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The Sciences

... and the blind shall see

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMay 11, 2009 12:00 AM

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A lot of people ask me, "Hey, why do you spend so much time denigrating pareidolia? What's the harm in believing in a little nonsense?" This is the harm: 50 people in India damage their eyes looking at the Sun hoping to see the Virgin Mary. They suffered photochemical burns to their maculae, a sensitive region in the eye.

All this apparently started when a hotelier, who has since moved, claimed statues of the Virgin Mother had been crying honey and bleeding oil and perfumes.

Yeah, caveat emptor, right? But at what point can you blame the believer for being foolish, versus the scam artist (perhaps a true believer as well) who started this? If people don't know enough to know they don't know enough, then it's hard to assign blame to them. The fault lies in the system, which sometimes actively fights against reality and truth getting to the masses. I hear stories like this all the time, and usually they don't amount to much individually except as as silly story. But taken as a sum, they do in fact inflict damage: people believe in fantasies which can hurt them physically, financially, and emotionally. It destroys their ability to think critically. And then we get people like Jenny McCarthy, or the parents who used homeopathy and killed their child, or the proven fraud Peter Popoff making a comeback and bilking people out of millions of dollars. That's the harm. So I will continue to point out nonsense like seeing Jesus in baked goods, and I will continue to poke fun at them and at other things which may at first seem harmless. Because, at some point, this stuff isn't harmless any more.

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