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Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

A Conspiracy of Conspiracies

By Peter Bowditch

Republic of Lies is a primer on the state of conspiracy thinking.

I’m doing something a little different this time and reviewing Republic of Lies by Anna Merlan. The content of this book is somewhat US-centric but there is still a lot that is relevant to Australia.

I’m a Celebrity: What Do You Want to Hear?

By Peter Bowditch

Most celebrity endorsements are benign, but dangerous consequences can follow when celebrities promote their own ill-informed ideologies.

Keep the Eyes on the Prize

By Peter Bowditch

The achievements of a number of Nobel Laureates have been misappropriated by purveyors of pseudoscience.

I’ve had a standing offer since 2000 to provide all the assistance I can to any person claiming to have “the cure for cancer” so that they can receive a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which they would certainly win. I don’t care how they do it. The method is not important, only the results, and effectiveness is quite easy to assess:

  • a life-threatening form of cancer has been diagnosed (by scientific means, not just by looking or asking questions) before treatment started;

But Is It Science?

By Peter Bowditch

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that’s not always possible with science.

Recently there has been a succession of scientists, some quite famous, claiming that philosophy is dead and has been replaced by science, with particular disdain for the branch of the discipline named Philosophy of Science. One criticism is that the philosophers try to say what scientists do, and this doesn’t describe what actually goes on in laboratories and research establishments. This is missing of the point, because the philosophy is really about what science is as distinct from other forms of human activity rather than how it is actually done.

Don’t Wave Goodbye Just Yet

By Peter Bowditch

Predictions of a tsunami hitting Sydney should not have made the news.

In the days leading up to the time when I sat down to write this, news outlets were full of stories and images of the destruction and loss of life cause by a tsunami that struck parts of Indonesia. Just prior, however, the same media outlets had been giving publicity to a prediction that Sydney would be wiped out by a tsunami on 20 September. I joked that since I live 1100 metres above sea level I wouldn’t be directly affected, but it might spoil the party for my birthday 2 days later when my friends and relatives were washed out to sea.

A Brief History of Some Science

By Peter Bowditch

Science has brought public health a long way since the voyages that led to Australia’s discovery and settlement were ravaged by disease. Why, then, do some people want to turn back?

Several significant events of a scientific nature led to Arthur Phillip raising the flag in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. (I’m disappointed that I can’t include Nathaniel Bowditch’s recalculation of navigation tables, but he didn’t publish his work until after 1800.)

Just the Facts, Ma’am

By Peter Bowditch

Legislators continue to either refute or ignore science when it clashes with their ideology.

One of the nice things about science is that scientific facts are true whether you believe them or not. (I know there are no “facts” in science, just hypotheses that are strongly supported by all the evidence so far available, but “scientific facts” is a convenient shorthand way of saying this.) This has not stopped legislators in various parts of the world trying to pass laws that either refute science or simply ignore it.

The Sweet, Simple Things of Life

By Peter Bowditch

From artificial sweeteners to fruit, sugars give wellness warriors a sugar high.

When Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all,” she wasn’t referring to things used to make food taste better, but it is undeniable that humans have a preference for sweetness. There is even some indication that a preference for sweetness is common throughout the animal kingdom.

Foxes and Henhouses

By Peter Bowditch

Parliament is considering legislation that will give the complementary medicine industry more freedom to make deceptive claims.

Go! Learn Things!

By Peter Bowditch

Knowing about science is more important than doing science because it helps you separate sense from nonsense.

One of the highlights of my year is to give a short talk to the amazingly smart school students at the annual Young Scientist Awards organised by the Science Teachers’ Association of NSW. This is what I had to say this year.

I would like to congratulate everyone here tonight: the students who are winners just for getting here, whether they win first prize or not; their parents, because without their encouragement the students would not be here; and the teachers for their skills and dedication.