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Free Thinking

Published: 2018-01-17T13:48:44+00:00


Less Bad


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  President Trump is super-human. Here’s what the doctor who performed his physical examination said: It is called genetics ... Some people have just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.  Wow!! Despite the president’s mere four to five hours of sleep per night, he “has a very unique ability to just get up in the morning and reset.” Wowee wow!!! And what about whether he’s crazy or suffering from dementia: I can reliably say, and I think that the folks in the mental health [field] would back me up on the fact that if he had some kind of mental, cognitive issue, that this test is sensitive enough, it would have picked up on it. He would not have got 30 out of 30 ... And my personal experience is that he has absolutely no cognitive or mental issues whatsoever.  Dr. Robert E. Bartholomew, a new Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, reports on the recent Senate hearing on an alleged “sonic attack” in Cuba. Marco Rubio wasn’t having it: Dr. Rosenfarb [State Department medical director] ... is there any thought given to the fact that this is a case of mass hysteria? That a bunch of people are just being hypochondriacs and making it up? Bartholomew says it’s not that simple. Of those who claim to experience the attack, “most are normal, healthy people who are experiencing a collective stress reaction.” Remember how Disneyland had a measles outbreak because parents weren’t getting their kids vaccinated? Now California is doing great with vaccinations, and it’s all about that new law.   Ex-naturopath Britt Hermes is a target for intimidation by the fake-medicine types, and there are some ways you can help out. You’ll be hearing even more from her soon around these parts so WATCH THIS SPACE. Not literally this space, I mean, please move on with your lives. Don’t worry, Hawaii. The missile alert system’s new interface “is less bad than the first.”  The Boston Globe talks to former Navy pilot David Fravor, who was part of the big NYT story on UFO investigations in the US government. “I know what I saw,” he says. Well that settles it. Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year, isn’t actually a thing.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules that same-sex marriage and transgender rights are required as part of the American Convention on Human Rights. Chik-fil-a, where they care about family values, unless of course you’re feeding an infant member of that family with your filthy, evil, boobs. Out you go! What percentage of young Icelanders believe God created the world? Zero-point-zero percent. I assume there’s some margin of error there. Quote of the Day Ben Li, Thomas L. Forbes, John Byrne in the journal The Surgeon take on complementary and alternative medicine. The abstract: The use of CAM may cause harm to patients through interactions with evidence-based medications or if patients choose to forego evidence-based care. CAM may also put financial strain on patients as most CAM expenditures are paid out-of-pocket. Despite these drawbacks, patients continue to use CAM due to media promotion of CAM therapies, dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare, and a desire for more holistic care. Given the increasing demand for CAM, many medical institutions now offer CAM services. Recently, there has been controversy surrounding the leaders of several CAM centres based at a highly respected academic medical institution, as they publicly expressed anti-vaccination views. These controversies demonstrate the non-evidence-based philosophies that run deep within CAM that are contrary to the evidence-based care that academic medical[...]



The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is coming back for a second season...five years later. Better late than never. It’s coming in the spring of 2019 and titled Cosmos: Possible Worlds. Cue the endless review headlines wondering if it will be the “best of all” said possible worlds.  We’ve got two new Reasonable Talk videos, the first from CSICon 2017: Ex-naturopath Britt Hermes and conspiracy theory researcher Rob Brotherton. I thought these were both great. Sticks. How do they work? Alexander Langlands at Nautilus explain how the stick is our defining ur-technology:  Sticks are probably where the story of craft begins—the point at which our very distant ancestors progressed from animalistic existences to lives materially enhanced by the objects around them.   A court in Dubai sentences a man to pay a fine equivalent to over $130,000 for “insulting religion” during an argument at a night club.  In a new Big Think video, Richard Dawkins shows the problems with the notion of something being “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a legal context.   This sounds fun: “Let Me Tell You About the Violent Diarrhea I Got From ‘Raw’ River Water”  Drew Millard at The Outline profiles former blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge who, after going “full tinfoil” over aliens, is vaguely made into a kind of nutty, accidental prophet by the NYT UFO-investigation reports. Trump is more popular among voting blocs like evangelicals, of course, but one year into his “presidency,” he’s still less popular than he used to be with every single damn group. Despite lamentations about Satanism and sexuality, an Iowa public school district is standing behind a student artist whose painting for school features a “goat-like head and the nude upper body of a woman,” plus intestines!  Justin Barton and Mark Russell are teachers at Cockrill Middle School in McKinney, Texas. They’ve tweeted that transgender kids are “mentally ill” and how Islam is a “Satanic death cult.” The school district says, “We have to respect the legal rights of our employees for freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”  The Des Moines Register reports on how “persistent atheist” Justin Scott of Iowa got the Wavery City Council to nix public prayers. Last week, the Florida House of Representatives heard a secular invocation by Tee Rogers, Humanist Chaplain for the University of Central Florida. Julia Belluz at Vox wonders: how the hell did chocolate become a “super-food”?  Please enjoy this poliitcal fan fiction via Twitter thread by Oliver Willis.  Quote of the Day The current incarnation of that Dalai Lama fellow:  I really feel that some people neglect and overlook compassion because they associate it with religion. Of course, everyone is free to choose whether they pay religion any regard, but to neglect compassion is a mistake because it is the source of our own well-being. * * *  Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is. Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)! News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances are to be interpreted as statements of endorsement or opposition to any political candidate. CFI is a nonpartisan nonprofit. The Morning Heresy: “I actually read it.” - Hemant Mehta   [...]



