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|•||Chilis Narrowly Avoids Funding Anti-Vaxxers 04/08/2014|
|•||Dutch April fools jokes 04/02/2014|
|•||Japanese stem cell breakthrough exposed as a fabrication 04/02/2014|
|•||April First - April Fools Day 04/01/2014|
|•||Cloned dinosaurs? 03/31/2014|
|•||US ‘psychic’ Cynthia Miller jailed for $1.2 million fraud 03/29/2014|
|•||Test of intelligence. Person calls police to report their cannabis plant stolen 03/25/2014|
|•||Malaysia air disaster 03/22/2014|
|•||Fred Phelps is gone 03/21/2014|
|•||Iran building fake aircraft carrier 03/20/2014|
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Status: Strange experimentAn experiment described in a recent issue of the journal Biology Letters reveals a simple way to make people behave more honestly: display a picture of watching eyes. Melissa Bateson, a biologist at Newcastle University, conducted the experiment on her colleagues, without their knowledge, using the communal coffee pot in the departmental lounge as the set-up. She found that when she placed a picture of a pair of beady eyes above the coffee pot, contributions to the 'honesty box' (the box in which people are supposed to deposit money to pay for the coffee they've drunk) were three times higher than when she displayed a picture of flowers. Bateson explains that: In other words, we behave better if we think we're being watched, even if we're only being watched by fake eyes. It could be named the 'Big Brother Is Watching You' effect.
Status: Unusual ResearchThere's nothing hoaxy about this story. It's just another example of how non-rational people can be... especially investors in the stock market. Two Princeton researchers, Adam Alter and Danny Oppenheimer, have discovered that the ease with which a company's name and its ticker symbol can be pronounced has a strong short-term effect on the performance of its stock. In other words, "a stock with the symbol BAL should outperform one with the symbol BDL in the first few days of trading." In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted a similar effect: that when investors think they've found the next big thing (be it railways, airlines, biotech, dot.coms, or nanotechnology) all stocks whose names seem to have something to do with those fields benefit, whether or not they actually do have something to do with those fields. Thus, in the recent nanotechnology crazy, Nanometrics (ticker symbol: NANO) shot up, even though it makes semiconductor tools and has nothing to do with nanotechnology.
Status: Practical jokeI evidently don't spend enough time on LiveJournal, because if I did I would have known about the IQ Challenge sooner. (It was evidently quite popular on LiveJournal.) As it is, I completely missed out on it, and now it's over.
What it was (or claimed to be) was an IQ test offered by IQ-Challenge.com. Once you completed the test, it produced a small graphic showing your score that you could post on your site. The joke was that the test gave everyone a high score. But the graphic that you posted on your site would (unbeknownst to you) show a low score. You can imagine the results this produced. Here's one person's description: The weird thing is that I bet those people who believed they scored well on the test will continue to believe they have above-average intelligence, even after finding out that the test results were meaningless. That's just the way the mind works.
The test is no longer online, although I think whoever created it should keep it up. It would be like a permanent trap for the gullible.
Status: PseudoscienceAon Private Clients, a British insurance broker, has commissioned the first ever study of how to improve the feng shui of cars. They note that implementing these recommendations "could improve the flow of energy in vehicles and help drivers alleviate the negative feelings which lead to road rage." Suggestions offered by the study include:
- A driver should park his or her car facing away from the driver’s home. According to feng shui, cars are ‘predatory tigers’. If parked facing towards a house or office building, they create a threat to the occupants of the building.
- Remove clutter from the car: it ‘sucks the life force out of the driver’.
- If using wi-fi connections such as Bluetooth, drivers and passengers should drink regular quantities of still water to flush out the effects of this negative and draining energy from their bodies.
- To get rid of negative energy inside the car, which could affect the driver’s mood, the owner should sit in the car and sing, clap their hands or play music to make a statement that it is now your cleared space and will go forward refreshed and free from past events.
- Keep the windows clean: this allows chi energy to enter the car from outside. In feng shui terms, the windows are the eyes for the car.
- Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation or the rear-view mirror: the colour blue is a representation of Water, the perfect driving state of mind: clear, thoughtful, flowing and clear.
- Keep a bottle of water in the car for the same reason
- Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets: they absorb passengers’ negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly taking the negativity with them.
Status: Highly dubiousBased on the description on the Brain Gym website, Brain Gym sounds like a pretty good idea. It's "a program of physical movements that enhance learning and performance in ALL areas." The program, which consists of 26 different exercises, is now being used in a lot of schools to help kids learn. Exercise can definitely improve mental acuity, so having kids do something like this would seem to make sense. But as Ben Goldacre revealed in a recent Bad Science column, the concept is a lot more bogus than it appears at first blush. The reason is that all kinds of dubious and pseudoscientific claims are made on behalf of these exercises. Take, for example, this exercise called "Brain Buttons":
“Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.”
Huh? Then there's another exercise called "The Energizer," which involves shaking your head, because "this back and forward movement of the head increases the circulation to the frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking."
It sounds to me like the schools should save whatever money they're paying to the Brain Gym organization, and just have the kids go outside and run around for a while.
Status: Bogus fearsThe BBC invited its readers to tell them what their greatest fears were, and has posted a selection of 20 of the responses. Some of them are hard to take seriously. Especially this one:
The letter Y: "M phobia is all about the letter . Ever time I tr to press it on the ke board, it makes me want to cr . I know it seems sill to ever one else, but it all started when I was a bab , and I swallowed a magnetic letter. At least that's what My mumm and dadd told me an wa ."
Paul Davies, Swindon, UK
This one also seems a bit tongue-in-cheek:
Computers: I'd like to comment, but I'm scared of computers.
Tony Gallagher, Oamaru, New Zealand
(via The Presurfer)
Nov 21, 2003: Bizarre Phobias
Status: Medical studyNew research by Dr. Dieter Zapf of Frankfurt University suggests that workers who constantly have to pretend to be friendly to customers suffer from higher rates of depression and illness. The Advertiser reports:
Flight attendants, sales personnel and call centre operators are most at risk, say psychologists at Frankfurt University. People in these jobs are more likely to suffer from depression, according to the study released yesterday ahead of publication in consumer magazine Good Advice. "Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings, there are negative consequences for his health," said Professor Dieter Zapf, a researcher into human emotions.
I'm a little surprised that it was a German professor who did this study, because it's my subjective impression that fake happy workers seem to be more of an American phenomenon than a European one. American waiters, for instance, always want to act as if they're your new best friend, whereas European waiters tend to be a little more formal in how they interact with diners. Though maybe this is changing.
Status: Undetermined (is it a joke or meant seriously?)David Mocknick has written a self-help book that describes a novel new form of stress therapy: Fredding. This involves saying the phrase "Fred! Who's Fred? Ha!" It's not clear to me whether he's serious about this, or if it's all an elaborate joke (in which getting people to think he's serious is part of the joke). An article about his book explains:
Fredding (which can be done in solitaire but works best in a group setting) begins when someone "baits" another person by getting him or her to say a word that rhymes with Fred. When the target -- a waitress in a diner who suggests bread when asked for an alternative to rolls, for example -- falls into the trap, the Fredder calls out, "Bread! Fred! Who's Fred, ha!"
Fredding strikes me as the kind of thing Alan Abel, or someone like him, would dream up. So I'm inclined to classify it as a hoax. But on the other hand, it might actually work as a stress reliever. Though if you actually did this, people would probably think you had Tourette's.
Status: New Age Mumbo JumboIndigo Children is a new-age term for children whose aura is indigo colored. These are the kids whom medical science would diagnose as being hyperactive or having ADD (and many lay people might diagnose as spoiled brats). But according to the indigo-child theory, these are actually children with very special powers. Nancy Ann Tappe, the psychic who first described the concept, says that Indigo Children are "souls with an evolved consciousness who have come here to help change the vibrations of our lives and create one land, one globe and one species. They are our bridge to the future." The Skeptic's Dictionary has some good info on the subject.
