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eSkeptic for September 6, 2017

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

2018 | IRELAND | JULY 15–AUGUST 2 Join us for a 19-day tour of the Emerald Isle

Ireland’s famed scenic landscape owes its breathtaking terrain to a dramatic 1.75 billion year history of continental collisions, volcanoes, and glacial assault. Join the Skeptics Society for a 19-day immersive tour of the deep history of the Emerald Isle, while experiencing the music, hospitality, and verdant beauty that make Ireland one of the world’s top travel destinations.

DAY 1 Sunday July 15: Dublin — A Geological City Arrival & Welcome Reception Day

Please Note: An optional tour will be available this day provided there are a sufficient number of members who check-in in time.

The rich geological heritage of Ireland is literally present in every street and building in Dublin. A geological walking tour of the city culminates with a behind the scenes visit to the Geological Museum at Trinity College, which is housed in the majestic, 19th century, Byzantine-inspired Museum Building, incorporating many of the rocks we’ll see over the coming days.

The Temple Bar district is promoted as Dublin’s cultural quarter and has a lively nightlife. Many Irish cultural institutions are located here including galleries and studios, and Centres for film, art and acting.

DAY 2 Monday, July 16: Beer & Gardens

Ahem. Drink up the history of Ireland’s renowned beverage at the Guinness Storehouse. An interactive tour of the facilities concludes with a frothy pint in the Gravity Bar: a seven-story, glass-walled facility, offering panoramic views of the city.

Explore the National Botanic Gardens. Over 20,000 plants, housed in 19th century iron and glass greenhouses. The Gardens played a crucial role in the identification of the pathogen behind the Irish Potato Famine and continue to be the site of important botanical research.

View from Gravity Bar at the top of Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by psyberartist [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

DAY 3 Tuesday, July 17: Mountains & Monasteries

The day begins in Wicklow Mountains National Park: rolling granite peaks wrenched upwards 420 million years ago as ancient Ireland collided with North America. Later smoothed by glaciers, the mountains host a unique heath and bog ecosystem, home to rare orchids and carnivorous plants.

Then it’s a visit to Glendalough monastic city. An ancient institute of higher learning, the 10th century complex of churches and monuments is situated in an idyllic glaciated valley (Glendalough means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’).

For those with a little more energy, a gentle walk past the upper lake takes you to the Glendalough Miner’s Village, the ruins of 18th century silver and lead mine, where you can search for the rare mineral pyromorphite.

DAY 4 Wednesday, July 18: Ancient Organisms, Lighthouses & Crystal

Most of the enigmatic Ediacaran Biota died out before the Cambrian Explosion. A few species held out, however. At Booley Bay, you’ll get to touch the remains of Ediacaria, one of the final representatives of Life’s first animal experiment.

From there, it’s off to the Hook Head Lighthouse. Perched on fossil-rich Carboniferous limestones, the Hook Head Lighthouse has guided mariners for almost 800 years, making it the world’s second oldest operational lighthouse.

Then then take some free time in the afternoon to explore the charming city of Waterford. Home to the famous Waterford Crystal, this small port city is the oldest in the Ireland.

Landscape of County Clare, Ireland. Green fields in foreground and Galway Bay in the background. Beginings of the Burren can also be seen.

DAY 5 Thursday, July 19: Copper & Fire

Spend the day visiting the tops sites of the UNESCO Copper Coast Geopark, including rare columnar rhyolites, spectacular copper minerals, mine audits, pillow basalts, and hyaloclastites—mixtures of volcanic glass and lava formed during the explosive interaction of lavas and ocean water.

For a break from the geologic, we’ll take lunch in the picturesque village of Dungarven, followed by a chance to browse local artisans, visit the quaint and lovely Waterford County Museum, and explore Dungarven Castle.

DAY 6 Friday, July 20: Countryside Carved by Water

Cirques are nature’s amphitheatres. Steep-sided open valley’s gouged by glaciers, they often possess a central lake, called a tarn. We’ll begin the day at Coumshingaun Lough, widely considered one of the finest and most beautiful examples both features in Great Britain.

From there we head underground to witness the erosional power of streams on a guided tour of the Michelstown Cave, one of Europe’s most spectacular show caves. Massive limestone caverns filled with stalactites and other structures will take your breath away.

Mizen Head is located at the extremity of the Kilmore Peninsula and was one of the last points seen by those traveling to the Americas. The harsh beauty of the cliffs, primarily composed of deep seated Devonian slates, provides nesting sites for numerous seabirds, including Kittiwakes, Cormorants, and Gannets.

DAY 7 Saturday, July 21: Bridge to the South

Today we head south—as far south as you can go in Ireland—to visit Mizen Head, ranked as one of the 100 Great Geosites. Devonian metamorphic rocks create dramatic cliff vistas, accessible by the brave via a 180’ tall pedestrian bridge. A tour of the lighthouse, signal station, and visitor center to learn about the site’s importance in the history of transatlantic radio communication add a human dimension to the stop.

From there we head through the scenic Killarney National Park with a short stop in Killarney on our way to our next hotel where we rest up for the next exciting day ahead.

Ladies View — a scenic point along the Ring of Kerry. The name stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit.

DAY 8 Sunday, July 22: The Force Awakens

The day begins with a tour of the iconic Ring of Kerry. One of the world’s most beautiful scenic drives, this 110 mile loop passes through picturesque villages, rugged coastline, and lush green countryside.

From there we’ll head to Valentia Island to see one of the oldest and longest tetrapod trackways on Earth. 50 feet long, these 380 million year old footprints represent some of the first steps ever taken on land by our deep ancestors.

