A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 11 No. 8

August 2012

"Belief in periodic economic cycles is close to superstition, akin to astrology and numerology." -- William A. Sherden

What's New?

You can now print pages of The Skeptic's Dictionary, Mysteries and Science for Kids , Skeptimedia, and the SD Newsletter without printing the side columns, graphics, or non-java script ads by using the print command from your browser. (Java script ads are automatically not displayed in printing from most browsers.) I've tested Safari (use "reader"), Google Chrome, Firefox 13.0.1, IE Explorer 9 (set to print at 100%), and Netscape 9 (set to 125% to fill the page).

The paperback of Unnatural Virtue: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! is on sale for $13.99 until the end of the world. August 2 and 3rd only, 90% off shipping.

The eBook is still just $9.99.

New entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary: priest shuffling.

New entries in the Unnatural Acts blog: the illusion of justice, the illusion of understanding, inattentional blindness, and Occam's razor.

New episodes of Unnatural Virtue podcast on Skepticality: fake healing and the illusion of understanding.

Updates: What's the Harm? McCormick charged with fraud; speed reading, shoehorning, and firewalking.

New reader comments: graphology.

Revised essay: "Belief Armor."

Need an expert? Hire a stranger on the Internet.

I read about it but still can't quite believe it. People buy and sell stocks based on "information" they get in an unsolicited email from somebody they've never heard of. Why do that when you can hire an expert from LivePerson.com. You could talk to "Taiba," who's an expert in investing and business planning. Or you could talk to Ken Fields who's an expert in alternative medicine. If I had accepted their offer, you could have talked to me about religion and spirituality. For some reason, the folks at LivePerson consider me an expert in those fields. I declined the offer, however, but if you are wondering how the experts at LivePerson found out about my spiritual talents, google me. That's what they did.

Hi Robert

A recent Google Search brought your website onto our radar, and we think you could be a great potential expert and affiliate partner! Allow us to tell you a little bit about our business, and why we think this partnership could be a winning proposition.

LivePerson Experts is an online destination, community and marketplace where individuals can chat live, consult via email or speak on the phone with Experts [sic] in a broad range of categories -- the best performing and most popular of which is Spirituality & Religion. To increase our traffic and revenue for this category, we run a robust Affiliate Program that allows relevant sites to partner with us in exchange for referral fees. Our Affiliate Program pays up to $100 USD for each new paying client!

"Up to"? Hmm. Could be as much as nothing, then. Anyway, I didn't take them up on the offer though I'm sure I could offer great advice to many people on spirituality and religion.

Speaking of Experts

I'm finishing up The Fortune Sellers: the Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions The Fortune Sellers cover by William Sherden. It's about the experts who predict the weather, the ups and downs and ins and outs of the economy, the rise and fall of stocks, corporations, and small businesses, population growth, technological changes, and other things of interest that are not usually considered paranormal. Yet these experts, by and large, are not much better at their craft than Tarot card readers, astrologers, and mediums who claim to hear the dead making noises. Worse, experts in fields such as hurricane prediction and stock forecasts bilk the public of billions of dollars annually without so much as a whimper from the skeptical community. We're too busy wasting our time exposing the likes of Sylvia Browne and John Edward when we could be wasting our time exposing the finance and stock gurus. The only disappointing part of the book so far is Sherden's account of climate science, an area clearly out of his field of expertise. His bias shows through when he cites only one source (from the conservative Hoover Institute) to indicate "controversy" about whether global warming would be good or bad.

In the Grip of Big Glue?

Dear Professor Carroll:

I have spent quite a few enjoyable hours perusing the Skeptic's Dictionary online - the material covered is fascinating and your treatment of it is typically reasonable and fair-minded. However, I am appalled at your article about Clever Hans, and even more so at the lack of reader comments challenging this irrational screed.

A Houyhnhnm instructing Gulliver.That horses can perform complex mathematical calculations shouldn't be news to you - it has been known since September of the year 1710, when Lemuel Gulliver discovered the race of Houyhnhnms. I am truly dumbfounded by your ignorance of this matter. Your assumption that horses cannot perform even basic arithmetic only perpetuates the stigma experienced by Equine Americans in the field of mathematics. I can assure you that Kluge Hans, like the Houynhnms, was the real deal, and a brilliant mathematician at that!

I, myself, have heard incredible lectures on algebraic topology delivered by a horse, so your defamation is utterly unfounded. The libelous slander of Herr Hans in your article makes me strongly suspect that you are, in fact, a paid shill of Big Glue.

You, sir, are retarding the progress of civilization - for all you know, the proof of the Riemann hypothesis or the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture might come from a horse just like Clever Hans!

Seabiscuit, Ph.D.

reply from Bob Carroll: I hope I am retarding the progress of civilization because the direction we're heading is the road to Perdition with stops along the way at Wishful Thinking and Superstition Heights.

Secular Women

I received the following email and am passing it on:

We, at Secular Woman, are huge supporters of what you are doing in the secular community and we feel that part of our job is to get people that identify as women involved in your organization to a greater extent. We’d be highly appreciative if you posted the following blurb (italicized) about our new group Secular Woman, Inc. on your Facebook and/or webpage. Thanks in advance!:


Introducing Secular Woman, Inc., the first national membership organization of its kind. It's mission is to amplify the voice, presence and influence of non-religious women. Secular Woman envisions a future in which women without supernatural beliefs have the opportunities and resources they need to participate openly and confidently as respected voices of leadership in the secular community and every aspect of American society.  For more information, please visit the website at www.SecularWoman.org. Like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SecularWoman.  Follow them at twitter at @SecularWoman. 

Membership is open to men and women. 


Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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This page was designed by Cristian Popa.