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The Politicization of Science: Skeptical Inquirer on a Danger to Democracy

August 11, 2017

In the national debates over contentious scientific issues such as climate change, vaccines, and evolution, political and cultural identification have become a determining factor as to whether one accepts the facts of science. In its latest issue, Skeptical Inquirer, the magazine of science and reason, traces the roots of the politicization of scientific issues, and how these anti-scientific attitudes threaten the very foundations of American democracy.

“There are striking similarities of Galileo’s world with ours today in the twenty-first century,” writes Jeanne Goldberg, formerly of the American Cancer Society, in the issue’s cover feature, showing that today, as then, political and ideological concerns are being held above evidence and scientific consensus.

Goldberg explains that science can be alienating to the general public, as its complexities can only be grasped by “experts,” distant elites located in coastal urban areas with little connection to the beliefs and culture of a population who feel their self-sufficiency threatened in a changing world.

At the same time, many urban elites have also come to reject science “almost in a tribal fashion,” falling for anti-vaccination misinformation or spending exorbitant amounts of money on pseudoscientific “alternative” medicines in what Goldberg sees as a “distrust of the Enlightenment principle of rationality.”

The implications for society as a whole are dire, says Goldberg. “There is no doubt that a threat to our democracy exists when there is scientific illiteracy, complacency, or extreme polarization regarding scientific issues,” she writes, as powerful interests work to suppress scientific truths that threaten their positions. “This constitutes a form of authoritarianism that can be used to impede scientific progress and, in the long run, cause a government to fail.”

Also in this issue: Philosopher Maarten Boudry powerfully critiques the skeptic community’s attacks on “logical fallacies”; Scott O. Lilienfeld highlights the positive potential in teaching critical thinking skills to children at an early age; James “the Amazing” Randi rails against the use of the pseudoscientific polygraph lie-detector; and much more.

The September/October issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net. 

Fire-Breathing Dinosaurs? Paleontologist Tests Creationists’ Claims for “Skeptical Inquirer”

June 8, 2017

Plus: Investigator Joe Nickell Reopens the JonBenet Ramsey Case

Young-Earth creationists not only insist that the world is about 6000 years old, but that humans once lived alongside fire-breathing dinosaurs! In the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, the magazine of science and reason, one paleontologist seeks plausible scientific explanations as to how these ancient beasts might have breathed fire without killing themselves in the process. (It doesn’t go well for the dinosaurs.)

Biblical literalists maintain, and even teach in school textbooks, that humans and dinosaurs coexisted before Noah’s flood, and that legends of fire-breathing dragons were inspired by humans’ encounters with such creatures. To bolster this claim, anti-evolution academics have gone to incredibly novel and creative lengths to explain by what physical and biological means dinosaurs could have accomplished this.

Fayetteville University paleontologist Philip J. Senter takes the creationists’ claims on their own merits, working through each possible explanation. Could dinosaurs have belched and then ignited methane? Did their nostrils emit “pyrophoric gas”? Were they electrified like eels? In each case, the realities of physics don’t turn out well for the reptiles, often resulting in the animal’s head being consumed by a fireball.

PLUS: World-renowned investigator Joe Nickell reopens the unsolved JonBenet Ramsey murder case, going back over the evidence and drawing some startling new conclusions. Nickell also reveals just how useless the nearly endless input and interference in the case from alleged “psychics” proved to be.

Also in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer: “The Amazing” James Randi exposes the sham autism therapy of “facilitated communication”; Sébastian Point reveals the dangers of pseudoscientific “chromotherapy”; Matthew Nisbet critiques the politicization of the March for Science; and so much more.

The July/August issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

 

Maria Konnikova Wins Critical Thinking Prize from CSI for “The Confidence Game”

May 18, 2017

For Immediate Release: May 18, 2017
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - 207-358-9785

In her acclaimed bestselling book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time, New Yorker staff writer Maria Konnikova reveals the nefarious tricks of the con artist’s trade, showing us how frauds and charlatans manipulate us by playing on our vulnerabilities and what we perceive to be our best qualities. She does so with a sincere empathy for those who have been deceived, and an eye toward helping us all recognize our own biases. It is for this timely and indispensable work that Maria Konnikova will be awarded the 2016 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

“Cons work so widely because, in a sense, we want them to,” writes Konnikova. “We want to believe the tale.” In The Confidence Game, Konnikova uses exhaustive research and absorbing narratives to lay bare the methods used by con artists to compel us to act against our own interests, and in so doing, reveals how even the smartest — and most skeptical — among us are utterly susceptible to being fooled.

The Confidence Game could not have come at a more crucial time, as the general public is overwhelmed day in and day out by attempts to play on their biases and prejudices,” said Barry Karr, Executive Director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “Not just by individual con artists, but by industries, media outlets, and faceless algorithms.”

“But Maria Konnikova’s book also provides an invaluable lesson for the skeptic movement, where we often presume we’re too smart to be fooled by hucksters,” said Karr. “Konnikova shows us that we are all vulnerable, that we all have beliefs about ourselves and the world that we want to see reinforced. We need to understand that any of us can be victims, and that being a victim doesn’t equate to being gullible.”

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is bestowed by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and a program of the Center for Inquiry. Konnikova will receive the prize at the CSICon convention taking place October 26-29, 2016 in Las Vegas, which will also feature speakers such as Michael Mann, Lawrence Krauss, Cara Santa Maria, James Randi, Richard Dawkins, and many more. See CSIConference.org for more information.

The Balles Prize is a $2,500 award given to the creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The prize was established by Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI and a practicing Christian, along with the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. Previous winners of the Balles Prize have included Julia Belluz of Vox.com, the writers and producers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Paul Offit for his book Do You Believe in Magic?, Michael Specter for his book Denialism, and Natalie Angier for her book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

How to Survive the Misinformation Age: Skeptical Inquirer Takes on “Alternative Facts”

April 3, 2017

With the rise of fake news and “alternative facts,” no publication is better suited than Skeptical Inquirer to serve as a survival manual for the wilderness of misinformation. In its latest issue, leading thinkers confront the storm of falsehoods and pseudoscience with practical strategies built on a foundation of facts.

Columbia University astronomer David Helfand takes the lead as our guide through the Misinformation Age, warning that we are allowing ourselves to become “Google-fed zombies,” too reliant on dubious information sources that all seem equally valid. “If the talking box on your dashboard knows exactly where you are and can tell you how to get where you are going, why should talking to dead relatives not be plausible?”

If self-reinforcing social media feeds have broken the limits of plausibility, what is the answer? For Hefland, the only way to navigate the Misinformation Age — and begin to reverse its effects — is to mount a “counterinsurgency.” The reality-based community must forego partisan judgment, and instead break down arguments into their understandable component truths. “The power of science lies in its skeptical, rational, evidence-based approach to understanding the world,” writes Hefland. “This power begins with facts, and in my experience, these facts are the best tools with which to start the revolution.”

Cutting through the tangle of falsehoods is former U.S. Air Force physician Harriet Hall, who pushes back against the alarmism being manufactured against cholesterol-reducing statins. It’s another example of the kind of denial that, as she writes, “automatically rejects anything that comes from Big Pharma or mainstream medicine.” As with vaccines, climate change, and evolution, the facts are the facts, regardless of one’s ideology. How does she know the facts are on her side with statins? She states quite plainly, “Statins work, bitches!”

Also in this issue: Prof. Craig Foster and Second Lieutenant Sarenna Ortiz of the U.S. Air Force Academy use the false vaccine-autism link to show how irrelevant scientific studies can give pseudoscience the imprimatur of validity, revealing a contradiction. “It acknowledges the importance of science,” they write, “but disregards the most informative scientific studies and the general consensus of the scientific community.”

Plus: Bertha Vasquez, veteran middle school science teacher and head of the Center for Inquiry’s Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) describes the incredibly pressure teachers feel to tiptoe around, or even entirely avoid, discussion of the fact of evolution. “When asked if they felt pressure to teach creationism in their classrooms, 31 percent of high school biology teachers reported that they did,” writes Vasquez, “and that this pressure comes primarily from students and parents.”

The May/Junel 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net. 

The Selfish Gene at 40: Richard Dawkins Reflects On His Landmark Work in Skeptical Inquirer

February 15, 2017

PLUS: The Return of “The Amazing Randi” to the Magazine He Helped Launch

With his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins revolutionized the modern understanding of evolution by natural selection and sparked a passion for science in millions of readers across generations. Forty years later, Dawkins revisits his milestone work in Skeptical Inquirer, and tells of how much more has been learned from looking at life from the “gene’s-eye-view.”

Dawkins first expresses his own surprise at the longevity of The Selfish Gene, writing, “So many exciting things are fast happening in the world of genomics, it would seem almost inevitable—even tantalizing—that a book with the word ‘gene’ in the title would, forty years on, need drastic revision if not outright discarding.” The prospect is tantalizing, he says, because science thrives on the refutation of old ideas in the face of new, more convincing evidence. “I have never heard of a scientist being maligned as a flip-flopper,” he says.

Though the central message of his book has held true over the decades, it has also opened up rich new avenues of study and understanding. “The gene’s eye view of life,” he says, “…illuminates the deep past, in ways of which I had no inkling when I first wrote The Selfish Gene.” He even cops to some of the trouble his choice of title has caused, now conceding, “The Cooperative Gene would have been an equally appropriate title for this book, and the book itself would not have changed at all.”

As part of Skeptical Inquirer’s expansive coverage of the latest CSICon skeptics’ conference, held this past October in Las Vegas, this issue includes the first part of an on-stage interview with the amazing James Randi by Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier. The veteran illusionist and skeptic pioneer recalls some of the formative moments of his past and the early days of the skeptic movement.

PLUS: Randi himself returns to Skeptical Inquirer with a new regular column, this issue focusing on the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement and misinformation about autism.

Also in this issue: Former Center for Inquiry president Ronald Lindsay lays out a clear case for the necessity of skeptical activism, making a key distinction of claims that scientists understand to be settled, such as climate change or even the existence of ghosts, but the public still believes to be controversial.

The March/April 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net. 

Science Besieged: Skeptical Inquirer on the Battles over Stem Cells, Climate, and the Truth Itself

December 13, 2016

Science in the United States, embattled as ever, is about to enter a new, heightened era of crisis, as old battles over subjects like stem cells and climate change rage on, and political partisanship hardens false beliefs. The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer brings us to the front lines of the struggle over the place of science and reason in policy and culture, spelling out the growing challenges and offering badly needed ideas about how to advance critical thinking across the board.

