Historical Note on Skeptic Magicians

Apropos of nothing in particular, it’s worth reminding ourselves why stage magicians were originally considered experts on the topics classically adopted by the modern skeptic movement. They really were experts in their topics once upon a time. Their expertise consisted of determining how people could hide their behavior from observers.

Harry Houdini really was an expert on spiritualism because he understood how people could manipulate their environments while appearing to have their motion restricted. Have a “medium” who is producing strange sounds and apparitions while holding hands with people in the dark? Bring Houdini in to determine the ways your subjects could be cheating, set up your situation so they can’t cheat, then test them again.

James Randi really was (and presumably still is) an expert on how people can communicate invisibly. Have someone who claims to be getting message from God or a “psychic” partner? Bring Randi in to determine the ways your subjects could be cheating, set up your situation so they can’t cheat, then test them again.

Magicians are not some sort of all-purpose skeptical experts. There’s no such thing. Skepticism requires subject-matter knowledge to be effective.

Magicians are very narrow experts in the ways that humanity can disguise their behavior from naive observers. Outside of that, they have no more expertise in skeptical matters than anyone else.

This is worth remembering. Trust them to some degree when you need their expertise. Treat them like any non-expert when you don’t.

But How Do You Know the MRAs Are Atheists?

Note: This is one of those posts you really want to read all the way through before commenting on or characterizing.

I think this question is mostly a thing of the past, but at one point, it was a favorite of those who didn’t like to see the atheist movement criticized were all over wanting to know how we could knew that the harassment and anti-feminism coming our way was coming from atheists. Typically, we pointed to the communities from which the bulk of the harassment came. Now, we can point to some numbers in yet another community that suggest we’re on the right track.

Or at least they make me laugh. [Read more…]

Debate Is Not Inquiry

Ophelia brings news that those of us who have participated in a particular hashtag are not really skeptics:

What a joke #UpForDebate is. Skeptics should be willing to revise any and all of their beliefs given sufficient reason, argument, evidence.

No idea who said it, because Twitter is finally hiding posts by people you’ve blocked on the search function as well as in your mentions. Well, no, that’s not quite true. That alone gives me some ideas.

For example, I can be pretty sure that this is someone who would have been demanding that the feminist women in the atheist and skeptical movements debate their rights to bodily autonomy over the last couple of years. I can be pretty sure this same person tried to play the “bad skeptic” card then too, saying that things like, oh, blocking them on Twitter constituted an “unskeptical” refusal to address argument.

I can’t tell you whether this person followed along when I participated in the dialogue that Mick Nugent set up a year ago, but I can tell that they should have if they really thought every good skeptic has an obligation to interact with the people they oppose. And if they did that, they really should go running around confusing debate and inquiry like that, because I addressed it at the time. Nor is that the first time I’ve addressed the difference. Either someone isn’t paying attention to me the way they think I should pay attention to them, or they’re ignoring what I’ve said to restate their own premise again (which isn’t exactly good skepticism either). Either way, it’s time to say this again:

Debate is not inquiry. Argument is not skepticism. Fetishizing debate makes us less knowledgeable as a culture and even as a movement, not more. [Read more…]

Another Way to Fleece the Flock

On the way to a meeting last week, I saw a Christian billboard. I see a lot of billboards, but this one caught my eye as being rather unusual. I didn’t get a picture, but since I followed up on the billboard, the advertising is now following me around on the internet too. Here’s a sample.

Banner ad with text: Making Good Bolder. Actors Models & Talent for Christ. plus contact infoYes, boys and girls, God needs your talent to…uh…well….

So I got curious and checked out the website to figure out what was going on. Was there another company like Faith Films that was going to produce unintentional, painful hilarity? Were they looking for unknowns to help them keep their budget, oh, so low?

No. As it turns out, they weren’t looking for people they could pay very little. This group is looking for people to pay them, all for a chance at stardom! [Read more…]

Investment, Disclosure, and Skepticism

As you read this, you may want to know that I’ve been accused of falsely accusing someone of rape. In fact, I’ve been accused of falsely claiming a consensual encounter was rape. You can read all about it here.

You may also want to know that I’ve previously reported on the incidence and profile of false reports. When I did, I was careful to differentiate between false reports and other types of cases that don’t end in prosecution. While I did use examples, I grounded them not just in statistics from the scientific literature, but also in the factors that affect how those statistics are produced. You can read all about that here.

A rendered picture of an unbalanced set of scales.

“balance scales” by winnifredxoxo. Some rights reserved.

After reading those, you may decide I have a vested interest in keeping people from being believed when they accuse someone else of making a false report of sexual assault. Or you may decide that I have an interest in making sure the scientific evidence on the topic is examined and understood. Or you may come to a different conclusion. In any case, you’re informed about where I stand as you read.

I asked my social media lists this morning, “Q. for the hive mind: If I were to write a skepticism piece on an issue that affected me personally, would you expect/want me to disclose?” The answers varied considerably for reasons including how specifically or directly I was affected by the issue and whether this would require me to disclose something private. I didn’t ask anyone for permission to quote them by name, so these are all anonymous here. [Read more…]

Our Lady of Perpetual Ice

Woman #1: Oh, that looks just like the Virgin Mary. Helen*, do you see that?

Woman #2: Oh! Ya.

Woman #1: Harry, Harry, look! Doesn’t that look like the Virgin Mary?

Man: No, I’m not religious.

I didn’t laugh out loud. I’m more polite than that. I didn’t even look behind me to figure out who was having the conversation. I just made sure Ben took a picture of the “virgin” after they moved on. That’s why we were at the Apostle Island National Lakeshore after all, to take pictures of ice. [Read more…]

About That Grape Nuts GMO Graphic (Update)

If you have an online social sphere anything like mine, you’ve seen this graphic floating around for several days. People are using it to promote the idea that GMO foods are much more healthful than non-GMO foods. There’s just one little problem with it. It’s missing an important piece of information. Without that information, it supports the arguments people are making with it. With that information in hand, it doesn’t.

Grape Nuts meme showing pictures of old and new packaging. Text provided in the post.

 

What changed when Grape Nuts removed GMOs?

32 oz went down to 29 oz
Vitamin A: 15% went down to 0%
Riboflavin: 25% went down to 4%

You are paying more and getting less. That’s not just NUTS, that’s Grape Nuts.

Vitamins B12 and D are also absent in the new formulation, though the meme doesn’t mention that.

My curiosity about the image was piqued when I saw someone comment that the old nutrition numbers matched the numbers for Grape Nuts Vintage. Yes, you can now buy “vintage” cereal, if your world isn’t hipster enough. (Okay, if I wanted my mouth to be lacerated, Grape Nuts Vintage is probably how I’d go. The new version contains soy, and I try to limit the amount of soy in my diet for hormonal reasons.)

Sure enough, when I went to the Post website, I found that the Vintage cereal contains all the same percentages of your daily allowance of everything but protein (that’s the soy) as the pre-GMO-removal Grape Nuts in the meme. The merely “classic” Grape Nuts also matched the post-GMO-removal image. However, that didn’t necessarily mean the meme is wrong. Vintage might simply still contain GMO products.

So I went to the Wayback Machine. (This post is getting more retro by the second. Someone break out the bobby socks.) There I managed to confirm that the graphic does accurately represent the pre-GMO-removal Grape Nuts nutritional information.

So what’s the problem? [Read more…]

Um, About Those “Male”- and “Female”-Wired Brains

A few days ago, an article came out that excited some people who identify as skeptics. Brain scans had finally revealed what these people had always known: Men’s brains and women’s brains were fundamentally different! As one tweeter put it, “Damned science and facts, always getting in the way of SOCIAL JUSTICE!”

Were gender-essentialist skeptical types the only people to jump on this reporting? No, of course not. However, they are the people who should know that situations like these are exactly the ones in which to exercise a bit of skeptical caution. After all, there are two stances here in which they have a serious emotional investment–that gender roles are dictated by fundamental differences between the (two, discrete, dichotomous) sexes and that we social-justicey, feminist types are completely divorced from science and skepticism. That’s a rather large source of potential bias to be confirmed, so care should be taken.

What kind of care? [Read more…]

Or, Male Atheists Have Small Penises

Oh, look. The same old, old, old, bad data is being passed around again. We’re going to be a little slower to jump up and claim it this time, right? Consider this repost an incentive.

Ah, what one misses by having lots of social commitments over the holidays. A prime example would be this chart that Hemant posted on Friendly Atheist.

IQ Increases as Religiosity Decreases

Cute, huh? Go, us smart atheists! Yay!

Except for one little thing. [Read more…]