Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Superstition, Main Cause Of Maternal Morbidity In Ghana- NGOs

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 22, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT PEACEFMONLINE

Ms Becklyn Ulzen-Christian, National Vice President of Coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Malaria Control, on Wednesday said superstition and misconception accounted for most causes of maternal morbidity in Ghana.

She said in some pregnant women were urged to contact spiritualists on when to attend ante-natal clinic.

Ms Ulzen-Christian made the observation at a press conference organised by the Coalition of NGOs to disseminate the report on a Civil Society Health Forum held last month.

She noted that before some pregnant women got to the clinic, they had missed the first, second and third phases of Intermittent Prevention Treatment (ITP) leading to pregnancy-related complications.

“Some women also believe that the white insecticide treated mosquito nets are used in the burial of corpses therefore, reject them during and after delivery,” Ms Ulzen-Christian said.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT PEACEFMONLINE

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Forget Nessie, Israel’s got a mermaid!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 13, 2009

And a Million Dollar Challenge to go with it! The other day I wondered how deep the well of human gullability is.  Today, I learn it was a bit deeper than I thought!

According to numerous eyewitnesses, the mythical sea creature looks like a cross between a little girl and a dolphin, and only comes out at sunset. “People are telling us they are sure they have seen the mermaid and they are all independent of each other,” said Natti Zilberman, a local council spokesman.

They’re independent of each other. Well that settles it! A creature out of a Hollywood cartoon must therefore really exist!

Whatever the truth of the tale, it has done wonders for the tourist economy.

Oh ABC when will you learn the abc’s or critical thinking? “Whatever the truth“? Here’s the trugh in simple terms: People are stupid! Period!

Local officials are now offering a cash prize of $1 million for the first tourist to take a photograph of the mermaid.

Heh, local officials are slick. They are guaranteed the price will never be collected and the extra tourist money won’t hurt either. I make a prediction:  Just like the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge, this million dollar challenge will also go uncollected for a long, long, long…..long time!

Yes there is harm, there is a lot of harm…

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 31, 2009

A 5 year old girl has been beheaded by a witch doctor hired by her own father so that her father may have sons who did not die early in life! Take  a second for that to sink in. This is what superstition does if left unchallenged. I don’t want to hear the “what’s the harm” stupid question ever again.

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Horror of Kenya’s ‘witch’ lynchings

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 29, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “BBC NEWS”

Villagers, many straight from their farms, and armed with machetes, sticks and axes, are shouting and crowding round in a big group in Kenya’s fertile Kisii district.

I can’t see clearly what is going on, but heavy smoke is rising from the ground and a horrible stench fills the air.

More people are streaming up the hill, some of them with firewood and maize stalks.

Suddenly an old woman breaks from the crowd, screaming for mercy. Three or four people go after her, beat her and drag her back, pushing her onto – what I can now see – is a raging fire.

Burned alive

I was witnessing a horrific practice which appears to be on the increase in Kenya – the lynching of people accused of being witches.

I personally saw the burning alive of five elderly men and women in Itii village.

I had been visiting relatives in a nearby town, when I heard what was happening. I dashed to the scene, accompanied by a village elder.

He reacted as if what we were watching was quite normal, which was shocking for me.

As a stranger I felt I had no choice but to stand by and watch. My fear was that if I showed any sign of disapproval, or made any false move, the angry mob could turn on me.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “BBC NEWS”

Why we do what we do

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 16, 2009

What motivates us to be skeptics?

This is probably one of the most important entries I have ever posted, at least on a personal level.

Many times I am asked the following question: Why do you do this? Why do you waste your time with this skepticism stuff? Some people think it is a waste of time; some think it’s nothing more than a hobby; some people think I’m a pessimist; some think I am just a naysayer.

It is hard to explain to people why I do what I do. It really is hard to put in words. But then Evolved and Rational came to my rescue, making what had once been so hard for me to explain, very self evident by posting a video that goes to the heart of why I am a skeptic. Watching this video it became clear to me that I can boil the answer down to 2 words:  Knowledge and Hope!

Knowledge that this stuff can and does happen, that the potential for evil lies within us, human beings, and that potential is easily exploited by superstition and lack of critical thinking. And then there is Hope, the hope that the little we do over her can have some effect in deterring the corrupting power that ignorance wields, the hope that somehow my words can have an influence, any influence whatsoever, to avoid the pain and suffering that superstition, of any kind religious, supernatural, pseudoscientific, inflicts upon people.

***WARNING***-THE MATERIAL BELOW IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR TO BE ACCESSED WHEN CHILDREN ARE AROUND OR FOR THE WEAK OF HEART. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO BE IN A COMFORTABLE (PREFERABLY PRIVATE) SETTING WHEN ACCESING  THE VIDEO BELOW.

This is why I am a skeptic!

Elf Detection 101

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 13, 2009

Hat tip to Skepchick for pointing our attention this way.

An article on Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy in the April issue of Vanity Fair notes that a “large number of Icelanders” believe in elves or “hidden people.” This widespread folklore occasionally disrupts business in the sparsely populated North Atlantic country. Before the aluminum company Alcoa could erect a smelting factory, “it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it.” How do you find an elf?

Illusration by Rober Neubecker. Click image to expand.With psychic powers. According to a poll conducted in 2007, 54 percent of Icelanders don’t deny the existence of elves and 8 percent believe in them outright, although only 3 percent claim to have encountered one personally. The ability to see the huldufólk, or hidden folk, can’t be learned; you’re just born with it. To find elves, seers don’t really need to do anything—they’ll just sense an elfin presence. The Vanity Fair article says that elf detection can take six months, but it’s usually a quick process that can last under an hour. And although the magazine claims that a “government expert” had to certify the nonexistence of elves, the Icelandic Embassy insists that these consults are performed by freelancers, not government contractors.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “SLATE.COM”

Lightning bolt makes healer of Indonesian village boy

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 6, 2009

Actually, no it didn’t, superstition did. According to this article at theage.com.au (sounds suspiciously close to New Age for my blood):

MOHAMMAD Ponari was, until last month, a typical kid in the impoverished East Java village of Balongsari. Then, quite literally, lightning struck.

The nine-year-old, who had been playing in the rain in his front yard, was hit by the thunderbolt but, to the astonishment of his young friends, he was unharmed.

All the more bizarre, according to an account by his village chief and his family, when he came to, he found a stone the size of an egg on his head, and was convinced he possessed healing powers.

This has the makings of a Marvel superhero comic book. Boy gets hit by lightning. Boy miraculously survives. Boy gets mysterious superpowers. Or as in this case, A ROCK! Sounds made up so far to me, more specifically the kind of made up a 9-year old would come up with. Nevertheless, let’s continue reading:

A boy next door with a fever was his first patient. The stone was placed in a glass of water and the boy drank deeply. His fever vanished.

Wow! Fever vanished! But wait a minute, don’t most fevers vanish at some point? When did this other boy’s fever vanish? How long had he had the fever? Was he being treated with medicine already? How much of a fever did he have anyway? Of course those details are omitted. Why spoil a perfectly good story with facts and stuff. Moving on:

Then another neighbour approached him, a woman in her 30s who had suffered from a depressive condition for 15 years. She, too, was healed.

The miracles, large and small, kept coming, said Nila Retno, the local village chief.

It is a miracle indeed, a miracle that such a pathetic story is being reported at all, but we shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen this too many times before. Anyway, the boy becomes so famous for his healing stone water ability that soon enough thousands were lining at his door. And what happens next:

Stampedes erupted on at least three occasions, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuries to dozens more.

3 people died. Let’s stop for a second and do a quick cost vs. benefit analysis here. This boy allegedly is “healing” a few fevers, depressions and sprained arms and on the cost side we have 3 fucking dead people and dozens of injuries. I wonder if the injured were treated for free by the magical lightning stone water, because did I mention he was obviously making money out of this. No? Must have skipped my mind.

Even so, as much as 1 billion rupiah ($A120,000) has been raised through a charity box outside his home. This, many adherents to mysticism believe, was poor form indeed. Dukuns are not supposed to profit from their activities.

But that is the whole point of charlatans like this, to make a quick buck, or a few quick millions, at the expense of the ingorant and the hopeless. They are supposed to profit from their acitivities, dukuns or not!

Ay the stupid….the stupid… it burns!

the-stupid-it-burns

Unbelievable stupidity of the day-Boy marries dog to ward off wild animals

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 18, 2009

Just when you think you’ve heard them all, just when you think we have hit rock bottom as a species this story comes along and the bottom goes further and further away from our feet.

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – An infant boy was married off to his neighbors’ dog in eastern India by villagers, who said it will stop the groom from being killed by wild animals, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.

“We performed the marriage because it will overcome any curse that might fall on the child as well on us,” the boy’s father, Sanarumala Munda, was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

The dog belongs to the groom’s neighbors and was set free to roam around the area after the ceremony. No dowry was exchanged, the witness said, and the boy will still be able to marry a human bride in the future without filing for divorce.

I have no comments, I am literally without comments. I am commentless!

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Goat detained over armed robbery

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 23, 2009

LAGOS (Reuters) – Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.

Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT REUTERS.

Superstition can kill you

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas, where the highlight was attending a Penn & Teller show. They are the magicians who have an entire tv series devoted to debunking the paranormal, appropriately called Bullshit! As a skeptic, one of the most annoying questions I get (and I’m sure P&T do also) is “why spoil other people’s beliefs? What’s the harm? Why are you so cynical?” (Note: skepticism is most emphatically not the same thing as cynicism, either in English meaning or in terms of the original Greek philosophical traditions.)

Well, ask the young woman that a couple of weeks ago was seized by some of her neighbors in Papua New Guinea, stripped naked, bound, gagged, and set on fire on suspicion of being a witch. She died a horrible and senseless death. This is not an isolated case in that part of the world (or in Africa). According to the local police more than 50 people were killed in the past year in two Papua New Guinea provinces because they were suspected of practicing sorcery. Anthropologist Bruce Knauft of Emory University has conducted a study according to which over the past four decades local families have seen a full one third of their adults killed violently, 90% of the deaths being connected to superstitious beliefs about witchcraft and the like.

Papua New Guinea is one of four Asian countries afflicted by an AIDS epidemics, but many villagers think it is witches, not the HIV virus, that spreads the disease (again, the same position held by many people, and even some governments, in Africa). Superstition is an easy “explanation” when the reality is either too difficult to comprehend or too hard to accept, but people are literally dying as a result of it.

But that’s the third world, right? Yes, but does witchcraft really sound that different from the practice of, say, snake handlers and speakers in tongues, right here in the good old U.S of A.? Do you remember Sarah Palin saved by a witch doctor? Moreover, plenty of people in the Western world die or get ill because they take homeopathic “remedies” (i.e., water and sugar) for treating serious conditions, for instance. And there is, of course, the psychological (and more often than not, financial) pain experienced by people whose grief and hopes are exploited by those who sell them instant Jesus cures, or tantalize them with the possibility of once again communicating with their loved ones.

That is why the work of the skeptic is not simply a matter of enjoying the intellectual challenge of exposing the frauds, or even the educational challenge of raising the world’s critical thinking abilities by a notch or two. It is work that helps reduce the exploitation of people’s fears for financial gain, power, or prestige. And it is work that may eventually save lives like the one of the innocent young woman who died in Papua New Guinea, yet another innocent victim of ignorance and stupidity.

P.S.: After writing the first draft of this column I went for a walk in my progressive and liberal neighborhood of Park Slope Brooklyn, where the average income and level of education are both very high (there seems to be an uncanny correlation between the two). In the elevator of my building I shared the ride with a woman from another floor. We made small talk about the Obama inauguration. I said we can hope for a better presidency this time around, to which she replied that we don’t need hope, we need to pray. You see, that’s the most important thing, period. She went on to explain to me that 9/11 was — and I quote verbatim — a “glorious day” because the whole nation joined in prayer. Oh boy, we really have a lot of work to do.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”