Friday, November 27, 2009

1st Place- The 2012 Turkey of Doom

I had to pick one single idea that qualified as the dumbest funking thing I’ve heard recently, and I knew immediately what to pick. It is an idea so monumental in it’s inanity that it transcended simple stupidity- it’s Super Stupid, and it’s 2012!
Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate the brigade of 2012 Doomsayers. The sheer ubiquity of 2012-Mayan-Doomsday-Apocalypse pisses me off. I can’t swing a moron without hitting another moron who’s talking on his iphone about 2012.
I do want to say one thing. I got several emails telling me how mean I am. They criticized me , essentially saying that while I’m free to express my disbelief in 2012 prophecy, it isn’t necessary for me to call believers morons. Or to refer to the morons ideas as being ‘stupid’. They felt that I could express my ideas on the subject without meanness…
Where’s the fun in that?
In all seriousness, where do we draw the line? Aren’t some ideas simply so stupid that there’s no other term to describe them? At some point, we have to decide that some notions are not worth entertaining and some ideas just don’t deserve serious consideration.
Their beliefs are not more deserving than alien abductees or big foot watchers (in fact, they feature a lot of similar components). No one would seriously demand that the lunatic fringe be treated as serious people, so why is it when a fringe idea takes root in the common imagination I am asked to treat it gingerly?
A line has to be drawn somewhere, and at some point nonsense has to be called what it is. What happens when we fail to draw a line demarcating what is and is not ridiculous is… well… what happens is the 2012 phenomenon.
I’ve already discussed how you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to understand that the events that will allegedly take place on Dec. 21st, 2012 are implausible (and that’s my nice word for it). All you need to do is a spin a ball and watch how it behaves. The ball will spin, wobbling on it’s axis, and as it slows down it will start to tip over and go ‘funny’. The earth just doesn’t slow down enough to flip over and go ‘funny’, so that scenario isn’t viable.
Also take note of the fact that the spinning ball doesn’t start spinning backwards for no reason. In order to spin the ball ‘backwards’ the ball would have to stop and then would need to be spun again, only this time going the other way. DO TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS. Try it again and again and again. The ball will behave the same when placed in the same conditions and subjected to the same application of force.
There is no event anticipated that will change the basic way our ball (the planet) behaves.
Which brings me to the final Doomsday scenario I hear again and again. We will be hit by another planet in 2012. The Mayans, first class astronomers, predicted it.
Yeah, tell me another one. There is no way that the Mayans knew we would get hit by a planet in 2012, and I don’t care how impressive their knowledge of the stars may have been- and here’s why.
Because we haven’t seen this planet yet. 2012 believers can go on and on about the Mayan’s advanced knowledge of astronomy, but when it comes down to it, the Mayans had no way to perceive a planet a trillion light years away. If they “saw” this planet it would mean that somehow their astronomical equipment rivaled NASA and it didn’t.
In order to believe that the Mayans foresaw a planet crashing into Earth, you’d have to believe that the Mayans were not only great astronomers, but that they were actually psychic. And they weren’t. Neither am I. Neither are you. And neither are the people who are selling you books about surviving the Apocalypse.
(For those of you who are afraid that the world will end in 2012, who’s really insulting your intelligence? The people who take your money and sell you fantasies, or me who thinks you’re smart enough to know better?)
I think America may be uniquely vulnerable to ideas like these. Our country was founded by Puritans and in order to be a Puritan you have to be willing to accept ideas that have no basis in fact. It’s a requirement for any religious belief. Faith, by definition, is believing in something that has no logical proof.
Though America has eschewed its puritanical heritage the tendency to believe in ideas that defy logical remains.
Well, that’s all folks. I’ve said enough about 2012 for now. I will see you again in December… provided of course that the world doesn’t flip inside out first.

Monday, November 23, 2009

2nd Place- Bill Maher *Hearts* Woo

The problem is that I like Bill Maher and I think that (most of the time) he’s hilarious. That said, his recent comments have struck some, myself among them, as more than a little kooky.
I am specifically referring to his rather bizarre blog post in response to his response to Michael Shermer’s open letter (HuffPo open letter).
The post starts of congenial enough- “While America is still in the grips of swine flu mania, let me use this opportunity to clear up a few things about my beliefs concerning the flu shot, vaccines, and health in general.” Bill Maher's Blog Response

(Great Bill. We’d love nothing better.)

He then goes on to say that many people are expressing private “skepticism” regarding vaccines and that he feels responsible for representing these peoples views.

(Privately? Isn’t that convenient? I mean about how no one can disapprove Maher claims because no ethical person would dare reveal the name of private supporter.)

Then he informs us of how put upon he is and attempts some sort of wacky conciliatory argument “But I don't want the job. I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me -- its just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view.”

