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e Skeptic Archives for 2016

December 20th: Remembering Carl Sagan
This is a special Tuesday release of eSkeptic to honor Carl Sagan on the 20th anniversary of his death. We remember him fondly, on this day, grateful for the inspiration and education that he provided to so many.
December 14th: Confessions of a Skeptical Marketer
Guest writer Steve Cuno shares an insider’s view on the ethics of advertising in a world full of false claims.
December 7th: Skeptic magazine 21.4: Deception in Cancer Treatment
The latest issue of Skeptic magazine (21.4), available digitally right now, examines deceptions in cancer treatment and marketing; mysterious “alien” skulls; clown panics; anti-aging claims; defining “spirituality;” memory training; computer simulations; Salem Witch trials; mammoth mysteries; and more…
November 30th: The Ultimate Trade Off
Michael Shermer reviews What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality, by Richard G. Bribiescas. A shortened version of this review ran in the Wall Street Journal on November 18, 2016, under the title “Why Men Die First.”
November 23rd: Save 25% on Everything, Now Thru Cyber Monday
It’s our best sale of the year, on now through Cyber Monday. SAVE 25% on everything at Shop Skeptic, including: books, science lecture DVDs, clothing and other cool swag, like t-shirts and hoodies, stickers, lapel pins, Skeptic magazine subscriptions and back issues, as well as Skeptic eGift Certificates. Skeptic digital subscriptions and digital back issues are also on sale via This sale ends at 23:59:59 Sunday, November 28, 2016 (PST).
November 16th: Flu Shots: Facts & Fallacies
It’s flu shot season again! Of all vaccines, flu shots garner the most criticism. In this week’s eSkeptic, Harriet Hall, M.D. examines flu shot facts and fallacies, reminding us that the flu vaccine is of benefit, and the more people who get the vaccine, the greater the benefit for everyone.
November 9th: Carl Sagan — A Way of Thinking
On this, November 9th, the day of Carl Sagan’s birthday (1934), we celebrate and remember the man whose contributions and commitment to furthering the work of scientific skepticism have helped make the world a more rational place.
November 2nd: Sex, Brains & Hands: Differences in How Women and Men Think
In this week’s eSkeptic, Diane F. Halpern presents some of the theories and research that have explored individual differences in cognition between women and men, and discusses what we know and what we don’t know. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 2.3 (1994). It was originally presented as one of the Skeptics Society’s Distinguished Science Lectures at Caltech, on Sunday, April 18, 1993.
October 26th: Meeting ET
If intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, how should we interact, and what will it mean for our civilization? In this week’s eSkeptic, Lawrence E. Grinter reviews Preparing for Contact: When Humans and Extraterrestrials Finally Meet (2014), by George Michael. This review appeared in Skeptic magazine 20.4 (2015).
October 19th: Podcast Double Header
In this week’s eSkeptic, we present a podcast double header. Skepticality interviews Angie Feazel Mattke about medical quackery, and MonsterTalk meets Robert Price: The Lovecraft Geek.
October 12th: Can Working Memory Be Trained to Work Better?
In our health-conscious culture permeated by people eating kale, meditating, and working out, it seems tempting to regard the brain as just another muscle—one whose relevant parts can be “exercised” to keep them from getting flabby and plump. In this week’s eSkeptic, Dr. Carol Tavris examines the evidence to see if working memory training programs really work.
October 5th: Can Science Defeat Death?; Fighting Medical Quackery
A number of scientists and Silicon Valley billionaires think it’s possible to extend the human life span by a century for people alive now. In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer shares his skepticism; plus, INSIGHT guest writer, Robert Blaskiewicz, reports on the early days of the ongoing battle to protect American patients from cynically fraudulent quack “medicine.”
September 28th: Mammoth Mysteries — Part I
In the pages of Junior Skeptic—the engagingly illustrated science and critical thinking publication for younger readers, bound within every issue of Skeptic magazine—we often look at “wild and wooly” mysteries. In Junior Skeptic #60 (2016), we mean that literally; we explore the hidden history of mammoths and mastodons! In this week’s eSkeptic, we present an excerpt from the first couple pages of the Junior Skeptic #60, bound within Skeptic magazine 21.3 (2016), available now in print and digital editions.
September 21st: A Betrayal of Confidence
Kathleen J. Schultheis reviews Larry Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.
September 14th: Clown Panic! Sightings of Mysterious Clowns Rattle Nerves in South Carolina
Unsubstantiated reports of phantom clowns in the United States can be traced back decades and are a form of social panic. In this week’s eSkeptic, sociologist and authority on culture-specific mental disorders, outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness, and moral panics—Dr. Robert Bartholomew—reminds us that they reflect age-old fears that are dressed up in new garb—literally.
September 7th: Gene Roddenberry: The Hero on the Edge of Forever
September 8, 1966 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. In this essay, from 1994, upon the publication of David Alexander’s biography: Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry, Shermer considers the role of the individual—the hero even—and difference that Gene Roddenberry made in history.
August 31st: What Will Tomorrow Bring?
Bernard Leikind reminds us how fortunate we are to stand grounded on a foundation of scientific knowledge in the face of uncertainty.
August 24th: What Was Adam’s IQ?
Bernard Leikind takes a satirical look at the question of Adam’s IQ and the idea that we only use 10% of our brains.
August 17th: Facilitated Communication: Mental Miracle or Sleight of Hand?
Gina Green traces the history of the Facilitated Community (FC) movement’s rapid growth and widespread adoption—a movement whose validity was accepted largely on faith, with little objective evaluation. Green discusses how scientifically controlled observations have been used to determine authorship in FC, weaving a cautionary tale about the obvious and serious legal, ethical, and practical implications of these findings.
August 10th: Flood Myths and Sunken Arks — Who needs to believe in Noah’s Ark and why?
Should the Noah’s Ark story be taken literally? No, said Dr. Gerald A. Larue (1916–2014), former Emeritus Professor of Biblical History and Archaeology at USC, back in 1994, when Skeptic first published this article. There never was a world-wide flood, nor was there ever a “Noah’s ark” containing all the species of the world. Here’s why.
August 3rd: Facilitated Communication Quackery
Michael Shermer on “The Quack of the Gaps Problem: Facilitated Communication, Autism and Patients’ Rights”; MonsterTalk episode 109: Blake Smith interviews James Randi’s about his late-night AM radio show: Long John Nebel “Party Line”; plus, Mr. Deity: The Bourne Again Identity, an episode in which a couple takes in a young believer suffering from dissociative amnesia.
July 27th: Uncertainty in Medicine
Modern medicine deals in probabilities and informed guesses based on scientific evidence. Complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) deals in certainties based on fantasy and intuition. Harriet Hall, M.D. reminds us that, although modern medicine is riddled with uncertainty, it’s still far better than any other option. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 18.4 (2013).
July 20th: Myths about Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity
Electromagnetic radiation from power lines, wifi, cell phones, TVs, light bulbs, and toasters have been blamed for causing poor sleep, fatigue, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, dizziness, memory impairment, skin rashes, depression, anxiety, colds, digestive disorders, and chronic pain. Harriet Hall, M.D. asks whether electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is physical or psychological, and dispels some myths about it and other sensitivities. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 18.1 (2013).
July 13th: Skeptic Activist’s Cartoon Kept Alt-Med Away from Infants
What does it take to convince legislators with a negligible understanding of science or ignorance of alternative medicine to kill a bill that would allow parents to choose Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) providers and “natural remedies” for their infants? Linda Rosa takes a look at the many attempts naturopathic “doctors” have made seeking recognition as the equivalent of physicians. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 19.3 (2014).
July 6th: Heaven is Not for Real: Reviewing the Myth of an Afterlife
Given the current success of neuroscience in establishing the neural basis of consciousness and thought, is it still honest to claim that we simply don’t know “what comes after”? In this week’s eSkeptic, Sebastian Dieguez, cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, reviews The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, edited by M. Martin and K. Augustine.
June 29th: Accepting the Reality of Biological Evolution
In this week’s eSkeptic, James “The Amazing” Randi — age 85 at the time the following article was written — ruminates on the reality of biological evolution. Randi wrote the “’Twas Brillig…” column regularly for Skeptic magazine until issue 19.2 (2014). This week’s feature article was Randi’s second-last column, which appeared in Skeptic magazine 19.1 in 2014, under the title “Let’s Get Real, Even if it Hurts.”
June 22nd: Barefoot in Sedona: Bogus Claims About Grounding Your Feet to Earth Promote Medical Pseudoscience
Could it be that shoes are the world’s most dangerous invention and the cause of health problems ranging from autoimmune diseases to premature aging? In this week’s eSkeptic, Harriet Hall, M.D. examines the claims of “grounding” or “earthing” — the idea that shoes are the most destructive invention ever and that maintaining health requires direct contact with the earth. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 17.4 (2012).
June 15th: Myths of Terrorism
In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Shermer dispels seven myths of terrorism. This is an excerpt from his book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. This excerpt also appeared in Skeptic magazine 20.1—a special issue on Terrorism—in 2015.
June 8th: Aspartame: Safe Sweetener or Perilous Poison?
Depending on who you listen to, aspartame is either a safe aid to weight loss and diabetes control or it is evil incarnate—a deadly poison that is devastating the health of consumers. In this week’s eSkeptic, Harriet Hall, M.D. examines the claims and explains how we know that aspartame is safe for almost everyone.
June 1st: Electromagnetic Fields and Parental Panics: A case study in how science can bring comfort
There is no known biological mechanism for non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) to cause DNA damage, and thus cancer. Yet, the media continue to drop panic bombs, instilling fear where none is warranted. In this week’s eSkeptic, Dr. Julie Frantsve-Hawley reminds us of the importance of sound science communication so that the general public can experience the same comfort in and reliance on science as scientists themselves.
May 25th: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time
Why are we so bad at spotting deception? In this week’s eSkeptic, we present an excerpt from The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time by Maria Konnikova, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Maria Konnikova. This excerpt appeared in Skeptic magazine 21.1 (2016).
May 18th: Winning the Vaccination War in California
In this week’s eSkeptic, Raymond Barglow & Margret Schaefer discuss the issue of vaccination of school children, the subject in California of a prolonged and bitter debate which led to California Senate Bill 277 which eliminated the personal belief exemption that allowed unvaccinated children to attend school. The bill became law in California on the last day of June 2015. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 21.1 (2016).
May 11th: Evidence: “It Worked for My Aunt Tillie” Is Not Enough
There is no such thing as “alternative medicine.” In this week’s eSkeptic, Dr. Harriet Hall, aka the SkepDoc, distinguishes between science-based medicine and CAM. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 20.3 (2015).
May 4th: The Non-Fine-Tuned Universe: The Astronomical Failure of the Cosmological Argument for Theism
How significant are we as humans within the universe? Could the universe have been fine-tuned for our existence? In this week’s eSkeptic, Jérémie Harris and Edouard Harris examine the nature and extent of universal fine-tuning. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 20.3 (2015)
April 27th: More on Porn: Guard Your Manhood—A Response to Marty Klein
What would happen if you stopped watching online pornography for a few months? In this week’s eSkeptic, the debate about pornography addiction and its effects concludes with this response to Marty Klein by Philip Zimbardo and Gary Wilson.
April 20th: Skeptical of the Porn Skeptics
Is porn viewing really changing young brains, skewing our views of “normal” sexuality, causing sexual dysfunction, and undermining our ability to relate to real sex? In this week’s eSkeptic, certified sex therapist and one of the United States’ leading experts on pornography, Marty Klein, responds to the article we published last week by Philip Zimbardo and Gary Wilson.
April 13th: How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood
Research is suggesting that pornography addiction may be distorting our ideas of healthy sexual relationships, causing erectile dysfunction, social anxiety, depression, compulsivity, desensitization, anorgamsia, delayed ejaculation, difficulty having sex with real partners, and abnormally low sexual desire. In this week’s eSkeptic, renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo and author of Your Brain on Porn, Gary Wilson, discuss the problem of pornography addiction.
April 6th: Bike Crashes, Divine Intervention, and the Nature of Evil
In this week’s eSkeptic: Bike Crashes, Divine Intervention, and the Nature of Evil: An Open Letter to Larry Taunton from Michael Shermer; Hooey. Drivel. Baloney… Would you know it if you saw it?; INSIGHT: The Discovery of Richard III’s Grave and the Fallibility of Memory; The Way of the Mister: Science & Religion are Mortal Enemies: Part III
March 30th: The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape
Is misogyny and sexual violence widespread and entrenched in our culture, or are claims of rape exaggerated? Can we vigorously pursue the goals of justice for rape victims and fairness for accused perpetrators? Dr. Carol Tavris discusses the definition of rape and examines the recent statistical practice of combining rape with unwanted sexual acts.
March 23rd: What Went Wrong? Campus Unrest, Viewpoint Diversity, and Freedom of Speech
Is freedom of speech harmful for college students? Why is this question even being asked? In light of recent eruptions of student protests at numerous American colleges and universities, Michael Shermer discusses the notions of trigger warnings, microagressions, the importance of political viewpoint diversity and freedom of speech.
March 16th: Myth, Mystery, and Margery: When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test
Michelle E. Ainsworth reviews the book: The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, by David Jaher.
March 9th: Confidence Scams: Who Does Them, and Why We Fall for Them
The latest issue of Skeptic magazine (21.1), CONFIDENCE SCAMS, features an excerpt from Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time, “A gripping examination of exactly why so many of us are such suckers for schemes that shut down our saner instincts.” (Vice). PLUS: Did Highly Developed Europeans Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More than 3000 Years Ago?; Is Star KIC 8462852 a Sign of an Extraterrestrial Civilization?; On Science and Morality; Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution—An Empirical Test; Ruins of Empires: Thomas Jefferson, Constantin-Francois Volney, and the Separation of Church and State; Winning the Vaccination War in California; and more! Get it now!
March 2nd: How Science Makes Us Better People
How Science Makes Us Better People: Now Available in Paperback; Scientific American: Left Behind: Political Bias in the Academy; New Episode: The God Distraction Chapter Two: The Unknowable; Chapman University Debate March 7: God vs. Science Smackdown (Keith Ward vs. Michael Shermer)
February 24th: Ancient Warfare & the Blank Slate
Scientist and historian, Michael Shermer, responds to evolutionary biologist and anthropologist, David Sloan Wilson, about ancient warfare and the notion the blank slate.
February 17th: The Negative Side of Positive Psychology
The oversimplified litany of alleged benefits of positive thinking is scientifically problematic. New research keeps whittling away at previously discussions of the benefits of positive psychology such that it is barely a shadow of its former hulking self. In Carol Tavris’ column, “The Gadfly,” from Skeptic magazine 19.3 (2014), she examines the negative side of positive psychology.
February 10th: All Sacred Cows
Most Americans continue to grow up without thinking very deeply about other religions (other than mocking them on a superficial basis), and never question the assumptions of their own faith. In this week’s eSkeptic, Donald Prothero reviews Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition Around the World, by Seth Andrews, in which he does all that, and more.
February 3rd: Charlie Sheen’s HIV Goat Milk Doctor
Harriet Hall, M.D. (a.k.a. The SkepDoc) takes a close look at Samir Chachoua, a man who claims to have discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS, cancer, and a host of other illnesses.
January 27th: The Great ET Paradox: Why We are Likely to Find Them Before They Find Us
It’s possible that life exists outside of our solar system and that we may, one day, find it. The Internet has been abuzz with speculation that an alien megastructure orbiting the star KIC 8462852 is responsible for the star’s erratic flicker. Since scientists have yet to advance a convincing natural explanation, attention has turned to more tantalizing possibilities. In this week’s eSkeptic, Dr. George Michael discusses a number of theories that have been advanced to explain the anomalous activity of the star.
January 20th: Mathemagics, Science Writing, Anthropomorphism, and Breakfast Cereal Skepticism
Art Benjamin on the Magic of Math; Michael Shermer on science writing for the general audiences; Mike McRae on Anthropomorphism; and Zack Wienersmith on Skepticality discussing Breakfast Cereal Skepticism.
January 13th: Skeptic: Viewing the World with a Rational Eye
Michael Shermer’s new book, now available and published by Henry Holt/Macmillan, is a collection of his Scientific American essays that began in April of 2001. Shermer is most pleased with being able to bind the first 75 essays between two covers, and tell you about them here through the Introduction to the book, reprinted by permission of the publisher.
January 6th: Paleoanthropology Wars: The discovery of Homo naledi
Through random mutation, evolution is relentlessly tinkering—driving species toward diversification. The result is often a wide and bushy family tree that is trimmed and culled by the harshness of natural selection. Could it be that Homo naledi is not a new species at all, but is instead a smaller and more primitive variant of the well known Homo erectus? In this week’s eSkeptic, Nathan H. Lents discusses the recent discovery of Homo naledi, which has created considerable controversy in the world of paleoanthropology.

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

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Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

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