Tag Archives: LiveScience

How the Brain Creates Out-of-Body Experiences

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

astralt_250pxSAN DIEGO — The human mind effortlessly constructs the feeling of inhabiting a body, and now scientists are figuring out how the brain produces that experience.

The findings, presented here Sunday (Nov. 10) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, highlight which brain regions are active when a person has an out-of-body experience.

Recent studies have shown that the brain incorporates information from multiple senses and the first-person visual perspective to create a sense of body ownership. But it’s still unclear how the brain perceives the body’s location in space.

In the study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, participants lay inside an MRI scanner while wearing a head-mounted display that showed a first-person camera view of another person’s body lying in a corner of the scanner room, with their head either parallel to a wall or perpendicular to it. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden repeatedly touched each participant with an object while simultaneously touching the body shown in the camera view. This gave participants the illusion that the body in the camera view belonged to them.

To heighten the illusion, the researchers used . . .

. . . MORE . . .

Global Warming: Heads they win, tails you lose.

By Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB), January 30, 2014

weasel word 02_flat

Let’s start this article by examining the deceptive use of words and phrases and later i will explain how i believe such deceptions are used in the global warming debate.

A few examples of what i mean.

save02_200pxWhat exactly is being promised by a sign in a store window that says, “Save up to 50% on everything in the store?”

Does it mean:

  1. The discount is 50%
  2. The discount is somewhere between 0% and 50%
  3. The discount applies to everything in the store
  4. The discount only applies to some things in the store
  5. Nothing in the store is discounted
  6. All of the above.

Of course the correct answer is “F” – all of the above.

This is a classic case of advertisers intentionaly using deceptive wording to create a false impression. In this case, the meaning of the words “… up to . . .” can mean anything from 0% to 50%, which renders the rest of the statement meaningless. So even if NOTHING in the store is discounted, this sign is technically true.

Though this kind of deceptive wording might be obvious to some, you might be surprised to learn how many people reading such a sign will interpret it to mean everything in the store is heavily discounted. Deception sells.

Another example . . .


nutriSystem_cropped_250px
Look at the NutriSystem ad to the right. NutriSystem ran print ads like this along with TV commercials and the promise-sounding sales pitch, “… lose all the weight you can at Nutri/System for only $199. Don’t wait, call now.”

Wait a second, back up the truck. Did you catch the deception in this pitch?

For only $199 you will lose all the weight you can? I’m sure you see the problem with this wording. So did the Federal Trade Commission (PDF).

If you don’t lose any weight, then this would be all the weight you can lose. See? NutriSystem didn’t lie – you DID lose all the weight you can – now pay $199!!

One more quick example and i’ll move on to global warming . . .


loan_250pxThis used car salesman on the right. Is he guaranteeing you a loan or is he promising to accept your loan application (so he can toss it into the round file)? There’s a big difference.

How about car dealerships that promise “guaranteed credit” or “cash for all trade-ins!”

Do these sales pitches sound like you will get all the credit you need to buy your dream car and maximum dollars for your used car trade-in? Or do they really mean you’ll get $5 of credit at 25% interest and a whopping $10 for your used car trade-in?

Words mean things. How words are used, misused or not used at all (conspicuous by their absence), also has meaning and can give us a glimpse into the motives behind the words.


I was going through some global warming articles about a week ago and i found this statistic in an article from LiveScience.com:

63pct

My gut finds this statistic hard to believe. It just seems too high compared to other polls i’ve seen in the last few years on the same subject. Two years ago it was reported to be about 50%, now it’s reported at 63%? We haven’t seen any warming in over 15 years and the belief in global warming has climbed? Time to investigate.

So i found the survey upon which this statistic is based (Download the PDF) and i found something interesting on page 34 – the definition of global warming as it was defined for the respondents of this latest survey (November 2013):

GW definition

For the purpose of responding to this survey, there are 3 criteria to consider to determine if you are a global warming believer:

  1. If temperatures have increased over the last 150 years,
  2. future temperatures may increase, and
  3. the worlds climate may change as a result.

Recall the “50% off” sign, the NutriSystem ad and the used car salesman ad at the top of this article. Now look at the wording in the above three criteria. There is one word that renders two of the three criteria completely meaningless.

Do you see it?

The weasel word is “may” in the second and third criteria.

