Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
In 2002, having spent more than three years in one residence for the first time in my life, I got called for jury duty. I show up on time, ready to serve. When we get to the voir dire, the lawyer says to me, “I see you’re an astrophysicist. What’s that?” I answer, “Astrophysics is the laws of physics, applied to the universe—the Big Bang, black holes, that sort of thing.” Then he asks, “What do you teach at Princeton?” and I say, “I teach a class on the evaluation of evidence and the relative unreliability of eyewitness testimony.” Five minutes later, I’m on the street.
A few years later, jury duty again. The judge states that the defendant is charged with possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine. It was found on his body, he was arrested, and he is now on trial. This time, after the Q&A is over, the judge asks us whether there are any questions we’d like to ask the court, and I say, “Yes, Your Honor. Why did you say he was in possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine? That equals 1.7 grams. The ‘thousand’ cancels with the ‘milli-’ and you get 1.7 grams, which is less than the weight of a dime.” Again I’m out on the street.
Photographs appearing to show a blindfolded man having his fingers severed by the mechanical amputation device have been published by an official Iranian press agency.
According to the INSA news service, the prisoner used to demonstrate the brutal contraption had been convicted of theft and adultery by a court in Shiraz last Wednesday.
A series of pictures show three masked officials, clad entirely in black, holding the man’s right hand in a vice while one turns a wheel operating the guillotine in the manner of a rotary saw.
In none of the four closely cropped images does the bearded prisoner’s expression register pain, suggesting that he may have been drugged.
Following the public amputation, Ali Alghasi, the Shiraz district’s public prosecutor, announced sentences against criminals are to become increasingly severe.
This warning, issued without explanation, may be an attempt by authorities to deter public protest ahead of June’s general elections.
The Iranian government’s deplorable human rights record has been well documented.
Public execution, including death by stoning, and torture, including flogging and amputation, are routine.
Amnesty International led international outcry over the execution of 21 year-old Ali Naderi earlier this month for the alleged murder of an elderly woman killed during the course of a burglary – a crime he committed when he was 17.
It is illegal under international law to execute anyone for a crime committed as a minor.
Ironically, they still have plenty of crime, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of severe punishment in deterring crime.
See on Scoop.it - Philosophy everywhere everywhenOne of the greatest feats of the human brain is its ability to filter a vast amount of information into a manageable stream of relevant information.
Aldous Huxley describes this as a ‘reducing valve’ – our brains funnel the enormous amount of information in the environment in whichever way proved to be most adaptive to our ancestors.
This means two things; we have sampled an excruciatingly tiny portion of the buffet of potential experiences our neural hardware is capable of, and we are insensitive to certain environmental information that didn’t confer an adaptive advantage in the ancestral environment. Developing sensitivity to this information is crucial for rational and ethical behaviour in the modern world.
Cognitive biases can lead the most empathic and conscientious people to behave in ways that could appear as sheer callousness.
The source of this seemingly selfish behaviour is not malice or indifference, but more that our brains are not equipped to apprehend reality as it really is. By recognizing our cognitive limitations we can understand why people act in inconsistent and unethical ways and how we can avoid falling into the same trap ourselves.
If people acted in accordance with their espoused egalitarian preferences, they would treat the value of every human life equally. In practice this is not the case. Despite endorsing egalitarian norms studies have shown unconscious cognitive biases can lead to valuation functions that decrease in absolute value as the number of victims increases!
See on ieet.org
Psychic Sylvia Browne, who has made a career of televised psychic readings, told Louwanna Miller on a 2004 episode of the show that her daughter was dead, causing Miller to break down in tears on the show’s set.
A year after Amanda Berry disappeared in Cleveland, her mother appeared on “The Montel Williams Show” to speak to a psychic about what happened to her daughter.
"She’s not alive, honey," Browne told Miller on the show, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. "Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call."
Miller told the newspaper that she believed “98 percent” in what Browne told her. Miller died a year later from heart failure.
On Monday, Berry was found alive after she broke free from a home in Cleveland where she says she has been kept for the past decade.
Browne did not return phone calls seeking comment today by ABC News. The Montel Williams show, through syndicator CBS, also did not return calls for comment. The show no longer airs new episodes.
It’s not the first time that Browne, and other psychics, have come under fire for their involvement in law enforcement cases.
In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near “two jagged boulders,” according to her premonition.
Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.
A website called “Stop Sylvia Browne,” dedicated to cataloguing Browne’s purported failures at prediction, sprang up in 2006.
Last year, Dwayne Baker told ABC News that after his son went missing in 2007, he was flooded with calls from psychics offering potential leads into the whereabouts of Travis Baker.
"It’s very hard,’ Dwayne Baker said. "I went through everything. My son was missing for two years, two months and 12 days. "Psychics called me. I even received a DVD in the mail that a guy claimed he could talk to the dead and this was Travis’ voice, with no return address. I don’t understand why people would want to do that."
"The psychics…" said Baker, 45, before pausing to let out a long sigh. "I hate to say how many of those called me and said they knew where Travis was. My mother and wife went to one and paid them $100."
Travis Baker’s remains were located in 2009.
Brad Garret, a former special agent with the FBI and ABC News consultant said that alleged tips from psychics rarely help solve a case.
"As far as finding a victim, finding remains, finding evidence or in any way helping to solve the case, it’s never been my experience," he said. "So, it’s really a disservice to victims."
"We’ve never had a psychic lead that turns out to be correct," said Lt. Dave Parker, of the Anchorage, Alaska, police department, after 18-year-old Samantha Koenig went missing in February, 2012.
Today, Brown faced backlash on social media for her incorrect prediction about Amanda Berry. It is unclear whether she has helped to solve a crime with her psychic predictions.
"Psychics make me sick. Here’s an example: Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s Mum (now dead) her daughter was dead," wrote Twitter user Chris McBriarty.