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Gentlemen’s Quackery

February 28, 2019

In case you couldn’t hear above the congressional scenery-chewing at the Michael Cohen hearing, yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Bladensburg Cross case, which, let’s be honest, probably isn’t going to end well for us.

But! CFI’s Jason Lemieux and Nick Little delivered stirring speeches on the steps of the Court, and you can see and read Jason’s right here. Nick’s was featured in an NBC News package, and I’ll be posting his full speech later today.

Neil Dagnall and Ken Drinkwater at The Independent explore why a quarter of humans believe in psychic powers:

Research for example, has shown that individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.

Fake psychic Tyler Henry pushes back at John Oliver to say that he only tells his clients things that can’t be googled. One of his clients supported this, saying, “There’s no way you could Google [what he told me]. I didn’t remember the memory.” Which, you know, doesn’t tell you much.

There’s another platform that is spreading anti-vax misinformation, and it’s not a social network. It’s Amazon. Jon Sarlin at CNN reports:

A recent search for “vaccine” on Amazon (AMZN) yielded a search page dominated by anti-vaccination content. Of the 18 books and movies listed on the search page, 15 contained anti-vaccination content. The first listing was a sponsored post — that is, an ad for which Amazon was paid — for the book “Vaccines on Trial: Truth and Consequences of Mandatory Shots” by Pierre St. Clair, which Amazon was also offering for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Among the search results were books and movies that made their anti-vaccination stance clear in their titles, like the movies “We Don’t Vaccinate!” and “Shoot ‘Em Up: The Truth About Vaccines.”

Relatedly, the FTC is dealing with its first case about fake Amazon product reviews with a company selling quacky weight-loss pills.

The other Portland, the one in Oregon, went and did it: The city council unanimously passe protections against religious discrimination for atheists.

Elizabeth Preston at Undark looks at why conspiracy theories seem to be so prevalent these days:

If we feel like we’re hearing about conspiracy theories more than ever, one reason might be found in leadership. “Not mentioning anyone in particular — but a certain president of a certain country uses a lot of conspiracy theories,” says [social psychologist Karen] Douglas, who co-edited a special issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology about belief in conspiracy theories that came out in December 2018.

This is ugly stuff: A state legislator in Missouri, Hardy Billington (real name!), is proposing a bill that would forbid anyone bringing a church-state separation lawsuit from having anonymity, when said anonymity is intended protect the plaintiffs from people like ol’ Hardy B here. Hemant says, correctly, “If this bill passes, people could get killed.”

GQ does a big how-to puff piece on acupuncture, making all of its pseudoscientific claims sound like they’re totally verified and legit. I guess GQ stands for Gentlemen’s Quackery.

So there’s former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, trying to enjoy his retirement in Nevada, and it seems like every other week or so, he’s got some local TV news crew knocking on his door, asking to talk more about UFOs. That, or he’s calling them up and inviting them over.

Quote of the Day

I have started reading Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and I thought this little passage on certainty versus the unknown might resonate:

Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’—the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea. Edgar Allan Poe declared, “All experience, in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.” Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word “calculate,” which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with “the unforeseen,” that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.

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Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.