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  • Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

    Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
    Excellent overview of the prominent role that freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, and deists) played in America's past, including the founding of our country, the abolition of slavery, and giving women the vote. (*****)

  • Sam Harris: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

    Sam Harris: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
    One of the most frightening books I've ever read. Among numerous other topics, Harris argues that it is almost inevitable that atomic weapons will fall into the hands of religious radicals -- if not terrorist, then perhaps a nation with religious radicals in charge. (****)

  • Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

    Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
    Highly recommended. Despite what you might have heard, Richard Dawkins does not spew venom in this book. Flames do not shoot out when you open it, nor does bile drip from the pages. Far from being an hysterical, rabid diatribe against religion, it is a quite measured, logical explanation of the evidence against God and why religion should not be treated with such reverence. (*****)

  • Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

    Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
    I highly recommend this book for anyone who is about to embark on studying religion and atheism. Why do people enjoy music? Why do we like to socialize? Why do we sometimes become violent? Science has attempted to answer each of these questions. Dennett proposes that science attempt to answer another: Why are people religious? Even if one of the religions is true, that still means that billions of people believe religions that are not true. Why? What is it about our evolutionary past that makes us willing to believe? (*****)

  • Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

    Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
    Why wasn't Europe invaded by ships carrying gun-wielding Native Americans or Africans, rather than the other way around? This is an excellent explanation of why some societies became quite advanced, while others remained primitive. (*****)

  • Richard P. Feynman: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character

    Richard P. Feynman: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character
    Very entertaining and thought-provoking collection of anecdates from the life of perhaps the best-known physicist of the 20th century. (****)

  • Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack S. Cohen: The Science of Discworld
    You'll have to visit Amazon UK to locate this one. This book explains science concepts by comparing them to the decidedly different physical laws of the Discworld series. (****)
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Psychics and Fortune Telling

February 14, 2005

Global Consciousness Project reveals human foolishness

It's hard to know which category to place this one in -- it's a little bit ESP, a little bit fortune telling, and a whole lot of pseudoscience.

The Global Consciousness Project apparently is trying to use random number generators to detect changes in the the "global consciousness" of the population of the planet. They claim that, when a big event happens, such as the funeral of Princess Diana, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the December 26 tsunami, that they observe changes in the pattern of randomly generated zeros and ones.

In the original Star Wars, Obi Wan Kenobi felt a great disturbance in the Force -- these guys claim to be doing so in real life. Better yet, they claim to be doing so before the event happens. For example, they claim that the pattern of numbers generated changed before the first of the 9/11 attacks, as well as before the tsunami hit.

Anyone else suspect they know what's going on here? Various scientists claim to be baffled, so maybe I can help them out. Here's what's probably happening -- humans are being human. You see a spike in the numbers, you scan the news headlines to look for some big event. If you find something, then you can say that the spike you saw detected it. If you don't see anything, wait a bit and check again. Then when you find something, you can say that the spike you saw predicted it. From the other direction, if something big happens in the news, go back and look at your numbers. If you see a spike, bravo! If you don't, look farther back in time. Found one? It was a prediction! (Oh, and if you don't find a spike in the numbers, but instead find a trough, that's okay -- that counts, too.) Didn't find anything at the time of the event or before the event? Don't give up yet! Try looking after the event -- it probably had some sort of psychic impact on the population of the planet for some time after the fact.

Finally, if you weren't able to find a correlation before, during, or after the event, just chalk it up as "one of those things" -- no need to consider it as evidence against the truth of your theory.

The standard of evidence on this appears to be very low. For example, some of the events that their machine "detected" or "predicted" include Mark McGwire's homerun record, the finale of Survivor, and Oprah Winfrey visiting Africa. World-shaking events? Really? Hmm....

So this is the kind of research they're doing at Princeton these days, huh?

Link: RedNova News - Can This Black Box See Into the Future?.
Link: Global Consciousness Project

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September 23, 1998

Results of $1,000 Challenge of Virginia Levy

Results of $1,000 Challenge of Virginia Levy
The Tampa Bay Skeptics tested Titusville "psychic/prophet" Virginia Levy for their "$1,000 Challenge" on Saturday. Anyone care to guess what the results were? Well, why guess -- just follow the link and read about it.

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September 08, 1998

Channel 9 Does it Again

Channel 9 Does it Again
This is the first of three new items from the Australian Skeptics. They have posted a new article by Barry Williams, who describes his presence at the taping of the TV show Prophecies and Predictions. Says Barry, "Having spent 3 hours last year being taped talking about these 'predictions,' I optimistically expected I might get 30 seconds on air. As it happens that was wildly optimistic - I didn't get onto the screen at all."

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July 18, 1998

Psychic Greta Alexander Has Died

Psychic Greta Alexander Has Died
Today's edition of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois carries a Copley News Service article reporting that self-proclaimed psychic Greta Alexander died yesterday in Hopedale Hospital in Delavan, Illinois.

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June 29, 1998

A&E's "The Unexplained" Repeats "Psychic Detectives" Episode

A&E's The Unexplained Repeats "Psychic Detectives" Episode
CSICOP reports on their web site that A&E's The Unexplained repeated their "psychic detectives" episode this weekend. The program was originally shown in January 1997. Joe Nickell of CSICOP and Gary Posner of the Tampa Bay Skeptics were both included in the episode.

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Who's Who

  • Joe McFaul
    Business Litigation (and litigation avoidance) on behalf of businesses and their insurance carriers
  • Eugenie Scott
    Director of NCSE
  • Paul Kurtz
    Founder of CSICOP
  • Michael Shermer
    Founder of Skeptics Society
  • James Randi
    Debunked Uri Geller; founded JREF; offers $1M to anyone who can prove any paranormal ability.

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