Creative math

Creationists sometimes try to incorporate math into their arguments. The use of Greek letters, complex formulas, and arithmetic jargon might seem to make an impressive argument, or at least a confusing one, depending on one’s mathematical abilities.

In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, Jason Rosenhouse identifies three ways creationists use a numbers-based approach: Through the fields of probability theory, information theory, and combinatorial search.

With regard to the first of these, find yourself a quarter. Or a Walking Liberty Half Dollar if preferring more of a scavenger hunt. Flip it and there is a 50/50 chance of if landing heads and 50/50 that it hits on tails. Although in a backyard football game once, I called for the coin to land on its side, and it did by getting stuck vertically in the muddy ground. Let a mathematician somewhere calculate the odds on that one.

At any rate, one anti-evolutionist assertion goes thusly: Genes are a sequence of DNA bases represented by the letters A, C, G, and T. The genes can further be seen as a series of letters, comparable to repeated tossings of the Walking Liberty. Therefore, if a specific gene results in 100 straight bases, that occurrence is too remote to be chance, and therefore intelligent design is responsible.

First, this is the god of the gaps fallacy. More importantly, this argument is based on the mistaken notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process similar to flipping coins. But as Rosenhouse noted, natural selection is a non-random process and this impacts the probability of specific genes evolving.

Using analogous coins again, Rosenhouse asks us to envision tossing 100 of them simultaneously. Getting all of them to hit on heads at once would require exponentially more attempts than one could manage in a million lifetimes. But if we are allowed to put aside the 50 or so that landed on heads, then re-toss the rest, then do the same with the roughly 25 that are left, then the 12.5 and so on, we would have 100 heads within a few minutes. Under this procedure, we would have all heads after an average of seven coin-flipping iterations. “The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second,” Rosenhouse explained.

Now we move on to how creationists end up wrongly thinking that complex functions like flagellum (which some bacteria use to propel themselves) points to design. By way of note, the flagellum comprises numerous individual proteins working in concert. Creationists insist that this function being arrived at by chance is too remote to be reasonable. But evolution does not have an end-point in mind and the flagellum, while irreducibly complex, could have served another function in a less-advanced stage.

So creationists sometimes try another approach, employing information theory. They argue that genes encode meaningful information, and insist that such information is indicative of design. This is another instance of the god of the gaps fallacy, besides being an affirming of the consequent. Beyond that, this posits that natural processes can only lead to erosion and eventual collapse. Therefore, creationists continue, complex genetic information cannot be natural.

However, known mechanisms are adequate to explain genetic information growth via evolutionary processes. For example, Rosenhouse wrote, “When a gene duplicates itself, it leaves the organism with two copies of a gene that had occurred only once. The second copy is capable of acquiring mutations without harming the organism since the first gene still maintains the initial function.”

That leaves creationists with trying to embrace what is known as a combinatorial search. According to Rosenhouse, during the evolutionary process, the potential number of possible gene sequences is staggeringly high. But, he continues, this is irrelevant since natural selection “shifts the probability distribution dramatically toward the functional sequences and away from the nonfunctional sequences.”

So while claiming to embrace mathematics, creationists are instead accepting only select parts they find convenient, and even then, are misapplying it.

“Sad Discover-y” (Magazine’s embrace of pseudoscience)

Discover Magazine, which I have subscribed to for a quarter century, had long been a vanguard against pseudoscience and Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). To my great mortification, this has ceased to be the case in recent months. The publication has published two mostly credulous and fawning pieces on energy healing. It did so without explaining what type of energy was at play, how the energy was accessed, how it transferred from practitioner to subject, what units the energy is measured in, or how an overdose would be prevented.

In the magazine’s most recent issue, writer Amy Paturel credits Healing Touch with easing her toddler’s labored breathing. While this no doubt had a strong emotional impact on Paturel, this is an instance of subjective validation, where something seems real because of a personal experience. It is also an instance of post hoc reasoning, which is a regular staple of SCAM since it is often embraced when mainstream medicine has failed. Many illnesses and conditions are cyclical and the situation would have resolved on its own. So SCAM seems to work since a few days have gone by while other approaches were tried. It is telling that Paturel recalled experiencing “feelings of helplessness” and as being “desperate and with little to lose” when deciding to try Healing Touch.

