Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

The End Is Nigh! Repent!

By Peter Bowditch

One sure prediction about the end of the world is that there will be failed predictions about the end of the world.

I’m probably wasting my time writing this because we will all be dead or ascended into Heaven by the time you would normally be reading it. The world that we know was supposed to end on 21 May, just before this magazine is supposed to be arriving in your letterboxes.

That’s right – the latest prediction from some religious folk for the end of time is 21 May 2011, and it must be true because I read it on the Internet.

Confirmation Bias, Denialism and Morton’s Demon

By Peter Bowditch

Science is a search for truth, but three filters can prevent the truth from being recognised.

Anyone who has ever conducted research will be familiar with the problem of confirmation bias – hearing what you want to hear. Anybody doing research in the social sciences has to be constantly aware of the possibility of selecting results and readings that fit the hypothesis and either ignoring or eliminating things that don’t quite fit.

Treating the Symptoms

By Peter Bowditch

Practitioners of alternative medicine claim that conventional medicine treats only the symptoms and not the underlying cause – which ironically is what homeopathy’s founder first advocated.

I must be told on a weekly basis that real doctors treat only symptoms while alternative, holistic medicine men treat the underlying causes of disease and therefore provide cures. Strangely, I have also been told that there can be no disease or illness in the absence of symptoms, and when I mention four occasionally asymptomatic medical conditions that are close to me – Type 2 diabetes, multiple myeloma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma – I usually get a response that consists of a pause followed by a repetition of the “fact” that symptoms tell the story.

Final Jab for the Anti-Vaccination Lobby

By Peter Bowditch

The truth comes out about research linking vaccination with autism.

In April 2004 this column profiled Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose paper in The Lancet in 1998 led directly to a reduction in rates of measles vaccination and the deaths of some children in the UK from a disease that hadn’t killed for decades. The research supposedly revealed a link between measles virus in the gut and autism, and was suspect from the start, but the truth only came out following some excellent research by British journalist Brian Deer.

Lying with the Truth

By Peter Bowditch

Association with a prestigious organisation can bestow credibility upon those who don’t deserve it.

A phenomenon called the “halo effect” is well-known to psychologists and advertising executives. This where some thing, person or event is associated in the minds of observers with some other thing, person or event, and the perception is influenced by the real or perceived qualities and authority of this reference. In layman’s terms it’s called “reflected glory”. It’s what motivates people to have pictures on their office walls of them shaking hands with famous or influential people, and is also part of the philosophy behind celebrity endorsement of products.

The Truth About Skeptics

Our minds shouldn’t be so open that our brains fall out.

Our minds shouldn’t be so open that our brains fall out.

By Peter Bowditch

A skeptic is not a cynic, an atheist or a poor speller. So what, then, is a skeptic?

The word “skeptic” has been hijacked by people who should more correctly be described as “denialists”. The following definition of denialism appears in several places on the Internet:

Who Has the Backbone to Stop This?

By Peter Bowditch

Chiropractors should not promote their services as an alternative to vaccination or treat children for conditions like autism and asthma.

Australia has an excellent health system. Many improvements could be made, but generally the mixture of public and private provision of health delivery and insurance, together with regulatory oversight, provides one of the best, if not the best, health care systems in the world.

Of Meridians and Mice

By Peter Bowditch

Research published recently in a reputable scientific journal suggests that acupuncture could have an analgesic effect on mice.

On a shelf next to the desk in my office there is a model of a dog. This is not just any old model, but is a model showing acupuncture points on the dog, and it came with a list of the points and what each point is associated with.

"Blasphemy" Comes Before "Science" in the Dictionary

Image of creation of Earth by God

Creationists believe that the Earth and the universe in which it sits are only about 6000 years old.

By Peter Bowditch

Could there be a greater abuse of both science and Christianity than creationism?

Some years ago Australian geologist Prof Ian Plimer wrote a book about creationism called Telling Lies for God. On a Sunday night when I had nothing better to do I went to a meeting where someone from the Answers in Genesis Ministry (now Creation Ministries International) did just that.

Misremembering the Past

By Peter Bowditch

It is quite simple to build false memories, even ones as serious as sexual abuse.

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