Posts Tagged ‘Skepticism’

How to Tell If You’ll Be Raptured Tomorrow

May 20, 2011

The Rapture is this weekend! Use this handy flowchart to figure out if you’re going to be one of the lucky ones this weekend. And by lucky ones, I mean those of us left here to enjoy the Earth and all of the available parking spaces, easy restaurant reservations and short lines at the checkout. Unfortunately, according to the figure below not many of us stand a chance of being Raptured, so it’ll still be a pretty crowded place down here.

click image to make readable

Seen on The Things I’ve Missed, A Growing List. Original source Peas and Cougars.


Do not fear the science!

May 16, 2011

Like many people, my gateway drug introduction to skepticism as a vibrant, evolving community was The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. If you listen to podcasts and like science and skepticism with occasional side of snark, you absolutely MUST give SGU a try.

This was the end-of-show quote from episode #303 (5/4/11), and it’s stuck with me for over a week now. I really enjoy it as a persuasive statement about the use and beauty of science.

“I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.”

-Robert Saplosky

That’s because you don’t measure time in ounces.

April 2, 2011

Aka: What I said at lunch today and why my lunch mates rolled their eyes and called me a party pooper.

Should We Allow a Leap of Faith?

February 17, 2011

Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe posted last week about a gentleman’s decision to make a leap of faith. A literal leap of faith. From this rock formation:

Image source

On December 21, 2012 Mr. Peter Gersten plans to hurl himself off of Bell Rock in Sedona, AZ. It is his belief that a cosmic portal will open at this time and in this place, and that he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity. He is fully willing to die if he is wrong about the portal.

Regardless of how we feel about Mr. Gersten’s beliefs, are we willing to let him die if he is wrong about the portal?

It is not a crime to commit suicide in the United States, but one can be committed involuntarily for psychological evaluation and treatment if one is deemed to be a danger to him or herself, i.e., makes his or her intention to commit or attempt to commit suicide known.

Our current understanding of the universe would suggest that Mr. Gersten has a very small chance of being correct about a cosmic portal opening when he takes his leap of faith. Given what we know of our world, we can assume that Mr. Gersten has a very high probability of killing himself. We might say it’s suicide.

So should we allow him to take this leap of faith, or should he be committed?

As a supporter of civil liberties I want to believe that Mr. Gersten should be allowed to do any dumbass thing that he likes as long as he doesn’t take anyone else with him or inconvenience others unduly. We allow people to do dumbass, life-threatening things all the time. If you want to risk death in a selfish endeavor, such as attempting to tightrope between two skyscrapers, raft down the rapids in March on the fresh thaw, climb Mount Everest, run across Death Valley, more power to ya.  And we won’t just cheer you on, we’ll send TV crews and journalists to livecast your attempt because secretly we’re all hoping you’ll slip on the tightrope, fall into the chilly swirling water, get buried in an avalanche or collapse from heat stroke 20 feet from the finish line. Then of course we want you to muster superhuman strength and catch your balance, climb back in the raft, dig your way out of the snow, or regain consciousness and drag yourself across the finish line to where an ambulance is waiting to restore you. And then we’ll go out and buy your autobiography and our kids will talk about how they want to be just like you!

But I digress.

Assisted suicide is illegal in 48 of 50 states (Oregon and Washington, since you were curious). If we allow Mr. Gersten to attempt his leap of faith, are we his partners in (non?)crime?

And even if we say no, that this is not a crime, that indeed Mr. Gersten should be allowed to pursue his ambition…who the heck is paying for clean up if he’s wrong? I’m not being facetious; If the portal doesn’t open up, rescue workers are going to have to climb Bell Rock to clean up bits of Mr. Gersten wherever they may land, possibly endangering their own lives in the process. And Mr. Gersten, having left this world by very natural means having nothing at all to do with cosmic portals, is going to be leaving us the tab. Hmmm…should we allow him his leap of faith if he were to find volunteers and money to fund clean up in the event that he is wrong?

Or – as one of the commenters at Bad UFOs pointed out – should we just ask him to bring a damn parachute?

