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Skeptics’ Circle #109 is Up…..

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Check out the 109th edition of the Skeptics’ Circle, posted by Martin at The Lay Scientist.

Written by skepticpedi

April 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Announcements

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Simply Brilliant: A Must See Video on Being Open-Minded…..

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Written by skepticpedi

April 7, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Supervillain Solomon Grundy Calls for More Research Into Pediatric Cancer…..

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Memphis, TN-During a widely publicized press conference held today at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Solomon Grundy, a former member of both the Legion of Doom and Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang, called for an increase in government financial support of research that may lead to a cure for childhood cancers.

“This is a real shock to the pediatric oncology community,” St. Jude spokesperson Jim Whitstock explains. “We really didn’t see this coming from someone so, well, I mean, he’s an evil two hundred year old zombie for pete’s sake.”

Grundy, a frequent nemesis of Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern explains “Me Solomon Grundy think children are future. Also me have niece with leukemia.”

Written by skepticpedi

April 6, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Posted in Satire

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Chiropractic Paleoanthropologists Discover Neanderthal Subluxations…..

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Port Orange, Fl-Shocking the scientific community today, and perhaps taking the first steps towards a new theory on the history of human evolution, chiropractic paleoanthropologists working at the Institute of Chiropaleoanthropological Studies (ICS) announced the discovery of several vertebral subluxation complexes in the well-known Kebara 2 and Shanidar 3 Neanderthal spine specimens.

“This report is the culmination of many months of painstakingly detailed research,” chiropaleoanthropologist and lead researcher Frank Grimes explained. “Not only did our highly trained team employ gentle palpation of the spine in each of the two sets of fossilized remains in order to help diagnose the lesions, the specimens were further analyzed by full spinal xrays, surface and infrared electromyography, thermal scanning, contact reflex analysis and leg length measurement.”

After a consensus vote confirmed their findings, the team set out to explain why the C-4, C-6, T-2, T-8, L-4 and L-5 vertebrae were affected in the two Neanderthals. After weeks of frustration, Arthur Fernandez, an expert in the science of Applied Kinesiology, was brought in. His involvement would prove to be a key component of the unraveling of this prehistoric enigma.

“Chiropractors aren’t used to working with patients that are deceased,” Fernandez revealed. “But we do take care of children. When I realized the connection, the similar inability of both dead people and infants to talk, it hit me.”

Using his chiropractor’s intuition, Fernandez placed his hands on a segment of subluxed Neanderthal spine and tested his own muscle strength while holding a variety of vials, each containing a substance potentially toxic to Neanderthal physiology. “When I noticed my arm feel weak as soon as I grasped the bottle of mercury, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. The same substance which is damaging so many kids today used to wreck havoc on this ancient population of monkey/human hybrids.”

With a diagnosis and an etiology in hand, the team from ICS decided to go public with their findings. And though they are all excited about the potential for future discoveries, team leader Grimes has unearthed a more melancholic interpretation of their results. “Just thinking about how an entire species was wiped off the face of the earth because chiropractic healing techniques were discovered 30,000 years too late, is a little unsettling. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to us.”

Written by skepticpedi

April 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Posted in chiropractic, Satire

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Chiropractic Practice Building Schemes…..

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Making it as a chiropractor is hard. Some do very well, but because of low demand and marketplace oversaturation many practices fail. In fact, chiropractors are more likely to default on student loans than any other health related profession. It is easy to see why so many turn to the practice building techniques taught in chiropractic school classrooms and seminars run by companies promising to bring more patients in.

Virtually everything you see on a chiropractic website or read about a chiropractor in a local publication, is part of a prepackaged practice building scheme. The wording is carefully chosed to have the biggest impact. Every flyer or handout found in a chiropractor’s waiting room is designed to indoctrinate you so that you not only come back, but you go out and spread the word. Here is a nearly ubiquitous example from a chiropractic website’s FAQ section:

“How long will you need chiropractic care?

You’ll need chiropractic care as long as you live in Hanover Park and encounter physical, chemical or emotional stress that you cannot adapt to or accommodate. Ready to get started? Call our office today.”
 