“May” is synonymous with “optional” – something may, OR may NOT, occur.

Thus the three criteria above and these three criteria below are exactly the same from a logic standpoint:

  1. If temperatures have increased over the last 150 years,
  2. future temperatures may OR may NOT increase, and
  3. the worlds climate may OR may NOT change.

With the second and third criterias rendered meaningless, the question of whether global warming is real comes down to one, single question:

  • Have temperatures increased over the last 150 years?

As reported in my last global warming article, this is the temperature record for the last 150 years:

The Record_600px

Like asking if the earth is round, answering the question “Have temperatures increased in the last 150 years?” comes down to a simple, objective, recitation of fact:

  • Yes, the squiggly line is higher on the right side of the graph than it is on the left side of the graph.

Because neither the definition used to assess the answer to the question nor the question itself asks the respondent to consider anything beyond the vertical movement of the squiggly line, the answer to the question cannot be construed as agreeing with the more expansive definition of global warming and the theoretical causes:

GlobalWarmingDefinition

KEEP READING – – –

Spooky Science: Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Fearful Worldview

By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com

ghostly_173People who believe in ghosts may be more afraid of actual, real-world dangers — things like violent crimes or nuclear war — than are people who don’t hold paranormal beliefs, a new survey finds.

The Survey of American Fear asked people in the United States to divulge the terrors that keep them up at night. For the survey, nearly 1,500 participants responded to questions about 88 different fears and anxieties, ranging from commonplace phobias (like fear of heights) to less tangible concerns (like fear of government corruption). The survey also asked participants about their beliefs concerning paranormal and mythical things, like ghosts, Bigfoot and ancient aliens.

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey. Credit: Chapman University

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey.
Credit: Chapman University

“The reason we ask [about paranormal things] on the survey is that we’re interested in finding out what kind of clusters of beliefs tend to be associated with fear,” Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University in California and leader of the second annual Fear Survey, told Live Science.

ouija-board-gifLast year in the survey, researchers asked questions that gauged the respondents’ scientific reasoning. This was done to find out how the individuals’ knowledge of scientific ideas (how electricity works, why the sun sets in the west, etc.) related to those respondents’ fears. But this year, the focus was on supernatural beliefs, not scientific ones.

Bader and his colleagues found that quite a few Americans hold paranormal beliefs. The most common of these is the belief that spirits can haunt particular places; 41.4 percent of the demographically representative group of participants said they held this belief. A lot of Americans (26.5 percent) also think that the living and the dead can communicate with each other in some way, the survey found.

Many survey participants said  .  .  .

Continue Reading at LiveScience.com – – –

Viral Soda Infographic: How Does Cola Really Affect the Body?

by Rachael Rettner via livescience

coke-glass_250px_150pxAn infographic that breaks down what happens in your body after you drink one Coke has gone viral, but health experts say some information in the graphic is exaggerated.
In addition, while soda is certainly not a healthy food choice, drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage once in a while wouldn’t necessarily make a person unhealthy, the experts said.
“If you’re drinking one soda on occasion … that doesn’t equate to it being necessarily unhealthy,” said Heather Mangieri, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of the nutrition consulting company Nutrition Checkup in Pittsburgh. “The overall diet quality is what’s important.”
Health experts say the information in this infographic is exaggerated.

Health experts say the information in this infographic is exaggerated.

The infographic, which appears on the blog the Renegade Pharmacist, details seven changes that happen to the body during the first hour after drinking a Coke, including the effects of ingesting 39 grams of sugar. The information for the graphic was taken from a 2010 article on the website blisstree.com
On the whole, the science presented in the infographic is fairly accurate, said Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
However, some of the wording is exaggerated, Mangieri said. For example  .  .  .

Continue Reading – – –


These are two of my own responses on public forums regarding the above infographic:

The guy who made this infographic (Former pharmacist Niraj Naik) is a well known quack, believing in things like:

  • “sound healing” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZTqRvWTRCk),
  • “scientific prayers”,
  • “spiritually awakening sounds”,
  • “Ayurveda” – a “5,000 year old system of natural healing”,
  • “Trypnaural meditations. Trypnaural meditations feature an advanced form of brainwave entrainment using isochronic tones.”

He is a self-described “marketing expert.” He’s no different than Food Babe, he sells pseudoscience and makes outrageous claims as a way of self-promotion to make money.

Source: Former Pharmacist Turned Sound Healer, Niraj Naik Introduces The Alpha Mind Meditation System for Enhanced Health


His first claim is utter BS:

In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100 per cent of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavour allowing you to keep it down.

  1. There is no “recommended daily intake” of sugar.
  2. According to the American Heart Association (http://tinyurl.com/momm5hu), “sugars are not harmful to the body, our bodies don’t need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food.”
  3. The average 12oz can of Coca Cola has 39 grams of sugar. Ingesting this amount of sugar will NOT make you vomit – with or without phosphoric acid. As an example, most candy bars (see image below) have comparable amounts of sugar and WITHOUT any phosphoric acid and we don’t see people projectile vomiting in candy stores. This is ridiculous.
A Milky Way bar has a comparable amount of sugar as a can of Coca Cola. According to the first claim in the infographic, this amount of sugar (absent any phosphoric acid) should have people projectile vomiting. Why no vomiting? (click image for larger view)

A Milky Way bar has a comparable amount of sugar as a can of Coca Cola. According to the first claim in the infographic, this amount of sugar (absent any phosphoric acid) should have people projectile vomiting. Why no vomiting?
(click image for larger view)

Out-of-Body Experience Is Traced in the Brain

by Tanya Lewis via livescience

What happens in the brain when a person has an out-of-body experience? A team of scientists may now have an answer.

Out-of-Body 722In a new study, researchers using a brain scanner and some fancy camera work gave study participants the illusion that their bodies were located in a part of a room other than where they really were. Then, the researchers examined the participants’ brain activity, to find out which brain regions were involved in the participants’ perceptions about where their body was.

The findings showed that the conscious experience of where one’s body is located arises from activity in brain areas involved in feelings of body ownership, as well as regions that contain cells known to be involved in spatial orientation, the researchers said. Earlier work done in animals had showed these cells, dubbed “GPS cells,” have a key role in navigation and memory.

The feeling of owning a body “is a very basic experience that most of us take for granted in everyday life,” said Dr. Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and co-author of the study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. But Guterstam and his colleagues wanted to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie this everyday experience.

Rubber hands and virtual bodies

In previous experiments, the researchers had explored the feeling of being out of one’s body. For example, the researchers developed the so-called “rubber hand illusion,” in which a person wearing video goggles sees a rubber hand being stroked, while a researcher strokes the participant’s own hand (which is out of sight), producing the feeling that the rubber hand is the participant’s own. The researchers have used a similar technique to give people the feeling of having a manikin’s body, or even an invisible body, as they described in a report published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the new study, Guterstam and his colleagues  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Also See:

Ever Wake Up and Think You See a Ghost?

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 903 flipped_250px“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 . . .

MORE – – –

Also See: Senses and Non-Sense: 7 Odd Hallucinations (livescience)

Are Ghosts Real?

Science Says No-o-o-o

The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via livescience

If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: Millions of people are interested in ghosts, and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses — and nearly half believe in ghosts.

ghost 820_250pxGhosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from the Bible to “Macbeth,” and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death and spirit communication.

People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages; in Victorian England, for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold séances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. In America during the late 1800s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but were exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini.

It wasn’t until the past decade that ghost hunting became a widespread interest around the world. Much of this is due to Syfy cable TV’s hit series “Ghost Hunters,” now in its 10th season of not finding good evidence for ghosts. The show spawned several spin-offs, including “Ghost Hunters International” and “Ghost Hunters Academy,” and it’s not hard to see why the show is so popular: the premise is that anyone can look for ghosts.ElmerGhost02_250px The two original stars were ordinary guys (plumbers, in fact) who decided to look for evidence of spirits. Their message: You don’t need to be an egghead scientist, or even have any training in science or investigation. All you need is some free time, a dark place and maybe a few gadgets from an electronics store. If you look long enough, any unexplained light or noise might be evidence of ghosts.

The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort; who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.

MORE – – –

Aliens? Yes Please. UFOs? No Thanks

Via LiveScience

SETI uses the Arecibo's 305-meter telescope — the largest in the world — to scan the sky for signals from alien civilizations all year round. Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NSF

SETI uses the Arecibo’s 305-meter telescope — the largest in the world — to scan the sky for signals from alien civilizations all year round.
Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NSF

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, may be becoming more mainstream, as evidenced by this week’s House Science and Technology Committee hearing, which included testimony by two well-known SETI hunters, Seth Shostack and Dan Werthimer.

