Rounding up the numbers

Glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup, has been attacked since 2015 when the International Association for Research on Cancer concluded that the weed killer was likely carcinogenic for agricultural workers who used it regularly for years on end.

University of Florida horticulture sciences professor Kevin Folta noted that when it comes to cancer risk, glyphosate resides in the same category as eating processed meat, getting too much sun, and toiling as a barber. The same conclusion that IARC reached mentioned that glyphosate shows no signs of being dangerous in trace amounts in food.

The latest concern over the product centers on a report showing that it shows up in the urine samples of 80 percent of the population. Folta writes that this sounds alarming but a longer look reveals there’s little to worry about.

That’s because four decades of research have shown no epidemiological or/molecular evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. Also, the latest report uses terms such as “tied to cancer” and “linked to cancer,” but those are not scientific designations but rather attempts to tie together disparate items and suggest causality. In truth, they are nothing more than correlation, tenuous connections, and statistical anomalies.

As to the traces in our piss, the CDC assessment never measured how much was there, it merely noted if it was present. There is no reason to think there is any danger here. Researchers are not finding dangerous levels in urine or blood. The reason that any can be detected is that chemists have devised products efficient enough to detect 0.2 nanograms per milliliter of glyphosate in aqueous solutions like urine. That’s 200 parts per trillion. This poses no risk, since as always, toxicity is determined by amount, not substance. Further, glyphosate easily passes through the body, making it a carcinogen even less likely.

“Numb-bers” (COVID vaccine harms)

My children and I like to make an annual trek to the apple orchard each fall. Then there are those who prefer cherry picking. These types misuse numbers by design or by misinterpretation, leading to erroneous conclusions.

Let’s take the case of Dr. Peter Doshi, whom three doctors with Science Based Medicine accuse of beginning with an assumption that vaccines ineffective and harmful. He then crams in any data that seems to support this while dismissing any evidence, no matter how voluminous or persuasive, to the contrary.

His latest effort, “Serious Adverse Events of Special Interest Following mRNA Vaccination in Randomized Trials,” concluded that, “The excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest surpassed the risk reduction for COVID-19 hospitalization relative to the placebo group in both Pfizer and Moderna trials.”

The numbers he used were accurate but egregiously misused. It is similar the possibly Apocryphal story about Pravda reporting that the US and USSR had a two-car auto race won by the Americans – by printing that the Soviets had come in second and the USA next to last.

Doshi’s tactics included double- or triple-counting any harm suffered by those who received a vaccine, while not doing that for the unvaccinated. For example, a vaccinated patient who had gastroenteritis and abdominal pain counted as two adverse reactions, whereas any unvaxxed person hospitalized for COVID counted as one, regardless of how many symptoms they displayed, or how serious the impact was.

An even bigger deficiency was Doshi failing to account for long-term results. How quickly a virus spreads can impact how long it takes a vaccine’s benefits to be seen. By contrast, nearly all vaccine harms occur right after receiving the shot. This means almost all adverse reactions will be seen in a few days, whereas immunity through vaccination cannot be determined for months.

So to accurately ascertain the benefits, a research trial would need to run the course of an entire pandemic. As more were exposed to the virus, the vaccine’s benefits relative to placebo would increase. Had the trials lasted two years, there would be many more cases of severe COVID, especially among the unvaccinated. But these trials were ended well short of a year for ethical reasons.

And there are still more flaws in Doshi’s conclusions. In the two trials he cited, there were 74,000 participants, with 36,930 of them receiving a vaccine and only 366 having COVID. Therefore, the vaccine had many more opportunities than the virus to cause adverse reactions.

Also noteworthy, nearly all of those harmed by the virus received a placebo. Like all subsequent studies, the trials revealed that COVID was dangerous and the vaccine effective at mitigating that. There were 40 cases of severe COVID, all but one in the placebo group. This is substantial because many of those 74,000 participants have since contracted COVID. Once this protection was known, it would have been unethical to continue the trials and allow people to remain unvaccinated.

So when Doshi claims that “results show an excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest greater than the reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations in both Pfizer and Moderna trials”, he doesn’t acknowledge these studies were terminated because the hospitalizations were rising. The trials were designed to stop once a small number of people got COVID, but Doshi deceptively uses numbers to deduce that COVID was no big deal. But the trials didn’t prove COVID wasn’t a threat. Rather they ended so rapidly precisely because COVID was a threat.

Doshi neglected to reference a single trial showing the vaccine’s benefits in his paper even though evidence is overwhelming that COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Only someone who starts with the conclusion that vaccines are ineffective and picks the cherries he likes would arrive at such a conclusion.

“Doctor and the Clerics” (Trans treatment hysteria)

There are some who see 1984 as less a cautionary tale and more an instruction manual. Witness Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this year siccing states on the parents of transgender minors. Meanwhile, a glut of bills, some of which have passed, banned gender-affirming care for trans boys and girls, with 10 years in prison the punishment for prescribing medication.

Proponents of such laws claim that this care is experimental, which they by extension imply harmful. Yet Science Based Medicine cited a systematic literature review of 52 studies, which show improvement in patients following gender-affirming medical intervention. By contrast, those who had not socially transitioned normally experienced depression and anxiety.

As to the notion that this is new, trans individual have taken cross-sex hormones since for more than a century and GnRHa first treated gender dysphoria in 1988. These are safe treatments, for as the Endocrine Society’s Clinical Practice Guidelines states, “Pubertal suppression is fully reversible, enabling full pubertal development in the natal gender, after cessation of treatment, if appropriate.”

Experimental treatments are those that serve as an intervention or regimen and have shown curative promise but which are still being evaluated for efficiency and safety. This does not apply to trans care, such as puberty blockers. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has endorsed gender assignment surgery and medical therapy as being effective and even life-saving. These drugs inhibit puberty in order to enable the brain time to mature and to allow for exploration of gender identity. They are not prescribed for prepubescent children and are only given at the onset of secondary sex changes.

There is a wide gulf between medical treatments following careful consultation and foisting it upon the masses, which detractors claim is happening in schools. Also of note, the treatments are reversible and genital surgery for gender reassignment is rarely.

Nearly 30 major professional health organizations have recognized the medical necessity of treatments for gender dysphoria and endorse such treatments. As such, doctors should make these decisions after consultation with families; politicians on a fundamental religious bent should not be the ones dictating medical care.

“Hot doggies” (Cattle deaths)


This month I traveled to my home state of Kansas to visit friends and relatives. The heat and humidity were intense enough that on a couple of days it was hot even after the sun went down. By my discomfort was mild compared to what some cattle in the southwestern portion of the state endured. Beef cattle have short lifespans and are born with a death sentence but at least they normally get to contribute to the economy and be part of the food chain. But not so for the unfortunate 2,000 cows and bulls who died as a result of a specific set of horrific conditions.

Speaking of bull, there was plenty of that being spread in the wake of this natural disaster. Without bothering to interview cattle producers, veterinarians, or meteorologists, conspiracy theorists hastily threw together memes which proclaimed the deaths to be part of an unspecified plot targeting the nation’s food supply. The creator of the one that popped up on my timeline ridiculed anyone who dared contradict these assumptions. This, coming from the throng which favors the mantra, “Question everything.” But they did no such questioning, succumbing instead to the personal incredulity fallacy and deducing there had to be a stealthy evil behind this, since cattle have previously survived extreme heat. Some claimed the method in question was poisoning, despite never specifying what type of poison, outlining how it was obtained or administered, or showing how the cattle lots were breached. No video of the supposed intrusions were offered.

Asking questions is fine if genuinely seeking an answer; it is not OK if the interrogative utterances are disingenuous, thinly-veiled accusations. And on a side note, it’s hard to miss the irony that those who mock COVID concerns since the virus has a 99 percent survival rate turn around and express alarm over .000002 percent of the nation’s cattle collapsing.

