Quotes Roundup- Fall- Winter 2010

Anatole France:

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.


Reality has been around since long before you showed up. Don’t go calling it nasty names like “bizarre” or “incredible”. The universe was propagating complex amplitudes through configuration space for ten billion years before life ever emerged on Earth. Quantum physics is not “weird”. You are weird.

Steven Novella:

Questioning our own motives, and our own process, is critical to a skeptical and scientific outlook. We must realize that the default mode of human psychology is to grab onto comforting beliefs for purely emotional reasons, and then justify those beliefs to ourselves with post-hoc rationalizations. It takes effort to rise above this tendency, to step back from our beliefs and our emotional connection to conclusions and focus on the process. The process (i.e science, logic, and intellectual rigor) has to be more important than the belief.

Arthur C. Clarke:

Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.

Carl Sagan:

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.


Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.

Goethe, 18th/19th-century German poet, novelist, playwright and philosopher:
You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

Thomas Paine:

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.

Martin Gardner:

Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals – the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.

Randall Monroe (Author XKCD):

You don’t use science to show you’re right, you use science to become right.

Mark Twain

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Bertrand Russell

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

From Sara Robinson, explaining perfectly the entire reason for the faux controversy over the “ground zero mosque”:

Conservatives can do without a god, but they can’t get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who’s out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they’ll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up).

Sir Winston Churchill:

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

William Osler:

One special advantage of the skeptical attitude of mind is that a man is never vexed to find that after all he has been in the wrong.

Fred Brooks:

You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you’re forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality.


The best substitute for brains is silence.

John Cleese:

The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.

kim hebert:

homeopathy is like paying to watch your body heal itself.

Samuel Butler

The man who lets himself be bored is even more contemptible than the bore.

PZ Myers, on burying his bible:

And so I have. I have treated my copies of the Koran and the Bible with greater respect than they deserve.

Right now, the pages swell with moisture, the fibers separate and the chapters turn into pulpy masses. Bacteria bloom and their colonies expand; fungi flourish and their hyphae infiltrate and convert cellulose into spores. The ink runs as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms. The roots of flowers and grasses will fumble downwards to embrace the decaying leaves, and the roots of trees will impale the volumes laterally. Given only a little time, the madness will be reduced to compost.

At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value. And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free.

J.B.S. Haldane:

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.


Multi-Level Marketing

today i was doing some research on Multi-Level-Marketing companies (e.g. MonaVie, Noni, Isagenix, NutraSkin, etc.).  living in utah county, (the most MLM-dense county in the USA) we’ve all been presented with MLM pitches- and we may have even signed up for some.  last year i met an older couple who had made tons of money in Vegas through a MLM they had done in the past.  The secret, they told me, was that the company marketed them as their golden couple and stuck dozens and dozens of people below them in their “down line” so everyone could see an exemplar of success.  they were very up front when they told me that they could not recreate those same earnings when they tried to do it on their own, after the successful MLM went bankrupt (as most do).  they even knew all the tricks of the trade and had experience- but it went nowhere when their only potential down line suddenly shrunk to the small number of friends and family they personally knew.

Note:  please use caution when sharing anything with someone who is involved in a MLM.  they very much act like “true believers” in the sense that they have faith in the potential of their MLM, are motivated more by feelings/personal testimony rather than hard evidence, and may take criticism very personally.  so proceed w/ caution when sharing with others- or don’t share at all.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by requiring “independent” distributors to sell at the low price) and making exaggerated income claims.[16]

The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as “pyramiding”.[10] In April 2006, it proposed a Business Opportunity Rule intended to require all sellers of business opportunities—including MLMs—to provide enough information to enable prospective buyers to make an informed decision about their probability of earning money.

Another criticism of MLMs is that “MLM organizations have been described by some as cults (Butterfield, 1985), pyramid schemes (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997), or organizations rife with misleading, deceptive, and unethical behavior (Carter, 1999), such as the questionable use of evangelical discourse to promote the business (Hopfl & Maddrell, 1996), and the exploitation of personal relationships for financial gain (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997).” [18]

MLM’s are also criticized for being unable to fulfill their promises for the majority of participants due to basic conflicts with Western culture.[19] There are even claims that the success rate for breaking even or even making money are far worse than other types of businesses:[20][21][22] “The vast majority of MLM’s are recruiting MLM’s, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLM’s is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company.”[20] In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further “recruit people to compete with [them]”[23] leads to “market saturation.”[24]

Similar claims regarding profits have been stated by The Times (“The Government investigation claims to have revealed that just 10 per cent of Amway’s agents in Britain make any profit, with less than one in ten selling a single item of the group’s products.”[25]), high level “Emerald” Amway member Scheibeler (“UK Justice Norris found in 2008 that out of an IBO [Independent Business Owners] population of 33,000, ‘only about 90 made sufficient incomes to cover the costs of actively building their business.’ That’s a 99.7 percent loss rate for investors.” [26](case referred to is BERR vs Amway (Case No: 2651, 2652 and 2653 of 2007) which does list this as one of the points of objectionability: “c) because of the requirement that an IBO pay a joining and renewal fee and the likelihood that an IBO would purchase BSM there was a certainty that the Amway business would cause a loss to a large number of people (to the extent that out of an IBO population which exceeded 33,000 only building their business).”) and Newsweek (where it is stated based on MonaVie’s own 2007 income disclosure statement “fewer than 1 percent qualified for commissions and of those, only 10 percent made more than $100 a week.)[27]

hope this might help in some way!

Lie to Me- Skeptics’ Take

i’m sure the skeptical/scientific community will add much more insight into the TV show “Lie to Me”, until then, here is what i was able to find in my short research (the following is in the format of a conversation between me my friend Keldwud):

some info on the show:

some people can tell when people are lying slightly better than others:



women are supposedly better than men at detecting lies in one’s face.  the information in those links still doesn’t show that the guy’s abilities in the movie can be seen as science-based, but it may be possible to some degree.  remember, though, that polygraphs are not based on science and can be fooled.


hope that helps!  as i get more info about that from the skeptic community i’ll share it with you.

he replied, and i then replied to his comments (see how hard this is to follow so far?  well i don’t have the time to edit it- i’m already spending precious saturday night time so deal with good luck with the format  🙂 :

On Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 10:09 PM, KELDWUD> wrote:

Thanks for the links 🙂
Yeah, I was figuring they were basing a lot of it off of real studies
but the way they were spinning it made me wonder what parts of it
*weren’t* real. A lot of it is plausible and then they make a good
case by showing famous people with the same expressions as proof that
they are all experiencing the same emotion.

yes, and as you and i both suspect they may be committing a post-hoc fallacy where you have lots of data (lots of pictures of faces) and you match these faces with what you’re looking for to support your theory.  many celebrity faces are shown in one scene’s example (some 20 or so i think) but how many thousands of pictures of celebrities lying were not shown?  it sounds too much like quote-mining Nostradamus in order to get an ambiguous quote that sounded like he predicted 9/11 or something else after the fact.  the book The Bible Code commits this fallacy as well:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lk3VgQgxiqE

…The only thing that it is missing is when people show those
expressions and they *don’t* mean what the others are feeling when
they show those expressions.

Wondering how effective his technique is in real world scenarios and I
am betting that his technique would produce valid hits more often than

What do you think?

this is another very good point as to why even when someone may be generally better at telling when someone is lying, they will not be able to read many people who react differently when they lie.  at best, i think someone may be good at telling if people are lying if they are already familiar with the person (like in a family/friendship), or if they are women (like i said, it’s been shown that they are slightly better than males at detecting deception.from Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil, page 176 (emphasis mine):

To the extent that lie detection through the observation of body language and facial expressions is accurate (overall not very), women are better at it than men because they are more intuitively sensitive to subtle cues.  in experiments in which subjects observe someone either truth telling or lying, although no one is consistently correct in identifying the liar, women are correct significantly more often than men [source: Myers, David G. Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, p. 119].  […] People who are highly skilled in identifying “micromomentary” facial expressions are also more accurate in judging lying.  In testing such professionals as psychiatrist, polygraphists, court judges, police officers, and secret service agents on their ability to detect lies, only secret service agents trained to look for subtle cues scored above chance.  Most of us are not good at lie detection because we rely too heavily on what people say rather than on what they do.  Subjects with damage to the brain that renders them less attentive to speech are more accurate at detecting lies, such as aphasic stroke victims who were able to identify liars 73 percent of the time when focusing on facial expressions (normal subjects did no better than chance).

I think it’s kind of a mixed bag, but one thing i think must be on the bullshit side are the cute little face gestures he teaches as being indicators of dishonesty.  this black/white methodology sounds to simple to be true, too learnable that it would easily taught and widely used today in all of the professions listed above.  it seems that the aphasic stroke victims most likely used intuition and nothing that could be listed or depicted in a textbook (ie “this curl of the lip here suggests…”).

FWIW, that’s the info i could come up with so far… hope it helps someone else out in pointing them in the right direction.  good luck!  if you’re from San Fransisco, you can attend this on the subject as well:  http://www.psychologicalscience.org/convention/program_2009/search/viewProgram.cfm?Abstract_ID=15583

safran vs. exorcist- true or false?

hopefully you’ve checked out all of the safran vs. god episodes (all 8 of them).  they’re great!  lots of laughs and religious skepticism.  but the last episode, safran actually gets possessed.  it’s a trip to watch and safran has never cleared up what happened.  he actually believes it may have been real, as do his camera crew.  watch the video:

so what happened? well i think i’ve figured out something plausible… first of all, this is most likely just hypnotism, or in other words a mutually agreed upon play between the exorciser and the “possessed”. in order for suggestive hypnotism to work, the receiver must be highly or moderately suggestible. i believe safran is quite suggestible: in watching all 8 episodes of safran vs. god you see safran being OPEN to new religions and worldviews. although he maintains a skeptical outlook during his experiences, he DOES want to experience “the spiritual” through drinking peyote all night, and in another episode says “i hope i really do get possessed tonight” while attending a Voodoo ceremony and seeing others dance and writhe on the ground. Clearly he was open, susceptible and suggestible. as far as i’ve read, any interviews after this video took place show safran actually believing what happened was real.*

in addition to safran’s suggestive demeanor, he gives himself over to the services of an extremely professional, intimidating and psychological bully. this seasoned mindfucker plays on safran’s fragile feelings of guilt and filthiness**, while feeding him fear of satan and christ. add to this how scary it would be to be commanded to keep looking into this crazy dudes eyes as he slaps you around with a bible and your done. i felt intimidated, threatened and scared just watching this, imagine now if someone controls not only what you are seeing, and thinking, but also controls your body movement by holding you down? your mind can freak out and will play along if the exorciser paints the hallucionoginic picture well enough.

any other thoughts/explanations?


*although not accepting any particular theology over another.
**remember the catholic father episode where he repents?

Jon Haidt And “The Happiness Hypothesis”

It is important to note that we are often far more capable of changing the basic conditions of our lives than we believe. THH sheds light on why we tend to unnecessarily stay in unhappiness producing circumstances.[7] On the other hand, the massive effort required to drag oneself from the middle class into the super wealthy category or achieve other significant social status markers, appears to pay negligible happiness dividends unless the process by which these symbols are obtained is itself enjoyable. That is, happiness is about the journey. Those who endure the journey in hope that the destination will pay off are almost invariably frustrated. And continuously arriving at seemingly desirable destinations (buying as opposed to earning, for example) is ironically depressing. Many major life events, such as moving to the climate that seems most desirable, winning the lottery, or becoming a paraplegic have surprisingly small happiness effects.

Today we effortlessly obtain more than any prior generation dreamed possible and are faced with a supreme irony – we have reached the Nirvana toward which our ancestors climbed, and it turns to dust as we grasp it.

Review by Bob McCue below. Highlights/bold by me. Continue reading

Political Correctness, Vulgarity, South Park, etc.

bugboy’s comment (see previous post):

If similar generalizations were made about another race here it would be considered a racist site. Imagine “Stuff Black People Like”, followed by a bunch of idiotic plaitudes and the like. Cool?

that’s true, bugboy. and yes, i think there’s so many things that are messed up in our culture. me personally, i think there’s a happy medium in being politically correct. It can actually be progressive in some senses but so many things are taken too far. Continue reading