Life serial

LIGHT

Imagine heading toward a bright light, bathed in a warm peaceful glow, with past events floating through your wandering mind. Sounds like me heading out the front door for some fresh air during my drinking days.

But when experienced by those on the operating table or those being tended to by emergency medical technicians on the roadside, are these sensations caused by being near death or some other biological factor?

The former would suggest the possibility of an afterlife. Some persons have no doubt that such a cosmic destination awaits, but no amount of certainty in a conviction makes it so. A Muslim terrorist and hardcore atheist are equally certain what happens after death, but unshakeable belief has no bearing on the truth. So our goal today is to see if these experiences are explicable through what we know about anatomy & physiology and how the brain works.

Most attempts to study this issue have been tooth fairy science, where one tries to figure out specifics of a phenomenon before verifying that it exists. By necessity, these studies also favor anecdotes over data since there is no data to access. There is no scientific, testable, falsifiable evidence for post-mortem consciousness. There were even a few folks from those drinking days for whom evidence of pre-mortem brain activity seemed lacking.

While this is a difficult idea to research, an attempt was made by Dr. Penny Sartori. According to skeptic leader Brian Dunning, Satori put playing cards on top of operating room cabinets where they could be seen by a person from above but not by anyone who was laying back and being tended to by surgeons. There were 15 persons who had Near Death Experiences in the room, none of whom reported seeing the Queen of Hearts, Ace of Spades, or any lesser known member of the deck.     

What they did report experiencing were NDE common features, such as becoming detached from the body, having one’s life flash before them, feeling a welcoming aurora, and, most ubiquitously, floating through a tunnel toward an embracing light. Some talked of seeing deceased loved ones or religious figures. Tellingly, the former looked how they did in old family photos, while the latter’s appearance matched how they are portrayed in artwork of the patient’s culture.

Conversely, there are also anecdotes about persons being overcome with terror or dread, and encountering monsters or demons. These tales are usually downplayed or completely ignored by most NDE proponents. They prefer these to be happy tales. Infrequently, there are religious fundamentalists who embrace these putative visions of hell since it bears out their holy book. But fundies in general do not seek confirmatory evidence outside the Bible. They dismiss the potential of alien life since it’s not mentioned in their scriptures, and the same reasoning causes them to dismiss the idea of a floating through a tunnel at life’s conclusion.  

While ecstasy, a life overview, beaming lights, and meeting with deceased persons have all been considered NDE hallmarks, Dunning writes that these also occur in persons whose brain experience high levels of carbon dioxide and/or decreased oxygen. He cited research in the journal Critical Care, which showed that more than 20 percent of heart attack patients who went into cardiac arrest and were resuscitated had high carbon dioxide levels, coupled with these otherworldly experiences.

So were the visions and feelings caused by elevated CO2 levels or by their being nearly dead? Dunning wrote, “To find out which is the best correlation, we’d have to see whether an NDE can happen when one condition is present and the other is not.”

With that, he looked at research done on persons experiencing a loss of blood to the brain without risk of death. Such conditions were faced by fighter pilots placed in centrifuges in experiments do determine what happens under immense gravitational pressure. The pressure increased until the pilots lost consciousness, which happened once the brain began receiving insufficient blood. The pilots reported that while blacking out, they witnessed bright lights, floated through a tunnel, were detached from their body, and saw beautiful scenes, past events, and reconnected with departed loved ones, all while in a euphoric state. In short, it was an NDE’s carbon copy. That I can make such a dated reference shows that my own NDE may not be that far off.

The experiences of the cardiac arrest victims and fighter pilot trainees show that these phenomenon occur when the brain reaches a certain level of decreased oxygen and/or marked uptick in carbon dioxide. By contrast, NDEs are not experienced by persons barely clinging to life but whose brains have normal oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

This suggests the features occur because of temporary changes to the brain, not nearness to death. Additionally, Dunning wrote, “Some brain surgeries, most notably those for epilepsy, produce very high rates of NDE reports from patients whose lives were not in danger.”

Researchers have found other ways to produce NDE symptoms on those not moribund. Dr. Karl Jansen managed this by giving ketamine to volunteers. Also, Nature reported that when researchers gave subjects electrical stimulation to a certain part of the brain, the volunteers felt they could see themselves from above.

Finally, this week the BBC wrote of another possible explanation for some NDE occurrences. Specifically, the effects of the powerful psychedelic drug DMT causes patients to feel surrounded by a brilliant glow and to glimpse past experiences.

None of this proves there’s no life after death. It simply strong evidence that these experiences result from understood, temporary changes to brain chemistry and not from someone crossing over then being snatched back.

 

 

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“Rock star” (Coral Castle)

CORALCASTLE

In southern Florida sits the Coral Castle, although it’s neither of those things. It is, however, a supremely impressive sprawling compound that serves as a testament either to one man’s ingenuity or his channeling of secret knowledge.

Whatever the inspiration, the result is a remarkable engineering feat. More than 1,000 tons of sedimentary rock had to be quarried and sculpted into items as diverse as slab walls, tables, chairs, telescopes, barbeques, water fountains, wells, sun dials, bathtubs, beds, obelisks, and simulated planets, stars, and crescent moons.

The coral pieces from which the structure takes its name are relatively recent additions to the property. Most of the items are instead made from oolitic limestone and are set on top of each other so that their weight fuses the pieces. They were crafted with such precision and attention to detail that light is incapable of passing through them.

The park originally featured a perfectly-balanced stone gate that, despite its massive weight, would swing open with the push of a youngster’s finger. When it stopped working in 1986, workers removed the gate and realized it had rotated on a metal shaft and rested on a truck bearing. With this singular exception, the mechanics behind the castle’s construction and mechanics remain a mystery.

The structure is even more impressive when one learns it was built by one man, Edward Leedskalnin, who labored for 28 years on its construction. Each piece was quarried, cut, moved, and positioned by Leedskalnin, who continued to expand it until his death in 1951. He never revealed his methods. As to the why, he only hinted that it was spurred by his being lovelorn.

Some enthusiasts contend Leedskalnin accomplished this through means more sci-fi than scientific. Candidates include perpetual motion, vortex energy, harnessing the full power of the atom, or advanced magnetism and electricity that allowed him to levitate the blocks.

Leedskalnin never allowed persons watch his construction, though a few furtive photographs were taken. Some suspect he worked in private to protect his secrets related to telekinesis or other supernatural abilities. It is essentially saying, “I don’t know, therefore a magical technology did it.”

Among those with this mindset, some suggest Leedskalnin tapped into the cutting edge, while others think he uncovered a lost knowledge of the ancients. Let’s squeeze in a critical thinking lesson here. The cutting-edge idea is the logical fallacy of Appealing to Novelty, where a product or idea is deemed better because it is modern, even seemingly futuristic; the long-lost knowledge idea is its twin fallacy, the Appeal to Antiquity. Here, the idea that something has been around for so long is touted as evidence it works. Both notions are mistaken. How long something has existed as no bearing on its efficiency.

And the ideas that led to the Coral Castle are probably capable of being understood and known.  Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning profiled Wally Wallington, a retired construction worker whose backyard manufacturing of Stonehenge replicas provided a possible window to some of Leedskalnin’s techniques. Wallington’s equipment consisted of sticks and stones and he employed no wheels, cranes, pulleys, metals, or machinery. Through his ingenuity and erudite use of gravity, he could move multi-ton blocks with seemingly little effort

Therefore, impressive structures can be done solo and without magic. As to the Coral Castle, one clue offered on its website is that Leedskalnin could move the blocks since he “understood the laws of weight and leverage well,” a method that would be similar to Wallington’s.

Photos of Leedskalnin at work show blocks being moved by a series of chains, tripods made from telephone poles, and a block-and-tackle system. According to skeptic leader Benjamin Radford, this system “allowed Archimedes to lift an entire warship full of men using only a block and tackle and his strength.”

Meanwhile, Dunning wrote that creating a structure like the Coral Castle today could probably be accomplished in a few months with a construction crew and modern machinery. Leedskalnin took much longer, but he was toiling alone using picks, winches, ropes, tripods, pulleys, and leverage principles.

Leedskalnin’s background prepared him for this Herculean effort. He grew up in a family of stone masons and worked as a lumberjack, so his interest in and knowledge of quarrying, cutting, carving, and moving large stones and trees would render unnecessary any mystical powers.

Those who prefer narratives centering on aliens, vortex energy, reverse magnetism, and levitation argue maybe he used the laws and physics AND accessed an unknown superpower. And I might be typing this with mind power, but until I show that ability under controlled conditions, it is not a claim to be seriously entertained.

  

“For real, people?” (Flat Earth)

POLYHEDRON

The notion of equal time is legitimate when it comes to opinion, but not when it comes to fact. Creationists call for equal time in taxpayer-funded schools but they are promoting a position that is unfalsifiable, untestable, and unprovable, short of the biblical god descending from the heavens and showing us how it works. While such equal time efforts have failed, southern states, particularly Louisiana, continue to try and skirt the law.

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s equally-backward neighbor, Texas, has textbooks which teach Moses was a U.S. Founding Father. Supporters say this inclusion is justified because of the American justice being inspired by the 10 Commandments. These claims are not on shaky ground, they are at the epicenter of an 8-richter earthquake. Only two of the 10 Commandments are also laws, and those – murder and stealing – are crimes in every jurisdiction worldwide.

The truth being denied to Texas schoolchildren is that the Constitution was assembled from the ideas of ancient Rome, the Magna Carta, the Enlightenment, the Mayflower Compact, the House of Burgesses, the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. As to Moses and his tablets influencing U.S. law, contrast the First Amendment to the First Commandment. The former guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all; the latter mandates worship of the Abrahamic god. Yet Texas schoolchildren are learning that U.S. legal system stems from the ideas of Moses instead of John Locke, whose Letters Concerning Toleration served as a blueprint for the Constitution’s assurance that church and state shall not be intertwined.

Considering this anti-fact victory and inexhaustible attempts to get creationism taught in biology class, it seems only a matter of time before calls for Flat Earth equal time are heard. As such, it pays to be prepared for this eventual absurdity.

One of the first pieces of evidence for a circular planet was noticed by Aristotle when he saw that a ship’s top was the first vessel part viewed when it approached from the horizon. Were Earth flat, Aristotle realized, we would see the front of the ship first. Since then, we have managed manned space flights, global positioning systems, and pictures of a round Earth, none of which is enough to convince some persons about its shape. So here are some more arguments if you ever need them.

Earth’s round shadow is cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse. The flat Earth retort is usually that, rather than Earth, an unknown mysterious object is casting the shadow. This mystery object has magic powers, as it gets this close to Earth without having its gravity affect our planet. This mystery-object answer is a synopsis of the Flat Earth position. In his Forbes article addressing Flat Earth arguments, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel noted that a person cannot be reasoned out of something they didn’t reason themselves into. So it’s OK to make these points known, just be aware that they are unlikely to change Flat Earth minds.

A lesser-heard claim regarding lunar eclipses is that Earth is indeed casting its shadow, but what appears to be a ball is actually a plate as if viewed from the top. But the image is always the same, which would only be possible only if the sun-Flat Earth-moon positioning were identical during every eclipse. This would further necessitate eclipses occurring at the same time of night during every instance.

With regard to solar eclipses, Flat Earthers armed with a flashlight and plate argue that the moon’s shadow should be bigger than the moon since the image on the wall is larger than the plate during their experiment. However, the sun is a distant, diffuse light source instead of a nearby point source, so this analogy is mistaken.

Another argument in the round Earth arsenal is that the moon looks different depending on which side of the equator the moon gazer is on. The perspective will be different owing to the planet’s curvature. Similarly, different stars are visible from different latitudes. In Canada, persons can see the Big and Little Dippers and the Pleiades, while those in Chile are never afforded those views. Likewise, Chilean astronomers can see Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross, sky gazing sights denied to those north of the Equator. Were Earth flat and stationary, we would all see the same sky images.

When Charles and Marjory Johnson were profiled on the NBC program Real People in the late 1970s, they were the only two members of the International Flat Earth Society. The organization had blossomed to 3,500 by the time Mr. Johnson died 21 years later and the Internet, which ironically sometimes employs satellite technology, has enabled the movement to rise again, although not high enough for its members to see Earth’s shape.

Adopting this position requires more than asserting the planet’s form. Insisting on flatness requires a very long series of ad hoc rationalizations since a round, rotating Earth explains seasons, varying amounts of daylight throughout the year, light and dark cycles, and eclipses. All this must be rationalized away to make a flat Earth work.

As such, Flat Earthers think the moon and sun are close to our planet, are each 32 miles in diameter, and move in a perpetual circular path around the North Pole. This creative argument is used to try and explain why it’s light and dark in different places, but it fails to consider Antarctica, which is omitted from Flat Earth maps. Nor does this argument account for daylight lasting longer depending on the time of year and latitude. If the Flat Earther explanation was correct, there would be equal amount of light and dark each day in all parts of the planet. 

