The Amazing Meeting 2014

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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

Science was Wrong! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   

pandaTaxonomy is a tricky subject. There are many ways to classify things, and all of them are valid in their own way. In the animal kingdom, organisms were historically classified by phenotype – how they look. This was fairly effective… it showed us that apes were related to each other more than they were related to monkeys, and they were related to monkeys more than bears, etc.

I was surprised to learn recently that pandas are actually bears again. Phenotypically, they look like bears, and some people still call them “panda bears.” When I studied them in high school in the 80’s, we were taught that this phenotypic classification was wrong, and that they’re actually more closely related to raccoons. However, more recent testing has shown that the original idea was actually correct! The panda didn’t change, but we learned more about them and discovered that they shared a lot more genes with the bear family than we suspected.

It would be easy to look at this and say, “Wow, science sure gets things wrong a lot.” And if you said that, you’d be right.

Obama on Science: Hope or Hype? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   

There may not be a blog in the world that isn't talking about Obama today. His speech included two important things for our community: nonbelievers and science. While we at the JREF are thrilled that a president actually acknowledged that nonbelievers are welcome in this country, it's his comments on science that we'll look at here.

We have a reason to be happy that Obama mentioned science from the podium, and in a supportive light, but what did he really say?

Remember: Obama's speech was written by a team of writers. He directed them, but he is not solely responsible for these words. Every syllable of this speech was checked for clarity of purpose and meaning. It was an extremely scrutinized eighteen minutes of text.

Obama said:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost

Every Outbreak has a Silver Lining PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joe Albietz   

Every time we have an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness, medical journals, the skeptical blogosphere, and even one oddball astronomy site seize the opportunity to re-iterate two related points: 1) Vaccines are safe, and they are unrelated to autism. 2) When rates of vaccinations drop, diseases return.  These incidents are exceedingly salient to the current public debate surrounding vaccination and more than worthy of the attention they receive.

And yet, in spite of the evidence, in spite of our vigilance, people still fear vaccines and outbreaks continue.  Faced with a frustrating and seemingly perpetual battle, it is easy for skeptics to become jaded and cynical, feeling as though we are either preaching to a silent choir or an unfortunately vocal brick wall.  That’s why I think it is worth taking another look at the most recent measles outbreak to have gained skeptical attention because the situation may not be as bleak as it sometimes appears.1

Science: 1, Antivaxers: 0 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Hooray! Newsweek reports that Alison Singer, executive vice president of communications and awareness at Autism Speaks, has determined that the question of whether or not there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism has been answered. And that answer is no. Faced with disagreement from others in the organization, Ms. Singer chose to step down from her post. There are a few things to discuss here.

Calling Noel Coward PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward is a comedic play about a man who goes to a seance and is visited by his dead wife... who then refuses to leave. She causes trouble and tries to get him to leave his second wife. In the real world, the only people that refuse to leave are the so-called psychics themselves, who continue to bilk the public and mislead the curious.

There is a new production of Blithe Spirit, one with a bit of a twist: they're holding auditions for actual psychic to join the cast.

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