Skeptics unite!

The truth is out there, said The X-Files. Oh, how I miss Mulder and Scully. Image from sciencefiction.com.

The truth is out there, said The X-Files. Oh, how I miss Mulder and Scully. Image from sciencefiction.com.

Sad to say, we’ve become a society where truth doesn’t have the value it once did. Now anyone with an Internet connection and an axe to grind or prank to pull can post just about anything and know that someone out there will believe it, no matter how outlandish it may be.

A real cat, really Photoshopped. Image from Museum of Hoaxes.

A real cat, really Photoshopped. Image from Museum of Hoaxes.

An 87-pound housecat named Snowball? Sure, that’s what Photoshop was made for. Pay no attention to the man who admits doctoring a photo of a 21-pound cat as a joke for friends.

The Obama administration giving up the chance to spend oodles of cash after being petitioned to build the Death Star? Yep, as White House science and technology adviser  (and apparent huge geek) Paul Shawcross told Star Wars fans, “This isn’t the petition response you’re looking for,” and at an estimated cost of $850 quadrillion, it was far too expensive. Besides, Shawcross said, the administration doesn’t support blowing up planets, and the Death Star’s flawed design is too easily foiled by a one-man starship.

Twerker set ablaze? Blame Jimmy Kimmel. And please let the whole twerking thing go away. Why’d you have to make it mainstream, Miley? Why??

Newt Gingrich is J.K. Rowling and wrote the Harry Potter series? OK, seriously, if it’s in The Onion, doubt it. Please. (Though the part about Tom Daschle is inspired.)

I sing a mean Al Green, and still you doubt my creds. Image from The Associated Press.

I sing a mean Al Green, and still you doubt my creds. Image from The Associated Press.

We live in a world full of people who doubt climate change; Barack Obama’s … well, everything; and the moon landing, despite any proof given. So why do so many supposedly skeptical people believe and pass along easily debunked stories?

Psychologists point to confirmation bias, in which someone places higher value on information that meshes with his beliefs while undervaluing or discarding what doesn’t jibe.

Says The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

“If our beliefs are firmly established on solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.”

newtonianSkepticism is needed in a world where scammers are not only using the old Nigerian story or hacking to separate people from their hard-earned cash, but also expanding into crowd-funding.

We should all be wary of the sources of our information rather than simply trusting implicitly what we’re told, yet must be careful not to cross the sometimes-thin line separating skeptics from paranoid conspiracy theorists.

As the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg noted in response to emails about massive, evil government conspiracies:

Ooooh, such chocolaty goodness. Image from Wikipedia.

Ooooh, such chocolaty goodness. Image from Wikipedia.

“Oh come on. I distrust the government but as a realistic conservative I think government is staffed with mostly well-intentioned but incompetent people—not because they’re dumb, but because bureaucracies are dumb. These conspiracy theorists reverse this entirely. They think government is evil-intentioned but supremely, even divinely, competent. That’s crazy-talk, Count Chocula.”

Props, Jonah, for mentioning the Count. Now I feel the need for some cereal. And chocolate.

tinfoilhat_farkSure, there are true conspiracies out there, but few are as well-planned and executed as the bulk of the current supposed political cabals are reputed to be by the Tinfoil Hat Brigade.

Image courtesy of State Farm Insurance.

Of COURSE he’s French! Image courtesy of State Farm Insurance.

So why am I again talking about finding the truth? No, not because I’ve been watching that State Farm commercial again (that “Uhhh … bawnjer” gets me every single time). It’s because Voices still gets email forwards and letters based on faulty facts and debunked myths (chemtrails, Presidents Day, etc., take your pick).

Whether it’s a too-good-to-be-true checklist reputedly penned by Saul Alinsky (no proof has been found that he wrote it) on building a social state, or a list of votes by a member of Congress that’s not quite accurate, there are many falsehoods whose spread could have been cut short if one person early on had just checked the claims out before forwarding. Between very loose interpretations, outright falsehoods and selective facts (check the NARAL numbers for Mark Pryor for every year rather than just the one highlighted in the list, for example), there’s some serious stretching of the truth going around.

