The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘death’

“Miracle Baby” and God’s Powers

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 14, 2012

So over the last few days there has been a lot of hubbub on the Internet about a supposed “miracle baby” in Argentina who was thought to be stillborn and left for dead in a morgue.  The thing is that the kid wasn’t actually dead, and she somehow survived there for over 12 hours before being discovered.  And people are calling her a “miracle baby” that somehow proves the existence and goodness of God, blah blah blah…

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great the kid survived (though recent reports show that she may be dying).  But it just bugs the crap out of me when people point to events like this as some kind of “proof” of God’s omnipotence and goodness.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it blatantly ignores the big and classical problem of evil and suffering in the world.  Why would a “good” God allow such a thing to happen to this little baby in the first place?

Or, to put a little more punch to my point and as a way of balancing out this topic with a harsh dose of reality, allow me to share the following picture which is worth more than a thousand words…

Image source

And another thing this whole story got me thinking about: it seems to me that the standards people have for so-called “miracles” have been dropping.  I’ve heard people declare that “it was a miracle their headache went away”; are you kidding me?  I’m an atheist and all I have to do to get over a headache is… wait.  Maybe your claim to a “miracle” might be a bit more impressive if you had your arm hacked off in an industrial accident and it magically regrew after you prayed.  To put this whole criticism of miracles into perspective, allow me to share this humorous graphic 🙂

Thanks to Irreligion.org

Posted in philosophy, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A Tribute to Christopher Hitchens

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 17, 2011

I was saddened to hear of the untimely death of Christopher Hitchens, who was a fearless skeptic, atheist, and critical thinker.  I won’t go into a long post about how his words influenced me, but suffice it to say that I have found few people like him in this day and age who could ask the really hard questions about life and demand well-reasoned, honest answers to those questions.  Likewise, I think, among the writers whom I have read over the years, Hitchens best embodied the notion that “there are no sacred cows.”  Whether it was religion or politics, Hitchens’s often polemical writings never ceased to make me think.  He will be missed, but thankfully his words will live on.

In closing, I wanted to share a funny poster I found online in honor of Christopher Hitchens’s memory.  I think it’s the kind of blasphemous humor he would have enjoyed 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Physics Proves the Existence of Ghosts?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 24, 2011

I’ve blogged here before about “professional” ghost-hunters and their woo.  And in many cases I have taken such “professionals” to task for not really following any kind of decent, consistent protocols (such as knowing how their instrumentation works, duh) but instead favoring stories that seem to be a combination of the Blair-Witch Project and various kinds of techno-babble.  But now I just have to mention a couple of things about how many ghost-hunters just seem to get basic physics (pardon the pun) dead wrong.

My skeptical colleague Ben Radford recently wrote an article for LiveScience.com on this very point…

Do Einstein’s Laws Prove Ghosts Exist?

… Despite years of efforts by ghost hunters on TV and in real life, we still do not have good proof that ghosts are real. Many ghost hunters believe that strong support for the existence of ghosts can be found in modern physics. Specifically, that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, offered a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts. …

Now hold on a minute.  As we’ve seen before, it is not uncommon for pseudoscientists and cranks of all kinds to try glomming onto Einstein’s coat-tails as one of the most well-known and respected scientists of the 20th century as a way of trying to gain traction for their ideas.  It is as if they think that by simply invoking Einstein’s name and theories, despite the fact that they have no real understanding of those theories, that it will somehow, magically make them correct.  Of course, this simply displays a fundamental flaw in the thinking of ghost-hunters, because it shows they have no real knowledge of how science (much less physics) works.

Specifically, in this case the ghost-hunters are claiming that Einstein’s theory of relativity “proves” the existence of ghosts:

… For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book “Ghosthunters” (2007, New Page Books), writes, “Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”

This idea shows up — and is presented as evidence for ghosts — on virtually all ghost-themed websites as well. For example, a group called Tri County Paranormal states, “Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. When we are alive, we have electrical energy in our bodies. … What happens to the electricity that was in our body, causing our heart to beat and making our breathing possible? There is no easy answer to that.” … [emphasis added]

Actually, the answer is pretty easy, as long as you understand how energy is related to matter as outlined in Einstein’s theory.  It can all be summed up in what is probably the most well-known, but one of the least understood, equations in all of science… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Interview on The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 13, 2011

During my time at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9, one of the things I got to do was engage in a fun interview with my friend Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist podcast, and his colleague Dana Nourie. The info on our interview is below, and I hope you find it (pardon the pun) enlightening 🙂

Episode 77 :: Matt Lowry and Dana Nourie :: Fun With Physics and Walking Through Walls

Dana Nourie and Matt Lowry join us to speak about physics, the natural world, and quantum misperceptions.

Lately, there seems to be an unfortunate mixing of Siddhattha Gotama’s teaching and practice around the existential experience of dissatisfaction, and science. Certainly we do see wonderful scientific studies about what’s going on in the brain during meditation, for example, but that’s a far cry from levitation and walking through walls. Buddhism is not about physics, despite our seeing false patterns of synchronicity between the two.

Of course, I’m not a physicist. Fortunately my good friend Matt Lowry is, and was also in attendance at The Amazing Meeting, and joined Dana Nourie and I to discuss a few questions about physics, and how they might apply — or not apply — to assertions not in evidence. …

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptical Teacher to be Interviewed on Darkness Radio

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 25, 2010

**Update: It seems that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the interviewed may have to be postponed.  Stay tuned!

==============================

As a follow up to my earlier post regarding Dave Schrader’s talk on paranormal investigation at Convergence/Skepchicon in Minneapolis, I wanted to let everyone know that Dave will be interviewing me for Darkness Radio in the next few days.  I’m not exactly sure when the interview will be airing (probably within the next week or so), but if you watch this blog I’ll be letting you know.

The nature of the interview will basically be me & Dave talking in general about the paranormal, ghost-hunting, and the role that science & skepticism play (or, as is often the case, don’t play) in such investigations.  Here are some points that I plan to bring up in my discussion with Dave…

1. What is a “ghost”?  Has anyone ever come up with any kind of quantifiable definition for such an entity?

2. What is the proposed mechanism by which ghosts interact with the physical world around us?  How can they be measured?  Why would ghosts interact in this manner with the world?

3. How can we distinguish a potentially legitimate “ghost signal” from other phenomena?

4. Do any ghost hunters conduct double blind experiments?

5. Are the investigations by some believing ghost hunters replicable by skeptics?

6. Is there any way to “catch” a ghost, or its essence (ectoplasm, etc), for study?

7. Why is it that much of ghost hunting seems to be arguments from ignorance (i.e., ghost-of-the-gaps reasoning, I call it)?

I’ll also tell some stories from my own experiences ghost hunting, going all the way back to my high school years, as well as why I’ve come to the conclusions that I’ve never seen any evidence for a ghost or anything supernatural or paranormal during my life.

I anticipate that this will be a fun discussion, and I eagerly look forward to it.  If you have suggestions for topics to discuss and/or questions for me to ask Dave Schrader, please let me know.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2010

On the second day of Convergence/Skepchicon, one event especially caught my eye – a talk titled “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review” given by Dave Schrader, the host of Paranormal Radio. Almost immediately I was skeptical, as I have analyzed the claims & methods of various ghost hunters before and found them to be quite dubious.  In addition, many of my skeptic colleagues cringed a bit when they heard his name and my mention of his talk.  Thus, in the spirit of learning more for myself I attended his talk and took many notes – in the end, I was both a bit impressed with Dave but also quite disappointed.  Read through my notes, which is a transcription of his talk, and please see my specific comments in italics. Also please make sure to read my closing question to Dave Schrader and his response…

The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

How to investigate the Paranormal, from setting up a team to reviewing evidence.  Presented by Dave Schrader, host of Paranormal Radio and author of The Other Side: A Teens Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.

Dave is walking around handing out info TAPS, ghost hunting, and talking about a local [Minneapolis] show called Ghostbustin’ 911 (lolz).

How many people have ever gone on a ghost hunt before? [a few hands raise, including my own]

I’m going to show you a bizarre, demonic picture from a possible demonic haunting.  The lady of the house claimed she was smelling weird smells like rotting meat or poop along with strange cries.  While there I was taking photos and got a shot of a demonic, and here it is… [shows photo of a little kid in a costume – laughter]

Title: A Common Sense Look at Paranormal Investigating and Evidence Review…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

“Toyota Terror” and Media Scare-Mongering

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 15, 2010

Yes, we’ve all been hearing in the media lately about how Toyota is issuing major recalls for many of its most popular vehicles, such as the Camry & Prius.  The problems, we are told, range from sticky accelerator pedals to brakes that don’t function properly.  In addition, the media have made a really big point of noting that the accelerator problem has likely led to a whopping 19 deaths over the last decade!!!  ZOMG!!!11!1

Errr… that’s it?  19 deaths in a decade?  Really, that’s the big news?  Not to sound cold & heartless, but this seems so like the making of a molehill into a mountain in an effort by the media to keep a story going, when it’s obviously well past its “sell by” date.  To get a little perspective, let’s take a look at this responsible article by NPR on this issue…

Most Auto Accidents Caused By Drivers, Not Defects

Driving a Toyota may feel pretty risky these days, given all the scary stories about sudden acceleration, failing brakes and recalled vehicles. But that feeling has a lot more to do with emotion than statistics, experts say. That’s because defective vehicles are almost never the cause of serious crashes.

“The whole history of U.S. traffic safety in the U.S. has been one focusing on the vehicle, one of the least important factors,” says Leonard Evans, a physicist who worked for General Motors for three decades and wrote the book Traffic Safety.

To Err Is Human

Studies show that the vehicle itself is the sole cause of an accident only about 2 percent of the time. Drivers, on the other hand, are wholly to blame more than half the time and partly to blame more 90 percent of the time.

A look at data on Toyotas from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirms this pattern. The data show that in the decade ending in 2008, about 22,000 people were killed in vehicles made by Toyota or Lexus, Evans says. “All these people were killed because of factors that had absolutely nothing to do with any vehicle defect,” he says.

During that same period it’s possible, though not yet certain, that accelerator problems in Toyotas played a role in an additional 19 deaths, or about two each year, Evans says. And even if an accelerator does stick, drivers should be able to prevent most crashes by simply stepping on the brakes, Evans says. “The weakest brakes are stronger than the strongest engine,” he says.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

“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 »

Death by Alternative “Medicine”

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2009

In my most recent post – Silencing Skepticism: The Case of Simon Singh – I outlined the dangers in allowing alternative “medicine” woo-meisters to silence skeptics.  But in the process of writing that entry, I left out perhaps the most important reason why skeptics must fight against attempts to silence them: alternative “medicine” can kill.

Case in point…

Parents guilty of manslaughter over daughter’s eczema death

A couple whose baby daughter died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Gloria Thomas died aged nine months after spending more than half her life with eczema.

The skin condition wore down her natural defences and left her completely vulnerable when she developed an eye infection that killed her within days of developing.

Thomas Sam, 42, a homeopath, and Manju Sam, 37, of Earlwood, Sydney, were charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated case. ‘Nuff said.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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