Someone creating such a meme, which came complete with the requisite face emoji, has no interest in what happened, but is instead after self-congratulation for arriving at their own truth. It makes them feel good and provides comfort to think they are exposing something, i.e., the slaughter of someone else’s cattle for an undefined benefit. This allows the persons creating the meme and those seeing it to plug the holes in with their preferred villain, be it Bill Gates, Bilderbergers, or Biden henchmen.

The truth, in this and in most cases, is much more mundane. Television station KWCH got to the truth by speaking with subject matter experts. This included Dr. Jess Shearer, a veterinarian with the Hillsboro Animal Clinic.

Shearer explained why the cattle succumbed to the heat and humidity, which are conditions they and their producers are usually able to combat. One factor was the rain which preceded the heat wave. This caused high humidity, a condition which was exacerbated by no breeze and temperatures soaring above 100 degrees. Beef industry expert Corbitt Wall told KWCH reporters that this set of circumstances caused feed lots to be much hotter than what cattle are accustomed to. In addition to these factors, most of the cattle were ready for market, and as such, weighed well over half a ton. Finally, up until the heatwave, 2022 had been cooler than usual, which meant the cattle were still shedding their winter coats.

These are reasons behind the cow-pocalypse. There was no need to fabricate a malevolent plot anymore than there would be if the cattle had perished during an unexpectedly early and brutal snowstorm.

“There’s no conspiracy,” Shearer said. “When all those things come together, that sometimes happens. Recently, we’ve seen very high temperatures throughout the day, and the temperatures at night aren’t getting very low. When the animals can’t cool off at night, the stress really catches up with them.”

KWCH also interviewed Dr. Nels Lindberg, a veterinarian who consults with Kansas feed lots. He told reporters, “Sometimes the conditions get so extreme, it doesn’t matter how hard producers prepare the environment, the operation, or the animals. This was the perfect storm. We had several days of rain, which created some high humidity in a typically very arid environment.”

I recall nighttime temperatures being over 70 that week, which is great for people, less so for beef cattle that need cooling off. “That’s when cattle are able to dissipate that thermal load and when they can’t, it just continues to build,” Lindberg said.

So going straight from unseasonably cool temperatures to unrelenting heat permitted no acclimation. Lindberg said he has seen this specific type of situation twice before, which torpedoes claims that this occurrence was unprecedented.

Another source that bothered to check facts was the aptly-named Fact Check. It spoke with Sam Capoun, spokesperson for the Kansas Livestock Association, who described how heat, humidity, and a lack of wind created the circumstances that caused these deaths. According to Capoun, cattle normally accumulate heat during the day, then lose it at night. This time, they were unable to shed that heat because the nights failed to cool.

Moreover, AccuWeather meteorologist Jake Sojda reported that drought conditions began appearing in southwest Kansas in September 2021, adding that localized pockets of exceptional drought appeared seven months later. He added, ”Since then, occasional thunderstorms have helped to keep the drought from continuing to worsen, but this activity has been localized and infrequent, so drought improvement has also been isolated as well.”

That drought, combined with triple-digit temperatures, created dangerous conditions for cattle. Even four inches underground, it was 91 degrees.

Again, asking questions is fine. In fact, that’s what the media outlets referenced in this post did. But if a person’s response to these answers is to declare that cattle producers, veterinarians, meteorologists, and skeptic bloggers are conspirators in a food supply disruption plot, that person has no genuine interest in getting to what happened and has literally missed the bullseye.



“There’s no needle” (Nightclub mass panic)

For a group that professes to refuse to live in fear, the anti-mask, anti-social distancing throng seems mighty scared of a needle.

There is, however, a different circumstance for which such a fright would seemingly be justified. In Skeptical Inquirer, Benjamin Radford writes of a terror last year in the UK focusing on supposed attacks by needle-wielders in bars and nightclubs. These reports were reminiscent of a 1980s urban legend centering on gay men injecting AIDS-infected needles on random victims.

