The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.
Yesterday, July 20th, was the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first and second humans to walk on the surface of another world. This is, to be sure, one of the greatest achievements of the human species.
There are those, however, who claim that we never sent astronauts to the moon, that the entire thing was an elaborate hoax by the US, meant to intimidate our rivals with our spacefaring prowess. As is typical of most grand conspiracy theories, they have no actual evidence to support their claim. None of the many people who would have to have been involved have come forward to confess their involvement. No government documents have come to light, no secret studios have been revealed. There is no footage accidentally revealing stage equipment.
What the moon hoax theorists have is anomaly hunting. This is the process of looking for something – anything – that does not seem to fit or that defies easy explanation, and then declaring it evidence that the standard story if false. Conspiracy theorists then slip in their preferred conspiracy narrative to take its place. Sometimes they are more coy, claiming to be “just asking questions” (also known as jaqing off), but their agenda is clear.
Genuine anomalies are of significant interest to science and any investigation, no question. For an apparent anomaly to be useful, however, mundane explanations need to be vigorously ruled out (conspiracy theorists tend to skip that part). Only when genuine attempts to explain apparent anomalies have failed to provide any plausible explanation should it be considered a true anomaly deserving of attention.
At that point the answer to the anomaly is, “we currently don’t know,” not “it’s a conspiracy.”
The reason that anomalies, in and of themselves, are not very predictive that something unusual is going on, is that they represent one method of mining vast amounts of data looking for desired patterns. Conspiracy theorists, in essence, make the argument (or simply implication) that where there is smoke there is fire, and then offer apparent anomalies as the smoke. This is a false premise, however. If apparent anomalies count as smoke, then there is smoke everywhere, even without fires.
In other words, any historical event is going to have countless moving parts, curious details, apparent coincidences, and complex chains of contingency. Further, people themselves often have complex motivations contingent upon the quirky details of their lives. All of this is raw material for apparent anomalies. It would be remarkable if you couldn’t find apparent anomalies when combing through the details of an historical event.
Here are some of the alleged anomalies that moon hoax conspiracy theorists have pointed out over the years.
Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.
The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious. Over the past decade, the controversy surrounding GMOs has sparked worldwide riots and the vandalism of crops in Oregon, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines. In May, the governor of Vermont signed a law that will likely make it the first U.S. state to require labels for genetically engineered ingredients; more than 50 nations already mandate them. Vermont State Senator David Zuckerman told Democracy Now!, “As consumers, we are guinea pigs, because we really don’t understand the ramifications.”
But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait. Biologists also introduce genes to make plants pest- and herbicide-resistant; those traits dominate the more than 430 million acres of GMO crops that have already been planted globally. Scientists are working on varieties that survive disease, drought, and flood.
So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.
Humans have been manipulating the genes of crops for millennia by selectively breeding plants with desirable traits. (A perfect example: the thousands of apple varieties.) Virtually all of our food crops have been genetically modified in some way. In that sense, GMOs are not radical at all. But the technique does differ dramatically from traditional plant breeding.
Here’s how it works: Scientists extract a bit of DNA from an organism, modify or make copies of it, and incorporate it into the genome of the same species or a second one. They do this by either using bacteria to deliver the new genetic material, or by shooting tiny DNA-coated metal pellets into plant cells with a gene gun. While scientists can’t control exactly where the foreign DNA will land, they can repeat the experiment until they get a genome with the right information in the right place.
That process allows for greater precision. “With GMOs, we know the genetic information we are using, we know where it goes in the genome, and we can see if it is near an allergen or a toxin or if it is going to turn [another gene] off,” says Peggy G. Lemaux, a plant biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is not true when you cross widely different varieties in traditional breeding.”
It depends on how you define new. Genetically engineered plants first appeared in the lab about 30 years ago and became a commercial product in 1994. Since then, more than 1,700 peer-reviewed safety studies have been published, including five lengthy reports from the National Research Council, that focus on human health and the environment. The scientific consensus is that existing GMOs are no more or less risky than conventional crops.
So-called terminator genes, which can make seeds sterile, never made it out of the patent office in the 1990s. Seed companies do require farmers to sign agreements that prohibit replanting in order to ensure annual sales, but Kent Bradford, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis, says large-scale commercial growers typically don’t save seeds anyway. Corn is a hybrid of two lines from the same species, so its seeds won’t pass on the right traits to the next generation. Cotton and soy seeds could be saved, but most farmers don’t bother. “The quality deteriorates—they get weeds and so on—and it’s not a profitable practice,” Bradford says.
GMOs alone probably won’t solve the planet’s food problems. But with climate change and population growth threatening food supplies, genetically modified crops could significantly boost crop output. “GMOs are just one tool to make sure the world is food-secure when we add two billion more people by 2050,” says Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “It’s not the only answer, and it is not essential, but it is certainly one good thing in our arsenal.”
Many people worry that genetic engineering introduces hazardous proteins, particularly allergens and toxins, into the food chain. It’s a reasonable concern: Theoretically, it’s possible for a new gene to express a protein that provokes an immune response. That’s why biotech companies consult with the Food and Drug Administration about potential GMO foods and perform extensive allergy and toxicity testing. Those tests are voluntary but commonplace; if they’re not done, the FDA can block the products.
One frequently cited study, published in 2012 by researchers from the University of Caen in France, claimed that one of Monsanto’s corn GMOs caused tumors in lab rats. But the study was widely discredited because of faulty test methods, and the journal retracted it in 2013. More recently, researchers from the University of Perugia in Italy published a review of 1,783 GMO safety tests; 770 examined the health impact on humans or animals. They found no evidence that the foods are dangerous.
It sounds like something out of the Uncharted series, but it’s true: the Nazi party poured millions into a quest to discover lost civilizations.
Truther, a term that came from the 9/11 Truth movement, but has become more than just an ironic and demeaning term for 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
A Truther can be someone believes in conspiracy theories other than the 9/11 conspiracy theories.
With this in mind I’ve taken a look at these people, and while I’ve noticed alot of traits about them, I’ve narrowed it down to about five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about Truthers:
5. It’s a broad and encompassing term.
For most people when they hear the word “Truther” they think of someone whom is apart of the 9/11 Truth movement, or just someone whom believes the myth that the US government, or Israel, or the Illuminati committed the 9/11 attacks. While this is true, “Truther” has become a more broad term and could include not just a member of the 9/11 Truth movement, but any conspiracy theory.
What a Truther really is is a type of conspiracy theorist that both claims they want to know the truth about a conspiracy theory, and then claims they already know what the truth is, but in reality it’s anything but the truth.
Think of this type of person as someone whom asks you where the nearest large body of water is and you tell them that there is a pond 100 feet behind them, but they don’t believe you and then tell you that nearest large body of water is two miles away, despite the fact that the pond is clearly behind them, and all they would have to do is turn around to see it. Even if they do turn around they’ll just insist that it’s not really a large body of water.
That’s another thing about Truthers…
4. They keep “Moving the Goalposts“.
For anyone who has had a “conversation” with a Truther type of conspiracy theorist you probably already know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t I’ll explain.
Truthers, when confronted with evidence and/or logical arguments that contradicts or disproves their conspiracy theories, will often claim that what is being presented to them is not enough evidence to disprove what they are claiming isn’t true, or that the evidence that you are presenting to them isn’t true, and in either case they will claim to need more.
When a skeptic gets into an argument with a Truther and they start doing this a person like myself will usually determine that either the Truther is too dumb to realize what they are doing, or too deluded to realize what they are doing, or are in serious denial and are trying to hold on to what they believe or want to believe is real, but somewhere in their minds they know they’re wrong.
Besides just “Moving the Goalposts” another tactic that Truthers like to use is…
3. They call everyone that disagrees with them a shill.
Truthers are under the assumption that they are right, and that everyone else who does not agree with is wrong. For those that continue to insist that the Truther is wrong then the Truther just seems to naturally assume the skeptic is either a sheep that has not “woken up” to “the truth” (their truth mind you) or someone who is being paid to say what they are saying.
What is a homeopathic drug?
“I would say it’s an herbal supplement that is prescribed by a doctor.”
“Just a little bit of active substance.”
Stop! You’re all wrong. By definition, a homeopathic drug is one that contains no active ingredients at all. None! Not a single molecule. That’s what homeopathic means.
But look at the ingredients. This one shows a 30C amount of Kali Bichromicum Powder. It’s listed, so it should be in there, right? Wrong. The only things actually in this product are the inactive ingredients, lactose, sucrose, or cellulose. Note the amount shown of the supposedly active ingredient: 30C.
What does that mean?
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
I didn’t realize what a fuss there still was over the sinking of the Titanic.
Okay, I know that it has some cachet as one of the biggest shipping disasters in history. I know it was made into a movie, with heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. (What, the movie isn’t named Jack Dawson’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Really Bad Day?) I know that the theme music, wherein Celine Dion’s heart goes on and on and on and on and on and on, was played an average of 1,389,910 times a day for a year after the movie opened.
But really: what’s the big deal? [spoiler alert] The ship sinks. Lots of people drown. End of story.
But no, that’s not all there is to it, some folks say — and by “some folks” I mean “people with the IQ of a bar of soap.” Because we haven’t discussed why the Titanic sank. And it wasn’t because it ran into a great big hunk of ice.
Oh, no, that would be way too logical.
You can forget about all of that. No iceberg necessary. According to a new theory, the Titanic sank because a bunch of time travelers from the future went back to witness the Titanic sinking from on board the ship itself, and the extra weight of the passengers is what caused the ship to sink.
Now, wait, you may be saying, at least after you recover from the faceplant you undoubtedly did after reading this novel claim. “If the time travelers are what caused it to sink, then how did anyone know it had sunk, since the ship had to sink in order for the time travelers to know to come back in time to watch it sink?”
Well, if you asked that question, all I can say is . . .
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
The Gore Effect has struck again. Al Baby recently visited Canberra accompanied by his usual blizzard to try to convince the tiny band of eccentrics that held the balance of power in the Senate to vote to keep the “carbon” tax that has been pointlessly crippling the Australian economy.
He failed. The Senate upheld the vote in the House to bring the doomed CO2 tax to a timely end. The Australian Labor Party, which had unwisely introduced the hated tax for the sake of clinging on to office for a few more months with the support of the now-decimated Greens, is belatedly trying to whip up support from a skeptical nation for a repeal of the repeal.
Bob Carter, whose measured, eloquent and authoritative lectures all over Australia putting the minuscule global warming of the 20th century into the calming perspective of geological time…
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I found this very interesting.
This is the purest water you can find – nothing but pure hydrogen and oxygen atoms – and if you drink it regularly it WILL KILL YOU. This is because pure water will suck the minerals and electrolytes out of your body.
I found this interesting because conspiracists like Alex Jones are always pushing their fellow mad hatters to purify their water. As it turns out, if the water is too pure, it will turn your body room temperature.
Description from SPLOID:
It may sound like a good idea to drink the purest water you can find, but as this video explains, that is not actually the case. Ultra pure water has no impurities—so absolutely no taste and who wants that—but also in large quantities it will harm and even kill you because it will leach the minerals from your body.
By Chip Taylor via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI
With a half a century plus of interest in UFOs, astronomy, and science, I’ve despaired that in all that time I’ve never seen a real UFO. (With emphasis on what the “U” stands for of course.) I’ve seen bolides (really bright meteors), nighttime aerial refueling operations by USAF jets, odd contrails, space satellites, balloons, kites, birds, and insects. Some of these were initially unidentified, but only for a brief moment. Thus it was fascinating, weird, puzzling, and astonishing that in September of 2012 I actually got to see a real UFO that didn’t seem to fit any sort of known aerial object.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon I was participating in a ham radio contest on Block Island, which is about a dozen miles off the Rhode Island mainland. It was one of those casual contests where there is plenty of free time to enjoy the day and watch the views. And there were a lot of things to watch. My friend and I were on an open roof deck of a house on the highest point of the Island on a crystal clear day with visibility to the horizon. Binoculars at hand, I was watching planes come and go at the nearby airport, sailboats off shore, an advertising blimp hovering between Narragansett and Newport, and birds flying about. Not a thing out of the ordinary.
And then, through the binoculars, I suddenly saw it: some kind of craft or “thing“ flying parallel to the distant shore at an estimated speed of perhaps thirty miles per hour. Too far away to see without binoculars, and even with them all I could make out was a parallelogram-shaped craft moving very slowly and into the wind. There was no sign of anything towing it and no sign of wings or motors. That was strange enough, but as it moved along it seemed to change shape: sometimes it was almost square, sometimes almost cigar shaped, but often getting shorter or longer as I watched. The shoreline was about eight or nine miles away I guessed, and if this object was directly above the beach then it would have to be quite large—dozens of feet long and high.
I watched for several minutes and finally thought to take a photo or two. About a minute afterward it dove steeply down and disappeared behind some low hills that were a short distance behind the beach. That steep dive seemed unusual. What was back there? Where did it go? What was it? Well, I was in the middle of a radio contest (My partner was so engrossed with the radio he didn’t even bother to check out this weird craft), I was quite comfortable that I wasn’t seeing alien visitation or biblical angels, so an investigation would have to wait.
Once back home it was time to see if I could determine just what it was that I saw.
In 1998 then Doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study in the medical journal The Lancet that claimed that the MMR vaccine causes autism, which was later found to be not true but still lead to a worldwide increase of measles cases, and in the end destroyed Wakefield’s career.
There are many things that I’ve noticed about Andrew Wakefield (none of them good) and I’ve come up with about five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about Andrew Wakefield:
5. He committed a terrible fraud.
I’m sure that everybody is aware that his aforementioned “study” was retracted in 2010 by The Lancet after a long investigation by the British Medical Journal and journalist Brian Deer. The investigation showed that not only had he manipulated the data in his study, it also found that he had patented his own measles vaccine a year before publishing his study, and that the study was funded by lawyers who sued vaccine manufactures.
To better understand how Wakefield manipulated the data in his study, please watch this video by Youtube science vlogger C0nc0rdance:
As awful as his fraud was it would not have been as bad as it became if it wasn’t for the fact that so many people took his study seriously and decided not to vaccinate their children because of it. This has directly resulted in the world wide increases of measles and mumps infections and infections from other diseases as well because many people were not vaccinating themselves or their children due to fear of any vaccines, a fear that was brought on by Wakefield’s study, which has also lead to numerous unnecessary deaths.
As for Wakefield himself his fraudulent study lead to his own career being ruined and his name being struck off the UK medical register, making it illegal for him to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.
