In this week’s eSkeptic:
In this week’s eSkeptic:
For the last week or so, a site for a group calling itself “Christians Against Dinosaurs” has gone viral, and at least a dozen of my Facebook friends have forwarded it to me in surprise, curious as to whether I’d seen it and if it is real. It managed to get covered in the Huffington Post, in Guff.com, and in several other online media outlets, giving it even more exposure. The site claims that dinosaurs (and fossils in general) are a lie to undermine our Christian faith, and that fossils seen in museums are faked or sculpted out of rock by “Big Paleo” trying to make millions by fraud. Prominently featured on the site and on Facebook and YouTube are short videos by a young woman who makes these very claims, and argues that paleontologists fabricate fossils out of the rock to look like animals. Even more shocking and hilarious, she seems to think that such faked fossils are worth millions of dollars and keep “Big Paleo” afloat. (If only she knew how impoverished most paleontologists are, and how there is no money in paleontology!). As Guff.com described it:
“A fossil is not actually a piece of bone,” she says in the video. “It’s actually a bone that was once in the ground that has been filled with limestone, calcium, and other stone-like deposits, so at the end of the day, it’s a rock made out of rocks. So, you have a rock that’s [six-inches long] and you hand it to a paleontologist, who chips away at it until you have something looking like a bone — and that is a fossil,” she continues. After covering a table with broken pieces of…something, she tells viewers to pretend they are paleontologists (ooh, activity time!) and put the shards back together in their original form. She even offered some spackle to assist in the reconstruction. But, she says, it’s supposed to be a brachiosaurus skull — and “If you’re a paleontologist and you want to keep your job, you turn that into a brachiosaurus skull.”
In my last post I outlined a small recent stir caused by sharp comments about skeptics from former Ghost Hunters cast member Amy Bruni. I promised to dig further into the issues of skeptical undercover work and “sting”-type traps designed either to expose the roots of claims or, in the most striking cases, to catch charlatans red-handed.
These tactics can be extremely hard hitting, when they hit their mark. A well-known case involving both deceptive undercover work and a shocking reveal is “Project Alpha,” organized by James Randi. Under his direction, teenaged magicians Steve “Banachek” Shaw and Michael Edwards posed as psychics in a laboratory setting, where they successfully bamboozled parapsychological researchers. When the skeptical conspirators eventually held a press conference and revealed their years of deception (video), the world was compelled to consider parapsychology’s vulnerability to fraud. The ripples from that hoax are still being felt, as Randi’s contemporary Ray Hyman predicted more than 30 years ago: “There’s going to be an argument from now until doomsday about what the whole thing showed.” Another classic example of a skeptical sting is the operation which severely set back the profitable faith healing career of Peter Popoff in 1986 (also spearheaded by Randi, in collaboration with the Houston Society to Oppose Pseudoscience, the Society of American Magicians, and the Bay Area Skeptics). The televised exposure of Popoff’s secret use of “miraculous” information relayed by radio surely stands one of the greatest “gotcha” moments of all time (video).
Few skeptical tactics are as hard-hitting or as ethically fraught as undercover investigation and “sting”-type traps designed to expose the roots of too-good-to-be-true claims—or even to catch tricksters red-handed. A recurring controversy over those tactics has flared up again over the last few days, following some sharp remarks about skeptics from former Ghost Hunters cast member Amy Bruni. Bruni took to her Facebook Page to express her frustration with skeptics who engage in such tactics, presumably in reaction to two recent sting attempts (dubbed “Operation Bumblebee” and “Operation Ice Cream Cone” by organizer Susan Gerbic). Bruni wrote:
Weird…I don’t see people who believe in paranormal and psychic phenomena accosting “skeptics” at their conventions and gatherings—or posting constant blogs and forums about how skepticism is terrible. Strangely enough, we really don’t care what their belief system is—because it is their right. And personally, I don’t care or have to justify what I believe to someone else.
So, why do they feel the need to constantly bash what we do? Arrange “guerrilla stings” on psychics and paranormal conventions? I mean—puh-lease, you must have something better to do.
Truly—there’s a whole lot of bad in this world. And if your “cause” is to take on people whose thoughts on life and existence are different from yours, (but causing YOU no harm), I think it’s time you take a little look at yourself.
Make a real difference with the time you have. Volunteer at an animal shelter, join Big Brothers/Big Sisters, serve food at your local soup kitchen…the list goes on.
Because I have news for you—none of us kooky paranormal folks need saving.
In this week’s eSkeptic:
In this episode of Skepticality, Derek has a conversation with Dr. Michael Shermer about his recently released book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Find out more about how a shift in society which led to the Enlightenment, abstract reasoning and skepticism, have moved humanity toward a more just and moral world.
As we celebrate the 206th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin today (Feb. 12), there is both good news and bad news in the continuing culture war over evolution. First, the good news. In a number of places, our political representatives have placed motions on the floor of Congress and several state legislatures to recognize February 12 as Darwin Day. Given the aversion to even the mention of evolution by most politicians today (even those who accept it, but don’t want to alienate creationists), this is very encouraging sign. But of course, this bit of good news is countered by the fact that creationist bills keep cropping up all the year round (see the NSCE website for a litany of recent rashes of creationist attacks). In the school districts of Louisiana, Tennessee, and several other states, there are backdoor ways to introduce creationism into public school science classes, or at least to cast doubt on evolution. This problem never seems to end, although there are good signs in the current polls that the younger generation (especially the millennials) are becoming more and more secular, and reject religious fundamentalism and creationism. Over the long term, that is very good news, because the creationists are no longer growing in numbers, but losing the next few generations and may be doomed to becoming a tiny minority with limited political influence in another generation.
In this week’s eSkeptic:
I’ve long advocated the construction of customized online tools (websites, apps and more) to advance the cause of skepticism. In the last two years I’ve noticed a distinct trend where these tools are in being built in increasing numbers—but not just by skeptics! One major source of these tools might surprise you: the newspaper industry.
WE ARE LIVING in the most moral period of our species’ history. Ever since the Enlightenment, thinkers have consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and moral problems, and in the process created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights, equal justice, open political and economic borders, and prosperity the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. More people in more places have greater rights, freedoms, liberties, literacy, education, and prosperity—the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. In this provocative and compelling talk—that includes brief histories of freedom rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights, along with considerations of the nature of evil and moral regress—Shermer explains how scientific ways of thinking have moved us ever closer to a more just world.
In the past two weeks you’ve probably seen a viral archery video circulated on social media which makes a lot of claims about modern and historical archery. Since its posting on January 23, it has been viewed over 25 million times.
Dubbing himself “the fastest archer on the planet,” Lars Andersen, a visual artist and archer who specializes in speed trick shooting, sets about making claims about modern and historical archery and then demonstrating shooting techniques based on those claims. It’s not his techniques which have gotten him in hot water, though, so much as his claims about those techniques.
So first off, let’s be clear about what he’s doing here: Lars is performing what’s called “trick shooting.” Trick shooting isn’t a derogatory term. It’s not meant to imply that something is “faked” (although there are aspects to the video that veer into outright misrepresentations which we’ll get into later in our video response, below). Trick shooting is basically stunt shooting—like everything else, it takes practice, and the methods and stunts vary nearly as widely as the individual practitioners. And with his speed and antics, Lars has the potential to be an entertaining as well as very fast trick shooter.
Richard Dawkins has been added to an already outstanding lineup of speakers for the May 29–31 Skeptics Society Conference!
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Here are the articles that people have been sharing over the last few days.
Carbon Comic, which appears in Skeptic magazine, is created by Kyle Sanders: a pilot and founder of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Skeptics in The Pub. He is also a cartoonist who authors Carbon Dating: a skeptical comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and relationships. It can be found at carboncomic.com.
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What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?
Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…
If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!
Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.
Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.