And another from a different chiropractic website’s “Story of Chiropractic” page: 
 
“Ultimately, the goal of the chiropractic treatment is to restore the body to its natural state of optimal health.  In order to accomplish this, I use a variety of treatment methods, including manual adjustments, massage, trigger point therapy, nutrition, exercise rehabilitation, massage, as well as counseling on lifestyle issues that impact your health.  Since the body has a remarkable ability to heal itself and to maintain its own health, the primary focus is simply to remove those things which interfere with the body’s normal healing ability.”  
 
Usually these practice building techniques come in the form of setting up information booths at local gyms or fairs, ads for free spinal exams, or pseudojournalistic press releases run in smaller local publications or on personal websites (1, 2, 3, 4). I’m sure you have seen these before, but you may not have realized something.

These seemingly personal stories always revolve around two things. The chiropractor always tells the story of how he or she, or a family member, was injured and could only find relief in the caring hands of a chiropractor, thus inspiring them to join the field. And they always involve the chiropractor making a confession about how they have been taking the credit for healing all those patients when really it was the chiropractic all along. Check out the links above and you’ll see, and trust me there are thousands more that are easily accessible online.

The reason why the general format is similar, and often exactly the same word for word, is because these chiropractors are using a standard template bought from practice building firms. The chiropractor simply puts in his or her name, practice location and hours, and some personal information such as a picture and a description of his or her beautiful family. I imagine that they choose from a list of personal tragedies that led them into the chiropractors office, and the testimonials typically placed in the ad are likely invented as well.

 Many of these ads disparage the medical profession, and I have come across a number which blame vaccines for SIDS and other health problems. I am constantly amazed at the audacity of placing these cookie cutter ads when the internet provides such an easy way to compare them to others and see through the charade. But I don’t think that anyone using such techniques ultimately care. It probably doesn’t take many suckers to fall for this tactic, and to sign a longterm maintenance contract, to turn a profit.

Written by skepticpedi

March 30, 2009 at 7:03 am

Prayer in the Information Age…..

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Now I am not a religions man. Far from it in fact. So I can claim no theological expertise. Regardless of my lacking Biblical fund of knowledge, I can’t help but think that Information Age Prayer, a new subscription prayer service, would be offensive to those who believe in the Judeo-Christian deity. IAP, which was founded in 2009, claims to harnass the power of technology to strengthen their subscribers’ connection with God, and to do away with the stress of worrying about forgetting to say a daily prayer (do Christians really worry about this?).

According to the company website,

“Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a text-to-speech entity (a computer) to incant your prayers each day. We use state of the art text-to-speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying. Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen. If the prayer is for someone else, then that name is displayed on screen instead. Your privacy is protected, all prayers are not audible outside of the Information Age Prayer location. While it is certain that God hears the prayers, we cannot guarantee that other supernatural beings do not overhear or otherwise obtain knowledge of them.”

Also,

“The omniscient God knows exactly who has subscribed and who each prayer is from when their name is displayed on screen and their prayer voiced.”

God is, according to the creators of IAP, omniscient but apparantly requires visual aids in order to know who to give credit for the prayer. But being omniscient, this God should know what a person needs help with before they even know that they need help for it. God, in fact, is the reason that person needs help in the first place. So it would seem that the content of the prayer should be irrelevant and that the physical act of performing it is what matters, leaving me to wonder how any Christian, Jew, or Muslim would think that this service is anything more that an attempt to make money off of credulous morons.

For $4.95 a month, for instance, you can pay to have a computerized voice decrease a loved one’s time spent in purgatory with a daily Prayer for the Deceased, or for a bargain at $19.95 a month you can choose the lengthy Catholic Morning Prayer. There are also options for those of Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and unaffiliated persuasions as well. I could find none that called for the smiting of enemies however.

The company makes no claims of efficacy, but honestly I don’t think it will matter. I’ve met enough people that tout Pascal’s Wager as a reason to believe to know that this company will do just fine.

Written by skepticpedi

March 27, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Religion

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Nation’s Cosmetologists Baffled by Exotic Pulsar…..

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Knoxville, TN- Baffled by the unusual finding of a rapidly spinning pulsar locked in an elongated orbit around a star similar to our own sun, something deemed highly improbable according to current models, cosmetologists across the nation are scrambling to explain the phenomenon.

“What really concerns me is that this goes completely against everything we thought we knew,” cosmetologist Scott Riddlemark explained during a press conference held in the shampoo lab at the Tennesse School of Beauty, the planned future site for a Generation II Super Large Hadron Collider. “I’ve spent the past 6-months studying hairstyling, skin care, cosmetics, manicures, pedicures, and even electrology, with an additional 30 hours of online research in Seasonal Color Analysis, and I have never encountered a pulsar in anything but a perfectly circular orbit.”

