I’ve been recently discussing with someone the possibility that, basically, magic is a real thing that really happens in the real world. Really. In fairness, those are not the terms that they use, but nevertheless that’s the argument being presented.

The idea is that since our intentions can affect water, and humans are “70% to 90% water, depending on age”, then we can totally affect the health of other people with our thoughts. As evidence for this claim, when pushed (and it was like pulling teeth) they refer to Dr. Emoto’s work on water and intention. Ironically, Dr. Emoto appears to have done very little science on this topic, insofar as he has a total of one (1) paper published, and even then it’s in the fringe science Journal of Scientific Exploration. The paper is titled (this link goes to a PDF) “Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal Formation: A Triple-Blind Replication“. The rest of this post will be a breakdown of that paper.

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I know a number of people here in Vancouver working in restaurants and bars, and the prevalence of unlawful behaviour is just astounding. Of course, I don’t mean the staff stealing from employers, but employers just stealing wholesale from the staff.

While BC has some fairly mediocre labour laws, it has labour laws that employers are obligated to abide by. Unfortunately, as the laws are civil in nature (rather than criminal), the enforcement of these laws falls on the shoulders of the employees: if the staff don’t report the breach to the Employment Standards Branch, then the company happily trundles on, stealing from the employees.

This isn’t theft, you say? Since the staff have implicitly agreed to this state of affairs, it’s no-one else’s business to intervene? I’m sure that it’s possible that you could be more wrong about this, but it’s not obvious how. Allow me to explain.

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Sue Blackmore has an article up on Richard Dawkins’s website regarding a hundred or so students who deigned to walk away from a lecture on memes she was giving. She expected “people to listen and then argue and disagree if they wished to” as opposed to exercising their right not to be denigrated or insulted by walking away. Note that she wasn’t prevented from speaking, though she was accosted afterwards (which was entirely not-cool, please don’t misunderstand me as being in favour of post-lecture ambushes….).

Her article is an exercise in bullshit and spin. Here’s why:

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I decided to witness the car-crash that I’ve been assured that God’s Not Dead is, first-hand, so in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, I posted tweets fairly frequently during the movie. And stopped it a lot to go do something else, lest the overload of ignorance do long-term damage.

It took probably about 2 1/2 hours to watch the whole 2-hour movie. God’s Not Dead is a Christian Movie, which means that the primary purpose is to extol the virtues of ‘being Christian’, and that things like ‘a good script’, ‘an interesting narrative’, or just ‘represents things fairly’ are, at best, a distant second. However, like the vast majority of Christian propaganda, it ends up saying some truly awful things about Christians. Continue Reading

I’ve written a number of posts on the problems of Intelligent Design, and how it’s merely a cover for Creationism, but the problems go deeper than that. Functionally, its proponents pretend that they have ‘nothing in particular’ in mind when they argue for a designer, and under that cover, they attempt to shoe-horn Creationism into the class-rooms of North America.

Intelligent Design masquerades as a ‘scientific theory’ about how human life originated and evolved over time, and its proponents claim that it’s entirely distinct from Creationism, an obvious lie when you review the origin of Intelligent Design. There are, however, other ways to demonstrate this lie.

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Recently, a Jason Mitchell of no less than Harvard University published a piece of writing entitled “On the emptiness of failed replications“, within which Mitchell decries the focus on replications within Social Psychology, and (to, I hope, a lesser degree) within science as a whole. I found it an interesting read, and an excellent example of how references/citations can serve the purpose of signalling (i.e. name-dropping) rather than adding anything substantive to a paper. Invoking Quine and Kuhn certainly signals that one has a passing familiarity with Philosophy of Science, but the rest of the essay quickly highlights how mistaken that impression is.

While I think it’s important for popular science sites to highlight this kind of thing, as Annalee Newitz at io9 did, the article just abuses Mitchell: there’s no explanation of how he’s wrong. This is, I think, a common problem within skeptic/atheist/science-enthusiast circles whereby “let’s point and laugh” is often substituted for understanding the problems. Here’s my breakdown of Mitchell’s article.

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In many parts of Canada (and, of course, other parts of the world), there are two systems of schooling in place: a secular system that does not explicitly endorse any particular religious faith (though can implicitly do so), and an explicitly religious system. In Canada, both of these are funded by the government, and it’s deeply problematic.

According to the Globe and Mail, proponents of the system believe that “(…) Catholic schools provide better education, structure and discipline than public ones (…)”, a claim which is certainly up for debate. In any case, religious schools typically have a list of requirements for both students and employees that go beyond the workplace, and impact their daily lives beyond school property. Many require that teachers be of a particular religion (in the case of Canada, it’s usually Catholic), or that they abstain from certain behaviours (mostly, unsurprisingly, focused on homosexuality). Others limit people who may speak at their schools, again largely denying access to people based on their sexual preferences.

Funding for schools that are religious is just simply wrong, one the grounds of discrimination, economics, and quality of education.

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There was an article written recently in The Telegraph, a British paper, discussing a statement by Lady Hale, the UK Supreme Court Deputy President, that there should be some sort of “conscience clause” put into law to protect religious folk who wish to exercise their beliefs, and not be at risk of losing their jobs over it. On the face of it, this seems like an entirely reasonable suggestion.

But, with a bit more analysis, it’s complete tripe.

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When I first came to Vancouver from Ireland, I found out about the student loan program that was available in Canada and discovered that I could actually afford to go to University. I’d just missed the enrollment deadline for the University of British Columbia, but a helpful advisor there suggested a number of avenues I could take. One of which was Langara College.

My two-ish years there were well-spent, studying a variety of topics, learning how much I sucked at mathematics, how much I hated chemistry, and how interesting I found philosophy. Twas a good period, and I believe that the academic faculty there, in most all disciplines, are great teachers.

But then there’s the “Health and Human Services” bullshit that it peddles…

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How we argue with people sends signals to those around us. We are socially signalling the kind of person we are, and giving them cues as to whether or not they want to engage with us. This is, I think, an important point in rhetoric and persuasion, and can determine how we approach an argument. We can, of course, choose to remain ignorant of the signals that we send (thus sending the signal that we hold the people around us in contempt), or we can go too far and focus too much on ‘how’ the argument is presented such that the content is diluted to nothing.

An example of the former is a tweet by Secular Outpost (@SecularOutpost):

This is, frankly, sending up a flare that displays to all and sundry “I am a giant asshole, and I am not here for constructive conversation, but to have fun at the expense of those around me”. Disagree? Alright, let me walk you through it. Continue Reading