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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Merry Christmas mandate

Last week, Donald Trump addressed the "Values Voter Summit," a group of people whose Values apparently include supporting a thrice-married serial philanderer whose main claim to fame is embodying all Seven Deadly Sins in the same person.

Notwithstanding the mindblowing irony of someone like Trump addressing issues of morality, the Values Voters were wildly enthusiastic about the speech.  The part that got the most rousing round of applause was when he informed the Values Voters that he was going to make it legal to say "Merry Christmas" again:
America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened and sustained by the power of prayer.  George Washington said that “religion and morality are indispensable” to America’s happiness, really, prosperity and totally to its success.  It is our faith and our values that inspires us to give with charity, to act with courage, and to sacrifice for what we know is right.

The American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence -- four times.  How times have changed.  But you know what, now they're changing back again.  Just remember that...  Religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights.  And we all pledge allegiance to -- very, very beautifully -- “one nation under God...”  To protect religious liberty, including protecting groups like this one, I signed a new executive action in a beautiful ceremony at the White House on our National Day of Prayer, which day we made official.

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judaeo-Christian values...   And something I've said so much during the last two years, but I'll say it again as we approach the end of the year. You know, we're getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don't talk about anymore.  They don't use the word "Christmas" because it's not politically correct.  You go to department stores, and they'll say, "Happy New Year" and they'll say other things.  And it will be red, they'll have it painted, but they don't say it.  Well, guess what?  We're saying “Merry Christmas” again.
Okay, just hang on a moment.

"People don't talk about" Christmas any more?  Then explain to me why this year the department stores started putting up Christmas decorations in September.  And I'm going to say this loudly, one more time, as plainly as possible:

I know a lot of liberals, atheists, agnostics, secularists, and what-have-you.  And not a single one of them gives a flying rat's ass if you say "Merry Christmas" or not.  The only two things I have ever heard any of them gripe about, apropos of the Christmas season, are the following:
  1. Saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" is polite because it's an acknowledgement that not everyone thinks like you do.  It's a way of saying, "I realize you may have a different set of beliefs, and that's okay."  It's not a slap in the face to Christians, it's not a way of belittling or eliminating Christmas from the national consciousness (hell, the retailers wouldn't let that happen anyhow), and for cryin' in the sink, it's not an "attack on Judaeo-Christian values."  It's simply saying, "I recognize that my beliefs and attitudes are not the center of the whole damn universe."
  2. For the same reasons outlined in #1, Christmas displays should not be put up at the expense of taxpayers.  No one has any objection to privately-owned businesses, much less homeowners, putting up Christmas displays using their own money.  Hell, I'm about as atheist as they come, and I don't care if you want to put up a Christmas display so garish that it interferes with air traffic and then stand on your roof wearing nothing but a Santa hat shouting "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!" at the top of your lungs.  Whatever floats your boat, you know?  But if you're using tax money -- i.e. money collected from all American citizens, regardless of their beliefs -- you shouldn't be putting up displays promoting one religion (or, honestly, any religion at all).
And the whole "America is a nation of believers" thing is more than a little troubling.  What does that imply?  That by not being a believer, I'm not an American?  Or that I should just pack up and leave?  If you think that last bit is just me being alarmist, only two days ago I saw a post of a photograph of a sign in a shop window (don't know where it was taken) that said, "Here, we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD.  We say Merry Christmas.  We defend ourselves.  We salute the flag.  We worship Jesus.  And if you don't like it, LEAVE."

To which I'd respond, if I had the chance: I don't honestly care what you do.  You can live at the church and surround yourself with American flag wallpaper and salute it 24/7 with a gun in each hand, if that's what you want.  But if you imply that I'm not an American -- if, in fact, you're saying I don't have a right to live here -- because I don't do the same thing, I think you're sorely misunderstanding both the Right to Free Speech and the Separation of Church and State.

What it boils down to is that 99% of non-religious people don't object to, or even care, what others believe.  They're more concerned with not having a requirement of belief rammed down their throats. Okay, there are some asshole atheists who do disparage Christianity and Christians, and would love to see religious belief eradicated.  But you know what?  If you think that assholery is limited to the atheists, you aren't looking at other groups very carefully.

