Archive for March 11th, 2012

March 11, 2012

What Jesus Says about Abortion, Gay Marriage, and Birth Control

March 11, 2012

What the Bible Says About Non-Christians

Not just atheists like me but about all non-christians. Are you listening Buddhists? Hindus? Jews? Mormons (I know you think you are Christians but do THEY)?  SOB

They are without God.

“Whosoever … abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” — 2 John 9

They are all antichrists.

“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” — 2 John 7

They should be shunned. Neither marry nor be friends with them.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? … Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” — 2 Cor.6:14-17

They should be killed.

“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you … Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die.” — Dt.13:6-10

March 11, 2012

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson

from i09
By Kathryn Grim – Symmetry

Mar 6, 2012 10:16 AM

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson

It’s a discovery that’s been decades in the making, but we have it on good authority that 2012 will be the year physicists either confirm or refute the existence of the Higgs boson — the “God particle,” credited with giving mass to elementary particles.

But make no mistake — there’s more mystery and misconception surrounding the Higgs than the question of whether or not it exists. Here, symmetry magazine’s Kathryn Grim divulges some little-known facts about the perplexing particle.

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson10. Peter Higgs’ best-known paper on the new particle was initially rejected
But this was a blessing in disguise, since it led Higgs to add a paragraph introducing the now-famous Higgs particle. In 1964, Higgs wrote two papers, each just two pages long, on what is now known as the Higgs field. The journal Physics Letters accepted the first but sent the second back. Yoichiro Nambu, a highly regarded physicist who had reviewed the second paper, suggested Higgs add a section explaining his theory’s physical implications. Higgs added a paragraph predicting that an excitation of the field, like a wave in the ocean, would yield a new particle. He then submitted the revised paper to the competing journal Physical Review Letters, which published it.

9. The science minister for the United Kingdom once held a national competition to find the best Higgs explanation
According to the Higgs model, elementary particles gain mass by interacting with an invisible, omnipresent field. The more a particle interacts with the Higgs field, the more mass it will have. Scientists had such difficulty explaining the Higgs field to the British government that in 1993, UK Science Minister William Waldegrave challenged them to send him their best one-page descriptions. Waldegrave handed out champagne to the winners, who included physicist David Miller of University College London. Miller compared the Higgs field to a crowd of political party workers spread evenly through a room. An anonymous person could move through the crowd unhindered. However, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would attract a lot of attention: Party workers would clump around her, slowing her down, giving her metaphorical “mass.” Creative types have since swapped the characters in the metaphor for Albert Einstein mobbed by fellow scientists or pop stars swarmed by paparazzi. [Illustration via]10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson8. The Higgs mechanism explains only a small fraction of the mass in the universe
Most popular science articles give the Higgs model broad credit for lending mass to everything in the universe. However, the Higgs field gives mass only to elementary particles such as quarks and electrons. Most of the visible universe is made of composite particles such as protons and neutrons, which contain quarks. Just as a loaf of raisin bread weighs more than the sum of its raisins, protons and neutrons get their mass from more than just the quarks inside them. The strong nuclear force that holds those quarks together does most of the mass-giving work. [Raisin bread via]

7. Higgs was not the only physicist who contributed to the idea of how to give particles mass
At least a dozen theorists played some part in developing the theoretical framework that led to the Higgs particle. In 2010, the American Physical Society awarded the J.J. Sakurai Prize to six physicists who had published papers on the topic in 1964. But other theorists came up with similar ideas, and earlier publications helped pave the way. The size of this crowd may trouble a certain Swedish committee, as the annual Nobel Prize for physics can be awarded to three living scientists at most. [Physicists pictures via APS]

