Skeptics’ Circle Number 66 – Summary of Abstracts

Welcome to the 66th meeting of the International Society of Skeptics.

Abstracts from attendees:

Straw Men and Circular Reasoning
Author: Skeptico
Introduction The problem of debunking crop circles persists despite many previous valiant efforts (See Sagan, C.S. Demon Haunted World).
Results In this study the author evaluates current research into the formation of crop circles. Relying on faulty evidence and circular reasoning, current proponents fail to elevate crop circle formation from hoax to alien conspiracy.
Conclusions Crop circles remain convincing evidence of extraterrestrial life only for people with defective reasoning skills.

Abstracts continue below the fold:

The Mr. Wizard Moment of Science Contest!
Author: Skepchick
Introduction The internet has been repeatedly demonstrated to be an effective tool for getting people to do work for free, the author designed an experiment to see if a solicitation for Mr. Wizard-like videos would result in people she did not know generating interesting scientific content. Further, rather than rating the videos herself, she tested to see whether large numbers of people would vote on which entry was superior.
Results A winner was successfully selected from entries generated by science enthusiasts at absolutely no cost. The winning entry received 33% of 348 votes, suggesting a high rate of return on internet solicitations for science content.
Conclusions The internet remains a valuable resource for making people do work for free. The use of the internet to generate entertaining and informative scientific content is an as-yet untapped resource.

Christian Domestic Discipline – an interpretation of victim testimony
Author: Infidelis Maximus
Introduction Religion (see recent definition) has been used as an excuse for many atrocious behaviors, often with the consent of the victims. In this study the authors evaluate the role of self-deception in the Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD) movement, which involves the religious justification of the abuse of married women by their husbands.
Results In testimony evaluated women in these abusive relationships demonstrated significant loss of insight, and numerous examples of defending their abusers suggesting a Stockholm Syndrome-like effect.
Conclusions The use of religion to justify spousal abuse is a continuing problem. Possible interventions may include encouragement of skeptical thinking to combat antiquated beliefs and possibly contacting authorities to discourage continued abuse of women by their husbands.

Science is about the real world
Author: Ithika
Introduction Phrases like “other ways of knowing” crop up in defense of both religion and alternative medicine. In this essay the author seeks to clarify that empiricism is the only way of knowing, even in oft used examples of creative thinking such as poetry and art.
Results An analysis of so-called “non-scientific knowledge” shows that it is a fundamentally flawed notion that there can be a reality other than objective reality. Irrational behaviors and endeavors are no less subject to the rules of biology and physics than pure academic and scientific pursuits.
Conclusions Scientific explanation and thought applies to all aspects of life, whether people acknowledge it or not. See also The Tyranny of Alternative Medicine for a thorough response to the appeal for non-evidence based ways of knowing and classic examples of the failures of such philosophies..

Applying the Denialist Deck of Cards to Sexist University Hiring
Author: Charles W. Magee, Jr (lablemming)
Introduction The Denialist Deck of Cards (Hoofnagle, CJ 2007) has been suggested as a resource to evaluate obstructive arguments designed to prevent obviously needed reforms. The author attempts to apply the deck to recent arguments made at an institution of higher learning to prevent fair hiring practices.
Results An application of the deck to the arguments against hiring women at the institution revealed seven examples of denialist cards being played against hiring reformers.
Conclusions The applicability of the deck of cards continues to be demonstrated across a broad spectrum of arguments denying a problem or need for reform.

Correlation, Causation, and Diet Soda
Author: Lorne Ipsum
Introduction Despite efforts to inform the public about basic logic, post hoc ergo propter hoc (correlation equals causation) errors continue to abound in interpretation of events. In this article, the author evaluates recent coverage studies into the role diet soda may play in development of metabolic syndrome for evidence of this flawed reasoning.
Results Media coverage of a correlation between soda drinking and development of metabolic syndrome were rife with correlation/causation errors, and showed a tendency to ignore basic facts and the authors’ own conclusions about their scientific research.
Conclusions The role of diet soda in the development of metabolic syndrome is unknown. Studies so far show only correlative evidence which should not be interpreted as “diet soda causes metabolic syndrome”. Media coverage of scientific results continues to show serious defects and exaggeration, despite efforts by scientists to clarify and inform the public.

The Scam the Never Enze: the wacky world of weenie-woo
Author: Kevin Beck
Introduction Male insecurity over penis size has been exploited for centuries. In this study the author evaluates the current efforts to shrink mens wallets by suggesting a product exists that can enlarge their anatomy.
Results An evaluation of the components of the latest empty-promise penis-enlarging scheme show that nothing has changed with regards to the empty promises of male genital enlargement.
Conclusions A certain subset of men will always believe laughable claims for the false hope of a larger member.

