“Muscle & Witless” (Liver King)

Brian Johnson endorses what he calls an extreme case of primal living. In other words, he embraces the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy. This is when some time in the past – the 1950s, the Old West, the Medieval era, or something less concrete – is touted as ideal and a period whose values we should emulate. This requires cherry picking at best and a complete mangling of history at worst.

Additionally for Johnson, his claim fell horribly flat when leaked e-mails revealed that his Muscle & Fitness-cover physique came from the relatively recent invention of anabolic steroids. He may have consumed raw animal organs and gobbled some undefined supplements as he claimed, but it was steroids that resulted in his brawn.

Johnson said he started weightlifting because classmates were bullying him. That’s possible, although when the central tenet of a person’s existence is proven fraudulent, it’s hard to believe anything else they say.

Eventually, he founded Ancestral Supplements, which borrowed heavily from the ideas of author Sally Fallon. Her philosophy eschews modern diets and lifestyles. Applied physiologist Dr. Nick Tiller wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “With so much competition in a saturated space, Johnson needed to distinguish himself among fitness influencers…so in 2021, the Liver King was born.”

This body organ monarch said he followed a list of Tenets, which were eat, sleep, move, connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond. As one example of what this meant, move refers to being active, usually by walking, to, as Teller explained, “combat the mismatch between our genetics that evolved when humans were required to expend energy to obtain it, and our modern environment, characterized by an abundance of empty calories.”

The sleep portion highlights sleep quality, which the hypothesis holds is best managed by regular sleep cycles and blocking blue light at bedtime. Both these Tenets have some validity but when Johnson starts dispensing nutritional advice, things get dicey. His suggested intake is a supreme form of the mostly-debunked Paleo Diet. This lifestyle emphasizes consuming large amounts of organ meat.

Tiller notes organ meat contains copious amounts of iron, zinc, and riboflavin, so its consumption can be advantageous. But there is the flip side, which includes high saturated fat and cholesterol. Further, the diet embraces raw milk and raw egg yolks, both of which have potential dangers.

While ground organs have been used as food for many years, it does not go all the way back to early homo sapiens. According to Tiller, their diet leaned heavily on meat when it was dry and a more plant-based, high-fiber approach during the wet times. Despite this, Johnson insists that we modern humans are descended from “the baddest mammalian predators that ever lived,” and we owe it to their legacy and honor to eat like they did. Curiously, this mindset does not extend to eschewing electronics, sleeping in a mud hut, or wearing loincloths.

While he lauded raw eggs and organs, Johnson most enthusiastically ingested synthetic testosterone, several anabolic and androgenic steroids, plus various drugs which mediate the effects of growth hormone and stimulate appetite.

Johnson’s claim that his physique was owed to food choice and sleeping patterns was comical to anyone possessing the slightest common sense. Attaining his form is impossible without massive doses of steroids and similar concoctions. The assertion that his extreme muscle size and definition was the result of diet and lifestyle choice was absurd on its face. Additionally, if true, it would mean that everyone in the time that he is claiming to mimic would have looked the same as he does now.

Johnson tries to maintain an image of back to nature, the good old (this case really old) days and embracing extreme manhood. Yet he enjoys the luxury lifestyle that this image enables him to attain. Teller describes the comical nature of how Johnson presents himself: “He’s often pictured with spears and other weapons, holding handfuls of raw meat that look as though they’ve been cut straight from an animal’s carcass. He owns four Dobermans and a fleet of trucks including a Hummer and an American Tank from World War II…and uses a rifle to obliterate vegan food.”

Teller also points out the hypocritical irony of Johnson taping himself destroying a WiFi router because it is modern, while employing a technology unavailable 150 years ago to tape this destruction. And, of course, Johnson needs the Internet to hawk his products and image.

His one accurate claim of continuing tradition is his following in the line of anti-science charlatans that have plagued society for the last millennium.

“Get a cue” (Body language)

A droopy head can reveal discouragement, a furrowed brow can mean concentration, and an upward glance can indicate boredom. Or perhaps these actions reveal none of those things. Despite this uncertainty, a cottage industry has sprung up starring analysts and consultants who purport to know what a person is thinking based on nonverbal cues. But while they may lack the intentional fraud of psychics, their success record is not much better.

