Category: Science

The Washington Post embarrasses itself

I just dashed off an angry letter to the Post about their recent article, UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact. I reproduce my text below.

The above article is apparently a fairly subtle joke that has taken in the Post’s editorial team. Surely you wouldn’t post something so afactual and nonsensical without a disclaimer in a serious “Perspective” demi-editorial? Surely you should at least have had an article by a person competent in some sort of science? I find it hard to believe you were taken in.

On the off-chance you took that … set of words … seriously (I’m eliding my more strident description), may I suggest you consult Professor Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY), or Professor Steven Novella (Yale Med), or someone from the CSI (Center for Skeptical Inquiry)? Massimo in particular as a philosopher and scientist could point out both the factual incorrectness of some of the assertions, and the logical fallacy blatantly present in the phrase, “… but even those skeptics could not completely rule out the possibility that extraterrestrial activity was involved.”

I await your retraction.

Carl Fink

The article is a hot mess of nonsense. I’m embarrassed for every newspaper editor, just because their colleagues published this waste of photons.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia user D J Shin)
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Non-GMO means “evil”

gmo

Today I sent the following to two manufacturers of almond milk.


I like one of your products. Because of a misleading, unnecessary label on the package I’m reluctant to buy it.

To be specific, I like your almond milk (specifically the unsweetened and unflavored variety). It’s nutritious, low in calories, supplies lots of calcium which I happen to need from time to time, and tastes just fine.

But you had to stick that “Non GMO” logo on the package.

It isn’t exactly false, it’s just morally wrong. No almonds currently on the market are genetically modified, and no water is GMO. Those are the ingredients of unsweetened almond milk. The label is misleading because it falsely implies that your competitors do use GMO almonds.

It’s also morally wrong because NOT using GMO almonds, if they did exist, would be unethical. GMO crops use less land and less fertilizer and less pesticide to produce the same amount of food. This is not only profitable for the farmer, it means that we can feed everyone using less land, which allows more land to be wild, or used for solar or wind production. By being non-GMO you would be harming everyone.

It may be worth pointing out that there are NO KNOWN UNDESIRABLE EFFECTS from the consumption of GMO foods. In many hundreds of scientific papers, no real evidence of any harms has ever been detected. You’re also falsely implying that GMOs are bad. They simply are not.

So your label boils down to two misleading implied claims, to justify doing something that causes harm to everyone.

I strongly urge you to remove that undesirable label from your products. Until you do … well, as I said I’m reluctant to buy products that advertise that they are unethical.

Sincerely,
Carl Fink

Pardon the ALL CAPS for emphasis, I was using web contact forms that have no boldface.

So anyone know of a non-non-GMO brand of almond milk. It also has to be non-organic. (“Organic” means “farmed inefficiently for no good reason.”) Thanks.

(Image created by De Cora, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.)

Parents torture child, nearly kill him. No mention of charges.

Warning: I am very, very angry.

In Oregon (in 2017), a child was diagnosed with tetanus. It was the first case in that state in over 3 decades.

The parent withheld the DTAP vaccine (which prevents Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) despite medical recommendations. Their son got a cut while playing, they treated it themselves (with home suturing!) and didn’t seek medical attention until he developed the classic symptom of tetanus — involuntary muscle contractions. It reached the point where he could not breathe without both drugs and mechanical assistance. With devoted care from many practitioners over a period of two months, the team in Oregon managed to save him from his parents.

As part of treatment he got one dose of DTAP. Five are suggested for full protection. Even after he got a deadly disease that came very close to killing him and meant months of hospitalization and rehab, the parents said that they would refuse to give him the other four doses.

In a just world, they would be sentenced to daily injections of strychnine for two months. Enough to put their own muscles in spasm to the point that they needed mechanical help to breathe. In our world, there seems to be no mention of even a Child Protective Services investigation. I’m sort of glad I have no way to know the names of these hideous monsters, because I would feel some obligation to drive to Oregon and scream at them.

No, that is not hyperbole. They badwording tortured a helpless child. Monsters.

No GMO = Me Not A Customer

Letter written to Freedom Foods, reproduced below:

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Just thought I’d mention: I ran into your products in a store. Nutritionally they were exactly what I was looking for, except.

Except they contain no genetically-modified organisms. This is exactly saying “These products destroy the environment.” Non-GMO crops offer no nutritional or health advantage, but need more cropland to grow the same amount. By excluding GMO crops you are quite literally helping to destroy the wild and uncultivated lands, while forcing the use of more pesticides and fertilizers.

So I can’t, in good conscience, buy your products.

Please do the right thing and use GMO crops.

Thank you.

 

Note to other food sellers: this is a policy. I can’t help you destroy the world by promoting pointlessly inefficient agriculture.

Cloned crayfish swarm conquers Europe

… and moves on to the rest of the world!

OK, this is seriously weirder than the mad science plot. Science Magazine reports that a hybridization event among slough crayfish (native to North America) resulted in a triploid strain appearing, all female and reproducing by self-cloning.

Triploid! You all have two copies of every gene, one inherited from your mother and one from your father. There are exceptions, e.g. people with Down syndrome have three copies of all or part of one chromosome. The marbled crayfish is the super-powered version: it has three copies of its entire genome, two near-identical copies (presumably from one ancestral clone-parent) and one of another proto-parental genome.

It’s the only known decapod crustacean to reproduce asexually. It does it fast, it’s displacing other organisms all over the place.

It may not be obvious to a non-biologist how deeply weird this is. Polyploidy (having more than two copies of each gene) is common in higher plants, but it’s very, very rare in animals, and this speciation event happened in the 1980s, so very recently.

The Science article is very readable, and if you’re interested I recommend it.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Selso)

Feeling articulate

So, I’m currently reading Dry Store Room #1, a book about the experience of working at the Natural History Museum in London.

It’s a great book by an author who is both a Fellow of the Royal Society (Britain’s pre-eminent scientific body) and the Royal Academy of Literature (same for writing). Highly recommended.

So naturally, I’m thinking in terms of museum preparation when I come across this comic:

And my immediate reaction: this is a museum diorama and not a good one. Real skeletons in the real environment do not look like that. The bones separate and are strewn about, they don’t look like an anatomy-teaching specimen you might find in a medical school–those are wired together to show the normal relationship of the bones. Also, in a real desert everything from ants up to condors would be ripping the corpse apart and taking away useful bits for their own (digestive) purposes, scattering the bones further. The only way real bones stay close together is by getting suddenly buried, for instance by volcanic ash.

No, it isn’t important. No, I’m not criticizing Dave Blazek. Yes, I think my own idiosyncratic reaction was weird enough to be worth posting.

This is a very rare double-post (the only one) between this and my other blog at Nitpicking.com.

10% of your brain: can we please put this one to bed?

I’ve been hearing for decades about how we only use 10% of our brains. It’s silly as soon as you think about it: why would we evolve such huge brains for our body size then not use them?

I believed it as a kid, mind you, before being trained in biology

Now Monty (a decades-old newspaper comic, formerly called Robotman), demolishes that whole urban legend in four panels.

Meddick is right. Can we (as a culture) please stop making idiot movies based on this myth?