Tuesday, August 2, 2011

There They Go Again...

I'll try to make this one short and sweet. It's not something I'm good at, but I'll try. Today's post goes about exposing the idiocy of yet another Naturopath. For some reason, this makes me think of a child innocently believing he has been touched "inappropriately" after visiting the doctor and undergoing a brief hernia test.

Pharmaceutical Drugs are NOT Safe

As I discussed in my last post, everything is toxic. EVERYTHING. Yes Dr. Twigsandleaves, even your ground up eye of newt has a level of toxicity. You just don't know what it is. The only exception I'll concede on this one is the pure, crystal clear distilled water known as Homeopathy. Personally, I get my homeopathic cures from Poland Spring for a few dollars per 10 gallon drum.

Pharmaceutical companies test their products to determine toxicity levels so as to know what level is dangerous and what level isn't.

Naturopaths don't. The lack of testing doesn't indicate lack of toxicity.

Pharmaceutical companies test their products to determine whether or not the products are effective.

Naturopaths don't. The lack of testing doesn't indicate effectiveness.

To be sure, the pharmaceutical industry is rife with shady practices. That doesn't mean that the Naturopaths are squeeky clean by default.

LD50 is the measure used to determine toxicity. Mr. Bakker doesn't seem to grasp the concept that I explained with such ease to my 12 year old last night. Just because we have determined what the level of toxicity of a product is, doesn't mean it is highly toxic.

Let's imagine that Product X requires 372 metric tons eaten over a 3 week period in order to hit that magic LD50 quantity. Let's further imagine that a 5 milligram tablet taken once per day for 3 weeks cures a severe bladder infection. By Mr. Bakker's logic, it is horribly toxic due to the fact that we discovered through testing that if you theoretically ate an aircraft carrier full of it, you'd have real problems. Therefore, avoid that little pill & deal with the agonizing burning sensation that is but a prelude to possible permanent damage to your toilet bits. OR, BETTER YET, take these ground up herbs and spices that have no testing whatsoever to determine what amount is dangerous OR EVEN whether or not they work at all!

How about this Mr. Bakker? Please post lists of all the people who have died from prescription antibiotics, not including those instances of allergy (after all, you weren't contending that allergic reactions were the problem). Next, post a list of everyone in that same period of time who died from an infection that would have been cured by those same antibiotics had they only taken the Doctor's advice as opposed to yours. Dare to compare?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm Just a Shill for Big Cooking Oil

Every once in a while I come across an article of such staggering ineptitude that I have to re-read it several times to really grasp the steaming pile of ignorance that must have written it. In many of those cases, I found that I simply misread it the first time through. Often, these are blog posts written by people of questionable cognitive abilities and even more questionable spelling and grammar knowledge.

Sadly, no matter how many times I read and re-read this article this morning, I couldn't find what I was desperately hoping for. This was an article written by a Mike Adams - AKA the Health Ranger; a man who has a large number of devotees who think he understands basic science. Actually, they think he knows better than the scientists. Apparently so does he.

Are You Eating Pesticides?

If you do read the above linked article, I apologize if you experienced any ill health effects from such IQ draining drivel. If you didn't, let me summarize his sudden insights that nobody in the entire scientific community was ever able to figure out since the dawn of industrial chemical production over a half century ago.

A) Pesticides are toxic
B) Pesticides often contain Canola oil.
C) You're frying those oreos in toxic pesticides.

For many of you, I'm preaching to the choir. If you are among those who aren't immediately smacked in the face with the glaring errors this man makes, please allow me to point them out. Oh, and do NOT feel bad. "Toxicity" is not a topic covered in most schools. I happened to go through an Agricultural program at Penn State and pesticides were a main topic of study. I also work in a field that involves pesticide usage.

To get the obvious out of the way, pesticides are toxic. To get the not-so-obvious similarly out of the way, so is table salt, Windex, Vitamin C, and belly button lint.