The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  Donald Trump who somehow is President of the United States (lol) told a room full of educated adults with easy access to mass communication that immigrants from Haiti and Africa are from “shithole countries.” He denied saying it, which of course is ridiculous because he said it, again, to a room full of educated adults.  Not that it will matter, because nothing does, but Trump was called out all over the place for racism. For example: This is CNN Tonight, I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist. A lot of us already knew that.  Or, from Coop: Let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s not pretend or dance around it. The sentiment the president expressed today is a racist sentiment. Someone at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used the paper’s Twitter account to announce, “Our publisher is requesting us to remove @realDonaldTrump’s “vulgar language” from the lede in our @AP story about his vulgar language.” I don’t know what’s in the print edition, but online, “shithole” is right there. Jonathan Jarry from the McGill Office for Science and Society presents an interview with ex-naturopath Britt Hermes, done at last year’s CSICon. Yesterday, I told you about how in rural Nepal, girls and women are being cast out of homes and considered “unclean” for menstruating, resulting in the deaths of dozens of women. Now we learn that in Ghana, girls who are menstruating are banned from crossing a river to get to their school. Why? Because the river god forbids it. UNICEF’s Shamima Muslim Alhassan told BBC: It seems the gods are really powerful aren’t they? Sometimes I think that we need to ask for some form of accountability from these gods who continue to bar a lot of things from happening, to account for how they have used the tremendous power that we have given them. Is the river god like the sentient ocean character in Moana, but, like, a huge jerk? Hey CFI Indiana’s big annual Civic Day is coming up on February 10.  Trans rights activist and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, was murdered by her husband Mark Steele-Knudslien (who confessed) because he “snapped” in the midst of an argument. Must have been a rather lengthy “snap” considering he had all that time to both hit her with a hammer several times and then stab her with a knife AND then wrap up her body in a tarp. Harriet Hall shares some claims coming out of India that the Hindu Vedas and the Qu’ran have all anyone needs to solve all problems. Whew! In contrast to the complaints of ex-Googler James “Help-Help-I’m-Being-Repressed” Damore, the departure of engineer Cory Altheide from Google in 2016 shows that at the time, the kind of diversity talk that Google didn’t want to hear was pro-diversity talk because they wanted to “support a wide variety of viewpoints.” This is exactly the opposite of what Damore alleges, who as you know is persecuted for being white, male, and conservative. Altheide told Gizmodo: The idea of trying to alter a company’s culture all by yourself is almost as stupid as the myth of meritocracy the tech industry is so in love with. The only way to even begin to attempt to create positive change inside an organization purpose-built exclusively for the task of providing value to shareholders is through collective action.  Since God created man first (sorry, ladies!), obviously city planning boards can’t be allowed to be female-dominated. That’s what David Linehan of South Glen Falls, NY thinks, anyway.  I feel much better about the veracity[...]

Knight of Swords! No Bombs Will Fly.


