Suspicion of clouds

CHEMGRAM

The rejection of science fact and the embrace of science fiction is perhaps best encapsulated by those persons who think manmade climate change is a hoax while believing that chemtrails are real.

First, let’s deal with anthropogenic global warming. I have seen Sean Hannity and others challenge climate change believers on exactly what percentage of global warming it is that humans are responsible for. While not responding directly to that challenge, Brian Dunning penned an excellent piece for Skeptoid which showed how simple observation reveal that average annual global temperature is rising and that human activity is the overwhelming reason why. He noted this can be done without use of “climate models, politics, predictions, economics, or how many scientists agree.”

The key point is that CO2 levels are rising as the result of human activity. From here, it gets a little more technical, but stay with me. Carbon dating is done by comparing the amounts of carbon-12 and carbon-14 in a sample. When organisms die, carbon-14 decays and no new carbon-14 comes in. This means eventually only carbon-12 remains. Fossil fuels come from plants that died millions of years ago so they have no carbon-14. Hence, the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels contains only carbon-12.

The one natural source of carbon-12 is volcanoes and volcanologists measure their output and know that each year, worldwide volcanic activity contributes about 200 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. This accounts for .006 percent of the 29 billion tons of carbon-12 that enters our atmosphere each year. The only source for the other 99.994 percent is fossil fuel burned by humans. So when observers carbon date the CO2 in the atmosphere, it reveals precisely how much of it comes from people burning fossil fuels. Oceans and plants can only absorb about half of that 29 billion tons, with the rest ending up on our atmosphere, where it remains.

Now we will address how we know that those 14.5 billion tons of carbon-12 is causing an increase in average global temperature. There are five gases that are primarily responsible for the greenhouse effect: CO2, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Through a method called spectroscopy, observers can measure how much of these are present. Earth’s surface is warmed by the sun and our planet emits that same heat back as infrared radiation. When aiming a spectrometer skyward, observers see peaks and valleys in the infrared spectrum and can determine which greenhouse gases are trapping Earth’s radioactive heat. This method provides clear evidence that excess heat energy is being trapped in our atmosphere because of increased CO2, which we earlier is the result of humans burning fossil fuels.

Those who dismiss AGW are denying what scientists are able to see through their analysis of carbon dating and spectroscopy. Meanwhile, some of those same persons say that what is really dangerous for the planet and its inhabitants are strings of fluffy white smoke.

They are convinced that harmless water vapor left in the wake of flying aircraft is a weaponized agent that will do something nefarious, though it’s not agreed on precisely what that is. Speculation includes poisoning, sterilization, mind control, and unleashing tornadoes. Believers will often point to geoengineering, cloud seeding, or attempts to control the weather, all of which have happened, but are unrelated to airplane exhaust. All this was explained in a pair of Washington Post essays by Matthew Cappucci and Dennis Mersereau.

Like the current warming trend, contrails are man-made. They are clouds that form under ordinary environmental conditions and follow the physical processes that occur with any other cloud. In the specific case of contrails, they form when hot, moist aircraft exhaust condenses after coming into contract with extremely cold temperatures in the upper atmosphere. A long, narrow cloud results.    

There is usually little water vapor present because air’s ability to hold moisture wanes as the temperature drops, and temperatures at this altitude are around minus -40 Fahrenheit (which is also -40 C, I’ve always liked that). Cappucci wrote that despite those frigid numbers, water vapor remains a gas or liquid and does not become ice because water must have something to latch onto in order to become an ice crystal. He further explained, “When the airplanes emit aerosols, sulfates, soot, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, water vapor, and so on, the particles in its wake can serve as the nuclei for cooled water droplets and vapor to condense and freeze on,” and a contrail is born.

There is variety in the contrail family and some paranoids say these differences distinguish contrails from chemtrails. Believers concede that some airplane exhaust is harmless but insist that at other times airplane emissions represent the deliberate sabotaging of our lungs and minds. As this has zero evidence in reality, there are differing assertions as to which is the key factor that gives away chemtrails. Some say duration determines it, some say thickness, and others go with color. But science explains why all these ideas are mistaken.

Altitude and the air’s wetness determine how long contrails are. If an airplane is flying through wet air, it leaves a contrail; if it is flying in dry air, it does not. Airplanes that appear to be at the same height from ground level may actually be 5,000 feet or more apart in terms of altitude. Chemtrail detectives love to show an airplane leaving little or no contrail, while another plane in the same frame is bellowing out a lengthy cloud, but this is the result of altitude and air conditions, not because government agents are dispatching death from above.

With regard to duration, how long contrails last depends on the humidity level and how favorable the atmosphere is for sustaining them. These are the same factors that help determine whether a day is cloudy or sunny.  

As for their color, the key elements are the contrails’ height and the planet’s curvature (convincing Flat Earth chemtrailers is an especially challenging undertaking). Contrails are dispatched at nearly 40,000 feet and when natural clouds closer to the ground look dark in the waning daylight, contrails will still glow for a few minutes after sundown. Also, when an airplane flies directly away from a setting or rising sun, a contrail may block out much of the sun this gives the contrail a blackened appearance.

Another reason to discount the chemtrails conspiracy theory relates to an airplane’s travel weight. Mersereau noted that a fully-loaded 747 flying from London to Hong Kong would require almost 60,000 gallons of fuel. That would weigh nearly 200 tons and along with passengers, cargo, and luggage, would leave precious little room for weapons in a mind control program.

As to all this, one Post fumed, “What a joke. Our government has been involved in weather modification since the 1940s. Do a little research.”

The U.S. government may have made previous attempts at weather modification but there is no connection between that and airplane exhaust. And by research, the reader does not mean retreating to one’s laboratory, employing the Scientific Method, and submitting results for peer review. He is talking about clicking on the YouTube link he provided.

 

 

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“Hide the lightning” (Tesla cult)

TESLA

The universe is amazing and captivating enough that there’s no reason to fabricate the fascinating. But some want still more, which is one reason there are champions of pseudoscience, the supernatural, and the paranormal. But the stories they create are still less captivating that what is really happening.

For example, last year astronomers landed a satellite on a comet. How much cooler is that than the landing and all other NASA and cosmonaut missions being hoaxes to enrich Jesuits, Free Masons, or Bilderbergers?

Or think about the mechanics and engineering that went into crafting the castles and great houses of Europe. How much more appreciation should there be for the architects than for the beeping ghost-chasing device being bandied about these grand structures by the host of a schlocky TV unreality program?

Also, consider also fascinating aspects of the animal kingdom. The North American opossum has evolved a built-in antivenin that offsets any venom injected by bees, scorpions, or snakes. This defense mechanism has even proven effective against predators from other continents that the opossum would normally have no contact with. Traits like this bring an appreciation of animals that renders unnecessary the imagining of a Chupacabra or Skunk Ape.

All this creativity does show that pseudoscientists are an indefatigable lot. Flat Earthers have already launched preemptive ad hoc strikes against any Elon Musk space tours that may take place. They haven’t come up with any definitive answers yet since the question hasn’t been asked. But my guess is they will say that instead of seeing space and astronomical bodies through rocket windows, passengers are instead seeing simulated computer imagery in a rocket attached to gears and levers that moves it a la an amusement park ride, and that no one ever left the ground.  

Musk named one of his more terrestrial pursuits, Tesla, Inc., after the Serbian-American electrical engineer genius. Also inspired by Nikola Tesla has been a conspiratorial cult that, like the pseudoscientists and paranormal investigators, takes something that is impressive and tries to turn it into something better without regard to reality. Members of the Tesla cult ostensibly praise his genius and accomplishments, but these distinctions are actually bit players in a tale where his inventions and visions have been suppressed, purloined, and used for malevolent ends.  

Tesla has enough of a hold on the public imagination that a quarter century before Musk named one of his companies after him, a 1980s hard rock band did the same. That group was referred to as the “no image” band, a description that was repeated often enough that it paradoxically became their image. One of their tracks, “Edison’s Medicine,” made reference to a coordinated suppression of Tesla that often benefited the Wizard of Menlo Park. It was a catchy enough track, but spotty at best historically and it underlies the myth that surrounds the man. The song has plenty of company in that regard and another example is the photo showing him working in his lab while simulated lightning bolts emanate from Tesla coils. That picture is the result of double exposure, a precursor of today’s PhotoShop trickery.

Like comet-landing satellites, opulent residences, and marsupial defenses, there is much about the real Telsa to admire. He spearheaded the practical widespread distribution of electricity via the alternating current (although he did not discover it, as is commonly misperceived). He was awarded more than 300 patents and had blueprints for many other potential inventions. He made his first splash by illuminating the 1893 World’s Fair with AC and he keyed the creation of the Niagara Falls power plant. But this is inadequate for those who prefer a narrative drenched in deception, plotting, and plundering.

One accuracy from conspiracy theorists is that the U.S. government did seize Tesla’s papers through probably extralegal means. He died in January 1943 and government agents, having heard rumors he created or was working on a death ray, used a law enacted during the Constitution-shredding heyday of World War I to pilfer about his home. The law allowed an entity called the Alien Property Custodian to seize the assets of any enemy during wartime, with the custodian given authority to unilaterally declare someone a combatant. In this case, the enemy was a recently-deceased inventor who specialized in electromagnetics. The custodian’s office found little of use because much of Tesla’s later work was speculative and he made few notes of it.  The government report of what was seized revealed that “his thoughts and efforts during the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”

This bland sentence, almost literally, describes nothing. Tesla had done pioneering work early in his career but was sidetracked due to a lack of funding in the Great Depression and he spent his last several years finalizing few inventions while possibly spiraling into madness or at least showing signs of what would become known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This speaks to some unfulfilled potential and is a sad ending for a great man, but nothing terribly extraordinary is going on here. But conspiracy theories don’t become such by strict adherence to facts, investigation, reason, and Occam’s Razor. So a tale was hatched whereby government agents or other authoritarians complete the work begun by a mad genius and use it to control the world. That would make for a B movie and is an even worse conspiracy theory.  

The most widely-spread myth is that Tesla discovered the AC current, even though this was done 25 years before his birth. He is also credited by his enthusiasts as having been rooked out of receiving credit for taking the first X-ray photo. The truth here is a little more complicated. While photographing his companion Mark Twain, Tesla used an early form of fluorescent tube light called a Geissler tube. Unbeknownst to Tesla or anyone else, the tubes emitted X-radiation, so this innovation was unintentional, not repressed.

The invention most associated with a supposed theft and cover-up is the radio. Tesla did predate Marconi in demonstrating wireless communication and Tesla posthumously won all patent disputes.

But the controversy was the result of normal competition among scientists in an emerging field. Tesla and Marconi were both using and improving on theories and experiments of scores of inventors stretching back nearly 100 years. Patents for various wireless communication apparatuses had been filed beginning in the 19th Century and by the mid-1890s inventors on three continents were giving demonstrations of radio prototypes. Tesla made substantial contributions to the field but he borrowed ideas and techniques from others (and they from him), and this was all part of an explosion in knowledge related to the workability of wireless communication.

There are competing winners for the inventor of many devices. Edison, for example, was far from the first person to get heat to flow through a coil wire with illuminating results. But he was the first to devise a light bulb that lasted long enough and could be manufactured easily enough for it to be commercially viable. There was never a cover-up to deny Tesla credit for the radio, nor was that the incentive in giving Marconi the Nobel Prize. While the radio is the one invention most associated with the conspiracy theory, from a conspiratorial viewpoint it makes the least sense. That’s because the government that supposedly contributed to the repression recognized him as the inventor in a Supreme Court ruling the year he died.

There are several other purported Tesla inventions or accomplishments that are said to have been covered up and/or stolen. This includes his causing a field of light bulbs 26 miles away to illuminate wirelessly. This supposedly happened during the two years Tesla lived in Colorado Springs. But he kept detailed records of his time there and no such experiments are referred to in his papers. Photographs exist of his experimenting with this idea on a small scale in his lab but there is no evidence he took the idea any further.   

There has also been speculation that he had created artificial ball lighting. Portions of his notes taken out of context make it seem like he is describing having done this, but a more careful perusal of his writing and speeches reveal no such claims. But it does serve to heighten the myth, as Tesla is presented as a real-life Thor who can create and direct lightning at will.

One of his more ambitious pursuits was to transmit wireless power worldwide. But his only movement toward this goal was to partially constructing one tower. Another claim is that he had learned how to draw electricity straight from the atmosphere, but was silenced to protect energy companies. There’s no telling if he ever had this idea, but in any case, many of his proposals stayed in the embryonic stage.

That these devices were never seen by the masses, along with the government having seized his notes, fuels the conspiracy theory that his inventions are being used, but are being kept hidden. One example is the assertion that HAARP is Tesla’s worldwide wireless power grid in action. There is nothing at HAARP that even vaguely resembles a worldwide power grid, but to the theorist that appearance is all part of the cover up that keeps Tesla’s inventions in the hands of Rothschild Reptilians. 

 

“Free spirits” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo)

FAIR

Each year, the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo rolls into town. Another tradition is me having 86 cents in my expendable income account. That has kept me from paying for any paranormal products or psychic services, but I have some magic of my own and always come away from these events having gotten something for nothing.  

My first stop this year was at an essential oils table, where I was assured the merchandise was “100 percent certified pure therapeutic grade, with nothing synthetic.” When it comes to the only oil I ever buy, motor, synthetic is a good thing, so I’m curious what this is all about.

I asked the two women what they could tell me about the oils and they inquired if I had any aches or pains. Indeed, my head was hurting so they referred to their chart that recommended peppermint. Later, I checked other essential oil businesses and websites for their headache cures and among those listed were lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, spearmint, roman chamomile, magnesium, turmeric, frankincense, wintergreen, birch, jasmine, sage, marjoram, bergamot, ginger, and basil. By the time I tracked all those down it would be way past the four hours my headaches normally last and it would be gone anyway.   

As to these ladies’ recommendation, per their instruction, I put a couple of drops on my fingertip and lathered up my forehead and the back of my neck. This caused a pronounced burning sensation, meaning the pains on the inside of my head were now matched by ones on the outside, so I at least had symmetry going for me.

Brushing off the unpleasantness, I asked if the oil had healing properties. Assured this was the case, I asked if they knew the science behind it.

“There’s lot and lots of science. Our company is all about science.”  What they lacked in specifics, they made up for in enthusiasm and assurance, so I continued.

“If there’s an active ingredient in it, is there a chance you could use too much of it?”

“Other companies, yes, but not ours. This is 100 percent pure.”

“But if it has healing properties, I would think there would be a danger of overdose. If you take a bottle of Excedrin, you’d be dead.”

“But that’s not all-natural.”

“Natural could still do you in. Hemlock is natural, too. So with the peppermint oil, is there a way to determine the proper dose?”

There is a look I get from psychic and paranormal fair merchants when I start lobbing anything beyond remedial inquiries at them. They are used to being asked, “What can craniosacral therapy do for me,” not, “Can you explain the mechanism behind craniosacral therapy?” Questions about the science are answered with “lots and lots” as opposed to providing examples of peer-reviewed articles and double blind studies.

I got that look, which they then turned on each other. They traded stammers before one of them offered that I should start with a drop or two and work up to what works for me. Of course, if no amount worked, I would keep going until I overdosed, which is what I was trying to avoid.

I was about to make this point when one of them changed the subject by offering me oil-infused chocolate chip cookies. I can’t ask probing questions if I’m chewing on confectionaries. To wash it down, they handed me water with lemon oil added.

“What does this do for you?”

“It helps with dehydration.”

Water helps with dehydration. Really glad I’m not paying for this information.

Glancing at the comparison chart that recommends oils in lieu of over the counter medication, I asked, “So for body aches, instead of Tylenol, I should take chamomile?”

“That’s right.”

“Why not just take Tylenol?”

“Because ours is pure.”

Oh, that’s right, you told me that. I need to look and see what oil helps with memory.

I then made my way to another table, where I asked a middle-age woman bespectacled woman with shoulder-length blond hair what she was offering.

“Readings, Reiki, and energy clearing.”

“What’s a Reiki healing?”

In a dreamy voice she intones, “Oh it’s wonderful. I love it. It holistically heals you from the inside. A week ago I got arthritis real bad and had Reiki done and I haven’t had it since.” There have been about 10 million such anecdotes in Reiki’s favor, none of them accompanied with an explanation for the mechanism behind it.  An eternal optimist, I hoped to be the first to track this down.

 “How does it work?”

“It’s spiritual. It’s the universe. It’s the angels. It’s the spirit guides and all the energy they use to heal you.”

“What type of energy does it use?”

“Well, we’re all made of energy. The Earth is made of energy, you, me, all living creatures, that type of energy.”

So someone would take my energy then give it back to me. Again, glad I’m not paying for these services.

Turning the subject to another of her offerings, I asked, “What’s energy clearing?”

“That clears away the energy we pick up from other people as you’re walking around or you’re living with them.”

“But that kind of contradicts the Reiki healing. Wouldn’t the energy clearing cancel out the Reiki energy you received?”

“No, it’s not connected. The energy that’s been cleared is low level. Depression, for instance, does not have a high vibration. The session helps to clear the clutter that builds up from negative thoughts and actions,” she told me. “Have you ever been talking to someone that just makes you sad for what the world has come to?”

Boy, she nailed that one. Why isn’t she manning the mindreading booth?

Moving on, I found a merchant who focused on a haunted house south of Buffalo, N.Y. He owns the house, he told me.

“Do you live in it?”

“No.”

“Does anyone live in it? Besides the ghosts, I mean?”

“No, I’m fixing it up.” He’s probably using sub-contractors for the various tasks, like remodeling, wiring, and ghostbusting.

He further explained, “I’ve researched the spirts in this house and its history. There was a failed exorcism there, another guy died there. Some people left after two months. Another family got out quickly and left all their stuff behind. People have tried to live there but it’s hard.”

I tried living in upstate New York for a while, I know what you mean.

“How do you research it?”

“There’s lots of scientific ways of researching it. Then there’s the personal, the feelings you get when you’re there.” So he bases it on science and feeling, and I have a feeling he’s exaggerating the science part.

This fellow was giving a free (there’s that key word again) presentation about this, so I followed him into the speaking room. Wonder if all this makes me a paranormal investigator investigator.

Once there, he enthralled audience members (well, with one exception), telling tales about these spooky surroundings. He assured us, “There’s definitely a dark entity there.” I imagine that’s called nightfall.

His talk contained the phrases, “something’s holding the spirit there,” “there’s a portal in that room that can’t be closed,” and “spirits are crossing a threshold.” There was talk about “an Indian chief” and “a woman in white at the pond,” both of whom he reported capturing on film. He also related a story about how a K2 meter stayed lit when he attempted to contact a former resident. “There was no explanation for it,” he said.

That’s because he didn’t ask me. The K2’s purpose is not to enable the dead to communicate via beeps and flashing lights as you walk up creaking stairs. Its function is to detect electromagnetic radiation and indicate the radiation’s strength and direction. There is there is no evidence deceased homeowners have the ability to leave this radiation behind.

When I asked if the K2 meters he were designed to chase ghosts, he said no but added, “When your body dies, energy can’t be created or destroyed. There’s still that energy somewhere. If you ask a question and it flickers, perhaps it’s paranormal.” And perhaps it’s from the cell phones, video cameras, and computers you brought in.

Other audience members asked questions like, “Are you worried about driving off the friendly ghosts and leaving only behind the evil entities,” and “If the house burned down, would the spirits go back out the portal?” Meanwhile, I got in a second question, about why ghosts in his photos would still be wearing clothes. He answered that they did that somehow, some way, so that people in the present could recognize them. By this point, I realized the peppermint oil wasn’t helping any and my headache had gotten worse.

 

 

“Squawk like an Egyptian” (Man-made cancer)

MUMMY

A popular myth in anti-doctor and anti-pharmaceutical circles is that cancer is man-made. The idea is that the disease either didn’t exist or existed very rarely thousands of years ago, but has increased exponentially due to persons being bombarded with artificial toxins. Even more tenuous proclamations blame GMOs, vaccines, Wi-Fi, or whatever other entity one wishes to demonize.

The idea of man-made cancer stems primarily from a study by professors Rosalie David and Michael Zimmerman. The researchers examined nearly 1,000 mummies and found just one who had developed cancer. The professors therefore concluded that the disease is of recent origin. They went so far as to claim that cancer is “limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues, such as tobacco use and pollution resulting from industrialization.” Officials from the University of Manchester lauded the study in a press release that stated, “Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, along with few references to cancer in ancient literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity.”

It’s true that the cancer rate in ancient Egypt, as well as in Rome and Greece, was much less than it is today. But that’s because cancer is predominantly a senior disease. According to Dr. Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK, 75 percent of cancer hits persons 60 or over, a demographic that includes just 18 of the population. In men, 90 percent of cancers occur in those over 50. If the average lifespan were to hit 125, virtually all men making this milestone would develop prostate cancer, but this would be due to drastically longer lives, not because a futuristic nefarious agent will have perfected a way to commit microbial misdeeds. Conversely, in times and societies where hitting 50 was as noteworthy as making 100 today, it would be expected for cancer to be rare.

The David-Zimmerman study said that besides environmental factors, lifestyle also has an impact. It’s true that lifestyles make a difference in the likelihood of developing cancer. Smoking, drinking, overeating, forgoing sunscreen, and being sedentary all make cancer more likely.  But these are choices, meaning persons can do something to positively impact them. Cancers that would result from these activities are the result of poor decisions are not evidence of society being awash in a carcinogenic wave. True, there are some pesticides and industrial solvents that could can cause cancer with prolonged, concentrated exposure, but these are responsible for a tiny fraction of the disease, and steps can be taken to reduce the risk, such as the exposed person wearing protective equipment.

The authors are correct that pursuing a more active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet can help stave off cancer. And their point about cancer being rare 3,000 years ago is true, though this was accompanied with a correlation-causation error that blamed industrial developments, not increased lifespans, for the disease’s surge.

So at this point, we have one truth and one probably unintentional misuse of numbers. But they jumped the analytical shark with an absurd claim that would delight Gwyneth Paltrow, the Food Babe, and Doctor Oz. David wrote, “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”  The (literally) most glaring error here is failing to consider the sun. Ultraviolet radiation, after all, is the number one cause of skin cancer.

Going to much smaller examples of nature, carcinogens exist in bacteria and viruses. These infectious agents are responsible for up to 25 percent of cancers, including the human papillomavirus. And one of main reasons stomach cancers are less prevalent than 100 years ago is because of refrigeration and improved living conditions.

Then there’s radon, a natural product of granite. In gas form, it is responsible for about 10 percent of lung cancers. Additionally, there are chemicals found naturally in foods and produced by molds or plants that can cause cancer. Even soot and smoke from fire contain carcinogens that could result in cancer with prolonged exposure.

But at least David and Zimmerman conducted original research and submitted their findings for peer review. We will now transition to those unencumbered by scientific protocol. These types attribute cancer to whatever modern development they find most intolerable.

Some anti-GMO types point out that genetic modification has been going on for about 30 years and cancers have gone up over time, so, voilà. Even a rudimentary critical thinker would recognize this as the post hoc fallacy, where because one event comes before another, a connection is assumed without offering evidence and without considering other possible causes.

A seemingly more reasonable position is to blame GMOs for cancer because of reports that both bacillus thuringiensis (which is incorporated into insect-resistant plants during genetic modification) and glyphosate (a herbicide used on some GM crops) will, when applied to cells in a petri dish, cause some cells to experience abnormal growth. But University of Florida horticulturist Dr. Kevin Folta noted that cells in a petri dish behave differently than cells in a human body, and he added there is zero evidence consumption of GM foods would cause the change that cells in a petri dish undergo.  

Another alarmist camp blames WiFi for cancer. But WiFi operates in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and the risk of cancer only begins at the high end of ultraviolet light. A similar slander targets cell phones and accuses them of causing brain cancer. However, the ubiquitous nature of these devices and the lack of corresponding brain cancer pandemic show this to be an unfounded fear.

Smart meters are another modern development forced to stand in a police lineup of suspected carcinogenic agents. This is based on the misuse of a fact, specifically that ionizing radiation can break the bond that holds molecules together and possibly have   carcinogenic results. But this danger does not extend to low-frequency fields, which is where smart meters operate.

And what pseudoscientific scaremongering would be complete without pinning unwarranted blame on vaccines? The horribly-misnamed website Truth About Cancer notes that most vaccine inserts contain the phrase, “This vaccine has not been evaluated for its carcinogenic potential.”

The website then issues an alarm about today’s vaccine schedule being thrice as long as what it was 40 years ago, leaving out that there are 95 percent fewer antigens injected now than then. It then joints the post hoc parade with, “Coinciding with the ever-increasing vaccine schedule are soaring rates of chronic illness in children, including cancer, which has skyrocketed and is now the leading cause of death by disease in children past infancy.” Yes, especially now that no babies in the West are dying from polio or smallpox.

The website next rails against formaldehyde without mentioning that the compound occurs naturally in the human body in greater amounts than what vaccines contain. Finally it recommends avoiding vaccines altogether in favor of eating fruits and vegetables, getting enough rest, sunshine, and exercise. There’s nothing wrong with doing all that and also getting vaccinated. I do love my bananas, sleep, 70 degree days, and time on the treadmill. But my joy from those pursuits would be greatly curtailed if I indulged them while enduring Whooping Cough.

  

 

“The nuclear option” (Nuclear power fears)

NUKESMILE

In the rare times that the left and right are in agreement, it’s usually because both sides are getting something from the deal. But in the case of nuclear power, the objections from a mix of liberals and conservatives are ironically stifling an innovative, pro-environment, pro-business resource. That’s because nuclear power’s efficiency, safety, and low-carbon status are three strong reasons to adopt the technology.

Liberals who object are self-styled environmentalists who embrace the positions of the IPCC and IEA when it comes to climate change. Yet they reject nuclear power, which those organizations call one of the primary solutions to global warming.

Meanwhile on the right, objections seem to be based on oil and coal industry titans potentially seeing their salaries dip into the seven figures if nuclear power becomes too prevalent. So the best way to win over conservatives would be to point out to how much money a real-life C. Montgomery Burns could make.

As to trying to convince those on the left, the key point is that all energy sources contain risks and that nuclear is among the least concerning. I find nuclear power akin to airplanes. They are both the safest method of doing what they do, but the failures are spectacular, widely publicized, and most remembered.

But there are more chilling dangers from air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. According to the criminally underappreciated blogger Thoughtscapism, even wind causes more deaths per kilowatt than nuclear power does. She also cites climate scientists James Hansen and P.A. Kharecha, whose paper on nuclear powered concluded that the technology has saved two million lives by producing energy that had previously come via coal.

According to evolutionary and environmental blogger J.M. Korhonen, even when the full lifecycle is considered – uranium mining, accidents, and waste spillage, nuclear energy is still one of the safest energy sources.  She also wrote that, when compared to sources that require burning, energy produced from nuclear power is responsible for much less harm to people and the environment. The same conclusion was reached by the EU-funded External Costs of Energy study.

Additionally, Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent research review that deduced, “The overall safety risks associated with nuclear power appear to be more in line with lifecycle impacts from renewable energy technologies, and significantly lower than for coal and natural gas.”

OK, so nuclear power is efficient and the risk of uranium mining is the same as unearthing similar minerals used in renewables, but what about the notorious accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? These get the headlines, any loss of life is tragic, and environmental damage is always disconcerting. Yet in more than 50 years, just 75 persons have died directly or indirectly as the result of nuclear power accidents, all but a handful of these at Chernobyl. This is far fewer than from coal, according to an assessment conducted by the University of Stuttgart. The study concluded that the 300 largest coal plants in Europe cause 22,000 deaths per year.

Beyond safety advantages, another plus of nuclear power is reduced carbon output. For example, the lowest emissions among European countries occur in those nations who use the most nuclear and hydrological power. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency both have the position that no single solution will bring sufficient reduction in Earth’s net carbon output. Nuclear power is needed to help make that happen.  

Fossil fuel use is still rising and the IPCC estimates that reliance on the fuels needs to be reduced 40 percent and replaced with nuclear power to have a sizable reduction in carbon reduction by 2030. Meanwhile, the IEA holds that nuclear use must double over the next three decades if humanity is to halt Earth’s rise in average global temperature. We also need bioenergy, wind, power, hydroelectricity, reforestation, solar radiation management, lifestyle changes, and other strategies, but we are losing a valuable resource by failing to embrace nuclear power.  

“Scream of the crop” (GMO fears)

GMOKID.jpg

Anti-GMO extremists are known for their macabre corn men masks, memes of fruits taking bites out of children, and vehicles topped with tomato-fish hybrids. None of this has any relationship with reality. Online activists frequently employ ad hominem attacks in the form of evidence-free shill accusations, while also accusing posters of being Monsanto employees, whom they compare to Joseph Goebbels.

One of the more infamous anti-GMO crusaders, Nassim Taleb, contributes little to the dialogue beyond personal-attack Tweets. He refuses to discuss the issue with any adversaries, blocks anyone who disagrees, and never offers any science. I once attended an anti-GMO seminar in which the speaker claimed the USA’s enemies will eventually be able to stroll in and take over the country without firing a shot because GMOs will turn us into non-thinking zombies.

But even among the more measured anti-GMO types who do not foment these irrational fears, there are still misunderstandings of the process. However, there are no risks with genetically modified crops that do not occur with conventional breeding methods.

The latter can even pose more risks, and this is ironically more likely when countries ban genetically modified crops. That’s because when this happens, agricultural companies may develop new strains though mutagenesis, which requires subjecting plants to radiation or dousing them with toxic amounts of chemicals in order to randomly move genes in the hopes of producing new traits.  

Contrast this to genetic modification, where scientists take a gene that yields a desired trait then insert it into a crop that may lack this distinction. Mutagenesis is much less precise than genetic modification, yet remains unregulated, widely used, and unchallenged by Taleb, Vandana Shiva, Vani Hari, and other self-appointed guardians of food safety.  

One falsehood is that GMOs are more susceptible to producing allergens. In fact, genetically modified foods are required by regulatory agencies to be tested for their allergen presence. Any genetically-modified crops that are shown to have one cannot be sold or distributed. Meanwhile, crops that are known to be allergens to some, such as peanuts, are not subject to this regulation.    

There are also accusations that GMOs are prone to uncontrollable spread. But GM crops are produced by managing a small, precise change to a plant, making spread unlikely. Meanwhile, conventional breeding mixes thousands of genes from parent plants, then recombines them to produce mutations that could potentially increase the potential to spread.   

Perhaps the most frequent criticism is that heartless corporations are controlling GMOs. Yet large companies and conglomerates, heartless or otherwise, have their hands in all food production methods.  Whole Foods, which specializes in organic produce, brings in more than profit than most of companies Food Babe demonizes for making money off GMOs. Besides, farmers are free to use non-GM seeds, to buy seeds from corporations that sell exclusively conventional crops, to buy locally, or to form a coop.

A similar argument centers on patents, and concern over this is wrong for the same reason as above. The supposed idea is that malevolent Monsanto, satanic Syngenta, and detestable Dow will horde seeds and control the world’s food supply. Yet conventional crop variants can also be patented and corporations that work with conventional breeding will sue anyone who violates the patents.

Then we have an alleged increase in use of pesticides. But GM applications usually match a specific toxin to a certain crop, meaning that genetically-modified crops use fewer pesticides. Additionally, there are charges that genetically-modified foods will negatively impact bees and butterflies. But because these crops rely mostly on pesticides that targets a specific pest, they will no impact on other insects. In fact, bugs are more likely to be killed by broad-spectrum insecticides that are used in traditional farming.

Finally, there are fears expressed about genes moving between species. First, GM crops do not always involve the use of a transgene. They can also remove genes that would otherwise produce a toxin, or they can change genes to give the crop a desirable trait it might lack. And again, conventional crops also involve moving of genes between species. Emil Karlsson cited these examples on the website Debunking Denialism: “The conventional crop triticale is a hybrid between wheat and rye. Also, horizontal gene transfer between bacteria and plants occur in nature all the time and well-documented examples include the common sweet potato.” Yes, nature has produced a genetically-modified organism. Now there’s something for Taleb, Shiva, and Hari to freak over.

“Err supply” (Food control)

CARROT STICK

One tenet of the anti-GMO, selectively anti-corporate crowd is that evil, powerful groups are controlling the world’s food supply. I’m generally not much on conspiratorial thinking, but this time, the accusation is correct.

But it comes with a substantial caveat. That’s because those making the accusation and those committing the act are the same. For it is anti-GMO activists that are corruptly manipulating the food marketplace. It is not being done, as they claim, by food technology companies through patents and seed ownership. Rather, anti-GMO activists manage to artificially constrain GMOs through a three-pronged approach of regulatory control, making threats to corporations, and exerting pressure on food importers.

The result is that only 10 crops have ever been approved for genetic modification even though the technique can reduce the chance of a crop being afflicted by drought, disease, or pests. Anti-GMO victories have included preventing the distribution of Vitamin A-rich golden rice to Third World countries, which would prevent some instances of childhood blindness.

When anti-GMO forces have failed and farmers have been given the chance to grow biotech crops, they embrace them. Genetic modification allows for the development of traits that provide economic benefit, make for sturdier corps, and carry less risk. But only a small percentage of the world’s fruit, vegetable, and grain producers enjoy this biotechnology option.

One of the more prominent successes of anti-GMO forces was the politically-driven decision by several European nations to disallow biotech crops to be cultivated in all or parts of their countries. A related win was the required labeling of genetically-modified foods. Most companies avoided such products since the labels are accompanied by harassment from activists.

These activists frequently employ the ad populum fallacy and consider the number of countries that have banned the cultivation of genetically-modified foods to be evidence of their nefarious nature. But nearly 2,000 studies attest to GMO safety, meaning the restrictions are based on fear and threats, not science and reason. Just how much of a problem this can be was highlighted in a 2014 Guardian article. From the story:

“More than 20 of the most eminent botanists and ecologists in the world warn that it is time to put fears of genetic modification aside and begin widespread field trials. They call for a ‘fundamental revision of GM regulation’ which, they claim, is based not on science, but on politics. Professor Jonathan Jones says British scientists are creating world-changing crops, but they are being blocked by Europe. Jones has developed a blight resistant potato which would avoid the need for farmers to spray crops 15 times a year. Blight is the number one threat to the six million tons of potatoes produced in Britain each year and was responsible for the Irish Famine of the 1840s. But European approval is needed for commercial cultivation and so far the Council of Ministers has vetoed every application.”

This entrenched opposition has extended to other continents. African farmers are denied access to genetically engineered seeds that would improve resistance to insects and drought, and which would make the food they produce hardier, brighter, better tasting, and less susceptible to failure.

Beyond legislation, a second strategy is to threaten corporations with demonization. An insect-resistant potato was developed in 1996 and agricultural scientist Steve Savage reported that he “interviewed many potato growers in the first few years the trait was available and they were extremely happy to have a solution to their most damaging insect pest.”

But after anti-GMO activists threatened McDonald’s and Frito-Lay with boycotts, protests, and ad campaigns if they used this scientific advancement in their products, the companies caved and announced they would not be buying the crop. No small potatoes indeed, as with the two biggest potential customers backing out, the idea fizzled.

This tactic has hobbled other crop developments as well. Savage wrote, “I am aware of projects that have been started or were planned for bananas, coffee, grapes, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and apples,” but these were also torpedoed by activists who relied on threats, not data.

The final strategy is to threaten importers from countries which mandate GMO labeling. Savage explains how this derailed a herbicide-resistant wheat strain. “Once again, I had the opportunity to interview many wheat growers to assess their interest in these options,” he wrote. “Most already had positive experiences growing biotech soy, corn or Canola, and they were keen to try the new wheat options. They never got that chance. Major wheat importers from Europe threatened to boycott all North American wheat if any commercial biotech varieties were planted in the US or Canada.”

European bread and pasta producers shied away from having to label their food because they knew this would subject them to activist pressure, so they declined to let the wheat in. The decision was based not on safety or supply and demand, but on the activists’ ability to create marketing issues for food companies that import.  

The activists have yet to get mandatory labeling in the United States. The pro-GMO camp continues to fight this, in part because “If they’re safe, why not label them?” will become, “If they are safe, why are they labeled?”