Another great instalment from the CineFix team. And don’t worry, they didn’t do the Depp/Burton movie comparison. Dodged a bullet there.
I can’t claim to have read all of Alice in Wonderland. I can’t even claim to be much of a fan of the movie; Disney animation or otherwise. My main reason for not liking either is that this is a classic example, and possibly the progenitor, of the “and then she woke up” ending. My wife dislikes the book because it lacks a point and is boring and waffly. Since it is a “classic children’s book” it could explain why kids used to hate reading: thank FSM for Harry Potter!
Expletives in the title? Yeah, let’s dash a few letters out, wouldn’t want anyone to realise someone wrote a “naughty” word.
The story follows the adventure of Martin Carter, a bank manager in a small dying town. Martin’s life is a huge disappointment, so instead of buying a sports car he robs his bank and goes on the run. Pursued by a security agency, meeting all sorts of interesting Aussie characters, and trying to find the elusive perfect breakfast, Martin does the midlife crisis in style.
As a long time fan of Geoff McGeachin’s writing, it was a pleasure to pick up one of his humorous novels again, after reading his award winning Black Wattle Creek. Can’t have humour in a book and have it win awards. There are rules. Fat, Fifty and Fucked is Geoff’s first novel and sets the template for his irreverent, humorous, fun, and foodie writing style that his Alby Murdoch novels utilised. I also think Geoff captures the stereotypical Aussie characters and humour in a way that few other authors manage, even if some would find this off-putting, despite how he doesn’t go the full Alf Stewart.
Great yarn: well worth a read.
Potatoes and Pirate-Ninjas: the reason you will read this book.*
I’m late to the Mark Watney appreciation society, since I only heard about this book as a result of the movie trailer. I guess at least I didn’t find out about the book after watching the movie and wondering if it was based on anything. The blurb essentially sums up the novel “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.” There you go, premise done.
To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement, as I usually hate novels that try to be hard sci-fi. I mean, if I want to read a physics text book I’ll grab the one on my shelf, not some of the “plausible” made up stuff that hurts my needless exposition aversion gland. So to find a hard sci-fi story that manages to be so entertaining was no small feat. The humour was a big part of the reason for the enjoyment. I felt that this addition was very important to not only the characterisation of Watney the space-nerd – because nerds are normally only funny to laugh at – but also in how too many novels would have taken the same premise far too seriously.
So now I’m looking forward to the movie. This should adapt very well to the big screen, and Matt Damon seems like a great choice for Watney. Hopefully Ridley Scott won’t go all Prometheus with The Martian and we’ll have a great adaptation.
Edit: The wonderful From Quarks to Quasars posted about the Real NASA Technology seen in The Martian. Check it out to get your geek further on.
* Because you’ll wonder what the hell those things could possibly have to do with a book about Mars.
Below is a wonderful infographic that compares a selection of the fastest ships ever created. Very cool.
Worth heading over to the original page for the discussion section. Highlights include which ships were missing, and a better estimate of the Heart of Gold’s top speed.
With the recent spate of superhero movies it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.
Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.
We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.
The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.
So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.
Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.
Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.
The latest instalment of Cinefix’s What’s the Difference is out. This time they tackle the ridiculously named X-Men: Days of Future Past.
So this is one book in the book vs movie series that I haven’t read. Although, in my defence, the Marvel Comic Universe is such an overlapping, rebooted, reshaped, alternate-time-lined, mish-mash of ridiculous proportions that it probably wouldn’t matter if I had. Watching the breakdown it becomes obvious that the screenwriters did a good job of streamlining the plot and picking characters who would work for the movie adaptation. Less clear is why the movie got so lazy with the “and then he woke up” ending.
The Cinefix team are back once again with their series on movies based on books. This instalment is in two parts and is slightly different. 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t so much a movie based upon a book as much as it was a collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke.
I think the summary in the second video (from about 9:40 onward) encapsulates the main differences between the book and the movie nicely. Essentially Kubrick dispensed with the pedantic explanations and descriptions in favour of stunning visuals and esoteric story telling. Whereas Clarke made that esoteric story telling understandable with all the motivations and insights. I.e. to understand the film read the book, to experience the book watch the film.
