By Amanda Lewellyn and Alex Zrenner

The truth is more complicated now than it’s ever been.

In the past, the word truth meant that the statement couldn’t be argued. But today, in the midst of one of the strangest presidential elections in history, every fact has become debatable.

Regardless of what independent fact-checkers report, partisan pundits problematize the truth–not to mention the morality and context–behind the facts. We can even see it in the political ads: this election, there’s a focus on emotional rhetoric and not factual arguments.

With this growing tension between fact and feeling, the electorate is left to question how we’re supposed to know whether candidates’ claims are truth, lies, or something else entirely.

Let’s look at that disconnect from an economic perspective: according to the Democrats, we’re recovering from the 2007-2009 recession, and the economy is growing.

But according to Trump (and some Republicans), the economy is failing. China, globalization, and immigration have taken all of our jobs and everyone is out of work.

Who’s right? That depends on who you ask.

According to a number of economic measurements, the Democrats are right. The unemployment rate is now at five percent, a major improvement from its staggering 10 percent peak during the 2007-2009 recession. The stock market has reached record highs in 2016. We have almost zero reason to fear an impending recession in the U.S.   

But Republicans also have reason to believe that the economy isn’t as healthy as the Democrats say it is. The unemployment rate is an arbitrary but established measurement of economic labor performance. It is the fraction of people who have a job to people who have a job AND are actively seeking work. Any person who stopped searching for work isn’t factored into this measurement. Which means there may be a significant portion of the country that isn’t working (and isn’t looking, either).

Translation: the truth here is fraught. From a zoomed-out point of view, sure, the Democrats are right in saying that the economy on the whole is getting better. But there is reason to believe that a nonrandom group of people are not experiencing that economic recovery.

Just outside of St. Louis, there was a factory that manufactured Chrysler cars. It was shut down during the 2007-2009 recession. Now, all the factory line workers are out of a job, and everyone they knew from the factory is, too. In a workforce that is increasingly skilled and an economy that’s moving toward clean energy, those factory workers now lack the qualifications to participate in the type of jobs that American leaders are working to produce: jobs in fields like solar energy and technology production.  

Those factory workers don’t feel the low 5 percent unemployment rate is the truth. They know that they’re unemployed. They know that many of their friends are unemployed, and not of their own volition.

In other words: from those factory workers’ perspective, the Democrats’ summary of the “growing” economy does not reflect their experiences. It’s just not their truth.

That’s not to say that the Democrats are wrong or ill-intentioned, either. A five percent unemployment rate is a great sign for the economy, and the losses of factory and coal jobs are an unfortunate opportunity cost of transitioning to a clean and sustainable economy. We should create programs to ease the transition, but that’s a conversation for a later date.

So is it the statistic or the experience that defines the truth? We don’t have an answer to that. We don’t think anyone does.

What we do know is that regardless of the outcome of this election, many people will believe that the majority ignored their truths. It is the responsibility of the next leader of the country to find a way to include those voices in the creation of national policy.

Football and Antlers

Thanks to the resurgence of antler sprays as highly questionable athletic supplements, deer antlers are still trending a month after Christmas.

For thousands of years, deer antlers have been used as a Chinese remedy for essentially everything (a quick Google search will yield a wide variety of results). While most of the antler benefits have not been scientifically proven, it is believed that these antlers contain high concentrations of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) – a protein that promotes cell-growth. As a result, many deer antler supplements have been dubiously marketed as performance enhancing wonder drugs due to speculations that IGF-1 will boost muscle growth.

The “antler issue” has been plaguing sports for a while (IFG-1 is banned in professional leagues such as the MLB and NFL), but it regained popularity recently when some high-profile football players became linked to the antlers. While it is discerning that professionals are using illegal substances, it is really alarming when Christopher Key, the co-owner of an athletic supplement supplier, informed the public that he has been selling these deer antler oral sprays to college football players, and that the usage is undetectable (he has also sold “hologram patches” to some players, apparently). According to Key, his clients are feeling more energized and winning big games left and right.