As the dust slowly settles, theories are beginning to emerge that may answer the questions raised by this suprising discovery and advance our understanding of the universe considerably. Riddlemark, a master stylist with an advanced degree in theoretical cosmetology, believes that it all boils down to split ends. “If reality is composed of hairs 10−20 times the diameter of a proton, each vibrating at unique resonant frequencies and collectively determining the different fundamental forces of nature, perhaps some events can be explained by the stripping away of a hairs protective quantum cuticle thus resulting in a cosmic split end.”

Written by skepticpedi

March 25, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Satire

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Acupuncture for Pets…..

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Making the rounds last week was another example of the poor quality medical and science reporting that has come to saturate the mainstream media. The article in question, on the benefits of acupuncture for animals, is fairly typical. The situation appears to be rapidly worsening as more dedicated science reporters are being replaced with generalists, although as a skeptic I must recognize that a certain degree of selection bias may be coming into play. I do tend to go out and look for this sort of fluff pseudojournalism. But as I continue to read report after credulous and poorly researched report on topics like vaccine safety, alternative medicine, and even ghost or UFO sightings my expectations continue to steadily decline. If not for blogs like Science-Based Medicine and Neurologica, I feel I would have very few places to turn. I do like to tell myself, in an attempt to feel just a little better about the current state of affairs, that the blame falls primarily on inexperienced journalists, but even seasoned reporters with significant exposure to scientific topics are dropping the ball, as was the case in E.J. Mundell’s March 3rd HealthDay News report.

According to his bio, Mundell, the Senior Assigning Editor for HealthDay News, has 10 years of experience writing (among other things*) on health related topics for a variety of outlets such as Reuters Health and The Scientist. At one point he was even the managing editor for the consumer health news division for Reuters. Yet despite this experience, he penned a sloppy piece of pseudojournalism entitled Animals Respond to Acupuncture’s Healing Touch.

In the article, it is clear that Mundell did not seek out the scientific or skeptical viewpoint on acupuncture or its use in animals. But instead of the more common error made by journalists who, because of some seemingly pathologic need to provide a sense of balance,  write as if there were two legitimate sides to a scientifically one-sided issue, Mundell has written what reads more like a press release from The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. A vet who teaches one of their certifying courses is quoted in the piece along with a pro-acupuncture private vet and a “skeptical” pet owner who is amazed by her animal companion’s miraculous turnaround. There isn’t even the typical misquoted straw man one-liner from a skeptic included so that a believer might easily shoot it down. The two vets in the piece are allowed to spread blatant misinformation unchallenged. Why would Mundell write such thoroughly false information as if it were gospel truth and pass along such worthless anecdotes and testimonials?

There is so much wrong with this story that it is difficult to know where to begin. I think I’ll start, as so many reports on alternative medicine miracles do, with the standard anecdote about how a suprising therapy changed a patients life. In the article, Mundell cleverly describes the medical problems of a patient named Nelly in a way that is meant to fool readers into thinking she is human. Status post spine surgery, weak, lethargic and with poor appetite, Nelly’s friend takes her to a specialist for a seemingly last resort attempt at recovery. After just a few sessions, Nelly the dog is restored to her vibrant former self, all thanks to acupuncture. That’s right, animal acupuncture.

“Almost immediately after the first treatment, Nelly’s energy went from zero to 100,” recalled that friend, Annie Washburn, who works as a community organizer in New York City. Nelly became more mobile, ate more and resumed regular bowel movements. “She bounced back in a way that seemed miraculous,” Washburn said.

This anecdotal experience is unreliable and unable to effectively establish that Nelly truly experienced any improvement secondary to the acupuncture. In the many months that have passed since those initial treatments, Washburn’s memory could easily have been altered over time by multiple retellings of the anecdote. Also, humans tend to exaggerate positive outcomes over time. In reality, the actual events could have been very different than what we are being told without Washburn actually lying. All memories, even those that have evolved over time or were implanted by another person, feel real to us. And the more dramatic a so-called flashbulb memory is to us, the less likely it is going to be accurate weeks, months, and years down the road. This is why we are such poor medical historians and a big part of why properly designed studies are necessary to answer questions regarding efficacy of treatments.

What is more plausible is that the dog improved slowly over time and would have recovered eventually regardless of what therapy was being provided. Many proponents of inert therapies make a fuss over animals as patients because of their supposed inability to be effected by placebo. This notion is entirely false, however, as the placebo effect does have an impact on animals as well as on the owner’s perception of their pet’s recovery. The primary error is in thinking of the placebo as a single entity, that being some kind of mind-over-matter effect stemming from the expectation of the patient. If that were the case, then I would agree that animals are not susceptible to placebo. But that is a straw man manifestation of it. Instead of simply being mind-over-matter, the placebo effect consists of a number of different components, some of which are pure artifact, which can lead to the appearance of a true improvement. Among these components are the tendency for symptoms to regress to the mean, which is probably the largest component of any placebo effect, investment justification, a novel therapy or more complicated therapy effect, or the desire to please an authority figure to name just a few. None of these have anything to do with an actual physiologic effect from the intervention and they only require the pet owner’s biased and subjective personal experience.

It is easy to imagine how a dog lover might interpret their pet’s behavior differently secondary to a placebo effect. It usually takes Rosco a whole week to get over his flare ups but with acupuncture it only takes 7 days. In addition to pet owners and the potential for biased evaluations, it is equally easy to see how an animal might act differently because of how their owner interacts with them. Rosco might actually act more energetic and appear to be feeling better simply because his owner is paying more attention to him in anticipation of a postive therapeutic result. Perhaps other changes, like an improved diet or a new and more interesting location, may lead to positive changes in behavior that do not stem from any new therapy. It is foolish to think that the placebo effect can’t be applied to animals, particularly our doting animal friends.

The article is overflowing with misinformation and contains the expected pseudohistorical mention of how acupuncture is an “ancient healing technique.” Perhaps I employ too narrow a definition of the word, but I would not consider a therapy that has in reality only been practiced for at most  a few hundred years as ancient. It is a commonly accepted myth that acupuncture as we know it has existed for thousands of years. I’ve even read one source which claimed that acupuncture dated back to the dawn of man. I have to wonder where our primitive primate ancestors would have acquired not only the steel used to fashion such thin needles but also the paper upon which to bill insurance companies for their use. According to Mundell,

“Experts point out that animals have been treated with acupuncture therapy from the very beginning. In fact, Chinese records that go back thousands of years describe the use of healing needles on horses and other livestock.”

This is simply false. Needle like instruments considerably larger than what are used today were used to drain pockets of infection in animals but there is no historical record from that time period of the placing of thin needles in special areas of the body in order to remove obstructions to a mystical healing energy force. This concept, as mentioned above, is probably only a few hundred years old and did not even become popular in China until the 1960’s when it was forced on the public by their government. And it has become steadily less popular as  scientific medicine has come to play a larger role in Chinese society.

Mundell further reveals his ignorance of the subject, or perhaps his purposeful covering up of the rather silly underlying mechanism claimed by acupuncture believers, in the following explanation.

“The points, referred to as loci, represent important locations for nerves and blood vessels that, when manipulated, somehow aid healing, experts say.”

Acupuncture, as it is promoted by the near totality of practitioners and patients, involves the shoving of thin needles into specific points on the body in order to relieve the obstruction of a vital, yet undetectable by any modern scientific techniques, energy force. There is no legitimate evidence, anatomic or otherwise, that these loci have any special relationship to nerves or blood vessels. They are, in fact, completely arbitrary. There isn’t even agreement over the number or location of these loci, or over which should be focused on. Some proponents claim that only the ear requires needling while others only care about the bottom of the feet.

One of the experts in the article reveals that “veterinary acupuncture has proven effective in healing or easing the symptoms of arthritis, acute injuries, hip dysplasia, respiratory disorders, immune system ailments and a host of other problems” This is also entirely false. There have been, over the years, a number of small and poorly designed studies, typically unblinded and uncontrolled, that have shown a weakly positive effect. But, as is the case with inert therapies, as larger and better designed studies are performed, particularly studies that are appropriately blinded and have a placebo control group, it becomes increasingly evident that there is no effect. This is certainly the case with acupuncture.

Animal acupuncture is only one very small step above pet psychics on the list of the most absurd jobs in the pseudosciences or the paranormal.

