Sciency, scientifical and wackadoodle are now official


New words have been added to the Oxford English dictionary, the “definitive record of the English language”, including a few near and dear to me…

New words list March 2014 | Oxford English Dictionary.

  • bookaholic: Yes, I am a minor sufferer.
  • Coney dog*: I very much enjoy these and have since I was a kid.
  • demonizing: This word is getting around, overused, just like “evil”.
  • do-over: I like this word, employ it often.
  • ethnozoology*: A technical term for the actual scientific part of cryptozoology. [Definition given as "The traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning animals; the scientific study or description of this."]
  • sciency*: This is one of my words, obviously. But they spelled it wrong. Sounds Sciencey [Definition given as "Of a somewhat scientific or technical nature; (also) having an interest in or aptitude for science."] The “somewhat” is important.
  • scientifical method*: I wish I knew what they meant by this versus the scientific method! [Definition given is as an older use meaning "scientific method"] *pffth*
  • scientificality*: Ditto. [Definition given is:  1. A scientific or technical issue, term, or detail. 2. The property or quality of being scientific.] For the 2nd def – I used the word “scientificity” but that’s not been recognized.
  • scientificness*: Ditto. [The quality of being scientific.] Ok, boring.
  • Scientological*: This was capitalized so I am REALLY curious. [Yep, having to do with Scientology.]
  • sword and sorcery: Cool!
  • wackadoo*: Citation needed. [Definition given as: A. Crazy, mad; eccentric. B. An eccentric or mentally unbalanced person; a crank, a lunatic.]
  • wackadoodle*: Love this word. On my list of favorites. [Definition given as the same as wackadoo although this does sound like a crazy poodle.]

As you can figure, the access to OED is paid and I don’t have a subscription which sucks. Can you help me out if you do and post the meanings to the 9 starrred words? I’d appreciate it. I want to be all definitive, you know. Thanks to those that sent the explanations to me!

Scientific people use words and their meaning properly. Scientifical people do not. I don’t want to just look sciencey, I want to get it correct.

You can also email paskeptic(at) Thanks.

Engage outrage, sacrifice skepticism

carol and sharon

Drs. Carol Tavris and Elizabeth Loftus are two female role models of skepticism and critical thinking that tower above any others for me. They have established an influential body of work that has informed, influenced and inspired many people. This work has nothing to do with their personas, their creation of drama for attention (the drama came as a result of their scholarship that was sometimes shocking and controversial, but scientific), or their gender. They are also friendly, kind and lovely people and I consider it a privilege to have met both of them and chatted for a while.
carol and sharonsharon and beth

Feminism in skepticism is a messed-up, misguided issue right now. Any story about harassment or rape is loaded with emotion, not reason. Reason, if applied, is seen as a betrayal. That’s disgusting and I rarely talk about it. However, truth matters to me.

This brings me to two important stories that came out yesterday, one of which was written by Tavris and quotes Loftus. The second references the Tavris piece and has a foundation in the work of Dr. Loftus.

Memory. It is flawed.

This is one of the most important concepts that any human in modern society would do well to grasp. Imagine the problems it could alleviate if we could admit our memory might be wrong about something; if we could recheck facts instead of being so invested in a flawed system of memory.

Tavris wrote a feature for e-Skeptic called Believe the Survivors or the Science? What the science of memory can teach us about the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen case. If you are at all interested in the case, PLEASE READ IT. It captures exactly my concerns when I read the harrowing letter by Dylan Farrow and didn’t know what to think about it. Here’s a bit:

When an emotionally compelling story hits the news, it’s tempting for all of us to jump to conclusions. Many people are inclined to believe, as I first did in the McMartin [preschool Satanic abuse] case, that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Wrong: sometimes there’s just smoke—and mirrors. The problem, as studies of cognitive dissonance show, is that as soon as we take sides, the brain sees to it that we will justify and solidify our position by seeking only the information that confirms it, and deny, ignore or minimize evidence that we could be wrong.

Of all things skeptics should be aware of is how we can so easily be fooled. Yet, I see tripe about victim blaming and shame heaped on some for questioning claims. HOW CAN YOU FORGET the Satanic Panic, the Salem Witch trials, the false eyewitness testimony that put countless people in jail and possibly some to death? This is not trivial.

Ben Radford wrote this piece: The Anatomy of False Accusations: A Skeptical Case Study | Center for Inquiry. It outlines an accusation of sexual assault where the evidence clearly points to the conclusion that it didn’t happen. And then cites many more. Many, many more certainly exist that we don’t know about.

We need to accept that not everyone is speaking truth, whether they consciously know it or not. But… that does not necessarily make them a liar, a bad person, or worthy of scorn. People are complicated. Our brains, our culture, our relationships are complicated. Accept that things are not black and white. There is no justification for “for me or against me” statements. I am not against an alleged victim or for an alleged perpetrator. I am for the best solution which means the relevant facts should come out before judgement. We are people and we make mistakes, all the time.

Please, spend some time thinking about the judgements you have made against people who have not been in a position to defend themselves. Is it really worth it to condemn them based on one or a few outrageous allegations and a swell of public outrage? I have been appalled at the feminist-skeptic-niche’s (which is a false label) reaction to some allegations (ALLEGATIONS!) of assault and/or rape. You aren’t helping anyone by being closed-minded and automatically defaulting to the female victim. She needs your sympathy but she also needs more than just that, because things are very complicated.

From Tavris:

What we should not do, as my coauthor Elliot Aronson has said, is “sacrifice our skepticism on the altar of outrage.” Outrage is good when it leads to constructive, mindful efforts to promote justice—for innocent children and for innocent adults. But outrage without skepticism and science is a recipe for hysteria and witch hunts.

When web hosts roll over their customers: DMCA complaints


Here is something we don’t think about for our websites and blogs: How do they respond to DMCA complaints? As critics of those who HATE to be criticized, we are GOING to get this kind of nonsense threat and intimidation.

michael mcgurk photo-illo

I spent a harrowing Friday and Saturday moving my Doubtful News site to a new host after a crapload of issues from my existing host: InMotion Hosting. I was using VPS which made me a mid-tier customer. Because of the site traffic, we had to add on Cloud Flare to help ease the server load. Nearly every week, I was logging into chat or calling InMotion support to inform them that the website was down. They gave me tips on cache plugins (which sometimes messed up the site or didn’t help at all), told me my plugins were problems, that Apache had crashed on the server or that there was up and down load. Obviously, this was not a great fit but it was better than the 3 previous hosts we outgrew within months.

The final straw came from their horrendous and incompetent response to a bogus copyright complaint by a “psychic” businesswoman who claimed infringement by use of her trademark in our web post. This was regarding a news story that was NOT about her in any way. I didn’t even know she existed. Not only is that not applicable to copyright law (none of us would be able to write about Apple or Microsoft or any name brand), but we didn’t even use her damn trademark in the post. You can read about it here and have a look at what kind of person does this sort of thing.

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Reality Check: We all need it (Book review)


There are some writers for which you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get. Donald R. Prothero is one of those writers. I expect a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of the topic with a flavor of emotion here and there. That’s what I got with Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, 2013, Indiana Univ Press.

The core of the book is summed up in the John Burroughs quote given on page 1:

To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.

RCOnce you observe the methods of creationists as the classic example of science denialists, you can recognize the same tactics in those that reject climate change. I have also noted the same tricks in environmentalists or those holding contrarian views about vaccines, the paranormal, and various consumer products.

The premise of Reality Check is that when “a well-entrenched belief system comes in conflict with scientific or historic reality” the believers in this system will actively discount, ignore or distort the facts that go against it. They may stop at nothing to defend their belief – they will lie, hide evidence, manufacture evidence, pay people off, bully, harass, discredit, and even threaten the scientists who are  supporting the “inconvenient” conclusion.

