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I’ll Bring the Elephant Tomorrow For Sure

by Daniel Loxton, Apr 26 2011
Renmark North School, Grade 2, 1956. South Australia

Renmark North School, Grade 2, 1956. South Australia. Photo provided by Bonnie Poulter

[This week, I'd like to share a story excerpted from my recent LogiCON keynote. The speech is a bit on the personal side, as I'm sure you'll be able to tell. Much of it has to do with my own childhood. —Daniel]

My father has always been a wonderful storyteller.

Loxton boys on horsebackWhen my brothers and I were little, my Dad would tuck us into our beds, “bristle” our cheeks with his stubble, and tell us stories or poems. We loved Australian bush poetry (we must have heard “Mulga Bill's Bicycle” and “The Man From Ironbark” a thousand times), but our favorites were tales of his own childhood, growing up poor on the edge of the desert in South Australia. His Tom Sawyer-like childhood sounded magical to us: racing horses bareback over red sand, plucking oranges from the trees of his family's tiny fruit farm, catching yabbies in the hidden backwaters of the River Murray.

Many of these stories had a subversive edge to them, I realize now. Many were direct lessons in skepticism.

Continue reading…

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Touching History

by Michael Shermer, Oct 12 2010
photo

Skeptical Luminaries right to left: paranormal investigator Joe Nickell, Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz, the Amazing One himself, and psychologist and magician Ray Hyman

On Sunday, October 3, a group of skeptics gathered in Falls Church, Virginia to celebrate James Randi’s 82nd birthday. What an amazing meeting it was … er, an astonishing evening I mean, as Randi prefers to retain the “amazing” adjective for his moniker, James “The Amazing” Randi. Take a look at just a few of the giants present in the above photo — the legends of skepticism (from right to left: paranormal investigator Joe Nickell, Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz, the Amazing One himself, and psychologist and magician Ray Hyman). Continue reading…

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Learning from Martin Gardner

by Daniel Loxton, May 25 2010

Martin Gardner portrait by Konrad Jacobs. Courtesy Oberwolfach Photo Collection

By now you will most likely have heard the sad news of the death of Martin Gardner — the father of modern skepticism — at age 95. He was, as his friend James Randi wrote, “a very bright spot in my firmament.”

Many people feel the same way, and for good reason. Gardner’s impact cannot be overstated. It is fair to argue that Martin Gardner created the modern skeptical literature from whole cloth. His 1952 book In the Name of Science (retitled Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science for the second and subsequent editions; hereafter referred to as Fads & Fallacies) set the standard that later led to the creation of CSICOP — and to all that has followed since. Through his books and his “Notes of a Fringe-Watcher” column in the Skeptical Inquirer, Martin Gardner was a meticulous skeptical scholar for six decades. (Amazingly, his most recent Skeptical Inquirer articles appeared earlier this year.) Continue reading…

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“Never Say Anything That Isn’t Correct”

by Daniel Loxton, Feb 16 2010

In November of 2007, I heard that an alleged energy healer named Adam McLeod (“Adam Dreamhealer”) was scheduled to appear on a popular Canadian Broadcasting Corporation talk show, The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. I was familiar with the Adam Dreamhealer case, and also uncomfortably aware that media outlets usually treat miracle healers as harmless, untestable human interest stories. I was concerned about the ethical implications of promoting Adam’s claims to a national television audience. (Adam claims abilities for “energetically diagnosing illnesses,” and treating cancer “from 3000 miles away.” According to his web site, Adam is “uniquely able to influence the health and healing of large groups of individuals at his workshops by joining the auras of all in attendance.”)

I wrote to the producers of the show in advance to offer my assistance, and to remind them, “When The Hour interviews Adam, there will no doubt be thousands of viewers who are either suffering from cancer or watching a loved one suffer from cancer — all potential customers” of Adam’s lucrative books and healing workshops. (According to ABC News, then-19 year old Adam was already making over a million dollars a year in 2006.) Continue reading…

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A Skeptic Among the Paranormalists

by Michael Shermer, Sep 15 2009

On Saturday, September 12, after flying 17 hours from Cluj, Romania to Budapest, Hungry to Zurich, Switzerland to L.A.X., I drove straight to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where there was a big paranormal conference hosted by Dave Schrader of Darkness Radio. Dave is a very open-minded fellow, in the sense that he thought it might behoove his flock to have them hear what scientists think some plausible natural and normal explanations there are for the various supernatural and paranormal phenomena that his members tend to believe in and talk about at such conferences (there was even a ghost hunting expedition on the Queen Mary later that night, but I was wasted from flying for so long and passed on being spooked on the ship). Continue reading…

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Mixing Science and Politics (and Economics)

by Michael Shermer, Jul 28 2009

So many of you have taken the time to respond to my blogs thoughtfully that I feel I should comment in kind. In looking through the many comments, however, I see that most of what I would say has already been said by people who responded to my critics. Nevertheless…

First of all, why is it okay to mix science and religion (with atheists eagerly do in debunking religious claims) but not okay to mix science and politics/economics? Why is it okay for liberal atheists to stick it to religious believers and twist the knife slowly, but when it comes to getting your own (political/economic) beliefs challenged, that’s off limits — NOMA (nonoverlapping magisterial) for science and politics? I don’t see how they are different in principle. Skeptic is a science magazine, not an “atheist” magazine; nevertheless, we routinely deal with religious claims and no one ever complains about that. The closest we have come to political/economic issues is environmentalism (Vol. 9, No. 2 — sold out), overpopulation (Vol. 5, No. 1), and global warming Vol. 14, No. 1). For all three we published several articles; in Vol. 14, No. 1, for example, we published articles both skeptical of global warming and accepting of global warming. So I don’t see what would be wrong with publishing articles pro, con, and neutral on political and economic claims. Continue reading…

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Making Life A Game

by Kirsten Sanford, Jul 24 2009

Last week my friend sent me a picture of a flyer he had seen on the street. It didn’t seem like much at first glance — just some hokum woo — but, on further investigation (because of course you have to investigate hokum woo!) it opened up a whole world of intrigue.

The flyer was for the ‘Vital Orbit™’ Personal Human Force Field.

Personal Human Force Field - note that all the contact tags have been removed

Personal Human Force Field - note that all the contact tags have been removed

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Because I Said So

by Kirsten Sanford, Jun 26 2009

People believe the strangest things. Usually it’s because they learned it as a child, and never stopped to question the validity of the belief.

When that belief is questioned by someone else it can be perceived as an attack not only on their intelligence, but also on the people from whom they first learned the information in question. Questioning beliefs picks away at the mentors and heroes from a person’s upbringing. Continue reading…

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The Making of “Screwed!”

by Brian Dunning, May 21 2009

Recently I hit a milestone on my audio podcast Skeptoid: the 150th episode. I wanted to do something really fun, and decided a lavish broadway musical was the way to go. Normally my listeners expect 10 minutes of me talking in a dry and boring manner, so I figured this would be a fun way to surprise everyone.

The concept was a musical version of a secret meeting of the Illuminati, ruing the fact that the population has discovered alternative and faith-based everything, and thus profits are down. Continue reading…

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My Friend, the Believer

by Brian Dunning, May 07 2009

I have a very good friend who is from Eastern Europe, a country in the former Eastern Bloc where gypsies roam and belief in the paranormal flourishes. It’s little wonder, for a country that took its first steps out of a modern Dark Age only twenty some years ago, that its people are deeply accustomed to folk wisdom and traditional healing methods. In a nation whose healthcare system was decades behind the world and offered few tools of value, you often were better off staying home and applying a poultice.

One night we were out for drinks and were discussing a few Skeptoid episodes where I’d discussed various non-scientific alternatives to healthcare. Soon, he’d had enough. And he told a story that went about like this: Continue reading…

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