“Asbestos reproval business” (Previous science errors)

classcancelled

Everyone loves science even if they don’t realize it. I thought I didn’t care for it in junior high, when my obsession with baseball was at its peak. I failed to comprehend that chemistry made possible the glove that a diving Ozzie Smith used to snare line drives. I remained clueless about physics being behind the Neikro brothers’ fluttering knuckleballs.

By college, I still hadn’t developed an appreciation for science, taking as little as I could en route to my degree. I was much more into AC/DC and Jane’s Addiction, all while being indifferent to how principles like acoustics, dynamics, and resonance were enabling me to rock out to Van Halen’s latest.  

Whether one is into baseball and music, or any other activity, science makes it possible. Still, there are a few folks who describe themselves in so many words as anti-science. This is most ironic when they make such declarations on a cell phone, i-Pad, or social media forum. But most anti-science sentiment comes from those who largely embrace the field until it brushes up against their pet cause. This can happen with adherents of astrology, cryptozoology, creationism, energy healing, homeopathy, or those denying climate change, vaccines, and GMOs.

Being unable to cite scientific evidence for their ideas, these proponents try and build support for their positions by tearing down the opposing notion. This represents the argument from ignorance since disproving the prevailing scientific consensus would not buttress their contrarian position. When trying to tear it down, they often point to past mistakes made by scientists, but in so doing fail to understand what science is – a self-correcting, self-critical, self-challenging research method aimed at understanding how our world works.

These types may say that medics once thought smoking was healthy, that scientists branded thalidomide as safe, or that the consensus was once that our planet was a stationary plane (this point is not made by two specific sets of anti-science groups, the flat Earthers and geocentrists). Often, such assertions are mistaken, but the more relevant point is that those making them are misunderstanding or misrepresenting what science is. Past mistakes were part of the process and they are not a good reason to reject conclusions in an unrelated field, especially ones as grounded in overwhelming evidence as are GMO safety, climate change, vaccines, and evolution.

One approach favored by the selectively anti-science is to claim that scientists once declared asbestos to be safe. Asbestos is a generic name for six silicate mineral types, which humans have used for 5,000 years to create flexible objects that resist fire. The EPA considers all six types to be human carcinogens and asbestos is responsible for nearly all mesothelioma cases. Because of these dangers, asbestos use has been significantly curtailed since the 1970s and some nations have banned it entirely.

The selectively anti-science try to use the fact that asbestos was used for millennia as a strike against science. Yet it is only because of research and the development and refinement of the Scientific Method that anyone today knows that asbestos is harmful.

Even if scientists got it wrong the first time, the continued research that defines the Scientific Method means they eventually got it right. This point was made by the brilliantly-nicknamed Credible Hulk: “The premise that ‘science was wrong’ takes for granted something we only know thanks to science, which, according to the claimant’s conclusion, cannot be relied upon.” Indeed, the science makes it clear that asbestos has damaging effects, but according to the detractors’ reasoning, that can’t be believed since science is saying it.

Besides that, the claim that science thought asbestos was safe has little support. Proponents of this idea sometimes try to combine it with the appeal to antiquity gambit and assert that ancients knew what stuffy modern medicine doesn’t. They claim that Pliny the Elder noticed adverse health effects among slaves who wove asbestos into fabrics. While the Roman author did reference asbestos thrice in his Natural History, none of those passages mention consequent health problems. If anything, Pliny might have considered asbestos to contain healing properties, writing that it, “effectually counteracts all noxious spells.”

Twentieth Century physicians and medical researchers didn’t declare it safe; they just didn’t know enough about it until they started doing the science their detractors say can’t be trusted.

According to The History of Mesothelioma by D.D. Smith, the earliest documented case of the disease was likely in 1767, but it was another 200 years before the connection to asbestos was made. Regarding the silicate minerals’ connection to lung disease, the Credible Hulk wrote, “It was in 1928 that the first non-tuberculosis case of asbestosis was unambiguously diagnosed, named, and documented. Compelling preliminary evidence of an association between asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma didn’t emerge until the late 1940s or early 1950s, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that a strong scientific consensus started to take shape.”

