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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 85

November 12, 2007
subscribers 4,021

"...scientists estimate that nationwide, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks, each year." --American Bird Conservancy

In this issue

What's New in The Skeptic's Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge

Voodoo science and organic (food and farming) are new dictionary entries. I've also posted a book review (The March of Unreason by Dick Taverne) and an essay on Gary Schwartz's latest asinine science involving hypothesized co-investigators (i.e., spirits of dead people).

Letters from readers, and my responses, on Edgar Cayce, organic (food & farming), and Falun Gong are up.

The What's the Harm? blog has two new entries on exotic forms of spiritual healing that kill with water.

The Mass Media Bunk blog has a new entry on a miraculous deception involving faith healing.

Several entries have been updated: acupuncture, lunar effects, Deepak Chopra, chupacabra, and the Randi million dollar challenge.

The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research and the communal reinforcement dictionary entries have been revised.

I also revised my essay on Evaluating Personal Experience.

Other than that, I haven't been doing much except waiting for the Halloween season to pass so the mass media can return to their regularly scheduled paranormal programming.

Are we there yet? A skeptic's Thanksgiving.

Get your mind off wintertime
You ain't goin' nowhere
---Bob Dylan

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.
--George Harrison

Sometimes skeptics feel like we're just spinning our wheels. We look like we're moving but we're standing still. We feel like we're standing on the gallows, waiting for the last train or for the fat lady to sing or for the cavalry to arrive. This theme, more or less, was the focus of a recent essay and podcast by Daniel Loxton, editor of Junior Skeptic magazine, which is published by Michael Shermer's Skeptics Society as part of Skeptic magazine. The title of Loxton's piece asked of the skeptic movement "where do we go from here?" My initial reaction was to start talking to myself. There is no 'we' to go anywhere, I said. "Nobody cares what I think," I responded. In fairness to Loxton, he focuses on "classic skepticism" and uses Paul Kurtz's organization as a model. Kurtz runs CSI, formerly CSICOP, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Skeptic magazine's only competitor. I couldn't help but wonder why somebody from Skeptic was writing about what the other folks should be doing. Whatever the reason, I'm sure it stimulated a lot of self-reflection in the skeptical community.

Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer are two very different magazines, although you wouldn't know it by their latest issues (both focused on medical issues, especially autism and vaccination). I subscribe to both and find each valuable, though the fact that bloggers were covering the autism/vaccination issue about five years ago tells you something about the timeliness of print magazines that come out only a few times a year. (My first post on the issue was on June 26, 2002.)

There is a history behind the fact that there are three major skeptical groups in the U.S., James Randi's Educational Foundation (JREF) being the other big player. I'm also a card-carrying member of the JREF. However, I'm not going to critique the groups, their histories, or their publications. James Randi has been very kind and generous to me. I've had very few heroes in my life, but Randi is one of them. I've had very cordial and pleasant interactions with several CSI fellows and leaders, though I've never met or communicated with Kurtz. I've met and communicated with Shermer, whom I consider the heir apparent to Carl Sagan.

I would like to point out, though, that there is a lot more going on in the skeptical world than the Big Three. And there is a lot more to worry about than Paul Kurtz and his interest in "widening the net" to include new topics drawn from general science such as "biogenetic engineering, religion, economics, ethics, and politics." Skeptics would be very foolish not to get involved in debates on climate change, the environment, and each of the topics Kurtz identifies but Loxton thinks skeptics should avoid (or at least not address in their "official" capacity as skeptics). The future of the planet and our species (along with millions of other species) depend on critical thinking in every area of human interest. We can't afford to restrict our critiques to the paranormal.

When I started The Skeptic's Dictionary website in 1994, there were very few resources beside the Big Three that anyone could turn to for a critical view of the paranormal, the pseudoscientific, and the supernatural. There were many skeptical groups, though, even then. (I've posted a list of more than 50 such groups with websites. More to the point, these groups meet, hold talks, and promote critical thinking and scientific understanding on a daily basis around the globe.) Today, I'm very pleased to observe, there are also dozens of podcasts, publications, and blogs providing critical commentaries on occult stuff the mainstream media either gloss over, passively support, or actively promote. Furthermore, there are many teachers involved in teaching students to think critically. We won't hear about most of these folks, but some have websites that are very encouraging, e.g., Mystery Investigators and Dean Baird's Skepticism in the Classroom. Even defenders of the paranormal now promote themselves as skeptics, e.g., Alex Tsakiris's puerile Skeptiko and Rupert Sheldrake's disingenuous Skeptical Investigations. (For those who think I am gratuitously insulting Tsakiris, please listen to his latest podcast interview with Dr. Kim, animal communicator. Penn Jillette might describe it as fawning boy meets wacko. Someone should explain to Tsakiris that real scientists don't proclaim that they are about to do the definitive study to prove once and for all that their hero [in this case, Rupert Sheldrake] is right about dogs who know when their owners are coming home. Apparently, he's never heard of the null hypothesis.)

There may be billions of unsinkable rubber ducks (as James Randi calls them) out there defending endless paranormal, supernatural, fraudulent, or pseudoscientific claims but there are plenty of critics meeting them at every turn. Unfortunately, none of the critics wear badges or have the power to arrest the card-carrying members of the Frauds & Liars Club.

Loxton recommends that skeptics return to basics. I suggest that we've never left the basics. In any case, the basics seek us. Sloppy, lazy, false, dangerous, delusional, or biased claims and thinking in any field irritate many of us and we respond. We now have no need to rely on the mass media to be our advocates. The Internet has given each of us access to start our own newspaper, radio program, or television show with very little investment. 

Loxton quotes without criticism Slate magazine’s Daniel Engber who believes that "in recent years the skeptics’ enthusiasm for debunking has begun to subside." Really? I hadn't noticed. I think it might depend on where you're looking. Where I'm looking, the enthusiasm for critical thinking and debunking when deserved is growing, not subsiding. I guess whether you see things as growing or subsiding depends on your baseline.

Loxton writes that "atheism is an albatross for the skeptical movement. It divides us, it distracts us, and it marginalizes us." This is a very difficult issue for me. On the one hand, I make it clear in my FAQ that my website is not an anti-religious or anti-theist website. On the other hand, I see atheism as a natural outcome of critical thinking and a scientific education. "Even more to the point," writes Loxton, "skepticism is not humanism, nor atheism, nor libertarianism." True, and if he hadn't mentioned libertarianism, one might have taken this as another barb aimed at Kurtz, whose organization promotes not only skepticism about the paranormal, but secular humanism and atheism. Libertarianism is not only promoted by Penn Jillette (mentioned by name in Loxton's essay) but by Loxton's boss at Skeptic, Michael Shermer. Anyway, I don't think anybody, except perhaps those who work for one of the Big Three, thinks of any particular person as representing skepticism. The world's big enough to include skeptical libertarians, skeptical atheists, skeptical humanists, skeptical environmentalists, skeptical neocons, skeptical thumb suckers, etc. There is no monolithic skepticism that can be fatally harmed by one skeptical individual or group.

In his essay, Loxton mentions unfavorably the criticism of Dr. Martin Rundkvist, a skeptical blogger and editor of a Swedish skeptics magazine. Rundkvist has referred to the Skeptical Inquirer as the "Stuffy Inquirer," which, he says, "appears to be written by old men for old men." Being an old man who enjoys most of the articles in Skeptical Inquirer, I may be a bit oversensitive here. Anyway, other skeptics have also blamed stuffiness and dullness for our lack of success at convincing millions of Americans to accept evolution and at persuading billions of earthlings to follow our lead instead of claiming to have met with aliens who want to meet our leader. I wish it were that simple. Many of those who do bother to read or listen to us think we are deluded liars. We all have had experience with "critics" who say things that indicate there is nothing we could do or say to change their minds. As one of my recent despisers put it:

