Once upon a time, I was told of an article published on the website of “journalist” Sharyl Attkisson where she accused a lot of people of being astroturfers, including this old snarky feathered dinosaur. Now I admit to not being up-to-date on every cultural term that flows through the internet every day (who could?), but I had to find out more.
Well, what is an astroturfer? Supposedly, it’s a pejorative term that describes a fake grassroots effort. Astroturf is fake grass, so that’s its roots (pun intended).
I’m not really sure of the logic of placing science writers and evidence-based websites into the “astroturf” category, but she does it. It’s like the Big Lie, I guess if she keeps repeating it, people will think it’s true.
Of course, let’s not forget that if we’re going to accuse any person or group of being astroturfers, we should straightaway look at anti-vaccine groups led by Del Bigtree and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. I mean they are the epitome of astroturfers. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Here we go again – I keep seeing the new anti-vaccine claim that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are not, in fact, vaccines but are either “medical devices” or “gene therapy.” I keep trying to stay up with every single myth and trope pushed by the anti-vaxxers, but I swear that there’s a new one every day.
I would really love to write about something other than COVID-19 vaccines – I’ve got a ton of articles I want to write about GMOs, supplements, and cancer that are just sitting in a virtual pile on my desk. Unfortunately, I’m very worried that the anti-vax hatred of these new vaccines will allow this pandemic to keep going. That’s why many of us keep doing the best we can to stamp out the myths.
Just to be clear, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are actually vaccines – they are biological preparations that provide active acquired immunity to an infectious disease, in this case, COVID-19. But, I’m going to have to debunk these myths.
In case you’re living under a rock and reading this, the United States will choose either pro-science Joe Biden or science-denying Donald Trump to be our next president. There are a lot of reasons to support former Vice President Biden over Trump, but the biggest one for me is that he’s pro-science.
Science matters. And it matters more than just climate change, vaccines, COVID-19 pandemic, and many other issues that are critical to the world these days. It is also relevant to healthcare, women’s health, abortion, and competitiveness in today’s world.
Some of you know about Project Steve. Most probably don’t. So what is Project Steve?
Well, it is a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, humorous parody of the various declarations, petitions, and proclamations that science deniers use to “prove” there is a controversy about science, usually climate change, HIV/AIDS, evolution, and most recently, COVID-19.
One of the most famous is the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (SDD), set up by the Seattle based, intelligent design think-tank (yes, you probably see all the irony). One more thing – Darwinism is one of those creationist code words that doesn’t mean what they think it means.
Although Charles Darwin was one of the first scientists to recognize evolution and natural selection, that was over 150 years ago. We know so much more about evolution today including the existence of DNA, genes, mutations, and so much more. Modern evolutionary biology has its roots in Darwin, but it has “evolved” far beyond what Darwin understood.
One of the more pernicious tropes in the world of pseudoscience is that DNA in vaccines GMOs are going to magically incorporate into your cells changing you from a human into a sasquatch with ears of corn growing out of your head. Now that would be fun to see, but unless there’s a mad scientist out there trying to grow ears of corn out of a hirsute humane that looks like Sasquatch, it will probably never happen.
And most certainly consuming DNA in vaccines or eating GMOs with a new gene are not going to cause anything at all to any human I know.
A plan to release over 750 million genetically-modified mosquitos in the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and various Florida regulatory authorities. Predictably, activists who reject science are attacking this decision.
Basically, the genetically-modified mosquitos will help combat the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries several dangerous diseases like the Zika virus and Dengue fever, passing it to humans.
I have written several articles about these GMO mosquitoes, which some have called the “Frankensquito,” a complete misuse of both the genetic modification of the mosquito and a misunderstanding of the Frankenstein myth. It’s just a scare tactic.
Let’s take a look at the real science behind these genetically-modified mosquitos, and why it will save humans.
I am a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.
That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, that’s the opposite of good science.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of instant news made up of memes and a couple of hundred character analyses flying across social media make it difficult to determine what is real science and what is not. Sometimes we create an internal false balance, assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate when there isn’t one.
When I write about a topic, I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful, and nuanced (with a touch of snark) articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I also know science is hard. It’s difficult.
Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science – and we see that most of what we find on the internet that claims to be science is not. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking about science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.
But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been observing new coronavirus research peer review being done through Big Pharma and university press releases, preprint articles, and science journalism. It’s like watching a ping pong ball bounce back and forth, and I swear my neck is getting strained.
This is not how science should be done. It does a disservice to how science should be done. Science, especially with regards to coronavirus, must be done with careful analysis and critiques.
Now, there is one good thing about how we’re evaluating coronavirus research – peer review is beginning to be “crowd-sourced,” and that may be better than the old system.
This is the second of my interview articles, this time with Professor Alan McHughen, who has recently published a fascinating book, “DNA Demystified.” As the title suggests, the book delves into what is DNA and how it became a part of the technology of our modern world.
The term “vaccine skeptics” is not only used by anti-vaxxers to describe themselves but also it is employed by some of the popular press to describe them. From a scientific perspective, it would be inaccurate to label them as a skeptic – more accurately, anti-vaxxers are vaccine deniers.
In this case, the word skeptic is being misused, much like the creationists calling evolution “just a theory.” Well, in the case of evolution, “just a theory” doesn’t mean what they think it means since a scientific theory is near the pinnacle of scientific principles.