Afternoon Inquisition 9.8

Sometimes, even if we’re not actually duped, even as skeptics we can fall into the “I want to believe” trap.

Is there anything you know is complete bunk, but you still do it/use it/buy it and love it anyway?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. I have one of those oriental “Lucky Money Frog” idols on my desk, all set up as spec’ed with a coin in its mouth.

  2. All right, I’ll be the first to fess up with a non-joke comment. I KNOW it isn’t really doing anything, but when I get a cold I still use Cold-Eze.

    I am embarassed about it. My wife mocks be. But as soon as the nasal passages start to flood, I pop one.

  3. @Kahomono: I thought it was a fish on a coin that was supposed to bring prosperity?! … Dammit, no wonder why I’m not winning the lottery!

  4. I get my horse chiropracted. I admit it. It makes her feel and move better. I will go hang my head in shame now.

  5. There are a couple OCDish rituals I go through at certain times, but that’s not so much magical thinking as habit and or COMPULSION.

    Other than that, I can only say that there are certain things of which I am skeptical that I also sort of hope to be true. I’d love for aliens to actually be visiting Earth, I’d love to learn telekinesis, and I’d love to discover Bigfoot. I’d also love aliens to be visiting Earth, kidnapping Bigfoot, and teaching him telekinesis.

    Alas, I’m not holding my breath for any of these things to be true, though I am crossing my fingers (figuratively) for the latter scenario. :)

  6. Warp drive, transporters and replicators, like in Star Trek.

    BTW, Happy 42nd birthday, Star Trek!

  7. Multivitamins. I bought like 400 from Sam’s club and I hate the idea of throwing them away. So I piss them away instead. However, I will not buy anymore when these run out.

  8. I have a very good friend who is a total empiricist. And yet when I play role-playing games with him, he will repeatedly insist that his dice are cursed, and refuse to use them anymore.

    But for me?


    I refuse to let go of it, even though I know it’s (almost) complete bunk.

  9. When I feel a sore throat coming on or that I’m about to be hit by the plague, I down a couple of Vitamin C tablets even though I know it’s really not doing anything for me. I mostly like the fact that they taste like candy. It’s just something I’ve always done, since I was a kid, and before I got into the wonderful world of Skepchick, I didn’t think twice about it.

    Am I fired now?

  10. Astrology. I know it’s bunk, but I have a few friends who are REALLY into it, and it’s hard to ignore their enthusiasm, especially after a drink or 5.

  11. @marilove: [nod] the Zodiac is huge here in Albuquerque… and I do occasionally find myself asking things like, “you’re a Libra, aren’t you?” …But I will (usually) quickly follow that up with an intro to skepticism and arguments about why I think it’s more of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” combined with confirmation bias…

  12. Is there anything you know is complete bunk, but you still do it/use it/buy it and love it anyway?


    Hmm… does Apple’s Advertising count?

  13. I love ghosts and monsters, both the fictional kind and the “this really happened to me” kind. I love the fleeting sense of the uncanny you get from a well-told ghost story.

  14. Recycling. I know the majority of the stuff I put in those bins just ends up in the landfill. But it makes me feel so good doing it.

  15. @misterpost:

    We all do. It’s hard to accept that she’s not real, isn’t it? Believing Janie doesn’t exist in reality feels so wrong.


    Zen isn’t total bunk, is it? I mean, there is something to be said for relaxing and clearing your mind… “meditation” if you will.

    I admit I don’t know much about Zen in the religious sense. (As opposed to the way it’s used casually to mean relaxed and focused)


    Do you mean that you believe aliens are or have been here? Or do you mean that there’s life elsewhere?

  16. @Howard:

    Oh, I have a ghost story! I should post it some time. I actually *saw* a ghost when I was 10. Made it hard for me to reconcile atheism and skepticism for a very long time.

  17. @ChemMan: Me too. I still bundle up my paper and junk mail to put out in the recycling bin even though I know household recycling is dubious at best.

    I also have this weird habit when I am pumping gas. I have to open up the door a second time to make sure I put the gas cap back on…even though I know damn well I just put it back on. But I suppose this is more of a nervous habit than a superstition.

  18. I occasionally buy lottery tickets. Does that count?

    Oh, and I sometimes think I’ve got some sort of Arthur Dent-like improbability magnetism. Interesting things keep happening to me, despite my best efforts. In reality, it’s just life going about its business and me getting in the way now and then.

  19. I think a lot of people will agree:


    There’s really nothing that will change my mind, $24 for 8 oz of sea salt body wash– SO WORTH IT!

    Not to mention a number of crazy beauty rituals. The correct magical water temperature DOES maximize hair shininess. 4 blades ARE better than 3. The correct shade of lipgloss WILL make me look way more awesome.

    … and I’m pretty sure nothing makes a woman more unskeptical than a mascara reformulation.

    But maybe that’s just me.

