Anti-Science

Randi & Captain Disillusion, Together at Last

Plus a plug for The Amazing Meeting! Suh-weet.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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23 Comments

  1. Um, excuse me, but what’s going on here?

    Randi and Disillusion offer no more proof than do the ghost claimants. None whatsoever. Yes, they make a plausible claim to what occurred, but that’s all it is: a claim.

    They do not show us the real tricked out closet. They do not show us the house layout. They do not provide us with documentation or interviews with parties involved. They offer us no concrete proof whatsoever.

    To accept what they say as fact I have to rely on my understanding and experience of their reputation and record for honesty, their professional backgrounds in providing valid and trustworthy information in the past, and my own skepticality.

    In other words, I have to rely on faith.

    They show us a completely out of context and very short clip of an unknown young woman or girl, with no explanation, no discussion, no description. She could be anyone, anywhere, doing anything.

    Listen, I do not for an moment doubt that they are probably quite correct, but when the debunkers of the world offer up such thin and flimsy ephemera as proof, well, is it any wonder that woo continues to be so popular?

    Very disappointing.

  2. @SicPreFix: So my video is “the reason woo continues to be popular,” eh?

    I’m not sure I understand the source of your disappointment. You speak as though the forces of bunk and reason are fighting over your soul and you just don’t know which to side with, but you gotta side with somebody. You can also think for yourself, you know.

    We did not present an out-of-context clip. Please do not gloss over that. Every single video discussed on CD is available for examination in its entirety on YouTube. And this particular one consists of 4 different ones (+ a fancy trailer)

    What I recommend doing in the future is to always view the subject video(s) and form your own theory as to what’s happening. Then, if that theory differs from mine but is equally valid, there just might be something to start a conversation about.

  3. Charels Darwin, Contact and a reference to Jimmy Olsen’s superman signal watch. Pretty cool.

    @SicPreFix: As Randi and many other’s have said in the past they can’t prove that ghosts, psychics, god or santa clause don’t exist. What they can do is and what they did do was provide a simpler explanation for the pantry ghost that doesn’t involve violations of the laws of nature or an appeal to the supernatural.

  4. @SicPreFix: I’d hardly call a judgment based on rational assessment of prior plausibility and available evidence “rely[ing] on faith.” But more to the point, Randi & CD weren’t out to “prove” anything, and they know better than to try.

    Even if they were to visit this house and find a secret compartment behind the pantry, that doesn’t prove that it was used to make the video. It’s the same way that, even though Randi can bend spoons using trickery, that doesn’t prove that Uri Geller was using the same trickery.

    The point of this demonstration, rather, is to remind the audience that there are still available explanations that are much more likely than paranormal phenomena. Furthermore, it’s the responsibility of those making extraordinary claims to provide the extraordinary evidence necessary to rule out more normal, rational explanations. Uri Geller can’t perform his stunts under conditions that preclude trickery; that’s pretty strong evidence that trickery it be. And even though I don’t know whether a trap door is the answer to this mystery, it’s a lot more likely (given the current body of knowledge) than a rogue spirit.

  5. @SicPreFix:

    Just as a side note, as someone who reads richarddawkins.net comments, I’m always surprised how many people uncritically support and accept anything the popular people “on their side” say, whether it be Randi, Dawkins, or whoever.

    I think humans are just too quick to form an “us vs them” mentality, and people just stop questioning the “us.” I mean they’re probably right almost all the time, but I still feel like it’s unhealthy.

  6. @CD:

    So my video is “the reason woo continues to be popular,” eh?

    Not at all. That is out of context and not what I said. Please stick to the point. What I said was:

    “… when the debunkers of the world offer up such thin and flimsy ephemera as proof, well, is it any wonder that woo continues to be so popular?”

    That is simply a general statement lamenting the oft-times lack of substantial evidence in some debunkers claims. To “beat” the woowoo people we need more than just claims. We need, as much as is possible, verifiable evidence.

    I’m not sure I understand the source of your disappointment. You speak as though the forces of bunk and reason are fighting over your soul and you just don’t know which to side with, but you gotta side with somebody. You can also think for yourself, you know.

    The source of my disappoint is in what I preceive to be, as I stated, the lack of tangible evidence, beyond your and Randi’s professional knoweldge, skill, and reputations to support your claim. I do side with you guys. I never said otherwise. And I most certainly do think for myslef, which, in this instance appears to be what you seem to have taken such strong offence to.

    We did not present an out-of-context clip. Please do not gloss over that. Every single video discussed on CD is available for examination in its entirety on YouTube. And this particular one consists of 4 different ones (+ a fancy trailer)

    You most certainly did present an out of context clip. The brief flash of the young woman had no context, no direct explanation, and no clearly stated relevance — weak journalism. I can not see, in this clip, any clearly stated explanation as to her role, purpose, function, or otherwise, beyond supposition and allusion.

    What I recommend doing in the future is to always view the subject video(s) and form your own theory as to what’s happening. Then, if that theory differs from mine but is equally valid, there just might be something to start a conversation about.

