The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.
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 :)
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)
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.
Apparently, it’s easier than I thought to give your soul to Satan.
You don’t have to attend a Black Mass, or hold a séance, or even wear an upside-down crucifix. Nothing that flashy, or even deliberate, is necessary.
All you have to do is drink the wrong energy drink.
I am referring, of course, to “Monster,” that whiz-bang combination of sugar, vitamins, caffeine, and various herbal extracts of dubious health effect, which misleadingly does not list “demons” on the ingredient list.
At least that’s the contention of the also-misleadingly named site Discerning the World, which would be more accurately called Everything Is Trying To Eat Your Soul. This site claims that the “Monster” logo, with its familiar trio of green claw marks on a black background, is actually a symbol for “666” because the individual claw marks look a little like the Hebrew symbol for the number six:
Which, of course, is way more plausible than the idea that it’s a stylized letter “M.” You know, “M” as in “Monster.”
But no. Every time you consume a Monster energy drink, you are swallowing…
… pure evil.
Now lest you think that these people are just making some kind of metaphorical claim — that the Monster brand has symbolism that isn’t wholesome, and that it might inure the unwary with respect to secular, or even satanic, imagery — the website itself puts that to rest pretty quickly. It’s a literal threat, they say, ingested with every swallow:
The Energy Drink contains ‘demonic’ energy and if you drink this drink you are drinking a satanic brew that will give you a boost… People who are not saved, who are not covered by the Previous Blood of Jesus Christ are susceptible to their attacks. Witchcraft is being used against the world on a scale so broad that it encompasses everything you see on a daily basis – right down to children’s clothing at your local clothing store.
So that’s pretty unequivocal.
Deepak Chopra doesn’t appear to like skeptics much, or understand them. He just put out a YouTube video challenging ”Randi and his cronies” to his own fake version of the million dollar challenge.
All we have to do, apparently, is make 50-100 years of scientific advance in neuroscience in a single peer-reviewed paper. I’ll get started on that right away.
Actually, even that probably would not be sufficient. The whole point of pseudoscientific goal-post moving is to keep forever out of reach of current scientific evidence. It doesn’t matter how much progress science makes, there will always be gaps and limitations to our knowledge. Chopra lives in the gaps.
Here is his exact challenge:
Dear Randi: Before you go around debunking the so-called “paranormal,” please explain the so-called “normal.” How does the electricity going into the brain become the experience of a three dimensional world in space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal, offer a theory that is falsifiable, and you get the prize.
The challenge is absurd because it is completely undefined. “Explain” to what degree? Science often advances by developing theories that are progressively deeper. Obviously we can explain consciousness on some level, and just as obviously Chopra would not accept that level as sufficient, but he gives absolutely no indication of how much deeper an explanation he would require.
A challenge without a clear way of judging the outcome is worthless. This is very different than the JREF’s million dollar challenge (now supervised by Banachek) which negotiates a very specific protocol with clear outcomes and a clear threshold for what will be considered success.
The vacuous nature of Chopra’s challenge reveals it for what it is – an insincere stunt that Chopra no doubt wishes to use for rhetorical purposes.
If you listen to the rest of the video challenge it is also clear that Chopra likes to operate in the gaps – he is making a massive argument from ignorance, or “god-of-the-gaps” type argument. In essence he is saying that because neuroscientists cannot now explain consciousness to an arbitrary level of detail (determined at will by Chopra, with an endless option to revise), therefore magic.
Intro by Mason. I. Bilderberg
This is the third video in the Solar Roadways series. If you’re not familiar with this topic, you might want to two previous videos:
If you want some background information, click one of the links above. Otherwise, enjoy :)
From the video description:
So the solar roadways has a page up to ‘answer’ its critics.
Previously I had suspected that they have no technical expertise, now Im sure.
They claim that asphalt is softer than glass.
They claim LEDs will be fine for roads because of powerhungry LED billboards or LED traffic lights that work in the shade.
People gave them over 2 million dollars for this. You really have to laugh or cry at this.
This video was supported by donations of viewers through Patreon:
Intro by Mason. I. Bilderberg:
This video is a followup to the video we featured here on iLLuMiNuTTi.com in a story titled “Solar FREAKIN Roadways, are they real?” and this followup video is just as enjoyable as the first.
If you want some background information, click the link above. Otherwise, enjoy :)
From the video description:
Ball park numbers: 25 000 sq miles = 90 bn square meters.
At about 4 tiles per m2, thats 240 billion tiles.
At 50 LEDs each, thats 12 trillion LEDS.
These need to be light up ALL the time you want road markings!
300 LEDs takes about 60 Watts.
Cheap electricity is about 0.06 dollars per kW Hr
So to run 300 LEDs for 1 hr coast about half a cent.
To run 12 trillion LEDs for 1hr costs about 150 million dollars!
4 billion dollars per day,
1.4 trillion dollars per year.
They will take more power just to run the LEDs than will be generated by the road!!!
And thats not including the cost of building the infrastructure, or the fact that the LED probably will need to be replaced about every 5 years.
This video was supported through Patreon:
Intro by Mason. I. Bilderberg
Or i’ll just give you the basics: There is an Indigogo fundraising campaign called Solar Roadways. There is a video for the campaign. The campaign has raised more than $1.7 million.
Problem is, many people are starting to question the legitimacy of the campaign. Why? Watch the video below.
I’m not the type to sit through lengthy videos (this video is almost 29 minutes long), but this one was an exception. I really enjoyed the tear down. I think you will too.
From the video description:
Solar FREAKIN roadways is a nice idea, but then again is a pogostick that can hop to the moon as a cheap, reusable trans-orbital vehicle.
Is it plausible though. Well it basically proposes the union of 3 or 4 technologies. LED lights, solar panels, and glass roads.
Glass really isn’t a feasible material to make roads out of.
- its too expensive. Just coating the US road system with roads would cost many times the federal budget.
- Its too soft. Even with a textured surface for traction, it will wear away too quickly. Dirt on roads is basically small rocks, which are generally much harder than glass. Imagine taking a handful of dirt and rubbing it a window. Now imagine doing that with the wheels of a 20 ton tractor/trailer.
- I have doubts about the physical properties of the glass to take the load and mechanical heat stress required of a road making material.
Solar panels under the road is a bad idea from the start. If they are under the roads, they are hard to maintain. They will have reduced light from parked cars etc. They are fragile. Not really congenial to the conditions you are likely to get on a road. In many ways building a shed over the road, or just having solar panels by the side of the road is a far better idea. However the power transport really isnt practical. One of the most efficient ways to transport electricity around is as high voltage AC. However to build those lines would probably double the cost of any construction. To bury the cables is even more expensive.
LEDs for variable road marking have been partially implemented. They are usually only cost effective in dynamic traffic management systems. For most roads its utterly pointless as the road markings almost never need to be altered. These LED are usually not easy to see (especially in full daylight when the solar panels are meant to be generating power).
However solar powered roadways has generated well over a million dollars for Julie and Scott Brusaw (a therapist and an engineer).
I’m still on the fence as to if they are just delusional dreamers or (now millionaire) con artists. A lot of this looks like just direct ‘what if’ daydreaming, but then you get the part of the promotional video where they are shoveling ground up coloured glass into a wheelbarrow, while narrating that they use as many recycled materials as possible in this project. It’s very difficult to not see that as a direct lie. They must know full well that they did not use any of that material in the construction of their glass tiles.
Many thanks to all those who supported this video through Patreon:
The concept is to build roads out of hexagonal plates of transparent hard material (tempered glass) with built in solar panels. You can also incorporate heating elements and LED lights. Buried alongside such roads could be a new energy grid, for transporting all that solar generated electricity.
Here is the vision as presented: With such solar freakin’ roadways we could generate much, if not all, of our needed electricity. We could replace telephone poles and hanging wires with buried lines, and upgrade our energy (and even information) grid while we’re at it.
The heating elements could melt ice and snow, removing the need for plowing or salting roads. Potholes or other damage could be easily repaired by simply replacing the hexagonal units, one at a time, as needed.
The LED lights could be programmable, so that all road lines and traffic notices could simply be programmed in, and changed as needed. Parking lots could adjust spaces as needed – making bigger spaces or adding or removing handicapped spaces based on demand. Recreational areas can also be programmed to be different kinds of courts as desired.
Pressure sensitive plates can also be added, allowing for the road to light up, for example, when an animal is walking across the road, providing real-time warning for drivers.
This all certainly sounds great – just like the roadway of the future you always imagined, maybe even better.
OK – now here comes the skepticism. First let me say that I like the concept, and I’m glad some some research funding is being dedicated to this idea. I also have no problem with privately crowdfunding the idea. If people want to invest in this, go right ahead. I wish them well.
But this is also a good time to consider all the possible roadblocks (pun intended) and potential problems with such a technology. I am just going to list my questions:
Every skeptic’s new favorite website is Spurious Correlations. The site is brilliant – it mines multiple data sets (such as causes of death, consumption of various products, divorce rates by state, etc.) and then tries to find correlations between different variables. The results are often hilarious.
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Often it is more effective to demonstrate a principle than simply to explain it. By showing impressive looking graphical correlations between phenomena that are clearly not related (at least proposing a causal connection superficially seems absurd.), it drives home the point that correlation is not enough to conclude causation.
I think most people can intuitively understand that funding on science, space, and technology is unlikely to have a meaningful causal connection to suicide by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation.
Yet – look at those curves. If a similar graph were shown with two variables that might be causally connected, that would seem very compelling.
There are a couple of points about this I want to explore a bit further. First is the important caveat that, while correlation is not necessarily causation, sometimes it is. Two variables that are causally related would correlate. I dislike the oversimplification that is sometimes presented: “correlation is not causation.” But it can be.
The second point is a statistical one. The important deeper lesson here is the power of data mining. Humans are great at sifting through lots of data and finding apparent patterns. In fact we have a huge bias toward false positives in this regard – we find patterns that are not really there but are just statistical flukes or complete illusions.
Correlations, however, seem compelling to us. If we dream about a friend we haven’t seen in 20 years then they call us the next day, that correlation seems uncanny, and we hunt for a cause. We aren’t even aware of the fact that . . .
Cereologists don’t all agree on how crop circles form, but there are some wild theories out there, including freak weather and UFOs. Also, hoaxers confessed to making hundreds of circles. Tune in to learn more about the theories surrounding crop circles.
I am a
global warming climate change climate disruption skeptic. I catch a lot of heat (pun intended) for my skepticism.
