What the bleep does my psychology class know?

Because I never took a psych course my first time through college, I’m having to take Psych 101 this time as I pursue my K-6 teaching license.

It’s a class full of freshmen, taught primarily through Powerpoint slides, by a professor who likes evolutionary psychology because (as she says) you don’t have to prove anything in evolutionary psychology.

Leaving behind the obvious falsity of that and the lameness of Powerpoint-driven classes, the class isn’t too bad: the textbook is fairly interesting and well-written, and I’m learning some good stuff.

The teacher doesn’t have class today. Instead, for part of the chapter on perception, she’s showing us a movie:

What the Bleep do We Know?

Yep: that idiotic bit of pseudoscience produced by the followers of Ramtha (a 35,000-year-old elder spirit from Mu, as channeled by a middle-aged suburban lady) is on the docket for this afternoon for me.

Now, it doesn’t have to be. The professor told us that “if you are a person who is
easily offended by such points-of-view, don’t watch the film. This is
not a presentation of “truth”, but rather a presentation of another way
to look at life.” She told us not to show up if our views were easily threatened.

Goddammit. I was going to skip class because it was a waste of my time, but that’s throwing down the motherfucking gauntlet, Prof. She said (when I innocently asked) that we could have a discussion about the movie on Monday. You better believe I’m gonna be ready for that discussion. But I figure that if I’m going to go into class on Monday with information about how bogus the movie is and how utterly unfit it is for a nondemoninational psychology class (except as an example of confirmation bias and junk science), I ought to give it a chance: I’ll be watching it with my classmates this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna be asking some questions to get ready for Monday; and if anyone has some good strong cites that can help me shred the movie, I’d love to see them. I’ve already read the threads here, the Salon article, the Wikipedia article, and the skepdic article.

I hate it when professors waste my time, but I hate it even more when they propagate ignorance. Monday afternoon I go into battle.


If you don’t agree with it, you must be frightened of it. Jeez, what an idiot.

My thread about this piece of crap.

When you do a woosh like that you need a smilie!

Please keep us posted.

Well, I suppose it’s good that you’re taking the class seriously, but that does mean you can’t ask, “So wait a minute. Internal Affairs was setting him up the whole time?”

No, I mean the prof’s an idiot for implying that if you don’t want to watch the movie it must be because you’re too easily offended - too worried someone might upset your world schema. Because Lord knows if you watch it it’ll blow your little mind.

Thanks, tdn–I’ve C&P’ed several bits of information from that thread already for use in the discussion on Monday. I plan to say something like, “It was an interesting movie, and I’ve done a bit of background research on some of the anecdotes in it. I thought I’d throw out three of the things I found, see what others think about them and about how they reflect on the movie.” Then I’d mention:

  • David Albert, apparently the quantum physicist most quoted in the movie, has vehemently distanced himself from it, saying
  • Masaru Emoto’s research on water crystals has never been peer-reviewed, replicated by mainstream scientists, or conducted in a double-blind fashion; it does not use rigorously-defined terms; and it’s logically incoherent. Given that he claims that water speaks all languages and makes pretty crystals in response to positive words and ugly crystals in response to ugly words, we cannot predict how it would respond to “GIFT” (meaning “gift” in English and “poison” in German), or “BETER” (“better” in Dutch, “worse” in Turkish) or “SU” (“Evil” in Arabic, “Good” in Sanskrit).
  • John Hagelin, quoted as a physicist professor, is professor at Maharishi University, a university founded by a guru who believes in Transcendental Meditation. Folks claim that his study is seriously flawed. If you can provide good analysis of this study, please share it with me! It looks totally bogus to me, but I’m not a statistician, and I’m not sure how to critique it effectively–i.e., do more than just call it bullshit.

I figure those three points ought to be good for starters; I’ll mention the bogus Columbus story if someone else brings it up.


Another vote for continuing updates.

:slight_smile: I had to read what you wrote a couple of times before I understood what you were saying, but on the second reading it was clear. You summed up nicely about half of why it pissed me off (the other half being that she shouldn’t show it in the first place–one of the co-directors called it “a film for the religious left,” and it generally seems to be an antiscientific religious polemic unsuitable except as part of a study of antiscientific religious polemics).


I can’t add anything that wasn’t in the earlier threads or in your other resources, but I’d also love to hear how it goes.

Have you spoken with any of your classmates about this? Do they have any opinions?
(I wonder if it’s a violation of board policy to roleplay your interaction. We could play New Agey prof while you practice and refine your points. )

You’re sure this isn’t an object lesson in “don’t believe everything you hear in class”? One of my professors had us watch “The Sun Dagger” (a film about an ancient celestial calendar in Chaco Canyon, NM) and discuss it in a later class. When we discussed it, we expected that he would agree with the movie’s claims (otherwise why show it in class?) but he actually talked about why he thought a lot of the claims made in the movie were bogus. He had said nothing before showing the movie about not agreeing with it, which I think made the “don’t believe everything you hear in class” message more effective.

I’d love to hear how this comes out, too.

Good God. As expensive and limited as class time is, you’d think they’d try to fill it, ya know, something useful. If the professor even admits seeing this film in unnecessary, then why the heck is she showing it?

And people complain about the price of movie tickets at the theater.

Quite simply: Ask how the stats look since then. Also, see if you can find the actual stats of the crime rates during the times mentioned. Also, I immediately question how they did this:

ISTM that they made a pretty graph by playing with numbers. No wonder they got a “statistical probability that this result could reflect chance variation in crime levels was less than 2 in 1 billion (p < .000000002).”

Actually, looking at that number again, this occurs to me: How on earth could they get a correlation so exact when that is far outside the bounds of any of the measurement systems they mention? (How many crimes go unreported each week? How many incorrectly reported? How accurate are the temperature/humidity measurements? etc.) You couldn’t even get a correlation that high for dropping a ball and matching it’s acceleration to gravity (even taking out air resistance).

It is bogus, there is no way their results could be more accurate than the measurement errors. They will never share their methods; this will never be a peer-reveiwed article.

One would hope, but I doubt it. I don’t think the teacher would warn so many students to stay away if that were the case.

FTR, I think some of the claims they make are valid ones – that your state of mind can impact your health. I think there are even studies that show this, though please don’t ask me for cites. But the way they go about proving it is the very worst of junk science. If the teacher truly believes this crap, then I question everything else she’s been teaching.

Daniel, if you want to have some fun with this (and possibly fail the class), try this: Bring in some object the likes of which she could never have possibly seen before. Ask her if it’s invisible.

Good times, good times.

This page, from a group dedicated to exposing bad physics in movies, tears What the Bleep apart piece by piece, with cites. I think I found it through one of the earlier What the Bleep threads. I sent it to my mom, who loved the movie; her response was worthy of a Pit thread that I don’t have the heart for. Anyway, the study you asked about isn’t even worthy of critique - it’s complete and utter bullshit.

Yeah, this is a pretty expensive waste of time. I spend a lot of time telling myself, “I’m paying for the right to teach, not for the education.” It’s a depressing mantra, but it gets me through the day.

I wish I thought she were doing this as an object lesson in bad science, but I really, really doubt it. While some of what she tells us is rigorous, she really doesn’t feel bound by rigor. If she’s trying to engender skepticism in us, my admiration for her is going to shoot up. But I’m not holding my breath.

The WEird One and Just Another Geek, that’s some great information–thanks! I’ll be using both of them when I go over the movie in class.

My fear is that she’s going to give me one of her big fake smiles and cut me off with some humiliating dismissal of my point of view, saying, “Yes, Christian [she consistently calls me Christian instead of Daniel, apparently confusing me with another guy in the class], that’s one viewpoint, but I’d rather talk about the movie’s viewpoint” or something. I’m not great at protracted confrontation, so my goal is to see how quietly and calmly and eloquently I can demolish the nonsense.

I’ll keep y’all updated!


It could be that the prof. just wants to see if student do some critical thinking, in which case it’s fine.

If it turns out that is not the case, you should set up an appointment with the dean of psychology, or whoever would have that responsibility.

I agree it’s not likely, but the lesson does rely on first making sure the students think the professor thinks the movie is correct. Then, during the discussion, it comes out that the professor thinks the movie is bogus.