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A victory for reality in Texas

by Phil Plait, Mar 10 2010

I am pleased to write that the creationist and generally anti-reality Don McLeroy has lost his bid for re-election to the Texas State Board of Education!

Yay!

The man who ousted him is Thomas Ratliff, who is — gasp! — an actual educator who has vowed to try to remove the politicization of the board and also to actually – gasp again! — listen to educators when it comes to, y’know, educational topics. You may remember McLeroy is the goofball who infamously said, "Someone has to stand up to the experts!"

However, mitigating the good news somewhat are some things to consider:

1) McLeroy is still on the BoE for the next seven months before his term runs out. He can do a vast amount of damage to Texas schoolchildren’s education in that time.

2) Ratliff only won by a very narrow margin, meaning a whole lot of Texas citizens either didn’t know about McLeroy’s maniacal attempts at derailing the Lone Star State’s educational system, didn’t care, or actually supported him.

3) McLeroy and his crew of revisionist creationists have already done so much damage that it cannot be easily repaired. There is a cycle to the way standards and such are reviewed and updated in Texas, so it could be years before things are straightened out, if at all.

Still, this is good news, and so I won’t use the "Texas: Doomed" graphic. Instead, I’ll remind you not to rest:



Tip o’ the ten gallon hat to Robert Estes and the many others who emailed me about this. Originally posted on The Bad Astronomy Blog.

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Iraqi still believes in magic

by Phil Plait, Feb 24 2010

Oh, FFSMS. After countless tests showing them useless, articles about them being useless, challenges from Randi and others to prove they are not useless, and the company head arrested for suspicion of fraud because they’re useless, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered that the (useless) magic wand dowsing rod bomb-sniffers should still be utilized.

FFSMS.

At least al-Maliki wanted them tested. Still. This angers me:

The survey, ordered by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, found the British device, known as ADE651, generally worked. However some of the gadgets, found to be ineff­ective, would be replaced.

A government spokesman later said only 50% of the devices worked.

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Here’s something Kevin Trudeau wants you to know: he’s contemptible

by Phil Plait, Feb 18 2010

Hey, remember Kevin Trudeau, the guy convicted of fraud, the larcenous liar who mercilessly (literally) plugs away on informercials to sell his books like Natural Cures "They" Don’t Want You to Know About, books that tell people to turn away from real medicine so they can die of cancer if they follow his quackery?

Yeah, that sweetheart.

Well, he’s at it again. He just doesn’t think that his reputation can get any lower, despite being able to comfortably limbo underneath a mosquito’s belly with room to spare. Trudeau recently urged his minions to send protesting emails and text messages to federal judge Robert Gettleman — the hero who raised a fine against Trudeau from $5 million to $37 million, to better match the money Trudeau defrauded out of people for his books. Gettleman is currently working on potentially revising his order after an appellate court found his ruling too broad.
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Utah to be destroyed by a comet! Or not!

by Phil Plait, Feb 10 2010

Utah is only one state over, so when I see a website that tells me a fragment of a comet will hit it on March 1 of this year, I sit up and take notice.

Then I see the flashing text. The multiple colors. The GIANT FONT. The URL: satansrapture.com. Well, still. It can’t be all wrong can it? And then I see the title: "BIBLE CODE PREDICTIONS 2010".

Oh. I guess it can be all wrong.

OK, Utah, you can rest easy. I’m guessing March 1 will come and go with no comet impact, fragment or otherwise. The Bible code is a long debunked piece of antiscience garbage, basically just people looking at random patterns until they find one that kinda sorta if you squint your eyes and plug up your ears and yell LALALALALALA looks like it might say something sorta correct.

Maybe.

Anyway, I wouldn’t normally link to such low-level and obvious nonsense, but no matter how silly a doomsday claim is, there will always be people out there who take it seriously. So just in case, here you go: there are no scientific predictions that a comet piece will hit Utah, and the Bible Code is total 100% fictitious nonsense.

Unless… hmmm. The Earth is hit by about 100 tons of cosmic debris every night. A lot of that is from comets, small (and I mean small) bits of fluff shed off of previous comet passes. And if you live in Utah and go out March 1, you’re sure to see at least one or two shooting stars…

So maybe that website is right!

