An overview of the amazing chess playing robot of the 1700s.
Today we’re headed back in time, all the way back to the Vienna court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, in the year 1770. There the scientific polymath Werner von Kempelen, then thirty six years old, brought forth a mechanical automaton: the figure of a man seated at a large wooden chess table, the cabinet below filled with clockwork. A volunteer from the audience stepped forward. Kempelen wound up the machine, and it reached out and made the first move, the clockwork whirring and ticking. The astonished volunteer was quickly defeated. Delighted with the mechanical marvel, Maria Theresa ordered many more performances. In fact, the Turk, as it was nicknamed for its Turkish clothing, toured the world for the next 80 years, defeating the world’s top chess players plus luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin, without anyone ever discovering its secrets. Although many skeptics published fine articles purporting that the Turk actually contained a child, dwarf, or legless adult chess player, or that it must have been secretly controlled by its exhibitor, the workings of the Turk remained one of history’s best kept secrets.
But all secrets are fleeting, and shortly before the Turk’s destruction in an 1854 fire, its last owner’s son, Silas Mitchell, published the revelation, proving that no skeptic had ever correctly guessed how it worked. In fact, no one had even come close. Over the years, three authors in particular had put forth the best known hypotheses, and Kempelen had fooled them all.
But the most intriguing mystery about the Turk would not turn out to be how it worked, but rather why a man like Kempelen would have built it. Kempelen was no Barnum. He was neither a showman nor a magician; he was an inventor and engineer of the highest caliber and held a series of important public works appointments in Maria Theresa’s government. The last thing he’d do would be to construct some sort of sideshow trick. The first of the three most notable proposed explanations came in 1789, by Joseph Friedrich, Freiherr zu Racknitz. He wrote a book based on his many viewings of the Turk and his friendship with Kempelen. Racknitz noted that the Turk’s exhibitor would always first open and close the cabinet’s various doors for the audience’s inspection. He concluded that a very small human operator was inside the cabinet, lying flat during the opening of the doors; and then, during game play, sat up, played the game on a small secondary chessboard, and watched magnetized needles on the bottom of the tabletop to learn what move the opponent had made. By Racknitz’s measurements, the hidden human would have had to be less than five feet tall, and less than seven inches high when lying flat. Kempelen refused to offer any assessment of Racknitz’s proposed solution.
In 1821, Robert Willis, an engineer of musical instruments, published a pamphlet with his own explanation of the Turk. Willis noted in particular that the order in which the doors were opened for inspection never varied. This, he proposed, was to allow a hidden human operator to move from one part of the cabinet to another, allowing the various cabinets to be shown empty in sequence. Then, to play, the operator would sit up, place his own hand inside the Turk’s arm, and watch the board through the thin fabric shirt covering the Turk’s chest.
The best known analysis was that of Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1835, which ultimately found in favor of Willis’ explanation but differed in that it offered far deeper reasoned analysis of why it must be so. For example, Poe noted . . .
By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF via The New York Times
Wheat was first domesticated in southeastern Anatolia perhaps 11,000 years ago. (An archaeological site in Israel, called Ohalo II, indicates that people have eaten wild grains, like barley and wheat, for much longer — about 23,000 years.)
Is this enough time to adapt? To answer that question, consider how some populations have adapted to milk consumption. We can digest lactose, a sugar in milk, as infants, but many stop producing the enzyme that breaks it down — called lactase — in adulthood. For these “lactose intolerant” people, drinking milk can cause bloating and diarrhea. To cope, milk-drinking populations have evolved a trait called “lactase persistence”: the lactase gene stays active into adulthood, allowing them to digest milk.
Milk-producing animals were first domesticated about the same time as wheat in the Middle East. As the custom of dairying spread, so did lactase persistence. What surprises scientists today, though, is just how recently, and how completely, that trait has spread in some populations. Few Scandinavian hunter-gatherers living 5,400 years ago had lactase persistence genes, for example. Today, most Scandinavians do.
Here’s the lesson: Adaptation to a new food stuff can occur quickly — in a few millenniums in this case. So if it happened with milk, why not with wheat?
Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.
By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse
There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.
10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences
Among the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.
Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light
Nearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.
A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.
The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.
8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations
Many near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.
While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.
Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.
Pseudoscience is like bubble gum. It tastes pretty good, it’s fun to blow bubbles, and it annoys some people. But eventually, the flavor leaves, and you find that you’re just chewing on some nutritionally dubious substance. Now you have to find a place to spit it out.
Or I guess you can swallow it, and it stays in your intestines for the rest of your life. Oh sorry, that’s more junk science.
If you read something that makes some medical claim, here’s a quick and easy checklist to determine if it’s pseudoscience. Or real science-based medicine. What we all need is an official, Skeptical Raptor endorsed, pseudoscience detector.
Here it is, your own pseudoscience detector, based on a scientific seven-point checklist for fake science.
- The discoverer pitches his claim directly to the media. Going to media directly bypasses the all-important peer-review process, where real scientists can evaluate whether the claim is real science. There are some journalists that are thorough scientific skeptics, but it is rare. That’s why press releases rank near the bottom of acceptable scientific evidence.
- The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his/her work. Special pleading for a conspiracy is just a logical fallacy. If someone discovers a cure for all cancers (probably not possible, since there are so many different cancers), the powers that be will be bringing truckloads of dollars to buy it, because they could market it for even more truckloads of money. But if you have no evidence that it cures all cancers, you’re not going get anything.
- The scientific effect is always at the very limit of detection. This is the very definition of “it doesn’t work.” Moreover, if the thing being promoted has a tiny effect, then more of it will have more of an effect, the typical dose-response relationship expected from all compounds.
- Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. Anecdotes are not data. More anecdotes are not data. Anecdotes are not controlled, but they are subject to all sorts of bias. Like confirmation bias, where . . .
By Yvette d’Entremont via gawker
Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She’s also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by “breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life.” She and her army are out to change the world.
She’s also utterly full of shit.
I am an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology. Before working full-time as a science writer and public speaker, I worked as a chemistry professor, a toxicology chemist, and in research analyzing pesticides for safety. I now run my own blog, Science Babe, dedicated to debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere. Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.
Hari’s superhero origin story is that she came down with appendicitis and didn’t accept the explanation that appendicitis just happens sometimes. So she quit her job as a consultant, attended Google University and transformed herself into an uncredentialed expert in everything she admittedly can’t pronounce. Slap the catchy moniker “Food Babe” on top, throw in a couple of trend stories and some appearances on the Dr. Oz show, and we have the new organic media darling.
But reader beware. Here are some reasons why she’s the worst assault on science on the internet.
Natural, Organic, GMO-Free Fear
Hari’s campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte drove me to launch my site (don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything). She alleged that the PSL has a “toxic” dose of sugar and two (TWO!!) doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b.
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
But then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide?
It’s a goddamn stretch to say that sugar has deleterious effects, other than making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don’t “namaste” your cheeks off. However, I implore you to look at the Safety Data Sheet for sugar. The average adult would need to ingest about fifty PSLs in one sitting to get a lethal dose of sugar. By that point, you would already have hyponatremia from an overdose of water in the lattes.
And almost enough caffeine for me.
We’ve all heard about the supposed relationship between confidence and knowledge – but is it true? Two researchers think they’ve found the answer.
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.