Everything, EVERYTHING is toxic in sufficient quantities. Toxicity is not a measure of whether or not something is dangerous. It is a measure of HOW MUCH of any product is required to cause problems. If it takes very, very little to cause harm, the product is highly toxic. Examples of this would be arsenic, rattlesnake venom, and Lady Gaga. If it takes a lot of something to cause problems, it has a very low level of toxicity. Examples would be milk, white bread, and orange spray tan slop.

In pesticide production, first we need to establish how much of a product is needed to cause the harm intended. Let's not forget that the whole point of spraying an insecticide is to kill critters. We need to determine which products have the right level of toxicity for the target pest, and how much of the product is needed to actually kill them without killing the plants or the homeowners, or any other non-target living things. Let's take it a step further and imagine that the pesticide companies might enjoy repeat business. For this, they may wish to create products that WHEN USED PROPERLY do not cause sudden hair loss, blindness, spontaneous farts, gender reversal, and cancer.

Now, they have settled on a specific chemical that they have studied and understand. It takes 3 tablespoons of the concentrated active ingredient to kill all the bugs in a 5,000 sq ft lawn. If you think this through, you may come to the same inevitable conclusion that chemical manufacturers came to a few decades ago. How do you evenly spread 3 tablespoons over an area that large?

To adequately spray that over 5,000 square feet, you'd need about 5 - 10 gallons of mixed product. This means that you need to dilute (mix) the 3 tablespoons into 5-10 gallons, and THEN spray it evenly around the yard.

Hmm, what homeowner wants to go buy a 10 gallon drum of mixed pesticide? I'm guessing not many. What homeowner wants to handle 3 tablespoons of a toxic insecticide? Probably not many. So here's an idea.... How about we mix that 3 tablespoons into about a quart of oil, thereby reducing the toxicity of the mix to about 5% of what it was? People can take that home, further add 5-10 gallons of water from a hose and spray it out onto the yard to kill the bugs. You have now effectively gotten those 3 tablespoons from the lab onto the appropriate area of yard by using a solvent like oil as a carrier. It knocks down the toxicity significantly for safer and more effective handling and allows it to be sold at market in a practical way.

Pesticides are labelled as toxic and cautions are given because they are toxic and you should be careful. When used appropriately and carefully, they can be of great benefit. Just as you shouldn't eat an entire bottle of vitamin C for breakfast, nor should you handle pesticides in a manner not intended.

That all said, Mike Adams literally jumps to the ridiculous conclusion that it's the oil that's "toxic." There's seriously no explanation given other than that these products contain oil and they are toxic. Um, Mike? There's another little thing on the label called "Active Ingredient." That's the toxic stuff. The canola oil is just fine.

Where's my big check from Wesson?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Mansion on the End of the Street

When I grew up, there was a mansion on the end of our street. It was odd because we lived in a distinctly middle class rural area. There were lots of trees & woods. Our dads taught us how to hunt deer and turkey. There was a community swimming pool, but it wasn’t very pretty; lots of concrete filled with water. The mansion had a pool with waterfalls and plants growing around it. It actually snaked around the backyard to simulate a realistic body of natural water. There were also tennis courts, baseball fields, and an arcade in the basement.

The mansion was owned by a reclusive and eccentric billionaire. He didn’t like spending time with other people, so he purposely had the mansion built in an unassuming town like ours, hidden away in a thick cover of trees. The trees were so thick in fact that you couldn’t see the mansion from the street, nor could you access it by driveway. He didn’t want deliverymen or mailmen or Jehovah’s witnesses to find it and bother him, so he only came in and out via helicopter, and only in the middle of the night during thunderstorms to hide the sound of the helicopter.

Jared was the one kid on the street who had seen and spent time at the house and he loved telling us about all the incredibly cool stuff. He had walked through the woods one day looking for deer and finally came across the mansion. He said it was better and bigger than any we had ever seen in books or movies, but the trek through the woods to get there was so convoluted that it was too dangerous to try to find it. He had simply gotten lucky. In fact, he was being chased by a mama Grizzly when he came out of the woods into the clearing in the back yard at which point a security guard shot the bear, saving Jared. The owner insisted that he be brought home in a helicopter so he wouldn’t get lost in the woods on the way out. He was a nice old man, just kind of quirky.

Before sending Jared off, the man showed him around the mansion and even let him swim in the pool before feeding him the best cheeseburger he had ever had. He also made Jared a promise. He wanted to leave the mansion to the kids in the neighborhood as a cool hangout. He would be leaving soon and he had made arrangements for the staff to stay on and a safe but hidden passageway through the woods to be built. It would be happening someday soon. It was only for us kids.

Jared became the contact and we would meet at a neighborhood clubhouse each weekend one morning to get updates as to how the passageway construction was going. The man had given Jared a walkie talkie that he communicated through and Jared checked in each week for updates. After a few weeks, the man started to have cold feet and wondered if the kids in the neighborhood would truly appreciate this wonderful gift. After all, what kids in the world had their very own luxury mansion to go hang out at away from any parental supervision? The gift was immeasurable and he wanted to be sure we all truly appreciated it. Jared solemnly passed along the man’s concerns and we lamented the potential loss of this ultimate playground before we even had it to enjoy.

We begged Jared to ask the man how we could prove that we appreciated it. He agreed and went home with the promise to make contact that week and tell us what the man said. We begged Jared to bring the walkie talkie the next week so we could talk to the man ourselves. He said he would.

The next week came and Jared explained that the man did not want to talk to all of us, but just wanted to have Jared as the middle man. In fact, he promised to shut down all construction and communication if the walkie talkie was ever even seen by another neighborhood kid.

After some pondering the man had told Jared that while he obviously didn’t need the money, he needed to see that we were all committed to appreciating this wonderful gift. To show this, we each needed to bring Jared a dime each weekend. Since most of us got a dollar a week allowance, ten cents didn’t seem so bad. Jared would drop all the dimes in a hidden box at the edge of the woods. The man’s guard would pick up the dimes and count them to determine if there were enough kids interested in the completion of the passageway. Jared had to sneak out of his house in the middle of the night to make the drops so that nobody could see where he brought the dimes. He told us all about these midnight runs and we held our breaths imagining how exhilarating and scary they must have been.

We happily handed over the dimes to Jared and most of us barely slept the next week as we awaited the potential news of the completion of the passageway. The next meeting came and Jared announced that the old man was happy with the dimes and intended to continue construction but he needed to make sure we weren’t selfish. We needed to share this wonderful luck with as many kids as possible and he would know how many kids were committed by the numbers of dimes in the box each week. He even generously threw in 5 of his own dimes to get it started. We eagerly went out to tell our school friends from other neighborhoods. We brought in other excited kids to hear of the good news and share in our good fortunes. Many of us even matched Jared’s 5 dimes to make it seem as though there were even more kids. After a few weeks Jared announced that the man was so pleased thus far that he actually had given Jared a gift of a new dirt bike to show how happy he was with Jared’s hard work. Jared proudly showed it off and we all marveled at the generosity and kindness of the old man. Our determination doubled and we all began pitching in most of our dollar allowances while recruiting even more friends to join in the project. Any day now, we would have it all.

The man’s gifts to Jared became more generous, further proof of his kindness and commitment to us kids. We couldn’t believe the good luck we had to have such a kind soul in our midst.

Finally, disaster struck. Jared’s dad was transferred to another location across the country and they had to move. Jared begged the billionaire to let him choose another child as the contact, but the man insisted that construction of the passageway was nearly complete. He only needed one final show of commitment from the neighborhood kids to convince him to finish it. Construction would be done exactly one week after Jared left and we would each receive a package in the mail with directions to the passageway entrance and a key to the door. Of course, all the kids needed to be serious and appreciative, so we each needed to show our appreciation in the form of as many dimes as we could hold in one hand without spilling. Jimmy Elsinore only pitched in a few dimes. We all complained to Jimmy that it wouldn’t be enough and the man would get angry, but he cried that it was all he had. A few kids even went to get extra dimes to compensate and we hoped and hoped that the man wouldn’t notice that Jimmy wasn’t as serious as the rest of us clearly were. We weren.t optimistic though. You don't get to be a billionaire in a mansion without knowing things like this.

I’m embarrassed to say that I stole several dollars from my mom’s wallet to get enough dimes to fill my hand. I knew she’d understand though, if only I could tell her of the wonderful fortune that awaited. Unfortunately, the man forbade any discussion with parents.

Jared and his family moved. We all waited. The man must have noticed Jimmy's shortfall. We had hoped he wouldn’t notice, but he must have. He must have.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Monetization of Skepticism

In the spirit of openness and honesty, let me reveal my intent for this post right up front. I think there should be a practical, reasonable method for active Skeptics to make money doing what they are doing.

Okay, so that's not exactly revolutionary. Michael Shermer is just one very well known Skeptic who sells large stacks of books, magazine subscriptions, and I assume earns a speaking fee (though I haven't checked into this and don't know for sure). In fact, many of the most well known "Skeptics" in the world earn quite a bit by publishing, speaking, and doing what they do best. Again, I'm certainly not privy to the numbers, but I'd venture to guess that guys like Penn and Teller earn a few pennies on their Skeptic themed show "Bullshit." The show Mythbusters has similarly pushed the concept of testing assumptions and learning reality through the Scientific Method. I'm guessing the cast and crew are paid for their efforts.

So, what am I referring to then?

Many, many skeptical activists similarly produce quality writing and podcasts. For whatever reason, there seems to be an unwritten rule that podcasters shouldn't earn money from their efforts. This is probably due to the fact that podcasting began as an underground radio sort of thing and the idea of charging for content seemed to be in poor taste, not to mention untenable. Over the past decade though, podcasting has grown significantly and several prominent podcasters have risen to the top, regularly producing very high quality shows on a predicable timetable.

Within the Skeptical movement, podcasts like Skepticality, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and Skeptoid are just three of many that are produced and published with professionalism, high quality, and serious entertainment value. The creators of these shows don't get paid a dime for this. To be fair, this was their choice and they knew going in that this was the situation. I haven't heard anyone complaining, but I often wonder the following....

IF SGU actually earned money directly and indirectly so that the cast could live off the profits comfortably, how much better could the show be? Seriously, these guys spend a great deal of every week researching, recording and editing, yet they still need to show up to work each day to earn their paycheck. Imagine if they were able to put 50 hours a week into SGU? I can only imagine the sheer numbers of things they'd be able to do to further spread the message. Perhaps an SGU cable network one day? How much would we all need to pay? In all seriousness, if we had to each subscribe for $1 per month to get the podcast, they could probably all quit their jobs and go full time. I drop $12 every few days on coffee. Why wouldn't I spend at least that much to help these guys continue creating their show?

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Let me try to wrap it up a bit more clearly than I believe I have expressed in the overall post.

1) We need to eliminate any thoughts of profit as a bad thing in the skeptical movement. Let's just realize that if someone is trying to profit, it's because they are trying to make a quality product that is worth something. If the quality isn't there, people won't buy it.

2) In the USA at least, profitability conveys respect. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is what it is. You make money at something, it's considered legit. You don't, it's just a cute hobby. We don't want Skepticism to seem like a cute hobby.

3) Profits for podcasters and/or bloggers will help them produce better content.

4) The current methods for making money aren't cutting it. When guys like P.Z. Myers aren't making much off Pharyngula, which is read by about 3 gajillion people every day, something isn't clicking.

5) The profits I'm encouraging need NOT be direct (though they could be). I'll use The Geologic podcast as a perfect example. I don't know George's mind or plan, but I can certainly see how his free podcast could be a great way to build a fan base for his music and live shows.

6) I make zero money off this blog and my podcast "Meet The Skeptics." That's okay with me. I do both as a creative outlet that I have fun with. Perhaps someday I'll seek to make a few bucks on it all, but I'm nowhere near considering that now. If either gets good enough and popular enough, perhaps I'll think of something.

7) Any methods for profit should be adding value, not holding up faithful listeners/readers for things they are used to getting for free.

8) If a Skeptical blogger or podcaster tries to explore a new avenue for earning money off his/her content, applaud the effort, but only buy if you truly think the value is there. I'm not suggesting we prop up anyone who isn't earning it.

9) Let me know if you agree or disagree.

In conclusion, allow me to list a few great products that may put a few pennies in the pockets of a few hardworking Skeptics. If you find these interesting, please buy them!

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Of Pop Phenomena

Non-Coloring Book: George Hrab

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Avoiding the File Drawer

In many areas of research, there's a problem known as the "File Drawer" problem. It appears to be especially pervasive in pharmaceutical research, but it exists elsewhere. Essentially, it's this:

A group or researcher does a huge number of studies about a particular subject. The researcher could then theoretically handpick a small number of those studies that show a hoped for effect and file away the rest. To the outside world, this appears compelling even if the larger body of work clearly demonstrates that the phenomenon doesn't exist.

When psi research is done with apparent positive effects, Skeptics often cite the file drawer problem and suspect that it was one study done among many, but the others have been buried. This may or may not be true, but there's really no way to know for sure. Doubt is cast, not much has been learned.

I recommend that psi researchers (not that they'll take my advice) simply eliminate this argument that we Skeptics have in regards to their studies. Before doing any studies, register the study with an agreed upon authority. Make it a nuetral party that both the psi researchers and the Skeptics agree upon. This party is simply there to verify that the study is registered.

Registration must include proposed methodology and an explanation of what is being studied. After the study is concluded, all results must be published and submitted to the registrar before any are released to the media or proposed for publication. Critics will have ample time to suggest improvements or changes to the methodology. Researchers will not be allowed to register or publish any further studies until all past results have been published. Basically, no filing away of negative results.

This will have the combined effect of eliminating the File Drawer problem AND taking it away as an excuse for Skeptics. Most importantly, it moves us closer to transparency and honesty, which I believe is something the vast majority of us want. Thoughts?

Friday, March 11, 2011

In Defense of Skeptical Marketing

My apologies to those of you who may have been following this blog at one time or another. It seems a bit cliche to apologize for non-blogginess, as all of us have our relapses. Such are the problems with unpaid duties! That said, I was recently prompted to write a little something by a Twitter guy by the name of Greg Taylor from Australia. His Twitter handle is @DailyGrail.

Greg actually seems like a decent guy and his challenging tweets against me are of a respectful tone, so I can't take him on personally. I do disagree with his overall assessment of the situation surrounding the JREF's Million Dollar Challenge. If you're not yet in the loop, here's the JREF's press release:

JREF’s $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge Now Easier Than Ever

And here's Greg's thoughts on the matter:

Million Dollar Hustle

I see Greg's criticisms as being misguided. Yes, the MDC is a PR campaign. If I proposed that I think blonde haired kids have a better than average chance of picking the suit of a hidden playing card and went to the JREF with the proposal that we join forces and test the proposed phenomenon, they'd decline such an offer. They aren't an organization dedicated to the tireless search for psychic abilities. They ARE a watchdog group that stands in defiance to those who claim to have proven psychic abilities. I will simply state in my argument against Greg that JREF was loudly criticized from the psi community for the stringent rules. Now that they've relaxed them, you're criticizing. I suspect you'd have similarly criticized them had they tightened the rules but I certainly have no way of reading your mind, so I cannot claim that with any fair level of assuredness.

Your argument that they should be approaching more reputable "psychics" similarly falls flat. Randi has for years challenged every major psychic in the world, and they've all avoided it entirely. Perhaps they have their reasons, but I fail to see why they wouldn't at least propose a fair test publicly in counterpoint to Randi's challenge. Instead, they dismiss it as a publicity stunt. No, they don't need the money in many cases, but when a woman like Sylvia Browne claims such a connection to God, wouldn't her religious beliefs compel her to snatch the million and give it to a deserving charity? Just my analysis. If I had a lot of money and psychic abilities, I'd go for it just to shut Randi up.

The Problems with Psychic Research

When tests were recently announced that supposedly proved a certain small level of precognition, I watched more than one television reporter report the results with zero critical analysis. It was trumpeted as "proof found" of certain psychic abilities. Never mind that the tests were cherry picked to show anomalous results that have yet to be replicated. "Psychic abilities proven!" was the story of the day. It was a great story as long as those middling little facts didn't get in the way. The MDC stands as a counterpoint PR campaign to raise awareness of the complete lack of any solid proof of psychic ability.

Part of the problem with psi research stems from misunderstandings of randomness. If I give 100 people a piece of paper and ask them to plot 30 dots in random locations on the paper, the vast majority of the people will produce decidedly non-random results. They will spread the dots out in a somewhat even pattern, subconsciously making sure not to place any two dots too near one another. This is what we think of as random. It is not. It is evenness. Random plotting would leave awkward concentrations of dots, possibly even connecting dots while large areas of the paper would remain blank. It's not until we get into huge numbers (ie: if I asked them to randomly plot 100,000 dots) that we see things gradually shift toward an overall evenness.

I was recently in a casino and chuckled to myself as I watched people at the roulette table analyze the past 30 numbers to have come up. The casinos helpfully display the past numbers so gamblers can make an assessment as to what will come up next. Of course, this is ridiculous and the casino knows they are merely conveying a false sense of assuredness to help people lose their money with more confidence. Each roll of the ball is completely autonomous and independent of any past or future rolls. It is the purest definition of randomness. But what do you think I saw when I looked at the display? The number 16 had come up 4 times in the past 30 rolls. Statistically probable? Heck no. Random? You betcha.

Let's say that ahead of time I had placed 30 people in the room with that Roulette wheel and asked them all to individually concentrate on a single number. Would it be reasonable for me to take the person who was concentrating on 16 and claim that they alone must have some sort of supernatural sway? I hope I don't have to answer that for you. How about the person who was concentrating on a number that never came up? Could I conclude that they must have prevented the ball from landing on that number with their psychic mojo? Unfortunately, this is exactly what many paranormal researchers do. They expect evenness when they should expect chaotic, unpredictable randomness. When results happen to go in favor of what they were looking for? Voila! We've discovered psychic ability!

Randomness assures clunky, awkward results. Science is plagued with paths that led to nowhere because of anomalous results that eventually disappeared under large scale testing. Psi research is not immune to the fact that enough testing will produce positive results here and there, sometimes even impressively positive results. The sheer lack of replicability in those studies indicates that they were simply looking at a strange mass of random dots that happened to land in a single section of the page. If results disappear under attempts at replication, it's reasonable to conclude that the original results were statistical anomalies that we'd expect to happen here and there due to randomness. I've heard psi researchers claim over and over again that psychic ability is simply unpredictable, or that it disappears under the negative energy of skeptics, yada yada yada. Post hoc rationalizations abound, none of which explain why "positive" psychic results routinely display exactly what we'd expect to see under the theory that psychic abilities don't actually exist. We'd expect random results. This is what we see.

