Science and critical thinking in the Sacramento Area

Skeptics at the Movies

November 6th, 2009 by strimmer · 1 Comment

It is not a new phenomena for movies to claim that they are based on a true story even though they are just as accurate to an event as any other movie, or as Roger Ebert states “Remember, even in a movie ‘based on a true story’, nothing before the actual end credits needs to be true.” Introducing a movie as being based on actual events is an easy way to get potential moviegoers to see the film and for those who see it, more into the film. This is especially true in the case of horror movies, since the goal of the movie is to scare you, it makes it that much easier if you believe that what you are watching had actually once happened. This has been the case with some paranormal based horror films recently. They have tried to advertise or imply that the movie was more or less based on actual events; however, further research into these stories shows other more likely explanations.

Some movies have been filmed in such a way that it gives off the impression that it was real, such as “The Blair Witch Project” or the much more recent “Paranormal Activity”. Making it seem as if it had been filmed mainly on hand held cameras by the characters themselves, giving the sense that it may have actually taken place.  “Paranormal Activity” even went as far as having no introductory or closing credits just a note (SPOILER ALERT) dedicating the movie to the two main characters. Aside from the occasional rumors that these movies may have been real, any research or a quick run to the internet movie database will show a list of actors and production crews involved. Other movies however, have chosen to advertise there films as actually based on true events.

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→ 1 CommentTags: Movies · Paranormal · Shane · Skepticism

Winchester Mansion

November 4th, 2009 by strimmer · 1 Comment

Northern California is a unique place for skeptics. We house several important universities as well as many top scientists and skeptics, facts that we can all be proud of; however, it is also the birth place to a whole lot of woo-woo. I will start documenting some of the more popular phenomena Northern California is known for on this site in future posts. Some of the stories many of you may be familiar with but there may be some that are surprising and new. In the spirit of last weekends Halloween holiday, I will start off by covering Mrs. Sarah Winchester’s mansion.

The Winchester mansion began construction in 1884 on more than 160 acres of property in what was at the time a more rural setting in the South Bay. The 160 bedroom mansion now sits on only 4 acres in the middle of San Jose and more commonly called the Winchester Mystery House. Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester who amassed a fortune as the son of Oliver Winchester, inventor of the repeating rifle. There are several origin myths as to why she felt the inspiration to move out West from New England and have her house continuously expanded on until her death in 1922. The majority of these myths revolve around her being so saddened by the death of William and her daughter that she felt the need to consult a mystic/”psychic”. It is not known what the mystic told Mrs. Winchester exactly but the majority of the accounts are similar to the story I first heard, that the “spirits” of those killed by the popular Winchester firearms were angry with the family and wished to do harm to them. The Winchester family had a curse on them  and the early passing of Sarah’s husband and daughter were do to this curse. The mystic then continued that she must run away from these spirits. The cross country move and the constant construction, which includes doors that open into walls and stairs that lead into the ceiling, were in an attempt to lose the ghosts that were chasing her. This unusual story is lent further credence with the fact that Sarah Winchester slept in a different room of the house every night.

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→ 1 CommentTags: Northern California · Paranormal · Shane

Atheist ≠ Skeptic

October 9th, 2009 by strimmer · No Comments

It is important to keep in mind that atheism and skepticism are separate. For skeptics the line separating the two can become blurry from time to time. This could be due to the fact that many if not most skeptics consider themselves atheists and that most of our intellectual skeptic hero’s are atheists (James Randi, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins); however, there are many notable skeptics who are not atheists or agnostics (Harry Houdini, Martin Gardner, Hal Bidlack). Skepticism is a methodology which promotes critical thinking and the scientific method. There is no reason to needlessly burn bridges with important skeptics because they hold religious beliefs, or as Daniel Loxton put it in What do I do Next, “You don’t, after all, have to be against god to be against fraud.” It is important for skeptical groups to remain areligious for this reason. When religions make testable claims or hold stances that are blatantly anti-scientific then it is up the the skeptic community to call them out on it; otherwise, religious dogmatic claims are not the purview of science.

The differences between skeptics and atheists have come front and center recently after Bill Maher was announced to receive the Richard Dawkins Award by the Atheist Alliance International. Maher hit it off with the atheist community after his movie Religulous came out, which culminated in being awarded the prize at the AAI convention in Burbank, California this last weekend. An atheist organization giving an atheist a prize is not of concern to skeptics; however, when the criteria for the award states:

“The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins”.

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We’re baaaack!

September 19th, 2009 by admin · No Comments

Sorry for the huge delay. The page is up, and will continue to improve with new content and features.

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