11.25.2014

The Top Conspiracy Theories of 2014

PLEASE NOTE: This list is based on a forthcoming piece I’ve written for Ranker.com, where I’ve been developing content for the past several months. When it comes to conspiracies, there’s no limit to what can be written.

2014 brought conspiracies on top of plots on top of evil cabals tossing out false flag distractions. Whether it was plane crashes, murders, diseases or general nonsense, if you think someone somewhere was plotting to destroy you, you probably found a conspiracy theory to go along with your tinfoil ravings.

Here are ten of the best (but by no means ALL) conspiracy theories of 2014.

Read on… if “they” let you. / read more…

11.24.2014

Is Soda Bad For You?

Tumbler_of_cola_with_iceThis is a reader-recommended topic. In the comments to my post “Please Don’t Tell My Daughter There Are ‘Chemicals’ In Her Soda,” ‘Kristin’ said:

Sodas ARE bad for you. It’s a fact, and believe it or not I’m not trying to scare you. If you feel other wise of course you have a right to your own opinion. It seems you feel offended because the soda you enjoyed as a child (yes, it would naturally bring up nostalgic feelings) is being called ‘bad’. Maybe you should do some research and write from the realm of knowledge rather than from a state of defensiveness.

Assumptions about my lack of research aside, I think ‘Kristin’ has offered up a splendid idea! Are sodas bad for you, blanket-statement-full-stop? Let’s find out.

In the past couple weeks I have done more research, and I have quickly discovered something. In order to answer the question “Are sodas bad for you?” it turns out we need to ask two other questions: What’s in the soda? and How much soda is being consumed? 

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How the Ghost Rider Coped with a Terrible Loss

Rush is one of those rock bands that doesn’t get enough recognition for their amazing musicianship and incredible career. It’s difficult to define them in a single sentence, their musical style evolved over the years. Starting out as a prog rock band, with a first album in 1974 (influenced by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd), they evolved into more hard rock with a brief synthesizer intermezzo, defining in essence their own genre. What didn’t change over the years is their incredible talent for playing music, especially live. No wonder, then, that they seem to have a relatively small but very engaged group of fans.

Rush: Lifeson, Lee and Peart (hidden behind his gazillion drums)

Rush: Lifeson, Lee and Peart (hidden behind his gazillion drums) – source: Wikipedia

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11.18.2014

Captain Cook and the Impossible Cotton

Shortly before Captain James Cook was killed on the island of Hawaii in 1779, one of his botanists, David Nelson, made a single four-day excursion up Mauna Loa and collected 136 species of plants. From Reader’s Digest‘s 1986 book, Mysteries of the Ancient Americas:

When Captain Cook landed in 1778, Hawaiian cotton—a wild hybrid species with one set of chromosomes from New World cotton and another from Old World cotton—was already well established. How did it get to be a hybrid, and how did it get to Hawaii? … If Old World people and New World people each brought their respective cotton plants to Hawaii, and the hybridization occurred there, where are the two parent species?

This struck me as a true puzzle, and more importantly, one with far-reaching implications. Such a plant might well overturn much of what we’ve learned about the prehistoric colonization of the Americas and the Pacific islands. Our studies have taught us that no genetic link exists between the original populations of these two regions, but proof that such a crop existed could throw a serious monkey wrench into that knowledge.

Captain James Cook, in a portrait by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1775. Via Wikimedia.

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11.17.2014

Stop Hating Common Core Math

common-core-mathIf you are an international reader, you may not have heard of Common Core, which is purely a “thing” within the U.S. It’s a push to standardize learning levels across the country, and also to introduce new approaches to what are often decades-old teaching methods.

If you are a State-side reader, you probably haven’t been able to avoid hearing about it, especially if you’re active on social networks. Common Core mathematics, in particular, has become a lightning rod for criticism, the new “poster child” for what’s wrong with the public school system. Examples of Common Core math (like the one pictured to the right) have gone viral across Facebook and Pinterest, and political pundits have pounced on these examples (and others) to excoriate the Common Core approach. There’s no doubt about it: people hate Common Core math.

But they shouldn’t.

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11.13.2014

Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved?

American aviator Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) standing by her Lockheed Electra dressed in overalls, with Fred Noonan getting into the plane in the background. Parnamerim airfield, Natal, Brazil. Via Wikimedia.

If you pay attention to recent media reports you may think that the mystery surrounding Amelia Earhart’s last flight has been solved, and that researchers have in fact found wreckage from her flight. Headlines read: “Mystery of Amelia Earhart Solved? Fragment From Missing Plane Identified,” and “Mystery of Amelia Earhart finally solved,” and “Amelia Earhart mystery – 1937 photograph could be clue to fate of aviator who disappeared on round-the-world flight.”

Those headlines were based on a recent press release and quotes from a particular researcher who has found a metal fragment, and claimed, “It was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual,” and the patch “matches that fingerprint in many respects.

What does this mean? Is the mystery solved as it has been widely reported, or is this just another example of researcher enthusiasm? Lets revisit Ms. Earhart’s fateful flight and take a skeptical look at this “new” evidence.

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11.11.2014

Gravitational Waves and the Value of Errors

Imagine a fat guy doing a cannonball into a calm swimming pool. We can predict that a minute later the surface of the pool will be mottled with waves: ridges and valleys, peaks and pits. The Standard Model of cosmology makes a similar prediction, that the rapid inflation of space after the Big Bang left it mottled with gravitational waves where space itself expands and contracts, much like the movement of water molecules on the surface of the pool. We could sprinkle pepper on the pool to easily observe and measure the waves. Nature has already done this for us in space: the light from cosmic background radiation gets polarized as it passes through the peaks and pits of gravitational waves, allowing us to observe the waves indirectly.

The BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica. Via the BBC.

The BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica. Via the BBC.

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11.11.2014

Do You Need Organic Baby Formula?

When it comes to feeding our babies, it’s natural to only want the best. And while pediatric nutrition experts generally agree that “the best” for babies is breastfeeding, there are innumerable mothers who, for whatever reason, have to rely on other methods. This is where formula comes in. While breastfeeding has been making a major comeback in pediatrics and culture over the last few decades, formula continues to serve as either an alternative food source or a supplement.

baby-formula

Few issues have caused more pitched battles in the “mommy wars” than that of breastfeeding vs. formula. It’s a topic fraught with landmines and traps, as personal anecdotes butt heads with each other and everyone throws their two cents in about what worked for their baby, what they think you should do and what they’d never, ever do. Obviously, it’s an intensely personal and individualized thing to talk about. But within that war is a smaller skirmish, and one that’s primarily fought in the wealthy neighborhoods of big cities: organic formula vs. regular.

Does a baby who needs formula need organic formula? Is it better? Why is it better? And is there even a difference? / read more…

11.10.2014

Yes, the Dose Really Does Make the Poison

toxic-sign_shutterstock_97201652One thing that frustrates me in conversations about “harmful chemicals” on Skeptoid and elsewhere is when individuals display a complete lack of understanding of dosage. This comes in two forms.

The first form is the passive argument that completely omits”dosage” from their point entirely. I can never tell if someone overlooking dosage is being uninformed or dishonest; part of me wants to give the benefit of the doubt, but another part of me finds it hard to believe they’ve never encountered such a basic concept as dosage. The second is the active argument that “Dosage doesn’t matter” or “dosage is irrelevant“, which is often used to imply that some chemical or other is so bad that is always should be avoided. Invariably this is directed at some chemical that millions of people ingest everyday without obvious harm.

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Sometimes a Cable Isn’t Just a Cable

A while ago I blogged about an expensive USB cable that claimed to increase the quality of music playback from a digital hard disk. That claim, of course, was complete and utter nonsense, as the playback is digital, so apart from bad soldering or cutting the cable, the playback remains the same—because it is, you know, digital.

I read about that particular fraud on Bobby Owsinski’s Big Picture blog. He is a well-known music producer and engineer, and has written several books on music and music production. On his blog, he has a lot of articles where he criticizes those ultra-expensive cables as being good for only one thing: emptying your wallet. So I was a bit surprised to hear him say on an episode of his podcast, Inner Circle, that he actually tested some expensive cables, and found them very good.

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