SGU Episode 63

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SGU Episode 63
October 4th 2006
Darwinmatters.jpg
SGU 62 SGU 64
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
Guest
MS: Michael Shermer
Quote of the Week
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Voltaire
Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


Introduction[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

News Items[edit]

2007 Skepchick Calendar (3:58)[edit]

  • 2007 Skepchick and Skepdude Calendars now available
    www.skepchick.org/calendar/

Female arousal study (6:16)[edit]

Harry Potter ban (10:02)[edit]

Questions and E-mails[edit]

Cure for Autism (13:48)[edit]

Hello skeptical comrades,
I am an avid listener of about three months and I love the show, great job. I have a question concerning autism. My mother teaches at an elementary school and has dealt with many kinds on children. This year she has a student who supposedly has been cured of autism. Supposedly it was due to the purifying of his body of harmful metals. Here is a link to a site with the story:
healingautism.com/home.html
I am not all that convinced that it is true as my mom still thinks he posses autistic flags. However, I am not totally dismissing it as when I was young, and very sick, my mother took me off my medications as they were causing me to be very sick and weakening my immune system. She then gave me garlic pills and they were able to help me regain some of my immunity. So, is it possible to cure autism in this way? Or any way at all?

Calvin Ball
Las Vegas, Nevada


Article by Dr. Novella on Vaccines and Autism
www.theness.com/articles.asp?id=74

Bite your tongue (18:22)[edit]

Hi Guys (and Rebecca),

Love the show - keep up the great work!

My question is this: I'm working on my PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and am addicted to science. I come from a small town, and thought you guys might have some advice about how to deal with family members who believe in pseudoscience. My mother is the worst (I'm ashamed to admit she's purchased magnetic insoles for her shoes, and is now taking classes in reflexology). I find it very difficult to bite my tongue, but cannot find a way to discuss the claims without sounding condescending or disrespecting. It makes her happy and I don't want to crush her - as long as she's not scamming people, is there any harm to smiling and letting her talk about her newest psuedoscience craze?

Thanks so much,
Bonnie Marsick
Minneapolis, MN

Girl Excreting Glass (25:22)[edit]

Dr. Novella,

I learned of this article from a 'alternative' podcast regarding a young girl from Nepal who is allegedly excreting glass pieces from her forehead. (Not all skeptics exclusively listen to just their side of the science/paranormal divide.) I suspect a fraud. It does remind me of the recent tales of people in the United States who are alleged to emit pieces of thread from their skin. What could be next? People who perspire petrol? I thought you might find it of interest.

http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?nid=86844

Please keep up the excellent work. Your show is a real pleasure to listen to each week.

Howard Lewis
Hershey, PA

Name That Logical Fallacy (32:05)[edit]

  • Logical Fallacies
I came across this message on the web a while back. I suppose it is some kind of inspirational message, although it doesn't work very well for me. I thought you might like to use it in one of your 'Name That Logical Fallacy' segments, since it seems to be a pretty typical example of the shoddy reasoning used by a lot of people. One of my (Christian) friends actually thought it was very insightful, which is why I find it interesting: it's something that seems reasonable from a distance, but that perception disappears when you look at the details.

'Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark, and a large group of professionals built the Titanic.'

Thanks,
Peter Murawski
Waterloo, Canada

Interview with Michael Shermer (34:12)[edit]

  • Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at Caltech, and the co-host and producer of the 13-hour Fox Family television series, Exploring the Unknown. He is the author of In Darwin's Shadow, about the life and science of the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. He also wrote The Borderlands of Science, about the fuzzy land between science and pseudoscience, and Denying History, on Holocaust denial and other forms of historical distortion. His book How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, presents his theory on the origins of religion and why people believe in God. He is also the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, a book that was widely and positively reviewed and landed on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list as well as the New Sciences science books bestseller list in England. Dr. Shermer is also the author of Teach Your Child Science and co-authored Teach Your Child Math and Mathemagics.

    He is with us to talk about his latest book, Why Darwin Matters.

    Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State Univesity, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate School. Since his creation of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and the Skeptics Lecture Series at Caltech, he has appeared on such shows as 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Sally, Lezza, Unsolved Mysteries, and other shows as a skeptic of weird and extraordinary claims, as well as on documentaries aired on A & E, Discovery, and The Learning Channel

    The Skeptics Society: www.skeptic.com

Randi Speaks (56:27)[edit]

  • The Uncompromising Observations of a Veteran Skeptic

    Each week James Randi gives a skeptical commentary in his own unique style.

