A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 11 No. 7

July 2012

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias." --Stephen Colbert

What's New?

A paperback edition of my book Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! is now available from Lulu.com. For more info, click here. The eBook is still available. No, my next book is not going to called Unnatural Cures "I" Want You to Know About.

Becoming a Critical Thinker: ch. 7, Sampling and Analogical Reasoning, pdf file posted online. Several other chapters are also available free online. Click here for the links.

Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking (blog): post hoc fallacy, selection bias, positive-outcome bias, and logical fallacies.

Unnatural Virtue (Skepticality episodes mp3): ad hominem, self-deception, and fake healing. For the latest Skepticality show, click here.

Skeptic's Dictionary updates: eyewitness testimony, IQ and Race, near-death experiences, climate change deniers, osteopathy, chiropractic, and The Creation Museum: Why isn't this child abuse?


Last May, the Italian bishops said that their concordat excused them from having to report to the police suspected cases of child abuse by fellow priests. Like me, you may be wondering what in the hell is a concordat?

According to Concordat Watch, "concordats are international treaties with the Vatican that may range from granting little more than diplomatic recognition to a legally binding commitment to observe key aspects of Vatican doctrine and to have taxpayers subsidize the Church." That's right, the Vatican is a secular state representing the Roman Catholic Church's secular interests. As we know from the daily news, these secular interests include much more than the billions of dollars in cash, real estate, and other treasure owned by this church. Protecting pedophiles and those who harbor them has become one of its most frequent secular interests of late.

Concordat Watch is an online resource containing dozens of concordat translations, (most appearing in English for the first time), as well as related documents, general background articles and expert commentary. Concordat Watch deserves our support. These concordats protect the Vatican as it reaches its greedy anti-democratic tentacles into the pockets of secular states and protects its power to violate human rights as it sees fit. Catholic apologists will not be able to edit these comments of mine the way they have the Wikipedia article on concordats, an article whose neutrality is disputed.

In related news, the scandal-plagued Vatican has hired an Opus Dei member from the right-wing Fox News channel, Greg Burke, 52, to run its public-relations operation. Burke will become "senior communications adviser" to the Secretariat of State, the key department in Vatican City. His role will be similar to that of White House communications advisers: hoodwink the public into thinking his boss cares about humanity.

PLoS ONE Pseudoscience

I know that PLoS ONE publishes some good stuff, but something is wrong when a peer-reviewed journal publishes polemical pieces of junk science like the one by some anti-choice folks. Joyce Arthur decries this "dangerously flawed study that examined various factors associated with Chile's declining maternal mortality rate, and concluded -- incredibly -- that the legal status of abortion has no influence on maternal deaths in Chile, a country that completely prohibited abortion for any reason in 1989." The lead author is Dr. Elard Koch of Chile's Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción (Catholic University of the Most Holy Conception). According to Arthur, "Koch is clearly anti-choice and has been arguing for years that legalizing abortion does not improve maternal health, against all evidence to the contrary. The second author is John Thorp, an anti-choice doctor from North Carolina and member of the "Law of Life Project," which sought to intervene last fall in a lawsuit by abortion providers against the state's 'Woman's Right to Know Act.' The other five co-authors are all from Chile and appear to be Catholic doctors or researchers."

For $1,350 you too might have your polemical piece of pseudoscience published by PLoS ONE. Don't you wonder about the peers who reviewed and approved an article with the title "Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates"? That's right, belief in hell correlates with lower crime rates and belief in heaven with higher crime rates. Who knew? Who cares?


NostradamusDoes anyone really care about Nostradamus these days? Apparently there are still a few people with a lot of time and not much sense who pore over reams of his gibberish in search of vague expressions that might give meaning to their otherwise empty lives. One of them runs a website where he guesses who Nostradamus predicted would be the third Anti-Christ. One of his suspects is a guy named Mabus. No, not David Mabus (i.e., Dennis Markuze), certifiably deranged bane of many skeptics, but Ray Mabus, appointed Secretary of the Navy by Barack Obama. My main suspect is Antonin Scalia.

Critical Thinking in Texas, Republican Style

Texas Republican delegates met last month in Fort Worth to approve their 2012 platform. What they call "Educating Our Children" is a document claiming "corporal punishment is effective" and teaching of "higher order thinking skills" is bad because it might challenge "student's fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority." They recommend teachers be given more authority to hit children and less authority to teach them to think. Lovely.

The Third Eye

Nakita read my article on energy healing and had this to say:

Interesting article. I did became curious when the article stated that you want to see the chi, those life force ... positive or negative, even feng shui of china. Actually, sir .. there is .. if you wish .. .and actually it's very simple. All you have to do is to first research how to open the third eye. That's it. Yup ... those documents that we pass generation to generation are actually documents of those who have seen it with their own eyes because they had their third eyes opened. But, when a person opens his third eye .. .two things should be considered cautiously First, if that PERSON has a GOLD HEART, kindness and pure intentions --- he will see those positive energy around us like the ones mentioned above, even the AURA of people around you. This is what we call HIGH VIBRATIONS BUT, if that PERSON has evil intentions or has a NEGATIVE ENERGY FLOWING in his heart and veins --- he will those things that we don't want to see --- negative energies and lost souls. Hope this info would be accepted positively sir. I myself was a skeptic at first. God bless :)

Yes, my friends, enlightenment comes at a heavy price.

Hypnotic Regression

A nice lady named Diane wrote to let me know that she smiles and feels sad when she thinks of "cynics" like me who try to justify my disbelief in such things as hypnotic regression and "tap therapies" like Thought Field Therapy, Emotional Freedom Techniques, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

I have no choice but to believe in hypnotic regression. I suffered from depression throughout my adult years. I was often on strong meds and had been hospitalized three times. Life was a struggle. A doctor was recommended to me for help. There is no one medicine that clears depression. This doctor showed me how to tap on areas of my face to calm the anxiety.

Through the years, I have finally reasoned that the tapping short circuits the oppressive feelings. It distracts the brain.

The next thing that she recommended was hypnosis. She told me nothing about regression or past lives. During the session, she guided me to envision walking on a carpet and then walking down a flight of stairs. She told me that there was a door and that I should go through it, where I would find a garden. There was bench that I should sit on. Those were the only suggestions that she gave me. I won't bore you with what happened next. Suffice it to say that I met someone and understood why and where the depression started. This happened in my head. I didn't say it out loud and the doctor had no idea what was happening.

The next morning I didn't feel depressed. I took only a half dose of my medicine because, if I felt bad later, I could take the other half. I didn't need it. The next morning, I cut the half dosage in half and needed no more that day. By the third day I realized that I didn't need any medicine. It was like having a new life.

I thank God that there are doctors who are not so strictly regimented. It has been several years since the depression left and I am living a wonderful life. I smile when I hear cynics try to justify their disbelief. I also feel a little sad.

Diane may be living a wonderful life, but I'm not so sure hypnotic regression (or guided imagery, which is what she seems to be describing) cured her of depression or that tapping on her cheek distracted her brain and short circuited oppressive feelings. It's a satisfying narrative for her, so why not leave it at that? Because there isn't much science to back up the claim that people who suffer from excessive anxiety due to some event they can't remember are relieved of their anxiety when they discover (or think they've discovered) the cause of their distress. An unhappy person who doesn't know why she's unhappy is likely to become an unhappy person who knows why she's unhappy in such situations. Her unhappiness isn't likely to dissolve with the knowledge of what she thinks caused her unhappiness.

I don't know what meds Diane was on or what was the exact nature of her anxiety. It must have been pretty bad to require hospitalization three times. For all we know, though, the end of her anxiety may have coincided with menopause, starting on the pill, stopping her depression medication, or any one of a number of unknown factors. In any case, it is only natural to give credit to the last thing tried before success arrived.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Ken has some words of advice for skeptics.

Just some feedback on Rolfing and I guess on skepticism in general.

I'm a little frustrated about the tendency to see all things as guilty until proven innocent (bear with me). Rolfing states that it is a good idea to head towards a physicality that bears up well under the force of gravity. They then go on to make more related claims concerning psychological health and emotional health. Now, you alluded in your post to the fact that you thought that the physical idea might well be okay, but if it is okay why savage it just because they take things a few steps further? [Carroll interjects: Actually, I think I ridicule this notion of physicality and gravity when I note that there seem to be some 6 billion people on the planet misaligned with gravity but not being much bothered by it.] Why put people off what is a perfectly sensible approach to physical health? [Please. What does it even mean to claim that anyone is 'misaligned with gravity'? We're not talking about bad posture or curvature of the spine. We're talking moonbeam stuff about alignments and energy fields.] Let's say that we agree that structural integration (on balance) is a good idea, what then is so outrageous about saying that there could be psychological and emotional benefits to be had as well? If you become more physically healthy isn't it common sense to suggest that your physical well-being could help your mental and emotional well-being? None of this is proven of course and may well never be, but who cares? [I do.] Where is the harm? In a world where our belief plays such a strong role in the success or failure of our life's course, why would you want to damage the reputation of a therapy like Rolfing? [Hold on. Rolfers damage their own reputation by putting forth nonsense as if it were common sense.]

At the end of the day I think skeptics should be very cautious to be a positive force in the lives of their readership. [What could be more positive that steering people away from nonsense?] I don't think skeptics even address that concept, and above and beyond anything else it is fundamental. My experience is that many skeptics are extremely negative in their approach to life in general and I think skepticism itself is unnecessarily damaging the lives they lead. Where common sense suggests something could or should be the case, why not apply innocent until proven guilty?

To answer Ken's question with a question: why not apply that principle to skeptics? Anyway, it's common for people to call those they disagree with 'negative.' To say skeptics are negative is to say they disagree with you. Think about it. From our perspective, you're negative. As I note in my FAQ:

Being negative can be very positive. There is a difference between being nihilistic and being negative in the sense of being cautious and critical before believing a claim or accepting an explanation for something. A nihilist denies the value of everything. Many religious people are nihilists since they deny the value of anything in this world. The leaders of religions often reject family, reproduction, the joys of the body, the pleasures of art and nature. Many saints reject this world and live as hermits or join monastic orders, rejecting human society. Think of it this way: are you being "negative" when you tell a child not to play in the street or when you criticize a neighbor who gets drunk in public? Being critical and cautious, rejecting ideas, behaviors, and beliefs is often very positive in its effects. What many people call "negative" thinking is just critical thinking that causes them discomfort.

It is true that many people think skeptics are taking something away from them, while their healers and ministers provide them with hope. Fair enough. The hope that such people are peddling is too often false hope. Such people can cause real harm. Look at the moronic desperation exhibited by those who think The Secret and its so-called law of attraction provide guidance to the good life! Some people want to believe in positive thinking so much that they are willing to abandon all critical thinking to make their dreams come true.

Anyway, Ken, if you want to get Rolfed, get Rolfed.

Is it just me?

I seem to be getting more and more emails directing me to sites like www.themicroeffect.com/, which prides itself on providing "alternative news for alternative thinkers." That's code for "we make stuff up and lie to you about our knowledge of a government cover-up." Or, how about this one, letting its alternative readers in on the secret that a "Cabal" used antigravity craft armed with plasma weapons to start the Colorado fires? Then there's Project Camelot, where you can learn about the extraterrestrials who are here and how the government is covering it up. There's more but I'm beginning to wonder if just mentioning these cranks doesn't open the portal even wider to whatever dimension they're coming from. If aliens did ever land here and these are the folks they come in contact with, I don't think they'll stay very long.



Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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