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Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

The Myth of “The Myth of Mental Illness”

By Peter Bowditch

Scientologists argue against the existence of the mind, and therefore mental illness.

Some time ago I attended a dinner function where the speaker was advertised as coming to talk about philosophy and the mind. I spent some enjoyable times studying this sort of stuff at university, so I looked forward to an entertaining evening.

The presentation started out with a mention of how René Descartes had proposed the still-unsolved problem of the interaction between a material body and an immaterial mind. The speaker then went on to solve the duality problem by simply declaring that there is no such thing as a mind: an interesting, although rather naïve, philosophical position.

Put the Lyme in the Quackonut

By Peter Bowditch

There is little evidence that chiropractors are willing to reform their practices.

A few years ago the British Medical Journal conducted a reader poll to find the 15 most important advances, discoveries or breakthroughs in medicine since the magazine was founded in 1840. Here’s the list: anaesthesia, antibiotics, the antipsychotic medication chlorpromazine, computer use, the discovery of DNA’s structure, evidence-based medicine, germ theory, imaging, immunology, oral rehydration therapy, the contraceptive pill, risks of smoking, sanitation, tissue culture. and vaccines.

What Is a PhD Worth?

By Peter Bowditch

The University of Wollongong has tarnished its reputation by accepting a PhD thesis that presents anti-vaccination dogma in place of primary evidence.

In late 2015 the University of Wollongong accepted a PhD thesis by Judy Wilyman entitled: “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”. She will now be awarded a doctorate.

There are three players in the drama: Dr Wilyman, Prof Brian Martin (who supervised the process) and the University of Wollongong (which awarded the degree).

Smart People, Strange Ideas

By Peter Bowditch

Even people who are rational about most matters can hold opinions that aren’t supported by science or even common sense.

When Michael Shermer revised his book Why People Believe Weird Things for its second edition, he added a chapter titled “Why Smart People Believe Weird Things”. His point was that even people who are quite competent and rational in their thinking about most matters can hold opinions or beliefs that are not supported by science, logic or even common sense.

University Research Is Losing Its Independence

By Peter Bowditch

Universities can no longer be relied upon to allow unconventional voices to be heard – unless there’s sponsorship attached.

Universities in the English-speaking world seem to be moving away from the idea of what a university should be and toward institutions that are driven by money and customer demand. The type of problem varies from place to place.

The trend in the UK, for example, is “noplatforming”, where protests are held to prevent people with controversial opinions from speaking at events held on university campuses because exceptions need to be made to the principle of freedom of speech.

A History Lesson for Smart Kids

Harry Messel was the inspiration for a talk Peter Bowditch gave at the 2015 Young Scientist Awards organised by the Science Teachers’ Association of NSW.

I would like to start by congratulating all finalists for the awards on behalf of Australian Skeptics Inc. You might wonder what the connection is between skepticism and science, but they both have the same objective – it’s to ask questions and find the answers. Science is skepticism put into practice.

Things Change. Get Used to It

By Peter Bowditch

How concerned should we be that only 39% of psychology research can be replicated?

One, Two, Three! What Are We Counting For?

By Peter Bowditch

Number abuse is rife in online forums and even science news websites.

I’ve written before about innumeracy, the inability to use numbers correctly. Recently I’ve been exposed to three cases of number abuse in different contexts. One of these involves people with an agenda using a very large and apparently frightening number that actually means nothing much at all; one is people with a different agenda treating a large number as if it is zero; and one is a scientific publication using a number that is obviously and ridiculously wrong.

Are All Placebos Equal?

By Peter Bowditch

Is the placebo effect the same whether you receive it as a pill, a needle or an ointment?

I’ve written twice this year (January and September) about psychological effects that can influence a person’s perception of pain or other stimuli. This month I’m looking at some research into the difference between various placebos used in trials of methods to treat the same complaint.

Nocebo: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Might

By Peter Bowditch

The opposite of a placebo is called a “nocebo”, which is when expectations of a bad effect lead to a bad experience.

The word “placebo” comes from the Latin meaning “I must please”, and is a psychological condition that causes people to respond favourably to medical treatments that actually have no active component. It is based on the expectation that something good is happening, and actually applies to real medicines and treatments as well. Clinical trials are designed to separate real effects from placebo.

The opposite to placebo is called a “nocebo” and is when a bad effect is experienced because of expectations that this will occur.