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  You might remember I was away for a couple of weeks in October for a writers’ retreat, and one of the other writers there with me was Amanda Little, a science journalist who was working on a book on how the hell we’re going to feed 9 billion people. She is incredibly smart and cool, and she’s just published a big Bloomberg Businessweek feature on one aspect of her reporting: little AI robots that tend to crops, plant by individual plant, without screwing up the world.   PRRI has a fascinating new survey on young Americans’ (age 15-24) perceptions of discrimination and persecution among different groups. Women and minorities say they’ve experienced discrimination in numbers lower than I would have guessed, and men, well, one third think they’ve been discriminated against because of their sex. Yes, I’m sure that’s true, poor babies, there there. Young men in general perceive far less discrimination against other groups than women do. Young people also tend to believe that discrimination against Muslims and transgender Americans is on the rise. A meager 18% think atheists face discrimination.  81% of Americans are unable to name a single living scientist. Of those who could name on in this Research America survey: 27 percent named Stephen Hawking, 19 percent named Neil deGrasse Tyson, and 5 percent named Bill Nye. Other answers that scored less than 5 percent included Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, and Michio Kaku.  The Blue Whale suicide game internet myth seems like it might be real enough to get its creator convicted in Russia, but as Ben Radford points out, the sources are remarkably unreliable, and there’s still no evidence that this conspiracy has actually claimed any lives, if it exists at all.  This is just unbelievably awful: In rural Nepal, dozens of women and girls have died from being cast out of their homes for the crime of menstruating, as this makes them “unclean” according to some Hindu principle. NYT reports:  Menstruating women often trudge outside at night to bed down with cows or goats in tiny, rough, grass-roofed huts and sheds. Many have been raped by intruders or died from exposure to the elements. ... The practice is called chhaupadi, which in the Nepali language means something like “tree omen.” The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu, and in ancient Hindu culture, menstruating women were considered toxic — if they entered a temple, they polluted it; if they handled the family’s food, everyone would become sick; if they touched a tree, that tree would never bear fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel and novel our species can be in its abuse of women. David Mislin at Sojourners warns against presuming that a rise in “nones” means that those nones will be largely liberal: [A Pew study] found unaffiliated voters to be more liberal than the general public on abortion and gay rights. But on the broader issue of the size and scope of government, unaffiliated Americans differed little from their religious neighbors. Both religious and nonreligious respondents were nearly evenly split on the question of whether or not they desired smaller government, a longstanding conservative position. This suggests that while unaffiliated people hold more liberal views on some social issues, they are not united in their political beliefs.  Connecticut’s governor wants to name State Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald to be the first gay chief justice of that court, but the Catholic Church is complaining that McDonald is anti-Catholic. Just to make sure we understand, it’s the Catholic Church that’s complaining about bias by a gay man. T[...]



1). Why couldn’t the atheist find an angel?

Answer: He didn’t have a prayer.

2). What was the broom-riding extraterrestrial attempting?

Answer: Flying sorcery.

3). What effect did the clairvoyant have on the skeptic?

Answer: He made her psychic to her stomach.

4). How is studying a volcano like researching Mr. Spock’s sci-fi homeland?

Answer: Either makes one a Vulcanologist.

5). When Pope Francis termed the Turin Shroud an “icon” (work of art) rather than “relic” (genuine burial cloth), did he really know the difference?

Answer: Is the pope Catholic?

6). How did the New Ager use quantum mechanics to support belief in psychic phenomena?

Answer: He made a quantum leap of faith.

7). What expression would you use if you actually encountered Australia’s fabled man-beast?

Answer: “Yowie!!!”

8). A “memory” of an unidentified past life would be called what?

Answer: A deja who?

9). The cryptozoologist seeking a low-budget project, decided to look for what cryptid?

Answer: The cheap-acabra.

10). What might the head of a declining New Age business say if its Czechoslovakian-born mail sorter fell into a letter bin?

Answer: “The Czech is in the mail.”


The Arrest and Conviction of ‘Blue Whale Game’ Svengali Filipp Budeykin


Last year scary warnings circulated on social media asking parents, teachers, and police to beware of a hidden threat to children: a sinister online “game” that can lead to death. A typical message dated May 16 warned, “The Blue Whale ‘suicide game’ is believed to be a hidden online social media group which its main aim is to encourage our children to kill themselves. Within the group daily task are assigned to members have to do different tasks for 50 days. They include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours, but these gradually get more extreme. But on the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide. Please share and warn all other parents of the dangers of this game. We do not want any deaths related to the game within the UK.” Debunking website Snopes traced the story back to a May 2016 article on a Russian news site which “reported dozens of suicides of children in Russia during a six-month span, asserting that some of the people who had taken their lives were part of the same online game community.” While it appears to be true that some of the teens used the same social media gaming sites, that does not logically imply that there’s any link between the deaths, nor that the site caused them. It’s more likely that depressed teens may be drawn to certain websites than it is that those websites caused their users to become depressed and/or suicidal. And, of course, on any wildly popular social media site (including Instagram, Facebook, or Pogo) a small subset of users will share common characteristics, including mental illness, simply by random chance. I have written about the game several times, and have found little evidence that the game has actually caused suicides, or that it even exists. Instead it has all the hallmarks of a modern moral panic of the internet age. Recently I was asked for my take on a seemingly troubling news story. It was a story from RT News—more on that shortly—titled “Blue Whale ‘suicide game’ ringleader jailed for 3 years in Russia.” The piece began, “The curator of the social media ‘suicide game’ dubbed ‘Blue Whale,’ Filipp Budeykin, has been sentenced to 3 years and 4 months in prison by a court in the Russian Siberian city of Tobolsk after pleading guilty. Budeykin, 22, was detained last year with the investigation concluding in June. He was initially suspected of 15 attempts of inciting teenagers to commit suicide across Russia but was eventually convicted on two counts.” On the face of it, it seems to support the existence of the Blue Whale Game. After all, we have a (presumably real) name (and face) to the conspiracy. And surely a Russian court would not convict someone on such serious charges were they not true! But there are some red flags. For one thing, it’s still a Russian story. The Blue Whale story is, and has been, actively circulated by the Russian propaganda machine including RT News. I wrote about this last year, where the Russians are spreading myths and scares and rumors (see my article “How Russian Conspiracies Taint Social Activist ‘News’”).  About 15 years ago I wrote about a Russian story of a grandmother alleged to have sold her grandchild for organs, and it turned out to be false. This is not to say that all news reports coming out of Russia are false, of course, but there is a well-documented tradition of “fake news” and sensationalist stories of Russian origin. Second, like the news reports of the Blue Whale game itself, there’s very little independent fact-checking; all the different information about Budeikin, his trial, arrest, and imprisonment, traces back to one or two Russian news sources. All th[...]

Pains and Penalties


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  In October, I handed the prestigious (and heavy) Balles Prize for Critical Thinking to New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova for her book The Confidence Game. She told us at the time that she was in the midst of researching and writing her next book on the psychology of poker. Apparently she’s got a good grasp of it, because she just won the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure National Championship, beating almost 300 other players and winning almost $85,000, which is way more than we give with the Balles Prize. Maria is awesome, and she has my congratulations and my envy. Jules Montague at The Verge calls out Apple for its 2016 ad in which an autistic teenage boy uses an iPad to communicate via something called the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which relies in part on the pseudoscience of facilitated communication: RPM has been labeled pseudoscientific, unethical, and inhumane. Michelle Dawson, an autistic researcher, called it “bad science and bad ethics.” The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says that “RPM is a technique without any research support.” ... as Apple continues to operate and expand in the health and wellness sector, it would do well to avoid featuring pseudoscience, even in passing.   Andy Savage, pastor of the Highpoint megachurch seems to have reached a low point, having been accused of sexual assault by a woman who was 17 at the time of the event. After the alleged assault, Savage went on to teach his “True Love Waits” workshop on abstinence. True love waits, but I guess lust is in a hurry. In case you weren’t sure, the pro-science/skeptic community really, really doesn’t want Oprah to be president. Megan Thielking at STAT reminds us: She connected a cancer patient to “junk science,” a Washington Post analysis says. She promoted charlatans on her show, according to Slate. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee put out a statement Tuesday attacking Winfrey for “giving a platform to anti-vaccination campaigners and other dangerous health quackery.  The previous year’s Balles Prize winner, Julia Belluz, has a similar rundown/takedown of hypothetical-candidate-Winfrey. A federal appeals court upholds the validity of a 2014 Tennessee ballot measure to specify in the state constitution that it does not include abortion rights. Newly-elected member of the Waltham, Massachusetts city council, Kristine Mackin, was sworn in using a secular affirmation, replacing “I do solemnly swear” with “I do solemnly affirm,” and “so help me God” with “I do so under the pains and penalties of perjury.” Dennis Prager says a belief in the afterlife is required to keep a person from going insane. Ha ha, joke’s on him, I was nuts well before I decided not to believe in an afterlife.  Quote of the Day: A very interesting take on Oprah 2020 comes from Ross Douthat, who usually makes me wince, but is on to something here: [Oprah’s] essential celebrity is much closer to the celebrity of Pope Francis or Billy Graham. She is a preacher, a spiritual guru, a religious teacher, an apostle and a prophetess. Indeed, to the extent that there is a specifically American religion, a faith tradition all our own, Oprah has made herself its pope. ... ...the Oprah boomlet is a chance to recognize her real importance in our culture — and the sheer unpredictable weirdness, perhaps eclipsing even Donald Trump’s ascent, that might follow if our most important religious leader tries to lay claim to temporal power as well.  [...]

Apathy Paradox


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  It’s amazing that this has to be said, really. And yet, Jen Gunter writing at The Guardian is compelled to instruct us that despite the guidance of Gwyneth and Goop, “Keep the coffee out of your rectum and in your cup.” Well, good morning to you too! Oh, in case you’re still into the idea, the Mayo Clinic says coffee enemas have killed people before. YOLO. St. Louis Public Radio talks to two of its journalists who have returned from Pakistan as part of a media exchange program. Casey Nolan says: [The Pakistani journalists] have a pride in their freedom of the press. They have a pride in the way they take on their politicians, but there are certainly some no-go areas – the military being one and then of course anything that can be construed as blasphemy.  Answering a reader question for NewsOK about whether atheists are as moral as the religious (oy), Bob Holmes says that while many people—even atheists—presume the religious to be more moral, there’s no evidence for it: In both the U.S. and the U.K., atheists are underrepresented in the prison population and overrepresented among civil rights and anti-war activists. The world’s most secular countries—notably in Scandinavia—are among the most peaceable and civic-minded.  Trump still really wants Sam Brownback to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, which would be hilarious if it weren’t such a terrible idea. SCOTUS leaves in place a Mississippi right-to-discriminate law, at least until someone they deem to have standing to sue presents a challenge.  Jacob Sullum at Reason rejects the idea that either Trump is crazy or a genius, classifying attempts to “diagnose” Trump with some mental illness is a form of “psychiatric pseudoscience.” He might, in fact, just be a huge butthead.  Speaking of Trump, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Oppressor Awards honors President Trump for “Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom.” No, YOU’RE crying. Both Philip H. DeVoe at National Review and David Gorski remind us of the depths of nonsense in the pseudoscience promoted by our new president Oprah Winfrey. DeVote says: Will her candidacy and presidency be underpinned by sound political and economic theory? Or, more likely, will it be another smoke-and-mirrors show, complete with get-healed-quick promises that are not only too good to be true but downright dangerous?  Gorski: That Oprah is not a hateful person compared to Donald Trump is not enough, particularly given that she’s almost as bad on science and critical thinking as he is.   Steven Salzberg has had it with the government supporting fake medicine: Just stop it already. Stop arguing that just because something is popular, it must be true, or at least worth investigating (at taxpayer expense).  Sen. Jeff Flake does not believe that U.S. diplomats in Cuba were the victims of a “sonic attack.”  In fact, it was Knuckles. Roy Speckhardt has five reasons FEMA shouldn’t change its rules to fund churches, and to me number 4 is really the end of it: Allowing this kind of direct funding of religion is a solution without a problem. Churches whose buildings were damaged when actually sheltering people during a storm were always able to receive government funds to refurbish their structures. What’s new is that churches that did not provide assistance to those suffering from storms will now be able to receive government funds to re[...]