But the hearing took an odd turn when U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, had the floor.

“I think I might ask the question everyone in this room wants to ask,” Collins said. “Have you watched ‘Ancient Aliens’ and what’s your comment about that series?”

The television show, broadcast on The History Channel, explores purported extraterrestrials’ visits to Earth over millions of years.

Shostak, senior scientist at the California-based SETI Institute, started off diplomatically.

“The public is fascinated with the idea that we may be being visited now, or may have been visited in the past, the so-called UFO phenomenon,” he said.

ancientaliens03a_225pxThen he got down to business:

“I personally don’t share the conviction that we are being visited. I don’t think that that would be something that all the governments of the world had managed to obfuscate — to keep secret. I don’t believe that.

“The idea that maybe we were visited during the time of the ancient Egyptians and so forth, keep in mind that in the 4.5-billion year history of the Earth, the time of the ancient Egyptians was yesterday. So again, why were they there then? What was it that brought them to Earth? I have no idea and I don’t find very good evidence,” Shostak said.

MORE – – –

Watch the exchange (2:10 mins):

Watch the full House Science and Technology Committee hearing on YouTube (1 hour).

The Mystery of the Sailing Stones in Death Valley

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

California’s remote, beautiful, and foreboding Death Valley has held a mystery for almost a century: it has stones that seem to move on their own, when no one is looking. It happens at Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed known for its “sailing stones.” This effect occurs at a few other places as well, though Death Valley is the most famous spot.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

In their book “Mysteries of the World: Unexplained Wonders and Mysterious Phenomena,” Herbert Genzmer and Ulrich Hellenbrand state that “the perfectly flat, dry ground is scoured and scraped with paths that suggest these boulders are being moved along the ground… there is no indication of how this movement could have been brought about by outside forces, and no stone has ever been observed actually making its way across the ground.”

Not all of the stones in Death Valley move. Those that do only move every two to three years, and they don’t all move at the same time or in the same direction. In fact, some seem to have made abrupt 90-degree turns, judging from the tracks, which range from tens of feet to hundreds of feet long. Most of the stones are not huge boulders but instead range from about 6 to 18 inches (15 to 45 centimeters) in diameter.

Several theories have been proposed to explain this curious phenomenon, including some sort of localized, unknown magnetic effect. This theory has been discounted for a variety of reasons including that many of the stones do not contain significant amounts of magnetic elements such as iron, and that the stones should gradually assemble in one place — which they don’t. Some have suggested that the strong winds that blow through the area might move the rocks after the lakebed has become slick.

The most likely solution to the mystery involves a combination of wind, temperature and water. Although Racetrack Playa is a dry lakebed, it is not always dry; in fact, water collects on the surface after rainfall or when snow from surrounding peaks melts. Brian Dunning, a California researcher who discussed this mystery on his Skeptoid podcast, notes that when water is present and the temperature falls below freezing — as it sometimes does — a thin sheet of ice is created: “Solid ice, moving with the surface of the lake and with the inertia of a whole surrounding ice sheet, would have no trouble pushing a rock along the slick muddy floor… As the wind shifts and the flow ebbs, these ice floes drag the rocks across the slippery mud surface in zig-zagging paths, even moving heavy rocks and sometimes dragging some but washing past others nearby.”

NASA researcher Ralph Lorenz became intrigued by the enigmatic stones while studying Death Valley weather conditions. He developed a tabletop experiment to show how the rocks might glide across the surface of the lakebed.

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

“I took a small rock and put it in a piece of Tupperware, and filled it with water so there was an inch of water with a bit of the rock sticking out,” Lorenz told Smithsonian.com.

After putting the container in the freezer, Lorenz ended up with a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in it. By placing the ice-bound rock in a large tray of water with sand at the bottom, all he had to do was gently blow on the rock to get it to move across the water. And as the ice-embedded rock moved, it scraped a trail in the sand at the tray’s bottom.

