Saturday, April 25, 2020

Science versus Faith - Again

You can never "disprove" a conspiracy theory to a conspiracy theorist, so don't bother trying.  People who don't understand the difference between science and faith never can be convinced of anything.

I always get a kick out of people who are trying to "reform" religions such as the Catholic Church. They are kind of annoying, actually.  During the AIDS crisis, there were some "activists" who would disrupt church services by screaming and yelling and waving signs and whatnot.  I am not sure what this accomplished, other than to make the activists look stupid.  I am sure that their energies could have been put to better use.

Private organizations like the Catholic Church or the Masons are entitled to believe what they want to believe. And faith-based organizations rely on credentialism and faith as part-and-parcel of their structure and beliefs.   If the head Mason or the Pope says this is the way it has to be, that's the way it works.   You don't get a vote in the matter.   If you don't like it, leave and don't look back.  I have no time for whiny ex-Scientologists or disillusioned Catholics who think they can "expose" or "reform" their former religions.  Start a new religion  - that's how Protestantism got going.  Frankly, there are so many flavors of religion out there, chances are it is easier to find one that fits your beliefs, rather than try to change one to suit you.    But I digress.

The scientific method, as I noted before, is to create a theory or a model of how things work - whether it is how a bridge beam bends, or how particles in an atom behave, or how a virus attacks the body.  You design experiments to prove or disprove your theory or model, and then perform them.  If they agree with your theory or model, then you can cautiously argue that perhaps your model or theory is correct.  You publish these results for others to review and criticize (and they will) and they will try to replicate your results.  Over time, if the results of your experiments are repeatable, and other experiments designed to test other aspects of your model also fall in line, then your theory or model may become generally accepted by the scientific community - you may win a Nobel Prize, even.

But even then, years down the road - maybe after you're dead - people will come up with new theories - often because a new experiment doesn't quite jive with your model - and your theory or model may be modified or entirely thrown out  Science is never finished and there are no "final answers" - only theories and suggestions.

Science is not a democracy.  Many global warming "activists" like to posit something along the lines of "9 out of 10 respected scientists believe global warming is real!" That's not how it works. Scientific theories are not decided upon by a popular vote of the "Scientific Community" - another example of the word "community" being used to describe a non-existent community.  Frankly, it sounds like a Gary Larson cartoon - a neighborhood in every city populated by nerds in white lab coats.  It doesn't exist.

Science is evidence-driven, and as such is never finished, as there is always more evidence to consider and process.  Over time, you eventually figure out which theories have more weight than others, based on the evidence, not on popular vote.   Global warming, for example, has a lot of data driving it.   I wrote Patents for NOAA on some of the equipment that is used to log this data, and it is amazing how much data we gather, from remote sensors scattered across the globe, to satellites in space, to aircraft sampling the atmosphere, just to name a few.   And we do this at no charge to the rest of the world, just as our GPS system is free, and our tsunami warning system is free.  We try to be the good guys - most of the time.

Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are driven by opinion and faith.  There is a theory, yes, but no experiments to prove the theory.  Rather, the conspiracy theorist uses "evidence" which is selectively chosen from newspaper articles and online sources - or just made-up in many cases.  If something seems coincidental, that is bootstrapped as "proof" of the conspiracy.   Evidence to the contrary, of course, it simply disregarded or not noticed in the first place (if you set out to find evidence of your conspiracy, you naturally tend not to find evidence to the contrary).

The conspiracy theorist gets the first part of Science - they develop a theory.  But they never do the rest of the messy business of science - developing a test to prove the theory, publishing the data for peer review, and seeing whether others can replicate the test results. Of course, the conspiracy theorist - living in his Mother's basement - has neither the expertise or resources to perform any such experiments, and the lack of data to support his theory merely being part of the conspiracy itself.  It is a perfect feedback loop.  Any time you try to explain to someone why their conspiracy theory is weak, they just shoot back that any attempt to disprove the conspiracy is evidence of the conspiracy itself - and perhaps you are in with the conspirators.

So it isn't worth arguing about.

