Category: Science

Attribution in Conspiracy Theory

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Key to understanding how conspiracy theories are formed and perpetuated, aside from cultural biases and preexisting prejudices, is the concept of attribution.

Attribution is a social psychological term related to the process by which individuals explain the causes of events or the behavior of others. The tendency to form a narrative, even when there may be none apparent, is well documented and thoroughly ingrained in the human condition.

 

Illusion.

In the first half of the 1940s, Fritz Heider, credited as the first attribution theorist, and Mary-Ann Simmel did a series of experiments using a video that serves as a wonderful example of the human tendency to impose narrative on an event. As you watch this video, ask yourself what narrative you may be creating.

 

 

Who was the protagonist? The Antagonist? Questions such as these seem ludicrous, yet, if you watched the video you know exactly who (or, more accurately, which of the moving shapes) you believe is aggressor, innocent, hero. One thing; though attribution is almost guaranteed (some will have a different experience) the narrative can change from person to person.

A person who believes that some shadowy organization is behind all the major global trends is, quite obviously, adopting a narrative of attribution. They attribute all mass shootings, political unrest, and even natural disasters to a secret ‘shadow government’ who want to keep all humanity fearful, dissonant, and dependent.

 

Fundamental Attribution Error.

Discussion of attribution is almost always followed, rightly so, by the subject of the fundamental attribution error.

When a person considers the behavior of others, they generally over emphasize (put greater onus upon) the personality or disposition of the other, rather than the situation that person finds themselves in. The converse being true: when asked to describe why they did or said something, people generally focus on the situation rather than claiming that they ‘are’ a certain way that ‘made’ them take said action.

Yes, I oversimplified the above. Yes, there are entire textbooks that can get into much greater detail about actor/observer difference, defensive attribution hypothesis, etc. but for sake of brevity, fundamental attribution error is something everyone should know about. This applies to us all.

It is worth mentioning that everyone’s actions should be considered a blend of dispositional, personal, and environmental factors: so-called ‘conspiracy theorists’ included. Conspiracy theorists may take occasion to suggest an earthquake or hurricane was created by the Illuminati, but be fair, the rest of us call it an ‘act of God’.

 

Attribution of Conspiracy and Government.

Attributions of malice or malevolence to acts of Government are not going to disappear, and I don’t intend to sound like an evangelist for positive governance. When people talk about Government (unless they are in Government, and even sometimes when they are), the attributions (accusations) fly.

Something not a lot of conspiracy theorists realize is that most everyone distrusts the Government; not because it is run by a nefarious cabal of elites, but because it is run by people.There really isn’t that much difference in attribution when it comes to Government nowadays. Whether you believe the world is run by an elite Illuminati, or by people who are, to put it bluntly, transparently self-serving and constitutionally incapable of maintaining anything resembling the conspiracies regularly attributed to them.

 

See Also: Heider and Simmel’s 1944 paper,  An experimental study of apparent behavior.

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Ghost Cancer: Psuedoscience and New Age Profiteering

EMF_Environment_Collage_01b

 

Oh yes, I do so love a bargain. I was raised by a thrifty grandmother who insisted on showing me how to stretch a dollar.

So when I found out that ghosts cause cancer, I was thrilled!

Confused? It’s okay, I will elaborate.

I came across some internet click-bait the other day proclaiming ‘3 Common Mistakes Smartphone Users Make That Destroy Their Health & How To Avoid Them Once & For All?‘. The link included a 35 minute video promoting the belief that cellphones cause illness, potentially including cancer, due to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) poisoning.

This was not the first time I had heard of EMR poisoning or similar imaginary illness, such as electro-magnetic hypersensitivity (or ‘Wi-Fi allergy’) which was briefly mentioned in the video. This was, the first time I saw a product advertisement that went along with it.

The product, a 24-karat gold plated ‘EMR Protection Device’ produced by VodeOX. The ‘patch’ as it is referred to in the video, sells for $49 and is purported to work for 1 year by placing the patch on a specific spot on the cellphone or laptop computer.

The video peaked my interest, mostly because it sounded like complete hokum from the beginning, but when I dug deeper, it got weirder.

The original video promoting the VodeOX patch was recorded by Rainbow Heart Freedom Eagle, a self-proclaimed healer and energy-worker, and appeared on her and her husband’s website BearandRainbow.com amid several videos promoting their various shamanic endeavors. The video lacked any evidence that EMR poses any danger but, instead spent much of the video listing vague anecdotal stories and insisting that EMR poisoning; makes people fat by increasing cortisol levels in the body, disrupts and counteracts the effects of chemotherapy, and causes cancer and/or leukemia.

With no evidence, I followed links provided and found a video on VodeOX’s website.

In the video, a VodeOX ‘chairman’ uses Electromagnetic Radiation Detector to demonstrate how his product prevents ‘harmful’ EMR. Since the video includes the use of both the VodeOX patch and its packaging, it may well be that the cardboard in the packaging and not the gold-plated sticker is blocking the electromagnetic frequency signal.

The point remains that EMF is harmless, but that is addressed further below.

A thought came to my mind, because I have seen EMR Detectors before.

Where have I seen that before?

I did an internet search for EMR Detectors and found that they are one of the key pieces of equipment used in Ghost Hunting.

So, I figured it out. Ghosts cause cancer.

Well, not really …

It does stand to reason though, however tongue-in-cheek that I put it, that the primary way in which ghost hunters claim to locate ghosts is the alleged ghost’s emission of electromagnetic radiation AND a growing community of believers in pseudoscience claim electromagnetic radiation causes all the worst possible illnesses including cancer AND the belief in ghosts and belief in pseudoscience are not mutually exclusive that somewhere, someone (or, perhaps, several someones) believe that prolonged exposure to ghosts can cause cancer.

But I digress…

Evidence!(?)

As the EMR Detector video shows (or seems to show), electronic devices emit electromagnetic radiation. What it does not show is whether or not this EMR is harmful, even though the ‘chairman’ of VodeOX and Rainbow Heart Freedom Eagle both assert that it is.

