Tag Archives | Pseudoscience

Hearing ghost voices relies on pseudoscience and fallibility of human perception

Rob and Stephanie Levy (CC BY 2.0)

Did you hear that?
Rob and Stephanie Levy (CC BY 2.0)

Nontrivial numbers of Americans believe in the paranormal. These beliefs have spawned thousands of groups dedicated to investigating paranormal phenomena and a proliferation of ghost-hunting entries in the reality television market. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that ghost-hunting reality shows have increased public openness to paranormal research, which usually entails a small group traipsing through reportedly haunted locales at night with various ghost-hunting technologies.

Audio recorders figure prominently in paranormal researchers’ toolkits. Microphones capture ambient sounds during the investigation. Later, the audio recordings are scoured in search of messages from spirits. The premise is that audio recording devices can register otherwise inaudible communications from discarnate entities.

These purported communications have been dubbed electronic voice phenomena (EVP). The sounds are generally brief – most examples consist of single words or short phrases. Perceived contents of EVP range from threatening (“You’re going to hell”) to bizarre (“Egypt Air”).… Read the rest

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Pseudoscience and conspiracy theory are not victimless crimes against science

Pseudoscience: we should know better by now.

Pseudoscience: we should know better by now.

Eduardo Nicolas Schulz, University of Birmingham

News of anti-vaxxer movements, demands to teach creationism in schools as science, and dubious claims for the health-giving properties of strange diets is enough to make you wonder if some people have forgotten or forsaken the scientific method entirely.

Astronomer Carl Sagan once said:

In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

Despite the progress of education and living standards, the world must seem like a scary place for many people – full of chemicals in the sky, aliens trying to abduct us, and government or corporate conspiracies. As Stephen Hawking drily remarked: “If governments are involved in a cover-up, they are doing a much better job of it than they seem to do at anything else.”

What’s the harm in ‘alternative’ science?

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The Decline of Pseudoscience

“Now that “natural” living has gone mainstream, its days are numbered,” claims Phoebe Maltz Bovy for New Republic:

Have we reached peak green juice? The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes suggests as much in a recent story about what a haute-hippie refuge in California is bringing to an already over-saturated market:

With every mini-mall, gas station and gym in Los Angeles now boasting a juice bar, or so it seems, the truly cutting-edge folks need to raise the ante to the point of ridiculousness. Kale-avocado-dandelion-cucumber-caraway-seed-jalapeño-heirloom-pear smoothie? Snore.

When the “Style” section not only identifies a trend, but deems it passé, it’s a safe bet it has indeed run its course. But it’s not just glorified cold vegetable soup that’s lost its allure. The pseudoscience that persists more generally in America is losing its cultural cachet.

organic store 2

Photo: Nelson Tasman Tourism (CC)


In recent years, health trends became status signifiers to which mainstream Americans aspired.

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Inoculating against science denial

Exposing people to weak forms of anti-science arguments can help them respond when they are hit by the real thing. NIAID/Flickr, CC BY

Exposing people to weak forms of anti-science arguments can help them respond when they are hit by the real thing. NIAID/Flickr, CC BY

John Cook, The University of Queensland

Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.

Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

When you present evidence that threatens a person’s worldview, it can actually strengthen their beliefs. This is called the “worldview backfire effect”.… Read the rest

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Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP


Hartwig HKD (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Via The Guardian:

A Conservative MP has claimed that astrology could have “a role to play in healthcare”.

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”.

He criticised the BBC and TV scientist Professor Brian Cox for taking a “dismissive” approach to astrology, and accused opponents of being “racially prejudiced”.

The MP for Bosworth, in Leicestershire, who is a Capricorn and in 2010 paid back £755 he had claimed in expenses for software that used astrology to diagnose medical conditions, told Astrological Journal: “I do believe that astrology and complementary medicine would help take the huge pressure off doctors.

“Ninety per cent of pregnant French women use homeopathy. Astrology is a useful diagnostic tool enabling us to see strengths and weaknesses via the birth chart.

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Dr. Oz asked Twitter for health questions

Dr. Oz's Twitter picture.

Dr. Oz’s Twitter picture.

Dr. Oz opened up a can of worms on Twitter yesterday. He asked the Twitter community for health questions and some of the responses are great. Don’t you love it when social media gimmicks backfire?

The Questions:

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James Randi’s “Evidence” Against ESP Turns Out to Be Fabricated


Some Disinfonauts might recall that last month I posted a rather scathing commentary in regards to the career of blow-hard skeptical debunker James Randi. Of course I hope people realize that I write polemic rants like this to reflect the negativity that the closed minded “skeptical” community, hardline materialist types, and religious people alike have been directing at anyone with alternate spiritual practices for the vast majority of recorded history. We deal with this condescension constantly and to pretend there isn’t a bias against things like Shamanism, the Occult, or Psi is sort of like pretending there’s no homophobia or misogyny, or that racism is just a thing of the past. For the record, we’re not talking about a fictional “sky-god” but rather the potentiality of the human imagination. It’s incredibly bizarre how many people desperately want to believe that this potentiality doesn’t exist and will eat up anything that reinforces this deeply held belief no matter how short on facts or evidence their claims happen to be.… Read the rest

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The Secret Science Boards of TED And The Question of Consciousness

TED_CensorshipThere’s a shadowy group lurking in the squeaky clean corridors of the scientific information conglomerate known as TED. Here in the cockles of this monolithic shaft of Copernican cocksuredness hides a gloaming collection of secret scientists who decide the fate of the information you’re allowed to hear. They have no name, so we shall call them the Anonymous Society of Scientist (A.S.S. for short). We may have never known of A.S.S.’s existence if not for the hell raised over the removal of two popular TEDx Whitechapel speeches by Scientist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and best-selling author, Graham Hancock.

Both Dr. Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s talks revolved around the idea that consciousness is not necessarily limited to the physical human body, but that it may extend far beyond in ways not yet fully understood. In light of the present paradigm of scientific thought which supposes we are actually “lumbering robots” as Richard Dawkins famously stated, the contrarian claims of Sheldrake and Hancock are not considered suitable for public consumption – so think the veiled harbingers of A.S.S.… Read the rest

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Natural News: A Truly Deadly Brand of Pseudoscience?

What do you make of Mike Adams and his Natural News site, disinfonauts? Big Think has a very negative take:

If there was an award for the single greatest hub of pseudoscience on the internet, the website Natural News would well and truly take the crown tin foil hat. Expect to find anti-vaccine paranoia which extends not only to your garden variety antivaxxer favorites such as the debunked link to autism but to crackpot claims that vaccines caused the “cancer epidemic” and were even responsible for the “origin” of AIDS. According to Natural NewsMicrosoft is developing “eugenics vaccines that target specific races and nationalities with infertility-inducing pharmaceuticals“. Alongside this you’ll also find full blown AIDS denialism (emphasis mine):

HIV does NOT cause AIDSHIV does not cause anything. A staggering statement given the hype and acceptance by the scientific establishment and, through them, the public that the HIV virus is the only cause of AIDS. 

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Whole Foods Market Is America’s Temple of Pseudoscience

Michael Shulson says “Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?”, writing at Daily Beast:

If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.

But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.

BwyWalk0505 WPWholeFoodsUnionSquare

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares.

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