Bill and Ted, Marty McFly, those guys in the hot tub; time travel seems to belong in the world of fiction, but here are some ideas that might make it a reality in 10 mind-bending theories about time travel.
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Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
See if you know how many of these GMO “facts” are right.
by Brian Dunning via skeptoid
No matter how many articles are published detailing how and why genetically engineered crops are safe, misinformation always seems to reign. Anti-biotech activists persist in charging GMO crops (Genetically Modified Organisms) with just about every crime against humanity, ethics, and science. Although Monsanto is the company drawing nearly 100% of the flak from anti-biotech activists and is probably the only genetic engineering company known to most people, it’s actually only one of the six biggest companies that develop GMO crops. The others are DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, and Bayer Cropscience. Beyond the big six, about 20 other smaller companies located all around the world are also in the business. But don’t expect to go down to the local nursery and find seeds branded with these names: like most manufacturers, they all sell under a variety of more customer-friendly brands. Monsanto, the market leader among the big six, sells 15 different brands, each tailored to specific products or regions. What happens to all these brands of seeds that get bought, sown, and reaped? See if you can guess all of these “fact or fiction” choices right, starting with:
Supermarkets are full of GMO foods.
True, but mostly as ingredients in prepared food. About 85% of three major food crops grown in the US — corn, soy, and cotton — are GMO. Most of the produce you buy (corn and soybeans being the only real notable exceptions) are currently not GMO. Another exception is the papaya. Most of the papayas available in the United States come from Hawaii, where the ringspot virus decimated the species in the mid 1990s. But in 1998, a crop scientist found a way to insert a single ringspot gene into the papaya, thus conferring natural immunization; and now the Hawaiian papaya flourish.
But beyond those three examples from the produce aisle, it’s pretty hard to find a prepared food product that contains no corn, soy, or cottonseed products, so the answer is yes. If you live in the Americas, you’ve been eating a lot of GMO food from the supermarket for the past several decades.
GMO leads to monoculture.
False. Supply and demand is what leads to monoculture, and that’s got nothing to do with GMOs. Monoculture is when you plant the same crop over and over again in the same field, without rotating. Rotating crops naturally prevents the most common pathogen and pest antagonists to gain a foothold on any particular crop, and keeps the soil as healthy as practical. Farmers have understood the benefits of crop rotation since at least 6000 BCE. If there was an equal demand for corn, soy, and cotton, farmers would be able to rotate perfectly and everything would be hunky dory.
Sadly that’s not the case. In 2011, the United States had 84 million acres of corn; 74 million acres of soybeans, 56 million acres of hay, 46 million acres of wheat, but only 10 million acres of cotton. So many products, both food and industrial, come from these, but the acreage needed from each is so disparate that crop rotation is often problematic. Further complicating it is that each crop grows best in a specific climate zone and soil. It’s really, really hard to find two or more crops that are both in equal demand and that will grow well on any given farm’s ecology.
Three of these top five crops are mostly genetically engineered varieties. But as we can see, this has nothing to do with the problems of monoculture or the farmer’s ability to rotate.
GMO crops contain genes from jellyfish and other animals.
False. There have never been any GMO crops brought to market that contained any animal genes. But it’s not necessarily for lack of trying. In many parts of the world, crops can freeze and get destroyed. So one thing researchers have tried is to give them some genes that confer antifreeze abilities in the winter flounder, a fish that can survive sub-freezing temperature. These genes express a protein (found in many plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria) that binds to small ice crystals, preventing them from becoming larger ice crystals that can damage cells. Although it would be great if we could give fruit and vegetable orchards this same ability, so far it hasn’t worked. This is why genetic engineers are always going to be busy: for every one project that succeeds, a hundred fail.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
In yesterday’s post, I stated that I hated hoaxes worse than I hate outright scientific ignorance. In response, a loyal reader sent me an article referencing a survey in which 80% of respondents said they favored mandatory labeling of foods that contain DNA.
I kept looking, in vain, for a sign that this was a joke. Sadly, this is real. It came from a study done last month by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics. And what it shows, in my opinion, is that there are people out there who vote and make important decisions and (apparently) walk upright without dragging their knuckles on the ground, and yet who do not know that DNA is found in every living organism.
Or maybe, they don’t know that most of what we eat is made of cells. I dunno. Whatever. Because if you aren’t currently on the Salt, Baking Soda, and Scotch Diet, you consume the DNA of plants and/or animals every time you eat.
Lettuce contains lettuce DNA. Potatoes contain potato DNA. Beef contains cow DNA. “Slim Jims” contain — well, they contain the DNA of whatever the hell Slim Jims are made from. I don’t want to know. But get the picture? If you put a label on foods with DNA, the label goes on everything.
Ilya Somin, of the Washington Post, even made a suggestion of what such a food-warning label might look like:
WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.
Despite the scary sound of Somin’s tongue-in-cheek proposed label, there’s nothing dangerous about eating DNA. Enzymes in our small intestines break down the DNA we consume into individual building blocks (nucleotides), and we then use those building blocks to produce our own DNA every time we make new cells. Which is all the time. Eating pig DNA will not, as one of my students asked me a few weeks ago, “make us oink.”
But this highlights something rather terrifying, doesn’t it? Every other day we’re told things like “30% of Americans Are Against GMOs” and “40% of Americans Disbelieve in Anthropogenic Climate Change” and “32% of Americans Believe the Earth is 6,000 Years Old.” (If you’re curious, I made those percentages up, because I really don’t want to know what the actual numbers are, I’m depressed enough already.) What the Oklahoma State University study shows is: none of that is relevant. If 80% of Americans don’t know what DNA is, why the fuck should I trust what they say on anything else even remotely scientific?
Here’s What’s Happening
by Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience
It was an ordinary night, but Salma, a 20-year-old student at The American University in Cairo, had a particularly frightening experience. She woke up, unable to move a muscle, and felt as though there were an intruder in her bedroom. She saw what appeared to be a fanged, bloody creature that looked like “something out of a horror movie,” standing beside her bed.
She later explained her experience to researchers who were conducting a survey about sleep paralysis, a common but somewhat unexplained phenomenon in which a person awakens from sleep but feels unable to move. Up to 40 percent of people report experiencing sleep paralysis at some point in their lives, and a few, like Salma, hallucinate shadowy intruders hovering over them.
“Sleep paralysis can be a very frightening experience for some people, and a clear understanding of what actually causes it would have great implications for people who suffer from it,” said Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.
Researchers say that sleep paralysis happens when a person awakens during a stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). People in this stage of sleep are usually dreaming, but their muscles are nearly paralyzed, which might be an evolutionary adaptation that keeps people from acting out their dreams.
It is harder to explain why a subset of people who experience sleep paralysis feel a menacing figure in their room or pressing on their chests.
One possible explanation could be that the hallucination is the brain’s way of . . .
Also See: Senses and Non-Sense: 7 Odd Hallucinations (livescience)
There is an ideological subculture that is motivated to blame all the perceived ills of the world on environmental factors and corporate/government malfeasance. Often this serves a deeper ideological drive, which can be anti-vaccine, extreme environmentalism, or anti-GMO. The latest environmental bogeyman making the rounds is glyphosate, which is being blamed for (you guessed it) autism.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. It has been widely used for about 40 years, and with the introduction of GM crops that are Roundup resistant, its use has increased significantly in the last 20 years. It has therefore become a popular target for anti-GMO fearmongering.
Glyphosate is one of the least toxic herbicides used. It inhibits the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase which interferes with the shikimic pathway in plants, resulting in the accumulation of shikimic acid in plant tissues and ultimately plant death. The enzyme and pathway do not exist in animals, which is why toxicity is so low. Still, chemicals can have multiple effects and so toxicity needs to be directly measured and its epidemiology studied.
Experimental evidence has shown that neither glyphosate nor AMPA bioaccumulates in any animal tissue. No significant toxicity occurred in acute, subchronic, and chronic studies.
Therefore, it is concluded that the use of Roundup herbicide does not result in adverse effects on development, reproduction, or endocrine systems in humans and other mammals. For purposes of risk assessment, no-observed-adverse-effect levels (NOAELs) were identified for all subchronic, chronic, developmental, and reproduction studies with glyphosate, AMPA, and POEA.
As pesticides go, glyphosate has very low toxicity, and any dose a person is likely to get exposed to is well below the safety limits.
We are a story our brain tells itself. And our brains are habitual liars.
Take a moment to think of a cherished childhood memory. Try to recall it in detail. Think of where you were, who you were with, the sights, the smells, the tastes. Recall the sounds, like the wind in the trees, and how you felt. Were you happy? Anxious? Laughing? Crying?
We would all like to think that our memory is like a camera that records a scene, tucks it away in a corner of our brain, and retrieves it for playback when we want to relive that birthday ice cream or feel a long lost summer breeze on our cheeks. In a large sense we are what we remember, so memories are an integral part of who we are.
Unfortunately memory isn’t even remotely like a record/playback device. As neurologist and renowned skeptic Dr. Steven Novella puts it,
When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.
As I like to say, we are a story our brain tells itself, and our brains are motivated, skilled, pathological liars.
Lets take a look at memory, get a rough idea of how it works, and learn when and why we need to be cautious about trusting it. Functionally, the three parts of memory are encoding, storage, and retrieval.
As Dr. Novella points out, the problems begin with encoding, even before a memory has been stored. Our brain is constantly filtering information, and constructing its own reality. We are surrounded by detail. Take a moment right now to be aware of every distant sound around you, of all the leaves on the trees, fibers in the carpet, your breathing, and the sensations on your skin — all of it. Imagine dealing with all of that all of the time! Our brains evolved to construct a narrative of what’s going on, lending attention to what matters most. That thing over there that might be a predator is a more pressing matter than the sensation of every individual blade of grass you’re standing on. But just as things get lost, distorted, or added when your favorite book becomes a movie, the running story your brain puts together isn’t a faithful rendition. In fact, sometimes the circuitry in your brain that distinguishes what’s currently happening from a memory gets confused. This is the most likely explanation for déja vu. It’s a glitch in your own brain’s matrix.
And the first thing your brain does with most information is forget it.
We’ve all seen the ads, banners, commercials and books hyping the benefits of “brain training,” offering games and puzzles that promise to keep your brain in tip-top shape as you age. Diseases such as dementia are terrifying, and millions of people do their best to stave it off though online games, crossword puzzles and so on.
As a recent Scientific American column noted, “cognitive training — better known as ‘brain training’ — is one of the hottest new trends in self improvement. Lumosity, which offers web-based tasks designed to improve cognitive abilities such as memory and attention, boasts 50 million subscribers and advertises on National Public Radio. Cogmed claims to be ‘a computer-based solution for attention problems caused by poor working memory,’ and BrainHQ will help you ‘make the most of your unique brain.’” It all sounds very impressive and scientific.
While it’s important to stay both mentally and physically active in our later years, there’s little evidence that most of the commercially-sold brain enhancement methods or pills do any good. In fact the scientific community pours cold water on these fanciful myths.
In late October the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development gathered many of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to examine these brain games and programs. It then issued a statement that read in part:
A Professor of psychology from Victoria University sheds some light on the conspiracy theories surrounding illuminati.
By matt stewart via Stuff.co.nz
You don’t have to be mad to create conspiracy theories, but it certainly helps, new research suggests.
Just believing in them indicates you are more likely to be paranoid or mentally ill, a Victoria University study shows.
Widely held conspiracy theories range from harmless ones, such as the belief that the Moon landings were faked, to more dangerous delusions such as the one in Nigeria that polio vaccines were a Western plot to sterilise people. That led to vaccination crews being murdered and thousands dying from disease.
Clinical psychologist Darshani Kumareswaran is delving in to the psychology of conspiracy belief, and has found some believers are likely to endorse far-fetched plots in an effort to make sense of chaotic situations beyond their control.
Kumareswaran, who graduated from Victoria with a PhD in psychology this week, wanted to find out what made people more likely to believe in, or come up with, conspiracy theories – and whether the process was linked to mental illness.
Avid conspiracy theorists can put themselves under intense psychological strain with their tendency towards paranoid thinking and delusional beliefs, causing mental strain even when a conspiracy theory turns out to be a verified plot.
She also looked behind the common public image of the conspiracy theorist as a crackpot.
Despite evidence of verified conspiracies, such as the Watergate scandal, the public viewed conspiracy theorists in as negative a light as they did convicted criminals, she said.
“For the label to be so negatively rated by the public is quite a powerful finding.”
Study participants were asked to recall a situation in which they had no control, describe it in detail, and write it down. They were then put in a “psychological space” in which they felt powerlessness and were given 24 pictures that looked like snowy television screens.
Half featured obscured objects such as a chair or tent, the other half nothing.
Those who scored highly on a form of psychopathology known as schizotypy were more likely to see an object in the images where there was none, indicating they were more likely to make connections between unrelated things.
“I also found that someone who creates conspiracy theories is more likely to have some form of psychopathology, or mental illness such as . . .
Are the rumors true that Jews are planning to take over the world’s governments and banks?
Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at conspiracy theories that claim Jews are trying to take over the world. There is not just one version of this, there are many; and in their various forms, they’ve been around for centuries. There’s hardly been a moment in the past 2,500 years when some group somewhere has not been fomenting mistrust and suspicion of Jews and their motives: The Jews want to take over your government, the Jews want to take control of your banks, the Jews want to abolish your church. The accuracy of these claims is one thing; the history behind them is another.
Although the word Zion means many things to many cultures, it’s usually a place of peace and unity, and cross-cultural brotherhood. However it’s most often associated with the Jewish people in particular. In that lexicon, the word Zion typically refers to the “promised land”, the homeland promised by God to the Jews according to Judeo-Christian canon. Zion can also refer more specifically to the city of Jerusalem or the location of Solomon’s Temple, and sometimes to the Biblical land of Israel.
Historically, a Zionist was any person who fought for the establishment of a Jewish nation in Zion. This was finally fulfilled over the course of many bloody months from 1947 to 1949, as various nations fought over the partitioning of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. The nation of Israel has held a tenuous foothold ever since, and it remains the political and spiritual homeland of all Jewish people all over the world. Since its establishment, the mission of Zionists has been to defend and strengthen Israel, and to oppose challenges to its sovereignty; in short, Zionism is Zionist nationalism.
Some critics of Zionism frequently broaden the application of the word Zionist to include any people anywhere who express support for Israel. Suffice it to say that antisemitism is not your everyday bigotry. Its roots run deep, it is cross cultural, and it’s been institutionalized as an official national policy by some of the world’s greatest superpowers. Nazi Germany is the only most obvious example of antisemitism as policy, but it’s hardly the only one. 500 years before Christ, in the time of ancient Persia, Xerxes ordered all Jews in his kingdom to be killed. Various Roman emperors and Greek kings ordered the Jews to be exterminated. While the Christians prosecuted their Crusades against Muslims and Jews, the Muslims were forcing Christians and Jews to either convert or be killed. In the 1300s, Jews were widely burned at the stake throughout Europe for “causing” the plague. In the 1400s, the Spanish Inquisition burned some 30,000 Jews for refusing to leave their country. But this list could go on and on ad nauseum. Jews have always been blamed for something, and were always at the receiving end of the genocide. There are scant examples in history of Jews doing the same to anyone else.
And yet claims of Zionist Conspiracy have always persisted, lack of evidence notwithstanding.
In an age when consumers have become increasingly suspicious of processed food, the Internet has become a powerful platform for activists who want to hold Big Food accountable.
One of the highest-profile of these new food crusaders is Vani Hari, better known by her online moniker, Food Babe. Among her victories: a petition that nudged Kraft to drop the artificial orange color from its mac and cheese, and another one that helped get Subway to do away with the common bread additive azodicarbonamide — which Hari noted was also used in making yoga mats.
To followers on her website and on social media, who are known as the Food Babe Army, Hari is a hero. And with a book and TV development deal in the works, her platform is about to get a lot bigger.
But as her profile grows, so too do the criticisms of her approach. Detractors, many of them academics, say she stokes unfounded fears about what’s in our food to garner publicity. Steve Novella, a Yale neuroscientist and prominent pseudoscience warrior, among others, has dubbed Hari the “Jenny McCarthy of food” after the celebrity known for championing thoroughly debunked claims that vaccines cause autism.
Hari is a self-styled consumer advocate and adviser on healthful eating. Her website, FoodBabe.com, offers recipes, tips for nutritious dining while traveling, and, for $17.99 a month, “eating guides” that include recipes, meal calendars and shopping lists. But she’s best-known for her food investigations, frequently shared on social media — posts in which she flags what she deems to be questionable ingredients.
Take, for example, Hari’s campaign urging beer-makers to reveal the ingredients in their brews. Among the ingredients that concerned Hari was propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze. But, as cancer surgeon and blogger David Gorski writes, the product used in some beers to stabilize foam is actually propylene glycol alginate — which is derived from kelp. “It is not the same chemical as propylene glycol, not even close. It is not antifreeze,” he wrote.
Also See: Food Fears (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
Note from Mason I. Bilderberg:
If, as Fear Babe says, we should “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce,” then we should NOT be eating any of the following:
Most improbable coincidences likely result from play of random events. The very nature of randomness assures that combing random data will yield some pattern.
By Bruce Martin via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI
“You don’t believe in telepathy?” My friend, a sober professional, looked askance. “Do you?” I replied. “Of course. So many times I’ve been out for the evening and suddenly became worried about the kids. Upon calling home, I’ve learned one is sick, hurt himself, or having nightmares. How else can you explain it?”
Such episodes have happened to us all and it’s common to hear the words, “It couldn’t be just coincidence.” Today the explanation many people reach for involves mental telepathy or psychic stirrings. But should we leap so readily into the arms of a mystic realm? Could such events result from coincidence after all?
There are two features of coincidences not well known among the public. First, we tend to overlook the powerful reinforcement of coincidences, both waking and in dreams, in our memories. Non-coincidental events do not register in our memories with nearly the same intensity. Second, we fail to realize the extent to which highly improbable events occur daily to everyone. It is not possible to estimate all the probabilities of many paired events that occur in our daily lives. We often tend to assign coincidences a lesser probability than they deserve.
However, it is possible to calculate the probabilities of some seemingly improbable events with precision. These examples provide clues as to how our expectations fail to agree with reality.
In a random selection of twenty-three persons there is a 50 percent chance that at least two of them celebrate the same birthdate. Who has not been surprised at learning this for the first time? The calculation is straightforward. First find the probability that everyone in a group of people have different birthdates (X) and then subtract this fraction from one to obtain the probability of at least one common birthdate in the group (P), P = 1 – X. Probabilities range from 0 to 1, or may be expressed as 0 to 100%. For no coincident birthdates a second person has a choice of 364 days, a third person 363 days, and the nth person 366 – n days. So the probability for all different birthdates becomes:
“The potential danger from EM fields is making millions of human beings into test animals,” Ted Koppel solemnly intones in a 1990 Nightline report on electromagnetic fields from power lines. But two decades and hundreds of studies later, there has been no great cancer epidemic caused by power lines. Why did we get so scared in the first place?
The latest video from Retro Report, a series reexamining the breathless news coverage of yore, delves into the late 80s and 90s panic over electromagnetic fields. A small number of suggestive—but inconclusive—studies showed a possible link between the presence of power lines and cancer in children. With power lines threading through every neighborhood, parents naturally panicked.
Retro Report tracks down David Savitz, one of the first epidemiologists to find a link between power lines and childhood cancer. Savitz now disavows that link, dismissing those early studies as aberrations in what is now a huge body of literature that finds no risk from electromagnetic fields. This is just how science works— with contradictions and in fits and starts.
The evening news may no longer be yammering about power lines and cancer, but the same story is still playing out with GMOs and cell phone radiation. [Retro Report]
Have you ever heard ‘evolution’ dismissed as ‘just a theory’? Is a scientific theory no different to the theory that Elvis is still alive? Jim Al-Khalili puts the record straight.
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There’s an important difference between a scientific theory and the fanciful theories of an imaginative raconteur, and this quirk of semantics can lead to an all-too-common misconception. In general conversation, a ‘theory’ might simply mean a guess. But a scientific theory respects a somewhat stricter set of requirements. When scientists discuss theories, they are designed as comprehensive explanations for things we observe in nature. They’re founded on strong evidence and provide ways to make real-world predictions that can be tested.
While scientific theories aren’t necessarily all accurate or true, they shouldn’t be belittled by their name alone. The theory of natural selection, quantum theory, the theory of general relativity and the germ theory of disease aren’t ‘just theories’. They’re structured explanations of the world around us, and the very foundation of science itself.
Read the blog post to find out more: http://www.rigb.org/blog/2014/novembe…
A tiny handful of countries, most notably the US and Canada, celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. In the USA, the holiday is held on the fourth Thursday in November and more or less starts the so called holiday season which ends with New Year. In most of Canada (excluding the Atlantic provinces), the holiday is held on the second Monday in October.
For trivia purposes only, the other places that celebrate a similar Thanksgiving are Liberia (which is populated by descendants of freed slaves who returned to Africa from the US), Grenada (a small English-speaking island in the Caribbean), Puerto Rico (a Spanish-speaking territory of the USA), and Norfolk Island Australia. Australia?
Generally, the holiday celebrates white English settlers arriving in North America. The tales usually include some peaceful sharing of food between the white settlers and native Americans (a nice myth without much actual historical support) prior to the first winter. Canada’s back story on Thanksgiving is much more complicated, including ships getting stuck in ice and other legends.
In both Canada and the USA, the celebration includes tons of food (per person) including a roast (usually) turkey. Other foods may include mashed potatoes, yams (sweet potatoes), other meats, pies, corn, stuffing, and more food. It is a high calorie meal of epic portions!
There’s a legend that eating this meal, specifically the turkey, fills your body with tryptophan, and you fall asleep.
Nice story, but the science of eating, sleeping and turkeys doesn’t support this myth. Not even close.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Suppose you were walking in the woods, and suddenly, you stumbled on a root, and fell flat on your face. And while you were lying on your belly, trying to regain your breath and your dignity, you noticed that right in front of your eyes was a twenty-dollar bill that someone had dropped.
You might decide that your bad luck in tripping over a tree root had been cancelled out by the good luck of now being twenty dollars richer. You might, on the other hand, attribute it to complete chance and the chaotic nature of the universe, where sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and the whole thing appears to be a big zero-sum game.
What I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t do is decide that the money had exerted a magical gravitational attraction toward your face, and had caused you to fall.
I bring this up because of a maddening article in the Kent and Sussex Courier that tells of a fortuitous archaeological discovery in the town of Tunbridge Wells. Some “scientists,” we are told, were poking around Calverley Grounds, a local park, and found a mass burial site (probably a “plague pit” from the bubonic plague epidemic of 1660), and also the site of a skirmish between the Normans and the Saxons.
Cool stuff. But I haven’t told you yet how they found it.
Yes, dowsing, that time-honored tradition of holding metal rods or tree branches in your hands, and imagining that aquifers (or mineral deposits or burial sites or damn near anything) could somehow pull on them and alert you to their presence. How on earth could that work, you might ask? Well, an article by Stephen Wagner gives us the following definitive answer:
The quick answer is that no one really knows – not even experienced dowsers. Some theorize there is a psychic connection established between the dowser and the sought object. All things, living and inanimate, the theory suggests, possess an energy force. The dowser, by concentrating on the hidden object, is somehow able to tune in to the energy force or “vibration” of the object which, in turn, forces the dowsing rod or stick to move. The dowsing tool may act as a kind of amplifier or antenna for tuning into the energy.
Righty-o. An “energy force.” That, strangely, is completely undetectable except to a dude holding a tree branch.
Well, isn’t that a relief? In case you were still worried that little box you hold in very close proximity to your head almost all day every day was quietly warping your brain tissue, you can relax. A lengthy programme of research into the possible health risks of mobile phones has found that, surprise surprise, there’s no evidence of any adverse effects.
The research was conducted by the UK-based Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, and was funded by the government and the telecommunications industry to the tune of £13.6 million ($22 million). It involved projects over 11 years (taken together with a previous report in 2007), which resulted in 60 peer-reviewed papers. This thing is pretty comprehensive.
