Michael Shermer is the editor of Skeptic Magazine and the Director of the Skeptic Society. The society is dedicated to debunking nonscience, bad science and outright nonsense – they’re the “bunko squad” of bunk”.
He gives us a great example of bunk – the Quadro 2000 dousing rod. He tells us that the rod is being sold to high school administrators for $900 apiece, to let them “douse” for marijuana in student lockers. Does it work? Sure, if you open enough lockers. It’s a piece of plastic with a Radio Shack antenna – Skeptic tested with government-approved marijuana and discovered that it was no better than a coinflip in detecting the plant.
Shermer argues that you have to track the misses, not the hits. Tarot Readers and prognosticators know thazt most people remember the hits, not the misses – science is about counting the misses as well as the hits.
To science well, you need a theory, and clear data. When Gallileo looked at Saturn, he didn’t have a theory of rings, and only had grainy data… so he saw the rings as three bodies. When Heyguens looked at Saturn years later, he had a better telescope… and a theory that Saturn might have rings. He was then able to see the rings, not three bodies.
he shows the classic “count the balls, miss the gorilla” footage – six students are passing basketballs back and forth and you’re encouraged to count the passes – as predicted, roughly half the audience missed the gorilla. (Shermer’s got a good explanation of the research in this Scientific American article – the phenomenon is called “perceptual blindness”.)
We get a great example of backward masking as we listen to “Stairway to Heaven” forward and backwards. Played backwards, we all hear the word “Satan”. He plays it again and shows us the text we’re supposed to hear… everyone in the audience hears it as we’re primed for it. Here’s to you, sweet Satan…