The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for October, 2009

Bill O’Reilly vs. Richard Dawkins: O’Reilly Shows Why He’s a Wedge, The Simplest of Tools

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 14, 2009

Bill O’Reilly is a wedge, the simplest of the tools.  Here’s why…

A video from a FOX News interview of Bill O’Reilly & Dr. Richard Dawkins discussing evolutionary science, God, and religious belief is now making the rounds on the Internet, and I wanted to share both it and my thoughts on it here.  First off, here’s the video…

In addition, here’s the full transcript of the obviously edited video (just watch it closely and you can catch the numerous cuts which probably left out most of Dawkins’ best arguments), and a careful read will expose a number of flaws in O’Reilly’s muddled thinking.

Allow me to point out just a few of the biggest loser arguments made by O’Reilly in this exchange:

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Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »

2012 Isn’t Seen as End-of-the-World by Real Mayans

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 12, 2009

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the last year or so, you no doubt have heard all manner of New Age silliness regarding the supposed end-of-the-world on Dec. 21, 2012. The idea has gotten so much traction in the popular consciousness that the master of cheesy doomsday movies, Roland Emmerich, has a big movie named – you guessed it – “2012” coming out next month.

So what’s the big damn deal with all of this 2012 hysteria?  Supposedly it has to do with the Mayan calendar, specifically one version called the Long Count calendar, which is set to end and reset on Dec. 12, 2012 on the Western calendar (much like how our Western calendar resets from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 every year).  And for this reason, a number of nutty New Agers are going crazy about “cosmic alignments” and how this will result in all manner of horrendous things for humanity… you know, the typical doomsday junk.

But what makes all of this truly hilarious is what actual Mayans (yes, there are still some around) say when you ask them about all of this 2012 nonsense:

2012 isn’t the end of the world, Mayans insist

Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly “running out” on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it’s not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff.”

It can only get worse for him. Next month Hollywood’s “2012” opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” Web site, says people are scared.

“It’s too bad that we’re getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they’re too young to die,” Martin said. “We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn’t live to see them grow up.”

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

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Posted in cults, doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Boycott the Huffington Post: They’ve Tumbled Down the Rabbit Hole of Anti-Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2009

Many months back, I made a post concerning the anti-scientific quackery being dished out over at the Huffington Post website. At the time, it seems that the HuffPo was receiving a storm of criticism from bloggers for their irresponsible promotion of various forms of alt-med woo & quackery, ranging from touchy-feely “energy healing” nonsense to outright dangerous anti-vaccination rants.

And, for a brief period of time, it seemed as if the folks over at HuffPo were backing away from the rabbit hole.  Sadly, the turn towards sanity& rationality didn’t last long, as outlined in a variety of blogs recently…

Science-Based Medicine: The Huffington Post is at it again

As many of our readers know, there are plenty of websites devoted entirely to fake medicine. Sites such as whale.to and NatrualNews are repositories of paranoid, unscientific thinking and promotion of dangerous health practices. Thankfully, they are rather fringe (but not fringe enough). More mainstream outlets print some pretty bad stuff, but it’s usually just lazy reporting and not a concerted, organized effort to promote implausible medical claims. As many of us have written, both hear and at our other blogs, the Huffington Post is the exception. It actively and in an organized way promotes dangerous, implausible pseudo-medicine.

NeuroLogica Blog: Science Bloggers Pigpile on HuffPo

And with good reason.

I am a bit late to the latest round of this party, but as I have previously pointed out, The Huffington Post has been since its inception a bastion of pseudoscience, especially in the medical field. Like distressingly many news outlets, it has decided to abandon all pretense of being “fair and balanced” in its actual content when it comes to its ideological stance.

Arianna Huffington clearly is enamored of anti-scientific pseudomedical nonsense. Earlier in her career she wrote for and frequently appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher – another quack-friendly media personality.

The Bad Astronomy Blog: HuffPo still pushing antivax nonsense

I used to write for the Huffington Post, an online news and blog collective. It was started by Arianna Huffington during the Bush Era as a response to all the far-right online media. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was on there — I am more centrist — but at the time I thought it was necessary.

Then they started to promote far-left New Age nonsense, and when it came to vaccinations, HuffPo started posting all kinds of opinions that amounted to nothing more than out-and-out health threats. While they do sometimes post a counter-argument, it’s still almost all alt-med, all the time.

Here’s the latest: a doctor named Frank Lipman is telling people not to get vaccinated against Swine Flu. Instead he says you should wash your hands a lot, eat well, and take homeopathic medicine.

It indeed seems that the misguided & ideologically-driven folks over at HuffPo have tumbled uncontrollably down the rabbit hole, as attested to these scathing reviews.  But perhaps the most interesting, direct, and pithy post I’ve seen on this most recent expression of anti-science from HuffPo is from blogger PZ Myers…

Pharyngula: Die, HuffPo, DIE!

The HuffPo is once again a source of gross misinformation. Don’t worry about swine flu — it’s benign. If you really must protect yourself, take vitamins, eat garlic, get herbal supplements, and trust in homeopathy.

It’s patent quackery.

Really, people: boycott the HuffPo. I never read that slurry of watery dog crap anymore unless you cruel readers send me a link — it’s not worth it.

