“Organ recital” (Electrodermal screening)

skin

Reinhold Voll was a physician and acupuncturist, an unusual mix of genuine and counterfeit medicines.  In the 1950s, the doctor embraced his Mr. Hyde persona and created a device that purportedly utilized skin resistance as a means to determine the health of internal organs.

His machine and those like it have undergone various alterations, keeping up with technology so that the testing is now mostly done by computer. But despite this seeming evolution, the mechanism remains as implausible as it did when Voll introduced his device 60 years ago. Nor is there any more reason to believe in the existence of meridians, which play a central role in Voll’s invention.  

Clients hooked up to these galvanometric machines are given a quick and thorough reading about their supposed state of health. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch gave it a go and documented his experiences in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer.  

These electrodermal screening devices are said to measure skin resistance to the  passage of low-level electrical currents. A probe touches a specific point on the patient’s skin, prompting the machine to produce a readout from zero to 100.  Voll explained that readings from 45 to 55 were normal, or “balanced” in alt-med lingo. Readings above 55 indicated inflammation of the organ associated with the meridian being measured, while readings below 45 suggested “organ stagnation and degeneration.” Homeopathic products were then given to the patient until he or she was said to be balanced. But as Barrett learned, the same skin location can produce wildly varying numbers within the same session. Also, there is no known mechanism that would enable the machine to do what its inventor claimed. Therefore, the seeming balance restorations were really just the machine giving inconsistent, meaningless information.

With modern incarnations, the client holds a metal bar in one hand while the operator applies a probe to a supposed meridian on the client’s free hand. As the SkepDoc Harriett Hall noted, it is supremely convenient for testing purposes that all meridian points are on the hands or feet.

Meanwhile, Barrett, described his experience with the device thusly: “During the testing, I noticed that the harder the probe was pressed against my skin, the higher the reading on the computer screen, which is not surprising because pressure reduces electrical resistance and makes the current flow better from the probe to the skin. Also, glass does not conduct electricity, so even if the products emitted electric signals, they could not escape from the vial.”

Additionally, there were huge signs of fraud during Barrett’s session. He noted that even though his gallbladder has been removed, the machine still gave a readout indicating this organ was “out of range,” though that was later upgraded to within range in a subsequent test that day, then downgraded again.    

Some versions of the machines even give food recommendations, though these are also terribly inconsistent. In many instnaces, some foods are listed as both ones to avoid and enthusiastically consume. This is similar to some edibles ending up on both superfood and supervillain food lists, though this is worse since the same source is recommending both eating and eschewing them. Such completely contradictory and inconsistent results show the device is incapable of measuring what it claims.

According to Barrett, to demonstrate that a device can detect organ pathology, it is necessary to conduct double blind controlled studies of people who have the condition and people who do not. Extrapolating this, demonstrating that administering a product or procedure can mitigate an illness or conditions requires studying whether people who are treated do better than those in the control group.

But with Voll’s device, screeners can offer no explanation how it determines organ health by means of a never-explained concept called meridians. There is no justification for how, say, the tip of the right index finger would tell if someone was at danger for cirrhosis. Nor is there any evidence that skin resistance is related to organ health or what people should eat. It’s no wonder Hall compared the galvanometer to a Magic 8-ball for its randomness and lack of medical genuineness. Indeed, all these machines can do is generate a small electrical current, a stimulus that is incapable of providing information on organ health, which would explain why the readings for the same client during the same session were so inconsistent.

 Still, the field has its defenders. Hans Larsen at yourhealthbase.com touts the galvanometer as being able to provide “an in-depth health assessment and treat many problems right on the spot with electrical impulses. ”

He chastises “conventional Western medicine” for looking for “structural defects” that may lead to surgery or drugs.  He then asks,” Why don’t we focus on modifying our thoughts and other subtle energies in order to heal ourselves?”

I don’t know what subtle energies Larsen is referring to, so I cannot attempt to procure them. But I can control what I’m thinking, and I conclude that Larsen’s recommendation of treating diseases with thoughts and undefined energies instead of doctors and medicine is a poor one.

