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The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Announcing the Fall 2014 Season
of Distinguished Science Lectures

MARK YOUR CALENDAR! The Skeptics Society is pleased to announce another season of our Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech. All events begin on a Sunday at 2pm in Baxter Lecture Hall on the Caltech campus, except for Steven Pinker’s lecture, which happens on a Saturday (October 4). Lecture events feature a Q&A period after the talk, and a book signing by the author. Also, lecture-goers are invited to meet and talk to the speaker and socialize with fellow skeptics over dinner and libations at Burger Continental in Pasadena. Tickets are sold 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. First up…

Dr. Katherine-Freese.jpg
The Cosmic Cocktail:
Three Parts Dark Matter

with Dr. Katherine Freese
Sun., Sep. 7, 2014 at 2 pm

THE ORDINARY ATOMS that make up the known universe constitute only 5% of all matter and energy in the cosmos. The rest is known as dark matter and dark energy, because their precise identities are unknown. The Cosmic Cocktail is the inside story of the epic quest to solve one of the most compelling enigmas of modern science—what is the universe made of?—told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, acclaimed University of Michigan theoretical physicist Katherine Freese. Theorists contend that dark matter consists of fundamental particles known as WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. Billions of them pass through our bodies every second without us even realizing it, yet their gravitational pull is capable of whirling stars and gas at breakneck speeds around the centers of galaxies, and bending light from distant bright objects. Dr. Freese describes the larger-than-life characters and clashing personalities behind the race to identify these elusive particles. Order The Cosmic Cocktail from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.

Followed by…
  • The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience
    of Communication and Cognition

    with Dr. Gregory Hickok
    Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 2 pm
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide
    to Writing in the 21st Century

    with Dr. Steven Pinker
    Saturday, October 4, 2014 at 2 pm
  • The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science
    & the Search for Meaning

    with Dr. Marcelo Gleiser
    Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 2 pm
  • Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? A Neuroscientific View
    of the Zombie Brain

    with Dr. Bradley Voytek
    Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 2 pm
  • The Psychology of Magic (includes a magic show!)
    with Dr. Tony Barnhart
    Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 2 pm
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma
    with Dr. Andrew Hodges
    Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 2 pm

Read about all
upcoming lectures

The Memory Factory

For those of you who missed The Amazing Meeting 2014, we present another lecture from that event, by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on memory in the field of cognitive psychology.

One of the biggest myths in the history of psychology is that memory is like a video tape that can be played back for everyone to see what “really happened.” In this lecture, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, one of the world’s leading experts on memory, shows how we all edit our memories from the moment they are formed to the last time we recall them. That editing process is based on a number of emotional, psychological, and social factors that shape our memories.

Michael Shermer (second from the right) with his teammates in the 4-man relay team that rode this fully faired recumbent bicycle across America in 1989. Although much faster than a normal upright bicycle on the flats and downhills, recumbents are slower on climbs and do not turn or maneuver as well in turns and traffic.

About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer reviews Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing. This review was originally published in the Wall Street Journal on July 5, 2014.

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A Two Wheeled Path

by Michael Shermer

Path dependency is an economic concept to describe what happens when a technology becomes stuck in a market pathway out of historical momentum, especially when the transactions costs of changing course are too high. The QWERTY keyboard is the most popular example of the phenomenon. As the standard narrative has it, QWERTY got a head start in the late 19th century over other keyboard arrangements that were vastly superior and so now we are stuck with this clunky keyboard system because of historical lock in.

Baloney. The QWERTY keyboard may not be the best of all possible letter key arrangements, but it has consistently held up against all would-be competitors because it is good enough to get the job done compared to costs of changing technologies for minuscule margins of improvement. What happens in most technologies is that the earliest innovators make most of the significant design features, which later generations tinker with and modify for improvements, and change happens mostly for convenience or efficiency factors, and not because of initial serious design flaws.

