Don’t blame it on the rain

FROG

There have been sporadic reports worldwide for two centuries of frogs and fish plummeting from the sky. The most recent account came last month in Oroville, Calif., where elementary school teachers and students showed up to the sight of fish strewn across the playground and even on the roof.

No eyewitnesses reported seeing any falling aquatic animals, nor were any images of such captured on school security cameras. In most other instances, this is the case: Frogs and fish are seen en masse in places they normally aren’t, yet seldom do witnesses report seeing them fall, nor is there video or still shots of this happening. And it would seem that if a frog or fish were to fall from a high distance, the impact would splatter them, whereas most of these tales involve still-living frogs and fish that are dead but with intact bodies.

As to the cause, a few have suggested divine intervention, noting that frogs were among the plagues an angry Yahweh foisted upon the Egyptians. At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, some consider the animals akin to manna being sent from above. But a convergence of small, wet animals on the streets or in yards is more of an inconvenience than a curse. And the idea of consuming them seems less than appetizing, so these explanations fall flat, even more so considering the complete lack of evidence and testability that accompany them.

Most attempts to explicate focus on a more natural source, such as a tornado or updraft. The most common assumption that these or other extreme weather phenomena suck the animals out of a lake or river, then lift and drop them. Many legitimate scientific sources have pegged these as the likely reason.  

Purdue University professor of atmospheric science, Dr. Ernest Agee, has said, “I’ve seen small ponds emptied of their water by a passing tornado. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable for frogs to rain from the skies.”

Such an explanation makes the most sense for instances where the animals ended up of roofs. The only other options would be a prank, which would be a lot of work for something not very funny, or a misfire during an attempt to restock lakes by plane, and there’s no more evidence for this ever happening than there is for the plague hypothesis.

But while extreme weather is a plausible reason for a few of the incidents, most of the instances came with no nearby tornado or updraft nearby. And again, many of the stories have involve frogs that lived, which would not be the case if they had been transported via tornado.

Many persons suspect waterspouts, which are tornadoes that form on land before traveling over water. But while their appearance resembles a typical tornado, they have much less power than one and would be incapable of lifting a cow, much less a carp.

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid explained: “The decreased air pressure inside a tornadic waterspout can raise the water level by as much as half a meter, but water itself is not sucked up inside. The visible column of a waterspout is made up of condensation, and is transparent. The high winds will kick up a lot of spray from wavelets on the surface, but the spray is thrown outward, not sucked up inward. Just below the surface of the water, things are undisturbed.” So these spouts have no mechanism to reach into the water, consolidate amphibians or other objects, then spew them skyward, where gravity takes over.  

Dunning suspects most of the supposed cases of raining frogs and fish involve the animals never leaving the ground. Frogs do not migrate to the same degree that birds do, but the seasons do dictate which locale they prefer. In spring and fall, they move from shallow breeding ponds to deeper lakes. Being amphibians, they need to keep their skin at least moist, so they will often make these moves in the rain. Moreover, the frog army will march as one, perhaps crossing roads and fields. When an observer sees a heavy storm with thousands of frogs in places they don’t normally congregate, the idea that they came down with the rain can take hold.

This can even work with fish, as about three dozen species are capable of going overland for brief periods. Fish such as mudskippers have an organ which enables them to breathe in air, and they can walk using gill plates, fins and tails. So witnesses may see a large school of fish flopping somewhere completely out of place, and the persons make the connection to stories of falling fish they’ve heard before.

Lending credence to Dunning’s idea is that it is almost always fish and frogs that are involved. Even comparable animals, such as lizards, crabs, and geckos never litter the streets in such a manner, and raining cats and dogs remains but a metaphor.

 

 

 

 

“Sticker schlock” (Healing stickers)

STICKER

While many unproven, probably unworkable treatments have graced the alternative medicine landscape over the decades, Body Vibes has managed to put their own stamp on it. Literally. The company sells Healing Stickers that purport to solve a dizzying array of physical and mental maladies. Conditions that can be alleviated or controlled with the magic stickers include timidity, shyness, anxiety, inflammation, hangovers, pain, toxicity, dehydration, confusion, hormone imbalance, insomnia, and fatigue. Most bewildering, Body Vibes assures users they can attain “unicorn skin.” I guess if your medicine is make-believe, you might as well take it all the way.

To the veteran skeptic, the pseudoscience red flags pop up at once. Detoxing is the role of the liver and kidneys and if they are malfunctioning, you need an emergency room, not an adhesive adornment with butterflies. Second, the body produces several different hormones in varying amounts and each type is constantly in flux. There is no balanced state, so precisely what balancing hormones means, or how this would be beneficial, is unexplained.

The Body Vibes website also throws in the frequent alt-med gambit of saying the product “increases the body’s natural ability to heal itself.” This is a self-refuting claim since the body is not naturally healing itself if a product is needed to help it along.

Linguistic objections aside, the product’s description focuses more on stealth than health. It contains references to vibes, electrics, vibrations, bio-frequency, charges, receptor simulation, sub-harmonics, energy fields, electrical signals, mimicking frequencies, and optimizing brain and body functions. These are listed with no explanation of what they are, how they operate, or why accessing or altering them is beneficial.

While most of the language is consistent with the appeal to novelty (where a product’s recent origin is its main selling point), Body Vibes covers all the alt-med bases by employing the appeal to novelty’s equally evil twin, the appeal to tradition. Specifically, the website alludes to unblocking flow, which is a staple of acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, chiropractic, and similar bogus healing methods that rely on non-existent meridians and chi.  

The website reads, “When we have an emotional block, the Body Vibes will help to move that energy and release it. Once these negative or challenging emotions are released our body is clear and in a good flow. It’s like driving and hitting all the green lights.” Nice auto analogy there, though I’d have preferred the sentence be used to define “emotional block,” or perhaps offer scientific evidence for how the block is released or specified what the body is being cleared of.

Forbes columnist Bruce Y. Lee took issue with another vague claim, that the stickers “target the central nervous system.” He wrote, “That doesn’t say much. Hitting your forehead repeatedly with a brick can target the nervous system as well.”

Body Vibes offers no peer review, no double blind studies, and no research to support any of their claims, which are so disjointed, meandering, and undefined that it’s not even clear what they are asserting.

Lee also noted that for all the supposed variety of afflictions that will be terminated or mitigated, there is a conspicuous uniformity to the stickers. Further, he wrote, “It’s not completely clear how many stickers you need to wear at a time, where on the body these should go, when you should wear them, or how long.” The website offers little clarity on that front, telling users only that, “Effects of Body Vibes may vary. Some people experience immediate benefits, while others realize the results over time. We recommend wearing Body Vibes for at least one month.”

The stickers’ purported abilities are so broad that users could credit any health improvement to them, and most alternative medicine is built on this ad hoc foundation. And a recommended one-month minimum use period, combined with the fluctuating nature of most illnesses and pains, means most users will think some benefit is being achieved.

In a mostly sympathetic interview with sporteluxe.com, Body Vibes co-founder Leslie Kritzer showed her scientific illiteracy by claiming the stickers are chemical- free. She also said the products are safe for everyone to use, which is a dead giveaway that the stickers have no medicinal properties. Genuine medicine is going to carry a chance of risk, even if very slight. Medicine, by design, impacts the body, and a blanket statement that a product is 100 percent safe for all persons in every circumstance shows it is not medicine.

Kritzer later claims that the material for the stickers was “originally developed for NASA and used to line the spacesuits of astronauts.” Assuming that’s accurate, it still says nothing about how applying a piece of Buzz Aldrin’s wardrobe will help your throbbing knee.   

 

“Guarding of the change” (Antikythera Mechanism)

 

GREEKCOMP

Some pseudoscientists belittle science for its ability to adapt to new information. For instance, Ken Ham wrote, “I’m glad the Bible’s not a textbook of science as it would change all the time.” In fact, the Bible does change, as the first chapter of Genesis has plants being created before humans, while the subsequent chapter transposes that order. Then in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said he came to fulfill Judaic law, while the seventh chapter of Romans changes this so that the messiah’s coming instead freed persons from having to follow it.

But getting back to science, adjusting one’s thinking to square with new research and evidence is perhaps the field’s most defining hallmark. While Ham ridicules scientists for their suppleness, other pseudoscientists take the opposite approach and portray scientists as hostile to change and threaded by new ideas. A creationist blogger at thetruthofjudgement.com wrote, “Evolutionists are not comfortable with people objectively looking the evidence and coming to their own conclusion, and instead prefer to brainwash kids.” Upping the hyperbole even further, Mike Adams wrote, “Big Pharma is terrified that you might discover a simple, powerful truth: You can prevent, reverse and CURE serious disease yourself without doctors, drugs or surgery.”

Neither of these assertions contained evidence that ran contrary to standard scientific positions. If they had, scientists would evaluate the claims and test them. And despite the insistence that terrified scientists quake at the notion of new ideas, we will see that it is usually pseudoscientists who are most resistant to altering their views.                                                                                                       

Consider interpretations of the Antikythera Mechanism, which was found in 1900 as part of a long-ago shipwreck in the Mediterranean. At 2,200 years old, the device altered the timeline of technological history. It displays a complexity and precision of calibration that archeologists initially thought did not appear in machines until a millennium later. The device is so sophisticated that it almost certainly is the result of incremental progress, yet no similar device has ever been uncovered, nor has any reference been to it been found in ancient scientific or mathematical journals. This is not surprising since the difficulty of producing one would likely have necessitated that it by made in tiny quantities, with few corresponding instruction manuals.

The mechanism incorporated a series of brass gears and dials that mounted in a case. Its inscriptions indicated it to be an instrument for predicting eclipses, moon phases, and planetary positions. It was also capable of nifty tricks like mathematical calculations and letting the users know when the next Olympic Games would be. It could reasonably be called the first known computer and would have been the latest smart phone of its day. A modern reconstruction of the device can be seen here: tiny.cc/lqrsly

It is unclear who used it, though Brian Dunning at Skeptoid suspects it was for the elite. The labor required to create it would have dictated that it be available only to the affluent and influential. Despite this, it may still have served a public good. An article in Nature noted that “Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing religious festivals.”

When cranked, the Antikythera Mechanism’s main gear would turn many subordinate smaller gears to reveal the desired feature, such as key dates, moon phases, and eclipses. The eclipse dates came with a corresponding color that likely represented a specific omen. For all the advances of the civilization that created the mechanism, they were still subject to superstition, much as how one can find an online astrologer today.

This is an instance where reality is fascinating, yet pseudoscientists insist on fabricating a still more amazing narrative. Those favoring a more elastic interpretation deduce that since no other known culture had the mechanical acumen to construct such a device until 1,000 years later, the Antikythera Mechanism must have been crafted by aliens. Or Atlanteans. Or time travelers. Or time traveling alien-Atlantean hybrids.

Working against the alternate hypotheses is that the instructions are in Greek, rather than in whatever type of script aliens or Atlanteans would have devised. While the find did alter the technological timeline, this speaks to the adaptability that science is known for. Such discoveries are welcomed by most scientists, especially the ones who make the find. Scientists do not fear new evidence and conclusions, but welcome them if they pass the requisite tests.

In the case of the Antikythera Mechanism, anthropologists and archaeologists gained a better understanding about the development ancient technology. It is a validation of the Scientific Method and stands in contrast to the pseudoscientific method of plugging in gaps with one’s pet cause.  

For instance, theancientaliens.com wondered, “How could the Greeks of the first century achieve this amazing feat when they were still using crude iron and bronze tools? There is only one possible explanation. Beings with advanced knowledge…created the device or gave the knowledge for its creation to someone during the first century B.C.”

Meanwhile, atlantisevidence.com lists the mechanism as one of its top 10 pieces of evidence for the lost continent. Unlike the affirming the consequent example in the previous sentence, this website doesn’t even offer even a feeble, supposed proof of a connection between Atlantis and the Mechanism, it just asserts there is one.  

Finally, in Time Travel: A New Perspective, J.H. Brennan acknowledges only two possibilities: That a time traveler created the mechanism in the modern day and took it with him to ancient Greece, or that he went back in time and created it there. He then presumably made a layover in 1980 to purchase Apple stock.

In lieu of one piece of evidence, discovery, or research, Brennan offers the logical fallacies of an argument from ignorance and affirming of the consequent. He wrote, “Nothing we have found in modern physics denies the theoretical possibility of time travel and prehistory seems peppered with sufficient anachronisms to allow some credence to the data.”

As these examples show, it is the pseudoscientists who most reject evidence that doesn’t fit their narratives and who show the least adaptability – two traits they regularly try and project onto scientists. As Dunning noted, “When confronted by a discovery, stopping at the supernatural explanation is guaranteed to lead you nowhere.”

“Graham’s crackers” (Ancient advanced North American civilization)

ANACH

In Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock argues there once existed a North American civilization that was more advanced than the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians, despite predating all of them. Using “magic” and “gods” in the title of a book purporting to contain groundbreaking science could be seen as a red flag, but let’s acquiesce to the cliché about not evaluating a tome by its front and examine what’s inside.

Hancock asserts that around 13,000 years ago, a comet took out most members of a civilization that had achieved great strides in engineering, industry, mathematics, medicine, agriculture, astronomy, infrastructure, and education.

Nanodiamonds strewn across our continent do suggest a comet hit in the time and place Hancock is saying. According to Science, nanodiamonds only occur when sediment is exposed to extreme temperatures and pressures, such as what occur in explosions and impacts.

But there is a problem with trying to extrapolate this evidence for the comet into it being proof that it annihilated a great, previously unknown people. That’s because the obliteration would have been so complete that it eliminated any trace of bones, teeth, tools, pottery, clothing, homes, temples, aqueducts, implements, writings, drawings, paintings, and everything else. As catastrophic as the asteroid was that took out the dinosaurs, the terrible lizards still left behind fossil calling cards of having been here. And no stegosaurs or pterodactyls kept farm animals, wore robes, employed eating utensils, drew well water, or devised roadways. An advanced civilization would have done all this and more, yet no remnants, not even a shard or fragment, exists to support the notion that these people existed.

Hancock insists there were a few human survivors, but that they then “travelled the world in great ships and settled in key locations,” which is pretty much any place Hancock could find a monolith to shoehorn into his narrative. These locales include Indonesian pyramids, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, Baalbek in Lebanon, the Sphinx, and Mesoamerican temples. He credits his wondering tribe of intellectual giants with being responsible for these grand structures and overseeing their planning, construction, and gift shops.

In addition to being great monuments to a past civilization, they also have relevance to the future, Hancock says. Through his interpretation of inscriptions at these sites, Hancock deduces that, “Within the next 20 years, Earth faces a catastrophe a thousand times worse than the detonation of every nuclear weapon on the planet — a collision with the remnants of a comet big enough to end all life as we know it.” For support of this interpretation, he offers no astronomical observation, but rather a long-ago prediction by the medicine men of Canada’s Ojibwa people, who foretold, “The star with the long, wide tail is going to destroy the world someday when it comes low again.’

He cites similar soothsayers from other cultures, such as early Zoroastrians who warned of a “fierce, foul frost” and “fatal winter,” which Hancock insists will follow in the asteroid’s wake. There’s still more doom and gloom: “Everywhere they went these Magicians of the Gods brought with them the memory of a time when mankind had fallen out of harmony with the universe and paid a heavy price.” He fails to explain what harmony with the universe is, but does stipulate that the price will be another killer comet. Not just any comet, but a remnant of the original. In what would be the worst sequel in Earth’s history, Hancock warns that a 20-mile fragment of the one that hit 13,000 years ago will slam into our planet and kill most of us.  

