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Jul 01 2012

WTF, NatGeo?

Oh, it’s another crappy television show put on by a purported science-positive network that I completely missed. National Geographic ran a show called “Chasing UFOs” on Friday, and since about the only television I ever watch any more is commercial-free movies on Netflix, I wasn’t tuned in. Fortunately, Robert Sheaffer did, and found it “lurid and sensational”.

A fellow named Kacey Simmons claimed to have seen UFOs in a particular forested area, so the UFO Chasers decide to go there to check it out. At night, of course. So they attach themselves to absurd-looking night vision equipment with long booms protruding from shoulder braces, looking very much like people with broken necks wandering about. We repeatedly hear one or another excitedly exclaim, “What the (bleep) was that?” They take a video of a light in the sky “changing sizes,” not realizing that is the operation of their camera’s auto focus function, trying to bring the light into focus. We hear coyotes howl in the distance, and they have an almost-encounter with a wild boar. Such are the hazards facing those who dare to pursue extraterrestrials. They photograph an aircraft with three lights, and wonder if it is from earth.

Great. The ghosthunter tactic. I guess people tune in to these things, so it must be effective television for some segment of the population, but every time I’ve seen these horrible green screen/night vision videos with everyone running around with a camera on a boom pointed at their face, I think it’s television for people who want to laugh at how stupid and gullible other people are.

Now why would National Geographic want to sully their good name with this tripe? Here’s a clue: they did a survey. 77% of Americans believe that there is evidence that aliens have visited the Earth, and 36% are sure that they have; 79% of Americans believe the X-Files was a documentary, and that the government has been covering up the Truth about the aliens.

Another nugget of information: Rupert Murdoch owns a 2/3 stake of the National Geographic Channel. Much is explained.


By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena, but I think the contempt is misplaced. As the survey shows and this series exploits, the gullibility of the population for these topics needs to be addressed. If serious organizations with good reputations like National Geographic are going to be pandering to idiocy, we need skeptics like Bob Sheaffer to counterbalance them.

59 comments

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  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    But UFOs and Bigfoot are not the whole of skepticism.

    There are also chupacabras.

  2. 2
    pris

    I would recommend everyone to watch the episode ‘Visitors from down the street’ from the excellent show Crusade. In this episode, an alien government fakes a conspiracy theory concerning humans to distract the population from economical problems and to slowly change to a more totalitarian state. It was meant as a parody…

  3. 3
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    77% of Americans believe that there is evidence that aliens have visited the Earth…

    Well, come on PZ. We all saw Prometheus.

  4. 4
    saguhh00

    Isn’t there something wrong with those numbers?
    Aren’t 40% of Americans supposed to be creatards who believe that the entire Universe was created only for them?

  5. 5
    PZ Myers

    50% of the population have below-average intelligence and are very confused about what they actually “think”. They muck up every survey of attitudes on the planet.

  6. 6
    Leo Buzalsky
    They photograph an aircraft with three lights, and wonder if it is from earth.

    Yeah…because no earth aircraft would have three lights…just one on each wing and one on the tail. Does 1*2+1=3 on earth? That is the question.

    FYI, I can’t remember for sure if I have my wing lights in the correct order, but I think it is a green light on the left wing, a red light on the right wing, and (for sure) a white light on the tail.

  7. 7
    duvelthehobbit666

    I hate it when people confuse UFOs with aliens.

  8. 8
    Daz, when the wind's called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw

    a red light on the right wing,

    Tother way around. If you can remember which is port and which is starboard, “port wine is red” works as a mnemonic.

  9. 9
    throwaway

    #4

    Isn’t there something wrong with those numbers?
    Aren’t 40% of Americans supposed to be creatards who believe that the entire Universe was created only for them?

    90% believe in a deity of some sort and 46% believe in creationism.

    By the way, what’s a creatard? It sounds like it would give a nasty wedgy. (Seriously though, the -tard suffix is ableist, best to avoid it.)

  10. 10
    jonnyscaramanga

    I was going to say, these numbers certainly put the Creationism numbers into perspective, and as saguhh00 points out, would indicate that there’s a significant overlap between evangelical Christians and belief in UFOs.

