Listener Feedback: Electric Boogaloo
Once again we open the mailbag to hear what Skeptoid listeners have to say. In these shows, I don't include error correction, as those go into their own dedicated shows; rather, I focus on listeners who can offer additional information or clarification on past shows, or who have feedback or questions that are relevant to the conclusions. Whenever appropriate, I try to always update the online transcripts with this information. So let's see what the current batch of feedback looks like this month.
We'll get started with Vinny, who wrote in about our old episode on crop circles:
Vinny, I would encourage you to recall two of our favorite mantras here at Skeptoid:
What you're describing as "pro-circle evidence" is more accurately described as very poorly-evidenced claims made by true believers who are passionately dedicated to their belief that art in crop fields has a paranormal explanation. Before you spend any effort on these claims, you should first take some steps to verify that these are indeed consistently reproducible observations. A great place to start with this is asking the growers themselves. Go to your local wheat grower's association, or corn grower's association, and do as I do all the time when I'm researching a subject: Ask to be put directly in touch with someone who has been affected by this. More than likely you'll find the association happy to help, and you'll start getting emails from farmers who have been through this. I almost always find that people are delighted to talk about their expertise. Too often, people researching Fortean phenomena limit their research to stuff on the Internet written by either dyed-in-the-wool skeptics or impassioned true believers. It seems many people have forgotten how to pick up the phone and actually talk to a real person in the real world. I think you'll find the more far-fetched claims, like those you cite, are unknown outside the "true believer" community.
For this next one, I'm not going to read any one specific email, because I got about a thousand of them, each giving some variation on the same theme. On my episode called "No, You Shouldn't Question Everything", I gave concepts that are axiomatic as one type of thing that is usually not worth your time to question: e.g., gravity is real, the laws of thermodynamics, 2+2=4. I used the word axiom to refer to a concept that's so firmly proven that there's no practical point in re-examining it; generally, the way the word is used in ordinary language. Predictably, experts from every academic discipline wrote in claiming I'd misused the word, which, it turns out, has different formal definitions in different disciplines. To some, an axiom is a theorem. To others, an axiom is a postulate. To still others, it's a proof. I heard from everyone from mathematicians to philosophers. In fact, each of you who thinks your specific definition is the only correct and universally accepted one, is wrong. There is no way I could have phrased what I said and pleased everyone who insists on a discipline-specific definition of axiom. I say to everyone: Relax. You know what I meant. It's my show, and I reserve the right to speak colloquially.
Listener Jason wrote in with a report of some field research. There are many chains of juice stores in the world that make implausible health claims, but Jason went to one in Los Angeles. Their website makes a number of claims that drinking juice "detoxifies" the body. They make assertions like "Everyday life contributes to the congestion and buildup of harmful toxins in the body from processed foods" and "Sweating helps to release toxins". Jason emailed them:
And he got a reply:
They are, however, more than happy to specify vague and misleading health claims for their products. Folks, juices do not "remove toxins" which is exactly the reason these companies do not specify what toxins or what mechanism. "Cleansing" products do not do anything except provide a high-sugar liquid diet for a few days. The only thing they cleanse is your wallet. You have kidneys and a liver, which provide all the all-natural detoxification your body will ever need.
FEMA Coffin Liners
Remember when the conspiracy theory du jour was that President Barack Obama was going to round up law-abiding citizens into FEMA prison camps as a prelude for orderly execution? Part of this tapestry of complex mythology was that some 500,000 boxes called "coffin liners" were being stockpiled in Madison GA, in preparation for all the expected bodies to be buried. Photographs were even produced online, and indeed, there was a giant lot stacked with mind-boggling numbers of these black cases. I did a Student Questions episode where I was asked about these, but at the time I couldn't quite find the answer.
Listener Thomas from Germany had better Google-Fu skilz than I did, and he turned up a thorough debunk of the conspiracy claim on Mick West's site Metabunk. The photo did indeed show tens of thousands of these plastic containers in a field, but they had nothing to do with FEMA. According to West:
A local paper, the Morgan County Citizen, had reported on this in 2008 when calls started pouring into the vaults' manufacturer, a company called Vantage Products Corporation. Vantage produced the lease for the industrial property on which they stored their inventory of the "Standard Air Seal" model in black. They'd initially moved 70 to 80 thousand of the vaults onto the property, but it was down to about 50,000 at the time. The last of them appears to have been moved elsewhere as of 2010. Conspiracy theory fizzled.
Science moves along, so it's not unexpected that when a show runs ten years or more, some of its information gets superseded. Way back in 2007, I did an episode on claims of relic Neanderthals living in Asia, supposedly as an explanation for the Yeti. At the time, I said:
Listener Todd wrote in:
Followed quickly by Juanita:
And it's true. Humans and Neanderthals did interbreed. They did so after humans left Africa, probably in the Middle East. It turns out that Neanderthal DNA is found in every ethnic group on the planet except Africans; once the interbreeding took place, Homo sapiens spread out and took those genetic markers to every other corner of the globe, which is why we find Neanderthal DNA in humans living in places where Neanderthals never ventured, like China and Papua New Guinea.
So listeners, please keep the feedback rolling in. Every little bit improves the quality of Skeptoid as a resource for people searching the web, and we all know what a minefield that can be. I do the research and the writing and the recording, and all that behind-the-scenes puttering about, but you're the ones who suggest the topics, provide the feedback, and keep the show on the straight and narrow. Skeptoid is your podcast, you're the custodians, you're the executive producers. I just hope you don't fire me.
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