And it is one reason I am reluctant to address the next topic.  Once you mention something, it tends only to add to it.  For example, this whole non-existent "toilet paper shortage" deal.  When articles appeared in the press about it, and people started doing funny political cartoons about it, it only made it worse.  When a columnist would exhort people not to hoard toilet paper, it only raised awareness among people that hey, maybe there is a toilet paper shortage, let's go buy some today!   It is an aspect of the Barbara Streisand Effect - drawing attention to something best left alone.

By the way, a reader writes that maybe the toilet paper shortage is real - that people, staying home, are using more toilet paper that ordinarily would have been used at work or at a store.  Perhaps, but when I was in Ft. Lauderdale before the crisis went full-blown, I saw the feeding frenzy in Walmart, where people had three, four, or five of those huge jumbo "Sam's Club" mega-packs of toilet paper stacked up in their cart.   This is a year's supply of toilet paper, even for a family of four.  Since we had bought one mega-pack at the wholesale club a week before, I felt no need to hoard toilet paper - that was enough to last me months, based on experience.   The toilet paper thing was basically human hoarding creating a shortage which in turn lead to more hoarding.  It is like the artificial change shortage.

Over time, people realize that the staple in question is not in short supply and they stop buying.  It seems to have cycled through sugar, flour, meat, and so on and so forth.   Pallets of flour and sugar were placed in the aisles of the Winn-Dixie, and oddly enough, no one was buying.  At the Walmart "Ghetto Gourmet" they had nearly empty shelves of flour and people were desperately putting sacks of it in their cart - a perceived shortage.  Much of it will get thrown away, I think, as this whole thing winds down (and it is winding down - sorry apocalypse fans!) as they discover later on that bags of flour left sitting around get bugs in them.  Flour - use it or lose it.  We've been making bread, in an old bread machine someone gave us.   It's something to do.  And we already had flour - sealed in airtight containers to keep the bugs outBut I digress, yet again.

Thus, I hate to even mention the next topic, lest even mentioning it sort of bootstrap the whole deal. If you say something is false, then folks wonder whether it is, in fact, true.   In recent weeks, some people having nothing else to do, have been setting fire to cell phone towers, convinced that "5G" technology is somehow connected to the Corona Virus.   The towers they burned, of course, were 4G towers, as 5G really is only rolling out just now, in limited areas, mostly in Asia.   I was planning on writing about this, but gave up.  A reader asked about it, convinced their children would end up sterile or something.   Probably would be a good thing.  Maybe there is a reason we put housewives on tranquilizers in the 1950's.   But it probably was a bad idea, though.  Just as obsessing about your children's health can, oddly enough, make them less healthy.  Thanks, Mom!

The theory behind all this is that somehow the electromagnetic radiation from a 5G tower is "different" than 4G and 3G towers, and this, in turn, can affect your health.  And this is an example of where there is a tiny nugget of truth behind this, which can be distorted all out of shape.  Yes, electromagnetic radiation can kill you.   So can water, if you drown in it, or drink so much you end up with a condition called hyponatremia, where your sodium levels drop too low.  But in moderate amounts, it is relatively harmless.

Radiation is all around us, and comes in a number of forms.   Sunlight is a form of radiation that acts as both particle and wave, and yes, exposure over time can kill you by causing various forms of cancer, or just burn your outer layer of epidermis.  Our sun gives us life, but also blasts our planet with a lot of radiation.  Fortunately our magnetic field shields us from a lot of this (as well as cosmic radiation) sort of like a giant Faraday cage.   The Moon and Mars don't have these magnetic fields, and hence are not as well-suited to life.  Still sure you want to colonize lifeless, radiation-blasted planets?

Even with this nice magnetic field shielding us, we are exposed to all sort of "EMF" or "RF" on a daily basis.   The levels are low enough that they are not of any great harm to us, just as going out in the sunlight for ten minutes isn't likely to give you skin cancer or even a sunburn.   The key word here is "likely" as this is all based on probabilistic distributions.  If you go out and lay on the beach every day without sunscreen, you will get sunburned and the odds of a melanoma later in life are pretty high.    On the other hand, if you only go occasionally and use sunscreen or cover up, the odds decline.  They never go to zero.

It is akin to arsenic and other poisonous materials.  Chances are, you ate arsenic today, as well as lead, and a host of other toxic or dangerous metals. You most likely inhaled poisonous fumes as well.  Why aren't you dead?   The answer is, there is a "safe" level of exposure to most of these things, and the level you are experiencing is far below that safe level.  The EPA and the FDA, among others, establish "safe" levels of exposure these various materials.  And yes, periodically, some hysterical so-and-so goes on television and claims that the local water supply is poisoning their children.  Remember the whole fluoride thing?  The John Birch Society was convinced it was turning America Gay and Communist.  Frankly, though, I appreciate not having all the tooth problems my parents had.  Yes, fluoride can kill you, if you drank a gallon of it. straight.  At lower concentrations, though, it is generally safe.

It is akin to this virus thing - you can take precautions by using a mask, gloves, social distancing, cleaning surfaces, staying at home -  and still get the virus.   It's unlikely, but it could still happen.  You have to look at the relative odds and figure out what your best probable outcome in life is.  And like it or not, we do this every day in every human activity we engage in.  The "if it saves one life it's worth it" crowd fails to understand this.  If their philosophy was enacted, we would immediately abolish all automotive transportation, airplanes, and even staircases (not to mention bathtubs - they are deadly!).  It is a ridiculous argument, of course.  If you are too safe you ironically become unsafe.  Because if we all started walking tomorrow and outlawed any type of machinery that could harm us, we'd all starve to death in short order.  But I digress.

Radiation from cell phones is indeed regulated by government agencies such as the FCC here in the States.  And there are limits on the power of phones.  As I noted in a very early posting, the old-style "car phones" were legally allowed to transmit about 4.5 watts of power.   Handheld cell phones were limited to 500mW (which sounds so much cooler than a half-a-watt) of power.  Why was this?   Well, it was felt that having nearly five watts of RF next to your brain was, well, a bad idea.   A half-a-watt on the other hand, was acceptable.  Even back then, people questioned this, and the whole "cell phones cause brain cancer" scare started.

500 milliWatts was considered sufficient for a handheld phone because by the time they became popular, more cell towers were installed, reducing the need for more powerful "car phones" of the early era.    But clearly, there was a threshold where the power of these devices was deemed unsafe.  and a half-a-Watt was deemed to be that threshold.  No doubt some poor bunnies or dogs were blasted with cell phones to see if their brains cooked - that is how these things are done.  Yes, it is awful.

Once these things were in circulation, the urban legend or conspiracy theory started to spread that cell phones cause brain cancer.  This article from the Mayo Clinic addresses the issue.  Once these phones were in circulation, it was possible to do statistical studies to see if brain cancers were more likely than not with hand-held cell phone users.  Recall back then, not everyone had a cell phone, so it was possible to compare cancer rates with handheld users versus a "control group" of non-users.  The results were mixed, which is to say, no real correlation one way or the other.  Increases in brain tumors since the 1970s seem to have occurred - but that was more than a decade before cell phones were even in use.

Since those days, people talk on cell phones a lot less and text more (maybe they will get finger cancer).   And even when talking, people use Bluetooth devices (which also generate RF signals, but a very low power).  Since legions of people haven't dropped dead of brain cancer, it seems the 500 mW level has turned out to be pretty safe, after all.   Odds are, you'll die of something else.   Very good odds, too.

So what about 5G?  Well, like any radio signal (radiation source) if you put your head right next to the broadcasting antenna, it probably isn't a great idea.   But this would also be true for other types of radio signals.  It all depends on the power of the signal, of course.  Your WiFi router isn't likely to give you cancer, nor is your garage door opener, or your Bluetooth headphones.  But try telling that to some people.

This is not a new issue, either.  I recall many years ago (decades in fact) reading about a cult in Germany that believed (and the key word is "believed" - faith) that EMF was bad for your mental and physical health.  Not only did they live in houses without electricity or any electrical devices, they built the houses without nails, claiming that even having metal around would attract radio signals.  They oriented their beds with the heads facing North, convinced that this "aligned" them with the Earth's magnetic field and somehow helped their holistic spirit or whatever.

