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Scientific Skepticism FAQ



Frequently Asked Questions about scientific skepticism and various fringe topics.

This FAQ about scientific skepticism and various fringe topics. was compiled and written by Paul Johnson Paul@treetop.demon.co.uk with numerous contributions by others.

-0.1: What is sci.skeptic for?
Sci.skeptic is for those who are skeptical about claims of ...
-0.2: What is sci.skeptic not for?
The scope of sci.skeptic extends into any area where hard evidence ...
-0.3: What is CSICOP? What's their address?
CSICOP stands for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation ...
-0.4: What is "Prometheus"?
Prometheus Books is a publisher specialising in skeptical books....
-0.5: Who are some prominent skeptics?
James The Amazing Randi is a professional stage magician who ...
-0.6: Aren't all skeptics just closed-minded bigots?
People who have failed to convince skeptics often say Well ...
-0.6.1: Why are skeptics so keen to rubbish fringe ideas?
Skeptics vary on the attitude they take towards a new fringe idea,...
-0.6.2: How do we know Randi is honest? (sci.skeptic)
Randi has offered a large prize to anyone who can ...
-0.6.3: Why don't skeptics debunk religions?
Skeptics aim to debunk false claims and silly theories by using ...
-0.6.4: How can I persuade the other side? (scientific skepticism)
This isn't a FAQ, but it should be! Originally this question ...
-0.7: Is there any scientific psi research?
[Contributed by Roger Nelson of PEAR]...
-0.8: What is a Conspiracy Theory?
There are two general categories of conspiracy theory: Grand ...
-0.9: What is "cold reading"? (scientific skepticism)
[From a posting by Pope Charles ]...
-0.10: Is there a list of logical fallacies? (scientific skepticism)
A complete list of formal and informal logical fallacies is posted ...
-0.11: What national and local skeptics organisations are there?
The following addresses are not guaranteed correct. Please check ...
-0.12: Where can I get books on paranormal phenomena?
Skeptics who want to obtain books on paranormal allegations are ...
-0.13: Where can I find skeptical information on-line?
Web pages:
-0.14: Where can I find paranormal information on-line?
Web pages:
-1.1: What is the "scientific method"?
The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for ...
-1.2: What is the difference between a fact, a theory and a hypothesis?
In popular usage, a theory is just a vague and fuzzy sort of fact....
-1.3: Can science ever really prove anything?
Yes and no. It depends on what you mean by prove....
-1.4: If scientific theories keep changing, where is the Truth?
In 1686 Isaac Newton proposed his theory of gravitation. This was ...
-1.5: "Extraordinary evidence is needed for an extraordinary claim" (scientific skepticism)
An extraordinary claim is one that contradicts a fact that is ...
-1.6: What is Occam's Razor?
Ockham's Razor (Occam is a Latinised variant) is the ...
-1.7: Galileo was persecuted, just like researchers into today.
People putting forward extraordinary claims often refer to Galileo ...
-1.8: What is the "Experimenter effect"?
It is unconscious bias introduced into an experiment by ...
-1.9: How much fraud is there in science?
In its simplest form this question is unanswerable, since ...
-1.9.1: Did Mendel fudge his results? (scientific skepticism)
Gregor Mendel was a 19th Century monk who discovered the laws ...
-1.10: Are scientists wearing blinkers?
One of the commonest allegations against mainstream science is ...
-2.1: Is Uri Geller for real? (scientific skepticism)
James The Amazing Randi has, through various demonstrations, ...
-2.2: I have had a psychic experience. (scientific skepticism)
That is pretty remarkable. But before you post to the Net, consider:-...
-2.3: What is "Sensory Leakage"?
Sensory leakage is something that designers of tests for psi must ...
-2.4: Who are the main psi researchers?
Targ and Puthoff spring to mind, but actually, Puthoff is no ...
-2.5: Does dowsing work? (scientific skepticism)
Dowsing is the art of finding underground water by extra-...
