Questionable Motives

June 20, 2011

What are intellectual black holes?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,woo — tildeb @ 8:11 am

Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions – these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.

Stephen Law provides us with a field guide on how to avoid falling into these black holes of bullshit by recognizing the signs of intellectual dishonesty relied upon by those who promote them. In this question and answer article from New Scientist, Law explains more.

June 16, 2011

What’s the harm?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,faith-based beliefs,Skepticim,woo — tildeb @ 1:33 pm

This is probably the most oft repeated question in response to criticisms of faith-based beliefs like religion, complimentary and alternative ‘medicine’, anti-vaccination position, various superstitions and pseudosciences, conspiracy theories, anti-anthropomorphic global warming, evolution denialism, astrology, and so on. An answer with specific causal harm would be very helpful, wouldn’t it?

To the rescue of the reasonable, rational, and critical thinkers comes this wonderful website What’s the Harm? It’s sub-header today reads 368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages . That grabbed my attention so I delved a little deeper to find out what the site was all about:

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.

It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.

This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.

We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.

We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.

Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.

Isn’t that music to the sceptical ear? Yes, but one must remember that these are real people whose stories can mean something if we just pay attention and learn from them.

For example, take the case of Debra Harrison from Wichita, Kansas. She was the founder of Consegrity, a form of energy medicine and faith healing. She rejected medical treatment for herself or her family and died of undiagnosed diabetes.

How about 1100 patients in Montreal who found out the acupuncture needles used on them weren’t properly sterilized and had to get HIV and hepatitis testing?

Or have you ever been warned the all too common result of tinnitus from ear candles?

Informed consent is a key ingredient to granting knowledgeable permission. Our ability to do so in the face of the onslaught of woo brought to us by various public figures such as Dr Oz and Deepak Chopra means we need to do a little more mental work, use a little more critical thinking, exercise a little more our scepticism even when we would prefer to simply believe. Such a site as What’s the Harm makes that job just a little bit easier. I noticed some of the links are broken and suggest that even these stories may also be in need of some scepticism if the evidence for their veracity is lacking. After all, we must be fair and remember the old adage is just as applicable today: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

(h/t to Steven Novella over at  NeuroLogica Blog)

February 15, 2011

Why should we be more intolerant?

Filed under: belief,Science,theology,Truth,vaccination,woo — tildeb @ 8:57 am

Because for far too long we have been tolerant of these post-modern ideas that more than one truth is valid, that as a result of this misguided tolerance many kinds of pseudo-science and other forms of woo is pernicious and growing and is a significant danger to all of us.

(UK) Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington is stepping up the war on pseudoscience with a call to his fellow government scientists to be “grossly intolerant” if science is misused by religious or political groups.

In closing remarks to an annual conference in London of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia.

“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.”

Beddington said that he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that. . . we need to recognise that that is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.”

In closing, Beddington said: “I’d urge you—and this is a kind of strange message to go out—but go out and be much more intolerant.” (Source).

Clearly, we should not tolerate a kind of thinking and acceptance of what Beddington says can “seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.” One needs to look no further than the ill-informed yet widespread media distortions about vaccines and global warming to see how tolerating relativistic so-called ‘balanced’ reporting of pseudo-science seriously undermines concerted efforts to responsibly address these pressing global issues.

(h/t to Pharyngula)

January 4, 2011

Why isn’t MSNBC heaping scorn on those who ‘predict’ the date of the Rapture?

I usually just ignore these end-of-the-world so-called ‘predictions’ that have a long and solid history of being absolutely wrong. Even a semi-reasonable person should take such predictions as laughable jokes, yet when it comes to the rapture, far too many people seem more than willing to lend it an ear of respectability as if this time it may be true… just in case… and it is to those folk that I think we should hold in high contempt for their willingness to be so gullible.

MSNBC has within its editorial ranks just such people, who tell by the publication of this non-contemptuous article that there is

a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011.

Treating this religious inspired lunacy without scorn lends to it an air of legitimacy to the possibility that the  basis of the ‘prediction’ – in this case a calculation based on a scriptural interpretation  – may have some merit when there isn’t even the slightest shred of evidence to justify any such distinction. This faith-based gullibility – especially for those rational enough among us who actually know better but wish to pretend that their agnosticism is a more reasonable and tolerant position than a firm stance of ridicule for this absurd ‘prediction’ in the absence of any meaningful evidence – does a disservice to respecting a legitimate prediction based on what’s probably true, probably accurate, and probably correct.

It’s important to understand why and how these legitimate probabilities inform legitimate predictions rather than cast all predictions into the same pot from which we can draw whatever made-up crap we want and pretend that all are more or less the same quality… as long as we call them predictions rather differentiate made-up crap from evidence-based probabilities. The  May 21 rapture is no ‘prediction’: it is a guess about when the end of the world will occur with an extraordinarily high probability of turning out exactly like every other religiously inspired faith-based guess: absolutely wrong.

So here is my informed prediction: the world will still be up and running on the 22nd of May, 2011. You are a moron to believe otherwise.

December 9, 2010

How does the long arm of American evangelical beliefs threaten people’s lives in Uganda?

Ignorance in action so often aided and abetted by religious conviction continues to cause unnecessary suffering. This is especially true regarding the treatment in law of homosexuals and the active advocacy of religious organizations to promote bigotry and misogyny in the name of god.

From HuffPo:

Rachel Maddow devoted almost half of her Wednesday show to a lengthy interview with David Bahati, author of the infamous bill in the Ugandan Parliament that calls for gay people to face life imprisonment or, in some cases, execution if they are convicted of having practiced homosexuality.

Bahati is also a member of The Family, the religious organization that carries substantial power on Capitol Hill (ever heard of the yearly National Prayer Breakfast?) .

Maddow asked him how gays living openly in Uganda harmed children. “It hurts my family when my child goes to school and is converted into gay…when the purpose of procreation is undermined,” Bahati said.

He also said that he was concerned about following “God’s law.” Maddow pressed him on this point, finally getting him to acknowledge that, in his view, the “appropriate punishment” for violating God’s law is death. “We need to turn to God,” he said.

Watch the entire interview (in two parts) here.

August 16, 2010

Catholic evidence of an alternative universe?

Yup. Michael Voris of The Vortex shows us clear evidence how his faith allows him to live in alternative universe while using the rights and freedoms found in this universe within his country’s secular society to advocate that all of us should join him there.

(Tip to Pharyngula)

July 19, 2010

Who said science and woo are not compatible?

Filed under: belief,Science,woo — tildeb @ 3:06 pm

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