Sometimes we know in advance that someone of interest to skeptics will be coming to the Bay Area, and sometimes we have to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity. One such opportunity came up on Saturday, July 23, 2011, when YouTube video producer-extraordinaire Thunderf00t was our guest at Skeptics in the Pub. About 25 people were able to attend on short notice at Jupiter, in downtown Berkeley, for conversation, food, and drink. Thunderf00t has produced a series of YouTube videos which have been viewed by hundreds of thousands. His series, "Why people laugh at creationists", is widely considered a useful (and entertaining) compendium of refutations to creationist arguments. It alone has received millions of hits. We had a good time talking about the varieties of science topics Thunderf00t's site considers. BAS hopes to take advantage of other visitors; please let us know if you know of any person of skeptical interest coming to town. -- Genie Scott
The Textbook League fought pseudoscience and other idiocy in pre-college textbooks for the last few decades. The human part of the League is disbanding, but stalwart ichthyologist Bill Bennetta is personally keeping their website online: http://www.textbookleague.org . Their reference material remains available even though they no longer send experts galloping to assorted rescues.
Although we try at the BAS website to blog about Bay Area issues, sometimes national issues are so important they swamp our local focus. The issue of cell phone radiation and cancer is one of them. Of course, as members of society, Bay Area residents are tuned into this controversy as well, so perhaps it is not inappropriate to comment on it. Do cell phones cause brain cancer? There is no epidemiological evidence to suggest the link, only anecdote (and two anecdotes, despite the common practice in the press, do not constitute "data"). Is there a reason to suspect that cell phone radiation -- close to the brain, and in the case of many heavy cell phone users, as much as several hours/day -- might be dangerous? Well, no. Not according to basic physics. Few people have been as clear on this issue as beloved skeptic Bob Park (though the irascible Park would probably grump about being termed "beloved", but it's true!) Author of "Voodoo Science" and
by Norman Sperling, May 15, 2011 Some substances that are usually regarded as having no effect actually do have effects. * Water, as in homeopathic treatments. * Placebos, as in medical tests and treatments. I have seen homeopathic treatments strongly criticized as being useless and having no effect, because they’re "only" water. Yet water itself has many effects. * Peeing usually makes you feel better. * Drinking a lot of water is recommended for several medical and nutritional situations. It is suspected to dilute or flush precipitates that would otherwise form painful kidney stones, for example. * And drinking a lot is often recommended in treating colds and other illnesses. So plain old water, whether labeled homeopathic or not, CAN have effects. "Placebo" is Latin for "I make you feel good". That’s an effect, not the absence of one. (By that centuries-old definition, boyfriends and girlfriends are placebos.) In the last half century, "placebo"’s definition and applications have changed importantly several times, but discussions rarely specify which version is meant. Always check just what speakers and writers mean by the term. Placebos are rarely neutral and rarely have zero effects. Many different substances that have been used as placebos have known effects. * Sugar, as in "sugar pills", makes people feel better. Huge quantities of sugary
Did you know you can balance an egg on the Equinox?! Wow!! And this year, with the gravitational pull of the "super Moon", or something, the powers should be even stronger, or something, and eggs should be balanceable even more easily! Well, the Bay Area Skeptics in the Pub for March 19 -- OK, the day BEFORE the actual card-carrying equinox -- found egg balancing possible, but something of a chore. This picture shows three eggs balanced at the same time, which I think was a record. The dozen eggs we had to work with seemed almost symmetrical, with none of the "bottom heavy" morphology most eggs have. Balancing them was much more difficult than other eggs at previous BAS spring rituals. At the next SitP, we'll try again to balance eggs, and I'll report back. (Because indeed, one can balance eggs on the Equinox, and any other day, as well. Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog discusses Martin Gardner's history of how this Chinese folk ritual became an American urban legend:
Anyone interested in the scandalous story of Andrew Wakefield, whose paper in the British journal Nature and further activities have spurred the antivaccination movement, would be interested in Adam Rutherford's report on BBC Radio 4. The second part of the series airs tonight, March 24. Here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zm328
Friends, you will enjoy an excellent column by John Carroll on March 2, 2011. Link is here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/28/DDTE1I0BVH.DTL We need lots more journalistic efforts like this to help the public understand that no, science does not know all the answers (it isn't a list of completed explanations), rather, it's a process that ends up (often) with our asking a lot more questions than we began with. Furthermore, it's really exciting that there are so many things yet to learn. And scientists aren't upset having to say, "I don't know yet." Check it out.
The demonstrators wore white t-shirts with ???1023 Homeopathy: There???s Nothing In It??? emblazoned in blue. One demonstrator, Athena, had blue hair to match. We assembled at the corner of Franklin & California Streets in San Francisco with a banner & leaflets to protest the marketing of homeopathic ???remedies??? by Whole Foods, CVS, Walgreens, and others. Similar and simultaneous demonstrations were taking place in 22 other cities on all seven continents around the planet. We passed out the small information leaflets, took pictures of each other, and chatted in uncharacteristically warm weather. Among the demonstrators were folk from The Exploratorium, the California Academy of Science, Atheist Nexus, Reason 4 Reason, East Bay Skeptics Society, two board members from the Bay Area Skeptics, miscellaneous skeptics, scientists, programmers, and students. At 10:23 AM, we all quaffed ???over-doses??? of homeopathic remedies ??? sort of. Since ???real??? homeopathic fake medicine costs ???r
Relayed from Jay Diamond, slightly enriched by Norman Sperling, January 27, 2011 Homeopathy is a popular but widely misunderstood form of alternative "medicine" based on pseudo-scientific principles. Homeopathic "remedies" are allegedly made by diluting questionable remedies with extraordinaryamounts of water - often until there is only a slight chance of one molecule of active ingredient in the final treatment. Extraordinary claims are causing consumers to forego traditional medical treatment, with estimates of Americans spending >$3B per year on this pseudoscience. Stand up for rational thinking and scientific evidence. For more on the 10:23 campaign or homeopathy see http://1023.org.uk . Why 10:23? Think Avogadro's Number. After the event, go to Trader Joe's and enjoy their delicious "Avocado's Number Guacamole". San Francisco, February 5 You are invited to join like-minded skeptics in San Francisco on Saturday morning, February 5, to take part in the worldwide 10:23 campaign to raise awareness on this issue. Demonstrate, supply information, and perform a mass "overdose" to garner attention for this cause. For more information on participation in the San Francisco event, send e-mail to: email@example.com . You MU
My colleague snapped this picture on the way to work this morning. You will find it in Berkeley, on Solano Avenue, near the Oaks Theater. I suppose if there were a place that needed saving, it would be Berkeley, but it also seems a place rather unlikely to take Camping's pronouncements seriously. The worry in all such EOTWAWKI (end of the world as we know it) predictions is that some poor souls DO take such predictions seriously, in the face of failure after failure. But people have been known to sell their homes, give away their belongings, even commit suicide -- and even take the lives of their loved ones. Only to wake up the morning after believing that "there was a miscalculation".