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.

"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

 

The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Not Real

The 10,000 hour rule—first proposed by a Swedish psychologist and later made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—states that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. The best of the best (the Beatles, Bill Gates) all amassed more than 10,000 hours of practice before rising to the top, Gladwell argued. So greatness is within virtually any person’s grasp, so long as they can put in the time to master their skill of choice.

A new meta-analysis, however, indicates that the 10,000 hour rule simply does not exist. As Brain’s Idea reports, authors of the new study undertook the largest literature survey on this subject to date, compiling the results of 88 scientific articles representing data from some 11,000 research participants. Practice, they found, on average explains just 12 percent of skill mastery and subsequent success. “In other words the 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense,” Brain’s Idea writes. “Stop believing in it. Sure, practice is important. But other factors (age? intelligence? talent?) appear to play a bigger role.”

While this is the largest study to date to arrive at this conclusion, it’s not the first. Soon after Outliers was published, experts began calling foul—including the expert who supposedly coined the rule, Anders Ericsson. As the Guardian pointed out in 2012:

There is nothing magical about the 10,000 figure, as Ericsson said recently, because the best group of musicians had accumulated an average, not a total, of over 10,000 hours by the age of twenty. In the world of classical music it seems that the winners of international competitions are those who have put in something like 25,000 hours of dedicated, solitary practice – that’s three hours of practice every day for more than 20 years.

Ericsson is also on record as emphasising that not just any old practice counts towards the 10,000-hour average. It has to be deliberate, dedicated time spent focusing on improvement.

So despite the new evidence that the 10,000 rule is bull, like the studies and articles that came before it, that message will likely fall on many deaf ears. The 10,000 hour rule seems to have entered into the common lore about success: it’s a nice idea, that hard work will actually pay off. And no peer-reviewed study has so far succeeded in toppling that catchy message.

Esoteric energy and fanciful forces

People use this tactic when they want you to accept something that has no scientific evidence to support it. They try to convince you that there is a mechanism which justifies their claims. All sorts of terms are used – life force, cosmic power, psychic energy – it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. Each one is meaningless. It’s simply an attempt to congeal wishful thinking into a pseudo-explanation. The tactic is widespread in alternative medicine, being employed in such practices as thought field therapy, reiki, cosmic energy healing, touch therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, life force energy healing … and so on.

9 year old Emily Rosa cuts through the bullshit WITH SCIENCE!

Chi, Healing Hands, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki; it goes by many names. Is there any validity to the idea of human energy fields which play a central role in alternative New Age medicine? This is a straight forward question that should be easily testable so that’s just what 9 yr old Emily Rosa did. She designed an experiment and tested it. Will believers in Chi Energy accept the results?

Her results were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association

(Source: scienceornot.net)

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…

10 Theories And Ideas That Hurt The World

Theories like eugenics or those which discriminate based on gender, race, or sexual orientation are extremely harmful to society. They create divisions between us, usually on falsified or ignorant “scientific” grounds. While some of the ideas on this list have been widely discredited, there are still adherents throughout the globe, with some of them even believed by the majority of the population.

Bees and Colony Collapse: Myths and Facts

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon that is occurring, and causing much fear, wherein the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is suffering huge numbers of lost worker bees from colonies abruptly and without a seemingly evident reason.

While much scientific research is being conducted to try and understand CCD, the fearmongers have taken it upon themselves to whip up alarm in the public and come up with many claims as to why it is occurring; however many of these claims are not only not backed up by solid science, but betray an ideological bent to the proponents of the claims.

Herein I will try and outlay some misconceptions and myths and CCD and try and provide a better sense of what we are dealing with.

Global Warming Deniers Are Growing More Desperate by the Day

The Heartland Institute’s recent International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas illustrates climate change deniers’ desperate confusion. As Bloomberg News noted, “Heartland’s strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.” A who’s who of fossil fuel industry supporters and anti-science shills variously argued that global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but natural — a result of the sun or “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”; that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it; or that global cooling is the real problem.

The only common thread, Bloomberg reported, was the preponderance of attacks on and jokes about Al Gore: “It rarely took more than a minute or two before one punctuated the swirl of opaque and occasionally conflicting scientific theories.”…

…Far worse. Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and an evangelical Christian, had her email inbox flooded with hate mail and threats after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh denounced her, and right-wing blogger Mark Morano published her email address. “I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report,” Hayhoe said in an interview on the Responding to Climate Change website. “They mentioned my child. It had all kinds of sexual perversions in it — it just makes your skin crawl.”…

…Many attacks came from fellow Christians unable to accept that humans can affect “God’s creation.” That’s a belief held even by a few well-known scientists and others held up as climate experts, including Roy Spencer, David Legates and Canadian economist Ross McKitrick. They’ve signed the Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which says, “We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.” This worldview predetermines their approach to the science….

academicatheism:

The truth about science vs. religion: 4 reasons why intelligent design falls flat
The devil’s in the details
Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”
You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.
Continue Reading

academicatheism:

The truth about science vs. religion: 4 reasons why intelligent design falls flat

The devil’s in the details

Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

Continue Reading

wildcat2030:

Why you should stop believing in evolution -You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t  - When people joyously discover on Ancestry.com that they’re related to, say, a medieval archduke or a notorious Victorian criminal, evolutionary biologists may be permitted to snicker. Because in actuality, we are all related: Humans all share at least one common ancestor if you go far enough back. You are related to every king and criminal who ever lived, to Gandhi and Paris Hilton and Carrot Top. You are even related to me. But buckle up — that’s only the beginning. Humanity, after all, is but one ugly branch on the big tree of life. Go back far enough, and you’ll find an ancestor common to you and to every creature on Earth. You are related to your cat — which may help explain why you get that stare all the time. You are related to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and to the mosquito you just murdered, and to your houseplants. At any given meal, you may eat all or part of a dozen extremely distant relatives. It’s remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily “debated” it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.
Here are the rules, in a nutshell:
• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body’s blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.
• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.
• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.
• This modified code can (but doesn’t always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.
• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.
That’s a little oversimplified, but the general idea. As advantageous traits become the norm within a population and disadvantageous traits are weeded out, each type of creature gradually morphs to better fit its environment.
 (via Why you should stop believing in evolution - The Week)

and as populations of organism migrate into new environments and niches or as environments change, they evolve into different species. The process not only builds better gazelles it also turns them into antelope and wildebeests, or did so to their common ancestor anyway…

wildcat2030:

Why you should stop believing in evolution
-
You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t
-
When people joyously discover on Ancestry.com that they’re related to, say, a medieval archduke or a notorious Victorian criminal, evolutionary biologists may be permitted to snicker. Because in actuality, we are all related: Humans all share at least one common ancestor if you go far enough back. You are related to every king and criminal who ever lived, to Gandhi and Paris Hilton and Carrot Top. You are even related to me. But buckle up — that’s only the beginning. Humanity, after all, is but one ugly branch on the big tree of life. Go back far enough, and you’ll find an ancestor common to you and to every creature on Earth. You are related to your cat — which may help explain why you get that stare all the time. You are related to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and to the mosquito you just murdered, and to your houseplants. At any given meal, you may eat all or part of a dozen extremely distant relatives. It’s remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily “debated” it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.

Here are the rules, in a nutshell:

• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body’s blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.

• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.

• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.

• This modified code can (but doesn’t always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.

• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.

That’s a little oversimplified, but the general idea. As advantageous traits become the norm within a population and disadvantageous traits are weeded out, each type of creature gradually morphs to better fit its environment.

 (via Why you should stop believing in evolution - The Week)

and as populations of organism migrate into new environments and niches or as environments change, they evolve into different species. The process not only builds better gazelles it also turns them into antelope and wildebeests, or did so to their common ancestor anyway…

I shared this on Facebook and my mom commented that “Crap like this” makes her “nauseous”. She’s always been one who much prefers a comforting delusion over the hard truth. Seeing the progress-nullifying effect this has had on her life has no doubt helped me realize the importance of this sentiment.

I shared this on Facebook and my mom commented that “Crap like this” makes her “nauseous”. She’s always been one who much prefers a comforting delusion over the hard truth. Seeing the progress-nullifying effect this has had on her life has no doubt helped me realize the importance of this sentiment.

James Randi - Secrets of the Psychics Documentary (Full)

Psychics and their proponents insist that the mechanism for their “powers” is unknown and unmeasurable. Yet what is well known is how such powers can be (and are) faked.

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

-Prof. Sean Carroll

The topic of “life after death” raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about, we should all be interested in hearing.

Adam Frank thinks that science has nothing to say about it. He advocates being “firmly agnostic” on the question. (His coblogger Alva Noë resolutely disagrees.) I have an enormous respect for Adam; he’s a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it’s with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. But here he couldn’t be more wrong.

Adam claims that there “simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information” regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese. Sure, we can take spectra of light reflecting from the Moon, and even send astronauts up there and bring samples back for analysis. But that’s only scratching the surface, as it were. What if the Moon is almost all green cheese, but is covered with a layer of dust a few meters thick? Can you really say that you know this isn’t true? Until you have actually examined every single cubic centimeter of the Moon’s interior, you don’t really have experimentally verifiable information, do you? So maybe agnosticism on the green-cheese issue is warranted. (Come up with all the information we actually do have about the Moon; I promise you I can fit it into the green-cheese hypothesis.)

