This article has been substantially updated, and can be read here. Please read and comment at the newer article.
One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.
So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.
In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.
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.
Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge. Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right. In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution. Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit. Maybe I’ll just use them all.
Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC. The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70’s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital. The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.” Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism. Continue reading “Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson, probably the most popular astrophysicist, if not scientist, of this generation, replaced Carl Sagan as the spokesman of all things science for the country. While not ignoring Bill Nye‘s impact on making science education fun and approachable (and who took classes from Carl Sagan at Cornell University), Sagan literally passed the baton of being the country’s science teacher to Tyson.
Of course, for every reason that Fox News hated Cosmos (even though it was a huge ratings success for Fox, and has garnered a significant number of TV awards and nominations), those of us on the pro-science side loved it. Now, I’m a rarity in the science community in that I did not enjoy the show (the animations offended me on so many levels, but apparently kids loved it), I did watch every episode and would have to rank the episodes on evolution and global warming as some of the best science TV I’d ever seen–despite the lame graphics. Continue reading “Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–liberals get angry”
I’ve written over 640 articles over the past 2 ½ years, 3-4 a week. It’s fun, mostly. About 360 of those articles are on vaccines, vaccination, and you know, those who don’t like vaccines.
When I started, I wanted to write about all kinds of topics that always rub us skeptics the wrong way: creationism, global warming denialism, UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster having an affair with Sasquatch, everything but the kitchen sink causing or curing cancer (seriously, it’s that bad with cancer), and, near the bottom of the list, vaccines. Why at the bottom of the list? I naively believed that vaccines were a settled question. You know, vaccinate or really horrible diseases will return. I guess I was wrong.
This is just a “sense of the readers” poll. So choose wisely. I might go in that direction.
As 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.
A few days ago, a fellow pro-science person was concerned about a tweet she received. Her antagonist was claiming that if my friend had all that time to tweet, then she obviously wasn’t working in academics as she claimed.
I have a Twitter feed that flies across the top right corner of my screen. I have over 1200 followers, and I follow the tweets well over that number. I have varied interests, but to be honest, there are too many tweets. I only respond or retweet things I happen to see when I look up to that upper right corner of my computer’s screen. I know I miss some good stuff. But I think I find a few dozen every day that lead me to read news articles or peer-reviewed journals. Occasionally, I run across a Tweet that makes me laugh or think.
Yes it takes time, but from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I’m reading, writing, texting/messaging other scientists for ideas. We discuss books we’ve read. All of us in science writing work very hard to get where we are, which cause an epiphany bout the science deniers. I have a theory about their behavior and dismissal of science. I cannot be sure it applies to everyone; for example, there are some seriously deranged people who blame everything in science on Reptilians, Illuminati, Jews, and the US Government (run by Jews I suppose). There’s no logic with those types. Continue reading “The false ideology of science deniers–research is easy”
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.
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.
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.
Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing.
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:
Evolution, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
Anthropogenic (human caused) global warming, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
Vaccinations (the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to prevent disease), which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
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!