The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

A Skeptical Analysis of Doyle’s Defense of Free Will

The debate on free will vs. determinism has continued unabated for roughly 2500 years and seems to have become more prolific in the last ten years. Recently, Stuart T. Doyle presented his view in support of free will, the libertarian version. I strongly encourage the reader to study that article first. My intention here, however, […]

Published March 28, 2023 by Gary Whittenberger

Post-Truth: The Tragedy of the Trust Commons

In our “post-truth” world, objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In the U.S., citizens’ trust in their government is at historically low levels, and the trust gap is difficult to bridge because individuals who practice deceptive behaviors often gain. This type of situation is known as a “tragedy of the commons.” Behavioral scientist Gleb Tsipursky offers the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) as one solution to help rebuild trust in and decrease deception in the political sphere, encouraging all officials, policy experts, and academics to take the PTP. The The PTP uses all four components shown by behavioral science research as crucial to addressing tragedies of the commons.

Published March 27, 2023 by Gleb Tsipursky

The Case for Nationalism: 12 Arguments

By the end of World War Two, nationalism had been thoroughly discredited. Critics charged that national self-interest had prevented democratic governments from cooperating to end the Great Depression, and that nationalist passions had led not just to war, but also to some of the worst crimes groups of human beings had ever perpetrated on others. In this defense of nationalism the renowned scholar of politics William Galston presents twelve arguments in defense of the importance of national identity.

Published March 24, 2023 by William A. Galston

Baptism by Fire: How Christian Violence Abetted the Advent of Nationalism

In the Fourth Century, when the Emperor Constantine made the Roman Empire Christian, he created an unstable amalgam. The tenets of Christianity could only be made to support the exercise of political power through torturous forms of theology and logic. Fifteen centuries of violence would eventually cause the combination of Christianity and the state to decompose, forming secular nations in the process. Nationalist leaders, their authority upheld by the gospels of power written by Machiavelli and Nietzsche, could wield military violence without being accused of hypocrisy.

Published March 20, 2023 by Chris Edwards

Free Will Is Real

Are we really free? The question “Could I have done otherwise?” is central to the issue of free will. But because choices are forward-looking, at the time of choice there is not yet any action to do otherwise. The question makes more sense when aimed at the future: “Can I do something fundamentally unpredictable?” The answer is yes! Humans possess properties that make us capable of undecidable dynamics, meaning we are fundamentally unpredictable, and so we do have free will.

Published March 16, 2023 by Stuart T. Doyle

The Christian Nationalist Threat Gets Real

What are we to make of the fact that a number of far-right politicians and activists are now owning the label “Christian Nationalist”? Conversely, conservative Christian leaders are repudiating Christian nationalism by reframing it as a type of extremism relegated to the fringe or, oddly, a “virulent form of secularism”. According to the Family Research Council the term is part of a plot to suppress the votes of conservative Christians. This article explores these tensions in this rising threat to democracy.

Published March 15, 2023 by Katherine Stewart

The Death of Havana Syndrome (2016-2023): R.I.P.

The convoluted saga of ‘Havana Syndrome’ appears to be winding down with the release of a new assessment by five different U.S. intelligence agencies concluding that involvement of a foreign adversary is “very unlikely.” The Syndrome was first reported in American diplomats in Cuba in late 2016 and consisted of a series of unexplained health ailments ranging from fatigue and difficulty concentrating to tinnitus. Instead, prosaic explanations were deemed as more likely including previously undiagnosed illnesses, environmental factors, and anxiety. The most serious symptoms — hearing loss, and brain damage — were never demonstrated. The episode is a case study in bad science.

Published March 13, 2023 by Robert Bartholomew

Iranian Schoolgirl “Chemical Attacks”: Mass Poisonings or Mass Hysteria?

Since November 2022, scores of girls in schools across Iran, have reportedly fallen victim to mysterious attacks with poison gas, sparking protests and outrage. While authorities are baffled, these incidents have all the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness. In recent decades, remarkably similar outbreaks have occurred in different parts of the world – several involving Islamic females. What these episodes have in common is a group of oppressed girls under extreme, prolonged stress.

Published March 10, 2023 by Robert Bartholomew

Why Nationalism Is Hostile to America

America is being torn apart. Amid growing strife, many people are experiencing angst concerning the future of this country, a country once renowned for its exuberant spirit of discovery, progress, liberty. From across the increasingly tribal political landscape, one can observe attacks on the ideas that fueled America’s spectacular rise: reason, individualism, and political freedom. From the illiberal left the “woke” phenomenon has emerged, rising to dominance in cultural institutions and calling for “canceling” those institutions, symbols, and even thoughts it deems heretical. Standing in opposition to it is another new movement that promises to reunite us and rebuild a society true to the American vision. That latter promise calls for embracing the ideology of nationalism. This article explores this growing problem in the context of the larger theme covered in the pages of Skeptic 27.4: Nationalism Matters.

Published March 7, 2023 by Yaron Brook & Elan Journo

Political Polarization: Uncertainty and the Neurobiology of Why We’re So Divided

While many essays have addressed the social events and psychological traits that drive polarized thinking, the neural underpinnings of uncertainty and polarization are largely unknown. We know the brain processes information and makes decisions, but we know little about how politically polarized information is encoded, and even less about how attitudes about uncertainty influence that processing. Why is it important? In this article Natasha Mott explains that uncertainty may be seen as a threat, which moves individuals toward certain positions on the ends of ideological spectrums when considering political candidates and policy positions.

Published March 4, 2023 by Natasha Mott

Flat Earthers Around the Globe: Review of Off the Edge by Kelly Weill

In this review of investigative journalist Kelly Weill’s important book on the flat Earth movement, the people involved, and their psychology, readers will discover that the flat Earth movement contains a great diversity of beliefs. As an example, an obvious question is why don’t we find an edge? Well, some say, there is an edge—it’s the Antarctic which forms an ice wall around the flat Earth to keep the oceans from spilling over the edge. But regular people can’t go there to see the edge because it’s highly guarded by secret international troops. Other flat Earth believers say that there is no edge, and that Earth is flat and goes on forever. Check out this fascinating story.

Published February 28, 2023 by Terence Hines

Bad Behavioral Science Exposed: Review of The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills by Jesse Singal

There is probably no other scientific discipline in which fads come and go so quickly, and with so much hype, as psychology. In his Quick Fix, Jesse Singal discusses eight different psychological ideas that have been promoted as quick fixes for different social problems. He refers to these as “half-baked” ideas—ideas that may not be 100 percent bunk but which are severely overhyped. This review of Singal’s book discusses the many different flawed studies that derailed psychology for years.

Published February 25, 2023 by Terence Hines

There is Only Entropy: Unifying the Narrative of Science

Entropy keeps the arrow of time moving; today is less ordered than yesterday, and this is certain. If we extrapolate this concept backwards, through our scientific narrative to the origins of the universe, then we must postdict a universe that was once ordered only through its lack of movement, which means it was frozen. But even then, as Galileo once said of the Earth, eppur si muove, but it does move. And if it moves, it creates heat, and understanding that creates a more coherent scientific narrative.

Published February 21, 2023 by Chris Edwards

Look! Up in the Sky… Chinese “Spy Balloon” Rekindles Memories of Earlier Panics and Feeds Anxieties About Space Aliens

A string of mysterious balloon sightings generates fear and excitement as thousands of anxious residents scan the skies to glimpse floating objects that are believed to emanate from a hostile foreign power. The Chinese spy balloon scare of 2023? No, the balloon panic of 1892 in Russian-occupied Poland. In this analysis of the history of balloon sightings Robert Bartholomew puts the Chinese spy balloon incident into perspective and shows why more such sightings are expected.

Published February 15, 2023 by Robert E. Bartholomew

Sex — Are We Doing It Right Yet? Reflections on the Ever-Evolving Sexual Revolution

In recent years a number of books written by women in their 30s reflect on their sexual histories in their 20s in a regretful way, deciding that the type of feminism that liberated women to have sex like men — carefree and commitment-free with a variety of partners and with no consequences — is perhaps not the best strategy inasmuch as women and men differ in their sexual psychology. In this article psychologist Carol Tavris evaluates this claim and how it comports with both science and feminism.

Published February 14, 2023 by Carol Tavris

Paradoxes of Religion and Science in the USA

Science and religion present two paradoxes in the United States. On the one hand, the U.S. is the undisputed world leader in science. Yet, the U.S. is also the wealthy industrialized country with the most widespread skepticism about science, most notably regarding climate change, vaccines, and evolution. How can those two seemingly incompatible facts be reconciled? This article solves this paradox.

Published February 11, 2023 by Jared Diamond, Carol Bakhos & Alex Joyce-Johnson

Why Nations Are Becoming More Secular

That the world in general and the United States in particular are becoming ever more secularized is no longer in dispute. The data are clear. The rise of the nones (no religious affiliation) is real. The hard question to answer is why. In this deep analysis of the many causal factors at work readers will learn about the long term trends that are likely to continue.

Published February 4, 2023 by Phil Zuckerman

Redefining Personhood and Abortion Rights: The Path Forward in a Post-Roe World

When does life begin? It is the question at the core of the abortion debate, and is the focus of this article that makes the case that abortion should be legal at the very least in the first trimester and into the second trimester, based on the science behind when a fetus becomes a sentient being and thus, arguably, a legal person. Legally, it is persons who are protected by laws, not potential persons in the form of a small cluster of cells in the early stages after conception.

Published February 3, 2023 by Gary Whittenberger

Can’t These People Read?

I keep seeing things that make me wonder, “Can’t these people read?” I get emails from people who say they liked what I had written about various subjects that I have never written about; for instance, food customs in other countries. Can’t these people read? What are they thinking? And when I write my weekly […]

Published January 31, 2023 by Harriet Hall, M.D.

You’re Not That Big a Star: Using the Science of Crowd Estimation to Debunk Extraordinary Estimates of Mega-Concerts

When people estimate the size of large crowds—from presidents and their inaugural addresses to rock stars and their concert audiences—we know that there can be a lot of blue sky exaggeration in the numbers. But how do professionals estimate crowd sizes using the latest tools of science and mathematics? In this article John D. Van Dyke reveals the secrets to estimating how many people are gathered in any one space.

Published January 28, 2023 by John D. Van Dyke
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