Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stop Robbie Thomas and Accommodationism

I have blogged, in the past, about accommodationism as it relates to evolution acceptance. I'm not an accomodationist and I don't think we should be afraid to recognize that acceptance of evolution does undermine many religious beliefs.

However, my reference to accommodationism in this entry is related to our goal, at www.stoprobbie.com, to get Robbie Thomas to change his lying and abusing ways. In the past few weeks, we have been contacted by people who would be willing to help our 'cause' with Robbie Thomas/Police/Crimestoppers but my skewering of their beliefs (on other topics) make them hesitant to take part.

A couple of the other contributors to the site had pointed out the complaints and concerns and wondered what we should do about it. Rather than have this issue discussed on www.stoprobbie.com, I thought I'd talk about it here.

First of all, yes, I'm a skeptic and an atheist. Yes, I have attacked the firmly held beliefs of almost everyone (we all hold to at least a couple truly whacky ideas) and I'm not about to stop.

Robbie Thomas is a liar - he does not have psychic powers and he has never solved a missing persons or murder case using paranormal methods. I despise his activities as they relate to abusing already victimized families and I think that the goal of www.stoprobbie.com is admirable. I joined the group because I truly wanted to help - it does bother me that, possibly, the group is not getting the support it needs because of my other activities.

However, I am not going to apologize for them. I'm not sorry if something I said was counter to your firmly held beliefs - whether it be reflexology, homeopathy, reiki, therapeutic touch, chiropractic, creationism, psychics, ear candling, other altmed practices, any other anti-science or even god. My goal, here, is to encourage critical thinking, increase the understanding of logical fallacies and to promote science. Your woo-woo is fair game.

Note: I don't spend much time blogging about homeopathy and other pure stupid on stoprobbie.com - I could see it being a problem if that were the case.

If you can't be bothered to help stop the abuse by a psychic because you don't share my skeptical views on other topics, it is you that is in the wrong. Robbie Thomas is causing real harm and your inaction is only allowing him to continue doing so.

What do you think? Should I part ways with the group? Will it get broader support without me? You can post your thoughts in the comments, email me at sarniaskeptic@gmail.com or email the group at emailus@stoprobbie.com. Your input, either way, is truly appreciated.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The only skeptic in the room...

I'm sure, if you follow any of the skeptical blogs, that you've already seen the following video but it brings me to publishing a blog entry that I wrote a while ago and had not yet posted.  Watch the video, if you haven't seen it, and then continue on to the rest of my blog below it.

It is often that I am the only skeptic in the room.  Often it is an uncomfortable position (or experience) to be in (probably moreso for my wife than it is for me) but one that I do value and cherish.  Don't get me wrong, I wish I wasn't the only skeptic in the room but I value that my comments/questions/ideas could ultimately be helping people be better thinkers (or thinkers in the first place). 

Seldom, when I'm in a group setting, that I engage a person and question their (truly questionable) beliefs/statements, do I not get a positive response from at least one person in the group.  Richard Dawkins has often suggested that sometimes the discussion isn't for the purpose of winning over the person who you are directly engaging but the other people listening - I think that is often the case and, in those instances, calling something absurd when it is absurd doesn't have such a net negative effect.  It may entrench the person who espoused the crazy belief but others who are simply watching it unfold may very well appreciate that the beliefs are crazy/absurd. 

Though it isn't the point of this entry, I think it is important that people keep "approach" in mind when there is an audience.  Conceding "points" to the other person in an attempt to get them to explain their beliefs (or lead them down a garden path) doesn't necessarily help get the real point across to those just listening in.  They might, wrongly, assume that some of your "opponent's" claims are valid.

I wanted to discuss or express my frustration with how other people react to nonsense.  After I ask someone to explain why it is they believe something and then, possibly, point out the faulty reasoning for the belief, I am, almost without fail, approached by someone who says "I knew that what they were saying was dumb but I don't know enough about it to challenge them so I just let it go in one ear and out the other". 

The point I want to make is this: You don't have to be an expert in a subject to understand whether or not the acceptance of a position is based on logic and evidence.  You can't afford to not speak out - you'd hope others would do it in situations where someone is trying to bamboozle you - you owe it to others to do the same when they might need it.

A person's belief could be based on the acceptance of something that you DO know about, as well.  If someone was to state that we aren't going to run out of oil and we shouldn't be investing in renewable energies, you might not be aware of what oil reserves actually exist and what rate we go through the oil, but what if the premise for their belief/claim was that they believe the earth is only 6000 years old and that the oil is naturally produced in a matter of years and not hundreds of centuries?  The premise is wrong so any logical extensions from it are, at best, suspect.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not an expert in much - I'm definitely not an expert in everything.  I do not know much about demolition techniques, building engineering, jet fuel burn temperatures, etc. but I can reason my way through potential red flags presented by "9/11 Truthers".  Simply applying Occam's Razor would lead one to look at the "Truthers'" claims about "9/11" being an inside job.  Asking questions like "What makes you believe that?" or "What evidence do you have to support your claim?" or even asking them why they reject the other hypothesis/explanation can be enough to have them expose their weak reasoning and for others to see just how wacky their beliefs are.

Be a skeptic, if you find something implausible, ask questions.  Your first assumption about the claims seeming "far-fetched" may be wrong and you might actually learn something but, gee, is that really a bad thing? 

