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Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

Close Enough Is Better Than Nothing

By Peter Bowditch

Peer review may not be perfect but it’s better than the alternative of being able to say, claim and publish anything at all.

Pseudoscientists don’t like being told that they would have more credibility if their work was published in peer-reviewed journals. Often they will attack the peer review process itself and try to pretend that because it is not perfect it is not useful (the “Nirvana Fallacy”). Of course it is not perfect, because it is an invention and construction of humans, but it is still better than the alternative of being able to say, claim and publish anything at all.

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

Seven Signs of a Quack

By Peter Bowditch

How does an expensive cancer clinic measure up against seven signs of pseudoscience?

In his book Voodoo Science, physicist Bob Park lists seven signs of pseudoscience:

1. Discoveries are announced to the media, not in peer-reviewed journals.

2. A powerful establishment suppresses the discovery.

3. The effect is at the limits of detection and usually only demonstrated by torturing statistics.

4. Evidence is anecdotal.

5. The knowledge has been known for centuries because people who lived in the past knew more than we know today.

6. The pseudoscientist works in isolation, not as a part of any establishment research facility.

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

Checking the Facts

By Peter Bowditch

How much can you rely on what you read without checking the facts yourself?

I am often referred to “scientific” papers that supposedly prove such matters as the efficacy of homeopathy or the dangers of vaccines. Sometimes these papers don’t actually exist, sometimes they are irrelevant, and sometimes they are full of “facts” which can be hard to check. I invite you to consider how long it would take you to check all the facts in the following story. Hint: the number of facts is not zero.

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

Magic Wands for Pain Relief

By Peter Bowditch

Sometimes an easy solution to pain is one of those things that looks too good to be true. And is.

Current affairs shows have a long tradition of promoting “scientific” breakthroughs that owe little to science and a lot to the entrepreneurial spirit of inventors and promoters. They are where you go to hear about the latest gadget or additive to increase the mileage of your car or to save lots of money by reducing or even eliminating your electricity bill.

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

A Close Run Thing at the Chemist

By Peter Bowditch

The engagement of pharmacy and pseudoscience was broken before they could get to the altar, but it would have been a one-sided marriage anyway.

Many years ago I did some stage acting, and one of the plays we performed was Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. It was part of what was known as “the theatre of the absurd”, a literary equivalent to surrealist art where what was on stage challenged the senses and the observer’s perception of reality.

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

My Patience Is Tried

By Peter Bowditch

Scientists and skeptics look for evidence and change their minds when evidence requires it. For some people, however, no evidence is enough, no matter how clear.

Sometimes I am surprised at how patient I can be when dealing with people whose grasp of reality is tenuous and who make absurd claims and then refuse to recognise anything that shows those claims to be wrong. Here are three recent examples.

I saw in a television news program that the incidence of a certain class of crime had dropped by 114% over 10 years. I commented that it is not possible for this to have happened unless criminals are now assisting people and giving them money instead of mugging them and stealing, but I was told that I didn’t understand arithmetic.

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

Knowing Things That Just Ain’t So

By Peter Bowditch

Evolution has hard-wired us to make mistakes.

Everybody “knows” things that are not true. It is the nature of humanity that nobody can know everything and all of us have misconceptions and gaps in our knowledge.

Most of us recognise this and seek out people with appropriate expertise when we come across something that we don’t know, and accept revision to our internal knowledge base when we get evidence that contradicts what we believe to be true. There is, however, a very large number of people who seem content to be wrong and who cannot be convinced to change their minds when presented with evidence.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Science Books

By Peter Bowditch

Texas is the most important market for textbooks in the USA, making it a pivotal place for creationists to influence what the rest of the nation is taught in science classes.

Denialists Ignore the Science

By Peter Bowditch

The media are favouring economic and ideological interests over the science in debates about climate change and genetic modification.

This winter saw several science-related stories taking up space and time in the media. The common thread was that scientists are being ignored, essentially on emotional or ideological grounds.

The big story was the proposed carbon tax. I’m not going into the economic arguments of a tax on carbon dioxide production versus an emissions trading scheme, because both of these are attempts to solve the same problem. The arguments against it are, on the surface, either political or based on self-interest, but the underlying thread is denial of climate change.

Skeptic Sued By SensaSlim

By Australian Skeptics

TGA's Complaints Resolution Panel forced to put investigation on hold.

Dr Ken Harvey, adjunct senior lecturer in the School of Public Health at La Trobe University and a regular campaigner against non-scientific products and services, has been put under great personal and financial pressure by a ‘SLAPP’ suit (a strategic lawsuit against public participation) over a complaint he has made concerning a slimming product.