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.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Storm of controversy

As I write this, category-3 Hurricane Idalia is currently battering parts of northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  It strengthened with astonishing speed, going from a tropical depression to (briefly) a category-4 hurricane in a little over two days.  Another result of anthropogenic climate change -- warm surface water is the fuel for tropical storms, and this summer, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean is (in the words of one climatologist) "bath water."

This vindication of the facts that (1) Florida, and indeed the entire Gulf Coast, are frequent targets for storms, and (2) climate scientists have been predicting bigger storms for decades, has not had the effect you'd expect if the world was halfway sane, which is for people to say, "Oh, I guess this is what the scientists warned us about."  No, instead it's created bigger and better crackpot theories.  The storm is still howling and already I'm seeing conspiracy theorists posting that:

  • Idalia is a "false flag" to get people to buy into the "climate change scam."
  • Idalia is manmade, but not in the sense the climate scientists mean.  It was created by sophisticated weather modification devices run by some shadowy government agency.  No one I've seen has mentioned HAARP yet, but it's only a matter of time.
  • Evil Joe Biden deliberately steered Idalia toward "Ron DeSantis's Florida" in order to distract DeSantis from campaigning for the Republican nomination.  "Where this storm hit is no coincidence," one guy posted.  "I'm surprised it didn't hit Tallahassee straight on."

Well, you're right about one thing,  you catastrophic clod; where the storm hit is "no coincidence" because it's a typical storm track at this time of year, and the Gulf of Mexico is like a giant hot tub right now.  But no one, including Evil Joe, can "steer a hurricane."

Even using HAARP.

Hurricane Idalia [Image is in the Public Domain courtesy of NOAA]

Of course, it may be that everything will be okay, at least if you listen to popular evangelical wingnut "prophetess" Kat Kerr, who went on record as saying that Idalia was not going to cause any problems, because she was gonna pray at it really hard:

Attention all weather warriors, who are taking authority over the storms that are in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Gulf, which are heading toward the East Coast.  Remember to take authority in Jesus's name, because we have the right to stop the storms from coming.  Command the pressure systems (millibars) to rise within them, so they will downgrade until they diminish.  Send the Host to shred every band of the storms and tear them apart.  The sooner we do this for the storm in the Gulf, the better...  When God made the Earth, he set a boundary for the ocean so it cannot come ashore.  We are agreeing with what God says, so speak to the storms and remind them of the boundary.  In Jesus's name, these storms will become nothing!!!  Woo hoo and Zap Bam.

As usual, allow me to state up front that I didn't make any of that up, including the "Zap Bam" part.  

Lest you think this kind of lunacy is the sole provenance of some fringe-y freak element, allow me to remind you that just a week ago, a "reporter" on Fox "News" said in all apparent seriousness that Tropical Storm Hilary, which dumped huge amounts of rain on southern California and Nevada, was (like Idalia) Joe Biden's fault.  Hilary, the reporter said, "made landfall in Mexico several hours ago, but they let it right into the country because it’s Biden’s America."

Although saying Fox isn't a "fringe-y freak element" might not be that accurate, honestly.  And given the storm's name, I'm surprised they didn't bring Hillary Clinton into it somehow.  That has to be significant, right?

Of course right.

It's always been a mystery to me why people gravitate to wild magical thinking and bizarre conspiracy theories rather than applying Ockham's Razor and the principles of scientific induction.  In fact, only a few days ago a study appeared in the journal Research and Politics looking at people's motivations for believing in conspiracies, and the results were fascinating.  Disturbingly, it found that most people who promote conspiracy-based beliefs aren't "Just Asking Questions" (something the site Rational Wiki amusingly calls "JAQing off") or "trying to present both sides" or callously pushing an agenda regardless of their own beliefs (something many Republicans have been accused of, apropos of Trump's "Big Lie") -- they honestly believe the loony ideas they're disseminating.  

So that's not reassuring at all.

But even weirder to me is that they found a correlation between belief in conspiracies and what they call a "need for chaos" -- a fervent desire to disrupt things irrespective of partisanship or beliefs, and without a specific goal in mind (e.g., replacing the system with a better one).

And I truly don't understand this.  You have only to look at the effects of real, honest-to-goodness chaos -- the ongoing mess in Sudan comes to mind -- to see how quickly things can devolve into a Lord of the Flies-style horror show.  I can sympathize with the frustration a lot of us feel about wastefulness and corruption in the government, but tearing it all down and leaving nothing in its place is hardly a solution.

In any case, no, Idalia wasn't created by weaponized weather modification, it's not a false flag, and Joe Biden had nothing to do with any of it.  Praying at it won't do a damn bit of good, something you'd think would be obvious from the last 583,762 times people tried praying at something and it didn't work.  It'd be nice if people would learn some science, but these days expecting that is a losing proposition.

Especially in "Ron De Santis's Florida."


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Diluted nonsense

Every time I think homeopathy can't get more ridiculous, I turn out to be wrong.

I thought they'd plunged to the bottom of the Crazy Barrel with their announcement of a remedy called "homeopathic water."  This is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like.  It's water diluted with water, then shaken up, then diluted again and again.

With water.

So I thought, "This is it.  It can't get any loonier than that."

I was very, very wrong, and found out the depth of my mistake at Frank van der Kooy's site Complementary Medicine -- Exposing Academic Charlatans, wherein we find out that watering water down with water is far from the nuttiest thing the homeopaths make "remedies" from.

Here are a few things that van der Kooy discovered form the basis of a homeopathic remedy:
  • Black holes.  Yes, I mean the astronomical object, and yes, I'm serious.  An amateur astronomer put a vial of alcohol on a telescope aimed at the location of Cygnus X-1, the first black hole to be discovered.  My guess is that said astronomer had consumed a good bit of the alcohol first, and that's how he got the idea.  But after the vial had sat there for a while, and gotten saturated with the Essence of Black Hole, it was diluted to "30C" (known to the rest of us as one part in ten to the thirtieth power).  The homeopaths say if you consume it, it causes you to have a "drawing inward" sensation (because, I'm guessing, black holes pull stuff in).  One person who tested it said it felt like her teeth were being pulled backwards into her head.  Why this is supposed to be a good thing, I have no idea.
  • Vacuum.  I'm not talking about the machine, I'm talking about the physical phenomenon.  I don't have a clue how you would mix a vacuum in water, nor what "diluting a vacuum" even means.  The "practitioner," however, says it's really good for treating the flu.
  • The note "F."  Why F and not C# or Ab or something, I'm not sure, but apparently this is made by playing the note F at some water, then diluting it a bunch.  After that, it's good as a "tranquilizer" and "cardiac regulator."
  • The south pole of a magnet.  Again, I'm not sure what's special about the south pole, but if you somehow introduce south-poliness into some water, you can use it to treat frostbite, hernia, dislocations, ingrown toenails, and "levitation."  (I feel obliged at this point to state again for the record that I'm not making this up.)
  • Dog shit.  Supposedly, consuming diluted dog shit helps you get over feelings of self-disgust, which you would definitely need if you're consuming diluted dog shit.  It also helps if you dream about dogs, or "feel like your arms and legs are getting shorter," which I didn't know was even a thing.
  • The Berlin Wall.  A remedy made from a chunk of the Wall -- and not to beat this point to death, but the Wall piece was shaken up in water and diluted a gazillion times -- is good for treating despair.  I could use some right now, because after reading about how many people believe this kind of thing works, I'm inclined to agree with Professor Farnsworth.

I really should stop reading stuff like this, because I really can't afford any further declines in my opinion about the general intelligence of the human species.

Once again, I'm struck not by people coming up with this nonsense, because selling nonsense to make money has been a pastime of humans for a long, long time.  What gets me is that apparently people read this stuff, and don't have the response that I did, which is to snort derisively and say, "You have got to be fucking kidding me."  Instead, they pull out their credit cards and start buying.

So here we are again, shaking our heads in utter bafflement.  At least I hope you are.  I hope you haven't read this and said, "What's he pissing and moaning for?  This all makes perfect sense."  If that was, in fact, your response, please don't tell me about it.  Now y'all will have to excuse me, because I'm going to go take my anti-despair Berlin Wall remedy, mixed well into a double scotch.  That might actually have some effect.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Monster mash

Well, the biggest mass search for the Loch Ness Monster in history has come and gone, and like Monty Python's camel spotters, the searchers spotted nearly one monster.

This past weekend hundreds of amateur cryptid enthusiasts, in partnership with the Loch Ness Centre and Loch Ness Expeditions, studied the lake both in person (many using sophisticated cameras and microphones to record any anomalies) and virtually via video links, but the end result was... not much.

It's a shame, really.  I was honestly rooting for them, especially after I found out that one of the leaders of the effort is named (I swear I'm not making this up) Craig Gallifrey.  I was hoping that his assistants would be Joe Skaro, Annie Appalappachia, and Rex Raxacoricofallapatorius, but no such luck.

Gallifrey, for his part, is undaunted.  "I believe there is something in the loch," he said.  "There's got to be something that's fueling the speculation."

Stories about a creature in the lake (and the River Ness) go back a long way.  The first certain mention of it is in the seventh-century C.E. Life of St. Columba by Adomnán of Iona, in which Columba came upon some people burying a guy by the bank of the river, and after inquiry, was told that he'd been mauled to death by a water beast.  The saint then commanded one of them to swim the river, and instead of doing what I'd have done, which is to look at Columba like he'd lost his mind and say, "Were you even fucking listening to us just now?  Especially the 'mauled to death by a water beast' part?", the dude went, "Okay, sure," and jumped right in.  On cue the monster came swimming up, but Columba made the Sign of the Cross and said, "Go no farther.  Do not touch the man.  Go back at once," and the monster went, "Dude, whatever, simmer down," and backed off, and the locals were all super impressed.

But after that, you pretty much have to wait until the nineteenth century to get any more serious accounts.  In the 1930s there were several sightings, leading to a craze -- especially when The Daily Mail Fail, which apparently was as dedicated to accuracy back then as it is today, published the famous "surgeon's photograph" in 1934, now known to have been a hoax:

But even so, interest has continued, lo unto this very day.

The evidence generated by this weekend's search was pretty slim, however.  "We did hear something," search leaders report.  "We heard four distinctive ‘gloops’.  We all got a bit excited, ran to go make sure the recorder was on, and it wasn’t plugged in."

The fault, of course, lies with the Sound Engineer In Charge Of Plugging Stuff In, Roderick Ranskoor av Kolos.  You can't get good help nowadays.

In any case, they later admitted rather ruefully that the "gloops" might not have been Nessie.  "It may well be gas escaping from the bottom of the loch."