* E. J. Mundell was the production secretary for 1990’s Prom Night III: The Last Kiss

Written by skepticpedi

March 10, 2009 at 10:28 am

Skeptical Pearls #1: If It’s Too Good To Be True…..

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One of the more common approaches that attending physicians take when teaching medical students and residents is the use of clinical pearls. Rather than cold, hard facts, such as the most common form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia being 21-hydroxylase deficiency, these pearls of clinical wisdom are more akin to generally accepted rules of thumb. My personal favorite example is the admonition to avoid poking the skunk. Poking the skunk occurs when labs are ordered which aren’t necessary in the care of the patient. Checking a basic metabolic profile when all you really need is the serum sodium is risky. In fact, it seems that the less vital a particular lab value is to management decisions, the more likely it is going to come back as falsely abnormal, which often leads to further unnecessary tests. I don’t like to stick needles in babies, although you might not think that if you spent a day with me at work, so this particular clinical pearl comes up pretty often on my rounds.

I also make a point, on an almost daily basis, to incorporate pearls of critical thinking into my teaching of medical professionals in training. Naturally, these tend to focus on my particular area of interest, the myriad and often contradictory therapies falling under the umbrella term alternative medicine. As I’ve said many times before, I prefer terms like unscientific medicine, or quackery to be quite honest, over alternative medicine, integrative medicine, or complementary medicine. These are manipulative marketing terms used to lull the general public into acceptance with a false air of legitimacy, and the academic community into the application of a double standard to the evaluation of safety and efficacy of these therapies. There is only one legitimate means of determining whether a treatment works, and that is with science.

One example of a very helpful critical thinking pearl that should be applied to the claims of a large number of so-called alternative approaches to health, is that there is often an inverse relationship between the number of symptoms or conditions supposedly treated by a therapy and the number that is actually treated. This is better expressed with the adage that if something is claimed to cure everything, it almost certainly cures nothing.  The number of alternative medical modalities that fall into this category are numerous and experiencing seemingly exponential growth, however the most important example because of its acceptance by the general public as a legitimate and science-based practice is that of chiropractic.

Though nobody, even chiropractors themselves, have been able to define themselves in a way that allows a consistent and practical understanding of just what it is that they do, there are some safe generalizations which can be made. For instance, they tend to be spine-centered rather than the oft advertised “holistic”, and a significant percentage of them categorize themselves as “straight”. This distinction shares a dichotomous relationship with self-described “mixers”, which as the name implies are prone to incorporating a wide variety of decidedly non-spine centered therapies into their practice such as acupuncture, applied kinesiology, or nutritional supplementation, as well as some science-based modalities like standard physical therapy.  Mixers outnumber straights by a large margin, and though they do make use of other therapies, they still primarily focus on the correction of a non-existant entity known as the subluxation.

Subluxations in the chiropractic sense, as opposed to the legitimate medical diagnosis, are as polymorphous as one would expect of something invented out of whole cloth* by a former magnet healer and spiritualist over a hundred years ago. Since 1895, the term has evolved into many different forms with all stages still believed in by varying numbers of chiropractors today. The manifestation which likely is accepted by the largest number of currently practicing chiropractors involves a proposed “complex of functional and/or structural and or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system and general health”. This definition is so slippery as to be rendered utterly meaningless, and is a prime example of the inability of chiropractors to be able to establish a standard definition of who they are and what they do. This fact actually benefits chiropractors however, as it allows for a near limitless scope of practice and the ability to bill many insurance companies for the treatment of a phantom condition.

Regardless of whether a chiropractor is a straight or a mixer, they are likely to claim that they have special insight into your particular complaint regardless of what it is. With rare exception, chiropractors assert their ability to treat not just common musculoskeletal complaints, a category of conditions falsely considered by many to be their area of particular expertise, but the entirety of known medical maladies. Many will even treat one or more of a growing number of fictitious conditions such as adrenal fatigue or Wilson’s Thyroid Syndrome. This is often done overtly with outright claims of personal success in curing conditions ranging from asthma to zoster, with some even touting their ability to treat serious life-threatening illnesses like cancer and HIV.

Straight chiropractors take a different approach, boldly claiming only to treat subluxations, which then allows for the innate healing power of the human body to heal any disease state under the sun via an unimpeded spinal conduit. A critical evaluation of the medical literature reveals a far different reality however. After a little over a century of existence, there is essentially no good evidence that chiropractic care is effective in the treatment of any medical condition, or any made up one either. The one sliver of an exception is the treatment of acute lower back pain, which does appear to resolve under the care of a chiropractor. What they may not want you to know is that it has not been shown to work any better than more standard treatments such as physical therapy and the use of ibuprofen.