If all that work into an issue many would regard as little more than superstition and technophobia seems a little over the top, we have to remember that back when the project was started, landlines and fax machines were still a thing. MTHR chairman David Coggon, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Southampton University, acknowledged this in a release announcing the report: “When the MTHR programme was first set up, there were many scientific uncertainties about possible health risks from mobile phones and related technology.”
He went on to effectively sum up the 50-page report in a sentence: “This independent programme is now complete, and despite exhaustive research, we have found no evidence of risks to health from the radio waves produced by mobile phones or their base stations.”
While that result might not be unexpected, it at least helps quash some of the conspiracy theories and is more satisfying than previous studies that came to that annoyingly common catch-all conclusion of “more research needed.”
Specifically, the programme included projects that debunked rumours like “base stations give pregnant women’s future kids cancer” and . . .
Some say fibromyalgia is a real disease, while others question the diagnosis.
Today we’re going to head down to our doctor’s office with a complaint that he hears all too often: we have pain. We’re tired. We get headaches, and our hands and feet might be numb in the morning. And along with that pain comes some stiffness. It’s like, “Doc, I just don’t feel all that great.” Don’t fret, because the doctor has heard it all before. But also don’t expect to be able to guess what your doctor is going to say. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia — nonspecific pain that doesn’t seem to have any particular source — is as controversial as just about any other subject at your doctor’s office. Some believe it’s a real physical condition, some believe it’s purely psychogenic, and some think it doesn’t exist at all. What is really known about this popular but vague diagnosis?
Everything about fibromyalgia is rife with red flags. Sham treatments for it are offered in magazine ads and on late-night television infomercials. You’ll see it advertised on billboards. Books, websites, special diets, and worthless supplements are all marketed to sufferers just as aggressively as is the condition itself — the more people can be convinced that they have it, the more products they’ll buy. Chapter and verse, fibromyalgia bears every single warning sign of a pseudoscience. But where it veers from this course and enters the realm of real science is that a growing number of medical researchers believe there is something real here, and some cases are now even proving to be treatable.
Much of the time, when we discuss the subject of whether conditions have a psychological cause or a physiological cause, we find a general trend that psychogenic conditions are best treated by psychotherapy, and physiological conditions are best treated with non-psychiatric medicine. Fibromyalgia appears to be a rare exception to this rule. Its causes have not been determined to be purely psychological, but it does seem to be best treated with psychiatric medicine, including both antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Have I confused you yet? Here’s the thing . . .
People who’ve stared death in the face and lived to tell about it—mountain climbers who’ve made a harrowing descent, say, or survivors of the World Trade Center attacks—sometimes report that just when their situation seemed impossible, a ghostly presence appeared. People with schizophrenia and certain types of neurological damage sometimes report similar experiences, which scientists call, aptly, “feeling of presence.”
Now a team of neuroscientists says it has identified a set of brain regions that seems to be involved in generating this illusion. Better yet, they’ve built a robot that can cause ordinary people to experience it in the lab.
The team was led by Olaf Blanke, a neurologist and neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Blanke has a long-standing interest in creepy illusions of bodily perception. Studying these bizarre phenomena, he says, could point to clues about the biology of mental illness and the mechanisms of human consciousness.
In 2006, for example, Blanke and colleagues published a paper in Nature that had one of the best titles you’ll ever see in a scientific journal: “Induction of an illusory shadow person.” In that study, they stimulated the brain of a young woman who was awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy. Surgeons had implanted electrodes on the surface of her brain to monitor her seizures, and when the researchers passed a mild current through the electrodes, stimulating a small region at the intersection of the temporal and parietal lobes of her brain, she experienced what she described as a shadowy presence lurking nearby, mimicking her own posture.
It is disheartening that we have to return to pseudosciences that have been debunked decades ago, because they continue to linger despite being eviscerated by scientific scrutiny. Belief systems and myths have incredible cultural inertia, and they are difficult to eradicate completely. That is why belief in astrology, while in the minority, persists.
Professions, however, should be different. A healing profession should be held to a certain minimum standard of care, and that standard should be based upon something real, which means that scientific evidence needs to be brought to bear. Professionals are not excused for persisting in false beliefs that have long been discredited.
The 1980s saw the peak of an idea that was never based on science, the notion that people can suppress memories of traumatic events, and those repressed memories can manifest as seemingly unconnected mental health issues, such as anxiety or eating disorders. The idea was popularized mostly by the book The Courage to Heal (the 20th anniversary edition was published in 2008), in which the authors took the position that clients, especially women, who have any problem should be encouraged to recover memories of abuse, and if such memories can be dredged up, they are real.
The notion of repressed memories led in part to the satanic panic of the 1980s, and many of those subjected to recovering techniques not only “remembered” being abused, but being part of satanic ritual abuse.
Recovered memory syndrome was a massive failure on the part of the mental health profession. The ideas, which were extraordinary, were never empirically demonstrated. Further, basic questions were insufficiently asked – is there any empirical evidence to support the amazing events emerging from therapy, for example? Is it possible that the recovered memories are an artifact of therapy and are not real?
Now, with three decades of hindsight, we can say a few things with a high degree of confidence.
In the 21st Century, why do so many people still believe in the paranormal? David Robson discovers that there’s good reason we hold superstitions – and a few surprising benefits.
By David Robson via BBC Future
Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting the White House when he is said to have had an uncanny experience. Having had a long bath with a Scotch and cigar, he reportedly walked into the adjoining bedroom – only to be met by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Unflappable, even while completely naked, Churchill apparently announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
His supposed contact with the supernatural puts Churchill in illustrious company. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums, while Alan Turing believed in telepathy. Three men who were all known for their razor-sharp thinking, yet couldn’t stop themselves from believing in the impossible. You may well join them. According to recent surveys, as many as three quarters of Americans believe in the paranormal, in some form, while nearly one in five claim to have actually seen a ghost.
Intrigued by these persistent beliefs, psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world.
Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain. Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain regions of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by – perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people” lurking in the surroundings.
Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythical beings. For example, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed . . .
By Steve Wynalda via Listverse
There is an unwritten rule among magicians never to reveal how a trick is done. So when a 2004 exhibition explained Harry Houdini’s illusions, magicians around the world were apoplectic. David Copperfield called it a breach of magic protocol, and performers declared that they would boycott the exhibition. Many claimed to still use Houdini’s tricks themselves.
But Harry has been dead nearly 90 years. Despite their claims, few modern illusionists use his dated techniques. And the great magician’s secrets had been revealed decades earlier. He had been in his grave just three years when his team began spilling the beans.
This list is for those who want to know Houdini’s secrets. Those who don’t want to know should stop reading now.
10 • The Radio Of 1950
Houdini developed the “Radio of 1950” illusion for his evening shows from 1925 until his death the following year. The radio was a novelty at the time, and the act featured what Houdini said the radio would be like in 1950.
According to Dorothy Young, Houdini’s assistant, the great magician began by introducing a large table with a tablecloth that fell halfway down the table’s legs. Houdini walked around the table, lifting the tablecloth to show that there were no mirrors or anything else under the table.
Then assistants placed on the table a giant radio approximately 2 meters (6 ft) long and 1 meter (3 ft) high and wide. The front of the radio had huge dials and double doors. Houdini opened the doors to show that there was nothing inside except coils, transformers, and vacuum tubes. He closed the doors.
Houdini adjusted one of the dials until a radio station tuned in. The radio announcer said, “And now, Dorothy Young, doing the Charleston.” The top of the radio flew off, and out popped a young assistant, who jumped down and danced the Charleston.
“Tune in to any station and get the girl you want,” Houdini said. “No, gentlemen, it is not for sale.”
The key to the illusion was the table. Called a “bellows” table, it had two table tops. The upper top had a trap door that opened upward. The lower top hung from the upper by springs that dropped under Ms. Young’s weight without going below the skirt of the tablecloth.
Young was inside the radio when it was set on the table. She then opened the trap and slid into the bellowed area between two table tops and waited there as Houdini showed the radio’s empty interior. While the master magician dialed the radio station, she simply climbed back into the radio.
The image above is of Houdini’s younger brother, Theodore “Dash” Hardeen, demonstrating Houdini’s radio with assistant Gladys Hardeen. Hardeen purchased the radio from his brother’s estate. Dorothy Young lived to be 103 and died in 2011.
9 • Metamorphosis
Houdini performed the “Radio of 1950” illusion at the end of his career (and life), but he performed the “Metamorphosis” illusion at the beginning of his career, when he and his wife Bessie took their act on the road in 1894. Houdini didn’t invent the illusion, but earlier versions of the acts had featured two men changing places. Houdini exchanged places with his wife. His version became a sensation, catching the attention of the Welsh Brothers Circus. In 1895, the circus took the Houdinis on tour.
The illusion was fairly complicated. Houdini’s hands were bound behind him, and he was placed in a sack that was knotted closed. The sack was placed inside a box, locked, and strapped closed. The box was placed in a cabinet with a curtain.
Bessie stepped into the cabinet and drew the curtain closed. She then clapped three times. On the third clap, Houdini drew back the curtain, and Bessie was gone. She was found in the sack in the box, with all the locks and straps still in place and her hands bound behind her.
The secret of the illusion is surprisingly simple: practice. First, Houdini was an expert on ropes and knots, and his hands were tied by a knot easily slipped. By the time the sack was pulled over his head, his hands were free. The sack had eyelets around the top edge that allowed the rope to feed inside and outside the bag. Houdini simply pulled on the rope from the inside to loosen it.
After Houdini was placed in the box, he wiggled out of the sack while Bessie locked and strapped the box lid. Once Bessie drew the curtain closed, Houdini slipped out through a rear panel in the box. Contrary to the audience’s assumptions, Houdini clapped, not Bessie. He clapped once then helped Bessie climb into the box through the rear panel (without disturbing the locks or straps).
On the third clap, Houdini opened the curtain. While he unlocked and unstrapped the box, Bessie, inside, wiggled into the sack and slipped the ropes around her wrists. Harry and Bessie practiced so thoroughly that Houdini was out and Bessie in his place in just three seconds.
8 • The Hanging Straitjacket Escape
This act was born out of sibling rivalry. Houdini’s younger brother Hardeen had his own show, and both brothers were performing escapes from straitjackets behind screens. When one audience demanded that Hardeen escape in front of them, he obliged and received a standing ovation. When Hardeen told his older brother, Houdini decided he had to outdo his brother and developed the Hanging Straitjacket Escape. He frequently performed the act a few hours before his evening shows to draw a bigger audience.
Houdini usually performed this out on the street above a large crowd. He was strapped into a straitjacket in front of the crowd, his ankles bound. A crane lifted him up so that the audience could see what he did, enforcing the impression that there was no trick to the feat.
Houdini himself revealed how he escaped from straitjackets in his 1910 book Handcuff Escapes. The key was acquiring slack inside the jacket as it was strapped on.
As the jacket slid onto his arms, Houdini made sure his arms were crossed—not folded—across his chest, his stronger right arm on top. As the jacket was brought around the back, Houdini pinched and pulled outward to loosen material around his chest. As the jacket was cinched and tightened, Houdini held on to this slacked material. As the jacket was buckled in the back, Houdini took a huge breath to expand his chest. Once the jacket was in place, Houdini had a fair amount of wiggle room in front.
Once in the air, upside down, Houdini used his strong arm to violently force his weak (left) elbow to the left and away from the body. This forced the slack around the right shoulder, allowing Houdini to pull the right arm over his head. Being upside down actually helped: He used gravity to pull that arm over his head.
“Once having freed your arms to such an extent as to get them in front of your body,” Houdini wrote, “you can now undo the buckles and the straps of the cuffs with your teeth.” Once the cuffs were freed, Houdini unbuckled the neck, top, and bottom buckles. Once they were undone, Houdini slipped his arms free and wiggled out of the jacket. Despite popular belief, dislocating the shoulder was not usually necessary, and Houdini only did it as a last resort.
Houdini became so adept at this trick that he reduced his escape time from half an hour down to three minutes. For those occasions when a specialized straitjacket was strapped on, Houdini was not above palming a tool to cut the straps and buckles.
Originally posted February 9, 2013 this video is definitely worth a second look.
Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers :)
Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.
Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.
This is not a new story, but it is worth repeating. At the moment that bullets were being fired into JFK’s motorcade, a man can be seen standing on the side of the road near the car holding an open black umbrella. It was a sunny day (although it had rained the night before) and no one else in Dallas was holding an umbrella.
This is exactly the kind of detail that sets a fire under conspiracy theorists. It is a genuine anomaly – something that sticks out like a sore thumb.
The event also defies our intuition about probability. Even if one could accept that somewhere on the streets of Dallas that morning one man decided to hold an open umbrella for some strange reason, what are the odds that this one man would be essentially standing right next to the president’s car when the bullets began to fly?
Our evolved tendency for pattern recognition and looking for significance in events screams that this anomaly must have a compelling explanation, and since it is associated with the assassination of a president, it must be a sinister one.
When you delve into the details of any complex historical event, however, anomalies such as this are certain to surface. People are quirky individual beings with rich and complex histories and motivations. People do strange things for strange reasons. There is no way to account for all possible thought processes firing around in the brains of every person involved in an event.
Often the actions of others seem unfathomable to us. Our instinct is to try to explain the behavior of others as resulting from mostly internal forces. We tend to underestimate the influence of external factors. This is called the fundamental attribution error.
We also tend to assume that the actions of others are deliberate and planned, rather than random or accidental.
The common assumption underlying all of these various instincts is that there is a specific purpose to events, and especially the actions of others. We further instinctively fear that this purpose is sinister, or may be working against our own interests in some way. In this way, we all have a little conspiracy theorist inside us.
*Who Was the Umbrella Man?
Originally posted May 13, 2013
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.
Originally posted February 28, 2014:
Some objects found around the world seem to defy rational explanation.
Today we’re going outside with pick axe and shovel in hand, dig through some ancient strata, and unearth something that looks like it shouldn’t be there. In fact, upon closer inspection, it definitely shouldn’t be there. Throughout recorded history, diggers — both amateur and professional — have been finding objects that appear to be modern or made of advanced materials, but are located in old rock or other places where they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be. Such objects have become known as out of place artifacts, or “OOPArts” for short. An OOPArt, by definition, is one that contradicts our existing understanding of history. Some take this to its apparently logical next step, and believe that OOPArts prove history wrong.
In this episode we’re going to take a quick look at some of the most famous OOPArts and see what’s known about each, and hopefully see if we have enough information to conclude that known history must be wrong. A lot of objects that show up on published lists consist of artworks — sculptures or carvings — that make ambiguous depictions, which some interpret as being out of place. One example is a pictograph from Egypt that some say shows an electric lamp. We’re not going to include these today because they’re most likely misinterpretations. Instead we want hard, physical proof of items that couldn’t and shouldn’t exist, but do.
Two of the best known have already been covered in previous Skeptoid episodes. The Baigong Pipes, featured in episode 181, were said to be a network of metal pipes buried in native rock said to be 150,000 years old. Some believed they proved the existence of an ancient culture of aliens; others actually studied the pipes and found that they not only weren’t very pipe-like, they were simply petrified wood and bamboo that had washed into a basin and later solidified.
Not all turn out to be misidentifications. The Antikythera Mechanism, featured in episode 184, was a Greek clockwork mechanism found in a shipwreck, and it did indeed represent knowledge that was about a thousand years off from our previous understanding. The find turned out to be really important, and we changed our models of ancient technology as a result. Since it was found, other artifacts have continued to fill in the gaps. This is the model we hope to see for all candidate OOPArts. No misidentification; nothing open to interpretation; just solid physical evidence that changes our understanding. So let’s see if any of the other famous examples fit the bill.
The Coso Artifact
In 1961, three people were out collecting geodes and other interesting rocks for the rock and gem shop they operated in Olancha, CA, little more than a truck stop in the Owens Valley west of Death Valley. When they put their specimens under the diamond blade saw to cut them open, one of them jammed the blade. It had a piece of metal in the center.
