Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Local squatch alert

The unfortunate part of what I do here at Skeptophilia is that I so seldom get to participate in any first-hand active research.  I have a day job, and limited time and finances to fly to Nepal to investigate claims of Yeti sightings, much as I would love to do so.

So it's with great joy that I announce that there are cryptids in upstate New York, within reasonable driving distance from where I live.

First, we have the Connecticut Hill Monster, which is veritably in my back yard.  Connecticut Hill, says enthusiast Tim Holmes, is home to a "migratory pod of Sasquatch."

This raises two questions:  (1) Sasquatch migrate?  I mean, I can hardly blame them if they do, considering the winters we have up here, but still.  (2) The collective noun for Bigfoots is "pod?"  I thought that was whales.  I think they deserve a more creative collective noun, don't you?  Maybe a "lope of Sasquatch."

Be that as it may, I've spent many hours tromping around Connecticut Hill and the Finger Lakes National Forest with my valiant Bigfoot-tracking dog, Grendel, and we've seen nary a trace of squatches.  Disappointing, that.

But there may be another spot to search, at least if you believe Peter Wiemer, who just last week petitioned legislators from Chautauqua County to have Bigfoot declared as an endangered species.

Wiemer, who is a Bigfoot tracker, is also the owner of the "We Wan Chu Cottages" on Chautauqua Lake, which should win some sort of prize in the Inadvertently Creepy Motel Name Contest.  But he certainly feels passionate about his cryptozoological avocation.  "Bigfoots are not a paranormal, not scary or troublesome and are living among us in peace and harmony in Chautauqua County," he said, resulting in a number of near-fatal choke-snorts from legislators.  "You should err on the side of caution."

He also added, "You're not going to be looked at as being crazy," which is debatable.

There is a problem with all of this, though, and it goes beyond being thought crazy.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, to be listed as endangered, a species has to meet the following criteria:
  • Has a large percentage of the species vital habitat been degraded or destroyed?
  • Has the species been over-consumed by commercial, recreational, scientific or educational uses? 
  • Is the species threatened by disease or predation? 
  • Do current regulations or legislations inadequately protect the species? 
  • Are there other manmade factors that threaten the long-term survival of the species?
Given that the amount of scientifically admissible evidence for Bigfoot is zero, how do you determine whether any of these criteria are met?  Add that to the fact that current estimates of the Sasquatch population also stand at "zero," and trying to determine whether the population is declining becomes kind of a moot point.

Of course, I might be speaking too hastily, here.  A couple of days ago, a coworker and friend of mine sent me an alarming photograph that was taken on her husband's trail-cam.  She gave me permission to use the image, so take a look at this:

Well, if that's not convincing, I don't know what is.

So there you have it.  Claims of a lope of Bigfoot, and near enough for me to go do some first-hand research.  I'll get right on that.  I better, because it's soon going to be winter, and as devoted as I am to the cause, I am not going to risk freezing off important body parts hiking around in four feet of snow in some godforsaken corner of Chautauqua County.  Call me a wimp, but there you go.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Playing cards with ghosts

So there's the story of the little kid who starts a snowball rolling at the top of a hill, and as it rolls it accumulates more snow, getting bigger and bigger, until finally it reaches the bottom and crushes a car or something.  Thus the coining of the term snowball effect and a cautionary lesson about getting things started that might eventually get away from you.

I feel a little like that kid this week.  Tuesday I posted about the fact that I loved it when woo-woos conducted hybridization experiments on disparate bizarre claims, and as an example talked about a guy who said he could summon UFOs by telepathy.  This generated an email from a reader, who said that if I liked that one, I'd love the guy who said, basically, that Bigfoot was elusive because quantum.  I ended that piece saying that if anyone had any further weird combos up their sleeve, for example, a recommendation that we choose our homeopathic remedies using Tarot cards, I didn't want to know about it.

This prompted a different loyal reader of Skeptophilia to send me an email that said, "I tried to find one combining Tarot cards and homeopathy, but I found this one instead.  Do I win?"

Despite my feeling of foreboding, I clicked the link.  And found myself reading about "Using Tarot Cards to Communicate With Ghosts."

Like the other two, I kept looking for some sign that this was satire, but sadly, I don't think it was.  "Tarot cards are a great way to communicate with spirits," we're told in the introduction.  "It’s because they open up your intuition, so you become receptive to the ghost’s or spirit’s message."

But then we're immediately told to be cautious.  Ghosts and spirits, apparently, can do bad stuff, so we have to speak to them sternly right from the get-go.  There are four rules one must follow:
  1. Never allow the spirit to enter your mind
  2. Tell the spirit it may only guide your hand to the right card
  3. Tell the spirits that you have the power to end the session when you want
  4. Tell it exactly how you want it to communicate or confirm a card
There are even concrete hints on how to accomplish all of this.  These include using "protective charms and stones" such as tiger's eye and hematite to keep those spirits where they belong.

Oh, and we're told that we have to do our research about what the cards mean, and be reasonable about what we ask, because "spirit communication tires out ghosts."  I'm not all that sympathetic about this, because honestly, what else do ghosts have to do?  It's not like they have day jobs, or anything.  They can nap pretty much whenever they want to.  So if I want to talk to a ghost, I'm expecting it to get up off its ectoplasmic ass and talk back.  I don't want to hear any pathetic excuses like "I'm just too sleepy tonight," or to pull out my Ouija board and have it spell out "zzzzzzzzzzzzz."

Then we're told that we should also research what ghosts might be present, and that if (for example) we suspect that there's a female ghost haunting the place, we can expect lots of feminine imagery in the cards we draw.  But then there's the caveat that we might accidentally attract a different spirit, so we might not get the cards we expect.  Which seems about right.  We will either get cards we expect, or not, every time, which certainly sounds like hard evidence of ghostly communication to me.

Then there's a bunch of stuff about thanking the ghost and making sure he's sent back to the ghost realm and cleansing the cards with spiritual detergent or something.  By this time, my eyes had kind of glazed over.  I'm thinking I may need to read a chapter or two of this book, just to recover:

Not that it'll help.  If you're looking for me, I'll be in the corner of my office, sitting on the floor, rocking and quietly sobbing.  So thanks for the cards and letters and all.  I hope you're happy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I really enjoyed claims that came from an intersection of two disparate areas of woo-woo.  Specifically, we looked at the idea that it would be convenient for UFOlogists to be able to have access to the subject of their field of study whenever they want, so rather than standing in the cold and dark waiting for UFO to show up, they should simply summon one telepathically.

Then I received an email from a loyal reader of Skeptophilia informing me that hybridizing UFO research and telepathy was hardly the most unlikely pairing one could come up with.  And as proof, he sent me a link he'd run into over at Cryptomundo called...

... "The Quantum Bigfoot Theory."

I wish I were making this up.  Yes, folks, we have a second contender for the weirdest combination of two wacko ideas.  One Ron Morehead, "an accomplished author with much field experience with the Bigfoot phenomenon," has taken cryptozoology and the whole quantum-vibration nonsense and put it in a blender, and poured out something truly breathtaking.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

He starts out by suggesting that the way us regular old biologists study living creatures may not be the way to approach Bigfoot:
Researchers knock on trees, sound-blast screams and yells, or whoop all over the hillside trying to get the attention of a Bigfoot.  Professional trackers experience track-ways left by these creatures that abruptly end, highly trained dogs will not pick up the scent, or if they do they usually don’t come back.  If what you’re doing doesn’t get the results you want, change what you’re doing…it’s that simple.  Folks who claim to be researchers discount those surreal accounts that don’t fall into their preset paradigm.  Is it time to reach beyond Newtonian rules of classical mechanics, and delve into a science that was established almost 100 years ago by Einstein, Born, Heisenberg and Schrödinger?
Well, there's a reason not to, and that's that the subject of study is Bigfoot, and not Submicroscopicfoot.  Quantum theory explains phenomena that generally are relevant in the world of the very (very) small.  Quantum probabilistic effects get "washed out" on ordinary scales of time and size, just as you can discuss the air pressure inside a balloon without worrying very much about the motion of one specific gas molecule.

So right off, he illustrates that he hasn't the vaguest clue what quantum physics actually is.  But he doesn't let that stop him:
(T)  he world of quantum physics has been locked in mathematics.  It’s accepted worldwide by physicists. We don’t see it, but it’s ever present in our lives.  We get that feeling that something is wrong, the phone rings and Aunt Marybell Sue was in a car wreck.  You have a déjà vu …this has happened before.  Without knowing it, could psychics actually be relating to folks from a quantum level?
Quantum physics is a little weird, but that does not mean "if it's weird, it must be because of quantum physics."  And if Aunt Marybell Sue gets in car wrecks often enough that people are experiencing déjà vu about it, maybe it's time to take away her driver's license.

The real coup de grâce, though, comes at the end of the article.  Morehead states:
Is there a race of giants that have inherited the ability to move into the macro-world with quantum physics?...  The remains of giants have been found on earth before.  Most of us know about Greek mythology regarding aliens copulating with human women who then gave birth to a half god-half human, e.g., Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hercules, and so on.  They supposedly had great powers and supernatural abilities.  And most of us know of the biblical accounts of the same type of cross-breeding.  If we are to believe there is a core of truth to these stories, could Bigfoot be a diluted remnant of these and have inherited some of their quantum abilities?
It's funny, I've read a great deal of mythology, and I don't recall anything about Zeus being the product of an alien having sex with a human.  You'd think that'd kind of stand out in my memory.  But if we're making shit up, may as well go big or go home, right?

The most inadvertently funny thing about the whole article, though, is when Morehead states that there is no need to defer to posers like Stephen Hawking on matters of physics:
You don’t have to be a physicist to understand enough about quantum physics to realize it could very well be our answer to the understanding of how Bigfoot might operate.
Which, in one sentence, sums up the entire woo-woo worldview.  "Don't expect us even to expend the effort of reading the fucking Wikipedia page on quantum physics.  We'll just throw around some terms that are sort of science-y or something, and call it good."

And we won't even go into Morehead's further speculations that Bigfoot might be the descendant of Lucifer and the Nephilim.

So there you have it.  An even weirder amalgam than summoning UFOs using telepathy.  If there's any crazier woo-woo crossbreeding experiment out there, for example using Tarot card readings to determine which homeopathic remedy to use, I don't want to know about it.  There's only so much facepalming one person can endure.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Here, alien! Come here, boy!

Let me just say that I love it when the woo-woos team up.

It gets a little old, sifting through the blurry Bigfoot photos, sketchy claims of ghost sightings, and anecdotal evidence for spirit communication day after day.  Much as I'm committed to keeping abreast of what's happening in the world of woo, it does seem a little like a compilation of twice-told tales after a while.

So it always brightens my day to see a new approach.  Such as the story that appeared on PRLog yesterday that claims that the best way to study UFOs scientifically is to start out by summoning them using telepathy.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Hans Boysen, who wrote the press release, seems awfully excited about the whole thing.  He starts out with a bang:
Some of the most fascinating UFO footage is now being successfully captured daily by those who are prepared with photographic and video equipment. Many are finding that opportunity meets preparation for those that call out or “summon” UFOs.
I can see how that would make it more convenient.  It must be disappointing for your aspiring UFOlogist to go out, night after night, and see zero UFOs.

Boysen quotes Robert Bingham, a "summoning expert from Los Angeles," on the subject.  "It's like prayer," Bingham said, which is true insofar as neither one actually works.  But then Bingham goes on to explain further:
Many people do not realize how powerful telepathic communication is.  If anyone has ever prayed and received an answer to prayer, they know that our thoughts can escape the confines of our minds.  We are discovering our consciousness is unbounded.  Our brain waves sound like static AM radio, but our thoughts can be interpreted and converted into electrical and mechanical energy as proven by Miguel Nicolelis, MD, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center.  They were able to prove that a monkey could control a robot with its thoughts.  Telepathic communication is the reason why prayer works.
Except that what Nicolelis did had zero to do with telepathy or UFOs.  Here's an excerpt from Nicolelis's own website about his research:
In particular, about 12 years ago we created a preparation that we named brain-machine interfaces.  And you have a scheme here that describes how it works.  The idea is, let's have some sensors that listen to these storms, this electrical firing, and see if you can, in the same time that it takes for this storm to leave the brain and reach the legs or the arms of an animal -- about half a second -- let's see if we can read these signals, extract the motor messages that are embedded in it, translate it into digital commands and send it to an artificial device that will reproduce the voluntary motor wheel of that brain in real time.  And see if we can measure how well we can translate that message when we compare to the way the body does that.
So we have the usual thing, which is a woo-woo completely misrepresenting science.  Because what Nicolelis and his team accomplished (and which I am in no way trying to diminish; it's amazing research) was using brain implants and a digital interface to allow a monkey to control a robotic arm. The only way that would tell us anything about telepathic communication, aliens, or prayer is if you thought that everyone who claims to be telepathic, and the aliens, and god, were all equipped with computerized implants.

