Down the no-rabbit hole

My tween daughter kept asking if we could get a rabbit, figuring the answer would either be yes or no, giving her a 50 percent chance each time she asked. After 28 or so negative replies, I gave in for reasons of peace and my sanity.

It also afforded me the chance to use our new pet as a springboard into a lesson about evolution. Southeastern Oklahoma State University biological sciences professor Stanley Rice wrote that evidence for the field rests on the convergence of multiple independent lines of evidence. He credited early 20th Century British scientist J.B.S. Haldane with noting that evolution could be disproven by means of a Precambrian bunny. The lagomorph in question was just a placeholder animal, so a cat, dog, mouse, elephant, or frog would suffice. In truth, any mammal, amphibian, or land animal appearing amongst other Precambrian fossils would be strong evidence against the current school of evolutionary thought.

Rice reminds us (or informs, for those of us who played tiddlywinks during high school biology) that the Cambrian featured lots of really cool gargantuan creatures they are still making blockbuster movies about more than 500 million years later. By contrast, Precambrian strata have no large animal fossils because no such creatures had yet evolved. If that strata were produced by a flood that wiped out large animals that had been created no later than 2,000 years prior, it should have some giant critters embedded within.

While Noah’s menagerie was floating about, its members’ less fortunate relatives would have eventually became part of the lowest fossil layers. Rice wrote that a worldwide flood would yield a fossil record with mostly fish at the bottom and primarily mammals on top, but that there would be a smattering of exceptions. Or surely at least one. He mused, “The raging flood waters would have drawn large animals down into the bottom layers. Just one. Just one Precambrian bunny. That’s all it would take.”

Alas, there is no such Darwin-defying rabbit.

Now onto rabbit food, the plants. If all plant fossil deposits resulted from a flood, one would expect wetland plants on bottom and their mountain counterparts on top. While this is largely the case, there are exceptions. Rice asks us to “consider the small wetland plants of the Ordovician and Silurian periods. None of them are the flowering plants that are the most abundant plants on the earth today. Find me a Silurian weed from, say, the aster family or the mustard family. Today, wetlands have little pickleweeds in them, from the spinach family of flowering plants. Yet somehow there were no plants that had flowers in the Ordovician or Silurian wetlands.”

The fossil record also reveals one of the strongest individual pieces of evidence for evolution, Tiktaalaik. While any fossil is, strictly speaking, a transitional one, Tiktaalik’s mix of fish and amphibian features make it the type of animal that evolution deniers long insisted would never be found. Further, researchers digging through sedimentary layers found it in the precise place one would expect it to be were it the descendant of fish and an ancestor to amphibians.

These theories work with the tiniest, most simple life forms as well. Single-celled algae called foram are housed in calcium carbonate shells, which linger once the foram cell has died. These shells come in different distinctive shapes and each represents a specific time and place in geologic history. That they appear more or less in order within strata points to evolution, whereas if they had all been wiped out in a flooded, microbiologists would find them randomly scattered.

Then there is the matter of where the surviving animals went after the flood. Endemic species like kangaroos would have had to travel from Turkey to Australia, making for two very determined marsupials. A common creationist retort is that maybe it was the distant offspring of these kangaroos that eventually made their way Down Under. But if so, this hopping ancestral line did so without leaving one fossil behind. And this scenario would had to have repeated for every endemic species, such as Antarctica’s penguins, Papua New Guinea’s cassowaries, and South America’s guanacos.

The same pattern holds true for all major animal groups that live on continents that have been separated for millions of years. But it is not true for continents that have been connected relatively recently. Rice explained, “This is why many of the animals of northern Europe and Asia are similar – and in cases, such as reindeer and elk – the same as those in North America. Only about 20,000 years ago, the Bering land bridge connected Asia and North America and allowed large mammals to migrate.”

Plants follow the same pattern. The major plant families of the southern continents are not the same as those of the northern continents. And, once again, Australia its own beast – or fern, maybe, since we’re addressing plants. It has some flora the other continents don’t.

So that’s how we know. Now If I could only get my daughter to listen to this.

“Celling it” (Mobile phones on airplanes)

Flying comes with annoyances like delays, gate changes, removing shoes, taking out laptops, and three-course meals of water, peanuts, and more water.

Then there is being required to turn off cell phones in flight. Six hours cooped in a metal tube would be less taxing with access to social media, game apps, and texting. Alas, this is not to be. The implications and inferences are often that cell phone signals would interfere with the airplane’s systems.


This is a misnomer. The ban on wireless devices instead stems from possible overload of ground cell phone networks. The FCC, not the FAA is the Alphabet Soup Agency responsible for the banned in-flight use of most cell phones and wireless devices and the associated lack of access to Twitter, Yahtzee, and green bean casserole recipes. The evidence for this ground interference is lacking but the ban has nevertheless been policy for nearly three decades.


Airplanes are designed to resist foreign signals and, besides, cell phones operate on different frequencies than airliners. Placing a call to Aunt Polly about that aforementioned green bean casserole from a few miles in the air would mean that the cell phone signal might bounce off multiple towers, rather than just one.

Therefore, the concern is that too many persons placing cell phone calls on airplanes would overload the network.
A non-profit called the RTCA serves as the Federal Advisory Committee for the FAA, and it released a detailed report which found cell phones pose no risk to aircraft safety.

Moreover, Boeing and Airbus routinely test their merchandise by bombarding the aircraft in order to harden them against various attacks, be they physical or electronic. If cell phones had the potential to endanger an aircraft, they would be no more allowed onboard than a time bomb, a la Airplane!

“Seedy idea” (Seed patents)

Seed patents are the subject of a nontroversy, which maintains the patents are at the center of the malevolent control of food supplies and that they hamstring honest, hardworking farmers.

Yet these patents are as legitimate as ones on inventions and on copyrights that protect music, paintings, and software. Human molecular geneticist, Dr. Layla Katiraee, explained that to disallow seed patents would enable the competition “to reverse engineer a product at a fraction of the price.”

Officials grant seed patents if the plant variety can be shown to be new, distinct, genetically stable and uniform.

While associated primarily with genetic modification, patented seeds also exist in the plant world. For example, many varieties of orchids are the result of research and experiment.

Few would suggest that the team which achieved the long-sought blue rose should not reap the financial rewards for doing so. Yet, there are those which feel it is unethical to do the same with a seed that is made sturdier or more drought resistant.

Seed piracy is a serious issue. Besides it being ill-gotten gain, it can lead to seeds being sold and planted in regions where they have not been approved and this can cause contamination. Planting them in the wrong climate or soil could lead to devastating crop loss and land damage.

Internet legend holds that GMOs contain a self-destroying terminator gene to ensure farmers have to buy a full seed supply every year. This is false, as there have never been commercially-available terminator genes.

Since GMO Seeds are not sterile, companies prevent the replanting of seeds by having their customers sign a contract whereby they obtain an annual license. Farmers agree not to sell or distribute the product in regions where the product is not registered. None of this ties the farmer to a company for any duration beyond the length of the contract. Further, many farmers buy new seeds each season anyway, even if the seeds are not GMO or are not under a licensing agreement.

Katiraee wrote that this is because “seeds are often sold as hybrids, which have the best of the traits that breeders were looking for. However, once these plants grow and produce seeds of their own, it is unlikely that the latter will have all the beneficial traits present.”

So seed patents serve to protect food supply and distribution, not hamper them.

“Indolent bystander” (Kitty Genovese)

When an assailant raped and murdered New Yorker Kitty Genovese in 1964, The New York Times reported that dozens of people witnessed the attack and did nothing to stop it.

But in the early 2000s, another Times piece found the claims in the 1964 article were exaggerated and sensationalized. Probably less than 10 people had knowledge of the attack, with three of them intervening.

But at the time, the tragedy and the supposed apathy that surrounded it, led to a burgeoning field looking into a possible Bystander Effect, including the Smoke Filled Room study of 1968. Social psychology researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley ran a series of experiments testing their hypothesis that when other people are around, bystanders are less likely to intervene.

In the best-known of their studies, the pair recruited subjects to fill out a questionnaire. The first group consisted of subjects who answered questionnaire by themselves, while the second group involved several persons filling out the form.

A few minutes into the experiment, thick smoke pored through a vent. Those by themselves, for the most part, left the room immediately and informed Latane and Darley.


Subjects in the second group, however, responded differently. Only one was an actual subject, the other persons were in on the experiment and had been instructed to take no action. Most of the time, the subject likewise failed to act.


In all, 75 percent of solo subjects intervened in the smoke, while just 10 percent of the subjects surrounded by confederates did. This seemed to confirm Latane and Darley’s hypothesis. Similar experiments yielded similar results, though not all of them as pronounced. But the differences were consistent enough that the duo concluded that there was a casual effect to the number of persons present and the likelihood of intervention.


But then in 2019, publications reported that the Bystander Effect was largely nonexistent, that a review of public conflicts showed that most people do intervene.


This research focused on public altercations captured on video. More than 1,200 conflicts were examined, in Lancaster, UK, Amsterdam, and Cape Town. In each city, intervention occurred nine times out of 10. Further, stepping in was most likely to occur if there were more bystanders.


As to the opposite conclusion being reached in the Smoke Filled Room studies, that can be explained by the study’s flawed methodology. Other than a lone subject, participants were instructed to not act. Had smoke began filling a room of 20 persons not in on the charade, some of them would have almost certainly taken action, as the results of the 1,200 public altercations demonstrate.


When an assailant raped and murdered New Yorker Kitty Genovese in 1964, The New York Times reported that dozens of people witnessed the attack and did nothing to stop it.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning wrote that a better-designed experiment would have had no confederates and, indeed, that would have produced a more authentic result. The test, he noted, served as an experiment on peer pressure, but not the bystander effect it was presuming to examine.

“Rose-colored splashes” (Red rain)

Colored rains, most often in red hues, have been sporadically observed in India since the 19th Century, with the most recent occurrence in 2012.

The picturesque precipitation usually falls on areas of just a few square miles, with some extremely localized cases that were spread over mere meters. During their investigations of the phenomenon, scientists have discovered that a brownish-red solid they separated from the rain contained 90 percent round red particles and the rest debris.

One hypothesis, long of conjecture and light on facts, speculates that the debris might be an extraterrestrial life form that rode in on a comet. The proponents this interstellar idea, Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar, were employed as physicists at Mahatma Gandhi University in 2001 when such rains occurred. When the pair examined the red particles under a microscope, the particles appeared to living cells.

Pairing this with a loud bang heard early in the morning of the first red rainfall that year, Louis and Kumar concluded this was the sonic boom of a comet. They further speculated that its contents were spewed throughout the sky and into rain clouds.

But this idea failed to explain how debris from a meteor could have continued to fall on the same area over a period of two months, despite the changes in climatic conditions and wind pattern spanning over two months. Or why it would have been limited to such a small geographic area.

Besides, a joint report issued by the Indian government and private science organizations concluded that there was no meteoric, volcanic, or desert dust origin present in the rainwater. Moreover, its color was not found to be caused by dissolved gases or pollutants.

And the joint report concluded, “The color was due to the presence of a large amount of spores of a lichen-forming alga belonging to the genus Trentepohlia.” The red rain has even happened several times since 2001 and each time botanists have found Trentepohlia spores to be the cause.

“Sleeping chills” (Nocturnal assaults)

There have been reports of sleeping persons being attacked in their slumber by hideous beasts for centuries. We are referring here not to jackals or bears or wolves but of demons, shape-shifters, aliens, and alluring women whose beauty masks an intent most evil.

The tales vary by culture, but as Brian Dunning noted in a Skeptoid podcast, the stories within a culture are largely uniform.

In Europe, especially in and around Shakespeare’s time, the attackers were sometimes thought to be incubus and succubus, demons who raped their victims. This was consistent with a time that blamed every misfortune on the devil. More frequently, the creeping creature took the form of a Macbeth-worthy witch. This could play on the aversion and distrust of old maids, who were chastised for shirking their societal responsibility to have and raise children.  

In the East, the female fiend is the physical opposite of an old hag, and is portrayed as a stunningly beautiful. But the intent remains the same, with the nocturnal interloper using charm and guile, rather than force and revulsion, to overtake her victim.

Again, this plays on society’s prejudices, treating women as temptresses leading individuals and civilization to ruin. 

One culture that bypasses the prejudices are the Slavs, whose nighttime attackers were described in a Brian Dunning Skeptoid podcast as “an elf-like gypsy man with wild glowing eyes who sits on your chest, riding you like a horse.” Meanwhile in Japan and China, these apparitions have traditionally taken the form of ghosts.

Consistent with the notion of attackers adapting to the times, the nightmarish visions turned to alien visitors with the advent of the Space Age. Witches’ cackles were replaced with silent telepathic communication and clubs were transformed into probing implements.

While there have been many varieties of nighttime attackers, a common thread is that these are likely the result of sleep paralysis. That would explain most of what happens, with cultural expectations being responsible for some specific details. 

During sleep paralysis, the victim is unable to move or speak and often feels as if their chest is being crushed. This may be accompanied by hallucinations. Dunning noted that paralysis only happens during REM sleep and this makes sense, as frightful characters would manifest in dreams.

Sleep paralysis occurs because of a disconnection between the brain and the rest of the body when drifting into or out of sleep. And since REM represents the deepest stage of sleep, this is when the disconnection is at its most pronounced.

Sleep paralysis is a reasonable explanation for persons thinking they’ve been assaulted by witches, sirens, elves, and aliens. The presence victims feel would be consistent with hallucinations, a sleep paralysis hallmark.

“It’s not a wash” (Brainwashing)

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Today we will examine a moral panic that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. The terrifying tales centered on persons being brainwashed and led into cults, crime, or other undesirable destinations. Many times, those telling the tale were the same ones selling or touting the cure: Deprogramming.

The difference between influence and brainwashing is that the latter seeks to have the victims completely dedicate themselves to a cause or position that they previously had been ambiguous to or even opposed. Additionally, washing of the brain is forceful. Someone showing up at your front door to sell you rain gutter protection or asking you to sign a petition to bring back the high school marching band will take no for an answer. Someone intent on brainwashing will not and, in fact, will seek to control most aspects of your life.

Writing for Skeptoid, Dunning noted that even the Hare Krishnas fall short of brainwashing since they attempt influence, not intimidation. He explained, “They convince intelligent adults to shave their heads, wear robes, and forego worldly possessions. That’s pretty radical. And their recruitment methods are absolutely systematic. However, they generally don’t force this onto anyone, so it’s not brainwashing.”

By contrast, he continued, the Scientology organization Sea Org qualifies as brainwashing since it “is notorious for confining and isolating new members, imposing uniforms, and cutting off ties to family and friends. It is radical, systematic, and forced.” Other examples would include Patty Hearst and U.S. POWs during the Korean War.

So it has genuinely occurred, although as we will see shortly, its effects were short-lived. Moreover, most supposed brainwashings would more accurately be called instances of wayward or curious youth trying to find their way and place in the world. 

Questioning a tenet of one’s faith or political leanings that one has been imbued with is healthy and checking out new groups or beliefs is common. Even if one comes to embrace “the other side,” that is part of life’s journey and there is no need to be deprogrammed. In fact, attempting that on an adult who has made the choice may qualify as kidnapping and, ironically, as brainwashing.

According to Dunning, the concept of deprogramming was the brainchild of Ted Patrick, who claimed his son had been consumed by a cult, and Patrick was one of many deprogrammers who were convicted for their activities.

Beyond its often-illicit nature, deprogramming is likewise unnecessary. That’s because brainwashing’s impact on victims is temporary, if it exists at all.

Dunning noted that two experts who studied the U.S. POW brainwashing, psychiatrist Robert Lifton and psychologist Edgar Schein, found that most of the victims had merely gone through the motions of saying and doing what their tormenters wanted so as to avoid further torture. The few who came to believe in communism stopped doing so upon release. Similarly, many deprogramming subjects also just went through the motions and gave the desired responses so as to put an end to it.

In summary, brainwashing is nothing to worry about unless it is followed by a deprogramming. 

“Allergic to the truth” (Benadryl Challenge)

In August, an Oklahoma teen reportedly died of a Benadryl overdose, said to be the tragic result of a social media dare to get high by popping the allergy pills.

Did this happen and, if so, how widespread is the trend? Is this something we should be terrified of or is a more measure response justified?

According to Reason’s Scott Shackford, the Benadryl Challenge has elements of truth. Three Texan teens, being young and quarantined, did have an emergency room excursion after overdosing on the over-the-counter medication. The stupidly curious (or curiously stupid) trio were treated at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. The facility claimed the idea came from a TikTok video whose producer promised that this misadventure would get users high and induce hallucinations. In another case, a 14-year-old girl was treated after popping one pill for each of her years on Earth. 

TikTok officials confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegramthat the company had removed content for encouraging the practice.

Later that month, KFOR and the New York Post reported that 15-year-old Chloe Phillips had died, with a deleted Facebook post from her great aunt blaming the challenge.

However, the reports lack any attribution from medical professionals confirming that as the cause. Further, other than the one deleted post, there were no quotes from family members suggesting that’s why the girl died. KFOR did interview Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, who explained how a Benadryl overdose can cause heart problems, seizures, and hallucinations. But there was nothing to tie that into the Phillips tragedy. Schaeffer later told Reason he had no reason to tie her death or any other to any Benadryl Challenge.

That leaves us with two instances in which a total of four youth sought medical treatment for an intentional overdose. None of them died. That has not stopped a moral panic from ensuing about a deadly trend, which by all available evidence, seems to be neither.

“Blown save” (Missing children)

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Each year about 800,000 US children are reported missing. Around 99.98 percent are found safe, ran away, or were taken by a noncustodial family member. About 200 are abducted by strangers. Zero are snatched by billionaire-funded satanic cannibals.

Nevertheless, QAnon and its allies interpret any missing child report to be evidence of another youngster being swallowed into a nightmarish black hole of blood-drinking, flesh-eating, and gang rape perpetrated by members of the Deep State, which once meant Hollywood and Democratic leaders, but now means anyone with whom the believer disagrees.

The panic is a continuation of a perpetual fretting which ignores that the 21st Century in the Western World is the safest ever time and place to be a child. But it adds the sinister twist which allows the proponent to congratulate themselves on rooting out an evil. The conspiracy theory is more than just paranoia and hysteria, it is also having deleterious effects on genuine attempts to #SaveTheChildren.

Any child abducted by a stranger is cause for utmost concern and all available resources should be utilized to get the victim home safely. But this is best done on a case-by-case basis, not through launching baseless assertions that the abducted are now part of a Soros-funded pedophile ring.

Meanwhile, those with such concerns do not extend their passion to combating poverty, funding inner city schools, or reversing policies that cage children and kill Tamir Rice.

They also seem OK with police on campus, which creates a literal school-to-prison pipeline where activities as innocuous as drinking soda in class and talking out of turn leave pre-teens jailed and with a lifetime criminal record. These grave overreactions disproportionately impact minority students.

Focusing in these issues is a much better use of time than promoting QAnon, Pizzagate, and Wayfair conspiracy theories, which hold that President Trump is waging a heroic and solitary battle against satanic child molesters permeating Hollywood,  Capitol Hill, Silicon Valley, and anyone else the proponent despises.

Believers are taking action in the form of vigilante attacks and they are also wasting valuable resources. Crusaders who have spent years working for organizations that fight human trafficking and child abuse have been inundated with theorists touting these absurd claims and demanding that they take action, or else.

One such worker, Brandy Zadrozny, detailed this is a piece for MSN and Rochelle Keyhan, the CEO of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Collective Liberty, has been bombarded with such messages.

Before QAnon adherents took over the #SaveTheChildren hashtag, they invented the conspiracy theory that the furniture site Wayfair was trafficking missing children, using a code whereby overpriced shelves and pillow were euphemisms for specific types of kids.

Collective Liberty, which was inundated with Wayfair tips, put out a statement explaining that the exorbitant prices were due to search engine optimization gone wrong, and not proof of a Satanic cabal. This was necessary because, as Keyhan explained, “The extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the trafficking hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”

So when QAnon believers post their hashtags and urge action, they are, in fact, doing nothing to help #SaveTheChildren.

“Fright pattern” (Wind turbines)

TURBINE

Birds often slam into buildings and powerlines but some people consider wind turbines an even more egregious threat, with their enormous blades whirring overhead.

However, these kill far less birds than almost any other contributor, and the strategic placement of wind farms can make the threat even less pronounced.  

Objections to wind turbines largely come from two groups: Well-meaning but misinformed bird lovers; and ill-meaning, informed fossil fuel fans who show an isolated, disingenuous interest in wildlife conservation in this one instance.

The key question is how many birds are being sliced and diced. Are we talking avian apocalypse or a much lower number that represents an infinitesimal fraction of feathered flyers we lose to buildings and power lines? Studies show it’s the latter, as wind turbines are responsible for the smallest number of bird deaths among all manmade causes.

There are about 50,000 wind turbines in the country and they cause an average of five annual bird deaths apiece, or a quarter of a million birds every year. The biggest killer of birds in the U.S. are members of the cat family, who take out a whopping 2.4 billion birds each year. Collisions with building windows cause the demise of another billion.

Crunching these numbers, we find that the percentage killed by wind turbines is so microscopic that it could be rounded down to zero.

Of the relatively few killed by turbines, the vast majority are songbirds, which are experiencing no population issues. Of greater concern are raptors since they exist in smaller numbers, have much lower reproductive rates, and have flight patterns that make them more likely to be near wind turbines.

Wind farm operators can be slapped with heavy fines when their product kills a bird, although since it’s impractical to avoid all deaths, a limited number of the unintentional kills are legally permissible. Whether out of concern for wildlife or the ledger book, wind farm operators embrace technology aimed at avoiding these fatal encounters.

For example, most California Condors are tagged so that when one approaches a wind farm, the turbine detects a radio transmission, which shuts it down.

A similar system employs skyward cameras to keep a lookout for eagles, with a shutdown procedure in place if the birds are in jeopardy. Radar, light, sound, and thermal cameras are additional allies in this ornithological protection plan.

But – cliché alert – an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure. The best idea is to placing wind farms away from bird migration routes and condor populations, and this trend has been embraced.