    So I’m suspicious on the numbers. But DAMN! The public understanding of science needs sorting out.

  11. 11
    Blueaussi

    Ya know, I can’t even convince my next door neighbor that broadhead skink lizards (http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumlat.htm) aren’t poisonous, and I held one and let it bite my finger in front of him. He asked for proof, and I gave it to him, but he still tries to kill skinks. How do you convince someone with that kind of mindset that Big Foot and UFOs don’t exist.

    I sometimes think people scramble after cryptids to get their sense of wonder fix because they’re so vastly ignorant of the real and natural wonder all around them.

  12. 12
    bubba707

    I gotta say it, these shows are more laughs than any other comedy ever on TV.

  13. 13
    Glen Davidson

    It’s interesting that in the past the government encouraged idiots to think that their experimental craft were due to space aliens, and what we hear now is that the government is hiding the facts about aliens now.

    Whether or not this has anything to do with the show in question I don’t know (saw it coming on, didn’t care), but the conspiracy is exactly backward.

    Glen Davidson

  14. 14
    WhiteHatLurker

    #5 @PZ Myers
    While it is true that 50% of a sample/population is below its mean, that is irrelevant. The quality of the aggregate responses would depend on the quality of the mean, and the variance.

    Of a room full of PZ Myers clones, half would fall below the average intelligence. Of course, I can only imagine how that whole room would muck up internet polls.

    Anyway, the bit about the flares at the other blog was cool. The UFO investigators should get some of those.

  15. 15
    throwaway

    Jonnyscaramanga:

    I was going to say, these numbers certainly put the Creationism numbers into perspective, and as saguhh00 points out, would indicate that there’s a significant overlap between evangelical Christians and belief in UFOs.

    So I’m suspicious on the numbers. But DAMN! The public understanding of science needs sorting out.

    The thing is, you’re expecting them to rationally adhere to their irrational beliefs. I know that if you or I were to adopt the claim that “Humans were specially created and unique in all of Creation” then extraterrestrials would not logically follow from that presupposition. I’m not sure creationists have that hang-up, given their track record.

  16. 16
    throwaway

    Addendum:
    Or it could just be a rationalisation such as that solar wave surfing, intergalactic ETs are inferior to us, their planet-bound counterparts, in a mystical way only God knows about. And that leaves everything open to speculation, so really, just lob a dart and it’ll stick.

    Anything can ‘make sense’ when you’re just making it up as you go along.

  17. 17
    skeptifem

    er, the same natgeo that hosts scienceblogs? I wonder if criticism of their programming is allowed on that blog network?

  18. 18
    rickdean

    It’s another glaring example that science writers and skeotics need to continue writing. People are always looking for something to believe in that is greater than themselves, be it gods, UFOs, or the unexplained. Science has all of that and it can be conveyed in entertaining/poetic ways. One has only to start with the works of Richard Dawkins or Jonah Lehrer to see the possibilities.

    Rick
    http://nogodsallowed.com

  19. 19
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena, but I think the contempt is misplaced.

    Promoting skepticism is important, but it does make for dull copy. There are only so many times that one can read even eloquently expressed expositions* on the explanatory power of science or the non-merit of faith. I read FtB because I’m now interested in this other shit. I don’t think this is an attitude of mockery** but a recognition that the old-school debunkers did their jobs well.

    *the alliteration here is accidental…but I listened yesterday to a lecture that Aron Ra gave on rejecting faith. The lecture was clearly and economically delivered, and a really good example of how to do that…but, none of it was remotely novel to me.

    **Assuming that other readers share it. Otherwise, not important.

  20. 20
    ChasCPeterson

    While it is true that 50% of a sample/population is below its mean, that is irrelevant.

    it’s also not (necessarily) true.

  21. 21
    Ingdigo Jump

    THERE WERE 4 LIGHTS!!!

  22. 22
    kathygustafson

    I could weep when I think of all the wonderful programs in the National Geographic vault. They have decades worth of quality programing yet put on this sort of crap. I don’t watch the channel.

  23. 23
    oolon

    By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena…

    I wonder who might have encouraged that a little?

    If serious organizations with good reputations like National Geographic are going to be pandering to idiocy, we need skeptics like Bob Sheaffer to counterbalance them.

    Shome mishtake, shurely? I’ll fix it for you…
    ….we need skeptics like Bob Sheaffer, Ben Radford et al to counterbalance them.

    Unless he tries to blog about feminism and then of course the 1st Pharyngula Panzer Division will destroy him and all his cohorts ;-)

  24. 24
    Ingdigo Jump

    With all due respect. The prevelence of the belief isn’t the major factor. No one is legislating based on UFOology or justifying treating people like shit because of Bigfoot. Oldschool Skeptic Inc focuses on treating pimples while ignoring open sores

  25. 25
    raven

    I was going to say, these numbers certainly put the Creationism numbers into perspective, and as saguhh00 points out, would indicate that there’s a significant overlap between evangelical Christians and belief in UFOs.

    The fundies have that one covered.

    UFO’s are real and piloted by demons from hell.

    This is a common fundie xian belief.

    They get to keep their UFO’s and demons at the same time, a twofer.

  26. 26
    oolon

    @Ing Yeah right so ‘we’ should all focus on the most important things as defined by some ‘True’ sceptic movement? Maybe we should apply the same logic to feminism and not worry about elevators like Dawkins said as someone in Iran is being oppressed.

    … Oldschool Skeptic Inc focuses on treating pimples while ignoring open sores

    OK so its in your opinion but given how many people get shot down with the same flawed logic when applied to the feminist cause I felt I had to point it out. Oh and BTW imo its not a pimple – so many kids like myself found UFOs / Bigfoot interesting and end up on the sceptic side because that interest led them to think sceptically about the evidence. As long as people spout bullshit someone should point it out no matter what the subject.

  27. 27
    raven

    The number of people that believe in mythology, modern or otherwise is high.

    But as PZ noted, half the US population has an IQ less than 100.

    5% of the US population, 15 million people think they were abducted by UFO’s.

    20% are Geocentrists and can’t diagram the solar system, a task I learned in the first grade. There are only 9 (or 8 these days) planets after all.

    50% of the US population claim to be xian and can’t name the 4 NT gospels. There are only four of those.

  28. 28
    Ingdigo Jump

    Oldschool skeptics limit themselves to the relativly harmless BS and hold other things as outisde their limits. the level of focus is the problem.

  29. 29
    Sili

    I saw a UFO last month.

    And our UFO-sightings-gathering club here in Denmark got back to me within a week to tell me that in all likelihood I’d seen a lantern.

    And these are the ‘believers’.

  30. 30
    YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith is a Spocktopus cuddler

    I just got in from visiting the Roswell, NM Alien Festival. This show does not surprise me at all. We went for the LOLs but I came away kind of disappointed in people’s ability to see through the bullshit. I even spoke with a “leading researcher”, Don SChmitt, and, well let’s just say… I haz a sad.

    Also, the International UFO Museum and Research Center is so freaking hilarious. I hate to support it by recommending a visit, but I’ll do it anyway because it is just so damn funny. For example, I noticed that exhibits presenting evidence against aliens all had a little disclaimer (standard “views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of blah blah”) but everything else was disclaimer free.

  31. 31
    michaelpowers

    Out of my charity, perhaps, I’ve always believed that the dumbing-down of America was the result of complacency, and misplaced priorities. The alternative – that there were those with power enough to purposefully steer things in that direction – was almost too much to bear. To what end? Self interest, to the exclusion of all else? I didn’t think that enough of a motive. Such was my naiveté. I’ve obviously changed my mind about this.

    There are other contributing factors, of course. Fear. Anger. Hatred. The Tea Party is a good example. When you get past their silly rhetoric, you find that they’re afraid, and they’re angry because everyone else won’t be afraid with them.

    That’s. It.

    I still have a hard time getting my head around it. Do they realize what kind of long term damage they’re causing? Maybe they figure that, by the time things really go south, they’ll be dead, and so they don’t care. Which makes the damage they’re doing criminal.

    How long do they think humanity will last in a world where verifiable facts are considered mere opinion?

