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Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You [A Review]

Wednesday August 19, 2009 2 comments

Introduction

Is it possible to know what someone is like simply by looking at their stuff? I’ve learned quite a bit about that very distinct possibility after reading Dr. Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You . From organizational habits, to the music they listen to, to the posters and pictures they hang on the wall (and how those pictures are hung), you can learn a lot about someone’s goals, their personality, and even their hopes and dreams.

The foundation for this science of snooping is based upon the “Big 5” personality traits, commonly referred to as the “OCEAN.” These are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Wikipedia has an excellent article laying out what exactly the “OCEAN” is all about and what the exact properties of each of the 5 traits are.

Stereotypes

When we think of stereotypes, we think of judging people based on their appearances. Dr. Gosling teaches us in this book that we are constantly using stereotypes to judge our surroundings and that, in general, stereotypes are a good thing. If we didn’t use stereotypes, every experience we had would be brand new.

In chapter 7, “In Defense of Stereotypes,” he says…

Imagine you are walking along a path in the jungle and you hear the roar of a tiger. You turn and, behind a nearby bush, you see the tail of the tiger. Although you have yet to see the whole beast, it’s a good bet that you’re in danger of encountering a tiger, not a hitherto undiscovered species of shrew with the tail and roar of a tiger. You would be wise to make a run for it, or do whatever you are supposed to do when encountering a tiger (although, of course, if it really was a tiger-tailed shrew you might have just missed the biological find of the century). The example shows that we use stereotypes to fill in the gaps when we are unable to gather all the information. And most everyday opportunities for perception are riddled with gaps. If you didn’t use stereotypes, you would be overwhelmed, because every item, person, and experience in life would have to be treated as though it were a totally new experience, not part of a broader class.

Music

Gosling tells us that music is also a huge part of what defines us. More specifically, there are certain types of music for which, if you notice CD from particular genres laying around someone’s apartment, will be more indicative of someone’s personality, religious or political views.

For example, Gosling says that studies have shown that Contemporary Religious, Country and Classical music are fairly accurate at determining personality as compared with Soul, Pop and Rap.

Gosling also provides some interesting data charts involving what music people listen to and the drug preferences they have, what values they hold, physical characteristics and more.

More

I don’t want to give away too much about Dr. Gosling’s book, so I’ll just briefly touch on some other points made throughout.

Dr. Gosling talks a lot about people’s personality traits and how these traits are reflected in their living spaces. They leave a “residue” behind. Is this person disorganized? Conscientious? An active person? Are they trying to deceive you with the appearance of their living quarters?

He talks about things such as personal webpages, email signatures, blogs, etc. These things can say a lot about a person. He also touches on the fact that in some cases, facial features can say something about the person (the “snoopee”).

A big part of people’s lives, Dr. Gosling says, are what he calls their “feeling regulators.” Objects they keep around themselves to remind themselves of past accomplishments, family or loved ones, famous people, idols, etc. These serve as motivation, calming elements or any other type of way to regulate feelings.

Homes Built To Fit Your Personality

In the final chapter of this book, Dr. Gosling talks of how an architect by the name of Chris Travis builds homes to suit the inhabitant’s personality. He calls the process of determining the layout of the new home the “Truehome Method.” A very unique idea, and ironic, because much of what Travis had been doing with architecture was right in line with the research that Dr. Gosling was discovering with his “snooping.” People with different personalities, and especially among couples, have different spacial wants and needs.

When I visited Travis and looked at some of the plans he had created for his client’s houses, I quickly saw how his understanding of the functions of a living space differs from that of a conventional architect. One plan was stretched out on a long table. Whereas a conventional architect might use labels such as family room, back porch, and master bedroom, Travis’s labels denote the feelings each space must evoke for the home’s owners.

Conclusion

Dr. Sam Gosling’s book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You is a great read. Not only does it show how you can learn a lot about others just by looking at their stuff, but you can learn a lot about yourself in the same way. You can be your own “snoopee.”

What does your workspace look like? Is your desk a mess? Does it look like no one has ever used it? Do you have pictures hanging on the walls or on the desk? Which way do they face? Toward you, or toward your vistors? Your stuff says a lot about you.

Categories: All, Books, Psychology, Science

Reflexology Is A Science? So Says “The Citizen” (Auburn, NY)

Thursday July 23, 2009 81 comments

So I was browsing through “The Citizen,” the online local paper from Auburn, NY and stumbled upon an article about reflexology. You know, the “holistic,” alternative mode of treating basically any disease by rubbing your feet? Yeah, I was caught off guard, too.

According to this article, reflexology is a science. Oooh. Sounds scientific… until you get into what reflexology really is.

