Tired and tested

The Hungarian mathematical giant Paul Erdős would meet any reasonable definition of genius. He is so revered in his field that the “Erdős Number” refers to how many degrees of separation one is from having collaborated with the man. A number of 1 is assigned to those privileged enough to have co-authored a paper with him, a person who worked with that co-author would have a number of 2, and so on.

Besides incessant work habits which produced more than 1500 papers, Erdős was also known for his minimalist, transient lifestyle. He had almost no possessions, no significant interest beyond mathematics, and not even a home. Not that he ever wanted for a roof over his head. He traveled extensively to seminars, during which world-class mathematicians competed for the honor of having him stay with them so they could engage in problem-solving pursuits with Erdős.

During one such sojourn, a heavy thunderstorm sent rain shooting through an open window, which caused the somewhat-panicked Erdős to awaken the homeowner and express his alarm and confusion. This, as opposed to shutting the window. A man whose trophy case and walls of accomplishments would be absurdly expansive were he the type to have trophy cases and walls was unable to do what the average soaked dimwit would have done in the situation.

This amusing anecdote highlights one of the problems with Intelligence Quotient tests. They focus on specialties like problem-solving, reasoning, and planning. Erdős would have scored extremely high on such a test, perhaps achieving the most stratospheric number ever. But the test would fail to account for his ability to manage common-sense actions like weather-dependent room adjustments.

Similarly, an IQ test subject may have ingenuity but produce only mediocre grades in established academic classes. Another may struggle with slightly advanced mathematical principles but know how to recognize and exploit business opportunities. The idea that there is a single notion of intelligence, much less a way to adequately test everyone, in untenable.

In the early days of IQ tests, the quotient referenced the subject’s mental age, divided by the actual age. So a 10-year-old who reasoned at what the test considered average for a 15-year-old would score 150.

Later adaptations of the test graded on a curve so that the number represented a placement within the distribution of aggregated scores. So the “quotient” in IQ is no longer literal, although the term is still used.

But the tests fail to adjust for cultural differences and some critics argue that the testing more measures social class than intelligence. There is also the issue of those who don’t “test well,” while having a better ability to analyze and solve problems in real life.

Another drawback is the IQ tests revert perpetually to a normalized measure, with 100 being forever average and 68 percent of testers always scoring between 85 and 115. This keeps the focus on maintaining norms more than it does the stated goal of determining brainpower.

One needn’t be Paul Erdős to know all this doesn’t add up to a meaningful test.

“Inflamed issue” (Anti-inflammatory diets)

The Alternative Medicine Holy Trinity consists of boosting the immune system, detoxing, and decreasing inflammation.

As to the first point, except in extreme cases like late stage cancer or treating AIDS patients, boosting the immune system is neither possible nor desirable. An elevated immune system is characterized by autoimmune conditions such as lupus, celiac, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, detoxing is only genuine if a known toxin is being removed by a medically-understood process. An example would be a person exposed to a dangerous level of arsenic being treated by a toxicologist. Of all the “natural detoxing regimens” being touted, the only legitimate one is having a working liver and kidneys. And if those are shutting down, you need the ER, not an acai smoothie or mineral salt footbath.

Now onto the idea of reducing inflammation, which will be the bulk of this post. The usual idea is to avoid foods that will cause inflammation and subsequent unpleasant conditions, though exactly how they are doing that and what is being inflamed is often unexplained.

Indeed, there is no science suggesting that disease is caused by inflammation, that inflammation needs to be avoided, or the food avoidance would accomplish that.

While alt-medics wish to boost the immune system, which would be harmful were it possible, they wish to decrease inflammation, which could likewise be detrimental. One manifestation of inflammation is redness and swelling, which results when the body heals from injury or battles an infection. As Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explained, “The capillaries dilate, allowing more blood to flow through, and also stretching open their pores, allowing white blood cells to escape the capillaries and inundate the damaged area. Inflammation is your body’s natural, healthy immune response to some problem.”

In most instances, alt-med proponents would welcome an all-natural, immune system-based response, but here such a solution is dreaded.

It should be noted that inflammation is not always the body’s way repairing tissue or fending off infection. It cases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, it can worsen the conditions. But this does not mean that there are specific foods that can help the patient reduce the inflaming.

Dunning cited the SkepDoc, Harriett Hall, who informs us that inflammation is a complex response involving many different physiological processes and is not a single phenomenon that could be addressed by a uniform response.
In those instances when inflammation is detrimental, there are anti-inflammatory medicines that can help with this, but are there any food that would do the same? Not according to anything that food scientists have uncovered. However, it should be noted that many alt-med websites focus more on what foods to avoid rather than ingest to combat inflammation. And here, they may be right, but nor for the reasons they think. That’s because avoiding all foods through fasting may have some impact.

Dunning explains: “When you fast, there’s a slight increase of lactic acid in your blood, along with beta-Hydroxybutyric acid, which is associated with ketones. These trigger some chemical reactions that turn off inflammasomes.”

Adopting the other extreme, gorging, will likewise increase inflammation. “If your gigantic meal is high in saturated fats, this effect is greater,” Dunning wrote. “The increased inflammation is associated with your body’s overdrive effort to metabolize this giant meal, and it subsides once the food has been digested.”

In summary, inflammation in a healthy person is the immune system’s way of fending off disease or tissue damage. Trying to fight that is both counterintuitive and futile.

“Points shaken” (Creationism)

In a column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that science supports creationism. However, he never gives scientific support for any intelligent design hypothesis, nor does he explain how a god came to be or which deity is the correct one.

While science has yet to confirm the existence of Yahweh, Vishnu, or Ra, it has explained many phenomena previously attributed to gods, such as extreme weather, healing plants, and eclipses.

Let’s run through Douthat’s five points and examine them.

First, he claims that fine-tuning in the universe proves the existence of God. I am disappointed that he trots out such a hackneyed, many-times-refuted assertion. I enjoy a good intellectual spar and having a New York Times columnist, in a fresh work, resort to something this lame is, well, lame. His thinking is akin to arguing that a puddle holds the precise amount of water that it does is because the water was designed for puddle-filling purposes.

In a more original and thought-provoking point, Douthat posits that the notion of a multiverse strengthens the idea of God since some of those universes – or one of anyway – are suitable for human life.  But University of Chicago biology professor emeritus Jerry Coyne suggests that points away from such a deified notion. Coyne writes, “If God wanted to simply create life, with humans as its apotheosis, why did he go to all the bother of setting up multiverses, many of which don’t allow life?”

Douthat’s third point is that consciousness proves God. He claims physical processes are inadequate to explicate the complexities of consciousness, which run the gamut from comprehending the idea of color to doctoral theses on Greek philosophy.

This is at once the god of the gaps fallacy and special pleading. Further, Coyne notes that naturalism has shaped our understanding of consciousness, specifically, “the parts of the brain that are necessary for the phenomenon to appear in our species, the chemicals that can take it away and bring it back, and so on.” Moreover, science is an ongoing process that admits it doesn’t know everything and continues to search for answers. As Coyne explained, “Consciousness will be explained when we know all the parts required, and how they interact, for a being to become conscious.

Onto point four. Douthat feels that the comprehensibility of the universe itself proves God. However, this is more special pleading since whatever created God would have to  have instilled that comprehensibility in him, then the even more advanced god have done the same before that, ad infinitum.

He next argues that reputed sightings of demons, along with near-death experiences and feelings of overwhelming spirituality vindicate the notion of god. But if this is the case then ALL gods are real, along with ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, and psychic powers. 

What’s more, these experiences can be replicated with drugs, chemical mixtures, and deep meditation. Astronauts in training often report mental and physical reactions similar to near-death experiences. Persons with psychosis or other severe mental issues also report profound, very-real-to-them accounts like this.

Finally, Douthat thinks that because evolution leads us to believe in things that are real and true, a ubiquitous belief in God points to his existence. However, no amount of belief makes something true.

Taken in totality, Douthat’s work breaks little new ground and the few original tidbits fail to satisfy the book’s stated goal of proving God through science.

“Vax facts” (HPV immunization)

Some people paint anti-vaxxers as misinformed and misled, seeing them being driven by fear rather than ill intent. But I assume a more hardened approach. Those operating from a mistaken but well-intentioned position would refrain from doing what has been done to the family of Riley Hughes. When he died in infancy from whooping cough, which he was too young to be vaccinated against, his parents turned their unimaginable grief into productive action and launched a campaign to spread awareness of the vaccine’s importance. For this, they were accused by anti-vaxxers of having murdered their son and trying to cover it up by inventing the whooping cough angle. Others denied the child ever existed, and other grieving parents have been subjected to nonstop doxing, abuse, and slander. These are not the actions of good people.

Contrast that with the approach of those in the pro-vax crowd. Here in Moline, a child just entering high school died three years ago from Acute Disseminated Dncephalomyelitis. (ADEM). Anti-vaxxers convinced the mother that the HPV vaccine her son took earlier in the year caused the death and persuaded her to join their ranks. Despite his mother making the situation public and becoming an anti-vax campaigner, I will not mention her or her child by name out of respect and sensitivity.

Writing for the Skeptical Raptor, law professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss noted that the no epidemiological factors exist to establish a link between the vaccine and the death.

The deceased suffered from a headache but that mundane malady quickly transformed into something much more serious. He had to be hospitalized and become unable to breathe on his own. Meanwhile, his left side became paralyzed and his brain swelled. Based not on evidence or science, but on what they wanted to believe, anti-vaxxers pounced and connected the situation to the HPV vaccine. However, there is no evidence supporting a link between HPV vaccines and ADEM, which is characterized by a brief but widespread inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. ADEM often follows viral or bacterial infections, and occurs infrequently after vaccination for measles, mumps, or rubella, but not for HPV. Several large studies have found no connection between HPV vaccines and ADEM: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29280070/M.

Inevitably, when you vaccinate large numbers of people, you will have some bad things happen after the vaccines, or any other activity. But it is post hoc reasoning to tie the incident to having a vaccine, eating Rice Krispies, or running a half-marathon.

There are other reasons to doubt a link. First, the child’s ADEM manifested 40 days after the vaccine. In a large study of ADEM and vaccines, such a time period would be at the farthest reach possible for there to be a connection.

Second, the few cases of ADEM reported after HPV vaccine administering occurred after the second does and the child received just one.

Finally, his mother has initially mentioned that he also had a viral illness in the weeks before showing symptoms of ADEM, and infections are much more associated with ADEM than are vaccines.

“Little Bang” (Banjawarn incident)

Imagine the conservative reaction if an Islamic terrorist cell had killed 600,000 Americans on U.S. soil and liberals were treating it with as much mocking and dismissal as conservatives are the coronavirus. Further, think if there was a near-guaranteed way to painlessly end the slaughter but left resisted it with as much gusto as right-wingers are fighting vaccination. They also reject masks mandates, even comparing them to the holocaust, the gulag, and slavery. A guy on Facebook told me that having to wear a mask was the same as being burned at the stake. Yet this self-proclaimed Joan of Arc and his ilk have embraced internment camps, Guantanamo, and police killing a sleeping black woman.

These wild contradictions are based on prejudice. They consider a killer shooting up a workplace to be a lunatic if white, an illegal immigrant if brown, a terrorist if a little more brown, and a thug if black.

On a larger scale, they view a Republican president having nuclear weapons capabilities as phenomenal, other nations having the capabilities as undesirable, and foreign national individuals having them as terrifying. Which brings us to the fear that the Australian outback was the scene for that precise nightmare unfolding.

Per the legend, there was a flash, an airborne streak, and buzzing seismometers. Believers refer to it as the Banjawarn Bang and it is said to have taken place in some 400 miles from Perth on the mammoth sheep ranch, Bamjawarn Station.

We can confirm that a 3.6 magnitude earthquake rocked the Outback on May 28, 1993. Though less certain, the claim that the seismic event was accompanied by a mighty boom and blinding light was reported by truckers, prospectors, and the area’s few residents.

The idea that it all meant rouge individuals had acquired a nuclear weapon stemmed mostly from the mind of mining industry worker Harry Mason, who having failed to find a crater that might explain the light and seismic impact, concocted a god-of-the-gaps explanation that it was an electromagnetic weapon based on some Tesla theories.

A few weeks later, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyō unleashed a fatal gas attack on a Tokyo subway. It turned out cult members owned the Banjawarn property, where it developed the weapons used in the assault. An idea then sprouted that the fireball, ground impact, gas attack, and Aum Shinrikyō’s land ownership all meant that the cultists had achieved nuclear weapons proficiency.

To look into this possibility, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology investigated whether the Banjawarn event might have been consistent with nuclear weapons testing. IRIS ruled his out since waveforms of nuclear seismic events have an exceedingly sharp attack that slowly fades. By contrast, the Banjawarn event left a seismic imprint that was much smoother and consistent with an earthquake.

It also turned out that Aum Shinrikyō did not inhabit the property until after the Bang. Additionally, there is no reasonable way to reconcile doomsday cultistd achieving nuclear Armageddon capabilities and keeping it in reserve instead of unleashing it – especially since it launched an attack that killed far fewer people than what a nuclear bomb in the middle of Tokyo would have yielded.

“Stock footage” (COVID claims)

There is more information available today, and accessible in more formats, than ever before. While this proves desirable in some instances, it also creates an opportunity for a person to select which of these pieces of information he or she chooses to believe and use it to seemingly confirm preexisting opinions.

With regard to the pandemic, this can mean that medical expertise, professional advice, and years of high-quality research are brushed aside for an uncle’s anecdote, right-wing Twitter outrage, and YouTube rants. In an example of the latter, Dr. Dan Stock assails an Indiana school board about the putative danger and shortcomings of masks and COVID-19 vaccines.

Writing on the Deplatform Disease blog, Edward Nirenberg describes the Stock’s speech as a Gish Gallup. This refers to a proponent rattling off a bunch of points in quick succession. Most or all of the points may be wrong, but the content is so voluminous that few persons will commit the hours needed to research and refute each argument. For the speaker, a Gish Gallop confers the additional advantage of a listener thinking that if only 10 percent of the points raised are sound, that’s sufficient reason to doom the issue being attacked, be it evolution, GMOs, or pandemic control.

Stock claims COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses are small enough to go through your mask. Like many anti-vax arguments, this represents a grain of truth in a bushel of bunk. While a single particle is small enough to make it through a mask, that is not how viruses travel. They do so inside aerosols and droplets, which masks do stop.

Stock further states that all respiratory viruses wait for the “immune system to get sick in the winter,” an assertion which lacks even the aforementioned single grain. But the people who seek out this information, such as the half dozen who littered my Facebook feed with it, are never going to look into this. They are content to consider watching this video “their research,” which is a corruption of the concept of research.

Nirenberg conducted genuine research on the matter and he explains that, “The seasonality of respiratory viruses is a complex matter dependent on many factors, many of which have nothing to do directly with immunity. For instance, when it’s cold, people gather indoors for prolonged periods close together in poorly ventilated spaces. Humidity is lower which also affects virus transmission, as it allows aerosols to remain suspended for longer and mucociliary clearance may be impaired.”

Stock throws out another mistaken notion, alleging that vaccines serve to derange the immune system. He offers no proof to support this extreme claim, and fails to even explain what would constitute deranged immunity.

The Gish Gallop kicks into top speed as Stock rattles of a laundry list of viruses that have no vaccine. While this is true, his non sequitur conclusion is that virologists will therefore be unable to control COVID. What is hampering the arrest of COVID are the likes of Stock, who put of public disinformation, and the minions who swallow it all without question, while ironically labeling those with the opposite opinion to be the sheep.

Stock then declares that breakthrough infections prove the vaccine is ineffective. But Nirenberg notes that many respiratory viruses are enjoying a seasonal resurgence, likely because or relaxed mitigation measures. Further, CDC data shows the vaccine has been nearly 90 percent effective against symptomatic outbreaks and there have been virtually no hospitalizations or deaths from COVID among the vaccinated population.

Stock discusses antibody-dependent enhancement, which he mislabels “antibody-mediated viral enhancement.” Nirenberg counters that Stock defines ADE incorrectly by suggesting it is exclusive to vaccines. Moreover, he mixes up ADE and VAERD, which are distinct entities and ADE does not have to be caused by a respiratory infection. It is also unrelated to how pathogenic a virus is. If ADE were happening, reinfections would be both common and more severe with COVID-19.

On a related note, Stock references the Barnstable County outbreak and, in a post hoc reasoning error, says this proves the vaccine to be ineffective. But Nirenberg wrote that if 100 vaccinated persons are in a room where an aerosolized virus is introduced, a few may get sick, but however many people fall ill, 100 percent the stricken will have been vaccinated. The way to gauge the vaccine’s efficiency is by comparing the percentage of vaccinated persons who get seriously ill from the virus with those who are sickened while being unvaccinated. Right now half of the country is vaccinated against COVID and hospitalized coronavirus patients are more than 95 percent unvaccinated.

Stock further claims no vaccine ever stops infection, which is untrue, and besides, a vaccine need not prevent infection for it to halt transmission and provide robust public health benefits.

Stock then references a mumps outbreak and claims the outbreak was caused by vaccinated persons shedding the virus onto the unvaccinated. Besides being mistaken, this crosses into dangerous territory since an unhinged believer may act on this falsehood and attack medical workers and mask-wearers.

In yet another erroneous claim, Stock states that the combination of vitamin D, ivermectin, and zinc has successfully treated 15 COIVD patients. This is unbacked by any data, and as Nirenberg points out, with a sample size this minuscule, a proponent could find any activity and falsely label it a cure. For example, those 15 could watch Mr. Beast three hours a day, with none of the group developing serious coronavirus complications, and we could then conclude that bingeing on quirky philanthropist videos will end the pandemic.

“Broken bat” (COVID origins)

For several years, political partisans have played armchair historian and asserted that whomever is currently occupying the White House is either the best or worst president of all-time. Which of these two it is depends solely on the person’s political leanings and is not based on policy, accomplishments, ability to build consensus, or to craft compromise.

But genuine historians, as opposed to the armchair variety, will tell us that it can take upwards of 50 years to determine a president’s performance. That much time is required to judge the impact of his policies and decisions. For example, the Marshall Plan is the brightest feather in Truman’s cap, but this would not have been obvious in 1946.

Similarly, the idea that we can ascertain right now the origins of COVID-19 is a mistaken notion based on a misunderstanding of virology. Skeptic and medical writer David Gorski explained that when a virus migrates from animals to humans, it can take years to determine the origin. Epidemiologists are still uncertain which animal Ebola came from and it has been around since the U.S. bicentennial.

To deduce the origin, scientific sleuths must sample wild animals and sequence the viruses they carry to find a close genetic relative, a task Gorski likens to “haystacks within haystacks. So the fact that scientists don’t know where the relatively new coronavirus comes from is not evidence that it came from a laboratory. Still, there are some who excitedly claim it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, either engineered as a bioweapon or having leaked out.

Gorski wrote, “While it is possible to create genetic sequences without, for instance, typical restriction enzyme sites of the sort that were frequently used to insert sequences into genomes…it is more difficult than conspiracy theorists let on. To them these nefarious Chinese scientists were supposedly so clever that they not only did something that’s not at all trivial but did it without leaving behind any telltale signs in the sequence of genetic manipulation.”

Theorists also argue that a natural virus pandemic would gradually mutate and become more infectious but less deadly. Virologist Angela Rasmussen said this is wrong, that those in her field would not necessarily anticipate this. Further, the virus’ low fatality rate, combined with the fact that a significant number of those infected are asymptomatic, would mean there is little selective pressure for mutations that make it less deadly, particularly when it’s still widespread.

Moreover, several studies show the virus likely evolved from previously existing coronaviruses and is continuing to evolve as is spreads.

By contrast, the conspiracy theory assumes abilities beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced research teams. It further assumes that whoever created this would know what effects it would have on humans without having tested it.

Virologists can predict what impact mutations might have, but these are highly-educated guesses and not certainties.

Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology previously determined that bats in the area carried coronavirus varieties. But that’s a very different thing from proof that the pandemic came from a leaked source as opposed to free bats.

“Lying saucer” (UFO sightings)

Michael Shermer has compared this year’s media frenzy over UFOs to a similar phenomenon in the late 19th Century. Back then, observers and newspapers reported sightings of mysterious airships, which were eventually determined to be dirigibles. Historian Mike Dash wrote, “Not only were they bigger, faster and more robust than anything then produced by the aviators of the world, they seemed to be able to fly enormous distances, and some were equipped with giant wings. The general conclusion of investigators was that a considerable number of the simpler sightings were misidentification of planets and stars, and a large number of the more complex the result of hoaxes and practical jokes. A small residuum remains perplexing.”

Today, as then, most sightings are explicable but a few go unexplained. Some jump to the conclusion that this means extraterrestrial visitors have arrived. But this is a leap so large it would require the existence of a wormhole it is surmising got the aliens here.

Even the most fervent UFO believers consider the great majority of aerial phenomenon to be the likes of weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, secret military aircraft, sun reflection, planets, meteors, satellites, swamp gas, ball lightning, and so forth. All those were in a cattle call that UFO enthusiast Leslie Kean jotted off while writing about the phenomenon.

This made for a reasonable take until Kean meandered into this god-of-the-gaps like fallacy when addressing the one in 20 sightings that remain mysterious: “They probably are of extraterrestrial or interdimensional origin.”

She puts major emphasis on eyewitness accounts, considering them even more reliable if they come from a person in authority, such as Belgian Maj. Gen. Wilfried De Brouwer, who reported seeing “a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately 120 feet and powerful beaming spotlights.”

Eyewitness accounts are one of the lower tiers of evidence and however much esteem the viewer has does nothing to alter this. Moreover, Kean alters the general’s words in these significant ways: The 120-foot craft becomes “huge”; “moving very slowly” becomes “can hover motionless”; “without making any significant noise” becomes “without making a sound”; and “accelerating to very high speeds” becomes “speed off in the blink of an eye.”

On another note, this year’s reports are seen as a glut of new information, but most are rehashed reports of each other and no one in the media, military, or government is saying that aliens have landed. All that has been called “real” are the videos, meaning they were actually filmed and are not fabricated or a hoax.

Here are the three hypotheses for what these UFOs are: 1. Ordinary terrestrial, such as what were outlined in the third paragraph; 2. Extraordinary terrestrial, i.e. Russian or Chinese spy planes employing physics beyond U.S. capabilities; and 3. Extraterrestrial.
The three most widely viewed and discussed videos were filmed by infrared cameras mounted on jets and are known as “Flir1” (from 2004) and “Gimbal” and “Go Fast” (both from 2015).

Extraordinary work dissecting and analyzing these videos has been by Mick West at Metabunk. He describes Flir1 and Gimbal as what one would see if a jet were flying away from the camera, which would account for the eyewitness accounts that the object showed no directional control surfaces or exhaust. As to the object’s apparent saucer shape, West attributes that to camera lens glare.

The object appears to zoom almost instantly off screen, a motion that some interpret as displaying extraordinary speed and turning ability beyond the capability of U.S. jets. However, in the upper left of the screen, the camera zoom indicator doubles when the object shifts to the left. When West slowed video by half at that moment, the seemingly extraordinary becomes a standard maneuver.

Additionally, cameras can make objects look like they are making stunning turns, twists, dips, and U-turns. West wrote, “The supposed impossible accelerations, and eventual loss of tracking lock, were revealed to coincide with – and hence caused by – sudden movements of the camera.”

Then we have the “Go Fast” video, which purportedly shows an object with no heat source, meaning it would be powered by an unknown propellant. It appears to move impossibly fast just above the surface of the ocean. But when West employed trigonometry based on the numbers provided by the video image, he found the object flew at 13,000 feet and was likely a weather balloon travelling at 35 knots.

The most talked-about video is “Gimbal,” in which the object appears to skim effortlessly over background clouds then come to an abrupt stop and rotate in midair, apparently without the propulsion systems necessary to pull off such a maneuver. But spoilsport West noted when the Gimbal object rotates, background light patches rotate in perfect union with the object.

“Gimbal is very hot. It’s consistent with two jet engines next to each other and the glare of these engines gets a lot bigger than the actual aircraft itself so the aircraft gets obscured by the glare,” West wrote. “At the start of the video, it looks like the object is moving rapidly to the left because of the parallax effect, and the rotation was a camera artifact, and that the ‘flying saucer’ was simply the infrared glare from the engines of a distant aircraft that was flying away.”

West also researched the camera’s patents and found the gimbal mechanism to be responsible for the seeming rotation.

Now onto a more Earth-based explanation, that the objects belong to one of our Asian adversaries. The thought is that these flying menaces are Russian or Chinese drones, spy planes, or some advanced technology that the U.S. lacks.

Pilots and observers report these objects accelerate from 80,000 feet down to sea level in seconds and or make immediate turns and complete stops, or zag off horizontally at hypersonic speed, breaking the sound barrier without an accompanying sonic boom. Such a rapid acceleration and sudden stop and turn would be fatal to anyone onboard and the craft seem to do all this without a jet engine or visible exhaust.

All this is greatly beyond the scope of U.S. technology, which brings us historian Geroge Basalla and in his book, The Evolution of Technology. In this work, he explains that emerging technologies develop from either pre-existing artifacts or organic objects. He explained, “Any new thing that appears in the made world is based on some object already in existence.”

On a similar noted, Matt Ridely wrote in his 2020 book that innovation is incremental and occurs because of the exchange of information. He writes it “is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius.”

That’s what happened with everything from steam engines to search engines. Countries and companies steal, copy, reverse engineer, and improve upon each other’s ideas and technologies. It is highly unlikely that a nation, corporation, or individual would discover the new physics or aerodynamics needed to create an aircraft that was centuries beyond known present technology. It would be akin to someone coming up with a smart phone before the telegraph.

Now onto the third possibility, diminutive emerald critters. The distance that would be required to reach our planet make ET the least likely answer.
Furthermore, any species with the intelligence to design such a spacecraft and the desire to undertake a mission, would have come from a planet as doomed as ours is. They have only a few billion years to have life begin as a single-cell organism, evolve to a point of intergalactic travel, engage in such a journey, have a lifespan 100,000 times greater than ours, and find their way here. And once on Earth, they have to be satisfied not with getting out and exploring and attempting to make contact, but appearing in shaky, dark, and blurry videos.

“Fine Young Cannabis” (CBD medicine)

As cannabis becomes more acceptable socially and legally, the ingredient within which does not get the user high is being touted as a cure for many ails, and is available in a diverse range of products. There are cannabidiol oils, lotions, pills, teas, drink supplements, gummies, tinctures, vaporizers, creams, and probably even transmission fluid by this point.

Some purveyors go beyond CBD’s putative health benefits and endorse a conspiracy angle by touting cannabidiol as a panacea that terrifies Big Pharma. 

This makes no sense, as if there is money to be made by selling a cure or mitigation, the pharmaceutical industry will be all over it. Right now, that is limited to the prescription drug Epidiolex, which treats some epilepsy disorders. If CBD is proven in double-blind studies to have other medicinal uses, that would titillate, not terrify, Big Pharma.

Such evidence isn’t there yet, but that has failed to rein in the enthusiasm with which some persons promote and buy CBD products. This usually means over-the-counter sells not backed by standards, safety, research, or known efficiency.

While only THC will get users high, CBD remains an active ingredient, meaning it can impact the body. Just how much impact claimed depends on who is hawking the product. Skeptic leader Brian Dunning wrote that mercola.org lists this cattle-call of conditions it says CBD can alleviate: COVID-19, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive disorders, brain and mood disorders, high blood pressure, muscle spasms, nausea, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, opioid addiction, and animal cancer.

Claims like this take advantage of persons and family members desperate for a mitigation or cure. 

Genuine medicine treats a specific condition and doctors and scientists understand the method behind how the active ingredient works. The proper dose is determined in the laboratory and patients dispense the right amount in a resultant pill, syrup, or lotion.

Assertions that virtually any condition can be cured by an unspecified amount of a solitary product without a given timetable for success is a pseudo-science giveaway.

To avoid fraud charges, companies and advertisers use vague or meaningless terms like “clinically tested” or they post anonymous anecdotes testifying to its rousing success. Dunning notes that everyone has mood swings and some hours, days, and months are better than others. Our senses are prone to error and inconsistency and everyone has selective memory. This is why anecdotes are useless from a medical research perspective and why repeated double blind studies are necessary to determine a prospective medicine’s efficiency.

Further, the CBD products are not only mostly unproven, but their dosages and purities vary wildly and could therefore never be part of a meaningful treatment plan. Moreover, since it’s a pharmacologically active, CBD may have deleterious side effects in large doses and could pose drug interaction dangers

“Sickly Minutes” (UFO sightings)

A 60 Minutes segment this month is being advertised as the government admitting that alien life forms are flying overhead, as well as low to the ground, and doing so by accessing a science beyond our means.

