The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for November, 2009

Classic Pareidolia: Jesus Seen in an Iron

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 28, 2009

Wow, just in time for the Holidays, we have another classic case of pareidolia: this time a woman in Massachusetts claims that she’s seen Jesus… in her clothing iron.

A Massachusetts woman who recently separated from her husband and had her hours cut at work says an image of Jesus Christ she sees on her iron has reassured her that “life is going to be good.”

Mary Jo Coady first noticed the image Sunday when she walked into her daughter’s room.

The brownish residue on the bottom of the iron looks like the face of a man with long hair.

The 44-year-old Coady was raised Catholic. She and her two college-age daughters agree that the image looks like Jesus and is proof that “he’s listening.”

Coady tells The Eagle-Tribune she hopes her story will inspire others during the holidays. She says she plans to keep the iron in a closet and buy a new one.

Umm… yeah.  Pardon me, but… IT’S A STAIN!!! Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  Come on folks, is it really any surprise that the person making this “miraculous discovery” (which has all the markings of a modern-day “religious relic” such as the infamous Virgin Mary Grill Cheese Sandwich) is a devout Catholic?  That is the classic marker of pareidolia – our evolution-wired brains are developed for pattern recognition, and one of the most recognized patterns for humans is another human’s face. Throw into the mix a bit of religious fervor (i.e. in this case, devout Catholicism) and viola! you have a “miracle” appearance of Jesus on an iron.

Here’s another interesting bit of pareidolia to get you thinking.  Years ago a man cut into a melon, and he saw this…

So what, if anything, do you see?  If you’re like me, you see some wavy lines which are essentially meaningless.  But if you are a devout Muslim who can read Arabic, you will likely see “Allah” (God) written out in Arabic.  And, before you roll your eyes, there are people who treat this as seriously as our Catholic lady does her Jesus-stained iron.

In conclusion, what this all really teaches us about these kinds of “miraculous events” is this: it’s all in your head, folks, and people who believe strongly enough can find amazing ways to validate those beliefs – even if to the rest of us it’s utter gibberish.

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

Must-See Video: The G Hunters

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 27, 2009

I just wanted to share in this quick post with everyone a video I saw this last summer at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas.  During the convention, our pals at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe shared their first effort at skeptical movie-making, a spoof of “ghost-hunting” shows which have become so popular these days.  For a more detailed analysis of why ghost-hunting is a load of woo-woo, click here. I hope you enjoy the show! :D

The G Hunters: Episode 1, Part 1

The G Hunters: Episode 1, Part 2

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

More Shroud Science FAIL

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 22, 2009

The Shroud of Turin has been in the news a bit recently, and I blogged about how it can be replicated using completely natural methods (something many Shroud-proponents say cannot be done – whoops).  Well, now the Shroudies are back, with one of them claiming that she has seen ancient writing on the actual Shroud which “proves” it was the funeral covering for Christ’s burial.

Researcher: Faint writing seen on Shroud of Turin

A Vatican researcher has rekindled the age-old debate over the Shroud of Turin, saying that faint writing on the linen proves it was the burial cloth of Jesus. Experts say the historian may be reading too much into the markings, and they stand by carbon-dating that points to the shroud being a medieval forgery.

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

She asserts that the words include the name “(J)esu(s) Nazarene” — or Jesus of Nazareth — in Greek. That, she said, proves the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have mentioned Jesus without referring to his divinity. Failing to do so would risk being branded a heretic.

Of course, the claim of “proof” here flies in the face of much other evidence which clearly shows the Shroud’s origins as a pious fraud in the 1300s A.D., way past the burial date of Christ.  This includes evidence from independent radiocarbon dating tests, as well as evidence from historical, iconographic, pathological, physical, and chemical sources that points to its inauthenticity. As one of the foremost skeptical Shroud researchers, Joe Nickell, has concluded: the shroud is a 14th century painting, not a 2000-year-old cloth with Christ’s image.  And, concerning these most recent claims of seeing writing in the Shroud, they are dubious for multiple reasons…

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Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

124th Skeptics’ Circle @ Beyond the Short Coat

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2009

Howdy all.  I just wanted to pass along a quick little note to everyone about a regular occurrence among skeptical blogs on the Internet – the Skeptics’ Circle, which is a biweekly blog carnival hosted at Circular Reasoning. Once every couple of weeks or so, a skeptical blog will host a variety of posts about various topics at their site as a way of connecting & sharing info with the wider skeptic community.  The latest edition of the Skeptics’ Circle is at Beyond the Short Coat, a blog about “medicine, skepticism, and other cool stuff as needed” :)

Anyhow, read on for some good stuff in this latest edition… The 124th Meeting Of The Skeptics’ Circle

Posted in internet, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Large Hadron Collider Switches Back On – Earth Survives!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2009

Hooray! :D  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe has switched back on after being offline for a year…

Europe: Proton beams circulate in Big Bang machine

GENEVA – Scientists switched on the world’s largest atom smasher Friday night for the first time since the $10 billion machine suffered a spectacular failure more than a year ago.

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late Friday in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault.

Circulation of the beams was a significant leap forward. The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

And, as I’ve blogged about before, where there is science being done by physicists via particle accelerators like the LHC, there are also pseudoscientific nuts who maintain that it’s going to destroy the Earth. Balderdash! Here are 3 good reasons why the LHC experiments are no danger to our planet.

I should also point out one more piece of good news regarding the re-starting of the LHC: despite all of the doomsday scenarios by the conspiracy-mongering pseudoscientists – the Earth survived ;)

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Global Warming Deniers Get a Double-Dose of Pwnage

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 17, 2009

I’ve blogged here before about various claims made & tactics used by climate science deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics” because they are not guided by evidence, merely ideology), but what I have to share in this post is truly damning stuff.  One of the things which is really interesting is what happens when a group of pseudoscientific ideologues (like global warming deniers) gets caught red-handed playing fast & loose with the facts…

Exhibit A: Statisticians Confirm Reality of Global Warming in Blinded Tests

Recently, one of the claims making the rounds has been that, contrary to the consensus within the climate science community, the Earth is actually entering a period of global cooling – this claim is patently fallacious, and anyone who has a basic understanding of statistics knows it.  But what happened recently, as reported in a widely-circulated AP story, really slams the door shut on this bogus claim: the temperature data for the planet was analyzed by a series of independent statisticians, all of whom found a warming (not a cooling) trend in the data.  And here’s the kicker: these statisticians didn’t know what the data were – in other words, the examination of the Earth’s temperature data was a blinded test!

Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It’s not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.

The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It’s been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather’s normal ups and downs?

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

“If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

This result puts paid to the oft-repeated claim by GW-deniers that there is a cooling trend in the data.  Of course, the only reason why these pseudoscientists were able to get away with their false claims for so long was because they, as professor Grego said, have been cherry-picking the data and presenting it incomplete & out-of-context in order to give the impression that the Earth is cooling.  But, as we’ve seen, once the experimenter & statistician bias is removed from the analysis, which is the whole purpose of doing blinded tests, a very real and consistent warming trend is revealed.

But it gets even worse for the GW-deniers…

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Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Yes, We Really DID Send Humans to the Moon – LRO Images Apollo 11 Landing Site

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2009

Over the years you’ve no doubt heard claims that the Apollo Moon landings were an elaborate government hoax. Of course, this is one of the silliest conspiracy theory claims I’ve ever heard, but then once people start to venture down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy mongering I’m of the opinion that logic & reason go right out the window.  In any case, ever since these CT-lunatics (pardon the pun ;) ) have started making their hoax claims a decade ago, one of their most oft-repeated mantras is: “If we really did send humans to the Moon, then why doesn’t NASA show us pictures of the landing sites?”

Well, here you go, an image of the Apollo 11 landing site as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)


A detailed description of this photo is given over at the Bad Astronomy blog:

We’ve seen it before, but this time LRO is in its 50 km mapping orbit, so the resolution on this image is far higher — about 50 or so centimeters (20 inches). In this image, the tracks made by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they scampered on the Moon for 2 hours and 31 minutes are obvious. You can even see the lander footpads, each just less than a meter (a bit over a yard) across.

