Sheldon Helms

The Roots of Bigotry…

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important figures in the struggle for Civil Rights in theMartin Luther King, JrMartin Luther King, Jr U.S., took part in the March on Washington in 1963, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with which he would become so closely associated, and widely considered to be one of the best and most important speeches of the 20th century.

To honor this man and his legacy, I thought it might be useful to discuss racism, or more broadly, the phenomenon that powers it, bigotry.


To many people, it seems quite obvious that “intolerance toward those who are different, or who hold different views” is learned. After all, schoolchildren of different races can be South Pacific

As some of you know, know, I attended the 11th annual Amazing Meeting (TAM) put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation. And my friend Celeste joined me there -- I gotta give her props for taking the TAM 2013 - Fighting the FakersTAM 2013 - Fighting the Fakerslead, actually -- she signed up immediately upon discovering such an event took place, while I hemmed and hawed and tried to justify the expense. So glad I succumbed to reason and finally bought my ticket!

This year's theme was "Fighting the Fakers" and emphasis was on psychics, woo alternative med practices, and other ways human beings have found to trick dollars out of pockets without providing any real service. James "The Amazing" Randi, who calls himself an investigator rather than a "debunker," has been a skeptical hero of mine for years and has inspired, trained, and influenced just about every professional skeptic and legitimate paranormal investigator working today (and no, the ghost h

In the past several days, I have received numerous emails and Facebook messages from people asking if I have heard the latestAlan ChambersAlan Chambers developments in the ongoing saga over the work of Exodus International, the world’s largest “ex-gay” organization. This is, in large part, due to the talk I gave last September on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) in which I highlighted the dangers posed by this pseudoscience, and told the history of Exodus’ failed attempts to change people from gay to straight.

In short, current Exodus International president, Alan Chambers, posted an article on their web site in which he expressed a desire to apologize for any hurt he and his organization may have caused gay men and women, and announced that Exodus would no longer engage in SOCE. Oddly worded, and strangely lacking in what I

I See...A MarshmallowI See...A MarshmallowSome 40 years ago, in the early 1970s, Stanford University psychology professor Walter Mischel published a groundbreaking study testing children’s self-control and delayed gratification. In the study, children were presented with a treat (sometimes a marshmallow, but pretzels and chocolate were also used) and told that they could eat the treat now, or wait until the adult returned, at which point they would be given two treats. The original purpose of the study was to determine the age at which children develop the ability to delay gratification, but follow-up studies revealed something much more meaningful and shocking.

The impetus for Mischel’s study was one he published in 1958, involving children in Trinidad. On the island, stereotypes existed about different ethnic groups' recklessness and other behavioral tendencies. Mischel performed a small study involving about 50 children from Black and East Indian families, giving them a small treat, but prom

When skeptics read a headline like “Vinegar Saves Thousands from Cancer Death,” their defenses are doubtless on red alert. After Vinegar vs PapVinegar vs Papall, a new quack medicine or procedure for cancer treatment seems to appear in the media every other week. But when I clicked on a link today reporting this very connection between household vinegar and cervical cancer, what I found amazed me.

This time, the story was true.

Cervical cancer is a killer. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the U.S. about 12,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. About 1/3 of those die. As with all cancers, the most effective treatment requires early detection through regular screening, the most common of which is the Pap test, a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and examined under a microscope for abnormalities. It is used to detect cancer and changes that may lead to cancer. Unfortunately screening costs money, and in the po

Earlier this month, on May 6th, 2013, three young women were rescued from captivity after 9 to 11 years as kidnap victims. Louwana Berry / Sylvia BrowneLouwana Berry / Sylvia BrowneAmanda Berry, Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were living in a house owned by Ariel Castro, one of three men charged with abducting the girls and holding them as sex slaves. Also released was a 6-year old girl, Berry's daughter, whom DNA results have shown to be Castro's biological child.

What makes this story particularly interesting and frustrating for those of us in the Skeptical Community?...

During an appearance on the Montel Williams Show, self-described psychic Sylvia Browne told Berry's mother, Louwana, that her daughter was dead.

In that "reading," Browne said that she saw the girl in wat

Thousands were shocked in recent days to read of a 16 year old girl, Keira Wilmot, who was reportedly arrested for a failed science experiment which caused a small explosion and ended with the young girl being Kiera WilmotKiera Wilmotarrested and charged with “possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property.” A conviction could have meant a five-year prison term, triggering Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of blogs to virtually explode with comments and requests to write to school and law enforcement officials to complain. An online crowdfund even netted an $8,000 legal defense fund, and a petition on that attracted over 195,000 signators.

But could there be more to this story than meets the eye?

Brief explanations in initial reports described Ms. Wilmot's mishap as part of a "science experiment gone wrong," but details were lacking. Many simply hinted at incorrect mixtures of chemicals, or bad timing. Later articles mentio

Your Common Sense Can Fail You

JREF LogoJREF LogoMy third article for the James Randi Educational Foundation's "Education Initiative," whose purpose is to promote teaching of critical thinking and skepticism, has been posted. Please take a look if you get a moment.

In this article, I try to convince readers that common sense is not a good replacement for scientific inquiry, and provide a few examples that teachers of critical thinking can use.

CLICK HERE to read it.

Please join me on Monday, April 1st at 7 pm for the Ohlone College Psychology Club Speaker Series' presentation of "Bryan & Baxter: What THEY Don't Want You to Know," a fun-filled one hour romp Bryan & BaxterBryan & Baxterthrough some of Bryan & Baxter's investigations of paranormal claims.

Bryan & Baxter operate out of in Denver, CO, and have investigated the claims of dozens of haunted houses and businesses, cryptozoological creatures, possessions, etc. Their presentation will include a demonstration of the ideomotor effect, video clips from some of their more entertaining investigations, and even a live "exorcism" on stage!

Tickets are $15 for general admission ($10 for students with ID), and can be purchased by

As some of you may recall, I recently hosted James Randi at Ohlone College, where he delivered a wonderfully entertaining An Honest LiarAn Honest Liartalk on “Prophecy, Divination, and Faith Healing” to an adoring overflow crowd.

That weekend, I was lucky to also spend time with a film crew who were making a documentary about Randi’s life entitled “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story.” Heading up this endeavor are Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein, both talented and accomplished documentary filmmakers. Since that time, Tyler and Justin have kept in touch, and they recently wrote to ask that I help spread the word about their new approach toward completing this important, and no doubt entertaining, work.


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