Finally, we’ll take a boat 8 miles to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael. You’ll recognize the islands as Luke Skywalker’s otherworldly refuge in the finale of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ecologists, geologists, and archaeologists have long recognized them as one of the most important seabird colonies in Ireland, a classic example of fault-mediated geomorphology, and the site of a 7th century monastery.

The Burren is a karst-landscape region in northwest County Clare, in Ireland. The limestone is up to 800 meters thick and formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 325 million years ago.

DAY 9 Monday, July 23: Volcanoes of Sand

Today is all about sediments and structures. A series of stops take us to textbook examples of weird and wild geology: sand volcanoes, slumps, sea arches, folds, and cyclothem boundaries. We’ll visit the scenic Bridges of Ross and the Loop Head Lighthouse, stop at the Pollock Holes (a local secret: huge, ecologically-rich tide pools and swimming holes), and see an example of astronomically-forced climate change recorded in the rock record.

Skellig Michael (Irish: Sceilig Mhichíl), is the larger of the two Skellig Islands, in County Kerry. Most of the island, including the remains of the 7th century Gaelic Christian monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

DAY 10 Tuesday, July 24: The Barren Burren

The dramatic Carboniferous Cliffs of Moher and the brilliantly white karst landscape of the Burren National Park are today’s destinations. Recipients of both UNESCO Geopark status and a 100 Great Geosites ranking, these two stunning sites exemplify the interaction of bedrock and glacial and coastal erosional processes responsible for Ireland’s diverse and majestic terrain.

The Cliffs of Moher located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland. They rise 390 ft above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and, eight kilometres to the north, reach their maximum height of 702 ft just north of O’Brien’s Tower.

DAY 11 Wednesday, July 25: Search for your Galway shawl

After a behind the scenes tour of the 19th century James Mitchell Geology Museum, you’re free to explore the brightly painted, bohemian city of Galway. Hailed by the New York Times as Ireland’s “most Irish city”, relax in the pubs, soak up the city’s vibrant arts culture, or shop for handcrafted goods as you take a much needed break.

DAY 12 Thursday, July 26: Marble & Fjords

We travel through the “savage beauty” of the Connemara region to visit Connemara National Park, stopping at the Connemara Marble Visitor’s Centre to see the diversity of marbles produced by the tectonic cooking of Cryogenian limestones, and Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord.

Clew Bay contains Ireland’s best example of sunken drumlins. Drumlin is from the Irish word droimnín “littlest ridge”—an elongated hill formed by the movement of glacial ice.

DAY 13 Friday, July 27: The Western Coast

A loop takes us through County Mayo. The first stop is Clew Bay, whose hundreds of tiny islands are actually a field of submerged drumlins, enigmatic structures left behind by retreating glaciers.

Then it’s on to Ballycroy National Park for a walking tour of the pristine blanket bog habitat preserved in the region.

At the next stop, Annagh Head, you’ll interact with the oldest rocks in Ireland: at 1.75 Ga years old they predate the oldest fossils of cells with nuclei.

We’ll end the day at Céide Fields, the world’s best example of a Neolithic farmed landscape, capturing the transition from hunter gather to agricultural society.

DAY 14 Saturday, July 28: The Land of Yeats

The day is spent exploring the ancestral home of William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s most famous poet. A romantic countryside of lakes, rivers, forest, overseen by limestone ridges and the iconic table mountain of Benbulbin.

Slieve League (Irish: Sliabh Liag), is a mountain on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal, Ireland. At 1,972 ft, it has some of the highest sea cliffs on the island. Although less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League’s cliffs reach almost three times higher. Photo by Brholden (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

DAY 15 Sunday, July 29: The Edge of the World

The cliffs at Slieve League, some of the highest in the world, tower a staggering 2,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll experience them from above and below. Starting at the Slieve League viewing platform for a safe, but exhilarating view from the top. After that, we’ll descend to the harbour below for a personal boat tour of the base of cliffs, keeping an eye out for basking sharks and dolphins.

After the wild morning, we’ll calm down in Glenveagh National Park: 40,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness that surround the lush gardens and buildings of Glenveagh Castle.

Glenveagh Castle (Irish: Caisleán Ghleann Bheatha) is a large castellated Mansion house built in County Donegal, Ireland, built between 1870 and 1873 by Captain John George Adair. It stands within the boundaries of Glenveagh National Park.

DAY 16 Monday, July 30: Giants & Thrones

The day begins at Potrush Nature Reserve, ground zero for an epic intellectual battle in the early history of geology, where fossils appear to be preserved in volcanic rocks.

Then we move onto the Giant’s Causeway, perhaps the most iconic geological site in the world, where 40,000 columns of basalt create an unearthly sight that begs for a supernatural explanation.

And we’ll finish up the day Ballintoy Harbour, a starkly beautiful landscape of basalt and chalk that you might recognize as the setting of the Iron Islands on Games of Thrones.

The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

DAY 17 Tuesday, July 31: Maritime Mega Disasters

We head to Belfast to take in the international award-winning Titanic Belfast, where the history and tragedy of the ill-fated voyage are brought to life in nine massive, interactive galleries. We then head to Harland & Wolff for a behind the scenes tour.

Before heading to the city, however, we’ll stop at the site of a far larger maritime disaster. At Waterloo Bay, deposits formed by ancient mega tsunamis herald the coming of the one of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth history.

If time allows, the day will wrap up with a group tour of the Ulster Museum, home to Northern Ireland’s preeminent collection of fossils, rocks, and minerals.

