Category Archives: Skeptic

Male Subcultures vs Women

A post at Booklubbers highlights something that’s been really bothering me lately in the skepticism “movement”: the unbelievable amount of misogyny bubbling, barely hidden, below the surface. Various events have been covered elsewhere; see most recently all the stuff with TAM and DJ Grothe and Rebecca Watson – honestly, there’s way too much of it.

In the Booklubbers post, we are reminded that this is, unfortunately, not unique to skepticism. Shannon talks about it in the context of video games and in comedy, but it seems like these are all instances of something broader. Anecdotally: think back to the “what are you doing, the Archies are over there lady” mentality you can still find in the dank backs of some comic book stores. In the world of comic books, the hypersexualization of women is so “normal” that nothing seems to be able to stop it (and note also that the way men are represented in comics is -completely- different from how women are represented, though still sexualized) – (a good run-down is here). It probably has to do with the dearth of women who are penciling art – and the surplus of guys who like to draw buxom superheroines. Similar prejudices may account for the “boy’s clubs” of magicians or technical academic subjects, where the lack of a feminist viewpoint isn’t as apparent, but the major inequality in gender frequencies certainly is.

In any case, I wonder: Is this vitriol towards women something that arises out of male-dominated subcultures? Or is it something endemic to society, and the various instances arise out of a more general cultural malaise?

Whatever it is, I think the internet has helped amplify it. Look at the response to Anita Sarkeesian. Look at the how the atheism subreddit talks about Rebecca Watson, and the comments under any YouTube video with a woman in it, and the black pit that is /b/.

Something is broken somewhere.

What do you think?

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POV Redux

A post I made in September of last year, in which I discuss a flyer I saw for something called “Psychology of Vision” has a very active commentary going on right now.  Do have a look!

Something the commenters may not be aware of is that I made a followup post after Julian Edward, the Spezzano’s online publisher, had a chat with me on Twitter.  It bears another look, but the important part is that he just about admits that it’s not based on evidence, to the point of saying

I’d say that a good half of people who attend the groups think it’s nonsense too but they use the tools and love it for that.

even Chuck himself says that his Psychology if a hoax. But he’s not interested in people believing it. Only in the results.

That cinches it for me – there’s nothing to POV, even if it is harmless (and whether it is depends on if you think spending money on something that isn’t what it pretends to be is a waste).  The exhortations in the comments that people need to try it for themselves before judging may sound legitimate on the face of it, but what would result?  People would spend money on something that at best only has anecdotal evidence supporting it, and at worst is an admitted fraud.  The people who -do- try it merely end up either thinking it was a waste of money, or providing more anecdotal evidence!  Based on my examination of the website, I concluded that it wasn’t based on evidence, and my chat with Julian Edward confirmed it for me.  However, one more thing really tips the balance towards BS:

The major issue I take with POV and other such products/workshops/etc is the use of scientific terminology to sell something entirely unrelated to the proper, accepted use of that terminology.  This is a massively popular tactic used to legitimize otherwise unimpressive and possibly useless products.  See Deepak Chopra hawking quantum consciousness, for example – or really, any random beauty product sold in TV commercials.  I -study- the psychology of vision.  When I see those words being used to encourage people to pay for something that the -publisher- doesn’t think works, I get crazy irritated.

I feel the need to do something about this practice, so I promote science literacy and explain to people what psychology really is, and do what I can to teach people to think critically about these kinds of claims.  I don’t have the time, money, or other resources to prove they’re fraudulent or report them to the police or a consumer advocate.  I don’t get mad enough tear down the posters or vandalize them, like I did with psychic ads when I was in my first year of university.  I will, however, scan ads I see around town and tell people what I think about them based on what I know about science and skepticism – and sometimes, I don’t need to pay for it and try it myself to find out that it doesn’t work.

That’s all I have to say about POV.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Vancouver Skepticamp Schedule

Radio Freethinker is giving a talk at Vancouver Skepticamp on March 20th – that’s THIS SATURDAY!  Come on out and be the candle in the dark!

Because I wasn’t able to find it on their website, here’s the rough schedule of speakers and talks (taken straight from the email they sent to speakers).

“This will be flexible, and may change somewhat. But it will give you an idea of what time you will be up.”

