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… is a load of crap.

For those who don’t know, apparently people are actually taking this seriously and Queensland communities are starting to ban fluoridation in water. Here’s a picture I stole off a friend’s Facebook wall – one he took on a train:

Fluoride

I first heard of this on the Q&A episode where Lawrence Krauss appeared. He was awesome as usual but had a bit of difficulty trying not to offend people and trying to dumb down his scientific explanations (particularly in regards to nothingness, which I should make a separate post on). Anyway, one of the ministers of health was there too and she mentioned some politician in Queensland – a body builder – who claimed that he’d rather take banned substances for a year than drink fluoridated water. I find this hilarious because most body builders have some idea about nutrition and he obviously doesn’t.

For those of you even farther behind in the news, fluoride is added to tap water and was one of the biggest dental intervention movements in Australian history.

My first step in exposing the bullshit of all these fluoride conspirators should be the end game. Take a look at their credentials. I saw some anti-fluoride argument on a site called “Evolution-Kills” and smelled bullshit straight away. I also found some other dodgy sites with questionable sources. This reminds me of all the quack scientists that create their own publication labels to publish their “scientific” articles because no peer-reviewed article will accept them, and the ones who create their own universities to give themselves degrees. The more scientifically oblivious may have a difficult time sifting through all the bullshit so my first step is always to look at the source.

Here’s a few sources:

The National Academy of Science: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/safety/nas.htm

This report identified fluoride as a mineral that can positively influence human health, and although earlier NRC reports were not conclusive in their opinions, this report concluded that fluoride was considered to be an element essential for human life based on its role in cellular functions involving metabolic or biochemical processes. The report further stated that fluoride in drinking water has two beneficial effects: preventing tooth decay (dental caries) and contributing to bone mineralization and bone matrix integrity.

World Health Organisation Report: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/fluoride_drinking_water_full.pdf

Fluoride has beneficial effects on teeth at low concentrations in drinking-water, but excessive exposure to fluoride in drinking-water, or in combination with exposure to fluoride from other sources, can give rise to a number of adverse effects. These range from mild dental fluorosis to crippling skeletal fluorosis as the level and period of exposure increases. Crippling skeletal fluorosis is a significant cause of morbidity in a number of regions of the world.

… The beneficial and the detrimental effects of fluoride naturally present in water were well established by the early 1940s. High levels of fluoride present in concentrations up to 10 mg l were associated with dental fluorosis (yellowish or brownish striations or mottling of the enamel) while low levels of fluoride, less than 0.1 mg/l, were associated with high levels of dental decay (Edmunds and Smedley, 1996), although poor nutritional status is also an important contributory factor.

Now these are balanced views. No real science is going to declare an absolute benefit with no side effects – and that’s something important to note. However, skeletal fluorosis doesn’t occur in areas where fluoride levels are within safe levels (Kaminsky et al, 1990). See what I did there? Provided a proper source.

In regards to the accusation of fluoride being a carcinogenic – that’s just another example of non-scientific people trying to make scientific claims. Here’s a quote:

Some fluoridation opponents have suggested that fluoride is carcinogenic; claims which have been criticized as being based on statistical bias and deliberate exaggeration. (Cook-Mozaffari 1996, Spencer 1998, Pollick 2006) A frequently cited study by fluoridation opponents is the US National Cancer Institutes Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program which reported a higher in cadence of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) among young males in two fluoridated areas of the United States . (Hoover et al 1991a) Further analysis of the time trends by Hoover et al (1991b) however found that the increased prevalence of osteosarcoma was not related to the time of fluoridation. Moreover, a similar study by Mahoney et al (1991) found no difference in the prevalence of osteosarcoma among any age group between fluoridated and non fluoridated cities in New York State .

But most of all, fluoride is in toothpaste and mouthwash. If these people truly believe that it’s poison or whatever, why don’t they just stop brushing their teeth and see what happens? Problem solved.

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Yes, the whole political thing is over. Maybe I’m too late to bag on Romney but I read an interesting article in Scientific American talking about the emergence of “antiscience”. In the interest of being objective, the article criticises both sides of scientific illiteracy and publicly spreading stupidity through their misinformed opinions on scientific discourse. There’s an interesting treat for you all at the end of this article. SA posed science related questions to both Obama and Romney, then graded their answers based on how well they answered.

