Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Trying to save lives with the Frankensquito

giant-mosquitoFour hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the antivaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about an innovative an small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, which has developed genetically modified male mosquitos, sometimes referred to as  Frankensquitos (at term I fully embrace as being both ironic and descriptive) that would mate with wild females. Those females would produce offspring that would not survive to adults, because they require an antibiotic, tetracycline, in their diet, something that isn’t usually available in the the wild. Over time, with multiple releases of males, the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the vector for transmitting Dengue fever. would fall to such a level that transmission of the the disease would be significantly reduced, if not completely stopped.
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Jenny McCarthy lies about vaccines. Surprise.

Jenny McCarthy is the erstwhile MTV drunk college dating game hostess, and current “journalist” on The View, an American daytime talk show on the ABC television network (owned by Disney). This transformation, of sorts, occurred despite widespread condemnation from scientists, journalists, and yours truly about her loud and annoying antivaccine rhetoric. Clearly, no one of any note supported her being hired on the View, except for websites like the Age of Pushing Nonsense To Harm Children.

This is old news. If you didn’t know, Jenny also has a newspaper column at the Chicago Sun-Times, where, I suppose, she can comment on anything she likes. I have never read it. Until I did. In her column of 12 April 2014, she wrote:

I am not “anti-vaccine.” This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, “pro-vaccine” and for years I have been wrongly branded as “anti-vaccine.”

Wait! What? She said she is not anti-vaccine?

Again. Again. And again. Thanks Bill Nye.

Again. Again. And again. Thanks Bill Nye.

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Mammoth created on sixth day–according to South Carolina

Ah, South Carolina. The Palmetto State. A lovely state, with beautiful beaches and forests. 

But also known as the Whoopee Cushion of the Nation. And they’ve blown up the cushion again, and the rest of the country is snickering.

south-carolina-mammoth

Through the persistence of an eight-year old third grade student, Olivia McConnell, the South Carolina House voted 94-3 on HB 4482 in February to specify that the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) as the official state fossil. Olivia wanted the mammoth as the state fossil because its teeth were one of the first vertebrate fossils found in North America, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725. 

The bill was sent to the South Carolina Senate, where it got quick treatment from the Senate Judiciary committee, and sent to the full Senate for a vote in late March. 

So far, this is a great story. Young child, interested in fossils and history, trying to honor the fossil for her state. The bill to make this happens sails through the state House, and quickly moves through initial review in the Senate.

But this is South Carolina, and here comes that whoopee cushion.

On 25 March 2014, while HB 4482 was under discussion in the Senate, Kevin L. Bryant (R-District 3) sought to amend the bill to acknowledge Genesis 1:24-25, which describes the sixth day of creation, to recognize that some “god” was responsible for creating the Animal Kingdom. It was reported that Bryant explained on his website, “I attempted to recognize the creator.” Bryant’s amendment was ruled out of order based on parliamentary rules.

So did Bryant give up? Not when you have a whoopee cushion to make a great sound. So he doubled-down on his effort, and he sought to amend the bill to add “as created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field” after each instance of “mammoth.” This amended bill passed the South Carolina Senate by a vote of 35-0 (so that means progressive Democrats voted for it), and was sent back to the Senate, where they could change the Senate wording.

There you go. The South Carolina whoopee cushion just let out the best flatulence sound ever

Note. for those of you who actually accept science as the most accurate description of the age of the planet and evolution of organisms. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and we have no evidence that it was created by anything other than the accretion of material from the early Solar System. Life on Earth arose 3.7 billion years and is described by the theory of abiogenesis, that is that life arose from organic compounds. The Columbian mammoth appears to evolved in North America around 126,000 years ago, dying out at the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago. There are some unreliable information about Columbian mammoth remains dating to around 7600 years ago. In other words, the mammoth died out before it was even created in Christian religious myths.

A second note. See, no vaccines. Or Chili’s. But if Chili’s is making chili with vaccinated mammoth meat, I will certainly discuss it here. It would be an awesome story.

A third note. Because I was spending so much time on vaccines and Chili’s, I didn’t get to this article earlier. I’m like a week late, and on the internet that’s like 5 years late.

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One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

I’ve been told that I need to quit relying on the peer-reviewed journals for my scientific knowledge, because they are paid for by Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Hebrew and Big Whatever. They’re all just big with every single person involved dedicated to providing information to fool the people of earth. 

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing. 

Because I wanted to be more open-minded and to learn the Truth™ about everything. And here’s what I found.
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Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math

When dealing with those pushing pseudoscience, like the antivaccination cult, the most frustrating thing is that they tend to ignore and deny the most basic tenets of science. If denying the fact of gravity would further their goals of “proving” vaccines are neither effective nor safe, they would do so. For all I know, they have.

Sam Harris, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA (which is ironic), and is one of leading science philosophers of our generation, says this about those who cling to pseudoscience:

Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. What if someone says, “Well, that’s not how I choose to think about water.”? All we can do is appeal to scientific values. And if he doesn’t share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?

If the antivaccination movement didn’t lead to epidemics of long-gone diseases, which can harm and kill children, the conversation would be over. I would just put the vaccine deniers in the same group as evolution deniers (creationists) or gravity deniers (there has to be some, somewhere). I would mock their pseudoscience, and move on. Of course, their denialism does lead to deaths of children, so we have to do what is right, and stop their lies, misinformation and ignorance in every forum we can.

We have to appeal to scientific values, and despite the fact that antivaccination pushers don’t share those values, we must continue to try. I have gotten enough emails and comments from people that they have started to vaccinate because of what I have written, so maybe some child’s life is better because all of us who support vaccines are heard.

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Anti-GMO cult trumpets GMO genes transfer to wild rice–update

GMO_riceIt is well accepted observation that when the pseudoscience or anti-science crowd runs out of supporting evidence (usually when it’s thoroughly debunked by scientific skeptics), it has to rely upon the whole range of logical fallacies, which are errors in reasoning to support a position in an argument or debate. Because scientific skeptics (or if we’re talking about medicine, science based medicine) always demand high quality evidence to support their own claims, or alternatively demanding evidence from other making suspicious claims, the anti-science and pseudoscience pushing troupes frequently cherry pick “peer-reviewed” research to use as their “proof” for their claims. 

Cherry picking makes it appear that there a nothing but ripe beautiful cherries of evidence supporting your position. The problem is when you look at the whole basket of cherry’s you see all sorts quality. Same with peer-reviewed evidence. You may find one article that says “Point A is correct.” But what is the quality of that article? How does it fit with all the other articles that say “Point A is not only incorrect, but Conclusion B is the scientific consensus.” You can’t cherry pick one article, without understanding and analyzing the vast breadth of research in a field.

Moreover, because the pseudoscience promoters are resort to confirmation bias, always looking for evidence to support their beliefs rather than seeing what the evidence supports, they ignore the vast majority of evidence or tend to misinterpret the evidence. So, when you read some blog post or pseudo-news article about a published scientific article that says GMO’s are dangerous, you need to dig beyond the headlines, and head right to the scientific source to determine what is really being said. And this happened recently.
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Vaccines increase rate of Type 1 diabetes–another myth refuted

Diabetes wordcloudIf 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 the one that says vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes is one of their most popular. And probably the biggest promoter of this trope is Markus Heinze, an antivaccine author, whose daughter contracted Type 1 diabetes when she was young, and he blamed a vaccination as the cause.