But what the government actually said was only that there are some objects we cannot identify. And a more sobering look shows the explanation to likely be terrestrial.

Writing for Scientific American, theoretical physicist Katie Mack notes that most persons in her field find it more likely than not that life exists on other planets. There are heavenly bodies that have liquid trapped under icy surfaces and which are heated due to their close orbit – a descriptor of Earth in the days when life emerged here.

But if life followed that same pattern elsewhere, did it evolve sufficiently to conquer interplanetary travel and be captured by shaky military cameras?

Light from the second-closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, takes four years to reach us. Mack calculated that it would require an uninterrupted journey of 70,000 years in mankind’s fastest spaceship to complete this trip. She wrote, “Whatever technology an alien civilization might have, it’s reasonable to assume they would take the short option first, and send an electromagnetic signal. Or perhaps they would build some large, obvious, electromagnetic radiation–absorbing structure in their own backyard.”

Even if such a species were disinclined or incapable of this cosmic shortcut, the distance seems prohibitive for an in-creature visit. Sure, they could have technology far beyond ours, such as near-warp speed travel or wormhole accessibility. But it is hardly reasonable to assume those developments. If we don’t know what the objects are, trying to plug interstellar spacecraft into the equation is to commit a secular version of the god of the gaps fallacy.

We are open to the idea of alien life; some scientists even consider it extremely likely and examine evidence suggesting it has occurred. For example, Mack wrote that an interstellar asteroid and the dimming of an otherwise normal star have both have been interpreted as possible evidence of alien life, and astrophysicists have checked them out.

So if alien life is discovered, Mack thinks it will most likely be through observing exoplanets orbiting stars. She explained, “If we can directly image an exoplanet, or see it pass in front of its star, we can search the spectrum of its light for signatures of chemical balances that only biological organisms can produce, whether they be microbes or mushrooms or megafauna.”

In other words, if confirmation of alien life emerges, it is unlikely to be in the form of flying saucers, ray guns, and requests to be taken to our leader.

Also weighing in has been Mick West, a skeptic leader specializing in UFO sightings. The 60 Minutes segment was interpreted by some excited observers as the U.S. government admitting UFOs are real. These persons, many of whom would have dismissed any government denial of such extraterrestrial entities, are ready to embrace Uncle Sam this time.

The program opens with an interview of Luis Elizondo, who claims to head a government entity that studies UFOs. He said Washington has already stated the objects are genuine. Of course, UFO merely refers to not being certain what it is, not being certain it is an alien spacecraft.

Elizondo then describes the observed phenomena displaying, perhaps literally, otherworldly technology. We are talking such Flash Gordonesque capabilities as accelerating at 600g, flying 17,000 miles per through the atmosphere, and maintaining high speed in water. To clarify, the government has not conceded that these abilities to have been witnessed or recorded.

What the videos show are flying objects acting in accord with physics and the limitations of human technology. Proponents tout one video as being of an incredibly fast craft hugging the ocean.

But West used trigonometry and numbers on the screen to deduce the object was well above the water and moving at a speed that matches the wind at that altitude. This, in all likelihood, means the object is merely a balloon.

In a night vision video, we see a green flashing triangle, which sounds like a receptacle that could be housing spacefaring creatures. However, West demonstrated that the light pattern matches that of a commercial 737. Further, some night-vision devices come with a triangular aperture. Combined with being a little out of focus and shot from above, it presents the image of a flying triangle. Other triangles in the scene were determined to be stars.

A third video purportedly features physics-defying acceleration, but a closer look reveals that the supposed sudden moves result from the camera moving or changing its mode.

Yet another video, of an alleged flying saucer, seems to in fact be of an infrared glare of a distant plane and a rotating gimbal mechanism.

Taken it totality, there is little reason to suspect these are alien spacecraft, and in most cases aren’t even UFOs. We know what they are, where they come from, and why they act as they appear.

Some believers deride skeptics as blinder-wearing killjoys who would not own up to aliens if they landed on our lawn. I would welcome the confirmation of extraterrestrials and would be even more fascinated by an Earthly visit. I would consider such an occurrence to be the biggest news story ever. But I am not so desperate for it to be true that I consider scientific analysis of the phenomenon to be a denial of evidence that it has already happened.