Fooled by Fearmongering

ramen infographic

The above photo has been circulating around Facebook after having been posted by Dr. Joseph Mercola on his Facebook page. Dr. Mercola is a man of dubious credentials and holds a wide array of controversial and disputed views, including questioning whether HIV causes AIDS. Articles on his website rarely reference peer-reviewed scientific literature and more often link to other articles elsewhere on the same site. He has also been warned by the FDA numerous times to stop marketing various products as ways to diagnose or cure various illnesses and diseases. He does not seem to me a man who has a right to speak with authority on this subject. However, I don’t want to be accused of making an ad hominem attack, so I will turn from the man himself to the claims he is making.

Ramen is not a particularly healthy food. Eating a lot of it is almost definitely bad for you. But this infographic is full of fearmongering, scientific illiteracy, and logical fallacies. Let’s take a look, point-by-point.

1. “It does not contain any nutrition, but it DOES contain close to 2,700 mg of sodium in just one package”

I’m not even quite sure what that first phrase is supposed to mean. It’s not exactly the most nutritious, vitamin-rich food but it has carbs, and some fat, and iron and calcium and magnesium and B-12. Those are all considered nutrients, and thus Ramen “contains nutrition”. “Nutritional value” is kind of a nebulous term anyway and is a far more complex issue than “protein good, carbs bad”. Also, while ramen is by no means a low-sodium food the number there is exaggerated. Most brands contain around 1700mg in a package. (Again, still incredibly high, but this infographic is exaggerating the amount by nearly 60%)

2. “It contains the toxin THBQ, common in all kinds of processed foods, which is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. Exposure to just one gram of THBQ can cause nausea and vomiting, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), delerium or a sense of suffocating.”

I’m not going to delve into the subject of petroleum-derived food additives, which is admittedly controversial, but I’ll point you to the FDA’s page on color additives and this study on the toxicity of petroleum waxes.

Regarding THBQ specifically, however… assuming ramen has the maximum amount allowed by the FDA (which is likely an exaggeration), you would have to eat roughly 11 pounds of it to consume one gram (http://www.livestrong.com/…/439290-what-is-a-tbhq-preserva…/). The fact that something is harmful at a certain dose does not necessitate that it is harmful at all doses. Selenium is a carcinogen and can be toxic at certain concentrations, but it is also an essential trace element for our bodies to function and a lack of it can be harmful to the heart. (http://www3.epa.gov/airtoxics/hlthef/selenium.html) Arsenic can be fatal at doses much lower than one gram but it occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, fish, and grains, and may be essential for our bodies as well (http://chemsee.com/…/poison-det…/chemnote-arsenic-poisoning/). [THBQ isn’t essential at all, so avoiding it completely is a fine choice, but my point isn’t to defend THBQ but rather that the implication here is fearmongering based on faulty logic and a misunderstanding of toxicity]

3. “It contains MSG, an excitotoxin which can overexcite your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to various degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and more.”

MSG has been intensely studies for years and yet not a single study has been able to show a link between consumption of MSG and any adverse health effects. MSG is simply a type of salt and one that “occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses (http://www.fda.gov/…/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAddit…)

Additionally, Mercola himself is probably the most major proponent of the claims that MSG is linked to any of these diseases. The main article about it on his website does not cite any peer-reviewed scientific literature. Dr. Blaylock, whose book on excitotoxins is heavily cited in that article, also holds various dubious views, including that airplanes are spewing deadly “chemtrails” into the air and that this is being done on purpose by the goverment.

I should probably note that excitotoxins are a real thing. Casein is also one, so you should probably watch your milk intake. [I was unable to find any credible sources tying consumption of foods containing excitotoxins and adverse health effects.]

4. Women who ate instant noodles more than twice a week were 68 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome.

This is really the only point of this entire infographic that isn’t misleading. There was a study done in South Korea in 2014 that discovered this link. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/…/140812121642.htm) It was only one study, so it requires further research to prove it is causation and not simply correlation. Other factors may be at play, including accuracy of reporting by those studied, other diet habits, and even the effect of the ramen being cooked in styrofoam containers. However, a link between high consumption of a sodium-heavy product and metabolic issues isn’t exactly surprising. And, as I mentioned earlier, it does not mean that all consumption of ramen is bad for you. Eating too much of anything is problematic. Eating too many brazil nuts can lead to selenium poisoning. Eating too many carrots can turn your skin orange. Eating too much tuna can cause mercury poisoning. However, none of that means you must never eat them at all.

Here’s the bottom line. I don’t think ramen is particularly healthy. I don’t think eating it occasionally is going to be your undoing either. My problem with this infographic is not that it vilifies ramen in particular, but that it is indicative of the sort of scientific illiteracy and fallacious reasoning used by far too many “health-conscious” sorts. It is little more than fearmongering and confirmation bias. If you want to argue that certain foods are harmful, by all means go for it, but please, do so with sound reasoning and cited, factual evidence or you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

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To the most difficult customer I have ever had

Dear Sir,

I see you have chosen a demeanor of “angry, entitled, and unfounded belligerence” despite having spoken with me for only two seconds. Unfortunately, that is going to make our interactions much more difficult. (For future reference, I would suggest using “pleasant, reasonable, and calm understanding” as an opening stance.) Please, allow me to use the very last of my patience to address your concerns one by one.

1) If you don’t want anyone else in the room prior to your rental that day, then you need to rent (and pay for) the room for the whole day. If you don’t, we will rent to someone else, and no venue in the world would think they would need to “warn” you that this may be the case.

2) It is considered impolite to become angry and complain that the room won’t be set up in time (because we were so rude to rent it to someone else earlier in the day without informing you) when you are half a hour early for your rental and have not even been to the (already set up) room yet.

3) You were not promised a cart to bring in your things. Carts are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Keep in mind that many venues don’t offer carts at all. Because we are a popular venue, there is a high chance that all the carts will be in use upon you arrival. There is no logical reason for us to reserve a cart for you and thus deny it to a different paying customer.

4) Echoing my first point, if you don’t want any other rentals to happen at the same time as yours, you would need to rent out the entire facility. If you don’t, we will rent the available space to someone else. This is how the world works. If you can find a venue with multiple rental spaces that would feel obligated to “warn” you that other events may also happen at the same time, I will go out, buy a hat, and then eat it.

5) If you want the room set up a certain way, discuss this with the rental coordinator when you book the rental. Or call later and tell us. Please don’t show up and get upset that we didn’t read your minds. Our telepathic abilities are still very buggy and not being implemented in daily operations.

6) After the staff is so kind as to suspend our normal duties to swap out 80 chairs because you want different ones and rearrange tables (and still have the room ready by your designated start time), it is recommended that you show appreciation instead of becoming upset when the supervisor explains that we can’t continue to move tables for you (which aren’t heavy and you are welcome to move yourself) as we have other things we need to do.

7) Any venue that rents rooms will require a damage deposit. Yours was due two weeks ago. This was explained in the contract you signed 5 months ago, as were the rules and conditions that might cause forfeiture of said deposit. These conditions are the same for every renter and are not correlated to your race. Asking what it is and then claiming you paid it yesterday (when, as it happens, I was working and did not process any damage deposits) is not going to fool anyone.

Now that I have expended the last of my patience, if you’ll excuse me, I need to focus on other things, like the credit card system that has crashed for the second time today, the hundreds of other customers who need assistance, and the self-restraint needed to refrain from trying to smack the stupid out of you.

Sincerely,
Your (trying so very hard to remain) friendly neighborhood front desk employee.

If Robin Lawley is plus-size, then I must be grotesque.

Sports Illustrated is getting a lot of buzz for including a “plus size” model in their newest swimsuit issue.

She is a size 12.

And while I understand that “technically” in the fashion industry that is considered plus size, I have never been in a store in my life that includes the size 12 clothing with the “plus size” clothing. Most places you can get up to a size 16 before you’re shoved into the farthest corner of the basement where no one has to look at you shopping and every item is basically a potato sack with a large and incredibly loud pattern (and you have to walk by the candy counter to get to it… I’m looking at you, Macy’s). Even awesome plus-size stores like Lane Bryant usually only carry down to a size 14.

I bet most people wouldn’t be able to pick out which model is “plus size” if they weren’t tipped off ahead of time. Not to mention she’s over 6 feet tall and a 6′ size 12 looks a lot different than a 5′ size 12. Of course, women’s clothing sizes in general are pretty much a complete crock, but that’s a topic for another time.

I mean, I guess as much as I’m not a fan of the swimsuit issue for other reasons, part of me hopes this is a teeny tiny step in the direction of more diversity of size in the modeling world. But most of me is kind of disgusted by them orchestrating all this buzz and patting themselves on the back for including a “plus-size” model that just barely satisfies the definition of the term. It’s like if they said “See, we like short girls too!” but short was being defined as 5’5″. It entirely misses the actual point.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to Mika’s “Big Girl” and feel awesome about myself.

A New Project and an Old Favorite

Just a quick post here to tell you that I’m starting up a new project called “Bookmarks for Tracey“.

I’ve always loved books. When I was younger I would bike to the library and come home with a backpack bursting with new finds. Sometimes I’d spend all day in the hammock reading, or stay up until 3 am because the book was getting exciting and I couldn’t just stop where I was. With high school, and moreso college, my voracious reading disappeared. It’s all too common a tale. I was fortunate to have interesting books assigned fairly frequently, but even when it’s a great book reading for a class just isn’t the same.

But now, as my time as a college student comes to a close, I am undertaking an endeavor to fall in love with books, reading, and my local library system all over again. I will read into the wee small hours of the night. I will come home with stacks of books. I will read anything that interests me, from children’s books to gargantuan novels to non-fiction. There are plans to create a cozy reading nook.

And if I read, I will need bookmarks. I am always searching for bookmarks, they seem to get quite scattered about. Scraps of paper do fine, but there’s something dignified about a bookmark. It seems more respectful to the book, I suppose, to slide into its pages something specifically crafted for the purpose of holding your place, of reminding you where in the vast universe of the books you last explored.

And so, I thought, I should start collecting bookmarks. And wouldn’t it be fun to ask friends for bookmarks as well? I could ask people to mail them to me and then each one would be connected to someone I know. And the idea for a new project was born. I’m launching a new blog, Bookmarks for Tracey, where I will post a picture of each bookmark I receive (as well as interesting ones I find myself) along with a short note about where it came from. I will also be writing about the books I’m currently reading, book-related adventures I have, and any other interesting things I think are relevant to the project. I think it will be a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoy it.

[To be honest I’ll probably writing there a lot more regularly than I have here. But I’m hoping to still get something here at least once a week, especially audio recommendations.]


 

Each time I post on here I want to recommend an interesting radio/audio production. I figured I’d go with an old favorite this time and point you to A Prairie Home Companion, a live variety radio program that’s celebrating its 40th broadcast season this year. I’m sure many of you need no introduction, but for the uninititated: The show features music, radio dramas, fictional advertising, and of course News from Lake Wobegon, where Garrison Keillor talks about his (fictional) small-town home where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” I’m partial to the Guy Noir stories, a tongue-in-cheek noir detective drama. I’ve grown up listening to this show (it’s produced here in Minnesota, so there’s some local pride show) and credit it with developing my interest in radio (and especially my passion for programming that isn’t music or talk/news). This week’s episode features Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart as well as Jearlyn Steele, one of my favorite frequent guests. Plus, other shows are available in the archives. So check it out.

A New Chapter

 

Via Chuck & Beans

 

I walked in the graduation ceremony on Saturday. I still have a few things to do before I get my diploma, including a summer class, but for the most part I’m considering myself graduated now. There are a lot of feelings that come with that — relief at having made it. Sadness at saying goodbye to friends, professors, and classes that I really loved. Apprehension about what’s next.

Job prospects are pretty good at the moment, including a couple at APM/MPR. They might be long-shots, but I’m going for them anyway. After all, my dream is to work for APMG so I may as well start trying now, right?

This last semester I created/co-hosted/produced a great show called The Nerd Alert with my friend Nathan. [You can check out se of our podcasted shows on our SoundCloud account.] One of our regular features was a segment called “Nerd Alert Plays,” which entailed Nathan and I playing a video game together and recording audio of our comments, then editing it into a loose narrative (with added narration to facilitate it) interjected with our witty repartee. It was a blast, and I’m hoping to adapt the feature into an ongoing podcast. At the moment I’m thinking of focusing exclusively on text adventure games, and maybe having one game span multiple episodes. I just need to get some equipment to do it and find someone committed to playing a text-adventure game with me for an extended period of time. But I’m really excited about the idea.

Before I head off, I want to leave you with a recommendation. Check out “The Thrilling Adventure Hour.” It’s a old-timey-radio-style stage production (i.e. the audio plays are recorded in front of an audience). It’s quite entertaining indeed, and I’m very happy that people are continuing to make these sorts of things. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to see a live taping of the show.

How not to give someone a religious tract…

GodLovesYouTract

How much does God love you? Enough to turn the oceans into blood and set the continents on fire, apparently.

This tract was handed to me by a customer today. “Thrown at me” is more accurate. It landed on the desk in front of me, accompanied with a somewhat curt “This is good for Easter, you should read it” and a swift exit.

It’s worth noting, just to fully appreciate the irony of the situation, that a number of my church’s leaders were in a room not 50 feet from where I was standing, setting up for our Easter service.

I’m not saying tracts are entirely ineffective. This one was a bit patronizing, but I’ve certainly seen worse. And I’m sure the woman who gave this mean meant only the best, and possibly was just (understandably) nervous about handing a religious tract to a complete stranger.

That being said, I’m really not in favor of them. Especially in the absence of any actual conversation or human connection. She hadn’t made small-talk with me in any way, hadn’t asked my plans for Easter weekend or anything. She was agitated and impatient during the transaction, and then barely made eye contact as she left the tract on the desk.

When she emphatically dropped it in front of me, it felt like an accusation. I wondered if I’d unintentionally said or done something that offended her or made me seem in particular need of saving, because clearly she had presumed I wasn’t a Christian despite having never had a conversation with me. I certainly didn’t feel like she actually cared for me at all.

And that’s why I don’t like tracts. It’s an incredibly impersonal way of introducing someone to an incredibly personal savior. And when you just leave, there’s no way for that person to follow up if they actually did have questions. Especially when you’re in Minnesota and the pamphlet is from a church in Indiana.

I guess I should start driving now if I want to make it for Easter Sunday.

Marketing for gamers, made by people who don’t hang out with gamers

I recently saw a commercial for Playstation Network where Hot Girl was trying to get Gamer Guy’s attention but he kept ignoring her and playing with Gamer Girl, and then Hot Girl gets so mad that she throws all his games out the window, at which point Gamer Guy calmly explains to Gamer Girl that it’s okay because they can download them all. [I can’t find a video to link to but if you do let me know and I’ll add it.]

I can only assume that this commercial is geared toward the gamer with a trust fund. Let’s break this down.

First, regardless of your ability to easily replace the games, the correct response to someone throwing your personal items out a window because you won’t flirt with them is to call the cops, or at the very least start yelling and kick them out.

Second, after kicking out Pyscho Girl, wouldn’t you immediately run outside and gather up your games and see what’s actually broken? I mean, game discs are delicate but if they’re in hard plastic cases at least some of them are going to survive.

Third, there were at least 30 games on that stand. That’s easily over $1,000 worth of games. That is not a small amount of money, unless you are crazy rich. Like “mean popular girl on a Disney show who only acts out because her parents are rich and therefore don’t pay attention to her” rich.

But beyond all of that, the whole formula is just problematic: Hot Girl hits on Gamer Guy, who ignores Hot Girl in favor of Gamer Girl? This is clearly inaccurate. [If it were accurate, I’m pretty sure high school would have been a lot different for me.] What’s really going on there is that Gamer Guy is UNAWARE of Hot Girl because he’s fixated on the GAME, and Gamer Girl will be in the friend zone for years to come.