“Invasion of the Space Spiders” (Alien angel hair)


As Y2K approached, an ominous substance slowly descended from the Western Australia sky. A man recorded to history only as Peter reported seeing oodles of white threads floating down and covering power lines, trees, and digeridoo-playing kangaroos. Similar to how extraterrestrial visitors to the U.S. always vacation in the Nevada Desert instead of on the Boston Common, these aliens chose the Outback while eschewing the Sydney Opera House during their 1999 sojourn.

In his report to the Australian UFO Registry, the mononymous Peter explained that the threads were not webbing nor a sticky substance. But that only tells us what it wasn’t. As to what it was, UFOlogists consider it the remnant of ionized air that peels off an alien spacecraft’s electromagnetic field. However, there exists a more Earthly explanation.

Before $800 hammers and toilet seats, wasteful military wasteful spending was focused on UFOs. In 1968, a resulting report described these threads as “a fibrous material which falls in large quantities, but is unstable and disintegrates and vanishes soon after falling.”

The report noted that the composition and origin was sometimes uncertain, but we now have a good idea of what it is. In the case Down Under, an entomologist reported that his car had been covered with the same mystery silly string that had perplexed Peter. The bug scientist further noted that his vehicle was inundated by hundreds of baby spiders, confirming his suspicion that the thread was the result of an arachnid migration. The entomologist deduced the substance to be siliceous cotton, better known as angel hair. He said that through a common phenomenon called ballooning, the eight-legged beasts disperse cotton when hatching from their cocoon. The wind catches the angel hair and carries it away, where it quickly disintegrates.

Less frequently, atmospheric electricity may cause floating dust particles to become polarized, and the attraction between these particles forces them together and this produces a substance sometimes mistaken for angel hair. In any event, the substances have a rational explanation, which means that iconoclasts need to rear their contrarian heads. 

Some UFOlogists see an extraterrestrial connection and there have been reports of angel hair from the sky for at well over a millennium. The better known manifestations include an appearance at Nuremberg in 1561 and in Portugal in 1917 as part of the Miracle at Fatima. The latter marked a period unusual solar activity that credulous Catholics took to be Jesus and friends dropping by for hot chocolate. There is no way to examine these claims, making them more appealing to those who use them as part of their proof.

UFO researcher Brian Boldman cited 225 cases of angel hair between beginning in 679 CE, and he says 57 percent also featured a UFO. With a percentage that significant, he asserts there may be a connection. Correlation yes, causation no. Believers may see what they consider a strange craft hovering one night, which prompts them to suspect they are observing angel hair remnants the next morning. Or they may come across angel hair and begin to suspect that the seeming helicopter from last night may have been something from much farther away.

Whenever the substance is reported, it tends to soon disappear, which is consistent with the siliceous cotton that is associated with migrating spiders. At the same time, this short existence means there are few chances to analyze it. Therefore, those who like speculating that it is instead something more interesting can do so because there’s no way to test against their idea. Sure, the spider substance secretion disintegrates quickly,  but maybe so too does the ionized air created by a UFO’s magnetic field.

Like their conspiracy theorist and cryptozoologist brethren, alien hunters sometimes paint themselves as curious individuals who are “Just Asking Questions.” But I have found that they are seldom interested in receiving an answer.

Consider what happened this week when the British tabloid The Sun reported that the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may have been solved. Let me first interject that this is an example of Tooth Fairy Science, where someone attempts to determine WHY something is happening before establishing that it IS happening.

The Sun article read, “Strange clouds forming above the Bermuda Triangle could explain why dozens of ships and planes have mysteriously vanished in the notorious patch of sea. A new theory suggests the clouds are linked to 170-mph air bombs capable of bringing down planes and ships.”

The truth is, the number of craft lost over the last several decades is what would be expected of a heavy shipping lane in a hurricane-prone area. Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico were subjectively chosen and these points and resultant Triangle are no more valid than any other shape one could concoct from various locales. The list of ships and planes that supposedly disappeared in the area include some that vanished literally halfway around the world but had previously passed through the Triangle. Further, some of the alleged disappearances were of ships and planes that were reported missing but eventually found.

But even if there was a mystery, paranormal believers don’t want it solved, especially not by mainstream media or the government. After the story ran, theorists pounced. A man with the somewhat presumptuous moniker Jean-Pierre proudly appealed to personal incredulity, announcing, “Most of the disappearances, if not all, happened on clear skies. I’m not buying this theory one bit and it remains a mystery.”  Next up was Olli, who was at least honest about his motivation: “I’ll take the myth and mystery over explanation. 170 mile per hour winds do not explain why a formation of planes disappear just off the coast while on radio contact, nor other disappearances.” Finally, Carol insists no answer will ever be found, declaring, “This is a mystery that will never be solved.”

And for her, it won’t be. The Bermuda Triangle, along with Atlantis, Bigfoot, angelic intervention, and alien visitors give some people more meaning in their lives. Whether they possess a desire to believe in something beyond the five senses or crave for something vaguely spiritual, they find it in these kinds of phenomenon. The world can be a scary, depressing place and we all need outlets. For some people, music, novels, and books are enough of an escape, but others seek something still deeper, and seeming mysteries can oblige.

I can relate to some degree. Now that I know who Deep Throat was, I don’t care who Deep Throat is. Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, I don’t care if the Red Sox can win the World Series. Mysteries like Jimmy Hoffa, Jack the Ripper, and the Lost Colony of Roanoke are fascinating to contemplate, and while 80 percent of me wants to know the answers, the rest of me acknowledges that the appeal of those things would dissipate if the answers were revealed. 

But I wouldn’t be looking for ways to counter what researchers announced unless I had good reason to suspect their evidence was fabricated, incomplete, or misinterpreted. Finding the truth must always be paramount. I could never let the love of a good mystery stand in the way of valid solutions.

Besides ionized air, UFO lovers also suggest the angel hair may be excess energy converted into matter. No testing done on the angel hair or any research supports either of these conclusions. A third suggestion is offered by Diane Tessman at ufocasebook.com. She suspects that the beings piloting the flying saucers are plasma life forms and that the angel hair is left behind by “plasma activity,” not explaining what that is, how she knows it’s happening, or how we would know what it should look like.

She does relate an experiment during which “Plasma electromagnetic heat and radiation coupled with water and dust created a substance like angel hair.” Perhaps it did, but that is insufficient reason to presume angel hair follicles are leftovers from the plasma activities of the Thing From Zontar.

It is no coincidence that UFOs were never sighted before the advent of Earthly flying machines. There were no flying saucers observed by contemporaries of Lafayette, Francis Bacon, or Eric the Red. This strongly suggests that all the crafts observed over the last century are terrestrial.

Moreover, the gaping problem with the entire UFO field is that virtually all of the reported sightings come from inadvertent witnesses. If campers, motorists, and hikers had combined to see thousands of alien spacecraft, there should be upwards of a million sightings from professional astronomers and amateur stargazers. 


“Do you want lies with that?” (Fast food hysteria)


McDonald’s is not my first culinary choice, nor even my 11th. But my home decision-making is limited to when schoolwork is done and when bedrooms are cleaned, so my five children see to it that we end up at the Golden Arches once or twice a month.

There, many dangers await, according to an assortment of gruesome graphics and frightful photos. We’ll look today at the stated dangers of a standard meal of a Big Mac, fries, and Coke. First, though, a couple of more items that appear in announcements featuring capital letters, multiple exclamation points, and exhortations to arise from slumber.

One video shows a McDonald’s cheeseburger being dipped in acid. The commentator notes that four hours later, it is merely darkened, not broken down, and invites viewers to imagine this black blob festering inside of them. However, the acid has no digestive properties, nor is it in someone’s stomach working with other organs to break the food down and dispense it through the body for nutritional benefit. The experiment is pointless from a scientific standpoint, but does meet its fearmongering intent.

Another video is of a hamburger that is said to be from two to 14 years old, yet neither this former cow nor the bun that houses it has begun to rot. There is no way to verify the hamburger’s age, but the claim could be true, and it has nothing to do with a plot between evil corporations, mad scientists, and Grimace. It has everything to do with storage. Lacking sufficient moisture in the food or surroundings, bacteria and mold will not grow and decomposition will not occur. A hamburger’s size and shape allow it to repel moisture quickly, which makes decomposition even less likely. And that’s true whether it’s a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Jumbo Jack, or Amy’s California Veggie Burger.

