Posted by c. wagner on October 27, 2009
In Voodoo Science, Robert Park makes an interesting point about science reports on TV:
If a stage magician pulls a rabbit from a hat, those in the audience may not know where the rabbit came from, but unless they’re hopelessly naive they know it isn’t magic. It’s a trick. And not a terribly difficult trick either, according to professional magicians. But how much easier it is to fool an audience with a complicated scientific apparatus. The television audience must accept on faith that the experiment is what the scientist says it is. It is as if, instead of pulling the rabbit out of the hat, the magician simply looks into the hat and assures the audience that the rabbit is there. [page 116]
Most viewers don’t have the background knowledge needed to sort fact from exaggeration (or outright impossibilities) in science reporting. They don’t even realize they should be looking in the hat for the rabbit.
What we should be doing is mentally strip-searching the magician and tearing apart the stage to find the rabbit.
With science on TV, sometimes there is a rabbit, sometimes it just looks like a rabbit, and sometimes there’s no rabbit at all.
Of course, the same is true with rabbits and stage magicians:
Posted in Recent reading, Videos | Tagged: critical thinking, magic, magicians, Penn and Teller, rabbits, Robert Park, science | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 23, 2009
It’s the 40th anniversary of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
Read more at CNN.
Posted in Videos | Tagged: Holy Grail, humor, King Arthur, knights, Monty Python, rabbits | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 21, 2009
Wikipedia featured one of my favorite hoaxes on the front page today: Mary Toft and her rabbit “babies”.
Seems that Mary, after a miscarriage, began giving birth to rabbits. Or, more accurately, parts of rabbits. She was examined by a number of doctors, including some of great prominence, who declared that Mary was telling the truth. Miraculously, she was the mother of rabbit parts. Some doctors remained skeptical.
Eventually, Mary was isolated for a number of days. No more bunny bits. Under pressure, Mary confessed it was all a hoax. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story.
The public mockery which followed created panic within the medical profession. Several prominent surgeons’ careers were ruined, and many satirical works were produced, each scathingly critical of the affair. The pictorial satirist and social critic William Hogarth was notably critical of the gullibility of the medical profession.
Mary hoaxed some of the best medicine had to offer in the early 1700s. And it seems as though the profession has learned its lessons from her and other similar incidents. It’s much harder to hoax men of medicine now, but plenty of people are fooled by non-doctors making amazing claims about health and healing.
If your baloney detector goes off, it might just be a scam.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: animals, history, hoaxes, Mary Toft, medicine, rabbits | Leave a Comment »