Genetically modified mosquitos are coming to Florida – saving humans

genetically modified mosquitos

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. 

There have been numerous cases of Zika virus infection in south Florida, and, because of the lack of effective preventative vaccines and treatments, public health officials have looked at other methods to prevent the Zika virus. The most effective way is to eliminate the carriers of this virus, mosquitoes.

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.

Continue reading “Genetically modified mosquitos are coming to Florida – saving humans”

Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism and vaccines

hierarchy of scientific evidence

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.

Continue reading “Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism and vaccines”

Coronavirus research peer review by press release – this is not science

coronavirus research

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 article will try to point out the good, the bad, and the damn ugly coronavirus research that we’re seeing these days. Continue reading “Coronavirus research peer review by press release – this is not science”

Alan McHughen, author of “DNA Demystified” – chatting about GMOs, vaccines, science

alan mchughen

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.

I have had a chance to meet Alan McHughen at a Taco Tuesday science gathering, just before COVID-19 stopped all social interactions. Because of his new book and because he has a fascinating background, I asked Dr. McHughen to do a quick interview with your not-so-humble, ancient, anti-quack raptor. Continue reading “Alan McHughen, author of “DNA Demystified” – chatting about GMOs, vaccines, science”

Vaccine skeptics – it doesn’t mean what they think it means

vaccine skeptics

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. 

Let’s take a look at what real vaccine skeptics would be since it doesn’t mean what the anti-vaxxers think it means. Continue reading “Vaccine skeptics – it doesn’t mean what they think it means”

RFK Jr denies vaccine scientific consensus but accepts climate change

vaccine scientific consensus

I have long criticized those who deny the vaccine scientific consensus but get angry about those who deny the climate change scientific consensus. In other words, they pick and choose what science they like or don’t like based on random things, mostly political expediency.

Robert F Kennedy Jr (and to save me typing too many letters, we’ll just call him RFK Jr) is a perfect example of this contradictory belief system. If you met him and told him that you deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change, he’d argue that you are wrong. 

RFK Jr said recently:

“All of the modeling for climate change” points to future “storms on steroids, droughts, famine, the disappearance of the ice caps, the disappearance of the glaciers on every continent, and that there’s going to be major disruptions, not just to humanity, but ultimately, to civilization.”

That modeling didn’t come from his imagination, it came from scientists, who have established the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. It is not based on faith, belief, or Uncle Harry. 

Of course, there is a similar overwhelming scientific consensus regarding vaccine safety and effectiveness, yet RFK Jr and his ilk reject it based on faith, belief, and pseudoscience. It’s clear that RFK Jr picks and chooses whatever science supports their pre-existing beliefs – that’s not science, that’s just illogical thinking.

More than that, how can one trust someone who denies one scientific consensus and accept another? I almost would rethink my position on climate change just because I don’t trust RFK Jr.’s opinion on it. 

But, I’m a good scientist – the scientific consensus on both vaccines and climate change (and hundreds of other scientific ideas like evolution, GMO safety, the Big Bang, etc.) is immense. To quote the esteemed David Gorski, MD Ph.D.:

Hostility towards the concept of scientific consensus is a good sign of pseudoscience.

This article will take a look at how denying the vaccine scientific consensus is equivalent to denying the climate change scientific consensus. Of course, I’m sure that there is a whole bunch of people who deny both, but since this is about RFK Jr., it’s his contradictions that matter. Continue reading “RFK Jr denies vaccine scientific consensus but accepts climate change”

MSG myth debunking – science shows that it’s just an amino acid

msg myth

The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 10 – the MSG myth. 

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. But the MSG myth is one of the most pervasive in the food pseudoscience world (yes, I’m going to make that a thing).

Of course, these additives cause angst in people because of their scary chemical names. Or nonsense on the internet. Or random neurons firing.

Obviously, there is stuff, created by the beauty of natural sunlight and goddess blessed sweet waters from the Alps, that is better than these man-made evil chemicals. Well, no. Everything in nature is made up of “chemistry” –  25-hydroxyergocalciferol is a scary chemical name, right? Except it’s the metabolic product of the conversion of vitamin D in the human liver. It’s natural!

But let’s get back to MSG – how many times have you seen “No MSG” in a sign Chinese restaurant? Is it because China, who has been using MSG in their cuisine for centuries, has been conspiring against Americans since the first Chinese restaurant starting serving up kung pao chicken to unaware Americans?

It’s time to look at the MSG myth – is it real, or does it need a good debunking?

Continue reading “MSG myth debunking – science shows that it’s just an amino acid”

GMO DNA transfers to humans – debunking a pernicious myth

GMO DNA

I keep reading of an annoying claim that GMO DNA transfers to humans easily, so that’s why we should be scared of it. Some of this belief is based on a poorly designed study that may, or really may not, indicate that plant GMO genes transfer to humans. These “researchers” claim that DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream.

Someone flunked basic human physiology and cell biology when they made this claim since it’s nearly biologically implausible to consider this to be real. Many of us have actually passed these courses so we are very skeptical.

In case you’ve ignored this area of false controversy, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes.

Based on some of the worst science available, the anti-GMO activists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Unfortunately for the anti-science side, there is actually no science supporting these anti-GMO claims, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals, and the environment.

Let’s take a look at this paper that claims that GMO DNA gets into the human bloodstream. 

Continue reading “GMO DNA transfers to humans – debunking a pernicious myth”

Pseudoscience vs science – former is fake, the latter is fact for vaccines

pseudoscience vs science

Pseudoscience vs science – the former is a belief system that uses the trappings of science without the rigorous methodologies that value 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 it oversimplifies the understanding of the natural universe. Pseudoscience is the basis of alternative medicine, creationism, the anti-vaccine religion, 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 ideas. It really is appealing because it oversimplifies complex systems and ideas.

For example, alternative medicine relies on this pseudoscience by creating the illusion that medicine can be really easy if you drink this blueberry kale shake, you will have a 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. In fact, science has failed to establish the clinical usefulness of most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies.

Because I can’t help writing about vaccines, the pseudoscience vs science discourse applies perfectly to it. Pseudoscience uses logical fallacies, anecdotes, and misinformation to make it appear there is evidence supporting the anti-vaccine beliefs. Real science has debunked the claim that “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and rather dangerous belief of the anti-vaccine world. 

This article will explore the pseudoscience vs science debate (not really a debate) by examining 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. Continue reading “Pseudoscience vs science – former is fake, the latter is fact for vaccines”

The great vaccine debate – only exists in the brains of anti-vaxxers

Lately, I’ve seen ludicrous articles from the anti-vaccine religion demanding a vaccine debate between the well-known pseudoscience liars, like Robert F Kennedy, Jr and Del Bigtree, and legitimate vaccine scientists and experts. I always laugh, and then I always recommend not participating.

The problem is that if you pay attention to any scientific topic, like climate change, evolution, and, yes, vaccines, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalency to make it appear that the minority and scientifically unsupported point of view is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is always based on huge amounts of published evidence.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that there is a great vaccine debate. Or an evolution debate. Or a climate change debate. 

There aren’t any debates in any of those (and hundreds of other) scientific topics. Just because someone, like RFK Jr or Bigtree, thinks that there is some “debate,” it doesn’t mean there actually is one. All that happens is one side, almost always the science deniers, use misinformation, lies, anecdotes, and pseudoscience while attempting to scream and yell as loud as possible, then claim they’ve won.

Science can’t be debated. And there is no vaccine debate. Continue reading “The great vaccine debate – only exists in the brains of anti-vaxxers”