That doesn't stop Boysen, though, who plows right on ahead as if what he was saying made a shred of sense:
More Ufologists are beginning to understand this powerful technique because the results can be astounding.  Summoning is a singularity and clarity of thought with intention and direction.  Some achieve this by meditation and others, like Robert Bingham, simply convey his telepathic messages.  Both are an effective way of transmitting thought, but "alien trust" and experience seem to be a predominant factor of proficiency.
Kind of like training a skittish dog, is how I see it.  Maybe you just go out in your back yard at night and send soothing telepathic messages like "It's okay" and "I'm not gonna hurtcha" and "whoozagoodboy?"  And the aliens slowly, cautiously skootch their spaceship toward you.  And then you give them a treat.

So there you have it.  Our latest team effort, this one bringing the UFO silliness together with the psychic silliness.  Unfortunately for Boysen et al., though, a goofy idea does not become less goofy by hybridizing it with another goofy idea.  Then you have (goofy)2, and that's just kind of pathetic.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don't trust everyone

There's an odd tendency of conspiracy theorists to eat their young.

Not literally, of course.  I wouldn't want that to get out as some kind of meta-conspiracy-theory.  But I've noticed that although the conspiracy theories themselves never seem to die, the conspiracy theorists seem to have a relatively short half-life before they implode.

Again, not literally.  Don't get your hopes up.

I think the reason for this is that once you abandon logic and evidence as the sine qua non of understanding, you are out in some kind of netherworld of lies, suppositions, and paranoia, and it's only a matter of time before you become victim to the same foolishness you were perpetrating.  You give people the impression that no one is to be trusted, that anyone and everyone could be part of the conspiracy, and before you know it, your followers have decided that you're right... and include you in the assessment.

So it's with some degree of amusement that I report to you that it's finally happened to the archduke and court jester of the conspiracy theory world -- David Icke and Alex Jones.

Icke was outed, fittingly enough, in a YouTube video in which he is caught "shape-shifting into a Reptilian."  Odd, isn't it, that these Reptilian overlords of ours are brilliant enough to infiltrate themselves into every level of government, break into the sanctum sanctorum of military intelligence, and then can't remember to keep their costumes in place when they're on the air?  But yes, you heard it here first: Icke, who said that Reptilians are in control of everything from the CIA to the U.S. public education system, is himself a Reptilian.

Even more wryly amusing is the fact that Alex Jones had the whistle blown on the site Before It's News, because they're about the only website that is even more bizarrely paranoid than Jones's own site InfoWars.  Here's the exposé about Jones:
Skeptics at first, may think that the vertical slits in Alex Jones’ pupils, are caused by a blurring effect, when the video frame is frozen.  But the unedited video footage – that can easily be verified through the original InfoWars video that is posted on YouTube, reveals that THE VERTICAL SLITS IN ALEX JONES’ EYES ARE MOVING SIDE TO SIDE – AND SO WHY, WHY, WHY DO HORIZONTAL SLITS NEVER APPEAR?  It is also noteworthy when the reptilian eyes manifest through Jones, that the iris narrows significantly, and is then bordered on each side, with black lines.  This cannot be a blurring effect, as there is not enough black on the borders of his iris to do so.  And the “reptilian iris” effect also manifests when his eyes are moving side to side – and so, should the slits not be HORIZONTAL when this happens?  And so the blurring argument – the argument that the serpentine slits in Alex Jones’ eyes are caused by eye movement, is pure fantasy.  But the reality remains, Alex Jones is now manifesting, on multiple occasions, REPTILIAN SHAPESHIFTING EYES.
What's funnier than the article itself, though, is that they illustrate their contention with a picture of the "Gorn" from the Star Trek original series episode "Arena."

