Monday, April 30, 2007

Funny Searches: April 2007

does thieves medicine help with a cold?: Does anything work on a cold?

verses then the declaration of houses then the greater: AGAIN? What the [frell]? If anyone would like to inform me just what this is supposed to be, please tell me. If it gives any hints, this was a search from

how to spot crappy crack cocaine: I take the safe path: I assume it's all crappy, and thus don't use it.

then the declaration of houses then the greater inclination then the touchstone: Okay, that's the third time. Is some annoyed neopagan woo trying to cast a hex on my blog or something? Of course, posting it in the previous searches probably attracted more, but seriously, what the [frell] is up with this? This one came from good ol' 'merican

"declaration of houses": What have I done? Note that this is the third one on April 3rd.

"then the declaration of houses": Please, just stop... or should I stop listing this? Fourth one.

funny pilot mistakes: Must be slim pickings in that search. Then again, there are the Darwin Awards for the appropriately morbid.

what kinda dog am i quizzes: Well I know what my result would be.

blog teaches lie steal break other person soul: You want a PDF version of the Necrotelecomnicon.

Sylvia Browne + Entry points: No! I don't want that image in my head!

THUNDERSTORMS, WHY THE FEAR?: I normally sleep through thunderstorms, but not when they're as loud as you.

bronze blog gay: Am not! ...not that there's anything wrong with that.

satan free dating online site: So, is this person asking for a dating site that is Satan-free, or a site for dating Satan, free of charge?

i feel special hahahaha: Somehow, I have a feeling you are ...special.

what to do when your baked: Go ahead, finish the sentence. When my baked what?...

i'm a religious man, i pray flood: You mean you're the guy who told God to drown all those people, and my dear Ed, nearly all the bunnies? YOU MAKE BUNNY CRY!

don't laugh, it works 100% of the time although the scientists: And yet when someone points out a failure, you'll either redefine "works" or say that you've never made this claim.

how to avoid the munchies when your high stoned: Wouldn't know, but here's an idea: Spend your grocery budget on "recreation," and eating won't distract you from the sheer enormity of your hands.

fish in asshole: Dude, I try not to judge, but don't bring that in here.

James Randi, prick: Yeah. He takes down a lot of nasty people in that wretched hive of scum and villainy: Woodom. His targets range from pricks to human excrement. Well, actually they often go beyond the latter quite often. All peddle bovine excrement... Boy, am I going to get some more entertaining searches to rival Matt's. Maybe.

Atheist doctrine: Error 404: File not found.

in august 2005- "invisible man" still exists: Do you have a photograph?

BRONZE DOWSING RODS: I've got one, and sometimes it leads me to awkward places.

nantucket nectars drinkers: Is that how the limerick ends? I never heard it beyond establishing that the man is from there.

bronze dog poop: I'm turning into Matt.

sylvia browne 2007 predictions school shooting: I doubt it. You might get more results searching for "postdictions."

if god exist can lycanthropes: ArrrrrOOOOO! You've got it backwards.

bronze effects on modern society: I'd like to think I'm helping at least one or two people break out of crippling, negative superstitions, as well as providing a few laughs. That, and I occasionally donate money to good causes. Going to try some more of that after I get my books in order and my tax refund.

why does a bullet refract when it enters water: Light refracts. Bullets ricochet. Don't you know the difference? ...Is it just my web browser, or do I need to goad Ryan into fixing the images in that link?

????: My universal translator's busted, and Firefox can't seem to make up its mind about showing or not showing what appears to be Russian.

youtube people pooping: Eww.

æther generator: Not going to happen... Or is that a Magic: The Gathering card?

atom buddha BLack hole: If you meet Buddha on the road and kill him by dropping him in a black hole, does he make a make a sound when he hits the singularity, or just a soft flumph in the super strings?

can you smoke cannabis leafs?: 1. I could, but I don't wanna. 2. Isn't it "leaves"? or are you people searching from spelling even more things in unpatriotic, non-'merican ways, now?

stupid atheism: Not going to find a whole lot of that out there, but I imagine it's hypothetically possible.

22 powerful enough for groundhogs: But pH balanced for a woman.

autism anime: Well, that'd be interesting to watch.

buried robots anime: Dearly beloved, we are gathered to mourn the passing of Gigantor. Oh, wait, Jimmy's waggling the remote. Yay! Gigantor's back!

I Think I Blogged a Little Too Much

I've posted 8 (now 9) entries in two days, and I'm getting this error message multiple times. At least I'm pretty sure the system isn't down... yet.

(Via Nodwick)

Hope this post got through.

Why Versus Why

Largely undirected rant warning!

There's one annoying thing that often comes along with a fair number evolution discussions out there: Why do things evolve and why do things evolve?

The former has a fairly simple short answer (PZ and friends are more qualified to give the long answer): Critters come up with new genes, traits, and so forth (mutation, etcetera), and some of them help produce more offspring (natural selection). Because the critters with the 'good' genes reproduce more, those genes become more common. The process continues over several changes in what makes a gene 'good'.

The latter, as far as we can tell, has no answer: Things evolve because that's how the process goes on. There's no 'big' answer to 'why'. There's no end goal to evolution, just like there's no end goal to gravity. Despite what the comic books tell you, there's no drive towards a 'perfect' being. One annoyance I had during a Voyager episode involved a race of dinosaur-descended 'aliens': To confirm the origin of the dino-aliens, Captain Janewry and The Doctor (did they ever get that guy a name?) went into the holodeck and at one point asked the computer "If the hadrosaurus had continued to evolve, what would it evolve into?" and the computer responded by making a dino-alien hologram. I would think that calculating the evolution of a species would require extensive description of the circumstances.