Hancock’s case is primarily the argument from ignorance, as he treats an inability to explain alternate hypotheses as a vindication of his position. For instance, with Göbekli Tepe, it is unclear how hunter-gatherers erected 50-foot, multi-ton stone pillars. Archeologists and anthropologists, being scientists, say, “I don’t know, let’s find out.” By contrast, a pseudoscientist declares, “I don’t know, therefore (fill in blank with my favorite superstition) did it.” In Hancock’s case, he wrote that Göbekli Tepe is proof that “some as yet unknown and unidentified people somewhere in the world had already mastered all the arts and attributes of a high civilization more than 12,000 years ago and sent out emissaries around the world to spread the benefits of their knowledge.”

Where Hancock differs from most doomsayers is that others offer a specific method to remedy or at least mitigate the impending disaster. There is a god one must repent to, there are survivalist supplies to purchase, there is a cult that offers sanctuary, there is a place to congregate while awaiting rapture, there is a mass suicide to partake in that will reveal a higher plane. With Hancock, though, we get only this vague reassurance: “The technology already exists to sweep our cosmic environment clean of potential threats and to ensure that we do not become the next lost civilization.” Conspicuously absent from this isolated optimism of Hancock’s is precisely what technology we have or how to employ it.  

Michael Shermer wrote, “Hancock has spent decades in his vision quest to find the sages who brought us civilization. Yet decades of searching have failed to produce enough evidence to convince archaeologists that the standard timeline of human history needs major revision.”

Hancock blames this rejection on persecution from the establishment, a standard pseudoscience ploy. Specifically, he claims that scientists wish to see incremental, easily-observed, gradual change as opposed to catastrophic or sudden explanations. Yet science has embraced the latter notions with regard to the Pompeii, the slaughter of Stone Age hunter-gatherers by competing tribes, dinosaur extinction, the universe’s origin, and how the moon came into existence and how it became cratered.

This week, findings in Morocco suggested that the starting point for homo sapiens may need to be moved back 100,000 years and relocated from the Horn of Africa. If further research bears this out, anthropologists will adjust their thinking about where and when mankind Mankind originated. Far from being stodgy and unbending, scientists are excited by discovery and they relish dialogue. The reasons Hancock has been rejected are: 1. The total lack of archaeological evidence for ancient advanced North Americans; 2. No proof being offered of an asteroid’s imminent impact, and; 3. Seers being listed  among his key sources.

 

 

“Assume the simple position” (Occam’s Razor)

BQ

I have been doing this long enough and with enough frequency that if one read a post a day it would take a year to finish the blog. I heartily encourage this activity, but for readers lacking the time or ambition, I can sum up the blog’s contents as being an endorsement of Occam’s Razor. This is the notion that, all other things being equal, the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one. Closely related to the Razor is the notion of the burden of proof, which states that the person making an assertion is required to provide evidence for it and not merely challenge listeners to disprove it.

Carl Sagan famously noted that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Suppose I amble into work late and my co-workers wonder why. One postulates that I may have encountered the road construction they had. They were there, it happened to them, they know I take the same route, so that seems a likely reason. But another wonders if I was delayed by persons on horseback engaged in a medieval war reenactment, which had taken place over the weekend on a family farm. A third co-worker speculates that I may have slipped into a wormhole where aliens detained me to obtain skin and blood samples before releasing me back onto my usual route.

The first choice requires just one assumption, that I had encountered the same construction as my co-worker had. From there, the number of assumptions increase. The equestrian excuse would require that the reenactment went beyond the scheduled date and took place in a locale other than its designated point. The final explanation would require assuming the existence in Moline of both wormholes and aliens and assume I had encountered both on my commute.

Anyone espousing the third option would have the highest difficulty level since it employs the most assumptions to reach its conclusions. Still, such attempts to shift the burden of proof and bypass Occam’s Razor happen all the time.

O.J. Simpson’s defense team attempted to shift the burden to the prosecution by trying to make it prove that Nicole wasn’t killed by Colombian drug dealers who mistook her for Faye Resnick. Judge Lance Ito disallowed this line of reasoning, owing to a total lack of evidence. “Prove it wasn’t drug dealers” is not a valid defense argument and such reasoning is not critical thinking.

While the number of assumptions is important, so too are the quality of those assumptions. The Simpson trial, like most criminal cases, had prosecutors assuming  the defendant’s guilt and defense lawyers presuming his innocence. But there was no reason to think drug lords were targeting Faye Resnick, much less confusing her for Nicole Brown Simpson, as this required more assumptions than concluding that the relevant evidence included a trail of O.J.’s DNA leading from the crime scene to his vehicle and residence, his history of abusing the victim, and bloody shoe imprints. 

Now let’s apply this to science. A blogger at logicofscience.com wrote about authoring a paper on the diet of a turtle species. In his research, he collected the shelled creatures, had them defecate in a bucket, then examined the feces. There, he found a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish. The conclusion was that these turtles ate a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish, since this explanation required the fewest assumptions.

The biology blogger noted he could have instead deduced that “someone went out before me, captured the turtles, force fed them crawfish, then put the turtles back into the pond.” Or he could have assumed this force feeding was done by aliens. But theses options would require unfounded assumptions, the latter necessitating a step beyond even the middle choice. Such conclusions are usually instances of begging the question, where speakers reach the conclusion first, then attempt to buoy that conclusion with unproven premises.

No one takes issue with the science when it involves reptile diets or other noncontroversial topics that leave world views and favored industries untouched. But if the scientific conclusions do impact those areas, there are those who seek to dull Occam’s razor, beg the question, and contort themselves in order to finagle around the evidence.

Young Earth Creationists, for example, insist all animals and plants were destroyed in a worldwide flood 5,000 years ago. This means that in the YEC scenario, all corals today would had to have started growing around the time the Pyramids were constructed. But corals grow about a foot a year under ideal conditions. The Great Barrier Reef would have taken more than 500,000 years to reach its current size.

For corals to have gotten as large as they are today, if they only started growing 5,000 years ago, they would had to have grown at a rate many times more than  has ever been observed. The standard YEC response is that perhaps growth rates were much faster in the past than they are now and that the rate has slowed down exponentially since, for reasons unknown.

They employ the same thought process with being able to see stars millions of light years away. This proves Earth has been around at least as long as it has taken the most distant starlight to reach us. But the YEC answer is that maybe the speed of light has not been constant. The coral and starlight responses are both instances of ad hoc reasoning backed by no evidence. It requires assuming that an aspect of botany or astronomy is much different from what has ever been observed or recorded. It is also begging the question. They begin with the assumption that a worldwide flood wiped everything out 5,000 years ago, then try to make all evidence (or in these cases, speculation) fit that assumption. They go from conclusion to evidence, whereas science works the other way.

A third area of creative deduction by YECs centers of alternating layers of light and dark sediment that accumulate in lakes. The different colors are the result of seasonal changes, with light layers made in winter and dark ones made in the summer. Some lake centers feature millions of these layers, so we can draw one of these conclusions:

  1. A set of two layers forms every year in these lakes. Some lakes contain millions of layers. Therefore these lakes are millions of years old.
  1. Layers were formed during the flood, through an unknown mechanism. By a second unknown means, floodwaters sorted the particles into alternating layers of sediment, then the layers managed to form only over lake beds, and did so at a rate of 10 layers per minute, rather than two per annum, which is the only rate that has been observed.

The YEC takes on these occurrences requires rejecting all data and scientists’ understanding of the natural processes involved. Their response to the scientifically-deduced facts are to offer unsupported ad hoc speculation that proposes unknown and unworkable mechanisms. They fail to manage even the first step in the Scientific Method, observation, because no one has observed the phenomena they claim are occurring. As our turtle excrement-collecting blogger noted, “If we grant creationists the ability to create unknown mechanisms in order to derive interpretations that match their pre-existing biases, then an infinite number of interpretations become possible. It is always possible to generate an ad hoc argument, which is why Occam’s Razor is so important. It tells us that the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one.”

That is why almost all conspiracy theories collapse under the weight of Occam’s Razor. Some anti-vaxxers claim that pharmaceutical executives pay immunologists to say vaccines don’t cause autism. Here, we have two options:

  1. Ethical scientists reach their conclusions through sound research.
  2. These hundreds of researchers from multitudinous institutions and companies are being paid to falsify data. Moreover, none of these hundreds who are in it solely for ill-gotten gain have been lured away by wealthy anti-vaxxers offering to pay them more.

This shill accusation is similar to the charge leveled at climate scientists. On this issue, the two primary competing options are:

  1. 99.8 percent of the 12,000 peer-reviewed papers published in the last five years have attested to anthropogenic global warming, so this is likely happening.
  2. Anonymous elites are paying these thousands of climate scientists to reach this conclusion and fabricate data, yet this plan is being foiled by oil company executives and Facebook posters exposing the plot.

Again, from the logicofscience: “Ask whether there is any reason to think the scientists are corrupt other than the fact that you don’t like their conclusions.”

Going back to the Sagan quote, if one is going to assert the scientific consensus is wrong about climate change, the Big Bang, evolution, vaccines, or GMOs, it is insufficient to offer, “Were you there when the universe began?” or “Follow the money trail.” The burden of proof is on the speaker to provide clear, well-researched, and reasoned evidence for their position.

In some instances, there is no damage other than to the listener’s intelligence. Ancient Aliens attempted to branch into evolutionary biology by suggesting extraterrestrial visitors may have altered dinosaur DNA in order to have them develop into smaller creatures like birds and coelacanth.

In other instances, the misinformation is fatal. Anti-vaxxers mistakenly cite improved sanitation and nutrition as the reason for the decline in infectious diseases over the last century and a half. While those were welcomed health advances, when it comes to disease eradication, here are the two choices offered:

  1. Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents for the real deal, which is why instances of the diseases plummet after vaccines are introduced, and spike when vaccination rates fall.
  2. The introduction of vaccines has coincidentally occurred at a time when the impacts of improved sanitation and nutrition were beginning to be seen. This benefit has extended to countries with deplorable sanitation like India. This has even effected airborne diseases like rubella, which are impacted by sanitation and nutrition improvements by an unknown means. A decline in vaccine rates does not impact disease; rather there has been a coincidental reduction in sanitary and nutrition benefits for unknown reasons when vaccine rates go down. The reason all this is not universal knowledge is because nearly every immunologist is pumping out fabricated propaganda to discredit sanitation and nutrition improvements and cover for vaccines, which actually cause disease.