Reflexology (zone therapy) is an alternative medicine method involving the practice of massaging or applying pressure to parts of the feet, or sometimes the hands and ears, with the goal of encouraging a beneficial effect on other parts of the body, or to improve general health.

Improve general health? Wait a minute. That sounds pretty vague. I think I’ll need some more information before I buy into something like that.

The article says that…

It is a science because it is based on physiological and neurological studies…

Really? I’d be curious to read about those studies. Where will I find them? The New England Journal Of Medicine? The Journal Of The American Medical Association? A quick search on PubMed doesn’t reveal any studies concerning the efficacy of reflexology, or that even address the claims that reflexology makes. So much for that claim.

What I want to direct your attention to is the following statement from this article

…but the art of reflexology must not be confused with a basic foot massage. It is a pressure technique which works on precise reflex points of the feet. This is based on the premise that reflex areas on the feet correspond with all body parts.

Reflexology

Put simply, this whole “science” of reflexology is based on a false premise. There are no “reflex points” on the feet which correspond to any other body parts. This is simply New Age, woo woo, nonsense.

Dr. Stephen Barrett, M.D. points on in an article on QuackWatch that…

The pathways postulated by reflexologists have not been anatomically demonstrated; and it is safe to assume that they do not exist. Similar rationales are used employed by iridologists (who imagine that eye markings represent disease throughout the body) and auricular acupuncturists who “map” body organs on the ear (a homunculus in the fetal position). The methodology is similar in both of these; and some commentators consider pressing on “acupuncture points” on the ear or elsewhere to be forms of reflexology, but most people refer to that as acupressure (“acupuncture without needles). The Reflexology Research Web site displays charts for foot and hand reflexology. The fees I have seen advertised have ranged from $35 to $100 per session.

Strange. This supposed “science” has not been anatomically demonstrated. Not much of a science, if you ask me.

Now, the author of this article, Diane DelPiano gives a decent, although short, account of the history of reflexology. But, the article is altogether credulous of the claims made. She goes on to say that…

Reflexologist’s believe that granular accumulations of waste matter called uric acid crystals concentrate around reflex points. With training, you can feel these accumulations. The goal is to break these accumulations down to open the energy pathways and improve the blood flow to the reflex organs. It is also intended to open blocked nerve pathways and helps to flush toxins out of the body.

The good ol’ “toxin” gimmick. Nobody wants toxins in their body. But, what toxins? You’ll never hear a reflexology, or any New Age, alternative medicine practitioner mention specific toxins. Just the general term. Even the term “uric acid crystals” is bunk. Here’s some information about uric acid from a Wikipedia article on the subject.

In humans and higher primates, uric acid is the final oxidation (breakdown) product of purine metabolism and is excreted in urine. In most other mammals, the enzyme uricase further oxidizes uric acid to allantoin.[2] The loss of uricase in higher primates parallels the similar loss of the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid.[3] Both uric acid and ascorbic acid are strong reducing agents (electron donors) and potent antioxidants. In humans, over half the antioxidant capacity of blood plasma comes from uric acid.

Don’t alternative medicine practitioners go on and on about how important antioxidants are? This is simply an example of stupid. Or FAIL, if that’s your favorite pejorative term. Not only is uric acid not a toxin, but it’s also necessary for the human body.

The stupid!! It hurts!!

There are no toxins in your feet, or anywhere else in your body. The kidneys, the liver… they’re purpose is to remove those things automatically. And how much more natural can you get than that?

I found an interesting quote from a blogger on the Fighting Spurious Complementary & Alternative Medicine (SCAM) blog that speaks well to the “detox” myth.

Detoxification is a common feature of alternative medicine, but I have yet to find anyone who can name the toxins that need to be removed from the body or explain how each treatment will remove these toxins.

If toxins accumulated in the body as is now suggested by practitioners of “natural medicine” then the human race would have died out centuries ago. There were no detox diets for the knights of the middle ages.

Before this post gets to be too long, I’ll just finish with addressing the final part of this article which deals with the “benefits” of reflexology.

Further benefits of reflexology include: relaxation and stress reduction, improved circulation and oxygenation, improved lymphatic flow and stimulation of the immune system. Additionally, by stimulating the immune system, reflexology helps the body take up more nutrients and helps to revitalize and energize the body.

While these seem to be evidence of an effective modality, a close look reveals something quite different. It’s relaxing. It “improves” circulation and oxygenation, “improved” lymphatic flow, and it “stimulates the immune system.” These claims are so vague and general that you couldn’t even begin to test them. What does “improved lymphatic flow” even mean, in a medical sense? How specifically does it “stimulate” the immune system? Does it inject foreign bodies for it to attack, similar to how immunizations work?

No, there is no mechanism. It’s just New Age, magical energy nonsense. The reason for such vague and non-specific claims is, as I said before, to avoid lawsuits for false medical claims. Reflexology is nothing more than a massage.

But don’t take my word for it. The next time you see your podiatrist, ask him about “energy flow,” “toxins” and “reflex points.” I bet you’ll get a little chuckle before he tells you that alternative medicine is dangerous to your health, simply for the fact that it doesn’t actually do anything.

If you’ve got something seriously wrong with you, and you go see a “naturopath,” or an alternative medicine practitioner before you see a real doctor, you could end up seriously injured, or dead. Just take a look at WhatsTheHarm.net. You can read all about people who have suffered (or died) at the hands of those practicing “alternative medicine.”

It’s not just a “different kind of medicine.” It’s wrong.

Again, here is the link to the article in question.

Dr. Larry Dossey & “Premonition Science” [A Skeptical Look]

Friday July 10, 2009 2 comments

Introduction

Before you dig your heels in and attack this post, I’ll refer to this one. I think it’ll give you some necessary background; some perspective on Dr. Dossey so you can see where I’m coming from.

In the aforementioned post, there was an interview with Dr. Dossey in which he discussed his book, The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives. I’d only talked briefly about that interview because there were other things to discuss. But, this entry is dedicated entirely to that interview. (I’d recommend keeping another window with this interview opened so you can switch back and forth.)

Seeing how this is the introduction, I’ll introduce you to what you’re about to read. Now, Dr. Larry Dossey is an actual doctor. But, from his methods of reasoning, you’d be surprised. For anyone familiar with the Scientific Method, you’ll find yourself baffled, stunned, and quite flummoxed.

Dr. Dossey relies heavily on anecdotal evidence (stories) for proof of his claims. Anyone involved in science, especially in a professional sense, knows that anecdotes are not in any way reliable proof of anything. It’s hearsay.

Essentially, what you’re about to find out is that what Dr. Dossey refers to as “Premonition Science” is really just faulty reasoning and bad logic.

Dr. Dossey’s Premonitions

Basically, what Dr. Dossey refers to as “premonitions” are instinctual reactions, or anticipation of an unpleasant event sprinkled with a dash of Supernaturalism and New Age philosophy.

Consider the first 3 questions of that interview and it’ll give you a good idea of what Dossey means by a premonition. In a word, Dossey’s premonition is a hunch. An idea that something might happen. Let’s look at the following question for an example of this.

4. Why are premonitions about unpleasant things? Why don’t we have
premonitions about winning the lottery, the right stocks to pick, or when to bail out of the stock market?

He responds by saying that premonitions are “trying to do us a favor.” In this context Dossey’s premonitions are really just manifestations of the fight or flight response. We’ve evolved to anticipate the “unpleasant.” That’s how we’ve survived and made it to the top of the food chain. If we were slow to respond when a tiger was in the bushes, we’d be long gone by now.

Now that we live in a relatively “controlled” environment, these instincts are now free to be applied to other things. We worry. We anticipate pain, discomfort and other “unpleasant” things. These instincts are how we protect ourselves from harm. There’s no need to insert the supernatural when the natural perfectly explains everything.

Dossey says he wrote this book because the time was right, that…

…science has come onto the premonitions scene. There are now hundreds of experiments that confirm premonitions, which have been replicated by researchers all over the world.

Really? Wouldn’t it make sense that these “researchers all over the world” would manage to get published in at least ONE peer reviewed, scientific journal? A PubMed search reveals 0 (ZERO) studies involving the search term “premonitions” in the context which Dr. Dossey is talking about. Maybe saying “researchers all over the world” is slightly exaggerated. Maybe it was one study he did at his house?

6. If people can see the future, why don’t they get rich playing the stock market?

Dossey claims that they do, and that this success is proved with studies of CEO’s predicting random series of numbers.

Researchers have tested CEOs of successful corporations for their ability to see the future, such as predicting a string of numbers they will be shown later. The CEOs who are good at this are usually those who are also highly successful in running their corporations.

What was the range of numbers? 1 – 10? 1 – 1,000,000? How were these tests conducted? What is the correlation between guessing numbers and determining the most successful corporate balance sheets? In the corporate culture, being able to determine the “most successful balance sheets” is a requirement. So, they all had better score well on that test.

What this seems like is cherry-picking evidence.

Interestingly, these CEOs were shy about owning their premonition sense. They didn’t call their abilities premonitions, but good “business sense.”

Dr. Dossey, maybe you should listen to them… because they’re right! That’s all it is. Good business sense.

9. You talk about “evidence” for premonitions. But isn’t the evidence just
anecdotes and people’s stories?

I would ask the same thing.