The Democrats were guilty of the false belief that vaccines cause autism and mental retardation. The Republicans, as usual, tried to attack the validity of science itself, preaching creationism and falsely denying climate change. I love how they still say “it’s unclear” or “there is no consensus” or “the evidence is still divided”. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this picture:

GWLiteratureReview1_full

If the Republicans had any scientific credibility in the first place, I hope that picture buries it. I did an article on climate change but it was a little bit of an appeal to emotion on my part because I feel bad for polar bears (and other animals). The thing to take away here is: First, there is no “debate” over climate change. Refer to the picture above. It’s pretty damn conclusive. Second, it does not matter if climate change is man-made or not. It seems politicians have some sort of screw loose in their head where they think that as long as they can shirk responsibility and say that humans didn’t cause climate change that we’ll somehow be safe from it. Sea level rising? Fish population dwindling? Starvation of the human race imminent? Oh, don’t worry, we didn’t cause it so we’ll be safe. Nope, we don’t have to do anything about it because it wasn’t us. Yeah … you know what? I’m pretty sure Earth doesn’t give a damn if we caused it or not, if we don’t do anything we’ll suffer anyway. Here’s Romney’s take on it (one of his takes, he actually switched back and forth between believing and not believing it).

My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

Whoa, hold on there! Trillions and trillions? Besides making bombs and guns I don’t remember the Republicans being willing to spend trillions and trillions on anything. The entire NASA budget is only what the US military spends on airconditioning in temporary bases in Iraq, if you guys remember my article about NASA’s contributions.

The article goes on to identify a trend of “antiscience” whereby politicians outright attacked science and gained popularity from it. Huntsman, the only candidate to actively embrace science, finished last in the polls. I don’t know if I should blame politicians or people for this one. Maybe they realise they’re just spouting lies to gain popularity. Surely they can’t be dumb enough to believe what they’re saying (unless you’re Todd Akin). But in the end, they do it because the public responds. So damn, what does that say about the public? Get your shit together. I don’t think anyone who reads my blog is antiscience (or they’d be completely in the wrong place) but seriously, how do you end up with the mentality that science is bad and evil? Here’s a quick summary of what the article says about science’s contribution to America:

For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of US economic growth since World War II. Kids in the 1960s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the 1970s and 1980s sparked the computer revolution and new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry. New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields.

Add this to what I’ve already said in my article about NASA’s contributions and it makes you wonder why you would stop pursuing science at all, let alone become antiscience. The articles continues to point out that America is no longer the scientific leader of the world, and how sad this is when science has been part of America’s success and history. The antiscience epidemic is so bad that it’s gotten to the point where people are being ostracised from the Republican party and communities for having different beliefs. People always ask what’s so bad about religion, or having beliefs. Well, I’m not attacking religion specifically here but any academic can see that the militant spread of false ideology sets back the human race as a whole. Idiots should not be in a position where they can influence the minds of the future.

Anyway, let me just leave you with a tidbit. This one is very interesting; Scientific American proposed a science debate between Obama and Romney which was rejected (despite having the support of tens of thousands of intellectual minds). However, they prepared written responses to the top 14 questions and their answers were graded by SA’s editors. Yes, graded. Like they were high school kids answering a test. Very interesting read: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=obama-romney-grades-science-in-an-election-year

Inspired by this recent example of stupidity at its finest, I’ve decided to make a new section – the Hall of Fame. There’ll be two parts to this – the good and the stupid, the latter to which Todd Akin belongs.

Many have probably heard this already (it’s all over America), but this hilarious republican proclaimed in an interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M09iWwKiDsA) when asked about his view on abortion that female victims of “legitimate rape” would not suffer pregnancy because their body “has ways to shut that whole thing down”. Congratulations on being the first member of the Hall of Stupid, Todd Akin! In light of this context, I would suggest that his brain was aborted, but I doubt anything I can say will come close to the raw amusement I feel about his idiocy. Not that I won’t try to describe it.

