Science denialism politics – vaccines, GMOs, evolution, climate change

science denialism politics

On an episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism politics.

I am no fan of Bill Maher, because, in fact, he himself is is a science denier. Maher hits some of the top 10 list of science denialism: he’s an anti-vaccine crackpot, he’s pro-alternative medicine, he’s on the verge of AIDS denialism, and, to top it off, he hates GMO foods.

In other words, Maher, a leftist by any stretch of the meaning, embraces science denialism politics in a way that would probably inspire your local climate change or evolution denier on the right.

HBO’s other political news-ish program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, features British comedian Oliver, who is pro-science on every issue I’ve heard, including scientific research and vaccines.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a guest on Maher’s episode, and contradicted him regarding the claim that Republicans hold the monopoly on junk science:

Don’t be too high and mighty there, because there are certain aspects of science denials that are squarely in the liberal left.

I like to generalize about the politics of science denialism politics – I and many others have claimed that the anti-GMO crowd is nothing more than the left’s version of climate change deniers. But some people have taken umbrage with Tyson’s comments, and believe that science denialism cannot be correlated with political beliefs.

One caveat about this article – it is primarily focused on American politics. In many countries, both the left and right accept the consensus on scientific principles like evolution and vaccines. Only in America is science denialism the default position, crossing party boundaries.

Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.

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Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science

Scott Pruitt

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by the United States Congress. Among its many responsibilities, it is at the forefront in attempting to reduce the effects of climate change. Of course, Donald Trump appointed a climate denier EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, who has absolutely despised the EPA while attorney general for Oklahoma.

In an interview on CNBC, Pruitt said the following:

In recent years, critics would say the EPA has been too focused on CO2 and maybe things like hazardous waste sites, particulate pollution, strip mining, what’s happening to the oceans — there are so many things that the EPA could do productively that maybe have been diverted from this single-minded focus on CO2.

I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s (CO2) a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet…we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.

But the new climate denier EPA administrator is wrong about his “opinion” about the science of climate change. Let’s look at just how wrong Scott Pruitt is about the science of climate change. Continue reading “Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science”

Scientific consensus on GMO safety and climate change

scientific consensus on GMO

A scientific consensus is one of the most powerful principles in science, sitting just below the predictive power of a scientific theory. In general, a scientific consensus is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is limited (sometimes from individuals who are not experts in the field) and considered insignificant.

This lead me to a search for the prevailing scientific consensus on GMO safety and climate change.

For clarity, the major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that a theory is essentially considered a fact. The theory of gravity is a fact. The theory of evolution is a fact. A theory is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it would take an incredible amount of data to refute it.

The only thing that matters in forming a scientific consensus or theory is evidence. Not rhetoric. Not debate. Not opinion. Not political expediency. Not logical fallacies. Just evidence.

I’ve written about the scientific consensus on GMOs, and it is clear that nearly every independent scientific organization across the world agrees that GMOs are safe for humans and/or the environment. Moreover, most of these same organizations provide a similar consensus about climate change–ironically, there is a significant portion of people who deny one consensus but accept the other, despite the fact that the consensus for both scientific principles are based on nearly overwhelming evidence.

On the next page, I will review the statements of seven prestigious scientific organizations across the world for the scientific consensus on GMO safety and on climate change.

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Developing and supporting a scientific consensus

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.

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.

We want to focus on the scientific consensus, describing what it is. Take a deep breath, because this is a complicated one.

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Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years

Alternative facts

Alternative facts, what most of us would call outright lies or misinformation, are the new standard of truthfulness coming out of the Donald Trump administration. It started when Kellyanne Conway, one of the numerous Trump talking heads who think Americans are stupid, said, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … alternative facts.”

Alternative facts seem to be pretty close to the Nazi propaganda technique, called the Big Lie. It is about the use of a lie so colossal that the public would not believe that someone would have the audacity to distort the truth so impressively. Except, I’m going to reiterate most Americans (an non-Americans) aren’t that stupid. And sorry for going Godwin so early in the article, but sometimes, it is necessary to point out the obvious.

I’ve been fighting alternative facts as skeptic for nearly three decades. It started when I got into an argument with a school board candidate in California who said that “evolution is just a theory.” Now, those of you with scientific understanding accept that a theory, at least in science, is approximately equal to a fact. What he should have said is, “evolution is just a fact,” but instead he was making “theory” a pejorative which implied evolution wasn’t a fact.

He and I must have argued for 20 minutes, when he finally claimed that science was a religion that required faith, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what science represents. I told him that he apparently lacked any education in science, so why should he be on the school board. He lost, though I take no credit for it.

Over the years, I have evolved (pun intended) into other areas of scientific skepticism, like GMOs, vaccines, and alternative medicine. See, even the junk medicine quacks grasped that “alternative” label long before Donald Trump walked into the national spotlight.

Let’s look at my favorite alternative facts of science.

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Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Donald Trump and vaccines

Donald Trump is technically the Republican candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. There’s a lot that he says that disgusts me personally, and the public generally. But there’s one area that may indicate the depth of his ignorance. Donald Trump and vaccines – his views are just plain wrong.

Trump isn’t alone on this matter – dangerous comments about vaccines were made by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign. Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before) also pontificated about the dangers of vaccines.

I’ve written previously about Republican candidate’s views on vaccines, back before we actually thought that Donald Trump had a real chance to become the Republican nominee. Feels like eons ago.

As I wrote recently, there’s really only a slight, probably not statistically significant, difference between the acceptance of mandatory vaccination. So the views of Donald Trump and vaccines is way over on the side of crackpot. This is why we can’t have good things.

Let’s look at some the things that Trump has said about vaccines on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating.

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Antiscience Donald Trump elected President – man the science barricades

antiscience donald trump doesn't know science

I disappeared for a few days after the election of a man who espoused racism, xenophobia and misogyny as the reasons to vote for him. His actual policy proposals were threadbare and, if he really believed them, we are looking a historical dismantling of all that is special about the USA. It’s hard to choose what scares me most about this sexual predator’s policies, but the antiscience Donald Trump ranks pretty much at or near the top.

Generally, the Republican party is quite antiscience. Republicans deny climate change. Republicans deny evolution, while Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, is hypercritical of evolution. And of course, Republicans have shown themselves to be vaccine deniers. There’s a lot more, but many of us consider those topics to be in the top 5 list of science denial. Frankly, if someone said that Trump believed in alien visitations and Sasquatch, and he was sending tax money to investigate them thoroughly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

On a broader level, a Trump administration will probably gut science research by cutting funding to National Institutes of Health and NASA programs in basic scientific research. There are probably areas, where Trump will appoint directors who are opposed to the years of science that form a basis of policy.

Despite the press tacitly being in bed with Trump, never really investigating him, Hillary Clinton won the election based on the popular vote, with a several hundred thousand vote lead over Trump. I think most Americans wanted a President who supported science. Sadly, Trump won the election because the USA uses an antiquated and anachronistic method to actually choose the president. A method that is based on needs of 250 years ago and on the negotiations required to get slave holding states to agree to the new Union. But, I’m not a political scientist, and the arguments for and against the Electoral College system of voting would be far beyond what are topics for this website.

Let’s just look at the antiscience Donald Trump, sticking to the key issues of climate change, evolution, and vaccines.

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Climate change denier is accurate – AP stylebook disagrees

climate change denier

I’m going to guess that a discussion of the AP stylebook isn’t a typical subject discussed in a skeptic blog. But the AP is worried that “denier” is too pejorative, and recommend that the term not be used, which made me take notice. I’m going to take umbrage with their recommendation and state emphatically that “climate change denier” is an accurate description.

Sure, it may be pejorative, but it’s based on the fact that those who deny real science, that is, the conclusion derived from a powerful and robust consensus of expert scientists in a field of study, willfully ignore said evidence and invent their own pseudoscience. Not only do I state that a climate change denier is a factual representation of those beliefs, I also think that a GMO denier, a vaccine denier, an evolution denier, and a Holocaust denier are essentially equivalent – each ignores the massive and robust mountain of evidence to come to an unsupported conclusion.

I think the use of “denier,” to anyone who rejects the scientific consensus, is accurate and acceptable. And it’s like several of orders of magnitude better than the “climate change skeptic” used by the deniers to make it sound like their denialism is actually scientifically based. Because real scientific skepticism is an honorable pursuit in which constantly questioning and doubting claims and assertions is based only on the accumulation of evidence. It requires the use of the scientific method, where claims, facts and theories are relentlessly tested and reviewed.

Deniers attempt to co-op the word “skeptic” when they really are just doubters and cynics who can’t be bothered with evidence or cherry pick just enough evidence to support their pre-conceived notions.

I want to look at what the AP Stylebook has recommended. I would like to know if my pre-conceived notion that denier is an accurate description for anyone who rejects the scientific consensus.

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Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – aligned with Republicans

Bernie Sanders views biotechnology

I admit that I judge politicians on their science credibility. And I’m rather black and white about it – politicians don’t get to pick and choose what science they “believe” or not. How Bernie Sanders views biotechnology seems irresponsible. And that it’s aligned with Republican anti-science viewpoints is unacceptable.

I’ve written previously about Sanders’ nascent anti-science views, especially with complementary and alternative medicine, which isn’t medicine. Although I haven’t written about it specifically, Sanders is in favor of GMO labelling, which is part of the pseudoscience surrounding GMOs. Let’s be clear, the overwhelming scientific consensus about GMOs is that they are safe for human consumption and the environment. To real science, denying GMO safety (and it’s related labeling laws) is no different than denying climate change.

For me, the litmus tests for science in our politicians are evolution, climate change, GMOs, vaccines, and cloning/stem cell research. There are a few other science policy issues that are abeyond the scope of this website – fracking (limited science available at this time) and nuclear power. I haven’t the time or the desire to review the consensus on either, but for many people they are also litmus tests for science credibility of politicians – and not in the way you think it would be.

Recently, a journalist took a look at how Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – especially in comparison to Hillary Clinton. And Sanders comes up short in this key area of science. In fact, he has previously aligned himself with right wing Republicans on some scientific issues, something that should cause any pro-science progressive some pause.

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Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates

This article is #3 of the 12 most popular posts on Skeptical Raptor during 2015. This article discusses how science deniers employ false equivalence to create fake debates.

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. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalence to make it appear that the often minority, and scientifically unsupported viewpoint is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is based on huge amounts of published evidence.

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. It’s because some news sources think there’s a debate, so bring one person to represent one side, and one for the other, and the person screams the loudest often wins.

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