the skeptics’ circle comes to weird things

December 17, 2009

Welcome to the 126th edition of the Skeptics’ Circle, a blog carnival of sound science and critical thinking. For this installment we have a mix of topics ranging from overzealous ufologists and strange lights in the sky, to anti-vax activists’ brief descent into vicious inanity and cryptozoology. And because no skeptical collection can be complete without the kind of woo that can only be described as hilarious, we have soul portraits made with the kind of spiritual insight that could only be accomplished with really cheap image editing software. So let’s start with our heads in the clouds and work our way down to the real world one skeptical post at a time…

surreal abstract

Skepchick Karen Stollznow is worried about the residents of Denver who seem to have an odd predisposition towards pseudoscience, including a duo of ufologists who want to create a commission to investigate UFO encounters and claims of alien visitations. You know, because the actual discipline of astrobiology is not as reliable in the matter as a random bunch of people just looking to confirm their fervent beliefs…

And speaking of UFOs, how about that strange spiral in Norway which made its way across the world’s news wires and the web last week? Was it an alien spacecraft? Was it an interdimensional portal? Was it a sign of the impending apocalypse in 2012? Not quite. It was a Russian ICBM test as noted by the Skeptical Teacher.

So what if by now everyone and their third cousin twice removed fumbled around with Photoshop and have a pretty good clue how to add a few artsy touch-ups to an otherwise humdrum picture? That doesn’t mean you can’t use a little New Age woo and make a profit doing the same thing. Just call it a celestial soul portrait, as the Action Skeptics show us in their satirical take on the work of Erial Ali.

Over at the Mad Skeptic, an alleged photo of Bigfoot making waves with amateur cryptozoologists (which may be somewhat redundant) gets a thorough once over. Hate to be a buzzkill, but the picture might not be that of a giant man-ape which manages to stay hidden even in well traveled parks and forests.

The skeptical trio at Negative Entropy thought they’d try their hand at making a homeopathic remedy to treat those dreaded flu-like symptoms and provide a step by step overview of the process. Did it work? They’re not telling, but you can do the scientific thing and replicate their efforts. Be warned however, your water bill may go up quite noticeably from the looks of things…

Physicist Michael Varney has a few harsh words about a supposed science factoid under the #physics tag on Twitter. Then again you would too when the factoid in question is a random claim that makes absolutely no sense to those of us who remember our high school science. Keep in mind that any statement about physics can be tested with a relevant formula and it seems like this claim’s author didn’t know how to do his math.

You’ve probably seen a highly publicized study about the difference in men and women’s shopping habits and the many cries of sexism it’s overviews generated. Andrew Bernadin, a former professor of psychology, had a look at the study as well and finds it rather lacking in necessary details. Sometimes scientists don’t always follow the scientific method as strictly as they should…

Not too long ago, when a patient was sick or suffered from mental problems the solution was electricity and if it couldn’t be zapped, it couldn’t be cured. Dr. Romeo Vitelli gives us a little summary of medical quackery in the ye old ye days and provides us with another reason to be thankful for modern medicine, which requires a few trials and some empirical evidence before unleashing a new treatment on the unsuspecting public.

Now for a little anti-vaccination news. The virtual citadel of vaccine hatred and alt med quackery, Age of Autism, decided to celebrate their Thanksgiving by portraying scientists and science writers they revile having an infant for dinner. As the main course. Then, after getting the message that they went over the line, the cartoon and the accompanying oral sex jokes and invocations of infanticide were silently deleted. Yes, the whole thing was not at all dishonest or imbecilic. Not at all. Back to the Mad Skeptic for a comic on the incident.

Of course not all anti-vaccination attitudes are as aggressive and venomous as J.B. Handley and his crew. In fact, there are plenty of people who simply get bad information about how vaccines work and decide not to get their shots. Action Skeptic has the full story.

Finally, in a nod to good science and not assuming that correlation equals causation, Life, the Universe, and One Brow takes a look at a “study” by Focus on the Family on the effects of pornography. Surely, you don’t expect a group which wants to force abstinence across the nation to be objective and do real research, right? Incidentally, One Brow will be hosting the next meeting of the Circle on New Year’s Eve so while you check out his post, start getting your skeptical thoughts ready for submission to your next host…

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