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Old 8th January 2008, 09:50 PM   #1
krelnik
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Please help with the "Wall of Harm"

Skeptics, I need your help. But first, a story. (Apologies for the length, I promise it's worth it).

A couple of months ago I was thinking about the topic of the upcoming TAM: Skepticism & Activism. I thought I should find a project to work on to be more of a positive contributor to the skeptical community. Around that time, this Sylvia Browne thread got me thinking about the “what’s the harm” idea that comes up periodically on skeptic websites. There are many threads on this here at JREF as well.

I like the harm discussions that include actual cases, but there's two problems with them. One is that the news links within tend to expire pretty quickly, and the details of the stories get lost. Another is that this information is scattered around the web and not easily found. As a result, you don’t easily get a sense of scope.

Thinking about scope, I flashed on an image of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. If you’ve never seen it, it is a huge black stone wall that has carved into it the names of all of the 58,000+ Americans who died in that war. Standing in front of it can fill you with a sense of awe. There are several reasons it is a powerful experience, but one is that it really drives home the scope. People in general have a hard time with large numbers. You can intellectually understand the scope of "58,000 people died," but seeing those names on that wall stretching out for hundreds of feet creates an emotional impact.

It occurred to me that we skeptics could use something like that to create an emotional impact of the power of non-critical thinking. Perhaps this can become a tool to keep ourselves motivated. Of course, I’m not proposing we build a stone monument. But we can build one made of bits.

And so I present "The Wall of Harm" currently temporarily located here: krelnik.home.mindspring.com/harm/.

As I write this, it contains info on 2,396 people who have died and 17,631 people who have been hurt in some way by some form of woo. The cases are grouped by categories for browsing, and every one includes a supporting link or two.

My general philosophy on what cases I’ve included:
  • Good documentation. I avoided anonymous web postings, unless the site posting it is very well trusted. Mostly I used news links (often two) or scientific journal papers.
  • Clear harm. Someone was injured or died, or lost significant money as a direct or indirect result of some type of woo. "Wasted their free time for years ghost-hunting" is not compelling. "Committed suicide after replacing anti-depressants with homeopathy," on the other hand, is compelling.
  • Details, details, details. Cases with name, date, place and especially a victim photo are more compelling.
  • Recent. I stayed within the last fifty years. After all, are stories about people believing crazy stuff back in 1607 in any way surprising?
  • No "hate crimes". There are too many of these, they'd overwhelm the other categories. And, like ancient stuff, they aren't surprising to anyone.
So what do I want from you?

The Purpose of this Thread:
  • DO: Help me find more cases to add.
  • DO: Help me find categories I haven’t covered. There has got to be a cryptozoologist who drowned in Loch Ness, or a UFO person who caught pneumonia camping out to wait for the aliens to arrive. Help me find them!
  • DO: Offer corrections on the existing data. Note that cases can appear in multiple categories, feel free to point out opportunities I’ve missed in that area. (The religion areas could probably use some help in tagging).
  • DO: Comment on the overall presentation and ways to make it more compelling. (Yes, I know my HTML is lame).
NOT the Purpose of this Thread:
  • DO NOT: Argue that some of these folks brought it on themselves.
  • DO NOT: Argue about the value of anecdotes.
  • DO NOT: Argue about how as skeptics we should be more scientific and precise than this.
  • DO NOT: Argue about causality vs. correlation between the woo and the harm in these cases.
If you are compelled to talk about any of those four things, please read this first: krelnik.home.mindspring.com/harm/critics.html. If you still want to comment, threads are free. Please start your own thread and tag it with "wall of harm" and I promise I’ll join you.

PLEASE do not blog about the wall of harm yet. Do not post it anywhere but on this forum. It is only in prototype form, a "beta" if you will. I plan to clean it up based on your comments here and move it to a more permanent home very soon. At that time I’ll be begging you to link to it, so be patient.

I would like to thank JeffWagg, scotth, ottle, Cleon, RemieV, moopet, Zygar, Loon and others in the JREF IRC channel who helped me with links and suggestions as I worked on this.

Last edited by krelnik; 8th January 2008 at 11:13 PM.
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Old 8th January 2008, 11:20 PM   #2
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Sounds like a good idea - although I'm not sure what I personally can contribute. You have all my moral support though.
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Old 9th January 2008, 12:22 AM   #3
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overall presentation suggestion
If you want to have a psychological impact, take the picture of a granite monument (or even the true one of vietnam, or 9/11 but this could land you in hot water so an anonym granite tomb might do the trick). Then photoshop out the name in the monument. Then add the name of the victim & wounded. Above add "fallen victim of (insert wooism)" list_of_name. "fallen victim of (another wooism)" list_of_name etc....

In other word, make it a true wall of shame. Shock value.

As it is right no your web site is... bland.

PS: I do not have real artistic skills, but I could maybe find such a photo and add a granite texture over the name if you wish.
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Old 9th January 2008, 03:51 AM   #4
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Great idea Krelnik, well done! I can see you've already done a huge amount of work on this. I don't have much constructive to offer, I'm afraid - but I just wanted to lend my support too. I know other here have screeds of such information - Kelly, on the missing persons and RSL or Enny on Psychics...

Good luck with the project!
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Old 9th January 2008, 07:31 AM   #5
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Aepervius, something like this? I made it in Photoshop as a joke but it could have a much more somber design to it...


By travisjd at 2008-01-09
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Old 9th January 2008, 07:50 AM   #6
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Krelnik, I think that this is a very worthy project.

After a quick look, a few comments:

1. Audience: I think you should write it for a wider audience, not just for skeptics. In fact, I think that if you write it with "believers" and the families/friends of believers in mind as your audience, the site could be more beneficial, and still be of great use to skeptics as well. One way to do this would be to eliminate the use of the word "woo," and replace it with a less inflammatory term or phrase.

2. Presentation: While the content is what is important, the presentation can make it much more professional and help with the impact.

3. Database: If you are serious about maintaining and enlarging the site, you should give very serious thought to putting the information in a database, and use some database-driven application to create the pages on the fly, rather than your maintaining each page by hand. As you add more and more entries to the Wall, this will become more and more unwieldy, and will limit your ability to make changes to the overall site. I made the same mistake with the SSB site, and regret it. Perhaps Scotth could give you some advice in this area.

4. Links: Your links to other information could benefit from roll-over text to help someone decide whether to click on the link or not. Or, aech link could have a description next to it, such as those used at the bottom of Snopes.com entries. This is yet another area where a database-driven approach would help you. You might also consider making these external links open to a separate browser window. I prefer this approach, but it may be a personal preference.

These are some initial thoughts. Again, I think it is a worthy project, and a wonderful idea. Congrats on following through with it!
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Old 9th January 2008, 07:56 AM   #7
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Superb idea, well done.

As RSL says, this could be a powerful tool if aimed at believers, I would try and make it as 'neutral' as you can, as those who will learn the most from it may be put off by any obvious signs of skeptic bias.

I think you have something really useful here. When it's finished I will certainly use your figures as an illustration of the harm caused. Perhaps this will be the new rhetoric to replace the MDC!
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Old 9th January 2008, 09:54 AM   #8
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Krelnik, I think you could add Peter Sellers to the list of famous people harmed by charlatans. If I recall correctly, he knew he needed heart surgery, dreaded it, postponed it, and actually flew halfway around the world to consult a "psychic surgeon" shortly before he had his fatal heart attack; he died on 24 July 1980.
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Old 9th January 2008, 10:07 AM   #9
krelnik
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Originally Posted by RSLancastr View Post
1. Audience: I think you should write it for a wider audience, not just for skeptics. In fact, I think that if you write it with "believers" and the families/friends of believers in mind as your audience, the site could be more beneficial, and still be of great use to skeptics as well. One way to do this would be to eliminate the use of the word "woo," and replace it with a less inflammatory term or phrase.
That's a great idea, I'll have to think about how to thread that through the whole thing.

Quote:
3. Database: If you are serious about maintaining and enlarging the site, you should give very serious thought to putting the information in a database
Actually, it already is in a database. I quickly learned that many of the stories fit in multiple categories, and I definitely didn't want to be copying around info. Also some of the supporting URLs cover multiple stories, and I didn't want to be copying those around either.

It's an offline database right now, I run a little program I wrote on my PC that spits out the HTML, which I then upload. If it snowballs and I start getting 20 additions a day or something, I'll definitely transition it to an online database and dynamically generated pages.

Quote:
4. Links: Your links to other information could benefit from roll-over text to help someone decide whether to click on the link or not.
I agree, and that capability is actually already there. (Click on Acupuncture then hover over the third link). I just haven't filled in the roll over text in the database yet. I'll work on getting that fixed today.

Quote:
You might also consider making these external links open to a separate browser window. I prefer this approach, but it may be a personal preference.
Oh, I hadn't thought of that.... good idea.