Those who embrace the latter idea also cotton to the idea of a repressed cancer cure. But which requires the fewest assumptions: That oncologists have been unable to find a panacea for a disease that has more than 100 variations, or that they have, but are eschewing everlasting fame, untold fortune, worldwide adulation, and the chance to spare them and their loved ones, in order to continue enriching the pharmaceutical industry, which has yet to figure out there is more money to be saved in selling that cure?

Meanwhile, 9/11 Truthers talk about the hijackers having little flight training and Tower 7 collapsing despite not bearing a direct hit. They hypothesize that Flight 93 was shot down, insist that a missile hit the Pentagon, and make repeated references to jet fuel and steel beams. However, even if all their claims were valid, it would no more indicate guilt by the Bush Administration that it would cause blame to fall on Islamic terrorists, communists, the Irish Republican Army, or the few remaining Branch Davidians. Which requires the fewest assumptions: That a wealthy and committed terrorist leader with the means and stated desire to pull of such an attack did so, as indicated by passenger phone calls, conversations between hijackers and air traffic control, and flight manifests; or that it was all an elaborate hoax that included WTC security workers, victim’s family members, the airlines, Pentagon witnesses, BBC reporters, and even Philippines police officers, who in 1995 uncovered and turned over to the FBI evidence of what became the 9/11 plot?

One final example, focusing on Bigfoot, which has two primary options. Which of these contains the fewest assumptions?

  1. A complete lack of verifiable evidence strongly suggests its non-existence.
  2. A sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has lived, bred, hunted, and roamed from the Northwest Territories to the Bayou for two centuries without once being shot by a hunter, hit by a vehicle, or leaving behind a corpse, skeleton, fur patch, or excrement.

It is not on me to disprove an ad hoc rationale about a troop of lumbering beasts mastering stealth and adroitly avoiding human contact at all cost. The burden falls on those who make these assertions the centerpiece of their Sasquatch Science.

“Rock it, science” (Science basics)

ASF

There are some areas of science where there is no real dispute. Some of these are issues are life-and-death, others are a little less serious, and some are downright goofy. But in all these subjects, denial of the evidence embodies the rise in anti-science sentiment.

Those of us on the other side should be ready with the facts because we never know when and where we may need to use them. This points here will be elementary, but they can still come in handy if needing to educate a science neophyte, a hardened opponent, or someone being contrarian for the sake of being so.

I want to be clear that science changes when warranted by the evidence and any information contrary to what will be presented here should be considered if it is the result of following the Scientific Method and submitting for peer review.

Late last year, Lorrie Goldstein urged his Twitter followers to ask liberals to explain the science behind climate change and then “watch the fun.” Reader Karen Geier took up the challenge, though the answer likely provided Goldstein with little of the anticipated amusement. I am borrowing liberally from her response to address the first of our seven topics.  

HOW WE KNOW CLIMATE CHANGE IS OCCURRING

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor, allow visible light to pass through, but absorb infrared light. This is akin to a windshield that lets light shine through but traps the heat from that light.

The warmer atmosphere then emits still more infrared light, which is usually re-absorbed. This causes energy that gets to Earth to have an even harder time leaving. Hence, Earth’s average global temperature increases, producing climate change.

Since the Industrial Age began, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 40 percent and methane has increased by 15 percent. The average global temperature has increased 1.4 degrees since 1880, with two-thirds of that warming coming since 1975.

HOW WE KNOW EVOLUTION IS REAL

Contrary to what you may have heard, evolution has no relation to Marxism, morality, or societal collapse. Rather, it is the change in inherited characteristics of biological populations over time. These changes are mutations in the DNA sequence of a cell’s genome and they create variation among members of a species. Favorable mutations are more likely to survive and reproduce, while unfavorable ones to get squeezed out. Within a few generations, the unfavorable mutations may be gone completely. The process of holding onto traits that enhance survival and reproduction is known as natural selection.

Evolution has been observed in petri dishes and is the reason why a flu shot is given each season. Other evidence is found in the geologic column, as the farther down it scientists go, the simpler fossils are that they find.  

Another piece of evidence is Richard Lenksi’s ongoing e. coli experiment. Lenski began tracking genetic changes in 12 initially identical a sexual e. coli populations in 1988. The populations are now in their 60,000th generation and Lenski has observed a wide array of genetic changes in all 12 populations.

More proof comes in animals that exist only on isolated locales like Palau, Madagascar, Iceland, and Tasmania. Then there are transitional fossils like Lucy, Archaeopteryx, and Tiktaalik. Not only are there transitional fossils between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and birds, reptiles and mammals, and apelike animals and humans, but the fossils occur in the precise Geologic Column strata that one would expect to find them.

Still more evidence are similar anatomies and nearly-identical DNA sequences between species, such as humans and chimps sharing 98 percent of their sequence. Also, traits of one animal may be present in the embryonic state of another animal, even across classes. One example is gill slits in human embryos, which suggest common ancestry with fish.  Similarly, vestigial traits such as a whale’s pelvic bone are evidence of the sea dweller’s descent from a land animal.

HOW VACCINES WORK 

Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents and stimulating the immune system to build defenses against them. When a bacteria or virus enters the body, immune cells produce antibodies to fight the antigen interloper and protect against further infection.

Our immune system produces millions of antibodies daily, vanquishing antigens so efficiently that we don’t know this battle is taking places. But the first time the body faces a particular invader, it can take a few days to produce an adequate response, and for nefarious invaders like Whooping Cough or the measles, that’s too long.

