Response to Ashley Smith — Part IV

Her first email read like this:

You are grossly uninformed and uneducated on this topic:

There is NO SUCH THING as “THE Scientific Method.” There is NO SINGULAR method that scientists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is WRONG.

Laws, theories and hypotheses have NO HEIRARCHY WHATSOEVER. NOTHING is upgraded. THEY ARE LIKE APPLES ORGANES AND KUMQUATS.

Science and spirituality are NOT at war, you uneducated Internet fool. They are totally SEPARATE entities and areas of life. Dawkins is blatantly and COMPLETELY MISUSING and ABUSING science for his AGENDA. The man should know better.

I STRONGLY SUGGEST that you EDUCATE YOURSELF about what science actually is and is NOT- what it can and cannot do.

THIS link, from the University of California at Berkeley is the BEST ON THE INTERNET ( and it is reputable) for information about what science is. YOU simply do NOT understand that God falls WAAAAAY BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES of what science can actually address. Science is SILENT on the matter- COMPLETELY SILENT. It does NOT get involved , NOR IT IS EVEN ABLE TO.

SCIENCE HAS LIMITS, YOU LAUGHABLE INTERNET GEEK A**HOLE. PLEASE EDUCATE YOURSELF, YOU FOOL !!!!!!!!

http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12″

[Censorship is my own]

Well that was lovely, calm, thoughtful and respectful!

On her first point, that there is no one ‘scientific method’ that all scientists follow. I have since challenged her in multiple emails she has replied to on that claim, each time she has restated her claim, but with no evidence what-so-ever. I asked her for one piece of published, peer-reviewed science that didn’t follow the Hypothesis-Test-Conclusion structure, but she has not presented anything. She has no evidence for her claim.

“Laws, Theories and Hypothesises have no hierarchy whatsoever, nothing is upgraded.” She then states. She’s right, I have never said anything to the contrary on my blog, or anywhere else, ever. So I don’t know what relevance it has to the topic. It is true, hypothesises are not the same as theories or laws, but that bares no relevance to the topic.

“Science and spirituality are not at war you uneducated internet fool” she goes on to say. Like I said earlier in response to a comment, I think that they are polar opposites and must necessarily be at war, because their beliefs and claims are in stark contrast to each other.
Its also worth saying that she claims science and spirituality are not at war, and then goes on to attack science in defence of her spiritual beliefs. Ironic really.

I suggest you all visit the link she sent me, it not that long so its not heavy reading. After you read it, formulate your own opinion as to the intent of the link.

okay… Its pretty weak isn’t it, and like her emails and comments, it has no evidence to back up its claims, and just says what it wants to say. It’s not in-depth, its not thorough, its quite a poor page, and its credibility is not great, seeing as there is no author. It may be on a university website, but some universities also endorse homeopathy and other ridiculous alt-med claims, so it is of little value credibility-wise.

On to the next email.

You are a total fool. The best cream of the crop theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS AT BEST. There are many theories outright WRONG.Even accepted quality science has been very wrong.

Our best scientific genuises in history were ONLY fog fighters struggling mightily to understand the world.

Get off the pedestal. Scientists are EXTREMELY FALLIBLE and no better than anybody else.

and followed shortly after, before I could respond, was this:

YOU ARE WRONG, A**WIPE. THERE IS NMO NEED FOR YOU TO MAKE SOME STUPID POST ABOUT THIS.

THE UNIVERISTY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELY HAS COMPLETELY DISCREDITED YOUR INTERNET BLOGGING A**, YOU F*CKING STOOGE.
YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT SCIENCE IS, IS P*SS PORR.

YOU LOSE.”

The first email she sends is a lot nicer, I wish she wrote like that more often.

I’ll talk about it first.
Her first claim, that our best scientific theories are estimations at best. This is just wrong. Our cream of the crop theories, Evolution, the Big Bang Theory, Germ Theory of Disease, General and Special relativity, these have all been tested countless times before, over and over again, to the utmost detail, and never has an experiment contradicted any of them to date. This doesn’t mean they are right, we can never prove anything completely correct in science, but it suggests that they are. Even if they are not, they are pretty close to how it would be. Just like Newtons Laws of motion, they’re pretty good, but relativity is just a little bit better. So if they are wrong, they are basically right because they fit every aspect of the universe that we have measured with precision.

Her second argument made in the email is that scientists are fallible, just like any other human beings. Again, she’s right, but it doesn’t prove her point at all. Scientists are fallible like the rest of us, but science was designed to eliminate those errors, and other things like bias which would interfere with observation. Science is the perfect way to eliminate the fallibility of humans.

I will now address her second email.
This is no more than a blatant ad hominem attack, it makes no arguments, it assumes it is correct without any evidence, and it uses vulgarity to try and beat me as opposed to actual evidence. Nothing needs to be said about this email other than that it demonstrates her style of argument, the level of her intelligence when faced with actual reason, and the rigidity of her arguments.

