The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘house’

The Dark Side of Ghost-Hunting

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 30, 2013

I’ve posted many times before about so-called ghost hunters and ghost hunting, and much of the time it has been in either good fun (by spoofing them) or a bit more serious in challenging them to be more rigorous in their methodology.  However, in this post I want to point out the danger(s) involved in ghost hunting; as is so often illustrated on the What’s The Harm? website, when people buy into pseudoscientific and non-critical thinking, it can have profoundly negative effects.

Case in point: recently some moronic ghost hunters in New Orleans decided that in order to get the spirits supposedly inhabiting an old mansion from the 1850s to “come out and play” that they needed to set fire to the place.  The result: it completely burned to the ground…

Ghost Hunters Burn Down Historic Mansion

… The mansion, built in the 1850s, had survived through many incarnations, operating as a boarding house, a hotel and even an illegal gambling house. Though the mansion had been shuttered in recent years, its owner, the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, had plans to renovate the building. …

… The fire at LeBeau broke out at about 2 a.m. local time Friday, Nov. 21, and the building was almost completely destroyed by the time firefighters arrived. The ghost hunters had been trying to produce a reaction from the spirits they assumed resided there, by doing what TV ghost hunters call “provocation,” essentially making loud noises, yelling taunts at the ghosts and banging on walls. Frustrated that their efforts failed to yield any spirits, the group decided to light a fire. Whether this was intended to smoke the spirits out or simply burn the place down, the resulting flames soon reduced the mansion to ashes and four brick chimneys.

While many ghost hunters engage in harmless (and fruitless) fun, as this case shows, there can be a dark, dangerous side to the pursuit. In the wake of popular ghost-hunting TV shows, police across the country have seen a surge in people being arrested, injured and even killed while looking for ghosts.

In 2006, a woman was critically wounded looking for ghosts in a private house near a cemetery; she and a friend were trespassing, and the house owner mistook them for vandals and shot them. In 2010, a North Carolina man died while ghost hunting with a group of friends, hoping to see the ghost of a train that crashed years earlier. The ghost train did not appear — but a real train came around a bend and killed one man who couldn’t get out of the way in time. … [emphasis added]

Note the backwards thinking here: the ghost hunters in question were so hell-bent on “proving” the existence of the ghosts supposedly haunting this mansion that, when all else failed, they actually burnt the damn place down!  It is revealing that the thought that perhaps there were no ghosts/spirits in the place at all seems to have never occurred to them, so strong was their confirmation bias in favor of all evidence pointing towards the existence of the ghosts/spirits…

facepalm

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

Tell Congress to Support the Darwin Day Resolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 5, 2013

I am pleased to pass on the news that there is a resolution pending before the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution in favor of Darwin Day!  There is more information available on how to get in touch with your Representative and Senator from the Freedom From Religion Foundation below…

Ask Congress to adopt Darwin Day

February 5, 2013

Continuing the tradition of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution designating Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, Feb. 12, 2013, as Darwin Day. The resolution “recogniz[es] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

Holt was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I hope we can hold hearings, where people can hear about Darwin and science and the jobs it creates, the lives it saves, everything.”

Holt’s resolution touts “the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution,” “the monumental amount of scientific evidence” that supports the theory, and notes that evolution’s “validity … is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics.”

The resolution chastises science-deniers: “the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change” and “the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems.”

Our country faces a crisis of ignorance. To the shame of the United States’ international standing, about half of Americans reject evolution. Globally the United States ranks just above Turkey in public acceptance of evolution. How can we compete in a global, technologically advanced community when a majority of U.S. citizens deny basic reality and embrace creationism?

The voices of science and secularism must be heard. Ask the U.S. House to hold Darwin Day hearings.

Take Action Today!

Contact your U.S. Representative to support the resolution and ask for hearings.  To find out who your representative is, type in your zip code on this website http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ to find your representative. Click on their name to contact them.

If you already know who your representative is, find their contact information on this alphabetical list http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Call, email, fax, write, or Facebook them. Do whatever it takes to be heard!

Contact the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where the bill was referred, to ask for a hearing.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) http://science.house.gov/contact-us/email-us 2321 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Phone: 202-225-6371 Fax: 202-226-0113

Thank Darwin Day Sponsors

Take a moment to thank Rep. Holt. Rep. Holt, a nuclear physicist by training, self-identifies as a Quaker and deserves our gratitude for his efforts. Do feel free to identify yourself as a nonbeliever, atheist, etc., so he knows the secular bloc has clout (and good manners)!

Letters: 1214 Longworth HOB Washington DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-5801 Fax: (202) 225-6025 Webform: https://forms.house.gov/holt/webforms/issue_subscribe.htm (Representative Holt will only accept email from residents of New Jersey.)

While you’re at it, thank Holt’s cosponsors (especially if they represent you). They are:

Rep. Michael Honda (CA-17) Rep. Edward Markey (MA-5) Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2) Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) (If your representative’s name isn’t on this list, ask why not!)

Contact your Senator

Ask your Senator to introduce a Darwin Day resolution, while you’re at it!

Find and contact your U.S. Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Write a letter to the editor

Supporting Darwin Day would make an excellent and timely topic of a letter to the editor to your local or favorite publication. Don’t forget social media and online news comment sections to help spread the word.

Thank you for your activism. Freedom depends on freethinkers, and Darwin Day deserves your support!

Posted in politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Kyrsten Sinema: First Open Non-Theist Elected to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 8, 2012

Wow… this was one hell of an election!  I just want to point out a couple of notable races.  In this post, I want to focus on Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District who looks to be the first openly non-theistic (atheistic?) person elected to Congress!  I say “looks to be” because 1) the race hasn’t officially been concluded (votes are still being counted, but Sinema has a lead which only seems to be growing), and 2) Pete Stark, Congressman from California, is openly non-theistic, but he didn’t originally run as an out-of-the-closet non-theist.  Here’s more on Kyrsten Sinema:

Kyrsten Sinema: ‘We’re Optimistic’ in Arizona

… Election for Sinema would be no small feat in the state that produced U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer, whose exceptionally conservative immigration policies have regularly made national news. In many ways, Sinema, who is also an open nontheist and was raised Mormon and attended Brigham Young University, is an anomaly in Arizona politics. But she’s ahead in some polls in the final stages of her race against Parker, though it’s one of Congress’s tightest races. …

As I’ve stated before, this is the wave of the future, folks.  With the rise of a more openly secular demographic in the United States, coupled with the inevitable decline (read: dying off) of the most religious demographic, the good ol’ U.S. of A. will move towards more diversity in both popular culture and political representation.  And that includes non-theists :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, Member of House Science Committee, Says “Evolution, Embryology, Big Bang Theory are ‘Lies Straight from the Pit of Hell’ “

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

But don’t take it from me, take it straight from his mouth…

First, allow me to state the obvious:

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… we see two things from this idiotic tirade from Rep. Broun:

1. He engages in the typical creationist fear-mongering about evolutionary science that it is inherently evil, etc (hence the “Pit of Hell” reference).  I suppose we needn’t bother Rep. Broun with the annoying fact that many of his Christian brethren think evolution is just fine.

2. He, like far too many of his conservative colleagues in our government (I’m talking about YOU, Rep. Todd Akin), seem to have gone out of their way lately to declare war on any form of science they deem contrary to their ideology.  This includes not only denying evolution and denying climate science, and apparently basic info on human reproduction, but also rejecting certain pesky historical facts along the way.

Folks, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want people like this running my federal government.  This is why I so strongly support efforts like Science Debate, and why I think you should, too.  It is also why those of us who are defenders and advocates of science and skepticism should be involved in our political process.

Posted in creationism, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Save National Science Foundation Funding!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 6, 2011

I just got the following action alert from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  If you value not only scientific research but science education as well, I encourage you to contact your Senators and tell them to fully fund the NSF.  As a physics teacher/professor, I cannot tell you how valuable programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are for reaching out to the public and promoting science.  In addition, these and other similar programs are absolutely critical to helping insure that the United States has well-qualified science and math teachers in our schools; these programs also help to shuttle many students into science and engineering-oriented careers, which ultimately benefits all of us.

Anyway, read the AAPT’s press release below…

If you live in the United States, AAPT and the nation need your help. On Friday, September 16th, the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies reported a bill to Congress recommending a reduction of science funding for fiscal year 2012. Specifically, the bill recommends reducing funding for the National Science Foundation by an amount of $161,772,000 or 2.4% below the 2011 enacted level and $1,068,905,000 or 13.8% below the budget request.(See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ CRPT-112srpt78/pdf/CRPT- 112srpt78.pdf for the full bill). This is particularly disappointing because the House has recommended much higher funding amounts ($6,698,100,000 for the Senate versus $6,859,870,000 for the House and $7,767,000,000 for the 2012 requested). Particularly hard hit is the Education and Human Resources Directorate of NSF which has a recommended cut of $32,030,000 or 3.7% below the 2011 enacted level and $82,200,000 or 9% below the request. This Directorate funds many of the programs that support STEM education including many key AAPT programs such as the New Faculty Workshop, ComPADRE, and the SPIN-UP Regional Workshops.

I urge you to contact your senators and ask them to support the full requested level of funding for NSF for the 2012 fiscal year. You might mention the legislated calls to double the NSF budget as a fundamental investment in our society, but we realize that goal will be difficult to meet in the current difficult enconomic situation. This is particularly urgent if one of your senators is a member of the CJS Subcommittee. You can find your senator at the US Senate website http://www.senate.gov/general/ contact_information/senators_ cfm.cfm and members of the CJS Subcommittee are listed at http://appropriations.senate. gov/sc-commerce.cfm.

In order to make the process easier, you can use the sample letter of support and insert the date, your address, your senator’s name, and your name and credentials. If possible, personalize the letter by adding a few sentences on the impact that a reduction of this funding will have on you and your students. Better yet, write your own letter emphasizing the impact the cuts will have on physics education. You can submit your letter directly to your senators via their websites to expedite the process.

Best regards,

Beth A. Cunningham, Ph.D.
Executive Officer

Posted in science funding | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“What the Hell was That?!” – Ghosts & Other Paranormal B.S.

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2010

I recently came across a neat website which really does a good job of dissecting the various “ghost-hunting” TV shows that have been popping up like crazy over the last couple of years.  Of course, I’ve written before about how ghost-hunters are essentially deluding themselves because they have no clue what they’re doing, but this website – What the Hell was That? – does a far better & more thorough job than I ever could.  That’s mostly because if I took the time to watch that much stupidly bad TV, I think I’d have to drive a spike through my skull to put myself out of my misery.

As an example, check out the latest entry on a show called “Ghost Adventures” – ooh, sounds spooky :)

Ghost Adventures, a Kindly Review

Travel Channel

Fridays at 9pm

Of all the fake ghost hunting shows, Ghost Adventures probably qualifies as the most annoying.

Hosted by the ever-preening Zak Bagans, a film school graduate with a penchant for horridly overwrought prose like “When darkness falls, we chase the darkness.” He must write the stuff himself because he delivers each painful line as though he is reading from scripture.

2e4et83

Zak is also one of the world’s worst actors, which is a shame since he does a lot of acting in each show. He approaches each case with an absurd tough guy act, constantly challenging ghosts: “Bring it on.” Zak loves to gesture, pro wrestling-style, putting his hands right into our faces when he is trying to make a worthless point. It all comes across as trying just a little bit too hard.

Zak often interviews people who have claim some experience on the site. His outrageously leading questions sometimes make even the interviewees squirm. Of course, like all the other shows, the events described as occurring on the sites vastly outstrip what the ghost hunters actually find. We hear of full body apparitions, glowing eyes, spectral faces, etc., etc. But never, never is anything like that ever actually found by Zak or his team. Sometimes the best he can manage is to feel cold spots, or spectral touches. These allow him to really stretch out his acting skills, to great comedic effect. He also often presents the standard lame EVP’s, dubious door slams, and unclear images.

Like many of the shows, recreated images and sounds are mixed in with the “real” stuff, making it impossible to determine what is being presented as “evidence”. We can see the heavy ham hands of the producers as they try to wring out the maximum oooga booga for their indiscriminate audience.

Ghost Adventures also uses tons of dubious gadgets (see my Bag of Tricks article for some examples). Since none of the little electronic boxes are documented or explained, I view all of them with great suspicion. As I documented, one of their gadgets was just a cheap flashlight.

Some questionable stuff from a recent show, set at an abandoned prison:

• Batteries were drained “instantly” from the wireless mics but NEVER from the cameras (then there would be nothing for the show!). There was some priceless overacting “What? What?…I just put new batteries in 5 minutes ago!”

• The crew claimed then claimed that the audio for the on-board camera mics went out, too. It’s hard to prove that they are lying but I would be willing to bet that they simply turned down the input for the drama. It is too convenient that the video never went out. The whole incident had all the earmarks of  prearranged corny dramatic stunt.

• A supposed mist was shown behind Zak that was obviously just a reflection in the low quality night vision image.

Ghost Adventures is an example of lowest common denominator TV, cheap, dumb and patently false. The silly host makes this one particularly loathsome.

Not A Ghost.com Grade: F

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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