Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies, 11.17

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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20 Comments

  1. Serious question (not rhetorical):

    If endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is reason enough to pull the non-profit status of a religious institute, wouldn’t punishing people for the way that they vote also cause an evaluation of the non-profit status?

  2. That apparition of the Buddha was particularly lame… If this happened in a Christian church the preacher could dress it up by saying that the nest is God’s convoluted way of saying that the End Times are nigh! Repent now, unless thou wisheth to die by the fire of twenty headed dragons, winged demons, and laser beams! Alternatively, if this Buddha were on Mars we could get Richard Hoagland on the radio to tell us that aliens built that Buddha millions of years ago and the Mars rovers have laser beams to destroy the evidence because the Freemasons who control NASA don’t want you to know the truth!

    Unless they can update their miracles to compete, these Buddhists run the risk of being forced out of today’s highly competitive apparition market. But that’s capitalism for you… :|

  3. This little blood spatter experiment closes the case? So written by someone who never had to prove with facts and evidence a real case in a real court. But what exactly is the claim in their own words:

    the team determined that the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository was the most likely origin of the shot that killed the 35th president of the United States.

    “Most likely” — Oh yea, case closed.

    “We might never know if Oswald pulled the trigger, but when you look at the wind pattern, the spread of the debris, the angles and distances involved, it’s consistent with a shot from the sixth floor depository,” said Martin.

    Another inconvenient concession as to tying this all off onto Oswald, who happened to deny the accusation.

    What you really needed was a public trial where the government has to support its theory with facts and evidence and make all the evidence available to the defense, instead of sealing it up and locking it away. That’s kinda how it works in the real world in our system of justice. We have this thorny concept of innocent until proven guilty and the government is required to reveal all of its evidence – not just what supports its theory.

    Luckily for US citizens, it takes more than a Discovery Channel recreation of an up and coming “blood spatter” forensic analysis to lock someone away.

    Alas, until someone really proves their case, yes their will always be “skeptics.” Last time I checked definition anyway.

  4. @TrueSkeptic: “What you really needed was a public trial where the government has to support its theory with facts and evidence and make all the evidence available to the defense, instead of sealing it up and locking it away. That’s kinda how it works in the real world in our system of justice. We have this thorny concept of innocent until proven guilty and the government is required to reveal all of its evidence – not just what supports its theory.”

    Unfortunately, our judicial system has no system for putting dead people on trial. This has tripped us up before and will again. We never had a trial for John Wilkes Booth, the 9/11 hijackers, or for the anthrax mailer for example.

    Although I agree that it is irritating to not have a conclusion, I have to disagree with the idea that having some kind of trial would end the ongoing disputes about who really killed JFK. As we have seen, appointing independent commissions to examine the evidence and making all the facts available to the public do not put conspiracy theories to rest. No matter what the commissions find or what the evidence says, there will always be people who will dismiss it because it does not fit their predetermined assumption about the event.

  5. I wish I had watched the discovery channel show now. I got the impression that it would be another pseudo science conspiracy theory show so I skipped it. I will look to see if I can find it in re-runs. Of course this will do little if anything to change the minds of the conspiracy theorists. All they have to do is dismiss the evidence as weak or mae up. You can’t change the mind of a true believer with evidence or facts.

  6. @Gabrielbrawley:

    I guess you are meant to check your skeptical credentials at the door because it is on the discovery channel? What peer reviewed body of evidence do you refer to on the show that you admit you didn’t see?

    It is easy to dismiss evidence as weak and made up when it is weak and made up. This applies on either side of any argument, no?