I made short responses to her again, warning her that vulgarity was not the wisest thing for her appearance. She responded to my thus:

YOU SILLY TEENAGER A**HOLE. SCIENCE ( as well as scientists) ITSELF IS VERY FALLIBLE. SCIENCE IS A HUMAN CREATION AND ENDEAVOR, YOU STUPID A**, PRACTIED BY SCIENTISTS.

SCIENCE ITSELF IS FALLIBLE- VERY FALLIBLE . IT IS FAR FROM PERFECT AND CONSIDERABLY LIMITED. Your views are SO ERRONEOUS AND UNINFORMED I FEEL BAD FOR YOU.

The best scientific theories we have are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- NOTHING MORE. Even they CAN be either wrong or need work . And some of the lesser theroies are likely wrong.

Don’t you understand ANYTHNING?

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD” BY THE WAY ……..

In another email shortly after
SCIENCE CANNOT AT ALL ADDRESS GOD, YOU SILLY TEENAGE A**WIPE. IT DOES NOT DEAL WITH THAT- AND CAN’T. IT IS NOT EQUIPPED. SUCH QUESTIONS FALL FARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT SCIENCE CAN ACTUALLY DO , YOU SILLY TEENAGE A**HOLE.

YOU NEED TO GET THAT THROUGH YOUR HEAD.

Science does NOT “prove” OR “disprove” ANYTHING ( including even scientific subject matter- which the supernatural and God are NOT ).

Furthermore, science CANNOT disprove God. This is BASIC knowledge. It does NOT deal with that. It is SILENT and NEUTRAL. YOU ARE A STOOGE. DAWKINS IS A TOTAL HACK AND ABUSING SCIENCE. HE IS A DISGRACE AND HAS AN AGENDA.

EDUCATE YOUR PATHETIC ASS:

http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12

READ UP. YOU HAVE A LOT TO LEARN.

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY ARE NOT AT WAR, YOU PATHETIC INTERNET BLOGGING STOOGE.

and one more!

YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW that there is NO SUCH THING AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD” IF YOU WERE EDUCATED.

There are MANY, MANY, MANY methods used in science, YOU FOOL. You have OVERSTEPPED THE BOUNDARIES OF WHAT SCIENCE CAN ACTUALLY DO. YOU HAVE AN INFLATED SENSE OF IT.

EINSTEIN HAD A DREAM OF TEAHCING PHILOSOPHY NA DLOVED – ABSOLUTELY LOVED READING KANT.DID YOU KNOW THAT, FOOL?

She makes no new arguments in her first email in this series, other than bringing up a new layer to an old argument, that science itself is fallible too, because it is a human creation. Okay, lets look at that. Yes its a human creation, but it has been refined over the years to because a flawless way of testing reality. How do we know its flawless? Well we know it is prefect because the evidence surrounds us, if science was even a little bit long I surely wouldn’t be writing to you on my iPad, and you wouldn’t be seeing it almost instantaneously wherever you might be in the world. We wouldn’t be able to send probes across the solar system and track them precisely, reading from their instruments from billions of miles away. If it was even a little off, it wouldn’t work, so if it is wrong, its PRETTY DAMN CLOSE.

On to the second email in this series.
Her only claim here in this aggressive email is that science does not disprove god. Obviously, nothing can be disproved completely in science, just like nothing can be completely proven. But, in over 2000 years of observation of the natural world, we have not one scrap of evidence that god does exist, save a few holes in theories which always get plugged up over time. If there is no evidence for something, it doesn’t disprove it, but it very strongly suggests that it is incorrect.

Her response to this would be that God falls beyond the boundaries of science, and therefore cannot be tested by science. Well, like I have said before, If science tests reality (which it does) and God has an effect on reality (sure it would seeing as he made it all and performs miracles on it) then we should be able to find some ‘God’ lying around, but we haven’t. We haven’t seen anything. Anybody who denies that there is no substantial proof for god is clearly kidding themselves, as they can never produce any evidence themselves.

And her final email.
Her only interesting and non-ad hominem filled argument in this email is that Einstein dreamed of teaching philosophy and enjoyed Kant. SO WHAT?! I like Harry Potter, I like the moral story it teaches, just like I like the moral stories in Animal Farm, and I want every child to read both of these books, because they are amazing. It doesn’t mean I think any of it is science.

Philosophy is a broad topic, and the philosophy if Kant is a long way off the philosophy of your religion. This is also a prime example of the argument from authority, she seems to believe that Einstein is the be-all and end-all on what science is.

One more email remaining, this one came after the others.

This is it:

You need an EDUCATION badly. Feel free to use this because it IS TRUE:

THERE IS NO SUCH THINGS AS “THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD.” There are MANY, MANY, MANY METHODS used in science. What we all learned in 6th grade is NOT an accurtae representation of how science works in the real world as used by professional scientists…….. IT IS WRONG.

You Internet twats are either STUPID or MISINFORMED.

Worth noting that this is all in 30pt red text, but I cannot make it appear this way with the iPad version of wordpress, and I didn’t pack my laptop when I came to Germany.

Also note the complete arrogance demonstrated on her behalf by saying “feel free to use this because it is true”, despite this claim she has presented no evidence to prove it, so she may as well be shooting herself in the foot.

That’s all, also note that I have once more challenged her to prove her main claim in the last email, and she has not replied yet. She has had plenty of time and opportunity, so I will assume she has none.

Summing up, Ashley has given no substantial evidence to support any of her claims, nor has she demonstrated any level of basic debating skills, quickly resorting to derogatory, ad hominem and vulgar attacks in order to try and prove her point. I look forward to her future response to this blog post, I’m sure she will be rather vocal, and I think I can say there will be another follow-up blog post when she replies again.

Response to ashley Smith — Part III

the third comment reads:

Science ITSELF DOES have limits. You are grossly uneducated and misinformed about this topic if you think it does not. You are MISUSING science.

Science ITSELF rests on several ASSUMPTIONS ( that we HOPE are true).

Remember, WITHOUT PHILOSOPHY, there would be NO science. Einstein himself said his reading of Kant ENABLED him to come up with and invent General Relativity.

We can be wrong, BUT we can NEVER be completely right in science. EVERYTHING in science is tentative.

Science is a HUMAN CREATION and ENDEAVOR. You have lost your way badly.
—END COMMENT—

I will address this comment briefly, as it is predominantly a summation of previous arguments, or not worth too much discussion.

The first paragraph fails to present any argument to support itself, it just makes a claim, so I will ignore it until an argument is made.

What’s the big deal with Philosophy? Okay, Kant may have helped Einstein get his head around relativity, in the same way the Hungry Caterpillar helped to get my head around the life cycle of a butterfly. Kant didn’t tell him the answer, Kant merely inspired him. Even so, philosophy is quite broad, it branches from science to spirituality to politics to humanity, so claiming one philosophy helped a scientist in no way validates another part of philosophy.

Of course science is tentative, that’s what makes it great. It never makes any assumptions, it always double-checks, triple-checks and checks a million times more everything it claims, so as to be absolutely rigorous in its claims. This is not a fault of science, and it only strengthens it, making it more correct. Unlike in spirituality where the answer has been determined before even the basic facts have been observed, and then the beliefs are held to…well… religiously… until the bitter end. The fact that science is tentative is good for it.

Its a human creation and endeavour, yes, but that in no way brings it into doubt. Science’s main aim is to eliminate the human element in observation, that’s what science does.

It was after this comment that Ashley took her arguments to email, and sent me an email. I responded to the email in a rather brief manner, not making any arguments, only telling her that my arguments would be in a few post I was putting up soon. She responded in a rather angry manner, and a few exchanges have happened since, mostly involving Ashley talking to a brick wall, seeing as I was not going make any arguments until I could put up a post. Email responses will be in the final part of my blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part II

Here is the second comment she left on my blog:

Science cannot demonstrate what I dreamed last night ( although it really happened) , nor if a mother loves her daughter, nor tell us how to live our lives, nor determine the value of something , nor tell us if Guns N’ Roses has betetr music than Soundgarden etc.

Science is great for APPROXIMATIONS of the natural world. Approximations-that is it. And it HAS LIMITS. A subject matter MUST be scientific ( natural- natural phenomena that is testable) for science to address it and study it.

There are many things that science is SILENT on.

Our greatest cream of the crop theories are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- nothing more. Our greatest geniuses in the area of science were ONLY fog fighters struggling to understand the NATURAL world.
—END COMMENT—

Okay. Lets discuss the first paragraph, which is her first argument in this comment. This is a very old argument always put up by religious people and spiritual people alike, whenever they wish to displace science or show that it is not perfect. So I’m quite familiar with the argument, and have thought about it in-depth before.

I’ll address each piece separately.
Yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night, science is unable to do it at the moment, but there is no reason to suggest that we cannot do it in the future. There are constant improvements in science relating to reading brain signals, and our understanding of the brain is getting better every day. Every piece of evidence points to the fact that everything you think, everything you dream, it all can be found somewhere in the grey matter inside most of our skulls. Similarly it is quite easily able to demonstrate that a mother loves her daughter by observing the levels of particular hormones and activity of certain areas of the brain.

The next thing brought up is science and morality, the claim is made that science cannot tell us how to live our lives. No, it can’t, because morality is a value judgement at its core, and science only deals with facts. Morality however is not a fact of reality, so it can be excluded from this topic. It is worth pointing out though that once a judgement has been made on the value of things, science is perfect for advising morality, as it gives the most likely consequences of actions, so that one can judge what is the best course of action. Not smoking, for example, is a way science can advise you on how to live your life.

The last point brought up in this paragraph is that science is unable to make judgements on art, specifically that science cannot determine whether Guns’N’Roses is better or worse than any other band. I say that to the extent of FACTS, which are what is important to science, and to the current discussion of reality, science can help us. Surveys, the most basic of science, can easily explain to us which band is best in the eyes of the public. Now this may not prove that Guns’N’Roses is better than Soundgarden, but ‘better’ is not a fact, it is a personal opinion.

I’m going to address the next 3 paragraphs in the comment together, because they are part of the one topic. They simply say that science can only judge on natural topics, those which are scientific, and that science only makes approximations, never concrete statements. It finally states that Science is silent on a number of topics.

She’s correct to some extent, but lets look at what that means.

The first point, that science only makes approximations. That is true, but they are so much stronger than approximations. The theory of Gravity, for example, is ‘only a theory’, it is just an approximation of reality. But it hasn’t been proven wrong yet so if it is wrong, to the extent we can measure it, its right.

Science is naturally tentative, because it can never prove something completely right or wrong, but that merit doubt in the uncertainty. Like I said, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are ‘only theories’, but they are theories which have not a single piece of evidence against them, which is why they are still accepted theories. In the words of Einstein, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
This is one of my favourite quotes, because it sums up science perfectly. This is how science works. The theory is still accepted because no experiment has proved it wrong. In the case of most theories, they have come up against millions upon millions of experiments, all of which have agreed with the theory.

So the claim that science is just a “best guess” is a claim which demonstrates little understanding of the true meaning of the word ‘theory’ when used in scientific terms.

The second point, that science can only judge on natural topics, is also true. But she neglects to see what that means for her religious beliefs. Seeing as there is no evidence to date of god, and the creator of the universe is surely a natural topic (he created it all, so he must be observable somehow) it is a safe judgement to say that either: God does not exist OR God has no tangible effect on reality, therefore rendering him non-existant.

The final point, that science is silent on a lot of topics, is also true. Science doesn’t get involved in politics, morality, everyday lives, personal decisions etc., science can inform these topics on the facts, but it cannot ever become involved in these areas because a level of judgement is always required. This doesn’t mean science is wrong, it just means science cannot make judgement calls, because they are not facts. However god is definitely not a judgement call. Your religion maybe, but not the facts of God’s existence. On to the third and final Comment, which is in Part three of this blog post.

Response to Ashley Smith — Part I

Hello skeptics, Good evening, Good morning, whatever,

This is the first time I write on my own personal blog during my time in Germany, and strangely, it has nothing to do with Germany. I wish to discuss today a recent string of comments and emails sent to me by an “Ashley Smith” (I assume by the non-gendered first name and common last name that it is a pseudonym, I will refer to them as a ‘she’ for simplicities sake) concerning the topic of the distinction between science and the supernatural. This is a topic I find quite interesting, and it’s a topic that I have talked about before. I will discuss specifics through the post, but in general, this topic surrounds the question of what is testable and what is not testable by science, and what it means for the supernatural, and specifically a universe-creating, all powerful Deity.

The three comments left on the blog can be found in my article here Science is the Only Way to Test Reality if you wish to respond to them, or look at them first hand and the post that provoked them. However for the sake of making my own notes on the comments, I will have them here.

The first comment reads like so (Italicised to break it from the body of the post):
You have no idea what you are talking about. Science has its considerable limitations and things it does NOT do. It CANNOT and does NOT address the supernatural OR God. This falls WAAAAY beyond the BOUNDARIES of what science can actually do. Science and spirituality are NOT at war. That is an Internet MYTH perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. They do different things. Science does not get involved in that.

What Dawkins does is a complete misuse and abuse of science for his underlying dubious agenda. He should know better.

Lastly, there is NO such thing as “the scientific method.” There is NO singular method that all scioentists follow. What we all learned in 6th grade is a VERY INACCURATE picture of how science works as conducted by professional researchers around the world. It is outwright wrong and far too simple.

I suggest you educate yourself. The Internet contains A LOT of MISINFORMATION.

—END COMMENT—

Lets tackle some of the claims made in this comment. I’ll try and respond to her points in order.

The first claim made by Ashley (can I call you Ash?), is that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science. This is the main claim I have a problem with from this commenter. YES, it is true that the supernatural and God fall beyond the limits of science, because these hypothesises are unable to be disproved. There is no way that a testable hypothesis can be made about these two things, which means they fall beyond the realm of science. Lets look at it closer.

Now, science, as I discussed in the blog post I linked to, is, in my opinion, the only way to TEST reality. This is because science is the only effective method we have for testing things that exist. Things that exist are in reality. If we make the assumption that things that exist and have some tangible effect on reality can be observed in some way, then this means they can be tested by science.

Lets take God for example, because he’s a hot topic issue. We’ll take the claim that God exists, created the universe and occasionally comes down and messes with it in so-called ‘miracles’. We can make the assumption that such a being would have an effect on reality, quite a tangible effect, seeing as he created it all. So, we can also then assume that we should be able to measure this effect, by either observing a miracle or by looking into the past and finding that it just doesn’t add up without the huge assumption of a God who started it all. Is it only coincidence then that we haven’t seen any verified, proven miracles yet, and our knowledge of the beginning of time is getting greater and greater every day?

Nothing in Science points to God. Science is the only way that we can observe things that have an effect on reality. Therefore, by claiming that God is outside of the realm of science, a statement which I agree with, we are forced into two options. Either God exists but influences reality in no way what-so-ever, didn’t make it, doesn’t perform miracles with it, and doesn’t take our brain to his house when we die, OR God doesn’t exist. Neither option I think my commenter would like to agree to.

So she’s right, but it means God does’t exist.

Next is her claim that Science and Spirituality are not at war, and that the idea that they are is an internet myth perpetuated by clueless and uneducated people. Uneducated people like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris? If you call them uneducated and clueless, then you are quite wrong, nothing else. It is not an internet myth, it is a fundamental problem with the two endeavours. The basis of Science and Spirituality are polar opposites. Science believes that the universe is orderly, follows a set of rules, is constant, and is ruled by cause-and-effect. Spirituality is exactly the opposite, the belief that all of the rigidness of reality science claims can be completely disregarded if you pray hard enough. They must be at intellectual war, there is no other way about it.

Next her statement against Richard Dawkins. She presents no evidence whatsoever for this claim, just makes it out of thin air. However she seems to be part of a group with a specific agenda against Richard Dawkins, one of those who thinks all atheists worship him and Charles Darwin.

The last point raised in this comment is the notion that there is no such thing as ‘the scientific method’. No evidence is put forward to prove that, but the claim is made that not all scientists follow the scientific method in their research. This is completely false. Every single piece of scientific research ever done follows the same process.
1. Observation
2. Hypothesis made from observation
3. Hypothesis is tested using rigorous standards and bias and variable control
4. Conclusions are drawn from results.
5. If hypothesis was correct, good, make another one. If it was incorrect, bad luck, make another one.
6. Rinse and Repeat.

I challenge Ash to present one piece of published, peer-reviewed, credible scientific research (if she’s ever read a scientific paper) which does not follow the structure of hypothesis-test-conclusion. Then we can discuss the scientific method and how it’s not true. Now onto the next comment, which will be in the second instalment.

Is the Great wall of China Visible from the Moon?

cześć skeptics,

Today I am going to be talking about one of the most scientifically ridiculous memes in popular culture. Most people seem to believe that the Great Wall of China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Wall_of_China, if you have lived under a rock your whole life) is the only man-made object visible from space, or from the moon, depending on your myth. It has appeared in every fact book or app I have ever read, and is one of the most popular myths in society. However, this myth is wrong on almost every conceivable level, which I will delve into today.

The level most impossible in this story is the idea that the Great Wall of China is the largest man-made object on earth. Even if it is true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, the moon, or where ever, the Great Wall is not going to be the only thing visible. Consider the Great Wall of China. It is a pale white-brown coloured wall, and is, in the stretches of best condition, a few meters wide and in reasonable condition. It is very, very long, and in the bad stretches it is no more than rubble remains, in some stages. The Wall, when viewed from above, is a pale brown colour on a backdrop of green or brown mountainous area. This in itself points out something, a brown coloured anything on a similarly coloured background, is not going to be clearly visible from any reasonable distance, due to a low contrast.

Now consider other things which are of similar shape and/or size. A four or six lane highway, large buildings like the pentagon, and sports stadiums are all wider than the great wall of china, and would be sighted quicker due to their greater contrast in background. A 6 lane highway is black, on an often light or grey coloured background, the pentagon is grey on a green background, and sports fields are green and often situated in cities, grey in colour. So it is clear that the Great Wall of China is not the most contrasting in its background, or the largest man-made object around. So there are things more visible from afar than the Great Wall.

The second problem with this myth, is the facts. The two myths being questioned here, both have different answers on this subject. The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from the moon, but is visible from low earth orbit, just like highways and buildings.

The third speed-bump in this myth is the definition of space, a big question, with no real answer. I have already mentioned one possible definition of space, low earth orbit, the orbit which is taken by the space shuttle and others, allowing for orbit of the earth every 90 minutes. Another definition would be when 99% of the earths atmosphere is below you, then you would be in space. It could be the geostationary orbit taken by our GPS satellites. There are many possible choices, and the point is, space is not clear-cut, so when a claim is made about something being visible from space, you have to ask which space it is visible from.

The myth that the Great Wall of China is visible from the moon is ridiculous, while the idea that the Great Wall of China is visible from space is very blurry, and is only visible along with all of the other big things we have made.

Ideomotor Effect

Halo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a very interesting psychological effect which has its hands in a lot of different pseudosciences. Amongst other things, the Ideomotor effect is credited with the natural explanation of Ouija boards, facilitated communication, dowsing and automatic writing.

The Ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon where a person performs slight actions subconsciously. In its most pure form, this effect accounts for bodily actions which take place without conscious decision by the subject. The production of tears is a result of the ideomotor effect in reaction to strong emotions. Instinctive jerking actions which happen when a person is injured in some way are effects of ideomotor. However, it has much more subtle and suggestive effects.

Dowsing, also known as divination, the pseudoscience in which a person holds some sort of stick or rod, and attempts to find water, or metals and ores, gemstones and many other objects, by feeling the vibrations or swaying of said held stick or rod. While dowsing also employs plenty of other logical fallacies and scientific phenomenons, like cherry-picking and confirmation bias, the most common phenomenon involved is the ideomotor effect. By holding out a stick steadily, your body will subconsciously make your hands move in slight ways which effect the direction the stick is pointing in. These small hand movements are what dowsers are following when they search for ground water.

Another common pseudoscience which involves the ideomotor effect is contacting spirits through a Ouija board. The way a Ouija board is set up is that a Board is set up with a smooth cloth layed over it. On the cloth are numbers, letters and sometimes the words ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘try again’ or ‘maybe’. An eyepiece of some sort is then placed on the board. Partakers in the activity then all place their hands on the eyepiece lightly, and watch the eyepiece as it seemingly glides around the board, spelling out words, questions, and making conversations. It’s great fun to play with, and the underlying factor in all of it is the ideomotor effect. The reason that the eyepiece is spelling so well and making correct sentences is because all of the players are subtly moving the eyepiece towards where they think it should go.

There is a very simple way to test this. By blind folding the participants, the effect is completely removed. Instead of the eyepiece moving elegantly around the board spelling eloquent sentences, it is just a mish-mash of random letters and numbers. If the body has no way of knowing how to subconsciously control the eyepiece in a certain way, then the body cannot do it, and nothing happens.

However, the most pseudoscientific, and obvious, use of the ideomotor effect is in facilitated communication. The concept of facilitated communication is as follows. A mentally disabled child will attempt to communicate with the outside world. It is done with the help of a facilitator. This facilitator will hold the hand of the mentally disabled child, while the child seemingly points towards letters on a board, presses keys on a keyboard or other simple communication types. This process has long been shown to be pseudoscientific from a few different lines of reasoning. It is now well-known that ideomotor effects on the part of the facilitator are responsible for the writing of the children.

The children who are communicating, if they are communicating, are writing poetry and pieces of literature well above their age or mental ability. They are also saying things which are well above their knowledge, claiming things about having problems in a specific part of the brain, despite this being well above their intelligence. However, the most definite piece of evidence is the same evidence which can be used to disprove a Ouija board, as they both rely on the same phenomenon. By simply blinding the facilitator, the effect is completely removed, and the children write random letters and numbers, with no specific words being made.

The ideomotor effect has another name, which it is commonly called by, the Clever Hans effect, so-called because of a show horse from around 1900. This horse, unlike other show horses, didn’t jump barrels or other fancy stuff like that, he did arithmetic. A spectator from the crowd would shout out a simple arithmetic sum, 4 + 3, for example, and the horse would tap its hoof 7 times. The horse and its trainer traveled showing off its amazing talents, but in 1907, an investigation was conducted by psychologist Oskar Pfungst, to find out how Clever Hans could conduct his arithmetic. After his investigation, Pfungst concluded that Clever Hans was not actually performing feats of simple maths skills, but was only cuing in on subtle, subconscious actions on the part of the trainer, who had no idea he was giving off those clues. This was probably one of the first recorded observations of the ideomotor effect. I suppose it is still fair to call Hans a ‘clever’ horse, because its clever of him to notice those small clues, and get his reward.

This is probably one of the first recorded observations of the ideomotor effect. The phenomenon is still remembered in tribute to Clever Hans, as it is the start of a long line of pseudosciences which have cued in on this subtle psychological effect to produce random results, cherry-pick data and use confirmation bias to create pseudosciences. I hope you enjoyed and learned from my special on the ideomotor effect and go away armed with another tool in the skeptical tool belt, to fight pseudoscience and illogic with science and knowledge, knowing that all pseudosciences use the same fallacies in their logic.

Deepak Chopra, Cosmic Consciousness and Heisenberg Uncertainty

hei skeptics,

Yesterday I blogged to you about how physicists have discovered the Higgs Boson, after it being predicted 40 years ago. Today I am going to be blogging about a spiritual person abusing and misinterpreting the work of physicists to try to prove his particular ideology. Deepak Chopra has, for a long time, been trying to prove his western ideology that consciousness creates matter, and recently, I got into a bit of a twitter debate with him. I’m fairly sure I came out on top, with him resorting to ad hominem attacks and fallacious reasoning, but here i will post an elaborated explanation of my argument, as it is difficult with only 140 characters.

One of the main arguments Chopra uses which has some reasoning and comes from real science, is the idea of observation of quantum systems. His argument is as follows. If the act of observing quantum systems (wave function collapse) changes a system, then this means that the act of our consciousness observing something has an active effect, which shows that our universe is just created by our conscious, and that matter is an illusion, created by consciousness.

There is one problem with this argument (other than that conscious probably doesn’t exist), and it is his assumption that observation is the only way to cause wave function collapse. He is right, observation is enough to cause the collapse, but it is not the only way. What actually causes the collapse of wave functions is the interaction of particles.

What is important to know is that observation is itself an interaction, but not all interactions are observations. When an interaction occurs, a particle (usually a photon) bumps into another particle, and exerts a force on that particle, and then goes on its way. This force changes the way the particle acts. Now, that is an interaction. An observation is when this photon goes on and subsequently hits somebody’s retina or a sensor designed to detect photons. This is an observation. Observation requires interaction, but not visa-versa.

This interaction, which results in observation, is what makes the uncertainty principle an impossible nut to crack. This photon running into the particle always has an effect on it. And seeing that we cannot observe the particle any other way, we can never find out perfectly where it is and where it is going, but that’s another time.

Deepak Chopra then decided to call this an oxymoron, which is just ridiculous, and called me ‘a materialist kid’ and a ‘teenager’ as insults (ad hominem!!!), before insulting my spelling when my phone auto-corrected consciousness to conscience, and then refusing to debate me until I learnt to spell and use perfect grammar on a social networking site which has a rule of only 140 characters.

He threw many other arguments at me, which I will tackle at later dates, but this one was his most prominent argument, which is based on a false premise (he attacked me for accidentally spelling it premace while debating him) and has no real tangibility with quantum mechanics.

Confirmation Bias

Hallo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about one of the most commonly used logical fallacies out there, confirmation bias. It is used in a range of topics including alternative medicine, religion, UFOlogy, astrology, psychics, mediums, and almost all topics which skeptics keep tabs on. Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy which is often referred to as cherry-picking, however is slightly different. While similar, cherry-picking refers to picking single studies from a sea of negative papers, confirmation bias is the picking out of specific results, not specific studies.

One of the most simple and common uses of confirmation bias is praying. I recently saw one of those Facebook like-hoarding pictures which asks for likes to confirm ones religious views, which read “Like this photo and in the next 120 seconds god will do you a favour”… it had over 30 000 likes. I read that and immediately saw it as a perfect example of confirmation bias. To anybody who likes that status, I can almost guarantee that something good will happen to them in the next 120 seconds. The reason is that people want it to come true. If something slightly good happens to that person in the next 120 seconds, they will attribute that to liking the photo… your basketball team makes a buzzer-beating game winner? God did that. Mum decides to give you a little extra ice-cream for dessert? god did that. Get a new twitter follower? god did that. Whatever happens, god is the reason.

It doesn’t even have to be within 2 minutes, you will remember anything that happens for the whole rest of the day and give credit to god… because a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, or some post hoc reasoning like that. Even if nothing good happens, that means the devil was going to do something bad to you but god saved you because you liked the photo.

This photo is a perfect example of how confirmation bias works. Another common example is in alternative medicine. Lets say somebody gets cancer, and they decide to, along with their doctor approved, scientific medicine, have a chiropractor try to fix it. Once the cancer has been removed, the patient might only remember the chiropractic treatment that cured the cancer, and forget all the scientific medicine that actually removed the cancer.

Confirmation bias is one of the most common fallacies out, and is often combined with other fallacies like post hoc ergo proctor hoc, placebo, reliance on memory and the availability heuristic to form the greatest of all fallacies, the anecdotal evidence.

Titius – Bode Law

Hi there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a mathematical formula which has had some interest in astronomy in the past, but has since fallen into the waste-bin of science. It has commonly titled as a law, in almost every reference to it and on the Wikipedia page, however, it is best described as an unproven hypothesis, as it has no evidence to support it. The law attempts to represent the approximate distances of the planets from the sun, using the following formula. a = 4 + n, where n = 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 etc., with each new value for n being double the last value. This gives rise to the numbers 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, 52, 100… divide this by 10, 0.4, 0.7, 1, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10… To the 18th century astronomer, this is an astounding set of numbers.