MORE – – –


Video via inFact with Brian Dunning (YouTube)

The Riddle of Twin Telepathy

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

Many identical twins — perhaps as many as one in five — claim to share a special psychic connection. About one out of every 30 babies born in the United States is a twin, and identical twins are especially interesting because they have the same genes and are alike in many ways. Brothers and sisters can be close, but some twins claim to know what the other is thinking or feeling. It’s an intriguing idea, but what’s the truth behind it? Coincidence, psychic powers or something else?

shutterstock_40670914_250pxThis sort of psychological connection isn’t necessarily mysterious, of course: any two people who know each other very well and who have shared many common experiences — including non-twin siblings, old married couples, and even best friends — may complete each other’s sentences and have a pretty good idea about what the other person is thinking.

The idea of twin telepathy has been around for well over a century. It appears, for example, in the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novella “The Corsican Brothers.” It tells the story of two once-conjoined brothers who were separated at birth yet even as adults continue to share not only thoughts but also physical sensations. As one twin describes, “However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other.” The 2013 best-selling novel “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld also tells the story of twin girls who share a psychic connection.

telepathy500a_200pxMost of the evidence for twin telepathy is not scientific but instead anecdotal. For example, in 2009 a British teenager named Gemma Houghton was in her home when she suddenly had a feeling that her fraternal twin sister, Leanne, needed help. “I just got this feeling to check on her, so I went up to the bathroom and she was under the water,” she said. Gemma found Leanne in a bathtub, unconscious. She had suffered a seizure and slipped under the water, nearly drowning. Gemma called for help and administered first aid, saving her sister’s life.

The story of Gemma and Leanne Houghton has been widely cited as  .  .  .

MORE – – –

The Riddle of Twin Telepathy

Benjamin RadfordBenjamin Radford via LiveScience

Many identical twins — perhaps as many as one in five — claim to share a special psychic connection. About one out of every 30 babies born in the United States is a twin, and identical twins are especially interesting because they have the same genes and are alike in many ways. Brothers and sisters can be close, but some twins claim to know what the other is thinking or feeling. It’s an intriguing idea, but what’s the truth behind it? Coincidence, psychic powers or something else?

EvilTwins-th_250pxThis sort of psychological connection isn’t necessarily mysterious, of course: any two people who know each other very well and who have shared many common experiences — including non-twin siblings, old married couples, and even best friends — may complete each other’s sentences and have a pretty good idea about what the other person is thinking.

The idea of twin telepathy has been around for well over a century. It appears, for example, in the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novella “The Corsican Brothers.” It tells the story of two once-conjoined brothers who were separated at birth yet even as adults continue to share not only thoughts but also physical sensations. As one twin describes, “However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other.” The 2013 best-selling novel “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld also tells the story of twin girls who share a psychic connection.

Most of the evidence for twin telepathy is not scientific but instead anecdotal.

MORE – – –

Erasing Bad Memories: Wiping Out Unconscious Traces Is Possible

By Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience

memory-fix_250pxBad memories are not only part of our conscious mind, they also leave a trace in our unconscious. But now, new research shows that actively trying to forget an unwanted memory can help erase this unconscious trace.

In a new study, researchers showed people pairs of images, and sometimes asked the participants to try to forget the first image of an object. The researchers wanted to see whether such willful forgetting could change how easily the participants could later identify an image of that object, this time hidden almost imperceptibly behind “visual noise,” or a scrambled image of the object.

Generally, after people have seen an image, say of a coffee cup, they can more easily identify another image of that coffee cup even if it is masked by such visual noise. That’s because the brain does a bit of work to set up a mental representation of the coffee cup the first time around.

However, in the study, it turned out that participants had a harder time identifying an object within the background noise if they had tried to forget the first.

Moreover, actively trying to forget an object also changed the unconscious brain representation of that image the second time around, according to the study published yesterday (March 17) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Half Of Americans Believe in Medical Conspiracy Theories

By Rachael Rettner via LiveScience

"Do you see what vaccines have done to me?"

“Do you see what vaccines have done to me?”

About half of Americans agree with at least one medical conspiracy theory, a new study suggests.

The study surveyed more than 1,300 Americans to see whether they agreed with six popular medical conspiracy theories — such as the discredited link between vaccines and autism, or the belief that water fluoridation is a cover-up to allow companies to dump dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Nearly half, or 49 percent, of those surveyed agreed with at least one medical conspiracy theory, and 18 percent agreed with three or more theories.

