Note to my loyal readers: This will be my last post before a two-week break so I can go to my publisher's annual writers' retreat in the Ozarks. Please keep sending links & ideas -- I'll be right back in the saddle when I return. Look for the next Skeptophilia post on Monday, August 6!
Sometimes you have to admire the woo-woos' dogged determination to fashion the universe into their own bizarre version of reality.
One question that has been raised over and over -- both by me and to me -- is, "what would it take for the diehard core of Donald Trump's base to recognize they'd been had?"
I mean, it's hard to fathom how what's already happened isn't enough. His disastrous, ill-thought-out punitive tariffs have damaged long-standing trade partnerships and driven exports down and prices up, hurting farming and manufacturing. Much of what comes out of his mouth is either a calc
One of the most revered, and controversial, relics of the Roman Catholic Church has finally been shown to be an unequivocal fake.
The Shroud of Turin has engendered more speculation, criticism, and questioning than any other relic, and that includes things like the skull of Mary Magdalene. The Shroud is a 4.4 meter long piece of linen cloth with the impression -- it looks very much like a photographic negative -- of a naked man showing the traditional injuries suffered by Jesu
In my Latin and Greek classes, I always warn my students to avoid Google Translate.
It's not that it's a bad tool, honestly, as long as you don't push it too far. If you want to look up a single word -- i.e., use it like an online dictionary -- it's pretty solid. The problem is, it has a good word-by-word translation ability, but a lousy capacity for understanding grammar, especially with highly inflected languages like Latin. For example, the phrase "corvus o
What I find the most stunning about scientific research is the breadth and scope of what it uncovers about the universe.
Think about it. In the last hundred years, we have gone all the way from quarks -- particles a third the size of a neutron, or an average of 4 x 10-27 kilograms -- to the largest known structure in the universe, the Virgo Supercluster, which is 110 million light years across. We have a decent picture of what happened at each stage in the developme
One of the most difficult-to-fight biases in human nature is the sunk-cost fallacy.
The idea is the more time, effort, and/or money we've put into a decision, the less likely we are to abandon it -- even after it has been proven a bad choice. It's what makes people stick with cars that are lemons, investments that are financial disasters, marriages that are horrible, and politicians who have proven themselves to be unethical and self-serving, long after cut-and-run would, all
There's been so much bad news lately that I've several times felt like I needed to avoid all forms of media not to go into a full-blown, crashing depression.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that we're in a downward spiral. Our leadership is the most corrupt, dishonest, self-serving bunch of politicians that I can remember, and I'm 57 years old. The driving force in our government at the moment is corporate interests über alles. We're progressively alienatin
Acupuncture is one of those "alternative medicine" treatments that has long seemed to me to live in that gray area between scientific soundness and woo-woo quackery. It has a lot of woo-woo characteristics; all manner of goofy explanations about why it works (qi and chakras and energy meridians), and that mystical haze that always seems to surround something that comes from China. However, enough friends of mine (of the decidedly non-woo-woo variety) have tried it, with pos
Barbara McClintock is one of the most inspiring figures in the history of biology. She received her Ph.D. in Botany from Cornell University in 1927 -- in a time when few women chose to go to college, even fewer pursued a major in the sciences, and almost none made it all the way to doctoral-level work.
In the 1940s and 1950s, she was studying the genetics of maize, especially how genes regulate the expression of seed color in multicolored "Indian corn." What she found
After eight years of Skeptophilia, it's hard for me to run into a paranormal or cryptozoological claim I haven't heard of before. But that's exactly what happened yesterday, when I visited the delightfully loopy feature on Ranker called "Graveyard Shift."
The article tells us about a creature that got its start in California, but apparently is gaining ground all over the United States. They're called the "Fresno Nightcrawlers," which would make a
Something that has continued to baffle me about the arguments over illegal immigration is how little of it tends to be based in fact.
Just in the last six months, four separate studies have found that the number of undocumented immigrants in an area has no correlation to the crime rate, either violent or non-violent. This, of course, runs counter to the Trump administration's narrative that "our borders are being overrun by millions of illegals" and that all of those
In today's reading from the collected works of St. Obvious of Duh, we have: a study out of the University of Vermont showing that students get substandard science education if their teachers are not trained in science.
This apparently is some kind of revelation. What they did was to look at the use of inquiry-based instruction in eighth-grade science classes, and they found that the use of inquiry methods varied directly with the teacher's level of formal education in science.