4. He turned parents into paranoid liars.
One of the direct results of Andrew Wakefield’s study is that many parents have become paranoid of vaccines and have chosen not to vaccinate their children despite being legally obligated to do so in many places before they enter them into school, and the fact that it’s just good common sense to do so.
Inorder to keep their children in school while at the same time keep them un-vaccinated parents will often lie to health officials and school officials about either their religious or philosophical beliefs inorder to get a vaccine exemption for their child.
Other things that some parents will do inorder to fool health and school officials is that they will go to a fake doctor (ex. Naturopath, Homeopath) and get them to write up an exemption from getting vaccinate for their children, or write up they vaccinate the child when really they didn’t.
These types of actions are dangerous not only to the children whose parents did not vaccinate them, but also to anyone that couldn’t get vaccinated for a legitimate medical reason, or those who the vaccine didn’t immunize them for some reason.
3. He’s become the Lord Voldemort of science and medicine.
Much like Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter book series Andrew Wakefield’s name is something you don’t use in a discussion about science and medicine, unless he is used as an example for when bad or fraudulent research is taken to seriously by the public.
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
The political target of limiting the effect of Man-made global warming to only +2⁰C can never be attained.
Guest essay by Ed Hoskins
According to well understood physical parameters, the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas diminishes logarithmically with increasing concentration and from the current level of ~390 ppmv, (parts per million by volume). Accordingly only ~5% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas remains beyond the current level.
This inconvenient fact is well understood in the climate science community. It can be accurately modeled using the Modtran program maintained and supported at the University of Chicago.
The logarithmic diminution of the effect of CO2 is probably the reason why there was no runaway greenhouse warming from CO2 in earlier eons when CO2 levels were known to be at levels of several thousands ppmv.
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This is not conspiratorial but i am ROFLMAO! This is unbelievable!
Originally posted on Duck Duck Gray Duck:
A dissatisfied Comcast subscriber’s attempt to cancel his service led to a hellish nightmare 18-minute-phone conversation last weekend. Ryan Block posted a recording of the last eight minutes of his call to Comcast customer service. The representative’s belligerent tone is just one of the many reasons I am not a customer of this company.
Comcast was recently ranked by the American Customer Service Index as having the second-worst customer service of any internet or subscription television provider in the country. The only company that ranked lower was Time Warner, which Comcast recently bought for $45 billion pending approval from federal regulators. via
Are religious-based twelve step programs better at stopping addiction than other programs?
In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was formed by two men struggling for sobriety, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Theirs was a new type of program in that it formalized a series of twelve steps that an alcoholic must follow in order to get sober and stay that way. The original Alcoholics Anonymous was only the first of many such programs set up to address just about every type of addiction and obsessive behavior you can think of: Overeaters Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Underearners Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and even Online Gamers Anonymous. Today we’re going to look a bit into the history of twelve stepping and also how it compares to mainstream psychological treatment of addiction, but mainly into the most important question: Does it work?
It’s impossible to discuss the history of the twelve steps without acknowledging that it is first a religious practice, and second a recovery method. Seven of the twelve steps invoke God. This is the main thing that separates it from medical or psychological addiction treatments that are primarily targeted at the biochemical and psychological causes of addiction. So let’s get started by reviewing the actual twelve steps, and these are the steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:
Wilson and Smith were both from an evangelical Christian organization called the Oxford Group, and the twelve steps they formalized were reminiscent of practices from the Oxford Group. It had standards it called the Four Absolutes (honesty, purity, unselfishness, love), a set of four spiritual practices, and the “Five Cs” procedures: confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, and continuance. Thus, salvation through evangelical Christianity was deeply interwoven with the concept of twelve stepping. In the words of Bob Wilson:
“…Early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Rev. Sam Shoemaker, their former religious counsel in America, and from nowhere else.”
Because of this, twelve step programs have been strongly criticized, usually by people who dropped out of the programs for one reason or another, and became disgruntled. Some have written books and devoted whole web sites to the idea that twelve stepping is just a bait-and-switch program; come to stop your addiction, but stay to join our church. It’s the same criticism that’s been leveled at Scientology’s Narcanon; it promises to help you get off drugs, but is in reality just a side door into the Church of Scientology.
Just hang in until the 1:15 minute mark. You WON’T be disappointed. Trust me.
We partnered with “Weird Al” to create this music video for his new album, “Mandatory Fun.” Also featuring Patton Oswalt, Tom Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant.
“Weird Al” Yankovic’s new album Mandatory Fun out now: http://smarturl.it/MandatoryFun
The psychic technique of remote viewing is consistent with simple, well known magic tricks.
Today we’re going to sit in a quiet room and draw sketchy pictures of — well, of anything, really — and claim psychic powers, for we’re demonstrating the amazing psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”
Remote viewing was made popular beginning in the 1970′s, when some in the US intelligence community grew concerned that the Soviets had better psychics than we did. $20 million was appropriated to test the skills of a group of psychics called remote viewers. Supposedly, you could ask them a question about some place, and they’d use psychic abilities to draw you a picture of whatever’s going on there, and it was hoped that this would lead to useful intelligence. Project Stargate, and a few others like it, was canceled by the 1990′s, due to a lack of reliable results. Proponents of Project Stargate say that the US government’s investment in the project proves that it had merit. Critics point out that the funding was stopped, and say that if merit had been found, funding would have at least been continued, if not dramatically increased. We can be reasonably assured that the project did not move underground with renewed funding, since the participants have all long since gone public with full disclosure of what happened. Since none of them have turned up mysteriously disappeared, we can safely assume that the government is not too concerned about this supposedly “classified” information.
The most famous remote viewer to emerge from these projects is a man named Joseph McMoneagle. Today he offers his remote viewing services on a consulting basis, and in 1994 he went on the television show “Put to the Test” to show just what he could do. [This] is a clip from the show … and if you want, … watch it, form your own opinion, then [read] my comments.
What you’ll find is that the show’s unabashed endorsement of his abilities contributes largely to the perception of his success, but if you really listen to the statements he makes, and look at the drawings he produces, you’ll find little similarity to what he was supposed to identify. They took him to Houston, Texas and sent a target person to one of four chosen locations. McMoneagle’s task was to draw what she saw, thus determining where she was. They edited the 15 minute session down to just a couple of minutes for the show, so you’ve got to figure that they probably left in only the most significant hits and edited out all of the misses.
The four locations were a life size treehouse in a giant tree, a tall metal waterslide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, and the Water Wall, a huge cement fountain structure. Here is what McMoneagle said:
That’s it – those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and then set about finding matches to Joe’s statements. Suddenly, nearly all of Joe’s statements made perfect sense! Certainly there’s a river nearby. There was a traffic bridge in the distance: traffic, pedestrians, near, far, no big difference. Metallic noise and something big: there was a ship at the dock, but if you ask me what kind of noise a ship makes, metallic is not the word I’d use. And that platform with a black stripe? Could be a ship.
I argue that the target person could have been . . .
Project STARGATE: Psychic Soldiers via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Project STARGATE may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for years taxpayer cash funded experiments with psychic powers. Tune in to learn more about the Cold War psychics — and why some people believe these programs continue today.
