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Bad Press For Psychics; I TOTALLY Predicted That!

September 20, 2011 2 comments

I recently wrote a post about ‘Psychic Nikki’, a Toronto-area psychic who said she would be interested in taking the $1 million psychic challenge from the James Randi Education Foundation.

She has since backed away from that statement.

Now, The Guardian reports that a British psychic by the name of Sally Morgan has also gotten herself into a bit of a media firestorm.

It would seem that Ms. Morgan, Britain’s “best-loved psychic” (according to her website) did a show at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin on September 11.

The next day, Ms. Morgan was on a radio show called Liveline on RTE Radio 1.

A woman named Sue called into the radio show and claimed she was at Ms. Morgan’s show the previous evening, and asked about a something strange she experienced.

No, it was not a ghostly, eerie psychic experience. Instead, it seems that Sue was sitting near the rear of the theater and became aware of a small room behind their seats.

Sue claims she heard a man’s voice coming from this room. Not only that, but Sue says that 

“everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later.”

For example, the voice would say something like “David, pain in the back, passed quickly” and a few seconds later Sally would claim to have the spirit of a “David” on stage who – you’ll never guess – suffered from back pain and passed quickly.

A staff member realized that this voice was being heard by spectators, and promptly shut the window to the room.

A few other people also called into the radio show and corroborated Sue’s story.

This is a common trick used by “psychics” who do live shows. They will either have people placed in the crowd to gather information from the spectators about which spirits they would like to hear from, or use microphones to eavesdrop on conversations and gather information that way.

Someone will then feed the “psychic” this information through an earpiece, making it look like they predicted or “sensed” the information themselves.

Chris French, the writer of The Guardian article, points out that this is much like James Randi’s debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff in the mid-1980s.

Popoff, it seems, was getting information from “Prayer Cards”, information cards he asked his spectators to fill out before the show with name, address, and afflictions they would like to have “healed”.

This information was then fed to Popoff via an earpiece by his wife. And why not? They were pulling in a cool $4 million A MONTH by bilking these sick and needy people.

Sally Morgan isn’t doing too badly either; she is currently out promoting her third book and filming a third season of her TV Show, Psychic Sally on the Road.

But this isn’t the first time Ms. Morgan’s abilities have fallen under criticism. In 2007 she did a reading for Big Brother winner Brian Dowling, claiming she had never met him before.

In fact, she had done a reading for him in 2005. When questioned about this by The Independent, she simply said that she did it

because the director told me to.

But even though her techniques are getting exposed, she is going to continue to rake it in. Psychics benefit from that fact that people want to believe. So desperately do people want to speak to their dead relatives, or hear that they are going to find love that they will believe, and pay, anything to have that happen.

And there will always be those willing to take advantage of whomever they can for a few bucks.

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REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

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Thanks! 

Ryan

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Psychic Backing Away From $1 Million Psychic Challenge

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

File:Psychic reading.jpgA prolific Toronto-area psychic named “Psychic Nikki” recently made headlines by saying that she would be interested in taking the ‘Psychic Challenge’ offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

The JREF offers a $1 million prize to any person who can demonstrate psychic abilities. What is the catch? Well there is none, really.

You just have to demonstrate a statistically significant ability to predict future events (beyond that of chance) in a controlled scientific experiment. The terms of the experiment are agreed upon by both the “psychic” and the JREF and the experiment itself conducted by a third-party.

Easy, right?

Unfortunately, of the hundreds of people who have attempted the test, none have been able to demonstrate that they are, indeed, psychic.

Enter “Psychic Nikki”.

On August 31, 2011, the CBC reported that Psychic Nikki was considering taking the challenge,

“I would say yes, I would take [the] challenge because I have enough faith in my own abilities if I was available,” Toronto-based psychic Nikki told CBC News.

“I am the real thing so I don’t have to worry about this stuff.”

The statement came after a high-profile challenge by James Randi to famous psychics to come and prove their abilities.

Psychic Nikki was quite confident. She has, by her own claim, predicted

the Sept. 11 attacks, the Japan tsunami and the deaths of Michael Jackson, crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and Anna Nicole Smith.

Though despite predicting these events, she did not bother trying to prevent any of them. You can actually check out her Twitter feed to see some of her predictions, which include:

I’m pretty sure people riot/protest in Paris every week…

Been 10 days, nuthin’ yet on that  one…

And my personal favourite,

The predictions are rather vague (excepting the Mona Lisa one), which is odd considering her website states that

She is an audient clairvoyant – the ability to see and hear and come up with specifics.

