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Tin foiled again

Don’t believe anything you read at Natural News

conspiracy boy in tinfoil hat
Shutterstock

Last week, Mike Adams, who calls himself the Health Ranger and runs the site Natural News, posted a truly insane article which seems to advocate violence against scientists and journalists who support genetic engineering.

I wasn't going to write about this at first: It's just so far out there, so beyond the fringe, that I assumed it wasn't worth anyone's attention. But Natural News articles pop up on my Facebook feed so frequently that I figured it might be a valuable public service to publish a post about the site for future reference.

My friends who share stories from Natural News aren't nuts. They just don't realize how crazy the site is. They'll see something that aligns with a pet peeve and assume that it must have some basis in reality. (The thinking goes something like this: Aha! I knew antidepressants were bad. I should let my friends know ...)

Natural News has 1.2 million followers on Facebook, and it publishes on themes that appeal to people who (like me) worry about effects of technological disruption of natural systems in our bodies and in the environment. But the site is simply not credible. It's filled with claims that vaccines are evil, that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that Microsoft is practicing eugenics -- see this Big Think post, or this Slate article, for a pseudoscience rundown.

The health-science stories have a surface-level gloss of technical language, which make them seem plausible unless you read them carefully. But if you look at some of the articles on politics it becomes a little more transparent: This is nothing but a conspiracy-theory site.

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A century ago, Detroit’s “potato patch mayor” knew how to ride out hard times

pingree_statue_Detroit
Mike Russell

I'd been passing by the statue here in Detroit for days now without noticing it, but today something -- the gloomy weather, maybe -- made me slow down and read the inscription.

The citizens of Michigan erect this monument to the cherished memory of Hazen S. Pingree. A gallant soldier, an enterprising and successful citizen, four times elected mayor of Detroit, twice governor of Michigan. He was the first to warn the people of the great danger threatened by powerful private corporations. And the first to awake to the great inequalities in taxation and to initiate steps for reform. The idol of the people.

The idol of the people, huh? I had never heard of this guy. Growing up in metro Detroit, I had learned two things about Detroit's history: 1. Detroit used to be French, and 2. Henry Ford was a genius.

Hazen Pingree became mayor of Detroit in 1890, three years before the worst depression that America had ever experienced (until the 1930s, anyway). The railroads, which had used speculative financing to expand all over the country, began to collapse. So did banks -- hundreds of them.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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Caboose? More Like Kaboom, video

This doc about “bomb trains” filled with crude oil will make your head explode

oil train
Shutterstock

VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Le Freak, c'est Chic

The latest French fashion: Eating ugly fruits and veggies

ugly produce
Intermarché

Few things are more unappealing than a lumpy, bruised potato covered in sprouts. But leave it to the French to make it look sexy.

A campaign by the French supermarket chain Intermarché is on a mission to make shoppers see the inner beauty in scarred, disfigured, or otherwise odd-shaped fruits and vegetables. The message: Why throw away perfectly good produce just because it doesn’t meet arbitrary cosmetic criteria -- especially when so many families can’t afford to eat the five daily portions of fruits and vegetables recommended by nutritionists?

“Now, you can eat five ‘inglorious’ fruits and vegetables a day. As good, but 30 percent cheaper,” says an Intermarché promotional video, trumpeting the virtues of the “the grotesque apple, the ridiculous potato, the hideous orange, the failed lemon, the disfigured eggplant, the ugly carrot, and the unfortunate clementine.” Here's an English version of the video:

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In Michigan, the drilling wars are infesting the Twitter stream

Michigan from Space
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

I've been in Michigan for the last few days, researching Detroit's water crisis. Yesterday, it became pretty obvious that my phone had figured out that we had arrived in the Mitten State:

energy

Why no, I was not aware that "energy development" contributes $15.8 billion to Michigan's economy each year! It's super thoughtful of you to bring this to my attention, because I often spend my Sunday mornings drinking coffee, doing the crossword, and trying to quantify the exact dollar value that a vague phrase gives to the equally slippery word "economy."

Twitter's pricing structure is a little mysterious, but the cost of a promoted tweet campaign like this is pretty modest -- a small sum debited from a budget each time the message is retweeted or favorited. So imparting this fun fact to me and the few thousand other Michiganders scrolling through our feeds on Sunday to see if any of our friends had more fun than we did last night probably only cost Energy Citizens a few bucks.

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What is climate change doing to our mental health?

drawing of depressed woman
Amelia Bates

About a year ago, I started wondering about the impact of climate change on mental health. After all, depression is already the second leading cause of disability around the world, depression can be kicked off by stress, and watching the ocean inch up to your doorstep or seeing drought destroy your crops and take away your livelihood can be pretty nerve-racking.

I checked the most recent IPCC report. Nothing on mental health. I checked news articles. Nada. I checked the scientific literature, and found a few things, mostly from Australian scientists.

So I headed Down Under, and found a small but dedicated research community. I also found recalcitrant farmers, concerned members of Aboriginal communities, a climate change philosopher, and the beginnings of a new vocabulary.

Research on mental health and climate change in Australia pretty much starts and ends with a very modest and soft-spoken psychiatric epidemiologist, Helen Berry of the University of Canberra. She’s responsible for 27 papers and book chapters published on the subject since 2011. Her studies don’t focus on specific psychiatric diagnoses, but general mental health and well-being. So: How often do you feel distressed? How are you sleeping? Do you talk to others about your distress or do you keep it to yourself?

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Feed lots

Hungry hungry humans: The science (and art) of feeding ourselves

world_hunger_forkhands
Shutterstock

The issue keeps coming up when I write about genetic engineering, or local food systems, or decreased farm yield due to climate change: How do we avoid starvation as populations grow, and how can we allow people to feed themselves equitably and sustainably? The question seems to lurk in the background of every story I do, and this makes me uncomfortable, because I don't know enough to answer. So I'm diving into the debate, blogging as I go.

I recently attended a debate on this topic put on by the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley, and it quickly became clear that there are several contentious issues flying crosswise here. We really have a lot of work ahead of us. This was supposed to be a debate over solutions, but there was no agreement over what the problem is.

Read more: Food

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Gimme 8 percent of your lunch! You’re not going to eat it anyway

When presented with a plate of delicious food, do you eat all of it? Every last bit? Is the plate pristine at the end of your eating session? Yes? Well, OK, you are a liar.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, on average, we eat 92 percent of the food on a plate. Good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it): If the food is unhealthy, that figure goes down to 81 percent.

What does 92 percent of a meal look like? The friendly staff at Grist have compiled a very helpful guide using your -- yes, YOUR -- diet as an example!

Read more: Food, Living

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Exctinction VI: This time it's personal

Dead elephants, plagues, and rats: Why the sixth extinction is bad for you and everyone you know

Fossil_flat
Shutterstock

Hey, remember the dinosaurs? Yeah, neither. All it took was one massive asteroid, and all the dinos were wiped off the face of the planet. Well, there’s a new asteroid in town: us.

New research published in the journal Science lays out the scope of the destruction we've wrought -- and suggests that it's going to come back to bite us. Not only will the so-called sixth extinction make that wildlife safari you’ve always wanted to take a lot less interesting, it could increase disease and make it even harder to feed our own ever-growing population. Happy weekend!

Similar to previous extinction events, the large, cute animals (like elephants and polar bears) are disappearing the fastest: since 1500, more than 320 land-based vertebrates have gone extinct. Which isn't just bad news for wildlife junkies; their loss translates into a shift in the whole ecosystem. Scientists found that areas in which the big guys disappeared quickly became infested with rodents – who bring all of their disease-carrying parasites with them.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” lead author Rodolfo Dirzo says. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a viscious cycle.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Suburban Warfare

Out-of-touch dads still want gas-guzzling SUVs, apparently

Father's Day is just around the corner!
Scott Robbin

Watching the cultural backlash against all the mongo SUVs that ran us off roads, CO2'd our cities, and ruined Hype Williams videos for something like two decades remains one of the unexpected pleasures of the recession. Soccer moms now want Priuses instead of Escalades; carmakers embraced fuel efficiency as a selling point; the Tesla S seems poised to own poster space on the bedrooms of car-obsessed teenagers. But like brachiosaurs in Jurassic Park, Suburbans aren't dead yet. Today, the New York Times reports that SUV sales have very nearly singlehandedly kept GM afloat with almost $1 billion in profits this year, and the company commands 70 percent of …