Dec 21

You may have read some debate over Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, promoting Mayim Bialik, an actress with a PhD in neuroscience, as a role model for promoting women in science. Bialik portrays a scientist on TV, but is a spokesperson for a long list of pseudo-scientific garbage that no respectable science role model should be peddling. As a woman with a passion for science myself, I find it frustratingly insulting for a science communicator like Plait to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel like this; there’s no reason to make excuses for a woman who promotes dangerous anti-science views simply because she’s an actress with a degree. Especially when there are so very many brilliant female role models in science for us to promote.

So, I came up with my own graphic of 25 women in science worth promoting as role models. They weren’t hard to find and there are plenty more.

25womeninscience

Oct 21

I purchase a lot of my clothing from Asian fashion sites and have seen this cute (or as you say in Japanese, kawaii) stickers. Some are from a cute Korean brand of stickers and day planners with a character called “Momoi”. These are the journals I use for keeping track of my schedule, so seeing these special gold versions caught my eye. I finally got around to asking what “anti-radiation” meant and my pseudoscience spidey-senses were right.

The Anti-Radiation Sticker is a highly advance breakthrough in technology which can successfully reduce the harmful effects of EMF radiation by up to 90%.

One of the key ingredients used is Bio Ceremies from Japan which is able to emit Negative Ions, FIR and Scalar Energy. In addition, the Negative Ions, FIR and Scalar Energy provide many other health beneficial properties as mentioned in the information regarding Negative Ions, FIR and Scalar Energy

My first thought was that this is a product that solves a problem that doesn’t exist: EMF from our wireless gadgets like cellphones and wifi hotspots don’t produce harmful radiation. Another red flag is that the product doesn’t just claim to protect you from radiation, but also produces health benefits; the same vague benefits you hear from pseudoscience products like power balance/ion bracelets…fights fatigue, chronic pain, improves “well being”. But here comes the major pseudoscience jargon!

What Is Scalar Energy?

Scalar energy is a subtle energy that can be harness to produce healing energy frequencies which is beneficial for our health and it also has the ability to abrupt direct current electrical charges. It is an energy which has existed since the beginning of time.

Just…wow…

Jun 24

Here’s an nice example of creating a provocative, flashy title for your science article in order to draw readers; “Quantum magic trick shows reality is what you make it” – New Scientist. Yea, sure, fine…call it a ‘magic trick’, whatev~ But the misleading part is the claim that “reality is what you make it”.

This relates a bit to my last post where I discussed the problems in believing that science is just another narrative among many that you can “choose” to believe. People who subscribe to that view will jump all over this article and add it to their repertoire of examples where quantum mechanics legitimizes the position that whatever you choose to believe becomes real through the act of believe it alone; “reality is what you make it”.

But this is misleading. Quantum physics doesn’t support the position of “anything goes”. In fact, quantum physics makes extremely accurate predictions about the quantum world. This means that there are “rules” about how reality is working—-not that reality works in whatever way you choose it to. The spookiness of quantum physics makes it easy to exploit people’s misunderstanding of it. Typically, this is done to prop up unsupported beliefs using the legitimacy of science, like quantum physics, in order to lend a sense of  credibility to them.

A commonly used misunderstanding is that the term “observer” means a human or intelligence. It’s not the person’s consciousness or thoughts which effect the outcomes of the measurement, it’s the act of measurement itself—-it’s the fact that something is interacting with it. I find it a bit easier to think about it like this: When we look at big things (measure it) we’re observing it because light (photons) are hitting them and bouncing back into our eyeball holes. Because the objects are big, the photons hitting them don’t have much of an effect…a little photon bouncing of a chair isn’t going to going to knock it over; like bouncing a billiard ball at building isn’t going to effect the building. But if you want to measure particles, you have to bounce other particles off of them. Sorta like bouncing a billiard ball off another billiard ball. Then, add in the spooky, counter-intuitive fact that particles don’t actually have a fixed position ‘n stuff and you get that brain-melting feeling of confusion and throw your Brian Greene book across the room~aaaaaaagh!

My point is, there’s a lot I don’t know about quantum mechanics and plenty that I’m wrong about (most likely, most of the previous paragraph!). What I’m confident I’m not wrong about is that we can’t draw the conclusion from quantum experiments that reality is what you make it. At some point, there are ‘rules’ the universe follows. You can’t have a rule that says ‘there are no rules’.

Everything I say is a lie –Captain Kirk

There are no magic tricks in quantum mechanics that give you a loop hole for whatever belief you have which doesn’t conform to reality. The universe operates independent of our desires.

 

Apr 5

Last Wednesday, I spoke at the Center for Inquiry‘s monthly science cafe, Cafe Inquiry. The talk and Q&A afterwards has been uploaded to YouTube in six parts:

Part 1 is my introduction and my explanation of skepticism and why I think it’s important. I also touch on why new age magical thinking and spirituality can be so appealing and easier to promote. My goal is to use storytelling to show skeptical values as virtues.

Part 2 is an overview of manga and why I’ve chosen it as a medium to tell stories that promote skepticism. I also speak about some series that have inspired me in my approach to doing this—-which is also an excuse to talk about Masters of the Universe.

Part 3 is about my series I’m producing, Legend of the Ztarr, and how I hope it will convey messages about critical thinking and humanism.

The Q&A discussion that took place afterwards is also available:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Mar 29

I must admit I had a hunch that if I clicked a link from a facebook friend that lead to a place called The Temple of Visions that I was going to find some wooness. But whatev! The best part was coming across this dude, Nassim Haramein, and The Resonance Project. It was the perfect leap from artsy new age & raw food to pseudoscience faux-physics & crop circles!

Well, who is Nassim Haramein anyway?

Nassim Haramein’s lifelong journey into the geometry of space-time has lead to a coherent understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe.

Hmm, sounds neat. I definitely prefer coherent understanding to incoherent misunderstanding and who doesn’t want to know a bit more about the fundamental structure of the universe?

In this 4 DVD presentation, Nassim will take you on a journey through humanity’s evolution, exposing the changes necessary to produce an all-encompassing Unified Physics; a unification of not only the four forces of nature, but also evolution and the occurrence of consciousness.

Holy crap! This guy has solved it all! Forget simply unifying all of physics, he’s solved the mysteries of consciousness too. One wonders why he doesn’t have a few Nobel prizes yet…

Demonstrating the parallels between this theory and ancient codes found in documents and monuments, Nassim weaves a tale which may prove to be one of the most important discoveries of our time.

Duh, of course…I always forget that ‘the ancients’ knew everything but, unfortunately, hid in all in coded documents, artwork, and monuments. Jerks. Luckily, Nassim is here to help us out.

Have you ever wondered why those science classes were at all important?

Okay, you’ll notice in his series of questions that they start off pretty fine—-I mean, I’m certainly disappointed in my high school science education (is that what he means by ‘those science classes’?). My high school science teacher pretty much ruined my desire to take any more science credits by making us practice stippling over and over and don’t you DARE make little tails on your stipples or no one will take your paper seriously because you have one, two, homg THREE tails in your drawing composed of tiny little pencil dots!!! ahem…

Were you ever curious about the mysteries of Ancient Egypt?

Who doesn’t like learning about Ancient Egypt! However, when someone brings them into a conversation about unified field theories, my woometer starts to kick in.

What about the modern mystery of crop circles?

KABLAMO! My woometer is now on fire. Smells like stupid.

These DVDs explore all of the above as well as the following ::

DVD 1 :: The Search for the Fundamental Pattern Dimensions of Geometry, Chemistry, Scaling Law, Biology, Principle of Unification, Pyramids

DVD 2 :: From Micro to Macro – Unifying the Field Geometry, Structure of the Vacuum, Crop circles

There it is again! Crop circles? And do I smell pyramid power in DVD 1?

DVD 3 :: Everything is a Black “Whole” Ancient Egypt, Archeology, Black Wholes/White Wholes

DVD 4 :: Unlocking the Mystery – The Future is in Our Hands Bible, The Arc of the Covenant, Knights Templar, Emmanuel’s Tomb, Kabbalah, Tree of Life Decoded

Nice. My woometer has completely melted. The Bible, The Arc, Knights Templar…I bet there’s more knowledge to be decoded here. What I thought was a woo sandwich has turned out to be a woo cornucopia. One detail that caught my eye was that he’s referred to as a “scientist” on the cover artwork. Um, scientist? What kind? Usually, actual scientists call themselves physicists, biologists, astronomers, astrophysicists, geologists, or ya know…whatever field they specialize in. I guess it’s pretty clear this guy doesn’t stick to being an expert in just one field. He must be a whateverologist.

As early as 9 years old, Nassim was already developing the basis for a unified hyperdimensional theory of matter and energy, which he eventually called the “Holofractographic Universe.”

Nice, I have fond memories of making Spirographs too.

Okay, maybe you might be thinking “Jeeze, Sara. Why are you picking on poor Nassim and his lame DVD? Why do you care?” Well, turns out that The Resonance Project doesn’t just sell his lame DVD, where worst case scenario might be someone wasting $84.00 USD. No, sir—-The Resonance Project offers workshops where you can become a certified “Emissary” and teach Nassim’s lame seminars to others. Worst case scenario for this is blowing $475 and doing your part to help grow a cult. This requires a special sort of face-palm:

Even he's embarrassed to be an emissary

Meditation techniques based on this knowledge will also be offered as an invaluable tool to aid in further integration, as you learn how to more effectively tap into the vacuum energy and the curvature of space and time and connect to your own personal singularity.

Go here if you like to barf

Woo begets woo. It didn’t take long to get from an innocent facebook post about going to art exhibit to the boatload of pseudoscience that is The Resonance Project. I’m probably the kind of gal who would avoid going to a place called The Temple of Visions (only out of politeness to its patrons who probably wouldn’t appreciate my big dark skeptical aura effing up their new age experience), but I know plenty of people who might check it out. And if they decided to check out what other events the venue hosts, they’d find, like I did, Resonance Emissary Jamie Janover.

Personally, I would never fall prey to Jamie’s proselytizing—-not because of my skepticism, but because I have a strict policy of not taking anyone seriously if their website uses the font Copperplate Gothic Bold.

Mar 15

Does God have a Future?
A Great Debate Filmed by ABC’s Nightline

Today, we attended a debate between Michael Shermer and Sam Harris vs. Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston. The debate was “Does God have a Future?” and will air on ABC Nightline on March 23rd. It was splendid  to see Shermer and Harris speak again, after each giving their own great talk, last month, at TED. Chopra was predictably absurd, dishing out his brand of woo juice cocktail—-new age pseudoscience post-modernism blended with faux quantum physics. Jean Houston, whom I’ve never heard of, was a complete embarrassment. I don’t recall anything relevant in her boring anecdotes.

I had a chance to ask a question, so I came up with one for Deepak. He had mentioned “deeper ways of knowing” and gave the impression that this was through intuition and repeatedly referred to “the subjective”. So I asked, “Without the objective scientifiic method, how can we distinguish what is true from what we simply want to be true?” Deepak answered this by saying he would answer my question, but that he didn’t want to answer any more questions after that. He then proceeded to not answer my question by doing his little Chopra word dance of nothingness.

Now, I know correlation doesn’t always mean causation, but if you want to interpret Chopra’s actions as being totally scared off by my question of skeptical awesomeness, I have no problem with that whatsoever!

Sep 7

aa-titleHow much do you know about Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs? It’s a support group, right? It’s safe to say it’s widely regarded as the most successful recovery program for addiction. Then again, accupuncture is widely regarded as a successful treatment for all kinds of illnesses but anyone familiar with science-based medicine knows it simply doesn’t work. So, why should 12 Step programs be treated with any less skepticism? After all, AA makes claims regarding the causes of and treatments for alcoholism. What evidence, if any, is there to support these claims?

