Mass Media Bunk is a commentary on articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.
March 10, 2006. Georgi Parvanov, the President of Bulgaria, gave the President's medal of honor to Vera Kochovska, a 61-year-old woman who has been Bulgaria's most famous clairvoyant since sightless prophetess Evangelia "Vanga" Dimitrova died in 1996. Parvanov acknowledged Kochovska's supernatural powers and charity efforts. According to a website promoting travel to Bulgaria, Vera made the following prophecy for the friends of Bulgaria: "If step into Bulgaria soil, God will bless you! If you come in contact with Bulgarian nature you will take away with you health and good spirits!"* Makes me want to step right into it!
Kochovska's paranormal powers reportedly emerged after awakening from a two-month-long coma brought on by severe injuries suffered in a car crash when she was 12. Now we know the origin of the South Park storyline for Cartman's Psychic Ability (episode 813).
[update 8 Aug 2010. Baba Vanga's psychic powers allegedly emerged after a windstorm blew her into a field and blinded her with dust and sand. She awoke with the gift of second sight! Vanga's abilities were studied by Dr. Georgi Lozanov (b. 1926), the inventor of a teaching method he called suggestopedia. According to Jeffrey Mishlove, Lozanov applied his techniques to "mental healing and dermal vision," (The Roots of Consciousness, available for $1 from Amazon). Mishlove also reports, without critical commentary: "Studies are reported to have shown that Dimitrova's predictive abilities - particularly strong in terms of finding lost relatives and friends - are about eighty percent accurate." Bulgaria, apparently, is a hotbed of superstition and magical thinking. Lozanov had an institute where he studied telepathy, ESP, and Vanga (among other things). He had a staff of thirty and was supported by the Bulgarian government.
According to a news report:
After posting this update, I received the following e-mail from a Bulgarian:
I wrote back that there is hope that the younger generation will overcome the superstitions of the past and take Bulgaria into the 21st century. But even if it does, America should be a lesson to all: no matter how much progress is made to advance scientific, non-superstitious thinking, there will always be resistance from a large segment of society who love their gods, spirits, and magical thinking.
[update: 12 Feb 2010] Vera Kochovska has died at the age of 66. [/update]
February 23, 2006. Nine months ago, Centre County, Pennsylvania, district attorney Ray Gricar disappeared from the face of the earth. Carla Baron turned up a few month later and offered her "renowned" psychic services to help find Gricar. Needless to say, she provided nothing of value and wasted everybody's time. Gricar is still missing. There's no success like failure, I guess, because now Baron is coming to Ocilla, Georgia, to "help" in the search for Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher and former beauty queen who disappeared four months ago. Baron's also there to tape segments for her show "Haunting Evidence" that will air on Court TV in June. I predict that whatever happens, Baron will declare success and put another undeserved feather in her cap. According to Court TV:
Tara's brother-in-law Larry Gattis and his wife Anita have been leading an aggressive hunt for the missing 31-year-old. They're bringing in not only Baron but also a respected criminology professor who "does a lot with statistical analysis and computer profiles." Good luck to them. Maybe they should read a little piece by Nancy Maes about her trips to the psychics: Psychic readings offer insights, lure of guidance.
Am I seeing things or is there a family resemblance between Carla Baron, Carla Mae, and Allison Dubois?
Actually, the more I look at these photos the more I realize that I could easily be persuaded to give up my skepticism and become a true believer without much nudging! That is, until I come to my senses and realize that in a few years each of these lovely ladies will look like this:
January 17, 2006. In what is most likely another publicity stunt, the Raelians have offered disgraced Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk a job at Clonaid, their alleged human cloning research program, according to english.chosun.com.
January 7, 2006. What should we make of a columnist who writes "No wonder atheists are angry: they seem ready to believe anything" and then proceeds to attack Richard Dawkins's views on religion for using "sweeping generalisations"?
The Guardian's Madeleine Bunting cites G. K. Chesterton, a master of sweeping generalizations, to suggest that atheists will believe anything. She rips into Dawkins for oversimplifying matters when he talks about ethics or religion, yet she doesn't hesitate to oversimplify herself: "the Rwandan tragedy was about ethnicity, the Holocaust about a racist political ideology." Yes, and Freud's the one who said everything is sex and Darwin says we come from monkeys.
She then uses Dawkins as a straw man for atheism and secular humanism (which she treats as identical) and criticizes Dawkins for knocking down straw men in his latest rant against the evils of religion. Bunting's view of history is that secular humanists (whom she calls atheistic rationalists) are frustrated and angry that religion is still around and as popular as ever. Maybe someone should inform her that atheists, rationalists, and secular humanists are not evangelical missionaries. We aren't gurus or saviors and we don't recruit disciples. We don't threaten people with eternal suffering if they disagree with us or promise them eternal bliss if they join our ranks.
Here's a taste of Ms. Bunting's rant:
Humanism hasn't "failed" any more than religion has "failed." Human beings have failed to create a world where people can live in peace. Thousands of years of religious propaganda hasn't been able to restrain human nature. Nor have a couple of hundred years of rationalism and science. Nobody's been betrayed by anybody. I would say that both secular humanism and a few religious groups have created compelling narratives of what it is to be human and our place in the cosmos, but obviously no narrative whose central feature is non-violence has achieved universal acceptance. That's not likely ever to happen.
When she sticks to criticizing Dawkins on specific points, Bunting hits the mark on occasion, but she misses completely when tries to cast a wider net and bring down atheism and secular humanism while pricking Dawkins on this or that. (I should note that her critique is of a television program called "The Root of All Evil?" that is to air Jan. 9 and 16 on Channel 4. Who knows what's been edited out of Dawkins's views?)
I particularly dislike her concluding paragraph:
I wrote to Ms. Bunting and asked her where Mill makes such a claim but as yet I have not had a reply. I've read some Mill but don't recall this particular desire being expressed. Even if he said such a thing, it's irrelevant. Or does she think that if there are two eminent atheist humanists who have had irrational desires, then Chesterton-and she by association-is vindicated? Dream on.
Episode 1 of "The Root of All Evil?" is called "The God Delusion" and episode 2 is called "The Virus of Faith."