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.
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.
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.
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.
In a 12th Century tale, English reapers encounter two green-skinned children who wore strange clothes, spoke an unknown language, and ate only beans.
The pair, who townspeople later learned were brother and sister, were taken in by a nobleman. The boy soon died but his sister attained womanhood, assimilated, and married. While she learned English, she was never able to tell anyone much about her strange circumstances.
She could offer few details as to her origins or distinctive appearance. She recalled the two were tending their father’s flock when they heard what sounded like church bells. They followed the ringing through a cavern and emerged surrounded by reapers in Woolpit, England.
In another version, the two were rescued from the bottom of a pit farmers used to lure wolves into. In both versions, the girl’s skin turn returned to a normal color once she consumed a healthy diet instead of one consisting entirely of beans.
Her original language was determined to probably be Flemish, which would explain her foreign tongue and different attire. Those preferring a more exciting answer may be interested in the one bandied about by Duncan Lunan, who holds that the pair hailed from another planet. Little Green Men, indeed. For evidence, he cited, “Some strange things happening in the sky at the same time.” Could he be a little more vague? A similar suggestion is that the verdant pair emerged from a subterranean habitat.
As there is no way to either prove or disprove such notions, we will spend no more time in the sci-fi realm. A more grounded idea, championed by Paul Harris, is that perhaps the duo may have hidden in the forest long enough to develop green sickness. This conditions results from B6 deficiency and low iron intake, both of which could be the consequence of a one-food diet.
There are both hereditary and acquired forms of the sickness and those most seriously afflicted can have a notable greenish tinge.
This makes for a plausible scenario, although it should be noted that most persons who die of starvation do so without changing colors.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen proposed that the story is an allegory about racial difference in which the green children represent the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britons. He further posits that the siblings represent a spoiling of William’s dream of a unified England.
In another analogy, Robert Burton suggested the siblings fell from the heavens, a staple of religion and mythology, with examples such as Lucifer, Aurora, and Ataar.
In a post for Science-Based Medicine, Jann Bellamy mined multiple sources to come up with 32 forms of acupuncture. She noted there are almost certainly more, since “acupuncture is not based in reality but is instead a collection of pseudo-knowledge” to which anyone can apply a new concept.”
This includes catgut, whose primary uses are for stringed instruments, tennis racquets, and surgical sutures. In this instance, it has also been coopted as a specific form of quackery.
Bellamy splendidly describes acupuncture as a “theatrical placebo” that assumes never-proven notions such as qi, meridians, and blocked energy. As to how a portion of the ukulele came to be unfairly associated with pseudoscience, catgut is embedded in acupuncture products. Selected “points” are stimulated until the treatment is deemed sufficient. In reality, this usually means the ailment has ran its natural course or the subject moves onto another form of medicine, be it legitimate or phony.
Most catgut applications go for one to two weeks, the reasoning being that doing it for two weeks is better than for two hours. This points to acupuncture’s lack of authenticity. No one would conclude that if two Advil are good for pain relief, then two bottles must be fantastic. Since acupuncture treatments involve no active ingredients and has no actual impact on the body beyond discomfort at the sticking point, an overdose is impossible. So, too, is proper dosing and medical benefit.
In typical alternative medicine tradition, catgut acupuncture enthusiasts tout its ability to cure or mitigate a broad range of conditions, from autism to acne, from facial paralysis to diabetes. Genuine medicine will impact a specific ailment, with scientists understanding the etiology. Doctors can explain to patients the curative mechanism and its impact on the body. By contrast, a hodgepodge list of unrelated conditions able to be cured is almost always a pseudoscience giveaway.
One idea way out there, as well as way up there, is that the moon is a hollow alien vehicle. This lunar lunacy was put forth by two members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Michael Vasin and Alexander Shcherbakov. They hypothesized that the moon “is an artificial satellite put into orbit around Earth by some intelligent beings unknown to ourselves.” They went on to call the moon “a very ancient spaceship, the interior of which was filled with fuel for the engines, materials and appliances for repair work, navigation, instruments, observation equipment and all manner of machinery.”
Modern empty-mooners allege that the satellite has unexpected elements that it shouldn’t have were it a heavenly body, that it lacks a solid core, is older than Earth, and has a perfectly circular orbit. All these claims are false.
Writing for Sketpoid, Brian Dunning reminds (or informs) us that our planet’ and its satellite owe its beginnings the Theia and Gaia becoming intimately acquainted. During this cosmic collision, the bulk of the combined mass of the two objects become Earth and most of the rest of it ejected and coalesced into the moon.
That these celestial bodies have similar compositions shows their common origin and means if aliens constructed a moon spacecraft, they would have had to come here first, then gone out and found another planet exactly like Earth to use as their raw materials.
As to proponents’ claim that the moon rang like a bell when struck, that stems from some colorful language from Wernher von Braun. After NASA intestinally crashed Apollo 12 into the moon during its lunar ascent, Von Braun, described the results thusly: “The moon rang like a bell for nearly an hour, indicating some strange and unearthly underground structure.”
Dr. Steven Novella has said that pseudo-medics use science the same way a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. The same principle applies here, as people who express distrust of government and disgust of science will use a embrace a statement from a government scientist if it supports their view. They will use the fact that he is exactly a rocket scientist to justify their position but otherwise reject such expertise, experience, and education.
And in truth, the seismology from those experiments is one of two main pieces of evidence that the moon is natural satellite, not an alien spaceship.
Dunning noted that 10 years ago, NASA reanalyzed its Apollo data and the results improved our knowledge of the moon’s internal structure. He wrote that it gives us “accurate constraints on the range of sizes of its small solid inner core and fluid outer core, a thin partial melt layer, and its thick mantle that constitutes the bulk of its mass.”
Further, since the Moon is solid and has a heavy core, the satellite has a lower rotational inertia. Were it a hollow spaceship with a thick outer shell, it would have a higher inertia even with the same mass.
Also, when spacecraft orbit the moon and study how their orbits are affected, astronomers can detect the density of the layers below.
Finally, as the moon orbits Earth, only one side is ever visible to us, which would not be the case if the claim of a perfect orbit were true.
Human Design is a form of numerology made up by Alan Krakower, who heard a voice telling him how it works, with the voice apparently encouraging him to charge others for access to the information.
Consumers input their name, precise minute of birth, and time zone born in. In return, they receive a hodgepodge of numbers, symbols, and shapes, along with a nine-item list that allegedly describes the person. The items are vague personality attributes, not testable claims or specific facts. They contain no precise details, such as dates and locations of education or employment, which would give the graph credibility.
Still, some people embrace Human Design and its promise of easy life answers sprinkled with eastern mysticism verbiage. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that while those who embrace such notions have an affinity for the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy, it is not absolute. He wrote, “Compare two concepts of the human body: First, the four bodily humors, which nobody believes in today; and second, qi, which is widely believed today.”
The difference, Dunning continued, is that one is physical, the other metaphysical. The latter is more vague, while the former could be searched for physically, not found, and therefore be disproven.
Therefore, physical claims are dismissed and metaphysical claims embraced, especially when they purport to provide a blueprint for success without any accompanying effort.
While efforts to foist creationism on public school biology students have failed, such attempts continually arise like The Phoenix, a bird with as much claim to being real as any creationist argument.
While the legal losses have been declarative, adherents have latched onto a solitary, isolated line from a 1987 defeat and have sucked it dry for more than 30 years. The sentence suggested teachings about human origins which fail to incorporate biology may be permissible if the purpose is secular.
There is no such animal, literally or figuratively, but proponents used this single utterance to invent the notion of Intelligent Design. In this concept, any deity or higher being, not necessarily the Biblical one, could have created life. The façade is so transparent that no follower of any religious subset besides U.S. evangelical Christians have ever embraced the idea, and a publication lauding Intelligent Design has as its cover Leonardo DaVinci’s The Creation of Adam.
ID proponents include virtually no biologists, and we could count on one evolved opposable-digit hand how many of them have done molecular biology research. While ID proponents are nowhere to be found in peer-reviewed journals, their banter is a regular feature on Christian media. There, biologists are portrayed as confused, stubborn, disillusioned, frustrated, or immoral, which even if all true, would be ad homimen attacks unrelated to the scientists’ research, findings, or writings.
Proponents embrace the god of the gaps fallacy, gleefully plugging their favored deity into any crevice science has yet to fully explain. But our focus today is on one of those who is among that literal handful of molecular biologists who endorse ID: Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe. He accepts that microevolution through random mutation diversifies organisms into species and genera, and perhaps even families. But he feels something more is needed to explain large-scale evolutionary transitions. Into this gap, which he creates from feelings and not evidence, he wedges the Christian god. He never says that verbatim, but he does allow his evangelical Christian followers to accept this interpretation and promote it.
In a review of Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, John Jay College biology professor Nathan Lents writes that Behe purportedly undertakes to prove that evolutionary processes are insufficient to generate adaptive innovations, yet the author spends precious little time addressing this.
