Tuesday, July 19, 2011
One reason many players wear them? Apparently during spring training a few years ago Phiten representatives gave out sample products to players. Stars continue to wear them because they think the jewelry works.
Phiten claims that the necklaces “resonate with and respond to the natural energy of the body to improve balance, flexibility, and strength.” ESPN Magazine tested these claims against a placebo and, concluded the bracelet's claims were untrue, although the ball players who believed in the product actually did perform better. So the necklaces either do work, or are one big testament to the power of the placebo effect, or the power of ball players devotion to their beliefs and superstitions.
What I don’t understand is why they have to be so ugly. I mean seriously, you have convinced millionaires and countless others to pay fifty bucks for these things why can’t they be a little bit more attractive? They look like some kind of silly ‘80s friendship bracelet of something!
Sadly, there is a logical explanation for gravity hills. While magnetism could potentially be a scientific explanation, it is not the case here. As it turns out, it is all just an illusion or a trick of perspective and perception. This is caused mainly by an obscured horizon. Without an obvious horizon as a reference point it is difficult to judge the slope of a surface. Also, features of the landscape such as leaning trees can offset your visual reference causing the seemingly gravity defying feat.
Here is a video of one in action.
I found several explanations as to why putting your elbows on the dinner table has been frowned upon for centuries. One is because people’s underarms used to have perpetually bad odors and airing out their stinky pits while others are eating is not cool! Others say that it is slovenly and lazy. I also read that people used to dine at picnic-esque style tables, so placing your elbows up on the table would crowd your neighbors and make less room for others to sit down. Also, tables back in these days were not structurally sound so the excess weight of one’s elbows on the table could break or tip it. Nothing in my research pointed to the origin of table fairies. In fact, the idea of killing table fairies was only mentioned two other times in the results of my google search. So, either (1) my grandmother is crazy, as anyone in my family can attest to, (2) adults came up with this to avoid lengthy explanations to children, or (3) table fairies really exist and we have been wholesale massacring them for centuries.
According to the dream dictionary on the website http://meaningofdreams.org/dream_dictionary/dead_people.htm
I chose to do my book report blog post on Thomas Gilovich’s, How We Know What Isn’t So. This was a well written and concise presentation of the numerous ways that society can go against evidence and reasoning to form beliefs that just aren’t scientifically sound, or reasonable. Gilovich points to several common errors in reasoning and how they cause many misconceptions, superstitions, misrepresentations, and other leaps of faith that range from whimsical to downright irresponsible and dangerous.
Gilovich identifies these common errors in reasoning caused by several cognitive factors. Concerning the misinterpretation of data, be it too random, incomplete, unrepresentative, ambiguous, or inconsistent we have a tendency to look for things that aren't there by making something out of nothing, or too much from too little, or seeing what we expect to see in order to make sense of things. Another explanation is that we misinterpret things in order to fit them more easily in with our preconceived notions, where affirmation is more easily acceptable than contradiction causing us to overlook or disregard evidence to the contrary.
Gilovich then examines the motivational and social determinants of these unscientific beliefs. Many distortions in thought are caused by how the evidence or information is presented by others and how we present distorted information to ourselves and others.
Next, Gilovich gives examples of a few common questionable and erroneous beliefs such as holistic medicine, interpersonal strategies, and the belief in ESP. He then sets forth some ways in which we can counter these common failures of reasoning. Finally the author emphasizes the value of science education and the ways to properly evaluate evidence so as not to fall victim to developing erroneous, ridiculous, and even dangerous beliefs.
My favorite part of this book was a section about how many times the information or evidence that we get and come to hold true is second hand. The author uses a well known (especially to psych majors) experiment on classical conditioning conducted on poor “little Albert.” Most of us are probably familiar with the experiment, but here is a comical overview. Psychologist John Watson basically tortured this 8 month old baby by letting him play with rats and banging a big ass pipe loudly behind his little baby head to see if the fear response could be conditioned, and thus elicited when seeing only the rat. So, obviously traumatized, little Albert began to fear anything white and furry like rabbits, Watson’s white hair, cotton balls, or Santa’s beard. But, as it turns out, and what few psychology textbooks fail to mention, is that the conditioning didn’t quite happen so automatically. It turns out this conditioned fear only lasted about 10 days, at which point that sick bastard Watson decided to “freshen up” the fear this time using a rabbit and a dog paired up with the crazy loud pipe banging. 31 days later little Albert was still scared of these items also, but not quite scared enough to not touch them, since he initiated contact with them readily.
The little Albert experiment is something that is kind of burnt into psych majors minds from day one as a cut and dry story of classical conditioning, but as it turns out it was a load of crap given to us second hand by lazy textbook authors who likely never read the study themselves. Thankfully little Albert’s mother came to her senses and took her guinea pig...uh I mean son away from the sadists at Johns Hopkins and we will never know if little Albert became big Albert, who despised all things furry and harboured a deep seated fear of jolly old St. Nick, but I’d like to think that her got over it........ after years of therapy.
I found this clip speculating on what became of little Albert amusing.
Many of the concepts in How We Know What Isn’t So are related to the pseudoscience and paranormal topics that we discussed in class. One in particular is the belief in “hot hands.” This is a term used in basketball where shooters who make a few baskets, “get in a groove” and experience fewer subsequent misses. This is debunked by the author by citing a study conducted on the shooting habits of the ‘80, ‘81 Philadelphia 76ers. It turned out that they were slightly more likely to make a shot after a miss 54%, compared to 51% after making a shot. The study also showed that streaks of making 4,5, or 6 shots in a row were no more statistically probable than flipping a coin to heads 4, 5, or 6 times in a row. The results showed that their performance on any given shot was independent of their performance on their previous shots. “Hot hands,” or being “in the groove” is a common held belief amongst fans, players, and coaches, in fact 8 of the 76ers in this study believed that they shot in streaks! Gilovich showed that “hot hands” is just another way that reasoning can fail us causing us to know what isn’t so.
This is an important book and an informative class that should be a requirement just like taking a logic class. In today's fast paced and rapidly changing technology based world, we are bombarded with information from an innumerable amount of sources, each one more unreliable and unaccredited as the next. It is important to learn and understand how to logically interpret and understand the never ending stream of crap that is unloaded upon us daily in order to evaluate its validity and impact on our lives.
The term “don’t believe everything that you read or hear” has never been more pertinent, because we have never had so many things to read, hear, or watch available to us. In the words of P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and quack, hacks, schemers, and scamers have never had access to suckers as they do now. Being able to step back and not be misled by others or by our own errors in reasoning can help save our happiness, our bank accounts, and even our lives.
The facts are though that sugar in children produced no known affect of hyperactivity regardless of whether the child has ADHD or not. Some examples of pseudoscience are rather farfetched, but this one does not seem so in this case. This could be partial reasoning of why it is believed by so many people. Parents never think about how easily amused a child is when they believe this myth. Have you ever gave a child a dollar, a new toy, or perhaps something else which would give you no satisfaction whatsoever? The majority of times will send the child into this extremely happy state of mind which can be mistaken for hyperactivity. Also, what parents do not think about is their restriction of candy consumption for their children takes part in why the myth is so widely believed. When the child is restricted from eating candy for large periods of time, the special occasions in which he or she can makes them extremely happy and hyper. Scientists has done at least 12 double blind studies in which the children's hyperactivity was in now way caused by the sugar.
Further information can be found here: http://www.businessweek.com/careers/workingparents/blog/archives/2008/12/medical_journal_says_sugar_does_not_make_kids_hyper.html
Monday, July 18, 2011
I went with Flim-Flam by James Randi for the class book project. It was an interesting read and parts of it were actually quite funny. Before i get into the book itself, I think it would be worthwhile to take a moment to talk about the author. James Randi was a magician and illusionist for several years. As with many stage magicians, such as Harry Houdini and Penn and Teller, Randi felt a certain disdain with many scientist and intellectuals, particularly those who let themselves be fooled by people performing essentially some of the oldest tricks in the book. Some of the ways he found an outlet for such frustrations was involvement in studying claims of the paranormal and proving hucksters and charlatans for what they are. James Randi through his educational foundation in fact has 1 million dollars on the line for anyone who can successfully prove in a scientific experiment they actually have paranormal abilities. Of worthy note, no one has collected yet.
In the book, Randi makes his best effort to explain in plain language why particular schemes and things are hoaxes. He also makes many attempts not to condemn people who were merely playing pranks that got away from them. For instance in the first full chapter he talks longly on a more historical hoax in which two young girls faked many photos of fairies. He takes careful steps to never demonize or vilify the two young girls, who were most likely having a laugh at their neighbor's expense. That is at least, before said photos got more attention and became a national hit in Britain in the 1920's. There are others he makes attempts to paint in softer light, however there are many he is not as kind too.
Throughout the book, Randi focuses on paranormal hot-topics from several disciplines. He also keeps the aim on the amount of misdirection, misinformation, and lack of critical thinking. Whether it is scientists using poor experimental methods, people cleverly presenting information to support their narrative, or psychics and mediums selling out right lies. In one chapter he gets into a few propagators of ancient alien theories and shows how most of their "facts" are carefully selected to sell several of their points. When the whole story is looked at their facts and theories quickly fall apart.
In several chapters the subject matter turns to psychic and the various phenomena attributed to some of them. Randi makes sure to point out how most of the research, and successful experiments involving them, has enough holes to fit the chinese army through. Whether it be basing its validity completely on the word of those being tested, poorly designed experiments, or selective reporting of the experiments. One might even argue trusting someone who claims to hold commune with the spirit world might be rather misguided, after reading this book in particular.
James Randi also makes sure to never alienate the reader. Whether it is the plain language he uses or the generally humorous tone, which can stem from the ludicrousness of the situations involved or his exasperated-ness with them, it tends to involve the reader in a good way. He also takes a few steps to explain that, it is not to say there is no such thing as paranormal activity or UFOs, but that the people who are trying to study these phenomena should make better efforts to weed out the large amounts of non-sense and fakers. This would make it easier to find true evidence and study truly un-known events, it would also lend more credibility to the people studying and researching such things.
While making small passes at things like astrology or something vaguely similar called numerology, Randi's biggest issue is taken with people who are doing harm. While pointing out the problems with scientology and transcendental meditation, he strives to draw parallels to the Jonestown Massacre, which bears a lot of resemblance to The Heaven's Gate cult of more recent years. He wants to make the point known that while some of it seems silly, left alone these things become issues and people get hurt or even die. It is our responsibility to out these fakers and pretenders. Whether its psychic surgeons in the Phillipines or other sorts of faith healers, the people they serve may not seek out real treatment.
The biggest thing to take away from this book is just this, while some of these "paranormal" subjects may seem silly or trivial, it is easy to lose sight of the fact it can cause larger problems. Whether these problems are people throwing their money at table-knockers claiming they talk to the dead, or peaceful cults that end up committing mass suicide, it is our job to do our best to keep these people from causing harm to others. I think thats whats really the important fact of any short look at the sellers of pseudoscience and the paranormal, they should be stopped and discredited before they can cause real harm to innocent people.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
While it tends to spawn the pseudoscientific, much more than it tends to be involved in its propagation, is that people tend to make up explanations for things and try to understand the natural world on their terms. Even when there is a scientific or rational explanation, if its immediately unexplainable, the imagination may run wild with explanations or look for something similar to explain it. A good way to put a face on this specifically would be the legend of The Flying Dutchman. This legend originates from South Africa especially around The Cape of Good Hope. This isn't the only legend of a ghost ship that seems to travel on the skies and can never make port. It is the most well known. People would report seeing a ghostly-looking ship, that might even seem to float on the skies or be well larger than any ship could be at that time. In the picture there is a painting at the top of this particular ghost ship.
Looking at the horizon off the shore or from the side of a ship and seeing a ship cresting seemingly on the clouds, it is not hard to imagine being quite shocked. It is easy to see why one might think of it as a ghost ship. There is a far more realistic explanation while not immediately attainable, a type of visual distortion or mirage known as Fata Morgana is the most likely culprit. At top there are several examples of such effects on the sea and even one on the desert. Clearly one might see something else when witnessing this type of effect especially if already prone to superstition as many sailors were and still tend to be. It is even easy to draw some parallels between the painting and the several pictures at top. People would see these optical illusions and retell the anecdote attaching it to whatever prevailing myth of a ghost ship was common to that particular local.
Simple superstition and imagination might reinforce the belief some one had witnessed supernatural or paranormal phenomenon, even though a simpler explanation could ultimately prevail. At the top, I have also included a picture of the recent volcano eruption in Chile. While it physically and scientifically may make sense, such an awesome image would remain on someone's mind. To look at it from another stand point, people would want to explain it, even though they might lack any appropriate technology. The more creative would make up stories, and these stories would be reinforced over time socially by being told to children and expanded upon. Eventually to mitigate the fact how afraid people are of the volcano, they might even attempt to appease it by making offerings to it.
This is important to remember as often the people, who are selling pseudoscientific theories and products, are often taking advantage of, and even doing harm to, people in bad situations. These people may never realize, or even be able to do the research, to know they have been taken in before it is too late. It is extremely important to always be on the look out for such non-sense, before it goes to far.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
I read Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart Vyse and I loved it! I thought this book was perfect for me since I do believe in some superstitions including the old “knock on wood.” Throughout the book, Stuart Vyse discusses why people may grow up being superstitious, why we as humans believe in superstitions, whether it is just coincidence or not, and of course magic. The psychology part comes in because Vyse tries to make sense of how these superstitions make sense in certain situations, such as dodging a common cold, winning a gamble or even experiencing ESP. After reading this book, I really didn’t notice exactly how many superstitions there are. Many of us have a lucky piece of clothing, a lucky song, or even a lucky piece that we carry around with us. Without really noticing it, we are being superstitious.
The first few pages of the book really drew me in by talking about some common baseball superstitions, and that is why I chose this book. My favorite part of the book is when Vyse talked about baseball superstitions. Vyse described an old baseball player, Wade Boggs. He was known as an outstanding baseball player, a player that hit the ball on average once out of three times. This baseball player made sure he ate chicken before every single game because he believed he played better when he ate chicken. “Having eaten, Boggs begins a pre-game ritual that takes five hours to complete and includes such eccentricities as ending his grounder drill by stepping on third, second and first base, taking two steps in the first base coaching box, and jogging to the dugout in exactly four strides” (4). If thats not someone who is superstitious, I don’t know what is! But apparently it worked for the baseball player who won many titles for having the most hits. I also really liked Vyse brought up “rally caps” which is when someone takes their baseball hat and wears it inside-out and backwards in order to will a team into a come-from-behind rally late in the game. I’ve been to a game when everyone put on their rally cap, and it was hilarious.
In my opinion, superstitions are something you shouldn't play around with. I don't exactly believe in superstitions, but in the case that they may be real, I do things such as knocking on wood, wearing a rally cap, being careful around mirrors in the event that I would drop one, and of course not walking under ladders. "Superstitions often spring from reasoning errors, but these mistakes (illusions of control, misunderstandings of chance and probability, confirmation bias) are common to us all...reasoning errors are a natural feature of our humanity" (208). That quote from Vyse sums up my belief on superstitions perfectly. This book relates to the course because almost every topic in our text book could be classified as superstitious. Aromatherapy, Arthritis pain due to weather, and more specifically the Q-Ray bracelet. If doctors can’t exactly determine why the bracelet works, maybe it is just a superstition. If one thought that if they wore the bracelet to ward off arthritis pain, they may just be teaching their brain to actually believe that it is helping them. Almost any erroneous belief I believe stems from superstitious beliefs.
Here is an article I found interesting: Just why hotels omit the 13th floor. It's an age-old superstition!
And another fun article about celebrity superstitions when they are about to perform, etc.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Logic is failing today in modern society, at least according to Thomas Gilovich. How We Know What Isn’t So overviews the instances in modern society where the biases from our individual backgrounds influence our logic in viewing statistics and data. The passages are informative and self-critical. The book tells us our problems upfront and implies way that we can combat them.
In How We Know What Isn’t So I particularly enjoyed the first section of Cognitive Determinants of Questionable Beliefs and more specifically the chapter in the first part called Something Out of Nothing. In this chapter the author, Thomas Gilovich, goes into detail about how in human nature there is a need to see order in chaos where there is none. Each day we are faced with random events and more often than not we fail to see them for what they actually are, just a pure instance of probability. As a coin is flipped into the air it is heads, tails and both at the same time.
I live relatively close to Philadelphia, PA and everyone knows the infamous Philly sports fans. Everyone has their superstitions. I grew up with “if you knock over the salt, throw some over your left shoulder” and “when on a boat, never bring a banana”. However, the erroneous beliefs of some Philly fans tend get out of hand more often than they are good for.
I have two personal experiences firsthand of the excessive questionable actions because of erroneous beliefs. During a certain Eagles-Giants game, the room had fans of both teams that were in the game. As the game progressed, the Eagles fans retreated several times to the garage of the house to have a cigarette. They tended to smoke more when their team wasn’t doing well. During one of these smoke breaks, the woman of the Eagles fans started to kick one of the poles in the garage and coincidently during her exertion of anger on the pole, the Eagles scored a touchdown. A reasonable human being would just get back into the game and keep watching. However, if their actions were reasonable I would not be writing about the details. They decided that as long as the woman continued to kick the pole in the garage, the Eagles would play better. Of course, as odds would have it the Eagles won.
Now it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the flaw in the Eagles fan’s logic. There is a saying that my dad told me in reference to sports and that is “any given Sunday”. The saying means that at any point during a sports game, the game can go either way. There are too many factors involved in the outcome of a game for the ending to be swayed by a single event. The underlying idea behind the saying is randomness. Randomness is also the idea behind the chapter in the book and the inevitability of humans to place logic to the illogical. The Eagles fans based their actions off of one of the basic principles of erroneous beliefs, Confirmation rather than refutation. Since the woman was kicking the pole while the Eagles scored it was a confirmation that her actions caused the touchdown. However, if the woman kept kicking the pole through the whole game, it is inevitable that the Eagles would score while she was kicking the pole because of the nature of the game.
Throughout his book, Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions, James Randi examines various cases of the so-called paranormal to be nonsense. He discusses about how things considered to be paranormal are nonsense due to the lack of scientific research to back it up. He even offered a check for $10,000 to anyone that could perform one paranormal action with observable conditions. Over six hundred people made the attempt, and they all failed.
Some things he criticized were fairies in photographs, the Bermuda Triangle's validity, and astrology. He goes on to make sense of how those cases are not paranormal and how evidence proves that these things are nonsense. For instance, in Chapter 2: Fairies at the Foot of the Garden, the fairies in the photos were found out to be similar to those in the book, Princess Mary's Gift Book.
My favorite part of the book is Chapter 5: The Giggling Guru: A Matter of Levity, where meditation gets its shot from Randi. Meditation is supposedly a fourth state of mind that positively benefits us to do better at a job or reduce stress. The Maharish International University is a great example of sharing its Transcendental Meditation, or TM, philosophy. The "Maharishi Effect" is when a percentage of the population is dedicated to TM, the quality of life will improve. It has been found to make no significant changes at all! What a great effect that is...
Here's a video about this Maharishi Effect
As far as the class goes, Randi's book presents an individual who debunks the a set of claims by using research and other methods. It is similar to the chapter on child development where sugar for the kids makes them hyper or dyslexia from reversing letters and the scientific findings for those respective cases.
I found this book to be reader-friendly and would recommend it to others. To those interested in making claims seem like nonsense, this is a book for you. It's like an episode of Syfy's Destination Truth, you hear about some creature, travel to its supposed location and speak to locals, and most likely end up not finding anything that confirms existence.
In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan starts off explaining how science can be viewed in both good ways and bad. For example, science makes it possible to increase the length of human life,however, then science also has to find a way to provide food for these tens of billions of people. In this book Carl Sagan also points out that every science also has a pseudoscientific version. Some examples would include, chemistry versus alchemy, psychiatry versus parapsychology, and astronomy versus astrology. Sagan also gets into UFOs and aliens as well as faith healings and other psuedoscience topics in The Demon-Haunted World.
A major point that Sagan makes in this book is how can a country, like the United States, that has been in the center of so many amazing scientific discoveries, now be trailing behind other countries when it comes to scientific knowkedge among students? He partially blames this on rapid change in knowledge base. Carl Sagan was sure to emphasize his points with striking evidence. For example, he shares that 50% of Americans do not know that the Earth revolves aound the sun once a year and that 65% of adults do not know that antibiotics kill on bacteria and viruses.
My favorite part of the book was definitely when Sagan got into UFOs and aliens. Being a fanatic of scary movies, like The Fourth Kind, and shows, like Unsolved Mysteries, I really enjoyed getting into this topic and learning about his opinions. Sagan's big question was, how can there be an advanced race capable of traveling light years, yet have such little knowledge about things like biology that they need to use humans to conduct experiments? Carl Sagan is definitely a skeptic of UFOs and aliens and points out that UFO sightings increased around the same time the military was transitioning from bombing to missiles, which created streaks of light that were very fast moving. Since Sagan does not believe in UFOs or any of the abduction stories, he and I do not really see eye to eye, however, it was really great reading his opinions and the evidence he has against the stories.
This book is very relatable to our class because Carl Sagan is basically trying to disprove psuedoscience with science. He is pretty much a skeptic of everything we have been learninan g about and writing our blog posts on. Sagan even believes in a "Baloney Dectection Kit." This bulleted list pretty much explains how to think skeptically when it comes to these topics. Some points that are made are to make sure that where ever possible there must be independent confirmation of facts and if there is a chain of argument, every link must work.
Overall, this was a great book. Although I do not agree with all of Carl Sagan's ideas and ways of thinking, I do believe he showed a lot of support and evidence for his beliefs. There are some parts of psuedoscience I do not agree with, but there are some I am not sure about and find very interesting and this book as well as our class have helped me realize that. I think that many people could relate to this even outside of class. There are all kinds of psuedoscience ideas all around us that are big controversies. Things like aliens and UFOs are portrayed all over the media on TV and in movies all the time. I guess it is just up to each individual person whether or not to believe.
Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud’ by Robert L. Park in an interesting glimpse into the driving line between science and pseudoscience. Topics covered include alien encounters, superstitions, and the ‘placebo effect’. The book is useful in the sense that it is written to appeal to those who may not understand all the scientific terms behind the ‘research’. Junk science, pathological science, fraudulent science and pseudoscience all fall under the category of ‘voodoo science’ as described by Park. He believes many people throughout the world believe in these so called ‘voodoo sciences’, such as cold fusion, because they simply do not understand the complexity of the theories presented. Park emphasizes that many of these supposed ‘scientific facts’ are not following the scientific method, nor is there sufficient evidence to support claims. Generally, people are willing to believe in anything that seems to be supported by science. Therefore, these experiments seem legitimate, when in all actuality they are not.
The topics presented in Park’s book are usually myths that have been around for many years. Park offers his own view on each topic, with researched and proven science to back his claims. Often these myths are debunked as either a misunderstanding of science or an ill-performed experiment that lacks sufficient evidence to support it’s claims. ‘Newman's Energy Machine’, for example was a machine created by Joe Newman who claimed it produced more energy than it used. The general public was informed that one day this device will be able to provide an unlimited supply of clean energy. What they weren’t told was that the machine failed when tested by the National Bureau of Standards, failed to obtain a patent, and the ‘one standard battery’ was actually accompanied by 1,809 more.
The topic covered in this book that I found most interesting what the chapter regarding science being protected by government secrecy. I found this chapter interesting because Park offers his own experience while driving down a desert highway. He depicts seeing a blueish-green light flash across the sky in an instant as well as a floating orb of light flying beside his car. However, whereas any member of society might claim aliens at the sight of such an event, Park explains, through verified science, that the flash of blue-green light that was seen was merely an ice meteorite and the orb was simply the reflection of his headlights on nearby power lines. He continues with the chapter explaining that many of those who report such sightings are not properly educated with the science behind these situations.
All in all, I found this book to be very interesting. It was very informative and debunked many myths I believe we have all been subjected to. It’s simplistic approach makes an easy read for interested people of all ages. The video i've attached is part 1 of 5 in which Joe Newman displays his 'free energy' machine.
In his book; Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, author Robert Park describes the studies of science and, as Park so aptly names it, "voodoo science," as well as the line where one crosses over in to the other. The book is written mostly in layman's terms, making it friendly and understandable for non-scientists, the audience that this information should most benefit. Park brings up many topics having to deal with science, voodoo science, and where they overlap, including how both science and voodoo science are displayed in the media, how people understand each, using science to determine the difference between truth and pseudoscience, placebo effects, space travel and aliens, perpetual motion and free energy, and superstitions. He covers each of these topics in detail, explaining what about each is science and what is voodoo science, and using scientific methods to "debunk" these pseudoscience beliefs.
My personal favorite part of Voodoo Science was the chapter on superstitions and false beliefs, both modern and ancient, and how they relate to pseudoscience. This chapter also goes into parapsychology, and people dealing with things they do not understand. The part of this chapter that interested me most, however, was that having to deal with Deepak Chopra's use of quantum mechanics as a pseudoscience. As a man who has always loved the study of physics and how we can use it to understand the universe, I have always been fascinated with quantum mechanics; quarks and blacks holes, time travel, etc, all grounded in true science. Chopra used this fascination to her advantage and wrote two best-selling books about how quantums can cure illness and stop aging, (mis)quoting physicists like Stephen Hawkings to give herself credibility. The public ate it up, trusting her (she quoted Stephen Hawkings after all! everyone knows hes a genius!) because it sounded scientific, and everything scientific is right, right? Well, that's the problem with voodoo science.
Many of the topics covered in Park's book coincide with those from class, such as the definition of science and pseudoscience and of course many of the subtopics involving this. One particular topic that relates to class especially is the placebo effect. In class we learned about the Q-ray bracelet, a supposedly ionized bracelet which could help alleviate pain and give us strength and balance just by wearing it. There is no real science behind this bracelet, however: it works entirely on the placebo effect. People THINK that the bracelet will help them, so they feel like it is. This idea, the placebo effect, is covered in more detail in Voodoo Science.
Overall, Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud is a great book, because it does what Robert Park set out to do: educate the uneducated on "voodoo science." Books like these are a great step in the right direction, as bringing knowledge to the public and exposing scams for what they are can help society as a whole. From moving on from false beliefs and pseudoscience, to preventing the wasting of money on fraudulent voodoo science products, books like these can help us all start believing in real science and move down the road of progress instead of foolishness and fraud.
The following video is a bit outdated, but it deals with the increasing belief in voodoo science and the decrease in students going for scientific or mathematics degrees; the main problem which Park's book is out to solve.
Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World explores society’s increasing misconception of the world of science, in which he conveys precisely in his opening conversation with his driver, Mr. Buckley, as well as the importance of skepticism in science. Throughout the novel, Sagan investigates well-known fallacies such as UFOs and aliens, witchcraft, demons, etcetera in a way that is appealing to his readers. Carl Sagan uses his own experiences to bring about each topic creating an empathetic feel for his readers rather than a demeaning one towards the pseudoscientific beliefs that are so notorious for ages in our world; he lets the readers know that he too held such high hopes for certain myths at one point in time.
Along with his sympathy, Carl Sagan uses science to convey the irrationality of each misconception in order to prove to his readers these commonly known topics are simply just a part of pseudoscience. Time and time again, Sagan stresses the importance of the scientific method and how science “invites us to let the facts in.” With his wit, the author helps us to understand that the more we want something to be true just means that we will have to dig harder with the use of science in order to prove it true.
The largest amount of information on any of the topics seemed to be on UFOs and aliens, being that there were several chapters dedicated to this specific subject. Throughout these sections of the novel, Sagan gathered a large amount of testimonials from those who have been abducted by aliens, have spotted UFO, or even seen crops circles due to “alien communication.” In doing this, he states all information as if it were true, providing the testimonials, and then disproving them. In disproving them, it was interesting to find that many statements given were part of a hoax. Many of the UFO cases had pictures of small models attached to a noticeable thin thread.Now take the crop circles. In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted to creating these crop circles on their own for fifteen years! This was just one deception of many. Also, when it comes to UFOs, it was interesting to find just out easily a UFO sighting can be a discredited by a natural phenomena such as unconventional or conventional aircraft, high-altitude balloons, luminescent insects, and optical mirages just to name a few; in fact Sagan names about fifteen situations that could produce a “UFO sighting.”
Overall, The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan provided the readers with a new taking to these now known myths of pseudoscience. This text directly relates to our class being that the novel clearly illustrates many pseudoscientific believes that can be disproven with the use of science. The book clearly lives up to its intentions and proves that science is more than just a body of knowledge; it shows us the facts and brings us back to reality. Although it is nice to believe that there are aliens and witches out there, these aspects of our world can only be found in fiction novels, movies, and television—for now.
Park tackles a number of scientific hoaxes and examples of just plain bad science. He examines several different types of "voodoo science," with examples. There are scientists that apparently start out well-intentioned, but want so badly to believe in their own results that they ignore flaws in their research, and eventually start falsifying or obscuring evidence; the chapter on cold fusion covers this rather nicely. There are out-and-out hucksters, like the guys who will try to convince you that they've discovered perpetual motion, and will sell you an engine for a few hundred bucks. And there is "science" that has always been bad science, like homeopathy and astrology, that has nonetheless become an intractable part of our culture.
My favorite part of this read was Emily Rosa. I love it when I'm convinced the generation after mine is going to destroy us all or is going to sloth itself into inexistence and then someone surprises me and leaves me feeling like somehow the future may be a little brighter than I thought.For me, his book was eerie and I kept thinking, “Who exactly can we trust?” Unfortunately, voodoo science looks so much like real science until you start picking it apart, but even bad scientists can write very convincing books. I know even to trust the media as far as I can throw it, but even reporters can be the victims of bad science. So, what I've gleaned from his book, and the most important lesson of all, is to be skeptical and ask why, then take that information and compare it to what else has been studied about the same subject by different scientists. Hard work, I know. But I'm sure the pay-off is worth it because we all understand that knowing is half the battle.
By: Greg Elliott
Believing In Magic walks the reader through various explanations on why people may believe in superstition or even religion. Stuart A.Vyse takes a very analytical approach in attempting to explain many everyday superstitions, delving into what kind of person may be predisposed to be superstitious and how that predisposition can be reinforced by either family or society as a person grows up. Different themes are tackled in different chapters ranging from why different social groups are far more predisposed to have rituals and superstitions as well as how once you become superstitious the human mind will always find a way to amplify those beliefs. Vyse even goes on to discuss how superstition may even be a natural product of the human brain grabbing proof from various mental disorders and the manifested problems they produce. Overall an easy and fast read, at times dry with a little to much focus on becoming somewhat of a statistics text book, it still offers up a wealth of information on a topic that touches everyone’s life.
A favorite part of mine would have to be the bit in chapter 5 “Growing up superstitious” where the various ways children use superstition are explained. It really supported the idea that superstition may be a natural occurrence in all humans, just because of the way we’re designed. People naturally gravitate towards “higher powers” in times of reduced control, and what time is less controllable than when you’re a child? It was also strange to me the similarity of the sayings the children used as the area from which the information for the study described, was taken from various places sometimes very far away from each other. Rather than only focusing on the use of certain oaths, rhymes and superstitions, it would be interesting to see how those beliefs carried from place to place holding such similarity. This chapter probably influenced me the most in thinking about superstition as a biological construct rather than a social one. The behaviors of the children were learned but the readiness which they were accepted and believed in is something I had never thought of before.
This book actually fits nicely into our course as a missing “chapter” from the development portion of our textbook. I think much of what is said by Vyse is important but it leaves me wanting more. I feel it covers a very basic common version of superstition. Just reading this book would make me want to go out and read more on the topic but included in this course it adds to the whole topic of this course nicely. I think the perfect spot for this information would be in the child development portion of the textbook as it really explores superstition as a natural construct and almost a tool in human adaptation/development on a large and small scale. As an creature it helps our race survive, but on an individual level superstition/religious beliefs shape our lives and how we live them. As mentioned before this book covers much common superstition but something a little on the darker side, a use for superstition that most in our part of the world never see, is needed to show all that superstition can be. Its no always the happy thing that we do to help us win a baseball game, superstitious beliefs for centuries have been used to control people and hurt others at times. A video link I have included at the bottom is about this very topic in India. Apparently superstition is so wide spread it has become a serious problem, watch and I think you’ll agree that superstition needs to be eradicated sometimes.
the series is broken into 4 parts(just click on the one with the successive number at the end)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkeT0UX7Opg
Being a medieval peasant, Joan lived in a world far less visual than most. Sound regulated her rural existence: she awoke to roosters crowing, was summoned to Mass by church bells ringing and learned news from the tales of travelers. So it seems natural that what she regarded as “divine guidance” came to her in voices.
Joan said she heard the voices for the first time when she was 13, she said they belonged to Saints Michael, Margaret and Catherine and carried messages from God, directing her destiny and foretelling her future. For example, the voices said she would lead an army to lift the English seize of Orleans in the spring of 1429 and would be wounded in the battle. These predictions came true.
The voices even assigned her a sword, saying it would be found buried near the altar of the Church of Saint Catherine at Fierbois, they also said it would be covered in rust but once cleaned it would have 5 crosses inscribed on its blade. At Joan’s request, priests of the village church unearthed the sword and upon cleaning the rust off of it found it to be inscribed with 5 crosses as she predicted.
In 1431, the English had Joan tried by an ecclesiastical court, which convicted her of witchcraft and heresy. Shortly before her execution she told her inquisitors of another prophecy, “have no care for the martyrdom; in the end thou shalt come to Paradise.”
Almost 500 years after burning her at the stake, the Church declared Joan a saint.
I chose Carl Sagan's novel "The Demon-Haunted World" for my book report. In this book Sagan attempts to demystify several prominent pseudoscience topics using science. Sagan eliminates the haze that often accompanies topics such as alien abductions, demons, and witchcraft, not by dismissing common beliefs but by explaining the psychology behind these beliefs and using scientific evidence to disprove them. Sagan shows that there are reasons behind why people accept these myths as truths...and equally valid reasoning behind their falsity.
My favorite part of the novel was the chapter on alien myths such as the Roswell, New Mexico controversy and various claims of alien abduction and subsequent sexual abuse. My father is extremely interested in abductions, crop circles, and possible alien visits to earth, specifically "Roswell", therefore this chapter sparked my interest. I found it so interesting that Sagan was able to so flawlessly disprove claims that an alien spacecraft landed in Roswell, New Mexico in the Summer of 1947, replacing them with encouraging evidence that the "UFO" was actually a weather balloon used in the Cold War. Sagan was also able to draw a strong connection between alien abduction and sexual abuse to victims' haunting memories of childhood sexual assault, therefore debunking claims of abduction and placing blame on painfully vivid memories.
The belief that a human can be abducted and have consequent unpleasant sexual experiences as well as the belief that a UFO landed in Roswell New Mexico can be related to out of body experiences discussed in “Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal”. It is disproven that the mind can leave the body by the simple fact that the mind depends on brain power to function; without an active brain one ceases to produce thoughts. This is similar to how a person’s claim that they were sexually assaulted after they were forcefully brought onto an alien spaceship can be explained rather logically. The person was instead experiencing a frightening and vivid memory brought forth from their childhood. The Roswell, New Mexico scandal can also be explained simply; the “UFO” was actually a weather balloon.
The fact that these elaborate stories, controversies, and scandals can be born from events that can be so simply explained makes me believe that they were produced to create the effect that the public has created over and over again. Maybe events such as Roswell, New Mexico and out of body experiences are created to grab the public’s attention and create controversy. Whatever the reason, no matter how well authors like Carl Sagan can put these myths to rest, American society will continue to believe them.