    This week's topic: Business Astrology

S: And now, Randi Speaks.

JR: Hello. This is James Randi. There exists in Denmark a very interesting organization: The International Society for Business Astrology. This group is headed by a woman named Karen Boesen; that's B-O-E-S-E-N if you want to look it up on our website. Karen has been engaged in an ongoing battle for years now with a fellow named Mogens Winther, who is a high-school teacher in Denmark and a frequent correspondent of mine. Perhaps I need not tell you that Mogens is, well, not exactly supportive of Karen's work; in fact, he thinks that astrology, as I do, is just nonsense. I have some correspondence in front of me here that he engaged in with Karen, and some of the claims made by her and by her association are pretty startling, even for astrologers. You see, the work of the ISBA is devoted entirely to the use of astrology in business. They say, for example, that they're able to judge who's suited for a job or not merely by looking at the job applicant's horoscope. Now, that's not so bad; that's what all astrologers say: they can tell these wonderful things by looking at the alignment of the stars with the planets, et cetera. But for the JREF challenge, we wanted to test a rather different quality of astrology. For example, Mr. Winther quoted U.S. astrologer Linda Goodman, who we haven't heard much of lately, as saying that Pisces depend on lies, drugs, or alcohol. That would seem to be something more fundamental that we could examine. But perhaps a little too hairy, because we might have to insult some people. Actually, for the ISBA, the International Society of Business Astrologers, we suggested pitting their abilities against some high-school students in Denmark to see who would do a better job. A Viennese astrologer named Manfred Zimmel decided that he'd take us up on it and we started to make arrangements for a test. Well, a bit of a kink was put in the operation of the ISBA. When the minister of works in Denmark declared that people couldn't be given a job or be kept out of a job based on their horoscope. In fact, it was declared illegal to ask anybody about their star sign and/or what the planets might be doing in the heavens. As Mogens wrote to Karen, "further, the work ethical council is keeping an open eye on business astrology. At least one union has publicly announced that they will take a case to court to test the latter point, as soon as they get any possibility of doing so." And then he asked an interesting question: "why should your stuff"—astrology, that is—"be any better than the old German Reich's phrenology, the pseudoscience judging people by, for example, the distance between their eyes?" There were other factors, too, as Mogens pointed out. The nose profile, the eyebrows, the shape of the fingers, for example. One of the ISBA's astrologers even published a whole paper saying the Capricorns could be recognized on their easily visible overbite; that is, the protruding of front teeth. Course, as he said to Karen, "you will still claim that your pseudoscience, astrology, is the very truth itself, much better off than phrenology or similar stuff. Now this was back in May of 1998. We still haven't heard anything from Mr. Zimmel. What happened to him, I wonder? Why a Karen Boesen herself or perhaps a whole board that she could appoint a committee, perhaps, of astrologers. That sounds powerful, doesn't it? Why they couldn't do it, I really don't know. I tell you these details because you should know how difficult the work of the JREF really is. We have a hard time keeping anybody pointed in the right direction. To get them to stay with the project long enough to get it done seems almost impossible. Now I don't think we'll ever hear from Mr. Zimmel again, nor will we probably hear from Karen Boesen anymore, unless this particular sound-byte gets her excited enough to jump up and down and send something off to Mogens Winther. Ah, but we have some very interesting people coming out. One gentleman says that if you hang a weight on the end of a string, and you put it in front of him... ah, but I see I've run out of time. That'll wait 'til next week. Thanks for the use of the hall. This is James Randi.

Science or Fiction (1:01:38)[edit]

Question #1: Researchers are developing a 'protective' virus that they claim with prevent or treat any strain of the flu. Question #2: As if it did not have enough uses, new research now shows that aspirin is an effective treatment for cancer. Question #3: New study published in the Journal of Nutrition finds that chocolate chip cookies are as effective as prescription drugs in treating major depression.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:11:21)[edit]

Last week's Puzzle:

A ash-bark perpetual motion machine was conceived a very long time ago.

Who proposed it?

(Hint: the answer lies within the statement itself.)

Answer: Bashkara

Quote of the Week (1:12:06)[edit]

'Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.'- Voltaire

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @ theskepticsguide.org'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.

References[edit]


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