The book highlights denialism rampant in the fields of environmentalism, global warming, evolution education, vaccine information, AIDS treatment policy, medical claims, energy policy and population size and growth. Each chapter exposes the hidden agendas of those who reject the scientific consensus and provides the reader with the solid, established evidence.

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American gypsy psychics: Book review


I was enticed to read this book, American Gypsy, by Oksana Marafioti,  after the Rose Marks trial. Marks was from an infamous Romani family who had repeatedly been charged and now found guilty of fraud due to their psychic-related business dealings.

amgypI didn’t know if this book had anything regarding the Romani [Gypsy] culture but I was interested in why Rose’s greatest fear was not being able to provide for her family and her loss of freedom in jail.

I did find some understanding here and it was a fun and enjoyable read as well.

Regarding the psychic issues: The writers mother can read coffee grounds as prophecy. She was encouraged to use this skill when money was tight and it worked. The author admits that the readings were more like psychotherapy, where people just needed to talk to feel better. Continue reading

Arrogant ignorance In the Name of God: Book Review


Christian Science-based faith healing communities in U.S. today are failures of their own self-destructive ideas. At least that’s the conclusion you can’t help but make when a group sacrifices their own children to be “pious” and respected. I found this disturbing tale laid out in In the Name of God:The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide by Cameron Stauth . I recommend this book for anyone even remotely curious about faith healing in the U.S. and about the practices of Christian science churches. It’s important to recognize the stories behind the news of children who die from medical neglect.


I don’t recall how the author or publisher decided to send me a review copy of this book. I suspect it was because on Doubtful News I cover the charges, trials and sentencing of parents who practice withholding health care. I didn’t understand. I could not wrap my head around it. How can you be in the 21st century and eschew the standard of care for sick kids? This book helped me understand that these are people who think that religious freedom trumps all else, even their child’s right to live.

While examining stories for Doubtful News, I noticed a wave of faith healing deaths or near deaths coming out of Oregon City, OR from a religious community known as The Followers. The Followers of Christ had their roots in the teachings of the Christian Science church founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Mary grew rich and famous by teaching others how to heal without officially practicing medicine. This method had no overhead. But it had consequences. Many people recovered normally or had illnesses that make life difficult but not end it. If they died, it was “God’s Will”. And, it is their choice, thanks to religious freedom, to allow their child or themselves to die. God takes all of the credit, none of the blame. The Followers of Christ turned out to be one of the most lethal churches in America basing their teachings on literal interpretation of the Bible, medical avoidance, shunning, and fear of Hell. There is also the Faith Tabernacle church who has seen a pattern of dead children. Even repeat offenders. (Schaible case) Continue reading

Count von Count’s arithromania


Last Dragon*Con, I went to a talk about movie monsters. It was a small group with three artists up front chatting about their favorite creature features. It was so much fun, all that trivia. There was one tidbit from that presentation that I found so adorable and interesting, I was amazed I never thought of it before. I had to write about it. Yes, it’s taken me a year to do it.

I don’t know how they got around to the topic but we were discussing the Count from Sesame Street. You may remember that he counts everything. Nifty, eh? What a great kids character – just a touch scary (like other Muppets) but not threatening.

When I was a kid, a bit after the Sesame Street days, I got into monster books and loved to learn “facts” about vampires. One way to stop or at least delay a vampire, I’d heard, was to throw a handful of rice or seeds behind you. He would (apparently) compulsively stop and have to count every grain before proceeding. Interesting…

Is that where the Count von Count got his counting habit from?

The person next to me in the monsters talk said “Yes”.

Really? How did I not make this connection!

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Even with good intentions, we still piss each other off


Last week, I made a lot of people angry. I was angry, I lashed out at them. That was a mistake. In some cases, I was able to smooth things over but in others, I made it worse.

Also, I noticed several people reacted strongly to critique of their fields – cryptozoology in particular, but also against their faith or deeply held beliefs.

Kitty Mervine pointed me to this good piece that shows what I did wrong, what mistake I always make, and the mistakes most of us make when we get mad.

What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry – Peter Bregman – Harvard Business Review.