Greg goes on for a bit on P values, though I failed to see the P values touted by Greg explained in the MDC test rules. It did state that the results necessary for a "pass" will be agreed upon by both parties as will the test protocol and supervisors. I would ask from the JREF a clarification on Greg's accusation that their rules would prohibit a 19/20 result from being a win when chance would expect around 10/10. I similarly suspect that this is a red herring, but I'll allow the JREF to comment of they are so inclined. In the next few weeks, I'm actually scheduled to interview a few key players at the JREF for my podcast "Meet The Skeptics," so I'll ask for clarification at that time so long as we can coordinate schedules.

For now I'll simply say that the MDC stands as a critical and necessary PR tool to counteract the lack of critical analysis in the general news media. Whether or not the rules are easy or difficult concerns me not. As long as it is there, more people will take unfounded stories with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Big Kerfuffle

There's a big dustup within the skeptical community of late. A large event known as Skepticon was held and the overarching theme was anti-religion. One well known commentator made the point that it seemed to be more of an Atheist event and less of a Skeptical event, and the gloves came off.

See Jeff Wagg's column here

Just for giggles, I'm going to throw my hat into the proverbial ring. While Atheism may well be one of many logical conclusions from Skepticism, it is but one of many. They aren't one and the same. Skepticism is a methodology and an approach to life and understanding. Atheism is a lack of belief in a deity. Just because one logically leads to another doesn't mean they are one and the same. A Pro-Life rally is not automatically a Republican event, even if it is safe to say that the vast majority of attendees will be registered Republicans.

I'll freely admit that it's largely a PR thing. If I'm fighting to raise public awareness about the safety of vaccines and there's a group of Atheists loudly and proudly proclaiming that Skepticism is all about fighting religion, I know that my message will be heard and trusted by fewer people. It's that simple. Call it accomodationist, call it spineless, I don't care. I'm concerned about getting the message out and helping people learn how to reason for themselves. I'm concerned about people falling for scams that they should have seen coming a mile away. I'm concerned about people visiting Faith Healers and throwing their insulin onto the stage in the belief that they have been cured. I'm concerned about people handing over college funds to psychics who claim to be in contact with a dead husband or wife. I'm concerned about parents forgoing immunizations for fear of causing Autism in their children. I'm concerned for my young niece who spent weeks wheezing and coughing because my sister repeatedly took her to a Naturopath instead of a family doctor or allergist who would have pinned down her dairy sensitivity in days instead of years.

I realize that at least one of my aforementioned concerns deals directly with religious thought and could be theoretically remedied with a good scrubbing of religion from the planet. Here's the thing though; it ain't gonna happen. Religion is pervasive and it will stick around. Humans are stubborn and will dig in their heels when their beliefs are challenged, moreso when the beliefs are strong and closely identified with their personal identity. Read "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)" for a more thorough explanation of this.

If some folks are able to accept that Faith Healers are really just highly successful con artists with immunity from prosecution due to their religious status, they are one step closer to rational thinking. If people can understand the placebo effect and the impossibility of distilled water remembering vibrations from a foreign substance, they may stop spending money with a Homeopath. If people can gain understanding of cold reading and avoid falling victim to psychic fraudsters (redundant, I know), they benefit their families and themselves. These are achievable goals that we should be working on.

Pride is difficult to swallow. Sometimes we need to take a big gulp anyway.

To be VERY CLEAR. In case you are getting ready to post a scathing reply to this post, let me state my position more concisely. I do NOT think that Atheism should be ignored or swept under the rug. I do not think anybody should pretend to be religious if they are not. I suggest no dishonesty or downplaying of (anti)religious status. Just don't conflate Atheism and Skepticism in a way that will confuse those who don't understand the nuance. If you are going to hold an Anti-Homeopathy conference, great. Call it that and I'll be there. Don't call it a "Skeptical" conference. If you are going to have an Anti-Anti-Vax conference, great. I'll be there too. Don't call it a "Skeptical" conference. If you are planning to host an Atheism conference, I'll be there too. Just don't call it Skepticism. Skepticism is much more than just one of its logical conclusions.