“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?” 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

“Image subconscious” (Rorschach test)

TEST

Dracula is such an iconic character that even people who have never read Bram Stoker’s book or seen the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic or ever had any interest in vampires knows exactly who he is and could likely rattle off half a dozen characteristics he possesses.

I see the Rorschach Inkblot Test as the Dracula of psychology. Persons who have never taken the test or been in a psychology class or read a psychology textbook know what it is and how it’s used. Also, it endures long after it should have been buried with a stake in its heart.

The ink blots are said to have the abilities to provide a psychological diagnosis, uncover deep personality traits, and predict a patient’s future behavior. But a more measured analysis shows it to be little more than a form of cold reading and no empirical data suggests it works as advertised.

Swiss doctor Hermann Rorschach devised the test, taking the idea from his childhood hobby of klecksography. This consists of dropping wet ink onto a paper then folding it in half to form two mirror images.  Players then grab a pen and  complete whatever the image suggests to them.

In the 1960s, Dr. John Exner consolidated various forms of the test and standardized the scoring method. He produced 10 cards, which are still uniformly used by all psychologists who employ the Rorschach.

Those who use the test consider it a projective technique. This refers to when subjects are given an ambiguous stimulus and asked to interpret it. After the patient’s initial description, the psychologist probes for more detail to determine why the patient saw the images that they did. This is actually considered the key part of the assessment. It is not the initial epiphany of a splattered image resembling a flying insect that test proponents consider revealing. Rather, it is the more involved explanation of those object’s qualities and how they relate to the patient’s psyche that is most relevant. The distinctions of a flying insect are assumed to be the patient’s self-projection.

But open-ended queries about ambiguous stimuli mean that an accurate self-assessment is not a terribly likely result. As Brian Dunning at Skeptoid noted, “An artistic serial killer may speak at length about the beauty of the butterfly he sees, while a dull but harmless accountant may say it looks like a knife.”

Proponents consider the Rorschach test to be capable of unlocking a person’s deepest secrets, of providing a window to their soul, and of being able to capture the subconscious springing forth. But the techniques used and results claimed are similar to what we see with fortune tellers and mediums, though a psychologist has more admirable intent than does a ghoul cashing in on grieving relatives.

Still, a seemingly effective Rorschach analysis can be made using cold reading techniques employed by the likes of Tarot card readers and astrologers. This is even easier since a patient is in a therapist’s office precisely to open up. From this patient input, the listener gets a good idea about the client’s education level, background, interests, family members, fears, and dreams.  All this information can eventually be woven by the therapist into what seems like an accurate analysis.

The examiner may also assign to the patient general attributes and circumstances that would apply to many persons and situations. The analysis may even be contradictory, further increasing the chance that at least part of it applies to any given person. In the end, the clinician ends up with an analysis that can be interpreted to exactly match the client’s case.

So while something accurate about the patient may be revealed in the sessions, attributing it Rorschach inkblots is a correlation/causation error. Anytime a subject answers complex questions and offers observations and reasoning at length, ample insight into that person will be revealed. So the test “works” because the psychologist has learned the patient’s history and personality. It’s not because an idiosyncratic pondering of ink blots provided a deep dive into the psyche or the  ability to scour hidden recesses of the mind.

So when I examine the blots, they look like a misinterpreted phenomenon whose value as a psychological tool has been greatly overblown.  

“Eye doubt it” (Third Eye)

thirdeye

The stigma attached to ignorance is, often and ironically, a result of that condition manifesting itself. It is ignorant to think that a lack of knowledge is all bad. Recognizing the shortcoming and the subsequent desire learn more is what drives progress.

The blogger Skeptophilia wrote, “Ignorance is the inevitable condition if you study anything scientific. Scientists are always pushing the edges of our knowledge, which means they have to be keenly aware of the fact that there are a lot of questions for which we simply don’t have answers.” He also quoted Neil Tyson, who noted that scientists “are always back at the drawing board. If not, they’re not making discoveries and they’re not doing science.”

So this thirst for more knowledge is good, and without it I would not have a word processor to write this, nor even a quill and ink. What’s bad is when a lack of knowledge is filled in with whatever wild conjecture one finds most attractive.

