James Randi, aka “The Amazing Randi” — magician, skeptic, and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation, an organization aimed at promoting rational thinking and understanding of why people believe in supernatural or paranormal phenomena — frequently uses the terms “woo” or “woo-woo” when referring to erroneous beliefs.
I contacted Randi regarding a recent woo-full encounter and he directed me to the JREF website where, among other woo, I found many references to a belief that has garnered more attention due to the current real estate slump. St. Joseph and his apparent desire to play realtor from beyond.
My realtor had suggested that I bury a statue of St. Joseph in my yard to help with the sale of my home, and to bury it upside down no less, whatever difference that would make. I replied with a rather pointed email inquiring “what are realtors for!?”
While I do feel a little bad about responding so harshly, I did not apologize. In this day and age rational people should not sit idly by as superstitious baloney continues to seep through our society. Ignorance should be dwindling, not growing, but we see that just the opposite is true.
Believe what you want, but I will not walk on egg shells or humor the magical thinking that drives ridiculous superstitions like burying a statue in the yard to help sell a home. The mechanisms behind such superstitions are known and easily explain why people believe them.
First, a logical fallacy is at work called the “post hoc” fallacy, or “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” which describes the misconception that “A came before B therefore A caused B.” In our example, “I buried a statue upside down in my yard and the following week someone was interested in buying my house.” One cannot draw the conclusion that the statue made it happen.
I could bury a rock in my yard. If someone subsequently became interested in my home, does that mean the rock made it happen? No. This situation is what one would consider coincidence, nothing more.
The second thing at work here is confirmation bias. That is, someone will confirm their belief in the statue’s effectiveness when they get a potential buyer, whether it takes one, two, three, or fifty people to walk through the home before someone becomes interested.
Eventually they’ll get a buyer, but the statue will get the credit, not the improving real estate market, or other logical possibilities. People are quite willing to delude themselves in order to justify their beliefs.
So I was annoyed, and amazed that this seemingly childish superstition would even be suggested to me, but what amazes me even more is how many people actually believe it, and what a huge market there is for this bunk! They’re selling St. Joseph Home Sale Kits on Amazon.com for crying out loud. No joke!
Some may say, “well, if there is such a big market for it, it must be true.” No, there’s a big market for it because if there is someone gullible enough to buy the bunk, there is someone unscrupulous enough to sell it.
Sorry if I offended anyone. The truth can hurt sometimes.