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.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

All shook up

As if we needed something else to worry about, given that the Rapture is going to occur two weeks from now; there is a massive earthquake scheduled to hit Rome on Wednesday.

Many Italians are in a lather about the alleged prognostications of Raffaele Bendandi, who supposedly could predict earthquakes.  The story is that in 1923, Bendandi warned of an earthquake that would strike along the Adriatic coast.  He was off by two days, but afterwards newspapers published front-page stories entitled "The Man Who Forecasts Earthquakes," and Benandi's reputation was born.  He was even awarded a knighthood by Mussolini.

His theory, if you can call it that, is that earthquakes are not caused by motion of tectonic plates; in fact, plate tectonics was not even discovered until the early 1960s.  Bendandi thought that earthquakes were caused by the position of the earth relative to the positions of the moon and the other planets.

So, what we have here is basically tectonic astrology.

Add this to the fact that even the followers of Bendandi's ideas aren't clear as to whether he forecast an earthquake in Rome on May 11.  Paola Lagorio, president of the Benandi Association of Italy, has made an official statement that Bendandi's writings don't mention an earthquake in Rome in 2011.  We can't ask Bendandi himself, because he's been dead for 32 years.

This hasn't stopped a lot of people in Rome from getting all shook up.  Reporters have interviewed a number of people, and their responses have varied from "Meh" (the minority, if the reporting is accurate), to asking for the day off so as to be with family, to fleeing the city for the safety of the countryside.

A chef, Tania Cotorobai, was quoted as saying, "I don't know if I really believe it, but if you look at the internet you see everything and the opposite of everything, and it ends up making you nervous."  She is one of the ones who plans to leave Rome when the fateful day approaches.

And this is why we, and apparently the Italians, should do a better job teaching critical thinking in public schools.  Yes, you will find "everything and the opposite of everything" on the internet.  However, to quote Richard Dawkins:  "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."  Our brains are perfectly capable of using facts, evidence, and logic to ascertain the truth.  The problem is, people are seldom taught to do so.  And given that lack of training, many of us fall back on emotions and hunches -- which are notorious for feeling highly persuasive, but often giving us the wrong answer.

So it probably won't be business as usual in Rome on Wednesday, all because a long-dead tectonic astrologer may or may not have predicted a devastating earthquake for May 11.  Given the response that the people of Rome are having, I wonder what May 21 (Rapture Day) and December 21, 2012 (the Mayan World Destruction Festival) will be like.  I might just stay home myself, but not because I think the world's going to end -- more that I don't want to be outside while the loons are migrating.

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