Halloweeeeeeen in the ocean!

It’s Halloween, Merfolks, and Halloween parties abound.  In the spirit of spookiness, I imagined a Halloween party under the sea, and gave out awards for the spookiest sea creatures.

Creepiest teeth: Pacific Viperfish

Sloane's Viperfish holds the world record for largest teeth to head ratio.

Sloane’s Viperfish holds the world record for largest teeth to head ratio.

Viperfish certainly look intimidating, but it’s not just a costume.  Viperfish impale their prey on their long teeth by swimming at their prey with their jaws open.  When they close their jaws, their teeth overlap and curl behind their head.  It is widely believed that viperfish lure their prey by a light on their dorsal spine, which they flash on and off while waving back and forth as they remain motionless IN THE DARK.

Best disguise: The Mimic Octopus

Octopus? There's no Octopus here.

Octopus? There’s no Octopus here.

You probably already knew that Octopus can change their color and their texture (even though they are widely considered color blind), but the Mimic Octopus actually disguises itself by pretending to be other fish! Instead of running and hiding, this Octopus hides in plain sight.  It can disguise itself with 15 different fishes, including banded sea snakes. Which is why I gave the Mimic Octopus the prize for Best Disguise.

Cutest Baby: Juvenile Yellow Boxfish

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Every good costume contest has a category for cutest kids, and I nominate the Juvenile Boxfish.  Because who doesn’t love floating polka dot yellow peas? Although, Juvenile Boxfish also grow up to be one of the cutest fish in the sea too.

Darkest Dwelling: Lanternfish

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Lanternfish live down down down deep in the ocean.  In fact they comprise 65% of all biomass of deep sea fishes.  Lanternfish use bioluminescence to communicate with each other, and swim up the ocean column once the sun sets to follow the yummy zooplankton, only to return to the depths when the sun rises.  Meaning that Lanternfish don’t ever see the light of day!

Sea Creature You’d Least Want to Run Into Down A Dark Alley: The Anglerfish

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Commonly agreed as the most intimidating looking fish, and the fish that can’t seem to ever close their mouths all the way (due to the abundance of TEETH), the female anglerfish is the fish you’d least want to ever run into in a dark alley.  Which, coincidentally, is the only place you’d ever find an anglerfish, as most anglerfish are deep sea dwellers.

Anglerfish use a fleshy growth on their head’s as a lure for prey, that can light up in the dark.  Coincidentally, Anglerfish actually mate for life: as the male anglerfish are tiny, and upon mating, end up fused to the side of the female anglerfish (FOREVER), so maybe they might also be the most romantic fish?

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Who do you nominate?

recognize this fish from Finding Nemo?

recognize this fish from Finding Nemo?

Happy Halloween!!


A White Rhino’s Sad Message

You may have read in the news recently that one of only seven remaining white rhinos died last week.  There are now only six known white rhinos alive in the entire world.  White rhinos are functionally extinct.

One of the remaining white rhinos, in captivity at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

One of the remaining white rhinos, in captivity at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

Most people think of extinction as NO LONGER ALIVE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. But functionally extinct is a sort of twilight version.  It means that there may be remaining individuals in the wild or in captivity, but there are not enough individuals to provide their function in their eco system, or their breeding population has dwindled to the point of no return.  Although there are 6 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world,  the number will only go down.

South China Tiger: Functionally Extinct.

South China Tiger: Functionally Extinct.

It’s shitty when you realize that a species exists now, but it will never bounce back.  Like somebody coming to their own funeral.  You hope it’s a wake up call to people around that species can so easily vanish for ever. Scientists estimate that as many as 200 species go extinct every 24 hours. So what message do White Rhinos have for us now that their days are literally numbered?

Golden Toads: Functionally Extinct.

Golden Toads: Functionally Extinct.

It may be too late for Northern White Rhinos, Golden Toads, China’s Yangtze River Dolphins Baiji, and Wild Ocean Oysters.  But there are 100 species alive right now that could be gone tomorrow.  There are 700 species alive right now that could be gone in a week.  How can we stop this loss?

China River Dolphins: Functionally Extinct.

China River Dolphins: Functionally Extinct.

The number one cause of extinction is loss of habitat.  This is why Marine Protected Areas are so important.  We can stop the destruction of wild habitat for logging and farming.  We can change our personal habits to consume less and prevent future expansion.  We can stay mindful. Take a minute and let your heart break, and then decide what you can do to help.

Next week’s blog, One Person Can Make A Difference. (…Dr. Laurie L Marker shows us how)


Lobster Season Opens: why are 5 people dead already?

Lobster season has opened in southern California and already 5 people have died while lobster hunting.  Why are people making such poor decisions when it comes to hunting for lobster, and ultimately willing to sacrifice their lives?

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That sentence sounds extreme, but everyone who is trained in scuba knows that there are inherent risks involved.  I acknowledge them, and then work to prevent them by being prepared and well trained.  Anyone who puts scuba gear on without being fully prepared and fully trained in what they are planning on doing is taking a hugely increased risk.

How can lobster divers better prepare themselves?

1) Dive the sites they want to hunt during the day to get a good feel for the lay out. Duh.  Why try to feel it out at night without having a feel for it during the day? See it in daylight.

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better check out a dive site during the day so you’re not surprised at night.

2) Keep gear serviced and well maintained.  For some reason, a lot of lobster divers cheap out on their life support equipment.  But scuba equipment is just that: life support. Don’t put your life in the hands of equipment that hasn’t been maintained since you bought it.

3) Keep in shape.  Dive healthy.  Only dive while you’re not sick.  Only dive when you’re physically fit.  A lot of dive fatalities have been from heart attacks.  Scuba puts you under pressure….literally.  Your heart needs to be in the best possible shape at sea level to give you a fighting chance at depth.

4) don’t push your limits.  When you are low on air, it’s time to come up.  No excuses.  When you lose your buddy, it’s time to come up and find them. When you get lost: it’s time to come up.

done safely, lobster diving can be rewarding..

done safely, lobster diving can be rewarding..

Ultimately, why risk your life for something that is sold at wholesale for $19.50/lb.  Obviously not worth the ultimate cost of your life.

Stay safe SCUBA divers.  As always, practice makes perfect. If you are not comfortable scuba diving without a task, then what makes you think you’d be comfortable scuba diving WITH a complex task like hunting for lobster?


Ducks, Plastic, The Ocean, and California

California is on track to become the first state to ban plastic bags completely, which is a huge accomplishment.

I don’t need to tell you that plastic and the ocean don’t mix well.  But with the the bill to ban the bag waiting approval on Jerry Brown’s desk now, and The Giant Rubber Duck being towed out of San Pedro Harbor, I thought it would be a nice time to remind you. (More on the duck later)

Being a bystander doesn't save you.

Plastic takes a very long time to break down.  In a way, it never really breaks down completely.  So when plastic is in the ocean, its process is that breaks down into small enough pieces but it never actually disappears.  They mass together due to currents and the ocean movement, and get trapped in limbo. These tiny pieces of plastic that float in the ocean get into the food chain, and then they get into us.

So how does a giant duck have anything to do with ocean plastic and ocean current? In 1992, a shipment of plastic bath toys was en route from Hong Kong to Washington state, but got washed into the sea during a storm.  The cardboard casing around the shipment quickly deteriorated and set the Friendly Floatees (the brand of bath toy) loose in the Pacific.  Oceanagraphers were already using shipments washed into the ocean to track currents, but the sheer volume of rubber  bath toys released all at once provided a good opportunity.

Is there something behind me? What?

Is there something behind me? What?

The recovery rate of items tracked through the ocean is about 2%, so of the 28,800 ducks released, scientists were expecting almost 600 ducks to be recovered. It took 10 months for the first  Floatees to reach land, hitting Alaska.  Over the next 20 years, ducks turned up around the world, even reaching Newfoundland.

