Published 16 March 2014
Updated 14 January 2015
If you cruise around the internet, engaging with the antivaccination cultists, you will pick up on their standard tropes, lies, and other anti-science commentary. One that has always bothered me, not because that it was a lie, but because I had enough evidence floating in my brain that I was wondering if it were true–that vaccines might lead to Type 1 diabetes.
A lot of the vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause a lot of everything, and several claim that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes (or here), based on little evidence. As far as I can tell, this myth is based on the “research” from J. Barthelow Classen, M.D., who has pushed the idea that vaccines causes type 1 diabetes, through some magical process that has never been supported by other independent evidence. In another example of the antivaccination world’s cherry picking evidence to support their a priori conclusions, they ignore the utter lack of plausible evidence supporting this belief.
Moreover, Classen seems to come to his beliefs based on population-wide correlations that rely on post hoc fallacies, rather than actually showing causality between vaccines and diabetes. It’s like finding that a 5% increase in consumption of Big Macs is correlated with Republican wins in elections. They may happen at the same time, but it would take a laughable series events to show any relationship.
Original article published 18 December 2012
Revised 30 December 2012
Revised 7 July 2013
Revised 3 November 2013
Revised 2 December 2013
Revised 25 June 2014
Revised 8 January 2015
If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.
Part of the problem is that some people think that science is unapproachable and too hard to comprehend. It isn’t. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s easy, because it shouldn’t be. Answering questions about the natural universe requires, demands that scientist approach it with the least amount of bias and the most amount of evidence. And sometimes it is complex and nuanced, but why do people give false balance to someone, without the expertise or education in the field, as if they know more about the issue than does the scientist.
To become a world class architect and to design a skyscraper isn’t easy, but we non-architects can observe what we see, and accept that the building isn’t going to topple over in a hurricane. Do we presume to know how the foundation has to be built to support the building? Or what materials are used to give flexibility in a wind, but strong enough to not collapse? Mostly, we don’t, we trust that there isn’t a massive conspiracy to build unsafe skyscrapers because architects are being paid off by Big Concrete to use cheaper materials. We don’t question the architects’s motives or whether there are solid engineering principles, probably outside of most of our understanding, that were employed to make that skyscraper.
It’s the same with science. We can accept scientific principles without doing the research ourselves. But, and it’s a big but, if you want to dispute accepted science, then you have to bring science to the table not a false debate. Science isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy either. You cannot deny basic scientific facts without getting a solid education, opening a scientific laboratory staffed with world-class scientists, and then publishing peer-reviewed articles that can help move the prevailing scientific consensus. You cannot spend an hour or a day or even a week Googling a few websites and then loudly proclaim that the scientific consensus is wrong; no, you need to do the hard work. Until you do, those of us who are skeptics and scientists get to ignore you, and we get to continue with the current consensus.
(more…) «How science deniers use false…»
Actually, it’s not so annual, cause this is the first time I’ve done it, more or less.
I started this blog in January 2012. Just three years ago. I really didn’t know what subjects would be my focus, but it was science generally. I kind of wandered around for the first few months, before I think I hit my stride with vaccines, junk medicine, evolution (though I really need to move back into that area), and other things that captured my interest.
In January 2012, I had precisely 262 page views. For the whole month. I really thought “why bother.” For 2012, I had 184,000 page views, which still made me wonder if the effort was worth it.
In November 2014, I had over 278,000 unique page views, meaning I did more in November than I did in all of 2012. For 2014, I had nearly 1.2 million unique page views, which meant this website is ranked 278,000th in the world. OK, that sounds terrible, except that there’s 1,200,000,000 (1.2 billion if you hate counting zeroes) websites on the interwebs as of this moment. So this blog ranks in the top 0.023% of all websites on the internet. It’s no Facebook or Amazon, but then again, I have reach goals for this blog, and those aren’t it!
My goal is to provide scientific evidence for science and medicine, while doing the same against pseudoscientific myths and memes that are popular on the social networks. I do it with my style–take no prisoners, and use the highest standards of evidence. I refuse to accept a cherry-picked study that supports an a priori conclusion, when the scientific consensus, based on a mountainous body of evidence, is a formidable fortress of knowledge.
