Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Doggerel Index & Suggestions

Since the text up here hasn't changed much in a while, regular readers might not notice this bit of change. Since I often get an idea for an entry and forget it, I've decided to list future doggerel along with existing links to keep them as reminders, as well as potentially encouraging readers to give suggestions and helpful images. Note that some of these prospective entries may change order, depending on my mood, schedule, and so forth.

First, the big list of Doggerel Entries:

#1: "Supernatural"
#2: "You're Just Jealous!"
#3: "You're Just a [Insert Evil Organization] Shill!"
#4: "Closed-minded" See also The Appeal to Be Open-minded
#5: "Worldview"
#6: "Impossible"
#7: "You Just Have to Respect My Beliefs!"
#8: "I Don't Have to Prove Anything to You!"
#9: "Spiritual"
#10: "Sophistry"
#11: "You're Just an Anonymous Commenter!"
#12: "Science Doesn't Know Everything!" See also: Skeptico's take
#13: "People Have Believed This For Thousands of Years!"
#14: "It Works THROUGH the Placebo Effect!"
#15: "Natural"
#16.1: "Faith" (Updated 7/11/2006) See also: Skeptico's take on equivocation of the term.
#17.1: "Quantum" (Updated 12/13/2006)
#18: "I Know What I Saw!"
#19: "Read My Book!" See also: "Why I Won't Read Your Book"
#20: "Obvious"
#21: "Why Do You Have to Complicate Things?"
#22: "Persecution"
#23: "Negativity"
#24: "Arrogant"
#25: "Science is Just Another Religion!" See also: sraiche's take
#26: "It's Only a Theory!"
#27: "Educated"
#28: "They Laughed at [Real Scientist], Too!" See also: The Galileo Gambit
#29: "Chemicals" (See also: Skepticwiki's take)
#30: "You Need to Think Outside the Box!"
#31.1: "Looks Like I've Touched A Nerve!" (Replaced 1/28/2009)
#32: "Both Sides"
#33: "Invisible"
#34: "They Do It For Free!"
#35: "You Must Lead a Miserable Life!"
#36: "What Did [Woo] Ever Do to You?"
#37: "Organic" (Original source)
#38: "You're Just Mean!"
#39: "I Can See It, Why Can't You?"
#40: "I Was a Skeptic, Once."
#41: "Energy" See also: Le Canard Noir's take on the altie sort of energy
#42: "God"
#43: "You're Just Afraid of the Truth!"
#44: "You're Just Rude!"
#45: "Why Are You So Obsessed?"
#46: "Don't Knock [Woo] Until You've Tried It!"
#47: "Science Made the Bomb!"
#48: "Hateful"
#49: "Ad Hominem" See also: Skeptico's take and the Action Skeptics' take
#50: "Science Doesn't Apply to [Woo]!"
#51: "Threatened"
#52: "Why Isn't Your Site More Popular?"
#53: "We Need More Time to Research!"
#54: "I Demand Respect!"
#55: "You Haven't Walked in My Shoes!" written by Orac.
#56: "You Want to Disprove Love!"
#57: "You Use Bad Words!" See also: "Putting the Fan in 'Profanity'"
#58: "Get a Life!"
#59: "I've Got Better Things to Do!"
#60: "But [Famous Scientist] Believed in [Woo]!"
#61: "But [Woo] Doesn't Work 100% of the Time!"
#62: "Stop Complaining!"
#63: "Don't Be So Focused on the Facts!"
#64: "New Paradigm"
#65: "You Have to Believe in [Woo] for it to Work!"
#66: "I'll Pray For You!"
#67: "Western"
#68: "But You Don't Know How [Woo] Works!"
#69: "You Can't Disprove [Woo]!"
#70: "It Works For Me!"
#71: "Fundamentalist Atheist" See also: "Atheist Labeling"
#72: "I Go Beyond My Five Senses!"
#73: "But [Woo] Isn't Paranormal!"
#74: "The Devil's Fooled You!"
#75: "Materialism"
#76: "They Once Thought the Earth Was Flat!"
#77: "Fanciful"
#78: "Vibration"
#79: "Wellness"
#80: "What's the Harm?"
#81: "[Evil Guy] Believed in [Theory]!"
#82: "Allopathy"
#83: "You're Just Driving Up My Site Traffic!"
#84: "Elitist"
#85: "You Can't Find an Atom of Love!"
#86: "Crystal"
#87: "Humility"
#88: "You're All Ganging Up on Me!"
#89: "I'm Going to Show You... In My Book!"
#90: "Bashing"
#91: "Don't Force Your Views on Us!"
#92: "Intuition"
#93: "You're Not a Scientist!"
#94: "U.F.O."
#95: "Authority"
#96: "Why Would [Woo Pusher] Lie to Me?"
#97: "Join in the Debate!"
#98: "Context"
#99: "Pseudoskeptic" See also: Infophile's take
#100: "Truth"
#101: "We Can Believe Whatever We Want!"
#102: "The Government!"
#103: "Intelligent"
#104: "UR TEH GAY!!!!!111!"
#105: "Who Are You to Criticize Someone's Belief?!"
#106: "You're Just Being Defensive!"
#107: "You Just Think You're Smarter Than Everybody Else!"
#108: "Artificial"
#109: "Controversy"
#110: "Cynic"
#111: "Something More"
#112: "Subtle"
#113: "Infinite"
#114: "Communists!"
#115: "Fair and Balanced"
#116: "Biased"
#117: "Life"
#118: "Helping"
#119: "You're Not Helping!"
#120: "Troll"
#121: "Eureka!"
#122: "You'll Be Sorry!"
#123: "You Argue as Loudly as a Fundamentalist!"
#124: "Better Safe Than Sorry!"
#125: "Wonder"
#126: "Offense"
#127: "Unexplainable"
#128: "The Left!"
#129: "The Right!"
#130: "The Corporations!"
#131: "The Illuminati!"
#132: "Transcendent"
#133: "Belief"
#134: "Consciousness"
#135: "Holistic"
#136: "Deep"
#137: "Dimension"
#138: "Logic"
#139: "Malpractice"
#140: "Emotion"
#141: "Technology"
#142: "Can Science Prove Love?!"
#143: "That's Just My Opinion!"
#144: "Limited"
#145: "We Make Our Own Reality!"
#146: "[Famous Scientist] Said..."
#147: "I Can't Prove It or Disprove It!"
#148: "Universe"
#149: "Why Do You Ask So Many Questions?!"
#150: "Purpose"
#151: "Godless"
#152: "Even if I Showed You the Evidence, You Wouldn't Believe It!"
#153: "Sense"
#154: "Phenomenon" by Akusai
#155: "Cameras are Magic!"
#156: "Don't You Think It's Suspicious That You Spend so Much Time on This?"
#157: "It's Like the Allegory of the Cave!"
#158: "Moral Fiber"
#159: "Statistics Can Say Anything!"
#160: "We Got More Famous People on Our Side!"
#161: "Random"
#162: "Our Side Killed Fewer People!"
#163: "Science Has Limits!"
#164: "Insensitive"
#165: "Beyond Logic"
#166: "Metaphysical"
#167: "If It's Not Particles, You Can't Study It!"
#168: "Theology"
#169: "Square"
#170: "Woo Makes Me Feel Better!"
#171: "You're Not an Expert, You Can't Comment!"
#173: "You Think We're All Just Molecules!"
#174: "Not Everything is as It Seems!"
#175: "But Woos and Wooism Have Contributed to Science!"
#176: "Low-Hanging Fruit"
#177: "Certainty"
#178: "Silencing"
#179: "Agenda"
#180: "Simple"
#181: "Complex"
#182: "I Bet You Ruin Fantasy Movies!"
#183: "Common Sense"
#184: "There's No Such Thing as 'Probably' in Science!"
#185: "What Makes You So Sure Science Can Find the Answers?!"
#186: "Empowering"
#187: "[Scientist] Recanted on His Deathbed!"
#188: "THEM!"
#189: "Settled, Once and For All"
#190: "Free Will"
#191: "Genius"
#192: "Go Look at [Woo's] Research, Yourself!"
#193: "There are Lots of Frauds Out There!"
#194: "I've Seen More Than You!"
#195: "You're Just Denying the Facts!"
#196: "Anomaly"
#197: "Unprofessional/Immature"
#198: "Look it Up Yourself!"
#199: "Straw Man!"
#200: "You Just Want to Tear Everything Down!"

