Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Pseudoscience of Hate

Why hate? Quite simply hatred is the first step on the road to Pseudoscience. The best way to get someone to believe in your ideas is not to debate and disprove the competition. That's a fool's errand that is worse when you are a respected pseudoscientist.

The best way to prove your point is to de-huminize the competition. You want people to feel only hate and fear for your opponent. The masses will simply not believe any proof from a devil incarnate or a godless heathen.

Here is another great experiment for the budding pseudoscientist:

Have a debate with a scientist on if the Earth is flat. Say to the listeners of the debate that the scientist likes children in inappropriate ways, worships the devil, loves Hitler, and is only doing this for the money. Don't be afraid to say that the scientist is not human. De-huminizing is the best method for slamming an adversary. People love to hate and it is easier if they are not human or less than human.

Another technique is to prove they do not belong to a certain club, like Christians or Republicans. Better yet, make sure you call them Liberal, Democrat or Atheist! Catholic is ok too because nothing better than to make them a part of a club that Glenn Beck already hates.

Debate is not what we are really teaching here. Do not be afraid of the 'debate' word. Just promote fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) - throw in a heaping cup full of hate too. You may not win, but you will seed the FUD in the minds of the listeners.

Remember, and intelligent argument will only cause you to loose in a fair fight with a scientist.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Experiments for Budding Pseudoscience

Here are a few good experiments for budding Pseudoscientist:

  1. Ask people what it would take for them to discard a belief. Then give them what they need and see if they still believe.
  2. Compare the IQ of people that believe and not believe in a pseudoscience.
  3. Invent a fact and convince people it is real. Then show them it is not real. See how many still believe that the fact is real.
If you have more experiments, let me know!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pseudoscience And Food!!!!

Jamie Oliver (Naked Chef) has a new show on Sunday (March 26 at 9pm ET on ABC). Sadly this is going to put a dent in a great tradition of pseudoscience in the food labs. You might not think there is pseudoscience in the lab at McDonalds,The Cheesecake Factory, or just about any food manufacturer. I was unaware too, so let us start on a little journey.

I started learning about the great tradition of pseudoscience by reading The End of Over Eating, by David Kessler. It seems that if you look at modern food, from Cheetos to... well the Cheesecake Factory. The book very carefully explains how the combination of sugar, salt, and fat cause our brains (and the well fed brains of experimental rats) are hypnotized into overeating.

Where is the Pseudoscience? I can hear you asking, "They are using rats, that is real science!" Yes, they have science, but they are leaving something out of the equation and that is why food science is usually pseudoscience  - especially when practiced by a food company. The little thing they leave out is the full equation in the cause and effect department.

If you make food really really good, people will eat a lot of food. This is because these scientific frankensteins of salt, sugar, and fat are cheap, and available in quantity. Nobody at the drive up window says you can't order two burgers and supersize the Coke and fries. Simply our brain treats the food like a light weight cocaine causes us to then gain weight.

Here is a great Boys Book experiment: Try to resist a good bowl of m&m's. There is a reward when you get the fatty sugar rolling around your mouth. Feel and hear that goodness packaged in that healthy celery stalk like crunch. Better yet, though branding, you know every m&m tastes like an m&m and has that same reward. You are going to be rewarding before you ever pick one up and when you do, reward! Why not reward yourself with another m&m for being a very perceptive bipedal mammal! Record how many you eat, despite feeling something has hypnotized you.

You should try this experiment with Cheetos or any other snack food, candy, frozen pizza, fast food, etc. Even juice boxes, fresh squeezed, boxed for your convenience, orange juice. Even fruit, if it is the right ripeness and sugar content, or dipped in dark chocolate (white chocolate to add a bit more fat).

The key parameter of this experiment is to put about ten servings in front of you and see how long and how hard it is to not eat it all in one sitting despite your propensity to look and sound like Jaba the Hut.

Back to the pseudoscience before we go. Remember that I said they were leaving out the fact  we will consume such food until we can cram no more in our mouths? Well that is just a part of the non science. You see the other missing info is that thing called nutrition. I also said fat, sugar, and salt. Where is the sugar coming from? When you eat a big mac, where is the sugar? Fries are covered in salt and fat right, not sugar? White Castle isn't sugar coated mini buns of goodness with syrup, right?