I seriously get frustrated when people think that their opinion somehow trumps the scientific consensus. Or that they think they can lie or intentionally abuse data to fit their “beliefs.” Climate change deniers. Evolution deniers. Vaccine deniers. GMO deniers. HIV/AIDS deniers. All use the same methodology to make their points. Whining about so-called problems, based on nonsense and ignorance. Depending upon false authorities to “prove” that the denier point of view deserves respect. Finding the one study that is an outlier, and ignoring the mountains of evidence supporting the scientific consensus. Providing false-balanced presentations that make it appear that there is really a debate. Using personal attacks and conspiracy theories to attack the character of thoughtful and intellectually superior science supporters.
If it weren’t so dangerous, we’d laugh at these people. Well, I still mock them, but I know they are dangerous lunatics.
Originally published 19 May 2014
Updated 22 December 2014.
Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.
Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.
(more…) «GMO opponents are the left’s…»
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). These individuals actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really?
(more…) «I call it as I…»
I have a lot of issues with the pseudo-medicine pushed by many many websites whose sole purpose is to push woo, or nonsense, to their readers. Then they have links to buy junk medicine from their website. Natural News, Mercola, and others have become multimillionaires with this business model.
These “entrepreneurs” deceive their readers with pure pseudoscience, using misleading language, and searching scientific literature for research that confirms their beliefs and ignoring everything that refutes it. They oversimplify complex issues, “take this pill, it will prevent all cancers,” making it seem most medicine can be boiled down to taking a couple of supplements–which they sell on their website. Of course.
Some might argue that this information isn’t dangerous. These people will say that a couple of supplements, even if they’re expensive, isn’t going to hurt. Maybe, though there’s a lot of evidence that those couple of pills might be more harmful than even I expected. But if these junk medicine websites push information that can harm or kill, then someone has to draw a line in the sand and tell them “you lie, and by lying, you might kill.”
Many of us say that about these woo-websites’ general antivaccination beliefs. This blog has posted numerous articles about the Natural News’ unethical and risky antivaccination articles. Mike Adams, the so-called Health Ranger and wealthy owner of the Natural News, makes his money by pushing his lies and misinformation about vaccines.
(more…) «Genetically engineered insulin does not…»
Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). Aspartame. High fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. Some of the angst caused by these additives is that they have scary chemical names. Obviously the “low fructose corn syrup” has got to be better? Right?
But there is one food additive that appears to be the root of all evil–MSG. How many times have you been to a Chinese restaurant where they put up signs with NO MSG ADDED? Just so you know, unless that restaurant isn’t using soy sauce (one of the major components of nearly all Chinese food flavorings), the amount of MSG in your Kung Pao Chicken is still quite high, because that soy sauce has more MSG in it than could possibly be added by a shaker of MSG.
MSG has no taste by itself, but it is used by many professional cooks as a flavor enhancer, improving and enhancing the flavor of almost any food. The taste that is enhanced by MSG is different than the standard sour, sweet, bitter and salt flavors–it is called “umami,” which also is enhanced by substances like soy sauce. It’s the savory flavor that one finds that is different from the commonly stated “four tastes” that chefs used to consider when developing flavors for food. The taste enhancing quality of MSG is not well understood, but it’s possible that humans evolved the pleasurable taste of umami as a result of natural selection favoring those who enjoy eating high quality protein foods.
MSG has been used as a flavor enhancer for several thousand years. It is one of the key components of many Asian cuisines, especially Japanese who have extracted MSG from kelp for centuries. The Romans used a sauce called garum, made from fermented fish, that was used instead of more expensive salt. In fact, MSG can be used to mask bad flavors, such as spoiled meat, just like salt.
Updated 5 December 2014.
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) scientific evidence. 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.
THE most popular article I ever wrote on this blog was one that thoroughly refuted a crazy meme that bananas kill cancer (which is an update of the original banana article). Hysterically, it was based on a complete misunderstanding of a study by “Japanese scientists” (the lead author was, in fact, an American, but whenever you see something that tries to claim authority by using unnamed, but smart sounding, scientists, be wary). Moreover, the conclusion made by the meme-author was based on ignorance about why a growth factor called “tumor necrosis factor” (TNF) that doesn’t do what it sounds like it does, about how a banana would never produce TNF, about how TNF would be broken down in the digestive system, about how it couldn’t be transported from the digestive system to the blood, and about how if you could eat enough bananas, if they did contain TNF, to have a biological effect, it would have to be more bananas than you could possibly eat, and the TNF effects would make you really sick. The banana meme did not have one single accurate assumption. None.
But still, it’s a popular belief. Just go to Facebook, and you’ll find someone promoting it. Like all anti-science memes, it’s a zombie, it reanimates from the dead and spreads its pseudoscience every few months, and I get thousands of hits from people trying to confirm the meme. Well, that’s actually good. I did the hard work of digging into the article and trying to figure out if this whole TNF thing was real.
From my perspective as a trained scientist, skeptic and observer of political debates, there are four scientific issues that have wandered into the realm of political debate: evolution, climate change, vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) generally with regards to food and agriculture.
Evolution and human caused climate change (or sometimes called anthropogenic global warming, AGW) are scientific facts supported by literally mountains of data. The arguments presented by evolution deniers is easily refuted. And the myths pushed by global warming deniers are also quickly debunked. Both of these have become a part of the political conversation, with the evolution and climate change deniers being almost exclusively made up of conservative political groups, including Republicans in the USA. There is no debate about these two facts from a scientific point of view, unless someone cherry picks scientifically weak papers published in bad journals to confirm a bias against these scientific facts.
Vaccines aren’t really a scientific principle per se, but the support for the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is pretty much settled by the vast majority of scientists who actually have experience, research and education in the key fields of science related to vaccines, such as epidemiology, immunology, microbiology, virology, etc. etc. The fact that about 95% of children in developed countries (including the USA and most of Europe) indicates that there isn’t even a “political debate” except some blathering and noise from a tiny lunatic fringe. And the 5% of children who aren’t vaccinated don’t exclusively represent active vaccine deniers–most of these unvaccinated children either cannot be immunized for some health reason, have procrastinating parents, or have parents who may be too poor to get their children vaccinated, even if it’s free to most people in developed countries. The only reason most of us get worked up about the approximately 1-2% of parents who actively resist vaccines is because we think all children should be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
On the other hand, GMOs, at some levels, should have some level of public discourse and debate. For example, glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp) resistant crops have raised public concerns, and despite some awful scientific evidence that has been solidly ridiculed in the scientific community, along with solid scientific studies that show no correlation (let alone causation) between human health and glyphosate exposure (see this, this, and this), excessive use of pesticides frighten people.
Personally, I can buy into certain arguments against GMOs. For example, I think that monoculture agriculture is extremely susceptible to an introduced or novel pest, which could be devastating to our food supply. I am also concerned about certain unintended consequences such as evolved pest resistance (but then again this has been a war since the first day genetic modification occurred 10,000 years ago), lower crop productivity, or other issues. So far, science hasn’t uncovered any problems so far, so there’s that.
If the anti-GMO environmentalist community wants to engage in a reasoned conversation about GMOs with those of us who have scientific evidence supporting our discussion points, then they have to quit using five bad arguments, which they seem to pull out of the manual of science deniers everywhere. Because anti-GMO arguments use the same ridiculous “debate” strategies as those who deny vaccines, evolution and climate change. As I’ve joked more times than I care to remember, I feel as all the science deniers attend the same convention to discuss tactics and strategies. It seems ironic to me that those who are anti-GMO make the same exact points as the climate change deniers, yet those two groups have nothing in common except they are both humans.
So what are these five bad arguments? Glad you asked, so here we go.
(more…) «Arguments that GMO opponents should…»
For me, the “Big Four” of science denialism are climate change, evolution, vaccines and genetically modified crops or food. There are a few others, and some actually tie into the Big Four, like denying the scientific fact called Germ Theory, which states that some diseases are caused by microorganisms. Antivaccination forces embrace wholeheartedly the denial of Germ Theory.
But rarely can you get a two for one deal, where two key sciences can be denied in one fell swoop. However, I found one.
A small technology venture, called Applied Biotechnology Institute (ABI) in San Luis Obispo, CA, a lovely small city along the Central Coast of California, has developed a method to genetically modify corn to produce medically useful proteins. They are focused on specialized enzymes, sweeteners, and vaccines.
One of their more interesting products, and not really the focus of this article, is a specialized enzyme that cleaves off a part of the pre-insulin molecule to create actual insulin. The enzyme is required in the final production step of human insulin, itself produce from genetically modified crops and bacteria. By the way, genetically engineered human insulin saves millions of lives every year world wide–on the other hand, genetically engineered organisms have harmed no one, as far as science can tell.
(more…) «Vaccines from GMO corn–science deniers…»