Unless, that is, one has received a vaccine, which is composed of dead or weakened antigens. These antigens are incapable of causing an infection, but the immune system doesn’t know that, so it marshals antibodies to fend them off. Then if the real deal ever comes along, the body unleashes an immediate response.

HOW WE KNOW GMOs ARE BENEFICIAL

Genetically Modified Organisms are plants that are altered by the splicing of genes and the insertion of DNA from one species into another. The goal is transfer properties that have agricultural benefit, such as drought-resistance, pest-resistance, better taste, more nutrition, or a longer shelf life. 

Genetic modification carries no risk that doesn’t apply to other food production methods. For instance, regardless of the method in which it is cultivated, any plant can cause cross pollination. Compared to traditional plant breeding, there is less risk of concentrating natural toxicants through genetic modification since far fewer genes are transferred.

A 2014 review of 1,783 studies by Italian scientists showed there is no credible evidence that GMOs pose any unique threat to the environment or the public’s health.

The four unnatural methods of potentially improving seeds are selective breeding, interspecies breeding, mutagenesis, and genetic modification. The first three methods affect 10,000 to 300,000 genes and the resultant food product is not tested. GMOs, by contrast, involve one to three genes and are tested for safety before they are allowed to go to market.  

Genetic modification has given us insulin, saved the Rainbow Papaya by making it resistant to a pest that would have wiped it out, and produced Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice that would save Third World children from blindness if bureaucratic obstacles to its distribution could be overcome.  

HOW WE KNOW CONTRAILS ARE INNOCUOUS

When a jet engine spews out hot, humid air into a cold atmosphere with low vapor pressure, condensation results. The water vapor coming out of the engine quickly condenses into water droplets and then crystallizes into ice. The ice crystals are the streaking clouds that form behind the engine.

How long they linger depends on the atmosphere’s humidity. When the atmosphere is more humid, the contrails linger, but when the atmosphere is dry, the contrails disappear more quickly. It’s similar to seeing your breath on cold days, as the breath is visible for a shorter duration on dry days.

Even if there were dangerous chemicals being released on the populace, the high altitude from which they are dropped would cause them to dissipate and to spread over such a large area that the amount that any one person would ingest would be insufficient to do damage.

HOW WE KNOW OUR SOLAR SYSTEM IS HELIOCENTRIC

Geocentrists say Earth remains stationary while all heavenly bodies rotate around our planet. But even at warp speed, Neptune would be unable to complete a rotation of Earth in 24 hours. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Saturn would need to approach the speed of light to complete a daily orbit, meaning they would be demonstrating relativistic length contraction. They would appear as a thin vertical object rather than a spheroid. In a geocentric solar system, Earthlings would be unable to observe stellar aberration, the perceived yearly change in the positions of stars.

A key proof was provided by Leon Foucault’s pendulum. The French physicist suspended a weight from a wire and set it swinging. He had included a pen below the weight, and this pen drew a line in a circle of wet sand. An hour later, another line intersected with the first one at an 11-degree angle. This change in consistent with a rotating Earth, as is the fact that the angle of this intersection will differ depending on which latitude a Foucault Pendulum is employed.

Then we have the Coriolis Effect, which causes hurricanes to rotate in different directions depending on what hemispheres they are in. It also impacts satellites, missiles, and long range artillery shells. This effect exists only because we are on a rotating planet. Also, an earthquake with a magnitude of nine or greater can shift enough mass to subtly alter the course of Earth’s rotation, which would be impossible if there was no rotation to change.

Finally, Venus and the sun could not both orbit Earth while moving farther away from each other. Yet the planet’s size and brightness depends on its phase. In the heliocentric model, Venus is largest and shiniest when it’s closest to Earth and smallest and darkest when it’s on the other side of the Sun, and this is consistent with what astronomers observe.  

HOW WE KNOW EARTH IS ROUND

Those espousing a flat Earth are probably engaged in the most blatant science denial of all the camps, so they are the least likely to be rehabilitated. Still, here is the evidence if you have the means and willingness to address the subject with them.

The best evidence are the abundance of photos of a round Earth. Other irrefutable pieces of proof are the International Space Station, satellite TV, Global Position Systems, Felix Baumgartner’s leap from the edge of space, and the cell phone company satellites which enable Flat Earthers to post their screeds on the Internet.

There’s much more. Yachtsmen and commercial sailing ships going solely east or west end up back where they started. Flat Earthers will try to bring up the lack of north-south navigation to prove, well, I’m unsure what exactly. But even this point falls, how shall we say, flat, because north-south navigation was accomplished by Ranulph Fiennes in the early 1980s.

Then we have temperature differences by season, which is consistent with a spinning planet tilted at 23.4 degrees and which is hit with a nearby star’s rays at a more direct angle in July in the Northern Hemisphere and in January in the Southern Hemisphere.

Other evidence: It being light in the Americas while it’s dark is Asia; Earth’s shadow on the moon during eclipse; Seeing the top of ships first when they come over the horizon; The farther one travels from the equator, the closer stars are to the horizon; If you put two sticks in the ground a few feet apart, they will produce shadows of different length; The higher up you are, the farther you will see; The moon’s appearance is different in the Northern Hemisphere than it is in the Southern because the angle from which it is being viewed is different. As one example, in the Northern Hemisphere the first-quarter moon looks like a D, while in the Southern Hemisphere it looks like a C.

