Posts Tagged ‘skepticism’
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2013
I make no bones about how I feel about various psychic charlatans who take advantage of the desperate, grieving, and bereaved: they’re pretty close to scraping the bottom of the barrel, in my view. At the top of this list is none other than the queen of psychic charlatans: Sylvia Browne.
Ms. Browne has made a career, literally, out of taking advantage of any opportunity, no matter how sleazy, to get in front of cameras in order to promote herself and her supposed “psychic powers”. In many cases, this takes the form of her going on a popular daytime television show, such as the Montel Williams Show, and giving readings to various audience members. And sometimes, she has stooped so low as to give authoritative-sounding psychicly-guided advice to people who have lost loved ones.
Of course, such psychic predictions can backfire when people actually take the time to examine them critically (such as keeping track of the New Year predictions made by prominent psychics which are complete and total duds). But sometimes, especially when dealing with those who are really going for the gusto (like Ms. Browne), these predictions can fail in a truly spectacular and despicable manner, as it did with what is turning out to be a huge fiasco regarding the discovery and rescue of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry in Cleveland, Ohio. It just so happens that not long after their daughter went missing over 10 years ago, Amanda’s parents went onto the Montel Williams Show to consult with Ms. Browne, who told them – rather unequivocally – that their daughter was dead…
… yup, dead. Which is kind of exactly the opposite of what Amanda really was… you know, alive and hoping someone would find her? Whoops…
Sylvia Browne is coming under fire after the television psychic told the family of Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that their daughter was dead.
The case made national headlines this week when Brown and two other kidnapped girls were found safe in Cleveland. But for the family of Amanda Berry, that does not undo the heartache caused by Sylvia Browne.
Browne was a weekly guest on The Montel Williams Show, and in 2004 Berry’s mother Louwana Miller appeared to talk about the case.
As Miller pleaded for her for information on her daughter’s whereabouts, Sylvia Browne, got it completely wrong:
Miller: Can you tell me if they’ll ever find her? Is she out there?
Browne: She’s — see, I hate this when they’re in water. I just hate this. She’s not alive, honey. And I’ll tell you why, here we go again. Your daughter was not the type that would not have called you.
Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again?
Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.
Brown was correct on the last prediction, though it does not appear to be intentional. Berry’s mother would die of heart failure two years later — her family said she died of a “broken heart” after her hopes of a rescue were dashed by Browne’s vision.
Now Sylvia Brown has come under assault, with commentators calling her a “grief vampire” and her Twitter page coming under assault. [emphasis added]
And to me that is one of the real tragedies of this whole sordid affair. Not only have Ms. Browne and similar psychic charlatans used the grief of people to take advantage of them in their most vulnerable moments to promote themselves and their cheesy, pseudoscientific agenda, but they have also propped themselves up as some kind of authority with no evidence to support their claims. And then they go making terribly irresponsible statements such as what Ms. Browne did regarding Amanda Berry; sadly, because Louwana Miller gave some kind of credence to Ms. Browne and her psychic claims, because she trusted Browne, she was horribly and terribly deceived… eventually dying thinking that her daughter was dead.
[ **Side note: Lest you think I'm being a bit too hard on Ms. Browne, it should be noted that this isn't her first high-profile grade-A screwup. For more history, check out her involvement in the Shawn Hornbeck fiasco. ]
I’m not one to say there should be a law against being a douchebag, especially such a self-aggrandizing and deceitful one such as Ms. Browne and her psychic ilk, but I do think it is incumbent upon those of us who call ourselves skeptics and critical thinkers to call these charlatans out on their lies and douchebaggery. We need to call them out long and loud on their lies and deceit, and we need to use these sad episodes as a lesson in teaching others the use of thinking a bit more critically about such extraordinary claims.
Posted in psychics | Tagged: abduction, accuracy, Amanda Berry, charlatan, cherry pick, Cleveland, cold reading, dead, death, died, esp, fail, failed, fake, hits, hot reading, kidnapping, medium, mentalism, mind reading, misses, Montel Williams, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, Shawn Hornbeck, skeptical activism, skepticism, Sylvia Browne, talking to the dead | 14 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2013
Every now and then, just when you think things cannot get too silly, they do. Case in point: the fact that the news media is actually giving some attention to a woman’s claim that her goldfish cracket is a “sign from God”…
It’s a fishy story, but the woman telling it believes it’s pure gold. The Florida resident says the markings she found on a Goldfish cracker are a direct message affirming her Christian faith.
“I believe that it’s a sign, a sign from God,” Patti Burke told Florida Today. “He is still in our life every day, and he wants to show that to his people.”
It’s not quite manna, but in Burke’s eyes it’s a manifestation of her faith.
The cracker in question has two markings, or imperfections, on its surface. Burke says the first marking is of a cross with a circle around it. The second marking, near the head of the fish, represents a golden crown.
“When I picked this one up, I knew he was special,” she said. “Something I’ve never seen before out of all the Goldfish I’ve eaten.”
Burke admittedly has been working from a large sample size, consuming between two and three pounds of the crackers per week. She says she eats the small crackers individually, examining each one for the optimal amount of savory coating. … [emphasis added]
Umm… yeah. Pardon me, but… IT’S A CRACKER!!! 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 Christian? That is the classic marker of pareidolia – our evolution-wired brains are developed for pattern recognition, and one of the most recognized patterns for a Christian is the cross. Throw into the mix a bit of religious fervor (i.e. in this case, devout Christianity) and viola! you have a “miracle” appearance of the cross on a cracker.
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 lady does her cross-marked cracker. So, what this shows you is that the interpretation of these “miracles” is strongly context and culturally specific.
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.
It also seems to teach us something about God’s powers, namely that as time goes on the kind of “miracles” that God apparently performs become increasingly mundane, as this graph displays :)
Posted in psychology, religion | Tagged: Allah, Allah melon, Arabic, belief, Catholic, Catholicism, Christian, cracker, cross, God, God's power, gold, goldfish, grill cheese, grilled cheese, iron, Islam, Jesus, miracle, Muslim, pareidolia, pattern recognition, psychology, religion, sandwich, skepticism, Virgin Mary | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2013
One of my biggest skeptical heroes is James Randi. He is a small man with a big laugh, an even bigger heart, and an even bigger love for the pursuit of skeptical analysis into all manner of paranormal, mystical, or odd-ball claims. For Randi, no questions are off limits and skepticism knows no bounds; he and his legacy are one of the primary reasons why I am here, doing what I do on this blog and in my daily life as a skeptic and teacher, and I know his work (through the James Randi Educational Foundation) has reached and inspired countless others. Now there is a movie being made about him, called “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story”.
However, such an undertaking requires money, so please consider donating at the Kickstarter page to help get this movie made. Click the picture below for more information, and please spread the word…
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: An Honest Liar, biography, campaign, contribute, debunking, documentary, donation, film, fraud, fundraising, investigation, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Kickstarter, lies, life, magic, magicians, money, movie, paranormal, Randi, science, skepticism, story, The Amazing One, The Amazing Randi Story, trickery | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 2, 2013
Well, here we are once again, and it’s time for that time-honored tradition of checking the accuracy of famous psychic predictions of the past year. As you’ll see, when subjected to scrutiny, the vast majority of these predictions fail pretty badly. However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works. One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions and results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.
Ummm… yeah. It’s kind of like that. Image source
And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks. In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague and ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways. This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo. Let’s see how well those predictions for 2012 worked out by referencing this About.com article from one year ago…
A LOT OF people are looking at 2012 with a mixture of dread and hope. The last few years have been tough financially for many people, and there’s been all of that apocalyptic talk about Mayan calendars and doom and gloom. What will really happen in 2012 I’m sure will surprise all of us. Recently, readers like you made your predictions for 2012, but we always seem to be curious about what the professional psychics foresee. Here are selected predictions for 2012 from some of the most well-known and sought-after psychics, seers, and mentalists from around the world.
Let’s just begin this exercise by examining the first psychic on the list:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in psychics | Tagged: 2012, 2013, accuracy, astrology, cherry pick, esp, fail, failed, future, Hamilton, hits, James Randi, LaMont Hamilton, mentalism, Million Dollar Challenge, Million Dollar Prize, mind reading, misses, Monte, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, skepticism | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 24, 2012
Many times we self-described skeptics and critical thinkers do not live up to our own rhetoric. Case in point: How many skeptics/atheists/freethinkers/etc do you know who have shared the following quote, or perhaps you have shared it yourself?
Well, here’s the rub… this quote attributed to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is…
Ouch. I have to admit that I probably would have fallen for it, too; maybe I did, I cannot remember seeing this on my Facebook wall, but who knows? It’s a good lesson for those of us who call ourselves skeptics to make sure that we’re taking care to walk the skeptical/critical thinking walk and not just talk the talk. Here’s a good YouTube video expanding upon this lesson:
Posted in internet, skeptical community | Tagged: astronomer, astrophysicist, atheism, atheist, critical thinker, fake, freethinkers, Hayden Planetarium, image, imgur, internet, made up, Neil deGrasse Tyson, pic, picture, quotation, quote, Reddit, skeptic, skepticism, spoof | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012
I’m a bit late in posting this, seeing as how it was time-sensitive, but I would still like to share it because it is an excellent example of how to engage in effective skeptical activism. My skeptical colleague – and general badass mofo – Elyse Anders, recently wrote an article at Skepchick regarding the appearance of actor Rob Schneider on a radio show. Who cares about Rob Schneider? (It’s an honest question, in one sense, because I’ve never been a fan, but I digress)
Well, in this case we skeptics should care about Schneider, because it seems he has become one of the newest celebrity darlings and spokesmen for the anti-vaccination movement. Elyse elaborates in her Skepchick post…
… Tomorrow [this was Friday, Oct. 5th], he’s going to be on the KXRK 96.3 in Salt Lake City to promote his new… oh, I honestly don’t know. Who cares? It’s probably more awful than measles. But the measles thing we can at least do something about.
Last time he was on the show, he was promoting something related to his “career” and decided the best way to fill that time was to start yelling about how Big Vax is in bed with Big Brother. Full-on foil hat style.
Reader Atropos provided a clip of the show you can listen to here (or by clicking the poster from his Oscar Winning Drama Hot Chicks which I’ve provided in place of an embedded player.)
Favorite points/quick and dirty highlights:
- Polio just runs its course. It infects a few million people, gets bored, then stops infecting people. And eradicates itself. But then comes back again… maybe to avenge it’s eradication. Exactly how evolution works.
- Vaccines are not tested. Ever. On anyone. Or anything. A bunch of wild-haired men in lab coats run around making vats of Big Pharma’s HAHAHA WHATEVER patented mix then they stick it into vials and inject it into you then PROFIT!
- Vaccines are not tested. And don’t work. And we know they don’t work despite not testing. Ever. On anyone. Or anything.
- THE GOVERNMENT PAYS YOU TO GET AUTISM! Because??? Autistic people are easy to control? It seems like a poor long term government investment.
- Rob Schneider can read. Why is no one talking about this? …
Yup, a lot of the usual anti-vax talking points and conspiracy mongering. But what I wanted to point out isn’t so much that Elyse was venting her spleen about some idiot celebrity spewing nonsense on the radio, it was that she was willing to DO SOMETHING about it!!! (Which is one reason I love her )
… If you’re local, tune into X 96 (96.3 FM) tomorrow morning at 7 am local time. If you’re not near Salt Lake City, listen online at X96.com. 7 am MDT which is
10 am 9 am EDT. Call in during the show to talk to Mr. Schneider* and confront him with weird ass facts that he’s discussing. 877-602-9696
Brush up on your anti-vax arguments here:
CDC’s common vaccine misconceptions
Google Scholar: vaccine clinical trials (for reference, not for reading)
Anti-Anti-Vax’s The Truth About The Evils Of Vaccination and the Costs of Treating Vaccine Preventable Diseases
Oh… and a little site I like Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated.
So yeah, I missed the boat on this one. But take a moment to learn from Elyse’s activism, and read her links. The next time you hear that Rob Schneider (or Jim Carrey or Jenny McCarthy or any celebrity whack-a-loon) is going to be on a program where he could spew his anti-vaccine garbage, consider calling/emailing/texting in and holding him accountable. If more and more skeptics take their cue from Elyse and act in a like manner more often when some pseudoscientist or conspiracy theorist spews their nonsense in a public forum, it will help go a long way towards countering that nonsense.
Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: activism, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccine, anti-vax, autism, AVM, Elyse Anders, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, interview, Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, petition, radio, Rob Schneider, Salt Lake City, Skepchick, skeptical, skepticism, thimerisol, Utah, vaccine, vaccines, X96 | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2012
While at Dragon*Con 2012, I gave an incredibly well-attended lecture (standing room only!) on the recent “discovery”(?) of the Higgs boson and our modern theories of particle physics (known as the Standard Model). The lecture was followed by a very fruitful Q&A session which was made all the more interesting because attending the lecture was an engineer who actually works on a detector at the Large Hadron Collider and a theoretical particle physicist!
