The story of the moral

BETTER

People of different religious viewpoints can get along, depending on the person.  I have had nothing but positive interaction with the friendly imam at our neighborhood mosque, while others who read the same book that inspires him would interpret it as a fatwa to slit my throat.

There are Christian extremists like John Hagee, who has called for all atheists to leave the United States. He is apparently OK with a trade that would see his country lose 67 percent of its scientists and .02 percent of its prisoners. Even more extreme is Bryan Fischer, who has declared that no atheists should be allowed in the military, that belief in evolution makes one unpatriotic,  and that Native American genocide was beneficial because Christians were given the land and resources. Fischer also has supremely creative reading comprehension skills. He was written that the Constitution’s Article VI, which reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” is a mandate that only Christians be allowed to serve in public office.

At the other end of the spectrum from Hagee and Fischer are the dozen military chaplains I have worked with, who have been among the most cordial, compassionate, and hardworking men I have known.  

The nonbelief side has its extremists as well. Although stopping short of calling for expulsion or death, the late Jon Murray of American Atheists once wrote that only atheists could accurately teach the history of religion and he chastised anyone who labeled themselves an agnostic, humanist, free-thinker, apatheist, or similar moniker. He considered this a wussy way to avoid the dreaded atheist label. Similarly, I have seen many a Facebook thread where agnostics are viciously attacked by atheists for not taking the doubt far enough, even going so far sometimes to say that there is no such thing as an agnostic. The argument generally goes like this: If you’re not sure there’s a god, it means you lack a belief in deity, so this makes you an atheist. This is almost invariably followed with personal attacks and character assassination directed at the agnostic for failing to realize what they  are. A similar argument is used against atheists by some Christian extremists who insist atheists believe in God, but are in a state of denial, hate, or rebellion, or are wanting to continue in their sin.  

There also exists a subset of Christians who feel that their belief in an invisible sky creature entitles them to the moral high ground. There are many examples, but I will focus on Dennis Prager and Frank Turek since they have been the most vocal and persistent about this stance over the last few years.

On his online site, Prager makes this astounding claim: “If there is no God, murder isn’t wrong.” Given that in the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, the Abrahamic god is responsible for the slaughter of 2,476,633 persons (tiny.cc/mr7yoy), in addition to an unknown number flood, plague, and famine victims, a more logical conclusion would be, “If there is a God, murder isn’t wrong.” But let’s keep our focus on what Prager and Turek have written. 

In a takedown of Prager’s assertion, skeptic leader Michael Shermer noted the cosmic chicken-and-egg conundrum that arises when one cites a god as source of morality.  

Plato asked, “Is what is morally right or wrong commanded by God because it is inherently right or wrong, or is it morally right or wrong only because it is commanded by God?” Shermer picks up on the Greek philosopher’s point by asking, “If murder is wrong because God said it is wrong, what if he said it was okay? Would that make murder right?”

This is not a hypothetical question, as there are instances of God acting more like a Godfather and ordering hits on victims for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from hitting the ground (2 Samuel 6:7), for picking up sticks (Numbers 15:36), or for looking over their shoulder (Genesis 19:26). Prager and Turek would have to be OK with these divine executions. There is no room for considering other angles, mitigating circumstances, appeals, reasoning, talking it through, societal values, norms, traditions, or human input.  

Also, Prager and Turek present a false dilemma between either a deity-dictated absolute morality or a secular relative morality where there are only opinions with no actual right and wrong. This often leads to an insistence that without a god-based morality, persons have license to commit all manner of mayhem and mischief without being immoral.

But the false dilemma is a logical fallacy where the interlocutor posits that if the opponent’s position is wrong, the speaker’s position is right. This is mistaken because an debater must actually prove one’s point, not just try and tear down the opponent’s. Prager and Turek also commit the begging the question fallacy, assuming without supporting evidence that the correct position is that their god established right and wrong and that his dictates were all uncompromisingly correct.

Prager and Turek say that if I insist arson is wrong, this is merely an opinion. They might be right on this point. But that’s all Prager and Turek have too, an opinion. In their case, they accept the opinions written by Bronze Age Middle East nomads. There’s nothing wrong with any of those traits, but those opinions belong to just another man.  Even if we graciously allow that a god wrote it, it’s still just another opinion. Might does not make right and Prager and Turek never establish why Yahweh saying something makes it correct. Supernatural abilities such as creating or destroying a planet are separate from having keen insight into right and wrong.