The Flat Earth map also contains many spacing errors. For instance, Chile and New Zealand are about 2.5 times farther from each other than they are on a globe, whose distances we know are correct because of flight times. On a Flat Earth, pilots flying from Auckland to Santiago would go over Galveston, Texas, and the trip would take nearly 30 hours.  

These pilots would need to be in on the fix, as would be astronauts, GPS manufacturers, satellite manufacturers, and high-altitude jumper Felix Baumgartner. Flat Earthers point out that these persons receive fortune or fame from maintaining the global conspiracy, but in so doing commit one of the most common conspiracy theorist mistakes: Presuming that benefiting from means being responsible for. Persons who sold their stock market investments in September 1929 benefited from this decision but that does not mean they caused the Crash. None of the nearly million persons that would be necessary to continue this hoax have come forward and it would require the Soviet Union knowingly allowing the United States to falsely claim winning the race to the moon. As to high-altitude photos, Flat Earthers offer the comical reasoning that they are taken with a fish eye lens, even though the planet is the only object in the pictures so affected.

Then we have circumnavigation. Flat Earthers claim circumnavigators are merely going in broad circles around the North Pole, which they consider to be in the middle of the planet. This is a lie, as Magellan’s crew and subsequent seafarers have gone roughly east or west the entire trip and ended up back where they started. Flat Earthers insist north-south navigation has never been done, but Sir Ranulph Fiennes accomplished this from 1979-1982. When I pointed this out to a believer, his response was that “Sir” provided the relevant clue, as Fiennes had been awarded knighthood for his part in the perpetuating the myth. This, even though in 1979, only a few hundred Earthly inhabitants thought their planet was flat, eliminating any need for myth-strengthening.

Next, consider different seasons. I wish I had done so when I traveled from Hawaii to Sydney in June and forgot about this. I showed up wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the winter. I had to put the opera house and kangaroo watching on hold and make  a clothing store my first stop. The yearly orbit of Earth around the sun explains the change in seasons and seasons being reversed in Hawaii and Australia. This could not happen on an planet that perpetually remained at the same angle to the sun.

Additionally, Siegel noted that viewers on the peak of Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s highest point, cannot see Kawaikini, which sits on Kauai. Kawaikini is 303 miles away and could be viewed if Earth were flat. But with a curved Earth, the line-of-sight limit is at 233 miles.

The modern Flat Earth movement may have been launched by Samuel Shenton, who was still in a round Earth mindset when he designed a dirigible he thought could lift off from England, hover for a few hours, then land in North America, since Earth would rotate beneath his floating vehicle. This comical attempt failed because the atmosphere and anything in it moves with Earth. To overcome this force, energy such as is expended by an airplane is needed. Rather than admitting this embarrassing gaffe, Shenton insisted he had discovered a repressed truth, and he dedicated the rest of what passed for his life to Flat Earth evangelism.

On another point, mass attracts objects to it. Siegel wrote, “The force of attraction between two objects depends on their mass and the distance between them. Gravity will pull toward the center of mass of the objects. On a sphere’s surface, gravity will pull you toward the sphere’s center of mass: straight down. Since a sphere has a consistent shape, no matter where on it you stand, you have exactly the same amount of sphere under you. By contrast, the center of mass of a flat plane is in its center, so the force of gravity will pull anything on the surface toward the middle of the plane.” So on a Flat Earth, Newton would have never been hit by that apple, which would have been flung sideways.

The Flat Earth Society retort to this is, “Sphere earth gravity is not tenable in any way shape or form,” an assertion it supports with no research, experiments, or evidence. Again, you can lead them to the scientific waters, but you can’t make them drink. 

 

“Milking it” (Baby formula fears)

BOTTLE

When my children were born, the biggest decision for me was figuring out which stuffed animal to buy for the crib. But their mother, already suffering through mental and physical anguish, had to decide whether to feed by breast, bottle, or both. The pressure to do the first can be substantial, based on the notion it is always best. Going this route means further taxing exhausted new mothers since, despite their bundle of joy status, newborns need nursed about 10 times a day. These feedings may happen at 3 a.m. or 11 p.m., and while mothers can sleep while fathers handle formula feedings, only the maternal antecedent can perform nursing duties.

The reason well-meaning folks laud breastfeeding is because infants so nourished  show lower lifetime rates of asthma, cancer, and diabetes, as well as having fewer instances of infancy infections and mortality.

Similarly, Emily Oster at 538 cited a study of 345 Scandinavians which compared IQ scores for children who had been breastfed for less than three months with those who had been breastfed more than six months. The authors found that the children who nursed for longer had higher IQ scores.

But, as always, we must consider correlation and causation. In the developed world, women who breastfeed tend more to be nonsmokers, educated, affluent, and given better access to quality health care. Mothers with those distinctions who choose formula see no more health problems in their offspring than those who breastfeed.

In the Scandinavian study, breastfeeding mothers were wealthier, better educated, and had higher IQ scores than those in the other group.  Once researchers accounted for these variables, the seeming advantage of nursing evaporated.

Now let’s consider mothers in the developing world. There, breast milk substitutes are often prepared without clean water and in unsanitary conditions. Health issues for their newborns arise because of the environment and what the formula was mixed with, not the formula itself.

Because breastfeeding is wrongly presumed always be best, mothers can be guilted into acquiescing, and this can lead to further problems. Science writer Kavin Senapathy noted there is occasionally an issue with some mother’s breastmilk supply immediately after birth, especially for first-time moms. According to Senapathy, about 15 percent of mothers are incapable of producing enough milk, so if they rely entirely on this source, their baby may suffer dehydration, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, and excess sodium in their blood.

Senapathy cited Hannah Awadzi, a Ghanaian whose daughter experienced jaundice and hypoglycemia while Awadzi exclusively breastfed her despite inadequate milk supplies. This led to the daughter’s cerebral palsy. Yet Awadzi’s only other option had been formula mixed with deplorable-quality water. Awadzi had no decent alternative, but if having a good choice, formula would be the way to go in cases like this.

To see if perceptible difference result from breastfeeding and formula use, we can look at studies in which breastfeeding is assigned randomly to subjects, or ones where adjustments are made for differences among women being tested.

One example comes from Belarus, where women were randomized into two groups. For those in the first group, breastfeeding was encouraged; in the second group, it was not. Infants in the breastfed group had fewer gastrointestinal infections and were less likely to experience eczema. However, there were no significant differences in any other studied outcomes, such as respiratory ailments, ear infections, croup, wheezing, infant mortality, allergies, asthma, cavities, height, blood pressure, obesity, and mental issues.

Another study, published in Social Science & Medicine, compared breastfed children with their siblings who had been given formula. In the health and behavior outcomes that were examined, researchers detected no differences. This is crucial because siblings are on equal ground with regard to their environment and their mother’s parenting style, wealth, education, and health. And if breastfeeding made the difference that proponents claim, there would be universal pronounced detriments among those who were adopted at birth.

There are advantages to breastfeeding, including, cost, convenience, and bonding. But babies being nursed won’t enjoy health benefits over those given formula and they will sleep just as well next to whatever stuffed animal Daddy has chosen.  

 

“Moon loon tune” (Lunar landing denial)

MOONLAND

The 50th anniversary of the moon landing will be in 2019, but don’t expect a golden year from those who insist it was a hoax. After 49+ years, this bunch still resorts to long-disproven scenarios, while summarily dismissing any discomfiting evidence.

As to why NASA would pretend to go to the moon, deniers have speculated it could have been seen as a Cold War victory, that it distracted from the Vietnam War, or that it would ensure the space administration would continue being funded. While those all might have been consequences of a successful moonshot, that’s separate from it being proof the whole thing was staged. Using this line of thinking is to commit the Affirming the Consequent fallacy.

Since a sizable majority think we went to the moon and most who feel otherwise are incapable of being persuaded, why blog about it? Primarily because there may be a 12-year-old who is hearing denier points and refutations to them for the first time. Scientific knowledge is always one generation from extinction. Plus, addressing these points is a rejoinder to those who claim skeptics and scientists are the truly closed-minded and are mindless sheep who instinctively swallow what we are fed.