Astrophysicist Ramin Skibba wrote about this in an article for Undark and he cited an example of a language consultant who interpreted Joe Biden’s downward look at his podium as withdrawal. Or possibly a sign of self-control. These contradictory interpretations give the claimant wiggle room and are akin to horoscopes. Another commonality with astrologers is telling a person what they want to hear. For example, the president’s people would be told Biden was exhibiting this self-control, while the opponent’s team would be told he had been beaten into submission.

No real harm would be done in these cases. By contrast, a self-described body language expert being trusted by police officers, airline screeners, and federal agents to gauge truthfulness can be unsettling. A suspect wrongly deemed to be prevaricating, a Muslim would-be traveler, or a job applicant falsely accused of lying about past deeds could have serious ramifications for the victim.

Most assertions by body language interpreters have yet to be tested by science in a controlled setting. For example, Skibba wrote, “Claims that a single gesture reliably indicates what a person thinks or desires are not backed by solid evidence.” It is a patchwork of guesses, assumptions, and whim.

It is true that research teams have looked at how the brain reacts to facial expressions and how newborns imitate adult gestures. But scientists have also discovered that body language can be complex and granular, making solid declarations of what certain gestures mean to be challenging at best. Skibba quoted University of Idaho communication researcher Dawn Sweet, who informed him, “There’s not likely to be a single behavior diagnostic ever to be found” to indicate if someone is untruthful or experiencing a specific emotion.

Sweet prefers to look at someone’s body language and spoken words together, since they often say the same things. She and her fellow researchers also examine if the body language is consistent for them or an outlier.
Sweet cites a meta analysis of studies centering on 1,300 estimates of 158 possible deception signs. The studies focused on cues people might associate with lying, such as looking down or quickly botting their head. Researchers found such cues have little connection to whether a subject is lying. A person might appear uncomfortable at a given moment, but observers rarely know why. It could be dependent on the situation, person, and culture.

“Bear in mind” (Playing dead)

Feigning death when a predator approaches acts as a common defense tactic in the animal kingdom. Some creatures additionally have the ability to release foul-smelling liquids that resemble a rotting carcass (sounds like a Cannibal Corpse song), which might cause the hunter to presume the animal would be dangerous to consume. Playing dead has varying degrees of success among snakes, possums, and even fleas, but does it work for us homo sapiens?

Skeptical Inquirer considered this question and found it was a sound strategy against just one in seven animals.

The technique is most commonly associated with bears. Even the strongest man is no match for the smallest adult bear, all of whom can outrun Usain Bolt. Therefore, coming upon a bruin is one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

The response most likely to yield life-preserving results depends on the type of bear. With the black variety, the initial strategy should be one of intimidation, as these bears prefer to stay away from us, a favor we return. If in their territory, use a booming voice, bang wood together, ring bells, just generally make noise. If spotted by a black bear, you’ll want to make yourself as big as possible, make as much noise as you can, and slowly back away. Never run, do not seek out shelter in a tree, and do not play dead.

Grizzlies, that’s another story. Playing dead here is a sound strategy, though it’s not the first one. Backing off is the way to go. This should be done slowly, no sudden moves or running. And no matter how big a person is or makes themselves look, they will still be dwarfed by a grizzly, so trying to make one’s self seem large could serve no purpose other than making the bear think you are threatening it. If the grizzly charges, this is where the cliché of curling up and covering one’s head applies. If encountering a polar bear, first, you have likely ended up in Svalbard. Second, lie low, then curl into the tightest ball possible, so as to kiss your ass goodbye.

Now we move to the Feline and Canine families and consider cougars, coyotes, and wolves.
For any of these mammalian predators, the sound strategy is to play the antithesis of dead, being loud and animated. Making a gunshot sound is recommended, especially against cougars. With wolves, maintaining eye contact is advised, contrary to the usual response to encountering most predators. Fighting any of these should only take place if attacked.

Now onto the slithery portion. Snakes are not the fastest representative of the animal kingdom, so running away is usually a good idea – but only if one has not been bitten. If struck by a venomous snake, the poison will make its way faster through a moving body. To try to avoid the situation in the first place, be loud if in a suspected snake habitat.

Meanwhile, run way from crocodiles alligators, and caimans. Scaling a tree will also work. These critters’ nostrils and eyes are their only areas not protected by scales so go for those if unfortunately close enough to do so.