She describes what is little more than a secular version of faith healing: “Lisa Thompson, a pediatric nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, began moving her hands a few inches above us. Within minutes, beeping machines quieted. Jack’s heart rate steadied. For the first time in 10 days, we both caught our collective breath, and Jack fell asleep. During the 30-minute session, Thompson’s hands never even made contact with Jack’s body.”

Included was no explanation for how this work, nor any description of a plausible mechanism behind it. It is merely an anecdote, which Discover once realized was no substitute for double blind studies.

The downward spiral continues, as Paturel embraces the Appeal to Tradition fallacy. She writes, “During ancient times, ‘laying on of hands’ served as first-line therapy for people who were suffering.” Later, she writes glowingly of such ideas having been used in “India and China for thousands of years.”

She rattles off concepts that previously would have appeared in Discover only if the magazine were explaining their implausibility and unproven natures: Biofield Therapy, acupuncture, life force, Qigong, Prana, Chi, and Reiki.

She quotes Mimi Guarneri, president of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, as saying, “These therapies are based on the idea that the body has a biofield system, not unlike the circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems.”

Guarneri supports this assertion with no evidence or research. What she praises is an unproven concept at best and dangerous and unethical at worst. A patient favoring treatment based on a non-existent system could bypass authentic medicine.

The article closes on a tragic-comic note, with Paturel relating that she used the technique to combat her son’s stomach bug. Fortunately, she also went to a hospital to have the child treated. But while there she “called to mind a tree, rooted my feet into the ground and put my hands to work.”

By using both a pediatrician and woo, no real harm was done. But there is a chance that she would credit Healing Touch with the healing done by the genuine treatment and bypass the latter down the road.

This was Discover’s second embrace of SCAM in the last few months. In the final issue of 2021, it ran an article by Sara Novak entitled, “The truth behind your chakras.” My article would have been much shorter: “It’s a lie.”

Paturel cited a few studies, occasionally veered into skepticism, referenced the placebo effect, and wondered if the positive results occurred because of relaxation rather than medicine. Novak, by contrast, offered a full-on embrace of nonsense.

She lauded Reiki, which she called a success. She credulously wrote of chakras as “vital centers of energy that exist in all of us” and as “spinning energy vortexes” – never specifying which type of energy or how it is detected or measured. Nor was there any listing of active ingredients that would help the charkas serve as medicine. There were however, references to Vedic, Tantric, and Hindu texts from nearly 4000 years ago. The further back, the better when appealing to tradition, and the father away, the better when appealing to the exotic.

Check out this New Age Word Salad that is worthy of Dr. Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow: “The seven main chakras are supposedly stacked upwards on top of one another along the spine, starting with the root chakra at the base of the spine; the sacral chakra just below the belly button; the solar plexus on the upper abdomen; the heart chakra at the center of the chest; the throat chakra at the throat; the third eye chakra located between the eyes on the forehead; and the crown chakra on top of the head.”

The article even includes this graphic, which leaves all doubt about Discover having jumped the pseudoscientific shark:

The gobbledygook goes on for several paragraphs without ever saying anything meaningful, scientific, or testable. It is merely a meandering string of gibberish, wild claims, and undefined terms and concepts. Novak makes reference to “blocks” and “balance” without showing any evidence that these exist or explaining any mechanisms behind them. The periodical that once managed to explain a wide breadth of scientific fields in understandable terms without dumbing it down now publishes this: “An imbalanced sacral chakra is associated with fertility issues and a blocked throat chakra means you have trouble expressing yourself.”

Discover previously published 12 issues a year, which became 10, and is now 8. And from this point, the number of times it will be arriving in my mailbox is zero.

“No Thing Coal” (Fire walking)

Fire walking could more accurately be referred to as coal brisk-pacing. It refers to traipsing barefoot across hot coals, rocks, or cinders without suffering harm. It is often employed in religious rituals or in New Age mind-over-matter seminars.

However, there is nothing mystical about it. It is merely conductivity and physics in action. While the objects themselves are hot, they conduct heat poorly. Therefore, someone spending just a few seconds crossing the pit will usually escape unscathed. By way of comparison, imagine an oven set at 350 degrees for baking macadamia nut cookies. Mmmmmm, cookies. After a few minutes, both the air inside the oven and the pan that houses the cookies will be at the same temperature. But while one could safely put one’s hand in the oven, touching the pan would be extremely painful and potentially harmful. That’s because air has a low heat capacity and little ability in the thermal conductivity department. Metal, by contrast, being much denser than air, is an efficient conductor of heat and would burn any idiot who touches it.

