Did Cold Weather Cause the Salem Witch Trials?

Historical records indicate that, worldwide, witch hunts occur more often during cold periods, possibly because people look for scapegoats to blame for crop failures and general economic hardship. Fitting this pattern, scholars argue that cold weather may have spurred the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692.

The theory, first laid out by the economist Emily Oster in her senior thesis at Harvard University a decade ago, holds that the most active era of witchcraft trials in Europe coincided with a 400+ year period of lower-than-average temperatures known to climatologists as the “little ice age.” Oster suggested that as the climate varied from year to year during this cold period, lower temperatures correlated with higher numbers of witchcraft accusations.

The correlation may not be surprising in light of textual evidence from the period: popes and scholars alike clearly believed witches were capable of controlling the weather, and therefore crippling food production.

The Salem witch trials fell within an extreme cold spell that lasted from 1680 to 1730, one of the chilliest segments of the little ice age. The notion that weather may have instigated those trials is being revived by Salem State University historian Tad Baker in his book, A Storm of Witchcraft (Oxford University Press, 2013). Building on Oster’s thesis, Baker found clues in diaries and sermons that suggest a harsh New England winter really may have set the stage for accusations of witchcraft.

According to the Salem News, one clue is a document that mentions a key player in the Salem drama, Rev. Samuel Parris, whose daughter Betty was the first to become ill in the winter of 1691-1692 because of supposed witchcraft. In that document, “Rev. Parris is arguing with his parish over the wood supply,” Baker said. A winter fuel shortage would have made for a fairly miserable colonial home, and the higher the misery quotient, the more likely you are to see witches.

Psychology obviously played an important role in the Salem events; the young girls who accused their fellow townsfolk of witchcraft are believed to have been suffering from a strange psychological condition known as mass hysteria. However, the new theory suggests the hysteria may have sprung from dire economic conditions.

Weather patterns continue to trigger witchcraft accusations even today in many parts of Africa, where witch killings persist thanks to Christian missionary work. According to a 2003 analysis by the Berkeley economist Edward Miguel, extreme rainfall, either too much or too little, coincides with a significant increase in the number of witch killings in Tanzania. The victim is typically the oldest woman in a household, killed by her own family.

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Robot Cheetah Will Chase You in Your Nightmares

Continuing our headlong race to the Terminator Apocalypse, researchers at MIT have have devised an algorithm that allows their mad creation not only to run at speeds of up to 10 mph but also to jump over obstacles,  all without being tethered to anything. Because reasons.

If the thought of a large robot running straight at you freaks you out, this is one video you might want to miss:

The researchers say that eventually MIT’s cheetah robot should reach speeds of up to 30 mph, presumably right after becoming self-aware and developing a taste for human blood. To put that in perspective, that’s faster than legendary sprinter Usain Bolt.

Unlike some quadruped robots, MIT’s cheetah doesn’t need to be tethered to a power source. And thanks to the new algorithm, which causes each of the robot’s legs to exert just the right amount of force at the right time, the robot no longer needs external support. So we’ve lost our only potential advantage.

As a recent Gizmodo article about MIT’s revised cheetah bot put it, “Yep, it’s time to start getting seriously concerned.”

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Lindsey Graham: We’re All Going to Die!

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham is a man I suspect pisses his pants on a regular basis.

During na appearance on Fox News (where else?) Sunday, Graham called the president “delusional” for believing that ISIS can be defeated without boots on the ground. Personally, I don’t think they can be defeated with boots on the ground, but I digress. But then he then went from me half-agreeing with him to then predicting certain doom for all mankind.

Comparing the estimated 30,000 ISIS fighters to the Nazis, Graham warned that “this idea we’ll never had any boots to defeat them in Syria is fantasy.” He argued that given the growth of the “radical Islamic army” and its control of territory in northern Iraq and Syria, “it’s going to take an army to beat a army.” “This is ISIL versus mankind,” he said, using another acronym for the group. [...]

This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

I definitely think that ISIS is a terrorist threat to western nations, mostly Europe, and I also believe it’s a threat to women, children, and other civilians who live within the territory they occupy. In addition to the beheading of numerous individuals, unspeakable violence is being committed against women as they’re removed from their homes forced into sex slavery.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take the group lightly, but the idea that ISIS is a threat to “mankind” or even to the United States as a whole, is absurd and hysterical.

Someone this unhinged has no business influencing foreign policy and Graham should seriously consider looking into a mirror before he accuses someone else of being delusional.

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The Ultimate Conspiracy

Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat (I say claim because, come on, really?). Walking around on the planet’s surface, it looks and feels flat so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a “round Earth conspiracy” orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.

The belief that the Earth is flat has been described as the ultimate conspiracy theory. According to the Flat Earth Society’s leadership, its ranks have grown by 200 people (mostly Americans and Britons) per year since 2009. Judging by the exhaustive effort flat-earthers have invested in fleshing out the theory on their website, as well as the staunch defenses of their views they offer in media interviews and on Twitter, it would seem that these people genuinely believe the Earth is flat.

But in the 21st century, can they be serious? And if so, how is this psychologically possible?

First, a brief tour of the worldview of a flat-earther: While writing off buckets of concrete evidence that Earth is spherical dating back to the ancient Greeks, they readily accept a laundry list of propositions that some would call ludicrous. The leading flat-earther theory holds that Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the center and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall wall of ice, around the rim. NASA employees, they say, guard this ice wall to prevent people from climbing over and falling off the disc.

Earth’s day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres (go figure) measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible “antimoon” that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses.

Furthermore, Earth’s gravity is an illusion, they say. Objects do not accelerate downward; instead, the disc of Earth accelerates upward at 32 feet per second squared (9.8 meters per second squared), driven up by a mysterious force called dark energy. Currently, there is disagreement among flat-earthers about whether or not Einstein’s theory of relativity permits Earth to accelerate upward indefinitely without the planet eventually surpassing the speed of light. (Einstein’s laws apparently still hold in this alternate version of reality.)

As for what lies underneath the disc of Earth, this is unknown, but most flat-earthers believe it is composed of “rocks.”

Then, there’s the conspiracy theory: Flat-earthers believe photos of the globe are photoshopped. Yes, even the ones taken before Photoshop was invented. GPS devices are also rigged to make airplane pilots think they are flying in straight lines around a sphere when they are actually flying in circles above a disc. The motive for world governments’ concealment of the true shape of the Earth has not been ascertained, but flat-earthers believe it is probably financial somehow. “In a nutshell, it would logically cost much less to fake a space program than to actually have one, so those in on the Conspiracy profit from the funding NASA and other space agencies receive from the government,” according to the flat-earther website’s FAQ page. What the benefit was to the the ancient Greeks, Romans, etc. is anyone’s guess.

The theory follows from a mode of thought called the “Zetetic Method,” an alternative to the scientific method, developed by a 19th-century flat-earther, in which sensory observations reign supreme. In Zetetic astronomy, the perception that Earth is flat leads to the deduction that it must actually be flat; the antimoon, NASA conspiracy and all the rest of it are just rationalizations for how that might work in practice.

Those details make the flat-earthers’ theory so elaborately absurd it sounds like a joke, but many of its supporters genuinely consider it a more plausible model of astronomy than the one found in textbooks. In short, they aren’t kidding. At least, not on purpose.

Strangely, the Flat Earth Society thinks the evidence for global warming is strong, despite much of this evidence coming from satellite data gathered by NASA, the kingpin of the “round Earth conspiracy.” They also accept evolution and most other mainstream tenets of science. Keep in mind what I said about things making some kind of logical sense.

As inconceivable as their belief system seems, it doesn’t really surprise experts. Karen Douglas, a psychologist at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom who studies the psychology of conspiracy theories, says flat-earthers’ beliefs cohere with those of other conspiracy theorists she has studied.

Douglas says that all conspiracy theories share a basic thrust: They present an alternative theory about an important issue or event, and construct an often vague explanation for why someone is covering up that “true” version of events. One of the major points of appeal is that they explain a big event but often without going into details. Much of the power lies in the fact that they are vague.

The self-assured way in which conspiracy theorists stick to their story imbues that story with special appeal. After all, flat-earthers are more adamant that the Earth is flat than most people are that the Earth is spherical likely because the rest of us feel that we have nothing to prove. If you’re faced with a minority viewpoint that is put forth in an intelligent, seemingly well-informed way, they can be very influential. That is called “minority influence”.

In a recent study, political scientists at the University of Chicago, found that about half of Americans endorse at least one conspiracy theory, from the notion that the current president was actually born in Kenya to 9/11 was an inside job to the Moon landing conspiracy. Many people are willing to believe many ideas that are directly in contradiction to a dominant cultural narrative. They say that conspiratorial belief stems from a human tendency to perceive unseen forces at work, known as “magical thinking”.

However, flat-earthers don’t fit snugly in this general picture. Most conspiracy theorists adopt many fringe theories, even ones that contradict each other. Meanwhile, flat-earthers’ only hang-up is the shape of the Earth. If they were like other conspiracy theorists, they should be exhibiting a tendency toward a lot of magical thinking, such as believing in UFOs, ESP, ghosts, or other unseen, intentional forces. It doesn’t seem like they do, which makes them anomalous relative to most Americans who believe in other conspiracy theories.

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Earth in the Path of Deadly* Solar Storm!

*Not actually deadly.

Not just one, but two strong solar flares burst off the sun’s surface earlier this week, and Earth is getting hit with the aftermath.

A strong X1.6-class solar flare erupted from a sunspot on Wednesday, following a previous flare that blasted out of the same spot on Monday, LiveScience reported.

Due to these significant solar events, two waves of highly energized solar material from the eruptions are travelling toward Earth and are expected to impact this weekend. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued a “geomagnetic” storm watch until Saturday, Sept. 13.

While the solar storm headed our way could affect power lines, radio transmissions, communication systems and satellites to a small degree, scientists say it’s nothing to worry about. Minor issues aside, radiation from solar flares can’t pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically harm humans and these recent storms should not endanger satellites and astronauts in space.

On the upside, scientists say we may see an increase in auroral displays during the storm.

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Did Anita Sarkeesian Contact The Police About Alleged Online Threats?

If like me you consider yourself a gamer, you’ve probably heard that between August 27th and 31st news broke that Anita Sarkeesian of Tropes vs Women fame was forced to flee from her home when faced with threats of necrophilia and possible cannibalism from a degenerate known as “Kevin Dobson.” According to her Twitter feed, this threat prompted Anita to call local authorities only to be turned away by their blatant incompetence and lack of regard for her safety.

Apologies for potato quality.

The story naturally exploded in games media circles and was reported, without scrutiny, as yet another example of misogynist, terroristic attacks against modern gaming’s messiah and anyone who demonstrated any amount skepticism was immediately branded as an Anita-hating misogynist, typical fare from today’s gaming media. Even more mainstream outlets such as The Washington Post, The L.A Times and Yahoo News picked up on the story, again blindly accepting Anita’s side of the story without scrutiny while exploiting the “gamers are horrible misogynists” angle.

As the story continued to get more and more coverage, I noticed an odd pattern: None of even the mainstream news outlets included any statement from the police. Granted, many of the pieces were ultimately editorials about how awful male gamers are, but the lack of third-party corroboration was conspicuous. Since I actually paid attention in my journalism classes, I found it strange and a little irresponsible that these outlets failed to get a statement from the relevant authorities when addressing an event they allegedly dropped the ball on.

In the last couple of days however, someone finally decided to find out how the cops handled Anita Sarkeesian’s call that night. If the cops really did suggest that she should just stop talking about video games to stop the threats, then there would be a serious case of victim blaming and negligence, sparking a massive outcry towards the police department. If the police report told a different story however, it would reveal yet another example of Anita’s dishonesty and outrage mongering.

When someone reached out to the police department and asked them what happened on the night in question they likely weren’t prepared to hear the dispatcher tell them that they did not receive a call from Anita Sarkeesian that night nor at any time in the last several months. They reportedly did have a report from March but nothing from the end of August, the time when she claimed to have been driven out of her home a deranged troll.

Not only that, but police department had apparently been unsuccessfully trying to contact Anita over the last two days in order to inquire about her claims that she talked to authorities about the threats against her.

It seems that Anita Sarkeesian has provided a clear example of why the message of #GamerGate has more relevance than the opposition would have their audience believe. The gaming media took one look at Anita’s Twitter feed and decided to run with it as if it were above scrutiny and didn’t do any fact checking, critical thinking, or even bother to try a phone call to a third party involved in order to corroborate the story. The laziness and disregard for journalistic ethics is mind boggling.

Many questions still remain: Why did Anita do it? Was the threat legitimate? If so, why didn’t Anita take it more seriously? Why did the press assume she was telling the truth and immediately blame gamers instead of doing simple due diligence and asking the cops for their input? What will their response be to this new information? Will they even care? Did Anita really think that no one was ever going to check for a police report? Was this a case of collusion? Did the timing of the threats and articles coincide with Anita’s latest video underperforming?

Who can say? Hopefully the answers will come, but I wouldn’t look to the press for them.


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NFL Picks: Week 2

Last Week: 10-6 (.625)

Season Total: 10-6 (.625)

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