Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Lay Scientist will host the next edition of the carnival on February 28th. If you'd like to participate, have a look at the guidelines and contact to host. If you'd like to host the carnival itself, contact me...
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Sigh. I probably don’t need to say this, but there is just no reason at all to think that feng shui is anything other than silly superstition invented when humanity didn’t know any better. (Yes, it’s ancient. But that doesn’t mean anything). Feng shui may be interesting, or stimulating, or valuable in some vague sense, but it’s very likely false and it’s almost certainly worthless as a tool for predicting the future or ‘attracting wealth’. Look at those predictions again: they’re almost all either uselessly vague or high-probability hits. You don’t need a magical ability to detect 'metaphysical energies' to tell you 2009 will likely be calmer than 2008 – last year was so tumultuous that regression to the mean alone predicts that. And of course diseases will spread, landslides will occur, floods will sweep in and earthquakes will strike. That happens every year. And of course most of these will occur in the northern hemisphere: there are more people there (so we’re more likely to hear about it) and there is more land there (so they’re more likely to occur in the first place). And, of course avoiding “high-risk assets” is a good idea. But my gran could have told you that. And of course banks will still be reluctant to lend, it’s still not clear how much certain toxic assets are worth (if anything at all), so banks continue to be risk averse.
Despite some token skepticism in the article about how financial feng shui doesn't have a great track record, overall, the article is credulous crud. The Reuters editors ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing such irresponsible and irrational bollocks.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Mr. Sherr, get the hell out of Africa and take your silly magic water pills with you
Thursday, January 15, 2009
(Inspiration: this Marginal Revolution post).
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care, and it was night. I could hear patients in adjoining rooms moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two “presences.” I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences—one or both of them, I do not know—spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: “Everything is ready now.”
That was it. They waited for a while, maybe for a minute. Whether they were waiting for a response or just waiting to see whether I had received the message, I don’t know. “Everything is ready now.” It was not in the form of a command, nor was it an invitation to do anything. They were just letting me know. Then they were gone, and I was again flat on my back with my mind racing wildly. I had an iron resolve to determine right then and there what had happened. Had I been dreaming? In no way. I was then and was now as lucid and wide awake as I had ever been in my life.
This is classic hypogogia: it was night, so Neuhaus was quite possibly falling asleep or waking up as he had the experience, he was awake and lucid (but stationary), he experienced a proprioperceptory illusion (thinking he was upright when he wasn't), and there are ill-defined "presences" in the room. Neuhaus then simply interpreted his experience in the light of his pre-existing Christian beliefs.
In one of the very first posts on the blog, I wrote about how compelling an illusion like this can be and how we should take the experiences seriously and not belittle those who have them. Nonetheless, the interpretation of any such experience is a matter for science and, in this case, it seems clear hypnogogia is a far better explanation than visiting spooks.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
N.B.: If you know about an African science or skeptical blog that is not on this list, please let me know!
- 01 and the universe
- Acinonyx Scepticus
- Ambient Normality **New**
- Botswana Skeptic **New**
- Effortless Incitement
- Ewan's Corner
- Ionian Enchantment
- LimbicNutrition **New**
- other things amanzi
- Orion Spur **New url**
- Pause and Consider
- Pickled Bushman
- Prometheus Unbound
- Psychohistorian **New**
- Science of Sport
- Stop Danie Krugel **New**
- subtle shift in emphasis
- Timbuktu Chronicles **New**
- the little book of capoeira
- The Skeptic Blacksheep
- The Skeptic Detective
- Yet Another Sceptic's Blog
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Consider at least voting in the Science Blog category -- unfortunately, a couple of global warming-denialist blogs are in the running.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Science. How science works. Scientific explanation. Learn science. Become a scientist. Science 101. Science introduction. Science intro. What science is.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
There is so much wrong with this that I don't really know where to begin. But... The rural African mind? Wtf is the definite article doing in there? Let's do some revision, shall we? According to Wikipedia, Africa covers over 20% of the Earth's land surface and has almost a billion inhabitants, over 2,000 languages, hundreds of ethnic groups, and extremely diverse religious beliefs. (Traditional African religious beliefs are even more disparate). Generalizing about such a large number of diverse people strewn across a huge continent is difficult at best, and literally impossible without rigorous and statistically representative surveys. Wandering semi-randomly across the continent making biased observations will never, ever, equip you to make valid generalizations about Africa. (I'm not saying one cannot generalize, I'm saying doing so is impossible without proper statistics). At the absolutely minimum, then, Parris presents no evidence that his characterization of 'the rural African mind' is accurate or captures even a small amount of the variance in beliefs.
