BOOK REVIEW: Skeptoid Vol. 1: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomenon by Brian Dunning

Review by Dean Bedekar, January 2023

You may ask, what’s the big deal if grownups believe in ancient aliens?  Nothing really unless those beliefs cause harm to the believer and society. The list is long, from anti-vaxxers, consumers of crackpot remedies like homeopathy and acupuncture, to science deniers.  In each of 5 volumes, Dunning takes on 50 such pop phenomenon, explaining them in simple terms, without casting judgment.

In this review, we’ll cover some of most flagrant violations of science and common sense.

Chi, Spiritual energy, Energy Auras, Psychic energy, Energy from crystals and magnetic fields

Energy is not a thing. It is a measurement of the potential or actual work done. The work is done by sound, heat, light or motion.  Anyone who promises to fill you with good energy or rid you of bad energy or feels energy from the beyond is after your wallet.

Cures for imaginary ailments

It’s a shame when celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz peddle worthless remedies based on scientific jargon.  If you really have 7 lbs. of feces stuck between your gullet and anus, call the Guinness Book of World Records. Don’t waste your money on colon cleansers.

Organic, Sustainable, non-GMO, Free Range and Eco-friendly food

These words can mean anything the marketer wants. There are no standards.

It’s good for Ya!

Every year brings to the fore a new item that’s good for you. We had super doses of vitamin C to ward off colds, oat bran, turmeric, wheatgrass juice, ashwagandha.  Any respectable drug store will have a whole aisle devoted to natural remedies.  Skip it, save your money and your health.

Organic Food Myths

Organic means organic fertilizer and pesticides were used instead of the synthetic kind.  Organic food is more expensive because of lower crop yields. It says nothing about who grew it or if it’s more eco-friendly.  There’s zero evidence that organic food is healthier.  The only thing we can be sure of is that it costs more.


Whoever came up with original sin was a genius.  It causes people to do all sorts of silly and painful things like being parted from their money on Sundays. It causes Hindus to bathe in a cesspool called the Ganges, Mexicans to walk around the Virgin of Guadalupe on their knees and Iranians to flagellate themselves during ashura.

Sin is separate from legality. Eternal sin is to deny God. The penalty is an eternity in hell. Mortal sins require repentance or it’s a fast trip to hell for you. Murder and adultery fall in this category. Venial sins can be forgiven. This is like Jimmy Carter lusting in his heart after Raquel Welch. Lying, hate, anger, jealousy and profanity are also sins that can be cured by adding to the collection plate.

Sin has no place in a free society. Demand instead politeness, honesty and industry and stop threatening people with imaginary, long-lasting punishment.

A Primer on Evolution for Creationists

Q.: If man evolved from apes, how come apes are still around? A: If English evolved from Latin how come Latin is still around? Actually, apes and homo sapiens lack a common ancestor.  They evolved along different branches.

Evolution depends on random mutations in the “knowledge” molecule known as DNA. But it’s true that 9 out of 10 mutations fail.  Those that pass must meet the test of natural selection. If the mutation gives the species an advantage, it will be passed on to future generations.

Is evolution just a theory? You bet it is.  A theory that has been tested and proven enough times to be treated as fact. A theory that has been modified to fit new facts and can predict the future with deductive and inductive reasoning.

Faith, Science, and the Shrinking God

Neil deGrasse Tyson said that science has shrunk God by 80%, meaning 80% of what was once considered an act of God can be explained by science. Faith is defined as conviction without evidence.  It is also a central pillar of all religions. Many Christian believers are turning to archaeology to validate the Bible.  Like SETI, it’s a futile search.  Faith needs no proof.

Big Brother ruins it for all of us

Do you know why you must step on the brake to start your car? It goes back to a tragic accident in 1986 when a child was killed while his mother was backing her Audi out of the garage.  The accident was publicized as “sudden acceleration” caused by moving the gear shift out of park. Of course, copycat “accidents” and lawsuits soon followed.  The problem?  In Europe the gas and brake pedals are closer to each other than in the U.S. All cars are designed so that the brakes will hold the car in place even with the gas pedal to the metal. It took Audi 25 years to return to the U.S. market. 

Living Stones of Death Valley

Hundreds of stones scattered in a dry lake bed called Racetrack Playa have left trails behind them as they moved across the surface.  All sorts of supernatural explanations have been offered. Water expands when it turns to ice, and it’s the ice that moves the rocks.  And yes, mountains in Death Valley are covered with snow in the winter.

Reflexology, Chiropractic, Homeopathy

Reflexology will cure a whole host of ailments by rubbing your feet. Chiropractic will do the same by adjusting your spine.  And homeopathy will do it by selling you water and sugar pills. The secret is to create an anecdotal history, celebrity testimonials and pseudoscience babbled by an actor in a lab coat. And, unlike modern medicine, all these cures are static. They all depend on the placebo effect for their popularity.

Your reward for reading this far is a quiz

The Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales are the same at -40o. At what temperature do the Fahrenheit and Kelvin scales intersect? Email me at if you know (or don’t) the answer.

Is Darwinism just another faith-based religion?

Darwin’s theory of evolution has undergone several revisions since The Origin of Species was published in 1859.  That’s how science works.  Faith-based teaching is static, unable to accept new information.  Faith-based means holding to a conclusion despite evidence to the contrary. Creationists say that Darwinism is a religion because you have to believe in the fossil record. You don’t. You merely have to trust it, just as you trust that your calculator will display 4 when you punch in 2 + 2.

How to Spot Pseudoscience

Science                                                          Pseudoscience

– Theories are supported by evidence           Supported by anecdotal reports, celebrity endorsements

– Supported by the science community        Supported by a single organization

– Tested via peer review and independent    Testing conclusions are published in the mass
  organizations                                                  media (testing methods are secret)

– Based on current knowledge                      Sometimes based on ancient knowledge

Book of Mormon

Dunning’s quarrel is with the Book of Mormon, not Mormons. The Book of Mormon stays with the Christian story but then veers to the Americas.  It says Jackson County, MO, is the geographic center of the continent. They believe that the history of the Americas was kept on gold tablets by a warrior named Mormon and buried in upstate New York by his son Moroni.  A gold statue of Moroni stands atop most Mormon temples.

In 1927, Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, 22, who translated the gold plates into the Book of Mormon.  The early years were bloody, until Brigham Young led them to Salt Lake City. Mormons claims that the Book of Mormon is the literal history of the Americas, despite genetic and other evidence to the contrary.  The Mormon church often cites the Bible as evidence when challenged.

The Importance of Critical Thinking

Dunning ends the book with a brief essay on critical thinking.  He urges readers to heed the simple questions asked by Socrates:

  • What is the source of your information?
  • What are your assumptions?
  • Is there an alternate explanation for this phenomenon?

He notes that ancient texts are not proof of an unprovable concept and ends the essay with the note that science, unlike religion, is based on change. 

About the Author:

Brian Dunning is an author, lecturer, and podcaster, concentrating on pseudoscience, quack cures, wild marketing claims and gross errors of logic.  He has published 5 volumes of Skeptoid books. He lives in Bend, OR. Some of you may recall that he presented to NOSHA during the pandemic.