So I was scrounging on Netflix yesterday looking for more paranormal TV shows to ridicule when I found a pretty good one that ran on the National Geographic Channel from 2005-2007 called Is It Real? It’s not your usual paranormal show in that it actually includes real legit skeptics giving their explanations for all the mumbo-jumbo that believers spout. So far I’ve seen all of Season 1 and the first episode of Season 2 (I watched it all day yesterday instead of doing my homework, which I am doing now…). The way the show is structured is they have believers talk their nonsense for a bit and they present the evidence from the believer camp, then they let the skeptics loose and the skeptics end up tearing the believers’ arguments to shreds. Pretty fun, actually, except some of the people in it seem genuinely disturbed. Particularly the woman who was friends with a whole tribe of English-speaking Sasquatches. And “Pam,” the alien abductee who wishes it wasn’t real but won’t listen to reason to save her peace of mind. I also enjoy the fact that they present people with scientific backgrounds who believe in this nonsense, such as the “physicist” from the TM university and the biologist who believes in telepathic animals and something called a “morphic field” (still not sure what the hell that’s supposed to be). It’s a great study in various forms of confirmation bias, ad hoc hypothesizing, post hoc hypothesizing, and various other logical problems. I especially like it when the believers fail to perform on an experiment and come up with rationalizations for why their magic doesn’t work in the presence of skeptics. Anyway, I highly recommend it as a good introduction to various debates in the battle between science and magic. They leave out some major key points in a few of the episodes, but I have a feeling that that’s mostly a time constraint since they only have 45 minutes to provide a rough overview of the state of the given topic as it stands at the time the show was made. Still, it’s pretty good and worth watching.
So seeing as how I quit drinking seven months ago and am currently trying to quit smoking, I opted not to go to any New Year’s parties and be tempted by naughty vices. Instead, I’ve been spending the evening perusing paranoid conspiracy theories on the interwebs and came across an interesting GMO PCT that goes by the name of AllergyKids.com. I really like this one because it’s more subtle than your run-of-the-mill Illuminati theory. It could end up convincing unsuspecting parental units that GM foods are lurking everywhere just waiting to attack their child’s immune system. Some of what the site claims is true, but most of it is misleading. For instance, the site claims that “20% of children have allergies.” Technically, this number is much higher if we’re to include all allergies, including hay fever and drug allergies. However, speaking only of food allergies, only 8% of American children are at risk, and most of them outgrow it . In that same section, the good people at Allergy Kids claim that over the past few decades there has been:
- 400% increase in food allergies
- 300% increase in asthma, with a 56% increase in asthma deaths
- 400% increase in ADHD
- and between a 1,500 and 6,000% increase in autism.
I spent quite some time scouring Ebsco, JSTOR, and MedLine, but couldn’t substantiate any of these figures. I know there has been an increase in the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, but it is quite obvious that that particular disorder is grossly overdiagnosed, and some are even skeptical that it’s a real disorder. I know that as a child of the 1990s I was diagnosed as having ADHD and prescribed Adderall despite the fact that I was usually quite mellow and calm. (I was diagnosed based on poor academic performance, which was later found to be due to the fact that I have an IQ of 142 and simply wasn’t being challenged by my school district’s regular curriculum. Gifted children are even more likely than the average ones to be misdiagnosed with this disease du jour.)
Other outlandish claims are that allergies can cause “behavioral/temper changes” and “inflammation in… the brain (ADHD) [not].” This is sheer quackery and seems to be taken from the multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) playbook.
Also, the site claims that any food can cause an allergic reaction. While this is logically possible, there are many foods which have never been known to cause any allergic reactions, so there is no reason to fear them.
So, questionable statistics and apparent quackery aside, what are we to make of GM foods? The site in question does a decent job giving the rough idea of one side of the GM debate. Here’s how GMing works:
- Biologists identify a gene or protein, usually in a bacterium or virus, which they think will be beneficial in another organism.
- They isolate that gene and insert it in the target organism.
- A battery of tests is carried out to determine what effect (if any) the modification has had.
- More tests are usually then carried out to determine possible allergenic properties.
While the Allergy Kids web site correctly notes that there are currently no FDA regulations for GM plant matter (there are for animals), this is misleading. The industry has a good track record of self-regulating. They have to; if they let a product that had unknown allergenic properties get to market without adequate testing, they run the risk of massive lawsuits. In fact, that’s my advice to anyone who thinks a GM food has harmed them or their child: sue them. I doubt you’ll win, since GM foods are generally safe and there is no evidence that they cause harm, aside from the possibility of tainted l-tryptophan in the 80s, which Allergy Kids obviously notes. (Anyone taking any sort of dietary supplement is always gambling with their wallets if not their health, since there is no evidence that supplements are beneficial in any way to the majority of Americans and as of 2000 they are not regulated by the FDA, thanks to mumbo-jumbologists in congress who answer to the Health Food Industry as opposed to their constituents.)
And in case you’re wondering, that GM foods may cause allergic reactions is logical, since an allergic reaction is a reaction to a foreign protein that is mistakenly perceived by the body to be a threat. (Allergies are not caused by “toxins,” as Allergy Kids seems to claim.) However, fear of GM foods is illogical, since they are rigorously tested.
Another flaw in this form of paranoia is the false hope: organic foods. No study has ever found any sort of benefit to organic foods in humans. One study that I’m familiar with found that organic farming may be better for the environment, but that same study has also been accused of bias. Know what is good for the environment? GMOs. Organic foods are generally more expensive than traditionally grown foods, so really you’re forking out big dollars for no tangible benefit. (Some people claim that organic foods taste better, but I’ve never been able to tell the difference.)
In conclusion, at best AllergyKids.com should be taken with a grain of salt. At worst, it’s paranoid delusion.