Archive for the Stupidity Category

Expelled should be

Posted in Stupidity on May 2, 2008 by moonflake

There’s been a lot of buzz around the new shockumentry “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. Wikipedia has a fairly well referenced account of the events so far, but I’ll summarize briefly for those who may not have been following the debacle.

The movie has worn many faces in its journey so far: it claims to be a documentary about how Big Science has been expelling its members should they show any inclination towards believing Intelligent Design. It ends up being a rabid anti-evolution propagana engine whose trump card involves blaming all evolutionary biologists for the Holocaust. But once upon a time, for as long as it was convenient to fool a few big names into giving interviews, it was masquerading as a little film called “Crossroads”, which was supposedy about investigating why creationists still cling to their beliefs about evolutionary theory in the face of overwhelming evidence. Mainstream critics think it is a poorly-made, amateurish attempt at filmmaking, scientists think it’s a pack of lies, and the christians think it’s Oscar material.

Ignoring all the deviations into fantasy, the core premise is basically this: they bring forward a number of people who have recently claimed to have been ‘expelled’ by Big Science because of their beliefs. What we really have is a volunteer editor who pulled a last-day-on-the-job fast one by slipping an ID paper past his journal’s review process, a sub-par astronomy professor who failed in his tenure application because his research output was not up to scratch, a teacher whose contract was not renewed after several students lodged complaints about her, a professor whose university wanted him to make some changes to his website before they would continue to provide him with free hosting for it, a journalist who suffered apparently nothing as result of her poorly-researched articles, and a pro-ID advocate who had some people say some mean things about him on the internet.

Given that this content doesn’t exactly make for stirring stuff, it’s no wonder that the Expelled team had to jazz things up a bit. But let’s assume for just a minute that they didn’t have to lie and resort to hysterical theatrics to draw this pity party out into a feature-length film. Let’s assume for a moment that they could find even one, just one, person who had legitimately been fired from their job as a scientist or educator as a result of their pro-ID stance, and with an otherwise sterling and exemplary record. What I want to know is, even in that situation, would Big Science be wrong?

Seriously, let me put it a few different ways so that you can see what I mean. Would we be suprised at any of these headlines:

  • Biology teacher fired for advocating Stork Theory
  • NSF denies astronomer funding for Sun Sign Astrology research
  • National Geographic editor ridiculed by colleagues after slipping pro-Flat Earth article into print
  • Doctor “shocked” by online response after blog post encouraging the medical establishment to study The Force
  • Cambridge professor ordered to remove his Raelian Research Center page from the university website and return funding received from the Raelians
  • Journalist’s integrity questioned after article claiming “There was no Holocaust”

Can you imagine your child coming home from school and telling you that their teacher was teaching them how to cast spells and hexes, and they needed a newt for homework? You’d be on the phone to the school in a jiffy. What would follow may be summarized by a brief animation of the becloacked hag being booted out of the school and her broomstick following swiftly after. No one would raise an eyebrow, except perhaps a few velvet-clad, Anne Rice-reading pagans protesting something about white magic. Certainly no one would make a movie about how advocates of Witchcraft are being expelled from schools across the country by Big Education, and it’s Salem all over again and the principal is personally responsible for the Inquisition (cleverly intercut with scenes from Joan of Arc, for which they are swiftly sued by Luc Besson).

The whole thing is ludicrous. Ben Stein may as well have made a movie about how second-rate hacks at the denoument of their careers are making fools of themselves in cinemas across the country, and being unjustly harrassed by Big Critics.

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Boy Corrects NASA. Man bites dog. Science journalism fails.

Posted in Science, Stupidity on April 21, 2008 by moonflake

In yet another international whoops for science journalism, a fantastic hoax has been spread around the globe thanks to Agence France-Presse getting their foot royally wedged in their mouth.

According to AFP, and parrotted around the world:

A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected Nasa’s estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with the Earth, a German newspaper reported on Tuesday, after spotting the boffins had miscalculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam to calculate that there is a one-in-450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

Nasa had previously estimated the chances at only one in 45 000, but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency, that the young whizz kid had got it right.

Here’s NASA’s press release refuting the stupid story. And here’s a blogger who actually bothered to contact NASA’s NEO department, and the German scientist mentioned in the article. Yet again, the international press leaps at your typical ‘man bites dog’ story with gay abandon and a wanton disregard for the facts. Since when did it become ‘journalism’ to simply take whatever Reuters or Associated Press or AFP spits out of their papermill and repeate it verbatim as if you actually did some work? And how does a journalistic giant like AFP spew out such a pile of garbage without checking the facts themselves? Not a single person along this sad, sad trail of journalistic failure bothered to contact anyone involved, until the blogosphere up and schooled them yet again. 

