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Free Thinking

Published: 2018-03-23T13:49:48+00:00


Egregiously Sloppy


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   McDonald’s—yes, McDonald’s—declares it has committed to what they call a science-based plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by one third by 2030, and this includes its suppliers. They say that they are the first restaurant company to do something like this. Meanwhile, the cities of Oakland and San Francisco are suing the five big oil companies for damages for their role in screwing up the planet. These giant corporations have been unable to get the case dismissed. FiveThirtyEight‘s Anna Maria Barry-Jester reports from the courtroom.  “Egregiously sloppy.” “Religious overtones.” “Fabricated.” “[A] pattern of ethically and morally questionable behavior.” “Scientific misconduct and an extreme religious agenda.” These are words and phrases attributed to the new head of the CDC, Robert Redfield. I think I’m coming down with something. The voters of Alabama will decide this November whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed on state property. Will there be an option on the ballot for “What, are you f***ing kidding me?” Earlier this month, the director of CFI’s west coast empire operation, Jim Underdown, attended a conference for California’s interfaith community hosted by Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes. He was kind enough to supply the text of his remarks, which include: I guess what I’m here to say is, we’re not your enemies. I have devoutly religious friends and family that I love and would do anything for—and they for me. We’re your neighbors and friends and co-workers and family members. The vast majority of us of us obey the law, pay our taxes, and care about our fellow human beings as much as any religious person does. We care about our communities and our country, and we want to participate in the work that will make our neighborhoods, our states, and our country good places to live. But we can’t work together until all of us are included.  Andreea Nica at Religion Dispatches speaks to people who made the difficult transition out of fundamentalist religion, the subset of the “nones” a new study is referring to as “exiters.”  Have you seen the pictures of that tiny “alien skeleton”? It’s not an alien (surprise, surprise), but a human child who lived with an unfortunate combination of genetic mutations.  Do you know who Kim Wilde is? You’d probably have to be my age or a little older to remember the song “Kids in America.” Anyway, she’s apparently having some sort of comeback after she got a lot of YouTube views for a video of her drunkenly singing that song on a subway, wearing antlers, with a guy playing guitar. Why the hell am I talking about this? Because her new album is called Here Come the Aliens, inspired by what Wilde says was a real alien spacecraft she saw. “Maybe they’ll save us from the apocalypse,” she says. THAT’S IT. Go about your business. Quote of the Day This headline from The Guardian, all by itself: Bulgarians rush to save a phalanx of distressed, frozen storks  Bulgarians? Phalanx? Distressed, frozen storks??? I am going to be repeating this to myself all day. Might have to make a song out of it. Oh, and, you know, good job, Bulgarians.  * * * 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. Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)! News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances are to be [...]

