Junk science: The 5-second rule

The 5-second rule is not mentioned here, but still shows that going against Mother Nature leads to convoluted and wishful thinking. Found here.

You remember this. It’s where a child says that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up in less than five seconds, you can safely eat it again. Many adults believe it too. It is hard to know where these ideas come from.

There was a V-Sauce video on the 5-second rule made back in Noveber of 2012, that debunks it with everyday science. V-Sauce mentions, however, that your immune system protects you from a good deal of the bacteria that are sure to come from the floor. There is a MythBusters episode on TV that debunked the 5-second rule also. But away from popular science, there is also a 2007 article in The Journal of Applied Microbiology that not only do microbes adhere to food pretty much on contact, but further that, on an otherwise clean, dry tile floor, Salmonella typhimurium can survive for over a month in large enough numbers to pose a human health problem (40 days, according to the journal). S. typhimurium is a bacteria known to cause typhoid fever in humans.

In scientific terms, “clean” is taken to mean “free of dirt and debris”. Only “sterile” can mean “free of all bacteria and other single-celled organisms”. The floor in this case would be clean but not sterile, just like a floor would be in any average well-kept home.

Well, that was back in 2007, and there has since been another journal article released two days ago by researchers at Rutgers University (who published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology), with what appears to be bigger samples with more surfaces and more measurements than ever before. The lesson, however, is still the same: if food falls on the floor, the safest way to deal with the food is to just throw it out.

Sterility is too lofty a goal for an average home, requiring the inside of the home to be sealed off and air-tight, and for the people entering the home to cover their clothes with a sterile outer suit (since they are contaminated from being outside), and to put on shoe and hair coverings before entering the house.

Eating in a sterile environment

Eating and getting rid of bodily wastes would require, as the easiest solution, to do all that outside the house. Once food is brought into the home, any hope of sterility is gone. Growing food in the home does not absolve you from microbes, since most plants and animals need bacteria to grow. And you don’t just need the individual microbes, you need the whole ecosystem they belong in. Past attempts at building artificial ecosystems isolated from the rest of the world had all ended in failure. To get rid of bodily wastes, you would need to build an outhouse — one with running water, if you like to be fancy. None of these are the most comfortable solution to everyday needs which we take for granted.

The flap about flossing

There has been barrels of ink, moles of electrons, and weeks of nighttime talk shows used up over notion that over the past 30 to 40 years, we were all duped. Flossing does nothing for your teeth. All that guilt about not doing it, wasted over nothing. But let’s be precise here. The FDA is citing “lack of strong evidence”, not that it had no effect.

Journalists, with a BS in something that is not a Bachelor of Science, take it to mean that there was some kind of propaganda conspiracy to get us to floss un-necessarily. It is amazing that journalists think we are that stupid. I get stuff in my teeth that I can’t get with my toothbrush, and journalists are leading me to believe that the FDA is telling me that it’s OK to leave it there?

“No evidence” was cited, since, according to the FDA, no one did a serious study. It could have been that the FDA thought that the benefits are self-evident. Do people really need evidence that getting stuff out from between their teeth is better for their oral health than leaving the food stuck in there? The FDA probably thought, rightly, that tax money could be better spent elsewhere.

More junk science: the 90-day Accu-weather forecast

Weather forecasting is a black art at the best of times. You can look at the existing weather pattern today, then using probability models based on those weather patterns, forecast tomorrow’s weather. We all know that this only works sometimes over a 5-day period. But now there are people who want to sell services for pinpointing weather conditions on  a daily basis for a 90 day period.

A private company known as AccuWeather is offering the waiting public a 90-day weather forecast, selling to consumers the feeling of control over the distant future. There is not much anyone can say about weather in the long term except that “winter is cold” and “summer is hot”. The rest is all the stuff of farmer’s almanacs and crystal ball gazers. AccuWeather is not telling anyone (at least not yet) how they are able to forecast specific weather conditions on specific days over a 90-day period. But this is what they are doing. So apparently, you can know how to pack your suitcase for that trip to New York 60 days from now, since you will know that on that day there will be 1.5 inches of rain.

This is not that new. AccuWeather already has had a 45-day forecast, and so, according to their press release from April 11, 2016, they are providing a 90-day forecast, driven to “greater challenges” such as this by consumer demand. They claim to be able to forecast on this scale with Superior Accuracy™. (Yes, that phrase is trademarked by AccuWeather).

This forecasting is not endorsed by any existing government weather service, college meteorology department, or university professor that knows anything about forecasting the weather. But I am sure that there are enough gullible people that want that feeling of control who find things like “truth” (the truth that weather is chaotic, and too influenced by “the butterfly effect” to be knowable on this scale) to be inconvenient. AccuWeather probably knows that no one will take this seriously except a small group that just wants that feeling of predictability and control in their lives. And that is what AccuWeather is really selling: your feelings.