Part three of a point-by-point fisking of Mike Adams’ January 2010 anti-skeptic article, which amounts to a single monolithic colony organism made up of individual strawman arguments that come together to become one massive strawman Voltron. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here. I’m almost through all the things Mike Adams thinks that skeptics “believe”, and will finish them up in this post. We begin immediately below the fold.
• Skeptics believe that cell phone radiation poses absolutely no danger to human health. A person can be exposed to unlimited cell phone radiation without any damage whatsoever.
How wrong would I be if I said, “Naturopaths believe that one can be exposed to unlimited amounts of herbs and natural remedies without any damage whatsoever”? We are awash in radiation all the time. Some of it comes from the sun, in the form of visible light. Some of it comes from the radioactive materials that make up parts of the planet. Some of it comes from people who, at some extra-visible wavelengths, glow faintly as we expend our fuel on biological processes that generate heat — this is why infrared cameras can see us. Scientists have carefully differentiated between types of radiation that will make you sick, types of radiation that will not, and types of radiation that we need to go on existing (e.g. that which comes from the sun).
These types of radiation have been rather carefully measured over the years. And while our body of knowledge of radioactivity is certainly far from complete, it’s far more complete than any wifi skeptic would ever give us credit for. The testing on the parts of the spectrum we use for communication wirelessly (or even over wired mediums) is good enough to know that we can be exposed to radiation produced by cellular phones limited only by the practicality of the ability to expose a person to them. If you were to strap dozens of cell phones to your body and walk around all day like that, the only real danger you’d have is in having the radiation they produce somehow overheat your body.
All that said, there’s safety equipment necessary for working in extremely high microwave-producing areas, because microwave radiation can cook biological materials. Cell phone towers don’t produce those levels of microwaves though. At the ground level, standing right next to the tower, you’re exposed to thousands of times less radio frequency (RF) emissions than the safety limitations which are already set extremely conservatively. You’ll notice that a “safety limit” is far different from “unlimited”. If you were exposed to levels of RF radiation above the safety limits, you might still be perfectly fine, even over long-term exposure, because those safety limits are set extremely conservatively. And no skeptic would ever say “you can be exposed to unlimited anything” without qualifying it heavily. This world and the body of scientific knowledge about it is far more nuanced and detailed than Adams would ever believe.
But then, misinformation about RF emissions being “radiation” in the same sense as microwave radiation or radioactive materials abounds. Viral videos about using cell phones to pop a popcorn kernel are proof of this. Those videos are fake, but I get the feeling Mike Adams would shit a brick over them and espouse them as proof that cell phones are dangerous.
• Skeptics believe that aspartame and artificial chemical sweeteners can be consumed in unlimited quantities with no ill effects.
No, I think every skeptic in the world understands that one could possibly kill a person by force-feeding them quantities of artificial sweeteners. In the same way that one could drown a person by force-feeding them too much water, or that one could develop water toxicity symptoms by ingesting too much voluntarily, there’s no such thing as “unlimited quantities” in the sense that Adams is suggesting.
Aspartame and other artificial chemical sweeteners have been tested extensively since being introduced into the human diet, and extensively prior to being approved for human consumption, and the aggregate of all the data collected has so far suggested that there’s no harmful effects risked by the use of these artificial sweeteners outside of the possibility of tricking your body into wanting to ingest more calories than you need, because the signals associated with sweetness are retrained. The use of aspartame has been subject of conspiracy theory since it was approved, and it continues to be a bete noir of the anti-science crowd despite every assertion made against it being completely and thoroughly debunked time and again.
Much like vaccines, the pushback against aspartame is predicated on the ideological belief that nature is good, man-made is bad. Even though everything in nature is made of chemicals, only manmade things are called “chemicals” by the antiscience crowd. If it didn’t get created by natural accidental processes, it’s gotta be evil, because humans (and science) are not trustworthy enough to be able to create something that is utterly harmless.
• Skeptics believe that human beings were born deficient in synthetic chemicals and that the role of pharmaceutical companies is to “restore” those deficiencies in humans by convincing them to swallow patented pills.
I know of absolutely no skeptic that believes that humans as a species are “broken” by default, and need to be “fixed” by man-made chemicals. I think the truth is, again, far more nuanced than Adams or his supporters would ever dare believe.
For instance, humans generally thrive when their basic nutritional needs are met consistently throughout their lifetimes. In cultures with great wealth, and great scientific knowledge, we can actually build guidelines for how we should eat to maximize our health and lifespans, though individual situations vary, of course.
