Monday, 30 July 2012

Monday Morning Musings

[Taking a leaf from several blogs I follow, I thought I’d try something simpler to get this blog updated a little more regularly. So here’s a few tit-bits that have been floating about my brain of late.]

This whole “man, fuck those Chick-fil-A guys” thing a lot of people have going on right now is going to go the same way as Kony 2012 and Invisible Children; everyone’s going to hate the company for a while before getting bored and moving on.

Yes, we know; the Queen looked super-grumpy at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. You would be too if you entire life revolved around standing about all day at a variety of irritating public ceremonies. And if you only get to retire when you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Some people believe in UFO sightings, Bigfoot, the fact that reptiles run the entire planet, the Illuminati, and yet the same sort of people will refuse to believe that we landed on the moon? Yes, Sasquatches are totally legit, but moon landings? Pfft; don’t be talking crazy, now.

There’s a Homeopathic Remedy Shop just a few streets away from where I live. This saddens me.

Alex Salmond really needs to stop trying to tie absolutely everything that happens to his whole ‘Scottish Independence’ shtick. Honestly, I wake up every morning half expecting to see the headlines NICE WEATHER; ‘GOOD SIGN FOR AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND’, FIRST MINISTER DECLARES.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Preaching to the Choir?

Does the religious blogosphere just boil down to two armed camps?

It’s safe to say that I am really not very good when it comes to regular updates for this blog.

This isn’t because of a lack of trying; there’s a horde of half-written, unfinished posts lurking somewhere on my hard-drive that will probably never see the light of day anytime soon. Writing for this blog has become increasingly harder and harder since I started, and lately I’ve been pontificating as to why this might be rather than writing for it.

In many ways this blog has been extremely useful for me; it’s helped me better understand my own views regarding religion, scepticism and the various things I ramble about. Researching for posts has led to me discovering things I never knew about before, and putting my thoughts and views down into words has allowed me to develop and express them more fully.

Despite this, however, I have found myself questioning the real purpose of me writing this blog of late.

The religious blogosphere (for lack of a better term) does sometimes feel like it’s divided into two armed camps. On one side we have the non-religious; blogs like mine, or such as Grundy’s Deity Shmeity (someone who’s far better at this blogging shenanigans than I ever will be). It can be said that we’re fairly resolute on our stance towards religion, the supernatural and the divine; after all, we’re confident enough about our non-religious stance to be writing about it.

On the other side we have the religious blogs, the opposite ideological stance. They’re just as resolute in their opinions as their opposites; they too are confident enough in their views to be writing about them. Very often, there’s not much room for debate between these two sides. Particularly given that this is the internet.

Though discussions and arguments often occur, very often they boil down to both sides simply yelling their opinions to the online heavens and not really listening to what the other side is saying. Or else it’s merciless hole-picking, ad hominem attacks (from both sides, it must be stressed) and other unpleasant aspects of debating. We're arguing, sure, but not in the spirit of good debate. No-one's walking away re-thinking stances they might previously have held.

Overall, the whole thing just seems a little silly at times.

The people who visit atheist and agnostic blogs are very often either of the same opinion or of the complete opposite opinion. I can’t imagine it’s very often there is someone undecided surfing such blogs. Thus the whole thing feels a bit like preaching to the choir at points; they either already agree with you or have already made up their minds that you’re wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that writing about religion online is a fundamentally pointless exercise. Very often the opposite is true; as I mentioned I’ve learned a lot about my opinions and views in the few short months since I started this blog. But when I read an article spouting the same doctrines, glance through the comments sections where the same inane back-and-forth is occurring I do sometimes find the whole thing a little frustrating.

Maybe I’m just over-thinking all this.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Ghosts n' stuff.

From Creationists attempting to re-brand themselves as ‘Intelligent Design Advocates’ to Cryptozoologists (the folks who go traipsing off attempting to find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), there has undoubtedly been a shift in which those who advocate theories outside of the norm attempt to describe or put forward their views in a way they feel to be scientific. Really, this is the essential tenets of pseudoscience; arbitrarily attempting to make something sound and look more feasible by jury-rigging scientific-sounding jargon to them.

Sharon Hill over at Doubtful has another way of describing the process of attempting to sound scientific and failing to do so; she calls it ‘scientifical’.[1] She’s also very kindly just released her entire thesis for free via the internet for all to look at and read. I found it via a link shared on /r/skeptic, and I thought it would be worth spreading the word about (though I will confess now that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to read through the thesis in its entirety; I am not that fast a reader).

Rather than attempting to describe it to you when I’ve not fully read the thesis myself, I’ll instead quote the Abstract and then give you a link; take it away Sharon:

“21st century television and the Internet are awash in content regarding amateur paranormal investigators and research groups. These groups proliferated after reality investigation programs appeared on television. Exactly how many groups are active in the U.S. at any time is not known. The Internet provides an ideal means for people with niche interests to find each other and organize activities. This study collected information from 1000 websites of amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) to determine their location, area of inquiry, methodology and, particularly, to determine if they state that they use science as part of their mission, methods or goals. 57.3% of the ARIGs examined specifically noted or suggested use of science as part of the groups’ approach to investigation and research.

Even when not explicit, ARIGs often used science-like language, symbols and methods to describe their groups’ views or activities. Yet, non-scientific and subjective methods were described as employed in conjunction with objective methods. Furthermore, what were considered scientific processes by ARIGs did not match with established methods and the ethos of the scientific research community or scientific processes of investigation. ARIGs failed to display fundamental understanding regarding objectivity, methodological naturalism, peer review, critical thought and theoretical plausibility. The processes of science appear to be mimicked to present a serious and credible reputation to the non-scientific public. These processes are also actively promoted in the media and directly to the local public as “scientific”.

These results highlight the gap between the scientific community and the lay public regarding the understanding of what it means to do science and what criteria are necessary to establish reliable knowledge about the world.”

And there you have it. You can find the thesis here, and I strongly recommend you check it out. These studies are extremely useful when discussing the paranormal and those who would seek to investigate it.