6. The term “boson” comes from the name of Indian physicist and mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose
Particles come in two varieties: bosons and fermions. The Higgs particle falls into the category of bosons, named for a physicist best known for his collaborations in the 1920s with Albert Einstein. Some of the pair’s work resulted in the invention of Bose-Einstein statistics, a way to describe the behavior of a class of particles that now shares Bose’s name. Two bosons with identical properties can be in the same place at the same time, but two fermions cannot. This is why photons, which are bosons, can travel together in concentrated laser beams. But electrons, which are fermions, must stay away from each other, which explains why electrons must reside in separate orbits in atoms. Bose never received a doctorate, nor was he awarded a Nobel Prize for his work, though the Nobel committee recognized other scientists for research related to the concepts he developed.10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson5. The nickname “God particle” originated from a book by Nobel laureate Leon Lederman
Physicist Leon Lederman unwittingly gave the Higgs boson what may be its most-disliked descriptor with the title of his book, The God Particle. Lederman likes to joke that he actually wanted to call the Higgs boson the “goddamn particle” because it’s so darned difficult to find. The nickname makes for attention-grabbing headlines, but it also makes most particle physicists cringe.

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson4. Standard particle theory will be incomplete even if the Higgs particle is discovered
The Higgs boson is the last undiscovered particle predicted by the Standard Model, a beautiful mathematical framework physicists use to describe the smallest bits of matter and how they interact. Experimental results have time and again validated the model’s other predictions. But finding the Higgs boson would not close the book on particle physics. While the Standard Model accounts for fundamental forces such as electromagnetism and the strong nuclear force, it cannot make sense of gravity, which is disproportionately weak compared to the other forces. One possible explanation is that we experience only a fraction of the force of gravity because most of it acts in hidden extra dimensions.

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson3. If the Higgs particle exists, it may have relatives
Many theorists have tried to explain the known particles and their masses without a Higgs boson, but no one has yet come up with a successful model. In fact, a popular theory known as supersymmetry predicts at least five Higgs particles, and others predict many more. It is up to experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe and at the Tevatron collider in the United States -– where experiments have concluded, but data are still being analyzed –- to discover whether the Higgs boson exists and, if so, whether it is the particle we expected. [Supersymmetric Higgs particles/Minimal supersymmetric Standard Model via]

10 Weird Stories About the Higgs Boson2. Scientists may have first glimpsed the Higgs boson more than a decade ago
In 2000, CERN’s flagship accelerator, the Large Electron Positron Collider, was scheduled to close after 11 years of successful operation when something curious happened. The LEP experiments began to find signs of something that looked rather like the Higgs particle with a mass around 115 GeV/c2, about the mass of an iodine atom. Excited scientists convinced CERN management to keep LEP running for six weeks beyond the original shut-down date to see if the observation would grow more convincing with additional data. During the machine’s stay of execution, even more candidate Higgs events appeared. Physicists requested a second extension to see if their observation might blossom into a discovery, but the machine was dismantled to make way for a higher-energy Higgs hunter, the LHC. The latest LHC results, made public in December 2011, indicate that the Higgs particle, if it exists, must have a mass between 115-130 GeV/c2. The ATLAS and CMS experiments reported intriguing hints of a Higgs boson with a mass in the region of 124-126 GeV. [LEP via]

1. Finding the new particle would be only the beginning
Just because something looks like the Higgs particle does not mean it is the Higgs particle. If physicists do discover a new particle, they will need to measure its numerous properties before they can determine whether it is the Higgs boson described by the Standard Model of particle physics. Theory predicts in great detail how a Standard Model Higgs particle would interact with other particles. Only after carefully measuring and testing these interactions – like a biologist examining the genetic makeup of a new plant species – would scientists be certain that they had indeed found the Standard Model Higgs boson. A new particle that did not act as expected would give physicists a whole new set of mysteries to explore. [Higgs collision via]


10 Weird Stories About the Higgs BosonThis article by Kathryn Grim was originally published in symmetry, a magazine about particle physics and its connections to other aspects of life and science.

Images via Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise indicated.

 

I’m no physicist but I find this stuff fascinating, even the  things i don’t understand. SOB

March 11, 2012

Women and the Bible

from Michaelliain Butters' tumblr

WOMEN AND THE BIBLE.