I recorded the audio of the lecture in order to share it, and I have embedded that audio into the PowerPoint file I used for my lecture. Enjoy!
Posted in philosophy, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, antimatter, atom, atom smasher, black hole, boson, CERN, collider, con, DC, Discovery, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, energy, field, God, God particle, hadron, Higgs boson, humor, Large Hadron Collider, LHC, mass, Matt Lowry, matter, molecule, nature, particle, particle accelerator, philosophy, physics, protons, religion, science, science track, scientific method, sigma, skeptic, skepticism, Standard Model, statistics, TeV, theology | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2012
A couple of weeks ago I attended Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia where I was heavily involved in the Science Track. I helped to run three panels and gave a lecture while there, and I wanted to share those with you here. The first panel I helped to run (I moderated it) was on the question of how real and/or dangerous are various doomsday scenarios. The panelists included me, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bob Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, psychologist Barbara Drescher, and disaster researcher (and science consultant to the Stargate franchise) Mika McKinnon, and we had a wide-ranging and alternately funny yet serious discussion. I recorded the audio and share it with you below. Enjoy!
Killer asteroids, LHC-generated black holes, nuclear meltdowns, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, global ecological collapse, financial recession/depression, the Mayan 2012 prophecy… AAAGGHH! Run for your lives! We’re all doomed, DOOMED!!! Or are we? What are some real or imagined doomsday scenarios, how dangerous are they really, and how likely is it that each could occur? If you’re looking for a good scientific look at these questions, with a few chuckles along the way, then this is the panel for you. Join us for a discussion of all things apocalyptic, because talking about the end-of-the-world is fun!
Posted in doomsday | Tagged: 2012, apocalypse, armaggedon, Barbara Drescher, Bob Novella, con, DC, discussion, doomsday, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, end of the world, humor, judgement day, judgment day, Matt Lowry, Maya, Mika McKinnon, panel, Phil Plait, podcast, prophecy, science, science track, skeptic, skepticism, zombies | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on August 13, 2012
Sometimes those of us who call ourselves skeptics or science-nerds are pigeon-holed in the sense that we are thought of as non-artistic or appreciative of the arts. Not so, I say! There are a number of ways in which skepticism and science are expressed artistically, and I can think of no better way to illustrate that fact than by referring you to my skeptical colleague, Amy Davis Roth a.k.a. “Surly Amy”.
Amy is the brains behind Surly-Ramics, a small company which fuses science, skepticism, art, and fashion all into a neat and innovative package. She makes and sells science and skeptically-oriented jewelry in the form of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and cufflinks. Her work is of very high quality as well as reasonably priced, and I am proud to say that I’ve purchased a number of pieces for both myself and my wife over the years. Check it out:
If you have a science or skeptic nerd among your circle of family or friends (or if you happen to be one yourself), Amy’s work makes the perfect gift!
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: Amy, Amy Davis Roth, art, artistic, artistry, bracelets, earrings, fashion, jewelry, necklaces, science, Skepchick, skepticism, skeptics, Surly Amy, Surly-Ramics, Surlyramics | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012
One of the most rewarding things I did at TAM2012, which was full of rewarding things, was to help run and staff the Hug Me! vaccination clinic. Hug Me! is a campaign by the Women Thinking, Inc to educate women and parents (and pretty much anyone else) on the importance of vaccinating their children and themselves. While at TAM2012, we gave 161 free TDaP – that’s Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) – booster shots to attendees of the conference. If you are interested in learning more and possibly supporting our work, by donating or buying a Hug Me! shirt, click here :)
**Update: if you want to buy a Hug Me! shirt (as pictured below) send an email to marsmattus [at] yahoo [dot] com
The volunteers from the Women Thinking, Inc posing with James “The Amazing One” Randi (note our mascot, the sloth)
Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: anti-vaccination, anti-vax, anti-vaxxers, astronomy, booster shot, CDC, Centers for Disease Control, clinic, conference, convention, diptheria, hug, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, medicine, meeting, pertussis, public health, science, Skepchick, skeptic, skepticism, space, TAM, TAM2012, Tdap, tetanus, The Amaz!ng Meeting, The Amazing Meeting, vaccination, vaccines, vax, whooping cough, Women Thinking, Women Thinking Free, Women Thinking Free Foundation, Women Thinking Inc, WT Inc, WTFF | Leave a Comment »