Skeptic’s Circle #85: Looking under rocks

It’s amazing what you can find if you start looking under rocks. You can find isopods, fossils, a spare key to the front door, ant colonies, Hitler Zombies … and of course, the inevitable proof of physics (F = m*a) if you stumble and “OW!”

Today the Skeptic’s Circle meets out on the rocky plain to see what we can dig up. We are sure to not be disappointed. Of course, the whole Expelled nonsense is fresh in our minds and as we unpack our gear. Blake Stacey pauses to point out, “Open your mouth about evolution around the wrong people, though, and you can find yourself harassed, ejected from your job and even beaten in the street.” The long list of instructors and others mentioned is alarming.

Before our expedition falters, Joe Dunckley lightheartedly shares his experiences with a really cheesy Ham sermon, and the incredible conflations presented, “Claims about the truth and claims about consequences are not the same thing, and I’d be rather offended if somebody gave a lecture or made a film mixing the two so thoroughly and expected me not to notice.”

Some of these rocks are 300 MY old limestone, and I can find lots of crinoid and bivalve fossils in them. I’ve never found any giant prehistoric Odonates in this layer, but other people have. You would think that all the fossil evidence would convince some people, but Bob Carroll at Skeptimedia says it doesn’t. He looks under his fossil-bearing piece of stratum and complains, “There’s no need to take children to the Creation Museum in Kentucky for a “Biblically Correct” tour. Do what Bill Jack and Rusty Carter do: take the kids to a science museum and lie to them about all the exhibits. Why isn’t this child abuse?”

Science teaching is bothering Greta Christina too, as she critically examines the bureaucratic monolitch engraved with NCLB and is concerned about what she doesn’t find — science education that teaches “how to think critically; how to ask questions; how to look things up” — instead there’s just memorise-this-to-pass-the-test. :: sigh :: Textbooks of creationist “biology” also bother her, “To say that the Bible is always more real than the reality of the universe seems to me to be spitting on God and his creation.”

Unfortunately, I did not find much better results in scientific understanding of some of Teetery Old Garden Club Ladies and their understanding of Anuran life cycles. Well, it’s not very useful to just stand around and kvetch about how bad things are; Podblack Cat offers even more Skeptical Books for Children (part 4), plus information about creating a Community of Inquiry in schools. Yee-hah!

Meawhile, Drunken Scientist rambles about aimlessly for a bit, hoping to maybe find yet another fossil of a snake with leg bones, if for no other reason than it’s amazing to see how creationists tie themselves into knots trying to explain away transition fossils.

Quack therapies are always a ripe source for discussion, and as Romeo Vitelli eyes the clouds critically, he says, “Reich even developed a “cloudbuster” machine designed to manipulate weather patterns by suppressing ‘negative’ orgone energy in the atmosphere.” And let’s not forget curing cancer and mental illnesses and the “dreams of creating an inexhaustible energy source”. Oh, is that all?

“The media loves bad science,” complains Archaeologyknits, referring to a sensationlised organ transplant case with some absurd conclusions drawn from it.

“I for one, hear a duck.” PalMD warns, “Read intelligently because the next crank you read may be your last.” Some of those miracle cures only sound innocuous.

Paul Little turns over no less than four different rocks to uncover four different kinds of woo, and stacks them into a neat cairn, balancing the apex and announcing succinctly, “Alternative therapies that are ineffective, are not harmless.”

“Scientific medicine denialism!” groused Orac, “They all fit in that they share an unrelenting hostility, distrust, or dislike towards scientific medicine when it disagrees with their beliefs, and they make their pseudoscientific arguments in the same way that other denialists, be they creationists or whatever, do.”

Liesl points out how even medical interventions that are more-or-less mainstream can be harmful when badly justified, such as the castration of young disabled children.

Meanwhile, Evolved Rationalist carefully lifts up one slab just to see if reasonable discussion can even be assayed about a tetchy subject, “I again stress that they may be good arguments against eugenics, but let’s hear them, then. Let’s have some good arguments and have a rational discussion about eugenics without the silly invocations of Hitler and the Nazis.” But yikes! Instead of annoyed and venomous chelicerates, he finds something worse: a lid for the virtual Pandora’s Box of Hitler Zombies, and ooh the trolls are vociferously stoopid. So incrediboggly farging stoopid that they, as Theo Clark would say, “beclown” themselves.