The Titanic Experience—explore the shipyard, walk the decks, travel to the depths of the ocean and uncover the true legend of Titanic in the city of Belfast where it all began.

DAY 18 Wednesday, August 1: Coming Full Circle

The final leg of our tour takes us back to Dublin, but not before we stop at another famous circle: the Ring of Guillion. Officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the ring is a massive circle of volcanic rock formed by the collapse of volcano 58 million year ago.

Enroute to the Ring of Guillion, we’ll visit the Mourne Mountains, North Ireland’s highest peaks, towering blocks of granite emplaced at during the same volcanic events that produced the Ring and the Giant’s Causeway.

Farewell dinner

View from Slieve Croob of the Mourne Mountains, a granite mountain range in County Down, that includes the highest mountains in Northern Ireland, the highest of which is Slieve Donard at 2,790 ft.

DAY 19 Thursday, August 2: Homewards

All details above are subject to change.

OUR TOUR LEADER Dr. Jason Loxton

Geologist/palaeontologist and science communicator, Dr. Jason Loxton, received his Ph.D. from Dalhousie University and teaches at Cape Breton University. He received his Ph.D. from Dalhousie University. He studies the taxonomy and distribution of Ordovician/Silurian graptolites—or “really boring-looking smudges,” he says cheerfully. This eye-straining endeavor may be “unglamorous and decidedly not ‘trendy,’” as he describes it, but it is just the type of ongoing fossil detective work which has allowed generations of geologists to painstakingly piece together the history of our planet. This project, biostratigraphy, “uses fossils to divide the rock record into relative units of time.” And for that, modest fossils like Jason’s smudges are just the thing.

Dr. Loxton is renowned for his talent and wit as a lecturer and his public science outreach in schools, museums, and science fairs. He has written several articles for Skeptic magazine, as well as peer-reviewed papers on paleontology and climate change education, including mostly recently in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, and is the brother of Skeptic magazine author and illustrator Daniel Loxton.

Questions & Registration

Please contact The Skeptics Society office at geotours@skeptic.com or call 1-626-794-3119 with questions or with a credit card to secure your spot.

Download registration form

OUR NEXT SCIENCE SALON: SEPTEMBER 17 Dr. Nancy Segal — Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts about Twins

Dr. Nancy Segal, the world’s leading expert on twins, has a new book that sheds light on over 70 commonly held ideas and beliefs about the origins and development of identical and fraternal twins. Using the latest scientific findings from psychology, psychiatry, biology, and education, Dr. Segal separates fact from fiction. Each idea about twins is described, followed by both a short answer about the truth, and then a longer, more detailed explanation…

Reserve your seat(s) online or by calling 1-626-794-3119. Online reservation closes Sunday September 17, 2017 at 11am PDT.

Reserve seat(s) online

IN CELEBRATION OF 25 YEARS OF SKEPTIC Get 25% off the film: Reasons To Believe

It is no secret we live in some challenging times. In the world of fake news, alternative facts, and irrational belief systems, it is often difficult to know how we find the truth.

For the past 25 years Skeptic magazine has been at the forefront of helping people use skepticism to become better critical thinkers and question irrational belief systems. In keeping with the skeptic movement, the new documentary Reasons to Believe featuring Michael Shermer, asks the questions of why do we believe and why is it so hard for us to change our minds? How can we use science and reason to combat ideology?

In celebration of the release of the documentary on September 11th, 2017 and the 25th anniversary of Skeptic magazine, we want to say thank you to all current and new subscribers of Skeptic magazine by giving a limited time offer of 25% off the rental or purchase of the documentary on Vimeo.

Enter promo code skeptic25 to get the discount. Stream the film online at: http://vimeo.reasonstobelievefilm.com/. The promo code is limited to the first 2000 people and it expires: 09/25/2017

We hope to continue to give you the best content possible and appreciate you supporting us with a tax-deductible donation to The Skeptics Society.

More information about the film

Rent the film using promo code skeptic25 to save 25%

DEBATE: SEPTEMBER 17 Is God a Figment of Our Imagination?

Full details & tickets

DEBATE: OCTOBER 19 How Do We Know What’s Right?

Full details

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #587: What Makes a Good Podcast Episode?

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 09/04/2017 - 5:00pm
Stories about urban legends are at their best when there are real people at their center.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

The Multi-headed Hydra of Prejudice

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 12:00am

A friend of mine, a lifelong Democrat, lives in a retirement home in one of the most liberal cities in California. One day at lunch he decided to sit at a table of residents he didn’t know. He soon realized that they were all Trump voters, enthusiastically expressing their pleasure with the election. “Finally, we won’t have to look at that nigger in the White House any more,” said one woman. My friend was stunned. “Look,” he said, “it’s OK for us to have political disagreements, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with your using that ugly word.” “Too bad,” she said. “We can say whatever we really feel now. To hell with your political correctness.”

I’ve long been annoyed by, and written critically about, the language police on many college campuses, where well-intentioned efforts to ban “offensive” words and deeds frequently lurches into preposterous and sometimes funny extremes. In the prologue to the latest edition of his best-selling sex-information book, The Guide to Getting It On, Paul Joannides writes:

I’ve given up trying to please people who insist that every word of every sentence must not offend a single person on the entire planet. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say “a woman’s clitoris” because it might offend people who are transgender. So instead of using words like “woman” or “man,” I’m supposed to say “a person with a clitoris and vagina” or “a person with a penis.”1

So let’s stipulate that none of us likes being told we can’t say what we think, and that we shouldn’t think what we feel. But the kind of political correctness that Joannides laments at least has the benefit of trying to make people aware of the uses and consequences of language, as adding “or she” did to the former norm of using the generic universal male to encompass women. It pales next to what the Trump voter meant by the phrase. For her, and others like her, being “politically correct” means that somehow they have been forced to suppress their racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic feelings. (Suppressed? Have they never been online?)