Lake flatulence notwithstanding, my guess is the negative results aren't going to dissuade enthusiasts.  Negative results never do.  Witness shows like Ghost Hunters, wherein a bunch of intrepid haunted house aficionados get together and visit spooky locations week after week, always at night, stalk around for an hour with flashlights and recording equipment, and never find anything.  This doesn't mean there aren't dramatic moments, e.g. this actual scene from an episode I watched when I was in a hotel one evening and turned on the television because I was bored:
Ghost hunter 1: Here we are in the attic of this abandoned courthouse.  As you can see, it's extremely atmospheric, with cobwebs and dust and all.  We're expecting to see a ghost any moment now.

Ghost hunter 2:  Yes, as I turn this corner and pan my flashlight beam across the wall, I can see... *screams*  *several bleeped out obscenities*

*cut to commercials*

Ghost hunter 1:  Let's replay that dramatic sequence, shall we?

*sequence replays*

Ghost hunter 2: *several more bleeped out obscenities*  Wow, that is one bigass yellowjacket!
That's it?  I sat through about eight stupid commercials, thinking I was finally going to get to see a ghost, and instead, I get a "bigass yellowjacket"?  I got stung by one of those in my own back yard a couple of days ago, and I was not impressed with that one, either.

In any case, I'm expecting that no one will be discouraged by the fact that Craig Gallifrey et al. didn't see anything this past weekend, and we'll still have periodic excursions to find Nessie and other cryptids.  My general response is: knock yourself out.  Like I've said many times before, I'm not a disbeliever, per se, I'm just waiting for the evidence.  So we'll just have to see what comes up with the next expedition, to be led by crack cryptid hunters Cathy Castrovalva and Mike Metabellis Three.


Monday, August 28, 2023

The missing day

Can I make the not-very-earthshattering observation that if you are explaining evidence supporting a belief, your argument is not made stronger by lying about it?

Especially if that belief is that your own personal religion is not only superior morally, but one hundred percent true?

I'm referring to a story of dubious provenance that has been showing up all over the place lately, mostly on Christian apologetics sites, and then forwarded by people who (1) don't understand how science works, (2) don't know how to do a Google search to check for accuracy, or (3) would prefer something sound good than be correct.  Or all three.  I ran into it via the site Calvary Pilot ("Piloting Souls to the Cross"), but other versions I've seen are substantially similar.  Here are a few excerpts, edited only for length:
For all you scientists out there and for all the students who have had a hard time convincing these people regarding the truth of the Bible – here’s something that illustrates God’s awesome creation and shows He is still in control.
Did you know that NASA’s space programmes are busy proving that what has been called ‘myth’ in the Bible is true?  Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore, and a consultant in the space programmes, relates the following incident: "One of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland.  They were checking out the positions of the sun, moon and planets out in space where they would be 100, and 1000 years from now. We have to know this as we do not want a satellite to collide with any of these in its orbits."
So we're off to a flying start, with the claim that NASA has to be very careful to make sure that satellites in orbit around the Earth don't collide with the Sun or Neptune or anything.  You can see how that could happen.
Computer measurements and data were run back and forth over the centuries when suddenly it came to a halt, displaying a red signal, which meant that either there was something wrong with the information fed into it, or with the results as compared to the standards.  They called in the service department to check it out, and the technicians asked what was wrong.  The scientists had discovered that somewhere in space in elapsed time a day was missing.  Nobody seemed able to come up with a solution to the problem.
Which brings up the awkward question of how you'd discover that a day was missing.  Were the technicians sitting around, monitoring the satellite transmissions, and suddenly one of them got this horrified look on his face and said, "Wait... where the fuck did I put last Tuesday?"  Then all of the other technicians and engineers and physicists and so forth all start searching under desks and in storage closets and behind garbage cans and so on, but to no avail.  Last Tuesday is definitely AWOL.
Finally one of the team, a Christian, said: “You know, when I was still in Sunday School, they spoke about the sun standing still…”  While his colleagues didn’t believe him, they did not have an answer either, so they said: “Show us.”  He got a Bible and opened it at the book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anyone with ‘common sense’.  There they read about the Lord saying to Joshua: “Fear them not, I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not be a man of them stand before thee.” (Joshua 10:8).  Joshua was concerned because the enemy had surrounded him, and if darkness fell, they would overpower him.  So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still!  That’s right – “And the sun stood still and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Ja’-sher?  So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hastened not to go down about a whole day.” (Joshua 10:13).

The astronauts and scientists said: "There is the missing day!"
So there was much rejoicing.  But then one of them pointed out that it wasn't a whole day that had been found -- it was only 23 hours and 20 minutes. Which left forty minutes unaccounted for, "which could mean trouble 1000 years from now."  Why it isn't trouble now, I have no idea, but concern for our distant descendants sent the NASA folks back on a search for the missing two-thirds of an hour.

And you'll never guess where they found it.

