“Time of the signs” (Secret hand signals)

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Perhaps preparing for the annual Congressional baseball game, Senate Republicans lobbed softballs at Brett Kavanaugh, who revealed little about his positions beyond expressing a fondness for theocracy. But for a few observers, the focus was less on the man representing a historic swing of the Supreme Court and more on the woman sitting behind him. More specifically, they were captivated by her hand gesture.  

While sitting in camera view, lawyer Lawyer Zina Bash brought her thumb and index finger together while jutting the three remaining fingers skyward. The symbol has long meant “OK,” but some interpret this digital juxtaposition to mean “White Power,” with the hand supposedly spelling WP. The third, ring, and pinkie fingers come close to forming a W, but the circle created by the index finger and thumb looks nothing like a P. This more sinister meaning of the traditional OK sign likely started as joke or a Poe, but has come to be taken as gospel in some swaths of the no-evidence-required Internet.

Like alien and cryptozoological enthusiasts who ignore the amazing astrological and biological wonders of our world to chase after something still more, those who find racist code in the OK sign flashed at the Kavanaugh hearings are trying way too hard. Dr. Eugene Gu Tweeted that the hand gesture equated to “flashing a white power sign. They want to bring white supremacy to the Supreme Court.” His fellow Twitter warrior, author Amy Siskind, agreed that the gesture was inherently bigoted and should sink the Kavanaugh nomination. But with reports surfacing of the Trump Administration deporting U.S. citizens of Hispanic lineage, government actions are terrifyingly racist right now without having to make stuff up.

The situation is reminiscent of the Procter & Gamble Satanic panic during the 1980s, when the company’s bearded man-in-the-moon logo was said to form three sixes. It took extremely creative interpretations to reach this conclusion, and even then, the connected celestial facial hairs didn’t much resemble the number in question. More recently, Monster energy drinks have been subject to the same slander, as the company’s logo, when turned outside down, is said to vaguely resemble the Hebrew symbol for 666, even though 666 wouldn’t be written in such a way in that language. The funk rock group 311 has had similar baseless allegations thrown at it. The band takes its name from the Omaha police code for indecent exposure, but a rumor had “311” referring to three consecutive iterations of the alphabet’s 11th letter, or KKK. It speaks to a conspiracy theorist’s motivation that their deducing of a letter equivalent for 311 would end up being KKK instead of CCCCCCCCCCC. 

Back in the present day, Bash is from Mexico and she has a Jewish parent, making her a supremely unlikely white power proponent. But maybe she’s a self-loathing conspirator. That’s as good a reason as theorists have come up with for this or any other furtive silent message supposedly sent by the rich and powerful. Such allegations lack any proof and believers are unable to provide specifics on why the message is being sent or for whom it is intended.

While famous persons may sometimes be photographed with unexplained or unusual hand positioning, skeptic leader Benjamin Radford has a good explanation. He wrote, “Any high-profile person in the public eye enough may be photographed tens of thousands, or even millions, of times in a wide variety of contexts. Anyone wishing to spend the time and effort to comb through photos searching for a specific, seemingly significant wave or position of the hand or fingers can surely do so.”

Most of us prefer patterns over ambiguity, which explains why were see animals in clouds, sailboats in Rorschach blots, a face on Mars, and Jesus in our linguini. While we are all subject to this pareidolia, those with conspiracy leanings add sinister meaning to hand symbols. This is all the easier since they are determined to find it. During a Beyoncé Super Bowl performance, the megastar posed with her hand making a diamond shape. This could have been her expressing love for solid forms of carbon, a reference to her husband’s Roc-a-Fella record company logo, or something else. But for some conspiracy theorists, it could only mean endorsing world domination by Illuminati overlords who may have reptile tails.

But all this comes with a massive contradiction. Theorists insist the conspirators have a secret plot to subjugate or destroy us, yet they ensure clues about this are broadcast worldwide. They ignore this contradiction and spread their slander. And that’s not OK.

 

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“Carb berater” (Keto diet)

POTATO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gem membership” (Crystal healing)

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Despite being one of the oldest substances on the planet, crystals have a futuristic sci-fi look and this may partially explain some persons embracing them as an elixir, though gullibility is a more pronounced factor.

