Skeptics with a K: Episode #104


Atheists, psychics, mental illness and mice. Plus homicide, teen pregnancy, mass shootings and street preachers. With the return of Colin, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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  1. #1 by Heather Cawte on August 23, 2013 - 19:14

    So – you think no one has ever had their life changed by MSS? Sit back, chaps, and let me tell you a story.

    I love Derren Brown. I *really* loved his skewering of Joe Power. When I googled JP, I discovered the MSS, and thus SWAK, and I subscribed.

    At this point, although I was completely skeptical of faith healers, ghost hunters and anti-vaxers, I was a firm believer in homeopathy, reflexology, chiropractors, Bach flower remedies, telepathy, telekinesis…. Well, you get the idea. I was also a very unhappy Christian. I knew there were massive inconsistencies in the bible, and I wrestled with serious cognitive dissonance over things like earthquakes, famine in Africa and so on.

    I started at the beginning of the SWAK archives, and gradually caught up, getting my son hooked on them at the same time. (I would like to point out here that my son doesn’t believe in any flavour of woo, and never has.)

    As I listened, and was educated, and followed your suggestions of other podcasts, and discovered brilliant people like Ben Goldacre, I slowly came to understand that the woo I did believe in had just as much truth to it as the woo I didn’t believe in. I loved the 10:23 campaign. I was horrified by the truth about homeopathy, and by the amount of harm it can do.

    The more I listen, the more I learn to think for myself, check things out, and just not to be so damned gullible. I’m reading widely now in areas like science – I’m another English graduate (Hi, Marsh!) and I hadn’t thought about science since ‘O’ level – as well as atheism and skepticism.

    I don’t believe in any of the stuff I used to believe in, including god. I am a happy, interested skeptic and atheist, and I don’t take anything on surface value. I don’t feel guilty, and I don’t fall for woo. And if that isn’t changing someone’s life for the better, I don’t know what is.

    Keep up the good work, lads. SWAK is one of the highlights of my son’s and my week. Every other week 😉

  2. #2 by Stuart Ritchie on August 24, 2013 - 10:23

    “The dubious value of IQ tests”? Oh dear! Happy to come down and do my “IQ for Dummies” talk to convince you otherwise…

    For now, though: http://www.iapsych.com/articles/deary2010.pdf

  3. #3 by Janine on August 25, 2013 - 22:30

    Darn you and your funny mouse story, when you said she hit the cat with the stick I almost fell off the treadmill at the gym because I was laughing so much.

  4. #4 by Creeper UK on August 26, 2013 - 11:09

    This stuff realy sinks in! only this week I’ve explained pareidolia to my kids due to seeing the “dog with tounge” in one of our trees and my wife thinking we were going to run over a cat in the cat (a black bin bag), I’ve also explained homeopathy to a mate in the pub who thought it was just natural medicines – and he was stunned, I’ve also been practicing my patented Shuzi lego brick with great effect.
    All this stuff I would have been unable to do with out SWAK – great stuff lads, although I do listen when out working on my fields and had to laugh out load when you said back in some distant episode that no farmer would listen to the show.
    Right of to start listening to be resonable

  5. #5 by Mike on August 27, 2013 - 10:59

    I’m sticking to my guns on the “dubious value of IQ tests” line, Stuart! 🙂 For a couple of reasons. First, “dubious value” doesn’t mean I think they have no value, only that I am unsure of their value.

    But more importantly, the point I was really alluding to with that line (and I acknowledge I was not as clear as I could have been) is that, as far as the press + public are concerned, IQ is taken as being exactly synonymous with “intelligence” in the broader sense, which I don’t think is the case.

    That said, even if it /were/ the case that IQ === intelligence, it doesn’t actually change the fact that the rest of the argument is complete horseshit. And so I didn’t want to spend any time on the subtleties of that point, as it wouldn’t really change anything.

  6. #6 by Stuart Ritchie on August 27, 2013 - 12:11

    I’d strongly recommend you read the article I linked to if you’re unsure of the value of IQ tests. Just very briefly, though – IQ test scores from childhood are strongly predictive of educational outcomes, income, and even life expectancy (controlling for socioeconomic factors); that is, people with higher IQs live longer (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19234402). They’re also strongly genetic and related to various measurements of the brain. Sounds to me like an IQ score is pretty high-value.

    What do you think ‘intelligence’ is, if it’s not what IQ tests measure?

    If it’s consistently found that religious people score more poorly on reasoning tests (and this new meta-analysis confirms that this is indeed the case), then I think that’s interesting, as it is (a small part of!) the reasons some people are religious. Obviously religion is a complicated thing, but we shouldn’t leave out people’s cognitive abilities as a potential part of understanding it.

    Of course, I know that you were focusing on the ‘does god exist?’ question, which is naturally unrelated to the ‘why are people religious?’ question. It’s fine to point that out, but try not to write off one of the most consistent findings of 100 years of psychological research in the process!

  7. #7 by Mike on August 27, 2013 - 12:49

    My understanding is that IQ tests measure things like spatial reasoning, logic, maths, comprehension etc — but not things like creativity, which I would argue is an important component of what we could consider intelligence.

    I’m not dismissing the value of IQ or IQ tests. And I’m not saying that it isn’t a strong predictor of the various things you mention. I’m saying that reducing human cognitive ability down to a single integer is an oversimplification 🙂

  8. #8 by Stuart Ritchie on August 27, 2013 - 15:09

    That’s a straw man argument of the very worst kind – nobody in IQ research has ever claimed that you can “reduce human cognitive ability down to a single integer”. I’m sad to see this on a thread under the podcast in which I learned the term “steel-manning”.

    What *is* claimed is that a latent factor extracted from a battery of cognitive tests (the “g-factor” of intelligence) explains around 50% of the variance in mental ability.

    And creativity (at least as measured on lab-based creativity tasks, which themselves correlate with real-world creativity to some extent) is correlated with IQ test score, so IQ tests do to some extent measure it: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016028961300024X (Just for a plausibility check: name someone who’s highly creative – Shakespeare, Mozart, Picasso – do you think any of these guys had a low IQ?).

  9. #9 by Mike on August 28, 2013 - 12:46

    Stuart, I never claimed that any IQ researcher said that — I’m saying that’s how the press + public perceive it! You’re taking my comments as a slight on the entire field when that’s not what I’m saying at all 🙂

  10. #10 by Martin on September 3, 2013 - 22:06

    Best episode ever! Brilliant… very funny, thanks.
    My eyes rolled so much through the JP skit they nearly fell out!
    Joe Power’s audience demographic may change a bit now as you’ve promoted it a Skeptics cheap night out. 🙂

  11. #11 by Lee Kalba on September 4, 2013 - 00:17

    I just came over from Cognitive Dissonance. I don’t know what half of what you’re talking about, is but I do enjoy the banter and the accents.
    One of the topics brought up the isolation of being an atheist in America. I have to say, it’s even worse in the south. I only know two others in my area. One is my mother and the other has to keep it quiet, or his law practice might suffer.
    Earlier this year I discovered The Dumbass Guide to Knowledge and that lead me to realize I like skeptical podcasts, as they’re great to listen to while I work and don’t leave me with the frustration of listening to the TV. I plan to work through some of the back catalog, but I think I’ll become a regular listener.
    Cheers.

  12. #12 by Murff on September 4, 2013 - 18:56

    The mouse story and the street creature stories had me laughing so hard. Thank you!

  13. #13 by Beaufort on September 6, 2013 - 10:18

    Stuart Ritchie :I’d strongly recommend you read the article I linked to if you’re unsure of the value of IQ tests. Just very briefly, though – IQ test scores from childhood are strongly predictive of educational outcomes, income, and even life expectancy (controlling for socioeconomic factors); that is, people with higher IQs live longer (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19234402). They’re also strongly genetic and related to various measurements of the brain. Sounds to me like an IQ score is pretty high-value.What do you think ‘intelligence’ is, if it’s not what IQ tests measure?If it’s consistently found that religious people score more poorly on reasoning tests (and this new meta-analysis confirms that this is indeed the case), then I think that’s interesting, as it is (a small part of!) the reasons some people are religious. Obviously religion is a complicated thing, but we shouldn’t leave out people’s cognitive abilities as a potential part of understanding it.Of course, I know that you were focusing on the ‘does god exist?’ question, which is naturally unrelated to the ‘why are people religious?’ question. It’s fine to point that out, but try not to write off one of the most consistent findings of 100 years of psychological research in the process!

    Stuart, in our Brave New World of political correctness, the liberal minded don’t want to hear that there are intellectual/intelligence differences in people at all, we are all the same, and genetics is hooey lol

    Look at the US where both environment and genetics are often cited as reasons why certain groups are disproportionately negatively represented in any selected field, yet only the environment is ever spoken about. Affirmative action means that a White male, in some states and cities, has to score, say, 900 points in an entrance exam to a fire department, whereas many non-White male applicants only need to obtain 500 – 600.

    You are correct, creativity is aligned to intelligence and IQ, I have never met an artist, sculpture, writer or even potter that is dumb, logical fallacy, true, but can anyone here name many or even one world class creative person who is intellectually challenged?

    Low achievers, from whatever background, will state that IQ is irrelevant to creativity, in fact, many of these folks state that crud like Emotional Intelligence is more valid, because they will have a better showing there.

    As for IQ being genetic, why is it we can say, openly, that muscular build, height, all the physical metrics, are genetic, yet not even hint that brain function could also be? It seems that light-skinned mutants – the Asians and Caucasians – have a higher propensity for suicide, is that proof enough that brain function can be genetically linked somewhat? Allied to this, is that, apparently, the higher your IQ, the higher your suicide risk, I think it was an IQ above 155 {can’t remember exactly} meant that you had a 25% chance of committing suicide…it’s been a while since I read up on it, it was a subject close to heart for a while.

    People get hung up over IQ and intelligence, but the thing is, high IQ and high intelligence doesn’t negate the individual having brainfarts and erroneous reasoning, their are world class scientists who believe in God, like the dude who ran the human genome project.

    Intelligence and IQ are just part of the whole, tools, it is how we use them that counts.

  14. #14 by Desch86 on September 9, 2013 - 10:04

    If anyone is curious about the fascinating nature of the swedish language here is an extremely unserious crasch course

    http://www.slayradio.org/mastering_swedish.php

    (Btw, it’s pronounce Hej) 🙂

  15. #15 by Paul on September 10, 2013 - 07:29

    This could just be me, but hearing of the recent meta study finding a strong negative correlation between IQ and religiosity (to save time I’m just going to use the term “intelligence” to mean IQ, I don’t want to comment on whether “intelligence” should be defined as all-encompassing artistic talents or whatever individual strength someone has that can’t be tested for) led me to the kind of post hoc ergo propter hoc gut feeling that this might be suggesting that intelligent people are more likely to become atheists or conversely that low intelligence more often leads to religiosity, not the other way around.

    I don’t think the idea the correlation would go the other direction–that being atheist makes you more intelligent or being religious makes you less intelligent–is even plausible. Then again, I’m not hooked into the blogosphere, so if there are people asserting this opposite causal direction, they should be called out for being ridiculous.

    The meta study did however show that even with education, income, age range, ethnicity all held steady, the correlation still exists. A strongly negative correlation between IQ and religiosity is there, and while shoving it in the faces of Christians is not polite, the academic value of the data shouldn’t be ignored simply because it makes Christians angry. And come on this isn’t new, Christians regularly get upset and indignant when reality won’t conform to their worldview.

    I think the very fact that so many more people at universities, laboratories, etc are non-religious than in the general population should make the causal direction that intelligent people are simply less likely to buy into the whole god thing is not a ludicrous idea, and the sixty-odd studies encompassed in the review is consistent with that hypothesis. I would argue by occams razor that atheism is not like an IQ-Plus pill(seriously did anyone really argue this?), but rather that the intelligent people in a given population are likelier to leave the church to move on to atheism, leaving the average IQ of the remaining congregation lower for it.

    There’s nothing wrong applying a bit of interpretation on a demonstrated correlation backed up by robust data on one side and occams razor on the other.

  16. #16 by martin on September 18, 2013 - 08:48

    I just realized that the mouse probably came around to complain about you dissing all those studies done on his relatives. Was it carrying a tiny copy of the Daily Mail?

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