Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Jesus Moth Cometh.....

Courtesy of KLTV 7 News via CNN, we are all now painfully aware of the existence of a moth that bears upon its back the image of everybody's favorite 2,000 year-old zombie carpenter. At least that is what it looks like to Pittsburgh, TX believer Kirk Harper. Naturally he is excited because he has apparantly only seen Jesus before on grilled cheese sandwiches and greasy windowpanes.

I do see it what the fuss is all about but this example of pareidolia looks to me much more like a certain character from a popular science fiction series than any religion's deity.

Of course, if somebody notified the local news about a moth that resembled Worf they would have been laughed at. "Call us back when you've got some real news!", they might say. Like a crop circle or the unvetted press release about something that is going to kill us all. Non-religious pareidolia rarely gets a fair shake these days. And it certainly won't sell for 30 grand on eBay. But would it kill people to be at least try to be a little more creative instead of just hollering Jebus every time something they are about to eat, or that they found stuck on their windshield, looks like a face.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Point/Counterpoint: The Failing American Economy.....

The Economy is Doing Just Fine Folks

By Willingsby Chesterfield III
Chief Financial Officer of Unlock Your Car, Inc
Laguna, CA
Despite what many doom-and-gloom naysayers in the media want you to believe, the economy is doing pretty good considering the events that have taken place over the past year. In fact, it's weathered the failure of the subprime market and weakening American dollar with grace and aplomb. Yes sir, the economy is doing just fine folks.

I like to think of the economy as a fine, full-figured gal with legs that go all the way up and more sass than you can shake a stick at. Sure she may be a little shy at first, but with just a little bit of sweet talk, maybe a glass of wine and a ride in my Dodge Stratus, she'll take good care of you. Don't give up on the girl, am I right?

I know what you're thinking sport. You've got a shovel in one hand and your nest egg in the other, ready to squirrel your hard earned cashola away somewhere safe. But it isn't safe, not in the ground. You've got to spend to save is what my pop used to say. So the next time some Joe Palooka starts telling you how bad the economy is, remember what old Willingsby told ya.

It's Getting Harder to Sell My Babies on eBay

By Wanda Hebert
Unemployed Beautician
Lake Charles, LA
I can remember the days when a woman could make a respectable living selling their babies on eBay. Now you can't barely get enough to keep the electric on and the water running. Times has changed.

Some people try to tell me that it's because people don't need no babies off of eBay anymore cause of this in the vitro fertilizing that they can do. I reckon if people were having ten, twenty babies at a time they wouldn't need to go buying no babies off of eBay. But I don't see people walking around with that many kids at the Walmart or at the Arby's.

No, I think that people just don't have the kind of money to spare in this economy. When you can't afford to buy smokes, how could you affort no babies off of eBay. Unless I lower my prices again and I promised my dogs I wouldn't do that again.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zoo's News: Tests Prove Chinese Gymnasts Not Underage.....

Beijing-Although the gymnastics portion of the Beijing Summer Olympics have been completed, controversy over the age of the Chinese gymnasts rages on. But results from scientific testing, completed today by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), confirm the Chinese government's claims that the athletes are over the age of 16.

"We've put the girls through some pretty rigorous testing and they all fit the Olympic age requirements for gymnastics," IOC assistant to the travelling secretary Odin Needlemeyer explained. "In fact, many of their motorized parts date back to the 1980's, with uneven bar gold medal winner He Kexin containing several gears, and an internal gyrostabilizer, that were invented twenty years before that."

Though this mystery is now solved, the number of investigations being demanded by participating countries continue to rise according to IOC President Count Jacques Rogge. "Thankfully the question of underage Chinese gymnasts has been settled. Next up, we are going to look into Micronesian allegations that Michael Phelps is a hybrid fishman sent from the future to prevent some kind of catastrophe, possibly involving killer whales."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's a Hoax!.....

The purported discovery, as heralded by many a local media outlet as well as big name news providers like CNN, of the corpse of a previously unidentified species of hominid known popularly as Bigfoot is a hoax. Not that anyone should be suprised by this revelation. I certainly wasn't.

With the aid of a heater, a team of "researchers" from Searching for Bigfoot Inc. quickly uncovered the truth when a rubber foot emerged from the ice as the frozen alleged corpse thawed. The events are described in detail at their website, Searching For Bigfoot, and would be comical if not for the realization that so many intelligent people were fooled by such shannanigans. But you can't blame Stanford anthropologist Richard Klein for allowing his name to lend credence to the bogus discovery because, according to the CNN article, he wasn't even aware that he had anything to do with the project.

The pair of would be heroes to the Bigfoot community, Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, who have since admitted to the body being just a tad more synthetic than they had previously stated, may be in big trouble. Whitton is a police officer for Clayton County in Georgia and should lose his job considering this amounts to fraud since the two did receive an undisclosed amount of money from Searching for Bigfoot Inc. before they would allow an investigation. Now they are skipping talk show appearances and have disconnected their phones, and Biscardi, the man promoting the affair, is ill and his secretary doesn't know when he'll be returning calls. Convenient, isn't it?

The money quote from the linked CNN article comes from Klein, in reference to Biscardi:

"He seems like a nice enough guy," Klein said, "but I can't imagine why anyone would devote their lives to proving the existence [of Bigfoot]. Anything has a remote chance of being true, but there is virtually no prospect of this animal being real."

That sums it up pretty well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Military to Study Mind Reading.....

Yes, the military is studying mind reading but not in the way you might think. They aren't looking into ESP, remote viewing, or psychokinesis, though they have done that before to the tune of almost thirty million taxpayer dollars, I'm embarrased to admit, with Project Stargate and a 2005 study on psychic teleportation. But it is every bit as much a project based on pseudoscience.

According to a August 15th CNN article, the United States military has granted four million dollars to researchers from the University of California-Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland so that they can attempt to learn how to translate EEG signals into actual words. If successful, the ability to do so would be incalculably valuabe to patients suffering from severe forms of paralysis, especially the dreaded locked-in syndrome, among many other conditions which hamper or prevent communication. But if I wasn't reading about it with my own eyes, I would swear that this was a joke, or something thought up by a participant in a fifth grade school science fair.

In the study, researchers place electrodes on the scalps of volunteers and analyze the electrical activity that results when certain words are thought of. In the process, they hope to be able to match specific patterns to each individual word. It sounds simple enough, and even plausible if you aren't aware of the nature and limitations of EEG readings, but it is in effect not all that different than trying to learn how to speak baby by analyzing their cries.

The problem in this is that EEG output, which primarily comes only from the most superficial layers of the cortex, is nowhere near sensitive enough to allow differentiation of specific patterns associated with single words. It isn't even known if there would be a pattern specific to individual words. Perhaps such a crude means of measuring cortical activity would only provide patterns specific to types of words, like nouns or verbs, or to groupings such as animals or plants. So naturally this would become even more complex and difficult to interpret when attempting to read thoughts made up of longer word groupings, sentences, or mental images.

EEGs are are helpful in giving a general picture of the electrical activity occuring in large groups of neurons, such as when attempting to diagnose a seizure or as an adjunct to a brain death exam, but they are often full of artifacts caused by muscle contractions, eye movements and the electircal activity of the heart. Even if patterns of thought were recognizable in a test subject as reproducibly unique EEG waveforms, there would likely be a great deal of difference between subjects, rendering the technology very cumbersome if not useless. We all have different thought processes and associations with words based on individual experiences. EEG patterns of the word beach might vary greatly depending on if one thinks of the world positively or negatively. This is far too complex to work out as simply as the researchers hope.

Another concern is that there is a long track record of such endeavors not being properly, as in skeptically, approached. This could easily turn into another "Emperor's New Clothes" phenomenon where people falsely claim to be trained in interpreting EEG signals. I can easily imagine this replacing Facilitated Communication (FC) as the in vogue means for parents of children with autism to reveal their hidden intelligence. Then the phony accusations of sexual abuse will inevitably arise. It's not a slipperly slope fallacy because it has happened exactly that way before with FC. What's worse is that FC was easily shown to be only in the mind of the facilitator while EEG mind reading would be much more difficult to disprove to a parent that has already become a believer.

Four millions dollars is a lot of money, and a lot of good could come from the proper investment of it. The military needs a better means of evaluating which projects deserve funding and which should be rejected.

Zoo's News: Early Admission Programs Turning to Reality Televsion.....

Cambridge, MA-A new survey of American colleges and universities by the U.S. Department of Education reveals that a growing number are incorporating lessons learned from the world of reality television into their admission policies.

"We need to know that early admission applicants are motivated and capable of handling the responsibility that comes with acceptance to our university," Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust explained. "And the best way that we can think of to find out is by pitting prospective students against each other in a series of contests like who can eat the most wild boar testicles and who can catch the most diseases over a one month period."

The University of Delaware also utilizes such competitions to weed out unworthy applicants for early admission. But in order to better identify those most likely to excel, a final elimination process is employed where students are forced to live together in a small Dover loft for several weeks. At the end of each week, students vote on who should be kicked out of the loft, but at any point in the process a randomly chosen participants may be shot.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bigfoot Update.....

Not suprisingly, instead of the promised scientific evidence that was to be presented at the afternoon press conference, the two men claiming to have discovered the corpse of a previously undiscovered species known as Bigfoot, presented video stills and photographs. According to the CNN article there have even surfaced videos of the men on youtube that seem to indicate that the discover is phony and even the Bigfoot believing community is showing no support. It is fairly clear that there is a financial motive behind this. In addition to the proposed documentary, the two men have now announced that they will also be writing a book about their experience. I have little doubt that this is a hoax at this point.

Stuff Believers Like: #6 and #7 Bigfoot and Circumventing Peer Review.....

Bigfoot must be slipping, perhaps distracted by Michael Phelps' attempt to claim 8 gold medals in Beijing. He and others like him, Bigfoot not Phelps although he does wear a size 14, have managed to elude capture, and to avoid leaving any real evidence of their existence for the thousands of so-called cryptozoologists to find, for hundreds of years. But according to a CNN article released today, "Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, a pair of Bigfoot-hunting hobbyists from north Georgia, say they found the creature's [dead] body in a wooded area and spotted several similar creatures that were still alive."

They have stored the 7 feet, 7 inch tall 500 pound sasquatch/Halloween costume in their freezer and claim that extensive scientific testing is underway. They believe that they have the evidence to prove the existence of a new species of half-ape, half-man and that the only man to be trusted with handling the situation is Tom Biscardi, a well-known bigfoot hunter. All of this was announced to the world a few weeks ago on an internet radio program, and a follow-up press conference is to be held today.

Unfortunately for the bigfoot enthusiasts out there, this will almost certainly be a hoax. I will of course withhold judgement until all of the evidence is on the table but there are some major red flags. First and foremost is the fact that these gentleman, like the infamous Pons and Fleischmann before them, are using channels that circumvent peer review. They are going straight to the press and making big promises instead of working through reputable researchers to publish their findings in a scientific journal. Any other way of doing things in the world of biology is suspect. It doesn't mean it's bogus, but it don't look good.

And neither does the fact that Biscardi has been involved in a hoax oddly similar to this in the past, as described by Ben Radford in an August 13th LiveScience article. Also suspicious is the announcement by Biscardi that he will be saving the best evidence for his upcoming documentary, which I doubt will be freely distributed to the world. I'm skeptical to say the least, but who knows. The kid in me would love knowing that there are large undiscovered creatures still lurking out there, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Here We Go Again, Another Chupacabra Sighting in Texas.....

Stop the presses! Somebody sent in another amateur video of a long debunked mystery! This time, a local news station out of Dallas-Fort Worth has released video footage of "the mysterious creature known as the chupacabra" provided by a south Texas Sheriff's Deputy who apparantly doubles as an expert in canine kinesiology.

I watched the video dumbfounded, wondering why these people jumped to the odd conclusion that the creature on film was something that, at least according to Wikipedia, is a "heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail" that drinks goat blood, may be an alien, and can hop 20 feet at a time. Upon further investigation, I now know that this so-called cryptid, or creature that has been suggested to exist but probably only lives in the cerebrum of lazy minded true believers, has recently been suggested by a minority of chupacabrists to actually be some kind of hairless dog-like reptile.

A year ago, in the small town of Cuero, TX, a woman claimed to have found the head of the "mythical bloodsucking chupacabra" and was keeping it safe in her freezer. She simply wanted to preserve it so that modern science might "get to the bottom of its ancestry through DNA testing" but I'm sure that the 15-minutes of fame and the money she made selling t-shirts to believers all over the world had nothing to do with it. She had to go to the local media to uncover the truth instead of simply contacting a local university's zoology department or similar entity.

But the local media did end up providing a sample to Texas State researchers, who after performing DNA analysis and comparison announced that the "goat sucker" was a coyote, much to the chagrin of the San Antonio news station that financed the testing I'm sure. This information somehow either didn't trickle down to the station broadcasting the new live footage of the "chupacabra" or was just ignored. They act as if the beast is a total mystery and proof of the chupacabra. I guess a coyote with canine scabies (mange) or some other skin disorder wouldn't garner as much attention.

Zoo's News: Scientists Hope to See Boobies by the End of the Year.....

Berkeley, CA-Scientists at the University of California-Berkeley announced today that they are one step closer to developing materials capable of rendering three-dimensional objects, including humans, completely invisible.

"This reperesents a huge advance in our understanding of the physics of light and its interaction with certain artificially engineered metamaterials in a variety of steam filled locations where women are known to congregate," lead researcher Gervin McElroy explained. "In fact, we're planning to run human trials with the technology just as soon as we make Bobby Gable pay for kicking us out of the Greek council."

The research was funded in part by the United States Army and the Mu Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hitting the Big Time?.....

In a few days, I'm going to be interviewed for a parenting magazine, which at times can contain reliable and well-presented information for parents regarding children's health, but are often repositories for all manner of pseudoscience. I don't know the name of the magazine yet but I do know the topic and it should be interesting.

I won't be discussing skepticism or critical thinking directly of course, but I hope to get a few words in that will help a confused new parent get through those first few nights at home without losing their minds with worry. And to a lesser but still meaningful degree, I hope I save some poor community pediatrician or family practice doc a late night phone call from an anxious family. We'll see.

While sitting in my pregnant wife's obstetrician's office recently, I picked up a parenting magazine. Like all of them, the cover had a smiling and adorable baby on the front that looked as if pulled from one of the flower pots in an Anne Geddes spread. There were bold printed article titles there as well, revealing some of the topics covered within such as breastfeeding, circumcision, and a top ten list of things to do to prepare for the new baby, as well as private cord blood banking.

I read the magazine cover to cover (there weren't that many pages), and something set off my internal skeptical alarm. It didn't take long to figure out the problem considering where I was. I went over every page again and counted the references to private cord blood banking. The one on the front cover was followed by the article itself, a glowing and cursery review of the process by a pediatrician well known for disregarding evidence in establishing his own standard of care who likened privately banked cord blood to a reboot for the immune system and able to cure all manners of diseases, even heart disease and diabetes. It was incomplete and misleading at best but reaked of something worse.

There was another mention of private cord blood banking as one of the items on a checklist of things to do before the baby comes and finally a full page ad on the back cover. Each time private cord blood banking was mentioned it involved one particular company. I went to the inside from cover to confirm my suspicion and found in fine print at the very bottom that this "parenting magazing" was published by that same company. I held in my hands an advertisement deceitfully designed to influence parents into choosing to privately bank their child's cord blood. I looked around and saw that these ads were placed conspicuously on every table.

I detest tactics such as this. I'll cover private cord blood banking in a future post but for now I'll just say that if something was legitimate it would not need such trickery. Private banking is one small step up from a complete scam. There are some instances where it is the right thing to do but these are very rare. This ad in disguise pressured all parents into spending thousands of dollars for something that will almost certainly never be needed, and very likely has left parents who have chosen not to privately bank, or who couldn't afford it, feeling unnecessary guilt. New parents have enough to worry about without being taken advantage during emotional times when they might not be thinking clearly. Oh, and the pediatrician I mentioned earlier is the medical advisor for the cord blood banking company. Nice.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stuff Believers Like: #5 Celebrity Death Triads.....

On Saturday, comedian Bernie Mac succumbed to pneumonia, only to be followed into the hereafter by iconic soul singer Isaac Hayes less than 24 hours later. It is only a matter of time before the question of who is next on the Grim Reaper's list is on people's minds. In fact, it has already begun.

Even as I am writing this post there are people pondering which black American celebrity will be the next to die. And this one example, in the form of an online discussion about the liklihood that Samuel L. Jackson is not long for this world, is representative of many more people pondering the same question in other forums. There are probably offices putting together celebrity death pools to bet money on whether it will be Jackson, Morgan Freeman, or, god forbid, Ernest Lee Thomas. I'm certain that at the very least there are thousands of atypically morbid family discussions going on at the dinner table or around the television, with everyone voicing their opinion on who next victim of fate is going to be.

As believers in numerology know, things, especially bad things, come in threes. They believe that numbers are magic and the number 3 in particular is very special. It is a powerful symbol of wholeness, of completion and of the endless cycle of existence. The Holy Trinity from the Christian tradition is the most commonly cited example of the potency of the number three here in America, but cultures throughout recorded history have set it apart as a number with supernatural significance. And throughout said recorded history, or at least as far back as I can google, the hypothesis that celebrities die in groups of three has been around, and example after example of folks pointing out these uncanny chains of demise can be found with a quick trip through cyberspace.

But the reality is that celebrity deaths do not come in threes. They come in droves just like physician deaths, lawyer deaths, cosmetologists deaths and any other group of people you look at. But as pattern seeking animals that are enfluenced by pop mysticisms like numerology, believers will seek out groups of three amongst the recently dead without even realizing the fallacy in their thinking. That fallacy comes in many forms, but none more so than the all too human pastime of confirmation bias, or remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. We pay close attention and make mental notes of all the instances where three celebrity deaths share a temporal relationship but ignore the times when one, two, or five die around the same time. But is that temporal relationship of three dead entertainers even meaningful?

No, it isn't. As I alluded to above it is merely random noise generated by the most prolific and effective serial killer of all time, which is of course time. But even assigning three celebrities that die consecutively to some kind of magical death triad is rife with errors in thinking. What is the appropriate time limit that should be allowed between deaths? Many might say one week, others a month, while a few would probably allow a longer interval. And what degree of celebrity counts. Is it fair to group Arthur C. Clark and Gary Gygax with Jeff Healey? You might think so, and you might be right, but I don't. Who decides?

Ultimately, calling a celebrity death triad, as it were, is no different than any other kind of post hoc reasoning. There is no mystical force that governs the death of our celebrities and sorts them into neat little bundles of three. There are only coincidences that years of flabby and out of shape reasoning skills see as something more.

Addendum (9:30 PM): Just as I was about to publish this post, I was called to attend to an ill patient. On the way to the room I overheard two nurses discussing this very topic. Their money is on Morgan Freeman. I hope they're wrong.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Grainy Security Camera Footage Baffles Rubes.....

As if on cue, CNN today provided yet another example of the kind of uncritical fluff local news reporting that has becoming increasingly prevelant, this time in the form of a haunted school in Asheville, NC.

Reporter Connie Legrand of WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, SC is quick to point out that one very typical motion sensitive security camera provided some very atypical footage of a shadowy human-like figure appearing to float across the screen complete with a shadow beneath it. But there is nothing atypical about this footage, which in reality is no more than an amorphous hazy blob that jumps around briefly. The shadow that is assumed by the reporter and those interviewed to be an unassailable and unexplainable fact is a soft call at best.

The image is most likely a bug or floating debris but I admit that I am not an expert in the analysis of such things. Neither are any of those allowed to give opinions in the piece yet the presented conclusion is that something beyond the natural world must be involved because the Executive Director of Public Relations for the District can't figure it out. Apparantly it's either a bat or a ghost to this pseudoskeptic. It is infinitely more likely that this is a hoax, or the work of aliens for that matter, than that a visitor from the spirit world chose this school to make its film debut. The presence of aliens violates far fewer fundamental realities of science.

Images similar to this have been discovered many times since the use of surveillance cameras has become widespread, with one memorable recent example being from the security camera of an Oklahoma junkyard. Another one from a Santa Fe courthouse also comes to mind. Most of them tend to be covered by the local news with the resulting story dispersed across the country via the larger news outlets. Eventually a critially minded investigator like Ben Radford or Joe Nickell gets around to figuring them out and so far none have passed muster as proof of the paranormal.

But according to Legrand, the real skeptics have met their match with this mysteriouos apparition. Which true skeptic was interviewed to try and debunk this footage you ask? Why Sarah Harrison of the Asheville Paranormal Society of course. Was Sylvia Brown not available? According to Harrison, whose website declares her society to be scientific, open-minded but skeptical, and available for free spirit rescues and spirit cleansings if necessary, "I have seen many video surveillance footage of alleged ghosts and this is the only one that I can’t debunk. Many video’s(sic) of “ghosts” are hoaxes, but I think this would be impossible to hoax.” The investigations documented on the website paint a different picture however, leading me to wonder if she is talking about the phony videos of ghosts that weren't confirmed by her team psychic.

Reports like this, whether about ghosts or UFO sightings as well tend to contain similar themes and carry identical messages. In addition to the "skeptic" whose worldview is threatened, there is of course always the true believer who just knows the mysterious specter on the monitor is a ghost, probably of some tortured soul who met an untimely end at the location in question or, in the case of Asheville ghost a deceased student apparantly not happy with a former teacher. Perhaps I should rethink how I evaluate my students before it's too late. And I hope that the teacher quoted doesn't teach science, but then again the kind of faulty reasoning which leads to her sentiments would be a detriment to students in any class if allowed to find its way into a lesson plan. That is the most concerning aspect of this situation.

Stuff Believers Like: #4 The Local News.....

While watching the local news one evening a few years back, I sat in disbelief as a bubbly young woman excitedly reported on an amazing occurence. Sadly, the story, though covered as if an accurate and newsworthy description of reality, sounded like one of my own Onionesque satirical posts: Local Man's Beard Stumps Scientists or something along those lines. "When area farmer Billy Bob Jenkins* awoke one cold Fall morning, his life was forever changed," I might have written. "He was shocked to find that his once clean-shaven face was partially covered by hair growth in the shape of a cross on his left cheek. He then basked in the glow of the miraculous sign from God and called the local news station to spread the glorious word."

As I inspected the man's stubbled face during the many close-up views provided by the camera operator, and the perfectly shaped cross there upon it, it was abundantly clear that this was no miracle in the supernatural sense of the word, nor was it even an example of pareidolia, the false perception of a meaningful pattern within what is merely random noise. I guess you could say that Occam's was not the only razor applied to this man's face that morning. Unfortunately, like so many similar credulous fluff pieces on the local news, the claim of supernatural influence on the natural world was met without the slightest hint of critical evaluation.

The absence of rational reporting which dominates most forms of mass media, but particularly with smaller local news outlets, is a frequent source of delight and ammunition to the holder of a variety of beliefs. Rarely does a week go by in most locales where there isn't a report lending credence to some form of pseudoscience or supernatural phenomena, misinterpreting the findings of published scientific studies, or inappropriately announcing findings of preliminary studies which haven't yet undergone peer review. I find it difficult to even refer to the majority of what is out there as actual reporting to be honest, for true journalism has standards far higher than what is being produced in most markets.

The offenders out there that able to cause the most damage due to their reach, the CNNs and Fox News type outlets, are failing miserably these days as less qualified journalists are being assigned the science and health beat and as, in my opinion, the seepage of irrational thinking into mainstream consciousness is becoming more torrential. In the world of print media it is even worse secondary to hemorrhaging budgets. It isn't pretty but all hope is not lost. The recent Time Magazine article on the subect of vaccine safety comes to mind as a stellar example of how journalism can be done right when it comes to controversial scientific topics. Unfortunately, until the situation improves consistently, believers will be able to cite news reports as evidence for their particular brand of irrationality.

*Name changed to protect identity

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Klassic Knudsen: September 5, 2007.....

Alien Overlord Loses Millions to Nigerian Email Scam

Zignar 7, Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy-Despite a number of warnings from high ranking members of his elite personal guard, as well as a majority of the Supreme Galactic Senate, ruling Overlord Zorg XII was swindled out of millions of dollars by a Nigerian advanced fee fraud today.

"I can't believe this was a hoax," His Excellency, the immortal wielder of unyielding power and infinite mercy, explained. "My heart went out to Mr. Moses Odiaka, the only surviving son of a murdered sultan. I really wanted to help him acquire his deceased father's riches from his evil uncles. I just don't know what to believe anymore."

Zorg XII, ruler of thousands of planets across the galaxy and known by his many billions of loyal subjects as both the Bringer of Eternal Peace and the World Eater, has lost respect in the eyes of some of his followers. Commerce Droid BX-419 revealed "You'd think he would have learned his lesson after the Amway MLM scheme or when he invested the royal treasury in that Emu farm."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Miracle Gerbil in Critical but Stable Condition.....

Beaufort, SC-Veterinarians at Beaufort's Hospital for Sick Animals held a press conference today announcing that local gerbil Screwball Jr. is in critical but stable condition following an eleven hour surgery to repair massive internal injuries suffered when the eight inch long rodent was inadvertently vacuumed by owner Randall Nachman.

"One minute he was there and the next he was just gone," the visibly shaken Nachman explained. "This is exactly the kind of thing they warned us about in gerbil class."

Heading up the team of surgeons, subspecialists and critical care veterinarians involved in Screwball Jr.'s care, which is estimated to have cost a quarter of a million dollars thus far, is small animal vascular surgeon Mort Fishman. "Frankly I don't how Screwball Jr. has come out of this alive. I mean, it was a mess in there. Whole organs were either missing or unable to be identified and most of his brain was left in the vacuum cleaner. He's going to live but just what kind of gerbil he's going to be in the future remains to be seen. He may never chew or dig again."

Undetered by the desert rat's grim prognosis, Nachman believes that there is a master plan at work. "It's a miracle that Screwball Jr. has survived, I just know it. I guess Screwball Jr. is meant to do something pretty special one day or else God would have let him die wedged in that rotating brush-roll."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Kraft Foods Launches New Krunchables Meals for Kids.....

Northfield, IL-In response to growing food prices and sinking profits, Kraft Foods announced today that it will be replacing significant portions of its popular Lunchables line of children's packaged meals with ground up food-grade plastic, paper, and particleboard.

"We are expecting to take a lot of flak for this," Kraft Foods CEO Irene Rosenfeld explained. "But hopefully parents will pay attention to the facts about Krunchables and not the misinformation perpetrated on the public by our competitors. Facts that show the world our commitment to the environment and to producing high-quality food-like substances."

A company press release sent to news agencies across the country in preperation for the launch of Krunchables attempts to address many of these potential concerns, such as the possible ill health effects stemming from the excessive consumption of materials not classically considered food and the risk of environmental damage resulting from the manufacturing process. According to Kraft spokesperson Rick Rollington "You certainly won't find Frito-Lay adding 10% recycled paper to Doritos flavored tortilla chips and there are no double-blind placebo-controlled studies showing that any of these materials are unsafe when used as food extenders."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stuff Believers Like: #3 Testimonials.....

Faster than a speeding case report. More powerful than a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Able to leap peer review in a single bound. Look! Up on the internet! It's a story. It's an anecdote. It's a testimonial!

Every implausible and unproven quack therapy, from acupuncture to quantum healing, comes bearing testimonials of its effectiveness. They are typically brief, to the point, extremely powerful, and, across the board, absolutely worthless. To anyone with a skeptical filter in place, the use of testimonials is an obvious sign of a complete lack of credible support for one's claims. Yet to the believer there is no introductory phrase more meaningful than "In my experience". And no amount of published contradictory data or number of explanations from critically minded experts can match the effect on believers from just one of the seemingly neverending supply of these uncontrolled, unblinded, and often tall tales.

Sadly even outright harm and suffering, or the complete lack of achieving the claimed benefit, are unable to shake the faith of one who has stepped over the line that seperates blind credulity from a more critical approach to one's health. It is far too easy for them to rationalize away these failures, placing the blame on themselves or the medical community, when the stranger whose gout was cured by taking goat urine supplements is trusted more than the family doctor. Perhaps the believer doesn't realize that the near totality of these testimonials are fabricated, or that many, especially in the case of the many fraudulent cancer cures floating around cyberspace, when investigated are found to be the former words of the now deceased, victims of their disease process, their lack of critical thinking skills, and the bastards profiting off of them.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Klassic Knudsen: September 3, 2007.....

Third Blue's Clue Found in Horrific Murder Investigation

Milwaukee, WI-After a lengthy and unfruitful initial investigation, the Milwaukee Police Department has finally uncovered the third of Blue's three clues to the identity and location of the perpetrator of a grisly triple murder that has left the city's inhabitants fearing for their personal safety.

"The murder was so random, so expertly executed," lead investigator Joe Hewitt explained. "Folks around here have been wondering who might be next. If not for these Blue's Clues, and Steve, I don't know if we would have been able to solve this one."

Holding the rusted and bloodstained machete while sitting in his Thinking Chair, Blue's owner Steve revealed "At first I couldn't understand what Blue was trying to tell me with the severed ear and the picture of an abandoned lighthouse but now it's so clear. So who's the cold-blooded killer boys and girls?"