August 6, 2018


Facebook takes down four Alex Jones/Infowars pages from its service for repeatedly violating hate speech and bullying policies. Apple has also taken all five Alex Jones podcasts off its podcast directory, which is by far the most popular podcast service, and Spotify has removed all episodes of The Alex Jones Show.

Speaking of Jones, Keith Kahn-Harris in The Guardian explores (at length) the dangerous phenomenon of denialism:

If you believe that you are being constantly lied to, paradoxically you may be in danger of accepting the untruths of others. Denialism is a mix of corrosive doubt and corrosive credulity.

But we can’t just shrug denialists off:

Empathy with denialists is not easy, but it is essential. Denialism is not stupidity, or ignorance, or mendacity, or psychological pathology. Nor is it the same as lying. Of course, denialists can be stupid, ignorant liars, but so can any of us. But denialists are people in a desperate predicament.

If you want a petri dish full of denialists, go to a Trump rally, where you’ll find followers of the conspiracy-obsessed QAnon group. Philip Bump at the Post saw for himself:

To some extent, it’s a natural extension of Trump’s campaign: He wasn’t supposed to win because the Establishment was arrayed against him. Once he won, the Deep State was desperately throwing up roadblocks. Trump himself introduced the idea that there was a murky substructure that controlled American politics; that there’s now a strain of that thinking that runs through his support — in part to rationalize mainstream critiques — only makes sense.

Dr. Jen Gunter takes to the New York Times to separate “wellness” and the industry around it from “medicine,” saying that the peddlers of wellness products (“expensive magic”) are exploiting people’s fears and  gaps in medical knowledge:

Let’s take the trend of adding a pinch of activated charcoal to your food or drink. While the black color is strikingly unexpected and alluring, it’s sold as a supposed “detox.” Guess what? It has the same efficacy as a spell from the local witch.

As though presenting a chilling example of Gunter’s thesis, Melinda Wenner Moyer warns in the Times that the zealousness of anti-vax crusaders has made scientists reticent to make vaccine work public, for fear of what the conspiracy theorists will latch on to, distort, and amplify. David Gorski, however, is not convinced this is true.

Arthur Conan Doyle may have believed in faeries and ghosts, but, as Harriet Hall shows us, at least he was also very much pro-vaccine.

Laurie Goodstein tells the story of Pat Baranowski, assistant to megachurch pastor Rev. Bill Hybels, “revered as a leadership guru who discovered the formula for bringing to church people who were skeptical of Christianity.” Baranowski says Hybels repeatedly harassed and groped her throughout the late 80s, and that she was terrified of destroying the church if she ever came forward. Some really awful stuff about Hybels in this piece.

The grand jury in the Pennsylvania case about the rampant sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church says victims were:

…brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all. [. . .] The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’

Trump finally picks a science advisor, and, well, he’s not terrible! Meet extreme weather scientist Kelvin Droegemeier.

Ben Radford writes about the utterly-frustrating and usually-pointless task of pointing out errors or offering clarifications on social media, as doing so will often have you branded as a defender of something abhorrent. (Reason number seventy-bazillion that I hate using Facebook.)

Ex-pope Ratzinger is in hot holy water over an essay in which he espouses the idea that Catholics’ interpretation of the Old Testament is the only valid one. This is being called anti-Semitic by some, and I have chosen to call it Popesplaining. And the LORD did sayeth unto them, “Well, actually…”

Depressing information about anti-depressants: At his new CFI column Separating Truth and Myths, Dr. Caleb Lack explains that, as best as science can tell, anti-depressants are not very helpful on the whole:

Sadly, these unimpressive results are consistent with other findings that show that an average of 30 percent of people who take placebos will have depressive symptom improvement while maybe 50 percent of people who take an actual antidepressant will show the same improvement. To put it plainly, taking antidepressants probably improves symptoms of depression in about one out of every five people who take them.

At FiveThirtyEight, Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at how science and science-centered candidates can impact politics, and vice-versa:

While there is evidence that science can be a unifying force that all Americans trust, there’s also evidence that — particularly on specific issues — Americans increasingly have polarized ideas about who “science” serves and what “evidence-based” means.

Indonesian linguistics professor Setiono Sugiharto warns in the Jakarta Post that people need to be much more careful about how they discuss religion on social media, lest they be arrested for blasphemy. He cites the case of Alexander Aan in particular, and chews over the various meanings of “atheism.”

At VICE, Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, a self-described “agnostic” about the paranormal, checks out a “haunted” antiques shop, looking for ghosts using an Xbox Kinect camera. She cites the work of Kenny Biddle at Skeptical Inquirer who explained away the cameras’ phantom detections.

Richard Hempstead, writing for the Lac Cruces Sun News, consults with our own Joe Nickell about an “investigation” by the local church of a “weeping” Virgin Mary statue.

Rachel Slade at Medium’s Future Human looks at the development and potential of “AlterEgo,” a device made by Arnav Kapur that is supposed to read your thoughts, and I think looks like the answer to the question, “What happens if you make AirPods that resemble a giant earlobe?” Imma be real skeptical about this.

Also at Future Human, Tom Vanderbilt considers the possibilities for human adaptation to global warming through the lens of sweat. Ew! No, but really.

In Pakistan Today, Hasan Aftab Saeed has nine of what he calls bad reasons for being an atheist, including the assertion that being an atheist isn’t cool anymore. Well I will not argue with that one.

Bigfoot erotica is climbing the rankings on Amazon. The genre is going to experience its renaissance.

Quote of the Day

Now meet Todd Kincannon, former head of the South Carolina Republican Party, who just murdered his mother’s dog as a sacrifice, for, as he explained to police, he is the second coming of Christ:

I’m Jesus, I’m not making it up. I have a sign. I’m about to get crucified in the media. The reason I killed the dog is this, it’s real simple . . . I’m sorry, I think y’all are going to have to take me to the Psych Institution, I get that. But I’ll tell you from a legal standpoint you know, it’s in the State Constitution that God is sovereign and I honestly think he told me to do it.

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