The Bible.  See, I told you you'd never guess.
As the Christian employee thought about it, he remembered somewhere in the Bible which said the sun went backwards.  The scientists told him he was out of his mind, but once again they opened the Book and read these words in 2 Kings.  Hezekiah, on his deathbed, was visited by the prophet, Isaiah, who told him he was not going to die.  Hezekiah asked for some sign as proof. Isaiah said: “Shall the sun go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?”  And Hezekiah answered: “It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; nay, but let the shadow return backwards ten degrees.”  Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord, and He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.” (2 Kings 20:9 -11).  Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes!  Twenty-three hours and twenty minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in 2 Kings accounted for the missing day in the universe!
Which would have been the cause for even more rejoicing, if the whole thing hadn't been made up.  I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist (a real one,  I mean, like they have at NASA) to find the story eye-rollingly ridiculous, but it has been so widely circulated -- I've seen it three times on Facebook just in the last week -- that it actually has a Snopes page dedicated to it.  In it, we find out that Harold Hill was the president of Curtis Engine Company of Baltimore, but that's pretty much the only thing in the story that is true.  First off, Hill wasn't a NASA consultant.  It turns out that Hill was an evangelical Christian with a fairly loose interpretation of the word "true," because he'd read about the "lost day" legend in a book by Harold Rimmer entitled The Harmony of Science and Scripture and decided that the story would carry more punch if he claimed he'd witnessed the whole thing happening.  He embellished his account -- adding, of course, accolades such as "NASA consultant" for himself -- and repeated it many times in public speeches.  He even devoted a whole chapter to it in his 1974 book How to Live Like a King's Kid, apparently because by then, he'd told the tale so many times that he actually was beginning to believe it.

John Martin, Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still over Gideon (1816) [Image is in the Public Domain]

And now with the amazing bullshit conduit that is the internet, the story has roared into life again.  What's funny, though, is that the claim is so ridiculous even Answers in Genesis is saying Christians shouldn't use it as an argument for the Bible having a scientific basis, and heaven knows AIG isn't exactly an exemplar of factual accuracy.  Snopes writer David Mikkelson says about it:
To those who've given over their hearts to God and the Holy Word, this is a deeply satisfying legend.  Faith is, after all, the firm belief in something which cannot necessarily be proved, a quality that can leave believers (especially those who find themselves in the midst of non-believers) feeling unsatisfied.  As steadfast as their certainty is, they cannot prove the rightness of the path they tread to those who jeer at their convictions.  And this is a heavy burden to shoulder.  A legend such as the "missing day explained" tale speaks straight to the hearts of those who yearn for a bit of vindication in this life.  Being right isn't always enough: sometimes what one most longs for is sweet recognition from others.
Which may well be the case, but doesn't take away from the problem of a devout follower of a religion that considers "Thou shalt not bear false witness" as one of its fundamental teachings passing along a story that is essentially one long lie.  It makes me wish that as a corollary of the ninth commandment, Yahweh had seen fit to add, "And this meaneth that thou shalt spend five minutes and do a Google search before thou postest this shit on Facebook."

So anyway.  No, NASA is not spending its woefully tiny budget paying scientists to verify the Old Testament.  There's no evidence whatsoever of a "lost day," because against what clock would you be able to verify that time had stopped three-thousand-odd years ago?  I'd be much obliged if the people who think that God is going to bless them if they pass along this nonsense would just stop already.  Thank you.


Saturday, August 26, 2023

There goes the Sun

And to end the week on an appropriately surreal note, yesterday I received a friendly email from a loyal reader of Skeptophilia of the "You think that is stupid, wait till you see this" variety.  As well-intentioned as these usually are, I always hesitate to read further, because my general impression of human foolishness and gullibility really doesn't need any further reinforcement.

This one was in response to my recent post about "activating your etheric DNA," so already we've set the bar for comparative idiocy pretty high.  But as I continued to read the email (yes, I succumbed to my 'satiable curiosity), I found that said bar was cleared in a single leap by this particular claim.

So without further ado: the idea that makes the etheric DNA people look sane and sensible.  Ready?

The Sun doesn't exist.

According to a group of loons calling themselves "asunists," what we're calling the Sun is just an illusion generated by light collected and beamed at the Earth by an array of curved mirrors.  You might be asking, "Light coming from where, exactly?", but that is only the first of the many problems we encounter upon delving into the situation.  Apparently the idea came about when someone googled "solar simulator" and found that there is a device that approximates the radiation spectrum and illuminance of the Sun, and is used for testing solar cells, sunscreen, plastics, and so forth.  So in a classic case of adding two and two and getting 147, they then interpreted this to mean that the Sun itself was a simulation.

[Image is in the Public Domain courtesy of NASA/JPL]

Who is responsible for this?  Well, nasty old NASA, of course.  Same ones who keep the Moon hologram going and are suppressing information about the Earth being flat and/or hollow, not to mention the impending catastrophic visit by the fabled planet Nibiru.

What evidence do we have?  The producer of the above-linked YouTube video explains how he knows that the Sun isn't real, and a lot of it seems to be the fact that in some photographs, the outline of the Sun is "fuzzy."  It used to be clear and sharp, he says, but now because of "chemicals in the air" the Sun has gotten all blurred.  So apparently we used to have a real Sun, but now it's been replaced by a simulator which just isn't as good as the real thing.

My question is -- well, amongst my many questions is -- don't you think someone would have noticed when the real Sun was taken down, and the simulator put in place?  Oh, and what did they do with the old Sun?  Was it sent to the stellar retirement home?  Was it just turned out into the cold vacuum of space, to wander, lost and forlorn forever?

Of course, the question that applies to all of these wacko conspiracy theories is why anyone would bother to do all of this.  Don't you think that if the Sun really was a big bunch of mirrors, the Earth was flat, or whatnot, the scientists at NASA would simply tell us?  What could they possibly gain by pretending that the Sun exists and the Earth is an oblate spheroid?

The oddly hilarious postscript to all of this is that the whole the-Sun-doesn't-exist conspiracy theory received a boost from none other than Ray "Mr. Banana" Comfort, the outspoken young-earth creationist who a few years ago got his ass handed to him when he showed up to distribute creationist literature at a talk by Richard Dawkins hosted by the Skeptic Society.  Well, Comfort has picked up on the "asunist" thing and used it as an argument against atheism (in Comfort's mind, everything is an argument against atheism).  He tells us about his perception of the "asunists" -- mischaracterizing their claim as stating that they believe we're actually in the dark -- and compares that to atheists' conclusion that God doesn't exist.

Which just shows you that there is no idea so completely stupid that you can't alter it so as to make it way stupider.

So to the loyal reader who sent me the email, all I can say is "thanks."  I now am even more convinced that Idiocracy was a non-fiction documentary.  It's time to get myself a cup of coffee and try to reboot my brain so that I can try to write something halfway sensible on my new work-in-progress.  Also time to start watching for the sunrise.

Or the solarsimulatorrise.  Or whatever.


Friday, August 25, 2023

Three words

Okay, Republicans, I know you and I don't see eye-to-eye on much, but there's one thing we somehow gotta come onto common ground about, and that's climate change.

It's not so hard, really.  Look, just repeat after me:

"We were wrong."

But those three words are still a bridge too far for most of the Republican leaders.  In Tuesday night's debate, when asked if any of the eight participants accepted human-induced climate change, not a single hand went up.  Vivek Ramaswamy was the most vocal, stating, "The climate change agenda is a hoax.  The truth is that more people are dying of climate change policies than they actually are of climate change."  Even the ones who are more moderate (on that issue, if nothing else), like Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, still waffled about how it's all about messaging and policy.

No, it's fucking well not.  It's about the long-term habitability of the planet, and you either know that and are lying about it, or else you're so catastrophically ignorant you shouldn't be running for public office.

Because you know what was going on outside that nice, air-conditioned hall in Milwaukee while the debate took place?

2023 has been the hottest year on record, by far.  As I write this the central and southern parts of the United States are sweltering under a heat dome that is pushing temperatures and heat indices to record highs; Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana have been in the pressure cooker all summer.  Southern California and Nevada just got walloped by a bizarre anomaly of a tropical storm, in some places dumping a year's worth of rain in twenty-four hours.  Emperor penguins in Antarctica suffered a near-complete breeding failure because of melting sea ice, with no chicks surviving from four of the five established colonies.  Wildfires are burning all over Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and the northern Rocky Mountain states.  The ocean surface temperatures are off the charts -- one oceanographer called the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico "bath water" -- leading to widespread coral reef bleaching, and potentially, more powerful and frequent hurricanes for the storm season that is just beginning to ramp up.  Droughts, famines, and wildfires have plagued such widely-separated locations as Greece, the Canary Islands, and Madagascar.

Any one of those things?  Okay, that's "weather."  Put them all together, and you know what you have?


So let's try it again, shall we, Republican candidates?

"We were wrong."

I get that it's not easy.  We're hooked on fossil fuels, and that's both parties' faults; it's been far too long that American politics has been in the pockets of the petroleum industry.  Solutions will be expensive and will require putting long-term common good ahead of short-term expediency.  Nobody wants this situation, least of all the climate scientists, who've been screaming at us to for fuck's sake, do something, for forty years now.

But the time has come to stop pretending the problem isn't real.  That means stating in so many words that anthropogenic climate change is happening, and has been happening ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution, just like the scientists have said all the way back to Svante Arrhenius in 1896.  It means getting Fox News to stop lying to the public and calling it a hoax.  It means admitting to the American people that okay, you misled them -- perhaps unintentionally -- but that stops today.  It means finally standing up, saying that it's time to quit playing Partisan Laser Tag, and to band together and see if we can manage to do anything about this.

Because you know how 2023 is the hottest year on record?  My guess is that if we continue to sit on our hands and snipe at each other, it no longer will be after next year.  Or the year after that.

And for the eight people who got up in front of the entire world Tuesday night and still wouldn't say, straight out, that our actions have created this situation, it begins with those three little words.

"We were wrong."


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Time and tide

I don't know if you've had the experience of running into a relatively straightforward concept that your brain just doesn't seem to be able to wrap itself around.

One such idea for me is the explanation for tides.  I've gone through it over and over, starting in high school physics, and I keep having to go back and revisit it because I think I've got it and then my brain goes, "...wait, what?" and I have to look it up again.

The sticking point has always been why there are two high tides on opposite sides of the Earth.  I get that the water on the side of the Earth facing the Moon experiences the Moon's extra gravitational attraction and is pulled away from the Earth's surface, creating a bulge.  But why is there a bulge on the side facing away from the Moon?

Now that I'm 62 and have gone over it approximately 482 times, I think I've finally got it.  Which is more than I can say for Bill O'Reilly:

So, let's see if I can prove Mr. O'Reilly wrong.

Consider three points on the Earth: A (on the surface, facing the Moon), B (at the center of the Earth), and C (on the surface, opposite the Moon).  Then ask yourself what the difference is in the pull of the Moon on those three points.

Isaac Newton showed that the force of gravity is proportional to two things -- the masses of the objects involved, and the inverse square of the distance between them.  The second part is what's important here.  Because A, B, and C are all different distances from the Moon, they experience a difference in the gravitational attraction they experience.  A is pulled hardest and C the least, with B in the middle.

This means that the Earth is stretched.  Everything experiences these tidal forces, but water, which is freer to move, responds far more than land does.  At point A, the water is pulled toward the Moon, and experiences a high tide.  (That's the obvious part.)  The less obvious part is that because points B and C are subject to a difference in the gravitational attraction, the net effect is to pull them apart -- so from our perspective on the Earth's surface, the water at C pulls away and upward, so there's a high tide there, as well.

There's practically no limit to how big these forces can get.  On the Earth, they're fairly small, although sometimes phenomena like a seiche (a standing wave in a partially-enclosed body of water) can amplify the effect and create situations like what happens in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, where the difference in the water level between high and low tide can be as much as sixteen meters. 

But out in space, you can find systems where the masses and distances combine to create tidal forces that are, to put it in scientific terms, abso-freakin-lutely enormous.  This, in fact, is why the whole subject comes up today; the discovery of a binary system in the Large Magellanic Cloud made up of a supergiant with a mass thirty-five times that of the Sun, and a smaller (but still giant) companion ten times the mass of the Sun.  They're close enough that they orbit their common center of gravity about once a month.  And the combination of the huge masses and close proximity creates tidal bulges about three million kilometers tall.

That's over three times the diameter of the Sun.

You think the people living along the Bay of Fundy have it bad.

Artist's conception of the system in the Large Magellanic Cloud [Illustration by Melissa Weiss of NASA/Chandra X-Ray Observatory/Center for Astrophysics]

And that's not even as extreme as tidal forces can get.  If you were unfortunate enough to fall feet-first into a black hole, you would undergo what physicists call -- I'm not making this up -- spaghettification.  The tidal forces are so huge that they're even significant across a small distance like that between your head and your feet, so you'd be stretched along your vertical axis and compressed along your horizontal one.  Put more bluntly, you'd be squished like a tube of toothpaste, ultimately comprising the same volume as before but a much greater length.

It would not be pleasant.

Be that as it may, I think I've finally got the explanation for tides locked down.  We'll see how long it lasts. 

At least I'm pretty sure I'm still ahead of Bill O'Reilly.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

In the ether

A friend and loyal reader of Skeptophilia emailed me a couple of days ago.

"I think I've figured out why you're such a doubter," he said.  "From my extensive research, it's because your 'etheric DNA' hasn't been activated.  I strongly recommend you look into this immediately so that you can ascend to the next astral plane, where you belong."

He then signed off, but added in a p.s., "(... take the bait, little mouse... take the bait...)".

Well, naturally, I couldn't let something like this just sit there.  So I did a search for etheric DNA, and spent the next forty-five minutes reading.  Unfortunately, I was mostly done with a glass of scotch at the time, and I got the worst case of the giggles I've had in years.  I would read a line from one of the articles to my dog, who was sitting on the floor next to my desk watching me intently, and then I'd erupt into laughter.  Rosie was clearly amused as well, given the fact that each time I read her a line, she wagged her tail in a cheerful fashion.

Or maybe she was just glad I was finally paying some long-overdue attention to the health of my eternal celestial spirit.  I dunno.

Anyhow, I thought it best to put the topic aside until I was thinking more clearly.  And I'm not sure whether it's good or bad news that the "etheric DNA" stuff doesn't make any better sense when you're stone-cold sober.  So naturally, I had to share some of it with you here, because I'm just a generous, open-handed sort of guy.

Up to you if you get yourself a glass of scotch first.

The first article I found was from an online open-access (surprise!) journal called MedCraveMedCrave's tagline is "Step into the World of Research," which right away sets my teeth on edge because I am absolutely sick unto death of people using the word "research" that way, e.g. reading three articles from various websites and saying, "Well, I did my research."  No, you fucking well did not do any research; you found three articles that happened to agree with what you already believed.  You do not work in a lab, you did not publish anything in a peer-reviewed journal, you did not spend years studying the subject and becoming an expert.  Hell, I spent over three decades teaching biology, and I am not an expert; I'm very much a generalist and always will be.

So I'm not a researcher, either.  The difference is, I'm not claiming to be.  

But at least I know how to recognize legitimate research in an actual scientific journal.  And MedCrave ain't it.

Anyhow, the article is by "Spiritual Scientist" Linda Gadbois, and is called "DNA -- The Phantom Effect, Quantum Hologram, and the Etheric Body," which won out over the next most sensible title she could come up with, which was "Woogie Woogie Woogie Pfthththbtbtbtbtb."  There's no way I can give you a flavor of just how wacky this article is from a mere summary, so here's an actual excerpt:

DNA is actually composed of a liquid crystalline substance that acts as a form of antenna, receiver, and transmitter of holographic information.  It’s constantly in the process of taking in information from its environment and the ether as signs, archetypes, and imagery and translating it into holograms.  It operates predominately out of radionics where whatever frequency its tuned to, is acts as a receiver for various forms of information within that same frequency that comes in as an acoustic wave that serves to form an electromagnetic field (EMF) as a holographic shape that’s composed initially of subtle energy, which provides the blueprint or spatial mapping for constructing an exact replica as its material equivalent.  Information inherent in the Ether (Akasha) always comes as a “pairing” or “wave coupling” (like the double helix) that contains both an acoustic sound and optical (visual) image as the geometric patterning inherent in the vibratory frequency.

Right!  Of course!  What?

My other favorite part was when she explained (not sure if that's the right word) her concept of the "phantom effect" thusly:

The two waves of information form an interference pattern that together produce a 3-D holographic image as the subtle template for constructing the material body through a growth and development process.  This holographic image as an invisible energy field organizes and animates matter into what’s called the “phantom effect”.  This phantom is an invisible 3-D shape as a field formed out of information as a dynamic series of interrelated planes or parallel interlaced and correlating dimensions that operate without any cross-talk to form a chain-of-association as phase conjugation adaptive resonance.
"Dimensions" of "phase conjugation adaptive resonance?"  All we need is "entangled quantum frequencies" in there somewhere and we'll have collected the whole set of quasi-scientific woo-woo buzzwords.

