Skepchick Quickies 7.7


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Saw the ghost thing on TV last night and could not believe people are thinking this is some sort of apparition. There are so many real life explanations (camera crew moving around, etc.) that it just proves that people will believe what they want to believe.

  2. The toy universe looks like fun, even if it is purely academic. We’ve been doing similar things for years using genetic algorithms to design and prototype solutions to all kinds of problems.

    I’ve never worked with them hands on myself, but it frankly blows my mind, sometimes coming up with working models that engineers might never have dreamed of.

    Any evolution denying creationist who’s seen what I’ve seen; seen computers come up with solutions to problems using principles based on nature, and still denies evolution, is either lying or wasn’t paying attention.

    Yes, there’s human design behind the rules of the algorithms, but that’s not the point. The point is that the algorithms are based on evolutionary and genetic rules observed in nature, and they work. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they suck up a lot of time and processing power. But sometimes they come up with unique solutions that intelligent designers could never have dreamed of.

  3. @Zapski: You’re disgusted? Really? I mean, people see ghosts all the time. I’m surprised it took this long, to be honest. Trust me when I say MJ will be haunting Neverland forever (and when I say that, I mean people will claim he is).

  4. I’ve always wondered about BMI. The square thing seemed fishy to me. You’d think the ratio of your mass to the cube of your height would be a better indicator. That’s be roughly equivalent to mass / ideal volume. Using the square of the height seems to be just picking on tall people. The taller you are, the skinnier you need to be to have a “normal” BMI.

    For example, take a person who’s 5’2″ and 136lb. Their BMI is 24.9 (high side of normal). Now scale that person up to 6’2″, maintaining the same body shape and density. They’d weigh 231lb but have a BMI of 29.7 (high side of overweight) and would need to lose 37lb to be “normal”. Hardly seems fair.

  5. @Steve: The women in my family are short and dense. Plus I have a large ass and big boobs, with a much smaller waist. I’m considered OBESE right now. Am I overweight? Yes. But *far* from obese. When I work out, I gain muscle weight pretty quickly. Doesn’t seem to matter how healthy I actually am–the BMI ALWAYS says I’m on the high end of overweight or the low end of obese. It’s ridiculous.

  6. Back when I worked for the Air Force, in the early 90’s, the Air Force Times had the best headline ever: “Clinton Set to Halt Gay Probes, Discharges”.

  7. I wonder if BMI might be useful anyway. I agreed with each of the ten points the article made, and the origin of BMI is anti-scientific, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useless. It should be easy to see if BMI correlates to risk of heart disease or diabetes or any other condition it is supposed to predict. If high BMI is a good predictor of bad things then it is still useful even if it only leads to further, better tests.

    The problem is what do you replace BMI with? The best, I understand, is to do a overall density reading with a tank of water and a scale. Even this isn’t sufficient, because apparently it matters where your body deposits fat not just how much. This would add an extra hour to a physical.

    Fortunately I have the body type that tends to deposit fat on people near me.

  8. @marilove:

    I’m disgusted because the video is very obviously a shadow of someone in the room at the end of the hall. It’s so clearly obvious that only a willful stupidity on the part of the believer can account for it, and its popularity reminds me of how willfully stupid so many people are. The fact that any time has to be devoted to it at all just reinforces my low opinion of the reasoning capabilities of people at large.

    Did you know that there’s a guy who claims Jackson’s face has appeared in a tree stump?


    The stupid, it burns!

  9. I’m still waiting for a decent formula or some kind of guidance to come out showing what someone’s “ideal” weight really should be. My current BMI claims that I would be “ideally” at 185lb. However, I am built like a football linebacker, so at that weight I would look anorexic. Someday, maybe…

    I’m down to 210lb now and I am shooting for 200lb. I will re-evaluate at that point. (I’ve lost 15 lb in the last 6 weeks by eating right and exercising. Sorry, diet gurus. You aren’t getting rich off of me.)

  10. @marilove: That’s the other thing. It doesn’t account for differences in body shape. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his bodybuilding career was 6’2″ and 235lb, which works out to a BMI of 30.2 (obese). o_O

  11. @davew: There have been other incarnations of BMI-which take into account fat/lean tissue, but, they were cumbersome to perform. With a simple height/weight ratio, you just need two measurements and crunch some numbers. That being said, easier is not always better. Additionally, it doesn’t take into account gender. Women have more fat than men. Its stored in the pectorial areas. Have you ever heard of “Boobs”? They are primarily fat. Should they be held to the same constant of men, who have more testosterone, and therefore, make it easier to form muscle, which burns fat.

