Thursday, August 25, 2016

Religious People Aren't Stupid, So Why Do They Believe?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI came across the following question on Quora, Is it bad to think people who believe in god are stupid?. I wrote what I thought was a good answer, though it hasn't gained as much traction as some of my other answers on the site. At any rate, below is my answer (slightly edited), which addresses not just why religious people have mistaken beliefs, but why all of us have mistaken beliefs.

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Yes. It is bad to think that people who believe in gods are stupid.

People have all kinds of beliefs that they accepted at some time in their lives on the basis of authority and haven't gone back to re-examine. If they're in a culture that reinforces those beliefs or holds them up as virtues, it may be even harder for the person to examine them critically. And while having these kinds of un-examined beliefs may be bad, we all do it to some extent, so there's no reason to single out one particular kind of belief as marking that person as stupid.

Let's take a non-controversial bit of knowledge. Atoms are composed of subatomic particles, such as protons, neutrons, and electrons, some which are composed of even smaller particles. Most educated people know that, but most educated people accept it on the authority of science without understanding the evidence for how we know that. Maybe you happen to like physics so you actually do know that one, but how many people actually know and understand the evidence for how we know the earth revolves around the Sun, or understanding the structure of the Milky Way, or how to do isochron dating to know the ages of geologic layers, or understand aerodynamics well enough to explain how insects fly, or the evidence for why we believe Hannibal was a real historic figure, or actually understand evolution and the mechanisms behind it? Sure, if you're so inclined, you can delve into any particular subject to examine the evidence and theories and truly understand it. But the fact of the matter is that the totality of human knowledge is way too vast for any single person to apply that type of effort to everything. So, we learn what sources we can more or less trust, and tend to accept what we learn from those sources. Hopefully, it's not completely unquestioning acceptance. But I know that when I read articles in Encyclopedias, the claims go into my 'probably true until demonstrated false' mental bin instead of my 'probably false until demonstrated true' or 'grain of salt' mental bins.

Most people who believe in gods were raised that way. Almost from the time they could talk, they've heard claims from people they trust about the nature of gods and their religion - parents, relatives, friends, peers, etc. If their parents are even moderately devout, they'll probably get this reinforced every week when they go to church and hear these claims over and over from trusted priests, see an entire community of like minded believers, and quite possibly go to Sunday school to get detailed lessons from teachers. This is similar to the way children learn most everything, from formal education, to rules for sports and games, to unspoken rules of society. Why would we expect them to differentiate when it comes to this one particular topic?

Hopefully as people mature, they do develop critical thinking skills, and do re-examine many of their beliefs. But even that is a learned skill, not just 'intelligence'. Just like you wouldn't call someone stupid who couldn't do an indefinite integral if they'd never had a chance to study calculus, you shouldn't call someone stupid who doesn't practice critical thinking and skepticism if they've never been taught to think that way, or taught about all the cognitive biases that can affect what we think we know.

Plus, even for people who do learn those skills, it's awfully optimistic to expect them to apply that type of critical examination to everything they've been taught, for the simple fact I mentioned above, that there's just too much to know and not enough time to study it all in detail. And if they're still immersed in a community where everyone around them just 'knows' certain beliefs, it's going to be that much harder for them to question those beliefs, whether it's gods, urban legends, or popular misconceptions (like the common misapplication of Bernoulli's principle to describe airplane wings).

So, I guess the short answer is that people who believe in gods may be mistaken, but that's just one thing they're mistaken about, and we're all mistaken about plenty of things. And the way most religious people came to be mistaken about gods is the same way most of us have come to be mistaken about those other things. So, unless everybody who has mistaken beliefs is stupid (which would be pretty much everybody), there's no reason to single out the mistaken belief about gods as marking a person as stupid.

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Note 1: Perhaps an easier way to answer this would have just been by example, as there are plenty of respected intelligent people who believe in gods - way too many to list. Since I personally have a keen amateur interest in evolutionary biology, I'll mention Ken Miller as an example of an intelligent evolutionary biologist who believes in a god. Note also (and perhaps obviously), that you can find plenty of respected intelligent people who don't believe in gods - also way too many to list. So, the examples show that intelligent people can have varying beliefs. I thought it would be more interesting to look at how people can come to have mistaken beliefs.

Note 2: Obviously from my answer, I'm an atheist and answering from the assumption that there are no gods. Of course, it's possible that's one of my mistaken beliefs about the world. But, given the number of mutually contradictory religions, the majority of people are necessarily wrong at least about the nature of gods. i.e. Even if the Hindus were right, it wouldn't be just us atheists who were wrong, but also the Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and all the other non-Hindus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Website Update - Top 10 Page Lists for May, June, and July 2016

Top 10 ListMy blog output has been waning a bit, lately, particularly this summer. Between family vacation, a business trip, and a few projects at work, I just haven't had time to write. Plus, I seem to have fallen out of the groove of it even when I do have time, spending more time during my lunch breaks reading other sites than writing my own content. And this lack of content has also been reflected in waning traffic to this site. So, now that summer's over, it's time to make a renewed committment to this blog and website, and see if I can get back into the groove of making at least one update per week (even if it means recycling some of the answers I've been writing for Quora). And I'm really going to try hard to resurrect my long dormant Friday Bible Blogging series.

It's been 3 months since I've done a top 10 list, so this entry will cover May, June, and July. Like normal, most of the entries have made the list before. However, there were a few newcomers. Probably the one I'm happiest to see becoming newly popular is Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding, explaining the fallacies in an e-mail forward I received claiming that "The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool..." Of course, that claim isn't true, as I explain in the entry. Other newcomers to the list include Theistic Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, 2012 Great American Beer Festival, and Gamera Human Powered Helicopter (which is a little surprising considering that another entry on the topic had made the list several times before, Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record). There was one entry this time that hadn't made the list in a few years, VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car". I wonder if the e-mail that inspired it is making the rounds again.

Anyway, here're the lists for the past 3 months.

Top 10 for May 2016

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  3. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  4. Rick Santorum
  5. E-mail Forward - Obama's Reaction to Ft. Hood Shootings
  6. Autogyro History & Theory
  7. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  8. Gamera Human Powered Helicopter
  9. Arguing on a Website - Explaining Evolution
  10. 2012 Great American Beer Festival

Top 10 for June 2016

  1. VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"
  2. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  3. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  5. Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding
  6. Autogyro History & Theory
  7. Rick Santorum
  8. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  9. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  10. Theistic Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Top 10 for July 2016

  1. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  2. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  4. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  5. Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding
  6. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  7. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  8. Rick Santorum
  9. Arguing on a Website - Explaining Evolution
  10. Autogyro History & Theory

Friday, August 5, 2016

Answering Quora - What is the weirdest thing in the bible?

I recently answered the following question on Quora, What is the weirdest thing in the bible?. And while my answer was cribbed from a previous post on this site, since I was pulling out that one story in particular, and changed the wording just a bit, I figured it was worth reposting that Quora answer here.

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Well, between a talking donkey, magic box, worldwide flood, animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, etc., there are lots of weird parts of the Bible. But I think my personal favorite is the quail episode from Numbers 11. The story takes place while the Hebrews are wandering the desert for 40 years after the Exodus, and are subsisting mostly on manna, an apparently nutritious but not particularly tasty gift from the Lord. So, the people got a little tired of eating manna day after day and began complaining, wanting some real meat.

The first minorly weird part of the story was Moses's part. He got so frustrated with the complaining that he asked God to either help him or put him to death so that he wouldn't have to deal with it anymore. God's response was to gather up the elders, and "take some of the spirit that is on you [Moses] and put it on them [the elders]", so that they could share his burden, as if Moses's spirit were some measurable quantity that could be divvied up. But the sharing only lasted a night, so it was a rather temporary respite for Moses.

But then, for the really weird part, it was time for God to deal with the complainers. And he did it in the most petty, vindictive, and violent way you can imagine. First, "a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground" (keep in mind that two cubits is roughly three feet). So God's response was, 'you want meat, I'll give you meat'. But the people apparently decided to make the best of it, cooking up some of the quail to finally have some variety in their diet. Seeing that his punishment wasn't having quite the effect he'd hoped for (which is odd given his supposed omniscience and all), God became even angrier, "while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague." So when his over-reaction of dumping 3 feet of birds on his people didn't have the intended effect, God just went ahead and killed them anyway.

I know there are lots of bizarre stories in the Bible, but there's just something about that story in particular that I find amusing in a black humor sort of way (though it would be terrifying if true and the creator & ruler of the universe were that vindictive).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How I Lost 40 lbs in 6 Months

Vibrating Belt MachineLike I mentioned in a recent entry, for the past several months, I've been trying to lose some weight and get in better shape through a combination of diet and exercise. And I think I've been doing a pretty good job. So far, I've lost right around 40 lbs, and gotten several compliments from friends about the difference they've noticed. And quite a few people have asked me how I managed to do it. So, I figured I'd share the answer here on my blog. It's a combination of what worked for me, plus links to some of the better information I've found sorting through the multitude of weight-loss information out there. Maybe this will help out someone else trying to lose weight.

Continue reading "How I Lost 40 lbs in 6 Months" »

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nutrition Supplement Crankery

Protein SupplementsToday's entry isn't particularly constructive, but it's a short rant I want to get off my chest.

For the past several months, I've been trying to lose some weight and get in better shape through a combination of diet and exercise (and I've actually been doing pretty good so far - the real test is going to be if I can maintain my reduced weight & active lifestyle once the weight loss portion is over). But part of this has involved delving into the fitness subculture, especially the nutrition side of it, as I'm trying to be sure I get all the nutrients I need with the limited calories I'm consuming, and being able to find solutions that fit into my overall lifestyle and schedule (i.e. quick and easy).

So, even though I don't consider myself any type of body builder or fitness freak, I've begun eating protein bars and drinking protein shakes to help supplement a few key nutrients* (mainly protein, obviously, but also fiber and even carbs). I don't eat protein bars for every meal throughout the day, but they make for great snacks to give me those nutrients I'm looking for in a concentrated package without a lot of excess calories, especially right before and right after the gym.

But this is where a lot of the frustration comes in - there seems to be a huge overlap between the market for fitness nutrition supplements and the Whole Foods anti-science crowd. You know who I mean - the folks who don't understand chemistry and think that an ingredient with a long chemical name is automatically unhealthy**, and who are opposed to genetically modified crops simply due to fear mongering despite GMOs having so much potential to improve nutrition and reduce environment impacts (more info - Why I Oppose Organic Food and Answering Quora on the Safety of Organic Foods and Microwaves). I mean, just do a search on Amazon for protein bars, and note how many of the products are gluten free***, non-gmo, organic, or some combination.

To be sure, not everyone in the fitness subculture is also part of the Whole Foods anti-science crowd, but enough are that many products cater to them. It also becomes annoying when trying to research products. As an example, take a look at this article, Are Quest Bars Really as Nutritious as Claimed? Their image at the top of the article claims that "It's hard to call this bar real food", and then has a bulleted list explaining why: "*Processed sources of protein / *Fake fiber / *Artificial sweeteners". Oh the horror, processed food. And their claim of 'fake' fiber isn't really well founded. But as Luddite as the article was, one of the comments really made me laugh, but is indicative of the mindset of this sub-subculture, "Microwaving these is just taking out all of the nutrients inside+ adding radiation to your foods - same with anything else. Microwave = bad!!!"

To be fair, almost all of the other comments to that article were in support of Quest Bars, showing that quite a few people in the fitness subculture aren't part of the Whole Foods subculture. But good luck finding a protein bar that uses the most advantageous GMO crops or the most productive farming methods to help reduce habitat loss.

