Archive for October, 2009

Skeptics Baffled By Yet Another Lame ‘Doctors Baffled’ Story

Non-miraculous Dermatographic Urticaria, or 'skin writing'

Non-miraculous Dermatographic Urticaria, or 'skin writing'

There are few things more fun than when two classic pseudoscience memes clash. It’s a little game you can play, like a form of skeptic snap. Psychic healing? Sure. Astrology meets homeopathy? Why not.  Baffled doctors meets religious apparition? Of course. Which brings us neatly to a recent news story which featured, erm, well – baffled doctors and religious apparitions. Which explains my introduction, obviously.

The particular doctor-baffler in question is young Ali Yakubov, a new-born from the Republic of Dagestan – a small republic bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan. And the religious apparition? The mystrious and sudden appearance of passages from the Koran on his skin. Apparently, the parents of nine-month-old were stunned when the word ‘Allah’ appeared on his chin soon after his birth. So stunned, in fact, that they didn’t tell anyone about the signs from the almighty one. At least, at first. But when the writings appeared on a more regular basis, coming and fading a few times a week, culminating in the direct order to ‘Show these signs to people’, the parents took action and immediately announced their little miracle to the world. And of course they had documented proof that the signs were heavenly, and they did some very simple tests to prove that the messages were appearing without human intervention – for example, by having a camera set up to watch their child 24/7 and see that nobody was leaving the amazing marks on his skin. Something simple as that. You know, actual proof.

Oh, no, that’s right – they did none of that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Our Man In Ottawa: Creationism 101

MSS-member and recent émigré to Canada Chris Hassall gives us an introduction to Creationism in all it’s flavours and glory.

While there are many forms of woo that involve a warping of science, that which is closest to my heart is Creationism. While homeopathic practitioners, psychics, claim scientific support (or at least use scientific terms) when arguing their respective cases, no other variety of woo has produced so much spilled ink (as well as money for the authors) as that promulgated by “creation scientists”. I will briefly outline the two most prevalent forms of creation woo with some brief critiques and a quick guide to the leading figures in each of the movements. I’ll finish with a discussion of how we should be dealing with this particular form of woo. Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics in the Pub: December 17th – Trystan Swale

Trystan Swale

Ghosts and the People Who Hunt Them

Trystan Swale

When: Thu, Dec 17, 2009 8:00 – 11:00 PM
Where: Crown Hotel, 43 Lime Street, Liverpool.


Who are the people that spend their weekends sat in haunted buildings hoping to capture evidence of an after life or a snapshot of a ghost? From academics to housewives, Trystan Swale blows the whistle on the profiles, methods, means, deception, poor research and bad science of the people who continue to shape popular culture and perception of ghosts.
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Getting Your Vicars In A Twist

This week a vicar has been complaining about people secular funeral services. He’s particularly annoyed at people playing their favourite song at their funeral, as it leaves him quote ‘feeling like a lemon’. Ed Tomlinson of St Barnabas in Kent wrote his thoughts on his personal blog when wondering what role the church plays in modern funerals, complaining that secular-styled services leave him feeling ‘spiritually unwanted’. He said:

“The best our secularist friends can hope for is a poem from Nan combined with a saccharine message from a pop star before being popped in the oven with no hope of resurrection. In the last few years, it has become painfully obvious that many families I have conducted funerals for have no desire for any Christian content.

I am saddened to discover yet another arena of life in which the church is moved from the centre to the margins. I am equally troubled that pastoral care is being left in the hands of those whose main aim is to make money”

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Question of the Week: The cost of time travel

Suppose we’ve solved the problems of time travel. On paper, at least.  The boffins have even put together a feasible design for an actual time machine.  Should we build it?

There is one catch though.  The estimated cost is £1,000 trillion and it would take over 10 years to put together.

It would be an international effort, with the cost shared between participant nations.

Should it be done? Aren’t there better things for the world to club together and spend £1,000 trillion on? Is there even that much money in the world? If a referendum were taken – what would you vote?  Are you pro- or anti-time?


I Must I Must Increase My Bust

In what has to be the most tabloid-pleasing news story I’ve seen in a while, as part of the BBC show Inside Out I recently featured it emerged that a North Eastern hypnotherapist and stage hypnotist is making claims at being able to help women enlarge their bra size by two cups using his special hypnosis CD. In the special investigation by the BBC team, stage entertainer David Knight claimed that by listening to his range of CDs he can help with all manner of problems – including overcoming alcoholism, improving your golf swing, attracting wealth and success, overcoming hay-fever, irritable bowel syndrome and – yes – breast enlargement.

As his website tells us:

“As you start reading this amazing report on hypnotic breast enhancement, you will discover the amazing power of the mind and how this can be used to enlarge your bust quickly, safely and totally naturally! If you have ever wished that your breasts were, larger, firmer or more attractive and beautiful in shape or touch then this information is for you. Right now you may be feeling than you wish you could increase the size of your breasts quickly and naturally without the need for expensive surgery” – Source:

He goes on in that vein, and it’s worth pointing out that in a page of around 2000 words he uses 63 exclamation marks, and only 97 full stops. Sometimes, punctuation alone can alert you to the fact that what you’re reading is bullshit. Read the rest of this entry »

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