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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Humor, Pseudoscience, Psychology, Skepticism, Teaching | 38 comments

Let’s grade some papers on pseudoscience!

So, when I teach General Psychology, I always make the course have a heavy writing component. In addition to several shorter exercises, the students write a final paper that is an exercise in critical thinking:

This will be a critical thinking paper, where the student will take one of the below topics and examine the scientific evidence available on a specific area in it (e.g., if you choose Cryptozoology, you can write about Bigfoot, Thunderbirds, Loch Ness, etc.). You will then summarize your findings in a paper that should include 1) an operational definition of the topic (i.e., “What it is that I am writing about”); 2) The claims/assumptions/evidence of the topic (i.e., “This is what supporters/believers in this say”); 3) the scientific validity the topic (i.e., “Here’s what research/scientists have discovered/criticized/opined”); and 4) your reaction to your research (i.e., “I thought this before, now I think this”).

The topics they can choose from are all pseudoscientific and include UFOs and aliens, cryptozoology, alternative medicine, the paranormal, the supernatural, ESP and psychic powers. It’s a great way for them to engage more with the critical thinking tools we have spent a large portion of the semester learning and applying, and it’s a much more interesting topic for most of them to write about than to do an article review or something else.

Now inevitably, I have some outstanding work turned in. And just as inevitably, I have some just horrendous work turned in. For the last few years, I’ve been keeping my friends on Facebook entertained by publishing hilarious or cringe-worthy snippets of the papers at the end of each semester. This year, I thought “Why not share it with the world?” and so here we are. Now, on with the show!

Please note, all the quotes are directly lifted from the papers, misspellings and all.

From a paper on haunted houses:

The people who firmly believe in haunted houses are called “Ghostbusters” or “Paranormal Guy’s.”

Well I’m glad I finally know the correct terminology, I’d been calling them believers in the paranormal this whole time.

Overnight campouts are some of the biggest mistakes made by these skeptics. Camping out overnight to see the paranormal behavior so far has a failure rate of 100%.

You don’t even have to camp out to not see paranormal behavior, really, but apparently that’s the thing to do?

Writing this paper has really made me to believe that ghost don’t exist.

Yes, critical thinking mission accomplished! Not in a grammatically correct fashion or anything, but still…

In the next paper, on telekinesis, there is a great wrap-up statement:

I am a religious person, so I understand believing in something you can’t see, but I think they have taken it a little too far….People can’t even be trusted with their fake telekinetic powers, I would hate to see what would happen if they were expected to be trusted with powers of a real caliber.

Yeah, all those fake telekinetics out there! In your face! Then, on a slightly different form of ESP we find these nuggets of wisdom:

When the word telepathy was first verbally said it was by a man named Frederic W.H. Myers.

When was it non-verbally said, I wonder?

Even though most people claim to have telepathy abilities, they are wrong.

Take that, most people! Wait…do most people think they are Jedi?

I don’t believe that she was found because of the “telepathy” she has with her husband, I believe that God was looking out for her.

Or, you know, the police that actually found her after she crashed her car….

Those of you who are familiar with UFO lore and the story of Betty & Barney Hill may remember a slightly different story than the one this student relayed:

In 1961 Betty and Barney, a couple, who were driving in hills of mountains of the New Hampshire, saw a bright object in the sky. They thought that it might be a plane or a helicopter but then they became worried because the bright thing in the sky seemed to be following them in highway. They stopped a few times and looked at the object with their binocular but then they got really concerned and drove home. Betty who was very concerned started reading a book about UFO and contacted the author to tell him her story. She used a compass to inspect the car and she realized that the aliens had zapped their car because of her compass needle waiver. After that she started dreaming about that night again. In her dreams, she saw that the UFO actually stopped them, kidnapped and did some examinations on them. When they calculated their travelling time, they realized that they should have arrived two hours earlier. So they came into the conclusion that aliens actually did stop them and kidnap them.

Where are these “hills of mountains” of which you speak? And the use of compasses to detect zapping of cars does seem scientifically legitimate. At least she does bring it home with this statement:

Researchers did some research based on abductees’ claims and found out that the reason for those experiences is not alien abduction.

Which is accurate, if not very well written. It’s nicely parallel to this statement from a completely different paper and topic, though:

Scientists of medicine state that scientific medicine has shortcomings as all other forms in humanity do.

Non-scientists of medicine, though, state no such things.

Next stop found me grading a subtly titled paper called “How Chiropractors Steal Your Money,” which was very good overall. I particularly liked how she set up the dismantling of chiro’s claims with:

People who support chiropractic services and have gone through treatments claim they feel relief and pain free after their visits. Most people are going to agree more for chiropractic therapy just simply because they are a doctor and everything a doctor says and does is always true, right? Everyone generally just assumes that a doctor knows best always because they have a degree and went to school for a million years. Most people’s mentality is that “oh a doctor’s not going to fool or scam me!”

Also, having gone to graduate school to get my doctorate, I can confirm that it did feel like it took a million years.

Several of my students got some good “oooooh, burn!” comments in on their topics, such as this student discussing ghost “hunting”:

All that is recorded in their show, I mean “scientific discoveries,” is a large amount of episodes of grown adults running around a old building or area breathing heavily and accusing every random noise and shadow of being from the dead…. There are a billion other explanations to an old building making strange noises and movements, like I don’t know…IT’S AN OLD BUILDING.

Want to know about Ouija boards? We had that covered as well:

There is absolutely no reason that such a believed way of talking to the dead and predicting the futures of people should be sold at a toy store with such an ease of availability to people. The only reason they are allowed to sell this product is because there is no scientific evidence behind it. If there was it would have to be done by a professional, who know how to exactly communicate with the dead. It would have to be regulated like a doctors visit, if your life was too demonic you could not return to the person trained to use this Ouija board until you got your life back into order.

My opinion before actually diving into the information was that this was a scary thing and the people that participated with these so called spirits were surely doomed to hell, no going back….I am overjoyed that science has once again proven itself and I have nothing to worry about when it comes to talking to spirits.

So are spirits not real, or are they just okay to talk to now? I am confused.

Sometimes I have students not clear their topic with me beforehand (which encourage them to do over and over). This results in things like a paper about Jack the Ripper being turned in (as I had last year) or a paper on religious belief, like I had this year:

Some people choose to put faith in something that can be selfish and harmful to others in order to scam money out of them or to become famous, but the belief in God doesn’t scam christians into anything but helping others.

Is she saying that the church tricks people into helping each other? I honestly can’t tell.

Churches can scam people, but God can’t. God is not a being nor is he completely non existent because God cannot be proven, nor disproven. God is a choice and believed to have given us the power of knowledge and science as a way to test our faith in what’s right and what is wrong whether it’s morally wrong, or just a scam artistry form of Pseudoscience, but what cannot be disproven, shouldn’t belong under pseudoscience.

I can’t even parse this apart. And it’s even worse because they were supposed to write about the paranormal or ESP or Bigfoot or alt-med and were told NOT to write about religion.

Want to completely miss the point of an article, and yet still use it to “support” your ideas? Take a cue from this writer, who literally uses quotes from an article on why evolution is hard for humans to understand to show that she doesn’t understand evolution. At all. In any way.

Cameron Smith wrote through an article in the Skeptical Inquirer, “An acorn, for example, or a sturgeon: each is such a wonder of design…that we feel they must have been made, with intent, as humans make things with intent.”  Smith makes a really good point that skeptics don’t think about. If the world is made up with almost perfect fluency, everything has a system, and almost everything works smoothly within that system, how would it just be read off by coincidence? Something, Someone had to have a purpose, a plan, and a way to piece the entire world together. Smith also sates “And from the day we learn that a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich doesn’t just spontaneously assemble itself—that it must be assembled with intent”. As smith said, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don’t assemble themselves, and many people believe the earth didn’t assemble itself either.

Apparently she didn’t process the rest of the article, which was completely focused on showing WHY those statements are completely misguided. She also made it clear that “Christians don’t believe we come from monkeys.” I told a monkey this, and he responded as expected.

oh no

And then there are little turns of phrase that just jump out at you from the page, sentences so well crafted that they seem almost magical. These are not them, however.

Every since the creation of Bigfoot’s existence people have argued if it truly does exist.

In the field of modern medicine, alternative medicine emerged in recent years, and the “implied effect” mentioned above is inextricably linked to the implied effect.

According to archive.archaeology.org it happens to be very hard to fing legit zombie evidence.

But there are, always, nuggets of gold in the dung heap of papers. Many, many of my students have expressed to me how they have much better critical thinking skills now, or don’t fall for pseudoscience scams now, both in person and in their papers. Therefore, I leave you with this quote, to help cleanse your palate.

It is amazing how a little investigating and critical thinking can change your entire view on the world.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the mind-numbing and yet hilarious world of grading freshmen papers. Please tune in next time, for another edition of….

 

  • Clayton Flesher

    Fuck yes.

  • Thomas Taylor

    It should be a homework assignment for the students to read
    this article next semester.

    • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

      That is a damn fine idea, Thomas!

  • Joe G

    There is more evidence for bigfoot, UFOs and ghosts than there is for humans and chimps sharing a common ancestor.

    Just sayin’

    Writing this paper has really made me to believe that ghost don’t exist.

    LoL! You actually have to get out and investigate allegedly haunted places- you know conduct some actual science.

    As for chiros- are you saying that people actually don’t feel better after an adjustment session? I always have.

    • Didgya

      I hope you are kidding about the evidence?

      • Joe G

        I am very serious. Perhaps you should actually look into it.

        • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

          Yeah…I have looked into it. Turns out that I teach an entire course on it (that is, the distinguishing of sense from nonsense). There is, for example, ALL TH EVIDENCE showing that all living beings on this planet are related and share a common ancestor, while there is NO evidence (meaning, repeated, verifiable, non-antecdotal evidence) for Bigfoot, UFO, or ghosts.

          Just saying’

          As for chiropracty, people often do feel better…just as they do when taking homeopathic pills, or getting acupuncture, or a number of other false treatments, all of which leverage the placebo effect. You can read about that here – http://www.skepticink.com/gps/2013/10/25/placebos-and-complementary-alternative-medicine/

          • Joe G

            We don’t even know what makes an organism what it is- we don’t know what makes a human a human nor what makes a chimp a chimp. Your common ancestry is untestable. OTOH bigfoot, UFOs and ghosts have at least been observed.

            But please tell us how to test your common ancestry. The BS on talk origins is easily refuted and is based on emotion rather than actual science. So tell us how to test the claim that a quadruped or knuckle walker can evolve into a human. How many mutations did it take?

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            It’s pretty apparent that you don’t really know anything about how evolution takes place by saying “common ancestry is untestable.” So are you saying that all of modern biology, not to mention physical anthropology, is completely misguided?

            And, as far as observation of evolution, we have it everywhere around us. Take the evolution of antibiotic resistance or the mutations we see in a flu virus.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Don’t entertain Joe Gallien, the “I ain’t a Christian” Christian. He has not enamoured himself to anyone on the planet.

          • Joe G

            And Jonathan is the asshole’s asshole

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            And now he’s banned for calling people names.

          • Joe G

            Caleb- no one knows how evlution takes place- no one knows what makes an organism what it is. But please do tell how to test common ancestry.

          • Shatterface

            Have you heard of DNA or did you skip the 20th Century at school?

            You can trace human ancestry back to apes the same way you can trace your ancestry back to your great and great-great grandparents.

            If you don’t have a problem accepting that you and your cousins share a common ancestor you shouldn’t have a problem accepting humans, chimps and gorillas have shared ancestors.

          • Joe G

            Please present the evidence that demonstrates we are our the sum of our DNA

          • saijanai

            Are you saying that all chiropractic treatments only work due to placebo effects? That would be a remarkably broad claim to make.

          • Thomas Taylor

            Not all chiropractic work is placebo effect… sometimes it kills people using very real injuries. http://whatstheharm.net/chiropractic.html

          • saijanai

            Absolutely, and sometimes modern medicine does as well.

            My point was simply that dismissing all claims about chiropracty might be throwing the baby out with the bath water, not that it is the best possible medical practice.

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            One of the major issues with chiropractors is that they don’t make you aware of the benefits (which are very small) versus the risks (which are actually quite significant) for their treatment. I would highly recommend reading Preston Long’s book on this. As a chiropractor of over 30 years, he has a pretty unique insight into this. Here’s an excerpt to whet your whistle –

            http://edzardernst.com/2013/10/twenty-things-most-chiropractors-wont-tell-you/

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            Not all, there’s evidence suggesting that for chronic lower back pain it works better than a placebo (but only as well as stretching, relaxation, and such).

            For anything else, yes – no strong evidence showing better than placebo-level effects.

          • saijanai

            Fair enough, though I’d think that other issues related to nerve pinch type stuff are addressed as well. E.G., shooting pain in arm that goes away when I let my head dangle until the neck pops.

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            But that’s not really chiropracty, per se. Their driving belief is that realignment of the spine helps to fix “subluxations” (which, um, aren’t really there, it seems) which can help to unblock “nerves” (or energy, which is sometimes referred to).

          • saijanai

            Dismissing the theoretical basis of a therapy is entirely different than dismissing the therapeutic benefits of any specific kind of treatment.

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            Agreed, but knowing why they THINK chiropracty works helps one to understand why your example isn’t really “chiropractic medicine.”

    • Charlie Coslor

      There is more evidence for actual troll than there is for serious poster.

      • Joe G

        Yes, skeptic ink is populated with trolls.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Joe, you have been banned from mine, and so you continue to troll other SINners. Get a life. Or an education.

  • Joe G

    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos/

    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos/existing-files.htm

    There are many countries with such files. And then there is MUFON which has a vast collection of evidence for UFOs. http://www.mufon.com/

    • Thomas Taylor

      So, you claim that you have paid the 3.30 per file to read all the files you
      linked? And it is difficult to take a website endorsed by the x-files seriously.

      • Joe G

        I know many pilots and I don’t have to read all of those documents. I always pick a few at random and if they do what they say then I am good.
        OTOH all YOU have is to act like a child and say “no you didn’t”

        • Thomas Taylor

          “I know many pilots and I don’t have to read all of those
          documents.” I know many doctors do that mean you would let me perform open heart surgery on you? Claims such as this are worthless.

          “I always pick a few at random and if they do what they say then I am good.” Then you would have seen that that list is any reported incident of a UFO no matter how factual it is. If even 10% of them were “real,” and that is not likely, the odds that you would have “randomly” picked the right ones is nill. But you feel safe in saying you have because you know we will not spend money attempting to fact check yet another UFO believer. I think it’s more likely that you found other people referring to those links and you are simply parroting back what those people said.

          “OTOH all YOU have is to act like a child and say “no you didn’t”” I apologize if asking for a source more creditable than a self-governing blog site with an agenda is childish. I have yet to even attempt to validate either side of the issue although I do have my beliefs on the subject. If you cannot provide any real evidence as you claim to be able to do, I fail to see why you are even continuing to post.

          • Joe G

            Look Thomas, the USA had “project blue book” which found credible evidence for UFOs. And I don’t care if you choose to remain willfully ignorant of the evidence. I can only lead you to some of it. Perhaps the Belgian government has open access files on their UFOs- or even the French- you copuld almost just pick a country and search their sites.

            Heck I bet you spend money on Dawkins’ books, on Hawking’s books and on other BS. So what is $10 for readomg three UFO documents?

            http://www.ufoevidence.org/

          • Thomas Taylor

            I have not even started to debate this topic with you, I simply asked for some form of creditable evidence. You said it exists, show us. If you can’t even get past this part you are not worth the time to debate. If you did truly purchase those documents let’s see them. You are making the claim… state a case or quit wasting time.

          • Thomas Taylor

            By the way, ufoevidence.org clearly states that most its information is blatantly false. Their goal is “Consider: for the believers, they only have to get it right once. Every other incident in history can be a fraud or mistake. For the debunkers, well. . . . they only have to get it right every time (http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc882.htm).” they overlook one issue in this philosophy. They completely lose any credibility by knowingly posting a fraud or mistake. I could spend all day posting about how every story on there has likely been disproved but this would be a waste of time because they admit that they are frauds or mistakes and the site only hopes to be right by chance one time.

          • Clayton Flesher

            I miss Ian

          • Thomas Taylor

            I agree… It is sad that he can’t even make a cohesive argument. By the way Joe, the 3.30 was in pounds so the $10 you cited would only buy 1 article… you would have known that if you had in fact bought one article.

          • Daneel Olivaw

            Congratulations, Joe G, after reading your comments, I think I actually lost about 3.30 IQ points (that’s British, I lost about 10 American IQ points).

          • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

            HA! That was quite well played!