The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘massacre’

CNN Taken to Task Over Its NON-Critical Thinking on the Boston Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2013

As I mentioned in my last post regarding this past Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, there has been a huge amount of rumor, misinformation, and innuendo floating all over the place, and we should do what we can to combat it.

Of course, one would hope that our media outlets, such as “The Most Trusted Name in News” CNN, would take such a task to heart, making certain to get their facts straight before they report the news.  But, sadly, in the era of the 24-hour “news” cycle, it appears that getting it right takes a back seat to getting it first.

I can think of no other way to illustrate this point more clearly than to reference The Daily Show’s incredible smackdown of just how badly CNN botched some major news regarding the bombing:

CNN-The Human Centipede of News

Yup, that’s CNN… the most busted name in news.

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

Rumors and Misinformation in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2013

As you well know by now, there was a horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon yesterday on Boston’s Patriot Day.  Like many people, I spent much time last night discussing the situation online.  And, of course, in the aftermath of such an emotionally charged and upsetting situation, rumors, speculation, and – sadly – conspiracy mongering will run rampant.   However, I am of the feeling that knowledge is power, and it is better to say “I don’t know” than to speculate wildly; after all, as I told someone online last night: “rumors =/= knowledge”

So, in the spirit of spreading accurate information and squashing rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy mongering regarding the Boston Marathon Bombing, I would like to refer the reader to this collection of rumors and junk debunked from our friends at Snopes.com:

snopeslogo

Please take a few minutes to check that link, and by all means spread it far and wide over the Internet and via social media, because we do ourselves no favors by giving into our fears and allowing them to make us act irrationally.

Posted in conspiracy theories, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Follow Up to Religious Fundamentalists’ Reaction to Sandy Hook Massacre

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2012

As I recently blogged, there was the all-too-predictable nutty and inhuman reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from the religious zealots in our nation in the past few days… it’s the fault of gays and atheists, don’t ya know!  Thanks to all who have reblogged (thanks to Phil at Skeptic Money :) ), tweeted, commented, and emailed me with feedback about that blog post.  I wanted to share with you all a really good bit of correspondence I got from my online friend “Other Jesus”, because it goes to the root of some deeper questions related to religion and how people do/don’t think about it.  Read on…

I liked your article. I was actually waiting for these groups to emerge. Most of the responses on all sides of the background debate have responded in predictable manner. I know the main characters are the anti- and pro-gun groups, the “more mental health” people, and the “we need more God in school…” religious folks. But some of the most annoying folks are the “prayers and hugs” crew in the periphery. Every tragedy like this evokes a “hug your kids and pray for the family of the victims”. How’s that working? (Don’t quote me on the above!)

The Huckabee premise deserves a more blatant study and response. So Mike thinks we need more God in school for protection. Meanwhile, some folks are calling for full-time armed security in schools (Sean Hannity, eg.). So what if God applied for the security guard job at a school? Well the principal would need to review His resume and he/she might ask for more explanation about the following:

1) Where was God during the murder of Able? Was it preventable?

2) Where was God during the murder of the Egyptian first born in the 10th Plague? What about His alleged
ties to the Angel of Death?

3) Wasn’t God in the land of His “chosen people” during Herod’s “murder of the innocents”? Did He take any steps to prevent the slaughter?

4) During the Great Flood, what did God do to protect the babies and young innocent children? Did he have any role in the cause of the flood?

Now these are events from long ago, so the principal might accept God’s excuse that “that was then, this is now”. So how about a more modern example? A school like Huckabee wants: With God fully in-place. Maybe God’s checkered resume can be redeemed.

5) Where was God on December 1, 1958? Was he watching a student play with matches in the basement of Out Lady of Angel’s Catholic school in Chicago? What did he do when the young man ignitee a trash barrel? Did he take any action to stop the fire before it killed 92 kids and three nuns?

I don’t think that the principal conducting the interview would have a hard time deciding whether or not God was qualified, despite the endorsement from Mike Huckabee.

(NOTE TO SELF: Be very skeptical of anyone Mick Huckabee refers.)

And here are some other good points brought up by various people who read my article:

What really irritates me are those who claim that shootings happen at schools because God is not allowed in schools. However, that does not explain why students at a Jewish school in France (earlier this year) were killed by a gunman. Does God only dwell in Christian schools? The point is, belief in God has nothing to do with these tragic events. Horrible things happen because horrible people cause them to happen – it is not the result of divine punishment.

… and…

So how is it that shootings have occurred in churches, religious schools and if no sin is greater than another; why all the child molesting and rape in churches?   Has God been removed from there as well.

… and…

Also, I’d like to know how Mike Huckabee explains the fact that slavery and segregation were legal while much of that praying was going on in schools.

Hmm, good questions.  Food for thought, folks… food for thought.

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

The Real Cause of the Sandy Hook Massacre: Gays and Atheists, Of Course!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2012

You’d pretty much have to be living underneath a rock to not have heard about last Friday’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  All told, 20 children and 6 adults were killed by the shooter, Adam Lanza, before he killed himself.  Understandably, people all over the nation are numb and puzzled about how something like this could happen.  I know that at the high school where I teach, it has certainly been a topic of much debate and conversation.  One of the most asked questions is “Are our schools safe?” – in general, the answer is yes.

In addition, at a time like this people are looking for answers and asking “Why?”  In answer, some are talking about the issue of gun control (the shooter had easy access to guns), while others are talking about mental health issues (society doesn’t pay enough attention to mental health); what seems to be common to these, and other, analyses is that they are based mostly upon media-fueled speculation at this stage.  Speculation runs rampant, and facts are frustratingly few and far between…

… Enter the God Squad.  These are the dim-witted troglodytes whom you could have easily predicted would crawl out of their caves spewing the usual disgusting, vile-filled claptrap about how this is all somehow “God’s punishment”, and how they know God’s feelings on the matter!  Here’s just a sample of the putrid idiocy pouring forth from the fundamentalist faithful…

MIKE HUCKABEE: Schools ‘Become A Place Of Carnage’ Because ‘We Have  Systematically Removed God’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested Friday that the absence of God  from the nation’s public schools may have contributed, in part, to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people,  including 20 children.

Appearing on Fox  News, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was asked by host  Neil Cavuto how “God could let this happen.” Here’s his response:

It’s an interesting thing. We ask  why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from  our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of  carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about  eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that  we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but  one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then  we don’t fear that. And so I sometimes, when people say, ‘Why did God let it  happen?’ You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be  there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of  ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in  on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up it’s all said and  done at the back end.

and…

School carnage: Blame church, not God or guns

… My mother, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, fought to make the public schools  the armed camps they are today by removing prayer, the recognition of the  authority of God. In 1962 and 1963, I was attending an all-boys public high  school in downtown Baltimore, Md. The school was a magnet school before the term  even existed and was intended to prepare young men for college, majoring in  science and engineering. There were 1,800 teenage boys in the school, and there  was not a cop in the building – ever. The doors were unlocked and often the  un-air-conditioned rooms had open windows. There were no metal detectors, no  picture IDs, and students went in and out the doors on the honor system.

What  happens when you’re raised by America’s most famous atheist? Read William  Murray’s riveting and redemptive new book, “My Life Without God”

The authority of God was present, even though I am very sure many of those  young men, including myself, had some pretty vile thoughts that were not in the  least way moral. The presence of the authority of God, vested in the teachers by  His recognition every morning, was reinforced by the churches and the families  of the students.

That high school has since merged with a girl’s school in another location,  for purposes of political correctness. The last time I checked, the old building  itself was the headquarters of the Baltimore City Schools Police Force,  something that did not exist when Baltimore’s population was nearly  double what it is now. Every kid at every school now has a photo ID. All  the doors of every school are locked. All doors have metal detectors and  drug-sniffing dogs roaming the corridors. I am told that every school in  Baltimore has at least one armed “safety officer.”

In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has  been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without  the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public  schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same  situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in  Newtown. …

and (of course it wouldn’t be complete without these assholes)…

Westboro Baptist Church Says It Will Picket Vigil For Connecticut School Shooting Victims

The Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial group known for protesting outside funerals of slain U.S. service members, announced that it will picket a vigil for the victims of Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the group and, like most members of the organization, a relative of the group’s founder, Fred Phelps, announced on Twitter on Saturday the group’s plan “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” …

So what are we to take away from this incredibly frakked up display of asshattery?  Apparently, we are to all repent and come to the realization that God’s pissed off at us (“us” being the United States) for not forcing children to pray in public schools (and by “pray” I mean “pray to Jesus Christ”, because that’s what these morons really mean), or because our nation actually has the audacity to recognize and respect the rights of atheists and gays, not to mention in the United States we actually acknowledge the separation of church and state.

