Pseudoscience is bullshit and science is definitely not

pseudoscience is bullshit

Pseudoscience and science – the former is a belief system that uses the trappings of science without the rigorous methodologies that values evidence. The latter is an actual rational methodology to discover facts about the natural universe. Pseudoscience is bullshit. Science is rational knowledge.

Pseudoscience is seductive to many people partially because it’s not only easy to comprehend, but also because it creates black and white false dichotomies about the natural universe. This fake science is the basis of alternative medicine, astrology, and many other “fields” that true believers try to say is science.

Pseudoscience tries to make an argument with the statement of “it’s been proven to work”, “the link is proven”, or, alternatively, they state some negative about scientifically supported therapies. It really  has an appeal to it because it digests complex analysis to a simple “yes, this works.”

Alternative medicine relies on this pseudoscience by creating the illusion that medicine can be really easy if you drink this kale shake, and you will have 100% chance of avoiding all cancer. Real science based medicine provides real clinical information about every cancer, how it can be treated, and what the real prognosis is.

Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, and many other “alternative medicine” beliefs are pseudoscience. They simply lack robust evidence to support their efficacy.

For example, real science has debunked the “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and rather dangerous belief.  Real science has failed to establish the clinical usefulness of most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies.

We will also explore what exactly makes an idea scientific (and spoiler alert, it isn’t magic), and contrary the logic of science, what makes an idea “pseudoscientific.” So sit down, grab your favorite reading beverage, because this isn’t going to be a quick internet meme. Pseudoscience is bullshit, and let me show it to you. Continue reading “Pseudoscience is bullshit and science is definitely not”

Correlation implies causation – except when it does or doesn’t

correlation implies causation

One of the central tenets of the pro-science world is that “correlation does not imply causation” – but it is misused and frequently abused by many writers. Frequently, those trying to push a position, like anti-vaccine, will immediately assume if we can show correlation, then we can automatically leap to causation. Thus, in their world, correlation implies causation. However, real science demands both evidence of correlation and separate line evidence of causation, in which case, we can conclude that correlation implies causation. It all depends on your quality of evidence.

Conflating causation and correlation is somewhat different than the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, where one thinks one event follows the first event because of the existence of the first event. I’m sure all good luck charms and superstitions, like walking under a ladder, are related to the post hoc fallacy. But, if I walk under a ladder, then trip on a black cat, and then crash into a mirror, I don’t immediately blame the initial act of walking under the ladder. I just assume I’m clumsy.

Correlation and causation are a very critical part of scientific research. Basically, correlation is the statistical relationship between two random sets of data. The closer the relationship, the higher the correlation. However, without further data, correlation may not imply causation, that the one set of data has some influence over the other.  Continue reading “Correlation implies causation – except when it does or doesn’t”

Are vaccines and autism linked? Answers from the best scientific studies

vaccines and autism linked

I have written more about the question, “are vaccines and autism linked?,” than just about any other topic other than the cancer preventing HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Unless you want to ignore the overwhelming evidence, the scientific consensus is pretty clear – vaccines are not linked to autism.

In my article, Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated, I list out over 125 published, peer-reviewed articles (as of today) that basically provide us with some of the overwhelming evidence that debunks the myth that vaccines cause autism. But that’s a long list that takes quite a bit of time to absorb. I think it’s more important to focus on the handful of the best studies that provide the best evidence. I hope this kind of resource helps you refute arguments from patients, friends, and family members who might try to claim that “we don’t vaccinate because of the autism risk.” I can’t guarantee that a few important studies will convince anyone, but maybe it will help with a fence sitter.

I’m relying upon Dr. Peter Hotez’s article, The “Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism” Papers, published in PLOS Blogs to choose the best of the best papers. I’m going to add a couple of more categories, because they discredit some of the arguments that try to state that the answer to the question, are vaccines and autism linked, is yes.

So let’s dive into this scientific research.

Continue reading “Are vaccines and autism linked? Answers from the best scientific studies”

Vaccine open-mindedness – confessions of a science nerd

vaccine open-mindedness

Sometimes a reasonably intelligent anti-vaccine troll will show up to an internet discussion. Although they’re filled with various logical fallacies, like cherry picking, they will often say “you should be open-minded about vaccines causing autism.” The thing is my vaccine open-mindedness is the precise definition of what should be open-minded.

People conflate “open-mindedness” with “you should accept everything stated, because of insert logical fallacy here.”

Let’s use my favorite example, sasquatch, the mythical ape-like creature that inhabits everywhere, as far as I know.

A close-minded person would say, “sasquatch exists, damn the evidence.”

A pseudo-open-minded person would say, “sasquatch exists, because the Federal government is suppressing the evidence. Furthermore, just because we don’t have evidence today, we know we’ll find it tomorrow.”

A real open-minded person would say, “sasquatch does not exist, because of the utter lack of evidence. However, if someone brings irrefutable evidence, I will reconsider my position.”

In other words, a really open-minded person doesn’t have to be open-minded to the hypothesis proposed, just open to the evidence. I am pretty certain that sasquatch does not exist – that’s not being close-minded. Because what I would actually say is that “I reviewed the highest quality evidence, and I found nothing that would support the hypothesis that sasquatch exists.”

As someone once said, “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” In fact, scientific progression is utterly dependent upon open-mindedness.

Continue reading “Vaccine open-mindedness – confessions of a science nerd”

Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article has been rewritten and updated. Please visit that article

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]

Continue reading “Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought”

Correlation does not imply causation – except when it does.

correlation

One of the central tenets of the pro-vaccine world is that correlation does not imply causation – but it is misused and frequently abused by many writers. We, the pro-science/pro-vaccine world, dismiss correlation, if real correlation can be shown, as robust evidence indicative of any causal relationship.

Conflating causation and correlation is somewhat different than the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, where one thinks one event follows the first event because of the existence of the first event. I’m sure all good luck charms and superstitions, like walking under a ladder, are related to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. So if I walk under a ladder, then trip on a black cat, then crash into a mirror, I don’t immediately blame the initial act of walking under the ladder. I just assume I’m clumsy.

Correlation and causation are a very critical part of scientific research. Basically, correlation is the statistical relationship between two random sets of data. The closer the relationship, the higher the correlation. However, without further data, correlation may not imply causation, that the one set of data has some influence over the other. Continue reading “Correlation does not imply causation – except when it does.”

Anti vaccine cult uses Hitler’s Big Lie – laughable strategy

 

OK I apologize. I went full-Godwin with the title. In case you don’t know, I’m referring to Godwin’s Law, named after Mike Godwin, who asserted that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, in an online argument, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will invoke a reference to Hitler or Nazis as the discussion gets more and more heated.

Because I am all about efficiency, I decided to invoke Hitler right in the title. Actually, given some of the antisemitism and hate speech of the antivaccine fanatics, it’s probably not too far off.

Be that as it may, the anti vaccine cult loves the propaganda technique known as the Big Lie, which is a method of stating and repeating a falsehood, then treating it as if it is self-evidently true with the goal of swaying the course of an argument. Eventually, it is hoped by the proponents of the Big Lie, that it will be taken for granted, and not really critically questioned. Hitler, and his Nazi propaganda machine, used the Big Lie to blame all of Germany’s problems, prior to World War II, on Jews, which may have contributed to the German people’s support, either actively or passively, of the Holocaust.

It’s ironic that some of the basic antivaccination ad hominem hate speech tends to be extremely antisemitic, especially towards the publicly Jewish members of the pro-vaccine/pro-science side. It’s doubly ironic that the anti vaccine cult utilizes Nazi propaganda strategies, while claiming that vaccination, especially mandatory vaccination, is somehow a modern day holocaust. Truthfully, there’s really not any mandatory (and certainly not forced) vaccination of anyone in the developed world. There are so many loopholes for those who refuse vaccines through various exemptions, that mandatory is truly not that mandatory.

Of course, comparing vaccinations to the Holocaust is a form of Holocaust denial, just as dangerous as climate change denial, evolution denial, or all other forms of denialism. In this case, comparing vaccination, which saves lives, to the Holocaust (in this definition, the murder of European Jews), which end the lives 6 million innocent human beings, either betrays their lack of knowledge of vaccines and the Holocaust, or worse, that they think the sharp temporary pain of an immunization is somewhat equivalent to the murder of 6 million Jews.

The fact that there is little evidence that anyone has ever died of a vaccination (stay tuned, an article is coming from here, once all the research is done) compared to mountains of evidence that the Holocaust actually happened makes such comparisons ignorant and hateful. Period. Continue reading “Anti vaccine cult uses Hitler’s Big Lie – laughable strategy”

Study concludes that homeopathy cures tonsillitis–probably not

massive-homeopathic-overdose-homeopathyHere we go again. “Researchers” trying to show that a pseudoscientific concept is real medicine, but failing so badly that only true believers would qualify it as real “evidence.”

In this case, homeopaths from the Department of Homeopathy at the University of Johannesburg (seriously, a Department of Homeopathy?) in South Africa recently published a study that claimed a concoction of homeopathic potions, in pill form, treats tonsillitis, an infection and inflammation of a set of lymph nodes called tonsils in the back of the throat, better than a placebo. The researchers concluded that “the homeopathic complex used in this study exhibited significant anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities in children with acute viral tonsillitis.”

Convincing conclusion. That’s it, next time my children have tonsillitis, I’m going to run down to my local homeopathic lotion and potion magician, and I’ll buy out the store.

Or maybe not. I’ll probably save my money from lining the pockets of that homeopathic wizard, and I’ll send the kids to a real physician who practices evidence-based medicine. And get real treatment.

Why am I so negative about a real peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal? For lots of reasons. Continue reading “Study concludes that homeopathy cures tonsillitis–probably not”