The most commonly endorsed theory was the belief that the Food and Drug Administration is “deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies.” More than a third of Americans, or 37 percent, agreed with this statement.

Twenty percent agreed with the statement: “Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them.” The vaccine-autism link was supported by 20 percent of participants.

Study researcher Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said he was not surprised by the findings. Studies of American’s belief in political conspiracy theories have yielded similar results.

“We see that Americans have conspiracy theories about a lot of things, not just about politics, but also about health and medicine as well,” Oliver said.

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Mysterious Egyptian Spiral Seen on Google Maps

By Marc Lallanilla via LiveScience

Desert Breath, as seen on Google Maps. Credit: Google Earth (click image for larger view)

Desert Breath, as seen on Google Maps.
Credit: Google Earth
(click image for larger view)

To some viewers, it looks like a landing strip for extraterrestrial spacecraft — or perhaps the portal to a parallel universe, if not an ancient monument to a benevolent deity who had a keen eye for design and symmetry.

But what people are actually seeing in the desolate reaches of the Egyptian desert, just a short distance from the shores of the Red Sea, is in fact an environmental art installation. And it’s been baffling tourists and armchair travelers since it was constructed in March 1997.

Danae Stratou, Alexandra Stratou and Stella Constantinides worked as a team to design and build the enormous 1 million square foot (100,000 square meters) piece of artwork — called Desert Breath — to celebrate “the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind,” as stated on the artists’ website. [See Photos of the Stunning ‘Desert Breath’ Spiral]

Constructed as two interlocking spirals — one with vertical cones, the other with conical depressions in the desert floor — Desert Breath was originally designed with a small lake at its center, but recent images on Google Maps show that the lake has emptied.

The entire structure, in fact, is slowly disintegrating as the sand that forms the art piece slowly blows off its cone-shaped hills and fills in its depressions, making it “an instrument to measure the passage of time.”

The art piece joins other mysterious images and environmental artworks that fascinate viewers on Google Earth  .  .  .

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Synchronicity: Definition & Meaning

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

image descriptionAmazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.

The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomenon, including psychic powers, astrology, alchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung's theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung’s theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.

In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”

Is synchronicity real?

There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.

If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.

It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is  .  .  .

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Shrouded in pseudoscience

Via Skeptophilia

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

I hate to break it to you, LiveScience, but in the interest of accuracy, it’s probably time to take the word “Science” out of the name of your website.

What you’re promoting isn’t really science, any more than The History Channel has anything even remotely to do with history.  You’re passing along to the public the idea that science is this mushy, hand-waving pursuit, where you can do an “experiment” to support an idea you’d already decided was true, generate essentially nothing in the way of data, and then claim that your results support whatever your original contention was.

I say this in light of a recent story called “Shroud of Turin: Could Ancient Earthquake Explain Face of Jesus?”  If the very title makes you suspicious, then good; you’re starting out from the right vantage point.

Let’s begin with the facts.  The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen cloth that has been preserved for centuries as a holy relic — supposedly the sheet that covered Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.  It shows the image of a naked man, with wounds similar to those described in the bible.

The problem is, the linen cloth was carbon-14 dated — a step that the religious powers-that-be resisted for decades — and it was conclusively shown to date to around 1350 C.E.  It is, put simply, a fake.  So you’d think that would be that.

As we’ve seen before, that is never that when religion enters the picture.

b_shroud JesusThe article in LiveScience tells about a study headed by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy, which discovered that when you crush rocks using a mechanical press, it can cause a brief emission of neutrons.  From that single piece of information, he concludes the following:

  • Earthquakes can therefore be associated with neutron emissions.
  • The neutrons could interact with nitrogen atoms in the linen cloth (or in anything else, presumably), and mess up the carbon-14 dating protocol, causing it to give a wrong answer.
  • The neutrons could also have burned a pattern into the cloth as they passed through it.  Because the cloth was wrapped around a human body, it would have caused an image to appear on it, much like an x-ray.
  • The bible says that there was an earthquake around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, and the “stone rolled back from the tomb.”  [Matthew 28:1-2]
  • So: the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus.  Therefore god and the Catholic Church and all of the rest of it.  q.e.d.