Conspiracy and Coffee

February 2, 2011

Ugh…this was the first video of the morning. Someone I follow on twitter posted this with the statement, “a must watch if you’re into natural ways to heal the body. I highly recommend this film!”

This was released back in 2008 and it’s already been ripped to shreds by people who are smarter and more familiar with the topic than me, but I’m feeling snarky and only just starting my first cup of coffee, so let’s do this!

Don’t cancer/Big Pharma conspiracy theorists ever consider that doctors are first and foremost human beings who are just as susceptible to cancer as everyone else, and that they have loved ones who suffer and die from cancer? Secrets of this magnitude don’t stay secret just so someone can make a few bucks. People don’t let their wives, husbands, children, parents and friends die of cancer even for a few thousand or million bucks.

Dr. Max Gerson thought that diet and “detoxification” could cure cancer and just about anything that ails you. Not potentially prevent cancer, but CURE cancer. Independent review of the cases he observed in his book, A Cancer Therapy, determined that there is insufficient evidence to support his claims. His case studies have been shown to have sloppy methodology, and his claimed cure rates have been called into question. The Gerson Institute calls all of these findings “persecution” and protests that the medical community shuns the Gerson Therapy because of ties to Big Pharma. After all, “You can’t make money off of a bag of carrots“.

Patients have gotten sick from the wacky treatments proposed by the Gerson Therapy – and I’m not even including those who die from their cancers because they didn’t seek efficacious treatment. Many professionals and professional groups have discredited this course of treatment. But hey, if drinking hydrogen peroxide and taking ozone up the butt is your idea of a good time, maybe the Gerson diet is for you.

I Want to Believe

February 1, 2011

Seen on Facebook – AG via JBW

When Logic Fails to Convert…

January 21, 2011

There’s always – MAGIC!

via chrisfhiggins

Get Chiro or DIE!

January 14, 2011

I was wandering around the Eden Prairie Mall (Eden Prairie, MN) yesterday and was floored to see this advertisement for chiropractic at one of the mall kiosks. 

Subtle message, eh?  If you don’t get chiropractic, you  could die!  Who cares that you can’t afford it, that you don’t believe believe in chiro, and (I love this one) that you don’t have any pain or symptoms!  Are you going risk making a widow  or widower of your spouse and orphans of your children, just to save a little money or to feel self-righteous because you scoff at chiro?  You greedy, self-centered bastard.

Let me say this… 

I have benefited from chiropractic.  Several years ago I bent at the waist to pick something up from the ground.  As I straightened up I felt a “pop” and acute pain in my lower back.  The urgent care doc told me to alternate ice and warmth on the area and to take it easy.  Two more days of discomfort landed me in a chiropractor’s office on a friend’s advice.  After taking a patient history and performing a full body examination (which cost me $250), the chiropractor straddled one of my thighs and applied a quick twist to my pelvic/lower back region (pardon the vagueness – it’s been over five years since the experience), and I had IMMEDIATE  relief from the pain and increased flexibility.  I jaunted out of the office, a total convert to chiropractic treatment.

I set three “follow-up” appointments with the chiro doc, and thus started my deconversion therapy.  Or perhaps my disillusionment therapy.  The first appointment was what I expected – the doc asked me how my lower back was feeling, and did a few quick cracks to that area.  While I was there she also recommended doing some adjustments on my right wrist, right shoulder and my thoracic vertebrae, as my job required a fair amount of repetitive arm and hand motions.  To this day I don’t know if she felt something wonky with those areas (I hadn’t been experiencing any pain, tightness, etc.) or if she was attempting to do preventative care. 

During the second visit she wanted to take a “bioelectrical measurement”.  It was a free assessment, so I let her tape a bunch of electrodes to seemingly random places all over my body.  I asked about the positioning of the electrodes and she said they were spaced at regular intervals so that she could get a reading on my entire body.  Umm… ‘k.  The results were wishy-washy – I needed more iron in my diet, I needed to lose weight.  I asked what the system was measuring and how it could tell that I needed to lose weight and get more iron in my diet, and she said something about electrical current and my body’s ability to impede … I didn’t understand what she was telling me, but I remember that it sounded like *cough* bullshit! *cough*.  It made me uneasy.   

