The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, August 28, 2009

You Do Know That You Are Not Actually Bad at Math, Right?

Most people who think they are bad at math are in fact probably not bad at it. However, because they have decided that they are, they have given up one of the most powerful tools they have for examining the world around them.

Let me use myself as a case study. I am, and have always been, lousy at algebra. I can do the basics, but when it gets down to even moderately difficult quadratic equations, I am in over my head.

But I am not bad at math.

To most people, these seem like two contradictory statements. After all doesn't bad at algebra=bad at math?

Well, no.

I always like listening to the BBC announcers talk about math education. They will speak not of math instructors, but of maths instructors - yeah, math with an "s", as in plural.

I have friends who are mathematicians and physicists, and one of the things that they often comment on is the tendency of the general public to equate arithmetic with math, when arithmetic is only one of many different types of math (and algebra is only one form of arithmetic).

Geometry, statistics, calculus, symbolic logic, trigonometry - all different forms of math. They all use arithmetic, true, but to equate arithmetic with math is a bit like equating a wrench with automobile repair: the wrench is only one of many tools used by a mechanic, and arithmetic is only one of many tools used by mathematicians.

While in high school, I always was in danger of flunking my algebra classes. However, I had no problem in geometry, performed well (and even actually enjoyed) trigonometry, and blew my teacher's mind when I proved that I understood calculus perfectly but was simply having trouble doing the algebraic equations (mind you, this was fifteen years ago and I haven't used calculus since, so I doubt I could do this any longer). Hell, at the age of ten I had even taught myself to write fairly complex computer programs, which is really nothing but an exercise in applied mathematics.

I am quite good with logic - and I have the GRE scores, piles of books and photocopied articles with notes in the margins, and myriad of executed research designs to prove it.

In college and graduate school, I discovered that I had a very strong intuitive grasp of statistics. My talent with this form of math would explain why I had began to become frustrated with most political debate over empirical issues while a teenager - I knew that people were mis-applying data even if I lacked the vocabulary to explain it.

The point to all of this is simple - many people decide that they are bad at math because they have difficulty with arithmetic while in elementary school or high school. As a result, they become either disinterested or intimidated by mathematics when used in an argument. Alternatively, some folks will simply decide that mathematical arguments are themselves "mumbo jumbo" and dismiss them, which is equally problematic. Even worse, many people simply conclude that math has no relevance to their lives.

This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that people in all of these categories vote.

Consider a basic example:

Charlton Heston wants to maintain the gun rights of US citizens. Rosie O'Donnell wants to eliminate them. Charlton provides data showing a correlation between gun ownership and lower crime rates. Rosie provides data showing a correlation between gun ownership and higher rates of accidental deaths.

Now, assuming that both if you don't bother to look at the data that is provided, you would likely do one of three things: 1) go with your "gut feeling" and accept the data that supports your conclusion, 2) decide that the matter is too complicated and confusing and not reach a conclusion, or 3) decide that one or both proponents are lying.

If you follow any of these three routes, and politicians are aware that you likely will, then you can be easily manipulated by people who want you to vote a particular way.

If, on the other hand, you are not intimidated by or apathetic to math, you can take another route.

If you know enough about statistics, you can look at the data and ask a few important questions: Are the correlations shown in the data sets statistically significant, or are they the sort of variation that one would expect from random chance? If the correlations are statistically significant, are they strong enough to justify policy change? Are the correlations evidence of causation, or is there another factor or set of factors causing gun ownership, higher death rates, and/or lower crime rates? Was the data collected in such a way that the studies are, in fact, comparable to each other?

This applies to many other alleged controversies. Understanding statistics will help you to see through the bullshit with the anti-vaccination lobby, help you determine which medications (and which alternative therapies) actually work and which are snake oil, it will help you to understand crime statistics and see through nonsensical political arguments about them, economic arguments, and even some basic political theory.

And it doesn't stop there. Having a knowledge of geometry, calculus, and basic physics will help you to avoid the 9-11 "truth" hoaxers (by which I mean that people who claim that it was actually controlled explosions, or whatever the nutty belief of the week is), understand the meaning of the Kennedy assassination film, and follow discussions about engineering when they show up in front of Congress.

