Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Mind Reading Illusion

Posted in Fun, Skepdude by Skepdude on October 24, 2008

It took me a bit to figure this trick out, but it’s quite cool. Go play the game first then come back for the solution to how it works.

You’re back? It was fun right? Now here is hot it works:

Take any double digit number that starts with 1 and follow the procedure. You will always end up with 9. Try it. (10-1-0=9, 15-1-5=9)

Take any double digit number that starts with 2 and follow the procedure. You will always end up with 18. Try it. (23-3-2=18, 27-7-2= 18)

And so on and so on. Look at the table. The symbol next to the numbers 9, 18, 27, 36 and so on is always the same, because regardless of the double digit number you choose,  you’re always guaranteed to come up with 9, 18, 27, 36 and so on. Every time you play, the game shuffles the symbols around, which creates the illusion they’re after.

Test: Use the same number twice. You’ll get two different symbols.

Clever, but I’m clever too.

Its the Placebo Stupid

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 24, 2008

According to this article at The Seattle Times:

About half of American doctors in a new survey say they regularly give patients placebo treatments – usually drugs or vitamins that won’t really help their condition. And many of these doctors are not honest with their patients about what they are doing, the survey found.


Half the doctors reported using placebos several times a month, nearly 70 percent of those described the treatment to their patients as “a potentially beneficial medicine not typically used for your condition.” Only 5 percent of doctors explicitly called it a placebo treatment.


Some doctors believe placebos are a good treatment in certain situations, as long as patients are told what they are being given. Dr. Walter Brown, a professor of psychiatry at Brown and Tufts universities, said people with insomnia, depression or high blood pressure often respond well to placebo treatments.

Ok, I don’t intend on making any comments on the ethical issues, but I do have a little comment. Based on my , admittedly layman’s, understanding of the placebo effect the patient must think they are getting something that works, in order for the placebo effect to work. So then what the hell does it mean for a doctor to prescribe placebos but at the same time to be “honest with their patients about what they are doing”? How is it supposed to work if the doctors tells the patient that the pill should not work? Will that not nullify the placebo effect?

Further, according to the survey only 5% of doctors explicitly called it a placebo treatment, which makes the effort useless. You can’t prescribe a placebo, and tell your patient that it is a placebo and still except it to have an effect on the patient. Am I the only one who thinks this does not make any sense?

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The beast with one back

Posted in Skepbitch by Skepdude on October 24, 2008


Ghosts have needs too…

Folklorically, a ghost is a manifestation of a deceased person. Ghosts are somehow caught in limbo between the physical world and whatever afterlife in which the believer believes. (Contrast this with a spirit that has achieved the afterlife, but has no physical form.)

There seem to be two main kinds of ghosts, those that follow a routine or pattern conducted during their lifetime, such as repeating a traumatic event. The other kind of ghost has limited interactive abilities, they can materialize if they require the intercession of the living to right a wrong, or lay their bones to rest so they too can access the afterlife.

Or maybe they just appear with their hollow eyes and transparent glow to scare your tits off.

Some of you might recall fictional ghosts that endeavor to interact with the living via a medium, like Patrick Swayze’s insipid character in Ghost. Others ghosts can interact directly with people, such as the sailor in The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Since I’m lately on a roll of unrequited (and unrequitable) love, this movie and tv series focused on the barely restrained sexual tension between a sexy widow and a ghostly, rugged, salty seaman.

But can ghosts do things that the living can do? Do ghosts, like poltergeists, have tactile abilties? Can they touch us, harm us, and even engage in intercourse with us?

My mate Mark Dallas of Toronto sent me a link to an article about actress Jessica Alba who was once reputedly “attacked by a ghost”. Mark further says, “I mention it because I was watching that highly informative and intellectual program Entertainment Weekly, which mentioned another actress (whose name escapes me) who has recently (allegedly) been scratched all over by the ghost of the son of a brothel-keeper.”

Mark’s quote reminds me of a Wuthering Heights quote: “He’s exactly like the son of the fortune-teller that stole my tame pheasant.”

Right…moving on…

According to the article, Alba claims vaguely that on a single occasion she felt “something”, a “presence”, take the covers from her bed before she then felt a “pressure” placed on her body. The crappy tabloid translates this to the explicit: ”Jessica Alba has claimed that she was attacked in bed by a ghost when she was a teenager.” Whatever the cause, the event scared the shit out of her, she ran to the safety of her parent’s room, and implied that she soon left the house, while her parents tried to treat the perceived problem really rationally, “They got it blessed and they burned sage and stuff since then.”

These are non-specific symptoms of a haunting, but what could have caused this incident, and these sensations?

Clearly, this event occurred at least a decade ago, and even the experiencer can’t be a reliable informant for such a dated incident. Especially given the variables of the incident…it was presumably night time, presumably dark, she was presumably nearing sleep, or actually asleep at the time. We are relying on anecdotal evidence, which is kind of like joining a line without knowing what it’s for.

Without being there at the time, or being able to replicate that exact occurrence, we should first consider natural explanations.

A few plausible explanations include parasomnia (nightmare, sleep paralysis or night terror) or even sleep apnea. This is very real stuff.

All of these conditions could engender feelings of pressure, immobility, suffocation, and panic.

Recently, one Doctor Atlantis told me that as a lad he was once awoken similarly by a “pressure” on his bed. His parents answered his screams and the culprit turned out to be a dodgy light fitting that fell from the ceiling, nearly sliced him up a treat. (Until he has children we can’t be sure that he escaped unscathed).

I once watched a particularly disturbing episode of the Montel Williams Show, disturbing not only because Sylvia Browne was a guest, but also because the moll claimed that a teenage boy in the audience was ‘being visited by the ghosts of victims of the American Civil War’. These ghostly soldiers supposedly attacked him as they recreated their battles. What was the evidence for this claim? The kid was covered in tiny cuts. Could he have been into self-mutilation? For some kids, a cockandbull story about ghosts would be less embarrassing than the truth. (

It’s also a possibility that some similar cases of ‘abusive ghosts’ mask abuse by people.

This reminds me of a claim by Anna Nicole Smith (god rest her soul) that she often enjoyed sex with a well-equipped and lusty ghost.

However, now Smith has crossed over, there are claims that she is now a ghost. Perhaps you’ll get lucky guys (and girls, from what I’ve heard…)

(Also, see Sex with a ghost can be quite spirited for a cute overview of this topic, including some patently ridiculous nonsense from paranormal researcher Joshua Warren.)

Then there are the slutty demonic, gobliny and ghostly incubi and succubi, and satan with his ‘ice cold member’.

What do we believe?

The principle of Occam’s Razor teaches us that the more simple explanation is often the correct explanation. The natural, mundane, common answer is the more likely explanation for violent ghosts and ghostly lovers.

Were you attacked by a ghost, or simply having a fucking awful nightmare? Did you have sex with a ghost, or simply have sex with your partner? (…or was it a bloody wet dream you pervert?).

At any rate, I think these raunchy ghosts warrant a deeper investigation…so, to all you ghosts out there reading this…I’m, err… headed off to bed right now if you, um… want to, well, join me…for science…


Skeptics and God – Where do we stand?

Posted in Religion, Skepdude, Skepticism by Skepdude on October 24, 2008

Skepticism is about evaluating the veracity of a claim based on the evidence for or against said claim. There are many skeptics that are atheists, and there are many that are deists. I’ve yet to run across a skeptic that is a theist. There are various schools of thought on the relationship between skepticism and atheism. Some skeptics think that skepticism must not necessarily lead to atheism. Others believe that skepticism should be applied equally to every area in life including religious belief and as such skepticism should, but it doesn’t always, lead one to atheism, or agnosticism. I generally tend to prescribe to the latter school of thought. But that is besides the point I am interested in making here.

James Randi, uber-skeptic of our times, many times tells how he asks believers in woo the following question : ” What evidence would make you change your mind about your belief?”. Many times he gets an answer in the lines of : “None, I know this is true”. Needless to say that is not a very bright or enlightened answer, and this person seriously needs some remedial classes in critical thinking and logic.

I think we can view the question of God, at least the theistic God, with a skeptical eye. The God of the major monotheistic religions is well within the realm of science and skepticism. Which means that we, the skeptics, should be able to answer our own question:

What sort of evidence will convince you of the existence of the theistic God as described in the 3 major monotheistic religions?

Part of being a skeptic, is the ability to be skeptical about your own beliefs and what you hold dear. It is dangerously easy to become dogmatic in your skepticism, to become dogmatic in your lack of belief in the theistic God. As such any good skeptic must be able to offer an answer to the above question. Here is what I offer.

The great Carl Sagan said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. God is probably the most extraordinary claim humans have come up with, as such the kind and amount of evidence must be on par with this claim. The sort of evidence that would convince me would have to be huge in scope and magnitude to the point that all living human beings experience it. Every  single one of them, so that to avoid frauds, hallucinations and delusions. It must be predicted and announced before it happens to the smallest details, none of the crappy retrofitting or vague psychic claims that we are used to. It must be so spectacular that a hoax would simply be out of the question.  That is the basic theoretical underpinning on what such evidence should look like. Practically it could go something like this:

On November 1st 2008, at exactly 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, every human being will gain the ability to teleport themselves anywhere in the world. Such ability will last for 1 hour until 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, at which time it will go away. Please make sure to teleport back before 4:00 PM.

Or something like :

On November 1st 2008, at exactly 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, all water in the world, inlcuding oceans, seas, rivers, streams, tap water, bottled water, rain etc etc will turn into chocolate milk. This will last for one full hour until 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time at which time the chocolate milk will go back to being whatever it was before the transformation.

So there you have it. It would take something of that magnitude and specificity to happen in order for me as a skeptic to say that yes, the evidence presented supports the claim that the theistic God exists. Until this happens, I have no other choice but to conclude that the evidence presented so far does  not support the hypothesis of the theistic God’s existence.