1.20.2017

I Got Trolled by My First Anti-Vaxxer!

Recently, I logged onto Facebook and found the following article in my feed:

Screen capture from www.washingtonpost.com

I was in a bit of a sour mood at that moment, so when I hit the share button I wrote a vitriol-filled post to accompany it. To my surprise, it got shared quite a bit—meaning 15 or 20 reshares compared to my typical two. Honestly, I was a little surprised. And then, I got my very first screed from anti-vaxxer troll, a self-described “old school hippie, loving mother and proud grandmother, happy and joyous and free” who “studied at the School of Hard Knocks”:

richard, please let me inject you and your babies with mercury ok?

I replied, of course. But the response got me thinking, and it got me wondering, and it got me asking questions.

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1.13.2017

Birth Certificate Bonds: What’s the Motivation?

Originally, I hadn’t planned to write a second part to this “birth certificate bond” thing. I figured it was a “one and done” deal, and I’d move on to trying to decide what to write for the next week. But then, a reader named Menzo made this comment about my article:

Rich,
You truly are a financial geek. TMI to the extreme. What I wanted to know almost immediately, but never got answer to, is what is the motivation for a person to post a website about “birth certificate bonds”? Is this a scam or some kind of a silly joke or a conspiracy theory?

I’ll cop to the charge of being a “financial geek.” But, in retrospect, I have to confess I’m not geek enough. It never occurred to me to ask why someone would believe what is, on the surface (as well as after a deeper dive), patently obvious nonsense. But now, thanks to Menzo, I can’t stop wondering. So fasten your seatbelts: we’re about to wade deep into the woo.

This simple chart explaining a “birth certificate bond” somehow overlooks the why of this scheme.

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1.6.2017

Your Birth Certificate Is Not a Bond. Really.

If you’re like most people, you read that title and scratched your head in confusion. “Rich,” you may have said, “what on earth are you talking about? Of course my birth certificate isn’t a bond. It’s a birth certificate.” And now you’re reading this, because you’re wondering what sort of foaming madness I’m spewing forth onto your screen.

I work in the financial sector in my day job, and I come into contact with a broad slice of the general public on a daily basis. That’s how I first encountered this nonsense. About six years ago, I received a call from a gentleman who said he wanted to redeem his bond. So I got the particulars of his account, looked it up, and scratched my head in confusion. There were no bonds. There weren’t any bond-based mutual funds. He had nothing that even looked like a bond. All he had was a checking account, and that held less than a hundred dollars.

“Sir,” I said, probably sounding extremely confused, “did you mean you wanted to take a withdrawal from your checking account?”

“No,” he assured me. “I’ve got a bond, and it’s worth a million dollars, and I just need to get enough out to buy a new car.”

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12.31.2016

Stop Criticizing Fracking and Pipelines

Many of my friends and colleagues often criticize me for refusing to embrace the popular anti-fracking rhetoric — or, as some like to fallaciously describe it — my “pro-fracking stance”. There’s a reason I refuse to condemn fracking, and it’s the same reason I wouldn’t jump on the ultra-fashionable anti-pipeline bandwagon; and I believe it is an important reason. Getting off of fossil fuels should be one of our highest priorities as a species. To persuade those who disagree, we need a bulletproof argument. Invented boogeymen like fracking and pipelines, when presented as reasons to get off fossil fuels, weaken that argument. When our loudest messages are so weak that they collapse under the slightest scientific scrutiny — as do the pop criticisms of fracking and pipelines — we are gravely harming the process of moving away from fossil fuels. / read more…

12.30.2016

Shaving with Occam’s Razor

I was on Twitter on Christmas Eve, wasting time that should have been spent working out what my very first blog post should be, when I saw the following tweet:

sorry to bother you @BrianDunning -& plz forgive me if it’s been covered- but people butchering occam’s razor needs to be addressed i think

Well, there was my inspiration. Sure, Brian Dunning responded to the tweet by pointing out that it will be addressed in Principles of Curiosity (go fund it on GoFundMe), but it got me curious. And indulging my own curiosity is why I write.  So, let’s start with the obvious question:

What is Occam’s Razor?

Not so much this, really. Via Wikimedia.

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12.25.2016

Son of Holiday Myths Debunked

Over the last few years, I’ve occasionally written posts on some myth or another. Every time I accumulate enough interesting ones, I tend to write a short article. So here we go.

References to religious facts were gathered quickly. If I haven’t nailed all the subtleties of your particular belief system, I ask for understanding that it is not a knock on your belief system. Corrections are welcome in the comments, but please reference them if you do.

Menorah photo © 2006 by Tomasz Sienicki via wikimedia

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12.9.2016

Does Drinking White Wine Give You Melanoma?

Brown University put out a press release this month about some of its soon-to-be-published research. The study, named “Alcohol Intake and Risk of Incident Melanoma: A Pooled Analysis of Three Prospective Studies in the United States,” appears this month in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. It looks at the drinking habits of more than 210,000 participants, and found bad news for those who enjoy a glass of white wine: the findings suggests that drinking white wine will significantly raise your risk for melanoma! Or so the media reports would have you think. Regular Skeptoid readers will be familiar with the paucity of such science reporting: sensational headlines with unsupported conclusions often dominate such news. Let’s take a close look at this research and determine if this pop-science flavor-of-the-week is in fact science, or just science fiction.

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11.18.2016

Still No Reason to Suspect ‘Earthquake Lights’ Are a Thing

Since the November 13, 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, my inbox has been bursting with reports of EQLs (earthquake lights). A number of YouTube videos have surfaced from locals who were quick on the draw with their phones in the middle of the night, and predictably, it re-ignited the popular belief in a phenomenon called earthquake lights. / read more…

11.17.2016

3 Things for AGW Deniers to Stop Saying

I suppose it’s good for shipping traffic, but not for much else. Sea ice reflects a lot of solar radiation back out to space. When there’s a lot of it, it’s easier for the Earth to get cooler (the “Snowball Earth” effect); and when there’s less sea ice, it’s easier for the Earth to warm even more. / read more…

11.14.2016

God Help Me, I’ve Joined a Co-Op

A loaf of sprouted bread. Via Wikimedia.

A loaf of sprouted bread. Via Wikimedia.

I capitulated to friends and followed them into joining a food co-op. It’s a members-only collaborative grocery store that is governed, operated, and patronized by the people who join it, with everyone participating in some way, typically volunteering a few hours of labor each month—stocking groceries, working the checkout registers, cleaning, doing clerical jobs, etc. It has a mission to operate on behalf of its members, with extremely low mark-ups on almost all the products sold there, and with the aim of essentially breaking even, income-wise, as its members are basically just collectively buying in bulk. (This is not to say that the foods it sells are striking a blow against corporate greed: the products there, like all stores, come from capitalist businesses that have a profit motive.) The fruits and veggies and things are all top notch, it carries national brands and health food offerings with some more gourmet products; everything is really affordable. I enjoy it, but the place is rife with woo.

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