As we, like all species, have evolved with our environments, piling one biological kludge on top of another, we do have some parts of our physiology that are generally bad design, and we have been able to use science to alleviate the problems created by those bits of bad design. For instance, I wear corrective lenses — sometimes contacts, most often glasses. My eyesight is not naturally very good. Where in a hunter-gatherer culture, I might be at a disadvantage in tracking and hunting small game, in our scientifically advanced culture I can simply put something on my face to correct the issue at no great cost and to great benefit with regard to my daily life.
Some people actually do have deficiencies with which they are born, systemic disadvantages that would leave them unable to participate in society without the drugs on which they depend. In an advanced society where such healthcare is considered a basic service provided to a country’s citizens in order to bring everyone into productive status, the number of people able to contribute increases as we even the playing field for each individual disadvantaged by their particular genetic lottery.
It is only through a complete lack of empathy that Adams believes his “natural remedies” can fix all the disadvantages conferred to those genetic-lottery-losers that we have had to expend a great deal of resources to learn how to combat or alleviate through medical science.
• Skeptics believe that you can take unlimited pharmaceuticals, be injected with an unlimited number of vaccines, expose yourself to unlimited medical imaging radiation, consume an unlimited quantity of chemicals in processed foods and expose yourself to an unlimited quantity of environmental chemical toxins with absolutely no health effects whatsoever!
This is the natural culmination of everything Adams has said up to this point: that by advocating reasonable and limited use of certain medical conventions that, taken individually and/or in aggregate have net beneficial effects for individual members of society and for society as a whole, we are in fact advocating that everyone take every drug and be exposed to every test and chemical that society has ever created. This is, of course, patent nonsense.
We have developed databases of drug interactions, so we know what drugs might conflict with what other drugs, to prevent accidentally giving a person two drugs that will cause detrimental side effects. We have information about how much of anything we can be exposed to, and set safety limits well below those levels in just about every aspect of science. We provide technicians operating x-ray machines lead vests so they don’t chance personal damage from providing thousands of people a year with tests that they personally are exposed to — if we advocated for unlimited use of medical imagery, why would we give those technicians protective gear? When skeptics fight against diets comprised entirely of artificial chemicals (e.g. eating nothing but junk food and drinking nothing but soda), it’s not because we think exposure to those chemicals will leave you a toxic cesspool, but because basic nutrition is not being met and the people primarily forced to eat junk food and drink soda are the already disadvantaged members of society who can afford nothing healthier.
But none of this matters — by suggesting that there ARE safe exposure limits to certain chemicals, we’re admitting that they’re dangerous. By contrast, no naturopath or natural medicine advocate would ever dare suggest that there’s a limit to how much, say, St. John’s Wort you can possibly ingest, nor are there naturopath-endorsed databases of drug interactions between St. John’s Wort and other “natural remedies” or “herbal supplements” you can take. Never mind that these supplements and chemicals are not inert either — they are bioattainable, they are made of chemicals that your body interacts with, and they have side-effects and the potential for overdose.
What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you believe that skeptics endorse unlimited use of manmade chemicals, then you must have taken such a black-and-white view because you believe people can take unlimited natural remedies without potential for side-effects. If you do not believe this personally, then you shouldn’t project that belief onto others.
All the beliefs listed above were compiled from “skeptics” websites. (I’m not going to list those websites here because they don’t deserve the search engine rankings, but you can find them yourself through Google, if you wish.)
I’ve tried. I can’t find any skeptics who believe any of these things, even if I really stretch to see your point and give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re simply exaggerating for dramatic effect. And it’s well possible to link someone without contributing to their page rank — I did so at the top of this and my other two posts, by adding rel=”nofollow” to the anchor tag where I linked Adams’ antiskeptic trolling rant.
The reason Adams didn’t link them is because no such skeptic exists, and no such skeptic actually espouses the things he claims we all believe. It’s far easier to attack a strawman built out of exaggeration and a black-and-white view of others’ actual beliefs and how this world actually works, than it is to listen for long enough to understand what skeptics actually believe, find holes in their arguments, and attack those with better evidence than they used to form their opinions in the first place.
It is, in short, far easier to simply deny science than it is to engage with those who believe the scientific method to be superior to the “ancient knowledge” you claim to have about this universe and its workings. Never mind that this ancient knowledge was invented by people — human beings — who had access to far less understanding of the universe than we have today.
Next post, I’ll begin to deal with some of the crank-magnet stuff that Adams espouses that he thinks we skeptics are “not skeptical enough” about.