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Still True in 2020

Entry 2041, on 2020-05-06 at 20:17:45 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

I recently saw a Facebook post, titled "Things that are still true in 2020" - from a source promoting skepticism - which listed a series of statements about phenomena which might be seen as controversial, but are (by any reasonable standards) true.

Of course, my regular readers will know that I don't think we can totally prove (or disprove) anything about the real world (the only true proofs are in mathematics and logic), but there are things which are so well supported by evidence that saying the are true is a good approximation. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, here's the list...

Climate change is real and caused by humans.

Even most of the previous deniers are now accepting that climate change is happening; the argument has now moved to whether it is human caused or natural, and whether there is anything we can or should do about it. I would agree that the statement is true, but I think a lot of the "solutions" (which often aren't solutions at all, but just a way for various people or groups to seek fame, or to push a political agenda) should be treated with suspicion, but we do need to accept the basic premise that anthropogenic climate change is a fact.

Vaccines work and do not cause autism.

Vaccines have arguably been the one invention of the medical sciences which have saved more lives than anything else. Are they perfect? Of course not: sometimes they don't work, and sometimes they can even be harmful. But the number of people saved by vaccines is overwhelmingly greater than the number who have been harmed. And the autism link has been discredited years ago. Case over. Get vaccinated if you can, and even if you don't feel the need to help protect yourself, consider it your contribution to the greater good through herd immunity.

Evolution is true.

There is an utterly undeniable phenomenon we see in the natural world where evolution is happening. All evolution means is change over time. The phenomenon of evolution (which is beyond reasonable doubt) is well explained by the theory of evolution through natural selection which originated mainly with Charles Darwin. The theory attempts to explain what causes the phenomenon. There has never been any serious doubt that the theory is broadly true, although the details have changed over time. Other explanations, such as those based on theology, might also explain the observed facts, but "god did it" can be used as an attempt to explain anything, so it is one of those things which is "not even wrong".

The Earth is not flat. It is nearly an oblate spheroid.

You might laugh, but there are people who still believe in a flat Earth. These are mainly conspiracy theorists, who think they have secret knowledge which is being repressed by the ruling elite, and religious people who take their holy books (such as the Bible) literally where it clearly suggests the Earth is flat. Anyone can perform their own experiments and/or observations to show the true shape of the Earth, but I will leave that as an exercise for the reader, rather than explaining them here.

The Earth is not hollow.

The Earth cannot be hollow. Science can examine the interior of the Earth - admittedly through indirect mechanisms - and the basic composition and density is moderately well understood. Nothing indicates a hollow Earth, so there is just no need to even attempt to explain a phenomenon which is clearly fictional.

GMOs are safe.

The word "safe" is a dangerous one. I would say something like: "the potential benefits of GMOs far outweigh the dangers, especially if the development and use of them is well governed". So, like vaccines above, I say this technology is not perfect, but we should be using it far more instead of succumbing to what I call the "Frankentein Effect"; that is rejecting a technology based on irrational, emotional reasons, instead of looking at reality. The failure to implement GMO tech, such as golden rice, has caused millions of deaths around the world. Is that what the anti-technology people really want?

Humans went to the Moon.

All of the reasons the Moon-landing deniers use to reject the Apollo missions can be easily explained through conventional means. I even wrote a page explaining this on the skepticism section of my web site. In fact, the effort involved in faking the landings would be much greater than the effort needed for the actual missions, especially given the rocket technology the US gained from German rocket engineers after World War II. Note that faking the landings would be much easier today, with the computer graphics tech we have now, but would have been next to impossible in the 1960s.

Astrology is nonsense.

I have also written about this, pointing out that any astrological prediction can be applied to a person born in any month, and be equally pertinent. In theory, it's not totally impossible that astrology might have some validity, because being born at a different time of year (and therefore in different weather, with different food, etc) might cause a small effect. Also, just the fact that a person was born "under a particular star sign" might encourage them to act the way a person with that sign is supposed to act. However, even these causes have no significant effect, so we can safely say that astrology really is nonsense.

Homeopathy is water.

Homeopathy cannot work in theory and doesn't work in practice, at least beyond the placebo effect. It literally is water, except for the homeopathic remedies which are done in dry form, where they literally are filler, or those with "herbal additives" which aren't homeopathy any more, and still most likely don't work. Not only is there no known mechanism where homeopathy might work, but experiments show it doesn't. I know some real pharmacies stock homeopathic products, but that is an unfortunate commercial decision, rather than a scientific or medical one. And it isn't just a harmless alternative either, because some homeopathic products are contaminated, and some people use them instead of real remedies. There is no real doubt: homeopathy is nonsense.

Acupuncture, cupping, alternative treatments, and faith healing are pseudoscience.

It is quite disconcerting to see how some of these "treatments" are supported by some real medical professionals. This particularly applies to acupuncture, which seems to be quite popular amongst actual doctors. But doctors aren't scientists, and in my experience are often worryingly susceptible to pseudoscience, so their opinion doesn't necessarily count for much. Alternative treatments show mixed results in experiments, but the more well designed the experiment is, the more likely it is to show no effect, and this is a classic sign of pseudoscience. We should be a bit more cautious about this one though, because some alternative treatments might be useful once they are studied and applied properly. But, do you know what they call an alternative medicine that actually works? Medicine!

Crystals cannot heal your body.