But messages of tolerance and live-and-let-live don't sell well to the perpetually outraged members of the Values Voter Summit, who think that Christianity is besieged and that Donald Trump is the Second Coming of Christ at the very least.  So if any people of that stripe are reading this, allow me to reassure you.

Relax.  Chill out.  We atheists have no intention of doing to you what you'd like to do to us.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The shadow knows

One of the most terrifying sleep-related phenomena is sleep paralysis.

I say this only from hearing about the experiences of others; I have never had it happen to me.  But the people I've talked to who have had episodes of sleep paralysis relate being wide awake and conscious, but unable to move -- often along with some odd sensory experiences -- such as feelings of being watched or having someone in the room; hissing, humming, or sizzling noises; a tingling in the extremities that feels like a mild electric shock; a feeling of being suffocated; and (understandably) the emotions of fear and panic.

The reason all of this comes up is an article that appeared over at the site Mysterious Universe last week about "shadow people."  The piece was by Nick Redfern, whose name should be familiar to anyone who is an aficionado of cryptozoology; Redfern has been involved in a number of investigations of the paranormal, and is the author of books such as The Roswell UFO Conspiracy, Shapeshifters: Morphing Monsters and Changing Cryptids, The Real Men in Black, The New World Order Book, and a variety of other titles I encourage you to peruse.

So Redfern has a pretty obvious bias, here, which is why I was already primed to view his piece on the Shadow People with a bit of a jaundiced eye.  Let me let him speak for himself, though.  Redfern tells us that there are these entities that we should all be on the lookout for, and then tells us the following:
Jason Offutt is an expert on the Shadow People, and the author of a 2009 book on the subject titled Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us.  He says there are eight different kinds of Shadow People – at least, they are the ones we know about.  He labels them as Benign Shadows, Shadows of Terror, Red-Eyed Shadows, Noisy Shadows, Angry Hooded Shadows, Shadows that Attack, Shadow Cats, and the Hat Man.
Shadow Cats?  Why only cats?  Cats, in my experience, are already conceited enough that they don't need another feather in their caps.  Of course, the positive side is that Shadow Cats wouldn't be very threatening.  My cats specialized in two behaviors: Sitting Around Looking Bored, and Moving Closer To Where We Are So We'll Appreciate How Bored They Are.  If their Shadow versions are no more motivated, it's hard to see why you'd even care they were around, since Shadow Cats presumably don't eat, drink, or use a litter box.  They'd kind of be a low-impact paranormal home décor item.

On the other hand, I'm just as glad there are no Shadow Dogs, because then we'd have yet another source of the really obnoxious noise that dogs make when they are conducting intimate personal hygiene, a sound my wife calls "glopping."  Our two dogs glop enough, there's no need for additional glopping from the spirit world.

But then there's "Hat Man."  On first glance, that seemed fairly non-threatening, but Redfern tells us that Hat Man is the scariest one on the list:
I sat and listened at my table [at a conference, speaking to an attendee] as he told me how, back in July of this year, he had three experiences with the Hat Man – and which were pretty much all identical – and which were very familiar to me.  He woke up in the early hours of the morning to a horrific vision: the outside wall of his bedroom was displaying a terrifying image of a large city on fire, with significant portions of it in ruins. It was none other than Chicago.  The sky was dark and millions were dead.  Circling high above what was left of the city was a large, human-like entity with huge wings.  And stood [sic] next to the guy, as he watched this apocalyptic scenario unravel from his bed, was the Hat Man, his old-style fedora hat positioned firmly on his head.  The doomsday-like picture lasted for a minute or two, making it clear to the witness that a Third World War had begun.  On two more occasions in the same month, a near-identical situation played out.  It’s hardly surprising that the man was still concerned by all this when we chatted at the weekend.
So he talked to some other people, and more than one person mentioned seeing Hat Man, and always associated with images of doom and destruction.  Toward the end, he mentions the fact that one of the people who'd seen Hat Man suffered from sleep paralysis... which kind of made me go, "Aha."

