“Sweet and dour” (Artificial sweetener hysteria)

SBArtificial sweeteners have been the subject of mass hysteria for decades. In the 1970s, studies fueled worries about the possible carcinogenetic nature of saccharin. However, this research involved rats being force-fed the synthetic compound at a rate that would have been like a person drinking 100 diet sodas a day for years.

In the early 1990s, the Internet’s first wide-spread smear campaign listed every malady in the history of Mankind as being the result of aspartame, which raised the question of why humans hadn’t been immortal prior to the artificial sweetener’s creation.

This year, there was an alarmist report about diet soda being responsible for Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia, and the Smog Monster. This freak-out was based on a horrible misinterpretation of the study, which is what’s happening in yet another fabricated fizzy fear. This latest scare is that artificial sweeteners wreak havoc with one’s gut microbiome.

The human gastrointestinal tract is amazingly complex and is composed of multitudinous organisms that can either help or hinder digestion. These organisms can have a substantial impact on our health, either good or bad. Because of the microbiome’s key role in human wellbeing, research is constantly being done on it.

That includes a study which some media have given plenty of panicky play to. In this experiment, scientists poured artificial sweeteners on bacterial cells. At very high concentrations, most of the bacteria began to act stressed, and researchers deduced that artificial additives were the culprit. This was translated in the press as sweeteners being detrimental to human health.

This was an unfounded conclusion. For starters, the research considered only a few strains of e. coli, which are among the millions of different types of bacteria that have taken up residence in our gastrointestinal tracts. Further, the stressed reaction only occurred when e. coli were subjected to extremely elevated dosages. The bacteria started showing agitation after exposure to four grams per liter of aspartame. The human equivalent of this would be chugging two gallons of Mountain Dew in 15 minutes. Incidentally, I’d be might riled myself if strangers kept dousing me with sticky liquids.

Also, reactions from one type of organism seldom translate into the same experience for another type. Epidemiologist and skeptic blogger Gid M-K wrote, “Exposing cells to artificial sweeteners in a lab is very different to a person drinking diet soft drinks.”

Indeed, a 2016 systemic review of studies concluded there is little evidence of a substantial health detriment or benefit to ingesting moderate amounts of artificial sweetener.

This is much shorter than most of my entries, but I’ve got to prep a Thanksgiving meal, one that will safely include some Diet Cherry Dr Pepper.

“Hippie Birthday” (Free birthing)


The most poignant aspect of science denial is when those too young to make choices on the matter suffer for it. This includes infants dead from measles because of anti-vaxxers, a painful death or lifetime paralysis because readily available medical care was eschewed by faith healers, or  when a routine illnesses lingers because over the counter medication is bypassed for jasmine rubs and Reiki sessions.

Another example has emerged lately in the form of free birthing. This refers to intentionally giving birth away from a hospital, sometimes at home, but often in the forest, on a mountaintop, or even amongst dolphins.

The Daily Beast told one such tale centering on an infant named Journey Moon. The moniker is comical, but the story is anything but funny. She was stillborn after her pseudonymous mother attempted a free birth in the desert.

It was just she and her husband. No doctors, doula, nurse, midwife, or even a Lamaze instructor. Indeed, free birthers prefer to go it alone, maybe with a partner and hoping for an audience of ravens and wolves, surrounded by cacti, flowing rivers, and a full moon. They romanticize about long-gone eras where humans allegedly lived in concert with nature and spent most of their day outdoors.

But this is a romanticized version that ignores that the average life span was about 38, that a straw hut was cutting-edge shelter, and that the infant and birthing mother mortality rates were 20 times what they are today. And while free birthers want no one else around, they often have thousands of Facebook followers in groups set up for this specific purpose.  The mother profiled in The Daily Beast article had supporters who were only too happy to tell her she was a “legend” and a “warrior woman” who should “trust the process.”

That trust led to her having a massive urinary tract infection which killed her daughter before she left the womb. Free birthers consider it an issue of a woman’s autonomy and they feel the rate of unnecessary cesarean sections and episiotomies too high. That is a legitimate health issue, but if the welfare of the mother and baby are paramount, hospital birthing is the way to go.

The Daily Beast quoted OB-GYN professor Bruce Young, who said there is a one in five chance a home or other free birth would involve life-threatening complications for the mother or child. By contrast, the chance of the mother or baby dying in the hospital during birth is less than one percent. Stillbirth is a steep price to pay for being able to bypass an unwanted caesarean. And as Katie Paulson wrote in Patheos, “Childbirth is the leading cause of death for women and infants in the world.” That makes having it done in a hospital is the best health decision a woman can make when giving birth.

Free birth social media groups often remove any comments encouraging a woman to seek treatment. This creates an echo chamber where expectant mothers have their risky decisions validated. Such pages lean heavily on the Naturalist fallacy and are permeated with a vaguely spiritual appeal centering on concepts like primal urges and personal empowerment.

