Don't get me wrong, I know that it's the job of advertisers to use the truth selectively and to tell a narrative that may not be completely true to reality. But every so often I notice a commercial that I have to admit is a masterwork in using completely meaningless babble to trick people into believing they're getting actual information.
Case in point, Downy's recent "Basket of Cash" commercial. Take a look, and notice how not one single point made in the commercial carries any actual real world meaning:
Now let's take a deeper look at what the ad was showing us:
I took this video while I was out at my local bookstore browsing through the bargain section. Take a look at these books, you can clearly see that they've been placed in the "Fiction" section. There's no new sign to label the start of a new section, and the next sign on has nothing to do with the paranormal or new age or anything like that.
Clearly, the store has it exactly right in placing these books firmly in the "Fiction" section! Win for our side! :clap:
I've been talking with some people about this show, and there seems to be a little bit of a division of opinion. Some people think that it's at least a step in the right direction, in that they do actually solve some paranormal phenomena. On the other hand, many people feel that the show's often shoddy methods, as well as their willingness to just call something paranormal if they can't explain it, override any good that the show does by solving cases.
I'm leaning towards the latter, but I was curious as to what Ben Radford thought, so I sent him an email. He called my attention to a video created by his fellow Monster Talk host Blake Smith (a.k.a Doctor Atlantis), who analyzed footage from another episode of the show:
So a guy sitting at his computer was able to solve this mystery more effectively than a group of "professional investigators" who actually went out and investigated. They weren't able to replicate the video, and concluded that it's probably paranormal.
Good stuff. But I also ran across this article by Ben's other Monster Talk co-host Karen Stollznow. Apparently, a group of skeptics faked a paranormal video as a promotion, and they were contacted by the people at Fact or Faked:
Along came John Maas, producer of Fact or Faked. Scouting for
paranormal footage online, Maas and his staff discovered the video and
thought it perfect “evidence” for an episode of the show. But the
footage wasn’t fantastic enough. Without ever asking if the footage was
fact or faked, Maas asked the group to re-film the scene to emphasize
that no string or magnets were used, but… to also show the planchette
moving more dramatically across the board. The producer of Fact or Faked was asking the group to fake the video.
That just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, doesn't it? I was willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt before and assume that their shoddy investigation of those lights in the sky was due to incompetence.
I did wonder if they faked the video, but I didn't want to make that accusation right up front. Now that I have evidence of the show's shady methods, however, I think it's reasonable to strongly suspect that they actively faked that video of the moving light.
It does seem quite convenient that they caught something on the one night that they just happened to show up, doesn't it?
Of course, this isn't proof that the video was faked. It could very well be that there's some common atmospheric phenomenon that would reliably generate these kinds of effects, and that you'd stand a good chance of spotting it on any random night.
But to me, this evidence of the show's culture of deception seriously impedes my ability to give them the benefit of the doubt. Whenever they happen to capture what they claim is evidence of the paranormal, I'm going to have to seriously wonder whether they're dealing honestly or just faking stuff.
I came across this interesting looking show the other week, and it looked like it would be a great opportunity to record it to my computer so that I could analyze it at my leisure and see what I have to say about it.
The show is called Fact Or Faked: Paranormal Files
In concept, this is very much the kind of television programming I'd like to see more of. This is a group of six investigators gathered together by a former FBI agent in order to investigate paranormal claims. This stalwart band of paranormal sleuths is introduced during the opening credits as follows:
Ben: Former FBI Agent Bill: Lead Scientist Jael: Journalist Larry: Effects Specialist Chi-Lan: Photography Expert Austin: Stunt Expert
I'm a little concerned by the "Lead Scientist" designation for Bill. Without any more information, calling somebody a "Lead Scientist" is absolutely meaningless. What's his expertise? What are his credentials?
I've mused before about how to think about expertise. The experts are more likely to have their facts straight, so when an expert gives you a fact you should certainly take it seriously. But even when people have all their facts straight, they can still be wrong in their conclusions. That's why I don't have a problem with people questioning the experts. Even if you're wrong, I believe there's a benefit to bringing up these kind of challenges. It's just when people aren't willing to listen to the rebuttals and understand what's being said that things get out of hand.
