True Fiction

You’re right, there’s no proof… but there’s no proof of Jesus…

Sometimes I just love teh internetz!

Today I’m going to try something new. I’m going to INVENT some kind of crazy new pseudoscientific idea and try and get people to believe it. First of all, I’m going to pick a field of interest that has some high levels of subjectivity. OK, um… – oh I know, wine tasting! There’s all sorts of hocus pocus goes on with that. Now let’s see… I’ve got it! You know when people swish the wine around in the glass? Could it be that swishing it clockwise makes it taste different to swishing it anticlockwise? You know: clockwise swirling brings out the spicy notes and anti-clockwise makes it taste more of the fruit. Genius! I’ll call it ‘wine swirling’ and…

Sorry? What’s that you say? It already exists? People actually already believe it? Come ON! That’s ridiculous! No-one could seriously come up with such a patently silly notion…!

Yes, my dear Acowlytes, it is true. Faithful Cowpoke JR points me to this article from the owner of a tour company in the Napa Valley in California, that espouses the fine art of wine swirling. This is what Mr Ralph de Amicis, of Amicis Tours has to say:

This idea starting circulating around Napa via Twitter and here it is in a nutshell. When you swirl your wine to the left (counter clockwise) the scent you pick up is from the barrels over the grapes, what we call the spice shelf. When you swirl the wines to the right (clockwise) you pick up more flavors from the fruit.

O-k-a-a-a-y…. The idea started on Twitter, that completely reliable repository of fact and commonsense. That speaks volumes. Mr de Amicis goes on:

I’ve shown this to clients in the tasting room and experimented with it myself and found it to be true, and especially noticeable with wines that have spent significant time in newer oak barrels. The question comes up, why is that?

Well, Mr de Amicis, the answer comes back pretty smartly: you’re deluding yourself. But don’t, for God’s sake, attempt any kind of explanation because you’ll only…

Like all living things wine cells have a magnetic polarity, just like humans and the Earth. The positive pole is more highly charged, just like the North Pole of the Earth, which is why there are Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle, but not Southern Lights in the Antarctic. This polarity tends to keep wine cells generally upright, spinning on their axis when they are being swirled…

Awww…dagnabbit!! I was feeling like cutting you a little slack but then you went and did some pretendy science on me. Sigh.

I guess by now about, oh, every person who lives in the Southern hemisphere has told you that there is, in fact, an Aurora Australis, which is exactly the same as the Aurora Borealis only on the other pole. Your failure to know this, and the cavalier attempt to base a line of reasoning on it, kinda nails your scientific credentials to the mast right there.1

When you swirl the wine counter-clockwise you are pushing against the molecules nap, just like stroking the fur of a cat the wrong way, this dislodges anything on the surface. Since the flavor from the barrel is introduced fairly late in the wine’s development it tends to concentrate in the outer layers. When you swirl the wine counter-clockwise it dislodges that flavor, while at the same, pushing liquid into the pores, inhibiting the fruit flavors that are inside the cell from coming out.

Molecules have nap? ‘Flavor’ is on the ‘surface’ of the molecules and can be ‘dislodged? Molecules have pores? ‘Liquid’ goes into the ‘pores’ of the cells? Molecules? What? Ping! Now let’s be honest Mr de Amicis. You just made all that crap up, didn’t you? Like you made up the non-existence of the Southern Lights. You haven’t the foggiest clue how taste and smell work, have you? (You don’t hold shares in Special One Drop Liquid, by any chance? Or study under Dr Werner?)

Evidently I wasn’t the only one who found Mr de Amicis’s ‘science’ risible, as he was quick to post a justification of his views on his site. In this, he makes much of his scientific qualifications:

I’ve written eight books on wine country, three books on natural health, I’m a Master Herbalist with forty years of experience working with plants and people, a Naturopathic Physician, and I’ve lectured extensively on anatomy and physiology.

Right, so no actual science accreditation, then?2 And nothing there about geomagnetic science, molecular chemistry or physics, which does explain rather a lot. Not content with just riding the faux pas out, though, our knowledgeable tour guide just keeps on digging…

Everything has a polarity right down to the atomic level, and when put into suspension in a liquid it rotates in relation to that pole. Because we are on a planet that has both a polar system and a consistent rotation, everything forms with a pole and a circular patterning. Wind it one way and it tightens and wind it the other and it unwinds.

Uh. That’s what you learnt in herbal school, is it? Or in naturopathy college? Because they sure as hell don’t teach it in any science class I’ve ever been in.3

Honestly this is just basic physics related to molecular science and plant chemistry, something which herbalists and herbal researchers deal with all the time.

Honestly! Basic physics! Like the non-existence of the Aurora Australis due to the polarity of the Earth!4

By the way, I’ve done an informal study of this and my hyper-sensitive clients all notice the difference in the swirl directions and the nature of the scents. I would love to hear other people’s theories about this,

And I would love to oblige!

What’s going on here, Mr Amicis, is that your brain is tricking you. Because you have sold yourself on this daft idea, and because wine tasting is full of subjective assessments, you (and your ‘hyper-sensitive clients’) merely think that you’re detecting an effect. In proper science (that is, the kind that they don’t teach in naturopathy school) we have a way of eliminating this problem of self-delusion. It’s called ‘double blinding’ and I’m fairly sure5 that if you had an unbiased third party set up a double blind testing of your idea you’d find that the ‘swirling factor’ mysteriously vanishes. I’m not going to explain double blinding here on the Cow for the millionth time, but I really do suggest you look it up on Wikipedia and familiarize yourself with the concept before you go making a further fool of yourself. You should probably read up on the auroras and the magnetosphere as well. Just saying.

The moral to this story, if it’s not obvious, is that if you want to promote something as science, make sure you understand what science is. Especially if you decide to write about it on your web site where the whole world can see it.

  1. If Mr Amicis had taken a few seconds to make a cursory check on Wikipedia he might have seen this: ‘Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis (or the southern lights), has almost identical features to the aurora borealis and changes simultaneously with changes in the northern auroral zone.’ []
  2. Lecturing on something does not count as academic endorsement. I could ‘lecture’ on brain surgery, but it doesn’t mean I know anything at all about it. []
  3. Mr de Amicis’s view of the planet is, evidently, that it functions like it’s powered by a giant rubber band. []
  4. Anyone with even an ounce of geophysical knowledge knows that the auroras don’t have anything at all to do with the positive or negative polarity of the the planet, but appear at the poles due to the shape of the Earth’s magnetic field and its focussing effect. []
  5. When I say ‘fairly sure’ I am just being linguistically coy. I am in fact 100% certain. []

When I was a kid, the best possible present you could get for your birthday was an Iced Vovo. This morning, as coincidence would have it, I came across this photo of me taken on my third birthday with my Dad making all my birthday wishes come true. Of course, the Iced Vovo was a much more decent size back then, as I mentioned in the last post.

[NB: Iced Vovos were not actually this big. I have achieved this illusion through the use of digital photo manipulation software called ‘Photoshop’. Some of my designer friends use Photoshop every day in their work, so it’s unlikely they will fall for such hijinks, of course!]

You know those daft motivational posters that have been well-and-truly pwned by Well, a guy named Douwe Osinga, who works for Google, has made a fun web time-waster called Auto Poster that allows you to make your very own inspirational pontifications to send to your friends and colleagues. Just as I am doing for you, dear Acowlytes.

The app draws from Google’s vast cataloguing of the cyberworld for its images.1 All you need to do is provide the wisdom. Auto Poster even thoughtfully chooses appropriate text colours for you!

Go now. Waste time. Post your efforts back here and make me laugh.

  1. Be warned – the images are selected via Google’s Image Search, and the intellectual property is likely to be reserved. Whatever the crap that actually means in this day and age… []

Great Moments in Food Science #211


☆July 23, 2004: University of Guelph Food Scientist Massimo Marcone tests Kopi Luwak coffee beans to determine whether passing them through the gastrointestinal tract of the Asian Palm Civet (or ‘luwak’) really makes them taste better.

‘The coffee cherry fruit is completely digested by the luwak, but the beans are excreted in their feces,’ says Marcone. The internal fermentation by digestive enzymes adds a unique flavour to the beans, which he said has been described as ‘earthy, musty, syrupy, smooth and rich with jungle and chocolate undertones.’