The bright spots south of (below) the lander are various scientific packages they installed, including the Lunar Ranging Retro Reflector and the Passive Seismic Experiment. If I’ve got the scale right, the faint dark trail going to the upper left is where they put the TV camera. Somewhere between that and the lander is the flag. The Sun was shining straight down in this image, so the flag isn’t visible.

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Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Physics of Karate – No Woo Required

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 14, 2009

I’ve practiced martial arts of various styles for 20 years, and in all that time I’ve heard a number of very strange & woo-filled explanations for why people can accomplish the physical feats they can.  One such example is breaking wooden boards with the bare hands & feet – often people provide an explanation by referencing so-called “chi, ki, or qigong energy”. The whole concept of chi is more of a philosophical concept than anything else, and it is little more than a “dragon-in-the-garage” (an untestable notion that cannot be verified through scientific means).

karate chop

Well, I’m here to tell you that such physical feats as board breaking can be performed & explained simply by referencing the known laws of physics – no woo required.  Take a look at the video of me performing such a break with five pine boards at once…

How do I accomplish this feat?  Here’s how: I hit the boards really hard – the question is how do I generate such a large force of impact?  Read on…

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Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Creationists Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron “Promote” Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 10, 2009

In the latest installment of the lame attempts by creationists to stifle and distort the teaching of evolution, Christian evangelists Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron (yes, that guy on Growing Pains) are giving away copies of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Except they’re doing that thing that too many creationists love to do… they screw up science in an effort to promote their own narrow religious ideology. Specifically, Comfort’s Christian ministry – Living Waters – has begun a new program called “Origin Into Schools” where they are distributing free copies of a special reprinted edition of Darwin’s work, complete with an introduction by Ray Comfort himself.

The Secular Student Alliance is all over this, so allow me to reference their page on the matter:

Living Waters, the evangelical Christian ministry of Ray Comfort (Banana Man) and Kirk Cameron (sitcom star of Growing Pains), is on a mission to distribute 100,000 copies of a reprinted version of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with an introduction by Comfort attempting to refute Darwin’s theories.  You can see Comfort’s explanation of the project on their website.  Or, you can download and read the Introduction in PDF form.

The highlights of the introduction, according to Kirk Cameron (who explains the project on YouTube), include “a timeline of Darwin’s life, Adolf Hitler’s undeniable connection with the theory, Dariwn’s racism, his disdain for women and Darwin’s thoughts on the existence of God.”  The introduction also “lists the theory’s many hoaxes.”

David Waters’ column “Origin of the Specious” in the Washington Post,  sums up the project quite nicely.

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Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Chicago Skepticamp Needs Speakers!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 10, 2009

I wanted to let everyone know about an effort I’m helping to organize to bring a Skepticamp event to the Chicago-area on March 6th, 2010 – we’re calling it Skepchicamp…

We are currently in the early stages of organizing the conference, and one of the things we need most right now are speakers.  Please read our latest press release for more information on this, and consider getting involved or at least passing along the news:

Skepchicamp looking for speakers

Skepchicamp, an informal skeptical convention scheduled for March 6, is looking for speakers.  Speakers are welcome to give a 15 minutes speech on any topic related to skepticism, followed by five minute of questions and answers.  In additions to speeches, demonstrations, magic shows, and panel discussions will also be considered.  While speakers are encouraged to focus on women in skepticism or women in science, it is not a requirement.  People interested in speaking should e-mail

Speakers currently scheduled to appear include Hemant Mehta, creator of the Friendly Atheist blog and author of “I Sold My Soul on Ebay” and Skepchick bloggers Bug Girl, Elyse Anders, and Jen Myers.

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.  Unlike formal conventions, everyone who attends Skepchicamp is expected to participate in some way.  That can include giving a speech, serving food, helping to set up a room, or donating money.   The goal is to create a laid-back event driven by the participants.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. There are, however, many things that skeptics do believe in. Like love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports because we know these things to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

William Brinkman
Ph: 630 663 0194

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