Thursday, October 27, 2011

Truly Scary Stuff

Halloween is coming, and that means it's time to break out the scariest costume you can think of. Zombies, vampires, and Lindsay Lohan are among the most frightening and popular options. Thank goodness none of them are real. But just because the most horrible things we can imagine are make-believe, that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of real stuff to be afraid of.

Image courtesy of Anthony5429

After several months of collisions at the LHC, even the most nervous people should be able to rest easy that man-made black holes and strange matter particles will not destroy the planet. Still, we at Physics Buzz have the opportunity to talk about plenty of scary things on this blog. Here are some of the topics we've covered in the past that frighten me . . .

1. Creationism - I'm not sure how much real impact creationism can have on my life. But it scares the daylights out of me to realize so many people can hold such absurd ideas in their heads. How can they make rational decisions about personal finances, who to vote for, or even what to put in their mouths, if they can't see the absurdity of pseudoscientific babble insisting that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together?

2. Alternative medicine - Steve Jobs left us waaaay to soon, thanks in no small part to alternative medical practices that he turned to instead of having surgeons cut out his cancer when they believed they should have. He was crucial to radically transforming technology and our culture, for the better, in a career spanning only 35 years. Who knows what he would have done with 35 more?

2a. Homeopathy - this category could be wrapped up in alternative medicine, except that it's much worse because many of these bogus drugs are sold side-by-side with real medicine in drug stores.

3. Antibiotic resistance - OK, one more medical category. The previous two are scary because they're fake medicine masquerading, in true Halloween fashion, as the real thing. But over-prescribing actual drugs can be a problem to. Aggressive MRSA strep infections, among other things, have evolved in part due to overly liberal antibiotic use.

4. Driving - Some people are scared of flying, others are petrified by lightning, or dogs, or open water. But the most common cause of accidental death in industrialized countries is motor vehicles. I love to drive, and frankly I feel very safe in my car. That's exactly why driving is so worrying. Maybe if we all thought about how close we come to death just by starting up the car, we'd be more cautious on the roads.

5. Climate change - It's not likely that I'll live long enough to suffer much as a result of climate change. This stuff will take decades to affect most people at the latitudes where I'm planning to spend most of my time. But my grand kids, and their offspring, could be in trouble if we don't get to work fixing lots of things pretty soon.

Sure, there's lots more to be afraid of. These are just my top 5 1/2 concerns. If you think of anything that should scare me more, let me know and I'll consider adding it to my list.


  1. If I can be devil's advocate (weird pun) strictly speaking a creationist believes the universe was created by a god (the origin of the big bang, evolution is just a tool etc). Fair enough there are those who believe the earth is only 10k years old etc, but I believe they are in the minority.

    2 and 2a these "medicines" might not be chemically competent (but some are!) but don't forget about the placebo effect. If the taker believes it to be more effective, sometimes it is.

    3. +1
    4. It amazes me to what extent we apply safety to electricity, water, etc, but yet be speed by each other @120kph for hours at a time where the slightest tug on the wheel or misjudgement can cause instant death or endless suffering.

    Lovely not to have nukes on here. No asteroid impacts?

  2. As for Job's demise, there is a reason re-creative use of LSD is illegal.

  3. Wow. Do you (the above poster) REALLY believe that Jobs using LSD in his teens/twenties had ANYTHING to do with his cancer?? If so, you are either SEVERELY under-educated or simply a moron.

    Go out and read some FACTS about lysergic acid diethylamide before you make ridiculous assumptions.

  4. What's "alternative" medicine? I suggest you scour pubmed for research on traditional Chinese and Indian medical herbs and practices. The ancient Greeks had patients step on electrically active fish as a pain reliever - a sort of biological TENS device.

    I know nothing about Job's dietary approach, but to assume that it was unworkable from the start is itself, poor science.

  5. I've scoured pubmed as much as I can stand. Acupuncture, aura massage, yada, yada, yada. They must be great recreational fun, but Jobs needed an operation, not mystical nonsense.

  6. Fortunately 1, 2 and 2a are matters of choice, 4 can be mitigated if YOUR behavior is cautious, and 5 is arguably not something anyone can or SHOULD do anything about (climate change exists, MMGW is still mostly just a bunch of error-prone computer models). So that leaves antibiotics and, fortunately, there is increasing national and international efforts to ban their sub-therapeutic uses.

    So cheer up, eat some free-range chicken, drive safely to get your annual checkup and make sure to wear your sunscreen. ;)