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Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

How Time Flies

By Peter Bowditch

What has changed since Peter Bowditch first wrote for this column 10 years ago?

I’ve noticed that I’ve been writing for this magazine for 10 years (first article in April 2003) so I thought I might follow the tradition of celebrating decadal anniversaries by looking back to see what, if anything, has been achieved.

That first article was titled “Truth and Fiction”, and I suppose that’s what I’ve been writing about ever since. This is a science magazine, and science is all about separating truth from fiction. A seemingly never-ending stream of fiction and nonsense needs to be examined to see how it differs from reality.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

We Live in Fearful Times

By Peter Bowditch

Campaigns against fluoridation, vaccination and wind farms prove that if people think something is bad for them they will react badly.

The forces of irrationality and nonscience are alive and well in Australia right now. A member of the South Australian Parliament is apparently trying to introduce legislation banning the chemical spraying of the population by the vapour trails behind high-flying jet aircraft. I’m not sure how this rates against the 1897 attempt by the Indiana legislature to pass a law allowing squaring of the circle (which coincidentally would have set the value of pi to be 3.2), but it would be fun watching the debate.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

The Girl in the Iron Lung

By Peter Bowditch

With Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan the last remaining refuges of polio, most people today haven’t lived through a polio endemic and can’t truly appreciate the importance of vaccination.

I recently spent a few weeks on crutches because of a broken ankle, and on one of the visits to my doctor during the treatment I took the opportunity to have a vaccination against pneumonia. These reminded me of my earliest memory of being vaccinated.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

We’re Still Here

By Peter Bowditch

It’s not surprising that the world didn’t end on 21 December, as predictions about the end of the world are nothing new.

The must be some people in the world with access to the internet or mass media who didn’t hear the stories about how the world was possibly going to end on 21 December 2012. The usual reason for picking this date was that a calendar made by the Mayans several centuries ago ran out then.

Predictions of the end of the world are not new. There have been thousands of them over the centuries, and they fall roughly into two classes – religious prophecy and weirdness, with the latter including psychics, UFO believers and the truly insane.

What Science Isn’t

By Peter Bowditch

Scientific credibility requires more than a white coat, a laboratory and machines that go “ping”.

Everyone knows what science is, don’t they? I would hope that readers of this magazine might have a clue, but almost every time I pick up a newspaper or watch one of those entertaining current affairs programs on television I see things that have a scientific look about them but behind the instruments, the books, the colleges and the white coats there is nothing. Like a stage set, things look real until you get up close and then you see the plywood flats and the two-dimensional paintings.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Will Your Smart Meter Make You Less Smart?

By Peter Bowditch

The introduction of smart electricity meters has led to some silly public misconceptions.

The idea of smart meters seems like a good one, as monitoring energy use at frequent intervals can smooth consumption, thereby reducing the need for generating capacity and reducing consumer costs by educating them about patterns of use and misuse.

But nothing seems to happen in our society without objections, and these have been coming from several directions. I’ll apply a skeptical magnifying glass to a few of these.

Political

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Organic Food: What’s In It For Me?

By Peter Bowditch

A metastudy analyses the health benefits of eating organic foods.

I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, arguably the national capital of food fads. At a Katoomba café recently I noted that the salt and pepper shakers were labelled “All natural”, the only non-sugar sweetener available for coffee was the “all natural” stevia, and the lack of gluten in the scones ensured that they disintegrated into a pile of crumbs as soon as any attempt to break them in half was made. I sometimes think it would be easier to label the food items on menus that contain gluten rather than those that don’t. It would save printing ink.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

When Religion and Medicine Disagree

By Peter Bowditch

Should doctors be able to overrule parents who refuse life-saving treatments for their children due to religious beliefs?

Many people would be aware that members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith reject blood transfusions on religious grounds. While it must be distressing for doctors to have to withhold a transfusion when it would save someone’s life, we generally allow adults to make decisions that affect their own lives.

In the case of children, however, we take a different attitude. Courts in Australia have ruled as recently as June this year that transfusions can be given to the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite the objections of the parents, if they are done to save the child’s life.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Homeopathy Watered Down?

By Peter Bowditch

Homeopaths are worried by changes to British and Dutch legislation, with Australia also under review.

In June the UK House of Commons issued a report entitled Homeopathy and the Consolidation of UK Medicines Legislation. It was a clarification of the effect that changes in legislation might have on the practice of homeopathy.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Citation Cold Case

By Peter Bowditch

Advocates of quackery realise that their misquotes of credible sources will not be checked, so that information that is wrong or taken out of context becomes copied until it is considered fact.

One of the regular tactics of the supporters of pseudoscience is to quote people from real science who seem to be supporting an unorthodox position. The quotes are inevitably either selective extracts taken out of context, supposed quotations offered without reliable citations, or simple fabrications made on the assumption that nobody will bother (or sometimes be able) to check.

The following quote appears on many alternative medicine web sites:

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).