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.

ABC Reports Psychics Contributing to Bad Economy PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

ABC News reports in this article that at least one pyschic business is up at least 7% due to the economic crisis. My question for ABC is... why is this news?  First off, it's old news. Second, why is it news at all? If anything, the story should read "Psychics Make a Bad Situation Worse." Why? Because they're taking money from people who are having money problems, and giving them advice that they're unqualified to give.

I'd love to do this test, if it were possible. Give two people $100. One them will use the $100 to get a reading about their financial future from a psychic, and the other will invest it in an index fund; let's say the Nasdaq. If we compare the results in two years, who's going to be ahead? Even if the market goes down, I'm going to guess the investor will be ahead, because you can bet the psychic is going to encourage repeat visits, and that original $100 is never going to come back.

 
Believing is Seeing PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

While I was preparing my report on the El Chupacabra phenomenon for The Amazing Adventure 4, it became clear that people were interpreting all manner of unexplained animal activity as the work of the legendary goat sucker. 100 years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. Why? Because 100 years ago, El Chupacabra didn’t exist as an idea. No one could have believed in it because no one had thought of it yet.

“Seeing is believing” is an old expression, and one could argue that it’s the basis of skepticism. It translates to “I’ll believe it when I have evidence for it.” But evaluating that evidence is actually quite tricky. In fact, the reciprocal expression is also true: believing is seeing.

An example I often give is the “noise in the basement.” You’re home alone and the power goes out. The fuse box is in the basement, and you decide to tip-toe down the rickety stairs. Of course you can’t find your flashlight, so you’re using your iPhone to light your way. You see the fuse box behind a stack of old boxes, and you curse yourself for not anticipating the need for a clear path.

 
Farewell John Maddox PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

maddoxI am once again diminished by the loss of a friend. Sir John Maddox, former editor - twice - of the prestigious science journal, Nature, has passed away. This small ceremony of acknowledging his existence is only slightly tempered by the fact that he had attained the respectable age of 83, had earned the respect, gratitude, and admiration of the scientific community, and he had given me, personally, many insights into the workings of his perceptive, considerate, and careful thought processes during my limited experience with him.

John was mostly tweed. Welsh by birth, craggy in appearance, and the very image of a scholar and intellectual, he was the sort of man for whom Harris Tweed was created. They complimented one another: tough and strong, serviceable and dependable, dignified and adaptable to the real world, and attractive in a totally practical sense, John Maddox and his favored attire worked together to present the world with their image of a British man of letters who took no nonsense, stated his case, made his point, and gave us the benefit of his wit, wisdom, and intellect, in full. It is said that his editorship of Nature was what put it in the forefront of science reporting.

 
Why Evolution is True PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Phil Plait   

coyne_book

As an astronomer, my familiarity with the details of biological evolution are about on par with that of an interested layman (though being trained scientifically helps with that understanding, adding insight to the process of the scientific endeavor). I'm familiar with the concepts of descent with modification, genetic mutations, natural pressures for adaptations, and the like. I'm less familiar with other aspects, like allele frequencies, how specifically pressures can change adaptations, and what transitional fossils are in the record, but I can probably hold my own against your run-of-the-mill creationist.

That's why I loved the book Why Evolution is True by biologist Jerry Coyne. This is a clear, easy-to-understand work that shows you - with no compromising and no backing down - that evolution has occurred, the evidence is overwhelming, and that no other explanation fro what we see around us makes sense.

He goes through many, many arguments about this: how we do see adaptation to changing environments, how the DNA records support the change in the genome of life with time and environment, how fossils support evolutionary change.

Moreover, he shows that the scientific theory of evolution by natural (and in some cases, sexual) selection makes clear predictions which are borne out by observations. And on top of that he shows why these conclusions make no sense at all if you think there is some Creator that made us the way we are out of thin air (or dust, I suppose).

 
And Then There Are These Claims... PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

So, as skeptics, we evaluate evidence and come to a provisional conclusion. Sometimes, we’re told a story and we simply don’t have the evidence to come to a conclusion. This is often the case with ghost stories and alien sightings, though to date, most skeptics agree that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support a belief in either.

What do we do if such a story is on the news? Mosnews from Russia reports that a man was taken to the emergency room complaining of severe chest pain and coughing up blood. Suspecting cancer, surgeons performed a biopsy and found not a tumor but a tree. Or a least a sapling… a young fir 5cm long was growing in the man’s lung.

That’s the story. The evidence… needs some discussion.

 
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