Pseudoscience and Superstition: Things I Don't Believe In
At the borders of science there are many ideas that are appealing, but that have not been conscientiously worked over with a baloney detection kit: the idea that the Earth's surface is on the inside, not the outside, of a sphere; or claims that you can levitate yourself by meditating and that ballet dancers and basketball players get up so high by levitating; or the proposition that I have something called a soul, made not of matter or energy, but of something else for which there is no other evidence.
Typical offerings of pseudoscience and superstition are:
the Bermuda Triangle
biblical scientific foresight
"Big Foot" and the Loch Ness monster
extrasensory perception (ESP), such as telepathy and "remote viewing" of distant places
creation science and theories such as intelligent design
the belief that 13 is an "unlucky" number (because of which many office buildings and hotels in America pass directly from the 12th to the 14th floors -- why take chances?)
transcendental meditation feats
the conviction that carrying the severed foot of a rabbit around with you brings good luck
the belief that razor blades stay sharper when kept inside small cardboard pyramids, and other tenets of "pyramidology"
phone calls (none of them collect) from the dead
the alleged discovery that untrained flatworms can learn a task by eating the ground-up remains of other, better educated flatworms
"sensitives" who, when carelessly blindfolded, read books with their fingertips
the prophecies of Nostradamus
the notion that more crimes are committed when the Moon is full
"photography" of past events, such as the crucifixion of Jesus
Edgar Cayce (who predicted that in the 1960s the "lost" continent of Atlantis would "rise") and other "prophets," sleeping and awake
water remembering what molecules used to be dissolved in it
telling character from facial features or bumps on the head
the "hundredth monkey" confusion and other claims that whatever a small fraction of us wants to be true really is true
dianetics and scientology
human beings spontaneously bursting into flame and being burned to a crisp
perpetual motion machines, promising unlimited supplies of energy
the systematically inept predictions of Jeane Dixon (who "predicted" a 1953 Soviet invasion of Iran and in 1965 that the USSR would beat the U.S. to put the first human on the Moon) and other professional "psychics"
the Jehovah's Witnesses' prediction that the world would end in 1917, and many similar prophecies
psychic spoon benders
Carlos Castaneda and "sorcery"
Anatoly Kashpirovsky -- a faith healer who remotely cures diseases ranging from hernias to AIDS by glaring at you out of your television
claims of finding the remains of Noah's Ark
accounts of a small brontosaurus crashing through the rain forests of the Congo Republic in our time
Some claims are hard to test -- for example, if an expedition fails to find the ghost or the brontosaurus, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Others are easier -- for example, flatworm cannibalistic learning. A few -- for example, perpetual motion machines -- can be excluded on grounds of fundamental physics.
The question, as always, is how good is the evidence? The burden of proof surely rests on the shoulders of those who advance such claims. Some people hold that skepticism is a liability, that true science is investigated without skepticism. They are perhaps halfway there. But halfway doesn't do it.