This field used to be only about stories, but that’s changed. There’s now a
science of premonitions. For the first time in history, we can now use
“premonition” and “science” in the same sentence.

Strange. I’d refer you back to that PubMed search which reveals ZERO results for “premonitions” in the scientific literature.

I think a great deal of what Dr. Dossey calls “premonitions” can be placed in the confirmation bias category. People remember when their “premonition” is fulfilled. But, what about all of the other countless “premonitions” that never panned out? Those are quickly forgotten, and all of the emphasis is placed upon the predictions that came true.

I would venture to guess that people who worry a lot are also disproportionately more likely to believe they’ve had premonitions. They spend a great deal more time worrying and “predicting” bad things that might happen. This also means they have a greater chance of “predicting” when something bad will happen, simply because of the sheer number of predictions that they make during the course of the day. The odds are that they’ll get a hit more often than those who don’t worry as much.

There have been claims that people on the Titanic had premonitions about the ship going down. That might seem astonishing at first. But, I submit that there is not a single ship, car, train, or bicycle in existence in which someone hasn’t worried about it breaking, crashing or sinking. You wouldn’t find one. Because people worry, there will always be premonitions like this. There is nothing supernatural about it.

Think about it this way. How many times during the course of a single day do people get nervous and decide not to fly, take a train or a boat – all over the globe? The only reason it was paid attention to in the case of the Titanic was because of how famous the event was.

Premonitions As Science?

Tell me if you think this sounds like scientific thinking…

But the premise of my book is that these events are not rare at all, but very common.

Most skeptics are poorly informed. They simply ignore the experiments showing that people can sense the future, because these studies create huge holes in their arguments.

Many skeptics will not be persuaded that premonitions are real, no matter how compelling the evidence is.

Personal experience is probably the best argument against the skeptics of
premonitions.

And…

Cases like this suggest that the best evidence for premonitions is not argument or even experimental evidence, but personal experience.

This is a trained scientists talking? I’ve searched the web and was unable to find ONE reliable journal willing to publish anything about these experiments. Not only this, but when he says that “the best evidence for premonitions is not argument or even experimental evidence, but personal experience,” I cringe because this is exactly what science teaches us is not the kind of thing we can rely on. No controls, the fallibility of human memory, no reliable documentation by independent sources, etc.

Dossey then goes on to say that…

Scientists don’t really know what time is. We assume it flows in one direction, which prohibits premonitions. But no experiment in the history of science has ever shown that time flows in one direction, or that it flows at all. Alternative views of time are downright cordial to premonitions.

While there is a bit of truth to this statement, we do know that we can’t simply travel through time with our minds. Michio Kaku explains this here.

Dr. Dossey wants us to believe that we can somehow use this mysterious, New Age “energy” in our mind to travel through time and perceive the future. Not quite. The power of an exploding star is required. Not only this, but that incomprehensible amount of power has to be directed in such a specific way so as to bend the Universe into the shape of a pretzel.

And then this guy has the nerve to bring up “Remote Viewing.” Are you serious? And Radin’s “presentiment” experiments. These have long been debunked. There was no “precognition.” The effects have been conclusively shown to be the result of expectation, and not “premonition.”

In fact, Wikipedia says this to say…

Remote viewing was popularized in the 1990s, following the declassification of documents related to the Stargate Project, a 20 million dollar research program sponsored by the U.S. Federal Government to determine any potential military application of psychic phenomena. The program was terminated in 1995, citing a lack of documented evidence that the program had any value to the intelligence community.

Yes, that’s right. The program was terminated because of “a lack of documented evidence that the program had any value to the intelligence community.”

Richard Wiseman actually just recently conducted a study on Twitter testing “Remote Viewing” abilities. You can see a video about it here. The result: Fail. No Remote Viewing capabilities found.

Conclusion

The evidence just doesn’t stack up. Everything that Dossey claims can be explained by perfectly natural means, and these premonitions actually fit better in a natural setting. Inserting supernatural explanations only complicates matters.

Like a lot of proponents of pseudoscience, I think Dr. Dossey uses his status as a doctor to promote ideas which are not supported by scientific research. The argument from authority. He’s a doctor, so we must believe him by virtue of that fact alone. But, I suppose that’s all he’s got, since the science doesn’t agree with what he’s claiming.

Even from a very basic scientific standpoint, Dr. Dossey hasn’t even provided a mechanism for how these premonitions might work. How do premonitions function? What part of the brain do they stem from? What energy source do they draw upon for their predictions? Is it part of the electromagnetic spectrum? Is it potential or kinetic energy? Where is this source of information about the future from which our minds can draw from? There are so many unanswered questions, and yet Dr. Dossey claims that there is science to support his claims.

What I can say is that it does seem to make sense when we take a look at premonitions under a more practical, logical, skeptical light. They seem to be the result of instinct, anticipation, worry, and anxiety all wrapped up in chance and statistics.

One person worrying about something, only to have it happen just the way they predicted would be an astonishing thing. There’s no doubt about that. But, when we take into account all of the worriers across the globe, and we span all of their worries over the span of 365 days, the chances of ONE of those worries from ONE of those billions of people coming true, we get a statistical certainty that these premonitions will come to pass. And not just once, but hundreds, if not thousands of times over the course of a year.

It’s really not all that astonishing or baffling when you take a skeptical look at this phenomena.

And that’s all I’ve got.

Read a book. It’s good for you.

Dr. Larry Dossey’s “Premonitions,” Or An Exercise In Statistical Ignorance

Tuesday July 7, 2009 3 comments

Introduction

I’d never heard of Dr. Larry Dossey before Steve Gibson of the Truth-Driven Thinking podcast Tweeted about him, wondering if there were any skeptical viewpoints on his work. But a quick perusing of Dr. Dossey’s site provided enough woo for a week and a half, at least. Here’s just a little taste of what I’m talking about…

An education steeped in traditional Western medicine did not prepare Dr. Dossey for patients who were blessed with “miracle cures,” remissions that clinical medicine could not explain. “Almost all physicians possess a lavish list of strange happenings unexplainable by normal science,” says Dr. Dossey. A tally of these events would demonstrate, I am convinced, that medical science not only has not had the last word, it has hardly had the first word on how the world works, especially when the mind is involved.”

I could dive right in and point out logical fallacies, such as assuming that a remission which “clinical medicine could not explain” has to be the result of something “supernatural.” This is a classic example of the argument from ignorance. We don’t know the cause of something, therefore it must be supernatural.

But that point aside, I’ve found that there really aren’t any skeptical points of view offered countering Dr. Dossey’s arguments. So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to take this subject on.

Who Is Dr. Larry Dossey?

For a little more info on Dossey’s work with “premonitions,” here’s an interview with him about his book, “The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives.” (Expect a blog entry on this interview. It’s too good to pass up.)

Here is an excerpt from the aforementioned interview…

Why did you write this book?

I actually tried not to write it. I largely ignored this stuff for years, but this didn’t work very well. My own experiences of premonitions grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

During my first year in medical practice as an internist, I had a dream premonition that shook me up and made me realize the world worked differently than I had been taught.

This doesn’t exactly line up with his history. In a New York Times article about him, it says…

Dr. Dossey’s own relationship with religion is a complicated one. He had a fervent fundamentalist childhood in a farming community near Waco, Texas. As a teen-ager he played gospel piano in the one-room church, toured with a fiery revival preacher and planned to enter the ministry.

He was obviously very steeped in religion, and this way that “the world worked” is exactly what he was taught as a young man, and it seems that these religious views have had a tremendous impact on his scientific mode of thinking.

You could say it tainted his perception or implementation of the scientific method. Let’s explore further.

Before we get into specifics of Dr. Dossey’s claims, let’s take a look at his scientific credibility. Essentially, what one looks for in a credentialed scientist are publications in peer reviewed journals. Journals highly respected in the scientific community for their rigor and high standards of proof. It is also important that data being presented by the author of a study be replicable by anyone interested in furthering research in the field of study.

A PubMed search on Dr. Larry Dossey reveals that he is published entirely in 2 journals: Explore, and Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine.

The first thing to note about these two journals is that they are entirely dedicated to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). And what’s the harm in that? None of these so-called “alternative” therapies have been shown to work! These journals are not scientifically based. They have a low standard of proof. Essentially, if what you write agrees with their worldview, you get published.

Not only this, but take a look at some of the titles of Dr. Dossey’s articles published in these journals (no abstracts available for these):

  • Listerine’s Long Shadow: Disease Mongering And The Selling Of Sickness
  • Transplants, Cellular Memory, And Reincarnation
  • Premonitions

These seem to be either (a) conspiracy theories, or (b) religious or supernatural in nature. There doesn’t seem to be anything based on science, medicine or evidence here. And so it seems with all of his articles. But it would be hard to say for certain, as there are no abstracts available.

Let’s go on to a further, reinforcing point in this regard. If you visit Dr. Dossey’s “Biography” page and you scroll down a little bit, you find that he is the current Executive Editor of the very same Explore journal that he is published in. Not only that, but he was also the Executive Editor of the very same Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine journal from 1995-2003.

There seems to be a conflict of interest here. How convenient that he’s published many times over in journals that he is, or was, the Executive Editor of. Not only that, but these are the only journals he is published in. No publications in Nature, The New England Journal Of Medicine, no publications in The Journal Of The American Medical Association (JAMA)? You know, those reputable journals that actually employ peer review?

This is a major red flag. Only being published in journals that you’re responsible for editing. Not good.

Premonitions, Or Statistical Certainties?

Let us get to Dr. Dossey’s claims.

The first premonition he speaks about in his interview is a young woman having a dream in which a chandelier above her child’s crib falls and crushes the baby at 4:35am, during a thunderstorm.

He claims that the woman wakes up from this dream (premonition) and takes the child out of the room for fear of what she dreamt about. Soon after, she’s awakened again by the sound of the chandelier crashing into the crib, and the clock reads 4:35am.

With this story, Dr. Dossey reasons that this is absolute proof of what he refers to as a “premonition.” But, let’s be honest. There’s hardly enough evidence here to say anything for certain.

Let’s take skeptical look at what’s going on here. And, for some help with this, I direct your attention to an interesting article dealing with this very type of phenomenon from About.com.

Essentially, what is at work here is the Law Of Large Numbers (LLN). Dr. Dossey is looking at this “premonition” from a short-sighted frame of mind. A vista, if you will, lined with superstitions, bad logic and faulty reasoning.

Yes, if we were to simply look at this one story of a woman awakened in the night by a dream, only to have the very same thing happen only a short time later, this would seem remarkable. But Dr. Dossey has, intentionally or not, ignored the number of people sleeping on that particular night, as night proceeded across the entire planet over that 24 hour period. Billions of people.

From this perspective, the probability that someone would dream about something that eventually happens, even if it were 1 in 1,000,000, would happen hundreds of times over the course of that one night, to people all over the globe!! It’s a statistical certainty! This is not even taking into account the 365 nights of the year that those possible billions of people could have something like this happen.

Conclusion

For all of the stress that Dr. Dossey puts on the importance of these “premonitions;” for all the emphasis on these seemingly remarkable, astounding occurrences, I think he fails to take into account an even more remarkable possibility – namely that something like this would never happen!

Consider the billions of people all over the world. For one of them to think of something, and have it happen at a  later time. It really isn’t that remarkable. In fact, it is guaranteed to happen. It would be a miracle if it didn’t happen!

And, to Dr. Dossey’s dismay, it doesn’t require any supernatural force to make it happen. That’s just the way the ball bounces. It’s statistics. Take this example from the aforementioned About.com article…

…For example, if we flipped five coins at once, the probability of getting five heads is 1/32, or about .03. But if we repeated the flipping of five coins ten times, the probability of getting five heads somewhere in the ten tests is about .27. If we ran 100 tests, the probability of five heads rises to .96, which is highly probable indeed. [a probability of 1.0 is a certainty] But if we stopped anywhere in these 100 tests and asked what the probability would be of getting five heads on the very next trial, we are back to the starting probability of .03 because we have switched from a long-run question to a short-run question.

So yes, the odds of something like this happening to one particular person are astronomically small. BUT, we aren’t considering one person. We have to consider everyone on the planet. And that’s how we go from astronomically small odds to absolute certainty that these “premonitions” (coincidences) will happen.

And that’s why I entitled this post “An Exercise In Statistical Ignorance.” Dr. Dossey is simply ignorant of how statistics work. But, we all are. It’s part of being human. We don’t understand everything. We have weaknesses.

It is of utmost importance for us to try to understand those weaknesses, and to try to overcome them. It’s what being a Skeptic is all about. Now, what’s happened here is that in the face of these weaknesses, Dr. Dossey has ascribed supernatural causes to what are merely statistical certainties.

I hope this post was informative and helpful.

Does It Help To Believe God Did It?

Saturday January 31, 2009 1 comment

Introduction

The other day I was listening to an episode of The Infidel Guy. Specifically, the episode where Reggie was debating Kent Hovind, the Intelligent Design (Creationist) whacko.

Following that 2-hour debate, my thoughts began to wander over the next few days. Hovind’s basic premise is that God created the world in 6 literal days. He also claims that this is Christian “Science.” His Young Earth Creationism is “science” in his mind.

Hovind says Creationism is science. But, I think he fails to understand what exactly science is. He says that there’s no evidence to support evolution. Yet, he provides no evidence to support God creating the world in 6 literal days. He even admits, on the show, that belief in Creationism is faith-based. Although, he also claims that “belief” in evolution is faith-based.

There’s a huge, glaring problem with his analysis, though…

Applications Of Creation Science

At the very end of the show, a geneticist called in, asking Hovind if he thought his ideas were scientific. He, obviously, replied that they were.

And this is where religion and science part ways. One of the main objectives in science is to create real-world applications from its discoveries. And, in order for that to happen, theories in science have to be able to make predictions.

When pressed for answers, or more precisely, pressed for a scientific application that could be used from knowing God created the world in 6 literal days, Hovind repeatedly danced around the issue, refusing to answer the question.

And with good reason. There is no real-world application from knowing God created the Earth in 6 literal days. In fact, it would hinder science to even consider that premise.

There’s no way you can use that information to better the human condition, or to generate new technology – in contrast with understanding the principles behind modern medicine and biology (based entirely on evolutionary theory), which provides us with cures for diseases and bettering of the quality of life for humans. Not a common trait of religion.

There is nothing about religion and the “scientific” claims that it’s proponents put forth that can make any predictions about any physical phenomena.

In science, plate tectonic theory predicts how continents will move over time, Germ Theory describes and predicts how diseases behave, and then, of course, there’s the good old Theory Of Gravity and Evolutionary Theory.

Creation “science” can predict nothing.

God Is Not Exempt From Logic

Let’s assume God did, in fact, create the Earth in 6 literal days. Ok. Fine. That doesn’t answer any questions.

How did God do it? Who created God? Is it turtles all the way down? You can’t assume that the Universe is too complicated to just have formed on its own, yet conclude that a God with infinite powers could just have always been. It’s absurd. As Bertrand Russell said in Why I Am Not A Christian

If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.

The Idea Of God Does Not Advance Science

Back to the question posed for Hovind. Are there any applications in “Creation Science” that can be used in real-world situations which will enhance our understanding of the Universe?

No. There aren’t any. And this is why science is, in an epistemological sense, superior to religion. It serves no purpose to consider God in the lab, or in any scenario where we are searching for knowledge and understanding. In fact, it hinders progress.

Let’s take electricity, for an example. What do we understand about electricity? We know how it flows, we know which materials conduct and resist it. We know, basically, everything about it, with this knowledge coming mostly from Atomic Theory. And what role does God play?

None.

What would happen if we tried to insert God? Well, nothing. What role would God play? Essentially, a believer would simply say, “Electricity works that way because God made it work that way.” This doesn’t help matters.

But, Maxwell was able to determine exactly why electricity works the way it does with his equations. And if you look closely, you’ll notice in those equations that the name “God” doesn’t appear anywhere in there. And yet, they still manage to explain everything perfectly. God is not needed to explain these things.

Take No Thought For Tomorrow

So what does this all mean? Essentially, the basic premise behind Creationist arguments is that things are the way they are because God did it. But, in the lab, that answer is not enough. We need to know the why’s and how’s. To simply insert magical thinking distorts and confuses matters. If there is a God who can reach in and “mess with” our test results, then the result is chaos. We couldn’t rely on any observations simply because we wouldn’t know if God is messing with things.

In science, we have to assume there is no God messing with things in order to get accurate results. To extrapolate this further, to common, everyday experience, we have to live life assuming there is no God in order to function. We can’t depend on a God to “make things right,” or to hope he will take care of us. If we were to take the Bible’s advice (Matthew 6:28-33), in the words of Jesus…

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: ) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you…

It’s impossible to live that way. No one, in reality, lives life like God is going to take care of everything. That mind-set is saved for Sunday morning. When one is sitting in the pew, safe from having to make any decisions.

No one walks into a busy street without looking both ways because they’ve decided to “take no thought” for tomorrow. You might seek first the kingdom of Heaven, but in the meantime, you should probably look both ways before crossing the road. The laws of physics don’t stop for God.

You have to look out for yourself. God is not going to do it for you. That type of thinking is dangerous.

Conclusion

I could go on, but I’m heading toward the topic of Free Will, and it’s not something I want to get into right now. What I will do is say that I’m open to criticism and constructive dialogue. If I’m wrong, tell me.

But, don’t expect me to just take your word for it. I’ll need evidence. Show me where I’m wrong. Don’t tell me that I don’t have enough “faith,” because that is not an answer. You have faith in Jesus, and another person has faith in Allah, and someone else has faith in Krishna. They are all equally faithful and they can’t all be right. And, in fact, they’re all on equal footing. The best any of these groups can do is claim “faith.”

And faith is not, contrary to popular opinion, a virtue. Belief in something for no other reason than because you choose to is not a valid reason. At least, not in terms of using that reason to convince others that they, also, need to believe. There needs to be some type of evidence. Some tangible reason to accept a belief system. You wouldn’t take a pill Phizer created just because you’ve got “faith” in the drug’s effectiveness. Where are the results of the clinical trials?

Ok, so that’s enough for now. I’ll end with that.

Read a book. It’s good for you.

“Darwin On Trial” By Phillip Johnson [More Lying For Jesus]

Saturday December 20, 2008 Leave a comment

First off, I’m not here to write an extensive review of this book; exposing all of the false, misleading or incorrect information contained in it. Eugenie Scott, of  National Center for Science Education (NCSE) fame, already wrote an excellent review doing just that.

I’m here simply to express my frustration with what I perceive as great intellectual dishonesty (lying for Jesus).

I suppose one of my main problems with Johnson’s thesis is that he doesn’t offer any alternatives to evolution in his book. Well, no alternatives other than magic (God).

He also plays a good bluff. You’d think, with his apparent extensive knowledge of evolutionary biology, that his case is quite relevant. This is not so. He merely states the same old misconceptions in a more eloquent, sophisticated manner. He is a lawyer, after all (Truth Modification Engineer?). One of my favorite quotes in Scott’s review of Johnson’s book says:

Johnson has grasped the general picture of evolutionary biology, and even some of the details, but he lacks the deep understanding that is required to make the criticisms he makes. A deep understanding of a field comes from careful study of relevant literature, including primary sources, and communication with specialists in the field.

Johnson also quotes heavily from the “big names” in evolutionary biology, such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. But, his quotes aren’t taken from the biological literature found in journals. They’re found in writings these men provide for a layperson audience. And, taken out of context, these “simpler” renditions could look suspicious to the layreader. Scott says…

…but the works Johnson cites are usually those written for laypersons, such as Gould’s Natural History columns. A casual reader would necessarily miss a great deal of the detail and nuance of the arguments, though perhaps acquiring an understanding of the broad sweep of contemporary evolutionary science.

And I think this is wherein lies Johnson’s hopes. He hopes that the average layperson will take his arguments at face value. That no one will take the time to investigate what’s been said. To take the time to really critique his arguments. And he’s got a pretty good chance of that happening, to a large degree.

It would take the average person countless hours to thoroughly research and learn all of the various nuances and details involved; the sheer depth of effort required to grasp the current state of evolutionary biology is not something you can do in an afternoon.

Johnson’s got the easy job. Make a complicated subject seem easy to understand, poke holes in his misunderstood conceptions of that subject (the Straw Man logical fallacy), and convince those who don’t understand the subject to begin with that he knows what he’s talking about.

I mean, think about it. Seriously. People in this field spend their lives studying this material. They’re out in the field analyzing, pouring over countless fossil samples, looking at all of the evidence and actually placing it in context. Not only that, but the peer-review process is grueling. Their fellow scientists are looking to poke holes in their work all along the way – contra to what Johnson claims in his book. So they’d better make sure what they claim stands up to scrutiny. They don’t need Johnson’s illegitimate criticisms along with all of that.

And yet, Johnson thinks he’s going to put all of this research to rest with a single book? How arrogant. You couldn’t possibly give a thorough, honest, accurate account of the “flaws” or “errors” in any field in a 170-page book. This whole thing wreaks of lying for Jesus. Like there aren’t enough examples of that to go around.

This is why we need more scientists to be “popularizers.” People who bring science to the public. To help people to understand what science is all about. To show the masses that science isn’t some secret ritual that takes place in a laboratory, where the priests and bishops are men in white coats privileged to esoteric information. That with a little effort, one can grasp concepts like evolution for what it is, from a scientific perspective.

Granted, you probably won’t know enough to be an evolutionary biologist, but what you will know is enough to understand the arguments and whether or not a criticism is likely or not to be valid.

On that note, although I didn’t like this book, I recommend you read it to get a feel for what the current state of Intelligent Design (Creationism) logic is. It’s quite informative.

Read a book. It’s good for you.

An XBox Live Group For Skeptics & Atheists [Free-Thinkers]

Friday December 12, 2008 3 comments

Are you a skeptic? An Atheist? Agnostic? Free-Thinker? Do you love science? Do you appreciate logic and reason? Do you laugh at television “psychics?”

Let me ask you this. Do you love going on “Free For All” rampages on Call Of Duty 4? How about going head-to-head in a Gears Of War death match? Do you love to curb-stomp your enemies into oblivion? How about a friendly game of golf in Tiger Woods PGA Tour?

If you are a skeptic, and you’re on Xbox Live, I have a place for you to go to meet like-minded people. I’ve created a group on MySpace, as well as Facebook, for people like us.

Of course, obviously, this group is pointed toward a narrow audience. But, I think that it’s a good idea.

The group is called Xkeptix. Click the link to join up or take a look. Post your Xbox Live ID after you join.

Tentatively, this group is also on MySpace. I will probably stick with the Facebook location.

Read a book.

UPDATE: The Xkeptix now has an official blog. Check it out!