#201: "Something to Think About"
#202: "Google It!"
#203: "Just Asking Questions"
#204: "Do You Think You're Smarter Than [Scientist]?!"
#205: "The Mainstream Won't Publish My Stuff!"
#206: "Toxins!" (By C0nc0rdance)
#207: "Eastern"
#208: "Nothing"
#209: "Patented"
#210: "Victim"
#211: "Spooky"
#212: "Weird"
#213: "Just Because / It's Magic!"
#214: "Absurd"
#215: "It Can't Just Be Coincidence!"
#216: "Why Are You So Angry?"
#217: "100% Safe"
#218: "You Don't Know!"

And now, here's your chance to contribute. You can leave suggestions in the comments, or send them to my Gmail address.

Some guidelines for suggestions:

1: The more cliché it is, the better. Net trolls like to use cookie-cutter "arguments." If linking to one of my entries saves you time and effort that would have been spent typing yet another refutation of a trivial point, I'd like to be able cover them all.

2: If the word is a commonly misused technical term, like "quantum," please try to point me to a good source for the word's actual meaning, as well as a few abuses. I'd like something easy to reference as I type.

3: No politics. I don't care to dissect politically-oriented doggerel yet. For now, I feel my efforts should be devoted to getting people to distinguish between the black-and-white issues of science versus pseudoscience, rather than the grays of politics. So, no requests for "terrorism," "amnesty," or whatever the hot button issue is at the time you read this. There will, of course, be some inherent crossover, since propaganda is propaganda, regardless of its subject.

4: Feel free to offer to do a guest Doggerel. I'm not perfect, and if you've got a specialty I don't, it'd really be appreciated.

Stupid God Tricks #2: Grandma Has Evasion

Okay, after Jormungandr invoked the familiar "I attack the darkness!" I couldn't resist. It seems God either has a very low save DC for his fireballs and lightning bolts, or that grandma has the evasion class feature.

We had studies that suggested prayer was potentially harmful, but this anecdote confirms that in a more overt manner. I wonder if God's related to the Lady of Pain?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Marvin Converts to Taoism!

No, this isn't some ancient Martian monument celebrating Yin and Yang. I saw this photo out of context, but after clicking a pair of greater-than signs cleverly hidden in plain sight, I'm glad to know it's not some geological puzzle (or non-puzzle) the woos would take hold of as evidence of Marvin the Martian's empire building. I thought it looked like a close-up: It's a spot where Spirit used one of its tools to collect some soil samples.

Doggerel #9: "Spiritual"

"The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge." -Albert Einstein
Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. This installment deals with one word that's gotten pretty far into "plain meaningless" territory: "Spiritual."

The definition I used right up until I abandoned the word was pretty close in line with Einstein's quote up there: A sense of wonder that drives a person to understand the world around him and make it a better place. Of course, that definition has very little to do with spirits, so it doesn't really fit.