As it turns out, it’s not the thought that counts or even the action that counts. That’s because the other person doesn’t experience your thought or your action. They experience the consequences of your action.

So true. And that’s why they get mad. Really mad. The typical response doesn’t help. This is going to take some practice to fix.

Over the past year or so, I realized I don’t like to get into online disputes that will go on for hours or even days. It never gets resolved and just gets worse. So, I’ve made some rules for myself to follow to stop that trigger response to lash out. The first step is to limit contact with people who trip the trigger (often deliberately because, face it, some people thrive on outrage theatre). I’d be all for civil discussion but reading their twitter feed or blogs is just asking for my blood to boil. So I don’t.

Block the trolls, don’t go to their websites, don’t look for them to give you something to chew on. Be careful about engaging. Let stuff go.

Unlike some people who have deliberately gone out of their way to name and shame people for specific things they have done, I’m almost always responding to a problem I have with their claim. Yes, I don’t like the state of amateur paranormal investigation, for example. I dislike the activity. That does not mean I can’t be friends with those who participate in the activity. It’s not personal. But, I try to understand that some people consider these activities to be defining of who they are – they are Christians, they are psychics, they are Bigfoot researchers, etc. So if I or others attack the claim, this essentially equates to attacking them. All I can say is, that’s not my intent but as shown in that piece about getting angry, it’s not about the intentions, it’s about the consequences. I’m trying. Maybe everyone should try harder.

Mischevious creatures everywhere: Virtual Skeptics “panties goblin” episode 24


Goblins… yeah. EXPLODEY ones. This episode of Virtual Skeptics we also talked about elves and had a fun and rather disturbing game of Scientology? Or North Korea? Don’t miss that it’s a hoot and a holler. The full video is linked below. Check it out. But I wanted to write up and link to the information I gave about the Zimbabwe goblins. It was a fascinating story, not quite what you think.

Black Imp or goblin

Last Tuesday, the 22nd, I came across the story of a so-called sorcerer’s house in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe that exploded under mysterious circumstances.

Police officials said the blast killed five people. The sorcerer, often known in the West as a witchdoctor, was doing business with a man seeking to improve his failing finances, They were both among the dead, witnesses said. Army bomb disposal experts told neighbours they found no remnants of a bomb or petrol or gas containers.

In Zimbabwe superstition, sorcerers can use lightning, to eradicate enemies. Neighbours told reporters they feared a “lightning manufacturing process” was being carried out.

I heard nothing more on this, I didn’t expect to.

But then on Monday, I find this story:

A traditional healer and a survivor claim that the house in which they were carrying out a cleansing ceremony exploded after they beheaded a goblin. According to the story, a man acquired the goblin from a neighboring country to bring wealth and prosperity to his business. But the goblin became troublesome, making demands, so he needed to get rid of it. The ceremony cost him $15,000.

At first, I didn’t connect the two stories until someone told me it was the same place. So things got interesting.

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Cranial deformation is not ALIEN – Take a minute to Google it


Virtual Skeptics #19 revealed that the end of the world comes alongside a bad hair day. I linked to the video of the show at the bottom in case you missed it. But this was an interesting topic this week for me. Here is a write up…

I follow a lot of sources for news stories for Doubtful News including some more paranormally-minded or, should I say, unskeptical sources. I’m always interested to see what kinds of stories are circulating in that community and they are often the first to spot the bizarre ones.

I use information from those stories to promote critical thinking about them. I think it’s harmful to spread inaccuracies so I wish to provide the skeptical, rational view.

Earlier this week, I saw a story on a news blog site about a mass grave found in Mexico that contained skulls that had deliberate cranial deformation. That is an interesting story in itself but the hook was that these skulls looked like your pop cultural stereotypical alien head. The “alternative news” sites and, hubs for UFO and conspiracy tales, had latched onto that idea calling it a “mass alien grave” (that’s the way BIN said it, and I advise not visiting that site even for a laugh because it’s a piece of shit. However, they have since altered the title to delete the alien reference.) Then it appeared on the Daily Mail and the story went huge. Continue reading