Are 1 in 4 Americans Going Into Debt Buying Food?
June 5, 2019 by

It’s a scary, dismaying headline that made the social media rounds over the past few weeks: “Nearly 25% of Americans are going into debt trying to pay for necessities like food.”   The piece, which appeared on CNBC, began with the following: “American have an average of $6,506 in credit card debt, according to a …

A Look at Aladdin’s Genie—and Its Jinn Origins
May 24, 2019 by

With the much-hyped release of the new version of Disney’s Aladdin, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief folkloric look at genies and jinn. Jinn (or djinn) refers to creatures that appeared in medieval Arabic folklore; they were usually depicted as threatening and free-willed—so dangerous in fact that rituals and amulets are …

Telling ‘Real’ from ‘Fake’ Psychics
May 3, 2019 by

Skeptics are known for warning the public about the perils of psychics (ranging from exploitation to fraud), but it may surprise you to know that “real” psychics sometimes join in as well, offering advice about how to avoid those “fake psychics.” A recent article explained, “Every day thousands of people look to psychics for advice, …

Do 60% of People Misgender Trans People to Insult Them?
March 21, 2019 by

Recent news reports claimed that most people intentionally disrespect transgendered individuals by calling them by something other than their preferred gender pronoun. For example one piece began: “Three in five people internationally report that they would intentionally misgender a transgender person, according to a recent survey. Ipsos found that only two out of five people …

‘HS Teacher Tells Students to Vote Republican’: Case Study of a Social Media Outrage Cycle
March 1, 2019 by

Last month an indignant Florida mother named Barbara took to Twitter seeking advice for a problem: “I’m really PISSED; my daughter who is in the 12th grade recently registered to vote through her high school. Her teacher told the class that they all must register as Republicans or else they would not be allowed to …

Holocaust Denial Headlines: Hatred, Ignorance, or Innumeracy?
January 7, 2019 by

In the wake of racial incidents such as the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018, it’s natural for the public and pundits to wonder just how common anti-Semitism is. Deadly attacks on Jewish houses of worship are thankfully rare, but what about anti-Jewish belief among the general public? One often-used metric is public …

Stonehenge Assumptions
December 17, 2018 by

In my years of media and science literacy I’ve repeatedly encountered cases where people have failed to question their premises and simply forged ahead without bothering to make sure that the assumptions were grounded in fact. Premises often seem self-evident—and who wants to waste time verifying or fact-checking something that’s obvious? About six or seven …

Mr. Rogers God, Pascal’s Lost Wager, The Sneaky Principle…
November 7, 2018 by

Don’t think just because the odds are long that there is a creator/designer behind a rare event. If a gust of wind blows a can of paint off your roof and it happens to explode all over the new patio furniture your wife just bought at the OSH going-out-of-business sale, the spatter pattern it would (theoretically) generate would be unique… gazillions to one to ever re-create the exact same pattern. Did this rare and singular event have a creator or designer that fine-tuned that spill? No. It just happened. An accident. Nobody’s fault. Nobody at all…

‘First Man’ A Fitting Space Odyssey
October 15, 2018 by

First Man tells the true story of the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling). As the film shows, he got there largely through skill and determination, but also luck and circumstance. The outlines of the story are, of course, well known, and part of the challenge in telling …

The Curious Case of the ‘Destination Truth’ Yeti Track
September 13, 2018 by

The Yeti—formerly known as the Abominable Snowman—is the Himalayan version of the American Bigfoot. Like Bigfoot, it is large, powerful, leaves strange tracks, and has never been proven to exist outside of folklore and myth. Interest in the supposed creature is fueled by occasional sighting reports and odd footprints. In 2007, Josh Gates, host of …