The host who can boast the most ghost

Purported psychics meet with continual failure when tested under controlled conditions or when asked to demonstrate their ability in the presence of someone who knows their tricks like James Randi or Susan Gerbic. Some genuinely believe it, which are the types that lend themselves to these tests. Meanwhile, the charlatans know to stay away from skeptics and prefer to ply their trade in the presence of grieving family members.

Then we have aliens, which are cool and exciting, but which are seemingly restricted by distance or which require the granting of super-advanced technology to an unknown species without evidence this has occurred.

Then there are crypto critters, also an intriguing idea and which requires no wormholes or triple warp speed travel. Zoologists discover species all the time, right? Sure, but assuming the existence of a new terrestrial creature of significant size necessitates that all such representatives escape capture, hunters, cars, and steady cameras for decades.

But what about ghostly apparitions, which are confined to a time and place? McGill University professor Jonathan Jarry looked into this with the skeptic community’s leading ghost expert, Kenny Biddle, and reported his findings. Biddle was once a believer but he used ghost-speak as a prank during a hunt and this ended up being reported by credulous attendees as the real deal. When Biddle revealed the ruse, they refused to believe it.

Jarry notes that ghost hunters have adapted for the time and “have traded the embroideries and candlesticks of the Victorian era for” whirring, whizzing electronic gizmos.

For example, most bring a electromagnetic field (EMF) meter to the hunts. Whenever the device is triggered, ghost hunters count this as a spooky score, ignoring or being unaware that the device merely picks up EMF activity, with there being no reason to think disembodied spirits are communicating via this spectrum.

Jarry explained, “In a world ever more reliant on electricity, we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields and it is the duty of ghost hunters to rule out normal explanations for their readings. But in Biddle’s experience, they typically do a very cursory look around to rule out anything obvious before concluding that it could be ghosts.”

Flashlights are also used, the purported idea being that the ghosts will communicate to “yes” or “no” questions by flicking on and off. While this sometimes works in the sense that the light comes on, it has nothing to do with a Medieval knight or a 19th Century Baltimore aristocrat contacting us from the nether realm. Rather, Jarry writes, it is merely heat science at work. And even then, it has to be a Maglite sporting a xenon bulb. Additionally, it must be a screw-on model turned to where it is almost on. A vibration can set it off, and if that fails, Jarry writes that “the light will cycle through its on and off states if its head remains on the cusp of its on position. The plastic lens in front of the bulb heats up by 13 degrees Celsius when the bulb is on. This causes the plastic to expand, which results in the flashlight head turning by 2.6 degrees, which puts pressure on the metal spring at the bottom of the lamp, resulting in the electrical contact being broken. The bulb goes off.”

Now let’s move from the visual to the auditory. For this we have a spirit box, whose ostensible purpose is to capture ghost speak. Like an EMF meter, it uses scientifically sound principles incorrectly. It scans radio frequencies but does not stop when it picks up a signal. The ghost hunter will ask a question and listen for white noise and passes off any seeming hits as spirit communication.

Jarry also notes the REM Pod, SLS camera, and the Ovilus (a monitor with antennas) are also used to seek ghosts, but again are being misused and apparent successes are just the devices acting as they would without an associated poltergeist present. Having primed the audience, and combined with humans’ desire to find patterns, these noises appear to be working.

In conclusion, the notion of ghosts accessing and utilizing electromagnetic field is supported by so studies or sound evidence. The devices are working by picking up and sending off signals but there is nothing to suggest the animated deceased are responsible. And while the devices are modern, the ghost hunting method of talking to the dead without ever hearing back, and still claiming success, is the way the field has always operated, and this stagnation is a pseudoscience hallmark.

“All wet” (Bunyip)

Zoologists discover species all the time. But it does not follow that this confirms the existence of terrestrial creatures of significant size whose representatives have all escaped capture, detection, cars, and steady cameras.

Cryptozoology places strong credence in eyewitness or third-hand accounts, legends, and folklore. Cryptozoologists aim to establish the existence of creatures, rather than examining actual animals and are thus engaged in Tooth Fairy Science.

Take for instance the bunyip, long associated with Australian Aborigines. Bunyips have been said to reside in wet locales such as rivers, creeks, and swamps. They feast on any flesh, be it human or a lower animal, and are associated with a nocturnal shrieking.

Consistent with cryptozoology, many persons claim to have seen the creature but no one has ever captured one, examined it up-close, or got indisputable video evidence of it. As such, bunyip descriptions vary, from a mammoth snake sporting a beard and mane to a man-monster hybrid with a bird-like head and elongated neck, to monsters covered with fur and being endowed with flippers that can transform to feet for land excursions. With this possible limited exception, the one constant of bunyip descriptors is that it makes its home in the water. And, of course, the accounts are embellished in future retellings.

Sightings report a creature similar to a seal or dog, often with a dark fur. Another variation has a long-necked animal about 10 feet in length with mammoth ears and modest tusks. They are said to favor a crayfish diet, though a more bloodcurdling option has them feeding on humans, especially women and children.

Author Robert Holden identified about 10 regional variations of the crypto critter. But by whatever form the bunyip takes, almost all evidence is anecdotal, although there have been a few attempts at a scientific spin. The Australian Museum displayed a deformed horse skull in the mid-19th Century and marketed it as having come from a bunyip. With that, eyewitness reports and belief skyrocketed. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, “Everyone became immediately aware that he had heard strange sounds from the lagoons at night, or had seen something black in the water.”

While the misshapen horse skull was a case of fraud or at least gullibility, a more measured approach at a scientific explanation has proposed the extinct marsupial Diprotodon may be the answer to supposed bunyip remains. Other possible explanations are misidentification of seals or cassowaries.

“Muscle & Witless” (Liver King)

Brian Johnson endorses what he calls an extreme case of primal living. In other words, he embraces the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy. This is when some time in the past – the 1950s, the Old West, the Medieval era, or something less concrete – is touted as ideal and a period whose values we should emulate. This requires cherry picking at best and a complete mangling of history at worst.

Additionally for Johnson, his claim fell horribly flat when leaked e-mails revealed that his Muscle & Fitness-cover physique came from the relatively recent invention of anabolic steroids. He may have consumed raw animal organs and gobbled some undefined supplements as he claimed, but it was steroids that resulted in his brawn.

Johnson said he started weightlifting because classmates were bullying him. That’s possible, although when the central tenet of a person’s existence is proven fraudulent, it’s hard to believe anything else they say.

Eventually, he founded Ancestral Supplements, which borrowed heavily from the ideas of author Sally Fallon. Her philosophy eschews modern diets and lifestyles. Applied physiologist Dr. Nick Tiller wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “With so much competition in a saturated space, Johnson needed to distinguish himself among fitness influencers…so in 2021, the Liver King was born.”

This body organ monarch said he followed a list of Tenets, which were eat, sleep, move, connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond. As one example of what this meant, move refers to being active, usually by walking, to, as Teller explained, “combat the mismatch between our genetics that evolved when humans were required to expend energy to obtain it, and our modern environment, characterized by an abundance of empty calories.”

The sleep portion highlights sleep quality, which the hypothesis holds is best managed by regular sleep cycles and blocking blue light at bedtime. Both these Tenets have some validity but when Johnson starts dispensing nutritional advice, things get dicey. His suggested intake is a supreme form of the mostly-debunked Paleo Diet. This lifestyle emphasizes consuming large amounts of organ meat.

Tiller notes organ meat contains copious amounts of iron, zinc, and riboflavin, so its consumption can be advantageous. But there is the flip side, which includes high saturated fat and cholesterol. Further, the diet embraces raw milk and raw egg yolks, both of which have potential dangers.

While ground organs have been used as food for many years, it does not go all the way back to early homo sapiens. According to Tiller, their diet leaned heavily on meat when it was dry and a more plant-based, high-fiber approach during the wet times. Despite this, Johnson insists that we modern humans are descended from “the baddest mammalian predators that ever lived,” and we owe it to their legacy and honor to eat like they did. Curiously, this mindset does not extend to eschewing electronics, sleeping in a mud hut, or wearing loincloths.

While he lauded raw eggs and organs, Johnson most enthusiastically ingested synthetic testosterone, several anabolic and androgenic steroids, plus various drugs which mediate the effects of growth hormone and stimulate appetite.

Johnson’s claim that his physique was owed to food choice and sleeping patterns was comical to anyone possessing the slightest common sense. Attaining his form is impossible without massive doses of steroids and similar concoctions. The assertion that his extreme muscle size and definition was the result of diet and lifestyle choice was absurd on its face. Additionally, if true, it would mean that everyone in the time that he is claiming to mimic would have looked the same as he does now.

Johnson tries to maintain an image of back to nature, the good old (this case really old) days and embracing extreme manhood. Yet he enjoys the luxury lifestyle that this image enables him to attain. Teller describes the comical nature of how Johnson presents himself: “He’s often pictured with spears and other weapons, holding handfuls of raw meat that look as though they’ve been cut straight from an animal’s carcass. He owns four Dobermans and a fleet of trucks including a Hummer and an American Tank from World War II…and uses a rifle to obliterate vegan food.”

Teller also points out the hypocritical irony of Johnson taping himself destroying a WiFi router because it is modern, while employing a technology unavailable 150 years ago to tape this destruction. And, of course, Johnson needs the Internet to hawk his products and image.

His one accurate claim of continuing tradition is his following in the line of anti-science charlatans that have plagued society for the last millennium.

“Creep like a baby” (Ravenswood Devil)

Today we will examine evidence for the Ravenswood Devil’s Baby, a most excellent moniker bestowed upon a infant/monster hybrid who purportedly scurries about an Appalachian cemetery in the West Virginia town that bears his name.

In this cemetery stands a gravestone commemorating the brief life of George Elwood Sharp. The marker contains a ceramic photo that includes what was once a clear image of the deceased baby but which proponents believe has morphed into a demon child sporting fangs, horns, and hollow eyes. Some claim the plate releases a mysterious glow at night, while some go further and say the infant’s tortured wail can be heard at the same time.

Daniel Reed examined these assertions in a piece for Skeptical Inquirer. He learned that like many good legends, there are kernels of accuracy in this one. As stated earlier, there is a George Sharp gravestone with a ceramic photo plate. But as to whether it depicts Satanic spawn – especially one that can emit auditory and visual evidence of its existence – is another matter.

Reed explained that the child’s portrait appears devilish or vampiric because of discoloration and fading due to weathering. Additionally, a crack in the plate produces the illusion of fangs. Reed considers interpreting horns and fangs from the heavily-weathered image to be an instance of pareidolia.

Next, he tackled the claim that the ceramic plate emits an unearthly glimmer at night. Reed visited the cemetery and deduced that when the sun began to set on the western horizon, the glow proved to be merely light reflected off the plate’s relatively white surface. Also factoring in is a security light about 100 feet from the gravestone. This illumination hits directly on the plate, making for even more of a glow.

As to the putative crying, Reed wrote that considering the cemetery’s location in a residential area, one could expect to hear people talking, dogs barking, televisions running, animals running, leaves rustling, and more. That some of these could be misinterpreted as something ghostly is unsurprising, especially in a cemetery and by someone who is expecting or hoping to hear it. These are reasonable, albeit mundane, explanations, that make more sense than a disembodied spirit cavorting about.

“Get a cue” (Body language)

A droopy head can reveal discouragement, a furrowed brow can mean concentration, and an upward glance can indicate boredom. Or perhaps these actions reveal none of those things. Despite this uncertainty, a cottage industry has sprung up starring analysts and consultants who purport to know what a person is thinking based on nonverbal cues. But while they may lack the intentional fraud of psychics, their success record is not much better.

Astrophysicist Ramin Skibba wrote about this in an article for Undark and he cited an example of a language consultant who interpreted Joe Biden’s downward look at his podium as withdrawal. Or possibly a sign of self-control. These contradictory interpretations give the claimant wiggle room and are akin to horoscopes. Another commonality with astrologers is telling a person what they want to hear. For example, the president’s people would be told Biden was exhibiting this self-control, while the opponent’s team would be told he had been beaten into submission.

No real harm would be done in these cases. By contrast, a self-described body language expert being trusted by police officers, airline screeners, and federal agents to gauge truthfulness can be unsettling. A suspect wrongly deemed to be prevaricating, a Muslim would-be traveler, or a job applicant falsely accused of lying about past deeds could have serious ramifications for the victim.

Most assertions by body language interpreters have yet to be tested by science in a controlled setting. For example, Skibba wrote, “Claims that a single gesture reliably indicates what a person thinks or desires are not backed by solid evidence.” It is a patchwork of guesses, assumptions, and whim.

It is true that research teams have looked at how the brain reacts to facial expressions and how newborns imitate adult gestures. But scientists have also discovered that body language can be complex and granular, making solid declarations of what certain gestures mean to be challenging at best. Skibba quoted University of Idaho communication researcher Dawn Sweet, who informed him, “There’s not likely to be a single behavior diagnostic ever to be found” to indicate if someone is untruthful or experiencing a specific emotion.

Sweet prefers to look at someone’s body language and spoken words together, since they often say the same things. She and her fellow researchers also examine if the body language is consistent for them or an outlier.
Sweet cites a meta analysis of studies centering on 1,300 estimates of 158 possible deception signs. The studies focused on cues people might associate with lying, such as looking down or quickly botting their head. Researchers found such cues have little connection to whether a subject is lying. A person might appear uncomfortable at a given moment, but observers rarely know why. It could be dependent on the situation, person, and culture.

“Bear in mind” (Playing dead)

Feigning death when a predator approaches acts as a common defense tactic in the animal kingdom. Some creatures additionally have the ability to release foul-smelling liquids that resemble a rotting carcass (sounds like a Cannibal Corpse song), which might cause the hunter to presume the animal would be dangerous to consume. Playing dead has varying degrees of success among snakes, possums, and even fleas, but does it work for us homo sapiens?

Skeptical Inquirer considered this question and found it was a sound strategy against just one in seven animals.

The technique is most commonly associated with bears. Even the strongest man is no match for the smallest adult bear, all of whom can outrun Usain Bolt. Therefore, coming upon a bruin is one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

The response most likely to yield life-preserving results depends on the type of bear. With the black variety, the initial strategy should be one of intimidation, as these bears prefer to stay away from us, a favor we return. If in their territory, use a booming voice, bang wood together, ring bells, just generally make noise. If spotted by a black bear, you’ll want to make yourself as big as possible, make as much noise as you can, and slowly back away. Never run, do not seek out shelter in a tree, and do not play dead.

Grizzlies, that’s another story. Playing dead here is a sound strategy, though it’s not the first one. Backing off is the way to go. This should be done slowly, no sudden moves or running. And no matter how big a person is or makes themselves look, they will still be dwarfed by a grizzly, so trying to make one’s self seem large could serve no purpose other than making the bear think you are threatening it. If the grizzly charges, this is where the cliché of curling up and covering one’s head applies. If encountering a polar bear, first, you have likely ended up in Svalbard. Second, lie low, then curl into the tightest ball possible, so as to kiss your ass goodbye.

Now we move to the Feline and Canine families and consider cougars, coyotes, and wolves.
For any of these mammalian predators, the sound strategy is to play the antithesis of dead, being loud and animated. Making a gunshot sound is recommended, especially against cougars. With wolves, maintaining eye contact is advised, contrary to the usual response to encountering most predators. Fighting any of these should only take place if attacked.

Now onto the slithery portion. Snakes are not the fastest representative of the animal kingdom, so running away is usually a good idea – but only if one has not been bitten. If struck by a venomous snake, the poison will make its way faster through a moving body. To try to avoid the situation in the first place, be loud if in a suspected snake habitat.

Meanwhile, run way from crocodiles alligators, and caimans. Scaling a tree will also work. These critters’ nostrils and eyes are their only areas not protected by scales so go for those if unfortunately close enough to do so.

Sharks have a fearsome reputation, mostly undeserved. The great majority are of relatively small size and pose no threat to people. And the ones who are a threat prefer fatty animals like seals and walruses. There is some speculation that sharks sometimes mistake surfboarders paddling out to sea for a seal, take a hunk out of them, don’t like the taste, and move on. Shark attacks are uncommon and fatal ones quite rare. That being said, if you are in such a dire situation as shark approaching or observing you, make yourself as small as possible but keep your eyes on the animal. Move away slowly and calmly (easier said than done in this predicament). Go for the nose and gills if attacked.

Moose can usually be run off by a good show of waving arms and loud yells, but if that fails, the play dead stereotype is the best bet. If it’s not too late, backing away slowly.

When I encountered a herd of yaks in Mongolia, I marveled at them but owing to their massive size, I kept my distance. By contrast, any number of YouTube idiots have ambled up to large and/or dangerous beasts with predictable results. So follow my strategy of maintaining separation, in addition to employing common sense and prevention. The latter includes keeping food stored, hiking and camping with companions, and becoming familiar with what animals are native and what techniques should be employed if you meet up with one. Or to be safer still, stay home and watch Hulu.

“Stucked” (Katy Perry eye)

I have seen many a conspiracy theory in my skeptic days but recently experienced the first to involve pop singer peepers.

Katy Perry had trouble getting her right eye open during a Las Vegas concert and this mildly amusing but otherwise blah event was transformed into something much more sinister.

“She got that Pfizer eye,” Tweeted twin twits, the Hodges. They offered zero evidence of why there would be a connection between the shot and Perry’s half-asleep appearance. How this would have impacted one of 100 million vaccinated individuals was likewise never addressed.

That’s because this came a conspiracy theory crowd that usually checks these marks, listed by retired obstetrician Amy Tuter: 1. Requires accepting claims from preferred sources; 2. Ignores or even ridicules competing claims; 3. Has a low-threshold for evidence, such as favoring YouTube videos and memes over in-depth study, interviewing subject matter experts, and peer review; 4. Finds comfort in being victimized or in claiming to expose a secret being hidden by an undefined “they.”

While sympathetic to the notion of blaming vaccines, an imaginative Facebook poster calling himself Lance Zakrzewski went further, tying the not-very-evil eye to the Illuminati, devil worshippers, and cloning. He failed to consider the notion of it being due to excessive eye lash or glue, which was my initial thought.

In the viral video that Zakrzewki considers a combined effort by Luciferian legions, mad scientists, and deep state power brokers, the pop princess remains unable to open her right eye. After a few seconds, she presses her finger against her temple in an effort to keep it from drooping. Other than these five seconds, her eye operates normally during the rest of the convert.

While not addressing this idea specifically, Perry had previously talked about the condition which manifested at the show. Last year she told an American Idol contestant, “I have a wonk eye as well, and I used to be worried about it. Then a bunch of my fans created a fandom over my wonk-eye. I even have a fandom that calls itself, ‘Katy’s wonk-eye.’”

And six years ago, Perry Tweeted a photo of herself going through wonk eye episode. Anyone genuinely curious about what happened would be satisfied with this medical explanation, made by the patient. But genuine curiosity is not what defines conspiracy theorists, for whom questions are thinly-veiled accusations. I had suspected it was excess eye lash, and had thus been our pop culture’s second most well-known wardrobe malfunction. Now I know that was not the answer, and I accept this because I was interested in the truth, not in further solidifying an entrenched position.

“All wet” (Parking lot sedation)

Last post we addressed the mistaken and comical notion that fentanyl dealers were planning to give away their product in doses that would kill their prospective customers. It represents the latest in a series of putative Halloween horrors that has included poisoned candy, satanic kidnapping rings, insane clown posses, and convicted sex offenders luring prey with Butterfingers and Baby Ruths.

As the SkepChick Rebecca Watson humorously noted, such terrors being associated with this time of year is in one way fitting. But rather than being a genuine fright like terrorism or war, these are in the same fictitious vein as zombies and vampires.

Besides being the most recent urban legends associated with All Hallows Eve, the drug-dealing urban legend also has something in common with another contemporary moral panic: The notion of cloths being soaked with a powerful sedative that incapacitates the victim, who is then robbed, abducted, or raped.

Madison Dapcevich at Lead Stories looked into this and found no evidence to support the notion of attempted vehicle entries being foiled by nasty napkins, poisoned papers, or terrorizing tissues.

Dapcevich learned that earlier this summer, social media began posting warnings about these events, with fentanyl usually being the drug of choice. She spoke with University of Florida epidemiology professor Linda Cottler who told her, “These are not accurate suggestions and there is no scientific evidence of this.”

Moreover, accidental skin contact with fentanyl has been described by the Harm Reduction Journal as medically impossible. Similarly, researchers at Cambridge University exposed a test subject to a 10 microgram solution of pharmaceutical fentanyl citrate by placing the solution on the person’s hand. No opioid intoxication or overdose resulted and the substance easily washed away.

Dapcevich additionally cited a 2020 study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology which found opioids inefficiently absorb through the skin. And there’s more. A 2017 report by the American College of Medical Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology determined that fentanyl being delivered through the skin would require “200 minutes of breathing fentanyl at the highest airborne concentrations to yield a therapeutic dose” and even then it would “not a potentially fatal one.” As Dapcevich explained, “To reach dangerous blood levels, a person would need to soak their limbs in such a solution for an extended period of time.”

It’s no wonder that social media posts sounding the alarm about this supposed issue seldom include a location or date. No criminal is ever apprehended, no victim is ever identified or rescued.

A similar panicky claim, documented by the Daily Dot’s Audra Schroeder, ties dollar bills left under car windshield wipers to human trafficking. Trafficking is a genuine phenomenon but it is done by those who know their victims and groom them over time. The victims are generally destitute and usually from another country, with limited language skills. They may likewise struggle with addiction and homelessness. As one levelheaded poster put it, the urban legends twist these notions so that they focus on “middle class white women being trafficked,” an idea “that completely overshadows reality.”

So when taking their children to safely Trick or Treat, mothers can open their car doors without worry.

“A better pill to swallow” (Fentanyl candy)

Goblins, gremlins, ghosts, and ghouls cease to be scary in adulthood, so into the Halloween fright vacuum steps a moral panic. Be it razor-laden Snickers, confectionary-distributing pedophiles, or poisoned Pixie Stix, there are imaginary fears that follow some past the teen years. This year features a new twist on the traditional boogeyman of drugged treats. Keeping with the times, Fentanyl has replaced the now-tame marijuana as the culprit.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel took it upon herself to represent every American mother and said that 100 percent of them are freaking out about their child getting a rainbow-colored Fentanyl. Never one to let a good panic go to waste, the DEA also chimed in, with warnings about an “alarming emerging trend” of drug dealers targeting these pills to our young’uns.

Writing for Snopes, Bethania Palma noted that this update on a time-dishonored tale features plenty to panic over: “A novel version of a dangerous street drug, a threat to children’s safety, and the U.S.-Mexico border, an evergreen source of political flame-throwing.”

Indeed, during her spiel, McDaniel sounded the alarm than in August alone “2,000 pounds of fentanyl came across our border. That could kill 500 million people…and the Democratic Party is ignoring this.”

A measured response would have been to point out that number is more people than live in this country and that there is no evidence these illicit products are making their way from Juarez to elementary school swing sets. Instead, the next day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he would seek $290 million in funding to fight this kiddie crisis. For maximum effect, he displayed photos of candy alongside rainbow fentanyl and implored, “Halloween is coming up. This is really worrisome and really dangerous.”

He’s right about people being worried but there is no evidence drug traffickers are planning to give free pills to kids under the guise of candy.

Rolling Stone reporters spoke with harm reduction experts, who confirmed that rainbow-colored fentanyl pills and powders are real. However, they are not being targeting to children, and dealers have no plans for an uptick in marketing and distribution on All Hallows Eve.

Colored pills have been around for decades and their purpose is to allow drug dealers to identify their goods or to make a carbon copy of legitimate pharmaceuticals. Similarly, heroin packets sometimes come with attractive images and cool names, ecstasy is packaged in bright shapes and colors, and LSD tablets often have cartoon characters or stars, smiley faces, and band logos.

“It’s a way to brand your stuff,” explained reporter Reilly Capps in an interview with Reason’s Lenore Skenazy. They may also make the product more attractive, but this can appeal to any age group. Rolling Stone interviewed Mariah Francis, a resource associate with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, and she told the magazine that “the pills in the photos shared by the DEA are all stamped and readily identifiable as pills, making it very hard to believe children are mistaking them for colorful candy.”

