Financial market in need of some practical skepticism

Did people with dollar signs in their eyes jump on an obviously fake bid for Avon? Or is the story that what was thought to be a secure way of gaining information has been manipulated?

The world of finance is greatly in need of some Practical Skepticism. Experts say this bid to take over Avon was so obviously bogus that it was designed to fool computers, not people. That is, if the people looked at it just a bit carefully.

Source: SEC database hoax sent Avon stock soring | Doubtful News

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Advice to kids interested in Bigfoot

Mixed feeling have I about this story of an 11-year old cryptozoologist. I was a Bigfoot fan at that age too. Still am.

Have you seen Bigfoot? Call this boy!

Meet Cal Marks, of Wellsburg, Bigfoot researcher and aspiring cryptozoologist. His mom calls this amiable 11-year-old “Calisquatch,” a play off his name and interests.

“Some kids think I am crazy because I believe in Bigfoot. They are trying to tell me that Bigfoot is not real,” said the Broadway Elementary School fifth-grader. “I tell them, well, with all the sightings, photographs and videos for evidence, how can they all be hoaxes?”

He’s going to attend the Ohio Bigfoot Conference and Ohio Bigfoot Festival which likely has no skeptical speakers in sight. So, I sent him an email with some advice:

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We waste effort in outrage over GMOs

Practical skepticism means applying critical thinking, not just adopting political stances or expressing outrage without merit. Opposition to GMO (genetically modified organisms) is an excellent example of massive inefficiency caused by scientific illiteracy and misinformation. Here is a piece by Dr. Steven Novella:

I sometimes think of scientific skepticism as a method of waste reduction and improved efficiency. As an individual, a family, a society, a government, and indeed a civilization, we are best served if our time and energy were spent in an efficient manner pursuing appropriate goals. It pains me, for example, to think of researchers who spend an entire career pursuing a fiction. When you think about how much time and money is wasted because of ideology, stubbornness, or simple ignorance it can be depressing.

Part of the problem is that the choices we face are increasingly complex, and we really don’t have the infrastructure necessary to collectively make good decisions. Politics is overwhelmed with ideology and perverse incentives, people are overwhelmed with misinformation and advertising, the public is largely scientific illiterate, the media generally does not do a good job of informing the public, and the default mode is to make decisions for emotional and ideological rather than rational reasons.

There are many examples just from the pages of this blog – billions wasted on useless supplements, disease outbreaks caused by antivaxxers, companies dedicated to producing free-energy devices, and ideological opposition to anything “unnatural,” to name just a few. The latter is interesting because it demonstrates how passionate people who mean well can be easily diverted by sloppy thinking.

Read more: NeuroLogica Blog » Missing the Point and Wasting Resources

Testing the Vortex Dome

Applying practical skepticism to “ghost” detecting devices. They are not meant to be used to declare something “paranormal”.

Anomalies Research Society

By Kenny Biddle

I’ve seen this device, among many others, mentioned on several ghost hunting sites over the last year. In 2014, I had the opportunity to observe the Vortex Dome in person during a paranormal-themed event at a historic New Jersey library. After experiencing a demonstration by a ghost hunting team – which included the LEDs flashing at random times (many times in response to the movements of people sitting at the table), I began to question the device’s functions and claimed ability to detect paranormal activity, which was promoted by the team. The discussion did not go well, with the team offering guesses instead of solid answers and even making up information on the spot to save face. It was evident that this team had no idea what the device really did, or how it did it (which is a common issue throughout the paranormal community).

VD1After departing…

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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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Should you call in a paranormal investigator?

And now for something completely different on Practical Skepticism:

I think my house is haunted! Should I call a paranormal investigator?

The short answer is “No”. But there is a surprisingly long and complicated answer that’s worth exploring.

Why do some people feel the need to call for help for their perceived paranormal problem? What is the harm?

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Practical Skepticism is about ME

By Steve Cuno

I’m feeling self-absorbed today. I want to talk about how skepticism helps me, me, ME.

Don’t get ME wrong. I concede that not just I, but the whole of humankind stands to benefit from a skeptical approach. Here are four examples:

Example the First: Skepticism saves me money.

I had a favorite brand of barbecue sauce. Whenever it chanced to set foot in my mouth, my taste buds greeted it by standing up and singing hymns. One day I picked up a considerably cheaper brand, just to compare. Sure enough, it proved not as good. But thanks to skepticism, I knew a thing or two about how easily we fool ourselves. I wondered, “How would James Randi test this?” I took out two spoons and poured a dollop in each. Good so far, except skepticism had also taught me the value of a blind test. How was I going to manage that on my own? Here serendipity intervened. I received a phone call. By the time the call ended, I couldn’t remember which spoon held which sauce. I sampled them both … and could taste no difference. My taste buds now stand and sing for Brand X, and my wallet joins in.

On another occasion, I was running errands with a friend when he ducked into a so-called nutritional products store. He emerged a few minutes later with a handful of bottles and $50 less in his pocket. Thanks to some skeptical knowledge, I recognized the product names and knew that none of them performed as claimed, or, if you will, as claimed in large type and disclaimed in small. My friend would hear none of it. That was his privilege. I came away grateful that skepticism protects me from spending good cash on worthless products.

Example the Second: Skepticism rescues me from unproductive arguments. Continue reading

Viral video debunked: Rush hour dance of the traffic

We are bombarded with social media links to strange news stories and amazing videos that seem incredible, mysterious or confounding. Luckily, there are some extremely talented individuals that not only take the time necessary to analyze and investigate these claims, but also can do a fantastic and entertaining video to show you exactly how we were all (nearly) fooled.

Probably my absolutely favorite mystery unmasker is Captain Disillusion. Here Captain Disillusion deconstructs the another car video using his nearly unmatched skills in video… stuff. And there is help from that silly Mr. Flare. Be entertained and be smarter and most importantly, PASS IT ON! Make smart things go viral.

Illuminating the Illuminati: How do 6th graders know about this stuff?

dNlyVbfIt’s good to have school-age kids to find out what the “yoots” of today are thinking about woo-woo topics. Apparently, 6th graders know enough to be dangerous when it comes to the Illuminati. My kid told me that when she wears a certain patterned tee, several kids remark about how it is an “Illuminati” symbol.

Obviously, it’s not. But where do they get these things from?

She didn’t know what the Illuminati was or what they meant by those remarks. Actually, I don’t think her commenters KNOW what the Illuminati is or what the hype about their symbolism is. In fact, I’m not sure I know because it’s all a bunch of secret conspiracy, shadowy, fiction-sounding mumbo-jumbo that I don’t pay much attention to. But it has been in the news over the past few years in places that kids might be paying attention to – namely pop culture.

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