But i have my reasons and this video does a very level-headed job of explaining where skeptics are coming from in the
global warming climate change climate disruption debate.
If you’re a
global warming climate change climate disruption believer and you wish to understand the skeptic’s perspective, i ask you to watch just the first 2 minutes.
The first 2 minutes of this video does an excellent job of spelling out the very thin line between believers and skeptics. So close, yet so far.
This video appears to be based on an article written by Dr. David M.W. Evans called The Skeptic’s Case. As such, you might find the video easier to understand if you read along with the original text (The Skeptic’s Case) or download the PDF here.
Actually, the PDF text version is worth downloading as a standalone resource for those times when people ask why you’re a
global warming climate change climate disruption skeptic.
Mason I. Bilderberg
By Mason I. Bilderberg
Just a quick note.
Somebody forwarded me this story about a highway overpass under construction in Herperia, California that caught fire and collapsed.
The bridge burned:
Then, according to the article, “The blaze caused steel girders to sag into the freeway below.”
But wait one second, back up the truck. They’re not fooling me.
Didn’t the 9/11 truthers tell us that fire doesn’t get hot enough to collapse steel structures? Why, yes . . . yes, they did.
So this bridge must’ve been taken down with explosives or thermite!!!!! Bastards!!!!!
This is a coverup! A false flag! We’re being lied to! We must demand the truth!!!! Who knew and when did they know it?
Wake up sheeple!!!!!!
Every show on TLC really knows how to tug at your heartstrings, but The Long Island Medium does it pretty much better than anyone else. That is because the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, has an amazing ability to connect strangers with their loved ones who have passed away. By communicating through “spirit,” Caputo can learn how someone died, his or her nickname, and even deliver a message to the living. Her readings are so spot-on, it’s freaky.
Maybe even a little too freaky for some people. When a person has a supernatural ability like this, there are of course going to be skeptics. Caputo encounters them all the time on her show, like when one self-proclaimed skeptic, Brian, started to believe after Caputo’s tape recorder magically stopped without any prompting. Like with most issues in our society, the debate has mainly been alive and well on the Internet, the trolliest of troll-y places, since the show premiered back in 2011. Whether it’s through opinion pieces, blog posts, or videos, there are plenty of people online who make it their mission to debunk Caputo’s ability. So who are these people, and why do they think Caputo is not for real?
Caputo’s main opponent is James Randi, a former magician and escape artist who now spends his days “as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims,” according to his website. Randi is famous for his “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge,” where anyone who can prove “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” will be awarded $1 million.
Randi claims Caputo uses a technique that many mediums employ called “cold reading,” where it may look like Caputo is simply chatting with the person, but she’s actually picking up information that she’ll use to make what she says seem very specific to the person she’s reading. He says Caputo’s questions about initials and life events are basically just guesses that she hopes turn out to be true. Randi, who has also taken on the famous mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, awarded Caputo a 2012 Pigasus Award, which is awarded to parapsychological frauds who are most harmful to society.
Inside Edition performed an entire investigation on Caputo in 2012, which found that she was much less accurate in her live readings than she is shown to be on her TV show, as she would “strike out time and again.” Inside Edition had former psychic Mark Edward perform the “cold reading” techniques he believed Caputo uses, and the audience believed him.
An oldie, but goodie! Enjoy! :)
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Hello initiates and welcome to module one of the Illumicorp video training course. I would like to officially welcome you as a member of the team.
You’ve joined our organization at perhaps the most exciting point in our long history. Our founders shared a passionate dream. To transform this country, and eventually the whole world to one cohesive organization.
This presentation is designed to enlighten you about our organization’s goals and achievements. As your guide, I will help to answer some basic questions you might have about Illumicorp, and familiarize you with the valuable role you will play in helping us reach our prime objective. So please, take a tour with me as we march together towards an exciting new world.
Start this video to continue your training:
Click the image to download the official course booklet (PDF) containing very important additional information.
Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.
Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.
The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.
Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year . . .
. . . and the chiropractors from last year are back as well . . .
. . . but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:
Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.
Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.
Then there’s the woo.
They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.
In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.
The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was . . .
Many years ago I was asked to give a talk to incoming university students on the nature of psychology. As a social psychology professor, I had a lot of interesting material that I was sure students would find fascinating, from blind obedience to authority to the everyday persuasion techniques of salespeople. Yet to my surprise, at the end of my presentation, I had but two questions from the students: “Does The Secret really work?” and, “Can psychics really read minds?” For those unfamiliar with The Secret, it is a bestselling book and film that promotes the idea that we can have whatever we want merely by thinking about it, all couched in New Age terms and a gross misrepresentation of quantum physics. And as for psychics, there has yet to be any solid experimental evidence of extrasensory ability, even though there is $1 million on the line (more on that later). I initially thought that students asked these questions because they did not have much formal training in science at this point in their academic career, though I soon came to realize otherwise.
College and university students, from freshmen to seniors, have asked me similar questions, along with queries about aliens, ghosts, and a wide variety of New Age and alternative health and psychological treatments. Through countless questions on these topics, I’ve realized the need to teach scientific skepticism, and that using examples of pseudoscience — claims that appear to be scientific but are not — can be an invaluable resource for helping students become discerning consumers of real-world claims.
September 14, 2012
Here’s the story/transcript from Spencer Michels, along with video that follows. I have not seen the piece that will be airing nationally yet, and I don’t know how much of me they use, but this just appeared on the PBS website.
One note: when they talk about “heat sync” they really meant to say heat sink. – Anthony
Intro by PBS:
It was about 105 degrees in Chico, Calif., about three hours north of Sacramento, when we arrived at the offices of one of the nation’s most read climate skeptics. Actually, Anthony Watts calls himself a pragmatic skeptic when it comes to global warming. Watts is a former television meteorologist, who has been studying climate change for years. He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue. He’s the author of a blog, Watts Up with That?, which he calls the world’s most viewed site on global warming. For a story I was working on for the PBS NewsHour, Watts was recommended by the Heartland Institute, a conservative, Chicago-based non-profit that is one of the leading groups that doubt that climate change — if it exists — is attributable to human activities.
Watts doesn’t come across as a true believer or a fanatic. For one thing, he has built a business that caters to television stations and individuals who want accurate weather information and need displays to show their viewers. He has developed an array of high tech devices to disseminate weather data and put it on screens. He has several TV stations around the country as clients.
But Watts’ reputation doesn’t come from his business — IntelliWeather — but rather from his outspoken views on climate change. He says he’s been gathering data for years, and he’s analyzed it along with some academics. He used to think somewhat along the same lines as Richard Muller, the University of California physicist who recently declared he was no longer a skeptic on climate change. Muller had analyzed two centuries worth of temperature data and decided his former skepticism was misplaced: yes, the earth has been warming, and the reason is that humans are producing carbon dioxide that is hastening the warming the planet.
Watts doesn’t buy Muller’s analysis, since, he believes, it is based on faulty data. The big problem, as Watts sees it, is that the stations where temperatures are gathered are too close to urban developments where heat is soaked up and distorts the readings. So it looks like the earth is warming though it may not be, he says.
The world isn’t warming. The Climate Depot website obtained the latest satellite measurements and found the Earth’s thermostat hasn’t budged since September 1996.
That’s 210 straight months without any trend of the planet growing hotter, or colder, by even a tenth of a degree. This ought to be good news for buyers of a Toyota Prius or carbon-dioxide offsets. They could imagine themselves as having saved the world. But they’re more depressed than ever.
Matthew Ranson, an economist, describes in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management the chaos that he thinks awaits. “Between 2010 and 2099,” he writes in the peer-reviewed journal, “climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States.” No estimates of mopery or pillaging.
Mr. Ranson said he examined the effect that temperature has on crime rates, based on FBI records. The numbers recognize the obvious criminal preference to rob and pillage in balmy conditions; a blizzard is bad for everybody’s business.
He speculates that a great crime wave would follow the heat wave predicted by computer models of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The U.N. panel is raising its rhetoric, too. London’s daily Independent reports that the panel predicts crop yields will fall by 2 percent every decade, leading to malnutrition and starvation. There will be floods, fires, civil war, hay fever, heat waves, boils, various itches, pestilence and plagues on mankind.
Are you a human? Do you have access to the internet? Then you may already know about Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese “scientist” who magically turns normal rice into gross rice, simply by yelling at it.
But for the uninitiated, Dr. Emoto gained international fame from the film What the Bleep Do We Know?!, which praised his experiments on the cellular structure of water. Maybe you remember this dramatization, in which a science docent describes Emoto’s experiments, and a creepy guy creeps up on Marlee Matlin to explain everything, just in case she’s a complete buffoon.
During his studies, Emoto separated water into one hundred petri dishes and assigned each dish a fate: good or bad. The good water was blessed or praised for being so wonderful (“Oh look at you wonderful little water droplets! One day you shall be a water slide!” I imagine him saying).
The bad water was scolded (“May you become that gross grey sludge that builds up under a Zamboni,” he maybe said). Each petri dish was frozen, allegedly under similar conditions. Lo and behold, when the frozen water was viewed under a microscope, the water which had been praised and valued had rearranged itself into beautiful crystalline structures. The “bad” water was as ugly as ice crystals can get (which, to be honest, isn’t that ugly), showing a lack of symmetry and more overall jaggedness. Emoto started to get a little giddy with his findings, trying new methods like taping the words “Adolf Hitler” to a glass of water and seeing what happened (allegedly, the water was very ugly).
He even had a team in Tokyo transmit their thoughts to some water across the world, to California, in a double-blinded study. According to the abstract, “crystals from the treated water were given higher scores for aesthetic appeal than those from the control water.” We are all made up largely of water and, as Emoto explained, that is why this study is so important and the findings are so serious.
Except that they aren’t. As Stanford University professor Emeritus William Tiller (also featured in What the Bleep) pointed out after the film’s release, it is extremely easy to manipulate the crystalline structure of water, especially by adding contaminants or tinkering with the cooling rate of the water. In Dr. Tiller’s words, “In Dr. Emoto’s experiments, [supercooling] was neither controlled nor measured, a necessary requirement to be fulfilled if one wanted to prove that it was the new factor of specific human intention that was causative.” Apparently, Emoto’s experimental protocols are so lacking as to be unrepeatable, and even the most basic attempts at scientific controls are absent. Regular Skeptical Inquirer contributor Harriet Hall reviewed Emoto’s book about his experiments herself, giving it the honor of “the worst book I have ever read. It is about as scientific as Alice in Wonderland.” In one portion of the book, Emoto recalls watching a priest perform incantations into a lake, causing the lake to become more and more clear. And then things get really weird:
The crystals made with water from before the incantation were distorted, and looked like the face of someone in great pain. But the crystals from water taken after the incantation were complete and grand… A few days after this experiment, an incident was reported in the press. The body of a woman was found in the lake, and when I heard about this I remembered the crystals created from the water before the prayer, and remembered how the crystals had looked like a face in agony. Perhaps through the crystals, the spirit of this woman was trying to tell us something. I would like to think that her suffering was alleviated in part by the incantation.