10:00 AM

Announcements

Fred Bremmer A demonstration of Charpentier’s Illusion

Ian Bushfield 13.7 billion years in 90 seconds (or The Evidence of the Big Bang)

11:00 AM

Dr. Steve Wiseman No Pleasure Cruise: The Troubled Relationship between Psychiatry and the Church of Scientology

Brian Lynchehaun Edge Contrast and You

12:00 PM

Ginger Switzer Secrets of the Language Code

Greg Bole Defending Darwin

Lars Martin Introduction to the Theory of Relativity

1:00 PM

Lunch

2:00 PM

Shannon Rupp Rational Journalism

Matthew Linsdell Personal Training and Woo

3:00 PM

Radio Freethinker Radio Freethinker

Jaymie Matthews Who Needs Paranormal?

4:00 PM

James Bernath Private programs for “going into space”.

Jacob Vohs Myths about Child Abuse

5:00 PM

Gerry Armstrong Scientology

Yves van Gennip The Role of Mathematics in Science and Skepticism

Fred Bremmer Charpentier’s Illusion

A Conversation re: POV

I spend some time each day reading through RSS feeds for news and studies about skepticism and psychology, and the stuff I find most interesting gets linked on my twitter (generally with a quick comment regarding the content).  Somehow this has acquired a modest audience, and occasionally someone comments.  I recieved just such a comment recently:

JulianEdward @RobMagus intrestin’ links thx. I’m a skeptic too & tired of ‘New Age’ claims to find support in scientific research. Faith is not Science.

Now, on the face of it I agree – quite a lot of BS uses scientific language and misquoted research to put on an air of respectablitiy.  However, I’ve never met a skeptic who capitalizes both faith and science.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked on this guy’s profile link to see just what kind of skeptic he is.  That blog’s just a national geographic picture posted every few days, but the blogroll has a link to his personal domain.  It appears that Julian is the publisher of some “spiritual healing” authors, including Chuck and Lency Spezzano.  Yep, those guys hawking the “Psychology of Vision” nonsense I talked about in the previous post.

So, what’s the publisher of the people I just blogged about doing calling himself a skeptic and DMing me out of the blue on twitter?  I decided I’d ask him, and what follows is the conversation that ensued.  I tried to explain a little about the skeptical viewpoint and figure out why he’s supporting POV, and it pretty much speaks for itself from here on in:

RobMagus @JulianEdward glad you enjoy the stories I link! a question, tho: if you’re a skeptic, why do you appear to promote POV?

JulianEdward @RobMagus I DO promote POV. It’s because I’ve seen it really help people – so many. In First Nations, China, Japan, Germany, UK

It suits First Nations because of it’s based on Spirit, Family, Self. It’s psycho-babble – but useful babble.

I’ve turned to Skepticism because so many ‘New Age’ whackies are pointing to ‘Scientific research’ supports this or that..

INCLUDING the two friends – Chuck & Lency – I’m publishing on the internet. Can they really believe that science can prove God?

Or disprove God. So what is Dawkins going on about? I suppose I should read his book.

RobMagus @JulianEdward well, one of the ideas behind skepticism is that anecdotal evidence isn’t generally to be trusted. recently I checked out…

the POV website and it makes a lot of claims that are pretty vague. it struck me as nothing more than a money-making scheme.

as far as science proving god’s existence – well, I don’t know of any scientists who claim that. certainly not Dawkins.

JulianEdward @RobMagus no, no – not Scientists – “new agers” – lots of them believe a flaky version of “Quantum Theory” validates their beliefs

certainly not Dawkins. I did read one of his books a long time ago. Must update!

hahaha! make money it does not! That’s why I’ve recently decided to help out Chuck and Lency with what little I know of NET

yes – the POV website is well – don’t know what to say. Or about POV itself. I’m just helping out Chuck and Lency themselves.

bottom-line yes POV somehow encourages people to spend money  and that’s bad. Weird they’re all so broke all the time 😉

RobMagus @JulianEdward ah, like the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” yes, that’s probably wrong. but you think that non-scientific theories work?..

to me POV sounds like total BS – not only that, but it’s coopting a legitimate field of study – MY field – for it’s name.

JulianEdward @RobMagus yes – especially thing like changing inner beliefs which are reflected in illness and unhappiness. NLP – those kind of tools.

RobMagus @JulianEdward see, NLP is another thing that is probably mostly BS – and the parts that DO work are probably well-known things in disguise

I guess that I don’t think anything’s outside of scientific study, and I’d hesitate to support things that assume otherwise.

JulianEdward @RobMagus no, no  – they mean Spiritual Vision (not the capitalization) – not about eyes. A very silly name. But for a helpful thing.

yes – I’d be a lot happier if they’d kept some records other than anecdotal. Also I’m not sure bout standard of “training” in POV

agree with that – NLP is another closed psycho-babble world

but as Darren Brown and others know – it does have its uses!

RobMagus @JulianEdward I just get annoyed when bunk is dressed up with scientific terminology. so if you don’t think it’s real – why support it?..

why not ask the Spezzanos for evidence, or fund research?

JulianEdward @RobMagus oh – because it really does help people. really. Especially when it comes to relationships and family stuff.

the fact that it’s an unreal model makes no difference to me. Our world is full of illusory models and fake theories. Politics e.g

I’d say that a good half of people who attend the groups think it’s nonsense too but they use the tools and love it for that.

even Chuck himself says that his Psychology if a hoax. But he’s not interested in people believing it. Only in the results.

bottom-line yes POV sometimes lets people to spend money they do not have & that’s bad. Weird they’re all so broke all the time 😉

there – I noted that at the time. The rest is just me JulianEdward – friend of Chuck and Lency and their NET Publisher

I absolutely do not support or endorse POV as whatever it is at the moment. Just Chuck’s motto “Friends Helping Friends”

funnily enough I am starting to gather some stuff – but funding?? don’t make me laugh.

and just to be really clear – for me – publishing Chuck and Lency on the NET is a business proposition.

RobMagus @JulianEdward thanks for the chat! I have much to think about now..

This is posted with Julian’s permission, by the way!  I edited out some bits here and there about my own research that weren’t relevant to skepticism and the business of POV.  And it pretty clear that POV is a business – I talked last week about how the website has a lot of materials for sale.  Here, Julian pretty much admits outright that there’s no science involved, and that the spiritual trappings are there to help it sell.  Who knows if Chuck actually said POV’s a hoax – I get the feeling that Julian is paraphrasing him – but it seems obvious enough that everyone involved is there to make money, and NOT to be truthful about the nature of POV.

Now, there is some meaty stuff for our brains to chew on in the last part, where Julian notes that “Our world is full of illusory models and fake theories”.  Some philosophers of science contend that there is, in fact, no objective reality and that science is all about building models that fit with empirical observations.  That’s it – no underlying source, just model-making to fit what we’ve seen.  This may or may not be correct – I’m still not entirely comfortable with anti-realism.  I concede that every theory we come up with may well be merely a model that facilitates some result.  The important part, though, is fitting the model to evidence – and I don’t see any compelling evidence for POV, or NLP, or any of the other myriad BS theories you see ads for around Vancouver.  Those theories simply drive “business propositions”.

Bad Ads: Psychology of Vision and Light Healing Therapy

I see a lot of flyers around Kitsilano and Vancouver for a lot of bullshit, so there’s no shortage of Bad Ads to talk about.  I’ll try to make it a weekly thing.  Anyways, have a look at this one:

lightTherapy

Given that I know a thing or two about the psychology of vision, my BS detector went off when I saw it being used among words like “divine” and “healing”.  I checked out the “Psychology of Vision” website first.

It’s pretty slick looking: lots of pictures of starry skies and smiling people and stuff that sounds like “Psychology of Vision is both a healing model and a global community of like-minded people teaching and practising that model”.  The also have several mentions of their seminars and products, including online courses for 45 pounds each.  I suppose there’s no harm in making money while helping people heal with your magical model, eh?

Nowhere on the site was there anything to do with what I, or any other actual psychologist, would understand as the psychology of vision.  Instead, they talk about how your life will be improved, how the community is loving, and how it’s based on the principles of Relationships, Leadership and Spirituality.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds kind of cultish to me!

The creators of POV are Chuck and Lency Spezzano.  I quote from Chuck’s bio: “Chuck shares wisdom and insight into the mysteries of the mind using psychological/spiritual language and metaphor. He has authored over 20 books and card decks that have been published in numerous languages worldwide”.  Yeah, card decks – the website sells them, and actually has a link to a 3 card tarot reading (though they obscure that under the guise of using “synchronicity” to “reveal deep insights”).  Anyways, “Chuck has a B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology from Duquesne University followed by a Masters in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the United States International University.”  Duquesne is a private, Catholic institution in Pittsburgh, and USIU is actually in Africa – neither is particularly well known for their psychology programs, or indeed rigorous adherence to the scientific method.  Lency’s bio is even better: “Lency is pioneering Psychology of Vision’s mystical path through her joining method, which utilizes the feminine, direct access to divine love, resulting in the release of emotional pain from the body/mind and the experience of miracles of forgiveness and grace.” That’s a masterful load of crap if I’ve ever read one.

The point is, neither of these people have anything whatsoever to do with the actual psychology of vision, and the whole website appears to be designed to funnel money into the Spezzano’s bank accounts using cleverly dressed up tarot cards and crappy seminars.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a touch of pyramid scheme to the whole deal, given that they train people to be trainers (the seminar in Vancouver is being put on by some local named Kiara Fine) and harp on about community and leadership.  When the trappings of real science and research are appropriated for this kind of purpose, it further obscures to the public what science is actually about and also bilks people out of their money- and that really riles me.

Kiara also adds a doozy of her own: light healing therapy.  It sounds like yet another version of “this method/machine will change something, magically, in your brain and make you better, no matter what the problem is” – supposedly rewiring your nervous system so that you can “experience your connection to the Divine”.  Sure, there’s ways to rewire synapses in the brain – but it takes a long time, and light isn’t going to be the agent that does it.

The final nail in the coffin?  The link at the bottom to the West Coast Reiki Centre.  Kiara is a member of that group, and according to her bio, “has studied extensively” with masters of theraputic touch, craniosacral therapy, the trager method, and is an inductee of “reiki I and II”.  That is a very large amount of total bullshit that has been debunked repeatedly, and a good reason to toss these flyers in the garbage wherever you see them.

EDIT: Is it just me, or do some of the comments seem like sock puppets?

Down With “Down With Darwin Day” Day!

A friend of mine who’s a student at UFV sent in this picture:

It’s a bit blurry, but you can make out the important bits. Basically, the University of the Fraser Valley is hosting an all-day event at which you can apparently read “dozens of free articles demonstrating weaknesses in evolution theory”. Many of them are even from standard scientific journals! Oh boy!

This lack of reliable sources is advertised proudly, when really it’s a massive clue that they’ve got nothing to support their anti-evolutionary worldview. I doubt any of the articles are from respected, peer-reviewed biology journals. Considering that it’s sponsored by the “Creation Science Association of BC”, there’s likely no science there at all – just religious dogma. Look, they’re bringing “flood-formed fossils”!

I Googled the host, Richard Peachy. Here’s the only bio I could find:

Richard Peachey is a public school science teacher with a background in biology and chemistry. He finds himself in agreement with T. H. Huxley and E. O. Wilson, both of whom dismissed the logical possibility of believing evolution and the Bible at the same time. Formerly a friend of the prevailing evolutionary worldview, he now takes his stand with the Bible, and with Jesus Christ, who taught concerning humankind, “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female.”

That’s from the Science Creative Quarterly out of UBC SFU: where Peachey’s last (and only) contribution was in the first issue in 2005. The article tries to debunk evolution by examining that old story about giraffes evolving long necks because it allowed them to reach high branches. Peachey himself notes that this theory isn’t really put forth by anyone, citing Stephen Jay Gould and even Darwin, but he goes on anyway. Unfortunately, the rest of the article is just long quotes from “Of Pandas And People” and a paper from the journal “Creation”.

That’s right, the bulk of his writing is word-for-word taken from a textbook about “intelligent design” (that was proved at a trial in Dover, Pennsylvania to be an attempt to smuggle religion into science class !), and from a journal that is explicitly about creationism!

If those are the kinds of articles availaible at Down With Darwin Day, it’s pretty clear that the only reason they’re against evolution is because they’re creationists – not because the theory has “weaknesses” that have been determined by actual scientists. This guy teaches biology in public school! Some first science grad, UFV! Note the asterisk at the bottom of the poster. It’s blurry, but it reads “the views presented at this event are those of the displayer and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by the University of the Fraser Valley”. Did UFV force them to add that? Maybe they don’t agree that Peachey graduated.

Radio Freethinker may show up to see for themselves, but I doubt any intelligent person will be fooled. The Creation Science Association of BC is trying to hoodwink UFV students by pretending they’re being scientific, when actually they’re just dragging out the same old bullshit.