The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘natural’

Physics and Martial Arts: My Interview with The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2011

While I was at Dragon*Con in Atlanta last month, I did a lot of things.  Among them was to be interviewed by my friend and skeptical colleague Ted Meissner, a.k.a. The Secular Buddhist.  For a long time, Ted and I have wanted to do a discussion on physics and the martial arts, because we are both skeptics and have a history of martial arts training.  And, believe me, if you have been engaged in martial arts training for a considerable amount of time, chances are that you’ve heard some really goofy claims out there.  From “no-touch knockouts” to “shielding with chi”, there’s a lot of nonsense being spread around in the martial arts world, and Ted, me, and Brian Gregory (of Virtual Drinking Skeptically) take it all on.  Enjoy! :)

Episode 85 :: Matt Lowry and Brian Gregory :: Physics and Martial Arts

Matt Lowry the Skeptical Teacher, and Brian Gregory of Virtual Drinking Skeptically join us to talk about the myths and facts of the physics of martial arts.

I remember a television show called “That’s Incredible”, and indeed it was. One particular episode had a self-proclaimed martial arts master, James Hydrick who could — supposedly — move pencils and turn phone book pages with his extra-normal powers. This was debunked with a few flakes of packing material on another show, showing how this charlatan was simply using his breath to cause objects to move.

But there are people who mistakenly believe their own press, who think they really do have supernatural powers, or that they are enhancing their strength with invisible fields of cosmic energy. As you can see in one of the embedded videos on the web page for this episode, one fellow comes drastically close to severing his own arm because of this unfounded delusion. It is important for us to question with confidence, to ask for evidence, or else all claims are equally true, and equally, potentially, harmful.

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry is a high school physics teacher (plus a part-time physics & astronomy college professor) with a strong interest in promoting science education & critical thinking among his students and the population in general. He is a self-described skeptic, someone who believes in Carl Sagan’s adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His blog The Skeptical Teacher is to allow Matt to expound upon various topics related to skepticism, science, and education.

Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory is a software engineer that has recently discovered that most of his assumptions about life are wrong; including beliefs, expectations, roles, etc. This transformation, fueled by the Internet, Social Media, Podcasts, and traditional media, has sparked his passion for science, reason, and the naturalistic worldview. Drinking Skeptically is “an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals”. These “real life” groups meet around the country to provide an opportunity for skeptics and skeptic-friendly people to talk, share ideas (and yes, drink) in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

In case you didn’t notice the Explicit tag in iTunes on this episode, let me just give you an extra warning here: this is an explicit episode. We’re not talking porn, but there may be a light seasoning of expletives. Also be sure to check out the episode page for this episode on The Secular Buddhist website, as I’ve embedded a lot of the videos we talk about on that page. So, sit back, relax, and have a nice… skeptical drink of you choice!

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Skeptical Teacher Interview on The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 13, 2011

During my time at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9, one of the things I got to do was engage in a fun interview with my friend Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist podcast, and his colleague Dana Nourie. The info on our interview is below, and I hope you find it (pardon the pun) enlightening :)

Episode 77 :: Matt Lowry and Dana Nourie :: Fun With Physics and Walking Through Walls

Dana Nourie and Matt Lowry join us to speak about physics, the natural world, and quantum misperceptions.

Lately, there seems to be an unfortunate mixing of Siddhattha Gotama’s teaching and practice around the existential experience of dissatisfaction, and science. Certainly we do see wonderful scientific studies about what’s going on in the brain during meditation, for example, but that’s a far cry from levitation and walking through walls. Buddhism is not about physics, despite our seeing false patterns of synchronicity between the two.

Of course, I’m not a physicist. Fortunately my good friend Matt Lowry is, and was also in attendance at The Amazing Meeting, and joined Dana Nourie and I to discuss a few questions about physics, and how they might apply — or not apply — to assertions not in evidence. …

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »

The Myth of the Non-Decomposing McDonald’s Hamburger

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 14, 2010

So a few weeks ago some people I knew were passing around an article on Facebook about an “experiment” some woman had done which showed that a McDonald’s meal wouldn’t decompose. The interpretation by many was that this was proof of how unhealthy McDonald’s food is because it is apparently “too full of preservatives” and it is somehow “unnatural” because natural foods rot.  Some people have even gone so far as to argue that there are artificial materials within McDonald’s food such as plastic!