Given the ongoing lunacy happening in the United States right now, I find it strangely comforting when I find out that there are people doing stupid stuff in other countries, too.
Take, for example, the Korean radioactive mattresses. As reported in the Korea JoongAng Daily, it turns out that seven mattress manufacturers have been found in violation of standards for allowable radiation level in products meant for human use.
Because we all clearly needed something else to worry about, today we have: the mega-asteroids of doom.
This comes up because of a new program at NASA, now that the Trump administration has freed them from the necessity of worrying about climate change. Called the "Large Synoptic Survey Telescope," this project involves building a huge telescope in Chile that will be looking for "potentially hazardous asteroids" (PHAs). The idea is that they'll scan t
New from the "Well, I can't see any way that could go wrong, do you?" department, we have: scientists growing Neanderthal brain fragments in petri dishes and then connecting them to crab-like robots.
My first thought was, "Haven't you people ever watched a science fiction movie?" This feeling may have been enhanced by the fact that just a couple of days ago I watched the Dr. Who episode "The End of the World," wherein the Doctor and
Let's see... Fourth of July. What shall I do today? Picnic? Barbecue? Play with my dog? Bonfire? Go for a swim in my pond? Shoot off some fireworks?
... or maybe... CIVIL WAR???? *diabolical laughter*
If this is the first you've heard about this, the same goes for me, and that's a little upsetting because I'm supposed to be participating in it, and evidently I missed the memo. By this point, you probably won't be sur
One of the things that strikes me, both about many purveyors of alt-med bullshit and their customers, is how little effort they exert even to make their arguments sound like legitimate science.
I mean, it's not like the science is inaccessible, or something. Whatever else you can say about Wikipedia, it's a pretty good resource for quick, substantially accurate information. (In fact, a 2005 study found that Wikipedia was close to Encyclopedia Brittanica in terms of overa
In today's post, I'm going to allude to two news stories I ran across in the last couple of days that are so upsetting, so completely nausea-inducing, that I am going to omit most of the details and simply direct you to the links if you want to read more. (If that disclaimer wasn't enough, let me be blunt: serious trigger warning regarding violence and abuse directed at children and teenagers.)
In the first, a man named Isauro Aguirre was just handed the death penalty in
I'm sure that by now all of you have heard of the "Paleo Diet," that claims the path to better health comes from eating like a cave man (or woman, as the case may be) -- consuming only foods that would have been eaten by our distant ancestors living on the African savanna. The "Paleo Diet," therefore, includes grass-fed meat (cow is okay if you can't find gazelle), eggs, fish, root vegetables, fruits, nuts, and mushrooms. Not included are dairy products (being tha
I find it fascinating, and frequently a bit dismaying, the range that exists in what people consider "sufficient evidence."
There are us hardcore skeptics, who basically say, "Incontrovertible hard data, right in front of my face, and sometimes not even that." It then runs the whole spectrum down to people who basically have the attitude, "if my mother's first cousin's sister-in-law's gardener's grandma says she remembers seeing it one time, that's goo
I've said for ages that I would love to spend a night in a haunted house.
I would prefer not to spend said night alone, because I may be a skeptic, but I'm also (1) highly suggestible and (2) a great big coward. I'd like to think that my generally rational view of the world would inoculate me against jumping to conclusions in scary situations, but the reality is that I adopted skepticism as a worldview largely because the other option was letting my anxiety drive me completely
Today I'm going to take a detour from my usual fare and tell you about a former student of mine, a young man named Justin.
I first met Justin in my Critical Thinking class, almost two years ago. He struck me right away as the thoughtful type (in both senses of the word). He was quiet, friendly, and kind, and always was the first one to laugh at my jokes (which may speak to his kindness as well). As the semester progressed, he was more and more willing to contribute
Because we clearly needed something else to be angry about, today we have: a cadre of four senators who are calling for an investigation into the National Science Foundation's grant program designed to educate meteorologists about climate change.
The four senators are James Lankford (Oklahoma), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Ted Cruz (surprise! -- Texas), and James Inhofe (even bigger surprise! -- Oklahoma). Inhofe, you may remember, is the knuckle-dragger who doesn't know the difference betw
When I considered topics for today's post, the one I was thinking about was so upsetting that I nearly decided to find some cheerful, science-newsy subject to write about instead. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I couldn't leave what was first and foremost in my mind unaddressed.
So here goes. If you're easily upset, you might want to opt out now.
I first ran into the work of Eudora Welty when I was in college, and I read the short story "Why I Live at the Post Office," and laughed so hard my stomach hurt. It's hard to say why her stories are funny; they're not at all slapstick, and it's far from what I'd call a situation comedy. But her characters are brilliant and eccentric and absolutely hilarious -- and even more so because I've known people like the ones she describes so well.
I've suspected for a while that the FBI is keeping a file on me based upon my Google search history.
This, I suspect, is something that plagues a lot of writers, but it's really hit home apropos of my murder mystery series, The Snowe Agency Mysteries, the second of which (The Dead Letter Office) just released last week. I've got a line of them ready for release, and the research for them has resulted in some searches that would look seriously sketchy to anyone who didn't know
When a friend gave me a copy of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Let the Right One In, and told me to read it even though it's a vampire novel, I was a little dubious despite my sense that this friend is a real connoisseur of excellent books.
I had no idea how wrong I was -- or spot-on his recommendation would be.
I've got nothing in particular against vampires, mind you, but I hate triteness. And even the most diehard bloodsucker aficionado has to admit that the vam
A couple of years ago I read Ava Norwood's first book, If I Make My Bed in Hell -- a gripping tale of a woman caught in a self-feeding cycle of religious indoctrination and abuse who finally decides she's had enough. It's a gritty, dark, completely engrossing read, so when I heard that Norwood was working on her second book, I couldn't wait to read it.
That book, Poured Out Like Water, was released last week, and it far exceeded my already high expectations of Norwoo
If I haven't posted any reviews here in a while, I have an excuse; I've been caught up in Haruki Murakami's massive novel 1Q84, which at almost a thousand pages, is not something you can knock off in a day or two.
It's well worth the effort, though. It's in his signature lucid but surreal style, where you're not always sure that what you're seeing (through the character's eyes) is real. He has a way of describing the most ordinary, prosaic settings and making them seem o
If you liked the enigmatic Mr. Parsifal Snowe and his band of intrepid detectives in Poison the Well, get ready for a second installment of murder and psychic investigation with The Dead Letter Office, coming in April!
Crotchety, irritable, self-centered, rich Miss Annamae Dyer has been found clubbed to death in her study, and who had a reason to kill her?
Just about everyone.
From her conniving, scheming nephew Robert, who inherited most of her considerable fortune;
I've started work on the seventh in the Snowe Agency mystery series, entitled Slings and Arrows. All of the Snowe mysteries have started with the agents -- a client comes in to talk to them about a murder. This one starts differently.
With the murder itself.
Here's the first bit. See what you think.
A clear October night. Stars glittering in the frosty air, their cold light casting no illuminat
Is it possible to hate a book solely because of the very last line?
I ask because that was my reaction to William Sleator's The Duplicate. I picked up a copy at our local used book sale (one of the biggest in the country -- the Ithaca Friends of the Library Annual Book Sale, a quarter of a million books in a huge warehouse -- one of the high points of my year). I've loved a lot of Sleator's other YA speculative fiction books, including House of Stairs, Interstellar
I first stumbled across essayist John McPhee's work because of my interest in rocks.
I was living in Washington State at the time, and took a class that gave me a rather eye-opening look at how complex the geology of the Pacific Coast is. A friend asked if I'd read McPhee's quartet of books about the geology of the United States -- Rising from the Plains, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, and Assembling California. I hadn't, but I did, and I was hooked.
Another of my summer reads was a book given to me by a friend, who said, "This seems right in your wheelhouse."
The book was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. And she was right. It's a mind-blowing ride through alternate universes, with assorted kidnappings, assaults, hair's breadth escapes, all with an underlying thread of quantum physics to hold it all together.
Here's the gist, or as much as I can give you and still avoid spoilers.
Last year, while doing some research for a post on mystic (and presumed hoaxer) Carlos Castaneda for my other blog, Skeptophilia, I ran across a reference to a book I'd never heard of before -- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. The writer of the article I was reading as background for my Castaneda post said, in essence, "If you're looking for a real exploration of the mystical beliefs of the Southwest, don't bother with Castaneda's made-up nonsense. Read Anaya's Bless Me,
Hi y'all... if you've enjoyed my tales of the paranormal, which have featured specters that abduct children (Signal to Noise), mechanical devices that focus psychic energy (Gears), and a man trapped in an interlocking set of alternative worlds where one misstep could mean death (Sephirot), you'll want a look at my new collection of short stories that spin more webs of magic, terror and the macabre!
