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?
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Hard-nosed science types like myself are often criticized by the paranormal enthusiasts for setting too high a bar for what we’ll accept as evidence. The supernatural world, they say, doesn’t come when called, is highly sensitive to the mental states of people who are nearby, and isn’t necessarily going to be detectable to scientific measurement devices. Also, since a lot of the skeptics come into the discussion with a bias toward disbelief, they’ll be likely to discount any hard evidence that does arise as a hoax or misinterpretation of natural phenomena.
Which, as I’ve mentioned before, is mighty convenient. It seems to boil down to, “It exists, and you have to believe because I know it exists.” And I’m sorry, this simply isn’t good enough. If there are real paranormal phenomena out there, they should be accessible to the scientific method. Such claims should stand or fall on the basis of evidence, just like any other proposed model of how things work.
The problem becomes more difficult with the specific claim of precognition/clairvoyance — the idea that some of us (perhaps all of us) are capable of predicting the future, either through visions or dreams. The special difficulty with this realm of the paranormal world is that a dream can’t be proven to be precognitive until after the event it predicts actually happens; before that, it’s just a weird dream, and you would have no particular reason to record it for posterity. And given the human propensity for hoaxing, not to mention the general plasticity of memory, a claim that a specific dream was precognitive is inadmissible as evidence after the event in question has occurred. It always reminds me of the quote from the 19th century Danish philosopher and writer, Søren Kierkegaard: “The tragedy of life is that it can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.”
This double-bind has foiled any attempts to study precognition… until now.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
At what point do homeopaths and other purveyors of woo non-medicine cross the line into committing a prosecutable act of medical fraud?
I ask the question because of a recent exposé by Marketplace, a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called Vaccines: Shot of Confusion. In this clever sting operation, mothers were fitted with videocameras on visits with their children to homeopaths. The videocameras recorded, predictably, the moms being given lots of advice about the (mostly fabricated) dangers of vaccination, and how little pills with no active ingredients were a better choice.
One mother was even told that “measles is virtually harmless for children over the age of one.” This would have come as a shock to my grandfather’s two sisters, Marie Emelie and Anne, who died of measles in 1902, five days apart, at the ages of 22 and 17, respectively.
Not to mention the one million children who die annually from the disease, and the 15,000 a year who are left permanently blind from its effects.
The homeopaths in the video call today’s children “the sickly generation.” And admittedly, there are some medical conditions that have increased in incidence in modern times (asthma, allergies, and autism come to mind). However, it has been thoroughly demonstrated that none of the diseases which have increased are caused by vaccines (nor, by the way, are they treatable using sugar pills). Further, given that there used to be epidemics of diphtheria, typhoid, measles, mumps, and other infectious diseases that killed thousands of children, you can only claim that this generation is “sickly” if you ignore historical fact.
Know of anyone in the last fifty years who has died of diphtheria? Nope, me neither.
It seems to me that we have crossed some kind of threshold, here.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
What is it with people thinking that pyramids are magical?
I knew a woman a long time ago who was so convinced that there was something special about a square and four equilateral triangles that she built one by hot-gluing together some dowels. Then she’d store her apples and bananas under it, and told everyone how much longer they stayed unspoiled than if the fruit was just sitting on her counter.
And lo, over at the Self Empowerment and Development Centre, we find out why this is:
Pyramids don’t kill bacteria. However the bacteria feed by absorbing nutrients as entropy breaks the tissues down. In a pyramid there is so little entropy that the bacteria barely survive and don’t multiply prolifically. Food therefore stays fresher longer and has a chance to dehydrate before it goes bad.
So these people not only don’t understand physics, they don’t understand microbiology. Epic fails in two completely disparate fields. Quite an accomplishment.
Other claims include the idea that pyramids act as a giant “cosmic battery,” that sleeping underneath a pyramid can cure illness (or at least alleviate insomnia), and that placing a dull razor blade under a pyramid will re-sharpen it.
The whole thing has gotten so much traction that it actually made Mythbusters. They tested a bunch of these claims, with a certified pyramid made to the exact proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and to no one’s particular surprise, none of the claims turned out to be true.
Which makes you wonder why sites like The Secret Power of the Pyramidal Shape still pop up. This one was sent to me by three different loyal readers of Skeptophilia, and it’s quite a read. The thing I found the most amusing about it was that it had in-source citations, so it looks a little like an academic paper, but when you check the “Sources Cited” you find out that three of them come from the aforementioned Self Empowerment and Development Centre; one comes from a man named David Wilcock, who claims to be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce; and one of them comes from Above Top Secret.
Not exactly a bibliography that would inspire confidence.
The site itself is worth reading, though, because it has some fairly surreal passages. Take, for example, this:
The best passive torsion generators are formed by cones or pyramidal shapes built according to the “phi” ratio of 1 to 0.618 and it can, therefore, be said the pyramid shape has the power to harness torsional energy because torsion waves are phi-spirals and for this reason a pyramid will hold positive energy and deflects negative energy wavelengths and therefore inhibit natural decay.
Okay! Right! What?
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
I think the homeopaths have reached some kind of Derp-vana this week with the announcement by British practitioner Grace DaSilva-Hill that we need to administer homeopathic preparations…
… to the ocean.
I’m not making this up. In a story broken by Andy Lewis on Quackometer, we find out that DaSilva-Hill is lamenting the state of the world’s oceans, a sentiment with which I have to agree. But what she proposes to do about it is to treat it with homeopathic “remedies:”
Thanks in advance to all of you who have already agreed to participate in this initiative of sending a homeopathic remedy to heal the oceans.
The remedy that has been selected is Leuticum (Syph) in the CM potency.
Just mix one or two drops in some water and offer it to the ocean wherever you happen to be, on 21 November, with pure love and intention… If you live close to a river that can be done, too, or even just send the remedy down the toilet wherever you happen to be.
Well, I can’t argue with the value of flushing homeopathic “remedies” down the toilet. In my opinion, that should be done right at the factory where they’re manufactured.
And what is “Leuticum,” you may be wondering? According to a homeopathy website, Leuticum is a “nosode” — a “remedy” made from diluted bodily discharges. And if you’re not sufficiently disgusted yet, the bodily discharge involved in Leuticum is infected material from someone with syphilis.
Oh, but wait! Leuticum is good stuff! According to the site . . .
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.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Are you worried about the New World Order? Do you fear that the Reptilians are powerful enough to infiltrate the government unchallenged? Do you look up at passing jets and fret about the toxic stuff in the chemtrails they leave behind? Are you terrified that we might be attacked by zombies?
Fear not, for we have a great weapon at our disposal. These assorted bad guys are no match for the…
Yes, “orgone,” the completely nonexistent “universal life force” proposed by Wilhelm Reich all the way back in the 1930s. Reich and others went through all sorts of gyrations to try to prove it existed, to no avail. Also to no particular diminishment of their claiming that “orgone” was the magical be-all-and-end-all of the universe, influencing everything from weather patterns to the motion of galaxies to the “psychosexual energy release” experienced during orgasm.
Reich even developed an “orgone accumulator box” that seems to have done nothing but give test subjects a nice place to nap for a few minutes.
You’d think that the fact that no one has ever been able to demonstrate that orgone exists would put a damper on people’s claims involving its mystical properties.
You’d be wrong.
The site I linked above, written by one Sherry Shriner, would be the odds-on favorite in a competition for the Most Quotable Woo-Woo Website. It tells us that not only does orgone exist, it can be used as a first line of defense against… well, everything. If the Illuminati do anything, all we have to do is focus our orgone on ’em, and they’ll retreat in disarray like the sorry sonsabitches they are. But don’t just take it from me, here’s a direct quote from the website:
My Orgone has destroyed the Capricorn Star-Ship, the Shema star-ship, Planet X – Comet Elenin, and thousands of UFOs!
It Works Folks! It’s the Only thing that works against Alien-Demonic-Zombie-Vampire- beings! The “dead” hate it! The Aliens hate it! Politicians who have been soul-scalped by Reptilians hate it! Obama hates the White House, Michelle sleeps in Hotels around D.C…the White House Senior Staff meets in air-sealed rooms under the Capitol…why?? Because they HATE the Orgoned air in D.C. !!
Orgone will cleanse your air/water/food, dissolve chemtrails above your home, keep evil beings out of your home and yard, stop night terrors, it has 101 uses.
Yup. If you ever are threatened by alien demonic zombie vampire beings, you now have your answer.
You can “orgone” water, too, she says, and . . .
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
There’s an odd tendency of conspiracy theorists to eat their young.
Not literally, of course. I wouldn’t want that to get out as some kind of meta-conspiracy-theory. But I’ve noticed that although the conspiracy theories themselves never seem to die, the conspiracy theorists seem to have a relatively short half-life before they implode.
Again, not literally. Don’t get your hopes up.
I think the reason for this is that once you abandon logic and evidence as the sine qua non of understanding, you are out in some kind of netherworld of lies, suppositions, and paranoia, and it’s only a matter of time before you become victim to the same foolishness you were perpetrating. You give people the impression that no one is to be trusted, that anyone and everyone could be part of the conspiracy, and before you know it, your followers have decided that you’re right… and include you in the assessment.
Icke was outed, fittingly enough, in a YouTube video in which he is caught “shape-shifting into a Reptilian.” Odd, isn’t it, that these Reptilian overlords of ours are brilliant enough to infiltrate themselves into every level of government, break into the sanctum sanctorum of military intelligence, and then can’t remember to keep their costumes in place when they’re on the air? But yes, you heard it here first: Icke, who said that Reptilians are in control of everything from the CIA to the U.S. public education system, is himself a Reptilian.
Even more wryly amusing is the fact that Alex Jones had the whistle blown on the site Before It’s News, because they’re about the only website that is even more bizarrely paranoid than Jones’s own site InfoWars. Here’s the exposé about Jones . . .
MORE – – –
Also See: Who are the Anunnaki? What is the Planet Nibiru? (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
What cracked me up about this one is the way the author of the story, Tom Rose, seems to take it as given that (1) chemtrails exist, and (2) UFOs exist, so clearly they must have some connection. Here’s how Rose introduces the topic:
An incredible UFO video was uploaded to YouTube on Oct. 12, showing what appears to be an unidentified flying object “refueling” itself in the chemical contrail of a jet flying high above it. The strange object, which resembles no known aircraft, and flies in a decidedly non-aerodynamic manner, seems to intentionally head directly into the chemtrail of the passing jet and hovers for a moment before moving on.
The “chemical contrails” of jets are made almost entirely of water vapor and carbon dioxide, so it’s a little hard to see how the UFO would be “refueling” itself with them. Rose is right, however, insofar as water vapor and carbon dioxide are both “chemicals.”
He goes on to write:
The nearly two minute video shows the original, unedited footage, without enhancement, in the opening segment, before switching to a magnified and slowed down version, which doesn’t help to clear up the mysterious behavior of the unidentified aircraft. In fact, the closeup reveals that, although there seems to be a flashing, navigational beacon on the UFO, its shape and configuration resembles no known aircraft, such as a helicopter, airplane or even a drone.
True, and there’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a moment.
He finishes up with a bang:
The chemtrail controversy has been raging for a few years now, with conspiracy theorists arguing there must be some secret meaning behind their sudden proliferation. Could this incident explain the phenomenon? Is it possible that alien aircraft are using the chemical exhaust fumes of high flying aircraft to refuel spacecraft in Earth’s atmosphere?
The last sentence would be the odds-on favorite in a contest for the statement that caused the fastest simultaneous guffaw and facepalm. But let’s not be hasty, here.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
I’m frequently asked how I can write daily on this blog without losing my marbles. Deliberately immersing myself in the silly things some people believe, you’d think, would be a recipe for cynicism and/or despair.
The truth is, I’m still generally an optimist. When you think about it, it’d be kind of silly to have a blog like this if I thought gullibility was incurable. I’m confident that people can adopt a skeptical outlook, and can choose to look at the world through the lens of evidence and logic.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes get angry.
The thing that pushes the rage button the hardest is the combination of stubborn ignorance and lack of compassion. When someone makes a claim that not only flies in the face of rationality, but dehumanizes and demeans, that makes me see red.
Like the claim that is popping up all over conspiracy websites, that the whole Ebola epidemic is being faked by “crisis actors.”
I’ve dealt with this topic before, but from the standpoint of actors staging school shootings — a heinous enough claim. But now, we have people saying that there’s no such thing as Ebola. The whole thing, they say, was invented so as to give world leaders (especially President Obama) the leverage to declare martial law and turn the United States into a dictatorship.
There’s been buzz about this on the r/conspiracy subreddit, which is hardly surprising given that this is where the whole “crisis actors” nonsense gained traction after the Sandy Hook massacre. Here’s how it’s being framed:
You have them in Africa, in New York, San Francisco, Haiti, and other places. Yes, they are sick and they are dying. But that doesn’t make an epidemic, because the tiny virus that was supposed to be at the bottom of all this is missing from the equation.
This tells you how to invent a fake epidemic. You take many sick and dying people, and you claim there is one germ that is causing all the trouble. You promote a few diagnostic tests that ‘will confirm the presence of the germ’ and you tell people they must be tested.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Yesterday we had a report from Española, New Mexico that a surveillance camera at a police station had caught an image of a ghost walking across a locked compound.
“At first I thought it was a fly or moth, then I saw the legs,” Officer Karl Romero said. “And it was a human. But not a real human. No. A ghost.”
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
In order to avoid falling for whatever absurd nonsense happen to be in the offing, you not only need to have some good critical thinking skills, you also need a basic knowledge of the sciences.
This is especially critical given the penchant that pseudoscience hacks have for using scientific-sounding terms in bogus ways. Given that said hacks are quite good at sounding convincing, and can throw around random vocabulary words with the best of ’em, if you don’t understand the basic laws of science, as well as a few solid definitions, you’re going to fall for whatever tripe they’re offering.
Take, for example, the article from Prevent Disease that I’ve now seen several times on social media, called “12 Facts About Microwaves That Should Forever Terminate Their Use.”
This piece, written by one Marco Torres, is so full of false statements and specious science that it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s a sample, picked more or less at random:
Microwaves are a source of electromagnetic energy (a form of nonionizing form of radiation) electronically generated. When penetrating the aliments, they trigger an inner rotation of the water molecules inside the food. This rotation triggers a friction between the molecules and the result is a rapid growth in temperature.
Okay, he starts out well. Microwaves are a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that is electronically generated. But so is the light from a light bulb. And I don’t know what an “inner rotation of the water molecules” even means — since microwaves are good at making water molecules (and also fat molecules) spin, maybe this was just a slip. But the water molecules are not experiencing “friction” — they’re simply moving. Because that’s what an increase in temperature means. The faster molecules move, the higher the temperature, whether that temperature increase is caused by a microwave, a conventional oven, or just sitting out in the sun.
