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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.

2014's Skeptic Conference Schedule Shows Continued Signs of Growth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tim Farley   

 As we begin 2014 the skeptic conference schedule is already starting to shape up. Last weekend the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) announced its guest lineup and opened registration. Already four Skepticamps have been scheduled in the first months of the year. And it was revealed that the Australia and New Zealand national conferences this year will be held one week apart in part so that George Hrab, Steven Novella and the rest of the cast of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe can attend both events. There are also two biennial events planned this year in Europe in September - Denkfest in Zurich and Kritisk Masse in Oslo.  

It shouldn't surprise observant skeptics that the schedule is so full. In 2013 there were over 55 multi-speaker conferences, symposia and workshops targeted (in whole or in part) at scientific skeptics worldwide - so many that there were many weekends with more than one simultaneous event. Included in this number are the 19 Skepticamps that were held last year.  These are attendee-curated "unconferences" first held in 2007, and are smaller and regional in nature.

Science In A Strange Place PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

In early 2013, an agent who was casting for a role in a forthcoming reality television show, BigfootBountyGroupSpike TV’s Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, approached me. She told me they were assembling teams of hunters and “professional squatchers” to hunt for Bigfoot. Would I be interested in forming a team? I replied that I was very flattered, but probably not the person they were looking for, as I was a skeptic, and not a “squatcher”. I later discovered that former “Superman” Dean Cain would be hosting the show, along with a very skeptical friend of mine - Biological Anthropologist and Molecular Primatologist Dr. Todd Disotell, who has a long history of analyzing samples of alleged Bigfoot and debunking them.

The show is a kind of Survivor for Bigfoot aficionados. Nine teams compete to find evidence of Bigfoot in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, which is reputedly the world’s most famous stomping ground of Bigfoot. The premise is that if a team provides incontrovertible proof of Bigfoot, they will win the $10 million. (This was a very low risk bet backed by Lloyd’s of London.) Should that evidence not be found, the team with the “best evidence” will be awarded a “research grant” of $100,000 to continue their hunt.

Recently I arranged for Todd and third co-host Primatologist Natalia Reagan to appear on the Monster Talk podcast. Initially, many skeptics were worried that the Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty would be a train wreck of rednecks toting guns in the forest; a situation far more dangerous to people than “Bigfoot”. However, they assured us that this wasn’t the case as there was a no firearms policy in place. Better yet, they gave us reason to hope that they managed to sneak some science into the show, by teaching the teams some field methods, including how to seek better quality evidence, and how to collect evidence properly to prevent contamination.

Evidence for Reincarnation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jamy Ian Swiss   

On January 5th, listeners to National Public Radio were treated to a story dubbed “Searching For The Science Behind Reincarnation,” in which the veteran journalist, Rachel Martin, interviewed Jim Tucker, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, about his work studying evidence for reincarnation.

The story, both audio and transcript, is here.

I was surprised, and not in a good way, to hear this piece on NPR, which usually does a decent job – better than most mainstream media in fact – covering science stories. Not that NPR covers a lot of science, but when it does, it’s usually pretty responsible.

Washed up: This week in Doubtful News for January 14, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sharon Hill   

Here is a rundown of the stories that show us the great depths of belief, courtesy of Doubtful News.

First, an update to a story from last week. The techno-crop circle was solved causing no little consternation to crop circle advocates, or "croppies". 

The hot topic of the week was again something Bigfoot related that deserved NO attention whatsoever - A known hoaxer will hold a press conference on February 9 after milking every dollar and web hit out of this circus regarding his so-called Bigfoot body. 

Last Week In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Harriet Hall   

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

Correcting the scope of practice of advanced practice nurses will not endanger patients (David Gorski) Nurse practitioners receive advanced training in specific areas that prepares them for a limited scope of practice. State and federal laws vary: in some jurisdictions NPs are allowed to practice independently; elsewhere they must be supervised by physicians. Medical societies that oppose legislation to define and increase the scope of NPs are motivated by turf protection, not evidence. Studies show that NPs provide quality care.

Announcing the Society for Science-Based Medicine (Mark Crislip) A new organization aims to create a community of like-minded individuals, both in and out of health care, who support the goals of Science-Based Medicine. You can register and/or join now at Goals include education and consumer protection. An SSBM wiki will serve as a central source of information, incorporating the content of Quackwatch. Future plans include conferences, podcasts, curricula, a journal, e-books, and advocacy efforts.

Vitamin E for Alzheimer’s (Harriet Hall) A randomized controlled study showed that giving high-dose vitamin E to Alzheimer’s patients slowed functional decline when given alone, but not when given in combination with the drug memantine. The effect was modest, and there was no effect on the disease process itself. In this study Vitamin E appeared to decrease mortality, but earlier studies showed increased mortality. Several unanswered questions remain, and it would be premature to incorporate vitamin E into routine clinical practice.

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