There is a theory that explains how Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer are related.
6 min read

There is a theory that explains how Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer are related.

Unfortunately, it is wrong.
There is a theory that explains how Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer are related.

Picture this: A new article is about to be published. It is 99.9 % finished, only a few small details are missing. The days of text polishing have come to an end and the editor is slowly packing up. But at the very last minute, the bomb drops: one of the most important core statements of the article turns out to be wrong, it cannot be published and has to be completely scrapped.

Phew.

This is probably the most painful decision an author has to make in his work, and this is exactly why you spend a long time doing background analysis on complex topics. You look for cross-connections, talk to colleagues, specialists, friends, and sometimes you’d best talk to those who completely disagree with you. Thorough research serves the purpose of eliminating exactly such scenarios so that no false information is published. However, at the end of the day, it’s always a human being at his keyboard who wants to communicate something to other human beings behind the screen.

Three weeks ago, a topic popped up on my timeline that simply blew my mind. Without realizing it, I committed the number one mistake an author can make: He believes so much in his upcoming story that he sets his sensors to find the right evidence for it.

The human psyche follows a simple rule here:
Whatever the thinker thinks, the inner proof leader will prove. In my opinion, thinking includes ratio, i.e. to infer generally valid connections by reasoning. Therefore, let me refine this simple rule a bit: Whatever you believe, your inner evidentialist will find.

Belief has nothing in common with reason.

If, for example, one believes the tales of the currently very popular prophets of rage who are haunting the land, that the political elite is, in reality, a bloodsucking cult of child molesters then at some point one will go to the Capitol and tries to get rid of this elite by brute force. But that has nothing to do with thinking or reasoning. Something like that is caused by a fundamental belief.

During my article research on the topic mentioned at the beginning, my inner guide was a fickle bitch. I let her lead me on the wrong track and — even worse — let her off the leash. However, I realized my mistake in time and canceled the release. That’s why, instead of reading an article that should link chemical fertilizers and weed killers to pretty much every modern disease and developmental disorder, you’re now reading an article about an article that doesn’t exist.

I’m sorry. 🤷🏼‍♂️

The topic that became nothing.

After Skool’s YouTube channel publishes short, hand-drawn explainer videos that take a closer look at various topics in philosophy, science, and society. Here’s what the creators’ website says:

Searching far and wide to find the most interesting content and deliver these insights in the most engaging way possible. The goal is to enhance profound ideas through art.

This is a noble goal and I remain a fan of these videos. Especially one of the last animations fascinated me and already there a warning light should have lit up. It deals with the destruction of the biosphere, a fundamentally important topic. How does industrial agriculture affect our environment and what are the retroactive effects on human health?

In short, by bringing in glyphosate, the world’s best-selling weedkiller, onto the ecological cycle at scale, we are altering the building blocks of life at the cellular level, provoking diseases and developmental disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism, and cancer. At least that is the argument made by Zach Bush, MD, in this video. The evidence listed there made a logical and coherent impression on me. And after a quick review of his bio, I didn’t research it any further. I believed the thesis. And my inner evidentialist believed it.

“You have to make things as simple as possible. But not simpler.” — Albert Einstein

Of course, it is problematic that mankind is applying vast amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and plastics into the natural cycle like crazy, destroying its own basis of life. Of course, it is problematic that corporations like Monsanto or Nestlé support this cycle with purely economically motivated decisions, while they reap the profits and at the same time exclude the people who have to bear the consequences.

However, there are two problems with this. First: If you do more research, you will of course find enough studies that prove the negative influence of glyphosate on the ecosystem. But there is no scientifically proven connection between glyphosate and the development of autism. Secondly, Zach Bush advertises products on his website that are supposed to minimize the effects of this poison on the human organism. But there is no scientifically verifiable proof for this postulated effect either, except for the fact that the products “do not harm kidneys”. Bush must therefore face the criticism that his actions are guided by an old marketing credo:

Create a problem. Then offer the solution.

This hits a sour note, right? Now I’m kind of torn because many of the problems Bush addresses are real and urgent.

Who is Zach Bush anyway?

Zach Bush, MD is specialized in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care. He is the founder of Seraphic Group, an organization devoted to developing root-cause solutions for human and ecological health in the sectors of big farming, big pharma, and Western Medicine at large.

And he is also the founder of Farmers Footprint, a non-profit coalition of farmers, educators, doctors, scientists, and business leaders aiming to expose the deleterious human and environmental impacts of chemical farming and pesticide reliance — while simultaneously offering a path forward through regenerative agricultural practices.

So Bush is also involved in other projects that promote the sustainable use of resources, which somewhat mitigates the bland flavor of his marketing strategy. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him an impostor but take a more nuanced view.

There is no evidence that glyphosate, for example, is one of the causes of autism. It is not even necessary to philosophize about the lobbying of large corporations or about the fact that correlations can turn out to be true, even if no scientific paper has been published about it so far. This does not put the facts into perspective that the annually applied amount of this weedkiller has serious negative effects on the complex ecological cycle of the planet.

The products he promotes – and which, by the way, you simply don’t have to buy – may possess only a placebo effect. But that doesn’t make the criticism of industrial agriculture that has gotten out of hand and its long-term ecological consequences wrong.

Perhaps both sides are simply allowed to be possible. Bush is just a little bit wrong and a little bit right. For me personally, the latter part weighs more, but everyone can decide that for themselves.

Let me share the following insights with you.

  1. Being critical is essential. To be skeptical is essential. But bloated skepticism makes a clear point of view impossible. Don’t get lost in your insecurities and don’t make your decisions in complete dependence on the opinions of others.
  2. Check this: Do you really know what you think? Or do you only believe what you know? If most of your reasoning is based on belief, go back to the drawing board of your original idea. You’ll save yourself a lot of work. And you’ll be doing humanity a big favor.
  3. When you’re tracing a complex issue that you’re very emotionally involved in, whether you’re producing text, music, or videos, be especially vigilant if something strongly outrages you. For this case, I use a method I call “thought flooding”: you try to regain a neutral point of view by expressing everything that’s on your mind about your topic and what’s bothering you. Write your thoughts in a journal or in a document that only you have access to and that no one else will see but you (this makes the flooding thing easier). Doodle, sketch, draw, sing, edit — whatever. And now, here comes the trick. Ready?
  4. Wait!
    Leave everything as it is, get up and look at the clouds, go for a run or take a nap or call your best friend. Do whatever helps you unwind from your emotional tangle and what helps you forget about your work. When you come back to your work, ask yourself the following questions:
    • Why am I so outraged by this? What is the real reason for this feeling? (e.g., shame, guilt, education, normative thinking, etc.)
    • Is what I’m thinking about this issue really true? Or do I only believe what I know?
    • Am I really expressing what I feel with what I have created?
  5. If you’re unsure: never, under any circumstances, even if it’s the last minute of your life, press “publish” or “send” immediately. An idea is probably the most powerful tool in this universe and once it is out in the world and other people’s brains, you have no power over it (see: memetics). For example, the best feature on Twitter, in my opinion, is the “Save as Draft” feature. Why? 👉🏻 #4.
  6. Making mistakes is OK. Don’t judge them, they are neither good nor bad. But mistakes always offer the opportunity to grow and expand your potential. Making the same mistake over and over again is stupid. Sharing your process of making mistakes with other people is something that probably made our species really great in the first place. Share your insights.

Afterthoughts

I came across the Verification Handbook For Disinformation And Media Manipulation after my failed article attempt through many detours. Could I have used it earlier? Maybe. But those who take detours get more out of the way.


Image credits: Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

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