*The top link on google when inserting the phrase “invented out of whole cloth” takes one to an article on the history of chiropractic

Written by skepticpedi

February 27, 2009 at 9:16 pm

104th Skeptics’ Circle: The Skepticism Review and Education Program Edition…..

with 11 comments

Welcome to the Skepticism Review and Education Program (SREP). SREP is designed to deliver an unparalleled educational program to all those individuals interested in the myriad aspects of skepticism, critical thinking, and the use of reason as a guide through life. It is available for all members of the skeptical community and for anyone who wants to gain a more detailed understanding of this important subject. The following questions are based on submissions from a number of experts on skepticism. Answers will be provided upon completion of the exam.

If you are perhaps unsure if you have come to the right testing facility, please read the following two discussions on the true nature of skepticism by Seth Manapio from Whiskey Before Breakfast…The Blog and Sam Ogden from Space City Skeptics: “Again with the Definitions” and “What is Skepticism?“.

1. Which of the following spells from Magicks of the World is most effective?

A. Seduce a Professional of Choice Sex Spell
B. The Mysterious Shrinking Wallet Spell
C. Vegas Victory Money Spell
D. Break Them Up Love Spell

Submitted by Lord Runolfr from The Saga of Runolfr.

2.  What is the most effective means of handling an internet troll?

A. Shouting “Hey, isn’t that the third Billy Goat Gruff behind you!”
B. Staying completely still in the hopes that they will wander off, because troll vision is based on movement
C. Calmly and rationally countering their flawed arguments if only for the benefit of other readers
D. trollsuit

Submitted by Perky Skeptic from The Perky Skeptic.

3. Which of the following is not a method commonly used by practitioners of alternative medicine to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of healthcare consumers?

A. Legislation
B. Circumventing peer review
C. Marketing
D. Use of therapies that actually work

Submitted by PalMD from the white coat underground.

4. In addition to home decorating, the ancient Chinese science of Feng Shui can also be applied to which of the following aspects of daily life?

A. Diet
B. Parking
C. Internal Organ placement (1)
D. Day trading

Submitted by Bing from Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes.

5. Have you ever seen a UFO?

A. Yes
B. No
C. Not since last night’s probing
D. jIH ghaj ghoS Daq chargh lIj qo’! (2)

Submitted by Yoo from Stochastic Scribbles.

6. Which of the following best supports the theory of human klugery rather than intelligent design?

A. Klugery? Isn’t that some kind of sport involving downhill sled races?
B. No fossil record evidence of a monkey giving birth to a human
C. The human mind
D. Something about a banana (3)

Submitted by Greta Christina from Greta Christina’s Blog.

7. When debating conspiracy theorists, what response are you least likely to hear?

A. “That evidence was manufactured.”
B. “The conspirators are exceptionally good at secrecy and at hiding evidence of the truth.”
C. “The media are in on the conspiracy!”
D. “Has anyone seen my copy of Skeptical Inquirer?”

Submitted by Greta Christina from Greta Christina’s Blog.

8. The term “evidence” is used properly in which of the following statements?

A. You don’t have any evidence that catnip won’t treat my child’s fever
B. There is little convincing evidence that echinacea is effective in preventing the common cold
C. A lack of evidence from scientific studies that licorice root is effective in treating asthma means that there is evidence that it doesn’t work
D. There is no strong evidence either way for the use of milk thistle to increase a mother’s supply of breastmilk

Submitted by Andrew from the evolving mind.

9. Brother XII, an infamous early 20th centurly cult leader, was known by what other title?

A. Edward Arthur Wilson
B. The Egyptian god Osiris
C. Theosophist
D. All of the above

Submitted by Dr. Vitelli from Providentia.

10. Which of the following is not a weakness in the concept of evolutionary psychology?

A. Many aspects of human behavior, such as addiction, are not necessarily heritable but a result of social enfluence
B. Similarities  between identical twins may be based on the intrauterine environment as well as genetic effects
C. It has yet to explain the origin of life or that extra rib
D. Ignoring the potential role of so-called “junk DNA” on gene expression

Submitted by Gadfly from Socratic Gadfly.

11. Which of the following criteria is not important when evaluating the methodological quality of research on the psychological effects of induced abortion.

A. Use of an appropriate comparison group
B. Whether or not it has been featured on a segment of Oprah
C. Controlling for preexisting mental health status
D. Use of valid mental health measures

Submitted by Rense Nieuwenhuis from Curving Normality.

12. Which of the following responses to continued increases in the rates of measles infections in the UK would be most effective?

A. Graphic billboards that display the potential sequelae of vaccine-preventable illnesses
B. A public flogging of Andrew Wakefield
C. An ad campaign featuring the Spice Girls
D. A new Saturday morning cartoon called Jabby’s Playhouse featuring Jabby, an anthropomorphic talking hypodermic needle filled with rainbows and lollypops

Submitted by Dr. Aust from Dr. Aust’s Spleen.

13. According to a speaker during the recently held lecture meeting on Weird Science at the London CFI, twelve percent of UK students except as fact what pseudoscience supported belief?

A. Astral projection
B. Fairies
C. Young Earth Creationism (YEC)
D. Bowler caps

Submitted by Martin Freedman from No Double Standards.

14. Which of the following is a Darwin quote is being used as propaganda by the Discovery Institute to support the push for Academic Freedom in high schools and universities?

A. “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”
B. “If people came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? And furthermore, why are there no monkey people swinging to work on power lines, which are something you don’t know about yet but trust me on this one folks.”
C. “I…..really…..believe that…..natural selection…..is…..wrong…..”
D. B and C

Submitted by Jack from Homologous Legs.

15. Do Ninja Kitties steal more when there’s a full moon?

A. Yes, secondary to feline tidal waves
B. Yes, Joe Rogan told me that they do and he knows more about the moon than anyone
C. No
D. No, but only because they are distracted by the large saucer of milk in the sky (4)

Submitted by Kylie Sturgess from PodBlack Cat.

16. Which of the following claims regarding autism epidemiology has recently been credulously publicized by the mainstream media?

A. The genetic influence on autism is a multifactorial
B. Autism is a condition of developmental delay, not of developmental stasis
C. Autism is caused by an imbalance of body humours and/or adrenal fatigue
D. Increases in the reported rates of new autism cases are secondary to an environmental exposure and not to increased awareness or diagnostic drift

Submitted by Michelle Dawson from The Autism Crisis.

17. Which of the following is not an example of an effective use of one’s psychic powers?

A. Failing to see that your client actually committed the crime you are helping to solve
B. Sensing that your client’s dead grandmother had a name starting with an A, C, D, G, K, M, P, R, T, or W (5)
C. Predicting that reality television is a dying genre
D. All of the above

Submitted by Skeptico from Skeptico (6).

Answer Key: 1. B  2. C  3. D  4. A  5. A  6. C  7.  D   8. B  9. D 1 0. C  11. B  12. A  13. C  14. A  15. C  16. D  17. D 

1-2 wrong: Excellent. You’ve mastered the SREP. Go and share your preternatural Randiesque critical thinking skills to the world by writing a blog or starting up a local skeptics club.

3-4 wrong: Pretty good but maybe you didn’t read all of the posts. Even Novella was wrong once, I think. Try again and I bet you’ll do much better.

5-7 wrong: Not so good. You should immediately go back to the beginning and reread every post. You were perhaps distracted or drunk. Rebecca Watson is that you?

8-10 wrong: That’s pretty bad. Wake up! You’ve been sleep reading again, probably because of all those homeopathic sleeping pills you took. Now go back to sleep and try again later.

11-13 wrong: Terrible. Did you even read the posts? Try clicking on the highlighted words and then read what pops up.

14-17 wrong: Amazing. You’ve done so poorly it can’t be by explained simple stupidity. There must be a more sinister force at play here. At last, proof of the paranormal! 

(1) Should only be attempted by Mehmet Oz
(2) “I have come to conquer your world!” in Klingon
(3) The atheist’s worst nightmare by Ray Comfort
(4) Kitten’s First Full Moon is a classic 2005 Caldecott Medal winner and one of my daughter’s favorites
(5) Or Z
(6) Not Skeptiko

The next edition of the Skeptics’ Circle will be hosted by A and Z over at It’s The Thought That Counts in two weeks.

Written by skepticpedi

January 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm