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eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

eSkeptic Archives for 2009

December 30th: Why Skeptics Should Embrace the Supernatural on TV
Do depictions of the supernatural on television and in movies lead to belief in pseudoscience and the paranormal? Or, is there something more subtle happening within these shows that we should pay attention to? In this week’s eSkeptic, Jason Colavito tells us why skeptics should embrace the supernatural on television.
December 23rd: The Case Against Ball Lightning
Steuart Campbell discusses the evidence (or lack thereof) of the phenomenon known as ball lightning.
December 16th: How Derek Freeman Fooled Us All
In this week’s eSkeptic we present an excerpt from The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy by Paul Shankman.
December 9th: God is Love
P.J. Rooks reviews Robert Wright’s book The Evolution of God and Shop Skeptic has 15% off all Lectures at Caltech for a limited time.
December 2nd: A Death Valley Adventure
In this week’s eclectic eSkeptic we announce a Death Valley Adventure (our next geology tour), two super deals at Shop Skeptic, and a new feature for telling a friend you want a subscription to Skeptic magazine for Christmas!
November 25th: Skeptic Five-Day Sale
Spread a little skeptic cheer this year! Now thru Sunday, you can save 25% off everything in our store, including subscriptions! Sale ends November 29, 2009 at midnight Pacific Standard Time.
November 18th: Teaching by Doing
Clark Lindgren recounts the birth of Bio 150 — An Introduction to Biological Inquiry. By turning the curriculum on its head, the Biology Department at Grinnell College has created opportunities for students to perform actual scientific research from the get-go. Results suggest that students are getting just what they need to confirm their interest in biology and get an early start developing their skills as young scientists.
November 11th: Will Physicists Destroy the World?
Lloyd B. Lueptow asserts that the Large Hadron Collider experiments should be delayed or stopped while the risk/cost-benefit equation is sorted out in debates the public can comprehend. In the rebuttal to this piece, Lawrence Krauss asserts that to cease performing experiments whose results we are not certain about beforehand is a recipe for ending scientific discovery.
November 4th: Celebrating Carl Sagan
Few celebrities in science have done more for the promotion of science, reason, rationality, and critical thinking than Carl Sagan, whom we remember this week upon the impending occasion of his birthday on November 9. Carl would have been 75 years old. Happy Birthday Carl!
October 28th: Skeptic welcomes new podcast: MonsterTalk
Just in time for Halloween, we’re proud to welcome MonsterTalk to the growing Skeptic media family. Dedicated to focussed critical examination of cryptozoological mysteries, this second audio talk show presented by Skeptic magazine is a natural complement to Skepticality (our flagship general interest skeptical program). Plus, we present an article from an early Halloween issue of Junior Skeptic describing how to make your very own alien autopsy cake.
October 26th: Farewell to Norman Jay Levitt (1943–2009)
It is with much sadness that we report the death of Norman Jay Levitt who died of heart failure on Saturday, October 23, 2009. In this special eSkeptic, in tribute to one of the finest writers ever to grace the pages of Skeptic magazine, we present Norman Levitt’s review of Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara.
October 21st: Fatal Adjustments — How Chiropractic Kills
J. D. Haines, MD reminds us that chiropractic is a dangerous threat to public health and remains a holdover from the days of the snake oil salesmen.
October 14th: Science & Morality
Dr Harriet Hall, MD, (aka the Skepdoc) reviews Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade against Science, by James H. Fetzer.
October 7th: Drowning Toads by 20-something Naturalists
Darryl E. Brock reviews Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin’s South America, by Eric Simons.
September 30th: Paranormal Wall Street
Karen Stollznow wonders whether psychics are cashing in on the current economic climate.
September 23rd: Swine Flu Vaccine Fearmongering
Dr Harriet Hall, MD, (aka the Skepdoc) explains why fearmongering about the swine flu vaccine is both wrong and dangerous.
September 16th: A Tale of Two Sci-Fi Conventions
Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton reports from Dragon*Con 2009 in Atlanta, where he spoke last week as a guest of the giant science fiction convention’s Skeptrack.
September 9th: LogiComix: An Epic Search for Truth
David Cowan reviews Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, a graphic novel about the life and ideas of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou.
September 2nd: Criminal Injustice
We bring you a very controversial article on the criminal justice system by investigative journalist Steve Salerno, who previously debunked the self-esteem and self-help movements for Skeptic.
