The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘balance’

BBC Will No Longer Provide False “Balance” in Science Stories

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2014

For far too long, the media landscape has increasingly gone down the rabbit hole when discussing science-oriented topics.  Often, the notion that journalists and editors should provide balanced coverage and diverse viewpoints has been abused to the point where pseudo-scientists, cranks, and charlatans are given equal time and (implicitly, at least) equal validity on various news shows and in print.  And this gives the general public a false impression of what is and isn’t science.

This demand by pseudo-scientists for “equal time” is a real problem.  Creationists have been at it for decades in the U.S. public school system, thankfully with little to no success, and many other pseudo-scientists are starting to employ the same tactic.  For example, many news stories in recent years on climate change often include at least one token “skeptic” of global warming.  In addition, this kind of demand for “equal time” pops up in other venues: on at least two occasions, when participating in skeptical and science panels at Dragon*Con and Convergence, our panel was challenged on “why we didn’t include a believer?”  In one case, creationists were demanding a seat on a science panel about evolution and why creationism was problematic, and in the other case, believers in ghosts were demanding a seat on a panel of skeptics who were there to specifically discuss the scientific and cultural reasons why people still believe in ghosts.

The implication by believers in pseudo-science is, I think, that scientists and skeptics have an “ivory tower” mentality and are just trying to talk down to people when, in fact, we are simply attempting to educate them in science and good critical thinking.  And, unfortunately, for far too long the media landscape has given folks like these way too much air and print time to spew their nonsense… until now.

Recently the BBC announced that they will no longer tolerate pseudo-scientific abuse of the idea of providing diverse viewpoints:

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

BBC Trust says 200 senior managers trained not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious

BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics. …

Read the rest of the story here

This is welcome news indeed!  It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a trend by more media outlets to do away with the facade of false “balance” on scientific matters and more good science will be presented as a result.  Stay tuned and we’ll see.

**Hat tip to Tim Farley at for the heads up on this story!  🙂

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

It’s Equinox Time, So Balance Some Eggs for Science!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2011

Tomorrow, September 23rd, is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, and it is on this occasion that I like to inject a little skeptical and critical thinking fun into my physics classes.  Most of us have heard of the urban legend about balancing an egg on its end during the equinox – the thing is, this is true!  The myth is the implication that one can only do this on the equinox, when – in fact – you can balance an egg on end pretty much any time you want.

Case in point, here’s a couple of photos of me balancing eggs on their ends during the time of year exactly opposite to the equinoxes…

During the summer solstice…

And during the winter solstice…

In addition, here’s a nice Youtube video showing some tips on how to accomplish this trick:

The reason why this trick works boils down to simple physics: it’s called unstable equilibrium.  If you have a flat and level surface on which to perform this trick, and there aren’t a lot of vibrations around, then chances are you can balance a number of eggs in a standard dozen pack.  As long as the eggs are relatively smooth on their ends (look closely and you’ll see some bumps on some of them) and you are very patient, then with some practice pretty much anyone can perform this trick.  The Bad Astronomy blog has a pretty good rundown on the physics as well.

So the next time you hear someone pass along the “eggs can be balanced only on the equinox” myth, whip out some eggs and balance away.  It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to advocate for skepticism and science 🙂

Posted in astrology, magic tricks, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Placebo Band Bracelets and Opportunity for Easy Skeptical Activism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2011

I have written before on this blog about the scam called Power-Balance, and how that company has raked in huge gobs of cash by essentially lying to its customers.  In fact, in Australia the company has basically been banned for false advertising, and fortunately more and more people are cluing in to this nonsense here in the United States.  But to help along everyone’s critical thinking skills as well as expose the Power-Balance for the scam that it is, I want to pass along to you a wonderful opportunity to engage in some easy and fun skeptical activism.  Dear reader, I give you the Placebo Band!

The Placebo Band: image courtesy of SkepticBros

There are two outlets for the Placebo Band, the original one at SkepticBros out of Australia and a new North American affiliate at the Placebo Band Store.  In addition, you can find testimonials on the power of  the Placebo Band, as well as instructions on how to educate your friends on how the whole thing works (hint: think placebo effect, hence the name 😉 )

For example, here’s a real* testimonial on the power of the Placebo Band.  Order yours today!!!

*And by “real”, I mean totally fake 🙂

Posted in humor, medical woo, physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bogus Power Balance Bracelets Get PWNed

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 22, 2011

Have you heard about the “Power Balance” bracelet?  It is a supposedly amazing device which, when worn, apparently confers to the wearer greater strength, balance, and flexibility!  Amazing!!!  Just watch this video “proving” the wonders of the Power Balance technology!

The Power Balance technology is supposed to work by…

… harnessing naturally occurring frequencies by programing them into a Mylar hologram.

That’s a quote directly from the Power Balance video above, and it’s complete and utter garbage. Firstly, as a physics professor, I can tell you that the goober in the video peddling this nonsense (and his bosses manufacturing and marketing it) don’t know the first damn thing about “naturally occurring frequencies” or “holograms” – if they did they wouldn’t be putting them into the same sentence.

Second, it is quite easy to definitively show that this whole Power Balance scheme is just a big, fat scam.  Just take a look at how skeptic Richard Saunders and his crew at the SkepticZone demonstrate how the scam works…

Third, it’s not just skeptics like me and Richard Saunders pointing out the scam, but it seems the law in the United States is catching up with the Power Balance charlatans as well.  Just look at this article at the Podblack Cat blog 🙂

Power Balance Bracelet Facing USA Class-Action Lawsuit

It’s official – if you’re in the USA and brought a Power Balance bracelet, you can sign up at

And be a part of the nationwide class-action lawsuit against the makers of the Power Balance bracelet.

Wow, that’s a triple whammy.  Spread the word far and wide about this scam, because these charlatans are actively marketing & selling this bogus product to far too many gullible customers.  Folks, you might as well burn your money for all the good it’ll do you.  In short, I think it is appropriate to deliver the following message to the Power Balance company…

Posted in medical woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Happy Summer Solstice: Skeptical Egg-Balancing Fun!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! It might seem a strange thing to be celebrating, this specific position of Earth in its orbit around the sun, but we skeptics have our reasons. This, of course, has to do with the old myth of being able to balance eggs on their ends only during either the vernal (spring) or autumnal equinox – of course, all references are in regards to the northern hemisphere.

But wait, it’s not the equinox, so why bring up this myth now? To debunk it, of course. According to adherents of this myth, usually the same folks who are into astrology-related woo, during the equinoxes “things line up cosmically” (probably some misunderstood reference to the fact that the length of day & night are the same), and this should result in the capability to stand eggs on their ends.

The funny thing about this particular myth is that it contains a kernel of truth… you can stand an egg on its end on the equinox, just as you can at any time of the year – even the solstices, as far away from the equinox as you can get. Case in point, last summer (on June 21st, the summer solstice) I balanced three eggs on end in my kitchen…

Solstice Eggs

And this past winter solstice (well, close – on December 24, 2009), while visiting family for the holidays I balanced an egg on end in their kitchen…

These supposedly “cosmic events” took me all of just a few minutes to accomplish – with a little practice, it’s easy to do. To understand why it is that eggs can be balanced in this manner, it is more helpful to look to the science of physics rather than the pseudoscience of astrology – this link at the Bad Astronomy blog explains in more detail.

So, the next time you hear someone make this loony claim, have a little fun with it – whip out the eggs and balance away!

Posted in astrology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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