Skeptics' Circle, the 91st

To wit, Dr. Absconsus’ Cabinets of Curiosities

Welcome, welcome my friends — please do come in and make yourselves at home!

I understand that you’d like to peruse the curiousities I’ve collected over the past fortnight. I’ve gathered these into a series of cabinets to preserve them for posterity, and hopefully contain to some degree the noxious effects of their contents. After all, these humble cases play host to all manner of irrationality, from a variety of sources, such as often plague our species.

‘Tis only fair that I should warn you first, though — you may find yourself a bit nauseous should you gaze into any of the cabinets for too long. But have no fear, I’m also equipped with a variety of nostrums fit to cure any dispepsia you may, however briefly, experience during your sojourn.


It’s only fitting that our little tour should start with the most awkward and noisome of the collections, collectively referred to by many these days as “Wafergate.” Almost certainly you’ve heard of it, but I’ll briefly acquaint you with the basics in case your gentle spirits had caused you to turn away from some of the rather distasteful proceedings.

What’s that you asked, sir? Why yes, up in the corner that is a picture of a communion wafer — purloined from (but later returned to) a Roman Catholic church by a young man who apparently had far too much time on his hands. Or perhaps he took it on a dare, you can never tell in these sorts of cases. At any rate, a lot of Catholics got upset, and PZ Myers of course, had to wade into the mess too — why yes, sir, that mass on the second shelf is what’s left of a squid. Anyway, Dr. Myers behaved as he usually does — count on him to play the enfant terrible and volunteer to desecrate a wafer in even worse ways. Of course, that old camera-chaser Bill Donohue got involved as well, and before you could blink, there were threats directed toward a number of parties, rising in ever greater volume and severity, reducing the whole discussion (such as it was) to a completely ludicrous and self-righteous affair on all sides.

The irony, my friends! To see even those people who proclaim themselves committed to a life of rationality behaving so… well… so irrationally. One could have hoped that all involved would have endeavored to give a better example of the values they supposedly cherish.

Why it makes me sick to think of the whole affair still. What, ma’am? Yes, I’d suggest you sample any of these three tonics to settle your nerves — the ones labeled, Good Math, Bad Math, Cosmic Variance, or Adventures in Ethics and Science. They’re up there on the top shelf.


After that admittedly unsettling collection, let’s move on to the next case. As you can see, this one is labeled “Vaccinus.” My apologies for its somewhat timeworn appearance — you see, this one has quite a bit of history behind it.

While I have to admit to a bit of cynicism myself with respect to the motives and behavior of certain pharmaceutical companies, I’m still astonished by the degree to which public discussion of the benefits and risks of various vaccinations takes place without the benefit of scientific information. Take for instance my collection of HPV material in this case — we have some obvious scare mongering on the part of CNN; but fortunately, we also have an antidote to this sort of nonsense in those bottles labeled Feministe and Denialism Blog.

What, sir? Yes, you’re correct, that’s a picture of Jenny McCarthy. A well-intentioned, if misguided and rather credulous soul if ever I saw one. While she’s hardly the first minor-grade “celebrity” to proclaim herself an expert on some scientific subject with which she has no educational background, she seems to have quite the knack for garnering media attention. She even has a number of allies in the ranks of those who make their living in journalism (note, please, that I won’t waste the term “professional” on these individuals). You’ll find the contents of those containers labeled Science Based Medicine, Respectful Insulence, EpiWonk, and Skeptico to be quite restorative here.

Oh, and did I mention that measles is now making a comeback in both the U.S. and the U.K., thanks in no small part to McCarthy and her ilk? I’ll have to add a counter to this case displaying the number of deaths we can attribute to this sort of nonsense.


Now lets move along to the third cabinet, if you please. Yes, ma’am, it’s quite warm — I’d suggest you keep a bit of distance from it. This cabinet contains a collection of items that all appeared quite suddenly just a few days ago. It seems that a number of bloggers were invited to screen a new movie on global warming and science communication called “Sizzle.” I haven’t seen it myself, of course — my invitation must have been lost in the mail. Still, while all those lucky viewers seem to be coordinated in the timing of their reviews, they are far less unanimous in the tone of their reviews.

I count five reviews giving positive accounts of the film — these on Science Progress, Greg Laden, Dynamics of Cats, Shifting Baselines, and World’s Fair.

A few reviews were ambivalent — these being on A Blog Around the Clock, Of Two Minds, and Aardvarchaeology.

Meanwhile, a full dozen reviews were decidedly less charitable — on erv, Mike the Mad Biologist, Green Gabbro, Thoughts from Kansas, The Scientific Activist, The Island of Doubt, Aetiology, Living the Scientific Life, Gene Expression, Pharyngula, Stranger Fruit, and Adventures in Ethics and Science.

All in all, I’d have to say it’s not the best of omens for a well-intentioned film. So out of respect for the dignity of those involved, let’s just move on to our next case.


The fourth cabinet contains a number of odd items of the supposedly-extraterrestrial persuasion. As you can see, Roswell paraphernalia is well represented here — after all, I was part of an expedition there myself, once. UFO-themed merchandise seems to be quite the cottage industry in that dusty little town. My friend Teen Skepchick sent me that rather interesting looking rock on the top shelf — obviously the product of some manufacture, but it’s astounding that people will so quickly ascribe it to extraterrestrials when such items are readily available commercially.

And then… What, ma’am? Why yes, over to the side it’s just a picture of the moon — although you’d be surprised by how many people mistake it for some sort of space ship. I have to wonder if such confusion might come after imbibing a bit too much port, perhaps?


The fifth and final cabinet, as you can see, is labeled “Miscellany.” For lack of a better system, this is where I collect those scattered items that can’t really fill a display case on their own — odds and ends, really. On this side you’ll see pictures, purportedly of ghosts. Over there, a bit of video contributed by the Bad Astronomer explaining some of the logical fallacies psychics make use of, and a play-by-play of the TV series it came from courtesy of PodBlack Cat. Next to those you’ll see video from Orac of a supposed faith healer in action. Why I even have some posts from Bad Science debunking a man in the U.K. who thinks that living near a cell phone tower causes AIDS and suicidal behavior. Honestly!

As Action Skeptics points out, scams do seem to be everywhere these days.


Well, my friends, I see that my time with you has come to an end. I do thank you for spending this little interlude with me, I hope that I’ve shown you at least a thing or two of interest. My understanding is that the next stop on your journey will come in another fortnight on July 31 over at the abode of my friend The Lay Scientist. Do remember me to him, will you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sing along I’d like to take part in. Take care!

This entry was posted in Biology, Carnivalia, Communicating science, Critical thinking, Humanity, Media madness, Nuttiness and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Skeptics' Circle, the 91st

  1. EpiWonk says:

    Dear Sam,
    Early Wednesday morning I sent you a link to (“Epi Wonk’s Intro to Data Analysis”), which I suppose would have been categorized in your “Vaccinus” collection. I’m disappointed that I’m not part of the fun.
    Best wishes,
    Epi Wonk

  2. Pingback: Skeptic’s Circle Number 91 « Jyunri Kankei

  3. Sam Wise says:

    Sorry, EpiWonk — my comment form has apparently been misbehaving, and throwing comments away rather than forwarding them along to me. I’ll edit the carnival to add your link shortly…

  4. Akusai says:

    Thank you kindly for the link! I didn’t think that one was really Skeptics Circle material, so I’m glad to see someone thought so.

    Great carnival!

  5. Pingback: Skepticalness abounds | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

  6. Pingback: PodBlack Cat | Friday - Skeptic’s Circle Day!

  7. Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » Carnivalia — 7/16 - 7/22

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