Tag Archives: local skepicism

So THAT’S An Investigation

Hello everyone.

I’ll not be apologizing about the extended absence. We can discuss that at our next meeting.

Yes, a meeting. Time and place to be determined in true Heisenberg style.

The past week has actually had something of interest! A couple of things, actually.

First off, a couple of the JSS members were on hand at the state capitol Monday morning with a rather heavy plaque from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It wasn’t the nicest plaque or decoration, and the media showed up two hours late, turning what might have been a media storm into little more than some comment-field rage on the local news sites.

For their credit, the spokesman for the group that placed the first decoration, a nativity scene, had this to say about the FFRF plaque:

“It’s great that we live in a country that we’re free to do that, that’s what makes our country whole is that both organizations can express their views.”

Amen Brother.

Now in more traditional skeptic news, the Mississippi Paranormal Society recently did an investigation at the Vicksburg Theatre Guild’s Parkside Playhouse.

Afterwards, they awarded the Playhouse with a little placard saying this:

Mississippi Paranormal Society

Herby recognizes
The Parkside Playhouse
Vicksburg, MS
As to Having

Paranormal Activity

This being decided after a paranormal investigation was conducted on
November 18, 2010

Whoa! Verified paranormal activity? Call the skeptics! Call the press! Call the JREF, I need a million dollars.

One must ask: What did they find?

“The investigation came up with a few personal experiences that could not be explained away as not being paranormal.

Some of the personal experiences that we had were as follows:”

1. A Couple of investigators saw a shadowy mass. (Picture 3 on bottoms of page is where it was seen.)
2. A chair in the auditorium squeaked as if someone was sitting in it.
3. One investigator felt that he was touched. He did wave it off as if it may have been something else. Still was an interesting experience that may have been paranormal.
4. An investigator caught a glimpse of something in the control booth at the back of the auditorium (could have been a trick of light from the flashlight hitting an object in the window, but then again, it could have been a figure… just not too sure.).
5. One investigator suddenly felt angry, but couldn’t understand why.”


Never mind. Call off the press. A few extremely *personal* experiences, indeed. It’s like a case file for the need for objective evidence. I like how whoever wrote this up doesn’t even really appear to believe it.

And as for number five, I think I have the same problem! My computer is haunted!

Though in a more interesting note they have a YouTube Channel with their EVPs (and the most badass ghost-hunting logo I think I’ve ever seen).

Those of you who don’t know what an EVP is – well, it’s Electronic Voice Phenomena, which is basically listening to white noise recorded by either turning up your microphone or gain. Then you hear things.

They also use the Franks Ghost Box. I’ve seen these in action before, they basically flip through AM stations randomly and quickly at a steady rate, creating – well, white noise.

Ghost hunters use these and standard white noise generators to get big swatches of static in which things are heard.

Couldn’t be auditory pareidolia could it?

To refresh you on some basic Skeptic 101, Auditory Pareidolia is when your brain creates a familiar noise out of other random noises. The wikipedia example is a classic one: You’re in the shower and you hear the phone ring. There was no phone ring (and that’s important to remember from the ghost radio example) but your brain concocted the noise out of the meaningless “static” of the sound of falling water.

The most common audio pareidolia is the old “voice in the noise,” which if you’re a person who uses headphones to listen to music in an environment where people *might* talk to you – you know this one. Your brain, keyed for voices, picks them out of the less meaningful noises – creating them whole cloth.

Backtracked satanic lyrics in rock and roll music? Same thing.

So go on and listen to the EVPs. For bonus fun, you can imagine the ghosts saying things that the ghost hunters *didn’t* record, and the magic of audio pareidolia will make it happen!


David Irving – What Next?

Well, next week look like it’s going to be busy.

From the Jackson Free Press we’ve got this royal gem: Holocaust denier David Irving is coming to Jackson. On October 21st, the day before Victor Stenger comes to town.

For those of you who don’t know, David Irving is one of a rare breed – although, in my opinion, not rare enough – a holocaust denier.

It’s quite the hurdle to leap – I mean, in the case of your anti-vaxxers and your climate change denialists, you’re dealing with often wordy, obtuse scientific papers, issues where there are a whole lot of other people pretending to be scientific, new data all the time, that sort of thing. It’s somewhat understandable. Then there’s the HIV-denialists, which slip into (in my mind) a second category where you can still kind of see what they’re doing, even though you know it doesn’t click.

But holocaust denial? I mean, hell – you can go talk to the people who were there (though fewer of them daily) you’ve got American soldiers who tore the things down, survivors and their families, you can go and look at the remaining camps, you can see mounds and mounds of evidence – the purchasing of the equipment, the lists of living and dead, the forms requisitioning soldiers and guards, the personal effects of the dead.

The only thing Irving has in common with your garden variety denialists is technique.

(Courtesy of Denialism Blogs)

1: Selectivity. (Aka cherry picking) This lovely little technique allows guys like Irving to, say, pick up a doctored photograph of a concentration camp and say “Hey, they’re all doctored.” Since has collected a gargantuan supply of Nazi memorabilia, he can certainly engage in a little quote-mining. He, and many other denialists operate on a “snapshot model” of history: one tiny detail turns the tables on all the historians and documentation and data out there. They are well versed in the minutia of their pet cause; death camp timetables, the size of crematorium ovens, the placement of zykon-B showers, that sort of thing: and they inevitably find tiny pieces here and there which point to what they want to believe – ignoring, of course, the mountains of evidence that point in the other direction.

The fun thing about cherry picking is that the picker leaves themselves open to all of the other wonderful things out there that in fact do not read the way they want.

2: Fake experts. Well, since Irving himself is that expert, this one is a bit out of place. You might think that Irving would quote other denialists and fake experts, but the man does his research. See above.

3: Impossible Expectation. This is one where a guy like Irving can say “well, unless you were there” (in which case he must ignore people who were.) or – Irving’s favorite tactic: “There was never a document signed by Hitler calling for the liquidation of Jews.” Of course, there was never a document signed by Hitler calling for the start of the war, either. Rest assured, if someone finds that document, Irving will claim it is fake or say that he has a new standard that must be met. The moving goalposts technique is a favorite amongst those who are outclassed by someone prepared for a certain topic.

4: Logical fallacies: Since everyone (should at this point) know about these, I’m going to skip it. There is a really good list on wikipedia.

And, finally, the mother-of-them-all, for many woo-meisters, denialists, and David Irving in particular:

5: Conspiracy. Ah yes – how else to explain why there is no evidence to support your claims? Of course someone must have stolen it! Why is there so much evidence to the contrary? Of course, someone must have created it! When you’re deep into your own claims, you can’t let something like “a lack of corroborating evidence” get in the way. Irving believes that all the normal historians – those that aren’t part of groups like The Institute for Historical Review – are in some sort of dry, unimaginative lockstep, all on the same page, never a new idea amongst them. This is, of course, strictly untrue – one need only examine the constant output of new and updated historical information to see that this gambit is only a rhetorical technique.

Now on to the deeper question: What to do about Irving?

His appearance at City Hall will follow an “informative talk” given somewhere in the city – I’ve been trying to find out where, exactly, but have not yet, as I don’t want to pay the fifteen dollars to reserve a seat.

His accomplice in this is long time Mississippi rabble-rouser Richard Barrett who you may or may not remember from his recent antics down in Jena, Louisiana, or his ill-fated “come shake the hand of Edgar Ray Killen” booth at the Mississippi State Fair. For a far less complimentary view on Barrett, you can click here. Now, sure, Barrett still gets honored by the state legislature but wherever he goes, he tauts his appearances (usually a small handful of people protected by a wall of police from a wave of protesters) as “victories of free speech.”

And free speech is what these men have. While free speech does mean that they can say what they want, it also means we have the right to a counter message. Unfortunately in this day and age, often the counter-message is simply “shut up,” or a cry of antisemitism, but this does not count as debate, nor does it really do anything to deny the deniers a hold on historical revision.

Instead, one must counter their arguments with knowledge. And David Irving is therefore a dangerous opponent – though recently descending into a more outrage-inducing banter of insults and outright racism, he does have at command a barrage of facts he uses to profess his knowledge. One who fell for his “this tiny bit is true, therefore all of this outrageous historical re-write is true” might very well take Dan Brown seriously, and there is far too much of that going on already.

On the morning of the 21st, Irving will appear on the cringe-inducing Gallo Radio Show on Super-Talk 97.3. I do hope they’ll be taking callers.

Later in the day, Irving is going to be on local radio channel WJNT 1180 AM at 5 PM during a call-in show. I’m sure there will be plenty of priceless quotes from that meeting of the minds, so be sure to add your own.

This will take place right before his trip to City Hall (scheduled for 6PM, if the city allows it).

So if you’ve got any idea, comment! We shouldn’t let people like this show up and go uncontested – the message of “not even in Mississippi” would be a good one, methinks.