After the Apollo and Gemini launches, early flat-Earthers Samuel Shenton and Charles Johnson responded with launches of their own, in the form of charging they were fabrications. This included an evidence-free assertion that Arthur C. Clarke directed, wrote, and produced the moon-landing script. This was updated to become Stanley Kubrick in another narrative. The latter assertion was initially a parody of the Clarke claim, but has come to be interpreted as serious by some deniers. This is similar to how some flat Earth folks are coming to believe there is no Finland or Australia, ideas that were written as satirical criticisms of flat Earthers. However, fashioning a Poe against these types is nearly impossible because it will come to be taken as true by those without the mental acumen to realize they are being mocked.

The question deniers have most difficulty answering is why NASA would fake five  subsequent landings. The moving pieces that would have to be seamlessly assembled for one successful hoax would be astronomical, and each further attempt would run further risk of getting caught. The return trips were interpreted by deniers as attempts to continue the momentum, while the fact that we haven’t been back since 1972 or set up  moon colonies are said to be proof it was staged. So return trips and a lack thereof are both considered evidence of a hoax by the conspiracy theorist.

According to Sketoid’s Brian Dunning, 400,000 persons worked on the moon mission. Yet, all were able to overcome the desire for wealth that an exposé might bring. None were overcome with guilt, none let something slip in an unguarded moment, none got drunk enough to say something, none made a deathbed confession. Dunning further noted that 3,500 journalists investigated, researched, reported, and observed every second of Apollo 11 and were unable to uncover anything suggesting it was a charade. To a conspiracy theorist, that means another 3,500 persons were in on it. To everyone else, it’s more solid evidence of the moon launch and landing being authentic.

Now let’s plow through some of the denier points. One of the more frequently-parroted is that persons attempting to leave Earth’s orbit would be fried by the Van Allen belts. This is an example of what Dr. Steven Novella means when he says pseudoscientists and alternative medics use science like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination.

The radiation belts have been discovered, understood, and explained by science. Moon landing deniers, a subset of pseudoscientists, use this discovery to try and score a point for their side, whereas they generally have a jaded view of science. Religious flat Earther Philip Stallings insists the Van Allen belts are another name for the firmament God set in place in Genesis. However, never has a scientific explanation been replaced by a religious one. Scientists did not discover, define, and explain the Van Allen Belts, only to be supplanted by those penning Genesis. Those religious writers did not discover errors in the original Van Allen belt research, leading to our understanding of the firmament. Rather, Genesis authors came up with what their eyes and their very limited knowledge of the natural world permitted. A few millennium later, science learned the truth. Still, Stallings claims that we cannot penetrate the firmament, which he thinks is the Van Allen belt, or that if we could, it would not be survivable.

They key here is that astronauts traveled thorough the belts in a rocket, not in an extended stay hotel. They made it through this high-radiation zone in an hour, only one percent of the the time necessary to start experiencing radiation sickness.

Another argument deniers try to make is that a loud rocket motor would make it impossible to hear astronaut voices. However, viewers could hear the communication with NASA because where the astronauts were, there was no air and therefore no sound. Secondly, the microphones were inside insulating helmets.

A third point deniers raise is that photos of the Lunar Module on the surface are missing a blast crater that presumably should have resulted from its landing. Of this, Dunning wrote, “When the Lunar Module came in to land, it came in with horizontal velocity as the pilot searched for a place to land. Once he found one, he descended, throttled back, and a probe extending over a meter below the landing pads touched the ground and shut off the rocket motor. It was only a very brief moment that the rocket nozzle was actually directed at the landing site, and only at reduced power.”

A similar point is that the Lunar Module’s landing rocket would have blasted all the dust away from the area, so any footprints would have been obliterated. However, there is no air on the moon and no resulting shockwaves. The powerful flames and swirling smoke associated with rocket launches happen because exhaust is being pushed into the air. With no wind or air in the equation, there is no consequent explosion.

The one claim so hackneyed that almost everyone has heard is that the U.S. flag is flapping in a supposedly-nonexistent breeze. This was caused by two factors. First, the flag was folded for the moon trip and the seeming rustling is actually just the creasing that resulted. Second, the apparent movement only happens when an astronaut is adjusting the pole.

Still another denier objection centers on photos of an astronaut that feature another moonwalker’s reflection in his helmet visor. This is supposedly crucial because neither astronaut has a camera to his face. However, this is because astronaut cameras were affixed to their spacesuit. Keeping with camera points, deniers say film would have melted in the 250-degree weather. However, Apollo astronauts used cameras and film specifically made for and insulated against such temperature extremes.

There were other still objections raised by deniers that I handled during this blog’s nascent days if one wishes to read more.

For years, deniers challenged NASA to provide photos of landing sites with vehicles left behind. In 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter provided just such proof. Two years later, the same craft produced clearer images. Like those who considered President Obama’s release of his long-term birth certificate to be MORE proof that he was Kenyan-born because of layers or the timing of the release or whatever, those who thought Armstrong and Aldrin never left orbit were even more convinced of this after the 2009 and 2011 images were made public. They were computer-generated or otherwise fabricated. They were not released in 1975 or 1985 because of technology limitations – not with satellites, but with PhotoShop. To a hardcore conspiracy theorist, any disproving evidence is part of the cover-up.

Besides these photos, a second key piece of evidence that the moon landing happened is the extensive monitoring of Apollo flights. Astronomers, academics, journalists, and excited amateurs all employed telescopes, radios, and radar to track the mission. This included enemies such as the Soviets. Observatories and hobbyists worldwide reported sightings of the Apollo spacecraft. Had the Apollo spacecraft remained in Earthly orbit, it would have been easy to spot even without a telescope.

Then there are the rocks brought back by astronauts. These rocks have been radiometrically dated as being nearly four and a half billion years old, more ancient than any naturally-occurring Earth rock. Dunning further noted, “The moon rocks have impact craters only a millimeter across, created by impacts from micrometeors traveling about 50,000 miles per hour. This is impossible on Earth because the atmosphere blocks them, and it can’t be faked because we don’t have anything that can accelerate small projectiles to that speed.”

What say you to all this, Philip Stallings? From his blog: “1969. That was the year you were told we went to the moon. Do you see anything suspicious about that number? Three 6’s.” I’m only seeing one six myself. Maybe the two nines got turned upside down when they hit the firmament.

 

 

 

“Water water everywhere, so let’s all take a drink” (8 glasses a day myth)

WATER BOTTLE

Most of us need eight hours a sleep a night to fully function. But the daytime equivalent of needing eight glasses of water per day rests on myth.

Zero glasses per day would leave someone dead within a week, while eight glasses is likely more than necessary, so where does the true number lie? That depends on the person and circumstances.

Whoever the person, their body will be among the least efficient users of water on the planet. Regrettably for us homo sapiens, the need we can go the second-shortest time without (after oxygen) is one which our bodies can store little of. Further, we have no way to replenish spent water supplies other than drinking it or having in administered intravenously. The latter is impractical outside a medical setting, so we need to make sure we gulp enough, but the idea that means eight glasses a day for persons of every age, weight, climate, and activity level is mistaken.

That notion dates to a 1945 U.S. Food and Nutrition Board suggestion that persons get two and a half liters of water daily. Two key items here. First, this amount was based on the mostly-correct idea that humans on average lose about two liters of water per day. But no research was conducted to affirm the idea of 2.5 liters being right for all persons in all circumstances. Second, the recommendation included the long-forgotten caveat that some of the consumed water could come from food sources.

All foods contain water, from the copious amount in aptly-named watermelon to the negligible level in saltines. The food and drink one intakes without thinking about it may suffice for one’s needs and the easy trick is to let thirst be your guide. There is no need to consciously ingest eight 8-ounce glasses per day unless that happens to coincide with what your thirst dictates.

Humans lose water in vapor form when we breathe and still more is lost through urine and sweat. Even an Inuit coach potato will perspire, though imperceptibly, and this goes back to our inefficient use of internal water supplies. Our bodies use sweat for temperature control by drawing heat off the skin, where it evaporates.

The amount varies by person and environment, but the average amount lost per day to sweating, breathing, and urinating is two liters. Whatever is lost must be replenished to maintain equilibrium. But, again, two liters is merely the average, and the determining factor is how much a given person has lost, and water contained in foods also serves to replace spent reserves.

Of course, one should adjust if in hot weather or doing hard labor. And in an article on the McGill University website, Dr. Christopher Labos cautions that the thirst reflex wanes with age, which is one reason seniors die during heat waves. So age, temperature, and activity can all result in reasonable exceptions to the notion that consciously drinking a set amount of water per day is unnecessary.

If a person in those circumstances drinks too much, they should be fine. Except in extreme cases, drinking more water than what the body needs is harmless, though without benefit. Excess amounts will be pissed away. The kidneys’ primary role is to ensure water losses equal water intake. If they fail in this mission and water retention occurs, the victim will experience swollen feet, with this ballooning then creeping its way up the legs. This is nature’s way of letting us know a vital organ is failing and we need medical attention immediately.

There have been isolated cases of water toxemia, a disruption of brain function that occurs when the usual balance of electrolytes is thrown off through severe over-hydration.

The campy 1970s phenomenon, the Book of Lists, reported on a woman who was convinced she was susceptible to the same type of cancer that killed her mother, so she consumed gallons of water for days on end, causing her overtaxed kidneys to shut down, killing her. Then in 2007, Californian Jennifer Strange died in a radio stunt gone horribly wrong. She chugged about two gallons per day without urinating in an attempt to win a contest prize of a Wii system.

Like the 1970s victim referenced in the previous paragraph, some persons think extra water will make the kidneys more efficient. But Labos cited a randomized study in the American Medical Association journal in which 631 kidney disease patients drank more water than members of a control group and experienced no improvement.

So  the best available evidence points to the notion of needing eight glasses a day to be unfounded. If they start messing with my eight hours of sleep, then we’ll have issues.

 

 

“Locally groan” (Local produce)

strawberry

The list of alarmist adjectives on some food containers is so long that soon it may need to be continued on the back. Gluten-free, MSG-free, rBST-free, non-GMO, organic, no aspartame, no glyphosate, all-natural, no preservatives, no added hormones, no antibiotics.

I have addressed these concocted carton concerns before and will not be rehashing them here. But when this word parade would include the word “local,” I figured that’s one I could support. The closer the food on my plate is to the farm where it was grown, the less fuel and resultant pollutants are being produced. Or so it seemed. But Brian Dunning at Skeptoid cautions this may not always be the case. This issue is complex and edibles shipped from farther away may sometimes mean fewer emissions.

Besides being a critical thinker, skeptic, and possessor of broad knowledge, Dunning also has a background in food produce. He once worked for a company that blossomed from a family fruit stand to a chain that sold produce from local family farms. In its nascent years, the company would send a truck to each farmer it purchased from and deliver the food straight from its store to the grocer’s. As the number of stores multiplied, the company maintained this method.

But soon the owners realized that finding a farmer near each new store it opened  was unfeasible. Sending a truck to each farm and to each market resulted in the routes crisscrossing and defeating the strategy’s intent. It proved to be terribly inefficient, besides being the antithesis of the green-friendliness they were aiming for.

So the company combined routes, enabling it to use fewer and smaller trucks, which meant less local produce but also less burned fuel. A distribution center still got the food out quickly but substantially reduced the total mileage. As the company continued to grow, larger distributions centers were built, sometimes even farther away from the markets they delivered to, but the energy savings continued to be realized.

This can work even on monumental scales. In some cases, Conex-sized purchases made from a company overseas might still be cheaper for the retailer. A crop’s cost is driven mostly by the conditions required to grow it. Spain’s soil and climate makes for fertile tomato growing year-round. By contrast, perennially dreary England means tomato growers there need to use heated greenhouses. The costs associated with that method must be passed onto the consumer. Therefore, a food wholesaler in Leeds would be making a good decision in terms of profit and energy efficiency if he has the red fruits shipped from Catalonia rather than from five miles away.

Or say you live in Moline and want some wool or lamb chops for your business. There are no shepherds in your neighborhood, so whatever are you to do? You could head to rural Illinois and likely find someone who could help. But if buying on a large scale, this would not be the most energy-efficient method.

New Zealand’s climate allows for perennial sheep grazing, so our prospective purchaser would be better off looking there. And despite being almost halfway around the world from New Zealand, if our British tomato buyers decided to branch into mutton, they would make less of an environmental impact by buying from someone near Auckland as opposed to someone in the London vicinity. A New York Times article noted that, “Lamb…shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produces 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton, while British lamb produces 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed.”

Finally, Dunning cited the case of cattle producer Joel Salatin, who stipulates that customers must come to his ranch. That may seem like a method of reducing emissions, but it actually exacerbates the problem. Under this plan, if 200 customers want Salatin’s beef, 200 of them will get in a car and drive to him. A better strategy would be to only service orders that use no more than a specified amount of fuel spent per pound of beef purchased. But at least he’s not selling it in packages that spend 20 words telling the consumer what’s not in it.