Mr. Eccles Presents | How Alternative Medicine Has Infiltrated US Medical Schools


Presented by the National Capital Area Skeptics – http://www.ncas.org.

“Alternative medicine has become very popular over the past two decades, thanks to relentless promotion by the media, politicians, and a few highly visible celebrity doctors. Since the early 1990s, the NIH has spent over $2 billion studying complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but has yet to show that any “alternative” treatment is effective. Part of this funding has been dedicated to establishing training programs in U.S. medical schools. Through these programs, doctors-to-be today learn about treatments based on acupuncture and homeopathy that are little more than magical thinking. In the middle of an intensive training program, most medical students do not have time and are not encouraged to question these practices. These same academic medical centers that host these training programs also offer CAM therapies to unsuspecting patients.”

“This talk reviews some of the CAM topics now taught and practiced at major U.S. medical schools, and will discuss some of the conditions for which these CAM methods are used, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer. It will also cover the largely unscientific basis of these methods, and explain why proponents have succeeded in convincing both doc tors and patients that CAM is “worth a try” for many disorders.”

“Steven Salzberg is an expert on genomics and DNA sequencing whose lab has developed many of the methods used to decode and analyze genomes over the past two decades. He participated in the Human Genome Project and dozens of other genome projects for many plant, animal, and bacterial species He co-founded the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project and helped to decode the bacteria used in the 2001 anthrax attacks.”

“He is currently Professor of Medicine, Biostatistics, and Computer Science and Director of the Center for Computational Biology in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He holds undergraduate and Masters degrees from Yale University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Society for Computational Biology. He writes a widely-read column on science and pseudoscience for Forbes magazine, at forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg, which received the 2012 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.”

Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.

Mr. Eccles Presents | Evaluating Fringe and Pseudoscience Ideas in Paleontology — Dr. Thomas Holtz


“Ideas on the fringes of paleontology — from the “aquatic ape” hypothesis of human origins and the ideas that dinosaurs were all aquatic, to Triassic hyper-intelligent “krakens,” to the “discovery” of microscopic fully formed people in Paleozoic limestone — will be examined.”

“Presented at Balticon 53, Baltimore, Maryland, May 27, 2019 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. is Principal Lecturer in Vertebrate Paleontology at the Department of Geology, University of Maryland, College Park. His research focuses on the origin, evolution, adaptations, and behavior of carnivorous dinosaurs, and especially of tyrannosauroids (Tyrannosaurus rex and its kin).”

“He received his Bachelors at Johns Hopkins in 1987 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1992. He is also a Research Associate of the Department of Paleobiology of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and serves on the Scientific Council of Maryland Academy of Science (which operates the Maryland Science Center (Baltimore, MD)).”

“In addition to his dinosaur research, Holtz has been active in scientific outreach. He has been a consultant on museum exhibits documentaries.”

“He is the author of the award-winning Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-To-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages (Random House)”

Mr Eccles Presents | Scientifical Americans: Sharon A. Hill


“In the 21st century, reality television and the Internet have fed public interest in ghosts, UFOs, cryptozoology and other unusual phenomena. By 2010, roughly two thousand amateur research and investigation groups formed in the U.S. – ghost hunters, Bigfoot chasers, and UFO researchers, using an array of (supposedly) scientific equipment and methods with an aim of proving the existence of the paranormal. American culture’s honorific regard for science, coupled with the public’s unfamiliarity with scientific methods, created a niche for self-styled paranormal experts to achieve a measure of respect and authority without scientific training or credentials. These groups of amateurs serve as a surrogate for scientists in examining strange claims. And, they provide a unique lens by which we can examine the wider public understanding of science and research. ”

“Sharon A. Hill is an advocate for science appreciation, critical thinking, and evidence-based inquiry, specializing in pop culture discourse on ghosts, monsters, mysteries, anomalies, and oddities. She is the creator of DoubtfulNews.com, SpookyGeology.com, and the host of the podcast 15 Credibility Street. She has degrees in Geosciences and Education with a focus on science and the public. Her personal website is SharonAHill.com.”

“Views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.”

I’m Baaack.


It’s time to end the most recent blogcation and resume regular posting. This piece originally dates from 2010.11.21 after my first blogcation had ended. My anger has largely abated, except when vulnerable people get hurt or defrauded, and my disillusionment regarding the failures of skeptical thought leaders in their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. Hopefully, I’ve migrated to a skepticism more robust and better informed than before. But I do think less of these individuals as serious skeptics than I once did. Things change, and so too my views. This post has been updated where needed.

We live in an angry society which in some quarters values blind faith over thinking, with political and ideological polarization between right and left, religious fundamentalists and everyone else, and a notable rise in public rejection of science and credulity toward pseudoscientific claims.

In times of uncertainty, especially with the current status of the economy, people tend to more easily entertain irrational ideas, and worse, accept them as fact. It’s become common for many to behave as though irrationalism is the new reason.

Skeptics are motivated by a number of reasons for their being what they are, whether a passion for science, the value of truth and reason, simple doubt, the need for the promotion of better education, and any number of other reasons. But skeptics can also be motivated by anger, and a few wear this openly while others are no less honest but more discrete in expressing it.

Even the late Carl Sagan, in his masterpiece The Demon Haunted World, at times showed a subtle frustration at the proliferation of nonsense in the last decade of the 20th century, which has only been aggravated in the past 19 years and shows no sign of abating any time soon. He wasn’t abrasive about it, but he expressed a frustration that I suspect all of us feel.

The causes of this anger come easily to mind; loved ones lost through the denial of adequate medical care caused by the pursuit of quack remedies, and the crushing despair that follows false hope; children or adults hacked to pieces or burned alive in the name of superstitious beliefs in witchcraft and magic; botched exorcisms that kill far more people than any imaginary demon ever could; intelligent but vulnerable people who lose thousands in return for the worthless services of psychics; political obstructionism in dealing with major environmental problems based on anti-scientific denialism; the short-term educational and long-term economic consequences of the encroachment of sectarian religious ideologies in public schools and science classes.

These things alone are enough to make anyone angry, and yes, especially me. The people who promote the claims we skeptics oppose sometimes get angry as well, but with much less real moral justification – they are angry because skeptics are costing them customers, cutting down on their book royalties, keeping more people than they’d like away from their seminars, retreats, and churches, and reducing their clientele for whatever untested or failed “alternative” medical modalities they promote – skeptics have bit by bit eroded their celebrity, their influence, and worst of all, their bottom-line, by showing people how to how not to be taken in by the nonsense.

The propagandists of unreason often have the upper hand, since they aren’t in any way constrained by the limits of intellectual honesty, logic, facts, evidence, or even reality. They have the liberty and the incentive to make sh*t up as they please, and they are very effective at persuading people to believe them, considering that their claims, often not even arguments, only assertions, make headlines and grab ratings for the credulous and journalistically sloppy media outlets that promote them.

But sometimes skeptics win, like with Kitzmiller vs Dover in 2005, or the successful deconstruction of the 9/11 conspiracy film, Loose Change, in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

But it’s far from over. In truth, it will never be over. Ever.

It sickens me to the core of my being to see people cynically lied to, used, robbed, defrauded, hurt, even killed, all for somebody’s stupid, blind, dogmatic sectarian doctrine or reactionary ideology. Nothing that we think, believe or do is without real consequences.

There’s work to be done.

Ts. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Fictional Plot Devices


I’ve noticed something worth avoiding in writing anything approaching good speculative fiction: never explain too much, be economic with any explanation you do, and only explain, by showing, not telling, what actually needs explaining.

I notice a failure to do that in some of my earlier fiction of even a few months ago, much less from years back, not consistently, but often enough to cause concern. Mostly it happens with a piece that I spend only a couple of hours on, in total writing, editing, and proofreading time; almost always a hastily written piece or two when a deadline looms. That’s bad form when it occurs.

But what sort of things ought not to be explained?

For example, there are the Heisenberg compensators of Star Trek used by transporter technology, that offer a nod to the quantum mechanical problems of teleportation without being explained as to how they work, which is good use of rubber science technobabble that adds to, not subtracts from, the feel of the story.

It’s good to acknowledge real science even when not strictly conforming to it. It’s one of the hallmarks of any good SF franchise.

Another would be the Holzmann effect of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, using variations of that phenomenon’s name in different books of the series. It’s cleverly never explained in any detail, but serves the background and feel of realism of the setting very well. Again, a nod to science without spoiling the fun with an explanation which would likely backfire as seeming contrived and even less consistent with real-world science. As a plot device permitting rapid space travel and personal force-screens, enabling the plot by fostering willing suspension of disbelief, it works well for that reason.

From my own writing, like my Gods of Terra setting, both old timeline and the current reboot, there’s the Kurtz-Dunar effect, named for scientists Raoul Kurtz of Terra and Ranan Dunar of Sirug, permitting cheap, safe, and efficient surface-to-orbit and interstellar travel, and personal teleportation via short-range warps in space-time, among other things.

It’s annoying when I see something over-explained elsewhere and annoying when I do it myself as well, especially the latter.

After all, if I really knew how the Kurtz-Dunar effect, or ancient relic technology like hypershards, actually worked, I wouldn’t be using them as plot devices in my fiction, but instead building and testing working prototypes under contract from DARPA! and I am quite obviously not doing that . . .

So, the more shone, not told, and the more economic that is, only what furthers the story, the better.

That’ll do for me, one story at a time, no matter what region of space-time, and which space-time continuum, is involved.

Dispatches from the Island of Doctor Incompeto: New Year’s Resolutions for 2018


It’s not easy being a mad scientist, especially since it was my great-great grandfather who used up most of the family’s madness and ability at science, but here I, Doctor Incompeto, am on the eve of a new year, and still not in the good graces of the International Order of Mad Scientists! The previous year was a difficult one here, with such drastic cutbacks on scientific research, even mad scientific research, so here are my resolutions in a nutshell:

  • I resolve to get the lab organized and my Eldritch Minions from Beyond Space-Time™ better trained to handle their new duties.
  • I resolve to up my science game by taking the most next step in remedial math courses now that I’ve the previous under my belt. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being beaten at games of higher math and non-classical symbolic logic by the monsters in my subbasement.
  • I resolve to make repairs to my secret volcano lair and stock up on supplies to rebuild my World Destruction Machine™ (Patent Pending) that next time won’t turn the Sahara into a rainforest on first activation! I’ll never live that down after that first attempt! Grrr!
  • I resolve to complete the intermediate stages of learning of the Big Three languages of India: Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil. It helps hugely in negotiating cargo shipments to the island, especially parts for lab equipment, and in interviewing and hiring local professionals.
  • I resolve to further cement exercise and health-related habits, as I get out of the lab more to keep in shape at my age.
  • I resolve to destroy my nemesis, Captain Oblivious, with a new and cunningly diabolical plan that simply cannot fail! MuaHaHaHaHaHa! *Ahem*
  • I resolve to work on my people skills, as it’s better for mad science communication to the public, and getting along with colleagues, and while I may be a doc, there’s little point in being a d**k!
  • I resolve to improve my writing and publish lest I perish, at least two more books by year’s end. After all, what else is one to do with a doctorate in rubber science?

Finally:

  • I resolve to repair the dimensional portal I’ve built into the caldera of my volcano lair. It just doesn’t work quite as it should after Captain Oblivious stuffed it with exotic matter, keeping it propped open and constantly shifting to the wrong regions of space-time . . .

Sigh . . . .