Then, though, we start hearing about all the bad things this can cause:
Microwaves use super-fast particles to literally radiate the contents of water inside food and bring it to boil. Not only has microwave use been linked to causing infertility in men, but it also denatures many of the essential proteins in the food making them virtually indigestible.
“Super-fast” — sure, given that all electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. And what’s the alternative to “literally radiating” the food? Figuratively radiating it?
And there is no connection between using microwaves and infertility, as long as you keep your genitalia outside of the microwave oven. So guys — if you’re microwaving your lunch while naked, don’t accidentally shut your junk in the door and then turn the oven on.
Then we have this unintentionally funny statement . . .
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
New from the “Wow, You People Really Get Upset About Everything, Don’t You?” department, we have a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the Evil Government Agents are marking our mailboxes with color-coded dots for some ominous purpose.
The dots, which are about three inches across, are either bright red, blue, or yellow. And according to the aforementioned wackmobile, the whole idea is so that they can keep track of who is headed for termination:
More and more people are reporting their mail box or their house has been marked with color stickers or marks. Are these the FEMA death camp markings for foreign troops to gather us when the government declares martial law? In some area, even the local police & utility companies don’t even know why they are there.
He then follows it up with a couple of videos, showing his mailbox and a neighbor’s mailbox that have stickers. And lo, one of them was red and one of them was blue, as was foretold by the prophecy. Worse still, one of the mailboxes had the lock forced. He talked to a guy at the post office, who said that the blue sticker meant that there was a forwarding order on that address. The guy who made the video, who calls himself “Master Paul,” draws from this the following breathtaking conclusion:
If blue means “forward,” why is (the neighbor’s) red? There are a lot of conspiracy theories on YouTube. This is not a conspiracy theory. You’re seeing it. Red and blue!
Yup. We saw it. Red and blue. And therefore FEMA death camps and martial law and public floggings of American citizens, or something.
To hammer home the point, we’re shown the following map, illustrating where stickered mailboxes have been reported to Master Paul et al.:
So after seeing all of this, I had to . . .
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
After four years of writing this blog six times a week, you’d think I’d be inured. You’d think I’d long ago have stopped running into weird ideas that I hadn’t heard of. You’d think it’d be impossible to surprise me any more.
You’d be wrong.
You’ve heard about the whole Reptilian Alien thing, right? That prominent individuals, especially world leaders but also including a lot of entertainers, are actually aliens in human suits? Well, just yesterday, a loyal reader of Skeptophilia sent me a link to the homepage of the Doppelgänger and Identity Research Society, which takes it one step further:
Many prominent individuals are actually cleverly-wrought doubles. Clones. Twins from different mothers.
But unlike ordinary twins, or even clones, in which both individuals coexist, here the duplicate has replaced the original, and the original is no more.
In other words: Brad Pitt isn’t actually Brad Pitt, he’s someone who looks, talks, and acts exactly like Brad Pitt.
Upon reading this, I was reminded of the quote from Spock on Star Trek: “A difference that makes no difference is no difference.” If there’s only one Brad Pitt — i.e., no one is really claiming that there are two of ’em walking around, as far as I can see — and he is identical to Brad Pitt, doesn’t that make him, um, Brad Pitt?
Apparently not. Here’s an explanation of the difference, from the site:
Human doubles are made by other humans from the DNA of a single cell, where a replica of the physical body is reproduced. That clone is only physical and has no soul, therefore, it has no God-connection. Clones can mate and reproduce clone children. A clone and a souled-human can mate and, again, only reproduce clone children.
Humans have no means to create a soul in another human clone, therefore, human clones have no soul and no concept of right and wrong, no conscience and no compassion. They have survival instinct and are greatly concerned about their own death, but not the welfare and death of others.
This explains why so many people today have no values, no morals, no ethics and are prone to violence.
They are more easily programmed through our mind-control type education and military training than are souled-humans with a freewill. Clones have no freewill, only a sense of survival, and will act accordingly through conditioned behavior.
The eye is the window of the soul. In the eye of another souled-human you can sense the Light emanating from the soul, the God Spirit within. As I said earlier, soul or God Spirit within, so there is no God-connection to the eternal Light of Creator Source. Therefore, there is no the human clone has no spiritual discernment. The eyes of a human clone may appear dull, blank, hollow, dark, vacant, lifeless, empty with no vibrancy or Light. They have no reaction to or understanding of spiritual energy, concepts or conversation.
Well, notwithstanding the fact that the last paragraph could be describing me before I’ve had a cup of coffee in the morning, the whole thing seems pretty… subjective. Even the website admits that the synthetic humans are just like regular humans, down to the genetic level, even though their science seems a little shaky in other respects . . .
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
At what point does a publication become so filled with dangerous misinformation that the powers-that-be should step in and shut it down?
I’m all for freedom of speech, and everything, and definitely in favor of people educating themselves sufficiently that they won’t fall for ridiculous bullshit. But still: the media has a responsibility to police themselves, and failing that, to have the rug pulled out from under them.
