For faithful readers of this blog, you know I try to keep focus on a small field of science – vaccines, GMOs, alternative medicine, and whatever strikes my fancy. I get all excited when a couple of my interests intersect, like GMO vaccines. Then I read a blog post from some writer, Jon Rappoport, who started out with criticism of Donald Trump and what he might do with the FDA. That got me excited.
Obviously, though, I don’t like either of the two candidates under consideration by the Trump transition team to become FDA Commissioner. Basically, you have to pick your poison: Do you want the libertarian who doesn’t think that the FDA should have to require the demonstration of efficacy before approving drugs or the bona-fide, honest-to-goodness pharma shill, someone who’s pharma shill to a level that most pharma shills only dream of? It’s basically Sophie’s choice.
But Jon Rappoport quickly went off the rails by attacking the FDA and claiming GMOs are dangerous (and the FDA should regulate them). Here we go.
Time to move away from the scientific facts of GMO safety, vaccine safety and efficacy, and whatever else stimulates my brain. Actually, if I were to start a new blog, it would be about baseball, so there’s that.
I was watching some nonsense on TV, when the pseudoscience-pushing fool stated that evolution is “just a theory.” Of course, this silliness has been refuted over and over and over. To write about it again would bore some of the readers here, mostly because it’s been done a million times by better evolution biologists than I could ever hope to be.
Then I read an article that the germ theory, which essentially describes how pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, parasites and other microorganisms, cause diseases, was wrong, meaning vaccines don’t work. Here we go again.
Logical fallacies are essentially errors of reasoning in making an argument – identifying them is an excellent tool in debunking pseudoscience and other junk science. When logically fallacious arguments are used, usually based on bad reasoning to support a position (or to try to convince someone to adopt the same position), it is considered a fallacy.
Most of you didn’t know, because I didn’t promote it much, but I had a link in the menu for a list of logical fallacies. It lay fallow, barely read by me or, apparently, anyone else.
In fact, there are several hallmarks that indicate to most educated individuals as to what is or is not pseudoscience. Real science is a systematic and rational method to organize and analyze “knowledge” into testable explanations and predictions. Sometimes, it appears that the anti-science crowd believes that science is just a word, not a philosophy which is organized as the scientific method. It isn’t some magical system that only smart people in secret ivory towers practice. The scientific method is simply a set of logical steps:
Formulate a question: Based on observations of the natural world. Maybe you notice that sky is blue, and you ask “why is the sky blue?” Or “how do I design a vaccine to encourage the immune system to prevent a virus from causing a disease?” Of course, the questions can become much more complex as we make more detailed observations of the our world.
Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis may be broad or very narrow. One could make a hypothesis that life can evolve on many planets across the universe. Or one could make a hypothesis that a drug can cure a disease in a small population of individuals. A proper hypothesis must include a null hypothesis, that is, the scientist must be willing to test that the null hypothesis is also false (a sort of double negative). This null hypothesis is that the new vaccine does nothing and that any disease prevention are due to chance effects. Researchers must also show that the null hypothesis is false. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. This all sounds complicated, but digested down to its simplest form, it means that a scientist is always willing to attempt to prove that the hypothesis is wrong.
Prediction: Once a hypothesis is developed, then the a prediction (or more than one prediction) is made based on the hypothesis. For example, if a vaccine is supposed to prevent a disease, then the prediction is made that it prevents some some amount of the disease above what would be assumed just by random chance. For example, without the vaccine it might be predicted that only 10% of individuals might be immune to the disease, but with the vaccine, it would be predicted that 85% would be immune. In all fields of science, the hypothesis leads to predictions which are different than what would be found simply by coincidence or randomness. Also, the hypothesis must be powerful enough to create more accurate predictions than alternative hypotheses.
Test: This is the conducting of experiments or investigations to determine whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypotheses. These experiments are observations which will agree with or conflict with the predictions; if they agree, then the confidence in the hypothesis will increase. On the other hand, if there is conflict, the confidence will, of course, decrease. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. Medical and drug experiments utilize double-blind clinical trials to limit confirmation bias, a tendency towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study.
Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and one’s own experience can be incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)”
Yesterday, I responded to an article that I read, where the author wanted African-Americans to refuse HIV testing because of…pseudoscientific nonsense. I refuted the 10 claims of the AIDS denialist without too much trouble, though I doubt that the denialist will care that much. An AIDS denialist, for those who might not know, is someone who denies the link between HIV and AIDS, blaming AIDS on something else (other than the scientifically supported HIV infection).
There are times I read pseudoscience online, and it causes my blood pressure to go through the roof. Of course, maybe life would be easier if I just accepted that everything written in the interwebs is accurate and THE TRUTH™. Today I read some comments about the new iPad where global warming denialists used junk science to support their ramblings. How the article moved from the new iPad to global warming is beyond the ability of me to describe.
I have a lot of smart people who I follow on Facebook and Twitter. Very few are actual friends or family, most are just like-minded people who entertain me with rational discussions on a wide range of topics. And sports.
We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups: anti-vaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch. The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience” as if it’s a pejorative without foundation. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and the anti-vaccine lunacy”
I spend a lot of time criticizing the vaccine denialists who have taken a fraudulent study, Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet publication claiming a link between MMR vaccinations and autism, to causing families to stop vaccinating children. This has lead to increased measles, whooping cough and other disease rates. All of which are preventable.
But of course, Duesberg, an HIV/AIDS denialist hits a whole new level of harm to others. He claims HIV does not cause AIDS. Actually, there is a ton of evidence that it does. He claims that AZT is ineffective. The evidence says otherwise, and in fact, HAART has decreased AIDS mortality significantly.
And what has this AIDS denialism done? Uganda and South Africa have rising AIDS rates because of this denialism (and a government’s complicity to that denialism).
I wish that Peter Duesberg would go away. But unfortunately, science allows for the gadflies and cranks, which, in this case, cause harm.
Peter Duesberg is an AIDS denialist. I don’t mind scientists that try to press for a new theory. It happens more often than one would think, but right now, the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is overwhelming. He’s like the creationist of the virology world..
He refutes the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs, without providing much evidence, but using this refutation as his “evidence”.
His rebuttal of the clear cut data of the disaster in South Africa when the government accept the AIDS denialism and anti-retrovirals usage dropped has been refuted a number of times.
Note that other journals turned him down. The Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology is what is a called a “low impact journal.” It means that the quality of the journal and its readership numbers are quite a bit lower than higher level journals.