The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for October, 2009

A Good Halloween Lesson: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 29, 2009

Again, in the spirit of Halloween and skepticism, I want to share with you all what is likely one of the best videos ever: James Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”. I often show this video to my students around this time of year, when many of them are (consciously or not) thinking about psychics & various paranormal phenomena.

If you’ve never seen the entire video, I strongly encourage you to watch it all.  In addition, if you really want to get a good look into real paranormal investigation, take some time to check out one of the best skeptical books on the topic: James Randi’s “Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions” :)

 

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Church of Scientology Convicted of Fraud in French Court

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 28, 2009

Well, this latest news caps a really crappy week for the Church of Scientology, which makes me happy :)

Last May, I blogged about a story on how the French government was pursuing a court case against the Church of Scientology for fraud.  Well, today the verdict is in: guilty. And what was revealed during the course of the trial was very interesting…

Scientologists convicted of fraud

A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France.

Two branches of the group’s operations and several of its leaders in France have been fined.

The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.

A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was “all bark and no bite”.

France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.

Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.

Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine.

Alain Rosenberg, the group’s head in France, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros.

Three other leading members of the group were also fined.

I have to admit, given the Church of Scientology’s overly litigious nature and proclivity for targeting their critics as “fair game” for a number of aggressive strong-arm tactics, it is refreshing to see someone stand up so strongly to them.  I suppose that more and more people are getting tired of the CoS cult and their quest for brainwashing & manipulating their members.  But, you can expect the CoS to continue their loathsome practices for as long as they are able.

And they can try, but as long as they do there will be those who oppose them.

Posted in cults, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2009

In the spirit of Halloween and skepticism, I shall be posting some things related to both in the days to come.  The first is a hilarious spoof of various “ghost hunter” shows by those wacky guys at South Park.

south park ghost hunter spoof

Despite the crudeness & vulgarity of their criticism, the South Park guys aren’t that far off the mark in pointing out the logical fallacy (basically, arguing from ignorance – a LOT of ignorance) committed by these lame-o doofuses who stumble around in the dark, scaring themselves for the cameras.  For a more detailed critique of “ghost hunters” and their pseudoscience, see my earlier blog post on the subject.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Church of Scientology Gets PWNed

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2009

It seems that the Church of Scientology has had a pretty bad week, and if it’s one thing the CoS hates it’s bad publicity because they prefer to do things in utter secrecy.  This, in addition to a number of other loathsome practices – including brainwashing their followers and forcing them to cut themselves off from friends & family (called “disconnection”) – have widely earned the CoS status as a cult. Fortunately, in recent years, starting with the high-profile flipping out of celebrity nutwad Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, the CoS has been attracting a lot of unwanted attention.

Most recently, there was an embarassing batch of news coverage from a recent ABC Nightline investigation which featured a lot of things about the organization that the CoS wishes people didn’t know.  Here’s a Youtube link to the Nightline story…

Worse yet, just in the last few days there was the defection of high-level Scientologist and Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis from the Church.  And, from all appearances, he’s publicly digging up lots of dirt in the process;  below is a blog post by Marty Rathbun, also an ex-Church member, which outlines the letter that Haggis sent to the Church announcing his plan to leave. I have reproduced the text of Haggis’s letter below in its entirety…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in cults, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

New York Post: Sloppy Journalism in Report of Cellphone-Cancer “Link”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 26, 2009

In another media *facepalm* moment, the New York Post is reporting of a supposed “link” between cellphone use and cancer…

Study: Cell Phone Cancer Link

A groundbreaking, $30 million study into cell phones has found a link between long term use and brain tumors.

The World Health Organization is about to reveal that its decade-long investigation has found the devices can lead to cancer — and the internationally-respected body will soon issue a public health message with its findings, London’s Daily Telegraph reported today.

The conclusion goes against years of assurances by cell phone companies and scientists that cell phone use is safe.

But last month, Sen. Arlen Specter (D – Pa) organized Senate hearings to examine health implications of talking on-the-go.