As studies from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology demonstrate, prejudice is a Hydra: cut off one of its nine heads, and another emerges.

Across the country, those feelings are erupting like mushrooms after rain. African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were spammed with threats about lynching black people. Vandals in upstate New York painted swastikas on a building with the scrawl “Make America White Again.” The lid is off the cauldron, revealing how much rage and prejudice had been bubbling below. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the racism that Barack Obama’s presidency released, starting with the birther movement that questioned his very legitimacy. Marilyn Davenport, a member of the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee, sent out an email depicting Obama and his parents as chimpanzees, and was surprised by the outcry. “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist,” she said by way of apology. “It was a joke. I have friends who are black.” (Or did.) I guess her having to apologize is the kind of political correctness her supporters object to.

This election vividly reminded me of a classic study in social psychology, conducted in the early 1980s when many Americans were optimistic about the gains of the civil-rights movement. In a study that student subjects were led to believe was about biofeedback, Ronald Rogers and Steven Prentice-Dunn asked white students to administer an electric shock to either African-American or white confederates of the experimenter. (They weren’t actually shocked.) In the experimental condition, participants overheard the biofeedback “victim” saying derogatory things about them. In the control condition, participants overheard no such nasty remarks. Then all the participants had another opportunity to shock the victims; their degree of aggression was defined as the amount of shock they administered. At the beginning, white students showed less aggression toward blacks than toward whites. But as soon as the white students were angered by overhearing derogatory remarks about themselves, they showed more aggression toward blacks than toward whites.2 The findings were subsequently replicated in studies of how English-speaking Canadians behave toward French-speaking Canadians, straights toward gays, non-Jewish students toward Jews, and men toward women. In all of these conditions, members of the majority were willing to control their negative feelings toward the minority at first. But as soon as they became angry or got a jolt to their self-esteem, their unexpressed prejudice revealed itself—aggressively.

An equally powerful predictor of the eruption of prejudice is economic: competition, real or perceived, for jobs and security. When two groups are worried about their livelihoods, prejudice between them increases—and prejudice in turn justifies anything each side says or does to diminish or dehumanize the other. My friend and colleague Elliot Aronson tells this story in his classic social- psychology text, The Social Animal, describing how white attitudes toward Chinese immigrants in the United States fluctuated during the 19th century. When the Chinese were working in the gold mines and potentially taking jobs from white laborers, the white-run newspapers described them as depraved, vicious, and bloodthirsty. Just a decade later, when the Chinese began working on the transcontinental railroad, doing difficult and dangerous jobs that few white men wanted, prejudice against them declined. Whites described them as hardworking, industrious, and lawabiding. Then, after the railroad was finished and the Chinese had to compete with Civil War veterans for scarce jobs, white attitudes changed again. Whites now thought the Chinese were “criminal,” “crafty,” “conniving,” and “stupid.”3

Notice any relevance to the 2016 election? Today’s Chinese are Mexican, particularly the migrant workers whose labor is needed but who are perceived as costing Americans their jobs. Starting in the late 2000s, as the American economy worsened, violence against Latinos rose more than 40 percent, and Mexicans became the main focus of white anger about illegal immigration.

Censoring prejudiced language doesn’t touch the prejudice, any more than cutting the tops off weeds causes them to die.

As studies from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology demonstrate, prejudice is a Hydra: cut off one of its nine heads, and another emerges. Prejudice subsides in good times; in bad times it reemerges, with new targets. It survives because it accomplishes so many things for the people who embrace it. It wards off feelings of doubt, fear, and insecurity. It allows people to create scapegoats on whom they can displace anger and cope with feelings of powerlessness. It binds people to their own cultural, ethnic, or national group and its ways; by disliking “them,” we feel closer to “us.” It justifies a group’s dominance, status, or greater wealth: across the globe, wherever a majority group systematically discriminates against a minority to preserve its power—whether the majority is white, black, Muslim, Hindu, Japanese, Chinese, Hutu, Christian, or Jewish—they will claim that their actions are legitimate because the minority is so obviously inferior, stupid, and dangerous. Finally, prejudice is the ultimate tonic for low self-esteem: No matter how bad off I am, those people are inferior. As the historian Ian Buruma recently observed, the election of Obama was a shock to those “white Americans, [who,] however impoverished and undereducated, had the comforting sense that there was always a group beneath them, who did not share their entitlement, or claim to greatness, a class of people with a darker skin. With a Harvard-educated black president, this fiction became increasingly difficult to sustain.”4

Anyone who wants to understand prejudice, therefore, has a daunting task. Not only do we have to peel apart the functions a prejudice has for any given individual or group; we also have to distinguish explicit attitudes (such as the unapologetic racism and anti-Semitism of white supremacists) from unconscious ones (the “implicit bias” that many people hold in associating a group with various negative traits); active hostility toward another group from simple unfamiliarity and thus discomfort with that group; what people say from what they feel; and what people feel from how they behave. Did the woman at the lunch table insult Obama in order to momentarily feel superior? To let her friends know she’s one of them? Or to ventilate anger that her white middle-aged husband is out of work, drinking too much, and suicidal, and how come the country is paying more attention to “them” than to him?