And please don't think I've selected these two passages because they were unusually abstruse.  It all sounds like this.  And it goes on for pages.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Christoph Bock, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, DNA methylation, CC BY-SA 3.0]

The other article I looked at was from Positive Health Online, an open-access (surprise again!) journal about "integrative health."  This one, by "healer and guide" Carole Easton, is called "DNA Activation -- Etheric Surgery Using an Activated Crystal Wand."  It begins with the sentence, "DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid," which is also the last correct statement in the article, because it immediately after that launches into telling us how our DNA only seems to have two strands; it actually has twenty-two other "shadow strands" that don't exist until you activate them:
22-strand DNA activation... is done through etheric surgery using an activated crystal wand.  It involves 12 receptor sites to the DNA, known as codons, and they are accessed through the etheric spine and illuminated with light (I have actually seen this light whilst I was administering the wand to this area).  This activates 22 of the 24 strands.

What does all of this do for you?  Well, she's a little vague on that point:

Our DNA contains the master plan, or blueprint, for who we are, our life purpose and our Divine Potential – who we are as a Divine Being.  Holding the encoded information relative to both our physical and spiritual lineage, it is unique and very personal.  It determines our physical form, hereditary maladies, mental proclivities, emotional behavioural patterns, spiritual gifts and more.  It is God-given, holy and sacred and defines our uniqueness.  It is who we are!  Locked within our DNA are emotional codes that are handed down from our ancestors from generation to generation.  These emotional codes are then triggered through our belief systems and through life altering events.

Given the fact that my ancestors seem to have been a random assortment of rogues, miscreants, ne'er-do-wells, and petty criminals, and the majority of the ones I knew personally were also weird as fuck, I'm not sure I want "emotional codes" handed down from generation to generation.  My inclination is to tiptoe away and let my twenty-two extra DNA stands continue to sleep quietly.

Oh, but Carole Easton tells us this is an ancient mystical tradition that traces its origins all the way back to King Solomon!  (Because the ancient Israelites were clearly experts on genetics.)  So how can I turn my back on such a gift?

Um.  Yeah.  She can just stay right the hell away from my etheric spine with her activated crystal wand.  I doubt I'd be able to go through her ritual without laughing, and I'm sure that'd destroy all the entangled quantum dimension phase resonance oscillations or whatever the fuck is supposed to be happening, so it wouldn't work for me in any case.

So there you have it.  Etheric DNA.  As far as the loyal reader who got me started on this, I hope you're happy.  At least my dog is.  She's currently staring at me with a hopeful look on her face.  I think she wants me to do a Tarot reading for her, or something.  

Or maybe her etheric stomach just wants breakfast.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Give me a break...

A while back I wrote a piece about the Mandela Effect, which is the idea that when you remember some major event differently than other people, it's not because your memory is wrong, it's because you have side-slipped here from an alternate universe where the version you remember actually happened.  The phenomenon gets its name from the fact that a lot of people "remember" that Nelson Mandela died in jail in the mid-1970s, which of course didn't happen.  These same folks are the ones who make an enormous deal over "remembering" that the Berenstain Bears -- the annoyingly moralistic cartoon characters who preach such eternal truths as "Your parents and teachers are always right about everything" and "Kids should follow the rules or else they are bad" -- were originally the Berenstein Bears.

Why their name would be spelled different in an alternate universe, I don't know.  From watching Star Trek and Lost in Space, I always assumed that the major differences you'd find in an alternate universe is that all of the good guys would be bad guys, and because of that, many of them would be wearing beards.

But the Mandela Effect isn't going away, despite the fact that if you believe it you're basically saying that your memory is 100% accurate, all of the time, and that you have never misremembered anything in your life.  The whole thing has become immensely popular to "study" -- although what there is there to study, I don't know.  Witness the fact that there is now a subreddit (/r/MandelaEffect) with tens of thousands of subscribers.

The most recent thing to be brought to light by this cadre of timeline-jumpers has to do with the "Kit Kat" candy bar.  Apparently many people recall the name from their childhood as being "Kit Kats" (with an "s"), even though that doesn't really work with the candy's irritating ear-worm of a jingle, "Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar."  So once again, it's more likely that you're in an alternate universe than you just aren't recalling the name of a candy bar correctly.  

But now, at long last, we have someone who has proposed an explanation as to why all of this is happening.

You ready?

The Mandela Effect is caused by...

... CERN.

Yes, CERN, the world's largest particle accelerator, home of the Large Hadron Collider, which became famous for not creating a black hole and destroying the Earth when it was fired up recently.  CERN has been the target of woo-woo silliness before now; back in 2009, projects had to be sidelined for months while the mechanism was repaired after a seagull dropped a piece of a baguette onto some electrical wires and caused a short, and the woo-woos decided that the seagull had been sent back in time to take out the LHC before it destroyed the entire universe.

So I guess there's no end to what CERN can do, up to and including vaporizing specific letters off of candy bar wrappers.  But you know, if CERN can alter our timeline, don't you think there's more important stuff that it could accomplish besides changing the spellings of candy bars and cartoon bears?  First thing I'd do is go back in time and hand Donald Trump's father a condom.

But I might be a little biased in that regard.

What baffles me about all of this is that not only is there abundant evidence that human memory is plastic and fallible, but just from our own experience you'd think there would be hundreds of examples where we'd clearly recalled things incorrectly.  The fact that these people have to invent an "effect" that involves alternate universes to support why they're always right takes hubris to the level of an art form.