In this issue’s cover story, Raymond Barglow and Margaret Schaefer report on the ongoing resistance to embryonic stem cell research, where staunch opposition from an “influential religion-based political movement” has badly hampered its progress and potential. Federal funding has remained severely limited, and private funding has been insufficient to produce the kind of live-saving breakthroughs that many scientists hope to discover. “Failure to publicly fund stem cell research adequately is unjustifiable,” write Barglow and Schaefer, warning that a deeply conservative Trump administration may bring renewed attacks on this research from within the federal government itself.

Opposition to stem cell research is just one symptom of a larger epidemic of science denial that has permeated every aspect of politics and popular culture, and a quartet of scientific experts grapple with how scientists can best navigate these treacherous waters. They are no strangers to fierce personal and professional attacks for their scientific truth telling: Climate scientist Michael Mann, cognitive scientist Stephen Lewandowsky, and psychologists Harris Friedman and Nicholas Brown. “Scientific debates must still be conducted according to the rules of science. Arguments must be evidence-based,” they write, adding, “Skeptical members of the public must be given the opportunity to engage in scientific debate.”

Also, Carrie Poppy reports on troubling survey data showing widespread belief in the supernatural, alien visitations, and even the lost city of Atlantis. Tellingly, over 30 percent of those surveyed purported to believe in a conspiracy theory wholly invented for the survey! And Craig Foster of the U.S. Air Force Academy makes a strong case for extricating one’s scientific skepticism from one’s political allegiances, and encouraging conservatives’ involvement. “It would demonstrate that the promotion of science and reason is taking place across the political spectrum.”

Plus: Joe Nickell bests a mystical tai chi master; Stefaan Blancke shines a spotlight on the rise of creationism in Europe; Alan Scott advises us to resist self-delusion by “wearing two watches;” and much more.

The January/February 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.  

Center for Inquiry Lauds FTC for Curbing Homeopathy’s False Advertising

November 16, 2016

The Center for Inquiry praised the Federal Trade Commission’s new enforcement policy statement on the marketing of homeopathic drugs, promising to hold the health-related claims made by the manufacturers of these pseudoscientific “alternative” remedies to the same standards as any other remedies. CFI has been leading the effort to press federal agencies to take seriously the harms posed by homeopathy, and is cited in the FTC’s full report.

In its statement the FTC declared that homeopathic products cannot include claims of effectiveness without “competent and reliable scientific evidence.” If no such evidence exists, they must state this fact clearly on their labeling, and state that the product’s claims are based only on 18th-century theories that have been discarded by modern science. Failure to do so will be considered a violation of the FTC Act.

“This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people,” said Michael De Dora, public policy director for the Center for Inquiry. “The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products.”

“Consumers can’t help but be confused when snake oil is placed on the same pharmacy shelves as real science-based medicine, and they throw away billions of dollars every year on homeopathy based on its false promises,” said De Dora. “The dangers of homeopathy are very real, for when people choose these deceptive, useless products over proven, effective medicine, they risk their health and the health of their families.”

CFI filed comments last year urging the FTC to “protect the American public” by ending the false advertising of homeopathy. CFI was also invited to testify before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about homeopathy’s potential harm and the need to hold homeopathic drugs to the same standards of safety and efficacy as conventional medicine. De Dora testified for CFI on April 20, 2015. 

“It still remains for the Food and Drug Administration to do its duty, and see to it that homeopathic products are as rigorously vetted as any other health product on the market,” said De Dora.

Homeopathy is an 18th-century pseudoscientific practice based on the idea that infinitesimal dilutions of a substance, where literally nothing remains of the original ingredient, can endow water with a “memory” of the substance’s properties, thereby providing a “cure.” Homeopathy has been utterly rejected by modern science-based medicine, as no evidence exists of its effectiveness beyond a placebo effect in treating any ailment whatsoever. Nevertheless, millions of Americans spend billions of dollars annually on misleadingly labeled and marketed homeopathic remedies, often in place of real medicine, putting their health at risk with the use of products such as homeopathic “vaccines” and asthma treatments, which have no medicinal properties.


The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net. 

 

40 Years of Skeptical Inquirer: Personal Odysseys Shared in Special Anniversary Issue

October 18, 2016

Skeptical Inquirer celebrates its fortieth anniversary with a special issue highlighting the personal journeys of some of today’s leading skeptics. An esteemed group of academics, investigators, and activists share stories and reflections of the movement that grew in large part out of this groundbreaking magazine’s pages.

Anthropologist and science education advocate Eugenie Scott remembers her realization that scientific discovery happens on the frontiers of knowledge, where new ideas are tested, not the fringes, where claims contradict established facts and evidence. As much as she once wished to find Bigfoot and Yeti, she learned “You have to think with your head, not with your heart.”

Wendy Grossman, founder of the UK magazine The Skeptic, tells of how she discovered that skepticism is not merely an exercise in proving others wrong. “The goal of the skeptical movement was never to debunk specific beliefs,” she explains. “Instead, it should be to spread critical thinking on whatever subject is shoved in front of us,” whether it concerns the paranormal, alternative medicine claims, or anything else.

Such was also the case for Harriet Hall, a retired military flight surgeon and celebrated skeptic. It was Skeptical Inquirer that began her odyssey, she says, explaining, “One of the things I most love about skepticism is the opportunity to find out I was wrong about something.” Indeed, the very existence of Skeptical Inquirer was enough to inspire many of these skeptics to seek out community and join the cause.

Benjamin Radford, the magazine’s deputy editor and author of the new book Bad Clowns, recalls discovering skepticism’s “big tent,” realizing that people of all interests and professions have something valuable to contribute to reason and critical thinking. “As long as there is darkness,” he writes, “skeptics will be there to fight for the light amid a chorus of curses.”

Also in this issue: A bold exploration of the psychological resistance to nuclear power by Daniel A. Vogel, and an attempt to understand why popular perceptions of its risks are so out of synch with the evidence for its benefits. And Massimo Polidoro delves into the fascinating partnership between Harry Houdini and “Cthulhu” creator H.P. Lovecraft and the remarkable collaboration on a landmark anti-superstition book that almost was.

The November/December 2016 issue is available on newsstands and in the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

Skeptics to Honor Vox’s Julia Belluz with Critical Thinking Award

August 23, 2016

BelluzFor deftly debunking unscientific and outrageous medical claims, and for taking on the gurus of pseudoscience and quackery, Julia Belluz of Vox.com will be awarded the Balles Prize in Critical Thinking by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a program of the Center for Inquiry. The award will be presented on October 28 at the CSICon conference in Las Vegas.

“The peddlers of medical misinformation have more ways than ever to spread their message and bamboozle and endanger the public, using the tools of the web and social media, and shrouding their ludicrous claims in scientific-sounding jargon,” said Barry Karr, Executive Director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “Julia Belluz beats them at their own game. In her outstanding work at Vox, she combines the tools of digital storytelling with a unique, passionate voice and good old-fashioned fact-based reporting (imagine that!), dispelling myths and sparking genuine critical thinking in the minds of her many readers.”

Belluz’s reporting for Vox has challenged the baseless assertions of the anti-vaccine movement, exposed the absurd and often dangerous promises of things like homeopathy, naturopathy, and fad diets, and taken on the outlandish assertions of health-prophets such as Dr. Oz, the “Food Babe,” and Gwyneth Paltrow.

“Julia Belluz sets a high standard for health and science reporting, and it’s a standard that we need more journalists to meet,” said Karr, “The public needs allies when faced with a deluge of unscientific, dangerous, and costly claims about health and medicine. She’s among the strongest allies they have, and that’s why we’re proud to be giving her this award.”

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is bestowed by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and a program of the Center for Inquiry. Belluz will receive the prize at the CSICon convention taking place October 27-30, 2016 in Las Vegas, which will also feature speakers such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Maria Konnikova, and many more. See CSIConference.org for more information.

The Balles Prize is a $2,500 award given to the creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The prize was established by Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI and a practicing Christian, along with the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. Previous winners of the Balles Prize have included the writers and producers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Paul Offit for his book Do You Believe in Magic?, Michael Specter for his book Denialism, and Natalie Angier for her book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

40 Years of Skeptical Inquirer: Anniversary Issue with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and more

August 16, 2016

Skeptical Inquirer, the groundbreaking magazine that laid the foundations of a lasting movement for rationality and critical thinking, celebrates forty years of skepticism with a special anniversary issue, featuring some of the biggest names in science and reason reflecting on the movement’s efforts to combat dangerous and false beliefs and offering constructive critiques for how best to move forward.

Skeptical Inquirer was founded in the fall of 1976 by what was then known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), led by Paul Kurtz, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, James Randi, Ray Hyman, and other brilliant thinkers. Its goal has always been to advance reason and critical thinking for a general audience and to challenge the extraordinary claims of those who promote pseudoscience and the paranormal, from UFOs and ghosts to climate change denial and so-called “alternative” medical quackery.

In this landmark anniversary issue, this generation’s skeptic leaders offer their earnest and at times critical thoughts on the accomplishments of the skeptical movement and how it must adapt for the next forty years. “Plunge into this intellectual, real-world thought-fest,” advises longtime editor Kendrick Frazier. “Drink deeply. Think well.”

Highlights include Neil deGrasse Tyson, who extols the self-corrective nature of science and its centrality in maintaining an informed democracy. “Science Guy” Bill Nye ignites a passion for reason in order to confront the catastrophe of climate change and the industry of denial that seeks to “hoodwink” the public. Physicist Lawrence Krauss emphasizes the importance of questioning prevailing wisdom, particularly from journalists, so that Skeptical Inquirer “wouldn’t be as necessary in the future.”

On the critical side, psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld cautions skeptics against insularity, arrogance, and cultivating an us-versus-them mindset. Doubtful News creator Sharon Hill advocates for a “reboot” of the movement, which she says has become weakened by in-fighting among groups and individuals. And philosopher Daniel Dennett warns against allowing skepticism to swing too far in the direction of cynicism, which he says saps enthusiasm and threatens a free society.

Skeptical Inquirer will continue to mark its fortieth anniversary with the next issue, focusing on “Odysseys in Scientific Skepticism” from even more skeptic leaders. The September/October 2016 issue is available on newsstands and in the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

# # #

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

Is Astrology False? Yes. Does it Matter? Skeptical Inquirer Consults the Chart

June 17, 2016

Astrology has been disproved time and again through decades of vast and comprehensive studies, and yet its adherents remain unfazed. In Skeptical Inquirer, Geoffrey Dean builds upon his already-exhaustive research from thirty years ago to show that despite astrology having been thoroughly discredited, for many it still appears to them to have validity.