The point is, once you understand a bit about math, you are less gullible and more informed when you are in the ballot box. Math is, quite literally, power, and it is likely that those in power would prefer that you not be aware of that - then they might actually start having to do their jobs.

On the other hand, it will help you to better understand science, and contrary to what many a self-proclaimed poet I know has claimed, knowing science doesn't spoil the beauty of the world or make it duller, it reveals all new levels of beauty and wonder from which those who deny science have eternally shut themselves away.

But first we have to understand that being bad at arithmetic doesn't mean that you are bad at math. And from there, you have to get educated - but the good news is, once you accept that you may be good at math, learning about it can be alot of fun.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cool Sites, Weird Names

One of the more entertaining aspects of archaeology is the names that are given to sites. Usually these come from the places where the sites are located, though sometimes they have another source. Here's a few of my favorites:

False Walrus: A true contender for "wackiest archaeological site name", this is an unusually rich archaeological site in the Sierra Nevadas (where there are never, ever, any walruses). The depth of archaeological deposits in the site (a measure of site longevity and intensity of use) as well as the variety of materials present there (everything from stone tools to animal bone to plant remains) makes this a very important site in a region where most sites retain very little stratigraphic* integrity. Pretty damn cool, really.

Danger Cave: There is only one Danger Cave, but the name has been used to refer to a complex of caves that includes Danger Cave. Danger Cave is significant in that it contains materials left behind by Paleoindian peoples (around 11,000 years old) and allows us a glimpse at the lives of some of the earliest residents of the Americas. Sites of this age are extremely rare, and to have one preserved by cave conditions is rarer still.

Dirty Shame Rock Shelter: This site is not the scene of a desperado's last stand, nor of a 1930s private eye's disillusionment, but rather is an important site in the Great Basin providing information on a wide range of prehistoric activities. The arid conditions of the region allowed a degree of preservation that is unusual in much of the rest of North America, making this site especially important.

The Cool site: Located near the town of Cool in El Dorado County, California, this site is named for it's vicinity, but it sounds more like a descriptive name. Indeed, one expects to find Fonzi excavating here. The name of the nearby town seems ironic, as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the site itself is rather important to Californian prehistory. When a site lacks well-preserved organic materials, and therefore can not be tested using radiocarbon (carbon 14) methods or obsidian hydration**, we often have to rely on artifact typologies (the identification of certain types of arrowheads, beads, etc. with a point in time), and the materials from the Cool site helped do this for eastern California and the Sierra Nevada.

Cave of the Glowing Skulls: No, it's not the title of the fifth Indiana Jones movie, but rather is a prehistoric archaeological site in Honduras. The cave is filled with human burials, and the local geology has resulted in the cave's surfaces, and the surfaces of the human bone, being coated in calcite. The calcite crystals gleam when light is shined on them, giving the bones the appearance of luminescence. The site is significance because, in addition to it's creepiness, it provides information regarding a little-known culture that appears to have existed near and along-side the Maya in Honduras, and such information is unfortunately rare.

Go here for more information.

*Stratigraphic integrity roughly means that "everything is where it should be in relation ot everything else." Bsaically, rodents, construction, earthquakes, floods, erosion,e tc. haven't messed up the site's contents too badly.

**When obsidian breaks, the fresh surface begins to accumulate a rind of water that is locked to the surface. The rate at which this happens is dependent on alot of different factors (the type of obsidian, the water content of the soil surrounding it, the altitude of the piece, etc.), but it is of some limited use in determining the age of sites in which obsidian tools are found.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ray Comfort Vs. the Acorn

If you spend much time on the internet, you've likely heard of Ray "banana man" Comfort and Kirk "what ever happened to my career" Cameron's rather wacky claim that the existence of bananas prove creationism. They focus on the features of a banana that make it an allegedly "perfect food" - it's shape, the fact that it can be peeled, etc. etc. (all the time ignoring that the banana as we know it is the result of a long period of domestication and artificial selection).

Which leads me to think of another food, one that is extremely nutritious, has proved to be a reliable staple of the people of California for centuries. Also, if Comfort and Cameron thought that the banana was natural proof of the existence of a god, then this food is proof that said god has a really warped sense of humor. I am speaking, of course, of the acorn.

See, if Comfort and Cameron (why does that sound like a '70s exploitation film - perhaps Inglorious Comfort and Cameron?) had been right (and not ignored the fruit's long history of domestication) and the banana's ease of eating and nutritional content was proof of the existence of a divine force, what would we make of a food such as the acorn that is highly nutritious, but toxic unless processed in just the right way, requires extensive time and energy to process for edibility, and essentially takes over the settlement system and economies of people who are dependent on them (thus putting them at severe risk of starvation during lean acorn years)?

People in California began to use the acorn as a primary food source during the terminal Late Period or the early Middle Period (after 3,000 BC, also called the Middle Archaic Period). The reason why they did so is open to question*, but it probably wasn't convenience. Gathering acorns is labor intensive, requiring the involvement of most (if not all) of the community in many cultures. Processing the acorns is difficult manual labor, requiring the pounding of acorns into an oily flour that is then intensively rinsed to remove the toxic acids that make the unprocessed acorn useless as a food.

And then one has to wonder how people discovered that the acorn could be made edible in the first place. After all, it's toxic in its natural state. Were they trying to do someone in only to discover that they had produced a decent food?** That must have been frustrating.

Regardless, if Mother, Juggs, Comfort and Cameron honestly thought that the banana was perfect evidence of the existence of a god, then it seems only reasonable to assume that the acorn is evidence of a truly twisted sense of humor or straight-up vindictiveness on the part of that deity. After all, to hide nutrition in poison and require such devotion and labor to extract it...well, that' just plain nasty and twisted.

Ironically, this line of reasoning works better to justify the beliefs of Christian fringe sects that believe that the Native Americans were the fallen tribes of Israel than to support Faster Comfort and Cameron Kill Kill's own evangelical protestantism. I hope that gets pointed out to them some day.

*The hypothesis that I am personally most sympathetic to is that a number of events and climatic changes at the end of the Early Period resulted in resource stress. The acorn was known, and occasionally used, before this time, but the difficulties in obtaining and processing it made it an unattractive food source. Suddenly, with either an overabundance of people or an underabundance of food, or both, going through the efforts to make use of the acorn became very much worth it. However, this likely resulted in shifting the settlement patterns (people needed to be able to be near the acorns during harvest time), changing the labor patterns (people needed to provide time and effort to harvesting the acorns and processing them - time and effort that would once have been spent on very different activities), and probably altered the arrangement of power within the culture (ethnographically, many cultures regarded acorns and the processing facilities - streams and mortars - as women's property, thus making the entire society and settlement system dependent on women's property).

**For those who are going to tell me what I already know - that hunter-gatherers tend to have fairly sophisticated methods for finding nutrition in their environment, and that it only requires a basic knowledge of how plants work to figure out how people would have discovered the nutritious value of an acorn - I can only say: relax! It's a joke!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ghost Hunters: Addicted to Technology

I had previously posted an essay by my friend Dave about the problems inherent in most attempts to perform scientific analysis of ghosts. Well, Dave has written a follow-up, so here 'tis:


So, a couple of weeks back I started talking about Ghost Hunting. As you may recall, I noted that I have a great deal of friends who are 'ghost hunters', and while I'm personally not a believer I have no particular desire to piss in anybody's Cheerios. One thing that does irk me a bit, however, is when ghost hunters and paranormal investigators claim to be doing work that is scientific, rather than passing their work off as a philosophical or spiritual endeavor.

Do I really need to go through this intro again? If you haven't read Part One, jump in my archives and go catch up. Don't worry, the internet will wait.

Did you read Part One? Great!

So in part one, we talked about confirmation bias when it comes to paranormal investigation, and how to try and eliminate confirmation bias using blind testing. Today, I want to talk about 'ghost hunting equipment.'

There's a school of thought that I've noticed a lot in ghost hunting which goes like this; "What we're doing is science because we use scientific equipment! Look at all this equipment! Boy, our equipment sure is expensive! And we sure have a lot of it! I mean, this has got to be science, right?"

The fact of the matter is, not only does the use of expensive scientific equipment like EMF detectors not legitimize haunting research, it's actually one of the things that makes ghost hunters look like hacks.

Let me explain...

As a ghost hunter, your primary goal is to try and convince the scientific community that ghosts exist, capice? In order to be scientific, I mean, truly, honest-to-Darwin, unbiased scientific, you can't take the existence of ghosts as a given. You with me so far? So if the existence of ghosts itself isn't a given, then you can't go ahead and make presumptions about the qualities of ghosts, or you've just shot any pretense of non-biased experimentation right in the balls...

