Archive for the Urban Legends Category

Fan Death

Posted in Urban Legends on February 20, 2008 by moonflake

It’s summer, and it’s hot, and every night I sleep with a fan blowing blessedly cool air over my bed, usually with the windows closed to keep the murdering rapists out. So I’m sure that others will be as surprised as me to discover that in one country in the world, this is considered to be as dangerous as sleeping with a loaded gun.

South Koreans of all ages, religions and levels of education will tell you that every year in S.Korea, people fall victim to ‘Fan Death‘ resulting from operating a fan in a closed room while asleep. This is not a kooky urban legend supported by only a few neurotics – fans in S.Korea come with warnings not to operate them under the above conditions, and include timer nobs so that the fan can be set to safely turn off on its own as you fall asleep. The media participates by reporting cases of fan death in all seriousness. And the government-funded Korean Consumer Protection Board has released this statement:

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [the] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.

Even the medical experts in the country are convinced that this happens, and have put forward plenty of explanations for why, ranging from asphixiation to hyperthermia to hypothermia. None of them seem to be able to explain why it doesn’t happen in North Korea, or in other countries with similar climates, or even to Koreans living abroad.

How does it get this bad? A vicious circle of argument by authority – the doctors think that it must be real because it’s in the media, the media thinks it must be real because the doctors say it is, and South Koreans think it must be real because the doctors and the media say it is. Any lone voice in the wilderness is summarily drowned out, such as those doctors who actually perform the autopsies and pronounce cause of death due to heart or lung disease or serious alcoholism. South Koreans will vigorously defend their belief as cultural if faced with a skeptical foreignor, and will even go so far as to suggest that perhaps South Koreans have a unique physiology that makes them susceptible to this particular danger.

Fan death is a fantastic example of how something with absolutely zero basis in fact can take on the appearance of fact, and even be defended in the face of no supporting evidence beyond anecdotes, vox populi and argument by authority. Replace ‘fan death’ with ‘homeopathy’, ‘astrology’ or any other baseless belief, and that statement still stands.

Fan Death

Is there a water additive that fixes Stupid?

Posted in Medicine, South Africa, Stupidity, Urban Legends on March 15, 2007 by moonflake

The SA Health Department is reaping the unpleasant rewards of an uneducated society yet again. Their attempts to introduce water fluoridation are being thwarted by the usual outspoken minority of nutjobs. In a poll by IOL, one reader had this to say:

I wish people would firstly research things before they say how great there are. Any google search on fluoride would tell you, fluoride is neurotoxic and reduces IQ levels (not something we need in this country). Its a carcinogen, thereby creating cancer. Changes bone structure causing (mainly) hip problems, oesteoporosis (to name only 2 out of a long list). Causes birth defects. Is INEFFECTIVE at strengthening teeth. Impairs immune systems (great for aids sufferers). Increases lead and arsenic exposure. Suppresses thyroid function. Is banned in most countries…AND ISN’T EVEN APPROVED BY THE FDA!!!! Last (of my list) but not least, I PERSONALLY don’t want it…wheres my choice in this lovely democracy??? AND WE CAN’T EVEN SMOKE IN PUBLIC!!!

Where to start? Any google search on water flouridation will tell you that it’s a perfectly safe way to greatly reduce tooth decay across large communities, and is especially effective in those communities where people cannot afford good dental care i.e. most of this country.  It will also tell you that the FDA has no jurisdiction over communal drinking water, only bottled water, in which it does approve the use of fluoride and the statement “Drinking fluoridated water may reduce the risk of dental caries or tooth decay”. You will also discover that the process of water fluoridation is one that was stumbled upon by observing the natural benefits to people who live in areas where the water naturally contains fluoride (I thought these kooks preferred natural medicine?). Studies eventually determined the optimum level of fluoride required to reap the benefits while avoiding the only real side effect: a cosmetic staining of the teeth called dental fluorosis. You might also discover that water fluoridation involves carefully regulating the amount of fluoride in water, which in some cases involves increasing it to the optimum level, and in other cases involves decreasing it when the natural level is too high.

Despite there being absolutely zero evidence to support their claims, and a huge amount against them, fluoridation scaremongers continue to lie about fluoride causing cancer, HIV, lower IQ, osteoporosis, birth defects, and a host of other maladies. The fact is that water fluoridation is one of the most successful health policies ever to be enacted. Millions of people have consumed fluoridated water for the last 50 years without any adverse side effects, despite the policy being scrutinized by study after study, as far back as 1957. In that time, tooth decay in communities with fluoridated water has been reduced by up to 56% compared to communities without fluoridated water.

Yes, fluoride is a poison, and enough of it will kill you. But even water will kill you if you consume enough of it. And apparently some people are doing a fantastic job of lowering their own IQ rates even without the help of additives.

…and what a surprise, yet another example of someone who thinks that multiple exclamation marks and stating things in uppercase will somehow make them seem more rational…

Sad and not at all funny in the end

Posted in South Africa, Urban Legends on September 14, 2005 by moonflake

Well, they blew the whale up. No destruction to property. No people hit in the head by flying whale blubber. Just a dead whale. Sad, really.

Mr. Patel is in the news about his signs again. According to an IOL poll, only 19% of readers agree that his signs are discriminatory. The rest either think he’s right or that people are taking it too seriously. My favourite quote:

I don’t moan, I take action. I wear underpants, other businessmen wear panties

Somebody give that man a medal.

Thar She Blows!

Posted in Politics, South Africa, Urban Legends on September 14, 2005 by moonflake

Well, amazingly enough we’re all set for a repeat of the Famous Exploding Whale of Oregon. Western Cape police and marine officials are set to euthanase by explosion the Southern Right Whale that’s been stranded on Mnandi beach for over 36 hours. According to some sort of local Dolphin Action group, it’s the most humane way to kill a whale. Ouch. Hope people move their cars out of the way this time.

Note some interesting new links on the side, to Urban Legends factual resource, and to Phil Blait’s Bad Astronomy. Both very interesting reads and sources of good info.

Good to see the Utah Board of Education has given Intelligent Design the finger, as it rightly should. Unlike Kansas, that den of educational iniquity, ID will not be taught in Utah schools as it is not deemed to be scientific. Nice one, Utah. Keep on fighting the good fight.

Also, our *laugh*esteemed*laugh* Deputy President has claimed that a massive loan to Zimbabwe would not constitute ass-raping South Africans in order to support Zimbabwe. Apparently we just have all this extra money lying around. I can see it now: Mbeki is standing in his office with a sack full of cash, with $$$ signs on the outside. “Phumi, what should we do with all this money? We could spend it on the poor and homeless who we made so many promises to in getting into office, or we could throw it down this bottomless pit.” Gee, guess which choice he’s going to make.

Their favourite claim is that if Zimbabwe collapses (further) SA will be the first to feel the brunt of it. I say, if we’re sending all our money there, and all our grain there, and all our electricity there, and half their people are here, why don’t we just annex them? Seriously, if the fates of these two countries are so incontravertibly linked that we have to support them with our own taxpayer’s money, why don’t we just take them over? I’m sure our defense force could kick their asses if Mugabe puts up a fight. It would be very very easy for us to destroy their army: just stop supplying them with spare parts. They’ll be without a single weapon, tank or helicopter inside two months. We can take them over, dissolve their cabinet, send Mugabe off to some retirement farm (previously white-owned of course), and sort their shit out.

It’s not like they’re going to pay us back for the loan, or the grain, or the electricity, or the parts, or anything else we give them, anyway.