The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for November, 2011

Thunderwood College: Being Honest About Fake Diplomas

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 27, 2011

I think one of the reasons why so many people get bamboozled by pseudoscientists of various stripes is because many of these pseudoscientists are credentialed… that is, they appear credentialed.  Take, for instance, one of the most prolific charlatans in pseudoscientific circles in recent years: Kent Hovind, also known as “Dr. Dino”.  Kent Hovind is a well-known creationist and Christian evangelist and is known as “Dr. Dino” because he has a doctorate (PhD); this is a widely advertised bit of information (that is, advertised by Hovind himself and his followers) and it seems, to the unprepared eye, to lend some kind of validity to Hovind’s claims.  After all, with a PhD after his name, shouldn’t we give someone like Hovind some degree of credibility?

Well, not necessarily, especially in light of some rather embarrassing facts regarding Kent Hovind’s supposed “education”.  First, Hovind’s doctorate is not in evolutionary biology (this is relevant because he is such a strong critic of evolution), nor is it in any branch of science or even in the philosophy of science; in fact, Hovind’s degree is in Christian Education (whatever that is).  Furthermore, his PhD was obtained through correspondence from Patriot University in Colorado Springs, Colorado (now since renamed to Patriot Bible University in Del Norte, Colorado).  What is especially interesting is the fact that Patriot Bible University is (and was) a well-known diploma mill, being a non-accredited institution which does not meet accepted academic standards to award degrees.  So, in essence, this means that Kent Hovind’s doctorate is basically meaningless.  But that won’t stop him, as well as other pseudoscientific charlatans, from obtaining questionable degrees and referring to themselves as “experts”.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a problem which is much larger than a few creationists using non-accredited institutions and diploma mills to give them a veneer of expertise.  In fact, to get some idea of just how big of a problem this is, check out these links to more information on how widespread is the phenomenon of non-accreditation…

List of unaccredited institutions of higher education

List of unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations

As a way of poking fun at this kind of academic dishonesty, there is a spoof website called Thunderwood College which will award you a degree in pretty much anything in mere minutes, yet they are completely open and honest about what they’re doing.  Just take a look at their page explaining accreditation…

Completely Non-Accredited.

At Thunderwood College, we will neither lie to you by claiming that our institution is accredited, nor will we attempt to defraud you by claiming accreditation from an unrecognized accreditation body.

What Is Accreditation?

In the United States, the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain an official list of accreditation bodies whose accreditations are accepted by the academic community. Other countries generally have similar rules. There is also a long list of completely bogus organizations that offer accreditation to any “university” who wants it. Institutions claiming accreditation from one of these sources should be treated with great skepticism, and it should be understood that degrees issued by these institutions are not recognized by the academic community. Many online colleges who issue degrees based on your “life experience” can claim to be accredited, and so they are, but it’s not an accreditation that holds any water. Your cat could accredit those institutions just as well.

Why Thunderwood?

Why not Thunderwood? It is no different from the thousands of other unaccredited “diploma mills” where people get their degrees in unsubstantiated quackery such as:

  • Chiropractic
  • Reflexology
  • Acupuncture
  • Parapsychology
  • Naturopathy
  • Intelligent Design
  • Holistics
  • Healing Touch
  • Magnetic Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Feng Shui

…and many, many more!

So the next time that you are confronted with a potential pseudoscientist who seems to be making some whacky claims, and especially if they are going out of their way to list how amazingly educated they are in whatever field they wish to impress upon you, take a few minutes to dig into their educational background.  What you discover might be, if you’ll pardon the pun, quite educational :)

Posted in education, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Physics Proves the Existence of Ghosts?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 24, 2011

I’ve blogged here before about “professional” ghost-hunters and their woo.  And in many cases I have taken such “professionals” to task for not really following any kind of decent, consistent protocols (such as knowing how their instrumentation works, duh) but instead favoring stories that seem to be a combination of the Blair-Witch Project and various kinds of techno-babble.  But now I just have to mention a couple of things about how many ghost-hunters just seem to get basic physics (pardon the pun) dead wrong.

My skeptical colleague Ben Radford recently wrote an article for LiveScience.com on this very point…

Do Einstein’s Laws Prove Ghosts Exist?

… Despite years of efforts by ghost hunters on TV and in real life, we still do not have good proof that ghosts are real. Many ghost hunters believe that strong support for the existence of ghosts can be found in modern physics. Specifically, that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, offered a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts. …

Now hold on a minute.  As we’ve seen before, it is not uncommon for pseudoscientists and cranks of all kinds to try glomming onto Einstein’s coat-tails as one of the most well-known and respected scientists of the 20th century as a way of trying to gain traction for their ideas.  It is as if they think that by simply invoking Einstein’s name and theories, despite the fact that they have no real understanding of those theories, that it will somehow, magically make them correct.  Of course, this simply displays a fundamental flaw in the thinking of ghost-hunters, because it shows they have no real knowledge of how science (much less physics) works.