And don't get me started on "Threshold." I erased that extra-painful episode from memory up until Agony Booth reminded me.

I think (based on gut feelings at the moment, so feel free to dismiss them) this straw man version of evolution grew from religious concepts like 'the great chain of being' and efforts to claim that evolution put man on a exalted pedestal as the ultimate being (despite contradictory claims that evolution says we're 'merely' animals), instead of god. Sorry. Humans are really nifty, but the universe didn't assign any special treatment to them, unlike gods, who seem to have humans first and foremost on their minds, almost as if they were designed to stroke our egos half the time (and crush them the other half: Deities often seem to be schizophrenic or something). Seems that humility is equally as sinful as arrogance to Creationists, except when they commit them. (I doubt they do much of the former, though)

A Magic Man Done It!

Orac provides me with a funny little skit explaining Creationism and its Intelligent Design version.

Yup, that's about how it is.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Image Dogtoring #3: Still Not Funny

Well, despite Blake Stacey's confidence in me, I don't think I did much better. (Image via PZ a while back.) Wasn't a whole lot to work with.

Doggerel #76: "They Once Thought the Earth Was Flat!"

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

A lot of woos out there like to try to paint skeptics as being like flat Earthers: People who vigorously deny some new idea and cling to the ways of the old world or some crap like that. The problem with their characterization is that it's more like a description of woo: Relying on superficial observations for all their conclusions while rejecting all detailed, controlled, and just generally rigorous observations and experiments.

Take a moment to put aside your knowledge of the Earth's shape. Look around. The ground looks pretty flat, right? (Well, I live in East Texas, so it pretty much is, but you people who live in hilly/mountainous areas just go with it.) If you wander around for long distances, you don't feel any change in the direction "down" is. If you don't take any detailed measurements, it's not all that hard to conclude that the Earth is flat.

Now, take a look at Eratosthenes: He didn't just trust the general impressions he saw: He took detailed measurements and performed appropriate calculations. Aristotle also noticed some evidence that the Earth wasn't flat: As you went south, southern constellations rose higher above the horizon. That was quite early on, and the evidence since grew. That's the key: evidence. The evidence that all those scholars gathered went against the predictions you would expect from a flat Earth.

All of this is pretty much another take on the Galileo Gambit, trying to assume his mantle without evidence, and attempting to change the subject from a discussion of the evidence into an unjustified claim that we're opposed to new ideas by using one bad "new" idea as an out-of-context example. An idea that has no evidence for it, maybe even some evidence against is not on equal ground with one that has strong evidential support. Ideas are supposed to be treated according to their merits. That's what fairness means. We aren't supposed to support any crazy idea just because someone proposes it with a straight face.

Evidence is what matters, and skeptics like us went along with the round Earth because it had the most evidence going for it. That's what science means. Treating all ideas as equal is what "journalism" is.


Doggerel Index

Skeptiplomacy Update: A Brick Wall

A week ago, I emailed Brendan and baldywilson to check on their progress with the map and coding, respectively. Brendan's been silent, and I got an error message from baldy's server. So, after thinking we were getting somewhere, we're back to start.

I've done a little dinkering with Python, so I may try my hand at coding this summer, though it'll take me a while to figure out just how to work out the judging process: I see a lot of if statements in my future. If anyone's interested in helping me out, remember the website in the link is .ORG, not .com. I've been told there are naughty things at the .com site.

UPDATE: Got word from Brendan. It's a busy time. Still worried about baldy, though.

Another Big, Round Number

Since our lucky 100,000th visitor didn't leave me much to go on, an ice cream cake will be air dropped at those lat/longs by Aria. Look for a big, red, chicken-legged robot on May 1st. Sorry if it's a bit melty.

Note the spike in February: That's from PZ linking to my second bit of Image Dogtoring.

Aside from that, I think I'm getting a steady climb in traffic, despite missing out on a couple of Skeptics' Circles (both my fault: Forgot once, and was too late for another). I'll probably get a really big spike in August, when I'll be hosting the Circle. I'll give you a hint as to the theme: It'll involve one of the very few things cooler than ninjas, and you know how much I like ninjas.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

59th Skeptics' Circle

It's at Pooflinger's.
Comment not in limericks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Blog?

Seems I got double-tagged with this meme by The Brummel and Reverend BigDumbChimp.

I've got a fair number of reasons for blogging and I suppose I'll try to elaborate on the big ones.

1. Science can save the world! Okay, so I'm a little on the naive Star Trek bent. I do think that science is the greatest tool we have towards improving the world: Knowing about something is the first step towards figuring out how to improve it. For the most part, I think it's a bit late to regress to ecologically safe hunter-gatherers, though bear in mind our ancestors weren't pure and innocent: There's probably a decent list of things that got hunted/gathered to extinction. Since that option isn't available through ethical means, we have to figure out how to minimize our impact, and I don't think cleansing ley lines and such will accomplish that. The same goes for the medical field: There are lives as well as the quality of those lives at stake. If we're going to treat them, we have to be confident that our treatments will be meaningful. I could go on. One of the problems inhibiting all this is an overabundance of people who can't think critically. They employ double-standards for finding the truth, treat labels as more important than reality, and endorse inaction on critical issues. I'm doing my part to stop that.

2. Stroke my ego, darn it! Okay, so this isn't the most noble of motives, but I'm sure everyone who posts something publicly available experiences at least some of it. At least I try to make what I type worthy of the praise I manage to get: That way, I'm at least doing something meaningful for my kicks.

3. Community. I'm used to being the village atheist down here in Texas. Blogging gets me involved with lots of people who share similar views and help me know that I'm not alone in the madness of this world. Many of them also share similar non-skepticism interests, so we can get involved in massive geekery.

