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Dangerous faith-based mechanics

There are many confirmation biases and magical thinking tendencies that fuel testimonial and anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of woo, from acupuncture and chiropractic all the way up to the giant woo umbrella of “complementary and alternative” medicine (CAM) or “integrative” medicine.

But that’s not why these things are a threat to actual real scientific medicine (ARSM?).  The real danger is when CAM seems to get real results.

Continue reading Dangerous faith-based mechanics

Turns out God doesn’t want dead animals

LambsJesus died for our sins.  Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world.  As much as that was repeated to me growing up, and as innocently as I believed it, I never really comprehended how it could work.  Why should killing God produce any positive effect at all?  Wouldn’t that be rather a black mark?  Anyway why does someone dying impact someone else’s sin?

Continue reading Turns out God doesn’t want dead animals

Squee!!

The blag got listed by erv !

OMGOMG etc 😉

Risk assessment bias

Another quick redirect; I love this writeup of how we are stupid at risk assessment . I wish a few of the people close to me would learn up on this a bit.

The precautionary principle can so easily be abused to the point that it becomes a zero risk bias .

Why we believe strange things

This is a TED video from 2006, but I just now watched it. Michael Shermer talks about cognitive bias, pareidolia, and other interesting ways we fool ourselves.

Michael Shermer at TED.com: Why people believe strange things

It’s a delightful 12 minute refutation of stupidity.

What Science is(n’t)

Stolen from the blinkenlights box :

Science is not–I repeat, not–a method for finding out the "truth" about anything. Without going into a great deal of detail, I would characterize science as a methodology that allows us to test our beliefs about how nature behaves with how nature actually behaves and to derive laws and theories with useful predictive power that allow us to predict how nature will behave under certain conditions. In fact, it could well be argued that science is a method of testing hypotheses, refuting them, and through that process coming up with hypotheses that better explain how nature works.

Word.

Hearts and minds

Photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_ruotsala/1491259727As we learn more about how brains work, traditional views can be called into question. Recent research indicates that (at least some) decision-making processes are “prepared” by the brain unconsciously several seconds before there is an awareness of having come to a decision.

“In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. … The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take already seven seconds before they consciously made their decision.”

I was somewhat surprised by this finding, and look forward to follow-up research as well as independent confirmation. But most of my surprise was not due to the study itself, but rather how the results were interpreted as evidence against the existence of free will.

Continue reading Hearts and minds

A strong influence on the weak mind

The willful manipulation of an audience in propaganda and debate is a depressing fact of life to me.

  1. I am interested in full understanding of an issue; best gained by rational discourse, scientific inquiry, and criticism.
  2. I am also a fairly rabid supporter of freedom of expression.
  3. I am most strongly an advocate of critical thinking skills as a tool to identify and be skeptical of positions based on propaganda, bias, and fallacy.

Given the foregoing, the best way to really piss me off is to use the public’s weak grasp of #3 to hamstring the process of #1 by rallying around a steaming pile of #2.

I’d like to direct your attention to this podcast:

In the upcoming a pro-Intelligent Design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (starring comedy actor Ben Stein), several notable scientists speak in support of science and evolution, including evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins, science blogger PZ Meyers, and Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer. As Swoopy finds out this week when she talks with Dawkins and Shermer, Expelled is not the film these scientists agreed to be a part of—nor were their experiences at advanced screenings what they expected….

I have not seen the film; my second-hand impression is formed after listening to the interviews above. The main drive of the film is to cast science in the classroom as a free speech issue, and argue that personal beliefs of teachers ought to be allowed into the curriculum at their own discretion. My first reaction to this idea is that someone who holds unfalsifiable beliefs that conflict with the knowledge of their field might not make a great teacher of that subject. But I suppose it’s plausible that a teacher can impart knowledge that they don’t hold to personally.

More generally, the idea that science class should be a place where a teacher instills their personal belief system to students is ludicrous on its face.

Teaching unscientific things in science class is similarly ridiculous. If enough people want it to happen, though, then the public school curriculum can be changed to mandate such things. Having tried this approach largely in vain, creationists are now going grassroots and saying damn the curriculum– just do what you want.

How can this feeble approach hope to succeed? The average person doesn’t have a very strong penchant for critical thought. Even those who do can very easily be influenced by propaganda and biased debate around a subject in which they are not deeply versed. Make a propaganda film that leads your audience along step by step, and they will follow.

“Limits To Growth fallacy”

Photo credit http://flickr.com/photos/raeallen/250824625/
(Photo credit: RaeA)

I was reading an analysis at the Oil Drum about nuclear power use and scaling in France. As usual on TOD, the comments are brimming with insight and impassioned discourse. As a rebuttal to the modest conclusion of the article, one commenter linked to UIC Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper # 75, entitled Supply of Uranium. It looked like the start of a fine analysis, but then alarm bells sounded.

Continue reading “Limits To Growth fallacy”

Purpose

Photo credit http://flickr.com/photos/fil/
Photo credit: Phil Moore

Everyone writes their own story of life. A staggering number of people choose to create a story where meaning comes from an external governor, a deus ex machina. A common conclusion of these folk is that non-theists, lacking this (arbitrary) anchor, must be adrift in life without purpose, moral values, or happiness.

But as writerdd quite eloquently observes, this need not be the case. Acknowledge and celebrate your own meaning.