As What the Bleep faded to memory, Emoto and his water evaporated too. But recently, Emoto has made a comeback in the form of a viral video meme of people carrying out yet another Emoto water experiment, now in their own kitchens. The experiment, seen here in its original form, had Emoto pouring water over cooked rice in three different beakers, then labeling one “Thank You!,” one “You’re An Idiot,” and leaving one unlabeled (the control).
Every day for one month, Emoto spoke whatever was on the bottle to the rice inside (since this is about intentionality, it doesn’t matter whether the other rice “overhear”). And after thirty days, what happened? Well, the “Thank You!” rice “began to ferment, giving off a strong, pleasant aroma.” The “You’re An Idiot” rice turned mostly black, and the control rice “began to rot,” turning a disgusting green-blue color. Well, the jig is up when your control rice rots, right? Apparently not. According to Emoto, the “ignored” rice fared the worst because negligence and indifference are the absolute worst things we can do to water, rice…and ourselves. He goes on to explain that “we should converse with children,” a piece of monumental parenting advice that is sure to forever be attributed to this rice experiment. “Indifference,” our narrator tells us, “does the greatest harm.”
Egad! All I’ve ever been doing with my rice is ignoring it! It sits in my pantry, quietly waiting for use, when I should at the very least be calling it an idiot, to stave off some rotting, and at best thanking it for its existence. But did others get the same results?
I found this to be a great lesson in critical thinking. Check it out :)
How do you investigate hypotheses? Do you seek to confirm your theory – looking for white swans? Or do you try to find black swans? I was startled at how hard it was for people to investigate number sets that didn’t follow their hypotheses, even when their method wasn’t getting them anywhere.
This video was inspired by The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb and filmed by my mum. Thanks mum!
In dojos all around the world, martial arts masters practice mysterious forms of attack. They can kill or render an attacker unconscious with a single touch, or sometimes, with no touch at all.
The dim mak and kyusho jitsu are just some of the secret techniques reserved only for the masters, that are jealously guarded, and will not be taught to just anyone. Some call these techniques bullshido.
Bullshido is, obviously, a joke term which mocks made-up or exaggerated martial arts claims. Bullshido comes in many forms. The touch of death and the knockout without touching are just a few of the most popular, originally made famous by the stories telling this is how Bruce Lee was killed (in fact he died of cerebral edema after a dinner party, possibly due to a drug interaction). Bullshido also encompasses newly invented martial arts techniques by self-described masters who market themselves as the founders; schools claiming to be too exclusive to let just anyone in (sometimes called McDojos); and claims by instructors of having been taught by various great masters, the missing documentation of which is sometimes explained as being sacred or hidden away in a remote Asian temple.
The many various forms of bullshido have long been criticized by legitimate martial arts practitioners, and dismissed merely as marketing claims intended to attract students to a particular school where one of these supposed masters teaches. Bullshido practitioners shoot back that such naysayers are merely crying sour grapes because they have not yet learned the secret techniques, or achieved the special level.
The most famous of example of bullshido, which you’ve no doubt seen several times over the past couple of years, involves instructors who claim to have developed a technique of rendering an attacker senseless without actually touching him. The volunteer attackers are always the instructor’s students in these videos. They’ll charge at him one after the other, and as he punches or swipes at the air, they’ll often dramatically fly back as if struck by a train. Every time an outsider volunteers to receive the touchless attack, the instructor either fails with some excuse, or refuses on the grounds that it would be too dangerous.
Danielle decided to give him the opportunity to prove his ability on someone he wouldn’t be afraid of hurting, namely, a group of jiu-jitsu athletes from another gym who were not his students. His touchless attacks had no effect on any of them. Predictably, he had an explanation handy: Natural athletes like these students learn to “translate the energy” and are not affected by it. I guess Cameron’s own students are not as enlightened. One red flag waving over Cameron’s head is that he says he was instructed by George Dillman, often cited as one of the great pillars of bullshido.
There’s also a famous YouTube video you may have seen where an elderly martial arts master, Kiai Master Ryukerin, does the same thing to a room full of his students, easily sending them all tumbling with waves of his hand. He offered $5000 to any modern Mixed Martial Arts athlete who could beat him. One guy took him up on it, and in front of Japanese TV cameras, casually beat the poor old guy to a pulp.
It’s actually a little sad, and hard to watch. Did Ryukerin actually believe that he had this power? Was it a mass delusion shared between him and his students, or was it all part of the show, and Ryukerin hoped that his actual martial arts skills would defeat the MMA guy? The only thing we know for sure is that his touchless attack failed.
Of all the things that I have observed about conspiracy theorists one of the things that has always stood out about them to me is that they hate the terms “conspiracy theorist” and “conspiracy theory”. This is for two different reasons:
The primary reason is because they consider the terms to be insulting. This is actually understandable because skeptics and debunkers have used these terms in insulting tones and in an insulting way.
The secondary reason is because they claim that both terms to be “shill” words that were created by the CIA to discourage people from believing in a conspiracy theory (the terms actually first came into use in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and pre-dates the CIA, it only came to be used in a derogatory way in the mid 1960’s, but there is no evidence to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with that). Some even claim that only “shills” use the terms conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist. Whether they actually believe this or are just claiming this in order to get people to stop using these terms and/or to scare a skeptic off is another question entirely.
Regardless of the reasons why, the fact is that conspiracy theorists do not like the terms conspiracy theorist and conspiracy theory, and to be all honest I don’t really like those terms either. The reason for this is that simply put a theory is based off of facts and evidence. Conspiracy theories are rarely made up of facts and evidence, and even the ones that do have some facts and evidence behind them are often mangled by conspiracy theorists and is manipulated into something that it is infact not…
To put it bluntly in my personal opinion using the word “theory” in conspiracy theory (and by extension conspiracy theorist) is actually inaccurate and inappropriate.
So what would be an accurate and appropriate term to replace conspiracy theory and theorist with?
A recent YouTube video purports to show the San Francisco area being “fried” by radiation, radiation which the videographer somehow knows just had to come from Fukushima. That’s hitting close to home, as I live near San Francisco and really don’t want to sizzle. The “shocking” video is accompanied by all kinds of links, most of which are irrelevant to the claim that he found dangerous radiation. A few, though, were quite helpful.
Regular readers of the blog should have already read Mike Rothschild’s excellent posts on Fukushima scare-mongering. If you haven’t yet, please do so now. He covers the science well and I won’t be adding anything new on the Fukushima radiation itself.
The emailer who alerted Skeptoid to the video pointed out one of the first red flags: Someone who can’t focus a camera on a Geiger counter might not be operating the counter itself correctly. As a thread I found on Slashdot points out, these are instruments that need calibration and training just to be able to interpret. They aren’t like light meters.
I decided to first see if what this fellow was measuring was real. Before doing that, I had to investigate the instrument he was using. Following his helpful link took me to a web page describing this particular counter. Then I found Amazon storefront of General Electromagnetics and the red flags started really piling up. (Note that they also supply hardware for all your ghost-hunting needs.) The store was started ”out of personal interest and concern for the possible dangers associated with overhead power lines, cellular phones, microwave ovens, police radar and all the electronic radiation which increasingly pollutes our modern environment…” Brian has covered these concerns well already, such as here and here.
That led me to Less EMF, where you can find, uh, you guessed it. At least it’s “sophisticated Polyester/Cotton blended with micro-fine stainless steel fibers for excellent radiation protection” rather than just tin foil.
Today we’re going to cover a bit of new ground in the basics of critical thinking and critical reasoning. There are several defined types of common analytical errors to which we’re all prone; some, perhaps, more so than others. Reasoning errors can be made accidentally, and some can even be made deliberately as a way to influence the acceptance of ideas. We’re going to take a close look at the Type I false positive error, the Type II false negative error, the Type III error of answering the wrong question, and finally the dreaded Type IV error of asking the wrong question.
By way of example we’ll apply these errors to three hypothetical situations, all of which should be familiar to fans of scientific skepticism:
So let’s begin with:
A false positive is failing to believe the truth, or more formally, the rejection of a true null hypothesis — it turns out there’s nothing there, but you conclude that there is. In cases where the null hypothesis does turn out to be true, a Type I error incorrectly rejects it in favor of a conclusion that the new claim is true. A Type I error occurs only when the conclusion that’s made is faulty, based on either bad evidence, misinterpreted evidence, an error in analysis, or any number of factors.
In the haunted house, Type I errors are those that occur when the house is not, in fact, haunted; but the investigators erroneously find that it is. They may record an unexplained sound and wrongly consider that to be proof of a ghost, or they may collect eyewitness anecdotes and wrongly consider them to be evidence, or they may have a strange feeling and wrongly reject all other possible causes for it.
The conspiracy theorist commits a Type I error when the government is not, in fact, building prison camps to exterminate citizens, but he comes across something that makes him reject that null hypothesis and conclude that it’s happening after all. Perhaps he sees unmarked cars parked outside a fenced lot that has no other apparent purpose, and wrongly considers that to be unambiguous proof, or perhaps he watches enough YouTube videos and decides that so many other conspiracy theorists can’t be all wrong. Perhaps he simply hates the government, so he automatically accepts any suggestion of their evildoing.
Finally, the alternative medicine hopeful commits a Type I error when he concludes that vitamins successfully treat a cancer that they actually don’t. Perhaps he hears enough anecdotes or testimonials, perhaps he is mistrustful of medical science and erroneously concludes that alternative medicine must therefore work, or whatever his thought process is; but an honest conclusion that the null hypothesis has been proven false is a classic Type I error.
Cynics are those who are most often guilty of the Type II error, the acceptance of the null hypothesis when it turns out to actually be false — it turns out that something is there, but you conclude that there isn’t. If you actually do have psychic powers but I am satisfied that you do not, I commit a Type II error. The villagers of the boy who cried “Wolf!” commit a Type II error when they ignore his warning, thinking it false, and lose their sheep to the wolf. The protohuman who hears a rustling in the grass and assumes it’s just the wind commits a Type II error when the panther springs out and eats him.