Or not. I’m guessing not.

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And now the antivaxxers’ humiliation is complete

by Phil Plait, Feb 03 2010

Oh, this is wonderful to hear: The Lancet — a leading UK professional medical research journal — is retracting the paper published by Andrew Wakefield back in 1998 that linked vaccines with autism.

The paper has been found to be multiply and fatally flawed, with Wakefield and his work being thoroughly discredited. As the Lancet editorial itself states:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

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Alt-med purveyors show their true colors

by Phil Plait, Jan 27 2010

At some level, I understand the motivations of people who promote "alternative medicine". They may very well be altrustic, seeing what they perceive as a massive failing of so-called Western medicine, and feeling strongly that they know how to fix the situation, if only people would seek alternatives. I know that when I feel strongly enough about an issue, I feel morally obligated to speak up.

The problem is that for a lot of this so-called alternative medicine, there is no evidence it works, and in fact evidence it doesn’t work. Worse, a lot of its biggest purveyors actively try to denigrate real medicine, the stuff that, y’know, works, in an attempt to bolster their alt-med claims. And you have to be a little suspicious when they hawk their wares on their sites, too.
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Secular help for Haiti

by Phil Plait, Jan 20 2010

The James Randi Educational Foundation has teamed up with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and a dozen other secular groups to set up a way to donate money to help out the people of Haiti after the huge earthquake last week.

As Randi says,

We at the JREF are very proud to be part of the concerted effort to aid Haiti to recover from this catastrophic event. To my mind, there is nothing more disturbing than hearing the distressed cries of children who are subjected to grief and/or injury, and my personal contribution has already been added to the encouraging total that mounts hour by hour. Please be generous and help us to reach out to Haitians of all ages, of any and all philosophical orientations.

Richard Dawkins will cover $10,000 of PayPal fees, so if you use that method 100% of your donation will go to help.

You can donate here. Please help.

comments (9)

Now I am a skeptic

by Phil Plait, Jan 13 2010

I’ve been a skeptic a long time, maybe 25 years or more now. It didn’t happen all at once, though there have been sudden world-shift moments for me. I’ve been an active skeptic — outspoken, that is, willing to talk about this stuff — for about 10 years now.

But now, finally, I feel that I have arrived at the Holy Grail of skepticism: a goofball antiscience promoter has quote mined me.

Quote mining is a tradition among the antireality crowd: they find something a scientist has said, and then leave out certain words, or edit out the context, making it look like the quote is the opposite of what the actual intention was. Creationists are notorious for this, but others do it as well.
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Branding Skepticism

by Phil Plait, Jan 06 2010

Steve Cuno is a skeptic as well as man who knows his marketing — he’s a professional. He’s spoken at two TAMs, both times about how better to market and brand skepticism. His points have hit home with me, because what he says about how we behave as skeptics is something I have seen countless times to be true. He thinks — and I agree — that we need to be more positive about what we know to be true. Instead of only saying "the antivax movement is baloney," (which we know to be a correct statement) we need to promote actual medicine and talk about why vaccinations are important. I try to do that here on the blog, because I know full well how skeptics are seen outside our own circles: naysayers, pointy-headed ivory tower academics, and so on. By being positive, we promote ourselves much better to the public.
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Do astronomers see UFOs?

by Phil Plait, Dec 30 2009

denver_ufoI have been saying for years that a) most UFOs are simply misidentified mundane phenomena (satellites, meteors, balloons, Venus, weird clouds, even the Moon) and that 2) if they were real, astronomers — who spend a lot more time looking at the sky than your average person — should be reporting most of them.

My musings on this have been twisted and distorted by UFO folks — shocker! — even though I’ve been pretty clear about what I would count as evidence. But now we may have a way to cut through the garbage. A new website has been started for professional and amateur astronomers to report Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. I rather like this new UAP acronym, since it avoids the UFO/flying saucer baggage. Anyway, it was set up as part of IYA 2009 to help astronomers report things in the sky they may not immediately understand. Better yet, it has links to handy guides that will help people who might otherwise misidentify normal things like sundogs and other weather phenomena.
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