Life serial


Imagine heading toward a bright light, bathed in a warm peaceful glow, with past events floating through your wandering mind. Sounds like me heading out the front door for some fresh air during my drinking days.

But when experienced by those on the operating table or those being tended to by emergency medical technicians on the roadside, are these sensations caused by being near death or some other biological factor?

The former would suggest the possibility of an afterlife. Some persons have no doubt that such a cosmic destination awaits, but no amount of certainty in a conviction makes it so. A Muslim terrorist and hardcore atheist are equally certain what happens after death, but unshakeable belief has no bearing on the truth. So our goal today is to see if these experiences are explicable through what we know about anatomy & physiology and how the brain works.

Most attempts to study this issue have been tooth fairy science, where one tries to figure out specifics of a phenomenon before verifying that it exists. By necessity, these studies also favor anecdotes over data since there is no data to access. There is no scientific, testable, falsifiable evidence for post-mortem consciousness. There were even a few folks from those drinking days for whom evidence of pre-mortem brain activity seemed lacking.

While this is a difficult idea to research, an attempt was made by Dr. Penny Sartori. According to skeptic leader Brian Dunning, Satori put playing cards on top of operating room cabinets where they could be seen by a person from above but not by anyone who was laying back and being tended to by surgeons. There were 15 persons who had Near Death Experiences in the room, none of whom reported seeing the Queen of Hearts, Ace of Spades, or any lesser known member of the deck.     

What they did report experiencing were NDE common features, such as becoming detached from the body, having one’s life flash before them, feeling a welcoming aurora, and, most ubiquitously, floating through a tunnel toward an embracing light. Some talked of seeing deceased loved ones or religious figures. Tellingly, the former looked how they did in old family photos, while the latter’s appearance matched how they are portrayed in artwork of the patient’s culture.

Conversely, there are also anecdotes about persons being overcome with terror or dread, and encountering monsters or demons. These tales are usually downplayed or completely ignored by most NDE proponents. They prefer these to be happy tales. Infrequently, there are religious fundamentalists who embrace these putative visions of hell since it bears out their holy book. But fundies in general do not seek confirmatory evidence outside the Bible. They dismiss the potential of alien life since it’s not mentioned in their scriptures, and the same reasoning causes them to dismiss the idea of a floating through a tunnel at life’s conclusion.  

While ecstasy, a life overview, beaming lights, and meeting with deceased persons have all been considered NDE hallmarks, Dunning writes that these also occur in persons whose brain experience high levels of carbon dioxide and/or decreased oxygen. He cited research in the journal Critical Care, which showed that more than 20 percent of heart attack patients who went into cardiac arrest and were resuscitated had high carbon dioxide levels, coupled with these otherworldly experiences.

So were the visions and feelings caused by elevated CO2 levels or by their being nearly dead? Dunning wrote, “To find out which is the best correlation, we’d have to see whether an NDE can happen when one condition is present and the other is not.”

With that, he looked at research done on persons experiencing a loss of blood to the brain without risk of death. Such conditions were faced by fighter pilots placed in centrifuges in experiments do determine what happens under immense gravitational pressure. The pressure increased until the pilots lost consciousness, which happened once the brain began receiving insufficient blood. The pilots reported that while blacking out, they witnessed bright lights, floated through a tunnel, were detached from their body, and saw beautiful scenes, past events, and reconnected with departed loved ones, all while in a euphoric state. In short, it was an NDE’s carbon copy. That I can make such a dated reference shows that my own NDE may not be that far off.

The experiences of the cardiac arrest victims and fighter pilot trainees show that these phenomenon occur when the brain reaches a certain level of decreased oxygen and/or marked uptick in carbon dioxide. By contrast, NDEs are not experienced by persons barely clinging to life but whose brains have normal oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

This suggests the features occur because of temporary changes to the brain, not nearness to death. Additionally, Dunning wrote, “Some brain surgeries, most notably those for epilepsy, produce very high rates of NDE reports from patients whose lives were not in danger.”

Researchers have found other ways to produce NDE symptoms on those not moribund. Dr. Karl Jansen managed this by giving ketamine to volunteers. Also, Nature reported that when researchers gave subjects electrical stimulation to a certain part of the brain, the volunteers felt they could see themselves from above.

Finally, this week the BBC wrote of another possible explanation for some NDE occurrences. Specifically, the effects of the powerful psychedelic drug DMT causes patients to feel surrounded by a brilliant glow and to glimpse past experiences.

None of this proves there’s no life after death. It simply strong evidence that these experiences result from understood, temporary changes to brain chemistry and not from someone crossing over then being snatched back.




“Over-reaction” (Thorium power plants)


Thorium power plants are a hypothetical fuel source that could have the many benefits of nuclear power without most of the drawbacks. Unlike conspiracy theories centering on the repression of perpetual motion machines or water-fueled cars, the science behind hypothetical thorium power plants is plausible. They might be a viable alternative that could replace the need for uranium-fueled power plants.

In such locales, an energy source heats water, which creates steam, which cranks a turbine, which generates electricity. The same principle would apply to a thorium reactor but with the advantages of the source material being much more plentiful than uranium, producing less radiation, and that radiation being easier to transport. Additionally, they could not be used to make nuclear weapons since no weapons-grade fissionable material is used. This further means there is no danger of the materials being purloined by terrorist groups, organized crime, or spies and being used to needed to craft a doomsday device.

Nuclear power plants currently operating are hellaciously complex, require extensive safety protocols, produce radioactive waste, and are powered by uranium, which is in relatively limited supply.

Thorium power plants would be safe because they cannot suffer a meltdown since the fuel is already molten. It is in salt form that cannot be burned or boiled away. It has to be kept hot by continually adding fertile elements or the reaction stops.

So why aren’t thorium reactors going up around the world? According to a report by the International Atomic Agency, the gist is that while thorium reactors hold promise, there are technological hurdles to be overcome and right now, it’s easier to stick with a method that is effective, though possibly inferior. Lengthy, costly research would be needed, followed by exacting and expensive construction. It would further require manufacturing of a different type of reactor, an efficient means of deriving fuel from thorium ore, and a sure means of handling waste. It’s not simply a matter of plopping thorium pellets into existing uranium reactors and immediately harnessing the benefits.

The report laid out these obstacles: 1. Existing industrial and utility commitments to uranium reactors. 2. The lack of incentive for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services. 3. Extensive manufacturing and operating experience with uranium reactors, contrasted to their thorium counterparts. 4. The less advanced state of thorium reactor technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the concept.

Steven Novella of the New England Skeptical Society encapsulated it this way: “Until someone completely designs, builds, and operates a thorium reactor, there will continue to be a lot of speculation on many of these details,” and a reluctance to jettison what is already working. 

For some, the more scintillating answer is that a conspiratorial cabal is keeping the technology hidden or repressed. But like the electric car or hidden cancer cure theories, this falls flat when one realizes that a Shark Tank member or other venture capitalist has access to the resources, technology, and drive to make this happen. All billionaires would need to be in on this conspiracy, agree to make no  money off it, and expect their profit-driven brethren to do the same.

The means of achieving a workable thorium reactor is known, not repressed. No one is hiding it, but neither is anyone committed to overcoming the obstacles.

“Take a pill chill” (Vitamins)


There are lots of vitamins out there, in multiple forms. But in one survey, just three percent of respondents reporting using them for what would presumably be their intended use: Addressing suspected dietary deficiencies.

Whatever the other 97 percent are hoping to get out of it, there is scant evidence to suggest consumption of vitamins and mineral supplements will have substantial positive health effects. Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy chair at the University of Alberta, cited a systemic review this year which concluded that proof “for the benefit of any supplement across all dietary backgrounds was not demonstrated.”

The American Heart Association advises against taking antioxidant vitamin supplements, as no research suggests these can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, or have any similar benefit. To the contrary, excess consumption can cause harm. One study showed that 20 percent liver toxicity incidents are caused by supplements. Another paper attributed 23,000 ER visits a year to adverse reactions to these potions.  

Part of the reason may be lack of regulatory oversight. One study showed that two-thirds of herbal products contained ingredients different from what was on the label.

For those taking them, there are various ways to get vitamins and minerals to their innards: Traditional tablets, liquids, sprays, mists, patches, injections, and even vitamin-infused e-cigarettes and beer for those ambiguous about getting healthy.

But barring a clinically-identified deficiency, there is little reason to consume any of these. Some of them would make sense for those needing a specific benefit, such as women who require extra folic acid during pregnancy. Or, once the baby is born, formula fortified with iron would be advisable for infants low on this vital element.

While vitamins and minerals are necessary to good health, the AHA states that the best way to ingest them is via a balanced diet. On the AHA website, nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton writes this is because foods provide bioactive compounds and dietary fiber unavailable in supplements. That, plus some supplements inhibit the full absorption of vitamins. 

While diet is the key to getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals, not all bodies process food equally. So if a healthy, balanced diet leaves one still deficient in the potassium department, a supplement of this mineral to aid in heart and kidney health would be logical. Another example: Per the AHA, heart disease patients should consume a daily gram of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish would help with this, but it can still be hard to get this acid through diet alone, so an omega-3 supplement would be beneficial.  The key is that these are called supplements, not replacements or the end-all, and they are specific augmentations treating identified conditions.

A good diet is one that is balanced, nutritious, and which limits calories, sweets, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Do all that and there’s not much need to pop a Fred Flintstone.

“Rock star” (Coral Castle)


In southern Florida sits the Coral Castle, although it’s neither of those things. It is, however, a supremely impressive sprawling compound that serves as a testament either to one man’s ingenuity or his channeling of secret knowledge.

Whatever the inspiration, the result is a remarkable engineering feat. More than 1,000 tons of sedimentary rock had to be quarried and sculpted into items as diverse as slab walls, tables, chairs, telescopes, barbeques, water fountains, wells, sun dials, bathtubs, beds, obelisks, and simulated planets, stars, and crescent moons.

The coral pieces from which the structure takes its name are relatively recent additions to the property. Most of the items are instead made from oolitic limestone and are set on top of each other so that their weight fuses the pieces. They were crafted with such precision and attention to detail that light is incapable of passing through them.

The park originally featured a perfectly-balanced stone gate that, despite its massive weight, would swing open with the push of a youngster’s finger. When it stopped working in 1986, workers removed the gate and realized it had rotated on a metal shaft and rested on a truck bearing. With this singular exception, the mechanics behind the castle’s construction and mechanics remain a mystery.

The structure is even more impressive when one learns it was built by one man, Edward Leedskalnin, who labored for 28 years on its construction. Each piece was quarried, cut, moved, and positioned by Leedskalnin, who continued to expand it until his death in 1951. He never revealed his methods. As to the why, he only hinted that it was spurred by his being lovelorn.

Some enthusiasts contend Leedskalnin accomplished this through means more sci-fi than scientific. Candidates include perpetual motion, vortex energy, harnessing the full power of the atom, or advanced magnetism and electricity that allowed him to levitate the blocks.

Leedskalnin never allowed persons watch his construction, though a few furtive photographs were taken. Some suspect he worked in private to protect his secrets related to telekinesis or other supernatural abilities. It is essentially saying, “I don’t know, therefore a magical technology did it.”

Among those with this mindset, some suggest Leedskalnin tapped into the cutting edge, while others think he uncovered a lost knowledge of the ancients. Let’s squeeze in a critical thinking lesson here. The cutting-edge idea is the logical fallacy of Appealing to Novelty, where a product or idea is deemed better because it is modern, even seemingly futuristic; the long-lost knowledge idea is its twin fallacy, the Appeal to Antiquity. Here, the idea that something has been around for so long is touted as evidence it works. Both notions are mistaken. How long something has existed as no bearing on its efficiency.

And the ideas that led to the Coral Castle are probably capable of being understood and known.  Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning profiled Wally Wallington, a retired construction worker whose backyard manufacturing of Stonehenge replicas provided a possible window to some of Leedskalnin’s techniques. Wallington’s equipment consisted of sticks and stones and he employed no wheels, cranes, pulleys, metals, or machinery. Through his ingenuity and erudite use of gravity, he could move multi-ton blocks with seemingly little effort

Therefore, impressive structures can be done solo and without magic. As to the Coral Castle, one clue offered on its website is that Leedskalnin could move the blocks since he “understood the laws of weight and leverage well,” a method that would be similar to Wallington’s.

Photos of Leedskalnin at work show blocks being moved by a series of chains, tripods made from telephone poles, and a block-and-tackle system. According to skeptic leader Benjamin Radford, this system “allowed Archimedes to lift an entire warship full of men using only a block and tackle and his strength.”

Meanwhile, Dunning wrote that creating a structure like the Coral Castle today could probably be accomplished in a few months with a construction crew and modern machinery. Leedskalnin took much longer, but he was toiling alone using picks, winches, ropes, tripods, pulleys, and leverage principles.

Leedskalnin’s background prepared him for this Herculean effort. He grew up in a family of stone masons and worked as a lumberjack, so his interest in and knowledge of quarrying, cutting, carving, and moving large stones and trees would render unnecessary any mystical powers.

Those who prefer narratives centering on aliens, vortex energy, reverse magnetism, and levitation argue maybe he used the laws and physics AND accessed an unknown superpower. And I might be typing this with mind power, but until I show that ability under controlled conditions, it is not a claim to be seriously entertained.


“For real, people?” (Flat Earth)


The notion of equal time is legitimate when it comes to opinion, but not when it comes to fact. Creationists call for equal time in taxpayer-funded schools but they are promoting a position that is unfalsifiable, untestable, and unprovable, short of the biblical god descending from the heavens and showing us how it works. While such equal time efforts have failed, southern states, particularly Louisiana, continue to try and skirt the law.

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s equally-backward neighbor, Texas, has textbooks which teach Moses was a U.S. Founding Father. Supporters say this inclusion is justified because of the American justice being inspired by the 10 Commandments. These claims are not on shaky ground, they are at the epicenter of an 8-richter earthquake. Only two of the 10 Commandments are also laws, and those – murder and stealing – are crimes in every jurisdiction worldwide.

The truth being denied to Texas schoolchildren is that the Constitution was assembled from the ideas of ancient Rome, the Magna Carta, the Enlightenment, the Mayflower Compact, the House of Burgesses, the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. As to Moses and his tablets influencing U.S. law, contrast the First Amendment to the First Commandment. The former guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all; the latter mandates worship of the Abrahamic god. Yet Texas schoolchildren are learning that U.S. legal system stems from the ideas of Moses instead of John Locke, whose Letters Concerning Toleration served as a blueprint for the Constitution’s assurance that church and state shall not be intertwined.

Considering this anti-fact victory and inexhaustible attempts to get creationism taught in biology class, it seems only a matter of time before calls for Flat Earth equal time are heard. As such, it pays to be prepared for this eventual absurdity.

One of the first pieces of evidence for a circular planet was noticed by Aristotle when he saw that a ship’s top was the first vessel part viewed when it approached from the horizon. Were Earth flat, Aristotle realized, we would see the front of the ship first. Since then, we have managed manned space flights, global positioning systems, and pictures of a round Earth, none of which is enough to convince some persons about its shape. So here are some more arguments if you ever need them.

