Reinforcing bad info: The side effect of debunking

imageIt’s not the best job in the world to bust people’s clouds. How often have you been thanked for providing the Snopes link to debunk that urban legend? The typical reaction to Snopes-type debunking is to ignore it or reject it. In the former, people will continue to promote the falsehood when it’s advantageous to them. In the latter, they will double down on their original belief in the falsehood in what is called the Backfire Effect.

Snopes has a tendency to write headlines that reinforce the myth. Here are the top two stories from a screen cap today as examples.Read More »

Doubt and About Summer 2016: Book projects

SoftwareforwritersIt’s been six years since I started working on my Masters’ thesis about amateur paranormal investigators. Or, as I preferred to call them, ARIGs – amateur research and investigation groups –  to be inclusive of all types of groups, paranormally-inclined or skeptical. Of course, there were not too many that were skeptics. My findings identified how ARIGs portrayed themselves on the web, their favored techniques, mission and goals and, how they portrayed “science” to their clients and the public. I crafted a landscape view of all the ghost hunters, Bigfoot clubs, and UFO seekers across America. The thesis is available here. But if that’s too long, you can read an article in Skeptical Inquirer.

I’m currently working on a book manuscript that updates the ideas in the thesis. Much happened from 2012 to the present to add to the analysis of this subculture in America. I had many references to get through. To rework a manuscript is one of the hardest projects I’ve done. It’s tortuous. The potential references seem endless – I need to deliberately quit looking because there are always more. The editing, additions, and smoothing out process is also never-ending. I’d be getting nowhere if I continued to use MS Word software, copying and pasting, because of the bits and pieces that had to be moved around and fitted together in order for it to be coherent. (I use Ulysses, an iOS program.) One problem with writing is that it is very advantageous to focus for long stretches at a time; I haven’t been able to do that for various reasons. I’m not a professional writer, I have a full-time job, a family, and other obligations. Obviously, this project has taken longer than I thought and has been a drain, but it will be worth it no matter how many copies get sold. I do have a publisher who is interested. But should they pass on it, by hook or by crook I will get this damn thing published somehow. Read More »

Add science then stir

25251682A ubiquitous, overly-simplistic idea about science should be put to death. It is that of the public as an empty vessel that awaits filling with scientific facts. Then education will be achieved (level up!) and we can all make smart and informed decisions.

That’s utter tosh (as the British say). Nonsense.

As much as we would like to think learning is as direct as that, the public, which is made up of many people with all kinds of values, is not homogeneous and objective. We don’t just accept facts and then know stuff. Facts have to be applied. A corollary idea is that of linear science-based decision-making. That is, if we know the scientific facts about a problem, we will use that to determine what action should be taken about it. Agreed? Hardly. That’s hilariously naïve. This just does not happen for several reasons: disputed “facts”, different personal and social values, and the complexity of problems (many smaller problems inside an overarching problem) makes a linear approach about as unrealistic as a cartoon diagram of evolution showing arrows from monkeys to man.

Facts will fail

The article that provided the impetus to write this piece was by Sarewicz in 2004 [D. Sarewicz. 2004. How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse. Env Sci & Policy, 7: 385-403] In it, he uses an example of the history-changing Bush v Gore Presidential election of 2000. No matter what “facts” were – that is, the “official” number of votes declared – would that be the basis for general acceptance in such a close contest? I doubt it because there were disputes regarding votes for either candidate. (Remember the hanging chad?) Sarewicz can’t imagine that it would have been quickly solved (and we needed it to be) so a political/judicial decision was accepted instead.Read More »

State rocks and religious resolutions: What’s going on in the state legislature today?

As an informed citizen, I am curious about the laws being created in my state. So, I get a daily report on House and Senate bills introduced in Pennsylvania and the actions taken.

Today was interesting… I caught up on what was done all last week. Oh, there was plenty of important stuff proposed– bills (called ACTS) that hopefully will become laws. But there are regularly many “resolutions” proposed to the legislative bodies. Many are labeled: “INTRODUCED AS NONCONTROVERSIAL RESOLUTION UNDER RULE 35”.

They include such well-meaning items as:

  • A Resolution designating the month of June 2016 as “Healthy Living and Healthy Eating Month” in Pennsylvania and encouraging all residents to eat healthy.
  • A Resolution designating the month of June 2016 as “Adopt a Cat Month” in Pennsylvania.
  • A Resolution commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Borough of Plymouth, Luzerne County.
  • A Resolution observing June 19, 2016, as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in Pennsylvania in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which slavery was abolished finally in all regions of the United States.
  • A Resolution recognizing the week of June 13 through 19, 2016, as “Men’s Health Week” in Pennsylvania.
  • A Resolution designating the month of July 2016 as “MECP2 Duplication Syndrome Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania.

Read More »

Will this type of attack come to America? It already has.

Rhetoric seems to reign supreme in the US these days. When the audience lacks critical thinking skills and the ability to objectively question the speaker (usually a politician), we are in deep trouble. When fear –> anger –> violence happens and all reason is lost, then we can justifiably worry. I don’t comprehend politics very well. It confounds me. But what I do know is that we certainly need to be applying critical thinking and sound skepticism to the claims coming out of politicians these days. Their language, their ideas and their attitudes are getting worse.

I came across this opinion piece by Alex Massie who said:

We know that even lone lunatics don’t live in a bubble. They are influenced by outside events. That’s why, when there is an act of Islamist terrorism, we quite rightly want to know if it was, implicitly or explicitly, encouraged by other actors. We do not believe – at least we should not – in collective guilt or punishment but we do want to know, with reason, whether an individual assassin was inspired by ideology or religion or hate-speech or any of a hundred other possible motivating factors. We do not hold all muslims accountable for the violence carried out in the name of their prophet but nor can we avoid the ugly, unpalatable, truth that, as far as the perpetrator is concerned, he (it is almost always he) is acting in the service of his view of his religion. He has a cause, no matter how warped it may be. And so we ask who influenced him? We ask, how did it come to this?

Read More »

Psychical Research President states scientific disbelief in psi is “pathological”

coverPNRWhat a very strange “President’s Letter” is in Issue 77 of the Paranormal Review published by the Society of Psychical Research (Winter 2016). I read and re-read it trying to make heads or tales out of Dr. Poynton’s meaning and assertions. He seems to despise the application of reason and questioning, wishing the stodgy “pathological” scientists and skeptics would just BELIEVE already since the evidence for psi is as plain as day.

Fortunately, you can view the letter here (scroll down a bit past the editorial). Take a read and see what you think.

Read More »