Quick-quick, shut the lid before–

Damn, too late! There they are again, now trying to link Hitler to … Darwin. As Seth Manapio points out at Whiskey Before Breakfast, “Now, first off, in the context of whether Darwin was right, it really doesn’t matter if Hitler was a fan of his books or not. Hitler was undoubtably a believer in gravity as well, and that doesn’t really reflect on Isaac Newton, and he was almost certainly a fervent believer in Displacement without that making Archimedes responsible for the holocaust.”

Of course, merely discussing something does not automatically mean endorsing it. Not that line of reasonable thinking has persuaded a single proponent of say, Abstinence-Only sex-ed programs. WriterDD of Skepchick certainly had a youthful fling with such, and she notes that, “By the time I was 15 I should have been outgrowing that and learning how to emotionally and physically deal with adult issues and moral ambiguity, but I was afraid to. Jesus gave me the perfect excuse to hold onto a juvenile morality. I thought I was being chaste, but I was just being childish.”

But what fundie needs reasonable thinking related to reproduction? Ron Britton shares the news of a bizarre fundamentalist fear: depopulation (meaning, fears of depopulation of the “right kind” of people, because the world population is only going up).

Ooh, speaking of things sexy, Michael the Sexy Secularist took a break from flipping rocks (not all the strata are loose enough to easily reveal the data), and takes a break with a spare copy of Popular Science magazine. Alas, the back advert section proves to big quite the disappointment. He flaps the magazine at the rest of us and retorts, “You see, the last couple pages are all advertisements. And they’re, well, not quite up to caliber you’d expect from a magazine with the word ‘science’ in its title.” This is a real shame; you can’t use four-color-glossy to blot your fish and chips, unlike a newspaper. “Oh Noes meh brenz iz meltinz!!111one” sez er, says Skelliot as he reads a stray copy of the MX newspaper blowing by. And no wonder, they’re trying to pull causality for Asperger’s out of a painfully weak correllation with gaming.

Akusai is frustrated because no matter how many rocks he turns over to expose the fallacies, his coworkers still won’t give up the mercury=autism belief they read in the Huffington Post or where-ever. Now kids, what’s the rule for practicing safe skepticism? Always limit your exposure to toxic substances. Some of these fallacies have a very long half-life, and a tin-foil beanie won’t help.

A little ways off, Theo Clark is standing right on the edge of a rather steep drop-off, testing the wind currents in case he wants to take off in an ultralight. We all know that he can prove his expert aviator status because he’s tested his elite pilot skillz with a flight simulator program, and as the conspiracy theorists say, that’s PROOF of all sorts of stuff! Why, just ask him about the moon base!

On the other side of the ridge some Gilbert & Sullivan melody warbles over, as the irrepressible Digital Cuttlefish chants out, “I am the very model of a devious creationist …”

Woah! Watch out for that LOLSpider; it’s evolved and full of attitude!

Liesl of Clotted Cognition is musing in her ivory tower (well, out here it looks more like a sun-bleached promontory), and points out that faith and science have to be separate things, as faith relies upon things we choose to believe, and science upon things we can prove, “We can choose to believe that a book represents fact, but until we are able to prove such a thing scientifically, it will be a matter of faith. And even if we don’t prove it, the factual nature of the book and its contents exists, or does not exist, independent of our understanding.”

Factition remembers a recent home giraffe experiment, and adds, “I am a scientist. I am unable to separate the doubting part of my scientist training from the rest of my daily life.” I can’t help but grin back, having done much a similar experiment when my kids were young.

Likewise, Efrique can’t stand it when someone tries to assert something is true simply because they want it to be, and then try to validate their position with, “I feel it in my gut.”

