Michael Shermer attempts to school Jesse Ventura on critical thinking

April 11, 2011
Governor Jesse Ventura

How could anyone think he was presenting himself as a Navy SEAL?

Remember when Jesse Ventura represented progressive values and brought hope that sanity and rationality might one day be the norm in Washington… way back around the turn of the millennium? Yeah, it’s been awhile and a lot’s changed. Particularly Jesse Ventura.

9/11 changed a lot of people. It caused many people to better appreciate what they have, grow more compassionate, and become generally better people. Though sadly, it caused at least as many people to become all-consumed by fear and retreat into darker versions of themselves. One such example of this is Comedian (or former comedian?) Dennis Miller, who has spent the last decade as an apologist for Bush-era policies and a frequent contributor on Fox News.

But perhaps no public figure has shown a more significant transformation into the heart of darkness following the events of 9/11 more than Jesse Ventura, who now hosts a television show devoted to promoting just about every popular grand conspiracy imaginable. Ventura now regularly rails against “the government” and “the media,” blaming these powers that be for every evil under the sun…and a few over it. Though I did always find it odd that as an employee of Time Warner himself, Ventura sees no plot hole in the fact that he’s literally being paid by one of the very agencies he indicts to propagate what he considers to be their sinister hidden agenda when one would think it’d be Time Warner’s goal to silence him.

In any event though, Ventura’s got a new book pushing his kooky conspiracies and he’s got to move merchandise, so he went on NPR where he briefly debates Michael Shermer on 9/11 conspiracy stuff. Unfortunately, he never gave Shermer a real chance to respond uninterrupted, so the final result is only a so-so performance from Shermer.

But of course all of Ventura’s claims are old news and have been debunked ages ago. I’ve compiled some of the best 9/11 denialist debunking resources on the web here.

Now I’d like to say he’s only recently become an embarrassment but then again, he’s been passing himself off as a former Navy SEAL for a long, long time now even though he in fact never was a Navy SEAL, as is indicated on his Wikipedia page:

From September 11, 1969, to September 10, 1975, during the Vietnam War era, Ventura served in the United States Navy. While on active duty, Ventura was part of Underwater Demolition Team 12 (UDT).[4] The UDTs were merged with the US Navy SEALs in 1983, 8 years after Ventura had left the Navy.

Bill Salisbury, an attorney in San Diego and a former Navy SEAL officer, accused Ventura of “pretending” to be a SEAL and wrote that Ventura would be blurring an important distinction by claiming to be a SEAL when he was actually a frogman with the UDT. Compared to SEAL teams, UDTs saw less combat and took fewer casualties.[5][6][7] Following that, Governor Ventura’s office confirmed that Ventura was never a member of the SEALs. His spokesman stated that Ventura has never tried to convince people otherwise.[5] Ventura stated: “Today we refer to all of us as SEALs; that’s all it is.”[7]

I beg to differ. I can’t recall a single public appearance he’s made in the last decade where he didn’t mislead the viewers into thinking he was a former Navy SEAL. And while it’s a form of ad hominem to suggest that because he’s lied about one thing that that means we should assume he’s lying about something else, but the fact that he continues to perpetuate this myth that he was a former SEAL for the express purpose of garnering greater legitimacy itself seems to me to have the opposite effect and greatly diminish his credibility as an honest agent free of bias, especially when its paired with the host of logical fallacies he presents here. Just about every question he asked Shermer was a red herring argument, an argument from final consequences, an argument from ignorance, an argument from personal incredulity, or even an ad hominem in the case where he was quick to flat-out accuse Shermer of being a government apologist despite Shermer’s very, very well-known libertarian status (to quote the final line from Some Like It Hot, “Well, nobody’s perfect”).

Listening to Ventura today makes me cringe at the fact that I actually once respected this man. He’s an ideologue and denialist of the highest order who is impervious to reason. It’s one thing to not have time to bleed, Mr. Ventura, but at least take the time to think.

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Sam Harris & Michael Shermer crush Deepak Chopra & Jean Houston on Nightline

March 23, 2010

Although PZ Myers thinks watching the latest Nightline debate is a waste of time, I highly recommend it, particularly because Sam Harris in particular simply demolishes Deepak Chopra and the other woman. Actually, aside from a few needlessly drawn out stories that go nowhere, Jean Houston was almost nonexistent in this debate and I almost even liked her.

The real debate though was between Sam Harris and Michael Shermer against Deepak Chopra, who couldn’t have made more of a fool of himself. Even a guy in the audience during the Q & A session exposed Chopra’s ignorance.

The common theme in the debate seemed to be exposing Deepak as hack who incorrectly co-opts terminology from both science and religion in order to formulate his own brand of meaningless New Age gibberish. The debate was about whether or not the god concept has a future and Deepak refused to actually address the very topic he was invited to discuss, ignoring the god concept that 99.999999% of the world means when they talk about god in order to promote his own “god” in name only that has no resemblance to what almost everyone on the planet would consider “god.” So then why did you agree to the debate in the first place, Deepak?

This is like if I were invited to debate free will versus determinism and instead demanded that we discuss homeopathy, which I renamed “determinism.”

Deepak was also frequently corrected on his constant misuse of quantum physics as a justification for his incoherent magical claims.

Anyway, it’s a fun debate to watch, so check it out. Here’s the first part:

Oh, and check out Shermer’s post-debate debate with Chopra here. No, I didn’t accidentally type “debate” twice. Chopra and Shermer have continued debating a particularly idiotic claim Chopra made on their blogs.

Bill Gates schools Michael Shermer on economics

February 22, 2010

Jared Cohen, Dave Morin, John Cusack, Dean Kamen, Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Michael Shermer. Photo by John Brockman

Lately, it seems like I can’t get away from wacky libertarian politics. Hell, I don’t think I realized until now just how wacky the hard-core libertarians are and now am considering putting them up there with creationists.

Which is not to say that all libertarians are crazy. I have some libertarian friends who are active in the skeptical community and though we disagree on this one issue, they seem fairly rational most of the time.

Not like this guy who seemed so rational back when when he was making videos debunking moon landing deniers:

Then of course there’s Michael Shermer, a skeptic I respect a great deal but whom I think is very irrational when it comes to his libertarian position. That’s why I really enjoyed reading about his dinner discussion with Bill Gates, where Gates explains the importance of government intervention in the marketplace:

I asked Gates “Isn’t it a myth that some companies are ‘too big to fail’? What would have happened if the government just let AIG and the others collapse.” Gates’ answer: “Apocalypse.” He then expanded on that, explaining that after talking to his “good friend Warren” (Buffet), he came to the conclusion that the consequences down the line of not bailing out these giant banks would have left the entire world economy in tatters.

. . .

This led me to ask Gates this: “If the market is so good at determining jobs and wages and prices, why not let the market determine the price of money? Why do we need the Fed?” Gates responded: “You sound like Ron Paul! We need the Fed to steer the economy away from extremes of inflation and deflation.” He then schooled us with a mini-lecture on the history of economics (again, probably gleaned from Timothy Taylor’s marvelous course for the Teaching Company on the economy history of the United States) to demonstrate what happens when fluctuations in the price of money (interest rates, etc) swing too wildly. I believe that was the last question I asked Gates for the evening! What do I know? I run a tiny nonprofit science education organization with six employees. I’m just hoping to be able to cover my daughter’s college tuition next year. Gates is the world’s richest man who founded a giant multi-national corporation and heads a powerful nonprofit organization that is trying to save the third world. He surely understands economics and business and finance better than I do, right? I sure hope so!

Yes Michael, it’s safe to say that Bill Gates and his friend Warren Buffet DO understand economics and finance better than you do. Their expertise in these fields is even demonstrable. Just compare bank accounts.

I love Shermer but the moment economics comes up he suddenly turns into a nonsensical crank. It’s good to hear that even the richest men in the world understand the importance of government involvement in market affairs. I hope this has a big impact on Shermer’s economic views…but does it make me a cynical person that I doubt it?

An epic fail that’s closer to home

February 11, 2010

Yesterday, when I posted about several stories that I grouped under the collective category of epic fails, one commenter pointed out one that I’d forgotten to include, one within the skeptical community. The other day, Michael Shermer posted his semi-regular column on Skepticblog, a blog hosted by those involved in the yet-to-be-sold pilot episode of The Skepologists.

The problem is that Shermer used Skepticblog to once again promote his libertarian politics. Now I recognize that the skeptical community largely consists of two political persuasions, liberals and libertarians. And while I happen to belong to the former, I also recognize that some of the best skeptics I know are libertarians. However, I personally find libertarianism to be a very flawed ideology that takes a lot more on faith than otherwise rational libertarian skeptics would like to admit. And I feel that some skeptics have done an excellent job rationally dissecting and critiquing libertarianism, particularly when it seems to hinder the critical thinking of otherwise good skeptics.

But that’s not my objection to Shermer’s piece.

Not at all.

If he had posted a well-written critique of big government that included appropriate facts that were backed by evidence, I’d be a little concerned about his bringing politics into skepticism but would ultimately accept it as I too am prone to bringing abortion, gay marriage, public health care, religion, etc into skepticism when I feel that specific claims made by public figures are objectively false.

Again, while I don’t share Shermer’s politics, that is not the reason why I feel this is an inappropriate entry on Skepticblog. If he were to address finance from a science-based perspective or at least an evidence-based one, that would have been fine. However, that’s not the piece that Shermer had written. Instead, his piece on Skepticblog was an incoherent, logical-fallacy-filled rant about how much money is being spent by the Obama Administration.

One commenter using the name Ebenezer Clipperlock did a great job pointing out Shermer’s fallacies:

“Well, I am a skeptic, and I can find “appeal to emotion”, “a.o. incredulity”, “pulling out of context”, “association / causation” and “comparing apples with oranges”. I wonder if there are more. Interestingly, three of those are not on the oft cited list at http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx.

But sadly, many commenters have sided with Shermer. Though I couldn’t find one that supported the entry but said they disagreed with its subject matter. In fact, at least most of those supporting the piece not surprisingly happen to agree with his position. I’m not making an argument here. It’s just an observation, a depressing one considering one would expect readers of a skeptical blog to be more objective in their assessments.

Shermer’s rant is not a skeptical article and does not belong on a skeptical blog. Skeptics could sit around and argue politics till the apocalypse but that’s counterproductive and not the purpose Skepticblog is supposed to serve. It’s supposed to be promoting critical and evidence-based thinking.

I’m all for critiquing religion in skepticism from an evidence-based perspective and I’m all for critiquing political claims from an evidence-based perspective, whether it’s a position I agree with or not. But inserting one’s subjective political diatribes unbacked by evidential claims hurts not only Shermer’s own reputation but also hurts the credibility of the entire blog because if Shermer turns people off with his politics, the site might lose some readers entirely.

And lastly, to those who are cheering Shermer’s piece who happen to also share his position, please explain to me precisely how turning this forum into a political shouting match furthers the cause of skepticism? I really would like to know.

Michael Shermer – The Baloney Detection Kit

June 23, 2009

Michael Shermer interviews Creation Museum ‘scientist” Georgia Purdom

March 16, 2009


Now I know what you’re thinking:  Did I just hear her say out loud at the 11:00 mark that we KNOW the universe is 6000 years old because that’s what The Bible says? The answer is, yes. Yes, you did.

So THIS is what a scientist is!! Thanks Creation Museum!

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves:  Whoa!


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.8.08

December 9, 2008

Gattaca dubbed in Japanese – If you’ve never seen the Science Fiction film Gattaca, it’s about a near-future society where social, economic, and professional class is determined by ones genes. Well Japan’s moving in that direction except that their conclusions have no actual scientific merit. 4 bestsellers in Japan promote the new myth that blood type determines personality and offers guidance on what decisions one should make. Essentially this is another classic example of dressing up astrology-like voodoo in the clothes of science. They’re appropriately referred to as “blood horoscopes.”

Superstition is on the rise – I have some issues with this article. For instance, he cites the recent Baylor study, suggesting that it showed superstition was higher among the non or less religious, which is the common misconception. Religion itself IS a superstition, and the primary reason the more religious don’t believe in or participate in other superstitions is because religions tend to form monopolies on the supernatural. Those claiming access to other forms of supernatural tend to be viewed as either evil witches, devil worshipers, or mislead by trickery.

Though to be fair, I know plenty of atheists who believe all sorts of nonsense.

Kangaroo Cousins – Scientists in Australia have discovered that the kangaroo genome is remarkably similar to humans’.

Vampires take over Romania – Okay, not real vampires but close, creationists. These vampires have their own crosses. Romania is no longer teaching evolution in schools. Romania, you’re as dead to me.

A brief history of creationism

Atheist sign comes to Illinois


thestupiditburnsDramatic irony at its finest – Here’s what came out of the mouth of one person who was protesting the atheist sign in the Washington state capital:

“The No. 1 thing is, we want the state of Washington and the governor to represent everyone in the state,” said the Rev. Kenneth Hutcherson, the pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. “But just because you must represent everyone in the state doesn’t mean that you put up with intolerance from the people that you represent.”

Chasing out the Jews – Washington State Senator Jim Dunn (R) — a Christian — made this appalling comment yesterday:

“It is time to chase out all the Jews and evildoers,” Dunn said.

There has been no backlash. Actually he didn’t say that. What he said was:

“It is time to chase out of the house of God all the unbelievers and evildoers,” Dunn said.

I’m told this is supposed to be much better.

The Flying Car–on sale next year – What would you do for one?

Is body language junk science?


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyAmazon Butterflies: Evolution Favors Mutualism – “Many studies of evolution focus on the benefits to the individual of competing successfully – those who survive produce the most offspring, in Darwin’s classic ‘survival of the fittest’. But how does this translate to the evolution of species?

A new article considers an aspect of the natural world that, like survival of the fittest individual, is explained by natural selection: namely, mutualism — an interaction between species that has benefits for both. The work shows that some species of butterfly that live alongside one another have evolved in ways that, surprisingly, benefit both species.”

Spider Love: Little Guys Get Lots More – “Big males outperform smaller ones in head-to-head mating contests but diminutive males make ten times better lovers because they’re quicker to mature and faster on their feet, a new study of redback spiders reveals.” With a title like that, I had to post this one.

Flying Spaghetti Monster Nativity Scene:

We miss ya, John:

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.24.08

July 25, 2008

ABC news site features What’s The Harm -Probably the most frequently asked question of skeptics concerning why we fight pseudoscience is “what’s the harm?” Well, here’s the answer.

A bad week for alternative medicine -On Monday, Radovan Karadzic was revealed to be working as a healer. On Tuesday, we learned that a woman suffered brain damage after a detox. Rose Shapiro explains how to spot a quack. Another excellent guide to basic skeptical advice.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, why are you the greatest lier of them all? -Researchers find that mirrors have profound effects on our psychology.

Crackergate is officially over! -For those who haven’t been following the epic saga that’s been Crackergate, it all began with Webster Cook took the Eucharist, an object so sacred to Catholics they call it the Body of Christ, “hostage”. Many Catholics responded by calling the incident a “hate crime.” Bill Donohue of The Catholic League was outraged. To put this in perspective, this is the same guy who was outraged last year over a chocolate Jesus sculpture and Kathy Griffins’ Emmy Awards acceptance speech (Her response to Donohue)and who who’s been outraged in past with: the film Dogma, the underrated ABC series Nothing Sacred, singer Joan Osborne for the song “One of Us,” The Golden Compass, South Park for the Cartoon Wars episode, and many, many others.

ANYWAY! This overreaction to the taking of the communion wafer, led science blogger PZ Myers to write  this blog here where he promised to get his hands on one and desecrate it. Then surprise, surprise, Donohue was pissed. Are you following me so far. Good. So PZ fired back at Donohue and his drones who have been flooding him mailbox with hate mail and death threats,

Behead Those Who Insult Crackers

Behead Those Who Insult Crackers

which led to sender being fired. But then came the twist. A confession revealed 1-800 Flowers had fingered the wrong person. Then somehow PZ was considered a danger to Republican security. Hate mail continued to pour in, pleading for PZ to spare the defenseless cracker and to desecrate the Koran instead. And that pretty much brings us to the present story, posted above. The cracker has been desecrated, the job is done, and the world continues to revolve around the sun. And this is go down as one of the stupidest chapters in human history.

Michael Shermer’s latest article in Scientific American -How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results.

DROP THAT CELL PHONE NOW! or don’t. It doesn’t matter. -This whole cell phones causing radiation hypothesis is getting old. I remain totally underwhelmed by the evidence. I’ll try using my cell phone extra often to  express my disgust with this silly fearmongering.

And now for some science news:

Largest Sample Of Very Distant Galaxies Ever -“New Hubble Space Telescope observations of six spectacular galaxy clusters acting as gravitational lenses have given significant insights into the early stages of the Universe. Scientists have found the largest sample of very distant galaxies seen to date: ten promising candidates thought to lie at a distance of 13 billion light-years (~redshift 7.5).” Hear that Young Earth Creationists? 13 BILLION LIGHT-YEARS!

Dinosaur Super-tree Shows Slow Evolution At End -“An international study, led by the University of Bristol, shows that during their last 50 million years of existence, dinosaurs were not expanding as actively as had been previously thought and that the apparent explosion of dinosaur diversity may be largely explained by sampling bias.”

Introduction To Critical Thinking and Skepticism

July 23, 2008

Here’s a just a few of my favorite videos addressing Critical Thinking and Scientific Skepticism. Enjoy.

Here Be Dragons: An Introduction To Critical Thinking:

Michael Shermer – Why People Believe Weird Things:

Richard Wiseman – colour changing card trick:

Gullible is not in the Dictionary: