Tag Archives | Skepticism

Want People to Believe in Your Paranormal Experience? Make it Sound “Science-y”

Picture: Harry Price (PD)

In this technological and mechanistic age that good old fashioned ghost stories don’t stand a chance of being accepted as plausible unless you sprinkle a little pseudoscience into the mix. This generation of  flim-flam artists may be just stumbling onto this fact, but fiction writers (as well as some of the earliest ghost-hunters) have known it for years. The protagonists of Bram Stoker’s Dracula bring modern technology to their fight against the eponymous vampire, as do the heroes (and villains) of several H.P. Lovecraft tales such as “The Shunned House”, “From Beyond”. Even Arthur Machen utilized scientific jargon in his classic story of the supernatural (or preternatural?) ”The Great God Pan.”

An interesting study from LiveScience shows that a little techno-babble can go a long way in convincing people of the plausibility of supernatural experiences:

Fans of paranormal reality TV shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” are treated to an array of technical jargon and references to fancy instruments — ion generators, electromagnetic field detectors and video goggles with built-in speech-synthesizers that allegedly can sense spirits.

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PZ Myers Calls Eben Alexander’s Visions Brain-Damaged ‘Bullshit’

Harvard-educated neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander woke up one morning with a bad case of E. Coli eating his brain. Before he could say “alakazam,” his neocortex had shut down completely, while his incorporeal body was whisked away on butterfly wings into the depths of the Infinite Beyond. He saw visions, was given messages, and upon returning to consciousness, wrote down his story, which he summarized for Newsweek.

Upon reading this account, blogging biologist and professional party-pooper PZ Myers basically accuses Dr. Alexander of being retarded.  Relishing in his contempt for any Swedenborgian realities that may lie beyond atoms and the void, Myers wipes his ass with Newsweek on his famous science blog Pharyngula:

I’ve got to wonder who is responsible for this nonsense, and how it gets past the staff at Newsweek. Every once in a while, they’ve just got to put up a garish cover story touting the reality of Christian doctrine, and invariably, the whole story is garbage.

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Arctic Ice Melt is ‘Decades Ahead’ of Previous Models

Picture: Stefan Lins (CC)

The climate scientists are wrong again!  Via Common Dreams:

In lieu of recent statistics showing ‘unprecedented’ and ‘amazing’ Arctic sea ice melt at record levels, leading climate scientist Michael Mann stated this week that rising water levels are “decades ahead of schedule” and that “Island nations that have considered the possibility of evacuation at some point, like Tuvalu, may have to be contending those sort of decisions within the matter of a decade or so.”

Arctic sea ice is “declining faster than the models predict,” Mann, who is the director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told the Guardian this week.

“When you look at the major Greenland and the west Antarctic ice sheets, which are critical from the standpoint of sea level rise, once they begin to melt we really start to see sea level rises accelerate.”

“The models have typically predicted that will not happen for decades but the measurements that are coming in tell us it is already happening so once again we are decades ahead of schedule.”

“Island nations that have considered the possibility of evacuation at some point, like Tuvalu, may have to be contending those sort of decisions within the matter of a decade or so.”

Perhaps the AGW denial psy-op is part of the Illuminatis’ depopulation plan?

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Time for Dogmatists to Put their Cards on the Table.

Adelaide Now has an interesting, and in my opinion misjudged, editorial piece on Tarot cards at the moment:

A SURPRISINGLY honest tarot reader at “Psychic Tarot Insights” has tried to locate Jill Meagher.
Here’s the surprisingly honest (if understated) bit: “Tarot is not considered 100 per cent accurate by law and I cannot claim to solve issues, only show what I have in the cards.”

They go on to say: “Something must have happened quickly; that there was a male person, stronger than her; there might be a car, something, something, rural area, something, something, eight weeks, something, something, sex and weapons and southeast and someone tall and strong. And a horse. Maybe a church. A dog.”

Other possible links are: “Deserts, woods, obscure valleys, caves, dens, holes, mountains, churchyards, ruined buildings, coalmines, muddy places, wells, houses, offices.

“Perhaps some of this information will help, can’t be sure until information comes in to verify it,” they conclude.