It was a cult, and all of these beliefs were based on faith not science.   They had no proof that any of their actions made their lives better, other than perhaps, the placebo effect.   Whether they were really insulating themselves from electromagnetic radiation is a good question - after all, radio stations and powerlines generate lots of radio signals that permeate  just about everything.

Electromagnetic radiation is all around us - natural and man made.   You can make a radio from a "crystal set" that requires no batteries (back in the day, it was something boys did as a coming-of-age activity).   The power of the radio waves in the air was enough to drive it.  Those RFID chips you see on products are powered by the electromagnetic fields generated by those loops that are on each side of the exit at your local big-box store.  There is enough energy there to activate a chip and have it send out a coded radio signal in return.  Really black magic kind of stuff - and it isn't a very powerful signal, so no, RFID isn't giving you cancer, either.

Therein lies the real "connection" between the Corona Virus and 5G cell service.  To the cargo cult population, both seem like mysterious, unknowable, invisible threats, that that they have no control over.  They are afraid, and fear is not an emotion to be trusted.   People bought toilet paper, some say, because they felt powerless over the virus, and buying toilet paper - as idiotic as it was - was something they could do.   It is the same reason people freak out over nuclear power, even if they don't understand the first thing about it (Most people, if asked, think that the hyerboloid cooling towers that accompany many kinds of power plants are "nuclear reactors").   Statistically, even taking into account Chernobyl (Russian technology, best technology!) Nuclear power has been far safer than coal-fired plants - or even hydroelectric power.  Coal has killed millions over the years, though pollution, not to mention the dangers and illnesses caused by coal mining.

Of course, power in general is unsafe.   Your car gets into a wreck, whether it has a gas tank or a lithium-ion battery pack, there exists the possibility of fire or explosion.   But that is the key - power concentrated is always dangerous if handled improperly - whether it is a dam full of water or a gas pipeline under pressure - or a microwave antenna aimed at your crotch at full power.

We've had a lot of experience with radiation of different types over the decades, and learned a lot - often by painful experience.  Madame Curie discovered radiation - and then died from it.  Early experimenters with radar found out the hard way you can microwave your brain if you stand in front of a radar antenna (hence the invention of the microwave oven).  Over time, appropriate levels of exposure to all types of radiation have been developed (even, as I noted, sunlight).  Obviously, "zero" would be the best level of exposure, but that is physically impossible unless you built an underground shelter with a Faraday cage and never left it - but even then, you'd be shot through with hundreds of trillions of neutrinos per second - they blast across the universe passing through nearly everything.

Cell phone towers and systems are designed according to these accepted norms - the power levels are set according to what has been tested and deemed to be "safe" levels of radiation.  And these levels were determined based on testing, as noted above (Poor bunnies!  They died so you can text!).

But what is the "evidence" behind the 5G conspiracy?  There really is none.  It is just utter made-up bullshit.  The theory goes something like this - the Corona Virus developed in the Wuhan region of China which is a hotspot of 5G technology.  Unfortunately, Wuhan isn't some 5G wunderland, any more than any other part of China is.   And even if one assumed this to be true, then why is Northern Italy and Spain the real hotspot for this virus? Places where 5G technology hasn't even been implemented yet?  

In reality, 5G really has yet to roll out anywhere in the world, other than parts of China and South Korea.  Which is why when idiots in the UK burn down cell towers, they are not 5G towers.  It has been delayed in the US because of a dustup over using Chinese-made chips, which many believe have a "backdoor" to phone home to the mother ship with sensitive data.   That is perhaps the biggest hole in the 5G conspiracy theory - how can a technology that hasn't been rolled out yet, be causing a virus?

Then there is the the theory itself.  Somehow radiation causes a virus?   This defies explanation, even as a theory.  Cancer would make more sense.  Proponents argue that these non-existent towers are generating some sort of special radiation (unlike 3G and 4G?) that  depresses the immune system to allow just one kind of virus to attack the body.   To quote Jerry Seinfield, "That's one magic loogie!"