-2.6: Could psi be inhibited by the presence of skeptics?
Psychic researchers have noted something they call the ...
-2.7: Why don't the skeptics test the real psychics?
A claim is sometimes made that the Skeptics movement only tests ...
-2.8: What is the ganzfeld? (scientific skepticism)
A state of sensory deprivation which may enhance psychic abilities....
-3.2: Is it true that the US government has a crashed flying saucer (MJ-12)?
The MJ-12 documents purportedly established that the U.S. ...
-3.3: What is "channeling"?
Channeling is remarkably similar to Spiritualism. The ...
-3.4: How can we test a channeler?
Some channelled entities are alleged to come from the distant past....
-3.5: I am in telepathic contact with the aliens. (scientific skepticism)
See the earlier section on psychic experiences and then try ...
-3.6: Some bozo has just posted a load of "teachings" from a UFO. What should I do?
You have several choices:...
-3.7: Are crop circles made by flying saucers?
There is no convincing evidence that crop circles or any other kind ...
-3.7.1: Are crop circles made by "vortices"?
Probably not. There are a number of meteorologists who believe ...
-3.7.2: Are crop circles made by hoaxers?
Of course. Although most people have heard only of two, Doug Bower ...
-3.7.3: Are crop circles radioactive?
This is a claim that has received wide circulation in UFO/...
-3.7.4: What about cellular changes in plants within crop circles?
Yes, what about the changes? Although this is another claim that ...
-3.8: Have people been abducted by UFOs?
While the number of people who believe themselves to have ...
-3.9: What is causing the strange cattle deaths? (scientific skepticism)
Cattle and other animals have been found dead with ...
-3.10: What is the face on Mars?
One of the Mars orbiters took a photograph of a part of Mars (Cydonia)...
-3.11: Did Ezekiel See a Flying Saucer?
The chapter in question is Ezekiel 1:4-28. This vision is an ...
-3.12: What happened at Tunguska? (scientific skepticism)
At 7:17 in the morning of June 30th 1908, close to the Stony ...
-3.13: How did the Dogon know about Sirius?
The story goes that when they were first contacted by Europeans, ...
-4: Faith Healing and Alternative Therapies
Disclaimer: I am not medically qualified. If you have a ...
-4.1: Isn't western medicine reductionistic and alternatives holistic?
Practitioners of alternative therapies often put forward the idea ...
-4.2: What is a double-blind trial? What is a placebo?
A double-blind trial is the standard method for deciding whether ...
-4.3: Why should scientific criteria apply to alternative therapies?
So that we can tell if they work or not. If you take a ...
-4.4: What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is sometimes confused with herbalism. A ...
-4.5: What is aromatherapy?
A belief that the essential oils of various flowers have ...
-4.6: What is reflexology? What is iridology?
Reflexology is an alternative therapy based on massage of the feet....
-4.7: Does acupuncture work?
There is evidence that acupuncture treatment has an analgesic (...
-4.8: What about psychic surgery?
Psychic surgeons have claimed to be able to make magical incisions,...
-4.9: What is Crystal Healing?
The belief that carrying a small quartz crystal will make you ...
-4.10: Does religious healing work?
Miraculous healing is often put forward as a proof of the ...
-4.11: What harm does it do anyway? (Faith Healing and Alternative Therapies)
People have died when alternative practitioners told them to ...
-5.1: Is the Bible evidence of anything? (Creation versus Evolution)
Apart from the beliefs of those who wrote it, no. It is true ...
-5.2: Could the Universe have been created old? (Creation versus Evolution)
An argument is sometimes put forward along the following lines:...
-5.3: What about Carbon-14 dating? (Creation versus Evolution)
Isotope dating takes advantage of the fact that radioactive ...
-5.4: What is dendrochronology? (Creation versus Evolution)
The science of dating wood by a study of annual rings....
-5.5: What is evolution? Where can I find out more?
Many creationist refutations of evolution are based on a straw-...