By then, asbestos had been used for thousands of years and only about 100 years ago did the study of its effects begin. There had never been a scientific consensus  about its safety. Rather, the Scientific Method revealed its dangers, which are now known because of decades of rigorous independent study and sound research. That same method got us the truths about GMO safety, climate change, vaccines, and evolution, which is why even if those with contrarian views on those topics were right about science once being pro-asbestos, they are still wrong about what that means to their pet cause.

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“Carb berater” (Keto diet)

POTATO

All successful diets involve decreasing calorie intake and/or increasing the amount of calories burned. The only other relevant factor is metabolism. There are tricks one can do to help it along, such as drinking water to feel full, consuming satiating foods, or having a workout partner since one is less likely to stand up a friend than to skip the gym out of laziness.

But for a diet to work, it has to fall under the less calories in, more calories out umbrella. That’s why the most successful long-term ones are not so much diets as sustainable lifestyle changes, to include  moderate meal portions and snacking on baby carrots instead of baby Snickers.

Fad diets might work, but again, only if it involves more calories going out than in. One of the more prominent these days is the keto diet. While it’s touted as the latest and greatest, the SciBabe, Yvette d’Entremeont, wrote that the diet has its genesis in 1921, when doctors noticed that fasting improved cognition and decreased seizure frequency in epileptics. A little while later, it was discovered that cutting out carbohydrates caused the same metabolic change as fasting did. That’s why Mayo Clinic doctors created a formula that manipulated this effect by limiting a patient’s carb intake. This became known as the ketogenic diet and was recommended for child epileptics.

The diet was rendered unnecessary by advances in anti-epilepsy medications. And it would never have been especially beneficial to someone who was not epileptic. It could work for weight reduction, but only for the same reason that any other diet would. But like the no-gluten-for-celiac-regimen has been unnecessarily coopted by those who don’t suffer from the condition, low- and no-carb diets have become the rage among those who don’t have childhood epilepsy.

And it won’t work better for them than any other diet. The SciBabe cited a study where, for a year, 609 dieting subjects were randomly divided into low-fat or low-carb diet groups. She wrote, “Initially, low-carb dieters experienced more weight loss because glycogen molecules bind with water, and once you’ve burned through your most readily available source of energy, you’re also down a few pounds of water weight.” But eventually, the low-carb group’s weight loss evened out with the low-fat one, and similar studies have consistently yielded this result.

As noted earlier, the sustainability of dietary choices are a key factor to success and diets that exorcise an entire food group or nutrient are unlikely to be maintained for a decade. Low-carb diets can work in the short term, but only if more calories are being burned. The amount of carbohydrate intake is going to have a negligible impact.

Penn Jillette lost over a hundred pounds by dining exclusively on carb-laden potatoes and limiting his daily intake to 1,000 calories. By contrast, continual gorging on low-carb salmon, cauliflower, almonds, and yogurt, will lead to weight gain if consumed in enough quantities.

“The Young and the Feckless” (Neanderthal lineage)

HAMSU

About one in 500 persons of non-African descent have traces of Neanderthal DNA. Today we will look at how these persons’ deep ancestors are viewed by three groups: Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, and Old Earth Anthropologists (perhaps a redundant phrase).

The first group maintains that Neanderthals were descended from Noah. For a YEC, everything has to be crammed into a self-imposed 5,000-year timeline. They “deal” with discomfiting evidence for the age of the universe, such as radioactive dating, lake varves, and seeing starlight from millions of light years away by saying that maybe physics and chemistry worked different before – that maybe radioactive isotopes decayed at a different rate than has ever been observed, that maybe lake varves were formed at several million layers per year instead of one annually that scientists have consistently noted, and that maybe God created starlight already in transit.

They back these notions with precisely zero evidence or hypothetical mechanisms for how any of this would be accomplished. Neanderthals went extinct about 50,000 years ago, which is about how old a bone could be and still be reliably tested through carbon-14 dating. Yet Answers in Genesis has yet to produce a bone from a 5,000-year-old Neanderthal sample that would add credence to its position. Similarly, they offer no evidence or reasonable avenue for how this large, widespread population disappeared just a few thousand years ago without leaving any trace of themselves, their fire pits, clothes, accoutrements, tools, weapons, artwork, migrations, or habitat.

AIG declares Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis, Nadeli, and Densiovans to be related species and descended from Noah. But this would require that these diverse populations emerged from the same couple and became markedly distinct from each other in a thousand years, which is much faster than how evolution works.

