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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

While the current pandemic restrictions are in force, there are no live Skeptics in the Pub meetings being held anywhere as far as we know. 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.

Near-Death Experiences

Professor Chris French is currently writing a popular science book on anomalistic psychology. He writes:'I will soon be starting the chapter dealing with out-of-body and near-death experiences. I firmly believe that interesting first-hand accounts really bring such subjects to life and so I am appealing to anyone out there who has experienced either or both of these to consider sending me an account for possible inclusion in my chapter. Needless to say, anyone who contributes an account would have the final say on whether or not it is included and whether or not it should be anonymised. Also, space will be limited, so there is no guarantee that I will be able to include your account even if you are kind enough to send me one but I'll certainly read it and say thank you!' Contact ASKE for details

5G: No evidence for biological effects

A meta-analysis reported in the journal Nature of studies of 5G technology has failed to confirm any biological effects of low-level MMWs (radiofrequency radiation, mainly in the millimetre wave band).

Middlesex University parts company with homeopathy

'Middlesex University is cutting its ties with the UK's biggest provider of homeopathy training after it peddled vaccine misinformation and encouraged the use of potions made with phlegm to protect against and treat Covid-19. The Bloomsbury-based Centre for Homeopathic Education (CHE) has been criticised for its "actively anti-scientific teaching". NHS England has repeatedly warned that homeopathic remedies for Covid are ineffective and that taking them leaves patients at risk.'

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation have recently issued an advance copy of a report on 'Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station' that occurred on 11.3.2011. Regarding effects on public health in the region, they have concluded the following:

'No adverse health effects among Fukushima residents have been documented that are directly attributable to radiation exposure from the FDNPS accident. The Committee's revised estimates of dose are such that future radiation-associated health effects are unlikely to be discernible. The Committee believes that, on the balance of available evidence, the large increase, relative to that expected, in the number of thyroid cancers detected among exposed children is not the result of radiation exposure. Rather, they are the result of ultrasensitive screening procedures that have revealed the prevalence of thyroid abnormalities in the population not previously recognized. An increase in the incidence of cancers is unlikely to be discernible in workers for leukaemia, total solid cancers or thyroid cancer. The Committee has insufficient information to reach an informed judgement on the risk of cataracts.'

Alternative medicine and conspiracy theories

A study by researchers at the Colorado School of Medicine suggests that advocates of homeopathy and alternative therapies generally are more likely to accept fake news and conspiracy theories about medical conditions that are circulating on social media. The results have been published in the journal Health Psychology.

Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed, journalist, author, broadcaster and Olympic Games table tennis player now has a series running on Radio 4 called Sideways, which explores 'ideas that shape our lives with stories of seeing the world differently'. Recordings of these episodes are freely available and are of great interest to skeptics. The first episode is a critical account of the supposed 'disorder' Stockholm Syndrome and the second covers how the misunderstanding and misuse of statistics can have harmful and even tragic consequences, as in the case of the late Sally Clark, falsely convicted of murder after the deaths of her two children. I think skeptics will find these episodes very useful.

Neil O'Brian MP

It isn't often that praise and support for our politicians is forthcoming from the skeptical community. So, step up to the platform Mr Neil O'Brien (@NeilDotObrien), Member of Parliament for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston (party irrelevant). According to the Sunday Times (14.2.21) 'the MP has become a virtual superhero in the fight against conspiracy theorists, hunting out lockdown sceptics on social media and destroying them with a barrage of facts. … He is dogged in his pursuit of guilty parties and has taken to keeping charge sheets against them-records of deleted tweets and in accuracies he bombards them with'. Individuals whom he regularly has in his sights include 'contrarian journalists' such as Toby Young and Allison Pearson, and 'maverick scientists' search as Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan and Claire Craig. Claire Craig has deleted all her tweets from 2020 but unfortunately for her Google has cached them. Mr O'Brien reminds us that 'On 18 October she claimed in a now-deleted tweet: "No-one is going to die of it (only with it). Flu diagnoses have been replaced by COVID. This happens when you overtest people dying of respiratory failure until you get the result you are looking for"'. Why doesn't she just say, 'Sorry, I was wrong' (Ask a silly question-Ed.).

The myth of 'learning styles'

A recent review paper has revealed that the discredited idea that students learn better when taught in a way that matches their specific 'learning style' is still held by many teachers and educators. See original paper and commentary .

Informed choice

From 'MD' (aka Phil Hammond) in Private Eye, 18 December 2020, headed 'Brains needs BRAUNS':

Informed choice for any medical intervention requires BRAUNS. You need to know and understand the Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Unknowns, what if I did Nothing?, and Safety net if something goes wrong.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Marjorie Taylor Greene was recently elected to the US House of Representatives despite her explicit support of QAnon, a far-right movement spreading conspiracy theories based on the claim that there is a global cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic paedophiles opposed by Donald Trump. She has also endorsed the call for assassination of Democratic members of Congress; denied that a plane crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001; expressed racist and antisemitic views (involving, amongst other things, the bizarre notion of a 'secret Jewish space laser'); and perpetuated the myths that the school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 (see separate entry here) and at Parkland, Florida, in 2018 were faked. She also supports Donald Trump's discredited allegation that the US presidential election result was fraudulent and he was the outright winner. The House of Representatives has voted to strip her of her committee assignments, despite her announcement that she has now rescinded her extreme beliefs, for which she blames the media, which are 'just as guilty as QAnon for promoting lies': 'I was allowed to believe things that weren't true', she insists. (Does she think we're all daft?-Ed.) She also maintains that she is a victim of 'cancel culture' and that Democrats are trying to 'crucify me in the public square'.

Life after death

Robert Bigelow is a 'maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, U.F.O.s and the spirit realm. Now he's offering nearly $1 million in prizes for the best evidence for "the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death".'

Health minister contracts coronavirus after 'inoculation' by shaman

From BBC News, 24.1.21: 'Sri Lanka's health minister, who endorsed herbal syrup to prevent Covid, has tested positive for the virus. Pavithra Wanniarachchi tested positive on Friday, a media secretary at the Ministry of Health told the BBC. She had promoted the syrup, manufactured by a shaman who claimed it worked as a life-long inoculation against the virus. …. A junior minister, who also took the potion, tested positive earlier this week. The health minister had publicly consumed and endorsed the syrup as a way of stopping the spread of the virus. The shaman who invented the syrup, which contains honey and nutmeg, said the recipe was given to him in a visionary dream. Doctors in the country have quashed claims the herbal syrup works, but AFP news agency reports thousands have travelled to a village to obtain it.

Online Course in using the Freedom of Information Act

The next course, by the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, is scheduled for Wednesday 28th April. 'It is designed to help campaigners, researchers, journalists and others make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests and describes how to challenge unjustified refusals. The course's interactive sessions will encourage you to test your own FOI drafting skills. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.'

Professional Standards Authority suspends Accreditation of the Society of Homeopaths

The Professional Standards Authority has suspended the accreditation of the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) following its failure to meet Conditions set by the Authority during 2020. ... In February 2020 accreditation was renewed, subject to a Condition that included making its position statements clear that registrants must not practise CEASE, practise or advertise adjunctive therapies that are incompatible with Society registration, or provide advice on vaccination. ... We undertook an in-year review of the SoH during the summer of 2020, after concerns were raised in relation to the appointment of a key official. As set out in the outcome of our in-year review three further Conditions were issued, the first two of which were due in October 2020. In December 2020, a Panel met to consider whether these had been met. We found the Conditions were not met and that the SoH did not fully meet a number of our Standards. In view of the recurrent nature of the concerns, and that several Conditions had already been imposed on the SoH since February 2020, we decided to suspend accreditation.'

The Sandy Hook School Shooting

There is an ongoing conspiracy theory in the US that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, in which 26 people were killed, never took place and was a hoax perpetrated by campaigners for greater gun-control legislation. Parents of the deceased children have been subject to harassment and accused of being actors. In a recent television interview, Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed at the shooting, had to be disguised by theatrical make-up artists for his own safety. He has been conducting a systematic campaign against those promoting the conspiracy theory, who have retaliated by publishing his home address, his social security number, and photographs of every flat he has lived in for the past twenty years. He and his family have had to move house seven times. A Florida woman has served a prison sentence for leaving death threats on his answerphone.