Thanks for the comments, all very good ones.
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Old 9th January 2008, 10:10 AM   #10
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Comedian Andy Kaufman also went to a psychic surgeon not long before he died, but I don't know if he died because he relied on the quack, or if he was beyond medical help by that point anyway. I seem to recall it was the latter, but am uncertain.
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Old 9th January 2008, 10:21 AM   #11
krelnik
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Originally Posted by Spektator View Post
Krelnik, I think you could add Peter Sellers to the list of famous people harmed by charlatans.
Oooh, thanks. Via Wikipedia I found a link to support that (with a quote from Randi, who personally spoke to Sellers about this).

Part I of the same story also mentions Andy Kaufmann getting psychic surgery for his lung cancer. (I had heard that about Kaufmann before but had forgotten it).

I think I need a psychic surgery category now. Many thanks, Spek!
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Old 9th January 2008, 10:51 AM   #12
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More neutral term for woo?

Thanks for all the help, folks! I like the suggestion to make the text of the site more neutral, to attract believers.

I need a term to replace "woo", however. What's a good term that sounds neutral, which encompasses all the crazy stuff we refer to when we say "woo"?

--Tim Farley

P.S. I just updated the site with the two cases mentioned above and a new Psychic surgery category.
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:06 AM   #13
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You can include this article in your 419 page:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/200.../060515fa_fact


The more I've looked at the site, I think it's a great idea... I am a graphic designer (but I work in print not web) so I have a little input for you. I would take the "granite" backgrounds from behind the stories, it really isn't good for readability. Also, I don't particularly like the "i" icons for links as it's not super apparent what those are for. If you want some help with the design aspects, I'd be glad to donate some time. Overall though I love the simplicity of the design on the main page, I might just add 1 or 2 graphic elements like a header on the top of the page instead of using just text. I made a simple one for you you could try out on the page if you wish.


By travisjd at 2008-01-09

feel free to use it as is or we can discuss it more. Great job, keep it up!

Last edited by kosai; 9th January 2008 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:41 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
Actually, it already is in a database.
Ah, execllent.

Quote:
I quickly learned that many of the stories fit in multiple categories, and I definitely didn't want to be copying around info.
Exactly.

Quote:
It's an offline database right now, I run a little program I wrote on my PC that spits out the HTML, which I then upload.
I did that with one of my early sites. It's a good intermediate step.

Quote:
I agree, and that capability is actually already there. (Click on Acupuncture then hover over the third link).
Ah!
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Old 9th January 2008, 12:04 PM   #15
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This is brilliant, huge congratulations. Very quickly 'cos I'm on my way out the door:
1 Transcendental has an s in it;

2 It might at some stage need a FAQ addressing questions such as "this person had XXXX, that's what killed them not the YYYY, medical science can't always cure XXXX".

3 How about a system of traffic light colours like on snopes, red for definitely killed by the woo, amber for woo present at time of death etc?

Again I think it's wonderful.
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Old 9th January 2008, 12:07 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by kosai View Post
Nice! The question mark reflects the "what," but it would be nice if there were a graphic element representing "harm" as well.

What if you distorted the word "harm" a little? Or made it look "broken"?

Or it might be nice if the "what" and the "harm" could be in one graphic element, such as the question mark next to... something.

Just knocking ideas around.
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Old 9th January 2008, 12:24 PM   #17
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This is definitely a Good Thing. Please keep us updated!

Small anecdote... Years ago, I saw Randi at a NY Skeptic (I believe) gig. At the close of his talk on psychic surgery, he said something along the lines of, "They (psychic surgeons) owe us Peter Sellers back." Gave me a lump in my throat - I was a huge Peter Sellers fan. That has often been my response to the "What harm does it do?" question.
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Old 9th January 2008, 12:26 PM   #18
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I'm not really one to distort text but I agree some other graphic element to represent "harm" would be nice, just not sure what that would be. I'll work on it a bit more, if anyone has any ideas please speak up. Here's the way I'd change the page if it were mine...


By travisjd at 2008-01-09

Last edited by kosai; 9th January 2008 at 12:49 PM.
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Old 9th January 2008, 01:01 PM   #19
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More neutral term for woo: Superstition, quackery maybe? Superstition would definitely be understood by everyone, but might not be accurate for all categories.

On the design, you could either go for a full-blown portal style (think Yahoo category view), or for a simpler, searchable site with the looks of a blog or small newspaper. Photo reports, cover stories, anyone? We definitely need to consider chipping in for a domain name.

kosai, your header looks good. Have you tried it with the question mark aligned vertically with the headline (along with the bubble), and offset a bit to the left? Oh, and I agree it'd be best to either lose the granite, or make it look better - individual, more physical slabs that are less busy behind the text.