One might be inclined to say “Don’t take the job then Bill.”

No one drug Maher from his home and tortured him until he admitted his unconventional views on vaccinations. He had ample opportunity to simply shut his mouth. Yet he didn’t. The moment he decided to open his mouth and exercise his free speech he became culpable for what he said. Hence, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that he got the job. After all, he applied for it when he expressed his views on national television. Presenting himself as a martyr in order to elicit sympathy from his critics should be beneath him. Ah, but there more. Maher tells us there’s a movement to silence those who would object to the horrid tyranny of vaccines.

For one moment Maher sounds exactly like the senseless individuals he routinely skewers. There’s a movement, though the only people who seem to see this movement are Maher and his get. Why would that be? Well, a movement that’s hidden from everyone else sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy, doesn’t it?

And once again Maher plays the sympathy card. Here he is, just a humble comedian, who is out there fighting those who would silence people who are asking vital questions concerning OUR health! Those bastards! How dare you immunize me!

(He’s Super Maher, mild mannered comedian by day- but by night he battles his archenemy The Man to save us all from HEALTH CARE! It’s a bird… it’s a plane…it‘s a jackass!)
In case that fails to impress you Maher tries ad populum to woo us: “The British Medical Journal from August 25 says half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot -- are they all crazy too? Sixty-five percent of French people don't want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.”

I’m not going to bother trying to deflate the statistics- instead I’m going to point out the contradiction in using them. Maher concludes his sentence with saying “Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.” Which medical establishment? In the sentence before, Maher asked “half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot -- are they all crazy too?” Why is the medical establishment in the U.S, simplifying the issue, but the UK medical professionals are beyond scrutiny? If one set of doctors and specialists are too dense to comprehend the complexity issue, how can we trust another set of doctors just because they happen to be across the pond?

And what do the French have to do with anything? Being French doesn’t equate being reasonable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Biggest Turkey- 3rd Place

3rd Place- Organophiles and Foodaphobes Boy oh boy I am sick of hearing the following lamentations: Our food is killing us with chemicals. There’s a conspiracy to put addictive additives in our snack cakes. We’re being force fed sugar, or worse, high fructose corn syrup. It’s no small irony that these complaints tend to come from people 50lbs overweight who are shoveling Little Debbies into their pie holes so quickly they nearly choke.

The Chemical Fallacy- The bottom line is all foods contain chemicals. There are no exceptions to that rule, but fear not. The prevalent idea is that chemicals are bad (most of these people conjure up bizarre images of scientists in lab coats hunkered over glowing ooze) and indicative of ‘tampering’ with the food supply. They claim that food companies add these naughty chemical to their food to: a) give them cancer because they’re in cahoots with Big Pharma and the Government b) make their consumers addicted to their product, a process that is facilitated by the Government c) because the makers of food products are too dimwitted to comprehend what they are putting in their products, yet a high school dropout with an eco-freak book or a weird hippy with an organic garden can do so competently.
Idiots cite proof like this bit of stupid: “margarine and plastic are only one molecule away from each other.”
I can only guess this is an attempt to make a paranoid fantasy sound legitimate by tossing in a word like molecule. Would you like a glass H2O2- of course you wouldn’t because that’s hydrogen peroxide. Simply by removing a single oxygen atom we produce water (H20)- a necessity of life. Similar chemical structures do not imply that two substances will have remotely the same effect in the human body.
There are, after all, only 118 things on the planet that anything can be made from (consult the periodic table of elements) and it’s only reasonable to assume that there will be a little overlap.

The Cancer Fallacy- Secondly, in spite of what any one doctor or single study says, the overall picture is a trend towards living longer. If preservatives in food were that big of a deal we would have seen a sharp drop in lifespan. The most convincing evidence cited to support this argument is a rise in cancer rates. At first it seems to indicate that we are getting ‘sicker’ in some numerically impossible way since we’re living longer and the population keeps increasing. But the rise of cancer rates is a deceptive statistic.
Most cancers don’t begin until much later in life. According to the American Cancer Society, the greatest likelihood for developing cancer is in the age group of 70 and older (according to their statistics 37.74% of men will develop cancer and 26.17% of women in that age group). That means the probability of developing this illness more that doubles between the 60-69 age group ( male probability is 15.71 and female is 10.23) and the 70+ group.
Our cancer rates have increased because the percentage of our population who live long enough to develop the disease has increased. To put that into context, the average life expectancy for a US citizen didn’t break 70 (the time when most cancers begin) until 1970, when the average life expectancy was 70.8. (
Another problem with cancer statistics is that diagnosis of cancer has become much more accurate. It’s likely that in eras past, cancer was simply misdiagnosed and treated as a different illness. Needless to say, most of these unfortunate suffers died- making it impossible for them to pass on their genetic material. With better treatment, survival rates have increased dramatically , and with those the likelihood that survivors will pass on their genetic legacy has increased. Since cancer has a strong genetic component, it’s difficult to imagine that passing on ones’ genes would have no impact on the health of the subsequent generations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conspiracy Theorists

I think it's important to say something about conspiracy theories. They're very difficult for rational people to disprove because conspiracy theories are based on the absence of evidence. When dealing with normal, run-of-the-mill nonsense the argument can be disassembled by discrediting the evidence, but in a conspiracy theory THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO BE DISCREDITED!
In fact, the lack of evidence is proof that the conspirators are very clever and wily.
To those people, however, I'd like to point out that not being able to prove a conspiracy theory wrong does not necessarily imply that the theory has merit.
For example, someone could say that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are plotting to kill Cupid and no one could prove them wrong- I could point out that in spite of that, they are completely lacking in any objective evidence to substantiate their claim.

Sticking It To Organiphiles (And Not In A Good Way)

In the plague of asinine ideas and individuals that have captured the imagination (and dollars) of the American public one stands head and shoulders above all the others- the organiphiles. ‘Organiphile’ is my pet term for an individual who is preoccupied with the consumption of organic goods- regardless of objective quality or pragmatism.
(P.S. I am well aware of the fact that I made fun of Michael Shermer for his liberal, spontaneous genesis of words so don’t waste your energy sending me scathing emails pointing out my hypocrisy. My words are FUNNY! So there!)
The pervasive idea behind this dumbness is that somehow organic food is substantially “better” for you (though often times better is an amorphous euphemism for ‘more expensive’) and ‘better’ for the planet. One website that hocks organic food and products even claims “Organic food is known to contain 50% more nutrients, minerals and vitamins than produce that has been intensively farmed.” (Organic Food Info).
Known by who? The people who have a substantial financial stake in the organic food market?
There’s a link that says ‘Read More About This Here’, but when clicked it takes you to a page selling a books. (Whoever would have suspected! Gasp!) Among the literature advertised is a book called Healthy Urban Kitchen that is written by certified fitness trainer.
Unfortunately folks, a certified fitness trainer is not a dietitian, doctor, biologist, or chemist. Understanding nutrition is not a requirement for becoming certified as a personal trainer (Certified). I looked. You can too.
Another book featured on this website tells you that the chemicals on yucky store bought food can cause conditions ranging from little to no motivation to low energy levels (My Organic) . (Which to the uninitiated, or anyone not suffering from mild retardation, those two conditions may sound a lot like the exact same thing.)
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that there is no evidence to support the claim that organic food has greater nutritional value than its’ traditional supermarket counterpart (Science Daily). Initial results indicated that organic foods may have greater nutritional content, but the most recent studies have discredited those early findings.
In some ways, organic food actually poses a greater risk to the public health than conventional produce. The likelihood of bacterial contamination is greater for organic crops. Cow manure, a favorite ‘natural fertilizer’, is an excellent source of E. Coli (The Skeptic‘s Dictionary).
(Remember the Black Plague was organic too, but that didn’t make it fabulous, now did it?)
Nor is organic food necessarily better for the environment. Organic bananas from the dark side of the moon are still going to have an enormous carbon footprint.
The Organic Food Info website says: “In the rush to produce more and more crops to satisfy growing demand producers have had to resort to using a lethal cocktail of pesticides to control disease and insect attack. Good news for their bank balances perhaps but not good news for your health, this is why you need to be informed of the advantages of organic food.”
Well, they seem to be presenting two ideas contradictory ideas. In the first sentence, the producers are responding to a demands for more crops. Why would we need more food? Obviously- because there’s more people. So the producers grow more. But that’s good news for their ‘bank balances’? Isn’t it also good news for all the people who… I don’t know…have food to eat? The demand for more crops was caused by a swelling population that demanded more food. If that demand wasn’t met, those people would have died.
Do people really believe that farmers masterminded a scheme to use chemicals (which cost money) to grow more food that they wouldn’t sell? How that be beneficial for their ’bank balances’? Someone would have to be buying it, and if someone was buying it, then it stands to reason that someone is eating it. The alternative is that people are buying produce to let it rot, in which buying organic produce wouldn’t matter because no one would be eating it in the first place.
This is just a hypothesis, but I would wager a human would die a lot faster from starvation than from the alleged ‘poisoning’ caused by ‘toxic’ chemicals.
All available evidence contradicts the idea that we’re being poisoned by our food. If the claim that the nutritional value of our food has declined since the advent of modern farming techniques came into vogue, then why would our life expectancy continue to rise?
The idea contradicts all available evidence: a population that is being ‘poisoned’ simply does not live longer than it did before. If it did, then it really wouldn’t be being poisoned, now would it (Life Expectancy)?
They have all sorts of answers to this questions. For example, medicine has offset the “deadly” chemicals. (We’ll forget for an instant that the same people who tend to be organic farming most ardent supporters also tend to denounce Big Pharma.) Unfortunately, medicine ultimately employs the same tactics as agriculture, so the argument that medicine has saved us from our food is dubious at best.
The organiphiles also overlook one inconvenient piece of reality: if organic farming was able to support the population, it probably would have. The agriculture revolution happened in response to a population that didn’t have enough food.
I believe some people who purchase organic produce simply because it’s organic have the best interests of their families and others at heart. But more are simply ignorant food snobs, who are attracted to the organic movement because of the elitism it supports. They eat organic food because they’re better than you. You can spot these people eating bags of “organic chocolate chips” or organic deep fried onion rings (made in genuine organic lard!). It sets them apart from the common, pedestrian populace eating common “regular” food.
There’s also a healthy number of conspiracy nuts in the organiphile camps who think mainstream anything is a scheme to kill your goldfish and eat your children. Attempting to critique the moronic logic of conspiracy nuts is too great an endeavor for this particular post, however.
So- it’s a good thing to want to be healthy. It creates a problem when you’re purchasing something based on inaccurate information. In the case of organic food, that error in judgment can get you paying as much as three times the amount for a non-organic product. With that kind of money at stake, it’s good idea to make sure you’re getting three times the value. And in most cases, you just aren’t.
And for those of you who think you’ve found a way to stick it to big business- I have some news for you. According to the Organic Trade Association sales from organic food and beverages totaled $16.7 billion. (I wonder how many precious, precious trees would be used to print 16.7 billion dollars? Would the OTA only use money made from the finest organic trees? I doubt it.) It’s hardly Mom & Pop revenue, and the people peddling organic food are hardly Mom & Pop companies. Wal-Mart now carries organic produce.
Remember the organiphiles don’t mind selling you a load of shit, so long as the shit’s organic.

Works Cited

Certified Fitness Trainer-

Life Expectancy-

My Organic Food Garden-

Organic Food Info-

Science Daily-

The Skeptic’s Dictionary-

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dystonia Cheerleader Update

I'm sure everyone has heard the heart-wrenching story of the poor, poor Dystonia cheerleader by now. She's the girl who allegedly developed Dystonia after receiving a routine flu shot. Experts doubted how genuine her affliction was, and now she's been miraculously cured by the urine guru.
This really isn't my story to tell. ScienceBlogs does it best. Follow the link:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Twitter Hypocrisy- Should We Be Thankful For Cyber-Censors?

We Americans live in a nation that was founded by Puritans (respectively), a fact which isn’t a secret since we celebrate Thanksgiving round about this time of year to honor our Puritan forefathers. It could be argued that we’ve come a long way since then.
If we were discussing advances in the field of medicine or technology I would be inclined to agree, but the ridiculous and irrational mindset that spawned the Puritans is very much alive.
On Twitter, anyone who has nudity on their profile is punished by having their profile suspended. This rule applies to spammers as well- the bots that automatically follows active accounts to sell a product or promote a website. It would be reasonable to assume that most Twitter users have been added by one or all of those bots at some time, and when you are added you find that their accounts are often suspended by the time you have an opportunity to view whoever followed you in the first place.
That may seem like a small, reassuring victory for ethics and morals online. After all, the cyber-censors protect us from porn and SPAM and that’s good. But has anyone bothered to ask whether or not these are the things we need to be protected from? Is that really the most offensive type of content out there?
At the same time several SPAM accounts were being suspended a Twitter user by the name of JRilla1879 was busy posting these gems on Twitter:




Or my personal favorite…


He also goes on to say…


So what is it we’re supposed to take away from this? The idea that it’s acceptable to threatened people with AK-47s and switchblades, so long as your nipple aren’t showing when you do?
The most frightening thing is not that these people exist, but the fact that they manage to live their everyday lives beneath the radar. If this guy had a naked pic as his profile photo his account would have been suspended within the week but, in spite of his belligerent threats, he has been allowed to amass 3,457 tweets as of the time this post was written.
How protected do you feel now?
The sheer number of Tweets means either Twitter has ignored objections to his posts, or there haven’t been any objections. Either option is scary.
It also is somewhat troubling that there’s a link to report SPAM, but not felony threats. If those aren’t ass-backwards priorities, I don’t know what would be.
So in America in the year 2009, you might have your life threatened with switchblades… but at least no one will try to show you naughty pictures. Thank goodness for cyber-censors…

Anyone wanting to visit JRilla1879's profile on Twitter can click on this link: