Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

Posts Tagged ‘Celebrity

Dan Aykroyd on UFOs…..

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While not having achieved nearly the same degree of irrational thinking as Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine brigade, SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd has in the past few years surfaced as a UFO conspiracy theorist. I stumbled on this video of Aykroyd taken from an April 9th promotion of his Crystal Head vodka in Morris County, New Jersey, home of a recent high profile UFO hoax. In it he commits a few errors in thinking.

“Well I’ve seen two of them. They were flying end to end, wing to wing, at about 100,ooo feet doing about 20,oo0 miles per hour, zig zagging through the sky and meteoric bolides don’t do that. I’ve had unsolicited in seven states that I’ve been through at least twenty people come up and privately tell me their experiences. And they didn’t seem crazy to me.”

Aykroyd considers his own personal anecdotal experience to be valid evidence. Sometimes personal observances of unusual phenomena are helpful, but rarely in cases of unusual occurences such as UFO sightings. They invariably prove to be innaccurate. Steve Novella sums this up well:

“Sometimes people do report details, like windows or fins. They also report objects moving at fantastic speeds or carrying out seemingly impossible maneuvers. However, when viewing an object against the sky, without a clear background for reference, it is impossible to estimate size, distance, and speed, and we are subject to optical illusions. Such details are therefore not reliable, and there are numerous cases when they are demonstrably wrong.”

Meteoric bolides don’t do that, as Aykroyd correctly points out, but because of the weaknesses inherent in human neurology, he can’t really say for certain that what claims to remember is what really happened. We would have to know more to the story but I think that if there were a series of pictures or a video of the sighting it would have made the rounds by now. At best, all Aykroyd can claim is that he saw something which he could not identify. In reality, this could have been any of a large number of objects, including an alien piloted spacecraft, but it is a rather closed-minded argument from ignorance to assume that it is a visitor from another galaxy.

Many people who would not be deemed crazy, to use Aykroyd’s word, by most folks have reported UFO sightings. But even if these reports numbered in the millions it would still not serve as proof that alien beings are making pitstops here on earth. The plural of anecdote, as they say, is anecdotes not evidence. Even the most skilled observers have been fooled by ordinary objects. And all of us have had even so-called flashbulb memories become warped over time.

I hope Aykroyd does well in the vodka business, at least better than in his movie career since the 80’s. Regardless, as one woman in the video exclaims, proving there are some decent skeptics in New Jersey, “I’d physically have to see the little guys running around in front of me before I’d believe it.” While not completely accurate, as I’d settle for less than that, such as a few unambiguous photo series or videos that don’t fall apart under scientific investigation, her statement exemplify the classic skeptical adage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Written by skepticpedi

April 12, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Sense About Science…..

with 5 comments

Today I discovered an organization from across the pond called Sense About Science.

“Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates. We do this by promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult.

We work with scientists to

  • respond to inaccuracies in public claims about science, medicine, and technology
  • promote the benefits of scientific research to the public
  • help those who need expert help contact scientists about issues of importance
  • brief non-specialists on scientific developments and practices

Sense About Science is governed by a Board of Trustees and run by a small office staff. We are supported by an Advisory Council and over 2,000 scientists and other specialists, ranging from Nobel Laureates to postdoctoral fellows, who are signed up to our database, Evidence Base. We also work with younger scientists in our VoYS (Voice of Young Science) programme, which you can read more about here.”

Yesterday the Sense About Science gang released their annual Celebrities and Science Review (PDF), which I highly recommend for some light reading which will likely leave you a bit out of sorts. I remember pulling my hair out over some of the highlighted examples of celebrity nincompoopery when they were current, but I wasn’t aware of most of these, especially the non-American ones.  I look forward to the day when celebrities are not looked upon with such reverence and their words are not hung upon as if spoken by legitimate experts.

Here are some of my favorite (least favorite might be more appropriate) examples of scientific illiteracy amongst the rich and famous:

 “Because of her history of colon cancer she is absolutely convinced the Pill caused the disease. I don’t have a microwave in my house for the same reason”
-Kelly Osbourne

I do question whether Kelly Osbourne is really a celebrity. Maybe in England she is, I don’t know.

My good friend Jenny McCarthy, who is always good for a laugh with her satirical take on anti-vaccine propaganda, had two gems make the list:

“Isn’t it ironic in 1983 there were 10 shots and now there’s 36 and the rise in autism has happened in the same time.”

and

“Parents’ anecdotal info IS scientific information.”

Wait, it isn’t satire. She believes this tripe. My god, she’s a monster.

Tom Cruise’s comment on the reality of the treatment of mental illness was listed under the psychiatry section:

“Psychiatry doesn’t work…..When you study the effects it’s a crime against humanity.”

No Tom, a crime against humanity was when Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy” 75 million years ago, brought billions of his subjects to Earth, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Well, that and your appearance in Tropic Thunder.

Demi Moore, mother of actor Ashton Kutcher, is quoted advocating for detoxification via the healing powers of “highly trained medical leaches”.

“They have a little enzyme…..and when they are biting down on you it gets released in your blood and generally you bleed for quite a bit-and your health is optimized…It detoxifies your blood.”

My favorite is Mariah Carey’s explanation for the use of Einstein’s “E = mc2 ” as the title of her 2008 album.

“emancipation equals Mariah Carey times two”

Also of note, today I rediscovered SHAMblog. It is written by Steve Salerno, who also wrote an enjoyable deconstruction of the self-help industry in 2005 called SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless that I think should be read by everyone. His last two posts on the reality of reality television confirm something I’ve thought for a long time, that it is all phony. It’s apparantly even phony even when they make a big production about how not phony it is.

Written by skepticpedi

December 28, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Science

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