Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

Natural Skepticism

I was strolling through a lounge one day…

When I saw this lying on a table:

I became suspicious at once. I’ve never quite understood how the word “natural” makes something automatically better than another thing.

Natural steaks, natural food, natural medicine.

Hell, my mum buys Arrowhead water instead of the generic brand because she thinks it has more “natural water”.

I once saw a bottle of sparkling mineral water that said that it was made with “natural CO2″. Apparently being natural carbon dioxide doesn’t change the chemical formula of carbon dioxide anyway if it’s still “natural CO2″ so what’s so great about it?

Maybe if I changed my blog’s sub-title to “All-Natural” I’d get more traffic.

Now, obviously there are some artificial things that are bad for you (though a lot of them are fine when taken in moderation). There are also some natural things that are bad for you.

Arsenic occurs naturally.

Uranium occurs naturally.

Mercury occurs naturally.

And that’s just a few things I pulled off the Periodic Table.

But it turns out that Kevin Trudeau is even more of a flat-out liar than my original suspicions let on when I found this YouTube video by Googling his name:

As wonderful a job as John Stossel (we need more journalists who have half as much skepticism as him) did exposing Trudeau, I still have to bang my head into a wall after reading this YouTube comment:

Trudeau is NOT a crook. I have tried several things in his book and they worked for me. Like Magnesium tablets for stress relief. They work better for me than ANY antidepressant or antianxiety that doctors have given me. FDA is out to KILL!

Thank you for your anecdotal scientific assertion that magnesium tablets work for stress relief (I personally have found that a hot bath and some chocolate works well enough, and yours can’t possibly be a placebo effect!) and that the FDA wants to kill us all.

Advice for the FDA: it would go a lot quicker if you let us use China’s tainted milk products.

By Splendid Elles

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Medicine, Pseudomedicine, Pseudoscience, splendid elles | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Double Entendre: X Does Not Equal Y

Just recently, a story hit the news about a D.C. MADAME that “threatened” a US senator, a deputy secretary of state, and the man who created the doctrine of “shock and awe.” And just how did this woman “threaten” these and other powerful men? She ran an escort service they used. Now, given the ignoramic double standard in this country—prostitutes go to jail and the johns go free—I have to cogitate very hard to understand in what way this woman was a threat. It was certainly in her best interests to keep the matter quiet, and as far as I can tell from the news coverage of the case, and as business sense would dictate, discretion would be an asset.

Now for some reason, this one was considered so dangerous, that despite the numerous other escort rings in the area, hers has been the only one prosecuted. And why? Supposedly, she was laundering money: a total of $2 million over 13 years. In an attempt to legitimize this courtroom theatre of the absurd, an IRS agent produced records of a lower than middle class lifestyle bought by this “high crime” Madame. Oh, please, give me a good production of Lysistrata any day!

And all of this supposedly required a full investigation into the sexual acts performed along with the release of 132 women’s names, some who hadn’t worked there for years, including being subjected to vituperative, fatuous questions demanding a need to know bodily-function-details such as, I kid you not, asked of a 63-year-old former escort by prosecutor Catherine Connelly, “Did you specifically discuss what happened when you went in the shower?”

The witness explained, “I was having sex.”

“What would happen if you were menstruating?” Connelly then asked.

A travesty of justice? A mockery of it? NO, that and a vilification of women.

X Does NOT Equal Y in this system:

These women, including a naval officer who worked there for only a few months and the now 63-year-old with a Ph.D. will lose their jobs, and according to most of the blogs I’ve seen, both men and women think they deserve it.


SEX….Euwww! Women having sex for money……….Euwww! And the men, or “johns,” including Senator Vitter, a GOP family values crusader, what happens to them? NOTHING. That’s right, nothing. No jail, NO names published, NO fines. Kinda warms the cockles of your heard, doesn’t it, to see the patriarchy in such great form protecting its own. But of course, we all know it’s the woman’s fault; she’s evil [Eve’s to blame]; men can’t help it; women ought to be pure. Or is it, how dare women have power over men; how dare men have to pay for sex; how dare women be able to decide what to do with their bodies when they are supposed to belong to men! I forget, is it the evil woman, sex is bad or the need to keep women in their place and control what they can and cannot do with their bodies or a mishmash of the two?

Gender inequality is an inescapable fact. I witnessed it firsthand only a few years ago as a teacher, as if the women’s movement had never taken place. My female students constantly worried about their looks, felt inadequate if they didn’t have a boyfriend, were made fun of by the males if they weren’t attractive, and were pressured by their peers to have sex to be cool, then labeled sluts, whores, bitches, tarts, teases, etc. And the boys, they bragged about having sex, were studs, operators, stud muffins, with not one bad word for one who slept around. While if a female tried to assert her own will, she was quickly cowed by being called a “feminazi.” In fact, none of them wanted to be associated with being a feminist—though they wanted all the rights from the fruits of the movement. Such a hatchet job the powers that be have done, once again, on women.

I could overwhelm you with stats that back up my assertions of discrimination women face, from studies done where the exact same paper got an A when signed by a male and a B or lower when signed with a female name to FBI Crime Statistics of 2003 where 63.2 in every 100,000 women were raped [and that’s only the reported ones] to the fact that we still do not receive equal pay for equal work. What I find most disturbing are the women who perpetrate 2nd class status onto their own daughters and other women, as in the treatment that Anita Hill received during Justice Thomas’ hearings; her information was not put on trial, but she most certainly was with such rabid emotional responses, giving immediate clues that a deeper issue has been triggered than innocence or guilt.

So let me leave you with what should be two troubling, thought provoking trends:

In India and China, where the status of females is at the level of about what it was in the 1800s here [remember, it took women over 100 years to get the vote and we didn’t get it until 1920; read about the political prisoners conveniently “lost” in women’s workhouses for protesting for the right to vote], 90% of known female fetuses are aborted or killed after they’re born, and in India, married women die in deliberate fires set by husbands rather than divorce and give back the dowry while the police look the other way.

In parenting books for Christians that have become quite popular, the advice given for parents of girls, honored for their ability to give birth and suckle the child, is to adamantly stress obedience, for they must learn to honor their fathers and then transfer that obedience to their husbands.

One last, but not to be overlooked nor forgotten, note; this “dangerous,” “powerful,” “threatening” Madame excoriated in our not so just justice system, committed suicide after her cold and wicked betrayal. For that is what it was, a betrayal. Legalize prostitution and regulate it, as is done in sane countries and parts of Nevada, and truly honor a woman’s right to control her body instead of giving the notion lip service. And please, spare me the moral outrage. Going out to dinner and a movie in which the man pays and then going to bed with him is prostitution. Negotiating the amount or time allotted for sex in a relationship is prostitution. Selling your body at a job every day IS prostitution. Capitalism is prostitution, and we’ve seen what unregulated capitalism looks like.

D.C. Madame, Ms. Deborah Jeane Palfrey, I promise I will not forget what you have suffered at the hands of an unjust society.

By riki mathews: The Trickster

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Politics, religion, The Trickster | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2012: Apocalypse Not

Written by Joel

THE WORLD IS GOING TO END DECEMEBER 21, 2012!!

Well, no, probably not. There is a good chance this is wrong. This 2012 Apocalypse hysteria is not a small nutjob movement based on fuzzy thinking and very little compelling evidence, it is in fact a very large nutjob movement based on a fuzzy thinking and very little compelling evidence. Need proof of that? An Amazon.com book search for “2012″ generated 91,450 results. So one can conclude that there exists a market for this crackpot idea, a large market. Most intelligent people (most people reading this blog) understand, without me having to explain it to them, that this idea of a 2012 apocalypse is as wrong as the prediction that the world was going to end in the year 2000…oh no wait, the prophecy was ignorant to the fact that the Gregorian/Julian calendar started with the year 1, so actually the world was going to end in 2001, but that didn’t happen either. If you need proof that the world did NOT end in 2000 or 2001, you need only notice that we are still here talking about the fact that it didn’t happen. The 2012 apocalypse hysteria is based on, what proponents of the idea call several “key pieces of evidence”. Let us now examine this “evidence”, to see if the claims stand up to skeptical examination. However, it must be pointed out, that the “evidence” the proponents claim to be evidence, imply their own claims, which we shall examine.

Key piece of “evidence” #1: The Mayan Calendar

The Mayan Calendar may be the most popular, but by no means compelling, piece of “evidence” the proponents of ancient prophecy use to bolster their claims of Apocalyptic fantasies. The main claim using the Mayan calendar is that “on December 21, 2012, for the first time in approximately 26,000 years, the Sun will rise to conjunct the intersection of the Milky Way (eye, heart, center) and the ecliptic plane. The sun aligning with the galactic center, is referred to as the Cosmic Cross. According to the ancient Maya, this date will mark the end of one world as we know it and the beginning of another”(4). With the wonders of the Internet it possible to learn about a great many things from the comfort of one’s own home. So here, I shall demystify the Mayan Calendar. First, let us acknowledge what a calendar, any calendar, or any time keeping device or system for that matter, truly is. Any time-keeping device is merely an arbitrary, and altogether human invention, not more necessary, in the cosmic scheme, than our inventions of anything else. These devices and systems are important only to us, for our own selfish means of prosperity and survival. Most calendars, of every culture and age, have a few features in common which tells us something both about the regularity of the cosmos and about human nature and observation. These features include a set, 20-30 day months based on the phases of the moon, woven into a longer count of a 365-day year based on how long it takes for the Earth to travel around the sun, and set within all of this days that the people consider scared or at least somehow different from other days for various cultural reasons. The Mayan calendar, as well as our own Gregorian/Julian calendar, have exactly these features. Although culturally different and separated by a vast amount of time, our calendar and that of the Mayan’s are quite similar. Not for any trivial, pseudo-scientific reason but because we are all humans observing the same cosmos. The Mayan calendar is arranged thusly: it is composed of “a ritual cycle of 260 named days and a year of 365 days. Taken together, they form a longer cycle of 18,980 days, or 52 years of 365 days, called a ‘Calendar Round’”(1). Further, the calendar can be broken down even farther. The 260-day ritual calendar, is composed of “two smaller cycles of days numbered from 1 to 13 and an ordered series of 20 named days”(1). The names of these days varied greatly among the the peoples and cultures that unitized it, however, “the names for the ritual days differed throughout Mesoamerica, scholars believe that the various calendars were synchronized based on their use in divination. In particular, each named day was thought to have certain fateful characteristics, but most of the details have been lost”(1). The Mayan calendar, just like all other systems of time keeping was extraordinarily arbitrary. This is proven by the fact that “the start of the 365-day year varied”(1). Also, “the 365-day year was divided into 18 named months (uinals) of 20 days” and, coupled with a religious superstition about the world, “one month of 5 “nameless” days, called Uayeb. The nameless days were considered extremely unlucky, causing the Maya to observe them with fasting and sacrifices to deities”(1). The Mayan’s also had a system in place in order to designated their calendar days, like we do today. “Each ordinary day had a fourfold designation—in order, day number and day name in the 260-day cycle and day number within the month and month name in the 365-day cycle. Thus, each of the 18,980 days in the Calendar Round had a unique designation (e.g., 12 Caban 15 Ceh)”(1). By now, 2012 Apocalypse advocates are jumping up and down about something called the Long Count’; “a continuous marking of time from a base date”(1), which was put in place by the Mayan’s to “describe a given date more accurately”.(1) The most crushing blow to the 2012 myth, may be the fact, in fact a theme throughout this blog, that even the start of the ‘Long Count’ is inherently arbitrary; “Ahau 8 Cumku (3113 BC) was the base date used by the Maya for the start of the present era”(1). Not only that, but even more astonishingly, the calendar isn’t set to end on December 21st of the year a.d. 2012, it is in fact “due to end in AD 2011″(1).

We have our own “ritual calendar” composed of “named days” ourselves. We need only observe that we engage in festival celebration and relax the necessity for labor on a great many days during the year, i.e. The Fourth of July, Christmas, Hanukkah, Labor Day, Memorial Day etc. We also have our share of superstitious “unlucky” days”, namely any number of Friday’s that happen to be the 13th of any given month, Halloween, and, in the recent past, June 6, 2006 due to the way we numerically represent the date, 6/6/06. Our calendar lacks a “Long count” but that would be about the only real difference between the two in terms of features. However, no one alive today claims that our Gregorian/Julian calendar predicts any apocalypse or end-times scenario.

