Why psychic abilities probably aren’t possible

If only psychic abilities were as obvious as this.

Usually when someone is arguing that psychics aren’t real, they talk about cold reading, self-delusion, and the willingness to believe. In other words, they explain how a psychic is doing what they’re doing.

I’m going to try a different take. I’m going to try to show that what psychics claim to be doing is impossible, by using evolution as our guide.

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Fun with Vaccination

UPDATE (Mar. 3, 2010): If anyone’s still hanging on the edge of their seat for this one, it’s been more or less resolved. I told the person who was threatening me that I wasn’t going to back down, and they’ve so far left me alone. That was back in November, of course. They had no legal standing on this.

UPDATE (Nov. 16 2009): Currently, the caller from this interview is threatening me with legal action. I’ve modified the post with a few more “seems to be”s to cover my ass. I think I’m fully within my rights to say what I’ve said here, but since I was called by the caller’s lawyer, I’m not taking any chances.

I just got done listening to a recent segment on NPR’s Science Friday (hosted by Ira Flatow) where they discussed the anti-vaccination movement, and even after 20 minutes, I’m still quivering with rage and frustration.

Science Friday: Childhood Vaccinations

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Is PETA really euthanizing most of its shelter animals? Yes.

This image doesn’t really have anything to do with this story, but I made it a while ago and I think it’s funny.

Here’s one I heard about a few months ago, but didn’t think about much until it popped up again today on Digg, as most things do.

As the story goes, PETA (the animal rights group) euthanized 95% of all the animals it took in during 2008. Wow. But, is it true?

While researching, I quickly found my way to a site called “PETA Kills Animals”, which seems to be the source of this claim. They have the data they used all wrapped up in a nice PDF file and a table of data showing the exact numbers, from 1998 to 2008. And yes, the data shows, without a doubt, that PETA is euthanizing huge numbers of animals. Case closed, I’ll share the site on Facebook to make myself feel good. Right?

However, someone on Digg doubted the numbers, and claimed the numbers were much lower. Another poster chimed in with links to the data directly from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. (PETA’s headquarters are in Virginia.) That site has PETA’s data from 2004-2007, so that’s the date range I’ll be sticking with for the rest of this article.

I looked at the exact numbers, and at first glance something seemed wrong. In 2007, PETA took in 8362 animals, and euthanized 1815 of them. That’s definitely not 95%; it’s 22%. Huh?

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Energize your mind with new-age bullshit

When I started this blog, I thought I’d be writing primarily about cool science news items, and shedding light on the latest scams, and maybe even writing about politics and religion if I had time. Well, as you can see by the Categories box to the right, I had that completely backwards. The problem is that I really don’t have much to contribute to a scientific news item, besides “this is cool”.

However, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying pseudoscientific claptrap when I see it, and this certainly qualifies for that description:

If you watched that video, you’re probably either thinking “that’s obvious nonsense” or “wow, maybe I should start doing that”. Actually, you’re probably also thinking “that’s the worst reporting I’ve ever seen” and I agree with you there.

A classic joke among us skeptics goes something like this:

Q: “What do you call alternative medicine that actually works?” A: “Medicine.”

A lot of people are inclined to believe in alternative medicine, because they see it as a viable alternative to modern medicine. What many people don’t realize is that there’s really no such thing as “alternative medicine”. There’s medicine, and then there’s unproven and disproven treatments. This “Superbrain Yoga®” seems to be a mixture of both unproven and disproven treatments. Continue reading

Who’s to blame for the National Debt?

As a Graphic Designer by trade, an artist in general, and a scatterbrain in particular, I like to see data in graphs and charts. To me, it’s just much more useful to see information graphically represented (see my previous post for a good example) than to examine tables of raw data. So when I see a good chart, it makes a big impression on me.

This chart (or others like it) isn’t exactly new. It’s been floating around the net for a few years, and it clearly shows that the National Debt increases at a significantly greater rate when we have a Republican president. I’ve seen this chart pop up on Digg and in message board comments all over the place. There are apparently a lot of people who have it bookmarked and are ready to post a link to it at the first sign of praise of Republican fiscal policy or criticism of Democrat fiscal policy.

However, one of the first criticisms this chart gets is always something along the lines of “the President doesn’t really have much control over the economy” or that it’s really a problem caused in the Senate, since they’re the ones who come up with the bills. The inevitable response to that is “yes, but the President can veto those bills”. Who’s really to blame?

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Divorce rates, by religion

I recently listened to a group’s conversation regarding divorce rates among different religious groups. They were of the opinion that divorce was rampant among atheists due to their "godless and immoral" nature, and that it was much better among Christians. It occurred to me that this sort of ignorance may be more widespread than I previously realized, so I just wanted to throw a little hard data at the issue. Naturally, I doubt that evidence will help make much of a difference (does it ever?) but it doesn’t hurt to try.

First, why do I choose to link to this site above all others? After all, there’s plenty of census data available online. Here’s why:

  1. This is (as far as I can tell) the most recent data on the subject.
  2. It’s the most commonly-cited data on the subject on the internet right now.
  3. The Barna Group "conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries".

So what does the study find? That atheists and agnostics have divorce rates which are equal to slightly lower than those of various Christian denominations.

The author mentions the fact that atheists/agnostics have lower rates of marriage and higher rates of cohabitation, which may skew the results slightly. That’s probably true (I haven’t researched this claim, but it sounds likely) but we should also remember that this isn’t exactly an unbiased source. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that atheists came off as well as they did.

This study is by no means definitive proof on the subject, one way or the other. But it’s certainly an indicator of how things really are. Based on this data, I would speculate that religion isn’t as large of an element in divorce rates as most people think, and that the increases are the result of changes in societal opinions. I’m not currently making a judgement on whether this is good or bad, mind you. Maybe I will in a future post.

One more thing to point out: this study states that the divorce rate is 33%, and that’s pretty consistent to some other studies I’ve perused on the subject. The common myth is that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, which clearly is not true.