Saturday, December 23, 2006

Commercial Skepticism

Getting new people into skepticism is one of the hardest problems we face. Skepticism isn't magical, it doesn't seem to let you in on secret knowledge (though in some cases, we are the very few sane ones), and it doesn't offer miracles. All we really offer is reality, and that isn't enough for many people. So, we need a hook, and here's what I've come up with:

Skepticism will save you money.

Skepticism will prevent you from spending your money on useless products and services. Intrigued yet? Hopefully with this tact, people will be more likely to give it a shot, find that it works, and then start applying it to other things.

(Note to medical skeptics: Yes, I know it can also save your life, but the problem is that woo will also claim to be able to save your life, so we don't come out ahead here in the view of the layman.)

So, I'm going to do a post today on an advertisement I found dumped in the backseat of my mother's car, presumably found plastered to her windshield. Conveniently, it's for a psychic. Here's basically what it looked like (sans graphics, some formatting, and contact information):

World Renowned Master Psychic

I will tell you enough of your past to convince you of your future without you speaking a single word. One does not live without problems such as: love, marriage, health, business, etc., yet why endure them when a gifted PSYCHIC can and will help you with WHATEVER THE PROBLEMS MAY BE.
  • Ora Analysis
  • Aroma Therapy
  • Past Life Readings
  • Dream Interpretations
  • Tarot Cards
  • Crystal Readings
You May Have Seen Her
On TV or Read About Her! Now You
Can See a "True" Psychic For Positive Results

[Phone number and pricing cut]

Normally, I typically go after spelling, grammar, and formatting first. However, this is an advertisement, so note that a lot of my guidelines for formatting don't apply here. Spelling and grammar still do, of course. So, let's get nit-picky!

  • "World Renowned" should be "World-Renowned." Multiple-word adjectives should be hyphenated, just like "multiple-word" in this sentence.
  • "Ora" is most likely a horrible misspelling of "aura." This one's really amateurish.
  • Again, "Past Life" should be "Past-Life."
  • For the last block of text, don't switch overall formatting in the middle of a sentence. Particularly in advertisement, where periods aren't always required, people are going to mistake this as being a break between sentences at first glance.
  • Keep consistent with your capitalization scheme. You can capitalize every word, or you could do every word except "small" words (articles, conjunctions, and prepositions of 4-letters or less), but don't switch around.
  • The viewpoint changes throughout the advertisement. Sometimes it's the psychic talking in first-person, sometimes it's third-person.
And now, one formatting quirk that's not so nit-picky: The quotation marks in "Now You Can See A 'True' Psychic For Positive Results!" Here, "True" has quotation marks around it. Is this for emphasis? My formatting rule against this still applies; quotation marks should never be used for emphasis. The problem is that the quotation marks could also imply the word doesn't mean its typical definition, and in the case of "true," that's a big problem. It could be that she isn't a "true psychic" at all, and they're just using this to cover their asses so that they can claim some other bogus definition of "true" when she's challenged.

Now, we go on to three tasks you should always perform when dissecting an advertisement. The first of these is to look for loaded terms. These are terms that carry emotional weight, but may not mean anything in the real world (you can't falsify a claim that uses them). A brief look through the advertisement gets the following:

  • "World Renowned" - Makes it sound like she's known all over the world. But could you bring a court case against her with this term? Nope, she could just claim she has a cousin in Italy or whatever, so she's known by someone over there. This term is essentially meaningless.
  • "Master" - This generally means one of two things. In trade skills, it means you've taken on apprentices. In other cases, it means you're perfect at your profession. People are going to assume the latter, but again this is unfalsifiable. She could simply claim that being a psychic by nature has uncertainties, so even someone who's mastered the art will sometimes be wrong. She could also claim she was using the first definition, and she has an apprentice.
  • "Gifted" - Someone with an ability beyond most other people is called "gifted," but ask yourself this: How many people are there in the world who don't excel in some area enough to be considered "gifted" in it? Very few. It might be quantum physics they're gifted in, or it might be trivia about The Beatles, but claiming you're gifted is almost always safe. In this case, I'm guessing she thinks she's gifted at fraud - though I don't think this is a particularly good attempt at it.
  • "You May Have Seen Her On TV or Read About Her!" - Was she on TV as a psychic, or was she on TV because Penn and Teller were debunking her on Bullshit!? Was she in a book about famous psychics, or was she mentioned in The Demon-Haunted World? It makes a difference, but the advert never says.
Now, the second task: Look for cop-outs. These are weakening phrases or disclaimers put in to cover their asses from false-advertisement suits. This ad is pretty clear of them, and the only one is "may have" in "You May Have Seen Her On TV or Read About Her!" This normally means that you might not have seen her simply because you weren't watching or reading the right things. It could also mean, however, that she actually wasn't on TV on in print at any time.

And finally, the third task: Look for what isn't said. Often, advertisements will leave out information that seems like it would be important. That they left it out can be really telling. This case is no exception. Go up and see if you can spot it for yourself.

Found it? The big ingredient that's missing is the name of the psychic. She's world-renowned, we may have seen her on TV or read about her, but you won't tell us who she is!? Now that's suspicious. My guess is that they're doing this as they don't have just one psychic at this agency, so they can get away with multiple people giving readings without the customers knowing, much like the Miss Cleo scam.

Now, there's something else I'd like to point out in this particular advert:

I will tell you enough of your past to convince you of your future without you speaking a single word. One does not live without problems such as: love, marriage, health, business, etc....

Is it just me, or is she completely giving away the scam here? She'll tell you things about your past that happen to everyone on earth, and use this to convince you that she's also right about your future. Also, I doubt that the "without you speaking a single word" part is true. Psychics often engage in Cold Reading to draw information out of their victim subject, and this relies on their responses. But maybe this one is too lame to even do that.

Proceed with your information binge...

Thursday, December 21, 2006


With a flicker, the lights come back on. Infophile is still standing behind the podium, alive and well, and he continues his presentation.

Again, I must sincerely apologize for the difficulty, but with no further delay, on with the skepticism!


Looking back through history, it seems that every age has its own "plagues." As soon as one is cured, people start living a bit longer and run into other plagues at older ages. In North American society, we rarely see deaths from the bubonic plague or tuberculosis thanks to improvements in hygiene and the development of vaccines. Instead, people end up dying from heart disease or the plague of our modern era: Cancer.

We've made immense progress in the battle against cancer, but we haven't beaten all forms of it quite yet. This latter fact has led some people to be dissatisfied with the state of cancer research, and they try to find people to blame for it. In his post, Bloviations and pontifications on the state of cancer research, part 2 (of 2), Orac replies to one such critic. He explains that things really aren't as bad as the critics would have you believe. Most of the time, they're just cherry-picking the evidence that makes progress in the fight against cancer look bad, while ignoring evidence of progress.

From, we learn of another organization making this same mistake: The Family Research Council, or FRC. As part of their attack on the morning-after pill, they pointed out the datum that women who received the pill ahead of time were just as likely to conceive as those who relied on going out to purchase it when needed, and somehow stretched this into saying it doesn't work at all. The fact that women who actually use it tend to conceive much less than those who do apparently slipped their minds.

One much more minor "plague" that humans have faced throughout all of their history is allergies. In a few cases, allergies can lead to death, but in most cases they're simply an inconvenience. Given the vast number of people who have some sort of allergies, however (and I count myself in this number), a cure for allergies would be quite a boon. One person who's tried to find such a cure is Patrick Holford, his particular cure being nutritional supplements. You can also see the paltry evidence for another of his claims - that "[t]he evidence for IgG antibody reactions as a basis for food intolerances continues to grow" - at Holford Watch.

Junkfood Science discusses two other health issues that worry many in modern society. The first is obesity, in a discussion of a claim that's been circulating the media recently that apparently overweight people cost their employers more money (as an altie might claim, it's just one symptom of overall poor "wellness," but I digress). The original research paper on the subject shows that reality is much more complicated. Rather than explain it all here, I'll just recommend you go and read it yourself.

The other issue highlighted here is that of autism, a developmental disorder that seems to be afflicting more and more people (or just more and more people getting diagnosed because of increasing awareness). We don't know what actually causes autism, but one small but vocal sect claims that it's exposure to mercury in vaccines at an early age which is to blame. To remedy this, they recommend using EDTA chelation therapy, a very risky proceedure which has shown no signs of benefiting anyone with autism. Whenever some altie asks you "What's the harm?" in buying into their claims, you might want to point them to all the deaths chelation therapy for autism has caused.

No skeptical discussion of medicine would be complete without some reference to "Traditional Chinese Medicine," a big buzz word among many alties. This time however, I don't bring you a reference to it, but rather an entire history of it brought to you by Wandering Primate. Of course, given the lengthy history of it, it's been split up into two parts for ease of digestion: Part 1, Part 2. You might also note that many people who currently follow TCM ignore much that it actually said, such as recommending you imbibe "cinnabar and gold."

Myths and Hoaxes

Myths arise in every culture. A few strange sights get connected together, a hoaxer makes a giant footprint, some blurry film, and all of a sudden you have millions of people believing in a giant ape-like creature living in the Pacific Northwest. One man, Mike Lake, is now trying to get this mythical creature officially recognized as being endagered. After all, he argues, its hold on existence itself in tenuous.