Key piece of “evidence” #2: The I-Ching

Believers in the 2012 apocalypse myth refute this objection by claiming that there is independent, corroborating evidence in the form of an ancient Chinese book known as, The I Ching. Let us now investigate this so-called “evidence”. The I-Ching, or Book of Change, is “an ancient Chinese system of divination, based on a book of Taoist philosophy and expressed in hexagrams chosen at random and interpreted to answer questions and give advice”(2). This system is “a set of predictions represented by a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 guà). Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines (爻 yáo), where each line is either Yang (an unbroken, or solid line), or Yin broken, an open line with a gap in the center). With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 26 or 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams represented.”(3). The system was supposed inspired or given supernaturally, the date ranges from 2800 BCE-2737 BCE (3). The fundamental augment the 2012 myth proponents point out is its age and extraordinary precision of it’s predictions. The way the I-Ching supposedly predicts future events, for an individual or global, has its own dubious history. “The oldest method for casting the hexagrams, using yarrow stalks, is a biased random number generator, so the possible answers are not equiprobable. While the probability of getting either yin or yang is equal, the probability of getting old yang is three times greater than old yin. The yarrow stalk method was gradually replaced during the Han Dynasty by the three coins method. Using this method, the imbalance in generating old yin and old yang was eliminated. However, there is no theoretical basis for indicating what should be the optimal probability basis of the old lines versus the young lines. Of course, the whole idea behind this system of divination is that the oracle will select the appropriate answer anyway, regardless of the probabilities.”(3) So here we have a system which itself has changed its method of prediction, starting out as very biased and then changed to a seemingly more random system to give the impression that if a prophetic prediction appears to come true that the “randomness” can be explained away by the invocation of the supernatural. However, the predictions of the I-Ching work on the same principles as that of Astrology, a phenomenon known as The Forer Effect which is “tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people”(5). This was discovered by Psychologist Bertram R. Forer, who “found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone” (5). This is how the I-Ching’s so called predictions work and thus cannot be considered genuine predictions. This includes the doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Key piece of “evidence” #3: The Bible

Yes. I know. You’re probably tired of this argument too, as it has been conclusively found to have not predicted anything and wasn’t written for predictive purposes. Here, I will not focus on the whole Bible but only that book which has be touted as the great predictor of the apocalypse, The Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation was written towards the end of the 1st century AD by a man, known only as John. This is not the same John that wrote the Gospel of John, conclusively shown to be the case after a thorough statistical analysis of the two texts, but is someone very different. He is known as John of Patmos. This is due to his references to himself as “John” in Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8 (6,7). He refers to his exile to the island of Patmos, of the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), in Rev 1:9 (6,7), where he wrote the Book of Revelation. During the time John wrote Revelation, what is now modern-day Turkey, was under the control of the extremely powerful Roman Empire. This fact alone is enough to derive the true, non-prophetic meaning from Revelation. I will not go into lucid detail here but two symbols should be clarified. The seven headed demon or beast is an allegorical reference to the seven Roman Emperors that had ruled till John’s time. Although scholars can’t agree on which specific seven emperors John was referring it is at least clear that it is a reference to Roman imperial power. John goes on further to associate the beast with seven hills. Rome is known as the city of seven hills, as then as is today, because it is build on seven hills (7). Not terribly inventive. The other is that of the now infamous, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, mention in Rev 6:1-8. The four horsemen in the order they appear in the Book of Revelation , with associated color and meaning, are: White (Conquest), Red (war), Black (Famine), Pale (Death)(7,8). This imagery harkens back to the mythical story of the Jews fleeing Egypt in the Old Testament book of Exodus and the imagery of the the ten plagues. Since John was writing about the Roman Empire and Roman persecution of the Christians of the day, he was doing the same kind of writing the Jews did when writing Exodus. John was saying that God will intervene, exact justice for his downtrodden people, in the same sort of way that is written about in Exodus, via plagues. In other words, John wasn’t necessarily being completely original here. Now, to the point. How does this connect to the 2012 myth? Believers in the 2012 myth claim that because The Book of Revelation predicts the end of the world, it MUST mean December 21, 2012. This commits two fallacies. The most obvious of which is confirmation bias. The second, to a lesser degree, is post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means “After this, therefore because of this”(9). Thus, this piece of evidence is more flimsy the preceding and as flimsy as the next, and last that shall be presented.

Key piece of “evidence” #4: Terence McKenna/Timewave Graph

This piece of “evidence” has its basis on the Mayan calendar, so I will not recount that bit. However, this addition to the Mayan part must be mention, lest I be lambasted by the believers in the myth for not being “complete”. Terence McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was a writer, philosopher, and ethnobotanist. He is noted for his many speculations on the use of psychedelic, plant-based hallucinogens, and subjects ranging from shamanism, the development of human consciousness, and the Novelty Theory – Time Wave: Zero Point”(4). He is also responsible for the Timewave graph. First, we must understand Novelty Theory, which isn’t a true scientific theory at all; “The theory proposes that the universe is an engine designed for the production and conservation of novelty. Novelty, in this context, can be thought of as newness, or extropy (a term coined by Max More meaning the opposite of entropy) (4)”. No scientific evidence for this so called “theory” has been found, ever. Thus one can conclude that it most probably bunk and that McKenna was just a little affected by the psychedelic hallucinogens. However, this “theory” isn’t going away yet. Further, “According to McKenna, when novelty is graphed over time, a fractal waveform known as ‘timewave zero’ or simply the ‘timewave’ results. The graph shows at what time periods, but never at what locations, novelty increases or decreases. Considered by some to represent a model of history’s most important events, the universal algorithm has also been extrapolated to be a model for future events. McKenna admitted to the expectation of a “singularity of novelty”, and that he and his colleagues projected many hundreds of years into the future to find when this singularity (runaway “newness” or extropy) could occur. The graph of extropy had many enormous fluctuations over the last 25,000 years, but amazingly, it hit an asymptote at exactly December 21, 2012. In other words, entropy (or habituation) no longer exists after that date. It is impossible to define that state. The technological singularity concept parallels this, only at a date roughly three decades later. According to leading expert Ray Kurzweil), another concept called cultural singularity (essentially cultural dissolution, or language dissolution), parallels this as well. McKenna claimed to have no knowledge of the Mayan calendar, which ends exactly the same day that the Timewave graph does: December 21, 2012 (4)”. This is a long quote and requires some dissection. The graph argument is worthless precisely because there is no objectivity in it. McKenna could easy, and probably did, fix the placement of the “Timewave Graph” such that it did end on December 21, 2012. The pseudo-science regarding “newness” and so forth is so laughable as to be unworthy of further discussion. Lastly, the idea that McKenna knew and researched things such as the I-Ching and wasn’t aware of the December 21, 2012 date is so unlikely as to be nearly impossible. Lining up a graph with a timeline doesn’t prove or predict anything because doing such is riddled with subjectivity and thus is not science.

Conclusion

December 21, 2012 is most certainly not the date that the world is going to end. Above, I have conclusively set forth why the 2012 myth is bunkum and should not be taken seriously. It should also be pointed out that every last Apocalyptic/End Times prediction has failed to come true. We know this because we are still here, mocking those predictions and those who made them. Yes the Mayan’s and Chinese were an advanced and successful ancient peoples. However, we’ve learned much since their time and has rendered their superstitions not only false, but out-dated and unnecessary. So, don’t worry about 2012. There will be a Christmas and a Happy New Year party in New York for 2013 and we’ll all be exactly 4 years older.

Resources

1 Encyclopedia Britannica(http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/370868/Mayan-calendar)
2 Encarta Online Dictionary (http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861619882/I_Ching.html)
3 Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching#History)
4 Crystal Links (http://www.crystalinks.com/2012.html)
5 The Skeptic Dictionary (http://www.skepdic.com/forer.html)
6 Ancient Evidence, Discovery Times Channel
7 Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com)
8 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
http://www.apocalipsis.org/fourhorsemen.htm
9 How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age (Paperback) (Third Edition), Authors: Schick, Theodore, Jr., Vaughn, Lewis.2002:McGraw Hill ISBN: 0-7674-2048-9

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

   

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