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Monthly Archives: April 2011

One Week Left to Submit your Thank Hitch Videos

Christopher Hitchens

There will bo no more videos submitted after May 7th

I was originally going to close the project to submissions this weekend but a request from another group has convinced me to extend it one week. So that means I will be accepting no more submissions after May 7th.

If you need an application to record your video, you can download WinAVI Video Capture for free from here.

Once you record your video Don’t forget to :

Point your browser to http://www.dropitto.me/MISkeptics

Enter the password thankhitch and you will be able to upload the video right to our Dropbox account.

Remember, this is for Hitch.

Does Believing in Bizarre Conspiracy Theories Tell More About the Person?

People who see dark conspiracies everywhere are offering some interesting information — about themselves.
April 25, 2011 |

K now any conspiracy theorists? No doubt they’ve tried to convince you that man didn’t really land on the moon or President Obama was born in Kenya.

In fact, they were imparting genuinely interesting information — about themselves. New research suggests belief in such theories may reveal a Machiavellian mindset.

“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

Of course, this merely suggests such a link. There is no real way to say for sure that everyone will have this mindset.

“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

The reasons people persist in believing conspiracy theories — even when there is overwhelming evidence debunking them — have long been debated by psychologists. One credible theory contends convincing ourselves of conspiracies allows us to avoid acknowledging the terrifying arbitrariness of life.

“In a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability,” British psychologist Patrick Leman noted in New Scientist in 2007. “Instability makes most of us uncomfortable.”

Douglas and Sutton aren’t denying that fear avoidance plays a role, but they’re pointing to a different (perhaps complementary) phenomenon. In some cases, they argue, belief in conspiracies is a matter of psychological projection — that is, the tendency to apply one’s own attitude to others.

In one study, 189 British undergraduates completed the MACH-IV questionnaire to measure their level of Machiavellianism (that is, their tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain). This involves expressing one’s level of agreement with a series of statements such as “The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear.”

They then read a series of 17 statements describing well-known conspiracy theories and rated their plausibility on a 1-to-7 scale. They also rated the likelihood that, if they were in the shoes of the alleged conspirators, they would have taken part in the conspiracy.

The researchers found that “personal willingness to engage in the conspiracies predicted endorsement of conspiracy theories.” So did a propensity to manipulate others for personal gain.

“For example,” they write, “highly Machiavellian individuals were seemingly more likely to believe that government agents staged the 9/11 attacks because they were more likely to perceive that they would do so themselves, if [they found themselves] in the government’s position.”

A second study refined these results. A group of 60 undergraduates participated in the same experiment, but half of them were first asked “to spend a few minutes thinking of a time when they helped another person.”

Those who had been contemplating their own act of kindness were less likely to agree with the conspiracy theories — with the exception of those who scored high on the Machiavellian scale.

“We do not argue that projection alone explains why people believe in conspiracy theories,” the researchers caution, but these findings point to a potent psychological mechanism that helps explain why some rumors refuse to die.

The theme of the conspiratorially-minded television series The X-Files was “trust no one.” Perhaps it should be amended to read: “Trust no one — especially devoted fans of The X-Files.”

Partly Cloudy With a Chance of CO2

What do CO2 and 9/11 have in common?

I have been having a conversation that started about a week ago with some friends on FaceBook, concerning an article that ran on Financial Times web site.  It’s behind a paywall, but you can also find it in The Wall Street Journal and at Fox Nation. But I am not really sure that lack of information is purely the problem. Some of the problem is people reading headlines and assuming they mean one thing, then to actually read the content of the article and find it is not as it seems. U.S. Greenhouse Gases Drop to 15-Year Low” This was clearly a misleading Headline.

Below is the outline of the conversation from FaceBook “Quoted” and my Response.

“WE are not the predominant causers of CO2 in the atmosphere. Human kind and all of what WE produce, filling all of our needs and wants, only counts for less than 2% of the CO2 produced on a global scale. Rain forest decomposition counts for more CO2 than WE could ever even try to produce…so…why don’t we cut all those trees down and use them before they fall over, decay naturally, and release even more CO2? Oh, wait, we already have ignorant jackazzes doing that, releasing long buried viruses from old grove root systems that could, ironically, kill us quicker than “global warming”.”

You are absolutely correct, we are not the predominate producers of CO2. The figure of 2-3% is correct. However, the normal background CO2 cycle is roughly 439 gt. (gigatons) output from land and forest and 332 gt. from ocean output. That is a total of 771 gt. being put into the atmosphere and then 788 gt. is being reclaimed. That shows that 17 gt. is excess being reclaimed. Problem is that as the earth warms the excess being reclaimed will diminish until more CO2 will be entering the atmosphere than being recovered. One saving grace!… There is an 800 year lag of earth warming and CO2 recovery. (i.e.) CO2 recovery lags behind temp increases by 800 years.

Explanation of CO2 lag here: What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?

But here is the crux of the problem… 2007 IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report found here IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report you can see that the human contribution of CO2 the 2-3% is 29 gt.that means that 12 gt is NOT getting reabsorbed via, Oceans and Forests. This is the 1.5-2.5 ppm. rise we see in Global CO2 content yearly.

Continue reading

The Thank Hitch Project Will Be Closing Soon

Hurry and send your video

Time is running out to submit your video for the Thank Hitch Project.

I will be closing the project for submissions so we can start moving to video editing soon. Be sure to get your video made and submitted. I will be selecting a deadline soon and will have to honor it.

Please be sure to get it in or you will miss out on a unique opportunity to say thank you to Christopher Hitchens.

In case you were living in a hole and don’t know what’s going on:

Hitch has Esophageal Cancer. It is currently in Stage 4 and has metathesized to his lymph nodes.  He talks about it in his Vanity Fair column and in this interview with c-span.

So What Can We Do?

In his latest interview he states how he loves receiving correspondence. Well short of starting a letter writing campaign and since my handwriting is terrible, we decided to do the next best thing. Michigan Skeptics has started the Thank Hitch Project. The goal of this project is to send a thank you video. This video will be made up of clips of each and every one of us saying thank you for all he’s done.

How Can I Help?

We need video clips! A many as we can get! We need you to record a video of yourself or your group saying thanks to Hitch. You can say anything you want and long as it’s some type of thank you. Please try to keep the clips short as we will need to edit them together into one large video and long clips will just get cut down to save space for everyone.

Don’t say good bye or anything like that. This isn’t a memorial. He’s not dead.

Make it fun, make it sappy, sing a song. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it shows your appreciation to him.

If you don’t have a webcam capture application you can download WinAVI Video Capture for free from here.

Where Should I put this Clip I made?

First things first, DO NOT UPLOAD YOUR VIDEO TO YOUTUBE! Or to any other online video type of service. Once you upload to them you are handing the rights to show the video over to them. Which means we will not be able to use it without permission.

Point your browser to http://www.dropitto.me/MISkeptics

Enter the password thankhitch and you will be able to upload the video right to our Dropbox account.

How Else Can I Help?

We need you to get the word out! Send this page out via Facebook and Twitter. Use the #thankhitch hashtag so we can get this out to as many people as possible. We also need more video editors. If you are a top notch video engineer send me an email at apbourque@miskeptics dot org and we’ll get you involved.

Thank you all in advance. Remember this is for Hitch.

The World is Ending. So Let’s Have a Party!

Yes, they're serious.

Did you know that the world is ending?

A man named Harold Camping thinks so. Harold runs Family Radio. A series of radio stations that broadcast Cristian broadcasting. Well not just radio, “shortwave radio, by A.M. and F.M. radio, the Internet, satellite broadcasting, T.V., and printed materials”

So he worked out that the world is going to end on May 21st. More specifically, the Jesus is coming back on May 21st and then the world will end in October.  That date just happens to coincide with the MISkeptics May Get Together!

(OK, so it just happens to coincide because I moved the date of the Get Together to the 21st…)

So… Let’s Party!

Save the date

May 21st at 4:00 PM we will be having our monthly Get Together, and we will be celebrating the end of the world! There will be games a presentation, prizes and we will be raffling off some pretty cool stuff. George Hrab was super kind to us and has donated some signed copies of his

Trebuchet album! Also be sure to check out Geo’s awesome Geologic Podcast. We will also have some Tshirts mugs, books and some other cool stuff for you! Raffle tickets will be $5 so be sure to bring money!

Or very own Ethan has put together over two hours of end-of-the-world related music for us. Yes that one will be in there, and I feel fine.

So save the date! Be sure to RSVP by either the Facebook Event page or by the Meetup Event.  Please be sure to RSVP as soon as possible. We expect a big crowd and may have to move to a larger venue. Make sure we know you’re coming!

I tried to invite Jesus, but I couldn’t confirm he got my message…

A new product that’s the bee’s knees!

I wasn’t sure where to start in finding the topic for my first post here. (By the way, hello!) My problem was solved, however, while listening to the local Public Radio station in my car the other night. The program that was on was CBC’s As It Happens. Aside from their having a pretty nifty and hip theme song, I’ve liked this program because of the conversational approach to the news they cover. In any case, what caught my ear was a five minute segment about the Bee Station.

Some quick background – I own a business, and sell websites to make a living. As a result, I don’t begrudge anyone coming up with products to sell.  Hurray for capitalism. However, what bugs me about what I heard was the marketing angle. It turns out that I do have a problem when people try to cash in on fear. I also have a problem with people selling something that won’t do what they claim it will do.

The Bee Station is supposedly a way you can help your friendly neighborhood bees by providing a nest and feeding stop for them on their busy routes. Explaining his product, Jamie Hutchinson (designer of the Bee Station) tells the show’s hosts that because bees have been dying, the remaining ones are working harder. His website repeats the point…

Our bees are dying at an alarming rate and the remaining bees are working twice as hard to keep our planet alive.

That was the first thing that made me tip my head and think “huh?” The questions that came to mind were along the lines of, “how do the surviving bees know they’re supposed to be working twice as hard?” and “is there some kind of bee work quota that they are trying to maintain?” In my admittedly limited understanding of bees, it seemed to me that a bee will work as hard as it needs to in order to survive and support the hive, with no regard to the situation of other bees or any danger to humans. When I contacted him for his opinion, Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist at UC Davis agreed.

So bees are not like a marathon runner (an analogy used in the radio interview) in need of an energy drink because they’re running twice as hard. The emotional buildup continued in Jamie’s interview, as it does on their website…

Our bees are dying at an alarming rate and without them we’re in real trouble. Our food, clothes and very survival depends heavily on the pollination carried out by this little, stripy workforce.

For those of you playing the skeptic game at home, you should have several logical fallacy points racked up by now. In general, the arguments that I heard made on the radio program were an appeal to emotion. The website also paints a similar picture… it’s not just the bees that need to be saved, you need to save your wife and children! Quick buy this product now!!! If you don’t, we’ll be naked, hungry and then dead! Along with cashing in on the concern for dying bees, the appeal to fear is made by pointing out that without bees our whole world will come crashing down. The final pitch is then made with an appeal to flattery.

The Bee Station is your chance to help our bees… The Bee Station is the perfect gift for anyone with an interest in the environment or design.

So, if you buy buy this product you can feel good about yourself. You’ll have saved the bees, and by extension, the world. (Or given the same as a gift.) In reality, there are better ways to make a difference. An expert I contacted at the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory agreed that flower planting (in particular, planting a diverse range of types of flowers) would make more sense, and that feeding stations were likely not the answer.

Eric seemed to feel similarly, and told me that honey bees don’t cluster outside the hive (which would seem then to mean they don’t need a Steve Jobs looking rest stop). If the main use of this product is acting as a feeder, there are definitely less expensive ways to provide sugar syrup to honey bees.

And seriously, looking at the above picture, can’t you just imagine next year’s hottest product from Apple… the iBee? It would connect wirelessly to the Internet and regularly update a Twitter page with the number of bees, local weather, etc. (Mr. Jobs, if you make this I expect some kind of compensation.)

Anyway, back to my main point… the interview was difficult to listen to because it was deceptive, and was intended to get people thinking they were making a difference by spending their money. In my mind this is akin to homeopathy. The true danger is in preventing someone from doing anything actually beneficial. You want to help save the bees? Plant some bee friendly flowers. Get started by buzzing over to the Pollinator Partnership’s Pollinator Friendly Planting Guides website. (And be thankful that I didn’t find a way to work a popular Beatles song title into this article! The temptation was strong…)

More information…

Happy Birthday Hitchens!

Christopher Hitchens

Happy Birthday you magnificent bastard.

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” -Hitch

Today is the birthday of Christopher Hitchens. The famous English-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.

Our Thank Hitch project aims to collect videos from fans thanking him for all the good work he has done over the years. As you know he has Esophageal Cancer. It is currently in Stage 4 and has metathesized to his lymph nodes.  He talks about it in his Vanity Fair column and in this interview with c-span.

I still need your help!

We’re still accepting submissions for the Thank Hitch Project. Be sure to go here to learn how to submit your video.

More importantly, we’ve lost our video editor! We need a volunteer with awesome powers of video to put the vids together into one cohesive video of awe.  Send us a message letting us know you can help.

Who can’t love someone that drops amazing quotes like:

“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.”

Be sure to send in your videos! Hurry!

What Happens When We Run Out of Water?

Over the last century, H20 has become so convenient we take it for granted. That’s about to change

By Charles Fishman via Salon.com
This article was adapted from Charles Fishman’s “The Big Thirst,” available April 12.
What happens when we run out of water?

Water is both mythic and real. It manages to be at once part of the mystery of life and part of the routine of life. We can use water to wash our dishes and our dogs and our cars without giving it a second thought, but few of us can resist simply standing and watching breakers crash on the beach. Water has all kinds of associations and connections, implications and suggestiveness. It also has an indispensable practicality.

Water is the most familiar substance in our lives. It is also unquestionably the most important substance in our lives. Water vapor is the insulation in our atmosphere that makes Earth a comfortable place for us to live. Water drives our weather and shapes our geography. Water is the lubricant that allows the continents themselves to move. Water is the secret ingredient of our fuel-hungry society. That new flat-screen TV, it turns out, needs not just a wall outlet and a cable connection but also its own water supply to get going. Who would have guessed?

Water is also the secret ingredient in the computer chips that make possible everything from MRI machines to Twitter accounts. Indeed, from blue jeans to iPhones, from Kleenex to basmati rice to the steel in your Toyota Prius, every product of modern life is awash in water. And water is, quite literally, everywhere. When you take a carton of milk from the refrigerator and set it on the table, within a minute or two the outside is covered in a film of condensation— water that has migrated almost instantly from the air of the kitchen to the cold surface of the milk carton.

Everything human beings do is, quite literally, a function of water, because every cell in our bodies is plumped full of it, and every cell is bathed in watery fluid. Blood is 83 percent water. Every heartbeat is mediated by chemicals in water; when we gaze at a starry night sky, the cells in our eyes execute all their seeing functions in water; thinking about water requires neurons filled with water. Continue reading

Donald Trump and the “Birther” Conspiracy

Donald Trump has been publicly making claims that not only question whether President Obama was born in Hawaii, but insist that he was born in Kenya.  These claims are part of an overall belief that’s been termed “birtherism” – which is a conspiracy theory that asserts the media is suppressing the knowledge that Obama’s presidency is unconstitutional.

Donald Trump wrote in a New York Times editorial defending his position.  He claims that there is an audio tape of Obama’s grandmother stating that he was born in Kenya.  He also states that Obama has not produced an original birth certificate to prove that he is indeed a US citizen.  He then concludes that the entire media is “in on it” else why wouldn’t a journalist uncover this story and receive fame and awards?

What distinguishes a conspiracy theory from fact are many elements.  Let’s look three of them.

Continue reading

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