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The Assumption of Rationality

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

I frequently find myself frustrated by people’s lack of rational thought when making arguments about various issues. In some cases it seems that people are not making an appeal to logic and rationality at all. At times emotional arguments are more appealing than rational ones. And that frustrates me. But then I realize that as a human being I am not immune to such thinking either. If I was given the choice of saving my child from death, versus saving two children (not mine) from death, I will choose my child. That is an emotional decision, not a rational one (although one can make a rational case for this choice, but at it’s core the emotions are what are driving the decision making process, if one was ever presented with this horrible choice).

I guess, the point is that in matters where we don’t have an emotional stake, we expect people to behave rationally. In matters such as religion and the paranormal, some people must have some sort of emotional investment on the line (although personally I can’t even see how that would be true for cryptozoology or UFOlogy). At least in some cases the rational option just does not make sense to them. I understand that. But I don’t have to accept it though! Just because someone may feel a big emotional attachement to religion, does not make the fact that religion is bunk any less true, doesn’t make fighting the lie wrong. I can understand how someone can be emotionally attached to alternative medicine too, especially in cases of fatal, uncurable diseases, but that does not mean I must stop fighting quackery solely because some people derive comfort out of it. On the same lines, just because some masochistic wifes may like to be beaten up by their husbands, that does not imply we should stop fighting domestic violence because of that.

Here at Skepfeeds, you will be held accountable for irational beliefs. If you make any testable claims, you will be called upon to provide evidence and good logic to support them. If you do, you’ll have my respect. If you don’t you’re in trouble. The Assumption of Rationality is alive and well.

Oh Dear God, They Found a Real Crocoduck

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

Ray Comfort doesn’t need to ask for a debate with Richard Dawkins anymore.

The debate is already over. Comfort and banana-pal Kirk Cameron have lost.

The Creationism proponents used to say that if evolution were true, we should expect to see a crocoduck (a crocodile/duck transitional form) in the fossil records:


They said we haven’t seen that hybrid, thus evolution is untrue.

Now comes news of a new fossil that was found…

The unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago was found on Peru’s arid southern coast, researchers said Friday.


Senator Tom Harkin: NCCAM has “fallen short” because it hasn’t validated enough woo

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) owes me a new irony meter.

I’ll explain in a minute, but first you have to know why I even give a rodent’s posterior about Harkin. As you may recall, no single legislator in the U.S. has done more to damage the cause of science- and evidence-based medicine than Tom Harkin. It was through his efforts that the National Institutes of Health, despite the fact that its scientists were not agitating for it, had the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) rammed down its throat, first as the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) and then, when NIH Director Harold Varmus tried to place OAM under more scientific NIH control in 1998, by elevating OAM to a full and independent Center within the NIH.

I’ve complained many times about how NCCAM funds studies of pseudoscience and quackery and even more about how it promotes unscientific medical practices. I’ve said time and time again that there is nothing that is funded by NCCAM that wouldn’t better be dealt with by other Centers or Institutes within the NIH. I’ve also pointed out Harkin and other CAM-friendly legislators created and promoted NCCAM not for the purpose of rigorous scientific evaluation of CAM practices, but rather to promote CAM and ultimately “integrate” it with scientific medicine. At this they have been enormously successful.

At “proving” that CAM works, not so much, so much so that Senator Tom Harkin is very, very unhappy with NCCAM and said so recently, as pointed out by Majikthise. On Thursday, Harkin told a Senate panel that he was disappointed that NCCAM had disproven too many alternative therapies. The video can be viewed here. In addition, Harkin’s statements have also been posted to his Senate blog:

I am pleased to co-chair this morning’s hearing with Senator Mikulski. And I am eager to hear our distinguished witnesses’ ideas on using integrative care to keep people healthy, improve healthcare outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs.It is fashionable, these days, to quote Abraham Lincoln. So I would like to quote from his 1862 address to Congress – words that should inspire us as we craft health care reform legislation. Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty . . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Clearly, the time has come to “think anew” and to “disenthrall ourselves” from the dogmas and biases that have made our current health care system – based overwhelmingly on conventional medicine – in so many ways wasteful and dysfunctional.

I note that on the video, Harkin does not say “conventional medicine.” Rather, he says “conventional allopathic medicine.” And, as any regular reader of this blog knows, anyone who uses the term “allopathic” in such a contemptuous manner to describe conventional scientific medicine has clearly drunk the Kool Aid. But, consistent with how I’ve warned that CAM advocates would do their best to hijack any effort on the part of the Obama administration to reform the health care system by trying to link all manner of unscientific woo to “prevention,” Harkin goes on to do just that:


Audio Pareidolia

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

Have you ever been singing a popular song along with the radio when your friend turns to you and asks, “What are you singing?” The incredulous look on their face suggests to you that perhaps you are not singing the correct words, and eventually you both get a laugh at how horrendously you mangled the lyrics. I friend of mine, for example, once confessed that they thought that in the  song “little red corvet” Prince was singing “pay the rent collect.”

This is a form of audio pareidolia. Pareidolia is the neurological phenomenon of seeing a pattern or figure in random noise – a face in the clouds, or Jesus on a tortilla shell, for example. The images are not really there. There is just the suggestion of a face or some figure in the image and our brain does all work, finding the closest match to a recognized pattern, and then enhancing and even filling in details to create the illusion of a face or whatever.

Audio pareidolia is hearing words in sound that are not actually there. This can occur by misinterpreting words that are being said, or by hearing words in random noise. The phenomenon is the same as with visual pareidolia, in that the brain is searching for a recognized pattern, finds the closest match, and then processes the incoming sensory information to enhance the apparent match.