Ghosts in the machine

By Phil Plait | February 14, 2008 10:30 am

Why we need skepticism more than ever, a sonata in two parts:

1) China bans ghosts from the internet. Does that include being Rick Roll’d?

2) Woman exorcises public housing ghost, Toronto goes halfsies. Actually, I have no snarky joke for this one. Basically, the tenants of the haunted room together with the psychic extorted the government to pay for this, since it was cheaper than having the tenants evicted. Actually, the cheapest thing to do would be to direct the tenants to Randi’s site, the Skeptic Dictionary, and SAPS, and tell them to get a grip on reality. The moral of the story: remember folks, if your pseudoscience costs less than doing the right thing, you can get away with it.

Tip o’ the ghostly tail to Fark 1 and 2.


Comments (17)

  1. SiriMurthy

    Phil… the links need to be edited. They both point to the same site.


  2. Gary Ansorge

    Repressive governments tend to repression in all societal areas. When the old soviet union was a power, they even banned utopian SciFi because “obviously ” there could be no greater or more perfect society than soviet style communism.

    Communism is consistent with a marked woo-woo attitude toward the human condition. Obviously, we are descendants of survivors. Whatever it took to survive and procreate, be it murder, rape, or adherence to a social structure, we are the recipients, their descendants. Now, as Captain Kirk said,” Yes, I am a killer but today, I CHOOSE to kill no one,,,”. Having a quick reaction to a perceived threat is a survival trait, likely deeply ingrained in our genes. Thus, a “safe” society must ultimately prove boring and so, we seek a dangerous thrill, every now and then. Perhaps someday, we’ll have a cultural appreciation of what it really takes to be long term survivors. When that happens, all these discussions about whether it’s “good” or “bad” to allow people access to horror flicks, porn or doomsday scenarios will be seen as “whistling in the wind”.

    GAry 7

  3. Wes


    Your view of evolution sounds a lot like the discredited Spencerian concept of natural selection, which romanticized a value-laden concept of survivorship and competition. Before you pick at the woo-splinter in your brother’s eye, make sure to remove the woo-beam from your own eye. ūüėČ

  4. Jim Seymour

    I don’t know about a Toronto story, but until Phil fixes the second link, here’s an article about a local government paying to have a psychic de-ghost a house in England:

  5. Blinky

    Er, the first story doesn’t really appear worth snarking. If you read it in context, you realize the Chineese aren’t banning ghosts from the internet, but horror stories and what-not.

    I can see how someone might mis-read that story and it definately should have been cleaned up by the editor.

  6. Matt Penfold

    Here in the UK if you qualify for social housing you only get one offer, and if you turn that down you are removed from the waiting list. There are exceptions from this rule, and a most are pretty decent such as being unable to access the property because you are in a wheelchair and the like. However one excuse frequently allowed is that fact the previous owner died in the property.

    I really do wonder at the intelligence of someone who would make than excuse and the people who allow it.

  7. Yaksman
  8. Yaksman

    I think Phil may’ve mistaken a story on a Toronto news station about the British story for a Toronto story.

    (a very relieved Torontonian)

  9. Rand

    Yep, first link isn’t summed up accurately… at all. Ghosts aren’t being banned from using the internet. Rather, videos featuring ghosts and demons and other horror stuff is being banned. It’s not about pseudo-science, it’s about censorship. Huge difference.

    Yes, we do need more skepticism… against Phil’s summaries! Zing!

  10. Yoshi_3up

    Haha, I can’t see how Rickroll’d and all the roll’d videos could be banned.

    Anyways, those are interesting news.

  11. Irishman

    Basically, the tenants of the haunted room together with the psychic extorted the government to pay for this, since it was cheaper than having the tenants evicted.

    Technically, the tenants wouldn’t have been evicted, but would have chosen to leave the premises and gone to public housing, which would have been the expense to the government. In this case, either way the gov would have to pay for these superstitious people not wanting to live with a ghost. This way was cheaper.

  12. Bobolink

    Then there is the story of the man who didn’t pay his exorcist. He got repossessed.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    My take on evolution is that DNA loves to propagate and whatever life form best accomplishes that is in DNAs best “interests”. The qualities we perceive as “humane” are those which allow us to survive, be it a fine appreciation of love, compassion, humor, imagination and social connectedness or merely the stubborn desire to be,,,

    Spencer was a product of his time, playing to a fine human conceit, that some humans were superior in some way to all others. In the final analyses, it is those who have the most (viable)offspring who win the evolutionary race.
    If intelligence contributes to that viability, then it will be propagated. All we really know about the development of human intellect is that there are a few rapidly mutating genes responsible for the increase in size/complexity of the human brain. Why those genes are changing so rapidly we really don’t know but it probably has little to do with the competition for food. Analyses of low-tech tribes, such as the Kalahari, show they spend only 10 to 12 hours a week obtaining the necessities of life. It would therefore seem somewhat redundant to further increase brain size, yet those genes seem dedicated to that end. Further research is required,,,

    Gary 7

  14. Gary, you’ve revived Alfred Russel Wallace’s 19th century argument that the lack of “need” for a complex brain among primitive peoples proves the human brain is the result of divine special creation and not natural selection. (Yes, folks, one of the co-discoverers of natural selection was an ID freak.) I think the fallacy there lies in the assumption that people in a leisured culture don’t “need” all their brainpower. Or that a capability must be in continuous, feverish use or it has no evolutionary advantage. Does the lack of sexual reproduction among children mean humans don’t need their reproductive capabilities?

    I think you may also be trying to revive the c. 1900 evolutionary theory of mutationism (Hugo de Vries and others), where random mutation drives evolution, rather than natural selection operating on random mutation.

  15. Gary Ansorge

    Barton: Au contraire, low tech tribes appear to have just as complex brains as any other human tribe, regardless of our “need” for it. Perhaps the Gaia proposal has some credence,,,

    Gary 7

  16. I know that. Wallace knew it. His point was that due to their less complex culture they didn’t “need” all the brainpower they had. Wallace never agreed with the 19th century scientific racists who said blacks had smaller brains than whites.


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