Besides, Shermer wrote, there is a third option between absolute morality and relative morality, which he calls provisional morality. He defines this as “Moral values that are true for most people in most circumstances most of the time.” He continues, “All societies throughout history and around the world today have sanctions against murder. Why? Because if there were no proscription against murder no social group could survive, much less flourish. All social order would break down. We can’t have people running around killing each other willy nilly.”

At the same time, Shermer explained, there are exceptions such as self defense, war, and executions. These exceptions do not wipe out the provisional morality that murder is wrong. Likewise, most societies have considered human cannibalism wrong, yet most persons would understand the reasoning and actions of the 16 Andean plane wreck survivors who resorted to eating deceased passengers as a last-ditch way to stay alive.

Consider one more example. Stealing is wrong, but this can be mitigated or involve extenuating circumstances. A man with literally no money or food who swipes a bucket of friend chicken to feed his children their first meal in two days would be looked at differently than an online hacker who helps himself to millions in ill-gotten gain for the thrill of it and to prove that he can. Our legal system would almost certainly treat these offenders differently, yet Biblical justice calls for no distinction to be made and for the punishment to be as harsh for the destitute family man as the affluent cyber criminal.

Sources of provincial morality can include parents, peers, mentors, society, teachers, solitary reflection, life experiences, books, culture, and one’s conscience. Shermer noted that since the Enlightenment, “religious-based theocracies have been replaced with Constitution-based democracies, and the result was the abolition of slavery and torture, the democratic rule of law, the decline of violence,” and the granting of rights to minorities, women, gays, and animals.

Prager and Turek insist our rights come from God, but the Bible endorses execution for blasphemy and for practicing wicca instead of embracing freedom of speech and religion; it favors slavery over emancipation; it requires stoning to death for a woman having premarital sex instead of forbidding cruel and unusual punishment; and the Torah includes no prohibition on warrantless searches or self-incrimination. To see just how in how in error Prager’s and Turek’s assertion is, contrast the First Commandment with the First Amendment. The former mandates worship of the Abrahamic god under penalty of death. The latter guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all.

Taking morality from a book requires no thought, whereas morality arrived at through introspection, debate, and experience requires the person to justify their conclusion. Were Turek to take his morality from the Bible, he would have to believe that his daughter’s rapist, instead of becoming a prisoner, should become his son-in-law, regardless of the daughter’s wishes (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Citing a god as the source for morality runs into another problem. Different scriptures have different rules and they can’t all be right. Here, Prager and Turek have little trouble here with a retort, simply making a begging the question assumption that the god they were taught to believe in since preschool is the correct one. But belief in absolute morality can lead to the conclusion that anyone who believes differently has departed from the true path and can be dealt with accordingly, in line with punishments in the believer’s holy book. Such thinking has led to the Inquisition, witch trials, and holy wars.

But looking at it from an objective standpoint and having been impacted by the influencers mentioned two paragraphs ago, I can see that the 10 Commandments gets right the prohibitions against murder, stealing, and adultery. But in consciously allows child abuse, rape, and slavery while forbidding innocuous actions such as talking back to one’s parents, uttering profanity, and building a bronze and iron sculpture.  

On another topic, it is a disingenuous debate to ask whether torturing an innocent man to death is morally correct. I truly believe Prager and Turek are capable of figuring out murder is wrong on their own. Further, no atheist is going to read Prager’s or Tureks’ pieces and decide, “Whoa, if I don’t convert to their religion, I’m going to go out today and commence with .raping, pillaging, and burning.” Their assertions are meant to establish their moral superiority, which ironically can be used to commit immoral acts such as the Crusades, Jonestown, and flying airplanes into tall buildings.

Prager tries to tie Stalin and Mao into this and asserts godlessness leads to genocide. But this is the composition fallacy and this decade there have been atheist heads of state in Australia, Greece, Croatia, Belgium, and New Zealand without corresponding bloodbaths.

And a minor point, but Mao and Stalin killed in the name of communism, not atheism. These two build personality cults and the same has been done in North Korea. These communist cults mimic religious extremism by basing a system on the supremacy of an all-wise leader, from whom any departure is worthy of scorn, ostracism, exile, imprisonment, or death.

Shermer makes the argument that murder could be worse if there is no god than if there is. In Prager’s universe, the murder merely creates a painful but temporary separation. If a hundred years from now, the victim and his family are together in paradise and will be there a million millennia after that, murder ends up seeming not so bad. This also brings up a point raised by Richard Dawkins: If one is following the instruction manual because of a belief of being incessantly watched and thinking they are subject to calamity if they stray, is the person really being moral, or just pragmatic?