Oh, come on, now.  This qualifies as science?  It’s about as bad an example of assuming your conclusion as I’ve ever seen.  And if earthquakes interfered with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 levels, then radiocarbon dating would never work, since earthquakes happen basically all the time, all over the Earth.  And yet carbon-14 dating has been shown to be extremely accurate, over and over again.

Funny thing, that.

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What is Stigmata?

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

Stigmata15b_250pxPeople who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic’s hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).

Along with possession and exorcism, stigmata often appears in horror films, and it’s not difficult to see why: bloody wounds that mysteriously and spontaneously open up are terrifying. However, stigmatics, who are typically devout Roman Catholics, do not see their affliction as a terrifying menace but instead as a miraculous blessing — a sign that they have been specially chosen by God to suffer the same wounds his son did.

Curiously, there are no known cases of stigmata for the first 1,200 years after Jesus died. The first person said to suffer from stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), and there have been about three dozen others throughout history, most of them women.

Padre Pio

A young Padre Pio (born Francesco Forgione) displays his stigmata.

A young Padre Pio (born Francesco Forgione) displays his stigmata.

The most famous stigmatic in history was Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio, or Pio of Pietrelcina. The most beloved Italian saint of the last century, Padre Pio first began noticing red wounds appearing on his hands in 1910, and the phenomenon progressed until he experienced full stigmata in 1918 as he prayed in front of a crucifix in his monastery’s chapel.

Padre Pio was said to have been able to fly, and also to bilocate (to be in two places at once); his stigmata was allegedly accompanied by a miraculous perfume; the Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, in his 1963 biography of the saint, noted that it smelled of “violets, lilies, roses, incense, or even fresh tobacco,” and “whenever anyone notices the perfume it is a sign that God bestows some grace through the intercession of Padre Pio.”

Journalist Sergio Lizzatto, in his book “Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age” explains the social context in which Padre Pio’s stigmata emerged: “In the first years of the twentieth century, when Padre Pio was a seminarian, the Eucharist — the body and blood of Christ — was at the height of its importance in Catholic practice. Communion was celebrated frequently and became a mass phenomenon. At the same time, asceticism was interpreted in ever more physical terms. Body language — ecstasy, levitation, the stigmata — was held to be the only real mystical language.”

Pio’s stigmata appeared, Lizzatto argues, because that’s exactly what the church and its followers expected to appear in its most devout servants: Jesus’ real, physical torment visited upon the holiest of men.

Though Padre Pio was widely beloved, many weren’t convinced that the friar’s wounds were supernatural. Among the skeptics were two popes and the founder of Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Agostino Gemelli, who examined Padre Pio and concluded that the stigmatic was a “self-mutilating psychopath.”

Still, Padre Pio garnered a widespread following and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Though Pio, who died in 1968, never confessed to faking his stigmata, questions about his honesty surfaced when it was revealed that he had copied his writings about his experiences from an earlier stigmatic named Gemma Galgani. He claimed ignorance of Galgani’s work, and could not explain how his allegedly personal experiences had been published verbatim decades earlier by someone else. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a miracle.

Is stigmata real?

Encyclopedia of Claims_300pxSo is stigmata real, or a hoax, or something in between? The claimed miracle of stigmata — like inedia, where people who claim not to eat food — is very difficult to scientifically verify. Veteran researcher James Randi, in his “Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” notes that “Since twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance would be necessary to establish the validity of these phenomena as miracles, no case of stigmata exists that can be said to be free of suspicion,” and though the possibility of genuine stigmata can never be ruled out, “It is interesting to note that in all such cases, the wounds in the hands appear at the palms, which agrees with religious paintings but not with the actualities of crucifixion; the wounds should appear at the wrists.”

If stigmata is real, there is no medical or scientific explanation for it.

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Where is the Proof in Pseudoscience? (Op-Ed)

H/T: (Skeptic Wars)


By Peter Ellerton via LiveScience

homeopathy 803_250pxThe word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

A good example of pseudoscience is homoeopathy, which presents the façade of a science-based medical practice but fails to adhere to scientific methodology.

Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.

What’s the difference?

science 824_200pxKey distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.

For example, those who think the plural of anecdote is data may not appreciate why this is not scientific (indeed, it can have a proper role to play as a signpost for research).

Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.

Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.

What is knowledge?

 John Dewey Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


John Dewey
Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.

The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.

This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.

It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.

In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

No progress made

Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.

To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.

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