“Undrunk: A Skeptic’s Guide to AA”, by A.J. Adams, seems anything but skeptical. That is, the word ‘skeptic’ seems to be used in the “I was skeptical, at first” kind of way…rather than referring to a person who evaluates claims based on evidence and the scientific method. Has AA escaped the attention of the science and skepticism community? Certainly, the 12 Step industry must be one of the most successful quackery organizations out there–embedding themselves into the medical industry as successfully as any alternative medicine woo–and branding themselves as secular more successfully than intelligent designers.

AA and its counterparts (there’s a 12 step program for just about any addiction) are anything but secular. Of course, any program member will tell you that atheists and agnostics are welcome…but the program is chuck-full of religion; only about four of the twelves steps make no use of god or spirituality. Dr. Harriet Hall wrote a great article over at Science-Based Medicine about AA and the lack of evidence for it’s effectiveness: AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based. Another resource I found is a blog called Stinkin Thinkin:

…[W]hat we’re doing is muckraking, in the time-honored sense of the word. AA and 12-Step is has a monopoly. Sure there are some alternatives, but none of these alternatives are offered in your general addictions treatment facility. And none of these alternatives have the power to lobby in Washington the way that AA does…to get insurance money

There is a group called SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety, or Save Our Selves) which provides non-religious support for alcoholism and drug addiction. I found some interesting articles about AA by browsing their site:

AA, as a doctor once told me, is “an evangelical movement about saving souls”. At its core it has a good heart – it wants to save people from their demons. But, as with the death penalty, McCarthyism, the Conquistadors and other such crusades against evil, the pious ambitions of AA make the movement blind to its own hooliganism. As disinterested in individuality as the SS, and unaccountable for its actions as the KKK, AA preaches, bullies and lies to achieve its ends, and it does so with all the righteous impunity of a secret sect. Unlike other religious cults, however, AA’s victims are those who escape from its grip and return to society, their brains so laundered by fundamentalist claptrap that a glass of beer can take on the menace of a loaded pistol. That I eluded such a fate myself is thanks to nothing but sheer good luck – those not as fortunate as I can’t tell us about it, their stools at the bars and chairs in AA inhabited by new people entirely disinterested in tales of the dead ones who went before them.

I know there’s a lot of woo for skeptics to deal with, but I think the 12 Step industry deserves more criticism from the skeptical community. AA isn’t an effective treatment, never mind the most effective treatment for alcoholism, and those suffering due to substance abuse deserve treatments which are evaluated for their safety and efficacy.

AA, as a doctor once told me, is “an evangelical movement about saving souls”. At its core it has a good heart – it wants to save people from their demons. But, as with the death penalty, McCarthyism, the Conquistadors and other such crusades against evil, the pious ambitions of AA make the movement blind to its own hooliganism. As disinterested in individuality as the SS, and unaccountable for its actions as the KKK, AA preaches, bullies and lies to achieve its ends, and it does so with all the righteous impunity of a secret sect. Unlike other religious cults, however, AA’s victims are those who escape from its grip and return to society, their brains so laundered by fundamentalist claptrap that a glass of beer can take on the menace of a loaded pistol. That I eluded such a fate myself is thanks to nothing but sheer good luck – those not as fortunate as I can’t tell us about it, their stools at the bars and chairs in AA inhabited by new people entirely disinterested in tales of the dead ones who went before them.
Sep 3

There’s a movie coming out about the end of the world called 2012. It’s based on modern-day myths that the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012 and that there are scientific facts which support their claims. This is wrong.

The film has some new ads out that look like real commercials for an organization setup to shelter people from the devastation. Unfortunately, there are many woo-artists who have been spreading the 2012 myth for quite some time now. This major motion picture is drawing more attention to this so-called Mayan prophecy.

Griffith Observatory has a nice page on their site which debunks the 2012 myth, here. This is appropriate, since most of the myth’s claims are astronomical (no pun intended).

THERE IS NO PLANETARY ALIGNMENT on December 21st, 2012. Even if there was, planetary alignments WON’T DESTROY THE EARTH.

THERE IS NO GALACTIC ALIGNMENT of our solar system either. Our galaxy is too huge to have a midpoint that you could pinpoint to a specific year.

THERE IS NO MYSTERIOUS PLANET headed our way to destroy us. Government agencies aren’t hiding evidence of a Planet X or Planet Niburu.

Now, here comes the really silly part; guess what? THE MAYAN CALENDAR DOESN’T END IN 2012. Yes…the claim that’s the basis of the 2012 myth isn’t true either. The Mayans never made any 2012 apocalyptic predictions. Part of their calendar ends–which had many cycles–but a new one begins.

So, you probably shouldn’t be concerned about the world ending in 2012. At least, not any more than you do any other year. Our own calendar ends too—-on December 31st. I predict some people may even have a party!

Mar 30

Hmm, hopefully I’ve mentioned here before that something I want to accomplish in my work is to create characters who are good role models as scientists and critical thinkers and to promote the use of reality-based reasoning and good skepticism. The movie “Knowing”, with Nicolas Cage, accomplishes the complete opposite. Scientists are drunken, miserable, lonely cranks that need to learn how to be happy from those who have blind faith in magic sky people.

The director, Alex Proyas, was quoted saying he wanted the movie to explore different viewpoints, “the scientific viewpoint of the logical construct of the universe and the one of faith, where people see this incredibly complex place we live in and go, ‘Well, how could this have all just happened randomly?’ (my bold) This is one major annoyance with the film; it doesn’t even know what science is and what viewpoint it has. Again, audiences are getting the misguided message that science claims everything is random and stuff just happens by accident.

The irony is, unlike new age garbage like numerology, scientific theories actually do make accurate predictions for the world around us. Real predictions…not just after-the-fact pattern matching that happens with divination games like astrology, tarot, and psychic readings. You can use scientific theories to accurately launch a small rover into space and have it travel to another freakin’ planet and predict where it should land on that planet, hundreds of millions of kilometers away! Or you can have a theory like evolution, which predicted, about a hundred years before the discovery of genetics, that such a system should exist–it predicted the existence of an entirely new field of science!

Science is all about discovering how the world works and the cause behind the things we see and experience. It is faith that gives empty answers for why the world is the way it is; it’s faith that tells us that the big questions about the universe are infinitely mysterious and beyond our grasp.

And, frankly, it’s a little tiring to see the happy religious characters lecturing to grumpy miserable scientist characters in films and TV. The happiest people I know are scientifically minded and lead their lives free of faith and the supernatural. All the religious and new age people I know are quite unhappy, worry-full people, who always seem to be lost and unsure. Anecdotal, I know…

It’s not hard to see why such a horrible movie is doing so well at the box office. A lot of people are full of doubt, fear, and uncertainty about the future. It’s a comforting idea that there’s a magic solution that can warn us of danger and protect us against the unknown…and the only thing you have to do is keep believing, no matter what the facts tell you.

Just keep listening to the little voices inside your head–they know a lot more than the objective voice of reason coming from your MIT colleague.

Cage, you and your pseudoscience crapfest are forcing me to quote again:

For me, it is far better to understand the universe as it really is, than to persist in delusion, however satisfying or reassuring.

-Carl Sagan

Jan 25

CBC Newsworld is playing Doc Zone right now with an episode called “Fly Me to the Moon”; “NASA’s 50th anniversary is marked in this documentary celebrating humans’ fascination with the moon”. But what’s with the sudden spoonfull of woo I’m seeing? They’re talking to an astrologer from Toronto (apparently the Moon represents ‘the woman’ because INSERT HIGHLY GENERALIZED STEREOTYPICAL FEMININE QUALITIES) and some guy on a piano is singing “Age of Aquarius”.

Oh, nice…next they’re talking to and about police, nurses, ambulance workers, etc., who believe that crazy(er?) stuff happens during a full moon. They could at least mention confirmation bias. sheesh.

Shame on you, Doc Zone, shame on you…

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