This faux knowledge is often bolstered with a dismissive attitude toward intellectualism.  Creationists, alternative medics, anti-vaxxers, and ancient alien aficionados are fond of declaring, “Scientists have no answer for this” or “Science has been wrong many times before.” They then segue into a fabricated explanation that involves no testing, peer review, clinical trials, or laboratory studies. They conclude with a begging-the-question position that God/aliens did it, that jasmine and sage can combine to cure rosacea, that insulin causes diabetes, or some similar stance with no scientific backing.

Consider some creative interpretations of the pineal gland’s function. Within our lifetimes, this organ has from being considered a vestigial trait to one that physiologists have a rudimentary understanding of. They now know the gland produces melatonin, which helps regulate our circadian rhythm. But scientists are unsure precisely how it manages this and don’t know if it has still other uses.

To the rescue comes Dr. Google. Here, persons who purport to tolerate no gap in human knowledge will turn around and accept assertions that the gland serves as a soul repository, a spiritual antenna, or conduit to a mystical plane. Most popular is the idea that the pineal gland is the gateway to the Third Eye.

Similar to halfhearted conspiracy theorists who portray themselves as broadminded chaps only interested in considering various viewpoints, persons who view the pineal gland in esoteric terms pose a series of questions ostensibly meant to be stoking curiosity, but which really insinuate that “they” are hiding something, whether “they” refers to Illuminati agents or scientists.  

Skeptophilia cites a few examples of these questions, such as, “Is the pineal gland the evolutionary remnant of a literal third mammalian eye that moved into the center of the brain and changed functions from gathering light to entraining rhythms in accordance with information gathered by the retina?” Skeptophilia provided what I imagine would be an unsatisfying answer to the questioner: “No. No vertebrate has three eyes.”

Another query was, “Is there a connection between the spiritual promise of the pineal gland, which is shaped like a pine cone, and the Pigna, the colossal bronze pine cone statue of ancient Rome which now sits in a courtyard in the Vatican?” Yes, the connection is that both are the result as painting with the broadest brush possible in order to fill a gaping hole with the vague idea that all can be wonderful and magical if one embraces the poorly-explained notion of a Third Eye.

One final question: “Why is the pineal gland the only organ in the human body that calcifies and solidifies with age and why is it that pineal gland decalcification results in a heightened spiritual experience?”

Again, Skeptophilia: “Your pineal gland is not the only structure in your bodies that calcifies with age. Your cartilage does the same.” Further, “heightened spiritual experience” is not a testable condition and its existence is being asserted without satisfying the requisite protocols.

Meanwhile, the Gaia website combines science and poppycock in one paragraph without acknowledging the abrupt transition: “The pineal gland is a pea-sized gland shaped like a pine cone and located in the vertebrate brain near the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Also known as the Third Eye, it is a revered tool of seers and mystics and considered to be the organ of supreme universal connection.”

Gaia also plays to the appeal to antiquity fallacy, claiming the notion of a Third Eye appeared in “every ancient culture,” though it only specifies the ones New Agers hold in highest esteem, those in Egypt and India. Specifically, it cites Hinduism’s anja chakra and the Eye of Horus, which had its heyday during the time of the pharaohs.  

The ajna chakra does bear some similarly to the Third Eye concept of modern times, but the Eye of Horus was seen as a symbol of protection, power, and health. Its only resemblance to the Third Eye is that both involve peepers. The supposed connection is fabricated so as to appeal to New Agers.

Speaking of which, Gaia explains that, “Developing the Third Eye is the doorway to telepathy, clairvoyance, lucid dreaming, and astral projection. A blocked Third Eye leads to confusion, uncertainty, cynicism, jealousy and pessimism. The calcification of the pineal gland is common if the Third Eye is not being used or as a result of diets rich in fluoride and calcium. Radiation from cell phone use and electric and magnetic fields may have negative impacts on the pineal gland as well.”

These claims are high on extravagance, low on evidence. And while believing that opening the Third Eye will be a magical mystery tour, Gaia does extend a branch to the more conspiratorial minded of its followers. It suggests that fluoridated water and USDA encouragement to get adequate calcium may be ruses to blind the Third Eye.

Also urging caution is an online entity going by the moniker Tapoos. He, she, or it warns that opening the Third Eye will cause senses to become enhanced and that this can be undesirable. It could make tastes more bitter, high pitched sounds more jarring, and chapped skin more sensitive. Another danger is that the experience could be so wonderful that it will cause the subject to ignore suddenly humdrum stuff like relationships, bills, and community service.

Tips on how to open the third eye are quite varied, which is typical of unscientific gobbledygook. Some involve understood activities, such as meditation, dancing, chanting, yoga, and prayer. Others suggestions are puzzling, such as “cultivate silence,” “hone intuition,” “nurture creativity”, and “become grounded.” These unspecified tasks take an unclear concept like Third Eye and make it ever more muddled

A vegan diet is another alleged way to pry open this portal. But I have been vegan at various points and my excess consumption of tomatoes and avocadoes led to no heightened state of awareness, nor did it grant me new insights. It either didn’t work or I was born with my Third Eye already open.

For those who do risk the opening, Tapoos writes that it may  “introduce you to a whole new world filled with amazing experiences. This new awakening can guide you on the path of consciousness not only about this world but the spiritual realm as well. The pineal gland isn’t some imaginary, magical eye that is going to appear on your forehead. You can think of it as a meta organ that is naturally present in all human beings. This meta organ includes your mind and all of your other senses working together simultaneously to become a single, supreme organ.”

This passage refers to a legitimate biological entity, plus throws in words like gland and organ, but mixes this with decidedly unscientific notions such as supreme organ and the gland being the “seed of the soul.”

Besides there being roughly similar ideas in Hinduism, the concept is found in some Taoist schools and occasionally in neo-gnostic Christian offshoots which consider the Third Eye the means by which Revelation seers were given their visions.

There is also a tangential Tibetan Buddhist connection. The Third Eye idea was championed by a man identifying himself as Lama Lobsang Rampa. But Heinrich Harrer hired a private investigator who learned Rampa was really an Irish plumber named Cyril Hoskin. Upon being busted, Hoskin spun the greatest religious yarn since Joseph Smith.

In that instance, Smith was claiming to be translating inscriptions of golden plates to Martin Harris. Harris’ wife got ahold of the first 116 pages and challenged Smith that if he had translated the golden tablets once, he could do it again. Smith then received a warning from that God not to retranslate these pages because Satan had Earthly minions who would alter the pilfered manuscript, then use the inconsistencies between the two versions to discredit the developing Book of Mormon.

In the more recent case, Hoskin conceded that he was indeed an Irish plumber, but that the spirit of a Tibetan lama had leased space in his soul long enough to pen religious tracts. However many eyes I have, they were all rolling upon hearing that explanation.

“Nobel pursuit” (Odic Force)

NOBEL

Baron Dr. Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach had a better name than you or me. And unless I have assembled supremely erudite readership, he was more intelligent as well, having won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. It was the most prestigious of his many honors received for numerous discoveries of chemical products with economic use.

Regrettably, he tarnished his good and distinctive name by spending his final 30 years researching his pet project. He was convinced of the existence of an unproven field of energy that emanated from all living things, similar to qi, prana, and other “life forces” of alternative medicine infamy. The baron called this mysterious phenomenon the Odic Force, a name almost as ridiculous as the idea attached to it.

Despite my dismissive nature, I must concede that his having initially pondered the notion might be understandable. At one time, somebody had to be the first person to contemplate Earth being round, to speculate on the existence of atoms, to ponder rocket travel, and to consider if diseases could be arrested through a process we came to call vaccination.

Further, Nobel Prizes are given to those who conceive of and then confirm an original idea. They are awarded to forward thinkers who either expand on or shatter existing knowledge. It requires sizable fortitude and the ability to endure ridicule to publicly put forth an unproven notion. Having sustained this ridicule to take home the most revered honor in science, it’s understandable why the recipient would again ignore derogatory comments and persevere through failed experiments.

But in rare cases, perseverance turns into denial and we see the Nobel Delusion, where an elite scientist grows fixated on his or her idea regardless of whether it can ever be validated. This unfortunate phenomenon has taken place about a dozen times. Examples include Pierre Curie championing the medium Eusapia Palldino, Linus Pauling touting Vitamin C as a panacea, Brian Josephson endorsing the concept of psi, and Kary Mullins expressing a belief in astrology, while throwing in climate change and HIV denials for good measure.

With the baron, his obsession centered on persons he called Sensitives, whom he was convinced were the only ones who could detect the Odic Force. Here, von Reichenbach committed the affirming the consequent fallacy. He declared that if someone said they can feel the force, that means it exists. But with no means of measuring the force, with no way to detect what type of energy it was, and with no explanation of what mechanism was transmitting it, his descriptions were merely unsubstantiated assertions. They also involved special pleading because he asserted that the force emanated from all living beings, yet any test subject who reported feeling nothing was dismissed as not being one of the Sensitives.

Yet another of the baron’s logical fallacies was ad hoc reasoning. In a controlled test not overseen by von Reichenbach, subjects were placed in a completely darkened room to see if they could detect the presence of a magnetic current, which was activated half the time. After the Sensitives performed no better than chance, von Reichenbach attributed the failures to the magnetic force reacting upon the Odic current and confusing the Sensitives.

The baron came up with the concept of Sensitives while doing unrelated research on sleepwalking. He came across the idea that those who take somnambulistic strolls are allergic (or sensitive) to something that rides in on the moonlight. Rather than examining this claim, perhaps starting with seeing if day sleepers also walk, he extrapolated this notion into being the Odic Force, a powerful omnipresent entity which controlled sleepwalking and much more.

Earlier, von Reichenbach was investigating how the human nervous system could be affected by various substances and he conceived of an undiscovered force that combined electricity, magnetism, and heat, and which radiated from most or all substances. He thought such a force, if it existed, might impact the nervous system.

So far, so good. Making an observation, then developing a hypothesis based on it are the first steps in the Scientific Method. But he failed to include adequate controls in his testing and instead assumed the existence of Sensitives who can harness this mystery power, which he also just assumed to exist.  

The baron tried to establish a scientific tie by saying the Odic Force was associated with biological electromagnetic fields, as well as incorporating magnetism, electrify, heat, and light. These were pseudoscience ploys that might make the idea seem more plausible, but he failed to substantiate any of this through controlled studies or peer review.

While never explaining what type of energy it was, nor having no established a means of accessing it, nor inventing any machine to gauge it, von Reichenbach nevertheless thought the Odic force could explain dozens of phenomena, such as hypnotism, dowsing, the Northern Lights, and magnetism. He was even an early proponent of Feng Shui, cautioning churches to not place altars at the east end, lest worshippers be placed in an “an Odically unfavorable position.” I imagine this phrase was his Jump the Shark moment from which there was no chance of his returning to the application of rigorous scientific principles. Additionally, this was all Tooth Fairy Science, as he had yet to establish that the Odic Force existed.

His infatuation with the notion extended to associated personal habits, which would more accurately be called rituals rather than scientific protocols. On “research” days, the baron maintained a strict regimen of rest and diet and refrained from touching metals. For the experiment, he would hold a Sensitive’s hand and record the subject’s report of what was being transmitted. This included revelations that the mystery force was positive, negative, or neutral, or that the Sensitives saw glimmers of colored lights, which could have been a precursor of aura silliness.

As the Baron sadly demonstrated, expertise in one field does not confer authority in an unrelated area. Because they think it bolsters their cause, alt-med and anti-science types love to highlight iconoclastic Nobel winners who embrace unfounded ideas. But this is the Appeal to Authority fallacy since these Nobel Prize winners are not speaking to their area of expertise. Of course, it is possible to accurately speak about a field one is not an expert in, but such claims must be backed by credible evidence, and that’s not what’s happening here. There exists no empirical evidence for a life force which can be detected by select individuals, and an insistence from a Nobel Prize winner with a splendid name that it’s real doesn’t make it so.

“The means to justify the end” (Doomsdays)

ENDNEAR

The third week of September will be a busy one in cataclysmic circles. End of the world pronouncements happen at least every other year anymore, but as summer rolls into fall, we will be treated to two doomsdays in 72 hours. There is a day in between, but it’s doubtful it would be a constructive one, being sandwiched between two iterations of the planet being ripped asunder. No rest for the wicked, indeed.

Two doomsayers are going with a Sept. 23 date, with last month’s eclipse being the impetus for our finale. Unlike the Mayan Calendar or Harold Camping predictions earlier this decade, this prognostication is more vague on what will happen that day, with adherents insinuating it might only be the beginning (or middle) of the end. The lack of certainty is why this portent of doom is not receiving near the publicity of Camping and Mayan prognostications. Always remember, if wanting to get significant attention to you coming calamity, be specific on what will happen and when.

Because he didn’t do so, most of you have never heard of journalist Gary Ray. In the publication Unsealed, he wrote that the eclipse was one of several astronomical signs that the rapture is approaching: “The Bible says a number of times that there’s going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We see this as possibly one of those.”

Of course, eclipses happened before the First Coming of Christ and have continued unabated in predictable patterns ever since, so there’s no need to assign special significance to last month’s, or think it means the Second Coming is in the offing.  

Ray is even more interested in an astronomical event that will follow the eclipse. He draws attention to a passage in Revelation which describes a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head,” who will give birth to a boy whose fate is to “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.

Ray interprets this Tolkienesque imagery to be a prediction of the night sky on Sept. 23. Then, the constellation Virgo, postulated by doomsayers to represent the woman in Revelation, will be clothed in sunlight in a position over the moon and under nine stars and three planets. The planet Jupiter, which will appear from our vantage point to be inside Virgo, represents an in utero child. As Jupiter moves out of Virgo, this symbolizes birth.

Even if we concede his analogies to be on point, there is the issue of this stellar alignment being not terribly uncommon. For one thing, the sun being in Virgo happens every year for about a month. Second, on the moon’s orbit of Earth, it ends up at Virgo’s feet once a month. These two arrangements come together once or twice a year.

Now onto the crown comprised of three planets and nine stars of Leo. The issue here is that there are several dozen stars in the constellation. The nine Ray references burn brighter than the rest, but it still requires special pleading to substantially reduce the number of stars in Leo to make the scenario work.

While much less frequent that the alignment mentioned two paragraphs back, multiple planets being at Virgo’s head while Jupiter is at her center and the moon at her feet is a circumstance that happens at roughly 300-year intervals, and all such occurrences have been Apocalypse-free.    

If Ray’s prediction flops like the 8,240 doomsdays that have preceded it, he will recover quickly. He has already postulated that this year’s eclipse may be the start of a seven-year tribulation that will end when another eclipse comes in 2024. Carbondale, Ill., which sits in the center of the “X” formed by the two eclipse paths, will presumably be transformed into Armageddon.  

Ray wrote, “It makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of things that really point us to that.” In truth, it makes no sense and nothing points to a period of horrors. He has merely taken astronomically observable and predictable data and turned it into a baseless assertion that a cataclysm is coming.

If preferring a more secular mass extinction event, we have the latest Nibiru hypothesis. The idea that a rouge planet will end life on Earth got a very late start compared to the Armageddon Industry. But in just 40 years, Nibiru proponents have moved into second place behind the Christian doomsayers in the End Times sweepstakes, and their panicky prognostication pronouncements make frequent Internet splashes.

There have been three prominent failures of Nibiru to annihilate the Earth since 2004. Undaunted, a fresh promise of destruction comes in a 2017 book by David Meade. Like Ray, he cites Sept. 23 as probably just a beginning of the end date, and this mistake is why you likely haven’t heard of his book either.

While not overtly religious (though it does cite Revelation when needing to have a point bolstered), the work does demonstrate a faithful fervor. For example, Meade declares, “The existence of Planet X is beyond any reasonable doubt, to a moral certainty.” Meade is equally convinced that the planet’s existence means we are doomed.

Earlier this year, he claimed that such disparate elements as the position of celestial bodies, Biblical verses, and Pyramid inscriptions have combined to reveal that Planet X and its accompanying apocalypse are imminent. His interpretation is that Nibiru will first be seen in the sky on Sept. 23, then will slam into our planet  the following month.

His tortured analysis fixates on the number 33. “When the eclipse begins on Aug. 21, the sunrise will be dark, just as Isaiah predicts. The moon involved is called a black moon. These occur about every 33 months. In the Bible, the divine name of Elohim appears 33 times in Genesis. The eclipse will start in Oregon, the 33rd state, and end on the 33rd degree of Charleston, S.C. Then 33 days after the eclipse, the stars will align exactly as the book of Revelation says they will before the end of the world: 9/23/17. Such a solar eclipse has not occurred since 1918, which is 99 years.”

Since that deviates from the “33” pattern, he finagles that to read “33 x 3.” Besides this special pleading, Meade also demonstrates how simple it is to cherry-pick numbers when trying to prove a point. It took me about 33 seconds to come up with ideas that the run counter to what Meade is peddling. Lucifer, given the astronomy-friendly nickname Morning Star in the Bible, is mentioned in scripture more than 33 times; the number of states the eclipse passed through was less than 33; the biggest astronomical event to occur in the States before the eclipse, Haley’s Comet, took place 31 years prior, not 33. Any number can be arrived at, cited, and said to mean something if the adherent is allowed to choose from every historical event, date, and person.   

But at least Meade sticks with 33. By contrast, the numeral-happy website heavenlysign2017.com  considers dozens of numbers to have sacred, prophetic meaning. Worse, it presents its conclusions in an annoying centered-text format. Author Steven Sewell combines dates for Rosh Hashanah, Christ’s crucifixion, Kepler discoveries, Israel’s founding, Saddam Hussein threats, the Dead Sea Scrolls being made public, Trump attacking Syria, the United States entering World War I, and much more. Out of this gobbledygook emerges an end of the world date of Sept. 21, 2017.

He incredulously asks, “Could all this be a coincidence?” I’m not calling it a coincidence. I’m calling it leaching onto whatever historical events, dates, or persons one feels like manipulating, then twisting and tossing them into a gumbo that results in an idiosyncratic version of evidence.

 

 

“It was a dark and stormy day” (Eclipse fears)

LOCK

Eclipses initially inspired fear, but today we understand the mechanics behind them, so they inspire, um, well, I guess it’s still fear. At least among some groups. And I’m not referring to the science enthusiasts who are fretting that an all-day road trip may turn into nothing more than a cloud viewing.

First, the basics for any second graders or Flat Earthers who have stumbled onto the blog: A total solar eclipse happens when the moon is close enough to Earth and it simultaneously crosses the path of the sun. This results in the moon blotting out the sun for a few minutes and a shadow being cast on part of Earth’s surface.

For a competing hypothesis, we leave the astronomy book and head to a Flat Earth group active in Colorado, headed by Bob Knodel. This bunch was profiled last month by the Denver Post, and the article related this exchange between Knodel and his underling:

“How are we Flat Earthers supposed to explain to our friends the solar eclipse in August,” asked one attendee. The room fell silent. “We’ll have to do more research and get back to you on that,” Knodel replied.

While awaiting his further investigation, let’s look at a few other ways the approaching eclipse may have been handled by other Flat Earthers. I say ‘may’ because, while I consider my Poe-meter finely tuned, it does get tough with these guys.

Now, being a Flat Earther normally requires more than thinking our planet is a plane instead of a sphere. The belief sets up a series of ad hoc rationalizations. For example, the planet being dark and light simultaneously would be impossible on a flat Earth, so an idea was invented that the sun and moon do a continuous loop over Earth and remain a fixed distance away from each other.

This, in turn, requires embracing geocentrism and a stationary planet. This supposed static loop of Earth’s star and satellite, however, would make an eclipse impossible. Rather than admit this, Knodel and his ilk are engaged in unspecified further research. And while this research has yielded no explanation of what is blocking the sun if not the moon, Flat Earth proponents are still using the celestial event to try and bolster their cause.

For example, they argue that an object’s shadow can never be smaller than the object itself.  They will use a ball and flashlight and point out the resulting shadow on the wall is larger than the ball.

This demonstrates why the Scientific Method embraces peer review and not self-produced videos. Mic.com quoted physics professor Will Kinney, who noted that treating the sun and a small flashlight as similar is the mistake here. While a flashlight sends out a narrow, concentrated beam, the massive sun sends broad light to all parts of the solar system.

Per the article, “Because of the sun and moon’s size and distance, they look like they’re the same size, but they’re not. You could re-create the solar eclipse at home, but not like it’s being done on YouTube videos. What you need is an extended light source that is at such a distance that it’s almost exactly the same apparent size as the thing you’re blocking it with.”

Beyond that, the only points I could find ascribed to Flat Earthers were probably Poes. A Reddit user described the upcoming eclipse as “maintenance downtime of the sun/moon hologram, which will get a firmware upgrade.”

Another argued that the moon is 400 times larger than the sun, so that’s why the latter’s light is being eclipsed. This was dismissed by Flat Earthers as trolling, not because of the complete lack of evidence for it – Flat Earthers are fine with such distinctions – but because it contradicts the Flat Earth model where the sun and moon are about the same size and always the same distance apart.

From here, we will move onto those who think the eclipse is real, but feel it entails more than an explicable celestial event.

We will begin with educateinspirechange.org, which embraces the most ubiquitous of the pseudoscientific approaches, the misuse of the word ‘energy.’ It managed to get that word in a dozen times during its essay on the eclipse. Here’s a sample: “As the Total Solar Eclipse gets closer, energies are rising more rapidly than ever. In the last few weeks, have you noticed people acting abnormal, like a person who is normally chilled out becoming anxious? This is because of the energy making its way to us.”

This is, of course, selective memory. In reality, some people act out of character during times of unremarkable celestial body positioning and others act normal during an eclipse. Still others bind together unrelated items and top them with a bow of post hoc reasoning.

Continuing, our anonymous author writes, “During this total solar eclipse, you will be engulfed much more intensely by the glittering streams of magical light beaming around the moon. I cannot explain with words how intense and magical this energy to come is.”

His stated inability to explain it with words doesn’t stop him from trying. Here are the results of those efforts: “The sun represents focus, self-expression, and is aggressive while the moon is something we use as a means of really putting our goals within reach. The total solar eclipse is a way for us to provoke external changes. It forces us into taking the route we have to in order to reach where we need to be.” That part could be seen as true, as some astronomy geeks are planning a route so they can see the eclipse in its totality.

Next, our writer “strongly suggests focusing on the moon’s energy and using your Labrodite crystals to get things going and provide you with a protective vibration.” He has no specific advice for those whose Labrodite crystal supplies are low, or who lack any vibrating protections. But he closes a mostly foreboding discourse by encouraging us to “not be afraid of what is to come.” Now there’s some advice of his that I can take.

Not all worry is about what will be overhead. In South Carolina, there have been concerns about what creatures the eclipse may unleash.  The state’s Emergency Management Division tweeted a map of where eyewitnesses over the years have said they have spotted lizard people. The agency warned, “We do not know if lizard men become more active during a solar eclipse, but we advise residents to remain ever vigilant.” This increased awareness seems to be working, as no reptilians have been spotted this week in Myrtle Beach.

Meanwhile, sciencealert.com reports there is angst about the eclipse being the  precursor of a collision with Nibiru. The gist of Nibiru beliefs is that this rouge planet will eventually either collide with Earth or throw it off its axis. Either way, Earthlings are hosed. This makes for a supple belief, as its ominous nature fits in nicely with awe-inspiring phenomenon, but its inevitability enables it to work when nothing special is going on.

Most often, though, it is when something noteworthy is happening skyward that Nibiru believers get excited – about our impending doom. The Hale-Bopp Comet’s initial appearance, in fact, was the genesis of the notion that a runway giant planet is coming to get us. Nancy Lieder predicted that Nibiru would annihilate Earth in 2003, which then became 2012, which then became she won’t say because it would cause panic, a justification whose lameness is only topped by its arrogance.

It is understandable why the ancients ascribed natural disasters and phenomenon to gods and goddesses. Lightning bolts being Zeus hurling a spear, wind being a bellowing giant’s breath, a tempest being an upset Neptune, got it. Similarly, it’s easy to see why an unexplained blotting of the sun would freak people out. But unexplained does not mean it was inexplicable, and astronomers eventually figured it out. Which is what makes Ann Graham Lotz’s take on the eclipse so pitiful.

Despite our complete understanding of what is happening and why, Lotz is determined to put a Bronze Age spin on it, punctuated by self-congratulation and self-righteousness. She quotes Joel 2:31, which reads, “The sun will be turned to darkness before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” She cites this scripture without explaining why the eclipses that have come along since the verse was written have been free of Earth-changing calamity.

Lotz wrote that when reading this passage, “I knew with hair-raising certainty that God’s severe judgment was coming on America! The warning is triggered by the total solar eclipse of August 21.” This is nothing more than subjective validation and a belief that the strength of a conviction matters more than its accuracy.

As to the amateur astronomers and school children enthused about the event, Lotz has strong condemnation. “The celebratory nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate.” Ah, got it. This is all just a distraction that will enable to Iranians to conquer our heathen selves.

Where most of see the alignment of the astronomical bodies and the laws of astrophysics, Lotz sees a holy harbinger. “God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.” These impossibly vague descriptors will allow Lotz to claim any tragedy at any time as fulfillment of her prophecy.

The aforementioned ancients had little knowledge of what was going on in their world, so they constructed supernatural explanations. Initially, their gaps in knowledge were extremely broad and were filled in with concocted deities. As knowledge expanded, those gaps shrank and today there aren’t many left. There are a few, such as not knowing how life originated, and some folks find comfort in these gaps, thinking the lack of full scientific understanding means that their god did it. But Lotz takes it even further. Even though we understand what an eclipse is and why it occurs, she still insists in foisting her fears and fantasies onto it.

In summary, Monday will bring one of the following: Divine judgement, mass extinction via a careening planet, reptilian generation, a mysterious object overhead, magical moon rays, or a standard solar eclipse. In any case, I’m there.

“Brain on the water” (Brain Gym)

BRAIN GYM

Our deepest ancestors came from the water and it has sustained life ever since. But can we ask even more of it?

Well, according to the folks at Brain Gym, drinking it in a particular manner can improve learning and increase mental agility. And it’s not just precise liquid consumption that can build cranial power. 

The basic idea behind Brain Gym is that engaging in specific body movements can develop the brain and enhance learning. Techniques to accomplish this  include crawling, drawing, rolling, swinging, bouncing balls, throwing beanbags, walking on beams, tracing symbols in the air, measured breathing, and gulping the aforementioned beverage in a particular way. All this will allegedly make learning more seamless and quick. Other benefits include playing sports more efficiently, having more drive, and being a jolly all around good chap.

Brain Gym was a 1970s creation by Dr. Paul Dennison his wife, Gail, and the couple borrowed heavily from the techniques of the applied kinesiology. This pseudoscience teaches that the diagnosis and treatment of disease can be achieved by testing muscles for strength and weakness. It is to muscles what the feet, eyes, and spine are to reflexology, iridology, and chiropractic, respectively. Applied kinesiology’s techniques are little more than employment of the ideomotor response, unconscious resistance or lack thereof, and applied pressure.

Brain Gym, then, takes applied kinesiology’s ideas and incorporates gyrations to  purportedly usher in sweeping mental benefits. There have been a few vanity and self-published studies on these claims, but there’s nothing in legitimate scientific literature to support them. Moreover, these assertions are chock full of pseudoscientific goodness, which happens when one invents words that sound scientific but are not, or where one misuses science terms.

For example, one of Brain Gym’s primary tenets is that the brain’s two hemispheres should be acting in coordination. It’s true that different parts of the brain must communicate with each other for proper brain function, so there’s the science. But from this, the Dennisons jump to unjustified conclusions by trying to marry this neurological basic with light aerobics and arriving at improved mental agility. This gets even more bizarre when it leads to claims such as yawning being able to improve eyesight.

More pseudoscience is seen in the description of what happens when fingers are pressed together: “This shifts electrical energy from the survival centers in the hindbrain to the reasoning centers in the midbrain and neocortex, thus activating hemispheric integration. Then the tongue pressing into the roof of the mouth stimulates the limbic system for emotional processing in concert with more refined reasoning in the frontal lobes.” There are several big, impressive sounding words there, but it’s unsubstantiated gobbledygook with no connection to learning.

Brain Gym holds that optimal brain function occurs only if motor skills are learned in proper sequence. It even deduces that if children are developmentally disabled, it may be because they walked before they crawled. Therefore, they conclude that the cure for mental retardation may be crawling exercises. This is offensive to the developmentally disabled, their families, and most decent folk. This offense would be irrelevant if the crawling technique worked, but there is no peer-reviewed literature anywhere to support this extraordinary claim. A similarly baseless claim is that reading difficulty stems from mixed cerebral dominance. For me, reading difficulties usually arise when I come across terms like mixed cerebral dominance.

There are still other claims that these exercises can improve faulty vision, or that vision exercises can reverse learning disabilities. In response, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology issued a joint statement strongly discrediting these ideas.

The Brain Gym website’s FAQ calls the program “distinctive, as it addresses the physical rather than mental components of learning.” Distinctive, yes. Effective, no. Brain Gym activities may be fun, build camaraderie, and provide moderate exercise, but they are unrelated to improving one’s ability at reading, writing, or arithmetic.

The program also places value of “brain buttons,” which are described as points on the neck that, when touched in certain ways, will stimulate blood flow to the brain. This is akin to chiropractic meridians or new age healing chakras and have no biological basis. 

Other joys are wiggling one’s ears to “stimulate the reticular formation of the brain” and rocking head back and forth to improve “comprehension and rational thinking.”

Despite starting in California, Brain Gym is mostly a UK phenomenon and the Guardian’s resident skeptic, Ben Goldacre, leads the charge against the program. He regularly fields e-mails from frustrated students, who find the techniques’ supposed benefits ludicrous.

“They’re actually taught that if one holds drinking water in the mouth for a few seconds, it will go through the roof of the mouth and be absorbed by the brain,” an exasperated Goldacre reports.

Water, water everywhere, still won’t help you think.