By recording where and when the ducks touched land, and the state of them, a lot of information was gleaned about how the water in the ocean and moved, and how plastic deteriorated (or didn’t). So one positive aspect was learning the ocean currents, one negative was releasing unrecoverable items into the ocean.

Big Duck making a BIGGER statement.

Big Duck making a BIGGER statement.

Only about 2% of the ducks were recovered, which means, the other 98% are probably still out there,  likely stuck in one of 11 different gyres, which are essentially swirling plastic traps in the ocean.  This is just a minuscule example of ocean debris.  These Floatees are the cutest possible face of plastic pollution.  With plastic bags being their evil, ugly cousin.

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“Each year approximately six billion single use plastic carryout bags are consumed in the County of Los Angeles, the equivalent of 600 bags per person per year. Plastic bag litter makes up as much as 25 percent of the litter stream and significantly impacts our communities and the environment.

Due to their expansive and lightweight characteristics, littered single use plastic bags are easily carried airborne by wind, where they end up entangled in brush, tossed around along freeways, and caught on fences.

In addition, within the County’s extensive and diverse watersheds, many littered single use plastic carryout bags find their way onto local beaches and eventually into the ocean, where they have been known to impact marine life that ingest them in the following unintended ways:

  • Clogging the throat, thus choking the animal.
  • Artificially filling the stomach so that the animal cannot consume food, depriving them of nutrients.
  • Infecting them with harmful toxins that can poison the animal.
  • Entangling the animal, leading to choking, cuts, and even restricting growth.”

Information was cited from “AboutTheBag.com

So, While we wait for the plastic bag ban to be signed into law, please consider forgoing their use completely anyway.  Convenience does not have to dictate your life: keep a spare bag in your car or your purse, or rethink using a bag at all for just a few items.  It’s only convenient NOW.  It’s not convenient to the environment  LATER.

***The average use lifespan of a plastic bag is 12 minutes.  It will take anywhere between 400 and 1000 years to break down.  ***


The Tipping Point of Shark Week

Shark Week on Discovery Channel hit a tipping point this summer.  It’s become a very popular and anticipated media event in past years, and Discovery has worked to exploit that to the fullest. I do not begrudge Discovery Channel from trying to capitalize on sharks, but I do have a few problems with their technique, and I’m not the only one.


The twins out cruising-Sea in Focus, Michael Zeigler

The twins out cruising-Sea in Focus, Michael Zeigler


It’s no secret that Sharks have a Public Relations problem, and the exploitation Discovery uses to attract viewers is simply put, fear mongering. This year, more than ever, I saw scientists and divers alike speaking out against this fear mongering and blatant lying that Discovery Channel uses to attract views. We’ve reached the tipping point for shark week: enough people are sick of the lies and want truthful information spread instead of what we’re being fed.

How many sharks do you see like this Horn Shark represented on Shark Week? None.

How many sharks do you see like this Horn Shark represented on Shark Week? None.

Sometimes, they’re just flat-out lying.  (Read this excellent article on IFLS for more details) Scientists are being misquoted, and their words used against them.  As all reality shows do, words and phrases are used out of context and speakers are baited into saying things.  Like this “Will you please say “60 foot great white shark to the camera?” “Did you say 60 foot great white shark? That is unheard of my dear boy!” Can easily turn into SIXTY FOOT GREAT WHITE SHARK? HE ATE MY DEAR BOY. But why call a myth a documentary? Why put a myth on a channel called “Discovery” with the reputation of…..learning shit?


Got my eye on you: Credit and copyright Dudley C McLaughlin


Fear mongering: Doesn’t it seem like everybody and their mother is bit by sharks on Shark Week? Shows that focus on the small amount of people who do get bit incorrectly tip the balance into making it seem more likely, more possible, more common. In reality, You are more likely to get in a car accident/bit by a dog/get malaria/think perms are a good idea than you are to get bit by a shark, but I don’t see sensationalist TV shows about THOSE monstrosities. Seeing “Top 20 Shark Attack stories” on repeat does make it seem like stepping into the ocean is akin to walking across a busy street.

Related: Humans kill 100 million sharks per year.  Due to shark finning, commercial fishing, trophy fishing,  and drift nets, sharks have a lot more reasons to fear us than we have to fear them.

The plight of sharks is a black and white problem, they don't need shark week coming in and confusing everyone.

The plight of sharks is a black and white problem, they don’t need shark week coming in and confusing everyone. Credit and Copyright to Dudley C McLaughlin

Because here’s the thing: Sharks are AMAZING on their own without lies.

Here’s some things Shark Week could focus on that sticks to the facts:

How sharks have evolved SINCE BEFORE  THE DINOSAURS.

The decline of shark populations in the ocean.

Illegal shark finning.

What happens to the oceans when sharks disappear: (hint, bad stuff)

Comparing endangered shark statuses to other more conventionally cute animals: For instance, Short Fin Makos (the fastest sharks in the ocean) are considered threatened. This is the same  status as Polar Bears.

If all sharks are maneaters, as Discovery would have you believe: how did this photographer get out alive? Credit and copyright Dudley C. McLaughlin

If all sharks are man-eaters, as Discovery would have you believe: how did this photographer get out alive? Credit and copyright Dudley C. McLaughlin

The Extremes of sharks: the fastest sharks, the slowest sharks, the biggest sharks, the smallest sharks, the sharks that dive the deepest or travel the farthest, the sharks that live in the coldest water, the sharks that can swim in both salt water and fresh water, the sharks that hunt together, the sharks that hunt alone. I’m not talking about mythical shark creatures here, like a 60-year-old hammerhead in the bayou (spoiler alert, false), I mean, using facts, the reality of amazing sharks!

Extinct sharks: lots of species have gone extinct, and continue to do so daily. Let’s see some shark fossils and artist rendering of awesome extinct sharks.


Cuz the thing is: people love sharks! People are fucking crazy for sharks! They’re big wild animals, they appeal to our basest survival instinct and our love of storytelling! They live in a place that we DO NOT.   They are EXTREME on the spectrum of apex predators! We don’t get to SEE THEM THAT MUCH! Why does the story even need to be fabricated to make it interesting? It certainly does not need to be.

This year, I watched one show on Shark Week.  Shark after Dark.  A talk show.   It consisted of two celebrities promoting a movie about being pretend cops and a very uncomfortable looking marine biologist who kept spacing out (probably because everyone was ignoring him). When they finally DID ask him a question, he looked so stunned at the attention, he botched his answer.  It was like “TOKEN SHARK SCIENTIST (SHARKENTIST?)” on a show that was named for sharks on a Channel that was dedicated to sharks for the week. I was forced to turn the tv off.

And head to the ocean in my personal attempt to humanely interact with the sharks that actually are left in the ocean.

Please, take Shark Week with a grain of salt, and encourage others to learn the amazing truth about sharks in the hopes that the Discovery Channel will shift Shark Week in the right direction.

-Merbabe & Tibby (Tiburon)

PS: Notes from Malcolm Gladwell, “The Tipping Point”. “What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. …

…that’s why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable.

But if there is difficulty and volatility in the world of the Tipping Point, there is a large measure of hopefulness as well.  Merely by manipulating the size of a group, we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas.  By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. … Look at the world around you.  It may seem like an immovable, implacable place.  It is not. With the slightest push-in just the right place-it can be tipped.”

Afterword: All pictures stamped Sea in Focus are from underwater photographer Michael Zeigler at Sea In Focus.


All photos marked as Dudley are Credit and copyright to Dudley C. McLaughlin www.photographydude.com and on FB, Studley McDiver.

LP1 1

Dudley’s alter ego, photo credit to Dudley McLaughlin

Thanks to these amazing photographers for sharing use of their images free of charge in the movement to Tip the public’s perception in favor of shark conservation and in the general idea that Sharks are Awesome.

Amazing: sight on land and sea

Have you ever opened your eyes underwater?

Its not that you can’t see, but certainly that you can’t see CLEARLY. And definitely not clearly enough to hunt.  How do sea lions and other marine mammals do it?

Multi talented

Multi talented

Well, it’s definitely multiple factors.  Firstly, their eyes are proportionally larger than our eyes, so they are able to absorb more light underwater.  They also have increased light sensitivity, which is traded for color sensitivity.  Its believed that they can see colors on the blue and green spectrum, but with increased light sensitivity they can get more light underwater.

big eyes

big eyes

Secondly, they have a transparent THIRD eyelid! Here’s your word for the day: nictitating membrane.  Many animals have this third transparent eye lid when they live in diverse or adverse conditions.  Camels have this to protect their eyes from sand, and many marine mammals have it to protect and see underwater.  Except in the case of sea lions, their natural eye is what they use underwater: they use their nictitating membrane on land to protect  from sun and sand.

a blue shark closing its nictitating membrane.

a blue shark closing its nictitating membrane.

Unlike the upper and lower eye lids you have, these eyelids move horizontally across the eye.

Thirdly, their eyes are set in a cushion of fat, which offers a pillow for the eyes when our favorite “ocean dogs” dive and the pressure becomes great.

We have found ways to adapt to their underwater world, but sea lions and seals are naturally set! Amazing! Perhaps we should take a note from them in future scuba diving gear innovation.

This sweet moment was captured at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center

This sweet moment was captured at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center


Other animals with nictitating membrane:

Polar bears (to protect from snow blindness)

Sharks (protection from prey who object to being eaten)

Beavers: to protect WHILE diving

Eagles: to protect their eyes while feeding chicks

Cats (and dogs) because cats are the boss of you and can do whatever the hell they want, include have third eyelids.

her true self: always with her nictitating membrane

her true self: always with her nictitating membrane



The Last Quiet Place on Earth

“In a world of seven billion people, where every inch of land has been mapped, much of it developed, and too much of it destroyed, the sea remains the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness, the planet’s last great frontier.

photo.phpThere are no mobile phones down there, no e-mails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface. The ocean is the last truly quiet place on Earth.”-James Nestor, “Deep”


Have a nice week all


Gulls: Mine Mine Mine

Growing up on the coast, seagulls have been a part of my landscape always.  In fact, they have been so omnipresent that I almost ignore them.

Mine? Just try to ignore them.

Mine? Just try to ignore them.

However, they deserve recognition.  They are pretty large birds who provide more than ambiance to the coast.

Gulls are large, ground nesting carnivores.  They can be seen fishing or scavenging alike, and are known to many beachy communities as being bossy and sneaky, walking quite adeptly with their famous side to side waddle on big webbed feet. They are also accomplished fliers: they can take off suddenly (good for french fry thieving) and hover well (stealth opportunistic missions).

They nest in large colonies that are densely packed and loud, loud, loud.  (Could you imagine a seagull co-op house? Loud and messy!) Seagulls are monogamous and mate from the life of the pair, laying on average 3 eggs a year.  Chicks are born precocial, and are fully mature in 4 years.

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You probably already knew this, due to the awesome movie “The Birds”, but seagulls are intelligent and are known to work together, even mobbing predators or other animals that attempt to steal their food, eggs, nests, or eat them.

Here’s your word of the day: Kleptoparacitism.  Gulls are kleptoparasites: but you knew this, when they’ve stolen your french fries behind your back. They flourish by stealing, its a large part of their diet.  Like many birds, their ability to fly increases their menu availability: they can snack on the land, in the air, and from the sea.  Also, from your local In N Out. Some gulls will even land on surfacing, living whales and snack right off them! Pretty ballsy.



Some interesting tidbits:

They (many different species) breed on every continent.  Including Antartica (I don’t know why my high school thought they could banish them with those fake owls)

They can drink salt water and fresh water.

Although same pairs may mate for life, divorce is not unknown.  The social effects of the divorce are experienced for years after during the mating seasons.

Some gulls use tools: for instance, they may use bread as bait to catch fish.


Happy July 4th! I hope you are all enjoying your beachy, thieving buddies, the gulls, who are as American as apple pie, and as international as futbol.


Marine Protected Areas, A Safe Space

1.17% of the world’s ocean is under protection, or considered a Marine Protected Area, which is basically a national park that lives underwater. Commercial or private fishing is not allowed.  Essentially, these areas have to be left alone to heal and regrow.

California passed a law in 1999 called the MLPA-The Marine Life Protection Act, which split coastal California into 4 sections plus the San Francisco Bay.  Those sections were allowed to create their own MPA zones and regulations.
There are different kinds of MPA’s.

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1) In a state marine reserve, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a permit or specific authorization from the managing agency for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes.

2)In a state marine park, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living or nonliving marine resource for commercial exploitation purposes. Any human use that would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community or habitat, or geological, cultural, or recreational features, may be restricted by the designating entity or managing agency

3)In a statemarine conservation area, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial or recreational purposes, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes, that the designating entity or managing agency determines would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community, habitat, or geological features

4)In a state marine recreational management area, it is unlawful to perform any activity that, as determined by the designating entity or managing agency, would compromise the recreational values for which the area may be designated.

5) A special closure is an area designated by the Fish and Game Commission that prohibits access or restricts boating activities in waters adjacent to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites.

California has had wonderful success with their MPAs.  Fish size and diversity have increased since their implementation, and in central california, lobster size has increased.

Follow the jump to read about more MPA success stories.

But I mention this because President Obama has promised to create the largest MPA in the world, which would more than double the size of all the world’s marine protected areas.  As quoted from the BBC

“The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km.”

What happens when the ocean is allowed to regenerate? Well, a major food source is allowed to replenish, and recover during fishing intervals, and areas like tropical reefs can regrow. Keystone species like sharks find refuge, because even though sharks are movers and shakers and travel long distances, they are often captured within coral reefs, and protecting those areas protect all those who may be traveling through.

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In fact, I can’t think of an instance when protecting the ocean caused any sort of problem, besides not lining the pockets of those who consider the ocean an inexhaustible supply.  unfortunately that is how many people consider it, and its supply is diminishing.

Consider the Pantheon in Rome, Stonehenge, or the Mona Lisa.  Each item is protected because overexposure causes damage, and that damage deteriorates the item.  If we treat our ocean this way, its only a matter of time before its beauty is lost, and the relationship we rely upon with it is gone forever.

cheers to protecting our resources, to protecting our lifesource


my, my, what a few years difference makes.  Photo from http://www.theblackfish.org/

my, my, what a few years difference makes. Photo from http://www.theblackfish.org/

What kelp tells us about Fukushima

Kelp Watch 2014: Did you know that the same way your hair can tell the history of what’s been in your body, kelp can tell the history of what’s in our water?

Kelp Watch 2014 was started by Dr.Manley and Dr. Vetter  in an effort to measure the impact of radiation from Fukushima in our coastal ecosystem.  Radioactivity released during the Fukushima disaster is starting to reach our shore, and in order to measure the levels, they needed to find a good source of measurement.

Kelp is a good measurement for a few reasons.  It is located up and down our coast and radioactivity will first come into contact with the kelp forests before they hit our beach. It also grows quickly, and is easy to harvest, and easy to measure.

If you are interested in the findings of Kelpwatch, follow Dr Manley on twitter.

Here are his most recent tweets from June 10th:

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I think his findings are important; to balance reason and truth in the face of hysterical anecdotal evidence.
ciao bell0s!