The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘flying’

Hilarious Lesson in Critical Thinking: “Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 18, 2013

I just wanted to share a hilarious video from the folks at CollegeHumor.com titled “Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?” or, as I like to call it, “Airplanes are magic!”  It is, in my opinion, I neat and quick little lesson on critical thinking and how we often accept the most silly explanations without much thought.  It’s also really damn funny (note there is a little strong language).  Enjoy :)

Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?

Why Can't You Use Phones on Planes

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Denver UFO: Yup, It’s Unidentified… So What Does That Mean?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 18, 2012

Over the last few days there has been a media sensation built up around a UFO in the Denver, Colorado area.  Here’s a closeup of the object in question:

Image source

The story has garned a great deal of attention, as evidenced by this video clip from a local news station…

Indeed, the news team does a so-so job of investigating this UFO, though there is a lot of sensationalizing in the report (surprise, surprise!), but there is one point I would like to emphasize in greater detail which this report totally glossed over.  That is the fact that this thing, whatever it is, is unidentified… as in Unidentified Flying Object.  Repeat after me three times: unidentified flying object… Unidentified flying object… UNIDENTIFIED flying object!!!

I want to be very clear on this point because, as I expected, the Internet is already abuzz with talk of alien spacecraft, government cover ups, and conspiracies galore.  And those leaping to this dubious conclusion (that the thing is “obviously not of this world”) are committing what is known as an argument from ignorance – that is, in one breath they will admit that we don’t have enough information to conclude what it is, but then in the next breath they will say, quite emphatically, that it HAS to be an alien spacecraft.

And such thinking contains a direct contradiction: the argument basically says that because we don’t know, then we know.  With reasoning as loose as this, one can “justify” the existence of leprechauns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, or Invisible Pink Unicorns!  What the heck is wrong with saying “We don’t know” and just leaving it at that?

Incidentally, while the possibility of a plane or helicopter has been ruled out, it is likely that the object in question is a bug of some kind.  There is a very good article on this point over at the Illuminutti blog…

… OK – everybody now… it’s bugs.  This bug-UFO is especially bad because on some of the shots the insect actually hovers and moves around like an obvious insect. The videographer did not notice them because they were small fast-flying insects. Or perhaps they did notice the insects, but did not connect them to the unfocused black dots buzzing about on the video. It is also possible they know exactly what they are, but is just pranking  the local news station (hence the anonymity).

One or two shots in there are probably birds. You can see an apparent wing flap. Birds and bugs are common sources of UFO artifacts in the video age. They are small objects close to the camera that will appear as out-of-focus dots and streaks that can be mistaken (by the willful or truly incurious) for objects that are large and farther away. The fact that no one saw them live and there was no radar tracking should be a clue, but for the believer can just add to the mystery.

The lameness of this video being presented in breathless terms as a compelling UFO might have something to do with the declining interest in UFOs. Anyone with a genuine interest – enough to join a UFO group and try to find real evidence that UFOs are visiting ETs, would probably get tired of all the bugs and lanterns after a while. …

Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Update on the Delta Airlines Anti-Vaccine Ad

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 19, 2011

In a recent blog post – Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines – I mentioned an online petition at Change.org that is gathering signatures to convince Delta Airlines to pull the deceptive anti-vaccine ad being run on some of their flights.  I wanted to pass along to you a recent update I received about this situation from my friend and skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders:

Update about ‘Tell Delta to Stop Putting their Passengers’ Health at Risk’ on Change.org

Hi,

Thank you so much for signing the petition, “Tell Delta to Stop Putting Passengers’ Health At Risk.” Delta has already committed to make some big changes: they are instituting a new review policies for future ads and will be showing a pro-vaccine Public Service Announcement beginning in December.

But we think they can do better. Do you think Delta should pull their anti-vaccine ad immediately? If so, here’s how you can help keep on the pressure:

1) Share the petition with your friends. Here’s the link to share on your Facebook wall – http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-delta-to-stop-putting-their-passengers-health-at-risk

2) Are you on Twitter? Delta sure is. They invest a lot of resources to customer service on Twitter, and this is a great way to get Delta’s attention. Here are some ideas for tweets. Feel free to write your own, just be sure to mention #fludelta and @delta or @deltaassist:

#FluDelta @DeltaAssist @Delta Thank you for changing your review process. Please, stop airing the anti-vaccine ad now! http://chn.ge/vbtnDt

When you fly, you shouldn’t have to worry about the flu. Tell @Delta to drop the anti-flu #vaccination in-flight ad now. #FluDelta

Thanks so much for supporting this important campaign,

Elyse Anders (@dELYSEious)

 

Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 5, 2011

It’s like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole sometimes… the anti-vaccine movement is back at it again, this time with a deceptive ad on Delta Airlines flights by the National Vaccine Information Center directing people to their website for “accurate information” on the influenza vaccine.  The NVIC is the same outfit which ran another anti-vaccine ad in New York’s Times Square earlier this year.

Here’s the NVIC’s advertisement:

For the most part, it seems pretty much okay, until you hit the 1:56 mark in the video and they start discussing the influenza vaccine.  At that point, they flash a couple of shots of the NVIC website…

And here is where the real problem lies: the fact that the NVIC wants to use this seemingly innocuous ad to direct people to their website (which they would like people to think is a valid clearinghouse on vaccines) which contains all manner of dangerous nonsense and pseudoscience regarding vaccination.  I think my skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders of Skepchick, says it very well…

And let’s not forget that NVIC’s ultimate goal here is not to get people to opt out of just the flu shot. The ultimate goal of this ad is to get people to visit the NVIC website, trick them into thinking they’re looking at a legitimate government website, and get them to stop vaccinating altogether. And then put those people on planes. Which is how many vaccine-preventable outbreaks happen in the US.

The bad news is that these anti-vax loons have gotten their sneaky ad onto Delta Airlines; the good news is that the skeptical community is all over it, and a hard response is swinging into action.  Here are some things you can do to help (stolen from Elyse Anders’s post on Skepchick, btw)…

  1. Sign this petition from Change.org demanding the Delta Airlines yank the NVIC ad

  2. Tweet: “#fludelta @DeltaAssist @Delta If you’re so concerned about safety, stop running potentially deadly anti-vaccine ads http://wp.me/pbblq-6qu
  3. Comment on the video on Facebook (this video has since been removed, probably due to too many negative comments :) )
  4. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Encourage your friends to join this campaign.
  6. Tell Delta that it’s irresponsible to encourage anti vaccination rhetoric (you can also tell In-Flight Media the same thing).  Let them know that you are not willing to support their decision to risk your health for advertising dollars. Ask them if they’re willing to add to the anti-vax body count.
  7. Last, but definitely not least, if you communicate with the people at Delta Airlines, tell them that you will take your business elsewhere, like to airlines that communicate responsible information regarding vaccines (because money talks and bullshit walks).  For more information on this, take a look at this PSA by Every Child By Two, a pro-vaccine group, which is running on US Airways and American Airlines through the month of November:

Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Discovery Channel’s “The Supernaturalist” is Super Stupid

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 7, 2011

There was a time when I had really high hopes for cable channels like the Discovery Channel – I had hoped that they would be bastions that would promote sound science amidst a sea of sensationalistic cable TV docudrama and crapola (can you tell I don’t watch TV or cable?)  Sadly, the more time that passes, the more and more I shake my head in shame for what has happened to the Discovery Channel.  Case in point: the newest show on this “science” network, “The Supernaturalist”.

The show just launched a few days ago, and the Discovery Channel was promoting it as the Next Big Thing on their network.  Here’s the press release:

Mind-blowing Magic in The Supernaturalist

06/14/2011

MAGICIAN USES HIS OWN SKILLS TO FIND ELUSIVE MAGICAL MONK IN NEW
DISCOVERY SPECIAL ‘THE SUPERNATURALIST

Dan White performs mind-blowing magic: manipulating physical objects, performing surprising card tricks and making items appear from seemingly thin air. All of this, he admits, is merely an illusion. White has a mission: to find REAL magic. In Discovery Channel’s THE SUPERNATURALIST, premiering Wednesday, June 29th at 10PM et/pt, White travels to a remote corner of the planet and finds himself in a place where magic isn’t just tricks. It is believed to be very real… and even dangerous.

Locals in the Himalayan country of Nepal believe there are monks within its borders who use their powers to harm anyone who crosses their path. White relies on his talents as an illusionist to open doors normally closed to outsiders in an attempt to find one of these feared monks and – hopefully – witness his true magic. White’s mission will introduce him to many people, each getting him one step closer to the men in the mountains.

Unfortunately, in Dan White’s quest to “find REAL magic” – and the Discovery Channel’s quest to continue catering to the lowest common denominator (remember their stupid ghost-hunting show?) – it seems that everyone involved has left their basic critical thinking skills at the door.  For example, check out this footage of when Dan White “discovers” the levitating powers of the monk he has sought for so long…

The overly credulous nature of this clip, and how Dan White – the supposed skeptic – plays it up as legitimate (honest!) is downright pathetic.  There are some very basic questions to ask regarding a scenario like this:

1. Why isn’t the filming done in one continuous shot?  Note all the breaks in the clip between the time the monk sits down and when he “levitates”.

2. Why does the monk have to sit where he does, in front of a wall full of curtains that can easily obscure a device which can lift him?

3. Why doesn’t Dan White ask the obvious question as outlined in #2 above, instead of standing there looking like an idiot with his mouth agape?

4. Why doesn’t Dan White, our token “skeptic”, take a moment to simply walk over to the side to make sure there isn’t a mechanical arm or similar contraption connecting the monk to something behind the curtain.  On a related note, why isn’t this camera angle shown?

A simple application of Occam’s Razor is all that is necessary to slice through what is very clearly a bullshit display put together to get ratings.  Folks, this is a big joke, and if anyone takes it seriously the only one’s laughing will be the executives at the Discovery Channel who are guffawing at having one over on gullible viewers.  Fortunately, there is a silver lining: I have been inspired to incorporate this footage and a critical analysis of it into my upcoming talk at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas next week – it will make a good lesson for my students :)

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, magic tricks, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

Where are the Psychic Security Agents?

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 3, 2010

With all of the attention that airline security has gotten of late, specifically regarding new security procedures put in place by the United States’ TSA, I think it is worthwhile to ask a seemingly tongue-in-cheek question which has a serious side: where are the psychic security agents?

Think about it, seriously… if psychics really could read minds, or talk to the dead, or somehow get “forbidden” information through whatever method of divination they employ the way many of them claim, then why the hell aren’t these people working for the TSA by probing the minds of suspected terrorists?  The question kind of harkens back to one asked by many people a little over 9 years ago: Why didn’t any of these psychic gurus see 9/11 coming before the fact?

In any case, I want to give the last word on this to skeptical investigator Ben Radford, who wrote a really good article on the matter.  Check it out…

Psychics and Airline Security

Analysis by Benjamin Radford
Thu Dec 2, 2010

Security-zoom

Amid all the discussion, anxiety and outrage over heightened airline security this holiday season, there’s one group of people whose important information is conspicuously absent: psychics.

There are thousands of people who claim to have psychic powers. Some, like convicted felon Sylvia Browne, are New York Times best-selling authors; others are seen on talk shows; still others, like Alison DuBois (of NBC’s Medium), serve as consultants for their own television shows.

While many dismiss psychics as frauds or mere entertainers, tens of millions of Americans believe in psychic abilities. For example, a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey found that nearly one-fifth of American women (and one-tenth of men) believe that psychic powers exist.

What do psychics have to do with national security? Everything — if they are real. [emphasis added]…

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

 
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