Luckily, there are several sites that uncover the truth behind many rumors (some even do a periodic roundup of viral stories proven to be false), and sites like HoaxBusters.org maintain an index of stories. As for congressional votes, places like Thomas Voting (Library of Congress), govtrack.us and OpenCongress.org record votes and bill texts, and are reliable sources of what actually happened in Congress (which is scary enough without embellishment).

A healthy dose of skepticism is a necessity to keep what little might remain of your sanity and occasionally be able to laugh. Checking the facts you’re given is the first step.

Image from Denzomag.com.

Image from Denzomag.com.

****

Apparently there are readers who have been reading between the lines in my columns and divining my every thought and bias. Hey, stop that!

I'm fairly sure this is one of the nuttier frequent-flyer letter-writers ... or one of my cousins. GIF from Advanture Tine wikia.

I’m fairly sure this is one of the nuttier out-of-state frequent-flyer letter-writers … or one of my cousins. GIF from Advanture Tine wikia.

Here are the facts: I have not said that I personally am nonpartisan; I very clearly have specific ideas about certain matters. Just ask me about the Tea Party if you don’t believe me.

Pull up a chair while you’re at it, though, because this will take a while. I apologize in advance for any foaming at the mouth.

However, I don’t treat liberal and conservative letters differently when choosing letters because the goal is to put a variety of opinion on the Voices page. Until the last few years, Arkansas was predominantly a Democratic-voting state, so having a page that pretty much just features conservative ideas is unrealistic and more than a little insane. Likewise, excluding freethinkers or fundamentalists would ignore the breadth of views in the state.

In my columns, you’re much more likely to find a bit of cynicism laced with a weird sense of humor than subtext outlining my outrageously liberal plot to rule the world. What you see (and read) is pretty much what you get. And maybe a little cat hair.

Don't make me break out the bitch slap ...

Don’t make me break out the bitch slap …

****

Yeah, if I can’t get my 18-pound cat to quit “accidentally” turning off my laptop whenever he notices me looking at cat pictures that aren’t him, the odds of me taking over the world are pretty darned dim.

Luke, on the other hand, has his plan well in paw. If I’m lucky, he’ll let me stick around to provide belly rubs, toys and food.

****

On another note, I’ve been completely exhausted  and bruised from my move. I finished toting over the inside things this morning (though I’ve got to pick up trash, still), meaning only my air conditioner, hose and plants still need to head across the street. I can’t wait, but I know it’ll make me as sore as I am right now. Too bad it’ll take time to get the inside  at the new place looking decent.

But Luke doesn’t care as long as he has beds and perches and hiding places. Suddenly I feel the need to craft him a tinfoil hat …

4 thoughts on “Skeptics unite!

  1. Here to sign up for the “Skeptics Unite” drive. A little surprised however not to see a long line. Oh well, I suppose most of them are still gathering in the morning news from Fox.

    I have to say, especially given the fact that we are in a major election year here in Arkansas, I am totally skeptic of most of the candidates. Skeptic of what they’re politics really are. Blue dog democrats, right-wing tea party activists and an ex-mayor who will probably want to put bicycle right-of-ways on every interstate highway in the US, not to mention his earmarks for a local Navel Museum.

    Enjoyed your piece in the paper this morning. Have a good day! 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks, Alan! We’ve really gotta do something about the line … perhaps they’re waiting for the bathroom …

      What’s been driving me absolutely nuts (and I just heard another one … grr …) are the ads that have one and only one hook: Nancy Pelosi and/or Barack Obama (C’mon, Asa, you can do better than that!), and most of the time completely overblowing or misinterpreting the connection. Democrats do it, too, but surely people can see that GOP ads tend to be more negative more of the time. What happened to running on your record? Oh, yeah, most of these guys can’t really do that 😀

      Like

    • Hi, Brett! I’m so sorry I didn’t see this till this evening (I’ve been pressed for time lately). If you still want to post it, you certainly may, and thanks for reading!

      Like

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