So while his spray sounds like the greatest supplement since vitamin gummies, it most likely does not work.

Oral delivery of IGF just seems…incredibly difficult, and a quick literature search did not give me any hard evidence on its effects. The same ESPN article that reported Key’s testimony also mentioned a researcher (with actual expertise) refuting the possibility of the spray working. Also, Dr. Jordan Moon calculated that there simply isn’t enough in a bottle spray to be effective – in fact, Dr. Moon believes that the athletes need to use up to at least 5000 cans of spray for it to work (it is also unlikely that the IGF is delivered 100%). Reading Key’s statements, they sound more like commercials than testaments, and Key did not mention how his spray can avoid blood tests. The reason why it is undetectable is likely due to the fact that there isn’t anything in the spray. New Zealand Medical Journal also raises more doubt on the legitimacy of the antler claims (fun fact: New Zealand is the world’s largest producer of deer antlers).

So all this sounds like another hoax (seriously, what is a “hologram patch?”), and the seller is either unethically selling illegal substances to student athletes, or unethically convincing college athletes to buy his useless spray. If Key’s clients experienced any powerful “level-ups,” it is likely due to the placebo effect. Key was quoted saying: “The whole idea is to compete without cheating. We are not bad guys.” And he is right because the  players do not have IGF-1 in their bodies.

But should these college players be punished if the spray doesn’t do anything? We still punish people for unsuccessful cheating (like copying down all the wrong answers), but this case is a bit different because we don’t know if the players know about the IGF-1. To them, they could just be another source of nutrition input, which is not that different from a family remedy of…umm…spinach pie that build muscles.

Or is it really that simple? While I doubt players really knew what they were putting in their bodies, I doubt they really thought they were just eating more carrots to improve their vision – a guy sold them a “spray” that is claimed to work wonders and not be detected by blood tests (life tip: if “not being detected”is part of the advertisement, it probably is illegal).

Obviously it is more unethical for Key to throw his deceived clients under the bus for his own benefits (it worked), but what about the athletes? Is it really “cheating” when your sketchily obtained “nutrition supplement” doesn’t provide you any advantage – and you just think it does? Most people won’t consider moms telling their kids to eat large broccoli to be an unfair advantage, so what about these undetectable nutrition supplements? If they should be punished, what are the punishments for experiencing the placebo effect?


P.S. Random, but this topic reminds me of rhino hunting

Facebook PDA-To Laugh, or Not to Laugh, That is the Question

It’s that time of year again. It’s getting warmer (well, not really…), the color pink is everywhere, and you will be surrounded by love. Or at least have to deal with St. Valentine’s Day. And if you’re part of the approximately 50% of Americans who have a Facebook account, you’re going to have to deal with a deluge of posts:

“Happy 1 year! I love you baby!”

“You’re so sexy!”

“I can’t wait to see my hubby tonight!”

(Courtesy of Lamebook.com)

And many, many more. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest.

The acronym “PDA” has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of it-from the Personal Digital Assistant to the Photo Diode Array to the Posterior Descending Artery to the Progressive Democrats of America. But now, PDA has settled into a newer and (for the time being) more permanent home: Public Displays of Affection. In fact, there is even a new term for a particular niche of PDA: the Facebook PDA, or PDA that is public (on the internet, at least) on Facebook.

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Frosty Got Run Over By a … Bus?

Forget “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” The video to watch this winter season is “Frosty Got Run Over by a Bus!

What began as a “harmless” prank of placing a snowman in the middle of the street led to the unfortunate termination of a Champaign–Urbana city bus driver. After the footage of the “hit-and- run” incident went viral on YouTube, officials of the transit company met with the guilty employee and facilitated a “quiet resignation.” Although company officials did not elaborate on the cause of the termination, I suspect the YouTube video was the guilty culprit.

Many Chicago residents blamed the pranksters for the unfair termination of the bus driver and others censured him for running-down Frosty at 30 mph. After viewing the video, YOU decide: who is at fault?

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Continue reading “Frosty Got Run Over By a … Bus?”