CAN YOU KILL ME NOW? -- A groundbreaking, 10-year study will show that long-term cell phone use can lead to brain tumors.

elizabeth lippman/N.Y. Post
CAN YOU KILL ME NOW? — A groundbreaking, 10-year study will show that long-term cell phone use can lead to brain tumors.

The WHO’s Interphone investigation’s results showed, “a significantly increased risk” of some brain tumors “related to use of mobile phones for a period of ten years or more,” the Telegraph reported today.

The study’s head, Dr. Elisabeth Cardis, said, “In the absence of definitive results and in the light of a number of studies which, though limited, suggest a possible effect of radiofrequency radiation, precautions are important.”

The project carried out studies in 13 countries, talking to tumor sufferers as well as healthy cell phone users, It interviewed 12,800 people.

The results will be officially published before the end of the year, according to the Telegraph.

This is a perfect example of how some in the media misuse science to make headlines, while at the same time spreading misinformation.  Notice that the article is citing research which hasn’t even been published yet! So, if the research isn’t yet published for scrutiny, how in blazes do the morons at NY Post know what the research says?  I always thought that a good journalist was supposed to check their facts before reporting a story, not the other way around.  Apparently, the folks at the NY Post live in an alternate universe.

In addition, some other tidbits that pop up in this article:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Google-of-the-Gaps Logical Fallacy

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 23, 2009

I just saw this funny little cartoon – hat tip to the Friendly Atheist – and had to share it with my thoughts…

0023dt2s

I like to call this the “Google-of-the-gaps” logical fallacy, which is a humorous version of the classic god-of-the-gaps fallacy. Essentially, the god-of-the-gaps is a logical fallacy which is an argument from ignorance: it states that because we lack the knowledge to draw any kind of reasonable conclusion upon a particular question (such as life after death, for example) then in our ignorance some stat that God (or gods) must be the solution.

Of course, the god-of-the-gaps is a silly argument to make, because with just a single change in wording, by substituting something else for the word “God”, one could argue that the explanation is Santa Claus, unicorns, leprechauns, space aliens, or numerous other silly things which are wholly unsupported by any evidence.

As I tell my students: you must make conclusions based upon what you do know, not upon what you don’t know.  And lacking substantive evidence to draw a conclusion, simply state the most obvious truth: “I don’t know.”

But I bet Google knows ;)

Posted in humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Chicago Coalition of Reason puts up “Good Without God” billboard

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 20, 2009

Whew! I had a hard time keeping a lid on this one :)

I’m part of a coalition of folks who have been working to bring this billboard to downtown Chicago…

Godless Billboard Appears in the Chicago Loop

“Are you good without God? Millions are.”

These words are part of a coordinated multi-organizational advertising campaign designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god. It fits into a nationwide effort that has now come to the Chicago area. The prominent ad appears on a downtown billboard at LaSalle Boulevard and Grand Avenue and can be read by those traveling north who will see it on their left. Placed by the Chicago Coalition of Reason, with funding from the United Coalition of Reason, the billboard features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over.

“The point of our national billboard campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, head of the United Coalition of Reason. “Nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to nontheists isn’t the only goal of the campaign. “We want people to know they can be good without belief in a god,” said Hemant Mehta, coordinator of the Chicago Coalition of Reason. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about us. But we humanists, agnostics and atheists are as normal as anyone else. We’re your friends, neighbors and family members. We care about our communities and are true to our values.”

The Chicago billboard officially launches Chicago CoR. It is also timed to coordinate with the launch of a new book called “Good Without God” by Greg Epstein, which is being released by William Morrow. Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is giving talks and holding a book signing the afternoon of October 26 at the Interfaith Youth Core Biannual Conference, Center for Civic Engagement, at Northwestern University in Evanston. The next day he will speak at the University of Chicago Hillel lunch at 12:00 Noon. At 5:30 PM that evening he will speak at the Harvard Club of Chicago. From 8:00 to 10:00 PM he will lead a discussion at the University of Chicago Chaplains Office, Divinity School.

The billboard is one of many that have appeared around the country this year. Billboards and transit system ads funded by the United Coalition of Reason have gone up in places as far flung as Charleston, South Carolina; Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Morgantown, West Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Subway ads will appear next week in New York City and a billboard will go up in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In a month, more are slated for California and elsewhere.

