My Late Christmas Gift To You All

A list of my favorite Firefox extensions!

By far my favorite is AdBlock Plus with Element Hiding Helper (for some reason, these are two separate extensions). The former removes most Internet ads from your sight, the latter allows you to remove parts of webpages you don’t like (such as the box on google.com telling you to download Chrome) from your sight.

My second-favorite is NoScript. Be warned! The maker of the add-on advertises for malware made by UniBlue on the NoScript website. Other than the warning, NoScript is an excellent add-on, allowing blocking of third-party scripts on all websites. I see it best to allow top-level sites by default.

My third-favorite is Tree Style Tab. Before this add-on, organizing tabs was one of my worst nightmares and the main obstacle preventing me from completing my first post on Syria. Now, organizing tabs is easy and largely unnecessary. The add-on is the most visible extension in my last-posted screenshot.

My fourth-favorite is UnloadTab. This prevents Firefox crashes by unloading tabs after a specified amount of time. Before this extension, Firefox used to crash roughly five times per day for me. Now, it crashes only once per week.

My fifth-favorite is Flagfox. It allows quick access to a whole range of services, including Google Translate, Google Cache, Internet Archive, and copying server info. It is the extension I never thought I needed until I realized its utility.

My sixth-favorite is Ghostery. This blocks cookies and trackers. The only disadvantage is that settings reset after every update.

My seventh-favorite was GreaseMonkey until the problem mentioned here (which surprisingly only manifested itself while I was finishing up this post) led me to remove it (the problem is apparently with GreaseMonkey itself; the problem continues to manifest itself when I re-install GreaseMonkey) and switch to Scriptish, which does the same thing. So far, I have only used it to modify YouTube with scripts to show ratings in YouTube thumbnails, prevent YouTube autoplay, unclick the “Share to Google+” checkbox in the YouTube comments, and, most importantly, to add a Stop button to YouTube. This is because, as you know, YouTube is a completely functional site programmed by competent people.

My eighth-favorite is UnMHT, which allows Firefox to view and save webpages as mhtml files.

My ninth-favorite is Copy Plain Text 2. This one’s a bit buggy as it makes the regular Copy feature work much slower.

Lastly, my tenth-favorite is DownloadHelper, which helps download flash videos as mp4 files. The recommended converter doesn’t work, but that does not distract from the utility of this extension.

A Wonderful Medium-Sized Film From Brian Dunning

-I just love this movie. If anything, it’s better than Ancient Aliens Debunked. It should be shown to all High School students in America. The only qualms I have with it is that it seems to view the premodern era as one long period of barbarism (only partly true), and that its claim about the Dark Ages could only really apply to Western Europe. Part 2 of my Non-Biblical History is mostly finished, as is my first review of T&L&L’s “Biblical History of Israel”. Check the Schedule page. Also, 100 or more views per day has now become a new normal occurrence for this blog.

Response to Joolzey

The person who believes weird things has now responded to me. Naturally, I will respond to him.

His fanaticism eructs off the page with an invective extreme enough to strike the casual reader as amusing, perhaps even crudely compelling.

– I didn’t notice any fanaticism. I only saw one exclamation point in my entire first reply.

In the war against ‘evil’ – a curiously religious word for a skeptic – there is no room for compromise or even civil argument.

How does one define ‘civil’? I am strongly opposed to the use of ad hominem attack alone to determine the truth of ideas. I am not opposed to the use of informal rhetorical devices in argument, as long as those devices express a clear, relevant, and evidence-backed point.

Protesting loudly that discourtesy is the norm in the knockabout arena of rigorous debate, the paranoid style makes itself all the more transparent. The discourse grows ever shriller and more ill-mannered, until by degrees it degenerates into the desperate and the ridiculous.

I am strongly against name-calling in argument. Calling one a ‘crank’ is not an example of name-calling if good evidence is pointed out to support this accusation. I take into consideration the ideas of cranks on all points on which I consider them to not be very probably incorrect.

But when professedly rational skeptics label cranks as evil rather than harmless…

-I am thinking especially of the anti-vaccinationists.

…when they defend the persecution not only of pseudoscientists but of Galileo himself…

-The least charitable honest reading of my post on the subject would almost certainly not conclude I was in favor of literally persecuting Galileo, especially in the manner conducted by the Catholic Church. If Joolzey did not notice, the word “persecuted” appears in scare quotes in all places it is used by me in regards to the treatment of those with unconventional ideas. I did say that Galileo was laughed at “rightly” (quotes not used to scare), but that in no way equates to support for his persecution by the Catholic Church.

but when consensus opinion is taken on ‘faith’, a word surely anathema to genuine skepticism, this conservative attitude becomes groundlessly dogmatic and imperious.

I did not even use the word “faith” in my relevant posts. I am strongly opposed to faith in any authority.

Advocating for ridicule as a critical part of the process to ‘get closer to the truth about the world‘ suggests either a paranoid lack of confidence in debate and peer review or an authoritarian desire to shut people up.

-Nope. I support the use of ridicule to make the one with improbable (at first sight) views defend, modify, and clarify those views. What better defense is there against ideas as silly as young-earthism or homeopathy than ridicule? I have much confidence in debate (why else would I have continued the long YouTube debate between Joolzey and me?) and I have no desire to ‘shut people up’ (although I do support the marginalization of dangerous and non-scholarly views in popular media). I have much confidence in peer-review, as anyone who had read the paragraph just below my screenshots of Visocica can attest.

But if today, some virginal loner sat in a darkened room, poring over alchemical texts and tomes on the occult before publishing a revolutionary mathematical proof, he would doubtless be contaminated by these associations and not taken seriously at all, or declared ‘evil’ by this blogger.

-Nah. Mathematics is a field in which authority matters little. I am confident that if a modern-day Newton submitted his ‘revolutionary mathematical proof’ for peer-review, it would first be widely debated, then accepted.

If it was ‘only right and proper’ to laugh at Galileo, at what point should all this amusement have abated? When he was formally ordered to recant?

-The amusement should have abated when Galileo published and extensively discussed good evidence for his relevant beliefs and gave solid rebuttals to the ridicule he received.

To state categorically that nothing exists outside of the strictly measurable strikes me as foolhardy,

Since when did “falsifiable” begin to have the hidden meaning “measurable”?

Skeptics have little of value to say about the nature of consciousness,

-The key term must be “of value” (to Joolzey), I suppose.

(I cannot take my skeptic friend’s blustering comments on Bosnia, or indeed anything else given these observations, particularly seriously. His remark about ‘prior probability’ could in fact lend credence to a Bosnian pyramid given the weight of evidence from ‘Old Europe’. He also promised to show the Bosnian pyramid’s orientation relative to the cardinal points but I am still waiting for him to do so.)

For fuck’s sake, give us the evidence, not further unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks on the scholarly community! The prior probability of a Neolithic pyramid or mound existing in Bosnia is medium to high, the prior probability of Visocica specifically being an artificial pyramid is very low, indeed. I thought I already showed “the Bosnian pyramid’s orientation relative to the cardinal points” with the first image on my first response to Joolzey, but, apparently, some cannot accept the existence of a capital “N” with an arrow pointing up. Needless to say, the “Geodesic Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina” probably does a better job at adjusting its maps to True North than a regular human with Google Earth.

It is vital to cultivate an open mind, one that is wary of parameterised structures of thought, fiercely independent, thoroughly discerning, and free from all traces of credulity or complacency.

-As long as animals exist, there will always be error. Such a mind as Joolzey describes literally cannot exist.

Although he doesn’t explicitly accuse SCICOP of academic fraud the implication is clear enough. Scientific method is fine until it produces an unfavourable result.

-Not all research misconduct is fraud. Fraud is merely the greatest of the ‘sins’ of researchers. I still see no evidence CSICOP has committed any fraud except for some plagiarism that does not distract from the merits of its case.

Mailbag

I have been sent the below YouTube Personal Message by a person (almost certainly female) that I may (or may not) have known in real life.

prosletyzing

Let us respond to her proselytizing.

After this life is over do you know for sure where you will spend eternity?

-No. I don’t particularly care what happens to my body after my death. Spending my post-life period as ashes is just as acceptable to me as spending it as a rotten body buried beneath the ground. Besides, no human body lasts for eternity. Yes, I do know you are referring to the bizarre (oft-religious) concept of brainless human thinking, something that is, as far as I know, impossible.

The Bible says that there is only 2 choices…

“HEAVEN” or “HELL”

God says that “SAVED” people go to Heaven and lost people go to Hell.

-[citation needed]
The case for a literal Biblical fiery Hell is pretty slim. There’s also a good Biblical case for Universalism (or, at least, no long postmortem punishment).

The “Good News” is that God LOVES us and wants to save you from going to that terrible place called hell. Check this really cool verse out from the Bible…

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have ALL men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

-An omnipotent supernatural being with multiple personality disorder (one personality that wishes all men to be saved and one personality that wishes some to be damned) is hardly believable. I do not think the word “all” means what you think it means. Does this “all” include Zoroastrians?

AJAL…God does not want to send anyone to hell. We CHOOSE where we are going to spend eternity!!

-According to the most commonly accepted Christian theology on this topic, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, thus, he knows our choices before we make them and has determined what our choices would be from the day he created the Universe, and, probably before (what would be the meaning of ‘all-powerful’ if he didn’t?). Determinism makes more sense than free will all the way, in both the secular and religious worldviews.

We all deserve to go to Hell because of SIN.
When we sin we break God’s laws of righteousness!

-So your god is a sadist, too, wishing people to suffer for reasons undetermined (remember, if God is responsible for creating everything, he is responsible for creating sin).

~ God will send every LIAR to hell. That means we all deserve to be there but we do not have to go there!!

Relevant part begins at 0:24

We can’t just tell God that we are “SORRY” for what we have done wrong!

-Why?

You can become righteous in God’s eyes by trusting Him to forgive you!

-Why do we have to trust this god?
Now seems like a good time to trot out this Darkmatter2525 video (warning-impolite language).

You can become righteous in God’s eyes by trusting Him to forgive you! Being saved is a FREE GIFT from God. PLEASE keep reading and I will show you how to be saved OK?!! :)

-What difference does it makes if one admits his/her sin? The sinful act still happened. If the gift is “free”, why does it not guaranteed from birth?

– Jesus Christ was SINLESS. He didn’t have to die. When He died it was to PAY YOUR SIN DEBT in full…

-Depends on the definition of ‘sin’, doesn’t it? Also, Paul never had a video recording of Jesus’s entire life.

– YOU CAN BE SAVED RIGHT NOW!
All you have to do is trust Jesus Christ to save you!

Believe that He shed His blood for you by dying for YOUR SIN, and that He rose from the dead to justify you before God…

-Or should I hedge my bets and make offerings to all the most widely-accepted gods of today? In any case, I go by the evidence, not by simply accepting an old book as inerrant and calling it a day.

We have seen above a typical ‘please accept Jesus before you die’ message. It expresses genuine concern for me, but does not express any understanding of what a Skeptic like me needs to accept the claims of Christianity. This attempt at evangelism fails on a number of counts. Firstly, it does not even try to defend the idea that the Bible is any kind of authority on the process of thought, which modern science has not demonstrated to occur outside the Brain and demonstrated to occur inside the Brain. Secondly, it assumes a Skeptic like me has not heard the Four Spiritual Laws message repeated to him at least three dozen times. I live in America, a nation in which this guy is run unopposed by the other major political party in these United States. Ya think I haven’t heard the Soterian message of the Christians at least three dozen times before in my life? In short, here is Dan Fincke’s list of actions Soterian Evangelicals should avoid doing. The author of the above message really, really needs to read that list.

In the end, it seems a good time to trot out a NonStamp video.

A Curious Thing About Links in YouTube Comments

When one tries to paste links into YouTube comments, one is forbidden to use “http” or “www” in the comment-at all. Thus, one must use the root URL only. The problem with this, however, is that YouTube randomly intersperses invisible dashes into your link. Thus, one must first insert the link into a text editor (for Windows, Notepad) or word processor (MS Word, “Keep Text Only”, apparently the default setting in OpenOffice) to check for the hidden extra dashes. It’s easier in OpenOffice, as it highlights them.

UPDATE, 8 hours later:

Nah, still doesn’t work. YouTube corrupts those links anyway.