Sharks have a fearsome reputation, mostly undeserved. The great majority are of relatively small size and pose no threat to people. And the ones who are a threat prefer fatty animals like seals and walruses. There is some speculation that sharks sometimes mistake surfboarders paddling out to sea for a seal, take a hunk out of them, don’t like the taste, and move on. Shark attacks are uncommon and fatal ones quite rare. That being said, if you are in such a dire situation as shark approaching or observing you, make yourself as small as possible but keep your eyes on the animal. Move away slowly and calmly (easier said than done in this predicament). Go for the nose and gills if attacked.

Moose can usually be run off by a good show of waving arms and loud yells, but if that fails, the play dead stereotype is the best bet. If it’s not too late, backing away slowly.

When I encountered a herd of yaks in Mongolia, I marveled at them but owing to their massive size, I kept my distance. By contrast, any number of YouTube idiots have ambled up to large and/or dangerous beasts with predictable results. So follow my strategy of maintaining separation, in addition to employing common sense and prevention. The latter includes keeping food stored, hiking and camping with companions, and becoming familiar with what animals are native and what techniques should be employed if you meet up with one. Or to be safer still, stay home and watch Hulu.

“All’s well that spends well” (Wellness industry)

There are several critical thinking errors associated with wellness, an intentionally vague term that can mean most anything a marketer, company, or user wishes it to.

Some of these are among the most frequent logical fallacies, such as the ad populum. Here, the ubiquity and popularity of a product is considered synonymous with its efficiency. Sometimes products sell because they work but other times it is due to who is endorsing it, a savvy marketing approach, or manipulated data.

Another frequent fallacy which is seen in wellness products is the appeal to tradition. While some traditions endure because they are good, others exist only because that’s the way we’ve always done it (i.e. circumcision or the Lions playing on Thanksgiving). Tradition is another way of saying inertia and the duration something has been done has no bearing on its soundness. If I punched myself in the mouth every morning, that would be a bad idea. At no point would it morph into a good idea because it had been done for a certain time length.

Still another frequent fallacy that makes its way into wellness marketing is the appeal to nature. This extends to other areas too, where with the exception of motor oil, synthetic is presumed to be undesirable. Appealing to nature is gold for the wellness industry since it targets those who think they are getting back to the way things were in a glorious past, be that our grandparents’ time or the Paleo era.

Proponents will use “natural” and let the assumption be that means foods the way nature intended. Or it is meant to bring to mind snowcapped mountains and flowing streams when it also means arsenic and box jellyfish venom.

I sometimes see a putative list of ingredients in fries or chicken sandwiches as sold in the US as opposed to their counterparts in other countries. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of either nation’s food constituency, but the implication is that the number of ingredients, along with their polysyllabic nature, means they are dangerous. There is no truth to this. Writing for Skeptical Inquirer, Nick Tiller gave this example: “Consider two glucose molecules —one synthesized in a lab and one found in nature. Both have the chemical formula C6H12O6, both appear as identical under an electron microscope, and both will have an identical effect on the body when consumed.”

Now we’ll move onto some fallacies that are less seen in general but which are still common in the wellness industry. We’ll start with the use of pseudoscience. This refers to using scientific terms improperly or fabricating terminology designed to sound scientific. In any event, the goal is to obfuscate.

Tiller cited the PowerBalance bracelet that enjoyed popularity among elite athletes early this century. It purported to harness the power of “holographic technology,” which is not a thing, with the bracelets said to be “embedded with frequencies that react positively with the body’s energy fields.” Frequency, positivity, and energy are all legitimate scientific terms but as used here are meaningless. Always beware of references to energy and remember that this refers to “measurable work capability.” Insert this phrase in place of “energy” when you see it in ads and it will usually become clear that the claim is absurd.

Along with energy, other words frequently bandied about are balance, immunity, and anti-inflammatory. Again, these are all valid concepts but likely are not so in the way they are used in wellness advertisements. At other times, the peddlers will just coin a term like bioharmonic in hopes of impressing the scientifically illiterate.

While hardly the exclusive purview of wellness, the industry it often guilty of observational selection, which refers to only counting the results you like. I have gone on extreme diets before and lost 25 pounds in a matter of a few weeks. I could highlight this as a success, but to tell the whole story, I would need to tell what happened when I went back to my old habits rather than instituting a lifestyle change. Ignoring such stories enables companies to tell the truth, but not the whole truth.

We also often see a confusing of correlation with causation, often in the form of post hoc reasoning. There might be a connection or it might by coincidence or it could be causation. But we need data and double blind studies to determine this, not anecdotes. As Tiller explained, “Personal accounts trigger emotion and contrast sharply with empty messages from large data sets of cold numbers and statistics. Products are often sold alongside customer testimonials and ‘before and after’ images to compensate for a lack of scientific legitimacy.”

“Thoughts for food” (Raw and organic myths)

For a food to be labeled organic, it must meet a set of established criteria. For it to be considered raw requires no distinction other than not being cooked or prepared in any way. Despite these differences, both organic and raw foods are the focus of rumors that are partially or completely false.

We’ll start with raw, which can be a more nutritious offering than its cooked alternative (depending on how those types are prepared), in addition to being cheaper than their packaged-with-added-ingredients counterpart. However, some enthusiasts go beyond these attributes to make some dubious claims.

For example, they assert wild animals, who consume only raw food, never get sick, a desirable fate which would befall us of we did the same. This is, literally, wildly off the mark, as disease is a leading contributor to animal mortality. Further, the few persons who subscribe to an entirely all-raw food diet sometimes fall ill just like the rest of us.

A less extreme but just as mistaken claim is that munching raw foods increases the consumer’s lifespan. It might make one’s life healthier but there will be no appreciable delaying of death. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked into this and concluded, “The greatest driver in longevity is heredity. Diet is not a significant factor, statistically.”

Looking at the raw numbers, so to speak, there can appear to be a longer lifespan attached to such a diet, but this is because most raw foodists become so in adulthood and never succumbed to fatal newborn or child illnesses and disease. So an apparently increased lifespan would be true amongst almost any adult group, be they red meat lovers, fruitarians, or stamp collectors.

Another mistaken notion is that we are the only meat-eating primates. In truth, most apes are omnivorous. And even if true, this claim would have no bearing on the health benefits of raw fruits and vegetables.

Still another erroneous idea is that cooking foods zaps nutritious enzymes, without which the body struggles to properly digest food. However, we naturally produce digestive enzymes, which make their way through our glands. Moreover, almost anything that is digested is destroyed in the process, which in fact describes digestion. Dunning noted that this process causes enzymes to break down into amino acids, which are absorbed by the intestines.

Most of these notions were based on a false premise or a misunderstanding. Others are total fabrications, such as the claim that white blood cells rush to the stomach to try and fend off the poison that cooked foods yield. This is a complete myth and unsubstantiated fear-mongering.
There is also an assertion that cooking makes organic compounds non-organic. This is an impossibility. Dunning explained that organic chemistry “is the study of carbon compounds, and organic compounds are those formed by living organisms, with molecules containing two or more carbon atoms, linked by carbon-carbon bonds.”

Yet carbon-carbon bonds only begin to break at 750 degrees, so unless preferring one’s chicken carbonara in a charred-beyond-recognition state, this bond-breaking won’t happen. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, as we will see in the second portion of this piece, the focus on organic food. When my children ask what that is, I usually tell them it means more expensive. If I am feeling loquacious enough, I will add that it is supposed to mean grown without synthetic chemicals, though there are about 30 exceptions and even then, natural is no safer than artificial. With that, let’s examine some of the claims associated with organic food.

One is that buying organic food benefits family farms rather than Big Agra, or some such smear. This is wholly untrue since organic food is a corporate behemoth. Dunning explained that major food producers realized the commercial potential of organic would allow them to charge higher prices for fewer products. According to Dunning, “Nearly all organic crops in the United States are either grown, distributed, or sold by the same companies who produce conventional crops.”

A second claim is that organic foods are healthier. But when farmers take the same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same. Genes, rather than production method, determine a food’s chemical makeup.

Additionally, some organic enthusiasts say chemical residue remains on non-organic foods. Perhaps, but since organic pesticides are less efficient than their synthetic counterparts, such foods are saturated with up to seven times as many pesticides as what is used with conventional agriculture. Further, organic food, which is one percent of food sold in the US, is responsible for eight percent of E. coli cases.

Finally, we have the notion that organic growing methods are better for the environment. This is also wide of the mark since organic methods require about twice the acreage to produce the same crop.

Eat raw and/or organic if you want to, just do in knowing the facts.

“Taking a charge”(Electric car myths)

Electric vehicle detractors make a number of claims which have a grain of truth and others which lack even this single morsel.

For example, they have pointed out that there is not enough infrastructure to support an explosion in electrical vehicle usage. It is true that if today, magically, the number of such means of conveyance tripled, there would be an insufficient support network. However, when the internal combustion engine was a novelty, there were no auto mechanics, gasoline stations, or AAA. The market adapted and evolved, as would be the case if the number of electric vehicles mushroomed.

