Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stuff Believers Like: #2 Talking to Dead People.....

Whether invoking the aid of St. Anthony of Padua in finding their lost set of car keys, or tearfully discussing a long lost relative whose name starts with an A, L, M, P, R, T, or Y with douchebag medium John Edward, there is no doubt that believers like to talk to dead people. And though it is not inherently delusional, since many rational human beings speak to those who have expired as a form of symbolic exercise meant to bring about an emotional catharsis, the rub lies in the fact that in the mind of the believer, the dead talk back.

The fascination with contacting the deceased stems in large part from the belief that there are dead people to talk to, though just where they are thought to congregate differs depending on the individual believer's particular fantasy. A large majority hold dear the thought of their friends, family, and significant others ("Hi Susan, this is my wife Nancy. Oh boy, this is awkward.) waiting for them beyond the pearly gates, while many accept that there are other locations existing beyond the natural world where spirits and specters dwell. Naturally these spirits are ever ready to be contacted by psychics and other charlatans so that they might communicate once more with the living.

Many believers are taken in by opportunistic emotional predators like the aforementioned Edwards and his ilk, whose cold reading skills are more than a match for the underdeveloped critical thinking often employed by those plagued with both belief and and the loss of a loved one. The most prolific of these sinister shysters do rather well for themselves financially, with some even starring in popular television programs based on their deceitful mentalism, while desecrating their victim's most cherished memories. But this pales in comparison to the societal damage which has occured throughout recent human history as a result of the dialogue that occurs between the believer and the ghost of a 2,000 year old carpenter.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Governor Signs Historic Quad Blasting Bill.....

Sacramento, CA-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed into law historic legislation designed to address the impact of shrinking quads and shriveled pecs on the health of Californians.

"The time has come for every Californian man, woman, and child to know the joy and health benefits of regular and thorough quad blasting," Schwarzenegger explained. "Assembly Bill 3719 (AB 3719) will ensure that all citizens of California are able to enjoy not just huge quads, but massive arms and quivering, enormous, and well-defined pecs as well."

AB 3719 will provides all citizens with daily servings of Prolab's HyperMega Weight Gain Gruel, Quantum Strength Cutting Gel, Nitric Oxide Boost Paste, Nipple extractors, Ultra Squat Nanopowder tablets, Gluteal Ripening dermal injections, Joe Weider's Neck Ripper Herbal Muscle Enlargener, NoPain Neural Implants, and a daily multivitamin, as well as weekly visits from a personal trainer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Children's Program Discusses Link Between Vaccines and Autism.....

New York, NY-The premiere episode of new Saturday morning program Jabby's Playhouse, set to air this week in most markets, aims to educate children ages 2 to 5 on the link between autsim and vaccines.

"We've done the research and come up with what we feel is a fairly close approximation of the scientific consensus on this issue," Kid's Fun Shop president and CEO Gurny J. Knievel explained. "It's all about good science, good times, and the kind of intelligent writing that children have come to expect from Kid's Fun Shop."

In keeping with the tradition of prior Kid's Fun Shop programs that have tackled unconventional topics for children's programming, such as the landmark 2001 show that dealt with the truth behind the September 11th tragedy, Saturday's broadcast will not shy away from presenting a realistic portrayal of autism. Helping will be the show's protagonist Jabby, a large hypodermic needle filled with mercury, antifreeze, aborted fetuses, and other toxins, who departs on a quest to destroy the evil Baron Von Bigpharma and atone for his condemning of so many young children to a life of neurodevelopmental stagnation. Jabby will be voiced by Jenny McCarthy.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuff Believers Like: #1 Pareidolia

(The goitered Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich)

For most people, burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich look like, well, burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich. They might notice, if it is pointed out to them, that the combination of two charred and somewhat rounded areas located adjacent to each other, and above two vertically oriented additional marks, look somewhat like eyes, a nose and a mouth. They will then go about their business which, in this case, probably entails eating a grilled cheese sandwich. But for believers, burn marks in a grilled cheese sandwich might look like something entirely different.

In one famous example, which also involves a grilled cheese sandwich, a Florida believer saw an image of the Virgin Mary on her cheese toastie and went on to garner 15 minutes of fame and $28,000 from an online auction. And there have been countless similar discoveries involving religious figures in or on food, notably the Nashville NunBun and the Lake Arthur Jesus Tortilla, but not all involve culinary canvases or religious characters. Believers have found holy icons on bank windows and dental x-rays, sometimes drawing crowds of thousands of fellow believers, and seen the evidence of ancient civilizations on nearby, relatively speaking of course, planets.

Nonbelievers are quick to point out that these patterns discerned within random and meaningless noise, the psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia, almost always involve faces because of hard-wiring in the human brain. They might quote somebody like Carl Sagan or go on about the evolution of pattern recognition based survival mechanisms, but such ramblings will fall on deaf ears. The believers will continue to see images related to their delusion of choice in the knots of pine doors or satellite photos from Mars while the rest of us will be satisfied with looking at cloud animals.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Study Finds Children In Constant Danger.....

Tucson, AZ-A new study out of the Tucson campus of the University of Phoenix reveals that virtually all children, regardless of their age and location, are in constant and serious danger.

"We certainly don't like the conclusions we've drawn from the study," lead researcher Benjamin Rivera explained. "But the evidence is compelling that your children are almost certainly going to die at any moment from something, and probably not anything you would think of either but something you've never heard of and can do nothing to prevent."

Critics of the study, which consisted of interviews of a random sampling of Hollywood celebrities, hosts of nationally syndicated talk radio programs, politicians, members of the MotheringDotCommune discussion forums, and co-hosts of The View, are concerned that the announcements of the study's findings might be misleading. According to pediatrician and UCLA Medical Center faculty member Mort Fishman, "I'm afraid that parents who read these news releases will be distracted by nebulous claims of imminent danger facing all children everywhere, something the data clearly supports, and forget to focus on more specific issues such as being kidnapped by strangers, eating mouthful after mouthful of lead based Chinese-made toys, learning about evolution, and catching autism from vaccines."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Area Boy Injured in Tragic Cheese Geyser Accident.....

Argyle Township, MI-Local 7-year-old Timmy Gundersen was seriously injured today when a geyser, estimated by geologists and food scientists to be over twenty-feet-tall and made entirely of cheddar cheese, erupted spontaneously under the young child.

"We've seen incidents like this in the past," Argyle Township Children's Hospital emergency physician Mort Fishman explained. "Unfortunately, in this case, instead of the enjoyment of a literal explosion of cheesy flavor, the child will likely never walk again and may not survive the night."

The formation of the cheese geyser, which occured after Gundersen's consumption of a handful of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese flavored crackers, is another in a long line of food related injuries. University of Michigan Food safety expert Sinclair Upton revealed that the number of children suffering harm in freak culinary catastrophes is growing. "Just last month a young girl in Dearborn suffered a traumatic brain injury when a large man, dressed as some kind of pitcher, appeared out of nowhere and burst through a brick wall into her family's kitchen."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nursing Homes Unprepared for Pudding Shortages.....

Northfield, IL-If rising fuel prices continue to push the cost of food higher, United States nursing homes might not be prepared to deal with system wide pudding shortages according to researchers who looked at more than 400 nursing homes across the country to come to this conclusion.

"Of the nursing homes we studied, less than a quarter had plans in place specifically to deal with pudding shortages," lead researcher Everett Cosby, chief of the section of pudding epidemiology at Kraft Foods' Chicago research and development laboratory, explained. "That leaves nearly 2.5 million elderly citizens at risk of receiving less than the recommended daily allowance of pudding, and that is unacceptable in a high risk population that is prone to pudding deficiency related health concerns."

In response to the findings, researchers from Kraft have issued a number of pudding management guidelines for nursing homes:

1. Provide education to staff members as well as to the families of nursing home residents regarding the importance of adequate pudding levels in men and women over the age of 65.

2. Open lines of communication with local pudding providers is essential in maintaining an adequate supply during shortages.

3. Stockpiled at least a one month supply of pudding, preferably in a secret location off limits to residents.

4. Designate a trusted staff member to be responsible for pudding preparedness, having access to the hidden supply of pudding in case of a shortage in your area, and to protect the pudding horde at all costs.

5. Designate another staff member, or preferably a private security firm, to be responsible for determining if the staff member in charge of pudding preparedness has been tempted by the enormous cache of delicious pudding and become a pudding preparedness liability.

According to Cosby, the effect of a pudding shortage on this population should not be taken lightly. "If nursing homes are to be called upon to serve as a source of care, and pudding, for vulnerable citizens with nowhere else to turn, the impact of a widespread pudding supply breakdown could be catastrophic." Kraft Foods Inc. is calling for congress to enact legislation that will ensure that nursing home residents receive a steady supply of pudding in the event of any necessary pudding rationing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Authorities Uncover Flower Pot Baby Ring.....

Altoona, PA-Working on an anonymous tip, law enforcement officers raided the Logantown home of Skeet Renfro and Tylene Rose Jenkins where a number of illegal babies in flower pots were discovered.

"The babies appear to be healthy, well fed, and completely adorable," Detective Billy Geddes explained. "The recovery of these precious potted infants is just the first in a number of planned arrests in our investigation into the black market flower pot baby business."

Presidential candidate Barack Obama cancelled his upcoming speech in Berlin in order to attend a press conference held today by city officials to reveal details of the pot baby bust. "I plan to make it my business, if elected come this November, to ensure that, despite their almost preternatural cuteness, their near irresistable degree of cuddlesomeness, the fate of these young infants peeking out of oversized terra cotta vessels is taken seriously by lawmakers."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Local Man Crashes Stock Market.....

Wall Street-New York Stock Exchange janitor Sturgeon Feldspar inadvertently unplugged a computer while vacuuming underneath a desk today, crashing the stock market and sending the world economy into a rapid downword spiral.

"Holy shit!" Feldspar explained.

Within moments of the event, widespread rioting and looting erupted in the streets of New York. Worldwide infrastructure quickly began to break down, and as social and political upheaval began to take root the first signs of nuclear armaggedon, several large mushroom cloud explosions scattered on the horizon, began to appear. Upon plugging the computer back into the wall socket, the suddenly quiet crowds looked around puzzledly and returned to their normal routines as if nothing had happened.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pharmaceutical Companies Finding New Ways to Reach Consumers.....

New York-As a result of the phenomenal success of direct-to-consumer mass media advertising in increasing the awareness of, and prescriptions written for, a variety of medications since the 1970's, New York based pharmaceutical company Phizer Incorporated announced today that it would be expanding its promotional efforts in order to improve market visibility.

"Frankly, I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner," Phizer CEO Jeff Kindler explained. "There are so many children out there without parents or homes, and who haven't yet been named by the state-run facilities where they are stored. Product plugs are vital to our sales so we have worked out a deal where everybody wins!"

After holding newly christened 1-year-old former orphan twins Lipitor and Lyrica Phizer aloft to the throng of reporters at today's press conference, Kindler revealed the company's plans to purchase unwanted infants and toddlers for use in the new program. "Once legal ownership of the children is acquired by Phizer, our recruits will undertake a rigorous curiculum so that by age 5 they will be capable of discussing the fantastic benefits and minimal side effect profile of their namesakes in detail with playmates' parents, daycare workers and any random stranger within a 10-foot radius."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Local Man Suspects Aliens Abducting Another Farmer.....

Belvidere, NE-During a night of drinking with friends, Belividere corn farmer and frequent alien abductee Durnk Philpot revealed his suspicion that aliens are abducting and anally probing another farmer behind his back.

"Looking back, the signs have been there for a while," Philpot explained to best friend Trip Lewis. "It started when I began finding mutilated cows on Maynard Jones's sorghum farm, and then came the crop circles. He tried to act like he didn't know anything about them but I could tell he was hiding something. I can't believe it, a sorghum farmer."

Despite attempts at reassurance, Philpot refused to admit that he might be misinterpreting easily explainable phenomena. "Well why won't they return any of my 1,000 MHz to 3,000 MHz microwave signals? Answer that why don't you!"

Monday, July 14, 2008

Anecdotes are like.....

“Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true.”

We are continuously bombarded with facts. They are, in fact, inescapable additions to our daily routine, lurking around every corner and entering our awareness in a variety of forms via myriad routes of delivery. We discover them in books and newspapers, have them shoved down our throats on infomercials or on local news reports, or simply pick them up from conversations with other primates.

It depends on the situation at hand, but the most common practice is to equate fact with reality, or more importantly with truth. For example, an evolutionary biologist may claim that the focus of their scientific endeavor is a fact, meaning it is accepted as something that exists or has happened as verified by an established means of scientific evaluation, naturally having something along the lines of molecular genetics or paleontology in mind. Of course, an astrologer might use the term in a similar fashion when he declares as fact that the position of celestial bodies enfluence whether or not you might get a raise or meet a mysterious, and handsome no doubt, stranger. Both believe themselves to be correctly using the term because what is an established means of evaluation, be it the scientific method or divination, is in the eye of beholder.

The following perceived facts have something in common:

1. "With my last bad cold, I tried Zicam and felt better immediately. Zicam works!"

2. "Every time I see a newborn who spits up, I switch them to soy formula and they improve. Lactose intolerance is a common cause of reflux in infants!"

3. I had a terrible feeling that something bad happened to my sister last night only to receive a phone call notifying me of her death. I am psychic!"

4. I eat at fine restaurants frequently and can always tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine. I have a highly trained palate!"

5. Every time there is a full moon, our unit fills up with mothers whose water has broken. The gravitational pull of the moon effects amniotic fluid like it does the sea!"

The common thread between these statements of fact is that they are anecdotes, the bane of any tried and true skeptic. Even for juggernauts of critical thought, like Harriet Hall and Steven Novella, standing up to an Oprah of anecdotes is often a losing battle because, instead of a reasonable evaluation of the available evidence, they rely on overestimation, overgeneralization, unfalsifiability, post hoc reasoning and, all too often, a hefty dose of emotion. Though the logical errors inherent in these examples may quickly become evident with even a superficial critical analyses, nevertheless they are more than adequate to convince thousands of believers.

Anecdotes are kryptonite to the skeptic, who relies on rational interpretations of the events that befall us. There is no variable in the equation for emotion. And while it may seem impressive that an individual's cold symptoms improved so dramatically after using Zicam, that observation in no way equates to proof of a causal relationship. It may only represent regression towards the mean, a common source of confusion for humans, who share a tendency to seek aid when symptoms are at their worst. This is especially evident in chronic conditions that are known to wax and wane in severity and is the very reason why use of a control group in studies seeking to discover the effectiveness of a treatment is so vital.

The powerful nature of anecdotal evidence, and the difficulty overcoming it, makes sense if one keeps in mind that the scientific method is a relatively new phenomenon, and scientific medicine merely a recent eye blink in the two hundred thousand years since modern humans diverged from one of the many twigs on the evolutionary bush. In the distant past, considerably farther back than the six to ten thousand years that make up human existence according to biblical literalists, there was a time when relying on the advice from another to not eat the red berries, for instance, was the only means of learning important and potentially life-prolonging information about our environment.

Another reason that anecdotal information fosters such a cognitive sticky wicket for skeptics is the innate human bias towards temporal relationships when defining cause and effect. Once again, this trate would have resulted in significant benefit thousands of years ago, when our earliest ancestors were more at the mercy of environmental pressures than the current state of affairs, but is now more of a hinderance outside of early childhood. This logical error, known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, post hoc reasoning, or correlation not causation, is evident in most testimonials regarding unproven and implausible therapies.

The above example involving psychic powers being evident in the ability to know when a friend or relative is in harm's way is a classic example of yet another source of miscalculation in many anecdotes. The remembering of hits and forgetting of misses leaves the best of us vulnerable to erroneous beliefs whether in the realm of John Edwards style cold reading or deciding if a particular home remedy works. Yet another illustration of how fallible human memory can be.

This brief discussion merely scratches the surface but it is a good start. With this blog I hope to go into more detail on a number of topics vital to critical thinking, with a focus on pseudoscience and irrational approaches to healthcare. I also hope to have some fun and encourage reasonable discussion and debate.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Knudsen's News: Area Man Stumps Scientists with Car Ornament.....

Athens, AL-Evolution, the scientific theory which claims that the diversity of life on Earth has emerged due to environmental pressures shaping the accumulation of random genetic changes over millions of years, was dealt a potentially fatal blow today when local Arby's manager Roy Seale placed a chrome-colored plastic ornament depicting a large Christian icthus fish eating a Darwin fish on the bumper of his 1995 Toyota Camry.

"I just felt that it was about time that someone exposed evolution as the unscientific belief system it is," Seale explained to the crowd of onlookers gathered in the restaurant parking that consisted of a number of rather sheepish evolutionary biologists. "Let this final nail in the coffin of evolution serve as a beacon of hope to all those that would stand up against the iron-fisted rule of the dogmatic methodological naturalists!"

Retreating to her underground lair amidst the acid mines of Oakland, California, evil National Center for Science Education mastermind Eugenie Scott expressed dismay regarding the sudden change of fate for the once well-accepted scientific theory of evolution. "I guess it's back to the drawing board for now unfortunately. But I'm sure that with the full resources of the NCSE's power at my disposal it won't take long before we're back on top."

Seale, now being heralded as the "Bringer of Light" and "Truth Warrior" by his followers, already has plans to bring the proponents of other controversial scientific notions to their knees with additional vehicle decals. "I have one where an apple is floating back up towards a tree branch."