The Skeptics' Circle has been posted at Action Skeptics. It's presented by some guy called Vince who seems to be selling some kind of cloth. Or something. Check it out anyway.
The Skeptics' Circle has been posted at Action Skeptics. It's presented by some guy called Vince who seems to be selling some kind of cloth. Or something. Check it out anyway.
Both Steven Novella and Orac posted today about the recent acupuncture study that supposedly shows acupuncture works better than real medicine. Both Orac and Novella’s posts examine the study and its weaknesses in some detail and so I won’t try to do the same. But I do have a couple of brief points I want to make about this study and acupuncture studies in general, and before I do that I’ll have to briefly summarize the main points of this study.
The researchers, amongst other things, wanted to compare the effectiveness of acupuncture on pain, compared with “groups receiving standard medical care.” Remember that phrase. “Standard medical care” essentially means whatever their physicians had already prescribed for each patient – medical treatments or physical therapies. Remember that. The study divided the test patients into four groups, namely:”
The reports of the study generally don’t describe the first three groups in quite that way, but the above is a correct description of what they actually did – all four groups continued with the standard treatment their doctors had prescribed before.
The result was that: there was no significant difference between groups 1, 2 and 3, but groups 1, 2 and 3 were each better than group 4. This is being reported as “both real and sham acupuncture better than conventional treatment”. But the study shows no such thing. There are (at least) three fundamental flaws with this conclusion, namely:
Yet again we have a worthless acupuncture study that is being falsely touted as showing acupuncture works. Again, this study is on supposed pain reduction. What about all the other things that acupuncture is supposed to fix? It releases blocked qi, yes? Shouldn’t it do more than reduce pain? Look at this list: Acupuncture: Conditions it Treats - Gastrointestinal Disorders, Urogenital Disorders, Gynecological Problems – the list goes on and on. So why are we always shown pain reduction only?
Second, why do acupuncture researchers always end saying something like this study “raises some new questions about how acupuncture works”? No it doesn’t. It shows it doesn’t work.
And third, why do they always call for more studies? Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of NCCAM, is quoted saying:
Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses."
Why? There is enough research already for us to conclude that acupuncture is a placebo.
I’m going to make a prediction. Before this year is out, there will be at least one more study of acupuncture that shows “sham” acupuncture is as good as the “real” stuff, and / or that acupuncture is better than an (unblinded) non-acupuncture group. The researchers will say (1) this shows there is something going on with acupuncture, and (2) we need more studies to be done on acupuncture. More studies will be needed. I guarantee it.
Rinse and repeat next year, the year after…
Articles by Steven Novella:
Several posts by me:
The King Of Ferrets has just posted the Skeptics’ Circle.
Several bloggers have commented on the recent Pew Survey on whether or not different religious groups support torture. Interestingly, the question they asked was unequivocal – there were no euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation” or yes it is / no it isn’t terms like “waterboarding”. The question was unequivocally about torture:
Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?
The results by religious grouping below clearly shows that the more Christian you are, the more likely you are to think that torture was justified:
I’m not sure how statistically significant these results are. The numbers questioned in the attend religious services “weekly”, “monthly…” and “seldom or never” were 336, 225 and 168 respectively. That seems a little low to be used for drawing too many conclusions, although I could be wrong. If anyone has the statistical know-how to crunch the numbers and calculate statistical significance I’d be very interested. Also, the number supporting torture in the less religious groups is still fairly high in my view. Torture was justified at least “sometimes” by around 40% of the “unaffiliated” and “attend religious services seldom or never” groups. That compares with 54% to 62% of the religious groups.
Even so, significant or not, these results hardly support the view that religion (specifically Christianity) provides a moral compass, or that reading the Bible or going to church is necessary for one to be moral or good. And, really, should this surprise anyone? Consider what the “good book”, aka The Word Of God has to say about the use of torture. Just a few snippets:
If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. Exodus 21:20-21
Oh yeah, you say, but that was just for slaves. Slaves are property, right? But it wasn't just slaves. Look what David did (with God’s approval) to all the inhabitants of several cities:
And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. 2 Samuel 12:31
Hum, saws, harrows, axes, the brick-kiln - well at least they didn't waterboard.
Jesus approved of the practice:
The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. Luke 12:46-48
Oh that Jesus - such a barrel of fun. But then, he got it from his dad:
And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. Revelation 9:5-6
Much more at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible’s What the Bible says about Torture page.
This survey really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Bible, Christianity, religion are not necessary for one to be moral or good.
One of the most consistently stupid “journalists” writing on the subject of science and intelligent design has to be Melanie Phillips. I commented two years ago on another horrendous anti-science piece of hers: Idiot Journalist is the new enemy of reason. Now she’s back again writing in the Spectator, with a piece entitled Creating An Insult To Intelligence – actually a highly accurate headline considering what she wrote under it.
Listening to the Today programme this morning, I was irritated once again by yet another misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism. In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was
nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.
But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.
The court was”simply wrong”? What, because you say so? And why was Miller’s testimony “muddled”? Because you didn’t like it? Or because you didn’t understand it? In any case, the court was not “wrong”, simply or otherwise. The court was shown evidence (actually, virtual proof) of the link between creationism and ID. The transitional version - cdesign proponentsists – was discovered.
Put simply, the ID book Of Pandas and People that was discussed at the Dover trial was originally a unashamed creation book called Creation Biology. (You know it’s a creation book because it has the word “Creation” in the title. You’re welcome.) Just after the Supreme Court ruling against creation science in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Disco Tute decided to remake the book as an ID book, rewriting large parts of it to make it all “sciencey” and not creationism at all. No, really. But unfortunately for them, they were in such a hurry to do so that in changing the wording in one place from “creationists” to (presumably) “intelligent design proponents”, they morphed the two phrases and the book actually included the words “cdesign proponentsists”. Apparently they believe in a designer but not in a spell checker. Hilarious. Click the NCSE’s Missing Link discovered! for a detailed explanation of what they did. Also, The Panda's Thumb's Missing link: “cdesign proponentsists”.
Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science.
Which is funny, because
cdesign proponentsists (excuse me) intelligent design proponents don’t do any science. Instead they write long whiney articles about why ID is too science.
Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.
So how did the existence of this “governing intelligence” result in there being matter? According to IDists, the designer designed stuff. Stuff that could not have evolved. So after he had designed it, surely he must have implemented his design? But how did he do this, if the “matter […] could not have developed spontaneously from nothing” as Phillips writes? Didn’t the designer have to “create” the matter? If not, where did it come from? And if the designer did create matter, how is this not “creationism”? Obviously it’s not literal six day creationism, but who said creationism had to be literal six day creationism as in Genesis? Regardless of whether ID has its roots in religious creation or not (it does, but even if it didn’t), it’s still creationism. Clearly it’s more than just “design” (intelligent or otherwise). Somewhere along the line, the designer had to create stuff too.
The confusion arises partly out of ignorance, with people lazily confusing belief in a Creator with Creationism.
A bit like how people lazily confuse the appearance of design with belief in a designer.
But belief in a Creator is common to all people of monotheistic faith – with many scientists amongst them -- the vast majority of whom would regard Creationism as totally ludicrous. In coming to the conclusion that a governing intelligence must have been responsible for the ultimate origin of matter, Intelligent Design proponents are essentially saying there must have been a creator.
There you are - “there must have been a creator”. Told you.
The difference between them and people of religious faith is that ID proponents do not necessarily believe in a personalised Creator, or God.
Well, yes they do, but even if they didn’t, it’s still creationism. It’s still “magic man did it”.
As a result, both Creationists and many others of religious faith disdain Intelligent Design, just as ID proponents think Creationism is totally off the wall. Yet the two continue to be conflated. And ignorance is only partly responsible for the confusion, since militant evangelical atheists deliberately conflate Intelligent Design with Creationism in order to smear and discredit ID and its adherents.
No, we conflate them because they are the same. If they want it to be science they need to do some science. Then they need to write it up and present it for publication in a science journal. Then have it peer reviewed, and stuff like that. But that’s too hard. Instead they just want to whine about how mean scientists are for calling them creationists. Boo hoo.
Qi is a Human Construct. It’s also an assumption. That is to say, it’s just made up. Of course, we always knew that. But now we’ve had it confirmed by Howard Choy, a Feng Shui practitioner, and practicing Feng Shui Architect.
Howard turned up in the comments to my last Feng Shui post - Feng Shui Hooey. (Yes I know that doesn’t really rhyme. It rhymes the way I pronounce Feng Shui.) Howard joined the thread at comment #11. His defense of FS consisted of the usual fallacies (not “western” science, been around for a long time, you need to do more research before you understand it, yada yada), and didn’t get any better throughout the remainder of his 54 comments in that thread. But at least he eventually did one thing very few woos actually ever get around to doing, namely he admitted that Qi (and therefore the basis of Feng Shui) is just an assumption and a human construct.
By all means, read the whole comment thread. I just want to highlight the end of the discussion, where we finally managed to pin Howard down. It started with Howard making comment # 133 and the comment after it, #134:
FS is about how to take advantage of life enhancing forces (jue sheng qi) which science is a part. So it is part science by using it.
We use things that have evidence and we use things that don't have evidence, as long as it is useful, we use them.
Some parts of FS can be tested by science, like why the Chinese preferred a courtyard house, Some parts can't, like the assumption we make that everything has qi.
I asked him (comment #135) how he knew these things. How did he know that life enhancing forces of jue sheng qi even existed or what effect they have? How did he know they were useful if we don’t have evidence for them as he admitted? How did he know (as he claimed) everything has qi if (as he said), they can’t be tested?
His response in comment 135 was (with my bold):
Qi is an assumption and even science uses assumptions and in mathematics as well. An assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, that is, as if it were known to be true.
There are quantifiable qi like tianqi(weather) and qixi (breath), etc. The there are also unquantifiable qi like gua qi which is a human construct but we still use them because it is a useful tool by experience, like art, philosophy and religion.
So there you have it. Qi is just pretend. It was made up by humans. We just act "as if" it's real.
And remember, Howard is not just any new agey woo, angry that I don’t support his favorite piece of magic. He has studied this extensively. He is part of a team that designs buildings using Feng Shui, he teaches seminars and workshops in Feng Shui, he has a Feng Shui blog. In short, he is an expert in Feng Shui:
Howard has written 4 books on Feng Shui and Qigong and numerous articles for various magazines and journals worldwide. He has worked as the principal consulting Feng Shui Architect on the capital upgrading of the Chinese Garden in Darling Harbour, after having successfully completed the Feng Shui urban renewal for Sydney’s Chinatown in 2001 for the Sydney Olympic Games.
And this is the best a real expert can do? It’s all made up, a human construct, an assumption?
And then this evening, after two weeks of silence, Howard came back and left a final "goodbye" comment #163. Apparently “Feng Shui is not working here” and it’s all our fault for not just believing in Howard’s drivel. But real science doesn't care whether you believe in it or not - it works regardless.
As an expert in Feng Shui, Howard is like the expert on fairies at the bottom of the garden - in both cases, the expertise is worthless.
A little perspective on Easter (which is today).
Yesterday, PZ reported on the “debate” between Christopher Hitchens and radio host Todd Friel – a labored exercise in Pascal’s Wager. Freil basically says, if we assume the Christian story is true, don’t you agree that atheists will go to hell? It goes on for over ten minutes, but there really isn’t much more to it than that. Hitchens does an excellent job of demolishing the idiot. (Click the link above – PZ has the full interview embedded.)
There was one area where I felt I had something to add to Hitchens’ rebuttal. It was with Freil’s suggestion that Jesus’s death on the cross was an act of generosity. As best I can recall, this is what Freil said:
If Jesus took the punishment that you deserve… wouldn’t that be the single greatest act of kindness in the history of the world?
Hitchens replied no, because he (Hitchens) hadn’t been born then and hadn’t been consulted. Which is true, but I could think of additional reasons why this wasn’t an act of kindness.
I wanted to ask, who made this rule? Who decided that Jesus had to die a horrible death before my sins could be forgiven? Surely this rule was made up by god? But why does he have to follow it? He’s god. He could forgive any sins he wanted. What possible difference could it make that Jesus did or did not die on the cross? And then it struck me – god is just playing victim. (“Oh boo hoo, I died on the cross for you, the least you could do is love me and praise me your whole life.”) Jesus's dying on the cross wasn’t an act of generosity. On the contrary, it was totally self serving – nothing but a piece of passive aggressive manipulative bullying. God had simply set himself up so he could play victim for the rest of eternity. What a wimp.
And it’s actually worse than that. The reward god has for us if we believe in him and praise him our whole lives, is that he won’t send us to burn in the hell that he created for us. We’re supposed to be grateful that Jesus died so that god could give himself permission not to torture us for eternity. That would be like me setting up a torture chamber in my basement and expecting people to think I was generous for agreeing not to lock them up there and torture them for the rest of their lives (as long as they worship me). That wouldn’t be considered an act of kindness. I would rightly be considered a psychopath for even setting up the torture chamber in the first place.
So to recap on god’s generosity at Easter: to save us from an eternity of torture in hell that he (god) created and had decided to send us to, based on rules he (god) made up all by himself, he (god) suffered torture (that he planned) on the cross, so that now as long as you worship him, he won’t send you to the hell that he can freely choose not to send you to anyway. And this, we are expected to believe, is act of kindness.
What a moron.
Randi published his 2008 Pigasus Awards today, and I must say, some of them had me scratching my head a bit. Here are the awards and the winners – see what you think:
1. To the Scientist who said or did the silliest thing relating to parapsychology in the preceding twelve months.
- Dr. Colin Ross, who can shoot electromagnetic radiation from his eyes
Hum, well OK, I guess he qualifies. What he’s claiming is very silly. I’m not sure if it’s strictly “parapsychology”, but he apparently is a scientist and seems like a nut.
I’m afraid the rest are not so good, though.
2. To the Funding Organization that supports the most useless parapsychological study during the year.
- The Producers of the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Huh? The movie Expelled could not any way be called a “study”. It was a film pushing creationism. Certainly not a study and nothing “parapsychological” about it either. Plus, the producers of Expelled are not a “funding organization”. It was certainly a piece of crap, but a “parapsychological study”? No. And yet there were several actual parapsychological studies he could have picked from 2008. For example, this one. So why didn’t he?
3. To the Media outlet that reported as fact the most outrageous paranormal claim.
- Late night cable TV stations
This seems a bit of a cop out to me. If Randi wants to shame the makers of Enzyte then OK, but then he's criticizing phony advertising and not a media outlet per se. They hardly even seem that outrageous either. Unlike (for example) this.
The next one makes no sense at all:
4. To the "Psychic" performer who fools the greatest number of people with the least effort in that twelve-month period.
- Jenny McCarthy; who has written books and appeared on countless TV shows promoting measles
Jenny McCarthy is certainly a bubble head anti-science moron who deserves to be shamed more than just about anyone else I can think of, but “psychic”? When did she ever claim to be psychic? And there are plenty of real (ie pretend) psychics out there who could have been named. McCarthy could perhaps have been named in the next award - the most persistent refusal to face reality – that she certainly would qualify for. But psychic? It just makes no sense. Couldn’t Randi think of one actual pretend psychic to shame? Not one? In the whole year?
5. For the most persistent refusal to face reality.
- Kevin Trudeau; who sold quack books even after the government fined him for it
Actually, I think Trudeau has a pretty good grip on reality. He knows he’s selling crap, and he knows exactly how to keep making money at it despite numerous attempts to shut him down. No, the people with the most persistent refusal to face reality are the ones who continue to buy Trudeau’s books and videos, despite the fact that they are complete crap. But certainly not Trudeau himself. Douchebag? Yes. Refusal to face reality? Not really.
I hate to say this, but I think this years Pigasus’s are a fail. The purpose if these awards, I imagine, is to ridicule these bozos and have a laugh at them ourselves. But that only works if the things the awards are for, are for things the person actually did. If they are about a straw man version (eg Jenny McCarthy – psychic), then they fall flat. In fact, the recipient could easily laugh back at these rather absurd categorizations. I’m afraid this list just looks like Randi picked five people who had done stupid things in the year, and then randomly assigned them to one of his five categories. Which doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Read my Golden Woo awards from January – in my totally unbiased view, much better suited candidates.
April 2 - edited to add:
Well Randi edited some of the category descriptions - the main one being to remove the "psychic" label from the Jenny McCarthy award (see Phil Plait's comment below). That's certainly an improvement. But I still think it doesn't make any sense to call McCarthy a "performer", and I still think none of the awards (apart from #1) fit the category descriptions. Admittedly it's not a major issue in the grand scheme of things, but if a thing's worth doing it's worth doing right.
Reader Kate sent me a link to the HuffPo article by Srinivasan Pillay, The Science of Distant Healing, that everyone’s talking about this week. Apparently a study showed remote “intention” could act as a therapeutic intervention. I originally wasn’t going to bother with this, as the article was in my view rather confused and poorly written, and several skeptics in the comments seemed to be doing a pretty good job of taking it apart already anyway. And then on Friday both Orac and Steven Novella wrote posts critical of the article. But then I got a hold of the full study, and a little light went off in my head that told me I had something to add even to what those two luminaries had written.
First, I’ll do what Pillay didn’t do, and link to the abstract. I managed to click on the Elsevier link in the abstract and obtain a temporary log on ID to read the study. It’s entitled “Compassionate Intention As a Therapeutic Intervention by Partners of Cancer Patients: Effects of Distant Intention on the Patients' Autonomic Nervous System”. An odd title since the authors clearly state in the study, “we did not test for distant healing” (more on that below).
The study supposedly measured the effects of intention on the autonomic nervous system of a human "sender" and distant "receiver". Well, not really. What they actually measured were changes in skin conductance level, or as Pillay wrote, “a measure of the ability of sweat to conduct electricity”. PAL called that “measurements from glorified Scientology E-meters”. Ouch! No illnesses being cured then (as they admitted – see above). The paired senders and receivers were divided into three groups:
In group 1 and 2, the healthy person directed intention at the sick person. In group 3, a healthy person directed intention at another healthy person. Members of group 3 were not randomly selected – they were (obviously) non-randomly allocated to the group with no cancer. And yet, group 3 was claimed to be the “control group”. However, all three groups were instructed to direct intention – ie, even the “control group” directed intention. This is important when you consider the hypothesis being tested, which was:
The principal hypothesis was that the sender's DHI [distant healing intention] directed toward the distant, isolated receiver would cause the receiver's autonomic nervous system to become activated. A secondary analysis explored whether the factors of motivation and training modulated the postulated effect.
To test the principal hypothesis you obviously need a control group which is not sending intention, to compare with the intention group. Otherwise, how do you know if the intention had any effect? But there was no group without directed intention, which means there was no control group to test the actual principal hypothesis the authors of the study specifically said they were testing. So what were the results? Did the receiver's autonomic nervous systems become activated, and did training and motivation make a difference? Take a look at Figure 6 from the study, and the note under it, and see what you think:
Figure 6 Comparison of sender and receiver effect sizes (per epoch) measured at stimulus offset (with ±2 standard error confidence intervals) for all sessions, motivated sessions (trained group and wait group combined), and trained, wait, and control groups separately. EDA, electrodermal activity.
You’ll note there is no significant difference between the receivers in the different groups. (The senders differ, but then they knew they were sending.) The receivers all register an effect, but since there is no control group to compare these results with, these data tell you nothing about the principal hypothesis. Again I say, you need a control group to test this hypothesis, and they didn’t have one. There was no significant difference between the trained / untrained groups or between the motivated (ie including sick people) / unmotivated groups. So the secondary hypothesis failed.
So, end of story. Study failed, yes? Write it off, study something new next time? Well, no of course not. Not with woo. The study authors weren’t satisfied with that. Here, Steven Novella noticed something I initially missed. It was this, from the abstract:
Planned differences in skin conductance among the three groups were not significant, but a post hoc analysis showed that peak deviations were largest and most sustained in the trained group, followed by more moderate effects in the wait group, and still smaller effects in the control group
Translation: the study didn’t show what we wanted it to show (clearly – see Figure 6), so we data mined it to find something we could say was an effect. So what did they find with this bit of ad hoc activity? They produced several other graphs, of which (to keep it simple) I will reproduce just Figure 7:
Figure 7 Normalized comparison of receiver skin conductance levels in the three groups. EDA, electrodermal activity.
What they want you to look at is the difference between the three groups during the “intention” period. Group 1 (the “trained” group), showed the largest increase during the ten second burst of “intention”. (See the timescale on the bottom – seconds 0 to 10 is when the intention is being directed.) OK, but what I want you to notice is the 5 seconds before the intention (-5 to 0 on the bottom axis). The normalized EDA is actually higher for one group (group 2 – the “wait” group), when no intention is being directed at all! So for those not trained, it appears distant healing effects are higher when the sender does nothing. Even with group 1 (“trained”), the “doing nothing” period has a higher measurement than roughly 50% of the “sending intention” period. Then it struck me what we are missing – we are missing readings from all the “doing nothing” periods – since the intention sessions were all 10 seconds long, and the non-intention sessions were from five to 40 seconds long, we are talking about probably 60-75% of the total time. Was the EDA measurement higher or lower during those periods? Were there other peaks in EDA during those periods? They don’t say.
And I’m pretty sure they didn’t even look. Tucked away just before the “results” section of the report, they state this:
To avoid multiple testing problems, the preplanned hypothesis examined the normalized deviation only at stimulus offset.
I’ve read that section about ten times now, and the only sensible interpretation of that sentence is that they only looked at EDA changes during the intention sending sessions – they didn’t look at them during the non-intention sending periods (unintentional periods?). This sounds like the sharpshooter fallacy – shooting a load of bullets at the side of a barn and then painting a target where most of the bullets landed. But they ignored the larger clusters of bullets fired at different times.
The study’s lead author is Dean Radin. Radin has a history of fitting statistical anomalies to temporal events, while ignoring the same anomalies that occur at other times that he doesn’t want you to know about. An example would be Radin’s interpretation of the now defunct (correction - it's still going) Global Consciousness Project’s (GCP) output from a series of random number generators – data that supposedly showed global consciousness spiked at certain major global events. If you want to see how credulous Radin can be, and/or how determined he is to find a correlation whether one exists or not (you decide), read this account by Claus Larsen, who attended a talk by Dean Radin in 2002:
Radin gave several examples of how GCP had detected "global consciousness". One was the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double-murder. We were shown a graph where - no doubt about that - the data formed a nice ascending curve in the minutes after the pre-show started, with cameras basically waiting for the verdict to be read. And yes, there was a nice, ascending curve in the minutes after the verdict was read.
However, about half an hour before the verdict, there was a similar curve ascending for no apparent reason. Radin's quick explanation before moving on to the next slide?
"I don't know what happened there."
It was not to be the last time we heard that answer.
Does that remind you a little of figure 7 above, and does it make you ask what happened during the “no intention” periods? It should.
And then there was 9/11:
Another serious problem with the September 11 result was that during the days before the attacks, there were several instances of the [random number generators] picking up data that showed the same fluctuation as on September 11th. When I asked Radin what had happened on those days, the answer was:
"I don't know."
I then asked him - and I'll admit that I was a bit flabbergasted - why on earth he hadn't gone back to see if similar "global events" had happened there since he got the same fluctuations. He answered that it would be "shoe-horning" - fitting the data to the result.
Checking your hypothesis against seemingly contradictory data is "shoe-horning"?
For once, I was speechless.
Did Radin check to see if there were similar fluctuations in the data in the “down” periods of this recent study? I don’t know, but we know for a fact from the above that Radin has selected data to fit his hypothesis in the past, and so I’m not going to trust him not to have done it this time. We know he performed some additional manipulation on the data, as Orac also noticed from the study:
To reduce the potential biasing effects of movement artifacts, all data were visually inspected, and SCL epochs with artifacts were eliminated from further consideration (artifacts were identified by [Dean Radin], who was not blind to each epoch's underlying condition).
So Radin admits he un-blinded the study and eliminated data he didn’t like.
Throughout this post I avoided any personal attacks on Radin’s (or Pillay’s) credibility, and concentrated instead on the actual study. However, when considering a study that claims a statistical effect like this (and the study authors admit the size of the observed effects were very small), on such frankly dubious grounds, it is relevant to consider where the author has in the past ignored contradictory data when forming conclusions. Clearly he has in the past, and he may well have done so here. The most generous conclusion I can draw about this study would be that it would need to be replicated by independent experimenters before I would even consider that there might be some basis in what it is claiming. (Randi’s $1 million test, anyone?) A more realistic interpretation is that Radin has been known to select data that fits his hypothesis and ignore that which doesn’t, and so there’s no reason to think that hasn’t happened here. Radin even admits he un-blinded the study to eliminate some data he didn’t like. Add the fact that there was no control group, the null hypotheses were not even rejected, and the only interesting thing they found required some (admitted by the authors) post hoc rationalization, and there really isn’t much left worth looking at.
The study ends with the words “This study is dedicated to Elisabeth Targ.” That would be the Elizabeth Targ whose study of intercessory prayer was also fraudulently un-blinded so it could report a success when in reality it had failed. And this study is dedicated to her? I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The Telegraph is reporting Psychics given £4,500 government funding to teach people to communicate with the dead.
Paul and Deborah Rees, who are both self-styled mediums, have been awarded the cash under the Government's Want2Work job creation scheme.
The couple, from Bridgend, south Wales, will use it to instruct people on how to contact friends and relatives "on the other side".
Critics are astonished that the award was approved by the Department of Work and Pensions bureaucrats, and now the Welsh Assembly has launched an investigation.
The mediums themselves confess to being "surprised" at securing the grant. But they insist that the "mere £4,500" of public money will be put to good use at their centre, the Accolade Academy of Psychic and Mediumistic Studies.
The psychics themselves were "surprised" at securing the grant? Well, they can’t be very good psychics then, can they? I have to say, I’m not that surprised at anything that happens when the government is involved. Remember how two years ago UK Ministry of Defence spent £18,000 ($35,000) on experiments to discover if psychic powers exist? And don’t forget how the US government wasted $20 million on Stargate. Against that, £4,500 is small change. But hey, if the UK government is throwing money at this, perhaps I can get in on the act. I already have a proven method to make it appear you are communicating with the dead. It’s a list of proven techniques that includes a handy bingo card to make it more fun. Where do I apply for my cash?
From this thread at JREF I learned of a recent post at a blog called Fengshui Forward (“We aim to gather fellow Chinese Metaphysics enthusiatics to discuss and promote Chinese 5 arts”), entitled United we stand, Divided we fall!. The author, ken, is bothered by the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on Feng Shui – the one where each of the three Feng Shui experts comes up with completely different recommended colors and arrangements of furniture at the exact same house. Unfortunately ken has completely missed the point of the P&T program, and criticisms of Feng Shui in general:
It is very easy to discredit a practice like Feng Shui because Metaphysics is defined by Wikipedia as “investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science”.
No, that’s not how to discredit Feng Shui, although I agree it is easy to discredit. P&T discredit Feng Shui not by reference to a definition in Wikipedia (which would be an absurd way to do it anyway), but by simply showing that three so called “experts”, all using the exact same “science”, come up with completely different recommendations for the same problem. Let’s face it – they can’t all be right. The fact that they’re all different just demonstrates to any rational person that it’s nonsense. How would you tell which of the recommendations was right and which wrong? If Feng Shui had any actual real effect then it ought to be possible to tell by testing. But according to ken, you can’t test Feng Shui:
Feng Shui is not superstitious. It merely looks superstitious because it is beyond science and hence science cannot explain it and neither can humans. How do you expect a kid to explain the action of his parents? Since Feng Shui transcends science, one cannot get a satisfactory explanation of Feng Shui using scientific principles.
“Beyond science”? Science is just an organized way of testing hypotheses against reality. The phrase “beyond science” just means “can’t be tested to see if it works”. But why not? If it has any real effect surely that effect must be measurable (ie it is testable). If it’s effects really aren’t measurable, then what is the difference between Feng Shui and something that doesn’t exist? (Clearly, nothing.) In reality, what ken means by “beyond science”, is “can be tested to see if it works – we just won’t admit it doesn’t”. This is just science doesn't know everything combined with an appeal to other ways of knowing – a smokescreen to hide the fact that Feng Shui is made up nonsense that has very little correspondence with reality.
The lack of any basis Feng Shui has in reality is hilariously (and unintentionally) exposed in ken’s appeal for unity among fellow woomeisters:
If even Feng Shui enthuasiasts (sic) and practitioners can be going all out to discredit someone with the same beliefs, what more outsiders who are like Penn & Teller? Sometimes I wish fellow enthusiasts in Chinese Metaphysics wisen (sic) up and not be the proverbial “divided loose grains of sand”. If we help each other in this interest group or profession, Chinese Metaphysics & Feng Shui as a whole stands to gain. We as enthusiasts and practitioner of the same field stand to gain too. After all, one famous Chinese saying by the victimized Cao Zhi in the Romance of the 3 Kingdom goes “Why cannibalize one that is of the same family?”
How can we help each other? By treating fellow practitioners and enthusiasts as allies and suggest areas of weakness as points to consider for improvement. By not treating fellow practitioners and enthusiasts as rivals and going all out to attack one perceived point of fallible practice or advocate.
Translation: “don’t criticize someone else’s woo even if it makes no sense, because they might criticize your woo for making no sense.” Of course, in actual science, scientists do criticize each other. It’s only by criticizing and dismissing weak ideas, that the good ones can flourish. But then with actual science, they have a way to determine what is real and what isn’t – they look at evidence. This is of course a problem for woo such as Feng Shui, since with no evidence and no way of testing it (it transcends science, remember), there is no way to determine what is real and what isn’t. Consequently woomeisters such as ken have no option but to accept uncritically everyone else’s woo. And that’s the problem (one of them, anyway) with woo. With no rational way of testing your hypothesis against reality, you are in freefall – you have to believe in everything. Ken really is in danger of being so open minded that his brains will fall out. If they haven’t already.
Casey Luskin has a post up on the Disco-Tute’s blog, entitled Nature Paper Shows "Junk-RNA" Going the Same Direction as "Junk-DNA". He’s read a paper in Nature that he thinks shows that junk DNA and junk RNA, may not be junk. This is an interesting point, since junk DNA is often given as evidence of unguided evolution, rather than purposeful design. And you know that’s his point because his post ends with:
As an ID proponent, I'm still waiting for Darwinists to let go of their precious "junk" arguments for blind evolution and common descent and learn the lesson that you can't assume that if we don't yet see function for a biomolecule, then it's probably just "junk."
To which I would reply, as an evolution proponent, I'm still waiting for IDists to let go of their precious "irreducible complexity" arguments for design, and learn that if we don't yet see see every step of how an irreducible complex entity evolved, we can't assume that it must have been designed. Yes, Luskin was in effect calling evolutionists on an argument from ignorance fallacy – if we don’t know what it is then it’s junk. Pretty funny considering ID is nothing but an argument from ignorance.
Of course Tu quoque is a fallacy too. Unfortunately for Luskin though, evolutionists rely on more than just, “we don't yet see function therefore it’s junk”. Luskin is wrong in his interpretation of the Nature paper, as Larry Moran explains. First, let’s go back to see what Luskin wrote on the subject. Quoting the Nature paper, he writes:
The article makes an extremely important point: "Strictly speaking, the absence of evolutionary conservation cannot prove the absence of function."
But Luskin has been quote mining. Larry Moran quotes a larger part of the Nature paper. Read this – note that the first sentence below is the only bit that Luskin quoted; he omitted the sentences that followed immediately afterwards:
Strictly speaking, the absence of evolutionary conservation cannot prove the absence of function. But, the markedly low rate of conservation seen in the current catalogues of large non-coding transcripts (<5% of cases) is unprecedented and would require that each mammalian clade evolves its own distinct repertoire of non-coding transcripts. Instead, the data suggest that the current catalogues may consist largely of transcriptional noise, with a minority of bona fide functional lincRNAs hidden amid this background. [My bold.]
Now, whether you agree with that or not, you have to admit that the Nature paper simply does not say what Luskin quoted mined it to make it appear to say. It actually states the opposite, namely that 95% of the transcribed sequences are not conserved (and therefore are unlikely to have function).
So we have poor understanding of logical fallacies, and quote mining, from the ID camp. In other words, nothing new.
The Skeptics’ Circle has just been posted at the skeptic’s field guide.
File this one under, if I made this up you wouldn’t believe it.
I was reading “The Secret” promoter Joe Vitale’s recent blog post What To Do When the Law of Attraction Doesn’t Work, and it struck me how his blog posts all seem to have the same format:
All starting on a new line.
Have you noticed that many are questions?
That he then answers.
When you read his answers, are they in the form of rhetorical questions?
When he writes these rhetorical questions, why are they in blockquotes when he’s not actually quoting someone?
He repeats mantras, such as:
LOA is always working.
LOA is a law like gravity.
- that have been debunked before.
And makes grandiose claims, such as:
I’m a neurometaphysician. I created the field of neurometaphysics. This goes beyond neuroscience, which is the study of how your nervous system affects your life. Neurometaphysics is the science of how your thoughts create your life.
It struck me that his posts are all so similar in both style and content, they could have been written by a computer. Of course, that would be ridiculous. Except it’s not. Announcing: Dr. Joe Vitale's Hypnotic Writing Wizard!:
This amazing breakthrough new software almost magically helps you write sales letters, ads, news releases, articles, speeches and entire books easily, effortlessly and even hypnotically - Guaranteed!
[All bold in original.]
So now you know. That’s how he does it. A computer writes his copy. And you can write just like Joe for a mere $99 ($277 with “Swipe File”). Or I guess you could just want it really badly and it would appear for free (your mileage may vary).
Hey Joe, I don’t need a “writing wizard” to write my posts - with this kind of classic comedy from you, my posts just write themselves.
Hat tip to Cosmic Connie for emailing me the two Joe Vitale links.
In my recent post on global warming denial, I included a list of denier tactics, of which # 3 was “fake experts”. Right on cue, I can report that today is the start of the Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change" – the “world’s largest-ever gathering of global warming skeptics”. Their list of speakers claims:
More than 70 of the world’s elite scientists, economists and others specializing in climate issues will confront the subject of global warming.
Grist is less than impressed with the speakers, and debunks the idea that many of them are actual experts in the subject:
So, Heartland says to the unsuspecting, the experts are all coming to this event, and they all say there is nothing to worry about. That actually makes the whole charade pretty easy to unmask.
We don't have to examine every particular scientific or pseudo-scientific argument that will be advanced during the conference (that's been done repeatedly), because the whole thrust of this conference is about who is attending, not what they are saying.
Click the Grist link for an examination of the main speakers. You may not be surprised to learn that most of them are clearly in the “fake expert” category – people mostly with credentials, but not in climate science. Exceptions to the “wrong credentials” list would be Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, who are both actual climate scientists. Well, fair enough, but a couple of qualified contrarians is hardly “70 of the world’s elite scientists”. In any case, it seems these two may not be totally in the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) isn’t happening camp anyway:
While these two legitimate climate scientists express doubt about the dangers of climate change, they both acknowledge that the world is warming and that it is due to human activity, primarily greenhouse gas emissions. Actually, this puts them at odds with most of their fellow panelists.
I have to say, that was news to me. I haven’t really been following Lindzen’s work recently.
Incidentally, if you scroll down the list of speakers, you’ll see that our old friend Joanne Nova is there. Talk about fake experts. Her bit is entitled “The Great Global Fawning: How Science Journalists Pay Homage to Non-Science and Un-Reason”. Imagine having paid money to listen to that.
And for those determined to misunderstand anything written on this subject (and you know who you are), the above is not ad hominem – is is merely a rebuttal to the “more than 70 of the world’s elite scientists” appeal to authority claimed by the conference.
While writing on this subject, a quick response to “the IPCC is a political organization” ad hominem, favorite dismissal if the IPCC by the AGW skeptics. Here is a list of all 619 authors Working Group I of the recent IPCC report. This group's section covers the scientific basis, and lays the foundation for the rest of the report. Included are links to the authors’ personal homepages, a link to a Google Scholar search for their research, citation counts, degree information, Wikipedia links, affiliations and notes about declarations or petitions they have signed. Hat tip for this to A Few things Ill Considered. And again, for those determined to misunderstand anything written on this subject (and you still know who you are), this list is not an appeal to authority, I present it merely to debunk the “the IPCC is a political organization” ad hominem canard.
Someone called rbullock posted a classic piece or poor reasoning at The ID Report. It's entitled Darwinists on Design: Jumping to Confusions. Get a load of this and guess where it’s going (no prizes):
What if you were lied to all your life that a square was a circle? Oh yes, you were told, it's natural to have contrary thoughts, but you must not be deceived by appearances; those things that look like squares are not. They are merely apparent squares. And in reality, you are politely informed, they not only are circles, they must be, because an all encompassing Theory of Circumfusion requires them to be, and you must believe the Theory of Circumfusion. And what if you did? Despite all that was in you; despite what you instinctively and empirically knew, what if you believed? What if?
Imagine that you really bought the lie. You began to see reality not as circles and squares, but as circles and the illusion of squares. And suppose over time you trained yourself, through constant reminder that what you see as squares are not squares, but circles; you actually saw only circles.
Well, that would be pretty silly. We have a very clear definition of a square: “a regular polygon with four equal sides and four equal angles (90 degree angles, or right angles)”. Anyone claiming a square was a circle could easily be shown to be wrong. More importantly, a group of independent observers could all pick out the squares from a series of squares and circles, with 100% accuracy, using the standard square definition. But rbullock doesn’t care about this. You know where he’s going:
The problem for Darwinists lies with the term "design". The term best describes everything we see in nature, but, insist Darwinists, it simply cannot be; The Theory will not allow it. Never mind what your eyes see, never mind what your hands touch, never mind what your ears hear, you must, as atheist co-discoverer of DNA Francis Crick insists biologist do, constantly remind yourself that what you see was not designed but evolved.
He is saying living organisms are the (designed) squares that Darwinists are insisting are circles (not designed). Yes, it’s an argument by analogy. Except it doesn’t work because IDists have never been able to define how to tell if something is designed (the way a square is defined), other than “it looks designed”. What they really mean is “it’s complex”. But we know complex organisms can evolve.
He does have a point though. Well, almost. I cringe when people (and I think I’ve heard even Dawkins do this) refer to “design” in nature. “Design” in my view has to have an element of intent – some conceptualization of the thing before it is built. Evolution is very clearly how something comes into being without pre-planning. By an accidental mutation that is then (ie after it exists) selected for. Apparently someone else agrees with me, although rbullock misses the point:
The latest gift of Darwinian absurdity came in the pages of the gloriously serious-sounding Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research where Columbia University's W.J. Bock surrendered to an Orwellian coward's solution: simply eliminate the troublesome "D" word altogether. Rather than have biologists distracted repeating the mantra, "it is not designed, it is not designed, it is not designed," Bock's solution is to remove even the "concept of design" from all "biological explanations". Design is "inappropriate" in biology, according to Bock, and "should not be used in evolutionary theory."
I agree with Bock’s suggestion because it is correct. "Orwellian" is misinformation or the denial of truth – in fact, exactly what rbullock is doing. Eliminating the “D word” actually makes the description more accurate.
Biology can continue to operate (as it does, truth be told) in terms of design, and because there is no English word for "apparently-designed-yet-actually-unintelligently-caused" with respect to observed objects
Yes there is. The word is “evolved”.
Adesignists, including Darwinists who believe in God and theistic evolutionists (there is no practical difference) risk embarrassing themselves talking about God for one reason: to keep the confusion alive regarding the Darwin-busting fact of design in nature. Confusion is the ally of a wrong worldview, and those who deny design in biology, particularly for fear of the "connotations" of a designer, must rely on silly thoughts about God and dice as they spin their worldview in a whirlwind of illogic and ever-growing deception.
No, evolutionists talk about god because they know the IDist’s true motivation is to teach their religious myths as though they were science. And talking about design that is not there helps them in their dishonest endeavor. We should stop talking about design in nature. Evolution is how life got built. There is no evidence that there was any forward planning or conceptualization in advance (design) at all.
The 106th Skeptics’ Circle is up at Disillusioned Words.
Much of the media has been abuzz recently with excited reports that the lost city of Atlantis might have been found using ocean in Google Earth. See the picture below of the finding – a grid like image supposedly resembling a city’s roads, covering an area “the size of Wales.”
Unfortunately the image is almost certainly an artifact of the mapping process. The underwater images for Google’s ocean maps come from multiple sonar measurements of the ocean floor. (Unlike Google Earth which relies on satellite imagery to show the surface only.) The area in question was mapped by boats travelling in a series of straight lines, and the “grid” merely shows the route taken by those mapping boats. A spokeswoman for Google has been quoted in numerous places:
…what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process.
Bathymetric (sea-floor) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea-floor.
'The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data.
But even without this information, it seems extremely unlikely this was ever an underwater city. A city the “size of Wales”? From this map of Wales you can see that would be approximately 130 by 70 miles in size - some city. And using a ruler to make some rough calculations, those roads would be at least a couple of miles wide. They must have been expecting some pretty heavy traffic over ten thousand years ago!
In all the excitement about the vaccine ruling, I forgot that the Skeptics circle was published yesterday at It’s the Thought that Counts.
This morning, Orac called Keith Olbermann out on his ridiculous “worst person in the world” slot yesterday, where he (Olbermann) named Brian Deer as one of his ”worsts”. Olbermann called Deer’s reporting of the Wakefield MMR/autism fraud “journalistic malfeasance”, apparently because The Times didn’t mention that the investigation into Wakefield was the result of a complaint by Brian Deer. Leaving aside for now the fact that that Deer is not the complainant in this case anyway, my reaction was “so what?” How would Deer being the complainant change the facts so that Wakefield suddenly magically didn’t commit fraud any more? Obviously, it wouldn’t.
Of course, we know that Wakefield's work was flawed at best, and paid for by those seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers. Deer (as anyone knows) has been covering this story for years. As Orac writes:
Olbermann apparently doesn't know that the reason Deer made the complaint to the British GMC was because of what he found in his original report in 2004 and then again in 2006. In other words, Deer discovered that Wakefield had been in the pocket of a trial lawyers seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers, having accepted £435,643 in fees, plus £3,910 expenses for his "research." Who wouldn't have reported him to the GMC for that?
Talk about a conflict of interest. We now know that Olbermann’s piece was essentially written for him by anti-vaccine crank David Kirby, who is crowing about it today on the Huff Post. Several people including Brian Deer himself have written to Olbermann today to inform him of his mistake(s), but since there was no retraction from Olbermann tonight we have to conclude that Olbermann is happy with his hatchet job on a respected journalist. Pretty ironic for someone who criticizes Fox News presenters for reading talking points given to them without checking the facts.
Which brings us to a related story. Today a special court ruled that evidence presented to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program did not demonstrate a link between autism and childhood vaccines:
In a statement shortly after the release of the decisions, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it continues to support research "to better understand the cause of autistic disorders and develop more effective methods of treatment."
However, "the medical and scientific communities ... have found no association between vaccines and autism."
This is possibly a bigger deal than it may appear. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was set up to compensate anyone who might have been injured by vaccines. And quite rightly so. Everyone benefits from a vaccinated population, and so it’s only fair that the very small number of people who are actually injured by vaccines should be compensated by the rest of us. With this in mind, the Compensation Program was set up to make it easy for anyone injured by vaccines to claim compensation, with minimal legal and financial hurdles to overcome. The result is that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is very favorable to litigants. The standard of proof is much lower than it would be in a regular court. And of course, in a regular court, the standards of evidence are much lower than they would be in the world of science. So these hearings would have been expected to be very friendly to the litigants. The fact that even these courts found no link from vaccines to autism is very telling.
I predict that Kirby and his merry band will now commence smear tactics on the special masters of the court, and/or anyone else they can blame for this eminently sensible decision. One thing they will not do, I predict, is reflect that maybe, just possibly, it is just conceivable that they might be wrong about vaccines and autism. They won’t do that because nothing will ever change their minds. It’s the vaccines. It just has to be. Anyone want to bet I’m wrong?
Sometimes I worry that I’ve run out of new things to blog about, but then out of the blue up pops something that proves me wrong. I recently received an email from Joanne Nova, who writes a blog where she claims global warming isn’t caused by human created greenhouse gas emissions. In her first email to me she wrote “there is no empirical evidence left that supports the theory that man made CO2 makes much difference to the climate.” Note, “no empirical evidence”, not “I disagree with the evidence”, or “there is contrary evidence” – but there is no evidence. None! She emailed me to ask why I had come to a different conclusion from her.
Why do I accept global warming science as being true? Well, it’s partly because I followed the many claims of the global warming “skeptics,” and although their arguments had been debunked numerous times by experts (for example, read RealClimate’s Responses to common contrarian arguments), the so-called skeptics kept repeating the already debunked arguments. After a while you just start thinking, “but that’s been explained already,” and stop taking those people seriously. So that would be my initial reason. But the other main reason would have been the thousands of articles published every year in peer reviewed scientific journals, virtually all of them supporting the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis. And it’s also because of the denier tactics employed by the “skeptics”. (More on this later.) Nova writes back that this is argument from authority, and that it’s intellectually lazy to argue this way. Well, I disagree.