Alternative Medicine’s best friend, and in my opinion largely responsible for what popularity it has, is a gullible media. I had thought we were turning a corner, and the press were over the gushing maximally clueless approach to CAM, and were starting to at least ask some probing questions (like, you know, does it actually work), but a 2006 BBC documentary inspires a more pessimistic view.
The documentary is part of a BBC series hosted by Kathy Sykes: Alternative Medicine, The Evidence. This episode is on acupuncture. The episode is from 2006, but was just posted on YouTube as a “2014 documentary.” Unfortunately, old news frequently has a second life on social media.
First, let me point out that Sykes is a scientist (a fact she quickly points out). She is a physicist, which means that she has the credibility of being able to say she is a scientist but has absolutely no medical training. It’s the worst case scenario – she brings the credibility of being a scientist, and probably thinks that her background prepares her to make her own judgments about the evidence, and yet clearly should have relied more on real experts.
She does interview Edzard Ernst in the documentary, but he mainly just says generic statements about science, rather than a thorough analysis of specific claims. I wonder what gems from him were left on the cutting room floor.
The documentary does get better in the second half, as she starts to mention things like placebo effects, and the problems with the evidence-base for acupuncture. But she follows a disappointing format – setting up a scientific premise, then focusing on the positive evidence. There is a clear narrative throughout, that acupuncture is amazing and surprising.
I was in a discussion forum and somebody asked me to explain The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. I started typing when i remembered a video from several years ago that will explain it better than i can write it.
Enjoy, my friend :)
After World War II, conspiracy theorists started making increasingly strange claims about the Nazi party: One of the strangest claims concerns magic.
Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills.
An old story regarding a hammer found encased within rock has recently resurfaced. It came to us in a question: is this hammer, the London Hammer, an example of an out of place artifact (OOPart) that calls into question geology, archeology, and the natural history of the Earth? Let’s take a look.
The article that was shared with me is from Epoch Times, written by Tara MacIsaac. From the article:
A hammer was found in London, Texas, in 1934 encased in stone that had formed around it. The rock surrounding the hammer is said to be more than 100 million years old, suggesting the hammer was made well before humans who could have made such an object are thought to have existed.
If this were true, it would be quite interesting. In fairness to Epoch Times and Ms. MacIsaac, the article does do a decent job presenting some of the evidence. I’d ask for a bit more of a scientific inquiry tone to the piece, but there have been far worse examples of reporting than this one.
The London Hammer is well known to those who follow the debates and discussions around OOParts. You may recall that I blogged about OOParts last year. In that piece, I mentioned a good site to explore for bad archeology claims, named, of course, Bad Archaeology. They had a short write up on the London Hammer saying:
I just happened to be perusing the latest edition of the National Enquirer (it just happened to be lying around my house) when i came across this story about Hillary Clinton’s “Deadly Health Secrets.”
As i was reading the story i glimpsed the picture of Hillary lying face-down on the floor at the bottom of some stairs and i thought to myself … wait, what? A picture of Hillary lying face-down at the bottom of some stairs?!? I had to do a double take! Even the colors of the shirt and hair are similar!!!! (Sneak a peek at the image below)
After i stopped laughing out loud at the obvious blunder of this ad placement, i thought to myself, “how long before some conspiracist accuses the National Enquirer of using subliminal messaging for some kind of nefarious plot?”
What kind of plot? I don’t have any idea – they’ll create something. But if Hillary EVER slips down some stairs we’ll never hear the end of this coincidence.
Anyway, i thought this was hysterical so i made this image for reposting.
Enjoy your Friday evening :)
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Yesterday I saw an article making rounds on pro-science and anti-anti-vaccination Facebook pages that was written by a “Christian” blogger who was claiming that God does not support vaccines. (Read the article here)
The author of the article uses several classic anti-vaccination claims to spread her propaganda, although the one that was mostly talked about in that article is the claim that vaccines contain parts from aborted fetuses, which is false.
She combines this along with passages from the bible and her “interpretation” of those passages in an attempt to make it seem like God does not approve of vaccines.
Before I begin I’m very well aware that many of you reading this are atheists, but for the moment just for fun consider the possibly that God exists, and if you are someone that believes that God exists then please and hear what I have to say.
First, God is, according to Judea-Christian beliefs, an all powerful being that created the Universe and everything about it, including what does and does not work.
If God is all powerful and didn’t want people to use vaccines, then couldn’t God just will vaccines not to work?
I asked this question in the comments section, and the author responded to me:
First, before anyone points it out I believe she meant to say (although I could be wrong) that research into vaccines have not been proven to be clinically effective. This is ofcourse not true. Vaccines are very effective, and there are multiple published research papers showing how effective vaccines are. Doing a simple Google Scholar search for vaccine effectiveness will bring up thousands of papers concerning vaccine effectiveness.
The second thing the author claims is that no vaccines have a life time immunity. This is completely false.
Certain vaccines (as seen here) only provide immunity for a few years, but for other vaccines they could give a person immunity against a disease for the rest of their life, although for most additional vaccinations are recommend just to be safe, and with certain vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, getting another vaccination several years after the first one is usually all that it takes for lifetime immunity.
I replied to the author’s reply to my comment pointing these things out to her, and also once again asking her the question if . . .
Has technology ever been able to reliably discriminate between lies and truths?
A lot of people, like police officers and gamblers, think they can tell when a person is lying. But what we’ve always longed for is hard data; testable, mechanical proof that a subject is telling the truth or lying. For a long time, the standard has been the polygraph machine. Unfortunately it’s also widely believed to be unreliable and to be inadmissible in a court of law, so today we’re going to look at the hard data to see what polygraphs can and cannot do, and what other lie detection techniques may be on the immediate horizon, and how they fare in comparison. So put out that fire on your pants, and sit back.
Polygraph machines haven’t changed much since the earliest versions were introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century. They combine readings of blood pressure, respiration, pulse rate, and skin conductance, graphing these out with moving needles on a paper scroll. The idea is that these readings will change based on your stress level as you tell a lie. While that basic concept is sound, the problem — and it’s a big one — is that any real effect is lost under a sea of other variables. Not only can the subject manipulate all of those readings with simple actions (biting the tongue, poking oneself with a hidden sharp object or fingernail, or even clinching the anal sphincter muscle), but the results are highly dependent upon the interaction between the subject and the polygrapher.
A large part of a polygraph test consists of the presentation. The machine is intended to be intimidating, as are all the wires and sensors attached to the subject’s body; as are actions by the polygrapher such as marking with a pen on the scroll at mysterious intervals. The polygrapher always begins by making you feel that you are very easy to read; for example, by asking you to lie to an innocent question like whether you’re wearing blue jeans, and then looking at the results and reacting as if you are the most comically easiest person to read ever. The whole show is designed to make you anxious about lying; so that if you do lie during the test, your stress will hopefully rise high enough above the noise level to actually give a useful reading. If you go in knowing all of this, knowing that you’re not overmatched and that this is a fair fight, you’ve got a great chance of yielding no useful results, whether you have anything to hide or not.
But more than that, the reading of polygraph results is completely subjective. There was a famous case in 1978 of a man named Floyd “Buzz” Fay, arrested for a murder he had nothing to do with, and who was convicted based on a polygrapher’s analysis of a lie detector test. Fay’s appeal included reports from four other polygraphers who examined the same charts and concluded there was no evidence of any deception. Fay was ultimately released when other investigations found the true killer, and he then became a keystone of the fight against the use of polygraph tests in courts.
