“Cast a wrong shadow” (Soros conspiracy)

SHADOW WOLF

George Soros is a self-made billionaire hedge fund manager who makes substantial donations to progressive causes worldwide. While those on the alt-right might agree with that description, they also paint a much more sinister picture of him. This includes claims he was a Nazi soldier even though when World War II ended, Soros was a 14-year-old Jew.

His legions of opponents also consider progressive political protestors to be Soros stooges on his payroll. He first came to be widely reviled in conservative circles when he opposed the second Iraq war. During such times, many persons lob irrational accusations drenched in nationalistic fervor. In addition to some right wingers lambasting Soros, The New York Sun called for the imprisonment of anti-war protestors, the Dixie Chicks became pariahs for their mild criticism of the president, and Abu Ghraib whistleblowing hero Joe Darby was labeled a traitor.

While those other instances have faded from memory, the Soros conspiracy theory endures. Glenn Beck labeled him a marionette master who controls the world. Bill O’Reilly called him an “off-the-charts dangerous extremist who wants open borders, a one-world foreign policy, and the legalization of drugs and euthanasia.” Such descriptions enable the speaker to cram all of their and the world’s problems into a bite-sized capsule. It’s much easier than finding solutions to complex issues. It’s also more attractive to blame everything on an impossibly wealthy, influential, and diabolical Jew.

Theorists holding these views think Soros runs or helps control a shadow government that has unlimited power save the ability to shut down YouTube videos exposing it. And despite wielding this unchecked influence and possessing a ruthlessness in executing world dominion, his progressive puppets control neither the White House nor the Senate.

There is a counter belief by some left-wingers that the Koch brothers control a shadow government that benefits Republicans and, to a lesser extent, Libertarians. My objections to any such claims are nonpartisan and my concern is only with conspiracy malarkey. Anyone making these types of claims against the Koch brothers is equally wrong and just as batty.

There is no denying Soros’ ability to influence policy and move markets. Once in the 1990s he traded so many Malaysian ringgits that is caused the currency to substantially devalue. This led Malay Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to declare, “We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews,” which is poorly-veiled code speak for, “We do want to say that this is a plot by the Jews.” Mohamad continued, “But it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge.”

Soros learned early and up close about the harrowing specter of anti-Semitism. He survived the German invasion of his native Hungary and his opponents have obscenely twisted this into a narrative where a Holocaust survivor was a Nazi or one of their collaborators. In actuality, that’s who Soros was hiding from. When Soros was 13, his father changed the family name to Schwartz and also purchased papers identifying the family as Christian. He also had his son portray himself as the godson of a Hungarian official. This official protected Jews in an occupied country, a la Oskar Schindler.

One of the official’s responsibilities was to catalog properties the Nazis seized and he once took the teenage Soros with him, though Soros did none of the inventory. He hung out with staff members at the looted estate and learned horsemanship. This equestrian excursion described in conspiracy theory circles as Nazi enablement and collaboration.

Following the Allied victory, Soros studied at the London School of Economics and later devised a monetary theory that helped make him a billionaire many times over. He once even experienced a 10-figure rise in his net worth in 24 hours.  As an extremely wealthy Jew who fills liberal coffers and who has shaped the course of markets and policies, Soros is obvious conspiracy theory fodder. As such, there are long-refuted lies still making the Internet rounds, including a photo of Auschwitz clerk Oskar Groening, which is wrongly claimed to be a picture of Soros in Nazi garb.

While painted as the moneybags of a far left deep state, Soros’ politics are more nuanced. True, he has made contributions to organizations fighting for migrant welfare and criminal justice reform. But he has also criticized the hijacking of the #MeToo movement by political opportunists and has said the reason he won’t donate to moderate Republicans is that the association with him would harm those politicians. In fact, before he became the focus of conspiracy theories, Soros made donations to the GOP. Further, one of the reasons he has pumped many millions into Eastern European countries is because of his first-hand experience with the horrors and shortcomings of communism. What’s more, his biggest donations have been outside the political realm; he has given nearly a billion dollars to those former Soviet bloc countries to help them privatize industries, a notion beloved by Republicans and Libertarians.

Conspiracy theorists often speak of powerful Jews trying to run the world. But they want to be the ones revealing this secret. Since it’s well-known that Soros is an extremely wealthy, politically influential Jew, the theorists dig for something deeper so they can maintain their status as members of the enlightened few. That’s why they accuse him of running of a deep state, but that is a self-defeating claim. Someone controlling a shadow government would be, as the name suggests, far removed from the limelight and would be someone we had never heard of.

 

 

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“Pleading heart” (Cholesterol contrarians)

HEARTHELP

I consume cheese, milk, and butter, with halfhearted consideration about limiting my intake of such. But such concerns are unfounded according to some cholesterol contrarians who consider the lipid molecule benign or even beneficial. Stemming from this belief is an additional conviction that since cholesterol levels are irrelevant, no one needs statins to lower those numbers.

However, WHO and similar organizations consistently make it known that butter, cheese, milk, and red meat are fine in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. But they also stress that excess saturated fat may cause the liver to overproduce bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, the country’s leading killer.

The cholesterol contrarians are led by Uffe Ravnskov, who insists “the reason why so-called experts say that I am mistaken is that the vast majority are paid generously by the drug companies.”

But while the funding for the research materials and laboratories may come from pharmaceutical companies, individual scientists receive no money from them. And the reason pharmaceutical companies fund research is for the same reason the auto industry pays for crash test studies. Both enterprises want their products to be as safe as possible because they are potentially liable if they irresponsibly put a dangerous one on the market.

As to cholesterol-conquering statins, the Guardian’s Sarah Boseley wrote that the metadata of studies published in the Lancet concluded that over five years, a daily statin would prevent 1,000 heart attacks, strokes, and coronary artery bypasses among 10,000 people who had already experienced one of these medical maladies. Further, statins could prevent heart attacks in those at increased risk because of high blood pressure or diabetes. Weight, age, blood pressure, and family history can help doctors estimate the chances of a patient having a heart attack, and statins are recommended for anyone with a 10 percent chance of one.

The SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, notes that prevention is much more than gulping statins and refraining from having a bacon double cheeseburger. A balanced approach would include healthy weight maintenance and exercise, a genetics also plays a key role. I have been a vegetarian for half my life and still have slightly elevated cholesterol levels. My love of cheese and milk contributes to that, but so does what I inherited.

Indeed, cholesterol is only one factor leading to heart attacks. Skeptic leader Robert Todd Carroll explained that, “There is not a strong body of peer-reviewed published research that shows that a person who eats a low-fat diet is guaranteed to have low cholesterol, which will prevent that person from getting atherosclerosis, which in turn will prevent that person from getting a heart attack. Nor is there strong evidence that a person who eats lots of animal fat will get high cholesterol and get atherosclerosis and die of a heart attack as a result. Other factors include past health history and the current state of your health, your family history with cholesterol levels and heart disease, your genetic predisposition to high cholesterol and/or heart disease, and do you smoke, are you grossly overweight, and do you exercise?”

While it is a near consensus among nutrition scientists that excess amounts of bad cholesterol is detrimental, those same persons hold that it is but one factor in a person’s heart attack susceptibility. But Ravnskov creates a strawman that those scientists feel diet alone causes high cholesterol, which in turn is the sole determinant for heart attacks.

He also misuses statistics to try and bolster his point. For example, he cited the Framingham Heart Study, which concluded that decreasing levels of cholesterol are associated with increased mortality among older participants. He interprets this to mean that either decreasing cholesterol is detrimental for all or that cutting cholesterol intake is a significant causal factor for mortality. He further notes that since 1970, fatal heart attacks in Japan have declined while animal fat consumption has increased. He considers this evidence that animal fat in the diet is not a major cause of heart disease and that “good cholesterol” is redundant.

