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31 July 2009

Mocking Loonies.

There's A LOT of loonies out there. Many of them are just annoying, and can be dismissed (they can't really do anything since their moms won't let them out of the basement). However, sometimes loony movements catch hold, and tremendous amounts of money and resources get wasted on lunacy. Heck, even governments get involved in it (England has public healthcare for homeopathy...). Now, I wouldn't really care, except for that it wastes a lot of money, and in some cases, people needlessly DIE as a result. So I was kind of tickled when I saw this blog entry from Dr. Plait:
I sometimes think that comedians wield more skeptical leverage than bloggers. Case in point: Dara O’Brian. (NSFW language)

I love hearing people laugh at silliness. Sometimes it really is the best medicine.

Which of course reminded me of a blog entry I had done over at Facts, not Fantasy:
Okay, these may not be particularly new items, but I've just been on such a serious train of thought, that today I'd like to entertain you all with some parodies that you may find amusing.

Evolution:
Intelligent falling is the latest rage! In a classic parody of the misuse of the word theory, The Onion cuts right to the jugular. Sort of along the vein of my entry to the FL Citizens for Science Stick Figure Cartoon contest. I know a lot of folks don't think that mockery is a good vehicle, but after a while you come to realize that some people are beyond reason, and instead of just killing them to remove them from the gene pool, mockery is the most gentle way of handling them.

Vaccines:
This video by Jenny McCarthy's close personal friends of Mumps, Measles, and Ruebella was also quite funny! I decided to spare my sanity, so I haven't read the comments there. Hopefully at least some of the deluded people will find their way here, and mayhap learn a thing or two.

And while not really a subject for this page in general, I got an uproarious laugh out of this Homeopathic ER skit. Is it just me, or do you have to be entirely daft not to see the sham for what it is?

And to those who may get their panties in a wad because we are being unkind and rightly mocking these loonies... Suck it up you pussies! Your stupidity deserves to be mocked. TARDS!

30 July 2009

So you think you can dance?

I was glad to see Evan make it through to the finals. I was sad to see Melissa go. She has grown the most as a dancer during this season. I think Kayla is destined to win, as is Brandon. So, what's your thoughts?

(Sorry this is such an abbreviated entry, I just spent a lot of time with the family, so you guys are the last thing I get to. It's just a facet of reality, no offense implied.)

29 July 2009

Atheists in Foxholes

I just got an email from the American Atheist magazine, and they would like to feature me in their "Atheists in Foxholes" segment. :) I though that was pretty cool. Okay, so I haven't actually been in an actual foxhole, but I have been shot at, and had my life in mortal danger numerous times, and not once, ever, did any sort of theistic thought enter my head. Heck, I can't think of the last time ever that anything close to theism contaminated my brain... I think it was when I was like 15 and trying to bang this hot "bible chick" and it was more a disguise of convenience. And when you think about it, it really seems to be that for the majority of believers. I just have the honesty to actually admit it!

Oh, and now that I have a good job offer, gotta get ready to put this house on the market. Since things have to move so fast, we'll be pricing this place to sell, so I'll be taking a beating on it... Oh well, I look at the long term gain here, over the short term loss. Something that folks on average are notoriously bag at judging. That and I think people get too caught up in security, and are too afraid to take chances. Well, except the chance to watch American Idol, rot their brain with religion, and get fat... But that's another rant I'm sure! ;)

Surprised at lack of News Coverage

Okay, so I saw a news story about YET ANOTHER senator being a total hypocrite and doing something that they publicly condemn, rail against and basically froth at the mouth saying is a BAD Thing. Yet I am surprised that I really haven't heard that much about it in the news. Is it become such a regular thing now that it's not even worth a section by Jeannie Moos? Here is what I heard over at Daniel Florien's blog:
State Sen. Paul Stanley is a good ol’ Republican boy. He teaches Sunday School at a United Methodist Church and is on their school board. He sponsored a bill to keep gay couples from adopting children. He’s quoted as saying that he “didn’t believe young people should have sex before marriage anyway, that his faith and church are important to him, and he wants to promote abstinence.” He’s married and has two children.

And now he’s admitted to having sex with his 22 year-old intern and taking nude photos of her.

How utterly shocking!

Okay, not really.

It came out when the intern’s boyfriend tried to blackmail the senator for $10,000.

He doesn’t want gay couples to adopt children because, in his bigotry, he sees them as depraved individuals who are not fit to raise children. The irony is his own religion condemns him — he committed adultery, which goes against one of his precious 10 Commandments. By his own standards, he’s not fit to raise children. It’s unlikely he would admit that, however. There’s nothing like hypocrisy to make fundies find excuses for what they normally denounce as heinous sins.

So no coverage? I mean, even Faux Noise can't run a story about this and "accidentally" put a (D) after this guys name like they did with Foley, and Craig, and Ensign, and whoever else they were afraid to give real reporting to since it reflected bad on their ideology. Too bad these morons and the C Street fucktardery is so rampant that it can't be hidden by these "mistakes". Not to say the D's are innocent. Hell, some of them are part of the C Street cult of fucktards... *YIKES* Although generally they aren't all up in arms about people's personal business and aren't trying to legislate it. Although, it seems that the Congresscritters are just another example of what happens with power. You'd think we would have learned with Rome.

Oh, did anyone catch The Daily Show?
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Kristol
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Yep, I have great health care, and none of you slobs deserve it, so suck it! Well, that seems to be the message from this douche bag. Amazing! So CAN the government run something good, or can't it? Make up your mind!

P.S. As for the actual agenda of a national healthcare plan... My view is that we need to get the insurance companies out of it. Incentiveize people to be healthier first of all, and then see what we can do to make the system efficient. Right now it's yet another bunch of douchebaggery that is out of control, and the government hasn't done a damn thing to stop it. Too much Laize Faire will result in abuses too... Because people are greedy douche bags!

And AGAIN the Republicans are being SUPREME douche bags... The only study they arte taking talking points from is the Lewin Group. They seem to be leaving out a KEY fact though:

The political battle over health-care reform is waged largely with numbers, and few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group, a consulting firm whose research has been widely cited by opponents of a public insurance option.

To Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, it is "the nonpartisan Lewin Group." To Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, it is an "independent research firm." To Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the pivotal Finance Committee, it is "well known as one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country."

Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers.

Oh Snap!

27 July 2009

RELIEF!

I was just told that a company that I interviewed for is putting together an offer. I should have it at the end of the week. This is one of the top paying folks I have interviewed with, and it's not contingent on them winning a contract and all that, so I am feeling a lot better about this. And with my drive and personality, I think I can do a lot of good at this company, and not be restricted and stymied by being in a government system. I am feeling a lot better now, and things are happy, happy for me!

So, now I get to goof off on the computer a little bit, and tonight I am going to pop that bottle of Dom I got in France back in 1996. Nom nom nom nom!

I did learn a lot during this whole process though! Some things that I never really considered before the whole process, as well as some things that really can't be taught in things like a TAP class. If anyone wants some additional help from someone who has gone through the process (and trust me, I met with some great success), feel free to drop me a line.

Okay, just keeping it short for today. Will still have to do a little typing (much later) over at Facts, not Fantasy anyway.

24 July 2009

Blog name in Urban Dictionary

Just for fun, I decided to check out a Google ranking of this blog using the name. Well, the first hit was an Urban Dictionary page, then the second hit was for a guy that's been blogging for quite a while longer than me, and then the third hit was for some sort of web hosting. Finally the fourth hit was this page.

I didn't expect much really, so as far as I am concerned, that's a pretty good Google ranking. The thing that cracked me up the most? Another word associated with blogiverse is blogistan. Okay, so I'm strange. I have already admitted that.

And, since I have been getting more traffic to this site, I figured I'd just post something else I found that was amusing. Not at all related to the original purpose of the blog, just some kerosene near a match. And this is someone else's writing, not mine. Just throwing this out.

Is Faith Good for Us?
Phil Zuckerman

Phil Zuckerman is an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in California. He is the author of Invitation to the Sociology of Religion (Routledge, 2003) and is currently writing a book on secularization in Scandinavia.

Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Sikh, there is one common belief that all religious fundamentalists share: worship of God and obedience to his laws are essential for a peaceful, healthy society. From Orthodox rabbis in the occupied West Bank to Wahhabi sheiks in Saudi Arabia, from the pope in Vatican City to Mormons in Salt Lake City, the lament is the same: God and his will must be at the center of everyone's lives in order to ensure a moral, prosperous, safe, collective existence.

Furthermore, fundamentalists agree that, when large numbers of people in a society reject God or fail to make him the center of their lives, societal disintegration is sure to follow. Every societal ill-whether crime, poverty, poor public education, or AIDS-is thus blamed on a lack of piety. A most disconcerting example of this worldview was expressed in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, when Jerry Falwell blamed the terrorists attacks on America's "throwing God out of the public square," further adding that "when a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture . . . the result is not good."

If this often-touted religious theory were correct-that a turning away from God is at the root of all societal ills-then we would expect to find the least religious nations on earth to be bastions of crime, poverty, and disease and the most religious nations to be models of societal health. A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries-those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics-are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations-wherein worship of God is in abundance-are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor, and destitute.

One must always be careful, of course, to distinguish between totalitarian nations where atheism is forced upon an unwilling population (such as in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and the former Soviet states) and open, democratic nations where atheism is freely chosen by a well-educated population (as in Sweden, the Netherlands, or Japan). The former nations' nonreligion, which can be described as "coercive atheism," is plagued by all that comes with totalitarianism: corruption, economic stagnation, censorship, depression, and the like. However, nearly every nation with high levels of "organic atheism" is a veritable model of societal health.

The twenty-five nations characterized by organic atheism with the highest proportion of nonbelievers are listed in Table 1. When looking at standard measures of societal health, we find that they fare remarkably well; highly religious nations fare rather poorly. The 2004 United Nations' Human Development Report, which ranks 177 countries on a "Human Development Index," measures such indicators of societal health as life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, and so on. According to this report, the five top nations were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All had notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top twenty-five nations, all but Ireland and the United States were top-ranking nonbelieving nations with some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, the bottom fifty countries of the "Human Development Index" lacked statistically significant levels of organic atheism.

Irreligious countries had the lowest infant-mortality rate (number of deaths per 1,000 live births), and religious countries had the highest rates. According to the 2004 CIA World Factbook (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook), out of 225 nations, the twenty-five with the lowest infant-mortality rates had significantly high levels of organic atheism. Conversely, the seventy-five nations with the highest infant-mortality rates were all very religious and without statistically significant levels of organic atheism.

Concerning international poverty rates, the United Nations Report on the World Social Situation (2003) found that, of the forty poorest nations on earth (measured by the percentage of population that lives on less than one dollar a day), all but Vietnam were highly religious nations with statistically minimal or insignificant levels of atheism.

Regarding homicide rates, Oablo Fajnzylber et al., in a study reported in the Journal of Law and Economics (2002), looked at thirty-eight non-African nations and found that the ten with the highest homicide rates were highly religious, with minimal or statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but Ireland were secular nations with high levels of atheism. James Fox and Jack Levin, in The Will to Kill, looked at thirty-seven non-African nations and found that, of the ten nations with the highest homicide rates, all but Estonia and Taiwan were highly religious, with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but Ireland and Kuwait were relatively secular nations, with high levels of organic atheism.

Concerning literacy rates, according to the United Nations Report on the World Social Situation (2003), of the thirty-five nations with the highest levels of youth-illiteracy rates (percentage of population ages fifteen to twenty-four who cannot read or write), all were highly religious, with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.

In regard to rates of AIDS and HIV infection, the most religious nations on earth-particularly those in Africa-fared the worst. (Botswana suffers from the highest rate of HIV infection in the world; see http://www.avert.org/aroundworld. htm.) Conversely, the highly irreligious nations of Western Europe, such as those of Scandinavia-where public sex education is supported and birth control is widely accessible-fared the best, experiencing among the lowest rates of AIDS and HIV infection in the world.

Concerning gender equality, nations marked by high degrees of organic atheism are among the most egalitarian in the world, while highly religious nations are among the most oppressive. According to the 2004 Human Development Report's "Gender Empowerment Measure," the ten nations with the highest degrees of gender equality were all strongly organic-atheistic nations with significantly high percentages of nonbelief. Conversely, the bottom ten were all highly religious nations without any statistically significant percentages of atheists. According to Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris's (2003) "Gender Equality Scale," of the ten nations most accepting of gender equality, all but the United States and Colombia were marked by high levels of organic atheism; of the ten least-accepting of gender equality, all were highly religious and had statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. According to Inglehart et al. in Human Values and Social Change (2003), countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, with the most female members of parliament, tended to be characterized by high degrees of organic atheism, and countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iran, with the fewest female members in parliament, tended to be highly religious.

The acceptance of gender equality among irreligious nations may be linked to the relative acceptance of homosexuality. Inglehart et al., in Human Beliefs and Values: A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook Based on the 1999-2002 Value Surveys (2004), found that, of the eighteen nations least likely to condemn homosexuality, all were highly ranked organic-atheistic nations. Conversely, of the eighteen nations most likely to condemn homosexuality, all but Hungary were highly religious, with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.

A country's suicide rate stands out as the one indicator of societal health in which religious nations fare much better than secular nations. According to the 2003 World Health Organization's report on international male suicide rates (http://www.who.int/en/), the nations with the lowest rates of suicide were all highly religious, characterized by extremely high levels of theism (usually of the Muslim and Catholic varieties). Of the ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, five were distinctly irreligious nations ranked among the top twenty-five nations listed earlier. These five are Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Russia, and Slovenia. It is interesting to note that of the nations currently experiencing the highest rates of suicide-including the five just mentioned-nearly all are former Soviet/communist-dominated societies. (The nations of Scandinavia, where organic atheism is strongest, do not have the highest suicide rates in the world, as is widely thought to be the case.)

In sum, countries with high rates of organic atheism are among the most societally healthy on earth, while societies with nonexistent rates of organic atheism are among the most destitute. The former nations have among the lowest homicide rates, infant mortality rates, poverty rates, and illiteracy rates and among the highest levels of wealth, life expectancy, educational attainment, and gender equality in the world. The sole indicator of societal health in which religious countries scored higher than irreligious countries is suicide.

Where does the United States fit in all this? Americans are very religious. Many studies have found that only between 3-7 percent of Americans do not believe in God. Rates of prayer, belief in the divinity of Jesus, belief in the divine origins of the Bible, and rates of church attendance are remarkably robust in the United States, making it the most religious of all Western industrialized nations, with the possible exception of Ireland. When it comes to societal health, the United States certainly fares far better than much of the rest of the world. According to the United Nations' 2004 "Human Development Index" discussed earlier, the United States ranked eighth. However, when we compare the United States to its peer nations-i.e., developed, industrialized, democratic nations such as Canada, Japan, and the nations of Europe-its standing in terms of societal health plummets. The United States has far higher homicide, poverty, obesity, and homelessness rates than any of its more secular peer nations. It is also the only Western industrialized democracy that is unwilling to provide universal health coverage to its citizens. The fact is that extremely secular nations such as Japan and Sweden are much safer, cleaner, healthier, better educated, and more humane when compared to the United States, despite the latter's exceptionally strong levels of theism.

The information presented in this discussion in no way proves that high levels of organic atheism cause societal health or that low levels of organic atheism cause societal ills such as poverty or illiteracy. The wealth, poverty, well-being, and suffering in various nations are caused by numerous political, historical, economic, and sociological factors that are far more determinant than people's personal belief systems. Rather, the conclusion to be drawn from the data provided above is simply that high levels of irreligion do not automatically result in a breakdown of civilization, a rise in immoral behavior, or in "sick societies." Quite the opposite seems to be the case. Furthermore, religion is clearly not the simple and single path to righteous societies that religious fundamentalists seem to think it is. This fact must be vigorously asserted in response to the proclamations of politically active theists. From small-town school boards to the floor of the Senate, conservative Christians are championing religion as the solution to America's societal problems. However, their pious "solution" is highly dubious and clearly not supported by the best available research of social science.

Belief in God may provide comfort to the individual believer, but, at the societal level, its results do not compare at all favorably with that of the more secular societies. When seeking a more civil, just, safe, humane, and healthy society, one is more likely to find it among those nations ranking low in religious faith-contrary to the preaching of religious folks.

Further Reading
Reginald Bibby, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Stoddart Publishing Company, 2002).
Grace Davie, "Europe: The Exception That Proves the Rule?" in The Desecularization of the World, edited by Peter Berger (Grand Rapids, Mich.:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999).
Kim Eungi, "Religion in Contemporary Korea: Change and Continuity," Korea Focus, July-August 2003.
Oablo Fajnzylber, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loatza, "Inequality and Violent Crime," The Journal of Law and Economics, April 2002.
James Fox and Jack Levin, The Will to Kill (Boston, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, 2000).
Timothy Gall, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Culture and Daily Life, Vol.4: Europe (Cleveland, Ohio: Eastword Publications. 1998).
George Gallup and Michael Lindsay, Surveying the Religious Landscape (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Publishing, 1999).
Andrew Greeley, Religion in Europe at the End of the Second Millennium (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2003).
Goran Gustafsson and Thorleif Pettersson, Folkkyrk och religios pluraism-den nordiska religiosa modellen (Stockholm: Verbum Forlag, 2000).
Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, "Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations," American Sociological Review 67, no. 2 (2002).
Ronald Inglehart, Miguel Basanez, Jaime Diez-Medrano, Loek Halman, and Ruud Luijkx, Human Beliefs and Values: A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook Based on the 1999-2002 Value Surveys, (Beunos Aires, Argentina: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2004).
Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Ronald Inglehart, Pippa Norris, and Christian Welzel, "Gender Equality and Democracy," in Human Values and Social Change, edited by Ronald Inglehart (Boston, Mass.: Brill, 2003).
Peri Kedem, "Dimensions of Jewish Religiosity," in Israeli Judaism, edited by Shlomo Deshen, Charles Liebman, and Mishe Shokeid (London: Transaction Publishers, 1995).
Gerald Marwell and N.J. Demerath, "'Secularization' by Any Other Name," American Sociological Review 68, no. 2 (2003).
Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Gregory Paul, "The Secular Revolution of the West: It's Passed America By-So Far," Free Inquiry 22, no. 3 (Summer 2002).
--, "Cross National Correllations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies," Journal of Religion and Society, vol. 7 (2005).
Detlef Pollack, "The Change in Religion and Church in Eastern Germany after 1989: A Research Note," Sociology of Religion 63, no. 3 (2002).
United Nations, Human Development Report (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
United Nations, Report on the World Social Situation (New York: United Nations Publications, 2003).

Atheist Bilboard: Predict xtian reaction!

And to think, I live south of these folks, and I bet that the locals in this area would get even more irate! And is so fucking predictable! I love the way the author of this particular blog starts off with a parody of the situation. Anyway, here is the write up. Oh, the amusement and irony!

Atheist Billboard Outrages Alabama Christians


Once again, loving Christians are demonstrating just how much more tolerant and respectful they than the militant atheists in their midst. Atheists in Alabama have erected a billboard declaring religion to be the cause for all evils and demanding that it be stamped out while religious believers, despite disagreeing with and objecting to the message, are firmly defending the rights of atheists to express their views just like all other citizens.

No, I'm just kidding — atheists merely put out the mild idea of imagining the absence of religion and Christians are howling with outrage. One company refused to rent them billboard space and, after finding a place for their sign, the atheists are receiving lots of complaints. This is pretty much how it always goes: atheists express something fairly mild and innocuous and Christians throw a fit.

23 July 2009

The Psychology of Cranks

I just had a friend point me to a write up that had me rolling. Thank you IVAN3MAN for making my evening particularly entertaining. And I thought that I would share the write up. Why? Well, the psychology of cranks can be applied to a lot of irrational beliefs us humans have. As a matter of fact, us humans really suck at decision making unless we are made aware of the pitfalls of our own brains. As discussed in this article linked from Scientific American. But I think it applies well on matters that have enslaved human minds for millennium (i.e. religion). Of course, to point out to the deluded and misinformed only makes them more secure,because being wrong is somehow an admission to fallibility that is beyond them. I am reminded of a study, where people who rate themselves at the extreme height of competence in a field, are generally rated very lowly by their peers. People are blind to their own weaknesses and failings. Sure, there is something to be said for confidence, but when you hold on to confidence blindly, you start stepping into the territory of delusion.

Anyway, here is the article on "Crankery". It's amazing how well this applies to so many individuals out there.

The psychology of crankery

Category: ConspiraciesCranks
Posted on: June 8, 2009 6:24 AM, by MarkH

ResearchBlogging.orgOur recent discussions of HIV/AIDS denial and in particular Seth Kalichman's book "Denying AIDS" has got me thinking more about the psychology of those who are susceptible to pseudoscientific belief. It's an interesting topic, and Kalichman studies it briefly in his book mentioning the "suspicious minds":

At its very core, denialism is deeply embedded in a sense of mistrust. Most obviously, we see suspicion in denialist conspiracy theories. Most conspiracy theories grow out of suspicions about corruptions in government, industry, science, and medicine, all working together in some grand sinister plot. Psychologically, suspicion is the central feature of paranoid personality, and it is not overreaching to say that some denialists demonstrate this extreme. Suspicious thinking can be understood as a filter through which the world is interpreted, where attention is driven towards those ideas and isolated anecdotes that confirm one's preconceived notions of wrong doing. Suspicious thinkers are predisposed to see themselves as special or to hold some special knowledge. Psychotherapist David Shpairo in his classic book Neurotic Styles describes the suspicious thinker. Just as wee see in denialism, suspiciousness is not easily penetrated by facts or evidence that counter individuals' preconceived worldview. Just as Shapiro describes in the suspicious personality, the denialist selectively attends to information that bolsters his or her own beliefs. Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity. The parallel between the suspicious personality style and denialism is really quite compelling. As described by Shapiro:

A suspicious person is a person who has something on his mind. He looks at the world with fixed and preoccupying expectation, and he searches repetitively, and only, for confirmation of it. He will not be persuaded to abandon his suspicion of some plan of action based on it. On the contrary, he will pay no attention to rational arguments except to find in them some aspect or feature that actually confirms his original view. Anyone who tries to influence or persuade a suspicious person will not only fail, but also, unless he is sensible enough to abandon his efforts early will, himself, become an object of the original suspicious idea.

The rhetoric of denialism clearly reveals a deeply suspicious character. In denialism, the science of AIDS is deconstructed to examine evidence taken out of context by non-scientists. The evidence is assimilated into one's beliefs that HIV does not cause AIDS, that HIV tests are invalid, that the science is corrupt, and aimed to profit Big Pharma.
...
The insights offered by Shapiro are that denialists are not "lying" in the way that most anti-denialists portray them. The cognitive style of the denialist represents a warped sense of reality for sure, explaining why arguing or debating with a denialist gets you nowhere. But the denialist is not the evil plotter they are often portrayed as. Rather denialists are trapped in their denialism.
...
Psychologically, certain people seem predisposed to suspicious thinking and it seems this may be true of denialism as well. I submit that dienialism stems from a conspiracy-theory-prone personality style. We see this in people who appear predisposed to suspiciousness, and these people are vulnerable to anti-establishment propaganda. We know that suspicious people view themselves as the target of wrongdoing and hold persecutory ideas.

I agree that this certainly represents a portion of denialists, but not all. I think others, for example creationists and global warming denialists, tend to have a different motivation and style, due to ideological extremism that warps their worldview. Ideological and paranoid denialism can co-exist within denialist camps, or even within an individual, but there are areas where the overlap is incomplete. Still, the issue of the suspicious personality style is important.

We all know this person. If you don't, maybe you know Dale Gribble (AKA Rusty Shackleford).

Rusty Shackleford
I just know Mike Judge has met the suspicious personality style and encapsulated the extreme of this personality in this character. Dale inevitably sees every event as tied to some bizarre government/alien conspiracy, and inevitably the other men in the alley ignore his interjections or Hank simply says, "that's asinine". Hank is a wise man. To argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool.

Some anti-denialists sites have recently brought to my attention a growing body of work trying to understand how people become conspiracy theorists. Two papers in particular are of interest, the first Unanswered Questions: A Preliminary Investigation of
Personality and Individual Difference Predictors of 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs
[1] is an interesting study because it provides some explanation for crank magnetism.


So, how was this study done and what did this study show?

For one, I enjoyed reading this study because, as with all well-written papers, they had a nice introduction into the literature behind the psychology of belief in conspiracy theories. This is something I'm becoming more familiar with, but feel that it's also a relatively crude approximation of what is happening. There are several hypotheses about what causes conspiratorial beliefs, and they cite a number of previous studies that attempt to explain the phenomenon. These explanations range from feelings of political powerlessness feeding into conspiracism, to cultural or group understanding of events, to psychological explanations like the need to preserve self-esteem, express feelings like anger at disliked groups, or be individualistic, and some hypotheses which focus on specific deficiencies in cognition.

It's a small study (n=257) of British men and women who were given surveys to analyze their "Support for Democratic Principles", an inventory to assess their belief in conspiracy theories (15 items allowing them to show relative support for common conspiracy theories - with the exception they had to drop the question about Elvis being alive since it was too far out even for conspiracy theorists), a "big five" questionnaire (which assess the five personality factors of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism), a "9/11 conspiracist beliefs scale", a inventory assessing feelings about authority, one for cynicism, and one for exposure to 9/11 conspiracy beliefs.

The researchers then took the data from these surveys, loaded them into matrices and then tried to fit it to various models to create significant linkages between 9/11 beliefs and various personality factors. This is not research in which I have any expertise, so if anyone would like to provide any criticisms of how they did it that may impact results I'd be happy to hear it. I am trusting the peer-reviewers in this case to have done a good job vetting their technique for obvious flaws.

What did they find?

Well, in general 9/11 conspiracy beliefs were low prevalence, but interestingly they felt 9/11 conspiracy beliefs could be predicted from a few personality indicators, and, consistent with crank magnetism, belief in 9/11 conspiracies was part of a general conspiratorial attitude with belief in multiple conspiracy theories being common according to their general conspiracism scale. The authors explain their findings thusly:


The results of this preliminary examination of 9/11 conspiracist theories can be predicted by a number of personality and individual difference variables, which together explained just over half of the variance in the former. As shown in Figure 1, General Conspiracist Beliefs had the strongest effect on 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs, which not surprisingly was also affected by 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure. Of the more distal predictors, only Political Cynicism, Attitudes to Authority and Agreeableness had significant effects on 9/11 Conspiracist Beliefs when the less distal predictors were taken into account; however, there were several significant effects of the more distal on the less distal predictors, namely Attitudes to Authority and Openness on 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure, and Political Cynicism, Support for Democratic Principles and Openness on General Conspiracist Beliefs. Age and sex differences were found for Agreeableness and Support for Democratic Principles, though age also affected 9/11 Conspiracist Exposure when the more distal mediators were taken into account.
The finding that exposure to 9/11 conspiracist ideas was positively associated with holding 9/11 conspiracy beliefs is perhaps not surprising. It seems likely that coming into contact with such ideas (either directly or indirectly) increases an individual's understanding and, consequently, acceptance of such ideas (alternatively, it is also possible that individuals who already believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories seek out such information). More interesting was the finding that General Conspiracist Beliefs was positively associated with 9/11 conspiracist ideas, a result that fits with Goertzel's (1994) assertion that conspiracy beliefs form part of a monological belief system, in which each conspiratorial idea serves as evidence for other conspiratorial beliefs. For example, believing that John F. Kennedy was not killed by a lone gunman, or that the Apollo moon landings were staged, increases the chances that an individual will also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. As Goertzel (1994) highlights, monological belief systems provide accessible explanations for new phenomena that are difficult to comprehend or that threaten existing belief systems (Goertzel, 1994).
Moreover, Goertzel (1994) points out that, often, the proof offered as evidence for a conspiracy is not specific to one incident or issue, but is used to justify the general pattern. That a government is covering-up its involvement in the 9/11 attacks, for instance, goes to show that it is also covering-up the fact that extraterrestrial life has visited Earth, or that national governments are involved in political assassination. Thus, the more conspiracy theories a monological thinker agrees with, the more she or he will accept and assimilate any new conspiracy theory that is proposed.

I'm going to have to read some more by this Goertzel cat. This is an interesting study though because it correlates these two behaviors that we ourselves have observed so frequently. It is limited by size, and that it was done on British subjects, but somehow I suspect it isn't unfair to generalize from British cranks to American ones or cranks worldwide. I would like to see their findings replicated on a larger scale, as even though their findings were significant, they were looking at a small subset of a relatively small number of subjects.

The second paper I'd like to talk about Paranormal Belief and Susceptibility to the Conjunction Fallacy[2], approaches a similar problem from the point of view that maybe people who believe in such obvious nonsense have difficulties with basic reasoning skills.

These authors begin with a discussion of a more developed literature that describes the common cognitive deficits encountered in people who believe in the paranormal. Basically, what has been found, again and again, is that people who believe in paranormal events have certain cognitive deficits and in particular have problems with probabilistic reasoning.

It is widely recognised that most people are poor at judging probability and that under conditions of uncertainty, will rely on heuristics--cognitive 'rules of thumb'--to simplify the reasoning process so as to make quick, easy and proximate, but ultimately flawed, judgments (e.g. Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982; Shaifi, 2004; Sutherland, 1992). Further research suggests a person's pre-existing or a priori beliefs can have a significant influence on these heuristical judgements (e.g. Watt, 1990/1991). Blackmore and Troscianko (1985) were first to test whether paranormal believers were especially prone to probabilistic reasoning biases. They had paranormal believers and non-believers answer questions relating to the generation of random strings (i.e. list 20 numbers as if drawn from a hat), randomness judging (i.e. indicate whether various boy/girl mixes were biased or unbiased), coin tossing outcomes (i.e. indicate whether the number of heads scored from 20 throws was biased or unbiased) and sampling decisions (e.g. indicate which is more likely to be drawn from a given number of red and blue sweets). Whilst no group differences were found for the random string generation or randomness judging tasks, Blackmore and Troscianko found that those who believed in the possibility of extrasensory perception1 made more coin tossing and sampling errors than non-believers. These data suggest paranormal believers underestimate the likelihood of a chance outcome and 'look beyond' coincidence in search of causal--usually supernatural-- explanations. According to Blackmore and Troscianko (1985), this underestimating of chance expectations--termed the 'chance baseline shift'--may strengthen one's belief in psi even when there is no evidence that psi actually exists. Subsequent work examining believers' tendency to misunderstand chance offers mixed results. Henry (1993) found most people believe intuition (71%) and psi (64%) are the best explanations for 'everyday coincidence experiences' (see also Henry, 2005) whilst Bressan (2002; Study 1) found paranormal believers reported having more frequent 'meaningful coincidences' than non-believers. Likewise, Tobacyk and Wilkinson (1991) found those with a more pronounced belief in the paranormal (specifically, in superstition, psi and precognition) had a higher preference for games of chance and were more prone to developing illusory correlations between statistically unrelated events (see also Vyse, 1997). Marks (2002) goes further by suggesting believers misperceive chance events as somehow being related because their a priori beliefs in the paranormal demand such a relationship and thus, that they are especially prone to making 'subjective validations'.

It's an interesting discussion, as many of the findings seem to be subject to general cognitive ability, and there have been mixed results in identifying the "believers" specific problems with understanding randomness and probability. There's a saying in medicine, the questions stay the same, it's just the answers that change. Well, the question remains, why do believers in paranormal events impute more significance to random events than non-believers?

These authors are interested in studying the problem from the point of view that the heuristics, or cognitive rules of thumb that people use to make decisions, in believers are off with regards to the conjunction fallacy. This refers to a tendency, that is very common overall, to ascribe a higher probability of an event occurring if it is associated in the individuals mind with another event, even if the probabilities of the two events are independent.

Conjunction biases have been demonstrated in a wide variety of hypothetical contexts where, in most cases, the proportion of individuals violating the conjunction rule ranges from between 50 and 90% (Fisk, 2004; Tversky & Kahneman, 1983). Given previous claims that paranormal believers' susceptibly to reasoning biases may be context or domain specific (e.g. Gray & Mills, 1990; Merla-Ramos, 2000; Wierzbicki, 1985; although see Lawrence & Peters, 2004; Roe, 1999), it seems reasonable to expect believers will be more prone to the conjunction fallacy, particularly when conjunctive events appear to reflect paranormal phenomena. Take the common example of when one is thinking about an old friend just at the moment he/she unexpectedly calls (e.g. Rhine-Feather & Schmicker, 2005). Here, the two constituent events--namely (a) thinking about the friend and (b) that friend unexpectedly calling--may not be unusual in their own right. One may have thought about the same friend many times before or alternatively, many other friends may have unexpectedly called in the past; neither would be particularly surprising (cf. Fisk, 2004). It is only when these two constituent events co-occur in close temporal proximity that this conjunction is deemed too unlikely to be a simple coincidence. In such cases, many experients will dismiss chance and look for a causal, often paranormal, explanation (cf. Blackmore & Troscianko, 1985; Bressan, 2002; Marks, 2002). Similar logic can be applied to other aspects of the paranormal including the apparent accuracy of psychic predictions where the co-occurrence of two constituent events--namely (a) the prediction and (b) the predicted outcome--seems too unlikely to be just a coincidence. Given previous claims that paranormal believers often misunderstand chance and randomness (e.g. Bressan, 2002), it seems reasonable to suggest believers may be especially prone to the conjunction fallacy. Evidence that believers tend to adopt an intuitive (heuristical) as opposed to an analytic thinking style (Aarnio & Lindeman, 2005; Irwin & Young, 2002; Lester, Thinschimdt, & Trautman, 1987), which in turn is associated with more conjunction errors (Fisk, 2004; Toyosawa & Karasawa, 2004), adds further support to this assertion. Moreover, given that personal experience of alleged paranormal phenomena is the single biggest predictor of paranormal belief (Blackmore, 1984), a tendency to misjudge conjunctive events as having some underlying causal relationship may help explain the maintenance, and perhaps even the development, of such beliefs

So, what did they do? They constructed a series of vignettes that test people's tendency to fall for the conjunction fallacy, and then simultaneously tested them for the presence or absence of paranormal beliefs. Importantly, in addition to testing for paranormal beliefs, the researchers controlled for achievement in psychology, statistics, and mathematics.

They found their hypothesis was correct. The relatively common conjunction bias was even more common in those who believed in paranormal phenomena. Problems with the study again included small size and worse, this was performed on a relatively homogeneous population of college students in England.

So what do these studies mean for our understanding of cranks? Well, in addition to providing explanations for crank magnetism, and cognitive deficits we see daily in our comments from cranks, it suggests the possibility that crankery and denialism may be preventable by better explanation of statistics. Much of what we're dealing with is likely the development of shoddy intellectual shortcuts, and teaching people to avoid these shortcuts might go a long way towards the development and fixation on absurd conspiracy theories or paranormal beliefs.

Viren Swami, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Adrian Furnham (2009). Unanswered questions: A preliminary investigation of personality and individual difference predictors of 9/11 conspiracist beliefs Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.1583

Rogers, P., Davis, T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility to the conjunction fallacy Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23 (4), 524-542 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1472

Comedy Gold

You know your cause is pretty downright silly when Jon Stewart makes fun of you on The Daily Show!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

I guess it wouldn't be this easy to make fun of them if it wasn't for the fact that they are simply batshit crazy!

Oh, and the only reason I am even bothering to mention this here is that I have a commenter here that is plainly batshit crazy several times over. This is for you JD. :)

20 July 2009

40 Years Ago Today

Well, for me, it was actually on the 21st (I was living in Sweden at the time), but watching Walter Cronkite and those fuzzy images is still my first vivid memory. I remember my dad impressing upon me how significant this was. I was just thrilled to be staying up so late!

