Survival of the Fittest is Not Related to Physical Fitness

By Erica Geiger

Almost everyone has heard of evolution and most of us have a vague idea of what it means. Animals with useful traits survive and pass on their genes. Over time, these positive traits become more common and a species evolves. Most of us aren’t scientists, though, and a number of evolution myths have popped up over time.

Myth #1: Evolution is “just” a theory

We usually think of theories as being possibilities, not facts. A “theory” in science, though, takes on a different meaning. I personally like this definition from the National Academy of Sciences:

“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”

In other words, a scientific theory is an explanation that has been backed up by many studies and a substantial amount of evidence. We don’t call it a “fact” because science can always change as we learn new information. We’re all pretty sure the Earth rotates around the Sun yet that concept is called the heliocentric theory. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll find any evidence that goes against this “theory” but scientists still don’t call it a fact.

Evolution

Myth #2: Humans evolved from monkeys

This is a common one and often used in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theories. It’s also not true; humans did not evolve from monkeys. We did share an ancestor with African apes (note that “apes” aren’t monkeys) about 8 million years ago but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. Instead, there was a great ancestor that eventually gave rise to humans and apes. We’re most closely related to chimpanzees because of this ancestor but there were two distinct evolutionary paths.

When the human species began to evolve, the chimpanzee species was evolving separately. We’re related, we didn’t directly evolve from any modern primate species. We do share over 90% of our DNA with non-human primates, including gorillas and other great apes. On the other hand, humans also share 90% of their DNA with mice! That doesn’t mean humans evolved from mice, it’s just a result of most mammals sharing genes.

Myth #3: Survival of the fittest means the strongest will survive

Sometimes people will use the term “survival of the fittest” to excuse a behavior. I’ve unfortunately overheard someone say that we shouldn’t help those weaker than us because “it’s survival of the fittest!” The average person interprets this idea, originally thought up by Charles Darwin, as meaning that the very strongest will survive. The problem is that “fitness” has an entirely different meaning in biology. It doesn’t refer to strength, health, or physical fitness at all. Instead, biological “fitness” refers to the ability to pass on your genes, generally by having offspring.

In evolution, the end goal is to pass on your genes to the next generation. That doesn’t necessarily require being the strongest, however. In fact, animals that get into too many fights might become injured or killed. Even if they won most of those fights and were the strongest in their group, death means they won’t be passing on their genes. Those animals would therefore be considered to have low fitness. On the other hand, a somewhat weaker animal that stays out of danger might be able to successfully raise several offspring. That animal would be said to have high fitness. In primates, including humans, being a good parent will often raise fitness more than being strong. From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to lift heavy weights means nothing if you never settle down and raise children.

If you want to learn more about how evolution works, the University of California in Berkeley (among others) have put together great evolution resources: click here.

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Sources: Science and Creationism, National Human Genome Research Institute, Smithsonian, Natural History

Photo: Wellcome Images UK

July 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

All Food is “Natural”

While walking through the grocery store, you may notice labels such as “Natural”, “Organic”, and “Free Range”. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for products with these claims. In one poll, 63% of respondents strongly preferred foods with the “Natural” label. Not all of these labels have legal definitions, however, and some are completely unregulated.

Organic
In order to be labelled as organic, food must meet guidelines defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The product must not contain any artificial additives, including preservatives and synthetic pesticides. Many organic foods are made without genetically modified ingredients but this is not required by law. There’s no scientific evidence showing that organic foods are inherently healthier but some consumers may be willing to pay extra in order to avoid synthetic chemicals.

Free Range/Free Roaming
This is a label you might see on egg cartons. For most people, the term “Free Range” brings to mind happy chickens foraging in lush, green meadows. In reality, the producer just needs to show that the poultry has been allowed outdoor access. The law doesn’t actually state how large the area needs to be and there are no minimum time requirements. A farm could offer an outside area of just a few square feet, only accessible for a few minutes, and still be eligible for the “Free Range” label. Rather than paying extra for “Free Range” eggs, consider checking out a local farm where you’ll be able to verify how the hens are actually kept.

eggs

Cage-free
At first glance, this doesn’t sound any different from the “Free Range” label. The major difference is that “Cage-free” doesn’t specify that the poultry had any outdoor access, only that they weren’t kept in cages. Often, these “Cage-free” chickens are loose in large buildings. These buildings are so crowded that it’s not unusual for chickens to get severely injured, leading some to question whether or not this environment is actually better for the animals. This is another case where it’s better to find out how a particular farm raises their poultry if animal welfare is your concern.

