A coincidence is when two or more events which seem to have some connection occur at the same time. Coincidences are devoid of any significance or causal connection. Nevertheless, some coincidences may seem to be associated in time and/or space with other things or occurrences in meaningful ways. Most of us have encountered coincidences in our lives and several examples have made it to the popular media. For example:
A person reported one day spending $7.11 in the store 7-11 at 7:11 AM.
A woman who hurt her chin got a fortune cookie at a restaurant that read “Time heals all wound. Keep your chin up.”
A woman found that her future husband appeared in a picture her family took while on a trip 7 years before she met him.
Most of us will chuckle at these examples but will probably not think much about them. Regardless of how remarkable they are, we nonetheless would consider that they fall within the realm of the possible. With millions of people shopping at 7-11, or unwrapping fortune cookies, or taking pictures, you figure that sooner or later this sort of thing is bound to happen to someone. Getting 10 heads when flipping 10 coins once is an unlikely outcome, but if a few thousand people flip coins, it is a virtual certainty that at least one will get that result. With billions of people on Earth performing the same activities day after day, it is statistically very likely that something unusual will happen to someone somewhere sometime.
However, when it comes to some remarkable coincidences, and more often than not those that involve life and death, some people wonder if there is something more behind the coincidence. For example:
Violet Jessop survived three cruise ship accidents: the RMS Olympic in 1911 (which did not sink), and the Titanic in 1912 and the HMHS Britanic in 1916 (which both sank). This led to her being nicknamed “Miss Unsinkable”.
A Dutch cyclist, Maarten de Jonge, escaped two fatal plane crashes in 2014 when he changed his travel plans at the last minute.
Tsutomo Yamaguchi survived the dropping of the atomic bomb in the city of Hiroshima and fled to the city of Nagasaki on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, and which he also survived. He is recognized by the Japanese government as the only person to have survived both bombings.
Faced with these coincidences, some people consider themselves “lucky”, while other may interpret that there is some force or deity guarding their lives. Some people in fact believe that God is behind all coincidences, and that coincidences are messages from the deity. Of course, this belief can be a double-edged sword. For example, as I have written in a previous post, Hitler survived many assassination attempts and this gave him the conviction that he had been chosen by providence to accomplish great things.
But there can be immediate and dangerous consequences to thinking that a coincidence MUST have an explanation, and this is especially true in cases of coincidences that occur within an emotionally charged environment. When this happens, people eager to find meaning where there is none can connect the dots to come up with far flung ideas or conspiracies and may even act on them. One remarkable example of this is the disappearance of Elisa Lam.
In January 26 of 2013, a 21 year-old Canadian student, Elisa Lam, visited Los Angeles and checked into the infamous Cecil Hotel which lies next to Los Angeles’ skid row section. This hotel has a reputation for being haunted due to the many deaths and suicides that have taken place in and around the hotel, as well as serial killers who have stayed in it. Lam was supposed to check out of the hotel on January 31, but failed to contact her family, who called the police. The police searched the hotel and its vicinity but didn’t find Lam. However, they found a disturbing recording of the woman in one of the hotel’s elevators which they proceeded to release to the public.
The video hit the internet like a storm, gathering millions of views, and unleashed a tsunami of speculation by people searching for clues trying to make sense of what could have happened to her. Two weeks after the release of the video, hotel guests reported that the water in the faucets had a funny color and taste. The hotel’s water tanks were searched and Lam’s lifeless body was found floating in one of them.
Several conspiracy theories and interpretations arose trying to make sense of some coincidences in this case.
The bizarre behavior of Lam in the elevator reminded many viewers of the so-called “elevator game” which supposedly originated in South Korea. The premise of this game posits that if you press the buttons of an elevator in the right order, it will take you to a different dimension and you will meet a supernatural entity.
Another idea revolved around a 2005 film starring Jennifer Connelly called “Dark Water” which involves a mother and her daughter who move into an apartment where dark water begins coming out of the faucets. The film depicts some creepy events in an elevator which the mother rides to the roof where she discovers the body of a little girl in the water tank. Based on this, people speculated that someone was trying to recreate some of the movie scenes using Lam as a subject.
The last place where Lam was seen in person was a Los Angeles bookstore called “The Last Bookstore”. Owners of the bookstore’s website list their address as a post office box in British Columbia, Canada, with the postal code V5G 4S2. When you input this into Google Maps, you get a location within the Forest Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, where Lam is buried. Thus, people suggested that this bookstore could be connected to Lam’s disappearance.
Another theory regarding Lam’s death was linked to a tuberculosis outbreak that occurred in the skid row area around the hotel while she was staying there. This notion arose because someone pointed out that the test used to detect the presence of tuberculosis is called the “Lam ELISA” test. This stands for “Lipoarabinomannan (LAM) Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). Many people considered that it was impossible that this was a coincidence, and all sorts of conspiracies began to be spun such as suggesting she was a test subject for a new tuberculosis drug, or a vessel for a bioweapon, or that she was killed for knowing too much about the tuberculosis outbreak.
And in case you think that all this nonsense is ultimately harmless conjecture, consider this last item.
A final theory concerned a Mexican death metal musician, Pablo Vergara, who went by the stage name of “Morbid”. He had stayed at the Cecil and posted about it (but in 2012, one year before Lam). He also had a song about dumping a corpse in a body of water while singing “I’m thinking China” (Lam was of Chinese ancestry), and his media featured a video of a woman running from a killer before getting caught. These coincidences and the way he looked and acted convinced many people that he was the killer, and they publicly denounced him. Vergara was investigated by police, his music and videos were deleted, his social media accounts were banned, and he began to receive deaths threats around the clock. Vergara descended into depression and tried to take his own life. He eventually had to check into a psychiatric hospital to heal.
So what really happened to Elisa Lam? She had bipolar disorder and depression, and she was taking medications which have to be carefully administered to avoid side effects. Other evidence which indicated that Lam was displaying erratic behavior also suggested that she was experiencing side effects from an uncontrolled disease, which explains her bizarre behavior in the elevator. Her death was ruled an accident.
Science cannot demonstrate that a given coincidence does not have an ulterior meaning or explanation, but science can alert us to the dangers of accepting unwarranted meanings in coincidences without solid proof. This is especially true in situations where people want to believe that there is something more to a coincidence than chance.
Science has been under attack recently by vociferous and often politically motivated individuals. But science is the best method we have to discover the laws that govern the behavior of matter and energy in our universe, which allows us to generate applications that work. This is not an opinion. This is a rock-solid fact. And if you want evidence for this claim, just look around you. Computers, cell phones, televisions, microwaves ovens, refrigerators, air conditioning, buildings, vehicles, airplanes, dams, satellites, space stations, telescopes, etc. Keep looking. Antibiotics, antivirals, antivenoms, hormones, erectile disfunction drugs, surgical techniques and science-based therapies, DNA sequencing, vaccines, etc. If science were not a successful method to uncover reality, none of these things would work.
When faced with this evidence, the people who attack science would probably clarify that what they are attacking is the scientists, not the principles of science. These people claim that scientists have been corrupted by powerful interests and/or by the need to obtain funds, which leads them to fake or selectively interpret the data. This claim, however, is quite startling. If what scientists are coming up with does not reflect reality because they are faking the science, then it should not work. But how are we to explain the list of scientific applications that work that I presented in the previous paragraph? One would have to argue that these discoveries were made in a pristine past when science was not corrupted, and that the corruption of science is a recent event.
Now please, if you really believe this, send me a message, because I’ve got a bridge I want to sell to you.
Not only is this not true, because there have been recent scientific applications that work such as, for example, the COVID-19 vaccines, but dishonesty and corruption have always plagued humanity. Institutions ranging from government, political parties, unions, and religious organizations, to neighborhood associations, clubs, and family businesses everywhere have experienced dishonesty and corruption. And because scientists are human beings, they are prone to dishonesty and corruption too, but those discoveries I outlined in the first paragraph were made despite the influence of dishonest and corrupt individuals. Although the methodology of science has several safeguards to insure that the science is right and free from dishonesty, the ultimate proof that science works is in the applications. If a purported practical application of science doesn’t work, then the unavoidable conclusion is that the science behind it was deficient.
Those that criticize science or scientists in the way I described above are missing the most important point. Our primary concern should not be that the science doesn’t work because corrupt individuals are somehow “faking it”. This way of thinking is divorced from reality and fails to recognize the main problem with science. The main problem with science is that it works, and that is what should scare us.
Let me explain.
Most of us are honest individuals who know that science will deliver for us and we use the applications generated by science in a lawful way. However, there are dishonest individuals who also know that science will deliver for them too, and these individuals are willing to pervert the use of the applications generated by science. This is especially true when there are strong demands for accomplishments, incentives for success, and millions of dollars in profits on the line. For example, pharmaceutical companies have paid billions of dollars in fines for engaging in off-label promotion of their products, paying kickbacks, and Medicare fraud. The most glaring example of misconduct in the pharma industry is the horrifying opioid epidemic that began with the lax FDA approval of the pain drug oxycontin from Purdue Pharma, followed by its inappropriate marketing, which led to millions becoming addicted and hundreds of thousands dying.
Thus the true and frightening power of science derives from the fact that you can be certain that it works, and that therefore, someone somewhere will misuse what science produces.
To counter this we need to exercise and demand vigilance. We need to pressure our elected representatives to police those charged with the application of science. We need to monitor our elected representatives and make sure they are not corrupted by bribes or favors. We need strong and independent watchdog groups and media outlets to keep an eye out for misconduct and conflicts of interest. We have to demand changes to regulations and procedures to ensure that the process of approval of scientific applications doesn’t become corrupted by political or corporate interests. But we cannot do this effectively if part of our energy is devoted to countering those that incessantly claim the science is “fake” or “junk” and that it does not work.
It's not fake science but the misuse of scientific applications that we should be concerned about.
The image of the Hand Holding a Sign from pixabay by geralt is in the public domain and has been modified.
On a recent trip in the Midwest, as I was perusing the tourist brochures in a stand of the hotel where I was staying, I spotted one that read: “Creation Museum, Prepare to Believe”. I shook my head and sighed. Creationism has been around for a while. But the building of modern-looking museums where creationist can present their case to the people is a more recent development that probably reflects the sad state of acceptance of misinformation and rejection of facts and reason that currently prevails in our society.
I have addressed the topic of creationism several times in my blog. Creationists believe the Bible to be the literal word of God. Therefore, when they perceive there is an apparent contradiction between science and their interpretation of the Bible, they choose their interpretation of the Bible.
While many people and religious denominations understand that there are sections of the Bible that are not to be taken literally, creationists are wary of this notion. They argue that it is tantamount to human beings deciding what parts of the word of God they will believe, and they see this just as a recipe for distorting God’s message. They also ask, “Where do we draw the line?” If one passage is declared not to be the literal word of God, and then another, and another, where does it stop? Creationists also argue that God would not lie to us. If God communicated in the Bible that something happened, or if we can infer it from his words, then it must be true.
While some people may roll their eyes at these arguments, they are certainly not trivial. Faith is central to the lives of creationists. They see any belittling of the word of God (the Bible) as anathema to their faith, and people who hold creationist views represent a strong and motivated economic and political block in our society. It would be to everyone’s advantage if the conflict between creationists and science could be resolved, and heaping scorn upon creationists does not help. In fact, many creationists are actually eager to find ways to reconcile their faith with mainstream science. But how do we go about this?
There is a possible resolution to this conundrum that has been proposed by several individuals in various versions over the years. In this post I will try to convey my own version of this proposal.
Although people believe that the general message in the Bible is timeless, the book is clearly addressed to people living thousands of years ago who didn’t have the understanding or the thinking about the world that we have today. But how was God to address those people?
Look at it from the point of view of God. God wanted to get key points across such as love each other, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, and so forth, but at the same time God had to provide a background to address certain common-sense issues such as how everything started, how it’s going, how it works, and how it will end. But God couldn’t do this employing the comprehension of the natural world we have today, as it would just have created confusion and bewilderment among those people. God would have had to introduce new terms such as genes, chromosomes, cells, mutations, species, evolution, deep time, plate tectonics, the fact that stars are suns, supernovas, gravity, the speed of light, etc. to describe realities that were alien to the beliefs and notions those people had regarding how the world works. It would have been counterproductive for God to dwell on complex subjects beyond the understanding of the people of those times. So the solution was to simplify the message, present it at their level of understanding, frame it within the context of their commonly held beliefs, and then move on to the really important things.