Your site and most of your information is so biased and so untrue.  And to think you have been misleading people for over ten years.  This is the sad aspect of the internet. You choose to disrespect other person's paths, and that is simply sad, and so degrading of yourself. Do you realize how you look? You should take the time to lay awake at night, instead of sleeping, and think..... and think before you "copy" from other sources, to provide meat for your site. (love, Dale)

The above comments are at least mostly coherent and lacking in obscenity or expressions of hope that I will suffer eternal torments for my perfidy. I assure you that it is not only my dullness or stuffiness that annoys many people. They consider any criticism of their beliefs to be tantamount to trashing their sacred cows or desecrating their tabernacles. A favored ploy of these whimpering weasels is to claim it is disrespectful of us to challenge their delusions, deceits, lies, errors, or misconceptions. I know that other skeptics who are webbing, blogging, debating, writing, performing, and podcasting are receiving similar abuse. That is one reason I find it so encouraging to see more and more skeptics around the world getting involved.

Of course, my field is philosophy and I tend to look at things from a philosophical point of view. I try to be stoical and not let the vitriolic abuse bother me. Also, I'm not trying to recruit members to my organization. I'm not a libertarian or a militant humanist or atheist. I have no organization. True, I do try to persuade others that some claims are false, some are probably false, and that others are true or probably true.  However, I don't think we can blame our association with libertarianism or atheism for the failure to persuade many people to give up their aura therapy or their belief in psychic detectives or intelligent design. Nor should we blame our poor persuasive techniques, as others have maintained. I consider the idea delusional that if only skeptics were not dull and stuffy we'd have hordes of new followers. I don't deny, however, that as far as television and You Tube are concerned, we'd do a lot better if our representatives were attractive, self-confident, likeable, appeared honest and authoritative, and knew how to make direct eye contact.*

In the meantime, I'm optimistic about the future of science, critical thinking, and skepticism. I see a landscape full of bloggers, podcasters, writers, thinkers, publishers, and entertainers who are willing to do battle with conspiracy theorists, Liars for Jesus, Liars for Humanity, Liars for Oil, Liars for Dollars, Liars for the Paranormal, Liars for Acupuncture or Homeopathy, and all the other liars and deceivers out there, along with the merely deluded and misguided. I realize that the Internet has provided the liars and deluded untold opportunities to spread their lies and self-deceptions. But there has also been impressive growth among those who are simply spreading the good news about science. They're not trying to persuade anyone of anything. They're just providing valuable information. They know there's a lot of competition and most bloggers and podcasters I've come across make every effort to be educational and entertaining. The greatest hindrance to critical thinking is ignorance, not dullness. There are numerous websites providing good science instruction for young and old alike. The information is out there. There is some resistance on the part of many people to seek it out. The source of much of that resistance is religion. Furthermore, a lot more people are harmed because of religious delusions than are harmed because of paranormal delusions. Like it or not, religion is the elephant in the living room. We can't pretend it's not there. Simply because religion has many beneficent effects in the lives of many people does not mean that we should give it a free pass to claim whatever it wants without fear of criticism. On the other hand, it is asinine to engage in gratuitous insults of people's religious beliefs. Religious people care about fraud, liars, the environment, injustice, good science education, etc., too. Not all religious people are enemies of reason and thoughtful criticism. And not all religious people want to see creationism replace evolution in the science classroom. Insofar as Loxton is saying that it is a mistake to make atheism a requirement for skepticism about the paranormal and the pseudoscientific, I agree completely.

Skeptics are not a special interest group. We don't send out phony bloggers, webbers, or podcasters to disinform the masses. We don't use fake "journalists" to create fake news stories favorable to our cause, as do governments, corporations, political parties, and other special interest groups. We're a very loosely connected group of independently thinking individuals with some common interests and I predict we will always be this way.

Finally, it should be remembered that very few of us do this full-time. Most of us have full lives away from our skeptical writing and broadcasting. The professional skeptics stand out more than the rest of us, but there are a lot more amateurs than pros. Some skeptics have probably not even heard of the Big Three. Some of us look to Randi, Shermer, or Kurtz for leadership, but we aren't really looking for somebody to tell us where to go from here. We're not really anybody's followers, though it might look like that to an outsider. Some of us, like many of the bloggers and webbers, have very narrow interests. Some, like myself and some other webbers, and many of the podcasters, cast a wide net. My ultimate position on this issue of direction is simple: if you don't like what others are doing, don't imitate them. We may not be on the same road and we may not know where we're going, but we've got a ticket to ride. Though we may be miles from nowhere and our bus may driven by Nowhere Man, it has many seats and we can get on or off whenever and wherever we want. There is about as much likelihood that all skeptics are going to get on the same bus, driven by our chosen leader, as it is that all fundamentalist Christians are going to set aside their differences and follow the Roman Pope. For that, I give thanks.

Our rodent brains

The headline in the Los Angeles Times article says: This explains your doughnut addiction. The article is about a study in which 40 of 43 rats preferred water sweetened with saccharin to cocaine over a 15-day period. Scientists actually reported this at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Worse, they announced that this study may explain the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

I think it explains why most humans prefer artificial sweeteners to cocaine in their coffees when offered the choice. It also explains why cocaine use has gone down in rodent communities, while the price of saccharin has soared. Finally, it explains how cocaine dealers can cut their product with saccharin and get away with calling their product "new and improved." Maybe one of the researchers got to sampling the product and mislabeled the test items.

Don't you just love science when it unravels mysteries?

This study might be of use to those teachers who ask me for help in designing activities to teach critical thinking to school children. If you teach in an area where drug use is rampant and even the little kids know about cocaine, you might discuss this study with them. It will give you an opportunity to see how smart they are and it will give you an opportunity to teach them about carbohydrates, sugars, mammalian evolution, dopamine, the brain, pleasure centers, and a host of things related to drug addiction and obesity. You probably won't have to teach them to be skeptical of scientists drawing grand conclusions from tiny specks of evidence, though. They'll figure that out for themselves.

Belief in Britain

Ipsos MORI (the second largest survey research organization in the UK,) interviewed 1,005 adults in Great Britain aged 16+ by telephone between 5-7 October 2007 regarding their beliefs in ghosts, ETs, and various superstitions. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population. The data calculations are posted online.

The poll found that almost two in five people believe in ghosts, with women more likely to believe than men (44% compared to 31%). Almost a third of those polled believe that governments around the world are concealing evidence of extra-terrestrial beings, and 9% believe that some crop circles are the work of extra-terrestrial forces.

77% of those polled deny that they are superstitious, but half touch wood to avoid bad luck, two in five cross their fingers for good luck, 16% have a lucky charm, and 15% consider the number '13' to be unlucky. Either many Brits are self-deceived or old habits die hard: 30% of those who claim not to be superstitious cross their fingers for good luck.

Belief in telepathy is very strong among women (47%). One in four Brits consult their horoscope regularly and one in four of those who do "believe that horoscopes accurately predict events in their lives."

On the bright side, only 49% of the men said they believe in God and only 40% believe in life after death, but 32% believe in hell and 25% believe in guardian angels. Also on the bright side, only about 13% of those surveyed believe in witches or wizards. Of course, from where you're standing, these facts may be on the dark side.

The most troublesome statistic, I think, is that 70% of the women surveyed believe in fate. Is this because they understand that there is no free will? Or, do they simply feel that they have very little, if any, control over their own lives and the world around them? I don't know. Maybe we should do another survey. Or maybe I should shut up. After all, I live in a country where ghosts have a higher approval rating than the president.

Sticking Needles into Acupuncture Studies

Keeping the acupuncture entry up-to-date is becoming nearly impossible due to the sheer number of new studies being done. My rule of thumb is to ignore small studies or meta-analyses of small studies. For example, I'll see a headline like this:

Acupuncture before and during surgery reduces the need for powerful painkillers*

Once I find that the conclusion is based on a meta-analysis of "15 small randomized acupuncture clinical trials," I move on. Meta-analysis of several small studies, most of which aren't large enough to produce anything of statistical significance--much less of social importance--is no substitute for conducting large clinical trials, yet the practice remains popular. There is something obviously wrong about using meta-analysis to lump together a number of studies that individually don't really tell us much about anything and then declare that magically together they provide statistical significance on the order of odds against chance of a zillion to one. Dean Radin, for example, has wrapped himself and parapsychology in the mantle of meta-analysis to the point of absurdity. He did a mega-meta-analysis of over 1,000 studies on dream psi, ganzfeld psi, staring, distant intention, dice PK, and RNG PK which concluded that the odds against chance of getting these results are 10104 [that's 10 with 104 zeroes after it] against 1 (Entangled Minds: p. 276). Radin seems to think he can build the Taj Mahal out of scraps from the junk yard when he's actually built a hologram out of swamp gas in a moonbeam.

People who do meta-analyses of small studies in hopes of turning lead into gold attract the journalist more interested in a good story than the truth. For example, in the article following the headline posted above, the author concludes: "The National Institutes of Health says that acupuncture has also been shown to reduce nausea after chemotherapy and surgery." The article was posted on October 17, 2007, on News-Medical.Net. No mention was made of a news report published a few weeks earlier on a study in Sweden that found acupuncture did no better than sham acupuncture to reduce nausea after chemotherapy, indicating that acupuncture works as a placebo in such cases. Indeed, the Swedish study presented a unique way to deliver the acupuncture needle so that the participant could not tell whether he or she had been pricked. For this alone the Swedish study is noteworthy. Other "sham" acupuncture studies consider sticking needles in non-traditional places a control but both groups are getting stuck with needles and both groups know it. When both groups respond positively it seems to escape researchers and journalists alike that that supports the placebo hypothesis or the hypothesis that sticking needles anywhere provides comfort and reduces stress, or it stimulates endorphins or some such thing.

Even the BBCNews online, which I consult regularly on a variety of topics and find generally reliable and trustworthy, used the headline Needles 'are best for back pain'* in a story about a study that found patients reported significantly more relief from acupuncture than from treatment involving drugs, exercise, and physical therapy. The BBC and every other mainstream news source I consulted played up this difference. The only place you were likely to find an analysis that pointed out that the study actually supports the idea that acupuncture is a placebo treatment (because there was no statistically significant difference between those reporting relief in the "true" acupuncture and the sham acupuncture groups) was in the blogging community. Steven Novella's NeuroLogica Blog has an excellent analysis of this study.

A new study provides an excellent example of how not to do an acupuncture study. The study, led by Professor Alex Molassiotis, professor of cancer and supportive care at the University of Manchester, will recruit 320 women who have had chemotherapy in the past five years and have high levels of fatigue.

A proper study would randomly assign the women to one of two groups. Members of one group would receive needle pricks along traditional meridians and chi points. Members of the other group would think they are receiving needle pricks but they would not be receiving any needle pricks. The method used in the Swedish study mentioned above would be used. Both groups would feel as if they were getting acupuncture but only one group would be getting pricked with needles.

That's not what Molassiotis will be doing. Patients will be randomly selected to receive either weekly sessions of acupuncture or standard care for six weeks. Furthermore, the study "will also be the first to examine the benefits of self-acupuncture for women with breast cancer." The good doctor will have no way of knowing how much the expectation of relief from acupuncture affects patient response. We already know, from many studies, that people who expect relief from acupuncture generally get relief. We also know that the belief in the effectiveness of a therapy affects the efficacy of the therapy.

Woo of the Minute

First prize this minute goes to cosmetic acupuncture. You don't need botox, brags one site because the Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture System™ is here! One "journalist" named Ricky Lee says:

When an acupuncture practitioner inserts the tiny needles into areas of the face, this stimulates the production of collagen in the general area. The skin will be supported and nourished by the body rather than by some external application. This production of collagen will firm the skin and stretch out any fine lines.

Many women that undergo this procedure have noticed results within one or just a few treatments. Their complexion becomes more even and clear, wrinkles become less noticeable, and there is a general glow to the face. This treatment simply restores the energy of the face to the normal state, and so each woman looks naturally healthier and more beautiful.

Sounds very convincing. And, as a bonus, you can take the needles out, stick them in other places on your body and lose weight.

Another journalist claims that not only can cosmetic acupuncture remove wrinkles from your forehead, it can replace a surgical tummy tuck, lift your breasts, and eliminate your double chin. A skeptical plastic surgeon disagrees:

...most people look better after a good night's sleep, after a vacation or after being outside in fresh air [but] I personally have not seen any evidence that cosmetic acupuncture has any significant or long-term benefits.

My grandmother swore that a daily application of olive oil is what kept her Italian skin looking young into her eighties. She didn't smoke, either.

One cosmetic acupuncturist says that her standard protocol consists of 10 treatments over five weeks for $1,200. Each session takes 45 to 60 minutes and involves 60 to 70 needles. Another practitioner says that the procedure will help with digestion and make you sleep better. She charges $1,800 for a typical course of 12 treatments, not including monthly or bimonthly maintenance sessions.

The journalist at WebMD found that there is a difference of opinion on cosmetic acupuncture. Practitioners say it works and cosmetic surgeons say it doesn't. One who says it works is Della Aubrey-Miller, who was trained in facial rejuvenation acupuncture. She recommends that one start treatments in your 30s, which, she says, stirs the "energy pot." She thinks she is moving energy through the body as well as stimulating collagen production and bringing blood to the face. "How you live your life will impact what your face looks like," she says. "You can't correct a bad lifestyle with needles."

Words to live by.

Apparently, some acupuncturists realize that they can improve their own lifestyle with needles: in 2006, about 11 million Americans spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cosmetic surgery.* I understand that that is peanuts compared to what is spent in Brazil and South Korea. Looking for a new career? This might just be it. I guarantee that no matter what you do, short of sticking a customer in the eye with one of your needles, 85% of your clients will leave satisfied.

update: For more information on this exciting new field check out this article in the New York Times.

Another first prize for woo this minute goes to AcuAids beebees, magnetic BBs on a patch to stimulate acupuncture points and help you lose weight (your wallet will weigh less when you buy them).

We should also give dishonorable mention to Acupuncturists Without Borders, a group of caring folks who "bring compassionate and effective relief and recovery to underserved communities affected by disaster, war, conflict and poverty around the world."

Finally, we must dishonor reconnective healing. According to its discoverer, chiropractor Eric Pearl:

Reconnective Healing is a form of healing that is here on the planet for the very first time. It reconnects us to the fullness of the universe as it reconnects us to the fullness of our beings and of who we are. It is considered to be able to reconnect us to the universe and to our very essence not just through a new set of healing frequencies, but through possibly an entirely new bandwidth. The reality of its existence has demonstrated itself clearly in practice as well as in science laboratories.

As you probably noticed while reading the above, reconnective healing can cure insomnia, too.

[new] Should you be so inspired by this short passage from Pearl, please read Harriet Hall's detailed analysis of his fantasy world. "Pearl is far more than an eccentric oddball," she writes. [/new]

Induction and Deduction (again)

One of the things all modern logic texts do is correct misconceptions about induction and deduction. Many books in other fields assert that induction is reasoning from the particular to the general and deduction is reasoning from the general to the particular. If these are taken as definitions, they are too narrow in denotation and very misleading. Some induction goes from the particular to the particular, for example. A lot of analogical reasoning works this way. You take one class in sociology from one teacher and because you found the experience transformative, you sign up for another class taught by the same instructor next semester. Your reasoning is inductive and it does not go from particular to the general. What makes it and all other inductive reasoning unique and distinct from deductive reasoning is that the conclusion (I'm going to really benefit from this class I've signed up for) follows from the premise (I really benefited from this other class in the same subject area with the same teacher) with some degree of probability. Clearly, the conclusion could be false even if the premise is true, i.e., the conclusion doesn't follow with necessity from the premises.

Deductive arguments might go from the general to the general. All whales are mammals. All mammals are warm-blooded. Therefore, all whales are warm-blooded. This conclusion follows with necessity from its premises, i.e., if these premises are true, this conclusion must also be true. We call this a valid argument, but that does not tell us anything about the truth of the premises. Arguments that claim their conclusions follow with necessity from their premises when in fact they do not are called invalid. What makes the argument deductive is not the nature of the premises or the conclusion but the alleged relationship between them.

The editors of Skeptical Inquirer don't seem to appreciate this distinction. I corrected Massimo Pigliucci on this issue a few years ago and the magazine published my letter. An article appeared in the September/October 2007 issue in which another author used definitions of these terms that nobody I've ever read uses. I sent another letter to the magazine but it was not published. So, I print my letter here.

Editor Skeptical Inquirer
“Is this article on conspiracies part of a conspiracy?” by Chris Volkay

The author’s description of the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning is so bad it’s not even wrong. Deductive reasoning does not involve starting with a premise or hypothesis and then looking for pertinent information that you modify to suit your hypothesis and then “throw out all that doesn’t fit.” That’s suppression of evidence, selective thinking, and confirmation bias of the worst sort. Deductive reasoning, as any freshman logic student knows, involves reasoning from premises to a conclusion that one claims follows with necessity from those premises. Inductive reasoning is not “Withholding judgment or theory, looking at all the evidence, and then formulating your belief or theory based on all of the available evidence—regardless of what you may prefer the evidence to say.” That is a description of open-mindedness by a critical thinker. Inductive reasoning is arguing from premises to a conclusion you claim follows from those premises to some degree of probability (rather than necessity). I’d let Volkay’s errors pass except that he makes a number of assertions with such dogmatic confidence that somebody might read his article and think he knows what he’s talking about.

da Vinci: the gift that keeps on giving

Look no further for proof of the power of suggestion, pareidolia, apophenia, and the willing manipulability of the mass media. Musician Giovanni Maria Pala has found a tune hidden in Leonardo's "The Last Supper." All he had to do was put dots along the table and a few more at various spots on the hands, shoulders, and arms of those depicted as surrounding their lord. Then he declared that the dots represent specific tones. Voila! Another masterpiece by the master has been discovered, another book will be published, and soon we will probably see a television special about this exciting new discovery on the History Channel. Stay tuned!

Christopher Hitchens book is not great, says reviewer (but he's wrong says this reader)

A review of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything begins thusly:

Christopher Hitchens' new book "God is Not Great" ought to be read presumably as it was written, not entirely sober and without a great amount of care.

I appreciate a good ad hominem aimed at someone else and even Hitchens might appreciate the style if not the content of the review, which calls the book "tiresomely repetitive" and "painfully boring." Having heard Hitchens speak a couple of times at Amazing Meetings, I was not inclined to buy or read his latest work anyway. Maybe others have found the book enlightening. Let me know. Meanwhile, I highly recommend Conjuring Science and The March of Unreason.

update: 10 October 2010. I have now read God is Not Great and I must say that I did not find the book either repetitive or boring. (He may be accused of overusing the word 'mammal,' I suppose.) It is written with zeal and style, and is very informative and sober. I highly recommend it.


* AmeriCares *

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