“Back in my daze” (Youth bashing)


Back in my day, we didn’t need social media to ostentatiously announce the shortcomings of these dadgum young’uns.

Nor did anyone decades, centuries, or even millennia ago. Adults have been ruminating about the current generation’s faults from Socrates to Weird Al. This would suggest that the stereotype is inaccurate. Each succeeding generation getting worse for 3,000 years would leave societies and cultures in ruins. Instead, humanity has consistently experienced a general uptick in the quality of life, education, medicine, housing, transportation, food, and innovation.

In order to reconcile this contradiction, University of California-Santa Barbara psychology professors John Protzko and Jonathan Schooler led a team that conducted five studies to assess people’s tendency to believe that kids these days are deficient, relative to those of previous generations, especially their own, or from generations they hold in high regard.

The studies measured three traits and found that U.S. adults believe today’s youth are indeed in decline. Researchers found the subjects were more likely to hold this position if they were good at a specific trait they were questioned about. For instance, authoritarian types strongly feel youth are less respectful of their elders than in years past, intelligent people especially think today’s youth are less brilliant than they were before, and well-read people think young folks enjoy picking up a book (or Kindle) less than they did.

The attitudes toward children’s intelligence is telling because intelligence has risen fairly steadily over the years and centuries. Still, intelligent people believed that children today were becoming less so. Adding authoritarianism to the mix showed this characteristic to be unrelated to person’s beliefs about children’s intelligence. This is further evidence that the Kids These Days Effect primarily afflicts those who are proficient in a certain area themselves. Put another way, there were kids in your day who were just as disrespectful, dumb, and lazy as the current crop you are criticizing. But selective memory and a tendency to generalize the current generation but not one’s own leads to a skewed perspective. And again, this is only true if the subject exceled in that area themselves.

Also a factor is people’s tendency to romanticize the past and think of it as the good ol’ days. They envision the 1950s as the days of Leave it to Beaver instead of as a time of entrenched segregation, and the 1870s as the time of Tom Sawyer instead of the era of Native American genocide.

“Smoke signaling” (Vaping deaths)


The latest moral panic centers on a mysterious lung ailment seen amongst e-cigarette users. In the U.S., there have been about 150 persons hospitalized in recent months with perplexing lung ailments, all of which seem to cropping up after the patients vaped.

But all evidence suggests the cause is dangerous ingredients in black market vaping devices, not with over-the-counter e-cigarettes. According to Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “In every case where a product has been identified, the culprit was not vaping, but vaping illicit THC oil.” That means forbidding the currently-legal products will serve to exacerbate the problem.

Still, continuing the great American tradition of overreacting that we saw with comic books, rockabilly, and video games, we now have an outfit billing itself as Parents Against Vaping. One of its releases shrieked, “Our kids should not be guinea pigs for the JUUL experiment!”

No, they shouldn’t be, nor should adults be subjected to indirect harm from overzealous lawmakers. Consider one of the more severe cases, in which a Wisconsin man is laying in a medically-induced coma. He reached this unfortunate state of affairs by vaping with cartridges containing cannabis which he had purchased from an unlicensed, unscrupulous dealer. Not coincidentally, Wisconsin has some of the country’s most restrictive cannabis policies. In America’s Dairyland and states with similar stances, consumers wishing to vape with a dash of added THC are limited to illicit products that have never been tested for safety and for which the correct dosage is unknown.

Contrast that with legal products. Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Ross Marchand notes that “e-cigarettes, when legally manufactured, are 95 percent safer than ordinary cigarettes and are nearly twice as effective for quitting smoking as nicotine taxes or gum.”

Staying in the upper Midwest, Michigan, Gov. Grethen Whitmer stoked the manufactroversy by unilaterally imposing a statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Without citing a source to support her accusations, the governor chided companies for “selling vaping products using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine.” Wittmer claims there has been an uptick in e-cigarette usage by minors. But selling or providing these products to children is already a crime, so if anything, what is needed is more stringent enforcement of existing laws.

Still, the governor touted her desire to protect public health and announced she wants to shield the young from these terrible tasty temptations. But in so doing, she hampers the adults who switched to vaping as a means of ingesting a much less hazardous source of nicotine. Many of those attempting to break the habit have cited flavor variety as a vital tool to help the process.

Moreover, this is not a public health issue. That term should be reserved for the likes of vaccinations, fluoridated water, and clean air initiatives. One person permanently extinguishing e-cigarettes or even 10,000 persons doing so does not impact public health, as only the persons involved are benefited by the cessation.

And again, flavored e-cigarettes were already off-limits to the young. Hence, the governor’s decision does nothing to protect children, imposes dictates on those who are not children, and snuffs out not just e-cigarettes, but an industry that was helping its customers break an addictive and dangerous habit.

“What’s the point?” (Cell phone horns)


There have been hell-themed moral panics before, but the latest is the first I’m aware of that asserts the literal growing of horns by our wayward youth. Writing for Vice, Caroline Haskins tells of two Australian researchers, David Shahar and Mark Sayers, who report that these pointy appendages are protruding from the lower skulls of teens and young adults. They suspect this may be due to the horned ones continually titling their head forward and downward while continually using a cell phone.

To be clear, a substantial percentage of late teens and young adults are experiencing this devilish development, though the projections don’t actually poke through the scalp. In 2016, Shahar and Sayers looked at a group of 218 subjects between ages 18 to 30, and determined that 41 percent of them had a small enthesophytes at the base of their skulls. Enthesophytes are abnormal bony projections that normally attach themselves to tendons or ligaments, and usually result from stress applied to a bone.

The question is whether these instances are being caused by cell phone use, which the researchers say is only possibility, but which sensationalized press reports have treat as a virtual certainty. These alarming articles fail to consider other causes or look into whether the enthesophytes incident rate has mushroomed in the cell phone era.

There is nothing in the duo’s studies to suggest the ubiquitous communication devices are leading to bony appendages, or that there is a correlation for two in five young adults having them. Shahar and Sayers merely say that further research on the topic is warranted.

However, a slew of news articles embraced the narrative that the world’s youth are turning into little horned monsters. Such panics have been applied to cell phones before, be it WiFi cancer scares or the assertion that there was a condition called Smartphone Pinky. This referred to an alleged deformity caused by the way people held their phone. In fact, the “deformity” was a curve in the finger bone that has been normal in humans for millenniums.

With regard to the idea of skull enthesophytes being formed by repeatedly looking down and forward, there would be questions as to why this didn’t develop when books became common. There could also be genetic or environmental factors in play, or it could be the result of general posture, not just the position one assumes when responding to text messages about what you’re bringing to the potluck.

All this represents the latest in an uninterrupted string of moral panics surrounding developing technology. Ironically, such developments make it easy to quickly saturate a virtual universe with concocted concerns about sprouting horns – horns that most readers will fittingly find out about via their phones.

“Not a real cluster” (Dominican Republic deaths)


If something is truly random, it will sometimes show hints of an apparent pattern. For example, 2, 12, and 22 might be part of same winning PowerBall combination, or the same defense industry worker may be picked for a drug test three times in a row.

These and similar instances sometimes lead observers to infer that these streaks or clusters are evidence of the phenomenon being nonrandom. So a frustrated lottery player may attempt to find a nonexistent way to beat the system, or a jaded employee may be convinced management has it in for him.

Clustering illusions are amusingly demonstrated by the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. In this tale, a man fires several dozen pistol rounds into the side of a barn, picks out a number of holes close to each other, and claims that’s where he was aiming. When done in real life, an observer can wrongly think there is a connection in random phenomenon, be it related to crime, economics, or sports.

It’s too early to know, but this misinterpretation may be manifesting itself regarding American deaths in the Dominican Republic. Nine U.S. citizens have died there over the last 12 months, usually the result of a heart attack, though there is some concern that poisoning may be involved.

Metabunk’s Mick West, who saw the clustering illusion first-hand when he developed landscapes for computer games, writes that heart attacks are scattered throughout the population, but also correlate to demographic factors. This means heart attack numbers will generate both genuine and illusory clusters. With regard to the specific subset of U.S. tourists in the Caribbean, which type of cluster is in play?

West further makes note of the Frequency Illusion, where one pays more attention to something if they’ve heard of it lately or been impacted by it. For example, a motorist who buys a new Pontiac will likely notice other such vehicles more often than they would if they had not made the purchase.

So someone hearing of a handful of deaths afflicting those of a specific nationality in a certain place will likely draw a conclusion about what this means even if that’s not a justified reaction. West writes, “People have died of heart attacks, and even of alcohol poisoning, in the Dominican Republic before, and they will again. Is it any more common this year?

He crunches some numbers and notes that .1 percent of U.S. adults died from sudden cardiac arrest in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, about 2.7 million Americans go there each year. Assuming an average trip time of seven days, this would extrapolates to an expected 52 Americans dying of a heart attack in the Dominican Republic each year.

So while there could be something malevolent going on or some yet-to-be identified virus in the Santo Domingo vicinity, the numbers at this point support no such notion. If you have a trip planned there, go ahead. It’s likely to be as safe as always been and besides, there are clusters showing that people die unexpectedly while sitting in their living room.



“Netflix and shrill” (13 Reasons Why)


13 Reasons Why centers on the suicide of a high school girl who leaves behind cassettes for friends, enemies, and frenemies that outline her motivation for taking her life. 13 Reasons Why could also refer to the number of justifications there are for rejecting claims that the show has led to a nearly 30-percent increase in real-life suicides.

The program has been a flashpoint from its inception. When 13 Reasons Why debuted, the National Association of School Psychologists used the occasion to caution that being exposed to graphic accounts of death can be a factor in pushing a troubled youth to end it all.

Now, a research team has announced a study that purportedly found a connection between the Netflix offering and teen self-harm. It notes that suicides spiked in the months after 13 Reasons Why began airing. The Dallas Morning News declared this sufficient reason to drop the show. Meanwhile, The Daily Mirror blamed the program for a British pre-teen’s suicide, and other reputable publications have reached similar conclusions.

It’s true there was a rise in teen suicides in the month following the first airing. However, researchers offer no proof that the teenagers had watched it, knew about it, or offed themselves because of it. It was just textbook post hoc reasoning unbacked by supporting evidence. The same scenario unfolded in 1993 when detractors blamed Beavis & Butt-Head for a fatal fire started by a preschooler, only to learn later learned that the accidental arsonist lived in a home that had no cable or satellite television.

Moreover, while the month immediately following the release of 13 Reasons Why experienced an uptick in teen suicide, the month before that did as well. To dance around this, one researcher offered an ad hoc hypothesis that this was due to the show’s trailer being released that month. This is another instance of the researchers committing a basic correlation/causation error that is unbecoming of someone doing what they do for a living.

Writing for Reason, Robby Soave raised the key point that the rise was only taking place among boys, whereas studies consistently indicate that suicide contagion primarily impacts those who feel empathy with and identify with a previous suicide victim. Since 13 Reasons Why focuses on a girl’s suicide, this makes the chance of a connection even more remote, as does the stagnation in suicide rates of teen girls during the show’s run.

Writer Daniel Bier chastises the researchers for merely counting “the months that suicides went up, even when there is half a year between them and no logical basis for attributing the increases in June and December to the TV show released in April.” He also noted that similar jumps occurred during various months in the years before 13 Reasons Why began airing. Failing to consider this and control for it shows either extreme laziness on the part of the researchers, or it reveals their  predetermined agenda.

I suspect the latter, and the researchers likely betrayed this agenda when they wrote, “There is no discernible public health benefit associated with viewing the series.” This opinion, of course, has no bearing on whether Netflix can be fairly blamed for anyone ending it all. Besides, if the show had that the impact the researches claim, the suicide rate of viewers, especially females, would be much higher than it is. But they aren’t ending it all at an alarming rate for the same reason that Forensic Files doesn’t turn its fans into serial killers.



“Pour some sugar in me” (High fructose corn syrup)


I sometimes try preparing new dishes on the weekends. Other times, I am content with oatmeal and orange juice for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and a frozen pizza for dinner. There are some folks who would deem the latter a deadly diet. These foods are full of high fructose corn syrup, which according to the scary script, can cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, insulin resistance, and other miscellaneous maladies.

However, there is no evidence HFCS causes excessive weight gain or health issues beyond what ingesting equal quantities of any other sweetener would lead to. The cause of obesity, some diabetes, and other ailments involves taking in more calories than what are burned. Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning put it this way: “When you consume regular sugar the first thing your digestive system does is break the chemical bond and separate it into glucose and fructose. Once saccharides are in your body, it makes very little difference whether they came in as table sugar or as HFCS.”

The white granular substance most of us think of when we hear “sugar” consists of glucose and fructose, which are chemically bound into a larger, more complex molecule called sucrose. HFCS also consists of glucose and fructose, but they are mixed together rather than bound, allowing it to come in different blends. The more fructose relative to glucose, the sweeter the resultant product.

U.S. companies put high fructose corn syrup in many foods since farming conditions in this country are usually better for corn than for sugar. Indirectly, this means the syrup is cheaper for U.S. businesses and, since it is a liquid, HFCS is easier to handle and more affordable to transport. It further has advantages in baking, browning, fermenting, and moistness.

Historically, corn syrup had been so much cheaper than sucrose that companies used it to thicken foods and retain moisture. But initially, corn syrup was seldom used as a sweetener since it was less sweet than sucrose. Then in 1957, food scientists developed a process to convert some of the glucose in corn syrup to fructose, yielding a product that was 42 percent fructose and 58 percent glucose, which substantially increased its sweetness.

All this is why it is used in so many foods and this ubiquity is no cause for concern. For Science Based Medicine, Jim Laidler wrote, “Many of the sources that demonize HFCS list alternative sweeteners — cane sugar, honey, agave syrup, etc. — and claim they are healthier than HFCS, but those claims usually rest primarily on the fact that these alternatives to HFCS are ‘natural’ rather than any data showing that they are safer.” 

None of this alters the fact that a diet high in fructose could contribute to the diseases listed earlier. But the same is true with other sweeteners and those others may even have a more pronounced deleterious effect since one needs less HFCS to get the same level of sweetness. So if I don’t feel like cooking this weekend, I will eat my PB and J without undue worry.

“It’s not a game” (Momo Challenge)


I had little doubt the Momo Challenge was a hoax when I first heard about it. And last week my news feed became overwhelmed with articles testifying to that conclusion. I was pleased to see this moral panic squashed in a world populated by flat Earthers, anti-vaxxers, persons who think a cold Minnesota January disproves climate change, and non-GMO labels on foods that have no genetically-modified equivalent. Score one for reasoned thinking.

Momo is a sculpture created by a Japanese special effects company and there is no evidence she has been coopted by a shadowy organization dedicated to fomenting a mass suicide of teens and tweens.  

Still, an online legend tells of children being enticed to harm themselves by a creepy, bug-eyed critter who is equal parts reptilian, avian, and woman. Momo is said to pop up on social media posts, messaging apps, and videos. She then instructs, encourages, or threatens children to complete increasingly dangerous tasks like pill-popping, slicing their skin, or stabbing others. She often warns participants to never tell authority figures about the challenge, which often ends in suicide.

While there is no evidence this game is real, it plays on concerns of legitimate phenomena such cyberbullying and sextortion. It also repackages campfire tales of hook killers and dead children embedded in a drunk driver’s car grill and fits them for the modern age and today’s technology.  Skeptic leader Benjamin Radford considers the Momo Challenge to be a continuation of folk tales where youngsters are challenged to conduct a bravery ritual. This could including laying on train tracks, spending time in a haunted location, or chanting “Bloody Mary” into a mirror.

Beyond panicky parents, irresponsible TV networks are also fanning the fearful flames. CBS Baltimore reported that Momo “can target kids through Peppa Pig or Fortnite when parents aren’t around.” Yes, this creature is so frightening and cunning she somehow knows when adults leave the house. Not just a certain set of parents, but any adults worldwide who have children at home. Asserting that such a skill exists should have been a huge tipoff that none of this was real and the network was negligent to not better question this story before airing it.  

The decision may have been partly driven by there being several dozen 24-7 news outlets competing to fill space or airtime. Part of that airtime was spent on CBS Baltimore going so far as to claim Momo has been “reportedly linked to suicides in other countries,” without specifying where this happened or what the victim’s name was. Indeed, while the game has been blamed for a handful of suicides, none of those deaths have been confirmed as being part of a twisted viral challenge, for which no evidence exists.

The character is now one of the most ubiquitous and well-known in the online universe. Yet none of the many Momo images that have been shared show her taking a menacing tone with vulnerable youngsters. Instead, we’re just seeing the same picture of the same sculpture. She is touted as a widespread danger in a time where everyone has multiple ways of recording at any moment and we still lack any documentation of this twisted game happening. The closest thing are edited Peppa Pig videos with Momo sliced in, and these are not tied to anyone committing self-harm.

Still, news reports include boilerplate language about police warnings and sick cyber stalkers. There are also exhortations to monitor children’s activities and regularly check their apps and devices. Those are sound ideas, but a nonexistent threat need not be the impetus to follow through on them.

One UK parent told the credulous Daily Mail the game bore the responsibility for her 5-year-old cutting off part of her own hair. I can affirm that self-administered Kindergartener trims take place without a disturbing online presence being involved. A Kansas mother likewise blamed Momo for her son’s angry outbursts. This continues a long trend of cursing culture icons for leading youth down a wayward path. Before Momo, there was Beavis and Butt-Head, before Beavis, there was Elvis, and before Elvis there were wood-pulp paper books.

Indeed, the Momo Challenge has the features of a moral panic. First, it centers on a demented group or activity that attack us decent folk. Second, the response to moral panics is disproportionate to the threat they pose. Finally, for all the alarm they cause, moral panics have a relatively short shelf life, and this has been exacerbated in the social media age. Society has overcome its fear of comic books, Buddy Holly, and Dungeons & Dragons, and Momo seems headed for a quick retirement. Just as certain is that the resulting moral-panic vacuum will be short-lived.


“Traffic cops” (Human trafficking hysteria)


From communists to drugs to terrorists, the US has had its share of panics. While each of those entities existed, the putative cure often brought additional ailments and instead of fixing the problem, exacerbated it. We are seeing the same drawback today with the focus on human trafficking. Alarmist language, stereotyping, and relying on those without expert training are leading to the same problems we saw with the other panics.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, writing for Reason, profiled how hotel giant Marriott, in a now-deleted Tweet, boasted that its employees are trained to “spot an escort, to “keep an eye on any women who are traveling alone,” and to “not allow some women to drink at the bar alone.” Certainly, no decent person would want human trafficking anywhere and it’s easy to understand a business being vigilant about making sure it never took place on its premises.

But the deleted Tweet insinuates that a woman cannot be trusted to be by herself or to be left to her own devices. Not that men get a free ride, either. Some airlines conspicuously move adult males seated next to an unrelated minor and some men have even been accused of having an underage concubine at a hotel when the teenager was actually his daughter. None of these measures are eradicating human trafficking.

Often, the paranoia takes on racial overtones. Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking, made a minor news splash when she contacted airport police about seeing a woman and toddler of different ethnicities together. She recalled, “Something didn’t click with me. She was trafficking that kid. She was waiting for the guy who bought the child to get off an airplane.” 

This overzealous effort to foist a kidnapping turned out to be nothing more than McCain inconveniencing and embarrassing a mother and her child. Terry Firma at Patheos wrote, “A passion for or against a movement or a great cause often leads people to look for, and then to see, examples of their bugbear everywhere.”

McCain was likely unaware that 14 percent of the population is biracial, and with surrogacies, adoption, and remarriage, mixed race families are common. Also, about 20 percent of women keep their maiden name when getting married, and this can result in immediate family members having different last names. But these changing demographics are ignored in favor of alarm at airports, bus stations, and hotels.

One example cited by Reason involved an Asian woman and a Puerto Rican man sharing an orange juice, with this being touted by an airline employee as one sign that something wasn’t quite right. Another time, members of the Korean band Oh My Girl spent 15 hours detained at LAX on suspicion they were being trafficked. Keeping with the ethnic stereotyping, hospitality industry personnel are trained to consider references to massage parlors and Southeast Asia as potentially being a trafficking tipoff.

Like other panics, this one encourages citizen spying, which is now augmented by enhanced digital surveillance capabilities. Traffic cameras, indeed. Employees are cautioned to be on the lookout for travelers who seem fatigued or sleep deprived, even though these are common and expected conditions for someone who has spent hours on the road. Also under suspicion are guests with little luggage, with pornography, with multiple phones and computers, or who decline to have their room cleaned. Other signs are said to be: A waiting woman who is picked up by a man (especially if she’s scantily clad and he’s older); a car parked with its license plate away from the door; multiple rooms booked under one name; and having too many condoms. Even shabby clothes, sunglasses, and an oversized hat can be considered evidence of wrongdoing.    

For all this hyper-vigilance, we are seeing no uptick in trafficking convictions, and in fact, this nightmare seldom occurs. Firma wrote, “Sex trafficking is so rare that an experimental court in Delaware, set up to fight it, had to close for lack of victims. In the UK, the biggest ever investigation of sex trafficking failed to find a single person who had forced anybody into prostitution in spite of hundreds of raids on sex workers in a six-month campaign by government departments, specialist agencies and every police force in the country.”

Police, specialized agencies, and prosecutors are finding very few human trafficking victims. It’s hardly fair to expect flight attendants, bus drivers, and hotel housekeepers to manage it.  

“Sweet and dour” (Artificial sweetener hysteria)

SBArtificial sweeteners have been the subject of mass hysteria for decades. In the 1970s, studies fueled worries about the possible carcinogenetic nature of saccharin. However, this research involved rats being force-fed the synthetic compound at a rate that would have been like a person drinking 100 diet sodas a day for years.

In the early 1990s, the Internet’s first wide-spread smear campaign listed every malady in the history of Mankind as being the result of aspartame, which raised the question of why humans hadn’t been immortal prior to the artificial sweetener’s creation.

This year, there was an alarmist report about diet soda being responsible for Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia, and the Smog Monster. This freak-out was based on a horrible misinterpretation of the study, which is what’s happening in yet another fabricated fizzy fear. This latest scare is that artificial sweeteners wreak havoc with one’s gut microbiome.

The human gastrointestinal tract is amazingly complex and is composed of multitudinous organisms that can either help or hinder digestion. These organisms can have a substantial impact on our health, either good or bad. Because of the microbiome’s key role in human wellbeing, research is constantly being done on it.

That includes a study which some media have given plenty of panicky play to. In this experiment, scientists poured artificial sweeteners on bacterial cells. At very high concentrations, most of the bacteria began to act stressed, and researchers deduced that artificial additives were the culprit. This was translated in the press as sweeteners being detrimental to human health.

This was an unfounded conclusion. For starters, the research considered only a few strains of e. coli, which are among the millions of different types of bacteria that have taken up residence in our gastrointestinal tracts. Further, the stressed reaction only occurred when e. coli were subjected to extremely elevated dosages. The bacteria started showing agitation after exposure to four grams per liter of aspartame. The human equivalent of this would be chugging two gallons of Mountain Dew in 15 minutes. Incidentally, I’d be might riled myself if strangers kept dousing me with sticky liquids.

Also, reactions from one type of organism seldom translate into the same experience for another type. Epidemiologist and skeptic blogger Gid M-K wrote, “Exposing cells to artificial sweeteners in a lab is very different to a person drinking diet soft drinks.”

Indeed, a 2016 systemic review of studies concluded there is little evidence of a substantial health detriment or benefit to ingesting moderate amounts of artificial sweetener.

This is much shorter than most of my entries, but I’ve got to prep a Thanksgiving meal, one that will safely include some Diet Cherry Dr Pepper.

“Taking baby from a candy” (Halloween hysteria)


It’s time for ghosts, goblins, and gremlins, but if seeking still further imaginary fright, consider some Halloween urban legends and hysterics.

First we have the time-dishonored account of poisoned candy. Even before the Internet and 24-7 news channels, these dark tales made the rounds and almost everyone knew about them. Ann Landers, notorious for passing off urban legends as fact, helped spread the terror. I remember presenting my candy to my parents for inspection and losing one piece because it seemed to be an off-brand, although the neighbor’s long hair, being affixed to a 20-something male in 1974, may have been another factor.

Police departments and hospitals offered free X-rays of the confectioneries, with the uniformly negative results being inconsistent with the panic that the candy from strangers was causing. The munchies madness hit its peak in the mid-1990s when Halloween parties began being held in lieu of neighborhood knockings. Surprisingly, the transformation of the Internet from relative novelty to ubiquitous entity over the last quarter century has not pushed the alarm to greater heights and, in fact, it has tempered somewhat, though warnings still abound.

Fortunately, such advisories are based on fear, not facts. Only one person is confirmed to have died from poisoned Trick or Treat candy, and the victim was targeted by his father, who slipped his son cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. He did the same to his daughter and four of his children’s friends, hoping to make the event seem random, but none of the four other intended victims ate the tainted treat.

While the granular candy was not passed out by a neighbor answering the door, the murderer was trying to take advantage of the myth that such occurrences had been happening nationwide for decades.  Ironically, his attempt to emulate an urban legend helped to spread it. But this was not a case of a homeowner handing out lethal candies. The killer did not pass them out at his door, nor were the Pixy Stix put in his son’s plastic Jack-o-Lantern by someone else. 

There are still periodic reports of children dying after ingesting laced confectioneries, but investigations have always concluded there was another cause. It should be noted that razors, pins, and needles have been found in Halloween candy multiple times so caution against this occurrence is justified.

But as to toxic treats, the Los Angeles Times quoted Cal State sociology professor Joel Best, who said, “We checked major newspapers from throughout the country from 1958 through 1988, assuming that any story this horrible would certainly be well reported,” and his research group found no cases of intentional, random Halloween candy contamination.

With that, we move from poison to pedophiles to satisfy our All Hallows Eve hysteria.  

According to Reason’s Lenore Skenazy, each October the website Patch publishes maps that show where registered sex offenders live. This is publicly available, accurate information, but the insinuation is that residents of these homes pose a specific danger on Halloween. However, those persons are prohibited from handing out candy on this date and a study of 67,000 child molestation cases showed no increase in such incidents on Oct. 31. Besides, the great majority of crimes against children are not committed by strangers; an infinitesimal amount are committed by a stranger on Halloween; and probably zero have been committed by a stranger passing out Halloween candy on his doorstep. Parents should protect their children and they do so by accompanying them as they seek sugary snacks on these  nocturnal excursions.

Patch defends its actions because a Wisconsin child was raped and murdered on Halloween in 1973. But such tragedies can occur on any date and this one taking place on Halloween was coincidental. Besides, almost all persons convicted of raping and murdering a child are still in prison or have been executed. The killer in this case had not struck before and would not have been on any registry had those existed at the time.  

While such a person should be locked away for life, it is a myth that all sexual offenders are incapable of redemption. In fact, sex criminals have the second-lowest recidivism rate, after murderers. Also, public urination, soliciting a prostitute, and teen sex all land people on the list that Patch distributes.

It promotes this as a public good, so I will counter with my own such public service map. Any red dots below indicate cases where persons already on sex offender registries attacked another child who was Trick-or-Treating:


us map