    That’s utterly irrelevant. I am not dismissing or disagreeing with your or Randi’s opinion whatsoever. I am simply disappointed with the lack of evidence to back up your claim. I cannot see why that is not clear.

    The source of my disappointment is my feeeling that to debunk something effectively, more than just supposition is required. Yes it is a good supposition, plausible, makes sense, and so forth. But let’s remain clear that it is just a supposition. That’s all. I think some folks are really taking my comments out of context and reading into them something that is not there.

    @Gabrielbrawley:

    As Randi and many other’s have said in the past they can’t prove that ghosts, psychics, god or santa clause don’t exist. What they can do is and what they did do was provide a simpler explanation for the pantry ghost that doesn’t involve violations of the laws of nature or an appeal to the supernatural.

    Yes, quite. I know that, and that is not what I am pointing out. I am commenting on the lack of tangible evidence to support the claim of a tricked out closet.

    Just as a side note, as someone who reads richarddawkins.net comments, I’m always surprised how many people uncritically support and accept anything the popular people “on their side” say, whether it be Randi, Dawkins, or whoever.

    Man, you said it. I am deeply sorry I had the audacity to criticise the skeptical gods. Excuse me all to heck.

  7. @SicPreFix:

    I think some folks are really taking my comments out of context and reading into them something that is not there.

    That’s how I feel about the 5 or so comments I’ve made on this site. Maybe it’s not a bad rule of thumb to just assume that 95% of what you read on the internet is going to be garbage written by morons who are trying to attack you, but I did not see that from SicPreFix’s comments, nor did I intend that in the Iran thread with Rebecca.

    It is not skepticism if you are only skeptical of your opponents.

    Incidentally, I thoroughly enjoyed the video, and thought it was very fun and amusing. And I’ve enjoyed all of DC’s work.

  8. @SicPreFix: But there is evidence for a trap door: the “ghost” videos themselves! We see a figure in the pantry with the door closed, but she’s gone when the door opens a minute later. That implies there’s probably some way for a person to get in and out of the pantry from behind the door.

    Is it conclusive evidence? Heck no, and it would be nice to have some corroborating evidence, like building layouts. But the very possibility is enough to cast doubt on claims of the paranormal.

    Skeptics are doomed if we hold ourselves to the standard of proving every negative. Think of how many unidentified flying objects remain unidentified. Part of educating people in skepticism is teaching them how, even if a perfect and certain rational explanation isn’t available, to recognize when evidence for a paranormal explanation is lacking.

  9. @sporefrog said:

    It is not skepticism if you are only skeptical of your opponents.

    Let’s repeat that, just for the thrill of it all:

    It is not skepticism if you are only skeptical of your opponents.

    Comment of the month, if you ask me.

  10. But there is evidence for a trap door: the “ghost” videos themselves! We see a figure in the pantry with the door closed, but she’s gone when the door opens a minute later. That implies there’s probably some way for a person to get in and out of the pantry from behind the door.

    An additional door, or trap door, is a possible explanation. So is video editing. Unless you go through the clip frame by frame (and maybe even then), how can you be sure that what appears to be a continuous shot is a continuous shot? Human visual interpretation seems to be hard-wired to decode visual clues as continuous motion (e.g., the magician’s trick of disappearing an object in mid-toss because they displayed the object in hand, then made a tossing motion with the hand–we just “see” the object moving up, though it is not there). Perhaps the folks making the video had a skinny little girl press her face against the back of the frosted glass door, stopped the shot, had her get out, and continued? Possible? Plausible? Maybe, but not proof.

  11. I see a difference between critical thinking and debunking.
    The critiques of SicPreFix’s OP are valid from a critical thinking perspective, but not from a debunking perspective.

    Debunking requires more than simply positing an alternative hypothesis, even when the subject is extraordinary. It requires evidence that the hypothesis being debunked is inconsistent with known facts (which could include evidence that a video was faked).

    Otherwise, it is nothing more than a more complex iteration of the Monty Python sketch on arguments.

  12. @Skepotter said:

    Debunking requires more than simply positing an alternative hypothesis, even when the subject is extraordinary. It requires evidence that the hypothesis being debunked is inconsistent with known facts (which could include evidence that a video was faked).

    Yes, that is, in part, what I was trying to get to. And I remain somewhat mystified at the response I got. Oh well, can’t please everybody.

    @CD: , if you’re still lurking about, I am in fact quite a supporter and proselytizer of your YouTube videos. I send lots of folks to them. However, that doesn’t change my position that debunking should include some pretty weighty evidence. That is not a criticism of you. It is a criticism of process.

    Randi does the same thing from time to time. He presumes on his reputation and professional record, and occasionaly allows them to stand as the sole basis of his claims and his evidence. And, quite simply, that is wrong.

    When fighting woowoo, which is usually based on little more than the ephemera of say-so, then the woowoo fighters absolutely must include more than just the ephemera of say-so. I would honestly think that that is a given. Please excuse my, I don’t know, naivety perhaps, but I am confused that there is any disagreement with such a stance.

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