Of course, all of these arguments are variations on the naturalistic fallacy, and they can be easily disproven with some simple experimentation.  In fact, a number of home-grown experiments have been performed which show that the reason why McDonald’s food, and any kind of food for that matter, doesn’t decompose in these examples is because it is allowed to dry out.  And if you know anything about preserving food (hint: think beef jerky), one way to do it is to simply dehydrate it.  If the food dries out, then there is no moisture to support the growth of mold, bacteria, and other microorganisms which would otherwise decompose it.  Essentially, the food is mummified.

For more details on this subject, I suggest looking at following article which takes a very detailed & scientific look at the question:

The Burger Lab: Revisiting the Myth of The 12-Year Old McDonald’s Burger That Just Won’t Rot (Testing Results!)


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

A few weeks back, I started an experiment designed to prove or disprove whether or not the magic, non-decomposing McDonald’s hamburgers that have been making their way around the internet are indeed worthy of disgust or even interest.

By way of introduction, allow myself to quote myself. This is from myprevious article:

Back in 2008, Karen Hanrahan, of the blog Best of Mother Earth posted a picture of a hamburger that she uses as a prop for a class she teaches on how to help parents keep their children away from junk food… The hamburger she’s been using as a prop is the same plain McDonald’s hamburger she’s been using for what’s now going on 14 years. It looks pretty much identical to how it did the day she bought it, and she’s not had to use any means of preservation. The burger travels with her, and sits at room temperature.Now Karen is neither the first nor last to document this very same phenomenon. Artist Sally Davies photographs her 137 day-old hamburger every day for her Happy Meal Art Project. Nonna Joann has chosen to store her happy meal for a year on her blog rather than feed it to her kids. Dozens of other examples exist, and most of them come to the same conclusion: McDonald’s hamburgers don’t rot.

The problem with coming to that conclusion, of course, is that if you are a believer in science (and I certainly hope you are!), in order to make a conclusion, you must first start with a few observable premises as a starting point with which you form a theorem, followed by a reasonably rigorous experiment with controls built in place to verify the validity of that theorem.

Thus far, I haven’t located a single source that treats this McDonald’s hamburger phenomenon in this fashion. Instead, most rely on speculation, specious reasoning, and downright obtuseness to arrive at the conclusion that a McDonald’s burger “is a chemical food[, with] absolutely no nutrition.”

As I said before, that kind of conclusion is both sensationalistic and specious, and has no place in any of the respectable academic circles which A Hamburger Today would like to consider itself an upstanding member of. …

Just to jump to the end of the article, here are the results of the extensive testing performed:

The Results


Well, well, well. Turns out that not only did the regular McDonald’s burgers not rot, but the home-ground burgers did not rot either. Samples one through five had shrunk a bit (especially the beef patties), but they showed no signs of decomposition. What does this mean?

It means that there’s nothing that strange about a McDonald’s burger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way. The real question is, why?

Well, here’s another piece of evidence: Burger number 6, made with no salt, did not rot either, indicating that the salt level has nothing to do with it.

And then we get to the burgers that did show some signs of decay.

Take a look at both the homemade and the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patties:


Very interesting indeed. Sure, there’s a slight difference in the actual amount of mold grown, and the homemade patty on the right seems to have shrunk more than the actual Quarter Pounder on the left (I blame that mostly on the way the patties were formed), but on the whole, the results are remarkably similar. That a Quarter Pounder grows mold but a regular-sized McDonald’s burger doesn’t is some pretty strong evidence in support of Theory 3 from above. Because of the larger size of a Quarter Pounder, it simply takes longer to dehydrate, giving mold more of a chance to grow.

So folks, the bottom line is that McDonald’s food behaves just like any other kind of food. If you let it dry out, it won’t rot; if you keep it moist so that bacteria & mold can grow on it, it will rot.  If you don’t believe me, just feel free to conduct your own test - more on how to do that in the article I posted above.

