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15-02-25


IN THE YEAR 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity

MORE BIG CONFERENCE NEWS!

Hang out with Lawrence Krauss
May 29–31, 2015
Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss, the world-renowned physicist, cosmologist, and atheist activist is not only coming to the Friday night dinner, to mingle with guests and speak about the future of space and civilization on Saturday, he has confirmed that he will be attending the private dinner at the Shermer residence Sunday evening, along with Richard Dawkins as a fundraiser for the Richard Dawkins Foundation. You can dine privately with Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer, and others by purchasing your ticket today!

This is going to be our biggest conference ever that will sell out the Caltech auditorium, so be sure to REGISTER NOW for the Friday night dinner, the Saturday all-day lectures and discussions (meals included), one of the Sunday field trips, and evening private dinner with Dawkins (which is tax-deductible!).

Learn more

Register online


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NEW ON THE MORAL PROGRESS BLOG
Why Islam? Of the three great monotheistic religions only one did not go through the Enlightenment

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom (book over)

Visit the Moral Arc website for more information about the book, or click one of the following to order the book right now from Amazon, Shop Skeptic, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, iBooks, Kobo, and IndieBound.

One of the central tenets of science is to define a problem to be studied with as much clarity as possible, and the key to clear communication is calling things what they really are. Unfortunately, both the American media and public intellectuals have failed to be honest in identifying what everyone in Europe knows is the primary source of terrorism in the world today: Islam.

Yes, there are political and economic motives behind terrorism in addition to religion, and most Muslims are not terrorists, particularly those living in Western countries. And of course Islam is not the only religion that can lead to violence, as witnessed in the occasional abortion clinic bombing by Christians, but I can’t even remember when the last one was. (I just checked: there were two in 2012, no injuries, three in 2007, also no injuries, a handful of inept attempts at arson in the early 2000s, with most serious attacks made in the 1980s and early 1990s.) Instead, most Christians who oppose abortion protest peacefully, as they did in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC that I happened upon on January 22, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when I was in town on my book tour for The Moral Arc

CONTINUE READING


THE DAILY BEAST’S JAKE WHITNEY REVIEWS THE MORAL ARC
The Daily Beast: Has Science Made Us Better People?

The Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred on the same day I received my copy of The Moral Arc, Michael Shermer’s new book about how science and reason have made mankind more moral. If you’re somehow not familiar with the incident, on the morning of January 7, two Islamic extremists stormed the offices of a French satirical magazine and, while yelling “God is Great,” slaughtered 12 people—targeting editors and cartoonists, but also killing a couple of police officers. A Facebook friend captured the disgust felt by so many when he raged, “Unfuckingreal, the deterioration of society is unraveling at light speed these days!”

It was hard not to sympathize. Other recent headlines included beheadings in the Middle East, cops assassinated in New York, and protests over alleged police abuse in multiple American cities. So it was with more than a little irony that I contemplated Shermer’s central thesis: virtually every aspect of modern society is better than it used to be, and things will continue to improve as long as we remain true to the tenets of science and reason. Huh? What of the interminable horrors on the news? The ubiquitous cynicism? The intractable political division?…

CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW

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Donald Prothero
Poes, Trolls, and Dinosaur Deniers

Donald Prothero considers the Christians Against Dinosaurs website, and reflects on the problem described by "Poe’s Law": it is often impossible to tell the difference between parody and sincere extremism.

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Daniel Loxton
Gotcha! Thinking About Skeptical “Stings”

Daniel Loxton considers the long, valuable, and ethically complicated history of skeptical undercover investigations and debunking traps.

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Considering a Complaint About Skeptical Tactics

Daniel Loxton describes a recent recurrence of the very old controversy about skeptical use of undercover investigation and "sting " tactics.

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io9 INTERVIEWS DANIEL LOXTON

The Truth About the Future of the Skeptic Movement

Daniel Loxton is the editor of Junior Skeptic, a periodical aimed at kids that's bound into every issue of Skeptic magazine. He's also an artist, a cryptid enthusiast, and a passionate advocate of the skeptic movement.

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Poes, Trolls, and Dinosaur Deniers

Christians Against Dinosaurs imageFor the last week or so, a site for a group calling itself “Christians Against Dinosaurs” has gone viral, and at least a dozen of my Facebook friends have forwarded it to me in surprise, curious as to whether I’d seen it and if it is real. It managed to get covered in the Huffington Post, in Guff.com, and in several other online media outlets, giving it even more exposure. The site claims that dinosaurs (and fossils in general) are a lie to undermine our Christian faith, and that fossils seen in museums are faked or sculpted out of rock by “Big Paleo” trying to make millions by fraud. Prominently featured on the site and on Facebook and YouTube are short videos by a young woman who makes these very claims, and argues that paleontologists fabricate fossils out of the rock to look like animals. Even more shocking and hilarious, she seems to think that such faked fossils are worth millions of dollars and keep “Big Paleo” afloat. (If only she knew how impoverished most paleontologists are, and how there is no money in paleontology!). As Guff.com described it:

“A fossil is not actually a piece of bone,” she says in the video. “It’s actually a bone that was once in the ground that has been filled with limestone, calcium, and other stone-like deposits, so at the end of the day, it’s a rock made out of rocks. So, you have a rock that’s [six-inches long] and you hand it to a paleontologist, who chips away at it until you have something looking like a bone — and that is a fossil,” she continues. After covering a table with broken pieces of…something, she tells viewers to pretend they are paleontologists (ooh, activity time!) and put the shards back together in their original form. She even offered some spackle to assist in the reconstruction. But, she says, it’s supposed to be a brachiosaurus skull — and “If you’re a paleontologist and you want to keep your job, you turn that into a brachiosaurus skull.”

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Gotcha! Thinking About Skeptical “Stings”

In my last post I outlined a small recent stir caused by sharp comments about skeptics from former Ghost Hunters cast member Amy Bruni. I promised to dig further into the issues of skeptical undercover work and “sting”-type traps designed either to expose the roots of claims or, in the most striking cases, to catch charlatans red-handed.

These tactics can be extremely hard hitting, when they hit their mark. A well-known case involving both deceptive undercover work and a shocking reveal is “Project Alpha,” organized by James Randi. Under his direction, teenaged magicians Steve “Banachek” Shaw and Michael Edwards posed as psychics in a laboratory setting, where they successfully bamboozled parapsychological researchers. When the skeptical conspirators eventually held a press conference and revealed their years of deception (video), the world was compelled to consider parapsychology’s vulnerability to fraud. The ripples from that hoax are still being felt, as Randi’s contemporary Ray Hyman predicted more than 30 years ago: “There’s going to be an argument from now until doomsday about what the whole thing showed.” Another classic example of a skeptical sting is the operation which severely set back the profitable faith healing career of Peter Popoff in 1986 (also spearheaded by Randi, in collaboration with the Houston Society to Oppose Pseudoscience, the Society of American Magicians, and the Bay Area Skeptics). The televised exposure of Popoff’s secret use of “miraculous” information relayed by radio surely stands one of the greatest “gotcha” moments of all time (video).

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Considering a Complaint About Skeptical Tactics

Few skeptical tactics are as hard-hitting or as ethically fraught as undercover investigation and “sting”-type traps designed to expose the roots of too-good-to-be-true claims—or even to catch tricksters red-handed. A recurring controversy over those tactics has flared up again over the last few days, following some sharp remarks about skeptics from former Ghost Hunters cast member Amy Bruni. Bruni took to her Facebook Page to express her frustration with skeptics who engage in such tactics, presumably in reaction to two recent sting attempts (dubbed “Operation Bumblebee” and “Operation Ice Cream Cone” by organizer Susan Gerbic). Bruni wrote:

Weird…I don’t see people who believe in paranormal and psychic phenomena accosting “skeptics” at their conventions and gatherings—or posting constant blogs and forums about how skepticism is terrible. Strangely enough, we really don’t care what their belief system is—because it is their right. And personally, I don’t care or have to justify what I believe to someone else.

So, why do they feel the need to constantly bash what we do? Arrange “guerrilla stings” on psychics and paranormal conventions? I mean—puh-lease, you must have something better to do.

Truly—there’s a whole lot of bad in this world. And if your “cause” is to take on people whose thoughts on life and existence are different from yours, (but causing YOU no harm), I think it’s time you take a little look at yourself.

Make a real difference with the time you have. Volunteer at an animal shelter, join Big Brothers/Big Sisters, serve food at your local soup kitchen…the list goes on.

Because I have news for you—none of us kooky paranormal folks need saving.

(more…)

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15-02-18


IN THE YEAR 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity

BIG NEWS!

Richard Dawkins is Coming to the Skeptics Conference at Caltech May 29–31, 2015!
Richard Dawkins (photo by Lalla Ward)

We are thrilled to announce that the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist and atheist activist RICHARD DAWKINS will be participating in the Skeptics Society’s annual conference at Caltech Friday–Sunday May 29–31, joining our galaxy of science stars Jared Diamond, Lawrence Krauss, Esther Dyson, John McWhorter, Ian Morris, Carol Tavris, Greg Benford, David Brin, & Donald Prothero. On Friday night at the dinner at The Westin Pasadena, Richard will mingle and talk to guests plus do a dramatic reading of his “love mail” from his most ardent religious critics. On Saturday Richard will do a mid-day “In Conversation” with Michael Shermer on religion and the far future of humanity. On Sunday Richard will appear at a private fundraising dinner ($1000/plate) at the Shermer home for a small number of guests. This private dinner event is a fundraiser for the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Register online or call the office at 1-626-794-3119.

This is going to be our biggest conference ever that will sell out the Caltech auditorium, so be sure to REGISTER NOW for the Friday night dinner, the Saturday all-day lectures and discussions (meals included), one of the Sunday field trips, and evening private dinner with Dawkins.

Learn more

Register online


Follow Michael Shermer on Twitter, Facebook, and Skepticblog

LA TIMES’ MATTHEW HUTSON REVIEWS THE MORAL ARC
Science may prove to be humanity’s savior

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom (book over)

Visit the Moral Arc website for more information about the book, or click one of the following to order the book right now from Amazon, Shop Skeptic, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, iBooks, Kobo, and IndieBound.

If you’d been born a few thousand years ago, before the invention of the state, every decade you’d have stood a 1-in-20 chance of a violent death. Today, your skull might be on display in a museum somewhere with an arrow hole through the cranium. Fortunately those odds have decreased a hundredfold for modern Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. might have been on to something when in 1965 he told a crown in Montgomery, Ala., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Michael Shermer — the founding editor of Skeptic magazine and a columnist for Scientific American — argues in his ambitious new book of history, psychology and political science, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, that long-term moral progress is evident and that it’s been led by scientific ways of thinking. Advances in morality (which Shermer defines as allowing others to flourish) are easy to document: For a long while, rates of violence have declined and basic rights have been granted to more and more people: blacks, women, gays and now animals.

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NEW ON THE MORAL PROGRESS BLOG
Why the Founding Fathers Wouldn’t Have Been Anti-Vaxxers

Are you a vaccination skeptic? Or are you skeptical of the vaccination skeptics? Your answer will most likely depend less on science and more on political ideology. The science jury is in when it comes to vaccinations, as it is for climate change and evolution. Vaccinations work, climate change is real and evolution happened. But, though skepticism in all three cases tends to be the product of politics, to doubt science is to run up against the very heart of America’s political framework.

The founding principles of America were the product of 18th century Enlightenment thinkers who were inspired by 17th century scientists such as Galileo and Newton. (This is an argument I make in my new book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.) The experimental methods and analytical reasoning of science that these Enlightenment thinkers consciously applied to solve social, political and economic problems created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights and civil liberties, equal justice under the law, free minds and free markets, and prosperity the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed.

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Donald Prothero
A Tale of Two Debaters

Donald Prothero considers the diverging fortunes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationist Ken Ham in the wake of their "Great Debate."

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The Moral Arc (book cover)

Visit the Moral Arc website for more information about the book, or click one of the following to order the book right now from Amazon, Shop Skeptic, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, iBooks, Kobo, and IndieBound.

Arcing Toward Morality
SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 248

In this episode of Skepticality, Derek has a conversation with Dr. Michael Shermer about his recently released book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Find out more about how a shift in society which led to the Enlightenment, abstract reasoning and skepticism, have moved humanity toward a more just and moral world.

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A Tale of Two Debaters

Cover of Bill Nye's book Undeniable

View Undeniable listing at Shop Skeptic

As we celebrate the 206th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin today (Feb. 12), there is both good news and bad news in the continuing culture war over evolution. First, the good news. In a number of places, our political representatives have placed motions on the floor of Congress and several state legislatures to recognize February 12 as Darwin Day. Given the aversion to even the mention of evolution by most politicians today (even those who accept it, but don’t want to alienate creationists), this is very encouraging sign. But of course, this bit of good news is countered by the fact that creationist bills keep cropping up all the year round (see the NSCE website for a litany of recent rashes of creationist attacks). In the school districts of Louisiana, Tennessee, and several other states, there are backdoor ways to introduce creationism into public school science classes, or at least to cast doubt on evolution. This problem never seems to end, although there are good signs in the current polls that the younger generation (especially the millennials) are becoming more and more secular, and reject religious fundamentalism and creationism. Over the long term, that is very good news, because the creationists are no longer growing in numbers, but losing the next few generations and may be doomed to becoming a tiny minority with limited political influence in another generation.

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15-02-11


UP NEXT AT CALTECH: DR. SUSAN PINKER

THE VILLAGE EFFECT: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

Sun., Mar. 29, 2015 at 2 pm
Baxter Hall, Caltech

Dr. Susan Pinker (photo by Susie Lowe)

Credit: Susie Lowe

IN THIS ENTERTAINING AND PERSUASIVE LECTURE based on her new book, psychologist Susan Pinker shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity. From birth to death, human beings are hardwired to connect to other human beings. Face-to-face contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives, and make us happy. Looser in-person bonds matter, too, combining with our close relationships to form a personal “village” around us. Not just any social networks will do: we need the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends, and communities together. Marrying the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories, Susan Pinker explores the impact of face-to-face contact from cradle to grave, from city to Sardinian mountain village, from classroom to workplace, from love to marriage to divorce. Creating our own “village effect” makes us happier. It can also save our lives.

A book signing will follow the lecture. We will have copies of the book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter , available for purchase. Can’t attend the lecture? Order The Village Effect online.

TICKETS are available first come, first served at the door. Seating is limited. $10 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $15 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.

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WATCH A LECTURE RECORDED AT CALTECH FEBRUARY 8 2015
The Moral Arc: How Science Leads Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

The Moral Arc (3D book cover)

Missed Michael Shermer’s lecture on The Moral Arc at Caltech last Sunday? Watch it for free online! In this provocative and compelling talk—that includes brief histories of freedom rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights, along with considerations of the nature of evil and moral regress—Shermer explains how scientific ways of thinking have moved us ever closer to a more just world.

Watch the lecture

Learn more about the book
at moralarc.org

NEW SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN COLUMN ON MICHAELSHERMER.COM
A Moral Starting Point: How Science Can Inform Ethics

Why is it wrong to enslave or torture other humans, or take their property, or discriminate against them? That these actions are wrong, almost no one disputes. But why are they wrong? That’s the question Michael Shermer asks us to consider in his February 2015 “Skeptic” column for Scientific American.

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Weekly Highlights

INSIGHT at Skeptic.com sheds light, offers critical perspective, and serves as a broadly accessible, evidence-based resource on mysteries of science, paranormal claims, and the wild, woolly, wonderful weirdness of the fringe. This week’s highlights are:

Anna Maltese
GUEST POST
Pulling a Fast One: Video Critique
of a Viral Speed Archery Video

Guest author Anna Maltese, an archery instructor, introduces her new video critique of the recent viral YouTube sensation "Lars Andersen: a New Level of Archery."

Read the Insight

Tim Farley
Newsrooms Building Online Tools
Skeptics Can Use

Tim Farley takes a look at a perhaps unexpected source of online tools of use for skeptics—the newspaper industry.

Read the Insight

Barbara Drescher
What the Empirical Evidence REALLY Says about Rock, Paper, Scissors

Barbara Drescher critiques interpretations of a study on Rock, Paper, Scissors. Can science help you win at Roshambo?

Read the Insight


Mr. Deity and The Atheist

The Latest Episode of Mr. Deity: Mr Deity and the Atheist

Richard Dawkins is mistakenly brought to the realm of the Deity.

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IN THE YEAR 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity
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Newsrooms Building Online Tools Skeptics Can Use

A modern newsroom in Berlin. By Thomas Schmidt (NetAction)  via Wikimedia Commons.

A modern newsroom in Berlin. By Thomas Schmidt (NetAction) via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve long advocated the construction of customized online tools (websites, apps and more) to advance the cause of skepticism.  In the last two years I’ve noticed a distinct trend where these tools are in being built in increasing numbers—but not just by skeptics! One major source of these tools might surprise you: the newspaper industry.

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The Moral Arc: How Science Leads Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

Michael Shermer (credit: Jeremy Danger)

Credit: Jeremy Danger

WE ARE LIVING in the most moral period of our species’ history. Ever since the Enlightenment, thinkers have consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and moral problems, and in the process created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights, equal justice, open political and economic borders, and prosperity the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. More people in more places have greater rights, freedoms, liberties, literacy, education, and prosperity—the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. In this provocative and compelling talk—that includes brief histories of freedom rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights, along with considerations of the nature of evil and moral regress—Shermer explains how scientific ways of thinking have moved us ever closer to a more just world.

Order the Book on
the Official Website

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Pulling a Fast One: Video Critique of a Viral Speed Archery Video

Anna Maltese

Anna Maltese. (Image courtesy of the author.)

In the past two weeks you’ve probably seen a viral archery video circulated on social media which makes a lot of claims about modern and historical archery. Since its posting on January 23, it has been viewed over 25 million times.

Dubbing himself “the fastest archer on the planet,” Lars Andersen, a visual artist and archer who specializes in speed trick shooting, sets about making claims about modern and historical archery and then demonstrating shooting techniques based on those claims. It’s not his techniques which have gotten him in hot water, though, so much as his claims about those techniques.

So first off, let’s be clear about what he’s doing here: Lars is performing what’s called “trick shooting.” Trick shooting isn’t a derogatory term. It’s not meant to imply that something is “faked” (although there are aspects to the video that veer into outright misrepresentations which we’ll get into later in our video response, below). Trick shooting is basically stunt shooting—like everything else, it takes practice, and the methods and stunts vary nearly as widely as the individual practitioners. And with his speed and antics, Lars has the potential to be an entertaining as well as very fast trick shooter.

(more…)

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CONFERENCE 2015

Richard Dawkins has been added to an already outstanding lineup of speakers for the May 29–31 Skeptics Society Conference!

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Popular Articles
on skeptic.com

Here are the articles that people have been sharing over the last few days.

Carbon Comic

Carbon Comic (by Kyle Sanders)

Carbon Comic, which appears in Skeptic magazine, is created by Kyle Sanders: a pilot and founder of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Skeptics in The Pub. He is also a cartoonist who authors Carbon Dating: a skeptical comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and relationships. It can be found at carboncomic.com.

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Skeptics Society
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Planning on shopping at Amazon? By clicking on our Amazon affiliate link, which will open the Amazon Store in your Internet browser, the Skeptics Society will receive a small commission on your purchase. Your prices for all products remain the same, yet you’ll provide essential financial support for the work of the nonprofit Skeptics Society.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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