Mike Sutton is a meta-skeptic. He debunks skeptics who use myths to debunk myths.
From a FiveThirtyEight article by Daniel Engber:
In 2014, a Norwegian anthropologist named Ole Bjorn Rekdal published an examination of how the decimal-point myth had propagated through the academic literature. He found that bad citations were the vector. Instead of looking for its source, those who told the story merely plagiarized a solid-sounding reference: “(Hamblin, BMJ, 1981).” Or they cited someone in between — someone who, in turn, had cited Hamblin. This loose behavior, Rekdal wrote, made the transposed decimal point into something like an “academic urban legend,” its nested sourcing more or less equivalent to the familiar “friend of a friend” of schoolyard mythology.
Emerging from the rabbit hole, Sutton began to puzzle over what he’d found. This wasn’t just any sort of myth, he decided, but something he would term a “supermyth”: A story concocted by respected scholars and then credulously disseminated in order to promote skeptical thinking and “to help us overcome our tendency towards credulous bias.” The convolution of this scenario inspired him to look for more examples. “I’m rather a sucker for such complexity,” he told me.
I don't know any meta-meta-skeptics, but I imagine we'll meet some in the comments. Read the rest
When Mark Tilbrook politely and peacefully distributed leaflets at venues where "psychic" Sally Morgan was performing, her son and husband threatened to beat him up (and even to have him murdered), uttered homophobic and racist slurs, and, eventually, served him with a legal threat. Read the rest
Back in February, a Texas forensic scientist announced that she'd identified a DNA sample from Bigfoot and had sequenced the creature's genome. Now the sequences have been released for wider scrutiny and Ars Technica's John Timmer had a chance to dig into the data and speak with the discoverer of the possible Bigfoot genome. This is a story that, I think, everybody can enjoy — a skeptical analysis that's respectful to the Bigfoot researchers and genuinely interested in understanding where the DNA in question came from and what the genome sequences can tell us. Read the rest
Next week, I'll be speaking at the SkepTech Conference, a new gathering put together by University of Minnesota students. The lineup features some great folks from the science and skeptic communities, including bloggers PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoonist Zach Weinersmith. Registration is free. Come check it out! Read the rest
In the arsenal of eternal skeptics there are few tools more dramatically and more commonly used than Ockham’s razor. It is triumphantly applied to resolve arguments about ghosts (more parsimoniously seen as misperceptions by distraught family members or the suggestible), UFOs (evidently hoaxes and mistaken observations of natural phenomena) and telepathy (a “delusion” of wishful thinking and poorly-constructed tests).
Born in England, Franciscan monk William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347) is among the most prominent figures in the history of philosophy during the High Middle Ages. The Skeptics Dictionary quotes the Razor as Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, or “plurality should not be posited without necessity," while Wikipedia defines Ockham's razor as follows:
“Among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
And it gives the following example of its application:
“It is possible to describe the other planets in the Solar System as revolving around the Earth, but that explanation is unnecessarily complex compared to the contemporary consensus that all planets in the Solar System revolve around the Sun.”
Another often-quoted formulation of the principle is that “one should not multiply entities beyond necessity.”
Brother Ockham, however, said nothing of the kind. Later philosophers have put these words into his mouth for their own convenience. Read the rest
In 2010, Boing Boing wrote about about James "The Amazing" Randi coming out of the closet as a gay man. Coming from the famed exposer-of-deception, many found his honesty inspirational. Then, in September of 2011, his live-in partner of 25 years, Jose Alvarez - the man who famously adopted the persona of "Carlos" for their "Carlos Hoax" - was arrested for identity fraud. Carlos, er, Jose, is actually named Deyvi Pena.
Luckily, documentary filmmakers Justin Weinstein (writer, editor of Being Elmo) and Tyler Measom (director, Sons of Perdition) were filming with them for their new doc, An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story. In addition to getting the inside scoop on the Deyvi story, the doc features such greats as Richard Dawkins, Penn & Teller, Tim Minchin, Bill Nye, Neal DeGrasse Tyson, Adam Savage, Alice Cooper, and more.
You can help them get the film made by supporting it via Kickstarter (and get some great memorabilia).
An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story
(Thanks, Justin!) Read the rest
Until 2011, Dr. Edzard Ernst was the head of one of the few university departments doing real, unbiased research on the effectiveness and safety of alternative medicine techniques. That's important, because you can't just dismiss weird-sounding stuff out of hand, but you also want somebody other than the practitioners of that weird-sounding stuff conducting research and analyzing the data. Now retired, Ernst recently started blogging, and I wanted to point you to his new home on the Internet. He can be a bit snarky and caustic (especially with chiropractic and homeopathy). But in general he's a fair, reasonable, and knowledgeable source on what works and what doesn't. Definitely worth a bookmark. Read the rest
A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.
Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.
I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:
1. I'm not as surly as I used to be.
2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!
Surly-Ramics wearable art Read the rest
Members of the Black skeptics organization African Americans For Humanism (AAH) are planning events on Feb. 26 in six major U.S. cities, "targeting African-Americans who have privately or openly questioned their faith." The group holds religion responsible for “many of the problems plaguing the African American community” and promotes “rational and scientific methods of inquiry” that include “positive thinking, the sharing of ideas, and enlightened self-interest.” Read the rest