Advertisements

“The nuclear option” (Nuclear power fears)

NUKESMILE

In the rare times that the left and right are in agreement, it’s usually because both sides are getting something from the deal. But in the case of nuclear power, the objections from a mix of liberals and conservatives are ironically stifling an innovative, pro-environment, pro-business resource. That’s because nuclear power’s efficiency, safety, and low-carbon status are three strong reasons to adopt the technology.

Liberals who object are self-styled environmentalists who embrace the positions of the IPCC and IEA when it comes to climate change. Yet they reject nuclear power, which those organizations call one of the primary solutions to global warming.

Meanwhile on the right, objections seem to be based on oil and coal industry titans potentially seeing their salaries dip into the seven figures if nuclear power becomes too prevalent. So the best way to win over conservatives would be to point out to how much money a real-life C. Montgomery Burns could make.

As to trying to convince those on the left, the key point is that all energy sources contain risks and that nuclear is among the least concerning. I find nuclear power akin to airplanes. They are both the safest method of doing what they do, but the failures are spectacular, widely publicized, and most remembered.

But there are more chilling dangers from air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. According to the criminally underappreciated blogger Thoughtscapism, even wind causes more deaths per kilowatt than nuclear power does. She also cites climate scientists James Hansen and P.A. Kharecha, whose paper on nuclear powered concluded that the technology has saved two million lives by producing energy that had previously come via coal.

According to evolutionary and environmental blogger J.M. Korhonen, even when the full lifecycle is considered – uranium mining, accidents, and waste spillage, nuclear energy is still one of the safest energy sources.  She also wrote that, when compared to sources that require burning, energy produced from nuclear power is responsible for much less harm to people and the environment. The same conclusion was reached by the EU-funded External Costs of Energy study.

Additionally, Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent research review that deduced, “The overall safety risks associated with nuclear power appear to be more in line with lifecycle impacts from renewable energy technologies, and significantly lower than for coal and natural gas.”

OK, so nuclear power is efficient and the risk of uranium mining is the same as unearthing similar minerals used in renewables, but what about the notorious accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? These get the headlines, any loss of life is tragic, and environmental damage is always disconcerting. Yet in more than 50 years, just 75 persons have died directly or indirectly as the result of nuclear power accidents, all but a handful of these at Chernobyl. This is far fewer than from coal, according to an assessment conducted by the University of Stuttgart. The study concluded that the 300 largest coal plants in Europe cause 22,000 deaths per year.

Beyond safety advantages, another plus of nuclear power is reduced carbon output. For example, the lowest emissions among European countries occur in those nations who use the most nuclear and hydrological power. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency both have the position that no single solution will bring sufficient reduction in Earth’s net carbon output. Nuclear power is needed to help make that happen.  

Fossil fuel use is still rising and the IPCC estimates that reliance on the fuels needs to be reduced 40 percent and replaced with nuclear power to have a sizable reduction in carbon reduction by 2030. Meanwhile, the IEA holds that nuclear use must double over the next three decades if humanity is to halt Earth’s rise in average global temperature. We also need bioenergy, wind, power, hydroelectricity, reforestation, solar radiation management, lifestyle changes, and other strategies, but we are losing a valuable resource by failing to embrace nuclear power.  

“Adrenaline junk” (Adrenal fatigue)

BROKENAX

Adrenal fatigue is an alternative medicine notion that adrenal glands can be exhausted and left with the inability to produce enough hormones. This, in turn, is blamed for a slew of generic symptoms, most of which apply disproportionately to persons under long-term mental or physical duress.

There is no scientific evidence supporting the concept of adrenal fatigue and it is not recognized by any medical organizations. That means zero in the naturopathic world, where blood and saliva draws are regularly used to ostensibly diagnose any number of conditions. There is no explanation for how these draws would demonstrate the presence of these conditions, nor do they offer support for the notion that the conditions even exist.

Still, there are many believers, including ones on a website that challenges supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the syllable department, natruropathicwomenswellness.com. Writing about adrenal fatigue, the site’s authors proclaim, “Saliva testing is used to diagnose candida, parasites, and fungal, bacterial, and viral infections in the system.” It might do this, but there is no correlation between those items and adrenal fatigue’s supposed symptoms, nor does it demonstrate the reality of the condition.

Dr. Todd Nipplodt of the Mayo Clinic said, “Consistent levels of chronic stress have no effect whatsoever on the adrenals and the only true endocrine disorders are those caused by other diseases and by direct damage to the adrenal glands.”

Pharmacist Scott Gavura, writing for Science Based Medicine, noted that a society of 14,000 endocrinologists stated that, “Adrenal fatigue is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.” I performed a PubMed search and it produced just one hit for “adrenal fatigue,” and that was for a systemic review which concluded there is no such animal.

To counter these medical findings and consistent data, we need us a good old-fashioned anecdote. Perhaps Dr. Axe can oblige. “To that, all I can say is adrenal fatigue is something I’ve seen personally.” What he has never seen personally is a medical degree with his name on it. Despite his preferred prefix, Axe is not a doctor, but instead has “degrees” in chiropractic and naturopathy.

Axe states that adrenal fatigue can be fixed with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a diet that emphasizes fish, turkey, and fruit, and which eschews caffeine and sweets. Oh, and buy his vitamins. Other than the last one, these are solid health tips, but it also speaks to adrenal fatigue being a nonentity. Following these pieces of advice would do nothing for legitimate conditions like arthritis, lupus, or carpal tunnel syndrome. The fact that adrenal fatigue can be “cured” with a treadmill, bananas, and a down comforter shows it’s not a disease.

The lesser danger is throwing away money on sham treatments, while the greater concern is not being treated for a genuine medical issue. This could include Addison’s disease, whose symptoms include the glands producing insufficient cortisol.

According to Gavura, adrenal glands “sit on the kidneys and produce several hormones, including the stress hormones associated with the fight or flight response. According to the theory of adrenal fatigue, when people are faced with long-term stress, their adrenal glands cannot keep up with the body’s need for these hormones.”

Chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson, who made up this idea, said symptoms include being tired, having trouble getting out of bed, body aches, moodiness, needing extra sweets or salts to get going, overreliance on caffeine, muscles feeling weaker than they should for the person’s output, and feeling continually stressed.

These common complaints are found in many diseases, disorders, and afflictions and are also routine parts of a hurried lifestyle. The symptoms are widespread enough that Dr. John Tinterra, who specialized in low adrenal function, estimated that approximately two-thirds or all people experience them occasionally.

Fabricated diseases usually have this vague-symptoms hallmark. The patient may be experiencing a real issue, but whereas a genuine doctor might run a proven test to see what the illness is, their alt-med counterparts default to whatever diagnosis they favor. This can include chi needing fixed, experiencing low energy fields, being plagued with wifi rot, or having chronic lyme disease, leaky gut syndrome, or adrenal fatigue. And the “treatment,” will, again, usually be whatever the naturopath most likes, be it herbs, homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, or being wrapped in a shaman’s blanket.

“Cuban Whistle Crisis” (Sickened diplomats)

SONIC

Cuba and the U.S. have a long history of antagonizing one another. Eisenhower targeted Castro with coup attempts and following the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, these morphed into assassination efforts. The CIA went at Castro with such frequency that there was no questioning the agency’s intent, though there were doubts about its efficiency.

A combination of James Bond and the Keystone Cops, CIA assassination attempts employed exploding cigars, explosive-laden seashells, a diving suit coated with deadly fungus, and a poison pen. After repeated failures, the agency was reduced to trying to humiliate Castro by making his beard fall out, and it failed to manage even this.

