One of the things that drive pro-science types crazy (amongst a few hundred things, but still let me proceed) is when someone who seems to be rational about a scientific idea, then drop a bomb that they accept something so pseudoscientific, you have to wonder about everything else that person accepts.
I know people who argue vociferously for the fact of evolution, then claim that astrology predicts the future. Or someone who will accept everything in science, but claim that vaccines are dangerous. My personal favorite are those who proclaim widely that global warming deniers are crazy lunatics, then try to convince us that GMO crops are dangerous, using the same exact tactics and lack of science as the global warming deniers.
I began to wonder where my readers stood on the four major scientific consensuses (I assume that’s the plural of consensus, but it looks weird) that I discuss regularly here. They are:
- Evolution, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- Anthropogenic (human caused) global warming, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- Vaccinations (the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to prevent disease), which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- The safety of GM (genetically modified) foods, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
See what I did there?
In this week’s poll, a double version, first, just vote on how many of these four key scientific principles you accept. Then second, choose which ones you reject. Easy!
Here we go again. A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published 6 months ago) that may, or may not, indicate that plant DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream. You just know what they’re going to say next.
This will now be all about genetically modified foods.
In case you’ve ignored this area of pseudoscience, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs); of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. Based on some of the worst science available, anti-GMO cultists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Of course, there is actually no science supporting the anti-GMO claim, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment.
(more…) «GMO foods transfer DNA to…»
Nearly every year, at the start of the legislative season, Republicans in state legislatures think it’s their right to push their anti-science (and other right wing social engineering ideas). And 2014 is no different, with Republican legislatures trying to force anti-evolution (usually combined with anti-global warming) laws on the students of their state. In general, they haven’t been so successful, but when Republicans embrace a bad idea like anti-science laws, they try until they win.
The 2013 state legislative year was relatively successful for the pro-science forces, with all legislation offered in Republican dominated states failing to come to a vote or getting rejected in committee.This followed a relatively unsuccessful (for the anti-science Republicans) 2012 legislative year (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill).
Conservative Republicans continue to attempt to bring unconstitutional anti-evolution (and pro-creationism) legislation to the top of their agenda in many states. The current forms of anti-science legislation attempt to allow teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But whatever the general anti-science bent of the legislation, it has always been clear that promoting creationism is the goal.
(more…) «Antievolution legislation update–catching up on…»
Update of 29 March 2013 article.
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.
(more…) «Water fluoridation-the 47 millionth blog…»
One of the more crazy anti-science groups are the evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of science that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. Based on this nearly irrefutable evidence, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science was a democracy, evolution would win in a landslide of epic proportions.
The scientific theory of evolution simply states that there is a change in inherited characteristics of a biological population, over time and generations, through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun or that gravity causes objects to fall to the earth.
There is no genuine scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.
Despite the ongoing scientific discussion regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes, among scientists, about the fact that evolution commenced when the first living organisms appeared over 3.8 billion years. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in any real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.
Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Though this legislation is rarely successful, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently passed antievolution bills. The right wing politicians, mostly in southern US states, are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they conflate a ridiculous political and social argument with a scientific debate.
(more…) «Americans are ignorant fools about…»
As we entered 2014, General Mills, the Minnesota-based food processing giant, announced that the breakfast cereal, Cheerios, probably its most popular brand, will be labelled as GMO free. And the anti-science GMO refusers were partying across the land, with the anti-science Huffington Post adding to the Cheerios cheers:
Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen highlighted what General Mills’ decision means in a press release. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand,” he said.
Of course, this was a pretty simple move for General Mills. About all it’s really going to cost them is a new box design to promote “GMO-Free”. It’s inexpensive and simple for General Mills because there are no genetically modified oats as of today. So, they don’t have to find new sources for the grain or most of the other components of the cereal. Actually, the only thing they had to do was switch the tiny amount of beet sugar used to sweeten the cereal to another type, something that is ostensibly an easy step in manufacturing.
Despite General Mills taking a tiny, inexpensive and risk-free step over the line to label GM-free, and going against what the industry has wanted, no labeling whatsoever, really nothing much has changed. General Mills is still opposed to all state initiatives demanding GMO labeling, which have mostly failed, probably as a result of corporate expenditures opposing these initiatives. General Mills still thinks genetically modified foods are safe and should not removed from the market. But with over 90% of Americans buying into the anti-science activism and believing that GMO’s are dangerous, and 59 percent of Americans now getting their nutritional advice from the internet, it becomes a brilliant marketing move for an aging brand. Instantly, Cheerios stands out in the supermarket aisle as one of the few major brand cereals that is GMO-free. It was a low-risk move that probably had no material impact on either General Mill’s strategies with genetically modified foods or the cost of manufacturing the cereal.
