Generation Rescue denies autism

I often refer to those pushing the “vaccines cause autism” lie anti-vaccinationists or vaccine deniers because more often than not, their real target is the vaccines while the autism claim, though the most often mentioned in the media,  is just one of many evils these ideologues try to link to vaccines. Really, in the same way Scientologists blame all the evils in history from the Holocaust to 9/11 on psychiatry, the vaccine deniers try to blame vaccines for everything.

In fact, on any given day, if you visit the Age of Autism blog, you’ll find infinitely more entries condemning vaccines for all sorts of things than you’ll find articles actually discussing autism.

But that being said, they can just as easily be referred to as autism deniers given that they quite literally deny the most basic facts about the condition, particularly the role genes play in causing autism. Of course this position is just a means to an end because since their real target is the vaccines, any science that demonstrates something other than vaccines contributes either a little bit or entirely to causing autism hurts their vaccine unifying theory of evil and therefore must be denied. It’s like how Jack Thompson can never admit to anything other than video games playing as a main role in causing school shootings or why creationists can never accept evolution because it demystifies what in their mind is the majesty of divine creation. … continue reading this entry.

The Mozart non-effect

(This was originally posted on Rationally Speaking and we thought it would be of interest to Gotham Skeptic readers.)

Remember the Mozart effect? That was the idea that if we only expose our infants and young children to a bit of music, specifically Mozart’s (and particularly his Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major), the little ones will receive a big boost in intelligence. What parent could possibly be against that? Indeed, the States of Georgia and Florida at one point enacted legislation to take advantage of the Mozart effect. In 1998 Georgia paid for the distribution of classical music CDs to the mothers of newborns, and Florida required state-funded day care centers to play the music daily.

I was reminded of this debacle of uncritical thinking recently, while reading Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, which debunks a lot of self-help notions, while introducing people to actual research in cognitive science that can help their lives. … continue reading this entry.

The power of prayer… to numb your mind?

Frontal_lobe_animationA fun and interesting study was published online at Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq023) that investigates what happens in people’s brains when they are listening to a charismatic authority. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark played prayers for subjects who were led to believe the prayers were read either by a non-Christian, an ordinary Christian, or a Christian known for their healing powers, when in fact the recordings were made by regular guys. Participants were either very religious and professed a belief in the ability of prayers to heal, or secular, and had little belief in the healing power of prayer. After hearing the prayers the subjects were asked to rate the speakers on their charisma and indicate which prayers made the listeners feel “God’s presence” (on, of course, the God presence scale of 1 to 10). The results were not necessarily surprising; the Christians thought the speakers they were told had healing powers were the most charismatic and they felt closer to God the most during these prayers, while the secular subjects rated all speakers the same and found the speakers overall to be less charismatic than the Christians. What was neat about this study was that all of this was conducted while the participants were in an fMRI machine so that the researchers could measure brain activity while the prayers were being read. … continue reading this entry.

The Role of Empirical Evidence and Skepticism in the Same Sex Marriage Debate

I teach a course in experimental psychology and research methods. Being a skeptic as well as a psychological science enthusiast, I try to imbue my lessons with the importance of rational inquiry whenever or wherever possible. As my students are often interested in working in fields of social welfare and mental health they want me to emphasize practical applications. As such, there often arise examples where empirical knowledge does not seem to apply, or at least go far enough. To demonstrate this, and hopefully get the students thinking of ways to be logical and rational even where there are no directly testable hypotheses, I facilitate a discussion in each course examining the role and limits of science in the development of social policy. Last semester, the social policy we examined was the stance many hold regarding same sex marriage.

But, before I elaborate on this discussion, let me tell you a story about a cab driver I met a few weeks ago. … continue reading this entry.

‘Face of Jesus’ discovered in Rorschach test

Eerie ... Jesus face in Rorshach Test

Eerie ... 'Jesus' face in Rorshach Test

I’d always heard weird news stories about the likeness of Jesus or the Virgin Mary being miraculously discovered in the most odd and random of places like on an egg, on a banana, in a frying pan, on a cat, on a cow, on a toilet, on a dirty rag in Ikea, in a condom, in bird poop, on a tree stump, in a lava lamp, on a potato chip, on a pierogi, and in a painting.

And skeptic that I am, I always pretty much wrote it off as a product of pareidolia, the psychological phenomena of seeing patterns in vague stimuli.  That is, I was a skeptic until April 1, 2010 when the  miraculous image of Jesus was discovered someplace where chance, pareidolia, and April Fools pranking could not possibly have played a roll…in a Rorschach Test. … continue reading this entry.

The Desiree Jennings Case, a Win for Skepticism

I don’t usually write a post that solely tells you to read another blog post, but in the strange case of Desiree Jennings, Steve Novella has become something of a primary reference. I recommend his post on this case penned at Neurologica.

Desiree, if you will recall, was the young woman who presented with a mysterious suite of symptoms, coincident with receiving a flu vaccine last fall. Enter the Anti-Vax contingent, and a controversial diagnosis of a rare neurological disorder. Being that neurology happens to fall squarely within the purview of Dr. Novella, he and many other science and medical bloggers raised educated criticisms of Desiree’s diagnosis, cause, and subsequent treatments, which included chelation and other pseudoscientific panaceas. … continue reading this entry.

Podcast Teaser: Love, a skeptical inquiry

Hey there, rational readers! I’m honored to be a guest blogger for Rationally Speaking and Gotham Skeptic, and co-host of the upcoming Rationally Speaking podcast for the NYC Skeptics. Since our second episode is scheduled to air the week of Valentine’s Day, we couldn’t resist making that show’s topic, “The Skeptic’s Guide to Love.”

I do realize that raising this subject risks fueling the widespread and irritating misconception that “skeptic” = “cynical killjoy,” which is the last thing I want to do. So, please let the record show that I am enthusiastically pro-love. (Also pro-kindness, pro-motherhood, and pro-puppies, in case anyone’s keeping track.) … continue reading this entry.

What America’s greatest hoax has to teach us about memory

From Flickr user tinchouses photostream

From Flickr user tinchouse's photostream

It was just an ordinary Sunday evening in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. The date was October 30, 1938. But soon after 8pm, panic broke out. The reason was that radio newscasters were reporting that the Martians had landed in Grovers Mill… and they were out for blood.

The broadcast could be heard across the U.S. but it was those closest to ground zero of the Martian invasion who reacted most strongly, as they could immediately identify the locales mentioned in the reports. Then they decided to fight back against the unwelcome visitors. This was their town and they weren’t going to let the Martians take it from them. … continue reading this entry.

Did I Fall Asleep? Neural Reductionism and Dollhouse

Foxs Dollhouse - Season 2 premiere Sept 25th

Fox's Dollhouse - Season 2 premiere Sept 25th

Joss Whedon fans rejoiced last February with the series premiere of Dollhouse on Fox. I had an especially delighted outlook, being both a fan of Whedon’s, and having an interest in  neuroscience, given that the theme of the show centered on the principle that human beings can have an entire personality and lifetime of memories programmed through the manipulation of neural connections (wiring).

In short, the first season rocked and I longingly await the start of season 2, scheduled to premiere on September 25th. But, in reflecting on the underlying themes of the show, I offer additional kudos to the show’s producers for taking a rather well supported, if not controversial, view of the mind/brain relationship. … continue reading this entry.

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