Further, Behe dedicates precious few paragraphs addressing key evolutionary mechanisms that serve to undermine his thesis. Consider horizontal gene transfer, which occurs when genetic material moves from one species to another, usually through a virus. For example, Lents explains, deer ticks evolved defenses against bacteria through genes that came from those bacteria.
While uncommon, such horizontal gene transfer can have profound effects on a species’ eventual lineage. Behe dedicates nary a word to this in Darwin Devolves.
Also unmentioned by Behe is exaptation, which refers to an organism co-opting a structure for a new function. Lents cites the example of mammalian middle ear bones that were adapted from jaw bones in our reptilian ancestors.
Now, when Behe writes that natural selection cannot fully account for the planet’s molecular biodiversity, he is right. But we know that because of scientific discoveries made since Darwin, not because of ancient religious texts or the writings of an iconoclastic microbiology professor who bypasses peer review.
In an attempt to bolster his view that natural selection in insufficient, Behe writes that that Richard Lenski’s e. coli experiment shows that mutation and natural selection serve only to “break or blunt genes.” But Behe misinterprets the experiment and ignores that its controlled environment is deliberately artificial. Lents notes that bacteria in the experiment have access to unlimited food, static temperatures, high oxygen, and are without competitors, pathogens, or threats to their immune system.
Behe also dismisses finch diversification, announcing he is unimpressed with their becoming about 18 species across five genera. He compares finch diversification to the adaptive radiation of animals during the Cambrian explosion more than 500 million years ago. He gloats that finches failed to become a new phylum, class, or even order.
Lents answers that the Cambrian explosion took place over a much longer time and involved simpler animals which produce much faster than finches.
With an online treasure trove of overwhelming evidence available, lay persons who latch onto a favored position in lieu of science are without excuse. But a harsher criticism should be leveled at anyone whose experience and education should be used to correct those lay persons instead of comforting them.
Van Halen famously insisted on having no brown M&Ms in their bowls backstage. This was not based on a color-based munchies preference, but was rather the band’s way of ensuring their contract had been read.
Another creative, albeit in this case distasteful, use of M&Ms will be the focus of this post. In this instance, the candies are at the center of a hypothetical, foreboding challenge in which a small fraction of them have been poisoned.
Presented a bowl in which, say, three percent of the M&Ms would have fatal results if ingested, a person is rhetorically asked is they would gobble a handful. They clearly would not, so the analogy then compares the sweet treats to Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, AIDS patients, or some other group the speaker holds in low regard. Perhaps only three percent of them are bad apples, but we need to chop down the entire tree since we have no way of knowing which is which. The analogy is usually employed by xenophobes but has sometimes been those on the far left to portray men as monsters that need guarded against.
Regardless of whether it comes from the left, right, or someplace else, the analogy is a mistaken one. When this comparison of people to candies is made, the speaker implies that demonizing an entire population is as legitimate as declining to gobble a handful of potentially deadly tiny round confectionaries.
To see how mistaken that analogy it is, use the point against the person making it. Let’s say someone uses the comparison to insist that we should err of the side of caution and deny entry to persons of Middle Eastern ancestry. Counter that position by saying that while most MAGA hat wearers are not violent hatemongers who would attack minorities, three percent of them might do so. Therefore all persons expressing xenophobic sentiments should be stripped of their citizenship and deported. Unless the proponent is likewise willing to embrace this position, he or she doesn’t truly believe in the comparison.
Further, the analogy implies that we could reduce the risk to zero by avoiding all M&Ms. In the same way that the color-coded National Terrorism Advisory System includes no all-clear and thus keeps us in a perpetual state of worry, the M&Ms in the analogy are meant to cause perpetual concern. The only way to be sure to avoid danger is to avoid them entirely. The candy analogy seems to work because most people would not eat one M&M if there was even a .0001 percent chance of being poisoned. But nothing is ever risk free and no analogy proponent would think we should avoid getting out of bed, an event that kills dozens of people a year.
Also, even if you happen to come across a dangerous member of the derided group, you may well escape unscathed, whereas with the poisoned M&M, death is a certainty for anyone who consumes it. Therefore, the danger posed by the group member is greatly exaggerated when compared with how likely they are to harm a specific person.
Finally, the analogy falls flat since M&Ms all look the same, except for the color difference, and there would be no way of knowing which ones were poisoned. But when it comes to people, background checks and indicators give us a good idea of how dangerous a specific Hispanic, Muslim, or other group member is likely to be.