Wrong, these are all full of sugar in the form of starch in the bread or potatoes or 'gasp' rice. In fact simple carbohydrates hit your blood stream faster than table sugar! Pick up a simple blood glucose meeter and give it a try. Great fun to watch your blood sugar swing, especially if you are overweight and edging toward diabetes.

So watch Jamie Oliver's show, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". He will teach a lot about the missing science that makes up pseudoscience. Read the book, The End of Overeating too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pseudoscience Activities at the Night Museum

I'm following up on the marbles of pseudoscience in our last episode.

I emailed the museum to point out that there are great ways to use the pseudoscience marbles in their after school programs. They could avoid looking like rubes for selling pseudoscience in a science museum by actually teaching pseudoscience. Sort of evens it out, right? Can't sell pseudoscience without teaching pseudoscience, right?

Think about it like J. Crew (JCG) or the Gap (GPS). They sell clothes. They don't sell dinosaur toys too. They are about putting cloth on people, not teaching science, so they have no dinosaurs. You have to pair up people and clothes to make the sale. Throw in rocks and old dino bones and people don't get it and shop at that French Target store.

Look at Republicans and the healthcare debate and healthcare reform. Republicans are totally against the healthcare bill. This seems illogical because the Democrats put a bunch of Republican ideas and took out stuff that the Republicans really hatted. The bill even ensures that insurance companies make more money by mandating insurance - making it pro big business! In other words, it is exactly what Republicans wanted. Like pseudoscience in a science museum store, the Republicans can't vote for something that the president or most Democrats appear to like (even though they really don't as you can tell because Michael Moore hates it too).

One more hint... Why haven't the Republicans submitted their own healthcare reform bill? It is obvious, it would look like the Democrat bill and the whole charade would be blown. So you see, like tutus in a Banana Republic, suddenly we have two things that are not like one another (i.e. the creator's signatures on identical bills).

So.... sigh, we were in the museum's store, right? Back to my letter from the museum. Sadly the woman that replied to me could do nothing to remove the cognitive dissonance of shoppers/patrons. That is sad. Poor powerless museum employee, forced to sell pseudoscience marbles in a science museum.... sigh.

But I had an idea. The power block in the museum is its wealthy patrons. They give the money that pays the salaries of powerless museum employees. Not sure where museum store sales go. Perhaps to the 3rd party that runs the store for the museum. Anyway, donors, that's the solution. We could approach them with ideas to teach pseudoscience in the science museum so they can sell their marbles without shame.

Maybe we can go to the museum's board meeting with the plan? Most of the board are donors. Submit a new after school pseudoscience program. All I need now is the program! Any ideas from my young pseudo-scientists?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pseudoscience at the Tar Pits

There seems to be a team os pseudoscientists out there doing great work for the cause. Today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I found that the George C. Page Museum, adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits is selling "Metaphysical" marbles in their store.

I have been to the Tar Pits as a kid. It is a great place, full of science and history. I don't remember seeing any ghosts, witch doctors, or anything else metaphysical twirling about the last time I was there. Imagine my disappointment that I missed the magic stones are quite a surprise. Could have used them to improve my grades or learn to fly... To be honest, I feel cheated that I couldn't buy those magic marbles.

I guess I missed the boat. Sadly too, I am disappointed that these marbles were 'cut by hand'. I suspect the hand made quality by hundreds of underaged third world factory workers is where the real magic comes from. Everyone knows that child labor obviously increases their super powers.

Here is a great pic from our intrepid pseudoscientist that shows all the wonderful powers you can get from these stones (sadly not the power of flight or smiting of enemies, but ok for the price).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Psuedoscience In The Classroom: Physics 192

Finally, pseudoscience is now taught in a university that isn't run by a major religion or cult (cult/religions are the same thing, but we will talk about that another time).

If I might, I'd like say something directly to the students.

First, I am very happy to see you taking an interest in being a pseudoscience. I think that it has been a sad story that there are few places where you can get an overview of the field. Where else can you learn about placebos, noceboes, and the best of bad science?

But there is one thing that I think is really important that is often misunderstood by those critical of the beliefs in pseudoscience. Simply the critics say that the reason people believe in things like crystal healing, chiropractic, or faith healing is because they are stupid. This is a bad characterization and ignores a lot about how and why people actually come to such conclusions and why their beliefs are usually unassailable.

Pseudoscience is all brain related. Look closely and you will see that the reason we believe in so many crazy things is not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather just how the brain reacts as it has been trained by society and the many coping skills that have evolved over time to keep us safe and happy in general.

The simplest of these is that the brain does not like to expend too much energy. Think about how you pick a restaurant. Do you observe the kitchen staff for a couple of hours before you decide to eat at an establishment? No, you rely on the report by a friend or simply that the restaurant appears to be popular. In other words, the brain is pre-wired to follow the crowd.

The 2012 phenomenon is another of these. It is not popular because it is real, just that it is popular. People tend to believe what other people believe.

Why are these beliefs so hard to break? Back to the brain. The brain hates to be wrong. Being wrong is like telling the brain it needs to learn something new and it now needs to go through the trouble of rewiring its current beliefs which takes a lot of time and energy. Back on the savanna, taking time to rewire gets in the way of gathering food and keeping an eye out for man eating lions.

Being called out as wrong is also a very huge attack in the modern world. Getting an F on a test is an attack on your ability to survive. Nobody gets hired and puts food on the table or a roof over your head when life is a series of F grades.  Any questioning of decisions or skills at work is an attack on your ability to hold the job and thus provide for you and family. It is like a pack leader being challenged for his right to sire offspring. You loose in the battle of survival and the brain does not like loosing.

Question someones opinion and you are opening a can of worms that want to attack your counter belief. The arguments of course do not need to follow any rules of logic. Logic is not a survival mechanism. The only thing you need for survival is observation, memory and a little cause/effect. The scientific method is not necessary to know that a hot stove will burn you or a bright mushroom is probably poison.

Back literally to the chiropractor. Is it wacky? Are people stupid? No, they are both sheep because a lot of other people believe, so it is a good bet that it is real, plus it may work for you because of placebo and/or getting up and going to the chiropractor hand having your body twisted a bit does affect your body a bit.  Is it a cure? Is there any other real science?  Not really.

 Can a chiropractor help you? Sure, but not for most of the reason they give. Is it dangerous? Yes, but I think you are more likely to get hurt in a car accident on the way. All medical interventions have side affects and fiddling with someones spine is not exactly guaranteed to be safe and neither is driving to their offices.

Another fun one is perpetual motion. It seems possible. The brain usually stops there. The device looks cool and a smart guy in a lab coat that invented the devices says that it is real. You don't have a lab coat, so you are willing to accept the facts as said. What about the critics?

Critics are everywhere. Recently I wrote about how critics are getting wackier now because they represent an opposing view and that reporters must present opposing views to appear fair and balanced. It is important to remember that in most cases, opposing sides never converge on the truth. Once opinion/belief is formed, it is almost impossible to change.

What about pure belief? Paranormal, religion, UFO, etc. How can you counter a belief that is unprovable? Religion is the best at being unquestionable. Ask someone who is religious about when they became aware that they were true believers. Usually it is because of some horrific or challenging  time in their lives like death of a loved one, drugs, or other challenge. When we feel bad, we look for relief and, like a drowning man, anything that will make us feel better and give us something to do rather than wallow in grief or depression.

Destruction of belief is hard. Cognitive dissonance is a state of mind where we become aware that our belief does not fit the facts. Like an end of the world cult member feels something is up when the world fails to end at the appointed time. The thing is, we hate that feeling and can come up with all manner of excuses and unrelated evidence or suppositions that can prove we are right and blow away feelings that we made a mistake. This is why there are still members of cults even after the end does not come. They have convinced themselves

Disproving a belief is easy. Convincing someone to change a belief is hard. My advice is not to attack a Don Quixote, but to teach them about how messy the mind is and how to think critically.

Finally and more importantly, be entertaining. Have fun! When being  a skeptic is fun, we all win!

Heros of Pseudoscience: Kevin Trudeau

Here at the Boys Books offices, we love heroes. We also like watching Heros, but that's because we also like good science fiction. Speaking of science fiction...

You can read about Gary at the Federal Trade Commission. It seems that the FTC didn't like Gary's book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” Here at Boys Books, we loved the book for the same reason we love watching Heros.

The Sounds and Smells of Pseudoscience

This isn't as much about pseudoscience as it is about how we see problems. I just came across a letter that Benjamin Franklin wrote.