In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"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."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens


Headlines Touting Study as Evidence for NDE, Not So Fast!

….The multi-center study involved placing an image in a location that was hidden from normal view but could be viewed by a person floating above their body during an NDE. This could be a way to objectively differentiate between the two leading hypotheses. Parnia and others believe that reports of NDEs represent actual awareness during cardiac arrest when the brain is not functioning. This, of course, would be compelling evidence for cognition separate from brain function.

I and most scientist favor the more mundane and likely explanation that memories of NDEs are formed at other times, when the brain is functioning, for example during the long recovery process. At least the memories themselves do not differential between these two hypotheses, and this explanation does not require inventing entirely new non-materialist phenomena.

So, I anxiously awaited the results of the AWARE study. I admit I was fairly confident that the results would be negative. My major concern was that the study had been criticized for not having tight protocols – for example, some have charged that the “hidden” images were visible to ER workers and this could provide a mundane conduit for knowledge of the images to get to cardiac arrest survivors. But I hoped this did not occur or affect the results.

But wait a minute – there is no mention in the abstract of the hidden images. How can that be? I understood this to be the main outcome of the study, the one thing that would set it apart from the merely descriptive studies of the past. What happened?…

What is the Best Way to Combat Confirmation Bias?

This is a very human tendency. Public debates on contentious topics, such as GMOs and climate change, are rife with confirmation bias. I know that everything I write on such topics is viewed by most readers with preconceptions, which include strong opinions already held about the topic itself, or even about me. I’m not really bothered by this, because I don’t see myself as a persuader. I’m not looking to change minds or win you over to any one side of an argument (even when I aim to debunk myths and misinformation). I’m much more interested in chronicling and exploring the contours of a particular scientific dialogue or narrative–how it formed, how it’s maintained, who is shaping it.

If, as a result of this, you come to reexamine some of your own assumptions, well, that’s an added bonus.

So one of the things that’s fascinating to me about confirmation bias is how it manifests itself in media and in those who probably think they are not infected by it.

Shark Week Lied to Scientists to Get Them to Appear in “Documentaries”

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is misleading the public again this year with several documentaries. So why are scientists allowing themselves to be featured in these pseudoscience disasters? There’s a simple reason: Shark Week producers have been lying to them…

Shark Week Lied to Scientists to Get Them to Appear in “Documentaries”

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is misleading the public again this year with several documentaries. So why are scientists allowing themselves to be featured in these pseudoscience disasters? There’s a simple reason: Shark Week producers have been lying to them…

Psychology explains why people are so easily duped

The science of “Truthiness”

True or false: “The Eiffel Tower is in France.” Most of us can quickly and accurately answer this question by relying on our general knowledge. But what if you were asked to consider the claim: “The beehive is a building in New Zealand.” Unless you have visited New Zealand or watched a documentary on the country, this is probably a difficult question. So instead of recruiting your general knowledge to answer the claim, you’ll turn to your intuition. Put another way, you’ll rely on what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness” — truth that comes from the gut, and not books.

As a cognitive psychologist, I study the ways that memory and belief go awry: How do we come to believe that things are true when they are not? How can we remember things that never actually happened? I am especially intrigued by the concept of truthiness — how smart, sophisticated people use unrelated information to decide whether something is true or not.

For instance, in a classic study by Norbert Schwarz and Rolf Reber at the University of Michigan, people were more likely to think a statement was true when it was written in high color contrast (blue words on white) as opposed to low contrast (yellow words on white). Of course, the color contrast has nothing to do with whether the claim is true, but it nonetheless biased people’s responses. The high color contrast produced a feeling of truthiness in part because those statements felt easier to read than the low color contrast statements. And it turns out that this feeling of easy processing (or low cognitive effort) brings with it a feeling of familiarity. When things feel easy to process, they feel trustworthy — we like them and think they are true…..

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): Climate Change Debate

“Do owls exist? Are there hats?” Comedian John Oliver joins Bill Nye to put the disparities between scientific understanding of climate change, popular opinion, and outlier contrarianism into perspective. Featuring a mathematically representative climate change debate, with the help of special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy, of course.



A great example of why you don’t have any idea what is happening in the world around you. I don’t generally blog this stuff but, you Should know Time Magazine is not the only media to do this.

And people say the U.S. doesn’t have media censorship.

They probably just sell more magazines in the US when they lead with those stories, just like Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty get better TV ratings than the news.. I always wonder how much responsibility, we as consumers, bear in the dumbing down of our media.

(Source: america-wakiewakie)

Canadian Radio Broadcaster: Why Won’t Atheists Just Shut Up?

Canadian radio broadcaster Michael Enright wrote an essay yesterday in which he blasted atheists for not having a sense of humor and talking about it so damn much:
It’s not that atheists don’t believe in God. That’s fine. It’s not against the law. Atheism is a coherent system of beliefs arrived at, I am sure, after some very serious and sober consideration.

Atheists are not being prosecuted or silenced. They are lovingly tended by media interviewers, me included, and their nuanced arguments are politely acknowledged.

The problem to me is that they won’t shut up about it.

The public, endless public profession of atheism to me reflects a whiny, whinging self-pitying narcissism.

In the last ten years or so, atheism has taken on some of the elements of fundamentalist Christianity.

Maybe he doesn’t get it because he’s Canadian. But on the off-chance he’s put more than a second of thought into this, then his ignorance is staggering here.

Atheists aren’t being prosecuted (or persecuted) or silenced? Tell that to Asif Mohiuddin and the relatives of the assassinated Dr. Narendra Dabholkar Too foreign? Then talk to the young atheists whose administrators put up barriers to them starting groups on their campuses or punish them for not standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Or try speaking with all those atheists in Congress. (I’ll wait.) Or realize that several states’ constitutions still ban atheists from holding public office, even if those laws can no longer be enforced.

We’re lovingly tended to by the media? Tell that to Joe Klein of TIME magazine who incorrectly and unfairly maligned atheists with a throwaway line about how we’re never seen doing volunteer work after disasters. Tell that to commentator S.E. Cupp who said she would never consider voting for an atheist (despite being an atheist herself) or pundits who said there are no atheists in foxholes.

There’s a reason we don’t shut up about it. Religion has a stranglehold over the majority of our country as well as our policies. It’s religion that’s used to block women from controlling their own bodies and gays and lesbians from getting married. We can’t count on Christians to do the right thing, though some try, so we speak up, online or (if we can) in person. And you know what? We’re better off because we refuse to be silent.

It’s not narcissistic to say you’re an atheist when everyone around you has no problem wearing their cross necklaces, talking about how they’re praying for good luck or baptizing their children, and there’s a church on every block. Enright is so used to being in the majority that, when people in the minority say they’re different, he’s taken aback and finds something wrong with it.

And this idea that we’re like fundamentalist Christians, that we desire to miseducate children despite the evidence, that we want our country’s laws to reflect our own beliefs, that our lives revolve around a poorly written book, is just plain lazy. If you give us evidence that God exists, we’ll change our minds. If you give a fundamentalist Christian evidence that the Bible is wrong, they don’t care; the Bible says it so it must be true. Enright’s line says less about atheists and more about fundamentalist Christians who are so often used as a basis for comparison for other groups who are supposedly unlikeable and annoying.

If Enright ever loses his job for producing tripe like this, I’m sure he can find work on this side of the border at Fox News Channel or any of the Christian radio stations or TV stations that atheists don’t have, either.

Via the Friendly Atheist


Culture of Violence

Violence is to American entertainment what dancing is to Indian Bollywood films. It’s engrained in our culture. Check out this related story about how schizophrenia in America produces much more violent voices than it does in other cultures.

Selective Outrage: The Media and NSA Surveillance

This story starts with Hannity, but the entire news media is implicated.

Back in 2006 during the Bush administration, when the same type of surveillance was under the apparent cyclical scrutiny, Sean Hannity became the biggest supporter of the policy. In fact on his show he excoriated those who opposed it many times. The Mediamatters mash up below is a classic that shows the hypocrisy. While this may be funny to some and upsetting to others, the reason this type of hypocrisy must be explored is because of the corrosive effect it has on the body politic.


We know that you are against the NSA data mining. We know that you are against the NSA surveillance program. So the question is, where does the Democratic Party, what will you do if you are elected to power to make our country safe from the war on terror. Specifically what would your party support.

You have Pat Leahy saying that he doesn’t want an NSA surveillance program. Nancy Polosi, the woman who’d love to be Speaker, she is against the NSA surveillance……

Is it right to say that issues regarding national security be it the NSA surveillance program, the data mining program, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay that Democrats are weak on issues involving national security.

Our techniques are working. We’ve got the NSA program here, we have the Patriot Act program here. In light of this how close this was,it’s staggering to me that we are even debating the use of these techniques in this country even at this time.

During Obama:

Big Brother is monitoring your every move whether it be online or on the telephone. Let’s talk about why this story, why is it important to you.

Number one, this is America and as law bided American citizens you have a right to privacy. Number two, these actions by the Obama administration are clear, very clear violations of the fourth amendment, which prohibits unlimited search and seizure. Number three, the Constitution, it is our rule of law. If we do not respect and honor the Constitution, then anarchy and tyranny will then follow.

The intent here is not to solely point out the hypocrisy that is being engendered by this recycled debate. It is to show how the American people are being hoodwinked by the media. One can make an argument on either side of this debate that is both plausible and constitutional. This debate however must be intellectually honest. To date it has not been on either side.

The problem is the inconsistency of those engaged in the debate, the lack of pragmatic logic on some, and the complicity of the media in misleading Americans. It is true that Sean Hannity is nothing more than an ideologue with a dedicated following for which he is the puppeteer. It is also true that most Americans do not take him seriously.

The ‘respected’ media however is not very far behind Sean Hannity in either being manipulated by stories or being a party to the manipulation of stories. The NSA story has been out since 2006. The surprise and outrage being articulated by the mainstream media is at best fabricated for ratings.

Using and manipulating these stories have consequences. They take all the oxygen away from more important stories. Why is there no continuous story of a job recovery comprised mostly of substandard jobs? Why is there no continuous coverage of the real effects sequester is having on the poor and the middle class?

Allowing the same parties to take different sides of the same issue for political gain simply allow the metastasis of misinformation. Who can forget the media not stressing that the Healthcare Mandate was a Republican/Heritage Foundation idea that under Obama Republicans ran from. Who can forget that the carbon tax was a capitalist/Conservative/Republican approach, trading carbon, that Sarah Palin and others then labeled cap and tax.



I am absolutely shocked at how much concern the pundits on CNN are showing for these convicted rapists as if they were victims of circumstance!

I’ve heard enough about how much potential they had and how this verdict will affect their lives and how hard it was to watch them break down and cry in court.

All they said about the victim is that she didn’t really even want to bring charges.


Matt Bors

The amount of coverage that this received was just ridiculous. Meanwhile, in Russia, a meteor exploded (fortunately at high altitude) with the force of 500 kilotons (about 30 Hiroshima’s) and it barely received any attention at all in comparison.


Matt Bors

The amount of coverage that this received was just ridiculous. Meanwhile, in Russia, a meteor exploded (fortunately at high altitude) with the force of 500 kilotons (about 30 Hiroshima’s) and it barely received any attention at all in comparison.