It became known as the Coso Artifact, named for the Coso Range of mountains in which it was found. Spark plug collectors all agree that the object inside the rock, as depicted in the one existing X-ray, is a 1920s Champion spark plug. Rocks take a very long time to form, certainly a lot longer than 40 years; so the Coso Artifact has become an icon of OOPArts, and is popularly believed to constitute an insoluble problem.
Unfortunately, the real secret of the Coso Artifact is that . . .
Did somebody say optical illusion? This is a classic illusion explained. :)
In 1934, ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames, Jr. devised a room that pushes the boundaries of human perception. Visit a virtual version of the now famous Ames room, as Scientific American Mind editor Ingrid Wickelgren explains how it works.
Some people believe that your brain encodes its actual meaning in reverse within everything you say.
Just when you thought there was nobody in the world crazier than yourself, along come people who believe that we all subconsciously say what we really mean in reverse, through the unconscious but deliberate choosing of careful words which, if played backwards, say what we actually mean. Get it? The idea is that I think some coffee is really horrible but I still want to be polite, my brain will subconsciously choose words to make my polite compliment that, if played backwards, would say: This coffee stinks.
Proponents of this hypothesis call it Reverse Speech, because they were really creatively inspired on the day they named it. This is a small group of people — I believe there were six of them at last count — who take this completely seriously and believe that a whole world of secret information and opportunities is waiting to be unlocked by analyzing peoples’ speech in reverse. They turn first to world leaders, play their speeches backward, and listen to learn what they believe is the truth underlying the speech.
A leading advocate for reverse speech, also called backward masking, is David John Oates, an Australian. He’s written several books on the subject and even used to have a syndicated radio show promoting his theory. Just about any time a reverse speech expert is interviewed on television, it’s David John Oates. His web site is ReverseSpeech.com, and it’s loaded with all the examples you could ever hope to hear, as well as quite a few products and services he’d like to sell you if you believe his claims. He believes strongly that the human brain secretly encodes its actual meaning in reverse into a person’s normal speech. You can use this to your advantage in business, by decoding what the people across the table are actually telling you; and you can even use it in personal development by listening to your own speech backwards and learning more about what you really want. One of the examples from ReverseSpeech.com is of this man giving a talk:
And when you play it backwards, turns out he was trying to comfort you with the message “You’re frightened, lean on me”:
Pretty interesting, but not necessarily convincing to a skeptic. A skeptic is more likely to dismiss these guys as conspiracy nuts and laugh at what paranoid delusionals they are, but it’s actually way cooler and more interesting (and more constructive) to ask if there is any science behind what they’re claiming. I’m not talking about science supporting the claim that people say what they actually mean in reverse; I’m talking about science behind the perception of order from chaos. And, it turns out, there is good science behind it. The journal Science published an article in 1981 by Remez, Rubin, Pisoni, and Carrell called Speech perception without traditional speech cues. By playing what they called a “three-tone sinusoidal replica”, or a complicated sine wave sound, they found that people were able to perceive speech, when in fact there were no traditional speech sounds present in the signal. So rather than laughing at a reverse speech advocate, instead appreciate the fact that there is good science driving their perception of what they’re hearing. They’re not making anything up, they’re just unaware of the natural explanation for their phenomenon.
To better understand what these authors did in their experiment, listen to this brief cue consisting of nothing but sine waves:
It almost does sound like speech, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite clear what it’s saying. Well, suppose someone told you that it says:
Now listen to it again:
This time, it’s almost impossible not to hear the words that you’ve been preconditioned to hear. Let’s play another one, this one is harder . . .
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
In order to avoid falling for whatever absurd nonsense happen to be in the offing, you not only need to have some good critical thinking skills, you also need a basic knowledge of the sciences.
This is especially critical given the penchant that pseudoscience hacks have for using scientific-sounding terms in bogus ways. Given that said hacks are quite good at sounding convincing, and can throw around random vocabulary words with the best of ‘em, if you don’t understand the basic laws of science, as well as a few solid definitions, you’re going to fall for whatever tripe they’re offering.
Take, for example, the article from Prevent Disease that I’ve now seen several times on social media, called “12 Facts About Microwaves That Should Forever Terminate Their Use.”
This piece, written by one Marco Torres, is so full of false statements and specious science that it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s a sample, picked more or less at random:
Microwaves are a source of electromagnetic energy (a form of nonionizing form of radiation) electronically generated. When penetrating the aliments, they trigger an inner rotation of the water molecules inside the food. This rotation triggers a friction between the molecules and the result is a rapid growth in temperature.
Okay, he starts out well. Microwaves are a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that is electronically generated. But so is the light from a light bulb. And I don’t know what an “inner rotation of the water molecules” even means — since microwaves are good at making water molecules (and also fat molecules) spin, maybe this was just a slip. But the water molecules are not experiencing “friction” — they’re simply moving. Because that’s what an increase in temperature means. The faster molecules move, the higher the temperature, whether that temperature increase is caused by a microwave, a conventional oven, or just sitting out in the sun.
Then, though, we start hearing about all the bad things this can cause:
Microwaves use super-fast particles to literally radiate the contents of water inside food and bring it to boil. Not only has microwave use been linked to causing infertility in men, but it also denatures many of the essential proteins in the food making them virtually indigestible.
“Super-fast” — sure, given that all electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. And what’s the alternative to “literally radiating” the food? Figuratively radiating it?
And there is no connection between using microwaves and infertility, as long as you keep your genitalia outside of the microwave oven. So guys — if you’re microwaving your lunch while naked, don’t accidentally shut your junk in the door and then turn the oven on.
Then we have this unintentionally funny statement . . .
Few ingredients come with as much baggage as MSG. Otherwise known as monosodium glutamate, the compound has had a bad reputation for nearly 50 years, so we at Reactions felt it was time to clear its name. In this video, we debunk MSG myths and explain why the scientific consensus is that this flavor enhancer, known for its savory umami flavor, is perfectly safe for the vast majority of people.
From Compound Interest:
Do you know which of these secret military bases around the world are real?
Governments and militaries have secret bases; that’s just a simple fact. But usually the part that’s secret only concerns what’s done there; the actual existence of the facility itself is not usually in question. It’s kind of hard to hide a big complex of buildings. Even NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain command center, which exists entirely inside a mountain in Colorado, is marked with plenty of obvious external infrastructure. Since governments own the land and control access, there’s not really any reason to try and hide the facilities within. Satellite eyes in the sky observe everything being constructed anyway, so other governments will always know there’s something there whether the final product is hidden or not. And yet, stories remain about certain secret establishments. Let’s take a look at eight of these.
This super-secret military base in the UK is said to have performed all sorts of illegal and unethical human experimentation:
1. Porton Down
Real. It’s there in Wiltshire, England, freely available for anyone to drive past or view on Google Earth. Porton Down was formed during World War I, a time when wars were fought with poison gas. Their main focus was to develop gas mask technology, and to create better ways of deploying gases against the enemy. Such horrible weapons as mustard gas and chlorine were routinely used here.
Porton Down’s darkest legacy, and the main reason for its reputation, comes from its cold war years. At the same time that the Americans were experimenting with LSD in the MKULTRA program, Porton Down was doing the same, administering LSD to servicemen without their consent, in an effort to develop mind control and interrogation techniques. Human experimentation was also done, resulting in at least one death and a number of later lawsuits, using the nerve agents VX and sarin, and the endotoxin pyrexal.
And what about that favorite grandaddy of all secret bases:
2. Area 51
Real. The biggest confusion with Area 51 is that it has nothing to do with Roswell, NM or the alleged 1947 saucer crash. They’re in different states, and Area 51 hadn’t even been built yet; so there wasn’t much reason for any dead aliens to have been brought there. It was built in the 1950s, mainly to develop the super-secret A-12 and SR-71 reconaissance planes. Nobody actually calls it Area 51, it’s usually informally called The Ranch and formally the National Classified Test Facility. Contrary to popular rumors, the military doesn’t now, or in the past, deny its existence. That big word “classified” in its name simply means they don’t discuss what happens there.
Much of its history has since been declassified, and nothing has really surprised anyone who works in aviation journalism. Most secret American aircraft that were classified before they became publicly known, such as the A-12, SR-71, F-117, and TACIT BLUE have been tested and developed there. That’s why it’s out in the middle of nowhere, safely hidden behind off-limits mountains.
But if the aliens weren’t taken to Area 51, maybe they were taken to this alleged underground facility in New Mexico, home to gray aliens and reptilian beings:
3. Dulce Base
Fictional. Despite its having been featured in a number of television shows, comic books, and novels, there is no evidence that any underground “base” of any kind exists inside Archuleta Mesa, about 5 km north of the city of Dulce, NM. It’s frequently referenced on UFO web sites and conspiracy web sites, and usually described as a joint operation between aliens and the US military. The story began when a local UFO enthusiast, Paul Bennewitz, believed he was receiving radio transmissions from underneath the mesa in the 1970s. Within a few years, another UFO fan, Phil Schneider, claimed to have been an employee there, and has given detailed descriptions of its 7-level underground structure, its population of 18,000 aliens, and descriptions of the terrible experiments they perform on human subjects. It also supposedly has an underground train connection to Los Alamos National Laboratory, 130 kilometers away.
It’s trivial to study Google Earth images of Archuleta Mesa and see that there’s nothing there at all, certainly nothing like Schneider’s elaborate descriptions that include surface buildings and radar installations. And that no subway exists between there and Los Alamos. It also seems a little suspicious that Phil Schneider would be freely allowed to go around talking about his supposedly top-secret job. For a great discussion of All Things Dulce, see the Skeptoid blog article on the web site.
Some say that the United States maintains an underwater Area 51 in the Bahamas. It’s called:
Real. The US Navy’s Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center is on Andros Island in the Bahamas, and it was once hyped by History Channel’s TV show UFO Hunters as being some kind of secret alien underwater thing. The employees there thought the show was pretty funny; they had a viewing party and sent me a photo of them goofing around and wearing tinfoil hats. Seriously.
AUTEC isn’t underwater. It’s better described as a beach resort, with a small protected harbor and a boatramp and wharf, and the obligatory beach club with cabana bar. Although the Navy does not disclose the nature of their specific projects, it does freely list their assets and capabilities. They’re concerned with underwater warfare, mainly torpedos and mines. They also dabble quite a lot in unmanned underwater vehicles, electronic warfare, and acoustics. Their principal ship is called the Range Rover; it goes out and does most of the grunt work, often at their Shallow Water Range and Minefield about 120 km north of Andros Island. It’s a very thoroughly surveyed plot of real estate, and most useful when they’re not dodging the cruise ships that are constantly pounding back and forth through the channel.
And while we’re underwater, what do we think of the plausibility of a gigantic underground submarine base in China?
Chris Shelton explains why Scientology is in a management death spiral
Introduction by Mason i. Bilderberg (MIB)
Scientology is one of those subjects i enjoy researching. Cults in general fascinate me because they provide insights into human nature and how people can be easily manipulated to act contrary to their own best interests.
Below is a video by Chris Shelton, a former Scientology Sea Org worker who left the church only recently.
He gives a great history of Scientology’s organizational structure and why it’s doomed to failure. I found it interesting because it provides an outline of Scientology’s organizational structure that i didn’t understand before.
It’s 39 minutes long. It may not be for everybody. But if you’re fascinated by this crumbling cult of greed like i am, i think you’ll like the insights provided in this video.
In this video, I explain the unique and unworkable organizational structure behind Scientology and how it creates more trouble than it’s worth. But worse than that, control of the entire movement was subverted decades ago by David Miscavige and in this video I show exactly how that occurred. - Chris Shelton
Description by Tony Ortega (The Underground Bunker):
We’ve really enjoyed the explanatory videos put together by Chris Shelton, a former Scientology Sea Org worker who left the church only recently.
We’re happy to premiere his newest effort, a lengthy but fascinating look at Scientology’s management — how it’s supposed to work, and why it isn’t.
There’s some great history here, and perhaps the clearest, most easy to understand telling of how David Miscavige took over the Church of Scientology in the 1980s.
It seems to us that Chris has put together something that not only helps outsiders understand Scientology’s byzantine layers of management, but also helps the people still inside that structure understand why things are going so badly.
As he says early in the film, “By the end of this video you will understand more about how Scientology operates than people who are in it.”
He’s sure right about that. Set aside some time, and let Chris Shelton explain why Scientology is doomed…
Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.
While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.
… in much the same way as mainstream readers consume ordinary news, say computer scientists.
Do you believe that the contrails left by high-flying aircraft contain sildenafil citratum, the active ingredient in Viagra? Or that light bulbs made from uranium and plutonium are more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly? Or that lemons have anti-hypnotic benefits?
If you do, then you are probably a regular consumer of conspiracy theories, particularly those that appear on the Italian language version of Facebook (where all these were sourced). It is easy to dismiss conspiracy theories as background noise with little if any consequences in the real world.
But that may be taking them too lightly. In 2013, a report from the World Economic Forum suggested that online misinformation represents a significant risk to modern society. The report pointed to a number of incidents in which information had spread virally with consequences that could hardly have been imagined by its creators.
In one case, somebody impersonating the Russian Interior Minister tweeted that Syria’s President Basher al-Assad had been killed or injured. The tweet caused the price of crude oil to rise by over one dollar before traders discovered that the news was false. In another case in 2012, 30,000 people fled from the Indian city of Bangalore after receiving text messages that they would be attacked.
Clearly, the rapid spread of information can often have little to do with whether it is true or not.
And that raises an interesting question. How do conspiracy theories spread through the Internet and do people treat these ideas in a way that is fundamentally different to conventional stories from established news organizations?
Via Depleted Cranium
First, a basic primer on what RFID’s are:
An RFID is a small computer chip which holds a very small amount of information, typically just a string of numbers, letters or other symbols. The chip has a tiny radio transmitter in it, and when a reader is brought near it, it will broadcast that data so it can be read by the reading device, which contains a radio receiver.
Importantly, RFID’s are not self-powered. They are far too tiny for any kind of battery capacity. Instead, the RFID reader energizes the RFID with an electromagnetic field. When the RFID is placed in the field, it becomes activated and transmits the code it contains. As a result, RFID’s can’t be read from any substansial distance. But they can be read even if they are covered, such as if they are on the inside of a box or embedded in an object.
They also do not have any actual computing power. They can’t receive GPS signals or transmit data, because they lack sensors and receivers. They simply spit out their internal code when energized.
RFID’s are therefore analogous to bar codes. The major difference is that a barcode needs to be visible, on the outside of an item and reading it requires finding it and directing a scanner at it. RFID’s have the advantage of working when obscured and of being readable by running the reader over an item, even if the exact location of the RFID is unknown. They can therefore be used to inventory merchandise while it is still on the shelf or to track multiple items as they move through a system. They can also be embedded in things like credit cards or security passes, allowing them to be used by just holding them near a reader.
RFID’s can also be implanted. A typical RFID implant is about the size and shape of a grain of rice. It contains the chip inside a biologically inert material which is shaped to allow it to be inserted through a very small incision or even injected with a thick needle. A few individuals have chosen to have an RFID implanted as a way of accessing secure systems. This works a lot like biometrics, but may be more robust. When implanted with an RFID, an individual can do things like open locks and sign onto secure computers by just waving their hand infr0nt of a reader. (Presuming, of course, that their hand is where it is implanted.)
This is rare, however. Only a few people have RFID’s in their body and it’s largely just a way of being a super early-adopted. It will earn you some definite nerd points.
Implantable RFID’s are common for pets, however. The RFID acts as a tag that cannot be easily removed or lost. Once implanted, the pet can be tracked back to its owner if it ever gets lost and is picked up by an animal shelter. Animal shelters typically have RFID readers on site and will scan a dog or cat when they are found without identification. If the animal has an RFID, then the unique code it carries is displayed on the reader. This code can be used to find the owners in a database.
But what about mass implantation in people without their consent?
This is a common thread in conspiracy theories. Some have claimed that the government (or some other evil organization) is planning on or has already begun putting RFID’s in the bodies of unsuspecting citizens. Allegedly this is to track their movements and keep tabs on them. Others claim it is part of a mind-control system.
