I wrote an article about how to critically analyze pseudoscience and misinformation so that you might skeptically analyze evidence supporting a claim, even if it appeared to be accurate. On Facebook, Twitter and many internet sites (including Wikipedia), there is an amazing tendency of individuals to accept what is written as “the truth” without spending the effort to determine if what is written is based on accurate science.
But if you’re going to make an extraordinary claim, like bananas prevent cancer, you’re going to have to provide extraordinary evidence. And if you’re going to push a pseudoscientific claim, please read what you claim as evidence. Because we have a case here, where the evidence isn’t even in the same universe as the claims.
People love their bananas, one of the most popular fruits consumed in the world. We generally only eat one banana cultivar, the Cavendish, which replaced another cultivar that was susceptible to Panama disease, a type of Fusarium wilt. Unfortunately, the Cavendish banana has been devastated by a new form of that fungal disease which might lead to the end of the availability of the banana in your local grocery store. But there is hope – scientists are developing GMO bananas that may save the fruit from becoming a distant memory.
These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, tissues and biomolecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it still doesn’t make it a scientific fact.
So let’s take a look at why “immune system boosting” can be considered a pseudoscience. And to discuss pseudoscience, we will have lots of 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.
Google provides me with the search terms that result in clicking on a link to this website. I rarely look at them, but today I looked to find all of the search terms that were pseudoscience examples – some of them were hysterical.
I wanted to do something completely different – away from the anti-vaccination hate-filled creeps, away from the anti-science GMO beliefs, and everything else. Let’s amuse ourselves with some of my favorite search terms over the past three months.
One of the tropes of the anti-GMO movement is that nature does it better for food, a logical fallacy. In other words, they believe that our ancestors’ foods are somehow better than our GMO foods. Of course, this belies the fact that there are over ten thousand years of GMO foods – it’s really not something that showed up during the last century or so.
People seem to endow “nature” with a special status that is ridiculous. Evolution proceeds along a random process where environmental changes select for certain mutations over time (and yes, I’m oversimplifying the process), which is called natural selection. Moreover, there are random mutations that just occur that provide no benefit to the organism, although they might in the future because of some environmental change.
Nature has no goal. It has no guidance. It has no underlying value of good or evil. Unless you believe that some higher being controls it, and at that point, you’re a creationist, claiming that “nature” is better than the alternative is basically ridiculous.
So, we’re going to talk about how genetic modification has moved from the early days of waiting for a random, beneficial mutation to the modern world of genetic modification.
Actually, it’s not so annual, cause this is the first time I’ve done it, more or less.
I started this blog in January 2012. Just three years ago. I really didn’t know what subjects would be my focus, but it was science generally. I kind of wandered around for the first few months, before I think I hit my stride with vaccines, junk medicine, evolution (though I really need to move back into that area), and other things that captured my interest.
In January 2012, I had precisely 262 page views. For the whole month. I really thought “why bother.” For 2012, I had 184,000 page views, which still made me wonder if the effort was worth it.
In November 2014, I had over 278,000 unique page views, meaning I did more in November than I did in all of 2012. For 2014, I had nearly 1.2 million unique page views, which meant this website is ranked 278,000th in the world. OK, that sounds terrible, except that there’s 1,200,000,000 (1.2 billion if you hate counting zeroes) websites on the interwebs as of this moment. So this blog ranks in the top 0.023% of all websites on the internet. It’s no Facebook or Amazon, but then again, I have reach goals for this blog, and those aren’t it!
My goal is to provide scientific evidence for science and medicine, while doing the same against pseudoscientific myths and memes that are popular on the social networks. I do it with my style–take no prisoners, and use the highest standards of evidence. I refuse to accept a cherry-picked study that supports an a priori conclusion, when the scientific consensus, based on a mountainous body of evidence, is a formidable fortress of knowledge.
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.
Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing.
This article was published on 29 July 2012, and has had over 70,000 views. This is the number one article I’ve ever written, I enjoyed writing it, but I never thought it would be such a big hit. It basically arose from a meme I saw on Facebook that claimed that bananas with dark spots had anti-cancer compounds in it. And it was all based on a misreading of a published article, a lack of knowledge about tumor necrosis factor, and a complete misunderstanding of human physiology and immunology. And this is my number 1 favorite, and number 1 most popular article for 2013.
Last year, I wrote an article about how to critically analyze pseudoscience and misinformation to get at the scientific evidence which may help you accept or reject something you might read on the internet, even if it appeared to be accurate. On Facebook, Twitter and many internet sites (including Wikipedia), there is an amazing tendency of individuals to accept what is written as “the truth” without spending the effort to determine if what is written is based on accurate science. Twitter, of course, limits itself to 140 characters, which means you either have to click on a link to get more information, or just accept that the 140 characters are factual. And if you can make a complex scientific argument in 140 characters, I’m impressed.
Facebook is filled with false memes on just about everything from politics to medicine. The anti-vaccination crowd fills Facebook with their amusing and highly inaccurate memes. For more than a year, there have been dozens of photos of bananas with a few words that some Japanese scientists claim that ripe bananas have high levels of “tumor necrosis factor“, so eat bananas to cure cancer and maintain a healthy immune system. Facebook is famous for these things, little pictures with a few words, no sources of the information, and broad conclusions. Eat bananas. Cure cancer. And people share them with a click of the button and move on to the next cute cat picture. It’s really the lazy person’s way of learning. Although who doesn’t enjoy the cute cat pictures? Continue reading “Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer”
One of the larger problems of the internet (OK, there are a lot) is how science is discussed out in the world. Google any science topic, and you’ll get thousand or millions of hits on any idea in science or medicine. The information is derived from other websites, news reports, rumors, or, to be cynical, from outright fabrication. In the fields of science and medicine, critical thinking is absolutely necessary to understanding it. Because it’s hard work, pseudoscience and anti-science have become quite prevalent lately. Continue reading “Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)”