It's been a busy time for Bay Area Skeptics. There was a large San Francisco Bay Area skeptics contingent at the recent The Amaz!ng Meeting. This is the critical thinking conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation held annually in Las Vegas. We have also revived our SF Bay Area Skeptics lecture series. This commenced with "Are We Alone?", a fascinating talk by Dan Werthimer, Chief Scientist of the SETI@home project at the University of California, Berkeley. We've also been holding regular Skeptics in the Pub events throughout the Bay Area; including a night with Skeptics' Guide to the Universe's Jay Novella, and Skeptical Inquirer's Ben Radford. We're planning some exciting guests for our future events. Visit this site and check out our Facebook group for upcoming talks and pub nights. See you at one of our lectures or Skeptics in the Pub events soon!
There are still signs posted on telegraph poles throughout the Bay Area, seeking information about missing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu who disappeared from outside her home in Tracy, CA, on March, 27. Tragically, we now know that the little girl was murdered. As reported in Inside Bay Area, Los Angeles-based psychic Dani Pedlow claims that she assisted Tracy police in solving the case. Pedlow asserts that she predicted the location where the little girl's body would be found. For this supposed assistance, she believes she is entitled to a portion of a $30,000 reward. Pedlow sent a letter to the Tracy Police Department, telling them so. However, Tracy Police deny that Pedlow contacted them for anything more than the reward, "We never reviewed or utilized any information from a psychic during this investigation," Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said. This is fortunate, since there is no historical evidence to suggest that psychic detectives
Daniel Loxton of "Junior Skeptic" fame (http://www.skeptic.com/junior_skeptic/) with the assistance of 13 prominent skeptics, has prepared a document intended to encourage skeptics to become "skeptical activists", sharing their ideas about science, skepticism, evaluations of the paranormal, etc. Skeptical activism, in the opinion of the authors, is something all of us can engage in, with positive results for critical thinking, and the appreciation of science. A "bulleted list" of the points can be found on the Skeptics site at http://www.skeptic.com/?article=WhatDoIDoNext To see the full document, go to another link on the Skeptics site http://www.skeptic.com/downloads/WhatDoIDoNext.pdf Feedback is solicited at the Skeptic forum
armers are turning to water witching during the long Californian drought. The drought has lasted for two years so far, and desperate farmers are seeking assistance from dowsers in Firebaugh, near Fresno. Water witching, better known as water divining or water dowsing, is the practice of locating water, metal, lost objects or people using sticks, wires, rods, pendulums or other instruments. By any name, with any device, it has never been proven to work. The supposed success rate of dowsers is "100%", but the evidence is anecdotal. Not what I would want to rely on before spending thousands of dollars digging the earth on a "hunch". The dowser's responses are best explained scientifically as the Ideomotor Effect. Water Diving tests have been the staple claim of the James Randi Educational Foundation's
Happy 200th (posthumous) Birthday to Charles Darwin. He doesn't look a day over 190... This year marks the 200th year since Darwin was born, on February 12, 1809. Celebrating this date, known as Darwin Day, is celebrating science, skepticism and humanity; and most of all, our better understanding of the way the world works. This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the evolutionary biologist's seminal work, On the Origin of Species. To celebrate these two anniversaries, there are festivities throughout the world, and of course, across the Bay Area. The festivities have already begun, with a lecture by our own Dr Genie Scott at the University of California Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley. The event was extremely popular! On Sunday 8, 2009 the tireless Genie will be also be speaking at Evolutionpalooza!, a Darwin Day celebration to be held at San Francisco Main Branch Public Library. There will be other speakers, guests, games, drinks, and cake! On Darwin Day itself, there will be an informal lecture at the California Academy of Sciences