One other hoax that has been fooling many amateur scholars is the Kensington Runestone. The stone was a 19th century hoax which attempted to make it look like a 16th century artifact. Recently, the stone underwent scientific analysis in Sweden in an attempt to add further evidence to its actual date. Sadly, however, nothing much of use was obtained beyond what was already known.

Another famous stone hoax was the "Ica Stones" discovered in Peru. The stones show humans interacting with almost every type of dinosaur imaginable, and have been touted by creationists as evidence that humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the stones were later revealed to have been carved by the very people who claimed to have found them. And yet, creationists still try to use them as evidence...

If the above hoaxes seem a bit tame to you, how about a woman giving birth to rabbits? Providentia brings us the story of this hoax, and I won't spoil it any further here.


Not everything worthy can be easily pigeonholed, so my last section details the best of the rest. First up is an anecdote about anecdotes from Cospiracy factory, which serves to illustrate the problems with anecdotes in determining physical causes, and how people often assume more from them than is warranted.

News from Hawkhill Acres brings us a story about a man who claimed to have temporarily died and spent some time in heaven. His evidence? Oh look, it's another anecdote. Nothing to say the vision of heaven he saw wasn't just a fevered hallucination created by his admittedly injured mind.

Blake Stacey of Science after Sunset brings us three posts discussing recent publications. He takes on a Newsweek article on sexual education, Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, and Time's poor choice of an author for Richard Dawkin's profile.

Matt the Pooflinger shows us how some really far-out people can actually be quite humorous. Case in point, LDS splinter cult leader Art Bulla, who saw something supernatural in 1969 (rearrange the letters of LDS for my guess as to what it might have been).

I managed to sneak in a couple of links to his posts earlier, but Bronze Dog's contributions this week do deserve their own note. In addition to the Doggerel linked previously (Wellness and "What's the harm?"), he also brings you the popular altie doggerel of Vibration, the popular creationist (and others) doggerel of "[Evil Guy] believed in [Theory]," and a debate of fundamental reasoning in Why versus Why.

Critical thinking skills are important to a skeptic, but if you don't use them they'll rot. To counter this, Bob from Hot Dogs, Pretzels, and Perplexing Questions brings us the Paradox of the Question to challenge your mental faculties. Ponder this for yourself: If you could ask any question whatsoever and get a truthful answer to it, what would be the best question to ask?

Whatever question you come up with there, be careful you don't get too certain it's the right one. As Steven Novella cautions us, "The certainty that one is correct is the most reliable predictor of error, for knowledge stems from scientific methodology and certainty is anathema to such inquiry." Read his entire post on the subject of certainty at I'm Certain You're Going to Love This One.

And that's it for the Skeptic's Circle! It's certainly been some night, hasn't it? The next edition of the circle with be on May 24th, hosted by Memoirs of a Skepchick. You can send your submissions in to skepchick [at] skepchick [dot] org. Hope to see you there!

Proceed with your information binge...

The Sagan Circle

A very Carl Sagan edition of the Skeptic's Circle is now up over at Humbug Online. Go check it out, and be sure to get any of your demons exorcized!

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Extraordinary Ignorance

I'd already gotten an idea for a post formed up for the Carl Sagan Blogathon, but another great subject just fell into my lap, so I'm going with this one first. You see, I have an interesting ability to be completely ignorable when I don't go out of my way to draw attention. Sometimes it's a blessing, often it's a curse. Today, it led to a couple of guys on the elevator having an extremely bigoted exchange, completely oblivious to my presence.

The target of their bigotry? Atheists. In America, there's a ton of hate directed towards atheists, and many say that they're the only group it's still alright to hate. But this was Canada, which is supposed to be better. Not only that, this was at the University of Waterloo, Canada's answer to MIT. One would hope such a bastion of intellect would also lead to increased tolerance, but such is apparently not the case.

I kept my mouth shut during the conversation (well, it was more a rant on the part of one of them), as I figured it would be more interesting to see where it would lead than to interfere. Here's a paraphrase of the conversation, with my thoughts italicized:

It started when one of the boys (not men, boys) noticed a "Bad Religion" button worn by the other. "Bad Religion, you mean like atheism?"

"Nah, just Bad Religion. Atheism sucks."


No, not really.

"Yeah, it's like a cop-out."

I think you're thinking of agnosticism there. That's where you just say you don't know. Atheism is where you say you believe that there is no supernatural god or gods. Even so, I wouldn't call agnosticism a cop-out. We can't know, so admitting it isn't a cop-out.

The first guy commented, "My friend, Ben, is an atheist." I considered mentioning that I was as well, but decided against it.

The second guy continued with his rant, "Well, it's just stupid. Religion's good and all, who are they to go against it?"

So many problems in so few words. As for it being stupid, is there some obvious evidence for religion we're all missing? No? Then how is it stupid not to believe any of it? And Religion good? Do I even have to go into all the atrocities committed by religion? There were crusades, inquisitions, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, putting us 1,000 years back, the Church's stranglehold on medieval Europe preventing any progress, and that's just Christianity.

"And when I ask atheists why they don't believe in religion, they're like, 'Well, science has proved religion so it's not true.' And why is there nothing then? 'Well, I don't know, there's just not.'" When mimicking atheists there, he used an overblown "stupid" voice.

And now he's mixing scientism up into it. He's also implying the old mantra of "Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence." The problem there is that sometimes it is - when evidence would be expected if the proposition were true. In the case of religion, if it were true, we'd expect to see some evidence for it. The fact that we haven't is evidence against it. The second statement is even worse; just a strawman built up to mock them. Might work when no atheists are around, but this wasn't to be the case.

This was the end of the elevator ride, so I didn't hear if he continued his rant. What I did hear was enough to sadden me with the current state of affairs. Not just in the hate for atheists, but the reasoning for it. The criticism of the scientific approach is what really struck me.

And this is where we get to the Carl Sagan connection, in his famous quote:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Religion is one of the most extraordinary claims made by humans. To back it up, we should have equally extraordinary evidence. Except we have next to none. But for some reason, people accept it anyways. The comments this guy made made it clear that this was at least partly out of ignorance for what atheists actually said. Maybe I should have tried to explain it to him, but the elevator ride was too short. Perhaps, with this is mind, another line should be added to Sagan's line:

"Though for many, extraordinary ignorance suffices."

Proceed with your information binge...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Paul Barnes: Haggard II

This just in from Reuters, Paul Barnes, evangelical church leader, has resigned after an accusation (and his admission) of him having homosexual sex. Sound familiar? He wasn't quite as outspoken against homosexuality as Ted Haggard, but this is yet one more nail in the coffin of the Christian myth the homosexuality is a choice or can be cured.

And you know what's really cool? I've caught this story before any other blog I read regularly. That's worth celebrating.

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quantum Post Tunneling

Well, I'd written up a post all about how woos misuse the term "Quantum," but apparently it's tunneled accross the internet to a more appropriate location at Rockstar's Ramblings. If you want to read it, you can find it at Doggerel 17.1: "Quantum" (Take Two),

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stop the Squid!

What is even more tenctacle-y than an octopus, yet not as smart?

What animal does C'thulu most resemble?

For that matter, what does Bel'Shamharoth resemble?

That's right, the squid! And the squid is winning. Will you lay back and let the Sender of Eight, the Soul Eater, the Soul Render, Pharyngula take over?

I thought not. So, here's what you have to do: At this point, there's only one man who has a chance of taking down the squid: Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer (the Rincewind of our story, if you will). Now, go out and cast your vote for Bad Astronomy. Vote every day from now until Friday. There are other blogs there that may tempt you, but that's just The Sender of Eight and his eight minions, so ignore them.

And if the Soul Eater decides to come after you in revenge, just remember: Running away may get you into more trouble, but you can run away from that as well.

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, December 11, 2006

We apologize for the inconvenience

Well, the spammers are hitting full-force. In order to save myself the headaches of deleting every spam that comes by, I'm going to temporarily (I hope) enable word-verification for comments. Don't blame me; they're the ones forcing this.

Proceed with your information binge...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A note to spammers

Telling me that your spam is not spam will not work. Take the following spam I recently received:

Wazzzup. You site is realy cool!
Its'not a spam [Links removed. I'm not going to help their business.]

It's hard to imagine what could be going through someone's mind when they think that simply saying it's not spam will fool us. Especially after they've just linked to viagra twice, which is in contention with penis enlargement for the most-often spammed product.

This isn't, however, the strangest spam I've ever received. In response to my post, Quantum Mechanics for Dummies: Wave Nature of Matter, I received the a very long-winded e-mail trying to prove a claim that an electron is a heavy photon.

Very pleased 82 years young research scientist very plwased with your arcticle and its insights on the wave character of matter ---you wrote " Then things got stranger. We tried firing things that we were pretty sure were particles through a double-slit experiment, such as electrons. They, too, showed a diffraction pattern. We went bigger and shot atoms through it. Same deal. Our record so far has been shooting Bucky Balls (spherical molecules of 60 carbon atoms) through it, and even they act like waves.

