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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.

ANNOUNCEMENT

The biannual European Skeptics Congress is taking place in one of France's most enchanting cities (accessible by train from London), May 30, 2024 - June 2, 2024, Lyon, France.

Topics Covered: Europe's Energy Future; A "good digital society"; AI, data protection, and social media; The Psychology of Irrational Beliefs (including conspiracy theories); Harm From Wellness Culture; and many others.

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

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

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.'

'Ear 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.'

Slapping Therapy

Hongchi Xiao from Cloudbreak, California, has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of a 71-year-old diabetic patient who died on 20.10.16 during a 'slapping therapy' workshop he was running in Wiltshire in 2016. The workshop is understood to have involved paida lajin therapy, during which patients are repeatedly slapped, or slap themselves, until their skin turns red or bruised.

Reasons to be Cheerful

2023 was a depressing year in so many ways that have been extensively reported by our mainstream media. And the omens for 2024 don't read too well. But is there too much emphasis on the bad things that are happening? Are there good reasons for us to feel more hopeful and optimistic? Look at the facts, the evidence! The Sunday Times (1.1.24) lists '54 ways the world got more wonderful' in 2023. It's at this website and will cost you just £1 for a 4-month introductory subscription. And a new book by scientist Hannah Ritchie presents a much more positive outlook on the world's efforts to mitigate climate change than we are used to reading about ('Not the End of the World'). Meanwhile for long-term trends, visit the late great Hans Rosling's 'Gapminder' website.

ADHD

'Wellness firms are exploiting a national shortage of ADHD medication to push so-called "smart supplements" as an alternative to prescribed drugs. As patients struggle to get hold of medication - or face years-long waits for NHS assessments - companies are peddling unproved products as a "natural" treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In some cases the supplements are being marketed for use in children as young as three.'

King Charles

'The King's charity is being forced to return up to £110,000 to the Indian government after Charles fronted a deal for an NHS alternative medicine clinic that was never set up. In April 2018, Charles unveiled a plaque marking the "inauguration of a centre of excellence and research and Indian traditional medicine" at St Charles Hospital, an NHS centre in Kensington, west London, with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister. Under the plans, local GPs were to refer patients for "Ayush" treatments. The term refers to practices including Ayurveda, the system of Indian traditional medicine, yoga, naturopathy and homeopathy.' And ...

'King Charles's appointment of a pro-homeopathy head of the royal medical household has been described as worrying and inappropriate by academics and campaigners. Dr Michael Dixon, who has championed faith healing and herbalism in his work as a GP, has quietly held the senior position for the last year, the Sunday Times reported. While Dixon, 71, is head of the royal medical household, for the first time the role is not combined with being the monarch's physician. Duties include having overall responsibility for the health of the king and the wider royal family - and even representing them in talks with government. Dixon, who has a penchant for bow ties and a long association with the king, worked in the NHS for almost half a century and is an outspoken advocate of complementary medicine.'

Antidepressants

'Politicians, experts, and patient representatives call for the UK government to reverse the rate of antidepressant prescribing. … Over the past decade, antidepressant prescriptions have almost doubled in England, rising from 47.3 million in 2011 to 85.6 million in 2022-23. Over 8.6 million adults in England are now prescribed them annually (nearly 20% of adults), with prescriptions set to rise over the next decade. In addition, the average duration of time for which a person takes an antidepressant has doubled between the mid-2000s and 2017, with around half of patients now classed as long term users. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have similar rates of antidepressant prescribing. …. Rising antidepressant prescribing is not associated with an improvement in mental health outcomes at the population level, which, according to some measures, have worsened as antidepressant prescribing has risen.'