You may remember this episode because it contained the most ridiculous fight scene ever filmed, featuring Captain Kirk fighting a guy wearing a huge plastic dinosaur head.  But evidently the dinosaur head prevented the actor playing the Gorn from seeing very well, so he would lunge at Kirk, and miss him by about ten feet.  Kirk, of course, being Kirk, would pretend that he was in extreme danger, and he would immediately drop and roll, giving him ample opportunity to tear his shirt, because no episode of the original series was complete if you didn't get a chance to see at least one of William Shatner's nipples.  The Gorn, however, would go staggering off in some random direction until he happened by pure chance to locate Kirk again, and the whole scenario would replay.

It was a little like an extremely slow-moving two-person game of "Marco Polo."

But I digress.

Anyhow, there you have it.   Two alien infiltrators exposed, by people who evidently don't understand the concept of "video compression artifact."  But even stranger is that the conspiracy theorists themselves don't realize how they are setting themselves up to be knocked down.  David Icke and Alex Jones have been preaching to people for ages not to trust... well, everyone.

They, of all people, should be entirely unsurprised to find that some people are now beginning to realize that everyone includes them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dangerous umbrellas

Humans are born categorizers, and we are often uncomfortable when those categories don't turn out to be water-tight.  As they seldom are.  We want life to be neat, to fit in orderly little boxes with labels, and then not to have to rethink it.

But as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "No generalization is worth a damn, including this one."  We have to be extraordinarily careful with how we fit a messy reality into artificial pigeonholes.

I frequently run into this with the attitudes many atheists have towards Christians as a whole, as if the label "Christian" adequately encompassed the enormous range of beliefs and attitudes of the people who call themselves by that name.  I'm sorry, you can't make a blanket statement about worldviews and expect that statement to reflect much of anything accurately.  "Christian" means one thing; someone who accepts the divinity of Jesus.  Beyond that, any expectation that you can make a further judgment is pretty much doomed to failure.  An umbrella that covers such disparate individuals as a liberal Episcopalian and a fundamentalist Pentecostal is bound to be fairly useless for telling you anything other than what the term literally means.

The reverse happens too, though.  As an atheist, I sometimes get some wry comments when people find out that I love Baroque and Renaissance religious choral music.  The Bach Mass in B Minor and Magnificat in D, in fact, are two of my all-time favorite works.  I posted a YouTube video to my Facebook page a while back of a chorus performing Thomas Tallis's gorgeous Spem in Alium, prompting a friend to comment, "I thought you didn't believe in any of this stuff."

Well, I don't.  Being labeled "atheist" doesn't mean I have to hate everything religious.  When I went to England fifteen years ago, the focus of my trip was visiting abbeys and cathedrals, and I did so with great appreciation of the beauty and solemnity of those spaces that many consider sacred.  And to the friend who questioned my love of religious music, I merely quoted Walt Whitman: "Do I contradict myself?  Very well, I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes."

Of course, we all do this sort of thing.  Religious folks do it about other religious folks, and atheists do it about each other.  Take, for example, the little screed that P. Z. Myers posted yesterday on his blog Pharyngula.

P. Z. Myers [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Now, I have a great deal of admiration for Myers for his staunch support of the teaching of evolution in public schools, and also for his take-no-shit-from-anyone attitude with regards to our government's tendency to handle religion with kid gloves.  But I think he's gone seriously off the beam here, falling into the kind of categorical thinking that I describe above.

The whole thing began with a comment Anita Sarkeesian made regarding her receipt of death threats over a speaking engagement at Utah State University.  Sarkeesian is a prominent feminist, and evidently her views ticked someone off enough that she was told she'd be killed because her "feminist viewpoints made her worthy of death."  Sarkeesian was interviewed about this issue, and there was an insinuation that the originator of the threat must be religious.  Sarkeesian disagreed, and in fact posted on her Twitter feed the statement, "I find it ironic that self-described 'atheist' men are far more hateful and awful towards me online than conservative Christians are."

This prompted a number of prominent atheists to point out that the word "atheist" means nothing more than "disbelieves in a deity;" it doesn't mean "nice person."  Myers took serious exception to this, and shot back:
Right.  ‘The dictionary doesn’t say atheists have to be decent human beings, therefore I’m going to be more annoyed that you have this expectation than at the fact that some atheists are hateful numpties.’ 
Whatever happened to the rational idea that we should look at our failings honestly and strive to correct them?  You know, when Francis Bacon set out to tell the world about how science should be done, he didn’t just pull a sentence out of a dictionary and be done with it.  “Inductive reasoning is best, rah rah rah!” No — he wrote at length about the pitfalls, and spelled out the preconceptions to which we are prone.
Well, on the one hand, he's right that rationality requires us to be thoughtfully self-aware, and to correct our failings.  But the fact remains that the word "atheist" does mean simply a lack of belief in god.  It might be reassuring for us atheists to pat ourselves on the back and think that along with that belief will come all sorts of other good things -- being logical, compassionate, reasonable, and accepting.  But humanity (like everything) is messy.  Just as the word "Christian" encompasses a huge range of beliefs and attitudes, so does "atheist."  The latter word, recall, could apply not only to myself and Myers, Stephen Hawking, Eugenie Scott, and Tim Minchin -- but also to Stalin and Pol Pot.

Myers finishes up by saying:
But I guess atheists have moved so far beyond mere scientists that self-awareness and recognition of their own errors of perception no longer matter — “There is no god!” is the great All of their philosophy, and no other consideration need be made. 
Well, at least we’re better than the theists in one thing: our dogma is shorter and easier to memorize.
Which is about as accurate as saying "All Christians are illogical and narrow-minded."  I can only hope that he's being deliberately disingenuous here; surely he can't really think that atheists as a group don't care about anything other than saying "there is no god."

Yes, I think it's a shame that there are atheists who are jerks, and who would give Anita Sarkeesian grief about her work to combat misogyny.  I also think it's a shame that there are some Christians, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and so on, who are jerks.  It'd be nice if we could eliminate jerkishness from humanity entirely, and perhaps Myers's prodding atheists by saying, "C'mon, people, we're better than that," isn't entirely a bad thing.

But the fact is, there's no term you can apply to a human group that isn't going to result in the same kind of seeming internal contradiction.  People are complex, enigmatic creatures, surprising you every time you try to figure them out.  Perhaps instead of expecting umbrella terms to tell us very much, we should all try to find the commonalities that unite us -- the desire for love, understanding, kindness, safety, and adequate food, water and shelter.  Beyond that, let's look past the labels, and consider each other as individuals.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Searching for the ultimate

Okay, folks, I understand that the world is a Big Scary Place where Big Scary Things sometimes happen.  It's an inherently chaotic system (at least in my opinion) where there are proximal causes for almost everything that happens and ultimate causes for very little.  Looking for the overarching pattern, the big reasons, is an exercise in futility.

The view of the universe as a giant pinball game doesn't bother me, or at least not very much.  My general attitude is that I don't have to understand everything; understanding the bits of it I can parse through science is enough.  It is, though, what makes religion appealing to a lot of folks, and I can certainly empathize with the draw.  It provides meaning, gives an ultimate context, reassures you that even when things seem awful and random and incomprehensible, there's a pattern there that you're not seeing, that makes it all make sense.

There's a toxic side of all of this, though, and it manifests in the desperation of a lot of people to discern a Big Reason for large-scale devastating events.  It's what drives some of the religious to postulate a devil-figure that does bad things to humans, or (even worse) a retributive god who smites whole cities for the perceived sinful actions of a few.  It's the basis of what creates a lot of conspiracy theories, because better that there be some pattern, even a dreadful one, than no pattern at all.

Take, for example, the current nonsense circulating the internet about Ebola.  On the one hand, I get why people feel like they have to look for a reason; the Ebola virus is one scary mofo, causing horrific symptoms that result in a 60-70% mortality rate.  And honestly, we don't know how fast it's going to spread in the United States.  The epidemic in West Africa is certainly far from over, with one estimate suggesting that the infection rate there could increase by a factor of ten by December.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But the crazy End Times shit and conspiracy theories now popping up on a daily basis are not helping the situation.  We have Ron Baity, a Baptist preacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who said that not only is Ebola a punishment from god for the recent push for gay marriage, if we don't reverse course quickly, god has something even worse up his sleeve:
If you think for one skinny minute, God is going to stand idly by and allow this to go forward without repercussions, you better back up and rethink this situation.  I want you to understand, that is raw, pure blasphemy...  My friend, we are meriting, we are bringing the judgment of God on this nation as sure as Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed, don’t be surprised at the plagues.  Don’t be surprised at the judgment of God.  You think Ebola is bad now, just wait.  If it’s not that, it’s going to be something else.  My friends, I want you to understand, you can’t thumb your nose at God, and God turn his head away without God getting your attention.
So yeah.  But that wasn't all.  We have an uncredited article over at UFO Blogger (a site that has become increasingly about conspiracy theories and less and less about extraterrestrials), in which we're told that singer Avicii's recently-released song "The Days" confirms that the Ebola virus is a government-created bioweapon that they're turning against their own people:
Illuminati owned singer and performer Avicii's predict a future event in his latest music video "The Days" which was released on Youtube on 3 October, 2014. 
Which confirms Ebola is Illuminati bio weapon and they don't care if you find out. They have become that bold. 
"Avīci" (from Buddhist origin) means "the lowest from the hell"... As we have seen before the satanic cabal The Illuminati hide their plans in plain sight as a way to brainwash and program the masses!
As evidence, we're presented with the lyrics, which seem to be no more Dark and Evil and Predictive than your average alt-rock.  And given that I regularly listen to Nine Inch Nails, any contention that this represents the most twisted, Satan-inspired message the music industry is capable of makes me laugh.  (You can watch the video here; it's kind of a catchy song, really.)

But then we had the other end of the spectrum; it's neither a case of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God nor the Illuminati Trying To Murder Us All.  A dude named Nana Kwame over in Ghana is claiming to have "rocked the internet" by the revelation that the Ebola epidemic is a big fat hoax.

The revelation appeared on the site Spirit Science and Metaphysics, which is evidently competing with Natural News for first place in the Purveyor of Bullshit Contest.  Kwame, whose ideas are as contemptible and dangerous as they are ludicrous, says that the CDC and WHO have made the whole alleged epidemic up:
People in the Western World need to know what’s happening here in West Africa.  THEY ARE LYING!!!  “Ebola” as a virus does NOT Exist and is NOT “Spread”.  The Red Cross has brought a disease to 4 specific countries for 4 specific reasons and it is only contracted by those who receive treatments and injections from the Red Cross.  That is why Liberians and Nigerians have begun kicking the Red Cross out of their countries and reporting in the news the truth.
Marvelous.  Just what we need.  Some nutjob scaring sick people into avoiding treatment.  It's what we saw when Pakistanis started shooting Red Cross volunteers because they thought the polio vaccine was going to sterilize and/or kill Muslim children.

Kwame goes on to explain that the WHO and associated groups are doing this so as to have an excuse to bring in troops to get a hold of West Africa's mineral wealth and simultaneously reduce the native population.  Because evidently in spite of the fact that Ebola doesn't exist, it can still kill people.  Or something like that.

I dunno.  It's kind of impossible to combat such desperate lunacy.  As I said before, I think it does come out of an understandable human need; the need for meaning.  I do get that.  And Ebola is freakin' scary; I'll admit to a serious sinking feeling when I found out about first one, then two, confirmed cases in the United States.  (I think my exact words were, "Yikes.  Here we go.")  Now, mind you, I still think the likelihood of a major epidemic in the United States, Canada, or Western Europe is slim; but even that slim possibility is terrifying.

But it doesn't push me to need an ultimate explanation for it, nor (worse) to make up one should no convenient explanation be at hand.  I'm okay with living inside a pinball machine, even if it does make life seem rather absurd sometimes.  And as far as the tragedy of the Ebola epidemic; let's concentrate on containing its spread, work on cures, and deal with the proximal causes.

Let the ultimate causes look after themselves.