Now onto the main course. A trio of viral graphics purports to establish that a Big Mac, Coke, and fries make for a most malevolent meal. We already know what happens to someone when they consume tens of thousands of Big Macs and Cokes. They make a couple of documentary cameos, get a book published, and become a slice of Americana and a borderline D List celebrity.

But the focus here is one serving of each, so let’s start with the sandwich and its distinctive two lower buns. The first point in the graphic is that the Big Mac hooks us because of how our ancestors adapted. It reads, “Our brains evolved during a time when food was scarce, so we became adept at choosing high-calorie foods.” This is meant to suggest that our Neolithic grandpappies needed high-calorie meals to survive because their brains were developing, but that we no longer need this and yet continue to crave it. Combined with our hunting-gathering now being limited to us foraging in the vicinity of the deep freeze, our bodies are paying a (literally) heavy price. But this point has the connection between high-calorie food and brain development backwards. It’s not that our brains evolved and grew, necessitating that we eat high calorie foods to compensate. Rather, we developed our cognitive function from scarfing food that was high in fat and protein, causing our brains to grow and develop.

Whatever the evolutionary impact of Big Mac consumption, the graphic next warns us that it will “trigger your brain’s reward system by releasing a surge of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, which induce feelings of pleasure.” This is accurate, but is a half-truth without context. Anytime pleasure is received, dopamine is released. So if one enjoys Big Macs, here comes the neurotransmitter rush. This goes for any food, as well as roller coasters, poker, and listening to Beethoven, if one enjoys those pursuits.

The second half of this point reads, “This process works in a similar way to cocaine and contributes to the likelihood of compulsive eating.” This is at once the guilt-by-association and composition fallacies. For any neophyte critical thinkers out there, first, welcome to my blog. Second, a composition fallacy is when someone takes two items that maybe have something in common and asserts this means they are alike in totality. But while Big Macs and cocaine are both ingested and may enhance released dopamine, the similarities end there. No one goes into beef withdrawal, the special sauce doesn’t tear families apart, and no mother has ever given birth to a pickle-addicted baby.

A third claim warns of excessive amounts of high fructose corn syrup and sodium. Yet there are just seven grams of the former, compared to the 30 grams in fat-free yogurt. The sodium is a little high, but at just over 40 percent of the recommended daily limit, is not a dangerous amount. The graph further claims this could lead to dehydration, yet sports drinks contain sodium precisely because of the role it plays in replacing electrolytes lost through perspiration.

Next is an assertion that the Big Mac takes 51 days to digest. This is off by 50, by which I don’t mean that it takes 101 days. The graph offers no source for this and it has now gone from half-truths to zero-truths.

It then veers back to half-truths by accurately listing what is in the two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. But it never bothers to explain the relevance and this is meant only to appeal to chemophobia. This is accomplished by  referencing ammonium sulfate, azodicarbonamide, and many other polysyllabic offerings. One could do this with almost any item, including human blood, green tea, and bananas.

Enough about the sandwich, on to what we are going to wash it down with. A second viral graphic makes some astonishing claims about what happens when one drinks a Coke. First up is the assertion that the 10 teaspoons of sugar in a serving would make the consumer vomit if it weren’t for phosphoric acid that makes it less sweet. But BuzzFeed quoted Dr. Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist, as saying, “This is not true. We have studied hundreds of participants in our studies who consumed beverages that contained more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, but no phosphoric acid. No one ever vomited due to the sweetness, and I don’t remember any of them ever reporting that they felt nauseated due to the sweetness.”

The graph also attempts the dopamine/drug gambit: “Your body ups your dopamine production by stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works.” The composition fallacy was addressed earlier, so here I just want to focus on the problem with cherry picking. A dopamine deficiency could lead to Parkinson’s, so taking this one isolated fact, a person could claim this shows that chugging away on Coke while shooting up heroin would be a beneficial for avoiding nervous system disorders.

Yet another tale of lurid lunches and diabolic dinners centers on McDonald’s French fries. The associated graph purports to show the difference between what we in the U.S. consume, compared to our northerly neighbors. Our fries are supposedly crammed with 17 dangerous Frankenstein concoctions, while the fortunate Canadians are worry-free.

Again, the chemophobia is almost as heavy as the ketchup I prefer on my fried potatoes. A long series of chemicals are listed without explaining what it means or why it should matter. And the truth is, dimethylpolysiloxane is there to reduce foaming and oil splattering, while sodium acid pyrophosphate is added to prevent the fries from turning gray. These agents and the rest play an important role and are all safe. Another key point is that toxicity and danger are determined by dose, not chemical or element.

When I pointed all this out to the Friend who posted the graphic, he lamented, “Why can’t we just have fries, salt, and ketchup?” Yet those could be made to sound scary if one doesn’t know better. Salt is a fusion of sodium and chloride, which are potentially dangerous on their own. Sodium will even explode under the right conditions. Ketchup has monosodium glutamate in it and potatoes contain chlorogenic acid. When I typed that last one, it gave me a squiggly line underneath. They don’t even know what it is and they are feeding it to our children!

When Mike Barrett at naturalsociety.com, writes, “McDonald’s fries contain a petrol-based chemical called tertiary butylhydroquinone,” he is either being ignorant or a fear monger. This ingredient serves as a food preservative and Barrett’s point is no more valid than him questioning the efficiency of Exxon’s gasoline because it has a common ingredient with a tasty side order.  

Barrett next asks, “Did you know that McDonald’s French fries contain a form of silicone found in Silly Putty?” I did not, though I was aware that the same element or chemical can be used safely in multiple products, as what it’s combined with will change its properties.

With a wealth of scientific information readily available, there is no excuse for spreading fear over facts. Had Barrett conducted a Google search, he would have found websites like chem4kids.com, where concepts like chemical reactions are explained in deliberately simple terms. I will make a point to introduce my children to that site the next time we access McDonald’s WiFi.



“Vibrating dread” (Vibrational therapy)


The world would be a worse place without color, light, and sound. But it would be better off without a therapy that uses these phenomena instead of medicine to treat disease and illness.

This describes vibrational therapy, which is a form of vitalism. This is the metaphysical belief that organisms possess an inner spirit that bestows the gift of life.

Vibrational therapy goes by many names, as different regions attempt to put their cultural spin on it, but is usually known as energy medicine in the United States. By whatever name, it is based on the assumption that health is determined by the flow or blocking of an unproven energy that runs through meridians, chakras, or reflex zones, none of which have been shown to exist. When the energy stops flowing, vibrational medics apply their crystallized Drano.

As energyandvibation.com tries to explain it, “All matter vibrates to a precise frequency and by using resonant vibration, balance of matter can be restored. Trauma and disease often results in states of either no movement or constant movement. Vibrational Energy Medicine therapies mirror trauma and disease to the system so that it can self-correct.” Light, color, sound, stones, crystals, and even geometry are all supposed methods for accessing and altering this vibration.

The field makes generous use of the appeal to tradition fallacy. The aforementioned website claims crystal medicine has its roots in dynastic Egypt and hints that Jesus used it too, though it fails to specify which gem helped him walk on water. If your incredulity meter has yet to peak, they also ponder that the field has its roots in Atlantis. However ancient or fictitious the place of its birth, this has no bearing on whether it works. And vitalism should have ended with the advent of Germ Theory, antibiotics, and vaccines. Sadly, the idea that our health is contingent on the manipulation of an imaginary energy traveling through undetectable portals remains. There are many who think that stones, crystals, tuning forks, crystal bowls, and infused water will aid in their wellbeing.

Seeming successes are due the fluctuating nature of illnesses, post hoc reasoning, and communal reinforcement. Failures are not considered such, but rather reasons to continue searching for the right frequency and proper gem/crystal/sound/light/color to treat the condition. Since the auras, chakras, and soul stars are only visible to the practitioner, you have to take their enlightened word. There is no equivalent of X-rays or blood pressure cuffs in this field.  

Not only is no scientific instrument able to detect this energy, no practitioner has explained what type of energy it is, how it is accessed or controlled, and how it benefits the recipient. We are only assured that balance is met and the proper frequency is communicated, again without an explanation of what that means or why it matters.