I mean right square in the balls.

Hmmm... I see by your furrowed brow that I've lost you (or you're imagining being shot in the balls). Let me give you an example.

You can't say, "I'm trying to prove that ghosts exist. I've found an unaccounted for electromagnetic field, which proves there was a ghost here, because we know ghosts give out an electromagnetic field."

You see what the problem is with that statement? It's rife with circular reasoning. In order to use electromagnetic fields as evidence of ghosts, you have to leapfrog over a whole series of hypothesis that you've found no evidence to back up. How do you know that ghosts would give off an electromagnetic field? Because you happen to be looking for evidence of ghosts and there happens to be an electromagnetic field that you can't find the source of? In the atheism community, we call this the 'God of the Gaps' fallacy.

Do you know what electromagnetic fields provide evidence for? They provide evidence for electromagnetic fields. That's it.

Amongst other things, thinking that ghosts cause electromagnetic fields may very well be putting the cart before the horse. There's a theory that the opposite may be true; that proximity to electromagnetic fields can cause feelings of supernatural presence; in other words, ghosts may not cause electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic fields may cause 'ghosts', particularly if a person already believes in them.

It is, of course, an unproven and inconclusive theory, but one that takes far less of a stretch than the alternative hypothesis.

And I think it's sad that I even have to make this next point, but experience has shown that it's necessary; if you want to maintain even the slightest shred of scientific credibility, if you want even a glimmering hint of being taken seriously by scientists, for goodness sake put away the damned divining rods. If you want to present even a microbe of pretense that you're being scientific, don't pull out a medieval toy that's been considered a fraud for hundreds of years. By the same token, you do yourself no favors by bringing psychics or mediums into your investigations. Two unproven phenomenon do not make a proven phenomenon.

Let me reiterate; if you're doing ghost hunting for fun, or as a 'spiritual' or philosophical exercise, then knock yourself out. Invite Madame Cleo and go ghost hunting with a metal detector for all I care. But if you're wondering why the scientific community won't take you seriously, you may want to go looking for the receipt for that EMF detector you just bought.

And let me copy and paste what I'm sure will have to be a regular disclaimer: While you may think these posts are snarky, they really are meant to try and help out paranormal investigators who want to be taken seriously in the scientific community. The point of more rigorous testing isn't just to see you fail. Most scientists would think it would be brilliant if you succeeded; if you could discover a whole wonderful field of study that has real weight via the scientific method.


By the way, if you want to know some specifics of the mis-use of techie stuff for ghost hunting, check out this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Fun in Taft

So, I am still stationed in Taft. My crew size has increaed, but so has my project area, and as such I have absolutely no idea when I will be getting out of here. On the upside, I have found out that a 120-square mile extension to the project area will probably not be happening. Instead it will be a mere 8-square miles, which we can easily deal with - mind you, this is in conjuction with a 95-square mile extension that is definitely happening.

Also, I am trying to find out whether or not I will be working on two additional 200-square mile projects out in this area.

Regardless, for those of you who regularly read this blog, I should be back ot my normal update schedule of 2-4 updates a week soon. Right now I am having to train new workers and work out procedures for dealing with additional paperwork. I have been working 12-16 hour days, I hope to get that back down to 10-hour days soon.

In the meantime, enjoy some photos from my home, where I've not been spending much time as of late:

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Buried Ships of San Francisco

Every now and again, if you pay attention, you are likely to see a story pop up in a newspaper, on Yahoo news, or hear from a guy in a bar about the ships sitting underneath the city of San Francisco. Mention of the ships usually causes people to do a double-take, and the pointing and laughing that is aimed at the person telling of the ships can be uncomfortable (although watching the person doing the pointing and laughing sneeze the coffee that they had been drinking can be hilarious). Still, as hard as it may be to believe, there are in fact ships buried underneath San Francisco, one was discovered as recently as 2005 and 2006. And I'm not talking small dingies or canoes that could be carried onshore, I'm talking big ships built to carry cargo and crew to California in the days before the railroads.

In order to make sense of the plethora of buried vessels underneath ol 'Frisco, you have to understand the circumstances under which they got there. San Francisco was nothing but a small frontier town, a village really, in 1849. When word of Sutter's gold discovery reached the rest of the world, it acted as a magnet, pulling miners and the people who wished to sell goods and services to the miners into California. San Francisco's population boomed, and there was little in the way of buildings, and so the ships that were moored in the harbor (their crews often having jumped ship to head to the gold fields on the other side of the state) were used as warehouses, hotels, jails, homes, brothels, and pretty much anything else. The sudden filling of the bay with ships and their subsequent use as buildings is one factor that led to San Francisco being dubbed "The Instant City."

A healthy chunk of San Francisco's waterfront and much of its financial district is not natural land, but rather fill* (this is also true of many other water-front cities). Land in San Francisco is a rare commodity, due to the proximity of the hills and mountains to the shoreline - the property crunch is nothing new. Ships were often sunk as a way of putting a claim on land that would be created, other ships had fill built up around them as they were moored in the docks, as shown in a famous illustration by Prentice Mulford.

So, yeah, San Francisco's always been the place where you could see what you never thought you'd see.

As time wore on, the bay filled in further, and the ships that were above ground were destroyed and replaced with buildings. In addition, parts of many other ships were used in the debris and sand fill that now accounts for a portion of San Francisco's land. The remains of many of these ships are still present below ground, and every now and again they are discovered during construction processes - and you have no idea how much I want to be on one of the contract archaeology crews called in to excavate one of these babies.

One of the cool things about these ships, from an archaeological perspective, is that they can provide some really amazing information about life in the mid-19th century that the history books tend to gloss over. Do you want to know about drinking, drugs, and gambling? That information is buried under the streets. Perhaps you are politically minded and want to know about labor relations and the bad living conditions of sailors and early Californian laborers - again, locked up in the fill.

And, hey, how many people can say that they excavated a sunken ship while on dry land?

One problem, though, is that the collecting and sale of antique bottles from these ships can be big business. Luckily, security is now better than it once was. However, you don't have to look for very long on the internet before you come across the web page of a looter bragging about his thieving exploits...bastards.

Regardless, these ships are one of the coolest aspects of Californian historical archaeology. I am often surprised at just how few people know about these amazing things.

If you'd like to read more, read here, here, and here. For pictures, go here.

*Incidentally, this is a large part of the reason why San Francisco is so easily damaged by Earthquakes. The fill is not stable, and has characteristics that are similar to a fluid whenever the ground starts shaking. So, yeah, some of the most expensive land in the world is both fake and dangerous.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ghost Hunters and Science!

Some time back, I thought that it would be fun to write a series of posts on the basic problems that prevent the self-declared science of ghost hunting from actual science. It isn't that they have chosen to study ghosts, but rather that their methods for doing so are so blatantly unscientific that prevents their claims to scientific legitimacy from being valid. I had worked out what I would write about, and begun thinking my essays through...and then my friend Dave beat me to the punch by writing the same thing, but doing a better job than I would have. It was originally posted elsewhere, hence the talk of "tagging" people and whatnot, but the essay itself is pretty solid. So, without further ado, here's Dave's essay...

There's a post that's been floating around my head for... oh, roundabouts two years now; ever since I wrote the Shadow Circus show 'Paranormal Investigators.' I hadn't gotten around to posting it in the past because the more thought I put into it, the more the post seemed to grow in my mind until, at long last, I'm left with what can only now be an ongoing series of posts, which may or may not continue depending on how robust my attention span is (spoilers: it's as robust as a concussed kitten's).

I want to talk a little bit about ghost hunting.

I know a lot of ghost hunters. I expect that there are going to be a whole lot of people reading this post thinking that it's directed specifically towards them. If you're reading this and thinking that very thing then trust me - this post was inspired by you and at least fourteen other people... and the Sci-Fi channel, of course. (Or is it already the SyFy Channel? The Sigh Figh Channel? Who can keep these rebrandings straight?)

But I digress; I know a LOT of ghost hunters.

Despite being a non-believer, I largely approve of ghost hunters. Why not? I still enjoy a good ghost story, it's not my time or money being spent and I generally approve of any hobby that involves people getting out in the fresh night air or that generates interest in vintage architecture. Ghost hunting? There's worse things to do on a Friday night, and like most other beliefs that I don't share, as long as people don't come around saying "the spirits have told me that homosexuals shouldn't have rights, that non-believers should be tortured for eternity and that senior citizens should give me half of their fixed income! Whoooo!" then I don't really give two hoots what people believe.

But what irks me just a bit is that ghost hunters invariable say that what they're doing is science. They don't call it a philosophical exercise, or a spiritual activity or even 'running around playing grab-ass in the dark for kicks'. Ghost hunters want to beat the square peg of the paranormal into the round hole we call 'science.'

::deep breath::

The thing about the scientific method is that it has a pretty specific definition and that definition is not 'carry lots of equipment with blinky lights.' Mind you, I'm not saying that it would be impossible to define paranormal phenomenon, if it exists, using science. I'm just saying that ghost hunters aren't doing it.

Now, I shouldn't need to point out that I am not a scientist. I'm what Penn and Teller call a 'cheerleader for science.' In fact, I'm more than that; I'm the slutty cheerleader for science who will happily have sloppy animal sex with science behind the bleachers after the big game, especially if science happens to be that dreamy quarterback Paleontology.

But, I am tagging my friend Matt in this post, who actually is a scientist, so that if he feels so inclined he can chime in with other suggestions or, failing that, inform me that I am full of shit. I'm also going to go ahead and tag Greta Christina, who is not a scientist, but is my favorite skeptical blogger, and the thought of her weighing in on my thoughts makes me giggle with fanboyish glee.


So without further ado, I give you part one of:

Part One: Eliminating Confirmation Bias


Whenever I hear about a ghost hunting case, or see one on TV, or I read about one, it almost always starts off the same way. Somebody will come along and say "I think my house is haunted! Strange things happen in the kitchen and in the children's bedroom!" Then the ghost hunters will go in and pay particular attention to the kitchen and children's bedroom and oftentimes will come back saying, 'oh yes. I definitely felt something strange - in those two rooms especially.'

Okay; quick quiz. Can anyone tell where I'm going to go with this? Anyone? Show of hands? Matt, you can put your hand down, you don't count.

If you tell people that a particular area is haunted, people are going to feel strange and uneasy there, and any trivial incident is going to be used to confirm the phenomenon. Batteries died? Equipment glitchy? Tripping over a cable that you swear wasn't there a minute ago? Well, this is the room where they told us the phenomenon happened - it must be the ghosts!

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking; when people look for other phenomenon, they go straight to where the sightings happened. If people say 'Hey, I saw a hairy man playing softball with his poop over in Africa', scientists are going to go to Africa to find it. I mean, duh. Why should it be different with ghost hunting?

Well, for starters, people who have looked for cryptids fall into two categories; successful (mountain gorilla, giant squid) and woefully unsuccessful (Nessie, the yeti, etc). The successful cases have always, and I mean always had physical evidence to back up the eyewitness accounts. They always had carcasses or feces or footprints or something. Searches that were based on anecdotal evidence alone have pretty much always been unsuccessful, and continue to be unsuccessful to this day.

In short, if somebody says that there was a haunting in a particular room and that room is covered in ectoplasmic substance that science can't identify then, by all means, target the fuck out of that room.

You also have to consider what your end result will be. When people were trying to show that the mountain gorilla exists, all they had to do is go to Africa and catch one. Ta-da; here's your gorilla. Case closed, muthafuckah! Unless you happen to be Harold Ramis, you can't do that with ghosts. Being ephemeral by nature, you're left with an even greater burden to give evidence free of confirmation bias.

You need a blind study.

What you do is this; have an outside party identify a house which is supposed to be haunted. Ideally, it should be a house where specific rooms are haunted with specific phenomenon on a regular basis. Then have the outside party find five or so other houses which are not supposedly haunted, but are reasonably similar in age, upkeep and style. After that, let the paranormal researchers investigate all of the houses for an equal amount of time (this is the important part, guys) without knowing which house is supposedly haunted.

If the haunting is a true and repeating phenomenon, at some point the phenomenon should manifest itself in the supposedly 'haunted' house in the rooms that were previously specified in a way that does not surface in the other houses. I understand that the phenomenon might not surface immediately. Ghost hunters may have to scour all six houses for months. But at the end, if the hypothesis is sound, the ghost hunters should be able to identify which specific house is haunted and which specific rooms in the house are haunted without any prompting at all.

I'm sure that there would be some ghost hunters that would balk at the idea of a blind study such as this. They might complain that the test is unfair, that you can't hold the non-material to the same standards of evidence as the material, etc, etc, etc...

And you know what? That's fine. But blind-studies are the sorts of things that scientists have to do all the friggin' time to try and eliminate bias. If you think that this testing is unfair, so be it, but for goodness sake, stop trying to pass your field off as science.

Besides, if you think this kind of testing is unfair, wait until I write Part II - 'Showing your work and why your toys don't impress us.'

And remember, folks. While you may think these posts are snarky, they really are meant to try and help out paranormal investigators who want to be taken seriously in the scientific community. The point of more rigorous testing isn't just to see you fail. Most scientists would think it would be brilliant if you succeeded; if you could discover a whole wonderful field of study that has real weight via the scientific method.

But to do science, you have to have scientific standards.

Friday, August 7, 2009


My posts are going to be on a somewhat more erratic schedule for at least a couple of weeks, maybe longer. My project in Kern County is currently going through changes, keeps growing on me (at least 95 square miles will be added, and BLM involvement now means that I will likely be required to survey an additional area that may reach another 100 or more square miles in size), and what little social life my job currently leaves me time for is eating up much of the rest of my time.

I will be back to writing regularly again, hopefully soon. In the meantime, it's not that I've lost interested, I've just lost time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reunited and it feels so...uninteresting

So, my high school is having it's 15-year reunion this Saturday. I am still performing survey in the oil fields near Taft, and as such will not be available, but even were this not the case I doubt I would go. strangely, my disinterest in high school reunions seems to bother alot of people.

See, I have always been somewhat non-plussed by the notion of high school reunions. While I can understand the urge to revisit the past (hell, I'm pretty damn sentimental, myself) the fact of the matter is that high school is not a time that I feel any particular nostalgia for. Sure, there are elements of my teenage years, and even particular (albeit short) periods of time during those years that I look back on with tremendous fondness, but this is true for most periods of my life. Don't get me wrong, although I am very happy to no longer be a teenager, my high school experience was a relatively pleasant one. Prior to high school, throughout childhood and early adolescence, I was subject to all manner of mistreatment from both my peers and the adults in my community, and I was miserable. When I reached high school, alot of that started to fade, and I began to make real friends for the first time in my life. So, all in all, high school was pretty good for me. However, everything that followed high school was even better, and so it suffers in comparison.

If I were to look back on any period of my life with unreasonable nostalgia, it would be college and not high school, and I don't even attend alumni events at my university. So, the nostalgia trip is insufficient cause to get me to a high school reunion.

Another common reason that I hear given for attending a reunion is to see old friends. I can only respond with two points: A) I am still in contact with the old friends with whom I really want to be in contact, and B) to the best of my knowledge, these people have their own reasons (ranging from bad memories to complete disinterest) for not attending. I certainly understand the appeal of this, but ultimately this is no draw for me.

The final, and unnervingly common, reason that I hear given for attending is to show off one's success. I have a problem with this reason. First off, none of my successes were done for the benefit of people in my past, they were all for the benefit of either myself or those with whom I surround myself. And while I have certainly had my successes - getting my masters degree, managing to propel myself into my current career, having two future publications working their way through the process, and having all manner of weird adventures along the way, I sincerely doubt that anyone who I might possibly have the urge to "show up" with these achievements would actually care about any of them. So, really, this seems to me to be a recipe for frustration at best and an exercise in a warped narcissism at worst (and there is nothing narcissistic about keeping a blog, nothing at all, I tell you).

And so, I am not attending the reunion. What is odd about this, however, is the strange nerve it seems to strike with alot of people. I don't tend to bring it up in conversation, but if asked about it I simply say that I don't plan to attend. This often results in the person with whom I am speaking either attempting to diagnose some form of emotional problem in me, or else becoming rather insulting towards me. Has anyone else experienced this? Any idea why this should be?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Old-School Pharmaceuticals

Check out this old advertisement, for cocaine drops:

Or how about this add, for medicinal heroine:

For more of these truly bizarre old ads, from the old quackery days of medicine, click here.