“All’s well that spends well” (Wellness industry)

There are several critical thinking errors associated with wellness, an intentionally vague term that can mean most anything a marketer, company, or user wishes it to.

Some of these are among the most frequent logical fallacies, such as the ad populum. Here, the ubiquity and popularity of a product is considered synonymous with its efficiency. Sometimes products sell because they work but other times it is due to who is endorsing it, a savvy marketing approach, or manipulated data.

Another frequent fallacy which is seen in wellness products is the appeal to tradition. While some traditions endure because they are good, others exist only because that’s the way we’ve always done it (i.e. circumcision or the Lions playing on Thanksgiving). Tradition is another way of saying inertia and the duration something has been done has no bearing on its soundness. If I punched myself in the mouth every morning, that would be a bad idea. At no point would it morph into a good idea because it had been done for a certain time length.

Still another frequent fallacy that makes its way into wellness marketing is the appeal to nature. This extends to other areas too, where with the exception of motor oil, synthetic is presumed to be undesirable. Appealing to nature is gold for the wellness industry since it targets those who think they are getting back to the way things were in a glorious past, be that our grandparents’ time or the Paleo era.

Proponents will use “natural” and let the assumption be that means foods the way nature intended. Or it is meant to bring to mind snowcapped mountains and flowing streams when it also means arsenic and box jellyfish venom.

I sometimes see a putative list of ingredients in fries or chicken sandwiches as sold in the US as opposed to their counterparts in other countries. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of either nation’s food constituency, but the implication is that the number of ingredients, along with their polysyllabic nature, means they are dangerous. There is no truth to this. Writing for Skeptical Inquirer, Nick Tiller gave this example: “Consider two glucose molecules —one synthesized in a lab and one found in nature. Both have the chemical formula C6H12O6, both appear as identical under an electron microscope, and both will have an identical effect on the body when consumed.”

Now we’ll move onto some fallacies that are less seen in general but which are still common in the wellness industry. We’ll start with the use of pseudoscience. This refers to using scientific terms improperly or fabricating terminology designed to sound scientific. In any event, the goal is to obfuscate.

Tiller cited the PowerBalance bracelet that enjoyed popularity among elite athletes early this century. It purported to harness the power of “holographic technology,” which is not a thing, with the bracelets said to be “embedded with frequencies that react positively with the body’s energy fields.” Frequency, positivity, and energy are all legitimate scientific terms but as used here are meaningless. Always beware of references to energy and remember that this refers to “measurable work capability.” Insert this phrase in place of “energy” when you see it in ads and it will usually become clear that the claim is absurd.

Along with energy, other words frequently bandied about are balance, immunity, and anti-inflammatory. Again, these are all valid concepts but likely are not so in the way they are used in wellness advertisements. At other times, the peddlers will just coin a term like bioharmonic in hopes of impressing the scientifically illiterate.

While hardly the exclusive purview of wellness, the industry it often guilty of observational selection, which refers to only counting the results you like. I have gone on extreme diets before and lost 25 pounds in a matter of a few weeks. I could highlight this as a success, but to tell the whole story, I would need to tell what happened when I went back to my old habits rather than instituting a lifestyle change. Ignoring such stories enables companies to tell the truth, but not the whole truth.

We also often see a confusing of correlation with causation, often in the form of post hoc reasoning. There might be a connection or it might by coincidence or it could be causation. But we need data and double blind studies to determine this, not anecdotes. As Tiller explained, “Personal accounts trigger emotion and contrast sharply with empty messages from large data sets of cold numbers and statistics. Products are often sold alongside customer testimonials and ‘before and after’ images to compensate for a lack of scientific legitimacy.”

“Thoughts for food” (Raw and organic myths)

For a food to be labeled organic, it must meet a set of established criteria. For it to be considered raw requires no distinction other than not being cooked or prepared in any way. Despite these differences, both organic and raw foods are the focus of rumors that are partially or completely false.

We’ll start with raw, which can be a more nutritious offering than its cooked alternative (depending on how those types are prepared), in addition to being cheaper than their packaged-with-added-ingredients counterpart. However, some enthusiasts go beyond these attributes to make some dubious claims.

For example, they assert wild animals, who consume only raw food, never get sick, a desirable fate which would befall us of we did the same. This is, literally, wildly off the mark, as disease is a leading contributor to animal mortality. Further, the few persons who subscribe to an entirely all-raw food diet sometimes fall ill just like the rest of us.

A less extreme but just as mistaken claim is that munching raw foods increases the consumer’s lifespan. It might make one’s life healthier but there will be no appreciable delaying of death. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked into this and concluded, “The greatest driver in longevity is heredity. Diet is not a significant factor, statistically.”

Looking at the raw numbers, so to speak, there can appear to be a longer lifespan attached to such a diet, but this is because most raw foodists become so in adulthood and never succumbed to fatal newborn or child illnesses and disease. So an apparently increased lifespan would be true amongst almost any adult group, be they red meat lovers, fruitarians, or stamp collectors.

Another mistaken notion is that we are the only meat-eating primates. In truth, most apes are omnivorous. And even if true, this claim would have no bearing on the health benefits of raw fruits and vegetables.

Still another erroneous idea is that cooking foods zaps nutritious enzymes, without which the body struggles to properly digest food. However, we naturally produce digestive enzymes, which make their way through our glands. Moreover, almost anything that is digested is destroyed in the process, which in fact describes digestion. Dunning noted that this process causes enzymes to break down into amino acids, which are absorbed by the intestines.

Most of these notions were based on a false premise or a misunderstanding. Others are total fabrications, such as the claim that white blood cells rush to the stomach to try and fend off the poison that cooked foods yield. This is a complete myth and unsubstantiated fear-mongering.
There is also an assertion that cooking makes organic compounds non-organic. This is an impossibility. Dunning explained that organic chemistry “is the study of carbon compounds, and organic compounds are those formed by living organisms, with molecules containing two or more carbon atoms, linked by carbon-carbon bonds.”

Yet carbon-carbon bonds only begin to break at 750 degrees, so unless preferring one’s chicken carbonara in a charred-beyond-recognition state, this bond-breaking won’t happen. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, as we will see in the second portion of this piece, the focus on organic food. When my children ask what that is, I usually tell them it means more expensive. If I am feeling loquacious enough, I will add that it is supposed to mean grown without synthetic chemicals, though there are about 30 exceptions and even then, natural is no safer than artificial. With that, let’s examine some of the claims associated with organic food.

One is that buying organic food benefits family farms rather than Big Agra, or some such smear. This is wholly untrue since organic food is a corporate behemoth. Dunning explained that major food producers realized the commercial potential of organic would allow them to charge higher prices for fewer products. According to Dunning, “Nearly all organic crops in the United States are either grown, distributed, or sold by the same companies who produce conventional crops.”

A second claim is that organic foods are healthier. But when farmers take the same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same. Genes, rather than production method, determine a food’s chemical makeup.

Additionally, some organic enthusiasts say chemical residue remains on non-organic foods. Perhaps, but since organic pesticides are less efficient than their synthetic counterparts, such foods are saturated with up to seven times as many pesticides as what is used with conventional agriculture. Further, organic food, which is one percent of food sold in the US, is responsible for eight percent of E. coli cases.

Finally, we have the notion that organic growing methods are better for the environment. This is also wide of the mark since organic methods require about twice the acreage to produce the same crop.

Eat raw and/or organic if you want to, just do in knowing the facts.

“Taking a charge”(Electric car myths)

Electric vehicle detractors make a number of claims which have a grain of truth and others which lack even this single morsel.

For example, they have pointed out that there is not enough infrastructure to support an explosion in electrical vehicle usage. It is true that if today, magically, the number of such means of conveyance tripled, there would be an insufficient support network. However, when the internal combustion engine was a novelty, there were no auto mechanics, gasoline stations, or AAA. The market adapted and evolved, as would be the case if the number of electric vehicles mushroomed.

