Science is not a belief, not a religion — please get this straight

science belief

I get so tired of people who science is nothing more than a belief, rather than a method to understand facts about the natural universe. I don’t believe in vaccines. I don’t believe in evolution. I don’t believe in climate change.

In each of those cases, and much more, I review and accept the scientific evidence that supports a scientific claim, whether it is that evolution is real, that climate change is caused by humans, or that vaccines don’t cause autism. No, I am not an evolutionary biologist (though it’s kind of hard to be a biologist without accepting evolution), a meteorologist, or a vaccine scientist. But I do know how to follow the science in an unbiased manner and I know who are the experts in fields which means science is not a belief to me, but facts supported by evidence.

I like to say that I don’t believe in anything. Not one thing. My statement is always “the evidence supports” any claim that I make. Now, I don’t apply this many other areas of my life. I don’t like Brussels sprouts, and the only evidence I have is that they taste like little pieces of poison. It’s an opinion, one that will not be changed, especially once I found out that Brussels sprouts are frequently cut in half to determine if there is a brood of disgusting worms in the middle. But I have zero scientific evidence supporting my claim that Brussels sprouts were created to destroy human civilization.

Let me get a bit into science and belief so that you understand what I’m trying to say. Because if one more anti-vaxxer claims that “vaccines are a religion based on belief,” I’m going to scream. Or when a creationist tries to claim I am an “evolutionist” trying to make it seem like evolution is merely another set of beliefs.

I am mostly writing this article because I get tired of replying to people that I “believe” in something in science. I keep repeating myself, so I can just drop a link to refute their nonsense. Of course, I’m assuming that they can read what’s in the link.

Continue reading “Science is not a belief, not a religion — please get this straight”

Science mistakes — the favorite trope of the anti-vaccine world

science mistakes

Those people who disagree with science love to remind us that science makes mistakes. I keep observing this same ridiculous, illogical argument being used by all of the science deniers, repeating various “science mistakes” tropes as if it is all the evidence they need to refute scientific claims. Honestly, I think the pseudoscience pushers meet annually in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo, to discuss which trope they’re pushing each year.

The anti-vaccine zealots, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on this theme of “science mistakes.”  And then they produce a list of cherry-picked examples that “prove” that science is wrong (see Note 1). Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit this “science mistakes” trope.

By the way, in my story, I admit that there are many “science mistakes,” so read on. Hopefully, it’s somewhat enlightening.

Continue reading “Science mistakes — the favorite trope of the anti-vaccine world”

Vaccine science — why I do research better than anti-vaxxers

person putting a drop on test tube

How many times have you read a comment from an anti-vaxxer that states, “I’ve done my vaccine science research, and it says vaccines are bad.” That comment seems to imply two things – that the anti-vaxxer believes they have done real vaccine science research, and those on the science/medicine side have not done real vaccine research.

What I’ve found is that the anti-vaxxer research into vaccine science is based on their Google University education rather than actual scientific education. Vaccine science is hard, and it cannot be done in a few hours searching for unimpressive memes.

The typical anti-vaxxer understates how hard vaccine research is while overstating their actual skills and experience in comprehending real scientific research. I suppose this is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect – a cognitive bias wherein people without a strong scientific background fail to recognize their actual ineptitude in the field and mistakenly overrate their knowledge and abilities as greater than it is.

On the other hand, I’ve done real scientific research that gives me a relatively decent background in vaccine science. And I’m going to state, without any remorse, that I am no Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Peter Hotez, or any of the hundreds of researchers at the CDC and WHO. My background in vaccines is a result of my education, which is a lot more than a few hours on Google.

Continue reading “Vaccine science — why I do research better than anti-vaxxers”

Scientific facts vs personal opinion about vaccines, evolution, climate change

scientific facts

When I write, I usually stick to scientific facts that are supported by evidence published in peer-reviewed biomedical journals. Because I can be rather blunt about a scientific topic, for example, stating that evolution is a fact, it may sound like I’m saying “my opinion is that evolution is a fact.” No, it’s a scientific fact, not a personal opinion.

