5.1.2017

How Good Buildings Get Bad Reputations

Occasionally—actually, far more often than I’d like—I stumble across a clear example of how uninspired reporting and clickbait journalism culture can lead to support for uncritical thinking and the advancement of fringe beliefs.

Original Facebook post from WDIV Local 4 (Detroit, MI)

This time, the example comes from my own home state. Recently, Detroit TV news outlet WDIV posted the following article to their Facebook page: “Old Ghostly Orphanage Being Turned Into Apartments.” They tagged it with the question, “So, anybody want to live in an old haunted orphanage?”

The building in question is the Holy Family Orphanage in Marquette, MI. Built a century ago, the orphanage has a mixed history. It was clearly a place the locals viewed as a benefit to the community; however, the building has roots as one of the many orphanages used to house displaced Native American children. The orphanage is said to have been the location for stories of the type typical to old Catholic orphanages: cruel nuns, Medieval punishments, and even child deaths due to neglect or malice. These latter rumors are the seeds for the ghost stories that some people tell about the building.

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4.28.2017

Could We Find Nessie’s DNA?

True confessions time: I love me some cryptids—love, love, love them. I watched In Search Of… obsessively when I was a kid, and read everything I could find about any and all creatures that I could find. Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape, the Abominable Snowman, Ogopogo, Champ, the Beast of Gevaudan, the Loveland Frog, and—of course—the Loch Ness Monster. Because I also loved me some dinosaurs, the idea that there might be a plesiosaur living in Scotland was exciting. These days, I know enough to be skeptical about all of them. Where are the bodies? How do groups of large animals avoid detection. Or, if there’s only one, how did it live so long. But I still love reading about them, and imagining what they might be like, and news articles about them still catch my eye. So, it shouldn’t be any shock that the following article caught my eye when it showed up in my feed:

I clicked the link in the feed, and was actually startled by what I read:

But now a scientist is hoping to use cutting-edge dino-DNA technology to determine once and for all whether the Loch Ness Monster exists or not.

Professor Neil Gemmell wants to solve the mystery by looking for traces of unusual DNA in the water of the loch.

The study would involve gathering water samples from various locations at different depths of Loch Ness, before analysing them using the same techniques police forensic teams use at crime scenes.

Cool!

Oh, yes. Yes it is.

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4.21.2017

Like They Do on The Discovery Channel

‘Sweet youth,
Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?’ He said, ‘My name is Love.’
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.’
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.’

So wrote Lord Alfred Douglas back in 1894, in a poem titled “Two Loves.” Homosexuality was controversial (to put it mildly) back then, but that controversy seems to be fading. In the United States, for example, only 33% of Americans believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society. Even so, Americans are divided on whether or not being gay is a “choice.” 42% of Americans believe that it is “just the way some choose to live,” with a nearly equal percentage (41%) believing that “people are born gay or lesbian.” 8% believe that sexuality is due to upbringing, and 9% were undecided.

Now, as I’ve had to say with distressing frequency thanks to the topics I choose to write on, Skeptoid is not a political organization. We’re not here to tell you to vote one way or another, or to back any specific candidate or party. That’s not what we do. Sexuality is a highly politicized topic, but we just look at the evidence, and encourage you to do the same. So, with that in mind, let’s examine the question:

“I was born this way, born this way”?

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4.14.2017

Let’s Talk About Sex

Well. That’s a headline that catches the eye, isn’t it?

Sexual orientation and gender identity are all over the news right now, and have been for… well, since ever. It’s a politically charged topic, and everyone—everyone—has an opinion on the subject. Sexuality is a powerful current running through questions of ethics and morality, religious belief and cultural expectations, and survival and propagation of the species. “Everything in the world is about sex except sex,” as Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said. “Sex is about power.”

Despite this—or, perhaps, because of this—there are a lot of misconceptions about the subject. A whole lot of misconceptions. As skeptics, it’s important that we try to step outside our own biases and preconceptions and look at the actual evidence for a topic, even one so important and integral to our species as sexuality. Or, perhaps, especially one so important.

So, Salt-N-Pepa? Take it away:

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex

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3.31.2017

…Then How Are Unvaccinated Children a Danger?

I still can’t believe I’m writing this.