Image Source: Erica D. House Motivation + Inspiration


*Actually trying to figure out just how much of each major nutrient you need is a whole 'nother can of worms. I may go into this in the future, but for now, since protein seems to be one of the big debates, here's the best article I've come across on that, The Myth of 1 g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders.


**Okay, I was originally just going to link to this in parentheses, but I can't resist quoting it, so now it gets to be a footnote. Go read the article, Everything is Made of Chemicals. They quoted an example from an informational brochure put out by SenseAboutScience.org:

"If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it? It sounds pretty ghastly. If instead you were offered a cup of tea, you would probably take it. Tea is a complex mixture containing the above chemicals in concentrations that vary depending on where it is grown." - Derek Lohmann, research chemist

Everything we eat is made up of chemicals, most with long, scary sounding names if you're not familiar with them. But whether or not you can pronounce the name of a chemical has nothing to do with how safe or healthy it is.


***There's nothing particularly wrong with gluten free. I remember when I was going through some issues a few years ago, and my doctor had me go gluten free for a couple months to see if that was the cause. It wasn't, but those months let me see how hard it is for the people who have to give up gluten permanently. It's tough. Gluten shows up in so many places you wouldn't even expect. So, providing gluten free options certainly helps those people out. The problem I have is the mindset for why these companies are making gluten-free products, simply as part of a fad diet that's demonized gluten for the general population.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Problem of Evil

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism One particular argument that people sometimes use to try to promote atheism is the Problem of Evil. Why would a good god allow such bad things to happen in the world? In fact, it's such a well-worn topic that there's even a name for the field of apologetics that attempts to answer it, Theodicy. And while this argument may make you question what you learned in Sunday School, I've never considered it a very strong argument for atheism, per se*. It just means that if God exists, he's not particularly nice. I mean, if a god created the entire universe and could have done so in any manner it saw fit, it still created a universe in which cancer in children is a thing that actually happens.

The fallback that some fundamentalists use of Adam and Eve and the Fall doesn't help out at all, at least when you take that story literally and not metaphorically. I mean, God just created these two beings, knowing full well what their characters were, and then put the one object that could doom the entire universe right in the middle of the garden where they were living. And these two innocents (because they didn't know right from wrong until after they ate the fruit of the tree) were punished because they were gullible enough to be tricked by a serpent (which God also created). If God really cared that much about his creation, he could have at least put a fence around the tree, or better yet, not even put it in the garden so it couldn't have caused all that trouble to begin with. It's like he was setting them up for failure.

The other most common defense I've seen by Christians is to bring up free will. If God is going to grant us free will, then some people will abuse that freedom to cause evil. But that doesn't explain natural evils like the example I mentioned above of cancer in children. Why create a universe where that's even a possibility? I mean, if we all have souls that are the real us, why even create the universe to function on a physical level with things like DNA that can go awry and cause so much suffering at random?

But the free will explanation is also pretty weak for human caused suffering. If God really is like he's presented in the OT, and took an active role in human affairs, from the Exodus to aiding the Israelites in their conquest / genocide of the Promised Land to, my personal favorite, the quail episode from Numbers, he could certainly have intervened a bit to stop the Holocaust or Stalin's massacres in the Soviet Union. I mean, it's not like the Bible presents an aloof god who was afraid to step in and do things.

I also wonder what Christians who use free will as an excuse for the problem of evil think about heaven. Do we still have free will in heaven? If so, does that mean the problem of evil still exists in the afterlife, and that we can expect the same type of suffering in heaven as happens in life? Or do they believe it is possible for God to set up a realm with free will and without suffering? And if so, then you're back to the problem of why he created the physical universe so differently.

Granted, there are other reasons to not believe in God, so we don't have to fret about being stuck in a universe created by such a cruel deity. This is really more just a thought experiment to point out the flaws in some apologetic reasoning. We might just as well be wondering why Apollo's chariot doesn't burn up from the heat of the sun.