Some proponents claim that each gem (or other conduit) has a specific healing property, which nature will lead you to, or more accurately to the New Age medic who sells it. Doing this enables them to do a nifty two-step around the notion of subjecting the claim to a double blind study. They can argue that each person responds differently, so the study would be invalid.

Dr. Steven Novella brilliantly noted that alternative medics use science like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination. Accordingly, some vibrational medicine practitioners are fond of noting that the sun provides energy, which leads to a chemical reaction that coverts some of that energy to Vitamin D. This is true. But vibrational medicine further asserts that this change is caused by vibrations and therefore falls under their umbrella. There may be vibrations in the skin and photons during the process, but that’s incidental and is not the sources of the benefit.

Lisa Simpson bemoaned that a wealthy school’s periodic table had 250 elements while Springfield Elementary and the rest of us are stuck at 118. Even more shortchanged are vibrational medics, who lay claim to only four, none of which are actually elements. Again, from energyandvibation.com: “Our world is comprised four basic elements. These are air, earth, fire, and water. Understanding what each element represents helps us evaluate where our individual strengths and weaknesses are. Healers have found that focusing on the elements and the vibrational energies associated with each of them is helpful when determining treatments.”

Failing to understand what an element is would seemingly be enough to repel mainstream science, and overwhelmingly, it does. But most pseudosciences have at least one iconoclastic mainstream proponent who jumps on their alternative bandwagon. Jason Lisle wastes his astronomy doctorate promoting the Institute for Creation Research. After earning his Ph.D. in anthropology, Jeffrey Meldrum has spent 20 years chasing Bigfoot. Yale’s Dr. David Katz spends his time and his school’s money championing homeopathy.

For vibrational medicine, we have Dr. Richard Gerber. His possession of a legitimate medical degree fails to preclude him from making this pronouncement: “Only by viewing the body as a multi-dimensional energy system can we begin to approach how the soul manifests through molecular biology. That comes down to the whole issue of reincarnation and karma. There are various people doing past life regression work who are beginning to envision the soul’s progress through life, and illness as an expression of obstacles the soul is trying to overcome.”

Gerber offered no mechanism on how this is accomplished, so I was most interested in the energyandvibration section labeled, “How does vibrational energy medicine work?”

To avoid keeping you in suspense, I’ll tell you that the answer never comes. It begins by taking a swipe at mainstream medicine for treating the symptom but not the cause of an illness. This is a typical alt-med ploy and is incorrect. Beyond treating the symptom, a doctor will also consider the whole person when planning a treatment program by taking into account genetics, habits, and health history. Alt-med will vaguely claim to be treating the persons’ spirits and emotions, never explaining what this means, how they do it, or how it works.

In a second evasion of their own question, the website tells us, “Rather than treat the heart directly if there is a heart problem, a vibrational energy medicine practitioner will instead work with the energy systems of the heart.” I do appreciate the assurance that vibrational medics will not be conducting open heart surgery with amethyst crystals. Instead, they will “work with the heart chakra, the heart reflex zone on the feet or hands, the emotional layer of the energy field, and the air element in Polarity Therapy.”

The closest they ever come to trying to answer the question they raised is when they employ this piece of false equivalence: “When the C string of a harp is struck, all the C strings of all other harps nearby begin to vibrate. The C strings are in resonance with one another. The different parts of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being also resonate to various frequencies of vibration.” This is as mistaken as saying that harps, like humans, can benefit from a balanced diet.

At healingcrystals.com, I was given a crystal assessment and was advised to “Be open and honest during communications.” I’d like to think this post has accomplished that.

“Weapons of mass disruption” (Targeted individuals)


I have gotten laughs at the expense of persons convinced of chemtrails, repressed cancer cures, and smart meters tracking their movements. And I had an especially good chortle when an online poster deduced the diabolical nature of NASA. He noted mission controllers often employ the term “T-minus,” and when one adds that ‘T’ to NASA, then rearranges the consonants, it becomes SATAN. It would also work as SANTA, and top-secret warp speed devices would help deliver a world’s supply of toys in one night.

Not funny, however, is the plight of those who are not paranoid about the government in a generic sense, but according to the clinical definition of the word. A subset of these persons refer to themselves as Targeted Individuals. The usually suspect the targeting to be coming from the government, although others think it’s Free Masons, Illuminati, Jews, or aliens. Whatever the source, the key point is that they believe their minds and bodies are being controlled by external nefarious forces. Though going by the moniker Targeted Individuals, these persons come together online and in conferences, which allows communal reinforcement to strengthen their delusions.

Conservative estimates have at least 10,000 persons suffering from this, and the Daily Beast documented one such victim, Cheryl Welsh. She was a college freshman when she began suspecting that electrical appliances were being remotely controlled to torment her. She observed that telephones, cars, streetlights typewriters, and televisions would stop working at times they would most cause the most disruption. What most persons would see as a power outage or mechanical malfunction becomes a coordinated attack from a powerful malevolent entity to those suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or similar conditions. Similarly, what most people known is a horn honking is, to the Targeted Individuals, a message to a member of Stalking Gangs, their term for agents out to get them. And while the Stalking Gang is usually faceless, it can manifest itself in more concrete forms. That new Human Resources director might really be a CIA agent dispatched to keep closer tabs on you.

The Daily Beast also profiled Kevin Bond, who believes an implanted microchip controls his thoughts and actions. A third person was convinced his brain is manipulated by electronic frequencies coming from a nearby government installation.

When friends or family members attempt to help these sufferers, it is often interpreted as the would-be benefactors being in on the plot. And good luck getting them to take any medication they feel comes from Big Brother’s pharmaceutical wing. These attempts to help fuels further paranoia, which is made even worse when online advice to suffers includes, “Do not visit a psychiatrist.”

While there are efforts made to counter this online, this also is usually futile. Some persons seek online reassurance that their anorexia is beneficial or investigate ways to commit suicide. But those same searches will also yield counterpoints. The same is true for those suffering this stalking syndrome, but those persons are likely to deduce that the counterpoints were planted by gang members.

A century ago, persons suffered similar delusions centering on crankshafts and gears instead of microchips and rays. Five hundred years before that, the thoughts were presumed to be coming from the devil. While that idea is not extinct, these days it’s more like to be Democrats instead of demons, Senators instead of Satan. This is consistent with an era technological advancements, eavesdropping, the Patriot Act, and NSA abuse.

Certainly, attempting to harness mind control is not beyond the federal government. The CIA’s infamous MK Ultra program had agents give LSD-spiked drinks to unsuspecting human guinea pigs as part of just such an experiment. Also, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research tested whether pulsed microwaves could be used to transmit words to a subject’s brain.

So research may be ongoing and perhaps even a product has been developed. But that’s a long ways from there being evidence that evil overlords are targeting 10,000 everyday citizens.

For those convinced this is happening, there are electronic shields available. One merchant touts his products’ ability to “end electronic harassment and protect against implants, radiation, and voice/data/image induction that is intended to make an individual think they have a mental illness. Any directed energy attack is deflected off this energy field, giving the targeted individual the ability to get ongoing relief.”  

One of his competitors, Total Security Inc., reassures prospective customers, “You’re not crazy! We listen and care.” This compassion manifests in the form of “non-invasive body scans to identify implanted microchips and other forms of electronic tracking chips.” Never addressed is how many chips they’ve found.

Meanwhile, the QuWave Defender is said to generate a Scalar Wave Field intended to “interfere with harmful rays, reduce the effect and functioning of implants, and act as a barrier to psycho-electronic harmful signals aimed at the individual.”

The paranoia these companies are targeting is occasionally an issue. Many customers refuse to allow the company to use the United States Postal Service, which surely is part any plot. Others demand tamper resistant seals. All of this raises the question: If forces are controlling the person’s mind, why would those forces allow the mind to order products intended to stop the control?

The president of StopBeamWeapons.com, which offers a magnet shield to “minimize partial brain disablement from covert anti-brain beam weapons,” admits his customers “oftentimes can’t really articulate what they’re trying to shield from.”

That’s because it’s all in their minds and these persons deserve sympathy and access to therapy, not unscrupulous offers to fix it with a Buck Rogers Ray-Gun Deflector.

“A new pair of genes” (Evolution denial)


I regularly run across claims from the biology-challenged that evolution has never been observed. Yet it is on display every day in Richard Lenski’s ongoing E. coli experiment at Michigan State University.

Since 1988, Professor Lenski and his compatriots have charted genetic changes in 12 initially identical populations of asexual e. coli bacteria. The researchers have observed a wide array of genetic changes, occurring in anywhere from one to 12 of the populations. The population reached its 60,000th generation two years ago.

To deal with the cognitive dissonance of observed evolution, creationists fabricated a  distinction between micro- and macro-evolution. Since it would be straining credulity for even Ken Ham or Kent Hovind to deny what was literally being seen, they needed to come up with the ad hoc rationalization that these changes were merely improving an existing species, not creating a new one. They have yet to explain what would constitute a new species (breeding abilities, new appendages, just looking way different?)

But even if one accepts the term macroevolution, the Lenski experiment has now shown an example of this in its first stage. That’s because one of the e. coli cultures has evolved the ability to use citrate as a carbon source. Until then, the inability to do this was one of the traits that defined the e. coli species.

To be clear, neither Lenski, myself, nor anyone else claims this is a new species yet, as speciation is not a single event. It is a series of processes, with a beginning stage of initial divergence, a middle stage where species-specific characteristics refine, and an end where a new species becomes a separate evolutionary lineage. From there, it begins its own diversified branch or goes extinct.

Some creationists say that science doesn’t count if it contradicts their interpretation of a specific Bible version. As such, I’m unsure why they even try to answer scientific research with their own creative biology. Why not just limit their response to quoting Malachi this or Heznekeriah that? But since they do sometimes try to sound science-y, we will examine their attempt to finagle their way around Lenski’s observation of macroevolution.

Leading the creationist charge is Scott Minnich, who has genuine scientific credentials, as he works as a microbiology associate professor at the University of Idaho. More specific to this case, he had a critique of the citrate-using e. coli find published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Bacteriology. He and his associates replicated Lenski’s findings, so the disagreement was over what it meant. Minnich’s overarching point was that since the bacteria gained its new ability by rearranging existing genetic elements, no new genetic information evolved.

University of Toronto biochemistry professor Laurence Moran compared that to “saying a new book…contains no new information, because the text has the same old letters and words that are found in other books.”

Minnich argued that since genetic information was merely moved around as opposed to being created that this was not an example of macroevolution. Yet an e. coli strain gained an ability it had never had before, so this could be a necessary step toward speciation.

Also, the result allowed microbiologists to observe the ecological and genetic factors that cause change in organisms – changes that over time can lead to a new species. Contrast that with summarily dismissing the notion of speciation because Genesis suggests otherwise.

Moran further explained: “A genome encodes not just proteins and patterns of expression, but information about the environments where an organism’s ancestors have lived and how to survive and reproduce in those environments by having useful proteins and expressing them under appropriate conditions. So when natural selection favors bacteria whose genomes have mutations that enable them to grow on citrate, those mutations provide new and useful information to the bacteria.”

Moran’s words describe one example of how evolution works. Existing DNA is modified to create new genes or regulatory elements from existing sequences. Genes and functions don’t just poof and appear, much as creationists would love for them to.


“Disregarding Henry” (E! psychic)


Because people will always get sick, there will always be others selling the latest, greatest cure, regardless of how inexplicable or unreasonable it might be. The Old West traveler hawking elixirs from his wagon became Orthomolecular Medicine Man in the 20th Century, promising to remedy aliments with a Vitamin C overload. His descendant today has online stores and holistic health huts from which he sells detoxifying peach-mango mixes, Himalayan salt treatments, and craniosacral rubs.

The seriousness of adopting these methods is parallel to the affliction. If your aunt treats her mild lupus with corticosteroids from her rheumatologist, she will likely get better results than her neighbor who treats the same illness with jasmine-infused owl feathers from a shaman. The latter would likely experience swollen joints and fever, meaning a less enjoyable life, but not an extinguished one. The greatest danger, of course, comes in the form of cancer patients bypassing chemotherapy for ionic foot cleanses and milk thistle.

But whether one goes with what centuries of research and double blind studies show, or with what 30 minutes on Google reveals, both patients will die eventually, either from the disease or something else. And that is when those who prey on the sick and frightened are replaced by those who pounce on the grieving and lonely.

In the past, these charlatans preferred to project an element of mystery. They were septuagenarians with eastern European names, accents, and accoutrements. They resided in rural villages and gave readings in hushed tones with raised eyebrows and eyes opened in amazement. By contrast, today’s mediums are often telegenic, loquacious, eager to help, and easy to find.

The latest example is Tyler Henry. Like snake oil salesman, the conniving ghouls have adapted for the times. Séances with mysterious strangers in darkened rooms have given way to unrealistic reality shows featuring fresh-faced congenial chaps and ladies with immaculate coiffures and snazzy semiformal wardrobes. Having turned 20 this month, Henry brings a youthful exuberance to the art of preying on the grieving at their most vulnerable.

While he is young, there’s nothing original in his techniques. He keeps it vague, jettisoning misses and focusing instead on what his subjects considers hits. He then shuts up and lets his client fill in the significant blanks. For instance, on a reading with Jaime Pressley, Henry insisted he was driven to write the letter B over and over, which he did. Pressley excitedly shouted, “Brittany Murphy,” and indeed, Henry confirmed that’s where the spirit was leading him. 

About this revelation, Bobby Finger at Jezebel noted, “Mediums expect us to believe that the dead, in their desperate attempts to tell their survivors that everything’s just great on the other side, are only able to communicate in single words or syllables. The afterlife is apparently filled with stuttering apparitions of the formerly living.”

Whether Pressley was genuinely impressed or putting on for the camera, I’m unsure. But skeptics recognize what Henry did as a garden variety cold read. But Henry is versatile, as evidenced by his use of a hot read while victimizing retired basketball player John Salley. Henry mentioned “Moses” and Salley knew this was a message from beyond the grave from his friend Moses Malone. That Malone had died four months earlier and was friends with Salley are facts anyone could look up, but Henry added the extra element of procuring monetary gain from his online search.

His versatility is also seen by his purporting to have multiple psychic abilities. Besides speaking with the dead, he also claims clairvoyance, the ability to see the future. Put another way, he knew about the Paris attacks and did nothing to warn the victims. But can you blame the guy? Look how many potential new clients he has now.

He shows some originality by claiming another ability most psychics don’t, the capacity to diagnose medical conditions by merely sensing someone’s energy. What does your silly old oncologist know, I’m getting nothing but good vibes from your aura.

His public readings have so far been limited to the likes of Pressley, Salley, and Dr. Phil. But his stated goal is to fill a specific lowly niche in the pond scum of ghoulish mediums. He plans to specialize in parents whose children killed themselves. No one is more ravaged by guilt, tormented about words said or not said, actions taken or suppressed, than those whom Henry seeks to exploit. Dr. Steven Novella, founder of the New England Skeptical Society, said of Henry’s career ambition, “This is the worst grief a human can suffer. These are people at their most vulnerable. He is not a trained counselor, and working with the grieving is very tricky. The potential for harm is tremendous.”

Henry describes himself as a skeptic. Hold on a second while I hurl into my trash can. OK, I’m back. Henry said, “It’s important to have a healthy degree of skepticism. So in my readings, my goal is to bring up information that there really is no way I could know. I don’t like saying general things. I don’t like saying information that everybody knows. I focus on information that can’t be researched or Googled, and that usually includes inside jokes or sentimental pieces of information that only families really know.”

Skeptic activist Susan Gerbic noted this would be an easy assertion to test if Henry is sincere about it. She said, “If Henry really is a skeptic, surely he’s be up for a carefully designed and controlled test of his powers. I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.” Indeed, Henry has relayed no premonition of when this test will take place.
Gerbic is correct. If I woke up with a newly-discovered ability to levitate objects, I would want scientists and doctors to examine it. I would want Penn & Teller and James Randi to see it, not to fool them and get a million dollars, respectively, but so that skeptics and scientists could try to deduce what unknown physics phenomenon was being accessed, how it could be controlled, and how it could benefit Mankind. Alas, as of this morning, I still lack this ability. The only thing I’m able to lift is the veil off of Henry’s fraudulent world.