Amateur Experts
Author: Infophile
Introduction It is well known that incompetent people have difficulty judging competence in others. The author examined news articles covering criminal trials to evaluate amateur indifference to expert opinion out of a false sense of knowledge.
Results In the context of a criminal trial, Jurors have been found to think viewing CSI gives them expertise in criminal investigation to the point of ignoring expert evidence that conflicts with their preconceived views.
Conclusions Developing expert knowledge in a topic takes a great deal of time and research. Numerous factors in American cultural experience, and education confound appreciation for legitimate expert knowledge.

Media Kick Swedish Heritage Board in Groin
Author: Martin Rundkvist
Introduction The consensus of archaeologists of stone ships in southern Scandinavia is that they are grave markers constructed in the late 1st Millennium AD. However, cranks have proposed alternative hypotheses with little evidence to support their view. The authors seek to determine the influence of crank ideas on the historical understanding of such sites.
Results The National Heritage Board of Sweden appear to have caved to cranks and despite the overwhelming contradictory evidence they have included unsubstantiated evidence of the stone ships being a calendarical observatory.
Conclusions Unfortunately, under pressure even legitimate historical agencies are willing to bow to pressure from cranks and entertain unsubstantiated hypotheses from cranks in a misguided attempt to “teach the controversy”. Skeptics must be vigilant in preventing the “controversy” argument to be used as a justification to legitimize psuedoscientific ideas.

What Theists Can’t Answer
Author: BEAJ
Introduction It is repeatedly asserted that theism is responsible for basic aspects of human morality and altruism. The author seeks to show using recent examples of studies of close relatives of human species that many behaviors attributed to religious indoctrination are actually inherent in human nature.
Results Moral behaviors such as altruism have been observed in recent studies in chimpanzees, and there is no evidence of successful religious indoctrination of the species. Further, other moral behaviors, such as fairness and absence of spite were observed in chimps, except the chimps, unlike humans, did not react spitefully to unfairness or anger.
Conclusions Chimpanzees show moral behavior similar to humans without evidence of religious indoctrination. Further, chimps emulate behaviors known to Ned Flanders without any apparent church membership.

Death By Homeopathic Surgery
Author: Orac
Introduction In two articles (2nd), the author investigates the health and policy implications of Arizona’s licensing of homeopaths to perform various procedures and prescribe medications in light of a recent death of a patient from homeopathic surgery.
Results An evaluation of the circumstances of the patients death suggested negligence on the part of the MD supervisor, as well as a completely irresponsible regulatory system in Arizona that allows “minor surgery” by untrained personnel. Further, Arizona’s current licensing scheme for homeopathic practitioners is just the state sanctioning of a loosely-defined set of woo-based treatments that at best will do nothing, but at worst result in harm to patients.
Conclusions The Arizona legislature is likely full of idiots. For further discussion of other homeopathic remedies and other state regulations see Polite Company.

Thou shalt not report odds ratios
Author: Mark Liberman
Introduction Media reporting of scientific results has come under increasing scrutiny (See bogus marijuana/schizophrenia link) as science reporters writing suffers from basic reading comprehension problems as well as misunderstanding of statistics. The author proposes to demonstrate the specific problem journalists have understanding odds ratios, and the resulting mistakes they make in their reporting from their inability to interpret them correctly.
Results A survey of multiple news reports covering the same NEJM article showed each paper’s science reporter making the exact same mistake interpreting odds ratios, leading to wildly inaccurate information being disseminated by major newspapers. A historical evaluation of this kind of mistake shows that journalists have been making this same type of error for years.
Conclusions Statistics courses should be a part of journalism school. Science writers may need remedial coursework.

On Transcendental Meditation II: Ayurvedic Medicine
Author: Tobe
Introduction Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient form of woo with a basic philosophy of humors representing air fire and water. The balance of these humors is hypothesized to affect the health of one’s mind and body. Not surprisingly, a system based on such an inaccurate view of physics and nature has failed to show benefit when tested by modern science. The author reviews the practice of Ayurvedic medicine and arguments of current advocates.
Results Deepak Chopra, and other purveyors of this woo reach to new and stunning depths of fallacious logic to justify its efficacy. Further, remedies based on this system of belief may be worse than useless, but actually harmful as they have been found to contain toxic chemicals.
Conclusions Ayurvedic medicine, like other ancient forms of medicine, is based on a flawed understanding of the world. Those that promote it, despite modern science’s superior descriptions of nature and the universe, have a flawed brain.

The next meeting of the Skeptics Circle will be held in two weeks at the Bronze Blog. In the meantime, examine his ever expanding list of doggerel.