Another One Bites the Dust PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jamy Ian Swiss   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 09:00

Many skeptics like myself have been closely following the recent run of criminal prosecutions of professional psychics. Notable among these cases has been that of the Rose Marks family clan that was prosecuted in South Florida. I have written about various developments in the story, including here:

Inhuman Predators

And about Marks’ conviction here:

The latest installment of Real Life Karma, or what goes around sometimes comes around when prosecutors decide to do their jobs, was in the news last week when 44-year-old Nancy Marks, sister-in-law of psychic racketeer Rose Marks, was sentenced to a prison term of three years and nine months, and ordered to repay more than 2.2 million dollars to her victims.

Misinformation breakdown: This week in Doubtful News for January 21, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sharon Hill   
Tuesday, 21 January 2014 09:00

 Here is a rundown of the stories about freaky nature and frightening beliefs courtesy of Doubtful News.

Skeptical activism activity for this week is to learn about how Target chain is selling homeopathic asthma treatment Unethical? Dangerous? You bet. You can do something.


The deaths from influenza this season continue to mount. Misinformation about the flu is a direct cause for… death.


In an astounding story, police report that two children are dead and two more injured after a mother and another stab them during a so-called exorcism. There are few details so far on this disturbing crime which took place in a home outside of Washington, DC.

Last Week In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Harriet Hall   
Monday, 20 January 2014 09:00

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

Placebo effects are not the “power of positive thinking” (David Gorski) Ted Kaptchuk thinks placebos constitute effective treatment and believes it is possible to use them without deception. His new study compared placebo to the drug Maxalt for migraine, manipulating the information given to subjects as negative, neutral, or positive. Kaptchuk has hyped the results as showing the power of positive thinking, ignoring the fact that there were no more people free of pain in the placebo group than in the no treatment group. The study doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

Tribalism and Medical Ethics (Harriet Hall) A new book by Joshua Greene argues that tribalism is the central tragedy of modern life. He provides intriguing insights from evolution and from recent studies in psychology and neuroscience to inform a new understanding of morality, and he argues for a pragmatic utilitarianism. His ideas are applicable to medical ethics and controversies like abortion.

2014's Skeptic Conference Schedule Shows Continued Signs of Growth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tim Farley   
Friday, 17 January 2014 09:00

 As we begin 2014 the skeptic conference schedule is already starting to shape up. Last weekend the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) announced its guest lineup and opened registration. Already four Skepticamps have been scheduled in the first months of the year. And it was revealed that the Australia and New Zealand national conferences this year will be held one week apart in part so that George Hrab, Steven Novella and the rest of the cast of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe can attend both events. There are also two biennial events planned this year in Europe in September - Denkfest in Zurich and Kritisk Masse in Oslo.  

It shouldn't surprise observant skeptics that the schedule is so full. In 2013 there were over 55 multi-speaker conferences, symposia and workshops targeted (in whole or in part) at scientific skeptics worldwide - so many that there were many weekends with more than one simultaneous event. Included in this number are the 19 Skepticamps that were held last year.  These are attendee-curated "unconferences" first held in 2007, and are smaller and regional in nature.

Science In A Strange Place PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   
Thursday, 16 January 2014 09:00

In early 2013, an agent who was casting for a role in a forthcoming reality television show, BigfootBountyGroupSpike TV’s Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, approached me. She told me they were assembling teams of hunters and “professional squatchers” to hunt for Bigfoot. Would I be interested in forming a team? I replied that I was very flattered, but probably not the person they were looking for, as I was a skeptic, and not a “squatcher”. I later discovered that former “Superman” Dean Cain would be hosting the show, along with a very skeptical friend of mine - Biological Anthropologist and Molecular Primatologist Dr. Todd Disotell, who has a long history of analyzing samples of alleged Bigfoot and debunking them.

The show is a kind of Survivor for Bigfoot aficionados. Nine teams compete to find evidence of Bigfoot in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, which is reputedly the world’s most famous stomping ground of Bigfoot. The premise is that if a team provides incontrovertible proof of Bigfoot, they will win the $10 million. (This was a very low risk bet backed by Lloyd’s of London.) Should that evidence not be found, the team with the “best evidence” will be awarded a “research grant” of $100,000 to continue their hunt.

Recently I arranged for Todd and third co-host Primatologist Natalia Reagan to appear on the Monster Talk podcast. Initially, many skeptics were worried that the Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty would be a train wreck of rednecks toting guns in the forest; a situation far more dangerous to people than “Bigfoot”. However, they assured us that this wasn’t the case as there was a no firearms policy in place. Better yet, they gave us reason to hope that they managed to sneak some science into the show, by teaching the teams some field methods, including how to seek better quality evidence, and how to collect evidence properly to prevent contamination.

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