But this was before I had done my research on chiro, before I had started skeptically examining alternative medicine practices.  So I shrugged off my unease and went back.

Visit numero three:  After performing an adjustment on my lower back, she introduced the idea of applied kinesiology, which I thought sounded fascinating!   I held up one of my arms and she placed a series of bottles on my chest.  As she switched out the bottles she pressed against my arm.  On several bottles she couldn’t move my arm, and on others she barely touched me and my arm pushed down to the table.  She then repeated the study on my right leg.  Based on her findings, my “extremely weak muscle reactions” indicated that I needed to take a combination of vitamins, which her office sold for the low, low price of $60/month.  This FINALLY trigged the warning bells in my head.  *facepalm*  Not because I understood how the AK scam/delusion worked, but because I was pretty sure she needed my $60/month more than I needed her silly vitamins.

I declined the vitamins and didn’t make any more appointments before leaving the office.  But I didn’t complain to any board or committee about what I felt were iffy practices; I told myself that it wasn’t for me, but maybe it helped other people feel better.  After all, she was a trained doctor, and that had to count for something, right?  Right? 

Since then I’ve learned a bit about the placebo and ideomotor effects, as well as the claims surrounding bioelectrical impedance analysis, applied kinesiology, the ability of chiro to cure or lessen the effects of allergies, pediatric chiropractic and the effect of subluxations on metabolism, behavior disorders, “toxins” in the body – all of which this woman’s practice addressed when I was a patient. 

Thus my BS meter is calibrated a little high when it comes to chiropractic care, so seeing this “Chiro or Die!” poster in the mall annoyed me.  Joint manipulation may be appropriate in some cases, but if I should ever consider seeking chiro in the future, I’ll be avoiding this place.

Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2010

Well, here we go.  All dressed up for Halloween parties, and all I really want to do is lay around the house and read Sourcery, the fifth Discworld book.  What’s up with that, Lack Of Ambition?  Well, at least Sourcery could be tied into the whole creepy Halloween deal.

I’m a hulu girl for Halloween this year.  It’s actually my wedding dress; we had a Hawaiian-themed wedding in our backyard.  We ordered about $300 dollars worth of luau-themed decorations from Oriental Trading Company (inflatable palm trees, dude!) and all the guests wore Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, etc.  It was a blast.

So yeah, basically I went to my closet and pulled out my dress and thought, “Meh…that’ll work.”

<—That’s the Hubby and me at a party.  It’s an odd crop to give the people around us some privacy.

I’m just tired from running all around town today.  First I went to the Minnesota Rally to Restore Sanity event that was held in the Rotunda of the Saint Paul capitol building today.  It was pretty great, and there were some fun signs.  We watched some of the big DC Rally on a screen, and listened to some speakers, including Tom Horner, the independent candidate for governor here in MN.  Watch a little clip from one of the local news stations about the rally.

After that I went directly to the Central Library in Minneapolis to attend a talk on scams and frauds hosted by the Minneapolis Skeptics.  It was a little late, but I was in time to hear a volunteer “Fraud Fighter” for AARP and a representative from the Better Business bureau give us the skinny on some of the newest frauds going around right now.

So, the Hubby is waiting patiently for me to finish typing so we can get going.  Go! Go! Go! Go!  Oooo….maybe some coffee.

Michael Shermer at U of MN

October 21, 2010

Last Thursday (10/14/2010) I went to see Michael Shermer speak at the University of Minnesota’s Willey Hall (timely write-up fail!).  Dr. Shermer was presenting “Why People Believe Weird Things”.  His visit was sponsored/organized by the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) group at the U of M. 

Michael Shermer

I liked the lecture hall set-up – the back wall is rounded and the room focuses the audience’s attention down to the center of the room where the speaker is presenting.  But instead of having one screen and the people on the sides getting cruddy views, the room has two gigantic screens angled so that no matter where you sit you’ll have a decent view of the material.

Map of Willey Hall

Before the talk Dr. Shermer checked his set up, then hung around up front chatting with people.  The presentation started about 15 minutes late, but that was okay because people kept streaming in.  Dr. Shermer was introduced by the CASH activities director, and then we were off.  

