The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for January, 2010

Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 11, 2010

In the ongoing fight to promote good science education in the United States, sometimes I think it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing.  The U.S. has some of the best universities in the world, and we do a huge amount of cutting edge scientific research in a variety of fields – indeed, our federal budget for scientific research dwarfs that of other nations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a very dedicated creationist movement in this nation which seeks to tear down any kind of science they view as contrary to their fundamentalist religious views. And they’re willing to destroy the scientific education of the country’s young people in the process.

Case in point, here are two recent stories outlining this dichotomy:

1. Hubble Space Telescope shows earliest photo of the universe – This is an example of what I was referencing as the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of cutting edge science.  The HST has generated an optical photograph of the early universe, a mere 600 million years after the big bang (which is very soon after the big bang, since the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).  The photograph shows evidence of the formation of the earliest galaxies in our universe, and it adds yet another layer to our knowledge of cosmic evolution and how the first stars & galaxies formed.  Indeed, it is hard not to be awestruck when contemplating the full implications of such a scientific discovery – here’s the photo…

When understood in the full context of the big bang, the expansion & evolution of our universe, the formation of our own solar system, and the evolution of life on Earth, this is an amazing thing!  As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We are star stuff – a way for the cosmos to contemplate itself.”

I am eagerly sharing this new information with my colleagues, students, and friends & family.  Hopefully, this new discovery will be added to the wealth of knowledge in our public schools’ science curriculum and more students in the future will learn about it.

Alas, sadly, this leads me to my second point…

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Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Good News – Alt-Med Gets Whacked in 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2010

It looks like, upon looking back at the year 2009, that in many ways it was a good one for science & skepticism – at least, it was good for medical science.  That’s because, according to a breakdown by, various forms of alt-med woo woo got a well-deserved smackdown.  That’s because a number of popular alt-med ideas were – gasp!actually tested out under controlled conditions to see if they actually do what their practitioners claim.  Let’s look at the results…


Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in Japan in the early 20th century that, in the hands of Westerners, has evolved into a new-age healing practice. Popular in Hawaii and California by the 1970s, reiki has since become a staple at health spas and in granola-loving cities across the United States.

Reiki involves a practitioner (that is, someone who has taken a couple days of training) who places her hands on or just above a patient’s body to transmit healing energy — the “ki” or reiki, better known as qi in Chinese traditional medicine. Reiki has all the trappings of new-age healing: restoring balance and instilling life energy through mysticism and/or vibrational energy. Akin to a hands-off massage, reiki is said to relieve stress, fatigue and depression and promote self-healing for just about any disease, including cancer.

The two largest scientific reviews of reiki, published last year in International Journal of Clinical PracticeJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition. and in November 2009 in the Also in 2009, the U.S. Catholic Church weighed in, stating at a March meeting of bishops that, “since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for… Catholic health care facilities… to provide support for Reiki therapy.”

Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. In the end the soft music and whispery speech of the practitioners during the reiki sessions merely helps one relax.

Well, regardless of the Catholic Church’s theological opinion on reiki, one thing is clear: the science shows that, despite the fervent belief held by its practitioners, reiki doesn’t work. I can wave my hands in the air just as well as a “qualified” reiki practitioner and achieve exactly the same results… nothing at all. What’s next?

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Deepak Chopra Goes Off the Deep End of the Woo-Pool

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 3, 2010

One of the kings of New Age nonsense, Deepak Chopra, has written a widely read article at the Huffington Post (yet another reason to no longer take HuffPo seriously), and I felt that it deserved a bit of analysis.  The piece, titled Woo Woo Is a Step Ahead of (Bad) Science, is an interesting rant on the part of Chopra about why all things about the modern skeptical movement, “western” science (science is science folks, wherever it’s practiced), and Michael Shermer are off base, wrong, and just plain mean & nasty.  Chopra really seems to have had something stuck in his craw, and I suppose this was his way of getting it out…

There’s plenty of silliness to cover in Chopra’s article, so we might as well get started…

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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Skeptical Teacher on Skeptic Zone Podcast!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 1, 2010

This past Labor Day weekend, I attended Dragon*Con 2009 in Atlanta, where there was a really groovy skeptic track. One of the panels in which I participated was “Psychology and Skepticism in the Classroom” – participating were me, Kylie Sturgess (author of the Podblack Cat blog), D.J. Grothe (new president of the JREF), Prof. Barbara Drescher, and Dr. Martin Bridgstock. During the panel we discussed a variety of topics related to skepticism, critical thinking, and education, and our panel discussion was followed up by a lively Q&A session.

The fine folks over at the Skeptic Zone Podcast have now hosted the audio of the discussion.  Go on over and check it out…

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

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