    My final point is, muscle weighs more than fat. So, two people, who weight exactly the same, and are the same height, would have the same BMI, even if one is built and the other is not.

  12. Re: Coffee and humans.

    Check on me in 25 years. I could float an aircraft carrier on the amount of coffee I drink daily. :-)

  13. The anti-BMI stuff really bugs me. Yes, it’s not a guaranteed indicator for every single individual. Doctors know this. If your doctor doesn’t, he’s just a bad doctor.

    BMI is a tool for a very specific purpose, namely statistical analysis of the relationship between fatness and morbidity. Note: statistical analysis. Not a diagnostic tool, but most doctors know that it’s not a diagnostic tool.

    But that’s not how doctors use it. (Again, apart from the bad ones.) They don’t say, “Your BMI is over 30, therefore you are destined to develop heart disease and diabetes and die before the age of 40.” What they say is, “Your BMI is over 30, which puts you at a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.” Which is true. Scores of well-controlled studies have shown as much.

    It’s exactly analogous to the connection between smoking and cardiovascular disease and cancer. Smoking, even a pack a day, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll die of lung cancer. You may get lucky. But it increases your risk.

    An even better analogy would be to BCRA genes. Testing positive for BCRA genes puts someone at an increased risk for breast cancer, but doesn’t, by itself, diagnose breast cancer.

    Same for BMI. It indicates risk, but doesn’t diagnose anything. Numerous good studies have shown the relationship. It’s not pseudoscience, it’s just a tool with a specific, limited scope (that doctors are aware of).

  14. @Joshua: You’ve beat me to it. I work with doctors and nurses and BMI is, and should be, used as a loose guideline.

    I have heard of a doctor being a little too attached to BMI definitions. It was in the context of other health care professionals practically ripping him apart for using the term “morbidly obese” to describe a very tall athletic woman.

  15. @Zapski: Disgusted just seems like such a strong word. My reaction was, “Oh. Well. That took a bit longer than I figured.” Which means I clearly don’t have the highest regard for the majority of people. Also, the stump thing doesn’t surprise me. Someone sold a MJ Cheeto on ebay or some shit. I’m too lazy to look it up. :D

  16. @Amanda: I have HAD doctors be too attached to BMI.

    It should be used as a loose guideline, but it rarely is. And it’s not helping that the media and general public have taken BMI and run with it – at least when it comes to HIGH BMIs. Please note that being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight, but that’s *never* mentioned in the media. Ever.

    According to one source online, I have a BMI of 34. (I’ve gotten a few different results…clearly the online calculators are off and I’m too lazy to figure it out myself.) Depressing!

    http://www.myspace.com/crushdmb <–public pictures of me. Chunky? Yes, yes I am. Morbidly obese?! Not even CLOSE!

    My waist-to-hip ratio is fine, my blood pressure and cholesterol is fine… I'm always given the bill of health when I go to the doctor. I've gained a few pounds since I got my car (no more walking everywhere and carrying groceries around) so I REALLY need to get to the gym, but I'm NEVER going to be skinny.

  17. @Joshua: ” It’s not pseudoscience, it’s just a tool with a specific, limited scope (that doctors are aware of).”

    Except not all doctors are, or seem to care. I’ve found a great doctor, but my last one sucked. EVERY TEST came out fine, but she was alllll about my weight–mostly my BMI. It was ridiculous. I was like “LOOK I WILL ALWAYS HAVE A HIGH BMI. I AM FINE. I do not have a car, I walk miles every day, I could eat better but I’m much healthier than my much skinnier mom, but I doubt you’d be harping on HER like this because she’s SKINNY.”

    Thankfully I found a new doctor who is great and said, “You are healthy but it might do you good to work out now that you have a car, and you should probably eat better.” And I said, “I agree!”

  18. @Amanda: It’s a pet peeve. The folks who bitch about BMI are usually obesity deniers; as a fellow fatass who is nonetheless capable of actually facing up to reality, those people really piss me off.

    Yes, professional bodybuilders get incorrectly dinged by BMI measurements. Guess what? Most people aren’t bodybuilders. Or NBA stars. Or any of the other exceptions to the rule.

  19. @Joshua: No, my last doctor sucked. My current one is the first one I’ve ever felt comfortable with (I don’t go to doctors much, because I’m really healthy and rarley need to. The only reason I even see my current one is for my yearly and because I ended up with a UTI).

