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Shrouded in pseudoscience

Via Skeptophilia

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

I hate to break it to you, LiveScience, but in the interest of accuracy, it’s probably time to take the word “Science” out of the name of your website.

What you’re promoting isn’t really science, any more than The History Channel has anything even remotely to do with history.  You’re passing along to the public the idea that science is this mushy, hand-waving pursuit, where you can do an “experiment” to support an idea you’d already decided was true, generate essentially nothing in the way of data, and then claim that your results support whatever your original contention was.

I say this in light of a recent story called “Shroud of Turin: Could Ancient Earthquake Explain Face of Jesus?”  If the very title makes you suspicious, then good; you’re starting out from the right vantage point.

Let’s begin with the facts.  The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen cloth that has been preserved for centuries as a holy relic — supposedly the sheet that covered Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.  It shows the image of a naked man, with wounds similar to those described in the bible.

The problem is, the linen cloth was carbon-14 dated — a step that the religious powers-that-be resisted for decades — and it was conclusively shown to date to around 1350 C.E.  It is, put simply, a fake.  So you’d think that would be that.

As we’ve seen before, that is never that when religion enters the picture.

b_shroud JesusThe article in LiveScience tells about a study headed by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy, which discovered that when you crush rocks using a mechanical press, it can cause a brief emission of neutrons.  From that single piece of information, he concludes the following:

  • Earthquakes can therefore be associated with neutron emissions.
  • The neutrons could interact with nitrogen atoms in the linen cloth (or in anything else, presumably), and mess up the carbon-14 dating protocol, causing it to give a wrong answer.
  • The neutrons could also have burned a pattern into the cloth as they passed through it.  Because the cloth was wrapped around a human body, it would have caused an image to appear on it, much like an x-ray.
  • The bible says that there was an earthquake around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, and the “stone rolled back from the tomb.”  [Matthew 28:1-2]
  • So: the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus.  Therefore god and the Catholic Church and all of the rest of it.  q.e.d.

Oh, come on, now.  This qualifies as science?  It’s about as bad an example of assuming your conclusion as I’ve ever seen.  And if earthquakes interfered with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 levels, then radiocarbon dating would never work, since earthquakes happen basically all the time, all over the Earth.  And yet carbon-14 dating has been shown to be extremely accurate, over and over again.

Funny thing, that.

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Review of 10 years of GMO research–no significant dangers

via skepticalraptor

gmo-labeling_200pxOne of the tactics of the GMO (genetically modified organisms, usually crops–some people use the term GM instead) refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMO’s are safe.” Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMO’s are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the Argument from Ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”

Even though I don’t necessarily like arguing with logical fallacies, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough.

Updated 12 November 2013.

In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, GMOsafety_logo_dot_200pxsources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant. So, if there only was a high quality, peer-reviewed meta review about the safety of GMO foods!?!?

Well, there is one. In a meta-review recently published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal, Critical Review of Biotechnology, where the authors collected and evaluated 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012, a comprehensive process that took over 12 months to complete. The review covered all aspects of GM crop safety, from how the crops interact with the environment to how they could potentially affect the humans and animals who consume them.

And their conclusion?

The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.

According to an interview with the lead author, Alessandro Nicolia, an applied biologist at the University of Perugia in Italy, ”Our goal was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety. We tried to give a balanced view informing about what has been debated, the conclusions reached so far, and emerging issues.”

The article provided other important results:

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Crop Circles

crop circle alien mow
via The Soap Box

Crop circles. For decades now they’ve been appearing in crop fields around the world. Sometimes they’re small, simple circles. Sometimes they are enormous and complex, and contain multiple different shapes. While there are many things I’ve noticed about crop circles, I have narrowed it down to five things.

So here are things I’ve noticed about crop circles.

5. They’re a poor way to communicate.

crop circle homer simpson_300pxIf aliens really are making these geometric shapes in fields of barley and wheat as a means to communicate with humans (as what many people who still believe that crop circles are made by aliens claim) then it really has to be the worst way to communicate with another intelligent species.

Beside the fact that whomever makes these things would require the people that they are intended for to be able to fly somehow (which is of course easy for us now) it would also require those people to have an understanding of what those shapes mean. That is of course if those shapes have any meaning to them at all…

To simply put, it would be far easier and less confusing for aliens to land in a public area and start talking to people than it would to putting shapes in a field of crops.

4. It’s vandalism.

crop-circles_250pxRegardless of whether or not it’s bored human who want to create a giant piece of art, or aliens from a distant planet trying to communicate with up in the worst possible way, it’s still vandalism, and it’s not only damaging a part of a person’s property, it’s also destroying a part of a person’s livelihood, and it’s destroying food.

I would think that any beings that were advanced enough to build space ships that could cross hundreds, if not thousands of light years, would at the very least know it’s not nice to destroy another species food even if it was to send a message (that no one can figure out).

I would say that I would like to know what kind of species makes these crop circles, but I already know which species makes these crop circles, because…

3. We make them.

Yes, despite what many people believe, crop circles are in fact made by humans. It doesn’t matter how large or complex they are, human beings (sometimes many human beings at once) are the ones who are making these things.

Not only is it known that humans make them, it’s been known for over 20 years that humans make them (and it was greatly suspected even when crop circles first started appearing in the 70’s that they were made by humans). There’s even videos on Youtube showing how to make crop circles:

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