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Mass Public Shootings & Gun Violence: Part I

At 59 dead and over 540 wounded, the Las Vegas massacre that took place on October 1, 2017 is now the worse mass public shooting in U.S. history.

As is usually the case with such gun-related tragedies, within hours social media and political punditry was abuzz with talk of gun control and Second Amendment rights, with both the left and the right marshaling their data and arguments. The two most common arguments made in defense of gun ownership are (1) self protection and (2) as a bulwark against tyranny.

In this video, Michael Shermer “shreds” these ideas with skeptical scrutiny.



Rap Artist Performs Science-Based Hip-Hop

Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist based in New York. He is best known for his “Rap Guide” series of science-based hip-hop albums and theatres shows, including Rap Guides to Evolution, Climate Change, and Religion.

The world premiere of this rap was performed at a live variety science show hosted by Dr. Michael Shermer, in partnership with YouTube Space NY in late September 2017, celebrating 25 years of Skeptic magazine and the Skeptics Society combating ‘fake news.’ The event explored the question: ‘How Can We Know What’s True?’.



How Brian Brushwood Became a Card-Carrying Skeptic

As we announced a few weeks ago in eSkeptic, we asked several friends to tell us about those “aha!” moments that led to their becoming skeptical thinkers. As promised, here is another one of their incredible stories on YouTube. Enjoy!

American magician, podcaster, author, lecturer, and comedian, Brian Brushwood is the host of Scam School for Discovery, Hacking the System for National Geographic, and co-host of The Modern Rogue. He is the author of several books including: Scam School: Your Guide to Scoring Free Drinks, Doing Magic & Becoming the Life of the Party, and The Professional’s Guide to Fire Eating.


Tell us your story and become a card-carrying skeptic! Thank you for being a part of our first 25 years. We look forward to seeing you over the next 25. —SKEPTIC

Become a Card-Carrying Skeptic

The Crypto-Kid

In this episode of MonsterTalk, we interview cryptozoology enthusiast Colin Schneider, a young and enthusiastic researcher of Fortean and paranormal topics about his research into animal exsanguination. It’s a fun discussion of the field of cryptozoology, the disturbing topic of animal mutilation and the work done by the British organization, the Center for Fortean Zoology.

Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App and enjoy the science show about monsters on your handheld devices! Available for iOS, Android, and Windows. Subscribe to MonsterTalk for free on iTunes.

In this week’s eSkeptic, Margret Schaefer reviews Freud: The Making of an Illusion, in which its author, Frederick Crews, convincingly argues that Freud constructed psychoanalysis on a fraudulent foundation. How did Freud convince so many people of the correctness and the profundity of his theory?

The Wizardry of Freud

by Margret Schaefer

“Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging claim.”

The above is from a 2011 British Medical Journal article about Andrew Wakefield, the British physician whose “discovery” of a link between vaccination and autism fueled a world wide anti-vaccination movement. Since its publication in 1998, the paper’s results were contradicted by many reputable scientific studies, and in 2011 Wakefield’s work was proved to be not only bad science but a fraud as well: a British court found him guilty of dishonestly misrepresenting his data, removed him from the roster of the British Medical Society, and disbarred him from practice.

In his new book, Freud: The Making of an Illusion, Frederick Crews presents a Freud who was just such a fraud and who deserves the same fate. This is not the first time that Crews, a bona fide skeptic whose last book, Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays (2007), was reviewed in the pages of this journal, has written critically about Freud. Crews had been drawn to psychoanalysis himself (disclosure: this reviewer was, too) in the 1960s and early 1970s when, along with the late Norman Holland, he pretty much created the field of psychoanalytic literary criticism. But a prestigious fellowship to the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (he was a professor of English at UC Berkeley at the time) gave him time to delve deeper into Freud, and convinced him instead that psychoanalysis was unscientific and untenable. Since then he has contributed to the growing skeptical scholarly and historical scholarship on Freud.

Psychoanalysis is not only pseudoscience (as most philosophers of science agree, though for different reasons), but “the queen of pseudosciences”.

Freud: The Making of an Illusion (book cover)

Philosophers of science have indicted key concepts of Freud’s psychoanalysis such as “free association,” “repression,” and “resistance” as circular and fatally flawed by confirmation bias. Historians have tracked down the actual patients whose treatment served Freud as evidence for his theories and have sought to place Freud and his theories in the historical and cultural context of his time. Crews—to his own surprise—became well known as a major, if not the major, critic of Freud in the public eye because of a series of articles he published in the New York Review of Books in the 1990s. For Crews is that now all too rare and rapidly disappearing creature—the public intellectual—who is able to explain and make accessible an otherwise unwieldy amount of erudite scholarship in clear, elegant, and jargon-free prose. Defenders of Freud have sought to discredit him as a “Freud basher,” thereby continuing the (not so honorable) tradition that Freud began of questioning the motives of a skeptic and attributing it to “resistance” instead of answering his objections. […]