Perhaps somewhere there is a house that actually is haunted, and maybe the TV ghost hunters find it. If I laugh at their silly program and dismiss the ghost, I commit a Type II error. If it were to transpire that the government actually is implementing plans to exterminate millions of citizens in prison camps, then everyone who has not been particularly concerned about this (myself included) has made a Type II error. The invalid dismissal of vitamin megadosing would also be a Type II error if it turned out to indeed cure cancer, or whatever the hypothesis was.
Type I and II errors are not limited to whether we believe in some pseudoscience; they’re even more applicable in daily life, in business decisions and research. If I have a bunch of Skeptoid T-shirts printed to sell at a conference, I make a Type I error by assuming that people are going to buy, and it turns out that nobody does. The salesman makes a Type II error when he decides that no customers are likely to buy today, so he goes home early, when in fact it turns out that one guy had his checkbook in hand.
Both Type I and II errors can be subtle and complex, but in practice, the Type I error can be thought of as excess idealism, accepting too many new ideas; and the Type II error as excess cynicism, rejecting too many new ideas.
Before talking about Type III and IV errors, it should be noted that these are not universally accepted. Types I and II have been standard for nearly a century, but various people have extended the series in various directions since then; so there is no real convention for what Types III and IV are. However the definitions I’m going to give are probably the most common, and they work very well for the purpose of skeptical analysis.
By Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Question: What happens when a skeptic like myself questions the global warming theory in a facebook group that considers themselves skeptics?
Answer: I get labeled a conspiracist, conspiratard, sheeptard, right-winger, troll, denialist and all kinds of other interesting things. It was also suggested that i do certain things to myself and go away.
As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating, Jim.”
I have always had issues with the question, “Do you believe in global warming?“, because it’s really two questions:
Because simply answering “yes” to the above question can be misunderstood to mean you agree warming has occurred AND that humans are primarily responsible, i always split the issue:
It’s this position that gets people all worked up. But why do feel this way? Because i have questions.
What period of time are global warming believers referring to when they use phrases like, “the warmest ‘on record'”, “since records have been kept” or “since measurements began”?
Al Gore is notorious for using these kinds of references to a mystery time frame. When he says “this is the hottest year ‘since measurements began'”, am i the only one wondering when “the measurements began”? After all, if the measurements began at 5 o’clock this morning, then by noon it really would be the warmest since measurements began, wouldn’t it?
Here is Al Gore from 1997 using these types of vague references to a mysterious period of time:
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) used similar language in their 1990 Scientific Assessment report when they wrote, “the five warmest years on record have been in the 1980s.”
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It almost sounds like they’re saying, “the five warmest years since the beginning of time have been in the 1980s,” or “the five warmest years EVER have been in the 1980s,” doesn’t it?
The truth is, when the IPCC, Al Gore and the other global warming theorists compare temperatures to “the record” (i.e. “The warmest on record“) they are actually referring to the last 150 years of temperature data. Allow me to explain. Here are the temperatures from the last 1,000 years:
With current temperatures located on the far right of the graph and the dotted line representing temperature conditions near the beginning of the twentieth century, you should notice something right off the bat.
Beginning about 950 AD and continuing for about 400 years until almost 1350 AD there is a period of time when the temperatures were warmer than they are today. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – 1990), this warmer period is referred to as the “Medieval Warm Period.”
The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than any temperatures seen today, so global warming theorists must use a period of time after the Medieval Warm Period to make claims of record breaking temperatures.
Here is that period of time referred to as “the record” by global warming theorists when they say “… on ‘the record'”:
The above graph is “the record” as depicted in the 1990 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Scientific Assessment Report. It only goes back approximately 150 years to the year 1860.
From the same IPCC report: “The instrumental record of surface temperature is fragmentary until the mid-nineteenth century, after which it slowly improves . . . ” and it “shows current estimates of … surface temperature over land and ocean since 1860. ” [all emphasis mine]
So when the IPCC and other global warming theorists say, “the warmest temperatures on record,” what they’re really saying is, “the warmest temperatures since 1860!”
Now look again at the 1,000 year temperature graph, this time with “the record” put in perspective:
It becomes clear why global warming theorists say “the warmest temperatures on record” - because if they were honest and said “the warmest temperatures since 1860,” the deception would become as painfully obvious as it is here.
What else do you notice? Notice where “the record” begins on the 1,000 year timeline. It begins at the end of a period in history called the “Little Ice Age.” The Little Ice Age (LIA) is a 500 year period of cooling that occurred from about 1350 to approximately 1850.
I’m sure it’s just pure happenstance that the purveyors of global warming use the end of an ice age as their temperature comparison starting point. Sort of like wanting to convince your friends you’re a gambling guru by bragging about how you won $3,000 on your last day in Las Vegas while conveniently forgetting to mention how you lost $5,000 on your first day in Vegas. You’re the man (until your friends learn the inconvenient truth)!
For more perspective let’s go back some more. Here is 8,000 years of temperatures:
 1990 IPCC Scientific Assessment, page xxix.
 1990 IPCC Scientific Assessment, Page 202.
 1990 IPCC Scientific Assessment, page xxix.
 1990 IPCC Scientific Assessment, page xxviii.
 1990 IPCC Scientific Assessment, page xxviii.
 Also see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_record
Step 1: Start with the premise that any tragic incident is a massive, intricate government conspiracy.
Step 2: Denounce any information presented by a mainstream, non-conspiracy source that directly counters the predetermined conspiracy narrative as corrupt and part of the conspiracy.
Step 3: Monitor these same mainstream sources for information that supports the predetermined conspiracy narrative, even if only remotely. Mainstream media reporting mistakes that support your conspiracy (or any conspiracy really) must be treated as rare moments of truth, glimpses inside the Matrix. Any mainstream media reports in favor of the conspiracy should be treated like the word of God. Spam that information everywhere.
Step 4: Imagination is the same thing as undeniable fact. There is nothing wrong with manipulating Youtube videos and using Photoshop to edit information to make it more obvious for the stupid sheeple to understand.
Step 5: Reject the skeptics to the conspiracy theories aggressively. Call them out for being sheep, shills, Cointelpro, paid agents, et cetera. Do not ever doubt yourself, because if you think they are any of these nouns, then it is undeniably true. After all, the conspiracy theory you are trying to wake the world up to is a fact. Only a sheep would think otherwise.
Step 6: Bring up the founding of the Federal Reserve, the Bay of Pigs, The Gulf of Tonkin, and other well known deceptive schemes by the government often (every conversation if need be.) These actions were confessed by government, therefore every other conspiracy theory is true!
Step 7: Cite declassified documents often, as they are invaluable. If the government reports that a secret program was started and ended 60 years ago- DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. The secret programs for sure are still occurring and are now more massive, sinister, and successful than before.
Step 8: Remember that most of witnesses and victims involved in conspiracy event are actors. Medical examiners, emergency responders, the police, reporters, they are almost all in on it. The innocent people caught up in the conspiracy were either killed or have been threatened by the conspirators and are too afraid to come forward (or they possibly never existed to begin with.)
Step 9: Blitz the world with the truth until everyone deletes you on Facebook or you are banned from your favorite web sites. Lay low for a period, regroup at your favorite alternative web sites, get encouragement and reinforcement from the other awakened truth seekers, and start the process all over again with a new conspiracy.
The other day I was searching through Youtube looking for “alien caught on camera” videos (I actually do look for that stuff when I’m bored) one thing lead to another and I eventually came across this article about an alleged alien encounter that occurred not only in my home town… but also about only a mile or so from my home (although it happened over two years ago and nothing like this has occurred near here ever since).
Suffice to say that if I believed that this close encounter of the third kind actually did occurred (read about it here) I might be scared out of my mind. Of course I don’t believe it. I believe it to be a hoax, and I’ll explain why:
First, lets examine the description of the “alien” by the eye witness:
Now that’s a very detailed description of this creature. What detail that was not given was how far away this person was from the creature, or where exactly this creature was (I’m well aware of the area and how it looks like having lived here all my life and driven past this place hundreds of times, so I can tell you after reading the report that the person gave is that either the person is a local as well, or has passed through that section of road enough times to remember what it looks like)? Was the creature on the hill in the wooded area, or in the middle of the road, or across the street at the little pond next to the apartments that are at that intersection, or on the side of the road?
Also it was at 2:00 PM in the summer time, and according to the report given, it states that:
So there are at least nine other eye witnesses to this incident, and probably a lot more than that, yet this is the only report about this alleged incident that I can find, and no one there (including the person whom made this report) had enough sense to take a picture of this creature? In fact why hasn’t more people come forward and said that they saw something? I can understand maybe a few people not wanting to have anything to do with this incident, but certainly there must have been atleast more that one person willing to come forward and tell what they saw?
Now there is actually one alleged picture of this creature, and it was taken at night via a trail camera . . .
By Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
As the year 2013 comes to a close, it seems only appropriate that we take a look back at some of the wisdom and predictions heaped upon us just 12 months ago by one of this country’s leading intellectuals – little Mikey Adams from Natural News – and see how accurate this wizard of wonder (As in, “I wonder why people believe anything he says.”) was with foretelling the events of 2013.
First off, Mikey has removed the page where he had posted his predictions.
So, failure #1: he failed to predict his own humiliation when his 2013 predictions would prove to be so devastatingly wrong that he’s forced to remove his own predictions page from his own website.
Failure #2: he failed to predict somebody like me would save a PDF copy of his predictions – just to amuse the world at his expense. (Note: It has since come to my attention that a copy of his predictions can still be found at that other loon site, prisonplanet.com)
I’ll let the good people at Skeptic Project handle the other failures, below.
By Clock, via the Skeptic Project
Prediction: 2013 will be 1984 on steroids
Prediction #1: The global debt collapse arrives
Prediction #2: Obama administration attempts to gut the Second Amendment
Prediction #3: Martial Law declared across America
Prediction #4: Extreme shortages of guns, ammo, magazines as their barter value skyrockets
Prediction #5: Tactical weapon strikes target Iran
Prediction #6: Massive false flag attack carried out in USA and blamed on patriots
Prediction #7: DHS arms the TSA and begins insane abuses of Americans on roadway checkpoints
Prediction #8: The rise of the Resistance: Secret resistance groups begin to form across America
Prediction #9: Attacks on the First Amendment accelerate as government seizes websites
Prediction #10: The rise of violent rhetoric among the population as disagreements turn to threats
Prediction #11: Global government makes its move
Prediction #12: Accelerated mainstream media attacks on patriots, preppers and veterans
Note from Mason I. Bilderberg -
How many people must be in a group for the odds of two people in the group having the same birthday reaches a statistical likelihood better than 50%?