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Connecticut Vampires in a Naive Skeptic’s Court

Can you trust skepticism that isn’t based on a firm grasp of our collective history? After just penning a piece for The Teeming Brain on the serious case of cultural amnesia that our media representatives seem to enjoy regarding Isaac Newton’s mystical proclivities, I run across Sharon Hill, a leading cultural critic and skeptic with a background in Geology, writing for Doubtful News, and her brief dismissal of historical depth in a post that links to a Smithsonian article on 19th century vampire beliefs. Hill’s commentary shows a similarly stunted viewpoint as the authors of the Newton articles, only she is not just a journalist, but someone who claims to be working to educate the public on scientific rationality:

“In 1854, in Jewett City, Connecticut, townspeople had exhumed several corpses suspected to be vampires that were rising from their graves to kill the living. Yes. 1854.”

Now, I admit I’m a bit biased because I’d rather have my Forteana reported in sober academic fashion, or by a breathless Keelian storytellers (the Smithsonian article that Doubtful News links to is a nice mix of both.)  However, stories filtered through naiveté, like the pontification surrounding this one on Doubtful News, show why a passive skeptical attitude can get in the way of deeper encounters with the churning waters of the cultural mythosphere.… Read the rest

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Are You an Internet Kook? Quite Possibly.

Via The Daily Dot.

You’re probably an “internet kook”. Heck, we all probably are, at least according to a list created by Dale Jensen. Jensen claims to have identified eight signs that may indicate that a writer is an “internet kook”. While I have the sneaking suspicion that the purpose of such lists is to make it easier to dismiss troubling ideas wholesale as the work of a “kook”, I’m sure that there will be others who disagree with me. And you know what? They’re kooks. I can tell by looking at this list…

1) “Don’t believe me? Do your own research.”

According to Jensen this is such a telltale phrase that it’s the first item on his list for identifying when someone is over-invested and using a sensible directive to justify irrational beliefs. It’s especially likely, Jensen says, if they repeat the phrase or apply it to a subject for which research is impossible, like the existence of God.

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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Ball Lightning…It’s Swamp Gas…It’s SKY SHARK!

“You yell UFO, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell Sky Shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

Via Forgetomori:

Last month, video shot of a purported UFO by Brazilian teenagers caused a bit of a stir in skeptical and UFO-friendly circles alike. The footage of a shiny, spherical object cruising through a beautiful, blue sky certainly looked like the real thing, but as it turned out, the “UFO” had an Earthly origin – albeit a highly amusing one: It was a remote-controlled helium shark manufactured under the name “Air Swimmers“.

After receiving its due 15 minutes of fame via quick-on-the-trigger local media, the flying fish was revealed to be the property of a neighbor.

Here’s some footage of the shark over the skies of Brazil. Click through to view a commercial for the product:

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Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate

Picture: Wikimedia Commons (CC)

It seems only fair for journalism to examine every side of an issue, but what if a controversy isn’t a legitimate debate, but specifically created for the purposes of confusion and bias? Industry, politicians and religions manufacture misinformation, which is caught in the echo chamber of our lazy, uncritical mainstream media, and filtered to a harried general populace, who are often more concerned with ethical considerations than scientific nuances anyway. Corporate advertisers engage in ‘organized doubt’ campaigns, essentially changing what science and skepticism are all about.

via Environmental Health Perspectives:

In one of the keynote talks at the Science Writing in the Age of Denial Conference, UW–Madison genetics and molecular biology professor Sean Carroll outlined what he calls “a general manual of denialism”—six tactics used time and again in denial campaigns since at least the nineteenth century. First, cast doubt on the science. Second, question the personal motives and integrity of the scientists.

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Let’s Get Bigfoot…By Ridiculing Anyone Who Believes in Him

Picture: Ashish S. Hareet (CC)

Salon.com has published an essay on cryptozoology, UFOs and other Fortean pursuits by Busy Monsters author William Geraldi. It’s as dismissive as you’d expect it to be (and undoubtedly rightfully so, as some readers might think), and downright smug at moments.

Take Geraldi’s swipe at cryptozoologists in this paragraph on the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film:

It didn’t occur to me as a kid that the name of the creek in which the footage was shot, Bluff Creek, was a clue to Roger Patterson’s shaky relationship with veracity. Still, educated experts with the best software ever devised haven’t been able to prove conclusively that the footage is a hoax, and so grown men with a child’s inextinguishable wonder — they call themselves cryptozoologists — continue to pursue a North American apeman. Half of me wants to help these unemployable man-boys study for the high school equivalency test, but the other half quietly applauds their dopey dedication and yearns to join their rowdy jaunt.

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