Monday, August 31, 2009

It Was Only a Matter of Time...

The only way you could not know about the recent story about Jaycee Dugard being found after eighteen years of being held captive and being sexually molested by her kidnapper - including giving birth to two daughters.


It was only a matter of time before a self-proclaimed psychic would stand up and take credit for finding her. And that psychic was Dayle Schear of Reno Nevada. There is precisely NOWHERE that Schear has made available evidence of her claims. Everything that is being reported is both vague, general and after the fact. Even on her own home page - where she could have unfettered opportunity to make specific claims - even after the fact. (Though the veracity of that would, I guarantee, come under legitimate fire.

What does exist on her home page is a link to the exact page I have linked above... except it is a link to a PDF of a screen-capture. Why would she not link to the actual page? It would be far easier to put a link rather than create what is in effect a whole new page.

Well the answer is too simple. The comments stream on the original news story VERY quickly get to the root of her failure. The criticisms are spot-on. Schear herself has added a response to the comment stream and it reads as nothing but sour grapes:

WHAT I DID ON JAYCEE'S CASE WAS FROM MY ABILITY AND FROM MY HEART. I AM STILL IN TOUCH WITH THE FAMILY THE SKEPTIC SOCIETY WITH THERE COMENTS ARE AT IT AGAIN.
REALLY READ WHAT HE WRITES THIS MAN IS SICK VERY SICK PREDICT WHEN SHE WILL BE ABDUCTED YEAH IM NOT GOD ONLY GOD KNOWS WHY.
Geez Dayle, ever hear of sentence structure? And why ALL CAPS? Just a wee bit defensive, aren't we? Or is that because you know you are full of shit? The lady doth protest too much.

Let's be clear here - psychics did squat for Jaycee. The two heroes of the day were a pair of attentive police officers who are willing to admit that they were picking up on subtle cues from Jaycee's daughters and their creepy captor/rapist/father ...in other words good perceptive police work.


Let's take a look at some of the vague claims that Schear is making:


"But Jaycee's case always stuck out in her mind."

So you say Dayle, so you say. If you can provide evidence of that, then we can talk. Say, for example, all those journals you made while you were sitting up at night thinking about his poor girl. All the overwrought hand-wringing you went through as you sat there not coming up with psychic information that could set her free.

"I looked her in the eyes and I said please do not give up on this child...eventually she'll walk through the door, you're going to see her again."

For starters, when Terry Probyn, Jaycee's mother, confirms this then we can take it seriously, but for now it is nothing but the claim of the person making the initial claim - no evidence whatsoever.

But let's say we take Dayle at her word for a moment...

Okay... how many other times has she said similar things to parents unfortunate and desperate enough to consult with her? How many of those kids have been returned? How many have come back dead? This is cherry-picking of the grossest degree. It is despicable. Schear is trying to claim success and piggy-back her reputation on this tragedy-turned-nominal-triumph. Her ilk - including Sylvia Browne and John Edward - disgust me, leveraging tragedy into profit. You are no better than Phillip and Nancy Garrido, Jaycee's captors, themselves.


"I described general area...."


Obviously it was pretty fucking general - to the point of being useless. So general that it could have been practically any neighbourhood, 'cause if she described it with any real specificity they would have found Jaycee eighteen years ago! Jaycee thanks you for all your help Dayle - eighteen years of rape was a delight.


"...and how she was being held I said it was sexual..."


As to being sexual in nature - the number of times cases like this aren't sexual is extremely nominal. The chances that it was sexual was almost a certainty. This is a very high probability hit. Gee you really went out on a limb there - assuming you even said it before this past week in the first place.


"I knew she was being held at force and she could not get to a phone to call."


Genius. Dayle Schear, you are a complete twat. Not only because of how you prey upon the desperate, but because you actually think you can get away with this bullshit. This is such a weak claim it's insulting. This goes beyond the concept of high probability hit into the territory of bloody fucking obvious. You aren't just a scam-artist you are treating me and everyone else listening to the garbage coming from your mouth like we are idiots, so why should I treat you with any respect whatsoever you - I repeat - twat.

If Jaycee was alive at all she would have been being held by force and not given opportunity to get to a phone. The Garridos were creeps - they weren't idiots either. ...Twat.


Again looking at high probability hits, Schear predicts:

"...that Jaycee will pull out of this with guidance and counseling, and will become a spokesperson to help others."


Yeah, so? This story is only going to go one of two ways. Either Jaycee is going to never psychologically recover - in which case she will pretty much fade into memory and end up doing something ignominious and un-news-worthy like dying of an overdose a decade from now - in which case no one will notice Schear's failure to get it right; or she will do as 'predicted' and will have a profile the likes of which Schear can tout as a viable accurate prediction.


Mark my words. That is precisely what will happen. But let's be clear - I am making the exact same prediction - using no psychic powers, merely logic and a willingness to put down a bet on a likely result.


It's wonderful that Jaycee Dugard has been found alive. It was only a matter of time before the Garridos would get sloppy. That is fantastic news - that's why it's all over the news. But had she died along the way and her body been dumped into a nearby reservoir - and found last week, the police would have passed on the sad news to the family and at best the local media would have reported it on page three below the fold... where no-one would notice that Dayle Schear's alleged prediction was wrong. ....and some other psychic would claim a 'found near water' hit, if you know your psychic debunking you know how general and high-probability that prediction is.
One of them had to be right.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Upcoming Guest on Skeptically Speaking

I'm going to be a guest on Skeptically Speaking this week, but due to a bunch of factors (they're having technical issues in the studio & the host is going to DragonCon) they aren't doing the interview as one of their normal call-in shows.

We are pre-recording the interview without any random listener questions. We're doing that on Monday evening (Aug 31st).

It would be cool if we had some email questions though...

Here's the preview of the show:
"Kennedy Goodkey, one of the actors in the new independent movie The Beast of Bottomless Lake will discuss Ogopogo, being a skeptic in the not-so-skeptical acting community,and what it’s like to shoot a movie in a town where the tourism industry is built on the perpetuation of a myth."

If anyone can come up with a question, go to their home page and email it in to the show.

http://skepticallyspeaking.com/episodes/23-the-skeptical-actor

We may well touch on Asshole Skepticism as Desiree was there in Las Vegas as I was really starting to feel it out - and she was there for one of the more (ahem) interesting early moments... but I'll get to that in good time.


Thanks in advance!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mike Adams Wants to Kill Your Kids

Mike Adams is a certified Quack.

Well that may not be true... there probably isn't a University that offers degrees in capital 'Q' Quackery. But if there is and they aren't offering him at least an honourary degree they are missing out on a prime candidate.

He calls himself the 'Health Ranger' and has a second web-site called 'Natural News.'

It seems that no one with any real sense gives him any credit. Nor should they. He is flogging medical advice and information as a non-practitioner. What education does he have in medicine? None. He has read a bunch of books mostly by other non-doctors.

According to his bio he developed Type 2 diabetes at age 30 brought on by bad diet and lack of exercise. He did a bunch of personal research - which I heartily advocate, but not to the exclusion of an actual doctor's medical opinion - and cured himself.... through better diet and excercise. Well, guess what? If you do a google search for type 2 diabetes treatment, and restrict yourself to ACTUAL medical sites... the very first thing they will say is that type 2 diabetes can be controlled, at least initially, through better diet and exercise! You can probably verify that in about 30 seconds if you started right now. It is SO FUCKING SELF-EVIDENT I am not even going to provide a link. Just go try.

Further from that... we are informed in his bio that "Mike had his blood chemistry analyzed by a local medical lab... All results are 100% verifiable and on-file with his naturopathic doctor. " Or, if you prefer the translation to reality: "Mike had his blood chemistry analyzed by someone we aren't willing to specifically name because we are misrepresenting the data, but if you doubt our word you can ask this person who we pay who is NOT ACTUALLY A DOCTOR."

Oh... and did I for get to mention, Mike obviously knows what he is talking about because he is "the son of a Pfizer contractor." Yeah, well, my Dad worked at the airport... wanna go flying with me as the pilot?

But hey, Mike has written more than 1600 articles on health and completed dozens of books and special reports...! Uh... yeah. Carl Sagan wrote books about space... it didn't make him an astronaut.

I could carry on, picking apart his specious claims to expertise, but honestly - they don't get any better.

But here's his latest stinky pellet... utterly devoid of talent or factual content.



This garbage about vaccines being dangerous is in fact dangerous in itself.

If people aren't vaccinated, people die. It's as simple as that.
I turn 40 next month. I bear on my left shoulder a vaccination scar - practically anyone born in the Neo-Western World after 1905 but before 1972 has one. It's not that visible, but it's there. As a result of decades of mandated vaccinations pretty much anyone alive today grew up in a world where the most ravaging diseases like polio, small pox, measles, rubella and so on were rarely caught and therefore virtually out of mind. And becuase these diseases seem so rare, people aren't scared of them - they don't remember a day when a vastly less densely packed population was scared of them. If we quit vaccinating they will come back - spreading like wildfire. And then we are back to square one as far as eradicating them.

Look, I need to be clear - I am not a doctor. Do not take your medical advice from me. But please please please, take your advice from real doctors and real scientists. Arm yourself with the skills it takes to know the difference between actual experts and people who simply claim to be. Get to know the science - the real empirical evidence behind what these ignorant fear-mongering, attention-thriving shit-heads who are trying to promote their insane agenda are trying to tell you. Learn a little about how vaccines work and what herd immunity is. Find out how the medical community went above and beyond the call of duty to answer to the anti-vax paranoia about mercury preservatives, and then the anti-vaxxers blatantly ignored the results that decisively discredited them.

Fuck they make me mad! If it was just themselves who were at risk, I'd say "This is where Darwin does the work!" and let 'em all die out from their own stupidity. But there are innocent children at risk while these foolish idiots murder them with misinformation.

I do not say that lightly. I mean it. They are murderers.

Unfortunately, if you are a like me you haven't got a lot of time for indepth research about stuff you aren't invested in (and for the record - this IS a fight I am invested in). You probably appreciate a bit of a helping hand - a primer. To that end, here is a good place to start. Another good place to start - is with your doctor. Not with a rapping quack like the self-annointed "Health Ranger."

And, for the record, here's a short list of people who are not qualified to give you good medical advice:

  • Mike Adams
  • Jenny McCarthy
  • Oprah Fucking Winfrey
  • Jim Carrey
  • Kennedy Goodkey
  • Your priest or other spokesperson for a 'higher-power.'
  • Robert Kennedy Jr.
  • Arianna Huffington

The list goes on quite a long way, there are approximately 6778953003 people on the full list, so you'll forgive me if I quit while I am ahead.

Meanwhile, if you need expert advice you can ask one of the roughly 1423880 who are qualified. Chances are they won't rap their advice to you. I promise you they will tell you something to the effect of:

"Get vaccinated against H1N1 - protect yourself, protect your children, protect others via 'herd immunity' who genuinely can't be vaccinated for medical reasons."


Finally, if you are old enough to have one, wear your vaccination scar as a badge of honour. Your kids don't have small-pox because of that scar.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wiki Grows Up

Here's a BIG generalization:
As people get older they tend to become more rational.

That is SO not true. It is a major over simplification.

When I was younger I thought people generally became more conservative as a rule, though I knew there was plenty of evidence to show all manner of exceptions to the rule.
This remains the case with people getting more rational. I think it is probably the case in more people than not that they get more rational, but it is so far from being a universal truth. Which is to say nothing of an encouraging number of younger rational thinkers out there in the world.

I know all kinds of people I grew up with who stood up to be counted for alternative medicine or various the-government-is-evil-and-out-to-get-us conspiracies.
Heck, I was hardly immune myself - despite being raised with rationalist tendencies. I don't feel comfortable in hospitals, (but who does?) so I considered alternative health options... though never had any reason to use them before. I called myself an agnostic, making the common error of thinking of it as 'atheism-lite' (or 'atheism-po-lite') until I drilled deeper into my understanding of myself. I eagerly shopped organic when I lived in co-op housing. The list goes on.

But in all cases I gradually had the time to assess the claims on their evidence - or lack of it and from a certain perspective became a bit more conservative. In my mind though, I really just let go of the unsupportable bullshit that a lot of young lefties - fucking hippies - adhere to as they suckle from the Earth-Mother teat of mumbo-jumbo milk.

I am almost positive that some of my young co-workers look at me as a conservative grump. They are definitely surprised when I indicate my left-leanings. When I vocally spoke up in favour of the BC-STV plebecite in our last provincial election, one co-workers' mouth dropped wide, "You are voting in favour of STV?" She actually seemed to find it surprising that I knew what it even was. I found the latter part kind of insulting, and a good example of how little she actually pays attention to who I am, but the first part - the fact that gasp, I would vote in favour of a politically progressive effort - that just made me laugh... ultimately at her.

But I accept that there are skills that many people will never fully grok that help us assess the world for what it is. Some people will make that leap, others won't. Typically those who do will drift politically... towards centre. And more importantly, they won't blindly accept any piece of twaddle from any point of the spectrum without at least some level of corroboration from logic, prior-plausibility, or a trusted rational source.

I'd like to personally congratulate a specific world-citizen for making that leap.

Wikipedia has announced that they are no longer going to accept edits from anyone and everyone. I'm assuming that everyone and anyone CAN make edits, so long as they can back up the edits with evidence. They better be able to - it would kind of undermine the entire ethic of the wiki if they couldn't. But I do think it is actually more important that Wikipedia makes the leap from being a good source for overview-research into a subject to being reliable for researching on a significantly more detailed basis.

It's not simply accepting any factoid with a hint of truthiness anymore. That muddies the pool. Wikipedia has matured into a (hopefully) healthily factual database... perhaps even with a hint of indispensible critical thinking behind it's information gathering.

Wikipedia, good on ya! Most of us take at least until our mid-twenties before we start to understand how the world works, if we ever do. I encourage your ongoing development as a rational entity. And I hope you get the most out of your teen-years.

August 31st 2009: Update:
If this wasn't mere days after my original post I'd do a separate article on it, but Wikipedia has added another level of information vetting to it's store of worldly knowledge. Colour coding.
As a big time David Brin fan I have to note that this is not unlike ideas he has explored in various writings including Earth, The Transparent Society and Kiln People.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Just say it! Confirmation bias will make you hysterical.

At risk of implying that Asshole Skepticism is largely about getting a laugh - far from it, being factually accurate IS paramount - I continue on on the track of things I learned about being funny when I was officially in that business. At some point in the not too distant future I'll get more specific ablut how and when humour in skepticism is appropriate and/or a recommended strategy.

Early on I realised one important thing, never waste a moment asking yourself whether something you might say is witty or not. Just say it. You will find out immediately whether it's funny or not. If you wait, the moment will be lost and it WILL NOT be funny.

Once you get in enough practice doing this you'll find that you are start saying things even before you've thought them through... do not panic! Just let your instinct carry you through... just say it!

The simple fact that you 'thought' to say whatever you have said so damned quickly will often make it seem funnier. Yes, you will occassionally get laughs for things that upon further reflection aren't really that funny at all. That's just fine. People laughed. They register that as you being a funny person - that means they'll be far more likely to laugh with the things you say, 'cause they expect you to say clever things.

Inevitably, whether you are percieved as funny or not, you will sometimes get laughs, and sometimes you won't. This is where confirmation bias really springs to your defence. When you aren't funny - so long as you don't say something appallingly offensive instead - people will hardly notice. They may not even realise you were trying to be funny. But when you do manage to come out with a killer zinger, they remember that. Some people have a distinct "I'm telling a joke now" tone that enters their voice when they are trying to be funny. It's not that that tone makes the joke not funny, it just helps call attention to the myriad times when the joke isn't funny. I am very confident that this is why 'dry' people are often seen as so funny - because when they are funny you REALLY notice it.

I'm going to finish with a brief anecdote:

Months back at Skeptics in the Pub it was a relatively small night (I think actually it was at the time a 'big' crowd, but since then the average attendance has dwarfed that night.) one of the regulars and a very interesting one-timer got in a very spirited debate in the centre of the room. It was impossible to ignore their discussion, and as far as I was concerned, you didn't want to miss it. They were both 'on.' The discussion danced around the outer-edges fo my ability to follow along let alone participate and it seemed as though most people there were in the same situation. What we had was two philosophers challenging each other's position on specifics of atheist thought. It was fascinating. They were both eating it up - revelling in the organic heated debate with a worthy mind. If it had gone on all night it would have been too much, but as it was it was an SitP highlight I will probably never forget.
After quite sometime of back-and-forth with only limited input from other people the two of them got into an exchange that was made up of quotes. I've actually forgotten the specific quotes, and I'm not going to do the research to make up a plausible argument/counter-argument that would lead to the same place it did that night. After about two quotes from each debater, each countering the other's point, and the listening crowd hanging on the tension before I even realised I was doing it leapt in with one of my own: "'You can't reason with Jesus freaks, otherwise there'd be no Jesus freaks.' Dr. Gregory House, M.D."

It was really only tenuously connected, but it brought down the (ahem) house. it broke the tension and ultimately wrapped up the discussion at about the right time - they weren't going to come to a conclusion any time soon and they had definititely hit a climax. They gave each other a delighted and respectful shake of hands agreeing that it had been a lot of fun to 'go at it.'

That discussion has come up a few times in other discussions at SitP - always mentioned as a highlight. I've never heard anyone quote the debaters. They all quote Hugh Laurie via me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Effect Measure Fail 101

Over the past day a number of my skeptical peers in Vancouver have been discussing this article from Effect Measure about over-reaching statements made in favour of the most easily accesible science journals in this article on the Science Based Medicine blog.

The Effect Measure article is essentially correct from all that I can glean.

My first read of the article left me feeling as though my epistemological senses had been kicked in the nads.

But the criticism fails on one key fact. Most of us non-scientists are not skilled enough to fully understand the content of journals about broad-disciplines, let alone sub-sub-disciplines of science. And more to the point, we don't have time. We spend most of our time doing OUR jobs, not scientists jobs.

What follows is a slightly edited response I made to a group of friends in a group email discussion. It touches on a few things I would have eventually got around to talking about anyhow. I'll probably revisit them in the future, but for now... why waste a solid bit of thinking on an email to three other folk?

---------------------------------

I was only half joking when I claimed to feeling lost after reading that article.

I am by any measure against any science, a lay-person. All I have is other people's authority. When you get right down to it, I am merely taking Fizeau & Foucault at their word when I accept that the speed of light is 186000 miles per second. But it seems relatively (pun intentional) consoling that 186000+ other scientists agree.

I am totally guilty of giving - or at least appearing to give - absolute faith in the writings I find in 'reputable' journals. But never without at least a sliver of wiggle room - that IS the nature of science. The design, such as it is, of logic and science results in an inevitable gravitation towards greater and great accuracy and truth. A necessary requirement of that is - as counter-intuitive as it may seem - that there be occassional faulted, outright wrong, misleading, and even fraudulent information in the mix.

(Okay, fuck... life is not making this easy today. I can't imagine being interrupted more, and the point I was originally making has gone the way of Kublah Khan's Pleasure Dome.... so now I descend to rambling and hoping I can drag myself back to where I was before.)

Uh yeah... so I'm a lay-person. Certainly a lay-person well ahead of the curve, but a lay person. I regularly act as though I have 100% confidence in the knowledge I have, but let's face it; when it all comes down to it, it's all a numbers game. But when the odds are solid enough I'm willing to behave as though there is no gamble. As a skeptic, I'm never going to take the long-odds bet, and I'm totally prepared to lose on a small number of near-even wagers... but I'm not going to invest a lot in those bets.

Are there psychic powers in the world? I'd put it at more than 1:1000000000 against. Homeopathic efficacy? Even less chance. Yeah, that's kind of arbitrary, but as we're talking the difference between a one in a billion chance and a one in a trillion chance it doesn't really affect how I live my life. My faith in the speed of light...? Time to pull out the scientific notation.

Less certain things?

Does my girlfriend love me? Ten Thousand to one in my favour... still enough that I can't be bothered to worry about it much.

9/11 was an inside job? Still pretty high. Similar to the GF's love.

The Bush Administration willfully turned a blind eye to dangers leading up to 9/11, knowing that it might lead to an event they could leverage into political gain? Okay... now it starts to get a bit interesting... say... 1 chance in 2500. Still unlikely, but it's starting to feel possible. I live assuming not, but will my world-view shatter if I'm wrong? No.

How about the study published just yesterday in the New England Medical Journal about the effects of Letrozole Therapy on women with Breast Cancer? (Admittedly I could have found something with a more immediate and obvious impact upon me personally, but I chose the most recent example that I could reasonably grok.
But let's assume that I'm thirty-years older and the previously mentioned girlfriend has breast cancer and is considering Letrozole therapy, and that this is the most recent information.) Well... it's a reputable journal... that's promising. I know diddly-squat about medicine. I would look into it further than this, but assuming this was all I had available, I'd be encouraging her to look for other options - options that put the numbers in our favour.
Looking at this study I'd arbitrarily start at one hundred to one against the value of Letrozole.

(I should emphasize that the 'odds' are really very arbitrary - subjective, even - simply for the purposes of illustrating my point.)

In the above example I have a faux-stake that would encourage me to look further. But in reality I haven't got any reasonable stake, so I'm perfectly happy to accept the NEMJ's published result. If it's wrong, what have I lost? Virtually nothing. I've told myself it's probably true... but only probably. I've only got one source and no weight of prior knowledge to rely upon. If it matters more to me later - if I find I have a greater stake in the bet - I'll run the odds with more care. But if I've got to put my chit down now, I'm going with the odds I have.
In the Reality Casino, just like everywhere else, in the long run the house wins... and the house is science.

Okay, to extend the gamble metaphor further is to break it... 'cause really what we are talking about is that there is more than one house, each telling us different odds.

I've been wrestling with this for the duration of my time involved with formalized skepticism. The error in the article seems to be, to me, that it is making an un-realistic generalization.

First, it assumes equal value on every subject to each individual. You couldn't squeeze enough 'care' out of me over Letrozole to fill a thimble, so I'm not looking further.
I am however, totally-fucking-furious-insane-mad-ass-kicking-angry about the anti-vax movement. I can't imagine there are a lot lay-people like me who have read the original Wakefield article in the Lancet, but I have. (Honest to "The thing that made the things for which there is no known maker and that causes and directs the events that we can't otherwise explain and which doesn't need to have been made and is the one thing from which you can ask for things that no human can give and without whom we can't be fully happy and is unlimited by all the laws of physics and never began and will never finish and is invisible but actually everywhere at once and who is so perfect that even if he killed millions of people including babies he'd still be perfect and who is so powerful and magical he could even make a virgin pregnant if he wanted to", I have.) I've read a bunch of other anti-vax information too, because I've invested myself in it. Weighing the wealth of material to the best of my abilities I have decided that I'm not putting my chit down with Wakefield.

It also seems to assume a percieved value in spending our infinite amount of time to peruse undigested scientific literature. I am far more likely than say, Citizen Sarah, to see value in reading all that science, and I have many better things to do with my finite time than that - and it's obvious that despite reading "all of them, everything that's in front of me", Sarah is even less prone to reading undigested scientific literature than I.

So where does that leave me? Unless there is specific motivation to better assess the odds, I'm going to rely on the most available reliable scientific journals as a short-cut - an heuristic.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Shining Example - Barney Frank

There is very little to say about this. The aptly named Barney Frank provides an excellent example of how to deal with ridiculous and factually unsupportable claims.




Had he even tried to answer her question on it's own level it would have been giving it too much credit. Where do you even start?

Nazi? Seriously? These are the same people who call the US Healthcare reform proposal communist. Either one is an absurd, un-informed, misrepresentation of the truth; but together it is down right laughable.

To quote alternate universe Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, "I don't accept your premise."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mad Scientist Quiz - The Answers

Plenty of people took five minutes or so last night at Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub to challenge themselves with the Mad Scientist Quiz. The sense I got was that it was hard (actually I am positive that that was the consensus) but not so hard that it wasn't enjoyed. In fact, by the end of the night it was declared that the January meeting would take the form of a British Pub Quiz... and I'm in charge.

I'm a bit scared of it, but I'm also excited and already have a bunch of ideas.

Anyhow... here's the answers to the quiz that started it:



1) Each year Oliver Sachs buys himself a sample of the corresponding element on the periodic table. I.E. For his 77th birthday he will give himself an ingot of Iridium – atomic number 77.

2) Thomas Edison made the decidedly unscientific admission; “I do not depend on figures at all. I try an experiment and reason out the result, somehow, by methods which I could not explain.”

3) Issac Newton stuck a darning needle in his own eye to see what effect it would have.

4) Charles Darwin’s last published paper featured a theory on clams being attached to beetles and moving to a new enviroment.

5) Carl Sagan sued Apple for using his name for a project. Previous project names included Cold Fusion and Piltdown Man. Dr, Sagan was not happy with these associations. The project name was changed to ‘BHA’ which stood for Butt Head Astronomer. He went on to sue them for that.

6) Stacy Keach, Rade Serbedzija, Michael J. Pollard, Dmitry Chepovetsky and most famously David Bowie in The Prestige have all portrayed Nikola Tesla.

7) Marie Curie's actual cookbook is considered “the most dangerous cookbook in science” because she passed on too much radiation to it for it to be safely handled. The smae is true of her research notes.

8) Ben Franklin first came to fame writing under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, writing Poor Richard’s Almanac.

9) Of late James Watson has been prone to making a host of controversial statements that reflect a possible uncharitable bias towards a variety of minorities. To his credit he has rescinded most of them almost as quickly as the politically incorrect nature was pointed out.

10) Rene Descartes theorized that the pineal gland was “the seat of the soul”?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mad Scientist Quiz - The Hints

Here are the hints to the questions from the Mad Scientist Quiz from earlier today. Questions will follow tomorrow.


1) This year’s present would have been difficult, possibly even illegal to purchase due to its volatility with oxygen at room temperature.
2) He is considered to be one of, if not the, most brilliant inventors of all time.
3) He is somewhat better known for his work in physics than optics.
4) Technically the theory was that the thing in question did so attached to beetles.
5) The association was tenuous – all three were project names for Mac products.
6) Quite possibly the most famous (certainly most recent high-profile) portrayal was done by David Bowie.
7) The cookbook is too radioactive to be safely handled.
8) Not the Richard Saunders of Skeptic Zone fame, but he of Poor Richard’s Almanac.
9) His most famous politically incorrect statement “Our hope is that everyone is created equal, but people who have to deal with black employees find this not true” – is a terrible mis-quote which extremely mis-represented his intention and mortified the alleged speaker.
10) More specifically it was a gland.

Staircase Wisdom

Well how about that...?

I've been using the phrase "staircase wisdom" for... well, ever. I knew there was a "proper" French term (l'esprit de escalier) which doesn't really translate effectively. Literally it would be "spirit of the staircase", but that does really capture the (ahem) spirit of the phrase.

Doing a Google search on "staircase wisdom" find surprisingly bad options for providing an illuminating link. It seems the more common english phrase is stairway wit. But I'm sticking to my preferred version.

So what is staircase wisdom?

You must have had an experience where you've walked away from an encounter - an argument; a one-upping contest of wit; a heated exchange of insults; or even a moment where you just 'know' there's a joke to be tossed into the conversation but damned if you can think of it - and later (two minutes, an hour, a day, a week) you think of the perfect response. That, my friend, is staircase wisdom. It's that witty riposte you come up with after you've left the party - on your way down the staircase to the street.

What does this have to do with asshole skepticism?

Well it comes down to where I ended my last proper post (the Mad Scientist Quiz doesn't count). Practice.

Once upon a time I used to be part of a comedy troupe (several over the course of years, but one in particular). We toured Canada and parts of the US for about six years. Every year we'd have a completely new show and we'd perform it anywhere between fifty and a hundred times over the course of the tour (and then again at follow up engagements over the rest of the year). After doing a show a couple of dozen times, patterns would develop. Most times we had a fair bit of opportunity for audience interaction - sometimes expressly invited, sometimes not. But we'd get to know the moments where it happened quite intimately. We'd identify the places where people would "spontaneously" say things and their wisecracks would before too long start to fit a pattern. For example, at one point in one of our shows there was a place where we specifically asked the audience to give us a suggestion for something that I would 'hypnotize' a fellow cast memeber to do. For some reason fully half the time the first person to open their mouth would shout "do the twist" or "impersonate Elvis." (An aside: To be perfectly honest we never fully grokked what subtle cue we had to have been giving that led to the consistency of those two suggestions. We did note the vague similarity between them though so figure it had to come from the same impulse. I figure it must have something similar to do with the phenomenon of most people thinking of carrots if asked to name a vegetable.) By the end of the second week of the show it was obvious to us that we were going to have to field those suggestions three or four more dozen times before the tour was over. So we brain stormed responses. Truth be told I can't recall any of the first things we tried. I do recall the response we found that got a big-laugh every night. I would retort back in a sarcastic voice "Oh, THAT's obvious." I guess it was funny because there was no obvious reason that it was obvious, but everyone in the audience had recieved the same priming so it wasn't too far from anyone's mind. (Another aside: Just going on a small nostalgia trip here... I still shake my head at that. it was a weird piece of comedy. It was one of the 'sure-fire' jokes in the show if we were given the chance to do it, and yet I really don't know why it was funny. Hardly satisfying from my perspective, but it's tough to refuse a surefire laugh.)

In our first few shows of the tour I had no response to those suggestions, but later after a chance to try out some options I had (an odd, but) a killer response.

Similarly, I'm not too timid to tell people to shut the fuck up in movie theatres - much to the mortification of more than a few dates. I find it surprising how many people come back with wisecrack responses when they've been asked to be quiet in a venue where it is pretty wide accepted that talking is bad-form. I really shake my head at that. But it's happened enough times that I have already come up with the staircase wisdom response to most of the stupid things they can say in their defence... and it's rare that people don't shut up after being made to look like a fool twice in one minute and they know they're out numbered.

That is what I mean by 'practice.' Have the conversations. Have the staircase wisdom. Be prepared to out wit the people you are discussing skeptical subjects with.

You actually don't even have to have the arguments in order to practice. Practice when listening to the radio or podcasts - trust me, there are plenty of chances to argue safely with people who can't fight back if you are listening to the right shows. But do it out loud. Actually saying the words as fludily and spontantously as you can will improve your ability to do so in the heat of real argument.
And when you get stuck and don't have something to say, don't worry about it, just wait until the stiarcase wisdom strikes you in the shower - and say it then. Next time you'll be better prepared.

But here's another thing... don't over think it. Sometimes it's just best to just start speaking and hope that there's a valid point or at least a joke at the end of your sentence.

The Mad Scientist Quiz

It's Skeptics in the Pub night here in Vancouver and (as is all too typical) there isn't really much planned other than your basic socializing and rumination.

Once before when a night like this happened (mere days before Mr. Darwin's 200th) I made and printed a hand-out quiz. No one was marked, no-one was expected to out-do the other. It was just for fun and perhaps as an ice breaker.

I've made another this month. You guessed it - the Mad Scientist Quiz.

Here's the preamble that appears on the outside of the pamphlet I made:

One of the consistently galling things about pop-culture that raises the hackles of scientists and skeptics is the clich├ęd characterization of the ‘mad scientist.’
Most scientists are not mad. This is true.
But, the laws of large numbers dictates that there would have to be some...
Here is a brief quiz about some of the crazy things that respected scientists past and present have done and or said.
Some mad things were the result of the ignorance of the time; others were simply a matter the person being so prolific that some of their ideas had to fall through the cracks; some are crazy politics as opposed to bad science.
In any case... despite what we want to believe as critical thinkers... even the most brilliant amongst us are susceptible to bits and pieces of utter insanity.

Here are the questions:

Questions
1) Oliver Sachs gives himself a birthday present every year based upon a theme. His 77th birthday is next year, what will he receive?
2) Who made the decidedly unscientific admission; “I do not depend on figures at all. I try an experiment and reason out the result, somehow, by methods which I could not explain”?
3) Who stuck a darning needle in his own eye to see what effect it would have?
4) Charles Darwin’s last published paper featured a theory on flying ___________.
5) Which astronomer sued Apple for associating him with Cold Fusion and Piltdown Man?
6) What ‘mad scientist’ often tied to pseudoscientific claims has been played on screen by: Stacy Keach, Rade Serbedzija, Michael J. Pollard, and even local Vancouver actor Dmitry Chepovetsky?
7) Whose cookbook (actual, not figurative) is “the most dangerous cookbook in science”?
8) Who first came to fame under the name of one Richard Saunders?
9) Whose controversial statements include these: “Stupidity is a disease and the really stupid bottom 10% of people should be cured”; “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them”?
10) Rene Descartes theorized that what organ was “the seat of the soul”?

I've got hints too which I'll post following the day's actual post that I'll be writing up in a minute or ten and then tomorrow I'll post the answers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why is it that the Person Who is the Loudest is so Often the Wrongest?

Okay, this is it, I really must start putting my thoughts down. I'm having them too fast to wait til I'm done my TAM Diary - which I'm still only about half finished!

This past week alone I've had three or four small independent ideas relating to Asshole Skepticism; partook in a small case of Asshole Skepticism; and read an article that I could break down into at least seven different parts and do a post on each one and how it relates to Asshole Skepticism. So I cannot wait.

Furthermore I know that I should just get the small thoughts posted so they accumulate and make for more easily digested reading in the long run.

On that note...

I have definitely noticed a propensity for the people who are the least correct to be the most forceful with their opinions. If you take the word "reasonable" and exercise it in both of its' primary definitions and apply it to the phenomenon I just related, I think you go a long way to finding some deeper truth to it. The people who are the least intellectually reasonable are more often the least emotionally reasonable as well.
While this often has a tendency to allow them to hoist themselves by their own petard and/or make themselves look ridiculous (see previous post on Orly Taitz), it is not always the case, and that only works when the outside audience is willing to listen long enough for that to happen. Additionally, if anything its even harder to get people to continue listening to the long-winded explanation of what is rationally correct - which only compounds the problem.

The challenge to Asshole Skepticism is to fight fire with fire - or perhaps fight fire with searing hot plasma. Getting the full detail of the truth out is not always necessary. However meeting an emotionally charged fallacy-soaked declaration with a to the point kernel of vociferous wit... that is the trick - or at least one of them. When the token skeptic is fed to the hounds on cable news talk-shows they are too often cowed by the irrational vehemence of the opposition. This isn't simple to address. I have no illusions. But it is a necessary purpose for Asshole Skepticism. Is it necessary to be an asshole? Not at all. It's merely necessary to be effective, and to be effective one must practice.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Orly...

In the Salon conversation from my previous post Orly Taitz mentions her experience on MSNBC. Here it is...



Holy oppossum bottoms this woman is nuts!

She is like a Saturday Night Live character.

Is it any wonder that the anchors are laughing at her at the end?

Her type just makes me angry. She's made claims, her statements were responded to - debunked - and she doesn't bother to respond to the counter claim, she just re-states the initial claim.

The simple fact that Anne Coulter calls her crazy speaks volumes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oryl Taitz - Bat-Shit Birther

Holy Smoke.

I was thinking about doing an entry about birthers in general, and then I came across this hour long interview on Salon with Orly Taitz.

The woman is more than nuts. She is offensively nuts.

She cherry picks information with ZERO apparent provenance and then has the termerity to accuse the interviewer of mis-representing her - putting words in her mouth, specifically.

She denies making claims, but then "states the facts" (such as they are), still denying that she is saying anything - "I won't say one more word about it" - while clearly, BALDLY, leaning on the implication that her "facts" are intended to make.
Somehow she believes that by saying "I'm not saying that Barack Obama is (a Kenyan by birth; A Murderer; A bi-sexual (all of which she "doesn't say"))" that we will take her at her word, when she is absolutely attempting to make those precise connections with her evidence.

If ever one of her claims is challenged - for example; "US voting machines are owned by Hugo Chavez" - the interviewer, Gabriel Winantz, looks it up online while she prattles on. He comes up with the information that the software company stock is predominantly held by Venezualan citizens - a large step away from the machines being owned by Hugo Chavez. Her response? "Well, you need to look deeper." Not a hint of citing any sources... and frankly, she's the one making the outrageous claim - the onus is on her to prove her case. But no, she'll just keep on shitting out hardened kernels she prefaces as being 'facts.'

I'm particularly fond of this particular canard... towards the end of the interview she veers (with no apparent connection) to anti-vax insanity. She claims that active viruses have been found in H1N1 vaccines. And "Dr" Orly (She apparently has a dental degree.) makes a point of saying that her original field is in medicine... what kind of medicine? Naturopathy? Vaccines, by definition have active viral components!

Argh!

Anyhow... just listen. It's comedy. I could not make her look any more ridiculous than she herself does.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sometimes Revisionist History Makes More Sense

This is very nearly a crosspost from my personal blog The Truth and The Signal but not quite. I wanted to look at the same item from a skeptical perspective but it wasn't an item I felt like subjecting my real world friends to from that viewpoint.


Okay, the goods:


If you are within a decade of my age (If you were born between 1960 and 1980) and probably beyond in many cases you have heard the tale of how the David Lee Roth era Van Halen used to include a clause in their contract that required that there be a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room... and that all the brown ones be removed.


This could be interpreted a number of ways. I'm led to believe that the majority of people subscribe to the 'diva' version of the tale. That someone or ones or combination thereof loved M&Ms but had a pathological response to brown dye, or maybe the colour brown itself, and that led to the bizarre demand and consequent hi-jinx that would follow. I, on the other hand believed that it was nothing more than whimsy - perhaps fuelled by a bit of "holy crap we're proverbially bigger than Jesus" hubris - that led to the self-amusing demand for something absurdly frivolous.


Now, if you were aware of the M&M clause you are almost certainly aware that on at least one occassion Diamond Dave himself lost his shit over the appearance of the loathesome brown M&Ms in a backstage bowl in Pueblo Colorado during a 1980 tour and did to the tune of 85 thousand dollars worth of damage to the dressing room.


So that's the story. But here's the thing. It's bullshit. Or at least, it probably is, and if it isn't then the revised version is. Heck, maybe both are!


