I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability, or to add current research.

The name of this blog, of course, is the Skeptical Raptor. I’m not sure how I invented that name, but I like raptors, either the fossil dinosaur version, or the living dinosaur versions, birds of prey. They both actually work as a metaphor of what I try to do–provide scientific and knowledgeable analyses of the scientific consensus or critiques of beliefs and pseudoscience. Usually one leads to another.

Of course, I don’t pretend to be very nice about my critiques, probably another reason why I chose to put “Raptor” in the blog’s name.

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). A denier is not a skeptic – the former actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really?

Scientific skepticism

The problem with the word “skeptic” is that it is used differently in different circumstances, much like the word “theory” has a different meaning in a formal scientific context than it does in common vernacular. How many times have we heard that “evolution is just a theory.” Actually, from a scientific perspective, “just a theory” means that it represents the pinnacle of scientific knowledge, because it describes causality for observed natural phenomena–we can state, with little doubt, how single-celled organisms are related to complex life like mammals, birds, reptiles, and earthworms.

An important component of a scientific theory is that it provides explanations and predictions that can be tested, an important concept that relates back to the scientific method. In other words, a theory is not just a guess or a random thought–it is based on mountains of evidence. Skepticism has a similar issue with definition.

In ordinary usage, skepticism has one of three meanings:

  1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  2. the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  3. the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics.

In other words, this definition of skepticism is simply doubt or distrust. It’s not really a process or even logical, it’s almost a pre-defined point of view

True scientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to question and doubt claims and assertions. A real scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examination of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give  more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.

Most importantly, alternative claims, that are advanced to reverse the established scientific consensus, must be “scrutinized, tested, tortured to see if it really holds up.” If you’re going to say that vaccines cause autism, then it has to withstand harsh criticism. Saying that criticism is “unfair” or “it’s part of a conspiracy” or whatever logical fallacy you choose, is basically the whining of pseudoscience. But the point is that it’s not officially skepticism if the person making the statement is unwilling to provide evidence, either in favor or in opposition, to the any claim.

One last thing. A true scientific skeptic cannot be an expert on all fields–it’s nearly impossible to do so, especially as the sciences have become more specialized and more complex as we answer more questions about the universe. I could talk about vaccines and evolution all day long, but if you want me to explain how the Big Bang started, forget it–there are smarter people out there in the field of astrophysics (or whatever it is). But I generally know who the leading authorities are in the Big Bang, so if they say that it occurred in a tiny fraction of one second 13.8 billion years ago, I’m going to accept that. And if some other researcher, who has no expertise in the area, attempts to contradict the Big Bang, then they better have the same quality of evidence as the proponents. It’s the rules, not invented by me.

Thus, a true scientific skeptic can accept an expert’s conclusion, as long as that expert has long subjected themselves to scrutiny and have credentials that indicate that they themselves have gone through the torture of gaining an education and authority in a particular field. These individuals need not have degrees from Harvard or may be researchers at a small state university. It’s only that their research was done scientifically and holds up to the critical analysis of others.

 
 

Pseudoskeptics

 

These individuals who pretend to be skeptics are really pseudoskeptics. They pretend to use scientific skepticism, but in reality they wouldn’t change their minds with any amount of evidence. It is useful to note that these pseudoskeptics irrationally attack any evidence that rejects their preordained beliefs, but refuse to critically review any evidence that they think supports their point of view. They cherry pick evidence, seemingly from top level sources, to support they pre-existing bias.

So-called global warming “skeptics” use this form of the word, in that they doubt that global warming is real, without being very scientific about it. Sadly, even respected news sources, such as the Washington Post, misuse the term skeptic when applied to global warming deniers when describing individuals who are simply not skeptics. Basically, many of these right wing politicians deny human caused climate change for political expediency. Or because they’re ignorant of the volume of science that supports the science.

There are other groups of pseudoskeptics–for example there is an antivaccination cult called the Real Australian Sceptics, which is merely a front organization for an Australian antivaccination group. There’s a lunatic on Facebook, who goes by the name of “Vaccine Skeptic Society,” who knows nothing about vaccines and wouldn’t know how to define “skeptic” in any case. I’ve heard “evolution skeptics” and “Holocaust skeptics,” the latter of which isn’t necessarily a scientific issue, but one of factual history.

GMO “skeptics” refuse to accept the broad range of evidence of the safety of GMO crops to humans, animals and the environment, while making outlandish claims about GMO’s that make most scientists cringe or laugh (or both). It’s important to note that so-called climate change skeptics use the same anti-science tactics as do the so-called GMO skeptics–ironically, those two groups are at the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Denialism, deniers, and denying

 

It is clear that all of these groups are misusing skepticism to try to invent some scientific legitimacy to their cause. This is actually the opposite of true scientific skepticism and is often called denialism, which is a culture of denying an established fact, scientific theoryscientific law or any of evidence supporting a well-established discipline. More often than not, this denialism occurs in spite of overwhelming evidence, and is almost always associated with motives of convenience to the denier. Denialism is often subject to and powered by confirmation bias.

According to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, “denial is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.” In other words, the deniers’ beliefs cannot be changed, so they reject any evidence or knowledge that contradicts their beliefs. But to appear “scientific”, they search for any evidence, no matter how ridiculous or how unscientific, to support that belief.

Also not a skeptic. Definitely a denier.
Also not a skeptic. Definitely a denier.

There’s the old saying attributed to Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The safety and effectiveness of vaccines, the safety of GMO’s, the fact of human caused climate change, the scientific fact of evolution, the fact that HIV causes AIDS, and many others are supported by extraordinary evidence. Not one paper published in an obscure journal, but hundreds, if not thousands of articles. There are at least 3000 papers published since 1991 that explicitly endorse human caused global warming (and less than 100 that reject it). Using Google Scholar, I found over 100,000 journal articles that explicitly support evolution.

I have no clue why people choose ignorance over evidence, but they do. I guess it’s easier to say “Monsanto poisons us with GMO’s,” rather than actually spending more than a few minutes on Google, but get really educated in agriculture, genetics, plant biology, and other areas of science, then read every article, and put them into piles of “support” or “against.” And if the pile that supports is substantially larger than the pile that doesn’t (and I’ve done this, the support pile of papers far outnumbers the against papers), then is the only argument going to be “Monsanto controls all the scientists.”

In today’s world of social media and hackers, what makes anyone think that, if Monsanto execs had written a bunch of emails showing that they were buying off scientists, those emails wouldn’t be public now? Alternatively, maybe all the scientists in the world ate GMO crops and now are pod people.

Annoying pseudoskeptics

 

I’m going to shock most of the readers (sarcasm intended) that I don’t particular like science deniers, no matter what their form. I’m consistent–deniers of climate change, evolution, HIV/AIDS, GMOs and vaccines are all pretty much the same kind of people. They are ignorant of the facts and evidence, even if highly educated. They are dangerous, whether keeping us from important scientific discoveries or letting us travel down the path of self-destruction as the world warms. Or allowing once scarce diseases to return with a vengeance.

A recent article, published in the high impact factor journal, Vaccine, found that attempting to correct individuals who believed in myths about the flu vaccine was probably not going to be very productive. In fact, it appears that even if the were convinced that myths about the flu vaccine were false, they would be less likely to vaccinate. Nevertheless, there is some value to putting the information out into the world, because it might convince some individuals to vaccinate.

In a recent commentary for Nature, Yale University’s Dan Kahan complained about the “polluted science communication environment” that has deeply polarized the climate debate between political camps. He wrote, “people acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand.” Kahan has actually criticized me personally for being too tough on science deniers, because he’s convinced that even though a writer can be scientifically correct, calling the deniers onto the carpet for their science ignorance could be counterproductive.

Kahan and the research about the flu vaccine probably are right. Moving a denier from their beliefs is probably not done with my tone of voice.

But I’ll be blunt. I’m not sure that it’s my goals with this website. I haven’t completely decided what my audience should be, but angering poor little science deniers because they are foolish and completely ignorant of science is of little concern to me at this time. Even some pro-science/pro-vaccine/pro-GMO bloggers and writers have either directly or indirectly asked that I move a bit towards the civil side. But that would be writing in a style that is uncomfortable to me, so I would then be doing this as a “job” rather than as a hobby, which should be fun.

The ironic thing is that for subjects like vaccines, the battle is won. Nearly 95% of children are vaccinated in the USA (as well as most of the developed world). And at least in the USA, of the 5% who aren’t vaccinated, only around 1% are because of parental refusal. Therefore, vaccine deniers are just a tiny lunatic minority of people, usually clustered in certain parts of the USA. They make a lot of noise, but they really spout nothing but nonsense. I enjoy calling the vaccine deniers (and GMO-deniers, since on the Venn diagram of pseudoscience, they overlap quite a bit) out for their tactics, beliefs, and general stupidity.

I’m here partially to convince people about the science, but I’m choosing areas of science that are so overwhelmingly supported by the body of evidence that mocking the deniers is the most effective way in pointing out their misinformation, misdirection and lies.

Now, here’s where I do wish I could write two blogs: snarky version and the civil version. There are a few people we are “convincible,” especially about vaccines. I get enough emails from people who changed their point of view, that I’m quite pleased. I’ve read a few articles by parents who “switched” based on something I wrote. Or use something I’ve written here as evidence to counter a myth they used to hold dear.

But really, my goal is to bash pseudoskeptics intellectually with as much humor and ridicule as I can muster. On the column to the right, I’ve listed a few websites, especially for vaccine information, that are written by angels. Red Wine and Apple Sauce, Voices for Vaccines, Moms Who Vax, and Nurses Who Vaccinate are just some of dozens of websites and blogs that discuss vaccines in a much more civil and sweet manner.

My point is simple. I’m here to educate about scientific skepticism and pseudoskepticism in a way that might be off-putting, but I hope it provides knowledge and information. As much as I won’t buy into the belief that marijuana is safe, I won’t buy into the belief that vaccines cause autism.

There you go–all you need to know about skeptics, deniers, and my curmudgeonly writing style.

Key citations

 

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor

Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!


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  • Boris Ogon

    Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that Philip Hills is (1) so desperate for attention as to start randomly necromancing a 10-month-old thread and (2) has “learned” the “new” word “meme” and started riding it like a rented mule?

    • I’m starting to shut down threads if they get old. This was going to be one of those, but suddenly it appears.

      Oh well. I see not-a-lady-cum has shown up. I blocked him. Because, it’s a him, in case you’re wondering.

  • ladycum

    No it’s septic. Someone who hangs onto vaccine belief, even when the evidence shows us vaccines are killing people. Skeptic is a mis spelling, most of these people are intellectually inept. How can anyone read the ‘science’ about vaccination and not be sceptical?

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      Since there is no evidence showing that vaccines are killing people maybe you are septic. I hope not because that does kill people

      • ladycum

        The ‘evidence’ as you call it is funded by the companies that make the vaccines! According to editors of the Lancet, BMJ and NEJM most of what is published in medical peer review is utter nonsense. You can believe what you like, if woo is evidence then you believe in bullshit.

        • Sullivan ThePoop

          Most research on vaccines is not funded by the manufacturer and is not published in medical journals. You are
          Just bound and determined to believe what you believe no matter the evidence

          • Boris Ogon

            Just bound and determined to believe what you believe no matter the evidence

            No, just a frustrated, repetitive, sockpuppeting externalizer. See here et seq.

            • ladycum

              Nice ad hom Boris, I suppose that’s what happens, you worship the medical peer review, the editors are now rejecting most of what is published as nonsense, and as a minion you are a bit late to catch up. Kind of grates on the nuts that one, for you of course, must be hard when everyone else is laughing and you are still chanting the great chant. I suppose you are fairly disposable in the final analysis.

              You could always get a job flipping boigers.

          • ladycum

            What an interesting anecdote, next you will be telling us that beefburgers are made of beef. Perhaps you would like to list all the current childhood vaccines with all the research links and the list of where they are not published in medical journals. What an odd diversion Sully, perhaps they got real and published in Halloween novels.

            • Sullivan ThePoop

              Was that English? I gave you no anecdotes. You are so lost you do not even understand the English language.

          • Hoter

            That is a fallacy, why would anyone who didn’t stand to profit – invest. If so who are these philanthropists? Are they published in gardening weekly? Do you make this up

      • ladycum

        Vaccines do kill people, it is a listed side effect of some.

        • Sullivan ThePoop

          No, it is not listed as a side effect. You know so little about this subject it is pathetic

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      What? You are the one believing nonsense when all evidence is to the contrary. Nice projecting though.

      • ladycum

        medical peer review isn’t ‘evidence’, it’s marketing.

        • Justthefacts

          Google research isn’t science either.

  • Spencer James Smith

    did you seriously just say that a denier is not a skeptic? you know that skeptic means the same thing even when its someone being skeptical about something you are not right? well then if i am not a skeptic than neither are you according to your logic. o oops, did you just pull a “logical fallacy”? by the way what human could not technically be termed a skeptic? as we are all skeptical about different things all the time.

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  • Susan Oliver

    Although there are exceptions, most who refer to themselves as global warming sceptics, do believe in man made global warming. Their scepticism is not of the basic science – it is of the extreme predictions. All climate scientists agree that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to a temperature increase of about one degree Celsius all other things being equal. The disagreement is how the earth will react to this forcing – some believe large positive feedbacks will increase this to six degrees of warming – some believe negative feedbacks will reduce it to 0.5 degrees of warming – some believe it’s somewhere in between. The last IPCC report put the expected range to be somewhere between 1.5C and 4.5C.

  • Well, I do think your title would be more accurate if you shone your sceptical eye on all claims made, from both sides, including drug companies. And not just deniers.
    For example, many companies use percentage calculations to misrepresent the effectiveness of their drugs. Statins for example, now so widely taken and mostly with insignificant beneficial outcomes for the patient.
    I would re-name your blog ‘Support Raptor’ as its overriding effect is to support the status quo, whatever its position. That takes away any independent voice you may have.

    • I follow the evidence. The reason there is a scientific consensus is because the evidence supports that.

      I’ve never spoken about statins, because it’s not an interest of mine. There are thousands of drugs on the market. I can only focus on a few.

      I would take your comments more seriously, if you actually had some evidence behind your lies. But you don’t, that’s why there’s lies.

      This is what Cochrane says:

      “We looked at 50 studies published before June 2012 concerning statin treatment in over 45,000 people with CKD who did not need dialysis treatment. We found that statins reduced the risk of death and major heart-related events by 20%. Statin treatment was also found to be effective in reducing cardiac disease and death in people who have CKD but not heart disease. In these people, statin treatment reduced risks of heart attack by half.

      http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD007784/RENAL_statins-can-help-reduce-risk-of-death-in-people-with-chronic-kidney-disease-who-do-not-need-dialysis#sthash.lXeNE6Wi.dpuf

      So some random bozo on the internet says that statins don’t work, yet the best systematic review says they do. Who am I going to trust. Oh yeah. Real science in a real systematic review with 45,000 data points.

      You’re an intellectual hamster. Go run on the wheel.

      • Hey – no need for abuse Skeptical! So defensive! Be happy!
        May I suggest an alternate blog strategy? You could ask for evidence, then when you get it, call whoever Bozo.

        I think you sound like a cross patch..

        Anyway, here are the research figures, and some from the London Times:

        An analysis by Dr. David Newman in 2010 which drew on large meta-analyses of statins found:
        1.Among those with pre-existing heart disease that took statins for 5 years:
        96% saw no benefit at all
        1.2% (1 in 83) had their lifespan extended (were saved from a fatal heart attack)
        2.6% (1 in 39) were helped by preventing a repeat heart attack
        0.8% (1 in 125) were helped by preventing a stroke
        0.6% (1 in 167) were harmed by developing diabetes
        10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage

        Statins given to people with no known heart disease for 5 years:
        98% saw no benefit at all
        1.6% (1 in 60) were helped by preventing a heart attack
        0.4% (1 in 268) were helped by preventing a stroke
        1.5% (1 in 67) were harmed by developing diabetes
        10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage

        “The latest figures from the Health Survey for England reveal about half the population is now on some form of medication and that more than a fifth are taking at least three different drugs. ”

        How likely is it that my pills will protect me?

        Doctors are very aware that most patients on preventive medicines don’t gain as much as they like to think. Take statins. Used appropriately they can delay your first heart attack or stroke, but by nowhere near as much as most people imagine: 67 people have to take a statin for 5 years to prevent one of them having a stroke, while 100 have to take the drug to prevent 1 heart attack over the same period. Meanwhile as many as 1 in 10 of those same people will be harmed in some way by side effects that range from mild muscle aches (common) to life-threatening kidney failure (very rare). These figures are known as “numbers needed to treat” (NNT) and you can look up the NNT for the treatment you are being offered under the therapy reviews section of the nnt.com

        http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/profile/Dr-Mark-Porter
        http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/health/dr-mark-porter/article4298030.ece

        • P.S. Merry Christmas!

          • Good for you in celebrating a pagan Roman holiday which was converted into a myth about a non-existent Jesus. Wow, you must think you’re an intellectual heavyweight.

            Obviously when evolution selected for the scientific intellect gene, it bypassed you and gave you the moron gene. Excellent example of natural selection on you.

            • Peter Hobday

              Christmas really is a great party! You would enjoy it!

            • ladycum

              Bah humbug. God, can you imagine a party with the raptor running it – sheete.

            • ladycum

              Well you seem to celebrate the annual flu vaccine fallacy festival without question, every year. cough

        • NOT peer reviewed. And of course it would have no use in those with no predisposition or symptoms for heart diseases.

          Are you a moron.

          • Peter Hobday

            If you click the ‘see more’ line, skeptical, you will see that the meta research covers those with pre existing conditions. It really is worth reading. God bless.

            • ladycum

              They can’t help it Peter, it’s part of the septic reality fallacy meme.

          • ladycum

            yes it is Raptor, you are obviously suffering from septic blindness syndrome – are you taking statins too? Couple that with flu vaccine induced mercury accumulation and you would probably qualify for a toxic waste certificate.

            However, statins also prevented the stem cells from becoming
            beneficial bone and cartilage cells. Statins also increased stem cell
            aging and death rates, reducing their DNA repair abilities. The effect
            was more pronounced in the samples from older donors, the age group most
            likely to use statins.

            “Statins significantly diminish the ability of stem cells to grow and
            differentiate into new adult body cells,” Alt said. “For example, in
            the brain, the lack of new nerve cells could result in memory loss and
            forgetfulness; in joints, the lack of cartilage renewal could lead to
            the clinical symptoms of osteoarthritis.”

        • ladycum

          Peter, the raptor is not mentally well, he is probably taking statins and the effects on brain degeneration are well known.

      • ladycum

        More dogshite science from the raptor. Recent research shows us that statins inhibit stem cells from repairing. No wonder you are shying away from commenting about it. Coward.

        • Sullivan ThePoop

          Since statins increase the repair of bones by regulating stem cells I am going to need to see a citation.

          • ladycum

            Hi Sullivan, interesting septic cherry pick there, you missed this, probably due to belief system fallacy blindness, a common complaint in septic circles:

            “However, statins also prevented the stem cells from becoming
            beneficial bone and cartilage cells. Statins also increased stem cell
            aging and death rates, reducing their DNA repair abilities. The effect
            was more pronounced in the samples from older donors, the age group most
            likely to use statins.

            “Statins significantly diminish the ability of stem cells to grow and
            differentiate into new adult body cells,” Alt said. “For example, in
            the brain, the lack of new nerve cells could result in memory loss and
            forgetfulness; in joints, the lack of cartilage renewal could lead to
            the clinical symptoms of osteoarthritis.”

            Interesting how there is more early onset Alzheimer’s happening.

    • ladycum

      LOL, I love it when the raptor’s ranting backfires and blows what little cock he has off. LOL how can you leave this thread up with a comment like this, it’s brilliant.

  • Sometimes, I try to be polite, but oftentimes, the blatant stupidity or the number of times I see the zombies rise, sets me off, and I return to snark & insults. There’s someone though, who, through her tact, patience, and unfailing politeness is almost (but not quite) to make me think angels are real, That would be Dr. Dorit Reiss. I’ve not once seen her lose her cool, or return an insult for another.

    • Dorit is unflappable. They lie about her. They make up bullshit. Yet she never loses her cool.

      I, on the other hand, eat babies and play cards with demons.

      • So, you are the one responsible for distracting my demons from soul collecting! Did you know I had to switch to using gingers? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a soul back from a ginger!

        It’s how they get new freckles, you know.

        In other news:

        I suspect Dr. Reiss may just be a saint in disguise. As you said: She is unflappable even though they throw lies, bullshit, and despicableness her way. And, she is resolute about requesting evidence, or presenting her own. Unless…

        Wait.

        Maybe she’s a Pseudoscience Terminator. o.O Maybe she was sent back by the Resistance to protect us from the Woo….

      • ladycum

        Dorit fucks chickens, who the hell fucks you?

  • Kathy

    Well put. I would love to share this with vaccine skeptic but she banned me long ago and she wouldn’t get it anyway.

    • lilady R.N.

      That’s got to be a badge of honor for you, Kathy.

      • ladycum

        I thought lilady was dead?