One of the common uses involves people who describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious," usually to suggest they aren't a part of an organized religion. I've encountered one or two people who used the phrase to defend themselves against observations that they debated like religious fanatics. Thankfully, "spiritual, but not religious" people are less likely to summon The Spanish Inquisition (which is a good thing), but bull[poo] is bull[poo], whether it's a Mom & Pop generic brand or mass produced by corporations large enough to duke it out militarily with giant robots with lasers and... (Sorry, lost my train of thought. Was getting caught up on Armored Core this weekend, and giant robots are just plain cool. If the Adult Swim intro to Eureka 7 is telling the truth, someday, we will all own mecha.)

Anyway, another use is to describe different groups of values, usually to separate what they're promoting as different from "materialistic" values: Money, possessions, etcetera. In this case, "social" would probably be a better word. But some even go a step further and separate their "spiritual" valies from social and material ones. If anyone's aware of a "spiritual" value that doesn't translate into "brownie points for getting into everlasting cosmik bliss," please tell me.

Oh, and you can thank Adam for moving this one up the list.


Doggerel Index

Sliced PEAR

MarkCC does a nice little job of tearing up PEAR for the nth time.

For some reason, contrary to what Einstein said, I keep finding myself thinking that human stupidity is finite, and the upper bound has been found. Then someone adds one to that.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Doggerel #8: "I Don't Have to Prove Anything to You!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the core issues that woos seldom give much thought to in an argument: Who has something to prove? Under the majority of circumstances, it's the woos.

In an argument, you have the advocate, who supports a positive hypothesis, and the critic, who supports the null hypothesis. With the exception of issues like evolution and Holocaust denial, the skeptic plays the role of the critic. When playing the role of the advocate, the skeptic usually does enough by shooting down a woo's fallacious "criticism" of the dominant theories.

To clarify the difference between a positive hypothesis and a null hypothesis, here is an example:

Positive hypothesis: "Fairies exist."
Null hypothesis: "Fairies do not exist."

Science works by assuming the null hypothesis until it can be falsified. This works well enough because it's fairly easy to catch errors: For the time being, we assume fairies don't exist. It's easier, since proving the non-existence of fey beings would require searching all of time and space (assuming we could get around their invisibility spells and so forth) and not finding any. This would be a massive waste of resources, especially since we'd have to investigate goblins, demons, Sterrance, and who knows what else.

Assume for the moment fairies do exist. We'd be able to revise our knowledge if one much simpler condition is met: Someone demonstrates one fairy under proper conditions. That would override any negative results from an unnecessary search of the universe. And that's what makes science great: It's easier to prove something with one simple demonstration, rather than a universe-spanning refutation. The woos would have it easy if anything they believed in existed.

Hopefully, that covers the whole "Burden of proof" issue. Some woos, however, use the phrase in a much more trollish way: They claim that they're posting or commenting or whatever, but not to prove what they're talking about. That attitude is more appropriate for polls, not debate forums. It's essentially an admission that the troll has no intention of discussing the issue, and usually when we try, the vitrol flies.

In some cases, they argue that psychics, astrologers and such have no need to prove their powers, despite taking money from their victims. This is an attitude that openly promotes fraud: A person selling his services must be able to demonstrate there is value in those services. Anyone who argues to the contrary must be as morally bankrupt as Sandy and Jambo.


Doggerel Index

The Ramblings Blossom

Well, this is supposed to be a graph of Rockstars' Ramblings or something. Orac probably knows a lot more. It reminds me of something I couldn't get to work on my computer.

Doggerel #7: "You Just Have to Respect My Beliefs!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel" where I ramble about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One plea that's often heard during debates, especially those of a religious nature, is for us to "respect" the beliefs of others. The problem with that plea is that it isn't a request for respect: It's a request for us to patronize the believer.

I will now attempt to loosely define a spectrum of acceptance.

First, there is tolerance. I tolerate a person's right to believe whatever he wants to, no matter how moronic it is. You won't catch me sending The Spanish Inquisition after believers. You won't catch me voting against their legal rights. You won't catch me attempting to censor them for their beliefs (their shameless spambot marketting, maybe, but not their beliefs). The closest you'll be able to get is maybe me denying someone a job based on the incompetence that lead them to their beliefs. Tolerance, as I'm defining it, means that I don't violate the rights of someone because they believe. Debate is not a violation. If it were, it'd be violating my right to express my belief that a particular belief is stupid.

Next, is patronization: The destruction of debate because it's not "nice" to present arguments against it. Patronization is destroying freedom of speech, notably on Comedy Central.
"I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -George Carlin
Just because some people don't like to hear contrary arguments (often the basis of my ridicule), I'm not about to hold back. Nowadays, people threaten others with lawsuits for ridiculing them. Once, they threatened them with death. They probably still do in parts of the world. I have no intention of finding out if there's a legitimate slippery slope leading from the former to the latter.

Next, there's respect: If an argument is valid, I'll probably have some respect. There's a lot of woo out there that doesn't even get that far. If someone's willing to put their belief on the line with an experiment, that will earn some of my respect: Few people are willing to do such. Of course, if that someone does a lot of ad hocking after the results to maintain a belief, he'll probably lose that respect rather quickly.

Finally, there's acceptance, which amounts to agreement. I think you can guess what it would take for me to reach that level.


Doggerel Index

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Doggerel #6: "Impossible"

(Original series M:I image used, since I don't feel like promoting Tom Cruise or his nonsense.)

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

"Impossible" is a word that woos like to use to describe skeptical explanations for "paranormal" phenomena. They also like to force it into the mouths of skeptics.

Of course, there are some contexts where things really are impossible.

The first that comes to mind is the category of "logically impossible." Some things with mutually exclusive terms fit into this category, like "round squares," "acid with a high pH," and "supernatural effects." One old question in theology is "Can God make two mountains without a valley in between?" Some theologists have gotten around this question by limiting the deity's "omnipotence" to being able to only do things that are logically possible.

