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Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates

This article has been updated and can be found here

If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, 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 equivalence to make it appear that the often minority, and scientifically unsupported viewpoint is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is based on huge amounts of published evidence.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. It’s because some news sources think there’s a debate, so bring one person to represent one side, and one for the other, and the person screams the loudest often wins.

Read More »Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates

The Walking Dead and science denialism

Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

I am really impatient with science deniers, so I saw something that will allow me to mash up two of my favorite subjects – the Walking Dead and science denialism – and it makes me happy. I know, you want to know how I can possibly combine the Walking Dead and science denialism – you’re just going to have to read on!

I know it’s shocking, but I find it difficult to be really civil towards science deniers. Partially, it’s because no matter how much evidence you present, science deniers rely on logical fallacies like strawman arguments, arguments from ignorance, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, and so many others.

Or they rely upon all of their biases. Confirmation bias, yes. Selection bias, yes. Cognitive biases, yes. And that logical fallacy that’s also a form of bias – cherry picking. The denialist’s favorite fruit has got to be cherries, because they’re picking them all day long.

Then toss in a big dollop of Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s really difficult to take any science deniers very seriously. They take themselves seriously, despite their total lack of affirmative or negative evidence.

The only thing that matters in science is evidence. That’s it, that’s the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, alien, immigrant, liberal, conservative, a janitor, a professor, black, white, or a Nobel Prize winner. If you lack evidence, you have nothing.

If you think there are debates to be made in settled science, that means you get the denialism card, no matter who you are. If you are an MD, and think that vaccines don’t work, then why should I consider your opinion on anything in medicine to be valid, when you’re denying some of the basic principles of medicine – the Germ Theory, for example. Read More »Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.

Dr. Folta  is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.

In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.

This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.

Read More »Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability, or to add current research.

The name of this blog, of course, is the Skeptical Raptor. I’m not sure how I invented that name, but I like raptors, either the fossil dinosaur version, or the living dinosaur versions, birds of prey. They both actually work as a metaphor of what I try to do–provide scientific and knowledgeable analyses of the scientific consensus or critiques of beliefs and pseudoscience. Usually one leads to another.

Of course, I don’t pretend to be very nice about my critiques, probably another reason why I chose to put “Raptor” in the blog’s name.

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). A denier is not a skeptic – the former actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really?Read More »I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

Opinion – science denial harms humanity

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that.

Recently, I read an article where Alabama, a US state with either the worst or second worst educational system in the country, had decided to enter the 21st Century – The Alabama state board of education voted unanimously to approve a new set of science standards on September 10, 2015, according to National Center for Science Education.

Surprisingly, the Alabama board stated that evolution is described as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence.” Is it possible that pigs are flying? Let me check.

But like all stories when it comes to science denial, the story isn’t perfect.

According to a story in the Washington Post, “state officials will have to decide what to do about the adhesive label that every high school biology textbook has been required to carry since 2001, a warning emphasizing that evolution is a ‘controversial theory’ that students should question.”

Let me remind the reader. There is absolutely no controversy about evolution, it is considered a scientific fact. The only controversy is amongst ignorant Republican presidential candidates, lead by someone who is ostensibly educated in science, Ben Carson.

Of course, as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated,  “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” And as medicine is a branch of biology, it’s clear that our knowledge of evolution helped Ben Carson – not just generally, but in very specific ways that were part of his medical career.

Whatever Dr. Carson says to pander to his ignorant, science denying Republicans, his medical career was filled with evolution of all types.

Science denialism is more than just a cultural discussion between two political groups. It’s dangerous. Science denial harms humanity – we should do all we can to end this absurd belief.
Read More »Opinion – science denial harms humanity

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science

There is an evolving feeling that anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers are nearly the same. They both rely upon  denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism), which is the culture of denying the established scientific consensus despite overwhelming evidence.