4. It's frikkin' fun. I often enjoy tearing apart trolls who make jaw-droppingly stupid arguments. I liked it on the JREF forums, in the comments on other blogs, and so forth. Here, I've got full control, though I seldom need to exercise it: Everyone's favorite local troll, Wo is MI (though Ryan has his dirtier nickname for him), was "banned" by me, and I would have deleted his posts... except that he kept making himself look worse and worse, as well as being an apparent source for amusement for visitors as well. About the only posts of his I deleted/blocked were the boring, repetitive ones, along with the spam. (Oh, and don't you hate it when you come up with a retort much, much later than would be funny. "Good thing evolution didn't come up with copy/paste!" "Actually it already has. It's called a duplication 'error', and it's one step that can lead to IC structures.")

Think I'll tag my bro, Prometheus, Bing, Skeptico (who's probably been tagged a lot, but I don't see a post), and the Two Percent Company.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Turns Out I Just Needed to Blow Up a Lot of Stuff

Think I've improved my mood pretty well by playing a lot of Armored Core 4 online. Looks like I'm getting better, focusing on my sniper AC, Aria. Aria's equipped with dual sniper rifles and for back weapons, dual high-act missiles (slow but very maneuverable missiles) that I whip out at close range. Also comes in handy for the few team games I play: It's easier to hit an opponent who's focused on your teammate, and not quite so attention-getting. When my teammate's in trouble, though, I can use the showy, rapid-fire missiles to form a distraction.

...And now that I've given away my primary AC's secrets, I'll have to consider reconfiguring it.

Also had some fun laser blade battles with Waltz... even though I got cleaved in half a lot. Well, actually every time except for once or twice. It's playing against type.

Taught some newbies the value of cover with Overture, my tank-missileboat.

Still need to figure out what to do with Bicinium, my mission-oriented rifle/missile AC. It may have been good against swarms of MTs, Normals, and the occasional lumbering behemoth, but against something piloted by a human, I couldn't accomplish much.

Also need to figure out something to do with Rondo, my heavyweight. Only used it in one mission, when I needed the thick armor. Haven't seen all that many successful heavyweight pilots online to emulate.

Anyway, stuff I'd like to see in the comments: What are some giant robot archetypes I should try out? Don't think you need too much knowledge to to pair a weapon type and weight class. Weapon types available: Rifles (Bicinium), sniper rifles (Aria), machine guns, shotguns, handguns (suuuuuck!), laser rifles/cannons, plasma cannons, pulse rifles (suuuuuck! Well, at least for me, so far), missiles (Overture), grenade launchers (Rondo), bazookas (Rondo, again), Kojima Particle weapons (KPs are ecologically nasty things, since Earth Day's over), laser blades (Waltz), and rockets.

It'd also be nice if you could continue my naming scheme in some way with the concepts.

Of course I don't expect much, since I don't think you're as deep into oversized, impractical weapons that defy at least 2 out of 3 laws of motion as I am. You'll wish you had the relevant skills, eventually, though. Those of you with a PS3 can add me to your friends list, though. My PSN ID is BronzeDog, of course.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thinking Small

Orac makes a good point in this week's Friday Dose of Woo, describing the "Tesla" Purple Energy Shield-type crap, which supposedly captures tachyons or something:
Whoever came up with this is wasting his time making these chotchkes all in order to separate the credulous from their $89.95. If he could really do what is claimed above, he'd be a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Physics, easy! Think about it. He claims to be able to alter the atomic structure of the aluminum in the outer shell of the shield to harness high-frequency tachyon energy. If that's true, why on earth is he wasting his time with this woo? Why isn't he making billions of dollars using this principle to generate electricity without oil or coal, vastly decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and providing pollution-free energy in the process?
That's one of the things that always strikes me: Woos almost never seem to think big. It prevents them from seeing the far-reaching implications if their pet hypotheses if they were true. With mediums, why do we get so little beyond "He's with you" when, if someone could talk to the dead, we could be solving countless murder cases? I, however, have never heard of a psychic legitimately claiming credit for solving even a single case. It's always postdictions, standard, generic responses that will apply to most cases, and very, very few specifics.

With most altie "treatments" it's often "Western medicine is evil, and you can survive exclusively on woo!" followed by someone mentioning a serious problem, and the alties backpedaling to say the woo's supposed to complement real medicine, it's subtle, and all those much weaker and smaller claims.

Whenever I hear about a scientific discovery, I get to wondering just what it could mean in the long run. Examples: When I first heard about bio-diesel and the idea of little critters that could take just about any organic substance and turn it into diesel, I dreamed about energy security. Less war in the Middle East (or at least fewer economic reasons for us to muck things up). Potentially "greener" sources of electricity. It may not pan out that well, but there's some hope there. We just have to keep pushing. Woo "discoveries", however, often seem to just be "buy this and you'll be happy/healthy/whatever." I may be all in favor of scientific materialism, but that just strikes me as a bit on the shallow economic sort of materialism.

Just continuing to vent my rantiness.

Grady McGurtney, Puppy Drowner

There's one thing I'd like to say to people like him:

There, there, bunny. He's just an IDiot who'll be too cowardly to act out his evil-hearted fantasies once we expose him for what he is.

He also makes my friend very sad.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

3# !fooW

Well, it's that time again. Barely restrained myself against some Secretards. Currently more hoarse than dog at the moment, thinking of things I'd really like to shout at whiny Newagers, Bill O'Reilly (I would suggest some of those things for Dawkins to say, but it's more important that he keep his cool), and all those subtly like-minded (closed, that is) people.

So anyway, for those who don't know the !fooW drill: Ask me a question, and chances are you'll get a silly answer. This one, however, has a special rule designed to get me back in a good mood: Your question must include a link to something funny.

For the sake of convenience links work like this: [a href=""]Your question here[/a]. Just replace the brackets with less-than and greater-than signs.

Am I Getting Too Foamy?

I've noticed that I've been getting more foamy than usual over the past few months. I've felt obligated to try to turn around a lot of the language that woos use to label us, so in more and more comments, I describe how limiting, closed, and nihilistic anti-science sentiments look to me, often with at least a blurb about how I came to that conclusion.

Used to, when some troll woo made a purely ad hominem post, I'd mockingly point out how off-topic they were, since ad hominems are a category of red herring. Now I tend to show how they're actually describing their own woo views, describing it as projection.

So, do I need to turn down my foam a little?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I'm Guessing He Didn't Survive the Childhood Trauma I Did

Dinesh D'Souza said some rather stupid things. Here's one of those stupid things, about why atheists allegedly aren't visibly comforting people over Virginia Tech... despite the fact that is was condolences by atheist bloggers that brought the story to my attention. Anyway, here's said stupid thing:
The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules.
I wonder if he's still in denial about the Muppets being made of foam and fake fur. Or about rainbows being made of light refracting through water molecules. Or about masterpiece paintings being just selectively reflective mixtures of pigments. Or about Okami being nothing but a bunch of 1's and 0's. ...He probably doesn't worry much about that last one, but you get my point.

Put simply, I don't see how understanding something destroys its beauty or value. Yeah, I'm a bunch of little bitty things working together in a complicated collection of interactions. So what? I still like myself and value my existence as a bunch of little bitty things working together in a complicated collection of interactions. Life is cool. I'm sure many of you still value me as a dirty bag of mostly copper. (What? I'm bronze, meatbag.) Or at least I hope you do. I know my family does.

It's attitudes like this guy's that convinces me that people who subscribe to his brand of theism are more "atheistic" than any atheist: Everything is valueless unless some random, undefinable, incomprehensible magic says otherwise. Personhood is meaningless because it's physical. Thought is meaningless because it's physical. Emotion is meaningless because it's physical. Magic is all that matters, and knowledge kills his magic.

I'm so glad I don't subscribe to his worldview. It's the whiny emo "life sucks and then you die" stereotype, except he's probably slapped on the promise of an empty, mindlessly blissful afterlife on there to excuse apathy, inaction, and injustice in the one life we know for sure exists.

Good and evil exist, and this guy's the sort who contributes to the latter. I've got a gut feeling this guy believes God has some inviolate "divine plan" and thus anything that happens, including this horror must be "good" (though you can bet he'll spin, spin, spin). Another excuse for his sort to condone apathy, inaction, and injustice. Don't know about souls (evidence, please?), but consciousness exists. Knowledge isn't going to destroy any of those things, so there's no need to zealously espouse ignorance. Rainbows and Okami Amaterasu are still beautiful. Nothing this guy can say will take that away from us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Caught a chunk of NPR where they had interviewed a guy who wrote a book about the history of Al Queda, the Taliban, and Osama Bin Laden. (Sorry I can't get more specific: Can't find a mention of the program on their site, and when I'm driving, I tend to focus more on not dying, not getting dents, and making it home. Roughly in that order.)

Anyway, he mentioned a number of Muslim attacks against Soviet occupation that did almost nothing: The Muslim combatants tended to charge straight in and get killed unnecessarily. Why? 'Cuz that's how a Jihadist gets into Heaven.

That's one reason a lot of cases of religious martyrdom and many cases of self-"sacrifice" by people who make a big deal about the afterlife don't really mean much to me: They're getting something out of the deal. I don't know about the accuracy of the above tale, but it demonstrates the problem of basing morality on a simple reward/punishment scheme: Quickly dying in a manner that superficially looks "moral" is the quickest way to selfish, eternal bliss, even if it hurts those left behind.

Repressed Memories

Blake Stacey, in a comment, uncorks a bad memory. My encounters with Michael Egnor's stupidity did not begin with his IDiocy.

To summarize, when it was pointed out that Terry Schaivo's visual cortex was dead, and thus she couldn't have followed anything with her eyes, and thus couldn't have been responding to stimuli, Egnor spun that into claiming that it was about euthanasia for the blind. Talk about working backwards.

Okay, I'll Talk About Virginia Tech

So far, I'm probably not as up to date as the rest of you, but I think I'll give some opinions based on what I know.

First: Gun control. We all know that this sort of thing keeps coming up. I think that if you're going to debate about it, be sure to reference actual numbers. This morning on NPR, I heard two handguns (one semi-automatic with extended clips and a .22 caliber) were involved. Could restricting/banning handguns have an overall benefit for society? Does handgun possession prevent enough crime to offset its convenience for criminals? Would restrictions on ammunition and large clips help? I don't know. I want to hear empirical discussion, not some extremist NRA member holding up a shotgun or whatever, saying "from my cold, dead hands!"

Second: Which part of society is to blame (if any)? This is the real sticky wicket, and before we even knew anything, we've had people spouting off about it being caused by evolution, atheism, violent videogames, not having "American" DNA, and so on. I can imagine Communism's going to get thrown in since the guy was Asian. Since he was considered a "misfit," I think we can expect the same nerdophobia that followed Columbine. Let's wait until we hear a bit more, then we can figure out his motives, okay?

My Vocabulary Word For the Day #2

I was looking up an acronym in the Urban Dictionary, and started looking at the recent front page words. I bumped into this:


An idea that at first seems like an amazing insight (at least to the conceiver) but later turns out to be pointless, mundane, stupid, or incorrect, and often is the root cause of bad decisions. Mostly occurs under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Here is a bimutual epiphanot from one of Americas cinematic masterpieces, National Lampoon's "Animal House"...

Larry: Okay. That means that our whole solar system could be, like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being. (Jennings nods) This is too much! That means one tiny atom in my fingernail could be--

Jennings: Could be one little tiny universe.

Larry: Could I buy some pot from you?

I think I'll be using this word a lot with woos like Michael Egnor.

Doggerel #75: "Materialism"

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

When you get a bunch of self-identifying materialists together to talk about the definition, you can bet that there'll be a lot of talk about nuance (and you'll be getting some of my opinions along with this), but I think we can all agree that woos repeatedly misuse the term. Woos seem to think that we're all like the Auditors of Reality, and that all we see are moving particles and such and are unable to see anything "bigger" or that we don't believe in concepts like justice or love, or whatever.

It's really quite pathetic.

Justice and love exist, but primarily as a large, fuzzily defined collection of electrochemical reactions called "ideas." Just because people like me recognize them as such doesn't make them any less important. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that they're more important to us because we recognize that there isn't some magic law in the universe that's going to protect them. We can't just sit back and have faith that some big glowy guy in a toga is going to eventually punish the evil and reward the good based on power and authority that came from nowhere. That's why we have to work towards our ideals.

As for seeing nothing but particles and such, well, false dichotomy. Materialism is essentially about getting down to the tiny mechanisms that run everything. Everything (probably) has a cause or collection of causes. We don't ignore things like consciousness, emotions, and so forth: They're subject to science just like everything else. Calling them "supernatural" is just an act of relabeling that doesn't provide any greater understanding. If it exists, it's material. The weirdest thing that could happen is if it's a very different material from a human point of view.

Side note on the Auditors from Discworld: Unlike in the fictional world, I don't see any really big way that life or even human life is "messier" than nonliving things. Anything that's remotely warm has a lot of movement going on. I can also imagine some astronomer coming along and describing how messy Jupiter's weather system is. Life's just another fragile thing in the universe. Acknowledging that makes me glad I'm around to appreciate something so beautiful.


Doggerel Index

Monday, April 16, 2007

58th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the Geek Counterpoint.

Open thread as usual, except pointing out that I'm horrendously late is FORBIDDEN!

The Stuff I Don't Get in My Email

Stopped by Snopes a moment ago, and read some of their new items. This one's a good one. It's an email from an employee leaving his company (intended in good humor, not real maliciousness, apparently).

One of my favorite little bits:
To Caulfield: I will always remember sharing lunch with you, despite having clearly labeled it with my name.
Wish I could get some of these funny ones in my inbox while filtering out all the stupid glurges and absurd "teh govmint's tracking you through your teeth so that gang members hiding under your car can hamstring you!" sorts. Currently, I don't get much of either.

Doggerel #74: "The Devil's Fooled You!"

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

One argument a lot of fundies out there like to use is that skeptics like me have been magically fooled by some malevolent being and that all the evidence for evolution, or lack of evidence for a deity is due to his evil genjutsu.

Thankfully, everyone probably knows what the problem with this argument is, since everyone's got at least some familiarity with The Matrix. If we can't trust the physical world around us to behave in a consistent manner, what can we trust? We've got a heck of a lot of people offering piles of contradictory, and usually self-contradictory books claiming to have the unwavering truth, but if this devil has such amazing powers, how do we even know if those books are real?

I prefer to cut past all that sophistry and solipsism by tentatively assuming that what goes into my various senses is at least an approximation of reality, and what's verified by other people and instrumentation is a better approximation. I still have to keep flawed perceptions and so forth into account, but it's a lot better than false certainty. It certainly doesn't entail ignoring the world outside my head, either.

One other annoyance that most fundies don't seem to realize is that all of science is tightly wound together. If one bit of science (such as evolution) is so completely wrong, it would mean that the science we use in a lot of everyday applications is also wrong. If radioisotope dating is wrong, that would mean that much of what we know about nuclear physics is wrong. Somehow, I don't think all the nuclear power plants are about to suddenly stop working.

The situation isn't much different than an extreme case of conspiracy theories that involve shadow governments with unlimited funds and uncrackable cover-ups.


Doggerel Index

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Mad Scientist Lab Rulebook

"Rat Fink... fiddles with a beaker that's smoking and bubbling as per the Mad Scientist Lab Rulebook." -Ed Harris, Agony Booth
Since Ed didn't provide a link, I think we should make our own rule book, both for Hollywood and woo stereotypes.

1. All scientists work with weirdly shaped bottles and flasks of colorful chemicals. These chemicals are always bubbling or smoking. It doesn't matter what kind of scientist he is. Colorful chemicals equals credibility.

2. If your introductory scene doesn't involve you carefully pouring something into a test tube, you're not a scientist.

3. A scientist's talent is directly proportional to the thickness of his German accent. The same is true of his madness.

4. Science is subject to the Storm Trooper Effect. A lone scientist working in a remote place is much more likely to produce earth-shattering breakthroughs than countless scientists and lab assistants working in a prestigious university in the center of a metropolis.

5. Atheist scientists are soulless ultra-materialists who reject the existence and importance of emotion. Religious scientists always make breakthroughs that involve, or at least hint at, the supernatural and are ridiculed and never believed until the climax.

6. There's usually someone who steals the scientist's secret/inventor's prototype for use in the eeeee-ville military. If the scientist/inventor explicitly expresses anti-military views, the probability jumps to 100%.

6a. If the scientist has a daughter, she will be kidnapped for use as a bargaining chip to acquire the secret or force the scientist to work for the kidnappers.

7. Scientists never believe that their new inventions can cause environmental problems or cause side effects.

7a. If they are convinced, they probably already knew and just don't care.

8. If magic exists in the movie, science and technology are always evil. Magic is always environmentally friendly, and all nature scenes are nice and pretty. Swamps and wastelands are always the scientists' fault.

8a. When used against the giant monster, technological weapons built by optimistic scientists always fail where the magic sword of legend will succeed.

9. Scientists are always socially inept, absent-minded, and unable to party.

10. Magic tends to show up only after science bombs everything back into the stone age.

Okay, that should be enough to get you started.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Doggerel #73: "But [Woo] Isn't Paranormal!"

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

A lot of woos out there love relabeling. They're just itching to find the perfect label that'll convince us skeptics. They've claimed their favorite brand of woo isn't paranormal, as if that'll substitute for evidence. They've claimed it isn't paranormal in a transparent effort to avoid taking Randi's Challenge.

When I use the word 'paranormal,' I primarily mean something that would require overhauling everything we know if it was true. Homeopathy, for example, would require that we change chemistry on a fundamental level to account for substances becoming stronger the more dilute they get. I imagine the 'like cures like' buzz phrase would also require changing quite a lot we know about medicine.

But it doesn't really matter what I think: All that matters is the evidence, and the evidence I've seen thus far says that "real" homeopathy doesn't do any better than "fake" homeopathy (placebo.) Slapping a "not paranormal" sticker on woo won't change what the evidence says.

What's often annoying is when woos try to explain their non-functioning magic in terms of science, like when they appeal to quantum mechanics to explain telepathy, "The Secret," or whatever. The problem is that there's no telepathy to require explaining. Test it under controlled conditions and give us the result. If you can't do that, there's nothing that needs explaining. It's pretty much the opposite of the urban legend of scientists 'disproving' that a bee can fly. We can see the bee fly, even if we (allegedly) can't explain it. With woo, apparently lots of trolls claim to explain how their woo works, and yet, aren't interested in proving that it does work.

The IDiots out there also perform the fallacy: When around skeptics, they'll often bring up the possibility of naturalistic aliens instead of a supernatural sky daddy. Well, that doesn't change the lack of evidence or even a falsifiable hypothesis.


Doggerel Index

Monday, April 09, 2007


[ ] Achluophobia - Fear of darkness.
[x] Acrophobia - Fear of heights.
[x] Agliophobia - Fear of pain.
[ ] Agoraphobia - Fear of open spaces or crowds.
[x] Aichmophobia - Fear of needles or pointed objects.
[ ] Amaxophobia - Fear of riding in a car.
[ ] Androphobia - Fear of men.
[ ] Anginophobia - Fear of choking.
[ ] Anthrophobia - Fear of flowers.
[ ] Anthropophobia - Fear of people or society.
[ ] Aphenphosmphobia - Fear of being touched.
[ ]Arachnophobia - Fear of spiders.
[ ] Arithmophobia - Fear of numbers.
[ ] Astraphobia - Fear of thunder and lightening. (Strangely, I find it much easier to sleep in thunderstorms)
[ ] Ataxophobia - Fear of disorder or untidiness.
[ ] Atelophobia - Fear of imperfection.
[ ] Atychiphobia - Fear of failure.
[ ] Autophobia - Fear of being alone.

[ ] Bacteriophobia - Fear of bacteria.
[ ] Barophobia - Fear of gravity.
[ ] Bathmophobia - Fear of stairs or steep slopes.
[ ] Batrachophobia - Fear of amphibians.
[x] Belonephobia - Fear of pins and needles. (Depends mostly on function)
[ ] Bibliophobia - Fear of books.
[ ] Botanophobia - Fear of plants.

[ ] Cacophobia - Fear of ugliness.
[ ] Catagelophobia - Fear of being ridiculed.
[ ] Catoptrophobia - Fear of mirrors.
[ ] Chionophobia - Fear of snow.
[ ] Chromophobia - Fear of colors.
[ ] Chronomentrophobia - Fear of clocks.
[ ] Claustrophobia - Fear of confined spaces.
[ ] Coulrophobia - Fear of clowns.
[ ] Cyberphobia - Fear of computers.
[ ] Cynophobia - Fear of dogs.

[ ] Dendrophobia - Fear of trees.
[ ] Dentophobia - Fear of dentists.
[ ] Domatophobia - Fear of houses.
[ ] Dystychiphobia - Fear of accidents.

[ ] Ecophobia - Fear of the home.
[ ] Elurophobia - Fear of cats.
[ ] Entomophobia - Fear of insects.
[ ] Ephebiphobia - Fear of teenagers.
[x] Equinophobia - Fear of horses. (I have a hard time around animals more than 40% of my body mass.)

[x] Flo-Beephobia - Fear of vacuum cleaners.

[ ] Gamophobia - Fear of marriage.
[ ] Genuphobia - Fear of knees.
[ ] Glossophobia - Fear of speaking in public.
[ ] Gynophobia - Fear of women.

[ ] Heliophobia - Fear of the sun.
[x] Hemophobia - Fear of blood. (I'm squeamish.)
[ ] Herpetophobia - Fear of reptiles.
[ ] Homophobia- Fear Of Homosexuals
[ ] Hydrophobia - Fear of water.

[ ] Iatrophobia - Fear of doctors.
[ ] Insectophobia - Fear of insects.

[ ] Koinoniphobia - Fear of rooms.

[ ] Leukophobia - Fear of the color white.
[ ] Lilapsophobia - Fear of tornadoes and hurricanes.
[ ] Lockiophobia - Fear of childbirth.

[ ] Mageirocophobia - Fear of cooking.
[ ] Melanophobia - Fear of the color black.
[ ] Microphobia - Fear of small things.
[ ] Mysophobia - Fear of dirt and germs.

[ ] Necrophobia - Fear of death or dead things.
[ ] Noctiphobia - Fear of the night
[ ] Nosocomephobia - Fear of hospitals.

[ ] Obesophobia - Fear of gaining weight.
[ ] Octophobia - Fear of the figure 8.
[ ] Ombrophobia - Fear of rain.
[ ] Ophidiophobia - Fear of snakes.
[ ] Ornithophobia - Fear of birds.
[x] Ostroconaphobia - Fear of seafood. (Specifically shellfish. I had a bad experience.)

[ ] Papyrophobia - Fear of paper.
[ ] Pathophobia - Fear of disease.
[ ] Pedophobia - Fear of children.
[ ] Philophobia - Fear of love.
[ ] Phobophobia - Fear of phobias.
[ ] Podophobia - Fear of feet.
[ ] Porphyrophobia - Fear of the color purple.
[ ] Pteridophobia - Fear of ferns.
[/] Pteromerhanophobia - Fear of flying. (In Armored Core. Conquered it in AC4. Lost some matches online because I went out of bounds through the 'ceiling')
[x] Pyrophobia - Fear of fire.

[ ] Scolionophobia - Fear of school.
[ ] Selenophobia - Fear of the moon.
[ ] Sociophobia - Fear of social evaluation.
[ ] Somniphobia - Fear of sleep.

[ ] Tachophobia - Fear of speed.
[/] Technophobia - Fear of technology. (Cellphone technology only.)
[ ] Tonitrophobia - Fear of thunder. (Again, I sleep through thunderstorms.)
[ ] Trypanophobia - Fear of injections. (Just don't show me the needle)

[ ] Venustraphobia - Fear of beautiful women.
[ ] Verminophobia - Fear of germs.

[ ] Wiccaphobia - Fear of witches and witchcraft.

[ ] Xenophobia - Fear of strangers or foreigners.

[ ] Zoophobia - Fear of animals.

(Via Shalini)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bizarro Holidays!

Here's something I'm considering: Using lots of alternative names for various religious holidays, like how I always say "Decemberween" instead of you-know-what. That particular practice of mine started when I got a big chunk of the Religious Wrong burning it down because they can't stand the idea of anyone saying "Happy Holidays."

But I digress. I suggest we put together a list of all the religious holidays we can think of, and come up with silly sacrilegious counterparts. Let's not limit ourselves to one religion. Frequency of use will rise when someone gets chauvinistic about a particular holiday.

Here's a bit to get it started:

Easter -> Ovipositional Bunny Day

Okay, so I'm not all that inspired at the moment. I'll get the juices going eventually.

Doggerel #72: "I Go Beyond My Five Senses!"

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

It's always struck me as bizarre that woos think skeptics like us are limited to believing in stuff we can perceive with our 'five senses.' Putting aside the fact that humans have plenty of other senses, they don't seem to realize just how much invisible stuff science has revealed to us. Our vision, for example, is limited to a very narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum. But we use the invisible portions of that spectrum all the time: Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays all have scientific uses. Moving beyond that, there are magnetic fields, tiny, tiny particles we can't perceive directly, and probably lots of other things my blogging friends will point out.

If anyone can claim to go beyond human senses, it's the scientists.

All of those things I listed have reproducible, predictable effects. They're quite knowable. The woo's "sixth sense" either doesn't exist, or is so weak to be indistinguishable from chance. You know where you can prove me wrong. Whenever you hold a woo's "sixth sense" to the same standards as any of the above, however, they start making exceptions, talking about how fickle and unpredictable it is, or otherwise claim it's unknowable and untestable. And they say we're negative.


Doggerel Index

My Bit of Bloggin' Against Theocracy

One of the annoying things that always comes up when there's an argument about a theistic phrase on money, in the pledge, or on some government building is "who cares?" or "it's nothing to worry about." It may qualify as a 'little thing' in most people's eyes, but it reminds me of one statement I heard years ago on television: "Racism isn't just some KKK member putting a burning cross in your front yard. It's the gradual wearing down that happens every day." The problem with government endorsements of theism is analogous: Every school day children are compelled to say a pledge specifically modified to include a deity. Every time the president gets on the air, he talks about God. Unconstitutional endorsements get passed unanimously. All of this adds up to the perception that religion is necessary to be patriotic, and that questioning faith is therefore unpatriotic and evil. Don't think. Just believe what Big Brother believes. You've got a right to think whatever you want, but we're here to make sure thinking on your own makes things uncomfortable for you.

That is why it's immoral and unethical for a government to endorse religion. Like it or not, the people most interested in knocking over the wall of separation are in favor of bigger and bigger government, just to make sure that everyone gets the message that believing in something contrary to The State's beliefs is wrong. It's no different than what the likes of McCarthy and Stalin did, only slightly smaller in scale. For now.

Rewrite a little history. Apply a little white-out to the Constitution. Put words in the Founding Fathers' mouths. Stick a little atheist-bashing in between every religious and allegedly patriotic line to designate them as The Enemy. That's how it starts. We need to stop it before it grows beyond culturally acceptable bigotry.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Doggerel #71: "Fundamentalist Atheist"

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

Just about any outspoken atheist will inevitably be called a "fundamentalist atheist" as if that term meant anything. Everyone should know this by now, but atheism is a lack of belief in gods. That's it. Full stop. Excessive pointing out of the period.

Beyond that commonality, there's nothing tying atheists together as a group. There's no dogma to be fundamentalist about, much less to inspire the sorts of acts religious fundamentalists are known for: Bombings, beheadings, book burning, etcetera. Captain Awesome got accused of being equivalent to the fundamentalists he bashes, but he knew the proper, but Not Safe For Work retort.

Having a sharp tongue is nothing like putting infidels to the sword.

What's really annoying when it happens to me is that it's typically used as an appeal to motive, as if all my complaints about foolish arguments are all about hating believers. It's not. If someone says something stupid, I will usually feel compelled to point out that it's stupid, as well as the hows and whys of its stupidity. I once had a meatspace argument with someone about whether or not π is a constant, since my adversary was arguing that constant (more precise) recalculations meant it wasn't. It proceeded much the same way a lot of my online arguments did, and with the same fervor. Did pointing out that there's a difference between human-made imperfect calculations and the actual value make me a fundamentalist mathematicianist or something? (Oh, and I managed to get my point across by saying that all human calculations pretty much meant that we just waited longer and longer to round off what would be an infinite process.)

The point is that when I argue about something, I don't tolerate fallacious arguments, as should be the case in any argument about any subject. Pointing out the fallacies behind common theistic arguments is just one of my strengths.

Another annoyance is that pointing out the unlawful, unconstitutional, and/or unethical acts of religious people is often somehow "atheist fundamentalism," as if preventing a government official from coercing prayer, or endorsing a government religion is the same as coercing a different prayer or a different government religion. Welcome to Moonside!

Still another annoyance is when we insist on having science being taught in science classes, we're again so branded. First, science is science. Teaching everything we know about evolution, geology, etcetera thanks to the scientific method is not fundamentalism anymore than teaching "1 + 1 = 2" is. If you want to argue that any of that is wrong, use the scientific method to do so, not favored buzz phrases. Second, science is separate from atheism. It's entirely possible to believe in both evolution and theism. I even pulled it off for a while, though I was going against Occam's Razor at the time. I can also imagine there are some atheists out there who don't believe in evolution. After all, there are some religions out there that happen to be atheistic.

Now we move to one of the favorite tyrants the doggerel-users like to bring up (No, not Hitler. That's a different doggerel, for some other day): Joseph Stalin, a guy who did quite a lot of nasty things to unify the Soviet Union under atheism. Of course, I will say, without equivocation, that Stalin was evil, and used evil means towards that end. The problem with using Stalin as an example of fundamentalist atheism is that he had a particular dogma that only happened to include atheism, but went anti-science in many cases. In short, Stalin is nothing like the typical accused atheist. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd call for my execution.


Doggerel Index

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Doggerel #70: "It Works For Me!"

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

In my experience thus far, this is one piece of doggerel that's more likely to be used in a sincere manner, whereas most others typically represent insincere rhetoric to avoid questions.

Originally, for the helpful image in this entry, I was trying to find a screen capture of something I regularly see on TV: Diet pill commercials that have "I lost 20 pounds!" anecdotes onscreen while a tiny disclaimer appears at the bottom of the screen, "Results not typical." Hopefully that image has formed well enough in your head for the point to get across: Your results may not be typical. As far as we know, those people who lost weight may not have done so because of the diet pill, but because of exercise, changes in diet, or something else entirely. We don't know, because we don't know what, if any, controls were in place.

Now switch to some other condition and an alternative "medicine" treatment: That will throw in regression to the mean, the placebo effect, natural healing, the post hoc fallacy, and you've got the big "pragmatic fallacy" as the result. The easiest person to fool is yourself, and without controls to eliminate or at least reduce those fallacies, you've got a lot of means to that end. The same principles apply to pretty much any woo that supporters insist we try.

That's why skeptics like me are big on double-blind control studies and large groups: We want to know what results are typical, and if they're different than the results of a placebo.


Doggerel Index

Monday, April 02, 2007

Delightful Absurdities

Wish I thought of this on April 1st, but oh well. Thought I'd share some of the things I've encountered in videogames that are completely absurd, but often still cool. It's going to be a bit Armored Core-centric, but that's just because I have that series on the brain right now.

Inconsistent scale: Neon Genesis Evangelion did it for the sake of drama, and I forgive them. Armored Core does it, well, just because. Original Armored Core: One city level had a van coming up to the typical AC's shin. Project Phantasma (or so I've been told) had a van coming up to chest level. AC3 had some 18-wheelers coming up to about ankle height.

Absurdity of scale: Armored Core 3 mission: Cause as much damage as possible to cars in a tunnel to provoke and then eliminate local security. The cars were ankle height at most, and the tunnel was tall enough for an AC to get at least a little bit of vertical movement. How about you defend something by making all the access points too small for an AC to get to?

Mission from Armored Core 2: Another Age: Take out four really big planes... They drop you directly on them, and after taking down all the vital bits of one, you just fly on over to the next. Anyone in the game ever heard of cruise missiles? I still think it's a fun mission, possibly because of the absurdity.

All the "Destroy Massive MT" missions: Big honking target? Cruise missiles. But a tiny AC versus big, bad behemoth makes for a really cool standoff.

In the original AC and Master of Arena, you may find yourself on the moon. You also spend all of AC2 and Another Age on Mars, except for an excursion to Phobos. But the gravity's still the same as on Earth.

Armored Core: Silent Line mission: Have to sneak into a base guarded by perfectly vertical and horizontal, not to mention visible sensor lasers. What's so absurd about a noisy, 60+ foot tall robot sneaking into an oversized building with poorly designed security measures? Well, when you put it that way... Well, it's still fun.

--- Moving on...

Nearly every console RPG out there:

Why is it that there are only about 4-7 people out there making a determined effort to save the world?

First, a handful of goblins were a viable threat. A few game-months later at most, you run from lesser deities, but only because they don't give you enough experience to waste 30 seconds on fighting.

Okay, that's about as far as I'll go for now. I'll leave it up to you, dear readers, to link to the various cliché lists out there.