Fay was not the only data point. In 1983 . . .
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
by E. Calvin Beisner and J.C. Keister
How fast are Greenland and Antarctica losing ice?
If you trust the National Climate Assessment (NCA), you’ll think, “Very fast!” And that’s intentional. The aim is to provoke fear so the American public will support the Obama administration’s aim to spend $Trillions fighting global warming.
Here’s how the NCA (in Appendix 4, FAQ-L) depicts the rate of loss from the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica:
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Part 1 via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, have fundamentally changed the nature of warfare. But who controls them? What are they doing, and why?
Part 2 via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have changed the nature of war. But where are they flying, and what are they doing? The answers might surprise you.
Many skeptics (including myself) consider these people to be the lowest of the low.
There are actually two different types of these conspiracy theorists: those who think that the massacre at the elementary school was a false flag attack, and those that think that it didn’t even happen at all, more commonly called Sandy Hook Hoaxers.
Today I’m going to focus on the lesser human of the two, the Hoaxers.
Now I have noticed a lot of things about these “people”, but I’ve narrowed it down to five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about Sandy Hook Hoax conspiracy theorists:
5. They’re psychopaths.
Many Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists display behaviors that to some people would be similar to psychopathy.
Most of the believers in this conspiracy theory show no empathy or sadness towards the adults and children that were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, nor do they show any empathy towards the people that lost loved ones that day.
Some conspiracy theorists have even been in an active campaign of harassment against survivors and people who lost loved ones in that massacre, much of which has been very volatile and vial. Even those that don’t engage in any harassment do often give support and encouragement to those that do.
Worst yet many of them, especially the ones that engage in harassment, will try to “justify” their behavior by claiming that the massacre didn’t happen, or that they have every right to do what they’re doing (which they don’t).
Even if they do sincerely believe that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary didn’t happen it doesn’t justify their behavior, because they should be taking into consideration that that the massacre there did happen and that what they are doing is very hurtful, but they’re not doing so.
Many of them also don’t seem to understand or care that they’re behavior could have some severe consequences for them, such as being arrested and going to jail and even prison. And speaking of being arrested and going to jail and prison…
4. They’re criminals.
Many of these Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists since the massacre happened have been engaging in a unorganized campaign of internet based harassment against the parents of the children who were murdered, as well as anyone else who was involved with the events of that day.
The harassment in itself is a criminal action, but over the months it has de-evolved into more serious crimes, such as stalking, threats, and even vandalism. There is some speculation that it may be a matter of time before one of these conspiracy theorists finally goes off the deep end and tries to kill one of the parents of the murdered children, or someone whom was involved with the events of that day.
Even those that don’t engage in any criminal actions could be considered criminals by-proxy, either by encouraging and giving support to those that do engage in harassment, or to a lesser extent condoning or just not condemning such behavior.
3. They’re mentally ill.
I know that most skeptics tend to call certain conspiracy theorists crazy as a means of insulting them (whether we realize that or not), but in the case of Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists many of them have shown signs of having real and perhaps severe mental health issues.
Many of these conspiracy theorists show definite signs of . . .
Intro by Mason I. Bilderberg
I’m not one to sit and watch lengthy videos on my laptop. So when i suggest you watch a 49 minute video, you can trust me – it’s worth watching.
Have you ever heard of Derren Brown? I’ve been following Derren Brown for over a decade, i’ve read many of his books and i think i’ve seen all of his performances. I’m never disappointed.
Here is how WikiPedia describes him:
Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. Since the first broadcast of his show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000, Brown has become increasingly well known for his mind-reading act. He has written books for magicians as well as the general public.
From Derren Brown’s webpage (2012):
Dubbed a ‘psychological illusionist’ by the Press, Derren Brown is a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism.
In a nutshell, while repeatedly reminding us he doesn’t have any kind of magical abilities, Derren Brown mimics with perfection all those who DO claim to have magical abilities.
In this video, Derren takes on the following roles:
He is so convincing in these roles that he gets endorsements for his “special powers” from the “experts” who witnessed his performances.
I believe he will convince you too!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.” —John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765
The 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report included evidence in the form of a “hockey stick” graph, showing that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) did not exist. Less prominent, but just as wrong, was erasure of the Little Ice Age (LIA). Proponents of the IPCC hypothesis that human CO2 is causing global warming were mainly connected with…
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Are orbs really ghosts, or a common artifact of photography?
Next time you pick up a camera, watch out. You’re holding in your hand the very device responsible for tens of thousands of the most bizarre and unexplainable type of ghost photographs: Orbs.
Orbs, formally called Spirit Orbs, are those semi-transparent white balls seen floating around in many photographs taken in ghostly locations. Orbs are among the class of paranormal phenomena that are visible only to cameras, and not to the naked eye.
The usual hypothesis presented by believers is that orbs represent spirits of dead people, though some support variations on that. The science behind this hypothesis is not clear. For example, there are no plausible hypotheses that describe the mechanism by which a person who dies will become a hovering ball of light that appears on film but is invisible to the eye. There are lots of other things that a dead person might become, presumably; and the only reason believers have chosen orbs seems to be that orbs are the most common unexpected objects seen in photographs. If there was any good science behind this, there would at least be some plausible proposals for what the orb might consist of, how and why it is generated by a dead body, why it floats in the air; and also some good predictions about who will become an orb after they die, what size and color that orb would be, and where and when it can be found. I welcome any hypotheses that would explain how orbs could be a real phenomenon, but I haven’t been able to find any. The only evidence is anecdotal reports and, of course, the obligatory photographs, found on the Internet by the thousand.
Orbs most often appear on camera when a piece of airborne dust, an insect, or a water droplet is close to the camera, outside of the depth of field, and the flash source is no more than a few degrees away from the axis of the camera lens. This causes the object to be brightly light but way out of focus, resulting in a semi-transparent whitish circle. If the flash or other light source is significantly off of the axis of the lens, you won’t get nearly as much light reflected right straight back to the camera. If the object is within the depth of field it will be in focus and generally very small, and probably not noticeable. If the object is not very close to the camera, again it won’t pick up enough light from the flash.
I’m often challenged by believers that if orb photos are so easy to take, why don’t I do it then? I don’t because many people have already done so. If you want great step-by-step instructions for taking an orb photo, go to assap.org and click on Paranormal Photos. You will get all the examples, instructions, and explanations that you could ask for.
9GAG recently posted an image on their Facebook page that referenced a patent for an AIDS cure. I could go into detail about how this AIDS cure is bullshit, and how the 105,047 people who liked this post are idiots but I am far too lazy. Instead I simply ran my own google searches to find patents that show how ridiculous these people are.
Aspartame is sweeter than sugar and packs less of a caloric punch. Sounds cool, right? So why has aspartame become one of the most controversial food additives in history?
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
After a one-month pause in the lengthening of the pause, the lengthening pause is lengthening again
By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
Taking the least-squares linear-regression trend on Remote Sensing Systems’ satellite-based monthly global mean lower-troposphere temperature dataset, there has been no global warming – none at all – for 17 years 10 months. This is the longest continuous period without any warming in the global instrumental temperature record since the satellites first watched in 1979. It has endured for more than half the entire satellite temperature record. Yet the lengthening Pause coincides with a continuing, rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.
