Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Tyson Adams”

One of the annoying things about movies

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.

Book vs Movie: X-Men Days of Future Past – What’s the difference

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.

Book vs Movie: 2001 A Space Odyssey – What’s the difference

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.

Book vs Movie: Watchmen – What’s the difference

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.

One (of the many) problems of arguing with science deniers

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.

Credit: Jason Hymes

Credit: Jared Hyames

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.

Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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.

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Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

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Surviving animal attacks

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.
How to survive various animal attacks
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.

Bears:
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.

Sharks:
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.

Wolves:
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.

Jackman dancing

Geese:
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.*

Wasps:
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.

Snakes:
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.

Spiders:
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.

Crocodiles:
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:

crocodile head

 

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.

Cats:
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.

Beware the meme!

Memes fly around the internet like quantum accelerated particles. Some are fun, some are informative, others are utterly ridiculously wrong. Unfortunately people get caught up in pretty pictures with inspiring – or is that insipid – quotes printed on them, so they start following someone on social media, someone who spreads as much nonsense as inspirational quotes.

Take for example this quote from Mark Twain:
Mark Twain on nonsense background
At face value there is a great message from Twain about not storing up emotional baggage. Let’s just ignore the scientific inaccuracy of how acids work and how the materials of the respective containers and the Ka (acid dissociation constant) of the acid are going to be the deciding factors in how much damage the acid does. But once you move past the quote and pretty picture you start to notice certain things about the picture, namely that there is some weird design stuff going on it. There’s some spacey looking stuff in the background, there’s a person with no skin, and some sort of lattice work design: what the hell is this stuff? That’s called the Flower of Life, something that has been incorporated into Sacred Geometry, a load of nonsense that would have Mark Twain penning scathing insults toward; Twain loved science.

Let’s take a look at another meme:

Chakra nonsenseAgain we have a bit of text that implies that good relationships are much deeper than the shallow, fleeting, physical attraction. This one is, however, more obvious in its ridiculousness. In amongst the rainbows and pretty city the two outlines of people are hovering above, there are glowing lights in the bodies of the people. Take a guess at what they are meant to be. Chakras. That’s right, we’ve gone all new-agey nonsense right out in the open. So once you spot the new-age nonsense you realise the word “soul” isn’t being used in the allegorical sense but in the “I believe all sorts of rubbish” sense.

And now we descend into health nuttery:
Milk nonsense

This is a typical health meme that these sorts of social media pages post: half truths, misconceptions, lies and nonsense.

Let’s start at the top: there are no pus cells in milk. The meme seems to be referring to the somatic cell count of milk, which is not the same thing, and just part of the biology fail on display here. The 135 million figure is from the detection levels for mastitis in cows, which says that uninfected cows will have less than 150,000 cells/mL (they’ve clearly scaled up to a litre of milk in that glass, which doesn’t look like a litre glass to me).

Growth hormones: misleading at best. Food has hormones in it, produced by the food, be that plants or animals. Remember how soy is meant to be good for menopausal women? Yep: plant hormones. So milk will have naturally occurring hormones in it. Some countries have limited/banned the use of growth hormones in animal production, others have allowed it. And this brings us to one of the many reasons pasteurisation is used in milk production, as it breaks down most of the hormones.

Antibiotics: nope, they test every truck of milk as it leaves the farm gate to make sure there is no antibiotic contamination.

Feces: again this is misleading, and also one of the main reasons for pasteurisation. You aren’t so much going to end up with feces in the milk as the bacteria associated. So it is important to kill the nasties and why raw milk is considered dangerous.

Cholesterol: I’m not sure where they got the figures from but they seem to be assuming 200 mL of full fat milk. Odd considering they were assuming 1,000 mL for the pus/somatic cells. Yes, milk has 24 mg of cholesterol per 100 mL. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Calories: I’m not sure why food having calories in it is bad…… Figures are roughly correct for 200 mL of full fat cows milk though.

Fat: Again, I’m not sure why food having fat in it is bad.

Acidic protein: This one is quite funny because there are a lot of acidic proteins. And obviously these acidic proteins leaching calcium from bones is one of those things that “mainstream medicine is ignoring” – aka the rallying cry made by purveyors of nonsense. Pity that dietary protein (which can include dairy) has actually been shown to be good for bones. The issue here is actually a couple of health myths. The first is the acid/alkaline diet that is utter nonsense. The second is the overstating of health benefits of milk, specifically as they relate to bone health and osteoporosis development.

Now I’m not saying that milk is bad for you, but it also isn’t the most awesome drink ever made – that would be whiskey. Milk should be like whiskey: consumed in moderation.

The point about memes is that they are only as good as their creator. The intention of the above memes is clearly to help people, inspire them to lead better lives, even if it is by showing them some pretty pictures with brain droppings written on them. But sadly it is obvious that these memes were created by someone who is not in touch with reality, which makes their health advice something to be avoided. Beware the meme: it could be nonsense!

Book vs Movie: Fight Club – What’s the Difference?

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.

Happy Strainer Day

Happy Strainer Day

Book review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

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Book Review: Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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.

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How to spot anti-science nonsense

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 Buchanan

Reference : http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mit-researcher-glyphosate-herbicide-will-cause-half-of-all-children-to-have-autism-by-2025/

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 source.

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.

The claim.

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.

Damned organic food giving kids autism!!

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 rebuttal.

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.