In a paper by Walther and Schulz back in 2004 entitled, "Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis: Polysomnographic and Clinical Findings," it was found that people who suffered from sleep paralysis showed abnormal patterns of REM and non-REM sleep, and (most interestingly) fragmentation of REM.  REM, you probably know, is associated with dreaming; suppressing or disturbing REM causes a whole host of problems, up to and including hallucination.  Another paper -- Cheyne, Rueffer, and Newby-Clark, in 1999, "Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations during Sleep Paralysis: Neurological and Cultural Construction of the Night-Mare" -- has another interesting clue, which is that during sleep paralysis, cholinergic neurons (the neural bundles that promote wakefulness and REM) are hyperactive, whereas the serotonergic neurons (ones that initiate relaxation and a sense of well-being) are inhibited.  This implies that the mind becomes wakeful, but emotionally uneasy, before the brain-body connection comes back online.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

The problem here is that if you're in sleep paralysis, or the related phenomenon of hypnagogic experiences (dreams in light sleep), what you are perceiving is not reflective of reality.  So as creepy as Shadow People are -- not to mention "Hat Man" -- I'm pretty certain that what we've got here is a visual hallucination experienced during a dream state.

Not sure about the Shadow Cats, though.  I still don't see how that'd work.  Given my luck at trying to get my cats comply with rules such as "Stay The Hell Off The Kitchen Counter," my guess is that even feline hallucinations wouldn't want to cooperate.  If you expected them to show up and scare some poor dude who was just trying to get a good night's sleep, they'd probably balk because it wasn't their idea.  Shadow Dogs, on the other hand, would be happy to climb on the sleeping dude's bed and glop right next to his ear.  They're just helpful that way.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Permafrost permayouth

You might have heard about people consuming pills of dried shark cartilage as nutritional supplements.  They're still widely available, in fact.  It's supposed to be anti-carcinogenic.  Why, you might ask, did people get this idea?

Because, the purveyors of shark cartilage pills say, sharks don't get cancer.  So if you grind up shark parts and consume them, you won't get cancer either.

There are just two problems with this practice:
  • Sharks actually do get cancer, something that has been known since at least 1908.
  • Shark cartilage has been tested and found to have no beneficial therapeutic value whatsoever.  It is, however, kind of critical for the shark itself, and the practice of killing sharks for their cartilage has led to widespread decline in sharks in many parts of the world.
This did not stop two of the most prominent cartilage shark spokespeople, I. William Lane and Linda Comac, from writing a book called Sharks Don't Get Cancer When the book was completely trashed by scientists and other reviewers, Lane responded by writing a second book four years later called Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer.

His publisher wisely recommended that Lane eliminate the subtitle he was planning to use, which was So Take That Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah pfffttptbtbtbtbtb.

As usual, we have people who aren't letting little things like evidence and facts stand in the way of their claim.  You can still buy shark cartilage pills in many pharmacies, including a brand called, I kid you not, "BeneFin."

I bring all this up because yesterday I ran across a story about a woman who is doing something even stupider than consuming shark cartilage to prevent cancer; she is injecting herself with bacteria so she won't age.

It's not just ordinary, garden-variety bacteria, either.  These are bacteria that had been frozen in the permafrost of Siberia for, by some estimates, 3.5 million years, and now have been resuscitated by the thaw.  A Russian professor of geology named Anatoli Brouchkov noticed that the Yakut people who live in the area have a reputation for long lifespans, so he decided that (of course) it had to be because they were drinking melted permafrost water that had the bacteria in it.

Couldn't be genetics, or diet, or anything.

So he treated some plants, fruit flies, and mice with the bacteria, which has been dubbed "Bacillus F."  Brouchkov that they "seemed to have a rejuvenating effect," although gives no details about how he knew.  How do you distinguish between a rejuvenated houseplant and a tired, listless one?  Do non-rejuvenated fruit flies fly about in a dejected fashion?

Be that as it may, Brouchkov is certain enough of his claim that he's drinking water with Bacillus F in it himself.  But an actress who calls herself "Manoush" has gone a step further; she is now injecting herself with the bacteria.

