Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Oh how he squirms

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 3, 2010

Richard Saunders pummels the astrologer. You can hear it in Milton’s voice how he’s squirming under Richard’s unrelenting questioning. I love me some Australian Skeptics! They rock.

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Scientific bias and the void-of-course moon

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on October 6, 2008

Stuart Buck persists in claiming that scientists have a bias against the supernatural, and that we dismiss it out of hand. This isn’t true; the problem is that supernatural explanations are poorly framed and typically unaddressable, so we tend to avoid them as unproductive. What one would actually find, if one took the trouble to discuss the ideas with a scientist, is that they are perfectly willing to consider peculiar possibilities if they are clearly stated. We’ll even briefly consider something as insane and worthless as astrology, which is even less credible as a field of study than Intelligent Design.

Here’s an example from years ago on Usenet, in the newsgroup sci.skeptic. An astrologer, Thomas Seers, was insisting that his weird little pseudoscience was a suitable topic for a science course. One of the skeptics, Robert Grumbine, politely asks him for specifics:

Robert Grumbine: Let us say that I teach astronomy.  Let us suppose I’ve decided to spend an hour on astrology.  What would my presentation be?  Keep in mind that this is a science class, so part of my job would be to discuss what experiments have been done that demonstrate that it works, as well as to describe how it works (in the sense of how the students could make the predictions themselves).

Thomas Seers: Hello Robert,
You appear to be asking a serious question, so I will give you an experiment to try.  This will also give you an insight to what Alchemists did years ago.
On 10/20/99 from 2 AM to 8 AM EDT, mix a bowl of jello and you will find it won’t jel. My basic students have this as a homework assigmnet to learn of a void-of-course Moon period. Silly thing, huh. It can be repeated over and over again. Don’t spill it now :-).


Astrology in retrograde

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on October 3, 2008

I was called by MSNBC reporter Helen Popkin yesterday because she was doing an article on astrology. And she stumped me with a simple question: “Have you heard,” she asked “about the idea that electronics tend to fail when Mercury is in retrograde?”

Uh. What?

I hadn’t heard of this little piece of nonsense, but according to Ms. Popkin, sure enough, some astrologers say that technology tends to fail more when Mercury is in retrograde — that is, when its apparent motion in the sky switches from an eastward direction to westward. Since, astrologically, Mercury controls communication and technology, when it’s in retrograde things get screwed up. That’s why Hubble is malfunctioning, and why the LHC is having woes.

Yeeeeeeah. Oooooookay.


Intellectual arrogance

Posted in Rationally Speaking, Uncategorized by Skepdude on September 4, 2008


Since my recent post on VP nominee Sarah Palin I have been struck by a number of intemperate comments posted on this blog, on “Uncommon Descent” (the Discovery Institute blog, which reprinted a few lines of my original post), and even via private emails. Now, you might say, what do you expect? You decided to enter the blogosphere, so vitriolic attacks on what you write are to be expected as part and parcel of the “job” (for which, of course, I’m not paid).

Right, but my issue is not with the personal attacks on me. My skin is think enough, I assure you, or I wouldn’t have been able to survive for a quarter century in academia. (Before you laugh, think of how much rejection is built into the job: most of your job applications will be turned down, most of your papers will be harshly criticized by at least some anonymous reviewer, and most of your grant proposals will be returned unfunded, again anonymously and often rather harshly. If you don’t have an ego big enough to sustain the bruises year after year, you better get out of the game.)

No, my problem is with the all too common accusation of intellectual arrogance being hurled at myself and most of my colleagues who defend science from pseudoscience, be that creationism, intelligent design, UFO claims, psychic powers, astrology or “alternative” medicine. The reasoning, such as it is, goes like this: how dare you, Dr. X (put here any name of any scientist who dares to write for the public), claim that so many people are wrong and you and a small number of other egg-headed intellectuals are right? Who are you to declare the truth of evolution and the falsity of intelligent design? What makes you the arbiter in deciding what is science and what is bunk?

The answer is simple: I am an expert. You shouldn’t trust me on car mechanics, or on civil engineering, or on market analysis. But what I have to say about science counts more than what most people have to say about it because I am a scientist and they are not. The reason I don’t feel any qualms declaring evolution a sound scientific theory and intelligent design as not even junk science is because I am a professional organismal biologist, and pretty much everyone who accepts ID is not. By comparison, imagine how foolishlyou would feel if a thousand car mechanics tell you that you need to change the carburetor in your car and you keep insisting that they don’t know what they are talking about, elitist auto-experts that they are, because carburetors obviously don’t exist!

Intellectual arrogance, in the utmost degree, is being displayed by those who dismiss out of hand the considerate opinion of someone who has studied a field for 25 years only because they cherish a particular religious worldview that has no independent foundation in reality. Arrogance, according to my dictionary, is “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities,” and it seems to me to fit perfectly someone who has no technical background in a given field and yet pontificates endlessly about what is True and what is not.

The idea that someone who has not bothered to study a highly technical area of knowledge turns around and accuses experts in those areas of being arrogant is both ridiculous and a common strategy in certain political quarters. Consider the Obama-McCain contrast of this electoral cycle, or the Kerry-Bush of the last cycle. I don’t know whether Obama or Kerry are “elitist” in any meaningful sense of the word, although as Jon Stewart aptly put it, I want the guy who is running for the most powerful job on the planet to be better than me! But the idea that McCain — who is so rich that he doesn’t know how many houses he owns, or Bush — with a degree from ivy league Yale and a career propelled by his father’s money and connections, are “common folks” who really feel the pain of the people is astoundingly ludicrous. And yet millions of people buy straight into it without a second thought (thought, or lack thereof, being the key word here).

Our national discourse has gotten so bad that demagogues can get away with throwing any amount of mud at their opponents while claiming to have their hands as clean as snow, just like people who have no knowledge or understanding of the matters at hand can gingerly accuse serious professionals of being intellectually arrogant — and feel very much self-righteous about it too. Al Gore, in his most recent book, put it in terms of an assault on reason. To reason, again going by the dictionary, is the ability to “think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” The right wing-fundamentalist axis that has gained so much prominence and political power in the United States over the past several years has truly thrown reason out the window. Now they would like to finish the job by accusing intellectuals of being un-reasonable, obtuse, and conceited.

It is time to reverse the tide and take a stand. If you reject the theory of evolution, or think that there is such a thing as alternative (as opposed to evidence-based) medicine, or claim without evidence that aliens are visiting the planet, or think that the stars influence human destiny, and so on, you are anti-science and live in a dream world with no connection to reality. More damning, you are engaging in the ultimate act of arrogance: to declare something true or untrue not because you have reason or evidence, but only because it makes you feel better. May I suggest that you need a good dose of humility, and that one way to get it is to admit that the universe is not about you, and that some people out there really know more than you do, as unpleasant a thought as this may be?


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 2, 2008

You know that astrology is equal to the solid waste matter that is extruded from a male bovine mammal, right?

The Bad Astronomer.

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Skepnews – 7/23/08

Posted in Skepnews by Skepdude on July 23, 2008

  • 19 year old Christian boy beaten to death for courting 19 year old Muslim girl – Muslim family became ruthless with Peter’s mother. They decided tie girl’s knot with a Muslim man, as soon as possible. By utilizing Muslim girl’s innocent love, they rang Peter and forced the girl to call him at some desolate place. He at once hired a motorbike and went to that secluded place – to his death, where girl’s two uncles and her father manhandled him brutally. “They took Peter by force. They trussed him and tortured him for almost two days. Peter could not bear the severity of the torture and died eventually.” And this was for merely talking to an intolerant, hard line Muslim neighbor’s girl on the phone. Was it such a severe matter that he had to disburse a grave cost of it? – Of course not! But this is what religion does to people. It teaches them not to think, not to use common sense, but to blindly follow dogma. In fact, I think religion is the killer of common sense. It is truly and really a wolf disguised in sheep’s skin.
  • Astrologers pick king coronation date In 2008 the country formally became a constitutional monarchy and the king relinquished his absolute powers. Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley said three enlightened astrologers had jointly proposed 6 November as the most auspicious date for the coronation. – Say, who better than astrologers to pick the coronation date of a powerless king?
  • Brain damage from “detoxification” diet The High Court heard Dawn Page, 52, began vomiting uncontrollably after starting The Amazing Hydration Diet. The court heard Mrs Page, from Faringdon, near Swindon, claimed Mrs Nash told her to drink large amounts of water and reduce her salt intake when she started the diet in October 2001.Her husband Geoff, 54, said: “Her life has been seriously affected, perhaps ruined, by this fad-type way of losing weight, which I can only say is a dangerous method of weight loss.” – Well I guess we’re gonna have to rely on the foot bath bucket to get our daily dose of detoxification!
  • Waren Jeffs indicted A Texas grand jury on Tuesday charged the jailed polygamist leader of a breakaway Mormon sect with sexually assaulting a child and indicted five followers after state officials raided a polygamist ranch near Eldorado in April. Jeffs has already been sentenced in a Utah court to 10 years to life in prison as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old first cousin. He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges for arranged marriages there. – Good for Texas!