But this is post hoc reasoning as wells as confusing correlation and causation. First, as an elderly person’s health declines, they tend toward malnourishment, which will invariably lower cholesterol. Second, persons are surviving heart attacks more often today because of better focus on proper nutrition and medical advances such as statins and a daily aspirin following such incidents. To prove his point, Ravnskov needs to show data that as persons increase animal fat intake, their chances of a fatal heart attack decrease.   

Ravnskov also considers it a myth that high fat foods cause heart disease since studies do not show that a diet high in saturated fat is a sufficient condition to bring on a heart attack or that a diet low in saturated fat is a sufficient condition to prevent a heart attack.

But he mixes up “cause” with “sufficient condition.” Carroll wrote, “Some causes are necessary but not sufficient conditions. For example, some viruses must be present and thus are necessary conditions for certain diseases to occur. But they are not sufficient conditions, as the virus may be present but not manifest itself in illness.” Similarly, a high fat diet by itself may be an insufficient condition to cause heart disease, but it can be a major contributing factor in some people, as can family medical history, smoking, obesity, and stress.

In another misunderstanding of statistics, Ravnskov noted that 20 percent of those who die from heart attacks have never had atherosclerosis so he therefore concludes that the condition doesn’t cause heart attacks. But only 10 percent of smokers get lung cancer, while just .1 percent of nonsmokers do. The reasonable conclusion here is not that tobacco is relatively harmless with regard to lung cancer since only 10 percent of smokers get it. Rather, the logical lesson it that smoking is hazardous because it increases one’s chances of getting lung cancer by 100 times.  

The cholesterol contrarian also plays the Galileo Gambit by saying he is persecuted for his beliefs. And perhaps he is. But that’s because he’s dispensing lethal medical advice, not because he’s being repressed by a powerful cabal of pharmaceutical executives, scientific stooges, and skeptic bloggers.

“Long-term project” (Holographic moon)

HOLOGRAMMOON

Most conspiracy theorists prefer their iconoclastic status and for those wishing to take it even further, there are alternatives to the alternatives. These include the idea of Earth being hollow instead of flat; a fondness for Lumeria instead of Atlantis; and whispers that Israelis were behind 9/11 instead of the U.S. government.

Then we have the conviction that the moon is a hologram, which while not precisely inconsistent with flat Earth beliefs would leave little room for common ground. One of the few astronomical observations flat Earthers get right is that our satellite is indeed in motion. They believe it exists and moves about, while hologram proponents reject such notions.

While the idea of a holographic moon is comical, I was surprised by the anger that believers have over what they feel is a repressed truth. Of course, we here are much more concerned with their evidence than their emotions, so let’s dive into the former.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this leads us to YouTube. The user Crrow777 claims that when gazing skyward at night power glitches in an artificial electrical system are revealed. They probably are if one looks long enough and is determined to reach such a conclusion. But his corroborating evidence is limited to referencing three unidentified individuals with secret information and unspecified Russian scientists also in the know.

He leaves several questions unanswered, or unasked for that matter. These include: What causes a solar or lunar eclipse? What causes gravitational pull on Earth and the resulting tides? How do radio signals bounce off a three-dimensional light projection? How would a hologram emit gamma rays, which are detected coming from the moon?

Further, what is the incentive for the thousands of persons would need to have been in on this for millenniums and who exist in every part of the world, including islands several hundred miles away from any other land mass? Such as Bouvet, an uninhabited hump of coral 1,100 miles from any human and which is visited only annually by Norwegian scientists, who still see a moon when they’re there.

Residents of Tristan de Cunha are 1,500 miles from any other terra firma, yet even on this extremely remote, airstrip-free locale, someone would need to be present to perpetrate the ruse from the ground or broadcast it from a manmade satellite (like I said, hologram enthusiasts and flat Earthers don’t get along too well). Sailors circumnavigating the globe have always been able to use our satellite as a guide and modern-day jet passengers on a long distance overnight flight would see the hologram disappear.  

Moreover, how did the hologram plotter’s predecessors manage this 100, 1,000, and 10,000 years ago? Ancient cultures referenced the moon and based rituals, festivals, and planting and harvesting seasons around it. This was done by societies all over the world, meaning the conspiracy would have to have been coordinated with persons up to 10,000 miles apart who had no way of communicating with each other. 

The website revisionism.nl touches on parts of this by stating that the projection “could have been different things at different times and different places, depending on the technology available to the conspirators and the culture and beliefs of the population being deceived. Perhaps it began as a collective hallucination or a religious myth, or perhaps an especially bright star that came to be exaggerated over time. However the moon story started, early proponents of the hoax were swift to recognize how it could be exploited for their benefit, and shrewdly devised a scheme to use it to their advantage.”

Who they were, how they perpetrated it, what they gained, and how they passed the secret down for 50,000 years are all left unanswered, and no evidence is offered for this haphazard hypothesis.

Ccrow777’s cohort Dave Johnson opens his videos with a notice that includes personal attacks, hostility to opposing views, and superfluous apostrophes and articles: “I care less than NOTHING for your opinion or recollection’s from a Science book Dummies.”

Johnson points to a purple fringe that appear when he zooms in on the moon with his camcorder, not explaining why that would be consistent with a hologram or why a hologram would be the only explanation for a purple fringe.

The skeptic YouTuber ColdHardLogic replied that different colors of light refract while passing through a lens. Part of the lens function, in fact, is to bring light to a desired focal plane. And since different wavelengths of light are refracted by different amounts, they are focused at different points, and can result in visual phenomena since as purple fringes.

Gawker’s Dayna Evans unearthed a Facebook group asking questions such as how a supposed barren wasteland like the moon could glow. Since I’m assuming the persons asking this have no fourth-grade science books handy, I’ll let them know it’s caused by the sun’s light reflecting off it.

Meanwhile, revisionism.nl’s About section highlights continual changes to the moon’s brightness, shape, size, and color, though those changes would seem INCONSISTENT with a holographic projection. The site maintainers don’t entertain competing notions, but do allow some internal dialogue as to how conspirators display the image: “It could be a hologram, projected from various government installations throughout the world. It could be a large, crudely painted balloon held in place by helium and propelled by tiny sails and rudders, which is why it moves across the sky so slowly.”

A third option that’s floated, so to speak, is that chemtrails leave behind a screen on which the hologram is shone. This would push the notion of chemtrails back several thousand years, which would get conspiracy theorists excited, but it leaves unanswered the question of why this screen fails to respond to sunlight during times the hologram is seen during the day.

A fourth option to explain the cratered white rock in the night sky is that a round satellite formed 4  billion years ago when Earth collided with another planet, and gravity has kept this heavenly body orbiting our planet ever since. During this time, humans visited this astronomical neighbor and brought back souvenir rocks. Gotta tell you, I’m definitely getting good use out of this fourth-grade science book today.

“Redistricting” (The D.C. Plan)

Developing a Plan

Many conspiracy theories are completely whacked. Last week, I engaged with a woman who opposed Brett Kavanaugh not because of his rulings or the allegations against him, but because she was convinced he was being propped up by the Illuminati. Flat Earthers insist that the most powerful persons on our plane planet have conspired for millenniums to keep its shape a secret.  

Then there are theories that are slightly more plausible on the surface, but which lack supporting evidence and which are unnecessary to concoct since reality is terrifying enough. For example, there is very strong proof that the Chechen government is engaged in a genocidal crackdown on homosexuals. One truly concerned about government overreach should be trying to stop this atrocity instead of raising alarms about governments orchestrating a plot to spread AIDS. Likewise, it is highly probable that Saudi monarchs ordered a hit on journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet INFO Wars, which purports to expose government misdeeds, labels the extrajudicial execution a false flag meant to somehow help the Democrats in upcoming mid-terms.

Persons who engage in such speculation don’t want crimes or corruption exposed by mainstream media; they want it done by conspiracy theory websites they prefer, so the narrative has to be changed to meet that script. But again, if genuinely wanting to root out malfeasance, one need only concentrate on what is actually happening.

