Along with the thoroughly debunked “vaccines cause autism,” a related trope is pesticides cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The evidence that supports that claim is fairly weak, possibly nonexistent, but that’s what we do here – examine the evidence.
For reasons beyond the scope of this blog and my interests, parents need to find blame for why their children may have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. A few years ago, Emily Willingham, Ph.D., whom I consider to be one of the leading ASD scientific experts on this planet, wrote a hysterical and scientifically skeptical article about all of the popular causes of ASD. Older mothers. Older fathers. Depressed mothers. Fingers. Facial features. Facial features?
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.
Well, one of the most obnoxious anti-vaccine, right-wing, science denying MDs, Jane Orient, is back in the limelight. And she’s pushing the same old pseudoscience about climate change as she has about vaccines, HIV, and other sciences.
I use nom de plume of Skeptical Raptor because I like avian dinosaurs (birds) and because I adhere to scientific skepticism. Unfortunately, one of the most misappropriated words among the anti-vaccine crowd is skeptic, or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic.
Way before I started writing this blog, I disliked the word, actually quite a bit, because I believed it had no meaning in science. But I’ve embraced it over the past few years, and I now get offended when it’s misused. The problem with the word “skeptic” is that it is used differently in different circumstances, much like scientific theory has a different meaning in a formal scientific context than it does in common vernacular.
I’m sure everyone has run into the type – a science denier who thinks their two hours at Google University makes them as knowledgeable as a real physician or scientist. This arrogance manifests itself in ridiculous discussions with anti-vaccine religious nutjobs who claim to have “done the research,” and who believe their pseudoscientific research is more valuable than real scientific research.
This Google University education from vaccine deniers, really all science deniers, can be frustrating. I frequent a couple of large Facebook groups that try to help on-the-fence anti-vaxxers understand what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t with respect to vaccines. Recently, one of the anti-vaccine true believers kept saying she knew more than a nurse with a public health master’s degree. The arrogant anti-vaxxer kept claiming that she “did her research.”
Hang on. The old dinosaur needs to slam his head on the desk.
In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgment of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific ideas and conclusions from pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other beliefs.
I often discuss scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.”
A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation. A scientific theory is considered to be the highest scientific principle, something that is missed by many science deniers. In addition, a scientific consensus is formed by a similar method – the accumulation of evidence.
I have writtenfrequently about the scientific consensus because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical scientific issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many areas of biomedical knowledge.
This tome has one goal – to clarify our understanding of the scientific consensus, and how we arrive at it. Through this information, maybe we all can see the power of it in determining what is real science and what are policy and cultural debates.
A new study has been published that claims that the herbicide glyphosate is linked to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. Of course, once a study like this hits the interwebs, everyone becomes panicked that glyphosate causes cancer.
I want to take a look at this paper because I am generally distrustful of any claims that “XYZ causes cancer!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Yes, the anti-vaccine fiction and deception are one of the greatest dangers to the world’s public health. Their tropes, memes, and falsehoods are convincing enough people to delay or avoid vaccinating their children that diseases we thought weren’t a threat anymore are coming back. Europe and the USA are experiencing an unprecedented measles outbreak because of slightly lower measles immunization rates.