The law was first formulated in 1766 by Johann Titius, who used this simple formula to get these similar numbers. This looked amazing at first, because these numbers fit almost perfectly with the distances in AU (astronomical units) of all the known planets, Mercury through to Saturn. However, there was one number in the sequence that shouldn’t be there, 2.8, no planet was known 2.8 AU from the sun. But sure enough, almost exactly 2.8 AU from the sun, the dwarf planet Ceres was discovered. This was very exiting for astronomers of the time. Could there be a deep, underlying formula to the planets.

They decided to look further, so they started with the next number in sequence, 19.6, and looked from there, and again, triumph, Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, and you guessed it, it was 19.2 AU from the sun, a mere 2% off the prediction. At this point, astronomers became drunk with enthusiasm, this number sequence is really working well. They went the next step, 38.8, but no, nothing was found. Neptune eventually became the next planet in order, but at 30.1 AU from the sun, it was 29% off, and the law was waning. Next, Pluto, predicted by Titius – Bode to be 77.2 AU away, alack, incorrect, only 39.5 AU from the sun, a 95% inaccuracy.

By this time, the law had fallen into disrepute. No more Titius – Bode being taken seriously by astronomers. Proponents of the law say that these ratios are being found as correct in other star systems around other stars, but these are stars with 1 or 2 planets, meaning that a ratio can always be found, or fit close, due to the set up of the number system. The idea of there being such a simple number which underlies all of the orbits is not one of favour in the astronomical community.

Who knows, there could be a number formula which describes the orbits of planets around a star. There must be, because they all follow the same laws of gravity. But the idea that there is a simple number sequence, not a large, abstract equation with hundreds of influencing factors, is a fringe opinion. Planets could naturally snap into particular grooves around their sun, but no number sequence has stood up to the challenge yet, so science tells us that it probably won’t exist.

The Madden Curse

Hello skeptics,

Today’s post is about the Madden curse associated with NFL, and some possible mechanisms for it, if any, but first, a little background on Madden and the Madden curse. Madden is one of the most popular sports games sold in the world, it is the official video game of the NFL and is produced every year by EA sports™. The game is named after the great John Madden, who is a hall of fame player and coach, as well as a commentator, one of the most famous players ever. It has been sold since 1993 on various platforms and has sold over 85 million copies. Every year, a succesful player from the previous year is selected to be shown on the front of the box, on the disk, the cover screen, everywhere. It is a big deal to be on the Madden cover, both for good and bad reasons.

The Madden curse pertains to that video game. The Madden curse is the belief that any player who is shown on the front of Madden NFL is going to have an injury or suffer some other terrible outcomes. While it is true that about half of the athletes on the cover have experienced downfalls of some sort, this is due mainly to a few reasons.

The first, and often most talked about reason why there appears to be a madden curse, is regression to the mean. Any player who features on the cover of madden has probably had the best season of their career, they got picked out of thousands of players, so they have had a pretty stellar year. It is expected therefore that the player probably won’t go as well the next year. If you break the passing yards record one year, odds are against doing it again next year.
We see this in all sports, when Usain Bolt broke the record for the 100 m sprint, nobody expected him to break it again the next time he ran. He didn’t. But nobody attributed this to the fact that he got in all of the papers the next day, they just said, “Well, you can’t expect him to break 2 records in a row”, and that was that. So we can’t just say it’s just regression to the mean, there must be something else psychological going on.

What makes the Madden curse different from Usain Bolt is that there is a lot of time and talk. When Usain Bolt broke the 100 m sprint record, it wasn’t long before his next run, a few days, maybe. That’s not enough time for a lot of hype to spread. In football, on the other hand, there is a break of about 5 months between the madden box being announced and the start of the season, and then another six months of playing time after that. That’s a long time for people to talk about the madden box, and a lot more time for the player to get injured or have a re-drawn contract or get cut or have a bed game of some sort. So there is huge magnification going on there. But there could still be more.

It could be that players are getting jealous of the madden cover superstar. Football is a rough, contact sport, and injuries do happen. There is also room for some bounty or targeting of players to go on, as we saw with the bounty system scandal surrounding the saints recently, so players could easily be going out for specific players to injure, or protect. If it’s a quarterback, then more linebackers will blitz him, he will be rushed with his throws more, he will get sacked or knocked down more often, and he won’t have a s good a game. If it’s a receiver, they will get double coverage manned up on them, so they will catch less passes, and get tackled more. If it’s a running back, linebackers will blitz. If it’s a defensive back, then quarterbacks will throw away from them so as not to get picked off, and they will be assigned better blockers.

The madden curse is yet another one of those superstitions which could have some possible real mechanisms, but which is really just a myth which continues on in society today.