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AirTalk 89.3 KPCC, Pasadena (December 2003)

December 2003

Michael Shermer joins Larry Mantle to talk about the biggest recent science stories in the news.

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What’s the Harm?

December 2003
Alternative medicine is not everything to gain and nothing to lose
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After being poked, scanned, drugged and radiated, your doc tells you nothing more can be done to cure what ails you. Why not try an alternative healing modality? What’s the harm?

I started thinking about this question in 1991, when my normally intelligent mother presented to a psychiatrist symptoms of cognitive confusion, emotional instability and memory loss. Within an hour it was determined that she was depressed. I didn’t buy it. My mom was acting strangely, not depressed. I requested a second opinion from a neurologist.

A CT scan revealed an orange-size meningioma tumor. After its removal, my mom was back to her bright and cheery self — such a remarkably recuperative and pliable organ is the brain. Unfortunately, within a year my mom had two new tumors in her brain. Three more rounds of this cycle of surgical removal and tumor return, plus two doses of gamma knife radiation (pinpoint-accurate beams that destroy cancer cells), finally led to the dreaded prognosis: there was nothing more to be done. (continue reading…)

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Candle in the Dark

November 2003
Instead of cursing the darkness of pseudoscience on television, light a candle with Cable Science Network
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Ever since Galileo began the tradition of communicating science in the vernacular so that all might share in its fruits, a tension has existed between those — call them “excluders” — who think science is for professionals only and regard its dissemination to wider audiences as infra dig and those — call them “includers” — who understand that all levels of science require clear composition and public understanding of process and product.

Throughout much of the 20th century the excluders have ruled the roost, punishing those in their flock who dared to write for those paying the bills. Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, for example, whose PBS television series Cosmos was viewed by more than half a billion people, was denied membership in the National Academy of Sciences primarily (his biographers have demonstrated through interviews with insiders) because he invested too much time in science popularization. (continue reading…)

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Remember the Six Billion

October 2003
For millennia we have raged against the dying of the light. Can science save us from that good night?
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Between now and the year 2123 a tragedy of Brobdingnagian proportions will befall humanity, causing the death of more than six billion people. I’m serious.

According to Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., between 50,000 B.C. and A.D. 2002, about 106 billion people were born. Earth’s population is currently around 6.3 billion. Of the approximately 100 billion people born before us, every one has died. To the extent that the past is the key to the future, that means that within the next 120 years (today’s maximum life span), more than six billion humans will suffer the same fate. And there is not a damn thing we can do about it. Or is there? (continue reading…)

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Mesmerized!

October 2003
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A review of Robin Waterfield’s Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis.

In the early 1980s I began a personal odyssey into altered states of consciousness. Because I thought I might like to use my brain again, I eschewed mind-altering substances and instead opted for (continue reading…)

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