Of course, despite claims that they can be used for realtime tracking, an RFID cannot be used for this at all. As mentioned, it is only energized when it comes in close proximity to the receiver. It could, however, be used to identify individuals when they entered certain areas which are equipped with readers for the RFID’s.
Arguably this could be done without RFID readers at all. A simple fingerprint scanner and identify and individual from a database of fingerprints. However, RFID’s would have the advantage of allowing it to be done more covertly, perhaps without the subjects knowledge.
There is no evidence that this has ever been done, however… or is there?
Intro by Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
In this day and age of global warming alarmism people either forgot or don’t know that there was a time only 35 years ago when “scientists” were screaming and warning us of the coming ice age.
Below is an episode of “in Search of …”, a 1970s show hosted by Leonard ‘Mr. Spock’ Nimoy that explored mysteries of the day. This particular episode first aired in May, 1978 and explores “The Coming Ice Age.”
I find this episode interesting because they present the same historical data and trends we’re familiar with today – including the 40 year temperature decline that had begun 40 years earlier. But in the late 70s alarmists interpreted this data to mean an ice age was imminent.
Then in the early to mid 80s temperatures showed some warming and some of these same scientists spun around 180 degrees and declared the globe was now warming instead. A great example of this flip-flop is “Stanford University’s noted global warming alarmist and Al Gore advisor Stephen Schneider”(source) who appears in this 1978 episode endorsing and discussing the coming ice age – only to flip to a global WARMING alarmist position when it was convenient.
With the lack of warming over the last 17 years, i wonder how long before “science” decides we’re not headed for a scalding cauldron of death and destruction. Let me guess: as soon as somebody figures out how to create a multi-billion dollar industry to support and tax the new alarmist position.
Enjoy the “science” from 1978 :)
The past decade has brought news of an atrocity, mainly from Africa: the slaughter of albino humans for their body parts for use in ritual magic. Bodies are usually found headless and missing one or more limbs, but sometimes are completely torn apart, missing even internal organs. The reason is, of course, pure unadulterated pseudoscience; we can confidently state that there is no magical benefit to the use of albino body parts, and that’s to say nothing of the abhorrence of murder for any purpose. Clearly there are some fictional beliefs out there concerning the nature of people with albinism, and today we’re going to look at some more of these beliefs that might be held even by those of us who are not into black magic.
But the use of their body parts in ritual magic is the elephant in the room. Arms and legs are the witch doctors’ preferred bits. They are used as charms and talismans, and other body parts also have magical value, such as hair being sewn into fishing nets to bring good luck. About five albinos per year are reported to be killed in Africa for their body parts, but the total is probably larger. Perhaps even more frightening is that about the same number of people survive similar attacks, suddenly accosted by men with machetes who hack off the valuable limbs and abscond, with little care for the still-living victim they leave behind. It’s quick cash; in Tanzania, a single limb can be worth up to four times the average annual income. A complete albino body, chopped apart and sold bit by bit, can be worth more five times what the average Tanzanian can expect to earn in a lifetime; a figure often given in the press is $75,000. Fortunately, over the past few years, witch doctors and attackers have been prosecuted and some have been executed, leading to a reduction in these attacks.
But another problem faced by African albinos is that they are nearly always from broken homes. When some African fathers see their child born white, they assume their wives must have been having affairs with white men. The Albino Association of Kenya says that 90% of albinos in that country are raised by single mothers as a result.
There are four basic types of albinism, some of which have subtypes, corresponding to different genetic defects . . .
Quantum mechanics is a beautiful and still-controversial idea. It is rightly popular. What’s not right is the way people use it to justify any reality-bending idea in their novels, their TV shows, or their personal philosophies. “Quantum” does not mean anything you want.
“Captain? I’m afraid we’re getting quantum disruptions in the quantum energy field. Should I ready the quantum torpedoes and relay a quantum message to the quantum base?”
I’m not a savvy dissector of movies. All the physics mistakes in Gravity flew right past me, but when you see something done a certain amount of times, it works even the most unresponsive of nerves. The word “quantum” is regularly dropped into science fiction in a way that basically amounts to the storyteller thinking, “I bet this is the way smart people in the future talk.” It might be the way smart people talk, but as we see in the next section, it’s also the way people talk when they’re being really stupid. What’s more, it won’t be the way the educated people of the future talk about anything.
Science can move forward in sweeping generalities, or it can move forward by becoming more and more specific. Either way, you probably shouldn’t use “quantum” to describe future science. If you’ve got a universe where starships can move at above light speed, or people can teleport, or the brain can be uploaded into a computer, the term “quantum” may be as antiquated as the term “natural philosophy.”
If the term “quantum” is still around, it won’t be applicable in any specific situation. Let’s put it this way, there are five different major types of light scattering – Rayleigh Scattering, Mie Scattering, Tyndall Scattering, Brillouin Scattering, and Raman Scattering. If you’re an expert and working with scattered light in any meaningful way, saying, “light is being scattered,” isn’t specific enough to get anything done. You have to know what kind of scattering you’re dealing with. Having characters in a space craft worry about a “quantum energy field” near them makes about as much sense as having characters in a war say that the enemy is shooting “matter” at them. They’ll need to use specifics to make any progress.
A fun note: the types of light scattering are all named after scientists. Instead of saying “a quantum energy field,” have your characters run into “a Bass-Van-der-Woodsen field,” because in your universe the team of Bass and Van der Woodsen made the discovery, and an educated expert would name the field instead of just saying “it’s quantum.”
It Doesn’t Mean That We Are Psychic
Okay, here’s the big one. Quantum mechanics shows that the world works in unintuitive ways, and, yes, experiments done in quantum mechanics provide results that can be interpreted in ways that lead us to odd conclusions. What quantum mechanics doesn’t do is provide evidence for whatever whack-a-doodle theory any crackpot has at the moment. These theories come in several different flavors.
First there’s quantum entanglement. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for quantum entanglement. Entanglement involves two particles having opposite spins. As long as the spins aren’t measured, they’re undetermined. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know the spins. This means that they are literally . . .
It seems nearly all your friends are doing special cleansing diets. Should you do one too?
Transcript via inFact:
Cleansing diets are a food fad that’s been around for decades, from the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet, to lemon & maple syrup concoctions, to today’s absurdly overpriced high-sugar fruit smoothie drinks that you buy an in impressively multi-colored, day-specific pack.
Notice that accredited healthcare providers like medical doctors and dietitians never recommend that you buy these cleansing products — they recommend the most basic (and free) health advice of all: eat right and get some exercise. It’s only the unaccredited, unlicensed tradespeople like nutritionists and yoga teachers who will advise you to buy cleansing products — and not surprisingly, will often sell them to you themselves.
Why don’t doctors advise cleansing for general health? Because there is no such thing in medical or dietetic science. The idea that toxic substances from a normal diet build up in your body and cause health problems is a fantasy invented by marketers. Proof: Humans and animals all exist fine, and have for millions of years, without these products. We have perfectly functioning systems already built in: kidneys and livers. The technical medical terms for detoxification are “poop” and “pee”.
When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.
One of the more dramatic aspects of memory distortion is false memories. These can be completely fabricated memories that are indistinguishable from genuine memories. False memories can involve small details, or entire scenarios. One way to fabricate false memories is with suggestion – just suggesting to someone a detail of an experience they had may cause them to incorporate that detail into their memory of the experience.
The apparent reason for this is that our brains appear to favor consistency over accuracy. Memories are updated to bring them into line with our current knowledge. If we are told that the person was wearing a blue jacket, then our memory might change so that it is consistent with what we now believe to be true.
Psychologists have a number of ways of generating false memories in the lab. One method is to show subjects a video of an event. Then allow them to read a written description of the same event, containing or even just suggesting details that differ from the video. A certain percentage of subjects will incorporate the suggested but incorrect details into their memory. When asked they will “remember” those details in the video.
A new study combines false memory research with the effects of sleep deprivation. It is becoming increasingly clear that sleep plays a major role in memory formation and consolidation. Steven J. Frenda of the University of California, Irvine and his colleagues asked a simple question – would sleep deprivation increase the formation of false memories?
They had subjects view photos of a crime, then . . .