Skepchick Quickies 8.18


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. He said the law is nothing more than persecution of Gypsies, who have long been stigmatized as nomadic thieves and con artists.

    “Gypsies do exist, and they are not criminals,” he said, adding that fortunetelling is “something we’ve been doing for thousands of years.”

    Fortunetelling is something that just about every culture has been doing for about as long as they’ve been around.

    What a load of old toot.

  2. My favourite thing about the zombie article is that the lead author was Professor Robert Smith?. Where the question mark is legally part of his name, to distinguish him from the lead singer of The Cure and to make himself more searchable on Google.

    I think he should have changed it to Psmith as a Wodehouse reference, myself.

  3. The ‘gypsy’ article briefly touched on this, but I want to point it out a little further:

    ‘Gypsy’ is a really, really horrible, pejorative. And this guy is using that word as the impetus for defending his fraud? nice.

    It’s a bit like if an Ojibwa or Cree shaman tried to insist on performing a dance because of it’s curative properties instead of proper medical treatment, on the basis that he is “Les Sauvage”

  4. Oh, and to the Zombie math course:

    It’s great that us humanities people can finally point back at the sciences for bullshitty, useless ideas now, too!

    We’ve put up with it for decades and I have to thank this professor for designing a course which can teach a bunch of 20-somethings to mathematically model a thing which was invented in mythology and modern cinema, and will never, ever, ever, ever, ever have any real application whatsoever.

    Is this what they call “pure” mathematics? HA!

  5. Size matters.
    For someone to swindle folks one at a time with prognostication is bad.
    For economists to swindle an entire generation with prognostication is… well…

  6. What is it with you people? Why do you hate on the Zombie so much? Never a fair shake, never a kind word. What did any Zombie ever do you personally?

    Soooooo discouraged right now. Seriously. Vitalism is so entrenched that it seems we’ll never be able to claw over the shotgun of oppression.

  7. One of the ironies of the fortunetelling article (I thought), is that the National Weather Service is located in Montgomery County. They tell the future every day, but apparently it’s legal when a government agency does it ;)

    (Yes, I’m being sarcastic…)

  8. @Some Canadian Skeptic: Aaaactually, it would be more like a first nations person calling themselves “Indian”…Roma, especially in America, are divided on that. I have a friend who is half Rom-half Sicilian (insert crime joke here)..

    Anyway, right on to Bethesda! Too bad the guy who set up this web-warning/monument to his own gullibility didn’t live there:


    I think I’ve posted that link before. But hey, now there’s a Tracy Tan update!!

  9. …and I meant to add that the half and half friend uses the word “Gypsy” to describe himself.

  10. Hooray! One of those Canadian mathematicians is actually a friend of mine. He’s getting a kick out of the press coverage, so I’ll let him know it’s been cited here.

  11. I don’t think fortune telling, Tarot cards, palm reading, and that sort of thing should be banned. I do think, however, that it needs to be discussed more often in a skeptical light.

    The problem is not that these things exist, because they are part of our culture, our history, our “collective unconscious”, if you will. And as an author of fiction, (or an aspiring one, at any rate) I find them to be fertile breeding grounds for material.

    The problem is that people take them more seriously than they should. The practitioners, obviously, but also their clientele.

    I have no problem with your New Age shops or fairs offering low-priced readings for fun and games, and I might even grant a slight hint of spiritual insight. I do have a problem with people taking them verbatim without a second thought.

    In the past year or so, maybe slightly more, my wife has had a Tarot card reading, and a palm reading. And sure, it can be an interesting, maybe even entertaining experience. She’s an otherwise intelligent, educated person, but she’s clearly given these experiences more weight than they’re worth. I’ve been trying to drive the conversation towards bringing these experiences into a skeptical light, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s not easy to balance critical skepticism with gentle tact.

  12. I love the way naturalists see the world.
    “Sir Attenborough, we’d like to name a plant after you.”
    “Oh really, what sort of plant is it.”
    “A giant pitcher plant that dissolves rats into muck with an acid-like enzyme.”

  13. @jtradke:
    True, but I wouldn’t trust a dictionary to capture cultural subtleties like what is considered an ethnic, racial, cultural pejorative.

    Please note that Mirriam-Webster also does not define the following words as a pejorative: Fag, Les Sauvage, monkey, homo, and I could keep going but I feel uncomfortable just typing these words into the dictionary.

  14. @Some Canadian Skeptic: There is an interesting argument about the point at which a term ceases to be a pejorative based on general adoption by the group in question and/or the culture at large. I am not, however, particularly qualified to formulate the argument, using as I do the language on a vigorously amateur basis.

  15. @Some Canadian Skeptic

    No… that’s not what you call Pure Mathematics… because infectious disease studies is part of Applied Mathematics. When pure mathematicians want to have fun, they come up with something really pretty and figure out its properties… among other things. When applied mathematicians want to have fun, they model things that are absurd.

    And this isn’t completely useless. If this study isn’t cited in a zombie movie in the next 2 years I’ll eat my brother’s brain.

  16. Man, I’ve always wanted a newly discovered plant or animal named after me. Rather have a rat than a rat eating plant though. :D

  17. Nick the fortune teller should have no legal problems setting up shop. But, he’s stupid.

    Instead of trying to say he CAN tell the future, he should prove that he CAN’T. That way, he can’t really be prosecuted for telling the future, if he’s not really doing it anyway.

    The text of the actual law isn’t here, though. So, it may be that whether or not he can actually tell the future is beside the point, and the law forbids businesses who say they can.

  18. I’m of two minds when dealing with laws against psychics. On the one hand: psychic ability IS a fraud. It takes money in exchange for doing something, except they don’t really do it. It would be like me claiming to be an electrician but when you call me, I wave my hand and say “Your lights should work now, and if they don’t it’s because of some other problem. Now where’s my check?” I would be fined and/or thrown in jail for that, and rightly so.

    On the other hand, IT’S fraud! So why make special rules for it? There is no need to make fortune-telling against the law because fraud is already against the law. Just apply the friggen laws we already have and it should take care of itself.

    Unfortunately when talking about this kind of woo-woo, standard yardsticks like track record, claims and what really happened don’t seem to apply as they do in regular fraud cases. The yardstick is apparently: If the fraudster fails to convince the client of their bullshit, then it COULD be a case of fraud.. or it might just be a case of shaking a finger at the dupe and saying “You should have known better.”

    And fortune-telling SHOULDN’T be illegal. If someone comes along who can actually do it, I’ll gladly pay them $1K for next weeks lotto numbers and I don’t want that to be illegal. He just better be right.

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