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Tales of Depravity and Horror

October 30, 2019

On the latest episode of our podcast Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy goes to the European Skeptics Congress in Ghent, Belgium and talks to Claire Klingenberg, president of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO).

Action alert time! Congress is considering a bill to reauthorize DC’s school voucher program, which not even the DC council wants. You should tell them not to do it:

We at CFI believe that instead of supporting private and sectarian religious schools through vouchers, taxpayer money should be used to support and improve our shared public school system, which provides a religiously neutral, constitutionally sound, and evidence-based education for all students. Our children are better served by using public funds to make public schools stronger.

This is a 2016 piece from Narratively, but it just popped up in my awareness so now you get to hear about it: Erika Lauren describes how she came to unquestioningly trust her psychic, who told her to go after a guy who was her “match,” only to find out the dude was a dangerous thief and psychopath:

I looked up to this woman. For years she gave me strength when I had none and guidance when I was lost. I sent her cards and gifts in celebrations of wellness and in times of grief. I let her predict my future. I was angry with her. I blamed her. I thought that if she had told me the right thing I wouldn’t be here right now. I thought she had lost her gift and her heart, but I knew that this was my mess. I gave the responsibility of making important decisions to someone else so I wouldn’t have to. At the end of the day it wasn’t personal, it was just business. She was doing what I paid her to do.

Jeff Maysh at Medium looks back 40 years to a riot that broke out at the Miami Aerospace Academy over a Ouija board, and the riot wasn’t because some realized, hey, we all look like idiots pointing at letters on a game board:

[Josef Wolf] looked up at the building and saw a teenager crash out of a second floor window and land on the roof of the school bus. The fall should have crippled the boy, but unbelievably, he rose to his feet. “I saw this guy on top of the bus, so I jumped off after this guy,” Wolf recalled. “I tried to hold him back. All of a sudden, boom, he turned his head like ‘The Exorcist.’

And it just gets crazier after that.

Barry Markovsky, a professor of sociology and critical thinking, explains to the Post and Courier why folks believe in ghosts:

A lot of people want to believe in ghosts, Markovsky said. He cites a social psychology term for it — motivated cognition. “We believe what we want to believe,” he said.

Motivated cognition does a number on you. Sales people use it all the time. To make sense of things, humans look for patterns. If someone tells us something convincingly enough, we start to look for it and will tell ourselves that what we find correlates.

Illustrating this fact, Inside Higher Ed essentially rejects higher ed and runs a piece on haunted college campuses, more or less taking for granted that ghosts actually exist.

Helpfully, Andrea Michelson at Smithsonian rounds up a series of scientific explanations for what people think are ghost sightings.

Rev. Amy Butler, looking at the numbers showing Christianity’s rapid decline, says it’s time to stop trying to save the church:

The time for herculean efforts to stave off institutional death is past. We’re going to have to start living what we say we believe and welcoming new life in radical ways. … Rather than working to treat the ills that are causing our demise, we might try stemming the cause by asking what good is needed in the world and then find the way to do it.

Eleanor Cummins at Vox looks at the practice of exhuming the dead, which is apparently more common and routine than you’d think, given the various religious prohibitions on it:

Certain Native American tribes believe moving a person’s remains can unsettle their spirit. Rabbis rarely approve the disinterment of Jews, with rare exceptions for things like reburial in Israel. Islam discourages opening, handling, or reusing graves until there are no traces of the original corpse left. And many Christians believe if someone’s body is disturbed or destroyed, they cannot be resurrected. (Even so, the Catholic Church announced it would “not oppose the exhumation of Franco.”)

The AP looks at how right-wing politicians in France are using the term secularism as a synonym for kick the Muslims. Vice then reports on Quebec saying, Tiens ma bière:

The Coalition Avenir Québec government announced Wednesday that starting in January, economic immigrants hoping to live in the province will need to pass a test on “democratic values and the Québec values expressed by the Charter of human rights and freedoms.” …

… Amira Elghawaby, a board member with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the values test is clearly stoking islamophobia. “The values test is based on stereotypes about Muslims. Let’s not pretend that it is anything else,” she said. “The government doesn’t seem to care that it is fuelling further fear and suspicion of Muslim communities, which can spill over towards other minority communities as we’ve seen with Bill 21 and its impacts on Sikh, Jewish, and other religious minorities.”

At the New York Times, Rich Cohen takes a big lesson in the sincerity of belief from Linus and the Great Pumpkin, but really it’s just supposed to be a metaphor about belief in Santa Claus.

Advocating for comprehensive sex education and against abstinence-only silliness, Trojan Condoms puts up a wall in DC covered in masticated gum, save for the prominent text declaring, “YOU ARE NOT CHEWED GUM,” followed by the company logo and the tagline, “Information is the best protection.”

You know where pseudoscientific traditional Chinese medicine is really huge? China! Foreign Policy puts it bluntly:

Traditional Chinese medicine, a pseudoscience invented in the 20th century, is being heavily promoted under Xi. An expansion of traditional medicine services at community health centers was announced this week. This means billions of yuan spent on treatments that have been repeatedly proven to be ineffective, with standards lower than other health care in China. In Hong Kong, injured protesters are resorting to traditional medicine for fear of arrest at hospitals.

Learn from Kanye: “Show off” for God, get millions back on your tax returns.

At Hakai Magazine, which cites Skeptical Inquirer in a piece on sea monsters, Jess Mackie invites you to enjoy “five tales of depravity and horror set on the deep blue sea.” Aw.


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.

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