They try and tie this to the Tower of Babel, saying the confused languages may have resulted in disparate species of human. But people going their separate ways wouldn’t lead to their descendants being drastically different within 40 generations. AIG insists the Bible is the absolute truth, which is why they resort to shoehorning attempts like the wild speculation with Babel. If they feel insufficiently creative, they fall back on their mission statement that, “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.”

It is always science that comes up with the idea first. The Genesis author did not describe various types of humans, which anthropologists later confirmed. Science discovered the fossils and found the ways to date them and in none of these digs and research did they find evidence that the first humans were zapped into existence 5,000 years ago.

Modern humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor, but the two populations splintered and became distinct as mutations increased, creating DNA differences between the two. AIG more or less accepts this, but insists it took place not over 500,000 years, but over 500, a period much too short. It would be like persons today being markedly different in appearance than what they were in Christopher Columbus’ time.  

Jim Foley at Panda’s Thumb explained, “There is enough genetic diversity among modern humans that it is almost impossible for it to have arisen in the last 10,000 years at measured mutation rates. For example, the common ancestor of all human mitochondrial DNA sequences is estimated to have lived about 200,000 years ago.”

And that’s just us. If you toss Neanderthals in the mix, that’s thrice as much genetic diversity to account for in less than half the time. Also, human-Neanderthal interbreeding was rare, which would be unlikely if the populations were expanding at the rate AIG asserts.

Since the YEC position holds that Neanderthals were human, they are OK with the concept of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens breeding, which science shows likely happened in limited instances.

While Old Earth Creationists likewise accept the evidence that this happened, they view the occurrence to be a sin, specifically bestiality since they consider Neanderthals to be a separate species from humans. One OEC organization, Reasons to Believe, maintains that human-Neanderthal sex represents mankind’s debauchery after the Tower of Babel and was among the reasons God slaughtered most of his creation, advanced apes included.

A century ago, OECs were the great majority of Christians, but they have been supplanted by AIG, the Institute for Creation Research, and most Southern Baptist flocks. These groups insist on a literal reading of Genesis 1 and permit no creative interpretations, such as there perhaps being a billion years between that chapter’s first and second verses, or deducing that a translation error took the Hebrew term for “long period” and made it “day.”

As such, OECs have far fewer conflicts with science than do YECs, though their central assertion that humans were supernaturally created in their present form 50,000 years ago has no basis in evidence, and they reject any evidence of man having evolved. Further, they are still subject to the god of the gaps fallacy and they consider any slight difference from modern humans in an unearthed fossil to be proof the fossil was a non-human. They trot that line out to deny the existence of any transitional hominin fossils.

Indeed, Reasons to Believe considers all non-Homo sapiens hominids, including Neanderthals, to be apes. If so, they are the most advanced simians ever, mastering the abilities to make tools, fashion loins, cook, hunt in packs, hold funerals, provide for the common defense, and achieving rudimentary language.  

OECs argue that the range of a few hundred thousand years when humans and Neanderthals split from a common ancestor is too wide to be reasonable. Foley responded, “Age estimates based on genetic differences are always fuzzy because of the probabilistic nature of mutations, not to mention that different genes might really have different divergence times, and that the Neanderthal genome is still imperfectly known.”

For those more interested in the scientific over the spiritual, differences between modern humans and Neanderthals include skull shape and size, Neanderthals being shorter and stockier with broader rib cages, wider pelvises, shorter spines, longer limbs, and a much more limited language. They are an extinct species or subspecies in the Homo genus.

Biologists Svante Paabo and Nicholas Matzke completed the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, which showed that breeding with humans occurred. One never sees Answers in Genesis or Reasons to Believe making these types of contributions to our understanding of the natural world. They merely react, embracing finds if they fit their predetermined conclusions and rejecting them if they don’t. Rejection is not due to their inability to replicate the findings or researching and reaching a different conclusion or having an issue over the collection methods. The evidence is rejected only because it is inconsistent with their interpretation of their favored Bible version. Even a Neanderthal would know that’s irrational.

“Life serial” (Near-death experiences)

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 brains 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, accompanied by 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 to 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.

 

 

“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 to 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 for 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.