  • A wife is a man’s property: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17
  • Daughters can be bought and sold: If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exodus 21:7
  • A raped daughter can be sold to her rapist: 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29
  • Collecting wives and sex slaves is a sign of status: He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3
  • Used brides deserve death: If, however the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. Deuteronomy 22:20-21.
  • Women, but only virgins, are to be taken as spoils of war: Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Numbers 31:17-18
  • Menstruating women are spiritually unclean: 19 “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. 22 Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, … 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place,[a] which is among them.’” Leviticus 15: 19-31
  • A woman is twice as unclean after giving birth to girl as to a boy: A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. ’ 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. 6 ” ‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. Leviticus 12: 1-8
  • A woman’s promise is binding only if her father or husband agrees: 2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. 3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her… . . A woman’s vow is meaningless unless approved by her husband or father. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. Numbers 30:1-16
  • Women should be seen not heardWomen should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34
  • Wives should submit to their husband’s instructions and desires: Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18
  • In case you missed that submission thing … : Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24.
  • More submission – and childbearing as a form of atonement: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2: 11-15
  • Women were created for men: For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 1 Corinthians 11:2-10
  • Sleeping with women is dirty: No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. Revelation 14:3-4

Now, no doubt many nominal Christians will say, “But that’s not what I believe”. Really? If you believe that the Bible is a “holy” book and if you accept some of it, then it seems to me that you must accept all.  You don’t get to cherry pick. If one verse of Leviticus is valid then they are all valid. If you are telling me that  this or that in the Bible is metaphor or allegory, then how can you believe anything  that it says? You have no valid arguments when all of your  arguments are supported by magic, superstition, paranormal bullshit, and bronze age fables of questionable origin.

As Mark Twain said, “Religion was  founded when the first con-man met the first fool.”

SOB

March 11, 2012

Chessboxing-My New Favorite Sport

Right up there with rugby and baseball, my other favorites. SOB

Chessboxing is a hybrid sport that combines chess with boxing in alternating rounds. Most of the world championships have been held in Berlin. Ten events organised by the World Chess Boxing Organisation have been held in Germany overall. In London, England there have been 10 international chessboxing tournaments since 2008. Several other chessboxing events have taken place around the world, including in Los Angeles, Nantes (France), Reykjavík (Iceland), Amsterdam and Krasnoyarsk (Russia) although Berlin and London in particular have emerged as the most important centres for chessboxing. The sport was invented by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh, who was inspired by a French comic book ‘Le Froid Equateur’ by artist and filmmaker Enki Bilal. Chess boxing is now growing in popularity.Participants must be skilled as both boxers and chess players, as a match may be won either way.

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March 11, 2012

Jesus (Mithra, Thor, Satan, Vishnu, Allah, or…) Save My Soul, Please.

If any of you religionistas  out there can provide me with any  independently verifiable physical proof of the existence  gods, fairies, demons, Santa. the Easter bunny, or any other such supernatural and magical beings or claims of deeds done by these “powerful” creatures I will beg forgiveness from such deities as are prove and become a disciple. This evidence must be able to withstand vigorous scientific inspection by a selection of scientists of my choosing.

In addition I would challenge anyone out there to provide verifiable evidence that anything like a soul, exists to be saved or that any life exists beyond and after death.This evidence must also be physical and subject to scientific examination. Your faith, delusions, and holy texts aren’t enough.

Breathlessly I await. SOB

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March 11, 2012

Wanted: A Good Baloney Detection Kit

From  eSkeptic, the  newsletter of Skeptic Magazine

Science Education is
No Guarantee of Skepticism

by Richard Walker, Steven J. Hoekstra,
and Rodnet J. Vogl

Many skeptics take a measured amount of pleasure in the kinds of tasks often set before them: evaluating blurry photographs, conducting laboratory experiments that reduce or eliminate trickery, critiquing flawed science and pseudoscience, and countering the claims of obvious charlatans. Of course, skeptics hope that their efforts aid in advancing science education.1 In spite of these efforts, survey data from several sources suggests that paranormal belief and pseudoscientific thinking continue to be commonplace.2

Skeptics often use these findings to reinforce arguments for more science education. Their argument is based upon the largely untested assumption that increased science knowledge reduces the number of paranormal beliefs an individual holds. However, this assumption may not be valid. Andrew Ede recently argued that science education may do little to raise the level of rational thinking and may, in fact, actually deter it!3 Recent debates about including creation science and/or eliminating evolution from high school biology curricula4 are a case in point indicating that many policy makers, members of the public, and a few educators are confused about how to critique and compare theories in order to separate facts from beliefs. Ede identified three reasons why this may be true:5

  1. Science classes, broadly defined, primarily teach technical skills rather than emphasizing critical thinking. Labs are conducted in which there is a “right answer” that the instructor knows, and it is up to the student to manipulate the project until the “right answer” is realized.
  2. Science classes typically review research findings without placing the research in the proper context. This can lead to incorrect assumptions or overgeneralizations.
  3. Science implicitly emphasizes its elite status over other points of view. Therefore, data and graphs are accepted uncritically because they are based on “scientific,” “clinical,” or “laboratory” studies. A lab coat guarantees an aura of expertise.

The overall result is that teaching scientific “facts” is emphasized, while individuals are not given the skills with which to critically evaluate the claims that are presented to them. People are placed in the position of accepting or rejecting claims based on what they are told to believe, rather than being able to critically evaluate the evidence.6

It is possible for a student to accumulate a fairly sizable science knowledge base without learning how to properly distinguish between reputable science and pseudoscience.

A quick inspection of introductory college textbooks supports Ede’s basic arguments. As an example, most introductory psychology texts are now in excess of 500 pages, yet fewer than 15 pages are typically spent on research issues. Little or no discussion is given to the importance of evidence or how scientific methods can be used to weigh evidence. Instead, the primary emphasis of many texts is to enumerate as many scientific findings as possible. Since it is reasonable to suspect that many instructors follow the basic format of the text that has been selected for class, it is likely that class lectures spend more time on specific research findings than on the more abstract topics of empiricism and skepticism. Hence, it is possible for a student to accumulate a fairly sizable science knowledge base without learning how to properly distinguish between reputable science and pseudoscience. Fortunately, there is recently a stronger push in introductory psychology texts to correct this oversight, most strikingly by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris,7 but it still remains the exception to the rule.

Assessing Science Knowledge and Pseudoscientific Beliefs

The primary goal of this paper is to examine the relationship between science knowledge and paranormal beliefs. We reasoned that if Ede’s argument is true, then a person’s scientific knowledge base should be unrelated to pseudoscientific beliefs. If, on the other hand, science leads to skepticism about pseudoscience, science knowledge and paranormal beliefs should be inversely related.

We tested this relationship using survey methodology at three small undergraduate universities (Christian Brothers University, Kansas Wesleyan University, and Winston-Salem State University). Across our samples, a total of 207 students were surveyed (66 at CBU, 70 at KWU, and 71 at WSSU). While the precise wording of the questions varied somewhat across institutions, each survey contained two essential units, administered in counterbalanced order.

In one unit, students were given one or more measures of science knowledge. Efforts were made to select scales from nationally recognized tests and to include questions from many areas of science, including biology, chemistry, geology, and astronomy. At CBU and WSSU, we used randomly sampled science questions from practice test banks for the Praxis Series National Teacher’s Exam. At KWU, we used items selected from the General Social Survey and a self-constructed measure of science values.8 At least two test versions were used at each university (WSSU used four separate test versions). Sample questions from the Praxis Series National Teacher’s Exam9 included:

  1. Which of the following is the dominant source of all or nearly all of the Earth’s energy? (A) Plants, (B) Animals, (C) Coal, (D) Oil, (E) The Sun
  2. Which of the following is true? (A) Energy may be converted from one form to another, (B) Energy may not be converted from one form to another, (C) The energy that a moving object possesses because of its motion is correctly known as potential energy, (D) Objects which possess energy because of their position are said to have kinetic energy, (E) Most scientists readily agree that energy from nuclear fission will be the chief source of energy by the year 2005.
  3. Which of the following situations might cause harm to an embryo? (A) The father is RH-positive; the mother, RH-negative, (B) The mother had German measles during the first trimester of pregnancy, (C) The father is RH-negative; the mother, RH-positive, (D) A and B only, (E) B and C only.
  4. Heavy infections of Trichinella in people may cause a disease called trichinosis; such a situation may best be described as which of the following? (A) Parasitism, (B) Mutualism, (C) Commercialism, (D) Benevolent, (E) Benign.
  5. Which of the following is the main difference between an organic and an inorganic compound? (A) The former is a living compound, while the latter is a nonliving compound, (B) There are many more of the latter than of the former, (C) The latter can be synthesized only by living organisms, (D) The latter can be synthesized only by nonliving organisms, (E) The former are those that contain carbon.
  6. On the periodic table the symbol Pb represents which of the following? (A) Iron, (B) Phosphorus, (C) Lead, (D) Plutonium, (E) Potassium.
  7. Which of the metric terms is closest to the measurement of a new piece of chalk? (A) Meter, (B) Liter, (C) Gram, (D) Decimeter, (E) Kilometer.
  8. Which of the following is a genetic disorder? (A) Down’s Syndrome, (B) Syphilis, (C) Malaria, (D) Leukemia, (E) Emphysema.
  9. A litmus test conducted on HCl would have which of the following results? (A) There is no effect on the color of the litmus paper, (B) The litmus paper disintegrates, (C) The litmus paper turns blue, (D) The litmus paper turns red, (E) The carbonation causes oxygen.
  10. When is the Earth closest to the Sun? (A) During the summer, (B) During the fall, (C) During the winter, (D) During the spring, (E) During the spring and summer.

For each sample, we correlated the participant’s test score with their average [paranormal] belief score. Across all three samples, there was no relationship between the level of science knowledge and skepticism regarding paranormal claims.

In a second unit, students were asked to rate how much they believed in various paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Again, efforts were made to select a cross-section of pseudoscientific claims. As skeptics, we found writing unbiased items to be a fairly difficult task, but the scale presented below, used in various forms at KWU, CBU, and WSSU, had acceptable reliability.10 Questions included:

Please rate how much you believe the following statements. Use the 7-point scale provided.

1=I do not believe in this at all; 2=I doubt very much that this is real; 3=I doubt that this is real; 4=I am unsure if this is real or not; 5=I believe this may be real; 6=I believe this is real; 7=I strongly believe this is real

  • A person’s personality can be easily predicted by their handwriting.
  • A person can use their mind to see the future or read other people’s thoughts.
  • A person’s astrological sign can predict a person’s personality and their future.
  • An ape-like mammal, sometimes called Bigfoot, roams the forests of America.
  • The body can be healed by placing magnets on to the skin near injured areas.
  • Healing can be promoted by placing a wax candle in your ear and lighting it.
  • A dinosaur, sometimes called the Loch Ness Monster, lives in a Scottish lake.
  • Sending chain letters can bring you good luck.
  • The government is hiding evidence of alien visitors at places such as Area 51.
  • Voodoo curses are real and have been known to kill people.
  • A broken mirror can bring you bad luck for many years.
  • Houses can be haunted by the spirits of people who have died in tragic ways.
  • Water can be accurately detected by people using “Y”-shaped tree branches.
  • Animals, such as cats and dogs, are sensitive to the presence of ghosts.
Science Test Scores

