“Green scene” (Woolpit children)

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In a 12th Century tale, English reapers encounter two green-skinned children who wore strange clothes, spoke an unknown language, and ate only beans.


The pair, who townspeople later learned were brother and sister, were taken in by a nobleman. The boy soon died but his sister attained womanhood, assimilated, and married. While she learned English, she was never able to tell anyone much about her strange circumstances.

She could offer few details as to her origins or distinctive appearance. She recalled the two were tending their father’s flock when they heard what sounded like church bells. They followed the ringing through a cavern and emerged surrounded by reapers in Woolpit, England.


In another version, the two were rescued from the bottom of a pit farmers used to lure wolves into. In both versions, the girl’s skin turn returned to a normal color once she consumed a healthy diet instead of one consisting entirely of beans.


Her original language was determined to probably be Flemish, which would explain her foreign tongue and different attire. Those preferring a more exciting answer may be interested in the one bandied about by Duncan Lunan, who holds that the pair hailed from another planet. Little Green Men, indeed. For evidence, he cited, “Some strange things happening in the sky at the same time.” Could he be a little more vague? A similar suggestion is that the verdant pair emerged from a subterranean habitat.


As there is no way to either prove or disprove such notions, we will spend no more time in the sci-fi realm. A more grounded idea, championed by Paul Harris, is that perhaps the duo may have hidden in the forest long enough to develop green sickness. This conditions results from B6 deficiency and low iron intake, both of which could be the consequence of a one-food diet.


There are both hereditary and acquired forms of the sickness and those most seriously afflicted can have a notable greenish tinge.

This makes for a plausible scenario, although it should be noted that most persons who die of starvation do so without changing colors.


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen proposed that the story is an allegory about racial difference in which the green children represent the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britons. He further posits that the siblings represent a spoiling of William’s dream of a unified England.


In another analogy, Robert Burton suggested the siblings fell from the heavens, a staple of religion and mythology, with examples such as Lucifer, Aurora, and Ataar.

“Broken string” (Catgut acupuncture)

In a post for Science-Based Medicine, Jann Bellamy mined multiple sources to come up with 32 forms of acupuncture. She noted there are almost certainly more, since “acupuncture is not based in reality but is instead a collection of pseudo-knowledge” to which anyone can apply a new concept.”

This includes catgut, whose primary uses are for stringed instruments, tennis racquets, and surgical sutures. In this instance, it has also been coopted as a specific form of quackery.

Bellamy splendidly describes acupuncture as a “theatrical placebo” that assumes never-proven notions such as qi, meridians, and blocked energy. As to how a portion of the ukulele came to be unfairly associated with pseudoscience, catgut is embedded in acupuncture products. Selected “points” are stimulated until the treatment is deemed sufficient. In reality, this usually means the ailment has ran its natural course or the subject moves onto another form of medicine, be it legitimate or phony.

Most catgut applications go for one to two weeks, the reasoning being that doing it for two weeks is better than for two hours. This points to acupuncture’s lack of authenticity. No one would conclude that if two Advil are good for pain relief, then two bottles must be fantastic. Since acupuncture treatments involve no active ingredients and has no actual impact on the body beyond discomfort at the sticking point, an overdose is impossible. So, too, is proper dosing and medical benefit.

In typical alternative medicine tradition, catgut acupuncture enthusiasts tout its ability to cure or mitigate a broad range of conditions, from autism to acne, from facial paralysis to diabetes. Genuine medicine will impact a specific ailment, with scientists understanding the etiology. Doctors can explain to patients the curative mechanism and its impact on the body. By contrast, a hodgepodge list of unrelated conditions able to be cured is almost always a pseudoscience giveaway.

“Full moon fever” (Hollow moon)


One idea way out there, as well as way up there, is that the moon is a hollow alien vehicle. This lunar lunacy was put forth by two members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Michael Vasin and Alexander Shcherbakov. They hypothesized that the moon “is an artificial satellite put into orbit around Earth by some intelligent beings unknown to ourselves.” They went on to call the moon “a very ancient spaceship, the interior of which was filled with fuel for the engines, materials and appliances for repair work, navigation, instruments, observation equipment and all manner of machinery.”