But there was no such power for the profiled free birther, who after three days of excruciating unobserved labor gave up and left the desert for a doctor. Even after the baby died, her mother maintained her meandering New Age mindset, asking the deceased newborn to “usher in the spirits of her future siblings when the time was right.”

Like an anti-vaxxer who thinks insulin causes diabetes or a Young Earth Creationist who thinks God created starlight in transit, free birthers live in an isolated reality where they are disconnected from facts and immune to change, reason, or evidence. Free birthers make the drastically mistaken claim that newborns have a better chance of surviving if they enter the world outside of a medical establishment.

Yet countries where women have regular access to medical care have much lower rates of maternal mortality and stillbirth than those that do not. Most developed countries have a stillbirth rate four per 1,000, whereas Third World nations have a rate 10 times that. The maternal mortality rate in those nations is even more pronounced, at 20 times those in developed countries.

Free birthers answer that data with anecdotes from expectant mothers who were given drugs without their permission or who were subjected to vaginal exams without their consent. These are serious issues if true, but such arguments overlook the crucial point of hospital safety and competence. By way of comparison, vaccines aren’t completely safe in every instance, but neither is polio. Free birthers defend it as a matter of choice. Maybe so, but it’s clear what the best choice would be.

“Pleading heart” (Cholesterol contrarians)


I consume cheese, milk, and butter, with halfhearted consideration about limiting my intake of such. But such concerns are unfounded according to some cholesterol contrarians who consider the lipid molecule benign or even beneficial. Stemming from this belief is an additional conviction that since cholesterol levels are irrelevant, no one needs statins to lower those numbers.

However, WHO and similar organizations consistently make it known that butter, cheese, milk, and red meat are fine in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. But they also stress that excess saturated fat may cause the liver to overproduce bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, the country’s leading killer.

The cholesterol contrarians are led by Uffe Ravnskov, who insists “the reason why so-called experts say that I am mistaken is that the vast majority are paid generously by the drug companies.”

But while the funding for the research materials and laboratories may come from pharmaceutical companies, individual scientists receive no money from them. And the reason pharmaceutical companies fund research is for the same reason the auto industry pays for crash test studies. Both enterprises want their products to be as safe as possible because they are potentially liable if they irresponsibly put a dangerous one on the market.

As to cholesterol-conquering statins, the Guardian’s Sarah Boseley wrote that the metadata of studies published in the Lancet concluded that over five years, a daily statin would prevent 1,000 heart attacks, strokes, and coronary artery bypasses among 10,000 people who had already experienced one of these medical maladies. Further, statins could prevent heart attacks in those at increased risk because of high blood pressure or diabetes. Weight, age, blood pressure, and family history can help doctors estimate the chances of a patient having a heart attack, and statins are recommended for anyone with a 10 percent chance of one.

The SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, notes that prevention is much more than gulping statins and refraining from having a bacon double cheeseburger. A balanced approach would include healthy weight maintenance and exercise, a genetics also plays a key role. I have been a vegetarian for half my life and still have slightly elevated cholesterol levels. My love of cheese and milk contributes to that, but so does what I inherited.

Indeed, cholesterol is only one factor leading to heart attacks. Skeptic leader Robert Todd Carroll explained that, “There is not a strong body of peer-reviewed published research that shows that a person who eats a low-fat diet is guaranteed to have low cholesterol, which will prevent that person from getting atherosclerosis, which in turn will prevent that person from getting a heart attack. Nor is there strong evidence that a person who eats lots of animal fat will get high cholesterol and get atherosclerosis and die of a heart attack as a result. Other factors include past health history and the current state of your health, your family history with cholesterol levels and heart disease, your genetic predisposition to high cholesterol and/or heart disease, and do you smoke, are you grossly overweight, and do you exercise?”

While it is a near consensus among nutrition scientists that excess amounts of bad cholesterol is detrimental, those same persons hold that it is but one factor in a person’s heart attack susceptibility. But Ravnskov creates a strawman that those scientists feel diet alone causes high cholesterol, which in turn is the sole determinant for heart attacks.

He also misuses statistics to try and bolster his point. For example, he cited the Framingham Heart Study, which concluded that decreasing levels of cholesterol are associated with increased mortality among older participants. He interprets this to mean that either decreasing cholesterol is detrimental for all or that cutting cholesterol intake is a significant causal factor for mortality. He further notes that since 1970, fatal heart attacks in Japan have declined while animal fat consumption has increased. He considers this evidence that animal fat in the diet is not a major cause of heart disease and that “good cholesterol” is redundant.

But this is post hoc reasoning as wells as confusing correlation and causation. First, as an elderly person’s health declines, they tend toward malnourishment, which will invariably lower cholesterol. Second, persons are surviving heart attacks more often today because of better focus on proper nutrition and medical advances such as statins and a daily aspirin following such incidents. To prove his point, Ravnskov needs to show data that as persons increase animal fat intake, their chances of a fatal heart attack decrease.   

Ravnskov also considers it a myth that high fat foods cause heart disease since studies do not show that a diet high in saturated fat is a sufficient condition to bring on a heart attack or that a diet low in saturated fat is a sufficient condition to prevent a heart attack.

But he mixes up “cause” with “sufficient condition.” Carroll wrote, “Some causes are necessary but not sufficient conditions. For example, some viruses must be present and thus are necessary conditions for certain diseases to occur. But they are not sufficient conditions, as the virus may be present but not manifest itself in illness.” Similarly, a high fat diet by itself may be an insufficient condition to cause heart disease, but it can be a major contributing factor in some people, as can family medical history, smoking, obesity, and stress.

In another misunderstanding of statistics, Ravnskov noted that 20 percent of those who die from heart attacks have never had atherosclerosis so he therefore concludes that the condition doesn’t cause heart attacks. But only 10 percent of smokers get lung cancer, while just .1 percent of nonsmokers do. The reasonable conclusion here is not that tobacco is relatively harmless with regard to lung cancer since only 10 percent of smokers get it. Rather, the logical lesson it that smoking is hazardous because it increases one’s chances of getting lung cancer by 100 times.  

The cholesterol contrarian also plays the Galileo Gambit by saying he is persecuted for his beliefs. And perhaps he is. But that’s because he’s dispensing lethal medical advice, not because he’s being repressed by a powerful cabal of pharmaceutical executives, scientific stooges, and skeptic bloggers.

“Long-term project” (Holographic moon)


Most conspiracy theorists prefer their iconoclastic status and for those wishing to take it even further, there are alternatives to the alternatives. These include the idea of Earth being hollow instead of flat; a fondness for Lumeria instead of Atlantis; and whispers that Israelis were behind 9/11 instead of the U.S. government.

Then we have the conviction that the moon is a hologram, which while not precisely inconsistent with flat Earth beliefs would leave little room for common ground. One of the few astronomical observations flat Earthers get right is that our satellite is indeed in motion. They believe it exists and moves about, while hologram proponents reject such notions.

While the idea of a holographic moon is comical, I was surprised by the anger that believers have over what they feel is a repressed truth. Of course, we here are much more concerned with their evidence than their emotions, so let’s dive into the former.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this leads us to YouTube. The user Crrow777 claims that when gazing skyward at night power glitches in an artificial electrical system are revealed. They probably are if one looks long enough and is determined to reach such a conclusion. But his corroborating evidence is limited to referencing three unidentified individuals with secret information and unspecified Russian scientists also in the know.

He leaves several questions unanswered, or unasked for that matter. These include: What causes a solar or lunar eclipse? What causes gravitational pull on Earth and the resulting tides? How do radio signals bounce off a three-dimensional light projection? How would a hologram emit gamma rays, which are detected coming from the moon?

Further, what is the incentive for the thousands of persons would need to have been in on this for millenniums and who exist in every part of the world, including islands several hundred miles away from any other land mass? Such as Bouvet, an uninhabited hump of coral 1,100 miles from any human and which is visited only annually by Norwegian scientists, who still see a moon when they’re there.

Residents of Tristan de Cunha are 1,500 miles from any other terra firma, yet even on this extremely remote, airstrip-free locale, someone would need to be present to perpetrate the ruse from the ground or broadcast it from a manmade satellite (like I said, hologram enthusiasts and flat Earthers don’t get along too well). Sailors circumnavigating the globe have always been able to use our satellite as a guide and modern-day jet passengers on a long distance overnight flight would see the hologram disappear.  

Moreover, how did the hologram plotter’s predecessors manage this 100, 1,000, and 10,000 years ago? Ancient cultures referenced the moon and based rituals, festivals, and planting and harvesting seasons around it. This was done by societies all over the world, meaning the conspiracy would have to have been coordinated with persons up to 10,000 miles apart who had no way of communicating with each other. 

The website revisionism.nl touches on parts of this by stating that the projection “could have been different things at different times and different places, depending on the technology available to the conspirators and the culture and beliefs of the population being deceived. Perhaps it began as a collective hallucination or a religious myth, or perhaps an especially bright star that came to be exaggerated over time. However the moon story started, early proponents of the hoax were swift to recognize how it could be exploited for their benefit, and shrewdly devised a scheme to use it to their advantage.”

Who they were, how they perpetrated it, what they gained, and how they passed the secret down for 50,000 years are all left unanswered, and no evidence is offered for this haphazard hypothesis.

Ccrow777’s cohort Dave Johnson opens his videos with a notice that includes personal attacks, hostility to opposing views, and superfluous apostrophes and articles: “I care less than NOTHING for your opinion or recollection’s from a Science book Dummies.”

Johnson points to a purple fringe that appear when he zooms in on the moon with his camcorder, not explaining why that would be consistent with a hologram or why a hologram would be the only explanation for a purple fringe.

The skeptic YouTuber ColdHardLogic replied that different colors of light refract while passing through a lens. Part of the lens function, in fact, is to bring light to a desired focal plane. And since different wavelengths of light are refracted by different amounts, they are focused at different points, and can result in visual phenomena since as purple fringes.

Gawker’s Dayna Evans unearthed a Facebook group asking questions such as how a supposed barren wasteland like the moon could glow. Since I’m assuming the persons asking this have no fourth-grade science books handy, I’ll let them know it’s caused by the sun’s light reflecting off it.

Meanwhile, revisionism.nl’s About section highlights continual changes to the moon’s brightness, shape, size, and color, though those changes would seem INCONSISTENT with a holographic projection. The site maintainers don’t entertain competing notions, but do allow some internal dialogue as to how conspirators display the image: “It could be a hologram, projected from various government installations throughout the world. It could be a large, crudely painted balloon held in place by helium and propelled by tiny sails and rudders, which is why it moves across the sky so slowly.”

A third option that’s floated, so to speak, is that chemtrails leave behind a screen on which the hologram is shone. This would push the notion of chemtrails back several thousand years, which would get conspiracy theorists excited, but it leaves unanswered the question of why this screen fails to respond to sunlight during times the hologram is seen during the day.

A fourth option to explain the cratered white rock in the night sky is that a round satellite formed 4  billion years ago when Earth collided with another planet, and gravity has kept this heavenly body orbiting our planet ever since. During this time, humans visited this astronomical neighbor and brought back souvenir rocks. Gotta tell you, I’m definitely getting good use out of this fourth-grade science book today.

“Double-busted suit” (LaCroix ingredients)


A lawsuit alleges that canned LaCroix contains an ingredient found in cockroach insecticide. While the accusation is likely true, it does not follow that the bubbly liquid doubles as a bug killer or that it is in any way dangerous.

Of much greater concern is the scientific ignorance that would lead to such a suit being filed. Food and beverage production is a form of chemistry and, like many folks, those handling this attempted money-grab have a poor understanding of how that branch of science works.

The lawsuit contends that LaCroix includes linalool, which is used in pesticides. But what matters is the amount of an ingredient and what it’s combined with. Christie Aschwanden of 538 points out that the drink is mostly dihydrogen monoxide, which “is a major component of acid rain, corrodes and oxidize metals and can be fatal when inhaled.” And we are intentionally putting it in ourselves!

Aschwanden added that while linalool is used in some products that combat cockroaches, “calling it an insecticide is like saying that citric acid is a paint remover simply because some such products contain it.” She also quoted  flavor chemist Gary Reineccius, who said linalool is found in many fruits and it gives blueberries their flavor.

With regard to the other disputed LaCroix ingredients, limonene and linalool propionate are common plant chemicals that are no cause for concern, according to Reineccius. He called limonene is a naturally occurring plant compound and noted linalool propionate is found in lavender and sage oils that some of the nature-loving litigants may be lathering themselves with.

A separate aspect of the suit alleges fraud by the company since the self-described all-natural LaCroix contains ingredients the FDA labels synthetic. While the three ingredients do appear on such an FDA list, that’s because they can be synthesized in a laboratory, but they also appear in nature.

In a press release, LaCroix officials said the ingredients it uses are derived naturally, so they should defend themselves from this charge. But from a science perspective, the more relevant point is that there’s no chemical difference between linalool that excretes from a plant and linalool that is assembled in a petri dish.  

Aschwanden wrote that if one saw a coconut drink can promising “natural favor,” many persons envision the hard brown tropical fruit being cracked open and emptied. Yet in some cases, this natural flavor is actually a castor oil derivative that tastes like coconut. And all is well. Reineccius explained, “It makes a beautiful coconut flavor and it’s perfectly safe and wholesome. You can label it ‘all-natural,’ but it’s not from coconut.”

To food chemists like Reineccius, it’s science at work. To those who make and fall for appeals to nature, it makes for a mortifying truth.  

But even when desirable, natural will only get you so far. Aschawnden noted one could make a drink at home with water, fruit, and sugar. But to be sold commercially, it would need to be uniform, have shelf life, conform to safety regulations, and follow often-byzantine rules.

To accomplish that, food chemists work to create durable, lasting, tasty products that sometimes end up at the center of a misguided lawsuit.

“Asbestos reproval business” (Previous science errors)


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.

“Carb berater” (Keto diet)


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)


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)


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)


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.