Going back to Turek, one of his essays contained this strawman headscratcher: “To be a consistent atheist you can’t believe that anyone has ever changed the world for the better. You have to believe that rescuing Jews from the ovens was not objectively better than murdering them. You have to believe that loving people is no better than raping them.” Earlier in the essay, Turek wrote that atheists could be good people, but he then abruptly switches to a positon that atheists by nature feel that rape is proper and that the holocaust was fine and dandy. He also wrote, “In an atheistic universe there is nothing objectively wrong with anything at any time. There are no limits. Anything goes.”

Yet Turek’s assertion that belief in the Christian god equals morality is inconsistent with what we see when looking at religions in different cultures. The most secular countries are in Scandinavia, which are perpetually among the most affluent and educated and which enjoy high quality of life, excellent health care, and low crime rates. By contrast, the overwhelmingly religious countries Guatemala and El Salvador are riddled with crime and poverty. Further, since Turek stipulates that his god is the true one, Japan, which is just two percent Christian, should experience unending epidemics of decapitations and machete attacks instead of having the planet’s fourth-lowest crime rate. Travelers to the country report seeing no bicycle locks because so few people there would ever think to help themselves to another person’s form of conveyance.

For all anyone knows, Prager or Turek may someday be saved by an atheist surgeon, a person they would would insist has no moral concern with whether someone lives or dies. Prager and Turek would also have considered Ted Bundy to necessarily be a good, moral person if  he had practiced their religion.

They’re wrong on these counts, of course. A few years ago, there were Muslims who slaughtered Yazidis for their beliefs and other Muslims who risked their lives to save those Yazidis. Beliefs don’t make a person good or bad; actions do.

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Squawk like an Egyptian

MUMMY

A popular myth in anti-doctor and anti-pharmaceutical circles is that cancer is man-made. The idea is that the disease either didn’t exist or existed very rarely thousands of years ago, but has increased exponentially due to persons being bombarded with artificial toxins. Even more tenuous proclamations blame GMOs, vaccines, Wi-Fi, or whatever other entity one wishes to demonize.

The idea of man-made cancer stems primarily from a study by professors Rosalie David and Michael Zimmerman. The researchers examined nearly 1,000 mummies and found just one who had developed cancer. The professors therefore concluded that the disease is of recent origin. They went so far as to claim that cancer is “limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues, such as tobacco use and pollution resulting from industrialization.” Officials from the University of Manchester lauded the study in a press release that stated, “Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, along with few references to cancer in ancient literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity.”

It’s true that the cancer rate in ancient Egypt, as well as in Rome and Greece, was much less than it is today. But that’s because cancer is predominantly a senior disease. According to Dr. Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK, 75 percent of cancer hits persons 60 or over, a demographic that includes just 18 of the population. In men, 90 percent of cancers occur in those over 50. If the average lifespan were to hit 125, virtually all men making this milestone would develop prostate cancer, but this would be due to drastically longer lives, not because a futuristic nefarious agent will have perfected a way to commit microbial misdeeds. Conversely, in times and societies where hitting 50 was as noteworthy as making 100 today, it would be expected for cancer to be rare.

The David-Zimmerman study said that besides environmental factors, lifestyle also has an impact. It’s true that lifestyles make a difference in the likelihood of developing cancer. Smoking, drinking, overeating, forgoing sunscreen, and being sedentary all make cancer more likely.  But these are choices, meaning persons can do something to positively impact them. Cancers that would result from these activities are the result of poor decisions are not evidence of society being awash in a carcinogenic wave. True, there are some pesticides and industrial solvents that could can cause cancer with prolonged, concentrated exposure, but these are responsible for a tiny fraction of the disease, and steps can be taken to reduce the risk, such as the exposed person wearing protective equipment.

The authors are correct that pursuing a more active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet can help stave off cancer. And their point about cancer being rare 3,000 years ago is true, though this was accompanied with a correlation-causation error that blamed industrial developments, not increased lifespans, for the disease’s surge.

So at this point, we have one truth and one probably unintentional misuse of numbers. But they jumped the analytical shark with an absurd claim that would delight Gwyneth Paltrow, the Food Babe, and Doctor Oz. David wrote, “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”  The (literally) most glaring error here is failing to consider the sun. Ultraviolet radiation, after all, is the number one cause of skin cancer.

Going to much smaller examples of nature, carcinogens exist in bacteria and viruses. These infectious agents are responsible for up to 25 percent of cancers, including the human papillomavirus. And one of main reasons stomach cancers are less prevalent than 100 years ago is because of refrigeration and improved living conditions.

Then there’s radon, a natural product of granite. In gas form, it is responsible for about 10 percent of lung cancers. Additionally, there are chemicals found naturally in foods and produced by molds or plants that can cause cancer. Even soot and smoke from fire contain carcinogens that could result in cancer with prolonged exposure.

But at least David and Zimmerman conducted original research and submitted their findings for peer review. We will now transition to those unencumbered by scientific protocol. These types attribute cancer to whatever modern development they find most intolerable.

Some anti-GMO types point out that genetic modification has been going on for about 30 years and cancers have gone up over time, so, voilà. Even a rudimentary critical thinker would recognize this as the post hoc fallacy, where because one event comes before another, a connection is assumed without offering evidence and without considering other possible causes.

A seemingly more reasonable position is to blame GMOs for cancer because of reports that both bacillus thuringiensis (which is incorporated into insect-resistant plants during genetic modification) and glyphosate (a herbicide used on some GM crops) will, when applied to cells in a petri dish, cause some cells to experience abnormal growth. But University of Florida horticulturist Dr. Kevin Folta noted that cells in a petri dish behave differently than cells in a human body, and he added there is zero evidence consumption of GM foods would cause the change that cells in a petri dish undergo.  

Another alarmist camp blames WiFi for cancer. But WiFi operates in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and the risk of cancer only begins at the high end of ultraviolet light. A similar slander targets cell phones and accuses them of causing brain cancer. However, the ubiquitous nature of these devices and the lack of corresponding brain cancer pandemic show this to be an unfounded fear.

Smart meters are another modern development forced to stand in a police lineup of suspected carcinogenic agents. This is based on the misuse of a fact, specifically that ionizing radiation can break the bond that holds molecules together and possibly have   carcinogenic results. But this danger does not extend to low-frequency fields, which is where smart meters operate.

And what pseudoscientific scaremongering would be complete without pinning unwarranted blame on vaccines? The horribly-misnamed website Truth About Cancer notes that most vaccine inserts contain the phrase, “This vaccine has not been evaluated for its carcinogenic potential.”

The website then issues an alarm about today’s vaccine schedule being thrice as long as what it was 40 years ago, leaving out that there are 95 percent fewer antigens injected now than then. It then joints the post hoc parade with, “Coinciding with the ever-increasing vaccine schedule are soaring rates of chronic illness in children, including cancer, which has skyrocketed and is now the leading cause of death by disease in children past infancy.” Yes, especially now that no babies in the West are dying from polio or smallpox.

The website next rails against formaldehyde without mentioning that the compound occurs naturally in the human body in greater amounts than what vaccines contain. Finally it recommends avoiding vaccines altogether in favor of eating fruits and vegetables, getting enough rest, sunshine, and exercise. There’s nothing wrong with doing all that and also getting vaccinated. I do love my bananas, sleep, 70 degree days, and time on the treadmill. But my joy from those pursuits would be greatly curtailed if I indulged them while enduring Whooping Cough.

  

 

“Organ recital” (Electrodermal screening)

skin

Reinhold Voll was a physician and acupuncturist, an unusual mix of genuine and counterfeit medicines.  In the 1950s, the doctor embraced his Mr. Hyde persona and created a device that purportedly utilized skin resistance as a means to determine the health of internal organs.

His machine and those like it have undergone various alterations, keeping up with technology so that the testing is now mostly done by computer. But despite this seeming evolution, the mechanism remains as implausible as it did when Voll introduced his device 60 years ago. Nor is there any more reason to believe in the existence of meridians, which play a central role in Voll’s invention.  

Clients hooked up to these galvanometric machines are given a quick and thorough reading about their supposed state of health. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch gave it a go and documented his experiences in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer.  

These electrodermal screening devices are said to measure skin resistance to the  passage of low-level electrical currents. A probe touches a specific point on the patient’s skin, prompting the machine to produce a readout from zero to 100.  Voll explained that readings from 45 to 55 were normal, or “balanced” in alt-med lingo. Readings above 55 indicated inflammation of the organ associated with the meridian being measured, while readings below 45 suggested “organ stagnation and degeneration.” Homeopathic products were then given to the patient until he or she was said to be balanced. But as Barrett learned, the same skin location can produce wildly varying numbers within the same session. Also, there is no known mechanism that would enable the machine to do what its inventor claimed. Therefore, the seeming balance restorations were really just the machine giving inconsistent, meaningless information.