Of course, this advertising campaign is an excellent example of fighting a common logical fallacy (called a false dichotomy) posed by far too many ultra-religious believers: that without a belief in the supernatural or a god, one cannot be a good person.  One can be “good without god”, but I should also point out to my fellow atheists & skeptics that just because someone is religious doesn’t mean they also cannot be a good person.  I know plenty of good people, both religious & non-religious, and I don’t think that painting with a wide brush by labeling one side or the other as morally inferior is conducive to critical thinking when dealing with such issues.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Large Hadron Collider – Where Does Science End & Pseudoscience Begin?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 20, 2009

Where does legitimate science end and questionable pseudoscience begin?  It’s a good question, and one brought up in my mind due to a story about the theory behind the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which has gotten a lot of attention in recent days.  Two theoretical physicists have come up with a theory by which they propose to explain why the LHC might never detect particles like the Higgs Boson… sabotage from the future.

Yes, you read that right – sabotage from the future. I’ll let the article explain it a bit more…

The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate

Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, put this idea forward in a series of papers with titles like “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC,” posted on the physics Web site arXiv.org in the last year and a half.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy: What the Hell?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2009

Okay, I was shown the following Youtube video by a physics teaching colleague.  I cannot do it justice by attempting to write a description, you just have to watch it for yourself.  Just… wow…

Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy

I really hope this is a joke or a spoof, because if not, this is one of the most whacked out displays of scientific ignorance & conspiracy mongering that I’ve ever seen.  My favorite line: “This cannot be natural.”

facepalm

Because she doesn’t understand how rainbows form – they are essentially an optical illusion based upon the physics of sunlight refraction & reflection with water droplets – she makes an incredible argument from ignorance and implies there must be some kind of government conspiracy to… poison/mind-control us?  In addition, note how she throws in the bit at the end about how “They” want to take away our constitutional rights and freedoms for extra added spooky effect.

This, of course, is an excellent display of how necessary it is for people to have a basic scientific education that teaches not only certain facts but also methods of logical & critical analysis.  Because, though you and I may laugh at the silliness of this video, there are those out there who are ignorant, paranoid, and – well – crazy enough to take what this woman is saying at face value.  And while we can laugh or giggle at the stupidity of this woman’s argument, what isn’t a laughing matter is that this exact same method of argumentation is employed time and time again by a variety of conspiracy theorists & pseudoscientists, whether they be Holocaust deniers, creationists, 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, New Age gurus, alt-med quacks, anti-vaccinationists, physics cranks, etc.  And there are plenty of people who buy into that crapola.

And one more thing: they get the same vote as you and me during election time – that’s what I find scary!

Posted in conspiracy theories, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Update on Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractic Association: Singh Wins Leave to Appeal

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 15, 2009

Good news!  :) Here’s a quick update of the situation in the ongoing trial of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association.  It seems that Singh has been granted a leave to appeal the court’s earlier decision against him…

*Note: for some background on this issue, see my earlier blog post – Silencing Skepticism: The Case of Simon Singh

Simon Singh wins leave to appeal in BCA libel case

14 Oct 2009

singhA court ruling today affirmed science writer Simon Singh’s right to free expression. It grants him leave to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s ruling against him in a libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association, reports Padraig Reidy

Popular science writer Simon Singh has been granted leave to appeal in the libel action brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.

In a scathing rebuttal of Mr Justice Eady’s previous judgement in the case, Lord Justice Laws said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Lord Justice Laws described Eady’s judgement, centred on Singh’s use of the word “bogus” in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as “legally erroneous”.

Laws also pointed out that Eady’s judgement had conflated two issues — the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.

Laws said there was “no question” of the “good faith” of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was “clearly in the public interest”.

Speaking after the judgement, Singh told Index on Censorship this was the “best possible result”.

“But I try not to get my hopes up,” he continued. “We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the court of appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead. Reform of English libel laws, particularly the right to a public interest defence and a fairer costs structure, are vital.”

The BCA was not represented at this morning’s hearing.

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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