Now that you have cleverly mastered problematic math, try catching up with where Einstein left off with mechanical visualization of matter and its energy transport using event local determinism at the individual freqency pulse level.. As Maxwell knew by gut feel only --all measure is by molecular size electron quantum. You are bright and young enough, figure out how to prove in a deterministic way that an electron is a helical string of 1/h-squared Higgs particles and a tandem linked 1/h quantum waves---literally a maximum density extrusion that can tandem link as a continuous pulse series of electrons, across open space--- to span the distance from the surface of a bright moon to your romantic eyeballs --to touch your very soul in real time--per E = Mc-squared! I offer you my latest short theory paper as just posted --- pasted below

So, you're 82 years young, yet don't have the courtesy to use proper grammar, and you haven't figured out how your backspace key works (judging by "posted --- pasted")? Somehow I doubt that. Seems a bit more likely you're a failed up-and-comer who failed because he wasn't smart enough to properly understand quantum mechanics or particle physics, and then crossed over to the dark side. Now, fast-forwarding to the end of the e-mail:

1. The quantum wave is one helical world line turn around R of 1/h G-size Higgs particles that pulse- move from one R to another R next door in one of just 6 directions. When 1/h such quantum one turns around R build a wavy line around a single line of R's as a ray of radiation propagating through DM space, you have one electron segment of the wave string of radiation. When a ray of radiation of whatever frequency, including the light range thereof, extends from the moon, say, to one's retina, the radiating surface of the moon has touched our eye! In well recorded fact, the ray of moon radiation has literally touched our very soul in terms of a measurable sequence of extruded electrons that travel to us per E = Mc 2! Deny this in any way and you destroy the commonly held foundation of physics as we best know it today!

2. It takes 1/h electrons in helical strong Higgs particle tandem to equal a unit of mass and DM granulates so that E = Mc2 is always numerically equal to nhf, where n is the count of electrons in parallel and/or series, and f is the number of such electrons pulsing per second through the measurement aperture. We do not now nor did we ever have the ability to measurement parse series versus parallel electron passage and do not even bother to understand fully what is meant here by "aperture". How could we be so Wheeler-announced stupid for so long --and still have prediction? By the h-symmetry that lets h be both quantum energy in ergs and quantum mass in grams. Any systematic approach could get there like a dumb "Piece of cake"!

I really have no idea what he's talking about, but I'm guessing he doesn't either. Take the following quote for example:

Maxwell knew that molecular sized electrons were ubiquitous in our measure of physical reality...

Yeah... no such thing as "molecular sized electrons." All electrons are the same size (well, size is hard to define at that scale), and that's much much less than the size of an atom. Now, there are other leptons that are similar to electrons but much more massive, such as muons and taus, but that's not what we're talking about here.

So anyways, here's a quick list of reasons an electron is not simply a heavy photon:

1. Electrons have charge (classical electrons have negative, but there are also positrons with a positive charge), photons don't.
2. Electrons have a spin of 1/2, photons have a spin of 1. It follows that electrons are fermions while photons are bosons.
3. Photons have polarization, electrons don't.

So a quick word to the wise: Spamming bloggers is not a good way to get a scientific theory accepted. Submit it to a scientific journal like everyone else. Also, please make sure your theory doesn't have obvious holes like this one does.

Proceed with your information binge...

Houdini rises from the grave... prove that such nonsense as "Rising from the grave" is impossible. Go see what I'm talking about at the 49th Skeptic circle courtesy of Autism Street.

And, if I may be granted a moment to grumble: He forgot Mythbusters. Come on, they're skeptical, and they blow stuff up! What's not to love?

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Alright, I admit it...

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 98%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

FYI, the only reason I didn't come out as 100% is because I didn't vote in the 2004 election, which was because I legally couldn't (not an American citizen). If I had, I would have voted for Kerry, so I think I've earned a 100%, at least in spirit.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Excuse me while I spasm uncontrollably

Well, the campus newspaper has done it again. The highlighted piece of woo this week: Global Orgasm Day. In the Science section of the paper no less. Granted, it was a "Community Editorial" (which is what they call very long letters to the editor), but they still did make the decision to print it, and what section to put it in.

Now, it isn't posted online yet, so I can't give quotes (without typing the whole thing up myself, which I am not looking forward to doing) or link to it just yet. When it is, expect to see that here.

Edit: You can see the entire article here.

The article justifies the possible effects of GOD (no, not God, GOD) by bringing up Princeton's Global Consciousness Project. This was inspired by work done in PEAR (The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research), which is about to be shut down because it's a collosal waste of money and effort. Good thing to appeal to there.

About half of the article is spent just explaining how things work over there, when it could be summed up in one sentence: They watch random numbers and see if they deviate from expected patterns during big events. Yeah, well I've got a newsflash for you: Deviations are to be expected in small time frames. The laws of probability demand it.

When the article finally gets around to an actual claim, it says:

During times such as natural disasters, wars, 9/11 or mass meditation and prayer, the numbers generated deviated from the pattern.

So, around the times of these events, the numbers didn't have a perfectly chance distribution. Maybe that would mean something, if there weren't a few huge problems with how they work:

1. There's no set time-frame for when the deviation has to be found, so it's judged subjectively. For instance, the deviation associated with the World Trade Center attacks occured a couple hours before the attacks. Opening it up like this increases the likelihood of them finding some period where the numbers deviate a little.

2. There's no set criterion for how much the numbers deviate for it to be considered significant. Again, this is all done subjectively, allowing for very weak deviations to be counted as significant.

Using guidelines as loose as these, I betcha I can find a deviation to match any given event. In fact, I'll predict right now that there'll be some slight deviation right at the time I'm typing this post.

The article goes on to claim that this is because "information, or the perception thereof, will exert an effect on the quantum energy and will change the way the numbers are produced." Odd, in my quantum mechanics classes, we never talked about how macroscopic information could effect whatever he means by "quantum energy." And the closest we ever got to talking about the effects of sex on quantum mechanics was the "Bra" in "Bra-Ket."

In fact, you know the thing about Quantum Mechanics that rules stuff like this out? Quantum Mechanics may have very weird results on small scales and with individual particles, but once you blow it up to macroscopic scale, they all get averaged out. It's only very precise experiments on very small numbers of particles that show any quantum effects. Just wait, I'm sure that one of these days "Appeal to Quantum Mechanics" is going to become a recognized logical fallacy or pseudo-fallacy. It's getting more and more popular by the day.

With this in mind, I've currently finished two of my three sample articles for getting my own column (which is apparently desperately needed). If anyone's available to look over them and comment on them, please drop me an e-mail (address in my profile) or comment here.

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Upcoming: The Principle of Charity

I'm taking a quick break from working on my research project to note an idea I had for an upcoming installment of Distilled Wisdom: The Principle of Charity. It keyed in my mind after reading the following comment over at Dangerous Intersection:

To really “fight fair,” Step One is to put one’s opponent’s best foot forward. Otherwise, every argument is a straw man argument.

I can't guarantee this will be out soon, as I still have one more sample article and a cover letter to write, but I thought I'd give those of you waiting a little taste of what's up next.

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Demarcation Problem

The following is an essay I submitted for one of my classes last year. It deals with the demarcation problem of science, so I figured you might find it interesting.

The field of science has been responsible for many significant steps forward in civilization, and true scientists are granted great amounts of respect in modern society. As such, many pretenders find it beneficial to claim to be scientists themselves. This makes the Demarcation Problem—distinguishing science from non-science, pseudoscience, and religion—an important issue and possibly a useful tool in exposing these pretenders. In this paper I intend to examine the history of demarcation, analyze the boundaries of science with non-science, pseudoscience, and religion, and propose standards for distinguishing science from these fields.

- - - - -

The first attempt to demarcate science came from the Vienna Circle, a philosophical society formed at the Vienna University in 1922. They developed the theory of Logical Positivism, which stated that the only meaningful statements were ones that were derived from empirical observations (also known as verificationism). This most clearly demarcates science from religion (which was their particular goal), in that it implies that religious and metaphysical statements are meaningless. There were problems with this theory, however. For one, it failed to distinguish fields such as art, which is also based on empirical knowledge (though generally artificial and subjective), from science. The theory also inadvertently condemned mathematics as being meaningless, as it wasn’t based on empirical evidence.

These problems were noticed by the philosopher Karl Popper. He pointed out that a theory could be meaningful without being scientific and that a standard of meaningfulness would not necessarily coincide with a demarcation of science. Popper’s proposed alternative was falsificationism: If a theory is falsifiable, it is scientific; if a theory is not falsifiable, it is not scientific. This theory has shown to be much better at demarcating science than verificationism was. Using the example above, art shows no falsifiability as the field is highly subjective, and each person is entitled to their own artistic preferences. Also, since mathematical theorems are proven, they are not falsifiable and thus not scientific—though this doesn’t mean that they aren’t meaningful or useful for science.

Falsificationism has some problems of its own, however. Almost every theory or paradigm has certain anomalies which could be said to falsify it. However, due to the statistical nature of many experiments, if a large number of experiments are done, it becomes inevitable that some will display seemingly anomalous results. Falsificationism also has the curious property that it makes many mundane statements scientific. For instance, the statement, “My eyes are blue,” could be falsified if the one looked at the speaker’s eyes and found that they were not blue, so under falsificationism, it must be a scientific statement.

