An apple a nay

FB_IMG_1581555939432Proponents tout apple cider vinegar as an amazing product that can fend off disease as well as managing some lesser accomplishments. But the best evidence indicates the sour fermented liquid has only modest health benefits and certainly lacks to ability to vanquish serious ailments.

It may be of some value since the product contains a probiotic, but claims associated with it can be exaggerated, sometimes spectacularly so.

Like all vinegars, the apple cider variety consists mainly of acetic acid plus whatever was in the original liquid, minus the sugar that was transformed into alcohol during fermentation. It is the acetic acid that usually leads believers to ascribe panacea qualities to the resultant product.

The most extreme assertion is that it can treat or prevent some cancers. There is no evidence anywhere to buoy this idea and anyone gulping apple cider vinegar to halt rouge cell growth is making a fatal mistake.

Those who believe in the oncological power of the sour liquid may be relying on studies in which cultured cancer cells shrunk after being exposed to vinegar or acetic acid. But as Dr. Edwin McDonald of the University of Chicago School of Medicine wrote, “We can’t directly pour ACV on cancers inside of people.

Further, you definitely can’t give someone an ACV IV infusion without causing serious harm or death.”

Another erroneous, dangerous idea is that the vinegar controls high blood pressure. This may be based on one small study of rats that showed a decrease in a specific type of blood pressure when the rodents were plied with a diet heavy in acetic acid. But like most such test results, there is no comparable conclusion reached with humans. McDonald warns, “High blood pressure is nothing to play with. There’s simply not enough data to support using ACV as a blood pressure medication. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take your meds.”

Sticking with serious conditions, there is scattered belief out there that apple cider vinegar lowers blood sugar among diabetics. There has been one small clinical trial in which drinking a tiny amount of the vinegar each day seemed to improve blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. And Skeptoid’s Brian

Dunning noted, “It’s biochemically plausible; the acetic acid can interfere with absorption of starches, reducing their ability to change blood sugar levels.”

However, he added, there are some caveats. First, all vinegars contain acetic acid, so there would be no added gain from ingesting the apple cider version. More importantly, the benefit is infinitesimal and the vinegar is no substitute for diabetes medication. There’s no harm in using it and there might be minor benefit to doing so, but diabetics should always take their prescribed medicine as well.

A more humble claim is that the vinegar may help with weight loss. There have been a few small studies in Japan that reached this conclusion, but the subjects were already on a diet and exercise regimen. Still, those taking the vinegar did lose more weight than those swallowing a placebo, so they’re might be something there. But the evidence is still murky, owing to insufficient sample sizes and the small number of tests. And in any event, it – at best – only helps augment weight loss. It would be an inadequate replacement for a gym routine and a healthy, balanced diet.

While the cancer claim is bogus and the idea of it being a weight loss ally is a maybe, we can conclude that all vinegar, when mixed with lemon juice, is efficient at disinfecting Salmonella-tainted products.

However, it is up to the person washing the suspect lettuce to do a thorough job. The safer method is to toss the tomatoes and cucumbers and open a can of soup instead.

Next, there are those who think apple cider vinegar can serve as an antimicrobial disinfectant for scrapes and cuts. It’s true that acetic acid is antimicrobial. But apple cider vinegar contains other ingredients that are not and dashing them on an open wound may contaminate and exacerbate it. At a minimum, it will sting like the dickens. Use a salve instead. The pain will be much less and the medicine will actually work.

Finally, we look to the belief that drinking apple cider vinegar will produce an antimicrobial effect. This is likewise mistaken. As Dunning explained, “When an acidic compound hits your duodenum just after the stomach, it’s neutralized by sodium bicarbonate and its antimicrobial properties vanish.

I don’t want to be all negative here. Let me close by saying apple cider vinegar will give your chili a right proper kick.

Meteor-wrong

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In UFO lore, witnesses saw a shimmering, long-lasting fireball over a large swath of the northern U.S. and southern Canada on Dec. 9, 1965. This tale includes two dozen aircraft reports and shockwaves picked up by seismographs. There were also claims of metal debris scattered across the area where the fireball had been seen.

Most chillingly, the woods outside of Kecksburg, Pa., were allegedly cordoned off by government agents, who drove away with a large, acorn-shaped object emblazoned with unknown symbols that resembled ancient Egyptian. Popular ideas among believers was that the craft had belonged to either aliens or Nazis. Or fascist Venusians for maximum effect.

Since then, other notions have been floated. Some suspect it might have been the Soviet Kosmos-96 Venus probe, which had failed during its launch about 15 days prior and which re-entered Earth’s atmosphere the day the fireball appeared. But declassified Soviet documents now show that Kosmos-96’s orbit would have never placed it anywhere near Kecksburg.

Paranormal author Leslie Kean field a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA to force the agency to release for files on the Kecksburg event. NASA officials responded that the requested items had been lost, which even to this hardboiled skeptic seems dubious.

However, a much more well-known skeptic, Brian Dunning, noted that NASA runs the country’s space program and does not delve into searches for aliens or enemy satellites. Those seeking information on UFOs or wayward Soviet spacecraft would be better served filing FOI requests with the military or intelligence services. If there was a cover-up, NASA wasn’t the agency responsible.

Furthermore, shows on the laughably-named History Channel and likeminded networks are about selling ads and increasing viewership, not finding out what happened. Dunning explained how the programming words: “Many of my colleagues and I have appeared on these shows as expert talking heads, and the directors are constantly prompting us to say certain phrases, to repeat what we just explained but using a specific term that they want, in order to give them just the snippet of dialog that they can isolate and give viewers the impression that scientists all believe some wild alien explanation is the true one.”

This also happens to eyewitnesses, who end up seeming to endorse what the producers want when that may not be the case at all or is only part of the story.

Meteorological reports confirm that on the day of the Kecksburg incident, a hypersonic bolide made its way across part of North America. All known observations by astronomers indicate it was a meteor.

50 Kecksburg residents, representing 10 percent of the town, asked producers not to air the program because it was so laden with errors.

Especially strident was Ed Myers, the fire chief in 1965 who was falsely accused of helping cordon off the woods.

As to the craft and its alien accoutrements putatively whisked away, the only alleged eyewitness was 10 years old at the time and he made no mention of this until quarter of a century later when appearing on the sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-sensationalist Unsolved Mysteries. No accounts from 1965 made any mention of this Unidentified Nonflying Object.

“Not a chief concern” (Plastic bag bans)

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My sweetest-ever trip to the grocery store was last month, as I gathered items for my oft-dreamed-of and now-realized Chiefs Super Bowl party. The cashier loaded the nacho cheese, Chex Mix, and M&Ms into thin plastic bags, which in some locales would be illegal.

Such municipalities take this measure in the belief that a bag ban will reduce waste and litter, and, by extension, benefit the environment. In truth, these bans are detrimental and are a victory for emotion over science.

Paradoxically, manufacturers of disposable plastic profit from bans on carryout bags. That’s because these humble methods of conveyance make the least money of all the company’s products. The bags also have the least environmental impact, owing to their flimsiness. 

Moreover, even with a ban, customers still need something to carry their Lucky Charms home in. This usually leads to plastic bag manufacturers being able to sell some of their more durable bags, which have a more deleterious effect.

There are three primary myths about the flimsy gray carryout receptacles.

First is that they contribute significantly to ocean plastics. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the disposable plastic bags from the U.S. constitute just .5 percent of the sea plastic. While other nations contribute more waste from the bags, bans in the U.S. don’t impact that. In other words, banning bags in the U.S. results in only a microscopic reduction in such waste.

The second misnomer is that bans decrease the amount of disposable plastic leaving the supermarket. That’s because about a quarter of carryout bags are reused, for such purposes as diaper disposal, tossing dog waste, or lining Lilliputian trash cans.

In places where such bags are no longer available, persons still need to get rid of baby and/or canine excrement and to cover waste basket bottoms. When localities implement these bans, sales of small- and medium-sized plastic trash bags sales skyrocket, with an increase anywhere from 50 to 150 percent. And as Dunning notes, the banned bags are extremely flimsy, whereas trash bags are much heavier and contain substantially more plastic.

The third myth is that plastic bags do more ecological damage than other choices. Besides the tiny plastic bags, there are three other common options: Paper bags; Durable reusable plastic bags of polyethylene or polypropylene; and reusable cotton bags.

Dunning laid out the impact of each of these over the course of their existence. He explained that this includes the sourcing of its material, its manufacture, transportation, logistics, number of uses, how many goods it houses, and its final destiny, be it in a recycled product, a landfill, or incineration.

Despite its continual chastisement, the tiny carryout bag has by far the lowest environmental impact, mostly because it contains little material.

Also, it is plastic, which has a low melting temperature. Further, it requires less energy to manufacture and recycle than most other materials. Put another way, the banned bag actually serves to satisfy environmentalist goals.

The second best alternative is paper bags, which have four times the carbon footprint of single-use plastics. This means if a consumer reuses a paper bag four times before recycling it, the environmental impact will be the same as using the plastic bag once. I myself have never taken the same paper bag back to the grocery for a second use. Shame on me. But more shame on those banning plastic bags.

Next is the durable reusable plastic bag, offered by some food peddlers as a low-price alternative (though not as low price as the free plastic bag). These reusable bags are heavier and have 14 times the carbon footprint.

Again, this means a consumer would need to use this item 14 times to match the efficiency of its single-use counterpart.

By far the worst choice are cotton bags. Dunning wrote, “Growing cotton involves tractors and seeds and irrigation and a whole other level of impact.” A consumer would need to reuse a cotton grocery bag a whopping 173 times to match the carbon footprint of bringing home a single-use plastic bag. What many assume to be an environmentally-friendly option is anything but, except for the optional part.

Don’t blame me for any of this. I took the plastic bags from the nachos and Chex Mix and made them into receptacles for the bottles which had held my celebratory libations following the Chiefs win.

“Back to the wall” (Amber Room)

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Commies, Nazis, and Indiana Jones wannabes all play roles in the long, captivating, dispiriting history of the Amber Room. The room was an extremely opulent portion of the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg  its highly-ornate walls were worth untold millions, as was the artwork which hung on it. It featured bright gilded panels imbued with gold and amber, as well as gold leaf and mirrors and esthetically arranged.

It was the pride of the Romanov Dynasty and then the Soviet Union until invading German soldiers took possession of it. While trying to move the room, the Nazis found it too brittle to be safely disassembled. Anatoly Kuchumov could have told them that. He served as a Soviet curator and he discovered how fragile the pieces were when he tried to move the invaluable collection into hiding. He settled for building false walls to cover the amber panels but the impromptu gamble failed and the German soldiers took apart he walls and packed it into crates. They sent it to Königsberg Castle, which was razed after the arrival of Brits and Soviets, with the latter burning the building completely.

Kuchumov recovered three Florentine stone mosaics, which were the only inflammable portions of the Amber Room. More than three decades later, German citizen Hans Achterman saw a documentary about the room and he recognized the stone mosaics as something identical to an item in his parents’ attic. His father had been one of the soldiers who had dismantled the room and he stole the mosaic and kept it as a souvenir. This find stoked a batch of conspiracy theories and wild claims about other parts of the room still being hidden or otherwise waiting to be found.

Some proponents believe the room’s contents were packed into crates and moved before the Red Army got to Königsberg. Others maintain they were put on a ship which sank. Other ideas are that it is being held in mine shafts or an abandoned warehouse.

Investigative journalists Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy addressed all this and much more in their work, The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure. They interviewed former intelligence officers, government officials, retired military, and curators. They concluded that, “The Soviet Union, while wanting to be seen to search for the Amber Room, was also determined that nothing should be found.”

That’s because the USSR’s leaders knew their soldiers had destroyed the Amber Room but wanted to keep the idea it still existed as a bargaining chip. So when looted German artwork is mentioned, the Soviets retort that Amber Room also went missing.

The Soviet official with the most vested interest in the destruction’s cover-up was Kuchumov. He nervously watched as his former museum colleagues were shipped to Siberia for failing to protect treasures from the Nazis, and none of those valuables were worth what Kuchumov oversaw.

He spent several years in charge of a commission whose ostensible mission was to unearth the Amber Room. But it was all a sham and Kuchumov was an “acting chairman” in the most literal sense. The commission’s actual purpose was for Kuchumov to keep his freedom by maintaining an illusion that Amber Room valuables were still out there waiting to be found. The longer it stays hidden, the more the legend grows.

“Police scanner”(Scientific Content Analysis)

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Scientific Content Analysis, called SCAN, is touted by proponents as a tool to identify deception. Law enforcement has used his method on suspects for decades, even though there’s no reliable science behind it, despite the name.

An article by Ken Armstrong and Christian Sheckler shone a light on this technique which is little-known outside of interrogation rooms. They pair recounted the story of Ricky Joyner, currently incarcerated on a murder conviction.

Police asked Joyner to fill out a questionnaire regarding the disappearance of an Elkhart, Ind., woman, Sandra Hernandez. Remembering what they had learned in SCAN classes, detectives noticed Joyner refrained from using first person pronouns, writing, as one example, “Went home,” instead of, “I went home.” Or that a reference to his love interest was scribbled down as “a girlfriend,” instead of “my girlfriend.”

What would seem to most people to be innocuous was considered signs of guilty by police. Officers also found it suspicious that Joyner’s handwriting was larger and more spread out in the answer’s last two lines than in the previous seven. This can happen when one gets tired from writing nine pages, as Joyner had done, but in SCAN logic, this was indication the author was a murderer. When police asked Joyner why they should believe him, he wrote, “I have nothing to hide.” Detectives thought this was a big deal since he failed to explicitly state, “I didn’t do it.”

Suspects like Joyner fill out a statement that SCAN investigators peruse for signs of deception. They focus on pronouns used, inconsistent vocabulary, what has been omitted, and how much of a suspect’s statement focuses on what happened before, during, and after an event.

Indications of truthfulness are considered to be: Using the past tense; using first-person singular; and direct denials, the best being: “I did not do it.” Signs of deception include lack of memory, spontaneous corrections, and using two different words to convey the same meanings, such as writing “angry” at one point, then “mad” later.

SCAN founder Vinoam Sapir demonstrated on television how the techniques are supposed to work by analyzing some famous examples. He looked at the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Sapir told the interviewer: “The report says, ‘whether,’ and not ‘whether or not.’ By the omission of ‘or not’ it seems that the FBI was already concentrating on only one option.” However, the use of “or not” would be redundant, so Sapir is engaging in wild speculation, besides being linguistically mistaken.

He also touched on Anita Hill’s testimony, pouncing on the fact that she said, “I had a normal social life with other men outside of the office.” Sapir arrived at this conclusion: “There is only a certain group in society that can label themselves as normal, and that is people who were labeled abnormal before.” Also a red flag, he continued, was that Hill referred to herself as an “individual” and “a person.” This assertion of her humanity was considered odd by Sapir. “Anita Hill never called herself a woman,” he gleefully noted, and suggested this meant she had issues with her sexual identity.

In another high-profile example from the early 1990s, Sapir recalled how Connie Chung had asked Magic Johnson about whether he was gay or bisexual. Johnson replied, “I’m not gay,” which Sapir interpreted to mean that the Hall of Fame point guard was bisexual. But Johnson had been presented artificially-limited choices. Had Chung added heterosexual to her probing of Johnson’s sexuality, Sapir’s deduction might have had more validity, but even then, wouldn’t be as certain as he is implying.

For all of Sapir’s certainty, there is nothing scientific behind SCAN despite that word appearing in its name. Five studies have shown that the techniques work no better than chance when determining if a statement is true or deceptive.

Psychology professor Aldert Vrij co-authored the most recent of these five papers and has published hundreds of pieces on verbal and nonverbal cues to deception.

He also led a study that included 61 volunteers split into three groups. In this experiment, one group consisted of members who committed a mock theft of a statistics exam from a departmental mailbox, then lied about everything they had done that day in written statements. A second group comprised members who stole the exam but lied only about the paper pilfering, and not about anything else. The third group were subjects who stole nothing and were truthful in all their answers.

Interrogators analyzed the resulting statements using SCAN criteria. Their results failed to show any distinction between the three groups. “In sum, no support for the use of SCAN was found in the experiment,” the authors concluded. Vrij also faulted SCAN for its lack of standardization, noting that the criteria that is considered most relevant varies by interrogator.

I decided be an interrogator myself and use SCAN techniques on a section of Sapir’s home page from what appears to be from Gopher era website.

Sapir gave this synopsis of how SCAN is supposed to work:
1. Give the subject a pen and paper.
2. Ask the subject to write down his/her version of what happened.
3. Analyze the statement and solve the case.

Here is my analysis of Sapir’s analysis:

1. By failing to include ‘a’ or any other qualifier before paper, Sapir shows he is afraid of commitment, never telling us how many sheets are needed.

2. Sapir instructs the person to ‘ask’ the subject something. He should have instead wrote, ‘Have the subject write down…,” since interrogators are not asking questions, but requesting a statement. This indicates Sapir is evasive with regard to his intent.

3. The entire point is to analyze and solve, so this is a superfluous and points to egomaniacal behavior.

“Decreased celery” (Negative calorie foods)

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For all the fad diets that come and go, there really is no secret to weight loss. Reduce the number of calories taken in, increase the number of calories burned. There are tips that can help with this, such as planning workout routines with a partner since one is less likely to blow off a friend than one is to skip a gym solo session. Drinking water to feel full or concentrating on satiating foods also helps, but the basics are still less in, more out.

With that, there is the notion that some foods that will take more energy to digest than what they provide in calories, making for a negative caloric intake. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the caloric content of food and how much energy the body spends burning calories are both testable claims so let’s test away.

We start by considering the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is how much energy a body at rest burns in a day. It’s essentially how many freebies you get. You can consume this amount of calories, remain sedentary, and your weight will hold steady.

A formula called the Revised Harris-Benedict Equation multiplies a person’s height, weight, and age by a separate constant then totals them all up with another constant. Dunning wrote that for a man who is 5-6 and weighs 150 pounds, it would look like this:

BMR = (13.397 × weight in kg) + (4.799 × height in cm) – (5.677 × age in years) + 88.362.

In this scenario, our hypothetical test subject has a BMR of 1,607 calories. Those are his freebies. If he engages in a small amount of activity, such as walking to the post office or wherever people walk to in these days of dwindling post offices, we multiply his BMR by 1.2. Moderate activity such as jumping jacks and chopping wood would necessitate multiplying the BMR by 1.55. Strenuous activity such as sprinting uphill while carrying dumbbells means multiplying the BMR by 1.725. This would boost the number of calories he could take in without gaining weight to nearly 2,800, substantially more than the 1,600 he gets for lying on the couch.

Now we consider the thermic effect of food. This refers to metabolic rise needed to digest victuals. A resting metabolic rate when doing nothing beyond daydreaming is what we get we arrive at the BMR of 1,607 calories. But when someone begins digesting food, that rate rises.

Thermic effects differ based on the food and the person. Fat digests easily, and thus has a low thermic effect and lots of calories. At the opposite end of the spectrum we find high-protein foods. These need to be broken down into amino acids in order to be digested and this requires energy. Similarly, foods containing complex carbohydrates and fiber make the body work harder to reduce them into the needed building blocks. The energy required to perform these processing tasks varies by person, with obesity and insulin resistance the biggest factors.

Put all this together and we will see that under specific conditions, negative calorie foods can exist. Someone who is slender and with low insulin resistance might get negative calories from celery consumption. The food is mostly water and the few calories come from fiber, the unraveling and digesting of which produces high thermic effects.

But only a few foods function as negative calorie ones. Further, this only works for the slimmest, healthiest people. For those at normal or above normal weights, celery would likely not be a negative calorie food and, even if it were, a steady intake of the fibrous green veggie would make for a poor diet lacking in nutrients. It is also not very satiating or tasty, to say nothing of how hard it would be to stick to.

“Flop secret” (Rhonda Byrne)

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Want to know a secret? You can have whatever you want just by thinking about it happily enough. However, steer clear of negative or scary thoughts, which can cause things you fear to happen. Actually, this isn’t so much as secret as is THE Secret, a movie and book by Rhonda Byrne.

Her premise entails more than suggesting that positive thinking can be one tool in a kit that helps foster desirable results. Byrne claims that wishing for something in a specific manner (which she sells) will have a causal effect. Do it well enough and stage four cancer patients can have the disease cured on the day they win the lottery.

This is accompanied by evidence-free claims that The Secret has been known and utilized by many great persons. The list reads like a casting call put out for history’s most forward thinkers and accomplished geniuses. We’re talking Buddha, Aristotle, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, and Ludwig von Beethoven. Curiously, none of these persons ever made reference to the exponential power of positive thinking. Maybe they were really good at keeping The Secret.

While a positive outlook and the search for silver linings can be of some benefit, the same cannot be said for The Secret’s insistence that people’s thoughts are responsible for bad things that happen to them. Anyone victimized by rape, tornadoes, drunk drivers, or childhood leukemia could have avoided this fate by adjusting their thought patterns.

That’s not the way it’s presented in the book or the movie, but neither is it a strawman. It is taking the idea’s philosophy to its conclusion.

Many persons have a romantic, wistful image about things from ancient days, which is one reason Byrne references Buddha, Aristotle, and Plato. People also like easy answers, even if they come at $179 a pop. They also like to feel in control. Put all this together, and one arrives at The Secret.

While it uses the appeal to antiquity, The Secret also employs that logical fallacy’s opposite number, the appeal to novelty. Byrne claims to be on the cutting edge of science by stating that quantum physics explains The Secret via the Law of Attraction. This can sound reasonable to a lay person, especially one who wants to believe, since attraction sounds like magnetism, which is a genuine phenomenon.

However, Byrne asserts that thoughts have energy and that similar energies are attracted to each other. These feelings are said to flow from the thinker in the form of magnetic energy waves, which force the universe around the thinker to vibrate at the same energy level as their feelings. That is not a genuine phenomenon, but genuine gobbledygook. Further, it has no relevance to quantum physics, which is the attempt to describe what goes on at the atomic and subatomic levels.

Common sense should come into play here. If one has no way to pay the rent that’s due in three weeks, sitting around envisioning money falling into one’s lap is a much worse way to spend precious time than applying for jobs.
There is a grain of truth to the idea that thoughts can influence behavior and actions. But there is no such grain associated with the idea of metaphysical entities existing for our access and manipulation.