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Alex Tsakiris

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Tsakiris in 2014.
Style over substance

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Alex Tsakiris produces the pseudoskeptical podcast Skeptiko — Science at the Tipping Point, which, despite its name, advocates various forms of quantum woo, parapsychology and evolutionary teleology. The "tipping point" in the podcast's subtitle is intended to claim that science is on the point of a paradigm shift away from materialism.

On his 261st episode, released on December 2, 2014, Alex announced that he has published a book, Why Science Is Wrong ... About Almost Everything. Even Rupert Sheldrake in the book's Foreword stated, "I think the title of this book goes too far. Science is not wrong about almost everything; it is right about a great many things, or right enough. … I told Alex so, but he wanted to stick to his original title."

Always remember: it's Skeptiko with a K, and not Skeptico with a C.

Contents

[edit] Skeptiko

The apparent claim of skepticism in the name, and the name confusion with the Skeptico blog (which is not happy about this[1]), has fooled skeptics such as Massimo Pigliucci, Ophelia Benson[2] and Jerry Coyne[3][4] into appearing.

Tsakiris likes to sandbag interviewees with sudden changes in plans just before recording, and is unapologetic about doing so.[5] He has a habit of post-editing interviews with voiceovers when things are not going his way, e.g. the Benson interview.[2]

The skeptiko.com transcripts of the podcasts cannot be trusted. Tsakiris edits the interviewees' words to push his views (e.g. changing every time Coyne said "Newtonian" to "quantum" — 'cos the words sound so similar)[6] or just makes up entire sentences attributed to the interviewees that aren't present in the audio.[7][8]

[edit] Understanding of science

Stuart Robbins of Exposing PseudoAstronomy has analysed in detail[9][10] Tsakiris' misunderstandings of how science works:

  1. Confusing papers' conclusions and their original data.
  2. Confusing argument from authority with scientific consensus.
  3. Picking guests from Amazon best-seller lists rather than finding credible scientists with a peer-reviewed track record.
  4. Confusing a class of outcomes with a single cause, i.e., not understanding that one effect can have multiple causes (including mundane ones).
  5. Telling experts they don't understand the area of their expertise when they don't agree with him.
  6. Claiming a phenomenon should be studied before even establishing it exists.
  7. Appeal to quantum mechanics.
  8. Appeal to an individual researcher's unduplicated results.
  9. Relying on eyewitness memories decades after the fact.
  10. Not understanding that it's up to the claimant to provide the evidence.

These are down to natural human cognitive biases, which is why science is hard. But when experts in all the scientific areas you deal with tell you that you're full of it, it may be an idea to consider the notion.

[edit] Other activities

Tsakiris, along with Annalisa Ventola, started the website Open Source Science, which he set up to work on Rupert Sheldrake's psychic pet studies but now redirects to the Skeptiko podcast.[11]

Unsurprisingly, he doesn't quite get the idea. He posted two "dogs that know their owners are coming home" trials.[12][13] The experiment he refers to as the "first experiment" and the "first trial" has a later time stamp (March 12, 2008) than the experiment he refers to as his second (March 10, 2008). The March 10 trial is arguably the weaker of the two and not the one you might want to lead with. Mislabeling trials would be a serious red flag in peer review. Tsakiris suggests, as a result of only two trials, that the dog has a telepathic link with its owner ("mom"). Tsakiris had previously criticized Richard Wiseman for drawing conclusions from four dog trials.[14]

Tsakiris claims to be a former research associate at the University of Arizona and a member of the Texas Instruments Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.[15] Tsakiris is a Christian theist[16] and his skeptiko forum is known for endorsing intelligent design.[17]

He made his money from Mind Path Technologies, makers of an infrared remote control for presentations (ah, an engineer).

[edit] Skeptiko forum

The Skeptiko forum (previously known as the Mind-Energy forum) describes itself as "parapsychology and alternative medicine forums," but it also promotes the Skeptiko podcasts hosted by Tsakiris. There you might find posts claiming that everything from ectoplasm, levitation, angels, fairies, extraterrestrials, mediumship to remote viewing and reincarnation have been proven by science. They also offer support and advice for people who feel they have psychic abilities. The users on the forum are generally critical of "materialism", and reject what they term "material science". Considering that science is the study of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment, it is unclear what they want to replace science with. The co-admin of the forum is the psychic Andrew Paquette.

[edit] Criticism

Magician and skeptic Mark Edward has written:

Mr. Tsakiris is not just a believer, he’s clearly a con artist out to sell himself as an “expert in the field.” He’s not an expert at all. I doubt if he’s really even a believer if you get right down to it. He is playing what he thinks is a shrewd game of playing both sides against the middle and creating a win/win situation for himself. There’s no science at Skeptiko.[18]

In response to Tsakiris’s book Why Science Is Wrong, researcher Benjamin Radford who investigated what Tsakiris offered to him as the "best case for psychic detectives" (and which appears in the book as chapter 8) wrote an in-depth blog addressing the claims. The complex case, originally profiled on a 2006 episode of a TV show, involved a psychic named Nancy Weber who claimed that 30 years earlier she helped catch serial killer James Koedatich by giving police officers Jim Moore and Bill Hughes biographical details about the killer long before he was caught—details that Weber and Tsakiris claim turned out to be amazingly accurate. Tsakiris wrote that "the police detectives repeatedly corroborated psychic detective Nancy Weber’s amazing account... Amazingly, Radford still denies this fact" (p. 90).

Radford notes that "No one, including Tsakiris, Weber, Moore, or Hughes, offered any evidence whatsoever supporting their claims" and that "this ‘amazing’ case rests entirely on the contradictory memories of three people from a third of a century ago, yet Tsakiris boldly offers it as an example of Why Science Is Wrong. Furthermore in contrast to Tsakiris’s claim that "the police detectives repeatedly corroborated psychic detective Nancy Weber’s amazing account," a close review of their statements reveals “that they contradicted virtually every specific claim Weber made about what she told them.” In chapter 6 of his 2010 book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries, Radford lists six examples of specific information Weber claims to have given police and quotes one or both of the officers as either refuting or being unable to confirm virtually all of Weber’s claims. In fact "Sgt. Hughes admitted that no information she gave led to his arrest…the case was solved by good police work."

Radford discovered using a New Jersey phone book from 1982 that if Weber had indeed given the detectives all the evidence she claimed she had at the time, the police could have discovered the killer with a 15-minute search through the phone book, yet the police were unable to find the killer until he called them to his home. Radford’s research also revealed that Weber falsely claimed to have psychically known unpublished details about the murder of Koedatich victim Aimee Hoffman (whose name Tsakiris repeatedly misspells as "Amy Hoffman") when in fact those details had been reported on the front page of the local newspaper. Radford attributes the case to a series of memory errors, confirmation bias, and mystery mongering.[19]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/skeptico-not-skeptiko.html
  2. 2.0 2.1 The non-skeptical "Skeptiko" (Ophelia Benson, Butterflies and Wheels, 2012-02-15)
  3. My fractious interview for Skeptiko (Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, 2012-02-15)
  4. Alex Tsakiris: woomeister and coward (Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, 2012-02-15)
  5. 161. Outspoken Atheist Dr. Jerry Coyne Sees No Connection Between Consciousness Resea img (forum comment from Tsakiris, mind-energy.net)
  6. Comment by Marshall on Ophelia Benson, "The non-skeptical 'Skeptiko'", Butterflies and Wheels, 2012-02-15
  7. Comment from jennyxyzzy on Why Evolution Is True
  8. Is Skeptiko Host Alex Tsakiris a Willful Deceiver? (Stuart Robbins, Exposing PseudoAstronomy, 2012-02-17)
  9. Skeptiko Host Alex Tsakiris: On the Non-Scientifically Trained Trying to Do/Understand Science (Stuart Robbins, Exposing PseudoAstronomy, 2010-05-29)
  10. Skeptiko Host Alex Tsakiris on Monster Talk / Skepticality, and More on How to Spot Pseudoscience (Stuart Robbins, Exposing PseudoAstronomy, 2011-12-09)
  11. New Site: Open Source Science
  12. Psychic Dog Experiment (skeptiko, YouTube, 2008-04-10)
  13. Psychic Dog Experiment 2 (skeptiko, YouTube, 2008-04-23)
  14. http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=6497981#post6497981
  15. Interview with Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko poscast(sic) and Open Source Science project (mind-energy.net)
  16. Starting Science From God by Alex Tsakiris
  17. Intelligent Design. Skeptiko.
  18. Everybody's an Expert. Skepticblog.
  19. Radford, Benjamin. Alex Tsakiris, Psychic Detectives, and Bad Science. Skeptical Inquirer Magazine.
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