If such a line does exist — and I am no expert in jurisprudence who could state the legality of such a move — then the site Natural News has surely crossed it. They have become the prime source of bogus “health news,” promoting every form of medically-related lunacy, from detox to homeopathy to herbal cures for everything from cancer to depression.
Take a look at their latest salvo, entitled, “What They Won’t Tell You: The Sun Is a Full-Spectrum Medicine That Can Heal Cancer.” In it, author Paul Fassa tells us that contrary to conventional wisdom, you are not putting yourself at risk by exposing your skin to the sun; you are giving yourself “healing medicine.” “Truth is,” Fassa writes, “we’ve been systematically lied to about the sun and skin cancer for years… How many know that there is no definitive proof that the sun alone causes skin cancer?”
Other than, of course, this exhaustive report from the National Cancer Institute.
He quotes a “naturopathic doctor,” David Mihalovic, as support: “Those that have attempted to convince the world that the Sun, the Earth’s primary source of energy and life causes cancer, have done so with malicious intent to deceive the masses into retreating from the one thing that can prevent disease.” Righty-o. So let me respond with a quote of my own, from the Wikipedia page on “naturopathy:” “Naturopathic medicine is replete with pseudoscientific, ineffective, unethical, and possibly dangerous practices… Naturopathy lacks an adequate scientific basis, and it is rejected by the medical community… The scope of practice varies widely between jurisdictions, and naturopaths in some unregulated jurisdictions may use the Naturopathic Doctor designation or other titles regardless of level of education.”
Which might seem like an ad hominem, but I don’t really care.
Also See: The makers of Harmonized Water (a.k.a. drinkable sunscreen) do a “clinical trial.” Hilarity ensues (Respectful Insolence)
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
It’s an increasingly technological world out there, and it’s to be expected that computers and all of their associated trappings are even infiltrating the world of wacko superstition.
About a year ago, we had a new iPhone app for hunting ghosts, called the “Spirit Story Box.” Early this year, there was even a report of a fundamentalist preacher who was doing exorcisms… via Skype. So I suppose it’s not surprising that if humans now can use technology to contact supernatural entities of various sorts, the supernatural entities can turn the tables and use our technology against us.
At least, that’s the claim of a Roman Catholic priest from Jaroslaw, Poland, named Father Marian Rajchel. According to a story in Metro, Rajchel is a trained exorcist, whatever that means. Which brings up a question: how do you train an exorcist? It’s not like there’s any way to practice your skills, sort of like working on the dummy dude when you’re learning to perform CPR. Do they show instructional videos, using simulations with actors? Do they start the exorcist with something easier, like expelling the forces of evil from, say, a stuffed toy, and then they gradually work their way up to pets and finally to humans? (If exorcists work on pets, I have a cat that one of those guys should really take a look at. Being around this cat, whose name is Geronimo, is almost enough to make me believe in Satan Incarnate. Sometimes Geronimo will sit there for no obvious reason, staring at me with his big yellow eyes, all the while wearing an expression that says, “I will disembowel you while you sleep, puny mortal.”)
But I digress.
Father Rajchel was called a while back to perform an exorcism on a young girl, and the exorcism was successful (at least according to him). The girl, understandably, is much better for having her soul freed from a Minion of the Lord of Evil. But the Minion itself apparently was pissed at Rajchel for prying it away from its host, and has turned its attention not on its former victim, but on the unfortunate priest himself.
Apparently such a thing is not unprecedented. According to an article about exorcism over at Ghost Village, being an exorcist is not without its risks:
[John] Zaffis [founder of the Paranormal and Demonology Research Society of New England] said, “You don’t know what the outcome of the exorcism is going to be – it’s very strong, it’s very powerful. You don’t know if that person’s going to gain an enormous amount of strength, what is going to come through that individual, and being involved, you will also end up paying a price.”
Many times the demon will try to attack and attach itself to the priest or minister administering the exorcism. According to Father Martin’s book, the exorcist may get physically hurt by an out-of-control victim, could literally lose his sanity, and even death is possible.
So there you are, then. Rajchel, hopefully, knew what he was getting into. But I haven’t yet told you how the demon is getting even with Father Rajchel:
It’s sending him evil text messages on his cellphone.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
I didn’t realize what a fuss there still was over the sinking of the Titanic.
Okay, I know that it has some cachet as one of the biggest shipping disasters in history. I know it was made into a movie, with heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. (What, the movie isn’t named Jack Dawson’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Really Bad Day?) I know that the theme music, wherein Celine Dion’s heart goes on and on and on and on and on and on, was played an average of 1,389,910 times a day for a year after the movie opened.
But really: what’s the big deal? [spoiler alert] The ship sinks. Lots of people drown. End of story.
But no, that’s not all there is to it, some folks say — and by “some folks” I mean “people with the IQ of a bar of soap.” Because we haven’t discussed why the Titanic sank. And it wasn’t because it ran into a great big hunk of ice.
Oh, no, that would be way too logical.
