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Unclear and inconclusive study makes people panic unnecessarily about cell phones

How about this for a headline:

Puzzling, inconclusive study shows male rats placed in artificial environments and evenly dosed with cell-phone-like radiation across their whole bodies for nine hours a day over two years show slightly more rare heart tumors yet lived longer than those male and female rats NOT exposed to radiation

That is more accurate a description than the current hubbub coverage regarding a recently completed study done by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) regarding cell phone use. I hesitate to post the ACTUAL headlines that were used because they are misleading, potentially causing concern where, in real life, there is little reason to be concerned. But, because headlines need to be short and grab your attention, and that news orgs like to use fear to get hits, you’ll see much punchier headlines that DO mince words.Read More »

Photo on 5-27-16 at 9.03 AM

You (didn’t) WIN: Jackpot scams from the car dealer

I’m usually pretty good at spotting the “small print” on gimmick mailers and promotional contests. The latest one from a local car dealership was well-hidden. I looked and looked. Got out my hand-lens and scanned the tiny print in the margins. Hmm. This one was sneaky.

Mail flyers from car dealers that say you’ve won cash or prizes are bogus ploys to get you to come to the business. This one, from Brenner Pre-Owned in Harrisburg, PA and addressed to “Future Customer”, contained a scratch-off ticket. Some contain “keys” that you bring into the dealer to try for a new car.

Alright, I’ll play. [Put on skeptical spectacles]

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Rainbow+Rose

Skeptic Rose

Front-cover-2-664x1024I first heard about Rose Mackenberg from The Witch of Lime Street and thought, “Why haven’t I heard of her before!?” I was a bit behind on my reading.

Rose appeared in the Junior Skeptic issue of Winter 2013 written by Daniel Loxton, and in Massimo Polidoro’s book Final Seance (2001) that is on my reading list. She was Houdini’s “special agent” who busted psychics – a kick-ass Skeptic woman and we should all know and appreciate.

Thankfully (thanks Tim Farley), Rose has her own Wikipedia page now.

And today, she is featured on the front page. So there is no excuse to be unaware of this remarkable person. Read More »

Animal Planet’s Monster Week tones down the hype for 2016

jump_the_sharkIt’s business as usual at Animal Planet channel. It’s Monster Week. You know, it’s not that bad to air shows like The Cannibal in the Jungle for one week or on occasion. But AnPlan has gone too far in the past several years by suggesting that mermaids, Megalodon and cryptids exist by co-opting bad or outright FAKE science to make people think there is more support for these claims than there really are.

Animal Planet and Discovery channel (both of Discovery Network) often share shows so you may have seen a variety of strange offerings on both. (A complete list of paranormal programming in English, go to my list here.) For AnPlan in particular, fiction began to overtake nature programming in 1997 with the show Animal X about mystery cryptids. Then, they got into the Pet Psychic shows from 2002-2004 and again in 2010. But seriously, pet psychic shows are not even interesting and are kind of ridiculous even to the average person who believes in psychic abilities. River Monsters began in 2009 and is still going. It’s not exactly an unnatural program but occasionally does hype up the drama and lead viewers to misleading ideas. This hinted at what was to come – actual cryptid hunting.

Finding Bigfoot was a ratings success at AnPlan starting in 2011, becoming its top rated series (for a time – I think River Monsters may now hold that spot). Then, in 2012, the shit really began to hit the TV screen. Mermaids: A Body Found was a fictional show that was made to look like an actual documentary. The two-hour special used fake footage, CGI, fake “underwater sound recordings”, and had actors portray scientists to discuss the thoroughly dismissed “aquatic ape theory”. There was an immediate response. People who expect to see science on AnPlan thought this was science! There were some who actually believed mermaids were real and the government was hiding the truth! The NOAA had to issue a public statement to assure the nation that, no, mermaids were NOT real. The network had gone off the deep end but took the position that ratings were more important than information about real animals. After the raging success of Mermaids for Monster Week 2012, a sequel came in 2013 with even more misleading content and fake scientists. Also included in the 2013 Monster Week were programs that sounded like Roger Corman movies: Man-eating Squid, Invasion of the Swamp Monsters, and Invasion of the Mutant Pigs. Discovery Channel meanwhile was basking in the glow of confusing the public again with a fake documentary on an extinct giant shark that they wanted you to think was still around. Cue fake footage and doctored photos. This was the end of association with the network by many scientists who had had enough.mermaids-e1368894096230

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End of an era: the last Skeptic’s Dictionary newsletter

rtc2014Dr. Robert T. Carroll created the Skeptic’s Dictionary – a source I have used for, oh gosh, over 10 years now. I was upset to hear of Bob’s serious illness. I consider Skepdic.com to be a PRIMARY go to source for skeptical reference. With nearly 800 entries, I have, by default, linked to his site for topics I reference in my blog posts.  Bob has just released his last newsletter to the email list of subscribers. John Renish has been assisting since his diagnosis in May 2014 with stage IV pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer.

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Education gap: How much does this have to do with today’s messed up politics?

I read this article today in the Washington Post about a family man in Oregon who rather suddenly became so disillusioned with America that he formed a “patriot” militia group, just in case the government, their own government, moves against them.

There are so many questions I’d like to ask the guy featured in this article. He seems like a family man, passionate, and concerned. But he also seems extremely misguided in how government works or is supposed to work. While I can understand his worry, he’s been heavily influenced by propaganda from conspiratorial fear-mongers and people I consider criminals for stealing from the government.

I wish I could ask him dozens of questions about how he thinks things should work in order to be fair for everyone in the entire country. But, I suspect our differing assumptions (and maybe different values entirely) wouldn’t allow us to find much common ground.

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soft bigfoot

Anti-Skeptics are out of touch with the public

There is much ado, again, about soft targets in skepticism – the topics that are easily dismissed, should be ignored, are a waste of time and effort. So some say. Once again, we hear that we should be paying greater attention to things that really matter like cancer and war. Therefore, I’m getting the impression that people like me who write about these oh-so-silly things like cryptozoology, paranormal and misleading news stories are less important in the skeptical scheme of things. No one is listening to me, says John Horgan, who has a shallow and limited knowledge about the skeptical community and astoundingly is out of touch with public interest.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

Gosh, this crap is SO OLD. “Bashing”? “Tribe”? “Ignore me”? “Preaching to the converted”? All very wrong.

Pushing this sloppy argument shows you are completely out of touch with the average Joe Q. Public (who really DOES believe in ghosts, Bigfoot, and thinks the government is spraying mind-control chemicals). Or, some wish to emphasize their own agenda and values like world peace, equality, animal rights or social justice for marginalized communities which makes them feel morally superior, I guess. Or, like I’ve experienced, it’s used by people who are annoyed that you keep ruining their great comment threads by inserting relevant questions and correcting their ridiculous inaccuracies – harshing their mellow. They want you out of the way so they can keep up their carefully constructed worldview. Those are all valid social reasons, if problematic in parts, and an indication that in the real world, dealing with “soft targets” requires tact, perseverance and a strong backbone.Read More »