The number is so surprisingly few that some people attribute a birthday match in such a small group to something akin to a sign from the heavens. They ask, “What are the odds?”
But did you know, in a group of 50 people, there is a 97% statistical chance of two people having the same birthday? Psychics use these types of statistical illusions to give audiences the impression that such occurrences are “a sign from above!”
I’d love to be in a group of 50 people when it is discovered that two people have the same birthday and the psychic asks in a mysterious tone, “What ARE the odds?” . . . just so i can yell back “97% you freakin’ charlatan!”
Wikipedia explains all the math, as does the video below.
People who believe in the empty force claim … the ‘Empty Force,’ is the highest martial arts skill in China. This technique claims to harness the power of qi, the “body’s vital energy“, enabling masters of the art to defend themselves against opponents without making physical contact.”
By Mason I. Bilderberg
For this article I’m throwing in a bit of a curveball from what you’ve come to expect from iLLumiNuTTi.
This article is not about proving or disproving conspiracies. Whether you or I believe the following conspiratorial claims to be true is irrelevant for the purposes of this article. For the sake of argument, just this once, let’s assume all the insanity is true.
Why? Because this article is going to use the beliefs espoused by the conspiracists themselves to point out a peculiar inconsistency between what conspiracists say and what conspiracists do.
The question to be answered is, “Are conspiracists all talk and no walk?”
Here we go . . .
Conspiracists are screaming and yelling about the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima disaster. They are convinced the radioactive fallout has already reached the west coast and other parts of the United States and is killing us, and “they” (who ever “they” are) are covering up the situation.
The crank site Natural News is telling us about “a multitude of strange animal deaths, high radiation readings and other recent anomalies” on the west coast.
Natural News also tells us even the Alaskan coastline is seeing the effects of deadly radiation with a series of “strange animal deaths … including masses of sea lions, sockeye salmon and other sea creatures washing up on the shore,” and “polar bears, seals and walruses … found to have major fur loss and open sores…”
This picture posted by elitedaily.com claims a nationwide increase in mortality rates since the Fukushima disaster:
The cranks at worldtruth.tv are telling us the entire food supply is contaminated with radiation and recommends we avoid the following foods: seafood, water, dairy products, produce and meat.
If conspiracists truly believed this rhetoric you would expect them to be doing something about it, wouldn’t you?
For example, do we see conspiracists packing up their belongings, getting in their cars and evacuating the west coast to save themselves from imminent doom?
Are conspiracists evacuating the west coast of Alaska?
Have conspiracists stopped consuming seafood, water, dairy products, produce and meat?
What, exactly, are conspiracists doing in response to a crisis they want the rest of us to believe?
Nothing. They are doing absolutely nothing.
The basic idea is, because the Bush family had business connections with Nazi Germany, we should not only hate the Bush family but the Nazi connection is all the proof needed to prove the Bush family are evil, ruthless people – able, willing, wanting and guilty of killing thousands of people on September 11. 2001.
Now, ask a conspiracist about these other well known Nazi collaborators: Kodak, Hugo Boss, Volkswagen, Bayer, Siemens, Coca-Cola (specifically Fanta), Standard Oil, Chase bank, IBM, Random House publishing, Allianz, Nestlé, BMW, General Electric (GE), Ford and GM.
What do you think? Do conspiracists call these companies evil? Do you think conspiracists refuse to work for any of these companies? Do conspiracists refuse to purchase or use products connected with these companies?
Of course not.
Conspiracists tell us to hate the Bush family because of their business connection to Nazi Germany. They say this as they climb into their Ford, GM, Volkswagen or BMW vehicle and drive away on a tank of gas supplied by one of Standard Oil’s successor companies. Once home, they kick off their Hugo Boss shoes, grab some Nestlé cookies (Mmmmmmm!) from their GE refrigerator and wash it all down with a can of Fanta orange soda.
Afterwards they fight the matrix masters by posting conspiratorial crap on their blog using a DSL connection routed through an IBM server.
Then before turning in for the night they head on over to Amazon or Ebay and buy another round of conspiracy DVDs and books – published by Random House – using a Chase bank Visa card.
The next time a conspiracist mentions the Bush-Nazi connection, ask them what kind of car they drive.
Conspiracists believe that some trails left by aircraft are chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed at high altitudes for purposes undisclosed to the general public and directed by various government officials.
Conspiracists believe the aircraft we see flying across the sky everyday are poisoning us with some kind of nanoparticle spray. Barium and aluminum seem to be the most common elements the conspiracists believe are raining down upon us.
What debilitating health effects do conspiracists believe are befalling us?
Short term effects: Allergies, Anxiety, Asthma, Brain Fog, Breathing difficulties (Unexplained), Chronic sore or raspy throat, Dizziness, Eye and skin irritations, Flatulence (gas), Flu-like symptoms, Headaches, itching (Unexplained), Nausea and Vomiting, Nose bleeds (Unexplained), Panic attacks, Persistent coughing, Respiratory problems, Stomach aches, Suicidal thoughts and Tinnitus (distant ringing in ears or high pitched sound after spraying).
Long term effects: Acid Reflux, (ADHD) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Allergies, Alzheimer’s Disease, Aluminum build up in Pineal Gland, Asthma, Autism (evidence links autism to mercury), Autoimmune Diseases, Blood in the Urine, Borderline personality disorder, Cancer (linked to many types of cancers), Chronic Fatigue, Constipation, Depression, Easy Bruising, Eye problems – * Nearsightedness & Farsightedness (by altering interocular fluid eye, pressure), Fibromyalgia, Floaters In the Eyes, Gastritis, Heart Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), Heart Disease, High Cholesterol, Hypoglycemia, Hyperglycemia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Insomnia, Learning Disabilities, Lung diseases, Lupus Erythematosus, Multiple Sclerosis, Oily Skin (Elevated DHT), Parkinson’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Schizophrenia, Short-Term Memory Loss, Sleep Disorders, Spider Veins, Tinnitus (ringing in the ears – 700 million cases of Tinnitus reported worldwide) and White Coating On the Tongue.
So what do you think? If you believed harmful nanoparticles are dropping from the sky causing every conceivable adverse health problem short of stripping the skin off your face, wouldn’t you take steps to protect yourself?
Of course you would.
In real life, to provide adequate protection against the chemicals and biological agents the conspiracists are talking about, a simple surgeon’s mask won’t suffice. You would have to squeeze yourself into a hazmat suit akin to what is depicted in the image to the right.
When is the last time you saw a chemtrail-believing conspiracist walking around in a hazmat suit? Never. Once again, conspiracists don’t behave in a manner consistent with their stated beliefs.
The next time a chemtrail believer screams about those death trails in the sky, comment on how hard it must be to type on a keyboard while wearing those big, bulky hazmat suit gloves.
Conspiracists are an extraodinarily paranoid bunch.
I read a blaring headline the other day, written by a conspiracist, claiming facebook is working hand-in-hand with the NSA to spy on our every move by turning over all our private data, pictures, videos, likes, dislikes, friends list, private messages . . . EVERYTHING! Even our shoe size.
“Where did you read this headline?”, you ask? On facebook – of course. This conspiracist has a facebook timeline brimming with every anti-government rant you could ever imagine. Am I the only one seeing the irony here?
Then there is the conspiracist who sent me an email imploring me to get angry about the NSA spying on our emails. When I pointed out to him that he should encrypt his own emails if his fear was real, he tells me encrypting his emails would just get him flagged by “them.” Excuse me for just a second but – *ahem* *clears throat* – WTF?
Another conspiracist friend refuses to join Facebook because he fears being flagged and tracked by “them.” Yet he runs a blog where he pontificates at great lengths detailing his very own brand of crazy. When I queried him on this seeming contradiction he gave me an explanation that I can honestly say I didn’t understand. It just didn’t make sense – whatever he said.
When a story comes out speculating on the ability of the government to use cell phones to track our movements. Do my conspiratorial friends rid themselves of their cell phones or, at a minimum, wrap their cell phones in foil to prevent the tracking of their phones? Of course not.
Conspiracists believe, “that television flicker rates induce alpha brain waves, lulling the brain into a more subconscious state that can be compared to sleep, literally inducing a type of hypnosis within the viewer that makes them more susceptible to suggestion” and “whatever is coming from the TV therefore somewhat bypasses the logical mind and is embedded directly into the subconscious.”
In other words, “they” are using televisions as a “psycho-social weapon” to control our minds and turn us into New World Order (NWO) zombies, instilling us with “a social worldview and value system that is self-centric and is in fact the opposite of what a healthy and enduring society requires.”
After all, isn’t that why they call it “television programming?”
Here is my question: If television really is a tool to brainwash and control the mind, wouldn’t the viewing of conspiracy documentaries on a television also have the same mind controlling and brainwashing effect on every conspiracist?
Why don’t conspiracists accuse the makers of their wack-a-doo conspiracy DVDs of brainwashing?
If conspiracists sincerely believed their own hype, they would cease watching all television programs regardless of the content. But they don’t and they won’t.
I think you get the idea.
In order to take a conspiracist to task you needn’t know what they know to counter their arguments, you need only ask them, “What are you doing about your claimed belief?”
I ask this very question of Alex Jones regarding chemtrails. Of all the conspiracists who have the resources to settle the chemtrail debate once and for all, it’s Alex Jones. If Alex Jones really believes “they” have been spraying us for almost 20 years, why doesn’t Alex reach into his own wallet and pull out some of that $$$$$ he earns from DVD sales and rent a plane, pay a pilot, hire a certified forensics lab, fly into the suspicious clouds and contrails, conduct all the necessary air sampling while following all proper chain of custody procedures and end this debate once and for all? Why? Because it would kill those DVD sales.
Make conspiracists walk the walk.
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
 11points.com | businesspundit.com | washingtonpost.com | en.wikipedia.org
Via Skeptic Magazine
In this video — the fifth in our series of videos that promote science and critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire — we present a Con Academy mini course in the techniques of New Age Spiritual Gurutry.
If you missed our first four videos, check them out:
by Ingrid Hansen Smythe via skeptic.com
There are a number of different methods of exposing an individual as a liar and a charlatan. One way is to engage the person directly in their self-professed area of expertise and then judge their performance. You might employ an alleged brain surgeon, for example, and pay that person to perform brain surgery on you—and if the surgeon uses a cork screw and salad tongs, and the operation turns into something akin to an autopsy or a dinner party at the Todd’s (Sweeney, that is), you’ve got fairly good evidence against the so-called expert. Alternatively, you could spare yourself the agony of direct engagement and read the published papers of the brain surgeon in question. If the papers are full of contradictions, wild inaccuracies and obvious fictions—if the surgeon believes that the hippocampus is an actual college, for example, or that olfactory bulbs are planted in the spring, or the ventral horn is a member of the brass section—again you have solid evidence that the brain surgeon hasn’t a clue and is not actually all that interested in the contents of your skull but, rather, in the contents of your wallet.
In his brilliant exposé of James Van Praagh, author Miklos Jako uses the first method and actually pays the renowned medium $700 for a reading. (Watch the reading with Jako’s editorial.) In tallying up the hits (12) and misses (64), Jako calculates a success rate of 16 percent. This is remarkably low, even for a cold reading, and Jako might have gotten a higher success rate had he engaged Bubbles the chimp. Worse yet, Jako actually feeds Van Praagh a lie about his father being involved in a drunk driving accident, and Van Praagh falls for it hook, line, and sinker. “He keeps going on about how he was very sorry it hurt you,” says Van Praagh. “He knows he embarrassed you on several occasions. He’s ashamed of that. He’s ashamed. He’s sorry, he’s ashamed of that. And please don’t think of him that way.” Jako’s outrage is palpable at this point, and it’s tough for him to remain composed. “My father never embarrassed me,” he says firmly. “Never.” Based on the evidence, Jako goes on to add his dead-on-the-mark assessment of the great psychic. “James Van Praagh,” he says, “you’re full of shit.” This sums things up nicely, I think.
You’d imagine that this masterful unveiling would settle the matter once and for all—but no. The critic can always assert that the old brain tumour was acting up again and that Van Praagh was simply “off” on that particular day, or that he was subconsciously stifled by Jako’s Kryptonite-like skepticism, or that an alleged error was just a silly misunderstanding, or that the spirits were being deliberately impish and uncooperative. None of this is Van Praagh’s fault. Thus, even when a medium is wrong more often than right, support continues or even increases.1
Unlike Miklos Jako then, my approach is to use the second method, examining the writings of Mr. Van Praagh in detail to see if I can detect anything that confirms Jako’s assessment. I’ll be analyzing his book Growing Up in Heaven, Van Praagh’s singular study of the afterlife as it relates, specifically, to the deaths of children. In it, Van Praagh shares his actual conversations with dead children, his interactions with the grieving parents, his philosophical intuitions, and his revealed insights into the afterlife for those of us dying to know what really goes on behind the veil.2
Before proceeding with the specifics, allow me to briefly sum up Van Praagh’s metaphysical position. Each of us is an eternal soul that reincarnates on the earth, and on other planets and in other dimensions, in order to learn all the lessons a soul’s got to know. These lessons are, predictably, things like patience and humility, and not things like how to make napalm or take the temperature of a cat. The ultimate lesson is that “we are all love created by Love,”3 and once we’ve figured out what the hell that could possibly mean, we achieve enlightenment.
So i was having a written exchange with a couple of conspiracists. They were posting links ranting on and on about FEMA camps, martial law, something about foreign troops being trained to disarm Americans . . . yada, yada, yada.
You know, the same old crap.
This whole conspiracy thing seems cyclical. A new generation of conspiracy theorists stumble upon the same old, worn out, decades old conspiracy theories for the first time in their paranoid lives and they think they’ve discovered something completely new, true and worth preaching. And so they begin their new mission – running around trying to wake up the “sheeple” to their new found “truth.”
These newly stamped conspiracists then go on to spend many years spinning their wheels in the same conspiratorial muck that their conspiratorial predecessors did all those decades before.
Some of these newbies will remain in the Lost Forest for many years – beyond the reach of reason. Then there are the newbies that wise up to the con(spiracy) money game being played on them by those reaping huge profits regurgitating the same old tales of paranoia – Alex Jones comes to mind.
Every conspiracy being preached today has been preached before in some shape or form. This is the point i try to make in my exchanges with my conspiratorial friends:
As an example of what i’m talking about i have posted some screenshots below that came from the InfoWars website, October 1999. Note the similarities to today’s InfoWar headlines. Same sh**, different year.
I’ll give Alex Jones credit for one thing – he has an amazing ability to sell and resell the same crap over and over again.
Mason I. Bilderberg
It’s the #1 most common question I get: My wife, my friend, my mom, my boss, is investing their health or their money in some magical or fraudulent product/scheme/belief. What can I do about it?
This is a tough situation to be in. Whether it’s a loved one who’s ill and is being taken advantage of by a charlatan selling a magical cure with no hope of treating the illness, or a friend who’s out of work and is going into deeper debt to buy into a hopeless multilevel marketing plan, it’s really hard to watch. The hardest is when they have a real problem and are expending their limited resources trying to solve it with a medieval, magic-based system that you know can’t possibly help. But all too often, they think it’s helping. Cognitive biases, anecdotal thinking, placebo effects and cognitive dissonance combine to build a powerful illusion that our brains are hardwired to believe in. At some point, it falls to a caring friend to try and rescue them with a candle of reason.
You’re up against a foe who’s far more formidable than you might think. This isn’t like settling a bet with a friend where you can look up the answer on Wikipedia, see who’s right, then buy each other a beer. You’re going after someone’s religion. You’re setting out to talk someone out of believing something that they know to be true, for a fact, from their personal experience. That right there makes your task nearly impossible, but it’s worse. Their belief has spiritual underpinnings that make it deeply moral and virtuous. Imagine if someone came to you and flashed a magazine article that said it’s best to turn your children out into the street and never talk to them again. It’s not only unconvincing, it’s laughable. Your effort to talk someone out of their belief in their sacred cow is likely to be just as laughable.
So what should you do, give up? You may be surprised to hear it from me, but I advise you to do just that, in many cases. Know which battles to fight. Weigh the risks. Consider the context of your friend’s belief: Is he in imminent danger of harming himself or others? Probably not; and if not, this may not be the time to take what might be your only shot. So I want to make this a rule: Before you decide what to do, consider the risks and the context. How terrible are the consequences of your friend’s belief? Think that through comprehensively. Make sure you have a good understanding of the risks to your friend if you do nothing, and the risks to your relationship if you attack their beliefs and (in all probability) fail to convince them. It may well be that this first strategy I’m going to present is the safest.
Doing nothing now doesn’t mean giving up. When you choose not to confront your friend’s current weird belief, there’s still an effective strategy for helping him out that you can follow. By accepting and tolerating your friend’s weird belief, you’re actually setting yourself up to be in a position of great influence the next time something weird comes down the line. Your friend likely knows that you’re a skeptical person, and eventually he’ll recognize that you’ve been putting up with his weird belief and saying nothing. In fact he may someday ask you, “Hey, you know I believe in this weird thing, how come Mr. Cynical Skeptic has never tried to talk me out of it?”
Ask “Is it important to you?”
“You’re important to me.”
Think what a powerful message that sends. It may sound corny, but it’s a statement that your friend will always remember. You’ve just communicated that your friendship is more important than your “evil debunking hobby”. You’ve made it clear, unequivocably, that you don’t want such differences to come between you.
And now look at the position you’re in. You’re trusted. You’re an ally at the most important and fundamental level. This is exactly where you need to be if you want to be influential on someone. You can now begin to introduce critical thinking using topics that are more about exploration than confrontation, and this is a journey you should take together. Next time you’re in the car together, play a few Skeptoid episodes. Play episodes like The Baigong Pipes, Is He Real or Is He Fictional, The Missing Cosmonauts, and When People Talk Backwards. Topics such as these do not attack or challenge anyone, they instill an appreciation and a passion for the value of critical thinking. Once introduced, I find that most people want more.
Gather every bit of skeptical material you can find that you know will interest your friend, and that does not attack or challenge his belief. So long as you remain a trustworthy friend and not an irrational adversary, you’re in a position to introduce him to the fundamentals of critical thinking, and to the value and tangible rewards of reality. Don’t underestimate the value of seeds that are well planted in a good environment. If your friend comes around on his own, his growth is far more complete than any that’s forced upon him.
Always remember the story of the little boy who couldn’t get his pet turtle to come out of his shell. He tried to pull on its head, he shook it, he squirted water, he did everything he could think of. But the turtle wouldn’t come out. Then his grandfather took the turtle and placed it on the warm hearth, and within a minute the turtle was out of his shell. The little boy never forgot that lesson.
Sometimes the situation is urgent and you don’t have time to do things the easy way. There might be a medical crisis, an emotional crisis, or a financial crisis, and an immediate intervention is needed. Sometimes a friend’s situation is dire enough that helping him is worth the loss of the personal relationship. In these cases, and probably only in these cases, would I suggest a confrontational approach. And to do this effectively, draw on the established principals of the counseling intervention.
First you want to gather a group of friends or family, and you need to meet with them separately. Try to get a group, but even if there are only two of you, it’s worlds better than just you by yourself. Your next task is to present your evidence to the group that the magical system your friend is relying on is pseudoscientific and cannot help him. Do not expect them to accept what you say at face value, and do expect that some of them might buy into the magical system as well. Be prepared. Show your work. Print out pages from the web. Use the Science Based Medicine blog, use Skeptoid, use Quackwatch, use Swift. Search the best sources and have all your ducks in a row. The most important thing you need to do at this stage is to be certain that everyone in the group is united in their understanding of the useless, pseudoscientific nature of the magical sacred cow.
On a related note . . .
Susan Blackmore is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is the is author of a number of books, including The Meme Machine and Zen and the Art of Consciousness.
Theory is often regarded a systematic framework formed of concepts that analytically account for phenomena observed. Philosophers for centuries have debated whether the goings on are external to human thoughts and cognition and thus real and material; or whether they are constructs of the mind, logically assembled and maintained by the exercising of reason with no independent reality.
Theory is applied in both the social and natural sciences. In the social sciences disputes emerge, once again, between those who advocate that there is a real material world outside the remit of the observer and those who propose that the social sciences can only be understood internally by its inhabitants; resulting in normative theories that encompass Political Theory as well as historical, social and anthropological paradigms under the broader domain of hermeneutics. In the natural sciences the matter is somewhat different. Although Philosophers o f science such a Van Frassen advocate a scientific image along with anti-realism, most would accept that the methodological practice of the natural sciences is to generate hypothesis that form, or derive from, an overarching theory. This runs parallel to the procession of validating the phenomena in question with the eventual goal of producing a correlation between the explanandum and the explanan.
Classifying both the social and natural sciences as science, with the use of theory, means that the procedures of verification, evidence and explanation take the same abstract steps even though the physicist is completely divorced from the world he studies as where the sociologist, by the nature of human existence and the definition of the discipline, is inescapably part of the phenomena he studies, society. Nonetheless the issues that arise for both the sciences centre around preemption; when there is more than one theory competing for the explanation of the phenomena in question, or theoretical redundancy; when there is a theory that explains certain aspects of a phenomena but not every time nor in every context. This coupled with using evidence based empirical data to warrant the application and validation of a theory means that both the social sciences and natural sciences constantly refine their hypotheses and make predictions on future outcomes.
These are the formal understandings and uses of theory across the spectrum of the sciences and this is what sets both theory apart from pseudo theory and science apart from pseudo science. It is for this very reason that Conspiracy Theory is a pseudo theory. Take firstly one of the Holy Grail‘s of the scientific method: prediction. These abound in the natural sciences, ranging from how, why and when your PC will turn on to planes flying and equations of time and space. The social sciences, as already mentioned, tread a much more precarious, unreliable and unstable ground. However through the collection of data based on conceptualized variables and statistical models of causation, predictions can be levied. Anyone who has an investment portfolio can see the benefits of employing time series and regression analysis in economics although the latest financial crises illustrates that the predictions are far from completely accurate.
Conspiracy Theory as a serious ontological and epistemological alternative to social phenomena must provide predictions, demonstrate their applicability and warrant evidence that at least renders their explanations as plausible or highly likely. Although in the social sciences these do not map exactly due to the nature of the measurement of artificially constructed social variables, Conspiracy Theory falls spectacularly short regarding the relationship between observed phenomena, explanation and the use of reliable and relevant data and thus prediction.
A few months ago I came across the “You Know You Are a Conspiracy Theorist If…“ test (which I found to be laughable when I saw it) to help a person tell if they are a conspiracy theorist or not (view the test here).
I have some things to say about this “test” and some comments about “questions” that were asked (well, they’re not really questions) as well as a few questions of my own:
• You are capable of critical thinking.
This is a paradox. If a conspiracy theorist was capable of critical thinking, then they wouldn’t be a conspiracy theorist because people who are capable of critical thinking would figure out that a conspiracy theory was BS.
• You distrust mainstream media.
So do most skeptics, although for entirely different reasons than conspiracy theorists do.
• You like nature.
Lots of people do. What does this have to do with being a conspiracy theorist?
• You think it’s a good idea to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving with your family rather than camping outside Best Buy to get a cheap plasma television made in China.
That doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist. That makes you someone who is smart enough not to waste their time in the cold waiting for some store to open in the hope of finding bargains.
• You think it’s a little strange that WTC building 7 came down at free fall speed on 9/11 yet it was never hit by a plane.
This might make you a conspiracy theorist, as well as someone who has conveniently forgotten that WTC7 was hit by something… a skyscraper.
• You think that drones in America might not be for Al Qaeda.
This might also make you a conspiracy theorist… or it might make you someone who knows drones that fly over America are also used for multiple benign purposes.
• You would like to be able to get on a plane without having to engage in a mandatory radiation bath and digital strip search.
As do many Americans, especially those who have gone through that process.
• You have read a book in the past year.
What does reading a book have to do with being a conspiracy theorist?
• You think you have the right to protest.
According to the first Amendment I don’t think I have the right, I have the right, period!
• You think the War on Terror is a scam.
That depends on what your definition of “scam” is.
• You think the War on Drugs is a scam.
Again, that depends on what your definition of “scam” is. Does your definition mean completely bogus and fraudulent, or wasteful and unnecessary?
• You think the anger directed at America from the Middle East could possibly be related to our foreign policy rather than hating how amazingly free we are.
This just means you’ve done more than five minutes worth of research about the Middle East.
• You think the Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same on the important issues affecting our country.
This could mean you’re a conspiracy theorist… it could also mean that you’re a Libertarian, or you’re just ticked off at both political parties.
• You think believing in The Constitution does not constitute a terrorist act.
Who the Hell believes that believing in the constitution is a terrorist act? The only people who believe that are idiots!
• You have heard of the Bill of Rights and can even name what some of them are.
As most Americans have and can…
• You question whether the government loves you.
The government is not a living entity. It neither loves nor hates, therefore it is pointless to ask if it loves you or not.
• You think the right to bear arms is not for hunting, rather so citizens can fight back should the government become a bunch of tyrannical thugs.
Yeah, this could mean that you’re a conspiracy theorist… it could also mean that you just don’t like the government, or you’re afraid that the United States “could” become a tyrannical dictatorship.
• You don’t own a television, and if you do, all you watch is RT, especially the Keiser Report and Capital Account.
(Reading that alone makes me wonder if this is satire) If all you watch on television is RT (Russia Today) then there is no need to finish this test. You are a conspiracy theorist.
Today we’re going to point our skeptical eye, once again, at the events of September 11, specifically at World Trade Center 7, the building that collapsed after the twin towers for no apparent reason, in a manner consistent with a controlled demolition. We’re entering the weird wild and wacky world of conspiracy theories, men in black, deceit, doubt, mistrust, and delusion. But on which side?
First let’s be clear about what the two sides are, then we’ll examine the evidence supporting each of them.
The conspiracy theory states that World Trade Center 7 was a controlled demolition, an intentional destruction of the building by our government. The evidence supporting this theory is threefold: First, the video of the collapse and the tidy distribution of the resultant debris appear consistent with known controlled demolitions. Second, photographs of the building before it collapsed showed little or no damage to cause a collapse. Third, fire alone cannot destroy a steel building, and so the cause must lie in high-energy explosives. A great deal more information is put forward by the supporters of this theory as evidence, but it’s really only suppositions about proposed motives and observations of events perceived as unusual, and so is actually not testable evidence of a direct physical cause. This information includes government offices located in the building, the establishment of Giuliani’s emergency management headquarters on the 23rd floor, and portions of the government’s preliminary reports that openly stated that certain unknowns remained.
The competing theory is found in those very same government reports. The first, a preliminary report issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only eight months after the event, concluded that fires on the 5th through 7th floors caused the collapse, but infamously noted:
The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time. Although the total diesel fuel on the premises contained massive potential energy, the best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence. Further research, investigation, and analyses are needed to resolve this issue.
Three years later, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a working draft of the complete theory, scheduled to be finished in 2008. (IllumiNuTTi Note: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released their Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 on November 20, 2008 [Web page here] [PDF file here]) This report states that the building suffered two major failures, either of which could have been survived on its own, but not in combination. The first failure was severe damage to ten stories of the south side of the building, dramatically shown in a single frame of video from an ABC news helicopter, which destroyed several major columns. The second failure was the fire, fed in part by diesel generator fuel from high pressure tanks, which proceeded unfought for seven hours due to a lack of water pressure, and caused terminal weakening in the remaining columns that were already overloaded from the loss of the initial columns. Firefighters noted a growing bulge between the 10th and 13th floors and major structural creaking sounds, and finally evacuated. Two hours later, the east wall began to crack and bow. The east penthouse sank into the structure, and eight seconds later, the northeast corner fell, bringing the rest of the building down on top of it.
No evidence of any explosives were ever found, but the conspiracy theory states that this is because the government took away all the debris before it could be independently tested. Since it’s normal for debris to be removed following any such destruction, this particular piece of information is too ambiguous to be given serious weight as proof of a conspiracy.
MORE . . .
James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.
Read transcript below or listen here
Of all the possible perspectives, beliefs, theories, ideologies, and conclusions in this world, which of them are beyond question? None of them. And neither should be any person who holds one of those positions. People believe all sorts of strange things, and even though they might be passionate about them, most will still admit that questioning their belief is an appropriate undertaking. Therefore, we — as scientific skeptics — have an available avenue by which we can always encourage believers in the strange to revisit their beliefs. Despite the fact that we may lack professional expertise in the subject at hand, we can still plant the seeds of an uprising of logic within the mind of the believer. One way to do this is through the application of Socratic questioning.
Returning to our fake example guys used in the past, Starling and Bombo, we can illustrate this concept. Let us choose an example scenario. If Bombo has seen a UFO and believes that it was an alien spacecraft, it would likely be difficult for Starling to reason him out of the idea by offering alternative suggestions. People are often pretty stubborn when it comes to personal experiences that they’ve already interpreted for themselves; Bombo saw an alien spacecraft, and telling him it was the planet Venus would probably be a dead end. Indeed, even offering lines of logic for Bombo to follow on his own would probably be refused. So is there any effective way at all of getting someone to consider a different explanation?
The answer is yes, and it involves getting Bombo to arrive at alternate explanations on his own. We’re all far more prone to accept our own ideas than someone else’s. Starling might well able to get Bombo to consider the idea that the UFO might not have been an alien spacecraft by employing Socratic questioning. Named (quite obviously) for Socrates — the ancient Greek philosopher (also quite obviously) — the Socratic questions are primarily teaching tools. Just as Bombo better accepts his own ideas, so do students of all types. Socratic questioning helps people to take a second, closer look at their own beliefs, and to apply critical thinking even when they least expect it.
There are six commonly described categories of Socratic questions, and they’re all good. You could familiarize yourself with any one of them, and you’d have a pretty good chance at changing Bombo’s mind, or that of anyone else who has made a conclusion based on faulty logic. An adept at all six types of questions would be a formidable reformer of popular pseudoscience believers.
Let’s begin with the first type:
Podcast transcript below or listen here
Today we’re going to head into the bathroom and suck the toxins out of our bodies through our feet and through our bowels, and achieve a wonderful sense of wellness that medical science just hasn’t caught onto yet. Today’s topic is the myth of detoxification, as offered for sale by alternative practitioners and herbalists everywhere.
To better understand this phenomenon, it’s necessary to define what they mean by toxins. Are they bacteria? Chemical pollutants? Trans fats? Heavy metals? To avoid being tested, they leave this pretty vague. Actual medical treatments will tell you exactly what they do and how they do it. Alternative detoxification therapies don’t do either one. They pretty much leave it up to the imagination of the patient to invent their own toxins. Most people who seek alternative therapy believe themselves to be afflicted by some kind of self-diagnosed poison; be it industrial chemicals, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, or fluoridated water. If the marketers leave their claims vague, a broader spectrum of patients will believe that the product will help them. And, of course, the word “toxin” is sufficiently scientific-sounding that it’s convincing enough by itself to many people.
