` Thank goodness for skeptic columns. Years ago, in the days before I had lost my internet, and even before I'd even acquired it in the first place, I'd come across a book called 'The Straight Dope'. It was written by a guy with a wicked sense of humor and a fairly skeptical eye by the name of Cecil Adams.
` Though the illustrations frightened me, I bought it and soon became addicted. Not long after I obtained the internet, I discovered that The Straight Dope has been published online.
` He, and his staff, have the answers to many different questions on a variety of subjects including such oddities as the history of tampons.
` Most of all, I especially like the 'debunking' work he's done, for example, the Bermuda triangle:
Has anyone vanished in the Bermuda Triangle lately?
There were many reports of mysterious incidents back in the 70s, but since then the whole subject has simply dropped out of sight (grin).
Is the mystery any closer to being solved? I'm thinking of sending my in-laws on a permanent vacation. --K.T., Saint Louis, Missouri
Better stick to cyanide or blunt instruments, K. The lethality of the
Bermuda Triangle has been greatly exaggerated. The only reason I bring up the subject at all, in fact, is to bestow some belated publicity on a fine example of the debunker's art. But more on this in a moment.
In case anybody's forgotten, the Bermuda Triangle is a region in the Atlantic Ocean where scores of ships and planes allegedly have vanished--usually without a trace, in good weather, without sending distress calls. Two typical cases:
In December 1945, five Navy planes took off from Fort Lauderdale on a routine training mission. After reporting that their compasses were acting up and everything looked "strange," the five lost contact with their base and were never seen again.
Another plane sent out to look for them vanished as well. No wreckage
from any of the planes was ever found.
On December 28, 1948, a DC-3 carrying 36 persons disappeared while en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami. In their last radio message around 4 AM the plane's crew reported they were only 50 miles south of Miami and within sight of the city's lights. The plane was never heard from again. A massive search turned up no wreckage, despite the shallowness of the waters south of Miami.
These and many other incidents were blamed on everything from UFOs to electromagnetic fluctuations in the space-time continuum. Fortunately a few level-headed folk also looked into the matter. Among them was Lawrence David Kusche, who wrote a book entitled The Bermuda Triangle Mystery--Solved in 1975.
In an analysis of some 50 cases, Kusche found that overeager BT buffs had been playing fast and loose with the facts. In many cases the disappearances had taken place in bad weather, involving craft known to have been experiencing trouble. Wreckage was found in many instances. In others, darkness or delay in starting the search provided ample time for debris to disperse.
` Many of the cases hadn't even taken place in the Bermuda Triangle, but rather in other sites near Ireland, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Africa or South America, or in one case, in the Pacific Ocean.
Here's what Kusche found out about the cases cited above:
The five Navy planes were piloted by four student pilots and one instructor. The instructor's compasses failed and he became disoriented, thinking he was over the Florida Keys when he was really near the Bahamas. Radio interference from ground stations hindered efforts to help him. After flying aimlessly for several hours, the planes ran out of gas and were presumably ditched in the ocean shortly after nightfall. By this time the seas were extremely rough. Darkness, delay, and equipment failures hampered search efforts. One of the planes sent up to search for the missing flight apparently blew up in mid-air; the explosion was spotted by a nearby ship.
The destroyed plane was of a type that often reeked of fuel fumes and was widely considered dangerous. - While in San Juan the crew of the DC-3 found the plane's batteries were dead but decided to take off without adequately recharging them. Because of the lack of power, the radio was operational only intermittently. An investigating panel speculated that additional electrical problems might have rendered the plane's navigation equipment inoperable. The crew never said they were within sight of Miami. These reports were the work of Triangle buffs who jumped to conclusions. The waters 50 miles due south of Miami
are shallow, but those 50 miles along the flight path to San Juan (i.e.,
southeast) are approximately 5,000 feet deep.
In short, both disappearances could be plausibly explained without reference to UFOs or mysterious vortexes or any other paranormal phenomenon. The same could be said for almost all the other cases Kusche looked into. Conclusion: the Bermuda Triangle "mystery" is a figment of a lot of overactive imaginations. About what you'd expect.
` You can find more columns on The Straight Dope website, as well as his books. In his newest compilation, The Triumph of The Straight Dope, you can finally know the many mysteries of.... things. Even the more trivial questions look interesting!
* Will watching too much TV ruin your eyes?
* Is it aerodynamically impossible for bumblebees to fly? (Only according to Bournoulli's principle!)
* Why do parachute jumpers yell "Geronomo"?
* If you swim less than hour after eating, will you get cramps and die?
* What's the difference between a Looney Tune and a Merrie Melody?