It isn’t necessarily fallacious to consider that thousands of climate scientists writing in peer reviewed journals might know more than you do about such a complex subject. Of course, this one is a little tricky for newbies, and I’m sure I got it wrong myself initially. Nizkor is one of the many sites that tries to explain it:
…a person who is a legitimate expert is more likely to be right than wrong when making considered claims within her area of expertise. In a sense, the claim is being accepted because it is reasonable to believe that the expert has tested the claim and found it to be reliable. So, if the expert has found it to be reliable, then it is reasonable to accept it as being true.
What we have here is trust in the scientific method. And we trust it because we have reason to believe it works – just look around you. (You’re reading this on a computer aren’t you?) And on a blog that promotes science and the scientific method, I’d have to be pretty perverse, or have a very good reason, to oppose thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers.
Note that what we should have is trust in science. This is not the same as faith, which is what Nova claimed I have. Faith is belief without evidence, while trust is acceptance of something based on what we have experienced before – ie what has worked and what has been right. In other words, trust of the scientific method is based on evidence that it works. Claiming that trust and faith are the same thing is the fallacy of equivocation that I have written about before. The fallacy is to use the same word in different meanings in an argument, implying that the word means the same each time. Implying that trust is the same as faith is actually the classic example I gave two years ago to explain the fallacy. Hilariously, Nova responded to this point with dictionary definitions of trust, that I think were supposed to show that trust can be defined in the same way as faith. But duh, that’s the point. They can be defined in the same way. But they can also be defined differently. And employing these ambiguous definitions s how they can be used to make a fallacious argument. Just because a dictionary gives definitions of the two words, and some of the definitions are similar, that doesn’t mean that trust in the scientific method is the same as faith. Nova even debunked her own point by writing “Planes don't fly on "trust". They fly on physics.” Yes. But I don’t need to understand the physics to get on a plane. I get on a plane because I trust that planes fly – and that trust is based on what we see in the real world (all those planes in the sky) not on faith.
Of course, trusting experts isn’t the same as Michael Egnor listing dead philosophers and scientists who he claims agreed with his views on Dualism. Science has moved on since the days of Galileo and Newton, and who knows what they might think now? It also isn’t the same as a certain commenter we all remember suggesting that since he studied plant breeding 30 years ago, his arguments on genetic engineering must be correct and everyone else’s wrong now. Those were fallacious appeals to authority because the people quoted were not necessarily experts. That would be the actual argument from authority fallacy.
It’s not intellectually lazy either to accept the majority peer reviewed science on a topic in which I’m not an expert. I don’t have any obligation to research and become an expert on every subject under the sun to determine whether to accept or reject a claim; I’ll study in detail only the subjects I feel an interest or a need to study, and no more. So sometimes I will rely on experts. Of course, relying on experts is weaker than understanding the evidence in detail, no one would deny that. And this would be a problem if I were writing a blog on global warming, or even writing posts on the details of global warming. But I’m not.
Nova replies that in that case, I shouldn’t refer to the AGW “Skeptics” as “deniers.” Again, I disagree. I refer to them as deniers because they also rely on denier tactics.
As I said, one reason I gave up with the global warming (so called) skeptics, was because of the denier tactics they clearly relied on. Here I think it would be useful to refer to Denialism Blog and their explanation of What is Denialism, because why reinvent the wheel? They talk about five general tactics used by denialists, namely:
I would add a sixth, namely continuing to repeat arguments long after they have been debunked. Climate denialists like Nova rely on many of these techniques, as I will show using this email exchange and her own web page.
Denialism Blog explains Selectivity (Cherry Picking):
Denialists tend to cite single papers supporting their idea
Bingo. Nova claimed AGW had been “falsified” by David Evans’s The Missing Greenhouse Signature paper (which is not a peer reviewed paper as far as I can tell, despite what Nova claimed). This paper starts with:
Each possible cause of global warming has a different pattern of where in the planet the warming occurs first and the most. The signature of an increased greenhouse effect is a hotspot about 10 km up in the atmosphere over the tropics.
Read the second sentence in that piece again. It’s presented as a fact that, if falsified, falsifies the whole of AGW. The problem is, as far as I can tell, it’s not true. For example, Tim Lambert writes:
This couldn't be more wrong. Study the graphs below (from RealClimate). The left one shows the pattern predicted for doubling CO2, while the right one shows the pattern for a 2% increase in solar output.
Both patterns include a hot spot. The difference between the two graphs is that the CO2 one shows cooling in the stratosphere, while the right one does not, so the "greenhouse signature" is stratospheric cooling. And guess what, that's what's been happening.
Then there is Chris Colose at Climate Change:
Tropospheric warming in the tropics is a signature of greenhouse warming, but it is more accurate to say that it is not a unique signature (i.e., you get this “hotspot” with all types of forcings).
Based on many recent papers, such as Tropical vertical temperature trends: A real discrepancy? by Thorne et al, Robust tropospheric warming revealed by iteratively homogenized radiosonde data, by Sherwood et al, and the recent Santer et al. paper, it is not obvious a real model-observation discrepancy exists, so to ignore these papers and the uncertainty in the data is not going to get Evans very far. Realclimate has a much more thorough discussion of those, and more papers on this topic here, Part 2, and Part 3
It looks to me as though experts disagree with Evans. Certainly few if any of them take seriously this unpublished and non peer reviewed essay. Of course, experts can be wrong, but clearly this paper does not “falsify” AGW as Nova claimed. The point is, Nova citing this paper as “showing that the theory has been falsified” is as clear an example of cherry picking as it is possible to make. The idea that the whole of AGW – thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers and evidence – is falsified by this one article on a web site, is just absurd. And a standard denialist / crank tactic.
In Denialism Blog’s section on Fake Experts, they state that:
[real] experts have experience in their field, and they can provide answers that are consistent with the state of knowledge in that field
…a fake expert is usually somebody who is relied upon for their credentials rather than any real experience in the field at issue, who will promote arguments that are inconsistent with the literature, aren't generally accepted by those who study the field in question, and/or whose theories aren't consistent with established epistemological requirements for scientific inquiry.
So who does Nova write about excitedly on her blog? John Theon, who was supposedly James Hansen’s supervisor at NASA but who now disagrees that global warming is man made. Of course we know that Theon wasn’t actually Hansen’s “boss”, and that he retired from NASA in 1994. Theon seems like the archetypal fake expert – someone with credentials but who hasn’t worked in the field for a long while – too long to be taken seriously over current experts to be sure. Nova adopts standard denialist tactics by writing about this as though it is meaningful, just as she also appeals to this list of 650 supposed experts who dispute AGW, although we know this list is padded with TV weathermen, economists, non-climate experts, and a number who are actually not AGW “skeptics” anyway. In fact 58% of the "experts" quoted have no credentials in climate research and only 16% have top-notch credentials. Also see another debunking of this list. Compare these 650 (really less than 100) "skeptics" with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) which has 50,000 members, most of whom really are earth scientists. Only a few dozen AGU members are on this latest denier list. Again, standard denier techniques from Nova.
Denialism Blog defines Impossible expectations (and moving goalposts) as “the use, by denialists, of the absence of complete and absolute knowledge of a subject to prevent implementation of sound policies, or acceptance of an idea or a theory.” And guess what, the example they give is of global warming deniers:
One finds that they harp endlessly about models, how much models suck, how you can't model anything, on and on and on. True, models are hard, anything designed to prognosticate such a large set of variables as those involved in climate is going to be highly complex, and I'll admit, I don't understand them worth a damn. Climate science in general is beyond me, and I read the papers in Science and Nature that come out, blink a few times, and then read the editors description to see why I should care. But with or without models, which I do trust the scientists and peer-reviewers involved to test adequately, that doesn't change the fact that actual measurement of global mean temperature is possible, and is showing an alarmingly steep increase post-industrialization.
I don’t need to add much to that, except to state that (unsurprisingly) Nova doesn’t believe climate models are empirical evidence.
Add the list of debunked AGW skeptic arguments that the AGW “skeptics” keep repeating, and you have quite a litany of denialism. Cherry picking one non peer reviewed and unpublished paper that few if any climate scientists take seriously and claiming in all seriousness that it falsifies the whole of AGW. Reporting on lists of “skeptics” as though this actually means anything. Claiming models aren’t science. Calling logical fallacies that aren’t while relying on them herself. After this exchange I’m even more convinced of the science behind AGW. I describe the AGW skeptics as deniers because they employ denier tactics. Employ denier tactics, you’re a denier.
Nova claims there is none. For those interested, here is some. The links are not direct to peer reviewed papers (although there are links in some of the articles to peer reviewed work). Obviously it’s not comprehensive. But it’s a good place to start and you certainly can’t claim there is “none.” Unless you’re a denier.
Coby on The Models are Unproven which includes a list of significant predictions of enhanced greenhouse gas warming that have been made and confirmed. Also How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic which also explains denier tactics.
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Note: the IPCC collates research published by scientists and institutions across the world – that’s thousands of peer reviewed climate science papers.
Scientific opinion on climate change – an article that documents scientific opinion as given by synthesis reports, scientific bodies of national or international standing, and surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Agreed it’s a Wikipedia page, but there are 90 links to follow.
February 18, 2009 – edited to add:
Joanne Nova just responded on her blog. I’m underwhelmed. If you want to read my reply, please scroll down to comment 105 below. (I’m sorry but links don’t work to comments on page 2 of TypePad blogs. I apologize – this has only been an open ticket with TypePad for a year or so with no resolution yet.)
Daniel at Unreasonable Faith has just published his list of the Top 30 Atheist/Agnostic/Skeptic Blogs which includes Skeptico. Thanks Daniel.
His top five are:
Pharyngula is on the top of my RSS feed and Friendly Atheist is there too, as are several of his other 25 (click the link for the full list). It's worth checking out some of the others if like me you haven’t read them all.
Religious people - explain that “code of conduct” thing for me again. You know, how the bible and the ten commandments is supposed to be:
the historical foundation of American law, moral values and code of conduct.
And then explain this:
A 24-year-old ski lift operator who fatally shot the general manager of the Eldora ski area was determined to kill co-workers who weren't Christian, according to court records obtained Thursday.
The documents, filed Wednesday in Boulder District Court, said witnesses told authorities that Derik Bonestroo walked into a building at work, fired a gun into the ceiling and said: "If you're not Christian, you're going to die."
Because from this story, it seems to me that this Christian “code of conduct” is pretty useless.
I’m not saying that most Christians or even many Christians would ever do such a thing. What I’m saying, is that being Christian, reading your bible, following God, clearly does not make you moral and is clearly not necessary as a “code of conduct” for us to follow. So, Christians, explain please exactly why I’m wrong here or stop banging on about how atheists are amoral. Please.
Hat tip to Atheist Revolution.
I just received an email advising me that “help is on the way,” with a link to Scott Teague’s Ten Commandment Awareness Walk’ to Washington, D.C.. Teague is apparently the founder of “The Ten Commandment Warriors,” ("warriors"?) and claims he is answering a call from God to make America aware of the ten commandments. Because, you know, there is so little awareness of these things right now.
My mission is to bring awareness to our great nation and to remind all that the Ten Commandments are the historical foundation of American law, moral values and code of conduct.
Well, perhaps Teague isn’t really that aware himself of what those ten commandments actually are. Only two – you shall not kill and you shall not steal – are actually laws in the US. You shall not bear false witness is only a law in the specific case of where an oath has been sworn. A “code of conduct”? We need to be told not to kill people?
Teague doesn’t care. He thinks the recession is punishment from God because we have turned our back on him, or something:
He believes the cause of the economic recession and other problems across the nation are a result of America turning its back on God and is claiming the scripture in II Chronicles 7:14 (If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land) as the solution. Teague says he is asking men and women everywhere to join him in prayer for America on March 4th.
Oh I see, they’re going to pray also. Well that’s a relief. For a minute I thought it was going to be a walk only – a purely symbolic act that would make people feel they’re doing something but ultimately would have absolutely no effect at all. But they’re going to pray as well. Phew! Good to know this Teague guy has fully thought this through.
The best bit was at the end:
Teague says he he has no doubt that God has blessed a drought stricken Johnson County with rain and snow recently because so many people have fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse. “It works at this level, and God can work at any level, and I believe he will.”
Wow, Teague has never heard of winter. I guess it’s not mentioned in the bible.
Skeptico is four years old today. Yes, I’ve been writing this blog for four years now. In previous years, I’ve marked the occasion with examples of how the people we met during the year might answer the age old chicken / road question. Here are those previous years’ versions:
February 2006 - Why did the chicken cross the road?
February 2007 - Why did the chicken re-cross the road?
February 2008 - Chicken, Road, Year Three
Some serious woo in those first three years. I wondered whether to continue with the tradition this year, wondered if it wasn’t getting a little tired, or if there was enough material. But then I read through some of the year’s posts and I decided that yes, there really was enough woo again this year for more chicken/road answers (including a late entry by Michael Egnor). And yet again, Deepak Chopra makes an appearance – the only person to be featured in all four years’ chicken/road celebrations. Choprawoo – the woo that truly keeps on giving. And the actual reason I started this blog and wrote my first post in 2005.
Now you’re all up to date, with no further ado, here are the chicken abusers we met last year.
Animal Liberation Front (ALF)
We’re going to firebomb anyone who works with chickens crossing roads.
Not for a chicken reason. But because people prayed for it. [Turns to aide.] (What? The chicken didn’t cross the road? Not even after we prayed?)
It was the vaccines! Has to be.
The answer is outside the realm of science.
If your name’s PZ Myers you aren’t allowed to watch the chicken crossing the road.
The Moses Code producers
What The Bleep and The Secret didn’t tell you but we will.
Chickens crossing roads leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany. It’s quite obvious really.
I’m serving you with a subpoena demanding all documents (including financial records) related to the chicken’s crossing of the road, all communications with anyone connected to the crossing roads issue, and all communications with anyone who blogs about poultry and/or pedestrian-highway access.
The aliens made it. We’ll have the proof soon. Really.
Here are some psychic kids. They’ll imagine some nonsensical reason and some dopey “professor of psychology” will validate it as real. I’m not a ratings whore. No, really.
A psychic said you’re abusing the chicken so we’re reporting you to the cops.
Were ‘time’ to physically exist, then, a simple experiment would have long ago proven it. That experiment would consist of two chickens. One of the two chickens would cross the road, while the other would wait on this side. Were ‘time’ to exist, then the two chickens, a few feet apart (one this side, and one on the “other side” of the road) would be affected at a similar rate by the surrounding-them same speed of ‘time’. As ‘time’ does not exist, but the physical process of change does, the first chicken that has “crossed the road” is on “the other side”, while the chicken that has not crossed would remain on this side indefinitely, for as long as that chicken does not cross the road.
It didn’t – it was all a camera trick.
To set up a Wiki for people uncritical of alternatives to chickens.
To drink some wheatgrass juice, dammit. I’m telling you it’s good for you. We CAN digest it.
Genetically engineered chickens, crossing roads, are causing the biggest-ever traffic disaster. I know because I’ve been to the Punjab. And western Australia. I have been there. Seen it. Roads full of chickens.
To pray for lower gas prices. [Turns to aide.] (What?)
Ancient Code producers
Forget The Moses Code, What The Bleep and The Secret. WE’LL tell you. No, really.
And where does a lot of that earmark money end up? It goes to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good - things like chicken research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
To pray for McCain to win the election. [Turns to aide.] (What?)
To get acupuncture for its battlefield injuries just like pirates with earrings.
We can’t allow chickens to be offended, so stories about chickens crossing roads will be outlawed.
We don’t know but we are going to make up some lame explanation and pretend we’re psychic.
It only pretended to cross the road to get away from the Wi-Fi that’s messing up its chakras. But chakras are only pretend anyway, so that’s OK.
To completely miss the point.
Unlike me, Steve Salerno has no discernible professional credentials in poultry studies, so how dare he say the chicken didn’t cross the road?
To get to
the Ossett and Batley area Batley.
I assert that the properties of crossing roads are not the properties of chickens and I assert that this is a problem for materialists. As proof, here is a list of dead philosophers who agree with me.
That’s it. On with year five. And I predict Chopra will feature there too.
I see Michael Egnor is writing more of his dualist drivel, in what was presumably supposed to be a rebuttal to Steven Novella. It is notable that in his latest piece, Egnor again fails to answer any of Novella’s actual points, but instead relies on more of the same fallacies of logic that he relied on before. I’m sure that Novella will have a detailed rebuttal to this “rebuttal” out soon, but Egnor’s arguments are so bad I couldn’t resist getting in a quick response first. Egnor’s main point seems to be that his invocation of dualism to explain the mind, purely on the basis that materialism cannot (yet) fully explain the mind, is not a dualism of the gaps argument. He starts with:
I must say that I’ve never understood the rhetorical force of the ‘God of the Gaps’ argument.
And this is the only point that I agree with - Egnor does not understand this argument. (Although I would dispute that it is rhetoric - it's actually logic. Strictly speaking, fallacious logic.) Egnor goes on to demonstrate his ignorance of what the God of the Gaps really is, with this:
The God of the Gaps sneer is invoked to imply the inexorability of materialism as a complete explanation in natural science.
No. You. Don’t. Understand. The. Argument. Not even close. Dualism of the Gaps means that if materialism cannot (yet) explain everything then dualism does not get to be the explanation by default. It really is that simple. For us to accept dualism you need to provide some evidence for dualism, and pointing out that not-dualism doesn’t yet explain everything is not evidence for dualism, it’s just evidence of our own lack of knowledge. And as Novella pointed out, you can’t justify a positive claim with a lack of knowledge.
Having completely misunderstood the argument from ignorance fallacy that he relies on, Egnor’s next argument relies on another logical fallacy – the one that in my experience non-materialists always come back to:
Dr. Novella responded recently to my post in which I clarified my views on the mind-brain problem. He accuses me of using a ‘Dualism of the Gaps’ argument. I’ve merely pointed out that the salient characteristics of the mind, such as intentionality, qualia, free will, incorrigibility, restricted access, continuity of self through time, and unity of consciousness (the ‘binding problem’) seem to be impossible to explain materialistically. Materialistic explanations for subjective mental states are not impossible merely because we lack experiments or evidence. Materialistic explanations for the mind are impossible within the framework of materialism itself, because mental properties are not physical properties. [My bold.]
Because mental properties are not physical properties? Because? This is where he’s going wrong. And I’m going to overkill this explanation in the hope that even Egnor might begin to understand. (And apologies to those who already get this point, but I’m going to spell this one out in detail, so hopefully anyone can understand it.) Here we go. This is Egnor’s conclusion: the mind is not caused by the physical brain, or (to put it another way) mental properties cannot be caused by material properties. That’s his conclusion. That’s what he wants us to accept – that mental properties are non-physical so dualism is necessary to explain the mental. OK so far? But he just said that materialistic explanations for the mind are impossible because mental properties are not physical properties. The “because” means that what follows is his premise. And the premise that follows (“mental properties are not physical properties”) is the same as his conclusion. The premise being the same as the conclusion is the definition of circular reasoning. He has just assumed his conclusion, namely that mental properties are not physical. But he does not know that mental properties are not physical. He provides no evidence for this. He just assumes it. It’s a purely circular argument. He does not and can not know that mental properties cannot arise from a physical brain.
The next bit is just pure assertion - he just asserts as if it were fact, what he wants you to accept:
Nothing about matter as understood in our current scientific paradigm invokes subjective mental experience. The essential qualities on the mind are immaterial. Invocation of immaterial causation that incorporates subjectivity seems necessary for a satisfactory explanation of the mind.
Yes, I'm sure that invocation of immaterial causation "seems necessary" to Egnor, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary.
Yet we know nothing — nothing — about how subjective experience could arise from matter alone.
And we also know nothing — nothing — about how subjective experience could arise from non-matter. The difference is that at least we know that matter exists. Where is Egnor’s evidence that his “immaterial causation” even exists, let alone is necessary to explain the mind?
Dr. Novella is wrong to attribute the inference to dualism to an argument from ignorance. The exact opposite is true. The reason that immaterial causation is invoked to explain the mind is because we know so much about the mind and about the brain, and it’s evident to most people (that is, people who aren’t dogmatic materialists) that the mind isn’t material. It isn’t an argument from ignorance. It’s an argument from deep knowledge — deep knowledge of the mind and of the brain. The invocation of immaterial causation for aspects of mental states is the result of our deep knowledge of the difference between mind and matter.
This is the bit that Egnor doesn’t get – Dualism of the Gaps is an argument from ignorance fallacy because we know nothing about the non-materialistic explanation that Egnor wants us to accept by default. It’s just a made up magic placeholder non-explanation that he thinks fits the gap of our current knowledge. It’s totally fallacious reasoning. On the other hand, the “Materialism of the Gaps” argument that Egnor is trying to make into a fallacy is not a fallacy because we know the material world exists. (Unless you’re an idealist or a solipsist.) It is a fallacy to insist that your explanation must include some unknown entity that you just made up; it is not a fallacy merely to exclude made up entities. Ironically Egnor then writes about the “deep knowledge of the mind and of the brain” – and yet he provides no knowledge about where minds comes from. None at all – just the undefined and un-measurable “immaterial” causation that Egnor thinks "seems necessary." But "seems necessary" is not the same as “deep knowledge.” His “deep knowledge” is really a lack of knowledge.
The materialist argument is essentially this: ‘materialism is the complete explanation for the mind, and if you ask questions, you’re a neuroscience denialist’.
Now Egnor presents the straw man materialist. No, the materialist argument is that materialism is currently the best explanation for the mind, and we have no reason to invent magic “immaterial” explanations.
It gets worse. Egnor goes on to claim that materialism is in trouble in the scientific world, and to support this he (drum roll) invokes quantum mechanics:
Quantum mechanics, in many of its interpretations, invokes an observer in order to collapse a waveform.
LOL – Woo Handbook #9. Actually really only one interpretation, not “many of its interpretations.” And even if the Copenhagen Interpretation is true and not just a metaphor to help scientists get their head around what is happening, it is well known that the “observer” could easily be just the equipment, not a human being. The need for a conscious observer is completely unfalsifiable, which is why it is not part of the scientific theory.
Egnor can’t resist closing references to some authority figures:
It's notable that many of the leading neuroscientists — Sherrington, Penfield, Eccles, Libet — were dualists. Dualism of some sort is the most reasonable scientific framework to apply to the mind-brain problem, because, unlike dogmatic materialism, it just follows the evidence.
Personally I’d be very interested in following the evidence for dualism. Unfortunately, Egnor didn’t provide any. Not a shred. Instead all we got was:
The 104th Skeptics’ Circle has just been posted at Space City Skeptics.
From Orac I just learned that creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has accepted the Golden Woo I awarded him three weeks ago. This is the first formal acceptance. In accepting his award, Egnor quoted my snippet of his words that I quoted as a justification for bestowing the honor:
There is no shared property yet identified by science through which brain matter can cause mental acts like altruism. Material substances have mass and energy. Ideas have purpose and judgment. There is no commonality.
And he followed with
So I win this materialist's "Golden Woo Award" because I assert that there are properties of the mind, such as purpose and judgement, that are not properties of matter. Furthermore, I assert that this is a problem for materialism.
Yes. And the problem is just that – Egnor just asserts these things; he presents no evidence for them. He also conveniently ignores Steven Novella’s rebuttal, that I also linked, that starts with:
[Egnor’s argument] is utter rubbish on many levels. Egnor’s basic point is that the material brain cannot cause mental activity, which is immaterial. But he does not establish that premise, he merely assumes it and his justification is nothing more than semantics. He then accuses material scientists of assuming that mental functions are brain functions, while essentially dismissing a huge chunk of modern neuroscience as “interesting” but irrelevant by falsely invoking the “correlation is not causation” argument.
First, he is treating mental function as a pure abstraction – but in so doing he is assuming his conclusion and therefore is making a tautological argument.
And in my experience, this is the fundamental flaw with virtually all the philosophical arguments around this supposed “hard” problem, namely that the proponents of dualism (such as Egnor) or idealism, just assume that mental functions cannot be physically caused. And so ultimately, all their arguments circle back to (you guessed it) mental functions cannot be physically caused. Seriously – I don’t think I’ve ever had a debate with one of these people without circular reasoning making its customary honored guest appearance at a crucial time. Egnor follows this with a hilarious list of arguments from authority figures from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle through Galileo, Newton and Einstein, all of whom, we are supposed to believe, agreed with Egnor.
Sadly, there is no monetary stipend to go with the award as Egnor imagined, but then he wouldn’t need it to buy me the copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy that he thinks I need for the simple reason that I already have a copy. And I have read it. And, just as with Egnor’s writing, it contains not a shred of evidence that the mind is caused by anything other than the brain. FAIL. Still, if he really wants to spend some money on a book that might explain some things that he is obviously confused about, I humbly suggest this one. It’s nearly a buck more that the philosophy book, but then you get what you pay for.
Yesterday, English woman Karen Matthews was jailed for eight years for faking the abduction of her nine year old daughter Shannon. Matthews had arranged for a relative to kidnap and hold the little girl prisoner, drugged and bound, so that later the relative could “find” the little girl and claim the £50,000 ($68,000) reward money they would both share. What a scumbag. And well deserved jail sentences for both of them.
But she wasn’t the only scumbag involved in this case. Enter so called psychic Joe Power (pictured right, with the mother), who gave a psychic reading to the mother and who now is claiming accuracy in his psychic predictions. The Paranormal Review is typical of the credulous reporting:
When psychic Joe Power gave a reading to the mother and stepfather of English schoolgirl Shannon Matthews, he made three statements that have since proved to be accurate.
Before I start to deconstruct in detail these so-called predictions, I should point out that the “psychic” missed what was without doubt the most important factor in this case, namely that the child’s abductor was sitting right in front of him! How anyone can report that this psychic was accurate or that he helped the police in any way, when he apparently couldn’t tell that the criminal responsible was sitting right opposite him, just beggars belief. In my view that should be enough for any rational person to ignore anything else this bozo has to say, ever, but apparently it’s not. In fact, Power is actually using this case as evidence that his psychic readings are genuine and that the police should consult him in future cases. Seriously. Here’s what he is now saying he got right:
Reporting the safe return of Shannon, The People (16 March) said he came up with vital clues “which could have led to her discovery”. It confirmed he had told the newspaper:
Shannon knew her abductor, who was a relative possibly named Michael or Paul.
She had sat on this man’s knee at a family funeral.
These are mostly generic playing the odds guesses. She “knew her abductor” is a reasonable statistical possibility. Even the names Michael or Paul are not that impressive – fairly common names. But from this report, we know that Power didn’t just give these names, he got them using a standard cold reading technique – ie he asked questions:
“I said to Karen, ‘Do you know a Mick or Michael?’
Paging John Edward to the house courtesy phone - an “M” name wants to talk to you. Of course, we don’t know how many other names Power guessed that were wrong. Or even if he really said “Mick or Michael”, or if he just guessed a series of letters and the mother or the stepfather jumped in to supply the missing name. Without this information the “Mick or Michael” would be useless even if these weren’t common names. In any case, we know this is just standard cold reading.
The next bit is my favorite. Or alternatively the sleaziest bit of rewriting history. You decide. It’s this:
An area named Batley is involved in her disappearance.
The child was eventually found in a flat in the town of Batley, and so this would look like a hit. The Batley connection was reported in numerous places, for example read this, dated March 16, 2008 - after the child was found. However, if you check reports such as this one dated March 9, 2008 – ie before the child was found, the story is less impressive:
[Joe Power] later identified the region as the Ossett and Batley area in West Yorks. "Shannon was taken there," he added. [My bold.]
See the map below (from Google maps) of the area. The family is reported to be from Dewsbury. I have marked Dewsbury on the map as well as both Ossett and Batley.
Clearly “the Ossett and Batley area” would include most of this section of map – approximately 3 to 4 miles square. So guessing this area is not especially impressive, and certainly of no use to the police (as Power claimed it would have been) who were already searching this area anyway. But apart from the obvious guessing the nearest towns gambit, notice how the “Ossett and Batley area” guess before the child was found, became “Batley” after the child was found in Batley. Nice. And if she had been found in Ossett, it would presumably have become "Ossett." Anywhere else on the map, and it would still have been a hit. But I'm sure Power didn't have access to Google so he must have obtained this information psychically. How else could he have done it?
There were numerous other guesses that Power wants you to forget about too. For example, this lot:
Joe Power claimed the spirit world told him that the girl got into a car near her school.
And he told Karen, 32: "The car had a baby seat and a brown cushion in the back, and a religious card hanging from the rear-view mirror."
He said it stopped near a church Shannon knew - and the driver used a Texaco garage.
Power, who has appeared on Living TV's Psychic Investigators and worked with police on the Sally Anne Bowman murder case, told Karen: "I can see a lay-by near farmland."
None of which was true, as far as I can tell. (Or is completely unverifiable anyway – eg “the driver used a Texaco garage.”) The abductor’s car is described as a “silver Peugeot” – no mention of a baby seat, which would have been unlikely for this man who lived alone with no children.
What we have here is a so called psychic sleazing his way into this unfortunate situation, applying his well honed cold reading techniques to an unsophisticated family, and making the usual vague guesses that can later be finessed and honed to agree with the actual circumstances. Vague “Ossett and Batley area” guesses become “Batley.” Wrong guesses are discarded, and are forgotten by the credulous media. Apparently no one cares the psychic missed the mother as the perp. The psychic uses the free publicity provided by a gullible press to further his own dishonest career. And we know this isn’t the first time that Joe Power has used free publicity in this way. He claimed to have contacted John Lennon's dead spirit. He claimed to have helped solve the Lynsey Quy Murder case, although clearly he did no such thing, as the police Detective Superintendent involved in the case made clear:
I wish to state, categorically, that as the Senior Investigating Officer on the Lyndsey Quy murder, I made a policy decision not to use psychics on the investigation. Joe Power has allegedly made claims that he assisted the enquiry but this is not the case."
It should go without saying that the little girl was found not from psychic impressions or profiles, but as a result of routine police work – a neighbor told police that a child’s footsteps had been heard in the flat of Shannon's captor, a man who lived alone with no children.
I'll say again, Joe Power had no idea the child's mother, to whom he gave a reading, was also the child's abductor. He had no idea. Joe Power is not psychic.
Bug Girl has just posted the First Skeptics’ Circle of 2009! Click the link for the best skeptical blogging of the year.
My favorite post from the Carnival of the Godless yesterday was What Must We Do To Be Saved? The writer has actually read the relevant sections of the Bible to try to discover what Jesus wants us to do so that we can be saved an eternity of hellfire torment from our loving God. Is it just to forgive others, as Jesus says in Matthew, or is it to be good, or not blaspheme, or keep the commandments (which ones?), or give all your money to the poor, or…? You get the idea. Jesus seems a little confused about what we have to do.
Anyway, an excellent example of how to examine the Bible rationally and demonstrate its contradictions. Worth bookmarking.
Both Orac and Mark Crislip have noted that proponents of Woo medicine deliberately blur the distinction between science based medicine and their Woo therapies. As Orac wrote, this is bait and switch. For example, Deepak Chopra will claim that advice on diet and exercise (which is based on science) is part of the “alternative” therapies he is promoting. That’s the bait. The switch is then to talk about Woo such as acupuncture or Qi Gong as though they were also proven therapies in the same way as improved diet and exercise are proven. As Crislip noted:
This is innocence by association. By branding normal or proven activities as alternative, it lends an aura of reputability to the unsupported nonsense.
A fine example of this bait and switch equivocation technique can be found in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article (also on Chopra’s Intent blog), by Chopra and friends – presumably in reply to the recent WSJ article by Steve Salerno. I think it’s worth deconstructing the dishonest way Chopra writes about both Woo and proven therapies in the same article, to imply they’re both proven.
He starts with:
This is a watershed in the evolution of integrative medicine, a holistic approach to health care that uses the best of conventional and alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal remedies. Many of these therapies are now scientifically documented to be not only medically effective but also cost effective. [My bold.]
Note that Woo (for example, acupuncture) is included. Also, that “many” of these therapies have been proven by science. But which ones? Chopra doesn’t tell us, but he wants you to think they all have. But to back this up, he will only talk about diet and lifestyle changes, because he’s still in “bait” mode and these are the only therapies that have been shown to work. Read how he does this:
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that these approaches may even change gene expression in hundreds of genes in only a few months. Genes associated with cancer, heart disease, and inflammation were downregulated or "turned off" whereas protective genes were upregulated or "turned on." A study published in The Lancet Oncology reported that these changes increase telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live. Even drugs have not been shown to do this.
Chopra’s first link was to a trial which consisted of the following:
A 3-month comprehensive lifestyle modification was prescribed (13, 14), comprising a 3-day intensive residential retreat, followed by an outpatient phase where participants were in weekly telephone contact with a study nurse. Lifestyle modifications included a low-fat (10% of calories from fat), wholefoods, plant-based diet, stress management 60 min per day (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation), moderate aerobic exercise (walking 30 min per day for 6 days per week), and a 1-h group support session per week.The diet was supplemented with soy(1dailyservingoftofu plus 58 g of a fortified soy protein powdered beverage), fish oil (3 g daily), vitamin E (100 units daily), selenium (200mgdaily), and vitamin C (2 g daily).
His second link was to a trial which consisted of the following:
Patients are placed on a comprehensive lifestyle change program comprising a low-fat vegan diet, stress management, moderate aerobic exercise, and regular participation in a support group for 3 months.
Note, alternative therapies such as acupuncture were not included in either of these studies – they were mainly about diet and exercise. But at least there were studies cited. With links. (If you read the blog, not the WSG.) Bait set.
Here’s the switch:
Chronic pain is one of the major sources of worker's compensation claims costs, yet studies show that it is often susceptible to acupuncture and Qi Gong. Herbs usually have far fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals.
The Woo (acupuncture and Qi Gong) is introduced. “Studies” are quoted. But no studies are linked. You are meant to think acupuncture and Qi Gong have been shown to work in the studies he wrote about before. But neither acupuncture nor Qi Gong had anything to do with those studies. Nor had any of the other drivel Chopra normally pontificates about. Chopra just reeled you in.
He then wraps everything together with some feel good benefits that you are supposed to think you will receive if you subscribe to Chopra’s therapies:
Joy, pleasure, and freedom are sustainable, deprivation and austerity are not. When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise, meditate and have more love in your life, then your brain receives more blood and oxygen, so you think more clearly, have more energy, need less sleep. Your brain may grow so many new neurons that it could get measurably bigger in only a few months. Your face gets more blood flow, so your skin glows more and wrinkles less. Your heart gets more blood flow, so you have more stamina and can even begin to reverse heart disease. Your sexual organs receive more blood flow, so you may become more potent -- similar to the way that circulation-increasing drugs like Viagra work. For many people, these are choices worth making -- not just to live longer, but also to live better.
I don’t know if a healthier diet etc actually means you will grow more neurons, or if Chopra is overreaching. And I don’t even want to think about Chopra becoming “more potent” as he claims. But I accept that a healthier diet, no smoking, exercise etc would be good for you. But this has nothing to do with the acupuncture or the Qi Gong that he also introduced in this article.
Funnily enough, I agree with the way he ends, although perhaps not in the way he intended:
It's time to move past the debate of alternative medicine versus traditional medicine, and to focus on what works, what doesn't, for whom, and under which circumstances.
Yes I agree, it is time to move beyond alternative medicine verses science based medicine, and to focus on what works. Because once something has been shown to work, it is no longer alternative. "Alternative" is just framing for "doesn't work." The trouble is, Chopra doesn’t want to exclude what doesn’t work. He wants to include it. He just won't be honest and say so.
Edit January 12
Orac posted today on this story. He notes that the two studies Chopra referred to were essentially the same study – the second one being a further analysis of the first. In addition they were of a highly select group of men and consisted of an extreme low fat diet that would be very hard for many people to maintain. His whole post is worth reading.
In June 2005 I wrote Detox diets don’t work, reporting on a BBC article that laid out fairly clearly that the body’s own natural systems get rid of toxins quite nicely thank you. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle is important, but beyond that, special “detox” kits and plans don’t really do much.
Okey dokey. So roll forward to today, we have the bad and the good. The bad: actress Gwyneth Paltrow informs the world (for reasons best known to herself) via a newsletter that she is going on another detox diet. The good: the BBC in timely manner writes Scientists dismiss 'detox myth'. (Thanks to reader Jimmy Blue for the link.) Whether Paltrow’s newsletters (which include bowel movement advice too, apparently), or her website (Goop.com) are valuable sources of information in general, I’ll leave you to decide. But she’s wrong about the detox. As the BBC article reported, the independent charitable trust Sense About Science (“promoting good science and evidence in public debates”) recently reviewed 15 detox products and found many of their claims were meaningless. Yeah, apparently vendors of detox products were using phrases that sounded scientific but didn’t actually mean anything. Sense About Science just launched its own detox leaflet Debunking Detox (.pdf). As they write:
The leaflet promotes the liver and kidneys as a fantastic ‘detox’ system and explains why there is no need to spend money on expensive products and treatments.
Our bodies have their own ‘detox’ mechanisms. The gut prevents bacteria and many toxins from entering the body. When harmful chemicals do enter the body, the liver acts as an extraordinary chemical factory, usually combining them with its own chemicals to make a water soluble compound that can be excreted by the kidneys. The body thus detoxifies itself. The body is re-hydrated with ordinary tap water. It is refreshed with a good night’s sleep.
These processes do not occur more effectively as a result of taking “detox” tablets, wearing “detox” socks, having a “detox” body wrap, eating Nettle Root extract, drinking herbal infusions or “oxygenated” water, following a special “detox” diet, or using any of the other products and rituals that are promoted. They waste money and sow confusion about how our bodies, nutrition and chemistry actually work.
Sense About Science is an excellent source on science v. woo and skepticism in general. Alternatively, Gwyneth Paltrow will tell you that bowel elimination is paramount for correct detoxification. I know which I'll be reading.
As several groups are apparently giving out awards, I decided I would start some of my own – The Golden Woo Awards for outstanding work in the promotion of Woo in the previous year. It’s a bit like the Golden Globes, only for, er, Woo.
Now, some of you might notice that the award titles look similar to Randi’s Pigasus Awards, with just the words “paranormal,” “occult” etc replaced with Woo, and might think I’ve just run out of ideas for posts and purloined Randi’s idea as my own. (Cough.) Clearly that isn’t true as I have at least one extra category that Randi doesn’t have. However, if you were to view this post as my Golden Globes in advance of Randi’s Oscars... then you could. Perhaps the great man might even read this and get some ideas for April 1st?
OK so here goes – the Golden Woos for 2008. I hope you’ll find them entertaining.
Michael Egnor for his tireless support of Intelligent Design Creationism, and especially his many recent assaults on materialism. For an example of the latter, see his article ‘Waiter, My Steak Isn’t Altruistic Enough!’. A snippet:
There is no shared property yet identified by science through which brain matter can cause mental acts like altruism. Material substances have mass and energy. Ideas have purpose and judgment. There is no commonality.
As Steven Novella wrote, this is utter rubbish on many levels.
Stanford University, for a clinical trial on Energy therapy: Where mysticism meets science. Ten years after Emily Rosa demonstrated that Therapeutic Touch practitioners can’t detect the energy field they claim to manipulate, people still want to study this nonsense.
Joint winners – the Haunting Reality TV program and the British Sunday Express newspaper. For not only making up stories about the abduction of Madeleine McCann, the four year old English girl who disappeared in Portugal in May 2007, and pretending these were obtained “psychically.” That would have been bad enough. But these clowns also produced a drawing of the man they say abducted the child, and reproduced it on the TV show and in the pages of the newspaper, apparently not caring that their made-up picture might get some totally innocent man into trouble.
This has to go to Deepak Chopra, for whom it should really be a lifetime award for achievement above and beyond. For an example, please read Leave the Sinking Ship: An Open Invitation to the Wall Street Journal to Get on Board for Integrative Health Reform – an entire article based around six logical fallacies, one unsupported claim and no discernable content. A snippet:
Over the last three decades, millions of Americans, and a dedicated group of physicians and practitioners have front-line, hands-on experience with integrative health care. Via concerted research and clinical practice, international scientists and practitioners, have progressively uncovered the root causes and the most effective treatments for health maintenance and restoration. This is science’s cutting edge.
Because we can all remember the “cutting edge” Woo that has found the root causes and cures for cancer, AIDS etc. Yeah.
In future years I will rename this award the “Chopra”, in honor of this year’s honoree, who will sadly be excluded from consideration in future. (Otherwise no one else would ever stand a chance.)
To the producers of Expelled, a movie complaining about how proponents of Intelligent Design are discriminated against and are being “Expelled” from their academic positions, who expelled PZ Myers from a theater where the movie was being shown, despite his having a valid ticket. Apparently “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” was not just the film’s title, it was its marketing strategy.
Again to the producers of Expelled and Ben Stein, for claiming that evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.
The mercury militia, for continuing to insist autism has to be something to do with vaccines despite the mounting weight of contrary studies. This award is given for the continued heroic moving of goalposts to include numerous ambiguous “toxins” as well as the “too many too soon” mantra in the face of more and more evidence that it’s not MMR and not Thimerosal.
A hard one to judge, since there were so many contenders. An almost infinite number, actually. But for sheer mean spiritedness I’m going to give the award to the proponents of Proposition 8 in California, who not only campaigned to remove the right to marry from gay people, but who even now are actively campaigning to have the gay marriages that were performed before the ban, retroactively disallowed. That takes a considerable amount of determined hate, of the sort that only religion can readily inspire, and for that they get the award. Numerous people were involved in this valuable work, but to keep it simple the award can be accepted by either Rick Warren or the Mormon Church.
That’s it. Perhaps I missed someone, in which case please nominate any special people I may have missed, in the comments.
The latest piece of Choprawoo is really bad. In fact, I find it hard to believe anyone who is a qualified MD could have written such a pile of drivel. Except then I remember it is by Deepak Chopra – the guy whose confident made-up nonsense inspired me to start Skeptico in February 2005. (Actually this latest article is attributed to “Deepak Chopra, MD Andrew Weil, MD and Rustum Roy, PhD” – but is on Chopra’s blog and the Huff Post under Chopra’s picture and name.) This latest piece is entitled Leave the Sinking Ship – where he implores the Wall Street Journal to abandon its recent foray into rationality, The Touch That Doesn't Heal – an article by Steve Salerno critical of unproven therapies of the type Chopra favors. But it’s clear from Chopra’s article that the sinking ship is really the one Chopra and his pals are traveling in. Chopra is bailing like crazy, because his boat is the one that’s full of leaks. [OK, enough with the leaking boat analogies.]
Chopra’s piece is just one logical fallacy after another. This is Chopra's article, summarized:
Add claims of “concerted research and clinical practice” that his woo works, without one shred of evidence that his woo works, and you have Chopra’s entire article. (He should employ me as his editor.)
Orac shredded Chopra’s piece in a slightly longer article (hard to believe, but true) than my summary, in a post entitled The woo-meister supreme returns, and he's brought his friends. An excellent piece that pretty much covers it all. Orac did leave me one small morsel to attack though. It was this:
A new integrative medicine system would marry the superb options of high tech emergency care, its brilliant surgical achievements, the tried and least harmful pharmaceuticals, by empowering and educating its citizens to maintain wellness and prevent disease, through improved nutrition, exercise, stress-management, and a wide range of other proven integrative approaches. Sadly, mainstream medicine largely ignores these viable health approaches. [My bold.]
“New”? For many years, I remember being asked by my doctor, whenever I visited:
“Mainstream medicine largely ignores these viable health approaches”? Bullshit. As Orac and others have pointed out, this is just a bait and switch – Chopra is appropriating science based modalities (such as nutrition and exercise), and claiming they are part of the woo he is promoting. Or as Mark Crislip writing today in Science Based Medicine, so brilliantly put it:
This is innocence by association. By branding normal or proven activities as alternative, it lends an aura of reputability to the unsupported nonsense.
“Innocence by association” – I’ll have to remember that.
From PZ I learned of more stupidity from a Republican Congressman. Yeah, hard to believe, but true. Rep. Mark Souder, in a recent interview,
claimed admitted that the highlight of his year was appearing in Expelled:
I personally believe that there is no issue more important to our society than intelligent design. I believe that if there wasn't a purpose in designing you — regardless of who you view the designer as being — then, from my perspective, you can't be fallen from that design. If you can't be fallen from that design, there's no point to evangelism.
First off, this is a critical thinking blog and so I am required by law to tell you this is an Appeal to Consequences logical fallacy – the truth (or otherwise) of something does not depend on the consequences of it being true (or not). If it did, Santa Claus must be real, or Christmas wouldn’t be so much fun. Of course, you knew that.
My legal duties taken care of, it struck me that, fallacious logic or not, Souder unintentionally spoke the truth there. As he said, “If you can't be fallen from that design, there's no point to evangelism.” Quite true. Unfortunately, Souder will probably not draw the obvious conclusion from his own words, namely there's no point to evangelism. But then, we know from Senator Mark Pryor that you don’t need to pass an IQ test to get into congress, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
A wireless internet network in the UK is being blamed for all sorts of illnesses, from headaches to pneumonia, according to the Telegraph newspaper:
…the residents of Glastonbury, which has long been a favoured destination for pilgrims, are at the centre of a bitter row in which many blame the town's new wireless computer network - known as wi-fi - for a spate of health problems.
Some healers even hold that electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) generated by the wi-fi system are responsible for upsetting positive energy fields of the body, which are known as chakras, and positive energy fields of the earth, which are known as ley lines.
Oh noes! Wi-Fi is messing up “ley lines” and “chakras” – things that are entirely imaginary! And how do they know? Because “some healers” think so. But wait, it’s not just the healers:
Meanwhile soothsayers, astrologers and other opponents of the wi-fi system have resorted to an alternative technology - known as "orgone" - to combat the alleged negative effects of the high-tech system.
Well if soothsayers and astrologers think it’s a problem then case closed. Well, almost. I would just like to hear where dowsers stand on this issue before I give my final verdict.
What to do about this? Fortunately, a local man who “campaigns against EMFs” has the solution:
Matt Todd, […] has started building small generators which he believes can neutralise the allegedly-harmful radiation using the principles of orgone science. The pyramid-like machines use quartz crystals, selenite (a clear form of the mineral gypsum), semi-precious lapis lazuli stones, gold leaf and copper coil to absorb and recycle the supposedly-negative energy.
That’s what I like about new agers today. They don’t just want to get rid of the negative energy, they want to recycle it. This is sustainable woo!
But what is this “orgone science” solution, exactly? The Skeptics’ Dictionary has a piece on Orgone Energy and its creator, Wilhelm Reich:
Reich claimed to have created a new science (orgonomy) and to have discovered other entities, such as bions, which to this day only orgonomists can detect. Bions are alleged vesicles of orgone energy which are neither living nor non-living, but transitional beings.
Reich died on November 3, 1957, in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he was sent for criminal contempt. The criminal charge was levied because Reich refused to obey an injunction against selling quack medical devices such as the Orgone Accumulator and orgone "shooters," devices which allegedly could collect and distribute orgone energy, thereby making possible the cure for just about any medical disorder except, perhaps, megalomania and self-delusion.
Also, read The Straight Dope’s What's the story on Wilhelm Reich and his orgone energy?
[Note: the above headline should really have been “Orgone Conclusion,” but Connie beat me to it.]
So there is there is no such thing as Orgone energy. You have an imaginary illness. Don’t worry, it can be cured by an imaginary therapy. Perfect. Good woo cancels out bad woo. Well, recycles it, anyway.
On a more serious note, there’s no good evidence that Wi-Fi networks like this can cause any of the illnesses suggested. On the contrary, there have been several studies that show supposed Wi-Fi sensitive people can’t even tell if there is a Wi-Fi signal present or not when tested double-blind. Which would tend to support the Nocebo hypothesis (a placebo in reverse – giving the appearance of harm rather than the appearance of good). Plus there is no known scientific reason why such illnesses should result from Wi-Fi, which is a relatively low power signal. TechSkeptic’s article on DECT scares, although written to cover a slightly different aspect of microwave scares, is a good primer on the general issues, and includes links to the double-blind studies I mentioned. You could also read the World Health Organization’s Electromagnetic fields and public health article.
Let’s get real. Quoting soothsayers and astrologers as authorities to support these claims is a bit like getting in a Feng Shui practitioner to tell us if a bridge is safe or not.
… for pyramidiots.
That’s the only conclusion a reasonable person could make.
Over two months ago I wrote Psychics Make Firm Predictions – about how some “TV psychics” had information about Madeleine McCann, the four year old English girl who disappeared in Portugal in May 2007. As I wrote back then, the information they came up with included:
They supposedly gave this information to the Portuguese police.
So far, nothing has come of this information. Although they gave the police the location of Madeleine’s body, no body has been discovered in this high profile case. There has been no report of searches of the apartment where the abductor supposedly stopped with Madeleine (and the actual address was given, remember).
I wrote two emails to the Express reporter, Mike Parker, who wrote the story I cited, requesting more information. Lacking an actual email address for him, I wrote to the general news desk email, asking it be forwarded to Mike Parker. My first email, sent Oct 26, was:
Regarding your story about the "psychic" pictures etc of Madeleine McCann's abductor:
You state in your report that the address of an apartment and the location of Madeleine's body have both been given to the local police. Can you tell me, have the police searched these locations? Clearly Madeleine's body hasn't been found otherwise we would have heard of it by now. Do you know why not? Didn't the police search the area given by the psychics? If they did, what do the psychics have to say to explain why the body wasn't found?
Also, could you please tell me who at the FBI told you that "all three members of the Haunting Evidence team have been used in major criminal investigations"?
I tried again on December 21:
In light of the continued lack of progress in finding Madeleine, and the parents' new video appeal issued today, I wonder if you had thought about my questions that I raised some eight weeks ago (see below). I understand that you have pressures to write a story, and that "psychic" stories sell copy, but don't you think it's time for another story following up on the psychics' success (or lack thereof) in locating Madeleine and/or her abductor?
I received no reply to either email. So we have a reporter, who wrote a fluff “psychics are real” piece, who isn’t interested in following up to see if his facts were correct, Sadly, no surprise.
Perhaps more significantly, I also tried to contact the TV so-called psychics. They have no published email address, so I used their contact page. My second message to them, also sent December 21, was:
In light of the continued lack of progress in finding Madeleine, and the parents' new video appeal issued today, I was reminded by the claims made in your TV program some months ago.
As I recall, you stated that that the address of an apartment and the location of Madeleine's body had both been given to the local police. Can you tell me, have the police searched these locations? Clearly Madeleine's body hasn't been found otherwise we would have heard of it by now. Do you know why not? Didn't the police search the area you gave them? If they did, how do you explain why the body wasn't found?
Of course I only received their canned “thank you for taking your time to submit comments…” reply. A message left on their forum on October 25 also went unanswered. And I wasn’t the only one asking for evidence that they had actually solved any crimes.
This is the blurb they have about themselves on their website:
Psychic profiler Carla Baron, medium John J. Oliver and paranormal investigator Patrick Burns take a terrifying descent into the heart of evil, as they see murders through the killer’s mind and the victim’s eyes.
These people make me sick. They make a living and get fame based on made-up claims of using Psi powers. When asked reasonable questions about why nothing came of their lame pretend-psychic drivel, they hide behind automatic reply emails. Their enabler in the mainstream press is no better. “TruTV” (sic) and The Daily Express should be ashamed of themselves.
Three liars, too scared to reply.
This Thursday we celebrate the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton, born December 25th, 1642 (old style calendar). Newton remains one of the true giants of science, having discovered that gravity affects celestial bodies according to the same laws that we observe on Earth. Newton’s equations are still used by NASA when sending vehicles into space. Of course, Newton was also religious, but he was a man of his time – a time before we knew about evolution, before man had shrunk the need for God as an explanation to just that of a “designer” who tinkers with DNA (according to Michael Behe, anyway). Perhaps if Newton had been born today he would have been less enamored of religion, just as he would almost certainly not have experimented with alchemy. Anyway, his religious beliefs in no way diminish his scientific achievements, and his birthday (Newtonmas) should be celebrated.
That’s all very well, but recently I’ve become aware of the war on Newtonmas (TWON). Apparently many Christians, not content with appropriating the Winter solstice celebrations that take place today (Happy Solstice to any pagans reading), and the celebrations and customs of other religions, now want to appropriate the Newtonmas holiday too. They are even calling TWON, “the war on Christmas.” How dumb is that? So I’m going to start with several posts that comment on this absurd “war.” Here goes…
To start us off, Ron Gold presents The "War On Christmas": Bill O'Reilly's Ill-Conceived Fight posted at The Invisible Pink Unicorn, arguing that if you're concerned with what greeting a store clerk gives you, then maybe you're really condemning the secularization of the commercialization of Christmas. Nice thinking.
Yvette presents O'Reilly: Holidays For Christians Only posted at Blue Linchpin. This is an open letter to O'Reilly containing some logical arguments. Ha – like he’d even recognize a logical argument. Worth a try, though.
Robert McCormick presents Good for Goodness sake posted at Relatively Science, where he tells us that the Bible (Jeremiah 10:1-5) outlaws the whole idea of a Christmas tree anyway. Huh – so the Bible’s against Christmas too? I guess I’d better post a picture of a Christmas tree, then. Here it is.
Vjack presents How Christians Have Secularized Christmas posted at Atheist Revolution, about how Christians are themselves responsible for the war on Christmas, and how they have the solution in their own hands (if they are willing to take it).
Vjack also presents Encouraging Children to Believe Falsehoods posted at Mississippi Atheists (he has two atheist blogs!?), asking if teaching our kids the Santa Claus myth undermines our credibility when we later try to teach them critical thinking. No Santa? That that really would be TWOC. What about Newton in a Santa hat? Would that be OK?
To round up TWOC posts, Procrustes presents State of Christmas posted at State of Protest. He concludes the State of Christmas is that the State should stay out of Christmas and all religious affairs. And that is really where TWOC should end.
There were some non-TWOC posts too. First off, H presents maybe god was only pro-life for daniel and isaiah (the guys, not the books) posted at ...And That's How You Live With A Curse, asking, if God is so against abortion, how come he calls so often for children – including unborn children - to be killed? I think we should be told. (Backed up with Bible quotes.) Wow. I guess God needs a hug. Perhaps he’ll get one if I post some mistletoe.
Adrian Hayter presents Crackergate Continues: FSMdude Interrogated posted at The Atheist Blogger. Apparently "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is optional for some Christians. Somebody called the cops on a kid who had posted YouTube videos of magic crackers being desecrated, alleging the kid had a gun and was planning a murder spree. Nice.
Regular Skeptico commenter (and fierce debater) Tom Foss presents On Suffering and Sacrifice posted at Dubito Ergo Sum, asking Christians, if you could go back in time and successfully rescue Jesus from the crucifixion, would you do it? The way some believers answer that question is… interesting.
Greta Christina presents two posts on what is it like being an atheist in the LGBT community compared with being LGBT in the atheist community. Part one is Being an Atheist in the Queer Community, and part two (on what she thinks we should do about it) is How To Be An Ally with Atheists, posted at Greta Christina's Blog. Greta’s posts are always insightful, and these are no exception.
Yvette presents A World Without Gods posted at Blue Linchpin, asking if atheists should really be working on changing minds through logic and reason, or would a better strategy be to reach out to theists in other ways?
Arensb presents Foxholes and Shoe Leather posted at Epsilon Clue. He tackles the old "no atheists in foxholes" myth, and argues that even if it were true, it’s only because people resort to desperate measures in desperate times. It doesn’t mean those desperate measures are effective.
Transplanted Lawyer presents Invoke Rule Eleven On The Thomas More Law Center posted at Not A Potted Plant, about how the Thomas More Law Center is wrong on all counts regarding the Muslim-bashing lawsuit they filed alleging America is a Christian Nation.
I hope you like the picture of the holly – another image the Christians appropriated. Btw, don’t do what I did and Google images of “holly.” Funnily enough, if you do that you don’t get many pictures of holly, just lots of skimpily clad women. You have to Google “Christmas Holly”, which proves the war on Christmas has failed, if you ask me. (And I know you all just Googled images of “holly” anyway. Santa can see you, you know.)
While we’re on the subject, Ron Britton presents Stop the (re)Presses! posted at Bay of Fundie, describing how some fundies have become outraged at Victoria's Secret store displays. BoF's posts are usually amusing, and this one is no exception.
Steve Snyder (SocraticGadfly) presents Obama sellout NO. 344 - Rick Warren at inaugural posted at SocraticGadfly. A short post on why we might as well throw politics under the bus and get Jeremiah Wright in the mix, too.
I even sneaked in a quick post of my own on why Rick Warren Is Wrong.
Finally, Chris Hallquist presents David Aikman's _The Delusion of Disbelief_ posted at The Uncredible Hallq – his latest entry in a longer series critiquing the critics of Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris.
That’s it for this edition of the COTG. So kick back on Thursday and raise a glass to Sir Isaac. And remember, Newton was actually born on December 25th, unlike, er, that other guy whose birthday is also celebrated by many the same day. Of course, celebrating Newtonmas doesn’t mean you can’t also celebrate Christmas if you want (or Hanukkah, or anything else for that matter). Santa, trees, presents, turkey etc are not restricted to Christians, so celebrate the day any way you want. And ho ho ho.
The next edition of COTG will be in three weeks time on January 11th, 2009, at CyberLizard's Collection. Please submit all entries using the GOTG submission form - that way, the host receives your entries via email as nicely ready-formatted html.
And I believe Brent is looking for hosts. Hosting the carnival is a great way to raise the profile of your blog. Check out the Carnival of the Godless page for guidelines and for contact information for hosting requests.
A wrong choice for Obama to be a major figure in his inauguration, but also wrong in general.
I know that Obama’s big deal is supposedly inclusiveness – to include all in his cabinet and the decision making, even those who may disagree with him. Well OK, including some people who may disagree with you, and who won’t be afraid to stand up to you, can be a good thing. We could have done with some of that over the past eight years. But having someone who disagrees with you is one thing. It is OK to disagree at times. What is not OK is to include someone who is just plain wrong.
Warren is wrong on so many things. Many people have pointed out that he is wrong on Proposition 8, and everything to do with the treatment of gay people. But then Obama has also said he’s against gay people being allowed to marry, so perhaps Obama agrees with Warren on this topic, on some level at least. So it’s not this thing that surprises me so much about this pick. It disappoints me considerably, but it doesn’t totally surprise me. What I do find incomprehensible though, for a President-Elect who has promised to reinstate the importance of science in his administration, is that he will give so much prominence to an evolution denier.
For example, this is Warren during a debate with Sam Harris:
If you're asking me do I believe in evolution, the answer is no, I don't. I believe that God, at a moment, created man. I do believe Genesis is literal, but I do also know metaphorical terms are used. Did God come down and blow in man's nose? If you believe in God, you don't have a problem accepting miracles. So if God wants to do it that way, it's fine with me.
Warren’s ignorance of science most likely informs his other positions on gay rights, stem cell research and women's rights. Such a man should not have any place in Obama’s inauguration. Inclusiveness is OK, wrong is just wrong at any time.
The 102nd Skeptics’ Circle has just been posted at Bing’s place, cunningly disguised as a transcript of a meeting between Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (RB) and Bing McGhandi (BM), Director, Department of Evil.
Poe's Law states that a good parody of religious fundamentalism is hard to tell from the real thing. I’m starting to think there is a similar law that applies to alternative medicine. For example, read the two pieces I’ve quoted below and see if you can guess (no cheating!) which one you think is of the
real claimed to be real healing modality, and which is the parody. They are both similar in that they propose healing techniques that are applied to a doll, rather than to the actual person under treatment. It’s a bit like voodoo – you treat the doll not the person. Except I think voodoo spells are supposed to make the person ill, while this is supposed to make the person better.
Here they are. I have changed the names of the two therapies to example 1 and example 2. Here’s the first:
In a typical therapy session, the [example 1] practitioner uses a small human anatomical model as an energetic representation of the patient, tapping on targeted points on the model with a lightweight magnetic hammer. The practitioner directs chi to blockage points corresponding to the patient's condition, breaking down resistance at these points. As blood flow, neural transmission, and hormone reception are restored, the body is then able to heal.
And the distance between the patient and the therapist makes no difference. The patient and therapist connect when they are on the phone together, in the same room together, on the same planet together, or on different planets together. The togetherness is the constant, because we are all “connected” by an invisible energy field in our universe. We are all swimming in this energy field together. Quantum physics simply calls distance healing a “non-local event.”
