I am a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.
That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, that’s the opposite of good science.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of instant news made up of memes and a couple of hundred character analyses flying across social media make it difficult to determine what is real science and what is not. Sometimes we create an internal false balance, assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate when there isn’t one.
When I write about a topic, I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful and nuanced (with a touch of snark) articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I also know science is hard. It’s difficult.
Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science – and we see that most of what we find on the internet that claims to be science is not. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking about science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.
But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.
Retracted anti-vaccine papers are a staple of my articles published here. Usually, they try to create some fake link between vaccines and autism, but these papers try to say anything that casts vaccines in a bad light.
As we know, real science has established that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Anti-vaccine papers generally try to show this link without epidemiological or clinical studies – they just try to make some specious biologically implausible claims trying to link something about vaccines to autism.
Much of the anti-vaccine research is so bad, so poorly designed, that it’s relegated to low quality, predatory journals which have laughably poor peer-review systems. Even then, we can find the occasional retracted anti-vaccine papers, because they are often so bad that even these predatory publishers are embarrassed.
There are so many annoying anti-vaccine arguments that make me laugh and cause my rational brain to explode. The anti-vaccine religious acolytes don’t understand one basic thing – we scientists would accept their claims if they presented actual scientific evidence. They haven’t.
Most scientists and skeptics are open-minded to new ideas and evidence. Yes, they may be resistant, especially if the evidence is preliminary. I was in graduate school during the early 1980s when Luis and Walter Alvarez proposed that the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs and about 99.99% of life on Earth during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event was caused by a huge bolide impact.
When they first proposed it, scientists laughed. Today, it is widely accepted as a scientific fact. But it was accepted because of powerful evidence that kept supporting the original hypothesis, not because of “beliefs.” Being “openminded” doesn’t mean that we accept any silly claim made by random people – it means being openminded to reviewing the evidence, then, determining if that evidence supports the claims being made.
The anti-vaccine religion screams and yells to push their lies about vaccines because they don’t have evidence. It gets tiresome, and some of us just laugh when we hear it. Yesterday, for example, I wrote about how the anti-vaccine pseudoscientist, Christopher Exley, was banned from receiving funding because his research is both incompetent and false. Yet, the anti-vaccine crowd whined that some nefarious Big Pharma conspiracy was keeping Exley from his money.
He then turned to GoFundMe to raise money, and they also rejected him. GoFundMe stated that “campaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe’s terms of service and we are removing them.”
As you are probably aware, the reptilian conspiracy theory states that one of the signs of a reptilian is an obsession with science. Well, this reptilian tried to hide in plain sight pretending to be an ancient feathered dinosaur (see Note 1), but now I’ve been outed. And it’s time for me to confess to my using reptilian skills to hide the truth about vaccines.
There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.
One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.
For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show a population-level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.
Trying to have a reasonable discussion with the anti-vaccine religion is usually very difficult. To these militants, scientific evidence is unimportant – well, unless it’s a cherry-picked article from an obscure, predatory journal that has been retracted. Part of the problem is the moving goalposts of the anti-vaccine arguments. First, it was mercury (no mercury in vaccines). Today, the argument is that aluminum in vaccines is dangerous. What next, the water in vaccines causes something because of reasons?
The history of one fake anti-vaccine researcher after another permeates the anti-vaccine religion – it is legendary. We have the multiple-retracted authors, Shaw and Tomljenovic who think that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. They keep pushing this trope, but they really present no clinical evidence to support their beliefs, and they are mocked mercilessly for their poor science. And then their fake research is retracted.
Here we go again. Another anti-vaccine pseudoscientist publishes a paper that calls into question something about vaccines, and the anti-vaccine religion genuflects in their general direction. The anti-vaccine side has nearly zero evidence supporting their claims, so they have to cling to anything they can get. And a new article from James Lyons-Weiler continues that tradition.
The anti-vaccine religion is littered with these false authorities that have few credentials or experience in vaccines, yet, because of a “Ph.D.” after their name, the anti-vaxxers make it appear they speak for millions of scientists. There’s Tetyana Obukhanych, a former immunologist who has published no peer-reviewed articles about vaccines, who has denied all of her scientific education and training, and who makes egregious and simplistic mistakes about vaccines in all of her proclamations.
Look, I’m not impressed by credentials and degrees. I don’t care if someone is a janitor or a Ph.D. in immunology at Harvard University. If you deny established scientific consensus based on your whims, cherry picking evidence, or rhetoric, you have nothing. You bring nothing to a scientific discussion. If you want to overturn the scientific consensus on vaccines then you better be an expert in the area of vaccines, and you better have a broad, robust body of evidence that shows problems with the scientific consensus.
A few months ago, I started characterizing the anti-vaxxer fanatics as being members of the “anti-vaccine religion.” It wasn’t an important point to me, because as I constantly stress, the only thing that matters is scientific evidence – the vast bulk of which supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
In fact, I know a lot of pro-vaccine people, many of whom are leaders in pointing out the flaws of the anti-vaccine religion, are themselves religious. I am an atheist, but I do not decide who are my friends on social media or real life, based on their religious beliefs. Since almost every major religion in the world supports vaccination, and in almost every case, strongly so, it’s clear that organized religion and vaccines are not in conflict.
For me, “anti-vaccine religion” was a throwaway line almost tongue-in-cheek, because, from my standpoint, the group acts as if it were a religious cult. In fact, some people I know, who loathe the anti-vaccine zealots, do classify them as a cult. Anyway, of all the things I represent, my obvious pejorative use of religion ranked near the bottom of my “care” list.
Yep. For example, his constant desire to label anti-vaxx as a religion, without any argument for why it constitutes a religion. He supposedly has a background in medicine. Yet he also thinks he's an expert in the anthropology/psychology of religion. Nope.