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Scientists often take an epidemiological approach to a phenomenon to discover clues about its cause and nature. This is not limited to medical diseases, the basic concept can apply to any episodic event.
Take UFO sightings – the phenomenon in question is people reporting that they saw something unidentified in the sky. We can generate some basic hypotheses about factors that might influence UFO sightings: the presence of objects to be observed, viewing conditions, number of people available to make observations, and priming (the idea of UFOs in the culture, say following a movie about UFOs or a case reported in the media).
As reported by The Economist, the National UFO Reporting Center has released statistics on UFO sightings by state and by time of day. The Economist has conveniently placed this data in an infographic, depicted right. They helpfully labeled the three periods of the day as working hours, drinking hours, and sleeping hours. As you can see, UFO reports peak during the drinking hours.
I am going to assume the article is tongue-in-cheek, but it is being spread around social media, sometimes in a manner that seems credulous.
I don’t doubt the data itself, but the labeling of the chart amounts to begging the question – calling the evening hours the “drinking hours” makes certain assumptions about cause and effect. A far simpler explanation for the peak of sightings in the evening is that night-time conditions are more conducive to seeing unidentified lights in the sky, and people are still awake.
The article cheekily states that aliens don’t disturb us while we sleep (don’t tell that to people who experience hypnagogia and interpret the experience as an alien abduction), but obviously people are simply not in a position to make observations while they sleep.
Therefore we don’t need to invoke alcohol consumption at all to explain the pattern seen in this data.
There are, however, patterns in the UFO data that . . .
I recall watching MTV’s “Fear” back in 2000 (or so) and thinking, “What easy TV drama! People just scare themselves and the viewers get drawn in!” Since the dawn of the modern paranormal encounter show 14 years ago, has anything really changed?
Nope, not really.
With Amy and Adam exiting “Ghost Hunters” we’re left wondering if they can launch a new media venture significantly different than the parade of ghost investigation shows we’ve watched for the past 10 years. I’d be pleasantly surprised if that could be pulled off but I doubt it. Shows are packaged to be different but underneath, it’s the same old lines, same old places and same tired ideas.
The attrition rate for ghost shows is high; “Ghost Hunters” is the standout exception in its 10th year. Many reality paranormal shows are long gone with “Ghost Hunters” remaining. Most of the original cast, however, is gone and the spinoffs have spun down. After losing so many of their key people, can the TAPS crew come up with something new? All the famous places have been “TAP-ped” already.
The ideas have run out so the embellishment and drama is amped up.
We can see evidence for the staleness of the genre from the failure of “Deep South Paranormal” (Syfy), which only lasted one season after it got low ratings. Actual paranormal researchers, which you might think is a key part of the audience, have been vociferous in stating that reality TV ghost hunting shows in no way depict what they see in their own rounds. “Deep South Paranormal” was accused of perpetuating the myth that crews go around with gadgets to “prove” the paranormal, overreacting to any anomaly. Maybe the ghosts weren’t threatening enough so they had to add live alligators and snakes? Everyday paranormal investigators simply don’t like shows that portray their activities as a joke, even inadvertently. A few parodies have hit the web that suggest the concept of ghost hunting can be comedy gold.
It’s time for “Ghost Hunters” to hang up the gadgets and call it a career. They never once found evidence that . . .
Yesterday I saw something on Facebook that really p*ssed me off!
Granted I see lots of things on Facebook that p*ss me off (sometimes on an hourly bases) but the things that usually get my teeth grinding are just rude, or offensive, or ignorant, or all of the above. What I saw wasn’t neither rude nor offensive, but it sure was ignorant, and it was definitely dangerous.
What ticked me off was an infograph posted on Green Med Info’s Facebook page concerning a “study” about “GMO” insulin (which all insulin is) that claimed that certain people with type 2 diabetes can develop type 1 diabetes from injecting insulin. (Link to original post here)
While people with type 2 diabetes can develop type 1 diabetes over time there are usually several factors that can cause this, such as a person’s diet, or whether they exercise, or if they take the medication that has been prescribed to them, or genetics. Insulin is not one of the causes. Infact it could prevent a person with type 2 diabetes from developing type 1 diabetes.
What gets me so angry about that post isn’t just the sheer ignorance of it, or how outright dangerous it is for the people at Green Med Info to promote something like this (because despite the fact that it promotes quackery and fraud medicine, better known as alternative medicine, people do listen to and take “advice” from that page) this type of “info” could kill a person with type 2 diabetes if they take it to seriously and decide to stop taking insulin. Either that or result in a person developing type 1 diabetes, or slipping into a diabetic coma, or losing a body part. The very worst thing that could happen is that the parent of a child with type 2 diabetes reads that and decides not to give their child insulin and what I listed above happens to that child, and there is little they can do about because they are at the mercy of their parent (unless they tell a teacher or family member about what their parent is doing and that person gets the authorities involved).
Now, back to the original reason why I’m writing this.
I, along with many other people reported this post to Facebook hoping that the social media website would take down the post due to the fact that it could cause some people to do something that was dangerous and hazardous to their health, and warn Green Med Info not to post something like that again.
Facebook has done nothing.
Originally posted on Watts Up With That?:
While doing some research on Thorium, I came across this interesting little fact that I wasn’t familiar with, so I thought I’d pass it along. Many people fear radiation, sometimes the fear is irrational, based on the erroneous concept that we live in a “radiation free lifestyle”. I’ll never forget one time when I showed my geiger counter to a neighbor who was shocked when it started clicking. She was horrified to learn that cosmic rays were in fact zipping right through her body right that very second. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about neutrinos.
But, along the same lines, this little factoid might drive some people “bananas” when they read it. But, it illustrates a fact of life: radiation is everywhere.
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Via Skeptical Raptor
Like all medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals, vaccines are not perfect. What matters is that the benefits, not only medically but also economically, outweigh any risks. As far ask I know, no perfect medical procedures, devices or pharmaceuticals, none, that are perfectly safe or perfectly effective.
Sometimes the ratio is small. For example, there are chemotherapy drugs that only add a few months to a patient’s life, usually with substantial side effects to the medication. Yet, if you ask a patient whether it was worth it, to spend just a few extra months with their children and loved ones, the value becomes nearly incalculable.
But mostly, the FDA and other regulatory agencies demand that new products and procedures must meet or exceed the safety, and meet or exceed the financial and health benefits of currently acceptable versions. Actually, the FDA examines a lot more than that. They check packaging, shelf life, instructions, manufacturing practices, and so much more, it would take a book to explain it (and there probably are several). It may not be a perfect process, but it’s better than what we had 100 years ago, and it continues to improve every single day. People tend towards a form of confirmation bias where they remember where a drug may or may not have been found to be dangerous (best example is Vioxx). But they forget about the millions of medications and devices that save lives or measurably improve the standard of living.
After arguing the scientific point of view with the antivaccination forces for nearly 15 years, I have observed that they tend to vastly overstate the safety risks, while vastly understating the financial and health benefits. It’s a form of the Nirvana Fallacy, which is a fallacy that if something is not perfect, then it’s junk. For some, if a vaccine is only 95% effective in stopping a disease, it’s worthless. And they want a “guarantee” that there are NO side effects of the vaccines, even when the “adverse effects” of a vaccine preventable disease could be hospitalization or death.