In a long-winded rant, Heinze brings up the old ad hominem argument about not trusting research paid off by pharmaceutical companies, because they’re hiding all the evil about vaccines. That doctors are clueless, because Heinze’s 2 hours of Google research is more valuable. Oh and his 18 months studying psychology at a low level college in Kentucky somehow makes him an expert on anti-psychotics and depression medications. You know, because the four years of medical school, and another 8 years of post medical-school training to be a psychiatrist is irrelevant to him. Yes, he’s an arrogant man.
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Cancer has become more prevalent in the USA–another myth debunked

cancer-foods-causeOne of the enduring zombified tropes of the junk science world is that the rate of cancer in people is higher today than it was in the past. Depending on the one screaming this myth, this rate of cancer increase is a result of A) vaccines, B) GMO crops, C) pasteurized milk, D) non-organic foods, or E) everything.

To be certain, there are a few things that do cause cancer, like smoking, asbestos, and obesity (and there are a lot of causes of obesity, it might be impossible to link the cause of obesity directly with cancer). Here and there, you might run across a study that mentions one thing or another may or may not increase or reduce the risk of cancer. But most of those studies are one-off primary research, usually using small groups, providing little clinical evidence that you may or may not be able to increase or decrease the risk of cancer. Wait until we can find these studies in large systematic reviews, before deciding that this or that may or may not increase or decrease the risk of cancer.
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Australian vaccine denier group changes name–still a lie

 

 

Thanks to StopAVN.

Thanks to StopAVN.

About a year ago, Meryl Dorey, Australia’s infamous American-born vaccine denialist and anti-science promoter, and her Australian anti-Vaccine Network (AVN) was ordered to change its misleading name or be shut down. The New South Wales (an Australian state) Office of Fair Trading left an order at the home of AVN  president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, “labeling the network’s name misleading and a detriment to the community.” Given Dorey’s, and by extension the AVN’s, well known antivaccination stance, this order wasn’t surprising.

Dorey and AVN attempted to fight the order through Australian courts, but lost. And was recently ordered to pay A$11,000 in court costs to cover the legal fees of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network campaigner Dan Buzzard after he appealed against an apprehended violence order she took out against him last year. She actually then went to AVN and begged for money to pay for it, since I guess she does not get the Big Pharma shill money. Amusingly, the group, formerly known as the Australian Vaccine Network, and their leader/mouthpiece, Meryl Dorey, kept prevaricating about changing the name. But finally the Australian government ordered her to change the name or there will be consequences. 

Finally, Meryl and gang renamed their group the Australian Vaccine-Skeptics Network (still abbreviated as AVN). Ironically, Meryl and AVN first tried to name the group the “Australian Vaccine Sceptics Network”, using the Australian English spelling of the word, but a real skeptic (or sceptic) already owned that name. In even more irony, Meryl called the real owners of the trade name, a “hate group.” No, she really said that given Meryl and her group are the definition of a hate group.
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Poll: which scientific principle do you accept or reject

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:

  1. Evolution, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
  2. Anthropogenic (human caused) global warming, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
  3. Vaccinations (the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to prevent disease), which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
  4. 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!

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GMO foods transfer DNA to humans-another myth

franken-corn-DNAHere 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.
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Antievolution legislation update–catching up on 2014

Bill Nye likes evidence. Ken Ham, like all creationists, ignores evidence.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.
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Water fluoridation-the 47 millionth blog post on the issue

fluoride smile

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.
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Americans are ignorant fools about evolution–Part 2

We have fossils. Evolution wins.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. 
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Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be

anti-GMO-antiscienceAs 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.

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Richard Dawkins talks about GMO crops

Richard_Dawkins_Cooper_Union_Shankbone

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!
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Our ancestors did not eat a Paleolithic diet

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 cancerSoy won’t stop certain types of cancerNor 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.

And if you’re looking to try the newest diet craze, be aware that most fad diets just have no long-term successes, and may actually do harm.
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Americans are ignorant fools about evolution

JudithHayes

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. 
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The bad science checklist of GMO opponents

monsantoland1

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.

#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).

 
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Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–debunking a myth

Polio_vaccine_poster

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.

#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).
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