In the old days — the ‘70s — if you wanted to rescue a loved one from a cult, you’d have to round up three or four of the strongest people you knew, find a van, and drive out of the city to the commune. From there, you’d probably have to carry the person out of there, kicking and screaming. Then, it was acceptable to put them in solitary confinement for a while to let all the culty stuff wear off.
Pretty brutal behavior.
Today, it’s easier than ever to join a cult — and the collective tragedy around QAnon family murder is the worst-case outcome. Quitting a cult has become more sophisticated and subtle too. There’s been a wealth of scientific research on lines of questioning to ask people in cults and peer-reviewed research on “deprogramming” people with methods that don’t involve locking them in a room.
Contributing writer Elizabeth Svoboda is the writer of our latest feature story. Click the link below to read her incredible story, which includes former cult member interviews paired with scientific evidence: “Cults are going virtual, but deprogramming still needs one old-school tactic.”
I’m Nick Lucchesi, and this is Inverse Daily. Thanks for reading this daily dispatch of new, essential science and innovation news stories. We try to do The Journalism a little differently here, so tell a friend to subscribe using this link.
The “soy boy” myth — In the latest entry in the Check, Please! series, Sarah Wells investigates the question: “Does drinking soy milk make you more feminine?” The answer is probably not, but (!!!) the science of soy is by no means a settled question:
It’s a quip that would drift through my high school cafeteria whenever I’d pick up vanilla soymilk to have with my lunch: “I can’t drink that,” male friends would say, “It’ll give me boobs.”
This reaction seems to be rooted in a twist of fear and misunderstood science. There’s the fear of being seen as feminine — soymilk being the womanly choice compared to traditional milk — and concern over how plant-based estrogen (isoflavones) found in soy interacts with our bodies own estrogen or testosterone. It’s also where the phrase “soy boy” stems from: a pejorative used to describe men lacking masculine characteristics.
Unlike many of the myths we debunk (such as whether or not coffee stunts growth) where the answers are cut and clear, the science of soy and what exactly it does to our bodies is still under hot debate by scientists.
- Is celery a negative-calorie food? A dietician debunks a dangerous myth
- Is soft-serve healthier than ice cream? Chemistry debunks a common myth
- Debunk more food myths in the Check, Please! series
Science Photo of the Day:
Pictured above ☝️ — An indigenous man of the Mahmeri tribe wearing a costume of Puteri Gunung Ledang character takes a selfie using a smartphone as he receives the Covid-19 vaccine inside a mobile vaccination bus on Sunday in Banting, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia recorded another 20,546 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,404,899 cases.
Visit this “roof of the world” — There are archaeological sites across the Tibetan Plateau where ancient humans have left imprints in mud that have turned solid. In the latest entry in the Worldview series, Doris Elin Urrutia writes how Tibet is becoming an attractive place for travelers who love science, as well as mountain climbers:
Ancient Tibet was lush.
Now an arid region, this land attracted prehistoric people to the region thousands of years ago.
The area is one of the cradles of our species and other ancient peoples. And a discovery enables modern intrepid travelers to Mount Everest and the Tibetan Himalayas to learn about the early human activity on the “roof of the world.”
“It’s just a small contribution to a really big, really exciting story that’s unfolding right now in front of our eyes,” geo-archaeologist Michael Meyer tells Inverse.
Incredibly, the chance for discovery is literally just lying on the ground.
- Read more entries in the Worldview series
- Ancient Texas was pure chaos
- 6 ancient animals that are still evolving
One part of the body is “the first brain” — The enteric nervous system (ENS) is home to hundreds of thousands of individual neurons. In the latest entry in the Sunday Scaries series, Sarah Sloat reports that scientists finally know how these neurons "talk" to each other:
Out of all the organs in the body, the gastrointestinal tract is the only organ to have evolved its only fully independent nervous system.
That’s why this tract, which stretches from the mouth to the anus, has earned the nicknames “mini-brain” and “second brain.” But Nick Spencer, a professor at Flinders University in Australia, argues for another moniker: the first brain.
“I was fascinated 23 years ago, when I started research on the enteric nervous system, and I am even more now,” Spencer tells Inverse.
- Read more entries in the Sunday Scaries series
- Four reasons sleep is linked to death
- What nature’s villain can teach us about being better humans
One simple question to ask “addicted” to gamers — Video game addiction might not be a real condition, but unhealthy gaming behavior is. In the latest entry in the Detox series, Katie MacBride reports on how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy gaming:
Craig was starting to get a handle on his self-described “obsessive” gaming habit when the pandemic hit.
The 31-year-old from California tells Inverse that in 2020, he made the same New Year's resolution he makes every year: spend less time playing games. He estimates playing every day for as many as 12 hours at a time.
He was doing “okay” at reducing his gaming hours, he says, but when lockdown hit, “It was like a gaming Get Out of Jail Free card.”
Like watching TV, playing video games stimulates the reward center of the brain. When we play, our brains experience a surge of dopamine and serotonin, two happy-making neurotransmitters. And while so-called “video game addiction” hysteria often commands headlines, gaming has many mental-health benefits, too.
- Read more entries in the Detox stories
- “One simple phrase” experts say to use when talking to a conspiracy theorist
- Jason Kander quit a mayoral election because of PTSD. More men can follow his lead.
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