The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘selective thinking’

God’s Protecting Florida… Except When He Isn’t

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 23, 2009

We all know that politicians do and say silly things, but I think Gov. Charlie Crist deserves a special mention for the dumbest remarks in the last week.  Apparently, according to the governor of Florida (Crist), the reason why Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane for as long as he’s been in office is because of him.  And why does he take the credit for “protecting” Florida in this manner?  Because he was praying for the protection…

Crist noted that just before his election in 2006, Florida had been affected by a total of eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

“Do you know the last time it was we had a hurricane in Florida? It’s been awhile. In 2007, I took my first trade mission. Do you know where I went?” said Crist, a Methodist, referring to a trip to Israel.

He then told of going to the Western Wall and inserting a note with a prayer. He said it read, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.”

“Time goes on _ May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December _ no hurricanes,” Crist said. “Thank God.”

Unfortunately, Gov. Crist displays a great deal of selective thinking while making this claim, because in 2008 Tropical Storm Fay hit the state of Florida, killing 36 people and causing about $560 million in damages.  Also known as “counting the hits & ignoring the misses”, in this case Crist credits his prayers to God for “protecting” his state from deadly weather, but he then goes on to ignore the impact of Tropical Storm Fay.

I suppose God wanted those people to die, right governor?  Or is it that killer tropical storms aren’t covered under the prayer insurance plan, yet killer hurricanes are?  And all the other times God was answering your prayers for protection… except when God doesn’t answer your prayers it’s “just a mystery”, I suppose.  Gov. Crist, this one’s for you:

facepalm

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Doomsday Comes to the Movies

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2009

A recent article by Ben Radford provides an excellent skeptical analysis of a doomsday pseudoscience being popularized in the new movie “Knowing”, which stars Nicolas Cage as a professor who decodes a string of numbers that supposedly predicted past disasters and also predicts an upcoming apocalypse.

knowing

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer for the movie which pretty clearly lays out the plot and the pseudoscience behind it…

The skeptic shown briefly in the trailer (the guy who tells Cage’s character to “just step back a moment”) hits it dead on – given enough random data, pretty much anyone can find pretty much any pattern for which they are looking. As Ben Radford goes on to elaborate in the article…

Though the plot is fictional, this scenario has occurred many times in the real world. In 1997 Michael Drosnin published a best-selling book titled “The Bible Code,” in which he claimed that the Bible contained a code (hidden in numbers and letters) accurately predicting past world events. Drosnin’s work was later refuted, with critics demonstrating that the “meanings” he found were simply the result of selectively choosing data sets from a vast sea of random letters.

Similar “hidden codes” were found in other books such as “Moby Dick” and “War and Peace,” demonstrating that any sizeable text can produce such codes if you look long enough.

In psychology, the tendency for the human mind to find coincidences, patterns, and connections in random data is called apophenia.

The main problem with the pseudoscientists & conspiracy theorists who cater to this style of doomsday thinking is common among the woo crowd… they count the hits & ignore the misses, and in order to count the “hits” as true hits, they have to massage and arrange the data!

So, while I find Nicolas Cage to be a good actor and enjoy a good disaster flick, I anticipate an unfortunate amount of woo-related activity due to this movie, the recent economic downturn, and prophecies of impending world doom related to the year 2012. All of this put together makes for a nice mix of irrational fear out of essentially nothing. And while fantasy does make good movies, it makes lousy real life.

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

 
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