“The Internet is a dangerous place. It’s full of resources, both good and bad; full of citations linking one to another, sometimes helpfully, sometimes not. Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at ten of the worst web sites in terms of quality of science information that they promote. To make this list, they not only need to have bad information, they also need to be popular enough to warrant our attention.
Many of these sites promote some particular ideology, but I want to be clear that that’s not why they’re here. Sites that make this list are only here because of the quality of the science information that they advocate…”
Cold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to “mysteriously” know things about the subject.
In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject’s inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable.
Thus, a good manipulator can provide a reading of a total stranger, which will make the stranger feel that the manipulator possesses some special power.
The selectivity of the human mind is always at work. We pick and choose what data we will remember and what we will give significance to. In part, we do so because of what we already believe or want to believe. In part, we do so in order to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We are not manipulated simply because we are gullible or suggestible, or just because the signs and symbols of the manipulator are vague or ambiguous.
There seem to be three common factors in these kinds of readings. One factor involves fishing for details.
Another characteristic of these readings is that many claims are put in vague statement form (“I’m getting a warm feeling in the crotch area”) or in the form of a question (“I sense that you have strong feelings about someone in this room. Am I right?”) Most, but not all, of the specific claims are provided by the subject himself.
Also, those occasions where the psychic has guessed wrongly about the subject are likely to be forgotten by the subject and the audience. What will be remembered are the seeming hits, giving the overall impression of “wow, how else could she have known all this stuff unless she is psychic.” This same phenomenon of suppression of contrary evidence and selective thinking is so predominant in every form of psychic demonstration that it seems to be related to the old psychological principle: a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.
To quote Dr. Shermer: Skepticism is not a position; it’s a process.
The popular misconception is that skeptics, or critical thinkers, are people who disbelieve things. And indeed, the common usage of the word skeptical supports this: “He was skeptical of the numbers in the spreadsheet”, meaning he doubted their validity. To be skeptical, therefore, is to be negative about things and doubt or disbelieve them.
The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.
It’s thus inaccurate to say “Skeptics don’t believe in ghosts.” Some do. Many skeptics are deeply religious, and are satisfied with the reasoning process that led them there. Skeptics apply critical thinking to different aspects of their lives in their own individual way. Everyone is a skeptic to some degree.
Skepticism is, or should be, an extraordinarily powerful and positive influence on the world. Skepticism is not simply about “debunking” as is commonly charged. Skepticism is about redirecting attention, influence, and funding away from worthless superstitions and toward projects and ideas that are evidenced to be beneficial to humanity and to the world.
The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method requires evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don’t meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, particularly in claims that are far fetched or that violate physical laws. Skepticism is an essential, and meaningful, component of the search for truth.
The Amityville Horror is based on a true story? Not realy(via snopes)
Some horrors just won’t die, and The Amityville Horror is a case in point. The tale of a reportedly demon-infested house in Amityville, New York, became a best-selling novel in 1977 and a hit horror film starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder in 1979. Several inferior movie sequels followed in its wake.
Scary films are a dime a dozen, but what initially drew the public’s interest to the original version of The Amityville Horror was the claim that it was based on real events.
Co-star Melissa George was attracted to the role because, she said, “If you’re going to do a scary movie, you might as well do The Amityville Horror, a true story, a famous book, a well-known moment in American history.” A famous book, yes. A moment in American history, perhaps. But a true story? Not.
The history of The Amityville Horror, as with The Exorcist, began with a best-selling novel. A book entitled The Amityville Horror: A True Story, written by Jay Anson, was published in 1977 and quickly scaled the sales charts. Anson was not a resident of the infamous possessed house, but a professional writer hired to pen a book based on supposedly “true events” that had taken place there several years earlier.
The story behind the story began on 13 November 1974, when six members of an Amityville, New York, family were killed. The parents, Ronald and Louise DeFeo, were shot in bed while they slept, along with their two sons and two daughters. The sole remaining family member, Ronald Jr. (“Butch”), was arrested for the crime, convicted, and sentenced to prison. With the family dead (and Butch in no position to inherit the place), the house went up for sale. The horrific nature of the massacre unnerved the otherwise quiet Long Island neighborhood, though no supernatural activity was associated with the house at 112 Ocean.
The following year, a new family, the Lutzes, moved into the house. George and Kathy Lutz, along with their three children, said that shortly after they moved in, their six-bedroom abode became a Hell house. It seemed that perhaps the demons that drove Butch to slaughter his family were not in his head but in the house. An unseen force ripped doors from hinges and slammed cabinets closed, noxious green slime oozed from the ceilings, a biblical-scale swarm of insects attacked the family, and a demonic face with glowing red eyes peered into their house at night, leaving cloven-hoofed footprints in the morning snow. A priest called upon to bless the house was driven back with painful blisters on his hands, famously told by a demonic voice to “Get out!” And so on.
A local television crew did a segment on the house, bringing in several self-styled “ghost hunters” (including Ed and Lorraine Warren) and other alleged psychics. All agreed that a demonic spirit was in the house, and that an exorcism would be needed to stop the activity. The Lutzes left the house and took their terrifying tale with them, collaborating with Anson on the book The Amityville Horror. And, as William Peter Blatty did when he promoted The Exorcist, Anson vouched for the truthfulness of his fantastic tale: “There is simply too much independent corroboration of their narrative to support the speculation that [the Lutzes] either imagined or fabricated these events.”
Many people expressed doubts about the events in the house. The 2005 remake promises to mine Anson’s book more deeply than did the previous screenplays, including background about early Indians (whose vengeful spirits may lurk nearby) and devil-worshipping early settlers of the area.Yet, Moran explains, “Experts told me that the tribe mentioned was not from the Amityville area at all (actually, they had inhabited the eastern tip of Long Island, 70 miles away) and that the settlers mentioned were never local residents either.
Joe Nickell, author of Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings(and who personally visited Amityville and interviewed later owners of the notorious house), also found numerous holes in the Amityville story. A few examples of these discrepancies:
The Lutzes could not have found the demonic hoofprint in the snow when they said they did, because weather records showed there had been no snowfall to leave prints in.
Though the book details extensive damage to the home’s doors and hardware, the original locks, doorknobs, and hinges were actually untouched.
The book and film show police being called to the house, but, Nickell writes, “During the28-day’siege’ that drove [the Lutz family] from the house, they never once called the police.”
Over and over, both big claims and small details were refuted by eyewitnesses, investigations, and forensic evidence. Still, the Lutzes stuck to their story, reaping tens of thousands of dollars from the book and film rights.
The truth behind The Amityville Horror was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, “created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” The house was never really haunted; the horrific experiences they had claimed were simply made up. Jay Anson further embellished the tale for his book, and by the time the film’s screenwriters had adapted it, any grains of truth that might have been there were long gone. While the Lutzes profited handsomely from their story, Weber had planned to use the haunting to gain a new trial for his client. George Lutz reportedly still claims that the events are mostly true, but has offered no evidence to back up his claim.
To this day, the fact that The Amityville Horror story was an admitted hoax is still not widely known — as we often say, the truth never stands in the way of a good story. Though the story was made up by the Lutzes and further sensationalized by Anson, there were real victims of The Amityville Horror (the film, not the demons). In addition to the murdered DeFeo family, the subsequent occupants of the Amityville home have suffered a continual stream of harassment by curiosity seekers, horror fans, and gawkers who want to photograph and tour their infamous house. Then there are the people who, fooled by the films’ and book’s tagline, think they are partaking of works based on true events.
Red Flags of Quackery: Western Medicine(8/16)(via Sci-ence.org)
Part of a series of false dichotomies created by alternative medicine proponent. By differentiating between Western and Eastern medicine, it gives the false pretense that there is such a thing. This is false. As stated by the Minchin Declaration:
And try as hard as I like, a small crack appears in my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin. “Alternative Medicine”, I continue, “Has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” -Tim Minchin, Storm