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 22.1 (2017).
Buy this issue

I don’t care about her reasons on a personal level, which is why I commend what my friend did at that lunch. He didn’t shout, or call the woman a racist, or storm away from the table; he raised a clear but civil objection, knowing that otherwise his silence would convey approval. But I do care about her reasons on a societal level, for that affects our thinking about what it will take to find true antidotes for the prejudices that are revealed in ugly language. Censoring that language doesn’t touch the prejudice, any more than cutting the tops off weeds causes them to die. One powerful antidote is, simply, making connections. We all feel better in “safe spaces,” hanging out with others who think as we do and share our experiences, but one of the factors most strongly related to the reduction of prejudice is contact with those who are different from us. Remarkably, contact actually works best for the most intolerant and rigid people, apparently because it reduces their feelings of threat and anxiety and increases feelings of empathy and trust.5

As we go forward into the known and unknown brambles of Trumpland, we will face many personal decisions: speak up or shut up? Shout down the opposition or try to hear them? Retreat to safe spaces or seek common ground?

About the Author

Dr. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and coauthor, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). She writes “The Gadfly” column quarterly in Skeptic magazine.

References
  1. Paul Joannides. 2017. The Guide to Getting It On, 9th edition. Goofy Foot Press.
  2. Rogers, Ronald W., & Prentice-Dunn, Steven. 1981. “Deindividuation and Anger-mediated Interracial Aggression: Unmasking regressive racism.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 41, 63–73.
  3. Aronson, Elliot. 2012. The Social Animal, 11th ed. New York: Worth.
  4. Buruma, Ian. 2016 (November 29). “The End of the Anglo-American Order.” New York Times Magazine.
  5. Hodson, Gordon. 2011. “Do Ideologically Intolerant People Benefit from Intergroup Contact?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 20, 154–159.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for August 30, 2017

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

OUR NEXT SCIENCE SALON: SEPTEMBER 17 Dr. Nancy Segal — Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts about Twins

Dr. Nancy Segal, the world’s leading expert on twins, has a new book that sheds light on over 70 commonly held ideas and beliefs about the origins and development of identical and fraternal twins. Using the latest scientific findings from psychology, psychiatry, biology, and education, Dr. Segal separates fact from fiction. Each idea about twins is described, followed by both a short answer about the truth, and then a longer, more detailed explanation. Coverage includes embryology of twins, twin types, intellectual growth, personality traits, sexual orientation of twins, marital relationships, epigenetic analyses, the frequency of different twin types and the varieties of polar body twin pairs. This book, and Salon with Dr. Segal, will inform and entertain behavioral and life science researchers, health professionals, twins, parents of twins, and anyone interested in the fascinating topic of twins and what they can teach us about human nature.

Dr. Segal earned her Ph.D. in the Social Sciences and Behavioral Sciences from the University of Chicago. From 1982-1991 she was a post-doctoral fellow and research associate at the University of Minnesota, affiliated with the well-known Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. She is currently Professor of Psychology at CSU Fullerton and Director of the Twin Studies Center, which she founded in 1991. Dr. Segal has authored over 200 scientific articles and book chapters, as well as several books on twins. Her previous book, Born Together-Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study (2012, Harvard University Press) won the 2013 William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association. Her other books include Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth (2011), Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins (2007) and Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior (2000). She is the 2016 recipient of the Wang Family Excellence Award from the California State University administrators and trustees for “exemplary contributions and achievement.” She was recognized as CSUF’s Outstanding Professor of the Year in 2005 and as the Distinguished Faculty Member in Humanities and Social Sciences in 2007 and 2014. She has been a frequent guest on national and international television and radio programs, including the Martha Stewart Show, Good Morning America, the Oprah Winfrey Show and The Forum (BBC). Dr. Segal has variously served as a consultant and expert witness for the media, the law and the arts.

Order Twin Mythconceptions from Amazon.

Reserve your seat(s) online or by calling 1-626-794-3119. Online reservation closes Sunday September 17, 2017 at 11am PDT.

Reserve seat(s) online

The Science Behind Monsters
MONSTERTALK EPISODE #134

In this episode of MonsterTalk, we take a look at the convergence of science and monsters, as Blake Smith prepares to talk at 2017’s CryptidCon in Frankfort, Kentucky. What does science have to tell us about monsters?

Listen to episode 134

Read the episode notes

Subscribe on iTunes

Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App and enjoy the science show about monsters on your handheld devices! Available for iOS, Android, and Windows. Subscribe to MonsterTalk for free on iTunes.

In this week’s eSkeptic, social psychologist (and regular columnist for Skeptic magazine, Carol Tavris, discusses the hydra of prejudice and the psychological predictors that lead to it rearing its ugly heads.

The Multi-headed Hydra of Prejudice

by Carol Tavris

A friend of mine, a lifelong Democrat, lives in a retirement home in one of the most liberal cities in California. One day at lunch he decided to sit at a table of residents he didn’t know. He soon realized that they were all Trump voters, enthusiastically expressing their pleasure with the election. “Finally, we won’t have to look at that nigger in the White House any more,” said one woman. My friend was stunned. “Look,” he said, “it’s OK for us to have political disagreements, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with your using that ugly word.” “Too bad,” she said. “We can say whatever we really feel now. To hell with your political correctness.”

As studies from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology demonstrate, prejudice is a Hydra: cut off one of its nine heads, and another emerges.

I’ve long been annoyed by, and written critically about, the language police on many college campuses, where well-intentioned efforts to ban “offensive” words and deeds frequently lurches into preposterous and sometimes funny extremes. In the prologue to the latest edition of his best-selling sex-information book, The Guide to Getting It On, Paul Joannides writes:

I’ve given up trying to please people who insist that every word of every sentence must not offend a single person on the entire planet. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say “a woman’s clitoris” because it might offend people who are transgender. So instead of using words like “woman” or “man,” I’m supposed to say “a person with a clitoris and vagina” or “a person with a penis.”1

So let’s stipulate that none of us likes being told we can’t say what we think, and that we shouldn’t think what we feel. But the kind of political correctness that Joannides laments at least has the benefit of trying to make people aware of the uses and consequences of language, as adding “or she” did to the former norm of using the generic universal male to encompass women. It pales next to what the Trump voter meant by the phrase. For her, and others like her, being “politically correct” means that somehow they have been forced to suppress their racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic feelings. (Suppressed? Have they never been online?) […]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #586: Volkswagen Dieselgate Reexamined

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 5:00pm
In the wake of VW Dieselgate, the government took the wrong steps to solve the wrong problem.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Ultraterrestrials

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 08/23/2017 - 12:00am

David Clarke has written an insightful, informative and thought-provoking book on UFOs and the UFO culture. This is not a debunking book, although it fulfills that function admirably. Rather, it describes Clarke’s long search for what is really going on with UFO reports. Along the way Clarke goes through various stages of what he calls the “UFO Syndrome”.

Clarke is both British and a reporter. In the latter role, he interviewed many of the major players in the British UFO community. These interviews and his own investigations provide much information that, as far as I know, has never been published before. For readers familiar with the American literature on UFOs, this book provides a very welcome broadening of horizons. I had no idea that there was a British equivalent of Project Blue Book, for example. The honesty with which Clarke describes his own changing beliefs is most refreshing. He is never harsh or demeaning of beliefs he does not hold. He treats those who hold even very bizarre beliefs regarding UFOs with interest and respect.

Careful investigation of many supposedly conclusive UFO reports showed that witnesses had constantly misperceived mundane objects as flying saucers. This message was not well received by the UFO community.

Like this reviewer, Clarke’s interest in UFOs sprang from reading science fiction stories and seeing science fiction films and TV shows during adolescence. We both read various UFO books and joined a UFO group (NICAP in my case) and came to really believe that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin, the start of the “UFO Syndrome”. In the introduction Clarke describes in detail his captivation with the syndrome. In the following ten chapters, he writes about his pursuit of the “truth” about UFOs. It is a fascinating journey.

The first two chapters cover topics that will be familiar to the skeptical reader. After describing the Arnold sightings and several 1950’s “flaps” and the huge interest they generated in the United States during the later 1940s into the 1950s, he notes that “the [UFO] syndrome took hold in no less dramatic fashion” (p. 38) in the United Kingdom. It is here that Clarke also describes the important connection between the UFO syndrome and the fantasy and science fiction pulp magazines of the 1930s through the 1950s. This connection has been discussed at length in Andrew May’s excellent Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (Springer, 2017).

Like many, I suspect what most convinced me that UFOs were real were the number of reliable, sane, often professional and well-trained people who reported them. Certainly not all of these people could have been fooled. After all, “seeing is believing.” The young Clarke also felt this way. In the second chapter, titled “I Know What I Saw,” he elaborates on this theme and introduces Ockham’s Razor and the work showing that human memory and perception is highly unreliable, especially under conditions where there may not be much information available to really determine what is really being perceived. This may be old-hat to the skeptical community, but it certainly is not to the public at large. In fact, it was only in graduate school when I learned about the constructive nature of memory and perception that I came to the conclusion that UFOs (and other such phenomena) were products of the inner world of the normal brain rather than in the outer world of actual objects. This insight leads Clarke to an explanation for even Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting that led to the modern flying saucer myth. Arnold most probably saw white pelicans flying at altitude.

Clarke credits Allan Hendry, an investigator with J. Allen Hyneck’s Center for UFO Studies, with starting to punch holes in the idea that eyewitness reports were useful sources of proof that UFOs were extraterrestrial. In 1979 Hendry published his famous UFO Handbook (Doubleday) in which he reported that careful investigation of many supposedly conclusive UFO reports showed that witnesses had constantly misperceived mundane objects as flying saucers. This message was not well received by the UFO community.

In 1970 the most extensive and well-planned hoaxes in the history of UFOlogy were carried out in Warminster, England. Only the first of these has apparently been previously reported, in an article by one of the hoaxers, David Simpson, in the fall, 1980 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer (pp. 32–39). The hoaxers took advantage of the fact that dedicated UFO watchers would be out on the night of the hoax. On a hill across from the watchers, the hoaxers lit a red-purple light, left it on for 5 seconds, turned it off for 5 seconds and then back on for 25 seconds. Infiltrators in the watchers supposedly took photos of the “UFO” and one of them had what was billed as an electromagnetic field detector that sounded the instant the UFO appeared and quieted when it vanished. The eyewitness reports got every aspect of the event wrong, and dramatically so, except for the shape and color of the UFO. They overestimated by about a factor of four the length of the event. While the light was stationery, they perceived it as moving. And while the light was on the hillside opposite, they perceived it as being in the air, where any self-respecting UFO would be.

The photographs, which were double exposures, showed an object of a very different shape than that seen that night in Warminster. The photos were given to the Flying Saucer Review, the leading British UFO magazine at the time, for analysis. They were breathlessly discussed in the July–August and November–December 1970 issues, even landing on the front cover of the July–August issue. No less a serious scientist than Dr. Pierre Guerin, Director of Research at the Astrophysical Institute of the French National Center for Scientific Research, stated that the photographs could not possibly have been hoaxed. He also generated some scientific sounding gibberish to explain why the photos showed a shape different from that reported by the witnesses. Specifically:

The object photographed was emitting ultraviolet light, which the eye does not see. Around the object, however, a ruby-red halo, probably of a monochromatic colour and doubtless due to some phenomenon of air ionization, was visible only to the eye and in actual fact made no impression on the film. (P. Guerin, F. Flying Saucer Review, 1970, vol. 16, # 6, p. 8).

