“Absolutely lipid” (Statins denial)

BANANA

There exist among us those who advocate rejecting all medication in favor of “natural cures,” which are neither, and who implicate physicians and pharmaceutical executives in an alliance to pump patients full of needless, nefarious medication. Some of these potent pills and potions are said to kill people by the millions, which if true, would quickly leave the malevolent medics with no one left to prey on. If there was a conspiracy to sell medication that was without value, it would make more sense to sell placeboes that could be made much cheaper and which would avoid poisoning the customers.

Statins are among the drugs cited by believers in this conspiracy. Statins are lipid-lowering medications that reduce instances of cardiovascular disease among those most at risk. The anti-statin brigade includes the usual suspects, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola, as well as a new one to me, Leonard Coldwell. The latter claims to have concocted a cure for cancer that is 92 percent effective. If so, there is truth to the hidden cancer cure conspiracy theory because Coldwell has yet to make his treatment publicly available.

Coldwell calls statins a mass murder method that invariably hardens the liver and slices 20 years off your life. In a lengthy retort, the SkepDoc Harriett Hall wrote that statins actually lengthen lifespans for those most at risk for cardiovascular disease, while lowering cholesterol. Coldwell agrees with the last part, but argues this is detrimental since he considers high cholesterol beneficial. But Hall noted, “You don’t die of either too much or too little cholesterol. You die of heart attacks and strokes, and reducing high cholesterol levels reduces your risk of those events.”

Coldwell claims that 250 being considered a normal cholesterol level is an arbitrary number dreamed up, but it actually came from measuring cholesterol levels in large populations. Those studies found that those with higher cholesterol levels were more likely to have heart attacks, and 250 is where the increase in risk was noticed.

Instead of scientifically-researched, tested, and proven statins, Coldwell recommends fending off heart disease with two bananas on an empty stomach. He cites this as a natural cure, even though the bananas we eat are remarkably unnatural, having been modified from a tiny, green, barely edible pod into today’s scrumptious elongated yellow fruit. And while regular consumption of fruits and vegetables promotes good health, there is no evidence for Coldwell’s claim that two daily bananas is an especially potent foe of cardiovascular disease.

Coldwell claims that Big Pharma spokespersons have described statins as a magic pill that will ward off heart attacks and other cardiovascular ailments. Hall shot down this strawman, noting that the medical establishment considers statins to be “drugs with risks and benefits, and the benefits have been determined to outweigh the risks.” It is not magic, doctors know how it works, and know it will work better for some than others.

Mercola and Adams both write that cholesterol has no bearing on heart disease and that statins will impair many biological functions and cause muscle pain. However, Hall’s PubMed search produced more than 30,000 articles on statins research, and a 2016 review of these studies by the Lancet found statins reduce the rate of heart attacks and strokes in at-risk patients by as much as 50 percent.

Of the 30,000 papers, Adams and Mercola cherry-pick a few isolated passages that suggest low cholesterol levels may be associated with higher death rates among the elderly. But the papers also noted this was not a causal relationship. People in their 90s often die for reasons unrelated to low cholesterol.

Critics sometimes label statins as overprescribed and while this strictly speaking is true, it is the result of a medical shortcoming, not a furtive attempt to enrich pharmaceutical executives and their lackey physicians. There is no way to know which patients will benefit from statins, but it is logical to treat anyone who may be at risk of heart attack and stroke. Consequently, many patients will take statins without seeing their risk of cardiovascular disease reduced. While the treatment won’t benefit everyone, those who do benefit do so greatly.

The detractors also highlight the drug’s possible side effects, but according to Hall, only one patient in 50,000 will develop a serious condition as a result of taking statins, and those usually disappear when the medication is discontinued. The critics also gloss over the fact that the side effects of bypassing statins can include premature death.

“Arbour missed” (ADHD denial)

DENNIS

Nicole Arbour has become a minor Internet celebrity by videotaping rants about groups of people who are different than Nicole Arbour. Blacks, the overweight, and feminists have all been on the receiving end of her mocking monologues. Her most recent assault is on ADHD sufferers and their parents. The gist of her railing is that the disorder is make-believe and that unfit parents should be spanking their little hellions into line.

In actuality, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been a known clinical condition since at least the early 1900s. In his takedown of Arbour, skeptic blogger Emil Karlsson noted there are more than 30,000 articles about ADHD in PubMed.

Biological factors that contribute to ADHD include genetic variants of neurotransmitter receptors and transporters as well as differences in executive function that are related to memory and attention. Environmental factors may include brain injury, premature birth, and heavy lead exposure during pregnancy.

Arbour offers no research or a different interpretation of data. Rather, she is content to reject outright a swath of parents, make evidence-free claims that cola and cereal cause ADHD symptoms, and offer erroneous anecdotes. For instance, she claims the first person to describe ADHD eventually rejected his initial finding and concluded the disorder was nonexistent.

She is referring to Leon Eisenberg, who contributed to psychology’s understanding of childhood behavioral conditions, but ADHD had been identified 20 years before his birth. Second, Eisenberg never claimed ADHD was fictitious, he only thought psychosocial factors were more important than biological ones in causing the disorder.  He therefore thought that pills to control the condition were being overprescribed. Most importantly, even if Eisenberg had said ADHD doesn’t exist, that wouldn’t make it true and wouldn’t override what the tens of thousands of papers and decades have research have shown.

Another Arbour claim, one frequently espoused in the anti-ADHD camp, is that the disorder is over-diagnosed in the United States. Critics will point out that six percent of US children are identified as having ADHD, nearly 10 times what is seen in Europe, particularly France.

It is true that most American children diagnosed with ADHD would not be similarly labeled in France, while a child not diagnosed in France might be in the United States. But this is because the countries use different diagnostic systems and analyze different factors in making the determination.

In Europe, a child must show a sustained inability to adapt due to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. In the United States, a child needs to show substantial impairment in just one of these categories.

Arbour uses the disparity when trotting out hackneyed claims of a Big Pharma conspiracy. Like most alleged conspiracies, it collapses under the weight of the ever-increasing number of participants who would need to be involved and stay silent for it to work. This one would have to involve pediatricians, school nurses, teachers, and psychiatrists working in concert to continue a sham for the benefit of shadowy pharmaceutical executives. Also conspiring would be parents such as Cristina Margolis, who blogs on issues related to ADHD.

In her response to Arbour’s characterization of parents like herself as lazy, coddling miscreants “who give kids drugs,” Margolis related her experience of being married to an ADHD sufferer and being the mother of one.

She noted that one of Arbour’s many mistakes was dismissing ADHD boys and girls as being nothing more than typical, hyper children. Margolis pointed out that hyperactivity is only one type of ADHD, with inattentiveness and a combination of the two being the others.

“Not all children with ADHD are hyper. ADHD affects people differently,” Margolis wrote. “When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, more coexisting conditions can arise as well, such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, and bipolar disorder. My then 6-year-old daughter told me she wanted to die. ADHD, depression, and all the other coexisting conditions are nothing to belittle and make fun of.”

This is not the first time that a public response has been warranted following a misinformation piece about the disorder. In 2015, blogger Matt Walsh labeled ADHD a myth, which prompted a detailed reply from Steven Novella of the Yale School of Medicine and president of the New England Skeptical Society.

Perhaps the most fundamental of Walsh’s errors was using “disease” and “disorder” interchangeably while failing to define either. Novella wrote, “ADHD is certainly not a disease. That term should be reserved for entities that involve a discrete pathophysiological condition. But in medicine, there are also clinical syndromes, disorders, and categories of disorders.”

Novella further explained that brain disorders are different than problems with organ systems that rely only on the health of cells and tissue: “Liver disease is largely caused by pathological processes affecting liver cells. However, brain cells also have other layers of complexity to their function, the pattern of connections, and the biochemical processes that underlie brain processing. To add another layer of complexity, part of the function of the brain is to interact with the environment, including other people and society. Because of this, medicine uses the concept of mental disorder to define a clinical entity in which a cluster of signs and symptoms relating to thought, mood, and behavior cause demonstrable harm.”

ADHD specifically is “a disorder of executive function, which is a definable neurological function that localizes to the frontal lobes. Executive function is what enables us to pay attention…and to inhibit behaviors that are not socially appropriate. Medication for ADHD improves function and outcomes and is cost effective.”

Walsh’s piece conspicuously lacked any of the technical terms and explanatory passages contained in Novella’s post. For instance, he wrote that because there is no magic line where the amount of hyperactivity and inattention crosses the threshold from normal to problematic, there is no disorder. That is the continuum fallacy and would be like arguing that because there’s no set number of drinks a person can have per week to go from a casual imbiber drinker to a lush, there are no alcoholics. While not referencing the 30,000 PubMed papers, Walsh did highlight three doctors who agree with him, displaying a cherry-picking acumen that would impress the most robust climate change denier.

