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The Association for Skeptical Enquiry

Casting a critical eye over suspect science, dubious claims and bizarre beliefs


Welcome to the ASKE website

ASKE was founded in 1997 in the UK by a small group of people from different professional backgrounds who were opposed to the promotion of irrational ideas and practices and the misrepresentation of science for purposes that deceive the public. The association was mainly funded by annual membership subscriptions and donations from people who support its Aims and principles. Its main activity was the circulation of a magazine, the Skeptical Intelligencer which ran from 1996/7 to 2023, and a newsletter, the Skeptical Adversia, which ran from 2000 to 2012, when it was amalgamated with the Skeptical Intelligencer. ASKE ceased collecting membership subscriptions at the end of 2023. However, this website remains active and now serves the following purposes:

New material

By arrangement, you may contribute material to this website, and even have a webpage for your own contributions. Please email ASKE for further information. At present we have one regular contributor (see below).

Skeptical Linguistics: Mark Newbrook's Webpage

Mark Newbrook continues his regular column on skepticism in linguistics on this website. For many years this appeared, along with other papers and reviews by Mark, in the Skeptical Intelligencer (back copies here) under the title 'Language on the Fringe'.

Coming up soon from Mark

David Miano, Ph.D., is a historian, specializing in the cultures of the ancient world. An experienced teacher with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education industry, he is proprietor of the World of Antiquity YouTube channel, producing video lessons designed for public consumption. In 2022, Miano interviewed me on the subject of undeciphered ancient scripts. See Undeciphered Ancient Scripts (youtube.com}.

An article on this theme will on Mark's page soon.

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Donate to support the ASKE website

ASKE no longer has a subscribing membership but you are more than welcome to make a donation to the annual cost of this website by PayPal or credit/ debit card. Please go to the Donations page.

What is skepticism?

Perhaps the first thing to notice is the spelling of the word, which in the UK is usually 'scepticism' (similarly, sceptic and sceptical). In the USA it's spelt 'skeptic', etc. and this spelling has become universal in the present context. Whatever the spelling, in everyday usage saying that you're skeptical about something means that you're not convinced...
Read more...

Being a skeptical activist

Many people from all walks of life are now actively involved in some way in what has become known as The Skeptical Movement .....
Read more....

Practical guides for skeptics

Are you intending consulting 'a psychic'? Or perhaps you are considering testing someone who claims to have paranormal powers. Are you a journalist preparing a newspaper article on a sensational new treatment outside of mainstream medicine or science? Would you like to devise your own quack remedy and set up a successful paractice, even though there is no evidence that it works? Would you like to learn how to be a dowser? The articles in Practical guides for skeptics provide instructions and advice on how to do all of these things. And Other organisations and websites lists many online organisations and individual websites of skeptical interest.

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SKEPTICAL NEWS

More on Evidence-based Policy

From Sense About Science again: 'As we wait for details of the big parties' manifestos this weekend, the question we need to ask about any policy promise is - how do we know it will work? There was a lot of debate on Tuesday about costs, but we heard little from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer evidencing how policy promises would achieve their goals. If we can't see the evidence behind policies, we can't be expected to trust them, ask experts to evaluate and improve them or get MPs to vote for them. We need a fresh start from the next government, with evidence transparency rules followed from day one. Please join us in writing to Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak for a clear commitment that they will publish all the evidence behind policies.

Evidence-based Policy

A report by Sense About Science 'shows how departments are breaking government transparency rules on publishing policy evidence. In a transparency review of recent government policy measures, 3 out of 6 failed to meet the test of whether a motivated citizen could see what evidence the government has used or assessed in its decision making. Our new survey with Ipsos found that 74% of British adults think it is important that the government shows all the evidence used to make important policy decisions. The public want to be able to see the evidence base behind policies and the rules for publishing it exist, but departments regularly ignore their own rules.'

GM Crops

'Scientists have warned that a court decision to block the growing of the genetically modified (GM) crop Golden Rice in the Philippines could have catastrophic consequences. Tens of thousands of children could die in the wake of the ruling, they argue. The Philippines had become the first country - in 2021 - to approve the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice, which was developed to combat vitamin A deficiency, a major cause of disability and death among children in many parts of the world. But campaigns by Greenpeace and local farmers last month persuaded the country's court of appeal to overturn that approval and to revoke this.'