* Can you see a Munchkin committing suicide in The Wizard of Oz? (No!)
* Was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre based on actual events?
* Did medieval lords really have "the right of the first night"?
` Just today, I came across this 'debunking' by Cecil:
Is fluoride in water a good thing or a danger?
In 2002 you said, "Long a target of fringe
groups, fluoridation is widely considered one of the great public-health
achievements of the last century." My wife has shown me a lot of Internet
back-and-forth suggesting a host of problems that can be blamed on fluoridation.
Some say fluoride is industrial waste and that the mining industry duped us into
thinking it's healthy so we'd want it in our water. So is fluoride deadly or
healthy, or do we just not know? — James B., Columbia, Maryland
Oh, we've got a pretty fair idea. Fact
is, like a lot of things (Tylenol and water come to mind), fluoride can be
either good or bad for you depending on how much you get. In small amounts the
stuff is definitely salubrious. Though a few holdouts still argue, most research
I've seen credits fluoridation with the sharp drop in tooth decay seen
throughout the developed world over the past 40 years. In the U.S., 67 percent
of those drinking public water get fluoride in it and tooth decay has fallen 68
percent since the late 60s, leading the Centers for Disease Control to call
water fluoridation one of the top ten public-health achievements of the 20th
century. Too much of a good thing, on the other hand — and we're talking
milligrams per kilo of body weight, not gallons — and you've got problems,
ranging from stained teeth and upset stomach to death.
fluoride's contribution to healthy teeth had been suspected earlier, the guy
chiefly responsible for getting people to focus on the usefulness of having it
in drinking water is Dr. Frederick McKay, who in 1909 began investigating a
tooth discoloration so common among residents of Colorado Springs that it was
known as "Colorado brown stain." After peering into the mouths of nearly 3,000
kids in the area and finding that 87 percent had stained teeth, McKay and
colleagues went on to establish that (a) such teeth were unusually resistant to
serious cavities and (b) the cause of both phenomena was the naturally high
fluoride level in the local water supply. After further research showed that one
part per million of fluoride in drinking water reduced tooth decay with minimal
risk of stained teeth, Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first city to
artificially fluoridate its water in 1945. Thousands of other municipalities
have done so since.
For years antifluoridationists were mainly paranoids
who thought it was all a Bolshevik plot. Today they're still paranoid, but
they've polished up their arguments. A sample:
1. Fluoride is
industrial/mining waste. Fluorosilicic acid, a common fluoridating agent, is a
by-product of phosphate fertilizer production, and phosphates are mined, so
technically I guess you could say fluoride is mining waste. Big deal. Lots of
useful commodities are made as a by-product of other processes, such as gypsum
from burning coal and molasses from sugar refining. The suggestion that
fertilizer tycoons have suckered the country into fluoridating drinking water to
simplify disposal of their toxic waste is, to be gentle, a reach.
Fluoride can be poisonous. Yup. In 1993 dozens of Mississippi residents were
sickened by tap water with fluoride levels as much as 200 times the recommended
amount; the year before, an accident at an Alaskan water treatment plant
resulted in one death due to fluoride poisoning. A toddler who scarfs a tube of
fluoridated toothpaste risks acute fluoride toxicity, symptoms of which include
the aforementioned stomach upset or worse. True, these are overdoses and thus
preventable with reasonable care, but you'll also find claims that long-term
exposure to lesser amounts of fluoride can lead to skeletal and kidney damage,
learning disabilities and brain disorders, thyroid problems, allergies, and
birth defects including Down syndrome. Notwithstanding the occasional disturbing
finding, support for these contentions is weak, although the CDC did issue a
statement that one study showed a potential increase in osteosarcoma, a rare
bone cancer, in young males who drink fluoridated water.
has been (literally) shoved down the throat of the American public. This one's
the toughest to refute. The dirty little secret among water fluoridation
advocates is that while tooth decay has declined dramatically in places that
fluoridate their water, it's dropped equally fast in places that don't. There's
some debate about why, but surely in large part it's because people who don't
get fluoride out of the tap are getting it from other sources, including not
just fluoridated toothpaste but, in countries such as Germany and France,
fluoridated table salt. If Sylvie or Fritz worries that fluoride will make their
hair fall out, they can buy nonfluoridated products. Americans drinking
fluoridated water don't have that option. Water fluoridation advocates say never
mind the philosophy, we've got a system that works, don't fix it if it ain't
broke, etc. Fine, but it's odd to have Europeans advocating choice while here in
the land of liberty we know what's good for you, so shut up and drink.
` Anyway, hope you thought that was interesting enough not to want to send me to the Bermuda Triangle for slacking! (On a cruise ship....)