NASA has their own 40th Anniversary Page up, and I'm sure this will be just about the only thing in the news and on any other site that has a remote interest. But I just wanted to add to the chorus on this. I'd like to see people get excited by space again. Heck, with as badly as we're fucking up this planet, and with as many crackpots as we let wander around unsupervised, I can see the appeal for wanting to just get off this rock, and try somewhere else.

So, do you have any particularly vivid memories of this day 40 years ago?

19 July 2009

Book Review: Rejecting Pascal's Wager

I recently saw this book, and thumbed through it. While I didn't have the desire to spend $40 at the time, I think it's a worthwhile book from the reviews I have seen on it. I was particularly interested in what someone who went to seminary said about it. Now keep in mind, I have not read the 652 page book, so this is entirely someone else's opinion of the book. In the chapter outline though, it seems very familiar ground. Things that have been discussed over and over again. Things that make sense. Agree with the real world. Of course, if someone is inclined to believe in magic, no amount of logic or reason will really penetrate, but there has got to be hope (I do actually tend to be optimistic at times). So, for skeptics, this book is a nice consice reference book for you and a good refresher. For believers, well, yet more things you need to make excuses for.

Paul Tobin's Book: The Best Skeptical Book on the Bible as a Whole

Paul Tobin’s new book, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus has arrived and I am very glad it did. It is the best skeptical work on the Bible as a whole. Gerd Lüdemann, author of several skeptical works on early Christianity, recommends it “with the utmost enthusiasm.” I do too.

Tobin’s whole argument is aimed to show that Pascal’s famous wager has no effect on us because we are not forced to choose between Pascal’s Catholic brand of Christianity and unbelief. Why? Because the central claims of Christianity are false. He takes aim at the Bible to show that while it may be a great work of literature it is not the word of God. And Tobin backs his claim up with his massive 652 page book, complete with a nice bibliography and indexes.

If you’re a Christian who has deconverted at a later time in life then you need to re-learn most all of what you were taught about the Bible. If you were college and seminary trained like me, this can be a difficult thing to do. So, you could go on a massive reading binge, spending many hours and a lot of money feasting on book after book. Or, you could read this one. Given that choice I highly recommend you get this one. Tobin masterfully takes us through the Bible using critical scholarship to show us what we can and cannot know about it. It has helped me remember several things I learned back in college and seminary but had forgotten. It taught me some very interesting things I hadn’t yet thought through as a skeptic, and I think I’ve read a great deal on the subject since my deconversion. Tobin showed me I hadn’t read enough.

It’s all here for the most part in an encyclopedic fashion, covering the ancient myths, the errors, the lack of confirming archaeology, the failed prophecies, and the forged authorship. He also covers the ad hoc canonization process and the textual transmission of these texts. Tobin is a very good guide to these topics, using the results of critical scholars whom he refers to time and again.

He writes and thinks well too. Take for instance Noah’s Ark. Tobin tells us simply that on the one hand “it is too big,” in that the structure could not be seaworthy. On the other hand “it was too small,” with not enough room for all of the animals it would have had in it. (pp. 75-77).

Tobin also spends a few pages effectively dealing with the minutia of numerical “contradictions” in the Bible, like the value of π (pi) found in Kings 7:23-26 (pp. 29-38). He even shows how that the evangelical New International Version has purposely mistranslated several passages to eliminate the appearance of difficulties inherent in the original languages (pp. 197-204).

And he addresses how the liberals view the Bible by concluding that they “did not reach their conclusions by abstruse theological reasoning: they were forced by external circumstances—the findings of science, comparative religions, enlightenment philosophies and historical criticism.” (pp. 187-196).

If you want to know why scholars think the Gospel of Mark was written first you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why scholars don’t think Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the authors of their gospels, and why they are written later than evangelicals claim, you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why the Nativity stories are fictions you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why scholars have serious doubts about what Jesus may have said, or why they doubt the Passion Narratives and resurrection stories, you may only need to read this book.

If you have only one skeptical book about the Bible as a whole this one is all you need. And even if you have some other books, this one will still inform you of issues you probably haven’t read up on, like it did with me.

Tobin did a massive amount of work here. I will use it as a reference when dealing with some of these topics in the future. It’s worth the price. I liked it so much I asked Tobin to write a chapter for a book I’ve been editing/writing.

LARIAN AGAIN: Well, a pretty good review from someone who went to seminary. I'll leave you with a final thought today though.

Why is it, that on nearly every moral change issue involving human rights, the bible has been on the wrong side? http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/fundamentals/bible_moral_guide.html

18 July 2009

Time for Fat Tax

Okay, so I just saw that advert where the family goes fishing and it says that we don't need a tax on the crap that we buy that's bad for us. Sadly, I think we do need that tax...

Come on, be honest, how many people look like those in the advert? How many people that generally by chips, soda, and that type of junkfood actually DO eat responsibly and actually exercise? This is a case where we have acted so irresponsibly that we abdicated our right to consume like the obese cows we have turned into. If obesity wasn't an epidemic, I would agree with the sentiment of the commercial, but just looking around on the beach, it's like several hundred pods of whales have washed up! Heck, I'd go so far as to force people to humiliate themselves before being allowed to buy soda, chips, and other junkfoods. If they have those items in their cart, they will have to step on a scale that measurs their bodyfat (we have some pretty good ones now that are accurate to within a percent or two), and if they are lardasses, a big flashing light goes off, and a speaker announces to everyone in the store that a "fatty fat fatso is getting fatter". And since this behaviour is going unchecked, and is also responsible for so many health problems, I have no sympathy that the burden comes on them.

I enjoy a cigar from time to time as well. I know that's not the healthiest habit, but again, I am willing to pay extra for that. Heck, there are a lot of things that drive direct costs to how incredibly unhealthy this nation is, that may be occasional pleasures to people. You need to make it a cost benefit analysis to them. Not something that makes it more convenient. Hell, tax the shit out of McDonalds and their ilk too.

Some things that I even thought would help people get more motivated to change their lardass lifestyle:

- Make Helath Club dues tax deductible (provided the guym is actually used).
- Give people a tax break if they are able to pass a PT test (administered by the health club, not the gubment).
- Make the total cost of all FRESH fruits and vegetables a tax deduction as well.
- In other words, make people care about being healthy and benefit from it in ways that matter outside the quality of life (let's face it, looking like a fucking blob doesn't seem to matter to folks...).

Shit like this bugs me, because I'd rather not see us having to resort to this, but let's face it. As a nation we're about as unhealthy as a nation can be, and still be able to walk over to the Ben and jerry's counter without collapsing of a heart attack. We stopped caring, so at this point we need to be treated like the children we are acting like, and have some sense beaten into us.

Just my rant for the day. Now, I'm gonna go jogging, and then my wife wants me to cut up some veggies for our dinner tonight.

EDIT TO ADD: I did want to make an acknowledgment that there ARE medical conditions that do make life difficult for many people. However, that doesn't mean to just give up on an attempt at a healthy lifestyle. It's no excuse to have a 5000 calorie per day diet. Put down the deep fat fried Twinkie dipped in baconaise, and have an apple instead. I doubt that 32% of the US has an uncontrolled thyroid problem (obese)! Or that 65% are just big boned (overweight). Heck, I know that I myself need to take my own advice and lose a few pounds and have a better diet. That commercial just really pissed me off.

17 July 2009

The Real America?

As I mentioned in the "Douchebaggery" blog, I may not agree with everything President Obama is doing (on the domestic side), but also realize that we've put ourselves in a bad position where these solutions are what is left. But what I would like to talk about (thanks Aaron for giving me the idea) is this "Real America" thing.

I can't express how thankful I am that President Obama won. In his mind, there aren't two Americas that are real and not real. He's not about dividing people up just because they don't adhere to whatever is your ideology. Not so with the GOP. Even more and more I am hearing that they represent the "Real America". What the fuck are they talking about? Is it really their goal to alienate and piss off anyone who isn't a fundamental xtian? Let's face it, the GOP has turned into the Fundamental Christian Political Action Group, and is no longer in any way a Grand Old Party.

And what determines what makes a "Real American" anyway? Serving your country in Uniform? Being a god fearing church goer? Really, all I see again out of the GOP is incredibly childish, short sighted, divisive actions. And this is coming from someone who was a registered Republican for 25 years!

So really, what the fuck is a Real American, and what the fuck is a fake american? I'd like to know, just so I can see exactly how deluded and childish the dividers are.

Science flies you to the moon

This is from the Bad Astronomy blog, but I wanted to repost it here. I know that the deluded fools that think the moon landing was a hoax still won't shut up, and claim this is yet another facet of the hoax (like the birther morons won't accept the proof we already have), but for those of us who live in the real world, this is cool. I think that Dr Plait sums this up nicely as far as Apollo 11 being a demarcation point in history that is based off a particular wonder! Here are his impressions:

This is so so so freaking cool: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken pictures of the Apollo landing sites!

LRO spots Apollo 11 landing site

Holy Haleakala!

Lunar Module diagram
LM diagram from Wikipedia

That’s EXACTLY how I pictured it would look. That picture shows the lower half of the Lunar Module, the part that stayed behind on the Moon when Armstrong and Aldrin blasted back up off the surface. It was essentially dead weight, so the LM was designed to split in half, with the top half (the aptly-named Ascent Module — click on the diagram on the right for details) going back up into orbit to meet with Michael Collins in the Command Module. From there they returned to Earth.

The Descent Module is about 4 meters or so across, and the image, above taken when the Sun was low on the horizon, clearly shows the DM and its shadow cast across the lunar surface. The region where they landed was fairly smooth, so the module is the only thing large enough in the image to cast an appreciable shadow.

Wow. Look at that! Physical, tangible evidence that human beings walked on the surface of the Moon. And not just that: we did it again and again. Behold!


LRO images Apollo 14 site

That’s the Apollo 14 landing site, and you can see where the lunar surface was disturbed by the astronauts bootprints! Some of that may also be tracks from a wheelbarrow-like device called the Modularized Equipment Transporter which Alan Shepherd and Edgar Mitchell used to help them carry equipment and samples to and from the lander.

Oh man oh man oh man! And mind you, these pictures are not even the highest resolution LRO can provide; future observation will have twice this much detail!

I love this. Not because I needed proof we went, of course. But there is just something about seeing new pictures after all these years. Apollo may seem like ancient history, but those artifacts on the Moon are still sitting there, in many ways as fresh as the day they were placed there.

In all of human history, there are many dividing lines we can arbitrarily assign. Before and after the use of atomic weapons, before and after the discovery of the light bulb, before and after this war or that.

But there is one dividing line that can inspire us, fill us with wonder, make us dream of bigger goals, higher aspirations, better ways to live our lives for the future. And that is the dividing line between the time we were a race shackled to the ground, confined to a single planet… and the time a human being stepped foot on another world.

And there it is, in pictures and in fact. This is what these pictures mean. We humans spend a lot of time looking around, looking out, looking down. But sometimes, for just a brief moment, we look up. We did it once before, and it’s time to do it again.

16 July 2009

Douchebaggery....

Okay, today's blog is going to be all over the place...

I got a link to this article about a guy that is a total asswipe and nutcase. Why do I use such harsh language? Well, anyone who is still one of the psycho "birthers" is about as crazy as the flat earthers. It's not like this has been rehashed again and again and again:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/birthcertificate.asp

http://msgboard.snopes.com/politics/graphics/birth.jpg

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2008/jun/27/obamas-birth-certificate-part-ii/

http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/born_in_the_usa.html

Of course, then the "birthers" go off on the wild goose chase of the "long form" certificate. Never mind that the one shown is perfectly acceptable and a legal document on its own. It's as if these nutters are a cop that stop you for going 55 in a 55 with their radar gun stating 55, but they still give you a ticket because they don't have a picture of your speedometer from the time they took the reading...

So I am glad they booted this idiot. He's clearly mentally unstable. Not to mention that it's perfectly legal under the UCMJ to do that to him since he's disopbeying a legal order. Not only that, he'd be bad for good order and discipline (a case where I agree with that verbiage). And finally, my hypothesis is that he's a pussy, and was too afraid to deploy (PUSSY!).

On the vein of DOUCHEBAGGERY; while I don't agree with all of President Obama's domestic policies, the douchebagger of the past 8 years has forced us into a corner. When Billary tried to ram rod healthcare reform back in the 90's, there was still hope that the system could do what needed to be done. Sadly, since then, douchebaggery has been rampant, and any sort of humane compassion has been abdicated by the example set in our national leadership, and now the system is so broken and fucked sidways that we have no choice but to let the government step in and pick up the pieces. The "less government" libertarian part of me hates to see all these government programs put in place to do things that we as responsible citizens should be able to do for ourselves, but I have to face the facts that we fucked things up so bad, that we need to be rescued from our worst nature. Of course, now that there is a statesman and rational thinker instead of a supersticious sheeple in charge, we may get a better example set for us.

Finally, I want to present a blog from another writer that talks about the douchebaggery in education. Today is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. An amazing time in history for the entire human race. And today, the US is barely able to get to low earth orbit, and will in all likelyhood get beat by the Chinese back to the moon, and even Mars. So here is that blog. While he states many things as "facts", i think he's a bit on the side of hyperbole, but his sentiments are right on. If you look at reports about the state of US education (or just watch Jaywalking), you know what I mean,

40 Years After Moon Landing: Why Aren't People Smarter?

Editor's Note: Forty years ago this month, humans landed on the moon for the first time. We asked Benjamin Radford why, four decades later, humans have not become any smarter.
A look at old periodicals reveals something very interesting about human nature. Newspapers and magazines from the early 1900s were full of advertisements for instant weight loss gizmos, miracle cures, and all other forms of self-evident quackery. A century later, this stuff is still being advertised - and lots of people are buying.
You would think that by now people would know that you can't lose 10 pounds a week taking a "breakthrough" miracle pill, and you can't earn $50,000 a week working from home in your spare time (at least not legally).
Despite a long tradition of free, compulsory public education (and more college graduates than ever), as a whole we don't seem to be getting much smarter.
Many of us still buy the newest fad items and get suckered into the latest conspiracy theory. We still fall for the same logical traps, the same wacky ideas, the same old discredited snake oil in shiny new bottles that plagued our forefathers-and their forefathers.
Why? If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we rise above bad thinking?
Education
Education is a big part of the problem.
Our educational system tends to focus on rote facts and memorization: names, dates, places, and events. It is easy to teach children basic facts, and to test their knowledge of those facts; either students know the capital of Argentina or they don't, and either the correct oval is darkened with graphite or it isn't. (The emphasis on "teaching to the test" also undermines critical thinking, favoring compartmentalized factual memorization over in-depth understanding.)
Being smart involves being able to understand the relationships between events, finding and questioning hidden assumptions, and so on. The fact is, most students are not taught how to think analytically and critically.
Critical thinking classes are rarely included in typical educational curriculum. The vain hope is that in the process of studying geography, math, English, biology, and so on, students will learn to think critically. But critical thinking should not be an afterthought or happy byproduct, it should be a primary goal because it is a way of thinking that can be applied to all academic subjects and areas of life.
Cognitive limitations

The widespread failure to teach critical thinking (or even recognize its importance) is only part of the problem. Efforts to make our kids smarter will inevitably crash up against a biological barrier: Our brains are actually hardwired to hinder our attempts to think critically.
Critical thinking is often counterintuitive, and our brains are easily fooled.
Superstition and magical thinking come easily to us; we jump to conclusions without evidence; our biases and prejudices influence how we interpret the world. We see faces in clouds and patterns in events where they do not exist. Personal experience and vivid anecdotes are much more easily learned and remembered than facts. Our fears and emotions often override facts and logic (for example, the factual knowledge that air travel is very, very safe does little to calm many people's visceral fear of flying).
In a way, the better question is, shouldwe expect people to be any smarter?
Critical thinking is a skill, and like any skill it can be taught, practiced, and improved upon. Expecting the average person to think logically and critically is like expecting the average person to play the piano or write a book. With study and practice, almost anyone can do it with some level of proficiency, but most people don't learn how to think critically or analytically-nor are they even aware of its value.
More data, same processors
The amount of human knowledge has increased exponentially over the past few centuries. We have more information than ever before on virtually every imaginable topic, from physics to medicine to sociology. (The notable exceptions are paranormal, possibly non-existent subjects like ghosts, Bigfoot, and psychic powers; the body of knowledge about these topics has not increased at all.)
But all that data and information is useless if people can't effectively understand or apply it. Without logic, wisdom, and reasoned analysis, facts are useless.
The United States - and indeed the world - is faced with a daunting set of challenges, including climate change, influenza pandemics, warfare, the search for renewable energy, and so on. Solving these problems will require an educated public able to critically and logically analyze the issues. Hopefully that will happen, but if history is any guide, we will instead stumble and muddle through, just as we always have.
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.
LiveScience.com chronicles the daily advances and innovations made in science and technology. We take on the misconceptions that often pop up around scientific discoveries and deliver short, provocative explanations with a certain wit and style. Check out our science videos, Trivia & Quizzes and Top 10s. Join our community to debate hot-button issues like stem cells, climate change and evolution. You can also sign up for free newsletters, register for RSS feeds and get cool gadgets at the LiveScience Store.

Required reading for the day

From Scienceblogs (Just so that fucking anonymous asshat will know):

Two things: the first is Sean Carroll's discussion of what kinds of questions science can answer, and what the answers tell us about the universe.

And, without fail, the scientific judgment comes down in favor of a strictly non-miraculous, non-supernatural view of the universe.

That's what's really meant by my claim that science and religion are incompatible. I was referring to the Congregation-for-the-Causes-of-the-Saints interpretation of religion, which entails a variety of claims about things that actually happen in the world; not the it's-all-in-our-hearts interpretation, where religion makes no such claims. (I have no interest in arguing at this point in time over which interpretation is "right.") When religion, or anything else, makes claims about things that happen in the world, those claims can in principle be judged by the methods of science. That's all.

Well, of course, there is one more thing: the judgment has been made, and views that step outside the boundaries of strictly natural explanation come up short. By "natural" I simply mean the view in which everything that happens can be explained in terms of a physical world obeying unambiguous rules, never disturbed by whimsical supernatural interventions from outside nature itself. The preference for a natural explanation is not an a priori assumption made by science; it's a conclusion of the scientific method. We know enough about the workings of the world to compare two competing big-picture theoretical frameworks: a purely naturalistic one, versus one that incorporates some sort of supernatural component. To explain what we actually see, there's no question that the naturalistic approach is simply a more compelling fit to the observations.

This is why religion is a failed explanation for the world. It just doesn't line up with the evidence, at all.

Your second reading for the day is Dan Dennett explaining why we don't even need religion as a social construct.

I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we've outgrown it. Denmark, according to a recent study, is the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world, and by and large the Danes simply ignore the God issue. We should certainly hope that those who believe in belief are wrong, because belief is waning fast, and the props are beginning to buckle.

If religion has no useful explanatory power, and if we don't need it to make our lives better and richer, why not just toss the whole ball of fluff out?

Guest Blogger INC?

Just a quick heads up, I am going to experiment with a guest blogger. Feel free to say hello to Britney Wilkins of http://www.onlinecourses.org/. Let's see what she has to say, and how I feel about it. Hey, it is a free country after all. Hopefully it will be worthwhile for an addition, although how many people actually come by here versus going to her site? Maybe she's fishing for some rational thinkers?

15 July 2009

Facts Not Fantasy

Just a quick post today. I am off to see the new Harry Potter movie with my daughter, so I have to say that takes precedence over anything that I would care to write today! Anyway, I combed through some news today, and there seems to be a lot of interesting science news on the stuff that I blog on at Facts Not Fantasy. Tool using apes. Figuring out the origin of flowers. Shark sex. Vaccines for Valley Fever and Alzheimer's. Isolating and figuring out 27 more genes associated with autism. More understanding of childhood brain development even.

It was also a good day for space news. Yesterday Falcon X launched a satellite for Malaysia. The Space Shuttle also got up. Although, from reports I am hearing, there was quite a bit of tile damage with this launch. That is concerning. Will have to keep an eye out on the news for more on that. Okay, I'll check with scientists and engineers, the news isn't worth shit...

14 July 2009

Telescopes in the Year of Astronomy

In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, Scientific American put up this little piece (that you can get to by clicking the title of this blog post). I urge you to look at the slide show as well. All too often, when people think of telescopes, they think of just optical scopes. Well, there are a lot of different types of telescopes out there. It's amazing how much we have found out about our universe, the way it formed, what its ultimate fate is, and our place in it. And to think that at one time, we thought all of it centered around us (well, quite a few folks still think that, and hundreds of years of science won't tell them different...).

Speaking of which, a facebook "friend" of mine made a post that I really think is worth repeating, since it's like she took the words straight from my brain!
I believe that religion was a precursor to what we now rely on: science and the scientific method to make determinations regarding our natural world. Is science perfect? No. Can it be manipulated? Yes. But, the basis for scientific thinking and inquiry, is REASONING. Intelligent REASONING. I'd rather the human mind work through reason to find truth as far as the human mind has the capacity to. Many people of faith believe that scientific theory regarding say, evolution, makes more sense than not. Though, many tend to insert a "god's" hand in that process in some way. I've contended in the past several times, that religion will in fact, "die" some day. Maybe not in the near future, but it will. You can't keep the human mind from expanding beyond what is ultimately, unreasonable.

Where religion was a means to attempt understanding of the natural world before before real scientific inquiry, it has now become a means in which people of power, stay in power. Keep the masses ignorant and afraid. Keep them ignorant, and afraid. Keep them in the yoke of religious ridiculousness, and you'll have paying servants for as long as you need them.
How appropriate. I can only hope that religion will eventually die, and we can move beyond these childish superstitions (to quote another really smart and famous guy).