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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

Skeptics in the Pub Online

Things are on the move again and some live meetings are now being held. Check with your local group. Meanwhile, Skeptics in the Pub Online is the result of the collaborative efforts of several SitP groups and hosts Thursday evening talks present by authoritative speakers on topics of skeptical interest. Regularly check their Facebook page for upcoming talks.

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.'

Indian Traditional 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.'

Traditional Chinese Medicine

'Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) has decided to exclude four Chinese companies due to what is described as an unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to serious environmental damage, Norway's giant sovereign wealth Fund states. ….These companies are engaged in traditional Chinese medicine, and also use parts from endangered species in production, such as pangolins, musk deer and leopards.'

Clinical Trials Registration

'Clinical trials run in the UK will be automatically registered from 2022, the country's Health Research Authority announced today. The new system seeks to ensure that every single clinical trial will be listed on a trial registry from the outset. UK researchers have been formally required to register trials since 2013, but that rule was never enforced, and many trials remained unregistered.' Also see this report.

Man Suing Psychic

A California man is suing a "psychic love specialist" who allegedly promised to remove a curse placed on him by an ex-girlfriend-provided he paid her $5,100. According to a Fox 11 report on Tuesday, a fraud suit filed by Mauro Restrepo with Torrance Superior Court says psychic Sophia Adams said she could save his marriage provided he paid the necessary fee to exorcise the spell. She also allegedly warned Restrepo he and his family would be "unhappy and in danger" unless the curse was lifted.'

'UFO' sighting in Wales

'Panic-buying aliens were among the online quips after a strange cone-shaped light was seen in the night skies above north east Wales. …. Scores of people witnessed the soundless light hovering overhead, descending slowly and, in some cases, "shooting off northwards". "Space ship, deffo," said one person. … The object was soon revealed to be an Atlas V rocket, carrying Nasa's Landsat-9 satellite, which launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, USA, just after 7pm last Monday. Some two hours later it performed a reversing manoeuvre, releasing glowing clouds of vapour.'

Overprescribing

A UK Government-commissioned review 'estimates 10% of items dispensed in primary care are overprescribed with 15% of people taking 5 or more medicines a day, increasing the risk of adverse effects. Around 1 in 5 hospital admissions in over-65s are caused by the adverse effects of medicines. Ministers accept all recommendations including introducing a new national clinical director for prescribing, increased use of social prescribing and better handovers between hospitals and the community'.

Covid Vaccination: False but Viral Story

'False claims went viral on Friday about Air Force pilots and the Pentagon's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for members of the military. In a video monologue that has been viewed more than 1.1 million times on Twitter, a bodybuilder named Justin Y. O'Donnell claimed that "my dad just let me know" that the secretary of defense had sent a nighttime text message to all active members of the military demanding that they get a Covid-19 vaccination by 10 a.m. the next day or face a court martial. After receiving this text, O'Donnell claimed, "Twelve F-22 pilots, the most highly trained pilots in the world, walked off the job." He added that "16 crew members for B-52 bombers walked off the job." The viral story is thoroughly false. In fact, it originated on a misinformation website that publishes ridiculous fiction written to read like actual news.'

No Evidence that Ivermectin is Effective against Covid-19

'An Ohio judge has reversed a court order that forced a local hospital to treat a Covid-19 patient with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. On Monday, Judge Michael Oster of Butler county issued an order that sided with West Chester Hospital, citing a lack of "convincing evidence" that the drug - used in small doses in humans against external parasites such as headlice, and in larger doses for animals including cows and horses - could significantly improve the patient's condition. The patient, Jeffrey Smith, was admitted to intensive care on 15 July. He has been on a ventilator since 1 August. At a hearing on Thursday, Julie Smith, his wife, testified that neither she nor her husband were vaccinated against Covid-19.'

When is a New Hospital a New Hospital?

A communications 'playbook' for the government's NHS building programme instructs that major refurbishments and new wings/units by trusts 'must always be referred to as a new hospital'. The instructions also state that trusts should reiterate ministers' commitment to open '48 new hospitals by the end of the decade'. Questions have been raised about how many new hospitals will be delivered in reality, and the fact that many of those planned are not full hospital builds. Sajid Javid has been criticised for describing the Northern Centre for Cancer Care - which is part of the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the first of the 48 schemes to open - as 'a new hospital'. Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust did not describe it as a hospital. Listen to the Health Service Journal podcast.

'Havana Syndrome'

'US Vice-president Kamala Harris's tour of Asia was impacted by reports of Havana syndrome on 24.8.21. A trip from Singapore to Vietnam was delayed by several hours amid an investigation into two possible cases in Hanoi, administration officials said….Havana syndrome is the name for a series of mysterious health claims first reported by American diplomats and other government employees in the Cuban capital in 2016. Some reported hearing a loud piercing sound and feeling intense pressure in the face. Pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes followed. Similar, unexplained ailments have since been reported by Americans in other countries, including Germany, Austria, Russia and China. A number of theories have been floated to explain it, including targeted microwave or sonic attacks, perhaps as part of an espionage or hacking effort.'

Satanic abuse

'A gang of people kidnapped a child after one of them believed the infant had been the victim of satanic abuse. Three people have been found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap the child on Anglesey in November 2020 while three others admitted the charge.'

Myalgic Encephelomyelitis

'Doctors will be told this week to stop recommending two controversial treatments for the debilitating condition myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) in a move which will provoke an angry backlash from the medical profession. The Times has learnt that new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will say graded exercise therapy (Get) should no longer be offered to people with ME. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a talking therapy previously seen as having a curative role, should only be offered to support patients in dealing with the anxiety of being ill.'

Stop press: On August 17, NICE took the decision to pause publication of its updated guidelines after the resignation of four members of the guideline development committee. However, on October 20 NICE announced that it will publish the guideline following a meeting of its Guidance Executive