I saved this list from something I read a few years ago, when I first became interested in pseudoscience (not from a pure profit standpoint, just to be a cantankerous debater). It’s quite useful.
How to rate a work of pseudoscience:
A thirty-one-point checklist for rating contributions to the field of archaeology that claim to be revolutionary or to overturn long-accepted ideas. The higher the score, the more ‘controversial’ the book and the more money its author can hope to make from sales, lecture tours, television spin-offs and so on.
- 5 points starting credit.
- 1 point for every statement that is in conflict with generally accepted theories.
- 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
- 3 points for each internal inconsistency.
- 5 points for every supposition that is maintained despite prodigious archaeological evidence to the contrary.
- 5 points for each instance of spurious data expressed as fact.
- 5 points for each dark hint that a piece of otherwise widely-accepted evidence is faked.
- 5 points for each authoritative reference to Richard Hoagland, Edgar Cayce, Immanuel Velikovsky, Erich von Däniken, Jacques Bergier, Thor Heyerdahl, Zecharia Sitchin, Charles Berlitz, Andrew Tomas, John Anthony West, Michael Dames, Graham Hancock or Robert Bauval.
- 5 points for reference to sites of dubious authority, especially Glozel, the ‘Hall of Records’, the Paluxy River human footprints
- 7 points for each disparaging reference to Erich von Däniken.
- 7 points for each authoritative reference to Martin Bernal, Cheikh Anta Diop, David Rohl, Peter James, Barry Fell…
- 7 points for each reference to an exotic location of dubious relevance, including Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Macchu Picchu, Great Zimbabwe, the ‘Candelabra of the Andes’, Nan Matol, Bimini and Glastonbury.
- 7 points for each reference to an ‘out of place artefact’, including batteries from Babylon, the Antikythera computer, Ancient Egyptian or South American model aeroplanes, the ‘Coso Artifact’, technical drawings at Dendera, the Ica stones, the Acambaro figurines, the ‘Dropa stones’ and crystal skulls.
- 10 points for each authoritative reference to R A Schwaller de Lubicz, Michael Cremo, Richard Thompson or T C Lethbridge.
- 10 points for each baseless claim that widely accepted theories are fundamentally erroneous.
- 10 points for discovering ‘links’ between languages widely separated in time and space (such as Etruscan and Quechua).
- 10 points for boasting of academic degrees unrelated to the topic at hand, especially proclaiming a PhD on the cover of a book.
- 10 points for spelling archaeology as archeology in the mistaken belief that it is the correct American spelling.
- 15 points for boasting of a lack of academic degrees, insisting that formal education is not only unnecessary but also an impediment to creative thought.
- 15 points for each photograph of the author standing by a ‘mysterious’ structure (preferably, mostly out of shot) in an exotic location.
- 20 points for lamentations of being misunderstood.
- 20 points for not including a bibliography.
- 20 points for every use of a myth or legend as a record of fact.
- 20 points for defensive citations of real or imagined ridicule inflicted by the academia.
- 25 points for each evidential mention of Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria, Cydonia, the ‘Face on Mars’, the continental shelf, the Bermuda Triangle or Antarctica.
- 30 points for insisting that if critics cannot disprove a theory, then it must necessarily be true.
- 30 points for claiming to be the victim of a conspiracy by the scientific establishment.
- 30 points for extensive footnotes or endnotes.
- 40 points for professing to be privy to information that is secret or to which no one else has access.
- 40 points for claiming to have deciphered a previously unintelligible script.
- 50 points for claims of psychic revelation or firsthand past-life experience.
I think I might use this for the next History Channel series on ghosts, Nostradamus, aliens, sasquatch, or whatever else they push these days. If they don’t score around 400, I’d be shocked.
BBC News – La Nina ‘linked’ to flu pandemics.
An interesting article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences correlates the La Niña conditions in the equatorial area of the Pacific with flu pandemics. The authors propose that the La Niña conditions (which upwell colder water to the surface, changes migration patterns of migratory birds. Since birds are one host for the influenza virus, these changed migration patterns may change how the birds interact with other species moving new influenza subtypes into different parts of the world.
We are, however, a long way from predicting a pandemic based upon a La Niña event. Right now, the authors can only correlate pandemics and the Pacific circulation patterns in just four cases: the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, The Hong Kong Flu of 1958, and the Swine Flu of 2009. It’s hard to make a case for causality based on these four data points, but the authors do lay out a compelling argument.
Whenever I critique a correlation vs. causation argument, I first determine if the causality is even possible. I often make the argument that MMR vaccinations cause broken arms in 12-16 year old girls, because a small, but significant proportion of kids being vaccinated get broken arms (or car wrecks, gastroenteritis, an itchy nose, and angry comments to their parents). However, there is no physiological, biological, or scientific reason why a broken arm might result from a vaccination.
In this article, the authors do make a scientifically plausible case that avian migration patterns do change in La Niña events, so they are on the path to providing outstanding evidence to support this hypothesis.
8 Hunterdon county children diagnosed with whooping cough were behind on vaccines | NJ.com.
So here are more children that should have been vaccinated against a disease that is preventable by a simple vaccination. It’s just so frustrating.
Oh, one more thing. There isn’t much evidence that the vaccine is ineffective against new strains of pertussis. It’s annoying that the writers of this article weren’t better trained in scientific journalism, so that they could ask questions about the efficacy of the vaccine from valid sources of information, instead of one of the vaccine denialists whose information is based on rumor and anecdote.
Andrew Wakefield sues BMJ for claiming MMR study was fraudulent | Society | guardian.co.uk.
Poor Andy. He writes a fraudulent article in The Lancet, which the prestigious journal eventually has to withdraw and his co-authors disown the same article. Brian Deer, a journalist for the Sunday Times of London, uncovers the fraud and publishes it in the British Medical Journal. Andy tries to sue Deer in UK courts, but essentially loses and has to pay all court costs and legal fees. Eventually, Andy is stripped of his medical license in the UK.
So, I guess the only choice of a fraud is to sue those who told the truth. Yes, this would be an ironic, even funny story, except for the deaths of children who should have been vaccinated against preventable diseases but weren’t because the parents heard about Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent story.
Update from Missouri | NCSE.
The chief sponsor of this bill says the “jury is still out on evolution.” Uh, what jury is that? The one in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where a Federal Judge ruled that Intelligent Design is not science? Or the scientific community that say’s evolution is basically a fact? Or that intelligent design was “designed” to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
In case anyone forgot, that clause states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
So, Intelligent Design is a religious doctrine. The State of Missouri (well, at least some do) want to have that religious doctrine taught in public schools (run and funded by the State of Missouri). Sounds like they might have a legal challenge ahead.
This is my continuing multi-part discussion about how pseudoscience uses logical fallacies, strawman arguments, and other rhetoric to make its case, rather than real science. Just click on the links to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
The other day I engaged in a discussion with a well-meaning pharmacist who claimed that vitamin C could treat colds and prevent other diseases like “cancer” (I always get annoyed by people who lump all cancers together, when there are over 200 different cancers, all of which have different histologies, genetics, and causes). Of course, there are a number of well-controlled clinical trials that show that vitamin C has no effect on the common cold and has no effect on cancers so far studied (see this, this, this and this).
During our discussion, she said “science should be neutral,” with the implication that I wasn’t neutral. I happen to agree, science should be neutral and it should balanced. But science should be based upon the scientific method not rhetoric and not using science-y words, at which the writers of Star Trek were well-versed.
So, when I say that I am (or any evidence-based real scientist), “scientifically neutral”, that means I’m willing to weigh the evidence and publications on real scientific issues. I am not a geologist nor a paleontologist, but I was studying biochemistry when the earliest theories on what caused the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event 65.5 million years ago, where all the dinosaurs (well, not all, since technically modern birds are surviving dinosaurs from a cladistic point of view) and some 75% of all extant genera died out or were killed. In 1980, Luis Alvarez, a brilliant theoretical physicist whose career was extraordinary, along with his son, Walter Alvarez (a geologist), and Frank Asaro, published an article that describe a sedimentary layer across the world that included a rare element, iridium, usually found in extraterrestrial objects like meteors and comets. The layer fell right at the geological boundary layer that defines the extinction event, so they proposed that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a huge comet or asteroid.
Today, this accepted as a scientific theory with tons of confirming evidence (although some scientists aren’t fully convinced, though they still propose some natural event). But at the time, it was ridiculed, and scientific meetings were quite energetic in discussions. The point is that the impact theory displaced the prevailing scientific theory of the extinction event (well, there were several). One theory replaced another not by rhetoric or appeals to antiquity (that one theory was around forever) or anything else. In fact, one scientific hypothesis was replaced by another and eventually developed into a solid theory.
We should be neutral in science, reviewing the evidence, then coming to conclusions. The Alvarez father-son team provided that, and eventually there was overwhelming evidence with the finding and dating of the Chicxulub impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
Using scientific neutrality, vitamin C doesn’t work, not because I have an opinion, but because there is no science supporting its efficacy. There are some articles that support its use in preventing or treating colds, or megadoses for curing cancer, but those articles are in low-impact (meaning obscure) journals or with poorly designed, or non-blinded trials. My friendly neighborhood pharmacist was stating that I should be neutral between real science and well, nothing at all. That’s not balance, that’s a close-mindedness to science and the scientific method. That’s using opinion as the balance to scientific knowledge. The only thing that should balance scientific knowledge is more scientific knowledge.
Don’t fall for the trap that you should be “open-minded” or neutral to anti-science or pseudoscience. Open-mindedness and neutrality are expectations that you will balance real scientific evidence, not treat the rhetoric as if it has equal weight to scientific method.
NIH Director Calls for Rigorous Evaluation of Integrative Medicine to Provide Evidence of Efficacy – The ASCO Post.
Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, wants to continue finding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities in cancer because they are popular? So, we ignore the fact that most CAM has no basis in science (basic principles biology, chemistry, physiology and physics are misunderstood or even dismissed)? We ignore the fact that there is no CAM therapy has ever been shown to work?
Collins, you’re much smarter than me, better educated, and more successful in medicine. So, are you deluded? Well, I actually have an answer to that (your fundamentalist Christian beliefs), but I’ll keep it to myself. Oh, I guess I didn’t.
A year without polio in India > Media room > Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
In two years, India went from the country with the most cases of polio to one with zero cases. They didn’t do this with magic water or pseudoscience, but good old fashioned vaccines.
A second antievolution bill in Missouri | NCSE.
Right after I pushed the “publish” button, I saw a second news article about Missouri. Apparently, there’s nothing really important going on in Missouri, so they decided to write two bills to add religious teaching in schools of Missouri.
This is sad, because Missouri is one of the top states in the USA for science education.
“Intelligent design” bill in Missouri | NCSE.
Not that anyone needs reminding, but just in case, Intelligent design is not scientific, it is not a scientific theory, and it is religion. In Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, the US District Court held that:
Teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (and Article I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution) because intelligent design is not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
It cost the Dover Area School District over $1 million to defend this lawsuit, money that probably could have been spent on textbooks, teachers, and new computers. I believe in the aftermath, all school board members who supported the teaching of Intelligent design were ousted by voters. That’s how democracy I suppose.
The bill states:
If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught. Other scientific theory or theories of origin may be taught.
Just a tiny point, and I can’t expect much out of Missouri’s legislators, but the theory of evolution does not discuss the origin of life. The theory of abiogenesis does, and that’s more chemistry and physics than biologists. Biological evolution, or modern evolutionary synthesis, is based on a mountain of evidence. The theory isn’t used in the sense of a random guess, but a scientific one with a foundation in scientific method and piles of evidence. It is falsifiable (but has not been falsified) and has itself evolved into a power predictor of how populations of organisms change over time.
Intelligent design is not falsifiable (in that it requires an all powerful creator) and is not scientific. It is based on no evidence, just ideology and rhetoric. It fails as science once the bright light of criticism is shone on it.
Well, I don’t know how Missouri’s legislature is organized, but I hope they’re intelligent enough not to do this. But if they do, expect several lawsuits. And they’ll lose them all.