Finally, a flight from Sydney to Santiago is 7,000 miles and takes 12 hours. A flight from Sydney to Dallas is 8,500 miles and takes 17 hours. On the flat Earth model, Santiago is much farther from Sydney than Dallas is and it would require traveling at nearly double mach speed to make the flight from Chile to Australia in that time. That could make for some serious contrails.

It is frustrating that the points made here need to aired. But we must continue the fight until our cooling Earth is filled with a vaccinated, GMO-fed people who know  their round, spinning planet is populated with the results of natural selection.

“Considering the source” (Ancient aliens)

DRAGPYR

One of the points emphasized by ancient astronaut proponents is that cultures which had no knowledge of each other produced similar structures. This supposedly suggests a common source provided the technology and ingenuity to make wonders such as the step pyramids in Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia, and Iran.  

Ken Ham employs similar logic with dragons, pointing out there are similar tales, descriptions, and artwork of such creatures in different civilizations and times. He uses this to bolster support for his belief in flying, fire-breathing beasts. Blogger Nicole Canfield does the same with fairies, positing that stories of diminutive playful humanoids in disparate cultures attests to the creatures’ existence.

There’s actually quite a bit of difference in how fairies have been depicted in various cultures and periods. Some of the earliest fairies appeared in Roman myths, where they were female personifications of destiny. They exemplified wisdom and power, so were portrayed as being matronly or even ancient and were bedecked in standard fashion for senior women of the time. By the Middle Ages, fairies had gotten hold of Dr. Oz’s anti-aging cream and were usually thought of as resembling little girls in virginal white. Accoutrements like pointy hats, wings, and flower petal necklaces were creations of the Victorian Era. These instances of sprite evolution likely rile Ken Ham, so we’ll let him and Canfield bicker over the legitimacy of that occurrence; meanwhile we’ll focus on whether step pyramids that resemble each other indicate a common, extraterrestrial origin.

The key question is whether the similar features of the pyramids were necessary for function. If peripheral elements of the pyramids are identical, that likely would suggest that those constructing them were drawing from the same source. If those peripheral elements are different, the pyramids were likely independent inventions of each culture.  

Unfortunately for ancient alien aficionados, the step pyramids’ lone similarity is design. They are built in a logical way, with the larger, heavier steps supporting the weight of the smaller, lighter ones, which also allow the structure to be ascended.

Other than that, the structures differ. The number of steps, the height, the design at the top, and what they were used for all varied by civilization. That which was necessary for function is the same everywhere, but the aesthetics, cultural, and artistic underpinnings differ.

Steven Novella noted that many cultures have come up with similar living residences (“quadrangular structures with walls at 90 degree angles,” is how he put it). Yet there are no History Channel episodes suggesting aliens were constructing these homes in between finishing off the Moai and commencing with Macau Picchu.

Additionally, archeologists have studied and understand the evolution of pyramid design and construction. They started out as bench-like burial mounds for pharaohs and ended up as the massive structures that today are synonymous with ancient Egypt.

Since there’s no reason to believe ancient Egyptians, Persians, Mesoamericans, and Indonesians were drawing from the same source, the alien angle is even less relevant. And even if we had a reason to suspect homogony, we could stay Earthbound.

There is an Incan city wall that alien proponents consider to be beyond the abilities of primitive craftsmen. They maintain the Incans lacked the technology to shape huge stones to such precise degrees that a piece of paper cannot fit between them. However, retired architect John McCauley demonstrated how all one would need would be boards, ropes, sticks, stakes, bronze pounders, and flint scrapers: http://tiny.cc/c7wily. The tools were rudimentary, but the ingenuity was irreproachable, and the dedication unrivaled – this was a multi-year project.

There’s enough awesomeness in our universe that there’s no reason to fabricate any. It is, for instance, fascinating that there were a people without electricity, power tools, or motorized transport, and who were limited to indigenous resources, who still constructed grand structures that stand millennium later. But these civilizations also dreamt up terrible ideas that are long forgotten, and that is why the ancient alien notion is an instance of survivorship bias. This is when one focuses on the greatest successes of a group, idea, or object and consequently ascribes inflated abilities to it. Ancient alien believers consider the architecture far beyond the means of a primitive people, yet they never see the trial and error that led to the great successes.

Steve Jobs is an inspiring tale of a college dropout who started in his parents’ garage and built one of the world’s largest private employers. Yet we see only him, not the untold masses who attempted a similar journey and never made it out of the garage. While confidence, vision, and ambition are important, they are no guarantee of success or even adequacy.

During World War II, the Navy was trying to make its planes less susceptible to being shot down. Plans were developed to add armor to the plane parts that showed the most damage upon return from battle. But ruminating statistician Abraham Wald noted this approach only considered craft that had survived their mission. They had been hit in places they could be struck and still return safely. Therefore, the armor should be added to places not showing damage – places which aircraft that had not returned had likely been hit.

Alien enthusiasts see the pyramids, Moai, or Tholos of Delphi, and consider them evidence of extreme outsourcing done by advanced visitors. They never see the structures that were razed because of their impracticality, poor craftsmanship, or inability to weather attacks from a Ken Ham dragon.