The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘news’

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 »

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 »

Freedom From Religion Foundation to Air Ad on CBS

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 24, 2012

Given the amazing success of the Reason Rally this weekend in Washington, DC (roughly 20,000 secularists/atheists/non-religious people showing up in the rain is a success to me :) ), it seems more than appropriate that the Freedom From Religion Foundation runs an ad which will receive a nationwide airing on CBS on Sunday and Monday.  The ad opens with President John F. Kennedy’s famous remarks about an absolute separation between church and state.  Here’s the ad:

Wonderfully done, and well-timed.  This is an especially important time for those of us in the non-believing community to step up and be counted, given the preponderance of religiously-oriented stupidity on display in election-year politics these days.  If we hope to uphold church-state separation and fight back against those who would turn our secular republic into a theocracy, we need to get vocal and get active!

Hat tip to The Friendly Atheist for bringing this to my attention! :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

ABC News’s “Beyond Belief” Illustrates How Badly Psychics Fail

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2011

In a welcome break from some of the usual credulousness that seems to permeate the modern media landscape regarding all things paranormal, recently ABC News did an episode of “Beyond Belief” on the topic of psychics and mediums.  Titled “Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead?”, the episode focused upon famed dead-talker James Van Praagh.  The interview of Van Praagh by Josh Elliot is excellent, as Elliot is respectful but appropriately skeptical of Van Praagh’s claims, especially when he conducts a bit of a deeper investigation beyond simply swallowing Van Praagh’s parlor act whole.  In the interview, Elliot even nails Van Praagh for using time-tested tricks such as cold reading

 

Another well-done segment in the show focused on the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge to anyone who can display, under a properly controlled setting, evidence of supernatural or paranormal abilities.  It is important to note that in the following video, all of the claimants agreed to the conditions of the tests they underwent before the tests took place.  After agreeing to these conditions, it is telling that upon seeing their obvious failure, the psychics still insisted they had legitimate psychic powers and also complained about how the test “wasn’t fair” (even though they agreed it was fair before they failed).  Take a look at this segment at this link (it’s the video at the bottom of the article).

So, even though they agreed to the test ahead of time, were fully informed of the conditions of the test and what was required to declare success and the million dollars, and the fact they were predicting (quite confidently in some cases) that they were “sure to win the money”, they all failed – and failed spectacularly.  But then they turn around and blame the skeptics for not making the test fair; I’m sure that if they had won the million dollars they’d be saying the test was fair!

To read more about the entire show and get a skeptical perspective on how it went, check out the JREF’s blog post on the matter.

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

Anti-Nuclear Stupidity: When Ideology Trumps Science & Reason

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 15, 2011

I just wanted to post a follow-up to my earlier posts on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis (for reference, those earlier posts are here and here) and the related ideologically driven, anti-nuclear hysteria that is being pushed by far too many people.  An excellent example of this kind of zealotry is on display on the comment sections of my two previous posts, and I just want to focus on a few particular comments made here by people who are misrepresenting facts at best and engaging in some pretty despicable fear-mongering at worst.  I think it serves as a pretty useful exercise in critical thinking to examine such claims…

Comment #1: Here is the first comment I want to examine, regarding my blog post titled Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Well, I’ve been keeping track of all this fallout business from the beginning and I have to say, it’s not looking good. There are reports from Arkansas and several other states concerning elevated radiation levels in milk and municipal water supplies, as anyone who’s been keeping track of this has probably heard by now.
So if this is all B.S. then why is radiation showing up all over the U.S.? And most importantly, why isn’t the media talking about it?

First of all, this commenter is equating the detection of “elevated” radiation levels with “dangerous” radiation levels, and they are not the same thing.  As has been pretty thoroughly reported, radiation from Fukushima has in fact reached various parts of the United States (as well as other nations); however, what this commenter is not saying is that such levels of radiation have been detected in trace amounts.  In the context of radiation, “trace” essentially means “so small that you don’t have to worry about it.”  And whether or not the amount of radiation detected is higher than the normal background isn’t as relevant as whether or not the amount is near the danger level – and, in all the cases of such radiation detected in the U.S. the danger level is no where close to being reached.

What this commenter also neglects to mention is the fact that, as I’ve stated before, there are other (natural & artificial) sources of radiation around us all the time!  As this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows, there are sources of radiation everywhere – from the sky, the ground, your house, your food, etc.  Hell, chances are that you have received a higher dose of radiation from reading these words on your computer screen than you’ve gotten from the Fukushima power plant.

As for the last comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” – I have no idea where this innuendo of conspiracy comes from, seeing as how the media has been going on and on about this story for well over a month now, and all along most media outlets are screwing up the science just as is this commenter.

The comment continues:

Telling the public that radiation levels are only “slightly elevated” and causes no health hazards. Just like our Government “experts” told the natives living around the Atoll islands out in the Pacific the same line of nonsense after they tested twenty-three nuclear devices including the first hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1958. 10 years later 90% of them had died from cancer.

Again, this smacks of blatant conspiracy mongering.  Also note the outlandish claim that 90% of the inhabitants of the islands within the Pacific Proving Ground had died of cancer within ten years – there is evidence that those people were negatively affected (through higher rates of cancer & birth defects) by the related fallout, but nothing to support the claim of a 90% death rate within 10 years time.  This is precisely the kind of hyperbole which displays zealotry trumping facts & reason.

Continuing on:

Also it has been announced that Fukushima will most likely surpass Chernobyl as far as radiation emission levels are concerned.
Now, if radiation from Chernobyl was detected all over the northern hemisphere (and that is a fact)and the Fukushima event is supposedly far worse, what fool in their right mind would question whether or not radiation from the Fukushima event would make it to the U.S.?
It has and it will continue to do so.

While Fukushima has been upgraded to a level-7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the same INES rating as Chernobyl, to claim that it is just as bad – or even worse! – than Chernobyl is simply laughable.  First of all, it has been clearly documented that the total amount of radiation released from Fukushima is only about one-tenth that of Chernobyl, and that radiation release is much more localized & less lethal than Chernobyl ever was.  In fact, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a direct death toll of 56 (due to immediate radiation sickness) as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, the larger city of Pripyat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned.  It should be noted that, so far, there has yet to be a single death confirmed to be related to radiation released at Fukushima.

So, despite the similar INES rating of 7, comparing the two events – in terms of severity of radiation release & dispersal as well as human fatalities – is like comparing apples and hammers.

As for the rambling about radiation reaching the United States, see my previous notes on that.  Once again, “detectable” does not equal “dangerous”.

Last, but not least:

Now to say this is “fear mongering” is ridiculous, I have checked my facts and I suggest everyone else does the same. Because it doesn’t seem like the people we pay to keep us informed concerning such things, are doing their jobs very well. As far as hair and teeth falling out, I don’t think it will get anywhere near that bad but, the long term health effects of low level exposure should be considered at least.

More conspiracy mongering.  I think this section of this person’s comment can be best summed up as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2011

Okay, this has been one helluva weekend for science (specifically, physics) and skepticism because of the earthquake in Japan, subsequent tsunami, and the ongoing situation with the nuclear power plants in the region.  In this post, I am going to focus on the nuclear power plant question, because that is where the most amount of misinformation is being spread.  And, sadly, because much of this misinformation is being spread by a horribly irresponsible media, I will not be referring to any media articles in this post.

First of all, let me say that I’m pretty mad at the manner in which this whole situation is being framed: while there are likely many tens of thousands of dead & dying victims in the wreckage of the earthquake & tsunami, much of the media focus is on the supposed “danger” posed by the nuclear power plants.  Folks, this “danger” – while not completely fictitious – is being way, way, WAY over-hyped.  In fact, it is being so overly-hyped that many people turning to most of the media are getting the impression that this is about to occur in Japan…

[**Update: Speaking of misinformation, there is a bogus "Nuclear Fallout Image" going around the Internet.  More on that load of crap here.]

Let me continue by listing some reputable, scientifically accurate sources of information & updates on the situation with the Japanese nuclear plants and radiation in general.  I strongly suggest that you turn off the TV and go to these sources for your information on the question of all things nuclear power & radiation oriented:

The World Nuclear News website (an outlet put together by nuclear engineering professionals and science journalists to get accurate information out to the public)

Nuclear energy 101: Inside the “black box” of power plants (one of the few mainstream media outlets that gets it right – kudos to you, Boing Boing! :) )

A Conversation with My Dad, a Nuclear Engineer, about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster in Japan (from Skepchick Evelyn Mervine, who did an excellent job of cutting right to the chase regarding the scientific & technical issues involved)

Calculate Your Radiation Dose (from the United States’ EPA, which takes into account the natural & artificial sources of radiation around you all the time)

Now, having listed some reputable sources on the topic, let me take some time to address some of the more misinformed & outlandish claims being tossed all over the Internet and media landscape regarding what’s happening…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments »

Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2010

In this post, what I want to do is address a right-wing smear campaign which has been making the rounds on the Internet recently; it states how “Obama is the first U.S. President in history to not attend Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day”, with the implication being that he somehow “hates America”, I suppose.  Apparently, there are emails on this going around, as well as articles from various right-wing blogs & “news” outlets.  People who get snagged up in stuff like this don’t even have to receive the email directly, they just have to talk with someone who received it or heard about it, or they just have to hear/read about it from some other news outlet which merely repeats the story uncritically – that’s how memes like this propagate.  Basically, for bad or incomplete information to propagate, all it takes is gullibility & uncritical thinking, either on the part of individuals or the media.