Back to Margolis, she wrote that the disorder is a lifetime sentence, but that it can be controlled with diet, accommodations at school, and medication: “I hoped our daughter would respond well to treatment without medication, but she was one of many who needed more help. That is what ADHD medication is: Help. With her medication, she is excelling in school and extracurricular activities, making friends, and has gained self-confidence.” Margolis thus describes her daughter as “thriving,” while Arbour calls her “a zombie.”

 

 

“Creative types” (Creationist categories)

DINO FOSSILS

While the conflict between creationism and science is frequently played out on talk shows, in court rooms, and at state school board meetings, there are different branches of creationism and they vary significantly in how much they run counter to science.

The most anti-science of the branches is the one we hear from almost exclusively, and this makes sense. Proponents of these beliefs are the ones whose worldview is most threatened by cosmology, paleontology, biology, and geology, so they are the ones most likely to object to these subjects being presented. They do so loudly and incessantly, and are not content to preach it, they want government agencies and schools to teach it.

While this branch is the only one openly hostile to science, none of the other branches have contributed anything to our understanding of any scientific field. Floating ideas to the fellow-minded at a church coffee is as close as they come to having their ideas peer reviewed. The hypotheses we will examine cannot be evaluated by the Scientific Method, as they are neither testable nor falsifiable.

The most basic distinction is between Old Earth and Young Earth Creationists. The former accept the scientific age for the age of the universe and, depending on their subcategory, may embrace evolution, geology, and anthropology.

Here are the eight primary types of creationists, in descending order of how their views are compatible with science:

FIGURATIVE INTERPRETATION. Here, Adam and Eve are allegories, not people. They are emblematic of humans and our strengths, cooperation, doubts, foibles, and perseverance.

Noah’s ark is about Mankind’s fall and redemption, not a literal tale. The talking donkey in Numbers is not a fact but a fable that contains a life lesson. Exodus outlines the relationship between authorities and the governed and is not historical document about Mount Sinai tablets, a burning bush, and Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert. The figurative approach does get around difficult questions, such as how Israelites could spend those 40 years marching around and camping, without leaving behind one piece of archeological evidence testifying to their wandering journey.

The figurative interpretation does not precisely consider the Bible mythology because the god behind this is still real and is probably the one who inspired the authors. The tales are still considered to serve a divine purpose.

Ancient Jewish religious leaders regularly told tales that were never meant to be taken as literal, but were rather precautionary, instructive, or didactic in nature. They were meant to help readers grow, adapt, and learn. With the figurative interpretation, the Torah and subsequent books are comparable to other ancient Jewish tales and are literary devices with a means to an end.   

One can embrace this position without sacrificing one molecule of scientific literacy. The figurative idea is the one most attractive for a Christian struggling to reconcile their faith with science, or for a scientist interested in adopting or maintaining Christianity.

THEISTIC EVOLUTION. This is the belief that instances of evolution which have been and continue to be observed are guided by the biblical god. The Pope has endorsed this idea and theistic evolution accepts the geologic and biologic records, positing they are the results of divine intervention, done by a god who created and controls our world and its processes.

Theistic evolution allows and embraces scientific research and permits the acceptance of new information. If all creationists were in this camp, there would be very little conflict between them and the scientific community. The latter might find supplementing science with Yahweh no more valid that crediting the Zoroastrian deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or pondering that this is all a novel being penned by a supremely advanced Nibiru alien. But since established science is accepted and new discoveries encouraged and celebrated, there is no meaningful dispute.

Additionally, theistic evolutionists are OK with a universe that is 13.7 billion years old because, Ken Ham’s protestations to the contrary, biblical authors never wrote that Earth is 6,000 years old. Some believers arrived at that figure by calculating biblical genealogies, then adding the six creation days and a day of rest to them. Most Young Earth Creationists are content to say “5 to 10,000 years old” though the especially enterprising Irish archbishop James Ussher arrived at a quite specific creation date of Oct. 23, 4004 BCE, at 6 p.m. Safe to say, he wasn’t a theistic evolutionist.

The theistic evolution category allows a fair amount of leeway. For example, Genesis states Man was created in God’s image, yet none of us know what this deity is supposed to look like. Maybe he resembled a single-celled organism, in which case those organisms being at the lowest level of the Geologic Column would be consistent with Adam being created during the first week.

EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONISM. In this view, Adam and Eve were the first spiritually aware humans. Human creation is not precisely literal, as their predecessors were created by God, then through evolution, the descendants reached a stage where they could speak, comprehend good and evil, grasp the concept of God, and understand divine instruction. This position accepts the geologic and biologic records, but is emphatic there was a literal Adam and Eve, though they came to be in the same way as all early humans.

At this point, there is nothing that specifically rejects science, but we see the first example of being insistent on one instance of Biblical literalism, i.e. the existence of Adam and Eve.

PROGRESSIVE CREATIONISM. While Adam and Eve were literal in the previous category, they were evolved beings. In progressive creationism, they are considered the result of a special creation event. Progressive Creationism accepts the geologic record, and much of the prehistoric biologic record, including the age of dinosaurs. However, Adam and Eve were created separately from other animals. This is where the separation between science and faith becomes noticeably stretched. This category rejects the biological link between early hominids and humans that is evident in the fossil record. It also ignores or rationalizes away the fact that humans and chimps share 98 percent of their DNA.

DAY-AGE CREATIONISM. In this hypothesis, the six creation days are actually six geological epochs. If you don’t slam the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses, they may get around to mentioning this belief, as it is the organization’s official position. For scriptural support, they reference a verse that says, to God, a thousand years is like a day.  

There are some major problems with Day-Age creationism. For one, since the creation account has plants coming before stars, it would require ferns and the like to exist for millions of years with no light source.

Day-Age creationism also stipulates that all land animals were created separately from, and have no descent from, any sea animals. This would leave no answer for amphibians or transitional fossils that have features of both seafaring creatures and terrestrial beasts, like Tiktaalik. The evidence for whales and hippos having common ancestry is rejected, not owing to assessment of new discoveries, but because the Watchtower tract says to do so.

This belief does accept the evidence for the age of the universe and there is no inherent geologic conflict here, but the denial of biology is becoming stronger.

GAP CREATIONISM. This holds that there were 4.5 billion years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This model attempts to marry the age of Earth with Genesis literalism. In between furtive hotel visits, Jimmy Swaggart advocated this model. Gap Creationism states that after God created the heavens and Earth, a VERY long time followed, during which nothing worth being documented occurred.

From a consistent-with-science standpoint, this has the redeeming quality of being OK with astronomy, cosmology, and geology. But whereas day-age creationism begins to deny some evolutionary basics, adherents to this view must completely toss biology aside for the Bible. In this view, living organisms could have come into existence only a few thousand years ago.

At this point, we will move to the Young Earth Creationists. There are only two groups in this camp and they have just one piece of common ground: That there were no astronomical bodies 7,000 years ago.

OMPHALISM. Not all that different from The Matrix, as our world is mostly an illusion. This branch takes its name from the 19th Century book Omphalos, which is  Greek for navel. Omphalism refers to the belief that Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, giving them the false appearance of having gotten here through natural rather than supernatural means.

Adherents accept every scientific measurement regarding the age of Earth and all discoveries of biology, cosmology, and astronomy, with the quite relevant caveat that all discoveries are deceptions and God is merely making living organisms appear evolved or making the universe seem to be 13.7 billion years old.

Scientists will arrive only at the conclusions God wishes them to see. More detailed explanations may include God making the stars with the light already in transit or maybe the stars being God-induced hallucinations. The erosion and upheaval that would seem to explain mountains are instead deceptions and Cosmic Background Radiation is a mirage.  

Some consider it all a test of faith, i.e. God put dinosaur bones there to see if we would believe the paleontologist or the preacher. The Omphalism hypothesis is a form of “Last Thursdayism,” a thought experiment which ponders that everything may have been created a few days ago with all of us having false memories instilled in us.

YOUNG EARTH HARDLINERS. Here we abandon all pretense of anything remotely scientific, reasonable, rational, or evidence-based. Young Earth hardliners  embrace an alternate version of reality which jettisons most known science. They are truly creationists, as they have created an artificial explanation for why the universe and all its inhabitants are 6,000 years old. They have no concern for proof, research, or observation and no use for the Scientific Method or peer review.

Becoming a Young Earth hardliner means abandoning nearly everything Mankind has learned about cosmology, geology, biology, paleontology, oceanography, chemistry, astronomy, and anthropology. Only physics might escape unscathed.

Radiometric and carbon dating, dismissed. Speed of light, untrue. Geologic column, doesn’t exist. Written records by ancient Egyptians before, during, and after the Flood, fraudulent. Lucy, archaeopteryx, and Tiktaalik, all misinterpreted or fabricated by scientists.

The only nod to science most of them make occurs when evolution is literally observed, such as in a Petri dish or the case of the Florida lizard whom zoologists documented developing a new toe pad. In such instances, they concede that these changes occurred, but insist that a series of such changes has never, and will never, lead to speciation.

They consider fossils to be Flood victims and insist the fossilization process took just 200 years. The Grand Canyon and other geologic features were carved out by the same Flood. The Creation Museum features a triceratops wearing a saddle.

The Answers in Genesis mission statement is that no science is correct if it contradicts the Bible. Which is enough to raise the question of why they mess with their laughable attempts at scientific explanations on their website instead of just posting the Bible.

They frequently answer criticism by stating that believers and nonbelievers have different worldviews. While this might be a rare AIG accuracy, it says nothing about which side is promoting scientific truth, and is merely to dismissing dissenting views and evidence with an ad hominem.

Don’t take my word for all this. Here are examples lifted from Young Earth hardliner websites:

Blueletterbible.org on cosmology: “If Scripture says the world is 8,000 years old, then the world is 8,000 years old, no matter what science might say.”

Answers In Genesis on radioactive dating: “No geologists were present when most rocks formed.”

Institute for Creation Research on biology: “Life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created.”

Discover Institute on abiogenesis: “Studies of the cell reveal vast quantities of biochemical information stored in our DNA in the sequence of nucleotides.  No physical or chemical law dictates the order of the nucleotide bases in our DNA, and the sequences are highly improbable and complex.” This is a longwinded way of saying, “God did it.” This appeal to incredulity is one of the logical fallacies most committed by Young Earth hardliners.

While this is by far the most extreme branch, they are also the most committed and are the ones getting tax rebates while practicing religious and sexual orientation discrimination in hiring, and getting tax money to build the Ark Encounter. They are the ones trying to get creationism taught in public school biology class and the ones convincing state school boards to adopt stances that require districts to suggest that evolution, cosmology, and astronomy are not true.

While they hurl much venom at atheists and scientists, anyone in the previous seven creationist categories is labeled a heretic and possibly worse than an unbeliever (keeping in mind what they think of unbelievers). At the Creation Museum, Christians who have a different interpretation of Genesis than Ken Ham are portrayed as the devil in snake form. This serpent delightedly notes that if it can convince someone that the Flood was a myth or that dinosaurs came before man, then maybe it can convince them that Christ is not the savior.

While these types can employ the genetic fallacy to dismiss what an atheist or Omphalist says, they run into serious trouble when the Bible contradicts their teachings. In Genesis 1, God makes plants before he makes man, but in Genesis 2, this order is reversed. Your choice, Ham, which of those Biblical accounts is a lie?

“Shedding fears” (Vaccine shedding)

vaxgerm

A frequent anti-vax talking point centers on vaccine shedding. Like much of the movement, it turns a kernel of truth into a bushel of baloney.

While shedding can occur with some vaccines, there is danger in only very specific cases, cases in which the danger can be eliminated with simple precautions. Anti-vaxxers transform this into the notion that all vaccinated persons are  potentially lethal to any unvaccinated persons they come into contact with.

There are three major problems with this thinking. First, it asserts that vaccinations cause and spread disease without explaining how those diseases could have existed before the vaccines did. Second, an anti-vaxxer should consider this inconsequential since they insist that the likes of measles, polio, and swine flu are nothing to worry about, and perhaps even to be celebrated: goo.gl/tmSxHd.

Most importantly, except in rare, specific instances, vaccinated persons cannot infect someone who is dutifully repelling rubella with homeopathic eucalyptus drops. For starters, to be impacting someone else, the vaccinated would need to be shedding an infectious agent, specifically a live virus. They could not be a danger to anyone after being given an inactivated vaccine like polio, hepatitis A, or Whooping Cough.

Such vax facts weren’t about to stand in the way of blogger Cynthia Janak, who warned that selfish pro-vaxxers could spread Whooping Cough to the unvaccinated. Which raises the question of why only the unvaccinated would be at risk from shedding. Anti-vaxxers insist that vaccines aren’t effective and also insist that vaccine shedding spreads disease to nearby persons. If all this was true, the vaccinated should also be infecting others who have been immunized. Further, the one doing the shedding should also be getting sick, as they are hosting the virus and are the one closest to the virus when it sheds. And if shedding claims were true, younger siblings of freshly-vaccinated toddlers should be dying at a rate of hundreds per day.

The inexhaustible Janak has written hundreds of posts promoting anti-vax beliefs and she claims to have done thousands of hours of research. Yet none of those hours were dedicated to learning the relatively simple concept that the Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis vaccine contains an inactivated toxin and not a live virus. Also, please note that when an anti-vaxxer references their “research,” they almost invariably mean Internet surfing and exchanging anecdotes with the likeminded. They do not mean conducting laboratory experiments, running controlled tests, overseeing double blind studies, or publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

That is why, for all this alleged research, Janak wrote a column entitled, “Will the vaccinated infect the unvaccinated? That is the question with Whooping cough.” In it, she writes, “Vaccine shedding is the transmission of the virus from a vaccinated person to an unvaccinated person. All these parents and child care workers are going to get the vaccine and then have the potential to infect the unvaccinated child.” That the children could be infected due to their unvaccinated nature never occurs to her.

Again, for it to even be possible to impact someone else, a live virus must be shed, and this does not occur with the Whooping Cough vaccine. Shedding can only happen with live virus vaccines, such as MMR, varicella, and rotavirus. And when this does occur, shedding is not synonymous with transmission. As the name suggests, that would require something being transmitted from one organism to another, and only the tiniest percentage of shedding instances lead to transmission.

Viral shedding is recognized as a reality by pro-vaxxers, and doctors stress that caution should be exercised when the recently vaccinated will be around newborns or persons immunocompromised or pregnant. Special care should be taken to ensure that vulnerable individuals avoid coming into contact with the excrement of the recently immunized persons for two weeks. To recap, in order for shedding to be a danger, it must involve a live virus and the exposed person must be in one of three categories and must come into contact with the immunized individual’s stool within a fortnight. That it needs to occur in these very specific, avoidable circumstances is consistent with the rarity of vaccine shedding being harmful.   

One final crazy kicker to this. Janak wrote a column about the danger that persons vaccinated for chickenpox pose to the unvaccinated, warning the latter could catch the disease through shedding. She later extolled the virtues of intentionally exposing children to the disease at pox parties. So she expresses outrage that adults who refuse the vaccine might catch the disease, then celebrates purposefully passing that vaccine-preventable disease onto children and infecting them with a condition that brings a 1 in 60,000 chance of death.

“What fur?” (Aquatic Ape Hypothesis)

SEAMONKEKYS

Humans and apes share a common ancestor, yet Homo sapiens have several traits that distinguish them from orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and the rest. We are exclusively bipedal, lack fur, and have more fat.

One attempt to explain these differences is the aquatic ape hypothesis, an idea first proposed by physician Max Westenhöfer and marine biologist Alister Hardy in the 1920s and 1930s. They argued that a branch of apes was forced from the trees and began hunting for food on the shores. The notion is not that man came directly from the sea a la the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Rather, following the split with chimpanzees, the Homo genus went through a stage of being aquatic or at least amphibian, and this branch became us. In the hypothesis, wading, swimming and diving for food had a large evolutionary impact on how we turned out.

While humans and apes have very similar appearance, the most obvious difference is our lack of fur, save for a couple of guys I’ve seen in the locker room. There are only a few other mammals without fur, and this includes dolphins, manatees, and whales, all of whom have smooth, oily skin that  allows for more efficient swimming. However, this is the result of being adapted for swimming over tens of millions of years. Also, other savanna mammals such as elephants, hippos, and rhinos are without fur, while seals, otters, and beavers maintained theirs. Therefore, it does not necessarily follow that an aquatic ape would have lost its coat.  

Which leads us to the second point of the aquatic ape hypothesis. Instead of fur, humans have subcutaneous body fat, which apes have little of, and dolphins and whales have plenty of. This fat would seem to be disadvantageous for a hunter-gatherer but beneficial for a creature needing buoyancy and insulation from cold water.

However, apes have the same type of subcutaneous fat as people, they just have less of it. Moreover, human fat is distinct from the blubber of furless sea mammals, and would not help an aquatic creature stay afloat or keep warm.  

A third claim centers on our bipedalism. In water, this makes it possible to wade to a greater depth, and when swimming, enables a coordinated motion of arm strokes and leg kicks. Supporters of the hypothesis point out that while biologists feel bipedalism emerged for life on the savannah, no other animals from there developed the trait.

However, bipedalism has developed only in land animals and is not an adaptation for an aquatic life. Also, animals who spend all or part of their time in the water are either four-legged creatures like the hippopotamus or specialized swimmers without legs, like dolphins.

Another point made to support the aquatic ape hypothesis is that humans can control their breathing consciously, a trait they share with mammals who have the ability to dive. However, most primates can hold their breath, as can dogs. Humans have much better breath control than other animals, but they also use their breath for speech and other skills not possessed by other creatures. Therefore, an aquatic ape would not need humans’ specialized breath control.

The hypothesis runs counter to the archeological and anthropological evidence that hominids developed on Rift Valley savannahs. This evidence further suggests a major divergence between the great apes and hominids about six million years ago. Also, fossils from around 4.4 million years ago reveal terrestrial bipedal hominids with small brains and fur, which would be inconsistent with the hypothesis.

Animal Planet ran a faux documentary on mermaids in 2012, then aired an equally silly sequel the following year. The subject matter was presented in advertisements as genuine and the only hint to the contrary came during the closing credits, when a disclaimer in minuscule print flashed on the screen so briefly it could have been mistaken for a subliminal message.

While the shows were staged, they introduced the notion that mermaids could be explained through the aquatic ape hypothesis. This idea has since received positive mention on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. While the notion is presented as possibly shedding new light on human evolution, the fact that formerly erudite networks are promoting mermaids seems more an example of us having devolved.

 

 

 

 

“Corrective memory” (Mandela Effect)

steinbears

In my early 20s, I had memorized every batting champion and pennant winner in baseball history, so I decided to tackle home run leaders next. I went to the shelf to retrieve the book that contained this information and it was nowhere to be found. I only thought I had put it there. The brain that had soaked up a thousand pieces of baseball information in the previous week failed me when I tried to recall where I had put the book earlier that day.

Probably all of us have had these false memories, but when the same delusion happens on a mass scale, it is dubbed the Mandela Effect. This refers specifically to the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013, when many persons were certain they had seen his funeral procession years earlier.

Another well-known example of the Effect is many persons thinking they recall a film that never existed, Shazaam, starring Sinbad. Also, the Berenstain Bears are frequently mis-remembered as “Berenstein.”

It’s unclear why these phenomenon happen. With the anthropomorphic grizzlies, it has been speculated that since “stein” is a much more common ending for last names than is “stain,” those who grew up with the Bears were exposed to many more examples of the former. This may have helped created a false memory, which would be easy enough since the stain/stein distinction was less important than the Bears’ personalities, appearance, and adventures.

As to the fictitious flick, persons likely confused it with Kazaam, Shaquille O’Neal’s tragicomic attempt at thespian arts. Shaquille and Sinbad sound somewhat similar, and the latter has Middle Eastern fantasy overtones, so the blanks were filled in with false memories.

As to the example that gives the Effect its name, when Mandela was released from prison in 1990, there was a march that may have resembled a beloved figure’s funeral procession in terms of length, attendance, tributes, and displayed emotions. His release and its immediate aftermath may be what persons are mistakenly remembering as a funeral.

Offering a more paranormal rationale is ghost hunter and psychic Fiona Broome, who wrote that this might be evidence of an alternate universe. As she describes it, we may move in and out of these universes, sometimes taking memories with us. But if this were true, we would also be sliding out a reality where Mandela still lives and another where he overthrew the South African government in the 1960s, and no one is claiming to have recalled these circumstances.

Broome is not offering a testable hypothesis so there’s nothing substantive we do with her idea. Instead, let’s consider more reasonable alternatives.

Brains confabulate invented recollections to fill in memory gaps. We might, for example, misattribute later memories to earlier events, or think our childhood trip to the creek was with our best friend when it was really with his brother. These fabricated recollections are sometimes provided by someone else. While a few persons may have mistakenly remembered Hannibal Lecter telling the FBI trainee,  “Hello, Clarice,” many more people think they recall this line because they heard someone else saying it. Indeed, being exposed to a false memory can cause it to become implanted.

And if the false memory centers on something important to the listener, confirmation bias makes it even more likely to take hold. One of the Birther claims was that Obama’s step-grandmother was captured on tape talking about his Kenyan birth. No such tape exists, but Birthers continued to parrot it because the idea was attractive to them. Conversely, the 1990 New York Times article describing Obama as Hawaiian-born is not something they would be likely to remember.

So then, common cognitive errors are all that is needed to explain the Mandela Effect. At least that’s the case in our parallel dimension.

“We’re note worthy” (Solfeggio Frequencies)

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One aspect of anti-science forces that perplexes me is how often they consider excellence to be inadequate. Ken Ham believes in unicorns and dragons, yet nearly  as intriguing are verified creatures like members of the Phylliidae family. These insects have evolved a camouflage that causes them to almost precisely resemble a leaf, right down to swaying in the breeze.

Planet X believers contemplate about what this rouge body or its inhabitants are plotting to do to us. They spend time on this pursuit rather than studying fascinating astronomical phenomenon like neutron stars, which are so dense a dipperful would have more mass than the moon.

Meanwhile, music has given us treats as diverse as Bach, Chuck Berry, and the Andrews Sisters, yet this is not enough for proponents of Solfeggio Frequencies, who insist certain musical notes have healing powers. They go beyond asserting that music may have a soothing effect or the ability to lift one’s mood. They say it can vanquish fear, awaken intuition, repair DNA, overcome guilt, fix relationships, “return spiritual order,” “connect with light,” and “raise the vibration of our chakra system.”

At least they’re not claiming the ability to cure cancer, reverse aging, or heal cirrhosis. In fact, proponents seem to be giving themselves cover by employing vague language. Whether Solfeggio Frequencies can offer “transformation and miracles” is not something subject to scientific testing.

Proponents of Solfeggio Frequencies are unusual in that they appeal to both antiquity and novelty. Most alt-med and New Age types will pick one or the other.

In appealing to antiquity, proponents claim that some notes found in ancient music have distinctive, benevolent uses. Like most alt-med topics, there is disagreement among practitioners on even the most basic points. In this case, the dispute is over which Hertz performs which functions. This would be like orthopedists arguing over whether a certain tissue is a muscle or a ligament.

Another appeal to antiquity is the claim that certain ancient sites, such as Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza, are tuned to a certain Hertz, and if that’s insufficiently ancient, another claim is that specific Hertz is in tune with the sun. Also, John the Baptist and Benedictine Monks are sometimes identified as having had spiritual awakenings when they listened to music at these frequencies.

For the appeal to novelty, we have claims such as this one from solfeggiotones.com: “Energy and vibration go all the way to the molecular level. We have 70 different receptors on the molecules and when vibration and frequency reaches that far they begin to vibrate.”

One isolated accuracy in the Solfeggio Frequencies narrative is that the Concert A became 440 Hz in the 1940s. The fact that this happened with the Nazis in power may have given rise to the notion that this was the Third Reich’s responsibility. However, it was not a conspiracy, Fascist or otherwise, to do away with a magic frequency. Rather, it was an attempt at uniformity. Various symphonies of the era were using various Hz for “A” and this simplified that. 

The idea that the sun or stone constructions have a resonant frequency has no backing and adherents never explain what this means, how it works, or how they know it. Even if the Pyramids or Stonehenge did send off a frequency, it would have no impact on our health. Notes can produce deep emotional effects on us, but serious medical conditions are the purview of medics, not musicians.

As some point, these magic frequencies were lost. Many Solfeggio adherents think they were hidden away by the Catholic Church while others think Nazis were the culprits. In either case, the frequencies are said to have been resurrected by modern prophets and are available for not just for our esthetic enjoyment, but for our health.

In the book book, “Healing Codes for the Biological Apocalypse,” Leonard Horowitz insists that “the solution to all humanity’s problem lies within the music.” Once we are all literally on the same sheet of music, Horowitz says, “nothing will be broken, there will be no disease, no dissonance, but only harmony with this communion divine.”

His co-author, Joseph Puleo, writes he received an epiphany while noticing certain numbers, which he took to be codes, while reading Genesis, chapter 7. Puleo explained, “When deciphered using the ancient Pythagorean method of reducing the verse numbers to their single digit integers, the codes revealed a series of six electromagnetic sound frequencies which correspond to the six missing tones of the ancient Solfeggio scale.”

It would take a mighty sweet musical accompaniment to make all that sound anything but discordant.