This is the second of my interview articles, this time with Professor Alan McHughen, who has recently published a fascinating book, “DNA Demystified.” As the title suggests, the book delves into what is DNA and how it became a part of the technology of our modern world.
The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 10 – the MSG myth.
Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). Aspartame. High fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. But the MSG myth is one of the most pervasive in the food pseudoscience world (yes, I’m going to make that a thing).
Of course, these additives cause angst in people because of their scary chemical names. Or nonsense on the internet. Or random neurons firing.
Obviously, there is stuff, created by the beauty of natural sunlight and goddess blessed sweet waters from the Alps, that is better than these man-made evil chemicals. Well, no. Everything in nature is made up of “chemistry” – 25-hydroxyergocalciferol is a scary chemical name, right? Except it’s the metabolic product of the conversion of vitamin D in the human liver. It’s natural!
But let’s get back to MSG – how many times have you seen “No MSG” in a sign Chinese restaurant? Is it because China, who has been using MSG in their cuisine for centuries, has been conspiring against Americans since the first Chinese restaurant starting serving up kung pao chicken to unaware Americans?
It’s time to look at the MSG myth – is it real, or does it need a good debunking?
Over the past week, I have observed how dangerous vaccine deniers have exhibited hatred to everyone and everything that supports vaccination. And despite their demented claims, it is settled science that vaccines are very safe and very effective.
Then, Prof. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss wrote a heartfelt, logical, and thoughtful article about the death of Evee Gayle Clobes, probably as a result of improper co-sleeping arrangements, and not from vaccines, as the mother and anti-vaccine zealots claim. The personal attacks on Prof. Reiss were disgusting.
Because of the lack of willpower to implement serious gun control, thirty-one children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, mothers, and fathers died this past weekend. But another week will pass, and there will probably be another week of horrible killings by hate-filled mostly white, mostly men.
El Paso, 20
Gilroy, CA, 4
Virginia Beach, 12
Aurora, IL, 5
Thousand Oaks, CA 12
Santa Fe, TX, 10
Parkland, FL, 17
Sutherland Springs, TX, 26
Las Vegas, 58
Ft. Lauderdale, 5
Burlington, Wash., 5
Sandy Hook, 26
The dates and locations change, but the will to make substantive changes to our gun control laws evaporates after each mass murder. The Republican Party, which effectively controls our government, knows that it really doesn’t have to do anything. After a few weeks pass, we’ll forget about it, and they don’t have to do anything. It’s cynical, but that’s what happens when a political party is beholden to racism and the gun lobby.
So you’re probably asking, “what the hell does this have to do with vaccines?”
Two days ago, I would have shrugged. Then, while getting coffee from my local venti Americano shop, I overheard two older (and lily-white) men discussing the shooting. Setting aside their overt racism, they thought that killing a few “illegals” is “heroic,” they said that “just because a handful of people died out of 300 million Americans, that’s not a reason to take our guns.”
In other words, they’re saying that the risk of dying from a gun is so small, it’s not a consideration for gun control. I’ve heard this logic before, and it’s from the anti-vaccine religion. They argue that because only a few children will die of measles (or any vaccine-preventable disease), vaccines should not be mandated.
Yes, the chances of dying from measles are rare (thanks to vaccines). Yes, the chances of one person dying in a mass murder are small. The problem with the logic of the anti-vaccine and anti-gun control nutjobs are the same – we have the power to prevent both. And we should prevent both.
The old racist white guys talking too loud in my local coffee establishment probably thought they were immune (sorry, had to go there) from being killed in a mass killing because only brown people were targeted (which wasn’t true about either El Paso or Dayton this past weekend). The murders were indiscriminate. And all of those murdered did not deserve to have their lives cut short. Continue reading “Gun control and vaccines – the deniers use the same twisted logic”
You’ve seen these advertisements on TV. Get one of these DNA kits, give them a sample of your DNA along with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and mail it to one of the DNA testing companies. Wait some time, and they send back information about your ancestry, potential diseases, and other information.
There seems to be a strange belief that if these DNA kits say you’re 28% German, or 37% Italian, or 13% Japanese, it speaks the truth. Anecdotally, I’ve had boatloads of friends get this test done, and they take pride in their new or confirmed ethnicity. And I won’t even go into the scares some have had from the presumptive medical diagnoses made from some genetic marker found in the result.
23andMe, one of the leading companies in mail order DNA kits, has had a roller-coaster relationship with US FDA. After all of the back and forth, the FDA has stated that 23andMe can market their tests for genetic testing, but cannot market them as diagnostic tests. I’m not sure the public will see the difference in that.
However, I’m going to focus on what bothers me about these tests – they are becoming the basis of some kind of scientific racism. We are highlighting, and sometimes misrepresenting, patterns of differences in human species by a sampling of genes.
This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that. Besides, racism sucks – obviously.
Racism or xenophobia has probably been around since humans first evolved 200,000 years ago. I’m sure Grunting Human 1 hated Grunting Human 2, because 2 had funny looking ears. Or something.
I’m sure some evolutionary biologist can explain why racism exists. It probably was a biologically favored behavioral strategy to protect one’s own group, because of access to resources. Or something like that.
Though I love science, though I love learning about how science is smashing through the barriers of ignorance about our natural universe, sports is my first love. I absorb every statistic I can–I pour over scores, and I can’t wait until polls are out. And nothing feeds this addiction better than ESPN, a U.S.-based global cable and satellite television channel that is owned mostly by the Walt Disney Company, with the Hearst Corporation as a minority owner.
I first got ESPN on my cable system was in the late 1980’s. This was important, because I was just getting into a Fantasy Baseball League, and since this was the pre-internet era, getting sports information to beat your opponents was important. I stayed up to watch for late scores, lineup changes, injuries, and whatever else that might give me an advantage.
As some people may be addicted to the Walking Dead or Downton Abbey, I am addicted to all five or six ESPN channels. The sportscasters that anchored (or currently anchor) ESPN’s primetime show, SportsCenter, became almost part of my family. I loved their catchphrases, and I would share them with co-workers (sports is a big topic of conversation in the pharmaceutical industry, as everyone in management comes from a different area of the country with different colleges and pro teams as favorites). Continue reading “Stuart Scott–sports, ESPN and racism”
Today, 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in sports–he was the first black to integrate professional sports in the USA. Many of you probably don’t know anything about baseball. Many of you probably don’t know who Jackie was. Most of you probably don’t know that this was the probably the most important event in America’s, if not the world’s, racial relations.
Jackie Robinson was an incredible man by any measure. He went to UCLA, even though few blacks went to university, even in mostly integrated California. He joined the United States Army during World War II, and because one of the few blacks who were able to get into Officer Candidate School, which trains new commissioned officers in the Army. Even though he couldn’t deploy with his battalion to Europe during the war because of racism in the Army, he served until he was honorably discharged.
When Jackie played baseball, he was assaulted by more hatred and bigotry than any normal person probably could endure. When the Dodgers would go to southern cities like St. Louis or Atlanta, he was treated horribly by the racists of the time. In fact, his treatment in presumably more liberal cities in the north was hardly different from what he experienced in the racially segregated South.
Jackie Robinson handled the racism, the taunts, and the hatred with a dignity and grace cannot be describe in words. And he lived through all of this, while being one of the stars of baseball, one of the greatest who ever played the game.
But, it was just sports. How could that be so important? Because I can draw a straight line from Jackie breaking the race barrier of baseball directly to electing Barack Obama as President. The racism that we read on the back roads of the internet against President Obama is probably the same that Jackie heard. And both men stood above it.
I personally have lived in a glorious time in the world. Where science has begun to conquer ignorance, despite my most cynical moments. Where we can conquer diseases that used to kill. Where we can dream of putting men on Mars. And where a person’s color means nothing, and they can be president.
No, I am not naive. I don’t think the world of race is filled with rainbows and unicorns. I still hear overt racism amongst whites. I still run into horrifying anti-Semitism amongst people who should have learned their lesson of the destructive power of racial hatred in World War II.
But today, I watch sports, and I don’t care if someone is African-American or Hispanic or Asian or Jewish or a good old white Euro-American. Frankly, I want my team to win. When I was in the corporate world, I only cared if a person was ambitious and intelligent and demanding of success. Your skin color mattered not. I wanted to win market share and increase profits, and a person’s color was irrelevant to my desire to win.
And my attitude, my feelings toward my fellow man, are in a direct line from a man who played baseball well before I was born, or even had any interest in the sport. And every person of color in sport today, whether its baseball, football (American or otherwise), hockey, basketball owes their livelihood to Jackie Robinson. I can even draw a line from Jackie Robinson starting in the game of baseball to Neil deGrasse Tysonteaching us all about the universe. And we’re all better for this.
So even if you don’t like baseball, or don’t even know anything about the sport. Or if you don’t like sports in general. We should all honor Jackie Robinson for his courage, dignity, and perseverance–he gave us a slightly more wonderful world.