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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.

More Magic Wands PDF Print E-mail
Written by Phil Plait   

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote -- here on Swift as well as at my own blog -- about the Iraqi military employing useless magic wands to search for explosives at checkpoints, and about the inevitable deadly results. This was based on an article in the New York Times, and the word has now spread far and wide.

Skeptic, physician, and journalist Ben Goldacre wrote about it in The Guardian, and Graeme Wood did so as well for The Atlantic. The story was huge on tech and skeptic sites too, like Slashdot, MetaFilter, Gizmodo, and Bruce Hood's Supersense blog. It made a brief appearance on TV in this segment on the Rachel Maddow Show.

With Friends Like These PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sean Sturgeon   

"Thy friendship oft has made my heart to ache: do be my enemy for friendship's sake." - William Blake1._phil_and_his_shuttle

I'm not the smartest person in the world. I may not even be the smartest person in my living room right now, because the cat walked in and one of the Angry White Men from MSNBC just came on. I'm certainly not the smartest person on this webpage. There's Randi -- he's so wicked smart that his nickname is actually "The Amazing." How many games of Trivial Pursuit do you have to win before you get that moniker slapped on you? JREF President Phil Plait is an actual astronomer with an actual degree in nuclear telescopes or something. All I have going for me is several years of drinking away a scholarship.

But even I, just by reading books and arguing with the neighborhood kids about moral relativism, know that saying a thing does not make it so.

Yes, I'm looking at you.

Plunder Unto God PDF Print E-mail
Written by Matt Fiore   

The Apocalypse has arrived for the second year in a row. In God's corner is a swarm of angry churches led by a group called the Alliance Defense Fund. In Satan's corner is, of course, the Internal Revenue Service. September 27, 2009 was "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" and it has caused churches across the nation risk their tax exempt status by making political statements and even explicitly endorse political candidates in open violation of tax law.

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal organization unafraid of controversy, so their civil disobedience is hardly surprising. Its list of founders includes people like James Dobson (Focus on the Family) and Bill Bright, winner of the infamous $1.1 million Templeton Prize. On their website they tell prospective employees that they must "be ready, willing, and able to participate in public and private prayer" both "during working and non-working hours."

The Alliance Defense Fund is arguing that churches in America are being persecuted. They believe (without good legal precedent) that the IRS restrictions on churches amount to an unconstitutional limitation on their freedom of speech and need to be repealed. In response, they've organized a movement called the "Pulpit Freedom Initiative" and enlisted 83 churches in 30 states to help them in their cause. The initiative encourages pastors of all denominations to give political sermons from their pulpit as a form of civil disobedience. The ultimate goal is the provocation of a test case. If the IRS decides to drop the hammer on a rebelling church, the ADF will swoop in and attempt to take it all the way to the Supreme Court in hopes of getting the laws overturned on a national scale. Does the ADF have realistic chance? Do their claims hold water? The short answer is "no." The long answer requires a crash course in tax law.

Heavy Metal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Naomi Baker   

The October 27th edition of The Wall Street Journal ran a story called "Metals: Panacea or Placebo?aurasol" by science reporter Melinda Beck that put a skeptical eye on claims of medical and health benefits to the use of metals (copper, silver, gold, titanium, and magnetic items) as adornments and "dietary ‘supplements." The same week, a blog post by Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine discussed the recently published "Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: A randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial" from Complementary Therapies in Medicine (abstract), which documented a controlled test on the efficacy of magnetic or copper bracelets to help arthritis and other ailments. Unsurprisingly, any benefits from the different bracelets were no better than placebo. Readers are referred to his excellent write-up for a discussion of the study and links to other peer-reviewed work. In it, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a dollar-sucking entity foisted on the taxpayers by Congress, admits that it has found no evidence for beneficial effects on fibromyalgia, migraines, or other painful conditions, from the use of metal bracelets. The idea of people volunteering to put large amounts of metal and metal solutions into their bodies intrigued me, so I reviewed the current state of Metal Medicine.

A couple years ago, Paul Karason became briefly famous as the "blue man" whose skin turned blue due to argyria -- a condition where silver collects in the skin and organs and reacts with light, much as the silver emulsion on film. He dosed himself with silver solutions that he created in his home, a procedure easy for anyone who has taken a basic high school chemistry class. "I did it all on my own," he said. "Originally, I just saw an ad for a colloidal silver generator in a magazine and the picture stuck in my head like a song might stick in your head. I had a friend who had severe petroleum poisoning, and I heard colloidal silver was helpful for that, and that's how I started." In the same interview, he admitted that his original health problem, dermatitis, was not cured by ingesting silver, although he continued to drink silver solutions daily. Proponents of colloidal silver claim that ingesting silver can cure or treat colds, flu, cancer, diabetes, herpes, shingles, and HIV/AIDS, among other ailments. Silver solutions, such as silver nitrate, have been used as anti-microbial disinfectants for many years, and frequently used as eyedrops for newborns to prevent conjunctivitis (although most former uses have been supplanted by newer, less toxic treatments). The FDA has repeatedly stated that ingesting silver is not beneficial, is not even safe, and can cause kidney damage.

Reich For The Wrong Reasons PDF Print E-mail
Written by Penn Bullock   

NASA is prospecting for water-ice on the moon. On October 9, it shot a space probe into a crater at 9,000 miles per hour. The impact kicked up a mile-high plume of dust, which was photographed for clues. NASA hopes it gleaned enough data from this one-off Old Faithful to tell if there's water-ice in the moon's pock marks and poles -- as has long been suspected, and not only by NASA. "We are blown away by the data returned," said Tony Colaprete, the mission's top scientist. If NASA's moon bombing turns up water-ice, another acronymic organization beginning in N will stand belatedly vindicated. Kind of. The existence of lunar ice was, after all, the keystone of the NAZI cosmogony.

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