  20. @Zambiglione: Voting is an odd activity in many ways. In a very real sense, your vote doesn’t count and never can, so rationally, you shouldn’t bother. On the other hand, if we all took that rational advice, we’d be living in a dictatorship.

    @Elyse: And that’s the rub isn’t it? It does feel bad not to recycle. For me it also feels bad to do so because I know I am adding credence to a phony-baloney environmental issue…and thus helping distract people from the many legitimate environmental issues. I’m part of the problem.

  21. @Steve:

    I’ve never bought one, but my husband buys them. I guess I buy them by proxy (buy proxy?)

    I dated a guy in college who used to say that the dollar was worth the dream. I agree.

  22. @taypro:

    YES!! That actually is mine!

    I buy moisturizers and foundation that are supposed to make me younger. I keep a watchful eye on my forehead and nose to see if those wrinkles are getting any less noticeable… they’re not. I buy buy buy as if the force of my will is going to make my cosmetics become magical time-reversing youth in a bottle.

    I’m a sucker.

  23. Nessie.
    My boyhood love of paleontology has translated into a desperate wish for Nessie to be real. I mean a plesiosaur! How cool!
    Some strong Freudian stuff here no doubt, but I can own that. :)

  24. Several things…

    I tend to use more garlic in my food when I have a cold.

    I like reading books with a paranormal theme, just as I like fantasy and scifi.

    I buy lottery tickets.

    I occasionally read horoscopes, I don’t believe in them, but I read and laugh.

  25. @Elyse: & @taypro:
    I work for a big hair care company. EVERY year there’s some new launch of products. Maybe some of the hair coloring technology changes, but a lot of the stuff out there is all the same. I’ve asked knowledgeable people in the company time and time again what the difference is between the shampoo in our brand X and the shampoo in brand Y. After a lot of hemming and hawing it all comes down to perfumes and near-homeopathic levels of herbs and spices.

    It’s all in the advertising. Which is where I get fooled into believing what I shouldn’t. I want to believe that companies actually want to make quality products and have good service. I know nearly every big company makes stuff on the cheap on the hope that you’ll have to go out again next year and get another one. But I still buy those things HOPING that this time someone made something that will last.

    …not that I’m bitter or anything…

  26. Tarot cards. I know they’re absolutely worthless, but I collect them. The art on at least some of them is beautiful, and I use them to focus on when I’m severely stressed.

    Now you know my shame.

  27. @taypro: Whatever you’re using for beauty products seems to be working remarkably well. You’re quite a fetching young lady!

    As for me, I choose to maintain the fantasy that my daughters will continue to feel that I am the smartest, funniest, and bestest Dad in the whole world, even as they pass through their teen years.

    Oh yeah, and the recycling thing. I do that, too.

  28. Saying “gesundheit” after people sneeze. I know the history behind it, and how ridiculously superstitious it all is, but I’ve been conditioned to think it’s a polite thing to do, so I willingly continue to do it. I even make mental note of people who don’t say anything when someone else sneezes. I think that’s why I don’t mind when people say “Bless You.”

  29. I also still smudge new places…. More because it makes me feel good and less because of the “magic” but there is a teeny bit of me that wishes it were true.

    I wish on stars… silly I know, but I do it.

  30. Traffic.

    Allow me to explain. I drive in LA traffic a fair bit. Nobody in my car (including me) is allowed to comment on “good” traffic. Because if they do, the traffic gods will hear, and we will stop moving. Sometimes even thinking “hey, the traffic has been good so far” is enough to incur the wrath of the traffic gods.

    I know I’m right, because my own confirmation bias says so.

    Heck, the other day my wife even said to me: “You know, for a supposedly skeptical person, that’s a pretty stupid belief.” I know it’s stupid. My wife knows it’s stupid. Heck, my kids know it’s stupid. And yet I persist. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that’s close to Einstein’s definition of insanity.

  31. @wet blanket: I say “bless you” even though I’m an atheist. It’s just a habit that can’t seem to die. And if I’m on the bus, listening to my mp3 player, I’ll turn the volume down or off when I’m going to sneeze, so I can say “thank you” to whomever might say “Bless You.”

  32. @taypro:
    Chemically speaking sea salt is identical to table salt. You wouldn’t upend a salt shaker on your face and rub it in.

    I have to confess to some man-mystification here – spend £50 on face cream and it’s going to take five years off you – no it isn’t, regardless of what Jane Fonda says.

    That said, I’m off to re-adjust my dream-catcher…

  33. For a long time my sacred cow was jungian synchronicity. Coincidences made the world feel magical. But the more critical I got, the less powerful the confirmation bias effect became. But, I still get a bit of magical feeling when I think of a friend and the check my email and find a message from them.

    The thing with sacred cows are that the ones we’re aware of are the least dangerous- because we don’t actually take them seriously. What concerns me is the potential for blind spots in our thinking- the congnitive dissonance we’re oblivious to. I guess that’s what skeptical friends are for.

  34. JP@48: Ah, another LA devotee of the traffic gods. I have been known to cuss out people who mention how the freeways are “clear today.”

    marilove@51 : I totally do that too. Damn.

  35. @ marilove: The thing is, phrases like “Bless you” and “Goddamn you straight to hell!” and “The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” are basically functional speech. It’s not different than saying “Goodbye,” or “Have a nice day,” in that the semantic content is irrelevant. It’s all about the social function of language. “Knock wood,” is another functional phrase, kind of like how non-Muslim Arab-speakers will pepper their speech with “inshallah,” without necessarily appealing to the will of Allah.

    I actually find it more disturbing when freethinkers do awkward little symbolic acts like not capitalizing “god” or spelling it “Ghod,” or whatever. Avoiding idiomatic, well-understood English expressions because they arose out of 1500 years of Christian dominance is perilously close to magical thinking.

    Sometimes I’ll say “Bless you,” and people who know I’m an atheist will look at me expectantly. I look back and calmly explain, “I have that power.”

  36. @Howard: Sometimes I’ll say “Bless you,” and people who know I’m an atheist will look at me expectantly.

    When I sneeze, I say “excuse me”, which tends to preempt the bless-yous.

  37. Magic. I just KNOW if I manage to say “wingardium leviosa” with the right intonation, my coffee mug will fly over to the pot and fill itself!

  38. Oh also, I’m convinced my mom’s dog knows when people are about to get headaches and that most people’s dogs know when they’re sick.

    The already sick thing isn’t really that far fetched I don’t think. There’s plenty of non-verbal cues for them to pick up on.

  39. I’m just a bitter old cynic.

    –But I do use a bit of Chinese Medicine now and again. Acupuncture, An-mo, and Moxibustion. The perils of being a martial artist, I suppose.

  40. @Howard/marilove:

    I just say “gesundheit” when someone sneezes, which is essentially wishing them good health. Much less baggage than “bless you.” ;o)

    I do knock on wood occasionally, but not out of superstition or even reflex. I usually do it when I’m trying to make a humorous point about the risk involved in some claim I just made.

    As far as marketing claims… I’ve simply trained myself to listen to what they’re actually saying. When I hear something like, “reduces the appearance of fine lines by up to 25%!” I automatically think, “Wow, that’s a vague and subjective claim.” But then, I’m male, so my consumption of cosmetic products is mainly limited to shampoo and deoderant. Those I buy based on what I think smells good.

    I’m honestly having a tough time thinking of anything I do that fits the question. Some people mentioned recycling. I do, but I can’t say that I’ve researched the topic enough to have an opinion on if it’s worthwhile. But it’s free with garbage service in our area, so I can’t see how it hurts. I do occasionally buy bottled water, but that’s mostly about convenience. Like when I’m going on a day trip and I forgot to fill a bottle at home. I stopped taking supplemental vitamins last year when I started reading up on the recent studies.

    Sorry, I guess I’m just a boring person :o(

  41. I am changing from “bless you” to “gesundtheit”, but it still seems weird. I mean, why do we feel compelled to say something when someone sneezes? we don’t when they hiccup or burp. Weird thing, there
    The thing I cling to that I know isn’t true, but that I really really want to be true is that people are basically good and will do the right thing when the opportunity arises. this gets proven wrong again and again, but that is a hard one to let go of.

  42. Yeah, astrology – I have asked people “Are you a X-sign?” at times, even though I think it’s all suggestive psychology … By the way, writerdd, are you a Leo?

  43. I’ve been told I’m a typical Leo. That’s okay with me.

    Sometimes I find myself crossing my fingers.

  44. Astrology certainly SEEMS like a real discipline – I mean, it can be so sophisticated … I once talked to this woman at a party who was really into astrology – she asked what my birthday was, and she began describing some characteristics of Libras … And I said “Yeah, that’s kind of like me, but on the other hand I am also X, Y, and Z.” … And then she said, “Well, that’s because you’re a Libra on the cusp of Scorpio,” and then she started talking about Scorpios … So my girlfriend chimed in and said, “Yeah, but he’s not really like that at all, ” and the astrologer replied, “Well, that’s because you were born when Jupiter was in the house of Saturn (?)” … And I thought to myself, “That’s too bad, she [the astrologer] could have been a really good pharmacist or accountant or SOMETHING else” … You have to wonder where it all went wrong.

  45. I want ghosts to be real. I’ve never seen an apparition of any kind, but I love listening to ghost stories, and naturally, it’s comforting to think that there may be another life beyond this one. While I used to be a firm believer in ghosts, that belief is now filed away with fairies, Santa Claus, and Prince Charming.

  46. marilove & taypro – define awesome.

    I honestly don’t get the exfoliating thing. Oh my god! There are hairs growing out of my face! Aaaargh! I’m a mutant! Rather than just a member of the human race.

    I could understand it if you were a woman who had a big-time stache or something. But reaaally, it’s just a few hairs. Us guys don’t care – and I know that’s what you empowered, educated and intelligent women-folk really care about.

  47. Oh, I also shout at electronics when they glitch. I’m fairly certain they can’t hear me and the ones that can don’t listen to what I have to say. Sigh. Such is life.

  48. I knock on wood….and kind of internally panic when I can’t find any…but then just knock on my head and make people laugh, which is just as valid I suppose.

    I follow Feng Shui to a certain extent. Not the whole “hanging red curtains in my bedroom will increase my wealth” thing – only YOU can do that stuff. But I do believe that your surroundings can have a decent effect on your mood and your attitude. I had to BEG my roommate to let me rearrange my living room, and now it just feels so much better in here. So I suppose I simply believe in proper interior decorating?

  49. I lead ghost tours on the weekends. Does that count? I mean, I don’t actually believe in ghosts, but I DO believe in $50 per tour plus tips. I soothe the skeptical itch by making a Schroedinger’s Cat joke and pointing out when people are falling for the power of suggestion and my low, creepy voice.

  50. That foods rich in dietary fat is not harmful to you. I certainly love buttery and other fat laden foods (Dr. Nick sez: “rub it against a piece of paper. If the paper turns clear, it’s your window to weight gain”).

    Actually, I still waiting for Evidence Based Medicine to tackle this one, because I am still not sure why its harmful in and of itself. (My cholesterol numbers are excellent). See, there I go again.

    Oh, and people, you have to listen to Ben Goldacre’s excellent two part podcast about the placebo effect. It will make you want to start popping sugar pills! Well, not really, but its very interesting.

  51. @writerdd:

    Oh, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jungian psychology and Myers Briggs tests

    Me too! I have profiled everyone I know using online typelogic tests. I am an INTJ.

    I know its BS and wrought with confirmation bias, but I still find it fun.

  52. @wet blanket: I am trying to break myself of this habit.

    But I still believe that I get more weird students than anyone else in my department. It doesn’t help that my coworkers believe and confirm this for me almost daily.

  53. @trumpetess: I hold a similar opinion on ghosts, as I had a very strong interest in them in highschool.

    I’ve also been known to shout at electronics, never does any good.

    For me, it’s an attempt to use my force powers to grab things from a distance. I assume my adhd prevents me from concentrating hard enough to get them to work, either that or they simply don’t exist.

    As to the recycling issue, with most things, especially plastics and many paper goods, it really doesn’t do much good, but with metal it is actually much more environmentally friendly. Plus, if you collect enough of certain metals (aluminum, copper…) you can take them to your local scrap yard and make a fair bit of scratch in the process. Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t! actually dealt with this subject quite effectively, though I did get some conflicting information on the effectiveness of most garbage dumps environmental policies from my sister who happens to be a Geologist for the state of Kansas. She, of course, recycles everything.

  54. @nighean_ruaidhe:
    as far as feng shui is concerned, there was a fairly interesting talk given by Douglas Adams some years ago (obviously as he is quite dead now:( and can’t give such a talk more recently) that you can find a transcript of in Salmon of a Doubt where he suggests that on a psychological level there may be something to Feng Shui, just as there might be something to the idea of god belief. The speech is called Is there an Artificial God. I don’t remember the speech all that well (I should probably sit down and reread it, after I get caught up on my other reading of course) but it was pretty interesting in its implications.

  55. I say “gesundheit” when in the company of people I know who are accustomed to having their sneezes acknowledged…I do it so that I don’t seem like an asshole. And wishing someone health after they sneeze makes more sense than if it were a burp! But maybe I’ll have to start saying it after someone coughs now just for the sake of consistency.

    I used to be kinda ocd in a “I have to reach that corner before the light turns green” kind of way, but somehow the relatively copious amount of LSD that I did during my 16th year seemed to fix that. In fact it pretty much fixed any trace of magical thinking that I ever had. Weird, huh?

  56. #16 reminds me that I still “check” my dice by rolling them a couple times before the game starts, and choose which dice I’ll use depending on the sample rolls before the game.

    #84 reminds me that I occasionally talk soothingly to my car or computer, if I feel they need it.

    I also talk to the other drivers around me when I’m driving, though I know they can not hear me and my words will not influence them.

    I insist on acting as if I have free will, though I have no real reason to assume this is the case.

  57. Now that I’ve read the free will thread from a few days ago, I want to follow up on my comment above.

    I also seem to insist on believing that I have freely chosen to act as if I have free will, though of course if I don’t, I’m obliged to.

  58. I am a professional tradesman of 20+ years but to this day when I injure myself or damage equipment through improper use/selection of my tools, I invariably take it personally, blame the tool and dispose of it with extreme prejudice (usually injuring/damaging something else in the process ).

    Also, I carry a “magic” rock that I rub to reduce stress.
    It’s brand new cause I lost the last one when I threw it a plumber, “magic” rock my ass, I missed by three feet.

  59. Instead of saying “Bless You,” i’ve gotten into the habit of saying “Scat.” Something my dad has always said, and it has the same effects as any other post-sneeze well-wishing, but without the extremely obvious religious connotations.

    As for sea salt exfolient, i don’t know if it helps as far as aging and what not, but anything slightly coarse is going to remove dead skin cells, right? Isn’t that the point?
    Oh, and i could be completely wrong on this, but: aren’t table salt and sea salt chemically different because sea salt has iodine in it, whereas table salt does not?

    My biggest bad habit is this weird OCD belief that if i imagine something happening, in extreme detail, and the consequences of it… WON’T happen!! So…i can imagine my car breaking down on the interstate, worry about it, fear it, and then it won’t happen and i’ll think my mind had something to do with it. Well, perhaps i don’t really -believe- it if i’m sitting here typing about it sarcastically and shamefully, but it’s sometimes a nifty game. Probably unhealthy, as it makes me worry way more than i should ever have to :\

  60. My boss recently said to me,

    Boss: I hear you carry magic rocks.
    Me: Just one.
    Boss: Well, thats your business but ,since we had to send such and such to rehab last week to kick his crack problem, I’d appreciate it if you kept them at home.”

  61. Heh, I suppose that despite the Barnum Effect I also enjoy personality tests. I’m an INTP according to the Myers-Briggs whosiwhatsits and I remember also responding favorably to some enneagram test I took once.

    That said, it’s not as if I go up to people at parties and say “Hey baby, you seem like an ISFP, and I KNOWS how to treat ya real sensitive…” It’s strictly, as the psychics say, “for entertainment purposes.”

  62. I refuse to say god bless you when someone sneezes, and refuse to say thanks if someone else says it when i sneeze. i used to reply “probably not, but thanks for asking him anyway” but that got old and people probably thought i was being a little too dark.
    Most of my obviously superficial beliefs/rituals come out on the golf course. i spit on my tee and ball for good luck when i am teeing up. if you say the word “shank” after shanking a ball (really bad hit to either side) you will be cursed with “the shanks” (think i picked that one up from my dad, he’ll only says “the s-word”), and play bad until you somehow mystically lift the curse by appeasing the golf gods.
    I don’t know why i can’t stop doing it, but i always wish someone luck when they are going for a job interview, or going in for surgery, first date, etc. complete bunk, but i still do it.

  63. I always wish paramedics driving past me good luck, though I doubt it clears out any traffic. I wonder, though, if wishing luck is actually an attempt at intercession, or just an instance of empathy.

  64. I dont think wishing some one good luck is bunk.

    It’s just a common way of expressing
    “I hope you do well”

    Just like when I tell someone
    ” I hope you burn in HELL!!!”
    ( Ala, Sam Jackson)

    It doesn’t mean I believe in lakes of fire, just that the sentiment is there.

  65. I do a slightly superstitious thing every New Year’s, where I do a little bit of each thing I hope to do in the next year. Play a little music, do a craft, get a little exercise, etc. But I don’t know if that’s woo-ish, really.

    Probably more in that category would be my lingering belief that my grandparents, who accepted Jesus into their hearts as children and did Christian service their whole lives, will go straight to heaven, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.

    I am what you might call a beginning skeptic. :P

  66. Well, to be sure, its just a way to let someone know I want things to go well for them. But when I really think about it, it seems LUCK and BLESSINGS are about the same thing. If a whole bunch of people wish the same person good luck, does something good actually happen to them? Kinda like a whole bunch of people praying for something good to happen. I have the feeling it has about the same effect.

  67. @Adrebellious: On a serious note I’m pretty sure table salt is iodized. At least the 80 year old box in my cupboard says so.

    Also, research into depression tends to show that thinking about something intensely or repetitively leads to measurable changes in brain chemistry that induce anxiety and depression.

  68. @Mikey V. Denver: Maybe a bunch of people wishing someone good luck serves mainly as a showing of support meant to boost the person’s confidence. I guess the same could almost be said about prayer, on a very placebo-ish level

  69. @Electro: Ah. My salt says something to the effect of “contains no Iodine, a necessary nutrient,” so i wasn’t sure if that was true for all table salts.

    As for repetitious thinking and the dire consequences, no argument there. But growing up, i actually believed i could control the outcome of something by imagining the opposite of what i wanted to happen- mind power or some such, i guess. It’s a habit that’s sorta persisted. Not that childhood habits leading to later-life mental issues is anything new, heh

  70. @Adrebellious: Just checked my salt box…
    And through the water stains I can make out
    “100% Free running iodized table salt”
    or maybe
    “Not to taken internally”
    It’s a toss up.

    The effects of repetitious thinking extend even to happy thoughts.
    See, kids aren’t just a handful around Xmas because their excited, they’re actually mentally ill.

  71. @Electro:
    See, kids aren’t just a handful around Xmas because their excited, they’re actually mentally ill.

    Nominee for COTW!! Seriously, lmao!

  72. WOW I’m humbled… really….(sniff)… Just to be nominated…

    I’d say something but the last nomination speech I heard involved some fundie moose herder wanting to go to Washington.

    Thanx though

  73. @writerdd: Hmmm :\ Get your hormones checked. You might have excess androgen or testosterone

    As for me…I also collect fortune cookie fortunes and when my internet goes out I SWEAR that if I stare at it hard enough the internet will connect. I swear! ;)

    But really, I just enjoy silly personality tests like Myers Briggs as well :)

  74. Back on topic,
    Spiders… they terrify me.

    I truly believe everything I’ve ever heard from biologists that spiders are mostly harmless to humans and they feed on pests, I know that in my black little heart.

    But so help me, when I see one in my house, I kill it, if I see two, I move.

    Sorry Bug_girl

  75. I’ve got this superstition that the universe likes to be in balance, so if you say too much positive stuff (i.e., Gosh things are going great today), the universe gets all tilted and it’s very important to shut up or quickly utter counter statements (i.e., last time I felt this way, I ran into a cabinet) in order to balance it out.
    Seriously, I’m pretty sure there is some connection here to how things actually work.

  76. I happily saunter under ladders and book flights for Friday 13th, but I can’t spill salt without chucking it over my shoulder to avert the Evil Eye.

    Oh, and I get creeped out by dark spooky places. I also talk to my cats as if they understand what I’m saying.

  77. I make a wish when I find one of my eyelashes that has fallen out and when the clasp of my necklace touches the pendent, though the wishes are generally too big for the tiny eyelash fairies to be able to complete but it’s worth a shot :-)

    I also hate the dark when I’m home alone and knock on wood.

  78. “Oh also, I’m convinced my mom’s dog knows when people are about to get headaches and that most people’s dogs know when they’re sick. The already sick thing isn’t really that far fetched I don’t think. There’s plenty of non-verbal cues for them to pick up on.”

    I’m with Elyse on pets reading people. Their senses are far more sensitive than ours. I think there is some persuasive evidence that dogs and cats are seeing/smelling/etc. something different about an ill person. If you think about it, this makes evolutionary sense – If a male dog meets a new female dog and can “sniff” that they are not healthy, it is to your and your future offspring’s advantage not to mate with that individual. Given that, it might carry over between species. Research needed.

  79. Or the thing about how dogs can “sense vibrations”. That’s how they can tell someone is having a heart attack.

    My uncle is convinced their dog saved his life on the same principle by pestering him while he was working in the yard one day until he finally had to go inside and “moments later” a tree fell right where he had been standing.

    It makes sense though. I assume a heart would have a strange rhthym, or at least sound different right before or during a heart attack. But I don’t really think a dog would know that meant something bad was happening and be able to “warn” someone, like I’ve heard from some stories.

    A dog knowing a tree is about to fall and warning someone in the way seems a lot more plausible, though.

    I have a book called “How to Live with a Neurotic Dog”, and that’s about all I need to know about what dogs are thinking.

  80. @taypro & @QuestionAuthority:

    From what I understand, animals being able to sense vibrations of the earth or being able to sense things like seizures is all based on confirmation bias (which is probably the case with my mom’s dog).

    However, once we’re actually sick it’s a different story. Our pets don’t communicate with us verbally, but they do understand our body language and they know “when x happens, then y happens” (e.g., when I sit, I get a treat; when I see the leash, I’m going for a walk; when the human puts on his shoes, he’s leaving me).

    When I used to work with dogs, my clients would always insist that on their doggie-day-camp days, somehow their dogs knew it was that day and would wait impatiently at the door to go to camp. They’d ask me thing like, “How do they know today is Wednesday?” and insist that everything they do on Wednesday is exactly the same as what they do any other day. I’m sure there were clues dropped that the owners don’t realize.

    I’ll tell you though, work with enough groups of dogs and you’ll see they most certainly know when Aunt Flo is in town. Also I’m fairly sure they somehow sense pregnancy as well.

  81. One definitely shouldn’t underestimate what dogs can determine from their keen sense of smell. I’m sure with many illnesses there are changes in scent that are too subtle for us to detect but dogs can pick up on easily.

    Detecting menstruation is a no-brainer for a dog…especially a male dog. I’ve seen it with my girlfriend’s dog. It is quite clear.

  82. Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory. I REALLY want that to be true. It’s a long shot, but it’s so unbelievably cool and compelling…

    Oh, and despite being an atheist, I still say “goddammit” a lot. Not sure why, but it’s probably my favorite curse word.

  83. “I’m fairly sure they somehow sense pregnancy as well.”

    Don’t forget, a dog’s sense of smell is extraordinarily powerful and more senstitive than is ours. Body chemistry changes with illness, disease, pregnancy, as well as during moments of severe stress and so forth, so it is probable that with those chemical changes comes an odour change that we won’t notice, but Doggy will.

  84. So, the question is: “Is there anything you know is complete bunk, but you still do it/use it/buy it and love it anyway?”

    Maybe we should get back on track. A lot (oddly disproportionate) of answers are about the sneezle response: “Bless you,” or Gesundhiet” or whatever. Some others are about religious-based swear words like God damn it, and so forth.

    Most of those things do not come under the label of something “you know is complete bunk, but you still do it/use it/buy it and love it anyway.” They come under the label of habit, indoctrination, learned language response, and so forth.

    When you say something like God damn it, after hammering your thumb, you are not making the literal statement of I wish God would damn this hammer to hell because it hurt my finger. You are simply using the learned knee-jerk response to a mixed set of actions: making a mistake that hurts your finger, self-blame, minor shock, etc.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with the question of believing in bunk.

    I suspect it may be possible to extend the argument to such things as Cold-Eze and other commercial products that are bunk, but which some of us buy. What I mean is, perhaps the power of advertising and marketing is such that a belief in the function of such products is not so much a reflection of an actual belief in the prodcut’s efficacy, but is more a reflection of the manipulative and subversive power of advertising et al. The belief is really predicated on something else hiding in, perhaps, the R-complex or some place like that. Just a thought to ponder.

    Lastly, I think it’s also important to keep in mind, being as our minds are supposed to be open, that some bunk may have unforeseen, yet positive results. My example is numerology.

    J. S. Bach was a deeply spiritual, theist musician. Aside from that bit of bunk he also believed very strongly numerology. Pleae not, I am absolutely not talking about mathematics or Liebniz’s concepts of the musician as the unkowing mathematician.

    Bach used his understanding of the theory and practice of numerology to create most of his best music. It goes something like this (a pathetically simple example, but it is a truly complex practice):

    Em descending to D-flat7 rising to the fifth-minor rising to the major (sort of like Cohen’s Hallejuelah), spells out, through numerology, Praise the Lord and love is in Jesus.

    That is not a true example of how Bach used numerology. But what he did with it is amazingly, extraordinarily complex, and the results are amazingly beautiful. However, those beautiful results are based quite completely on bunk.

    If you do some deep research into Bach and his use of numerology I guarantee, absolutely guarantee you will be amazed.

    By the way, I too believe I might win the lottery. Someday. At least by 20,009. For sure.

  85. @5ive: Don’t let go of it! While we hear plenty about how people don’t do the right thing, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we tend to hear more about the BAD things than the GOOD things.

    Someone did something for me this weekend that was THE RIGHT THING. He did not have to do it. He did not know me from Tom, Dick, or Harry, and yet he stuck his head out, and put himself in possible danger, just to help me.

    I honestly believe people will for the most part, do good.

  86. @SicPreFix:

    I agree on the “bless you”/”goddammit” issue. I don’t think anyone who says “bless you” nowadays actually believes they are exorcising demons. It’s merely a polite gesture. I’ve met lots of skeptics and atheists (our own lovely Rebecca included) who find it fun to say “god bless you” in the presence of other skeptics/atheists.

    And “goddammit” is a really fun curse word.

  87. @Appleman: No, no, when I mean exfoliation, it doesn’t necessarily take out your hairs, but rather gets rid of dead skin cells and makes your skin smoother. It actually works, at least a little. Ever been in a salt-water pool? It is SO MUCH different from a chlorinated pool — leaves your skin all soft and awesome.

  88. @5ive & @marilove:

    I agree. People do the right thing all the time. People are good. We don’t talk about it much because what’s “good” is, and should be, what’s “normal”. It’s rather difficult to notice and praise every time someone does something right except when it’s an out of the ordinary occurrence.

    We hear about the bad/wrong things because they stand out. They stick with us because they’re obvious.


    You spend the entire day running errands. You don’t notice or think about the number of cashiers who said “Thank you” or “have a nice day” or the people who politely excused themselves when they accidentally bumped into you. You’ve completely forgotten about the man who held the door for you, and all the people who properly waited their turns at the 4-way stop intersection. You never gave a second thought to the young woman helping her grandmother get out of the car and reading her read the menu at the restaurant you stopped at for lunch. People are doing the right thing all around you.

    The thing that does stand out in your mind is the guy in front of you in line at the grocery store who berated the cashier for overcharging him by a nickle on a can of beans that were supposed to be on sale. It’s one jerk you’ve encountered in the hundred people you were in contact with that day.

  89. Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t! actually dealt with this subject quite effectively, though I did get some conflicting information on the effectiveness of most garbage dumps environmental policies from my sister who happens to be a Geologist for the state of Kansas.

    Please don’t trust anything Penn and Teller say when it comes to science. On almost every environmental issue they simply push their own ideological views without looking further into the issue. I really wish they would just stick to magic/ghosts etc.

    About the recycling episode, note that they didn’t interview one scientist about the issue-instead, some shill for a think tank, some nutty environmentalist, and some spokesperson for an environmental organization. Hardly anyone with actual authority on the subject.

    Regarding the recycling issue, I’ve done quite a bit of research but am still somewhat conflicted about what to conclude from it. Basically, the issue is incredibly complicated and the efficacy of your recycling program can depend on the area you’re from and how well the infrastructure is set up. Another important point is that recycling doesn’t exist solely to divert items from landfills- it also reduces life-cycle costs, which means that in the case of, say, metals or paper, it will cost less(money and environmental cost) to produce new metals or paper if you can repurpose old ones. And, better for the environment if you can avoid digging up the earth looking for new raw materials.

  90. One good point Penn & Teller did make about recycling programs is that the sorting is a huge obstacle to feasiblity.

    Look in any recycling bin. Nothing is sorting, it’s a bunch of trash (including food) all thrown together. There’s no one whose job it is to sort it on the collecting end (I’m generalizing, every city is different) so it all just ends up in a land fill.

    The recycling program in chicago (where I used to live) is a complete scam. It all gets thrown in the same landfill. Effecient or not, most recycling programs are total Bullshit.

  91. And if the programs require sorting, it becomes a time sink for those who participate, and many people will still get it wrong. You never really know for sure if they are accepting what you give them.

    Another problem with the mindset is that it assumes that people’s time is worth nothing. Whatever time you have to spend to follow their guidelines, it must be worth it because you are “doing good”.

    My locale recycles a lot of paper products including junk mail. The problem? You have to put it in a paper grocery bag or bundle it up with twine. Who has paper grocery bags or twine? I’m supposed to go out of my way to get more crap just to recycle. Isn’t that counter-productive?

    Also, the weather around here is unpredictable. What if it rains and soaks all of my paper that I used up time to bundle? Seriously, even if the program in my locale is well-run and non-scam, why should anyone around here feel like their effort is well spent?

    I also have one question for people who say recycling saves money. If it saves money, how come there are no private household recycling programs? Saving money is making money, and yet only governments are in on the household recycling game.

    Governments don’t do things that make money. Other people do those things. Government does all the things we want done but don’t make any money. So that must be what household recycling is. Why?

  92. I also have one question for people who say recycling saves money. If it saves money, how come there are no private household recycling programs? Saving money is making money, and yet only governments are in on the household recycling game.

    The point is not merely saving money in the short run. It’s accounting for things that are net benefits in the long run, such as lessening environmental degradation so that raw materials are available in the future. Preparing for the long term will never be profitable in the short term, which is how the private sector makes money.

    Plus, keep in mind that the alternative to recycling is not problems magically going away, it’s landfilling or incineration. Recycling may not 100% pay for itself, but its net benefit may be better than the alternatives when you take into account life-cycle costs. Recycling is generally more effective in more crowded areas where there are more people per distance a truck has to travel and minimal landfill space nearby. Reduction of waste to landfills means the landfill will last longer, which is good because otherwise waste will have to be trucked even farther away.

  93. “The point is not merely saving money in the short run. ”

    Of course it isn’t, but that was the point I was specifically addressing.

    “Plus, keep in mind that the alternative to recycling is not problems magically going away, it’s landfilling or incineration.”

    But is landfilling a problem? That’s a serious question.

    I’m the first one to be concerned about over-consumption of resources. The math is simple. The whole world cannot live the way we westerners currently live the way we do it now…and everybody wants to. The only way the western lifestyle can continue is for us to figure out a way to maintaining it (or as close as we can) while consuming a lot less.

    I’m just dubious over how much household recycling aids in this.

  94. Here is an article from the Journal Waste Age(which has articles written by actual experts in waste management) which better illustrates my point.
    For instance:

    The critical question is not, “Did your recycling program cost the residents money?” Cost is unavoidable and must be expected. Instead, ask, “Do the recycling costs reduce the total cost of disposing your community’s solid waste?” Residents expect to pay for garbage disposal, and recycling is simply an alternative method for disposing of their household waste.

    That is the issue we should be discussing, and how we should frame it. Just because the popular conception and marketing of recycling/green actions or products is a little ridiculous doesn’t negate what experts say about the very real issue of waste management. And, the article is good and explains the basic concept of the kinds of parameters you have to deal with when comparing waste management strategies.

  95. @covertvector: Well I did point out that I had received conflicting information. And yes I do notice, more and more, their seeming inability to get scientists on the shows that seem to have a Libertarian bent than the others. I realize that one should not take everything one particular person or persons say on a subject at face value (as I am sure the rest of the commenters here realize), for if I did, I wouldn’t be a very good skeptic now would I?

  96. I hope it’s not too self-promoting to say I blogged about this thread. Since I have a few readers from my real life that don’t know about this site, I didn’t reference SkepChick in the post. But my thanks to those who posted and got my brain working, which is one of my favorite things about this site.

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