I couldn’t agree with PZ more.  Despite my admittedly left-of-center political leanings, I’ll not be visiting them any longer.  We should all just boycott HuffPo, folks… just don’t go there anymore, for anything.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Skeptical Teacher on Warning Radio with Brian & Baxter

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2009

On the evening of Monday, Sept. 28th I was interviewed by Brian, Baxter, and the lovely Nitor on Warning Radio. During the interview we discussed a variety of topics, including ghost-hunting woo, doomsday scenarios involving the Large Hadron Collider, and even a clandestine reference to me as the “naked gladiator” by Nitor 😉

In any case, it was a real blast and I eagerly look forward to a return visit to the show.  And, since I am a shameless self-promoter, here is a link to the audio of the interview…

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

The Discovery Channel Jumps on the “Ghost Hunting” Woo Bandwagon

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2009

In another *facepalm* moment, I discovered recently while being interviewed for Warning Radio that the Discovery Channel is now jumping aboard the “ghost hunting” bandwagon of woo.  Seriously, what the hell happened to the days of the Discovery Channel spotlighting actual science?…

DISCOVERY CHANNEL TACKLES UNEXPLAINED PHENOMENA WITH ALL-NEW SERIES GHOST LAB TO PREMIERE OCTOBER 6

Klinge Brothers Use High Tech Mobile Lab and Noted Historical Experts to Test Scientific Theories —

(Silver Spring, Md.) – With the help of the latest technology, two brothers have uncovered some of the most intriguing results in supernatural research to date – including a possible recording of Civil War soldiers talking.  Meet Brad and Barry Klinge, Texas natives who in 2007 founded Everyday Paranormal, an investigation team that has explored more than 70 locations and given a new twist to paranormal research.  The Klinges and their team of investigators are featured in the all-new 13-part series GHOST LAB, to premiere Tuesday, October 6 at 10PM E/P on Discovery Channel.

The Klinge brothers tackle what are thought to be some of America’s most haunted locations with sophisticated equipment housed in a decked-out travelling “ghost lab.”  This 24-foot car hauler is capable of providing 200,000 watts of electricity to power audio, video and photo analysis stations; flat-screen televisions and an interactive touch-screen smartboard.  The lab also houses surveillance video cameras capable of shooting 300 feet away in total darkness with a 180-degree peripheral view; temperature, humidity and dew point data loggers; various digital cameras, including thermal imaging cameras; audio recorders; and more than 8,000 feet of video cable.  This on-site high-tech lab enables investigators to analyze data on the premises in real time, helping them to more narrowly focus their investigations on suspected “hot spots.”

Wow… the stupid is just burning my brain.  I explain in another recent entry why these “ghost hunters” – who should really be called morons-who-stumble-in-the-dark-Blair-Witch-style-saying-“Did you hear THAT?!!” – are so far off base in their analysis. Of course, the big mistake here that these idiots are making is that they assume that “high tech = good science”, which isn’t true.  If you have no real understanding of the physical & scientific principles behind what your devices are actually measuring, and if you instead regard the technology as some kind of magical device, then all the technology in the world will not fix your broken & illogical thinking.  Or, as any computer expert will tell you, no matter how good your machines & gadgetry: “Garbage in = garbage out”

Discovery Channel, this one’s for you…

facepalm

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Shroud of Turin: It’s Fake, Get Over It!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2009

Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised one bit by this piece of news: there is yet another piece of evidence that the much revered Shroud of Turin is a fake.  But don’t tell the “Shroudies” – those who emphatically maintain that it is the “holy cloth” which covered the body of a crucified Jesus in his tomb – because they’re likely to engage in some rather interesting mental gymnastics via special pleading & cognitive dissonance.

Italian Scientist Reproduces Shroud of Turin

This latest research on the Shroud definitely counters the criticism among the Shroudie-true-believers: that there is no known man-made technique which can accurately replicate the features of the Shroud.  That is because the scientist in question, Luigi Garlaschelli, has perfected a method of replicating the Shroud!

“We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud,” Luigi Garlaschelli, who is due to illustrate the results at a conference on the para-normal this weekend in northern Italy, said on Monday.

A professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, Garlaschelli made available to Reuters the paper he will deliver and the accompanying comparative photographs.

The Shroud of Turin shows the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, while the entire cloth is marked by what appears to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side. …

… But scientists have thus far been at a loss to explain how the image was left on the cloth.

Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.

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Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments »

Why So Much of Polling is B.S. — F**k You, Frank!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 3, 2009

“The numbers don’t lie” goes an oft-quoted saying… and that’s true, for the most part.  Numbers don’t lie, but what does lie is the people who are reporting the numbers.  The recent brouhaha over health care reform in the United States has brought this fact about numbers & statistics into stark relief of late.  Most people, when they read a poll, don’t really think about the numbers all that much, or they are too innumerate to really understand what they’re reading – which is how so many are easily manipulated.  And oftentimes the polls are self-contradictory.

For example, look at this recent article – which is, refreshingly, a good example of critical thinking in the modern media – concerning the question of polling public opinion on health care reform…

Health care polls leave pols dizzy

Legislators hoping to learn what their constituents think about the issue — and how to vote to keep them happy — face a dizzying deluge of hard-to-reconcile data, some of which suggests that voters are more than a little confused, as well.

What to make of it, for example, when one poll finds that 63 percent think “death panels” are a “distortion” or “scare tactic,” and only 30 percent think the issue is “legitimate,” while another finds that 41 percent believe that people would die because “government panels” would prevent them from getting the treatment they needed?

Or when one survey finds that 55 percent of Americans support the public option, while another says 79 percent favor one — but also notes that only 37 percent people surveyed actually knew what “public option” meant?

And because there is such ambiguity in these polls, those with an agenda can usually cherry-pick whatever data they want to make a case for their particular argument.  Even changing the wording of a particular question just slightly can have a huge impact…

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

 
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