The most recent views on the demarcation of science come from Thomas Kuhn. He stressed that science operates in two different manners: what he calls “normal science” and “extraordinary science.” Normal science is mostly a problem-solving phase, where scientists solve problems within the current paradigm. In this phase, the standard of falsificationism still has merit. Extraordinary science is what happens once a significant number of anomalies has built up, making the current paradigm no longer viable. A new paradigm is developed at this time, and the scientific community undergoes a “paradigm shift” and gradually switches. Since all paradigms have anomalies, particularly at their early stages before they’ve been fully refined, a strict interpretation of falsificationism would rule out all of these new paradigms almost immediately. This isn’t what the scientific community judges, however. The new paradigm is judged on its ability to solve problems. If it solves more problems or more important problems, it is generally accepted over the previous paradigm. Thus, in this stage, the standard of whether a paradigm is scientific is its ability to solve problems in normal science.

- - - - -

Distinguishing science from non-science or religion is generally a simple matter, as the two generally make no claims to be scientific. When they do make claims of being scientific, they become pseudoscience. Even so, it is useful to recognize the distinctions, as science doesn’t always specifically declare itself as such. For the boundary between science and religion, the verificationism view works quite well in the majority of cases. Science deals primarily with empirical matters, while religion deals primarily with spiritual matters, which cannot be empirically and objectively observed.

Occasionally, however, these will overlap. Religion might make claims about empirical matters, or science might make claims about unobservable phenomena. In these cases, the methodology of the two is what differentiates them. Science relies on objective experiments to gain knowledge, and there is a high degree of community in it that helps to confirm or disconfirm theories and settle debates between paradigms. Religion is more subjective, and every individual has a different interpretation. Due to its objective nature, two individuals practicing science within the same paradigm will generally come to the same result. In religious debates, disputes are attempted to be settled by appeal to authority—generally, the word of the clergy, holy texts, or a prophet—but this is never perfect due to the subjective element, and there will always be different interpretations of a religion.

When distinguishing science from non-science, it’s easiest to start by defining the core of what science is, and then define non-science as the fields which fall outside this definition. At it essence, science is a system of acquiring knowledge about the physical world through objective experimentation and observation. Therefore, we can immediately classify fields such as art and business, which do not involve the acquisition of knowledge, as being non-science. Mathematics, which doesn’t acquire knowledge about the physical world, is also non-science. Engineering is focused on the practical application of scientific knowledge, so while engineers may practice science at times, the field as a whole is non-science.

There is also the subdivision of science known as the social sciences, comprising fields such as history, economics, and sociology, to consider. They use methods similar to the natural sciences, but study human behavior instead. One large limitation they have is that experimentation is rarely feasible, and so all studies must be observational. This makes it a lot more difficult to test theories, and the unpredictability of human nature only adds to this problem. But just because a field comes with difficulties doesn’t mean it can’t be scientific—it just isn’t as reliable. The social sciences do fit many of the criteria of science, but it is necessary to keep in mind that due to the complexities of human nature, the results aren’t as reliable as those obtained in the natural sciences.

Now we come to the division between science and pseudoscience. Pseudoscience can be defined simply as something which claims to be scientific but isn’t. Classic examples of pseudoscience include astrology and the belief in ESP. The belief in the existence of ESP provides a good example of how falsificationism can work to classify it as pseudoscience. Since it’s impossible to analyze every event on earth taking place at any time in history, it would be impossible to prove that there isn’t at least one legitimate case of ESP. As such, it’s impossible to falsify it, so it’s unscientific.

Astrology, on the other hand, is a field for which falsificationism fails us. Since it relies on predicting the outcomes of earthly events from analyzing the stars and other planets of our solar system, it could theoretically be falsified if these predictions are false (or show no statistical improvement over random, similar predictions). In fact, this is exactly what has happened. Experiments have been done repeatedly with astrology showing that its predictions show no statistical merit. But the fact that some experiments have been done which falsify it isn’t enough to say it’s unscientific—all paradigms and theories have had a small number of experiments performed which give contrary results. It is simply the result of random chance that with a large number of experiments performed, some will have extraordinary results. Even if many or most of the experiments give evidence against the theory, it’s still possible that the theory is correct and this was just an extraordinary occurrence.

If we were to rely solely on falsificationism, we would be forced to accept that those who practice astrology are practicing a science. Therefore, it’s apparent that we will need a further standard to judge whether falsifiable fields are scientific. For this, we can use some of Kuhn’s views on science: primarily that it is, in the end, a communal practice. Therefore, we can rely on the opinion of the scientific community on whether or not a theory actually has been falsified. In the case of astrology, this is most definitely the case; the chance of all of the experiments which disprove it being the result of random chance is so slim that astrology can safely be said to be falsified, and thus is a pseudoscience.

There is an obvious problem in applying this standard too strictly: All new paradigms and theories go through a period in which they are put on trial by the scientific community, and it is the norm that they are presumed “guilty until proven innocent.” Because of this, we must make an important distinction. Newer paradigms and theories that have yet to be fully fleshed out and whose “trials” have yet to be resolved are classified as “protosciences.” These protosciences shouldn’t be classified as pseudosciences as they haven’t been dismissed by the scientific community. But conversely, they also shouldn’t be given the weight that established sciences have, as they have not yet proven their merit. An example of a modern protoscience is String Theory, which roughly states that subatomic particles are shaped like coiled strings, and the different motions of these strings correspond to different properties and interactions of the particles. At this time, the proponents of String Theory have some evidence which could be said to support this theory, but they don’t have a way to test it—it isn’t falsifiable. It will possibly become falsifiable at some point as the theory evolves, and it is not immune to scientific review, so calling it a pseudoscience would be a definite misnomer.

- - - - -

One of the reasons that demarcation is an important problem is in the admissibility of scientific testimony in court. “Junk science”—the popular term for pseudoscience—has been showing up in an alarming number of lawsuits in attempts to win money when there is no actual merit to the case. Up until 1993, the preferred method for accepting scientific testimony was for the judge to determine simply whether the evidence presented had “gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.” While this standard was reasonable, it was often impossible to apply it. How would the opposing attorney prove that the evidence was not generally accepted? A disagreeing expert could be brought in, but how would that expert prove to be more reliable? The difficulty here was what allowed so much junk science to sneak through.

In essence, the legal system needed to come up with its own demarcation between science and pseudoscience that was simple enough for the judge to understand and apply. This was done in the Supreme Court’s opinion of the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993. The “Daubert Standard” included two measures by which an expert’s testimony would be admissible: relevancy and reliability. The relevancy prong is simply whether the testimony is relevant to the case. For instance, a chemist could testify that acid could be used to burn off one’s fingerprints, but if fingerprints were actually found at the crime scene this piece of information could be deemed irrelevant. The reliability prong was the part used to determine whether the testimony was actually scientific. The Supreme Court gave “general observations” of what made scientific testimony reliable, though they stressed that it wasn’t supposed to be an exacting checklist:

  • Empirical testing: the theory or technique must be falsifiable, refutable, and testable.
  • Subjected to peer review and publication.
  • Known or potential error rate.
  • Whether there are standards controlling the technique's operations.
  • Whether the theory and technique is generally accepted by a relevant scientific community.
The first point here is simply the falsifiability criterion. The fifth point shows a critical divergence from asking for communal acceptance of the theory; it asks only for communal acceptance of the methods used to obtain this theory (this is also the intention of the fourth point). This is important as it allows for novel ideas and evidence to be presented, as long as they were arrived at in a scientific manner. The second and third points are most important within the legal context for which this standard was intended. The second point means that the testimony has been exposed to the possibility of criticism from the scientific community, so if the evidence presented has been argued heavily against, it would be easy for the opposing council to show this. The third point also opens up a possible argument if the error rate is high; the opposing council could argue that this high error rate decreases the reliability of the testimony as evidence.

- - - - -

This gives us the following three-step process in order to determine whether a theory is scientific: First, determine whether the theory is potentially falsifiable (a good measure of whether it’s empirically-based). If it’s falsifiable, determine whether the methods used to obtain it are generally accepted by the relevant scientific community. Finally, examine the criticism of the theory by the scientific community, and whether or not this warrants claiming that it’s falsified. If it’s falsifiable, obtained in a scientific manner, and hasn’t been falsified by the scientific community, then it’s scientific. This method isn’t perfect, and one should keep in mind the aforementioned classifications of social sciences and protosciences which may or may not end up classified as science under this standard. Of course, science is ever-evolving, so many sciences of today will likely become obsolete, just as Phlogistics and the Geocentric Theory have. In their day, they were scientific, but if one were to practice them today, they would be pseudosciences.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, November 24, 2006



The choice to live or not to live

To the editor,

First of all, the repeated use of "fuck" does not make your article (“Let’s put this mercy killing to rest,” Imprint Volume 29, Issue 17) any stronger. It makes you sounds like a raving imbecile. Let me ask you: How would you like to have an illness where your brain continues functioning fully but you are slowly trapped inside a dead body? You’re not able to communicate, eat, move or show emotion. You’re stuck in bed soiling yourself with a tube shoved in your body feeding you liquid food. Yeah, sounds like the natural way of life!

And you think the family members would be hurt and abandoned if the person wanted to have their miserable, painful existence ended? It is absolute torture to see someone you love live with excruciating pain every single day of their life. Consider watching an 80-year old man slowly revert back to child-like functionality. being unable to dress themselves and being forced to use a diaper. You say it’s selfish to die; I say it’s selfish to live!