So, what is the "revised version?"


Van Halen was huge. Both in terms of stardom, but also in terms of their stage show. There had been other big shows before, but Van Halen were the first to take their lights, fog and lazers into tertiary markets. Places that weren't so prepared for a stage set-up that was that big - literally big. Platforms, lights, effects, and of course audio equipment galore. It took a lot of power to run it all and it required that the venue be capable of physically handling the sheer mass of all that (ahem) heavy metal. The ceiling needed to be rated to handle the extra weight that was to be hung from it. The floors needed to be sturdy enough to support the massive risers and the tonnes of speakers and so on that would be put on it. Even the access - the doors - needed to be big enough to allow the various pieces to fit.


In short, there was a shit load of things that could go wrong. And any one of those details could compromise the show, or worse endanger lives.


In order to ensure that all those specifications were met there was an additional document to the contract - the rider - which itemized each element in painstaking detail. But that was not enough. Most of those details had to be handled by long distance by representatives of the promoter (not even of the band) and no matter how many times it was impressed upon them "go over every line-item fastidiously" it didn't always happen. People got lazy and made assumptions or only casually looked at the details. But those details were very specifc and specific for very good reasons. Failures caused problems - often enormous problems.


So Van Halen came up with a test. A legal canary in the coalmine.


The M&M clause. Actually, it wasn't even it's own clause. It was buried within the food requirements section (though the stipulation that there be no brown ones was entirely unambiguous, preceded by the word "Warning" and all of it in capital letters and underlined).


Everyone on the inside knew that if there were M&Ms with brown ones, that the contract rider had not been adequately perused and that that meant going over the entire rider piece by piece to be sure that nothing that could endanger the show or lives had been over-looked.


And what about the eighty-five thousand dollar Diamond Dave hissy fit?


Yeah, that happened. At least the fit did.


According to Roth's biography "Crazy fron the Heat" the a rider had not be properly read - brown M&Ms. Roth got angry knowing that the brown M&Ms were a harbinger of worse to come. In his words: "They didn't bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and [the stage] sank through their new flooring and did eighty-thousand dollars worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&Ms and did $85,000 worth of damage to the backstage area. Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?"


So what is the truth and what is the fiction?


I'm kind of limited to searching on-line material...

According to the ever reliable (that is facetious, BTW) Wikipedia, the $85,000 was connected to an incident that nearly killed a road-crew member and caused equipment damage. The provenance of Wikipedia is dubious at best, but it's not necessarily a bad place to start... I'll address that in some later post - it's a separate issue.

The Smoking Gun has a copy of the infamous rider with the M&M line item on page 40. To the best of my knowledge Smoking Gun is actually quite reliable as far as the documentation they uncover goes. If they weren't their reputation would fail pretty quickly. (It should be noted that a number of news & blog stories have identified the M&M stipulation as 'Article 126' - that does not appear to be the case here. It could be likely that different versions existed for different tours)

Snopes has an entry about the incident where they quote the DLR biography quite extensively. Snopes probably didn't put as much effort into this item as ones with greater impact. But they are one of the most reliable sources for urban myth research.

Here's a Detroit Metro Times article that references it the M&Ms clause - with an amusing coda. Not much but anecdotal evidence, but there is going to be a lot of that in this case.

Admittedly finding 'first sources' on the internet is a dubious direction to go, but let's not dwell too much on that.

When exactly were those Pueblo Colorado dates?

According to the archived Official Van Halen site (the current site has no tour date history) the 1980 Women and Children First Tour had NO Pueblo dates. In fact, according to this complete tour date history of the DLR days of Van Halen (which appears to match everywhere it overlaps with the previous link) - Van Halen only ever played in Colorado four times - twice in '79 and twice in '80. In Boulder and Denver respectively. Never Pueblo.

I drilled about ten pages down into Google searches on a variety of searches including combinations of: Van Halen, David Lee Roth, M&Ms, Contract, Rider, Pueblo Colorado, Colorado University, $85000, fit, 1980, Crazy from the Heat.

I also did specific news archive search - but seeing as the events in question happened in 1980 there isn't really much available.

A large amount of the information that comes up quotes the "Crazy from the Heat" biography to various degrees. So most of the stories are based on the Diamond Dave account.

David Lee Roth's history as a reliable source is spotted. I doubt it's a co-incidence that he is regularly called an ego maniac and a diva by people who work with him - and not just his Van Halen ex-co-horts - it's a spectrum.

So where does that leave us?

Well... what are the claims?

1) Van Halen had a specific demand for M&Ms back stage at their shows in their contract.

2) The contract requirement was rock-star excess of some flavour.

3) The contract requirement was a clever test for their promoters.

4) David Lee Roth threw a fit once when the article was not met.

5) The fit in question happened in at the University of Colorado State in Pueblo in 1980.

6) DLR did $85000 worth of damage to the dressing room in the fit.

7) The majority of the damage was in fact done by the weight of the stage sinking into the rubberized basket-ball court.

And how does the evidence look to each of those individually?

Claim 1: I don't think there is any real dispute about this. I'm not even sure why anyone would go to the lengths it appears one would have to go to to fabricate this and perpetuate it over the course of nearly thirty years. So let's say this is TRUE.

Claim 2: I'd say that the original story does made sense on the surface. It seems consistent with the image of the excess of the 70s & 80s heavy metal scene... but then again this story itself is a cornerstone of the mythology. I'd give this claim a "Plausible" if it weren't for the fact that it is nearly mutually exclusive of the next claim - which seems more plausible. I think Occam's Razor makes this one the UNLIKELY story.

Claim 3: I've tipped my hand here already. I believe - though this is really little more than an opinion - that the details of this, the revised story - makes more sense than the previous claim. It is internally consistent. It also seems to be the story that insiders subscribe to - including John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. PLAUSIBLE.

Claim 4: There doesn't seem to be anyone denying this. Not the least the perp himself. The only thing that is under question is the timing and quality of the fit. TRUE.

Claim 5: The possibility that the tour date in question for any number of reasons does not appear on any available schedule I could find not withstanding, it seems that Diamond Dave's specific memory isn't quite right. That's fine. The human memory is faulty - no one should be held too accountable for creating false details. The fit more likely occurred at a Denver date on the 1980 tour. FALSE.

Claim 6: Imagine what it would take to do $85000 damage to a dressing room. That's a lot of work. It also requires that no one stops you as you carry on and on and on. OR it requires that you were not in the dressing room, but in the more immediate backstage area and attacked equipment. And the chances of someone NOT stopping that immediately gets even less likely as the leasing company has reps and techs right there. Additionally, I venture that doing that much damage borders on a criminal misdemeanour and nowhere in my research was there the slightest indication that there was any legal response to the fit ever. This is to say nothing of the out-lying indications that the $85000 may be a number mined from a totally separate incident. I'm calling this item UNLIKELY.

Claim 7: Considering that the alternate explanation seems so dubious, it lends credibility to this claim. This claim is also central to the sense of the revised version. It is totally consistent. PLAUSIBLE.

Consolidate all of that and what are we left with? The revised version seems to be the more likely version - except it seems Pueblo Colorado was not the place it happened.

So... what is the point?

Well, there is no definitive explanation based upon the available evidence. Perhaps being able to access more original records and speak to more people directly involved would clarify things further. But it appears as though the revised version holds up better to scrutiny.

Even though this is clearly a story which skeptically speaking is absolute fluff, it serves to illustrate a point. There is detail to be gleaned by digging deeper. Comparing sources and trying to find the information with the best provenance possible is revealling - even when what it reveals is that the bulk of information available in fact comes from the same source (In this case "Crazy from the Heat.") and there are more than likely details that are still either being fabricated or mis-remembered. History has an unfortunate tendency towards subjectivity, but the flexibility of that subjectivity can be ameliorated by looking deeper than the surface, exploring the truth of the details (the devil is in there!) and applying some critical analysis.

Critical thinking doesn't always (indeed, often doesn't) lead to absolute answers, but it does lead to more clarity as to what the answers most likely are.

When Disappointment Turns into Wonder

This is a subject that can be attacked from many different directions.
One is a bit of a skeptical cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true: "There is so much that is amazing in the real world to be awestruck about, who needs to make up magical absurdities to believe and wonder upon?" Or something to that effect. The same idea has been said by so many people - I've been in the room to hear each of the JREF Presidents (James Randi & Phil Plait) say it - in so many different but contextually similar ways - that it's nearly tiresome. But as I said - it is still true nonetheless.

Another aspect, which I'd like to go into a bit with the aid of a current example from my own experience, is that I have found a shift in my thinking as my skepticism has coalesced towards a tighter, more consistent form.

Despite having been on a clear road towards skepticism throughout my life, it would be an absolute lie to claim that I've never held to one degree or another irrational thoughts. There have been any number of things - personal sacred cows - that, despite having developed a reasonably good instinctive bedrock of critical thinking, still slipped past the goalie.

My initial reaction to some of these would best be described as outright denial. For me the best example would be echinacea. The suggestion that it might not have an evidence based effect was met by anger. Even when I looked at the arguments it took a long time for me to accept. Even when I DID accept I kept a bottle of echinacea in my cabinet for months. My symbolic acceptance of the process od skeptical thinking - which had in fact happened long before by degrees - was when I flushed the contents of the bottle down the toilet, rather unceremoniously but still fully aware of the symbolic implications.

Other dawnings of awareness manifested in different ways. The revelation that there is a vast segment of chiropractic medicine that is a total sham? Well I'd used a chiropractor - thus that meant a certain amount of admitting my own error - so that wasn't so comfy. I had been to a Chiroprator who practiced primarily evidence based methods - that got in the way a bit. But gradually as I listened to the arguments I came to see the complete and obvious load of shit the extreme end of the profession is. By now I find it completely absurd that I ever even considered it possible that it was real. "You can cure my eczema by fucking with my back....? Really, now." But that tiny bit of physio-therapy under another name that is part of the profession sure lent the rest of it credibility.
Flight 93. I was never really a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. But it struck me as being totally possible that the US government shot down their own plane. In fact, it actually still makes pretty good sense on the surface. Hijacked planes were flown into each of the WTC towers and the Pentagon; a fourth plane was not responding and was on a course for Washington D.C. - very possibly with the White House as the target. Would shooting down that plane while it was still over Pensylvannia farmland make sense? Would sacrificing about 40 people for an untold number on the ground (they could evacuate any number of probable targets, but still not know for sure what the actual target was until moments before hitting - assuming the hijackers were accurate) be morally defensible? Yes. But because it would be morally defensible does not mean that it is something you would want to defend. I was never a fan of the Bush Administration, but I couldn't blame them for wanting to keep it under wraps that they had willfully killed American citizens by shooting down United 93. And this story, thus far, fits with the rest of the day without having to invoke a conspiracy greater than "They hid the one thing that would have endangered their chances of re-election." No inside job necessary. Very little nefarious plotting required. Anyone who made claims along those lines - the 9/11 truthers - pissed me off from their first appearance.
When I was first presented with a good argument that Flight 93 played out as we have been told by the media, my response was to cry (quite literally) "Bullshit!" But it wouldn't last. I recognized good logic when I saw it. I admit that even today I still have an emotional instinct to want my old way of thinking on this matter to prove correct, but I know that the chances are diminishingly small.

Which brings me to the change.

Just today this credulous article about hoop snakes was posted on the Monster Talk discussion board.

I recall reading about hoop snakes in Ripley's Believe it or Not as a kid, and that is about how far they penetrated my conscious. I hadn't thought about them again since. More to the point - I never had the opportunity to discount them as a rational thinker.

Discovering today that they are and were more than likely an absolute fabrication was a delight. Rather than be irate about it (admittedly this is a pretty inconsequential item), my reaction was more along the lines of "Oh cool! Something else I had an underlying acceptance of is bunk!" I suspect that part of my response comes from knowing that there is and will continue to be less and less opportunity to feel that way as my life goes on. I expect that there is little to nothing left that I hold dear to that could be debunked to my chagrin.

Beyond the emotional trauma of having a sacred cow destroyed I think there is another factor at work. I think that the wonders of the real world hold more appeal to me now that the imaginary constructs. The act of making that discovery is a active piece of real-world wonder.

Which is not to say that I won't like a good science fiction movie. That is entirely different. The word 'fiction' in the genre title is key. I know and accept I'm being lied to as part of the cultural exchange of ideas. Whereas a film like "The Haunting in Conneticut" which claims to be a true story just makes my skeptical blood curdle. I suppose there is an analogy there to magicians. Experts at sleight of hand like Jamy Ian Swiss or Ricky Jay who never claim to be anything more than guys who are really good at manipulating playing cards are awesome, but Sylvia Browne who is a charlatan and a liar who uses well-known trickery to make it appear that she is in touch with the dead and who willfully bilks people out of a fuck-ton of money infuriate me beyond belief.