Preying on Believers With Bad Critical Thinking Skills

It’s perfectly possible to be a religious believer, and still be smart and sane.

But that isn’t the target audience for the spam I just got.

Nativity Stones Mail

Screen Capture showing the spam I received

(Click the image to expand.)

Essentially they’re selling rocks from the “Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem”. The cave is part of the Church of the Nativity–the reader is meant to believe that the various Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox priests who administer that temple would let pebbles be taken from the cave and sold via email spam.

Interestingly, the links go to fundybuzz.com. The spammers obviously know that smart, knowledgeable people won’t fall for the scam, so they aren’t making any effort to hide their contempt from anyone who is awake.

Literacy. And Reason. In One Place. Or, why my blog has this name.

Long post titles ‘R us.

So I’m the chair of LI-CON. It’s what I think of as a “traditional” science fiction convention–organized by fans working as volunteers, with the people giving talks and on panels volunteering their time as well. Topics will of course include science fiction and fantasy, but with me being science nerd and skepticism guy, I’m proud that two of the first four guests are of that movement. John Rennie is the former Editor of Scientific American, and current host of the Weather Channel’s Hacking the Planet–and also a mainstay of the New York City Skeptics. John Grant/Paul Barnett is the author of the series of books Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, Bogus Science, and Denying Science. Paul is also an award-winning author of fiction and editor of encyclopedias.

I’m proud to host them, along with writer Jody Lynn Nye; writer, editor, and many other things Bill Fawcett; and more participants to be announced. And I’d love to meet you there.

To attend LI-CON, please obtain a membership via our funding campaign, iconreturns.com. While you’re there, you can pick up some swag, become an I-CON member, and in general help our 501(c)(3) charitable corporation raise some funds.

Thanks. I look forward to seeing you there.

Doing my small bit for science!

A letter sent to the San Antonio Zoo:

Good evening.

I recently visited your zoo while in San Antonio. It’s a fine institution, one of the better zoos I have seen. It’s clear that, more than most zoos, you take your educational mission seriously and try to have each exhibit teach the viewer something. As a former science teacher, I can only applaud you.

However … I attended one of your keeper-led talks at the elephant exhibit. The keep mentioned that the elephant on display was receiving “the elephant equivalent of glucosamine.” I hope not–because glucosamine does not work to prevent or treat joint pain. Here is Dr. Steven Novella of Yale Medical School on the subject: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/no-benefit-from-glucosamine-and-chondroitin/

Here’s a recent meta-analysis of research in the field, showing that good studies with large patient groups show no benefit from glucosamine, via PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847017

I’m sure you would not want your educational activities to promote the use of valueless treatments for arthritis, so please ask your keeper(s) to avoid endorsing glucosamine.

Thank you,
Carl Fink

Fox News Fails Chemistry

Fox News Fails Chemistry

This is astonishing. I used to be a chemistry teacher, and I would have been embarrassed to have a story this nonsensical turned in by one of my high-school students.

Oxidation is combining with oxygen? Combining with oxygen derived from iron oxide is somehow not oxidation? This reaction will somehow not produce carbon dioxide or any other “pollutant”? Really?

I happen to work for an energy company. There really is “clean coal,” at least in theory. It’s a combination of removing pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the byproducts of combustion (smoke, ash, etc.) with sequestering the produced carbon dioxide so it doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect. Problem is, I just explained it better than Fox’s whole article, in one sentence.

This is what happens when you stop having science journalists and make “general” reporters cover technical stories–they make no sense at all.

The scary thing is that Fox has actually published a worse story on clean energy.

Infuriated by Intelligence and Sincerity

There’s a guy I know. I’ll call him “Rick” because that is not his name.

Rick is a naturopath.

Naturopathy doesn’t work. It’s a combination of sub-Hogwarts magic with some training in real stuff. The leading US school of Naturopathy is Bastyr University. Here are some things in Bastyr’s course offerings:

  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Holistic Landscape Design
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Therapeutic Touch

There’s much more, that’s the result of a few minutes of flipping through their course descriptions. Interestingly, the curriculum itself looks incredibly medical. The “Physical Medicine” course sequence sounds like something a science-based physician would take, until you read the description and find out it it includes “muscle energy technique” and other woo-woo

There’s no good evidence that any of the topics listed do anything at all, except cost money and possibly delay getting real medical treatment. Well, OK, acupuncture can result in punctured lungs.

Now, here’s the thing about Rick that infuriates me. He’s not a fool. He has a science degree from a very prestigious university. He also has real medical training as a paramedic. I’ve spoken to him enough to know that he really cares about his patients, and that he doesn’t actually prescribe the stupid treatments like homeopathy, because he knows perfectly well that they don’t work.

Why would his not being a terrible physician bother me? Because by his being a sincere, caring, and intelligent guy he’s adding to the prestige of naturopaths. Naturopathy is nonsense. He’s endorsing what is frankly dangerous nonsense and because he’s legitimately a respected guy he gives it credibility. I don’t think Rick is dangerous to his patients himself–I am absolutely certain that if someone presents with symptoms of, say, heart failure he’ll refer to an MD or OD immediately. However … if he lends authority to naturopathy, he is indirectly promoting nonsense like anti-vaccine attitudes that can kill people. So I get mad.

What to do about it, I have no idea, except rant here.