And for those of you who want to make a big deal out of this thing, that McDonald’s food is supposedly bad for you because “it won’t rot”, then I think you really need to find something else to get concerned about because this one is just a fool’s errand.

Posted in environmental hysteria | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments »

Belief in the Supernatural is Natural

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 9, 2010

The more and more research I see on this particular topic, the more I become convinced that we skeptics are quite a freakish bunch.  I’m not referring specifically to the type of parties we throw (though there are some pretty trippin’ skeptic parties out there I’ve attended :) ), instead I’m talking about what seems to be the fact that a belief in the supernatural & paranormal may be deeply embedded in many of us.  In short, the belief in the supernatural seems to be… well, quite natural.

This recent article by Discovery News go into much more detail, so I’ll just link to it below and pass it along to you…

Superstitious Beliefs Getting More Common

By Emily Sohn
Fri Oct 29, 2010

It’s that time of year again. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky characters come out from the shadows and into our everyday lives.

For most people, the thrill lasts for a few weeks each October. But for true believers, the paranormal is an everyday fact, not just a holiday joke.

To understand what drives some people to truly believe, two sociologists visited psychic fairs, spent nights in haunted houses, trekked with Bigfoot hunters, sat in on support groups for people who had been abducted by aliens, and conducted two nationwide surveys.

Contrary to common stereotypes, the research revealed no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal. Believers ranged from free-spirited types with low incomes and little education to high-powered businessmen. Some were drifters; others were brain surgeons. …

The entire article is quite a fascinating read, and Dr. Michael Shermer of the Skeptic’s Society has a few revealing comments as well…

… Regardless of the person or the phenomenon, paranormal experiences are purely quirks of the human brain, said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, an educational organization, and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine.

Whether it’s hearing creaks in an old house or watching dots move randomly on a computer screen, he said, people tend to look for patterns and meanings in everything.

“The default condition in brain is that all patterns are real,” Shermer said. “It’s just what we do.”

In learning more about how we seem to be hard-wired for such belief in what skeptics would call pseudoscience, flummery, or nonsense, I think there is a lesson for us all.  As skeptics, we need to be aware of this fact of our basic human nature in order to be more productive in our encounters with believers.  And I think we need to take it into account in those interactions – that doesn’t mean that we agree with the woo-woo beliefs, but it does mean that we at least understand the basic drive behind why many believe what they do.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Chilean Earthquake, Doomsday & “God’s Wrath”

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 6, 2010

Last weekend the South American nation of Chile was hit with a powerful earthquake, registering a whopping 8.8 on the Richter scale!  Of course, there was much damage done and many lives were lost due to the disaster, and while those of us who live in the real world look to understanding this purely natural event through the lens of science, there are those who – like Uber-Asshole Pat Robertson – will attempt to use such natural disasters as a way of pushing various paranormal, religious & cultish nonsense.

An excellent synopsis of the history of such woo & doomsday-mongering is outlined by Jeff Schweitzer in this article, and I thought I’d pass it along to you… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in cults, doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Boycott the Huffington Post: They’ve Tumbled Down the Rabbit Hole of Anti-Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2009

Many months back, I made a post concerning the anti-scientific quackery being dished out over at the Huffington Post website. At the time, it seems that the HuffPo was receiving a storm of criticism from bloggers for their irresponsible promotion of various forms of alt-med woo & quackery, ranging from touchy-feely “energy healing” nonsense to outright dangerous anti-vaccination rants.

And, for a brief period of time, it seemed as if the folks over at HuffPo were backing away from the rabbit hole.  Sadly, the turn towards sanity& rationality didn’t last long, as outlined in a variety of blogs recently…

Science-Based Medicine: The Huffington Post is at it again

As many of our readers know, there are plenty of websites devoted entirely to fake medicine. Sites such as and NatrualNews are repositories of paranoid, unscientific thinking and promotion of dangerous health practices. Thankfully, they are rather fringe (but not fringe enough). More mainstream outlets print some pretty bad stuff, but it’s usually just lazy reporting and not a concerted, organized effort to promote implausible medical claims. As many of us have written, both hear and at our other blogs, the Huffington Post is the exception. It actively and in an organized way promotes dangerous, implausible pseudo-medicine.

NeuroLogica Blog: Science Bloggers Pigpile on HuffPo

And with good reason.

I am a bit late to the latest round of this party, but as I have previously pointed out, The Huffington Post has been since its inception a bastion of pseudoscience, especially in the medical field. Like distressingly many news outlets, it has decided to abandon all pretense of being “fair and balanced” in its actual content when it comes to its ideological stance.

Arianna Huffington clearly is enamored of anti-scientific pseudomedical nonsense. Earlier in her career she wrote for and frequently appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher – another quack-friendly media personality.

The Bad Astronomy Blog: HuffPo still pushing antivax nonsense

I used to write for the Huffington Post, an online news and blog collective. It was started by Arianna Huffington during the Bush Era as a response to all the far-right online media. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was on there — I am more centrist — but at the time I thought it was necessary.

Then they started to promote far-left New Age nonsense, and when it came to vaccinations, HuffPo started posting all kinds of opinions that amounted to nothing more than out-and-out health threats. While they do sometimes post a counter-argument, it’s still almost all alt-med, all the time.

Here’s the latest: a doctor named Frank Lipman is telling people not to get vaccinated against Swine Flu. Instead he says you should wash your hands a lot, eat well, and take homeopathic medicine.

It indeed seems that the misguided & ideologically-driven folks over at HuffPo have tumbled uncontrollably down the rabbit hole, as attested to these scathing reviews.  But perhaps the most interesting, direct, and pithy post I’ve seen on this most recent expression of anti-science from HuffPo is from blogger PZ Myers…

Pharyngula: Die, HuffPo, DIE!

The HuffPo is once again a source of gross misinformation. Don’t worry about swine flu — it’s benign. If you really must protect yourself, take vitamins, eat garlic, get herbal supplements, and trust in homeopathy.

It’s patent quackery.

Really, people: boycott the HuffPo. I never read that slurry of watery dog crap anymore unless you cruel readers send me a link — it’s not worth it.

I couldn’t agree with PZ more.  Despite my admittedly left-of-center political leanings, I’ll not be visiting them any longer.  We should all just boycott HuffPo, folks… just don’t go there anymore, for anything.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

FDA: Mercury Fillings Safe; Mercury Militia Goes Nuts

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 29, 2009

Good for the FDA!  :)  After that last blog post it’s nice to see some good news.  Of course, this research simply affirms what we (you know, the folks who follow science as applied to medicine) have known all along.  But to the “mercury militia” or other purveyors of anti-science-based “medical” nonsense, it will do little to sway them.  I can’t wait to see the backlash from the alt-med woosters on this one…

Mercury in dental fillings not risky, officials say

The U.S. government declared Tuesday that silver dental fillings contain too little mercury to harm the millions of Americans who have had cavities filled with them — including young children — and that only people allergic to mercury need to avoid them.

It was something of an about-face for the Food and Drug Administration, which last year settled a lawsuit with anti-mercury activists by posting on its Web site a precaution saying questions remained about whether the small amount of mercury vapor the fillings can release were enough to harm the developing brains of fetuses or the very young.

On Tuesday, the FDA said its final scientific review ended that concern. Still, the agency did slightly strengthen how it regulates the fillings, urging dentists to provide their patients with a government-written statement detailing the mercury controversy and what science shows.

Waiting for the alt-med “Big Government, Big Pharmaconspiracy-mongering machine to start up in… 3… 2… 1…

Anti-mercury activists accused the agency of bowing to the dental industry and said they would go back to court to try to force a change.

“FDA broke its contract and broke its word that it would put warnings for children and unborn children,” said Charles Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice. “This contemptuous attitude toward children and the unborn will not go unanswered.”

Whoops, too late.  Yup, that’s right folks, the FDA is out to kill children!  Aaagghh!!!

Give me a break… reasoning with nutbags like this is like pulling teeth.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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