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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 is mainly funded by membership subscriptions and donations from people who support its Aims and principles.

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...
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The European Council of Skeptical Organisations

There are quite a number of European countries with national skeptical organisations, some of which, as in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Belgian and the Netherlands, are very substantial. Like ASKE, many of these organisations are affiliated to the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO)...
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Come and Join Us!

ASKE relies on annual subscriptions of just £10 and voluntary donations from people who share its aims and principles. But we also like our members to be involved in any of our activities, including contributing to this website and writing for the Skeptical Intelligencer. If you would like to join us or provide a donation, please go to our Membership and donations page.

What does ASKE do?

ASKE is a small organisation compared to national skeptical groups in other countries, but a number of its members are themselves very active in the skeptical arena (see details of some of these at Being a skeptical activist). The activities of ASKE itself are .....
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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 .....
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SKEPTICAL NEWS

Belief in Conspiracy Theories

'It may feel like more and more people believe in the existence of grand conspiracies, but that feeling is not supported by the evidence.'

Anti-Vaccination Activists

'Austrian leaders appealed for national unity after a doctor who faced death threats from anti-vaccination activists and coronavirus pandemic conspiracy theorists took her own life. "Let's put an end to this intimidation and fear mongering. Hate and intolerance have no place in our Austria", President Alexander Van der Bellen said, hailing Lisa-Maria Kellermayr as "a doctor who stood for healing people, protecting them from disease and taking a cautious approach to the pandemic".'

Alzheimer's and Research Fraud

'A neuroscience image sleuth finds signs of fabrication in scores of Alzheimer's articles, threatening a reigning theory of the disease. … The immediate, obvious damage is wasted NIH funding and wasted thinking in the field because people are using these results as a starting point for their own experiments.'

Depression

In a new umbrella review 'the main areas of serotonin research provide no consistent evidence of there being an association between serotonin and depression, and no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations. Some evidence was consistent with the possibility that long-term antidepressant use reduces serotonin concentration.'

Antidepressants

'Nearly half a million more adults in England are now taking antidepressants compared with the previous year, according to NHS figures. The number of prescriptions for children and teenagers has also risen. From 2021-22, there was a 5% rise in the number of adults receiving them - from 7.9 million in the previous 12 months to 8.3 million. It is the sixth year in a row that there has been an increase in both patients and prescriptions.'

Fish Falling from the Sky

'Sharon Hill, a skeptical US researcher, and Paul Cropper, a longtime cryptozoology investigator from Australia, have put forward an explanation for a recent fall of fish over the US town of Texarkana: a flock of birds may have regurgitated the fish while flying over the town.'

Exorcism

'A 3-year-old girl was allegedly tortured and killed by her family in a 12-hour exorcism in her granddad's California church - with her mom later posting a smiling video saying dismissively, "It is what it is."'

Science and Religion

April 2022 saw the publication of a survey of opinions of the public and 'experts' on whether science and religion are compatible. Titled 'Science and Religion: Moving away from the shallow end', it was undertaken by Theos, 'the UK's leading religion and society think tank', which has 'a broad Christian basis'. Overall the survey found that the British public are more likely to think that science and religion are incompatible (57%) than compatible (30%), though this is not the case for younger respondents. However, the difference is much reduced when the question addresses religion and specific areas of science; people are more likely to say that, on balance, knowledge derived from studying these disciplines does not make it harder to be religious. Moreover, the religious are no more antagonistic towards science itself than are the non-religious and, for example, only a small minority of people, religious or otherwise, reject evolution.

Artificial Intelligence

A study by academics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found that using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to hire staff from job applicants is equal to or better than relying on human judgement.

UFOs

A meeting of the US Congress on May 17 concerning unidentified flying objects 'has drawn mixed reviews. Eagerly awaited by many, it was the first open congressional hearing on UFOs - or UAP ("unidentified aerial phenomena"), as they've recently been rebranded - in more than a half-century's inquiry into how well the government's evidence for Covid-19 decisions served society.

The Government and Covid-19

UK's Sense About Science has now published the results of 'What Counts?', their scoping inquiry into how well the government's evidence for Covid-19 decisions served society.

Exorcism

'A 3-year-old girl was allegedly tortured and killed by her family in a 12-hour exorcism in her granddad's California church - with her mom later posting a smiling video saying dismissively, "It is what it is".'