  32. 32
    joed

    Personally i don’t expect any thing but this sort of nonsense from NatlGeo. Seems Smithsonian is lost also.
    Seems the bad guys won.
    Education is really really lost.
    http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/06/clusterfuck-nation/#more-45027

  33. 33
    mikmik

    I saw the a Nat Geo show in the TV listings, and was happy until I read the description. Discovery, History, PBS channels, WTF? I remember watching a Ghost thingy one time, and these ‘mysterious lights’ were so obviously a cat walking along and pausing to look at the fools filming it in the dark and getting the reflection from its eyes. They showed a time laps picture of a country road with the light trails of cars that went by, and called this mysterious lights caught by special photography, as well. They cannot possibly be anything but fraudsters pandering to idiots, I’m sure. I’m not saying all shows are intentionally fraudulent by any means, but more than we think.
    Skeptical Inquirer does some bang up work deconstructing many of these shows, but who reads SI? I tell people about it, but most have zero interest in that type of reading, if they could even understand the implications, just like the poisonous skink mentioned above.

    I also live in a very religious community, and the propensity for belief in supernatural goings on, demons, black magic, conspiracy theories, and sometimes UFOs/aliens, is staggering. It goes part and parcel with their indoctrination into a culture based upon magical thinking and suspicion of critical thinking and skepticism. It is fucking scary, and even the woman I volunteer with at a meal line won’t listen to me when I explain stuff. She is a person I generally respect, but her occasional talk of omens and bad signs and fear of ‘evil’ is ridiculous. My friends nicknamed me Beetlejuice, and several of the higher ups here, including her, are very insistent that this is very bad. I used to use picture of Micheal Keaton for my Facebook pic(yeah, I do resemble that character – a lot!), and one pastor here was quite offended, and also is afraid when I wear any artsy style tee-shirts with any even slight hint of a skull shadow, including my favorite with a quote from the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.”

    The correlation to high rates of religious belief does not surprise me here in North America, but the depth of credulity is disturbing.
    (Oh yeah, I have had several people, more than enough to think this is a talking point for some of these folk, that witches can fly because movies show them doing it! Think of the implications of that!)

  34. 34
    mikmik

    LOL, I see that you, Raven, are aware of this type of thing with fundies, as well.

  35. 35
    raven

    Do they realize what kind of long term damage they’re causing? Maybe they figure that, by the time things really go south, they’ll be dead, and so they don’t care. Which makes the damage they’re doing criminal.

    1. As Jamie Kiltein says, it makes the Tea Party and fundies really slow suicide bombers.

    2. Or you can look at them as really slow child abusers.

    Here kids, we’ve left you a broken world and a once great but now declining superpower known as the USA. Blame us all you want, we are now dead, gone, and beyond caring.

  36. 36
    raven

    I also live in a very religious community, and the propensity for belief in supernatural goings on, demons, black magic, conspiracy theories, and sometimes UFOs/aliens, is staggering. It goes part and parcel with their indoctrination into a culture based upon magical thinking and suspicion of critical thinking and skepticism.

    Oh Great Cthulhu, what general area do you live in any way.

    I’ve rarely seen that, but then again, out here on the west coast, there are way more New Agers and Pagans than fundies. They believe strange things but most don’t seem too serious about it. They certainly aren’t afraid of everything.

    I’ve only seen the Oogedy Boogedy xian types up close a few times. One guy asked a friend if she was into witchcraft. The big tipoff to him was that she had a black cat. Guy is a Mormon, not well educated, and an idiot.

  37. 37
    Rutee Katreya

    By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena, but I think the contempt is misplaced.

    I don’t think it’s that they debunk bigfoot/ufos that is the problem, it’s when folks consider this the limit of skepticism; cryptids, maybe some Ancient Aliens (in the most ass-way possible, frequently), altmed, and JFK conspiracy theories. Altmed in particular is legit important, but these are not the only things one should be skeptical to

  38. 38
    michaelpowers

    1. As Jamie Kiltein says, it makes the Tea Party and fundies really slow suicide bombers.

    2. Or you can look at them as really slow child abusers.

    I love that.

    Sooo, really slow, on a number of levels. Got it.

  39. 39
    Reginald Selkirk

    Now why would National Geographic want to sully their good name with this tripe?

    Ermm? Did you see the lengthy and ridiculous article on the apostles in their print magazine a few months ago? Their conclusion was basically, “we don’t care if this is real, lots of people enjoy it.”

  40. 40
    robro

    Yeow! You mean a Murdoch outlet did a send up about UFOs? That’s amazing. It’s like television has become a tabloid. It’s a mystery! Must be aliens. Now lets get some facts on that Fox News channel so we’ll know who and what to vote for in the elections. God it’s great to be an American! You can believe all kinds of wonderful stuff, and you don’t need to think.

  41. 41
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    But as PZ noted, half the US population has an IQ less than 100.

    5% of the US population, 15 million people think they were abducted by UFO’s.

    20% are Geocentrists and can’t diagram the solar system, a task I learned in the first grade. There are only 9 (or 8 these days) planets after all.

    50% of the US population claim to be xian and can’t name the 4 NT gospels. There are only four of those.

    It’s even worse than that. Apparently, based on distribution and availability, a supermajority of Americans prefer regular Coke to Vanilla Coke.

  42. 42
    myeck waters

    robro, the thing is that the National Geographic brand used to have a certain credibility to it. A lot of people are unaware that the cable channel of that name is controlled by Murdoch, and even being aware of it, my mind still protests, “…but…National Geographic!…”

  43. 43
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Ya know, I can’t even convince my next door neighbor that broadhead skink lizards (http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumlat.htm) aren’t poisonous, and I held one and let it bite my finger in front of him. He asked for proof, and I gave it to him, but he still tries to kill skinks. How do you convince someone with that kind of mindset that Big Foot and UFOs don’t exist.

    :(

    I think I killed what I think was a lined skink once, accidentally, by opening a door to the outside at my old office too fast. It was by a field, and the door was too close to the pavement. It looked like it just had a scratch around its belly, but it didn’t move for a minute, and then quivered a bit; I moved it gingerly into the grass and never saw one again. :(

    In a similar vein, people keep periodically trying to teach my daughter to be afraid of spiders.

  44. 44
    WhiteHatLurker

    #20 @ChasCPeterson – spot on, that was pre-coffee me. I should have said median, not mean. Thanks for the catch!

  45. 45
    Gregory Greenwood

    Now why would National Geographic want to sully their good name with this tripe? Here’s a clue: they did a survey. 77% of Americans believe that there is evidence that aliens have visited the Earth, and 36% are sure that they have; 79% of Americans believe the X-Files was a documentary, and that the government has been covering up the Truth about the aliens.

    Ordinarily, this would be one of those ‘you either laugh or you will cry’ moments when I gaze in horror at the sheer idiocy of such a large proportion of our species, but in truth this is small potatoes. I agree with “We Are Ing The Matrimonial Collective” @ 24;

    The prevelence of the belief isn’t the major factor. No one is legislating based on UFOology or justifying treating people like shit because of Bigfoot.

    A far larger proportion of the population believes in something even more ridiculous than secret visitations by probe-happy aliens – that an invisible and otherwise undetectable all powerful man in the sky poofed the entire universe into existence with magic. This belief is not only ubiquitous to the point that non-conformity to it places one in a small (but at least growing) minority, but belief in it is not only considered reasonable, it is considered by the bulk of society to be essential requirement for one to live an ethical life, and those who do not espouse such a belief are viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility.

    Nor is this curious belief merely a matter of personal preference. It has vast political and social influence, sufficient to corrupt educational programs into a means of furthering its spread by indoctrination, influence foreign and domestic policy, and undermine freedom of scientific enquiry and personal conscience the world over.

