The Voynich Manuscript is just as good a story now as when I first read about it 50 years ago. If you're not familiar with Voynich ManuscriptVoynich Manuscript it, Wikipedia's article hits the highlights, and its bibliography gives a number of ways to dig deeper.

The Voynich Manuscript was probably written in the early 1400s, probably in Europe, possibly in Northern Italy. Most of it resembles an herbal (though the plants are unrecognizable), plus sections whose pictures suggest astrology and pharmacy, plus lots of naked and clothed women (only the naked ones get mentioned much), and less-understandable illustrations and pure-text pages. The text appears to be written in a cipher, which has tantalized and taunted people since the 1500s. No one has ever cracked it.

Not only is this book truly, deeply weird, so are several of t


Your Beliefs Are Malleable

As some of you may recall, I was recently asked to join the James Randi Educational Foundation's "Education Initiative," JREF LogoJREF Logowhose purpose is to promote teaching of critical thinking and skepticism.

My second article, entitled "Your Beliefs are Malleable," was recently posted. Its topic is cognitive dissonance, and it focuses on how it can be applied to teaching students to evaluate their beliefs in a more rational way.

CLICK HERE to check it out.


Dr. Mehmet Oz's November 28th, 2012 episode is bringing him Dr. Mehmet OzDr. Mehmet Ozgrief due to its investigation of so-called "Ex-Gay" therapies, techniques designed to help someone change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight.

On the episode were Julie Hamilton, a representative of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (or NARTH), as well as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), who said later that they were not aware that NARTH would be represented, and that they would not have participated had they known.

NARTH's claim that individuals can change their sexual orientation was one of the main topics of my recent talk for the Bay Area Skeptics, and the scientific community (The American Psychology Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The National Association of Social Workers, among many others) strongly condemn these practices as ineffective, unsupported by


November’s SkepTalk provided the perfect opportunity to Minda Berbeco, PhDMinda Berbeco, PhDintroduce to the Bay Area Skeptics the newest member of the NCSE family, Dr. Minda Berbeco.

As their new Programs and Policy Director, Dr. Berbeco works to defend science education in the United States using experience she has culled from a career investigating the effects of climate change on terrestrial systems. Her investigation of the unexpected and unusual effects of climate change on biological organisms was the focus of her talk this month for the BAS.

Dr. Berbeco began her presentation by surveying the audience about their knowledge of the effects of global climate change. Answers included such things as extreme weather, the endangerment of wildlife, a rise in global sea levels, etc. After pointing out how the audience’s feedback suggested a good working knowledge of the effects of global warming, as well as the disparate areas of concern, Dr. Berbeco announced that she would concentrate her talk on a few specific examples through which she hoped to reveal some of the key concerns s


On Wednesday, October 10th, the Bay Area Skeptics hosted an entertaining and Liza GrossLiza Grossinformative one-hour talk by Liza Gross, a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes for numerous organizations, including the open-access biomedical journal PLoS Biology where she is a senior editor, KQED's QUEST (for which she recently interviewed our own Eugenie Scott), and several other publications. She writes about wildlife, ecology and evolution, conservation, environmental health, science policy, and many other topics.

Her talk, entitled “Writing about Vaccines When Evidence Doesn't Matter,” examined not only the claims made by people who speak out against the use of vaccines, but also the media’s role in providing them a platform for their sometimes dangerous fringe views.

Ms. Gross’ talk began with a somewhat humorous clip from “When Worlds Collide,” a 1951 science fiction film


He was the biggest force in late-1900s skepticism. Paul Kurtz was considered a legendary figure among Paul KurtzPaul KurtzAmerican humanists, atheists, and skeptics alike. For 50 years, he worked to advance a secular view of life and of society. His influence and presence in the skeptical community shall be sorely missed. CLICK HERE to read a wonderful memorial biography of Paul Kurtz by Hemant Mehta (from The Friendly Atheist). And CLICK HERE to read the Center for Inquiry's obituary.

On the evening of Friday, October 12th, the Ohlone Psychology Dr. Carol TavrisDr. Carol TavrisClub Speaker Series continued its three-year tradition of providing top-name speakers in science and skepticism by hosting renowned social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris. Dr. Tavris’ talk was based upon her book “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” which she co-wrote with Elliot Aronson. The book focuses on cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon in which we feel uncomfortable due to conflicting behaviors, opinions, thoughts, or beliefs. Coined by Leon Festinger, one of the true geniuses in the field of psychology, the influence of cognitive dissonance on our behavior is one of the most powerful, yet least recognized, phenomena. Festinger’s now-classic 1956 book, “When Prophecy Fails,” brought th

Sheldon HelmsSheldon Helms On September 12th, 2012, Bay Area Skeptics was delighted to be present for Professor Sheldon Helms’ presentation entitled Gay Conversion Therapy: You Make Me Sick. Sheldon’s presentation was particularly timely because on September 29th, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1172, which protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) minors from "reparative" therapies administered by mental health professionals aimed at altering sexual orientation or gender identities and expressions. Governor Brown was quoted as stating that such misguided an unscientific psychotherapy “will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery…This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide.” As overdue as this new law was, it will sadly and tragically not prevent amateur therapists with a religiously rigid orientation on what constitutes “acceptable” sexual expression and sexual identity from infl

Compliments to the San Francisco Chronicle for an article reviewing evidence that Vitamin C doesn't prevent colds, but may reduce symptoms. http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Vitamin-C-may-shorten-cold-not-stop... Back in the 1970s, largely on the word of Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, consuming massive dosages (up to 10 grams/day) of Vitamin C was promoted as being a preventive for the common cold. Although Pauling was a respected scientist in molecular biology, winning the Nobel for his research on chemical bonds, his research on the role of large quantities of nutrients as disease preventives or curatives was strongly criticized, and replications of his research were largely unsuccessful. A Wikipedia article presents many references on this topic, FYI, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_Pauling#Molecular_medicine.2C_medical... . But kudos to the Chron for helping to get out the word. Alas, there have been many examples of more credulous repo

Your Nervous System Can Fool You I was recently asked to join the James Randi Educational Foundation's "Education Initiative," whose purpose is to promote JREF LogoJREF Logothe teaching of critical thinking and skepticism. As part of this effort, I will be writing articles geared toward teachers, offering them tips on how they can encourage reason and scientific literacy... Please CLICK HERE to read the first in my five-part series called "The Top 5 Lessons from Psychology for Critical Thinkers" published on the James Randi Educational Foundation's SWIFT web site. Titled "Your Nervous System Can Fool You," this article briefly provides some tips for teaching people not to trust their own personal experiences as valid evidence. It contains several links to web sites that can be used to demonstrate pareidolic effects, and references for helping people understand how they are created. Enjoy!

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