August 26th: War, Columbine, UFOs…
Download a free chapter of War: History, Causes & Solutions from Michael Shermer’s lectures at Glendale College in 1996; hear Dave Cullen on Skepticality delve deep into the psyches of the killers, the victims, and their families of the Columbine massacre; read Michael Shermer’s SkepticBlog post on how to talk to UFOlogists (if you must).
August 19th: An Empirical Analysis of a Supernatural Claim
Gary J. Whittenberger investigates whether the prayer of Georgia State Governor Sonny Perdue correlates to an increase in precipitation and how likely it was to have actually caused the increase.
August 12th: Philosophers, Creationists & Serious Brainiacs
Glenn Branch reviews But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. (Updated edition, edited by Robert T. Pennock and Michael Ruse).
August 8th: The Gullible Instructing the Gullible
Michael E. O’Reilly reviews Stephen Greenspan’s Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid it.
July 29th: Epic Creatures, Remarkable Species
James N. Gardner reviews Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll. James N. Gardner is an Oregon attorney and the author, most recently, of The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos.
July 22nd: Fix Wikipedia
Daniel Loxton, Editor of Junior Skeptic (and the organizer behind What Do I Do Next? 105 Practical Ways to Promote Skepticism and Advance Science) addresses the importance of Wikipedia. Find out how grassroots skeptics can help ensure that Wikipedia is a science-based public resource.
July 15th: Complexity Redux
James N. Gardner reviews Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell.
July 8th: Linked: How Everything is Connected
Andrew Shaindlin reviews Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.
July 1st: Robert Richard responds to Daniel Gasman
Robert Richard responds to Daniel Gasman’s review of The Tragic Sense of Life which ran in eSkeptic (June 10th, 2009). Robert J. Richards is a Morris Fishbein Professor of the History of Science at the University of Chicago.
June 24th: Help Skeptic at No Cost to You!
Do you shop at Amazon.com? What if there were a way for the Skeptics Society to make a commission off every Amazon purchase you make — all without costing you a penny? There is, and it’s easy…
June 17th: The Emergence of God
Darren Iammarino reviews Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action, by Philip Clayton. Darren Iammarino is a Ph.D. candidate in his final semester of coursework at Claremont Graduate University. He is currently working on his own constructive theology known as Cosmosyntheism.
June 10th: From Haeckel to Hitler: The Anatomy of a Controversy
In the documentary film Expelled, Ben Stein attempted to link Darwin to Hitler and thereby condemn the scientific theory of evolution by association with the political theory of National Socialism. The film failed, but was there a historical connection between the social Darwinists of the 19th century with the National Socialists of the 20th century? Yes, through the personage of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel; but a new biography claims to rehabilitate Haeckel by disconnecting him from German social Darwinism. Historian of science Daniel Gasman disputes this new Haeckel biography and in the process demonstrates how the Nazis used social Darwinism to justify their racial policies.
June 3rd: Vaccines & Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy
In 2007 Skeptic magazine ran an article debunking the myth of the connection between vaccines and autism, and we were hoping that by now this sad tale of pseudoscience would have died a slow death as researchers continue to find no link whatsoever between the two. Sadly that is not the case. In fact, thanks to Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, mother of an autistic child, the myth has gained cultural traction as never before, as she and her partner, the comedian Jim Carrey, make the media rounds and appeal to the heart strings of the public, burying the science in a tsunami of emotion. So we return again to the topic with our SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, M.D., demolishing the myth once and for all.
May 27th: Optimism is Good for Your Brain
In our latest issue of Skeptic magazine (Vol. 14, No. 4), we published a skeptical analysis of the self-esteem and positive-thinking movement by investigative journalist Steve Salerno (which also appeared this eSkeptic), demonstrating that it is not enough to just say positive things, you actually have to do positive things. In response, Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg have written the following critique of Salerno’s critique, arguing that there is evidence for how thoughts influence actions. Steve Salerno’s responds.
May 20th: The Placebo Effect
So much has been written and said about the placebo effect that we thought we should put our SkepDoc on the trail of finding out what is fact and what is myth about placebos and their effects. You will be surprised by some of Dr. Hall’s findings.
May 13th: Why Gay Marriage Does Not Decrease Straight Marriage
In the midst of the gay marriage controversy sweeping across the nation (as individual states are changing their constitutional minds about what constitutes marriage), we present an interesting article by Barrett Brown that demolishes the silly notion proffered by some conservatives that gay marriage decreases straight marriage rates.
May 6th: New Features Added to eSkeptic
Beginning this week, you can share your thoughts using the new comment field at the end of every eSkeptic. PLUS, you can share eSkeptic with friends and family using the SHARE button that appears at the top and bottom of each issue.