The bicycle is a case study in how technologies evolve, evidence for which is in abundant supply in Tony Hadland’s and Hans-Erhard Lessing’s encyclopedic history of bicycle design. This marvelous book features over 300 illustrations culled from many sources, most intriguingly from patent records. Having lived through what I thought was a major revolution in cycling technology in the 1980s when I was competing in the 3000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle Race Across America, I discovered in Bicycle Design that most of that decade’s innovations (as well as those in the decades hence), were invented, designed, and in many cases patented by cycling innovators decades or even a century before.

An early upright bicycle with the central features in place.

An early upright bicycle with the central features in place.

Today’s Tour de France professionals are riding machines whose fundamental design can be seen in Starley and Sutton’s 1885 Rover Safety bike, in the 1892 Sunbeam Special Light Road Racer, in Raleigh’s 1939 Carlton Flyer, and others: the diamond shaped frame with a top tube between the seat and handlebars, a head tube holding the handlebars and the fork for the front wheel, a down tube between the head tube and the bottom bracket for the pedals and drive train, and a seat tube between the seat and bottom bracket. The wheels are equal in size and the cyclist sits upright and propels the bike forward by means of pedaling a chain ring around which a chain turns a set of cogs attached to the rear wheel. Steering is done by controlling the front wheel and brakes are affixed to both wheel rims with controls on the handlebars.

The diamond frame design with an upright pedaling cyclist is not a quirk of history, nor is it a suboptimal design foisted upon us by path dependency. The design works because of human anatomy. In terms of propelling a body forward under human power, no one has come up with a better design for all terrains in a century of innovation. The closest thing to a revolutionary re-design is the recumbent bike with the cyclist positioned in a supine (horizontal) position. Recumbents are advantageous on flat surfaces, but they also have distinct disadvantages on climbs and rough terrain—I know because I rode the recumbent Gold Rush across America in 1989. In any case, Bicycle Design features illustrations (and patent numbers) for recumbents that date back to the 1890s, so it’s had over a century to displace its primary competitor.

A racing bicycle from the turn of the century differs little in principle from modern racing bicycles used today.

A racing bicycle from the turn of the century differs little in principle from modern racing bicycles used today.

What about bicycle components, accessories, and materials? When Greg LeMond became the first (and still only) American to win the Tour de France in the 1980s, we all thought he and his bike designers had invented, for example, clipless pedals, which we all adopted as new and revolutionary. But Bicycle Design features an illustration for patent No. 550,409 dated Nov. 26, 1895 for a clipless pedal system invented by Charles M. Hanson that looks every bit as efficient as what the pros ride today. What about the comfortable padded and yet efficient saddles people now ride? Hadland and Lessing include designs and patents for padded and spring-suspended saddles dating back to the late 19th century. How about those shock absorber and suspension systems featured on modern mountain bikes? See the 1869 French patent for a twin-fork front suspension system using leaf springs, or U.S. patent No. 97,683 for four forms of front wheel suspension invented by René Oliver. Spokes? Designs for compression spoke wheels were granted in 1867, 1868, and 1869 to seven different inventors. Similarly for derailleurs that shift gears: patents were first granted in 1868, with numerous multi-speed patents awarded in the 1890s. Disk brakes used by mountain bikers were patented a century ago.

Of course, as Hadland and Lessing point out, “just because something was patented doesn’t mean that it was widely adopted or even that it was put into production. It does, however, show that a problem and a solution were understood by someone at a particular time and in a particular place.” After that, numerous factors come into play that determine whether or not it becomes a commercial success: quality, efficiency, cost, marketing, but almost never path dependency. END

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  1. Mike Sutton says:

    Dear Michael I can see this most interesting article the provenance of your earlier published thoughts (Shermer 2002) that discoveries are seldom a zero sum game. In that earlier publication you used this same seemingly plausible reasoning to argue that it did not matter that Patrick Matthew had fully published the theory of natural selection 27 years before Darwin and Wallace allegedly immaculately conceived the exact same idea. However, with the greatest skeptical respect, your argument then was complete flim-flam. Because Darwin and Wallace each claimed it WAS a zero sum game – simply because each claimed to have discovered natural selection independently of Matthew’s “natural process of selection”!

    Today big data analysis proves the current Darwinian knowledge beliefs – credulously shared by yourself and Richard Dawkins that no one known to Darwin or Wallace read Matthew’s book of 1831 to be completely wrong (Sutton 2014).

    In ‘Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret’ I reveal how I developed pioneering big data analysis of 30 million+ publications to reveal that before Darwin penned the ‘Origin of Species’ at least 52 people read Matthew’s (1831) book ‘On Naval Timber and Arboriculture’, 25 actually cited it in the published literature! Moreover, 19 of those who read it were in Darwin’s inner social circle! Of the seven naturalists now newly known to have cited Matthew’s book in print pre-1859, three played pivotal roles at the epicentre of Darwin’s and Wallace’s published and unpublished work on natural selection before the ‘Origin of Species’ was first published in 1859.

    Knowledge contamination from Matthew to Darwin and Wallace is thus uniquely proven in my ground-breaking book, which 100 per cent proves that Matthew influenced both Darwin and Wallace through three major naturalists who cited his book: John Loudon, Prideaux John Selby and Robert Chambers.

    Loudon cited Matthew’s book in 1832 and then went on to edit and publish Blyth’s highly influential papers of 1835 and 1837 on species variety and organic evolution! Chambers cited Matthew’s book in 1832 before writing the bestselling ‘Vestiges of Creation’ in 1844. And both Darwin and Wallace admitted the huge influence of Robert Chambers’s ‘Vestiges of Creation’ on their own work in the field of natural selection. Selby, who cited Matthew’s book many times in 1842, went on to edit and publish Wallace’s famous Sarawak paper of 1855!

    I further discovered six deliberate lies that Darwin told in order to achieve primacy over Matthew and his desperate attempt to have the codified rules of scientific priority changed so that better known scientists such as he would be awarded priority over lesser known fist discoverers such as Matthew.

    Is the founder of the Skeptics Society receptive to hard 100% disconfirming data for mere Darwinian myths?


    Matthew, P (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; With a critical note on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. Edinburgh. Adam Black.

    Shermer, M. (2002) In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

    Sutton, M. (2014) Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret. Thinker Media Inc. USA.

    • Pope Bobby II says:

      I have placed your book on the
      Index Librorum Potrzebiensis

      Pope Bobby II
      69th Clench of the Stark Fist of Removal
      Reformed Church of the Subgenius

      • Mike Sutton says:

        Dear “Pope Bobby” that is laughably very pseudo-skeptical of you. If you would kindly display sufficient mettle to let me know your real identity I would gladly return the favour an include you as independently verifiable data in my forthcoming analysis of the veracity of the mere knee-jerk rejection response of many via the apocryphal “Semmelweis Reflex” response to the newly discovered data that Matthew most certainly did influence Darwin and Wallace. That data set of named individuals is growing daily.

        Furthermore, if you wish to so laughably ridicule veracious disconfirming evidence and seek to label its discoverer as a crank merely to serve your anti-creationist fight then you have lost the battle. What next book burning? I’ve been an atheist since the age of 14. Atheists have the courage and intellectual clarity to fully admit that the worlds is not all rosy. We know that people do dishonest things. We seek evidence led solutions to science problems and other problems – such as Darwin’s and Wallaces’s otherwise miraculously immaculate conception of a prior prominently published, cited and advertised theory. Oh yes, you can forget the mere fallacious self-serving Darwinist myths perpetrated by Richard Dawkns and co – because in addition to a host of other prominent adverts it was advertised on 3/4 of a page in the Encyclopedia Brittanica no less!