Earth’s round shadow is cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse. The flat Earth retort is usually that, rather than Earth, an unknown mysterious object is casting the shadow. This mystery object has magic powers, as it gets this close to Earth without having its gravity affect our planet. This mystery-object answer is a synopsis of the Flat Earth position. In his Forbes article addressing Flat Earth arguments, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel noted that a person cannot be reasoned out of something they didn’t reason themselves into. So it’s OK to make these points known, just be aware that they are unlikely to change Flat Earth minds.

A lesser-heard claim regarding lunar eclipses is that Earth is indeed casting its shadow, but what appears to be a ball is actually a plate as if viewed from the top. But the image is always the same, which would only be possible only if the sun-Flat Earth-moon positioning were identical during every eclipse. This would further necessitate eclipses occurring at the same time of night during every instance.

With regard to solar eclipses, Flat Earthers armed with a flashlight and plate argue that the moon’s shadow should be bigger than the moon since the image on the wall is larger than the plate during their experiment. However, the sun is a distant, diffuse light source instead of a nearby point source, so this analogy is mistaken.

Another argument in the round Earth arsenal is that the moon looks different depending on which side of the equator the moon gazer is on. The perspective will be different owing to the planet’s curvature. Similarly, different stars are visible from different latitudes. In Canada, persons can see the Big and Little Dippers and the Pleiades, while those in Chile are never afforded those views. Likewise, Chilean astronomers can see Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross, sky gazing sights denied to those north of the Equator. Were Earth flat and stationary, we would all see the same sky images.

When Charles and Marjory Johnson were profiled on the NBC program Real People in the late 1970s, they were the only two members of the International Flat Earth Society. The organization had blossomed to 3,500 by the time Mr. Johnson died 21 years later and the Internet, which ironically sometimes employs satellite technology, has enabled the movement to rise again, although not high enough for its members to see Earth’s shape.

Adopting this position requires more than asserting the planet’s form. Insisting on flatness requires a very long series of ad hoc rationalizations since a round, rotating Earth explains seasons, varying amounts of daylight throughout the year, light and dark cycles, and eclipses. All this must be rationalized away to make a flat Earth work.

As such, Flat Earthers think the moon and sun are close to our planet, are each 32 miles in diameter, and move in a perpetual circular path around the North Pole. This creative argument is used to try and explain why it’s light and dark in different places, but it fails to consider Antarctica, which is omitted from Flat Earth maps. Nor does this argument account for daylight lasting longer depending on the time of year and latitude. If the Flat Earther explanation was correct, there would be equal amount of light and dark each day in all parts of the planet. 

The Flat Earth map also contains many spacing errors. For instance, Chile and New Zealand are about 2.5 times farther from each other than they are on a globe, whose distances we know are correct because of flight times. On a Flat Earth, pilots flying from Auckland to Santiago would go over Galveston, Texas, and the trip would take nearly 30 hours.  

These pilots would need to be in on the fix, as would be astronauts, GPS manufacturers, satellite manufacturers, and high-altitude jumper Felix Baumgartner. Flat Earthers point out that these persons receive fortune or fame from maintaining the global conspiracy, but in so doing commit one of the most common conspiracy theorist mistakes: Presuming that benefiting from means being responsible for. Persons who sold their stock market investments in September 1929 benefited from this decision but that does not mean they caused the Crash. None of the nearly million persons that would be necessary to continue this hoax have come forward and it would require the Soviet Union knowingly allowing the United States to falsely claim winning the race to the moon. As to high-altitude photos, Flat Earthers offer the comical reasoning that they are taken with a fish eye lens, even though the planet is the only object in the pictures so affected.

Then we have circumnavigation. Flat Earthers claim circumnavigators are merely going in broad circles around the North Pole, which they consider to be in the middle of the planet. This is a lie, as Magellan’s crew and subsequent seafarers have gone roughly east or west the entire trip and ended up back where they started. Flat Earthers insist north-south navigation has never been done, but Sir Ranulph Fiennes accomplished this from 1979-1982. When I pointed this out to a believer, his response was that “Sir” provided the relevant clue, as Fiennes had been awarded knighthood for his part in the perpetuating the myth. This, even though in 1979, only a few hundred Earthly inhabitants thought their planet was flat, eliminating any need for myth-strengthening.

Next, consider different seasons. I wish I had done so when I traveled from Hawaii to Sydney in June and forgot about this. I showed up wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the winter. I had to put the opera house and kangaroo watching on hold and make  a clothing store my first stop. The yearly orbit of Earth around the sun explains the change in seasons and seasons being reversed in Hawaii and Australia. This could not happen on an planet that perpetually remained at the same angle to the sun.

Additionally, Siegel noted that viewers on the peak of Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s highest point, cannot see Kawaikini, which sits on Kauai. Kawaikini is 303 miles away and could be viewed if Earth were flat. But with a curved Earth, the line-of-sight limit is at 233 miles.

The modern Flat Earth movement may have been launched by Samuel Shenton, who was still in a round Earth mindset when he designed a dirigible he thought could lift off from England, hover for a few hours, then land in North America, since Earth would rotate beneath his floating vehicle. This comical attempt failed because the atmosphere and anything in it moves with Earth. To overcome this force, energy such as is expended by an airplane is needed. Rather than admitting this embarrassing gaffe, Shenton insisted he had discovered a repressed truth, and he dedicated the rest of what passed for his life to Flat Earth evangelism.

On another point, mass attracts objects to it. Siegel wrote, “The force of attraction between two objects depends on their mass and the distance between them. Gravity will pull toward the center of mass of the objects. On a sphere’s surface, gravity will pull you toward the sphere’s center of mass: straight down. Since a sphere has a consistent shape, no matter where on it you stand, you have exactly the same amount of sphere under you. By contrast, the center of mass of a flat plane is in its center, so the force of gravity will pull anything on the surface toward the middle of the plane.” So on a Flat Earth, Newton would have never been hit by that apple, which would have been flung sideways.

The Flat Earth Society retort to this is, “Sphere earth gravity is not tenable in any way shape or form,” an assertion it supports with no research, experiments, or evidence. Again, you can lead them to the scientific waters, but you can’t make them drink. 


“Milking it” (Baby formula fears)


When my children were born, the biggest decision for me was figuring out which stuffed animal to buy for the crib. But their mother, already suffering through mental and physical anguish, had to decide whether to feed by breast, bottle, or both. The pressure to do the first can be substantial, based on the notion it is always best. Going this route means further taxing exhausted new mothers since, despite their bundle of joy status, newborns need nursed about 10 times a day. These feedings may happen at 3 a.m. or 11 p.m., and while mothers can sleep while fathers handle formula feedings, only the maternal antecedent can perform nursing duties.

The reason well-meaning folks laud breastfeeding is because infants so nourished  show lower lifetime rates of asthma, cancer, and diabetes, as well as having fewer instances of infancy infections and mortality.

Similarly, Emily Oster at 538 cited a study of 345 Scandinavians which compared IQ scores for children who had been breastfed for less than three months with those who had been breastfed more than six months. The authors found that the children who nursed for longer had higher IQ scores.

But, as always, we must consider correlation and causation. In the developed world, women who breastfeed tend more to be nonsmokers, educated, affluent, and given better access to quality health care. Mothers with those distinctions who choose formula see no more health problems in their offspring than those who breastfeed.

In the Scandinavian study, breastfeeding mothers were wealthier, better educated, and had higher IQ scores than those in the other group.  Once researchers accounted for these variables, the seeming advantage of nursing evaporated.

Now let’s consider mothers in the developing world. There, breast milk substitutes are often prepared without clean water and in unsanitary conditions. Health issues for their newborns arise because of the environment and what the formula was mixed with, not the formula itself.

Because breastfeeding is wrongly presumed always be best, mothers can be guilted into acquiescing, and this can lead to further problems. Science writer Kavin Senapathy noted there is occasionally an issue with some mother’s breastmilk supply immediately after birth, especially for first-time moms. According to Senapathy, about 15 percent of mothers are incapable of producing enough milk, so if they rely entirely on this source, their baby may suffer dehydration, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, and excess sodium in their blood.

Senapathy cited Hannah Awadzi, a Ghanaian whose daughter experienced jaundice and hypoglycemia while Awadzi exclusively breastfed her despite inadequate milk supplies. This led to the daughter’s cerebral palsy. Yet Awadzi’s only other option had been formula mixed with deplorable-quality water. Awadzi had no decent alternative, but if having a good choice, formula would be the way to go in cases like this.

To see if perceptible difference result from breastfeeding and formula use, we can look at studies in which breastfeeding is assigned randomly to subjects, or ones where adjustments are made for differences among women being tested.

One example comes from Belarus, where women were randomized into two groups. For those in the first group, breastfeeding was encouraged; in the second group, it was not. Infants in the breastfed group had fewer gastrointestinal infections and were less likely to experience eczema. However, there were no significant differences in any other studied outcomes, such as respiratory ailments, ear infections, croup, wheezing, infant mortality, allergies, asthma, cavities, height, blood pressure, obesity, and mental issues.

Another study, published in Social Science & Medicine, compared breastfed children with their siblings who had been given formula. In the health and behavior outcomes that were examined, researchers detected no differences. This is crucial because siblings are on equal ground with regard to their environment and their mother’s parenting style, wealth, education, and health. And if breastfeeding made the difference that proponents claim, there would be universal pronounced detriments among those who were adopted at birth.

There are advantages to breastfeeding, including, cost, convenience, and bonding. But babies being nursed won’t enjoy health benefits over those given formula and they will sleep just as well next to whatever stuffed animal Daddy has chosen.  


“Feat of clay” (Ionithermie)


There are many forms of alternative medicine, most of them cheaper than ionithermie, since it is primarily available on ocean cruise liners. Wherever one receives the treatment, it is touted as a means of removing cellulite, toning skin, and slimming waistlines.

In these sessions, customers are wrapped in a mix of herbs and seaweed before having a dry brush applied to their skin. Next they shower, then lay on a pad covered with algae-infused clay. The skin to be treated is then covered with this clay, which act as conductor when a current is applied to it.

Jeff Wagg of Skeptoid queried an ionithermie practitioner about the cellulite claims. She wrote that through galvanism, which is the contracting of muscles being stimulated by an electrical current, clay will be forced into the body. There, the clay makes a beeline for cellulite and commences to zapping it. In truth, the dermis keeps most foreign substances out of the body. Any clay will almost certainly stay on the outside. Further, misusing a genuine scientific word, in this case galvanism, is a typical ploy in alt-med circles.

As for slimming, if you wrap any part of your body tight enough that it sweats for a prolonged period, that particular part will shrink, but revert to its normal size the next day.

Wagg found another practitioner who wrote that ionithermie will “detoxify the body at the cellular level. Over one million treatments are performed annually worldwide and it is offered on more than 100 cruise liners around the world.”

That last sentence is the ad populum fallacy. Perhaps that many customers are receiving the treatment, but what are they getting out of it? And the only detoxing taking place is what the liver and kidneys are doing and this applies whether or not one is enveloped in fine-grain earthy material while floating toward Bora Bora.

The practitioner further proclaimed that, “Just one session and your favorite dress fits perfectly again,” and that the product is “100 percent chemical-free and enriched by the healing powers of natural amber and silver that can make your skin look delicious!”

Thinking it is chemical-free reveals scientific ignorance and the references to amber and silver represent the naturalist fallacy. Anything you put into your body or on your skin is going to contain chemicals, regardless of how natural, organic, silky, or sweet-smelling it is. Often times, the claims of being natural are false since mankind has improved the product in the field or in a laboratory. More importantly, nature merely means occurring in nature and this distinction has no bearing on safety. On a positive note for the practitioners, the “delicious-looking skin” imagery may help them with the cannibal demographic.