The Warminster sightings remained a touchstone of the extraterrestrial hypothesis until Simpson’s 1980 Skeptical Inquirer paper. However, as far as I know, it has been unknown until Clarke’s book that there was a second Warminster hoax pulled off some time later. Clarke interviewed Simpson and describes this second hoax. It was a pretty simple hoax which consisted of releasing two balloons at night from a location close to where UFO watchers had gathered. Attached to the balloons were small light bulbs powered by a small battery. The bulbs were “partly covered with opaque paint so that when dangled from the balloon on the end of a piece of cotton it would turn in the wind, making it appear to wink irregularly” (p. 87). To make the event even more exciting, two flashbulbs (remember those?) were included and timed such that they would go off two minutes after the balloons were released. The results were spectacular. UFO watchers were thrilled and began waving their flashlights to communicate with the supposed alien visitors. The whole thing was captured by a BBC film crew and was reported as a real UFO encounter on the BBC news program Nationwide. Later the fact that it was a hoax and the details of how it was done were revealed to the watchers. Is anyone reading this surprised that the watchers refused to believe that they’d been hoaxed?

Probably not. But Clarke seems to have been, and it was these demonstrations of the failure of UFOs as extraterrestrial that led him to start questioning even more the usefulness of eyewitness reports and the “investigations” by UFO proponents.

Chapter 4, “The James Bond Department” covers the British equivalent of the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which was tasked with recording and, sometimes, investigating UFO reports. After years of trying, and often succeeding, to get information from the “UFO Desk,” Clarke comments that “the contrast between the popular idea of a lavishly funded secret government agency tasked with suppressing the facts about alien visitations and the mundane daily reality faced by those who ran…the actual UFO desk” (pp. 99–100) reminded him more of the early 1980s satirical British television program Yes Minister than the X-Files.

Chapter 5, “Demand the Truth”, covers the continued call by UFO believers for release of “secret” government files even after the British government closed down the UFO desk in 2010. Here he makes the point that no matter what documents are released by any government, conspiracy theories that the released documents are just cover-ups for the real truth are non-falsifiable. This idea is well known to skeptics. But here Clarke makes a point I’ve not heard made before. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden both accessed highly classified documents and released tens of thousands of them. Documents proving that governments knew of the reality of UFOs would have been among the most spectacular revelation that these leakers could have made. And yet, there is not a single reference to UFOs, or UFO related topics, in any of these documents. But, of course, to the true believer this only shows that Assange and Snowden were in on the cover-up.

Chapter 6, “Crashed Saucer Syndrome” covers the Roswell event in some detail. The chapter also recounts the story of another hoax, this one designed to test whether the British government really had a secret plan in place to deal with landings by actual flying saucers. Six carefully constructed saucer-like objects, 4.5 by 2.5 feet in size, had internal speakers that gave off an “unearthly bleeping sound when disturbed.” The objects were also “filled…with a foul-smelling concoction of flour and water that was boiled to make it resemble an alien substance” (p. 166). They were scattered around the south of England in September 1967. The result was chaos “crowned by a bureaucratic dispute over which department was responsible for the requisition of a staff car” (p. 167).

Some people really believe that they are in contact with aliens through some form of telepathic communication. Chapter 7, “Cosmic Voices,” presents a sympathetic view of such people. It focuses on a man named George King, who had such a belief. King said he communicated with beings from Mars and Venus, and in 1959 he appeared on the BBC television program Lifeline. King was not the only guest on the show. Also present were a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and an astronomer. From Clarke’s description of the program one understands that there was no attempt to make fun of King, but to engage him in conversation and delve into his beliefs. This stands in sharp contrast to the more modern sensationalistic approaches to such claims. That said, it’s difficult, at least for me, not to chuckle when I read that King would suddenly have super human strength, “unwelcome levitation” and “On one occasion [King] experienced a bout of invisibility and disappeared for six hours” (p. 187). Damn inconvenient, that!

Alien abductions are covered in chapter 8, “They are Coming to Take Me Away.” This is familiar territory that Clarke covers well. He discusses the role of science fiction stereotypes of aliens in helping to create the form of the alien abductors: “Visual media presented us with an image of what aliens should look like from 1978 and before long they started abducting us” (p. 220). The delusion-inducing role of hypnosis is also reviewed.

Chapter 9, “Angels or Demons,” is the most thought-provoking chapter. The extraterrestrial hypothesis is certainly not the only paranormal explanation for UFOs, although it is the most common one. Some believe that UFOs are demons—literally the work of the devil. Clarke describes his long interview with Father Paul, “Britain’s longest serving Christian ufologist” (p. 222) who exemplifies this view. The late Father Paul’s beliefs were clearly heart-felt. This leads Clarke to compare traditional organized religion and belief in UFOs. He then asks an important question: “On what logical or scientific grounds should established faiths be worthy of respect but ufology be regarded as a laughing matter?” (p. 230).