They are not alone. People all over the world are becoming more fearful of Wi-Fi, cellphone electromagnetism, computer electromagnetism, etc. This is one part lack of knowledge and one part confirmation bias. Since none of the YouTube videos, New Age Health websites, or well-meaning cranks off the street could provide me with the clinical evidence, I sought it myself.

First off, ‘electromagnetic radiation‘ is all the radiant energy from any electromagnetic process. So, even though the term EMR includes X-ray and gamma radiation, it encompasses all radiation from all electromagnetic sources; including radio waves, visible light, ultraviolet light, and microwaves. X-ray and gamma radiation are both ionizing, meaning potentially harmful, high frequency radiation. On the other end of the spectrum, radio waves and microwaves are both lower frequency and non-ionizing …

Meaning not harmful …

Meaning, the guy who insists that microwaves cause cancer was just another well-meaning crank I met at a bus stop. I have to quit repeating what folks like that say at parties.

Here’s a reminder of what we are talking about.

EMSpec
Notice the distance between harmful x-rays and non-harmful microwaves (the range that includes cellphone frequencies) and radio waves.

Cellphone emits radio waves, a low-frequency and non-ionizing form of radiation. The fear of EMR from cellphones is unfounded, but reinforced by something that does develop as a result of non-ionizing radiation; namely, heat.

Cellphones due heat up due to the effects of non-ionizing radiation. This effect, however, is not enough to heat up the core body temperature to a harmful level and, furthermore, poses no long-term health issues. If one were so inclined, they may place their phone in speaker-phone mode to avoid a case of ‘warm ear’.

No need for a $49 sticker on your cellphone.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 vodeox 1
VodeOX product comparison, via company website.

Similar to VodeOX, and the other three patches. The QuanThor cellphone patch takes the ‘New Agey’ feel to this pseudoscience product up a notch. $49 is the general price, it should seem but the QuanThor patch touts its use of “sacred geometry” alongside its claims of using 16 elements “uniquely balanced” for “optimal protection results”. QuanThor’s EMF/EMR Radiation Blocker is also apparently sold by a company named Healthy Self Esteem.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 emf hot head chart
QuanThor apparently helps prevent those pesky cases of hot ear due to prolonged cellphone conversations.
Screen Shot 2016-05-24 quanthor sgs
I am pretty sure they even got Sacred Geometry wrong. Are you sure you can trust your safety to these people?

I was to led believe there be talk of Ghosts?

So you are one of the approximately 74% of the American population that believe in ghosts, and you are also among the growing number of people who believe that electromagnetism can cause myriad health risks; what do you do?

The answer; buy an electromagnetic radiation detector!

So, you are in the market for a Ghost detector / emr detector. Where do you go? If you are like me, you go straight to the internet. I sought an EMR detector device in the selection on that internet shopping website ‘that shall not be named’.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 emf detectro 1
This is the standard (cheap) model. If you rather a machine that does the same thing, and completes other tasks, consider purchasing a radio, cellphone, or other wireless device.

The DT-1130 is a pretty helpful device if you want to know when you are being ‘bombarded’ with radio waves, micro waves, or other non-harmful radiation. It is, however, a very haphazard digital reading that shows multiple values within a fraction of a second. When a telephone call is being made, the readout will go from 000 (0 Hz, or no input) to 11575 Hz and back to 000 without time to record or note the result. There is an alarm, if you want to know that you are receiving radio waves, but this is still just a novelty. If you want to know if you are receiving radio waves, you can use a radio (a weather radio would be ideal). The moral of the story; you are always surrounded by radio waves.

Still, purchasers of the DT-1130 find that this product does, generally, help them find those non-corporeal interlopers they believe lurk invisibly.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 meter review 2
No, this is not a geiger counter.

Ghost Hunters use electromagnetic radiation detectors such as the DT-1130 for seeking out the idle dead. The rationale being, ghosts can be detected by minor fluctuations of EMF where they are not expected to be. Of course, since radio waves are everywhere, ghosts couldn’t be detected with EMF or these so-called EMR detectors because the electromagnetism is always already around and the levels may spike due to an incoming telephone call, or the movement of the device into or out of a radio frequency dark spot (such as near a conductive copper pipe or behind a concrete wall).

Still, ghost hunters not only seek out EMR detectors as part of their hobby, but tend to see spikes in EMF as read on EMR detectors as confirmation of their belief that they are in the presence of ghosts.

If you want to focus on ghost hunting, then the Ghost Meter is obviously a better buy.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 Ghost Meter 1
Not to be too facetious, but it is The Ghost Meter!

Solving the issue of erratic digital readings, The Ghost Meter uses an analog readout to measure milli-Gauss. Essentially, The Ghost Meter, along with the DT-1130 and all other EMR detectors are magnetometers and, thus, all magnetic or electromagnetic input can produce a reading. So, the analog readings aside, you are still only measuring ambient magnetism.

This, of course, is not how customer reviews of The Ghost Meter put it.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 ghost meter anss
Bob’s right. None of this makes sense.

So the conclusion, if taken to its ultimate extreme is as follows: either ghosts cannot be detected by minor changes in electromagnetism or in magnetism in general and/or there is no reason to believe that non-ionizing radiation such as radio and microwaves is harmful (which, is the verdict of nearly 100 years of research on the subject) or, if you will, ghosts cause cancer, live in magnets and may well be hiding in your cellphone.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 EMF Neutralier
This EMF Radiation Neutralizer receives dis-honorable mention because it is among the various products listed among those bought alongside EMF Blockers and Detectors. It is also, somehow $49 and, no doubt, does absolutely nothing.

 

How Belief Becomes ‘Real’

Is it crazy to say ghosts cause cancer? Is it completely ludicrous to think that radio waves from your radio are harmless but can cause cancer in high doses when they come from your cellphone or computer? No, its not crazy, its just wrong.

Just because there is no scientific base for the fear of EMF, that does not stop people from believing that they are at risk. The correlations in Rainbow Heart Freedom Eagle’s video connecting anecdotes and assertions as to the dangers of electromagnetic waves are generally how many people come to believe in a given imaginary illness, such as Wi-Fi allergy, or danger, such as electromagnetic radiation.

If a person whom you respect asserts an opinion, you are more likely to consider that opinion (perhaps without vetting the assertions). If that person is your significant other, in Rainbow’s case it is her husband, then you are all the more likely to adopt that opinion or belief (and, to a much larger extent, you are likely to have significantly aligned worldviews with your significant other, such that make said opinions or beliefs compatible). If the belief is strong enough, psychosomatic responses may further confirm that belief. It is possible for a completely unfounded, non-rationally grounded belief to not only feel real and have the appearance of being supported by evidence, and for everyone in your friend-group and family to believe and for it to not only feel real but to also have the belief effect you physically.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 emf chakras
Not sure how chakras factor in here.

This is the problem of paranormal and pseudo-scientific beliefs pose. The problem is not exactly a laughing matter, but faced with the shear impossibility of the situation as it constantly poses itself, it feels like humor is the only tool to maintain adequate mental health.

For Sale: One EMR Detector, Never Useful.

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The Challenger Explosion Hoax

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 challenger flat earth

Since the title lays out the conspiracy theory in fairly obvious fashion, it seems pointless to say the following, but the same sub-section of the population that believe that every mass shooting is a ‘false flag’ operation also believe that the 1986 NASA Challenger Explosion was a complete fabrication and, as their only ‘evidence’ they have somehow (through the hive mind of the Internet) tracked down the ‘survivors.’

Some of the saddest parts of the modern Information Age come when people believe that they have gotten wiser for all the information that they receive. In reality, their previously conceived notions are reinforced by information (true or otherwise) that fits their ideology and ignore or claim false all competing information. Such is the case with the anti-Government Three Percenter Movement and correlative Sovereign Citizen’s Movement; both of which tend to create a conspiracy theory to promote their worldview. Alongside these two essentially secular movements is the various Apocalyptic Christians who may oftentimes be members of the aforementioned III%ers and consider themselves ‘Sovereigns.’ These various ideologies are not contradictory to one another but, instead, are contradictory to the majority of Christian and American ideological viewpoints in modern society. They also tend toward flights of conspiracy fantasy to explain why Science, History, and Law all disagree with them.

So it is with the events of January 28th, 1986 (thirty years ago this week), when a NASA mission exploded in mid-air killing all on board, a National Tragedy to the majority of Americans and a huge black-eye for NASA and American military might in the face of Cold War tensions was, to some ideologues a few decades later, suspect.

JudithResnik_30years

Conversation started in online forums where individuals made the connection between deceased Challenger victim Judy Resnik and one of the three living Judith Resniks in America, one Yale Law professor by the exact same name. That is how they produce their ‘findings’ anyway. Forum members go on to exclaim “Good Grief! Same face,  same age, and same age! Why would she not bother to change her name?” This question, which makes obvious that this is a case of mistaken identity, seems to be simply flagrant and unabashed conspiracy to the conspiracy believer.

Subsequent conspiracy theory stories have picked up on this thread and ‘found’ several of the remaining astronauts, presumed to be alive and well. Sadly, people believe this and often harass the individuals who they believe to be members of an elaborate rouse (Sharon Mc Auliffe’s phone number was posted in at least one instance). The Following images were taken from A Plane Truth, a Christian Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory website.

SHARON (“CHRISTA”) MC AULIFFE: Presumed to be Sharon Mc Auliffe (Syracuse University, Law Professor) today.

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MICHAEL J. SMITH: Presumed to be Michael J. Smith (University of Wisconsin University) today.

Michael_J_Smith_compared_01

RICHARD “DICK” SCOBEE: Presumed to be Richard Scobee (Cows in Trees ltd.) today
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RONALD MC NAIR: Presumed to be Carl Mc Nair today
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ELLISON ONIZUKA: Presumed to be Claude Onizuka (Ellision’s Brother) today
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Facial similarities can be understood as seeming significant through the power of suggestion, but whether or not you focus on the differences in the face (or the obvious jump that need be made to think of this story as plausible) requires a very illogical set of beliefs or a very deep ideological need to believe. With Billions of people on the Earth, it would seem we can all find our own personal look-alikes given time, and the willingness to believe.

For instance . . .

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Here is Tom Cruise from the year 2033 (come back in time to warn the current Tom Cruise not to make MI:8 onward).

 

Okay, but seriously, the people that believe that The Challenger Explosion was a staged event do so using illogical logic and for ideological purposes.

The following is quoted directly from A Plane Truth’s Challenger Explosion story section ‘By the Numerology:’

Space Shuttle Challenger (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was NASA’s second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia having been the first…. Its maiden flight was on April 4, 1983 [=11], and it completed nine missions before breaking apart 73 seconds after the launch of its tenth mission, STS-51-L [51+L=3=9] on January 28, 1986 [1+28=11], resulting in the death of all seven crew members.
The “Challenger Disaster”:
The spacecraft disintegrated over [*9 miles above] the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 am [11 + 11=22] EST (16:38 UTC) [7+11]. On March 8 [3+8=11], 1986, a search team found the crew cabin; it had not been destroyed in the explosion. The bodies of all seven crew members were found, still strapped into their seats….
Autopsies were done but exact cause of death was inconclusive.
* 48,000 feet = 9.09090909 miles
After a 32-month hiatus, the next shuttle mission, STS-26 [7th flight of the Discovery], was launched on September 29 [9+11], 1988
The use of numerology to prove Satan’s involvement comes up quite often in Apocalyptic Christian extremism, which views Satan as a real supernatural entity with real social, political and governmental power in Earth at this time. The fact that A Plane Truth is a Flat Earth website does not mean that they try to use Math or Physics or evidence, but rather, faith itself to prove that their beliefs are true. Faith in an inerrant Bible, that there is nothing true under the Sun (or the Dome and Firmament) and faith that everything that disagrees with their ideology is from the Devil himself.

nasa-un-flat-earth-bsThis image was also part of the Challenger explosion article, as if to prove the reality of a flat Earth.

 

The Following are links to Alternative sites that also produced articles proclaiming the Challenger Explosion a Hoax:

Fellowship of the Mind (Apocalyptic Christian)

Veterans Today (Alternative News Website devoted, in part, to conspiracy theories involving Big Government, Israel, and Russia).

Fakeologist (Personal website devoted to belief in fake footage, hoaxes, ‘Psyops’ that are purported to be passed off as real events).

Maths study shows conspiracies ‘prone to unravelling’

It’s difficult to keep a conspiracy under wraps, scientists say, because sooner or later, one of the conspirators will blow its cover.

A study has examined how long alleged conspiracies could “survive” before being revealed – deliberately or unwittingly – to the public at large.

Dr David Grimes, from Oxford University, devised an equation to express this, and then applied it to four famous collusions.

The work appears in Plos One journal.

The equation developed by Dr Grimes, a post-doctoral physicist at Oxford, relied upon three factors: the number of conspirators involved, the amount of time that has passed, and the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing.

He then applied his equation to four famous conspiracy theories: The belief that the Moon landing was faked, the belief that climate change is a fraud, the belief that vaccines cause autism, and the belief that pharmaceutical companies have suppressed a cure for cancer.

Dr Grimes’s analysis suggests that if these four conspiracies were real, most are very likely to have been revealed as such by now.

Specifically, the Moon landing “hoax” would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change “fraud” in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism “conspiracy” in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer “conspiracy” in 3.2 years.

“The mathematical methods used in this paper were broadly similar to the mathematics I have used before in my academic research on radiation physics,” Dr Grimes said.

Building the equation

To derive his equation, Dr Grimes began with the Poisson distribution, a common statistical tool that measures the probability of a particular event occurring over a certain amount of time.

Using a handful of assumptions, combined with mathematical deduction, Dr Grimes produced a general, but incomplete, formula.

Specifically, he was missing a good estimate for the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing. To determine this, Dr Grimes analysed data from three genuine collusions.

The first was the surveillance program conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), known as PRISM. This programme involved, at most, 36,000 people and was famously revealed by Edward Snowden after about six years.

National Security Agency HQ in Fort MeadeImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Dr Grimes analysed genuine cases of collusion, such as the PRISM surveillance programme, to come up with his estimates

The second was the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, in which the cure for syphilis (penicillin) was purposefully withheld from African-American patients.

The experiment may have involved up to 6,700 people, and Dr Peter Buxtun blew the whistle after about 25 years.

The third was an FBI scandal in which it was revealed by Dr Frederic Whitehurst that the agency’s forensic analysis was unscientific and misleading, resulting in the imprisonment and execution of innocent people.

Dr Grimes estimates that a maximum of 500 people could have been involved and that it took about six years for the scandal to be exposed.

The equation he created represents a “best case scenario” for conspirators – that is, it optimistically assumes that conspirators are good at keeping secrets and that there are no external investigations at play.

Connecting the dots

Crunching the numbers from the three known conspiracies, Dr Grimes calculated that the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing is four in one million.

Though this number is low, the chance that a conspiracy is revealed becomes quite large as time passes and the number of conspirators grows.

The Moon landing hoax, for instance, began in 1965 and would have involved about 411,000 Nasa employees. With these parameters, Dr Grimes’s equation suggests that the hoax would have been revealed after 3.7 years.

Buzz Aldrin on the MoonImage copyright NASA
Image caption The Moon landings are the subject of a well-known conspiracy theory

Additionally, since the Moon landing hoax is now more than 50 years old, Dr Grimes’s equation predicts that, at most, only 251 conspirators could have been involved.

Thus, it is more reasonable to believe that the Moon landing was real.

Prof Monty McGovern, a mathematician at the University of Washington, said the study’s methods “strike me as reasonable and the probabilities computed quite plausible”.

Dr Grimes added: “While I think it’s difficult to impossible to sway those with a conviction… I would hope this paper is useful to those more in the middle ground who might wonder whether scientists could perpetuate a hoax or not.”

Trump Lead Grows Nationally; 41% of His Voters Want to Bomb Country From Aladdin; Clinton Maintains Big Lead

Originally posted by Tom Jensen (PPP)

Text and follow-up link below.

PPP’s newest national Republican primary poll finds Donald Trump holding his largest lead yet in the wake of Tuesday night’s debate. He’s at 34% to 18% for Ted Cruz, 13% for Marco Rubio, 7% for Jeb Bush, 6% for Ben Carson, 5% for Chris Christie, 4% each for Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee, 2% each for John Kasich and Rand Paul, 1% each for Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, and less than 1% each for Jim Gilmore and George Pataki.

Trump is the biggest gainer since our last national poll in mid-November, going from 26% to 34%. He’s also become more broadly popular with GOP voters, with his favorability rating going from 51/37 up to 58/34. Trump’s hold on the Republican electorate holds true with most segments of the party. He leads with 36% among voters most concerned with having a nominee who’s conservative on the issues, and with 34% among voters most concerned about being able to beat a Democrat in the fall. He leads among both Evangelicals with 35%, and among non-Evangelicals with 33%. He leads with both women (34%) and men (also 34%). He leads with both younger voters (38%) and seniors (32%).

There are only 2 groups of the electorate Trump doesn’t lead with- the closely related groups of Tea Party and ‘very conservative’ voters. Cruz has the upper hand with each of those. He’s at 38% with ‘very conservative’ voters to 32% for Trump, with no one else getting more than 8%. And he’s at 41% with Tea Party voters to 32% for Trump with no one else getting more than 9%.  Cruz has been the second biggest gainer since our last poll, going from 14% to 18%. There are other positive signs for Cruz in the poll. He’s the most frequent second choice of GOP voters with 14% picking him on that front to 10% each for Carson and Trump. He’s also the second pick of Trump voters specifically (25% to 13% for Carson) so he’s well positioned to benefit if Trump ever does falter.

Marco Rubio is really treading water. He was at 13% last month, and he’s at 13% this month. He’s losing second choice support- 13% said he was their next man up in November, now it’s just 9%. Rubio has also seen a pretty big drop in his net favorability rating among GOP primary voters- it’s gone from +30 at 55/25 in November to now +15 at 49/34. He’s certainly still in the top tier but if anything his position is weakening rather than getting stronger.

Ben Carson’s moment now really appears to have passed. He’s dropped down to 6%, after being at 19% in mid-November. Interestingly his favorability rating has barely budged- it was 61/24 last month and it’s 61/26 this month. But increasingly even though GOP voters continue to really like Carson, they no longer see him as Presidential material.

Notes on other candidates:

-The candidate with the highest favorability rating nationally right now is actually…Mike Huckabee who comes in at 63/19. It’s not translating to a ton of support for the nomination- 4% say he’s their first choice, 6% say he’s their second choice. But he may be a darkhorse to pick up some steam later given how at least broadly popular he is.-Lindsey Graham (22/50) has managed to pass Jeb Bush (34/49) for having the highest negatives in the GOP field nationally. Bush has seen a slight increase in his support for the nomination from 5% to 7%. He continues to have struggles on the right though- only 20% of ‘very conservative’ voters see him favorably to 64% with a negative opinion and only 3% within that group support him for the nomination. Joining Bush and Graham with upside down favorability ratings among GOP voters are Rand Paul (34/44) and John Kasich (26/40).

-Chris Christie continues to slowly but surely creep back into the race. He has a 49/30 favorability rating now, up all the way from 28/54 in late August. It’s a reminder that things can change a lot over time and some of the candidates seen as being dead right now could come back to life and some of the candidates who it seems like can’t do anything wrong right now could come crashing back down. Christie’s support for the nomination has seen a small bump from 3% to 5%.

A lot of people thought Donald Trump’s support might come crashing down after he announced support for a ban on Muslims entering the United States last week but that position, as well as a lot of the other things Trump has said recently, is broadly popular within the GOP:

-54% support Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, to only 25% who oppose it. Among Trump’s own supporters there’s 82/5 support for it. Cruz voters favor it as well, 57/25. Rubio voters are pretty evenly divided on it with 39% in favor and 40% opposed, while Bush voters oppose it 21/37.

-46% support a national database of Muslims, to only 37% opposed. Trump voters support this 66/15 but voters for the other top candidates are more closely divided- Cruz’s (40/41) and Rubio’s (44/45) narrowly oppose it while Bush’s (36/49) do by a wider spread.

-36% think thousands of Arabs in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center collapsed to 35% who don’t think that happened. Supporters of Trump (49/24) and Cruz (47/22) both pretty firmly think that occurred while Bush (37/51) and Rubio (22/46) voters don’t think it did.

-Only 28% of GOP primary voters go so far as to think mosques in the United States should be shut down to 47% opposed to that. Trump voters are on an island on that issue- they support it 45/28 but backers of Cruz (23/40) and especially Rubio (18/66) and Bush (14/68) are strongly against it.

-Supporters of most of the major GOP candidates agree with the basic premise that Islam should be legal in the United States- it’s 59/21 with Cruz voters, 67/11 with Bush voters, and 77/10 with Rubio voters. Trump supporters are off on their own on that one too though- just 33% think Islam should be legal to 42% who think it should be illegal. Overall 53% of primary voters think Islam should be allowed to just 26% who don’t think it should be.

To put some of these findings about real modern day issues and Trump voters in context, 41% of his voters think Japanese internment was a good thing, to 37% who don’t. And 41% of his supporters would favor bombing Agrabah to only 9% who are opposed to doing that. Agrabah is the country from Aladdin. Overall 30% of Republican primary voters say they support bombing it to 13% who are opposed. We asked the same question of Democrats, and 36% of them opposed bombing Agrabah to 19% in support.

Speaking of the Democrats things are pretty stable on their side. Hillary Clinton leads with 56% to 28% for Bernie Sanders and 9% for Martin O’Malley. Clinton has dropped slightly since our last poll from 59% to 56%, while Sanders (26% to 28%) and O’Malley (7% to 9%) have each seen 2 point gains in their support. Clinton leads with every group we track. The race is closer among younger voters (50/35), white voters (51/33), and ‘very liberal’ voters (55/36). Clinton has more dominant advantages with seniors (68/21), African Americans (67/17), and voters who identify as just ‘somewhat liberal’ (65/23).

Full results here

The science myths that will not die

False beliefs and wishful thinking about the human experience are common. They are hurting people — and holding back science.

By Megan Scudellari (Nature)

In 1997, physicians in southwest Korea began to offer ultrasound screening for early detection of thyroid cancer. News of the programme spread, and soon physicians around the region began to offer the service. Eventually it went nationwide, piggybacking on a government initiative to screen for other cancers. Hundreds of thousands took the test for just US$30–50.

Across the country, detection of thyroid cancer soared, from 5 cases per 100,000 people in 1999 to 70 per 100,000 in 2011. Two-thirds of those diagnosed had their thyroid glands removed and were placed on lifelong drug regimens, both of which carry risks.

Such a costly and extensive public-health programme might be expected to save lives. But this one did not. Thyroid cancer is now the most common type of cancer diagnosed in South Korea, but the number of people who die from it has remained exactly the same — about 1 per 100,000. Even when some physicians in Korea realized this, and suggested that thyroid screening be stopped in 2014, the Korean Thyroid Association, a professional society of endocrinologists and thyroid surgeons, argued that screening and treatment were basic human rights.

In Korea, as elsewhere, the idea that the early detection of any cancer saves lives had become an unshakeable belief.

This blind faith in cancer screening is an example of how ideas about human biology and behaviour can persist among people — including scientists — even though the scientific evidence shows the concepts to be false. “Scientists think they’re too objective to believe in something as folklore-ish as a myth,” says Nicholas Spitzer, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego. Yet they do.

These myths often blossom from a seed of a fact — early detection does save lives for some cancers — and thrive on human desires or anxieties, such as a fear of death. But they can do harm by, for instance, driving people to pursue unnecessary treatment or spend money on unproven products. They can also derail or forestall promising research by distracting scientists or monopolizing funding. And dispelling them is tricky.

Scientists should work to discredit myths, but they also have a responsibility to try to prevent new ones from arising, says Paul Howard-Jones, who studies neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, UK. “We need to look deeper to understand how they come about in the first place and why they’re so prevalent and persistent.”

Some dangerous myths get plenty of air time: vaccines cause autism, HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. But many others swirl about, too, harming people, sucking up money, muddying the scientific enterprise — or simply getting on scientists’ nerves. Here, Nature looks at the origins and repercussions of five myths that refuse to die.

Myth 1: Screening saves lives for all types of cancer

Regular screening might be beneficial for some groups at risk of certain cancers, such as lung, cervical and colon, but this isn’t the case for all tests. Still, some patients and clinicians defend the ineffective ones fiercely.

The belief that early detection saves lives originated in the early twentieth century, when doctors realized that they got the best outcomes when tumours were identified and treated just after the onset of symptoms. The next logical leap was to assume that the earlier a tumour was found, the better the chance of survival. “We’ve all been taught, since we were at our mother’s knee, the way to deal with cancer is to find it early and cut it out,” says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

But evidence from large randomized trials for cancers such as thyroid, prostate and breast has shown that early screening is not the lifesaver it is often advertised as. For example, a Cochrane review of five randomized controlled clinical trials totalling 341,342 participants found that screening did not significantly decrease deaths due to prostate cancer1.

“People seem to imagine the mere fact that you found a cancer so-called early must be a benefit. But that isn’t so at all,” says Anthony Miller at the University of Toronto in Canada. Miller headed the Canadian National Breast Screening Study, a 25-year study of 89,835 women aged 40–59 years old2 that found that annual mammograms did not reduce mortality from breast cancer. That’s because some tumours will lead to death irrespective of when they are detected and treated. Meanwhile, aggressive early screening has a slew of negative health effects. Many cancers grow slowly and will do no harm if left alone, so people end up having unnecessary thyroidectomies, mastectomies and prostatectomies. So on a population level, the benefits (lives saved) do not outweigh the risks (lives lost or interrupted by unnecessary treatment).

Still, individuals who have had a cancer detected and then removed are likely to feel that their life was saved, and these personal experiences help to keep the misconception alive. And oncologists routinely debate what ages and other risk factors would benefit from regular screening.

Focusing so much attention on the current screening tests comes at a cost for cancer research, says Brawley. “In breast cancer, we’ve spent so much time arguing about age 40 versus age 50 and not about the fact that we need a better test,” such as one that could detect fast-growing rather than slow-growing tumours. And existing diagnostics should be rigorously tested to prove that they actually save lives, says epidemiologist John Ioannidis of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, who this year reported that very few screening tests for 19 major diseases actually reduced mortality3.

Changing behaviours will be tough. Gilbert Welch at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire, says that individuals would rather be told to get a quick test every few years than be told to eat well and exercise to prevent cancer. “Screening has become an easy way for both doctor and patient to think they are doing something good for their health, but their risk of cancer hasn’t changed at all.”

Myth 2: Antioxidants are good and free radicals are bad

In December 1945, chemist Denham Harman’s wife suggested that he read an article in Ladies’ Home Journal entitled ‘Tomorrow You May Be Younger’. It sparked his interest in ageing, and years later, as a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley, Harman had a thought “out of the blue”, as he later recalled. Ageing, he proposed, is caused by free radicals, reactive molecules that build up in the body as by-products of metabolism and lead to cellular damage.

Scientists rallied around the free-radical theory of ageing, including the corollary that antioxidants, molecules that neutralize free radicals, are good for human health. By the 1990s, many people were taking antioxidant supplements, such asvitamin C and β-carotene. It is “one of the few scientific theories to have reached the public: gravity, relativity and that free radicals cause ageing, so one needs to have antioxidants”, says Siegfried Hekimi, a biologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Yet in the early 2000s, scientists trying to build on the theory encountered bewildering results: mice genetically engineered to overproduce free radicals lived just as long as normal mice4, and those engineered to overproduce antioxidants didn’t live any longer than normal5. It was the first of an onslaught of negative data, which initially proved difficult to publish. The free-radical theory “was like some sort of creature we were trying to kill. We kept firing bullets into it, and it just wouldn’t die,” says David Gems at University College London, who started to publish his own negative results in 2003 (ref. 6). Then, one study in humans7 showed that antioxidant supplements prevent the health-promoting effects of exercise, and another associated them with higher mortality8.

None of those results has slowed the global antioxidant market, which ranges from food and beverages to livestock feed additives. It is projected to grow from US$2.1 billion in 2013 to $3.1 billion in 2020. “It’s a massive racket,” says Gems. “The reason the notion of oxidation and ageing hangs around is because it is perpetuated by people making money out of it.”

Today, most researchers working on ageing agree that free radicals can cause cellular damage, but that this seems to be a normal part of the body’s reaction to stress. Still, the field has wasted time and resources as a result. And the idea still holds back publications on possible benefits of free radicals, says Michael Ristow, a metabolism researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. “There is a significant body of evidence sitting in drawers and hard drives that supports this concept, but people aren’t putting it out,” he says. “It’s still a major problem.”

Some researchers also question the broader assumption that molecular damage of any kind causes ageing. “There’s a question mark about whether really the whole thing should be chucked out,” says Gems. The trouble, he says, is that “people don’t know where to go now”.

Myth 3: Humans have exceptionally large brains

The human brain — with its remarkable cognition — is often considered to be the pinnacle of brain evolution. That dominance is often attributed to the brain’s exceptionally large size in comparison to the body, as well as its density of neurons and supporting cells, called glia.

None of that, however, is true. “We cherry-pick the numbers that put us on top,” says Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Human brains are about seven times larger than one might expect relative to similarly sized animals. But mice and dolphins have about the same proportions, and some birds have a larger ratio.

“Human brains respect the rules of scaling. We have a scaled-up primate brain,” says Chet Sherwood, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC. Even cell counts have been inflated: articles, reviews and textbooks often state that the human brain has 100 billion neurons. More accurate measures suggest that the number is closer to 86 billion. That may sound like a rounding error, but 14 billion neurons is roughly the equivalent of two macaque brains.

Human brains are different from those of other primates in other ways:Homo sapiens evolved an expanded cerebral cortex — the part of the brain involved in functions such as thought and language — and unique changes in neural structure and function in other areas of the brain.

The myth that our brains are unique because of an exceptional number of neurons has done a disservice to neuroscience because other possible differences are rarely investigated, says Sherwood, pointing to the examples of energy metabolism, rates of brain-cell development and long-range connectivity of neurons. “These are all places where you can find human differences, and they seem to be relatively unconnected to total numbers of neurons,” he says.

The field is starting to explore these topics. Projects such as the US National Institutes of Health’s Human Connectome Project and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne’s Blue Brain Project are now working to understand brain function through wiring patterns rather than size.

Myth 4: Individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style

People attribute other mythical qualities to their unexceptionally large brains. One such myth is that individuals learn best when they are taught in the way they prefer to learn. A verbal learner, for example, supposedly learns best through oral instructions, whereas a visual learner absorbs information most effectively through graphics and other diagrams.

There are two truths at the core of this myth: many people have a preference for how they receive information, and evidence suggests that teachers achieve the best educational outcomes when they present information in multiple sensory modes. Couple that with people’s desire to learn and be considered unique, and conditions are ripe for myth-making.

“Learning styles has got it all going for it: a seed of fact, emotional biases and wishful thinking,” says Howard-Jones. Yet just like sugar, pornography and television, “what you prefer is not always good for you or right for you,” says Paul Kirschner, an educational psychologist at the Open University of the Netherlands.

In 2008, four cognitive neuroscientists reviewed the scientific evidence for and against learning styles. Only a few studies had rigorously put the ideas to the test and most of those that did showed that teaching in a person’s preferred style had no beneficial effect on his or her learning. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the authors of one study wrote9.

That hasn’t stopped a lucrative industry from pumping out books and tests for some 71 proposed learning styles. Scientists, too, perpetuate the myth, citing learning styles in more than 360 papers during the past 5 years. “There are groups of researchers who still adhere to the idea, especially folks who developed questionnaires and surveys for categorizing people. They have a strong vested interest,” says Richard Mayer, an educational psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In the past few decades, research into educational techniques has started to show that there are interventions that do improve learning, including getting students to summarize or explain concepts to themselves. And it seems almost all individuals, barring those with learning disabilities, learn best from a mixture of words and graphics, rather than either alone.

Yet the learning-styles myth makes it difficult to get these evidence-backed concepts into classrooms. When Howard-Jones speaks to teachers to dispel the learning-styles myth, for example, they often don’t like to hear what he has to say. “They have disillusioned faces. Teachers invested hope, time and effort in these ideas,” he says. “After that, they lose interest in the idea that science can support learning and teaching.”

Myth 5: The human population is growing exponentially (and we’re doomed)

Fears about overpopulation began with Reverend Thomas Malthus in 1798, who predicted that unchecked exponential population growth would lead to famine and poverty.

But the human population has not and is not growing exponentially and is unlikely to do so, says Joel Cohen, a populations researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York City. The world’s population is now growing at just half the rate it was before 1965. Today there are an estimated 7.3 billion people, and that is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Yet beliefs that the rate of population growth will lead to some doomsday scenario have been continually perpetuated. Celebrated physicist Albert Bartlett, for example, gave more than 1,742 lectures on exponential human population growth and the dire consequences starting in 1969.

The world’s population also has enough to eat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the rate of global food production outstrips the growth of the population. People grow enough calories in cereals alone to feed between 10 billion and 12 billion people. Yet hunger and malnutrition persist worldwide. This is because about 55% of the food grown is divided between feeding cattle, making fuel and other materials or going to waste, says Cohen. And what remains is not evenly distributed — the rich have plenty, the poor have little. Likewise, water is not scarce on a global scale, even though 1.2 billion people live in areas where it is.

“Overpopulation is really not overpopulation. It’s a question about poverty,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC. Yet instead of examining why poverty exists and how to sustainably support a growing population, he says, social scientists and biologists talk past each other, debating definitions and causes of overpopulation.

Cohen adds that “even people who know the facts use it as an excuse not to pay attention to the problems we have right now”, pointing to the example of economic systems that favour the wealthy.

Like others interviewed for this article, Cohen is less than optimistic about the chances of dispelling the idea of overpopulation and other ubiquitous myths (see ‘Myths that persist’), but he agrees that it is worthwhile to try to prevent future misconceptions. Many myths have emerged after one researcher extrapolated beyond the narrow conclusions of another’s work, as was the case for free radicals. That “interpretation creep”, as Spitzer calls it, can lead to misconceptions that are hard to excise. To prevent that, “we can make sure an extrapolation is justified, that we’re not going beyond the data”, suggests Spitzer. Beyond that, it comes down to communication, says Howard-Jones. Scientists need to be effective at communicating ideas and get away from simple, boiled-down messages.

The contrails conspiracy is not only garbage, it’s letting aviation off the hook too

The real issue – global warming caused by aircraft emissions – calls on us to act. But focusing on ‘chemtrails’ absolves people of the responsibility to do so.

