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Sheldon Helms

If you're over 30, the name Erin Brokavich likely conjures up images of a working-class hero, fighting for the cancer-ridden little guys against a Erin Brokavich (2000)Erin Brokavich (2000)corrupt multi-billion dollar corporation and winning millions for them.

Anyone who saw the eponymous film starring Julia Roberts and Albert Finny was likely wiping away joyful tears by the end, satisfied that the little guys had gotten justice because of this brave woman (who wasn't even a lawyer!). I count myself among the acolytes in those early years after the film's release. Since then, I've gotten new data. As a result, I've changed my mind....

The first person I ever heard question the Brokavich hero narrative was Michael Shermer in his book, Science Friction. In it, Shermer points out that it's highly statistically probab

During the holiday season, we usually start receiving messages about good cheer, Belinda CarlisleBelinda Carlislehope for the future, and volunteering to help those less fortunate. Even for those of us who are non-believers, it's a wonderful time of year.

Have you ever wondered what makes people "do good"?

The subject of Prosocial Behavior is something that social psychologists have a studied for many decades. And in the latest episode of the ShelShocked podcast, we talked about the research, told the story of Sempo Sugihara (aka, the Japanese Schindler), and even had an interview with pop star turned philanthropist, Belinda Carlisle, about her charity in Calcutta, India, "The Animal People Alliance."


Dear Fellow Skeptics:

I'm happy to announce that I've started a new podcast on science and skepticism called ShelShocked. My co-host for this endeavor is the lovely Amanda Devaus, of the Canberra Skeptics in Australia.

Each week, we'll bring you another one-hour program on a topic from science, skepticism, or a related topic. In our first episode, we discuss morality and bigotry, and even have a special interview with my friend Michael Shermer about his new book, "The Moral Arc."

Please CLICK HERE, and let us know if there's a topic you'd like us to cover in a future episode.

-- Sheldon

UPDATE: Due to job and other obligations, Amanda has left the podcst as co-host. She will check in from time to time to let us know what's going on in the skeptic community in Australia. In the meantime, I have found a new co-host in the form of psychologist (and Bay Area Skeptics member) Marilin Colón. Marilin has spoken at our SkepTalk events before, and is a valued member of the adjunct faculty at CSU East Bay, as well as Ohlone College.

Hey, all! The JREF announced yesterday the publication of a new critical thinking resource in the form of "Magic in the Classroom - Using Extraordinary Claims to Teach Critical Thinking," a FREE e-book.JREF eBookJREF eBook

It can be enjoyed by laypeople, but we're hoping it will also be picked up by educators and utilized in the classroom to encourage critical thinking. This book is the culmination of work by a dozen educators from numerous disciplines; I'm proud to say that three of the chapters are from me!

CLICK HERE to visit the download page. It's available in Kindle, iPad, and PDF.

One of the most annoying parts of the "world of woo" is people who claim to have psychic powers. Although none has ever actually shown evidence of this ability under strict observation, it's a multi-million dollar business, with some in the field becoming quite prominent. Chip Coffey may not be one of the biggest players, but he's had his 15 minutes of fame with A&E's "Psychic Kids" program and a few other television appearances. Operation Bumblebee (San Jose)Operation Bumblebee (San Jose) A group of us wanted to see whether we could trick him into communicating with dead people who don't actually exist. So after a lot of work and planning, we did just that.

Please CLICK HERE to be taken to my latest article on Randi's "Swift" blog. In it, I detail the success of this project, dubbed "Operation Bumblebee."

The brainchi

I hope that each person reading this article can, someday, have a weekend like the one I just experienced. It was, as the kids say, epic.An Honest LiarAn Honest Liar

Earlier this month, I got a message from my friend, the filmmaker Tyler Meason, letting me know that he’d be in San Francisco on Sunday, June 15th for the screening of “An Honest Liar,” the documentary he co-created with Justin Weinstein that chronicles the life of world-renowned magician and skeptic, James “The Amazing” Randi. I purchased tickets and said that I would see him there. A few weeks passed, and I got another message from Tyler, this time letting me know that James Randi himself would be attending the screening, and suggesting that I look into asking him to make an appearance for the Bay Area Skeptics.

Excited about the possibility, I was eventually able to contact Randi’s husband, the artist Deyvi Peña. As it turns out, Randi was delighted by the invitation, and agreed to show up to an informal meet-and-greet the day before the screening. I explained that this wou

Jon CarrollJon CarrollJon Carroll understands, promotes, and appreciates science, which we in the Bay Area can be grateful for. CLICK HERE to read Jon's excellent article in the SF Gate, "OMG, What Is In Your Drinking Water."

In this column he nails a Portland official for ridiculously draining 38 million gallons of water because someone allegedly urinated in it. That's 3 parts/billion: a lower level than permitted for arsenic. But read the rest of the article for a very satisfying description of how science works, why it's important to pay attention to it, and why "science is a linchpin of modern society". I sure wish he'd be willing to speak some year for SkeptiCal. (And do you have your ticket yet?)

Are you all "wrapped up" over the stress of the holiday season? If so, it may help to turn to science to make your holiday experience a bit less stressful...Happy HolidaysHappy Holidays

In my latest article on James Randi's "Swift" blog, I investigate some helpful tips from social science research that, if applied, can make your days a bit merrier and brighter.

Wondering how to buy that perfect gift for a loved one (or why others always seem to buy you things you don't like)? Hoping to avoid going into debt without disappointing the family? Trying to deal with the stress of holiday cooking using rather limited culinary skills? Then CLICK HERE to read my take on the psychology of the perfect holiday season.

After bringing home their colorful, sugar-laden bounty from a successful night of Trick or Treat, millions of AmericanHappy HalloweenHappy Halloween children will spend the coming weeks locked in a battle of wills with their parents over how much of the spoils they are allowed to enjoy, and how often they'll have access to it. One of the most common strategies parents employ, based upon a supposed connection between sugar and hyperactivity, will ensure that parents lose that battle...at least, in a scientific sense.

When kids are “bouncing off the walls,” it's not uncommon to hear parents call a temporary halt to all sugar consumption in an effort to save their sanity. One of the most pervasive myths in parenting, the belief that sugar promotes hyperactivity, this connection is solidified in the minds of millions of parents (Ghanizadeh & Zarei, 2010), reinforced at Halloween by one of the most persuasive types of evidence: their own children’s behavior. But, as we skeptics know, personal experience isn’t always the best indicator of reality. Let’s take a

Although most people can provide you with scarcely more detail about the human brain than its existence and approximate location, one Left-Brained / Right-BrainedLeft-Brained / Right-Brainedof the most popular brain-related facts they often report with great certainty is that they are either Left- or Right-Brained. More specifically, "Left-Brained" people describe themselves analytical and logical, with a penchant for mathematics, while the "Right-Brained" report being creative and emotive, with more artistic and intuitive personalities. These self-reports are fraught with problems…not the least of which is the fact that the entire notion of “Left-Brained” or “Right-Brained” people is complete bunk.

A quick Internet search for “Left-Brain/Right-Brain” tests results in literally thousands of options. A popular gimmick for team-building exercises and introductory psychology classes since at least the 1960s, these introspective measures almost always result in a personality type that the participant agrees with. That

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