Manoush, best known for such A-list blockbusters as Zombie Reanimation, The Shrieking, Philosophy of a Knife, and The Turnpike Killer, says she started taking the bacteria because like many of us, she's not so fond of the idea of getting old.  "Aging is a disease," she says.  "It is a genetic flaw to me.  Even as a teenager I could never accept the concept of getting older one day.  I don’t care what people think. I will stop at nothing to look and feel younger.  Nothing."

Which, I think we could all agree, would leave us with no option other than injecting 3.5 million-year-old Siberian permafrost bacteria directly into our bodies.

Manoush is absolutely convinced she's now aging backwards.  Me, I'm not sure.  I'm not fond of the gray hair, stiff joints, and crow's feet I've gotten in the past few years, but I don't think the answer is to jump on some loopy idea about anti-aging bacteria.  In fact, injecting bacteria into yourself is kind of a bad idea in general; perfectly normal, ordinary skin bacteria become a serious problem if they get into your bloodstream.  A friend of mine's father, in fact, almost died of a Staphylococcus aureus infection when his thumb got skewered by a rose thorn.

Staphylococcus aureus, I should point out, is a ubiquitous part of our skin flora.  On the surface of your skin, it's harmless.  Inside you, it can result in blood sepsis, which is a quick and spectacularly nasty way to die.

Staphylococcus aureus [image courtesy of the National Institute of Health]

So as much as I'd like perpetual youth, I'm not going to get in line behind Manoush for my bacteria injection.  I'll put up with the gray hair, which I'm told makes me look "distinguished," which isn't as good as "drop-dead sexy," but I guess I'll deal.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The time-traveling drunk from 2048

As if we needed another thing to worry about, today we have: a time traveler from 2048 who has come back to tell us that next year the Earth is going to be invaded by aliens.

According to the story, which I have now been sent 14,398 times, the time traveler is named Bryant Johnson, and he showed up in Casper, Wyoming last week with a dire message for humanity in general, and the president in particular.  (Although it must be mentioned that he asked to speak to "the president of Casper," which is a little peculiar.)  According to radio station KTWO, which broke the story, Johnson was drunk at the time because being drunk helps you to time travel.

Which certainly squares with my experience with alcohol, and also reminds me of the following exchange between Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
Arthur: What are you doing?
Ford: Preparing for hyperspace.  It's rather unpleasantly like being drunk.
Arthur: What's so bad about being drunk?
Ford: Go ask a glass of water.
Johnson being drunk is also why he landed when he did.  Apparently he was aiming for early 2018 and missed.  Just as well; it'll give us more time to prepare for the invasion.

Johnson's not the first person who has ventured into the past to warn us about dire events.  There was John Titor, who back in 2000 and 2001 posted on a number of online bulletin boards that he was a military guy in 2036 who had come back to warn us that there would be a nuclear war in 2004 that would cause the government of the United States to fall, which would be terrifying if it hadn't turned out to be completely wrong.  And it's not like Titor's warning caused us to do anything differently; I don't see any evidence that humanity's overall derpy behavior changed in any way following Titor's pronouncements.

Then there's Håkan Nordkvist, a Swedish guy who was fixing his sink and got transported to the year 2042, where he met himself at age 70 and "had a great time," returning with a photograph of him and himself:

I find this upsetting primarily because nothing nearly that interesting happens to me when I work on the plumbing.

Then, we have the "time-traveling hipster" who shows up in a photograph taken in British Columbia in 1941:

The gist of this one is that he's wearing a style of sunglasses that didn't exist back then, which some researchers looked into and responded, in effect, "Yes, they did."  So while his clothing is pretty casual, there's no reason to believe he wasn't from 1941, although admittedly he could be a time traveler anyhow who changed his clothes so as to fit in.  You never can tell.

In any case, I'm not inclined to worry much about this latest person to show up from the future.  For one thing, it was easy enough to check up on him and see if he actually has a past.  Which he does.  And given the fact that most of us have a significant online presence whether we want to or not, it was only a matter of time before something like this appeared:

So there is apparently nothing to worry about next year, invasion-wise.

Me, I'm a little disappointed.  The way things are going, I would welcome our Alien Overlords.  Given the news I read daily, however, I have to wonder why the aliens would want to come here, because as far as I can see, there's no particular evidence of intelligent life here on Earth anyway.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Course correction

I suppose you could say that everything I write here at Skeptophilia has the same overarching theme; how to tell truth from falsehood, how to recognize spurious claims, how to tell if you're being had.  But helping people to do this is an uphill struggle, and just how uphill was highlighted by a meta-analysis published last week in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which had the rather dismal conclusion that we debunkers are kind of fucked no matter what we do.

Of course, being academics, they didn't state it that way.  Here's how the authors phrased it:
This meta-analysis investigated the factors underlying effective messages to counter attitudes and beliefs based on misinformation.  Because misinformation can lead to poor decisions about consequential matters and is persistent and difficult to correct, debunking it is an important scientific and public-policy goal. This meta-analysis revealed large effects for presenting misinformation, debunking, and the persistence of misinformation in the face of debunking.  Persistence was stronger and the debunking effect was weaker when audiences generated reasons in support of the initial misinformation.  A detailed debunking message correlated positively with the debunking effect.  Surprisingly, however, a detailed debunking message also correlated positively with the misinformation-persistence effect.
Put more simply, the authors, Man-pui Sally Chan, Christopher R. Jones, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dolores Albarracín of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that when confronting misinformation, a detailed response generates some degree of correction -- but makes some people double down on their incorrect understanding.

So it's yet another verification of the backfire effect, which makes it a little hard to see how we skeptics are supposed to move forward.  And the problem becomes even worse when people have been taught to distrust sources that could potentially ameliorate the problem; I can't tell you how many times I've seen posts stating that sites like Snopes and are flawed, hopelessly biased, or themselves have an agenda to pull the wool over people's eyes.

It's like I've said before: once you convince people to doubt the facts, and that everyone is lying, you can convince them of anything.

[image courtesy of photographer John Snape and the Wikimedia Commons]

"The effect of misinformation is very strong," said co-author Dolores Albarracín.  "When you present it, people buy it.  But we also asked whether we are able to correct for misinformation.  Generally, some degree of correction is possible but it’s very difficult to completely correct."

The authors weren't completely doom-and-gloom, however, and made three specific recommendations for people dedicated to skepticism and the truth.  These are:
  • Reduce arguments that support misinformation: the media needs to be more careful about inadvertently repeating or otherwise giving unwarranted credence to the misinformation itself.
  • Engage audiences in scrutiny and counterarguing of information: schools, especially, should promote skepticism and critical thinking.  It is beneficial to have the audience involved in generating counterarguments -- further supporting the general idea of "teach people how to think, not what to think."
  • Introduce new information as part of the debunking message: give evidence and details.  Even though "misinformation persistence" is strong even in the face of detailed debunking, there was a positive correlation between detailed information and correction of misapprehension.  So: don't let the backfire effect stop you from fighting misinformation.
It may be an uphill battle, but it does work, and is certainly better than the alternative, which is giving up.  As Albarracín put it: "What is successful is eliciting ways for the audience to counterargue and think of reasons why the initial information was incorrect."

I think the most frustrating part of all this for me is that there are biased media sources.  Lots of them.  Some of them (so-called "clickbait") post bullshit to drive up ad revenue; others are simply so ridiculously slanted that anything they publish should be independently verified every single time.  And because people tend to gravitate toward media that agree with what they already thought was true, sticking with sources that conform to your own biases makes it unlikely that you'll see where you're wrong (confirmation bias), and will allow you to persist in that error because you're surrounding yourself by people who are saying the same thing (the echo-chamber effect).

And that one, I don't know how to address.  It'd be nice if the fringe media would act more responsibly -- but we all know that's not going to happen any time soon.  So I'll just end with an exhortation for you to broaden the media you do read -- if you're conservative, check out the arguments on MSNBC every once in a while (and give them serious thought; don't just read, scoff, and turn away).  Same if you're a liberal; hit Fox News on occasion.  It may not change your mind, but at least it'll make it more likely that you'll discover the holes in your own thinking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It takes balls

A new restaurant has opened up in the pricy Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo, and it specializes in broth and sushi made from fugu.

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular culinary item, fugu is Japanese blowfish.  If you have heard about this stuff, most likely it's because it is wildly poisonous if not prepared correctly.  Correct preparation means removing all of the poisonous parts, especially the testicles of the male blowfish, one of which could easily kill an adult.  Don't worry, the website tells us; the reviewer ate some fugu sushi in ramen broth and didn't die.  He goes on, in fact, to tell us that if risking your life to experience the "pleasant, meaty texture" of fugu once wasn't enough for you, you can also order it deep-fried, and furthermore, they sell "canned fugu," which I'm thinking is never going to replace tuna.

I doubt, for example, that when I meet some friends for lunch at our local café, that I would order a fugu melt even if it was on the menu.

[image courtesy of photographer Jarek Tuszynski and the Wikimedia Commons]

In Japan, you have to have a special license to prepare fugu.  Apparently, if you prepare it correctly, it greatly decreases the likelihood that you'll die.  The poison, tetrodotoxin, is one hundred times more poisonous than potassium cyanide.  It is a sodium channel blocker, and as a result paralyzes the muscles, including the heart and diaphragm -- all the while leaving you conscious and aware of the fact that you're dying.  It is only found in particular tissues in the fish, and all of those tissues have to be scrupulously removed in order for the fugu to be safe to eat.  You can imagine, with something that toxic, it doesn't take much of a mistake to kill you -- it's difficult to be sure you've got every last tiny scrap of the poisonous tissue.  This is why in order to serve fugu in Japan, you have to pass a rigorous licensing exam, to show that you know how to cook so as not to kill your customers.

My question is, why would you take a chance like that in any case?  I like risk as well as the next guy, but I'm perfectly happy exercising that part of my personality by skinnydipping and riding rollercoasters.  I'm not so much interested in eating the Toxic Testicles of Death.  

I wish I were making all this up.  In Japan, fugu is considered a delicacy, a word that should immediately raise your suspicion level.  In my opinion, the word "delicacy" is used only to describe food that, under normal circumstances, would never be consumed by anyone who was not participating in a fraternity initiation.  Other foods I've heard described as delicacies are hákarl (Icelandic fermented shark meat, which is described as having "a very strong ammonia-like taste") and lutefisk (a Norwegian fish product produced by soaking whitefish in lye; it is served with a mustard sauce that informed sources tell me "smells exactly like vomit").

On the other hand, in the interest of honesty, I must admit that when I was in Malaysia a couple of years ago, I tried durian, a fruit with such a strong odor that cutting one open is illegal in hotel rooms and on public transportation.  Food writer Richard Sterling describes it as having an "odor... best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock."  Despite this, and probably because my sense of smell is shot after 30 years of working in a biology lab, I tried it... and thought it was delicious.  (The closest I can come to describing the taste is a cross between raspberry yogurt and almonds, but that doesn't really do it justice.)

I wouldn't come close to hákarl or lutefisk, however.  I'm an adventurous eater, a trait I've developed from years of overseas travel, but I do have my limits, and rotten fish is one of them.

Of course, even fermented shark and lye-soaked whitefish only put you in danger of tossing your cookies, or perhaps having your friends and family seriously question your sanity.  Fugu adds the frisson of possibly killing you.  It is the Russian roulette of delicacies.

Me, I don't see the appeal.  Maybe fugu tastes really great, I don't know.  The point is, so does dark chocolate, and you're not risking paralysis, coma, and death from eating it.  Still, I'm sure that people will continue to eat fugu, and people will continue to die.  In fact, in 2015 five men in Wakayama were poisoned when they specifically asked to eat fugu liver, which is one of the toxic bits.  The restaurant was closed, although it seems like this is more a case for a Darwin Award than it is for a citation against the chef.

So if I ever get to visit Japan, which I very much hope I will, I'm not going to try Death Sushi.  I don't really need a boost to my machismo that badly.  I'll stick with dark chocolate, or if I'm ever in Southeast Asia again, pig-shit gym-sock fruit, which really was pretty tasty.

Monday, October 9, 2017


We've had psychic vampire repellent.  We've had people selling "raw water."  We've even had jade eggs that women are, for some reason, supposed to insert into their vaginas.

So the whole alt-med community has really been working overtime lately.  Which is why I shouldn't have been surprised when a loyal reader sent me a link to something called "Amino Neuro Frequency Patches."

I know how you feel, dude.  [image courtesy of photographer Alex E. Proimos and the Wikimedia Commons]

What are "Amino Neuro Frequency Patches," you might ask?  I know I did.  Here's what the website says:
ANF is a revolutionary holistic approach to pain and inflammation.  Practitioners examine the body following the nerve paths and focus on finding the root cause of the patient’s problem.  They apply ANF discs to the skin to reduce pain, remove inflammation and prevent it from spreading via the nervous and lymphatic systems.  They use the discs in conjunction with manual therapy.
I'm guessing the "manual therapy" they're referring to is writing out a check to pay for the discs, and the course you're supposed to take before you're allowed to use them.  (No, I'm not kidding; you actually have to sign up for an online course before they'll send you your patches.)

So how could this possibly work?  The website explains that, too:
It uses a combination of frequency emitting wearable devices, the ANF Discs.  Each disc is applied directly on the skin and activated by the body heat.  They transmit a unique range of frequencies through the neurons in the body.  The nervous system picks up these frequencies, starting a self-healing and self-regulating process.  By improving the nervous system signaling directly at the cellular level, the effect of the treatment is much faster and has remarkable durable results.  The ANF Therapy does not require the use of any drugs or chemicals...  The connection from the patch to the body is made through the nervous system and the seven layers of bio energy the body naturally produces, the patch providing the signal to promote cellular communication to reduce stress and anxiety while restoring imbalances, as an example.
Okay, first, let's get something clear.

Frequency isn't some kind of hand-waving, Cosmic Connection To The Quantum Energy Field concept.  (Now that I think of it, neither are "quantum," "energy," and "field.")  Frequency means the number of times something oscillates in a given amount of time.  It's measured in units called hertz, which is an oscillation per second.

So a kid on a swing has a frequency.  A guitar string has a frequency.  Light has a frequency.

Your intestines do not have a frequency, unless something is making them vibrate, which sounds painful.

Of course, that hasn't stopped people from claiming that they do.  Here's a concise list of some alleged frequencies of different things:
Genius Brain Frequency 80-82 MHz
Brain Frequency Range 72-90 MHz
Normal Brain Frequency 72 MHz
Human Body 62-78 MHz
Human Body: from Neck up 72-78 MHz
Human Body: from Neck down 60-68 MHz
Thyroid and Parathyroid glands are 62-68 MHz
Thymus Gland is 65-68 MHz
Heart is 67-70 MHz
Lungs are 58-65 MHz
Liver is 55-60 MHz
Pancreas is 60-80 MHz
Colds and Flu start at: 57-60 MHz
Disease starts at: 58 MHz
Candida overgrowth starts at: 55 MHz
Receptive to Epstein Barr at: 52 MHz
Receptive to Cancer at: 42 MHz
Death begins at: 25 MHz
Fresh Foods 20-27 Hz
Fresh Herbs 20-27 Hz
Dried Foods 15-22 Hz
Dried Herbs 15-22 Hz
Processed/Canned Food 0 Hz
The amusing thing about this is the implication that the faster something vibrates, the better it is.  If you think that's true, I propose an experiment: I'll sit for an hour listening to someone play the cello, and you sit for an hour listening to someone play the piccolo, and we'll see which one of us has a headache afterwards.

And I have to admit that I burst out laughing when I saw that a can of asparagus doesn't vibrate at all.  How this is supposed to translate into "bad for you," I don't know, although I will agree to the extent that canned asparagus is one of the most disgusting things the human race has ever created.

So once again, we have some completely unscientific horseshit being passed off as serious medical advice.  My recommendation: don't trust anyone whose knowledge of actual scientific terms convinces you that they failed high school physics.  Good rule of thumb, that.