Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Be Skeptical

You are told crap every day. We are constantly told things and expected to believe them without evidence that they are true. Often it is during an attempt to get our money, votes, or viewership. It is also often just because the teller is a believer and is honestly trying to provide value with the unsupported statements. Skepticism will help you protect yourself from manipulation and misinformation. Having an open mind does not mean that you should let everyone put crap in it. Just be open to people proving things to you with evidence. Close-minded people are those who insist they are right about things contrary to or in the absence of evidence.

Recently two people died and 19 more were hospitalized for not being skeptical. James Arthur Ray, who pushes The Secret and has been on Oprah, told a bunch of people that he could make them rich if they gave him about $10,000 each, fasted, then sat in a sweat lodge. That's an oversimplification, but has the gist. People got hurt for believing. New Age woo is just the snake oil of the 21st century.

Disney is shelling out $16 per person who bought a Baby Einstein video believing that it would make their baby smarter. A study a few years ago showed that the videos may even lower vocabularies. Disney said the videos would help babies, and consumers believed.

Scientologists were found guilty of fraud in France for selling junk to followers they said needed it after an electropsychometer showed spiritual problems. Stuff like this just blows my mind.

Seriously, if someone is selling you something they claim will help you, demand proof. If they can't show you some impartial, controlled, double-blind studies to back up their claims, keep your money. Testimonials are junk. Believers don't care about the truth, so ignore them. Arguing with believers is usually as productive as banging your head against a brick wall.

For more on skepticism and how it can protect you and help you understand what is true, I recommend books like The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by the late Carl Sagan. Also, James Randi has some interesting stuff. I am still waiting for someone to win Randi's money by demonstrating a supernatural power.

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