Specifically, in this case the ghost-hunters are claiming that Einstein’s theory of relativity “proves” the existence of ghosts:

… For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book “Ghosthunters” (2007, New Page Books), writes, “Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”

This idea shows up — and is presented as evidence for ghosts — on virtually all ghost-themed websites as well. For example, a group called Tri County Paranormal states, “Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. When we are alive, we have electrical energy in our bodies. … What happens to the electricity that was in our body, causing our heart to beat and making our breathing possible? There is no easy answer to that.” … [emphasis added]

Actually, the answer is pretty easy, as long as you understand how energy is related to matter as outlined in Einstein’s theory.  It can all be summed up in what is probably the most well-known, but one of the least understood, equations in all of science… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Update on the Delta Airlines Anti-Vaccine Ad

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 19, 2011

In a recent blog post – Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines – I mentioned an online petition at Change.org that is gathering signatures to convince Delta Airlines to pull the deceptive anti-vaccine ad being run on some of their flights.  I wanted to pass along to you a recent update I received about this situation from my friend and skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders:

Update about ‘Tell Delta to Stop Putting their Passengers’ Health at Risk’ on Change.org

Hi,

Thank you so much for signing the petition, “Tell Delta to Stop Putting Passengers’ Health At Risk.” Delta has already committed to make some big changes: they are instituting a new review policies for future ads and will be showing a pro-vaccine Public Service Announcement beginning in December.

But we think they can do better. Do you think Delta should pull their anti-vaccine ad immediately? If so, here’s how you can help keep on the pressure:

1) Share the petition with your friends. Here’s the link to share on your Facebook wall – http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-delta-to-stop-putting-their-passengers-health-at-risk

2) Are you on Twitter? Delta sure is. They invest a lot of resources to customer service on Twitter, and this is a great way to get Delta’s attention. Here are some ideas for tweets. Feel free to write your own, just be sure to mention #fludelta and @delta or @deltaassist:

#FluDelta @DeltaAssist @Delta Thank you for changing your review process. Please, stop airing the anti-vaccine ad now! http://chn.ge/vbtnDt

When you fly, you shouldn’t have to worry about the flu. Tell @Delta to drop the anti-flu #vaccination in-flight ad now. #FluDelta

Thanks so much for supporting this important campaign,

Elyse Anders (@dELYSEious)

 

Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Questionnaire from the Clergy Letter Project

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2011

Many of you have already heard about the Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show that when it comes to the issue of accepting evolutionary science one doesn’t necessarily have to be an atheist.  Just as there is nothing wrong with being an atheist (I’m one), by the same token I don’t see any inherent problem to being religious while also accepting evolutionary science.  As I’ve said before many times, I don’t have a problem with religion, I have a problem with anti-science; and those are different things (though sometimes they do overlap).

As an update, the Clergy Letter Project started back in late 2004 when the latest variant of creationism, so-called “intelligent design”, was coming onto the national scene and causing lots of problems across the country for science education.  To date, the letter (which was originally geared towards Christian clergy but now includes Rabbinical, Islamic and Unitarian versions) has gathered nearly 13,500 signatories! :)

Now the Clergy Letter Project is taking part in another kind of outreach: developing a grant proposal designed to help foster discussion and improve understanding between faith communities and scientists.  They want to do this by sending out the following questionnaire to clergy members, so if you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, please give it a look:

**Send all responses to Michael Zimmerman at mz@theclergyletterproject.org

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another Crappy “Lake Monster” Sighting in Canada?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011

Here’s a new one for the “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” files: a halfway serious ABC News report on a really bad video shot by someone who claims to have evidence of a lake monster in Canada called Ogopogo (basically, the Canadian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster).  Below is the video footage in question…

Oooh, scary!!!

That’s it?!!  That’s all there is to this supposedly astonishing story sweeping the world?  Some ripples/waves in the water which are likely caused by debris?

Sometimes I weep for humanity; if this is the best that cryptozoologists can come up with (and it pretty much is the best they can come up with), then it is no wonder they are mocked.  I think the following comment on the ABC News story sums it up best…

How come most quickly taken video’s are crystal clear but any UFO – Yeti – Nessie videos look like they were shot by a 2 yr. old with a Fisher Price camera???

‘Nuff said, folks.

Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“A Glorious Dawn” in Honor of Carl Sagan

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011

We’ve made yet another journey around the Sun, and once again the annual celebration of Carl Sagan’s life and legacy is upon us.  If you have never read his pivotal work, Cosmos: A Personal Journey, I highly recommend it.  Sagan and his work was responsible for encouraging so many people, like me, into pursuing science and the study of the natural universe with a sense of awe and wonder.  As a quick tribute to Carl Sagan, I would like to share with you a very popular music video from YouTube called “A Glorious Dawn”, which is based on one of the key ideas in Cosmos

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe…” :D

Posted in skeptical community, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘Tis the Season… For the Ultimate Christmas Quiz!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 6, 2011

Well, the traditional Holiday season is upon us, which means that many Christian fundamentalist zealots will no doubt spend considerable time and energy annoying the rest of us with all manner of drivel regarding the “truth” of their beliefs.  But it has been my experience that many of these fundamentalists don’t actually understand their own religion…

For Example: The myth of the Nativity is a big one propagated by too many Christians who are horribly ignorant of the origins of their own religion.

So, in the spirit of addressing many of the misconceptions and false claims espoused by these fundamentalists concerning Christmas and Jesus Christ, I would like to share with you the Ulitmate Christmas Quiz (kudos to my skeptical colleague Phil @ Skeptic Money for passing this along)…

[**Note: to get the answers to the questions, keep checking Phil's post over at Skeptic Money :) ]

1. What year was Jesus born?
 
a. We don’t know for sure, since the gospels disagree irreconcilably.
b. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was during the reign of Herod the Great (died around 4 B.C.).
c. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D.).
d. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was the year the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars.
e. D’uh! The year zero, of course.
 
2. According to the Gospels, what day was Jesus born?
 
a. Dec 25th.
b. Dec 24th.
c. No date is given in any gospel.
d. The day of the Winter Solstice.
e. The third night of Hanukkah.
           
3. What pagan holiday did later Christians “borrow” to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?
 
a. The Greek Brumalia festival
b. The Roman feast of Saturnalia
c. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”)
d. All of the above
e. None of the above
 
4. So what day was Jesus really born? 
 
a. Jan 6
b. Feb 2 (Groundhog Day)
c. March 25
d. We can’t be certain.
e. Sometime during Sukkoth, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles
 
5. According to Mark (the oldest gospel) where was Jesus born?
 
a. He doesn’t say.
b. By the chimney, with care.
c. In his parent’s house in Nazareth.
d. A manger in Bethlehem.
e. A cave in Bethlehem.
 
6. According to Luke, who were the Wise Men?
 
a. A group of 2 – 12 Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia.
b. Three kings of orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from afar.
c. There were no Wise Men.
d. Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.
e. Melchior of Persia, Caspar (or Gaspar) of India, and Balthazar of Arabia.
 
7. According to Matthew, who showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth?
 
a. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night
b. An angel and a multitude of the heavenly host
c. The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna
d. Ten lords a-leaping
e. No one.

8. What happened after Jesus’ birth?
 
a. Impossible to say for sure – two of the gospels tell completely contradictory stories, and the other two say nothing.
b.  Good tidings were brought for him and his kin; and then figgy pudding, for they would not go until they get some.
c. Scary stuff: An angel warns Joseph via a dream to flee their home in Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod kills all the baby boys in the region. After Herod’s death, they return to Judea but are afraid of Herod’s son, so they move to Nazareth in Galilee instead (evidently, Matthew forgot that Galilee was ruled by Herod’s other son!).
d. Happy stuff: The shepherds spread the good news to all, baby Jesus is circumcised, and after the obligatory 40 days for ritual purity, brought to the temple in Jerusalem where prophets hail him as the Christ. They return home to Nazareth and go back to Jerusalem every year for Passover until Jesus is twelve.
e. We aren’t told, the gospels immediately cut to his adulthood.
 
9. Which of these traditional Christmas elements were originally pagan?
 
a. Christmas Trees
b. Yule Logs
c. The Birth of the Savior
d. Boughs of Holly and Sprigs of Mistletoe
e. All of the above
 
10. Where does the word “Yuletide” come from?
        
a. It’s an abbreviation of the Latin ultimus ides, “last holiday of the year.”
b. From Germanic/Old Norse “Jul-time” or “Jól-time” (the midwinter fest).
c. Named after Julius Caesar, who invented Sanctus Clausius, the Roman Santa Claus.
d. Named in honor of Hywll Tydd, ancient Welsh god of reindeer and socks.
e. Nordic priests copied the name from the Christian Christmastide.
 
11. Who started the War on Christmas?
        
a. True American Christian Fundamentalists and the Founding Fathers
b. Richard Dawkins
c. Godless atheists, the liberal media, gays and lesbians, activist judges, science teachers, lawyers, the ACLU, democrats and everyone else we hate.
d. The Jews
e. Al Qaida
 
12. Our familiar modern American “Santa Claus” is based on all these earlier figures, EXCEPT for:
 
 a. The English Father Christmas, Charles Dickens’ characters and the Victorian cartoons of Thomas Nast.
b. The Dutch Santa, Sinterklaas or Goedheiligman
c. A de-horned, sanitized, anagram of Satan.
d. Mighty Norse thunder god Thor’s father, Odin
e. St. Nikolaos, 4th-century Greek bishop and patron saint of children.
        
Bonus Question! (re-gifted from the Ultimate Easter Quiz)
 
13. Who wrote these gospels, anyway?
a. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – I mean, come on, it says so right there.
b. Actually, none of the gospels even claim to be written by eyewitnesses -all were originally anonymous and written at least a generation later.
c. Well, it’s more like the end of first century for Mark and sometime in the early to mid 2nd century for the others, if you must know.
d. Hold on – Not only that, but Matthew and Luke just reworked Mark gospel, adding their own material and tweaking Mark’s text to better fit what they thought it should say.
 

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 5, 2011

It’s like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole sometimes… the anti-vaccine movement is back at it again, this time with a deceptive ad on Delta Airlines flights by the National Vaccine Information Center directing people to their website for “accurate information” on the influenza vaccine.  The NVIC is the same outfit which ran another anti-vaccine ad in New York’s Times Square earlier this year.

Here’s the NVIC’s advertisement:

For the most part, it seems pretty much okay, until you hit the 1:56 mark in the video and they start discussing the influenza vaccine.  At that point, they flash a couple of shots of the NVIC website…

And here is where the real problem lies: the fact that the NVIC wants to use this seemingly innocuous ad to direct people to their website (which they would like people to think is a valid clearinghouse on vaccines) which contains all manner of dangerous nonsense and pseudoscience regarding vaccination.  I think my skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders of Skepchick, says it very well…

And let’s not forget that NVIC’s ultimate goal here is not to get people to opt out of just the flu shot. The ultimate goal of this ad is to get people to visit the NVIC website, trick them into thinking they’re looking at a legitimate government website, and get them to stop vaccinating altogether. And then put those people on planes. Which is how many vaccine-preventable outbreaks happen in the US.

The bad news is that these anti-vax loons have gotten their sneaky ad onto Delta Airlines; the good news is that the skeptical community is all over it, and a hard response is swinging into action.  Here are some things you can do to help (stolen from Elyse Anders’s post on Skepchick, btw)…

  1. Sign this petition from Change.org demanding the Delta Airlines yank the NVIC ad

  2. Tweet: “#fludelta @DeltaAssist @Delta If you’re so concerned about safety, stop running potentially deadly anti-vaccine ads http://wp.me/pbblq-6qu
  3. Comment on the video on Facebook (this video has since been removed, probably due to too many negative comments :) )
  4. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Encourage your friends to join this campaign.
  6. Tell Delta that it’s irresponsible to encourage anti vaccination rhetoric (you can also tell In-Flight Media the same thing).  Let them know that you are not willing to support their decision to risk your health for advertising dollars. Ask them if they’re willing to add to the anti-vax body count.
  7. Last, but definitely not least, if you communicate with the people at Delta Airlines, tell them that you will take your business elsewhere, like to airlines that communicate responsible information regarding vaccines (because money talks and bullshit walks).  For more information on this, take a look at this PSA by Every Child By Two, a pro-vaccine group, which is running on US Airways and American Airlines through the month of November:

Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

XKCD Nails It on Homeopathy

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2011

In the way that only XKCD can, a very cogent point is made regarding homeopathy.  Recall the specific claim that homeopathy proponents make regarding their “solutions” basically containing no active ingredients, then read this comic…

In case you don’t click the link, mousing-over the XKCD graphic on their page reveals the following text:

“I just noticed CVS has started stocking homeopathic pills on the same shelves with–and labeled similarly to–their actual medicine. Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.”

Well said, XKCD.  Bravo :)

Posted in humor, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 1, 2011

Okay, I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will have to say it again, but here goes… there is no causal connection between cell phone use and cancer!  Not only is it physically implausible, but there is no solid research showing such a connection; in fact, the research shows quite the opposite, as evidenced by this recent article from the BBC News…

Mobile phone brain cancer link rejected

By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News

man uses phone
Mobile phone safety has been much debated over the past two decades

Further research has been published suggesting there is no link between mobile phones and brain cancer.

The risk mobiles present has been much debated over the past 20 years as use of the phones has soared.

The latest study led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.

Researchers concluded users were at no greater risk than anyone else of developing brain cancer.

The findings, published on the British Medical Journal website, come after a series of studies have come to similar conclusions. …

Posted in environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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