I… er…

Cowpokes! The End is Nigh! Run for the hills! What with the threats of terrorism, biological warfare, solar flares, tsunamis, the flipping of the magnetic poles, an atheist woman as head of the Australian government and a black man as the head of the US government, it will be a MIRACLE if we last even another week! But, dear feiends, have no fear! Should one (or more!) of the aforementioned catastrophes overtake us, the folks over at Vivos have anticipated every eventuality for the approaching apocalypse and are offering the ultimate ‘life assurance’ and ‘the greatest chance of future restoration of the world as we know it, regardless of the catastrophe’.

Here – let them tell you about it in their own words:

Millions of people believe that we are living in the “end times”. Many are looking for a viable solution to survive potential future Earth devastating events. Eventually, our planet will realize another devastating catastrophe, whether manmade, or a cyclical force of nature. Disasters are rare and unexpected, but on any sort of long timeline, they’re inevitable. It’s time to prepare!

Vivos is a privately funded venture, with no religious affiliations, building a global network of underground shelters, to accommodate thousands of people. Vivos will provide a life assurance solution for those that wish to be prepared to survive these potential events, whether they occur now, in 2012, or in decades to come

Yes, by purchasing a share in a Vivos community bunker, or getting them to build your own bespoke shelter, you can survive the End Times and walk out refreshed into a world full of bracing post-catastrophe horror! To see what you’ll get for your money, you can take a tour around a typical Vivos facility, furnished with all the comforts of home, including attractive paintings of idyllic landscapes that you’ll never see again:

Geez guys, could you have found a more gloomy and depressing piece of music for that? Are you selling a shelter or a tomb here?

Seriously, no matter how hard I try, I can’t think of any calamity listed on the Vivos site that seems worse than ending up in some underground IKEA nightmare with a bunch of people who are inclined to believe that the world is going to end in 2012 ‘because the Mayan calendar says so’.1 Let me see: Electromagnetic Pulse? Nope. Killer comet? Nope. Planet X? Nope. Super volcano? Nope.2 I’d rather take my chances with any of those.

What are these people thinking? Have they never seen a post-apocalyptic movie? Have they never played Fallout? Do they really want to climb out of their bunkers after a year of mind-numbing boredom to find themselves wandering around a planet full of shotgun-wielding mutant vigilantes with no morals and bad personal hygiene? Or worse, Fundamental Islamic militia?

There are so many things wrong with this unhinged doom-laden vision that it’s hard to know where to start. From the hysterical countdown to annihilation (905 days, 06 hours, 31 minutes, 24 seconds remaining) to the hyper-paranoid ‘scenarios’ videos (Nuclear Terrorism! Surviving Anarchy! Secret Government Shelters!) the website plays out like some bad Hollywood projection of the Apocalypse. It takes mere seconds to find places where this plan will start splitting at the seams.

Take a quick tour around the Vivos Knowledge Base and see how many opportunities for failure you can find. The spectacular promises (hydroponic gardens to support 200 people for more than a year, 24 hour power generation with supplemental wind and solar, hotel-style amenities, impregnable defences to resist volcanic eruption, seismic disturbance and biological contamination) fairly reek of hyperbole.3 Half these things are all but impossible to achieve. And if Vivos doesn’t deliver, what are you going to do when the anarchist Muslim terrorist bio-freaks come pouring through your Vivos shelter airlock? Ask for your money back?

Tetherd Cow Advice: If you’re worried about the Apocalypse arriving in 2012,4 stock up on single malt whisky and plan to be somewhere with a good view. In the meantime, send me your bank account details. After all, you can’t take it with you.


Big thanks to Atlas for bringing Vivos to my attention.

  1. You can watch a video on the Vivos site about how the ‘incredibly precise’ Mayan calendar (‘… a calendar more accurate even than our own’) predicts the world will end in 2012. []
  2. I’m a little surprised to see that Zombie Attack and Alien Invasion aren’t featured, to be honest. If nothing else, they’d make for some really cool additional icons. []
  3. For a start – where are they getting their air from? Filtered air from outside will be useless in a case of chemical attack, and it’s not like they can stockpile a year’s worth of oxygen for 200 people… []
  4. You can bet your Nigerian fortune that I’ll be revisiting all these predictions in 2013! []

« Previous PageNext Page »