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  1. Ed Connor says:

    Recent subscriber, former resident of Santa Barbara and long time sceptic of big government. I listened to your video of 2nd Amendment rights and would like to weigh in. First, not many citizens can afford to resort to the court system against a government with unlimited resources. I’ve witnessed this power up close as a Board member of the largest public hospital in Central Florida. We were bullied by the DOJ into a large settlement for a relatively minor infraction. This was part of a pattern under the previous administration to bully hospitals into accepting the ACA and their grand vision of government run health care. Secondly there is a serious doubt in the minds of many citizens that the politicization of our once sacred institutions like the FBI, DOJ, EPA, IRS, etc. still represent those of us who pay their salaries. Gun sales soared as folks lost faith in the rule of law and saw it replaced by the rule of lawyers.
    I’m also a Board member of Fairtax and have studied the behavior of the IRS for over a decade since retiring. I encourage you to look up the eulogy written by Peter Schiff, author, financial advisor, tv commentator and son of the late Irwin Schiff also a respected author and financier until his passing in 2015. The eulogy is titled “Death of a Patriot” and gives a glimpse into the police state run under the radar by the IRS. You won’t believe this could happen in the modern day USA.
    The entire house of cards created by the Federal Reserve and the IRS (Thanks Woodrow Wilson) is manipulating our currency, distorting free markets, practicing crony capitalism and corrupt to the core. The very existence of the IRS violates the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the constitution, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say I became a gun owner shortly after watching the government become a lawless horizon with no end in sight. Chicago, New York and Washington DC have very restrictive gun laws. It doesn’t stop the criminals. I refer you to the video of Bill O’Reilly debating Bob Costas shortly after the Colorado theater shooting.
    Costas said in response to the question would you rather crouch down and hope the madman doesn’t get to your aisle or would you prefer to be able to fight back. Costas said he’d rather take his chances. O’Reilly said I respect your decision, and I hope you respect mine. I want a gun in my pocket. More laws don’t make us safer. Nor does inviting criminal aliens into the country with sanctuary policies that sacrifice the safety of actual citizens in favor of criminal foreigners who arrive illegally. Remember Kate Steinle?
    Thank you for your insightful works.

  2. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    I’m not in either camp on this issue. I can see merits of both sides. I can also see problems with both sides. When skeptics weigh in one issues, I expect to see a higher quality of rhetoric. Dr Schermer disappointed me.

    Dr Schermer’s discussion of using guns for protection against crime and protection against tyranny leaves out the role of deterrence. deterrence is perhaps the single most important use of a firearm. Sadly, we do not know – nor can we know – how many crimes were headed off because of the threat of the potential victim using a gun in self defense.

    We also don’t know how many times tyrannical government officials (Federal, State or Local) have gotten cold feet when they were tempted to infringe upon rights of citizens because they were afraid of starting an armed rebellion (we can look at US history to see that wannabe tyrants definitely have provoked armed uprising of citizens)

    One thing that needs to be said about the gov’t tanks, planes, and submarines (not sure what they’d use submarines for … clamping down on rouge yachtsmen?) – those weapons tend to destroy _a lot of property_ which would cause catastrophic damage to the economy. The fact that millions could fight back with guns and cause a very destructive war forces any pretender to the throne to make a Hobson’s choice.

    Look at what happened during the LA riots back in the 90’s – people rose up with guns (out of anger about Rodney King and other racist events in LA) and Law Enforcement withdrew. They said that the presence of LAPD was just provoking violence. Bombing LA would have just exacerbated matters.

    Both sides have statistics to make their points.
    Further, statistics on both sides are troublesome because of confounding factors so both sides tend to ignore inconvenient statistics.

    It seems to me a real skeptic would say that this is a very, very sticky problem and so far the evidence is unclear. Emotionally, we are motivated by tragedy to take action, but intellectually, we cannot agree which action to take.

    • john says:

      “Dr Schermer’s discussion of using guns for protection against crime and protection against tyranny leaves out the role of deterrence. deterrence is perhaps the single most important use of a firearm. Sadly, we do not know – nor can we know – how many crimes were headed off because of the threat of the potential victim using a gun in self defense.”

      I have good news for you. Here, within these United States, there are examples of places awash with guns and places where only the police and criminals have guns so we can test out your theory.

      I live in Queens, NYC where virtually no law abiding citizen has a gun. Criminals do have guns as attested by the 300 or so gun deaths predicted for 2017. Most of those shootings are drug dealers killing off their competition or ex-partners. I can’t find the site but I read awhile ago that about 70 to 80% of NYC gun deaths happen Saturday night around 2am (party time!)