For example, how many of those partisan emails or “news” outlets mention that Obama did indeed visit Arlington National Cemetery in 2009?  Here’s a photo of him at the event…

Not only that, but a quick search of Snopes.com – an excellent website for checking the validity of all manner of Internet nonsense – reveals plenty more information which the partisans who forward this garbage are omitting…

Claim: Mike Savage [a right-wing shock jock] stated that President Obama was not going to Arlington this Memorial Day but is sending VP Biden in his place. Obama is going to Chicago instead. Savage stated that this is the first time in history that a President has not laid a wreath at Arlington on Memorial day. Is this true?

No, it’s not true.  Specifically, the claim that Obama is the first U.S. president to not lay a wreath at Arlington on Memorial Day is not true.  Snopes.com elaborates…

Origins: Memorial Day, now observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of the year set aside for Americans to commemorate the men and women of the United States who died while in the military service. On Memorial Day the President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, where America’s honored dead are interred, to deliver a speech in remembrance of those who died in service to their country and to lay a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

News that President Obama would be spending the 2010 Memorial Day weekend in Chicago rather than attending services in Arlington were attended by claims (like the example cited above) that he would thus become the first U.S. president to skip the Arlington wreath-laying ceremony since the inception of Memorial Day. This claim is inaccurate: On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), while other administration officials represented them at the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush was in France on Memorial Day and participated in ceremonies at Normandy (site of the D-Day landings) honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II. In his place, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President George H.W. Bush (himself a World War II veteran) attended no ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery during his four years in office. In 1989 he was in Rome on Memorial Day (where he led observances at an American military cemetery south of that city), and from 1990 through 1992 he spent the Memorial Day weekend vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, while Vice-President Dan Quayle laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President Ronald Reagan was away from Arlington on Memorial Day on four occasions during his eight years in office: In 1981, he (who had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt six weeks earlier) spent the Memorial Day weekend at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, while Vice-President George H.W. Bush laid the wreath at Arlington. In 1983, he attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer represented the administration at the wreath-laying ceremony. In 1987, he spent Memorial Day at the Camp David presidential retreat while Navy Secretary James Webb participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. And on Memorial Day 1988, he was out of the U.S., attending a summit meeting in Moscow.
  • (NOTE: President Bill Clinton has no entry in this list because he attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington each year throughout his eight years in office.)

On Memorial Day 2010, President Obama is scheduled to honor America’s fallen heroes with a speech at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago, while Vice-President Joe Biden takes his place at Arlington.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Cell Phone & Cancer Study Follow Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

Last October I posted about a really crappy piece of “journalism” in the New York Post regarding a supposed link between cellphone use and cancer.  The punchline was that the headline-grubbing morons at the NYPost ran their story before the actual study had been published!

Well, now the actual study by the real scientists & researchers involved has been published, and – lo and behold – it paints a very different picture from the fear-mongering goobers at the NYPost.  In part, their conclusion states:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones.”

For reference, the entire study is available here in PDF format. Now of course I’m not surprised in the least by these results, seeing as how, based upon the laws of physics as we know them, there is no plausible mechanism by which such low-energy emissions from cellphones could cause cancer!

One would hope that various media outlets would take a lesson from this fiasco, but I suppose some people are more interested in selling paper than responsible news reporting.

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

The Financial Crisis & Business Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2009

The news about the economy is, by most accounts, pretty dismal these days. As time goes on, we are finding out about more an more shady deals on Wall Street and even outright fraud – think Bernard Madoff. How did we get caught up in this hysteria of wishful thinking that drove an insane economic bubble which ultimately burst so badly?

I’m no economist, and I don’t like to write about economics, but I wanted to take a moment or two to give a shout-out to someone who is applying skepticism & critical thinking to these questions – Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show :D

In the last week, Jon Stewart has very publicly and vocally taken those financial reporters, networks, and commentators – such as CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer – to task for failing to apply their own skepticism & critical thinking to the situation. And in the end, when dealing in business and/or investing, it boils down to that old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

I want to share two video clips of Jon Stewart laying the skeptical smackdown on CNBC for failing to apply critical thinking to these issues. The first is a broadcast from The Daily Show earlier in the week where Stewart criticizes CNBC for giving sloppy or shady financial advice…

stewart vs cnbc

The second video is an interview between Stewart and Cramer as they discuss what went wrong and the business media’s responsibility to be more willing to ask tough questions and follow through…

stewart vs cramer

I have to agree with Stewart. While it is incumbent upon all of us to apply our critical thinking skills to issues of business & finance, at some point we depend upon the business media outlets, like CNBC, to provide us with trustworthy information. Let us hope we’ve all learned this painful lesson well.

Posted in economics, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: