Daryl Ilbury

Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

Food can kill you!

In Eish!, Fools, Science, Scoundrels on April 14, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Derp of the DayI have followed with detached interest the rise and fall of Vani Hari (yes, as in Mata Hari), a.k.a Food Babe – ‘detached’ because to engage with her and her doting acolytes would send my blood pressure sky high, and ‘interest’ because what she’s doing worries me. For those who don’t know, Hari is an American self-appointed arbiter of food safety. Her qualifications for such are zero.

OK, that’s a little harsh; she does digest food. The point is she has no academic qualifications. She’s certainly not a dietician. [This is a good point to emphasise the difference between a dietician and nutritionist: essentially dieticians are registered and belong to a regulated body; nutritionists not necessarily so]. She calls herself an ‘activist’. Translated: she makes a lot of noise about something; and you know the saying about what makes the most noise…

The thing about lots of noise though is that attracts attention, and as traditional media battles social media for the minds of media consumers, lots of noise on social media tends to be picked up by a reluctant traditional media. And that makes food companies scared. Hari’s ’cause’ for activism is what’s in food, specifically food that is prepared or packaged for consumers. For her, unless it’s organic it probably contains poisons, and she presents as evidence the varied scientific-sounding additives and preservatives found in most prepared foods. One of her biggest nemeses is azodicarbonamide (sometimes referred to as ADA), a chemical substance approved for use as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner in bread baking. She has made a noise about it also being used in the manufacture of yoga mats. True, but then the zinc found in spinach is used in the manufacture of car batteries (we’re made of chemicals, people!) She selects as a source the website of an organic food disciple, Max Goldberg, who in turn quotes a WHO report that “links ADA to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma”.

So let’s go there: The report says: “Evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma in humans has been found from bronchial challenge studies with symptomatic individuals and from health evaluations of employees at workplaces where azodicarbonamide is manufactured or used”. Sounds scary. Loosely translated: people who show a sensitivity to it should avoid it, especially those who work with it.

But this is true for any chemical, including something found in almost all prepared food – a chemical so dangerous that symptoms of toxicity to it can include dizziness, changes in blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, convulsions, coma and eventual death. It’s called sodium chloride – yes, common table salt.

At long last science is beginning to stand up to Vani’s narcissistic (she presents herself as evidence her activism works) scaremongering. Mainstream media is finally getting the message. But what has really made my day is to see scientists take her on via her media platform of choice: blogging – meet Science Babe.

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The dangers of anti-science

In Eish!, Fools, Science on April 13, 2015 at 11:52 am

NGM2015_MAR_CV2-275x400When I turned 10 my estranged father (my parents were divorced when I was young) bought me a science text book – Science For Your Needs (yes, I still remember the title). 

I devoured each page, revelling in the images of explosive geysers, giant crabs and all manner of scientific artefacts. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but the fascination it inspired held true for many years thereafter. In fact, it was the seed of my current passion for science. 

I have to take this into account whenever I try to understand why so many people, it seems, are distrustful towards science. Are they really against science, or am I just overly enthusiastic towards it.

This wouldn’t matter if a resistance towards science was unproblematic, such as a resistance towards, say, football. But football doesn’t examine and affect every single element of our lives. Science does. So when people are against science I find it puzzling; when they employ anti-science rhetoric to negatively influence the lives of other people, I get angry. Here are some cases in point:

  1. The anti-GMO lobby who sit in their cosy homes, shrilling about rural African farmers who choose to embrace safe, tested GM seeds to bolster their harvest;
  2. The rapidly dwindling club of climate-change denialists who steadfastly refuse to accept the vast multidisciplinary research that shows climate change is a reality, because they believe to do so invites interventionist regulation by big government, which is anathema to their political beliefs;
  3. Anti-vaxxers who continually quote a discredited research paper as evidence of the dangers of vaccinating their children, in the process endangering not only their children’s lives, but those of others;
  4. Blind devotees of the myriad different religions who each claim sole verity, but reject scientific certainty, claiming because they are religious they have that right. They don’t, especially if it affects other people. If you reject a blood transfusion for your child and that child dies, you should be charged with homicide. If you condemn the use of contraceptives because you believe every sperm is sacred, you sentence the faithful poor to a life in poverty.

Special mention must go to those who cherry-pick from science to suit their needs but aggressively reject the same science when it nullifies their fundamental religious beliefs. Example: ‘Answers in Genesis’ (AiG) creationists who’ll rush their children to hospital for an emergency medical procedure, but brainwash those same children into believing that Adam and Eve shared paradise with dinosaurs. If you’ve got a bit of time, here’s the famous debate between Bill Nye and AiG’s Ken Ham. National Geographic carried a feature piece in its March 2015 edition called ‘The War on Science’. Here’s a brief snapshot. 

Science doesn’t know everything. If it did, as I’ve said before, it would stop. But science is defined by evidence, so if you’re going to challenge it, bring the evidence.

Will local radio survive social media and the smartphone?

In Eish!, Science on April 8, 2015 at 3:15 pm

John Maytham

567 Cape Talk’s John Maytham – holding the key to compelling radio

It hurts me to say this, but I no longer embrace something that was my life’s passion – local radio. The reason is two-fold: there has been a dramatic change in the media landscape, and local radio is failing to adapt.

Few industries have been affected by advances in technology more than the media. In my 25 years in radio I wrestled with analogue (vinyl, reel-to-reel and carts) and digital hardware (CDs, DAT and minidiscs) and the varied PC programming software now used on radio stations. I have turned and pushed sliders and clicked many a mouse. As a writer and journalist I have worked in print – newspapers and magazines – and later online. I have even combined media formats by integrating radio and online content. But the relationship with the consumer has always been the same – I created the content and then shared it with the consumer, with the occasional feedback from calls and SMSs.

But things are different now. Social media has empowered the consumer. They’re no longer passive; they produce content as well as consume it – they are content ‘prosumers’. Importantly, the hardware used is not in a radio studio, it is in their hands – it’s the smartphone. And if radio stations aren’t there, they risk being nowhere.

Let me give you a snapshot of how I ‘prosume’. See if you can spot where radio fits in:

  • I wake each morning and, over a quiet cup of coffee, check my Twitter feed on my iPhone for any breaking news. I tweet/retweet what I find compelling. I then click on the apps for BBC News, The Economist, Reuters, RT, News24, and EWN.  I don’t turn on the radio for news.
  • I check the weather forecast via my weather app. No radio for weather.
  • I then sit at my computer, with a second cup of coffee, and access Feedly for non-current news. Using Hootsuite I schedule messages across my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. If I feel like listening to music while I do this, I access one of the hundreds of free online stations on iTunes, few of which carry any advertising. So I don’t turn on the radio for music.
  • However, I do enjoy talk radio. So when I feel like listening to really good talk radio in the morning I tap the UK Radio App on my iPhone and select LBCSteve Allen is wicked and the breakfast show host Nick Ferrari is one of the best in the business. I select the airplay settings on my iPhone and listen to them through my hi-fi speakers. Alternatively I use the UK Radio Player. So, no, I don’t turn on the radio.
  • In my car I have a 32GB USB with a selection from my iTunes library plugged in to my sound system, which is set to break into the music with radio traffic reports if broadcast. So….radio?…only briefly.
  • And when I am relaxing with an afternoon drink, looking for specialised on-air content I access the US Public Radio app on my iPhone and select any one of the many stations that carry specialised content – jazz, rock, blues, classical or folk music, or news and talk – with little or no ad breaks. I hook it up to the hi-fi and chill. Again, no turning on of any radio.

There are now so many options for immediate access to the diverse content I want, at no point during the day do I switch on my radio in hope that it will give me that content.

Well…there is one occasion. In the afternoons, if I am in my car. Then I listen to John Maytham on 567 Cape Talk. Why specifically then? Because John Maytham creates the one thing that can save local South African radio from its current mundane menu of music sweeps, insipid waffle (even our talk radio is too nice), and packed ad breaks: tension.

John is highly intelligent and uncompromising, even brutal at times; the result is radio rich in tension and intellectual rigour. When someone grabs you by the neck and tells you stuff, it’s hard not to pay attention.

So wake up, South African radio. There are apps without your name on them.