Dean and colleagues have for forty years been poring over every available controlled study on astrology, some of truly sweeping scope (including one set of 30,000 people and 300,000 points of data), all of which failed to show any truth to the claims of astrology. Nonetheless, defenders of the practice remain stalwart. “Their books, classes, and conferences are not built on evidence but on opinions based on opinions based on opinions, thus perpetuating the seeing of faces in clouds,” writes Dean. “Millennia have not wearied them.”

The reason has less to do with astrology’s predictive powers and more to do with the simple human need for meaning. “To many people, astrology is a wonderful thing: a complex and beautiful construct that draws their attention to the heavens, making them feel they are an important part of the universe.” Dean concludes that “astrology does not need to be true in order to seem to work.”

Also in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer: Physicist Sadri Hassani dispels the often intentional misreading of Einstein’s E=mc2 equation, abused by the purveyors of pseudoscience to support false ideas of “mystical energy” and the existence of the soul—ideas that Hassani says must be “vigorously and publicly rebutted.” Hassani writes that the word energy has now acquired “a mystical halo comparable to words such as holism, consciousness, natural, and wholesome.” But he insists, “No connection exists between the soul-matter equivalence of mysticism and the energy-mass equivalence of relativity.”

PLUS: Benjamin Radford dissects the conspiracy mongering of Donald Trump; Joe Nickell investigates the mysteries of Jesse James; Matthew Nisbet warns of the partisan divide over Zika virus fears; Massimo Pigliucci and Russ Dobler visit a CUNY art exhibit inspired by Skeptical Inquirer, and much more.

This issue of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands and in the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

 

Joe Nickell on the Paranormal’s (Very Recent) Origin Story, in Skeptical Inquirer

April 4, 2016

Tales of psychic powers, mythical creatures, and hauntings seem like they have been with humanity since the dawn of time. But as world-renowned investigator Joe Nickell shows us in the latest Skeptical Inquirer, what we think of today as the paranormal can almost always be traced directly to the claims and creations of particular personalities of the twentieth century.

Nickell, who may be the world’s foremost authority on claims of the paranormal, introduces us to a colorful array of characters who took concepts steeped in myth and speculation and spun them into claims that to millions began to resemble reality, creating an explosion of paranormal claims throughout the previous century and through today.

These include Harry Price, “the original ghost hunter,” who in the 1930s first employed an arsenal of electronic gadgetry to detect the presence of spirits. At around the same time was Dr. J.B. Rhine, who tested subjects using a deck of cards to evaluate their extra-sensory perception, a term he coined. In the 1960s, Erich Von Däniken released The Chariot of the Gods, introducing the concept of “ancient aliens” responsible for humankind’s earliest wonders. And of course more recent extraterrestrials have been busy making crop circles, which first arrived via Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who themselves admitted their hoax and yet still inspired countless copycats.

We also meet the men responsible for concepts such as “cryptids” (such as Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster), the Bermuda Triangle, and even an original purveyor of UFO myths, science fiction author Raymond A. Palmer, who once asked an interviewer, “What would you say if I told you the whole thing was a joke?” Surveying this history, Nickell concludes: “The paranormal has proved largely a chimera—that fire-breathing, lion-headed, goat-bodied, serpent-tailed monster of ancient mythology.”

Also in this issue: Massimo Polidoro shows how “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo uses the abundant information available on social media “to astound her public”; Matthew Nisbet sees a silver lining in the food industry’s capitulation to anti-GMO zealots; three U.S. Air Force scientists explode the nonsensical claimed health benefits of titanium necklaces; and much more.

The May/June 2016 edition of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Amazon, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Race and Biology: Skeptical Inquirer Surveys a Scientific Minefield

February 10, 2016

The scientific study of biological race is riddled with controversy, both academic and political, such that the topic can seem untouchable. But what scientific truth might there be, if any, to the concept of race, which many experts deem a purely social construct? The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer wades deep into the debate, with the arguments for and against the idea of race, and what might lie in-between.

Skeptical Inquirer columnist Kenneth W. Krause surveys the latest and most fervently debated literature on the subject of biological race, revealing a heated divide between scientists across disciplines. He focuses the arguments in favor of the concept of race as a genetic phenomenon on the arguments of science journalist Nicholas Wade, who posits that modern industrial society is the result of racial differences, as the evolved behaviors of Westerners made possible the discipline and mutual trust required to allow an industrial society to emerge, whereas, Krause explains Wade believes, “sub-Saharan Africans, for example, though well-adapted to their unique environmental circumstances, generally never evolved traits necessary to move beyond tribalism.”

Suffice it to say, this view is not widely accepted and has been pilloried by several scientists. Wade’s critics say he ignores the influence of culture and the impact of immigration, reveals his own bias toward folklore-based conceptions of race, and that, most damningly, the scientific evidence simply doesn’t support his position. As biological anthropologist Greg Laden has written, “There is simply not an accepted list of alleles that account for behavioral variation.”

Krause also shows that a new angle on human variation may be closer to the truth, that of “ecotypes,” as advanced by evolutionary biologists Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan, Krause notes that given this understanding of race, “we might be wise to avoid the term race altogether.”

Also in this issue: Stuart Vyse takes a critical look at gun ownership and the difference between feeling safe and being safe; Daniel Vogel explores how even skeptics’ minds are vulnerable to bias and distorted perceptions; Massimo Polidoro reflects on the modern fascination with Mary Magdalene; and so much more.

The March/April 2016 edition of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Amazon, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

The Lie Detector’s Ugly Truth: Skeptical Inquirer on Polygraph Pseudoscience

December 9, 2015

When it comes to the ability of a polygraph machine to tell truth from lies, we have been severely misled. Add to that the ease with which the human memory can be manipulated to sincerely believe that which has never happened, and the implications for criminal justice become enormous. In Skeptical Inquirer, experts separate fact from fiction about the ways we determine, well, what’s fact and what’s fiction.

The “lie detector” is a ubiquitous tool in Hollywood crime drama, and it is frequently looked to as a mechanical authority by talking heads on television, but Morton E. Tavel of the Indiana University School of Medicine lays out a sobering case for its outright abandonment by law enforcement. He cites studies in which nearly half of subjects are falsely judged to be dishonest and points out the lack of any studies that show lying can be linked to any measurable emotional response.

Considering the impact the perception of having lied to law enforcement can have on a person’s life, be it legal jeopardy or social stigma, Tavel asks, “How can we, as a society, react to such a perversion of science? The logical solution is to completely abandon this method of testing.”

Also weighing heavily on our criminal justice system is its reliance on the human memory, something that cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown is troublingly malleable. In her address to Goldsmiths College at the University of London, reprinted in Skeptical Inquirer, Loftus explains how entire events can be implanted into people’s minds through such pseudoscientific means as “recovered memory therapy,” making them believe they have had experiences that never occurred, such as abuse by relatives or having been in a Satanic cult, “accusations that can cause untold misery for innocent people and their families.”

Also in the January/February 2016 issue of Skeptical Inquirer: Charles Reichardt looks at how Americans’ knowledge of basic scientific facts has not increased as education levels have gone up and religiosity has gone down; Russ Dobler profiles artists who express a love of science through music and comedy; Matthew C. Nisbet counters the idea that popular entertainment hurts the public’s attitude toward science and scientists; and much more!

Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

How One Man Solved the Bermuda Triangle Mystery

October 14, 2015

Skeptical Inquirer Marks Forty Years of Larry Kusche’s Landmark Book

Forty years ago, flight instructor Larry Kusche set out to discover what lay behind the swirl of mystery surrounding disappearances inside the Bermuda Triangle, and the resulting two books set a new standard for skeptical research and reporting: The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved (1975) and   The Disappearance of Flight 19 (1980). In the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, Kusche looks back on how he went about demystifying “one of the most widespread frauds that has ever been perpetrated.”

Kusche’s story details how he used his experience as a pilot to begin to unravel many of the mistaken, misremembered, or simply made-up reports of the disappearance of the famous Flight 19 in 1945, which were first embellished upon in a 1960s pulp magazine. Those extraordinary claims snowballed into the grand myth of paranormal terror we know today as the Bermuda Triangle.

Kusche determined through his research that the compiled tales of mysterious disappearances in the Triangle were “based on poor research and distorted, untrue, inaccurate information that was uncritically copied, embellished, and sensationalized.”

Four decades later, despite Kusche’s conclusive debunking, beliefs about the alleged supernatural nature of this piece of oceanic geography continue and are proliferated throughout the Internet. But as Kusche warns, “The need for skepticism, for paying close attention to detail, is of critical importance in everyday life,” from mistaken beliefs about the harm of vaccines and claims that global warming is a hoax, to financial ponzi schemes.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: James Lawrence Powell challenges the oft-cited statistic that claims that 97 percent of scientists accept the reality of climate change, when in fact the figure is nearly 100 percent; Dale DeBakcsy takes a dizzying tour through the claims of “biocentrism,” based on the idea that the nature of reality is determined by consciousness in living creatures; Matan Shalomi deflates the concerns of the anti-GMO movement by explaining how genes have been shared across species and kingdoms of life for eons; and so much more.

Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Mystery of the Daedalus Sea Serpent SOLVED in Skeptical Inquirer

August 28, 2015

For generations, the mystery of the “sea serpent” witnessed by the captain of the HMS Daedalus in 1848 remained unsolved. But in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, the magazine for science and reason, new evidence points to a definitive answer: No monster or dinosaur, but a particular kind of surface-skimming whale.

In 1848, Captain P. M’Quhae of the HMS Daedalus reported witnessing “an enormous serpent” emerge from the surface of the water and pass close to his vessel. M’Quhae claimed that “the head … was, without any doubt, that of a snake.” His Lieutenant, E.A. Drummond, gave his own account, writing, “The appearance of its head, which, with the back fin, was the only portion of the animal visible, was long, pointed, and flattened at the top, perhaps ten feet in length, the upper jaw projecting considerably.”

The identity of the creature remained unknown until evolutionary biologist Gary J. Galbreath mounted an investigation, publishing his findings in Skeptical Inquirer. Says Galbreath: “There is no doubt that something remarkable passed by that ship on an August afternoon.” But what?

Bringing to bear all that science has learned since the nineteenth century about marine life, along with newly available drawings and accounts, Galbreath is able to determine with near certainty that what the crew of the Daedalus saw was no serpent—indeed, no fish or reptile at all—but a mammal, a sei baleen whale.