Conduct Me, Zeus


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years.” So says religion and sociology professor Stephen Bullivant about the demographic situation in Europe, where in the Czech Republic, for example, 91% percent of people between 16 and 29 have no religious affiliation. The number is 70% for the UK.  Yesterday the Navy rejected the application of Jason Heap to be the first humanist chaplain in the service, possibly spurred by the nasty letter send by 23 GOP senators asking the Navy to reject the concept outright. We were not pleased. Our own Jason Lemieux: To ban secular humanists from the Chaplain Corps is cruel and disrespectful to the growing share of nonreligious Americans who serve our country, and who rely on their chaplain for aid and comfort without regard for their nonbelief. It also shows contempt for the First Amendment principle that the government shall neither favor one religion over another, nor religions over the absence of religion. Tennessee’s legislature overwhelmingly passes a bill requiring public schools to prominently display “In God We Trust.” This should solve all of that state’s problems. Once again, the Johnson Amendment survives an attempt at repeal as the new omnibus spending bill ditches the sneaky provision that would have barred the IRS from enforcing the law. In Skeptical Inquirer, Harriet Hall reviews Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. New York Magazine puts together a big compilation of “reasons to believe” in the possibility of aliens and UFOs, which seems mainly to rest on the assumption that because a number of important people seem to take it all very seriously, then it merits seriousness. And this gets lumped in with sincere, scientific attempts to make contact with or detect the existence of extraterrestrial intelligences. In India, Rajveer Upadhyay tried to have his name formally changed to RV155677820 in order to not have to identify himself by his religion and caste. India said ‘nope.’  The California woman who sued the state to get the government to acknowledge the existence of Bigfoot has asked the court dismiss her case, which they did. This is not because she thinks she was wrong. No, she’s starting over to build a better case.  R. Jared Staudt at The National Catholic Register wants you to understand that religious opposition to abortion is not a religious issue. What? His thinking is that because science has now determined when life begins (not true), it is reason, not faith, that demands opposition to abortion. Faith is like the magic force that makes you motivated to stop abortions, like Pac-Man eating a power pellet or something.  This sounds really cool. Nick Sagan and Anne Serling, offspring of Carl Sagan and Rod Serling, are doing a joint event to discuss their dads’ legacies and how they overlap.  Paramount Collegiate Academy, a charter school in California, closes shop suddenly due to bankruptcy, leaving parents wondering what the hell they’re supposed to do. Quote of the Day You ever read any Epictetus? He’s fun. From The Enchiridion: Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny, Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot. I follow cheerfully; and, did I not, Wicked and wretched, I must follow still. I feel you.  * * * 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. Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)! News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstanc[...]

Obviously a Fantastic Bloke


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   Despite itself, the Republican Party of Illinois sort-of-accidentally nominates Holocaust-denier/white supremacist/wearer-of-hats-that-are-too-small-for-his-head, Arthur Jones, to be their candidate for the U.S. House in Illinois’ Third District. Jones was the only candidate in the primary, and the GOP is disavowing him.  I forgot to put this in yesterday’s Heresy! We’re telling CBS to make amends for a remarkably terrible and astoundingly credulous Sunday Morning segment on ESP and the alleged “secret” programs of the CIA (they weren’t secret, we all knew). Joe Nickell, on his blog, focuses on one of the claims in the piece, that of self-proclaimed psychic Angela Ford. The Economist points out that our likely next Secretary of State, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, is “a zealous, evangelical Christian accused of Islamophobia.” Cool. Cool. It’ll be fine.   A member of DC’s city council, Trayon White Sr., blames Jewish bankers for the recent winter storms. I can’t even.  Google announces the Google News Initiative, through which the company will invest $300 million over three years to elevate quality (non-fake) journalism and help news outlets who are making that quaslity journalism not die out.  This is troubling on several levels: In Scotland, a guy is convicted of a hate crime for posting a video in which he gets a dog to give a Nazi salute, and he adds (he says as a joke) “sieg heil” and “gas the Jews.” The dude in question, Mark Meechan, said (and you must read this with a Scottish accent), “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.” A weird, dead sea creature-thing washes up on the beach in Georgia, and it might be a decapitated frilled shark, no one seems to know for sure.  According to local legend, the creature could be Altamaha-ha. “The legend is similar to the Loch Ness monster in its description of a snake-like beast,” [Georgia official Jason] Lee said. “It goes in and out of the murky waters, popping up here and there.”  The guy who used to be the head of the Missionary Training Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints admits to molesting one of the women under his purview in Provo, Utah, along with confessing to a “sexual addiction” and a long history of misconduct.  A church in Michigan is taking advantage of the fact that Easter falls on April 1 this year by running ads saying “skip church this Easter.” I think everyone’s just confused.  Hey there might be a way to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria! Viruses! Wait.  Quote of the Day From Not the Nine O’Clock News, 1980, with Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, and Griff Rhys Jones: frameborder="0" height="225" src="" width="400"> * * * 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. Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)! News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances are to be interpreted as statements of endorsement or opposition to any political candidate. CFI is a nonpartisan nonprofit. The Morning Heresy: “I actually read it.” - Hemant Mehta   [...]

CBS “Sunday Morning” Seers Don’t See So Well


On March 18, 2018, CBS “Sunday Morning” featured an insufficiently skeptical segment, “ESP: Inside the government’s secret program on psychic spies.”

One of the psychics presented—Angela Ford (formerly Angela Dellafiora)—is described as a former Pentagon Project Stargate “psychic spy.” She recalled one of her best assignments in which, allegedly, she psychically tracked down fugitive drug smuggler Charlie Jordan in 1989. Reporter Erin Moriarty takes her at her word and gushes, “There is no obvious explanation for how Ford obtained the intel that turned out to be accurate.” But was it really accurate?

Actually, the Stargate project’s final report found “reason to suspect” that in “some well publicized cases of dramatic hits” the psychics might have had “substantially more background information” than might otherwise be apparent. Just such criticisms are raised by the Charlie Jordan case and the involvement of Angela Ford. (I was asked to look into the case for the BBC series Mysteries, which aired November 23, 1998. See also my investigative report in the March 2001 Skeptical Briefs.)

Ford—who has many of the traits associated with a fantasy-prone personality—was not practicing the typical “remote viewing” (RV) used by the other Stargate psychics. Whereas that was basically clairvoyance by a new name, what Ford did was to enter a “trance” and let her “spirit guides” manipulate her hand to produce written responses to questions. While her automatic writing technique came to be called “written RV,” it was really just old-fashioned spiritualism.

Not surprisingly, Ford’s information was often wildly erroneous, as in the search for Lt. Col. William Higgins who was held hostage by terrorists. Ford envisioned him alive, in an underground location, and about to be released, whereas he had probably been kept in a Lebanese house before his tortured corpse was recovered.

Allegedly, Ford said fugitive Charlie Jordan was in Wyoming at “Lowell” near an “Indian burial place.” Now, police had independently spotted Jordan’s vehicle outside Denver, apparently heading toward Wyoming. There is no “Lowell” in that state, and Lovell, Wyoming, has no Native American burial site. While there is such a site at Pinedale—where Jordan was arrested—Pinedale is over 300 miles from Lovell. So it looks like Ford may have been advised about Wyoming and later engaged in what is known as “retrofitting” (after-the-fact matching of details). Then word of mouth transformed the story into a folktale.

While “Sunday Morning” could have been more skeptical, their guest, writer Annie Jacobsen, did conclude about the psychics: “There’s instances of unusual situations, but there is no proof. It does not pass scientific muster.”


1 in 2700


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   Kentucky’s House of Representatives has passed a bill mandating an annual student day of prayer. It’s not a problem, you see, because the bill doesn’t specify any particular religion’s prayers, so everybody is included. Wait. Mississippi’s Gov. Phil Bryant signs into law a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Within the hour of signing, the state was sued. Nidhi Subbaraman at Buzzfeed takes a deep dive into a poop cult. Let me do that again. Nidhi Subbaraman at Buzzfeed has a big report on what she calls “the new snake oil,” a bizarre cure-all involving cabbage, candida gut fungus, and “waterfalls of diarrhea” that has found purchase in the nonsense-halls of Facebook pages, and has hurt a lot of people. The cat is out of the bag regarding a big project of CFI/RDFRS to get Richard Dawkins’ books translated into several languages and distributed digitally for free download in countries around the world. More from us on this soon! According to some guy called Anthony DeStephano, “Atheists today are the most arrogant, ignorant and dangerous people on earth.” Hemant Mehta, I suppose punishing himself for something, read DeStephano’s book Inside the Atheist Mind, and tells us all about the wonders within: His whole book is like this. It’s a lot of whining with no substance. It’s a lot of conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality. It’s a lot of name-calling and dog whistles. It’s the sort of thing you read because a Dr. Seuss book would’ve required too much brainpower. At, Kenny Biddle deconstructs the “documentary” The Blackwell Ghost, which seems to be trying to go the Blair Witch route and get people wondering whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. IIIIII wonder. Hannibal Buress, the comedian who helped get the ball rolling on bringing Bill Cosby’s crimes to light, has his mic cut during a performance at Loyola University after he makes jokes about priests committing sexual assault.     Apparently there are people who think that Pope Francis helped Stephen Hawkins to a deathbed conversion. Snopes? Have at: Hawking’s phony deathbed conversion is one in a long series of similar hoaxes of opportunity. For example, after the 2011 death of the writer Christopher Hitchens — an outspoken atheist and critic of organized religion — American evangelical Christian writer Larry Alex Taunton published a controversial book in which he claimed Hitchens had reevaluated his religious faith while he was dying of esophageal cancer. The book was widely dismissed and fiercely criticized by friends of Hitchens. Before that, there were debunked eleventh-hour “conversions” to Christianity by Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, and astronomer Carl Sagan. A medical journal notes the death of a woman in Spain who sought to deal with some muscle stress by getting a kind of acupuncture that involves bee venom.  Mike Huckabee and Jim Carrey are yelling at each other on Twitter over scary pictures of Huckabee’s daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president’s press secretary. Huckabee calls Carrey a “Christophobe” which kind of sounds like a sort of brass instrument. Ben Radford reviews the scifi flick Annihilation, and from what he writes it sounds like it makes about as much sense as the finale of Lost, which I’m still mad about. Quote of the Day The Washington Post reports that there is a 1 in 2700 chance that an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building will strike Earth on Sept. 22, 2135. Overdue. But NASA has a plan, “HAMMER,&[...]

‘Annihilation’: A Mixed Bag of Mystery


The new science fiction thriller Annihilation takes place mostly inside something called “the Shimmer,” a mysterious phenomenon whose center seems to be a lighthouse struck by something from outer space. An alien craft? A meteor? Something else? The government doesn’t know because when they send people and drones in, nothing comes back. To make matters worse, the Shimmer (which has an unsettling sort of oily polychromatic sheen to it, like a giant bubble) is growing in size and there seems no way to stop it. Actually, one person did come back, barely: a man named Kane, husband to Army-soldier-turned biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). He’s soon hospitalized, near death from his experience. Lena volunteers to enter the zone with a group, partly out of curiosity and partly out of conviction that she can help save him. Whether by accident or design—it’s never quite clear—the team is made up entirely of women (there’s some reference to the fact that men have had little success inside, though why gender would change that isn’t discussed). The group is led by surly psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a geologist (Tuva Novotny), and a physicist (Tessa Thompson). Each of them brings their own expertise, backstory (or at least an outline of one, as much as the one-note characters are allowed), and corresponding personal problem to the mission. For the first fifteen minutes of the film writer/director Alex Garland shoots Portman either backlit, in silhouette or in a haze. At first it seemed cinematic tic (not unlike J.J. Abram’s affinity for lens flare overkill), but eventually I realized that it’s to make the scenes inside the Shimmer less jarring, because they too are overlaid with a sort of faint rainbow glow. The film has elements of Stalker (the nearly three-hour 1979 Soviet film by Andrei Tarkovsky) and Contact (Jodie Foster in the film based on Carl Sagan’s book). The script does a good job of making the Shimmer’s menaces murky, a situation I won’t clarify here. What’s going on is only gradually revealed, and it’s a scientific as well as an existential answer. Part of it has to do with the nature of life, identity, and humanity. The world seems suited to us humans because we evolved in it; there is nothing special or essential about our specific life forms. Had Earth developed a different atmosphere, or the sun been a little closer or farther away, we might not have evolved into sentient animals capable of telling stories or making films. To the universe, an Earth without humans is perfectly acceptable—and was the case for virtually all of its 4.5 billion years of existence. The film’s special effects are striking and gorgeous, though its script fails to match its production values. The script is intentionally ambiguous about many things. If radio and other electronic signals don’t work inside the Shimmer for whatever reason, there are low tech ways to communicate and find out what’s going on inside the Bubble of No Return. The easiest would be to simply lay down an old-fashioned telephone, telegraph, or video cable as scouts progress into the interior (we see electronics working inside the Shimmer, so there’s no reason a wired landline wouldn’t work). Or even a series of cables could be set up with canisters (like the kind used at drive up windows at the bank) on pulleys. Information could be passed along with only a delay of an hour or two as the canisters zip back and forth through the porous barrier along a wire, updating each side on their progress and finding. Those in the Shimmer zone find themselves affected in several ways, including amnesia; oddly, upon realizing this the group doesn’t take steps to record or preserve their findings and discoveries, either for themselve[...]

