Showing posts from June, 2009

Witch burning

The murder of eleven elderly people in Kenya, for supposedly being witches , is a stark reminder of one reason why psi remains a taboo -- a deep seated fear of supernatural and paranormal forces. We'd probably all like to believe that hysteria about witches disappeared long ago, but as the BBC news item (linked above) says, "Residents [in the town in Kenya] have been ambivalent about condemning the attacks because belief in witchcraft is widespread in the area...." This happened in 2009, not 15o9. Fear sustains the psi taboo even in first-world countries, partially because hysteria is just as easily inflamed in educated mobs as well as uneducated ones (witness our collective response to swine flu), but also because despite our common struggle towards rationality, there seems to be a natural human tendency to first condemn any sort of anomaly, and to ask questions later (if at all). While Western scientists exploring the bleeding edge of the known are not in danger of bein

I remember

Ah, the righteous arrogance of youth. I remember what it was like to feel intellectually superior to my college professors, many of whom seemed to be dullards who understood nothing. I grew out of that phase when I started to apply genuine skepticism, not just to others' beliefs, but to my own. Here is a good example of a young person who fits the profile of adolescent certainty (some people never grow out of this stage). Once a Christian, she lost her faith, followed by a commonly observed flip-flop -- she became a fervent atheist. Atheists, especially young ones in the midst of existential crisis, do not yet appreciate that their strong stance against religious faith is just faith of another color (i.e., scientism). They are also unable to distinguish between beliefs based on empirically testable ideas vs. beliefs based on faith. And like most true believers in scientism, they become very concerned that one might conduct experiments where the underlying mechanisms are not yet un

$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

"Big, government-funded studies show most work no better than placebos," so say the headlines of an MSNBC article , where the $2.5 billion refers to funding over a 10 year period by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. No alternative cures says the headline, but the body of the report mentions success with ginger capsules, acupuncture, yoga, massage, meditation, other relaxation methods ... So what doesn't work? A few herbal preparations. The same could be said for dozens of pharmaceuticals. What else? "... the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence." I've said this before, but I guess it deserves repeating: Should existing scientific models and theories, all of which are tentative, determine whether basic research should be conducted on phenomena reported throughout the ages, and for which