Long Covid

'A former Team GB rower claims a treatment she underwent for long Covid leaves participants feeling "blamed" for being ill. Oonagh Cousins was offered a free place on a course run by the Lightning Process, which teaches people they can rewire their brains to stop or improve long Covid symptoms quickly. Ms Cousins, who contracted Covid in March 2020, said it "exploits" people. However, the programme's founder denied it blames patients for their illness, saying that was completely at odds with the concepts of the programme.'

Whooping Cough

'A leading vaccine expert says he is "very worried" by the large increase in whooping cough cases which have led to the deaths of five babies in England this year. Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the UK's vaccine committee, said the youngest were at greatest risk and more pregnant women should be vaccinated. If the disease continues to spread, more babies will die, he warned. The whooping cough vaccine is offered to babies and pre-school children. … "Very important - for this very vulnerable group, those who are too young to be vaccinated - is the vaccination rate in pregnant women," he added. "Worryingly, those have fallen from a peak of about 75% of women being vaccinated during pregnancy to under 60% today, and that's what puts these very young infants at particular risk."'

'Psychic Surgeon' Sentenced

'A man who claimed to be a self-proclaimed 'psychic surgeon' was sentenced to 489 years and four months in prison on charges including sexual assault. João Teixeira de Faria from Brazil was a widely-known psychic and medium who called himself a "psychic surgeon". Faria was even interviewed by Oprah Winfrey when the TV presenter travelled to Brazil as part of the second season of Oprah's Next Chapter in 2013.'

Acu Seeds Again

Re: Dragons' Den, BBC One, 18 January 2024: Complaint to the BBC has been upheld by the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). 'This edition of the programme included a successful pitch for Acu Seeds, a product which applies acupressure to the ear by means of "ear seeds". Six viewers complained that the pitch included claims that the product could be beneficial in the treatment of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) which had no scientific basis and were potentially misleading to the audience. The ECU considered the complaints in the light of the BBC's editorial standards of accuracy.' Also see earlier post below.

Cancer Quackery

'A woman who almost died trying to cure her cancer with a juice diet has warned others against "cutting out" traditional medical advice and trying to source alternative information online. Medics tried to get Irena Stoynova to use conventional cancer treatments after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2021, but she "shut them out" … Instead of chemotherapy, she sought alternatives online and took the advice of a man, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and claims the human body can "heal itself" with help of a radical lifestyle and diet changes … (She) followed various diets and holistic therapies for two-and-a-half years, which left her emaciated with fluid on her lungs.'

Autism Quackery

'The Royal Borough of Greenwich has warned schools and nurseries to be on guard after being made aware that someone claiming to be a doctor plans to visit the UK to offer dangerous "experimental procedures" for autistic children.'

Big Cat Sightings

It's time for yet another report of a big cat sighting in the UK. 'A motorist has been left stunned after he spotted a 'big cat' prowling through the Worcestershire countryside. In what could be a new sighting of the infamous Worcestershire panther, Geoff Thompson spotted the strange creature in the distance while pulled over in a layby between Great Witley and Martley in Worcestershire.' (OK, so we don't need to rewild big cats like lynxes, pumas and panthers. We've already got them! Yes? - Ed.)

UFOs Again

'There have been multiple claims of UFO sightings all over the world with no concrete evidence of the same. But the strangest claim is being heard from Britain these days. People here believe that most of the UFOs in the country are seen above supermarket car parking lots. … An alien expert named Ash Ellis had said that if one wants to encounter UFOs in Britain, then the best place is Wales. He claims hat last year 323 cases of UFO sightings were registered in Wales alone. …Those who have claimed to have seen UFOs say that the parking spotlights installed in 12,700 shops in Britain actually attract UFOs.' (That's enough - Ed.)

Out-of-Body Experiences

'People who've had an out-of-body experience (OBE) report the sensation of leaving their physical body and floating up above it. Many also say that their point of view shifts, so that they look down at their body for a period of time, before 're-entering' it. While some take a more mystical approach to these experiences, researchers have linked them to problems with the vestibular system, a suite of organs in the inner ear that are sensitive to the direction of the pull of gravity and also to head movement, helping us sense when we're moving. Vestibular signals are also thought to be important for the feeling that our conscious self is located in our physical body, though senses s uch as vision contribute to this, too. In a recent study in iScience, Hsin-Ping Wu and colleagues explore how OBEs might come about, reporting a technique which stimulates both vision and the vestibular system to create the illusion of an OBE in healthy people.'

Child Geniuses

'Stories of child geniuses seem to be perennially popular. One of the latest appeared at the end of January 2023, featuring a boy who taught himself to read at the age of two. By age three, he had become the UK's youngest member of Mensa, the society for people with a high IQ. But while we often think of intelligence as being stable … a major new (review) has found that it's more variable across the lifespan than we might think'.

