Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Lame Pet Psychic Tricks

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on August 5, 2009

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Of all the fake psychics (some redundancy there), the lamest has to be the pet psychic. Think about it.  If a psychic deals with people, at least they have to have some basic skills in cold reading, they have to be able to read the person to some extent, and know the sorts of guesses to throw out and how to follow them up.  Most importantly, they need to know how to extract themselves from the inevitable wrong guesses, and leave the victim still thinking they guessed right. But the pet psychic doesn’t have to bother with too much of that.  After all, Rover is hardly going to sit up and say, “no, I never thought of chasing rabbits,” now is he?

Even lamer than the pet psychic is the reporter reporting credulously and with no skepticism at all about the pet psychic.  For evidence of this, see what somebody called Julia Lyon wrote recently in The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah pet psychic would ‘rather talk to dogs’

“I’ll go to a barbecue and people will have their dogs there — I’d rather talk to the dogs,”

Yeah, I’ll bet the other people there are happier that way too.

Raider, a Jack Russell terrier, loves his name but doesn’t want to wear dog clothing. And that big black dog he sometimes visits? Yes, that’s a friend.

A black dog?  Four of my neighbors have dogs and three of them are “black.”  Well, they are black enough and big enough that they would fit the description “big black dog.” I guess that’s the dog equivalent of “do you know an ‘M’ or a ‘J’ name?”

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Melanie Phillips Wrong Again

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on April 30, 2009

One of the most consistently stupid “journalists” writing on the subject of science and intelligent design has to be Melanie Phillips. I commented two years ago on another horrendous anti-science piece of hers: Idiot Journalist is the new enemy of reason.  Now she’s back again writing in the Spectator, with a piece entitled Creating An Insult To Intelligence – actually a highly accurate headline considering what she wrote under it.

Listening to the Today programme this morning, I was irritated once again by yet another misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism. In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

The court was”simply wrong”? What, because you say so? And why was Miller’s testimony “muddled”? Because you didn’t like it? Or because you didn’t understand it? In any case, the court was not “wrong”, simply or otherwise. The court was shown evidence (actually, virtual proof) of the link between creationism and ID. The transitional version – cdesign proponentsists – was discovered.

Put simply, the ID book Of Pandas and People that was discussed at the Dover trial was originally a unashamed creation book called Creation Biology. (You know it’s a creation book because it has the word “Creation” in the title. You’re welcome.) Just after the Supreme Court ruling against creation science in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Disco Tute decided to remake the book as an ID book, rewriting large parts of it to make it all “sciencey” and not creationism at all.  No, really. But unfortunately for them, they were in such a hurry to do so that in changing the wording in one place from “creationists” to (presumably) “intelligent design proponents”, they morphed the two phrases and the book actually included the words “cdesign proponentsists”. Apparently they believe in a designer but not in a spell checker. Hilarious. Click the NCSE’s Missing Link discovered! for a detailed explanation of what they did. Also, The Panda’s Thumb’s Missing link: “cdesign proponentsists”.

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Feng Shui Hooey

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on March 26, 2009

From this thread at JREF I learned of a recent post at a blog called Fengshui Forward (“We aim to gather fellow Chinese Metaphysics enthusiatics to discuss and promote Chinese 5 arts”), entitled United we stand, Divided we fall!.  The author, ken, is bothered by the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on Feng Shui – the one where each of the three Feng Shui experts comes up with completely different recommended colors and arrangements of furniture at the exact same house.  Unfortunately ken has completely missed the point of the P&T program, and criticisms of Feng Shui in general:

It is very easy to discredit a practice like Feng Shui because Metaphysics is defined by Wikipedia as “investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science”.

No, that’s not how to discredit Feng Shui, although I agree it is  easy to discredit.  P&T discredit Feng Shui not by reference to a definition in Wikipedia (which would be an absurd way to do it anyway), but by simply showing that three so called “experts”, all using the exact same “science”, come up with completely different recommendations for the same problem.  Let’s face it – they can’t all be right.  The fact that they’re all different just demonstrates to any rational person that it’s nonsense.  How would you tell which of the recommendations was right and which wrong?  If Feng Shui had any actual real effect then it ought to be possible to tell by testing.  But according to ken, you can’t test Feng Shui:

Feng Shui is not superstitious.  It merely looks superstitious because it is beyond science and hence science cannot explain it and neither can humans.  How do you expect a kid to explain the action of his parents?  Since Feng Shui transcends science, one cannot get a satisfactory explanation of Feng Shui using scientific principles.

“Beyond science”?  Science is just an organized way of testing hypotheses against reality.  The phrase “beyond science” just means “can’t be tested to see if it works”.  But why not?  If it has any real effect surely that effect must be measurable (ie it is testable).  If it’s effects really aren’t measurable, then what is the difference between Feng Shui and something that doesn’t exist?  (Clearly, nothing.)

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Which is the Parody?

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on December 18, 2008

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Poe’s Law states that a good parody of religious fundamentalism is hard to tell from the real thing.  I’m starting to think there is a similar law that applies to alternative medicine.  For example, read the two pieces I’ve quoted below and see if you can guess (no cheating!) which one you think is of the real claimed to be real healing modality, and which is the parody.  They are both similar in that they propose healing techniques that are applied to a doll, rather than to the actual person under treatment.  It’s a bit like voodoo – you treat the doll not the person.  Except I think voodoo spells are supposed to make the person ill, while this is supposed to make the person better.

Here they are.  I have changed the names of the two therapies to example 1 and example 2.  Here’s the first:

In a typical therapy session, the [example 1] practitioner uses a small human anatomical model as an energetic representation of the patient, tapping on targeted points on the model with a lightweight magnetic hammer. The practitioner directs chi to blockage points corresponding to the patient’s condition, breaking down resistance at these points. As blood flow, neural transmission, and hormone reception are restored, the body is then able to heal.

[…]

And the distance between the patient and the therapist makes no difference. The patient and therapist connect when they are on the phone together, in the same room together, on the same planet together, or on different planets together. The togetherness is the constant, because we are all “connected” by an invisible energy field in our universe. We are all swimming in this energy field together. Quantum physics simply calls distance healing a “non-local event.”

And the second:

The principle of [example 2] healing is simple.  As ‘like affects like’, an appropriately manufactured and treated wax doll or cloth puppet may substitute for the patient, and manipulations performed on the doll substitute for those performed on the patient.  Techniques of visualisation and channelling of healing are easy to learn, and it is possible to combine [example 2] with ‘conventional’ or allopathic medicine simply by administering the medicine to the doll rather than to the patient.

[…]

The image may be identified with its subject by the embedding of ousia – items connected with the subject such as a hair or nail clipping, or even a blood sample.  This greatly enhances the therapeutic effects of [example 2] procedures, and in particular allows the practice of [example 2] at considerable distances from the patient, even over the telephone or the Internet.

Well?  Personally I find it hard to believe they aren’t both parodies.  In fact, example 2 is from the The British Veterinary Voodoo Society – a spoof site started by some veterinarians in the UK who were incensed that the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) sanctions treatment of sick animals with homeopathy.  The joke is that if you think homeopathy works, you might as well try voodoo.  I wrote about The British Veterinary Voodoo Society before.

However, example1 is a therapy that its proponents seriously claim to be real – Tong Ren.  Click that link if you must but be warned – the stupid on that site will kill your brain cells.

I don’t need to write any more on this because fortunately Orac already delved into this in much more detail that I would have had the patience for, and this morning posted Tong Ren: An unholy union of acupuncture and voodoo.  I have to say, after reading the first part of Orac’s post, I got the feeling the Tong Ren site was a parody, and I clicked over there convinced that Orac had been fooled into debunking a spoof site.  After a while though, I decided it was genuine, incredible though that is.  I guess we do need a Poe’s Law for SCAM.

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Hindu Buddha Allah, bigger than God

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on November 5, 2008

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God’s own reputation was at stake in yesterday’s presidential election. That’s not my opinion, obviously. It was the opinion of Arnold Conrad, the former pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church in Davenport, who took it upon himself at a McCain rally a few weeks ago, to warn God of the implications of an Obama win:

There are millions of people around this world praying to their god—whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah—that [John McCain’s] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their God is bigger than you, if that happens,

OK, well ignoring for now that Allah is just another name for the God that the Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship, and that Hindu and Buddha are not gods anyway, what can we conclude from last night’s Obama victory? Presumably that the Christian god is smaller than that of the other religions. According to pastor Conrad, anyway. And he should know, being a pastor and all.

Alternatively, prayer has no effect on anything. Perhaps any Christians reading this can tell us which.

I guess we should all be grateful Conrad didn’t call on any really powerful gods. For example Thor, who would have beaten them all with his big Smashum hammer!  Phew – close call!

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Negative Energy Research

Posted in New Age, paranormal, Skeptico by Skepdude on August 22, 2008

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Beware of skeptics – we wield amazing powers!

From last week’s Skeptics’ Circle and Hyphoid Logic I found this story from the St. Petersburg Times, reporting on our awesome ability to wield negative energy:

Virginia Levy walked into the library downtown to prove she was psychic. A group of doubters called the Tampa Bay Skeptics questioned the claims of people like her and had set up a challenge. Levy came to meet it. There sat a row of boxes. Could she guess which contained crystals? She was given seven chances. Seven times she failed. It wasn’t inability that did her in, she said recently, the bitterness still evident in her voice. It was the bespectacled host of the project, Gary Posner, an unbeliever who she said patronized her, creating an atmosphere filled with negative energy. She purposely chose the wrong box each time, she said, then left in a huff. [My bold.]

She also explained exactly how we do it:

“What they’re doing is using the laws of attraction,” Levy said. “They’re actually using the same powers that psychics use, except in reverse.”

Of course – we’re using The Secret. It all makes sense now.

There have been numerous claims by psychics and parapsychologists, that skeptics’ negative energy causes psi experiments to fail, but as far as I know, there has been no actual research on this subject.  This is an “anomaly” that I believe urgently needs rectifying.  So, I hereby propose a new avenue for psi research – testing skeptics’ ability to wield negative energy.

The Protocol

Here’s an idea of how it would work. We start with some standard psi tests – talking to the dead, remote viewing, Ganzfeld-type judging of target pictures (Zener cards are so 1950s), Rupert Sheldrake’s staring experiments – you name it. These tests are performed in a room in front of a one way mirror. Behind the mirror, either there is a skeptic watching the experiment or there isn’t, but double-blind controls insure none of the experimenters or subjects know which. The objective is to determine whether or not the skeptic’s presence (and therefore negative energy) influences the results of the experiment.

If the test is successful, we would move to Phase 2.  This could include answering the following additional questions:

  1. Does the skeptic still negatively influence the test if he is behind the mirror but not observing the test (he’s reading a book, say, or listening to his iPod)?
  2. Does the skeptic still negatively influence the test if he watches the experiment on a closed circuit TV on a different floor in the building?  What about is he’s across town?  Or in another city?  Does the effect stay constant regardless of the distance?
  3. What if the skeptic and his negative energy is shielded in some way – for example, inside a Faraday cage?
  4. Does the skeptic still negatively influence the test if he watches it later on a videotape? In other words, does watching the experiment on tape retroactively alter the success of the test?  (Some have claimed psi works this way.  Seriously.)
  5. What if two tests are made and taped, and only one is viewed at random by the skeptic? Will the experimenters able to predict which tape is randomly selected in the future based on the psychic’s test results in the present?
  6. If multiple psychics are performing the same test at the same time, will their combined psychic abilities overwhelm the skeptic’s negative energy?

All important questions and the answers could be groundbreaking. And if successful, it could be a legitimate way for skeptics to apply for Randi’s million, or at least receive some payment from psi researchers for taking part in their experiments.

Sheldrake, Schwartz – I’m available.

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Prayer Fails Again

Posted in Religious Idiocy, Skeptico by Skepdude on August 18, 2008

Gas Prices boardSee the gas price board on the right? This is from April, aka “the good old days,” when regular was under $4.00 a gallon even in San Francisco. Back then, someone called Rocky Twyman decided the solution to high gas prices was to ask God to lower them:

Twyman […] staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday [April 25], asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation’s Capitol on Wednesday [April 23], with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in.

He repeated the performance again on May 28. Well guess what, he was successful! Yes, according to The BBC, Twyman is claiming:

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Provenance

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on July 29, 2008

No, it’s not a region in France. Provenance is a thing’s origin or source, and the history of its subsequent owners. It’s important when, for example, selling works of fine art. If you find a long lost Picasso in your granny’s attic you might have trouble convincing the experts it’s real, even if it looks real. If it’s very good, you might be able to sell it for a decent amount of cash, but doubt about its origin will mean you only get a fraction of what a verified Picasso would fetch. But if your granny could prove she worked as, say, Picasso’s housekeeper during the period he produced that type of work, you might get a lot more. The quality of its provenance would make it more likely the work was genuine. Provenance is a necessary factor in the valuation of art – to determine that it is (a) genuine and (b) legally owned.

Provenance is also useful in determining the validity of scientific claims. If the claim is based on earlier sound science – backed by quality evidence – it is more likely to be true. Not certain to be true, of course. But it will at least have scientific plausibility. But if the claim is based on something that was just made up, then it seems much less likely it would be true.

An Example

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Atheism Requires No Faith

Posted in Religious Idiocy, Skeptico by Skepdude on July 22, 2008

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This is another piece of flawed reasoning the religious have been throwing around a lot recently – “it requires more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God.” I guess there must have been a memo sent round or something. Talking points. That’s the only explanation. It’s certainly not because it’s a valid argument.

The usual rebuttal given is that atheism just means no belief in God, and it doesn’t require any more faith to have no belief in God than it does to have no belief in Russell’s Teapot. That’s obviously true but I think it misses the point the theists are trying to make.

What they’re really saying

I think what they’re trying to say is this. Atheists think matter just appeared out of nowhere, that something came out of nothing. But where did the matter come from? To think that matter appeared out of nowhere requires more faith than to think a creator made everything. The theists quite often mess up the argument further by misunderstanding the big bang, or with dodgy statistics, or with appeals to ignorance of abiogenesis. But that’s the basic argument. Why is there something rather than nothing? To think that matter just appeared by itself, requires faith.

The flaw in their argument

Atheists don’t think matter came out of nowhere. Atheists say we don’t know where matter came from; we don’t know why there is something rather than nothing. Maybe one day we’ll know, or maybe we won’t. But we don’t know now. Theists are exactly the same. They don’t know either, but the difference is they make up an explanation (God). But it’s just a made up explanation – they have no reason to suppose it’s true, other than that they just like it.

And it’s a useless explanation. Unless they know something about this “God” – how he created everything; why he created it; what he’s likely to do next – it’s a lack of an explanation. It’s just a placeholder until a real explanation comes along. Except that the theist won’t be open to the real explanation when and if science is able to provide one. The placeholder prevents investigation into the real explanation. The theist is the one with the faith – faith that “God” is the explanation and that no other is possible. The atheist is content to say “we don’t know”. For now, anyway. And it’s obvious that saying “we don’t know,” requires no faith.

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