The second category that comes to mind is mathematical impossibilities. In math, it is possible to prove a negative, though MarkCC probably knows a heck of a lot more about the details than I do. It is, for example, impossible to "square the circle," that is, to construct with a compass and straight edge, a square with the same area as a given circle. Something about requiring to find the algebraic value of pi, which is a "transcental number," and thus not algebraic. Time Cube Guy has claimed that he can square the circle, but my gut says he cheated by redefining pi as 3.20.

Onto the doggerel:

One of the claims I often hear from woos trying to defend their beliefs is that it's "impossible" for it to have happened any other way. "It's impossible for a trickster to do what John Edward does." "There's no way a trickster could have fooled me. I'm too smart for that." "It had to be an alien space craft. It couldn't possibly have been anything else." "Crop circles are alien telegrams. There's no way human beings could make such things."

One of the problems in these examples is that the woo is essentially claiming infallibility. People aren't perfect. There are all sorts of logical errors we can perform on ourselves, and we can't afford to think for a moment that we're immune. Science is fallible, and scientists are keenly aware of that: That's why replication and tightening controls are so important. If we make a mistake, we should have an error-correction process.

Another problem is that some of those quotes underestimate the ability of other humans. I've heard that if someone went to South America and claimed aliens built those pyramids or drew the Nazca Lines, he'd be deemed a racist by the local populace. And they'd be right: It's just a matter of whether that person is racist against the ancestors who constructed those wonders (they're perfectly explanable, but still wonderous), or against the human race in general.

I suspect the latter problem is another case of projection: Just because the woos aren't clever enough to figure out how the ancients could have done it with simple tools does not mean the ancients weren't clever enough. The people of those bygone eras were just as clever as we are today. They just didn't have the massive knowledge base we have now.

Next is the straw man use: Woos like to think that we believe their treasured beliefs are impossible. In our uncertain world, there really isn't much we can prove impossible. A proper skeptic merely has "negative confidence" in fairy tales: We have an absence of evidence, and plenty of reason to doubt. We don't have certainty, and that's a good thing.

We don't have to prove that something is impossible, and frankly, I have no desire to do so. The burden of proof is on the advocate: If you want to prove that your brand of woo is possible, do so. Don't make stuff up about our position when we refuse to take your word on faith alone.


Doggerel Index

Don't Forget Your Towel Today!

"It must be a Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays." -Arthur Dent
Well, today is Towel Day, where we celebrate the one most useful item for an interstellar hitchhiker, and the guy who brought us The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

You'll be needing that towel, since that comet is due to hit any moment today, and probably save the Vogons a lot of trouble. Until then, it's imperative that we talk and drink over at The Skeptics' Circle, guest hosted by lame donkey.

Hat tip to sanguinity and Ithika for pointing out the entertaining Hitchhiker's Guide coincidences for those of us who haven't memorized the entire tome.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Foamin' at the Mouth Runoff: "Who Cares?"

The topic: A recent post at Skeptico, justifiably deleted just before I posted my response. It's no longer in my browser cache, so I'll paraphrase: "You sound like you're the ones with something to prove! Get a life!" Lots of mindless laughter included.

The topic was the eternally evasive Sylvia Browne, specifically when she predicted those miners were still alive. Only, she got it very wrong.

Of course, we don't really have something to prove: Sylvia's got the burden of proof. Especially since she takes money from people. All we have to do is point out a bunch of embarrassing failures to instill reasonable doubt.

Skeptics like us are out there to protect people from these drains on society, yet Sandy seems to think such efforts are a waste of our lives (or at least she seems to consider it a waste of her life to listen to our arguments and motives). Like Jambo of the JREF forums once said (I'll need to dig up the exact quote sometime), "What business of yours is it if some con artists are scamming people you've never met out of thousands of dollars?"

Do people like Sandy and Jambo really and truly lack the most basic civility? I've heard somewhere that Nigeria has developed so that scamming Americans is an accepted way of life, but I would think that these people would be born in some country where exploiting people rendered vulnerable by feelings of loss for your personal financial gain is regarded as monstrous.

Foamin' at the Mouth #1: If We Believe Absurdities, We Shall Commit Atrocities

Head on over to a recent post by Autism Diva right now. After reading it, you should gain another level of understanding of why I fight people like Fore Sam/John Best so vehemently: Knowingly or unknowingly, they promote the enthymeme of "Autistics are worthless." The Diva shows us an example of where belief in this absurdity can lead.

UPDATE: Joseph, of Autism: Natural Variation, posts a good comment on this horror.

Sometime I need to figure out trackbacks and such, so that I can show my linkage.

Rest in Peace, Katherine McCarron

Monday, May 22, 2006

Accept No Substitutes: Donkey is NOT a Valid Replacement for Skeptico

Just like Orac with Generation Abandon, Skeptico now has an imitator trying to deflect people away from his valid information and arguments. I will hereafter refer to him as "lame donkey" in an effort to do some low-level Google cherry-bombing, since I'd rather perform some light gray ridicule versus black impersonation.

Now for some dissection:

Evolution is now being taught in public schools, almost entirely unchallenged, undebated. It is being taught not only as theory, but as well established fact, as accepted by virtually the entire scientific and academic community.
That's because it is a fact (as well as a theory), and it is accepted by virtually the entire scientific and academic community.