    While the fact that idiots chasing UFOs is considered worthy of any kind of documentary (other than a sociological one that examines why people behave irrationally) is certainly a despressing indictment on both modern education and on the state of contemporary documentary film making, set against religion it seems something of a side show. Though, that said, the case could be made that the fact that our society inculcates belief in unevidenced rubbish in the form of religion into almost every child will inevitably create a fertile environment for other unevidenced rubbish that operates in a similar fashion – by exploiting confirmation bias, in group/out-group dynamics, and various other cognitive misfires – and that as such the popularity of conspiracy theories, UFO blather, cryptids and newage woo are all symptomatic of the damage religion has done to the rational faculties of the populous at large, and that if this damage is to be repaired then all expressions of such irrationality must be combated, including the Bigfoot/UFO brigade. Even so, I still think that, based on active harm caused alone, religion should be the higher priority, and those who claim that atheism has no place as part of scepticism (usually based on the claim that scepticism should focus on less controvercial issues, and that criticising religion is too political and ‘hurts the cause’) are putting the cart before the horse. If the elephant in the room of popular religious delusion is not tackled, then confining ourselves narrowly to issues of UFO sightings and the like will serve only to make us irrelevant.

  46. 46
    Rolan le Gargéac

    Daz, when the wind’s called Mariah I know a hawk from a handsaw @8

    which is port and which is starboard, “port wine is red” works as a mnemonic.

    Or just remember that Starboard is right because the Steerboard was on the right-hand side !

    Sorree, pished agin…

  47. 47
    Stella

    This is depressing. NatGeo was such a big part of my childhood, and here’s Murdoch shitting all over my happy memories. Bastard. #11 makes me sad too. I love skinks.

    I also live in a very religious community, and the propensity for belief in supernatural goings on, demons, black magic, conspiracy theories, and sometimes UFOs/aliens, is staggering. It goes part and parcel with their indoctrination into a culture based upon magical thinking and suspicion of critical thinking and skepticism.

    I’ve seen this as well. In my experience it appears to be a Baptist thing and comes from their propensity to be very into “spiritual warfare”, which is essentially LARPing without the costumes or the awareness that it’s role playing. I’ve spoken to xians who firmly believed that road accidents were caused by demons and that they’d actually seen demons. TBH I always thought believing in the supernatural and conspiracy theories was a fairly typical xian modus operandi.

  48. 48
    consciousness razor

    Oldschool skeptics limit themselves to the relativly harmless BS and hold other things as outisde their limits.

    An even older school of radical skepticism was all about trying to apply skepticism to everything. So while I agree with with your point here, I don’t like the implication that this is something fundamentally new which only gnus just started doing, or which wasn’t already an issue well before the civil rights movement (or what-have-you). They’re only old-school in the sense that they want to maintain the status quo — or at least they’re enabling it, whether they realize it or not — so it’d probably be more accurate to call them “conservatives.”

  49. 49
    bachfiend

    A book recommendation.

    Guy Harrison’s ’50 Popular Beliefs that People Think are True’ includes this topic.

    Great read.

    Off topic. Yesterday I bought Ian Tattersall’s ‘the Brain’ (haven’t quite got around to reading it, though it looks good, too many books, not enough time…)

    Though it does have a very embarrassing typographical error. The text and index persist in mentioning one ‘PZ Meyers’?… Oops… I shouldn’t criticize though. I’ve signed my name to reports with blatant typographical errors. Rational authors have written books with occasional blatant errors of fact. For example, Richard Dawkins in ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’ wrote that C13 is unstable. Victor Stenger in his most recent book ‘God and the Folly of Faith’ had a section mangling fundamental particles writing on page 210 ‘… identical bosons, such as helium atoms, … I suspect a malicious or inattentive typesetter was responsible, because particle physics is or was Stenger’s area of expertise.

    By the way. When is your book coming out?

  50. 50
    gardengnome

    Anything Murdoch touches will be utterly corrupted in the pursuit of profit and power and will be reduced to pandering to the lowest common demonitor to that end.

  51. 51
    Cephas Borg

    WRT UFOs vs Big Religion : It’s a helluva lot easier to attack UFOols, if only because they’re so few and far between. And unlike fundamentalist xians and muslims, they’re much, much less likely to try and kill you.

    Part of the problem is that a large proportion of the populace sees UFOology as harmless, if bizarre, fun. So sceptics addressing the idiocy of those nutjobs get tarred with the same brush.

