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Robert Todd Carroll

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Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 11

Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.
     --Napoleon Bonaparte

September 11, 2002

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(Past issues posted at



      1)   New or revised entries
      2)   What we're reading
      3)   Responses to selected feedback
      4)   Corrections
      5)   News

  1) New or revised entries in The Skeptic's Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge

Since the last newsletter I have

 2) What we're reading

  • Phil Plait's article on the Top Five Cosmic Myths is interesting. It will give you some idea of what you'll find in his book Bad Astronomy.

  • The lead article in the latest issue (Sept/Oct 2002) of the Skeptical Inquirer is called "A Skeptical Look at September 11th - How We can Defeat Terrorism by Reacting to It More Rationally." The magazine cover, however, asks the loaded question: "Can We React More Rationally to Terrorism?" The authors, Clark R. Chapman and Alan W. Harris, argue that as a nation we haven't responded very rationally. If they're right in their assessment of human nature, it seems doubtful that we could have taken a much more rational approach than we have. According to the authors, we've gone overboard on "homeland" security (especially by establishing cumbersome and ineffective security measures at airports), throwing money at victim's families, and stirring up absurd concerns among small town officials that their high school gym could be next.

    The authors' focus is on proportionality of response, especially with respect to fear and taking precautions. They argue that the nation is acting irrationally by making disproportionate expenditures on marginal security measures and that this is depriving more productive enterprises of a reasonable share of our resources.

    Nothing was said about the disproportionate heroism of firefighters, however. Nor was anything mentioned of the disproportionate curtailment of civil liberties by our government.

    Nothing was said, either, about President Bush's desire to attack Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from either providing nuclear weapons to terrorists, using them against the U.S., or threatening to use them in an attempt to blackmail the U.S. or others. Mr. Bush and his team may even believe that they are following the advice of Chapman and Harris, who advise "shifting toward objective cost-benefits analyses and equitable evaluation of the relative costs of saving human lives." Aren't these "objective" analyses little more than guessing games, especially when they come to predicting how some nation will behave in the future?

    I wonder, if Mr. Bush and his team were all women would they be accused of being impulsive and irrational? Is the Bush team guilty of "misperception of risk?" Will the DSM V include "homeland security mania" as a treatable mental disorder? I don't know, but one thing is certain: If the point of terrorism is to induce irrational fears in the population and disrupt their traditional way of life, then the 9/11 terrorists have achieved their objective.

  • Sure, the latest Gallup polls found that only 18% of Americans "believe they have permanently altered the way they live as a result of Sept. 11. But 71% say time has not yet healed the wounds of the country caused by the terrorist attacks. Six out of 10 say it is at least somewhat likely that there will be further acts of terrorism in the United States in the next several weeks. Yet, only 19% of the public now say that terrorism is the top problem facing the country today -- fewer than mention the economy. President Bush's latest job approval rating is 66%, but the public's approval rating of his policies regarding terrorism is 10 points higher, at 76%. Congress continues to work on legislation to create a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Although a majority of six in 10 Americans favor the concept, this level of support is down from June." And,  "almost six in 10 Americans support the basic concept of military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

  • Finally, the lead article in the latest issue of Skeptic is an excerpt from Brenda Denzler's 2001 book The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs. The article explores the relationship of UFOlogy to religion, especially how the possibility of extraterrestrial life is viewed by some theologians. Denzler brings attention to some very interesting connections between UFOs and religion, connections that are often ignored or minimized, but shouldn't be.


 3) Responses to selected feedback

Some mail I wouldn't respond to even if I had the time. Here's an example:

If the illuminati dont [sic] exist them [sic] explain why hitler invaded Russia and lost the war on purpose. { more get the idea}

No rational explanation exists for that.

So you may have to look for the irrational explanations to get closer to the truth.

And please do not say that hitler was 'stupid'.

Thats one thing he wasnt.

If the illuminati dont exist then why do so many world leaders join cultish groups (secret societies) and undergo pagan rituals while pretending to be christian?

For example hitler read about the occult and joined 2 secret societies.The vril society and the thule society.

He was a starving street artist one day and after joining these societies he became germany's chancellor and then dictator.

I think its time for people to become skeptics of mainstream history.

At least the writer got one thing right, which is more than I can say about the next writer, Maarten W.T. Post.

In December 2001 my book Djenghis Khan: key to the enigma of Nostradamus was published in the Netherlands. This book contains new evidence that Nostradamus did not write about the future. It is my opinion that he writes about the past instead. I will give you an example. Century 10 quatrain 72 :

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

Who was the great king of the Mongols? Djenghis Khan is the only real king of the Mongols. He conquered more land than Alexander the Great did. If we multiply 7/12 (seventh month) with 1999, then we get the year Djenghis Khan was conceived: 1166. If we add the number of characters of the last two lines (the French quatrain), we’ll get the year of his death: 1227.

This is not the only thing I discovered. I discovered also that Nostradamus wrote about Attila the Hun, the Hundred Year war, Charles V, the Ottoman empire, Andrea Doria, Barbarossa, Mohammed, the Muslim-invasion in 711 in Spain, the battle of Poitiers (near Paris) between the Saracens and the Franks led by Charles Martel (the grandfather of Charlemagne) and many more historic persons and events.

What do you think?

I think Maarten has too much free time on his hands. (I wonder if he explains in his book why Nostradamus would use such a strange method to write about the past. Perhaps he was creating a game. Maybe Nostradamus also had too much time on his hands.)



4) Corrections

Warwick Finch and Jim Foley of Australia wrote to correct me regarding the census done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that resulted in some 70,000 citizens claiming "Jedi" as their religion. "The ABS didn't provide a box called 'Jedi' to the non-compulsory religion question, but rather allowed respondents to nominate whatever they liked in a comments field," says Mr. Finch. He referred to these respondents as stirrers and larrikins. I have no idea what these words mean, but I doubt that they are complimentary. According to Foley, the ABS "told people not to do it, but people wrote it in anyway....The ABS pointed out that giving frivolous and/or incorrect responses is an offense... but I can't see them charging 70,000 people." What would they charge them with? Pretending to belong to a frivolous religion?


5) News

  • Some of you may have noticed that I changed the subtitle of The Skeptic's Dictionary (once again!). Jeff Golick, my editor at Wiley, found "Critical Survey of Questionable Therapies, Eccentric Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions and Dangerous Delusions" to be too academic-sounding for his trade-oriented ears. It's also too long. So, for now we have settled on "A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions."