Recently on a trip to AZ, some friends and I visited Sedona.  Sedona is a funny place.  Outside of town, it’s a natural wonderland of red rock cliffs, pine filled canyons, and rolling streams.  Driving into town though, it’s quickly obvious that you are entering a land of spiritualism, mysticism, and new age nonsense.  It’s also obvious that there is a LOT of money being spent (I would say wasted) here.  There are miles of shops hawking all types of spiritual crap.  There are signs for psychics, aura photography, vortex tours, crystals, and more.  The list goes on and on.  The visitor center is filled with pamphlets providing endless ways for visitors to spend their money and the map they hand out even includes locations of some type of mystical “vortexes“.

All in all it seems harmless.  After all, why should I care that people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on readings, aura reports, crystals, magnets, or spiritual guidance.  For the most part, I find it humorous.  I’m sure some of the shop owners believe their own nonsense.  I’m also sure that others know full well what they are selling.  Sure, some could be considered crooks, but who cares as long as no one gets hurt, right?

Well, just a few weeks ago, two people died and over 20 were hospitalized after spending 2 hours in a sweat lodge “Spa”.  Apparently, these folks were participating in some type of spiritual cleansing ritual which is not uncommon here.  According to police reports, some people paid up to $9000 for the retreat.  Yep.  That’s right $9000 to be stuffed with 63 other people in a 3 foot high room made of branches and covered with blankets for 2 hours.  Oh and lets not forget the steam produced from pouring water over hot rocks.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  The fact that there is no established medical benefit to do this isn’t even considered relevant by the participants or organizers.  The spiritual teacher, James Arthur Ray, is being investigated and if justice is served, he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.

So what’s the lesson here? Will anything be learned from this tragedy?  In short, no.  Life goes on in Sedona.  In a few days or weeks, this will no longer be news to anyone besides the families and friends of the sick and dead.  People will question Ray’s motives rather than the practice itself.  Scammers will thrive on the gullible.  People will engage in potentially harmful behavior and continue to line the pockets of the purveyors of woo.  Nothing will change.  It never ever does.

Two dead (so far) is one tragedy.  Another is that lessons that should be learned, won’t be.

On a lighter note, Sedona was beautiful.  I can see why people think that there is something special about this place.  There is.  It’s a beautiful landscape with endless natural wonders to see and explore.  One doesn’t have to look for mystical power sources or spend money on magic jewelery to appreciate the beauty that nature has provided.

I just linked to something from PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog that made me laugh almost as much as it made me nauseous.  Apparently creationist Eric Hovind (who I assume is related to “Dr Dino” Kent Hovind) has a website with one minute videos promoting creation science.  Of course, in this case ‘science’ really means ‘Christian fundamentalist dogma’.  But be that as it may, these videos are a flashy new approach to spouting the same old superstitious bible literalism nonsense that predates real science by thousands of years.  The production is smooth but the message is the same.

I don’t want to spoil the laughs (Hovind’s comedic timing could use a little work) but here are a few gems in case you don’t visit:

Creation Minute is an exciting series hosted by Eric Hovind that explores the creation worldview using cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology. Each episode challenges the evolution theory and gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

OK.  First sentence makes sense.   He does use new technology to promote fundamentalist non-scientific nonsense.  (That’s what it says, right?)  The second sentence is a real laugher though.

..gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

You can’t deny that that’s a frggin hoot!  “scientific accuracy”…

A prime example of his Bible-based science is this formula:

Evolution Formula

Evolutionists are forced to believe that nothing + time = everything.

Seriously if want to waste some time (and maybe lose your last meal) watch some of these videos which use “cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology” to promote the same lame arguments that fundamentalists have been using against evolutionary biology for 150 years.  A new shiny package but inside it’s the same old pile of stinking crap.

Seriously, why are these backward close-minded irrational beliefs held by more than just the tiniest fringe of society?

A federal court ruled today in a case involving parents of autistic children who are seeking compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  These parents believe that their childrens’ autism was caused by vaccinations.  Health agencies as well as all but a few fringe scientists and doctors have maintained that there is no causal relationship between autism and vaccines.  The court stated that the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the parents claim.

This case has been watched by many in the scientific and health care communities as well as many others.  More than 5500 claims have been filed by parents seeking compensation.  Additionally, there has been an increase in parents all over the country declining vaccines for their children because of autism fears.

Of course, this decision will not persuade most of the parents that their children’s autism was not caused by vaccines.  Several years of research from around the world hasn’t been able to do that so this certainly won’t.  In fact, the head of Vaccine Information Center (which promotes the idea) said “I think it is a mistake to conclude that, because these few test cases were denied compensation, it’s been decided vaccines don’t play any role in regressive autism.”  She went on to say that more studdies are needed.

Just like any fringe or psuedoscientific belief, evidence is ignored unless it supports the belief, and believers claim that more research needs to be done.  In the case of autism and vaccines, more than enough research has been done.  The proverbial dead horse has been beaten to the point of turning to dust and yet it’s not enough.  The tragedy here is that so much money has been spent researching this link over and over, that it has reduced efforts that could actually determine causes, treatments, and a cure.  Think about that.  Obviously some people are not.

Of course, you have to feel for parents of autistic children.  It’s extremely difficult to deal with something like that and of course they want to know why it happened and what can be done to fix it.  It’s understandable that the answer they get from their doctor is not acceptable.  But the fact is that science has not got to the bottom of this tragic condition.  Genetic and environmental causes are being investigated but there is no answer yet.  Previous hypotheses, including those involving vaccines, mercury, and thimerosal, have been investigated and ruled out.  It’s time to devote more money and resources to research which may actually bear fruit.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29160138/

For more information, please visit the Science Based Medicine Blog

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.com compiled a list of his 10 Most wanted: Celebrities Who Promote Harmful Psuedoscience or as I prefer to call them – Douche Bags.  I wasn’t going to lower myself to that type of ad hominem attack but I’ll let Brian take the high road and I’ll take the one full of expletive-laced name-calling which IMHO is what these people deserve.

I don’t really much care what celebrities say unless they have already earned my respect regarding a given topic.  Unfortunately, their opinions carry an ENORMOUS amount of weight with many many people and the stupid, uninformed things they say actually do cause great harm.  Don’t believe me?  Well, I’ll give you one example: Jenny McCarthy has been a boost to the efforts of the anti-vaccination folks and her activism has resulted in lowered vaccination rates.  Vaccinations are only truly effective if a very large percentage of people are vaccinated.  If enough are not, the disease that we’re trying to eradicate (or at least control) can mutate and rebound.  Every time a parent is convinced by Jenny (or her buddy Oprah) to skip vaccinations, they put not only their own children at risk, but everyone else as well!  Actually, calling these vermin douche bags is an insult to douche bags.

Anyhow, Brian does a great job with his list of Top Ten celebrity shit heads, so please check it out.

p.s. for more info on vaccination, please visit Dr. Steven Novella’s Science Based Medicine Blog.

Readers of skeptical blogs know (as well as viewers of Montel Williams) that Sylvia Brown has been one of Americas best-known (and wealthiest) psychics for several years.  Skeptics have invested a lot of energy in debunking her claims and calling her out on her scams and harmful behavior.

Robert Lancaster has maintained the stopsylviabrown.com site for several years and has been dedicated to providing detailed information regarding her exploits.  Recently, Robert has been ill and in his absence, his original domain name expired and was auctioned off.  The site is located at stopsylvia.com and the skeptical community is being asked to let everyone know.  We’ll need lots of people to click on links and go there so that the search engines will list the new domain name when people search on her name.

So please, give it a click and see what all the buzz is about.  stopsylvia.com

Just when you think that the American school systems are failing (which they are in terms of teaching math and science), there are a few bright spots that indicate that all is not lost.  One such example is 18 year old Laci (gogreen18) from California.  If you haven’t heard of her of yet, consider yourself notified.  She has recently been featured on PZ Myers’ incredibly popular Pharyngula Blog.  PZ’s blog is read by scientists, skeptics, atheists, as well as many many creationists and believers who despise his views and the fact that he pulls no punches.  His readers have a reach that is far and wide and have a history of stepping up for good causes.  (Rather than cite examples, I’ll just recommend that you check out his blog.)

Anyhow, what is encouraging is that Laci is intelligent, articulate, and willing to stand up and state her  opinions in her own words.  (Being young, attractive, and charming doesn’t hurt either.)  To me, what is especially important is that she is engaging her peers using the media of the day – social networking sites like youtube & myspace.  Another encouraging thing is that the ratings and comments on her videos suggest that those very same peers are paying attention and not simply spouting the fundamentalist dogma and scripture that floods some sites.

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For the last couple of years, I’ve been seeing athletes, baseball players in particular, wearing necklaces that looked to be made of some type of cord with varying colors. I really didn’t give it much thought as I figured it was just another fashion trend that I somehow missed despite getting all of my advice from GQ and Maxim.

It turns out that these necklaces are not merely fashion accessories, but are made with titanium – not just any titanium – but a revolutionary new process! It’s coated with Aqua Titanium, has a core of micro-sized titanium spheres, as well as Carbonized Titanium. Wow! Carbonized Titanium!  It’s all part of the patented Energy Transport System.  (Did I say patented?  I meant trademarked.  Not really a difference, right?)

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