According to an article from the Orange-County Register, one of the powers being attributed to Indigo Children is the ability to see the future. Take this example:
When Carolyn Kaufman was getting her daughter, Ariel Carreno, ready to go, Ariel had an unusual request.
"Mom, we need to take an orange," Ariel said.
"Why?" Carolyn asked. Carolyn explained that this was a pizza party, and that an orange would probably be out of place.But when Ariel insisted, Carolyn grabbed an orange and took it to the party... So Ariel carried her orange into Chuck E. Cheese. The party went just as planned. The kids ate pizza. The kids played games. The parents endured the noise. Then, the birthday girl asked for the strangest thing. An orange.
Wow! The kid brought an orange to a party. Try to explain that, skeptics! Carolyn Kaufman also offers an example about her sony Tomy:
After fights with his sister over what to watch on TV, Tomy has broken five VCRs in the family home using only his energy force, Kaufman said. In some families, kids might get grounded for breaking expensive electronics. Not in Kaufman's house.
I'm sensing it would be great to be a kid in the Kaufman house. You could get away with anything. "It wasn't my fault, Mom. It was my energy force."
Status: Real (though difficult to accept as an excuse for criminal behavior)I first reported about the phenomenon of sleep sex over a year ago. It's a rare disorder that causes people to engage in sexual behavior while asleep. It's also potentially one of the greatest excuses for sexual impropriety ever devised. Now there's a case in Canada in which a guy successfully defended himself against charges of sexual assault by arguing that he's a sexsomniac:
Jan Luedecke, 33, met his victim at a party on July 6, 2003, and both had been drinking, the Toronto Sun reported. The woman, who can't be named, fell asleep on a couch and said she awoke to find him having sex with her. She pushed him off, then called the police. Luedecke claimed he fell asleep on the same couch and woke up when he was thrown to the floor. Sleep expert Dr. Colin Shapiro testified Luedecke had sexsomnia, which is sexual behavior during sleep, brought on by alcohol, sleep deprivation and genetics. The judgment outraged women's groups, the newspaper said.
I'm willing to bet that as popular awareness of sexsomnia grows, it'll begin to be used as a defense more and more often. It'll be like the mirror image of the repressed memory mania (i.e. a mania of not remembering, instead of remembering). The phenomenon itself may be real, but it sure seems like it's a malady tailor-made for con artists.
Status: Psychology testI've linked to a fake smile test before, but this one hosted by the BBC (and designed by Professor Paul Ekman, from the University of California) is more elaborate since it allows you to see actual video clips of people smiling. I did quite badly at differentiating the real from the fake, scoring only 9 out of 20. The blurb at the conclusion of the test notes that "Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling." That made me feel a bit better. The blurb also explains that "when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly." However, I don't think knowing that will significantly improve anyone's score on the test.
Status: Hoax WebsiteBy-Accident.com claims to be a company that will "deliver customized accidents such as rape, assault and past traumatic experiences. All personally tailored to suit your special needs." The idea is that you can fake a traumatic experience in your past, and thereby get all kinds of attention as a victim. The company will even provide (optional) Aesthetic Scar Surgery to make your past "accident" more believable: "You can have any physical damage you want, our trained surgeons promise it won't hurt and the result will be exactly as you wish."
By-Accident.com is a hoax. Satirical elements such as the Christmas Mugging Special make this fairly obvious: "Your chance to avoid stress and become the center of attention during the holiday season!... Get mugged and make sure to have a warm and happy winter!" In addition, the creator of the site didn't do much to hide their identity. The site is registered to someone called Barbara Nordhjem. A quick Google search finds a poster called Malach on pixelex.com stating that: "the page is a prank.. girl making it is a danish artist. Was working for me as a production assistant some time ago."
Of course, even though the site is a hoax, it does have a core of truth to it in that a company offering such a service definitely would find customers. Witness all the fake victims that popped up after 9/11. Victimhood is very appealing to a lot of people. (Thanks to Bob Pagani, aka Cranky Media Guy, for the link.)