*I've used examples myself of Yahweh not being good (e.g. God vs. Supervillains). But it's always been to make people question their assumptions about religion, not as evidence itself against gods.

Note: This entry is adapted from a series of comments I left on the CNN article, Penn Jillette: Time for atheists to stand up and be counted.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Answering Quora - Which one is harder, engineering or medical?

I recently came across the Quora question, Which one is harder, engineering or medical?. I figured that being an engineer myself and knowing quite a few people in the medical field, I was in a pretty good position to answer. So, I relatively quickly hammered out a short answer, which has since turned out to be by far my most viewed Quora answer. It's a little surprising considering how little work this answer was compared to other things I've written for Quora, but I guess that's the way it goes. Anyway, below is a copy of what I wrote.

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I'm an engineer. My wife is an RN, and through her, we have several friends who are MDs. I've even gone along on a few medical missions and witnessed surgeries first hand. And I would say that you can't make a blanket statement that one is harder than the other. They're both diverse fields, with more and less challenging paths in each.

For example, as an engineer, you could earn your bachelors degree, then go off to a manufacturing company in a well established industry, and do nothing but look up values in tables and plug in numbers in already developed formulas. That's not very challenging at all. Or, you could earn a PhD, go off to a research institution, and try to solve new and fundamental problems in your field (e.g. Advanced Rotorcraft Technology - Research). Medicine ranges from family practice to epidemiology to pathology to surgery to countless other fields.

I do think it's more stressful / difficult to actually become a medical doctor than an engineer. MDs have to go to graduate school, pass their licensing test, and complete their residency (almost like an apprenticeship). Engineers simply need a bachelor's degree. Granted, engineers can earn PhDs, and can do a lot of on the job training and continuing education throughout their careers, and can do the EIT to PE path (our own version of an apprenticeship, which is more important in some fields than others), but all that's not required to simply become an engineer.

So, it depends an awful lot on the specific field of engineering and medicine. There's probably a higher minimum level of competency among MDs than engineers because of the more difficult path to become an MD, but at the more challenging levels, I think they're comparable. After all, the two go-to phrases to emphasize intelligence are 'rocket science' and 'brain surgery'.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for February, March, and April 2016

Top 10 ListIt's been a while since I've done one of these posts - over three months. So, I figure it's about time to catch up a bit.

There were several newcomers to the list this time around, all on fairly disparate themes - Richard Dawkins' Litmus Test, Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 23, Happy Exploration Day 2013, and Are the Beatles Overrated?. Given that they're all a few years old, I don't know why they would have surged in popularity now, but they have. Other than the Dawkins one, I'm pretty happy with all of them (and it's not like I'm unhappy with the Dawkins' one - it just that it was only a few excerpts from an article he'd written, and not much original content on my part). There was also a page that had made the top 10 before, but not for several years - Theoretical Max Propeller Efficiency. That's another one I'm glad to see getting views.

If you've been following this blog, you may have noticed how the vast majority of my recent posts have been re-posts or adaptations of answers I've written for Quora. I realize that may seem a bit lazy, but there's only so much time I can devote to writing these types of things. As reflected by the name of this blog, my main time to write is during my lunch breaks (and it usually takes multiple lunch breaks to complete one article). The rest of the workday I'm busy with actual work, and by the time I get home, I have chores and projects to do around the house, and once I get caught up on that, I want to spend my remaining free time with family and friends. So, now that I've gotten caught up writing on Quora, I don't have much time left for coming up with original content for this site. So, it's either re-post, or post nothing.

Overall traffic has been down just a bit, but still higher than what it was this time last year, so not too far out of line.

Anyway, here are the lists for last three months.


