Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Viral nonsense

I'm going to issue another plea to please please puhleeeezz check your sources before posting stuff.

This goes double for the viral meme type shit you see every single day on social media.  Most of that stuff -- and I'm not talking about the ones that were created purely for the humor value -- is the result of someone throwing together a few intended-to-be-pithy quotes with a photograph downloaded from the internet, so it's only as accurate as the person who made it.

In other words, not very.

Here's an example that I'm seeing all over the place lately:

Okay, let's take a look at this piece by piece.
  1. Tilapia has bones.  Anyone who's ever prepared tilapia for cooking knows this.
  2. It is an ordinary fish, with not only bones, but skin.  Note that the photograph of the damn fish right in the image shows that it has skin.
  3. You can certainly overcook it, like you can with anything.  Leave it in the oven for three hours, and you'll have fish jerky.
  4. Tilapia is found in the wild.  It's native to Africa.  Most tilapia being sold is raised on fish farms, so that part is correct, showing the truth of the old adage that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
  5. I'm not even sure what "the Algae & lake plant, or replaced by gmo soy & corn" means.  Maybe they're trying to say that farmed tilapia is sometimes fed genetically-modified soy or corn-based products, which could well be, but is completely irrelevant even if it's true.
  6. Eating tilapia is not worse than bacon and hamburgers.  It's low in overall calories and saturated fats, and is a good source of protein.
  7. It'd be odd if tilapia were unusually high in dioxins, as dioxins are produced by such activities as burning plastic.  In fact, according to Medical News Today, due to EPA regulations, the amount of dioxins in the environment in the USA is 90% reduced from what it was thirty years ago -- and they recommend eating fish as a way of decreasing the amount of dioxin in your diet.
  8. Dioxin "can take up to 11 years to clear?"  Not ten or twelve?  Okay, now you're just pulling this out of your ass.
  9. You are not killing your family by serving them tilapia.  For fuck's sake.

Then, there's this nonsense that I've seen over and over:

Just out of curiosity, how desperate do you have to be to photoshop Trump into a photograph in order to make him look like a compassionate human being?  I mean, I get that there's not much else you can do.

But still.

If you're curious, the photograph doesn't even come from Hurricane Florence (as the post claims, along with a snarky "You won't see this on the news -- share with everyone!" caption).  It comes from the 2015 flooding in Texas.  Here's the unaltered photo:

I do think it's kind of inadvertently hilarious that when they photoshopped Trump into the picture, they made it look like he's handing the guy a MAGA hat.  "Hey, thanks for being here.  I was expecting more people to show up and applaud me, but I guess the killer flood swept them away.  Here, have a hat."

Then there's latest craze from Gwyneth "Snake Oil" Paltrow's company Goop, which is: "wearable stickers."  Me, I thought all stickers were wearable in the sense that you can stick them to your skin.  Thus the name.

But that's not what she's talking about.  These stickers, which are a "major obsession around Goop HQ," are supposed to "rebalance the energy frequencies in your body."

Whatever the fuck that means.

Here's a photo of a woman with three of them on her arm:

And the sales pitch:
Human bodies operate at an ideal energetic frequency, but everyday stresses and anxiety can throw off our internal balance, depleting our energy reserves and weakening our immune systems.  Body Vibes stickers come pre-programmed to an ideal frequency, allowing them to target imbalances.  While you’re wearing them—close to your heart, on your left shoulder or arm—they’ll fill in the deficiencies in your reserves, creating a calming effect, smoothing out both physical tension and anxiety.  The founders, both aestheticians, also say they help clear skin by reducing inflammation and boosting cell turnover.
Which is nearly "tilapia is killing you" levels of bullshit.  Just to point out one thing -- because even explaining this far is giving Paltrow far more credit than she deserves -- there's no such thing as an "energy frequency" because energy and frequency are two entirely different things.  Saying "energy frequency" is like asking someone what their "weight speed" is.

So I'm begging you.  Do a quick search online before reposting this stuff.  There are a ton of fact-check and skeptical analysis sites where you can at least do a first-order look at whether there's any truth to it.  The only other way to approach this is to comment "THIS IS NONSENSE" every time you see things like this, and that's beginning to feel a little like trying to patch the hole in the Titanic with duct tape.


This week's recommendation is a classic.

When I was a junior in college, I took a class called Seminar, which had a new focus/topic each semester.  That semester's course was a survey of the Book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.  Hofstadter does a masterful job of tying together three disparate realms -- number theory, the art of M. C. Escher, and the contrapuntal music of J. S. Bach.

It makes for a fascinating journey.  I'll warn you that the sections in the last third of the book that are about number theory and the work of mathematician Kurt Gödel get to be some rough going, and despite my pretty solid background in math, I found them a struggle to understand in places.  But the difficulties are well worth it.  Pick up a copy of what my classmates and I came to refer to lovingly as GEB, and fasten your seatbelt for a hell of a ride.

[If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

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