Castro lasted through 10 U.S. presidents and survived a largely ineffective embargo that included prohibitions on Americans from traveling to Cuba. Then there were the trips in the other direction. The most well-known resulted in the Elián González caper, during which right wingers developed a sudden concern for residency rights of undocumented immigrants.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, US-Cuba relations thawed, the countries resumed diplomatic ties, and the travel ban was largely rescinded. The freeze soon resumed, however, as President Trump put most of the travel restrictions back in place. There was also a mysterious mass sickening of US State Department employees at the embassy in Havana. Whether there was a connection between these two events is the focus of this post.

There were suggestions that the illnesses resulted from Cuba deploying a supersonic weapon. While not specifying what type of attack, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly used that word and blamed it for the sickness surge. The State Department’s website reads, “Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks.” Consequently, the department recalled nonessential personnel and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats.

There have been 22 confirmed illnesses, but a secret supersonic weapon would be an unlikely cause. More likely culprits would include toxins, bacteria, or viruses, as certain strains of all these can damage hearing, which is among the reported symptoms, along with tinnitus, headaches, and dizziness.

The Guardian entertained another possibility. Reporters interviewed neurologists who said that a definitive diagnosis is impossible without having access to the stricken diplomats, but they said perhaps a “functional disorder” could be effecting nervous system functioning. The newspaper quoted neurologist Mark Hallett, who said it was possible for 22 persons to be impacted by the same disorder, especially when they work close together in a high stress environment.

Meanwhile, the AP obtained audio tapes of high-pitched whistles, which some workers said they heard through cellphones or from their computer. Yet the recording reveals nothing about the source, its potentially deleterious effect on the human body, or its relationship to the sicknesses. Of relevance, the report noted that not all sickened Americans heard the strange sounds. And acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of supersonic weapons. They said they were unaware of any sound that could can cause physical damage when played for short a duration at moderate levels through normal workplace equipment like a cellphone or computer. This works against the idea that an auditory assault is causing issues related to hearing, cognition, vision, vertigo, and sleep.  

It’s true that he Navy uses long-range blasts to target terrorists and pirates, that the Army uses them at checkpoints, and police employ them to disperse crowds. But these weapons work because of their high volume and cacophony. If such a device were targeting US diplomats in Cuba, there would be no mystery about it. It would be loud and proud. Those intent on finding a Havana connection have speculated the answer may lie in a sinister device that is producing sounds beyond the human hearing threshold.

This would include the possibility of infrasound, which emits extremely low frequencies. It can cause feelings of unease in people and many times when persons reported sensing ghostly presence, infrasound was proven to be the culprit. Ultrasound is another possibility. At the other end of the spectrum from infrasound, ultrasound is too high to be heard by people, but it can still cause damage. However, even if Cuba succeeded in developing a secret supersonic weapon, physics laws would make it unlikely that the device could harm victims from a great distance. Ultrasound has limited range, gets weaker as it travels, and would be further hampered in a humid climate. Moreover, a beam of ultrasound would probably be repealed by a building’s exterior.

An ultrasound-emitting device planted inside a building might be close and powerful enough to cause harm to occupant, but it is unlikely that an army of these emitters could be implanted without being detected. And even if this happened, it still wouldn’t explain most of the symptoms U.S. diplomats are reporting.

So in summary, the idea of supersonic weapons being responsible is about as likely as Castro’s 2016 death being the result of the CIA finally succeeding.

 

“Scream of the crop” (GMO fears)

GMOKID.jpg

Anti-GMO extremists are known for their macabre corn men masks, memes of fruits taking bites out of children, and vehicles topped with tomato-fish hybrids. None of this has any relationship with reality. Online activists frequently employ ad hominem attacks in the form of evidence-free shill accusations, while also accusing posters of being Monsanto employees, whom they compare to Joseph Goebbels.

One of the more infamous anti-GMO crusaders, Nassim Taleb, contributes little to the dialogue beyond personal-attack Tweets. He refuses to discuss the issue with any adversaries, blocks anyone who disagrees, and never offers any science. I once attended an anti-GMO seminar in which the speaker claimed the USA’s enemies will eventually be able to stroll in and take over the country without firing a shot because GMOs will turn us into non-thinking zombies.

But even among the more measured anti-GMO types who do not foment these irrational fears, there are still misunderstandings of the process. However, there are no risks with genetically modified crops that do not occur with conventional breeding methods.

The latter can even pose more risks, and this is ironically more likely when countries ban genetically modified crops. That’s because when this happens, agricultural companies may develop new strains though mutagenesis, which requires subjecting plants to radiation or dousing them with toxic amounts of chemicals in order to randomly move genes in the hopes of producing new traits.  

Contrast this to genetic modification, where scientists take a gene that yields a desired trait then insert it into a crop that may lack this distinction. Mutagenesis is much less precise than genetic modification, yet remains unregulated, widely used, and unchallenged by Taleb, Vandana Shiva, Vani Hari, and other self-appointed guardians of food safety.  

One falsehood is that GMOs are more susceptible to producing allergens. In fact, genetically modified foods are required by regulatory agencies to be tested for their allergen presence. Any genetically-modified crops that are shown to have one cannot be sold or distributed. Meanwhile, crops that are known to be allergens to some, such as peanuts, are not subject to this regulation.    

There are also accusations that GMOs are prone to uncontrollable spread. But GM crops are produced by managing a small, precise change to a plant, making spread unlikely. Meanwhile, conventional breeding mixes thousands of genes from parent plants, then recombines them to produce mutations that could potentially increase the potential to spread.   

Perhaps the most frequent criticism is that heartless corporations are controlling GMOs. Yet large companies and conglomerates, heartless or otherwise, have their hands in all food production methods.  Whole Foods, which specializes in organic produce, brings in more than profit than most of companies Food Babe demonizes for making money off GMOs. Besides, farmers are free to use non-GM seeds, to buy seeds from corporations that sell exclusively conventional crops, to buy locally, or to form a coop.

A similar argument centers on patents, and concern over this is wrong for the same reason as above. The supposed idea is that malevolent Monsanto, satanic Syngenta, and detestable Dow will horde seeds and control the world’s food supply. Yet conventional crop variants can also be patented and corporations that work with conventional breeding will sue anyone who violates the patents.

Then we have an alleged increase in use of pesticides. But GM applications usually match a specific toxin to a certain crop, meaning that genetically-modified crops use fewer pesticides. Additionally, there are charges that genetically-modified foods will negatively impact bees and butterflies. But because these crops rely mostly on pesticides that targets a specific pest, they will no impact on other insects. In fact, bugs are more likely to be killed by broad-spectrum insecticides that are used in traditional farming.

Finally, there are fears expressed about genes moving between species. First, GM crops do not always involve the use of a transgene. They can also remove genes that would otherwise produce a toxin, or they can change genes to give the crop a desirable trait it might lack. And again, conventional crops also involve moving of genes between species. Emil Karlsson cited these examples on the website Debunking Denialism: “The conventional crop triticale is a hybrid between wheat and rye. Also, horizontal gene transfer between bacteria and plants occur in nature all the time and well-documented examples include the common sweet potato.” Yes, nature has produced a genetically-modified organism. Now there’s something for Taleb, Shiva, and Hari to freak over.

“Trippin’ over Sasquatch” (Cryptozoology)

BF

There are some people who delight in past mistakes made by scientists. They enthusiastically repeat these tales of science failures by posting them on the Internet or texting them into a cell phone, all while living in a world with airplanes and without smallpox.

What they fail to understand is that science is a process, not an end point. This process includes attempts to falsify and recalibrate, and test again. When mistakes are made, they are acknowledged and corrected. Moreover, such mistakes don’t prove competing notions, despite the assertions made by proponents of alternative medicine, creationism, and cryptozoology.

In my skeptic experience, science-loathing crypto lovers are relatively few in number. A majority of those intrigued by the concept of discovering a giant new beast present the search as part of a continuing effort to expand zoology. Now, I’ve never been much impressed by this rationale. There are a gazillion undiscovered insects out there, and if increasing our knowledge of the animal kingdom were the goal, those on Finding Bigfoot would instead be pursuing a graduate degree in biology while using their vast entomological knowledge to find new creepy crawlies. They wouldn’t be looking for Bigfoot, they’d be looking for the little critters he might snack on.

Since less-intense members of the cryptozoological community advertise themselves as broadminded and merely considering the possibly these creatures exist, this means they are at least ostensibly open to the possibility that there are no monsters  under the bed, on the mountaintop, or in the jungle.

Then there are those who offer no pretense of open-mindedness. Many conspiracy theorists  offer self-congratulation for being able to think for themselves and see through media accounts. But they then quaff however much speculative and poorly-substantiated tripe the conspiracy websites can offer them. Similarly, crypto fanatics say they are the ones who are advanced enough to realize these creatures exist and excoriate anyone who questions this. Consider their reaction to skeptic Benjamin Radford’s essay on 10 reasons Bigfoot was supremely unlikely.

On the site cryptomundo.com, one fervent believer called Radford a nihilist, another said he was an attention-seeker, while a third said debating skeptics or proffering evidence was a waste of time since “they wouldn’t consider the possible existence of Sasquatch even if they tripped over one.”

Our purpose here today is to demonstrate this claim’s falsity. First, a definition. A cryptid is a proposed animal based on anecdotes, lore, and eyewitness accounts. However many known animals there are in the world, that’s how many have gone from undiscovered to discovered, so it has happened for millennium and will continue to occur. This includes a few animals whose existence seemed unlikely, but then was validated. However, these are not triumphs for cryptozoologists because these new creatures were not found by cryptomundo.com, YouTube regulars, or producers of MonsterQuest. They were discovered and examined by anthropologists, zoologists, or biologists using the Scientific Method.

Most important, confirmatory evidence was embraced, not shunned or suppressed, despite claims of the cryptomundo crowd. Insinuations of science being unbending and perhaps even covering up newly-discovered truths are frequent among pseudoscientists. They also play the Galileo Gambit, which is what a cryptomundo regular calling himself Hapa did. He wrote, “Plate tectonics were laughed at and was without peer review yet now is as accepted as gravity and atomic theory.” But validation of plate tectonics does not mean that Bigfoot also being ridiculed and unsupported by peer review is proof of its existence. In critical thinking circles, that is known as the false equivalence fallacy.

Further, ridicule and lack of peer review could be overcome. Consider the platypus, a venomous, egg-laying mammal with a duckbill, otter-like feet, and a flat tail.  Another odd distinction it holds is being one of only two known mammals to hunt by means of electroreception. Many in the West presumed the platypus to be a fraud. To be sure, it is such a hodgepodge animal that it could be used as a rejoinder to the crocoduck challenge issued by confused creationist Ray Comfort and his sidekick, Kirk Cameron. More on that unintentionally hilarious episode here: tiny.cc/z0mcoy

While scientists viewed the platypus with suspicion, that’s different from being closed-minded. They asked to see the evidence and it was presented. By contrast, this is not possible with Bigfoot, Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster. There is no evidence to see, nothing to analyze, nothing to put under the microscope, no body part to test, no findings to submit for peer review.

But with the platypus, there was a corpse to consider, and George Shaw, keeper of the British Museum’s department of natural history, examined the find. The Aussie animal was so quirky, and coming in the era of P.T. Barnum and the Fiji mermaid, Shaw had to consider the animal to be a potential hoax. But after careful reviewing the evidence and following the Scientific Method, Shaw became convinced. He wrote, “I can perceive no appearance of any deceptive preparation, nor can the most accurate examination of expert anatomists discover any deception.”

Despite the claims of the cyrptomundo aficionados a few paragraphs back, scientists embrace newly-confirmed evidence. If Hapa and his cronies ever produce a Sasquatch specimen that shows itself to be genuine under the protocols Shaw used on the platypus, Bigfoot will be acknowledged, given a scientific name, and categorized.

Similarly, the giant squid for centuries was thought to be in the purview of exaggerated sailor stories. The aquatic beasts were referenced by Aristotle and Pliney the Elder, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th Century that note was made of carcasses washing up ashore. These were examined and, through science, the giant squid went from a kraken-like myth to a verified reality.

Other examples of confirmed cryptids are the mountain gorilla and komodo dragon. There is also the okapi, whose discovery and confirmation doubled the size of the Giraffidae family. Nineteenth-Century Europeans had heard tales of an elusive forest beast known as the African Unicorn and this was confirmed when the British governor of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, came into possession of an okapi skull and hide. These are examples of the third strongest piece of evidence when looking for new animals, after a live specimen and a complete corpse. When the okapi remains were confirmed as authentic, science classified it.

Cryptozoologists sometimes use such finds to bolster support for the existence or Chupacabra, Sasquatch, Nessie, or Yeti. But these so-far mythical beasts lack the proof that moved the other animals from suspected to confirmed. Fuzzy photos, wide-eyed witnesses, and ad hominem attack on skeptics are not evidence.

It is understandable why a giant squid would be hard to find and the large terrestrial mammals that Western scientists were only able to verify in the 19th Century lived at a time when getting from England to Africa or Australia was much more arduous, time-consuming, and expensive than today. Also, these were solitary animals living in remote locations, such as a dense forest, nearly insurmountable mountaintop, or Australian outback.

By contrast, Nessie is said to reside in an enclosed area, there are now regular treks up the Himalayas, and Washington state forests have been visited by outdoors enthusiasts and vacationers for decades. No Sasquatch has been killed by a hunter or vehicle, no hiker or camper has stumbled onto its remains. Then there are the untold hours spent by persons using video equipment, bait, and night vision devices to search in the precise location where sightings have been alleged, and none have come away with so much as a hair or tooth fragment that might belong to the sought-after cryptid.

If Finding Bigfoot lands its prey, I will announce this as a major cryptozoologist victory, and do so on my head for good measure. But so far, the platypus, giant squid, mountain gorilla, okapi, and komodo dragon, and every other confirmed creature were discovered by scientists. This shows why measured inquiry, careful investigation, and verified evidence is valued over hearsay, speculation, and desire.

 

“Interpretive dunce” (Creationism)

RECORDS

A claim one occasionally hears from creationist camps is that they and scientists have the same evidence, it’s just being interpreted differently. This is meant to establish that one should be open-minded and consider various viewpoints. But just because multiple interpretations exist doesn’t make them all reasonable, nor does it follow that each has strong support.

Further, if creationist leaders really believed we should consider competing ideas about the origin of Earth and mankind, they would hold that the Zoroastrian and Lakota creation tales should also be espoused and given equal time in debates and public school science classrooms.

As to reasonable dialogue and analysis, some creationists are up for it, but the most well-known one, Ken Ham, is not. He tries to dismiss evidence by saying that scientists and Young Earth creationists have different worldviews.  While this might be a rare Ham accuracy, it is a genetic fallacy and irrelevant to the legitimacy of the conclusions that each camp draws.

Consider how those conclusions are reached. Scientists go where the evidence leads.  Creationists start with the conclusion that Genesis is a literal account, then try and finagle around discomfiting evidence, either shoehorning it in or rejecting it. Ham has said that evidence doesn’t count if it contradicts his interpretation of the Bible. Similarly, the Institute for Creation Research website lists these among its principles:

“Space, time, matter, and energy were supernaturally created by a transcendent personal creator.”

“Each of the major kinds of plants and animals was created functionally complete from the beginning and did not evolve from some other kind of organism.”

“The record of Earth’s history as preserved in the crust, especially in the rocks and fossil deposits, is primarily a record of catastrophic intensities of natural processes.”

Only after signing a statement agreeing to these planks and promising to promote them is one allowed to work for this institute, which makes the “research” in its title fraudulent.

Contrast this with how a geologist, biologist, or astronomer operates. A blogger at Logic of Science wrote about how research on lake bed layers helped prove Earth’s age. Called varves, these layers alternate between patterns of light and dark, and between fine and course, and are the result of seasonal change.

The blogger further explained, “We can verify that these correlate with seasons because we see varves form today, and at some lakes, we find algae in the dark layers, but not the light layers since algae only blooms in summer. Varves in the center of the lakes only accumulate one layer each year. In the center of some lakes, we have millions of sets of alternating layers.”

Therefore, geologists deduce that the lakes are millions of years old. This logical deduction flows from observed and verified results. No interpretation is needed, nor is it necessary for the scientist to have had a “naturalist” or “humanist” worldview at the outset to reach this deduction.

Now let’s see examine a creationist’s take. John Morris of ICR writes that while there is no explanation for these millions of layers, “Research is continuing and we can be certain it won’t be solved by the sterile uniformitarian thinking of the past. However, reasoning from the standpoint of the great Flood of Noah’s day and its aftermath holds promise.”

So, through some undiscovered mechanism, the flood managed to create and sort these deposits at a rate of 20 per minute instead of the one per annum that has repeatedly been observed.

The Logic of Science blogger writes that such conclusions “are in no way an interpretation of data. It is a complete and total rejection of the data. The creationists’ ‘interpretation’ completely ignores the facts and proposes an unknown and completely absurd mechanism.”

He added that if we issue creationists a license to explain away proof with evidence-free ad hoc reasoning, then almost unlimited interpretations are possible. Zoroastrians could point out that their creation story holds that Ahura Mazda created light and darkness, and that this is consistent with the light and dark nature of varves. Or the Lakota could relate how  the only survivor in the tribe’s flood tale, Kangi the Crow, asked the Great Spirit to give him a new world. Granting this request, the spirit sent animals to retrieve a lump of mud from beneath the flood waters. This could be considered the origin of varves, and since each animal got a turn, that would explain why there are millions of layers.

But it would only be possible to arrive at these positions if one went in determined to get there. If the varve evidence was shown to someone with no knowledge or preconceived ideas about Earth’s age and origin, the examiner would never conclude varves to be the result of an invisible creature in the sky sending forth torrents of rain that set in place a magic mechanism that caused the layers to form at a rate 10 million times faster than what scientists have ever observed.

To see how science really works, let’s consider evolution. In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin predicted the existence of intermediate fossils before they were known to exist.  Since then, scientists have unearthed many transitional fossils, which show evolution from fish to amphibians, from amphibians to reptiles, from reptiles to birds, from reptiles to mammals, and from early apelike creatures to hominids.

Creationists look at those fossils and consider them part of a divine creation plan. This intelligent design, by the way, has seen 99.9 percent of its creatures go extinct. Ham and the rest craft an ad hoc rationale that the intermediate fossils are of separately created animals that no longer exist. The seemingly gradual transition of the fossils, located in the precise place in the geologic column one would expect to find them if evolution were true, is coincidental.

Again, no neutral party would come to such a conclusion. It is only possible if one goes in with an unbending mindset, such as this one displayed by the Discovery Institute: “The universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

If geologic digs repeatedly revealed the sudden appearance of, say, ostriches, zebras, and rhinos, with no intermediary fossils before or after; if there was no similarity in DNA between different creatures; if there were no vestigial traits; if there were no strikingly similar anatomies between some species;  if no creatures unique to isolated locales like Tasmania, Iceland, and Mauritius were ever found, then Darwin would be the scientific equivalent of Freud – a giant in his time, still recalled somewhat fondly, but one whose major ideas have been rejected. The lack of evidence would ensure that.

Now let’s look at how Ham’s Answers in Genesis deals with the complete lack of evidence for its position that man and dinosaurs lived together. In an essay, AIG’s Bodie Hodge proffered two reasons. One, everybody went as high as possible to escape the flood, leaving the terrible lizards way down below. Second, humans would have been avoiding dinosaurs anyway because they are scary.

You interpret that however you want, but I would have considered The Flintstones to be better evidence.