Omaha, Neb., Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Yee-haw… Fun with Fundamentalism. Image Source

So what are we to make of this reaction on the part of the ultra-religious to the Sandy Hook massacre?  As I’ve noted before, the fundamentalist right-wing segment of our nation is starting to slowly dwindle, and there is a more secular demographic rising in this country.  I think part of what we may be seeing here is the gradual, but inevitable, unhinging of the religious right as they start to see their power over the rest of us who don’t share their twisted worldview slowly slipping away.  They cannot handle the fact that their worldview isn’t THE worldview which is forced upon the rest of society through the power of the culture and the government, and that is making them nuts.

I predict more of the same in the future: every time there is a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster; every time there is a man-made disaster (such as the Sandy Hook massacre); every time anything bad happens, these self-described servants of the Almighty (who, of course, have the message straight from God himself, you know) will scurry in front of the TV cameras to spread their message of doom and judgement in a vain attempt to appear relevant.  And as time goes on, they will get ever more extreme with their message, as they marginalize themselves even more.

And that’s the key thing right there… what these preachers, prophets, and fundamentalist believers really fear is exactly what’s happening to them: they are slipping into irrelevance.  Let them, I say, because civilized society has no need for their sociopathic mythologies.

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

Another Spectacular Example of Psychic Fail in Texas “Murder” Mystery

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 12, 2011

It seems that in Texas an anonymous “psychic detective” tipped off the police to the fact that there was a gruesome scene in a farmhouse which contained the remains of about 30 people, including the dismembered bodies of multiple children.  Unfortunately, the police of the Liberty County’s Sheriff’s Office actually took these tips seriously, because after they mobilized a massive amount of resources, they found absolutely nothing at the site…

A false tip from a psychic prompted Texas authorities to swarm a rural home searching for a nonexistent mass grave and up to 30 bodies, including those of dismembered children.

A few hours later it was clear the tip was nothing more than a gruesome wild goose chase.

“There’s no crime scene,” Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters as deputies, Texas Rangers and FBI agents wrapped up a fruitless search that gained national media attention. [emphasis added]

Yup, you read that right.  Not only did the local Sheriff’s Office get into the mix, but the Texas Rangers and FBI were also involved in this fiasco!  I think these agencies have opened themselves up to some much deserved derision, because it has been shown conclusively in great detail that, despite numerous claims to the contrary, psychics do not do anything to help with police investigations.  In fact, most police and detectives do not use psychics because they know the track record of such “help” (i.e. it doesn’t work), and they know that chasing down false leads provided by these morons would just be a waste of time and resources (as it was in the spectacular failure of the case in question).

So why is it that these alleged “psychic detectives” keep on cropping up?  Because they are very good self-promoters, and they are playing off people’s desire to have closure on certain topics – it is, after all, very difficult when dealing with certain crimes (especially child abductions) to be patient and follow established and well-tested investigatory procedures.  These psychics play on this sense of unease on the part of the family in question (or perhaps the community) to swoop in and offer a measure of hope (however empty it is) while  also garnering some fame for themselves.

In his article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine titled “The Case of the ‘Psychic Detectives'”, I really like how skeptical investigator Joe Nickell puts it…

Although mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability, self-styled clairvoyants, diviners, spirit mediums, and soothsayers continue to sell their fantasies—and in some cases to shrewdly purvey their cons—to a credulous public. Particularly disturbing is a resurgence of alleged psychic crime-solving.

In fact, the media—especially Court TV’s Psychic Detectives, NBC’s Medium, and various programs of Larry King Live—have shamelessly touted several self-claimed psychic shamuses as if they could actually identify murderers and kidnappers, or locate missing persons. Here is an investigative look at five such claimants. (Another, Phil Jordan, was featured in an earlier SI [Nickell 2004].) …

… psychics do not solve crimes or locate missing persons—unless they employ the same non-mystical techniques as real detectives: obtaining and assessing factual information, receiving tips, and so on, even sometimes getting lucky. In addition to the technique of “retrofitting,” psychics may shrewdly study local newspaper files and area maps, glean information from family members or others associated with a tragedy, and even impersonate police and reportedly attempt to bribe detectives (Nickell 1994). It is bad enough that they are often able to fool members of the media; detectives, if they do not know better, as most do, should learn better. They should, well, investigate their alleged psychic counterparts.