Another great breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie from Cinefix. This time it is Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
If I’m honest I’d have to say I prefer the movie over the book in this instance. I liked both, but I thought the changes they made for the movie made for better spectacle and entertainment. Obviously that wasn’t Moore’s original intention, so it is unsurprising that fans were annoyed with these changes. I felt that Snyder’s adaptation remained relatively faithful to the source material whilst also creating a film that cinema goers would enjoy. This is the hard path to tread in any adaptation: making sure the film works but remains true to the source.
Of course Snyder managed to make a film that people didn’t watch in the cinema and that fans of the book complained about. Guess there is just no pleasing some people.
In a recent post I discussed some points about how to spot anti-science nonsense. Pick a subject, any subject, and there will be someone – probably Alex Jones – making an outrageous claim about it. But don’t worry, they’ll solve the problem with items available from their reasonably priced store: $1440 per litre is a bargain price for something you don’t need and doesn’t do as claimed.
Obviously scammers are gonna scam, and anti-scientists are going to not-science. The thing is once you understand that something is wrong you have some responsibility to make sure the misinformation doesn’t spread like a leaky diaper. With great
power knowledge comes great responsibility. Which means you have to start discussing science with science deniers. Don’t forget to place a cushion on your desk and wear padded gloves.
Despite having the advantage of science/facts in the argument against science deniers, you have the decided disadvantage that you can’t just make stuff up (despite how tempting and financially rewarding it is). In fact you have to be better informed about not only your side of the argument but also about the science denier’s arguments.
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? You have to learn nonsense to talk about science. That makes as much sense as being pro-life and pro-death penalty. Bear with me here. Take this example of climate change denier Bret Stephens arguing against Bill Maher on Real Time:
Bret sounds convincing, doesn’t he? Bret sure thinks so. He makes some vague references to headlines from the 1930s and 1970s as dismissals of current concerns about oceans. Then he references an economic study on environmental policy priorities, all whilst looking very smug and sure of himself. These statements leave Bill at a stumbling point because he has to admit he doesn’t know what the hell Bret is talking about. The video edited out the pant-less victory lap Bret did of the studio, complete with crotch gyrations in Bill’s face, as he screamed “Take that liberal media!”
Now it isn’t a bad thing to admit you don’t know stuff. Nobody knows everything, it is arrogant to act like you do. Arrogance is of course the result of being surrounded by Knowitalls, an invisible mythical creature that looks like a cross between a unicorn and Bill O’Reilly. Anyway, I’m glad Bill Maher admitted he didn’t know about the study; if only he would do the same with his position on vaccination and GM/GMOs. But the admission did make him appear less convincing as he couldn’t directly rebut the points made.
And here is why you need to know what the anti-science people “know”. Take the first points Bret makes about the oceans dying. His two dates mentioned are actually making reference to points unrelated to the issue of climate change causing ocean acidification. The first date was reference to the Overfishing Conference in 1936 about whaling and fishery management (as far as I can ascertain), issues that were addressed by introducing catch sizes, fishing licenses, and the phasing out of whaling. So Bret is trying to justify inaction on climate change to save ocean damage by referencing an environmental concern that was acted upon. What a great argument!
His second date was the 1975 Newsweek and New York Times (and others) article about global cooling. This is a well worn climate change denier talking point/myth that has been thoroughly debunked yet has evolved beyond a PRATT point and become a zombie point. Some myths just won’t die and are constantly in search of brains to infect/affect.
We then hear Bret reference a Bjorn Lomborg study on best use of resources and where climate change ranked. Very convincing, aside from the fact that it was complete and utter nonsense. See, Bjorn doesn’t accept the actual risks and actual current changes that have occurred due to climate change. So his entire analysis and argument started off from a completely flawed position and was thus doomed to fail to draw any worthwhile conclusions. Actual experts have torn apart his work, particularly his “conference”, here, here and here. But Bill didn’t know this, thus the points made stand unchallenged and as a sort of “valid” evidence.
And this is why it is important to know your enemy. If you know the arguments they are likely to raise, then you can have rebuttals ready. In the case of citing Lomborg’s work you can point out the failings before people have a chance to take it seriously. In the case of old magazine articles, you can point out you only read them for the pictures. But it means you don’t just have to know the science, you have to know the anti-science.
It is also worth noting that Bret reeled off a string of statements that were essentially nonsense dressed up as facts. That is a tried and trusted debating tactic known as the Gish Gallop, and it is very hard to argue against. It takes a lot more energy to redress the nonsense than they take stating it, not to mention time wasted not making your own points. Also helps that science has to have facts on its side, anti-science can make it all up on the spot.
Of course the obvious thing to say here is that the anti-science movement often don’t see themselves as anti-science and will use similar tactics. They will familiarise themselves with the science in order to dismiss it. This is possibly the most annoying part of science communication, those imbedded in anti-science positions aren’t ignorant of the facts, they are wilfully ignorant of their fact-ness.
I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.
Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.
Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.
If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.
There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.
Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.
That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.
I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.
It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.
Being an Aussie people kindly send me advice on how to not be killed by animals. Yes, we do have some decidedly deadly animals in Australia, some of the deadliest are not what you would think. But as much as I appreciate the advice, I think it is time that an Aussie set the record straight on how to deal with deadly animals. Let’s start with the most recent piece of advice I received.
Clearly this meme was written by someone from North America, what with the unexotic list of animals (although the meme comes from a UK site). I mean, I know that bears and wolves are scary to some people who have never been to Australia, but we have to remember that the bar is raised when talking to Aussies.
You can’t roll toward a bear in Australia as they live in trees and attack from above. The best rule is to use the one borrowed from chemistry, and that is to have a sacrificial (anode) friend with you. This friend should preferably smell delicious; possibly have them carry bacon in their pockets. If someone suggests you carry some bacon then you know exactly how much to spend on presents at Xmas time.
The true nemesis of sharks is dry land, of which we have plenty in Australia. But obviously being so dry we like to crowd down to the coast and chance our hands at being shark food. There are many strategies you can employ on sharks, swimming between the flags being the most popular, as everyone knows flags terrify sharks. Another strategy is having American friends, because sharks love the deep fried marinade of their flesh. In a pinch, there are also plenty of Aussies who could be mistaken for Americans, so just swim with one of them.
These aren’t particularly common in Australia. Instead we have the Dingo. These are actually pretty safe to be around as long as you are over the age of two. Unless we’re talking about Hugh Jackman, in which case just play a samba beat.
When you are attacked by a goose you just have to accept that you’re going to get bitten. Repeatedly. Geese aren’t apex predators without good reason, but they prefer to eat their prey live and running. As long as you can stay mobile and find a fortified position, such as a bank vault or a KFC, you should survive. Remember to clean and dress your gaping wounds, sepsis is a common cause of death. If there is more than one goose you’re done for, just try to throw your final letter clear of the carnage.*
The only reason people have geese is because they are the only thing terrifying enough to take on wasps. So if you have a bank vault or run a KFC you should be able to avoid wasps. If you don’t then buy a shotgun and practice.
Unlike many other countries who measure snakebites in terms of whether you need to visit a hospital, Australia measures snakebites in terms of minutes until death. The main piece of advice for people thinking of visiting Australia is to not get bitten. Actually, that’s good advice for every Australian animal, since they are all poisonous, or big enough not to need poison. Actually, it’s also good advice for plants, since those are poisonous too. Most Australians prefer to run over snakes with their car, then drop a boulder on them.
The humble spider is a much misunderstood animal. Yes, they are deadly, but in a country like Australia that is par for the course. The fact is that spiders are actually quite cuddly, once you get past the poisonous pincers. They are also easy to train, much easier to train than combat troops. As a result Australia doesn’t have a tank division of the army, but instead has a spider division. Think twice before invading.
Yes you should be afraid of crocodiles. Deep down I’m afraid of any apex predator that lived through the K-T extinction. Physically unchanged for a hundred million years, because it’s the perfect killing machine. A half ton of cold-blooded fury, the bite force of 20,000 Newtons, and stomach acid so strong it can dissolve bones and hoofs. But the trick is to keep the animal around that does this to crocodiles:
Which animal is that, I hear you ask. Which is odd given this is a written article. The answer is the Australian Budgerigar. Don’t let its small size and cuteness fool you, they form large deadly flocks of ravenous skyborne killers.
