MSG myth – debunked with real science

msg myth

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh 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?

Continue reading “MSG myth – debunked with real science”

DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?

DNA kits

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.

We’re going to focus on the ethnic testing aspect of these DNA kits. But without a doubt, there’s a lot of concern out there about those tests leading to inaccurate medical diagnoses. Many genetic diseases, like diabetes, don’t have a purely genetic cause, but generally there’s a combination of genetic and environmental basis.

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.

Let’s take a look at these DNA kits – how they do the testing. How they determine these racial/ethnical characterization. And how one should interpret the results. Continue reading “DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?”

Racism sucks and isn’t scientific – opinion

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.

But that still does not preclude the fact that racism sucks – it is dangerous, simple-minded thinking. Continue reading “Racism sucks and isn’t scientific – opinion”

Stuart Scott–sports, ESPN and racism

Stuart Scott accepting ESPY award in July 2014.
Stuart Scott accepting ESPY award in July 2014.

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”

Celebrating a hero

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 playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. Copyright held by United State Library of Congress, freely licensed.
Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. Copyright held by United State Library of Congress, freely licensed.

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 Tyson teaching 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.