Obviously this is completely crazy. Our conviction that green cheese makes up a negligible fraction of the Moon’s interior comes not from direct observation, but from the gross incompatibility of that idea with other things we think we know. Given what we do understand about rocks and planets and dairy products and the Solar System, it’s absurd to imagine that the Moon is made of green cheese. We know better.

We also know better for life after death, although people are much more reluctant to admit it. Admittedly, “direct” evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it’s okay to take account of indirect evidence — namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works.

Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?

Everything we know about quantum field theory (QFT) says that there aren’t any sensible answers to these questions. Of course, everything we know about quantum field theory could be wrong. Also, the Moon could be made of green cheese.

Among advocates for life after death, nobody even tries to sit down and do the hard work of explaining how the basic physics of atoms and electrons would have to be altered in order for this to be true. If we tried, the fundamental absurdity of the task would quickly become evident.

Even if you don’t believe that human beings are “simply” collections of atoms evolving and interacting according to rules laid down in the Standard Model of particle physics, most people would grudgingly admit that atoms are part of who we are. If it’s really nothing but atoms and the known forces, there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death. Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model. Most importantly, we need some way for that “new physics” to interact with the atoms that we do have.

Very roughly speaking, when most people think about an immaterial soul that persists after death, they have in mind some sort of blob of spirit energy that takes up residence near our brain, and drives around our body like a soccer mom driving an SUV. The questions are these: what form does that spirit energy take, and how does it interact with our ordinary atoms? Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments. Ockham’s razor is not on your side here, since you have to posit a completely new realm of reality obeying very different rules than the ones we know.

But let’s say you do that. How is the spirit energy supposed to interact with us? Here is the equation that tells us how electrons behave in the everyday world:

Don’t worry about the details; it’s the fact that the equation exists that matters, not its particular form. It’s the Dirac equation — the two terms on the left are roughly the velocity of the electron and its inertia — coupled to electromagnetism and gravity, the two terms on the right.

As far as every experiment ever done is concerned, this equation is the correct description of how electrons behave at everyday energies. It’s not a complete description; we haven’t included the weak nuclear force, or couplings to hypothetical particles like the Higgs boson. But that’s okay, since those are only important at high energies and/or short distances, very far from the regime of relevance to the human brain.

If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?) So any respectable scientist who took this idea seriously would be asking — what form does that interaction take? Is it local in spacetime? Does the soul respect gauge invariance and Lorentz invariance? Does the soul have a Hamiltonian? Do the interactions preserve unitarity and conservation of information?

Nobody ever asks these questions out loud, possibly because of how silly they sound. Once you start asking them, the choice you are faced with becomes clear: either overthrow everything we think we have learned about modern physics, or distrust the stew of religious accounts/unreliable testimony/wishful thinking that makes people believe in the possibility of life after death. It’s not a difficult decision, as scientific theory-choice goes.

We don’t choose theories in a vacuum. We are allowed — indeed, required — to ask how claims about how the world works fit in with other things we know about how the world works. I’ve been talking here like a particle physicist, but there’s an analogous line of reasoning that would come from evolutionary biology. Presumably amino acids and proteins don’t have souls that persist after death. What about viruses or bacteria? Where upon the chain of evolution from our monocellular ancestors to today did organisms stop being described purely as atoms interacting through gravity and electromagnetism, and develop an immaterial immortal soul?

There’s no reason to be agnostic about ideas that are dramatically incompatible with everything we know about modern science. Once we get over any reluctance to face reality on this issue, we can get down to the much more interesting questions of how human beings and consciousness really work.

It explains everything but predicts nothing

…Laplace was not just a whistlin’ Dixie. Newton had needed that hypothesis, ie God, to make the solar system work. Newton believed that the planetary orbits were unstable and unless God intervened periodically, the planets would wander off into space. Newton had not done the mathematical analysis sufficiently completely. Laplace rectified the problem. Newton also had no model for the origin of the solar system. Laplace eliminated these two gaps that Newton had God fill.

Back to Napoleon—he told Joseph Lagrange (1736 – 1813), another of the great French mathematicians/physicists, Laplace’s comment about no need for the God hypothesis. Lagrange’s reply was, “Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.” Laplace’s apocryphal reply was, “This hypothesis, Sir, explains in fact everything, but does not permit to predict anything. As a scholar, I must provide you with works permitting predictions.” This is the ultimate insult in science: it explains everything but predicts nothing. Explanations are a dime a dozen; if you want explanations, read Kipling’s Just so Stories. Now, there are some fine explanations. I particularly like The Cat That Walked by Himself….

-There is No Need for God as a Hypothesis