He started by telling us about Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptic’s Society and he did a quick review of the topics covered on the screens up front. 

The pre-talk display was these six covers of Skeptic Magazine, of which Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher

One of the comments that Dr. Shermer made early on really stuck with me.  He presented the idea that smart people are very good at rationalizing their non-intelligent choices and beliefs.  I think that, like anyone, skeptics can make poor choices when we weigh evidence against our personal beliefs, and we choose gut over facts (I’m still struggling with Penn and Teller’s BS episode on recycling).   In the Q&A at the end of the talk, someone asked him to give some examples of the weird things skeptics believe.  He chose politics – ask a liberal why they believe what they believe, and they’ll tell you it’s because they’re right about x topic, and that yes, they believe that 50% of Americans who vote for Republicans/conservativism are wrong.  Confirmation bias, anyone? 

Dr. Shermer showed this slide during his talk.

Dr. Shermer was all about using the humor to get ideas across.  He was discussing the need for science education in America, and used this video got a LOT of laughs:

After that Dr. Shermer dug into some basic cognitive science topics like association learning and patternicity.  He gave a broad-level overview of some neuroscience studies that have attempted to explain where and what in the brain may be responsible for patternicity.  He showed some great illusions that illuminate how our brain handles facial recognition, and he presented his idea for how this might be related to the phenomenon of déjà vu.  He demonstrated how granularity, shading and camera position in photos can be used to trick our brain into making assumptions about what we’re looking at, and even into seeing things that aren’t there.

Crazy crate  Crazy crate

Jerry Andrus’s 3D impossible crate


Nice doggy

Our Lady of the Chicago Underpass

Next he discussed agenticity: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents.  This moved us further into the realms of conspiracy, skepticism and pseudoscience.   Dr. Shermer believes that human agenticity is behind animism, aliens, the 9/11 Conspiracy, JFK’s assassination, etc.  He discussed mind versus brain (“Mind is just the thing that the brain does”) and the brain’s role in creating near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences, as well as the phenomenon of sensed presence, or the feeling that someone is in the room with you. 

He also demonstrated how the priming effect works with a fun example.  Do you remember the hysteria in the 1980s when some people thought that if you played rock and roll records backwards you could hear satanic lyrics or chanting?  Dr. Shermer played Stairway to Heaven forward and backward for us.  When he played it forward he put the lyrics on the screen.  Then he played the song backward – without lyrics.  It sounded like a bunch of gobbledy-gook.  Then he played the song backwards for us again, but this time with these devised lyrics on the screen:

So here’s to my Sweet Satan.
The other’s little path
Would make me sad,
Whose power is faith.
He’ll give those with him 666.
And all the evil fools,
they know he made
us suffer sadly.

And it sure sounded like they were singing those words when we listened to it again.  Fun with tricking the brain!

Dr. Shermer managed to fit in a few more topics like why cold reading works (when someone goes to a psychic they’ll remember the hits (5-10 hits), but forget the misses (200-300), synchronicity, confirmation bias and expectation violation.

At the end of the talk we had about 30 minutes for Q&A.  There was a good mix of Q&A topics – cognitive neuroscience, pseudoscience, belief, atheism.  Nobody was too bumbling, although there were a few cringe-worthy seconds here and there while people rambled or struggled to get their question out.  There were no confrontational questions.

A few of my favorite moments from the Q&A

  • Dr. Shermer using Good Kirk vs. Bad Kirk to explain why emotions are necessary to decision-making.  Good Kirk is pretty accurate portrayal of what would happen without emotions.
  • “Don’t teach people what to think, but how to think.”
  • Someone asked if we could we erase memories like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  The answer started out pretty party line (“We don’t yet know how we store memories, so we don’t yet know how to erase them), but somewhere along the line he managed to get to “Aliens are going to be so incredibly different from us.”  I don’t remember how we got there, but in reading my notes it seems like a fabulous non sequitur.

I enjoyed the talk, both the material and the way Dr. Shermer presented.  I’m really happy that the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) were able to organize the talk and the $4 entry fee was very kind.  Next year CASH is bringing Jen McCreight from BlagHag to the U of M – yay!