“[The crew’s] accounts agree that the animal was swimming along with its head fully out of the water much of the time,” writes Galbreath. The behavior happens to be consistent with the feeding behavior of sei whales, whose lower jaws remain submerged as they skim small organisms from the surface of the water, the flat triangular tops of their heads resembling something like a serpent jutting from the water.

Also in the September/October 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer: Center for Inquiry President Ronald A. Lindsay argues for the ongoing need for the advocacy of critical thinking well into the future;  Kendrick Frazier and Kenneth R. Miller evaluate Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change from the skeptic’s perspective; Sadri Hassani dispels the claims to scientific “maverick-hood” made by the purveyors of pseudoscience; and much more!

Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Cosmos, Joe Schwarcz Win Skeptics’ Critical Thinking Prize

July 2, 2015

The 2014 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, an award for excellence in the promotion of science and reason, was given this year to the creators, producers, and writers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and to Dr. Joe Schwarcz for his book Is That a Fact? The Balles Prize is given annually by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publisher of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer. 

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $2,500 award given to the creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The prize was established by Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI and a practicing Christian, along with the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI.

Building on the groundbreaking series created by Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, and the late Carl Sagan in 1980, the new incarnation of Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, took tens of millions of viewers on an incredible voyage through the wonders of the universe, celebrating the discoveries of science and the men and women responsible for them. It also firmly positioned itself as a champion of critical, evidence-based thinking. Never disrespecting viewers who might hold opinions contrary to scientific consensus, Cosmos deftly and eloquently tackled hot-button scientific issues such as climate change and evolution, while also confronting a history of religious persecution and gender discrimination. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey opened the eyes of a new generation to humanity’s triumphs, its mistakes, and its astounding potential to reach unimagined heights.

The second 2014 Balles Prize recipient is the brilliant and prolific Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society, author of a wide range of books and articles, host of The Dr. Joe Show on Canadian radio, and a frequently sought science expert for the media. His latest book, Is That a Fact?, arrives just in time to take on a downpour of anti-science and pseudoscientific claims in politics and popular culture, such as the anti-vaccine movement, the backlash against GMOs, and the hawking of homeopathy as medicine. Is That a Fact? unflinchingly takes on all manner of popular misinformation (or as Schwarcz calls it, “scientifically bankrupt slop”), offering clear, friendly guidance that the general reader can use to better sniff out the factual from the fantastic. At a time when the pseudoscientific noise level is high and the public is primed and hungry for the truth, Is That a Fact? is well deserving of the Balles Prize in Critical Thinking.

Previous winners of the Balles Prize have included Paul Offit for his book Do You Believe in Magic?, Michael Specter for his book Denialism, and Natalie Angier for her book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.

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The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. It encourages the critical investigation of controversial or extraordinary claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community, the media, and the public. CSI is a program of the Center for Inquiry. Learn more at http://csicop.org

Skeptics Dare Heartland Institute to Take Up $25,000 Climate Challenge

June 15, 2015

For Immediate Release: June 15, 2015
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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A leading science advocacy group is throwing down the gauntlet to the Heartland Institute, a group that claims that global warming stopped in 1998, with a stark, simple challenge: If the 30-year average global land surface temperature goes up in 2015, setting a new record, the Heartland Institute must donate $25,000 to a science education nonprofit.

The challenge is presented by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a program of the Center for Inquiry, which held its “Reason for Change” conference last week in Buffalo, at the same time as Heartland’s own climate conference in Washington, DC. Heartland’s gathering opened with a keynote address by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who believes that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Among the key findings of a 2013 report published by Heartland was that “The level of warming in the most recent 15 year period [since 1998] is not significantly different from zero” and “natural variability is responsible for late twentieth century warming and the cessation of warming since 1998.” While the report’s authors dismissed global warming forecasts published by mainstream scientists, they have avoided making any testable predictions of their own.

“If anyone really thinks that human-caused global warming is a hoax, and that the climate has stopped heating up, they must also believe that temperatures will now stabilize or drop,” said Mark Boslough, a physicist and CSI Fellow who devised the challenge. “Well, that’s a testable claim, so let’s test it.”

“It’s time for the Heartland Institute to put its money where its exhaust pipe is,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, home of CSI. “If Earth’s climate gets hotter, and keeps getting hotter, the naysayers at Heartland should publicly own up and pay up.”

If CSI’s prediction proves incorrect, and the 30-year average global temperature does not go up, CSI agrees to donate $25,000 to an educational nonprofit designated by the Heartland Institute. 

CSI offered the following challenge: 

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) hereby presents to the Heartland Institute a challenge as to whether the Earth’s climate will set a new record high temperature this year. The challenge will be settled using the NASA GISS mean global land surface temperatures for the conventional climate averaging period (defined by the World Meteorological Organization as 30 years) ending on December 31, 2015.  If the global average temperature does not exceed the mean temperature for an equal period ending on the same date in any previous year for which complete data exist, CSI will donate $25,000 to a nonprofit to be designated by Heartland. Otherwise, Heartland will be asked to donate $25,000 to a science education nonprofit designated by CSI. It is CSI’s intent to repeat this challenge every year for the next 30 years.

“The theme of Heartland’s climate conference was ‘Fresh Start,’” observed Lindsay. “By predicting that a new record average temperature will be set every year for the next 30 years, we are in effect giving them 30 ‘fresh starts.’ I fear that what we’ll all find, however, is that as temperatures rise and the crisis deepens, each ‘fresh start’ will grow more and more stale.” 

Last December, Fellows of CSI – which includes noted scientists, journalists, and other luminaries such as Bill Nye, Ann Druyan, Richard Dawkins, David Morrison, Sir Harold Kroto, Joe Nickell, Eugenie Scott, and Lawrence Krauss – circulated a widely noted open letter, drafted by Boslough, calling for the news media to refrain from referring to those who deny the scientific consensus on climate change as “skeptics.” Learn more at http://bit.ly/SkepticsDeniers.

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The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a program of the Center for Inquiry, encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Learn more at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

Charles Darwin Superstar: The Rise of the Celebrity Scientist, in ‘Skeptical Inquirer’

June 9, 2015

The unprecedented availability of scientific data does not necessarily make for greater public understanding, as a celebrity-obsessed media turns to a handful of compelling scientific personalities to help us sort it all out. From Darwin to deGrasse Tyson, the rise of the “celebrity scientist” is explored in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer.

In a piece adapted from his new book The New Celebrity Scientists: Out of the Lab and into the Limelight, Declan Fahy explains how a media that favors individual personalities over scientific nuance spotlighted a coterie of scientists whose charisma equaled or excelled their scientific credentials. “These scientific stars gripped the public imagination, using their vast influence to stimulate new thinking, drive scientific controversies, enhance public understanding, mobilize social movements, and shape policy,” writes Fahy.

Fahy explains how none other than Charles Darwin, whose personality was “commoditized” during the Victorian era, established the template for the celebrity scientist, foreshadowing the stardom of Albert Einstein in the twentieth century. With Carl Sagan’s crossover into entertainment in the 1980s with Cosmos and stints on late night television, the celebrity scientist began to find friction with the scientific establishment. “Students who watched Cosmos wanted to become scientists. No modern scientist had yet achieved such reach, renown, and reputation,” Fahy writes of Sagan, but notes, “A number of influential peers dismissed him as a mere popularizer and not a real scientist, someone who spent too much time on The Tonight Show.”

For the current crop of celebrity scientists, which includes Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steven Pinker, and Richard Dawkins, Fahy describes them as “emblems of a new era of science, one embedded in the dynamics of the media, the demands of celebrity culture, and the vicissitudes of public life.”

Also in this issue: Stephanie Savage tells of the imaginary adventures she experienced during a coma, without claims of a glimpse into an afterlife; Benjamin Radford delicately allays the fears of a woman who has been convinced by psychics that she has been cursed; and Bruce A. Thyer brings to light a little-known opera by Scott Joplin that championed skepticism of pseudoscience and paranormal claims.

All this and much more is in the July/August edition of Skeptical Inquirer!

Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Peddlers of Medical Misinformation Exposed in a Special ‘Skeptical Inquirer’

April 15, 2015

Misinformation in medicine has reached a fever pitch in the media, in public policy, and even within respected medical institutions. A new special edition of Skeptical Inquirer delves deep into a problem that includes—and goes far beyond—the anti-vaccination movement, with quack health gurus, scientific journals, and even entire governments promoting dangerous pseudoscience as medicine.

Respected institutions of medicine and science are among the perpetrators of medical misinformation, as Thomas P.C. Dorlo, Cees N.M. Renckens, and Willem Betz reveal in a deeply troubling exposé. The World Health Organization, tasked with addressing health crises around the globe, with a particular emphasis on developing nations, is taken to task for a major report singing the praises of “traditional” and “complementary” medicines for which no evidence of efficacy exists.

The authors note that China, of all nations, is set to gain the most financially from greater adoption of “traditional” treatments, and it is China that both inspired and sponsored this report, using their influence to circumvent the regulatory frameworks normally applied to medical treatments. Write the authors, “We regard this as a disgraceful example of political choices in an area that should be dominated by science.”

Another vaunted institution is also pegged for its acquiescence to pseudoscience, as David Gorski calls out the journal Science for publishing under its banner a series of alt-med boosting “advertorials” posing as genuine scientific reports. “It is a shameful thing when one of the most widely read general science journals in existence sells out,” says Gorski.

Also in this special issue: Science blogger Mark Aaron Alsip exposes the hypocrisy of “natural” food advocate Vani Hari (aka “The Food Babe”), who rails against various chemicals for their alleged dangers, only to cash in on the sale of products that contain those same substances; Morton E. Tavel highlights the dangers of biased and over-hyped reporting of medical research; Lindsay Beyerstein explores the roots of vaccine denial in an interview with Paul Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic? and Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine; and so much more.

The May/June 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Scientists to Media: Stop Calling Climate Change Deniers “Skeptics”

December 10, 2014

For Immediate Release: December 10, 2014
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - 207-358-9785

Prominent scientists, science communicators, and skeptic activists, including Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” physicist Lawrence Krauss, Cosmos co-creator Ann Druyan, and many others are calling on the news media to stop using the word “skeptic” when referring to those who refuse to accept the reality of climate change, and instead refer to them by what they really are: science deniers.

The statement, signed by 48 Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), comes as a response to a New York Times article from Nov 10, 2014, “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline,” which referred to Sen. James Inhofe, who believes climate change to be an elaborate hoax, as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.”

“As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong,” says the joint statement. “The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is ‘denial.’

“Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.”

Signatories to the statement, drafted by physicist and science communicator Mark Boslough, also included Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, science education advocate Eugenie Scott, and David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, as well as CSI executive director Barry Karr, Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier, and Center for Inquiry president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay.

CSI promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is an affiliate of the Center for Inquiry. The complete statement is available at bit.ly/DeniersNotSkeptics.

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The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Learn more at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

Why People Believe in Conspiracies and the Supernatural: New Insights in ‘Skeptical Inquirer’

December 3, 2014

Plus: “Psychic” Sylvia Browne: Investigated By, Not For, the FBI

To the great frustration of rationalists, it seems that no amount of education or evidence can dissuade people from clinging to beliefs in gods, ghosts, and conspiracies. But why? The newest edition of Skeptical Inquirer magazine explores the latest science and research behind the intractability of irrational beliefs.

Clinical psychologist Gary M. Bakker begins by examining belief in gods and the supernatural and finds no single cause that might lead so much of humanity to such misguided beliefs, instead exploring many of the most frequently cited justifications, such as the fear of death, evolutionary advantage, and a yearning for meaning. “People do not stumble into a misguided belief in a god through deductive error,” he writes. “It seems to be   Homo sapiens’ default position.”

Preston R. Bost takes on the human inclination to perceive conspiracies where they do not exist. Bost laments the skeptical movement’s failure to weed out this pernicious tendency, taking skeptics to task for “hostility” and reduction of conspiracy believers to cranks. Finding conspiracy belief so common as to be “cognitively normal,” Bost notes that it may be an adaptive trait. “A person without the capacity for suspicion is a target for exploitation,” writes Bost, “and the necessary kernel of suspicion that exists in all of us might well become turbocharged under the proper circumstances.”

Also in this issue, historian Ryan Shaffer combs through the FBI files on the late “psychic” Sylvia Browne. Famous in part for her claims that the Bureau had relied upon her extra-sensory perception to assist in investigations, Shaffer learns that “the only interest the agency had in Browne was investigating her for fraud.” Shaffer finds zero evidence that the FBI ever sought her assistance, but plenty of evidence that she was under frequent investigation herself for potential violations of federal law.

Plus: Matthew P. Wiesner exposes the reemergence of geocentrism; Dale DeBakcsy critiques the Common Core approach to math; Laurence Miller looks at the forensic gray area of criminal profiling; and Eve Siebert casts a skeptical eye on the widely heralded documentary   Tim’s Vermeer, suggesting audiences “not accept its argument at face value.”

The January/February 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is made available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

44 Doctor-Bashing Arguments Demolished in Skeptical Inquirer

October 10, 2014

For Immediate Release: October 10, 2014
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - 207-358-9785

Defenders of dubious alternative medicine often make their case by attacking doctors and the larger Western medical profession, accusing them of such things as being in the pocket of “Big Pharma” or favoring the treatment of an illness’s symptoms over its root causes. But retired Air Force surgeon and skeptical activist Harriet Hall is having none of it. In the latest Skeptical Inquirer, Dr. Hall collects 44 of these arguments and one by one picks them apart with concision and a singular wit.

Answering the charge that doctors ignore the root causes of diseases, merely targeting symptoms, Hall informs us, “Doctors treat the underlying cause whenever possible. If a patient has pneumonia, they don’t just treat the fever, pain, and cough; they figure out which microbe is responsible and provide the appropriate antibiotic.” And what about the idea that doctors dismiss preventative measures? Hall asks, “Who do you think invented vaccinations and preventive screening tests?”

Alternative medicine’s appeals to tradition and popularity are demolished as well, as Hall reminds us, “Just think of how many people believe their horoscopes or consult psychics. For centuries, everyone believed bloodletting was effective in balancing the humors to treat disease.”

“We don’t accept gifts from drug companies,” Hall declares, rebutting the accusation that skeptics of alt-med are stooges of the pharmaceutical industry. “For that matter, subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies manufacture many of the diet supplements on the market … What about Big Supplement?”

Also in this issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Benjamin Radford (fruitlessly) hunts for the science claimed to be behind online dating service eHarmony;  Christopher J. Ferguson examines the link between video game violence and mass shootings; Massimo Pigliucci takes to task the “abysmal record” of futurologists’ prophecies; and much more!

The November/December 2014 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Ann Druyan on Bringing COSMOS to Life: “I Was the Decider”

August 12, 2014

Ann Druyan faced constant resistance in her quest to bring the landmark series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey into being, dismissed by television executives and academics alike for her age, her lack of formal scientific credentials, and insistence on creative control. In two special interviews for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, she recounts how she persevered and succeeded in creating what turned out to be a ratings hit and a cultural phenomenon.

Druyan developed the original Cosmos series for PBS in 1980 with her late husband, the beloved astronomer Carl Sagan, along with writer Steve Soter, and it was a shining success with audiences with lasting cultural impact. In 2007, she began work on a second incarnation. “When I began pitching the series to various networks, they all said ‘yes,’ until I told them I required complete creative control and the kind of budget that would make Cosmos the transporting voyage it had to be,” Druyan tells Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier. “When they balked at giving me control, and enough money to produce it, I said no.”

But the networks were not Druyan’s only source of friction. “I was deemed ineducable by various science professors long ago,” she tells Skeptical Inquirer. “When we were wandering in the wilderness of those early network prospects for this Cosmos, one of them told me that Steve [Soter] and I were too old to write it and that they had new young writers ready to take over. I knew that we knew what Cosmos was and we just walked away.”

Druyan also heralds the series’ host, renowned public scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, as “outstandingly cool” and “gracious,” but that when it came to determining the course of the show, “I was the decider.”

Skeptical Inquirer also features Druyan’s interview with Josh Zepps from the Point of Inquiry podcast. Reflecting on her lack of formal scientific education, she muses, “It’s an irony that my career has been a kind of bridge to all the people like myself who had a passion to understand the way the universe is put together, but really needed some kind of aperture into the subject.”

Also in this issue: Massimo Polidoro announces a project to tell the life story of skeptic hero James Randi, investigator Michael Fumento covers the 2009–2010 media hysteria over “runaway” Toyotas, Joe Nickell goes Bigfoot hunting at Mount Rainier, and more.

The September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

 

Skeptical Inquirer Asks: Can Religion Coexist with Science?

June 18, 2014

Religion is a powerful force in human civilization, and it cannot help but collide with scientific reality, the consequences of which can be enlightening, violent, or downright strange. A special issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine grapples with this troubled coexistence between faith in the supernatural and modernity.

Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati grapple with perhaps the toughest question: Would the world be better off without religion? Despite their shared atheism, the authors find that the question is not easily answered. Surveying an extensive body of social science data, they find that, if anything, faith does loosely correlate to moral behavior and that “religious belief appears to play a protective role against antisocial behavior among high-risk individuals.”

But religious belief does clash with reality in some deadly ways. Retired Air Force flight surgeon Harriet Hall exposes the dark world of faith healing, where deeply religious parents refuse medical care for their own children due to religious prohibitions against modern medicine, resulting in indescribable suffering and needless death. “The medical ethics principle of autonomy justifies letting competent adults reject lifesaving medical care for themselves because of their religious beliefs,” writes Hall, “but it does not extend to rejecting medical care for children.”

Ryan Shaffer, meanwhile, raises the specter of witch hunting in India, where (usually) women in the middle of disputes over property or politics are accused of being witches or “dayan.” These women are blamed for all manner of troubles, such as diseases and bad weather, and can be tortured, raped, hacked to death, or burned alive. Shaffer notes that legislative efforts are underway to control this backward practice in a rapidly developing nation but reminds us that “legislation is not a cure for superstition; improving critical thinking is the key.”

Also in this special edition of Skeptical Inquirer: Barry Kosmin of Trinity College surveys the skeptical attitudes of secular, spiritual, and religious college-age Americans; Mark Rubinstein compares the Raelian UFO cult to the messianic religions that came before it; Charles Wynn encourages a greater understanding of the differing approaches to knowledge of religion and science; and much more.

The July/August 2014 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is now available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.


Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

 

Campaign Takes On Religion and Junk Science in Health Care

June 3, 2014

Keep Heath Care Safe and Secular

Center for Inquiry Promotes Science over Superstition in Reproductive Rights, Alt-Med, Vaccines, and More 

The powerful influence of religious dogma, pseudoscience, and misinformation on American health care is wasting money, creating bad policy, and endangering countless lives. That’s why the Center for Inquiry (CFI) is launching a campaign to Keep Health Care Safe and Secular, to educate the public and promote health care policies based on science and facts, rather than faith and superstition.

Said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI, “At a time when corporations seek to force their owners’ religious beliefs on employees, when once-defeated childhood diseases are making a comeback because of misinformation, when people are fleeced by peddlers of useless or dangerous ‘alternative’ remedies, a campaign to keep health care safe and secular is badly needed.” 

The Keep Heath Care Safe and Secular campaign will address a wide range of issues in which science and reason are being rejected for the sake of religion or ideology, including:

  • Reproductive health, where religious interests seek to impose their beliefs on women by blocking legal access to contraception and abortion
  • Vaccinations, where misinformation and celebrity conspiracy-mongering are opening the door to outbreaks of deadly childhood diseases
  • Alternative medicine, where scientifically baseless and ineffective or dangerous “natural remedies” and therapies go unregulated
  • Faith-healing, where misguided efforts to respect the religious beliefs of parents who reject medicine lead to the neglect, illness, and death of children
  • The end of life, where religious doctrines about God’s will and the sanctity of life constitute the principal impediment to those who at the end of their lives desire to die on their own terms and with dignity

…and more, including addiction recovery, hospital ownership, and other critical issues.  

The campaign begins today with the launch of a new website, SafeandSecular.org, which will serve as the central hub for educational resources and news about health care policy, and as an up-to-date action center, with ways for Americans to get involved, updated as new developments arise. CFI will ask real people to tell their own stories, where someone’s religion has impeded their access to medical care, or taken in by peddlers of sham “alternative” remedies. Stories can be submitted at the campaign website, and shared on social media with the Twitter hashtag #SafeandSecular.

“As secular humanists, we advocate for policies based on science and reason, and guided by compassion for our fellow human beings,” said Lindsay. “We believe that American health care must be safe, effective, and accessible, but it can be none of those things if it remains under assault from religious ideology and junk science. For health care to be safe, it must be secular.”

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

 

The False Hope of Stanislaw Burzynski’s Cancer Treatments, in ‘Skeptical Inquirer’

February 12, 2014

Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski has been hawking unproven cancer treatments to desperate patients while facing repeated investigation by the authorities for decades. Skeptical Inquirer reveals the truth behind his dubious claims, and details the efforts by activists to rein him in and contain his damage.

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On the heels of a recent USA Today exposé of Burzynski’s unsound practices, Dr. David Gorski digs deep into the life of Burzynski and his scientific background, revealing both the genesis of his work and the facts that undercut Burzynski’s claims, describing him as an expert in “donning the mantle of science” for his own purposes, all the while operating under “nearly constant investigation by medical authorities.”

“There is little doubt that Burzynski started out trying to be a real scientist,” Gorski writes, but he eventually turned to an “ethical slide into oblivion,” sacrificing scientific rigor and the health of his patients. We learn the truth about Burzynski’s “antineoplastons,” mysterious compounds that Burzynski claims can be used to target and destroy cancer cells, that Gorski says “almost certainly do not have significant anticancer activity.”

Robert J. Blaskiewicz details the battle to challenge Burzynski’s questionable claims, and to provide reliable information about them to the public. For example, as a form of protest of Burzynski’s clinic, skeptics worked to raise funds for genuine cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, even as they weathered legal threats from allies of Burzynski. Meanwhile, activists have formed The Other Burzynski Patient Group, which tells the stories of the Burzynski patients who did not survive treatment. “While skeptics cannot perform the protective and punitive roles that regulators and courts have been unable to serve,” writes Blaskiewicz, “we can step up and do the investigating, reporting, and editorializing that the media have failed to do.”

Also in this issue : Joe Nickell investigates the truth behind the alleged hauntings portrayed in the new movie The ConjuringBryan Farha looks back on the terrible record of late “psychic” Sylva Browne; Richard E. Wackrow characterizes the threat of a terrorist “dirty bomb” as overblown; and much more.

The March/April 2014 edition of Skeptical Inquirer is now available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit www.csicop.org/si.

 

The Cult of Islamic Creationism Uncovered in Skeptical Inquirer

December 16, 2013

Skeptical Inquirer magazine cover

In the Muslim world, a particular brand of creationism has become a cultural phenomenon. The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer explores the explosive popularity of both the man and the antievolution enterprise known as “Harun Yahya.”

Begun by Turkish writer Adnan Oktar, the Islamic creationism espoused under the pseudonym Harun Yahya has expanded to literally hundreds of titles and publications in dozens of languages, churned out by an unknown number of adherents, yet all publishing under the same name. Stefano Bigliardi, a professor of philosophy and expert on Islam and Middle Eastern studies, examines how his version of creationism apes the jargon of science, making use of quotes and citations from true scientists, but grossly out of context.

Much like popular Christian apologetics in the United States, Yahya’s creationism aims to appear to be built on rational argument, while demonizing Darwin and evolution as responsible for humanity’s greatest evils and tragedies. It has also made impresario Adnan Oktar wealthy and politically influential, holding particular sway over the Turkish government on the banning of books and websites that he deems hostile to the beliefs he promotes.

Also in this issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Stanley Stepanic defends the true academic study of “demonology” from the field’s corruption by religion and superstition; Elie A. Shneour argues that the question of when life begins in the womb is not a scientific question, but one that science is best equipped to help us arrive at consensus; and Ryan Schaffer and Bhaskar Sripada honor the legacy of Indian skeptic activist Narendra Dabholkar, who was assassinated in August of this year.

All this and much more is now available in the January-February 2014 edition of Skeptical Inquirer on newsstands now, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at www.csicop.org.

Hallucinating the Afterlife: Oliver Sacks Talks to Skeptical Inquirer about Near-Death Experiences a

April 22, 2013

Famed neuroscientist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks casts a critical eye on near-death testimonials from those who claim to have visited the afterlife, in a new interview with Skeptical Inquirer.

Books such as Proof of Heaven and Heaven is For Real have been flying off shelves lately, tantalizing readers with what purport to be   genuine glimpses into the great beyond. But Sacks, whose own books include Musicophelia, The Mind’s Eye, and Awakenings (on which the Robin Williams-Robert DeNiro film was based), explains that while these kinds of experiences seem real, in the confines of a brain experiencing a hallucination, “a few seconds of altered consciousness as one emerges from coma would be enough” to give someone what felt like a lifetime of meaningful experiences.

Dr. Sacks, a professor of neurology at New York University, is interviewed for Skeptical Inquirer by neuroscientist Indre Viskontas, who has her own experience investigating such “heavenly” claims as the former host of the Oprah network’s “Miracle Detectives,” and as co-host of the podcast Point of Inquiry.

Also in this issue: Benjamin Radford carefully works to explain what looks like a “false flag” conspiracy regarding the death of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza;

Air Force Academy professor and civil libertarian Barry Fagin challenges what he sees as the skeptic movement’s bias toward liberal politics and policy at the expense of critical evaluation; and George Mason University’s Eugenie V. Mielczarek and Brian D. Engler look at the fallout from the government’s incentivizing the insertion of alternative medicine into medical school curricula, calling it a “two-decade fiscal morass of mythological non-evidence based delivery of medical care.”

The May-June edition of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands now. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

Invisible Beings, Psychic Horses, Alien Insects…Why Do We Believe This Stuff?

February 22, 2013

Skeptical Inquirer Explores Outlandish Beliefs and How We Reconcile Them

Invisible beings, horses that know their square roots, and alien bugs invading Denver—what makes so many people believe in these ludicrous ideas? The sharpest minds in science and skepticism confront the claims and phenomena that have us believing in that which is not there, and why we do it, all in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer.

In the cover story, world-renowned investigator Joe Nickell and astronomer James McGaha explore humankind’s fascination with invisibility. When the difficult-to-explain occurs, the culprits have often been thought to be invisible beings, be they aliens, angels, ghosts, or entities from other dimensions. But as the authors remind us, “An invisible entity necessarily means an immaterial one, one that therefore can exist only as a product of the imagination.”

Existing in the imaginations of countless witnesses at the turn of the previous century was the notion that some remarkably talented horses could perform complex mathematics. Many are familiar with “Clever Hans,” the horse that was purported to understand and solve math problems through hoof stomps. But even after Hans was shown to be the product of a cunning trick, his example spawned less well-documented imitators. Stefano Vezzani looks back at the excitement over the Elberfield Horses, equine mathematicians that seemed to communicate psychically, that for a time stumped the experts.

In a more recent instance of people seeing what they want to see, Robert Sheaffer takes the modern media to task for the false drama around purported UFO sightings in Denver, UFOs that turned out to be nothing but insects flying past a camera lens – a fact easily discoverable, and yet stubbornly avoided by those reporting on the sightings. Writes Sheaffer, “This story is a serious contender for the stupidest news report of 2012.”

In hindsight, so many of these apparently paranormal phenomena seem absurd, yet even very intelligent people can be taken in and cling tenaciously to their false beliefs. James Walker explores this cognitive dissonance that exists in those who accept pseudoscience and the paranormal, as well as those who hold either mild or fervent religious beliefs. Writes Walker, “They become so invested in their beliefs that they will latch onto any explanation, no matter how far-fetched, that reinforces their beliefs to which they have surrendered so much.”

All this, plus contributions from such writers as Steven Novella, Benjamin Radford, Kendrick Frazier, and many more, all in the March-April edition of Skeptical Inquirer, available on newsstands now. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The 9/11 Truth Movement a Decade Later

August 31, 2011

With the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, has the kind of conspiratorial thinking born almost immediately after September 11, 2001, diminished?

In “The 9/11 Truth Movement: The Top Conspiracy Theory, a Decade Later” in the July/August 2011 issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, author Dave Thomas reveals that after a decade, the 9/11 “Truthers” have refined their arguments but still haven’t proved the attacks were an inside job. Their key claims are refuted on multiple grounds.

The conspiracy theories started emerging just days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and over the past ten years several technically elaborate arguments have been submitted and refined by the 9/11 Truth movement. Do these intricate claims, including the collapse of World Trade Center (WTC) 7 into its own footprint at free-fall acceleration, disprove the mainstream consensus that the attacks were the work of al-Qaeda terrorists using hijacked airplanes?

Thomas examines three 9/11 Truther claims:
• “The Twin Towers collapsed at free-fall acceleration through the path of greatest resistance.”
• “Nano-thermite and military-grade explosives were found in dust from the towers. Tons of melted steel were found in tower debris.”
• “Tower 7, which wasn’t hit by a plane, collapsed neatly into its own footprint.”

In the same issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, CSI Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell reviews Messages from the 9/11 Dead by Bonnie McEveaney.

Jamies Bartlett and Carl Miller expand this issue with their description of 9/11 Truthers after publishing a paper that links their beliefs with terrorist ideology in “A Bestiary of the 9/11 Truth Movement: Notes from the Front Line.” They confront the distortions and inaccuracies of 9/11 Truthers’ response to the paper followed by an analysis of the various groups that make up this formidable movement.

In the following September/October 2011 issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, Robert Blaskiewicz relays information from his interview with founder of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, Richard Gage, on his introduction to the 9/11 Truth movement and his work regarding its theories on the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings. Blaskiewicz includes descriptions of his experience at a 9/11 Truth event he attended featuring Gage, WeAreChange.org founder Luke Rudkowski, and outreach director of New York City Coalition for Accountability Now, Manny Badillo.

Dave Thomas is a physicist and mathematician. He received his bachelor’s and master of science degrees from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. He is president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) fellow. 

Conspiracy theories, including the one discussed in Thomas’s article, will also be a topic of discussion at CSIcon 2011 in New Orleans. Robert Blaskiewicz, PhD, will discuss the numerous American conspiracy theories related to religion, while Ted Goertzel, PhD, will speak about the most recent controversies.

The SKEPTICAL INQUIRER is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at www.csicop.org.

Petition Seeks FDA Review of Homeopathic Drugs

August 30, 2011

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and its affiliate, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), both nonprofit educational organizations, have filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that the FDA initiate rulemaking that would require over-the-counter homeopathic drugs to meet the same standards of effectiveness as non-homeopathic drugs. Although the FDA has the authority to require homeopathic drugs to undergo testing for effectiveness, it has to date declined to do so.

Homeopathic drugs were previously marketed on a relatively small scale, but their sales have been burgeoning in the last couple decades. In 2009, consumer sales of homeopathic treatments in the United States reached $870 million.

Homeopathic drugs are controversial because most scientists and physicians maintain there is no reliable scientific evidence to support the therapeutic claims made for these drugs. Homeopathic remedies were first developed in the late 1700s, before the advent of modern medicine. Homeopathic drugs are produced by taking a substance that is believed to cause disease symptoms and then diluting the substance repeatedly until, according to accepted laws of chemistry, there are no molecules left of the original substance. But homeopaths insist that by virtue of some scientifically inexplicable process, their drugs possess therapeutic value.

“In 1800 it might have been excusable to allow homeopathic drugs to be marketed without proof that they work, but not in 2011,” observed Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI and CSI. “The FDA has an obligation to protect the health of Americans by requiring that all drugs that are marketed be shown to be effective. For Americans who need treatment, a useless drug is a harmful drug.”

The petition also asks the FDA to place warning labels on homeopathic drugs until such time as they are shown to be effective.

In separate petitions, CFI and CSI have asked the FDA to issue warning letters to Boiron, a leading homeopathic manufacturer, over its marketing of Oscillococcinum, an alleged flu treatment. One petition complains that Boiron’s packaging for Oscillococcinum lists the alleged active ingredient—duck liver and heart—in Latin only. Another petition complains that Boiron’s web ad for this product implies that it has received FDA approval. “If Boiron is going to sell snake oil, the least they can do is use English on their labels,” observed Lindsay.

The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization based in Amherst, New York; CFI is home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Our web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional healthcare practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

CSI Awards Balles Prize

June 13, 2011

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) will award its 2010 Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking to Steven Novella.

Novella is the director of General Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the editor of Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to exploring issues of science in medicine. His practice includes general neurology with a special interest in neuromuscular disease. His research interests include ALS, myasthenia gravis, neuropathy, and erythromelalgia.

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $1,500 award given to the author of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. Each year, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry selects the paper, article, book, or other publication that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues.

“Steven is being recognized with this honor not for a particular article or publication, but instead for the tremendous body of work including the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Science-Based Medicine, Neurologica, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER column “The Science of Medicine” and the tireless travel and lecture schedule on behalf of skepticism,” said CSI Executive Director Barry Karr. “The truly most amazing thing is he does this all on a volunteer basis.”

The prize will be presented to Novella by Kendrick Frazier, editor of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER and a member of CSI’s executive council, at the Friday evening banquet during CSIcon in New Orleans, October 28, 2011.

This prize has been established through the generosity of Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI, and the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. CSI’s established criteria for the prize include use of the most parsimonious theory to fit data or to explain apparently preternatural phenomena.

This is the sixth year the Robert P. Balles prize has been presented. Previous winners of this award are:

2009: Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, for his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
2008: Leonard Mlodinow, physicist, author and professor at Caltech, for his book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
2007: Natalie Angier, New York Times science writer and author of the book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science
2006: Ben Goldacre for his weekly column, “Bad Science,” published in the Guardian newspaper (U.K.)
2005: Shared by Andrew Skolnick, Ray Hyman, and Joe Nickell for their series of articles in the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER on “Testing ‘The Girl with X-Ray Eyes’”

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional healthcare practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

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CSIcon 2011 Dedicated to Scientific Inquiry and Critical Thinking

June 9, 2011

New Orleans is home to Old World charm and enticing legends that skeptics crave. An extraordinary conference, CSIcon 2011 New Orleans is sure to serve as the perfect backdrop on the boundary of the bayou.

CSICon, the conference dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking, is co-sponsored by SKEPTICAL INQUIRER and the Center for Inquiry (CFI). From October 27–30, 2011, at the New Orleans Marriott in the heart of the famed French Quarter, skeptics, scientists, journalists and orators from around the world will gather for four days of separating science from fiction.

Sifting history from legend and recognizing brilliance over the pseudoscience is what skeptics do best. CSICon is slated with four full days of plenary sessions, breakout panels and special events. Speakers include keynote Bill Nye “the Science Guy”; Indre Viskontas, PhD, co-host of “Miracle Detectives” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN); Sandra Blakeslee, science correspondent for The New York Times; and David Morrison, NASA senior scientist, to name a few. For a complete list of speakers, please click here.

Sessions will include debunking of psychic practices in “Magic or Miracle? Putting Psychic Powers to the Test”; discussions surrounding our top conspiracy theory in “The 9/11 Truth Movement, a Decade Later”; and debate of questions such as: Do people deny science even on resolvable issues in politics? Does the health care reform create death panels? Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? Will Earth meet an asteroid again? Does acupuncture work?

Stop by for special events, including a “Smarti Gras” parade and costume party that will consist of a police-escorted and second line jazz band led by a Grand Marshal; the party will continue at the world-famous jazz club Tipitina’s. End the conference on a skeptical note with a Houdini séance.

For more information, please log onto http://csiconference.org/ or contact Michelle Blackley at (716) 636-1425 ext. 218 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The SKEPTICAL INQUIRER is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization based in Amherst, New York; CFI is home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Our web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.

How Smart People Go Wrong

June 1, 2011

Society is riddled with intelligent people doing stupid things. Smart and accomplished men and women, sometimes even medical and science professionals, do not always make rational choices. Whether they are trusting instinct over rational thought or making ill decisions based on personal bias, human beings often take missteps.

Realizing there is more to wise thinking than brain power; this year’s Skeptic’s Toolbox will look at examples of such wrongheaded thought processes in medicine, science, finance, and more. Both faculty and participants will explore through lectures and team assignments various influences that contribute to poor reasoning by otherwise brilliant people.

The Skeptic’s Toolbox is a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) workshop held at the Living Learning Center at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. The four-day conference will be held Thursday, August 11 through Sunday, August 14. Journalists’ contributions to irrational thinking, a reinterpretation of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, and innocent jokes that provide serious consequences are just a few of the topics of mistaken thought processes that will be covered. For a complete schedule and to register, please visit http://skepticstoolbox.org/.

This year’s faculty team includes: Ray Hyman, professor emeritus of psychology, University of Oregon and CSI fellow. James Alcock, professor of psychology, York University, Toronto, Ontario and CSI fellow. Loren Pankratz, forensic psychologist, Oregon Health & Science University and CSI fellow. Harriet Hall, MD, “The SkepDoc,” retired family physician and flight surgeon, author, and columnist for Skeptic magazine. Lindsay Beyerstein, philosopher, photographer, blogger, polymath, and freelance writer who lives in New York City.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional healthcare practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

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CSI Adds to Executive Council

May 5, 2011

Karen Stollznow and Elizabeth Loftus Join the Executive Council

Amherst, NY–May 5, 2011–The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) welcomes two additions to its executive council. Karen Stollznow and Elizabeth Loftus recently accepted posts.

Karen Stollznow has spent over a decade investigating pseudoscientific and paranormal beliefs and practices, including ghosts, aura reading, psychics, medical intuitives, alternatives therapies, mediums, faith healing, conspiracy theories, cults, pareidolia (seeing faces on places other than heads), religion, haunted houses, and much more. 

Stollznow is a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley and received her PhD in linguistics from the University of New England. 

Known as a prolific writer about skepticism, she is the “Naked Skeptic” columnist for CSI and the “Bad Language” columnist for Skeptic magazine. Additionally, she is a host of the Point of Inquiry podcast and a cohost of the Monster Talk podcast. She is a contributing editor for the Skeptical Inquirer and managing editor of CSI’s peer-reviewed journal the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.

Stollznow is also a research fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, director of the San Francisco Bay Area Skeptics, and a contributor to many skeptical sites and publications. She also contributes to BadCast, the Bad Psychics podcast.

Elizabeth Loftus is a world-renowned psychologist with an expertise in human memory. She has conducted extensive research on the misinformation effect and the nature of false memories. In 2002 she was ranked number 58 (the highest ranked woman) on a list of the 100 most influential researchers in psychology in the twentieth century.

Loftus received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her MA and PhD degrees in psychology from Stanford. 

At the University of California, Irvine, Loftus is a distinguished professor in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior; the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society; and the Department of Cognitive Sciences and is also a fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and a professor of law. 

“We are pleased to have both of these distinguished scholars fighting for science and reason in the trenches as part of their daily lives and professions on the executive council,” says Barry Karr, executive director and fellow, CSI, and consulting editor, SI. “With Karen’s humorous and stimulating contributions to skepticism and Elizabeth’s achievements in academia, they are welcome additions.” 

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional health care practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

The Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at www.csicop.org

CSI Announces New Fellows

February 7, 2011

Amherst, NY – February 7, 2011 – The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) welcomed the New Year with the announcement of twelve newly elected fellows. For over thirty years, its fellows have served as an invaluable resource for CSI and the magazine it publishes, the Skeptical Inquirer.

The announcement and biographical sketches of the new class will be published in the forthcoming March/April 2011 issue of SI.

The twelve scholars and investigators elected are outstanding skeptics from five countries who have made major contributions to science and reason, critical inquiry, and public education. The new fellows include science writers Sandra Blakeslee and Simon Singh; psychologist Anthony R. Pratkanis and Keith E. Stanovich; physicist Mark Boslough; physician and alternative medicine critic Edzard Ernst; and investigator/writers Benjamin Radford and Karen Stollznow. Several other prominent leaders of the skeptical movement have also been elected: Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association and Rationalist International; Wendy M. Grossman, founder of the United Kingdom’s The Skeptic magazine; Barry Karr, executive director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry; and Richard Saunders, vice president of the Australian Skeptics.

“We are pleased that so many distinguished scholars, researches, academics, and people fighting for science and reason in the trenches as part of their daily lives and professions have joined with CSI,” Karr said.

Meet the 2011 class of CSI fellows:

Sandra Blakeslee has spent nearly all of her career writing about science for the New York Times. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Mark Boslough is regularly seen in science documentaries and news reports both explaining his research on planetary impacts and participating in expeditions to remote impact sites.

Sanal Edamaruku is a prominent writer, columnist, and television personality who is considered the most outspoken and dynamic advocate of rationalism in India.

Edzard Ernst holds both MD and PhD degrees. He is one of the world’s leading and best-informed critics of alternative medicine and has been awarded thirteen scientific prizes and awards.

Wendy M. Grossman founded the United Kingdom’s The Skeptic magazine in 1987 and has served twice as its editor. She is a frequent contributor to the Guardian’s technology section.

Barry Karr is the executive director of CSI and a member of the management committee of the Center for Inquiry. He is also a Skeptical Inquirer consulting editor.

Anthony R. Pratkanis is a social psychologist and expert on economic fraud crimes, propaganda, marketing and consumer behavior, and subliminal persuasion. He is coauthor of several books.

Benjamin Radford is a research fellow of CSI and a premier science-based investigator of “unexplained” phenomena. He is also the managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer.