Although I have no evidence confirming my cynicism, eventually General Mills can increase the price of its GMO-free cereal, because demand will be higher for it. Then other oat cereal manufacturers will do the same, and eventually we’ll have more expensive cereal. I’m sure the anti-science GMO-radicals are happy that companies can make more profits for really not doing much. But that’s capitalism for you.
For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.
#2. This article was published on 12 June 2013, and has had nearly 40,000 views. GMO’s cause so much unscientific drama, that when Richard Dawkins, a “saint” for the a lot of pro-science people, makes it known that being against GMO’s is anti-science, it causes the time-space continuum to break.
Thirteen years ago, Richard Dawkins, noted secularist, author and evolutionary biologist, wrote an open letter to Prince Charles, noted promoter of pseudoscience and heir apparent to the British throne, about the Prince’s hostility to science. Even though the letter was written more than a decade ago, the salient points still ring true today:
…Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural-ness of ‘traditional’ or ‘organic’ agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago – too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.
Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified – admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We’ve been playing God for centuries!
(more…) «Richard Dawkins talks about GMO…»
For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.
#4. This article was published on 22 July 2013, and has had nearly 12000 views. Another fad diet with little scientific support, and only anecdotal evidence that it might work.
Surprisingly, most of the questions I get through emails about “skepticism” ask about the science or myths in popular diet fads. It’s clear that there are a lot of websites, pundits, and websites with pundits who think that changing your diet is the most important thing in the world. Eat this to make your immune system strong. Don’t eat that because it causes cancer. But do eat this because it reduces your risk of cancer. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Eat more of that.
My thoughts have always been that the human physiology is amazingly resilient, and as long as you have no chronic diseases, there is nothing one can do that will make the situation much better or much worse. Yes, maintaining levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, iron, and others, are critical, but in the modern world, it’s almost impossible to miss out on those micronutrients. Yes, we should limit fats and “sugars”. But the thing is human physiology is complex, so marathoners eat lots of carbohydrates, and they are mostly healthy. It all depends.
And as I’ve mentioned, you’re not going to prevent or cure cancer with supplements (or presumably foods that are rich with those nutrients). Antioxidants don’t really help prevent cancer. Soy won’t stop certain types of cancer. Nor will certain foods make you lose weight. Most of these beliefs about foods, health and weight loss are based on either a boatload of anecdotal evidence, or use very preliminary laboratory research, make a leap of faith, and assume that laboratory evidence is equivalent to clinical evidence. Then, when the gold standard of research, a randomized clinical trial is done, the results generally show nothing. And in some cases, the negative effect is with the supplement or food.
For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.
#5. This article was published on 31 July 2013, and has had nearly 12000 views. My “career” in skepticism actually started with debunking evolution deniers, so I always enjoy pointing out the logical fallacies, lies, pseudoscience, and general craziness of the anti-evolution world.
There is just nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution.
The scientific theory of evolution is simply the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.
There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.
Despite the ongoing debate regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes about the fact that evolution happened over 3.8 billion years amongst scientists. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.
Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Though rarely successful, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently passed antievolution bills. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they conflate a ridiculous political and social argument with a scientific one.
(more…) «Americans are ignorant fools about…»
#6. This article was published on 16 September 2013, and has had nearly 9000 views. Reading through this list you will realize that GMO opponents use the same nonsense anti-science techniques as do global warming deniers, evolution deniers, and Holocaust deniers.
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).
#7. This article was published on 23 July 2013, and has had over 6000 views. Polio vaccines do not cause cancer. Ugh.
The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.
I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers). In other words, it lack any truth, except, maybe that bananas are yellow. Amusingly, I can tell when the banana myth blows up on the internet, because suddenly my article on TNF and bananas gets thousands of hits over a week as people search out a critique (or I suppose support) of the meme. I originally wrote the article early in 2012 (I’ve updated it a couple of times, to clear up language and to add more information), and it has gone through at least 6-7 cycles of tens of thousands of Google hits, then going quiet again for a few weeks, sometimes just a few days. It was not my intention, but that article has remained the most-read article I’ve ever written.
Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words).
(more…) «Polio vaccine does not cause…»
- The discoverer pitches his claim directly to the media. Going to media directly bypasses the all-important peer-review process, where real scientists can evaluate whether the claim is real science. There are some journalists that are thorough scientific skeptics, but it is rare. That’s why press releases rank near the bottom of acceptable scientific evidence.
- The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his/her work. Special pleading for a conspiracy is just a logical fallacy. If someone discovers a cure for all cancers (probably not possible, since there are so many different cancers), the powers that be will be bringing truckloads of dollars to buy it, because they could market it for even more truckloads of money. But if you have no evidence that it cures all cancers, you’re not going get anything.
- The scientific effect is always at the very limit of detection. This is the very definition of “it doesn’t work.” Moreover, if the thing being promoted has a tiny effect, then more of it will have more of an effect, the typical dose-response relationship expected from all compounds.
- Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. Anecdotes are not data. More anecdotes are not data. Anecdotes are not controlled, but they are subject to all sorts of bias. Like confirmation bias, where the observer only picks anecdotes that support their belief. The problem with that is we have no idea if the anecdote is, in fact, accurate; and we ignore all the data that does not support the anecdote. Randomized clinical trials remove bias, remove observer partiality, and blind the patients and the researchers to the experiment itself.
- The discoverer says it is credible because it has endured for centuries. This is the logical fallacy of an Appeal to Antiquity. Just because it’s been around for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s credible. Homeopathy has been around since the early 1800′s, and all that means is that people have be deluded by it for over 200 years. Homeopathy doesn’t work. And we have shown it doesn’t work in real science.
- Discoverer has worked in isolation. Science is a collaborative effort, because new ideas need to be subjected to the bright lights of criticism and review. If the new discovery is truly groundbreaking, others will need to repeat it and publish about it, so that unbiased observers can add the new information into the wealth of science. But if the discoverer hides from others, then its validity will be questioned.
- The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. New laws of nature are developed over time through scientific consensus, not through the proclamation of a single scientist. This is the problem of most pseudoscientific ideas. Homeopathy requires us to dismiss the basic laws of chemistry and physics to imagine that a simple water molecule can have a “memory” of other substances. Vaccine deniers dismiss the basic science of the immune system and reinvent dose-response relationships to try to make people believe how vaccines are dangerous. Psychics need you to believe that future events are somehow transmitted through time, suspending our essential understanding of the universe. All pseudoscience needs to violate the basic principles of real science to “prove” that they work. I have no problem with trying to refute a basic scientific principle–but you have to do it the hard way. You must provide scientific evidence, that’s undergone thorough peer review and critique, that we should dismiss some principle of science. You don’t get to do it the lazy way–by just saying it is so.
So here’s your checklist. Really, you only need to check off one or two on the list to begin thinking that a claim is bogus. The thing I’ve observed is that most pseudoscience doesn’t stop at just one or two–they go for the full list, because that’s the only way to make it seem like real science.
Boiled down to its essence, pseudoscience lacks credible scientific evidence, so the only way to force people to overlook that deficiency is to make use of feints, illusions, and magic.
In just a few days, this website and blog will be exactly two years old. In the world of bloggers, I’m a newbie; in the science world of some blogs that have been around since the advent of the internet as we know it, I’m a mere infant. When I first started the blog in January 2012, I had a grand total of 262 visitors. For the whole month! Now, I’ll frequently get over 262 visitors in an hour. I’m just a few page views short of 1 million for the past 2 years. In 2014, I am hoping to exceed 1 million page views for the year.
Right now, according to Alexa (a website ranking service), this website is ranked #277,281. Out of six hundred million websites (give or take a couple), this one is in the top 0.05% of all websites on the internet. I make no pretense that I built this website’s ranking alone, I think I got lucky. I wrote a number of articles, that debunked common pseudoscience myths (wait, pseudoscience by definition is a myth), which became big hits on social media.
And I have readers from all over the world. Most of my readers are from English-speaking countries like the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But I have boatloads of hits from Germany, France, Israel, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and many other countries. I try to remember that I’ve got an international audience, but I know some of my writing tends to be American focused. I try to resist the urge to use American metaphors, but sometimes it’s just not easy.
(more…) «The reasons why I write…»
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.
(more…) «Developing and supporting a scientific…»
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.
Aspartame (brand name Nutrasweet) is a popular artificial sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than common table sugar known as sucrose. Aspartame is a dipeptide of the natural amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine–these amino acids or peptides are consumed regular with nearly any animal or plant protein.
When aspartame is ingested, it is hydrolyzed (broken down by water molecules) into its constituent components: aspartate, phenylalanine and methanol, in an approximate 4:5:1 ratio. No aspartame has been found in the bloodstream, since it is so quickly hydrolyzed in the gut, and only the constituent components are absorbed. To be absolutely clear, there is no difference between aspartic acid and phenylalanine that form aspartame than all “natural forms” of those amino acids that are contained in the proteins of food sources.
(more…) «Aspartame is safe according to…»
There has been a news story creating some buzz lately regarding recent claims made by neuroscientist James Fallon, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. Dr. Fallon studied the brains of psychopaths for a few years and later saw that his brain was just like those of the psychopaths he studied. Many news outlets are picking up on this story as Dr. Fallon has just released a new book about it as well.
To summarize, Dr. Fallon had received a PET scan of his brain in conjunction with an Alzheimer’s disease study, and subsequently noticed that his PET scan image was eerily similar to PET scan images from those of the psychopaths he researched. These articles then reported how both the psychopaths and Dr. Fallon had less activity in the frontal and temporal lobes which he claimed are linked to empathy, self-control, and morality. Beyond the PET scan results, Dr. Fallon mentions how he his family has the “Warrior Gene” which is associated with aggressive behavior.
(more…) «Pseudoscience and psychopathy»
After publishing a few articles about Katie Couric‘s false balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science broadcast on her eponymous TV talk show, Katie, I thought I could move on to other topics in skepticism. I, and dozens of other writers on the internet, had chided, criticized and lambasted her using anecdotes from two mothers to impugn the safety of Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), while ignoring solid science and medical research that supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Well, today, Couric issued an apology, of sorts, regarding the episode. Her introductory paragraph, basically says it all:
Last week we devoted several segments on my TV talk show to the issues surrounding the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. Learning about this relatively recent preventive measure is tremendously important, and I felt it was a subject well worth exploring. Following the show, and in fact before it even aired, there was criticism that the program was too anti-vaccine and anti-science, and in retrospect, some of that criticism was valid. We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine. More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines. As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts.
(more…) «Katie Couric does a 180…»
Revised 10 December 2013.
If you weren’t aware, on 4 December 2013, Katie Couric, a fairly popular USA-based journalist with her own eponymous TV talk show, Katie, did a report about Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe). Essentially, Couric interviewed several individuals who claim, without any evidence (and lacking any clue about statistical analysis) that Gardasil harmed their children. Couric gave about a minute of time to ONE physician to explain the safety and effectiveness of Gardasil, as opposed to the heartbreaking, but ultimately irrelevant, stories from parents who needed to blame something for what had happened, and chose Gardasil. As opposed to depression, diet soda, bottled water, air pollution, bad TV shows, or that fake butter that the movie theaters use.
As I wrote before, Gardasil is incredibly safe, as shown in massive and well-designed epidemiological studies. It prevents HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, a sexually transmitted disease. And in case you think it’s just some benign virus, HPV is directly responsible for cervical cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer and penile cancer. These are all deadly, disfiguring, and potentially preventable cancers through the use of HPV vaccines.
In other words, Couric, in the ultimate example of false balance–Couric believed that both sides of a scientific “debate” are equivalent in quality of opinion and evidence. But rarely is this true, especially in scientific principles that have been well-studied and supported by a massive amount of evidence. The safety and efficacy of vaccines is supported by the vast consensus of real science. The antivaccination side has no evidence, so it must rely upon logical fallacies and cherry picked data, and lack any real, world-class contingent of scientists who have stepped up to change the consensus with real evidence.
(more…) «Katie Couric doubles down on…»
This week was a bit depressing to be pro science (and by association, pro-vaccine). As I discussed, Katie Couric employed the full false balance fallacy to the extreme to try to “prove” that the Gardasil vaccine was somehow dangerous, based on the anecdotal, and ultimately unscientific, stories. That’s not science. That’s not good journalism. And that goes against real science and real clinical trials which, startlingly, comes to a conclusion that Gardasil is safe and very effective.
Oh, then in response to the intense criticism, Couric doubled-down on the false balance.
I needed something to mock the antivaccination movement, something to remind me that these people are, in general, crackpots of the highest order.