Today’s putative assaults are reported to involve a stealthy injection of young women, followed by a blackout of that night and a sharp pain in the morning. Radford outlined why this scenario was improbable.

“Needles have to be inserted with a level of care, and that’s when you’ve got the patient sitting in front of you with skin and no clothes,” he explained. “The idea these things can be randomly given through clothes in a club is just not that likely. Normally you’d have to inject several milliliters — that’s half a teaspoon full of drug — into somebody. That hurts, and people notice.” Additionally, the New York Times spoke with criminology professor Fiona Measham, who called the putative attacks “really unlikely.”

Meanwhile, journalists took a deeper look at the supposed happenings. A BBC newscast quoted professor Adam Winstock of the Global Drugs Survey, who expressed skepticism about the reports.

On another issue, Radford wrote about the unlikelihood of a sufficient amount of drugs being delivered via this method: “Any drug capable of the effects attributed to the attacks would need to be administered in large enough quantities to be effective and therefore would be detectable in subsequent blood tests. Yet in all the many dozens of reports, not a single one was confirmed by blood analysis. There was…evidence of other psychotropic drugs…which can induce the symptoms reported in the needle attacks, but no unintentionally ingested drugs were found.”

As to the pin prick sensation, professor Chris French of Goldsmiths College, wrote, “The reports of feeling a sharp pain are more likely to be due to, say, insect bites or other mundane causes than to surreptitious injection. There are equally mundane explanations for the discovery of marks on the body, such as bruising. When we have no reason to examine our bodies for evidence of anything out of the ordinary, we fail to notice everyday bumps, bruises, and grazes; when we have motivation to look, we are less likely to overlook such mundane marks.”

“Claim to flame” (Food factory fires)


This month’s moral panic centers on a supposed swarm of arsons targeting food processing plants. This, even though the National Fire Protection Association has stated that the blazes are not occurring at an unusual rate, nor do they seem to have been intentionally set.

For believers, the reasons such blazes have been roaring are that President Biden is trying to distract from his failures or that a malevolent shadowy group is disrupting the food supply. The usual target here is Bill Gates, who is the descendant of the Rothschild-Bohemian Grove-Illuminati-Free Mason line of catch-all villainy.

While it might be scary to think that the food supply is being intentionally interrupted, or at least exciting and ego-stroking to think that you are exposing it, the numbers point to far more mundane matters.

Saranac Hale Spencer of FactCheck interviewed NFPA spokeswoman Susan McKelvey, who told her that the roughly 20 fires in U.S. food processing facilities this year “is not extreme at all and does not signal anything out of the ordinary. The recent inquiries around these fires appears to be a case of people suddenly paying attention to them and being surprised about how often they do occur.”


Still, the crowd which mocks COVID concerns since the virus has a 99 percent survival rate are much more antsy about the food processing fires, which have taken place in .0005 percent of such facilities nationwide. And this microscopic number is typical of most years.


Both fires and food processing plants are more common than most people might think and if adding a bit on conspiracy theory-think to the equation, one can end up concluding that something sinister has to be going one when there is a fire hitting such a target every week on average.

For example, Headline USA told of FBI warnings about a series of suspicious fires. However, the associated article referenced ransomware attacks, not flames. Moving from the mistaken connection to the just plain loony, Arizona state senator/nutcase Wendy Rogers insists that Gates is behind it – even though there’s nothing to be behind.

Along those lines, there are accurate reports that Gates has plenty of farmland – in fact, he is the country’s largest owner of such property. But the follow-on assumption that he is plotting to control the US food supply is unable to bear the weight of the facts. His 242,000 acres owned represents .0003 of the county’s agrarian space. So .0003 percent of the farmland and blazes at .0005 percent of food processing facilities are neither literally or figuratively alarming.

“Creative math” (Anti-evolution mathematics)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Thing Coal” (Fire walking)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blue it” (Huggy Wuggy and Disney hysterias)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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