Do yourself and the ones around you a favour - withhold acceptance of a claim until you have good reason to accept it and, most importantly, don't incredulously relay decision-affecting information that you don't have reason to suspect is accurate.

And maybe, one day, I won't be the only skeptic in the room :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This week in eSkeptic - Pet Psychics

In this week’s eSkeptic, in a spin on David Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks,” psychologist Bryan Farha examines the very real world of stupid pet psychic tricks—people who think their pets have psychic power. Farha not only debunks the claims of psychic pet owners but reveals how the tricks are done through a series of techniques based on natural (not supernatural) powers.

Read the article...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Okay, psychics are entertaining - if you're not the one being screwed by them

I do get a laugh out of 'psychics' and their claims, so I will give credit where credit is due - they're entertaining for those who understand that they're nothing more than bullshitters.

However, I was flipping through the newspaper and a little piece of paper fell out.  I picked it up off the floor and turned it over to find...

Mary is a local 'psychic' who, obviously, advertises via our local newspaper.  You'll notice the disclaimer at the bottom that says "For entertainment only".  What? You can't see it?  That's right, because it isn't there.

I guess that makes Mary, just like Robbie Thomas, a liar.  And this might make her a fraud.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Judgement Day / The End of the World - May 21, 2011

Since I have a low tolerance for stupid, I can't seem to make my way through the websites that are suggesting that "Judgement Day" will occur on May 21, 2011 so I'm left with a few important questions.
  • What happens between May 21, 2011 and October 21, 2011?
  • Do these people actually have licenses to drive?
  • Is 'stupid' contagious?
But, seriously, I'm thinking this whole May 21, 2011 thing is a joke being played by atheists and it will turn out to be a movie launch for Gawd Bless America by Blake Freeman.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Let's start from the beginning

I feel like I'm repeating myself.  Okay, maybe it isn't a feeling.  I'm repeating myself.  I'm repeating myself.

Often when someone brings up Homeopathy, Prayer, Healing Touch, Psychics, etc., a "believer" in the item being discussed will argue a couple ways:

1.) Quantum mechanics/Quantum physics explains how it works
2.) We don't have instruments to test how it works so we shouldn't dismiss it/As instruments get more precise, we'll see how it works

But, they will forget to argue about the most important point.

It is true that there are a number of things that "happen" or "work" but we don't know how they happen or work even though we know that they work.  We may not know, precisely, how a particular medicine works but that is not the first part to be discussed. 

There are many things about our world and the human body that we know and there are many things that we do not know but that doesn't mean we should simply accept or reject claims based on our current knowledge (or lack of knowledge).  We use our current knowledge and models to come up with potential methods of action for new drugs/treatments and then do studies to determine effectiveness/usefulness BUT not everything that we expect to work, works and not everything that seems slightly implausible, fails to work. 

Things that work, we try to figure out how they work so we can apply this knowledge to other potential drugs or treatments.  Things that don't work, however, we don't give a shit how it is supposed to work. 

In other words - present the evidence (real evidence, not just stories) that it works, FIRST.

So, for people who claim 1 or 2 above, let me say this.  You're wrong.  Quantum physics/mechanics does not explain Homeopathy, Prayer, Healing Touch, Psychics, etc. because they don't work and there is nothing to explain.
Quantum physics doesn't explain how Homeopathy works because Homeopathy doesn't work.
Quantum physics doesn't explain how prayer works because prayer doesn't work.
Quantum physics doesn't explain how Healing/Therapeutic Touch (TT) works because TT doesn't work.
Quantum physics doesn't explain how Psychics work because Psychics are lying scumbags (http://www.stoprobbie.com/).
Quantum physics doesn't explain how anything works if it doesn't work. (Quantum physics might explain why something doesn't work, however! But only if it doesn't work!)

Before you argue about or claim 'evidence' for how something works, please, please, please, please present the evidence that it actually works.

We know why Homeopathy doesn't work (no possible method of action, no active ingredient left, biologically implausible).  We know why prayer doesn't work (too many non-existent gods to choose from). We know why TT doesn't work (no possible method of action - it's not even f'ing touching!). We know why Psychics don't work (dead people are mute). 

(And, to deal, in advance, with the standard arguments:
1.) I've tried it, and it didn't work for me. It's stupid.
2.) It didn't work for you.  You need to learn about logical fallacies ('post hoc ergo propter hoc', 'argument from authority', 'argument from antiquity', 'argument from popularity' for sure), regression to the mean, the natural history of the disease and learn about spontaneous remission, misdiagnoses of the initial condition (thanks Tim Minchin), confirmation bias, anecdotes vs. data, proper blinding, placebo, etc.
3.) I'm not a Big Pharma shill.  I don't get paid to do what I do here - helping to stop the abuse of others is payment enough.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Two things that 'Therapeutic Touch' isn't

1.) Therapeutic
2.) Touch

More on Therapeutic Touch.

Homeopathic remedies that work - complete list

Consult the following list of symptoms and the proven homeopathic remedies.

Symptom - Remedy
1.) -

End of list.

(Note: Thick wallet syndrome is not a recognized condition though all homeopathic 'remedies' can alleviate its symptoms.)

Looking for a REAL psychic - check out this list

Before you contact a psychic, be sure they are a real psychic - consult this exhaustive list of proven psychics. If they're not on this list, they aren't psychic.


End of list.

If you think you're psychic, you can get your name added to this list by going here. Successfully complete the challenge and we'll add you to this list.

How to tell if your house is haunted

It isn't.