Tag Archives | Skepticism

An Anatomy of Paranoia

"Sister Anna," by Carl Fredrik Hill (1887)

“Sister Anna,” by Carl Fredrik Hill (1887)

We all agree that it’s important to question conventional wisdom, and that ideas which are too bizarre for most people to accept may, nonetheless, turn out to be true. Some people, however, seem to reach a tipping point where scores of obsessive strange beliefs feed upon one another to such a degree that they impair the individual’s ability to maintain relationships or function in society. By searching mental health forums, one can find countless posts by concerned individuals who worry that they are losing a loved one to the world of conspiracy. Here is a typical example:

My husband and I have been married for over 3 years (been together 5 years).  For the last two years of our marriage, my husband has become obsessed with conspiracy theories.  Initially, I chalked it up as a new hobby/interest.  But lately (over the past year) his obsession has progressed and has me alarmed.  He spends countless hours on the internet researching conspiracy theories, mostly political (i.e.Read the rest

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

James-Randi-LIAR

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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Thoughts on James Randi and His Flat Earth Conference for Superstitious Dorks

James Randi

James Randi

I have a confession to make. Before I started writing for Disinfo about a year and a half ago, I wasn’t really familiar with James Randi. I’d heard his name come up a few times on the internet in comments threads regarding fringe spirituality, but that was about it. Much like Carl Sagan’s utterly retarded book The Demon Haunted World (which I make fun of here), I wasn’t super familiar with his M.O., but the more I delved into this stuff, the more I realized I was always going to have to deal with superstitious idiots referencing his “work”. So finally, a couple of weeks ago I decided to spend a minor amount of time on the interwebs actually digging into who this loser is and how he convinced a bunch of seemingly at least semi-intelligent people to passionately raise their pitchforks at anyone insinuating the legitimacy of psi.… Read the rest

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The Myth of Consistent Skepticism

Skeptical Pug is skeptical

Skeptical Pug is skeptical

Todd C. Riniolo and Lee Nisbet writing in the June 2007 Skeptical Enquirer:

Many readers of the Skeptical Inquirer (the authors included) have labeled or referred to ourselves as “skeptics,” which implies objectivity in our approach to evaluating various claims. However, we all have limitations and built-in biases that hinder our ability to apply the methods of skepticism objectively and consistently. Nonskeptics and professed skeptics alike are equally vulnerable to developing beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous skeptical inquiry. Furthermore, skeptics (like nonskeptics) may refuse to change their viewpoints even in the face of substantial discrediting evidence.

Thus, skeptics would be well served to realize that we are selectively skeptical. Our purpose here is to (a) make clear why no consistent skeptic exists, (b) review the major biases that obstruct our ability to apply skepticism consistently, (c) provide a concrete example of selective skepticism in a great mind (Albert Einstein), and (d) challenge skeptics to reevaluate their own ability to apply the methods of skepticism consistently.

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Science Fails Validity Checks

Picture: Wikimedia Commons (CC)

Picture: Wikimedia Commons (CC)

Science works by building on the work of the past. What happens when you check to make sure that work can be trusted?

via The LA Times:

In today’s world, brimful as it is with opinion and falsehoods masquerading as facts, you’d think the one place you can depend on for verifiable facts is science.

You’d be wrong. Many billions of dollars’ worth of wrong.

A few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology.

The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test — that the original results couldn’t be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.

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On Wittgenstein’s Skepticism of Sacred Geometry

PIC: PD

Pic: PD

“What are the odds?” I said upon discovering an old classmate in the lobby of the very same hotel in St. Thomas where I had just checked in.  “And look, you’re reading Leibniz too!”  My old classmate was carrying a transcript of Leibniz’s letters to Clarke, and I had a copy of his letters to Arnauld in my bag at that very minute.  Just as we were marveling at the incredible coincidence, in walked the professor under whom we had both studied Continental Rationalism — including a good deal of Leibniz — at university!  In his bag was a biography of Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz.

“This is too much,” I said.  “The odds of the three of us arriving here, in the US Virgin Islands, on St. Thomas, in this hotel lobby, on April 4th at 3:00 pm, all carrying books on Leibniz…the odds are astronomical!  This can’t be a coincidence.  The probability of this event happening is nearly zero.  There is some meaning, some purpose, in this.  Of that we can be sure.”

The other two slapped me on the mouth for being an idiot, because the odds of the three of us all arriving in the US Virgin Islands, specifically St.… Read the rest

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Top Ten Good Skeptical Arguments Against Global Warming: Roy Spencer, PhD

Picture: Victor Korniyenko (CC)

Picture: Victor Korniyenko (CC)

Climatologist, author, and former NASA scientist Dr. Roy Spencer offers ten good skeptical arguments against global warming. Raw Story published a response to this via The Guardian, if you’d like to read it.

via Top Ten Good Skeptical Arguments « Roy Spencer, PhD.

As suggested by a friend, I’m following up my Top Ten bad global warming arguments list with a Top Ten good arguments list. These are in no particular order, and I might have missed something important.

These ten were just off the top of my head….there’s no telling what might be lingering deeper in my brain.

I have avoided specific alternative causal mechanisms of natural climate change, because I view them individually as speculative. But taken as a whole, they represent a class of unknowns that can’t be just swept under the rug just because we don’t understand them.

For some reason, all of these ended up being phrased as questions, rather than statements.

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Reductionist Neurophilosopher Dr. Patricia Churchland Awkwardly Ends Skeptiko Interview After Views Are Challenged

Pic: US Govt. (PD)

Pic: US Govt. (PD)

Was host Alex Tsakiris being too aggressive and disrespectful towards the good doctor? Or was Dr. Patricia Churchland – Oxford educated, MacArthur Fellowship awarded, highly regarded academic and author of recent you-are-your-brain book Touching a Nerve – simply ill-prepared for her long-standing beliefs, rooted in scientific materialism, to be contested?

LISTEN HERE: DIRECT DOWNLOAD

(Interview and transcript also available over at Skeptiko)

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The Dumbass Haunted World – When Propaganda Masquerades as Science

sacredsigilservitorBecause last week’s reblogging of Robert Anton Wilson’s rather harsh critique of Carl Sagan resulted in a rather spirited dialogue on my Facebook page (friend me), I did something weird. I decided to take some of my fans advice and actually read a bit of Sagan’s work, which I admitted in the post that I’d never truly done. Sadly, since I spend half my life working a soulless day job, I don’t normally have much time to commit to researching things I intentionally avoid for impromptu rants. But I quite quickly found a PDF of the Demon Haunted World, which is the book several people over the years have told me I absolutely need to read, because it WILL convince me I’m not psychic or something. Ugh, I don’t know what to tell you. I got through eight chapters or so and found myself utterly perplexed and a bit disgusted.… Read the rest

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Public Misperceptions & ESP – Psychical Research Under the Microscope

PIC: Library of Congress (PD)

PIC: Library of Congress (PD)

Anew article in the Guardian highlights a study conducted by the University of Melbourne  (Click Here for the article) looking at people’s ability to cognate observations that occur below their threshold of immediate awareness. More interesting than the results, however, are how they are being framed as a way to discredit psychical research:

“Howe said he started the research after one his students told him that she possessed a sixth sense.

“She said she had the ability to tell if something bad had happened to someone just by looking at them,” he said.

“She said she knew an acquaintance had been in a car accident even though he had no visual markings or injuries. I told her that she may not have been able to verbally label the markings, but she picked up on them and wasn’t consciously aware of them.

“We receive a lot of information we don’t or can’t verbalise.

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