The mouse trap: Studies done on mice, not people

The next time you hear about interesting findings from the latest scientific study on health, be sure to pay attention to the subject of the study. Was it done on mice? Then don’t get too excited and don’t immediately change your lifestyle because of it.

Mice (and rats, fruit flies, zebrafish, roundworms – all common experimental subjects) are not people. Sorry to be so obvious but it’s easy to miss this when the news anchor on Good Morning America is just so enthusiastic. Results from experiments on them do not necessarily translate to results in humans. Human trials are an additional step – one that is difficult and expensive – so experiments on animals will occur first to provide data and decide whether to move ahead to human trials.

Here are some examples of studies that got widespread press coverage with headlines the sounding promising. But, the fact that they were done on mice might have been missed. Continue reading

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Family duped by criminal in haunted house scheme

Trust and helpfulness is a fine thing except when your good will is taken advantage of as it was in this case.

A family in Fall City, Washington let “Steven Davidson” live with them since he was a friend of their granddaughter. Not only was his name NOT Davidson, he had a criminal history for theft by deception, rape, and failing to register as a sex offender. And, he duped the family of southeast Asian decent into thinking their house was plagued by evil spirits so they would pay him to get rid of the problem! [Source]

The local news reports that Jason Charles Sumey was arrested in February for failing to register as a sex offender. While living at the Saeteurn house,  court documents note that he conducted damaging activities to portray “strange happenings” which  included faucets turning on by themselves, food coloring “splattered across carpets, walls and furniture.”  He also damaged windows and vehicles.

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Beware of those who say they “know” what they saw

Yesterday evening, social media exploded and families erupted in argument over the color of a dress in a picture circulating on line.

Here is the picture.
the dress

I’ll admit I first saw the dress as white and gold. After seeing the degree of INSISTENCE of those who swore it was blue and black, I knew something was amiss. Was it a trick picture? An optical illusion? Yes, it was but it was all due to our brains.

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Check out some strange frequencies for fun skepticism

Last year, I interviewed the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, Strange Frequencies Radio. The story of Jason and Bobby is one of exploration into the unknown, corny as that may sound. But their curiosity about the paranormal led them to become believers and ghost hunters. Their gradual acquisition of critical thinking skills (along with a key characteristic of open-mindedness) turned them away from the idea of ghosts and spirits.

In their twenties, in Toledo, Ohio, they became friends through their mutual interest of the paranormal. With their respective groups now one organization, eventually named Phase 3 Paranormal, they visited people’s houses in and around Ohio, collected EVPs and electromagnetic readings, interviewed the witnesses to the events and wrote up case reports, just like all the other paranormal groups. They believed they had found paranormal activity and had concluded this was evidence of ghosts. EVPs were concluded to be the voices of the dead. They recruited interested individuals for the group via MySpace, craigslist, and the local paper. No special qualifications were needed to join although they administered an exam to new recruits to see how much they knew about the paranormal. Bobby remembers the ease in which people would give their social security number to him under the pretense of a “background check.” This was his ploy to test for trustworthiness, since he had no means to actually run a background check. He figured if they would give him their SSN, they had nothing to hide.

Jason says they definitely were a “sciencey” group. They “absolutely” thought they were doing science—because of the equipment. For example, Jason explained to me that they would take a “baseline reading” of the house by walking around the rooms very slowly, waving the EMF meter around and recording the numbers on paper. Then later, after they “provoked” the ghost, they would do the same thing a second time and record the numbers.

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Be aware: The ideomotor effect

Do you believe in dowsing or the magic of Ouija boards?

I don’t want to be a downer but the magic in both comes from… you. In both, the spooky effect of mysterious movement is explained by a natural behavior called the ideomotor effect. This term was coined by William B. Carpenter in 1852 in his explanation for why the rods, pendulums, or sticks move during a dowsing demonstration. The participant is not even aware that ever so slight muscle movements cause the precariously held rods or easily influenced pendulum or planchette (on the Ouija board) to move.  Here’s a video explanation with dowsing rods.

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At first, doubt yourself: Two book recommendations

One crucial aspect to thinking skeptically about questionable claims is that you are aware of the way we can so easily and regularly fool ourselves. Our brains do some odd things that mess with reality. I plan on highlighting some media that are really eye-opening and should be on your list to experience as a practical skeptic. I’ll start with two of my favorite books.

Two concepts about human behavior and function that will make your jaw drop as you comprehend their effects on yourself and others are the way memory REALLY works and the practice of cognitive dissonance.

We hear stories from people everyday about what they observed and experienced. If you are in any sort of career that involves diagnosing or investigating, you have heard stories that just CAN NOT be right. Something is off. Are these people lying? No, they aren’t. They are remembering and relating the story to you suitable for the circumstance. It’s what humans often do, especially when we feel we might help or persuade. There are many occasions where a “fact” related to you by a person can be checked and found to be totally false. Memory is not a video tape, it does not record events as we assume it does. It’s pliable, changing and will evolve to suit our social and emotional needs. (Ahem, Brian Williams.) Continue reading

Welcome to Practical Skepticism

Our modern culture depicts the iconic “skeptic” as the curmudgeonly nay-sayer, the grumpy old man, or the annoying conversational partner who just wants to stir the pot.  Those people CERTAINLY exist. But that’s not at all what this site is about. Practical skepticism is for EVERYONE. And it’s greatly needed in our modern society.

Balderdash! [This image of Dana Carvey's "grumpy old man" ranked high when I googled "grumpy skeptic".]

Balderdash! [This image of Dana Carvey’s “grumpy old man” ranked high when I googled “grumpy skeptic”.]

Skeptics are not cynics or denialists. All we want is sound evidence that your claim has merit. There is nothing wrong with that, and that quality should have no gender or age boundaries.

I_am_a_Skeptic_Sharon

From the Skeptic Magazine campaign, “I’m a Skeptic”.

Practical skepticism is a virtue. Who wants to go through life being overly gullible? You’d get taken at every turn these days – watching TV, reading the news, listening to people around you, following social media. It’s VERY foolish to ignore critical thinking skills when everyone seems out to get you to buy their product, invest in their business, and go along with their story.

Nigeria_Scam

All practical skepticism really requires is that you pause to really think about the evidence you have been presented with.

  • Does it sound too good to be true?
  • Does it go against what the majority of people accept as valid?
  • Is it meant to persuade you towards a certain belief or action?

Guys Stick TogetherThis line of internal self-questioning is not natural! In fact, it’s more natural that we trust people and believe what we are told. Trusting what you are told is a fairly reliable way to get through life, until it isn’t. Ask those who have been scammed out of their money, dreams, health, or happiness. You can bet they wish they thought about their choices more skeptically.

charlatan_1Tall tale-tellers, tricksters, frauds, and charlatans have existed for as long as people have interacted with each other. It’s even more lucrative to fool others today where you can get away with it almost without a trace. While giving hoaxers and fraudsters their “just deserts” is necessary, prevention is preferable.

The content on this site is meant to be informative, relatable, shareable, and entertaining. We will touch on subjects from the most serious (medical claims) to the silly (“I saw Bigfoot in my backyard! Seriously!”)

I hope you find it useful. If you do, PLEASE tell a friend. That’s the way it works best, if you share.

Please consider contributing your story about practical skepticism.

Email: Contact@practicalskepticism.com