  20. First off, MJ can’t be a ghost because he didn’t die. He ascended… like Elvis. Duh!

    Next, that BMI thing is crap and I love the article…. I am 5’4 and 134 lbs… and the biggest woman in my office. Despite the fact that I am healthy and rather average looking, the fact that I am not a twig is a source of constant pressure.

  21. @Joshua:

    The folks who bitch about BMI are usually obesity deniers; as a fellow fatass who is nonetheless capable of actually facing up to reality, those people really piss me off.

    WHAT? No. Cleary the BMI has some uses, but doctors and especially the media use it as the end-all, be-all of health. Just listen to the media and how they define fat and being “obese”. Just listen to weight-loss commercials, and Oprah, or just go read the comments in the article we are referring to.

    Notice that this obsession with BMI is the HIGH end of BMI. No one ever talks about the LOW end of BMI. Being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight, but no one ever talks about it. It’s always assumed that if you’re skinny, you’re healthy; if you’re chunky or fat? Walking death! Double standard, much?

    http://www.myspace.com/crushdmb <—the Halloween 2008 have some recent full-body pictures. I'm in costume (clown), but that's me. My boobs are kinda squished (costumes aren't generally made for big boobs), but otherwise that is me.

    My BMI according to the calculators I've been checking? 34.5.

    Please tell me if I look morbidly obese. Chunky? Yeah. But Morbidly obese? Not even close.

    It’s offensive. And it’s REALLY irritating when my very unhealthy mother doesn’t get harped on by her doctors or by society, because she’s skinny, but me, a chunky but otherwise very healthy young woman, is constantly bombarded with “You are fat! You will die! You are horrible! You just bitch about the BMI because you’re a fatty in denial! Lose some weight, fat ass!!!!”

    Yes, I am bitter. At least today. Because we’re out of coffee.

  22. @infinitemonkey: “My final point is, muscle weighs more than fat. So, two people, who weight exactly the same, and are the same height, would have the same BMI, even if one is built and the other is not.”

    This is a very good point. Also @Joshua has done a very good job with explaining the pros and cons of BMI. I just wanted to throw out some wild speculation. Most people I have seen who look like they can walk through a battleship when they are young look like a supertanker later in life. Their body type, appetite, life-style, and genes dispose them towards putting on weight. Even though they are not fat when they are young, their high BMI is still a good indication of an increased risk.

  23. I…thought I posted something but I don’t know if I just screwed up, or if it’s in the moderation queue, so I’m afraid to re-post, and…

    Okay. http://www.myspace.com/crushdmb <—public photos are there. Go to the Halloween 2008 because there should be full-body shots of me in costume. I'm the clown. Aside from the slightly squished boobs (store-bought costumes don't tend to fit big boobs), that is me.

    According to the online BMI calculators I've found, I have a BMI of 34.5.

    So apparently, I am almost “severely obese”. Do I LOOK severely obese? No.

    Now, read the comments on the NPR article, and listen to and read the news whenever they talk about obesity, and listen to anyone who ever refers to BMI: It’s always the HIGH end of BMI. Never the low end. Being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight. But no one ever mentions it. EVER. Being fat is bad bad BAD BAD DEATH! But if you’re skinny, you’re assumed to be healthy. Period.

    My much skinnier mom is very unhealthy but everyone assumes she is healthy. Little do they know that she’s a walking skeleton.

    I’m chunky but really healthy … and I’m given shit all the time for my weight. According to the media, according to Joshua, according to anyone who ever comments on BMI: I am walking death. Because I’m chunky and my BMI says so!

    But my skinny mom who is probably going to die before she hits 60? Everyone automatically assumes she’s healthy because she’s skinny. Everyone automatically assumes I have health issues because I’m fat. Little does Joshua know, it’s my mom who is at a much higher risk for hearth disease than I’ll ever be (because of her lifestyle).

    But meh, I’m fat, she’s skinny…clearly I’m the unhealthy one.

  24. Okay so I have been attempting to post, and usually it tells me it’s going to moderation if it’s not posted right away, but I’m not even getting that message…so I have no idea where my posts are going.

    So I apologize if I accidently post the same-ish thing like, 3 times.

  25. @davew:

    It should be easy to see if BMI correlates to risk of heart disease or diabetes or any other condition it is supposed to predict.

    It seems like it would be simple, but it really isn’t. The idea is to use BMI to predict excess fat, and then use excess fat to determine other health risks. It’s not a direct link, and the links between all three things are very complex because there are so many other factors involved. Any study of BMI verses heart disease would probably need sub-groups of people with other risk factors (family history, smoking, lifestyle) to get any really useful information. And then there’s the problem that even though higher BMI probably does increase the risk of certain diseases, we can’t assume that people will lower their risk by reducing their BMI. To study this effect, you’d need a longitudinal study. You have some good suggestions, and it’s possible that some of these things have already been studied, but it can get really complex and unclear.

  26. Yeah, I have a major bitch with the BMI. According to the official Navy fat test, (which involves crunching the numbers from a neck measurement, wrist measurement, and waist measurement.) My body fat is 16%, which makes sense, since I cycle about 80 miles a week among other things. But I am in the AF who uses the BMI as a personal diagnostic tool, and I have regular checkups to explain my 26% body fat according to the BMI.

  27. K, it doesn’t look like those posts posted, so.

    http://www.myspace.com/crushdmb <—look at the Halloween 2008 pics for some recent-ish full-body pics. I'm in costume (the clown), and my boobs are a bit squished (store-bought costumes and big boobs don't always mix well), but otherwise that's me.

    My BMI according to the online calculators is 34.5…which is severely obese.

    I am not severely obese.

    The BMI does not take into account that the women in my family are dense, I have a big ass, big boobs, and a much smaller waist. You should see my thighs and calves when I work out, they are rocks. Clearly I am chunky and could lose a few lbs. (now that I don’t have a car I really need to start working out regularly), but severely obese? Not even close. And not all doctors do get that, even if they should.

  28. I wonder if someone should stage a shadow-ghost sighting, just to demonstrate how it’s done. All you need is a setting (or rising) sun and a west (or east)-facing window. The darkened hallway does help the effect, though.

    Maybe something where the “ghost” walks past as in the MJ clip but then comes back and starts making increasingly wacky gestures. “YMCA” comes to mind…

  29. @Kaylia Marie: But, but…Elvis didn’t ascend! He works at a 7-11 in Kalamazoo! The Enquirer saw him! ;-)

    As far as BMI goes, how DO I find out what my so-called “ideal” weight should be? Any ideas?

  30. @questionAuthority

    Ideal for what? I say, if you lover doesn’t mind you on top, your weight’s fine.

    Also, I wonder what sort of data we could get testing the mice who live in coffee warehouses?

  31. @QuestionAuthority: “As far as BMI goes, how DO I find out what my so-called “ideal” weight should be? Any ideas?”

    For males the ideal weight is 150 and the ideal height is 6′ 0″. If you don’t match this see your doctor.

  32. @Davew: In that case, I’m doomed. :-P Doomed, I tell you!

    @truthwalker and Kaylia Marie: That could explain much…

  33. It’s actually funny but true.. because I am surrounded with people who treat me like I am a big lumbering fatso, I think of myself that way sometimes even when I know it isn’t true. My lover is about 100 pounds heavier than I am, but I still worry when sitting on his lap. “Am I hurting you?” I ask and he tells me I’m nuts. But my perception based on my “peers” and things like the BMI lead me to worry about squishing him, even if it would be hard to actually do so.

  34. My BMI is high normal and my doctor (who looks like Jesus in a lab coat) is always telling me to get more exercise and eat better. Why? Because I get no excercise and my diet is too rich in flesh (mmm… tasty smoked flesh).
    My doctor knows better than to rely on BMI.
    I hate my doctor.
    The fact that I was socialized to obey Jesus AND people in lab coats means I’m totally screwed.

  35. @MyNameIsTim: Thanks for the nom, but I’ll never get COTW. I only mentioned boobs once, and then strictly in the context of breast cancer, not a lewd remark, so I’m disqualified. ;)

  36. Here is the best headline I ever read: “Chick Accuses Board of Sexual Harassment.” The woman’s NAME was Chick. She was a supervisor or something similar in Los Angeles and accused her fellow supervisors of harassment. I wonder what the editor of the LA TImes thought when that headline crossed his desk!

  37. I dunno, there was one from years ago that went something like “Cops Find Crack on Mayor’s Daughter”

    Which I would look up and link to but somehow I think Google would feed me more than my work station could handle.

  38. That’s not Michael Jackson’s ghost in Neverland. It’s the unquiet spirit of one of the children he abused there.

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