This is Not Mere Gullibility


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   Guess what, folks: abortions are safe procedures, says a big report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Abortions become far less safe when all the roadblocks are thrown in front of women by anti-abortion legislatures. And as NPR points out: There is no evidence that breast cancer follows abortion, for example, but five states require doctors to tell women there is a link, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on reproductive and sexual health.  Reasonable Talk (which is sort of like TED talks that you can actually feel safe about believing) has climate scientist Michael Mann from CSICon 2017 on climate change denial in the age of Trump. This is from a couple of weeks ago, but it bears noting: In The Atlantic, former GWB speechwriter and current Post columnist Michael Gerson takes evangelicals to task for blindly supporting Trump, but also manages to give them way too much credit: The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.  “They don’t see”? I think they see just fine. More: Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.  It’s something, alright. Relatedly, the Bible on which Trump took the oath of inauguration will be donated to a museum...which one, the Museum of Irony??? HA! Zing. #noregrets  After two instances of Muslim women being forced by NYC police to remove their head scarves and have their photos placed in a database, the Times looks at how “the issue highlights the gulf between criminal justice policy, as it has evolved over time, and the cultural and religious obligations of those in custody.”  Bloomberg profiles India’s Baba Ramdev, a yogi whose brand rakes in billions of dollars, but who also allegedly follows a vow of poverty for himself. Whatever. He sounds like a really enlightened guy: Ramdev says his worldview is “scientific, secular, and universal”—but he also claims yoga can “cure” homosexuality and has openly fantasized about beheading people who refuse to chant nationalist slogans.   According to the full letter from ex-pope Ratzinger, now released by the Vatican, he didn’t decline to read the books about Pope Francis because they were too long, but because the authors had been mean to him. Uh oh. The International Classification of Diseases (like the DSM for the whole world) is going to start letting in some alt-med-type diagnoses into its 11th edition.   Yet another bloated, rotting corpse of a sea creature is found on the beach, and yet again people think it’s a Loch Ness-type cryptid.  After YouTube Kids had to deal with creepy, manufactured animated videos using popular characters to churn out ad views, now it has to deal with conspiracies. For whatever reason, the app is bringing up search results for conspiracy theorists about the moon landing “hoax,” lizard people, and who knows what else.  Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to watch [...]

This is a Tricky Move


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   Ah the Freethought Trail! A way to enlighten oneself with the rich history of American radical movements from the 19th century, both in real life and on its old, creaky, what-the-hell-is-this-thing website…what’s that? The Freethought Trail’s website has been redesigned? .... Radically redesigned? I see what you did there! Let’s go check it out! CNET checks in with Joe Nickell about a video of a UFO posted by To The Stars Academy. “Science has not authenticated a single extraterrestrial craft,” said Joe, adding that these folks “are attempting to create a mystery.” Further: Nickell thinks some of it ties in with the naturally self-centered human worldview. He says we see mythical creatures like Bigfoot as a remnant of the human past, and big-eyed, big-headed aliens as a futuristic version of us. We would like to think Earth would draw a highly advanced extraterrestrial race to come visit. “Hopes springs eternal,” he says.  Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA) of the University of Wisconsin—Madison hold their Freethought Festival starting today, and tomorrow the day kicks off with a talk from our own Debbie Goddard.  A federal judge has blocked the new Ohio law that bans abortion in the cases of a Down syndrome diagnosis of the fetus. Jurist reports: ...the court rejected the state’s suggestion that Planned Parenthood v. Casey only applies to women who accidentally become pregnant or that a woman’s right to choose only applies to the question of whether she can have a child as opposed to the “right to decide whether to have a particular child.”   Oregon’s Supreme Court suspends Judge Vance Day (which is not a holiday in which we all judge people named Vance, though that is a cool idea) for three years for misconduct, which included instructing staff to discriminate against same-sex wedding applicants and some bad behavior with firearms. Sounds like a charming fellow. South Carolina governor Henry McMaster seems confused about what the student walk-outs over guns was about yesterday: It appears that these school children, innocent school children, are being used as a tool by [this] left-wing group to further their own agenda. ... This is a tricky move, I believe, by a left-wing group, from the information I’ve seen, to use these children as a tool to further their own means. It sounds like a protest to me. It’s not a memorial. It’s certainly not a prayer service. It’s a political statement by a left-wing group and it’s shameful. ... What we should all do and what these students should do — I imagine a lot of them intend to do — is to pray and to hope for the families of those who were slain.   The Economist reports on the increase in the number of ex-Muslims in America, and why it’s still really hard for them: The vast majority, whether young or old, are silent about their faithlessness. One Muslim college student, who came home drunk one evening, was confronted by his father. Not thinking clearly, the son confessed to his father that he was an atheist, whereupon the father revealed that he too had lost his faith many years ago. Yet he still admonished his son for not hiding his secret well enough. At Pakistan’s Daily Times, Annie Zaman laments how a blasphemy accusation brings on “an instant vigilante death sentence.” GMO crops ain’t even mad at the non-GMO crops. They’re like, “Hey, lemme help you guys out, too.” In 1995, Joe Nickell solved t[...]

Zanzibar’s Popobawa Demon Still Attacking Skeptics


In 1995 I published a short article titled “The Skeptic-raping Demon of Zanzibar,” telling of a bat-winged, cyclopean dwarf that reportedly swept into bedrooms and attacked men—especially those who disbelieved in the creature. The phenomenon had occurred in previous decades but had returned. A colleague handed me an article on the phenomenon and joked, “Here’s a case for you to solve.” Reading a few paragraphs, I replied, “I have solved it.” According to The Guardian (McGreal 1995), a victim at first thought he was dreaming but felt something pressing down on him—no doubt the Popobawa (the name is Swahili for “bat-wing”) who had come to sexually attack him. (See my accompanying drawing.) I recognized the phenomenon as having the characteristics of a common “waking dream.” This occurs when the percipient is in a state between being asleep and awake, and exhibits features of both: A person has a dreamlike (hallucinatory) experience while seemingly awake; the sense of being held down—called “sleep paralysis”—comes from the body’s still being in the sleep mode. I traced the phenomenon to many places and times, including the incubus of medieval Europe. The hypothesis seemed to explain most of the reported Zanzibarian attacks. My observations began to be cited (or occasionally borrowed without attribution), finally gaining some prominence in a book, Popobawa by Katrina Daly Thompson (2017), a professor of African Cultural Studies. She reports my insights on the waking-dream (i.e., hypnagogic) phenomenon and acknowledges that I was “the first to put forth this hypothesis” for the Popobawa attacks. But she also seems to resent me for it. She points to a couple of textual simplifications I made in republishing my article and hints at some ulterior motive. Actually, the changes were practical ones in transitioning from a newsletter for fellow skeptics to a book for a general audience (Nickell 2010). Another example of her accusatory tendency is her finding—wrongly—that I was unfairly “associating Zanzibaris with fear and Westerners with skepticism” (Thompson 2017, 174). To the contrary, I actually gave several examples of Western waking-dream panics. But if Thompson figuratively mussed up my hair, she ran over Benjamin Radford with a truck! Radford, visiting Zanzibar in 2007 took the opportunity to do what he called “the first full field investigation” into the Popobawa (Radford 2008). However Thompson finds his efforts “fundamentally flawed in content and methodology.” She repeats his own admission to having wasted much time at a library, then more seriously accuses him of “misrepresenting secondary sources as if they were primary voices he encountered in the field.” She further insists that his “own information contradicts his claim that Popobawa appears periodically and contemporaneously with ‘Muslim holy days’ or with election cycles” (Thompson 2017, 165–171). Ironically, this is the very information he had gone in search of: the “cultural context” missing from the waking-dreams explanation (Radford 2008). Her evidence appears to undermine his conclusion that there is a simple pattern to the attacks. What is Thompson’s own view of the Popobawa? She seems to grudgingly accept the psychological explanation of the waking dream, while insisting on the obvious: that it only applies to those cases where the evidence warrants, and that there are also the powerful influences of popular discourse and even jokes (Thompson 2017, 171–177). Indeed, I suggest the list could well include hoaxes, journalistic distortions, elements of mass hysteria, and so on and on. Y[...]

Nimis Prolixa; Non Legitur


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.   More than 15,000 scientists co-sign “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” a document marking the 25th anniversary of the first “Warning to Humanity” about the threat of climate change, now stepping up the urgency: To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.  The Koch Brothers may have finally met their match: black churches. Kenya Downs, writing for Grist and Longreads, reports on the Kochs’ shady attempts to convince African Americans of the wonders of fossil fuels and black clergy and church communities who have taken up climate advocacy with a passion.  Kimberly Winston provides a look back at Stephen Hawking’s expressions of nonbelief, along with his rhetorical use of the concept of God, which has confused some folks as to where he stood.  A Pakistan court rules that all citizens must declare a religion to which they belong when applying for identity documents. This is a particular threat to the Ahmadi community, as the very practice of their religion is considered blasphemy in Pakistan. I don’t even want to think about what happens if someone were to put “none” on that form. Hey remember how the Museum of the Bible is supposed to be more or less religiously neutral, and just be focused on study of the Bible? Jill Hicks-Keeton writes of how the Museum is partnering with very sectarian Christian apologists for “promotional opportunities” that have nothing to do with the actual mission. Uh huh. This is hilarious. The Vatican releases a photo of a letter written by former Pope Palpatine Benedict to Pope Francis, in which Sidious Benedict praises a volume of books praising Francis’s theology. It was soon revealed that the Vatican had blurred out a rather important data point, where Ian McDiarmid Benedict writes that he hadn’t actually gotten around to reading those books, because he’s so busy you see. That’s right, Ratzinger (there we go) in a sense wrote to the current pope, tl;dr. 300 young people will take part in a conversation with Pope Francis next week in Rome. Francis said, “(T)he church wants to listen to the voices, the sensibilities, the faith as well as the doubts and criticisms of young people. We must listen to young people.” Me, all I can think of is “boxers or briefs?” (Which only proves that I am not one of the “young people.”) Legislation in several states seeks to protect doctors who diagnose and prescribe treatments for “chronic Lyme,” which isn’t even a thing.  Yesterday was Pi Day, and Oliver Roeder at FiveThirtyEight explains that even 22 trillion digits in, we still haven’t gotten to the end of pi’s decimal places, but also that they really don’t seem necessary: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses only 15 digits of pi for its highest-accuracy calculations for interplanetary navigation. Heck, Isaac Newton knew that many digits 350 years ago.   Quote of the Day Reid McCarter at AV Club watches Oprah use her powers to make James Corden cry: Though they look like two ordinary people, invisible tendrils extend from o[...]