Of course, no pro-science proponent of vaccines would ever say “vaccines are perfect.” We never claim that vaccines never have an adverse effect, though there is no evidence that a vaccine has killed anyone in the last 30 years. On the other hand, I do have plenty of evidence that vaccine preventable diseases have killed children across the world, including the USA.
America’s most popular true ghost story was a hoax.
In the small town of Amityville on New York’s Long Island, on a dark evening in 1974, 23 year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo burst into a bar and declared that his entire family had just been shot. Police discovered six bodies in the DeFeo home at 112 Ocean Avenue, and what’s more, the subsequent investigation revealed that Butch DeFeo had himself killed them all: both his parents, and his four younger siblings, with a Marlin rifle. Despite DeFeo’s claim that strange voices in his head compelled him to commit the murders, he was convicted of all six murders and remains imprisoned to this day.
Just over a year after the murders, the home was purchased by newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three children. The house was sold furnished so all of the DeFeo’s furniture was still there, just as it had been on the night of the murders. George Lutz had heard of the murders, so just to be on the safe side, they called a priest whom Kathy knew, to bless the house. The trouble began when the priest was driven out of the house by an angry disembodied voice, and received stigmatic blisters on his skin. The family daughter reported a friendly pig named Jodie, who later began making appearances to the rest of the family through windows. A sculpted lion came to life and walked around the house, and even bit George Lutz. The apparition of a demonic boy appeared and was photographed, which you can find online. Angry red eyes looked into the house at night, and left cloven footprints in the snow. George Lutz woke up in a sweat every night at the same hour the DeFeos were murdered. Stephen Kaplan, a local parapsychologist, was called in to investigate. Powerful forces caused doors to explode off their hinges. Kathy developed strange red marks on her chest and levitated two feet off her bed, and George saw her transform into a hideous old hag. Green slime oozed from the walls of the house, and a crucifix on the wall constantly rotated itself upside down. And, in one final night of terror that the Lutzes have never even been able to describe, the family was driven out of the house, never to return. Their stay had lasted only 28 days.
The events are not surprising, since a few hundred years before the Defeos were murdered, the local Shinnecock Indians used the same property as a sort of insane asylum for their sick and dying. Negative demonic energy was nothing new to the Amityville Horror house.
So what happened next?
George Lutz, whose business was failing (ostensibly as a result of the distraction of the haunting), hoped to find a silver lining and called up the publisher Prentice-Hall. The Exorcist had come out only two years before and had been wildly successful, putting things like demons and abused priests firmly in the public consciousness, so Prentice-Hall was keen to capitalize on the Lutzes’ experience. The publisher engaged author Jay Anson to write the book The Amityville Horror, and the rest is history. The book and subsequent nine motion pictures were highly successful, though most critics agree that the movies were all stupid.
Where it started to get murky was a meeting that George Lutz had during his 28 days in the house. The man he met with was William Weber, who was none other than Butch DeFeo’s defense attorney. Who initiated the meeting is not clear. According to William Weber’s admission in later years, what transpired in that meeting was an agreement that served both men’s interests. The story of the haunting was concocted, based in part upon elements from The Exorcist. George Lutz stood to gain from the potential commerciality of a ghost story based upon the DeFeo murders, and Weber would have a new defense for his client: Demons, as evidenced by the Lutzes’ experience, caused Butch DeFeo to murder his family, at least in Butch’s own mind.
Via Skeptical Raptor
One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe.
People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.
Moreover, MSG has one of the evil chemical names. But MSG really is the salt of glutamic acid, a simple amino acid that is the basis of all proteins in the human body. ALL. When consumed, MSG disassociates into glutamate ions and sodium ions, both of which will be eagerly utilized by human physiology with no ill effects. Excess MSG could be problematic, not because of the glutamate, but because of excess sodium. MSG is found naturally through all foods, proteins, soy sauce, and on and on. It’s an absolutely ridiculous belief that people have, and the downside of removing MSG is that there’s less flavor. Because MSG enhances flavor–naturally!
Another current demon chemical of food is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into of the biggest pariahs of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?
That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.
You may not have heard the phrase “militarization of police”, but you’ve probably seen the process in action. Whether in an unstable foreign land or in your own country, various groups are claiming that local law enforcement and militaries are becoming increasingly intertwined. But why? What happens next?
Mail. The Daily Mail, is of course what I meant. They’ve once again reinforced their reputation for high-quality, groundbreaking journalism with their story entitled, “Three Americans Hospitalized After Becoming ‘Possessed’ Following Ouija Board Game in Mexican Village.”
In this story, we hear about twenty-something siblings Alexandra and Sergio Huerta, and their cousin Fernando Cuevas, who were visiting relatives in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco, Mexico, when they decided to whip out the ol’ Ouija board and see what the spirits had to say. And of course, as with most cases of the ideomotor effect, the spirits very likely didn’t have much of interest to say other than what the participants already knew — until Alexandra Huerta went into a “trance-like state” and started growling.
Then the two boys began to “show signs of possession, including feelings of blindness, deafness, and hallucinations.” So all three were taken to a nearby hospital, where all three were given “painkillers, anti-stress medications, and eye drops.”
Because you know how susceptible demons are to eye drops. Whip out the Visine, and Satan is screwed.
Interestingly, Alexandra’s parents called a local Catholic priest for an exorcism, who refused because the three were “not regular churchgoers.” I guess as a priest, your job fighting the Evil One is contingent on the possessed individual belonging to the church Social Committee, or something.
But so far, all we have is the usual ridiculous fare that The Daily Mail has become notorious for — a non-story about three young adults who either were faking the whole thing for attention or else had suffered panic attacks and some sort of contagious hysteria. Worthy of little attention and even less serious consideration, right?
Wrong. You should read the comments, although you may need some fortification before doing so, because I thought that the comments on CNN Online and the Yahoo! News were bad until I started reading this bunch. These people bring superstitious credulity to new levels. Here’s a sampling, representing the number I was able to read until my pre-frontal cortex was begging for mercy . . .
I’ve recently written about conspiracy theories, which means I have been recently attacked by conspiracy theorists. I thought I’d take a moment to briefly reflect on the evolution of conspiracy theorist…
The conspiracy theorist is, of course, not a new breed of human. All the basic psychological building blocks of conspiracy thinking are inherent in the human psyche, including distrust of authority, wanting “inside information,” and real or imagined persecution-and, to be fair, often a dearth of critical thinking skills such as the ability (or desire) to separate anonymous rumor from established fact.
The conspiracy theory is at its heart a profoundly populist notion. It’s the common man demanding a peek behind the curtains of power-power in the form of information. Knowledge is power and information is the currency of conspiracists. For millennia there were no conspiracy theorists to speak of because most people had little or no access to independent information. News traveled very slowly from region to region, and anyway it didn’t really matter because there wasn’t much news anyway (“uncle Abraham’s cow died, more news as it happens”). Information and knowledge about the world came mostly from religious leaders. What went on in distant lands (or even neighboring countries) had little relevance to most people who spent their lives farming or fishing, living and dying without ever having strayed more than a few hundred miles from their birthplace.
The invention of the moveable type printing press was a boon to conspiracy theorists for the simple reason that books and knowledge was transportable. Instead of one source of knowledge there were dozens, or perhaps hundreds, and in some cases the authors had different viewpoints on the same subjects. As the old saying goes, a man with one watch knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never sure. If two authors disagreed, then someone claiming to be an authority was wrong-or even perhaps intentionally deceptive and intentionally hiding a truth.
Modern technology helped give birth to the modern conspiracy theorist as well. Decades ago conspiracy theorists largely relied on short-wave radio and crude stapled-and-photocopied mailings to gain followers and spread their enlightened truths. In the 1980s personal computers allowed conspiracy writers to create much more professional publications-in appearance, if not content-as well as “underground” magazines. One fascinating exception is the curious case of the . . .
A study has been making the rounds on social media claiming an association between prenatal exposure to pesticides and the risk of autism and developmental delay. This means that I am getting asked by many people what the study actually shows. Spoiler alert – not much. But let’s break it down.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder involving brain development resulting in decreased communications among neurons in the brain and characterized by reduced social ability. Our current scientific understanding is that ASD is largely a genetic disorder. While environmental factors cannot be ruled out, it seems that genes are the primary factor. It’s reasonable to search for environmental risk factors, but so far none have been clearly established.
Those who feel there likely is an environmental factor also tend to believe that there is an autism epidemic – that the incidence of autism is increasing in a way that is not easily explained by genetics, and therefore suggests and environmental factor. While it is uncontroversial that the number of ASD diagnoses has been increasing over the last two decades, this does not necessarily mean that the true incidence of ASD has been increasing.
The evidence actually shows that diagnostic substitution, broadening of the definition of ASD, and increased surveillance account for much of the increased recorded incidence. It’s possible that changes in diagnostic behavior entirely accounts for the apparent increase. It’s also possible that a subset is due to a true increase, but that has not been clearly established.
This still leaves us with the conclusion that an environmental factor is possible in ASD, but not necessary.
What does this current study show? The study in question is a case-control study using data from the CHARGE study and data about pesticide use in California. A case-control study is a retrospective epidemiological study. It looks at two or more populations based upon whether or not they have a condition, in this study there are three groups – ASD, developmental delay (DD) and typical. The groups are then compared based on exposure to a potential risk factor to see if it is correlated with the condition.
In this study the authors looked at proximity to pesticide use prior to conception and during each trimester of pregnancy. They concluded:
“This study of ASD strengthens the evidence linking neurodevelopmental disorders with gestational pesticide exposures, and particularly, organophosphates and provides novel results of ASD and DD associations with, respectively, pyrethroids and carbamates.”
Orac has already reviewed this study and I agree with his assessment – this conclusion is not justified by the data presented.
First, there is a fatal flaw in the study design . . .
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Recently the British tabloid Daily Mirror published an article online about this claim made by a alleged former US Marine (a claim that sounds more like a half decent science fiction novel rather than a true account) about how he allegedly spent 17 years on Mars…
The original story was published on a website called ExoNews TV (a UFO conspiracy theorist website) on April 3 of this year. Why the Daily Mail took so long to write up their own crazy story nearly three months after the original crazy story was published, who knows?
Maybe they just found out about it, maybe they were having a slow “news” day (ofcourse the Daily Mirror is not really known for publishing actual news or news that’s truthful) maybe they thought that now was the time to publish it.
The original story from ExoNews TV is an account told by a person whom calls himself “Captain Kaye” or “Captain K” (you can listen to him recalling his story here) and whom claims to be a former Marine that spent 17 years of a 20 year military career on Mars.
Now such claims have been made before. Infact several people have claimed to have gone to Mars and back over the years, or claimed to have “knowledge” of bases on Mars. The problem with all of those claims are that the people who made them are either liars, seriously deluded, or both.
I believe this “Captain Kaye” is the first type, and for several reasons.
First he claims that our government has technology that is probably centuries ahead of our current technological level, and yet he gives an audio interview (he never shows his face) to a conspiracy theorist website.
Why the heck would he give an audio only interview and give a fake name and not have a video interview and a give out his real name . . .
A new Cornell University study examines the origins of food fears, and possible remedies. It’s a survey of 1,008 mothers asking about foods they avoid and why.
Food fears are a common topic on SBM (Science-Based Medicine), likely for several reasons. Humans have an inherent emotion of disgust, which is likely an adaptation to help avoid contaminated or spoiled food. In our modern society this reflex can be tricky, because we do not always have control over the chain of events that leads to food on our plates. Other people grow the food, transport it, process it, and perhaps even cook it
Modern food technology can also involve many scary sounding substances and unusual processes. As the saying goes, you may not want to know how the sausage is made, as long as the end result is wholesome.
This leads to a second reason for modern food fears – we are living in an age of increasing transparency, partly brought about by the dramatic increase in access to information on the internet. I think ultimately this is a good thing – people are seeing how the sausage is made, which makes it more difficult to hide shady practices. This introduces a new problem, however. If you’re going to inspect the process of making sausage, then you need to know something about sausage-making.
In other words – people are obtaining a great deal of information about food, food ingredients, and manufacturing processes, which is a good thing. However, much of this information is coming from dubious sources – non-professional or academic sources that have not been peer reviewed in any meaningful way and may have ulterior agendas or ideological biases.
Further, it is not easy to understand any complex science, including chemistry and food science, which includes medical studies on ingredient safety. The Food Babe has essentially made a career out of provoking irrational fear of ingredients with unsavory sources and with scary-sounding, long chemical names. Neither of these factors have anything to do with actual food safety, but they make it easy to scare the non-expert.
Specifically this includes so-called “chemophobia” – which is the fear of chemicals. The problem with this “Food Babe”, chemophobic approach is that everything is chemicals. As the banana graphic above demonstrates, the formal chemical names even for everyday food molecules are long and unfamiliar to non-chemists.
The end result is that many people use shortcuts or heuristics to determine what food they trust and what food to avoid. One heuristic is the “natural” false dichotomy – if something seems natural it is healthful, and if it seems synthetic it should be avoided. This heuristic rapidly breaks down on two main counts. The first is that there is no good operational definition of “natural.” All food is altered by humans or processed in some way. Where do you draw the line? The second is that something occurring in nature is no guarantee of safety. Most things in nature will harm or even kill you. Many plants and animals have evolved toxins specifically to harm anything that tries to eat it.
Another food heuristic (one explicitly endorsed by the Food Babe) is the chemophobia heuristic – if it has a long chemical name that is difficult to pronounce, then it’s scary.
Most people have heard of the placebo effect. The name comes from the Latin word meaning “I will please,” and refers to the phenomenon that people who are given an ineffective medication after being told that it will ameliorate their symptoms often find that the symptoms do, indeed, abate. The mechanism is still not well elucidated — it has been suggested that some of the effect might be caused by the brain producing “endogenous opioids” when a placebo is administered, causing decreased sensations of pain, feelings of well-being, and sounder sleep. But the fact is, we still don’t fully understand it.
Less well-known, but equally well-documented, is the nocebo effect. “Nocebo” means “I will harm” in Latin, and it is more or less the placebo effect turned on its head. If a person is told that something will cause pain, or bring him/her to harm, it sometimes does — even if there’s no rational reason why it would. Individuals who believe in voodoo curses, for example, sometimes show actual medically detectable symptoms, even though such curses are merely empty superstition. Nevertheless, if you believe in them, you might feel their effects.
In “numbers disease,” an affected individual suddenly notices a raised pattern on his/her skin that looks like a number. The number that appears, it is said, represents the number of days the person has left. Once the number shows up, the individual begins to sicken, and when the allotted time is up, the person dies.