How to Win Arguments, As It Were

One of the projects I have been working on over the last couple of months is SeekTheEvidence at seektheevidence.org (strangely enough).

Its primary aim is to promote critical thinking in the public arena;  I want it to end up being a small-to-moderately sized repository for  “fun science” for the public; something that is intriguing, and informative.

For the most part, the information gathering process is a casual one – mostly through my browsing on the internetz. When it coming to interesting videos, articles, etc, however – SeekTheEvidence is supposed to be a COLLABORATIVE project.

With that, I invite anyone who has any material, or would like to make any material to simply contact me here. Posters, Audio, Decal Designs, Links, Suggested Articles, Videos – everything and anything. Even if you sent me a list of all your critical-thinking bookmarks, that would be awesome!

Okay, so where was I going with all this …

I came across an interesting article the other week. I found it really amusing, however I am not quite sure how to incorporate it in to the website – or where; or if it belongs there.

How to Win Arguments, As It Were

Check it out, and let me know where.

Are your passwords compromised?

You may have heard about the numerous hacks in to Sony that resulted in customer credit card details being exposed, or indeed any one of the dozen or so high-profile hacks that have occurred in the last few months.

And, with LulSecutity’s final “booty” release, almost 1,000,000 users have been affected.

Was your email address listed in any of these databases? Did you even know they happened?

While the latest release may yet to be added, recently, a website called “Should I Change My Password?” was launched. It is a web-based tool that will check your email address against at least 13 different databases containing over 800,000 email address/password combinations that have been ripped from beneath the clutches of multi-million dollar corporations – and governments.

Recent news involves Greyhats like LulzSec who “do it for the lulz” – embarrassing the corporations in which we place our trust to house our credit card and personal information.

A recent LulzSec hack included “Pron.com” who after publishing the passwords of these accounts, advocating attempting to use the passwords on Facebook, contact the users’ family members and informing them how they gained access to the account.

IKR – Hilarious!! 😀

Regardless of whether you find your e-mail address listed, there is some solid advice to follow:

  • Change your critical passwords regularly – ie: financial institutions
  • Don’t reuse the same password, and
  • Don’t use the same password across multiple sites
  • There are numerous password managers that you may opt to use, I personally use 1Password. I have the application generate random passwords for me, made-up of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and in some instances special characters. Sure it’s a pain to remember, but I know if I can remember them, it’s time to change – you may opt to change them every 3-4 weeks.If that seeems all too much to handle you could make 4 or 5 passwords, each password for a different type of “security level”, and as you change them either “rotate down” or make a new set all together.

    However, random strings and new passwords all together are always going to be more secure.

    When assigning Passwords to Social networks, don’t underestimate what can be achieved by accessing your accounts. I have seen a few occurrences of Blackhats logging in to Facebook accounts to request information or money from people on their friends list.

    And finally, now is probably a good idea to remind you to make sure your wireless network is secure.

    Inter-Humanoid Breeding against Disease

    In an interesting discovery, it seems that early humans on their way out from Africa were interbreeding with other humanoid species that were alive at the time (dead would have made it a been a bit hard to breed). As a result of this interbreeding, our immune-response was increased as other species’ genes were assimilated in to our own.

    In a presentation at a discussion on human evolution earlier this month, Peter Parham of Stanford University in California, discussed his investigation in to human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), a family of about 200 essential genes for our immune system.

    These HLAs also contains some of the most variable human genes, meaning we’re able to fight off a large number of infectious diseases, and adapt to fight off new ones. While early humans would have had a rather limited set of genes developed for African diseases, Parham presented evidence that showed that interbreeding with the local humanoids resulted in the the adaptation of those genes in to the human genome, and in to that of the Neanderthals.

    More can be read here.

    Why do we believe weird things?

    Michael Shermer

    Dr. Michael Shermer appeared at TED (a Technology Entertainment Design conference) in 2006 and presented on “Strange beliefs“.

    Recently however, Michio Kaku Spoke with Dr. Michael Shermer. Shermer was the founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, and is the current Executive Director of the Skeptics Society. It’s an interesting listen and The Audio from the Michio interview can be heard here.

    If you’re interested, you can read about his book “Why people believe weird things” at his websites.

    Dr. Shermer is quite active doing the skeptical track, and at a 2006 TEDtalk, Shermer, using a range of video, images and music to engage the audience, explored a range of phenomena including UFO  sightings, dowsing rods, and electronic voice phenomena (EVP).

    Rather amusing.

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T_jwq9ph8k

    Audience Call for “The One”

    As noted in a previous post “Unemployed? Here’s Training, and a Free Toss to a Job Application!” Australia’s Channel 7 is recreating their psychic-search for “Australia’s most gifted Psychic” in a reality-format show called “The One”.

    During the last airing of “The One” Richard Saunders of Australian Skeptics appeared as the shows’ voice of reason.

    If you’re on the fence about it and unsure, before you go, I recommend researching “cold-reading“. You may have heard about this from TV series’ such as “The Mentalist”, in which the main character was a former cold-reading mentalist pretending that he was psychic, and TV series “Psych”, in which the main character uses logic and reason to solve cases for the local police whilst also pretending that he was psychic.

    There are some excellent references to things such as the Barnum Effect and how it relates to cold-reading on the internet, such as this one from Dennis Dutton.

    Cold Reading is the term of art used in the magician’s trade to describe the practical use of the Barnum Effect in the give-and-take of an interview situation. Though interest in the technique by professional psychologists dates from the late 1940’s, it has long been put to profitable use by fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, tarot card readers, astrologers, tea leaf readers, spirit mediums, and others who wish to convey the impression that they possess paranormal insight into the client’s personality, current life situation, and future.

    There is this video of about Derren Brown giving an “astrology” reading.

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haP7Ys9ocTk

    And I highly recommend the following video of Brian Brushwood
    of “Scam School” at his “Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural” lecture.

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDfTLSb01xs

    You can become a member of the audience for “The One”, and I would encourage it, as I will be considering putting in an application for some tickets myself. – Just go HERE. Ticket Applications close June 28th, 2011.

    OMG! I can haz Remote Viewing!

    The other day I thought I’d check out the Australian Skeptics Facebook Page. I didn’t have to scroll far to see someone advertising their conference on Remote Viewing – The bloke’s name is Stephen Hamper. While he was quite confident in his belief, he was less than impressive when asked for evidence.

    So, what is remote viewing?

    Having read and liked the explanation given at Skeptic’s Dictionary, I’ll lift it from there:

    Remote viewing (RV) is a fancy name for telepathy or clairvoyance, the alleged psychic ability to perceive places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses.

    Kicking over some stones

    On my little quest for knowledge about Remote Viewing I came across a forum where people were posting their “Target Reference Numbers” or TRNs. They are basically a way to file your “targets”; which, in good practice should not be used on yourself, but rather someone else – Like me, for instance.

    From RVcommunity.net

     

     

    Am I PSI?!

    After reading it I thought “Great! I’ll give this a go!” I should point out that I followed the instructions and conducted my “remote viewing” session first. This comprised of me tracking down a pen and some paper.

    Having prepared, I began to scribble and came up with this little masterpiece:

    My RV Scribble

    I’m going to stop right here and explain how some of this may seem to work; one of the phenomena is subjective validation, which occurs when two unrelated or sometimes random events are perceived to be related on the basis of a preconceived belief or some kind of expectancy – and of course, when a hypothesis is SEEKING a relationship between the two events. This is basically confirmation bias – you expect something is going to happen, and when it does (or as similar as you are willing to accept it does) you consider it a HIT.

     

    For Example, my scribble It’s utterly useless. I did not spend any amount of time trying to do a “session”, yet let’s look what happens when we go looking for similarities between the my scribble and the target.

    So, what was the image I was Remote Viewing?

    TRN "3276-1870"

     

     

    And what have I got?

    VIOLA! I can Remote View! We can draw similarities between the two. The beak, the Head, it’s all there. That’s a WIN!

    I'm PSI!

    Which means what? I’M PSI! It’s so obvious! .. No. Far from it.

    Let’s step back. I didn’t need to do much square-peg in to birdhouse-circle stuffing to get a correlation between the two.

    This goes to show without an ounce of effort a vague scribble can be compared to an image, a photo, etc – and when you’re looking for it – might make you think you can remote view!

    There are a number of other things that can be done to make Remote Viewing seem plausible, and for that, I refer to PROJECT ALPHA – Where a couple of ballsy magicians fool PSI researchers, despite having told them how to catch them out.

    DGN2000 Firmware Update Failure (Power LED flashes Red and Green)

    What a fun night. Having tried updating my routers’ firmware and the update fail, I called NETGEAR who were less than helpful with their “We can’t do anything because it’s not under warranty” response.

    Hopefully this may help someone else.

    Scenario:

    After Upgrading the firmware via wireless the routers’ power light constantly flashes red and green.

    Solution:

    1. Download the initial release firmware for your region: http://kbserver.netgear.com/release_notes/d103335.asp
    2. Connect your router via Ethernet.
    3. Restart your router.
    4. Go to: http://www.routerlogin.com/basicsetting.htm (this is your router and is a local connection)
    5. Upload the firmware, and
    6. Follow On-screen instructions.

    Your old settings should still remain.
    You can now update to the latest firmware.

    Skeptics in (or from) Australia: Contact your MP

    Something has got to give.

    I’m asking that we each take 15-30 minutes to put together a quick e-mail about Homoeopathy and send it to our local MPs – You can look up your local MP via the ABC’s “Find Your Local MP” webpage.

    I recommend outlining the absurdity of the therapy, as some MPs may not be aware of Homoeopathy or may have been misinformed about what it is, what it contains, or the principles underpinning it.

    It would be great time to include the fact that the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has drawn up a draft statement about Homoeopathy stating:

    “it is unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy – as a medicine or procedure – has been shown not to be efficacious.”

    I recommend outlining these key points:

    1. The proposed mechanism is scientifically implausible and unsubstantiated.
    2. The claimed efficacy is not substantiated by any robust study of homoeopathy.
    3. Systematic Reviews of Systematic Reviews of the evidence for Homoeopathy consistently find it is a product with no effect beyond placebo.

    You may wish to bring up issues surrounding homoeopathy such as the harm that can be caused by turning a blind eye to non-efficacious treatments for conditions with potentially serious consequences. For instance, ailments like insomnia and snoring can lead to anxiety and depression disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Both of these can be treated with science-based medicine, yet it is common to find Homoeopathic Remedies for them – and now, even in supermarkets where staff are ill-equipped to inform customers as to what Homoeopathy is.

    It may be worth pointing out that:

    • “positive” studies for Homoeopathy almost always comes from within the profession and are generally surveys of how people “feel” rather than actual trials of a treatment;
    • it is common for homoeopaths to cite literature in defence of Homoeopathy, however when scrutinized, they are investigations of poor quality or do not support homoeopathic principles at all;
    • these “positive” studies are treated counter to how science-based medicines are scrutinized; instead of being peer-reviewed by professionals who seek to uncover flaws in testing methodology to encourage best-practice, they are generally published in niche pseudo-journals (or books) with little to no professional credibility.

    You may also wish to point out the success of the recent world-wide 1023 campaign launched by the Merseyside Skeptics Society to bring attention to Homoeopathy, and the 2010 conclusion by the Science and Technology Committee (From the UK House of Commons) that the evidence provided by homoeopaths did not support their own claims.

    If you are open to it, offer your MP the opportunity to contact you for more information. Do not feel you *have* to answer questions you do not know the answer to; if you feel overwhelmed ask your MP to write an e-mail with their concerns so that you may address them appropriately. If needed, get in contact with someone who you think CAN give them the information they are looking for.

    You SHOULD include what kind of OUTCOME you would like to see from your MP, this may be by asking your MP to:

    • Raise the issue at a Party Meeting,
    • Raise the issue with the relevant Minister, Shadow Minister or Portfolio Holder,
    • Discuss the issue with their colleagues, or
    • Request a change in party policy.

    You may want to urge your MP to Move a Motion in parliament along the lines of:

    National Health Care should be a service that provides only science-based treatments; taxpayers should not be required to pay for, or subsidise the costs of unproven or dis-proven therapies.

    Who could reasonably argue against that?

    You may decide to be specific, perhaps about the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which despite its comprehensive review will continue to accept products for AUST L listing under a flawed self-assessment programme even though – according to the TGA’s own data – 9 out of 10 products  don’t do what they say they can. [this is a lengthy subject]

    And lastly, I recommend inviting your local MP to a local Skeptics in the Pub/Cafe/Meet-up/Event where they can engage in discussions regarding critical thinking, education, reason, and science. This can help in strengthening a relationship to work closer in skeptical activism or outreach campaigns in the future.

     

    If you have some time after that, check out:
    FISHBARREL – The Quick way to report Quacks!

    An Open Letter to Coles Supermarkets regarding the sale of Homeopathy

    To whom it may concern,

    It is with shock and disappointment that I came across the sale of Homeopathic products at your Warringah Mall Store in Brookvale on the 10th of June 2011.

    So-Called Complementary Medicine

    I would hope that the decision to sell Homoeopathic products was not one of “consumer choice” as most customers do not know what a Homoeopathic Product is – often believing that homoeopathy uses “natural” or “herbal” ingredients. This is in contrary to the use of such homoeopathic ingredients as the Berlin Wall,

    Mobile Phone, Dolphin Song, and The Colour Purple – all carrying the same claims of efficacy.

    Customers are also generally uninformed of how ingredients are listed on packets of Homoeopathic Products, often mistaking X or C as the potency of an ingredient, as opposed to its actual indication of dilution.

    Proponents of Homoeopathy will attest that they believe that serial dilutions of an ingredient will leave a “vibrational energy” – essentially, they believe that the water they shake it in will have a memory – This belief is deluded and has no basis in reality.

    It is with shock and disappointment that Coles Supermarkets would sell homoeopathic products because:

    1. The proposed mechanism is scientifically implausible and unsubstantiated.
    2. The claimed efficacy is not substantiated by any robust study of homoeopathy.
    3. Systematic Reviews of Systematic Reviews of the evidence for Homoeopathy consistently find it is a product with no effect beyond placebo.

    British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2002 December; 54(6): 577–582
    doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2125.2002.01699.x
    Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1874503/

    Homoeopathy has recently been in the news because of deaths attributed to it. In both instances Homoeopathy was used to treat an ailment for which a conventional treatment exists.

    Customers may be attempting to self-medicate a potentially serious ailment or disease with deadly consequences by using these products.

    Insomnia and Snoring problems are conditions that can lead to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and sufferers are categorically at higher risk of being in an automotive accident because of their conditions; of which the use of Homoeopathic Medicines may increase their risk factors to them.

    In late 2010 the UK Science and Technology Committee:

    • Recommended no further clinical trials of homeopathy.
    • Stipulated that the evidence shows homeopathy doesn’t work.
    • That the explanations for why homeopathy works are “scientifically implausible.”
    • And that the Committee views homeopathy as placebo.

    Brauer, the particular manufacturer from which Coles Supermarkets purchases homoeopathy was recently featured on Today Tonight in Adelaide. You may have not seen the segment, but you may watch it at this link:

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bYAgR71NBY

    Damning of all, is that the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released a draft statement about Homoeopathy stating..

    “it is unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy – as a medicine or procedure – has been shown not to be efficacious.”

    The desired outcome is simple – that Coles Supermarkets, in its’ endeavour to sell products to its customers that are effective, reverses its decision to sell homoeopathic products.

     

    Kind regards,

    Bayani Mills