    But if enough sceptics and atheists (how you can be one without the other is utterly beyond my ability to comprehend) stood up and showed the same irreverence for religious theatre, say by strolling across the altar/tabernacle/musallah in the middle of services, (not being asshats, just showing a complete lack of respect), then the idea might start to get around. (Mea maxima culpa, though I’ll pick a smaller church next time).

    As a backup plan, let’s kidnap the pope, take him to the Top Secret Atheist World Baby-Eating Headquarters and Cake Stall, and publish YouTube video footage of him being tickled until he admits his religion is all bullshit and lies. Then do the same thing with the Orthodox Patriarchs, the Chief Rabbis, whichever nitwit runs the farcical mormon hoax these days, the Mufti Council, and so on, and… oh wait, what if they’re not ticklish?

  52. 52
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Incidentally:

    By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena, but I think the contempt is misplaced.

    I’d never noticed this…just a fair amount of antipathy for people who think that skeptical outreach should end with those.

  53. 53
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Rational authors have written books with occasional blatant errors of fact. For example, Richard Dawkins in ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’ wrote that C13 is unstable.

    Given that carbon-14 is unstable and is the main carbon isotope other than 12 of interest, and that the “3″ and “4″ keys are right next to each other, I would hesitate to label this an “error of fact” rather than a “typographical error.”

  54. 54
    bachfiend

    Askyroth,

    It wasn’t a typo. Richard Dawkins mentioned C12, C13 and C14 in the same section discussing C14 dating, and stated, because C13 is so unstable, he doesn’t need to discuss it further. It’s on page 94 of the hard cover edition, if you want to read it; ‘There’s also carbon-13, which is too short-lived to bother with, and carbon-14 which is rare but not too rare to be useful for dating relatively young organic samples, as we shall see’.

    In the audiobook, read by the author, the same was said, so it doesn’t appear to be a malevolent typesetter being to blame.

  55. 55
    wcorvi

    @bachfiend, #49, helium atoms ARE Bosons. He-4 atoms and doubly ionized (ie nuclei) are spin zero, so are Bosons. The pairs of spin 1/2 particles are anti-aligned (in the ground state) yielding zero spin. Even in an excited state, as long as there are either 0 or 2 electrons, the spin must be integer, so Boson.

  56. 56
    gravityisjustatheory

    Does anyone have a link to the actual questions asked? (I couldn’t find it in the linked site).

    I ask because I read recently (I think it was in The Science of Discworld) that one of the famous studies that purported to show that a large % of Americans thought they had been abducted by aliens actually showed nothing of the sort.

    Apparently, the surveyors had expected people would be too embarassed to answer “yes” to the question “have you been abducted by aliens”, so they asked about the (supposed) symptoms of abduction and interpreted a “yes” to those as a “yes” to “I was abducted”.

    All it was really showing was that a large number of people had experienced sleep paralysis and other naturally explainable phenomena, but the credulous “investigators” put this down to actual alien interference.

  57. 57
    bachfiend

    wcorfi,

    Aha! Thanks for your correction. I’ve learnt something this morning. I’d thought that bosons only referred to elementary bosons, generally force particles such as photons, gluons, gravitons (?) and the Higgs boson (????). I’d never known that there was a composite boson too, which includes helium-4 atoms.

  58. 58
    feedmybrain

    @gravityisjustatheory

    If this is true then my mind is blown. I’ve heard that statistic repeated so many times without ever giving it more than a bemused smile.
    I think I have something more interesting than work to look into this morning…

  59. 59
    'Tis Himself

    By the way, I know it’s in vogue in these parts to mock the old-school skeptics who track down Bigfoot and UFOs and other such weird phenomena, but I think the contempt is misplaced.

    The contempt is due to two things:

    *These skeptics limit their skepticism to those things they feel comfortable being skeptical about. They refuse to apply skepticism to religion because that would make some people, notably ones with deep pockets, uncomfortable.

    *While some woo is harmful, homeopathy and anti-vax for example, are Bigfoot or ESP anything other than minor curiosities? Is anyone harmed by someone else’s belief in ghosts? However every day we see examples of religion being actively harmful to large numbers of people.

    So the Gnu Atheists’ contempt towards skeptics who refuse to be skeptical about gods is not misplaced.

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