  7. @Kaylia_Marie: @durnett and : I think that the answer is probably not if the churches are not engaging in “lobbying” to attempt to influence legislation or a current political campaign of a particular candidate. I can only speak as to the federal tax law limitations …

    Tax-exempt organizations that are “public charities” (i.e., churches are per se public charities) are generally limited by the language within Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3) itself – i.e., “no substantial part of its activities … [may constitute] carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation.” The rules are complex, but generally speaking, an organiztion cannot contact or urge the public to contact members of a legislative body for purpose of proposing, supporting or opposing legislation or otherwise advocate the adoption or rejection of legislation – including voter initiatives, lest it be deemed an “action organization” and fail to qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization. “Forcefully confronting” the executive branch over its policies (as mentioned in the article) would not involve legislation by its nature; however, supporting or arguing against the Senate confirmation of a particular judge-nominee would. As another example, an educational website could fail to qualify under 501(c)(3) if it encourages voters to vote against Proposition 8 in California, rather than merely engaging in nonpartisan analysis, study, research, and publication of results. (See Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(ii).) What is “substantial” is generally a matter of weighing facts and circumstances, although under one elective test, the activites are measured by a percengate of total expenditures of the organization (i.e., 5 to 20% would be substantial, depending on the size of the organization). (See IRC §501(h)(1).) Even if the lobbying activities are not “substantial,” the organization may still be subject to an excise tax on its lobbying expenditures. (See IRC §4912; IRS Announcement 2000-84, 2000-42 IRB 385 (regarding use of the internet by tax-exempts as a political activity)).

    The second area where public charites are limited is political campaign activities. Once again, IRC §501(c)(3) indicates that such organizations must “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office” – not just at the federal, state, and local level, but in foreign countries as well. Unlike the lobbying rule, the political campaign prohibitition is absolute (regardless of the level of substantiality). For example, in the 1992 campaign, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a church as a result of running newpaper ads questioning the position of one of the candidates on certain issues, and notwithstanding the free speech/free exercise defenses, the courts upheld the revocation. (Branch Ministries, Inc. v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C.Cir. 2000.) The lines are greyer where you have candidate speeches, voter education activities and the like. Again, in addition to loss of tax-exempt statute, there are excise taxes imposed on organizations who engage in such expenditures. (IRC §4955.)

  8. I wish I had watched the discovery channel show now. I got the impression that it would be another pseudo science conspiracy theory show so I skipped it.

    You mean like this Discovery Channel presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaF6pW45d0o&NR=1

    Where the scientists and engineers, the pathologist, and witnesses say not a chance that Sirhan was the only shooter in RFK assassination. And there was another gunman who was in the perfect position for the kill shot and had motive, who could account for the extra shots. Is that the Discovery Channel episode you were thinking of?

    I will look to see if I can find it in re-runs. Of course this will do little if anything to change the minds of the conspiracy theorists.

    You admittedly are only interested in seeing what supports your view, and then you turn around and criticize others as having closed minds? Interesting.

  9. Although I agree that it is irritating to not have a conclusion, I have to disagree with the idea that having some kind of trial would end the ongoing disputes about who really killed JFK.

    I did not say that it would. Many trials leave doubts and produce inconclusive results. But at least the available evidence is tested. Then you have a better idea of what you know and what you don’t know. Akin to scientific experimentation. To blindly accept an unproven government theory in a criminal matter is very naive and certainly undeserving of the label “skeptic.” If that were the norm, there would by lots of innocent people in jail or executed, which occurs too often even when the government is required to prove its case and hand over all its facts.

    As we have seen, appointing independent commissions to examine the evidence and making all the facts available to the public do not put conspiracy theories to rest.

    You mentioned JFK, 9/11, and the anthrax cases? Well I do not have the evidence to say what happened, but it would be very easy for me to prove that the Warren and 9/11 Commissions were not independent.

    As for “making all the facts available to the public,” when did that occur? Not in the Anthrax case. The 9/11 Commissioners complain today that they were lied to by the military and denied critical evidence by the CIA. LBJ is on tape telling one of the Warren Commissioners in lobbying him to serve (he did not want to serve with Warren) that there is no work to do, because the FBI has already done the job – they just need to satisfy the public.

    It is not about buying into someone else’s “conspiracy theory.” It’s about recognizing when the government has proven a particular theory and when it has not. If you do not care one way or the other and are annoyed by people who do care – that’s fine. If you are content to just accept what the government has to say on any particular topic – that’s fine too.

    But I find it strange when some people (not all of course) who call themselves skeptics take on the cause of demeaning people who are skeptical of unproven government theories in various criminal matters. The government has a long and distinguished track record of botching criminal cases, especially where they have a motive to solve the case quickly and put it to rest.

  10. If it can be said that Obama is “Pro abortion” (and he’s got a pretty good plan for reducing the number of abortions by helping with health care and poverty – so poor women don’t feel like it’s their only choice, and also to help with education toward pregnancy prevention because mom said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”) can we then say that other candicates are pro war and pro torture.

    OH — that’s right life is sacred from the moment of conception until the moment of birth. After that tough noogies.

  11. @TheSkeptical Male: thanks for the information. That makes things clearer (?)

    @TrueSkeptic: In reading post #17, it seems that you are using the term “the government” as though all branches and departments of the federal government were part of one single, monolithic entity. That can be misleading. There is a world of difference between the motivations of elected legislators who make up a Congressional investigatory committee, bureaucrats who conduct reviews of accidents, Justice Department independent prosecutors, and FBI agents. They answer to different bosses, get their jobs in different ways, and get their salaries based on different criteria. It is unlikely that they would all conspire to fool the American people. For this reason, I tend to treat investigations from different departments and branches as independent from each other, even though they all come from “the government”. If different commissions or investigations come to the same conclusion, then I am willing to tentatively accept them as accurate until I see evidence to the contrary.

    You have said that it would be easy for you to show that the 9/11 commission was not independent. If you can show that the report of the commission, the 2002 preliminary report from FEMA, and the 2005 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are all the product of the same group of people, I would be happy to take another look at this issue.

  12. If different commissions or investigations come to the same conclusion, then I am willing to tentatively accept them as accurate until I see evidence to the contrary.

    When you say “tentatively” and express a willingness to entertain evidence to the contrary, I don’t think you can be faulted for that, in terms of maintaining your “skeptic” credentials. But for some reason, it seems many in the skeptic community treat unproven government theories as proven. And worse, ridicule those who are skeptical and want better proof/answers.

    But the devil is in the details. You cannot make generalizations about multiple government entities checking one another. That was the government’s argument in the case against Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer convicted of murder. Multiple juries, multiple judges, multiple appellate reviews. But all that did not change the fact that the underlying investigative facts were false, biased, tainted and unreliable, which was the product of a single, corrupt police department. I would not presume that the others who looked at the case were corrupt when all they had to work with was corrupt evidence. When an independent investigation was done, the truth came out and he was freed.

    As for 9/11, there is one and only one official account, which is the 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission did not conduct an independent investigation into most of the critical factual issues. The Commission was fraught with intolerable conflicts of interest. The Commission has acknowledged that it was lied to by the military and that it was not aware when it wrote its report that many of its most critical conclusions were based upon “confessions,” where they (1) requested and were denied access to videotapes, (2) requested and were denied access to the confessors, (3) requested and were denied access to interrogators, (4) were not informed that the confessions were obtained through torture or (5) that the confessions were recanted post-torture. No reputable investigative body would stand by conclusions based upon such evidence – and these Commissioners are running away from their own Report.

    Even the FBI, has acknowledged that it does not have the evidence to link 9/11 to Bin Laden.

    When you combine all that with unfathomable anomalies connected with the 9/11 Commission conclusion, it is no wonder that so many of the victims, military personnel, intelligence personnel and scientists and engineers are skeptical and questioning the story.

    I mean – look at the anthrax attacks. Those attacks were very clearly staged to appear as though they originated from muslim extremists. The Bush Administration pressured the FBI to make that connection to Iraq to bolster its argument for invasion. And yet the attack originated in the US, using US military weapons grade anthrax.

    When you have a case like that right in front of you, and when you now have better hind-sight of the Bush Administration, I do not see how one cannot be skeptical of the 9/11 Commission Report. You don’t have to believe that the Administration ran the operation to believe that it would attempt (and perhaps succeeded on that occasion) to create a phony story to suit its agenda.

    Here, the latest respected scientist to claim the 9/11 story is a fraud: http://www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/storytmp_v6.cfm?id_no=57821|Lauded

    She won the the National Medal of Science in 1999, America’s highest honor for scientific achievement. These are not quacks who are skeptical of the government story here. There are many just like her.

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