Consider the history of blacks in the United States. It features a chronology of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, voter suppression, and a recent trend of being killed by law enforcement officers who normally go unpunished. With a storyline that tormented, there’s no reason to fabricate anything. Yet that has happened with a notion called simply as The Plan, which holds that wealthy whites are out to take over historically black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.

In the undocumented tale, real estate developers collude with construction companies to neglect and tear down affordable homes in poor neighborhoods and replace them with expensive apartments and opulent residences. Also, black mom-and-pop shops will be uprooted for luxury stores and fine cuisine establishments. Legislators friendly to the destitute will be removed from office through fabricated scandals. Government officials in on the fix offer strategic tax breaks and craft zoning laws so that blacks are shoved aside for wealthy whites.

The idea germinated after the passing of the Home Rule Law in 1973, which transferred some congressional powers to a D.C. mayor and council. This enabled the District’s blacks to vote in those who supported their interests, which led to speculation that whites would rise up and move back in following their 1950s exodus.

In a 1979 column, Washington Afro American’s Lillian Wiggins wrote, “Many residents believe that the Marion Barry era may be the last time Washington will have a black mayor. There is a strong possibility of the ‘master plan’ which I have so often spoken about maturing in the 1980s.”

Since then, four blacks have been elected DC mayor, including Barry again, but belief in The Plan remains strong in certain circles. This is typical of the “eternal tomorrow” present in some conspiracy theories, where the fruition is imminent, yet never quite arrives. This keeps the theorist interested and invested in the idea. If the culmination is to take place 100 years from now, they would no longer care and if it took place yesterday, there would be nothing left to expose or prep for.

Believers in The Plan note that the Federal City Council, a group of civic-minded business owners that forecast redevelopment and construction projects, comprises mostly white leaders. Moreover, since it is not a government entity, it can meet in secret, presumably to plot the purge of blacks and ascendance of whites.

This is similar to the Bohemian Grove conspiracy theory. It is true that powerful persons are meeting, but the assertion that it is for nefarious purposes is an evidence-free non sequitur with plenty of post hoc reasoning.

For instance, Barry’s fall from power was ascribed to The Plan, yet no evidence emerged that this involved anything other than his involvement with drugs. His eventual return to the mayor’s office made the idea of his ouster being due to The Plan untenable at best.

In another example of post hoc reasoning, efforts to improve D.C. schools were tied to The Plan since such upgrades increased the enrollment of white children. And rising real estate values, increased business, and a more festive night life were likewise considered evidence of the conspiracy. So is the fact that DC is now just half black, down from a high of 71 percent in 1970.

Certainly, the idea of white government officials and business executives further kicking blacks to the socioeconomic curb would seem plausible. But a closer look reveals that the key factor in DC’s changing demographics has been was the free market, not a furtive plot to segregate our capital.

According to Skeptoid’s Mike Rothschild, “In the late 1990’s, gentrification came to DC and was associated with The Plan. Developers started buying run-down buildings, left vacant because of crime, poverty and foreclosure, and turned them into condos and lofts. These new homes were too expensive for the historically poor residents of Washington’s more poverty-stricken areas.” This came during a 20-year period where DC’s white population increased by 11 percent while the black population dropped 15 percent. 

However, many other metropolitan areas in this time were seeing rich young couples and families moving into revitalized neighborhoods that previously housed impoverished minorities. While poignant, this represents the free market in action and demonstrates the divide that exists between black and white America.

Folks wish to buy housing they can afford and real estate developers exist to take advantage of that, whether than means a price increase or decrease. The changes to DC demographics are the result of capitalism, gentrification, and the racial differences in circumstances at birth. Again, there’s no need to make stuff up when the reality is bad enough for Chechen gays, Saudi journalists, and impoverished minorities.

 

 

  

“Time of the signs” (Secret hand signals)

untitled

Perhaps preparing for the annual Congressional baseball game, Senate Republicans lobbed softballs at Brett Kavanaugh, who revealed little about his positions beyond expressing a fondness for theocracy. But for a few observers, the focus was less on the man representing a historic swing of the Supreme Court and more on the woman sitting behind him. More specifically, they were captivated by her hand gesture.  

While sitting in camera view, lawyer Lawyer Zina Bash brought her thumb and index finger together while jutting the three remaining fingers skyward. The symbol has long meant “OK,” but some interpret this digital juxtaposition to mean “White Power,” with the hand supposedly spelling WP. The third, ring, and pinkie fingers come close to forming a W, but the circle created by the index finger and thumb looks nothing like a P. This more sinister meaning of the traditional OK sign likely started as joke or a Poe, but has come to be taken as gospel in some swaths of the no-evidence-required Internet.

Like alien and cryptozoological enthusiasts who ignore the amazing astrological and biological wonders of our world to chase after something still more, those who find racist code in the OK sign flashed at the Kavanaugh hearings are trying way too hard. Dr. Eugene Gu Tweeted that the hand gesture equated to “flashing a white power sign. They want to bring white supremacy to the Supreme Court.” His fellow Twitter warrior, author Amy Siskind, agreed that the gesture was inherently bigoted and should sink the Kavanaugh nomination. But with reports surfacing of the Trump Administration deporting U.S. citizens of Hispanic lineage, government actions are terrifyingly racist right now without having to make stuff up.

The situation is reminiscent of the Procter & Gamble Satanic panic during the 1980s, when the company’s bearded man-in-the-moon logo was said to form three sixes. It took extremely creative interpretations to reach this conclusion, and even then, the connected celestial facial hairs didn’t much resemble the number in question. More recently, Monster energy drinks have been subject to the same slander, as the company’s logo, when turned outside down, is said to vaguely resemble the Hebrew symbol for 666, even though 666 wouldn’t be written in such a way in that language. The funk rock group 311 has had similar baseless allegations thrown at it. The band takes its name from the Omaha police code for indecent exposure, but a rumor had “311” referring to three consecutive iterations of the alphabet’s 11th letter, or KKK. It speaks to a conspiracy theorist’s motivation that their deducing of a letter equivalent for 311 would end up being KKK instead of CCCCCCCCCCC. 

Back in the present day, Bash is from Mexico and she has a Jewish parent, making her a supremely unlikely white power proponent. But maybe she’s a self-loathing conspirator. That’s as good a reason as theorists have come up with for this or any other furtive silent message supposedly sent by the rich and powerful. Such allegations lack any proof and believers are unable to provide specifics on why the message is being sent or for whom it is intended.

While famous persons may sometimes be photographed with unexplained or unusual hand positioning, skeptic leader Benjamin Radford has a good explanation. He wrote, “Any high-profile person in the public eye enough may be photographed tens of thousands, or even millions, of times in a wide variety of contexts. Anyone wishing to spend the time and effort to comb through photos searching for a specific, seemingly significant wave or position of the hand or fingers can surely do so.”

Most of us prefer patterns over ambiguity, which explains why were see animals in clouds, sailboats in Rorschach blots, a face on Mars, and Jesus in our linguini. While we are all subject to this pareidolia, those with conspiracy leanings add sinister meaning to hand symbols. This is all the easier since they are determined to find it. During a Beyoncé Super Bowl performance, the megastar posed with her hand making a diamond shape. This could have been her expressing love for solid forms of carbon, a reference to her husband’s Roc-a-Fella record company logo, or something else. But for some conspiracy theorists, it could only mean endorsing world domination by Illuminati overlords who may have reptile tails.

But all this comes with a massive contradiction. Theorists insist the conspirators have a secret plot to subjugate or destroy us, yet they ensure clues about this are broadcast worldwide. They ignore this contradiction and spread their slander. And that’s not OK.

 

“What’s up with that, Doc?” (Vitamin D intake)

DPIC

My physician is pure mainstream: Recommending all the age-appropriate tests and an annual checkup; being solidly pro-vaccine and pro-antibiotics; well-versed in Germ Theory and even sporting the white coat and ever-present stethoscope, plus placing lollipops at the check-in desk.