You can forget about all of that. No iceberg necessary. According to a new theory, the Titanic sank because a bunch of time travelers from the future went back to witness the Titanic sinking from on board the ship itself, and the extra weight of the passengers is what caused the ship to sink.
Now, wait, you may be saying, at least after you recover from the faceplant you undoubtedly did after reading this novel claim. “If the time travelers are what caused it to sink, then how did anyone know it had sunk, since the ship had to sink in order for the time travelers to know to come back in time to watch it sink?”
Well, if you asked that question, all I can say is . . .
Mail. The Daily Mail, is of course what I meant. They’ve once again reinforced their reputation for high-quality, groundbreaking journalism with their story entitled, “Three Americans Hospitalized After Becoming ‘Possessed’ Following Ouija Board Game in Mexican Village.”
In this story, we hear about twenty-something siblings Alexandra and Sergio Huerta, and their cousin Fernando Cuevas, who were visiting relatives in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco, Mexico, when they decided to whip out the ol’ Ouija board and see what the spirits had to say. And of course, as with most cases of the ideomotor effect, the spirits very likely didn’t have much of interest to say other than what the participants already knew — until Alexandra Huerta went into a “trance-like state” and started growling.
Then the two boys began to “show signs of possession, including feelings of blindness, deafness, and hallucinations.” So all three were taken to a nearby hospital, where all three were given “painkillers, anti-stress medications, and eye drops.”
Because you know how susceptible demons are to eye drops. Whip out the Visine, and Satan is screwed.
Interestingly, Alexandra’s parents called a local Catholic priest for an exorcism, who refused because the three were “not regular churchgoers.” I guess as a priest, your job fighting the Evil One is contingent on the possessed individual belonging to the church Social Committee, or something.
But so far, all we have is the usual ridiculous fare that The Daily Mail has become notorious for — a non-story about three young adults who either were faking the whole thing for attention or else had suffered panic attacks and some sort of contagious hysteria. Worthy of little attention and even less serious consideration, right?
Wrong. You should read the comments, although you may need some fortification before doing so, because I thought that the comments on CNN Online and the Yahoo! News were bad until I started reading this bunch. These people bring superstitious credulity to new levels. Here’s a sampling, representing the number I was able to read until my pre-frontal cortex was begging for mercy . . .
Most people have heard of the placebo effect. The name comes from the Latin word meaning “I will please,” and refers to the phenomenon that people who are given an ineffective medication after being told that it will ameliorate their symptoms often find that the symptoms do, indeed, abate. The mechanism is still not well elucidated — it has been suggested that some of the effect might be caused by the brain producing “endogenous opioids” when a placebo is administered, causing decreased sensations of pain, feelings of well-being, and sounder sleep. But the fact is, we still don’t fully understand it.
Less well-known, but equally well-documented, is the nocebo effect. “Nocebo” means “I will harm” in Latin, and it is more or less the placebo effect turned on its head. If a person is told that something will cause pain, or bring him/her to harm, it sometimes does — even if there’s no rational reason why it would. Individuals who believe in voodoo curses, for example, sometimes show actual medically detectable symptoms, even though such curses are merely empty superstition. Nevertheless, if you believe in them, you might feel their effects.
Naturally, this further bolsters the superstition itself, which ramps up the anxiety and fear, which makes the nocebo more likely to happen the next time, and so round and round it goes. And this seems to be what is happening right now in Uganda — a bizarre phenomenon called “numbers disease.”
In “numbers disease,” an affected individual suddenly notices a raised pattern on his/her skin that looks like a number. The number that appears, it is said, represents the number of days the person has left. Once the number shows up, the individual begins to sicken, and when the allotted time is up, the person dies.
Apparently, it’s easier than I thought to give your soul to Satan.
You don’t have to attend a Black Mass, or hold a séance, or even wear an upside-down crucifix. Nothing that flashy, or even deliberate, is necessary.
All you have to do is drink the wrong energy drink.
I am referring, of course, to “Monster,” that whiz-bang combination of sugar, vitamins, caffeine, and various herbal extracts of dubious health effect, which misleadingly does not list “demons” on the ingredient list.
At least that’s the contention of the also-misleadingly named site Discerning the World, which would be more accurately called Everything Is Trying To Eat Your Soul. This site claims that the “Monster” logo, with its familiar trio of green claw marks on a black background, is actually a symbol for “666” because the individual claw marks look a little like the Hebrew symbol for the number six:
Which, of course, is way more plausible than the idea that it’s a stylized letter “M.” You know, “M” as in “Monster.”
But no. Every time you consume a Monster energy drink, you are swallowing…
… pure evil.
Now lest you think that these people are just making some kind of metaphorical claim — that the Monster brand has symbolism that isn’t wholesome, and that it might inure the unwary with respect to secular, or even satanic, imagery — the website itself puts that to rest pretty quickly. It’s a literal threat, they say, ingested with every swallow:
The Energy Drink contains ‘demonic’ energy and if you drink this drink you are drinking a satanic brew that will give you a boost… People who are not saved, who are not covered by the Previous Blood of Jesus Christ are susceptible to their attacks. Witchcraft is being used against the world on a scale so broad that it encompasses everything you see on a daily basis – right down to children’s clothing at your local clothing store.
