Merry Christmas

Just wishing a Merry Christmas to all my faithful readers! Since this is a site devoted partly to skepticism and the debunking of specious claims, I thought I’d give you a link to the Snopes.com Christmas Urban Legends page. Think that Poinsettias are poisonous? That The Twelve Days of Christmas has coded references to Christianity? That "Xmas" is a derogatory term for Christmas, crossing-out Christ? Well, you may be right–or you may be wrong! Check out the page, and have fun this Holiday season!

Dawkins did NOT back astrology

Before I get too far into this entry, let me make this clear: Richard Dawkins did NOT back astrology.

One Dr. Percy Seymour, author of The Scientific Proof of Astrology (I can’t even say that phrase out loud without chuckling), claims that the Earth’s magnetic field may affect human brain development. I have no idea if that’s true or not. He then goes on to claim that this vindicates astrology, since the magnetic fields of Mars, Jupiter, etc. would also have an affect on us. Poppycock, I say! They’re just too far away. The magnetic field generated by your TV set would have more of an affect on you.

But the real kicker is this claim of his, reported in The Sunday Times of London, UK, in a story entitled "Top Scientist Gives Backing to Astrology:"

Seymour’s theories won qualified support from an unexpected source. Richard Dawkins, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, who once suggested that astrologers be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act, said that although he had not read the book, Seymour’s ideas sounded interesting.

This prompted James Randi to write Dawkins on the matter, and this is part of the reply Randi received:

Jonathan Leake, the Science Editor of The Sunday Times (London) wrote an article on Sunday 16th May about a book that supports astrology. He telephoned to ask my opinion. I said I hadn’t seen the book and could therefore offer no opinion on it. He then read me a paragraph from the jacket notes, about experimental evidence that magnetic fields might influence fetal development. I said (approximately), "Well, that’s all very interesting, no doubt, but what the hell does it have to do with astrology?" The next day I found that Jonathan Leake had quoted me as providing "support from an unexpected quarter" having described the book as "interesting."

Dawkins also said:

I am FURIOUS. Please publicize the truth of what happened.

No problem. Richard Dawkins did NOT back astrology. You can read more at James Randi’s commentary covering the issue.

One more time, just for clarity: Richard Dawkins does NOT back astrology. And neither do I.

Why Sylvia Browne Is No Psychic

Sylvia Browne, one of those "Talking to the Dead" hacks, was on Larry King Live last Friday and I just had to share one of the calls with you. If any of you had any doubts remaining that these people aren’t doing what they claim, let this put them to rest. Listen for yourself (212K mp3 file).

Her, John Edward, James Van Praagh, and all of those other "psychics" are just preying on the grieving and the vulnerable. Their techniques are that of cold reading, and it’s not even good cold reading. I’ve seen stage magicians, who admit that it’s just a trick, do the exact same thing with a skill that puts these people to shame. You may be grieving, but you don’t have to be vulnerable. Protect yourself and your loved ones from these frauds.