Bob Nixon of Australian Skeptics explains, “The difference comes from the ability of various substances to conduct or transfer heat. Air is a very poor conductor of heat, (whereas) metal conducts heat with great efficiency, even though the temperate of the oven air and the container are the same.”

As this relates to fire-walking spectacles, 1,100-degree coals will not usually burn a person’s feet, provided the participant performs more of a jaunt than a leisurely stroll. This is because coals have a low heat capacity and they serve as good thermal insulators. In addition, ash remnants from the burnt charcoal is likewise a poor heat conductor. Also, firewalkers often wet their feet beforehand, which makes burns even less likely.

Combine the poor heat conductivity with the scant time spent crossing the pit and one ends up with a seemingly miraculous movement over burning coals.

“The average human foot will happily be in contact with a glowing wood coal for about a second before sufficient heat is transferred to burn the flesh,” Nixon said. “The average step takes about half a second so for most people, so it is possible to take two steps with each foot before a dangerous amount of heat has built up.”

Burns can still occur under specific circumstances, i.e. a person with thin soles taking too much time to cross on coals that are hotter than usual. But this confluence seldom occurs since those running the show take steps to avoid it and they give explicit instructions to the walkers on how to cross.

“Blue it” (Huggy Wuggy and Disney hysterias)

Today we will consider two recent moral panics, one comical and the other crossing into dangerous territory. For the former, we take a look at the hullabaloo surrounding Huggy Wuggy, the titular character from a video game. That particular entertainment form has been panicking parents since around the advent of Pong.

The latest menace is a blue-tinted, fanged monster who sings about hugging people until they breathe their last and other fatal notions. The online universe if full of warnings about this deceitful teddy bear who fixates on physical embraces and murder. These are accompanied by anecdotes of children emulating Huggy Wuggy’s wayward example. Other rumors have the terrible teddy encouraging patricide and suicide, while less alarming stories focus on his obscenity and alcohol abuse.

Huggy Wuggy also appears in the video game Poppy Playtime, which centers on a former toy factory worker who returns to his place of employment. There, Huggy Wuggy and other anthropomorphic toys stalk the former employee. Additionally, there are fan-made videos featuring Huggy Wuggy that would upset some preschoolers. But these do not target children and are, in fact, rated as Teen or Mature.

A Rolling Stone investigation found no Huggy Wuggy videos on YouTube but some on TikTok, which is aimed at those 13 and over. Some of those show Huggy Wuggy videos, though none encourage harm to self or others.

Like previous moral panics, the warnings are being repeated without the speaker first having ascertained that the phenomenon exists. Those warnings are then treated as the proof in future retellings.

Now onto the dangerous. When Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill was signed, Disney’s too-little, too-late response was to object once the legislation became law. The collective response from the right has been an unending chorus consisting entirely of “groomer.” This word refers to someone who targets a child for sexual abuse and works his or her way into their life and eventually begins molesting them. It does not refer to objecting to a specific piece of legislation. Reason writer Scott Shackleford has been labeled a pedophile and child molester by online commentators, based on his having contrary opinions to the posters. This is what passes for political dialogue in 2022. In these circles, saying “groomer” is considered reasoned discourse and the claim is itself presented as its own proof.

Vice noted that right wing walk show hosts now label anyone opposed to anti-LGBT legislation to be a groomer or even a pedophile. Much like Robin DeAngelo labeling all whites to be racist, this groomer/pedophile umbrella is so massive that it encompasses 60 percent of the population and thus loses all meaning. In the most extreme corners, far-right agitators are doxing school officials, Disney officials, and Democratic politicians, claiming without any evidence, that they are facilitating the sexual abuse of children or committing the acts themselves. These rants include posting the address of the targeted, along with calls to torture them or subject them to an extrajudicial execution. That’s a lot scarier than any blue fanged monster.

“Cancer culture” (Diseased mummies)

One myth prevalent among alternative medicine enthusiasts is that cancer only came along relatively recently. The insinuation is that the disease is caused by contemporary perniciousness like processed foods, modern lifestyles, and agriculture developments.