So that’s pretty unequivocal.
When bad things happen, it seems to be a reflex that people look around for someone or something to blame. And this week, Slender Man (more recently written run together as “Slenderman”) is the convenient target.
I’ve written about Slender Man before, in a post two years ago in which I pondered the question of why people believe in things for which there is exactly zero factual evidence. And in the last two weeks, there have been two, and possibly three, violent occurrences in which Slender Man had a part.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular paranormal apparition, Slender Man is a tall, skinny guy with long, spidery arms, dressed all in black, whose head is entirely featureless — it is as smooth, and white, as an egg. He is supposed to be associated with abductions, especially of children. But unlike most paranormal claims, he is up-front-and-for-sure fictional — in fact, we can even pinpoint Slender Man’s exact time of birth as June of 2009, when a fellow named Victor Surge invented him as part of a contest on the Something Awful forums. But since then, Slender Man has taken on a life of his own, spawning a whole genre of fiction (even I’ve succumbed — Slender Man makes an appearance in my novel Signal to Noise.)
But here’s the problem. Whenever there’s something that gains fame, there’s a chance that mentally disturbed people might (1) think it’s real, or (2) become obsessed with it, or (3) both. Which seems to be what’s happened here.
First, we had an attack on a twelve-year-old girl by two of her friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in which the girl was stabbed no less than nineteen times. The friends, who are facing trial as adults despite the fact that they are also twelve years old, allegedly stabbed the girl because they wanted to act as “proxies for Slender Man” and had planned to escape into Nicolet National Park, where they believed Slender Man lives, afterward. They had been planning the attack, they said, for six months.
One of the most important, and least considered, questions about belief is, “What would it take to convince you that you were wrong?”
It is something we should always keep in the front of our brains, whenever considering a claim. We all have biases; we all have preconceived notions. These only become a problem when either (1) they are unexamined, or (2) we become so attached to them that nothing could persuade us to abandon them.
I’m very much afraid that for some people, belief in the power of psychics is one of those unexamined, immovable ideas. I say this because of the response people have had to a catastrophic faceplant performed last week by Skeptophilia frequent flier “Psychic Sally” Morgan.
“Psychic Sally,” you may remember, is the performance artist who has thousands of people convinced that she can communicate with the dead. She bills herself as “Britain’s favorite medium,” and fills halls with people who have purchased expensive tickets to her shows. This is despite the fact that in a previous show she was caught “communicating” with a fictional character, and was once accused by a journalist of receiving information from a helper through an earpiece.
None of this diminished her popularity. The first incident was only revealed in a newspaper article after the fact, and in the second, the journalist was actually sued by Psychic Sally for libel — and she won. There was no proof, the judge ruled, that the Sally had cheated. The journalist, and the newspaper he worked for, were forced to pay reparations. But this time it is to be hoped that things are different, because Sally did her monumental kerflop right in public. Here’s how blogger Myles Power, who was there that night, describes it:
Sally came to Middlesbrough on Friday night and her show started off very well. Even though she was getting the vast majority of what she was saying wrong the audience did not seem to mind and seemed to be having a good time. The point at which the audience became disillusioned with the performance was quite specific. One aspect of the show is that audience members can submit photographs of dead loved ones, in the hope that Sally will select theirs, and give a psychic reading from it. Sally pulled out of a box on stage one of these pictures. She held the picture up to the camera and it was projected on the large screen behind her. The picture was of a middle-aged woman and by the clothes she was wearing and the quality of the image, I guessed it was taken some time in the 1990s. Sally immediately began to get communications from beyond the grave from a man holding a baby named Annabel……or was it Becky. Noticing that no one in the audience was responding, Sally asked the person who submitted the photo to stand up. A rather small chunky woman at the centre of the hall stood up and Sally once again began to get messages from the afterlife. She was informed that this man and baby were somehow linked to the lady in the picture. However the woman in the audience (who was now also projected behind Sally) disagreed and started to look increasingly confused as, presumably, nothing Sally was saying made any sense to her. Sally then decided to flat out ask her if the woman in the picture had any children who passed and, when informed that that she hadn’t, responded by saying “I will leave that then.”
Sally then became in direct contact with the woman in the photo who began to tell her that there was a lot of confusion around her death and that she felt it was very very quick. She later went on to say that the day Wednesday has a specific link to her death and that she either died on a Wednesday or was taken ill that day. As the woman in the audience was not responding to any thing Sally was saying, she decided to ask how the woman in the photo was related to her. It turns out the woman in the audience got the whole concept of submitting a picture of someone you wanted to talk to from the afterlife completely wrong – and for some unknown reason submitted a younger picture of herself.
So there you have it. “Psychic Sally” has now been caught not only summoning up the spirit of a fictional character, she has gotten into psychic communication with the ghost of a person who is still alive and sitting right there in the audience.
