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What have scientists learned about religion in 2010?

Tom Rees at Epiphenom has put together a brief review of the results of scientific papers published on religion this year.  Here’s an excerpt:

We learned some more about what religion can do for you. Religious people are less likely to smoke, but more likely to be overweight. Religion can also make you more attractive. Religious people have worse verbal skills and are worse at science (incidentally, Republicans are also unscientific). However it’s the study of literature, not science, that really seems to turn people off religion.  Religious prejudice seems to tap into the same neural circuits that drive racism. Religious fundamentalism can lead to right-wing authoritarianism and racism, as well as increased support for the death penalty. Religious priming can increase support for punishing wrongdoers. . . Religious people see the world differently to the non-religious. For example, Protestants are more likely to confuse thoughts with actions.And being raised a Calvinist Protestant may make you less likely to see the big picture.  Belief in the paranormal and fatalism both seem to be linked to fundamental errors in understanding the world around us.

Odds and ends

I’m getting ready to go to Skepticon 3 tomorrow.  It doesn’t actually start until Friday, but it’s a good seven hours to Springfield, Missouri so I figured I’d allow a day for the drive and then hopefully wake up fresh and open-minded Friday morning.  I love a conference you can attend in a t-shirt and jeans– well, probably with a cardigan as it’s a little cooler up there. Living in Texas can spoil a person.  

Rather than addressing the TSA outcry going on right now about people having to choose between either a startlingly detailed full-body scan or a startlingly invasive full-body  rubdown if they want to fly, I’m going to link to two people who have provided full-throated, comprehensive rants on the subject:
Jennifer from Ravings From a Feral Genius with Sex Abuse Via The TSA: It’s Actually Come To This
and Ken from Popehat with Gropers to Gropees: Shut Up And Take It Or Hit The Road

Suffice to say that I’m very happy not to have to fly anymore, at least for the foreseeable future.  I will indeed hit the road. 

“Psychic” Kids

Well, this sounds like about the worst idea for a TV show ever.

Jen from Skepchick writes:

In summer of 2008, the American television channel A&E premiered a series called Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal and has just begun airing the second season this November. Presided over by professional psychic Chip Coffey, and a few other mediums and paranormal experts, the show finds kids, who tend to range in age from 12 to 18 and who have experiences with visions, demonic possessions and other assorted unexplained and disturbing phenomena. The gathered experts then teach these “children of the paranormal” how to use their psychic powers to resolve their problems while filming it for a weekly, hour-long television episode.I’ll start my serious commentary with an admission – I have not watched this show. I intended to, when I first saw the commercials for the second season and thought it would be a good topic to write about. But at my very first research stop – the official Psychic Kids website – I realized their own description gave me more than enough to work with:

PSYCHIC KIDS: CHILDREN OF THE PARANORMAL™, profiles children who live with an incredible secret: they have psychic abilities. Feeling scared and isolated, these kids have nowhere to turn…until now. Help is on the way in the form of psychic/mediums Chip Coffey, Chris Fleming and Kim Russo, who themselves grew up with these senses, and licensed psychotherapist Edy Nathan, who has more than 20 years experience.
In this intense journey, the experts draw on their own personal experiences, training and unique outlook on life to bring troubled kids together to show them how to harness their abilities and, ultimately, show them that they’re not alone in this world.

Okay. In case you don’t see what’s wrong with the above paragraphs, let me unpack it a bit. Basically, a group of grown adults are singling out children who are troubled, who feel scared and isolated, and who claim to be haunted by evil spirits and possessed by demons, and telling them their problems can only be fixed by learning how to use their psychic powers in front of television cameras for the financial benefit of said adults. Clearer now?
If there ever were a case that screams exactly what the harm is in letting psychics go unchallenged, this is it. Not only are kids and their parents getting sucked into believing things with no solid evidence, but targeting children with documented psychological problems and giving them bogus solutions precludes them getting professional medical therapy and assistance they obviously could use. Even worse, televising the entire process normalizes the idea for the audience, which might include other troubled kids and parents who decide to try the same “solutions” with even less-scrupulous paranormal experts who aren’t being held to even the low standard of honesty television documentation imposes.
Not only is there nothing redeeming about Psychic Kids, it’s not even harmless entertainment. It’s actively harmful, and the victims are not adults who made their own mistakes, but kids in need who are being deceived and exploited. In short, it’s repulsive. The only real solution to this show is to out it for what it is and level the critical thinking influence to starve it out of of existence.

Now, as already noted I’m not a parent.  But…..if I had a child who was feeling alone, scared, and troubled, I’m pretty sure that my first impulse wouldn’t be to hand him/her over to this guy to be on his television show.  Being on any show at that point sounds like a pretty bad idea, honestly.  And if the kids on this show are simply playing a role and don’t believe themselves to have psychic powers at all, that’s not a great deal better– they’re still conveying the idea to viewers that this is what you should do when you have kids or are a kid like the ones these people are presenting themselves to be.

The readers on Skepchick have started a letter-writing campaign to tell A&E what a spectacularly bad idea this show is.

ETA:  Also covered on She Thought and Pharyngula.  

The trip home

Our session at AAR yesterday was really interesting and I’ll try to post about it later, but don’t really have the time right now.  I’m just waking up in Oxford, Alabama, and will be driving through that state and Mississippi today listening to In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan.  Most likely flagrantly ignoring the advice of that book in my dining choices along the way.

Edited to add: That is an excellent book, one that I might be interested to hear rather than read even if I weren’t traveling because Scott Brick does such a good job as reader.  Definitely recommended. 

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