Admittedly, some of the denialism is based on political expediency. Climate change denialism is a fundamental aspect of many politically conservative voters across the world, but especially in the United States, where Republican legislatures in the United States have passed anti-anthropogenic global warming legislation. 

But not to be outdone, the left-wing parties across the world have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs. Some may argue that vaccine denialism has a political component which is supported by some liberals, there’s also a lot of evidence that Republicans in the US have the same anti-vaccine belief. Setting aside the politically nuanced anti-vaccine groups, GMOs are the left’s version of climate change denial.

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers share some of the same tactics and strategies, even if they are, for all intents and purposes, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

They both tend to reject science. They both use the same character attacks on supporters. And they both are awfully good at cherry-picking data that buttresses their a priori conclusions. In other words, they look for the data to support their beliefs, rather than the scientific method which is to find what conclusions can be supported by the evidence.

Let’s look at something that just happened which should remove any doubt that anti-science believers use the same tactics, probably because they lack any evidence. It’s apparent that they all meet at some anti-science convention to receive training on how to do this best.

Read More »Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science

GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Although denial of anthropogenic global warming and evolution tend to be the domain of the right wing, the left-wing have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs (though some think I should include vaccine denialism too).  Global warming deniers and GMO opponents share some of the same tactics and beliefs, even if they are the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Read More »GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

Science democracy – debunking the strategies of denialism

I’ve always considered all forms of denialism, whether it’s climate change, creationism or the latest antivaccine lunacy, to be based on the same type and quality of arguments. It is essentially holding a unsupported belief that either science is wrong or, worse yet, is a vast conspiracy to push false information onto innocent humans.

One of the “tools” often used by science deniers is trying to convince the casual observer of a science democracy – that is, there is some kind of vote, and some number of “scientists” are opposed to the consensus.

I’ve often joked that science deniers all get together at the World Denialist Society meetings and compare notes. They all use the same strategies, including the myth of the science democracy, which seriously doesn’t exist.Read More »Science democracy – debunking the strategies of denialism

California drought myths and science

If you pay attention to anything about the weather, especially climate change, you know that California is experiencing an epic drought. The causes are complex (always be skeptical of “simple” explanations), and the fixes may not even be possible.

So instead of talking about California’s new mandatory vaccine law (or anything else about vaccines), maybe it was time to talk about California drought myths –then refute them with science, which is always fun.

Stating the obvious, water is necessary for the residents, industry and agriculture of California. The Los Angeles metro area, with about 10 million people, and other Southern California cities, like San Diego, have few natural water sources, so they must rely upon water that arises far away from the residents.

The mountains, especially the Sierra Nevada range, of California are the water “bank” for the state. The winter snowfall ends up being the spring runoff, which is stored in reservoirs, and used, until the next season. Los Angeles takes (or steals if you saw the Jack Nicholson movie, Chinatown) water from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a sparsely populated (and rarely visited) part of California.

The fact that the 2015 snowpack on April 1 was a pathetic 5% of normal, while the snowpack on June 1 was 0% of normal, is frightening. In other words, snowmelt, that in some years can last well into summer, was gone before summer started, so California essentially has no water in the bank. And because this drought is nearly 4 years old, the reservoirs are mostly dry, and there’s little water left.

Read More »California drought myths and science

Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience

Logical fallacies are essentially errors of reasoning in making an argument – identifying them is an excellent tool in debunking pseudoscience and other junk science. When logically fallacious arguments are used, usually based on bad reasoning to support a position (or to try to convince someone to adopt the same position), it is considered a fallacy.

Most of you didn’t know, because I didn’t promote it much, but I had a link in the menu for a list of logical fallacies. It lay fallow, barely read by me or, apparently, anyone else.

However, I decided to update and improve my list of favorite logical fallacies used by all of the pseudoscience crowd. There are many more logical fallacies than what I list, but this blog is focused on providing evidence, in a snarky way, against anti-science claims made by everyone from the vaccine deniers to creationists.Read More »Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience