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eSkeptic Archives for 2014

December 17th: What Really Happened on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri?
Psychologists have known for decades that memory does not operate like a video camera, with our senses recording in high definition what really happens in the world, accurately stored in memory awaiting high fidelity playback on the viewing screen of our mind. In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer discusses how the fallibility of memory can cause eyewitness testimony to contradict the evidence.
December 10th: What is the Ant, Sir?
In this week’s eSkeptic, we draw from the archives of Skeptic magazine issue 4.1 (from 1996) in which Bernard Leikind posits the ant-thropic principle: the principle that the Universe somehow exists for ants and that ants are an expression of its purpose.
December 3rd: Observations on Genius
In this week’s eSkeptic, we draw from the archives of Skeptic magazine issue 2.1 (from 1993) in which the late, great Steve Allen (1921–2000), shared his observations on genius.
November 26th: Skeptic Six-Day Sale
It’s our best sale of the year, on now through Cyber Monday, December 1. Save 25% on everything at Shop Skeptic, including: books, DVDs, print subscriptions, hoodies, t-shirts (and other cool swag), as well as printed back issues of Skeptic magazine. SHOP NOW, SAVE 25%
November 19th: Why Kennedy-Assassination Conspiracy Theories Endure
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by lone-gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. Yet, about three-quarters of Americans believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a multi-shooter conspiracy. In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer discusses several psychological factors at work that allow conspiracy theories to persist.
November 12th: Help Bring Our Distinguished Science Lectures Series to the World
Since 1992, the Skeptics Society has sponsored over 350 of the biggest names in science in our Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, covering the most advanced, leading-edge discoveries, and controversial topics in all of science. Now we want to take it to a whole new level, and aim to reach millions of people around the world following the TED model. Find out more…
November 5th: Willpower and Won’t Power
Learning to control our impulses and delay immediate gratification may well be one of the most important things our species has ever learned. In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer reviews The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel (Little, Brown; September 23, 2014). Note: A shorter version of this review was originally published in the Wall Street Journal on September 19, 2014.
October 29th: The Biological and Psychological Basis of Horror
Horror is both the human emotion, and the artistic genre designed to produce that emotion. What is it really, and why do we regularly seek out such an unpleasant experience? In this week’s Halloween edition of eSkeptic, Stephen T. Asma discusses “horror” and our fascination with it.
October 22nd: Award; Pixels Over Paper; Dark Matter; Vampires; and Alfred Russel Wallace
Daniel Loxton wins a Victoria Book Prize; Donald Prothero considers claims that the future of publishing belongs exclusively to pixels over paper; Blake Smith defends the value of the examination of monster beliefs; Katherine Freese lectures on Dark Matter; MonsterTalk interviews Richard Sugg about vampires; and UCLA celebrates Alfred Russel Wallace.
October 15th: “Chemtrail” Fail
Among the strangest of all bizarre pseudoscientific notions is the idea that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are somehow a government conspiracy to spray us with toxic chemicals. In this week’s eSkeptic, Donald R. Prothero discusses how “chemtrail” conspiracy thinking fails the science literacy test.
October 8th: Geology, Zombies, Infrequencies, and a Robot Apocalypse
In this week’s eSkeptic, we announce: our next geology tour—Central California Classics (January 17–19, 2015); our next distinguished science lecture—by Dr. Bradley Voytek (Oct 19); Weekly Insights from Blake Smith and Barbara Drescher; Michael Shermer’s October column in Scientific America; and MonsterTalk interviews Daniel H. Wilson about a robot apocalypse.
October 1st: Steven Pinker; INSIGHT Highlights; Ian Harris; Mr. Deity
Steven Pinker moves to Beckman Auditorium from Baxter Hall, and tickets are now available in advance; Eve Siebert discuss the History Channel’s Vikings, and Daniel Loxton discusses the scope of skepticism and skeptical history on INSIGHT at; Skepticality interviews Ian Harris; and Lucy talks with Mr. Deity about all the help he’s been giving people in the wealthier countries of the world.
September 24th: Farewell to a Skeptic Pioneer
David Knight Larue remembers one of the pioneers of the modern skeptical movement: his father, Gerald Alexander Larue, Senior, who passed away on September 17, 2014 at the age of 98.
September 17th: Discover Our New Blog: INSIGHT at
The Skeptics Society is proud to announce the creation of our brand new group blog, INSIGHT at Dedicated to the spirit of curiosity and grounded in scientific skepticism’s useful, investigative tradition of public service, INSIGHT will shed light, offer critical perspective, and serve as a broadly accessible, evidence-based resource on mysteries of science, paranormal claims, and the wild, woolly, wonderful weirdness of the fringe.
September 10th: Atheist Spirituality
Sigfried Gold reviews Sam Harris’s new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
September 3rd: Skeptic magazine 19.3: The Multiverse
We announce Skeptic magazine issue 19.3 on The Multiverse; Michael Shermer discusses how the survivor bias distorts reality in his Scientific American column for September; Daniel Loxton gets shortlisted as a Finalist for a National Literary Prize; and Chris Impey lectures on the intersection between science and Tibetan Buddhism.
August 27th: Confessions
Donald R. Prothero reviews Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason, by Seth Andrews.
August 20th: An Interview with Pope Francis
Michael Shermer interviews Pope Francis in the sixth release of our “Skeptic Presents” satirical video series; Skepticality interviews rights activist Sikivu Hutchinson; MonsterTalk interviews Brad Voytek and Tim Verstynen about zombies; Donald Prothero discusses the Mind of the Science Denier; and Edward Slingerland discusses the Art and Science of Spontaneity.
August 13th: A Two Wheeled Path
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.
August 6th: Why Whistleblowing Doesn’t Work
Tattletale, Ratfink, Stool Pigeon, Snitch, Informer, Canary, Turncoat, Bigmouth, Busybody, Fat Mouth, Weasel, Informer, Squealer, Backstabber, Double-Crosser, Agent-Provocateur, Shill, Judas, Quisling, Treasonist… In this week’s eSkeptic, Frederick V. Malmstrom and David Mullin explain why whistleblowing is a dangerous game. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 19.1 (2014).
July 30th: Controversies in Psychiatric Diagnosis
The problem of defining psychiatric disorders is a challenge, and increasingly a matter of debate. Some have argued that definitions of psychiatric diagnoses are arbitrary. Most psychiatric disorders can be very well described as existing on a continuum with normal human experience and that there is overlap between disorders. In this week’s eSkeptic, Ralph Lewis, M.D. discusses the challenges to understanding and defining complex mental disorders. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 18.4 (2013).
July 23rd: A Rare and Beautiful Thing
Last week, the James Randi Educational Foundation’s “The Amazing Meeting 2014” conference in Las Vegas brought together many of the most engaging voices in science and skepticism for a challenging and joyful celebration of ideas. The Skeptics Society was in the spotlight, with Michael Shermer, Donald Prothero, and Junior Skeptic’s Daniel Loxton taking the stage for feature presentations. In this week’s eSkeptic, we share the text of Loxton’s well-received speech on skeptical history, titled “A Rare and Beautiful Thing.” Although designed as a live multimedia presentation, we hope this distilled format will give a sense of the passion behind this unusual piece.
July 16th: ET Phone Me
Michael Shermer recounts the time he was abducted by aliens. This is a review of Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe, by Joel Achenbach. This review appeared in Skeptic magazine 7.4 (1999)
July 9th: Becoming a Faith Healer
Dustin White reveals the inside story, detailing his personal experience faith healing, performing exorcisms, and doing psychic surgeries. White recounts the deception, lies, theatrics, motivations, and justifications involved. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 19.1 (2014).
July 2nd: Bountiful!
Monstertalk interviews the science advisors for the 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty television contest; and, in Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column for Scientific American, he takes a look at the accuracy of our perceptions about income equality and social mobility.
June 25th: Coming Out Skeptical
Sigfried Gold reviews Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster. (Columbia University Press. ISBN: 978-0231163583)
June 18th: The Mummy’s Curse!
We present the text of the last three pages of the Junior Skeptic 18 on the sinister legend of a lethal supernatural curse associated with Tutankhamun’s tomb. Did the explorers who found the tomb pay for their discovery with their lives?
June 11th: Evolution and the Inquisition
On Skepticality, Derek speaks with two science advocates about their new books on evolution, for young readers. On Vimeo On Demand, Jonathan Kirsch delivers a sweeping and provocative history of the Spanish Inquisition.
June 4th: Conspiracy Theories, Nukes, Death Worms, and Yetis
Announcing the latest issue of Skeptic magazine (19.2): Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories; Shermer asks whether deterrence prohibits the total abolishment of nuclear weapons; MonsterTalk discusses the legends and facts behind the Mongolian Death Worm; and Loxton reflects on monster hoaxes—and Discovery Channel’s tarnished reputation.
May 28th: Penis Panics: The Psychology of Penis Shrinking Mass Hysterias
In parts of Asia and the Orient entire regions are occasionally overwhelmed by terror-stricken men who believe that their penises are shriveling up or retracting into their bodies. Episodes can endure for weeks or months and affect thousands. Psychiatrists are divided as to the cause of these imaginary scares. Some believe that it is a form of group psychosis triggered by stress, while others view it as mass hysteria. How can groups of people come to believe that their sex organs are shrinking? In this article from Skeptic magazine issue 7.4 (1999), Robert E. Bartholomew discusses the anatomy of mass hysteria, their similarities, and the factors involved in triggering them.
May 21st: Eye Movement Magic
In this article from Skeptic magazine issue 7.4 (1999), three psychologists examine in detail the most recent scientific evidence (at the time) regarding the efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The authors consider strategies employed by EMDR’s proponents to deal with negative findings, and note historical parallels between EMDR and other controversial treatments. This scientific and historical analysis of EMDR may help shed light on a variety of other potentially pseudoscientific practices in the field of clinical psychology. In this respect, EMDR serves as a useful object lesson in the study of pseudoscience.
May 14th: The Great Dilution Delusion
You might ask why, as skeptics, we must continue to fight the same battles against quackery over and over again, long after the nonsense has been debunked. The short answer: because belief in nonsense persists. In this week’s eSkeptic, we present one of James Randi ’Twas Brillig… columns from Skeptic magazine issue 10.1 (2003), about the persistence of homeopathy, entitled: “The Great Dilution Delusion.”
May 7th: Gimme That New-Time Religion!
Donald Prothero reviews Karen Stollznow’s book, God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States (Pitchstone Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 978-1939578006).
April 30th: Bigfoot Skepticism is Alive and Well
Harriet Hall, M.D., The SkepDoc, reviews Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero (Columbia University Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0231153201). This review appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 18.4 (2013)
April 23rd: On the Margin
Michael Shemrer reviews Will Storr’s book, The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science. A shorter version of this review ran in the Wall Street Journal on April 1, 2014.
April 16th: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Large Hadron Collider
Particle Fever follows the inside story of six brilliant scientists seeking to unravel the mysteries of the universe, documenting the successes and setbacks in the planet’s most significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough. Find out about our screening of this film, and more, in this week’s eSkeptic.
April 9th: Discovering Your Inner Fish, Reptile, and Monkey
Donald R. Prothero reviews Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion Year History of the Human Body, a three-part documentary series airing on PBS beginning on April 9, 2014.
April 2nd: Lying, Sports, and Werewolves
Michael Shermer discusses the science of lying; Derek interviews Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated, Jon L. Wertheim on Skepticality; and Blake reveals his findings from more than two years of werewolf research on MonsterTalk.
March 26th: The Case for Yoda
Andrew Harter’s presents his case for the existence of Yoda. This piece appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 6.3 (1998).
March 19th: Imagine There’s No Heaven
We present an excerpt from Mitchell Stephens’ new book, Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World: a comprehensive history of atheism starting with the ancient Greeks. Michael Shermer called it “the most thorough chronicle to date” that he has read. We selected a portion of the book related directly to what led to the current state of unbelief in America and Western Europe today, but we encourage you to read the entire book to get the full context of what intellectual currents came before us. This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Palgrave Macmillan, and appears in Skeptic magazine issue 19.1 (2014).
March 12th: Cosmos Reboots
Pseudoscience runs rampant in much of the popular media, reducing science to stereotypes of evil mad scientists. With the recent reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos documentary, we see the return of science popularization in a manner that inspires people (especially children) to be fascinated by science, to think about careers in science, and to pass Sagan’s mantle on to another generation. In this week’s eSkeptic, scientist and educator Donald Prothero reviews the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which premiered March 9, 2014.
March 5th: A Voyager in the Cosmos
The PBS broadcast of Carl Sagan’s 13-part documentary, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, was one of the most watched series in the history of American public television. The soon-to-be-released sequel, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey (see above), written, executively produced and directed by Ann Druyan, premieres Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 9pm/10pm ET/PT on FOX. In light of the rebirth of this stellar production, we present to you, in this week’s eSkeptic, an interview with Ann Druyan conducted by Michael Shermer in 2007, which appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 13.1—our tribute issue to Carl Sagan. There are several tribute articles to Carl Sagan that you can read for free on, listed in the table of contents for that issue. Issue 13.1 is available in digital format only via the Skeptic Magazine App.
February 26th: Believe the Survivors or the Science?
In this week’s eSkeptic, in the wake of passionate and polarized commentary following Dylan Farrow’s recent allegations that Woody Allen sexually abused her when she was 7 years old, social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris discusses how the science of memory may help guide how we think about cases like this. Carol Tavris, Ph.D., is a coauthor, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Tavris’ lecture at Caltech, based on the book, is available on DVD from Shop Skeptic.
February 19th: Dead Silence: Our Experience at a “Live” Seminar with John Edward
Three skeptics join a crowd of about 2500 people at a seminar with renowned psychic, John Edward, and relay their experience in the following piece. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 10.2 (2003).
February 12th: In Search of the Intelligent Designer
In celebration of Darwin Day, we present an excerpt from Michael Shermer’s book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, from Chapter 4: “Who the Designer Is.”
February 5th: Scientific Utopia; Debating Pseudoscience; Critical Thinking
Michael Shermer asks whether a scientific utopia can succeed; Daniel Loxton shares some thoughts from Carl Sagan about the value of scientific confrontation of pseudoscientific ideas; and Skepticality interview Robert Blaskiewicz and Guy Harrison about critical thinking.
January 29th: Academic Obfuscations: The Psychological Attraction of Postmodern Nonsense
Much of postmodern writing is deliberately obscure and nonsensical, indistinguishable from parody. It’s easy to mistake obscurity for profundity. What is so enticing about a scholarly approach that results in texts that can scarcely be understood? Why would a whole scholarly subculture prefer to write and read unclear prose? What are they getting out of it? In this week’s eSkeptic, Jim Davies shares his ideas on the psychological attraction of postmodern nonsense.
January 22nd: What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?
Ideas change, and the times we live in change. Perhaps the biggest change today is the rate of change. What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance? Michael Shermer answers the Annual Question for 2014: “What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?
January 15th: Bigfoot or Baloney? Confessions of a Bigfoot Hunter
In light of recent chatter that a genuine Bigfoot has been captured, we share these confessions from Jonathan Blais — a Bigfoot-hunter-turned-skeptic. This article apeared in Skeptic Magazine issue 18.4 (2013).
January 8th: Why Professors Believe Weird Things: Sex, Race, and the Trials of the New Left
Norman Levitt discusses some of the intellectual follies of leftist postmodern academics who would denounce science in favour of fringe science, pseudoscience, and outright antiscience. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 6.3 (1998).
January 1st: The Top 10 Most Shared Articles of 2013, and a tribute to Isaac Asimov
On the first day of this new year, we feature an article from the premiere issue of Skeptic magazine (1992): Steve Allen’s tribute to Isaac Asimov (January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992). Also, we provide our top 10 list of most shared articles on in 2013 for your reading enjoyment.
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