Top 10 for February 2016

  1. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  2. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  4. Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God
  5. Richard Dawkins' Litmus Test
  6. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  7. Theoretical Max Propeller Efficiency
  8. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  9. Rick Santorum
  10. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling


Top 10 for March 2016

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  3. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  4. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  5. Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 23
  6. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  7. E-mail Forward - Obama's Reaction to Ft. Hood Shootings
  8. The 2014 Texas Republican Platform
  9. Happy Exploration Day 2013
  10. Are the Beatles Overrated?


Top 10 for April 2016

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  3. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  4. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  5. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  6. Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 23
  7. Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries
  8. Autogyro History & Theory
  9. Arguing on a Website - Explaining Evolution
  10. Rick Santorum

Friday, April 22, 2016

Answering Quora on the Safety of Organic Foods and Microwaves

Organics, Just Say NoI recently came across a question on Quora, Will it be okay if I eat healthy organic food, twice a day, with the stipulations that they be microwaved?. This is related to a previous entry of mine, Why I Oppose Organic Food, so I decided to repost my answer here, with a few edits.

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It depends on what context you mean by 'okay'.

Let's start with the organic food. If you mean okay as far as your own health, then sure, organic food can be healthy. Here's a good summary from a previous Quora question, Jae Won Joh's answer to Is organic food a better option?. For the most part, organically grown food is about the same nutrition-wise as conventionally grown crops. Organic had slightly higher risks for some bacterial infections, but not by a huge amount. Organic tended to have less pesticide residue than conventional, but according to another study (see this Quora answer - Richard Muller's answer to What are some mind-blowing facts about food?) organic crops tend to be higher in carcinogens. This makes sense because varieties used for organic crops have to have higher natural resistance to pests, meaning the chemicals conferring this resistance will be present throughout the food, not just on the surface like sprayed pesticides which can be washed off.

But me, I tend to be a bit of a tree hugger. So when I think of 'okay', I think in terms of the whole environment. And this is the main reason I try to avoid organic foods. Habitat loss is perhaps the biggest threat to biodiversity in the world - even more of a threat than global warming. And studies show that organic crops on average give yields 20-25% lower than conventional techniques (with a lot of variation depending on the particular crop). That's huge. If all crops were grown organically, we'd need roughly 1/3 more cropland! And that means a whole lot more habitat destruction, and hence a lot more loss to biodiversity. And the thing is, 'conventional' farming will always be at least as good as organic, and most likely better, because conventional farms can use every technique available to organic farms plus some. (More info - Why I Oppose Organic Food).

As far as using a microwave, the health considerations are minuscule. Cooking only with a microwave can be slightly more nutritious, as described in this article, Microwave cooking and nutrition - Harvard Health. The shorter cooking time means less breakdown of nutrients, and less liquid means less nutrients are leached out to be dumped down the drain (like if you boil veggies). But if you're going to be cooking your food conventionally at home first and then using a microwave to re-heat it, then this nutrient loss will have already occurred when you initially cook the food. But as that article stated, "let's not get too lost in the details. Vegetables, pretty much any way you prepare them, are good for you, and most of us don't eat enough of them."

As far as the environmental impact, here's another article, Stove versus Microwave: Which Uses Less Energy to Make Tea?. Basically, the difference is tiny. Stove tops are slightly more efficient at boiling water than microwaves, while microwaves are slightly more efficient than full size ovens at heating food. But to put those slight differences in perspective, the article quotes a consumer advocate as saying "You'd save more energy over the year by replacing one light bulb with a CFL or turning off the air conditioner for an hour--not an hour a day, one hour at some point over the whole year." So the differences are hardly worth worrying about.

So to summarize, as far as health, organic has about the same nutritional value as conventionally grown food, only slightly higher risks as far as bacterial infection, and a bit more risk regarding cancer due to the higher carcinogen levels. Microwaves don't make much difference at all regarding health, especially if you're using them to reheat food, not for the initial cooking. On the environmental side, organic has a much higher negative impact due to lower crop yields and associated habitat destruction. Microwaves make hardly any environmental difference compared to conventional cooking techniques.