So where did this whole crazy theory come from?  The same place the anti-vaxxer theories came from, as well as the whole flat-earth deal - The Russian Internet Research Agency.  They are trying to spread fear and paranoia in the West to create destabilization.  This is not some wild conspiracy theory, either, but the conclusion of every single security agency in every Western country.  They tried to spoof the 2016 election, and they have been at it every since.

It isn't like they are obvious about it, either.  They don't put up a website with a name like "" or something dumb like that.  Rather, they like and upvote comments on Facebook, or make snarky comments on Reddit or YouTube.   Often, they take destabilizing trends that developed organically (there are plenty of crazy people in the world with crazy ideas to riff off of) and amplify them.  In some instances they may provide original comments or videos, but once the rumor they want to spread takes off, they wipe these and allow the "useful idiots" to take over.

Don't be a useful idiot.

But why 5G?  Russia is behind the West, in terms of technology, and if they can derail the latest technological innovations in the West, so much the better.  Hence you see comments online creating divisiveness about electric cars, wind and solar power, or whatever.  Again, the idea is to create chaos, not necessarily achieve "goals" and take objectives.   This is indeed the problem for Western powers, used to fighting battles and winning wars - our opponents in the world, be they middle-eastern terrorists or Russian hackers, don't have specific goals or objectives.  They just want to spread fear and distrust, ennui and loathing.

This is why North Korea fires off missiles periodically.  They know it will get great press in the West and spread fear.  The idea that somehow North Korea is a significant nuclear threat to the United States is, of course, overblown.  Before a Korean missile even reached the United States, Pongyang would be a smoking hole in the ground.  We have nuclear submarines.  Lots of them.  And unlike Russian technology, it works.

It is why the Iranians harass our ships with speedboats and make loud and empty proclamations about "death to America" and fund annoying insurgencies all over the world.  They don't want to win wars in Yemen or Iraq or Lebanon, but just keep stirring the pot and creating a shitstorm and baiting the West to respond, and get us dragged into a long drawn-out civil war.

On the Sunni side of the street, that was the whole idea behind 9/11 - and it worked.  Bin Laden had no plans to "win" with that attack, and he didn't realistically expect that we would withdraw our military bases from Saudi Arabia (his alleged grievance).   No, what happened was really what he wanted - the US being dragged yet again into unwinnable Vietnam-like experiences.  Decades later, we are getting out of Afghanistan and letting the Taliban take over.   We are leaving Iraq even less stable and more violent than before.   Meanwhile, anti-American sentiment in the middle-east is higher than ever.  Mission accomplished, indeed.

I digress, but not by much.   It is easy for people, groups, and even entire countries to be baited by others.  And we are being baited here with this stupid 5G conspiracy theory.   Just walk away from conspiracy theories - not only are they a time-waster, they will make you toxic to friends, family, and employers.   If you want to get fired from your job or lose that promotion, just bend your boss's ear about the latest conspiracy theory.  Over time, you will find yourself alone, depressed, and further and further drawn into mental illness.  Just say no.  Mental hygiene is like personal hygiene - you have to work at it.  Please do so - for the good of humanity.

Our reader wonders, however, how they can protect their family and young children?  And the answer is, for the most part, to be a good parent, teach them good diet and exercise habits, and for the most part other than that, leave them alone.  Obsessing about your kids is one sure way to alienate them or make them go crazy.  Yet it is a popular trend these days.

The real health threats to your and your family?  The CDC has them listed in order of probability:

  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
  • Diabetes: 83,564
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
As you can see, "5G radiation" isn't even on this list - in fact it isn't on anyone's list.  And even the Corona Virus isn't, either.  It might make the list for 2020, but not beyond.

If your kids are overweight and sit around all day watching video games and drinking soda pop, the biggest threat to their lives isn't cell phone radiation.   But try telling that to some folks.  Obesity is an epidemic in the USA and spreading to other parts of the world, but no one seems to notice or care.

Meanwhile, weird conspiracy theories that have no merit, they top everyone's list!