Christian Bachmann looks underneath the cosmic rock and finds the universe there. Then striking up a good Thinker pose upon the rock, he then posits that the whole idea of “creation” makes no sense, because something cannot be created from nothing, and even the whole idea of nothing requires definition by something, and … then there’s the whole idealism vs physicalism issue. “But when we arrive at a consequence that contradicts every experience of our life and is completely opposed to common sense, we have to decide which of these two possibilities may be more plausible: Either the world in which we live is a complete illusion, or there is something wrong with the reasoning.”

Speaking of definitions, Steppen Wolf of the Skeptical Alchemist decides to try out an algorithm that is supposed to be able to tell your gender by your writing style. Apparently Gender Genie pegged this skeptic as male. I can’t resist looking at what everyone else finds under their rocks, and give it a spin with my recent toad post. Fancy that — I’m “male” too!

For all of its accuracy issues, it still does better than Watson’s Hypothesis for calculating the rarity of intelligent extraterrestrial life, which as Blue Collar Scientist points out, has assorted problems, including a sample size of 1.

Wow, this is hot, thirsty work. Is it time to open up the cooler? We start pouring cups and passing around treats. The beery communion is interrupted as Digital Cuttlefish announces, “I would like to thank PZ, who thanks Brian Flemming, who thanks Maria ,,,” And mischievous glint in the eyes belies the humbled pose: “Let’s fold our hands and bow our heads And mumble something low …”

I unwrap the brownies, “I for one am thankful for chocolate, one of the Five Greatest Inventions Known to Women, according to Skepchick’s ktingdoll.” (So what are the other four? Well, you don’t want to eat them …)

Hey — watch out for that one rock there near the edge — it’s loose, and I nearly had a close shave when I stepped on it. Well, no fear — we all know that more-is-more, and it’s not enough to pit modern steel against neolithic blades, oh no! Zoo Knudsen is hot on the trail of the latest in depillatory technology, the five-bladed razor. Boy, howdy! Check out that man Knudsen, why I bet he uses Occam’s for a clean, close shave every time — don’t you wish everyone did?


I would like to thank everyone for their great submissions to this meeting of the Skeptic’s Circle. (Amazingly, it was a woo/spam-free event!) The 86th Skeptics’ Circle will be on May 8th, and hosted by The Skepbitch. You can also find the schedule for future events here.


  1. 17 October 2011 at 13:43

    […] Skeptic’s Circle #85: Looking under rocks « Andrea’s Buzzing About: […]

  2. 30 April 2008 at 12:37

    […] Skeptic’s Circle #85: Looking under rocks « Andrea’s Buzzing About: […]

  3. 27 April 2008 at 21:57

    Nice roundup; I was unaware of many of these blogs dedicated to skepticism!

    I liked your call to action “Well, it’s not very useful to just stand around and kvetch about how bad things are..”

  4. chunque said,

    25 April 2008 at 20:01

    I love skepticism — Hume, right? This is some fun stuff that requires a skeptical mind to read:

  5. 25 April 2008 at 17:09

    […] Ooh, don’t forget – Skeptic’s Circle out now at the lovely Andrea’s Buzzing About! […]

  6. 25 April 2008 at 13:49

    […] up at Andrea’s Buzzing About – go have a look. My post on Andrew Watson’s too-generous estimate of the frequency of […]

  7. Bob Carroll said,

    25 April 2008 at 0:33

    Fabulous! Great theme, design, and presentation.

  8. Thursday said,

    24 April 2008 at 22:14

    Nice set. Now I want to go down to the river and have a little picnic, maybe go trilobite-hunting…

  9. Liesl said,

    24 April 2008 at 20:49

    Thanks for including me!

  10. Blake Stacey said,

    24 April 2008 at 20:20

    Thanks for including my essay.

  11. paul said,

    24 April 2008 at 20:20

    It’s fitting that Orac’s post is listed immediately following mine, as that’s who I stole that wrap-up quote from.

  12. steppen wolf said,

    24 April 2008 at 19:59

    Thanks for including me – nice edition of the Circle, you did a great job!

  13. Zoo Knudsen said,

    24 April 2008 at 19:57

    Thanks for including me in this fabulous edition of the Skeptics’ Circle!

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