This is another alternative treatment, but definitely more on the crazy side than acupuncture and natural therapies. This is a familiar story: there is no known mechanism which would allow them to work, and no well-designed research has shown that they do work. They do no harm beyond being an alternative to real cures, and might appear to work because of the placebo effect, but the bigger conclusion is that crystals do nothing useful.

You cannot "channel" energy.

Various experiments have been done which try to demonstrate supernatural abilities, but according to the theme which might be developing here, there is no valid mechanism where the effect might work, and the best designed experiments show the least (or no) effect. So the conclusion that energy channeling is nonsense is fair.

Chronic Lyme disease does not exist.

I don't know a lot about this one, because it is not common here in New Zealand, but it seems like Lyme disease is a real disease spread by ticks, but chronic Lyme disease is not generally recognised as a real medical condition. It might be more a syndrome caused by general medical issues unrelated to true Lyme disease, rather than an actual disease.

Vitamin B17 is not a vitamin and is poisonous.

From what I understand, the word vitamin is not particularly precisely defined, but Amygdalin is not generally recognised as one, and any claims of it being a cancer cure, etc are not based on facts,

You cannot "detox" your body.

Whenever I see a claim that an alternative remedy "detoxes" or "supports" something my BS detector always activates. This is a process which is not supported by evidence. The body has mechanisms to remove toxins, and real medical procedures to remove toxins, such as heavy metals, are far more involved than the fake detox products pushed by pseudoscientific practitioners.

Aliens did not build the pyramids.

There are perfectly reasonable explanations for how the pyramids were built which don't involve aliens. The pyramids are an impressive achievement given the technology of the time, but we shouldn't underestimate the ingenuity of the ancient cultures. Sure, they didn't have the heavy equipment we have now, but they were clever, and they had plenty of slaves and workers.

Nibiru is not a planet and does not exist.

Nibiru is a fictitious planet which was part of a pseudoscientific theory from the 1990s, which predicted that a collision would occur between it and the Earth in the early 21st century. Well, we are now in the early 21st century and not only has the collision not occurred, but Nibiru has not ever been observed, despite the fact that many other small objects in the Solar System have been discovered. The idea of a new, massive planet is not a new one, and real theories of this type have existed in the past, but Nibiru is basically fiction.

The Bermuda Triangle is fake news.

Some weird things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle, but weird things happen everywhere else too. Many of the reports of paranormal events there (alien visits, portals, unnatural weather events) are highly exaggerated, and often get key details wrong. An analysis of the traffic in the area, compared with the number of accidents, shows nothing extraordinary. Also, insurance companies don't charge higher premiums for ships and aircraft which go through this area. I have written an analysis of this in the skepticism section of my web site. The Bermuda Triangle has had its share of accidents and disappearances, but there's nothing really unusual happening there.

Ghosts and spirits do not exist.

There will always be unusual events which are difficult to explain after they have occurred, but lack of a conventional explanation doesn't imply a supernatural one should be accepted. When real investigators (I mean genuine experts, like Joe Nickell, not the clowns who walk around like modern ghost-busters with fake equipment they don't know how to use) investigate unusual events they tend to find prosaic explanations. And despite the fact that everyone has a good quality camera in their phone now, the number of interesting ghost photos doesn't seem to be going up. Yet again, there is no known mechanism which could explain ghosts, and no well designed experiment or observational study suggests they exist.

The law of attraction is pure nonsense.

This is the new-age, pseudoscientific belief that positive thoughts can influence physical events in a person's life. For example, thinking positively might cure a person's cancer. Of course, there is a link between the thought processes of the brain and the operation of the body, but this is a subtle and unreliable effect and in no way justifies the law of attraction.

Extrasensory perception is absurd.

This is beginning to sound like I'm stuck on repeat, but there is no established physical mechanism which would explain this, and the best studies indicate it is not a real effect. It is quite difficult to conduct experiments on this phenomenon well, and in the past some have given interesting results, but over time the idea has received less and less credibility, and there is now no good reason to take it seriously.

Unlucky 13 is absurd.

The only realistic mechanism which might explain a number being "unlucky" is that people believe it is unlucky, so act in odd ways when it is involved and then perceive the effect to be true. So it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts. In fact, depending on your culture, different numbers are seen as lucky or unlucky, so it's not even an absolute thing. For example, China considers 666 lucky, Italy considers 13 lucky, some Asian countries consider 4 unlucky, Japan considers 9 unlucky, etc. It seems that every number might be lucky or unlucky depending on where you live!

Chemtrails are not a things.

Chemtrails are a conspiracy theory which proposes that jet contrails (which are a real thing caused by vapour clouds which are formed by aircraft engine exhausts or changes in air pressure at high altitude) are really chemicals being distributed for various reasons, such as repressing people's IQ, etc. You might say that the IQ of people who believe this are clearly repressed, but that's as far as it goes!

So yeah, apart from Lyme desease, which I'm unsure about, all of these are clear nonsense. They are nonsense in 2020, they were nonsense in the past, and they almost certainly (there is always room for doubt) will be nonsense in the future.

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Comment 1 (5272) by Anonymous on 2020-05-08 at 17:03:13:

You are right about Lyme. The normal form is a real thing, the chronic form is not.

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Comment 2 (5273) by OJB on 2020-05-08 at 17:10:19:

Yes, that seems to be the current medical consensus.

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