April 29th: The Evolution of God
Robert Wright, the author of Nonzero and The Moral Animal has been added as a new lecturer in June as part of the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech. He will discuss ideas from his latest book The Evolution of God.
April 22nd: Sensed Presences in Extreme Contexts
James Allan Cheyne reviews The Third Man Factor: The Secret of Survival in Extreme Environments, by John Geiger.
April 15th: Myths & Mistakes of the Positive Thinking Movement
Investigative journalist Steve Salerno reveals what the science says about the positive thinking and self-esteem movement, and it isn’t very positive and will not raise the self-esteem of all those self-help gurus who have been telling us for decades that we just need to think more positively about life to make things better.
April 8th: Confessions of an Alien Hunter
Why do we think aliens are out there? Is Earth really being visited? Will aliens really be short, gray, and hairless? What happens if we pick up a signal from another world? These are just a few of the questions this week’s guest tackles regularly, in his role as the senior astronomer for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. Dr. Seth Shostak talks with Swoopy about the ongoing search for life in the universe, as chronicled in his new book Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
April 1st: How We Staged the Morristown UFO Hoax
We reveal the behind the scenes workings of that UFO hoax that captured headlines earlier this year. People in and around the Morristown, New Jersey area saw unidentified flying objects, with many of them naturally assuming that these UFOs represented extraterrestrial space craft. As you shall see, there was a rather more terrestrial explanation. In fact, they were helium balloons with flares attached to them, lofted into the sky by Chris Russo and Joe Rudy, in their social experiment on how to create your own media event surrounding UFO sightings.
March 25th: What Do I Do Next?
Skepticality and Skeptic.com are pleased to release “What Do I Do Next?: Leading Skeptics Discuss 105 Practical Ways to Promote Science and Advance Skepticism.” — the follow-up project to last year’s essay entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?”, which called for renewed focus on classical skeptical activism.
March 18th: A Skeptic in Creation Land
Michael Shermer visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, run by Answers in Genesis, and interviewed Dr. Georgia Purdom, the museum’s “research scientist” who explained what type of research one can do at a young-earth creationist organization, and why she thinks Francis Collins is wrong in his evolutionary understanding of the human genome.
March 11th: 27 Ways to Honor Charles Darwin
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the Skeptics Society put together a list of 27 items from our catalogue to help you honor the Sage of Down with books, DVDs, CDs, and back issues of Skeptic magazine devoted to Darwin and evolution.
March 4th: “Reasons to Believe” … or Not
Gary J. Whittenberger shares his analysis of the debate between Michael Shermer and Hugh Ross/Fazale Rana, on whether or not creationism can be a testable science.
February 25th: The Greatest Story Ever Garbled
Tim Callahan critiques the movie Zeitgeist — The Greatest Story Ever Told.
February 18th: A Skeptic Goes Inside Noah’s Ark
Michael Shermer goes into the belly of the beast for creationists — Noah’s Ark — during his lecture tour of England during the Darwin celebrations the first two weeks of February, taking in Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, a zoo dedicated to teaching the school children of England that the biblical story of creation is supported by science, or at least the science according to the zoo’s curator.
February 11th: Evolution Rocks!
On this, the 200th anniversary week of Charles Darwin’s birthday (12 February, 1809), in an article for Forbes magazine, Shermer sets the record straight on whether Charles Darwin stole the idea of natural selection. PLUS, the first Junior Skeptic book is released to Portuguese School Kids!
February 4th: Fire in the Sky
Jeff Medkeff and Martin Rundkvist review A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels Impact Event by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell.
January 28th: Doubting Altruism
Kenneth Krause reviews the latest research on altruism, most notably that of primate research in controlled experiments in which both monkeys and apes are given choices to cooperate or compete against game partners in exchange scenarios, with implications for human research in this area.
January 21st: Telephone to the Dead
Michael Shermer reminds us how easy it is for our brains to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.
January 14th: Homeopathy — Still Crazy After All These Years
Harriet Hall, MD explains why “homeopathy is about as silly as it gets. Silly wouldn’t matter if it worked, but it doesn’t. People think it works because they get placebo effects and the homeopath keeps them entertained while they get better on their own.”
January 7th: How to Bend a Spoon with Just Your Mind
In a new video, Michael Shermer bends spoons and forks and give you just enough information so that you can figure how how to do it yourself (without actually providing a full reveal of the trick).

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