By George Monbiot (The Guardian)

You spend years trying to get people to take an interest in aircraft emissions. Then at last the issue gets picked up – but in the most perverse way possible.

The pollutants spread by planes are a major issue. They make a significant contribution to global warming, yet they are excluded from international negotiations, such as the conference taking place in Paris. As a result, aviation’s expansion is unchecked by concerns about climate change.

This exclusion is ridiculous, not least because aircraft emissions have a particular role in heating the planet, due to the height at which they are released, and the multiplying impacts of the water vapour and other gases the planes produce. Gases that sometimes form contrails in the sky.

You might expect me to be delighted by the fact that thousands of people are taking an interest in contrails and their effects, and campaigning against the airlines producing them. Far from it.

The most vocal people protesting against aviation emissions have no interest in their contribution to global warming. Quite the opposite. Many of those now denouncing the pollution of the skies see climate science as part of the problem: a conspiracy by corporations, military planners and other nefarious interests to control the skies.

Until recently, I ignored this movement, even as it spread among people I knew. So pervasive have the rumours become that the government, which seldom responds to conspiracy theories, felt obliged this summer to produce a factsheetdebunking the principal claims.

But it was only when the editor of a major environmental magazine sent me what he called “a remarkable essay” in the hope of persuading me to take up the cause that I decided I could ignore it no longer. The “remarkable essay” was garbage: a long series of disconnected facts tacked together to create what appears to be a coherent narrative, but that bears as much relationship to reality as a speech by Donald Trump. On a bad day.

In my home town, the streets are now littered with graffiti advertising the website www.look-up.org.uk. So I looked it up. You might imagine, in reading what follows, that I’m picking an extreme example, but I’m sorry to say this is typical of the hundreds of sites promoting this nonsense. I keep meeting otherwise-intelligent people who seem prepared to believe it.

Here are its main contentions:

  • “Planes are not supposed to make clouds and yet we see them doing so in our skies every day.”
  • “Three huge global corporations now own almost all of the world’s airlines. They have modified their aircraft to spray chemicals unknown into our skies during flight.”
  • “Large private, corporate organisations [are] … modifying our atmosphere without the knowledge and consent of society.”
  • “We think their insane plan to block our sunshine is unnecessary, dangerous and nothing to do with science or protecting us, but more to do with financially motivated weather control.”

You can see the impacts everywhere. The authors of the website note that“virtually the entire month of November has been a ‘white out’… unbroken cloud characterised by a thin, translucent, white blanket of chemicals sprayed from aircraft.”

Cloudy skies in November – hmmm, fishy to say the least.

So why are “they” doing it? Well, it depends which part of this website you read. On some pages it claims that the contrails (or “chemtrails”) are being used to “manipulate the CO2 figures”. This will then justify the mass re-engineering of the atmosphere. On other pages, the contrails themselves are being used to re-engineer the atmosphere, using unspecified chemicals to change the weather.

Who profits from this “financially motivated weather control” and how is left strangely vague, though of course the beneficiaries include “very well paid scientists”. Don’t they always? As everyone knows, scientists are rolling in money, which is why so many oil company executives leave to take up more lucrative careers as university lecturers.

The scientists’ mysterious benefactors must be extremely powerful, however, as they engineered the Paris attacks (“another false flag event”), in order to leave nothing to chance during the climate talks.

Everything confirms the thesis, even the dismal number of followers the site has managed to attract. That’s down to the role of Facebook – or Fakebook as they prefer to call it – in the conspiracy:

“We hired some clever people to analyse the behaviour and reach of our posts and they concluded that algorithmic restriction had been put in place to restrict the reach of our posts to just a few people, a small group of subscribers, and it was normally the same people every time.”

What other explanation could there be? And wait – it turns out that even the subscribers are in on it:

“We also suspect some, if not all of those people are operatives who regularly like our material to ensure we think we were getting an audience, whereas almost nobody was seeing the material at all.”

So on one hand we have a real threat, measurable and attestable, that is caused by an identifiable industry and persists as a result of the indifference and short-termism of the world’s governments. On the other, we have a conspiracy, attributed to forces unknown and interests unspecified, so powerful and pervasive that it extends from Mark Zuckerberg to the Paris terrorists. Why does it seem to be harder to generate interest in the real issue than the improbable one?

The real issue – global warming caused by aircraft emissions – calls on us to act. Reducing our impacts means flying less; something that few people are prepared to do. It involves an exhausting battle against a powerful industry and unresponsive governments. It means reading boring papers, attending boring meetings and engaging with a level of political and technical complexity that many people find repulsive. There’s plenty of grind and precious little glory.

A spoof ad by Revolt Design on the streets of Paris during COP21 conference.
A spoof ad by Revolt Design in Paris reads: ‘To tackle climate change? Of course not, we are an airline company … profits are more important than saving the planet. So we lobby politicians … Don’t tell any one. Air France, part of the problem.’ Photograph: Brandalisim

But there’s nothing boring about conspiracy theories. They make sense of what can sometimes feel like a senseless world. They tell you that you are among the elect: aware of a grand scheme that other people (or sheeple or sleeple as the conspiracy sites often like to call them) are unable or unwilling to see. It tells you that you are a lonely crusader fighting evil of the kind that’s otherwise encountered only in films about superheroes.

And if hardly anyone reads your website, it only goes to prove how important you are: why else would the authorities go to such lengths to limit your followers?

It also absolves you of the responsibility to act. Sure, you might feel moved to create a website, take some photos, perhaps sign the odd petition or even attend one or two noisy demonstrations. But you don’t have to change anything, because somewhere, buried deep in the forebrain, is the knowledge that there’s not really anything to change. You get the glory without the grind.

Perhaps such movements are also a response to a sense of helplessness. In a world so complex, chaotic and badly governed that its most dangerous predicaments often seem intractable, it is paradoxically comforting to believe that godlike powers are in control, even if those powers are malign.

We distance ourselves from uncomfortable realities by creating comfortable unrealities. And it doesn’t seem to matter how unreal they may become.