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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.

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.

Placebo effects are not the “power of positive thinking” (David Gorski) Ted Kaptchuk thinks placebos constitute effective treatment and believes it is possible to use them without deception. His new study compared placebo to the drug Maxalt for migraine, manipulating the information given to subjects as negative, neutral, or positive. Kaptchuk has hyped the results as showing the power of positive thinking, ignoring the fact that there were no more people free of pain in the placebo group than in the no treatment group. The study doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

Tribalism and Medical Ethics (Harriet Hall) A new book by Joshua Greene argues that tribalism is the central tragedy of modern life. He provides intriguing insights from evolution and from recent studies in psychology and neuroscience to inform a new understanding of morality, and he argues for a pragmatic utilitarianism. His ideas are applicable to medical ethics and controversies like abortion.

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. 

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