Apparently the hall erupted in laughter when it became evident what had happened, and Psychic Sally never really did recover. A number of people walked out. People wouldn’t answer her leading questions. The audience, for that night at least, was a lost cause.
But here’s the problem:
There are times that I think the woo-woos are engaging in an elaborate game of self-parody, just to see how far they can push us skeptics before we realize that it’s all a huge joke.
Or at least, I live in that hope, because it’s better than the alternative, which is that these people are serious whackjobs. Take, for example, the case of the astrologer who recently commented on a crop circle that occurred in 2011 near Stonehenge:
Those of you are are aficionados of punk rock may recognize this as the logo of Crass (to the right), a punk rock band formed in the 1970s that was involved in the anarchic/political end of the punk spectrum, and which produced several albums, including the memorable Penis Envy.
Not much doubt, is there? Some wag with a taste for punk and way too much free time decided to make a crop circle as an homage to his (or her) favorite band. As we’ve seen before, crop circles can be generated in short order as long as you have some kind of device to orient yourself and a piece of plywood with which to flatten the crops. No other explanation necessary, not that we’d be likely to look for one given that it’d be an odd alien race that would come all the light years to Earth and leave behind a punk rock logo as their only communiqué.
That point, however, apparently flew past astrologer Donna Provancher so quickly that it didn’t even ruffle her hair. Excuse me, though; Provancher isn’t an astrologer, she says she’s an “astronomologer.” What, exactly, is an “astronomologer,” you may be asking? In her words, “astronomology is the practice of astrology using astronomy to build the chart and supply new insights.”
Which doesn’t sound that different from astrology, frankly. It’s as if I decided to open a practice doing Tarot card readings and started calling it “Tarothematics” because the Tarot cards have numbers on them, and expected that people should take me more seriously than the ordinary Tarot card readers because of it.
Be that as it may, Provancher was just enthralled by the crop circle, and had a wonderful explanation of what it meant. None of which, I hasten to say, had anything to do with punk rock. Here’s Provancher’s explanation . . .
If there is a group of people I hate arguing with even more than I hate arguing with young-earth creationists, it’s the conspiracy theorists.
At least the young-earth creationists just think I’m working for Satan, a charge that I can understand, considering their view of things. Sure, we don’t accept the same ground rules for proof (evidence versus revelation); sure, we have different conclusions regarding where you can apply the laws of scientific inference (damn near everywhere versus only places where it doesn’t conflict with Holy Writ).
But at least we can talk. The conspiracy theorists, you can’t even have a civil discussion with. They accuse you of either being stupid or else working for evil humans, both of which are in my opinion worse than working for Satan because stupidity and evil humans actually exist. The worst part, though, is that they pretend to accept the principles of rational argument, but then when it comes down to the point, they don’t, really. You can bring out the best-researched study about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, the most convincing argument that 9/11 and Sandy Hook were not “inside jobs” or “false flags,” the most persuasive evidence out there that HAARP has nothing to do with raising tsunamis or causing earthquakes.
And where does it get you? They just write you off as a dupe or a shill. It’s the ultimate example of the False Dilemma Fallacy; if you don’t agree with us, you’re one of…. Them.
The problem in this country has gotten so bad that Kurt Eichenwald did a big piece in Vanity Fair on the topic this week, and you all should read it. In fact, everyone in the civilized world should read it, because it’s brilliant, even though it’s depressing. I’ll give you a brief passage from it, but then I want you to go to the link and read the whole thing:
(W)e have become scientific and political illiterates, and no nation can survive on a bedrock of such delusional stupidity. Of course, the 26 percent (or more) won’t believe me, if they manage to read this. I’ll just be deemed an “elitist” for daring to suggest that demon science and data, rather than ridiculous conspiracy theories, should be used to judge reality. So, it may be a losing battle, but we should all try. I don’t want to be forced, someday, to stand by as the rest of the world renames our nation “America the Ignorant.”
It’s a bit of a coincidence that I should come across this when I did, because it came on the heels of another article, one sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia, that details one of the most pervasive and bizarre conspiracy theories out there: that the US government in general, and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) in particular, are laying plans to kill us all.
Apparently, the whole thing is supposed to be carried out via guillotine, which is at least creative, if messy.
And here, we find out what they have in store for us:
Code ICD 9 E 978 Makes Execution by Guillotine Legal Under Obamacare. The specific code sent to me will make any American’s hair stand up on the back of their neck. The code is ICD 9 E 978. After reading this code I decided that it was my duty to investigate further and get to the bottom of why we have a medical code in the United States for “Legal Execution.” The Jesuits are behind most conspiracies and this one is no different… Execution by Guillotine is painless.
And I’m thinking: what the fuck does Obamacare have to do with this? Was that just something extra to throw in, along with the Jesuits for some reason, the way that the anti-GMO crowd will throw in the name “Monsanto” as a stand-in for Hitler?
At least they tossed us the cheerful tidbit that getting your head sliced off is painless. I’m relieved, actually, considering what other methods they could have chosen.