Modern empty-mooners allege that the satellite has unexpected elements that it shouldn’t have were it a heavenly body, that it lacks a solid core, is older than Earth, and has a perfectly circular orbit. All these claims are false.


Writing for Sketpoid, Brian Dunning reminds (or informs) us that our planet’ and its satellite owe its beginnings the Theia and Gaia becoming intimately acquainted. During this cosmic collision, the bulk of the combined mass of the two objects become Earth and most of the rest of it ejected and coalesced into the moon.


That these celestial bodies have similar compositions shows their common origin and means if aliens constructed a moon spacecraft, they would have had to come here first, then gone out and found another planet exactly like Earth to use as their raw materials.


As to proponents’ claim that the moon rang like a bell when struck, that stems from some colorful language from Wernher von Braun. After NASA intestinally crashed Apollo 12 into the moon during its lunar ascent, Von Braun, described the results thusly: “The moon rang like a bell for nearly an hour, indicating some strange and unearthly underground structure.”

Dr. Steven Novella has said that pseudo-medics use science the same way a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. The same principle applies here, as people who express distrust of government and disgust of science will use a embrace a statement from a government scientist if it supports their view. They will use the fact that he is exactly a rocket scientist to justify their position but otherwise reject such expertise, experience, and education.


And in truth, the seismology from those experiments is one of two main pieces of evidence that the moon is natural satellite, not an alien spaceship.


Dunning noted that 10 years ago, NASA reanalyzed its Apollo data and the results improved our knowledge of the moon’s internal structure. He wrote that it gives us “accurate constraints on the range of sizes of its small solid inner core and fluid outer core, a thin partial melt layer, and its thick mantle that constitutes the bulk of its mass.”


Further, since the Moon is solid and has a heavy core, the satellite has a lower rotational inertia. Were it a hollow spaceship with a thick outer shell, it would have a higher inertia even with the same mass.


Also, when spacecraft orbit the moon and study how their orbits are affected, astronomers can detect the density of the layers below.


Finally, as the moon orbits Earth, only one side is ever visible to us, which would not be the case if the claim of a perfect orbit were true.

“Wrong number” (Human Design)


Human Design is a form of numerology made up by Alan Krakower, who heard a voice telling him how it works, with the voice apparently encouraging him to charge others for access to the information.


Consumers input their name, precise minute of birth, and time zone born in. In return, they receive a hodgepodge of numbers, symbols, and shapes, along with a nine-item list that allegedly describes the person. The items are vague personality attributes, not testable claims or specific facts. They contain no precise details, such as dates and locations of education or employment, which would give the graph credibility.


Still, some people embrace Human Design and its promise of easy life answers sprinkled with eastern mysticism verbiage. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that while those who embrace such notions have an affinity for the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy, it is not absolute. He wrote, “Compare two concepts of the human body: First, the four bodily humors, which nobody believes in today; and second, qi, which is widely believed today.”


The difference, Dunning continued, is that one is physical, the other metaphysical. The latter is more vague, while the former could be searched for physically, not found, and therefore be disproven.


Therefore, physical claims are dismissed and metaphysical claims embraced, especially when they purport to provide a blueprint for success without any accompanying effort.

“Sad Finch” (Michael Behe)

While efforts to foist creationism on public school biology students have failed, such attempts continually arise like The Phoenix, a bird with as much claim to being real as any creationist argument.


While the legal losses have been declarative, adherents have latched onto a solitary, isolated line from a 1987 defeat and have sucked it dry for more than 30 years. The sentence suggested teachings about human origins which fail to incorporate biology may be permissible if the purpose is secular.


There is no such animal, literally or figuratively, but proponents used this single utterance to invent the notion of Intelligent Design. In this concept, any deity or higher being, not necessarily the Biblical one, could have created life. The façade is so transparent that no follower of any religious subset besides U.S. evangelical Christians have ever embraced the idea, and a publication lauding Intelligent Design has as its cover Leonardo DaVinci’s The Creation of Adam.


ID proponents include virtually no biologists, and we could count on one evolved opposable-digit hand how many of them have done molecular biology research. While ID proponents are nowhere to be found in peer-reviewed journals, their banter is a regular feature on Christian media. There, biologists are portrayed as confused, stubborn, disillusioned, frustrated, or immoral, which even if all true, would be ad homimen attacks unrelated to the scientists’ research, findings, or writings.

Proponents embrace the god of the gaps fallacy, gleefully plugging their favored deity into any crevice science has yet to fully explain. But our focus today is on one of those who is among that literal handful of molecular biologists who endorse ID: Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe. He accepts that microevolution through random mutation diversifies organisms into species and genera, and perhaps even families. But he feels something more is needed to explain large-scale evolutionary transitions. Into this gap, which he creates from feelings and not evidence, he wedges the Christian god. He never says that verbatim, but he does allow his evangelical Christian followers to accept this interpretation and promote it.

In a review of Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, John Jay College biology professor Nathan Lents writes that Behe purportedly undertakes to prove that evolutionary processes are insufficient to generate adaptive innovations, yet the author spends precious little time addressing this.

Further, Behe dedicates precious few paragraphs addressing key evolutionary mechanisms that serve to undermine his thesis. Consider horizontal gene transfer, which occurs when genetic material moves from one species to another, usually through a virus. For example, Lents explains, deer ticks evolved defenses against bacteria through genes that came from those bacteria.

While uncommon, such horizontal gene transfer can have profound effects on a species’ eventual lineage. Behe dedicates nary a word to this in Darwin Devolves.

Also unmentioned by Behe is exaptation, which refers to an organism co-opting a structure for a new function. Lents cites the example of mammalian middle ear bones that were adapted from jaw bones in our reptilian ancestors.


Now, when Behe writes that natural selection cannot fully account for the planet’s molecular biodiversity, he is right. But we know that because of scientific discoveries made since Darwin, not because of ancient religious texts or the writings of an iconoclastic microbiology professor who bypasses peer review.


In an attempt to bolster his view that natural selection in insufficient, Behe writes that that Richard Lenski’s e. coli experiment shows that mutation and natural selection serve only to “break or blunt genes.” But Behe misinterprets the experiment and ignores that its controlled environment is deliberately artificial. Lents notes that bacteria in the experiment have access to unlimited food, static temperatures, high oxygen, and are without competitors, pathogens, or threats to their immune system.


Behe also dismisses finch diversification, announcing he is unimpressed with their becoming about 18 species across five genera. He compares finch diversification to the adaptive radiation of animals during the Cambrian explosion more than 500 million years ago. He gloats that finches failed to become a new phylum, class, or even order.


Lents answers that the Cambrian explosion took place over a much longer time and involved simpler animals which produce much faster than finches.


With an online treasure trove of overwhelming evidence available, lay persons who latch onto a favored position in lieu of science are without excuse. But a harsher criticism should be leveled at anyone whose experience and education should be used to correct those lay persons instead of comforting them.

“Little Schemer” (M&Ms analogy)

Van Halen famously insisted on having no brown M&Ms in their bowls backstage. This was not based on a color-based munchies preference, but was rather the band’s way of ensuring their contract had been read.


Another creative, albeit in this case distasteful, use of M&Ms will be the focus of this post. In this instance, the candies are at the center of a hypothetical, foreboding challenge in which a small fraction of them have been poisoned.


Presented a bowl in which, say, three percent of the M&Ms would have fatal results if ingested, a person is rhetorically asked is they would gobble a handful. They clearly would not, so the analogy then compares the sweet treats to Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, AIDS patients, or some other group the speaker holds in low regard. Perhaps only three percent of them are bad apples, but we need to chop down the entire tree since we have no way of knowing which is which. The analogy is usually employed by xenophobes but has sometimes been those on the far left to portray men as monsters that need guarded against.


Regardless of whether it comes from the left, right, or someplace else, the analogy is a mistaken one. When this comparison of people to candies is made, the speaker implies that demonizing an entire population is as legitimate as declining to gobble a handful of potentially deadly tiny round confectionaries.


To see how mistaken that analogy it is, use the point against the person making it. Let’s say someone uses the comparison to insist that we should err of the side of caution and deny entry to persons of Middle Eastern ancestry. Counter that position by saying that while most MAGA hat wearers are not violent hatemongers who would attack minorities, three percent of them might do so. Therefore all persons expressing xenophobic sentiments should be stripped of their citizenship and deported. Unless the proponent is likewise willing to embrace this position, he or she doesn’t truly believe in the comparison.


Further, the analogy implies that we could reduce the risk to zero by avoiding all M&Ms. In the same way that the color-coded National Terrorism Advisory System includes no all-clear and thus keeps us in a perpetual state of worry, the M&Ms in the analogy are meant to cause perpetual concern. The only way to be sure to avoid danger is to avoid them entirely. The candy analogy seems to work because most people would not eat one M&M if there was even a .0001 percent chance of being poisoned. But nothing is ever risk free and no analogy proponent would think we should avoid getting out of bed, an event that kills dozens of people a year.


Also, even if you happen to come across a dangerous member of the derided group, you may well escape unscathed, whereas with the poisoned M&M, death is a certainty for anyone who consumes it. Therefore, the danger posed by the group member is greatly exaggerated when compared with how likely they are to harm a specific person.

Finally, the analogy falls flat since M&Ms all look the same, except for the color difference, and there would be no way of knowing which ones were poisoned. But when it comes to people, background checks and indicators give us a good idea of how dangerous a specific Hispanic, Muslim, or other group member is likely to be.

“Fueling a rumor” (Rising gas prices)


Last post, we took the far left to task, so in the interest of being nonpartisan, we will today call out the right wing. Specifically, we will look at the insinuation that Joe Biden is responsible for rising gasoline prices. This is not a true partisan issue, as some left-wingers have blamed Republican presidents for pump pain, and there are plenty of conservatives who understand that the White House doesn’t set gas prices.

But those that do think that are the focus of today’s post. Expect for some negligible indirect influence, the commander in chief has nothing to do with whether one shells out two dollars or five for their gallon of mid-octane.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the key factors in the price gasoline consumers pay are: Taxes; crude oil cost; refining costs and profits; and distribution and marketing costs. The executive branch positions on infrastructure, civil liberties, national defense, Brussels sprouts appreciation proclamations, and anything else are nonfactors.

Writing for the New York Times, Richard Thaler explained that the U.S. consumes 20 percent of the world’s oil while owning just two percent of the reserves. That means the Middle East has us by the collective balls in perpetuity.

Thaler wrote that while this leaves the U.S. little say in the price of oil, the country could help itself by reducing consumption, using oil more efficiently, and prioritizing alternative fuel sources. But this would be tedious even if everyone was on board with the ideas. And that is not the case, as evidenced by the ostentatious souped-up trucks which double as moving platforms for oversized U.S. and Confederate flags (pick a side, dude).

And even those Americans not in the redneck subset love their automobiles. Further, alternative energy has seen only lukewarm results. Therefore, Thaler opines a better approach would be to gradually raise gasoline taxes to what they are in Western Europe. Because those taxes are high, fuel-efficient automobiles are far more common in Germany than in Georgia. The high taxes could be more than offset by the drop in demand.

So the one indirect impact a president could have would be to suggest charting this corrective course. But that would be political suicide in the United States. So they do nothing and we are left with the bizarre, indefensible spectacle of praising or condemning the executive branch for something beyond its control. We might as well blame it for my leaky faucet.

Thaler wrote his piece in 2012 but nothing has changed since then. For a specific look at today’s Biden Blame, we consider the writings of Jonathan Oher on thejostle.com. He highlights some social medial posts which insist the president is responsible for the rising prices and others which portend an even more frightening fuel future.

On Biden’s inauguration day, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $2.37. The posts that Oher cited had prices being 30 percent lower than that, but beyond the factual error is the mistaken insinuation as to who is to blame if the price becomes 4, 5, or even 6 dollars per gallon. Tellingly, none of the posters seem ready to heap praise on the president if the prices plummet to $1.50 a year from now.

The posts also play loose with the facts, showing prices a few days before and after inauguration day, but posting them from different parts of the country. Different locales will always pay different prices because of state taxes and distribution costs. Using this disparity to make the point would be like comparing the January temperatures in Minneapolis to those in Miami and blaming the president for global warming.

But, again, the key point here is not the actual price or the fluctuation but the party responsible.

The rise seen over the past two months is primarily due to a correction of gas prices that dipped during the pandemic, which created an artificial drop in demand. With the country somewhat opening up, full tanks are needed for these trips to the now-open malls, sports arenas, and restaurants.

Beyond fuel usage, crude oil cost plays a role, as the slick substance is likewise recovering from the pandemic. The cost went down more than 10 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. As that price corrects, gasoline prices will rise, as will the number of misinformed memes about who is responsible.

“Doesn’t add up” (Math racism)

While the loony far left dominates colleges, the rigid, absolute mathematics field would seem like an area that would provide a, how shall we say, safe space, from all this.

Alas, that is no longer the case, with the advent of, “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics.”

This pompous pamphlet thunderously asserts that the following are racist acts: Expecting students to meet benchmarks; Teaching math in a linear fashion; Focusing on how to get the right answer; Showing one’s work; And raising your hand to be recognized.

While ostensibly meant to somehow bolster Black children, the tract instead belittles them by assuming they should never be expected to gain mathematics proficiency. As Columbia University Linguistics and Music History Professor John McWhorter wrote, “It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is not pedagogy; it is preaching.”

Mathematics rests on explicitly-formulated definitions and facts. Were this not the case, bridges would collapse, planes would never go airborne, and monetary transactions would be a gibberish nightmares. It would be literally fatal if engineers and mechanics were to adopt such notions as new geometry, woke algebra, or calculus of color.

Math is the same everywhere. There is no German Geometry, Algerian Algebra, or French Fractions. There is no “White Way” of getting the answer and, in fact, the field serves as one of the world’s great equalizers. In math class, there are no essays where one can con their way to an answer without ever saying anything constructive. The answers, and how they are arrived at, are uniform worldwide. But this supposed math handbook, McWhorter notes, “says very little about how to actually teach kids of any ethnicity math. In fact it is detrimental to teaching math by urging the elimination of practices, like having students show their work.”

For while showing work is painted as an instance of White supremacy, the process is essential to correcting errors, it shows students understand the process, and it ensures the answer was not purloined from the kid one desk over.

As to arriving at the correct answer, this entirely reasonable and logical goal is considered a weapon in the White supremacist toolkit. This offensive, paternalistic absurdity assumes that most Black children are incapable of conquering the discipline.

Like McWhorter, Princeton mathematics professor Sergiu Klainerman is pained by this development: “I have witnessed the decline of universities and cultural institutions as they have embraced political ideology at the expense of rigorous scholarship. I had naively thought that the STEM disciplines would be spared from this ideological takeover.”

This now-seemingly complete takeover represents a soft totalitarianism where dissenters are not extra-judicially executed or exiled to Siberia, but are fired, doxed, picketed at home, and have a pound of their flesh extracted by the virtual mob.

Nothing in historical or contemporary mathematics suggests that it should be done in a different way based on geography or that it is race-dependent. To the contrary, math enjoys a long and rich history across the cultures, with major developments and contributions from Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and Arabs. Schools throughout the world teach the same principles and math serves as a universal language.

During international sports competitions, players on both sides may speak nary a word of their opponent’s language, but they are bonded by common rules they all follow. Similarly, race is no barrier to mathematics and this equality makes it the antithesis of supremacism.

“The White Stuff” (Engineered snow)

No event is too routine to be exempt from conspiracy theorist thought. A minor Internet splash this winter has centered on the insinuation that snow, at least in some places, is actually something else.

Precisely what it is, who is responsible, and how malevolent it is, varies by claimant, but the key point is that “they” are up to something again. The excited proponents most frequently cite Bill Gates as the responsible villain. The software pioneer has achieved Rothschild/Bohemian Grove/Bilderberger status when it comes to being tabbed for every evil ever foisted upon Mankind.

In these videos, which are remarkably similar in terms of content and low production value, speakers ask three primary questions about this supposed snow. Asking questions is fine, if based on genuine curiosity. It’s another matter when questions are thinly-veiled accusations which serve as a precursor to considering those answering them to be in on the plot.

These plotters include the eminently delightful Emily Calandrelli, who explained what’s going on in these videos. In the one Calandrelli responded to, the narrator wields a butane lighter and wonders why this makes the snow char, why the snow smells like plastic, and why it melts so slowly.

It chars because of incomplete combustion from the butane lighter. Butane comprises carbon and hydrogen and the resultant black smudge represents leftover carbon from incomplete combustion.

Calandrelli used a glass to demonstrate that the same soot results when butane lighters are applied to other objects. So unless the video producer is prepared to launch a tirade against phony drinking receptacles, this answer suffices.


With regard to the plascity aroma, Calandrelli explains the funny smell is the consequence of the chemicals concentrating during the burning.

Finally, the white precipitation melts slower than expected for two reasons. First, most of the water is being absorbed into the snowball. Second, it sublimates, meaning it goes directly from solid to gas. Besides, it takes more heat than most people might think. You’d get the same surprisingly slow result from using fire to try and melt an ice cube.

These succinct, scientific explanations contract mightily to the open-ended nightmarish scenarios suggested by the other side.


Writing for Yahoo!, Caroline Delbert reminded readers that weather control has a long history in paranoid circles. Manifestations of this have included HAARP, chemtrails, and seeded rain clouds.

In this case, conspiracy theorists might believe increased snowfall indicates something about climate change, which they say is part of a global agenda to push government restrictions onto residents,” Delbert wrote.

Theorists paint Gates and the Chinese government beneficiaries of a world blanketed by pretend snow. What the white stuff actually is or how it benefits two already immensely powerful entities is unexplained. Sounds like a snow job to me.

“A lot of bull” (Pit bull hysteria)

Pete the Pup of Our Gang fame and Spuds MacKenzie were both pit bulls, a designation which refers not to specific breed but a collection of related ones. These include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American bully.


A Little Rascals sidekick and a party-loving beer pitchdog contrasts mightily with the bloodthirsty, intimidating image of pit bulls held by many and promoted by some media
.


But while pit bulls have been implicated in fatal attacks, the notion that they by and large are dangerous is a misnomer. Some pit bulls were bred by unscrupulous sadists for bull-baiting and dogfighting, while others were bred to hone their friendliness, loyalty, and attentiveness.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that from 1979 to 1998, 238 Americans were killed by 403 dogs, with pits bulls and Rottweilers accounting for more than half of the tragedies.


However, the authors noted that the study failed to account for the antics and personalities of the owners. Some societal outcasts prefer the image and street cred that comes with owning an animal with a dangerous reputation and they are only too happy to promote this. So while there may be a correlation between dog bites and some breeds, there may not be causation.


The study also fails to adjust for the percentage of American dogs that each breed represents. Further, reliable numbers are unavailable because the American Kennel Club registry includes only canines whose masters have registered them, and that is primarily done by serious owners who prefer purebred, pedigreed show dogs.


Additionally, fatalities are not the only factor when assessing dog dangers. Dunning wrote that a study in Pediatrics found there were 30,000 dog bites for every fatal dog mauling. German shepherds were the most bitey breed and there are no statistics to support how likely pit bulls are to bite relative to other breeds. In fairness, however, pit bull attacks may inflict more damage or be more likely to be fatal than most breeds.


The Pediatrics study also showed that dogs are more likely to chomp away if they are male, unneutered, less than five years old, weigh more than 45 pounds, live with elementary school age children, and kept chained outdoors. All those are more likely factors to dog danger than whether the animal is a pit bull.