Whenever someone refers me to a story with alarming facts that should surprise or outrage any thinking human, my spider-sense is activated. Does the story make sense? Is it plausible? If the message contains evidence of being repeated (or forwarded to more than two friends), then whatever is claimed is almost certain to be false.
If the subject is important to me—or if there is any chance that it might influence my view of the world, I check it at Snopes. The reputable web site confirms or debunks many urban legends and all sorts of viral web hype.
You never know what you might learn at Snopes. You can easily be lured into a rabbit hole, digging into the site beyond whatever prompted your visit in the first place.
Fact-checking can be fun! For example:
- Debunked: There are no alligators living in New York sewers. If a resident flushes a baby alligator in a toilet, it cannot survive the temperature or the toxic soup that flows through the sewers of a big city. Florida: perhaps; New York: impossible!
- Debunked: Ronald Reagan did not write a diary entry in which he describes his vice president’s son (the future president George W. Bush) as a shiftless ne’er-do-well, roaming about the White House.*
- Confirmed: This one is true! In 1976, during the filming of TV series, Six Million Dollar Man in Long Beach California, an arm fell off a scary, fun-house prop. A film crew found that it was the cadaver of outlaw Elmer McCurdy, who died in 1911.
I’m still occasionally guilty of passing along a story I long believed was gospel. In a few cases, it didn’t occur to me that something accepted as fact might be an urban legend—or that my acceptance of a tall tale is colored by my opinions about economics, society and business. Hopefully, this is a rare and diminishing lapse. I have learned to fact check narratives—especially if I feel compelled to pass one along.
Conspiracies Theories: Often false!
In general, I am unlikely to suspect a conspiracy behind events of the day—with the exception of national politics, where conspiracy is a natural and pervasive tactic. The problem is my optimistic view of human nature. While businesses have a profit motive and a responsibility to stakeholders, I feel that most are driven by ethics and that executing a plan within the bounds of ethics is simply good for business.
Let me tell you about one viral, big-business story that I had believed for decades and another that I did not believe until I was presented with too many facts to refute.
1. No Conspiracy Here
There was no secret meeting or conspiracy by titans of the car, rubber, oil or steel industries to kill off public transportation and alter city layouts to drive auto sales. Streetcars were already mired in politics and graft; family, income was increasing, and the car was already becoming popular.
That tall tale says that Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller conspired to eliminate street cars and redesign the urban landscape, so that Americans would need individual family cars, rather than use public transportation—Or that this is the reason that we must drive to a big mall today rather than live in towns centered around a community center, church, city hall and general store.
The theory claims that the three automobile bosses had a secret meeting in San Francisco with a goal of increasing sales of cars, rubber, steel and oil. (In some versions of the story, Rockefeller (oil) is replaced Andrew Carnegie (steel). Ironically, I only learned that the entire story was an urban legend as I started to write this introduction to the true story below.
2. Shocking Conspiracy — This one is true
More than any other lie, here is a food industry conspiracy crafted and delivered by big business. It manipulated one of our most trusted universities, a major medical journal and the public psyche. The result: Thousands of Americans died and millions were misled into obesity and heart disease. More than any other fiendish plot, this one event has killed people and damaged human health more than any other conspiracy in modern history.
In 1967, the sugar industry shaped 50 years of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, by paying Harvard researches to lie about the role of food in obesity and heart disease. They schemed and succeeded at shifting blame from sugar to fats.
Believing lies: I grew up becoming fully indoctrinated!…
For much of the next five decades, the wheat and grain industry promulgated the lie to enormous advantage. I grew up thinking that bread, pasta, rice and potato are terrific sources of healthy fiber and minerals (much like vegetables)—and that they ensure clean pipes. I thought that oil and fats are bad, because they deposit plaque in arteries. It never occurred to me that oils can maintain healthy weight, that your brain needs fat, that carbs lead a body to manufacture the fat that causes cardiovascular disease.
I believed that skim milk is less fattening than whole milk and that margarine is healthier than butter (dairy), tallow (beef fat) or lard (pig fat). Perhaps most damning: I believed that Canola oil (synthetically extracted from rape seed) was a healthy oil, because it is unsaturated. Today, I have learned it is toxic.
How does a 20th century academic
with advanced degrees get so misled?
Answer: I succumbed to a startlingly successful conspiracy; a long game in which it is now difficult to punish sugar industry perpetrators. Ultimately, they will be held to account by journalists, and a new generation of doctors, researchers and academics.
The New York Times article linked below appeared in 2016. More recently, the story is finally going viral. Citation by other reputable outlets is growing quickly.
Some conspiracy theories are true. Instead of passing along an urban legend, forward the shocking truth about sugar and carbs to a friend or colleague. Share this Lifeboat article. Think of the good achieved if you turn around the diet of just one acquaintance.
* Fiction: Ronald Reagan did not write this; (I believed it for 30 years):
“A moment I’ve been dreading. George brought his ne’re-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I’ll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they’ll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.”
— Incorrectly attributed to Ronald Reagan in a diary entry published May 17, 1986
In April 2012 I met Lisa Randall while book signing at the National Space Symposium, held every April at the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University.
She autograph my copy of her book “Warped Passages” and I showed her the proof copy of my book “An Introduction to Gravity Modification, 2nd Edition” with the g=tau.c^2 massless formula for gravitational acceleration, solving the gravity modification physics.
More in the video …
To understand why gravity modification is not yet a reality, let’s analyze other fundamental discoveries/inventions that changed our civilization or at least the substantially changed the process of discovery. There are several that come to mind, the atomic bomb, heavier than air manned flight, the light bulb, personal computers, and protein folding. There are many other examples but these are sufficient to illustrate what it takes. Before we start, we have to understand four important and related concepts.
(1) Clusters or business clusters, first proposed by Harvard prof. Michael Porter, “a business cluster is a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters are considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally”. Toyota City which predates Porter’s proposal, comes to mind. China’s 12 new cities come to mind, and yes there are pro and cons.
(2) Hot housing, a place offering ideal conditions for the growth of an idea, activity, etc. (3) Crowdsourcing, is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline. Crowdsourcing is different from an ordinary outsourcing since it is a task or problem that is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body. (4) Groundswell, a strong public feeling or opinion that is detectable even though not openly expressed.
I first read about the fascinating story of the making of the atom bomb from Stephane Groueff’s The Manhattan Project-the Making of the Atomic Bomb, in the 1970s. We get a clear idea why this worked. Under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves, and J. Robert Oppenheimer the US, UK & Canada hot housed scientist, engineers, and staff to invent and produce the atomic bomb physics, engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Today we term this key driver of success ‘hot housing’, the bringing together a group of experts to identify avenues for further research, to brainstorm potential solutions, and to test, falsify and validate research paths, focused on a specific desired outcome. The threat of losing out to the Axis powers helped increase this hot housing effect. This is much like what the Aspen Center for Physics is doing (video here).
In the case of the invention of the light bulb, the airplane, and the personal computer, there was a groundswell of public opinion that these inventions could be possible. This led potential inventors with the necessary basic skills to attempt to solve these problems. In the case of the incandescent light bulb, this process took about 70 years from Humphrey Davy in 1809, to Thomas A. Edison and Joseph Wilson Swan in 1879. The groundswell started with Humphrey and had included many by the time of Edison in 1879.
In the case of the airplane the Wright brothers reviewed other researchers’ findings (the groundswell had begun much earlier), and then invented several new tools & skills, flight control, model testing techniques, test pilot skills, light weight motors and new propeller designs.
The invention of the personal computer had the same groundswell effect (see Homebrew Computer Club & PBS TV transcripts). Ed Roberts, Gordon French, Fred Moore, Bob Harsh, George Morrow, Adam Osborne, Lee Felsenstein, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, John Draper, Jerry Lawson, Ron Jones and Bill Gates all knew each other before many of them became wealthy and famous. Bill Gates wrote the first personal computer language, while the others invented various versions of the microcomputer, later to be known as the personal computer, and peripherals required. They invented the products and the tools necessary for the PC industry to take off.
With protein folding, Seth Cooper, game designer, developed Fold It, the tool that would make the investigation into protein folding accessible to an undefined public. Today we describe this ‘crowdsourcing’. Notice that here it wasn’t a specialized set of team that was hot housed, but the reverse, the general public, were given the tools to make crowdsourcing a viable means to solving a problem.
Thus four key elements are required to foster innovation, basic skills, groundswell, hothouse or crowdsourcing, and new tools.
So why hasn’t this happened with gravity modification? Some form of the groundswell is there. In his book The Hunt for Zero Point, Nick Cook (an editor of the esteemed Jane’s Defense Weekly) describes a history that goes back to World War II, and Nazi Germany. It is fund reading but Kurt Kleiner of Salon provides a sober review of The Hunt for Zero Point.
There are three primary reasons for this not having happened with gravity modification. First, over the last 50 years or so, there have only been about 50 to 100 people (outside of black projects) who have investigated this in a scientific manner. That is, the groundswell of researchers with the necessary basic skills has not reached a critical mass to take off. For example, protein folding needed at least 40,000 participants, today Fold It has 280,000 registered participants.
Second, pseudoscience has crept into the field previously known as ‘antigravity’. In respectable scientific circles the term used is gravity modification. Pseudoscience, has clouded the field, confused the public’s perception and chased away the talent – the 3 C’s of pseudoscience. Take for example, plutonium bomb propulsion (written by a non-scientist/non-engineer), basic investigation shows that this is neither feasible nor legal, but it still keeps being written up as a ‘real’ proposition. The correct term for plutonium bomb propulsion is pseudoscience.
Third reason. Per the definition of gravity modification, we cannot use existing theories to propose new tools because all our current status quo theories require mass. Therefore, short of my 12-year study, no new tools are forth coming.
Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative.
Solomon is inviting all serious participants to his LinkedIn Group Interstellar Travel & Gravity Modification.