Believing that the Bible is the literal word of God is perfectly compatible with this view. The world was not created in seven days and is not six thousand years old. Life arose on Earth by a process of evolution, and there was not a universal flood. However, God communicated otherwise to the people of those times so they could relate to what he was saying in a manner compatible with their understanding and beliefs about the world around them.
There are several levels of what we call “the truth”. When we greatly simplify things for our children and explain issues and things in ways that they can understand, you could argue that we are “lying” to them because we are not conveying the actual complex, detailed truth. But it is unfair to say we are lying to them because they would not understand or relate to the truth if we were to explain it to them at the adult level. Similarly, the intention of God was not to lie, but to make the Bible accessible to the people of those times who had a limited understanding of their physical world.
And as to the Creationist question of where do we draw the line, my answer is that we draw it at science. When God inspired human beings to write the Bible, God did not intend to teach science. The Bible is not a science textbook. The Bible is not intended to teach natural history. Pronouncements about how the physical world works are not the warp and woof of the Bible. That’s the realm of science. The Bible is about how to go to heaven, not about how the heavens go. The Bible is about the Rock of Ages, not about the age of rocks.
Science has limits. It cannot tell us what is good or bad, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical. That’s the field of expertise of the Bible and religion. As a scientist I accept that science has these limits. However, at the same time, the Bible has limits too, and creationists have to accept this. The Bible cannot tell us accurate truths about the chemistry, biology, and physics of the natural world beyond the understanding of people who lived a long time ago. Science and religion have different fields of expertise or non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), as proposed by the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.
Our use of science has to be tempered by values, morals, and ethics, which most of the time have their origins in religion, but what we choose to believe has to be tempered by science. Science and religion have to coexist and work together, not be adversarial, and I hope that the particular view of the Bible that others and I have proposed gains acceptance among creationist circles.
Photograph by the author can only be used with permission.
I have previously mentioned in my blog the so-called Monty Hall Puzzle (named after a Canadian-American game show host). The puzzle involves the setup of a recurring game show where you are given a choice between three doors. Behind one door is a car, and behind the other two doors there are goats. You pick one door, and the game show host proceeds to open one of the remaining two doors revealing a goat (note: he knows where the car and the goats are, and after a player makes a choice, he always opens a door revealing a goat). The game show host then asks you if you want to switch your original selection to the other door. The question is: is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?
This puzzle was sent in 1990 to an American writer, Marylyn vos Savant, who writes a weekly column for the magazine Parade where she solves puzzles for her readers. Marylyn at the time was recognized by the folks at Guinness World Records to be the person with the highest IQ in the world before that category was eliminated from their world record groupings in 1990. Marylyn examined the puzzle and in a very matter of fact way replied that if you switch your original door choice, your chances of winning will be 2/3, but if you retain your original choice, your chances of winning will be 1/3. This ignited a huge controversy that degenerated into an insult fest. The effort to verify Marylyn’s answer ended up involving tens of thousands of people ranging from students at schools to mathematicians and statisticians from prestigious research centers in the United States. She was eventually proven to be right.
Over the years I’ve brought up this puzzle several times, and the reactions that I’ve got from people when I mention the solution and try to explain it have amazed me. Their demeanor changes. Some get impatient, and some even get frankly hostile. The solution to this puzzle seems to be so counterintuitive that people feel that you are peddling nonsense to them when you reveal the correct answer, and they get mad at you. In their minds it’s as if they are holding a cup, and I come along trying to convince them that they are not holding a cup.
But the solution is correct. Yes, at the end there are two doors. Yes, behind one is a goat, and behind the other is a car. But no, the probability of winning the car is not 50%. If you keep your original choice, it is 33.3% (1/3) and if you switch it is 66.6% (2/3). And in case this doesn’t amaze/confuse you enough, consider the following: Suppose that while you are in the game show pondering whether to change your original choice, a person comes in from the street. This person doesn’t know anything about what has been happening in the game show. Suppose that this person is asked to choose one of the two doors that you are looking at. What is the probability that this person would win the car if the person chooses one of these two doors at random? The amazing answer is 50%!
In order to understand what’s going on, first we will start with two doors as shown in figure-1.
In a random fashion, I place a car behind one of the doors and a goat behind the other, and I ask you to pick a door. Your chances of winning the car are 50%. If we repeat this trial 18 times, you will win the car 9 times out of 18 (statistically speaking). So far so good. But now suppose that I do not place the car behind the doors in a random fashion. Suppose that I always place the car behind the door on the right (figure-2).
If we repeat the trial 18 times and you choose a door at random every time, you will still win the car 9 times out of 18 (50%). However, if somebody tips you off that I will always place the car behind the door on the right, and you adapt your door picking strategy to always select the door on the right (non-random choosing), you will win a car 18 times out of 18 (100%)! Of course, if you instead always pick the door on the left, you will never win a car. Please notice that in this example THERE ARE ONLY TWO DOORS, behind one is a car, and behind the other is a goat, YET if you pick the door on the left you will NEVER win a car. If you pick the door on the right, you WILL ALWAYS win a car. And if you pick at random between the two doors you will win the car HALF OF THE TIME!
This illustrates the key point behind probability determination: randomness. If you know the allocation of the car to a given door is not random, you can use this information to increase your chance of winning (in the above case 100% by choosing the door on the right).
Now suppose that we repeat the trial another 18 times, but I place the car behind the door on the left 6 times out of 18 (6/18 or 1/3: 33.3%), and I place the car behind the door on the right 12 times out of 18 (12/18 or 2/3: 66.6%) as shown in figure-3.
If you choose a door at random, you will pick on the average the door on the left 9 times and win the car on 3 occasions, and the door on the right 9 times and win the car on 6 occasions for a grand total of 9 (6+3) times out of 18, or 50%. But again, if somebody tips you off to what I’m doing, and you always select the door on the right, you will win a car 12 times out of 18 (12/18 or 2/3: 66.6%). Of course, if you instead always pick the door on the left, you will win the car only 6 times out of 18 (6/18 or 1/3: 33.3%). Again, please notice: THERE ARE ONLY TWO DOORS, behind one a car, behind the other a goat, YET if you pick the one on the left you win a car 1/3 of the time. If you pick the one on the right, you win the car 2/3 of the time. And if you pick at random between the two doors, you win 50% of the time!
At this point, even if you agree with me that lack of randomness can lead to different probabilities of winning the car when there are only two doors (depending on how you choose) you can still argue that increasing your chances of winning in the above examples depends on somebody tipping you off, in other words: cheating.
But what if you could obtain this information without cheating?
In the Monty Hall puzzle, there are three doors. Behind one there is a car, and behind the other two there are goats. So the three possible arrangements are #1 car-goat-goat, #2 goat-car-goat, and #3 goat-goat-car (see figure-4). IF the car is placed behind the doors at random, and you repeat the Monty Hall trial 18 times, the chance of picking the door with a car is 6 in 18 (1/3: 33.3%) whether you choose the doors at random or not.
Then, after you make your choice, the game show host opens one of the two remaining doors revealing a goat and asks you if you want to change your initial pick. The key to understanding the answer to the Monty Hall puzzle is to realize that by opening the door and revealing a goat, the game show host has eliminated the element of randomness in the allocation of the car to the doors. By eliminating that extra door, the odds now favor the door opposite to the one you picked!
Say that, for the sake of simplicity, out of the three doors (left, center, and right) you have chosen the door on the left (marked with an X under the door for the three possible arrangements: see below). That door will have a car behind it 1/3 of the time. But now the game show host opens one of the remaining doors revealing a goat (door crossed out).
By doing this, the game show host changes the original possible three-door arrangement of #1 Car-Goat-Goat, #2 Goat-Car-Goat, and #3 Goat-Goat-Car, and converts it into a two-door arrangement: #1 Car-Goat, #2 Goat-Car, and #3 Goat-Car where your door of choice is the one on the left (marked with the X) as shown in figure-6.
But notice that in the new two door scenario arrangements #2 and #3 are the same. The game show host has created a situation identical to the one depicted in the example of figure-3 where there are only two doors, and one of the doors is favored over the other when it comes to placing the car behind the doors (in this case the one opposite to the one you picked: the one on the right). Therefore, just like in the situation of figure-3, you can exploit this information by switching to the other door and increasing your probability of winning from 1/3 to 2/3. The difference, of course, is that in the example of figure-3 there was cheating involved (somebody tipped you off), whereas in the actual Monty Hall puzzle, your knowledge about how the setup came into being (the opening of the door revealing a goat) allows you to exploit it to improve your odds of winning the car. On the other hand, the person walking in from the street, who doesn’t have the information you have, will choose between the doors at random, so their chance of winning the car is 50%.
Many people automatically assume randomness when gauging the probability of an either-or event. At the end there are two doors, behind one is car and behind the other is goat, therefore thinking that there is a 50% chance of winning seems like a no-brainer. This may be why people are so confused and exasperated by the correct answer to the Monty Hall puzzle. But what my explanation illustrates is that if you can gain information about a setup and figure out that it is not random, you can use this information to increase your odds of winning by changing your picking strategy.
The Monty Hall puzzle is, of course, just a puzzle, but it bears on how we conduct ourselves in the real world when making choices about either-or outcomes. Should I buy a mortgage on this house? Will the housing market go up or down? Should I buy the stock of this company? Will the stock go up or down? Should I begin looking for work? Will I get laid off or not? The probability of most real-life either-or events is determined by forces which are not random. If we understand probability and we identify these forces, we can make the odds work in our favor. Unfortunately, many people misjudge their chances or get dupped into believing false probability determinations, and they end up with, well…a goat.
The Monty Hall Puzzle image by Cepheus is in the public domain, all other images belong to the author and can only be reproduced with permission.
The capacity of the human mind to fool itself seems to be nearly bottomless. People do not like to deal with challenges to their ideas. Thus, they can be easy prey for those who are willing to tell them what they want to hear in order to exploit them. This is the oldest trick in the book, and it has been used countless times by individuals ranging from children to emperors throughout the ages.
A remarkable example of this phenomenon is presented in a documentary series entitled The Confession Killer which examines the case of Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas was a native of Virginia who had a troubled childhood marked by abuse and neglect. He ended up serving 15 years in jail for killing his mother in 1960. Upon his release, he became a drifter and was involved in a series of crimes over the years until 1983, when he was arrested in Texas and confessed to killing two women. During his arraignment, Lucas made the shocking claim that he had also killed an additional 100 women. A task force was set up to investigate these allegations, and police officers flocked to Texas from all areas of the US with unsolved crimes, and Lucas admitted to having committed them. The numbers of murders he confessed to started growing from the original 100 to 200, 300, and kept increasing up to an astounding 600!
Henry Lucas understood that as long as he kept confessing to murders, he would not be sent to the state penitentiary, and instead would remain at the local jail where he developed a friendship with his jailers and had perks like his own television, cigarettes, specific choices of food, being allowed to walk around without chains, etc. He was also driven around and flown to murder sites. He developed a near rock star status with thousands of people following his every utterance, and he was even interviewed by journalist from other countries.
If this phenomenon ended here, apart from the sheer volume of confessions, it would be to a certain extent unremarkable. After all, it has been known since time immemorial that people can be taken for suckers, and Henry Lee Lucas proved adept at manipulating those around him. However, what happened next is what makes this case remarkable and disturbing. Even after Lucas had been caught lying many times. Even after rock-solid evidence was produced that indicated that he could not have been the perpetrator of all those murders. And even after Lucas himself recanted his confessions and expressed his desire to stop lying, he was egged on to continue lying, in ways both subtle and overt, by the law-enforcement officers around him.
Lucas had unwillingly created a Frankenstein. When police solve unsolved murders, that makes them look good. It helps their careers, provides closure for the families of the victims, and builds goodwill among their communities. Lucas was willing to take the blame, and law enforcement officers from far and wide were willing to accept Lucas’ confessions so that they could close unsolved cases and move on. Thus the pressure was placed on him to keep the confessions coming. The manipulated became the manipulators. Lucas was unconsciously or on purpose shown details about the unsolved murders which he then parroted back to the officers interviewing him. His inconsistencies and the contrarian evidence were explained away, his trustworthiness, at least for several cases, was vouched for by the officers supervising him, and some people who tried to aggressively counter what was going on received very strong pushback from law enforcement such as a district attorney who was arrested on trumped up charges and whose life and career were ruined.
What Lucas and his enablers did had a deleterious impact on society. It resulted in the closing of many cases where the real murderers were still running free, and it produced a loss in confidence in law enforcement. With the advent of DNA technology, a few dozen of the cases were reexamined many years later, and the real murderers were caught.
The inescapable conclusion is that human folly can be a two-way street. And this fact may be relevant to explain some of the craziness going on in our times. Why, we often ask ourselves, do many newscasters, influencers, and other media and social media personalities push blatant lies and the most absurd conspiracy theories and other debunked nonsense with regards to vaccines, the COVID-19 epidemic, global warming, the 2020 election, and other issues? Most of these people are not stupid. Many of them are highly educated and quite intelligent. Why do they do that?
I believe the reason is that these people have built their brands telling their audiences what they want to hear, and just like Henry Lee Lucas, they have found out they can’t stop. Much like Lucas’ jailers who demanded that he continue confessing to an ever-growing absurd number of murders or else he would lose all his privileges, the audiences of these talking heads also demand that they keep talking to them about an ever-growing number of outlandish claims and conspiracies. And if they recant or disavow what they have said, their audiences will shun them, and they will lose their standing and their livelihood. Like Henry Lee Lucas, they find themselves feeding a beast that demands more and more of the same, regardless of the truth, the evidence, and the facts.
And just like in the case of Lucas and his enablers, this is having a negative impact on society in terms of the loss of confidence in science and many of our institutions.
The photograph, a mugshot of Henry Lee Lucas from the photographic records of an unknown police department, was obtained via Wikipedia. The image has been modified and is used here under the doctrine of Fair Use.
“Do your own research” (DYOR) has become a mantra of our age. Websites and social media personalities dispense this advice on a daily basis about topics ranging from the safety and efficacy of vaccines to global warming. And it makes sense, no? Looking up the facts and making up your own mind about issues such as vaccination or global warming and other things seems to be a reasonable proposition. It also requires you to think and become involved as opposed to being apathetic or passive. Isn’t this what every concerned person and good citizen should do?
Well, let me ask you the following question: are you qualified to do your own research regarding scientific topics that require complex specialized knowledge and experience?
Training in most areas of science is a process where it often takes more than a decade to master the complexity of the science. And I am not only talking about the theoretical aspects. There is an understanding of the science, the scientific process, and its nuances that you can only gain from performing experiments and/or making observations under the guidance of experienced scientific mentors and within the context of a research group and a research project. So why do those who dispense the “do your own research” advice feel that regular folks are qualified to navigate the intricacy of the biology, chemistry, and physics behind vaccines or global warming and its effects to an extent sufficient to understand them and form valid opinions?
Let me answer this question for you.
Those who dispense the “do your own research” advice know very well that most people are not qualified to do that, and in fact, they count on it.
The real purpose of the “do your own research” advice is to undermine the experts, and get people to accept certain ideas that will make them more likely to uphold the interests of those opposed to science and/or buy their products.
The “do your own research” advice doesn’t occur in a vacuum. This advice is often dispensed within the highly biased pages of a website or chat group. It often takes the form of “I’ve read that vaccines cause this terrible thing (link supplied). I don’t know if it’s true, but do your own research”. Or, “I’ve read that climate change data is bogus (link supplied). I don’t know if it’s true, but do your own research”. This “nudge nudge wink wink” environment is not conducive to an evenhanded appraisal of the evidence that will produce a well-informed opinion. Rather it is nothing more than a recipe to lure people down the rabbit hole of their biases by cherry-picking the articles they read and the researchers they follow.
Just consider the complexity involved in “doing your own research”.
You found a scientific article that says one thing. Do you understand the science? Is the methodology sound? Are the experimental protocols acceptable? Were the correct statistical analyses performed? Do the conclusions follow from the results? Was it published in a reputable journal? Has it been retracted? Has it been cited by other scientists? Has it been criticized? Do other scientists agree? Are there other articles that say the opposite? How many? How do you find them? What is their quality? How do you decide who is right and what is sound? Can you figure this out impartially, or are you biased? And if you are biased, what steps will you take to prevent your biases from affecting your research?
Do the particular scientists that you follow make sense to you? What are their credentials? Where do they work? How many publications do they have, and what has been their impact? Are they active in their scientific fields? Do others disagree with them? Why? Are these scientists you follow considered mainstream or are they a fringe? Do these scientists claim there are “conspiracies” and rant against the “scientific establishment”? Do these scientists try to convince their scientific peers, or have they instead taken their case to “the people”?
These questions are daunting to non-scientists attempting to make sense of the scientific literature, the nuances and dynamics of scientists and their research, and the social context in which it occurs.
But here is the amazing thing.
This problem is not limited to highly complex scientific topics. In the years of the Trump presidency, through the pandemic, and leading up to the attack on the Capitol on January 6th of 2022, millions of people “did their own research” and concluded that Mr. Trump was fighting a cabal of satanic pedophiles in the government, businesses, and media who kidnaped tens of thousands of children, tortured them, and drank their blood. Here the issue was not bias against science, it was bias against common sense! The QAnon phenomenon is a prime example of what can happen when people “do their own research”.
If some individuals could manipulate ordinary people into “doing their own research” and accepting the fantastic premises of QAnon, think about how much easier it is to manipulate people into accepting distorted views about vaccines or climate change. The experts are called experts for a reason, and it is folly to try to disregard what they say.
So should we forgo examining what scientists publish and accept everything they tell us?
Of course not! Scientists can make mistakes or delude themselves, and some scientists may even be dishonest. Additionally, some people in the pseudosciences can misrepresent their discipline as valid and themselves as experts. Instead of focusing on individual scientists, look for the consensus within a scientific field. Instead of trying to go it alone, contact scientists or science popularizers who are respected within the scientific community. Ask to be referred to legitimate science websites and avoid those that rant against the scientific establishment insulting scientists and peddling innuendo, exaggerations, and conspiracy theories. If you are going to do your own research, value what the majority of experts have to say about the matter.
Image by Alejandro Escamilla from Wikipedia Commons is the public domain.
I came across an interview that journalist Bill Moyers did with Christian climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe back in 2014. The topic of their conversation is about the particular situation of Evangelical Christians in the United States as it relates to denial of climate change, but I believe the interview is remarkable because of the broader applicability of Dr. Hayhoe’s ideas as to why denial of many issues has been embraced by various communities and what can be done about it.
You can watch the interview in the video above, but I will provide a recap of the major points of the interview.
Dr. Hayhoe’s argument is that climate change is a hot button issue for many people because they feel it threatens all that they hold dear. However, what people reject about climate change is not so much the science but the solutions. Climate change is something that affects the community, and as such, efforts to deal with climate change require large numbers of people to work together, which means that the government has to be involved. But opposition to government is deeply rooted in the American psyche, and any legislation to limit what people can do or use is viewed with mistrust. Thus, climate change has become a casualty of much larger societal issues. This has been compounded by the fact that people have been lied to by those in whom they deposited their trust.
On the one hand, the leaders who many of these people trust because they share their values, have told them that climate change is a hoax, or that it’s real but it’s not a big deal and nothing has to be done about it. Or in the absence of clear leaders, political and media personalities who don’t like the solutions to climate change have stepped in. And because these individuals say the same things that people believe with regards to many other issues, the people put their trust in them. On the other hand, the spokespeople for the opposite point of view have often been scientists who do not share the values of the communities they are addressing. People will not believe messengers whom they do not trust because they perceive them as not sharing their values.
The remedy to this situation will not come from more information and more science, but rather from dealing with who we are as humans and how we function politically. Dr. Hayhoe says that, although caring about the climate is consistent with who people are as Christians, we have increasingly confounded our politics with out faith. Instead of allowing faith to determine our attitudes to political and social issues, we are allowing our political party to dictate our attitude towards issues that are clearly consistent with who we are.
Finally, Dr. Hayhoe says that everyone has a list of things they care about such as the health of their kids, job security, the cost of living, faith etc., and climate change should not be viewed as one more thing to put on the list that competes with the others because climate change is already affecting the top things on everyone’s list. Climate change is affecting the things most people care about, love, and hold dear.
There are other aspects to the interview, but the ones I’ve mentioned above are those that I think are more generalizable to other situations where misinformation and social dynamics are getting in the way of people accepting and acting on a reality. One possible such situation is COVID-19 vaccine denial.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary, there is a certain proportion of the population of the United States that refuses to accept the vaccine. In parallels with climate change deniers, the sector of the population opposed to vaccination tends to be conservative and distrusting of government. In another parallel to climate change denial, this group of people tends to listen to media that reinforce their fears feeding them misinformation about vaccines. At the same time, this group of people is distrusting of what scientists say about vaccines, and especially of those scientists associated with the government.
Like the evangelicals who have allowed their politics to replace their faith in guiding them with regards to climate change, the vaccine deniers have allowed their politics to replace their common sense and instinct of self-preservation when it comes to vaccines. And like climate change deniers, vaccine deniers have a list of things they hold dear and care about, and COVID-19 has probably affected every single item on the top of their lists, from the health of people they admire, acquaintances, friends, and family, to the impact on the economy.
Dr. Hayhoe advocates finding trusted messengers within the evangelical community (people who are like them, such as she is) to spread the message that we need to act on climate change. This is indeed a strategy that is currently being pursued in the case of vaccine denial. The government is trying to recruit media personalities and local respected leaders to talk in favor of vaccination. But I think we can go about finding these trusted messengers in an additional way which relies on another parallel between COVID-19 and climate change.
Much like climate change, COVID-19 affects everyone, and there is a growing list of vaccines deniers, who have been seriously ill or died due to the virus. The people who listened to these vaccine deniers have now been knocked back to their senses in the most brutal of ways. And I think that their stories should be used to snap vaccine deniers from the stranglehold that their politics have on their common sense and instinct of self-preservation. And unlike climate change, there is no ambiguity as to the cause of the harm. If someone loses their property, a friend, or a loved one to rising sea levels or a fire or a hurricane, they can always be told that there is no direct proof that climate change caused it. But if someone dies due to COVID-19, that reality cannot be denied.
So, find out who are those vaccine deniers that were harmed by COVID-19 and seek out their audiences, their acquaintances, their friends, and their families, and ask them to tell their story to those in their communities and to champion vaccination. Every serious vaccine-preventable COVID-19 illness or death among the community of vaccine deniers is a tragedy. But the silver lining is that these illnesses and deaths will generate a group of people willing to open their minds to vaccination and promote it. I think these people have an important role to play in stopping vaccine denial.
Image from pixabay by Gerd Altmann is free for commercial use and was modified from the original.
The scientific establishment is inherently conservative and sets a high bar for the acceptance of new ideas, which allows for the efficient allocation of resources to fund research that makes sense and is worthwhile pursuing. Of course, like all human affairs this is not a perfect process, and sometimes the scientific establishment has rejected ideas that turned out to be true (although sometimes rightfully so), but what is the alternative? Should we have a system where every scientist with a new idea gets funded to pursue it? We can’t do this because resources are limited. The ideas of scientists are judged by the scientific establishment, which is made up of the immediate peers of scientists plus institutions, funding agencies, and the rest of the scientific community. And many of these ideas get rejected. In fact, I believe one important function of the scientific establishment is not so much accepting the right ideas but rather rejecting the wrong ones. Most scientists think that the acceptance of false ideas as true is more harmful than the rejection of true ideas as false. In this sense the scientific establishment is the keeper of the virtue of science because it protects science and society at large from ideas or claims that are wrong, fraudulent, or just plain stupid. Let’s look at some notable false ideas rejected by the scientific establishment.
Stefan Marinov (1931 - 1997) was a Bulgarian physicist who often advocated contrarian ideas in science. He strongly argued for the reality of perpetual motion machines which would yield free energy, and against mainstream scientific theories such as the theory of relativity. Marinov’s experimental results were never replicated and his views were never accepted by most scientists. Towards the end of his life even he found evidence that a perpetual motion machine he had built did not work and that a physical law that he had criticized was correct after all.
The American molecular biologist Peter Duesberg (1936 - ) performed pioneering work in how viruses can cause cancer, but when the HIV virus was identified in the 1980s as the cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Duesberg refused to accept this, and he started publishing articles opposing the idea. Duesberg began gathering supporters which ended up forming a sizeable and vocal group that developed some political, social, and media clout. The group considered that AIDs was not caused by the HIV virus but by other factors that could include drug use, sexual behavior, malnutrition, inadequate sanitation, or hemophilia. Among the AIDS denialists were individuals of note such as Nobel Prize winning scientist Kari Mullis and National Medal of Science winning scientist Lynn Margulis. Thanks to the scientific establishment, these erroneous ideas were not accepted and the identification of the HIV virus and the acceptance that it caused AIDS permitted the development of tests and therapies. The sad exception was South Africa where the government bought into the arguments of the AIDS denialists delaying antiviral treatments to people suffering from AIDS which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
Paul Kammerer (1880 - 1926) an Austrian biologist who strongly advocated a theory opposite to Darwinian evolution called Lamarckism. This theory posits that organisms can pass to their descendants traits that they acquire during their lives. To buttress his arguments he famously presented the results of an experiment where he forced toads that normally mate on land to mate in the water. He reported that over two generations the toads developed black pads on their feet (nuptial pads) which provided more traction for the process of mating in the water. He stated that these pads were an acquired trait that proved his views. However, it was discovered that the pads had been created by the injection of ink into the feet of the toads. Kammerer acknowledged the finding, but claimed he was innocent of the forgery. Other have tried to reproduce Kammerer’s experimental results, but were not successful. The scientific establishment never accepted his ideas.
In 1988 the French scientist Jacques Benveniste (1935-2004) published an experiment that seemed to lend credence to the concept of homeopathy in which extremely diluted solutions are claimed to have effects even though no trace of any solute is present. A team sent by a science journal to Benveniste’s lab could not replicate the experiment under rigorous conditions and other scientists have not been able to replicate the results either. Alleged homeopathic effects have also been claimed to have been detected by the Nobel Prize winning scientists Brian Josephson and Luc Montagnier, but attempts to validate their claims have failed. The scientific establishment does not accept the occurrence of homeopathic effects or homeopathy to be a valid science.
In 2020, the journals Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine published articles that claimed that the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) did not have effects against COVID-19 and in fact was harmful to human patients. Many scientists read the articles and spotted several problems that were communicated to the editors of the journals and the authors of the articles. The articles were then retracted. Despite the criticisms, this affair demonstrated that the scientific process worked. Error was detected, addressed, and corrected. On the flipside, the claim that HCQ works against COVID-19 has been pushed by doctors such as Vladimir Zelenko, scientists such as the Yale epidemiologist Harvey Risch, and groups such as the Front-Line Doctors, but so far HCQ has not been found to work as a single agent or when combined with antibiotics against COVID-19 in the best designed studies, or to have antiviral effects against the COVID-19 virus. When it comes to HCQ the scientific establishment has been able so far to discard false claims both for and against HCQ.
The foregoing are but a very tiny fraction of the ideas that have been evaluated, questioned, and discarded by the scientific establishment. Thanks to the scientific establishment, society is not mired in error, wasting resources on nonsense, and isn’t flooded with quack cures and ineffective therapies. That is part of what the scientific establishment has done for you.
The image from Alpha Stock Images by Nick Youngson is used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.
In Facebook I belong to a group that pays tribute to one of my all-time favorite comic strips, Calvin and Hobbes, written by Will Watterson. Watterson's strip about a hyperkinetic albeit imaginative kid named Calvin and his alter ego stuffed tiger, Hobbes, ran from 1985 to 1996 in the United States. Calvin, is the quintessential brat who often strains the nerves of his mostly tolerant parents, while Hobbes plays the straight man to Calvin’s antics. The comic strip often parodies modern life at the personal, family, and societal levels.
The most salient feature of the comic strip is Hobbes. When someone besides Calvin is around, Hobbes is shown as a stuffed toy tiger, but when Hobbes is alone with Calvin, he is portrayed as a walking talking tiger. This has been interpreted in several ways by fans of the strip, with some people claiming that the walking talking Hobbes is a figment of Calvin’s imagination while others claim that the tiger actually comes alive when he’s alone with Calvin.
One of the members of the Facebook group posted what Watterson once wrote about the ambiguity of Hobbes’ nature.
The so-called "gimmick" of my strip — the two versions of Hobbes — is sometimes misunderstood. I don't think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin's around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin's imagination. Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it. I think that's how life works. None of us sees the world exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip. Hobbes is more about the subjective nature of reality than about dolls coming to life.
I took exception to this, and I posted on the group’s page the following:
“This is not true. There is only one reality. We may perceive it in different ways, but those perceptions still have to have a high degree of correlation to reality for life to be possible. If I see the edge of a cliff and you don't, I will survive, and you will die. Seeing a walking talking tiger instead of a stuffed tiger is not just ‘another way’ to perceive reality, it is a fantasy. There are perceptions of reality which may make sense to some people, but they are false.”
A few people replied to my comment making several claims. Among these where that “everyone has their sense of reality’, that “there is no consensus regarding the interpretation of reality”, and that research into the quantum realm validates this notion; that “only those dogmatically adhering to their own perspective dare speak with any certainty when it comes to asserting that their interpretation of reality holds all due authority and finality in its validity”, and “what makes you an expert on reality? How do you know that for one a thing is not real that is for another?”.
I wanted to put together my replies to some of these comments in this post, because the implications go beyond a mere comic strip.
I understand that the perception of reality by different people can be different: for example, color blind people vs people with normal color vision. In fact, our perception of reality doesn’t even have to be “veridical”. However, as I stated in my comment, there has to be a big enough correlation between reality and our perception of it for life to be possible. All around us the world is full of patterns, regularities, and things happening one way and not another, that allow us to figure out how to go about living. Reality is not anarchical, and there are millions of consensuses regarding the nature of reality all around us. For example, the sidewalk under our feet WILL NOT turn into quicksand and swallow us, a tree WILL NOT uproot itself and chase us, a cloud WILL NOT turn into lead and fall on us, etc. We don't have to live in fear of these occurrences, because we have internalized how the world works. This ability is part of our evolutionary programing and has survival value.
Scientists go beyond this intuitive understanding of reality that we have all developed by performing tests to gain insight into more complex aspects of reality and they discard those views of reality that are incompatible with the evidence. With the exception of the quantum realm, so far all the evidence we have indicates that, at least at our level, we live in a deterministic world. Things are one way and not another. Some things are possible, and others aren’t.
I agree that some individuals see a reality that is very different from the one the rest of us see, but many of those people are unable to function in the real world and can even put their lives and those of others in danger. That is why they are treated with medication or locked up in psychiatric wards. Their view of reality IS NOT an “alternative view”, it is a FALSE view. I agree children often see reality in a way that is different from adults, but this is why they are treated like children and are under the care and supervision of adults. And it is our job as adults to assist in weaning them of their childhood fantasies, so they can take their place in the adult world.
Of course, when I post things like these, I come across as an arrogant, insufferable, “know better than thou” jerk divorced from the magic of childhood who is disrespectful of other people’s points of view. Let me just state two things.
1) I am a fan of fiction and fantasy. From Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter to comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, or The Far Side; and from the numerous incarnations of the Star Trek franchise (I’m a Trekkie) to many works of horror such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Aliens, Night of the Living dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, The Texas chainsaw Massacre, or the Rocky Horror Picture show. I enjoy fiction and fantasy and find inspiration in them, so much so that I also write short stories. Fiction and fantasy have important roles in adulthood, but they ARE NOT reality, and as adults we must recognize this.
2) Reality is not a democracy, and alternative views of reality, especially those unsupported by evidence are not always valid or worthy of respect. Are the QAnon folks right in their claims of the existence of a worldwide cabal of satanic, cannibalistic, pedophiles? Was the 2020 presidential election a fraud? Was 911 an inside job? Is COVID-19 no worse than the flu? Will the COVID-19 vaccine modify your DNA and implant a microchip that will allow the government to track you? Was the moon landing a hoax and is the Earth flat? Was the Earth and all life on it created 10,000 years ago? Is the government spraying you with chemicals? These are not “alternative” views of reality, these are FALSE views of reality and should be treated as such.
So, to wrap it up, yes, by all means enjoy and be inspired by Calvin and Hobbes (or other works of fiction and fantasy), but all the while understanding that Hobbes IS NOT a walking talking tiger but just a figment of Calvin’s imagination.
Calvin and Hobbes image by Bill Watterson is a Wallpaper from flickr by Brad Arnold and is used here under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
Movies often take artistic license when it comes to well-known physical, chemical, and biological principles, and there are certain stunts in movies that do not resemble the actual occurrences that happen in reality. However, most of these things are hardly noticed by the majority of the public who, truth be told, is there to mostly have a good time and not to nitpick about whether what is depicted could happen in the real world. There are, of course, some limits. You do not want to show something so laughable that will compromise your viewers' suspension of disbelief, but where do we draw the line?
In this post we are going to examine some of things in films that defy the laws of nature.
Decapitation or Brain Destruction
Occurrence: In movies you sometimes find that a character is decapitated, or their brain is destroyed, yet its body nevertheless lingers on in the same position for a few dramatic seconds before falling.
Reality: Maintaining the posture of a body with joints (for example knee and hip joints) against the force of gravity is a continuous second by second task. Upright standing bodies even at rest are maintained this way due to the forces of muscles contracting and pulling against bones. If these muscles were to relax, the body will immediately collapse like a puppet suddenly deprived of its strings. What makes muscles contract is the action of the brain. The brain constantly sends signals through the nerves for the muscles to contract to a greater or lesser degree in order to keep bodies upright and regulate posture. If the brain is severed from the body or is destroyed these signals cease, muscles relax, and the body falls instantaneously to the ground.
Occurrence: When people in movies lose consciousness and fall from a standing position, they never seem to clearly bang their heads or certain areas of their bodies against the ground.
Reality: Falls in real life can be life threatening mostly because of the damage sustained by head impacts. In movies, the actors or their stunt doubles fall in ways that protect the head and other areas such as the tailbone from injury. These “Hollywood Falls” are designed to dissipate the energy of the fall and avoid injury. In the real world, when a person loses consciousness and falls, they cannot maneuver their bodies into the right position to avoid serious damage, especially to the head.
Growth of Mass
Occurrence: Some movies feature an entity or a character that undergoes a transformation which greatly increases their size in a matter of seconds or minutes.
Reality: A living thing cannot just grow to a large size without an equally sizeable input of mass and energy (for example carbon dioxide and sunlight). Any added mass has to come from somewhere. You can’t get something from nothing. Additionally, there has to be a mechanism to generate the extra mass from a precursor, and any such mechanism would presumably require a number of steps and would take time not only to generate the extra mass but to distribute it properly. For example, a type of algae called kelp can use the carbon dioxide in the water to make plant material through photosynthesis, and it can grow in optimal conditions up to two feet per day! This makes it one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet, but still far short of the growth spurts exhibited by some monsters, aliens, or other fantastical entities in the movies.
Explosions in Space
Occurrence: When people within a spaceship witness a large explosion in space, they hear the sound of the explosion and the spaceship is rocked by the shock wave.
Reality: Shock waves are areas of compression of a medium such as air. The explosion pushes air molecules into each other, and that effect propagates to neighboring air molecules and so on forming a shock wave that upon reaching our ears is perceived as a loud sound. The medium of space is not dense enough to propagate the type of shock waves that would rock spaceships and be audible to human beings.
Freezing or Blowing Up When Exposed to the Vacuum of Space
Occurrence: Movies depict people freezing or blowing up when exposed to the vacuum of space without wearing a space suit.
Reality: Because space is largely devoid of mass, two of the three ways by which the body loses heat, conduction and convection, are missing. Heat can then only be lost by radiation. A person suddenly exposed to outer space would not instantly freeze and in fact would only feel mildly cool. Similarly, a person exposed to the vacuum of space will not explode. The air in their lungs would expand causing serious damage if it is not exhaled, and a certain amount of the water in the blood and soft tissues would transition to the gaseous phase (ebullism) which will lead to significant swelling and bruising of the body, but not an explosion. The greatest threat is lack of oxygen which would lead to loss of consciousness in a matter of seconds followed by death.
Groups of Animals Surviving by Preying on Themselves
Occurrence: Some movies show a large group of animals in a deserted or isolated environment that have survived solely by preying on each other.
Reality: This situation is untenable because conversion of energy is not 100% efficient and doesn’t happen at once. Several animals would have to be consumed over the life cycle of a single animal for it to reach maturity and procreate. The new animals would fail to produce a replacement for the animals they have consumed. Each generation of the animals will become progressively smaller until they become extinct.
Humans or Monsters of Very Large Size
Occurrence: In movies, huge beings, many several stories high, are depicted with bodies that are not that different in proportions from the bodies they would have if they were much smaller.
Reality: As bodies change in size, several of their parameters do not increase by an equivalent measure. An increase in body size leads to a much higher increase in body volume, and this creates all sorts of problems. Consider, for example, that a higher volume leads to a higher weight which has to be supported. The reality is that all those colossal beings depicted in the movies with those body plans would collapse under their own weight and also experience a host of other issues affecting things such as regulation of body temperature, blood circulation and aeration, metabolism, etc.
Do any of these differences between the movies and real life bother you? Please leave a comment and let me know.
Image of Godzilla from pixabay is free for commercial use.