I hate to break it to you, but the Bible is religion, so don’t try to shove it in our faces as an argument! Religion is becoming less and less popular as science evolves. I know almost as many atheists and agnostics as I do religious people. Bringing religion into the debate has become an invalid argument!

The euthanasia movement is not about forcing people into their graves. It’s about giving people a choice. If you want to live through a disease that eats away at your body, go ahead it’s your life! But if I choose not to suffer through the the remainder of life, I should, at least, be able to opt out of having my mind and body ravaged by disease!


Who are you calling a gay Nazi?

Black people should sit at the back of the bus. The Holocaust never happened. Oh, I’m sorry. Was I offensive? I was just trying to be funny. Let’s get it straight. Brendan Pinto’s recent distasteful attempt at being funny in his “satirical” article was homo-negative and was taken adversely by the majority of the campus gay community.
I’m sure right now a few of you are throwing your hands up in exasperation and mumbling “lighten up” or something about the freedom of expression. Well, let me take you through a history lesson to enlighten you why calling a part of the gay community “Lesbianazis” and the “Gaystapo” is sacreligious on many levels.

In 1934, the Gestapo, the secret police of Germany’s Nazi party were instructed to compile a list of gay individuals. This list was then used by the Nazis to round up gay men in all of Germany and try to get them to give up their “immoral” lifestyle and if they refused, they were put in concentration camps alongside the Jews of the Holocaust under the “Extermination through Work” policy carried out by the Nazis. Over one million gay German men were targeted with roughly 100,000 of them being arrested and half of them serving as convicts in concentration camps simply for their chosen expression of love. That number does not include hundreds more men who were castrated by the Nazis because they refused to adopt the straight lifestyle.

Now that we had that enlightening detour through history let me come back to Pinto’s recent apparently “non-homophobic” article and point out why expressions like Lesbianazi and Gaystapo are just as much if not more hurtful than calling an Israeli citizen a Judeo-Nazi. You just don’t do that. Millions of people sacrificed their lives for their way of life not so that certain wannabes can go around poking humour at these people’s sacrifices.

Our great country values the diversity among our ranks and the freedom of expression that all of us have benefited from. But another great nation, contemporary Germany, has a beautiful motto and that is “Never again.” Never again will the atrocities of the Holocaust be committed. My hope is that Canadians choose to be as responsible and sensitive in their actions and realize that the apparent comforts of today are the result of countless sacrifices deserving of the utmost respect and dignity.

*Growls, points*

*Roars, points*


*Goes into an Incredible Hulk-like rage*

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Given the current trend of the AMSA...

We might all want to take a page from the recent Skeptic's Circle and write out our last wills and testaments. You never know, the doctor in charge of saving your life might just be a fan of a good old colon cleansing.

"What's up with the AMSA?" you ask. Orac has the story.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blatant Boneheadery

Blatant Boneheadery: When someone makes an argument so ridiculously idiotic in face of facts to the contrary that, if they're serious, their sanity is in doubt.

Example 1: John Kerry botched a joke. He meant to say, "[If you don't get an education], you get us stuck in Iraq." He instead said, " get stuck in Iraq." He then explained what had happened, saying he had left out the word "us." And now, the blatant boneheadery this explanation was met with:

Tony Snow, current White House Press Secretary, criticized this as follows, "He said he meant to say 'us' - I mean, 'You us get stuck in Iraq?' It's ridiculous!"

He's either lying through his teeth when he says this must be what Kerry meant, or he's an utter bonehead. But then again, who but an utter bonehead would be Press Secretary for Bush? But I digress...

Example 2: The following is excerpted from Bronze Dog's reply to that insane troll, Weapon of Mass Intruction:

God has never murdered nor raped.

Ever heard of the flood?

Ever read about all the massacres in Joshua?

Ever read Numbers?

Sounds like murder and rape to me. He may not have done all of those acts himself, but commanding them is just as bad.

Here's Weapon's reply, spread out pointlessly over three posts just as he did:

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

Ever heard of the flood? Ever read about all the massacres in Joshua?

Funny. I find no examples of rape. Apparently you have a hard time differentiating between killing murder. I assume that you also believe that our American troops are murderers as well.

11/21/2006 12:22 PM
- - -
Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

The fact is that if God were a murderer he definitely would have not died on the cross for you.

11/21/2006 12:23 PM
- - -
Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

Sounds like murder and rape to me. He may not have done all of those acts himself, but commanding them is just as bad.

Well, I do not know where you see him commanding rape, but for someone who has a fanatical hatred towards God, it is not surprising that you would make up lies about him.

According to your hermeneutic you are liable for murder too every time you eat chicken.

11/21/2006 12:27 PM

You catch it? He says that he didn't see any instance of God commanding rape, but this is only because he completely skips over the reference to God commanding rape. Given my past experience with Weapon, I'm betting on this being because of his severe brain damage.

These are just a couple examples, but they both come from (supposedly) functioning human beings. It kind of makes you fear for humanity.

Proceed with your information binge...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

AAA: Aliens Against Anal (Probing)

Just saw this clip on TV, and had to share it. This is probably the best (or at least funniest) argument against the reality of alien abductions I've seen. Enjoy.

Proceed with your information binge...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Quantum Mechanics for Dummies #1: Wave Nature of Matter

I got into an involved explanation of Quantum Mechanics a few days ago over at Bad Astronomy, and it reminded me of an idea for a series of posts I've had on the backburner for a while. In this series, my goal is to make Quantum Mechanics somewhat intelligible to those who haven't studied it and clear up some common misconceptions about it.

In this first post in the series, I'm going to discuss what Quantum Physicists call the wave nature of matter, and how a particle can act like both a particle and a wave. But before we go into that, I should explain by what we normally mean by "particle" and "wave."

First, in a classical sense, what is a particle? Particles are generally very small, and possibly infinitely small, being just a point in space. They can have numerous properties such as mass, electric charge, and magnetic moment, which determine how they act and interact in the universe. When they travel from place to place, they do so with a definite, linear path.

Second, what is a wave? Waves are a bit harder to explain, so I'll go with what Wikipedia says on it:

A wave is a disturbance that propagates through space or spacetime, often transferring energy. While a mechanical wave exists in a medium (which on deformation is capable of producing elastic restoring forces), waves of electromagnetic radiation (and probably gravitational radiation) can travel through vacuum, that is, without a medium. Waves travel and transfer energy from one point to another, with little or no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium (there is little or no associated mass transport); instead there are oscillations around fixed positions.

Waves also have properties associated with them, but they're generally different from particles. First, there's amplitude, which is, in a simple sense, the height of the wave. There's also frequency, which is how many oscillations a wave makes per second. Frequency and amplitude together determine the energy of the wave (with the energy being proportional to the frequency and the square of the amplitude). Classically, the amplitude and frequency of a wave are both continuous, so a wave with a given frequency can have any value of energy.

Waves also translate in space differently from particles. Instead of simply following straight lines, waves spread out. If a wave passes through a long, narrow corridor, it will spread out at wide angles when it leaves, unlike how a bunch of particles going through the corridor would act. In fact, waves act in the opposite manner to particles in this case as the thinner the corridor is, the more the wave spreads out upon leaving. This phenomenon is known as diffraction.

* * * * *

Classically, light was always seen as a wave. It showed all the expected properties of waves, having a measurable frequency, diffracting, etc. But eventually a problem was found: Light of a given frequency could only have quantized energy. What this means is that essentially if you have light that's all of one frequency, there are only certain set values of its total energy that it can have. For instance, it might be allowed to have energy of 1.1 eV, 2.2 eV, 3.3 eV, and so on, but it could never have an energy of 1.5 eV or 0.5 eV unless some of it is at a different frequency.

This also meant that there was a minimum energy that light could have. If light were made out of particles (what we now call photons), this could be explained quite easily: Each particle would have energy equal to a constant times its "frequency," and they added together to form the total energy of the light. The problem was that particles classically couldn't have frequency.

So we were left with a contradiction, and had to form a new theory. Light had properties of both particles and waves. But was it particles that traveled like waves, or maybe waves that just happened to be quantized somehow? Further experiments were necessary to determine what exactly was going on.

The most famous of these experiments was the Double-Slit Experiment. In this experiment, light first diffracts out of one slit, allowing it to spread out and hit two more slits. The light that passes through each of these slits diffracts again, and the wave then hits a detector.

If a conventional wave goes through this, we see a strange interference pattern on the detector. This is cause by the waves coming from each slits being at different points along their wavefunctions. If one is at a peak and the other at a valley, the amplitudes cancel out and no light will appear at that point. If both are at peaks or valleys, then the amplitudes at together, and since we then square the amplitude to get the energy, we get four times the energy at this point as we'd get from a single wave, or twice what we'd get from two waves. Particles, on the other hand, show no interference patterns. This means that we can use a double-slit experiment to determine whether light is acting like a particle or a wave.

So, this experiment is then performed. A lot of light is shot out, and it does indeed show the interference pattern. So, if light is a bunch of particles, they can somehow interfere with each other, it would seem. We had the technology to decrease the emission rate of light low enough that only one photon was being sent out at a time, so this was the logical next step.

When we performed this experiment, the results were extremely surprising. When you plotted the frequency with which the photon would strike different points of the screen, it matched up with the interference pattern! Even single photons were acting like waves. This is something that just wasn't possible if you treated them like particles. The first problem was that particles wouldn't diffract like waves, but these photons were doing this. The second problem is that, even if particles could diffract, you would expect them to go through one of the two slits, and then diffract onto the detector. The pattern that appears should then be the some of the diffraction patterns from the two slits, but it was instead the interference pattern.

Then things got stranger. We tried firing things that we were pretty sure were particles through a double-slit experiment, such as electrons. They, too, showed a diffraction pattern. We went bigger and shot atoms through it. Same deal. Our record so far has been shooting Bucky Balls (spherical molecules of 60 carbon atoms) through it, and even they act like waves.

It was becoming cliché at this point, but there was an even stranger development still to come. We figured that if these particles were acting like particles, they had to be going through just one of the slits. We then set up detectors at both slits that would tell us if a particle was passing through it. We did so, and we got results from it: a 50/50 spread of particles between the two slits. But there was a problem. When the detector was on, the interference pattern went away! If we turned off the detector, the interference pattern appeared again. Things were seriously screwed up.

Take a few minutes to ponder this. It's taken scientists many decades, and most of them still don't have a good picture of what's actually going on that could cause this. There are a few theories out there, but none are very well accepted. I'm going to go into my personal interpretation of how this works, but remember that there are others.

When any particle is traveling, it does so as a probability wave, that is, a wave that represents the probability of the particle being at a certain point if we measure it. This isn't a theoretical wave (in my picture, at least), and the probabilities aren't simply an oversimplification like in Statistical Mechanics. Instead, the wave is an actual object, and the probability is a fundamental law of the universe.

This probability wave has properties like normal waves, even if it represents a "particle" like an electron. These properties include frequency and the value of the wavefunction at a point. Squaring the value of the wavefunction is what gives us the probability of it showing up in a certain area. Like other waves, if its path is split up, it can interfere with itself, causing an interference pattern in the probability it will show up in an area.

Now, from this description, the more statistically inclined of you might be wondering about one possible problem. Take a simplified case where a probability wave has a 50% chance of resolving into a particle in the right half of an area, and a 50% chance of resolving into a particle in the left half. Also, let's assume that the wave hits the entire area at the same instant of time. Shouldn't the probability distribution look something like the following?

Shows up in right only: 25%
Shows up in left only: 25%
Shows up in both: 25%
Shows up in neither: 25%

Well, the above distribution is only valid if the probabilities are independent. We know from experiments that this isn't the case; a particle will always resolve in exactly one spot. But the wave hits the entire surface at one instant, and Relativity tells us that the speed of light is an upper limit on data transfer. How does the left half of the wave know whether the particle has resolved in the right half, if information can't get there fast enough?

What I've described here is part of what's known as the EPR paradox. Somehow, for quantum mechanics to work the way it does, there must be some form of information transfer from one part of a probability wave to another so that particles don't randomly disappear or split into two. It would seem at first glance that this would violate Relativity, but this isn't quite so. The information you get from it resolving or not resolving in one area is no more than logical inference, and this is all the universe is doing as well. In addition to a basic law of randomness, the universe also seems to have a basic law of inference on the resolution of these waves, so that we end up with conservation of energy.

Well, that's enough for today. If there's anything in there that's still confusing, please leave a comment and ask for clarification on it; I'll be glad to explain.

Note to anyone who already knows some QM: Yes, I'm aware I came very close to talking about entanglement in the last couple of paragraphs, but I chose not to go into detail about it. This is simply because entanglement is getting its own entire post in this series.

* * * * *

Other posts in this series:

Quantum Mechanics for Dummies #2: Observation

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, November 17, 2006

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Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Template Revamp, phase 1

Well, I've gone and completely redone the template. Hopefully this one better catches the feel of my blog. There are still a few other things I'd like to do (such as finding a new avatar to match this theme), which I'll get at when I can. Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.

Proceed with your information binge...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lighting the Fires of War

The article in my campus newspaper a while back which took the benefits of organic foods for granted has now been joined by another woo-full article. This one is on all the benefits of yoga, which can apparently cure asthma, among many other things. I can see it possibly reducing stress, and a few other effects stemming from that, but asthma!? Now they're just pushing it.

So, with that in mind, the message is clear: The students on this campus are in desperate need of some rational thought to counter the influx of woo. Therefore, I'm going to be applying for a column in the paper for the upcoming term, and hopefully I'll be able to make an impact.

Now, this column of course won't be aimed at the same level as my blog. Here, some of my most popular stuff is where I give tips and advice to others in their debating. Sometimes I'll also pick up subjects that others have missed (one of my main goals is to not be redundant). But for this column, I'm going straight to the base of skepticism, and will be addressing an audience composed almost entirely of skeptical laymen.

For the application, I'm going to have to come up with three sample articles (which may likely become my opening articles to the column), and I'll be working on these primarily for the next few weeks. This means that my normal updates will be delayed a bit. But don't worry too much, I'll be posting these and any other articles I end up writing up on my blog eventually under the logic of "Why not?"

And of course, if anyone has any suggestions for topics that you think should be addressed, please let me know (I know there are at least a few students on campus who have come by here). So you know, my first article is going to be on Homeopathy, which, with Head On being advertised constantly, is certainly relevant.

Proceed with your information binge...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Here we come to save your brain!

(If you don't get the title, sing it to the Mighty Mouse theme. There ya go.)

The latest Skeptic's Circle is now up over at Polite Company... or at least, the portal to it is. And, after a long hiatus where I just didn't consider any of my posts worthy enough, one of my posts is actually up there this time.

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Update

For those of you who haven't been stuck to some news source, I'm just letting you know that it looks like the Democrats have taken the House of Representatives, but probably won't take the Senate. It should be enough to at the least put a check on Bush, but not enough to impeach him.

UPDATE: Despite earlier reports that the Dems were behind in the counts for the Senate seats they needed, they've made a surprising comeback. It's now 50-49, with one seat left to be decided: The hotly contested Allen/Webb seat. A democratic majority in both houses? Dare I dream? (Okay, if I were dreaming, I'd dream of a majority by some third party that actually has their heads on straight.)

Proceed with your information binge...

Distilled Wisdom #3: How to Sound Reasonable (Part 2)

Welcome back to Distilled Wisdom, where I boil out all the impurities and useless information I've taken from the sea of knowledge and serve you up a nice tall glass of distilled wisdom!

We return now to a glass of Distilled Wisdom so large I had to pour it out into two smaller glasses to make it manageable: How to Sound Reasonable. Last time, I discussed the proper use of emphasis and the value of answering all questions. If you haven't read it yet, go check it out right now.

This time, I'll be addressing the following topics:

3. Don't pursue
4. Explain your logic
5. Hold back your insults

3. Don't pursue

Throughout the course of an online debate, it will inevitably spread out. Instead of an initial one or two points in contention, you may end up with five or six. Once it reaches this point, some threads will end up being dropped by one party or the other. They may have simply overlooked it, they may be planning to get back to it later, or they may just lack a reply. When you see this happen, you may feel the urge to pursue the issue and point out that this thread has been dropped. Don't.

If you're a skeptic, you should know that the human mind isn't a very good judge of evidence. It has many inherent biases, and the one relevant here is the bias towards the last thing it's heard. Even if the last thing was an argument that had already been made and debunked, it might still hold weight in the mind of the audience. This makes it very important to never let them get the last point in. If it's a point they've already raised, then say so, but don't just let it stand.

Now, let's apply this to the case where your opponent lets a point drop during a debate. If no one addresses this point again, your last argument will stand, and it's as good a victory as you're going to get short of them explicitly conceding. There's no need to pursue the issue and either challenge them about it or simply point out they've dropped it, and in fact this may be harmful to your position.

How can it be harmful? Well, let's examine what might happen in different cases, depending on why they dropped the point. The first way this could happen is if they've simply overlooked or forgotten about it. When you go to point out they've dropped it, you're just reminding them to argue it. If your tone is harsh or critical enough, you may also end up looking like a jerk. Now, let's take the case where they were planning to get at that point later. In this case, you don't run the risk of reminding them of it, but you're almost guaranteed to come off looking bad when they explain that this was the case.

Then there's the final case in which they didn't respond because they didn't have a response. If you're facing a somewhat dishonest opponent, they may come out and use one of the above two excuses to cover this up. They then might come up with some bullshit argument, which just results in the debate continuing, and you've given up your victory.

What about an honest opponent? They may just ignore it again, in which case you're back to square one, except with more risk of sounding unreasonable if you decide to pursue again. They might come up with some rationalization on the spot, which leads you back into debating with them. Or, finally, they may actually admit that they don't have a response.

So let's go over all the possible results. The majority of them are bad for you, a few are neutral, and only one provides a slight benefit. The chance of a pursuit being beneficial just isn't worth it in the end.

Now, that applies to the bulk of cases, but there are a couple exceptions. The first is if you had originally asked them a question intending to show that they couldn't answer. In the case, it's best to come straight out and say this is what you're doing, plus keep reminding them of it. When you're trying to make a point in this manner, pursuit is critical or the fact that they didn't answer this question will likely be forgotten.