Some proponents of this hypothesis cite a publication by anthropologists A.R. David and M.R. Zimmerman. But prolific skeptic blogger Orac notes that theirs is an opinion piece, not a scholarly scientific study.

The duo claimed there was only one case of cancer found among hundreds of mummies, so this shows that, if not nonexistent, cancer was at least much rarer a few thousand years ago. Orac counters that the average Ancient Egyptian lifespan lasted barely a quarter-century, which is one-third of what modern Westerners enjoy.

Cancer, being a disease that primarily afflicts the elderly, would be just as infrequent among 25-year-old Chicagoans today as it was among those who watched the Pyramids being built. Further, mummies were limited to the elite class and thus did not represent a broad cross-section of Egyptian society. Moreover, Orac wrote that mummification includes removal of the organs, which is where most cancer incidents arise. Beyond all this, there are ancient writings that allude to cancer and its treatments.

Cancer has always been with humans because it results from genetics, random mutation, viruses, obesity, and non-environmental factors. There are some modern developments that might make cancer more likely in specific instances, but that is far different than it being entirely a new phenomenon.

Still, professor Rosalie David asserts that, “In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”

Yet, as Orac points out, the natural environment includes radon, UV light, aflatoxin, HPV, and hepatitis B, all of which can lead to cancer.

But the biggest factor is aging. As humans grow older, their bodies are more subject to genetic error, as well as having more time to come into contact with carcinogens. About three in four cancer cases occur in those 60 and over. If we were looking at only those 25 and under, the incidents of cancer would be as rare as they were among Ancient Egyptians.

That’s not so say modern lifestyles can’t play a role in one getting cancer. Being sedentary, smoking, and obese can all play a role. But King Tut lighting up, lying around, and pigging out would have left him just as vulnerable.

“The nth powerless” (N-Rays)

Frenchman René Blondlot worked as a physicist in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He is most known for a claimed discovery of a radiation type that he dubbed N-Rays.

Dozens of other scientists seemingly confirmed the N-rays existence but it was eventually determined that they don’t exist. Several subject matter experts had come to same erroneous conclusion. Anti-science individuals and conspiracy theorists are fond of this tale, thinking it gives them ammunition in their insistence that the field is corrupt or at least incompetent. But as is always the case, it is the scientific process that uncovers and corrects the error. We only know that N-Rays are nonexistent because of scientists.

Bondlot had deduced that purported N-rays were exhibiting seemingly impossible properties, yet were still being emitted by all substances except green wood and a few treated metals. He claimed to have generated the rays using a hot wire inside an iron tube. The N-rays were thought to be invisible except when viewed as they hit the treated thread.

While French scientists whom Blondlot knew and worked with had had the same results, German and English scientists were unable to replicate his findings. Troubled by this inconsistency, editors at Nature magazine decided to look deeper into the claims. This highlights the importance of peer review and submitting one’s findings to subject matter experts.

The magazine sent American physicist Robert Wood to look delve into the mystery. Without telling Blondlot, Wood removed the prism from the N-ray detection device. Without the prism, the machine failed to produce the rays. But when a Blondlot assistant conducted the same experiment, he claimed to see the N-rays. Wood had implemented the type of control that Blondlot and his associates should have. Additionally, they should have assigned a neutral party to oversee the experiment. These measures would have enabled a proper double blind study to be conducted. Simply put, Blondlot’s sketchy science had been supplanted by Wood’s better science.

The field learns from its mistakes, as evidenced by the fact that Blondlot and the N-Ray concept are little remembered today. Scientists, being human, will make mistakes and miscalculations, but when proper science is repeatedly done, the truth will come out.

“Branch Floridians” (DeSantis deaths)

Florida governor and national embarrassment Ron DeSantis hosted a parade of lies and misinformation masquerading as a COVID roundtable. Only doctors selected by DeSantis were allowed to attend. While “roundtable” connotes an open exchange of views, this panel featured doublespeak and allowed no deviation from the script.

The farce was dubbed “Closing the Curtain COVID Theater.” Theater is a rather innocuous term to describe the spread of an airborne virus that has killed 5 million people – a number that would be markedly lower if everyone had taken known preventive measures.

Skeptic leader Dr. David Gorski reviewed the heavily-orchestrated spectacle, which was led by DeSantis and his henchman, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Though an appointed position, surgeon general is one government role that should always be apolitical and should certainly not promote the anti-health, anti-science positions favored by the head of state government.

But that’s what Ladapo has done, even going so far as using the forum to announce that Florida advises against vaccinating minors against COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 1,000 American children. Some of you Kindergartners may die but that’s a risk Ladapo is willing to take. DeSantis chimed in with, “We are not just going to follow the CDC in the state of Florida. … We’re going to do our own stuff.” Ain’t no science gonna tell him what to do. And while he has sometimes advertised himself as a champion for choice, his actions bely that claim. Witness his childish berating of mask-wearing high schoolers as an example.

One phrase heard throughout the roundtable was “Urgency of Normal,” a euphemism for abandoning all coronavirus mitigation measures. No masks, no vaccines, no social distancing, no remote learning. Makes you wonder what their stance on hand-washing is. Orwellian claims that lockdowns are more dangerous than the virus were trumpeted and panelists insisted the nation should let COVID spread unchecked in order to pave the way for herd immunity. As to the immunocompromised and elderly, screw them, DeSantis needs to get a haircut.

Gorski noted this mindset’s similarity to a Brady Bunch episode favored by anti-vaxxers since it treats measles as no big deal – an annoying but harmless rite of passage. Yet Gorksi noted that before the vaccine, 48,000 people a year were hospitalized for the measles, 4,000 of those developed encephalitis, and about 450 patients died. Gorsksi argued that treating pre-vaccine measles or COVID as minor issues – since most who contract them survive – is akin to eugenics.

Gorski wrote, “Our response to COVID-19 uses the familiar blueprint of eugenics, with predictable consequences for the captive and vulnerable, who are pushed to the side, ignored, or sacrificed for the ‘greater good.’ This devalues the lives of those who are less than perfect, less than healthy, by in essence telling everyone who is healthy that they don’t have to worry and shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice anything to protect who are less than healthy and at high risk.” To be sure, the “pro-life” crowd has been anything but on this one.

“TikTok Sheeple” (Attorneys Generals social media investigation)

More than a half dozen state attorneys general are investigating TikTok to try and determine if the social media giant is violating consumer protection laws. Their main concern is whether app is harming them there young’uns, and what the company’s executives know about this. Expressing concern for the entire throng, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey lamented that TikTok “may harm their physical health and mental wellbeing.”

But as Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out, if use of TikTok or another social media product is leaving kids to careening out of control and undergoing psychological torment, it is likely the result of negative interactions with other users. It is probably a correlation/causation error or post hoc reasoning to necessarily blame the site. People can be cruel in person, on the phone, or in a text. It is hardly confined to social media. A user, especially a tween or teen, may feel left out, scorned, or jealous after an hour on TikTok, but they might be in the same situation after experiencing negativity elsewhere.

“These are issues of human nature, not technological issues,” Brown wrote. “You could feel it looking through magazines, attending school, or walking down the street, seeing an ad that makes one self-conscious, or a video game you keep losing.”

Detractors will tie TikTok use to subsequent negative behavior, but Brown noted that it is probable that “self-doubt, sadness, or social isolation may drive young people to partake in more” of the regrettable behavior. Youth who are balanced, centered, extroverted, and active are more likely to demonstrate positive traits, but their being so after using TikTok would never be used to site the app as the reason for their emotional wellbeing. It is likewise just as erroneous to blame TikTok for undesirable traits and negative behavior.

So when politicians or others talk of mandating changes to algorithms or restricting certain types of advertisements, they are putting a Band-Aid on a decapitation. Such actions are failing to address the cause of the issue and these measures would do little if anything to fix it. If an anorexic young girl feels overweight no matter what the scales say, a ban of diet food advertising won’t change this. The same precept applies to trying to social media usage.

“Drip pan” (Nutrient infusions)

Drip therapy is the latest alt-med craze. It is akin to an IV, though with far less tangible benefits. During a session, customers receive a liquid injection into their forearm. As to what that liquid consists of, “nutrients” is the vague, standby answer. Of course, one can get nutrients via eating and drinking, but drip therapy carries the promise of delivering those benefits straight to the body, thus bypassing the gut.