Good Morning America profiled persons who believe crystals are imbued with healing properties. This included Taryn Toomey, whose New York City studio features crystal-lined floors intended to “clear the energy and renew balance and confidence.” Unexplained were what type of energy it is, what it is being balanced with, and how standing on them raises one’s self-esteem.

Energy means “measurable work capability,” and Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning suggests replacing that definition with the word “energy” to see if a claim makes sense. When saying “Measurable work capability equals mass times the speed of light squared,” it’s understood what is being asserted. By contrast, “Clear the measurable work capability and renew balance and confidence,” takes a meandering sentence and leaves it even more muddled.

I once stopped by a mall kiosk once where two ladies were hawking healing crystals. It was a learning experience for all, as I was told amethyst works for backaches, anxiety, and rosacea, and they learned what a double blind study was. There have been many such peddlers over the years, but new spins are still being put on the notion of crystal power. For example, the GMA piece featured Mariah Lyons, who is likely the first person to imbed these structures in shoes. She did so after getting tired of carrying crystals in her pocket. Yes, I could see how that would get annoying.

But regardless of the method of transport, what is the owner getting out of possessing apatite and citrine? Lyons told GMA, “Crystals balance your energy.” Oh that’s right, Toomey already explained that. Me and my spotty memory, maybe there’s a gem to help with that.

Then there’s the question of how crystals access the energy and transmit it to a biological entity. For that, we look to crystalline.com, which states: “How do we access it? Crystals and other tools of transformation are just one way to get that rock star centeredness. They’re just waiting to be put to use to help us create the life of our dreams and our spirits to GLOW!” That didn’t even attempt to answer the question they posted – although the exclamation point and all caps shows that what they lack in evidence they make up for in enthusiasm.

With that, let’s go to the third crystal consumer connoisseur interviewed by GMA, Jennifer Salness, and she if she can explain how crystals transfer energy to people. She said, “Having the energy of the crystals around you transfers the vibrations of the stone to you. The longer we have it around us, our bodies can retain that same vibration as the crystal.” That wasn’t any better and we didn’t even get distinctive punctuation and lettering out of the deal. Salness just said crystals transfer energy by having the energy transferred. She prefers bottles that are embedded with crystals, saying, “I think because the water gets infused with the crystal energy and then you’re drinking that, it comes into our system.” I won’t drink to that.

Next, she said, “I think if you believe it will have some effect to it, then it will. I’ve seen the results in my life and others.” But no amount of belief makes anything true and she is also falling prey to subjective validation and preferring anecdotes over data, which is rife in the alternative medicine community. For instance, another crystal merchant, Colleen McCann, told GMA, “I had to experience a whole bunch of really mystical things to get on board with this.”

But a whole bunch of things does not equal one piece of data. Perceptions are prone to error, people experience good, bad, and indifferent days, and most illnesses fluctuate. Because of this, double blind studies are required to find out what is effective. Without any guidelines, certification, standards, or reliable data, there’s no way to determine what crystal would work for what malady, or whether they work at all.

McCann, who is releasing a book this fall entitled Crystal Rx, described herself as skeptic who fought the notion of healing crystals “tooth and nail.” In that case, she would have been better off buying dentures and metal fasteners than quartz and jasmine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Not so fast” (Speed reading)

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I used to collect Easton Press books, which are extremely ornate copies of classic works. I would go through one or two a week, then enjoy them even more on the bookshelf, owing to their opulent appearance. Then the children came along and with them, the shoving, crinkling, and tearing of the terrific tomes. Additionally, the time available for reading dropped drastically. After previously going through two books a week, I now congratulate myself on finishing one ad-heavy magazine a month.

There’s nothing I can do about the torn pages, damaged ears, or sewn-in silk bookmarks ripped out. But according to claims made by speed-reading proponents, I could still markedly decrease the time it takes to get through a book and could once again be reaching for Austen, Dickens, and Dostoevsky.

These claims range from being able to manage an impressive 500 words per minute to the utterly implausible 25,000 words per minute asserted by late-night infomercial mainstay Howard Berg. This pace means Berg could order a delivery pizza, start reading Clarissa, and have the book finished before his last bite of cheese and pepperoni.

One person who did credibly attain five figures per minute was Kim Peek, whose life and abilities were loosely portrayed in Rain Man. Peek had no corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s hemispheres, and this congenital condition likely explains his superhuman ability to read two pages simultaneously, one with each eye. But while this would double his speed, it fails to explain how he managed to read and comprehend about 10,000 words per minute with a 98 percent retention rate. He consistently displayed this ability, whether he was reading Highlights or an advanced astrophysics journal. Since no one, including Peek, knew how he did it, his techniques are not taught to others and they are not the focus of speed-reading courses.

Indeed, among non-savants who did not inspire Academy Award-winning films, results from speed-reading courses are far more modest. Berg’s claim of being 2.5 times faster than Peek was never independently verified, but studies have shown show that some of his students quadrupled their speed and hit about 800 words per minute. But this comes with a substantial caveat. The technique is mostly a form of skimming, where swiftness takes precedence over comprehension.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning cited author Ronald Carver, whose research included extensive testing of different speed reading techniques. In his work, Carver consistently found that the maximum pace attained was 600 words per minute, with 75 percent retention. The average person reads about 300 words per minute and, if they pay attention and are without distractions, will retain most of what they’ve read. This means the 75 percent rate is a fairly steep tradeoff for the doubling of speed. The technique has some value, but it usually comes down to the reader’s goal. If cramming for an exam, it may be the way to go; if wanting to enjoy the latest from a favorite author, probably not.

Speed-reading emphasizes gulping down roughly 10 lines at a time, eliminating pauses. But these brief stops are likely integral to retention. Readers need to occasionally reflect or soak in what they’ve read. It may take just half a second to do so, but eliminating all the pauses greatly decreases the time it takes to read something, though again, there is a sizable drop in knowing what you’ve just read. And clearly, going back to re-read for clarity or confirmation is out.

In short, speed reading is like me listening to my wife when football is on. I get some of what is being put out, can maybe form a general outline, but there’s a good chance I’m missing the key point.

Sometimes it’s not even that good. According to Cecil Adams at Straight Dope, several trained speed readers were once asked to read a manuscript in which the even-numbered lines came from one source and the odd-numbered lines from another source. The speed readers averaged 1,700 words per minute, yet none of them found the script’s juxtaposition odd. They were so focused on getting through the text rapidly that they failed to notice it was the written equivalent of Take the Skinheads Bowling, a Camper Van Beethoven song in which every line is an intentional non sequitur.  

In another study, researcher Michael Masson tested three groups: Speed readers, normal readers, and skimmers, whose only “training” was being told be read quickly. The results showed that speed readers plowed through 700 words per minute, skimmers clocked in at 600 words, and those going at a normal pace read 240. However, those in the last group easily had the best compression, followed by the skimmers and then the speed readers. These types of studies have usually found that speed readers have a poor grasp of a text’s specifics, but they can generally pick out the main theme and could probably produce a decent outline of the script.

The name most synonymous with speed reading, Evelyn Wood, instructed students to move their hand rapidly across the page. But Masson’s research has shown this caused the hand to perform more like metronome than a pointer. It and the eye moved at the same pace, but the eye was not following the hand.

But all is not lost. There are ways to pick up the reading pace without a drop in comprehension, according to Cal-Berkeley education professor and reading expert Anne Cunningham. In the Skeptic’s Dictionary speed-reading entry, Cunningham says reading faster with high retention rates can be managed through building vocabulary, improving study skills, and polishing reading comprehension abilities. So unless you read and understood this post in 15 seconds, those methods are the ones to try.

  

“Internal combustion” (Concentrated hydrogen peroxide)

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Online, there are tantalizing testimonials and awesome anecdotes about concentrated hydrogen peroxide’s amazing ability to slay a number of serious conditions. These include Lyme disease, cancer, heart ailments, brain tumors, diabetes, HIV, and Parkinson’s. This long string of anonymous praise does not have a corresponding lengthy list of studies cited by PubMed, which ascribes no power to the fizzy concoction’s efficiency, outside of an ability to whiten teeth.

In fact, when ingested in enough quantity and at a high enough concentration, hydrogen peroxide results in mucosal burns, ER trips, permanent disabilities, and even death. In an article for Undark, Karen Savage interviewed Dr. Brendan Byrne, who has seen patients who overdosed on hydrogen peroxide, necessitating that he give them hyperbaric oxygen treatment. This is normally reserved for scuba divers who surface too fast. Not that any concentration should be considered safe for consumption, he warned.

“Hydrogen peroxide at any concentration, if drank, reacts with a natural enzyme in the body and produces very high volumes of oxygen,” Byrne said. “That oxygen has to go somewhere. It crosses the membrane of the gastrointestinal tract into the blood vessels and those resultant bubbles block up the blood vessels, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and other complications.”

At concentrations under 10 percent, hydrogen peroxide is used to disinfect scrapes and as a cleaning solution. Higher concentrations are employed in wastewater treatment and sometimes in swimming pools. Extremely high concentrations can be used as rocket fuel. Often, Food Babe will issue an alarm about a certain food ingredient also being used is something like, well, rocket fuel. She ignores or is ignorant of the fact that what a substance is mixed with will change its properties. But in the case of gulping hydrogen peroxide at a high enough concentration, the person IS downing a rocket fuel, yet Food Babe is silent on this since it’s an alternative medicine treatment. Hydrogen peroxide in drink form has another element that alt-med proponents normally eschew, as it is an oxidant.

Our bodies produce hydrogen peroxide and this promotes health, but Scott Gavura at Science-Based Medicine wrote that ingesting it for still more benefit is futile:  “Consuming or injecting peroxide and hoping for some sort of medicinal effect is the medical equivalent to spraying gasoline all over your car’s engine and interior and then wondering why it doesn’t make the car run better. Like gasoline in an engine, you need the right substance in the right place at the right time and under the right conditions in order to have a useful effect.”

Not all proponents favor drinking it; some think it should be sent straight into the veins. Advocates of this approach mistakenly believe that a lack of oxygen in the tissues allows toxins, viruses, and bacteria to accumulate, and that the release of oxygen from intravenously administering hydrogen peroxide is beneficial.

While they are wrong about the lack of oxygen having the specific deleterious effects they mention, Dr. Saul Green at Quackwatch explained that shooting up  hydrogen peroxide wouldn’t help even if they were right. He wrote, “When arterial blood leaves the lungs it is 98 percent saturated with oxygen and so it becomes impossible for the intravenous infusion of hydrogen peroxide to further increase the amount of oxygen carried to the tissues.”

Misuse of this product is partially associated with the notion that humans need to regularly cleanse and purify ourselves. This mindset acts as a secular version of exorcising demons and atoning for our sins. But as noted, internal use at high concentrations can kill you, although you will be laid to rest with immaculate teeth.

 

“The Young and the Feckless” (Neanderthal lineage)

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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.

“What’s up with that, Doc?” (Vitamin D intake)

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My physician is pure mainstream: Recommending all the age-appropriate tests and an annual checkup; being solidly pro-vaccine and pro-antibiotics; well-versed in Germ Theory and even sporting the white coat and ever-present stethoscope, plus placing lollipops at the check-in desk.

So when he recommended a vitamin D supplement for me during winter and told me he popped the same pills, I headed from his office to the pharmacy. To get to those supplements, I passed the bandages, antiseptic, and pain medication I would normally purchase and ended up in the aisle of herbs, homeopathic tablets, flaxseed oil, and all manner of lotions and potions intended to complete the alt-med trifecta of detoxing, immune boosting, and increasing circulation. There was even something called soothing bath tea. I prefer that beverage for drinking, not dousing, so I passed on it, but did pick up the vitamin D tablets. It felt funny grabbing something from that section of the store, but my trusted doctor recommended it so I didn’t much question doing so.

Later, I learned my wife’s doctor, who coincidentally is married to my physician, had made the same suggestion to her. Hence, we both made the purchase and our previously supplement-free medicine cabinet was now overloaded with vitamin D goodies.

But according to a pair of New York Times articles, this was likely all for naught. Both sales of vitamin D supplements and testing for vitamin D deficiency have increased exponentially in the last two decades. According to the Times’ Liz Szabo, sales have shot up nine-fold since 2010, meaning it has nonupled if there’s such a word. Meanwhile, lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have seen a 547 percent increase since 2007 and the number of blood tests for vitamin D levels among seniors increased a staggering 8,300 percent from 2000 to 2010.

These Everest-like ascents stem from the embrace and promotion of vitamin D intake by Dr. Michael Holick, a Boston University endocrinologist. He has had authored books which extol increased intake and has sounded the alarm about a “vitamin D deficiency pandemic.”

Most prominent among his treatises was a 2011 paper in the peer-reviewed publication, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. This was done at the behest of the Endocrine Society, whose guidelines are followed by hospitals, physicians, and laboratories. The authors’ conclusions were that “vitamin D deficiency is very common in all age groups,” and that there should be a large increase in vitamin D testing. Further, it recommended a 50 percent increase in daily vitamin D ingestion, which put 80 percent of the population out of compliance.

These exhortations led to an endorsement of D supplements from an anomalous mix of mainstream and alternative practitioners, from our family’s husband-wife physician team down to Dr. Oz and Goop.

But a Kaiser Health News investigation for The New York Times found that Holick uses his prominent position to promote these practices that benefit pharmaceutical companies, indoor tanning salons, and testing labs. In return, he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from these industries. While acknowledging this, Horlick insists it doesn’t influence his interpretation of the evidence and said his money from these groups is the same whether vitamin D supplement sales are zero or a zillion.

In my time blogging, I have seen that talk of “Follow the money,” “He’s a shill,” and “Drug companies funnel money to doctors if you recommend their product” are ad hominem and red herrings that deflect from the issue of whether a product or treatment is beneficial, neutral, or harmful. Such lines are normally directed at the likes of Kevin Folta, Y’vette d’Entremon, and Kavin Senapathy, and launched  by alt-med proponents and conspiracy theorists.

But could it all be true in this case? Very possibly, but the central point remains the same. Whether Holick is getting money from these industries (which he admits), we still have to look at whether his claims are valid.

To be sure, vitamin D is crucial to good health. It is necessary for strong bones and deficiencies in it can result in rickets and osteomalacias. Another important point is that human bodies produce very little of it on their own. Further, it is available in only a tiny number of foods, such as oily fish. That leaves sunlight as one of the few natural sources for vitamin D, and exposure to this brings a host of issues, plus those in cold-weather climates get little of it in the winter.

This could seem to add up to solid supplement soundbite. However, vitamin D is available through foods fortified with it, such as milk, orange juice, and yogurt. Now to the central point of are humans getting enough vitamin D? At what level is a body deficient?

The year before the Endocrinology & Metabolism journal article, the National Academy of Medicine concluded that the vast majority of Americans get plenty of vitamin D naturally, and suggested doctors only test only patients at high risk of certain disorders. If Holick was right in about 80 percent of persons having a D deficit, there should have been a steady stream of brittle bones, rickets, and osteomalacias cases.

That this was not happening indicates most of us were getting enough of the vitamin through sunlight and fortified breakfast drinks. Indeed, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that very few people were deficient. The report stated that a sufficient amount would be 20 nanograms per milliliter. The increase to 30 nanograms per milliliter championed by Horlick would leave most of us wanting for vitamin D if that were a legitimate standard, but the report found no benefit to this additional amount. The study by the National Academy of Medicine reached the same conclusion.

As to the testing for vitamin D levels, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield published an analysis which found that 40 percent of its patients tested for D levels had no medical reason to be screened.

The Endocrine Society’s seemingly faulty conclusions manufactured the appearance of an epidemic since it decreed four persons in five had insufficient amounts of a key nutrient. And since it appeared in a respected publication and was associated with an esteemed doctor, many persons who would have otherwise dismissed the notion embraced it. This perhaps included my physician, which led to my flummoxed flaxseed frolic.

Repeat this recommendation and extraneous lab tests a few million times over and one gets the drastic increase in sales and testing. It also means there are hordes of healthy people popping a superfluous supplement tablet. One per day would be OK, though likely not beneficial, but going over that can lead to health issues. Hey, maybe that’s it! Maybe the recommendations are being made to get people sick from an overdose and give the doctors more sick patients and more money!

On a serious note, this does highlight the irony of the situation. Alt-med proponents and conspiracy theorists routinely allege that labs gain from unnecessary testing and that drug companies profit from unnecessary products, and that it’s all directed by persons with conflicts of interest who sit on the payroll of the benefited entities. The one time this seems to be happening, these groups embrace it.