Janet Adams plead "no contest" to charges of fraud. BAS reported the self-described psychic's arrest in December, 2008. Adams originally plead not guilty, but prosecutors threatened to add fraud charges on behalf of two other victims, and Adams agreed to accept a jail term of up to six years and to make restitution to all three victims. The case filed against her involved an elderly woman who gave Adams $80,330 based on promises that it would keep the victim's husband from dying, and would avert harm to other people. According to the Oakland Tribune: A number of victims approached police after Adams' Dec. 18 arrest, but prosecutors could only press charges in cases with "intrinsic fraud," [San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve] Wagstaffe said. "When you get a quid pro quo ??? 'your husband will die if you don't give me money,' what she's saying is, 'I will prevent it from happening,' and that's the falsehood," Wagstaffe said. "She can't prevent the husband from dying in two weeks unless she has some powers we don't know about." If that was the case, "she probably wouldn't have pleaded no contest," Wagstaffe added. Robert Byers, Adams' attorney, took a less skeptic
"Wonderfest" is an annual Bay Area science festival featuring talks and discussions about science. Held in the fall on adjacent days at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley, the 2008 Wonderfest was particularly well attended. For those of you who were unable to attend, you now can see three of the discussions online. Go to www.wonderfest.org to see Does Anything Happen at Random? A discussion between Persi Diaconis, Prof. of Statistics & Mathematics, Stanford and Daniel Fisher, Prof. of Applied Physics, Stanford Will Genetics Allow Us to Revive Extinct Species? A discussion between Ronald Davis, Prof. of Biochemistry & Genetics, Stanford and David Haussler, Prof. of Biomolecular Engineering, UC Santa Cruz Are Dreams Psychologically Significant? A discussion between William Dement, Prof. of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, Stanford and Sharon Keenan, Founder, School of Sleep Medicine, Palo Alto
Couldn't make it to Tuesday's Ask a Scientist lecture on Bigfoot? Well, eventually you'll be able to watch it on fora.tv, but until then, here's a bit of blog coverage to tide you over: The Snitch (SF Weekly): Ask a Scientist: Sorry, Bigfoot Probably Doesn't Exist. But If He Did, He Would Be Taller Than a Bear Metousiosis: Science Cafe: Eugenie Scott — Bigfoot and Other Wild Men of the Forest There was also a negative post from someone who didn't actually attend, and it makes for a glorious game of Conservative Bingo: -San Francisco bashing -insulting a woman's appearance -confusing separation of church and state with anti-religiousness -assuming morality requires religion -invoking
BAS member and skeptical satirist, Paul DesOrmeaux, has published a new article, "The Evolution of Intelligent Design," in the Skeptical Briefs newsletter. He presents a concise, chronological, and arbitrary timeline that more or less accurately presents the history and ???facts??? behind the development of creationism, creation, science, intelligent design, and more importantly, scientific illiteracy. He claims that the article???s contents have been painstakingly researched, and for all intents and purposes, the information provided is ???hysterically??? correct. You be the judge. The article is available at cnyskeptics.org with permission from the Editor of Skeptical Briefs.
Senator Claiborne Pell passed away on New Year's day. The 90 year-old former Senator from Rhode Island is fondly remembered by the tens of millions of students who have been able to go to college thanks to the financial aid grants named in his honor. Skeptics have their own reason to mourn the six-term Senator. He earned the nickname "Senator Oddball" from Time magazine for his obsession with ESP. The Washington Post's obituary explains that he earned the moniker because of:
a 1987 incident when, fearing an extrasensory perception gap with the Soviets, he invited carnival-level spoon bender Uri Geller to Washington to demonstrate his skills. Sen. Pell also attended a symposium on UFO abductions.In addition, Pell hired a Senate staffer to investigate ESP.
During the 1990 campaign, the aide played speeches by Bush and other high officials on the topic of Iran backward. In doing so, Sen. Pell informed the secretary of defense, the word "Simone" had been discerned, and he described this as "a code word that would not be in the national interest to be known." "It sounds wacky but there may be some merit to it," Sen. Pell commented. He told an interviewer later that the "Simone" issue "had not been helpful in t