So all in all, while it's not super risky, I'd recommend against organics because of the higher levels of carcinogens and the bigger environmental impact. Using a microwave to reheat food is fine.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Answering Quora - What are the plot devices you would like to see less of?

Film ReelI answered a Quora question a few weeks ago on What are the plot devices you would like to see less of?. Although the questioner originally asked for only three plot devices per answer, I couldn't help myself and added two more. This has actually become one of my most viewed answers on Quora. Anyway, below are the plot devices that drive me up the wall (slightly edited from my Quora answer). Note that nearly all the links take you to the appropriate entry on TVTropes.org


Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, Not What It Looks Like and other related tropes.

Someone overhears only a small part of a conversation, pieces together what they think the conversation is about, and come to a conclusion wildly different from what was actually being said (I'm going to kill him tomorrow ... at basketball). Similar examples are seeing the characters do something that looked suspicious when viewed from only one particular angle or at just the right moment. These are so unlikely to occur at all in real life (most people would simply assume they overheard something out of context), and the problem could usually be resolved with a simple question that never gets asked.


Idiot Ball

This is when characters seemingly go out of their way to act stupid. The worst example of this I can think of is Dracula. *Spoiler Alert*. Even though one character had already succumbed to Dracula, and all the lead characters knew this and believed in vampires, when another character began displaying the same symptoms, it never dawned on them that maybe Dracula was working on her, too. (In fact, Dracula has so many bad horrible plot devices I could on at length on how much I disliked that book, and have - Book Review - Dracula.)


Arbitrary Skepticism, Flat Earth Atheist, Stupid Scientist, Agent Scully, etc.

This is the tendency of so many writers to treat skeptics and scientists simply as cynics or denialists. It's especially bad in stories where in that fictional universe, evidence for the supernatural/monster/alien is all over the place, but the skeptics still refuse to believe. Perhaps the worst example of this in a story I've read is in the Left Behind series (I only got a couple books into it). After all these events that just scream Rapture and that the fundamentalists were right all along (billions of people disappearing in an instant, Israel being miraculously saved from an invasion, fire breathing prophets), all the religious skeptics go on continuing to dismiss religion out of hand for some reason (more info - Some Early Thoughts on Left Behind, More Thoughts on Left Behind After Finishing the Book, and Book Review - Tribulation Force).


Alien Invasions (Planet Looters, Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion)

Alien Invasion movies are almost universally awful if you apply any type of rational thinking to them. First, the motivation is almost always ludicrous. This is a civilization with the technology and resources for interstellar space travel. What could they possible need from Earth that wasn't more easily attained elsewhere? Even if for some reason they wanted to come to our solar system, there are all the objects in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt that would provide huge amounts of water, metals, or minerals, without the cost of removing them from Earth's gravity well. And when they do actually attack, in so many action movies, it's like the aliens have no concept of strategy or tactics. They send in a bunch of small fighters or foot soldiers to shoot up civilians (e.g. The Avengers or Cowboys vs. Aliens), when they could just drop bombs from orbit without ever exposing themselves to our military. Or, considering their level of technology, they'd probably have weapons even more effective than plain old bombs that they could utilize. It's just ludicrous to imagine that their invasion strategy would be to send a bunch of their alien soldiers into Manhattan.


Santa Claus Movies Where Kids Should 'Just Believe'

These movies irritate me to no end. In fact, I've written about it this blog before in the entry, Yes, Virginia, There Are Liars. Why do so many movies make it a virtue to accept something on blind faith without evidence, when we should be teaching our children critical thinking skills. Skepticism is what keeps people from buying timeshares, giving their credit card numbers to Nigerian princesses, or believing they've won the Internet lottery. It's a skill that should be fostered, not made to seem like a character flaw. And the Santa Claus movies are especially irritating because every sane adult knows the truth about Santa. We're not just telling kids to have faith, we're telling them to have faith in a known lie.


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