I just came across a perfect example about how expert, in-depth knowledge of a subject, is no guarantee that your conclusions are in any way valid. I've transcribed a quote from Michael Heisser, who actually gave a very good speech debunking the claims of ancient alien theorist Zechariah Sitchin. Sitchin makes claims to be an expert on ancient languages and to have made some incredible translations. Heisser, who actually is an expert in ancient languages, shows quite clearly that Sitchin is just full of it. But that doesn't mean that Heisser doesn't have poorly thought out ideas about the subject himself, as shown by the following quote from the question and answer segment:
If you paid attention to my last podcast, you'll remember that I promoted the book The Invisible Gorilla by by
Christopher Chabris, and Daniel Simon. If you haven't looked into the book as I suggested, and you've never heard of the experiment that it references, take a look at this video before continuing:
It's a fascinating book, and to get it in audiobook format simply follow this link, and if you don't have an audible.com account you can get one here, along with a 14 day free trial and a free audiobook. The book is fascinating, and I highly recommend reading it. What I want to talk about today involves another subject mentioned in the book, and I have a couple of videos that illustrate the concept. If you've already seen these first videos, you might still want to scroll past them to the other funny videos I'm posting because I think you'll enjoy them. The first one is from Richard Wiseman's Quirkology channel:
Here's a clip I captured from a documentary called "Clash of the Dinosaurs":
Notice how this claim is made in no uncertain terms, like it's just a paleontological fact that's widely accepted in the scientific community?
By the way, I know we have some sonic weapons that generate a painful high pitched sound, there's no need to write in and remind me of that. The thing is, though, if it was confirmed that we could actually scramble an enemy's brains or knock them over with sound, our sonic weapons would be much more awesome than they actually are.
I'm about half a year behind all the big discussion in the skeptical community on this. I've talked about it a bit on other forums and the like, but have remained mostly silent on my blog. There are a couple of reasons for this - first of all, I like to let ideas percolate in my mind before writing about them here. Second, and probably more importantly, I prefer to avoid talking about things that every other skeptical blog is talking about. So I feel like now that the talk over this issue has died down somewhat, that it's the perfect time for a dumbass like me to jump into the fray!
What I'm talking about is Phil Plait's infamous "Don't Be A Dick" speech. I'll embed the videos at the end of this article so that you can have a look at it for yourself. I personally thought that it was a pretty good speech, but I've found myself surprised at some of the reaction to it in the skeptical community. It seems that people are just flagrantly misinterpreting what Phil Plait actually said, which seems extremely strange to me since Phil made a very big deal about writing out his arguments in very specific language in order to avoid misunderstandings.
The gist of the speech is that Phil is alarmed at how some people in the skeptical movement "do skepticism". His message is that when you're practicing skepticism and critical thinking, that you should try and avoid being "a dick".
So, what does Phil mean by being a dick? Well, he was also pretty clear about that as well. Phil said that he was concerned that:
You've got to love the crystal skulls. They're little skulls that started showing up only in the past 100 - 200 years or so. They've never actually been discovered by any documented archaeological dig, they seem to just be sold to tourists for fun. But that doesn't stop people from claiming without any evidence that they're ancient in origin:
I'm not aware of these myths of crystal skulls among ancient people, I'd really like to know where that's coming from. But I love this idea that there are 13 skulls hidden in remote and hazardous areas of the earth waiting until mankind is ready to discover them. That's the plot of a movie right there!
They love to just make up stuff and hope that nobody notices. For example, they say that the famous Mitchell-Hedges skull was verified as being over 12,000 years old by scientists at the Hewlett-Packard labs. The skull was brought to the lab, but the scientists never did any tests to determine it's age. All they found out was that the skull was all made from the same piece of crystal.
So they can truthfully say that they took it in for scientific testing, then fib about the results hoping that nobody would look into it too deeply.
The crystal skulls are really one area where proponents really don't have a single shred of evidence to go on. All they manage to come up with is speculation. I mean, they claim that if you put them together they'll form a computer? That didn't come from any evidence, that's just something that some guy pulled out of thin air!
It's an entertaining theory though, so at least it's got that going for it. Good fiction should ideally be entertaining, after all.
This is a PSA that ran here in Canada that people from other places around the world might not have gotten the chance to see. I particularly enjoy it because it encourages critical thinking, and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it as well:
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