Evidence Week

From Sense About Science’s Evidence Week: 'It is vital that Parliament uses the best available evidence when making important decisions. Evidence Week in Parliament shows MPs that the public care about evidence by asking them about the basis for evidence being used for political decisions, and how it is scrutinised at Westminster. Can you join us in Parliament on 24 June to publicly ask MPs about an issue important to you? You can ask about anything: we’ve had questions ranging from net-zero targets, allotments and electoral reform to the future of personalised prescribing'. Submit your question now.

UFOs

'A spike in UFO sightings in the 1950s and 60s was caused by tests of advanced US spy planes and space technology, a Pentagon report has concluded. Officials also said there was "no evidence" that the US government had encountered alien life. Most sightings of UFOs were ordinary objects from Earth, according to the report submitted to Congress on Friday. But Pentagon officials accepted that their research won't quell popular beliefs about alien visitors.'

ADHD Again

' The ADHD nation: are too many of us being diagnosed? A rise in cases has been attributed to celebrities' stories - but some say the condition is finally getting the attention it deserves … "After years of under-recognition for ADHD, it looks as though we're now at risk of overdiagnosis. We're already seeing it in the US," says Philip Asherson, emeritus professor of neurodevelopmental psychology at King's College London … The demand is taking its toll on already overstretched NHS mental health services, with the average wait time for referral now at three years - a delay that many experts fear is preventing the people most in need of a diagnosis from getting one.'

UK Medicines Regulator

'The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on pandemic response and recovery has raised "serious patient safety concerns" about the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), along with other aspects of a system that, "far from protecting patients, continues to put them at serious risk".'

Covid Vaccines

' Largest Covid vaccine study ever finds shots are linked to small increased risk of neurological, blood and heart disorders - but they are still extremely rare.'

Skepticism

Thoughtful piece by Ted Griffith in International Policy Digest: 'During my forty-year career as a communications adviser to governments, corporations, non-profits, and individuals, I have never experienced a time when so many people and organizations were not only lying but were also repeating the lies of others. I understand the reason for lies in general, each born of enlightened self-interest. But why do so many of us believe these lies, so much so that we allow them to influence what we put in our bodies (or don't), how we vote, and perhaps most importantly, how we feel about other people (including friends, family, and foreigners)?'

Russian Geneticist Dismissed

'Russia's Ministry of Science and Higher Education has removed the head of a prestigious genetics institute, Alexander Kudryavtsev, who stirred controversy by asserting that ancient humans lived for centuries, and the reduced lifespan of modern humans is a result of ancestral sins.'

'Acu Seeds'

'Dragons' Den has been accused of a pattern of featuring "extravagant claims" about controversial products without subjecting them to proper scrutiny.' Concerns have been raised by Good Thinking Society, a pro-science group founded by science writer Simon Singh, whose campaigning project manager Michael Marshall is well known to skeptics worldwide. The most recent complaint concerns the recent appearance of Giselle Boxer, an entrepreneur who claimed that her "Acu Seeds" (which are placed on the patient's ears) aided her recovery from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) within 12 months. She received a £50,000 investment, despite there being no proven benefits of these products for ME. Outrage has also been expressed by academics and medical practitioners and the campaigning group Action for ME. 'Days after it was revealed the corporation had removed the recent episode from streaming platform BBC iPlayer, the instalment ....has been reinstated, but with a disclaimer.'

Caroline Richmond

Caroline Richmond, 'Determined medical journalist known for her campaigning zeal against health misinformation' died on December 24, 2023. In 1988, 'convinced that the UK needed an organisation to call out health misinformation', she helped launch the Campaign Against Health Fraud (CAHF), later renamed HealthWatch and now HealthSense.

Measles Update

'Health experts have warned "we must act now" as measles cases have soared across the country amid an increase in unvaccinated children. There were 1,603 suspected cases of measles in England and Wales in 2023, new statistics from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show. MMR cases have increased significantly in the last two years - in 2022, there were 735 cases, and just 360 the year before.'

Synagogue Church of all Nations

'British members of a global evangelical church … have spoken out amid claims its leader raped and tortured followers, forcing some to undergo abortions. Dozens of former members of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN) - five of whom are British - claim that its leader, the late Temitope Balogun Joshua, known as TB Joshua, who had hundreds of millions of followers around the world, ran a "cult" which enabled his campaign of abuse.'