The disdain for EVs is comparable to that for veganism. The mythological protestor chiming in with “Meat is Murder” on a beef page is nowhere to be seen. Yet when one posts an animal-free recipe, the majority of replies feature anger, derision, and revulsion. In the same vein, a post about a traditional vehicle will likely merit no negative comments or at least none that condemns the industry in totality. By sharp contrast, information about EVs is met with hostility, mocking, and perhaps even a declaration that they are a plot to conquer and control the population.

One of the least venomous arguments is that they are too expensive. And while EVs do cost more on average than their gasoline counterparts, the price has been steadily declining as they become more common. More importantly, as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning points out, there is more than retail price at play. When one considers resale, maintenance, fuel costs, and depreciation, EVs come out ahead. Imagine 10 years of no trips to the gas pump and no oil changes, all while having fewer components that can break down, and one can see the long-term benefit.

Next, let’s tackle the notion that charging can take untold hours. Compared to the two minutes it takes to complete a gasoline refueling, this seems like a lot of wasted time. But Dunning noted that most users only charge as much they need to get to their next destination so most don’t spend three hours waiting around for the charge to complete. Dunning reported that he spent a month on an 8,000-mile drive (aided by Tesla’s autopilot), where he averaged about 10 minutes per recharge. While that’s a little longer than one spends pumping gasoline, if you throw in a restroom break and a Snickers purchase that are common on cross-country journeys, it’s the same amount of time. Moreover, an EV can be powered at home, which is where about 75 percent of recharging takes place. There is no gasoline refueling equivalent in most people’s driveway.

Another expense-related criticism is that the batteries need frequent replacement at $40,000 a pop. This is a total myth. Dunning wrote, “EV batteries last just as long as, and are far more reliable than, car engines. You’re no more likely to need to replace an EV battery than you are your V8. And even if you did, federal law in the United States requires EV batteries to be warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles.”

Moving onto the more fear-based complaints, there is the notion that an EV driver is in a bad way if the battery dies. This is sometimes extrapolated to a dystopian scene where all cars are electric and the duped drivers all remain stuck in a blizzard or backed up traffic, resulting in all the cars transforming into a makeshift coffin. While being stranded is undesirable, poor decision making by a single EV driver is no more a condemnation of the entire concept than a motorist running out of gas is an indictment of the entire oil industry. Dunning wrote that he once was unable to recharge because the power in town went out. Stupid him, right? Well, only if one applies the same distinction to the hundreds of traditional vehicle drivers who were also unable to refuel due to the electrical outage. As to everyone being stuck to die together, this is based partly on the myth that the batteries don’t hold a charge for very long. This is untrue, and would be especially so if the car were idling.

Detractors raise concerns about environmental and humanitarian disasters – isolated concerns from a segment not usually worried about such things. Those who consider the damage that climate change does to Earth and its inhabitants to be mythological now fret over the harm caused by lithium mining. However, we need to do more than to appeal to hypocrisy. We need to look at whether this is a valid worry.

Dunning writes, “Lithium…is more an issue of supply and demand and cost. It creates ugly open-pit mines but is not particularly dirty or destructive. Most lithium mining is in Australia, which complies very well with environmental regulations.”

But that still leaves cobalt, which traditionally has had the worst humanitarian impact. Much of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and mining there has often been done in deplorable conditions, sometimes by children.

This is of utmost concern, but Dunning noted that international pressure and increasing demand has tempered the problem. “The picture has changed dramatically,” he wrote. “Demand has surged to the point where child laborers can no longer meet it. About half of Congolese cobalt mines are owned by well-financed Chinese companies, and the vast majority of Congolese cobalt is now produced in mechanized open-pit mines with heavy equipment and not a child laborer in sight.”

This is not to suggest all is well. According to Dunning, there are still 40,000 Congolese children, and it is therefore necessary is to continue to monitor the companies producing cobalt and to snuff out their use of child labor.

As to EVs impact on planet health, when considering the entire production and use cycle, the average electric car generates half as much greenhouse gas as the average internal combustion vehicle.

Finally, there is the myth that the grid is insufficient to support a significant uptick in EVs. In truth, EVs make a modest impact on the grid. An entire electric fleet would add about 10 percent to overall demand. And since any increase would be gradual, proper planning and management could alleviate any trouble.

“No smoking” (Ancient Egyptian tobacco)

There is no evidence of ancient Egyptians having made it to North America, nor any evidence of tobacco in the land and time of the pharaohs. But in 1997, Discovery aired a program which featured German toxicologist Svetlana Balabanova, who had discovered nicotine in an Egyptian mummy. This was touted as proof that there had been trade between Egypt and the Americas thousands of years before historians and archeologists thought those cultures had collided.

Further, a 1978 letter in the Anthropological Journal of Canada claimed mummies sometimes contained tobacco residue and other writings told of found tobacco beetles making their way to the remains of Rameses II. All this seemed to point, rather conclusively, to the idea that Egyptians had access to tobacco.

In her research, Balabanova tested the hair of an obscure priestess named Henut Taui and discovered high nicotine levels in her body, and subsequently co-authored a brief article published in a German scientific publication.

However, Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning writes, “The paper’s rejection by the scientific community was both immediate and nearly universal.” Balabanova had suggested perhaps mourners had burned tobacco to fumigate insects and the mummy had therefore received high doses of nicotine. However, Dunning notes that pharaohs would almost certainly have had no role in the dirtiest part of fumigation efforts, especially with the frequency that would be required for their corpses to be heavily laden with it. Additionally, there was better reason for tobacco’s presence, and for that we look to the work of archaeologist Paul Buckland and Eva Panagiotakopulu, an etymological expert.

Dunning noted that only well into the 20th Century did archaeology place a premium on preservation, having been more interested until that time with exploitation and financial gain. He writes, “Conservation of specimens was rudimentary at best. Records were often nonexistent, mummies and artifacts moved around, each one inviting potential contamination. During all of those moves, many of the people who worked on Rameses II or were in his vicinity smoked like chimneys.”

Moreover, mummies often suffered from insect damage or infestations, and so were often treated with insecticide in the form of powdered tobacco. Since the mummy Balabanova focused on was laden with nicotine, then we can safely conclude it had been treated in this common way. There is no need to insist that the only possible explanation is that ancient Egyptians had trade contact with the New World.

“Emission magician” (Climate change denial)

Conspiracy theories sometimes do exist, just usually not in the way their opponents envision. Consider how executives in the fossil fuel industry have banded together with public relations firms to deny anthropogenic climate change.

Dr. Steven Novella cited a Harvard study which concluded that ExxonMobil “misled the public about basic climate science and its implications. It did so by contributing quietly to climate science, and loudly to promoting doubt about that science.”

Also, the BBC reported on a trio public relations specialists- Don Rheem, Terry Yosie, and Bruce Harrison – who were hired to sow doubt on climate science. They worked for the Global Climate Coalition, an organization intended to sound environmentally friendly and dedicated to solutions, when it was anything but. They were, in fact, comprised of oil, coal, automotive, utilities, steel, and rail executives. All of these industries release significant greenhouse gas. The group rose to prominence after the 1992 presidential election, which saw an oil industry buddy was replaced by an environmentally-conscious one.

Thus began the climate hoax hoax. Harrison employed the methods and strategies he had while resisting auto industry regulations and questioning the dangers of tobacco. His tactics included authoring a string of editorials, background pieces for journalists, and advertising, all of which cast doubt on the consensus of climate scientists.

The tactic worked, as few journalists know much about the hellaciously complex topic. Further, the scientists handpicked for this ruse seemed to present knowledge and balance. I was a print journalist at this time and certainly I would have quoted both sides and lacked the expertise to ask serious questions or throw doubt on any claims.

As to the climate scientists who knew better, what they had in scientific expertise they lacked in media skills and knowledge of how to fend off well-funded disinformation campaigns.

Novella wrote, “Journalists need to learn how to report science in general, controversial science in particular, and how not to become the lap dogs of industry propaganda.” Meanwhile, he continued, those they are reporting on – scientists and professors – should “develop their knowledge and skills in dealing with the public understand of science and other complex topics, and to make it a much higher academic priority.”

Novella and others such as Kevin Folta, Neil Tyson, and Brian Dunning, serve as a mix of skeptics/scientists and journalists, so their contribution help, but more headway is still needed in making more journalists science-literate and more scientists media savvy.

“Rounding up the numbers” (Glysophate fears)

Glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup, has been attacked since 2015 when the International Association for Research on Cancer concluded that the weed killer was likely carcinogenic for agricultural workers who used it regularly for years on end.

University of Florida horticulture sciences professor Kevin Folta noted that when it comes to cancer risk, glyphosate resides in the same category as eating processed meat, getting too much sun, and toiling as a barber. The same conclusion that IARC reached mentioned that glyphosate shows no signs of being dangerous in trace amounts in food.

The latest concern over the product centers on a report showing that it shows up in the urine samples of 80 percent of the population. Folta writes that this sounds alarming but a longer look reveals there’s little to worry about.

That’s because four decades of research have shown no epidemiological or/molecular evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. Also, the latest report uses terms such as “tied to cancer” and “linked to cancer,” but those are not scientific designations but rather attempts to tie together disparate items and suggest causality. In truth, they are nothing more than correlation, tenuous connections, and statistical anomalies.

As to the traces in our piss, the CDC assessment never measured how much was there, it merely noted if it was present. There is no reason to think there is any danger here. Researchers are not finding dangerous levels in urine or blood. The reason that any can be detected is that chemists have devised products efficient enough to detect 0.2 nanograms per milliliter of glyphosate in aqueous solutions like urine. That’s 200 parts per trillion. This poses no risk, since as always, toxicity is determined by amount, not substance. Further, glyphosate easily passes through the body, making it a carcinogen even less likely.

“Numb-bers” (COVID vaccine harms)

My children and I like to make an annual trek to the apple orchard each fall. Then there are those who prefer cherry picking. These types misuse numbers by design or by misinterpretation, leading to erroneous conclusions.

Let’s take the case of Dr. Peter Doshi, whom three doctors with Science Based Medicine accuse of beginning with an assumption that vaccines ineffective and harmful. He then crams in any data that seems to support this while dismissing any evidence, no matter how voluminous or persuasive, to the contrary.

His latest effort, “Serious Adverse Events of Special Interest Following mRNA Vaccination in Randomized Trials,” concluded that, “The excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest surpassed the risk reduction for COVID-19 hospitalization relative to the placebo group in both Pfizer and Moderna trials.”

The numbers he used were accurate but egregiously misused. It is similar the possibly Apocryphal story about Pravda reporting that the US and USSR had a two-car auto race won by the Americans – by printing that the Soviets had come in second and the USA next to last.

Doshi’s tactics included double- or triple-counting any harm suffered by those who received a vaccine, while not doing that for the unvaccinated. For example, a vaccinated patient who had gastroenteritis and abdominal pain counted as two adverse reactions, whereas any unvaxxed person hospitalized for COVID counted as one, regardless of how many symptoms they displayed, or how serious the impact was.

An even bigger deficiency was Doshi failing to account for long-term results. How quickly a virus spreads can impact how long it takes a vaccine’s benefits to be seen. By contrast, nearly all vaccine harms occur right after receiving the shot. This means almost all adverse reactions will be seen in a few days, whereas immunity through vaccination cannot be determined for months.

So to accurately ascertain the benefits, a research trial would need to run the course of an entire pandemic. As more were exposed to the virus, the vaccine’s benefits relative to placebo would increase. Had the trials lasted two years, there would be many more cases of severe COVID, especially among the unvaccinated. But these trials were ended well short of a year for ethical reasons.

And there are still more flaws in Doshi’s conclusions. In the two trials he cited, there were 74,000 participants, with 36,930 of them receiving a vaccine and only 366 having COVID. Therefore, the vaccine had many more opportunities than the virus to cause adverse reactions.

Also noteworthy, nearly all of those harmed by the virus received a placebo. Like all subsequent studies, the trials revealed that COVID was dangerous and the vaccine effective at mitigating that. There were 40 cases of severe COVID, all but one in the placebo group. This is substantial because many of those 74,000 participants have since contracted COVID. Once this protection was known, it would have been unethical to continue the trials and allow people to remain unvaccinated.

So when Doshi claims that “results show an excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest greater than the reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations in both Pfizer and Moderna trials”, he doesn’t acknowledge these studies were terminated because the hospitalizations were rising. The trials were designed to stop once a small number of people got COVID, but Doshi deceptively uses numbers to deduce that COVID was no big deal. But the trials didn’t prove COVID wasn’t a threat. Rather they ended so rapidly precisely because COVID was a threat.

Doshi neglected to reference a single trial showing the vaccine’s benefits in his paper even though evidence is overwhelming that COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Only someone who starts with the conclusion that vaccines are ineffective and picks the cherries he likes would arrive at such a conclusion.

“Doctor and the Clerics” (Trans treatment hysteria)

There are some who see 1984 as less a cautionary tale and more an instruction manual. Witness Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this year siccing states on the parents of transgender minors. Meanwhile, a glut of bills, some of which have passed, banned gender-affirming care for trans boys and girls, with 10 years in prison the punishment for prescribing medication.

Proponents of such laws claim that this care is experimental, which they by extension imply harmful. Yet Science Based Medicine cited a systematic literature review of 52 studies, which show improvement in patients following gender-affirming medical intervention. By contrast, those who had not socially transitioned normally experienced depression and anxiety.

As to the notion that this is new, trans individual have taken cross-sex hormones since for more than a century and GnRHa first treated gender dysphoria in 1988. These are safe treatments, for as the Endocrine Society’s Clinical Practice Guidelines states, “Pubertal suppression is fully reversible, enabling full pubertal development in the natal gender, after cessation of treatment, if appropriate.”

Experimental treatments are those that serve as an intervention or regimen and have shown curative promise but which are still being evaluated for efficiency and safety. This does not apply to trans care, such as puberty blockers. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has endorsed gender assignment surgery and medical therapy as being effective and even life-saving. These drugs inhibit puberty in order to enable the brain time to mature and to allow for exploration of gender identity. They are not prescribed for prepubescent children and are only given at the onset of secondary sex changes.

There is a wide gulf between medical treatments following careful consultation and foisting it upon the masses, which detractors claim is happening in schools. Also of note, the treatments are reversible and genital surgery for gender reassignment is rarely.

Nearly 30 major professional health organizations have recognized the medical necessity of treatments for gender dysphoria and endorse such treatments. As such, doctors should make these decisions after consultation with families; politicians on a fundamental religious bent should not be the ones dictating medical care.

“Creative math” (Anti-evolution mathematics)

Creationists sometimes try to incorporate math into their arguments. The use of Greek letters, complex formulas, and arithmetic jargon might seem to make an impressive argument, or at least a confusing one, depending on one’s mathematical abilities.

In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, Jason Rosenhouse identifies three ways creationists use a numbers-based approach: Through the fields of probability theory, information theory, and combinatorial search.

With regard to the first of these, find yourself a quarter. Or a Walking Liberty Half Dollar if preferring more of a scavenger hunt. Flip it and there is a 50/50 chance of if landing heads and 50/50 that it hits on tails. Although in a backyard football game once, I called for the coin to land on its side, and it did by getting stuck vertically in the muddy ground. Let a mathematician somewhere calculate the odds on that one.

At any rate, one anti-evolutionist assertion goes thusly: Genes are a sequence of DNA bases represented by the letters A, C, G, and T. The genes can further be seen as a series of letters, comparable to repeated tossings of the Walking Liberty. Therefore, if a specific gene results in 100 straight bases, that occurrence is too remote to be chance, and therefore intelligent design is responsible.

First, this is the god of the gaps fallacy. More importantly, this argument is based on the mistaken notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process similar to flipping coins. But as Rosenhouse noted, natural selection is a non-random process and this impacts the probability of specific genes evolving.

Using analogous coins again, Rosenhouse asks us to envision tossing 100 of them simultaneously. Getting all of them to hit on heads at once would require exponentially more attempts than one could manage in a million lifetimes. But if we are allowed to put aside the 50 or so that landed on heads, then re-toss the rest, then do the same with the roughly 25 that are left, then the 12.5 and so on, we would have 100 heads within a few minutes. Under this procedure, we would have all heads after an average of seven coin-flipping iterations. “The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second,” Rosenhouse explained.

Now we move on to how creationists end up wrongly thinking that complex functions like flagellum (which some bacteria use to propel themselves) points to design. By way of note, the flagellum comprises numerous individual proteins working in concert. Creationists insist that this function being arrived at by chance is too remote to be reasonable. But evolution does not have an end-point in mind and the flagellum, while irreducibly complex, could have served another function in a less-advanced stage.

So creationists sometimes try another approach, employing information theory. They argue that genes encode meaningful information, and insist that such information is indicative of design. This is another instance of the god of the gaps fallacy, besides being an affirming of the consequent. Beyond that, this posits that natural processes can only lead to erosion and eventual collapse. Therefore, creationists continue, complex genetic information cannot be natural.

However, known mechanisms are adequate to explain genetic information growth via evolutionary processes. For example, Rosenhouse wrote, “When a gene duplicates itself, it leaves the organism with two copies of a gene that had occurred only once. The second copy is capable of acquiring mutations without harming the organism since the first gene still maintains the initial function.”

That leaves creationists with trying to embrace what is known as a combinatorial search. According to Rosenhouse, during the evolutionary process, the potential number of possible gene sequences is staggeringly high. But, he continues, this is irrelevant since natural selection “shifts the probability distribution dramatically toward the functional sequences and away from the nonfunctional sequences.”

So while claiming to embrace mathematics, creationists are instead accepting only select parts they find convenient, and even then, are misapplying it.

“The nth powerless” (N-Rays)

Frenchman René Blondlot worked as a physicist in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He is most known for a claimed discovery of a radiation type that he dubbed N-Rays.

Dozens of other scientists seemingly confirmed the N-rays existence but it was eventually determined that they don’t exist. Several subject matter experts had come to same erroneous conclusion. Anti-science individuals and conspiracy theorists are fond of this tale, thinking it gives them ammunition in their insistence that the field is corrupt or at least incompetent. But as is always the case, it is the scientific process that uncovers and corrects the error. We only know that N-Rays are nonexistent because of scientists.

Bondlot had deduced that purported N-rays were exhibiting seemingly impossible properties, yet were still being emitted by all substances except green wood and a few treated metals. He claimed to have generated the rays using a hot wire inside an iron tube. The N-rays were thought to be invisible except when viewed as they hit the treated thread.

While French scientists whom Blondlot knew and worked with had had the same results, German and English scientists were unable to replicate his findings. Troubled by this inconsistency, editors at Nature magazine decided to look deeper into the claims. This highlights the importance of peer review and submitting one’s findings to subject matter experts.

The magazine sent American physicist Robert Wood to look delve into the mystery. Without telling Blondlot, Wood removed the prism from the N-ray detection device. Without the prism, the machine failed to produce the rays. But when a Blondlot assistant conducted the same experiment, he claimed to see the N-rays. Wood had implemented the type of control that Blondlot and his associates should have. Additionally, they should have assigned a neutral party to oversee the experiment. These measures would have enabled a proper double blind study to be conducted. Simply put, Blondlot’s sketchy science had been supplanted by Wood’s better science.

The field learns from its mistakes, as evidenced by the fact that Blondlot and the N-Ray concept are little remembered today. Scientists, being human, will make mistakes and miscalculations, but when proper science is repeatedly done, the truth will come out.