Last time, which was sadly much longer ago than I intended, I was writing about whether or not vaccines work. Which, of course, they do. Every disease we have a vaccine for has seen the rate of infection (and the death rate) decline by several orders of magnitude since the vaccine was introduced. Really, this isn’t even a discussion we should be having anymore.

Except that we still have memes—like the one above—floating around. Because we still have people deliberately pushing an anti-science agenda, who are trying to put their mad ideology above human life. Why? I genuinely don’t understand. But rather than dwell on that, let’s move to the other half of that meme:

“How are unvaccinated children a danger to vaccinated children?”

“Old fool! Why, there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”

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3.22.2017

Mythbusters topics, from the Skeptoid files

The new Mythbusters: Jon Lung and Brian Louden

Awesomely, a new season of Mythbusters is afoot, with new hosts Brian Louden and Jon Lung. They were selected by winning Mythbusters: The Search hosted by Skeptoid friend Kyle Hill (you may have also noted Skeptoid Media’s The Feeding Tube host Tamara Robertson on the show).

And, equally awesomely, Brian and Jon are super friendly and approachable, and love engaging with us on social media. (This is soooo important, especially considering Mythbusters’ potential for impact on society and the world.) And recently, Brian asked me the following question: / read more…

3.20.2017

The news on the new film is…

My new film from Skeptoid Media, Principles of Curiosity, is finally in post production. This is the long-awaited sequel to my 2008 amateur film Here Be Dragons, and it is what I had originally hoped that film would be and more. It is professionally produced, super amazing, and will be released free worldwide under a Creative Commons license allowing free public and private showings. It teaches a simple method anyone can follow to learn to determine what’s real and what’s not. Think of it as a practical guide to scientific skepticism and critical thinking, enjoyable for general audiences, and optimized for classrooms. / read more…

3.3.2017

If Vaccines Work…?

I… I can’t even believe I’m writing this.

That image up there showed up in my Facebook feed, posted by a smug JAQer who—I assume—hates the idea of health and not dying of horrible diseases. And who possibly hates children as well. Thankfully, I saw it because a friend of mine who does not pine for the glory days of 16th-century medicine had laid into the JAQer with a will and a vengeance.

Distressingly, this is a trope. It’s a common tactic used by people who hate health and children and science and reason (also known as “antivaxxers,” the term I used is longer but probably more accurate) to sow confusion and spread misinformation about the benefits of vaccines by “just asking questions.” Questions that have answers, mind, but JAQers are often too intellectually dishonest to bother acknowledging those answers. It gets in the way of the soundbite.

If vaccines work?

If vaccines work?

This… this will require more than one article.  Because there’s a couple of questions to address here:  “Do they work?” and “How are unvaccinated children a threat?”.  And answering a JAQoff’s questions takes time and effort.  So, let’s just jump into the first question.

“Do vaccines work?”

Yes they work, you primitive screwhead.

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2.17.2017

Don’t Feed the Trolls?

Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

Here’s the context: I’d written about “birth certificate bonds,” and someone had come along to attempt a rebuttal that essentially started with “wake up, sheeple” and ended with “you are all fools.” It’s classic trolling behavior, really. Brian Dunning responded to him first, and I weighed in as well. Shortly thereafter, Fred asked the above question and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why did that poster deserve a cogent reply?

It was obvious that the poster here wasn’t asking genuine questions, or hoping for answers, or even engaging in a genuine discussion. But I answered him anyway, and in retrospect, Fred’s question is a good one. Why did I respond? Was it out of sheer bloody-minded belligerence, or did I have some other motive? And, to be honest, the answer is “yes.” I am bloody-mindedly belligerent (online, at least), but I did have another reason. But to understand it, we’ll need to talk about a couple of dishonest debate strategies.

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Jade Eggs for Your Kegels

There is no shortage of health fads and nonsense on the Internet, but when it comes to women’s health, actress Gwyneth Paltrow seems to lead the charge on the wackiest and most dangerous woo. Her lifestyle website and newsletter, called GOOP, recently promoted (and began selling) a dangerous and implausible practice for improving female genital health and sexual performance: the vaginal insertion of egg-shaped pieces of jade.

Jade eggs for use in Kegel exercises. Via Wikimedia

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