When it comes to opinions vs scientific facts, there is a difference, a huge difference. An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something, generally supported by weak evidence. Or sometimes no evidence. A scientific fact only exists because there is a vast amount of supporting evidence.

My favorite color is blue or green, depends on the day. I think that mint and mushrooms taste horrible, and I can’t imagine what they’d taste like together. Doctor Who is boring. Soccer is even more boring to the point of inducing depression. These are all my opinions, meaning that evidence, especially the scientific kind, probably could not be found to support any of them (see Note 1).

Opinions may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general populations but they all have one thing in common – they cannot be verified by evidence, except that I believe them.

As Jef Rouner wrote in the Houston Press,

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many others share this opinion give it any more validity.

On the other side are scientific facts, which only exist because of evidence – unbiased evidence, along with well-designed experiments that give us that evidence. Let’s take a look at opinions vs scientific facts, just in case you think they are equivalent.

Continue reading “Scientific facts vs personal opinion about vaccines, evolution, climate change”

What is the scientific consensus, and what it means for evolution, climate change, and vaccines?

scientific consensus

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 of 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 written frequently 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 other areas of science.

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.

But the most important thing is that the scientific consensus (and theories, for that matter) are not opinions. They aren’t random thoughts pulled out of the ether. Scientific consensus is based on overwhelming scientific evidence published in respected journals.

Continue reading “What is the scientific consensus, and what it means for evolution, climate change, and vaccines?”

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

Frequently, anti-vaxxers like Robert F Kennedy Jr and Del Bigtree demand a great vaccine debate between whomever they’re targeting, like Paul Offit or our friend Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, and themselves. I find it amusing, and if anyone asks, I tell them that a vaccine debate is worthless for lots of reasons.

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. And for vaccines, the safety and effectiveness are settled science.

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 on 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 a corollary is that there is no great vaccine debate.

Continue reading “The great vaccine debate – only exists in the brains of anti-vaxxers”

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”

Jane Orient, the anti-vaccine, climate change denier, right-wing quack MD

Jane Orient

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.

Let’s take a look at what she wrote. And why she’s an ignoramus about science, whether it’s vaccines or climate change. Continue reading “Jane Orient, the anti-vaccine, climate change denier, right-wing quack MD”

WHO’s top 10 public health threats – vaccine deniers included in the list

public health threats

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published their top 10 world public health threats in 2019. It includes all of the public health threats that you can imagine, plus what they call “vaccine hesitancy,” or what I call the anti-vaccine religion’s ignorance, misinformation, and lies.

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.

I want to review the WHO public health threats list because it’s interesting to those of us who fight the good fight for science. Of course, I’m going to focus on the vaccine deniers because that’s what we do here. Continue reading “WHO’s top 10 public health threats – vaccine deniers included in the list”

Settled science of climate change and vaccines – critiquing denialism again

settled science

Many of us on the evidence side of science discussions will often throw out the phrase that XYZ is settled science. Of course, this causes the science deniers, especially the vaccine and climate change deniers, to get all indignant while throwing out there science ignorance wrapped in their usual ad hominem personal attacks. I use it frequently, about 25% of the time to troll the science deniers while about 75% of the time to make a point.

So this article is going to review what we mean by “settled science,” and it doesn’t mean what the pseudoscience loving world thinks it means. In fact, pseudoscience fans think the only “settled science” is their fake evidence and fake conclusions. But that’s not science and it’s not “settled science.”

Now, you might ask about why I chose climate change and vaccines as the two settled science examples. There are good reasons – conservatives who accept vaccines often reject climate change, even though the evidence supporting both are overwhelming. And there are those on the left who get angry about climate change denial, yet accept every pseudoscientific argument, conspiracy theory, and lie about vaccines. It makes my brand new irony meter blow up. Continue reading “Settled science of climate change and vaccines – critiquing denialism again”