Psychics use specialized strategies to appear like they are foretelling the future. For example, they will make a large number of vague predictions (called “Shotgunning”), and then claim victory when any individual prediction comes close to the truth. Predicting an earthquake in California at some point will probably end up being true, but it is hardly convincing evidence of psychic ability.

Now, as revealed on the JREF website, Psychic Nikki has started distancing herself from the challenge.

The JREF called Nikki on Sept. 2, requesting an email address to send her information about the Million Dollar Challenge. After CBC News published a followup story on Tuesday, Sept. 6, Nikki returned the JREF’s call, leaving a message in which she promised “I will try to contact you in the next couple of days for sure.” The JREF called her back within an hour, again offering to send information about the Challenge and answer her questions.

A full week after Nikki promised to call the JREF “in the next couple of days,” she still had not responded.

She also commented on the challenge on the Dean Blundell show on September 9th. Most notably she said that

This test is controlled, that’s why I don’t want to take it

Which is basically the point. Once “psychics” find out that the test will be fairly testing their abilities, they either back away or ultimately fail the test. That is bad for business.

This is not at all surprising, but it is a bit refreshing to see it get coverage in big news outlets like the CBC. I expect that attention to this story will slowly dissipate once Psychic Nikki stops talking about it, but the point as been made.

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REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

PSYCHE! Rapture is ACTUALLY 5 Months From Now!

May 23, 2011 1 comment
File:Harold Camping 2011.jpg

Harold Camping in 2011. Photo by ChristReturns2011

But seriously you guys, THIS TIME it’s totally 100% absolutely positively gonna happen!

That’s me paraphrasing the disgraced (at least she should be) Harold Camping, the ass-dick who has bilked people of their life savings promoting the end of the world.

It was supposed to happen on Saturday, May 21. But SURPRISE! Nothing happened!

After spending a day in hiding, Camping came out today to reveal what he had done wrong (besides being an ass-dick),

Saturday was “an invisible judgment day” in which a spiritual judgment took place, he said. But the timing and the structure is the same as it has always been, he said.

“We’ve always said May 21 was the day, but we didn’t understand altogether the spiritual meaning,” he said. “May 21 is the day that Christ came and put the world under judgment.”

Ok, so he wasn’t totally wrong, he just wasn’t totally right. That’s completely understandable!

Gah! Sorry about all the sarcasm folks, but this guy is pissing me off.

Bad enough that he has ruined people’s lives with his bullshit, one woman even slit her children’s throats AND her own because of this shit, but now he is actually going to keep doing it for another 5 months!

And what is gonna happen 5 months from now when the world doesn’t end? AGAIN???

Why he’s just gonna come up with some new reason he was not totally wrong but not totally right, and he’ll have a brand new judgment day to promote.

It makes me sick to thing not only of the millions of dollars stolen from gullible-but-still-innocent people. But I think of all of Camping’s money that he has spent on this cause and how it could have been donated charity and done some ACTUAL good in the world.

So while this is not surprising, it is still infuriating. Hopefully a few of Camping’s disciples realize he is full of crap and start saying so.

So Its The End of the World…

May 20, 2011 3 comments
File:Judgment Bus New Orleans 2011.jpg

Photo by Bart Everson

As you are no doubt aware, tomorrow is the rapture.

Yes, Jesus is going to return to Earth tomorrow to take all the good people with him to heaven. This has been predicted by a multi-millionaire radio station owner named Harold Camping.

How did he make this prediction? I’ve actually seen a couple derivations from Camping on this, but an excerpt from FamilyRadio.com states:

Holy God reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years. Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day.

Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

God is proving to us that we have very accurately learned from the Holy Bible God’s time-plan for the end of the world.

So there you have it, irrefutable proof that the world is ending tomorrow.

Sorry :(

So what will become of the sinners? Well we are going to be left behind to think about what we did…until October.

On October 21st, the world will actually be destroyed by fire.

Now, at first I thought that I might be able to escape judgment. I mean, I’m not a bad guy. I donate to charity, I’ve helped old ladies cross the street, and I’ve never murdered anyone.

But then I realized how horrible a person I really was. I eat meat on Fridays. I don’t go to Church every Sunday, and I’ve been spending the past 5 years living in sin with the love of my life.

Not only that, but I believe that homosexuals should be allowed to get married! What was I thinking?!? Camping has clearly pointed out that it is the gays who are to blame for this horrible upcoming Judgement.

Camping says God will punish America and the rest of the world for Gay Pride and same-sex marriages, just as Sodom and Gomorrah were punished with fire and brimstone in the Old Testament.

I should have known better.

So now the only question is: What am I going to do with my last night on Earth before Jesus metaphorically (or perhaps literally) bitch-slaps me?

A good question. I should probably get drunk. But then, it is May 2-4 long weekend, so that was probably going to happen anyway (for my non-Canadian readers, May 2-4 is the colloquial term for Victoria Day, a national holiday in Canada).

I could repent, but that somehow feels like giving up.

I could sell all my possessions and spend it all on strippers and drugs. But then, I might catch a nasty disease and have to spend my last few months on Earth suffering more than I should.

Well I guess I will be getting drunk. If I wake up tomorrow before Jesus arrives, I will blog again. Otherwise, this may be the last time you hear from me. Thanks for being such loyal readers!

How will you all be celebrating Judgment Day?

Skeptic Skills Review: Pareidolia; The Case of the Kate Middleton Jelly Bean

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I was prompted to write about pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing shapes or patterns in everyday stuff, because of this facepalm-inducing story from The Telegraph.

Jelly bean resembling Kate Middleton to fetch £500

Kate Middleton and the jelly bean found by Wesley Hosie and Jessica White of Taunton Photo: SWNS

Yes, the bride in the upcoming Royal Wedding has been spotted in Jelly bean form. And its big news for the Brits.

The British really confuse me. Not only do they waste huge amounts of tax payer dollars so that the useless Monarchy can live a life of luxury, purely for being figureheads. It is an outdated form of government and I don’t understand it.

But a jellybean? Seriously?

This is a classic instance of pareidolia. Though pareidolia can occur for all types of shapes and patterns, it is especially strong for patterns that look like human faces.

People are seeing Kate Middleton’s face everywhere in buildup to this Royal Wedding. It is at the forefront of their minds. And when a random collection of food dye happens to look like a person with long hair, it HAS to be Kate Middleton! (Could also be Kurt Cobain if you ask me)

But it doesn’t just happen with jellybeans. People have claimed to see the Virgin Mary’s face in things from toast to soiled bed sheets. There was the infamous Face on Mars, which turned out to be just a big hill.

The infamous 'Face on Mars' taken by Viking 1 in 1976. Photo: NASA

The 'Face on Mars' photographed again in 2001 by the Mars Global Surveyor. Photo: NASA

So why does this happen to us?

Humans have evolved to rapidly recognize human faces as a safety mechanism. Being able to see in an approaching person is a friend or an enemy was quite advantageous to developing species.

A study in 2009

found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoked an early (165ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas common objects did not evoke such activation

Our brains are hard-wired to quickly recognize face-like patterns, which is why this kind of story pops up so much. It is also why the ‘faces’ are always famous person or religious figures, instead of your brother Bob or my cousin Phil. They evoke an emotional response and so faces that we see photographed or on TV all the time are often the first ones our memories access.

But I’m sure someone will pay a lot of money for this delicious candy. I mean, have you seen some of the crap they’ve been selling with the happy couple’s faces on it?

Measles Outbreak Hospitalizes Four Children

March 31, 2011 1 comment

Yes, and it could have been prevented.

The outbreak happened in the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis. Since measles immunization is highly effective at preventing measles, how is it a that an outbreak like this could have occurred?

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a recent outbreak of measles in the Twin Cities area was caused in part by former doctor and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s influential but fraudulent study suggesting a connection between child vaccination and autism.

So why weren’t the children vaccinated?

Several of the parents informed the Health Department they had avoided the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine out of concerns their children would be at risk of autism.

If you read this blog at all (or any other skeptic blog, for that matter) you know this already. But once more, with feeling…

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM

Not only has Wakefield’s original study been shown be of poor quality, it has also been alleged to be fraudulent. Many larger studies have shown absolutely no correlation between vaccines and autism.

None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nil.

Ok, I’m starting to get worked up. It happens when I talk about vaccines especially.

Why? Well usually when a scientist’s outlandish claims get debunked it is an “I told you so!” situation.

But when children (or anyone) get hurt or hospitalized as a result of those outlandish claims, it becomes a “Bang your head against the wall because this could have been prevented” situation.

Maybe we could call this a “Wakefield” situation; a “When Are Kids Ever going to Forgive us for letting Idiots Endanger their Lives with Debunked science” situation.

The reality is starting to set in, as Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, lays out:

Hospitalizations and deaths have occurred—all preventable, had the children been immunized. In the U.S., some parents withhold vaccines; others stretch out the vaccination schedule, leaving children susceptible to disease for longer than they should.

I don’t know if the damage caused by that original Wakefield paper will ever be fully undone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to undo as much as possible.

The Globe and Mail Fails Again

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Globe continues its descent from decent reporting to tabloid-like fear mongering. The culprit this time is a completely unskeptical article containing a condensed interview with Paul Connet, “a U.S. academic and public-health advocate”. He has recently penned a book called ‘The Case Against Fluoride’.

The article is available here, but I was so disappointed with the article’s lack of counter evidence or even discussion, that I feel the need to provide such commentary here. Let’s look at a few of the questions that were asked:

Before you became involved in this issue, you were skeptical that fluoride was harmful and thought critics of the practice were misguided. What changed your mind?

There were two things. The first was that fluoride interfered with hydrogen bonds, which are common in proteins and other important molecules in our bodies. That sent alarm bells ringing through my head. The second was that the level in mothers’ milk was incredibly low. When you see what nature’s take on it is, which is don’t give the baby much fluoride, then I felt this doesn’t make any sense to add it to water.

Hydrogen bonding is a form of attraction between the positive hydrogen atom and an electronegative atom. Connet is referring to a paper written in 1981 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper found that hydrogen bonds are quite strong in a fluoride-amide solution and that this may affect proteins. Amides also appear in proteins, and he believes that this will have some kind of biological effect. I have not found, however, any papers finding that this effect can be extended to fluoride detrimentally affecting human proteins in vivo. In fact, it is fluoride’s effect on hydrogen bonding that may be part of the reason it is beneficial to tooth enamel.

His second reason for fearing fluoride just seems silly. It’s not in breast milk therefore we should not use it? This just flat-out doesn’t make sense. We have evolved to a point where we can use medicine and vaccines to improve our health beyond that which has naturally occurred through evolution. To deprive an infant of these advantages because they are not in mother’s milk is ridiculous.

In the case of fluoridation, the water supply is being used as a drug-delivery mechanism to treat a medical condition. Why is this wrong, in your view?

It violates people’s right to informed consent, which has always been the strongest argument against fluoridation. We’ve never done it with other drugs. Since fluoridation began in 1945, not one other substance has been added to the water to address a health concern. You shouldn’t use the water supply to deliver medication, for obvious reasons. You can’t control the dose. You can’t control who will get it. There is no individual supervision. The whole practice doesn’t make sense from a medical point of view.

True, we have never use water to deliver other drugs. But we have in salt. Iodised salt was introduced in the United States in 1924 to help prevent goiters and iodine deficiency. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the lack of goiters.

Dose control is a noble concern, but not relevant. So long as the fluoride concentration is controlled and tested regularly (about 0.5 to 1 mg/L), it would take an unfeasible amount of water ingestion to even have a chance of causing any detrimental health effects.

The right to informed consent is actually the one argument I think has merit. However, people are always informed if fluoride is added to their water supply and do have the option to get a water filter to remove the majority of it if they wish.

The first U.S. fluoridation trial began in the mid-1940s. Would fluoridation pass a modern, drug-style clinical trial or risk assessment?

There is no way on planet Earth that you could get fluoridation through today. It’s only because it’s been an inherited practice and so much credibility is at stake for the medical community that keeps it going.

This is just flat-out wrong. Studies on the effect of fluoride have never stopped and continue to be updated. The consensus remains the same: fluoride is an effective and safe means of preventing dental caries.

What are the health dangers from fluoridation?

I think we’re going to pay a huge price. I’m convinced, based on animal studies, clinical trials and epidemiological studies, that drinking fluoridated water for a whole lifetime will increase your risk of arthritis and also increase your risk of hip fractures, which is very serious in the elderly. The reason for these problems is that half the fluoride people ingest is stored in the bone. We may also have a problem with it lowering the IQ of children. There are 23 studies from four countries that have found a possible association between drinking naturally fluoridated water and lower IQ in children.

Regions which have artificially fluoridated water, that is, water in which the fluoride concentration is controlled, show no significant correlation between arthritis or hip fractures. The statement that “half the fluoride ingested is stored in the bone” is not necessarily true. 75-90% of ingested fluoride is absorbed and in adults about 60% of absorbed fluoride is retained. Connet’s concern about the IQ of children comes from studies of naturally fluoridated water, that is, water which does not have the fluoride added by the city, but comes from natural sources or fluoride pollution. These naturally fluoridated waters supplies usually have much, much higher concentrations of fluoride than artificially fluoridated sources.

A lot of these concerns are based on flimsy evidence and straw man arguments. There are however, a couple of things I do actually agree with:

1. Naturally fluoridated water supplies are a problem because the concentration are too high and may cause adverse health effects. However, this concern should not be unfairly extended to artificially fluoridated water supplies.

2. The argument about informed consent is a valid one. But if you don’t want fluoride in your water because of this reason, don’t argue it based on health effects; argue it based on an informed consent platform.

Oh and one more thing. I am actually worried about the fluoride in MY water supply. The reason is because Calgary has voted to remove it.

I will definitely be making sure there is fluoride in my toothpaste.