“Disserves the label” (Food company claims)

COOKDANGER

My usual grocery store has been disappointing me lately. First it stopped carrying Old Spice. I am old enough that my aftershave’s scent should reflect my creeping geriatric status. Then they dispensed with Jewish rye bread. There are a few items where I insist that quality top budgetary concerns and this was among those few. The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread analogy doesn’t work very well here, so I’ll just say I found the Jewish rye right proper. Then the grocery store committed its greatest sin of omission by no longer carrying Peter Pan peanut butter. With the brand’s texture, smoothness, and faint saltiness, I will always be dissatisfied with any other option.

But I needed some PB for the week, so with resignation and despondency, I grabbed some Jif. When I got home, I noticed the jar had one of those annoying non-GMO labels. Toward the end of the ingredient list were soybeans, which is one of nine foods that may be sold in the U.S. after genetic modification. So it’s possible that Jif’s parent company, J.M. Smucker, made a conscious decision to bypass genetically modified soybeans for traditional ones. More likely, however, is that Jif’s ingredients have been the same for the past 30 years and the company chose to add the label to take advantage of consumers’ unjustified fears.

There are other labels on jars, cans, and wrappers that likewise are factually correct, but may be disingenuous, misleading, or instilling unnecessary worry. For instance, you may see ones proclaiming, “No added hormones.” This is relevant on beef, but no chicken or pork can be sold if the animal received hormones, so such labels are redundant and playing on consumers’ naiveté.

Whereas the previous label occasionally has legitimate uses, an “antibiotic-free” proclamation on meat is always superfluous. While farmers may give their livestock antibiotics, a legally-mandated withdrawal period ensures the animals have no antibiotic residue at the time of slaughter.

The most ubiquitous, ostentatiously trumpeted label is “organic.” This designation means more than “overpriced.” Many organic consumers think the label means pesticide-free, but it really means the pesticides may not be synthetic. Even then, there are dozens of exceptions: http://tiny.cc/y60vky.

Most importantly, whether the pesticide is natural or manmade has no bearing on its safety, toxicity, or effectiveness. And whether they are organic or synthetic, added pesticides constitute little of what we end up consuming. According to farmer and agriculture blogger Michelle Miller, more than 99 percent of the pesticides on our foods occur naturally within the plant. 

Going back to animals, be wary of the “cage-free” label. This is legitimate if applied to eggs, but some unscrupulous food companies decided to slap this label on their poultry meat, piggybacking on the popularity of the description on egg cartons. But again, we are dealing with a redundancy because chickens raised for meat are not caged. They may, however, be confined to a warehouse in crowded, unsafe, unsanitary conditions, so being cage-free is not necessarily synonymous with animal welfare.

Staying in the meat section, we now examine “rBST-free” claims. Bovine somatotropin is a hormone cows produce naturally, while recombinant bovine somatotropin is a synthetic version of this. When given to cows, rBST gives them a little more of a hormone they already have and helps them produce more milk. Milk from a cow that has been treated with rBST has no nutritional difference from milk that comes from a cow not treated. As to the effect on the animals, a 2014 meta-analysis published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed no significant increase in mastitis or other harms.  

“Gluten-free,” as we’ve covered on this blog before, is a pointless distinction for anyone who doesn’t have celiac or a similar condition. Except for those in these categories, going gluten-free is to follow a meaningless dietary fad, and foods so labeled are no more healthy or nutritious than the gluten-filled options. In recent years, the gluten-free label has been added to many foods that have always had this distinction, only now it is supposed to mean something.

Although ethically dubious, the previous examples are all at least true. That is not the case when one sees a “chemical free” label. All matter contains chemicals, indeed that’s what chemistry is, the study of matter. Those who use the label hope those reading it will associate the word “chemical” with Chernobyl, World War I mustard gas, and train wreck spillage.

I try to avoid supporting companies that use the labels we’ve examined. The labels not only prey on unnecessary fears, they carry an implied smearing of hardworking farmers and food scientists. I just hope I never face the dilemma of having to decide what to do if I see a non-GMO label on Peter Pan.

“Creative types” (Creationist categories)

DINO FOSSILS

While the conflict between creationism and science is frequently played out on talk shows, in court rooms, and at state school board meetings, there are different branches of creationism and they vary significantly in how much they run counter to science.

The most anti-science of the branches is the one we hear from almost exclusively, and this makes sense. Proponents of these beliefs are the ones whose worldview is most threatened by cosmology, paleontology, biology, and geology, so they are the ones most likely to object to these subjects being presented. They do so loudly and incessantly, and are not content to preach it, they want government agencies and schools to teach it.