Traditional Chinese Medicine

A recent report on an upsurge in the demand for donkey hide has exposed yet again the egregious practices of traditional Chinese medicine, a vast lucrative industry based on pseudoscientific beliefs and claims for which little evidence of efficacy exists. The reports estimates that 'more than 4.8 million donkeys are trafficked and slaughtered for their skins each year. The donkeys suffer at every point of this process, from source to slaughter, under the brutal and inhumane conditions that are a hallmark of this industry. Even the most vulnerable donkeys, including pregnant mares, young foals, and the sick and injured are taken and traded without consideration for their welfare or their pain'. The trafficking feeds a rising demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese remedy that uses donkey skins to produce a form of gelatine.

Time-restricted Eating

A study in China has found that among patients with obesity, a regimen of time-restricted eating was not more successful in reducing body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors than daily calorie restriction.

Measles

'Measles cases have surged nearly 80% worldwide this year amid disruption caused by Covid-19, the UN has said, warning that the rise of the "canary in a coalmine" illness indicated that outbreaks of other diseases were likely to be on the way. The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted vaccination campaigns for non-Covid diseases around the world, creating a "perfect storm" that could put millions of children's lives at risk, the UN's children's agency Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.'

Climate Change Denial

'Flood victims from Australia's north-east coast, who in droves now self-identify as "climate refugees", have converged on a grab-bag of Facebook groups and community message boards to condemn some Byron Bay locals who have taken to calling recent flooding a "manmade" weather event that "definitely isn't" linked to climate change.'

Autism Charity Linked to Anti-Vaccine Movement

'A British autism charity that received hundreds of thousands of pounds in national lottery funding has links to the and is being jointly run by a campaigner who likened the Covid-19 jab rollout to a Nazi war crime. Thinking Autism also promoted unproven autism treatments in testimonials on its website and directed families to clinicians linked to the disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, an investigation has found. The Charity Commission said it had opened a case into the charity and was assessing evidence passed to it by the Observer.'

Traditional Indian Medicine

Despite the lack of any objective evidence 'The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of India today signed an agreement to establish the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine. This global knowledge centre for traditional medicine, supported by an investment of USD 250 million from the Government of India, aims to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the world through modern science and technology to improve the health of people and the planet.'

Gerson Support Group

The Charity HealthSense has been successful in its two-year campaign to end the charitable status of the Gerson Support Group. HealthSense (previously HealthWatch) had complained to the Charity Commission that this organisation was actively promoting unproven treatment for cancer and other serious conditions. Details of the outcome of HealthSense's campaign were reported in Private Eye (No. 1,568, 4-17 March, 2022) in an article headed 'Quack Exit'. It has also been reported that the Gerson Support Group had over £300,000 in newly acquired assets and this income is to be distributed amongst other charities.

Covid: Social Distancing and Face Masks

'An international research team from universities including Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, the University of Padua and the University of Udine in Italy, and the University of Vienna, Austria, has developed a new theoretical model to better assess the risks of spreading viruses such as COVID-19-with and without a face mask. The results show how the standard 'safe' distance of two meters does not always apply but varies greatly depending on a range of environmental factors, and that face masks can indeed play a crucial role.'

Conversion Therapy

'New Zealand has banned conversion practices, with near unanimity, after all but eight National party members voted in favour of the law. Conversion "therapy" refers to the practice, often by religious groups, of trying to cure" people of their sexuality, gender expression or LGBTQI identity.'

Misuse of Charitable Status?

'The National Secular Society has referred a Christian charity to the regulator after finding anti-vaccine and homophobic posts on its Facebook page. East Kilbride Christadelphians made dozens of posts on its Facebook page that may undermine public health messages, despite charities being required to serve a public benefit.'

DNA Pseuodoscience

'A subsidiary of Israeli AI company Cortica, called Corsight AI, claims it can create a model of a face using a person's DNA that can then be fed into a facial recognition system, a highly dubious - not to mention ethically fraught - claim that has experts calling foul.'

Vitamin D

'In the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology", Rachel Neale and colleagues present their findings from D-Health, a population-based, double-blind, placebo-controlled vitamin D3 intervention trial in older Australian adults (n=21?315). It is the largest study to date to assess the effect of vitamin D supplementation on mortality as the primary outcome. No significant reduction in all-cause mortality or from cancer and cardiovascular disease was found.'

Covid Jab Adverse Effects

Placebo (i.e. dummy) injections in Covid vaccination trials give a high rate of reported adverse effects.

'Havana Syndrome'

'Most cases of a mysterious illness striking US officials dubbed "Havana syndrome" were not caused by a foreign power, CIA officials say. Since 2016, US diplomats around the world have reported symptoms - sparking suggestions Russia, China or another adversary could be responsible. But a majority of 1,000 cases looked at by the CIA can be explained by stress or natural causes, officials say.' (See announcemnt below.)

YouTube Disinformation

'80 fact checkers around the world, including Full Fact, are publishing an open letter calling on YouTube to take effective action against disinformation and misinformation. The company has up until now largely escaped criticism despite fact checkers seeing problematic content daily on the platform.'

Theranos Fraud

'Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, has been found guilty on four of 11 charges of fraud, concluding a high-profile trial that captivated Silicon Valley and chronicled the missteps of the now-defunct blood testing startup. The jury found Holmes guilty of several charges - including conspiracy to defraud investors - following a dramatic day in which jurors said they remained deadlocked on three of the criminal counts she faced. Holmes founded the company after dropping out of Stanford at 19 years old, promising a revolutionary technology that could run hundreds of health tests on just a drop of blood. But the company ultimately fell short of its ambitious pledge.'

'Fighting lunacy with lunacy'

The instigator of a conspiracy theory that birds are really drone replicas built by the US intelligence service to spy on the public, which has caused mass protests, has now announced that he made the whole thing up. (Isn't this what a conspiracy theory is anyway?-Ed.).

Dutch Skeptics Win in Defamation Case

From SKEPP, the Belgian skeptics society: 'It has taken quite some time but today the Appeals Court in Belgium judged that free speech and well-founded criticism are more important than the perceived wrongs of the commercial organization being criticized. The claim of our adversaries was soundly rejected by the court.'…. 'On December 9 the Appeals Court in Belgium soundly rejected the claims as unfounded of Carl Van de Velde against our authors Patrick Vermeren and Bart Van de Ven. 'Our authors wrote a skeptical article in the Belgian SKEPP magazine about two companies active in the field of human resources that use dubious theories such as NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and characterization of people based on their skull (phrenology) and physiognomy (interpretation of outward appearance, in this case of face and hair). One of the two companies discussed in the article was the Carl Van de Velde Training Institute….Bart and Patrick have - based on careful research of multiple sources - criticized the content of the pseudo-scientific master classes as well as the marketing tricks Van de Velde uses to attract participants.'

Traditional Chinese Medicine (Again)

'The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has called on African governments to increase awareness and dissuade local producers and retailers of trade specifically in traditional Chinese medicine that contains wildlife species that are already under threat. … "Our very real concern is that such a huge expansion of TCM in Africa, as is happening under China's Belt and Road Initiative, will have the knock-on effect of drastically increasing demand for treatments containing wildlife and, in turn, cause more species to become threatened or extinct".'

Sugar and Children's Behaviour

'How often have you heard a parent say that their children were bouncing off the walls after a sugary snack? The connection was first suggested in 1922 but it was in the 1970s that the lay literature took up the cause with "functional reactive hypoglycemia." Could it not be that children eat more sugary foods during activities that are prone to adverse behaviour, such as birthday parties? And that sugar does not cause the problem? Studies tell us that this is indeed the case. When researchers challenge children with sugar or a placebo, they find that not only does sugar not cause hyperactivity, it can have a calming effect!'

Climate Change

From the Guardian 'The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions. This has involved a remarkable array of advertisements - with headlines ranging from "Lies they tell our children" to "Oil pumps life" - seeking to convince the public that the climate crisis is not real, not human-made, not serious and not solvable. The campaign continues to this day.'

UFO Task force

'US defence officials have announced the launch of a task force to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects in restricted airspace. The group will assess objects of interest and "mitigate any associated threats", the Pentagon said on Tuesday. A highly anticipated military report in June failed to explain dozens of reported UFO sightings and warned of possible national security risks. The new group will be overseen by top military and intelligence leaders.'

Sham Journal Papers

'Hundreds of articles published in peer-reviewed journals are being retracted after scammers exploited the processes for publishing special issues to get poor-quality papers - sometimes consisting of complete gibberish - into established journals. In some cases, fraudsters posed as scientists and offered to guest-edit issues that they then filled with sham papers.'

Cervical Cancer Vaccination

From the Daily Mail, 25.09.2008: 'Catholic school bans girls from having cervical cancer jabs over fears it might "promote sexual promiscuity". Monsignor John Allen of St Monica's RC High School in Bury, Greater Manchester, said: "Morally it seems to be a sticking plaster response. Parents must consider the knock-on effect of encouraging sexual promiscuity." With the approval of headmaster Frank McCarron, the governors of the 1,200 pupil school have drafted a letter to parents outlining their objections to the vaccine.'

From the Daily Mail, 04.11.2021: 'Cervical cancer has been virtually eradicated in young women because of the HPV vaccine's 'remarkable' success, a major study has found. Cases of the disease have plummeted by 87 per cent as a result of the NHS vaccine programme. Among women now in their twenties - the first generation to get the jab - cases have now dropped from about 50 per year to just five.'