I just have two words for every paper that perpetuated this ridiculous piece: EPIC FAIL.

Heath Ledger Dead; WBC to Picket Funeral

Posted in Religion, Stupidity on January 23, 2008 by moonflake

So, as I’m sure everyone who doesn’t have their head in a bucket knows by now, Heath Ledger is dead at 28. It’s tragic. I’ve been a big fan, although I’ll admit I far prefer his witty comedies, like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, to his more weighty fare, like Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain. Either way, he was an amazing actor, and I’m sure he was a wonderful person. He leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter who will never have a chance to know him properly. At this time, the autopsy is inconclusive and we will probably have to wait a couple of weeks for a cause of death.

What has surprised me until now is the speed at which the media has grasped its own member and wanked away like a horny teenager at this story. The details change from one moment to the next as they fumble clumsily about, desperate for climax: he was found naked in bed, he was found face down on top of a bottle of pills, pills were found nearby, it was accidental, he was found in Mary-Kate Olsen’s apartment, he was naked, he was clean from drugs for a year, he was in rehab, he was taking sleeping pills, he was naked, he was depressed, the housekeeper called Mary-Kate’s bodyguard for help, a rolled-up $20 bill was found by the body, he had pneumonia, it was suicide, Mary-Kate Olsen is not involved in any way, he was naked…

It’s horrible. But, as bad as it is, it cannot compare to this missive from our dear Westboro Baptist Church:

‘Brokeback Mountain’ star – Heath Ledger – is dead. WBC will picket his funeral.

“Though shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination.” Lev. 18:22. “For because of these things cometh the wrath of god upon the children of disobedience.” Eph. 5:6.

Yes. WBC will picket this pervert’s funeral, in religious protest and warning. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” Gal. 6:7. Heath Ledger thought it was great fun defying God Almighty and his plain word; to wit: God Hates Fags! & Fag Enablers! Ergo, God hates the sordid tacky, bucket of slime seasoned with vomit known as ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – and He hates all persons having anything whatsoever to do with it.

Heath Ledger is now in Hell, and has begun serving his eternal sentence there – beside which, nothing else about Heath Ledger is relevant or consequential.

If the mass media (and I’m counting you gossip bloggers in this) are the adolescent wankers in this story, then Fred Phelps is the cum crusting over on the balled-up tissue.

That’s all I have to say on the matter.

The Secret

Posted in South Africa, Stupidity on January 8, 2008 by moonflake

I’ve always grimaced every time I’ve see Rhonda Byrne’s tedious mockumentary The Secret on DVD shelves, but it hadn’t bothered me enough to actually post about. This has changed, with an email I recently received from an acquaintance calling for positive, inspirational stories about life in South Africa. Their motivation?

Living in South Africa has been very challenging. We are constantly faced with negativity about violent crime, poverty, politics, unemployment and the other negative things in our country. People seem to be living in constant fear and the only news spreading is bad news.

Everybody has the power within themselves to change this! Instead of focusing on the bad things, let’s focus on all the good things in our beautiful country. After reading and watching the movie “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, we are not surprised at the state of South Africa. If most people focus on negative things, then the law of attraction will give us what we focus on. We want to challenge everyone to start focusing on positive things instead!

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, The Secret is a documentary-style explanation by Rhonda Byrne, covering the book by Rhonda Byrne, on a concept she stole from the New Thought movement that sprang up around the turn of the last century. They in turn stole it from the Theosophists, who stole it from the Hindus, who probably stole it from someone else, making it possibly the worst kept ‘secret’ in history. The basis of this philosophy is the Law of Attraction – that people’s thoughts and feelings attract real events into their lives, and have real effects on the universe around them. It’s sympathetic magic for the new age.

In The Secret, we are told in a series of interviews and dramatic reenactments that there are three steps to achieving all your wishes and goals in life. These are:

  1. Ask
  2. Believe
  3. Receive

Of course, there are hints within the movie, and more explicit statements have been made in later interviews, that there is actually a step 2a: Get off your lazy arse and work for it. This system is what we lay people have been referring to for centuries as ‘Common Sense’.

Would you be surprised if I told you they try to explain this theory with a) quantum mechanics and b) E=MC2? No, I thought you wouldn’t be – the metaphysical movement have exactly two tools in their arsenal, and I’ll be damned if they don’t try to use them for every single task at hand. The fact that using QM to explain their theories is the argumentative equivalent of trying to drill a hole in a wall with a drill-bit made out of jello, is hardly going to stop them from trying.

You should also not be surprise at the cherry-picking, rah-rah denialism displayed by proponents of the theory – what we like to call ‘hypocrisy’, but which the experts insist on referring to as ‘faith’. They all applaud the ‘secret’ for its positive power, but do everything they can to play down the nastier side of the Law of Attraction. The inevitable consequence of a theory that claims positive thoughts attract positive effects is that negative thoughts attract negative effects . We are also all responsible for everything that happens to us in life. All. Everything. The logical extension of this sort of argument is that all victims were asking for it, and on some level deserve what they get, because it’s only a function of the negative vibes they were so obviously putting out into the universe. So if you Secreteers out there truly believe in the Law of Attraction, allow me to pose a challenge to you: find your closest local rape shelter, find the youngest victim there, and tell her that everything that happened to her is her fault, because of her toxic thinking, but if she only thinks positively from now on, it will never happen again.

So what do I think of the suggestion that we can improve the state of South Africa by holding the online equivalent of a campfire sing-a-long? Even those who follow the Law of Attraction must admit to the proviso that there has to be some sort of action involved on your part before the universe can give you what you’re looking for. If all you do is sit on a couch saying over and over “I will get a million dollars!” then you’ll still be sitting on that couch when the repo men come to take it away. Therefore sending in positive stories is no more than talking about helping, no better than sitting on that couch telling yourself “I will make the country a better place!” and then tuning in to your favourite soapie, satisfied that you have made a difference already.

So on that note, I would counter that there is a lot you can do to make South Africa a better place: get involved with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, Childline or the Treatment Action Campaign. Volunteer at a local shelter. Get on your local council, or if that’s too much, at least get on the PTA or school board at your kids’ school. Train as a volunteer fire fighter. Start a neighbourhood watch. Pick a worthy organization that does good work and donate some money to them. All of these things are far more likely to have a real effect than telling your positive stories to each other and then congratulating yourselves on a job well done.

But if it makes you feel better, you can donate your time or money while thinking positive thoughts.

For futher reading on The Secret and the Law of Attraction, Skeptic Magazine gave a fairly thorough review.

In the spirit of the season

Posted in Religion, Stupidity on December 27, 2007 by moonflake

Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic clergy took it upon themselves to demonstrate the spirit of Christmas today, by putting on a display of cross-faction tolerance and love for their fellow man. Other reports may say that they beat one another bloody with brooms and stones in a no-holds-barred fracas that ensued when a Greek Orthodox member stepped into the Armenian part of the church during the post-Christmas cleaning, but this would surely be an exaggeration.

The Church of the Nativity is considered to be one of the oldest continuously operated churches in the world. It is built over a grotto said to be the birthplace of Christ (which is contradictory because Matthew 2:11 has him in a house) and is managed jointly by the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. They each have their separate sections of the building, and apparently woe betide he who should trespass on the ground of his fellow christian, for he will be smote about the earhole with cleaning equipment.

Makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, don’t it?

New Zealand girl killed in exorcism, cousin nearly blinded

Posted in Religion, Stupidity on November 26, 2007 by moonflake

In yet another fatal display of why people shouldn’t be left to believe whatever the hell they feel like, a botched (or possibly successful, it’s hard to tell) Maori exorcism has left one teenage girl drowned and another barely retaining her eyesight after her family tried to gouge out her eyes.

The thing about this that bothers me the most is that after the first girl died, they continued working on the second girl, while 40 of her family members stood around watching and presumably did nothing to call the deadly farce to a halt! Surely, even if you genuinely believe you’re helping someone by submitting them to eye-gouging and forcing water down their throats while you hold them down and they stuggle and gasp for air and cry for mercy… surely at the point where the first one dies, you stop and wonder if maybe you’re doing something wrong? Isn’t there a tiny part of your brain that says ‘hang on here, this can’t be right’?

Well, apparently not. It seems that bit gets cauterized early on in the belief process, or I guess you wouldn’t believe in exorcism and curses in the first place. And I can only suppose from the evidence that the remaining hole in your brain gets filled up with stupid.

PeTA Hypocrisy

Posted in Stupidity on November 15, 2007 by moonflake

Skeptico points out an awesome bit of hypocrisy from PeTA spokesloon and founder Ingrid Newkirk. Apparently she recently broke her wrist, and was very thankful for the IV drips and painkillers. Yip, those would be the same medical tools and drugs tested on animals. And this would be the same PeTA that urges its followers to eschew any form of medical assistance that was a result of animal testing, including hypothetical AIDS cures.

I would say I was surprised at Ingrid, but really I’m not.