And the second:
The principle of [example 2] healing is simple. As 'like affects like', an appropriately manufactured and treated wax doll or cloth puppet may substitute for the patient, and manipulations performed on the doll substitute for those performed on the patient. Techniques of visualisation and channelling of healing are easy to learn, and it is possible to combine [example 2] with 'conventional' or allopathic medicine simply by administering the medicine to the doll rather than to the patient.
The image may be identified with its subject by the embedding of ousia - items connected with the subject such as a hair or nail clipping, or even a blood sample. This greatly enhances the therapeutic effects of [example 2] procedures, and in particular allows the practice of [example 2] at considerable distances from the patient, even over the telephone or the Internet.
Well? Personally I find it hard to believe they aren’t both parodies. In fact, example 2 is from the The British Veterinary Voodoo Society – a spoof site started by some veterinarians in the UK who were incensed that the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) sanctions treatment of sick animals with homeopathy. The joke is that if you think homeopathy works, you might as well try voodoo. I wrote about The British Veterinary Voodoo Society before.
However, example1 is a therapy that its proponents seriously claim to be real – Tong Ren. Click that link if you must but be warned – the stupid on that site will kill your brain cells.
I don’t need to write any more on this because fortunately Orac already delved into this in much more detail that I would have had the patience for, and this morning posted Tong Ren: An unholy union of acupuncture and voodoo. I have to say, after reading the first part of Orac’s post, I got the feeling the Tong Ren site was a parody, and I clicked over there convinced that Orac had been fooled into debunking a spoof site. After a while though, I decided it was genuine, incredible though that is. I guess we do need a Poe’s Law for SCAM.
Back to this again.
I’ve written before about Provenance – how most scientific discoveries didn’t just appear fully formed, but were derived from earlier experimentation. As an example, I described how the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz was based on earlier discoveries of electricity and magnetism, made by Newton, Young, Huygens, Faraday, Maxwell and others. The fact that the discovery of radio waves was based on other discoveries, each backed by substantial amounts of evidence, meant that the discovery of radio waves was not such an extraordinary claim when it was first made.
In a similar vein, nearly four years ago I issued The Astrology Challenge – I asked proponents of astrology to tell me how the rules of astrology were derived. As examples, I described how Galileo knew that the planets orbit the Sun and not the Earth, and how we first calculated the speed of light. As I wrote then, if no one can say how the rules of astrology were derived, in the same way we can describe how the speed of light was derived, then the rules of astrology were probably just made up. And any hypothesis that was just made up, is unlikely to be true. No one has yet been able to tell me (showing their work) how the rules of astrology were derived.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a reader, purporting to tell me just that. Unfortunately he did no such thing. Instead it was just 1,200 words consisting of the usual logical fallacies we’ve all heard and refuted many times before. I won’t bother to repeat them. He did have one thing I hadn’t heard before though. It was this:
… on the night of February 17, 1869, the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev went to bed frustrated by a puzzle he had been playing with for years; how the atomic weights of the chemical elements could be grouped in some meaningful way and one that, with any luck, would open a window onto the hidden structure of nature. He dreamed, as he later recalled, of "a table where all the elements fell into place as required." His intuition that when the elements were listed in order of weight, their properties repeated in regular intervals, gave rise to the Periodic Table of the Elements which, though much revised since, underlies modern chemistry.
If Dmitri Mendeleyev were an astrologer instead of a chemist trying to figure out the meaning of heavenly movements and had a dream about the meanings of the zodiac and the planets along with their meanings could you accept that, like you accept his dream about the periodic table of elements?
My emailer was likening the discovery of the periodic table to the discovery of the rules of astrology. If Mendeleyev could literally dream up the periodic table, then why couldn’t ancient man have dreamed up astrology?
There are a couple of fundamental problems with this interpretation. Firstly, the emailer’s (copy and pasted) paragraph actually debunks the argument he is trying to make. The important wording, that he didn’t notice, is that Dmitri Mendeleyev went to bed:
…frustrated by a puzzle he had been playing with for years…
He didn’t just dream up the periodic table out of whole cloth. There was already a problem he was trying to solve, namely to classify the elements according to their chemical properties. And he finally solved the problem. Most likely after a good night's sleep, rather than in a dream. But whether he literally dreamed it, or whether he just had the answer in the morning, is immaterial. He had been puzzling over a problem, and eventually found a solution. Where is the original problem the inventors of astrology were trying to solve? And where can I read about it?
Secondly, Mendeleyev’s periodic table made several predictions that later proved to be true. For example:
…not only did he leave spaces for elements that were not yet discovered but he predicted properties of five of these elements and their compounds.
The missing elements were later proven to exist, exactly as Mendeleyev had predicted. Contrast that with astrology where not only was there was no problem to be solved, but the predictions of astrology proved false when tested. It’s great to “dream up” wild ideas, but unless they can be confirmed by testing, they
will should remain just dreams. Where can I read of how the early astrologers’ predictions came true?
One more thing - the “dream” story is probably a myth anyway. From the same source I cited above:
There were two main problems about establishing a pattern for the elements. First only 60 elements had been discovered (we now know of over 100) and second some of the information about the 60 was wrong. It was if Mendeleev was doing a jigsaw with one third of the pieces missing, and other pieces bent!
Mendeleev had written the properties of elements on pieces of card and tradition has it that after organising the cards while playing patience he suddenly realised that by arranging the element cards in order of increasing atomic weight that certain types of element regularly occurred. For example a reactive non-metal was directly followed by a very reactive light metal, then a less reactive light metal. The image of a stamp collectors’ miniature sheet shows a stamp commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Periodic Table superimposed on some of Mendeleev’s original jottings.
Right there, we have an example of the sort of thing I’m looking for with astrology. It turns out my emailer’s attempt to answer my question (strictly speaking, to render it moot), actually proved to be yet another example of how real scientific discoveries are derived.
So again, I’ll ask the proponents of astrology, show me how the detailed rules were derived. And I mean show me, with evidence, with the data they used, how they calculated it, how they validated it. Don’t just say (as this emailer also said), that astrology was first conceived when highly intuitive individuals saw a correlation between heavenly movements in the cosmos to their relations here on earth… (etc etc). Tell me where can I read the details of how they did this? The details of the testing. Where are they?
This thing was a nightmare to figure out.
A reader emailed me worried that perhaps a specific wireless technology called DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) in a baby monitor might be dangerous to his baby. It seemed to me that this was probably bogus, but that the question was more TechSkeptic’s area, so I emailed him the question. He replied with a detailed post - DECT scares. His conclusion:
If you arent worried about your TV, or sleeping near your cell phone, or having heated sheets or leaving your computer on, then you really shouldn't worry about the effects of a DECT phone. There is simply no mechanism by which it can bother you, and better than that, there is really no evidence that the actual tiny emmissions from any radio device actually affects anyone, mechanism or not.
But you should read the full article. It includes easy to follow explanations of, for example, microwave radiation, and why microwaves from a DECT device will not cook you although a microwave oven does cook food. (Hint: the cooking is not due to the effects of ionizing radiation.)
When anyone starts talking about radiation and radio wave scares, electro-sensitivity or anything similar, the DECT scares post would be a good place to refer them.
TechSkeptic sent me this article that I find it hard to believe isn’t from The Onion - Military tries 'battlefield' acupuncture to ease pain:
The technique is proving so successful that the Air Force will begin teaching "battlefield acupuncture" early next year to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, senior officials will announce tomorrow.
Using tiny needles that barely penetrate the skin of a patient's ear, Air Force doctors here say they can interrupt pain signals going to the brain.
Their experience over several years indicates the technique developed by Col. Richard Niemtzow, an Air Force physician, can relieve even unbearable pain for days at a time.
And I thought this cartoon was a joke.
Perhaps it was. But it’s not anymore. This military doctor is apparently claiming he can interrupt pain signals going to the brain for days at a time. And he is relying on "experience over several years" - presumably because actual studies suggest that acupuncture is nothing more than a highly elaborate placebo. For example:
Our troops deserve better. For example, only treatments that have been shown to work.
[Note: cartoon from DC's IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page.]
Dec 15 - Edited to add:
Two more blog posts today from Orac and Novella:
My favorite post from yesterday’s COTG is undoubtedly The Resurrection ! - Adapted For The Stage. It’s the supposed rough drafts of, well, the resurrection of Jesus, adapted for the stage. The different drafts represent the different versions of the resurrection myth, depending on which gospel you are reading, and shows the author’s difficulties in arriving at a consistent story that agrees with all the different versions found in the Bible. It’s very well done. I really can’t quote any of it – you have to read it all to get the full benefit. The first part (based on Matthew) might seem a little slow, but as you read on to the second part and beyond, you’ll see the point.
It’s one of those posts that makes me say, “I wish I’d thought of that.”
The Holiday Feast Edition of the Carnival of the Godless has just been posted at An Apostate’s Chapel. Plenty of food for thought there, as the host says.
As a side note, I’ll be hosting in two weeks time on December 21. Please send me your posts for inclusion by end of day, Friday December 19. Also, Brent is looking for hosts. With over 1,000 atheist blogs, there most be a few who would like to host a COTG. It’s great publicity for your blog. See the COTG scheduling page for Brent’s contact details.
The Skeptics' Circle has been posted at Ionian Enchantment - promoting African skepticism "because the continent, you see, needs skepticism." Here here.
From Orac today I learnt of the latest attempt by the religious to claim the entitlement they clearly believe is their birthright, namely to prevent anyone from criticizing their delusions. Apparently the United Nations has just backed an anti-blasphemy measure proposed by Islamic countries. Although this is currently only advisory to other UN members, the religious nuts clearly won’t stop there unless they absolutely have to. This is an issue of free speech – no one has a right to never be offended. Orac has a good expose of the dangers with this, and there’s no need for me to repeat the arguments here. Check out Orac’s post Anti-blasphemy = anti-free speech for the details.
I wanted to comment on one point though – fallacious logic from the Dutch government. Apparently the Dutch may scrap the current legal ban they have on blasphemy, effectively expanding hate speech to include it. The bit that caught my eye was the flawed justification for it:
The statement said there was no difference between insults aimed against people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or handicap.
No no no no wrong wrong wrong. (Sigh.) We’ve been through this before. The argument is a false analogy. It’s quiet simple really. Race, handicap, sexual orientation are things that people ARE. Religious beliefs are IDEAS. They are not analogs. They are different things altogether. You should not criticize people because of their race, sexual orientation etc because these things can not be right or wrong, they just are. And we are all human beings, we should not be criticized for being black, being gay, whatever. But an idea (such as believing in the tenets of a religion) can be right or wrong. (Usually wrong, actually, in the case of religion, although that is besides the point with respect to the logic.) It’s really discouraging that the government of such a modern democracy apparently relies on such piss poor logic.
And look at the argument – it is nothing more than an argument by analogy – almost always fallacious. Here is their argument. It goes something like this:
You’ll notice, no actual evidence facts or logic are offered to show that criticizing religion is, actually, bad. And as I wrote before, when someone argues by analogy, you can be pretty sure it’s because they don’t have any facts, evidence or logic to support their position. Because if they had any facts, evidence or logic they would presumably present it. Now maybe someone can come up with a reason we shouldn’t criticize religion. I can’t think of a valid reason off hand, but perhaps there is one somewhere. But one thing is for sure, saying it’s just like racism isn’t it.
All ideas should be open to criticism. But no ideas should be subject to criticism more than religious ideas – they’re the ideas, out of all the ideas out there, not backed by evidence and in many cases clearly contradicted by the evidence. Which is of course why they want to ban criticism – because they know their delusions won’t stand up to investigation.
The Date: Pre-historic times – tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Ug and Og are sitting around the campfire. They had recently discovered fire. “Fire good” they said. Well, that’s what they would have said if they had invented language yet, but their language was still little more than a few grunts. (Hence the names.) Or perhaps it had developed to something more complex. (Some think it had by then.) They certainly had big brains, just like modern homo sapiens, even if they didn’t have our knowledge. So they were curious about things. And they wondered why things happened. For example, they wondered why the Sun crossed the sky each day, what caused it to rain, what caused the thunder and lightning, why it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. They couldn’t explain those things, but possibly someone, sometime, invented the idea of a God or Gods who magically made them happen. And lacking another explanation, they believed that these things were caused by God. “God mad”, grunted Og, as the thunder rolled in again. “Ug” grunted Ug in agreement. It probably seemed like a good explanation at the time.
In ancient times, God used to be really powerful. Or at least, his presence was required to explain virtually everything that happened in the world. For example, the ancient Greeks believed that the God Apollo [edited to add: or possibly Helios] pulled the Sun across the sky every day in a flying horse-drawn chariot, and other cultures believed similar things about their gods. Each morning at dawn, God rose in the east, rode his chariot pulling the Sun through the sky to the west, to return during the night when the Sun showed only its dark side. Or so it was believed.
Similarly, ancient man wanted an explanation for thunder and lightning. Of course, knowing nothing about electricity, he decided that the most likely explanation was that lightning bolts of fire were being thrown by Thor. Something like that, anyway.
In medieval times no one knew what kept the planets moving in their orbits. Many thought that each planet had an angel to push it on its journey. Even Newton thought this might have been the case. Of course, Newton refused to include supernatural explanations in his laws of gravitation, and because of that we can use these laws even now to send probes to land safely on Mars (most of the time). Since “God” was not included in the explanation, man was free to look for other explanations for the formations of stars and planets and their orbits.
In recent years, “cdesign proponentsists” wrote that organisms such as the bacterial flagellum were "irreducibly complex" and could not possibly have arisen through unguided evolutionary processes alone. Despite this claim, we know that irreducibly complex organisms can evolve. “God” is not needed – even to produce irreducibly complex organisms.
The creationists haven’t given up though. Some argue that although micro evolution (small changes within species) happens, macro evolution (evolution to another species) can not. God is clearly needed to add the additional information to the DNA to accomplish the development of each new species. And Michael Behe, in his recent book “The Edge of Evolution”, gets into even more detail – he now writes that protein-protein binding sites couldn’t have developed by natural means, and therefore now this is what God does.
And that’s what it’s come to. God used to be responsible for moving the Sun across the sky each day. If God didn’t get out of bed and make this happen, there would be no Sun. Now, God is reduced to tinkering with bits of DNA. You can picture God in his workshop. All around him, clouds of gas are collapsing in upon themselves due to the force of gravity until hydrogen begins to fuse and stars are formed. Occasionally one of these stars will go supernova, creating the heavier elements. Over millions of years, some of this matter will clump together under gravity to form planets. And so on. Then, after a few billion years, God comes along and thinks, “Hey, I’d better create some protein-protein binding sites stat or this whole process will come to a grinding halt,” and gets to work. Pretty demeaning for him. (Although at least he doesn’t have to get out of bed every day to drive that damn chariot. That was a real chore.)
Seems a little sad for the God believers though. Their God, once so big, has shrunk to something so small. And what if someone comes along later and discovers that God isn’t even needed for protein-protein binding? (Oops – someone already did.)
The Intelligent Design/God of the Gaps approach is a dead end. If early man had taken Behe’s attitude we’d still believe God caused the Sun to rise and set, threw thunderbolts, etc. and we wouldn’t understand anything. Fortunately, not everyone settled for God of the Gaps explanations, and so we do know better. But why should anyone think Goddidit would be a good explanation now, when it’s been consistently wrong and singularly useless every time it has been evoked since the dawn of time?