I Find A Person Who Believes Some Very Weird Things

While I was working on “The Location of Dilmun, Part 2”, I decided to poke my head into the YouTube comments section of Ancient Aliens Debunked (which is just as filled with conspiracy theories and science-denial as you expect) and found this person, who, not understanding the concept of “prior probability“, believes that the perfectly non-man-made Visocica Hill, which, judging by the below image, taken from this pdf file on a pro-Artificial Bosnian Pyramid Hypothesis website, looks barely anything like a pyramid. For some reason unknown to me, this person believes that the vast majority of relevant scholars are engaging in self-delusion when they point to the fact the pyramid is not shaped like a Great Pyramid of Giza, the tunnels inside it are of disputable origin, the sandstone ‘blocks’ exposed beneath its topsoil are natural, and that there is absolutely no evidence at Visocica of anything resembling the evidence that humans made the most outstanding features of the Giza Necropolis in the 4th Dynasty of Egypt. Hell, the person even tried to make me believe Visocica Hill is more correctly oriented towards True North than the Pyramids of Giza (a claim that can be easily falsified by using eyes and a computer mouse).

A bunch of people have the bile to claim this hill is an artificial pyramid!

To further demonstrate that this hill is not a pyramid, I will be generous and give this person an opportunity to experience software he really needs to download in this fashion:

This
ain’t
any
kind
of
artificial
pyramid.
Got
it,
everyone?

The person mentioned above also tells me to read the writing of Paul LaViolette (some crank who has proposed Plato’s Atlantis is a literal description of subatomic particles and has claimed that the Hubble Redshift is a result of ‘tired light’) and Laird Scranton (a Velikovskyan). Don’t be afraid to click on any of the links to the cranks-I’m using nofollow. Naturally, LaViolette claims his hypothesis has not become established science due to scholarly inertia, ignoring the fact scholarly inertia can be overcome with a flood of published papers, as Israel Finkelstein has proven, or with a flood of informally published evidence and informal discussion, as GM Grena has shown (partially; hardly anyone has renounced the idea Socoh, MMST, Hebron, and Ziph on most lmlk handles are GNs and barely anyone besides Grena has proposed that lmlk-stamped jars have something to do with government donations worship payments [see comments] to Levites). Publishing a paper once or thrice and calling it a day has never worked at winning anyone many converts to a very significant new idea. I’m confident most physics PhDs could point out the flaws in LaViolette’s argument, but, as I am no physicist, or even student of physics, I cannot do so. I can, however, ridicule Scranton’s Velikovkyan catastrophism, which is all too easy to refute-it’s physically impossible. His claims regarding the Dogon have been debunked here and here.

Let us now move to ridicule one of the above-mentioned person’s WordPress posts.
Interesting. Over two thousand words and no links. One of the most important things I’ve learned regarding blogging over the past few years is that links are extremely important-testis unus testis nullus (a phrase I have often repeated to the person mentioned above, sometimes with typos). Repeating claims exclusively religious and saying “that is not true” is perhaps the best way to show to the general public all claims exclusively religious are untrue-thus, the solid program “Enemies of Reason”. I don’t see anything more authoritarian-sounding in the CSICOP name as compared to CSI-the latter is simply broader and makes it clear to the public that the former “CSICOP” investigates non-‘paranormal’ nonsense. Dawkins has made it clear he is not “certain” he is right about the non-existence of all gods.

Astrology remains elusive, part interpretive art, part science. That apparent contradiction is guaranteed to frustrate scientists, or worse – seriously piss them off.

-If it ain’t falsifiable, it’s probably false (take care to watch the whole program).

. What our educated elders overlook is that whenever we find authority being asserted by self-appointed Inquisitors General for Accepted Truths, it is usually an indication that the dark ages have already arrived.

-If one can’t show the evidence for something important in front of (metaphorically speaking) the scientific community, one probably doesn’t have much of a case. Besides, there are no such self-appointed Inquisitors General that have any real power. Also, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry does “challenge mainstream views of the world”-it challenges the existence of gods, devils, and many other widely accepted religious claims.

They think nothing of committing academic fraud to preserve the established order and according to psychology professor Richard Kammann, are ‘guilty of the very pathological science they were set up to attack.’

-Where, pray tell, have they committed academic fraud, besides a few instances of plagiarism?

certainly ruthlessly efficient in their campaigns to excommunicate, silence and smear heretics

-Because they have the evidence on their side. Besides, it would be a sad, sad world if we skeptics had not been so efficient at excommunicating (from what?), silencing, and smearing ‘heretics’. Homeopathy would be a multi-million dollar business. Peter Popoff would be out and about claiming to be able to heal the physically sick using faith. A religion that claims a dead Jew some two thousand years ago rose from the dead and is currently residing in outer space (or is it in the clouds?) would be believed in by some 3/4 of the citizens of the richest nation in the world. Over a quarter of the citizens of the same nation would believe in ghosts, and nearly a quarter in astrology. What a sad, sad world it would be. What a sad, sad world it is.

Kepler said that looking for scientific proof of astrology was like a hen pecking around in ‘evil smelling dung’ until a ‘good little grain’ was found.

Kepler was right on the money with this analogy. In this part of town, it’s called cherry-picking, or “questionable subgroup analysis“. I’m still not eating anything out of that dung. The Mars Effect was the product of such analysis, and it is a likely false positive (though compare Kamman 1982). If the person mentioned above cannot show evidence for CSICOP’s fraud (except for a few instances that have no bearing on the truth of its claims), let him not claim it. In short, as there is neither a convincing mechanism for any kind astrology to work, and the evidence for it is, as the person mentioned above admits, cherry-picked, it is safe to say that astrology is ridiculous.

Astrology, like music, is the product of space, resonance, frequency and vibration. The solar system is a vibrating, unified whole. It does not influence us – it is us. Astrology is the interpretation of its meaning and every human birth resonates with the harmony and meaning of the celestial moment.

-[citation needed]. Is that turd of a statement even falsifiable? Also, what is this recourse of cranks to ‘vibration’ (a not-so-subtle means to refer to masturbation?) when they cannot provide actual physical data for their beliefs? Yes, we’re all part of the universe. That should be clear. No, you cannot go about claiming the position of Mars influences the birth of anyone.

Wherever there is water, rock and sunlight, there is potential for telluric ground current which can cause a neurological response in the dowser.

[citation needed] A really, really, really big [citation needed]. What can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

It is a phenomenon to do with the natural environment, with landscape, geology, underground aquifers – not plastic bottles of water in boxes set up in a tent. Evidence that human beings are sensitive to these natural effects is found in the location of ancient sites all over the world, which are invariably constructed upon geophysical discontinuities. This was clearly laid out by scientist John Burke in his recent book, ‘Seed of Knowledge, Stone of Plenty’.

-“Eventually, arguing that these things work means arguing that modern capitalism isn’t that ruthlessly profit-focused“. That’s a pretty big problem the cranks have to solve before their crank status can be removed.

However, that only applies to the claimants. In contrast, the debunkers’ standard seems to be that claims held to be ridiculous require only ridiculous standards of disproof.

-Yup. Higher standards of disproof could also be used, but do not necessarily have to be. Also, placing an event in a tent hardly indicates bad scientific practice-where, exactly, should the experiment have been held? Also, why call the good people at CSI “pseudoskeptics”? They are real skeptics, and are perfectly willing to change their views if their requirements for evidence are satisfied. The results of French’s dowsing experiment are clearly visible; they are not ‘fraudulent’ unless one has a special definition of that term. In short, ad hominem attacks on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry do not make CSI any less reliable than the groups CSI opposes. Scientists are not “superstitious of the mystical”-they admit its low prior probability and are perfectly willing to test it (provided the test is done at little expense). Thus, the million-dollar challenge.

In short, the above person is a crank who believes in weird things without evidence. He, by claiming the only thing that would disprove a man-made origin for the hill of Visocica would be the excavators only discovering earth below topsoil has shown himself as blind as any religious fundamentalist in this matter. It is amazing he has the intellectual dishonesty to portray the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry as having views any less evidence-based than his own. Visocica isn’t an artificial hill. Scranton and LaViolette are not authorities. Cranks deserve to be ‘persecuted’.

Update (Nov. 22, 2012): for claims of ancient concrete at Visocica, see here.