Let’s assume that you work in a mine or a chemical plant and had some vocational accident, and fear that you might have heavy metal poisoning. What should you do? Any responsible person will go to a medical doctor for a blood test to find out for certain whether they have such poisoning. A person who avoids this step, because they prefer not to hear that the doctor can’t find anything, is not a sick person. He is a person who wants to be sick. Moreover, he wants to be sick in such a way that he can take control and self-medicate. He wants an imaginary illness, caused by imaginary toxins.
Now it’s fair for you to stop me at this point and call me out on my claim that these toxic conditions are imaginary. I will now tell you why I say that, and then as always, you should judge for yourself. Let’s start with one of the more graphic detoxification methods, gruesomely pictured on web sites and in chain emails. It’s a bowel cleansing pill, said to be herbal, which causes your intestines to produce long, rubbery, hideous looking snakes of bowel movements, which they call mucoid plaque. There are lots of pictures of these on the Internet, and sites that sell these pills are a great place to find them. Look at DrNatura.com, BlessedHerbs.com, and AriseAndShine.com, just for a start. Imagine how terrifying it would be to actually see one of those come out of your body. If you did, it would sure seem to confirm everything these web sites have warned about toxins building up in your intestines. But there’s more to it. As it turns out, any professional con artist would be thoroughly impressed to learn the secrets of mucoid plaque (and, incidentally, the term mucoid plaque was invented by these sellers; there is no such actual medical condition). These pills consist mainly of bentonite, an absorbent, expanding clay similar to kitty litter. Combined with psyllium, used in the production of mucilage polymer, bentonite forms a rubbery cast of your intestines when taken internally, mixed of course with whatever else your body is excreting. Surprise, a giant rubbery snake of toxins in your toilet.
It’s important to note that the only recorded instances of these “mucoid plaque” snakes in all of medical history come from the toilets of the victims of these cleansing pills. No gastroenterologist has ever encountered one in tens of millions of endoscopies, and no pathologist has ever found one during an autopsy. They do not exist until you take such a pill to form them. The pill creates the very condition that it claims to cure. And the results are so graphic and impressive that no victim would ever think to argue with the claim.
Victims, did I call them? Creating rubber casts of your bowels might be gross but I haven’t seen that it’s particularly dangerous, so why are they victims? A one month supply of these pills costs $88 from the web sites I mentioned. $88 for a few pennies worth of kitty litter in a pretty bottle promising herbal and organic cleansing. Yeah, they’re victims.
Some people who enjoy raw milk also make up false claims that regular milk is more dangerous.
Today we’re going to drop by our friendly local dairy farm and pick up a quart or two of what has become among the trendiest of foodie fancies, raw milk. Raw milk comes straight from the cow’s udder and into your glass. It hasn’t been homogenized or pasteurized and has nature’s full complement of fat, making it a scrumptious, creamy treat. But many of its fans aren’t satisfied with touting its flavor; they also claim it brings a host of miraculous health benefits hitherto undiscovered by science. Health experts, on the other hand, warn against consuming it in no uncertain terms, claiming that its unpasteurized bacterial load makes it an unacceptable risk. Is one or the other of these positions true, or do the real facts lie somewhere in between?
Some raw milk lovers take their passion very seriously, almost to the point of a religion. It’s fine to like something, fine to uphold ideological positions, fine to advocate to others. But it’s never OK to invent bad science to defend a position; and unfortunately, it appears that’s exactly what some raw milk proponents do. Here are five common arguments that I found being repeatedly made about the supposed evils of regular pasteurized, homogenized milk:
As we know, regular milk is pasteurized, and this is the key difference between it and raw milk. Heating food to reduce spoilage has been in practice for about a thousand years, even though the mechanism wasn’t well understood at first. We now know that heat kills the microbes found in food; including bacteria, fungi, algae, and a whole host of other organisms. Dangerous bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli, are the most worrisome.
We could sterilize food if we wanted to kill everything in it, but complete sterilization would also cook or destroy the food. It was Louis Pasteur who discovered in 1864 that a much gentler heating for only a short time was sufficient to kill such a high percentage of the microbes that food spoilage was largely mitigated. Today milk is one of many, many foods that are pasteurized to increase their shelf life and safety. There are various processes for doing this, but the net result is that the milk is briefly heated and then cooled again. Opponents say that a side effect of this is to destroy essential nutrients in the milk.
To see whether this is true, we first have to ask “What are these nutrients?” So far, the answer to this has been wanting. The nutrients in milk are mainly energy from fat and lactose, and these are unaffected by pasteurization. Similarly, the molecular structures of proteins and minerals are far too robust to be damaged by the relatively low heat. One fact is that a number of vitamins are found in reduced concentration in pasteurized milk, including vitamins B1, B12, C and E. Though true, it’s a fine trade-off, because milk of any kind is a relatively poor source for these vitamins. Vitamin A content is actually increased after pasteurization.
Often, advocates point to the fact that regular milk is fortified with vitamin D as evidence that pasteurization destroys that vitamin, so it has to be re-added. Untrue. Milk is not a source of vitamin D; it’s one of many products that are fortified (such as breakfast cereals, orange juice, and baby formula), and have been since rickets was a major public health problem in the 1930s.
Lactobacillus is a bacterium found in our bodies, and also found in cow’s milk. Lactobacillus does help with our digestion and the conversion of sugars to energy. And, it is killed by pasteurization. While some raw milk advocates raise alarm over this, there’s no need. Lactobacillus thrives and reproduces itself inside our bodies. There is no need to drink milk to get it.
Raw milk is not homogenized like regular milk. Homogenization is just what it sounds like; making the milk consistent from batch to batch, and making the fat level consistent throughout each serving.
Homogenization is a simple process. The first thing that’s done is to mix together milk from different dairies, making it more consistent overall and day to day. The second part is making it consistent throughout. Raw milk separates into a light, fatty layer on top, and a heavier layer on the bottom. Homogenization turns it into an emulsion, in which the fat particles are tiny and evenly distributed throughout the liquid in such a way that they won’t separate like raw milk. This is just a matter of forcing it through a fine strain which breaks up the fat chunks into tiny specks. Presto, a homogenous product.
Opposition to the homogenization of milk is manifold, yet so far, unsupported by any good science. Most of it sprang from a mass-market 1983 book, The XO Factor: Homogenized Milk May Cause Your Heart Attack, which put forth a number of fringe hypotheses which were quickly refuted in the medical literature but achieved much more mindshare among the general public. The book claimed, as its title suggests, that the homogenized fat particles were responsible for a lot of heart disease. Other claimed issues included digestion problems, but again, once controlled testing was done, it was found that people claiming hypersensitivity to homogenized milk reported just as many digestion problems no matter what kind of milk they were given.
Raw milk may avoid homogenization, but the result is just a taste preference. No health benefits or detriments have been discerned either way.
The whole point of pasteurizing milk is to reduce the dangerous bacteria, obviously; so this claim really had me scratching my head wondering how on Earth someone could have come up with it. Here is an example of one article that claims raw milk is likely to have fewer bacteria than pasteurized milk, this one from a web site called . . .
“…craniosacral therapy bears approximately the same relationship to real medicine that astrology bears to astronomy…. [it] is medical fiction….” — Steve E Hartman and James M Norton*
Craniosacral therapy (a.k.a. craniopathy and cranial osteopathy) is a holistic therapy that involves the manipulation of the skull bones (the cranium) and the sacrum to relieve pain and a variety of other ailments, including cancer. (The sacrum is a bone between the lumbar vertebrae and tail vertebrae, composed of five fused vertebrae that form the posterior pelvic wall.) The therapy was invented by osteopath William G. Sutherland in the 1930s. Another osteopath, John Upledger, is the leading proponent of craniosacral therapy today. Like other holistic therapies, this one emphasizes subjective concepts such as energy, harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow.
Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system. The balance and flow of this rhythm is considered essential to good health. The rhythm is measured by the therapist’s hands. Any needed or effected changes in rhythm are also detected only by the therapist’s hands. No instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, hence no systematic objective measurement of healthy versus unhealthy rhythms exists. The measurement, the therapy, and the declared cure are all subjectively based. As one therapist put it:
During the treatment, the client is usually supine on a table. The therapist assesses the patterns of energy in the body through touch at several “listening stations” and then decides where to start that day and how to focus the treatment. [Woodruff]
The same therapist maintains that the therapy is “a waste of time and money” for people who do not have faith in the therapy. Successful treatments, however, may well be due to the placebo effect and subjective validation. Since there is no plausible biological basis for the claims made by therapists for craniosacral rhythms, it is likely that the therapists are deluded, i.e., imagining they are detecting and manipulating a subtle energy.
Skeptics note that the skull does not consist of moveable parts (unlike the jaw) and brain cells lack actin and myosin (the things in muscle cells that make them move). The only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid is related to the cardiovascular system, but craniosacral therapists deny craniosacral rhythms are due to blood pressure. When tested, therapists have been unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm. (Dr. Ben Goldacre says there have been five such published studies and “in none of them did the osteopaths give similar answers.”) In a systematic review of the scientific evidence for craniosacral therapy, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA) concluded that
The available research on craniosacral treatment effectiveness constitutes low-grade evidence conducted using inadequate research protocols. One study reported negative side effects in outpatients with traumatic brain injury. Low inter-rater reliability ratings were found. CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review and critical appraisal found insufficient evidence to support craniosacral therapy. Research methods that could conclusively evaluate effectiveness have not been applied to date. (1999)
The fact that there is no objective measurement of craniosacral rhythms and that the subjective measurements of practitioners show much disharmony, imbalance, and lack of unity far outweighs the anecdotes of people who give credit to the therapy for relieving them of some malady. If the anecdotes were backed by scientific studies, using proper controls and randomization techniques, the weight of the evidence would swing in favor of the therapy. Such studies are lacking. Six studies have been done, but only one was done with proper controls and that study was negative. There is simply no good evidence for the claims made by practitioners of craniosacral therapy about cranial rhythms being either measurable or an important factor in anyone’s health and well-being.
As one research professor at a college of osteopathy put it:
since interexaminer reliability is zero, and since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies demonstrating clinical efficacy have been published, cranial osteopathy should be removed from the required curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.
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[END] via The Skeptic’s Dictionary