John Oliver promotes real science – a comedian gets it right

John Oliver promotes real science

On Sunday evening (8 May 2016), John Oliver, the English comedian and political satirist, talked about science and how we should embrace it during his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The upshot is that John Oliver promotes real science – and critical thinking about bad science. And states that vaccines don’t cause autism.

Oliver is one of the best satirists on TV. His attacks on stupidity in politics and culture are classics. He’s been doing his shtick for many years on American TV, being one of featured correspondents for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I always looked forward to his reports, though always funny, they were generally pointed and quite intelligent.

His recent segment on science on his HBO show was a classic. And let’s take a look at how John Oliver promotes real science – and why it’s kind of sad that a comedian has to hit it out of the park.

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“Homeopaths without Borders” are not humanitarians

There is an American group called Homeopaths without Borders (HWB), who claims that it provides humanitarian aid, in the form of homeopathic “medicine” or just plain water, to devastated areas of the world. The more famous group that does real lifesaving work across the world, Doctors without Borders, are probably too busy, utilizing real evidence-based medicine with real medications, risking their own lives, and performing great service humanity, to be worried that a bunch of pseudoscientific homeopaths stole their noble trademark to push quackery.

HWB is sending their water magicians to Haiti, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador, all countries that have suffered so much during the past few years. During their time in Haiti, “the team will be in Port-au-Prince to complete the final session of the Fundamentals Program—a foundational curriculum in homeopathic therapeutics incorporating theoretical and clinical training.” So not only are they providing nonsense, useless, unscientific healthcare to Haiti, they are training new homeopaths there. Haiti needs to train real doctors who use science based medicine, not quack medicine.

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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? Continue reading “I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic”

Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence

There are many canards propagated by the vaccine deniers to support their personal beliefs (really, denialism) about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. One of their more popular beliefs is that vaccines didn’t end many of the deadly diseases, but improved sanitation, healthcare, nutrition or magical fairies (also known as homeopathy) ended these diseases.

There is even a subgroup of these believers who think that the CDC, historians, and everyone else is lying about the epidemics that existed prior to vaccinations–let’s call this group history deniers. They reject the scientific and historical evidence that vaccines saved lives – amazing.

So, is there scientific evidence that vaccines actually ended these epidemics? Yes there is, and it’s unequivocal. Unless you want to embrace historical revisionism, and somehow all of the health care records and epidemiological information was faked, vaccines saved lives – lots of lives. Continue reading “Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence”

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.

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Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article has been rewritten and updated. Please visit that article

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]

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Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis

This article has been substantially updated, and can be read here. Please read and comment at the newer article.

One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.

So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.

In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.

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One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

I’ve been told that I need to quit relying on the peer-reviewed journals for my scientific knowledge, because they are paid for by Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Hebrew and Big Whatever. They’re all just big with every single person involved dedicated to providing information to fool the people of earth. 

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.
Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing. 

Because I wanted to be more open-minded and to learn the Truth™ about everything. And here’s what I found. Continue reading “One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong”

Australian vaccine denier group changes name–still a lie

 

 

Thanks to StopAVN.
Thanks to StopAVN.

About a year ago, Meryl Dorey, Australia’s infamous American-born vaccine denialist and anti-science promoter, and her Australian anti-Vaccine Network (AVN) was ordered to change its misleading name or be shut down. The New South Wales (an Australian state) Office of Fair Trading left an order at the home of AVN  president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, “labeling the network’s name misleading and a detriment to the community.” Given Dorey’s, and by extension the AVN’s, well known antivaccination stance, this order wasn’t surprising.

Dorey and AVN attempted to fight the order through Australian courts, but lost. And was recently ordered to pay A$11,000 in court costs to cover the legal fees of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network campaigner Dan Buzzard after he appealed against an apprehended violence order she took out against him last year. She actually then went to AVN and begged for money to pay for it, since I guess she does not get the Big Pharma shill money. Amusingly, the group, formerly known as the Australian Vaccine Network, and their leader/mouthpiece, Meryl Dorey, kept prevaricating about changing the name. But finally the Australian government ordered her to change the name or there will be consequences. 

Finally, Meryl and gang renamed their group the Australian Vaccine-Skeptics Network (still abbreviated as AVN). Ironically, Meryl and AVN first tried to name the group the “Australian Vaccine Sceptics Network”, using the Australian English spelling of the word, but a real skeptic (or sceptic) already owned that name. In even more irony, Meryl called the real owners of the trade name, a “hate group.” No, she really said that given Meryl and her group are the definition of a hate group. Continue reading “Australian vaccine denier group changes name–still a lie”

Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out by clicking here.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.

I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers).

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked”