When I was a kid (probably 6 or 7), there was a big controversy in our community whether the water would be fluoridated or not. Now, I was just becoming fascinated by science, medicine, health, and sports at that time, so I tried to figure out what was happening.
To my ears and adolescent brain, the argument boiled down to no fluoridation (which meant cavities and visits to the dentist) vs. fluoridation (which was a communist conspiracy). Scary choices. Though Nazi dentists were also plenty scary.
But I grew up, and fluoridation became more common, as communities accepted the evidence that fluoridate water was safe, and improved the health of the community’s teeth. Water systems are mostly fluoridated (unless you drink bottled water).
And fluoride is in toothpaste and various mouthwashes. I thought the fluoridation controversy had passed into history with rotary phones, the Soviet Union, and the slide rule. My younger readers probably have never seen any of those three in their native states.
Now it’s time to look at those water fluoridation myths that can be found in many corners of the internet.
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Over and over, I’ve read comments on the internet (obviously, my first mistake) that there is no scientific consensus about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms (generally crops or food), and their safety to humans and the environment.
There are even claims that GMOs are not necessarily productive or provide higher yields, and so called organic foods are healthier (they aren’t) and can lead to higher productivity.
Let’s look at anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, since it also has this huge controversy over whether there’s a scientific consensus. Over 97% of published articles that expressed a conclusion about anthropogenic climate change endorsed human caused global warming. If that were a vote, it would be a landslide that would make dictators jealous.
According to Skeptical Science, it’s even more than that:
We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.
The consensus is so clear, outside of vocal, loud and junk science pushing individuals and organizations, that many scientists call it the “Theory of anthropogenic climate change,” which would mean it’s at the pinnacle of scientific principles, essentially an unassailable fact.
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In the hierarchy of scientific principles, we often mention scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.” A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation.
Although Charles Darwin described the essentials of the Scientific Theory of Evolution in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, he was unaware of the existence of DNA, much of the fossil record, viruses, and other information which might have made an impact on his theory of evolution (probably by making it easier to describe). After 154 years since Darwin published his book on evolution, not one single piece of scientific evidence has been able to refute Darwin’s original theory. In fact, during the past 154 years, the scientific evidence thoroughly supported the powerful Darwinian theory of evolution.
In my writing, I often refer to the scientific consensus, which is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, though disagreement is limited and generally insignificant.
The major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that the theory is essentially fact. It is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it takes an almost ridiculous amount of data to refute it, though it is possible.
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One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.
As strong supporters of vaccines, the Gates have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. Bill Gates vaccines save lives. Now I know that Bill Gates did not invent these vaccines, but the attacks on him make it seem like he did.
These personal attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.”
For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I think I want to call this corollary “Offit’s Law,” named for Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or even “Gate’s Law.”
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Bill Gates, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) located in Seattle, Washington, is one of the world’s leading charities that brings advanced healthcare (including vaccinations) and other leading-edge technology to underdeveloped countries. As I’ve said before, I am not a hero worshipper, but there is something admirable and moral about a person who has built incredible wealth, and then decides to give it back to the world in a way that cannot itself be measured monetarily.
Bill and Melinda Gates appear to be genuinely devoted to helping people, especially those who lack access to modern technology and medicine. To that end, they have stated that they will give away about 95% of their wealth through charitable causes.
This focus on vaccines has made Bill Gates a target of the antivaccination lunatics. Numerous lies about Gates have become internet memes, from “Gates’ vaccines are population control” (based on a complete misreading of something he said) to Gates’ polio vaccines have paralyzed 47,000 kids in India. I refuted the most egregious lies. And then there’s the postmodernist antivaccine cretin Sayer Ji who invented a whole host of lies about Gates. I debunked those too.
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One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.
So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.
In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.
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One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.”
And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals.
People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.
Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?
That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.
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One of my favorite science websites is at Science or Not, the author of which, Graham Coghill, claims that “this website will help you separate real science from nonsense that’s masquerading as science.” Most real scientific skeptics have that goal, but Coghill does a great job in formalizing science into a readable, logical format.
Coghill has been doing a couple of series of blog posts, both of which are some of my favorites for science. One is the “Hallmarks of Science,” which endeavors to describe what makes good science.
Then there is its evil twin, the “Red Flags of Science,” which points out the indicators of bad science, pseudoscience or plain nonsense.
So with all due respect to Graham Coghill, I’m going to abscond with his Red Flags of Science series, and show how the GMO opponents use bad science to make their case. (Please note, I deleted some Red Flags that didn’t apply to GMO refusers, like magical powers).
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I have railed against charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks. Or keep them from even growing in your body. But their claims are nearly always absent real compelling scientific evidence.
Like the trope supplements preventing cancer. They don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).
Or like avoiding GMO containing foods prevents cancer. Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing–bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).
Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are some things that can be done to reduce your risk (see what I did there–no absolutes, just management of risks) of cancer.
How to prevent cancer has been codified byThe World Health Organization (WHO) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that is called the European Code Against Cancer.
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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.”
Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the Argument from Ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
Even though arguing with logical fallacies is rarely productive, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed GMO research articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough.
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