So apparently a lot of people are offended by this comment. I, on the other hand, find it hilarious. Not because I’m insensitive – no, if anything I’m being more sensitive than you all. Does a parent express offence and hatred to a child who has made a silly comment? Does a professor expel a student in contempt because the student is not capable of the same higher order thinking as the professor? No, when somebody with an obviously impaired intelligence says something silly, you just don’t take it seriously. I mean, what would you expect from a right wing politician and a religious nut? That’s a recipe for disaster. I’m sorry religion, but you have some really stupid people speaking for you.

But you know what? This one takes the cake:

To appease my conscience a little, I’m going to put some information in here so it doesn’t just end up being a post where I pay out an idiot (making me a bully – though, come on … what did he expect after saying something like that). This is taken from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (figures are of Americans).

Pregnancies Resulting from Rape

In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped. According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time unprotected sexual intercourse is 5%. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, RAINN estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.

This calculation does not account for the following factors which could lower the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Rape, as defined by the NCVS, is forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by offender(s). This category includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Certain types of rape under this definition cannot cause pregnancy.
  • Some victims of rape may be utilizing birth control methods, such as the pill, which will prevent pregnancy.
  • Some rapists may wear condoms in an effort to avoid DNA detection.
  • Vicims of rape may not be able to become pregnant for medical or age-related reasons.
This calculation does not account for the following factors which could raise the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Medical estimates of a 5% pregnancy rate are for one-time, unprotected sexual intercourse. Some victimizations may include multiple incidents of intercourse.
  • Because of methodology, NCVS does not measure the victimization of Americans age 12 or younger. Rapes of these young people could results in pregnancies not accounted for in RAINN’s estimates.

In fact, rape could arguably have a higher chance of pregnancy (http://news.kuwaittimes.net/2012/08/21/rape-trauma-as-barrier-to-pregnancy-has-no-basis-raped-victims-may-be-more-likely-to-get-pregnant-experts/):

In a 2003 study in the journal Human Nature, researchers found that 6.4 percent of rapes in the hundreds of women they surveyed caused pregnancy; that compares to a rate roughly half that with consensual intercourse. In Mexico, rape crisis centers have reported that some 15 percent of rapes cause pregnancy. The rate may be high because rape victims are less likely to be using contraception at the time of the crime than are women in a relationship, who can also choose to forego sex during fertile periods in their reproductive cycle if they do not want to conceive.- Reuters

So there, we’ve learned two things. First, there are humongous idiots walking this Earth and second, rape can cause pregnancy. Oh wait, I guess those are both just common sense – common sense being something that eludes Todd Akin. That’ll be my last jab at him. Well, if nothing else, I thank Todd Akin for inspiring a section dedicated to fools like himself.

Addendum: Friend linked me this picture, which is also pretty funny.

Life is a learning process and as a child (before I entered senior year of high school), I learned some things that really blew my mind. I’m sure some of these were experienced by us all whereas others some of you still don’t know (hopefully, or this won’t be that interesting).

  1. The refrigerator light: There’s a button between the door and the inside of the fridge that is pressed when the door is closed. I remember trying to close the door slowly to see when the light turned off. Finding out how it worked sort of ruined the fun for me, as I could then manually turn the light on and off. This button also stops the beeping that occurs when you leave the fridge door open for too long (because pressing the button makes the fridge think it’s closed).
  2. E=mc^2: The implications of Einstein’s famous equation probably escapes most people. Everyone knows the equation but not many know what it means. Since my mother is a nuclear physicist, I learned this one pretty early on. We can tell, from basic mathematics, that an increase in energy (E) means an increase in mass (M), because C is a constant (speed of light) and does not change. The implication is that the closer you travel to the speed of light, the more mass you get (or heavier you get). Further, the equation unites two concepts: the conservation of mass and conservation of energy, wherein mass and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed in form. Further, the equation describes a mass-energy ratio where, in a closed system, energy comes from the mass of an object (for example, a flashlight emitting light will become slightly lighter than when it is not emitting light).
  3. Heavier objects fall at the same speed as lighter objects: Galileo’s discovery was mind boggling to me as a child because I couldn’t come to grips with the idea that a super heavy object like a tank would fall at the same speed as a sheet of paper. Even now, it sounds a bit weird, but what determines the speed an object falls at is the air resistance. A fun experiment to do is dropping a book and a leaf at the same time. The leaf falls slower because of its shape which increases air resistance. But what if you put the leaf on top of the book? They fall together because the book is taking all the resistance on itself.
  4. Microwave ovens do not produce heat: This is a cool one that I think most people still don’t understand. When you reach into a microwave oven to get your food you don’t feel that hot air you get from opening a conventional oven door. Why? Microwave ovens don’t produce heat. They produce an electromagnetic field. Because water molecules are dipoles (one side is positively charged and the other side is negatively charged) and because electromagnetic waves are made up of an alternating electric and magnetic field, the microwave basically pushes the water molecule in a direction depending on the field. Since the field alternates, the water molecule is basically spinning and releasing heat to nearby molecules. The reason why you shouldn’t put metal in the microwave is because it can accumulate a high voltage that will cause a dielectric breakdown of the air inside the microwave which can release harmful gases.
  5. Spaghettification: This is a cool feature of black holes. Once you enter the event horizon of a black hole, your body is affected by gravity at different levels. Assuming you go feet first, your head experiences less force than your feet, so at some point you simply split in half. These two new portions of your body will experience the same effect and split again into quarters. This process will continue until you are broken down into a molecular level and essentially become a stream of subatomic particles that gets sucked into the core of the black hole. This process is known as spaghettification.

Image

Edit: I’m in a lecture right now and very bored so I thought of a sixth thing.

6. Time is the fourth dimension: I’m sure many people have heard of this but not many fully understand why. Think of it as a mathematical graph. I’m sure everyone has encountered simple graphs in their lifetime. A 2D graph has two axes, the x and y coordinates. You can identify the location of a point based on their coordinates (x,y). Now, a 3D graph (which you’ll see in higher levels of mathematics). The principle is the same. There are now three axes, and if you want to identify the location of a point, you need the three coordinates: (x,y,z). Now, adding a fourth dimension doesn’t make sense right? Because our world is 3D, comprised of objects that have three dimensions that we can touch, right? Now we introduce the universe. As we know, the universe is expanding from a single point at which the big bang occurred. That means as you travel towards the “edge” (there is no edge, I’m just making a point) of the universe, you are essentially going back in time (seeing things that have existed longer than Earth, which is only 4.5 billion years old, whereas the universe is 14.6 billion years old). Since the universe loops on itself (not necessarily a sphere but similar in that you won’t ever reach an “edge”), that means we can’t rely on only three coordinates to locate a point in the universe. We need to know how old that point is, hence time is the fourth coordinate. Thus, the universe is actually 4D. We only consider things to be 3D because Earth is so tiny that the fourth dimension makes no difference on Earth (we just say the whole Earth is 4.5 billion years old, rather than saying the core is older than the crust).

I honestly don’t know how some of these myths are persisting so I’m here to bust them. Let’s hope Mythbusters doesn’t mind if I provide some additional firepower to the whole stupid myths thing.

  1. Your heart stops when you sneeze. FALSE. Holy crap could you imagine if it did? I’ve even heard university anatomy tutors claim this is true. It is most certainly not. Nor will your eyes pop out if you manage to keep them open. A sneeze begins with a tickling sensation that sends a message to your brain that something needs to be expelled from the lining of your nose. Your chest tightens from taking in a deep breath, your eyes close, your tongue presses against the roof of your mouth and you blast air out of your nose with an amusing sound that is unique to the person.
  2. Osmosis (basically water absorption) is the cause of the wrinkly, prune fingers that you get from staying in water for too long. FALSE. Surgeons discovered centuries ago that cutting a certain nerve would prevent prune fingers, suggesting that osmosis was not the cause. A bit more recently, scientists determined that the wrinkles were an adaption to provide better grip in wet conditions (S. Karger AG, Basel, 2011).
  3. The Coriolis effect (caused by the Earth’s rotation) is responsible for water draining down the sink in a certain direction. FALSE. The Coriolis effect does affect long-lasting vortices, but this is on the scale of things like hurricanes. Your sink, bathtub and shower are not significant enough to be affected by this force (which is a very small force indeed when you consider that the Earth makes one rotation a day, whereas your sink will make a rotation in seconds). The direction your sink drains in is determined by the vortices introduced whilst washing, the way the sink is filled and even the shape of the sink.
  4. A human in the vacuum of space without a space-suit will pop, explode, implode or anything else dramatic like that. FALSE. If the person exhales before exposure (to prevent lungs from bursting), that person could survive around 30 seconds before dying of asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
  5. Dropping a penny from a very high building will kill a pedestrian below. FALSE. A penny is not aerodynamic enough to pick up enough speed to kill somebody. Its terminal velocity and weight aren’t sufficient to produce enough impact to kill – in fact it would just sting if you got hit by it.
  6. Lightning does not strike the same place twice. FALSE. In fact, it’s more likely to strike in the rough vicinity of the first strike because of the way lightning bolts are formed. I won’t get too deep into this (at least not for this post) but lightning is formed after a path of ionised air (known as plasma) is created between the cloud and the target (known as a step leader). Because plasma is more conductive, electrical current will flow along this path to neutralise the charge separation, shooting lightning back up into the clouds. While we’re at it, tall objects do not always get hit by lightning. True, they are closer to the cloud and thus there’s a higher chance for the step leader to create a path to a tall object rather than low ground, but the path of lightning is very unpredictable. For the purpose of this myth, just remember that if lightning strikes near you, then there’s a conductive path of ionised air going up from there and you are most definitely not safe because lightning is a goddamned beast and will strike wherever the hell it wants (probably close to an existing conductive path because electricity will obviously flow through the path of least resistance).
  7. You can’t create gold from other metals. FALSE. This might come as a surprise to many, since alchemists have tried for so long to accomplish this, but scientists are already capable of turning lead into gold. Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was apparently the first to succeed in transmuting a minute quantity of lead into gold. I’ve lost the academic paper that I originally read so I can’t be entirely certain, but I remember it was through a process of adding/removing particles or electrons or something else subatomic from the molecular structure of lead. Unfortunately, the cost of creating gold is not worth the value of the gold created, but there were insider reports (from Proctor and Gamble I think) that they predict the process will be refined to a profitable state within the next 50 years. Incidentally, these days the transmutation of elements is no big deal. Particle accelerators do this every day.
  8. Evolution always brings about improvements. FALSE. You may think that evolution is the process of improving a “lower” life form into a “higher” one, but in actual fact it’s dependent on environment and circumstance. Natural selection does tend to weed out weaknesses, but certain environments may have changed or remained the same over time, causing living creatures in those environments to require or not require evolution, respectively. Alligators, fungi, sharks, some fishes, and mosses are examples of creatures that have remained relatively the same over time, because they are so well adapted to their environments that they do not require improvement. The “strength” and “survivability” of a creature is almost entirely dependent on its environment.
  9. There is no gravity on the moon (or in other parts of space). FALSE. If you were to draw vectors in space to represent the influence of gravity, it would be a chaotic mess. Every stellar mass’s gravity in the universe will be influencing you with a force dependent on the distance between you and the core of that mass. The calculation of this, in a multiple body system, stumped Newton, causing him to become religious at the end of his days. Ironically, his problem was solved later through further study into perturbation theory and Newton’s own calculations by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and can’t find with a quick search on Google. I believe he was a French or Swiss scientist who also belonged to some church. Hit me up if you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, considering the calculation of this baffled one of the greatest minds in history, let’s just talk about gravity on the moon. Yes, you are being pulled towards the moon and earth (because Earth’s gravity is far stronger), but because the moon is orbiting the Earth, you are also travelling “sideways” enough so that you can stay airborne (or spaceborne?) for far longer than on Earth.
  10. Christopher Columbus discovered that the Earth was round. FALSE. Navigation systems were already based on a spherical world by Columbus’s time, and he failed to reach his original destination and discovered America instead. Pythagoras was actually the first to propose a round Earth. He died around 495 BC, around 2000 years before Columbus.

There’s heaps more interesting “facts” that are wrong, but I’ll leave it at these for now. It’s getting hard for me to think of any more at the moment. Some of this info was pulled off the internet but I can’t remember where so I’m not going to source them. In any event, it’s all in my own words so no biggie. It’s not like I’m claiming a huge discovery, these things should be well-known but aren’t, which is where the problem is!

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