Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Nazi coins from the future

In the latest from the "News Stories That Make Me Want To Take Ockham's Razor And Slit My Wrists With It," we have a claim about an odd coin allegedly found near a construction site in Mexico.

First, the facts of the situation, insofar as I could find out.

The coin is highly weathered, and has some phrases in both German and Spanish.  It says "Nueva Alemania" ("New Germany," in Spanish) and "Alle in einer Nation" (German for "all in one nation").  There's a swastika on one side and the Iron Cross on the other, and a blurred date ending in "39."  (If you want to see a video that includes shots of the coin, there's a clip at The Daily Star showing it and its finder, Diego Aviles.)

So that's the claim.  Now let's see which of the three possible explanations proffered to account for it makes the most sense to you:
  1. It's a fake.
  2. It's an obscure coin, dating from the late 1930s, and could be potentially valuable as a historical artifact.
  3. The date actually reads "2039," so it's a coin from 21 years in the future, at which point a Nazi state will rule Mexico if not the rest of the world, except that one of the future Nazis time-slipped backwards and dropped the coin, only to be found by Aviles.  Since the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Nazis have been hiding out in Antarctica, from which they will burst out some time between now and 2039, to initiate World War III and take over the entire world.
Yes, apparently there are people who think that explanation #3 is spot-on.  So it's like someone reworded Ockham's Razor to read, "Of competing explanations that account for all of the known facts, the most likely one is the one that requires 5,293 ad-hoc assumptions, breaking every known law of physics, and pretzel logic that only someone with the IQ of a peach pit could think sounded plausible."

But maybe I'm being a little uncharitable, because there are people who add to #3 some bizarre bullshit about it having to do with the "Mandela effect" and parallel universes and alternate realities.

Myself, I'm perfectly satisfied when I can explain things using the regular old reality.  But that's just me.

NOTE: Not the coin they found.  This one's a real Nazi coin.  [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Over at Mysterious Universe (the first link provided above), Sequoyah Kennedy does a pretty thorough job of debunking the whole thing, ending with the following tongue-in-cheek comment that rivals this post for snark:
Maybe the only explanation is that the Antarctic Nazis develop time travel in the near future, go back in time to the 1930’s, and try to convince the Mexican government to side with them in WWII by giving them a commemorative coin, which won’t work, because that’s a ridiculous and insulting way to forge an alliance.  The commemorative future coin will then be thrown away and left to sit in the dirt until it’s unearthed in 2018.  It’s the only rational explanation, really.
Indeed.  And we should also take into account that the story was broken in The Daily Star, which is the only media source I know that rivals The Daily Mail Fail for sheer volume of nonsense.

So the coin may well exist, but I'm putting my money on "fakery."  Even the idea that it's a real coin from the 1930s doesn't bear much scrutiny, because Mexico and Germany weren't on the same side in World War II, so it'd be pretty bizarre to have some kind of Mexican Nazi currency lying around.

Of course, when the Stormtroopers come roaring out of their secret bases in Antarctica and Cancun, I suppose I'll have to eat my words.  Occupational hazard of what I do.

*********************

This week's Featured Book on Skeptophilia:

This week I'm featuring a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Sagan, famous for his work on the series Cosmos, here addresses the topics of pseudoscience, skepticism, credulity, and why it matters -- even to laypeople.  Lucid, sometimes funny, always fascinating.




Friday, April 20, 2018

Food vibrations

Apparently, Australia being nonexistent and people selling homeopathic black holes weren't enough, so a friend and loyal reader of Skeptophilia sent me a link to a site called "iTOVi," which sells "nutritional scanners."

The website tells us that the scanner is designed to "provide a list of top oils and supplements your body has a response to."  How, you might ask?  Well, here's their explanation:
Our portable nutrition scanner allows you and your clients to receive personalized product responses at any time of day!  How? The  iTOVi scanner uses innovative and institutionally recognized technology to measure the body’s response to electronic frequencies.  The scanner records the body’s reaction to these frequencies and matches the user with products that have complimentary frequencies.
So we're on thin ice already, but it gets a lot thinner.  I went to the page on "technology" -- call me a doubter, but I always want to know how things work.  And I wasn't disappointed.  We're told that everything, biological and non-biological, vibrates at a particular frequency, including "supplements and essential oils."  The machine figures out your vibration with a technique that should sound vaguely familiar:
During an iTOVi scan the device passes small electrical currents through the skin to measure the body’s resistance to frequencies, each of which is the natural energy signature of various supplements and oils.  The passing of electrical frequencies induces a measurable response from the body which is then recorded and shown in the iTOVi report.
If you're thinking, "but... isn't that how a polygraph machine works?", you're spot-on.  Polygraph machines -- which, to be up front, are of dubious use in telling whether people are lying -- measure small changes in skin conductivity, which occur primarily because of the amount of sweat a person has on their skin.  Sweat, being weakly saline, is quite a good conductor; and since the theory is that a person would sweat more under conditions of emotional stress (such as lying), changes in skin conductivity could give interrogators a clue about someone's veracity.

A polygraph machine [Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

You may have noticed that nothing in the preceding paragraph mentions "frequencies."  That doesn't stop the iTOVi people, who claim that these conductivity changes are a clue to the body's "frequency," and they derive one from the other by means of an unspecified algorithm.  We're never given any specifics -- not even the number of Hertz we all should be shooting for.

Most of the places that blather on about "frequencies" (and "energies" and "vibrations" and "resonance") seem to think that the higher the frequency the better.  I did some digging and found the website "Vibrational Frequency 101," which I read, at great cost to the cells in my prefrontal cortex, which were screaming in agony by paragraph three.  It features passages like the following:
First off, we are not just our physical body {aka matter}. We are all made up of energy – all matter is – and bound together by an energy field. We’re talking atoms, protons, and neutrons…  This is science, people! 
So, everything vibrates with an energy. And, the higher the energy, the higher the frequency.  Positive feelings and thoughts evoke a higher frequency vs. negative feelings and thoughts evoke a lower frequency. 
The energy we’re made up of connects us to all living things and the universe.  When you really break it down, we are all just balls of energy walking the planet. 
Our energy is blocked when we experience negativity, fear, or you guessed it… unhealthy substances.  Think about it.  When you consume really unhealthy food, alcohol, or drugs, doesn’t your energy feel low, or dull or blocked?  Low vibrations mean a dampened energy field. It also means a disconnection to other things, the universe, and ourselves...  Plus, a constant negative state can lead to sickness and disease in the body.
For example, "fresh organic vegetables" supposedly have "high vibrations," while deep-fried food has "low vibrations."

Look.  You can say "this is science, people!" and "institutionally recognized technology" all day long, but until you can show me, using an oscilloscope, that kale is vibrating at 14,500 Hertz and KFC is vibrating at 7 Hertz, I'm calling bullshit.  Besides, if our food really is vibrating, shouldn't we be able to hear it?  You know, like kale emits this high-pitched whistle, and KFC a low, sad buzz, or something?  But despite listening carefully to my bowl of oatmeal this morning, I heard nothing but my wife sighing in resignation at her husband doing yet another ridiculous thing in the name of scientific research, and my dog wagging his tail, the latter presumably figuring that if I was doing something weird with my food, maybe it meant he was going to get some.

In short: the entire claim is nonsense.  You, and your organs, do have a natural (or resonant) frequency, because everything with mass does.  (Think of the natural swing rate of a kid on a swingset -- it's hard-to-impossible to make the swing oscillate at any other frequency.)  But all this means is that if your body is shaken at that frequency, it'll make (for example) your spleen vibrate, which sounds painful.  It has nothing to do with "feelings" or "negativity" or, for fuck's sake, "essential oils."

And, in fact, if you really believe that higher frequencies are better for you, let's run this experiment.  You listen to a piccolo playing a high D at full volume for an hour, and I'll listen to a cello playing a low note.  Let's see who comes away from the experience with a headache.

So about iTOVi: save your money.  The whole claim is nonsense, as you might figure out if you see the notorious disclaimer on their page, "This device is not meant to treat, cure, or diagnose any illness, nor should it be construed as medical advice."  Which, as always, is a good indicator that what it's proposing is horseshit.

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This week's Featured Book on Skeptophilia:

This week I'm featuring a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Sagan, famous for his work on the series Cosmos, here addresses the topics of pseudoscience, skepticism, credulity, and why it matters -- even to laypeople.  Lucid, sometimes funny, always fascinating.








Thursday, April 19, 2018

Diluted nonsense

Every time I think homeopathy can't get more ridiculous, I turn out to be wrong.

I thought they'd plunged to the bottom of the Crazy Barrel with their announcement of a remedy called "homeopathic water."  This is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like.  It's water diluted with water, then shaken up, then diluted again and again.

With water.

So I thought, "This is it.  It can't get any loonier than that."

I was very, very wrong, and found out the depth of my mistake at Frank van der Kooy's site Complementary Medicine -- Exposing Academic Charlatans, wherein we find out that watering water down with water is far from the nuttiest thing the homeopaths make "remedies" from.

Here are a few things that van der Kooy found out form the basis of a homeopathic remedy:
  1. Black holes.  Yes, I mean the astronomical object, and yes, I'm serious.  An amateur astronomer put a vial of alcohol on a telescope aimed at the location of Cygnus X-1, the first black hole to be discovered.  My guess is that said astronomer had consumed a good bit of the alcohol first, and that's how he got the idea.  But after the vial had sat there for a while, and gotten saturated with the Essence of Black Hole, it was diluted to "30C" (known to the rest of us as one part in ten to the thirtieth power).  The homeopaths say if you consume it, it causes you to have a "drawing inward" sensation (because, I'm guessing, black holes pull stuff in).  One person who tested it said it felt like her teeth were being pulled backwards into her head.  Why this is supposed to be a good thing, I have no idea.
  2. Vacuum.  I'm not talking about the machine, I'm talking about the physical phenomenon.  I don't have a clue how you would mix a vacuum in water, nor what "diluting a vacuum" even means.  The "practitioner," however, says it's really good for treating the flu.
  3. The note "F."  Why F and not C# or Ab or something, I'm not sure, but apparently this is made by playing the note F at some water, then diluting it a bunch.  After that, it's good as a "tranquilizer" and "cardiac regulator."
  4. The south pole of a magnet.  Again, I'm not sure what's special about the south pole, but if you somehow introduce south-poliness into some water, you can use it to treat frostbite, hernia, dislocations, ingrown toenails, and "levitation."  (I feel obliged at this point to state again for the record that I'm not making this up.)
  5. Dog shit.  Supposedly, consuming diluted dog shit helps you get over feelings of self-disgust, which you would definitely need if you're consuming diluted dog shit.  It also helps if you dream about dogs, or "feel like your arms and legs are getting shorter," which I didn't know was even a thing.
  6. The Berlin Wall.  A remedy made from a chunk of the Wall -- and not to beat this point to death, but the Wall piece was shaken up in water and diluted a gazillion times -- is good for treating despair.  I could use some right now, because after reading about how many people believe this kind of thing works, I'm inclined to agree with Professor Farnsworth.


Van der Kooy has other examples, and some really amusing commentary, so I urge you to check out his website, as long as you don't mind further declines in your opinion about the general intelligence of the human species.

Once again, I'm struck not by people coming up with this nonsense -- because selling nonsense to make money has been a pastime of humans for a long, long time.  What gets me is that apparently people read this stuff, and don't have the response that I did, which is to snort derisively and say, "You have got to be fucking kidding me."  Instead, they pull out their credit cards and start buying.

So here we are again, shaking our heads in utter bafflement.  At least I hope you are.  I hope you haven't read this and said, "What's he pissing and moaning for?  This all makes perfect sense."  If that was, in fact, your response, please don't tell me about it.  Now y'all will have to excuse me, because I'm going to go take my anti-despair Berlin Wall remedy, mixed well into a double scotch.  That might actually have some effect.

*************************

This week's Featured Book on Skeptophilia:

This week I'm featuring a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Sagan, famous for his work on the series Cosmos, here addresses the topics of pseudoscience, skepticism, credulity, and why it matters -- even to laypeople.  Lucid, sometimes funny, always fascinating.








Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sphere factor

When Flat-Earthers ("Flerfs") talk to Oblate-Spheroid-Earthers ("Sane People"), usually the topic comes up of "what about places that are experiencing night while we're experiencing day, and vice versa?"

I know that when I was in Malaysia three summers ago, it brought home the fact that we're on a spinning ball as vividly as anything could have.  Malaysia is exactly twelve hours different from upstate New York, so when I Skyped home with my wife, I was getting ready to go to dinner while she was getting ready to go to work.  Showing her a horizon with a sunset while she was showing me a horizon with a sunrise was a little surreal.

However, it should come as no surprise that the Flerfs have an answer to that, since they have an answer to damn near anything a rational person could come up with.  But their answer to the "opposite hemisphere" issue is positively inspired:

Australia doesn't exist.

That Australia is a figment of our collective imaginations was brought to my attention by a friend who, and the irony of this is not lost on me, lives in Australia.  My comment to her was that I wished she'd told me ages ago that she was nonexistent.  I mean, friends should own up about stuff like this, you know?  It was a little hurtful that all this time, I've been talking to someone imaginary, and I didn't even know it.

So I guess that means that kangaroos don't exist, either, which is kind of a shame.  [Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

As far as the Flerfs, the article I linked above has some explanations (if I can dignify them by that term) of what they think is going on, apropos of Australia.  Here are some especially inspired ones:
Everything you have ever heard about [Australia] was made up, and any pictures of it you have seen were faked by the government. 
I am sure you have even talked to people on the internet who claim to be from Australia. They are really secret government agents who are surfing the internet to enforce these false beliefs. 
We are not entirely sure why the government made up an imaginary continent, or why it is trying to convince the world that this continent is real, but we can tell you that we know for a fact that Australia doesn’t really exist.
Another person said that any Australians you happen to know are "computer-generated," and said the hoax has been going on for centuries, despite the fact that CGI kind of didn't exist in the 18th century:
Australia is not real. It’s a hoax, made for us to believe that Britain moved over their criminals to someplace. 
In reality, all these criminals were loaded off the ships into the waters, drowning before they could see land ever again. 
It’s a coverup for one of the greatest mass murders in history, made by one of the most prominent empires.
So that's kind of sinister.  But what about people who claim to have gone there, and seen the place, as advertised?  They've got a response for that, too:
[T]he ‘plane pilots’ are in on this secret.  Instead of flying you to Melbourne or Sydney, they fly you to islands close nearby ‘or in some cases, parts of South America, where they have cleared space and hired actors to act out as real Australians.
Well, okay, maybe Australia doesn't exist, but what about other countries in the region?  Does Papua-New Guinea exist?  I have to admit Birds of Paradise are weird enough that they could well be a hoax.

[Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But what about Indonesia?  And Japan?  And China?  I mean, they're all way closer, time-zone-wise, to Australia than they are to us.  Why have they singled out Australia?

Then there's Malaysia, which I can verify exists because as I mentioned earlier, I've been there.  (Actually, I stopped along the way in Hong Kong, but maybe that was secretly part of South America.  I wasn't there long enough to check.)  But given the fact that the flight back -- from Hong Kong to La Guardia Airport in New York City -- had me in the air for sixteen hours, I can say with some certainty that those two places are not located near each other.

Not that I'd expect any of this to be convincing to your average Flerf, who has long ago jettisoned anything like "evidence" as a road to understanding.  Me, I'm still wondering what to do about my imaginary and/or computer-generated Australian friend.  Given that she's the one who sent me the link, it's kind of rubbing my face in it, you know?  On the other hand, if she doesn't actually exist, I probably shouldn't worry about it.

*************************

This week's Featured Book on Skeptophilia:

This week I'm featuring a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Sagan, famous for his work on the series Cosmos, here addresses the topics of pseudoscience, skepticism, credulity, and why it matters -- even to laypeople.  Lucid, sometimes funny, always fascinating.








Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Superior ignorance

I've written before on the topic of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the idea that we all tend to overestimate our own knowledge of a topic (parodied brilliantly by Garrison Keillor in his spot "News from Lake Woebegon" on Prairie Home Companion -- where "all of the children are above average").


A study released last week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology gives us another window into this unfortunate tendency of the human brain.  In the paper "Is Belief Superiority Justified by Superior Knowledge?", by Michael P. Hall and Kaitlin T. Raimi, we find out the rather frustrating corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect: that the people who believe their opinions are superior actually tend to know less about the topic than the people who have a more modest view of their own correctness.

The authors write:
Individuals expressing belief superiority—the belief that one's views are superior to other viewpoints—perceive themselves as better informed about that topic, but no research has verified whether this perception is justified.  The present research examined whether people expressing belief superiority on four political issues demonstrated superior knowledge or superior knowledge-seeking behavior.  Despite perceiving themselves as more knowledgeable, knowledge assessments revealed that the belief superior exhibited the greatest gaps between their perceived and actual knowledge.  
The problem, of course, is that if you think your beliefs are superior, you're much more likely to go around trying to talk everyone into believing like you do.  If you really are more knowledgeable, that's at least justifiable; but the idea that the less informed you are, the more likely you are to proselytize, is alarming to say the least.

There is at least a somewhat encouraging piece to this study, which indicated that this tendency may be remediable:
When given the opportunity to pursue additional information in that domain, belief-superior individuals frequently favored agreeable over disagreeable information, but also indicated awareness of this bias.  Lastly, experimentally manipulated feedback about one's knowledge had some success in affecting belief superiority and resulting information-seeking behavior.  Specifically, when belief superiority is lowered, people attend to information they may have previously regarded as inferior.  Implications of unjustified belief superiority and biased information pursuit for political discourse are discussed.
So belief-superior people are more likely to fall for confirmation bias (which you'd expect), but if you can somehow punch a hole in the self-congratulation, those people will be more willing to listen to contrary viewpoints.

The problem remains of how to get people to admit that their beliefs are open to challenge.  I'm thinking in particular of Ken Ham, who in the infamous Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate on evolution and creationism, was asked what, if anything, could change his mind.  Nye had answered the question that a single piece of incontrovertible evidence is all it would take; Ham, on the other hand, said that nothing, nothing whatsoever, could alter his beliefs.

Which highlights brilliantly the difference between the scientific and religious view of the world.

So the difficulty is that counterfactual viewpoints are often well insulated from challenge, and the people who hold them resistant to considering even the slightest insinuation that they could be wrong.  I wrote last week about Donald Trump's unwillingness to admit he's wrong about anything, ever, even when presented with unarguable facts and data.  If that doesn't encapsulate the Dunning-Kruger attitude, and the Hall-Raimi corollary to it, I don't know what does.

Doesn't mean we shouldn't try, of course.  After all, if I thought it was hopeless, I wouldn't be here on Skeptophilia six days a week.  The interesting part of the study by Hall and Raimi, however, is the suggestion that we might be going about it all wrong.  The way to fix wrong-headed thinking may not be to present the person with evidence, but to get someone to see that they could, in fact, be wrong in a more global sense.  This could open them up to considering other viewpoints, and ultimately, looking at the facts in a more skeptical, open-minded manner.

On the other hand, I still don't think there's much we can do about Ken Ham and Donald Trump.

*********************
This week's Featured Book on Skeptophilia:

This week I'm featuring a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Sagan, famous for his work on the series Cosmos, here addresses the topics of pseudoscience, skepticism, credulity, and why it matters -- even to laypeople.  Lucid, sometimes funny, always fascinating.




Monday, April 16, 2018

Real vs. fake water

In further adventures of friends and loyal readers of Skeptophilia trying to induce me to do a skull-fracture-inducing faceplant, today we have: "Real Water."

I bet you thought you were fine drinking regular old tap water.  I know that's what I thought.  But little did I know that tap water (and other sorts of water) are "damaged."  Here's a direct quote from their website:
Most of the drinking water is stripped of valuable electrons, making the water acidic and creating free radicals. 
Free radicals steal electrons from the body’s cells.  This is called Free Radical Damage and it is the cause of many serious health conditions.  They operate much like rust on a car, zapping people from their life force.
So the claim, apparently, is, "the more electrons, the better."  This comes as a bit of a surprise, because when large amounts of electrons are contributed to someone's body all at once, this is called "being struck by lightning."  The result is called "electrocution," and frequently, "death."

But that doesn't stop the "Real Water" people, who tell us that they somehow put the missing electrons back in:
E2: Electron Energized Technology adds trillions and trillions of electrons.  Thus producing stable negative ionization.  Negative ions along with antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals.  They are more accepted by the body’s aquaporins.  Channels the usher in water and cellular nutrients for increased cellular hydration.
Like many woo-woo claims, this one has a few grains of truth.  Antioxidants do exist, and they do neutralize free radicals that (left unchecked) would oxidize organic compounds.  One of the most common free radicals in living systems is the peroxide ion (O2-), and we actually make three enzymes to deal with it -- catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase.  Given that peroxide ions and other free radicals would build up and kill us without them, it's a little unlikely that we'd have evolved just to sit around until the Real Water company came along to provide us with "alkalinized water" to deal with the problem.

We also get antioxidants in our food, especially vitamins C and E, and selenium.  However -- and this is important -- extensive studies have shown that taking supplements of any or all of these has no effect on the incidence of either cancer (often attributed to free radical damage) or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.  So the whole antioxidant craze is a conglomeration of small amounts of actual science mixed with a heaping helping of hype and outright falsehood.

Don't be fooled by how harmless this looks.  It could be hosting free radicals.  Or evil spirits.  Or something.  [Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Then there's the aquaporin thing.  Those do exist, and in fact are critical for moving water into and out of cells (water can pass through cell membranes, but slowly).  However, there is absolutely no evidence that creating "stable negative ionization," or (as the site also claims) "structuring water," makes a difference with regards to how the body uses it.  If you don't believe me, humble biology teacher that I am, maybe you'll accept the word of Stephen Lower, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University:
Any uncertainty that the chemistry community may have about the nature and existence of water clusters is not apparently shared by the various "inventors" who have not only "discovered" these elusive creatures, but who claim findings that science has never even dreamed of!  These promoters have spun their half-baked crackpot chemistry into various watery nostrums that they say are essential to your health and able to cure whatever-ails-you.  These benificences are hawked to the more gullible of the general public, usually in the form of a "concentrate" that you can add to your drinking water— all for a $20-$50 charge on your credit card. 
Some of these hucksters claim to make the water into "clusters" that are larger, smaller, or hexagonal-shaped, allowing them to more readily promote "cellular hydration" and remove "toxins" from your body.

The fact is that none of these views has any significant support in the scientific communities of chemistry, biochemistry, or physiology, nor are they even considered worthy of debate.  The only places you are likely to see these views advocated are in literature (and on websites) intended to promote the sale of these products to consumers in the notoriously credulous "alternative" health and "dietary supplement" market.
And one last thing: "acid" doesn't mean "bad" and "alkaline," "good."  In fact, one of the major functions of your kidneys is to maintain your blood pH, and if that didn't work, you'd drop dead of blood acidosis every time you drank a glass of lemonade, which (at a pH of around 3) has 10,000 times the number of hydrogen ions per milliliter as tap water does.  If you are in any doubt as to how tightly this system is controlled, let me elaborate:
blood pH = 7.6: dead
blood pH = 7.5: blood alkalinosis -- lethargy, confusion, coma
blood pH = 7.4: healthy and happy
blood pH = 7.3: blood acidosis -- gasping for breath, rapid heartbeat, headache, nausea
blood pH = 7.2: dead
So even if "Real Water" could alkalinize your blood, the result would not be better health, or protecting you from rusting, or whatever the fuck it is they're claiming.

And at $36 (plus shipping and handling) for a twelve-pack of one-liter bottles, it's not cheap.  The bottom line: "Real Water" is primarily aimed at people with more money than sense.

Anyhow.  That's today's helping of pseudoscience.  Me, I'm going to go get a cup of plain old tap water, heated up, to which has been added ground up toxin-free all-natural free-radical-busting aura-protecting seeds from the sacred plant Coffea arabica.

Better known as coffee.

*********************
NEW FEATURE ON SKEPTOPHILIA!

Each week (more often if I find something really cool) I'll post a link to a book that should be required reading for all skeptics.  This week I'll start with a classic: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  If you haven't read this one, you should rectify that error immediately!




Saturday, April 14, 2018

The turning of the tides

It's tempting to think that conditions on Earth have always been like they are now.

On one level, we know they weren't.  When people picture the time of the dinosaurs, it usually comes along with images of swamps and ferns and rain forests.  (And volcanoes.  Most of the kids' books about dinosaurs illustrate them as living near erupting volcanoes, which seems like a poor choice of habitat.)

But the basics -- the air, water, soil, and so on -- we picture as static.  It's been the basis of hundreds of science fiction stories; people go back into the distant past, and although there are (depending on when exactly they went to) often giant animals who want to eat you, you have no problem breathing or finding food.

I had a neat hole punched in that perception last week when I read Peter D. Ward's book Out of Thin Air.

 

Ward is a paleontologist at the University of Washington, and his contention -- which is well-argued and supported by a wealth of evidence -- is that the oxygen content of the atmosphere has varied.  A lot.  It's at about 21% at sea level now, but hit a staggering low of 13% immediately after the Permian-Triassic extinction, comparable on today's Earth to being at an altitude of 12,500 feet (think the High Andes).  Humans time-traveling back then would have a seriously difficult time breathing, and life was probably confined to areas that were near sea level -- and those areas would be completely isolated from each other by higher ground in between where there was not enough oxygen to survive.

There were times when it was much higher, too.  Ward says in the late Carboniferous Era, the oxygen content suddenly spiked to around 30%, which explains why coal formation stopped; at 30% oxygen, dead plant matter will combust with little encouragement, resulting in little left behind to form coal seams.

If you'd like to find out more, I highly recommend Ward's book, which is not only an argument for the fluctuating-atmosphere model, but is a good overview of the major events in Earth's history.

Parasaurolophus skeleton [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

I had another blow delivered to the static-Earth perception from a study that was published last week in Geophysical Research Letters, called "Is There a Tectonically Driven Super‐Tidal Cycle?", by Mattias Green, J. L. Molloy, H. S. Davies, and J. C. Duarte, which considered the possibility that even the tides haven't always been as they are today.

What their study did was to look at a model of the dispersal of tidal energy, and they found that when all the continents were joined into a single land mass (Pangaea), which last happened at the end of the Permian Era a little over 250 million years ago, it represented a tidal energy minimum.  This meant that the tides were smaller than today, and that the majority of the (single) ocean was effectively a stagnant pool of water, with little vertical mixing of nutrients.  Stagnant, low-nutrient, low-oxygen water generally has little biodiversity -- a few species that can tolerate such conditions do exceptionally well, but the rest die out.  So this could be yet another reason that the cataclysmic Permian-Triassic Extinction happened, in which (by some estimates) 90% of the species on Earth became extinct.

What the Green et al. study suggests is that we're near a tidal maximum.  As the press release about the study put it:
In the new study, scientists simulated the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates and changes in the resonance of ocean basins over millions of years. 
The new research suggests the Atlantic Ocean is currently resonant, causing the ocean’s tides to approach maximum energy levels.  Over the next 50 million years, tides in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans will come closer to resonance and grow stronger.  In that time, Asia will split, creating a new ocean basin... 
In 100 million years, the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and a newly formed Pan-Asian Ocean will see higher resonance and stronger tides as well.  Australia will move north to join the lower half of Asia, as all the continents slowly begin to coalesce into a single landmass in the northern hemisphere... 
After 150 million years, tidal energy begins to decline as Earth’s landmasses form the next supercontinent and resonance declines.  In 250 million years, the new supercontinent will have formed, bringing in an age of low resonance, leading to low tidal energy and a largely quiet sea, according to the new research.
It's a little humbling to think about, isn't it?  The processes that shape the continents, drive the tides, control the chemistry of the atmosphere, will keep chugging along long after we're a paleontological footnote in the textbooks of our far distant descendants.  It's not that what we're doing now isn't critical; in the short term, the out-of-control fossil fuel burning is doing things to our atmosphere that will certainly cause us grievous harm, not to mention the short-sighted pollution of the very resources we depend on.

But if we do succeed in wiping ourselves out, which lately has seemed increasingly likely, the processes that govern the Earth will keep on going without us.  So will natural selection; the survivors of the current mass extinction will evolve into other "forms most beautiful and most wonderful," as Darwin put it in The Origin of Species.

Not that this will be much consolation to us, of course.  But I do find it comforting, in a strange way.  However important we think we are, on the scale of the natural world, we're pretty tiny.  Whatever damage we do, eventually the Earth will recover, with or without us.  And the atmospheric, geological, and tidal ups and downs will continue -- world without end, amen.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Vitriol in the mailbox

Whenever I write a post that's critical of Donald Trump, I always cringe a little as my finger is poised above the "Publish" button.

Because it never fails to result in hate mail, which runs the gamut from implications that I'm hopelessly stupid to spittle-flecked, obscenity-laden screeds, many of which make suggestions that would not have been anatomically possible even when I was in my twenties and was a great deal more flexible.

I've never seen anything quite like this.  I've written this blog for going on eight years, and during that time I have been critical of a large number of public figures.  Those public figures represent a reasonably good cross-section of political and philosophical ideologies; I try my best to be even-handed and criticize faulty thinking wherever I see it, regardless of whether the person in question belongs to the political party I favor.

So, as you might expect, people often take exception to what I say, and pretty frequently will come back at me with some kind of response, question, or rebuttal.  This is fine.  I have no problem being challenged; if I did, I wouldn't be a blogger, I would stay home and talk to my dog, who no matter what I say looks at me with this adoring expression that says, "Good heavens!  I would never have thought of that!  That's absolutely brilliant!"

But I have never seen anything like the vitriol that gets thrown at me over Donald Trump.  There's something about him that seems to incite either blazing hatred or defend-till-death loyalty.  I find this a little puzzling, but it played out again apropos of my post from two days ago, wherein I described the peculiar evidence-resistance I've seen in Trump and his spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, wherein they will not admit to being wrong even when the facts are incontrovertible.  Here are just a few of the responses I got within twenty-four hours of the post.  I'm leaving out the ones that were pure vulgarity, because you can only write "go fuck yourself" so many times.
You liberals are doomed.  You know that, right?  We threw away the elephant and the donkey, and elected a lion.  You're [sic] days are numbered.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the polls aren't really bearing this out.  Support for Trump dwindled into the low 30s by mid-2017 and have pretty much stayed there, and most pundits are predicting that the Democrats are poised to have a good shot at taking back both the House and the Senate.  Now, I'm well aware that a lot can happen between now and November.  Hell, given the last week's headlines, a lot can happen between now and next Thursday.  But even so, the "lion" seems to be in some serious jeopardy of ending up in a very, very small cage.
What part of Trump is in the WH do you not understand?
I understand who the president is all too well, thanks.  My primary concern at the moment is not wishing someone else had won, it's wishing he wouldn't lie every time he opens his damn mouth, not to mention do something idiotic that gets us into yet another war.  And if you don't see him as  increasingly erratic, you're not paying attention.  To take one example (of many), consider his calling out Obama for making public a plan to send the military into Syria, then posting a tweet that... made public a plan to send the military into Syria.  The only difference was that this one came along with a slam against Russia for supporting Assad.  Then -- twenty minutes later -- he backpedaled and said our relationship with Russia is just fine.  And followed it up with saying that he didn't really say he was going to bomb Syria, and if he did, he didn't tell them the actual launch date, so it was all cool.

The man is a petulant, moody, ignorant toddler, whose response to everything is to call people names, lie, and sulk.  And I'd feel this way regardless of which political party he belonged to.  He could agree with me on damn near every political stance there is, and he'd still be completely unfit to run the country.
Finally we have someone whose [sic] doing something about stopping the immigrants from taking over, and people like you can't handle it.  Let's see how you feel when sharea [sic] law is declared in your home town.
Let me quote from my own post: "I'm not here to discuss immigration policy per se.  It's a complex issue and one on which I am hardly qualified to weigh in."  I never once said, either in that post or in any other, whether I'm for tightening or loosening immigration laws, whether I support DACA, whether there should be amnesty for illegals living in the United States, and so on.  (And I'm not going to.  When I don't feel qualified to comment on a topic, I don't comment on it.)  What I did comment upon was that both Trump and Sanders have said that illegal immigration is increasing now, and increased steadily throughout the Obama presidency, both of which are simply false.  I'm not so much concerned with the specific topic of immigration as I am with the fact that the president seems to be incapable of telling truth from fiction.
There has never been a president who has been so abused, so criticized, and had so many roadblocks placed in his way.  People criticize him for not accomplishing his agenda, but he's spending so much of his time defending himself against unfair attacks and criticism that it's no wonder.
First, allow me to point out that if a Republican president with a Republican Senate, Republican House, and Supreme Court dominated by conservatives can't achieve his agenda, it's hardly the fault of the Democrats. But about the abuse -- geez, how short a memory do you have?  Every president gets a dose of criticism (fair and unfair), ridicule, and so on, but have you forgotten what happened when Obama was elected?  The man couldn't wear a tan suit without Fox News having a complete meltdown.  He had a Supreme Court nomination stalled for nine months (an act that Mitch McConnell said was "the proudest moment of [his] political life"), resulting in the nomination never coming to a vote, something that was completely unprecedented.  And as far as how he was treated by the voters, do you remember this photograph?


Oh, wait, maybe you didn't see it, because it was never mentioned by Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity.  And it's only one of many.  If you do a Google image search for "Obama lynched in effigy," you'll see what kind of shit he and his family had to face on a daily basis.

So anyway.  I've probably just opened myself up to another waterfall of vitriol, which is fine.  Like I said, I'm used to it; it's an occupational hazard of what I do.  But the point I made in my original post still stands; if you hold a stance, and you are presented with hard, unassailable facts that the opposite is true, the only honest thing to do is to admit you were wrong, not to claim that you "still feel you're right" or that there are "alternate facts."

And sending the person who pointed it out anatomically impossible suggestions really doesn't help your case much.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Order out of chaos

One of the consistent criticisms I hear of the evolutionary model, as embodied in the principle of natural selection, is that it claims that order has appeared out of an essentially random process.

"You admit that mutations are random," the critic says.  "And then in the same breath, you say that these random mutations have driven evolution to create all of the complexity of life around us.  How is that possible?  Chaos can only create more chaos, never order.  For order, there must be a Designer."

Professor Armand Leroi and Bob McAllen, of the Imperial College of London, have teamed up with musician Brian Eno to demonstrate that this view is profoundly incorrect, because it misses 2/3 of what is necessary for evolution to occur.  Not only do you need mutations -- random changes in the code -- you also need two other things: a replication mechanism, and something external acting as a selecting agent.

In order to show how quickly order can come from chaos, Leroi, McAllen, and Eno created a piece of electronic "music" that was just a jumble of random notes and chords (i.e., noise).  They then allowed 7,000 internet volunteers to rate various bits of the string of notes for how pleasant they sounded.  The sum total of these votes was used by a computer program to create a second generation of the tune (replication), making a few changes each time (mutation), and then choosing to retain segments that were the most popular (selection).  The successful loops were allowed to recombine (to "have sex," in McAllen's words), creating the next generation of loops.  Then the whole process was repeated.

After 3,000 generations, a pleasant, and relatively complex, melodic riff was created -- with interlocking phrases and an interesting and steady rhythm.  It's not exactly what the rather hyperbolic headline in Why Evolution is True says it is -- "the perfect pop song" -- but for something that bootstrapped itself upwards out of chaos, it's not bad.  (McAllen created an audio clip that outlines the progression of the piece from random notes to listenable music, along with some fascinating narration of the alterations that occurred in the music over time.)

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

The analogy to evolution isn't perfect, in that human judges with an end product in mind (modern western music) were picking the sound combinations that matched that goal the best.  In that respect, it more closely resembles artificial selection -- in which naturally-occurring mutations result in changes to a population, and humans act to select the ones they think are the most useful.  It is in this way that virtually every breed of domestic animal has been created, most of them in the past thousand years.

But still, as a first-order approximation, it's not bad, and certainly gives a nice answer to people who think that chaos can never give rise to order without the hand of a Designer.  It turns out that no Designer is necessary, as long as you have something acting as a selecting mechanism -- even if that something is as simple as 7,000 people on the internet giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to tiny fragments of a musical passage.  In the natural world, with the powerful dual selectors of survival and reproduction, and two billion years to work, it suddenly ceases to be surprising that the Earth has millions of different and diverse life forms -- although that fact is, and always will be, a source of wonderment and awe for me even so.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fact avoidance

I've learned through the years that my feelings are an unreliable guide to evaluating reality.

Part of this, I suppose, comes from having fought depression for forty years.  I know that what I'm thinking is influenced by my neurotransmitters, and given the fact that they spend a lot of the time out of whack, my sense that five different mutually-exclusive worst-case scenarios can all happen simultaneously is probably not accurate.  It could be that this was in part what drove me to skepticism, and to my understanding that my best bet for making good decisions is to rely not on feelings, but on evidence.

It surprises me how many people don't get that.  I saw two really good examples of this in the news last week, both of them centered around embattled President Donald Trump.  In the first, he was questioned about why he was putting so much emphasis on securing the border with Mexico -- to the extent of sending in the National Guard -- when in fact, illegal border crossings are at a 46-year low.  (You could argue that current levels are still too high; but the fact is, attempted border crossings have steadily dropped from a high of 1.8 million all the way back in 2000; the level now is about a quarter of that.)

I'm not here to discuss immigration policy per se.  It's a complex issue and one on which I am hardly qualified to weigh in.  What strikes me about this is that the powers-that-be are saying, "I don't care about the data, facts, and figures, the number of illegal migrants is increasing because I feel like it is."

An even more blatant example of trust-your-feelings-not-the-facts came from presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has the unenviable and overwhelming job of doing damage control every time Trump lies about something.  This time, it was at a roundtable discussion on taxes in West Virginia, where he veered off script and started railing about voter fraud.  "In many places, like California, the same person votes many times — you've probably heard about that," he said.  "They always like to say 'oh, that's a conspiracy theory' — not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people."

Of course, the states he likes to claim were sites of rampant voter fraud are always states in which he lost, because the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote still keeps him up at night.  But the fact is, he's simply wrong.  A fourteen-year study by Loyola law professor Justin Levitt found that a "specific, credible allegation existed that someone pretended to be someone else at the polls" accounted for 31 instances out of a billion votes analyzed.

To make it clear: 31 does not equal "millions and millions."  And a fraud rate of 0.0000031% does not constitute "many times."

So, Trump lied.  At this point, that's hardly news.  It'd be more surprising if you turned on the news and found out Trump had told the truth about something.  But when asked about this actual data, in juxtaposition to what Trump said, Sarah Sanders said, "The president still feels there was a large amount of voter fraud."

Wait, what?

What Trump or Sanders, or (for that matter) you or I, "feel" about something is completely irrelevant.  If there's hard data available -- which there is, both on the border crossings and on allegations of voter fraud -- that is what should be listened to.  And when you say something, and are confronted by someone who has facts demonstrating the opposite, the appropriate response is, "Whoa, okay.  I guess I was wrong."

But that's if you're not Donald Trump.  Trump never admits to being wrong.  He doesn't have to, because he's surrounded himself with a Greek chorus of people like Sanders (and his sounding boards over at Fox News) who, no matter what Trump says or does, respond, "Exactly right, sir.  You're amazing.  A genius.  Your brain is YUUUGE."

Hell, he said a couple of years ago that he could kill someone in full view on 5th Avenue and not lose a single supporter, and we had a rather alarming proof of that this week when a fire broke out at Trump Tower on, actually, 5th Avenue -- which, contrary to the law, had no fire alarms or sprinkler system installed -- killing one man and injuring six.

The response?  One Trump supporter said that the man who died had deliberately set the fire to make Trump look bad, and then didn't get out in time.


Facts don't matter.  "I feel like Trump is a great leader and a staunch Christian" wins over "take a look at the hard data" every time.

I'd like to say I have a solution to this, but this kind of fact-resistance is so self-insulating that there's no way in.  It's like living inside a circular argument.  "Trump is brilliant because I feel like he's brilliant, so anything to the contrary must be a lie."  And when you have Fox News pushing this attitude hard -- ignoring any information to the contrary -- you can't escape.

If you doubt that, take a look at what Tucker Carlson was talking about while every other news agency in the world was covering the raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's office: a piece on how "pandas are aggressive and sex-crazed."  (No, I'm not making this up.  An actual quote: "You know the official story about pandas — they’re cute but adorably helpless, which is why they are almost extinct.  But like a lot of what we hear, that is a lie...  The real panda is a secret stud with a thirst for flesh and a fearsome bite.")

That's some cutting-edge reporting, right there.  No wonder Fox News viewers were found in a 2012 study to be the worst-informed of all thirty media sources studied, only exceeded by people who didn't watch the news at all.

So sorry to end on a rather dismal note, but it seems like until people decide to start valuing facts above feelings, we're kind of stuck.  Honestly, the only answer I can come up with is educating children to be critical thinkers, but in the current environment of attacking teachers and public schools, I'm not sure that's feasible either.

In the interim, though, I'm gonna avoid pandas.  Because they sound a lot sketchier than I'd realized.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You say goodbye, and I say dratzo

Whilst casting about for a topic for today's post, I stumbled upon an article in Medium from June of last year entitled, "Is the Galactic Federation Real?"

Well, I don't want to leave you in suspense as to the answer, so therefore:

Short answer: No.

Long answer: NOOOOOOOOOOO.

But boy, does the author, one Lisa Galarneau, think it is.  Or, more accurately, the alien intelligence she's channeling, one "Artemis Pax," thinks so.

Yes, I know Artemis is the name of a Greek goddess, i.e., a human-created mythological figure from right here on Earth, and "Pax" is Latin, not Alienese, for "peace."  So this is a little like the episode of the abysmal 1960s science fiction show Lost in Space which featured an alien named, I shit you not, "Princess Alpha of the planet Beta."

Anyhow, Galarneau/Pax blather on a bit about the whole idea, featuring paragraphs like the following:
What we would like to assure you is that ascension into a 5D reality will be more glorious than any of you can imagine. You will all, for instance, experience positive changes to your bodies. Your reality will be flooded with divine love, which will make everyone feel amazing. Your galactic neighbors will also be involved in lifting you up even further, and you will see a technological, spiritual, societal and cultural transformation of your civilization like nothing you have ever contemplated or imagined.
Which sounds pretty hopeful, especially given some of the scary stuff that's been going down lately.  I think we could all use a nice infusion of divine love, frankly.

She goes on to explain the whole thing via a bizarre analogy to The Wizard of Oz, which she calls "a metaphor from your popular culture," further proof that she's actually an alien.  But after reading all this, I decided I needed to dig a little deeper.  Was this just one article about one wingnut claiming to be a spiritually-ascended five-dimensional alien, or was this belief more widespread?

And all I can say is: whoa.

I found the site Galactic Federation of Light, which put to rest any thought that Galarneau/Pax was one isolated nut.  Feel free to take a look at it, but please be forewarned that this site is very slow to load, and in fact resulted in my having to restart my browser twice -- perhaps because the Galactic Federation Overlords were aware that I was accessing their site in order to poke fun at them.

Be that as it may, this site explains everything you might want to know about the Galactic Federation, and features a YouTube channel and Twitter feed that has thousands of followers.

To save you the time and effort, and potential damage to your computer's hard drive, I sifted through the site and pulled out a few highlights.  It's largely composed of a series of dated posts, each stating who said it and some including which Galactic Federation Master (s)he was channeling at the time.  Here is a sampling:
Your planet is literally surrounded with craft from all corners of the universe as all beings vie for ringside seats to the greatest show in the galaxy.  Your world has long been highly regarded as one of the finest spiritual schools in the universe and entry into this University has been highly sought after.  Now, you are on the precipice of a school-wide graduation, and you are center stage for the family that has come from all parts of the universe to attend the graduation ceremonies.  (Galactic Federation through Wanderer From The Skies, July 14, 2016)
Seriously?  Humanity is "highly regarded" and the Earth is "one of the finest spiritual schools in the galaxy?"  Judging from recent events, this doesn't say much about the educational system elsewhere in the universe.  As far as the fact that we're graduating, I suppose that's good, although I hope the speeches are better than the ones at most of the graduation ceremonies I've been to.  And if someone decides to read the names of all seven billion graduates, I'm leaving.
The next three or four months are destined to be eye opening, and you will know for sure that the big changes are on the way...  So get ready to button up your safety belts and enjoy the ride. It can be seen as good or bad as you want it to be, so see the goal that is being aimed for and not the manner in which it is to be reached.  All you need know is that it results in all you have been promised.  It will be an unbelievable time with one surprise after another, and celebrations will be taking place. 
I am SaLuSa from Sirius, and tell you that our ships are gathering for the grand announcement that will allow us to land on your Earth by invitation. (SaLuSa / through Mike Quinsey, 20th July 2016)
Well, given that this was posted a year ago last summer, and I don't remember Autumn 2016 as being all that eye-opening, I guess SaLuSa from Sirius might have gotten his wires crossed somehow.

Sirius, home of SaLuSa [image courtesy of NASA/JPL]

Since the posts were in chronological order, I decided that like the Brothers of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, I needed to skip a bit, so I scrolled down to more current posts.  From April of 2017 I found the following:
Dratzo!  We return!  The great shift that your world is undergoing was first predicted by the Ancients over 13,000 years ago.  It is part of what they called 'the great galactic year.'  Heaven is to honor this time by establishing a great Light, which will wash away the dark and all its minions.  We were asked, over 20 of your years ago, to come here and be ready at an appointed time to carry out a mass landing of our personnel on your precious shores.  And so we came, and then saw that Heaven's dates for this undertaking were somewhat unclear.  So we adapted, and proceeded to use these moments to get to know you better.  Since our arrival here, we have become part of a sacred movement to prepare Gaia's surface humans for the requirements of the divine decrees for this planet.  One of them specifies the need to resolve the issue of the dark minions' labyrinth of control on your planet through sacred cleansing.  In the main this will start with a formal, immense change in the way your societies operate and in the way you perceive the nature of your reality.  (Washta, Sirius Star-Nation, Galactic Federation of Light & Ascended Masters, 17th April 2017)
"Dratzo?"  Is this some kind of greeting from Sirius, or something?  I think we should all begin to greet each other in this fashion from now on, so that "Washta" and his buddies feel at home when they arrive.  Maybe it also comes along with a cool hand sign, sort of like the Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" thing, only way more ridiculous.

"Washta" had a further missive that he delivered late last year:
Dratzo!  We return!  We have been informed that several major banks worldwide are nearly ready to transfer ownership and management.  This is part of the massive shift of financial power out of the hands of the dark into those of the Light, and is the result of recent maneuvers by the Ascended Masters.

Furthermore, the time has come to consolidate the funds that were first posited by Saint Germaine in the early 18th century, and by Quan Yin in the 7th century.  These large reserves of gold and silver are the basis for shifting wealth on your world away from a select few over to those who are fully committed to the creation of universal prosperity for the planet.  Accompanying this transfer is the new banking system which will be completely transparent in its varied transactions.  The new banking is rooted in the unprecedented injunction that banks be the divine instruments of the Light.  They are to be used to manage various corporations (special partnerships) charged with specific and temporary mandates: to distribute technologies and related services to benefit the health and well being of your global populations.  (Washta, Sirius Star-Nation, Galactic Federation of Light & Ascended Masters, 24th April 2017)
Well, that sounds hopeful enough. I wouldn't mind it if the banks, and corporations in general, started being more concerned with the health and well-being of global populations, instead of what they mostly seem to be doing lately, which is buying congresspersons and kissing Donald Trump's ass.  But at this point, I stopped reading, because I was afraid my browser would crash again, and also because my prefrontal cortex was beginning to make alarming little whimpering noises.

What strikes me about this is that the people who believe this stuff (and there seem to be quite a few, judging from the posts and the comments that followed) go way beyond wishful thinking into that more rarefied air of delusion.  I mean, it'd be nice if there were some Galactic Good Guys who were ready to Storm The Beaches and reorganize world governments so that they Played Nice, but there's just this teensy little problem, which is that there's no evidence whatsoever that any of it is true.  And this brings up a troubling question, to wit: what is it that makes someone swallow something like this?  I mean, beyond the rather sad answer that the person in question is mentally ill.  And I just can't believe that mental illness accounts for all of the believers in conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, cults, superstitions... and Galactic Federations.

I actually know people who are seemingly quite rational, who hold down jobs and raise families and interact socially, and yet who have some pretty bizarre beliefs on a single topic -- astrology, homeopathy, HAARP, the Illuminati, psychic contact with animals.  What in the human brain can become so untethered, in an otherwise intact mind, that a person loses the ability in that instance (and that instance only) to decide if something is real, has supporting evidence, makes sense?

I don't know the answer, but I do think the whole thing is a little scary.  So I'll end on that note.  Well, I do have one more thing to say: Dratzo!