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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.

The “Sign Language Interpreter” at Mandela’s Memorial PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

mandela-interpreterLike Frank Abanagle in the movie Catch Me If You Can, we’re used to the occasional story of a layperson who pretends to be a doctor or a pilot, but what about a sign language interpreter? The Telegraph (12/11/2013) reported that at Nelson Mandela’s recent memorial service in Johannesburg, things were not what they seemed to be. The man standing behind Barak Obama and making gestures was not a sign language interpreter, but a fraud. 

Thamsanqa Jantjie was not signing in South African sign language or any other known sign languages. Bruno Druchen, the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said to the Associated Press, “there was no meaning in what he used his hands for”. It was further revealed that Jantjie has a history of passing himself off as a fake sign language interpreter. He had “interpreted” at an event held last year with the South African President Jacob Zuma in attendance. A bemused audience member recorded his performance and submitted it to the Deaf Federation. The organization analyzed the tape and lodged a complaint with the government. This didn’t stop Jantjie from performing at Mandela’s memorial. 

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In Memoriam for 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Tim Farley   

 For the last four years I've compiled an "In Memoriam" presentation for The Amazing Meeting each July. I think it is importanthat the skeptical community remember the people we've lost and the work they've done to make the world a more rational place. (You can watch the presentation from the most recent TAM 2013 online here).

I started doing this because I thought it was a good idea that no one else had taken up. It is important to record our history, and many of these people toil in relative obscurity and thus do not receive prominent obituaries in the news, or sometimes even notice in the skeptic blogs.

 

I was reminded of that this year when I discovered two deaths that had occurred in the spring of 2011 - one a prominent skeptic, the other a pseudoscience promoter - that had gone largely unnoticed in our community for two years. The skeptic was C.E.M. Hansel, a British psychologist and critic of parapsychology who was among the early supporters of CSICOP. He wrote for Skeptical Inquirer and was until recently listed as a CSI Fellow, though he had died in March 2011. The pseudoscience promoter was Max Toth, a devotee of "pyramid power" in the 1970s.  Daniel Loxton remembered Toth in a blog post recently when he discovered the man had died in April 2011. That these obituaries have eluded my searches back in 2011 underscored how difficult it can be to record the history of skepticism.

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Let's see how many mythical creatures can we fit in: This week in Doubtful News for December 24, 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Sharon Hill   

Here is a rundown of the strange, scammy and scary stories of the week courtesy of Doubtful News.

It was a very GOOD week for tapirs - pig-cow like animals with a prehensile snout. In the old world (Mayasia), a set of tapir footprints were at first said to be from the local Bigfoot.    

And in the new world, a new species of tapir found, the largest new animal found so far this century - big, rare, but also not Bigfoot.

Riffing on the theme of myth and legend, there was a ton of this stuff going around this week.

A priest has declared himself an angel authority, an angelologist if you will. No I won't. 

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Last Week In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
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.

No, carrying your cell phone in your bra will not cause breast cancer, no matter what Dr. Oz says (David Gorski)  http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/no-carrying-your-cell-phone-in-your-bra-will-not-cause-breast-cancer-no-matter-what-dr-oz-says/ Dr. Oz has been fear-mongering about the risks of carrying a cell phone in a bra, based only on one patient’s testimonial and 3 other anecdotal reports of breast cancer in young women. There is no evidence from controlled studies and no plausible mechanism whereby the non-ionizing radiation from cell phones could cause cancer. It is irresponsible to spread fears about cell phones without credible evidence.

And Now for Something Completely Different (Harriet Hall)  http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/and-now-for-something-completely-different/ In a departure from the usual single-topic posts, this post comments on several recent news items that are examples of science-based medicine in action. A baby may have been cured of AIDS, 2 people believed to be cured of AIDS relapsed, eating nuts may prolong your life, African Americans process vitamin D differently and may be falsely diagnosed as deficient, and a polio outbreak in China reminds us that no country is safe from polio.

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The Lessons of 2013 – Reductionist Science Wins Again PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Steve Novella   

The end of the year is a time for looking back and remembering important and interesting science news of the year. There are often a few lessons one can learn from doing this. The first is always how crappy my memory is. It is amazing how much I forgot about. It’s also interesting to see if there are any trends evident – are we at the beginning of any new breakthroughs in science? In ten years is there anything we will look back on in 2013 and see as the beginning of something big?

For me one big lesson of 2013 was a news item that perhaps did not get as much attention as it deserved. The latest statistics on life expectancy of those with HIV infection jumped significantly over the last 10 years. In fact, for some populations – non-IV drug abusers who started treatment before their CD4 counts dropped below 350 – a 20 year old with HIV can expect to live into their late 70s and beyond.

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