Targeting single-digit age children is nonsensical since that demographic has the least amount of disposable income. Moreover, fentanyl is up to 100 times more powerful than standard opioids, and foisting these upon a 7-year-old first-time user would almost certainly be fatal. It’s hard to imagine a worse outreach strategy than an instant killing of your customer base.

“All’s well that spends well” (Wellness industry)

There are several critical thinking errors associated with wellness, an intentionally vague term that can mean most anything a marketer, company, or user wishes it to.

Some of these are among the most frequent logical fallacies, such as the ad populum. Here, the ubiquity and popularity of a product is considered synonymous with its efficiency. Sometimes products sell because they work but other times it is due to who is endorsing it, a savvy marketing approach, or manipulated data.

Another frequent fallacy which is seen in wellness products is the appeal to tradition. While some traditions endure because they are good, others exist only because that’s the way we’ve always done it (i.e. circumcision or the Lions playing on Thanksgiving). Tradition is another way of saying inertia and the duration something has been done has no bearing on its soundness. If I punched myself in the mouth every morning, that would be a bad idea. At no point would it morph into a good idea because it had been done for a certain time length.

Still another frequent fallacy that makes its way into wellness marketing is the appeal to nature. This extends to other areas too, where with the exception of motor oil, synthetic is presumed to be undesirable. Appealing to nature is gold for the wellness industry since it targets those who think they are getting back to the way things were in a glorious past, be that our grandparents’ time or the Paleo era.

Proponents will use “natural” and let the assumption be that means foods the way nature intended. Or it is meant to bring to mind snowcapped mountains and flowing streams when it also means arsenic and box jellyfish venom.

I sometimes see a putative list of ingredients in fries or chicken sandwiches as sold in the US as opposed to their counterparts in other countries. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of either nation’s food constituency, but the implication is that the number of ingredients, along with their polysyllabic nature, means they are dangerous. There is no truth to this. Writing for Skeptical Inquirer, Nick Tiller gave this example: “Consider two glucose molecules —one synthesized in a lab and one found in nature. Both have the chemical formula C6H12O6, both appear as identical under an electron microscope, and both will have an identical effect on the body when consumed.”

Now we’ll move onto some fallacies that are less seen in general but which are still common in the wellness industry. We’ll start with the use of pseudoscience. This refers to using scientific terms improperly or fabricating terminology designed to sound scientific. In any event, the goal is to obfuscate.

Tiller cited the PowerBalance bracelet that enjoyed popularity among elite athletes early this century. It purported to harness the power of “holographic technology,” which is not a thing, with the bracelets said to be “embedded with frequencies that react positively with the body’s energy fields.” Frequency, positivity, and energy are all legitimate scientific terms but as used here are meaningless. Always beware of references to energy and remember that this refers to “measurable work capability.” Insert this phrase in place of “energy” when you see it in ads and it will usually become clear that the claim is absurd.

Along with energy, other words frequently bandied about are balance, immunity, and anti-inflammatory. Again, these are all valid concepts but likely are not so in the way they are used in wellness advertisements. At other times, the peddlers will just coin a term like bioharmonic in hopes of impressing the scientifically illiterate.

While hardly the exclusive purview of wellness, the industry it often guilty of observational selection, which refers to only counting the results you like. I have gone on extreme diets before and lost 25 pounds in a matter of a few weeks. I could highlight this as a success, but to tell the whole story, I would need to tell what happened when I went back to my old habits rather than instituting a lifestyle change. Ignoring such stories enables companies to tell the truth, but not the whole truth.

We also often see a confusing of correlation with causation, often in the form of post hoc reasoning. There might be a connection or it might by coincidence or it could be causation. But we need data and double blind studies to determine this, not anecdotes. As Tiller explained, “Personal accounts trigger emotion and contrast sharply with empty messages from large data sets of cold numbers and statistics. Products are often sold alongside customer testimonials and ‘before and after’ images to compensate for a lack of scientific legitimacy.”