Well, in the Texas case, there is a silver lining.  It seems the agencies in question disliked being deceived by the supposed psychic tipster, and they have decided to try charging them with filing a false police report – perhaps if more of these charlatans were actually held to account, then there would be fewer of the psychic glory-hounds clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame.  We can only hope.

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords & Skepticism When It’s Needed Most

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 12, 2011

I’ve waited a few days before making this post, partly because I wanted to give myself some time to reflect and partly because I wanted to see if cooler & more rational heads would prevail.  Of course, from the title, you can see that I’m making some remarks concerning the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona this past Saturday.  As we all know by now, the shooter – Jared Loughner – not only shot Giffords point-blank in the head, severely wounding her, but others were killed (including a 9 year-old girl & a federal judge) and many more were wounded.

Events moved fast on Saturday, and – in some cases – the media moved even faster, sometimes to the point of even getting major parts of the story wrong in a misguided effort to “get it first.”  For example, you can see how some outlets, such as National Public Radio, mistakenly reported that Rep. Giffords had died in the attack. But that isn’t the most unnerving thing…

Like many, I was shocked & dismayed when I heard the news, and I immediately went to the Internet to read more… and what I read shocked & dismayed me even more.  Within an hour of the reporting of the event, I saw all manner of accusations being slung around.  This pointing of fingers had a decidedly political slant on it, with some liberals blaming the Tea Party rhetoric and “loose gun laws” for the actions of the shooter, while some conservatives insisted that the killer “must have been an illegal immigrant” or that it “had to be a set up to make Republicans look bad.”  Not only that, but I saw that conspiracy theories were being spun faster than you could say “9/11 coverup”.

I decided to go to one of my favorite skeptical online forums – the JREF Forum – to discuss the situation, and I was sadly disappointed to find that the behavior among many of my so-called skeptical colleagues was no better than that which I saw elsewhere online.  Take a look at the JREF thread on the topic, and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the things which seemed lacking during the chaos of my Saturday afternoon, much of which was spent in online discourse & surfing the Web for news of the incident, was a willingness to step back, apply some basic critical thinking, and wait for reliable information from the proper authorities to come to light.  It was, and still is in many ways, a time of great fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and – unfortunately – in such times all too many of us will succumb to extraordinary arguments from ignorance in an attempt to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.  I lost my cool a bit and said some pretty rough things, some of which I share here:

… Especially in this politically charged environment, the last thing we need to go doing right now is jumping to conclusions, pointing fingers at “the other side”, and basically engaging in rampant & irresponsible confirmation bias. From what I’ve seen on this thread so far, there are way too many so-called skeptics displaying blatant irrationality in this regard – you should be better than that. …

In addition to other criticisms, some people mentioned a very dubious argument in response.  They stated something to the effect that “when a politician gets shot, what reason for it is there besides politics?”  Of course, facts can be stubborn things, and I responded with a very important fact: that when President Reagan was shot in 1981 by John Hinckley, Jr., Hinckley’s motivation wasn’t political; instead, he was attempting to assassinate the President as a way of gaining the attention of actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was disturbingly obsessed.  Therefore, it is well within the realm of possibility that what motivated Jared Loughner’s actions is entirely non-political.

What this shows is, in my view, the fact that there is nothing inherently special about those who label themselves as “skeptics”.  We are irrational & emotional creatures just like the rest of humanity, and in times of great stress we also feel the sometimes overwhelming pressure to dismiss our better, more rational natures in a desperate attempt to grab onto something, anything which seems like it might provide us with some measure of comfort.  But, as we skeptics are wont to say, simply because something feels right doesn’t mean it’s real.  And thus, simply because there are those who view the world through an overly-political lens doesn’t mean that reality conforms to that view.

And now, as I write these words, it seems that we still don’t have any idea exactly why it is that Jared Loughner went on a rampage, spilling blood and scaring a nation.  The suspect himself isn’t talking, early indications from the investigation point to Loughner having some kind of mental instability.  Unfortunately, without more information, we may never really know why he did what he did.

In closing, I want to share with you some very important words from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show regarding this tragedy and how people are reacting to it. These are the most mature, rational, and – yes – skeptical words I’ve heard uttered on the matter, and I hope that we all take them to heart:

Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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