Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

SkullBoy and ScalpWeasel

Recently, I seem to have run into a number of examples of the phenomenon of people hanging on like grim death to cherished ideas for which the evidence against is far stronger than the evidence for.

I suppose it's a natural enough tendency; no one likes to be wrong.  Plus, if you've invested a lot of time, effort, and emotional energy into a theory, acknowledging that your logic had gone off the rails would be humiliating at best.

I was chatting with a student yesterday, and the subject of Crystal Skulls came up.  For those of you who don't know about these, they are skulls made of crystal (duh) that are said to have been made in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  Aficionados of woo-woo imbue these artifacts with a variety of mystical powers, including the healing of the sick, and "focusing psychic energy" to allow the sensitive to receive premonitions of the future.  Another legend is that there are thirteen Crystal Skulls, and they will all be reunited in December of 2012 for the festivities, celebrations, and complete obliteration of the human race that is predicted for the end of the Mayan calendar cycle.  (Admit it, as soon as you saw the word "Mesoamerica" you knew that 2012 and the Mayan calendar had to be involved somehow.)

In any case, the young man with whom I was talking was relating a conversation he'd had with another student, who is apparently an ardent believer in all of this stuff.  So, the skeptical student and SkullBoy had a conversation which went something like this:

Skeptic:  You really believe all that crap about the Crystal Skulls?

SkullBoy:  Yeah!  They were made of solid crystal, before anyone had any power tools or anything, and crystal is so hard it can't be cut.  So they must have had some kind of alien technology.

Skeptic:  Or, possibly, they're fakes.

SkullBoy:  They're in museums!  They've been analyzed!

Skeptic:  ... aaaaand, they could be fakes.  And in any case, even if they are genuine, there's no way they have any psychic powers.

SkullBoy:  The ancients knew all sorts of things we didn't know.  Like the pyramids!  How could the Egyptians have built the pyramids without any sort of machinery?

Skeptic:  It's called "slave labor."  If you have millions of slaves, and a bunch of guys with whips to keep them in line, you can accomplish damn near anything.

And so on and so forth.  Needless to say, SkullBoy never was convinced; every comment that the skeptical student made was answered with a side-step, red herring, or rationalization.  (In point of fact, the most famous of the Crystal Skulls, the Mitchell-Hedges Skull, currently owned by a private collector in Indiana, has been conclusively shown to be a fake -- microanalysis of the surface shows grooves that were almost certainly cut with a rotary power tool, and there are inclusions in the quartz that match crystals only found in Madagascar -- which would have been kind of difficult to obtain in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  The artifact was almost certainly carved in the 19th century.)

The whole thing is reminiscent of the whole idiotic "birther" controversy.  The claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, which has simmered on for several years, was put to rest a few days ago when Obama released his long-form birth certificate showing that he was born in Honolulu, as he'd always claimed.  The fact is, it should have been put to rest ages ago, when newspaper announcements, eyewitnesses, and a short-form certificate were produced.  But when someone has a cherished theory, it takes more than a bunch of silly facts to convince them.  Orly Taitz, the "Birther Queen," who seems to have the IQ of rock salt, and Donald Trump, whose thought processes have probably been disrupted by the mangy weasel clinging to his scalp, have managed to keep this ridiculous claim in the news.

Of course, now that the long-form birth certificate was released, Taitz and Trump have been effectively silenced.  Taitz said, "Wow.  I have wasted so much time and money and effort on this, and I see now that I was wrong."  Trump told reporters for Fox News, "It would have been so much better had I focused on the issues rather than on such a ridiculous blind alley as questioning Obama's citizenship."  Even Trump's weasel gave a sickly little squeak of humiliation.

Ha-ha!  I just made up the entire preceding paragraph.  There is nothing on earth that will make idiots like Trump and Taitz give up.  If you invented a time machine, and took them back to Honolulu in 1961, and brought them into the hospital and had them witness Obama's mother giving birth, they would claim that they were witnessing a decoy who looked just like Mrs. Obama, rather like the Princess Amidala clones in The Phantom Menace.  Apparently now they are implying that the birth certificate is a fake, that there's some problem with the number of the certificate being higher than those for babies born after Obama, and that in 1961 they would have put down his father's race as "Negro" or "Black" and not "African." 

I would like to think that deep in their heart of hearts, Trump and Taitz know they've been proven wrong, and are just hanging on because it would be pretty embarrassing to admit it at this point.  But honestly, I think it's worse than that.  I think they're a little like SkullBoy; so invested in their belief about how the world works that they will explain away anything that contradicts it.  Of course, the difference between them and SkullBoy is that SkullBoy is not running for president, nor being given time on national television to broadcast his ideas.

I keep hoping that people will eventually get fed up enough with this anti-logical nonsense, and say to Trump, "You're fired.  Your weasel, too."  But for some reason, everything he does just seems to make him more popular.  The whole thing leaves me feeling like banging my head on the wall, but that wouldn't really accomplish anything.  I will say, though, that if Trump ends up being elected president in 2012, I will begin to believe in Mayan prophecies of the end of civilization.

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