While this branch is the only one openly hostile to science, none of the other branches have contributed anything to our understanding of any scientific field. Floating ideas to the fellow-minded at a church coffee is as close as they come to having their ideas peer reviewed. The hypotheses we will examine cannot be evaluated by the Scientific Method, as they are neither testable nor falsifiable.

The most basic distinction is between Old Earth and Young Earth Creationists. The former accept the scientific age for the age of the universe and, depending on their subcategory, may embrace evolution, geology, and anthropology.

Here are the eight primary types of creationists, in descending order of how their views are compatible with science:

FIGURATIVE INTERPRETATION. Here, Adam and Eve are allegories, not people. They are emblematic of humans and our strengths, cooperation, doubts, foibles, and perseverance.

Noah’s ark is about Mankind’s fall and redemption, not a literal tale. The talking donkey in Numbers is not a fact but a fable that contains a life lesson. Exodus outlines the relationship between authorities and the governed and is not historical document about Mount Sinai tablets, a burning bush, and Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert. The figurative approach does get around difficult questions, such as how Israelites could spend those 40 years marching around and camping, without leaving behind one piece of archeological evidence testifying to their wandering journey.

The figurative interpretation does not precisely consider the Bible mythology because the god behind this is still real and is probably the one who inspired the authors. The tales are still considered to serve a divine purpose.

Ancient Jewish religious leaders regularly told tales that were never meant to be taken as literal, but were rather precautionary, instructive, or didactic in nature. They were meant to help readers grow, adapt, and learn. With the figurative interpretation, the Torah and subsequent books are comparable to other ancient Jewish tales and are literary devices with a means to an end.   

One can embrace this position without sacrificing one molecule of scientific literacy. The figurative idea is the one most attractive for a Christian struggling to reconcile their faith with science, or for a scientist interested in adopting or maintaining Christianity.

THEISTIC EVOLUTION. This is the belief that instances of evolution which have been and continue to be observed are guided by the biblical god. The Pope has endorsed this idea and theistic evolution accepts the geologic and biologic records, positing they are the results of divine intervention, done by a god who created and controls our world and its processes.

Theistic evolution allows and embraces scientific research and permits the acceptance of new information. If all creationists were in this camp, there would be very little conflict between them and the scientific community. The latter might find supplementing science with Yahweh no more valid that crediting the Zoroastrian deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or pondering that this is all a novel being penned by a supremely advanced Nibiru alien. But since established science is accepted and new discoveries encouraged and celebrated, there is no meaningful dispute.

Additionally, theistic evolutionists are OK with a universe that is 13.7 billion years old because, Ken Ham’s protestations to the contrary, biblical authors never wrote that Earth is 6,000 years old. Some believers arrived at that figure by calculating biblical genealogies, then adding the six creation days and a day of rest to them. Most Young Earth Creationists are content to say “5 to 10,000 years old” though the especially enterprising Irish archbishop James Ussher arrived at a quite specific creation date of Oct. 23, 4004 BCE, at 6 p.m. Safe to say, he wasn’t a theistic evolutionist.

The theistic evolution category allows a fair amount of leeway. For example, Genesis states Man was created in God’s image, yet none of us know what this deity is supposed to look like. Maybe he resembled a single-celled organism, in which case those organisms being at the lowest level of the Geologic Column would be consistent with Adam being created during the first week.

EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONISM. In this view, Adam and Eve were the first spiritually aware humans. Human creation is not precisely literal, as their predecessors were created by God, then through evolution, the descendants reached a stage where they could speak, comprehend good and evil, grasp the concept of God, and understand divine instruction. This position accepts the geologic and biologic records, but is emphatic there was a literal Adam and Eve, though they came to be in the same way as all early humans.

At this point, there is nothing that specifically rejects science, but we see the first example of being insistent on one instance of Biblical literalism, i.e. the existence of Adam and Eve.

PROGRESSIVE CREATIONISM. While Adam and Eve were literal in the previous category, they were evolved beings. In progressive creationism, they are considered the result of a special creation event. Progressive Creationism accepts the geologic record, and much of the prehistoric biologic record, including the age of dinosaurs. However, Adam and Eve were created separately from other animals. This is where the separation between science and faith becomes noticeably stretched. This category rejects the biological link between early hominids and humans that is evident in the fossil record. It also ignores or rationalizes away the fact that humans and chimps share 98 percent of their DNA.

DAY-AGE CREATIONISM. In this hypothesis, the six creation days are actually six geological epochs. If you don’t slam the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses, they may get around to mentioning this belief, as it is the organization’s official position. For scriptural support, they reference a verse that says, to God, a thousand years is like a day.  

There are some major problems with Day-Age creationism. For one, since the creation account has plants coming before stars, it would require ferns and the like to exist for millions of years with no light source.

Day-Age creationism also stipulates that all land animals were created separately from, and have no descent from, any sea animals. This would leave no answer for amphibians or transitional fossils that have features of both seafaring creatures and terrestrial beasts, like Tiktaalik. The evidence for whales and hippos having common ancestry is rejected, not owing to assessment of new discoveries, but because the Watchtower tract says to do so.

This belief does accept the evidence for the age of the universe and there is no inherent geologic conflict here, but the denial of biology is becoming stronger.

GAP CREATIONISM. This holds that there were 4.5 billion years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This model attempts to marry the age of Earth with Genesis literalism. In between furtive hotel visits, Jimmy Swaggart advocated this model. Gap Creationism states that after God created the heavens and Earth, a VERY long time followed, during which nothing worth being documented occurred.

From a consistent-with-science standpoint, this has the redeeming quality of being OK with astronomy, cosmology, and geology. But whereas day-age creationism begins to deny some evolutionary basics, adherents to this view must completely toss biology aside for the Bible. In this view, living organisms could have come into existence only a few thousand years ago.

At this point, we will move to the Young Earth Creationists. There are only two groups in this camp and they have just one piece of common ground: That there were no astronomical bodies 7,000 years ago.

OMPHALISM. Not all that different from The Matrix, as our world is mostly an illusion. This branch takes its name from the 19th Century book Omphalos, which is  Greek for navel. Omphalism refers to the belief that Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, giving them the false appearance of having gotten here through natural rather than supernatural means.

Adherents accept every scientific measurement regarding the age of Earth and all discoveries of biology, cosmology, and astronomy, with the quite relevant caveat that all discoveries are deceptions and God is merely making living organisms appear evolved or making the universe seem to be 13.7 billion years old.

Scientists will arrive only at the conclusions God wishes them to see. More detailed explanations may include God making the stars with the light already in transit or maybe the stars being God-induced hallucinations. The erosion and upheaval that would seem to explain mountains are instead deceptions and Cosmic Background Radiation is a mirage.  

Some consider it all a test of faith, i.e. God put dinosaur bones there to see if we would believe the paleontologist or the preacher. The Omphalism hypothesis is a form of “Last Thursdayism,” a thought experiment which ponders that everything may have been created a few days ago with all of us having false memories instilled in us.

YOUNG EARTH HARDLINERS. Here we abandon all pretense of anything remotely scientific, reasonable, rational, or evidence-based. Young Earth hardliners  embrace an alternate version of reality which jettisons most known science. They are truly creationists, as they have created an artificial explanation for why the universe and all its inhabitants are 6,000 years old. They have no concern for proof, research, or observation and no use for the Scientific Method or peer review.

Becoming a Young Earth hardliner means abandoning nearly everything Mankind has learned about cosmology, geology, biology, paleontology, oceanography, chemistry, astronomy, and anthropology. Only physics might escape unscathed.

Radiometric and carbon dating, dismissed. Speed of light, untrue. Geologic column, doesn’t exist. Written records by ancient Egyptians before, during, and after the Flood, fraudulent. Lucy, archaeopteryx, and Tiktaalik, all misinterpreted or fabricated by scientists.

The only nod to science most of them make occurs when evolution is literally observed, such as in a Petri dish or the case of the Florida lizard whom zoologists documented developing a new toe pad. In such instances, they concede that these changes occurred, but insist that a series of such changes has never, and will never, lead to speciation.

They consider fossils to be Flood victims and insist the fossilization process took just 200 years. The Grand Canyon and other geologic features were carved out by the same Flood. The Creation Museum features a triceratops wearing a saddle.

The Answers in Genesis mission statement is that no science is correct if it contradicts the Bible. Which is enough to raise the question of why they mess with their laughable attempts at scientific explanations on their website instead of just posting the Bible.

They frequently answer criticism by stating that believers and nonbelievers have different worldviews. While this might be a rare AIG accuracy, it says nothing about which side is promoting scientific truth, and is merely to dismissing dissenting views and evidence with an ad hominem.

Don’t take my word for all this. Here are examples lifted from Young Earth hardliner websites:

Blueletterbible.org on cosmology: “If Scripture says the world is 8,000 years old, then the world is 8,000 years old, no matter what science might say.”

Answers In Genesis on radioactive dating: “No geologists were present when most rocks formed.”

Institute for Creation Research on biology: “Life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created.”

Discover Institute on abiogenesis: “Studies of the cell reveal vast quantities of biochemical information stored in our DNA in the sequence of nucleotides.  No physical or chemical law dictates the order of the nucleotide bases in our DNA, and the sequences are highly improbable and complex.” This is a longwinded way of saying, “God did it.” This appeal to incredulity is one of the logical fallacies most committed by Young Earth hardliners.

While this is by far the most extreme branch, they are also the most committed and are the ones getting tax rebates while practicing religious and sexual orientation discrimination in hiring, and getting tax money to build the Ark Encounter. They are the ones trying to get creationism taught in public school biology class and the ones convincing state school boards to adopt stances that require districts to suggest that evolution, cosmology, and astronomy are not true.

While they hurl much venom at atheists and scientists, anyone in the previous seven creationist categories is labeled a heretic and possibly worse than an unbeliever (keeping in mind what they think of unbelievers). At the Creation Museum, Christians who have a different interpretation of Genesis than Ken Ham are portrayed as the devil in snake form. This serpent delightedly notes that if it can convince someone that the Flood was a myth or that dinosaurs came before man, then maybe it can convince them that Christ is not the savior.

While these types can employ the genetic fallacy to dismiss what an atheist or Omphalist says, they run into serious trouble when the Bible contradicts their teachings. In Genesis 1, God makes plants before he makes man, but in Genesis 2, this order is reversed. Your choice, Ham, which of those Biblical accounts is a lie?

“Not oil that” (Coconut oil)

COCNURSE

In 1985, Sean Penn was known primarily for two distinctions. One was for being a man who had greatly overachieved in the martial department. The other was for being the impetuous type, a borderline lunatic who attacked photographers with rocks, fired at helicopters which transported them, and who dangled another from a ninth story balcony.

Penn hasn’t completely abandoned his Paparazzi pummeling, but he has four Academy Award nominations, one Oscar victory, and is solidly on the A list, up several letters from where he was 30 years ago. He has branched into directing well-received movies, scored an exclusive interview with the world’s most wanted man, and helped rescue Hurricane Katrina victims. He has achieved a level and breadth of success few would have predicted in the mid-80s.

Also greatly ascending in public image over this time has been coconut oil, which has undergone a transformation from culinary super villain to the latest alleged superfood. But whereas Penn improved his image by being a more willing interview, turning in a captivating performance in Mystic River, and spearheading Haiti earthquake relief, coconut oil is the same substance it was in 1987 when Penn spent a month in jail for punching an extra on set.  

For years its bad reputation was because of its astronomical amount of saturated fat. The oil’s concentration of it is the highest of any food source. In the 1980s, this high content led some to blame coconut oil for heart attacks, so food companies replaced it with partially hydrogenated oils. But it turned out those oils contained trans fat, which became the next demonized food item people clamored to get rid of. So out went the hydrogenated oils, which were replaced, rather uncreatively, by coconut oil. Sort of like when 1962 New York Mets catcher Harry Chiti was traded for himself.

When this switch was made, coconut oil was just considered less awful that hydrogenated oil. But this morphed into it being healthy, which became medicinal, and today is considered a panacea in alternative medicine and anti-Big Pharma circles.

Different proponents credit it with promoting weight loss, preventing heart disease, and arresting diabetes, autism, and herpes. Further, it rejuvenates the skin, promotes oral health, and cures acne. Even this handful of miracles is paltry compared to the list of 101 super amazing stupendous wonderful functions it can serve, according to Joseph Mercola, Dr. Oz, and Wellness Mama.

In this blog’s tradition of soberness and stodginess, let’s take a more measured look at coconut oil. As to what it is, coconut oil is extracted from the edible white inside the fruit’s shell. With regard to its impact on health, saturated fats raise bad cholesterol levels, but depending on the food source, will have different cardiovascular effects. One of the benefits trumpeted by proponents is that coconut oil will reduce the risk of heart disease. But this is iffy at best. Coconut oil’s main saturated fatty acid is lauric acid and some research suggests this substance can raise both good and bad cholesterol. If that’s true, the net heart health benefit is no better than neutral.  

Proponents point to populations in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Polynesia, all of whom consume copious coconut and who have relatively low incidences of heart conditions. But their diets also include more fish, fruits, and vegetables than most Americans, and genetics could be a factor. An analysis of 21 studies by Nutrition Reviews found no evidence that coconut oil reduces the risk of heart disease.

But even if that’s the case, proponents insist there would still be ample reason to keep consuming the oil. They describe it as a wonder substance that possesses antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, and which can combat HIV, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. Mercola calls it the best cooking choice, compares it to a mother’s milk, and says it boosts immunity. We’ve been through this one before: It is not only impossible to boost a healthy person’s immunity, it is undesirable. An overactive immune system results in autoimmune disorders like lupus and arthritis. The latter is another of the ailments coconut oil allegedly alleviates, so this reminds me of comedian Steven Wright’s fantasy of putting a humidifier and dehumidifier in the same room and letting them fight it out.

Mercola’s partner in slime, Dr. Oz, credits coconut oil with vanquishing viruses, battling bacteria, boosting thyroid function, and writing your résumé. Not wanting to be left out of this hyperbole hoedown, Wellness Mama claims it treats sunburns, athlete’s foot, nasal allergies, insomnia, depression, cellulite, mosquito bites, and lice. To hear this trio tell it, we should all tear out our medicine cabinets and replace them with coconut stands.

Probably the most presumptuous claim is that massive doses of the oil can stop Alzheimer’s disease. This is based mostly on a writer’s anecdote that her afflicted husband could draw a clock better after ingesting large amounts of the super substance. She takes a swing at sounding science-y by proposing that medium-chain triglycerides in the oil boost the liver’s production of ketones, which are the byproducts of fat breakdown, and that this provides an energy source for brain cells to rejuvenate.

However, there are no published human studies to back such claims. It is unknown whether medium-chain triglycerides reduce Alzheimer’s effects. Even if they did, the component responsible for this would need to be isolated, extracted, tested in clinical trials, and dispensed in medicine form. The notion of getting this benefit through continual slurping of coconut oil seems very unlikely and certainly isn’t supported by research.

Harriett Hall, the SkepDoc, did a PubMed search for an Alzheimer’s-coconut oil connection, and found zero results. Meanwhile, Snopes reports there are no published studies confirming the oil has medicinal value.  

There are a few studies that suggest coconut oil fats might lower blood glucose levels in some patients. Unfortunately, the more unscrupulous proponents will take this possible, limited benefit and turn it into a blaring headline about coconut oil curing diabetes and encourage readers to toss their insulin. I’m no Sean Penn, but that makes me want to punch somebody.

“Shedding fears” (Vaccine shedding)

vaxgerm

A frequent anti-vax talking point centers on vaccine shedding. Like much of the movement, it turns a kernel of truth into a bushel of baloney.

While shedding can occur with some vaccines, there is danger in only very specific cases, cases in which the danger can be eliminated with simple precautions. Anti-vaxxers transform this into the notion that all vaccinated persons are  potentially lethal to any unvaccinated persons they come into contact with.

There are three major problems with this thinking. First, it asserts that vaccinations cause and spread disease without explaining how those diseases could have existed before the vaccines did. Second, an anti-vaxxer should consider this inconsequential since they insist that the likes of measles, polio, and swine flu are nothing to worry about, and perhaps even to be celebrated: goo.gl/tmSxHd.

Most importantly, except in rare, specific instances, vaccinated persons cannot infect someone who is dutifully repelling rubella with homeopathic eucalyptus drops. For starters, to be impacting someone else, the vaccinated would need to be shedding an infectious agent, specifically a live virus. They could not be a danger to anyone after being given an inactivated vaccine like polio, hepatitis A, or Whooping Cough.

Such vax facts weren’t about to stand in the way of blogger Cynthia Janak, who warned that selfish pro-vaxxers could spread Whooping Cough to the unvaccinated. Which raises the question of why only the unvaccinated would be at risk from shedding. Anti-vaxxers insist that vaccines aren’t effective and also insist that vaccine shedding spreads disease to nearby persons. If all this was true, the vaccinated should also be infecting others who have been immunized. Further, the one doing the shedding should also be getting sick, as they are hosting the virus and are the one closest to the virus when it sheds. And if shedding claims were true, younger siblings of freshly-vaccinated toddlers should be dying at a rate of hundreds per day.

The inexhaustible Janak has written hundreds of posts promoting anti-vax beliefs and she claims to have done thousands of hours of research. Yet none of those hours were dedicated to learning the relatively simple concept that the Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis vaccine contains an inactivated toxin and not a live virus. Also, please note that when an anti-vaxxer references their “research,” they almost invariably mean Internet surfing and exchanging anecdotes with the likeminded. They do not mean conducting laboratory experiments, running controlled tests, overseeing double blind studies, or publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

That is why, for all this alleged research, Janak wrote a column entitled, “Will the vaccinated infect the unvaccinated? That is the question with Whooping cough.” In it, she writes, “Vaccine shedding is the transmission of the virus from a vaccinated person to an unvaccinated person. All these parents and child care workers are going to get the vaccine and then have the potential to infect the unvaccinated child.” That the children could be infected due to their unvaccinated nature never occurs to her.

Again, for it to even be possible to impact someone else, a live virus must be shed, and this does not occur with the Whooping Cough vaccine. Shedding can only happen with live virus vaccines, such as MMR, varicella, and rotavirus. And when this does occur, shedding is not synonymous with transmission. As the name suggests, that would require something being transmitted from one organism to another, and only the tiniest percentage of shedding instances lead to transmission.

Viral shedding is recognized as a reality by pro-vaxxers, and doctors stress that caution should be exercised when the recently vaccinated will be around newborns or persons immunocompromised or pregnant. Special care should be taken to ensure that vulnerable individuals avoid coming into contact with the excrement of the recently immunized persons for two weeks. To recap, in order for shedding to be a danger, it must involve a live virus and the exposed person must be in one of three categories and must come into contact with the immunized individual’s stool within a fortnight. That it needs to occur in these very specific, avoidable circumstances is consistent with the rarity of vaccine shedding being harmful.   

One final crazy kicker to this. Janak wrote a column about the danger that persons vaccinated for chickenpox pose to the unvaccinated, warning the latter could catch the disease through shedding. She later extolled the virtues of intentionally exposing children to the disease at pox parties. So she expresses outrage that adults who refuse the vaccine might catch the disease, then celebrates purposefully passing that vaccine-preventable disease onto children and infecting them with a condition that brings a 1 in 60,000 chance of death.

“Union Jackboot” (North American Union)

NAUFLAG

In the late 1990s, Michael Moore previewed an upcoming episode of The Awful Truth by announcing he would be helping aliens illegally enter the United States. This teaser included a video of him ushering people across the border under cover of darkness. During the episode, the full truth was revealed, as viewers came to learn Moore was assisting with an invasion of Canadians.  

Moore was pointing out the hypocrisy of persons having far less of a problem with that than with helping aliens cross the southern border. However, there is a difference between racial bigotry and xenophobia. While they often go together, and many persons exhibit both, there are subtleties that distinguish them.

I saw an interview with a racist who admitted he would have no trouble with immigrants, legal or otherwise, coming from Sweden. It was the Latinos he had an issue with, and he freely admitted it was the amount of melanin in their skin that he took issue with.

By contrast, let’s consider the Birthers. Certainly, it is no coincidence that the movement arose once a man with dark skin ascended to the presidency. When someone sees their world being upended in ways they find discomforting, they look to reassert control and seek revenge on those responsible. But even in the wacky Birther world, there was a difference between the hard core adherents and the less strident. For the latter, the theory was primarily a way of coping with election results they were unable to handle. Rather than asking, “Where did we go wrong, why did we fail,” it was more reassuring to insist, “The other side cheated.”

But the hardcore Birthers, while just as wrong and also spurred in part by racial bigotry, were driven more by xenophobia. These types also objected to John McCain’s presidential bid because he was born in the Canal Zone. Eight years later, they created memes in which Ted Cruz was a puppet of either Canada or Cuba. Even birth in the United States was insufficient, as venom was also flung at Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and even the lilywhite Rick Santorum, all for daring to have foreign parents.

For these folks, a Caucasian Christian Conservative candidate would be opposed if he moved the United States from London when he was three days old. Again, I’m not denying racial animus on the part of these people. They would likely not be OK with their daughter showing up with a black man (or a woman of any color, for that matter). Still, their overriding bigotry is xenophobia, and they are the types who endorse the idea that U.S. sovereignty is about to be sacrificed to a North American Union.

Jerome Corsi, who championed the idea before giving his considerable conspiracy energies to the Birther movement, described the NAU as a globalist attempt by  to surreptitiously dismantle the borders between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. The three federal governments will then be dissolved and in their place will be communist policies, barbed wire, and Kafkaesque courts.

Some say this takeover is already underway, while others think it’s in the planning stages. Either way, the goal is for unspecified elites to oversee a new government that allows allows them almost unlimited power and profit. This will all be buoyed by 500,000,000 involuntary laborers toiling in a totalitarian dystopia.

There is no evidence this is taking place, but believers point to disparate catastrophes as being part of the plot. The Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, were perpetuated to give the government a chance to increase control of the populace and smooth the way to stand up the Union. While the Patriot Act includes many chilling provisions that potentially makes the U.S. more authoritarian, this actually runs counter to the NAU theory, which presupposes the U.S. will sacrifice its sovereignty.

Believers also assert that Hurricane Katrina was created and controlled by HAARP weapons. The reason was to provide a guise under which the usual suspects could be rounded up and ushered into FEMA camps.

For being central to the theory, these camps are conspicuously missing, as is an extra wide highway that will run the run the length of the three countries. This construction project would be exceedingly difficult to pull off clandestinely, yet NAU believers continually insist it is being built or planned.

The most frequently-cited evidence for the coming NAU is the supposed existence of the amero, a currency that will replace the U.S. and Canadian dollars and the peso. There are examples of such bills and coins, but they were created as novelties by individuals and private companies, not government mints.

The coins were the brainchild of Daniel Carr, who designed the New York and Rhode Island statehood quarters. Unauthorized postings of images taken from his website were touted in conspiracy circles as proof the NAU is imminent.  

Before being sentenced to prison for encouraging the assassination of federal judges, white nationalist Hal Turner was the primary promoter of the coin/collective roundup connection. After Carr explained the truth on his website, Turner played the classic conspiracy theory card of claiming evidence that disproved the theory was instead part of it. Turner claimed Carr’s coin website had been created overnight for the express purpose of discrediting him. In truth, the website had been up for years.

From there, Turner moved onto highlighting paper money. His blog ran photos of amero bills in different denominations. He deflected inquiries as to where they came from, citing only “my sources.” Sources other than his own revealed the images had been pilfered from a Flickr user who had created them for purposes of artistic and political commentary.

In what passes for one of their arguments, supporters of the theory point out that many European countries adopted the Euro. Besides being irrelevant, this glosses over significant differences between European and North American countries and economies. Also, the euro was publicly announced and planned, whereas the amero is supposedly shrouded in sinister secrecy.

Plus, the euro was created to solve problems specific to Europe, which featured dozens of small countries doing business among each another. This became an issue because each nation had separately fluctuating currencies, exchange was inefficient and costly, interest rates spiked and dipped wildly, and there were varied, continually changing inflation rates. All this turned almost every transaction between European nations into guesswork.  

The euro cleared up these problems, so much so that U.S. Soldiers who had received four Deutschemarks for every dollar were, 10 years later, getting just 75 Euro cents for that buck.

North American countries, meanwhile, do not experience the myriad economic issues that plagued Europe before it adopted a common currency. There are only three economies and exchange rates in play, and NAFTA has solved many of the economic issues the North American countries had faced.

Likewise, there’s little comparison between the EU and the nefarious NAU. EU members retain sovereignty, hold elections, issue passports, raise armed forces, collect customs, and have the option of maintaining a border presence. More tellingly, the EU is not imprisoning citizens without trial or shipping them to slave labor camps.

Two groups are cited by theorists as evidence for the planned Union: the Independent Task Force on North America, and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. The former is a group of business owners and academics, while the latter consisted primarily of government officials, whose stated goals were information sharing, improved productivity, reducing trade costs, environmental protection, disease reduction, and ensuring access to clean food and water.

It mattered little to the theorists that neither of these groups entered into any treaties or agreements. Lou Dobbs, probably the most conspiratorial-minded mainstream media personality, called the SPP as an agreement which would establish the North American Union without Congressional consent. In fact, it was not an agreement, it formed no Union, and attempted no end run around Congress, and indeed had nothing to try and sneak past it.  

Pointedly, neither Dobbs nor any other theory subscriber considered the 2009 dissolution of the SPP to be evidence the NAU proposal had been abandoned.

Another supposed piece of evidence is a Council on Foreign Relations report that calls for more economic cooperation and intelligence-sharing among the three countries. However, the CFR is a non-governmental organization that has no relevance to policy making in any of the countries.

Besides, the paper calls for little more than streamlined customs procedures that would eliminate tariffs between the countries and employ a common tariff for goods imported from outside the three nations. The paper also calls for greater border security, which would be antithetical to the NAU’s supposed goal, and which would stifle Moore’s Canadian interlopers.

“What fur?” (Aquatic Ape Hypothesis)

SEAMONKEKYS

Humans and apes share a common ancestor, yet Homo sapiens have several traits that distinguish them from orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and the rest. We are exclusively bipedal, lack fur, and have more fat.

One attempt to explain these differences is the aquatic ape hypothesis, an idea first proposed by physician Max Westenhöfer and marine biologist Alister Hardy in the 1920s and 1930s. They argued that a branch of apes was forced from the trees and began hunting for food on the shores. The notion is not that man came directly from the sea a la the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Rather, following the split with chimpanzees, the Homo genus went through a stage of being aquatic or at least amphibian, and this branch became us. In the hypothesis, wading, swimming and diving for food had a large evolutionary impact on how we turned out.

While humans and apes have very similar appearance, the most obvious difference is our lack of fur, save for a couple of guys I’ve seen in the locker room. There are only a few other mammals without fur, and this includes dolphins, manatees, and whales, all of whom have smooth, oily skin that  allows for more efficient swimming. However, this is the result of being adapted for swimming over tens of millions of years. Also, other savanna mammals such as elephants, hippos, and rhinos are without fur, while seals, otters, and beavers maintained theirs. Therefore, it does not necessarily follow that an aquatic ape would have lost its coat.  

Which leads us to the second point of the aquatic ape hypothesis. Instead of fur, humans have subcutaneous body fat, which apes have little of, and dolphins and whales have plenty of. This fat would seem to be disadvantageous for a hunter-gatherer but beneficial for a creature needing buoyancy and insulation from cold water.

However, apes have the same type of subcutaneous fat as people, they just have less of it. Moreover, human fat is distinct from the blubber of furless sea mammals, and would not help an aquatic creature stay afloat or keep warm.  

A third claim centers on our bipedalism. In water, this makes it possible to wade to a greater depth, and when swimming, enables a coordinated motion of arm strokes and leg kicks. Supporters of the hypothesis point out that while biologists feel bipedalism emerged for life on the savannah, no other animals from there developed the trait.

However, bipedalism has developed only in land animals and is not an adaptation for an aquatic life. Also, animals who spend all or part of their time in the water are either four-legged creatures like the hippopotamus or specialized swimmers without legs, like dolphins.

Another point made to support the aquatic ape hypothesis is that humans can control their breathing consciously, a trait they share with mammals who have the ability to dive. However, most primates can hold their breath, as can dogs. Humans have much better breath control than other animals, but they also use their breath for speech and other skills not possessed by other creatures. Therefore, an aquatic ape would not need humans’ specialized breath control.

The hypothesis runs counter to the archeological and anthropological evidence that hominids developed on Rift Valley savannahs. This evidence further suggests a major divergence between the great apes and hominids about six million years ago. Also, fossils from around 4.4 million years ago reveal terrestrial bipedal hominids with small brains and fur, which would be inconsistent with the hypothesis.

Animal Planet ran a faux documentary on mermaids in 2012, then aired an equally silly sequel the following year. The subject matter was presented in advertisements as genuine and the only hint to the contrary came during the closing credits, when a disclaimer in minuscule print flashed on the screen so briefly it could have been mistaken for a subliminal message.

While the shows were staged, they introduced the notion that mermaids could be explained through the aquatic ape hypothesis. This idea has since received positive mention on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. While the notion is presented as possibly shedding new light on human evolution, the fact that formerly erudite networks are promoting mermaids seems more an example of us having devolved.

 

 

 

 

“Corrective memory” (Mandela Effect)

steinbears

In my early 20s, I had memorized every batting champion and pennant winner in baseball history, so I decided to tackle home run leaders next. I went to the shelf to retrieve the book that contained this information and it was nowhere to be found. I only thought I had put it there. The brain that had soaked up a thousand pieces of baseball information in the previous week failed me when I tried to recall where I had put the book earlier that day.

Probably all of us have had these false memories, but when the same delusion happens on a mass scale, it is dubbed the Mandela Effect. This refers specifically to the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013, when many persons were certain they had seen his funeral procession years earlier.

Another well-known example of the Effect is many persons thinking they recall a film that never existed, Shazaam, starring Sinbad. Also, the Berenstain Bears are frequently mis-remembered as “Berenstein.”

It’s unclear why these phenomenon happen. With the anthropomorphic grizzlies, it has been speculated that since “stein” is a much more common ending for last names than is “stain,” those who grew up with the Bears were exposed to many more examples of the former. This may have helped created a false memory, which would be easy enough since the stain/stein distinction was less important than the Bears’ personalities, appearance, and adventures.

As to the fictitious flick, persons likely confused it with Kazaam, Shaquille O’Neal’s tragicomic attempt at thespian arts. Shaquille and Sinbad sound somewhat similar, and the latter has Middle Eastern fantasy overtones, so the blanks were filled in with false memories.

As to the example that gives the Effect its name, when Mandela was released from prison in 1990, there was a march that may have resembled a beloved figure’s funeral procession in terms of length, attendance, tributes, and displayed emotions. His release and its immediate aftermath may be what persons are mistakenly remembering as a funeral.

Offering a more paranormal rationale is ghost hunter and psychic Fiona Broome, who wrote that this might be evidence of an alternate universe. As she describes it, we may move in and out of these universes, sometimes taking memories with us. But if this were true, we would also be sliding out a reality where Mandela still lives and another where he overthrew the South African government in the 1960s, and no one is claiming to have recalled these circumstances.

Broome is not offering a testable hypothesis so there’s nothing substantive we do with her idea. Instead, let’s consider more reasonable alternatives.

Brains confabulate invented recollections to fill in memory gaps. We might, for example, misattribute later memories to earlier events, or think our childhood trip to the creek was with our best friend when it was really with his brother. These fabricated recollections are sometimes provided by someone else. While a few persons may have mistakenly remembered Hannibal Lecter telling the FBI trainee,  “Hello, Clarice,” many more people think they recall this line because they heard someone else saying it. Indeed, being exposed to a false memory can cause it to become implanted.

And if the false memory centers on something important to the listener, confirmation bias makes it even more likely to take hold. One of the Birther claims was that Obama’s step-grandmother was captured on tape talking about his Kenyan birth. No such tape exists, but Birthers continued to parrot it because the idea was attractive to them. Conversely, the 1990 New York Times article describing Obama as Hawaiian-born is not something they would be likely to remember.

So then, common cognitive errors are all that is needed to explain the Mandela Effect. At least that’s the case in our parallel dimension.