News From Around The Blogosphere 10.30.08

October 31, 2008

Even with an all-powerful god on their side, Christians are still afraid of a little girl, and they’re still no match for one with a rational mind.

Despite their “faith” in their teachings and the absolute power of their god to control the universe, they feel threatened by chocolate sculptures and teenage girls with YouTube accounts. A strong belief system should value skepticism because it tests one’s faith, which leads to stronger faith when that belief is verifiable as the truth. Only false prophets, teaching a weak faith, fear the questioning of that faith, because they know they might be wrong.

Has a psychic stopped Stop Sylvia Browne? – Robert Lancaster’s great website exposing the truth about sham psychic Sylvia Browne seems to have been hijacked by a psychic. It’s a shame. The site partially inspired Stop Jenny, at least in name.

And speaking of despicable, lying sacks of shit, here’s a great parody:

Religious Conservatives are still selling the lie – A church in Harlan, Indiana decided to post this sign for all to see:

The excuse?

“All I done was ask a question! I did not implicate anybody or anything, any party. I didn’t do anything,” said the official who wished to remain anonymous.

Riiight! Meanwhile, Victoria Jackson — the anti-Julia Sweeney — writes this on her website:

You see, what bothers me most, besides being a Communist, and a racist (Obama writes in his book, From Dreams of My Father, “I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and and animosity against my (white) mother’s race.”) (Obama’s “religion” of the last 20 years is Black Liberation Theology. What is that? “It is simply Marxism dressed up in Christian rhetoric. But unlike traditional Marxism, Black Liberation Theology emphasizes race rather than class. It’s leading theorist is James Cone who says Jesus was black, African-Americans are the chosen people, and whites are the devil. Cone says, “What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.” The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor), is that he is a LIAR. He pretends to be a Christian and he incriminates himself everytime he speaks about Christianity. To lie about being a believer in Christ is very dangerous. Lightning could strike him at any minute! But seriously, he doesn’t have a clue what the Bible says and yet he pretends to be a church- going Christian to win votes. That is sooooo evil.

And speaking of Obama, even when he’s making an attack ad, Obama keeps it clean:

10 things you don’t know about black holes

Knowledge Versus Expertise

“The internet, in democratizing knowledge, has led a lot of people to believe that it is also possible to democratize expertise.”

The Cyprus Serpent -On the island of Cyprus people are frantically searching for their very own Loch Ness Monster, a sea creature reportedly roaming the depths near the Kouris Dam. Of course there’s nothing but anecdotal evidence for the creature’s existence, so I wouldn’t hold your breath.

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

Immune System Causes Common Cold Symptoms – “A University of Calgary scientist confirms that it is how our immune system responds, not the rhinovirus itself, that causes cold symptoms. Of more than 100 different viruses that can cause the common cold, human rhinoviruses are the major cause.”

Real Robinson Crusoe: Evidence Of Island Camp – “Cast away on a desert island, surviving on what nature alone can provide, praying for rescue but fearing the sight of a boat on the horizon. These are the imaginative creations of Daniel Defoe in his famous novel Robinson Crusoe. Yet the story is believed to be based on the real-life experience of sailor Alexander Selkirk, marooned in 1704 on a small tropical island in the Pacific for more than four years, and now archaeological evidence has been found to support contemporary records of his existence on the island.” So that’s where Locke took the island!

Advertisements

News From Around The Blogosphere 10.29.08

October 30, 2008

Antivaccinationist David Kirby admits that mercury is no longer “the smoking gun” – Apparently this one managed to slip by Jersey’s Bergen Record reporters but made it into Jersey’s Star Ledger. I guess after a while these guys have no choice but to refute themselves. Makes my job easier.

Why We Believe – Newsweek takes a look at the world of woo woo and seems to present a positive view of skepticism.

Religious fundamentalist Tim Tingelstad is a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court – Not in PZ Myers’ state you don’t!

Pray to golden calf…err, I mean bull of Wall Street – That’s not the only bull I see in this story. Yes, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened and gullible religionists came to accept the terrible consequences of their past voting decisions as a reality but instead of thinking to actually do something about it, they’ve turned to the silliest response possible, praying to an idol for good fortune to come their way. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. Only you can prevent forest f–well, you get the idea. Fantasy solutions only work in fantasies but real problems require real solutions. But here’s one thing you can do to improve your circumstances: Vote Obama!

Supplement trial for prostate cancer canceled

A large trial (35,000 men were enrolled) involving vitamin E and selenium for the prevention of prostate cancer was recently stopped because of lack of any benefit, and the small chance of risk, from the treatments.

ATHEIST DISCRIMINATION:

Hate crimes against atheists: not reported or not happening? – Apparently there were only 6 hate crimes against atheists last year. For the sake of comparison, the number of anti-Jewish crimes was 969. Anti-Islamic? 115. Anti-male-homosexual? 772. Anti-black? 2,658. This this 6 sound implausibly low to anyone else?

COMMON MYTHS: THE MORE YOU KNOW!

The NY Times debunks the myth that drinking lots of water is good for your skin

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

Warming Kills Yellowstone’s Frogs, Salamanders? – “Frogs and salamanders, those amphibious bellwethers of environmental danger, are being killed in Yellowstone National Park. The predator, Stanford researchers say, is global warming.”

Brain’s ‘Hate Circuit’ Identified – “People who view pictures of someone they hate display activity in distinct areas of the brain that, together, may be thought of as a ‘hate circuit’, according to new research by scientists at UCL (University College London).”

New Cell Division Mechanism Discovered – “A novel cell division mechanism has been discovered in a microorganism that thrives in hot acid. The finding may also result in insights into key processes in human cells, and in a better understanding of the main evolutionary lineages of life on Earth. The study is published October 28 in the online version the American National Academy of Sciences.”

HUMOR:

Richard Dawkins has died, been resurrected, and has been said to now perform miracles – Boy does someone have egg all over their face.


Grand conspiracy theories & eyewitness testimony

October 29, 2008

Recently one of my Myspace friends posted the following video in a bulletin

This gave me the idea of briefly addressing the crucial role that eyewitness testimony often plays in grand conspiracy theories and other false beliefs.

A great article that discusses the reliability of eye witness testimony can be found here.

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that, even though there is a popular perception of eyewitness testimony being among the most reliable forms of evidence available, the criminal justice system treats such testimony as being among the most fragile and even unreliable available.

Eyewitness testimony falls into the category of anecdotal evidence, which while most people tend to think is among the best form of evidence is actually one of the weakest forms of evidence. Indeed, in our society we tend to put a great deal more stock in a story if we’re told that the one telling the story saw the whole thing with their own eyes, especially when that storyteller has an honest reputation and seemingly no reason at all to lie about their alleged experiences. But like I always say, if anecdotal evidence was really worth its salt we’d all have to accept that millions of people have been abducted by space aliens. And we’d have to accept that space aliens visit the Earth more often than Fox News criticizes “left-wing media.” Surely billions of people aren’t deliberately lying. In many cases, these beliefs have a devastating impact on the lives of the believer.

How does this happen? There are many explanations but one is that we have pattern-seeking brains that see patterns even when none exist. For instance, have you ever heard the expression: seeing is believing? This is adage that suggests anecdotal evidence is compelling. Though the reality is that the reverse is more accurate: believing is seeing. Once you believe something, you see it everywhere. For instance, if I thought for some reason that I keep encountering the number 47, then I’m more likely to notice the number 47 everywhere I go even though I only come across it as often as I would be likely to by chance alone.

In fact many studies has shown a rise in superstitious beliefs in situations where greater uncertainly exists. And in a recent study when people were given rewards at random intervals, most subjects developed the false believe that they’d discovered a pattern. Also, there seems to be a rise in conspiracy theories involving negative events beyond the individual’s control.

As Elizabeth Loftus describes in her book Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget:

    “Memory is imperfect. This is because we often do not see things accurately in the first place. But even if we take in a reasonably accurate picture of some experience, it does not necessarily stay perfectly intact in memory. Another force is at work. The memory traces can actually undergo distortion. With the passage of time, with proper motivation, with the introduction of special kinds of interfering facts, the memory traces seem sometimes to change or become transformed. These distortions can be quite frightening, for they can cause us to have memories of things that never happened. Even in the most intelligent among us is memory thus malleable.”

Another popular “evidence” that conspiracy theorists use is anomaly hunting, where they begin with a pre-determined conclusion about something and then apply post hoc arguments and confirmation bias in order to rationalize their case. It never seems to matter whether the perceived holes they find in “the official story” are a non-sequitur or red herring. But just as long as it damages the credibility of “the official story,” then they feel perfectly willing to insert whatever crazy hypothesis they want to explain the apparent inconsistencies. But the problem is that there will always be holes in official stories because nobody has got perfect memory or has the ability to perfectly describe what they saw and there are always far too many variables to factor in when trying to deal with the physics of a particular event. And when you have laypeople who aren’t that familiar with the science playing armchair detective and taking the word of minority fridge figures they’ve embraced as “whistle blowers”, over the overwhelming mass consensus of thought among the experts, you’re going to run into problems.

I’m reminded of a recent interaction I had with someone who believed that the JFK assassination wasa government conspiracy. One piece of evidence they presented was that apparently a news reporter had misstated the murder weapon, saying it was 1 specific type of gun when it really was another. I asked if it was possible that the news reporter had simply made a mistake? The answer I got was no, because the guns are too dissimilar. But I didn’t know that. And it’s a long shot to think that some blue state news reporter reading off a teleprompter or cue card is going to know that. One gun sounds as right as any other. Maybe the script guy accidentally mixed up the guns in 2 different news stories. There’s got to be a million and one more plausible explanations than to suggest that this is evidence that not only did “the government” kill JFK but that some random news reporter knew the truth, was in on the conspiracy, and instead of make his career by breaking the story, chose to take part in the cover up. That’s quite a leap from something as simple as mistaking the model of gun used in the assassination. Anomalies mean nothing if they don’t add up to anything.

Lastly, in the mind of the conspiracy theorist there are no coincidences. Therefore just by asking leading questions about random things that have even the slightest and flimsiest connections can be used to suggest a massive cover-up, perhaps best illustrated by this conspiracy theorist parody.

So I put together the 3 Stages of Delusion:
1. Acceptance
2. Apply confirmation bias by seeking out & isolating any data that might superficially seem to support the pre-determined conclusion while ignoring any data that challenges the pre-determined conclusion.
3. When confronted w/ criticism, vilify the opposition and deny, deny, deny.

And here are some videos that delve deeper into this discussion:


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.28.08

October 29, 2008

THIS DAY IN GOD:

Christopher Hitchens tears Sarah Palin a new one

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

The McCain campaign is handing out Christian voter guides – Vote for McCain because he’s not a secret Muslim.

The most extreme theocrat at The White House was just fired – Apparently, Scott Bloch is as bad as they come.

Finally, Bloch’s religious blinkers also explain his willingness to lend the credence his office to the Intelligent Design movement (knowing, of course, that he lacked jurisdiction) and to the anti-vaccination fanatics. Both reveal a scientific illiteracy that is borne not of ignorance but of intentional, ideological blindness; the latter incident was particularly irresponsible.

Christian rock tour celebrating Genesis canceled due to lack of interest.

Heaven: The Game -Great graphics for a Christian video game. Just as long as it lets me steal cars and beat the crap out of hookers, I’ll be happy. And is that a female saint wearing a corset? Whatever. And where are all the black people in heaven?

Chuck Norris’s nephew got an F in fifth grade because he wrote an essay on evolution that instead said god created the earth…and the teacher had a degree from the “University of Berkeley”, which apparently is Norris-speak for University of California at Berkeley. If only there were some sort of Chuck Norris joke to summarize this story? Oo, I got one: Chuck Norris doesn’t understand science. End of sentence .

A bullshit study in religious beliefs of ophthalmology patients

A more appropriate subtitle might have been “An Opportunistic Exercise to Build CVs and Promote Religious Belief.” This goes on the NCCAM’s scorecard as one more instance of wasting our tax dollars on studies that should never have been funded. That list is long and is steadily getting longer.

Reggie Finley‘s show The Infidel Guy has been losing his audience

ISLAM:

11 year old girl set on fire for immodesty – “

“Police arrested her great uncle, who allegedly poured kerosene on the girl and set her ablaze on Friday. Investigators told the PTI news agency that the 55-year-old man, a conservative Muslim, had told the police that he was enraged at the girl wearing lipstick and being “scantily dressed.”

How a psychic believer became a psychic skeptic

SPOOKY!

Are illegal space aliens crossing over into Texas? – Back in January numerous sources reported strange lights in the sky in Erath County and now the mysterious lights have returned, as has space-alien-related tourism. Nothing we haven’t all heard or seen a million times, unimpressive video of several dots of light in the sky the night military craft happened to have been in the area along with people insisting their certain that what they saw had to be space aliens. Yawn.

Over a three-month period this summer there were 1,000 UFO sightings filed with the National UFO Reporting Center.

Some 75 of those UFOs were reported over the state of Texas.

And on a related note: How to fake UFO photographs:

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

Soybeans No Longer ‘A Musical Fruit?’ – “Soybeans may drop off the list of musical fruit. Scientists in Singapore are reporting victory over some consumers’ No. 1 complaint about soy products — the “flatulence factor” caused by indigestible sugars found in soy.

Scientists have now developed a method for significantly reducing the amount of flatulence-causing carbohydrates in soy yogurt while raising the levels of healthy antioxidants known as isoflavones.”

Red Enhances Men’s Attraction To Women -“A groundbreaking study by two University of Rochester psychologists to be published online Oct. 28 by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology adds color—literally and figuratively—to the age-old question of what attracts men to women.

Through five psychological experiments, Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology, and Daniela Niesta, post-doctoral researcher, demonstrate that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.27.08

October 28, 2008

Attack of the cancer-killing tomatoes

“… food scientists are trying to modify crop plants to give us a bigger dose of helpful chemicals in those items that we do eat.”

Muppet heir Brian Henson creates a new digital-animation technology to get preschoolers to think like scientists.

AMERICAN BIGOTRY:

Vote NO on California Proposition 8 –

Note: The following video has been “altered” to remove all reference to same-sex marriage and replace them with interracial marriage to expose the truth about California Proposition 8. To see the original, unaltered propaganda video, click here.

And of course vote YES on Michigan Proposition 2, that will allows embryonic stem cell research using embryos that would be discarded from fertility clinics. Here is the truth about embryonic stem cells:

CREATIONIST DISHONESTY:

Here’s another classic example of creationist quote-mining, where they distort a scientist’s quote by taking it out of context specifically to suggest that the scientist said the opposite of what the scientist really said.

How good are these Christian Samaritans? – This should come as a surprise but a new study suggests people who perform altruistic acts in the name of religion do so less out of empathy than a fear of reprisal from a higher power. We’ll put that in the Duh! category.

A.I. therapist for astronauts? – As part of the ongoing research project known as the Virtual Space Station, scientists are developing an artificial intelligence program to simulate a therapy session for psychologically strained astronauts. Astronauts tell the computer their problems, and the computer uses problem-solving treatment to discover the root of the astronaut’s problems. Then, the computer verbally (hopefully in a sexy voice) offers a series of exercises and plans to deal with these problems.

Acupuncture Used For Animal Ailments – “Needles are often equated with pain and discomfort; however, for a horse named Gypsy the tiny sharp objects brought about much needed relief as Dr. Mark Crisman, a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, administered acupuncture therapy.” – I can’t believe this found its way into Science Daily. I can’t put this in the science news section until this is sorted out. Nowhere in the article does it indicate that acupuncture has been proven to not work, so I don’t trust a word of this until I hear more.

This day in history

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

Robotic Ants Building Homes On Mars? – You gotta love a headline like that! – “Recent discoveries of water and Earth-like soil on Mars have set imaginations running wild that human beings may one day colonise the Red Planet. However, the first inhabitants might not be human in form at all, but rather swarms of tiny robots.

“Small robots that are able to work together could explore the planet. We now know there is water and dust so all they would need is some sort of glue to start building structures, such as homes for human scientists,” says Marc Szymanski, a robotics researcher at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany.”

Origins Of 3-Billion-Year-Old Rock Solved – “A new technique using X-rays has enabled scientists to play ‘detective’ and solve the debate about the origins of a three billion year old rock fragment.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.26.08

October 27, 2008

Christian feud over Church of Holy Sepulcher – This is the alleged site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Of course there’s no actual evidence that such an event ever took place but that doesn’t stop these morons from fighting over worthless, dilapidated land:

For decades, Coptic and Ethiopian Christians have been fighting over the Deir el-Sultan monastery, which sits atop a chapel at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The monastery is little more than a cluster of dilapidated rooms and a passageway divided into two incense-filled chapels, an architectural afterthought alongside the Holy Sepulcher’s better-known features.

Teaching Evolution in Minnesota – Apparently science professors in Minnesota teaching Evolution have to deal with a lot of childish creationist behavior that amounts to putting their hands over their ears and shouting, “La, la, la, la” to block out the thinking. But a few teachers here offer some solutions.

If you thought political campaigns were negative now, wait until you see what they were like in the old days – Here are some great excerpts:

So President Adams’ team sent out pamphlets saying if Jefferson was elected he would destroy Christianity, and that, “prostitutes…will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the Most High.”

When the threat of an all-hooker church wasn’t effective enough to destroy Jefferson’s career, Adams’ Federalists stepped up their game, explaining that Jefferson’s America would involve the “teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery and incest”. Thomas Jefferson wants “murder robbery” taught in our elementary schools, people!

This election set the standard for filthy, misleading campaigning. The technique of taking a real quote (Jefferson saying he believes the current religious institutions lead to corruption) and exaggerating it to the point of absurdity (Jefferson wants to blow up Christianity and eat the baby Jesus) was born, and used in every single election since.

And they get better. LOL.

Support Michigan Proposition 2 is you love Stem Cells – It proposes a State Constitutional Amendment that would expand use of Stem Cells for medical research.

SPOOKY!

HUMOR:

Antivaccinationists and Yeti hunters mocked on Saturday Night Live


70 years since the Martians invaded

October 27, 2008

This Thursday will make the 70th Anniversary of one of the most famous hoaxes in history, the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds that on October 30, 1938 caused a panic in the town of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. People had believed the Martians had invaded. They. . .

. . .were so panicked that they did see invading Martians. A water tower in Grover’s Mill, the site of the supposed Martian landing, was mistaken by some locals for an alien “war machine.”

This led many to shoot at the water tower. This remains a great example of the power of suggestion on a credulous populous willing to accept extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.