As regular readers of the Skeptics’ Circle know, hosts are usually given pretty wide latitude about how they handle the presentation of the posts. This time around, host Martin Rundkvist, who’s hosted an excellent edition before (albeit with a puzzling theme), decides that a large dish brush is just the thing for the 76th Meeting of the Skeptics’ Circle. Why? Who knows? It must be a Swedish thing. Fortunately, the carnival is chock full of bloggy goodness (albeit with one exception that somehow found its way in there) in a fine, no-nonsense (other than the brush) presentation and thus well worth taking some time out from the busy pre-holiday preparations to peruse.

Next up is fellow skeptical physician-blogger Pal MD at White Coat Underground. Not only does he get to host the first Skeptics’ Circle of 2008 (on January 3) but, as Martin points out, it’s also the 105th birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. What more could you ask for? So, after you finish your holiday cheer, peruse the guidelines for the Skeptics’ Circle and think about supplying Pal MD with some material to start off the new year right–with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Otherwise the Nazgûl might be on your tail.


  1. #1 Clay Jones
    December 21, 2007

    Maybe that post shouldn’t have been included. I don’t know but I have to wonder if anyone is actually going to back up their claim that the post in question was not up to the standards of the Skeptics’Circle or is the gang just going to stick their fingers in their ears while screaming “Denialism, denialism, denialsim!”. Seriously Orac, I’ve looked up to you from the first time you gave me a link to my old blog and got me my first true readers but you are just participating in cyberbullying. I feel like the little kid asking Shoeless Joe to say it wasn’t so.

  2. #2 Sastra
    December 21, 2007

    Well, I’m a bit curious too. Once or twice I’ve read an article on the Junk Food Science site by following a link and didn’t notice anything particularly controversial, that I could tell. If you say there’s junk science on it, cool. Post something about it?

  3. #3 Orac
    December 21, 2007

    Sandy Szwarc and her Junkfood Science blog is a difficult problem. Most of her non-obesity-related stuff is actually not bad. However, whenever she blogs about diet and obesity, there’s usually a problem. It’s not the sort of thing that jumps right at you off of her blog; it’s the sort of thing you have to read her blog a while to start to realize. As I read her blog, more and more it bothered me that all of her “skepticism” was inevitably in the direction that being obese is just not unhealthy but as healthy or healthier than not being obese, that eating fatty foods is perfectly fine, and that virtually any study she looks at that says that eating fatty foods or a bad diet is a pile of crap while any pile of crap study claiming otherwise that she looks at is the latest and greatest. Naturally, this all leads her to conclude that virtually every warning about diet is fearmongering. Worse, she has a distressing tendency to use denialist tactics, such as cherry picking data and alleging conspiracies.

    As I said, it was very hard for me to finally admit this, but I think that Mark Hoofnagle is right and that she is, at least when it comes to issues of diet, obesity, and health, a bit of a crank. Clearly, almost anything she writes about obesity and diet is inappropriate for the Skeptics’ Circle, but I guess that the question really is: Should posts that she submits that aren’t about obesity and diet be permitted? I’m not sure of the answer to that one.

    In any case, here are some posts by others to give you an idea about why she is at least a borderline, if not outright, crank when it comes to obesity:

    Doctors are conspiring to convince you you’re sick!
    Attacking consensus – a sure sign of a crank
    Why does Sandy hate science?
    Obesity Crankery – A growing problem

    And an example when she can get it right:

    Today-the good Sandy

  4. #4 Mary P
    December 21, 2007

    I was re-reading Lipstadt’s book on holocaust denial and she makes this exact same point. When someone is dishonest, you don’t treat them like they’ve got equal footing in an academic or scientific debate. That’s what the anti-science types want, they want to be the other side next to people who value the process and evidence. She doesn’t debate deniers, I think it’s a bad idea too. Instead, point out how their tactics are dishonest, dismiss them as any kind of legitimate information source and move on.

    Well, I think MarkH’s stance on the matter is pretty unequivocal.

    However, there is some interesting discussion in the comments of MarkH’s posts and it doesn’t look like the enquiries or differing opinions are all coming from people wearing labels of opprobrium. I’m not confident that a cast-iron case has been made to justify something as serious as a charge of denialism or even crankery.

    There do seem to be various perspectives and rhetorical devices in play, here.

    I am a sceptic and not afraid to stray from mainstream opinion.

    You are eccentric in some of your opinions and interpretations but overall a useful stimulus to thought and discussion.

    He/she is a denialist/crank and should be shunned.

    I am a leading edge researcher and provider of quality advice to the public.

    You have a conflict of interest.

    He/she is a pharma shill.

    Your Skeptics’ Circle, your rules. But labelling somebody a denialist or crank shouldn’t be based on assertion and a feeling of uneasiness as it seems to be in Sandy Swarcz’s case.

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