Jul 29 2008

Random Encounters with Woo

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Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday and today is my birthday. If my wife had not had such a quick labor we might have shared a birthday, but Julia, my daughter, now nine, has declared that she is happy to have her own birthday that she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. I am bothering to tell you this as an explanation for the short and light entry today. Birthdays take precedence over blogging.


Our present to Julia was a weekend at a water park resort, and as an added treat she had the full manicure/pedicure at the kid’s spa – complete with a cup of ice cream while they worked on her. While waiting in line to pay (her sister and cousin joined her in the spa as well) my brother and fellow SGU host Bob and I noticed a sign advertising their chakra-aligning massage. Chakras are part of Eastern mysticism – centers of life energy in the body that control different aspects of life, such as consciousness or digestion. It’s pure, pre-scientific, magical thinking woo – but to Westeners has the exotic feel of another culture. It is otherwise no different than the belief that there is a small elf or goblin living in your stomach.

While Bob and I shared a snigger at the chakra massage, the attendant noticed we were looking at it and she gave us a serious dead-pan, “Oh, if your chakras are out of alignment then nothing will go right in your life.” I’m still not sure if this was a sales pitch or if she was a true-believe, but my sense is the latter, based upon her demeanor.

She then told me the total I owed for the three kiddie spa treatments, and as I handed over my plastic I declared, “My chakras are definitely out of alignment.”

Moon Hoax

On the way home I stopped in a mini-mart to get some milk so we would have it for breakfast the next morning. As I was paying for it the attendant was staring at my SGU T-shirt. After a perplexed moment he said, “I don’t understand your T-shirt.” I explained to him that The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is a science podcast. After explaining to him what a podcast was we chatted briefly about content – science news, etc., and he asked if I did the show, which I do.

He then thought for a moment (all the while pausing before ringing up my milk), I suppose he was thinking something along the lines of – hey, I have a scientist here, what question do I really want to ask him. He then looked at me and said, “So, did we go to the moon?”

I have been doing the skeptical thing long enough to know that the average citizen, when given the opportunity to ask a science question, will typically focus on something pseudoscientific – a legacy, in my opinion, of mainstream media. I enjoy talking about real science and pseudoscience – both fascinate me – so it’s a fun conversation for me either way. I told him there was no question we went to the moon, and gave him the short version of how we know. He then came back with – but what about the fact that there are no stars in the pictures. So I explained to him some basic principles of photography, such as exposure, and that stars have very little light and need prolonged exposures. We ended with a discussion of the moon rocks, which have characteristics, such as zap pits from micro-meteors, that would have been harder to fake than to just go to the moon and get them.

By coincidence we just talked about this topic on SGU 5×5. We were joined by Phil Plait and indulged in a quick debunking of the moon hoax claims. I referred the attendant to Phil’s Bad Astronomy for more information if he was interested.

To the attendant’s credit (and perhaps to mine) he said as he finally rang up my milk that I had given him something to think about, and he seemed sincere. Perhaps that was his introduction to actual critical thinking and the notion that perhaps everything he sees on TV is not true – and may even be completely full of crap.

I can always be hopeful, especially on my birthday.

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