After scoring this portion of the survey, we used the total number of correct responses as data for each participant. While the scores did show a fair degree of variability, the averages were generally near the midpoint (CBU M=7.42, SD=2.27, out of a possible 15; KWU M=3.52, SD=.33, on a 1 to 5 scale; WSSU M=5.8, SD = 1.96, out of a possible 10).11

Paranormal / Pseudoscientific Beliefs

Unlike previous studies that have examined specific beliefs (e.g., UFOs, ESP), we were interested in these beliefs as a whole. We wanted a single representative score for each participant. We calculated the average belief score for each participant, with higher ratings indicating greater overall belief. When looking at these scores, remember that the rating ranged from “No belief” to “Total belief.” Looking across the three samples, the average belief rating was at or below the midpoint of the scale (CBU M=1.96, SD=.76, on a 7- point scale; KWU M=2.52, SD=.58, on a 5-point scale; WSSU M=2.9, SD=.91, on a 7-point scale), although there were individuals ranging from complete skeptics to complete believers.

Science Test Scores and Paranormal / Pseudoscientific Beliefs

We were interested in whether science test scores were correlated with paranormal beliefs. For each sample, we correlated the participant’s test score with their average belief score. Across all three samples, the correlation between test scores and beliefs was non-significant (CBU r(65)=-.136, p>.05; KWU r(69)=.107, p>.05; WSSU r(70)=.031, p>.05). In other words, there was no relationship between the level of science knowledge and skepticism regarding paranormal claims.

Wanted: A Good Baloney Detector!

These results are consistent with the notion that having a strong scientific knowledge base is not enough to insulate a person against irrational beliefs. Students who scored well on these tests were no more or less skeptical of pseudoscientific claims than students who scored very poorly. Apparently, the students were not able to apply their scientific knowledge to evaluate these pseudoscientific claims. We suggest that this inability stems in part from the way that science is traditionally presented to students: Students are taught what to think but not how to think.

These results need to be replicated using different materials and participants, although the diversity of measures and samples presented here suggests that there is some validity to our conclusions. While some might contend that our tests did not fully measure science knowledge, we counter this concern by emphasizing that our test questions were drawn from national tests designed to assess scientific reasoning. Thus, if there is a bias in our procedure, this bias is entrenched in science education. In our view, addressing the following questions can serve to clarify the relation between science education and pseudoscientific thinking.

First, do pseudoscientific beliefs vary by academic major? If science does discourage such beliefs, then one might suspect that science majors should view these beliefs more skeptically than perhaps religion or art majors. While there is evidence that scientists are more skeptical of claims than other individuals, it is unclear whether this skepticism is readily transferred to undergraduate science majors. After all, strange beliefs seem to be found among students of many disciplines. Unfortunately, our access to samples was too small to adequately test differences between majors.

Second, do pseudoscientific beliefs vary by education level? As students advance through college and gain experience and critical thinking skills, one might expect pseudoscientific beliefs to decrease. Although our data did not address this issue, other studies on skepticism suggest that an individual’s education level may not ward off such beliefs.12

Finally, can academic courses or programs that systematically raise or lower belief in pseudoscience be identified? It is possible that particular courses may encourage or discourage pseudoscientific beliefs. These courses need to be identified, and in the case of the latter, the key elements of these courses need to be disseminated to other science instructors. This is especially important when classroom information can support or contradict information from other sources, such as mass media. Our results suggest that we should not be overly optimistic, but more systematic investigations are needed.

Baloney Detection Kit (cover)Baloney Detection Kit
by Michael Shermer and Pat LinseThis 16-page booklet is designed to hone your critical thinking skills. It includes suggestions on what questions to ask, what traps to avoid, specific examples of how the scientific method is used to test pseudoscience and paranormal claims, and a how-to guide for developing a class in critical thinking.
ORDER the 16-page booklet

We hope that our findings force fellow skeptics to rethink some of their assumptions. Science education, in its current form, seems to do little to offset pseudoscientific beliefs, and may in fact give students reason to accept science fiction as science fact. As skeptics and teachers, we need to do more than merely debunk extraordinary claims. While these demonstrations are informative and entertaining, they need to be coupled with thoughtful discussions of scientific reasoning. Carl Sagan suggested that good scientific reasoning demands the same type of skepticism that is needed to buy a good used car. In short, he said that students of science need a good baloney detector.13 We agree. The Skeptics Society’s recent publication of the Baloney Detection Kit that instructs teachers on how to teach just such a course is a step in the right direction.14 Provisional scientific truth must be separated clearly from myth. We urge skeptics to help students gain the necessary skills to make such distinctions both inside and outside the classroom.END

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: We would like to thank the undergraduate research assistants who helped collect and tabulate the data on this research project: Reggie Andrews, Paul Delph, Stefanie McGee, and Lakisha Pinson. Correspondence concerning this article should be directed to W. Richard Walker, Department of Social Sciences, Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC 27110

References
  1. Sagan, C. 1996. The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine; Shermer, M. 1997. Why People Believe Weird Things. New York: W. H. Freeman.
  2. Gallup, G. H., Jr., and F. Newport. 1991. “Belief in Paranormal Phenomena Among Adult Americans.” Skeptical Inquirer, 15, 137–147; Jaroff, L. 1995. “Weird Science.” Time, 145 May 15, 20, 75–76; McCarthy, P. 1987. “Pseudoteachers.” Omni, July, 74; Sparks, G. G., C. L. Nelson, and R. G. Campbell. 1997. “The Relationship Between Exposure to Televised Messages About Paranormal Phenomena and Paranormal Beliefs.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 41, 345–358; Zane, J. P. 1994. “Soothsayers as Business Advisors.” The New York Times, Section 4, September 11, 2.
  3. Ede, A. 2000. “Has Science Education Become an Enemy of Scientific Rationality?” Skeptical Inquirer, 24, 48–51.
  4. Milburn, J. 2001. “Board Approves New Science Standards With Renewed Emphasis on Evolution. The Salina Journal, February 15, A1.
  5. Ede, 2000.
  6. Sparks, G. G., M. Pellechia, and C. Irvine. 1998. “Does Television News About UFOs Affect Viewers’ UFO Beliefs?: An Experimental Investigation.” Communication Quarterly, 46, 284–294.
  7. Wade, C., and C. Tavris. 2000. Psychology (6th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  8. Ankney, R. N. 2000. “Media Reliance and Science Knowledge: Do People Learn Science Information From the Media the Same Way They Learn Political Information?” Poster presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Phoenix, AZ, August.
  9. Answers to the Praxis Seies National Teacher’s Exam: 1-E; 2-A; 3-D; 4-A; 5-E; 6-C; 7-D; 8-A; 9-D; 10-C.
  10. Reliability scores were as follows: CBU Cronbach’s alpha = 0.82; KWU Cronbach’s alpha = 0.83; WSSU Cronbach’s alpha = 0.82.
  11. M = Mean, or average score; SD = Standard Deviation, or the average amount of variation around the mean.
  12. Levitt, N. 1998. “Why Professors Believe Weird Things.” Skeptic, 6:3 28–35; Siano, B. 1999. “Public Relations: Blue Smoke, Mirrors, and Designer Science.Skeptic, 7:1, 45–55.
  13. Sagan, 1996.
  14. Shermer, M. and P. Linse. 2001. The Baloney Detection Kit. Altadena, CA: Millennium Press.
Skeptical perspectives on pseudoscientific beliefs…
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by Michael Shermer
In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. In a no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, Shermer debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing…
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The great astronomer and science writer, Carl Sagan, challenges New Agers and explains social phenomena like UFOs, alien abductions, recovered memories, satanic cults, witch crazes, hallucinations, and how to detect baloney. This is Sagan’s most popular book among skeptics, filled with quotable maxims, popular among college professors as a supplemental text for students, but a classic for everyone who cares about living in a sane and safe world without superstition. ORDER THE BOOK.
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