Technology VS Superstition

All the aliens and angels, all the monsters that we feared,
All the things that made you scared to be alone
All the poltergeists and angels, why, it seems they’ve disappeared…
Ever since they put a camera in the phone

I could credit XKCD, but Randall is hardly the first to notice.

(on the other hand, the rise in easily available technology must also be blamed for the increase in “ghost hunter” shows on basic cable, so maybe it’s a wash.)

Too Good To Be True

This is Bob, from Widget Industries—I work in personnel—
I’m just checking up on references for one Ignatius Shell,
Who assures us, as his manager, you really knew him well
So I’m hoping you can help us out a bit.
Yes, I’m looking at his resume, and he looks like quite a catch
Since it seems he built your company, and pretty much from scratch
You’d have bit the dust without him, so we’re hoping he’s a match
His experience implies he’ll really fit.

Now, there’s something I remember… just a minute… here we are:
How he saved the boss’s son, who’d been run over by a car,
When he lifted up the vehicle, then gave him CPR,
And a method he’d developed by himself!
When the papers heard the story, how he lifted up that Ford
And they offered him a medal, a parade, and a reward,
He refused it—every penny—‘cept a photo he adored
Of the rescued kid—he keeps it on his shelf

Did he really lead the office in their summer softball games?
Cos it isn’t in his letter (he would never make such claims)
But his fellow workers wrote it (though they would not give their names)
And it seems like such an “Iggy” thing to do.
This is mostly a formality—there isn’t any doubt
Shell’s the sort of dream employee that you only read about
So we’re hoping you’ll confirm that he’s too good to do without
Cos he really seems too perfect to be true

Via CNN, a story that sounds too good to be true–a company that, for a fee, will lie about your past.

“We can replace a supervisor with a fictitious one, alter your work history, provide you with a positive employment reputation, and give you the glowing reference that you need,” Paladin’s website states.

Mind you, there is some question as to whether the story itself (let alone the enthusiastic recommendations) is true:

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota said it had never heard of Paladin Deception Services and will be “keeping an eye on them going forward.” The company isn’t registered in the state of Minnesota. Green claims it is registered in China instead and he declined to share any tax forms to prove the company’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, Facebook pulled Paladin’s ads from its site in May because it deemed the company inappropriate and misleading.

I am reminded that a post-rapture pet-sitting service that seemed too good to be true… was in fact, too good to be true. So this service may or may not turn out to be real.

Meanwhile, it could be fun, coming up with bogus items for a resume. I know I get called only very rarely to check up on recommendations I write. Maybe I should start claiming that my students are even more remarkable than they are…

On Origins

The atheists, in arrogance, say man evolved from slime
From nothingness to everything, and all you need is time
With no one there to witness it, they simply cannot know
The truth is, they are idiots… the bible tells me so.

I may not know my science, but I know my holy book
It’s got all the truthful answers there; you simply have to look
Its authors took dictation from Almighty God Himself
That’s a sample of omniscience you’ve got sitting on your shelf.

The bible is, we all agree, God’s perfect, holy word
The scholars say it’s error-free; it’s what the ancients heard
With no one there to witness it, they simply cannot know
But you can trust the bible’s word… the bible tells me so.

[Read more…]

Olympic Placebos

The reality’s hard to escape:
It’s just sticky and bright-colored crepe.
It’s absurd, or it’s funny;
It’s made lots of money—
The placebo, Kinesio Tape

Just a few observations, prompted by a post on NPR’s Health Blog and by my observations of the US Olympic trials.

That brightly colored tape adorning the shoulders, legs, and abs of so many Olympians… oh, hell, I’ll say it–it’s a placebo. The NPR piece implies it, but won’t go out on that limb. There is plenty of profit motive behind the tape–which, of course, means that there would be all the more reason for them to highly publicize the research that proves it is more than placebo… and what we get instead are endorsements by athletes.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with various bracelets, with copper, or holograms, or magnets (actually, only click on those if you really doubt that they exist–these snake-oil sales-weasels don’t need you to give them hits. Search for the terms instead, and add “double-blind” to your search terms, and a vastly different story emerges). At the US trials, I saw another placebo, the “cold laser“, which also has tons of accolades and endorsements, but no double-blind experimental support. At the US trials, a behind-the-scenes peek showed us a “laser”(to my eye, it looked like a set of LEDs) being used while the athlete’s warmup suit was still on–I want to see the data on how much light penetrated the suit, let alone any significant layers of skin. The claims, though, were far-reaching, in terms of how much this treatment could balance the athlete’s energies, etc. etc. etc.

Thing is… The better an athlete is, the more chance they have to superstitiously associate some arbitrary event or object with competitive success. The thing about Olympians is, they tend to win (at least in the qualifying meets–otherwise they would not be Olympians). If every member of the trial squad was wearing their secret super-spy decoder ring, the winner is the one who gets to say it contributed to her or his success. (For one of the best presentations of the science here, see Stuart Vyse’s book “Believing in Magic: the Psychology of Superstition”)

Ah,but… the other thing is… even when some pre-performance ritual is superstitious, it can have very real effects on performance. “Placebo” is not at all the same as “no effect”. I would rather my favorite athletes be aware that their success is their own, and not the result of some bracelet, light, tape, or intercessory prayer. But I know my favorite athletes are human, and, as humans, are apt to be influenced by superstitious conditioning. It’s not foolish, it’s perfectly understandable… it’s just wrong.

21 Burned, In Clear Lack Of Faith

All the misses and the misters
Who walked barefoot over coals
And whose tootsies got some blisters
In defiance of their goals
Will be told they lacked conviction
Or they’d overcome the heat—
It’s a victim-blaming fiction,
And a scam that can’t be beat

You can pay a lot of money
To achieve a state of mind
But it’s still a little funny
(Though, in truth, a bit unkind)
That a walk across some fire
Had a lesson to be learned…
Have a care whom you admire;
Trust a fraud, and you’ll get burned [Read more…]

On Open- And Closed-Mindedness

They’re calling us “closed minded”, cos we say we don’t expect
Any evidence for god to come along
Their sycophants agree with them, or did last time I checked,
But their use of “open-mindedness” is wrong

The odds are very small that there is evidence to find
That would make a non-believer come around
What they ought to ask, instead, is “will a Dawkins change his mind
When the evidence he asks for has been found?”

Context, after the jump: [Read more…]

Nebraska Ghosts! (This Way To The Egress!)

They heard the museum was haunted! Undaunted,
They brought their equipment, to see for themselves.
Recorders and other such get-up were set up
Midst Indian artifacts filling the shelves
You might, given that’s what your choice is, hear voices
In fuzzy recordings and that sort of thing
The noises they’ve heard may be ghostly, but mostly
They’re steps on the way to the sound of “ka-ching”

“If tourists will hit the museum to see ‘em
We’ll say we saw ghosts, and we caught them on tape!
The suckers will love it! They’ll line up, and sign up
For annual passes, their mouths all agape!
You want what we claim we’ve collected inspected?
The button to pay us securely is here!”
They’ll show you—but first, take your money. It’s funny;
Their ghosts are transparent; their motives are clear

more: [Read more…]

Reading Asparagus

We’ll fathom what becomes of us
By tossing some asparagus;
Examine it; determine, thus,
The path we’re bound to take.
A path we know; we need no scouts!
We know it well; we have no doubts!
We heard it from the Brussels sprouts,
The choices we must make.

The cabbages and collard greens,
The lettuces and lima beans,
They all know what “cold reading” means
And swear it isn’t so!
The spinach, sprouts, and Russian kale
Have told us it’s to no avail
There is no future that’s for sale
In plants that you might grow!

The vegetable predictions fly—
Though roots and fruits won’t tell me why,
While tasty tubers try and try
To tell us what they know—
They want me, though, to part with gold
For goods that might be bought or sold
And all the while it all grows old
With science as our foe.

Kylie reports on a psychic with a brand new hook–she reads asparagus.

Which makes sense, actually. Well, as much sense as any other psychic schtick. And I’ll take the word of a vegetable over John Edward any day. But I don’t think I need the psychic to help me interpret. If I get my hands on some nice fresh asparagus, I can be pretty certain about at least one aspect of my near future.

Nom, nom.

NH Primary, Written In The Stars

The stars and the planets don’t give half a fuck
For the fates of the people on earth
But astrologers think they can tell us the luck
Of the candidates, based on their birth.
Who will win? Who will lose? How can anyone know?
All the pundits are seeking an answer;
Can we know who will win, who will place, who will show,
By who’s Scorpio, Virgo, or Cancer*?
Although soccer told odds based on cephalopods
They were wrong when predicting the cup
So astrology’s stars, or entreaties to gods,
May be likely to mess it all up.
Though the candidates promise, in diners and bars,
They’ll be faithful, that’s apt to be fiction;
Any outcome that anyone sees in the stars
Is a thoroughly useless prediction.

Some really cool stuff, after the jump: [Read more…]