A sober, centered design would look good, I think. Something like this, this, this or this.

Great initiative!
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Old 9th January 2008, 01:05 PM   #20
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A stylized skull in the hollow part of the lower case "a" in harm, perhaps simple like the Punisher comic book logo.
The "m" at the end of harm looks like two generic tombstones, perhaps incorporate that somehow.
The typical (but imho tacky) dripping blood red lettering for harm.
Cartoonish ideas, but might fit in with the clean & bold look of the title graphic.
There are many "fractured & ruptured" fonts to be found for "harm" if that is what you are looking for.
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Old 9th January 2008, 01:54 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by kosai View Post
I'm not really one to distort text
Not distort so much as "break." As in, make it look as though it had been sliced diagonally in two, and the two pieces had slid slightly askew from each other, sort of like an eartqhuake faultline. Just a thought.

Quote:
but I agree some other graphic element to represent "harm" would be nice, just not sure what that would be. I'll work on it a bit more, if anyone has any ideas please speak up.
Perhaps an answering "word balloon" on the right side, with some icon of danger inside? A skull? And that image could "float" to the right, much like the word "forum" floats to the right of the banner at the top of the JREF forum when you resize the page.

Or, to put it all into one logo image, erhaps somehow merge the question mark with a skull? Or perhaps the yellow triangle warning sign with a question mark in it? Or perhaps I'm just traffic sign oriented...
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Old 9th January 2008, 02:30 PM   #22
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Robert thanks for the ideas... I must say you have my favorite traffic sign inspired logo on the web. For my idea, I was trying to come up with some things that we skeptics might generally not consider "harm" but as I (hope and) think this page is going to be sold to a more general audience, what if we were to use the "devil horns," it fits nicely into the existing logo and does bring a sense that I think is the point we are trying to get across that the REAL evil in this world is caused by the acts featured below.


By travisjd at 2008-01-09

I guess I feel a little bad about incorporating a "woo" belief into the logo itself but I'll wait for feedback.

Last edited by kosai; 9th January 2008 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 9th January 2008, 02:30 PM   #23
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I don't think it's a good idea to keep it gruesome.

It should be factual, first and foremost. It should bury(!) the reader with evidence, not emotions. It should be a testament to the fact that people get hurt from woo beliefs - but it shouldn't be "emotional porn" (Danish term - you get the picture).

Do what the site does already: List(!) the facts, and let people decide. Strike a note of somberness, but don't piss on the people we are supposed to fight for. The last thing anyone wants is a site that is seen as exploitational.

Nocturne. Not Dies Irae.

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Forget the inconsistencies - this is merely a mockup, to get a general idea of how it could look.

And yes, I make these for breakfast.
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Old 9th January 2008, 02:55 PM   #24
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With the new logo...


By travisjd at 2008-01-09

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Old 9th January 2008, 04:26 PM   #25
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Great idea! Add magician Doug Henning to the wall. He blew his entire magic act and fortune to follow TM.
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Old 9th January 2008, 05:31 PM   #26
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I like where CFL has taken that, with the profiles. Much more visual and easy to scan.
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Old 9th January 2008, 06:40 PM   #27
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Wow, everyone! Thanks for all the design ideas and pitching in. (And several of you sent me name additions for the database in PMs, thanks to you too if I didn't already thank you individually).

I have to agree with Claus and Teek on the "keep it neutral" idea. If we're gonna try to catch some believers with this, things like devil horns and skulls are an immediate turn-off. (I admit I hadn't originally thought about believers reading this site, but the more I think about it the more it appeals to me).

I do like kosai's logo, and also much of the layout and design stuff that Claus has done. (I particularly like repeating the overall totals in the top of each page, and having some navigation on the left).

I'm busy with work stuff for the next couple of days, so I can't integrate this stuff right away, but I'll start thinking about what its going to take to make it happen.

Thanks for all the ideas, folks. Keep them coming!

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Old 9th January 2008, 07:47 PM   #28
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Great idea! Very impressive.
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Old 9th January 2008, 07:47 PM   #29
rjh01
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How about a comments page?

Replace woo with believers like you did in your last post.
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:07 PM   #30
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Question: should towns count entire population?

I have three entries in the database right now that are actually cities or states. They are as follows:

La Grulla, Texas (under Psychics)
Dover, Pennsylvania (under Creationism)
California (under Satanic abuse hysteria)

In each case, the town/city/state suffered an economic loss because of woo. Now, each entry in the database also has two "person" counts, one for dead and one for injured. That way I can cover things like medical studies or mass suicides in one entry.

Here's the question: should I list the entire population of these towns under the "injured" field?

On one hand, I don't want to be accused of padding the numbers.

Also, one could argue that not ALL of the residents of that town were necessarily harmed. (For instance, a retired resident of Dover who doesn't use the schools?)

On the other hand, it looks goofy to have these items listed as "1 person". (For example, see the Creationism page which only has 2 entries now, and look at the total at the top).

Thoughts?
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:17 PM   #31
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While the numbers look impressive, they could maybe be left out so the discussion of this point wouldn't drown out the criticism. Alternatively, you could have an entirely different field for "suffered economic loss", have the option of N/A or have a special field in your database for arbitrary text ("school children in Kansas").

Actually, maybe you should have a few different categories and only show those that are relevant. Economic losses could be specified in dollars or in number of persons scammed (or whatever). But only for those entries where it's relevant.
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:57 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
I have three entries in the database right now that are actually cities or states. They are as follows:

La Grulla, Texas (under Psychics)
Dover, Pennsylvania (under Creationism)
California (under Satanic abuse hysteria)

In each case, the town/city/state suffered an economic loss because of woo. Now, each entry in the database also has two "person" counts, one for dead and one for injured. That way I can cover things like medical studies or mass suicides in one entry.

Here's the question: should I list the entire population of these towns under the "injured" field?
<snip>
You could have another category that counts governments harmed by woo. Then another one for other organisations harmed by woo.
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Old 10th January 2008, 01:06 AM   #33
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Yes, I already have a dollar figure in another field. I'm just wondering if it should also be reflected in the people count to indicate how many persons were harmed by that loss of money.
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Old 10th January 2008, 03:10 AM   #34
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I like the version of CFlarsen (the one at the bottom), visual picture of the victim help make impact. The problem is, do you need the authorization of the victim family ?
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Old 10th January 2008, 06:48 AM   #35
Halcyon Dayz
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Lysenkoism alone got tens of millions of people killed.

You are going to need the Great Wall of China to write all the names down.

ETA: Dutch actress Sylvia MillecamWP.
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Old 10th January 2008, 07:20 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Aepervius View Post
I like the version of CFlarsen (the one at the bottom), visual picture of the victim help make impact. The problem is, do you need the authorization of the victim family ?
You would need authorization from the photographer actually. While it would be nice, you would most likely need a budget in order to gain usage rights for those photos.
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Old 10th January 2008, 07:48 AM   #37
krelnik
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Originally Posted by Halcyon Dayz View Post
Lysenkoism alone got tens of millions of people killed.
I think that falls out of my "last 50 years" mandate from the OP, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Quote:
ETA: Dutch actress Sylvia MillecamWP.
She's been in there since before the original post. (There's a page that has all my cases on it, look on the lower right of the main page. With that loaded up you can easily search to see if I already have a given case using your browser).

Keep the suggestions coming, though, they are appreciated!

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Old 10th January 2008, 08:13 AM   #38
Halcyon Dayz
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Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
Quote:
Lysenkoism alone got tens of millions of people killed.
I think that falls out of my "last 50 years" mandate from the OP, but correct me if I'm wrong.
China's Great Leap ForwardWP (1958-60) got at least 14 million people killed, and was, at least in part, based in Lysenkoism.


Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
Quote:
Dutch actress Sylvia Millecam.
She's been in there since before the original post. (There's a page that has all my cases on it, look on the lower right of the main page. With that loaded up you can easily search to see if I already have a given case using your browser).


Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
Keep the suggestions coming, though, they are appreciated!
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Old 10th January 2008, 09:13 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by krelnik View Post
Here's the question: should I list the entire population of these towns under the "injured" field?
One option is to put the entire population number, but put it in the database as a negative value. The negative would be a special designation for "up to", "perhaps", "approximately", "population of", etc. In other words, the database number would be -10000 and the script to create the page would test if the number is negative, and if so, attach the prefix and print the absolute value. This makes it easy to differentiate the number from the exact ones (and exclude it from any calculations) so you can't be accused of padding, but also to show it without needing extra fields.

Another option, instead of or in addition to the above, would be to use a special number that wouldn't otherwise occur in that field (i.e., "-1") and replace it with "Unknown" "Uncountable" "Varies" "Unknowable" "Multiple" "Many" "Too many to count" "Entire Community" "Entire Population", etc, when the page is generated.
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Old 10th January 2008, 09:37 AM   #40
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I'd like to nominate the case of Gina Stevenson, jailed in my home town a while ago...

http://www.theskepticexpress.com/In_...nd_Fortune.php
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