Let’s be clear: cat’s are m@#$er-f@#$ing dangerous. They are sneaky, silent, killing machines with the world renowned ability for invulnerability and regeneration. How can you possibly take on this harbinger of death that will survive dying repeatedly? Attack it ten times.
This is just a taste of Aussie animal survival techniques. There are obviously many more deadly animals (read: all of them) with advice varying from the examples above to emigrating to a safe country, preferably one that allows the importation of Vegemite.
*A final letter is an Australian government required document that all Australians must carry upon their person at all times. In the event of likely untimely death it acts as the final thoughts and wishes for the deceased, usually just short goodbyes to loved ones and reminders to take the bins out.
Another great instalment from the Cinefix team.
A point I’d make about the final chapter of the novel is that I thought the implication was that the narrator was so drugged up in the mental hospital that he wasn’t sure what was going on. And I also thought that the people with the tell-tale bruising were the Project Mayhem members implying they were waiting for him to escape so they could try again.
Also one plot point I really liked in the book was the bit about the type of explosive used, the Narrator preferring one, Tyler the other. This explained why the explosives failed and also implied that the Narrator had been able to sabotage the plan.
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.
It has been awhile since I journeyed from Roundworld to Diskworld and with Sir Terry’s passing it seemed like the right time. The trouble with picking a Diskworld novel to read is which of the 41* to choose. I settled upon Raising Steam, the ode to the very British obsession with steam trains.
Two things struck me when reading Raising Steam. First was that the TV miniseries adaptation of Going Postal was perfectly cast. Reading I couldn’t help but see Charles Dance as Vetinari and Richard Coyle as Moist (Slightly Damp). This gives me great hope for the forthcoming adaptation of the best novel of all time, Good Omens. The second thing was that as a non-British person I feel like I’m missing many of the jokes. There are so many references throughout the novel that hint at jabs being taken at various cultures, peoples, politicians, and institutions. Some are obvious, like the French and Aussie ones, but others I’m guessing I’d have to have been to the UK to understand.
This is all another way of me saying that there is no such thing as a bad Diskworld novel. Goodbye, Sir Terry, thanks for the legacy.
*41 later in 2015, 40 as of this review’s writing.
Cancer really does suck, okay? Okay.
The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly straight forward novel, telling the tale of two teenagers who meet and fall in love. With cancer. And it has the audacity to treat teenagers, cancer, and life with humour and without being patronising. No wonder the Daily Mail didn’t like it.
Anyone at all familiar with John Green, either via the Nerdfighteria community or his Vlogbrother-ing with Hank, will instantly recognise the casual wit and humour that forms the backbone of The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t claim to be a Nerdfighter, well, aside from subscribing to all of their Youtube channels and supporting their charity campaigns, since it has taken me so long to read one of John’s novels. But I think it is the humour John uses throughout the book that sets TFIOS – as it is known in Nerdfighter circles – apart from the generic “kids with cancer” novels.
I enjoyed TFIOS and would recommend it to most people. Just gloss over the generic plot, stock characters, and scenes that are only there to hold up jokes.
NB: I have the deluxe audiobook version narrated by John himself. Hard to imagine anyone else narrating, what with his dulcet tones.
There are some big advantages to coming to a series late, like being able to read the entire series back-to-back rather than wait those long painful months until the next exciting instalment. I guess that makes me a “binge” reader.
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is classic fantasy in just about every respect. Normally I’d give a brief overview of the book, but I’m doing this review for the entire trilogy. And as this is a fantasy series I don’t really have the space for a brief overview of a trilogy. Don’t ask me to write that much, not today, Lord-Ruler not today. Oh okay. [spoiler] The story follows Vin from street thief, to powerful warrior, to god. [/spoiler] H’uh, did that easily, didn’t I?
Mistborn: The Final Empire was first published 9 years ago in 2006, with The Well of Ascension following in 2007, and then The Hero of Ages in 2008; so I’m only a few years behind the times. But this gives me a decided advantage over the people who were hooked on this series back in ’06. As I mentioned above, I read this series back to back, something I rarely do but something that well written fantasy series inspire me to do.
I really enjoyed the series but couldn’t quite bring myself to give this 5 stars. There is a lot to like about the world Sanderson has created – the metal burning being the basis of magic skills being pretty cool – and there were several characters I enjoyed following – notably Vin and Sazed. The first book suffers a little from Sanderson’s pedantic world-building, the second book is tightly written, enjoyable, but felt like it had a false ending before the actual finish, then the final book really delivered on the series. So I’m giving the Mistborn series 4.5 stars and recommending reading the trilogy back to back.
Just recently I was asked a question on one of my climate change posts. The question, whilst not about climate change nor climate science, was about similar anti-science nonsense that acts to confuse and befuddle those who aren’t familiar with the field. The comment in full:
I like your writing, I wish more would understand your logic when they spout facts and relationships. If you have time please, an article (though imperfect) comments,
“Bacteria…and plants use a seven-step metabolic route known as the shikimate pathway for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids; glyphosate inhibits this pathway, causing the plant to die…. Monsanto says humans don’t have this shikimate pathway, so it’s… safe……however, that our gut bacteria has this pathway, and these bacteria supply our body with crucial amino acids. Roundup …kills bacteria, allowing pathogens to grow; interferes with the synthesis of amino acids including methionine, which leads to shortages in critical neurotransmitters and folate; chelates (removes) important minerals like iron, cobalt…”
I would love to know your take on that possible cause and affect.
Thank You for your Time !
Dennis has asked how likely it is that this sciency sounding article is correct. The short answer is that you are more likely to get this week’s lottery numbers from one of these articles than any reliable facts. How can I be so dismissive? Well the thing is I’m not being dismissive, it just sounds like that because my skeptical science eye has spotted many holes in the quote and article. So let us go through them like a rugby player at an all you can eat buffet.
The first thing to note is the source of the article and the “expert” cited within. There are some tell-tale signs that a webpage may be unreliable, such as when they use terms such as “truth”, “natural”, “alt” as a prefix to any word, and “health” as their names. Health Impact News isn’t the giveaway here, it could be a legitimate source of information. In this case the giveaway is the byline “News that impacts your health, that other media sources may censor.” See: it’s a conspiracy!!! (Font = sarcasm) And conspiracy claims are always reliable (/sarcasm).
If you check out Web of Trust you can see that Health Impact News perpetuates a number of dubious and fraudulent claims, such as vaccine myths from the anti-vaxxer nutters. Which means that the slant the website is running is one that doesn’t respect scientific evidence. Not that this alone is enough to dismiss the claims.
The other source is the “expert” cited, one Stephanie Seneff. To say that this computer scientist is out of her depth in the field of health, genetics and chemistry is like suggesting Justin Bieber’s music is appealing to people with taste. She makes all sorts of wacky and unfounded claims about herbicides, GMOs and Monsanto, so calling her an expert or citing her work should get you laughed out of any room you are standing in.
What the article claims is really the crux of the dismissal. If someone claimed to have seen bigfoot doing lines of blow with someone other than Charlie Sheen, we’d be immediately suspicious since we know that greater than 90% of all cocaine is snorted in the company of Sheen. Similarly when someone claims that the most extensively tested herbicide of all time, the safest agrichemical ever made, the most widely used agrichemical on the market, is responsible for [insert health consequence here, in this case autism] then you should be a tad suspicious.
Let’s ignore the fact about the extensive safety testing. Let’s also ignore the fact that autism seems to be the disease de jour of the alt-health fear-mongers, linked to everything from GMOs to vaccines. Let’s also ignore the fact that agrichemical safety and efficacy have virtually nothing to do with the safety and efficacy of individual GMOs (GM and GE being another kettle of fish entirely), despite what the article tries to imply. Let’s also ignore that glyphosate binds tightly to organic matter and is rapidly broken down in the environment so actual levels consumed will be negligible, and those amounts won’t be doing anything in the digestive tract. Let’s just assume that glyphosate is getting into our bodies and causing damage at huge levels: what evidence is there to suggest it is glyphosate and not any other agrichemical or environmental toxin that has increased during the same time period (e.g. coal pollution)? What evidence is there to suggest there has actually been any rise in maladies that aren’t as a result of something else (because everyone knows that fat people got fat whilst only eating celery sticks)?
The reference material or evidence.
Big claims require even bigger evidence. Solid evidence. One thing I hate about news sites is that they so often make oblique references to a study that may or may not have been published in a reputable journal, rather than just link straight to the journal and paper in question. In this case there is no link to a journal, reputable or not, just links to other unreliable sites such as The Mind Unleashed and The Alliance of Natural Health USA webpage, as well as a Youtube video. So far I’m underwhelmed.
Remember, this article is reporting on Seneff’s claim that half of all people will be autistic by 2025 thanks to herbicides. Half!! This is a condition that has a median occurrence of 62 cases per 10,000 people. The spectacular rise in autism that we should expect in the next decade for a herbicide that has been in wide use for many decades already would require a bit more evidence than “well, we reckon.” Seneff claimed a correlation between glyphosate use and a rise in autism. She clearly didn’t compare the rise in autism to organic food.
Well, if you dig further into the reference of the reference (seriously, how hard is it to cite your sources properly!?!) you will find an actual journal paper by Seneff and Samsel in a journal called Entropy. Have you heard of Entropy and is it recognised as a go-to journal for science on the topic of, well, anything? Nope. And what about the study itself which claims that just about every malady you can think of is linked to glyphosate, what evidence does it present? Well pretty much none. To quote this article:
The evidence for these mechanisms, and their impact on human health, is all but nonexistent. The authors base their claim about CYP enzymes on two studies, one of liver cells and one of placental cells, which report endocrine disruptions when those cells are exposed to glyphosate. Neither study is CYP-specific (The effect of pesticides on CYP enzymes, by contrast, has been studied specifically.) As for the gut bacteria, there appears to be no research at all on glyphosate’s effect on them.
Samsel and Seneff didn’t conduct any studies. They don’t seem interested in the levels at which humans are actually exposed to glyphosate. They simply speculated that, if anyone, anywhere, found that glyphosate could do anything in any organism, that thing must also be happening in humans everywhere. I’d like to meet the “peers” who “reviewed” this.
Yep. That is a rebuttal from a Huffington Post article. Let that sink in for a moment. Even Huff Post don’t want to touch Seneff’s claims with a ten foot pole.
So far we have found that the suspicions about this article are well founded. The site is not reliable, the “expert” cited is not reliable, the sources cited are not reliable, the evidence cited is essentially non-existent, the claims made are not particularly plausible, and there is no evidence to support the claims. But this leaves us with a problem: short of hours of research on each point made, how do I confirm that these people are lying to me on the internet? Because you should be able to trust the internet, right?
The average person can’t be expected to be an expert in all topics, nor be expected to have the time to track down and read every piece of science to confirm an article is accurate. But there are people on the internet who have their favourite topics that they will write (or make videos) about. This means you just have to search for rebuttals to articles. Google can be handy for this if you are familiar with how to weed out the rubbish results. Joining forums or following experts in various fields can help as well (e.g. Skeptics Stack Exchange, Science Based Medicine). There are also webtools available to help find good information. I’ve already mentioned Web of Trust above, but there are many others.
rbutr is one such tool that can help with finding rebuttal articles (disclaimer: I am involved with rbutr on social media). In the case of the Health Impact News article there were two linked rebuttals (I’ll be adding this one as well), here and here. This really helps to figure out whether the arguments presented are valid (although in this case a basic application of logic should suffice). But there were more rebuttals linked to the Seneff journal article, 7 of them: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. These links allow people to easily see the arguments laid bare.
Thus we can now see that the article can be dismissed as rubbish. A fair bit of work to get there, but in the end we did it (~25 references and 1600 words later). Makes installing rbutr and Web of Trust in your web browser look like a great option, doesn’t it!
In the information age ignorance is a choice. But informing yourself isn’t as easy as just reading articles on subjects. Using a critical eye, applying logic, and accessing quality information has to be done to avoid being misinformed. When all said and done, evidence wins. And cat videos. And dog videos. In fact any video featuring a cute animal wins.