Someone in the Past Believed It


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.  It’s 1/8/18 which means that in a way it’s 1818 and you know what that means… ...I got nothin’.  Hey check it out! It’s CFI board member and all-around great person Leonard Tramiel, covered by the Santa Cruz Sentinel for his address at Skepticamp. There was a small fire at Trump Tower in NYC this morning with no injuries, I assume caused by the accidental ignition of ambient fumes from Trump’s face. Last night was the night Oprah truly became president. Only partly kidding. At the Golden Globes, she blew folks away with a really great speech. (Yes, I know she has brought us people like Dr. Oz and whatnot, but this isn’t about that.) Talking about this powerful moment in history in which women are refusing to be silent about what they have endured, she said: Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story. But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or workplace. ... So I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, are fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “me too” again.  I got a little carried away over it on Twitter: Decades from now, they’re going to use Oprah like they used to use the word Caesar.  “...and then in 2140, a new Oprah was elected to lead the Global Federation…” “...after that horrible war, the general was crowned Oprah of the Inner Planets.”  Maine’s Secretary of State, Mike Dunlap, was on the now-defunct “Election Integrity Commission” designed to stop minorities from voting voter fraud, and in an op-ed he makes the commission sound not unlike a TV ghosthunting operation: It didn’t matter that evidence of actual voter misconduct is incredibly rare anywhere in the United States; we’ve all heard the ghost stories, and the Trump administration’s solution was to find those ghosts and exorcise them.   Regardless of their behavior on the platform, Twitter says it will not block world leaders. I assume they’re thinking of the irresponsible antics of Justin Trudeau, who gets all crazy by tweeting in both English AND French: Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions. Former EPA intern Katie Miller describes what was going on in Scott Pruitt’s agency where “fear and loathing had taken hold”: co-worker also transmitted this instruction: Don’t mention climate change or going “green” ... Combing through the old tweets, I noticed that some had links to the EPA’s information on climate change, but the links were now dead. ... [I told my colleague that] part of my job as an intern has been to remove any mention of climate change from social media accounts.  A federal court decides that Baltimore may not require deceptive “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose to patients that they don’t actually provide any abortion services. Angela Ch[...]

Dieting Myths: New Year’s Resolution Edition


It’s a new year, and each January brings certain predictable things: cold weather, more flu going around, and an increase in the number of TV, radio, and internet advertisements for weight loss programs and diet books. It’s part of the seasonal ritual of New Year’s resolutions, when we look back on the previous year (and down at our ever-expanding waistlines) and resolve to make changes for the better, hopefully resulting in a happier and healthier us. I have written about diets and dieting myths for many years, often in association with my research into myths and misinformation about eating disorders including anorexia nervosa-see my article in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine (“Medical Misinformation in the Media: Is Anorexia on the Rise?” January/February 2018). If you’re not a subscriber, it’s not too late! You can order HERE.  For the new year I thought I’d address a few popular misconceptions about dieting in America-who’s doing it and why. Myth #1: Most Americans are obsessed with weight loss. The idea that Americans are obsessed with weight loss is a myth. Journalists cite misleading statistics such as that Americans spend $33 billion each year on weight loss-everything from fad diets to books to exercise equipment. As impressive as the number sounds, it is not a true measure of commitment to losing weight. Books, diet plans, and Crossfit classes don’t make people lose weight. People make people lose weight. Spending money is easy; the problem is the follow-through. The surprising reality is that most Americans are not dieting, and are not really trying to lose weight. If Americans were truly committed to getting fit and losing weight, they would eat less and exercise more. Yet most people steadfastly refuse to do it. A 1993 Yankelovich survey found that over half of Americans said they weren’t at all concerned with watching their weight, and studies show that fewer than one-quarter of Americans are dieting. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control reported that Americans are eating more than ever, and women in particular are eating over 300 more calories a day than they did in 1971. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight—more of them women than men—yet fewer than one-quarter are dieting and fewer than one-third get regular exercise. Myth #2: Most Americans are unhappy with their weight. A 2014 Gallup poll found that the majority say that they’re not trying to lose weight—for the simple reason that they don’t think they’re overweight. For a country that is supposedly obsessed with dieting, weight loss and thinness, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women surveyed report that they are neither overweight nor trying to lose weight. Among those who acknowledge being overweight, “equal percentages say they are overweight and trying to lose weight (18 percent) or are overweight and not trying to lose weight (18 percent)” according to the report. In other words, only half of those who report carrying extra pounds are trying to shed them. Overall fewer than 1 in 5 people acknowledge being overweight and actively trying to lose that weight. The poll results are even more surprising when examining younger Americans, those who are most exposed to the thin, ideal image presented in popular media such as magazines and television shows. Contrary to the common stereotype of diet-obsessed teens and young adults, only 1 in 5 people age 18 to 34 are trying to lose weight; 80% are not. Fewer than 1 in 4 young adults report being overweight, and of those only half are trying to lose that extra weight. Among girls and women, fewer than 1 in 3 (31 percent) are trying to lose weight, and only 1 in 5 re[...]