Of course, it can be challenged, and it is every time a biologist carries out an experiment. Modern evolutionary theory has survived all of those challenges. The problem is that there are few legitimate challenges. Intelligent Design is not one of them. We don't want people to waste class time with non-arguments.
And not only as fact, but as the one great over-arching fact, the great universal organizing paradigm for the teaching and understanding of all of science, all of life, indeed all of what is. So all-embracing and ramification-pregnant is this teaching that every other fact or idea taught in schools (whether mathematical, historical, linguistic, literary, sociopolitical, or otherwise) pales by comparison.
That's precisely because evolution is so strong a theory: It's one of the best supported ones in history.
But what if it's all wrong?
And what if Ryan's [posterior] gnomes exist?
What if Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution can be rigorously and scientifically refuted? What, in fact, if even the possibility of such a refutation can be seriously entertained? Should then such refutation or the possibility thereof be proscribed from the science classroom because of some question of motive?
If you can refute it, bring it on. Let's not stay in hypothetical land.
This issue of motive is a red herring. It is a diversionary tactic. I know it, and those who employ the argument know it.
Anyone want to bet that he'll bring up the eeeee-ville materialist conspiracy before I'm done?
Unfortunately, though, the red-herring tactic can be enormously effective, and those now so vehemently opposed to the inclusion of ID in our science curricula are too desperate to scruple over employing a logical fallacy if it serves their purpose.
The motivations were important for determining whether or not the Dover school board was violating the First Amendment. It's completely unnecessary in pointing out the fallacious nature of ID. But it does demonstrate one additional layer of dishonesty on their part.
The great debate here should focus on the validity or invalidity of evolution as a coherent theory for explaining all that it purports to explain.
Agreed, if he'll agree that ID should be put to the same standards. Unfortunately, I have a feeling he'll avoid any discussion of either's validity.
The anti-ID crowd chants "ID is not science, ID is not science," over and over. Why is it not science? Well, "because it's religiously motivated." This is a cop-out, clung to in desperation because they cannot mount an effective counter-case based on the merits.
Donkey has obviously never read anything ever written by a skeptic on ID. ID is not scientific because it's unfalsifiable and makes no predictions. Astrology, though wrong, is a lot more scientific than ID in that regard. At least Astrologers can step up to the plate and take a swing. IDers can't even do that, yet.

An earlier blog entry of his:
I've just only recently finished Behe's "Darwin's Black Box." This whole intriguing field of microbiological complexity, replete with innumerable individual irreducible complexities, is very fascinating.
Irreducible complexity is a non-issue. It's unfalsifiable, since you can never know if there's a simpler form, and any claims to the contrary are an argument from lack of imagination. It's also not a problem because it relies on the absurd assumption that evolution can't subtract, just like faux Information Theory claims assume that evolution can't add. Even on top of that, it's an argument from ignorance and lack of imagination.
And I am sure that not a few level-headed people, upon reading that book, must have thought it nothing short of a succinct and irrefutable refutation of neo-Darwinism. For, indeed, that is precisely what it is.
I'll give you a few moments to stop laughing.

Nevertheless, how many hardcore Darwinists will change their positions as a result? Few, I daresay. Very few. Because, at the end of the day, to relinquish this cherished theory requires an act of will that unavoidably involves a whole phalanx of personal vested interests with philosophical, moral, religious, teleological, and most emphatically social ramifications (friends could be lost, you see, or maybe even a mentor).
Not the eeeee-ville materialist conspiracy, but there's the appeal to motive he denounced in the later entry. Welcome to Moonside!
Arthur Koestler--the brilliant Jewish non-Christian evolutionist scientist and writer--did it half a century ago, for example, in the "The Midwife Toad" and other writings, which now are relegated to the status of "quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore." In fact, Koestler's irrefutable refutation did not even succeed in making Koestler himself a creationist. He concluded that he didn't know what made evolution happen, he just knew it certainly could not have happened that way (i.e. by random mutations + time + natural selection).
Too bad donkey doesn't list his argument or provide any links for easy reading. Based on my Talk Origins search, all Koestler does is a PRATT fall: a Point Refuted A Thousand Times.

I don't think I have to continue. He doesn't discuss the "irrefutable" arguments he merely hints at. He simply assumes those straw men are devastating to evolution, and then goes on political diatribes. He does a little wordplay about evolution "doing" things, even though that's a straw man accusation of reification.

Doggerel #5: "Worldview"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Today, I deal with a word that is, by itself, fairly okay. The problem with "worldview" is a lot of the context and false enthymemes that go along with it.

"You're just ignoring everything that doesn't fit in your worldview!"

When this is stated as a conclusion, based on the arguer's behavior, it's okay. It probably doesn't contribute to the discussion, but if that particular conclusion is valid, then there's probably not too much point to continuing.

The problem arises when this phrase is used as a pretense to ignore a person's arguments: It becomes a transparent ad homenim. To boil it down to its essence: "You disagree with me, therefore I'm not going to listen to your arguments because they're inherently worthless!" In such a case, the fallacious person is playing the part of the colloquial pot calling the kettle black: He's ignoring arguments because they lead someone else to a worldview contrary to his own.

Of course, most woos don't realize that the problem with much of their data is that it fits perfectly into our skeptical worldview: It can all be explained by natural means like cheating, small bits of dumb luck, and a lot of human perceptual failings. It's just that there's nothing in that data to merit their paranormal conclusions.

"According to the ----ist worldview..."

This is typically a warning sign that reads "Straw man ahead." In the case of evolution, often inserting a disingenuous -ist on the end, it typically involves the words "random," "selfish," and/or the name of someone particularly nasty associated with Germany or the Soviet Union. Based on my personal experience, woos often have little or no concept of what views their skeptical opponents actually hold. They only know what public opinion and the mainstream media says about skeptics: That we deny the existence of the monster/ghost/whatever until we're the first to be killed in the most horrible manner by it. Of course, reality more often resembles Scooby-Doo: It's always some guy in a mask with a few clever tricks up his sleeve. And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for us meddling skeptics. Unlike Scooby-Doo, however, no one ever seems to care when we unmask the weekly villain.

Of course, some people do know their opponent's views quite well, often seeing the flaws that usually go unnoticed. You can typically spot an unexamined worldview when the person holding it refuses to discuss the hypothetical implications of it. And, in my case, I typically qualify it with things like "as I see it," and "apparently," since I could have misread something.

"You only see it that way because of your worldview!"

While some things like art and literature are arguably subjective, science is not. For example, let's say Sylvia Browne took the Randi Challenge. (I know. Not going to happen in a million years, but stay with me.) If she succeeds a statisically significant number of times, and keeps doing so under tighter and tighter conditions, my "worldview" isn't going to magically alter the numbers. If I find myself unable to admit that I'm likely wrong in such a hypothetical case, you'd be able to point out fallacies I employ. But that isn't going to happen, either. Data isn't going to change, no matter how much I may or may not like it. The arguments for and against conclusions drawn from that data aren't going to become any more or less fallacious, no matter how much I may or may not like them.


Doggerel Index

Saturday, May 20, 2006

One Year's Worth of Rambling

Well, it's been one year since Ryan's first entry, and my almost-half-year here has been fun. I signed on in December, and ended up pulling most of the blog's weight recently, thanks to meatspace interference with Ryan's life. I can only imagine what things would have been like if he still had the time. For those who weren't around, that big spike for March and April were the times I wound up being linked to from Respectful Insolence and Pharyngula. A Jack Chick parody I wrote during Spring Break caught their attention, and 4,200 or so hits came in on March 28th. Later, I had an interview with Michael Behe, ending with with a decapitation. It seems he's recovered, since he's still going on about his nonsense.

Oh, and we still need a new name.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Doggerel #4: "Closed-minded"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the most common complaints newage people like to say about us skeptics is that we're "closed-minded" when we don't instantly accept what they say as absolute truth. I believe this is mostly an instance of what psychologists call "projection," but I'll get into that, later.

There are probably plenty of blind nay-sayers out there, but I never see them in these sorts of arguments, unless the topic is the Holocaust or evolution, in which case, it's us skeptics who usually argue against them as advocates, citing evidence, which they typically hand-wave away, rather than addressing, like a skeptic would.

"Skeptic," as we use it, doesn't refer to simply naysaying. Skeptics are people who take a very sensible approach to their conclusions about whether something exists or not: For extraordinary claims, we tenatively assume "not" until evidence is provided. This is what's known as the "null hypothesis" in science. The goal of an experiment is to see if the null hypothesis can be falsified: Shown to be untrue.

Take, for instance, Sylvia Browne's "psychic" powers or Rochelle Gordon's astrology: I can't prove they're bunk. Doing so would involve me analyzing each and every prediction and showing all the failures, as well as proving the alternate explanations for the apparent successes.

But I don't have to do that. The burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim. If someone claims that he can fly like Superman, it's not my job to prove otherwise. Why would claims of psychic powers be any different?

As a skeptic, I'm always willing to discuss what it would take to prove me wrong. I'm a fallible creature, and recognize that I'm fully capable of being mistaken. Sometimes I ask the believers what it'd take to prove them wrong. I seldom get an answer, suggesting that they never contemplate the possibility. Other times, they overtly tell me that it's impossible to convince them otherwise. One would think the latter sort would have their pictures inserted into the dictionary definition of "closed-minded." I have a great deal of confidence in things like evolution, but I never get to that level of certainty.

What I have about psychic powers and the like is what I like to call "negative confidence." I've seen woos perform all sorts of acrobatics to avoid being tested properly (such as refusing to allow measures to prevent cheating, information leakage, etcetera). I've seen them change the subject to things like my alleged emotional state and employment. Despite centuries of effort and research money, no convincing evidence shows up in discussion threads. I could go on, but the picture of these sorts of woo is not looking pretty.

But, unlike a woo's closed-minded certainty, my negative confidence can be overcome by solid evidence. I rather enjoy it when something unexpected happens.

One psychological red herring (and likely another act of projection) that woos like to claim is that we skeptics don't want our worldview overturned or some such drivel: If that were true, there'd be no scientists. Also, if we didn't want our worldview overturned, we wouldn't be willing to test these people and pay them large sums of money if they succeed.

It'd be supremely nifty if I could levitate by focusing my chakra, place an order at KFC with my mind before I arrive, or summon my remote control by invoking the spirits. Until the woos get off their collective [duff] and prove all that is possible, I'll settle with the much more reliable results of science: High-power magnets lifting up frogs and trains, online ordering, and that thing that makes your remote beep if you clap your hands.


Doggerel Index

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Your One Week Warning

Things are going to get nasty about a week from now. At least, that's what this guy said some crop circles told him. I think I'll continue planning my retirement while you go over to Phil Plait's place and placate your molehill-sized pile of worries.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

You Heard About It Here First!

...if you haven't already stopped by here. A guy named Stew left a comment about his new brand of woo, and he likely won't be credited for it, since he's an eeeee-ville skeptic. Don't know if it'll catch on, but it definitely has a chance, based on what I know of mankind.

After all, I've met someone who thinks Shirley Ghostman is a real psychic.

Monday, May 15, 2006

(Late) Spring Cleaning

Well, I've been doing a little looking back, since our blog's birthday is coming up on the 20th. Had to do a lot of clean-up. (Mind the spamful garbage can there. I'm leaving it out for the Vikings.) Anyway, dropped a quick post on the first entry, including taking a few shots at an anonymous fish, currently located in a barrel.

Noticed one of the January Astrology Spam Assaults (Thankfully erased from the history books, except for this footnote) featured someone named "Wood horse". Sounds like someone I could make into an arch-nemesis.

Been reviewing our site traffic, and noticed that we seem to get a lot of traffic for Rochelle Gordon, some psychic astrologer or whatever, who Ryan and Skeptico could probably tell horror stories about. We're already #1 on Google for one set of search terms when it comes to her. Maybe we should devote some effort to getting up the ranks for simply "Rochelle Gordon."

Suppose one bday present we could use is a new name.

UPDATE: Seems this blog entry is #25 on Google search for Rochelle Gordon, right now. Weird. Suppose we have a chance of climbing the ranks, afterall.

A Quick Plug

A friend recently told me about this website. I've only gone over it briefly, but it seems like a fairly good idea on initial review. Discuss... or not. Just do whatever you normally do in the comments. Just try to pretend the cameras aren't there.

Doggerel #3: "You're Just a [Insert Evil Organization] Shill!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble about words and phrases that are commonly misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Many of you probably recognize this classic ad homenim fallacy. I've personally experienced the "Big Pharma" variation a lot. Like many other fallacies, this one works by method of distraction. Even if I'm on Big Pharma's sooper sekrit payroll, that doesn't have any bearing on the validity of my arguments. If my opponent is unable to prove that his panacea works, or that Katamari Damacy causes autism, or whatever he's claiming, my employment is not going to change his failure. If I present evidence in an argument, my employment isn't going to change the validity of that evidence.

Now, if someone makes this accusation as to the source of the evidence, they may have some point, but that's where two of science's greatest resources come in: Peer revew and independent replication.

Peer review allows criticism of the methods of data collection, the results drawn from the data, and so forth. Going back to the Big Pharma example, to suppress peer review, they'd have to control pretty much everything: They'd have to control the journals to prevent publishing of reviews pointing out problems in the research. They'd also have to control the Internet and all other publishers on Earth to prevent reviewers from exposing those problems elsewhere.

Independent replication is where someone unrelated to the original experimenter performs the same experiment. If the results are the same, we can be more confident in the conclusions. If the results are different, more independent people can conduct and refine the experiment. If the independents get different results than the people with interests in a particular outcome, we can get suspicious. If the results are inconsistent for everyone, we'd know there's something wrong with the experimental protocols, or something weird going on. For Big Pharma to trump independent replication, they'd have to control absolutely everyone capable of conducting an experiment. For them to do that, there'd have to be absolutely no noble doctors who just want to treat their patients. If a conspiracy theory like that doesn't define "cynic," I don't know what does.

Additionally, when presentation of evidence is involved, the shill fallacy involves a non-sequitur: "Bronze Dog is being paid by the Illuminati, therefore Dr. So-and-So's evidence is invalid." And you know what you call it when you mix red herrings and non-sequiturs.

Yet another point worth mentioning: Most of the conspiracy theories that perpetrators of the shill fallacy are simply silly. For example, take the alleged link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Last time I checked (admittedly a while ago), vaccines are generally not all that profitable. Being exposed in a coverup would do a LOT of damage to the industry. Much more than publicly saying "Oops" would. Conspiracies are also high-maintenance ventures, especially when they're of the world-spanning scope (which is necessary to trump peer review and independent replication). Considering that becoming a doctor often involves a great deal of noble purpose, that would be a lot of voices to silence, either with money or with hitmen (who cost money). All for the sake of a low-profit item. It'd be much easier and more profitable to not manufacture vaccines at all and promote quackery cures for those preventable diseases without evidence. After all, when a quack gets caught peddling ineffective cures, the mass media never seems to care.


Doggerel Index

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Before I Forget Again

Forgot to drop a link to the latest Skeptic's Circle over at EoR's place. I was hoping to get a good entry in time to submit, but I suppose its for the best. Don't think my metallic self would fit in with all the crystals. I will be trying to get in the next one, which'll be hosted at Skeptico. Need to get used to the whole thing so that sometime I might get the confidence to host it sometime.

Doggerel #2: "You're Just Jealous!"

Welcome to the second edition of "Doggerel," where I discuss words and phrases that are commonly misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. It only took about two months for me to get in the mood again.

Fry: This is so unfair! I liked you back when you were a cyclops! That guy's only interested now that you have two eyes.

Leela: You're just jealous!

Fry: No, I'm not! Oh, wait, I am. But my point remains valid!

One of the most annoying "arguments" I've encountered from woos is the accusation that I'm only bitter and/or jealous, which is why I argue. Someone once accused me (along with pretty much all the skeptics in that thread) of being jealous of John Edward's "psychic" powers. It's kind of hard to be jealous of something that's quite unimpressive. Of course, that "argument" is designed to allow a person to ignore the very real points I bring up by focusing on a fictional point of unfounded speculation. If we're discussing alternative explanations for John Edward's "powers," we should be discussing alternative explanations for John Edward's "powers." My emotional state is not part of the dicussion.

Even if I were jealous, it would have no effect on the argument. The conclusion (that I don't have real arguments) does not follow from the premise (I'm jealous), in addition to being contradicted by the evidence (all the points I typically raise in such arguments). It's a classic propaganda-style mix of red herrings and non-sequiturs.

If I'm angry, 2 plus 2 still equals 4.

If I'm happy, A is still equal to A.

If I'm thinking dirty thoughts, grass remains green.

If I flip-flop between my sweet tooth and salty tooth, [Insert politician] is still a jerk.

If I'm jealous, John Edward is still the biggest douche in the universe.

Reality remains the same regardless of my emotional state. If you'd like to prove otherwise, you can do so.


Doggerel Index

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gravity is Stupid and Evil!

MarkCC proposes an alternative to gravity. He forgot to include some diatribes on why believing in gravity is evil, so I told him to. His hypothesis won't achieve the success of the Time Cube without it. I have fury! Without it, his idea is a cartoon of a caricature drawn by a kid who is stupid!

Monday, May 08, 2006

I Can Name That Brother... In 3 Notes. Maybe.