With modern incarnations, the client holds a metal bar in one hand while the operator applies a probe to a supposed meridian on the client’s free hand. As the SkepDoc Harriett Hall noted, it is supremely convenient for testing purposes that all meridian points are on the hands or feet.

Meanwhile, Barrett, described his experience with the device thusly: “During the testing, I noticed that the harder the probe was pressed against my skin, the higher the reading on the computer screen, which is not surprising because pressure reduces electrical resistance and makes the current flow better from the probe to the skin. Also, glass does not conduct electricity, so even if the products emitted electric signals, they could not escape from the vial.”

Additionally, there were huge signs of fraud during Barrett’s session. He noted that even though his gallbladder has been removed, the machine still gave a readout indicating this organ was “out of range,” though that was later upgraded to within range in a subsequent test that day, then downgraded again.    

Some versions of the machines even give food recommendations, though these are also terribly inconsistent. In many instnaces, some foods are listed as both ones to avoid and enthusiastically consume. This is similar to some edibles ending up on both superfood and supervillain food lists, though this is worse since the same source is recommending both eating and eschewing them. Such completely contradictory and inconsistent results show the device is incapable of measuring what it claims.

According to Barrett, to demonstrate that a device can detect organ pathology, it is necessary to conduct double blind controlled studies of people who have the condition and people who do not. Extrapolating this, demonstrating that administering a product or procedure can mitigate an illness or conditions requires studying whether people who are treated do better than those in the control group.

But with Voll’s device, screeners can offer no explanation how it determines organ health by means of a never-explained concept called meridians. There is no justification for how, say, the tip of the right index finger would tell if someone was at danger for cirrhosis. Nor is there any evidence that skin resistance is related to organ health or what people should eat. It’s no wonder Hall compared the galvanometer to a Magic 8-ball for its randomness and lack of medical genuineness. Indeed, all these machines can do is generate a small electrical current, a stimulus that is incapable of providing information on organ health, which would explain why the readings for the same client during the same session were so inconsistent.

 Still, the field has its defenders. Hans Larsen at yourhealthbase.com touts the galvanometer as being able to provide “an in-depth health assessment and treat many problems right on the spot with electrical impulses. ”

He chastises “conventional Western medicine” for looking for “structural defects” that may lead to surgery or drugs.  He then asks,” Why don’t we focus on modifying our thoughts and other subtle energies in order to heal ourselves?”

I don’t know what subtle energies Larsen is referring to, so I cannot attempt to procure them. But I can control what I’m thinking, and I conclude that Larsen’s recommendation of treating diseases with thoughts and undefined energies instead of doctors and medicine is a poor one.

“The nuclear option” (Nuclear power fears)

NUKESMILE

In the rare times that the left and right are in agreement, it’s usually because both sides are getting something from the deal. But in the case of nuclear power, the objections from a mix of liberals and conservatives are ironically stifling an innovative, pro-environment, pro-business resource. That’s because nuclear power’s efficiency, safety, and low-carbon status are three strong reasons to adopt the technology.

Liberals who object are self-styled environmentalists who embrace the positions of the IPCC and IEA when it comes to climate change. Yet they reject nuclear power, which those organizations call one of the primary solutions to global warming.

Meanwhile on the right, objections seem to be based on oil and coal industry titans potentially seeing their salaries dip into the seven figures if nuclear power becomes too prevalent. So the best way to win over conservatives would be to point out to how much money a real-life C. Montgomery Burns could make.

As to trying to convince those on the left, the key point is that all energy sources contain risks and that nuclear is among the least concerning. I find nuclear power akin to airplanes. They are both the safest method of doing what they do, but the failures are spectacular, widely publicized, and most remembered.

But there are more chilling dangers from air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. According to the criminally underappreciated blogger Thoughtscapism, even wind causes more deaths per kilowatt than nuclear power does. She also cites climate scientists James Hansen and P.A. Kharecha, whose paper on nuclear powered concluded that the technology has saved two million lives by producing energy that had previously come via coal.

According to evolutionary and environmental blogger J.M. Korhonen, even when the full lifecycle is considered – uranium mining, accidents, and waste spillage, nuclear energy is still one of the safest energy sources.  She also wrote that, when compared to sources that require burning, energy produced from nuclear power is responsible for much less harm to people and the environment. The same conclusion was reached by the EU-funded External Costs of Energy study.

Additionally, Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent research review that deduced, “The overall safety risks associated with nuclear power appear to be more in line with lifecycle impacts from renewable energy technologies, and significantly lower than for coal and natural gas.”

OK, so nuclear power is efficient and the risk of uranium mining is the same as unearthing similar minerals used in renewables, but what about the notorious accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? These get the headlines, any loss of life is tragic, and environmental damage is always disconcerting. Yet in more than 50 years, just 75 persons have died directly or indirectly as the result of nuclear power accidents, all but a handful of these at Chernobyl. This is far fewer than from coal, according to an assessment conducted by the University of Stuttgart. The study concluded that the 300 largest coal plants in Europe cause 22,000 deaths per year.

Beyond safety advantages, another plus of nuclear power is reduced carbon output. For example, the lowest emissions among European countries occur in those nations who use the most nuclear and hydrological power. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency both have the position that no single solution will bring sufficient reduction in Earth’s net carbon output. Nuclear power is needed to help make that happen.  

Fossil fuel use is still rising and the IPCC estimates that reliance on the fuels needs to be reduced 40 percent and replaced with nuclear power to have a sizable reduction in carbon reduction by 2030. Meanwhile, the IEA holds that nuclear use must double over the next three decades if humanity is to halt Earth’s rise in average global temperature. We also need bioenergy, wind, power, hydroelectricity, reforestation, solar radiation management, lifestyle changes, and other strategies, but we are losing a valuable resource by failing to embrace nuclear power.  

“Adrenaline junk” (Adrenal fatigue)

BROKENAX

Adrenal fatigue is an alternative medicine notion that adrenal glands can be exhausted and left with the inability to produce enough hormones. This, in turn, is blamed for a slew of generic symptoms, most of which apply disproportionately to persons under long-term mental or physical duress.

There is no scientific evidence supporting the concept of adrenal fatigue and it is not recognized by any medical organizations. That means zero in the naturopathic world, where blood and saliva draws are regularly used to ostensibly diagnose any number of conditions. There is no explanation for how these draws would demonstrate the presence of these conditions, nor do they offer support for the notion that the conditions even exist.

Still, there are many believers, including ones on a website that challenges supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the syllable department, natruropathicwomenswellness.com. Writing about adrenal fatigue, the site’s authors proclaim, “Saliva testing is used to diagnose candida, parasites, and fungal, bacterial, and viral infections in the system.” It might do this, but there is no correlation between those items and adrenal fatigue’s supposed symptoms, nor does it demonstrate the reality of the condition.

Dr. Todd Nipplodt of the Mayo Clinic said, “Consistent levels of chronic stress have no effect whatsoever on the adrenals and the only true endocrine disorders are those caused by other diseases and by direct damage to the adrenal glands.”

Pharmacist Scott Gavura, writing for Science Based Medicine, noted that a society of 14,000 endocrinologists stated that, “Adrenal fatigue is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.” I performed a PubMed search and it produced just one hit for “adrenal fatigue,” and that was for a systemic review which concluded there is no such animal.

To counter these medical findings and consistent data, we need us a good old-fashioned anecdote. Perhaps Dr. Axe can oblige. “To that, all I can say is adrenal fatigue is something I’ve seen personally.” What he has never seen personally is a medical degree with his name on it. Despite his preferred prefix, Axe is not a doctor, but instead has “degrees” in chiropractic and naturopathy.

Axe states that adrenal fatigue can be fixed with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a diet that emphasizes fish, turkey, and fruit, and which eschews caffeine and sweets. Oh, and buy his vitamins. Other than the last one, these are solid health tips, but it also speaks to adrenal fatigue being a nonentity. Following these pieces of advice would do nothing for legitimate conditions like arthritis, lupus, or carpal tunnel syndrome. The fact that adrenal fatigue can be “cured” with a treadmill, bananas, and a down comforter shows it’s not a disease.

The lesser danger is throwing away money on sham treatments, while the greater concern is not being treated for a genuine medical issue. This could include Addison’s disease, whose symptoms include the glands producing insufficient cortisol.

According to Gavura, adrenal glands “sit on the kidneys and produce several hormones, including the stress hormones associated with the fight or flight response. According to the theory of adrenal fatigue, when people are faced with long-term stress, their adrenal glands cannot keep up with the body’s need for these hormones.”

Chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson, who made up this idea, said symptoms include being tired, having trouble getting out of bed, body aches, moodiness, needing extra sweets or salts to get going, overreliance on caffeine, muscles feeling weaker than they should for the person’s output, and feeling continually stressed.

These common complaints are found in many diseases, disorders, and afflictions and are also routine parts of a hurried lifestyle. The symptoms are widespread enough that Dr. John Tinterra, who specialized in low adrenal function, estimated that approximately two-thirds or all people experience them occasionally.

Fabricated diseases usually have this vague-symptoms hallmark. The patient may be experiencing a real issue, but whereas a genuine doctor might run a proven test to see what the illness is, their alt-med counterparts default to whatever diagnosis they favor. This can include chi needing fixed, experiencing low energy fields, being plagued with wifi rot, or having chronic lyme disease, leaky gut syndrome, or adrenal fatigue. And the “treatment,” will, again, usually be whatever the naturopath most likes, be it herbs, homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, or being wrapped in a shaman’s blanket.

“Cuban Whistle Crisis” (Sickened diplomats)

SONIC

Cuba and the U.S. have a long history of antagonizing one another. Eisenhower targeted Castro with coup attempts and following the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, these morphed into assassination efforts. The CIA went at Castro with such frequency that there was no questioning the agency’s intent, though there were doubts about its efficiency.

A combination of James Bond and the Keystone Cops, CIA assassination attempts employed exploding cigars, explosive-laden seashells, a diving suit coated with deadly fungus, and a poison pen. After repeated failures, the agency was reduced to trying to humiliate Castro by making his beard fall out, and it failed to manage even this.

Castro lasted through 10 U.S. presidents and survived a largely ineffective embargo that included prohibitions on Americans from traveling to Cuba. Then there were the trips in the other direction. The most well-known resulted in the Elián González caper, during which right wingers developed a sudden concern for residency rights of undocumented immigrants.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, US-Cuba relations thawed, the countries resumed diplomatic ties, and the travel ban was largely rescinded. The freeze soon resumed, however, as President Trump put most of the travel restrictions back in place. There was also a mysterious mass sickening of US State Department employees at the embassy in Havana. Whether there was a connection between these two events is the focus of this post.

There were suggestions that the illnesses resulted from Cuba deploying a supersonic weapon. While not specifying what type of attack, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly used that word and blamed it for the sickness surge. The State Department’s website reads, “Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks.” Consequently, the department recalled nonessential personnel and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats.

There have been 22 confirmed illnesses, but a secret supersonic weapon would be an unlikely cause. More likely culprits would include toxins, bacteria, or viruses, as certain strains of all these can damage hearing, which is among the reported symptoms, along with tinnitus, headaches, and dizziness.

The Guardian entertained another possibility. Reporters interviewed neurologists who said that a definitive diagnosis is impossible without having access to the stricken diplomats, but they said perhaps a “functional disorder” could be effecting nervous system functioning. The newspaper quoted neurologist Mark Hallett, who said it was possible for 22 persons to be impacted by the same disorder, especially when they work close together in a high stress environment.

Meanwhile, the AP obtained audio tapes of high-pitched whistles, which some workers said they heard through cellphones or from their computer. Yet the recording reveals nothing about the source, its potentially deleterious effect on the human body, or its relationship to the sicknesses. Of relevance, the report noted that not all sickened Americans heard the strange sounds. And acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of supersonic weapons. They said they were unaware of any sound that could can cause physical damage when played for short a duration at moderate levels through normal workplace equipment like a cellphone or computer. This works against the idea that an auditory assault is causing issues related to hearing, cognition, vision, vertigo, and sleep.  

It’s true that he Navy uses long-range blasts to target terrorists and pirates, that the Army uses them at checkpoints, and police employ them to disperse crowds. But these weapons work because of their high volume and cacophony. If such a device were targeting US diplomats in Cuba, there would be no mystery about it. It would be loud and proud. Those intent on finding a Havana connection have speculated the answer may lie in a sinister device that is producing sounds beyond the human hearing threshold.

This would include the possibility of infrasound, which emits extremely low frequencies. It can cause feelings of unease in people and many times when persons reported sensing ghostly presence, infrasound was proven to be the culprit. Ultrasound is another possibility. At the other end of the spectrum from infrasound, ultrasound is too high to be heard by people, but it can still cause damage. However, even if Cuba succeeded in developing a secret supersonic weapon, physics laws would make it unlikely that the device could harm victims from a great distance. Ultrasound has limited range, gets weaker as it travels, and would be further hampered in a humid climate. Moreover, a beam of ultrasound would probably be repealed by a building’s exterior.

An ultrasound-emitting device planted inside a building might be close and powerful enough to cause harm to occupant, but it is unlikely that an army of these emitters could be implanted without being detected. And even if this happened, it still wouldn’t explain most of the symptoms U.S. diplomats are reporting.

So in summary, the idea of supersonic weapons being responsible is about as likely as Castro’s 2016 death being the result of the CIA finally succeeding.

 

“Scream of the crop” (GMO fears)

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Anti-GMO extremists are known for their macabre corn men masks, memes of fruits taking bites out of children, and vehicles topped with tomato-fish hybrids. None of this has any relationship with reality. Online activists frequently employ ad hominem attacks in the form of evidence-free shill accusations, while also accusing posters of being Monsanto employees, whom they compare to Joseph Goebbels.

One of the more infamous anti-GMO crusaders, Nassim Taleb, contributes little to the dialogue beyond personal-attack Tweets. He refuses to discuss the issue with any adversaries, blocks anyone who disagrees, and never offers any science. I once attended an anti-GMO seminar in which the speaker claimed the USA’s enemies will eventually be able to stroll in and take over the country without firing a shot because GMOs will turn us into non-thinking zombies.

But even among the more measured anti-GMO types who do not foment these irrational fears, there are still misunderstandings of the process. However, there are no risks with genetically modified crops that do not occur with conventional breeding methods.

The latter can even pose more risks, and this is ironically more likely when countries ban genetically modified crops. That’s because when this happens, agricultural companies may develop new strains though mutagenesis, which requires subjecting plants to radiation or dousing them with toxic amounts of chemicals in order to randomly move genes in the hopes of producing new traits.  

Contrast this to genetic modification, where scientists take a gene that yields a desired trait then insert it into a crop that may lack this distinction. Mutagenesis is much less precise than genetic modification, yet remains unregulated, widely used, and unchallenged by Taleb, Vandana Shiva, Vani Hari, and other self-appointed guardians of food safety.  

One falsehood is that GMOs are more susceptible to producing allergens. In fact, genetically modified foods are required by regulatory agencies to be tested for their allergen presence. Any genetically-modified crops that are shown to have one cannot be sold or distributed. Meanwhile, crops that are known to be allergens to some, such as peanuts, are not subject to this regulation.    

There are also accusations that GMOs are prone to uncontrollable spread. But GM crops are produced by managing a small, precise change to a plant, making spread unlikely. Meanwhile, conventional breeding mixes thousands of genes from parent plants, then recombines them to produce mutations that could potentially increase the potential to spread.   

Perhaps the most frequent criticism is that heartless corporations are controlling GMOs. Yet large companies and conglomerates, heartless or otherwise, have their hands in all food production methods.  Whole Foods, which specializes in organic produce, brings in more than profit than most of companies Food Babe demonizes for making money off GMOs. Besides, farmers are free to use non-GM seeds, to buy seeds from corporations that sell exclusively conventional crops, to buy locally, or to form a coop.

A similar argument centers on patents, and concern over this is wrong for the same reason as above. The supposed idea is that malevolent Monsanto, satanic Syngenta, and detestable Dow will horde seeds and control the world’s food supply. Yet conventional crop variants can also be patented and corporations that work with conventional breeding will sue anyone who violates the patents.

Then we have an alleged increase in use of pesticides. But GM applications usually match a specific toxin to a certain crop, meaning that genetically-modified crops use fewer pesticides. Additionally, there are charges that genetically-modified foods will negatively impact bees and butterflies. But because these crops rely mostly on pesticides that targets a specific pest, they will no impact on other insects. In fact, bugs are more likely to be killed by broad-spectrum insecticides that are used in traditional farming.

Finally, there are fears expressed about genes moving between species. First, GM crops do not always involve the use of a transgene. They can also remove genes that would otherwise produce a toxin, or they can change genes to give the crop a desirable trait it might lack. And again, conventional crops also involve moving of genes between species. Emil Karlsson cited these examples on the website Debunking Denialism: “The conventional crop triticale is a hybrid between wheat and rye. Also, horizontal gene transfer between bacteria and plants occur in nature all the time and well-documented examples include the common sweet potato.” Yes, nature has produced a genetically-modified organism. Now there’s something for Taleb, Shiva, and Hari to freak over.