Similarly, Parris presents no compelling evidence for his hypothesis that conversion to Christianity causes Africans to 'stand tall'. All we get from him are some anecdotes: non-Christians are fearful and superstitious and Christians aren't. (Apparently, believing in a cosmic Jewish Zombie isn't an example of superstition). Someone really needs to tell Parris about confirmation bias: he sees support for his hypothesis everywhere only because he expects to and ignores disconfirming instances. Moreover, in the absence of experimental control, it is impossible to determine the direction of causality even if we grant the existence of a correlation: does Christianity make Africans more confident and curious (etc.) or do more confident and curious Africans become Christians in larger numbers? Or is there a third-factor (access to the education and support Christian charities provide, for example) that accounts for both? Pariss makes no observations that can distinguish between these alternatives.
Furthermore, why does Africa specifically need Christianity? While I grant that some ideologies may be more conducive to economic and societal success than others, Parris presents no evidence that Christianity (let alone only Christianity) is the right sort of ideology for Africa. Does Islam not "smash through" the African "philosphical [sic]/spiritual framework"? (Assuming such a thing exists and needs smashing). Does communism not teach people to "stand tall"? How about Afrocentrism? Or humanism? Or liberalism? Or, for that matter, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, or Frisbeetarianism? Is there any reason to think that the only (or best) way to a better future for Africa is via a detour through the Bible? Is cultural evolution strictly linear, so that Africans can only reach Europe's vaunted current state by going through a period of Christian superstition? Apart from asserting the tautology that one belief system must be replaced with another, Parris addresses none of these questions.
Parris, in short, overgeneralizes crassly, leaps to unwarranted conclusions, ignores a multitude of confounds, pays no attention to complexities, and disregards possibly disconfirming evidence. That his conclusion is also deeply insulting, borderline racist and mind-bogglingly patronizing is, of course, strictly irrelevant to its truth. Had he presented some evidence for his conclusion, I wouldn't have minded as much. But that he confidently asserts such an insulting proposition without any reasonably good evidence whatsoever is entirely unacceptable.
Mr. Parris, shut up.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
- Dear Blue Lobster on the mysterious Bloop.
- Michael Nielsen on the internet and the future of science.
- Bayblab on anti-beard sentiment and hygiene.
- The Scientist on networking, Web 2.0 and science.
- Tomorrow's Table on 10 things about GMOs you can scratch from your worry-list.
I wonder if Edzard Ernst (Singh's co-author) has appeared on any (English) podcasts or radio shows about the book... anyone know?
Friday, January 2, 2009
Chris Anderson (the TED curator, not Wired editor) argues there will be a revolution in education due to the internet. Some of the best lecturers and teachers in the world, he says, will soon be available via video to anyone for free, unleashing a torrent of previously untapped talent and potential.
Jonathan Haidt's answer may prove to be the most controversial: the recent conclusion that evolution by natural selection may operate significantly faster than previously thought, he says, suggests there are significant biological differences between human groups. (He's careful to argue that these groups will likely not map onto social constructs like race).
Sam Harris thinks accurate and reliable lie-detectors will be invented in the next couple of decades, assuring that, whenever the stakes are high, truth-telling will be taken for granted.
Laurence Krauss' answer is deeply depressing, mostly because it's so plausible: the use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, for example, is certainly possible and Krauss is right that the consequences (social, political, environmental, intellectual) would be immense.
Nicholas Humphrey argues, in effect, that nothing will change everything because human nature is stubbornly persistent. We are far more technologically advanced than the Romans, he points out, but the major themes of the human biography - sex, children, politics, intrigue and so on - remain unchanged.
Craig Venter, predictably, thinks synthetic biology will change everything. He's probably right.
Why oh why does the pseudoscientist and crackpot Rupert Sheldrake keep being included in this exercise? This time round Sheldrake argues the end of materialism is nigh. Sigh.
PZ Myers produced a wonderfully quotable quote: "We are not the progeny of gods, we are the children of worms; not the product of divine planning, but of cruel chance and ages of brutal winnowing."
The youngest respondent seems to be David Dalrymple, a 17 year-old MIT graduate student. Wow.
(Via: The Thinking Meat Project)
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Anyway, check out the blog -- it's certainly worth a read. Relatedly... Nature has an editorial out questioning the use of metric-based research assessment.