      General crime statics by city can be found here Despite the lack of guns in the hands of ordinary people crimes rates per 100,000 are generally lower in NYC than guns everywhere places like San Antonio.

      The vast majority of people in NYC are really happy with the gun laws the way they are and in all the 40 years I’ve lived here no single politician has ever run on a platform of loosening gun regulations. New Yorkers are not known for their shyness or passivity so if we really thought we needed guns, we’d have them.

      The gun debate is really a mass paranoia debate. Gun nuts won’t be impressed by the above statistics because their belief is not based on a careful analysis of the facts but (like the old belief in witches) just something that everyone “knows”.

  3. brad tittle says:

    1. I have to agree with some others that you need to turn in your Skeptic card, Mr Shermer. You are dancing the Advocate line and ignoring skepticism. I will never be a card carrying skeptic. It is better than the “Bright” idea, but it is still wrong. I am a skeptic. I will always be a skeptic.

    2. The 2nd Amendment is closer to meaning that I should be allowed to own automatic weapons and cannon than it is to meaning that I should only be allowed to own a musket. I should actually be able to own a nuclear weapon within the bounds of that amendment. I do not want to own such a weapon. Caging the statement around muskets is the act of an Advocate, not the act of a card carrying Skeptic.

    This is a very sticky problem. Bump stocks are not necessary to convert AR-15s into weapons that fire automagically. I am not so worried about a automatic wielding assailant as I am an assailant who has intent and focus. In most situations an AR-15 converted to full auto makes the weapon less deadly on one end of the spectrum. The attack in question was made less deadly by its application. The attacker actually picked the wrong place to be to maximize the death toll. (Find a Gunny and ask him, please don’t post the answer).

    Pandora’s box is open. It will not close. The best way to deal with it is to train. Make everyone in the US competent with firearms and the problem becomes a little worse and a lot better. It will be both. There will be more deaths in some ways and a ton less deaths in others. Counting the non deaths is really hard.

    It is the non deaths that count the most though.

  4. Jim Bechtel says:

    I think Michael Shermer did a good job of addressing the points made by the first two commenters. I’d add three observations:

    1. The scope of the problem. The level of the USA’s bloodbath is unique and so logically we should be able to learn from other contries. Death rates from guns, per 100,000 population:
    USA: 13.7 overall average, with a 10 to 1 ratio between red states (high numbers) and blue states (low). Look it up.
    Australia 3.0
    Germany 1.5
    Iraq: 36.9
    Washington DC: 31.2
    Young males in drug gangs: c 1,500
    (The first set is from 1995, second set 2006)

    2. It is a multi-causal problem. Here are eight of the many factors involved in our unique level of slaughter:

    1. The glut of guns: more than all the armies of NATO combined.
    2. The war on drugs (cf Capone during Prohibition).
    3. Our “frontier” mind-set (Pinker on Canada, Slotkin on pop culture).
    4. “Exceptionalism” -there can be nothing wrong with the way Americans do things (related to that is the mythical version of the Second Amendment).
    5. The NRA, which blocks any version of “well-regulated,” reinforced by our traditional laissez faire rejection of regulation.
    6. The resulting culture of violence (watch some TV, and check out Colonel Grossman’s “killology” website).
    7. Paucity of data; the NRA prohibits the NIH from studying the problem.
    8. Merton’s “Strain Theory.” I’ve never seen it explained better than by Adam Lankford:
    “When an embittered former Roanoke reporter opened fire on his onetime colleagues, interrupting their live broadcast to ensure that his attack made it on TV, it was as though he was trying to prove Lankford’s point….
    the “American Dream” promises a better life than one’s parents for anyone who is willing to work for it. According to a 2010 survey, 81 percent of American high school students believe they will have a “great paying job” by age 25. A similar survey conducted in 2014 found that 26 percent of high schoolers expected that they would soon be famous. Nearly one third of college freshman expect to eventually get an M.D. or PhD (though only about 5 percent do)….
    The reality is that very few people achieve the wealth, fame and prestige we’re all socialized to believe is our destiny. When the socially sanctioned path toward success doesn’t take people where they want to go, some resort to other means. Negative social interactions — lack of friends and mentors, failures in school — and mental illness can exacerbate the problem, making them believe that “their dreams are hopeless,” Lankford said. The dividing line between fame and infamy is disappearing.

    3. The Second Amendment:

    James Madison, who wrote the Second Amendment and ought to know what it meant, said pacifists like the Quakers would be exempt from “bearing arms” because it refers to carrying weapons into battle as part of the nation’s “well-regulated militia.” (See Garry Will’s excellent NYRB review of the history.)

    The notion that its “well-regulated militia” is for use against government tyranny ignores the Constitution, which states the precise opposite in Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power … to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections (!) and repel Invasion,” and Article II, Section 2, which places the militia under the President as commander in chief.

