Not every Rubinstein is the father of Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

This is not the father of Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

The anti-vaccine crowd generally runs out of scientific evidence after 4 or 5 seconds. That means they move on to bigoted hate attacks next. And after that, they move onto heady questions like who is the father of Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a frequent contributor to this website.

Public relations people will advise their clients to never comment on internet gossip, because it just continues the conversation, before it dies out. But this is so funny, I can’t help myself, because the Skeptical Raptor is one snarky dinosaur, and he thrives on feasts of snarkiness.

And there’s nothing that deserves more snark than lunatic anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists pushing that Professor Reiss’ family contains the swine flu vaccine inventor. Or a demon banker.

Zut alors. Maybe she’s related to a random lawyer named Rubinstein.

Continue reading “Not every Rubinstein is the father of Dorit Rubinstein Reiss”

The child’s best interest – vaccines and parental rights

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines (generally, but sometimes moving to other areas of medicine), social policy and the law. Her articles usually unwind the complexities of legal issues with vaccinations and legal policies, such as mandatory vaccination and exemptions, with facts and citations.

Professor Reiss also writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

In Kagen v. Kagen (pdf), a Michigan Court of Appeals sided with a father who wanted his children vaccinated and overruled the opposition of the mother, ordering the children to be vaccinated on schedule. The Court found that vaccinating was in the best interest of the children. The Court also discussed which type of evidence can be used in Michigan to support claims about vaccines’ safety or lack thereof, highlighting that anti-vaccine sources are probably not going to cut it.

Continue reading “The child’s best interest – vaccines and parental rights”

Science can anger people even in the most obscure fields

 

younger-dryas-cometAs I have said many times, I’m a scientific skeptic. That is, I don’t just reject ideas simply to reject them, I actually reject or accept ideas based on the quality and quantity of evidence. I don’t pretend to know much about the Big Bang, but I know when it happened and what happened, but I leave it to experts to hash out the details. No one person can be an authority on every field of science, no matter how many initials follow their name. I’ve already mentioned how hard it is to become an expert in a scientific discipline.

If you read this blog regularly, you’d think I’m completely interested in vaccines, with a little bit here and there on GMO’s, evolution, and climate change. But my own personal interests in biology are, in no particular order, is evolution of man (about which I’ve written some), endocrinology (about which I’ve written nothing), and extinction events (about which I’ve written little here). I have co-authored a couple of articles on Wikipedia on extinction events, have read dozens of books on the major extinction events, and have attended many scientific conferences on mass extinction. I may not have an official degree in extinction geology and biology, but I have spent several thousand hours doing real research in the area.

But I’m pretty certain that the audience for this blog will find my discussion about extinction events to be a bit dull. However, I’m hoping that there is a cautionary tale about science that can be applied to some general rules I have about science.

A couple of years ago, I started editing an article on Wikipedia about the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis. Without going into too many details, it was a hypothesis (named after an Alpine flower) that some sort of comet or asteroid impact struck the ice sheet covering North America, about 13,000 years ago, which lead to the death of the megafauna (mammoths, sabertooth cats, and whatever else lived in North America). It is hypothesized that the impact actually caused a temporary reversal of the retreat of the glaciers towards the end of the glacial maximum.

I actually came across ran the article when I was reviewing some information I had read about climate change from the last glacial maximum (you know, when glaciers covered much of North America). I wanted to know if a bolide impact (meteor or comet) could caused a massive change in North America. Continue reading “Science can anger people even in the most obscure fields”

Judging the quality of science sources

science-evidence

Note: this article has been substantially updated, just click the link.

 

Recently, I wrote articles on skepticism and debunking pseudoscience, both of which require large amounts of evidence. And of course, a true scientific skeptic needs to judge the quality of evidence, because individuals who push science denialism often cherry pick seemingly high quality science to support their beliefs.

A good scientific skeptic needs to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles, for example, to determine its validity. We should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others.

With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience, junk medicine pushers. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles in the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.

Continue reading “Judging the quality of science sources”

Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles. It discusses how we should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others. With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience purveyors. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles on the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease. Continue reading “Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news”

Whenever someone uses “Allopathy”, turn on the skeptical radar

While catching up on my favorite blogs (and nearly giving up after reading the 300th one regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare), I ran across Liz Ditz’s short and to-the-point Why I Dislike the Term “Allopathy” on I Speak of Dreams. Allopathy is an invented word that, according to Kimball Atwood at Science Based Medicine (Homeopathy & Evidence-Based Medicine),

…was the term coined by (Samuel) Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) to dramatize the contrast between homeopathy and its competition. According to Hahnemann, “allopathic” medicine sought to give only medicines that suppressed symptoms.

You’ll find allopathy being used by just about any woo-meister in alternative medicine universe. Joe Mercola, anti-vaccine quack and promoter (and when I say promoter, I mean seller of all things alternative medicine) uses the term “allopathic” in 53 articles on his website to attack sound, evidence-based medicine. That’s basically proof that the word is a pejorative like “Western medicine” or “traditional medicine.” It tries to make it sound like evidence-based medicine is closed minded, stuck on tradition, when, in fact, it’s open-minded to new theories and techniques. 

In Wikipedia’s article on allopathy, “the meaning (as) implied by the label has never been accepted by conventional medicine, and is still considered pejorative by some.” However, in Wikipedia, the resource for all things woo, allopathy is often used by anti-science pushers to make their articles fit their pseudoscientific view of the world, and it is almost always used in a pejorative fashion to make alternative medicine appear to be somewhat more “open minded”. For example, here’s a discussion amongst the well-known pseudoscience pushers on Wikipedia claiming that allopathic medicine is not science based. Or Dana Ullman, the biggest promoter of homeopathy in the world, spending huge amounts of bandwidth trying to get Wikipedia to use allopathy to describe science based medicine. Of course, Dana was permanently banned from editing anything to do with homeopathy on Wikipedia based on his horrible behavior issues. If you see “allopathy” in a Wikipedia article, be prepared for pseudoscience.

Or as Liz Ditz puts it:

The chiroquacktors use the word allopathy a lot to disparage medicine (as opposed to their fantasy world).

Yup. They do.

Housekeeping notes: Logical Fallacies and RationalWiki

There have been a couple of significant changes to this website to provide more information to the reader in the ongoing discourse of skepticism vs. irrationality. And by irrationality, of course, we mean anything pseudoscientific.

First, the Logical Fallacies FAQ has been thoroughly updated to make some sections more easy to read, add some better examples of the fallacy, and new external links. Also, in the sidebar, you can download the whole FAQ into a pdf file for use later. There are more detailed descriptions of logical fallacies out in the internet, but most of them are intense and detailed descriptions of the logic behind the illogic. Most of us, as readers of blogs, tend to have a limited amount of time, so having a quick reference on various fallacies should help get through various articles quickly. Continue reading “Housekeeping notes: Logical Fallacies and RationalWiki”

Where Switzerland did not endorse homeopathy

Pseudoscience believers are always looking for something, anything, that supports their point of view of the universe. Whether it’s vaccine denialists, or global warming denialists, or evolution denialists…well, any kind of denialist, they all need some piece of evidence to prove that they are not denying scientific evidence. So when you don’t have science, go for whatever comes next.

First, a bit of background on homeopathy. It’s water. Yes, water has some very special properties, it’s necessary for the human body to work well, without we die. So homeopaths think that if you dilute out substances in water (a level of dilution so high that not one single molecule of the substance remains), the water retains a memory of it. And that memory supposedly cures things, or does something medical. Since water cannot retain memory of anything, the details after that become irrelevant, because their basic premise is about as much of an impossibility that one can find in science. If water had some method of retaining memory, then it would mean that ever single principle of physics and chemistry would be wiped off the face of science textbooks forever. Continue reading “Where Switzerland did not endorse homeopathy”

Where Wikipedia lunatics follow me here

Yesterday, out of the blue, Thomas Lee Elifritz, an engineer (not a scientist, as we discussed with regards to creationists) decided to go crazy on one of my posts (actually my second one here), with some fairly uncivil commentary (I had to block one of his posts because it made me, who has the language of a Navy petty officer, kind of uncomfortable).  He came to complain about one of my edits on Wikipedia.  Now technically, Wikipedia takes seriously any off-Wiki harassment and threats from editors.  Since this website tracks IP addresses of commenters (thank WordPress, I don’t care at all), I could contact the Cabal that controls Wikipedia with this information.  But I just don’t care that much.

His comment, “I assume you are the prick you edited out the latest Younger Dryas Impact paper from Kennett et al. from its wikipedia page. Heckava job there, bozo,” didn’t exactly make him out to be very intelligent nor respectful.  In addition, it was very cowardly of him not to bring the discussion to Wikipedia where it belonged.  I guess he prefers harassment here than civil conversation on Wikipedia.

Continue reading “Where Wikipedia lunatics follow me here”

Huge volcano threatens Europe!!! Maybe not.

Although my interests center on medicine and biology, I have more than a professional hobbyist interest in geology, specifically vulcanism, the study of volcanoes (and not Spock).  So I peruse news stories about volcanic eruptions when they appear.  This week, a British newspaper, the Daily Mail, published a story entitled, Is a super-volcano just 390 miles from London about to erupt?  I suspect that the Daily Mail is one of Britain’s sensationalist newspapers, and this article would confirm it.

But let’s go over some of it’s points.  Yes, the Laacher See volcano did erupt about 12,900 years ago, and it was a rather large eruption, on the size of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.  Obviously, I was somewhat surprised that such a recent and large volcanic event happened in Europe.  If it did happen today, Europe would be devastated for years.  That eruption was massive, and one can find deep layers of ash throughout Central Europe up through to the North Sea.  It had a profound effect on weather patterns of the era, with effects happening within a few weeks.

The article uses as its evidence that the volcano erupts every 12,000 years, so it’s overdue (I suppose) for an eruption, and that there are some CO2 outgassing in the lake (which formed when the magma chamber collapsed after the most recent eruption).  If that’s their “evidence” for a future eruption, then we need to redefine what constitutes evidence.  In fact, as they say in the financial industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results.  Furthermore, I could find no published, peer-reviewed support for a prediction of a new eruption.  In other words, the Daily Mail invented this prediction.

As for the CO2 bubbles in the lake, yes that happens in water over a magma chamber, but it is, by itself, not an indicator of impending doom.  However, the CO2 can be dangerous, of course, but that’s a biological issue not a prediction-of-eruption issue.

This is what bothers me about these kind of articles.  The internet, being the rather instant communication method that it is, transfers this information from one side of the planet to another.  Soon, I’ll be reading about it in what are supposed to be reasonable websites that monitor the world environmental issues.

Science journalism has a responsibility to actually provide accurate information.  Too many times I read articles published in news sites (probably higher quality than the Daily Mail) that wildly misinterpret medical or scientific articles.  I spend so much time debunking the overstating of what is said that if I could get paid for it, I’d have quite a career set up.  Wikipedia is notorious for this kind of sensationalism.

I can only hope that all the skeptics out there have an effect on this type of bad science journalism.  And London, you’re safe for now, though with the Olympics coming up, I may change my mind.