The disdain for EVs is comparable to that for veganism. The mythological protestor chiming in with “Meat is Murder” on a beef page is nowhere to be seen. Yet when one posts an animal-free recipe, the majority of replies feature anger, derision, and revulsion. In the same vein, a post about a traditional vehicle will likely merit no negative comments or at least none that condemns the industry in totality. By sharp contrast, information about EVs is met with hostility, mocking, and perhaps even a declaration that they are a plot to conquer and control the population.

One of the least venomous arguments is that they are too expensive. And while EVs do cost more on average than their gasoline counterparts, the price has been steadily declining as they become more common. More importantly, as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning points out, there is more than retail price at play. When one considers resale, maintenance, fuel costs, and depreciation, EVs come out ahead. Imagine 10 years of no trips to the gas pump and no oil changes, all while having fewer components that can break down, and one can see the long-term benefit.

Next, let’s tackle the notion that charging can take untold hours. Compared to the two minutes it takes to complete a gasoline refueling, this seems like a lot of wasted time. But Dunning noted that most users only charge as much they need to get to their next destination so most don’t spend three hours waiting around for the charge to complete. Dunning reported that he spent a month on an 8,000-mile drive (aided by Tesla’s autopilot), where he averaged about 10 minutes per recharge. While that’s a little longer than one spends pumping gasoline, if you throw in a restroom break and a Snickers purchase that are common on cross-country journeys, it’s the same amount of time. Moreover, an EV can be powered at home, which is where about 75 percent of recharging takes place. There is no gasoline refueling equivalent in most people’s driveway.

Another expense-related criticism is that the batteries need frequent replacement at $40,000 a pop. This is a total myth. Dunning wrote, “EV batteries last just as long as, and are far more reliable than, car engines. You’re no more likely to need to replace an EV battery than you are your V8. And even if you did, federal law in the United States requires EV batteries to be warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles.”

Moving onto the more fear-based complaints, there is the notion that an EV driver is in a bad way if the battery dies. This is sometimes extrapolated to a dystopian scene where all cars are electric and the duped drivers all remain stuck in a blizzard or backed up traffic, resulting in all the cars transforming into a makeshift coffin. While being stranded is undesirable, poor decision making by a single EV driver is no more a condemnation of the entire concept than a motorist running out of gas is an indictment of the entire oil industry. Dunning wrote that he once was unable to recharge because the power in town went out. Stupid him, right? Well, only if one applies the same distinction to the hundreds of traditional vehicle drivers who were also unable to refuel due to the electrical outage. As to everyone being stuck to die together, this is based partly on the myth that the batteries don’t hold a charge for very long. This is untrue, and would be especially so if the car were idling.

Detractors raise concerns about environmental and humanitarian disasters – isolated concerns from a segment not usually worried about such things. Those who consider the damage that climate change does to Earth and its inhabitants to be mythological now fret over the harm caused by lithium mining. However, we need to do more than to appeal to hypocrisy. We need to look at whether this is a valid worry.

Dunning writes, “Lithium…is more an issue of supply and demand and cost. It creates ugly open-pit mines but is not particularly dirty or destructive. Most lithium mining is in Australia, which complies very well with environmental regulations.”

But that still leaves cobalt, which traditionally has had the worst humanitarian impact. Much of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and mining there has often been done in deplorable conditions, sometimes by children.

This is of utmost concern, but Dunning noted that international pressure and increasing demand has tempered the problem. “The picture has changed dramatically,” he wrote. “Demand has surged to the point where child laborers can no longer meet it. About half of Congolese cobalt mines are owned by well-financed Chinese companies, and the vast majority of Congolese cobalt is now produced in mechanized open-pit mines with heavy equipment and not a child laborer in sight.”

This is not to suggest all is well. According to Dunning, there are still 40,000 Congolese children, and it is therefore necessary is to continue to monitor the companies producing cobalt and to snuff out their use of child labor.

As to EVs impact on planet health, when considering the entire production and use cycle, the average electric car generates half as much greenhouse gas as the average internal combustion vehicle.

Finally, there is the myth that the grid is insufficient to support a significant uptick in EVs. In truth, EVs make a modest impact on the grid. An entire electric fleet would add about 10 percent to overall demand. And since any increase would be gradual, proper planning and management could alleviate any trouble.

“No smoking” (Ancient Egyptian tobacco)

There is no evidence of ancient Egyptians having made it to North America, nor any evidence of tobacco in the land and time of the pharaohs. But in 1997, Discovery aired a program which featured German toxicologist Svetlana Balabanova, who had discovered nicotine in an Egyptian mummy. This was touted as proof that there had been trade between Egypt and the Americas thousands of years before historians and archeologists thought those cultures had collided.

Further, a 1978 letter in the Anthropological Journal of Canada claimed mummies sometimes contained tobacco residue and other writings told of found tobacco beetles making their way to the remains of Rameses II. All this seemed to point, rather conclusively, to the idea that Egyptians had access to tobacco.

In her research, Balabanova tested the hair of an obscure priestess named Henut Taui and discovered high nicotine levels in her body, and subsequently co-authored a brief article published in a German scientific publication.

However, Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning writes, “The paper’s rejection by the scientific community was both immediate and nearly universal.” Balabanova had suggested perhaps mourners had burned tobacco to fumigate insects and the mummy had therefore received high doses of nicotine. However, Dunning notes that pharaohs would almost certainly have had no role in the dirtiest part of fumigation efforts, especially with the frequency that would be required for their corpses to be heavily laden with it. Additionally, there was better reason for tobacco’s presence, and for that we look to the work of archaeologist Paul Buckland and Eva Panagiotakopulu, an etymological expert.

Dunning noted that only well into the 20th Century did archaeology place a premium on preservation, having been more interested until that time with exploitation and financial gain. He writes, “Conservation of specimens was rudimentary at best. Records were often nonexistent, mummies and artifacts moved around, each one inviting potential contamination. During all of those moves, many of the people who worked on Rameses II or were in his vicinity smoked like chimneys.”

Moreover, mummies often suffered from insect damage or infestations, and so were often treated with insecticide in the form of powdered tobacco. Since the mummy Balabanova focused on was laden with nicotine, then we can safely conclude it had been treated in this common way. There is no need to insist that the only possible explanation is that ancient Egyptians had trade contact with the New World.

“Emission magician” (Climate change denial)

Conspiracy theories sometimes do exist, just usually not in the way their opponents envision. Consider how executives in the fossil fuel industry have banded together with public relations firms to deny anthropogenic climate change.

Dr. Steven Novella cited a Harvard study which concluded that ExxonMobil “misled the public about basic climate science and its implications. It did so by contributing quietly to climate science, and loudly to promoting doubt about that science.”

Also, the BBC reported on a trio public relations specialists- Don Rheem, Terry Yosie, and Bruce Harrison – who were hired to sow doubt on climate science. They worked for the Global Climate Coalition, an organization intended to sound environmentally friendly and dedicated to solutions, when it was anything but. They were, in fact, comprised of oil, coal, automotive, utilities, steel, and rail executives. All of these industries release significant greenhouse gas. The group rose to prominence after the 1992 presidential election, which saw an oil industry buddy was replaced by an environmentally-conscious one.

Thus began the climate hoax hoax. Harrison employed the methods and strategies he had while resisting auto industry regulations and questioning the dangers of tobacco. His tactics included authoring a string of editorials, background pieces for journalists, and advertising, all of which cast doubt on the consensus of climate scientists.

The tactic worked, as few journalists know much about the hellaciously complex topic. Further, the scientists handpicked for this ruse seemed to present knowledge and balance. I was a print journalist at this time and certainly I would have quoted both sides and lacked the expertise to ask serious questions or throw doubt on any claims.

As to the climate scientists who knew better, what they had in scientific expertise they lacked in media skills and knowledge of how to fend off well-funded disinformation campaigns.

Novella wrote, “Journalists need to learn how to report science in general, controversial science in particular, and how not to become the lap dogs of industry propaganda.” Meanwhile, he continued, those they are reporting on – scientists and professors – should “develop their knowledge and skills in dealing with the public understand of science and other complex topics, and to make it a much higher academic priority.”

Novella and others such as Kevin Folta, Neil Tyson, and Brian Dunning, serve as a mix of skeptics/scientists and journalists, so their contribution help, but more headway is still needed in making more journalists science-literate and more scientists media savvy.

“Rounding up the numbers” (Glysophate fears)

Glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup, has been attacked since 2015 when the International Association for Research on Cancer concluded that the weed killer was likely carcinogenic for agricultural workers who used it regularly for years on end.

University of Florida horticulture sciences professor Kevin Folta noted that when it comes to cancer risk, glyphosate resides in the same category as eating processed meat, getting too much sun, and toiling as a barber. The same conclusion that IARC reached mentioned that glyphosate shows no signs of being dangerous in trace amounts in food.

The latest concern over the product centers on a report showing that it shows up in the urine samples of 80 percent of the population. Folta writes that this sounds alarming but a longer look reveals there’s little to worry about.

That’s because four decades of research have shown no epidemiological or/molecular evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. Also, the latest report uses terms such as “tied to cancer” and “linked to cancer,” but those are not scientific designations but rather attempts to tie together disparate items and suggest causality. In truth, they are nothing more than correlation, tenuous connections, and statistical anomalies.

As to the traces in our piss, the CDC assessment never measured how much was there, it merely noted if it was present. There is no reason to think there is any danger here. Researchers are not finding dangerous levels in urine or blood. The reason that any can be detected is that chemists have devised products efficient enough to detect 0.2 nanograms per milliliter of glyphosate in aqueous solutions like urine. That’s 200 parts per trillion. This poses no risk, since as always, toxicity is determined by amount, not substance. Further, glyphosate easily passes through the body, making it a carcinogen even less likely.

“Numb-bers” (COVID vaccine harms)

My children and I like to make an annual trek to the apple orchard each fall. Then there are those who prefer cherry picking. These types misuse numbers by design or by misinterpretation, leading to erroneous conclusions.

Let’s take the case of Dr. Peter Doshi, whom three doctors with Science Based Medicine accuse of beginning with an assumption that vaccines ineffective and harmful. He then crams in any data that seems to support this while dismissing any evidence, no matter how voluminous or persuasive, to the contrary.

His latest effort, “Serious Adverse Events of Special Interest Following mRNA Vaccination in Randomized Trials,” concluded that, “The excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest surpassed the risk reduction for COVID-19 hospitalization relative to the placebo group in both Pfizer and Moderna trials.”

The numbers he used were accurate but egregiously misused. It is similar the possibly Apocryphal story about Pravda reporting that the US and USSR had a two-car auto race won by the Americans – by printing that the Soviets had come in second and the USA next to last.

Doshi’s tactics included double- or triple-counting any harm suffered by those who received a vaccine, while not doing that for the unvaccinated. For example, a vaccinated patient who had gastroenteritis and abdominal pain counted as two adverse reactions, whereas any unvaxxed person hospitalized for COVID counted as one, regardless of how many symptoms they displayed, or how serious the impact was.

An even bigger deficiency was Doshi failing to account for long-term results. How quickly a virus spreads can impact how long it takes a vaccine’s benefits to be seen. By contrast, nearly all vaccine harms occur right after receiving the shot. This means almost all adverse reactions will be seen in a few days, whereas immunity through vaccination cannot be determined for months.

So to accurately ascertain the benefits, a research trial would need to run the course of an entire pandemic. As more were exposed to the virus, the vaccine’s benefits relative to placebo would increase. Had the trials lasted two years, there would be many more cases of severe COVID, especially among the unvaccinated. But these trials were ended well short of a year for ethical reasons.

And there are still more flaws in Doshi’s conclusions. In the two trials he cited, there were 74,000 participants, with 36,930 of them receiving a vaccine and only 366 having COVID. Therefore, the vaccine had many more opportunities than the virus to cause adverse reactions.

Also noteworthy, nearly all of those harmed by the virus received a placebo. Like all subsequent studies, the trials revealed that COVID was dangerous and the vaccine effective at mitigating that. There were 40 cases of severe COVID, all but one in the placebo group. This is substantial because many of those 74,000 participants have since contracted COVID. Once this protection was known, it would have been unethical to continue the trials and allow people to remain unvaccinated.

So when Doshi claims that “results show an excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest greater than the reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations in both Pfizer and Moderna trials”, he doesn’t acknowledge these studies were terminated because the hospitalizations were rising. The trials were designed to stop once a small number of people got COVID, but Doshi deceptively uses numbers to deduce that COVID was no big deal. But the trials didn’t prove COVID wasn’t a threat. Rather they ended so rapidly precisely because COVID was a threat.

Doshi neglected to reference a single trial showing the vaccine’s benefits in his paper even though evidence is overwhelming that COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Only someone who starts with the conclusion that vaccines are ineffective and picks the cherries he likes would arrive at such a conclusion.