    The Militia Act of 1903 defines the militia as the “National Guard.” Appeal to some “unofficial” or “unorganized” militia is moot, because whatever that is, it’s clearly the opposite of “well-regulated.”

    In 2009, shortly after President Obama took office, Richard Poplawski killed three police officers in Pittsburgh. He believed that a gun ban was coming. Seriously? With Americans owning more guns than the combined armies of NATO? Paranoid nonsense.

    We need to be clear that racists, alt-right demagogues and media blowhards & extremists cannot use the Second Amendment to excuse their inflam­matory rhetoric, which contributes to hysteria and violence.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      @Jim Bechtel. I read your comments and have some responses.

      1) If you cherry pick nations to compare against America regarding murders you can prove whatever point you wish. Gun control advocates like comparing USA with certain European Nations; their opponents compare our murder rates with Latin American and other European Nations. Check this out for fun:

      So my point stands: It’d not a simple issue. (BTW: When did Dr Schermer address that point?)

      2) We are in accord. There are many confounding factors. In fact, I thank you for helping make my point.

      3) Alas, when we get into constitutional law things get even murkier than when dealing with simple statistics. The Supreme Court has ruled (in 2008) that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms unconnected with service in a militia and for purposes of self-defense in the home. I won’t go on and on about the rulings but a decent summary can be found on wikipedia (

      Back to my point: the gun control debate is far from simple and clear. Any self-proclaimed skeptic who tries to present this controversy in a simple and clear fashion is clearly not being skeptical – or intellectually honest.

      • Jim Bechtel says:

        Sure, you can compare us to Third World countries instead of other developed nations if it gives you the illusion of a rebuttal.

        And you can ignore two centuries of interpretation, clear meaning (Madison) and logical precedent and stand with the NRA and Scalia’s SCROTUS (Supreme Court Republicans Of The U.S.) if you prefer.

        Besides Wikipedia, try this:

        • Bad Boy Scientist says:

          Instead of You & Me arguing – as many have done before and many will do after us and many are doing currently – to no avail, let us agree that this is a complicated problem with no easy answers … most problems that persist for decades do not have easy answers.

          Anyone purporting to have an easy answer to such a persistent problem is either deluded or the smartest human to ever walk the Earth. The internet seemingly is teeming with the smartest humans to ever walk the Earth.

          Alas, I am not one of them. I’ll sit on the side saying “Wow. Gun control is a really sticky problem.”

  5. Mark McRae says:

    This piece (along with your Bill Nye bromance) seriously damages your credibility as a skeptic. Your opening statement “both the left and the right marshalling their data and arguments” ought to have been stated: “both the left – which includes ME – and the right marshalling their data and arguments.” Your entire reasoning reeks of confirmation bias; something most skeptics do their very best to avoid.
    It is dubious narratives like this that make it incredibly difficult to justify patreon support.

    Skepticism deserves more.
    You must do better.

    M. McRae
    Mississauga, Ont., Canada

  6. Dave Hitt says:

    ERY disappointing video from someone purporting to be a skeptic.

    Expecting the govmerent to protect you from their tyranny via their own courts is foolish to the point of being childish. Witness the hundreds of cases where police have clearly murdered someone and walked away free, cleared by a court system that is designed to exonerate them.

    You cite the people murdered by the govmerent at Waco. How well did the govmerent protect them?

    You also ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands of crimes are stopped every year by “good guys with a gun.” In the majority of cases, the altercation is never reported, and no shots are fired, which allows gun-grabbers to create studies like the ones you fell for.

    Shame of you Mr. S, for falling for the anti-gun arguments, which fall apart when viewed skeptically.

  7. charles nelson says:

    What I find so fascinating about this site is its use of the term ‘skeptic’ to describe itself.
    It seems to parrot leftist propaganda (or take up the orthodox leftist position) on so many issues. Note I don’t capitalise (no pun) ‘leftist’ because I have observed that these beliefs are not really connected to Marxism, Socialism or even Anarchism. I suspect that they are fashion led, social media fed, virtue signalling led, articles of ‘blind faith’ for the brain dead. (see what I did there)
    I am a genuine skeptic, I’m not even proud of that fact, it hasn’t made my life any easier. Telling people that they believe in things they don’t understand? Not a great way to make friends.
    So I think this site should change its name to ‘Faith’; faith in the messages paid for by the likes of George Soros, Elon Musk, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, CNN, the BBC – uncle tom cobbly and all.
    Actually instead of ‘Faith’ maybe you should call it ‘Gullible’?
    By the way I suspect your cringeworthy rapper wouldn’t recognise the ‘scientific method’ if it came up and bit him on the arse!
    Kind Regards

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