The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘internet’

These are the dumbest Clinton conspiracy theories. Ever.

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 10, 2016

It wouldn’t be a true U.S. presidential election season without the obligatory failure of logical and skeptical thinking on the part of those arguing for or against this or that politician. And one of my favorites of failed reasoning is the conspiracy theory, that go-to argument that a die-hard fanatic (of any political leaning) can fall back on when all their other arguments get blown apart. This article from RationalWiki does a good job of outlining the flawed thinking among conspiracy theorists and how to counter their arguments. (Hint: don’t try converting a committed conspiracy theorist, because they’ll likely just dismiss you as being part of the conspiracy. But it’s worth knowing how to identify and counter their nonsense for the benefit of others watching the conversation.)

This year, it seems that politically-oriented conspiracy theories abound. In this post I’m not talking specifically about the rampant conspiracy-mongering espoused by Donald Trump, though there is ample evidence of it (if you’re interested, check out his birther views or his denial of global warming science) and, no doubt, “The Donald” will oblige by providing more such nonsense in the future.

Right now I’m talking about the conspiracy theories that seem to swirl around Bill and Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of them, but my two favorites include one of the oldest and also one of the newest: the first is the claim that Bill Clinton “did away with” a number of people who had evidence of his numerous crimes, while the second is the claim that Hillary Clinton’s current campaign is somehow in cahoots with Google to manipulate Internet searches (ostensibly to cover up her supposed crimes).


[Full disclosure: I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in either 1992 or 1996 (I voted for Ross Perot both years), and this election season I have been a supporter of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.]

If you come across either one of these conspiracies, here’s a couple of resources to reference in countering them. The first deals with the “Bill Clinton body count” claim (which I’ve seen morphing into a similar claim about Hillary Clinton), and it’s from our skeptical friends at

FALSE: Clinton Body Bags

Decades-old political rumor claims Bill Clinton quietly did away with several dozen people who possessed incriminating evidence about him.

… We shouldn’t have to tell anyone not to believe this claptrap, but we will anyway. In a frenzied media climate where the Chief Executive couldn’t boff a White House intern without the whole world finding out every niggling detail of each encounter and demanding his removal from office, are we seriously to believe the same man had been having double handfuls of detractors and former friends murdered with impunity? …

The claim about Hillary Clinton working in conjunction with Google to manipulate Internet searches is even more silly, because it is so painfully easy to debunk. This article at does an excellent job of quickly and easily dispatching this particular bit of nonsense:

There’s no evidence that Google is manipulating searches to help Hillary Clinton

There’s a video making the rounds purporting to show that Google is suppressing the phrase “Hillary Clinton crimes” from autocomplete results, thereby boosting Clinton’s candidacy.

The video points out that if you type the phrase “Donald Trump rac,” Google will suggest the word “racist” to complete the phrase. But if you type “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google will suggest words like “crime reform” and “crisis” but not “crimes.” This despite the fact that Google Trend results show that people search for “Hillary Clinton crimes” a lot more than “Hillary Clinton crime reform.”

So what’s going on here? The folks behind the video suggest that this reflects an unholy alliance between the Clinton campaign and Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and current chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But there’s a simpler explanation: Choose any famous American who has been accused of a serious crime and Google their name followed by the letters “cri,” and in no case does Google suggest the word “crimes.” That’s true even of people like Kaczynski and Madoff, who are famous only because they faced prosecution for serious crimes.

Apparently, Google has a policy of not suggesting that customers do searches on people’s crimes. I have no inside knowledge of why it runs its search engine this way. Maybe Google is just uncomfortable with having an algorithm suggesting that people search for other people’s crimes.

In any event, there’s no evidence that this is specific to Hillary Clinton, and therefore no reason to think this is a conspiracy by Google to help Clinton win the election.

Now whether or not you plan to vote for Clinton this year is not the point of this post. The point is that you don’t have to make up stupid conspiracy theories to justify your political beliefs. Argue your political point of view, but don’t buy into or spread lies and deceit to justify it.

Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

No, Facebook is NOT Banning Atheism

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 7, 2015

Lots of nonsense and misinformation gets spread around the Internet; it was true back in the “AOL days” (wow, now I feel old) when fake email chains got blindly forwarded, and now it’s still true in this age of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). I and many of my skeptically-minded friends and colleagues also identify as atheists, extending our skepticism of pseudoscience into the realm of religion, but that doesn’t necessarily make atheists think any more critically than many of the religious believers whom we often criticize.

Case in point: this morning I opened Facebook to see the following post from one of my atheist Facebook friends; the last comment is particularly relevant:


Of course, there could be a number of reasons why Facebook would block a specific link, but note how quickly this comment thread jumped to the assertion that Facebook was banning atheist pages and links. You see similar comments all the time from many religious believers, which ties into the oft-emphasized (and completely false) claim from pastors and politicians alike that there is a “War on Religion” on Facebook or the Internet. Fortunately, someone else jumped into the thread rather quickly and corrected this erroneous claim by linking to the following article from🙂


On 24 May 2015, the fake news web site (a spoof of the popular site) published an article titled “Facebook to Ban Atheism from their Social Network over Cyber Bullying.” Echoing earlier fake news claims that Facebook was banning religious content…

… Of course, the statement (and claim) were cut from whole cloth, as is one of many fake news peddlers making hay out of outrage-based shares on social sites such as Facebook. As noted in an earlier article, the site has successfully duped readers into mistaking their “satirical” content for that of its more credible doppleganger by way of initial visual similarities. However, there are a few notable differences:

  • uses the tagline “100% Mostest Official and More Sciencey.”
  • As of May 2015, only has a few hundred likes on Facebook, while has millions.
  • The Twitter icon links to the satirical Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter page.
  • The logos used on and are only similar to one another on first glance:

For more tips on spotting fake news sites, check out our article on its most common tells.

And if you stop and think about these false claims in more detail, they make no sense given the broader societal context: recent surveys show that secularism is on the rise in the United States (and Facebook is centered in the U.S.) and that the religiously unaffiliated comprise roughly 23% of the population now. So if nearly a quarter of the population in the country which is home to Facebook identifies as non-religious, then how does this claim that “Facebook is going to ban atheism” make any sense? It doesn’t.

The lesson here is that whether or not you are religious, it is far too easy for us to believe satirical stories and spin them into conspiracy theories which seem to target things we hold dear. When it comes to something that means a lot to us, we often emote first and think rationally later, and the tools of social media make it far too easy for us to continue spreading such misinformation. So before you hit “Share” or “Forward”, take a moment to investigate a little bit and be certain that claim you’re passing on is accurate.

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

BBC Will No Longer Provide False “Balance” in Science Stories

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2014

For far too long, the media landscape has increasingly gone down the rabbit hole when discussing science-oriented topics.  Often, the notion that journalists and editors should provide balanced coverage and diverse viewpoints has been abused to the point where pseudo-scientists, cranks, and charlatans are given equal time and (implicitly, at least) equal validity on various news shows and in print.  And this gives the general public a false impression of what is and isn’t science.

This demand by pseudo-scientists for “equal time” is a real problem.  Creationists have been at it for decades in the U.S. public school system, thankfully with little to no success, and many other pseudo-scientists are starting to employ the same tactic.  For example, many news stories in recent years on climate change often include at least one token “skeptic” of global warming.  In addition, this kind of demand for “equal time” pops up in other venues: on at least two occasions, when participating in skeptical and science panels at Dragon*Con and Convergence, our panel was challenged on “why we didn’t include a believer?”  In one case, creationists were demanding a seat on a science panel about evolution and why creationism was problematic, and in the other case, believers in ghosts were demanding a seat on a panel of skeptics who were there to specifically discuss the scientific and cultural reasons why people still believe in ghosts.

The implication by believers in pseudo-science is, I think, that scientists and skeptics have an “ivory tower” mentality and are just trying to talk down to people when, in fact, we are simply attempting to educate them in science and good critical thinking.  And, unfortunately, for far too long the media landscape has given folks like these way too much air and print time to spew their nonsense… until now.

Recently the BBC announced that they will no longer tolerate pseudo-scientific abuse of the idea of providing diverse viewpoints:

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

BBC Trust says 200 senior managers trained not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious

BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics. …

Read the rest of the story here

This is welcome news indeed!  It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a trend by more media outlets to do away with the facade of false “balance” on scientific matters and more good science will be presented as a result.  Stay tuned and we’ll see.

**Hat tip to Tim Farley at for the heads up on this story!  :)

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

XKCD: Evidence (or Lack Thereof) Wins Out

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2014

In a way that only that most famous of Internet comics can say it…


‘Nuff said🙂

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

Hilarious Lesson in Critical Thinking: “Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 18, 2013

I just wanted to share a hilarious video from the folks at titled “Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?” or, as I like to call it, “Airplanes are magic!”  It is, in my opinion, I neat and quick little lesson on critical thinking and how we often accept the most silly explanations without much thought.  It’s also really damn funny (note there is a little strong language).  Enjoy🙂

Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?

Why Can't You Use Phones on Planes

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children


“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books


Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast) (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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

“God’s 10%” and the Applebee’s Fiasco

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2013

I don’t feel like making a serious post, so this one’s just for fun. In case you haven’t heard, restaurant chain Applebee’s is creating for itself a media nightmare due to the fact that they fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt online from Alois Bell a.k.a. the “no tip pastor”…

A waitress at a St. Louis Applebee’s lost her job for posting online the receipt upon which a pastor had declined to leave a tip, with a snarky note saying she gave God 10 percent.

After her dinner on Jan. 25, Pastor Alois Bell crossed out the automatic 18 percent tip charged for parties of more than eight. “I give God 10% why do you get 18,” she wrote above her signature.

Employee Chelsea Welch — a colleague of the stiffed server — took a picture of the receipt and uploaded it to the online site Reddit. She subsequently lost her job, an Applebee’s spokesman confirmed to, for violating a customer’s privacy.

I went to dinner last night with some friends and got to talking about the situation and the snarky note from the pastor.  As a way of making a statement, this was what we wrote on our receipt to our waitress🙂

IMG_0116What the hell does God need with money anyway?  Isn’t God supposed to be all-powerful?  Omnipotence – that’s like the best ATM ever!!!

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

Skeptical Teacher Blog Now on Facebook

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 20, 2012

In what is little more than a shameless plug, I would like to announce that the Skeptical Teacher blog now has a Facebook page🙂

If you’re on Facebook, go check it out.  And if you like the blog, then please display your appreciation with  a “Like” and possibly some “Shares” if you are so inclined!

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

A Lesson in How NOT to be Skeptical: The Fake Neil deGrasse Tyson Quote

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

EBay Bans Witchcraft and “Supernatural Sales”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 16, 2012

Okay, sometimes you run across a story so outlandish that it just seems too goofy to be true, kind of like those headlines you see in The Onion… then you find out they ARE true and you get whiplash from the double-take.  Case in point, this little gem from the LA Times:

EBay bans supernatural sales of magic spells, potions, hexes

By Tiffany Hsu This post has been updated. See note below.August 16, 2012, 10:58 a.m.
Making a profit on the occult arts? Cultivating a loyal customer base for potions, magic spells and psychic readings? Not on EBay, you’re not.

In its 2012 Fall Seller Update, the online marketplace said it was banning all sales of supernatural goods and services, exiling its witchy and wizardly clientele to the wilds of Craigslist and other Web-based Diagon Alleys.

Among the prohibited items: “advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic services; prayers; blessings; Psychic, Tarot, Reiki, and other metaphysical readings & services; magic potions; healing sessions.”

EBay representatives did not immediately respond to questions as to why Harry Potter wannabes were no longer welcome or whether they contributed substantially to EBay transactions.

[Updated, 12:00 p.m. Aug. 16: EBay said in an email that it regularly reviews categories and updates policies based on customer feedback and was “discontinuing a small number of categories within the larger Metaphysical subcategory.”

Spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said that buyers and sellers have complained to EBay that such transactions “often result in issues that can be difficult to resolve.”

“It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases,” Hoff wrote.”]

Beginning Aug. 30, attempts to list such enchantments for sale will be blocked, according to the website. …

Oh dear evil Jebus… you’ve got to be kidding me.  Not “you’ve got to be kidding me” in the sense of “you’ve got to be kidding me that EBay banned witchcraft” but “you’ve got to be kidding me that they even sold witchcraft in the first frakkin’ place!!!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that EBay woke up and smelled the coffee, so to speak.  But why did they even sell this crap in the first place???

I would also just like to note that, despite showing a semblance of sanity and relation to reality by banning these so-called “supernatural sales”, EBay will still have a subcategory titled “Metaphysical” after August 30.  The mere fact that such a subcategory even exists on EBay just makes me cringe and forces me to seriously question the ethics of those who operate the company.  Selling such nonsense purely for the sake of making a buck just strikes me as wrong; or will the operators of EBay be willing to take “metaphysical money” in place of the real, materialistic cash for these purchases?

Ah well, EBay, this one’s for you:

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

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