Take a guided tour through the paranormal with sixteen tales of horror, humor, and th
In spring of 1995, five members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult planted plastic bags full of sarin (a powerful and deadly nerve agent) at different spots in the Tokyo subway system. Twelve people died, fifty were seriously injured, and an estimated 5,000 had temporary injury (predominantly vision problems). The perpetrators -- all of whom survived -- were arrested, and all but one sentenced to death, along with several other leaders of the cult. (The one that was not senten
It's been a long while since I've posted here -- life intruded (as it is wont to do), I was out of state for ten days after being out of the country for 11, and I've just generally been running about frantically. I have, however, been reading, and over the next couple of weeks I'll post reviews for some of my spring and summer reads.
Also... my short story collection, Sights, Signs, and Shadows, is now available for pre-order! It's a collection of
I'm a huge fan of Christopher Moore. His loopy, ribald plots and brilliantly funny use of language combine to create books that keep you saying "One more chapter..." until finally, sadly, you realize that you just turned the last page. I think Coyote Blue, The Stupidest Angel, and (especially) A Dirty Job and its sequel Secondhand Souls, rank up there amongst the funniest books I've ever read -- but combine the humor with lovable characters that you really, really want
I'm a real fan of books that keep you guessing, so it is no great surprise that I read A. J. Aalto's latest book, Closet Full of Bones, in a single day. If you've read any of her Marnie Baranuik series (beginning with the hilarious and madcap thrill-ride Touched), you might be surprised when you start reading her newest release, which is dark, understated, and as intricate as a labyrinth.
The novel centers on the siblings Gillian Hearth and Frankie Farmer, who are about as opp
It was my pleasure to interview JC Crumpton this week, whose chilling and captivating first novel Silence in the Garden (published by Oghma Creative Media) will hit bookstore shelves on May 25 (it's available for preorder now at the link provided!). Enjoy this interesting perspective from a writer you're sure to hear more about.
GB: When did you first start writing? Tell us about how you figured out you were a storytell
It's not often that I read a book which afterwards, if someone asked me "Did you like it?", my honest answer would be, "I have no idea."
That, however, would be my reaction should anyone ask me about William Least Heat-Moon's Celestial Mechanics. It's an odd story -- about a writer named Silas Fortunato, his intensely unlikeable wife Dominique, her sister Celeste, and a peculiar neighbor named Kyzmyt whom I was never really convinced was real.
Being a biology teacher, I'm understandably attracted to books from my chosen field. I've read everything I can by Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, Carl Zimmer, Jerry A. Coyne, Jared Diamond, and many others, and learned a tremendous amount both about biological science and also how to explain difficult concepts in an engaging manner.
It was in that spirit that I read last week Elizabeth Kolbert's wonderful book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural
I've been known at times to get suckered by a book that has an interesting title or cover even if I know nothing else about it.
Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't. I was grabbed by both in the case of Wu Ming-Yi's The Man With the Compound Eyes, and it turned out to be a weird stream-of-consciousness story that went absolutely nowhere. On the other hand, I absolutely loved Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, which reads like an updated Catch-22&nb
I have always had, for some reason, a particular fondness for non-fiction books about natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions -- the sheer power of what the world can do is both frightening and compelling. It also explains why if I hadn't become a high school biology teacher, my second choice would have been "tornado chaser."
So it's unsurprising that I picked up a copy of Simon Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World a few wee
I'm a firm believer that good writing is good writing -- we each have our preferred genres to read, but a skilled writer can captivate readers no matter the subject or style. The same is true with reading level -- I can think of some young adult books (Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain come to mind) that are as rich and enjoyable to the adult reader as they are to the young teenagers they're aimed toward.
A couple of days ago I finished reading P. N. Elrod's first installment of the (soon-to-be) series Her Majesty's Psychic Service, called The Hanged Man. Set in a steampunk Victorian England -- where Victoria married a commoner instead of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, women were given the vote, and the strong arm of the law was assisted by a band of intrepid psychics devoted to criminal investigation -- this story starts out with a vivid and fascinating alternate history as the setting.
A few years ago, I entered an online flash fiction contest that had a photographic prompt very much like the one I've included below. I won first place with the story "Reindeer Games." I'm sharing it here in honor of the Christmas season.
Ho, ho, ho.
“Yo, Verdie Mae.”
“Them reindeers is movin’.”
“It’s ‘reindeer,’ George,” Verdie Mae said, not turning from the kitchen counter, where she w