Order the book from Amazon

The religious/demonic approach to UFOs is not the only non-extraterrestrial hypothesis. There are the “Third Realm” (a term I’d not heard before) ideas. These hold that UFOs are from different universes or different dimensions and have been proposed by Jacques Vallee and John Keel. It was Keel who, in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, came up with the idea of “ultraterrestrials”—beings who “inhabited parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that were imperceptible to the human eye” (p. 239). The mothman was, in all probability, a misidentified barn owl, as Joe Nickell (Skeptical Inquirer, 2002, vol. 26, # 2, pp. 20–21) has suggested. When Clarke interviewed Keel, he backed off from his earlier claims. He is quoted as saying “the idea of ‘ultraterrestrials’ is a literary device. It wasn’t a theory as such” (p. 242).

In the penultimate chapter, “Take Me to Your Leading Scholars,” Clarke takes on the broader question of whether sentient alien life exists elsewhere in the universe and whether such beings would be likely, or motivated, to contact us, and briefly describes modern human attempts to detect alien signals such as SETI. Like many before him, he concludes that extraterrestrial life is certainly possible but that in no way means such life forms have dropped by for a visit. In this chapter Clarke makes a clear statement of where his search has led him:

After spending three decades immersed in a syndrome where the scientific method is nearly always sacrificed to wish-fulfilment I had reached a point where I had to reject the extraterrestrial hypothesis as an explanation for UFOs simply because it can never, ever be refuted. (p. 254).

The final chapter “Conclusion: In the Eye of the Beholder” summarizes the insights Clarke has come to during his investigations of the UFO phenomenon. It is a useful summary of the state of belief in UFOs and why people come to believe in them. Much here will be familiar to skeptical readers.

For my own part, I thought that the most insightful comment in the book came from, of all people, John Keel, quoted on page 243. After allowing that he didn’t really believe the ultraterrestrial hypotheses, he admitted that “we are the intelligence which controls the UFO phenomenon.” It’s not clear what Keel meant by this. However, I would take it to mean that it is the inherent nature of human memory, perception, and cognitive processing that causes UFOs to be seen and the sometimes-dramatic interactions with them and their occupants to be so vividly remembered. I can’t think of a better book to give to a friend who is curious about what the UFOs are all about.

About the Author

Dr. Terence Hines is a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Psychology Department, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY and adjunct professor of neurology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY. His research focuses on paranormal belief, the cognitive representation of numbers and, when he has time, the nature of bilingual memory. He is the author of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. He received his undergraduate education at Duke University and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. When not cogitating about brain stuff, he transforms into a student of how data from local postal activity of the 19th century in the US can illuminate the economic history of that time period.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for August 23, 2017

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 08/23/2017 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

DEBATE Solving Moral Dilemmas: How Do We Know What’s Right?

Abortion, euthanasia, organ donation… Can science tell us what we ought to do? The panel will debate claims in recent books that science has discovered objective (absolute) moral principles purely within a naturalist framework–without the guidance of any religious ideology or philosophy.

Dr. Michael Shermer, the author of one of those books (The Moral Arc) will present his case. Dr. Douglas Navarick, Professor of Psychology and Dr. Ryan Nichols, Associate Professor of Philosophy, will present alternative views, and members of the audience will also have an opportunity to comment and ask questions.

Moderating the discussion will be Jesse Dollemore and Brittany Page, co-hosts of the popular podcast I Doubt It with Dollemore.

Following the panel discussion, free refreshments will be served and Dr. Shermer will be available to sign copies of his book. (If you don’t already have a copy, they’ll be available for sale at the event and at the bookstore).

This entire event will be recorded on audio and made available on a podcast. This event is hosted by Psi Chi, the psychology department’s chapter of the International Honor Society in Psychology.

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How useful are eyewitness reports and “investigations” by UFO proponents? In this week’s eSkeptic, psychology professor Dr. Terence Hines reviews How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth, by David Clarke.

Ultraterrestrials

by Terence Hines

David Clarke has written an insightful, informative and thought-provoking book on UFOs and the UFO culture. This is not a debunking book, although it fulfills that function admirably. Rather, it describes Clarke’s long search for what is really going on with UFO reports. Along the way Clarke goes through various stages of what he calls the “UFO Syndrome”.

Clarke is both British and a reporter. In the latter role, he interviewed many of the major players in the British UFO community. These interviews and his own investigations provide much information that, as far as I know, has never been published before. For readers familiar with the American literature on UFOs, this book provides a very welcome broadening of horizons. I had no idea that there was a British equivalent of Project Blue Book, for example. The honesty with which Clarke describes his own changing beliefs is most refreshing. He is never harsh or demeaning of beliefs he does not hold. He treats those who hold even very bizarre beliefs regarding UFOs with interest and respect.

Careful investigation of many supposedly conclusive UFO reports showed that witnesses had constantly misperceived mundane objects as flying saucers. This message was not well received by the UFO community.

Like this reviewer, Clarke’s interest in UFOs sprang from reading science fiction stories and seeing science fiction films and TV shows during adolescence. We both read various UFO books and joined a UFO group (NICAP in my case) and came to really believe that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin, the start of the “UFO Syndrome”. In the introduction Clarke describes in detail his captivation with the syndrome. In the following ten chapters, he writes about his pursuit of the “truth” about UFOs. It is a fascinating journey.

Order the book from Amazon

The first two chapters cover topics that will be familiar to the skeptical reader. After describing the Arnold sightings and several 1950’s “flaps” and the huge interest they generated in the United States during the later 1940s into the 1950s, he notes that “the [UFO] syndrome took hold in no less dramatic fashion” (p. 38) in the United Kingdom. It is here that Clarke also describes the important connection between the UFO syndrome and the fantasy and science fiction pulp magazines of the 1930s through the 1950s. This connection has been discussed at length in Andrew May’s excellent Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (Springer, 2017). […]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

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