Visiting the Fringe

“Hello, Ms. Hill,” said the man at the registration desk before I had a chance to give my name. “We’re glad to have you here.”

So much for flying under the radar. I’m the skeptical one at the Fringe New Jersey one-day conference. I’m used to this, though, having gone to several paranormal-themed events. Why do I attend? As I said in this review of an academic parapsychological conference, I came to learn and explore evidence and ideas from new points of view. It’s always interesting. Listening to those who don’t think the same way you do is the key to understanding the bigger broad view regarding why we believe and why it matters. I don’t have to talk, just be part of the audience eager to hear what the invited speakers have to say.

audienceThere were five presenters this day. Each got to speak for an hour which is rather nice. They all had long, complex stories to tell, so the extended time accommodated this. Each story had a tone and purpose, contained information put forward as supporting evidence, and had a conclusion. Stories with arcs like these are not typical of scientific conferences or even skeptical conferences. For those, the audience is walked through information about a specific concept or hears a proposal with an argument, supporting evidence, and findings in an objective, usually detached, tone. The emotive story is clearly more appealing to a general audience. But, it can be trying to those listening who find your story to be a bunch of BS. I disagreed with many of the fringe ideas presented but I still learned a great deal and was entertained.

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Human sacrifice at CERN? It’s not a joke when bizarre claims are taken seriously

Reaction has been varied regarding a video seemingly depicting a human sacrifice on the grounds of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, the location of the Large Hadron Collider and cutting edge particle physics research. Some people are chuckling at the spoof while others see it confirming their dark suspicions and sinister worldview. As a science advocate who knows that people all too readily subscribe to truly outrageous ideas about how the world works, I’m angry at these participants who were clearly CLUELESS about the damage they could do to the beleaguered reputation of big science.

Take a look at the video.Read More »

Weird Newsapalooza!

New Sounds Sciencey post is about How to Think About Weird News

Every day, I scour the Internet for news. Not just any news. Weird news. What bizarre thing was seen, heard, or found today?

This interest in the unexplained, mysterious, and Fortean is a perpetual thing for me. The first books I ever recall picking out as favorites were about ghosts, monsters, and UFOs. But the qualification for my interest was that I cared about them only because I thought they might be real.

I began a website to highlight these paranormal and anomalous news stories. While there are a lot of strange news feeds and news aggregators that do this, mine is different. I didn’t just want to share these stories so you can pass them along your virtual circles. I wanted to discuss these stories. What about them was true? What was missing? Why did people latch onto certain ones and enthusiastically share them with everyone they knew, even if they were almost certainly hoaxes or exaggerations? One of my goals was for my website to show up in online searches for these topics so perhaps interested readers would stumble upon a more thoughtful analysis than what was found in comment sections after the news stories or on Internet forums.

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Buell and PRS to offer classes for the credulous

I once went to a presentation by the Paranormal Research Society, held at a local Pennsylvania State University campus. It was not sponsored (nor endorsed) by the university but by a student activities group. I chuckled softly to myself when Ryan Buell flubbed information about some very famous “ghost” photographs. His background on parapsychological history seemed thin. I was thoroughly unimpressed. (I’ve since watched the show and was even more unimpressed.) I’m sure he’s better now, being under the tutelage of Lorraine Warren, clairvoyant/demon enthusiast. PRS has announced that in response to tremendous public requests, they will be offering educational webinars.

“PRS will begin hosting and offering classes and lectures on paranormal research and various topics through the means of online webinars. PRS will offer both individual lectures and web courses, as well as invite outside experts/researchers to offer classes.”

Color me skeptical about the seriousness of such a venture…
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Well done, Skeptics

I’m quite pleased with this exchange at the PA skeptical site Keystone Society for Rational Inquiry. A guest poster noticed an article in the local paper about a new alternative therapy – Himalayan salt cave – and looked into it. What was found can benefit lots of people and can assist people in make more informed choices.

Skeptics say “what”? This “salt cave” stuff obviously rings bells that go “woo woo”. And, well it should. There were some obvious issues about credentials and research and consequences. Check out the comments to see how proponents argue for their POV when the criticism may take away from their businesses’ credibility. This exchange is quite full of logical fallacies which I can spot but am not very good at labeling. Read More »

The emotionally and cognitively satisfying anecdote

I used to have a cat. That cat was pretty mean. He hated other people and animals. He messed up my house. I’ll never have another cat because they don’t make good house pets.

The little story above is an anecdote. It has characters, reflects a real-life experience in a narrative form and is intended to provide you with “facts”, an opinion and my reasoning for the conclusion I’ve made there at the end.

Did it convince you? Perhaps – if you are open to the idea that cats are bad pets. Is it generalizable to the entire population of people considering pets? No. It’s simply one person’s experience with a cat.Read More »

Reasons to love evolution

Evolution explains the way things are. There is no God at work there, things happen according to natural rules (policy and general guidance). It’s a beautiful thing. Nature is the designer. Don’t be afraid to embrace Natural Design. Here’s why it’s OK to love evolution.

  1. Scientists are cool, crazy evangelicals are not.
  2. You will piss off crazy evangelicals (cool).
  3. You have a better chance of getting a good paying job (because you will automatically be smarter than the average person).
  4. A stylized fish with legs and a wrench is cute on your car.
  5. You will understand your doctor when he gives you health information.
  6. Change through time explains a lot about life.
  7. The zoo and natural history museums become tremendously more interesting.
  8. You won’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why God created parasites.
  9. You will have a small appreciation for even the worst things in life – like kudzu, MRSA and influenza pandemics.
  10. You can appreciate what is really important in selecting a “mate”.
  11. It’s not hip to be dumb and ignorant, for example – see George W. Bush.
  12. You view life as one big, interconnected web, through time, in which we are all related.
  13. Accepting things the way they are is a lot less stressful than living a lie.

Airborne shot out of the sky

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up this blog for those of you who might be subscribed. Every so often I feel the need to speak out in the hopes that someone might hear me.

This made me say “Yea!”. From the first I heard of Airborne, and other things like Cold-eeze, Zicam and the like, the warning bells rang loudly. If it sounds too good to be true…

I hate herbal remedies. Not because they don’t work but because too many people think that “herbal” is better. Herbal is herbal, that’s it; usefullness or betterness is not implied. People will think “natural” is better. Well, if herbal and natural remedies were so great for everything, why did we have to develop western medicinal drugs? Put simply, herbal remedies may not hurt you. (And that’s a big “may”, because they just might.) But, you waste lots of money for nothing. Sure, I enjoy my herbal tea and have been occasionally fond of pick-me-up drinks, but I don’t expect miracles from them. That is, I don’t expect them to cure the common cold or really give me wings.

Here’s a revelation for those of you who say “It works for me! I haven’t been sick at all!”: I have daily contact with children in day care and elementary school and work in a large office building. I have not had one major illness this year. I had one minor bout of sniffles lasting about 5 days but it was not too disruptive. My system fought off the onset of some achyness within a day several times since last fall without the aid of any magic concoction. Therefore, I can honestly say I haven’t been sick much this past season at all. I attribute this to three things – 1.) I get regular sleep. When I feel poor, I try for even more. 2.) I don’t eat much junky food. One treat a day and fast food makes me feel rather yucky. 3.) I use saline nose spray to keep me from getting recurrent sinus infections.

I will bet you will find plenty of doctors who say my solutions are tremendously safe and very effective. You won’t find that for poor Airborne. I snigger at those who swear by this stuff. Then, I wish that there was a way to really help you understand that anecdotes are not science. It’s kind of depressing how in these modern times, misinformation and misunderstanding still is so prevalent.