-5.6: "The second law of thermodynamics says.... (Creation versus Evolution)
...that entropy is always increasing. Entropy is a measure of ...
-5.7: How could living organisms arise "by chance"? (Creation versus Evolution)
This is actually a less sophisticated version of the question above....
-5.8: But doesn't the human body seem to be well designed? (Creation versus Evolution)
Not to me. Consider a few pieces of the human body for a moment. ...
-5.9: What about the thousands of scientists who have become Creationists?
This outrageous claim is frequently made by creationists, but ...
-5.10: Is the Speed of Light Decreasing? (Creation versus Evolution)
The origin of this claim is a paper by Norman & Setterfield ...
-5.11: What about Velikovsky? (Creation versus Evolution)
In the 1950s a Russian psychologist named Immanuel Velikovsky ...
-5.12: Are there human footprints from 250 million years ago? (Creation versus Evolution)
Claims that human footprints have been found mixed in with ...
-6.1: Is fire-walking possible?
Yes. It is possible to walk on a bed of burning wood without ...
-6.2: Can science explain fire-walking?
There are a number of theories which have been put forward to ...
-7.1: What do New Agers believe?
An awful lot, it would seem. New Age is not a religion in ...
-7.2: What is the Gaia hypothesis?
There are several versions. The following taxonomy was suggested ...
-7.3: Was Nostradamus a prophet?
No. His supporters are very good at predicting events after the fact,...
-7.4: Does astrology work?
No. A number of studies have been done which have failed to find ...
-7.4.1: Could astrology work by gravity?
Some people argue that we are affected by the gravity of the ...
-7.4.2: What is the `Mars Effect'?
French scientist Michael Gauquelin has discovered an ...
-7.4.3: But couldn't there be some undiscovered connection between people and planets?
Well of course there *could* be. There *could* be an invisible ...
-7.5: What is Kirlian Photography?
[Information from a posting by Dave Palmer ]...
-8.1: Why don't electrical perpetual motion machines work?
Electrical perpetual motion machinists usually present a machine ...
-8.2: Why don't mechanical perpetual motion machines work?
Mechanical perpetual motion machines depend on rising and ...
-8.3: Why don't magnetic perpetual motion machines work?
Magnetic motors have a clever arrangement of magnets which keeps ...
-8.4: Magnets can levitate. Where is the energy from?
Levitating magnets do not require energy, any more than ...
-8.5: But its been patented! (Strange Machines: Free Energy and Anti-Gravity)
So what? Patent offices will not grant a patent on a ...
-8.6: The oil companies are conspiring to suppress my invention (Strange Machines: Free Energy and Anti-Gravity)
This is a conspiracy theory. See the entry on these in section 0....
-8.7: My machine gets its free energy from (Strange Machines: Free Energy and Anti-Gravity)
A number of machines have been proposed which are not ...
-8.8: Can gyroscopes neutralise gravity?
Gyroscopes (or gyros) are a favorite of lift machine ...
-8.9: My prototype gets lighter when I turn it on (Strange Machines: Free Energy and Anti-Gravity)
Weighing something which is vibrating on ordinary scales is a sure ...
-8.10: Can magnets improve fuel efficiency or descale pipes? (Strange Machines: Free Energy and Anti-Gravity)
Both of these questions come around fairly regularly. Some ...
-9.1: What about these theories on AIDS?
There are two AIDS theories that often appear in sci.skeptic. ...
-9.1.1: The Mainstream Theory (AIDS)
The generally accepted theory is that AIDS is caused by the ...
-9.1.2: Strecker's CIA Theory (AIDS)
Strecker's theory is that the CIA made HIV in the 1970's by ...
-9.1.3: Duesberg's Risk-Group Theory (AIDS)
Duesberg's theory is: HIV is a harmless retrovirus that may serve as ...
-9.2: What About the Sailor with AIDS in 1959?
(The following information is from The Independent, 24 March 1995)...
-10.2: How Can I Contact the False Memory Syndrome Foundation?
There is a web page at:...









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