Another exceptional case is when the point dropped lies at the heart of the argument, and all other threads are tangential. Unless you want to get sidetracked debating less relevant matters, it's quite reasonable to pull the debate back to the main issue here. Just be careful how you do it.

4. Explain your logic

Imagine you're reading an online debate. One of the debaters was just challenged by the other to show evidence against the existence of God. They come back with the following reply:

Alright, if your vision of God is true, then there would be testable effects. We've tested for those effects, and we haven't seen them. There's your evidence against God.

That argument actually is logical, but the logic isn't made clear. Because of this, the other debater replies:

That's not evidence, that's absence of it! Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

So now the first person is on the spot. They could go back with "In this case, it does work," which is true, but not helpful. Instead, it's best to make the logic used as patronizingly clear as possible:

That's often true, but there is an important exceptional case: when it can be put into a Modus Tollens form. In this case, here's what the argument looks like:

If God exists as you describe him (A), and if we perform experiment B, we would get result C. (If A and B, then C.)

We performed experiment B, and didn't get result C. (B and not C)

Not C implies not both A and B. Since B is true, A must false. No evidence was found for God's existence, so this serves as evidence against it.

Exposed like this, the argument is quite reasonable. When it comes to explaining logic, don't be afraid to go into the details, logic can be surprisingly counterintuitive at times.

Aside: I call the reasoning used above the "Modus Tollens Exception." It has yet to catch on, but it's an important exception in these cases, so hopefully it'll get more regard under some name.

5. Hold back your insults

There's a time and a place where it's appropriate to insult people who come to your blog espousing woo. The place is, of course, The Two Percent Company, where it's always appropriate to insult woos who comes by. But for the rest of us, we have to find an appropriate time.

Let's start at the beginning. You make a post, and someone comes in and comments on it. It's obvious from their post that they don't agree with you. Your tone in responding to them should depend on a few different factors. The first of these factors is the tone of the commenter. If they're harsh and ridiculously rude, you have leave to be as well. If they're quite polite about their disagreement, you shouldn't go in insulting them off the bat. That'll just drive them off, and make you look quite unreasonable and hotheaded. In general, my recommendation is to be just one notch more polite than them. It leaves you room to react appropriately to rude commenters, but you'll still always look like the reasonable one.

Now, there are a couple of other factors that can come into play as well. The first is the general tone of your blog and your normal personality. If your blog is generally quite harsh and critical, it won't seem as out of place if you're rude in a comment. The reverse is true if you're generally very polite; any rudeness stands out like a sore thumb.

The other factor that can affect this is the tone of the specific post. If this post was a lot more insulting than is normal for you, then you have to take this into account when considering how it was replied to. If the commenter is harsh and insulting in response to this, it may just be because they were angered over this post. In this case, it's a good idea to respond calmly and politely, and possibly even apologize.

All of this just applies to the first post. Once you've argued with someone for a while and they still don't get it, insults become more appropriate. Here are a few signs of when it's quite appropriate to insult someone:
Now, all of this is assuming that you've been somewhat reasonable to start with, and they're the one escalating it. You should be careful that you aren't the one who's unreasonably escalating the debate into an argument.

All of this being said, it's also worth noting that even in some very long debates, insults never become appropriate. For instance, you could be debating with an ultimately reasonable and polite person who has been fed a ton of misinformation. It could take a long time to get through all of it, and any insults will undo any progress you've made. Yes, it may be frustrating to you, and yes, it may be regurgitated arguments you've heard thousands of times before, but this doesn't mean that this person knows all this. S/he might actually be willing to listen, so don't squander your opportunity.

* * * * *

Distilled Wisdom Index

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The First Lever

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "Men are moved by two levers only—fear and self interest." Today, I'll be (quite appropriately) talking about the first of those two levers: Fear.

Fear is our most primal emotion (possibly tied with lust). In a hostile environment, fear is what alerts a creature that it's in jeopardy and triggers its "fight or flight" reflex. Fear is the emotion responsible for keeping you alive. In the wild, when your life is frequently threatened, fear is your most valuable emotion.

But we don't live in the wild. Our world is a lot safer, and there's a lot less we need to fear. Of course, there still are cases where you should be afraid. If you're crossing the street and notice a car speeding towards you, apparently not having noticed the red light, you're right to be afraid, and the reflex to run will be quite useful (just don't try to fight the car). But these cases are a lot rarer than they would be in the wild.

This doesn't mean that people don't find much to fear, however; it just takes on a different form. Instead of a primal fear of danger, we have more abstract fears. The problem is that our fear reflexes didn't evolve to handle these more abstract fears, and it can often lead to people acting irrationally.

Take the case of someone who is afraid to be wrong about a certain subject. Them being wrong is akin to the death of their worldview. So, if their worldview is threatened by someone espousing a different view, fear may kick in. Their instincts tell them to do whatever they can to preserve their worldview, and their actions from this point on are guided by this. They look for arguments that will support their worldview in an attempt to defend it. Their goal doesn't become determining whether it's right, it becomes proving it is right.

An outside observer should immediately see the problem here: What if the person actually was wrong in the first place? How would they ever learn this, if this is the approach they're taking? The answer is that they probably won't. They'll see only evidence that supports their worldview, and they'll either deny or twist any evidence that contradicts it.

But even when you realize that, you most likely still don't want to be wrong. That's perfectly fine, as I have an alternative approach for you. If you're afraid of being wrong, focus you efforts on finding out what's right, and then advocate that. Once you've done that, congratulations! You've now accepted the key tenet of the Scientific Method.

Of course, there's another big area in life where fear plays a role: Religion. Almost every religion has as one of its key tenets the belief that those who don't believe are faced with certain doom. Nothing illustrates this better than the Christian belief that those who don't accept Jesus Christ as their savior are doomed to eternal torture.

If you view this as some sort of actual justice system, it doesn't make much sense. Why would a loving god give out infinite punishments for a finite sin? On the other hand, if you look at this as an invention of humans in order to scare people into believing, it makes perfect sense. What better way to make people believe than by telling them that they're in for eternal torture if they don't? And while they're at it, they pull the second lever as well. They promise those who do believe an eternity of bliss, effectively doubling the stakes. People are simultaneously scared of the consequences of not believing and enticed to believe.

Of course, the problem with this is that it's all an argument from consequences. The consequences of something being true or believing something to be true have no bearing on whether or not it actually is true. The human mind is normally set up against this; it naturally believes what it sees evidence for, not what it wishes were true. Sure, it would be nice if you could walk through walls, but there's no evidence for it. So your brain believes that you can't, even though it being true would have good consequences.

So, why then do people end up actually believing in religion, rather than simply paying lip-service to it? Well, part of it is indoctrination from birth. Another part is people lying and using logical fallacies to convince them. But this doesn't cover all of it; there are still people out there who believe that the evidence out there actually supports religion.

What happens here is just the same as in my previous example, only these people are coming at it from a different direction. People want to believe in religion because they're afraid of the consequences of not believing. But if the evidence they've seen causes a contradiction in their minds, they have to find some way to resolve it. What often happens is that they start to look for evidence to justify their beliefs. Their goal is no longer to determine whether they're true, but to find reasons that they are true. Once they've done this, they've successfully fooled themselves into believing.

The solution here is even easier than in the previous case. Here, all it takes is to be aware of what's going on. If someone tries to seduce you with a belief by appealing to the consequences of it, point out that the hypothetical consequences have no bearing on whether or not it's true. All that should determine whether or not you believe in something is whether or not it's true. Keep this in mind, and you'll never end up trying insanely to prove something insane just because you wish it were true.

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Distilled Wisdom Index

Well, I've hit the third post in my Distilled Wisdom series, and the first two are buried deep within my archives. So with that, I think it's time to create an index post I can use to keep track of them, and you can use to check out any you might have missed.

Also, if there's an aspect of debate you think would make a good entry, the comment thread here is a good place to let me know. Just remember that this all comes down to my own knowledge and experiences, so there may be fields I can't cover.

The Index

1. How to Sound Intelligent
2. How to Sound Reliable
3-1. How to Sound Reasonable (Part 1)
3-2. How to Sound Reasonable (Part 2)
4. The Principle of Charity

Coming Soon

?. (Title held secret)
?. Trolls

Proceed with your information binge...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Godless Holy Day

Head on over to Skeptic Rant for the 52nd Carnival of the Godless. Just be careful not to mention the word "holiday" while you're over there; I won't be held responsible for the consequences if you do.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Skepticism: Where it is, Where it isn't

Where it is: The lates issue of the Skeptic's Circle, over at Left Brain/Right Brain. Read. Learn.

Where it isn't: The campus newspaper, Imprint. Last week, it included an article which took the merits of organic foods for granted. I sent in a letter trying to set them straight. This week? Letter wasn't published, and no word on the issue whatsoever.

UPDATE: Okay, they've now published it, a week later. Better late than never, I guess.

Proceed with your information binge...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Distilled Wisdom #3: How to Sound Reasonable (Part 1)

Welcome back to Distilled Wisdom, where I boil out all the impurities and useless information I've taken from the sea of knowledge and serve you up a nice tall glass of distilled wisdom!

Yes, it's been a while, but I'm finally getting around to doing the third part of this series. This time I'll focus on how you can be (or, failing that, sound) reasonable in online debates. This subject is quite a big one, so I'm going to have to split it into two sections.

Some of the advantages to sounding reasonable are obvious, such as that it makes people more likely to listen to your arguments. If you debate reasonably, people with opposing views might actually listen to you. If you debate unreasonably, they'll ignore or even mock you.

For instance, ever heard of Fritz Zwicky? No? That's because he wasn't very reasonable. He'd made a huge scientific discovery back in 1933, deducing the existence of Dark Matter, but he didn't get much regard for it, and the theory stagnated for quite a long time. No one was willing to work with him on it, so it got nowhere. The reason for this is that Zwicky was, quite simply, a jerk. He called all of his colleagues "spherical bastards" because "They're bastards whatever way I look at them."

Another important advantage to appearing reasonable has to do with the fact that internet debates take place in front of an audience. If you debate reasonably while your opponent is frothing at the mouth, the audience is more likely to assume that you've come to the reasonable conclusion.

So, enough with the "Why?" and onto the "How?":

In Part 1:
1. Don't yell
2. Answer all questions

In Part 2:
3. Don't pursue
4. Explain your logic
5. Hold back your insults

1. Don't yell

IS YOUR SHIFT KEY STUCK DOWN? THEN WHY ARE YOU TALKING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS? One of the first things you should learn in internet discussions is that Caps Lock is the equivalent of yelling. Many veteran 'net users (myself included) mentally read capitalized words as yells. This is helpful if you want to illustrate that you actually are yelling about something, but incredibly annoying if you do it for no reason.

This can even be bad if it's used on individual words to add emphasis on them; they aren't interpreted as being emphasized, but instead being yelled out. Take the following paragraph, excerpted from a comment on Wikipedia's Telepathy talk page:

Selmo, this quote, "No amount of evidence is enough to convince a skeptic," further suggests you really don't understand how science and scientists work. Scientists are expected to remain skeptical until they see compelling evidence. And compelling evidence is NEVER based on the "amount of evidence." It is based on the QUALITY of evidence. While one well-designed and well-conducted experiment can convince most scientists, a million badly conducted experiments will convince almost none. And another point is in order: Wiki editors are NOT supposed to edit based on "faith." They are supposed to edit based on the best-sourced evidence they can find.

I happen to agree with the argument that this guy is giving, but his style leaves much to be desired. I chose this paragraph as it illustrates this particular point: Three words are capitalized for emphasis. They probably should be emphasized, but italics is much more appropriate. As it is, it's like he's yelling out those words rather than stressing them. Of course, this is just my personal opinion on the matter (hey, this whole blog is my opinions!), so you can take it or leave it.

Okay, so I've said that capitalization isn't appropriate for emphasis there, and that italics is. To give you a complete picture, here's my personal guide to different forms of emphasis:

Italics - Use italics whenever you want to simply stress a word as it's being read. Italicized words don't jump out at the reader until they come to them, so they don't divert attention like capitalization and bolding do. For instance, instead of the capitalization used in the paragraph above, the words should be italicized like, "It is based on the quality of evidence." Doesn't that look much better, yet still get the point across?

Other uses for italics:
  • In narrative writing, a character's thoughts are often italicized instead of put into quotation marks in order to distinguish them from what the character says aloud.
  • If the <blockquote> tag isn't available, italicizing a large block of quoted text helps distinguish it from your own.
  • Titles of books, movies, television series, and the names of newspapers and magazines should be italicized.
Italics can be applied in html by surrounding the text you wish to be italicized with the <i> and </i> tags. Some message boards require you to use the bracketed tags [i] and [/i] instead, and wikis let you use pairs of apostrophes ('') instead of html tags.

Bold - Use bold text when you want a particular word or phrase to stand out. Watch how this jumps out at you. Be careful, however, as it can easily be overused. Making your entire post bold is like begging for attention, and just annoys people.

Other uses for bolding:
  • Bolding can be used as a virtual highlighter. If you're quoting a large section of text, and you want a particular section to stand out, you can make it bold. Just be sure to add [emphasis added] at the end.
  • Bold text is also convenient for titles, subtitles, and section titles. This helps make the titles stand out to the reader.
Bold can be applied in html by surrounding the text you wish to be bolded with the <b> and </b> tags. Some message boards require you to use the bracketed tags [b] and [/b] instead, and wikis let you use triplets of apostrophes (''') instead of html tags. In general, text that you wish to be both bolded and italicized can be formed simply by using both tags (in wikis, putting five apostrophes (''''') before and after the text, the combination of the two tags, does indeed work).

Underlined - In general, underlining should be avoided on the internet, as it's easily mistaken for hyperlinks. However, it is generally appropriate in titling, either alone or combined with bolding. One other rare use of underlining is when your text will appear in a typeface which doesn't italicize noticeably. Here, it can be used as a substitute for italics.

Underlining can be applied in html by surrounding the text you wish to be bunderlined with the <u> and </u> tags. Some message boards require you to use the bracketed tags [u] and [/u] instead. Wikis generally have no special tags for underlining, though html tags may be used. Some message boards and websites prevent you from using underlining since it may be confused with hyperlinks.

CAPITALIZATION - Capitalization is very rarely appropriate. In most cases where you'll be tempted to use it, bold is a better choice. It can, however, be useful in titling on occasion. Also, when writing in a plain text medium that can't support other forms of emphasis, capitalization can be appropriately used instead of bolding.

Of course, if you actually are yelling, then go ahead.

EDIT: Ow, my mental ears! I found this excerpt from a chain letter presented in a post at the recent Skeptic's Circle. This is a really good example of what not to do:

These are just SOME of the things our Doctors never tell us. ONE out of every 55 women will get OVARIAN or PRIMARY PERITONEAL CANCER! The "CLASSIC" symptoms are an ABDOMEN that rather SUDDENLY ENLARGES and CONSTIPATION and/or DIARRHEA.

And that's not even the worst of it. For those equipped with mental-ear plugs, go check it out at the post.

2. Answer all questions

If you have the time, check out this trolled thread at Rockstars' Ramblings. In in, the troll tries to claim that Intelligent Design is scientific and "takes the supernatural out of the equation." I eventually got him to admit that ID requires a supernatural designer, but he then immediately started pretending he'd never claimed it didn't in the first place. (Hey, here's an extra tip to sound reasonable: Don't lie. I know I had it in my last Distilled Wisdom as well, but it fits here, too.)

At one point, Bronze Dog challenged the troll's claim that ID is scientific by asking him to show that it's falsifiable (one of the core criteria of science). For a long time, he completely ignored the question, even though it was repeated many times. Then, he eventually said that he'd answer it if we answered one of his, which had to be over on his blog (a ploy to get more traffic there, I suspect). His question turned out to actually be three, but I answered them anyways.

He still didn't answer. More arguments ensued. He used a ton of other poor arguing tactics, with plenty of deliberate misrepresentations of the truth (read: lies). Eventually, I gave up in disgust with his repeated lies and refusals to act rationally, so I left. Not long after, so did Austin Atheist Anonymous, who was also over there arguing with him.

Weeks pass. He realizes that we actually did leave, so in a desperate ploy for attention, he acts all magnanimous and answers the question he should have answered the first time it was asked. Except, there was still a little problem: he answered the wrong question. We asked what evidence would falsify ID. Here's what he gave:

To falsify intelligent design, it is enough to display specific, fully articulated Darwinian pathways for the complex systems that, according to intelligent design, lie beyond the reach of the Darwinian mechanism (systems like the bacterial flagellum).

Notice what he's asking for there. That's not evidence, that's an explanation. An extremely long explanation, at that. For the pathways to be "fully articulated," they'd have to include every single organism along that path, plus all of its competitors, and show why each step gives an advantage. Given the timeframe that evolution takes, this is obviously unreasonable. No human could possibly set this up within their lifetime. Ever heard the phrase "Moving back the goalposts"? Well, his goalposts just broke the speed of light.

* * * * *

Questions posed in a debate generally serve one of two purposes. The first and most common purpose is when the opponent is asking you to clarify some aspect of your position. Why should you do this? Well, first of all it's just plain courteous. Secondly, if you don't answer it, you're denying him or her information about your position. Doing this makes it harder for him to argue with you, but it's likely that anyone reading the exchange won't care about that at this point. What they will care about is that you're refusing to answer a simple question about what you're saying, and then using that lack of information on your opponent's part to squeeze out an advantage.

The other purpose a question in a debate can serve is to demonstrate that you can't answer it. If you ignore the question (like the troll mentioned above did), you're just proving your opponent's point. On the other hand, if you can answer it, doing so is significantly to your advantage.

There are problems with some questions, however, which makes a simple, direct answer impossible. Sometimes the questions will be assuming a false premise, such as in one question this troll gave: "Do [the new fossil finds] overturn Darwin’s bleak assessment of evolutionary theory?" The invalid premise here is that Darwin had a bleak assessment of evolution, which is patently false.

The question should still be addressed, however, and in this case it's best to first explain why the premise is false, and then address concerns in the question. In this case, I ended up answering this question as follows: "As I showed above, Darwin didn't have a bleak view of evolution... What these finds did do was support his hopeful view of evolution."

Other problems with questions should be addressed differently. For instance, if the question uses ambiguous terminology, it's best to ask for clarification on it. Use your best judgment, but never leave a question unaddressed.

* * * * *

Distilled Wisdom Index

Proceed with your information binge...