Saturday, July 31, 2010

HOW OPINION POLLS WORK

Yesterday the Skeptical community was abuzz about a crooked poll, PZ Myers found on a creationist website. It reminded me of this clip from a great, British sitcom I loved in the 80’s called “Yes Minister.”
If you don’t know, PZ Myers is a biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris. On his website, Pharyngula, he is a distinguished bulldog, relentlessly fighting the nonsense that is creationism and intelligent design.

The poll question was:
What do you believe about evolution?
It’s a religion. 46%
It’s a fact! 43%
It’s a reasonable scientific theory 11%
The skullduggery here, as PZ points out, is that the creationists split the reasonable choice into two, thereby ensuring its loss and their win.

Monday, July 26, 2010

URBAN LEGEND TRUE

animals at the zoo were shocked copySomeone at the office told me this story: It seems there was this zoo in Bristol, England, which had a small secondary parking lot that was owned and administered, not by the zoo, but by the city. It was manned by a loyal parking attendant, who in 25 years , never missed a day of work. That is until one day, when the parking attendant didn’t show up for work. The zoo administrator called the city to tell them they needed to send a replacement over. The city said they had no idea what the zoo administrator was talking about. The city had no employee collecting money for them in that location. It seems this phony parking attendant had been collecting money and pocketing it. They figured it was 400 pounds a day for the past 25 years. When the authorities went to the employee’s home they found it empty and no one knows what had become of him.


When I heard this story, immediately my “skepty” sense started tingling. I informed my coworker that what he just told me was probably an urban legend. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great story. Hard working bloke, bucks the system, gets away with millions, probably sitting on a beach somewhere. The problem is that this story has red flags all over it:

It’s about “some guy.” He has no name.

It takes place in another country, but since the city is identified that gives it a little authenticity.

It’s about something we would all like to be true. No one is really hurt by the crime. After twenty five  years, you could say, the guy earned the money.

But, did the guy never miss a day at work? He even worked weekends?

How could he have gone 25 years without ever blabbing about his scam to at least one other person? He never had one too many beers at a pub, and started bragging?

This was a simple call. I didn’t believe this story for a second. I told my work friend immediately, to go to the website, Snopes. If you don’t know, Snopes, it is a great resource to check out the validity of urban legends.

Now here is where the twist comes in. My friend looked at the web site and said,” SNOPES CONFIRMED THIS STORY TO BE TRUE”. I instantly became confused. How could this be? It makes no sense. All the rules of logic, that I’ve come to rely on, seem to be letting me down. All the analytical thinking, the baloney detectors, they all were failing. Up was down. Down was up. Twinkies were good for you, and we’re all wearing monkey pajamas. The room was spinning.

Then my friend corrected himself. “oh no wait. I’m reading it wrong. ‘true story’ is the title of the email that was going around. Nope it’s a fake”
And all is right with the world.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DISCO STROBE LIGHT AND RACOONS IN MY GARAGE HAVE LED ME TO MY FIRST PODCAST

Here is the progression. After discovering the dirty animals in the rafters I started asking friends what I should do about it. Some suggested poison, but I was afraid my cat might get into that. Some said I should trap the animal but I already have experience with this. In the end, you find yourself in possession of a ravenous, spitting, growling, devil beast contained in a flimsy cage, which you then have to set free in the woods someplace. Here is a little advice. After relating the ghastly story to your friends of trying to unlatch the cage door for this flea (and possibly rabies) infested vermin, do not finish by showing them a picture that you snapped on your phone of the trapped beast. All you will elicit is sympathy for the monster and comments of how cruel YOU are. I swear there was spitting and growling and clawing at the cage handle. It was horrific

So where does the strobe light fit in? Well one of my friends suggested I put a strobe light in my garage at night. He said this would drive the raccoons out. And although this guy smokes a lot of weed, his suggestion seamed to make sense. I like thinking outside the box.  Here is a solution that doesn’t involve hurting the animal and also doesn’t involve personal danger to myself. We should all try new things.  So I got out my disco strobe light (yes I have a disco strobe light) and hooked it up.  And now I present to you the song that resulted:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TIDAL WAVE CAUSED BY OIL VOLCANO TO SLAM INTO FLORIDA -more critical thinking in action

disney flat
Someone sent me this video recently, and it wasn’t even my birthday. Thank you very much. I live to address claims like these.
So if we are going to evaluate a video like this, why don’t we start with the two guys talking? A quick Google search for Bill Ryan and Dr Bill Deagle (the guy without the accent) brings up their web sites. Deagle’s site talks about how the Federal Reserve, 911 and the Avian Flu are all tied together to bring about a “New World Order.” Bill Ryan’s web site talks about Freemasons, World War III (which is apparently going to happen in the next 18 to 24 months) an “Anglo-Saxon Mission” to Christianize the world and of course the “New World Order.” Well, I guess my work here is done. Good night everybody. Drive carefully, and don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

Actually that’s not quite fair. What I did there was called an “ad hominem argument.” I attacked the messengers, rather than the message, and it is a logical fallacy. So, let’s actually look at the claims.