“Furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”

Recently, at work, we were discussing some changes that really needed to be made to our IT architectural landscape (decommissioning of old spaghetti-like applications and implementing more modern tools). One of the biggest challenges would be to convince senior management that the changes actually needed to be made, and we agreed during that discussion that we would need to repeat that message several times in the months to come. As a history buff, I gave as an example of such tenacity Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman who lived from 234 BCE to 149 BCE. Towards the end of his life he kept on insisting that Carthage (Rome’s archenemy), after two previous conflicts, was still a danger to the Republic and needed to be destroyed in a Third Punic War. Most famously, he was known to add as a closing remark to any speech he made, whatever the topic, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (meaning, “furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”).

Cato the Elder. Source: Wikimedia

Cato the Elder. Source: Wikimedia

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5.9.2015

How Michelle Obama Helped Promote Anti-Science Sentiment

In February, Michelle Obama made news when she was featured in an article in Cooking Light magazine. In the article, the First Lady tells a story of her daughter Malia and an interaction with White House Chef Sam Kass, wherein he gave Malia a block of cheese and told her if she could turn it into the powder from a box of mac and cheese, then he would make the boxed kind.

Real food: a plate of macaroni and cheese, probably from a box. Via Wikimedia.

Real food: a plate of macaroni and cheese, probably from a box. Via Wikimedia.

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5.7.2015

When a Drone is Not a Drone

It’s unfortunate that language is often used carelessly. We frequently react to news emotionally rather than analytically; and when imprecise language elicits groundless fear, our reaction can be the same as if the fear were justified. The current popular trend of referring to recreational quadcopters as “drones” is a glaring example, having inspired legislation against threats that exist only in the vacuum left by the lack of aviation literacy.

The quintessential drone: an MQ-9 Reaper, which is used by the military and can fly autonomously. Via Wikimedia.

The quintessential drone: an MQ-9 Reaper, which is used by the military and can fly autonomously. Via Wikimedia.

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Joint Pain: Scams, Lies, and Exaggerations, Part 3

As an orthopedic nurse practitioner I see a constant stream of joint pain complaints. They stem from a variety of sources: injury, age-related changes, lifestyle issues, and autoimmune disorders. Patients will often Google their problems and/or their symptoms, and like most medical issues you can find truth on the Internet, but it is never easy or quick. A lot of what I do with patients is teaching, with a good deal of that time spent addressing long-standing myths or marketing scams. This post is part of an ongoing series about orthopedic problems, scams, and myths. Part 1 focused on the myths and quackery surrounding pain in weight-bearing joints. Part 2 focused on one of the most pervasive forms of orthopedic pain: back and neck pain. Part 3 will focus on feet. / read more…

4.29.2015

Why Pepsi’s Move to Splenda Won’t Make a Difference

006After years of declining sales, PepsoCo is dropping the safe but widely maligned artifical sweetener aspartame from its flagship Diet Pepsi in hopes of boosting their numbers. By August, Diet Pepsi will be sporting an “aspartame-free” label and a new formulation sweetened by a combination of sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) and acesulfame-k (also called Aces K, which makes it sound like street slang for ketamine).

While there’s much that could be said about the junk science behind the aspartame backlash that in part led to this move, I’m not here today to debate the science; there are other writers out there assembling that evidence. Instead, I want to consider a different question: Will this move make any long-term difference whatsoever for Diet Pepsi’s sales numbers?

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4.28.2015

Jade Helm 15: Martial Law, Wal-Mart and You

Taken at face value, it sounds incredibly sinister: members of the four branches of the US military operating within our borders, infiltrating the populations of seven states, moving covertly, deploying vehicles and aircraft, practicing their techniques for capturing and eliminating threats. There are mysterious meetings, strange maps, reports of missile batteries being set up and even the closing of stores and confiscation of private property. And all of it happening under the guise of a mysterious, sinister sounding code name: Jade Helm 15.

The Jade Helm logo, complete with creepy motto. The blurry thing in the middle is a wooden clog, to denote "sabotage."

The Jade Helm logo, complete with creepy motto. The blurry thing in the middle is a wooden clog, to denote “sabotage.”

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Popping Your Beliefs, One Candy at a Time

In my previous post (yes, the one about Playboy), I mentioned that it is sometimes good to challenge yourself on things you consider “facts” or where you assume something to be the way it is. It is a fun skeptical exercise that keeps you on your toes. Consider it the sort of skeptical antitheses of the Queen in Alice in Wonderlandunbelieving six things before breakfast.

Take for instance the carbonated candy that pops and fizzes when you put it in your mouth. In the States it started as “Pop Rocks,” but it has been marketed under several brands since the 1980s by General Foods (later Kraft Foods). This year it made an appearance in the chocolate eggs for Easter. I’ve eaten it before, mostly in the context of modern cooking (see my post on Cooking for Geeks) and I had always assumed it was some sort of weird chemical, reacting with the saliva in your mouth. My friend Helmut challenged me to find out if that was true and, if so, which chemical. As it turns out, it’s not some special industrial chemical, and although there is indeed chemistry involved, Pop Rocks mainly pop because of physics.

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4.20.2015

Holy Hardcore! Australia Nixes Religious Exemption

PMAbbott

PM Tony Abbott

When I wrote about Ausrtralia’s new antivax policies last week, I was impressed by its boldness and wished other countries would follow its lead. Since that article, the Aussie vaccination crackdown has gone a step further: they’re eliminating religious exemptions.

The original policy change cracked down on “conscientious objector” antivaxxers, but at the time it was reported that religious exemptions would remain in place and would be “tightened” so that religious objections could only be gained if the objector is “affiliated with a religious group whose governing body has a formally registered objection approved by the federal government.” This was already going to make getting religious objections difficult as, it turns out, there was only one such religious group with Australian approval: the Christian Scientists.

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4.14.2015

Three Classic UFO Conspiracy Theories

As a skeptical blogger, I’ve often found topics that are interesting enough to research, but don’t really have a lot of “there there,” so to speak. Most just kind of appeared on the internet in the early days of conspiracy mongering (the early 90’s) and don’t have much of an origin story. But they have a number of devotees, and have had books, articles and even television episodes devoted to them.

Here are three, concerning UFO’s and aliens – all with fairly significant internet presence, but with little in the way of evidence to support their existence: / read more…

4.13.2015

Will Australia’s New Anti-Vax Law Be a Bellwether?

DoHAlogoBy now, you’ve likely heard something about Australia’s move this past weekend to enact a first-of-its-kind initiative to tie government childcare benefits to vaccination. Specifically, families in Australia seeking public childcare assistance who opt out of vaccinating their children for non-medical reasons will be denied two childcare assistance payouts meant in part  to cover the cost of a babysitter or daycare. The government is also tightening religious objections, requiring that objectors belong to a religion whose ruling body has officially taken an anti-vax stance.

The Australian government has wisely chosen to frame this law aimed at “vaccine hesitancy” (so-called by the WHO) as one meant to protect other children. It cites the danger that non-vaccination poses to the public at large and insists that it gives vaccinating parents “confidence that they can take their children to childcare without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others.” As anyone who has done rational research into vaccination knows, the herd immunity issue is a huge one, and basing this decision in that reasoning is sound. Vaccination is very much a public health issue; and those who work against the public health will now be denied the public’s help.

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