Richard Saunders is the vice president of Australian Skeptics. He co-founded The Mystery Investigators skeptical science show for schools and founded Sydney Skeptics in the Pub.

Simon Singh is a leading science journalist in Britain who earned his PhD in particle physics at Cambridge.

Keith E. Stanovich is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award in education and is hailed as one of the most influential cognitive psychologists in the world.

Karen Stollznow has a PhD in linguistics and is director of the Bay Area Skeptics. She is a research fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

CSI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional healthcare practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at http://www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

The Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

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Leading Scientists and Physicians Rebuke Walmart for Selling Ineffective Flu Remedies

January 26, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Michelle Blackley
Phone: (716) 636-4869, ext. 218
E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Amherst, NY – January 26, 2011 – The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) have issued a joint statement criticizing retail giant Walmart Stores, Inc.’s misleading promotion on its website of a homeopathic medicine as a treatment for the flu.

Prominent scientists and medical specialists have joined CSI and CFI in publicly calling for Walmart to end its promotion of Boiron Oscillococcinum, a purported remedy for flu symptoms. (Boiron is the manufacturer; oscillococcinum is the homeopathic product.) The statement reads, in part: “We urge Walmart to cease marketing this ineffective product immediately. Although we recognize that doing so might not serve Walmart’s financial interest, we hope Walmart will act appropriately out of a sense of ethical obligation. The cooperation of good corporate citizens is indispensable if public consumers are to rely on the claims of health-remedy producers and the companies that market their products.”

The statement is available in its entirety on the websites of both CFI and CSI.

CSI and CFI contacted Walmart in November 2010 regarding its inaccurate and misleading marketing of Boiron Oscillococcinum. To date, Walmart has neither responded to nor acknowledged receipt of the letter it received from CSI and CFI. “We have issued a public statement because Walmart has failed to respond to our privately expressed concerns,” explained Ronald A. Lindsay, president & CEO of both CSI and CFI. “Our goal is not to embarrass Walmart, but to persuade Walmart to stop marketing ineffective products to people who are ill. The health of Walmart’s customers should be more important than the extra dollars to be made by selling junk such as oscillococcinum.”

In the “Medicine Cabinet” section of its website, Walmart assures customers that products such as Boiron Oscillococcinum will “fight colds and the flu.” Walmart’s website further promises to help the customer “stay on top of cold and flu season by learning about products that can help you and your family stay well, relieve symptoms and recover fast.” In its “Cough, Cold, and Flu Buying Guide,” Walmart also asserts that its products will provide the customer “with everything you and your family need for battling a cold or the flu.”

The leading scientists signing the statement include Nobel laureate Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan, as well as several prominent medical experts. Additional scientists and experts are expected to endorse the statement in coming weeks.

According to the statement, homeopathic oscillococcinum solutions were first produced in the early 20th century on the mistaken assumption that they contained “oscillococci,” microscopic bacteria that proved to be imaginary. There is no credible scientific evidence to support the effectiveness, beyond the placebo effect, of Boiron Oscillococcinum’s “200CK” homeopathic preparation.

CSI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific inquiry and critical investigation, including critical investigation of claims relating to unconventional healthcare practices, such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and homeopathic medicine. CSI’s advisors include a number of leading scientists, some of whom are medical specialists. A list of CSI’s fellows, advisors, and staff is available on CSI’s website at http://www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/.

The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization based in Amherst, New York; it is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

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Sixteen Notable Figures in Science and Skepticism Elected CSI Fellows

January 12, 2010

PRESS RELEASE
 
For Immediate Release
Contact: Nathan Bupp
Phone: (716) 636-4869 x 218
E-mail:
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)     

Amherst, NY  (January 12, 2010)—The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publisher of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER science magazine, announced today the election of 16 new Fellows, chosen for “distinguished achievement in science and skepticism.” All have made major contributions to science and reason, critical inquiry, and public education. They include notable figures in a wide variety of scientific and scholarly fields and prominent writers and investigators from five nations and eight U.S. states. CSI promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. Fellows are elected periodically by CSI’s Executive Council. Candidates are nominated by other Fellows or by members of the Executive Council.

This is the largest number of new Fellows elected at one time since the original founding of the committee (then CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) in 1976.  The approximately 40 original founding Fellows included CSI founder Paul Kurtz, Martin Gardner, James Randi, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Sidney Hook, Ray Hyman, and B.F. Skinner. Present CSI Fellows include Susan Blackmore, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ann Druyan, Lawrence M. Krauss, Elizabeth Loftus, Marvin Minsky, Steven Pinker, Eugenie Scott, Neil de Grasse Tyson, E.O. Wilson, and Nobel laureates Murray Gell-Mann, Sir Harry Kroto, Leon Lederman, and Steven Weinberg. A full listing of Fellows appears on the inside front cover of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazine every issue and on CSI’s Web site at www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff .

In addition to the 15 new Fellows, CSI is very pleased to announce that James “The Amazing” Randi has also again been named a Fellow of the Committee and has accepted.  Randi was, of course, one of the original founders of the organization back in 1976.  For various legal and personal reasons Randi felt obligated to resign from CSICOP (as CSI was then called) during the height of the lawsuits brought against Randi and CSICOP in the early 1990s by Uri Geller and Eldon Byrd.

“We are ecstatic to be able to count Randi as a CSI Fellow once again,” said CSI Executive Director Barry Karr. “And we are pleased to add so many distinguished scholars, scientists, authors, and science popularizers to the already stellar list of CSI Fellows. They will no doubt prove to be sterling assets to the CSI brain trust as we move forward in the next century defending science, reason, and common sense against the purveyors of superstition, quackery, and irrationality.”

The complete list of newly elected Fellows follows below. Photos and more detailed biographical information is available at http://www.csicop.org/16.
  
CSI New Fellows:

  • Kimball Atwood IV, physician, author, Newton, Massachusetts.
  • Robert T. Carroll, emeritus professor of philosophy, Sacramento City College, writer.
  • K.C. Cole, science writer, author, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
  • Christopher C. French, professor, department of psychology, and head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
  • Luigi Garlaschelli, chemist, Università di Pavia (Italy), and research fellow of CICAP, the Italian skeptics’ group.
  • Maryanne Garry, professor, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Harriet Hall, retired family physician, writer, Puyallup, Washington.
  • Stuart D. Jordan, NASA astrophysicist emeritus, science advisor to Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy, Washington, D.C.
  • Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology, Brown University.
  • Jan Willem Nienhuys, mathematician, Waalre, The Netherlands.
  • Steven Novella, assistant professor of neurology, Yale University School of Medicine.
  • Jay M. Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory, Williams College.
  • Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy, City University of New York-Lehman College.
  • Philip Plait, astronomer, lecturer, and writer.
  • James “The Amazing” Randi, magician, CSICOP founding member, founder, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).
  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer, SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif.
     

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization that promotes scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. It encourages the critical investigation of controversial or extraordinary claims from a responsible, scientific point of view, and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community, the media, and the public. Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.  Learn more about CSI and SI at www.csicop.org.

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Skepticism 2.0: What’s Next?

October 29, 2009

MEDIA ADVISORY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Benjamin Radford
Phone: (505) 891-3661
E-mail: BRadford [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net 

Skeptical Inquirer Science Magazine Looks to the Future

Amherst, N.Y. (October 29, 2009)—Skeptics have been keeping guard over both frauds and honest mistakes since ancient times—even earning mention in the Bible, (as when Daniel catches priests hoaxing a miracle).

David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, Harry Houdini and others did brilliant skeptical investigations in earlier centuries. And the modern skeptical movement was led relatively recently by pioneers such as Carl Sagan, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Paul Kurtz, Ray Hyman, Ken Frazier, Joe Nickell, and others—many of whom still proudly appear in the pages of Skeptical Inquirer. But what of the future generations of skeptics? Who will step up, join the cause, and carry on the mission?

Skeptical Inquirer is glad to report that the new generation of skeptics is here, and more are on the way. These are the YouTube crowd, the Twitterers and texters of today. These are kids who are intelligent, think critically and engaged in the world around them. Our challenge is to provide them with not only support, but a context for their skepticism, for as Shakespeare noted, “What’s past is prologue.” Faith healers, soothsayers, frauds, and others have always been with us, and always will be, though skepticism has found new ways of spreading in this electronic age, and new champions to take up the cause. Recognizing that much of the paranormal and pseudoscience is merely old wine in new bottles arms future generations of skeptics, and examples of careful skeptical research and investigation are available as weapons in this magazine and elsewhere.

In the November/December issue we see much for the emerging skeptical generation. Justin Trottier discusses how to effectively communicate skepticism and science to younger audiences. We have contributions by our own Barry Karr, who bring us up to date on CSI’s efforts to reach out to kids, and CFI librarian Timothy Binga, who reviews some of the best skeptical books for children and young adults. Heidi Anderson also gives a mother’s perspective on raising skeptical and critically thinking children.

This theme carries on in articles by popular Point of Inquiry science podcast host D.J. Grothe (on podcasts); Karen Stollznow (on blogging); Blake “Dr. Atlantis” Smith (on skeptical Web sites); and Tim Farley (on video skepticism). Reed Esau tells us about a new program called Skepticamp, and Daniel Loxton provides a follow-up to his insightful “What Do We Do Now” essay about the future of skepticism, asking “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Today’s teens have never known a time when Google and Wikipedia weren’t available to answer any question (accurately or otherwise) with a few clicks. They didn’t grow up watching Cosmos or In Search Of (or even That’s Incredible! or Unsolved Mysteries); instead their television is largely dominated by cable TV and its prolific mystery-mongering programming.

Many adults today grew up reading about real skeptical investigations by people like James Randi, and fictional ones such as Encyclopedia Brown and Scooby Doo (in the original series). To modern teens, these are ancient history. To many of them, “skeptical investigation” is sadly symbolized by two mystery-mongering plumbers who moonlight as ghost hunters on Syfy. But the truth is that young people remain fascinated by the paranormal and “unexplained,” and would likely be interested in the skeptical point of view if they were exposed to it.

The forms and forums are changing, but science, skepticism, and critical thinking will always be with us. The next generation of skeptics—the activists and leaders of Skepticism 2.0—will forge paths ahead.

To read selected articles from Skeptical Inquirer online, visit www.csicop.org/si

To interview authors and editors, e-mail managing editor Ben Radford at bradford [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net, or call him at (505) 891-3661.

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization founded in 1976 by Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and other prominent academics, scientists and writers. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and S.I. at http://www.csicop.org.

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