        For confirmation of facts rather than pseudo-scholarly Darwininst mythology, might I suggest you begin by following up the references provided here:

        Best wishes

        Mike Sutton (Verified identity: )

  2. James T. Lee, MD PhD says:

    If the Sutton analysis is legit, this is a terrible thing to contemplate.

    But I am not surprised, after a long career in academia, to hear that somebody famous may have behaved in a not-so-admirable way. Even Darwin himself.

    • Bob Pease says:

      Earth to Miles..

      Even if it were somehow proved that practically ALL of Darwin’s observations were faked or fudged, it would not give the Fundies any reason to declare Evolution as Bogus.

      It’s comical to assert that Natural Selection was INVENTED by Darwun.
      It was an idea whose time had come .

      Of course, comedy is the appropriate venue for Gardner Ted Armstrong
      “come from scum”,”Climb from slime”, “trudge From sludge”

      “Today big data analysis proves the current Darwinian knowledge beliefs – credulously shared by yourself and Richard Dawkins that no one known to Darwin or Wallace read Matthew’s book of 1831 to be completely wrong (Sutton 2014).”

      What, if anything, has been shown is that the SOURCE of these “Darwinian knowledge
      beliefs ” is suspect, but does not confirm or deny the Validity of such beliefs”

      Quinocidrone is my favorite coloring for herring!!


    • Mike Sutton says:

      Dear James

      I provide the references that prove Chambers, Loudon and Selby cited Matthew’s book of 1831 here:

      The same peer-to-peer paper provides all the required references for you to check what I write about Loudon editing and publishing Blyth’s two papers, the fact Darwin knew, met and corresponded with Robert Chambers and the fact that Selby (a friend of Darwin’s father and friend of the father of Darwin’s best friend Joseph Hooker and associate of Charles Darwin) edited and published Wallace’s Sarawak paper.

      I do the same for many more who read Matthews (1831) book in my book Nullius in Verba:

    • Mike Sutton says:

      Dear James

      To answer your question – Please check out the link I provide above. All the facts are verifiable. They are all in the published literature.

  3. Mike Sutton says:

    Today I leave for two weeks vacation.

    Perhaps Michael Shermer is similarly on vacation? Perhaps stunned by the new and instantly independently verifiable newly discovered hard evidence that he named a Darwinist only because of his namesake’s newly proven science fraud? Who knows?

    Perhaps we might hypothesise that there is a stain upon the silence? Time alone will confirm or disconfirm that possibility.

    Regards from a true scientist (science means truth)

  4. George Beccaloni says:

    For my critique of Mike Sutton’s allegation that Darwin and Wallace plagiarised natural selection from Patrick Matthew see:

  5. Mike Sutton says:

    Dear George. You most certainly fail to tackle so many new facts in my book that it seems you have read only the freely available parts. Would you like me to give you £6 so you can reall?y read it? ANYWAY. You clearly have failed to also read Dawkins on Matthew who is quoted and cited in my book. On your badly cherry picked points let me ask a telling quedtion: do you beleive it is a merr tri coincidence improbable beyond rational belief that 3 of only a total of 7 naturalists who cited Matthew’s book played such pivotal roles influencing and facilitating the pre Origin work of Darwin and Wallace?

  6. Mike Sutton says:

    Do you really think those 3 never shared their knowlefge directly with Darwin and Wallace given their meeting, corresponding and editorial roles in their work? Read the book George. Then write a less pseudo scholarly review…of the book not just a tiny advance fraction of free info about it.

  7. Mike Sutton says:

    A detailed response to George Beccaloni’s claimed “review” of Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret can be found on the Reviews Diary page of . Hopefully he will, on reading it, be enlightened by the important expert literature in his own field of which he is so seemingly yet weirdly unaware .

  8. George Beccaloni says:

    I think Mike, that if you had any hard evidence that any of the 7 naturalists who read Matthew’s book shared the idea of natural selection with Darwin and/or Wallace that you would be ‘shouting it from the rooftops’. That you are not makes me suspect that you have no hard evidence… You don’t even have hard evidence that any of these 7 actually took notice and understood Matthew’s ideas about ‘natural selection’… So what do you have? Speculation? I only accept hard factual evidence, sorry.

  9. Mike Sutton says:

    George how slow are you. The book contains hard evidence. You claim to have reviewed it. Did you lie? It was reported on in the Daily Telegraph. Did you forget? I spoke on the hard evidence at Conway Hall last month and at the Edinburgh Festival of Science. And this is only the beginning. Go read the book you claim to have reviewed .

  10. Mike Sutton says:

    Oh yes….and regarding your confusion about facts. Before my discovery you and every other Darwinist claimed Matthew’s book was unread pre 1859 by anyone known to Darwin and Wallace. I proved your “facts” to be 100 % wrong. Its those kind of disconfirming facts that jam pack my book. Why don’t you respond to the fact that Wallace published a slyly doctored version of a letter in his autobiography George? What about the fact of Darwin’s 6 lies George? Did you lie when you claimed to be reviewing my book George? Tell us a fact George…beyond the free bits have you or have you not read my book. Surely you are not another desperate and dishonest Darwinist. Are you? Answer the quedtion with a fact please.

  11. George Beccaloni says:

    Mike, you keep on making elementary factual errors, which makes me doubly suspicious of your ‘findings’. For a start I never claimed I had read your book – please provide the evidence which shows I claimed this. Second in your post about my remarks about your book (i.e. you make two mistakes – 1) the name of the Museum is the Natural History Museum, not the “British Museum Natural History” and 2) you imply that that my Wallace Website is affiliated with the museum – it is not.

    Anyway if you have hard documentary evidence that the 7 naturalists who read Matthew passed information about natural selection on to Darwin and Wallace then please provide it here. I want to see it, and I don’t want to have to wade through your huge book as I don’t have time. Surely you can summaries it here? I hope it is something concrete like you have discovered pre 1858 letters form said naturalists to Darwin and Wallace telling them about natural selection…

  12. George Beccaloni says:

    Mike, my suggestion to you if you want your amazing discoveries to be taken seriously, is for you to publish them in a highly respected *peer reviewed* journal. Anyone can publish whatever they like in a non peer reviewed book or article… Surely if you have the evidence you claim, then a peer reviewed journal would jump at the chance to publish a paper by you. Given the significance of your claims I would suggest trying Nature or Science..

  13. Mike Sutton says:

    I take that as permions to publish for fair comment your faux review

  14. George Beccaloni says:

    Please explain. If you are asking for permission to publish the comments I made in my blog post (which was obviously NOT a carefully written, academic, referenced and peer reviewed article!) then sure – you may publish them in Nature or Science (only), so long as it is clearly stated that they were from an informal blog post from the Wallace Website. If you wish to publish my blog post elsewhere then please ask since the copyright of the text obviously belongs to me..

  15. Mike Sutton says:

    Two peer reviewed journals commisioned articles. Both now under review. As you can see not everyone is as desperate as George. B. to dismiss the new facts as being unimportant discoveries.

  16. George Beccaloni says:

    I have never heard of scientific journals commissioning research papers. One wouldn’t be the Internet Journal of Criminology which you founded? I’m sure that if you publish in a history of science journal that many people will take notice. I may even write a response.

  17. Mike Sutton says:

    George there are many everyday things in academia you are weirdly peahening your ignorance of. But the plainly bufoon’s notion I could commission myself to write an article speaks volumes about you. No wonder I know more about your subject than you do. The shame of it. Try reading a book or some articles one day.

  18. Mike Sutton says:

    For the veracious historical record of early responses to my book ‘Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret’ I believe it is in the public interest to see the dysology of prominent Darwinists. George Beccaloni substantially edited his original faux of review of my book in light of facts. Facts he was apparently originally unaware of. You can learn what he originally wrote, why it was wrong and where he altered it – with zero citation to my assistance – on the the book reviews page PatrickMatthew website:

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