Book vs Movie: Jurassic Park – What’s the Difference?

This is the third* video in the CineFix series of Book vs. Movie differences. Well worth a watch.

* Yes, I’m skipping the second video because I haven’t read The Walking Dead comics and gave up on the TV show after spending half-a-boring season on that f@#$ing farm.

Book vs Movie: Rambo – What’s the Difference?

This is the first video in the CineFix series of Book vs. Movie differences. David Morrell enjoyed it, so you probably will too.

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind GamesMind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn’t easy to write Young Adult stories that have appeal to adults. The melodrama. THE MELODRAMA! Nothing brings out the wrinkly curmudgeon quicker than reading teen angst.

Fia and Annie are sisters who are offered a place in a school for gifted girls after the tragic death of their parents. Annie is blind but can see the future. Fia (short for Sofia) has perfect instincts. And the school is a training ground for spies. Let the fun begin.

Paranormal isn’t a genre I’ve read a lot of in recent times, and young adult is not generally a genre that entertains me, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by Kiersten White. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that allows the reader to experience the teen angst and melodrama without it playing out like a TV soapie. Now I used the terms teen angst and melodrama but these are reactions to situations and events that warrant reactions of this kind. Which is probably why the novel worked for me.

And let’s be honest, we all remember being teenagers and thinking the whole world is against us. Kiersten’s novel plays on this whilst telling an interesting tale of two sisters being exploited as seers and assassins.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the FatherThe Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there is one lesson to be learned from this novel it is that no matter how bad things look – be it war, prison, fraud, or being a prisoner of war – as long as you are rich or have rich friends you’ll be fine. Oh, and having a peerage title is kinda inherent in the rich part.

Sins of the Father follows several characters through the events in and around the second world war. Harry Clifton was going to marry Emma Barrington, and despite Emma being pregnant, decides to join the navy after finding out that she could be his sister. Harry trades identities with Tom Bradshaw because reasons, which lands him in jail…… Okay, so this is just one long tale of misfortune disguised as a plot: you get the idea.

Archer deftly weaves his way across multiple time periods with multiple characters suffering multiple hardships. But I found that I was only really interested in two characters, Maisy Clifton (Harry’s mother) and Emma Barrington. This may have been because these were the strong willed characters who were grabbing circumstances by the horns and winning the tussle (or at least fighting the good fight). Archer takes several potshots at the issue of class and the peer system in the UK, the ones that work hard are rewarded, the ones that just sit back and inherit ultimately lose (is that a spoiler alert?). But he still manages to have the rich and peerage-d folk avoid death when their less fortunate and not rich commoner friends aren’t so lucky.

This was an engaging read but was let down by the ending. I’ll quite happily ignore the idea of the House of Lords having nothing better to do than spending an entire day debating who gets to inherit what, rather than say running the country as per the job description. I’ll even allow the speeches being included as part of the story. But I won’t abide Archer leaving this plot point unresolved until the next novel. That’s a deduction of one star from the rating right there.

View all my reviews

Recycling Jokes

I realised today that I’ve become guilty of recycling my own material. It is one thing to steal someone else’s jokes (Dane Cook, Dennis Leary), it is another thing to retell the same jokes hoping to have a new audience to the material. But it is really sad when you trot out the same joke again and again.

What was this joke, you may well ask. Well, voice in my head, it was a little satirical one-liner poking fun at pro-gun advocates. The first time I used the joke in question, it was after a recent shooting.

Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/30/idaho-toddler-shoots-kills-mother-walmart

To which I responded: If only there had been a good toddler with a gun to stop the bad toddler with a gun. This went down a treat with the other news commenters.

And then I used it again, less than a month later when this happened:

A 46-year-old man in Davidson County, North Carolina was shot in the neck on Thursday when his 3-year-old grandson found and fired an unsecured weapon. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/north-carolina-man-steps-out-of-shower-and-gets-shot-by-3-year-old-grandson/

This is just terrible. My joke that – as highly original as it is – plays on the famous quote from NRA president Wayne Compassionate LaPierre, is going to wear thin very quickly. Despite how appropriate the joke is, capturing the ridiculousness of the pro-gun response to senseless and preventable tragedies, I’m going to have to write new material.

At least these things aren’t regular occurrences happening with surprising frequency:

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. By this measure, American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries. http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

A tragic young army mother was shot dead by her three-year-old son as she changed her 10-month-old daughter’s nappy. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mummy-shot-words-toddler-who-4697433

NEW YORK: In yet another shooting incident in the US involving a toddler, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while playing with a handgun. http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/2-year-old-boy-shoots-and-kills-11-year-old-sister-in-us-505473

Boy, 2, accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old sister in fourth death in the U.S. this month caused by a firearm finding its way into the hands of a child.
The 3-year-old Utah girl accidentally shot her brother with a rifle that had been left in the living room of their parents’ home.
In South Carolina, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot a 22-year-old woman with a gun he found in the back of his mother’s car.
Also in South Carolina, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot by a 5-year-old boy who thought the gun he was holding was fake.
11-year-old Jamara Stevens was killed in Philadelphia when her 2-year-old brother accidentally fired a gun the kids’ mother’s boyfriend had left in the home. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609758/Boy-2-fatally-shoots-3-year-old-sister-fourth-death-U-S-month-caused-firearm-finding-way-hands-child.html

A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/kentucky-accidential-shooting/

http://kidshootings.blogspot.com.au/

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