So anyway.  I'm not too worried about the possibility of my having side-slipped from another timeline where I am a world-famous author whose novels regularly rocket to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.  I'm more concerned at the moment over how the hell I'm going to get the "Kit Kat" jingle out of my head, because that thing is really fucking annoying.


Monday, August 21, 2023

Mind over matter

The difficulty with a lot of claims of psychic phenomena (besides the unfortunate lack of hard evidence) is that they kind of fall apart when you say, "show me the mechanism."  Even the practitioners can't tell you how the whole thing is alleged to work.  It's very seldom you get anyone willing to go out on a limb and tell you, specifically, how paranormal experiences happen; most of them say something like "some folks can do it, others can't, it's mysterious," and leave it at that.

So the link sent to me last week by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia is a bit of an anomaly.  In it, we are given  a set of step-by-step instructions for learning...

... telekinesis.

Yes, telekinesis, the skill made famous in the historical documentary Carrie wherein a high school girl got revenge on the classmates who had bullied her by basically flinging heavy objects at them with her mind and then locking them inside a burning gymnasium.  Hating bullies as I do, I certainly understand her doing this, although it's probably a good thing this ability isn't widespread.  Given how fractious the current political situation is, if everyone suddenly learned how to move things with their minds, the United States as viewed from space would probably look like a huge, whirling, debris-strewn hurricane of objects being thrown about every time something about the former president appears in the news.

But if you'd like to be able to do this, you can learn how at the aptly-named site  But to save your having to paw through the site, I'll hit the highlights here.  You can try 'em out and afterwards report back if you had any success in, say, levitating your cat.

Polish spiritualist medium Stanisława Tomczyk levitating a pair of scissors that totally was not connected to a piece of thread tied to her fingers  [Image is in the Public Domain]

Step one, apparently, is that you have to believe that there is no external reality, because otherwise "your logical mind will be fighting your telekinesis endeavors every step of the way."  I know this would be a problem for me.  The author of the website suggests that you can accomplish this by studying some quantum physics, because quantum physics tells us the following:
Everything we see, hear, feel, taste and smell is light and energy vibrating at a fixed frequency.  This energy is being projected from within, both individually and collectively.  Our energy projection is reflected back and interpreted and perceived as “real” via the mind through our five senses. That is the condensed version of reality.
The problem is, quantum physics doesn't say any such thing, as anyone who has taken a college physics class knows.  Quantum physics describes the behavior of small, discrete packets of energy ("quanta") which ordinarily only have discernible effects in the realm of the submicroscopic.  It is also, in essence, a mathematical model, and as such has nothing whatsoever to do with an "energy projection (being) reflected back and interpreted and perceived as real by the mind."

But apparently if you're inclined to learn telekinesis, you can interpret the findings of physics any way that's convenient for you.

Oh, and we're told that it also helps to watch the woo-woo documentary extraordinaire What the Bleep Do We Know?, which was produced by J. Z. Knight, the Washington-based loon who claims to channel a 35,000 year old guy from Atlantis named "Ramtha."  The author waxes rhapsodic about how scientifically accurate this film is, despite the fact that damn near everything in the film is inaccurate at best and an outright lie at worst.

Step two is understanding your "telekinesis toolkit," which includes "empathy, mindset, and energy."  They explain it this way:
Imagine feelings being the words spoken on your phone, and empathy is the signal or wire connecting you.  Your mindset is the phone itself and energy is the electricity used to run it.  You have to have a phone, signal and power to communicate.  A lame phone, weak signal or low battery will make doing telekinesis nearly impossible.
I daresay it will.

Step three is finding a good mentor.  Since these mentors aren't free, let's just say that I had a sudden "Aha" moment when I got to this point.  The website tells us that the best mentors are at the Avatar Energy Mastery Institute, where we can learn the following:
You will learn all about energy, chakras, clairvoyance, out of body travel, mind and soul expansion, healing, higher-self, time travel, lucid dreaming and pretty much everything else a seeker could hope for.  I also know that Ormus from really enhances psychic abilities and speeds the learning process.
When I saw "Ormus," something in the back of my brain went off.  I knew I'd seen this before.  At first I thought it was the name of the evil blob of black goo that killed Tasha Yar in season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation and wondered why anyone would take supplements made from that guy, but turns out his name was Armus, not Ormus.

But it still sounded somehow familiar, so I did a little research, and sure enough, a while back I did a post on Ormus, which is an acronym standing for "Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements."  And yes, I know that spells "ORME" and not "ORMUS," but since we're kind of disconnected from reality here anyhow, we'll let that slide.  Evidently the believers in Ormus think that taking this stuff can do everything up to and including (I am not making this up) changing your inertial mass, and I don't mean that you got heavier because you just swallowed something.  They claim that taking Ormus makes your inertial mass smaller, which would be surprising for any supplement not made of antimatter.

And taking antimatter supplements has its own fairly alarming set of health risks, the worst of which is exploding in a burst of gamma rays.

So anyway.  The step-by-step instructions turned out to be kind of a bust, frankly.  I'm thinking that if you do all of this stuff, telekinesis is still going to be pretty much out of the question, which is a shame, because it could be kind of fun, as well as making moving heavy furniture a lot easier.  But feel free to give it all a try.  Let me know, though, if you're planning on lobbing any heavy furniture my way.  The hate mail I get on a daily basis is bad enough.