So when he recommended a vitamin D supplement for me during winter and told me he popped the same pills, I headed from his office to the pharmacy. To get to those supplements, I passed the bandages, antiseptic, and pain medication I would normally purchase and ended up in the aisle of herbs, homeopathic tablets, flaxseed oil, and all manner of lotions and potions intended to complete the alt-med trifecta of detoxing, immune boosting, and increasing circulation. There was even something called soothing bath tea. I prefer that beverage for drinking, not dousing, so I passed on it, but did pick up the vitamin D tablets. It felt funny grabbing something from that section of the store, but my trusted doctor recommended it so I didn’t much question doing so.

Later, I learned my wife’s doctor, who coincidentally is married to my physician, had made the same suggestion to her. Hence, we both made the purchase and our previously supplement-free medicine cabinet was now overloaded with vitamin D goodies.

But according to a pair of New York Times articles, this was likely all for naught. Both sales of vitamin D supplements and testing for vitamin D deficiency have increased exponentially in the last two decades. According to the Times’ Liz Szabo, sales have shot up nine-fold since 2010, meaning it has nonupled if there’s such a word. Meanwhile, lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have seen a 547 percent increase since 2007 and the number of blood tests for vitamin D levels among seniors increased a staggering 8,300 percent from 2000 to 2010.

These Everest-like ascents stem from the embrace and promotion of vitamin D intake by Dr. Michael Holick, a Boston University endocrinologist. He has had authored books which extol increased intake and has sounded the alarm about a “vitamin D deficiency pandemic.”

Most prominent among his treatises was a 2011 paper in the peer-reviewed publication, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. This was done at the behest of the Endocrine Society, whose guidelines are followed by hospitals, physicians, and laboratories. The authors’ conclusions were that “vitamin D deficiency is very common in all age groups,” and that there should be a large increase in vitamin D testing. Further, it recommended a 50 percent increase in daily vitamin D ingestion, which put 80 percent of the population out of compliance.

These exhortations led to an endorsement of D supplements from an anomalous mix of mainstream and alternative practitioners, from our family’s husband-wife physician team down to Dr. Oz and Goop.

But a Kaiser Health News investigation for The New York Times found that Holick uses his prominent position to promote these practices that benefit pharmaceutical companies, indoor tanning salons, and testing labs. In return, he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from these industries. While acknowledging this, Horlick insists it doesn’t influence his interpretation of the evidence and said his money from these groups is the same whether vitamin D supplement sales are zero or a zillion.

In my time blogging, I have seen that talk of “Follow the money,” “He’s a shill,” and “Drug companies funnel money to doctors if you recommend their product” are ad hominem and red herrings that deflect from the issue of whether a product or treatment is beneficial, neutral, or harmful. Such lines are normally directed at the likes of Kevin Folta, Y’vette d’Entremon, and Kavin Senapathy, and launched  by alt-med proponents and conspiracy theorists.

But could it all be true in this case? Very possibly, but the central point remains the same. Whether Holick is getting money from these industries (which he admits), we still have to look at whether his claims are valid.

To be sure, vitamin D is crucial to good health. It is necessary for strong bones and deficiencies in it can result in rickets and osteomalacias. Another important point is that human bodies produce very little of it on their own. Further, it is available in only a tiny number of foods, such as oily fish. That leaves sunlight as one of the few natural sources for vitamin D, and exposure to this brings a host of issues, plus those in cold-weather climates get little of it in the winter.

This could seem to add up to solid supplement soundbite. However, vitamin D is available through foods fortified with it, such as milk, orange juice, and yogurt. Now to the central point of are humans getting enough vitamin D? At what level is a body deficient?

The year before the Endocrinology & Metabolism journal article, the National Academy of Medicine concluded that the vast majority of Americans get plenty of vitamin D naturally, and suggested doctors only test only patients at high risk of certain disorders. If Holick was right in about 80 percent of persons having a D deficit, there should have been a steady stream of brittle bones, rickets, and osteomalacias cases.

That this was not happening indicates most of us were getting enough of the vitamin through sunlight and fortified breakfast drinks. Indeed, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that very few people were deficient. The report stated that a sufficient amount would be 20 nanograms per milliliter. The increase to 30 nanograms per milliliter championed by Horlick would leave most of us wanting for vitamin D if that were a legitimate standard, but the report found no benefit to this additional amount. The study by the National Academy of Medicine reached the same conclusion.

As to the testing for vitamin D levels, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield published an analysis which found that 40 percent of its patients tested for D levels had no medical reason to be screened.

The Endocrine Society’s seemingly faulty conclusions manufactured the appearance of an epidemic since it decreed four persons in five had insufficient amounts of a key nutrient. And since it appeared in a respected publication and was associated with an esteemed doctor, many persons who would have otherwise dismissed the notion embraced it. This perhaps included my physician, which led to my flummoxed flaxseed frolic.

Repeat this recommendation and extraneous lab tests a few million times over and one gets the drastic increase in sales and testing. It also means there are hordes of healthy people popping a superfluous supplement tablet. One per day would be OK, though likely not beneficial, but going over that can lead to health issues. Hey, maybe that’s it! Maybe the recommendations are being made to get people sick from an overdose and give the doctors more sick patients and more money!

On a serious note, this does highlight the irony of the situation. Alt-med proponents and conspiracy theorists routinely allege that labs gain from unnecessary testing and that drug companies profit from unnecessary products, and that it’s all directed by persons with conflicts of interest who sit on the payroll of the benefited entities. The one time this seems to be happening, these groups embrace it.

“Over-reaction” (Thorium power plants)

FISSION

Thorium power plants are a hypothetical fuel source that could have the many benefits of nuclear power without most of the drawbacks. Unlike conspiracy theories centering on the repression of perpetual motion machines or water-fueled cars, the science behind hypothetical thorium power plants is plausible. They might be a viable alternative that could replace the need for uranium-fueled power plants.

In such locales, an energy source heats water, which creates steam, which cranks a turbine, which generates electricity. The same principle would apply to a thorium reactor but with the advantages of the source material being much more plentiful than uranium, producing less radiation, and that radiation being easier to transport. Additionally, they could not be used to make nuclear weapons since no weapons-grade fissionable material is used. This further means there is no danger of the materials being purloined by terrorist groups, organized crime, or spies and being used to craft a doomsday device.

Nuclear power plants currently operating are hellaciously complex, require extensive safety protocols, produce radioactive waste, and are powered by uranium, which is in relatively limited supply.

Thorium power plants would be safe because they cannot suffer a meltdown since the fuel is already molten. It is in salt form that cannot be burned or boiled away. It has to be kept hot by continually adding fertile elements or the reaction stops.

So why aren’t thorium reactors going up around the world? According to a report by the International Atomic Agency, the gist is that while thorium reactors hold promise, there are technological hurdles to be overcome and right now, it’s easier to stick with a method that is effective, though possibly inferior. Lengthy, costly research would be needed, followed by exacting and expensive construction. It would further require manufacturing of a different type of reactor, an efficient means of deriving fuel from thorium ore, and a sure means of handling waste. It’s not simply a matter of plopping thorium pellets into existing uranium reactors and immediately harnessing the benefits.

The report laid out these obstacles: 1. Existing industrial and utility commitments to uranium reactors. 2. The lack of incentive for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services. 3. Extensive manufacturing and operating experience with uranium reactors, contrasted to their thorium counterparts. 4. The less advanced state of thorium reactor technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the concept.

Steven Novella of the New England Skeptical Society encapsulated it this way: “Until someone completely designs, builds, and operates a thorium reactor, there will continue to be a lot of speculation on many of these details,” and a reluctance to jettison what is already working. 

For some, the more scintillating answer is that a conspiratorial cabal is keeping the technology hidden or repressed. But like the electric car or hidden cancer cure theories, this falls flat when one realizes that a Shark Tank member or other venture capitalist has access to the resources, technology, and drive to make this happen. All billionaires would need to be in on this conspiracy, agree to make no money off it, and expect their profit-driven brethren to do the same.

The means of achieving a workable thorium reactor is known, not repressed. No one is hiding it, but neither is anyone committed to overcoming the obstacles.