets, and controversies regarding science popularization. He explains his views on the implications of science for religious belief, and recounts the direct influence of Carl Sagan on his professional development. Listen to this episode now.
CSI and Skeptical Inquirer
- Suite 101, “The Rise of the Indigo Children,” Jan. 11, 2010.
- BoingBoing, “Aura you experienced? ‘Paranormal’ portraiture,” Jan. 11, 2010.
- Discover, Bad Astronomy, “Who’s that CSI fellow?,” Jan. 13, 2010.
- Anthropology.net, “SHARE Opens Fund for Haiti Quake – Committee for Skeptical Inquiry,” Jan. 14, 2010.
- Washington Times, “Many faiths mobilize for earthquake relief,” Jan. 15, 2009.
- 365 Days of Astronomy (International Year of Astronomy), “January 18th: Arming Yourself for Battle,” Jan. 18, 2010.
- Science News, “Charles Darwin: Family Man, Scientist and Skeptic,” Jan. 23, 2010.
- Miami Herald, “Faith-based relief efforts,” Jan. 24, 2010.
- The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut), “Alum honored for research into false memories,” Jan. 25, 2010.
- The Brown Daily Herald, “Ken Miller ’70 P’02: skeptical, inquiring,” Jan. 28, 2010.
- The Brown Daily Herald, “Diamonds and Coal, 1/29/10,” Jan. 29, 2010 (Brief attempt at humor).
- Discover, The Intersection, “I’m Now A Podcast Host: For Point of Inquiry,” Feb. 1, 2010.
- Business Week
(Bloomberg), “Herbal Remedies Can Cause Cardiac
Problems,” Feb. 1, 2010 (The Scientific Review of
- See more media hits in our Press Coverage Web page.
- Mass drug overdose – none dead (Homeopathy protest)
Clever take on what might happen if hospital emergency rooms relied on homeopathy and alternative medicine. From the BAFTA award-winning British television sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Video length: 2:33.
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The Skeptical Inquirer News is edited by Henry Huber, Assistant Director of Communications for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry.