Posts tagged: skepticism
Who said pseudoscience can do no harm? Well, definitely not the family of Harsha.
Harsha Maddula, a Northwestern University pre-medical student from Long Island, N.Y., went missing Sept. 22, last seen leaving an off-campus party in Illinois. Police and volunteer searchers were unable to find him, but Maddula’s family said reassuring words from psychics had raised their spirits.
Apparently, psychics contacted by the Maddula family’s relatives in India said Harsha was okay and would be found: “He’s still alive. Don’t worry.’”
The next day, however, Maddula’s body was found in Wilmette Harbor near his dormitory. He’d been dead for nearly a week, hidden from searchers in the water between two boats. There was no sign of struggle, robbery, or assault; though toxicology tests are still underway, police believe he was likely the victim of an accidental drowning.
This is only the latest of many cases where grieving families of missing persons have been given false hope by psychics. Despite the failure of psychic detectives to locate missing people, desperate families often turn to psychic and soothsayers.
We are doomed if skepticism and critical thinking skills do not become standard components of humankind at some point in this century. If we continue to fail to teach the majority of children on Earth how to doubt, how to ask questions and how to think for themselves, we will self-destruct. Think about it, how can global civilization continue to survive with the same high levels of stupidy and fantasy while the ability to create increasingly powerful weapons rises? We are in a race against ourselves.— Guy P. Harrison (via youarenotrational)
Abduction stories are strikingly similar. Victims wake up and find themselves paralyzed, unable to move or cry out for help. They see flashing lights and hear buzzing sounds. Electric sensations zing through their bodies, which may rise up in levitation. Aliens with wrap-around eyes, gray or green skin, lacking hair or noses, approach. The abductee’s heart pounds violently. There’s lots of probing in the alien ship. /—/
Bizarre effects aside, sleep paralysis is as normal as hiccups. It’s not a sign of mental illness. About 25 percent of people around the world have experienced it, and about 5 percent get the whole show of sight, sound, tactile hallucinations, and abduction.
Some of these people become completely absorbed by what happened and seek an explanation of it. That can lead them into a grab bag of different techniques well known to those with a rich fantasy life and a distaste for scientific explanations.
People are just having fun with astrology, stop being a buzz kill.
Go look at this pro-astrology blog.
Look at all the asks for relationship advice.
Look at the asks about getting into a relationship AT ALL.
People are deciding who they want to spend the rest of their lives with based on their fucking birthdays!
For those not keeping score at home:
Karkat-person had another “breakdown”, posting short incoherent rants to emphasize how ~upset he is. Then he posts in non-Karkat-type (now “[R]”) about how Karkat has “left the system”, lots and lots of dramatic whining ensues from him and his anons. The conversations turn extremely paranormal, with talks of how Karkat is apparently running around in astral space and people (the same mysterious anons) are “looking” for him. An anon asks if they’re ‘psychic’, [R] does not disagree. (Hey, why don’t you give James Randi a call?)
And then: “I think Karkat’s back. Just heard the door slam in headspace.”
That’s not the punchline. The punchline is that some people actually take this seriously, as in they think this is reality, and proceed to support the bastard. Honestly, even I’m surprised at this point, and I’ve seen a lot.
Later his 14-year-old ex-“boyfriend” posts:
lol this day sucked
first my ex gets called a pedo when the relationship was consensual
then he gets shat on because of poor Eric
then he leaves his system
then one of my best friends runs away from home and wont pick up her phone
See? Apparently K’s fabricated drama is comparable to or even more important than an underage girl disappearing from home. IRL.
I don’t even know what to end this post with. Someone ring up the anti-cult activists.
What you missed last week on Teen Skepchick:
- How Superstition invades Exams
- The Physics Philes, lesson 2: A Journey to Vector-ian Times
- The Daily Woo: Reiki
- Suspension of Disbelief: The Hunger Games Trilogy
- The Daily Woo: Dangerous Cell Phone Radiation
- Circumcision and HIV/AIDS
- Speak Your Mind: Heroines
- The Daily Woo: The Secret and Other Balderdash
- Marriage’s Decreasing Relevance
- The Daily Woo: Glucosamine & Chondroitin
- Awesome Sauce Music Friday! Crack for Nerds Edition
- The Fast is Coming Soon
Applied Skepticism: Example 3 - Legalization of Drugs
Legalizing marijuana is a pretty popular idea, especially in younger demographics. I go a step further: legalize it all. Pot, heroin, coke, crack, meth, etc, make it all legal. My view is that the government has no right to tell me what I can and cannot consume as long as I’m not hurting anyone. If the government feels the need to involve itself in the consumption of narcotics, it’s participation should be limited to treatment, not incarceration.
When I was younger, I was hesitant to open the floodgates to legalizing drugs. I couldn’t get past the thought that people would do drugs more often if drugs were legal. Then I went to college.
In college, despite being underage for almost the entire time, I was able to procure alcohol as often as I wanted. Alcohol was illegal, but a dorm full of college kids were able to get anything they wanted. It’s awfully dumb, but often we’d just leave the empty bottles out in the open for anyone to see. The only thing I ever got dinged for having in my room was a toaster oven.
I tried pot in college and found out it was not a lot of fun. Some people love it, I find it extremely annoying. I never had the interest in doing anything more, even though I had access to other drugs. I’m still not interested. Legalize it all and I’d still not be interested.
After seeing how poor prohibition laws worked in practice, I had to rethink my stance. I started looking at the statistics and what the statistics told me changed everything. Illegal drugs were not nearly the killer they were made out to be. Based on death rates, one could easily conclude that the cheeseburger was a bigger threat to the nation’s health than drugs.
Incarceration rates in this country have risen since I was in college to the point that in some states close to 50% of inmates are in for marijuana related offenses. Billions of dollars are spent trying to prevent drugs from getting in the country. People become felons for smoking pot in their own home, while politicians joke about having glasses of red wine in their own homes. It makes no sense.
In almost every measure I could find the “War on Drugs” was a failure. So what did I do with this information?
I changed my mind. I learned that everything I’d been taught about drugs was either wrong or exaggerated. I saw that government force did not stem drug usage. I saw the number of young people getting criminal records for what looked like small offenses.
I became a supporter of legalizing, not just pot, but all drugs. If you’re 18, do whatever you’d like in the comfort of your own home. Applied skepticism once again got me to change my mind, when all my preconceived notions were challenged. I had to look at causes and effects and see how they fit in with my own values. I’m never afraid of changing my mind, especially when I really, truly believe it would mean helping people.
You wouldn’t think of someone who runs a blog dedicated to controversial topics as being practical. However the idea of how to effectively communicate skepticism to the public was brought to my attention over this past weekend so I thought I’d recall some of the my personal hard-learned rules of dialogue.
Don’t Do Long Private Debates
To begin in complete hypocrisy I admit I violate this rule on a regular basis, indeed I’m engaged in one right now. However the reasons to avoid doing so are clear. You are far more likely to sway an undecided third party about anything than change the mind of a person who currently holds a view that is the mirror image of your own position. This doesn’t mean don’t try but it does mean recognizing a lost cause and as much as it hurts there will always be idiots on the internet.
Push As Possible
I often engage with people who I have no fantasy of fully converting to a skeptical mindset. What I do instead is try to move them one step along that process. If I am talking to a conspiracy theorist I try to get them to understand how evidence actually works. Or, when I’m feeling comical, I try to get them to realize that the evidence they think proves conspiracy is all part of the larger conspiracy to get you to believe the wrong conspiracy theory. Similarly if I’m speaking with someone who actively preaches bigotry towards atheists I don’t try to convince them that I’m right about the god question, I merely try to get them to realize that atheists are people like everyone else and that they actually know atheists. It’s unrealistic for the end goal of all your conversations to be that your interlocutor agree with you on everything from alternative medicine to religion. Which brings me to a related point…
Why belief in the supernatural is not a sign of being open minded and is often a sign of the very opposite.
I was standing in line at the bus station and there was a group of little Amish girls in front of me so I dug Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion out of my bag and offered it to them. I told them, “God told me to give this book to you” and they seemed awestruck and started flipping through it huddled closely. My bus was late so I had to wait behind them sort of awkwardly now that I had delivered a divine gift. Eventually a big bearded feller approached me, breath smelling of hay, and asked, “What is in that book?” I tried to distract him and said “God told me to give it to you” but he was quicker than I’d expected because he smiled curtly and let on to what his first question sought, “Does it say that God does not exist?” and I, feigning offense with my brow, replied, “David Hume was a Christian philosopher” and the term “philosopher” must have emotionally twinged in him a little because he ignored my statement and continued to pursue his suspicion: “Do you believe in God?” he asked. I told him, “Yes, and Jesus Christ is the only path,” which seemed to satisfy him because his questions ceased.
The book I gave them is essentially an examination of God’s nature largely through the lenses of the argument from design and the problem of evil. I found that the dialogues were so fair and balanced that the skepticism of the rationality of religious belief that emanates from beginning to end was discreet enough not to be instinctively written off as “heresy”. Similar is my justification for lying and telling him I was a Christian - he wouldn’t have given me a chance if I was anything else. I think there is speculation that Hume was an atheist but didn’t portray it blatantly so as to avoid upsetting the authority of his day. This is consistent with the subtlety I mentioned above: it seems like he perpetuated critical thinking as pragmatically as he could given his audience.
I saw the littlest and hopefully most impressionable girl staring down intently at the book when I made a trip to the bathroom on the back of the bus. Hopefully that’ll put a dent in her before her ma and pa snatch it away and chastise her for letting herself get tricked by Satan.
I’m trying to figure out if there’s something morally wrong with sneakily trying to convert other people’s children. Hmm.