Friday, November 27, 2009

The Skeptics Zone #58

What the hell are they saying?

This week on the Skeptic Zone Dr. Dunlop and Mr. Saunders interviewed Christopher Zinn of "Choice" magazine.  I have never heard of it, but it seemed similar to "Consumer Reports" in the United States.  The discussion touched upon dubious practices of pharmacies in Australia, such as weekly or monthly iridology at the pharmacy, selling of homeopathic preparations, questionable claims of cosmetic manufacturers, and expensive devices to cut down on electrical use.  They also played clips from humorous ads or videos spoofing various consumer product claims.  As an American, I found it interesting, because "Consumer Reports" is far too straight laced to ever mock or spoof anything.

Dunlop, Saunders, and Zinn kept discussing their Shawn-key, or Shawnee, or something or the other award.  All I could think is "What the hell are they saying?  What's a shownkee?"  I looked it up when I came home and had to go to an Australian slang website to find that term being discussed was "shonkey."  "Choice" gives out the "Shonkey Award" for products that just do not work just as the Golden Razzie award is given for bad movies.  

The next segment was a brief interview with James Randi discussing facilitative communication, which is back in the new lately due to the Rom Houben case that has made world wide news in the past week.  It appears that while Houben may have had more brain activity than was thought for some part of the last 23 years, it does appear that his recent bout of communication with his family and caregivers is based on dubious facilitative communication.  Randi discussed a test of a facilitative communicator of an autistic person in which the facilitator could show no evidence of facilitating any communication.  Naturally, the facilitator disagreed with the test.  While all the evidence is not yet in, what is known strongly points that in the Houben matter the same self deception is occurring.

This week the Think Tank segment, a favorite of mine, was back with Saunders, Dunlop, Joanne Benahmu, and Eran Segev sitting round the table.  Various topics were touched upon including the Houben matter, possible negative side effects from quack stem cell therapy, religious education classes, and animal psychics.  All of the topics are interesting, but the one that struck me the most was the animal psychics discussion.  (The religious education struck me as odd too.  I am just used to the fairly tight division between church and state that was in my public school education. I guess in the Commonwealth countries it is a different story.)

I have met and know a fine family who believe that a friend of theirs is an animal communicator.  This woman communicates with the dog, horses, and apparently crickets (I swear I am not making that last one up) and all other manner of critter.  Now, I love and adore my pets.  I talk with the dog and cat all the time.  I drive poor Hermione nuts with my one way discussions.  They react and respond to me, but I have never heard them with either my ears or with telepathy talk back to me.  Yet, I do it, because . . . I don't know why I do it.  However, it causes me to understand why people have the desire to talk to their beloved pets and other various creatures.   I suspect a lot of the time Huck the cat would be saying "why can't I nap here," and Bernie the dog would be begging "for a just a bit of bacon or chicken". Yet, when this family, which has two very adorable and bright kids, discuss the horses thought "X" and the dog said "Y" all I want to do is to firmly tell them that they are being given a cold reading via an animal proxy.  To make such a declaration would likely cause estrangement and discomfort, but at the same time it pains me to see such irrational magical thinking imbued in the young.  This part of the Think Tank clearly hit a nerve with me.

Finally, during the Think Tank this blog was mentioned.  Never fear loyal reader, I will resist their kind words and endeavor as always to maintain my objectivity.  Still, it was quite kind of them as well as when this blog was also mentioned on Righteous Indignation.  (Also, it scored major points with me, Hermione--his blogging is worth it!)

1 comment:

  1. http://www.hrc.co.nz/home/hrc/humanrightsenvironment/religioninnewzealandschools.php
    has a spiel on the state of affairs in NZ (I assume the case is similar in Aus). In particular:

    "A secular education should not favour any one particular religious belief. It should be possible to attend the school quite happily even if you don't hold those particular religious beliefs. This does not mean that religious teaching is banned completely. Schools need to be sensitive about how their actions are likely to impact on students holding different beliefs. This means ensuring that everyone's beliefs are treated with respect and all views are valued."

    Basically the long story short of the document is that you can have religion at a (public) school provided it is done outside of school hours, non-descriminatory and opt-out.

    I will also add that I know of teachers who in high school have done something like talk credulously about young earth creationism in a geology class, however the typical outcome of such an action is that the teacher loses their job.

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