Well, my brother's currently over here with me in meatspace. He generally favors the pseudonym "strawman", but that one's usually taken everywhere, and he'd rather not stick on a dozen digits and underscores. So, the challenge I leave to you, my readers, is to come up with a unique alias for him. He's got a philosophy degree. He's got two turntables... but needs a good microphone. He does a little writing, and has a hypothesis that all humor (except maybe slapstick) has a basis in logic or the lack thereof. Like most of the people in this section of the blogosphere, he's an atheist.

I'll be over here building up a list of my own ideas.

Post Hawk
Ad Hawk (If the spam filters won't get to him.)
Ad Hominid
Ed Hominem
Ray Ification
Ed Baculum
The One True Scotsman
The Texas Sharpshooter
Doctor Reductio (ad absurdum) Back Off!
Questionable Beggar
President Precedent

Okay, I'm about tapped out for the time being.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Some Market Researcher Didn't Do His Homework

This ad showed up while I was viewing Pharyngula. This is at a place called "scienceblogs". You couldn't get any more nerdy if they renamed it Nerdular Nerdence. They also seem to be into discrimination against nerds. I think we all know what happens when you do that.

Of course, nerds are cool. The jocks are just jealous of our videogaming talents and our command of information, both useful and useless.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Let's Hook a Generator Up to Einstein!

Because he's probably spinning in his grave. Not that that's really news, since you're probably all well acquainted with some of the people who started up this little PMM.

Anyway, MarkCC does a little more to impress me by deconstructing one of the YEC claims: That the Earth is at the center of the universe, and relativity has Earth in some time dilation where it's only been 6,000 years here, but the rest of the universe has experienced billions of years. Of course, they ignore little things like local radioactive decay rates, the results of billions of years of starlight compacted into a few millennia, everything out there blueshifting into gamma radiation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

An example of Mark's takedown:
First: you can compute a pretty good approximation of instantaneous gravitational forces between bodies by treating them as point-masses at their center of gravity. But they are not point masses. And if you do anything but an instantaneous calculation, treating them as point masses will give you the wrong result. They've made a fundamental math mistake here: a simplifying assumption can only be applied in the specific type of calculation for which it was designed, in the specific situation where it was derived. They're applying it in a very different situation - they are not doing an instantaneous calculation of gravitational forces.
I may not be a physics professor, but I do know that point masses may be handy for hankerchief calculations. I would think that these sorts of people would have more at their disposal, though.

This Country Has Freedom of Speech, So Shut Up!

That little annoying thing was brought up recently by PZ Myers and some commenters over on Pharyngula. It's one of the most annoying phrases that shows up between the lines of a lot of various trolls, be they Creationists, alties, psychics, UFOlogists, right-wing, left-wing, dorsal-wing, ventral-wing or whatever. Apparently, they seem to think that freedom of speech prohibits criticism. Ann Coulter, for example, is an idiot, and, thanks to courtnix, a proposed measure of brain cell death. Some trolls on there, however, seemed to suggest that it was evil and malicious of us atheists/agnostics/"liberals"/evilutionists to criticize her, Dembski, and the prospective content of her new book. Oh, and we're ALL depraved pie-throwers because she got hit with pies. Literally.

Sometime I should make a note to watch that video.

Freedom of speech is supposed to protect all forms of speech (barring, of course, stuff like shouting, "Fire!" in a crowded theater, but that is another topic altogether), including criticism. If someone is an idiot, I am fully entitled to call that someone an idiot, as well as dissect in detail that person's idiotry. If that person is about to publish something, I'm fully entitled to infer what sort of idiotry will be in there, and preemptively criticize that anticipated idiotry. There's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. One of the many prices of free speech is eternal vigilance against stupid speech.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Okay, I'm Giving Into a Blog Meme.

MarkCC did this, and now, so will I, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Not very Texan.

Booze: He's a minor character in Return to Zork, except his name is spelled "Boos."

Chore I hate: Laundry. Good thing I'm naked.

Dog or Cat: It's a surprise. I'll leave it up to you to guess if I'm being sarcastic or not. The previous sentence may or may not be intended to trip you up.

Essential Electronics: My PSP, my laptop, WAKE boosters, and well, just about everything occupying one wall of my room.

Favorite Cologne: They all destroy my sense of smell.

Gold or Silver: They're both so last millennium.

Hometown: Texas. I won't get more specific than that. I don't want antivaxxers sticking a giant flaming syringe in my yard or anything like that.

Insomnia: A clear conscience makes a soft pillow.

Job title: Copper Alloy Canid.

Kids: With just salt & pepper. Potato wedges on the side. Medium Dr Pepper. I don't need ketchup.

Living arragements: A very small house with a garbage can full of bad ideas.

Most admirable traits: This entry intentionally left blank as an exercise for the reader.

Not going to cop to: This entry intentionally left blank as I have no idea what it's supposed to mean, especially after reading George Carlin's take on the common misuse of "cop out."

Overnight hospital stays: Almost got to be a titanium superhero. Had to settle for stainless steel.

Phobias: Turning green.

Quote: "The significance of a tale is inversely proportional to its sound and fury." -- Me, mathematically butchering Shakespeare.

Religion: I prefer arcane spellcasters.

Siblings: One brother. He's a man. Made of straw. Known as "strawman". No relation to StrawDog. Look for him in Mega Man 10. No, not Mega Man X.

Time I wake up: Around 5am. Then I get up an hour later.

Unusual talent or skill: Able to buy videogames and never get around to playing them.

Vegetable I love: Potato wedges. Kids, with just salt & pepper. Potato wedges on the side. Medium Dr Pepper. I don't need ketchup.

Worst habit: Can't I just tell you tomorrow?

X-rays: To prepare me for my almost-titanium superheroness.

Yummy foods I make: Those little cookie cube things that you stick in the oven.

Zodiac sign: Bump.