Vegetarian Fed
This is an odd one, recently popping up on lots of egg cartons. Some people associate vegetarianism with health foods, figuring that eggs with this label must be healthier or higher quality. While this label does certify that the hens were fed a vegetarian diet, there’s very little benefit to picking these over other eggs. Chickens are actually omnivores so a diet of corn and soy doesn’t make them any healthier (if anything, it has the opposite effect). This label does mean that the hens weren’t fed meat by-products, including other chicken parts. However, that practice is already rare and not something the average consumer needs to worry about.

Grass Fed
This is a label used exclusively for beef products. In the past, it meant that the cattle had been fed a diet of grass as opposed to grains such as corn. Unfortunately, the USDA revoked their definition earlier this year. Using the label still requires USDA approval but there are no longer any specific requirements or regulations.

No Antibiotics
This is a rare case of a label meaning exactly what it says. In order to label meat as “No Antibiotics” or “Antibiotic Free”, the producer needs to provide documentation showing that the animals weren’t treated with any antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem these days so it’s not a bad idea to look for this label when sourcing meat products.

No Hormones/Hormone Free
In order to use this label, the producer needs to provide proof that the animals were raised without the use of added hormones. The problem is that you’ll see this label everywhere when it’s only really relevant for beef products. The use of added hormones in pork and poultry is completely illegal in the United States, making the label pointless for those products. Companies using this label are relying on customers being unaware of these laws.

Natural
This is probably one of the most common labels you’ll see in the grocery store. It also means absolutely nothing. There is no legal definition for “Natural”, including “Made with Natural Ingredients”, “100% Natural”, and “All Natural”. Any company can label their food as being natural. Don’t bother paying extra for “Natural” foods until a legal definition is established.

In short, it’s good to read food labels but make sure you know what you’re getting. Most of these labels are used for marketing purposes and not all of them are defined or regulated.

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Sources:  University of Iowa, USDA, USDA

July 10, 2016 at 6:00 am 1 comment

The Difference Between Pyramid Schemes and MLM

Multilevel Marketing (MLM) Organizations are not Pyramid Schemes. I’m not trying to defend MLM companies, because I think those are terrible businesses for most people, but I wish more people knew what a real pyramid scheme was because they’re so fascinating!

Pyramid Dollar

So try to forget everything you know about MLM and pyramid schemes, unless of course you already know that a pyramid scheme is very different from Multilevel Marketing.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with multilevel marketing companies, these are the companies where your success depends heavily on how many other people you can recruit into the company (because you get a bonus for selling them in and/or a cut of their sales). They also involve direct selling of products. Some of the largest and most recognizable MLMs are:

  • Avon Cosmetics
  • Amway (Household Goods)
  • Mary Kay (Cosmetics)
  • Herbalife (Vitamins/Supplements)
  • Primerica (Financial/Investment Products)
  • Tupperware (Home Storage)
  • Pampered Chef (Kitchen Tools)

You probably recognize most of the companies listed above and they’re not small companies. Pampered Chef is the smallest one in that list and it’s a $500 million publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange! Avon is the largest at over $10 billion in revenue with more than 6 million sales people.

$10 billion in revenue and 6 million sales reps is impressive, but it also cuts at the heart of why I don’t like MLMs and why many people try to steer clear of them. If we do some quick math to understand those numbers, $10.3 billion in revenue leaves each of the 6.2 million sales reps and 42,000 employees with about $1650 each.

Of course, we can assume the 42,000 employees are being paid a reasonable salary or they’d probably go work somewhere else. So that leaves a sales rep with even less than $1650 as an average. We see the best sales reps driving around in pink Cadillacs, so we can also assume the best sales reps are making much more than $1650. In other words, some sales reps are doing very well and others don’t make enough to survive.

That’s not a problem per se, any sales rep is responsible for their own success of course. But a lot of people are sucked into these ventures with the promise of (potential) wealth. I’m not speaking about Avon specifically, but I have been invited to meetings for other MLMs and that was always the pitch. When the results don’t match the pitch, people start to feel like they’ve been scammed, especially when they’ve paid money to join or buy product inventory to get started selling. While they’re not exactly trying to scam people, they are giving a hard sell and I have been to pitch meetings where people were misled about typical results.

Multilevel marketing companies are legal, assuming they’re actually selling a real product (and the product is legal). Again, they might not be good business opportunities but they are technically legal. Like I said, they’re on the New York Stock Exchange! In fact, there are plenty of legal and lousy business opportunities out there, go to any franchise trade show and see some for yourself — MLMs do not have a monopoly on lousy (high failure rate) business opportunities.

On the other hand Pyramid Schemes are illegal. They are fly by night operations (sometimes literally since they may only operate at night). They are not traded on stock exchanges. In fact, these are some pretty big indicators that a business is not a pyramid scheme: it is legal and the company is on a stock exchange.

Because a lot of people dislike MLM organizations and think they’re a scam, they often refer to them as “Pyramid Schemes” either out of confusion or as an insult or exaggeration. There’s also that funny scene in The Office where Michael Scott draws the Organization Chart of an MLM and then Jim draws a pyramid shape around it to demonstrate that it’s a Pyramid Scheme:

office-pyramid

It’s a really funny scene, but as we know: MLMs are not Pyramid Schemes.

So, let’s get to the really interesting part:

What is a Pyramid Scheme?

The key indication that you’re dealing with a Pyramid Scheme is that the people involved actually describe it as a pyramid scheme. They may have clever code names for the organization, but nobody is denying the fact that it’s a pyramid scheme because it’s important for everyone to understand how that works and it’s important for everyone to know it’s illegal so they can tread carefully. On the other hand, people in MLMs never refer to their organizations as Pyramid Schemes, because they probably don’t know what a real pyramid scheme is, and they do know they’re not in one because their business is actually legal — lousy perhaps, but still legal.

So let me get back to the beginning, if there’s no product involved then how does anyone make money? That’s the evil genius of some pyramid schemes: they just pass around money!

The Eightball Model

This type of Pyramid Scheme is called the eight ball model because there are exactly 8 people at the bottom of the pyramid. There are exactly 4 people above these 8 (one person for every two below). There are exactly 2 people above the 4 (again, one person for every two below). Then there is 1 person above the 2 (again, one person for every two below). If you haven’t figured it out, this structure makes something that resembles an actual pyramid shape:

8 Ball Pyramid Scheme Structure

This is another key difference between Pyramids and MLMs — Pyramids actually look like Pyramids. MLMs can have any number of people on each level and therefore the never actually look like pyramids.

So how does a Pyramid Scheme keep its pyramid shape when new people join? The person at the top of the pyramid gets kicked out (blue) and the pyramid divides in two new pyramids with the 2 people on the second level (red) now as the top person in each of their own pyramids.

8 Ball Pyramid Split

Now there are two pyramids and the people in each pyramid will try to recruit people to join the bottom of their pyramid which will then force these 2 pyramids to become 4 pyramids (and so on). This is illegal because there are only so many people who can join the pyramid so eventually there will be many pyramids that are waiting for people to join and not enough people in existence to join them, thus everyone already “invested” in the pyramid will lose their money.

So again, MLMs are not Pyramid Schemes. But, to make things more complicated, some scams pretend to be MLMs. This further confuses people into thinking MLMs are scams and scams are Pyramid Schemes. One method of making a Pyramid Scheme sound like Multilevel Marketing is called a:

Matrix Scheme

In a matrix scheme, victims typically pay a fee (or buy a fake or worthless product) to join a queue to receive a luxury item (iPad, Cellphone, etc). These businesses are sometimes made to seem like MLMs because the people are told they will receive their item quicker if they get their friends to sign up.

The person running the scheme waits until income equals double (or more) of the cost of the item and then they send out the first item to the first person on the list. When income doubles the cost of the item a second time, they send the item to the second person on the list. This is a ponzi scheme to some degree, but it also suffers from the same problem as the 8 Ball Pyramid Scheme: exponential growth is required to pay each new person who joins, which eventually becomes impossible to sustain.

At the end of the day, the Federal Trade Commision does have some specific criteria to tell the difference between MLMs and Pyramid Schemes. MLMs:

  1. Have a real product to sell
  2. Sell the product without requiring the customer to join the MLM
  3. Pay commission for real sales, not recruiting

Regardless of the differences, you should be wary of both Pyramid Schemes and MLMs since it’s quite possible that you’ll lose your money in both.

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Sources: FTC, College of New Jersey

May 2, 2016 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Sink Plungers are Not Toilet Plungers

Thankfully, my current home has good plumbing and I haven’t needed a plunger in a long time. But, I can’t say the same about previous places, especially some of those places in college!

The best way to get a plunger to work well is to use the right plunger. There are two main types of plungers: toilet plungers and general purpose plungers (for almost everything other than toilets).

plungersSinks and floor drains are typically flat, so a flat plunger is ideal. But toilet drains are typically curved and the curvature can vary widely among models. That means a flat sink plunger isn’t well suited for creating a seal and getting proper suction around the curvature of a toilet drain. You need good suction to clear a blockage and you’ll get better suction if you use a plunger with a flanged bottom to match the curve of the toilet drain.

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*Please checkout this game I’ve been working on with a friend. It’s available for free on Android and iOS. It’s a number based puzzle game that is designed for casual touchscreen gaming. Think sudoku, but better suited for visual thinkers (or people who just like palm trees). Click the phone below to check it out:

150wSkyscraper

September 5, 2014 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Kids in Point Roberts USA go through Canada Twice a Day for School in the USA

Point Roberts, Washington is considered part of the mainland United States, but it’s only connected by land to Canada. Although it’s connection to Canada is similar to Alaska, it’s not as far from the rest of the mainland United States as Alaska — it’s only about 8 miles (13 km) across the water. The nearest large city is Vancouver, British Columbia at roughly 22 miles (35 km) away.

Point Roberts, WA

The Point Roberts school serves children from kindergarden through third grade. Older kids are shuttled on a 40 minute school bus ride that takes them out of the US, into British Columbia (Canada), and then back into the US again at Blaine, Washington. Then on the way home, they do it all over again.

The population of Point Bob is roughly 1,314 according to the 2010 census. So, it might not be feasible to school all of the children on The Point. Many high schools have more students than Point Roberts has people.

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Sources: wikipedia (Point Roberts)

July 29, 2014 at 11:36 pm 1 comment

Is Japan’s Coastline Longer Than Australia’s?

By Chad Upton | Editor-in-chief

I often come across the statement that Japan’s coastline is longer than Australia’s.

Although Australia has more than 20 times more land area than Japan, Japan actually has a longer coastline according to the World Factbook. The World Factbook, published by the CIA, lists Australia’s coastline at 25,760 km (16,007 miles) and Japan’s at 29,751 km (18,486 miles).

japan_australia

As you can see in the graphic above, Japan fits comfortably inside of Australia. So, how is it possible that it has a longer coastline? (more…)

May 30, 2014 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Bluetooth Technology is Named After a King

By Chad Upton | Editor-in-chief

King Harald Gormsson ruled Denmark from c. 958 until his death in 985 or 986 (sources vary). He also dabbled in ruling Norway for a few years starting in roughly c. 970.

bluetooth_vikings

He is known for building the first bridge in southern Scandinavia. It was a huge bridge for the time at 5 meters (5.5 yards) wide and 760 meters (831 yards) long. Bridges were of course useful, and this was the longest known bridge in the Viking era — a prestigious symbol for the builder. (more…)

May 21, 2014 at 8:00 am 4 comments

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