According to Nick Tiller in the Skeptical Inquirer, practitioners wear stereotypical white coats, carry clipboards, and have their customers recline in chairs resembling those at the dentist. This presents a veneer of medical respectability and practitioners likewise dress themselves with language which sounds scientific, but which are in fact pseudoscience buzzwords, such as immunity booster, detox, energy, healing, and fitness.

So it’s not surprising that they commit an error than a genuine nutritionist would not. As Tiller noted, “Millions of years of evolution gave us a gastrointestinal tract fully able to digest and absorb all the nutrients we need for normal metabolic function.” So nature – which the likes of drip therapists often wrongly tout as always desirable – in this case gets it right. Bypassing the gut is unnecessary and even without value. Moreover, if one truly has poor nutrition habits, those should be tackled by eating better, not by jumping onto the latest gimmick. Nutrient drips are an unnecessary, not terribly effective means of getting vitamins and minerals without committing to long-term diet change.

And users may not even be breaking even on the deal. Tiller wrote that excessive levels of some nutrients can be harmful to health, perhaps even increasing the chance of contracting a non-communicable disease. And NFL teams have reported complications from intravenous treatments, including blood clots, air bubbles, fluid accumulation on the lungs, and even one case of a punctured lung.

None of the companies hawking these products make testable statements and they use shrewd phrasing which suggests benefits without promising anything specific. As Tiller noted, claiming to improve maximal oxygen uptake is precise and falsifiable, while asserting that the products helps one achieve fitness goals is not.

Unless the customer has a nutrient deficiency, there will be no benefit to the drips. And diagnosing a nutrient deficiency usually requires a blood test, after which a physician might prescribe supplements.

There is one other potentially valid use. Extremely physical undertakings such as an ultramarathon can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, and these can be treated with an injection of saline and electrolytes.

But both of these are instances of medical professionals dealing with diagnosed issues by a means based on understood science. That’s much different than a putative treatment being administered to a random someone who happens by a kiosk on their way to Bed Bath and Beyond.

“Conspiracy weary” (Errors in conspiracy theory thought)

Traditionally, conspiracy theories have centered on defining events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the Kennedy assassination. With the latter, there are a multitude of theories choose from. This is not because of evidence, but due to the emotional impact of a president in the prime of his life and his political career being gunned down in public beside his glamorous wife.

By contrast, the unsuccessful Reagan assassination attempt is seldom thought to have involved anyone other than John Hinckley, though a few isolated theorists have tried to make a hay of the fact that the shooter’s brother, Scott, was scheduled to have dinner with Neil Bush the following day. And if there are any conspiracy theories about the Ford assassination attempts, in which the target wasn’t even hit, I’ve never heard them.

Similarly, one could spend 10 hours a day watching 9/11 conspiracy theory videos and a year later still not run out of viewing material. But one might need just a day to check out all the conspiracy theory videos centering on the 1993 WTC bombing that killed .002 percent as many people.

The Sept. 11 attacks, by the way, did require a conspiracy, though not the type that Truthers have in mind. More than one person was involved in doing something nefarious, so it qualifies as a conspiracy. After the tragedy, 90 percent of the country came together, at least for a few days. Meanwhile, the other 10 percent wondered, “How can I make this massive loss of human life about me?” Thus began the Truther Movement.

One member of the movement responded to my blog post about conspiracy theories by asserting that Al-Qaeda was not involved. I asked him who he thought flew the airplanes and he replied that they were controlled remotely. As you might imagine, he supported this with zero evidence, besides failing to even answer my question, since remote control requires a controller. He also had to ignore or dismiss accounts from passengers describing Middle Eastern men with knives, the voice of one of the hijackers from the cockpit, security footage of the perpetrators boarding the planes, and the totality of the 9/11 report.

He is a typical conspiracy theorist, meaning he is more interested in painting himself as brave warrior battling brainwashed sheep and the establishment than he is in getting to the truth. As this Vice article showed, conspiracy theorists are mostly driven by a need to feel elite, not by a love of the facts. The article outlines how a bogus conspiracy theory was presented to those who considered themselves conspiracy theorists. Half of the group were told that 81 percent of the population believed in the conspiracy, the other half were told that 19 percent believed in it. Overwhelmingly, the theorists embraced the theory if they thought it was a minority opinion and rejected it if was said to be believed by the majority.

While I wrote earlier that conspiracy theories have traditionally sprouted from signature moments, the Internet has changed that somewhat and, depending on the believer, theories these days can center on almost anything.

So you may encounter them at any point and, if you choose to engage the remote control aircraft aficionado or other theorists, here are some points that will likely bolster your case. These were outlined in an essay by skeptic leader Emil Karlsson.

First, realize that in most alleged conspiracy theories, the number of people that would need to be involved is way more than could quiet about it, especially for decades. Every one of them would need to harbor this secret and never reveal it by accident, misspeak, guilt, drunkenness, blackmail, braggadocio, deathbed confession, or in order to sign a lucrative book deal. Thousands of persons would had to have been in on a phony moon landing, yet none of them have come forward.

Genuine conspiracies, such as Watergate, the NSA scandal, and what Bill Clinton’s definition of is is, were exposed by investigative journalists or insiders, not by WAKETHESHEEPLE’S YouTube channel.

On a related note, consider the overwhelming evidence for the genuine theories compared to the scant tidbits that point to hidden cancer cures, advance knowledge of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and the Las Vegas hotel shooting.

Let’s look at two conspiracy theories involving presidential assassinations. Abraham Lincoln was one of multiple targets that night and the killing involved multiple agents who were identified, tried, and executed. This was done in the open, with evidence presented in court. Meanwhile, despite the smorgasbord of options centering on who killed JFK – the KGB, CIA, LBJ, the mafia, labor leaders, hell, maybe even Martians – there has yet to be, nearly 60 years and countless investigations later, one piece of incontrovertible evidence pointing to these ideas.

As to the scandal that took down another president a decade later, Karlsson wrote that the Watergate affair “had burglars being arrested, a money trail that could be followed and mapped, confessions and several rounds of incriminating audio tapes.” Likewise, there is overwhelming evidence and mounds of documentation regarding the NSA scandal, the IB affair, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

By contrast, the idea of mass shootings being hoaxes is built on evidence so miniscule it would be comical were the assertions not so offensive. For example, during a press conference about a California shooting, a detective talked about the importance of training for such events. Instead of saying “which played out here today,” he misspoke and said, “which we played out here today.” A couple of seconds later, his cohort rubbed his palm on his forehead. This was presented in conspiracy theory circles as the spokesman inadvertently admitting it was faked and his co-worker burying his head in mortified disbelief that the secret was out. This “evidence” pales mightily compared to the thousands of Snowden documents.

As Karlsson noted, “Most conspiracy theories have little to no actual evidence. They are often based on quoting scientists out of context, misunderstanding basic physics of building constructions, jumping on obvious cases of interview miscommunication or similar. It is really based on alleged ‘evidence’ that is not worth much at all.”

We move now to the issue of inconsistent capabilities. This is when theorists paint perpetrators as extraordinarily skilled, organized, powerful, and able to seamlessly pull off highly-complex operations – yet incapable of getting a YouTube video or Facebook post removed. The evil men behind these plots are said to silence their victims through murder, yet someone is able to share this knowledge without repercussion.

Then there is what Karlsson calls the “method-goal mismatch problem.” While flat Earthers may present a scientifically-shaky observation or hypothesis to argue for their position, they are unable to explain the goal of those trying to keep the message secret. Who really cares what the shape is? Why would mortal enemies such as North and South Korea come together to defend a lie? Where would the millions of guards necessary to prevent the ice wall from being accessed come from?

Going back to the 9/11 Truthers, if the attacks were meant to justify an invasion, why go to the sizable trouble of recruiting kamikaze pilots and coordinating such a complexity? Just bomb a building. Or make up a story about WMDs, which was done anyway.

As Karlsson noted, “If you or the conspiracy theorists can easily invent a better plan to attain the goal of the perpetrators than the plan used in the conspiracy theory, something is terribly wrong with it.”

Finally, consider the tell-tale sign that a theorist is interested in defending the theory at all costs, rather than aiming for the truth. And that is when any discomfiting evidence is paradoxically considered part of the conspiracy. Those doubting Obama’s citizenship concocted a preposterous myth whereby his newspaper birth announcement, a 1990 New York Times article describing him as Hawaiian-born, his Certificate of Live Birth, and his long form birth certificate, were all touted as evidence FOR the theory instead of refutations of it! Anyone this far down the rabbit hole has no interest in finding out what really happened.