I’m sure everyone has run into the type – a science denier who thinks their two hours at Google University makes them as knowledgeable as a real physician or scientist. This arrogance manifests itself in ridiculous discussions with anti-vaccine activists who claim to have “done the research,” and who believe their pseudoscientific research is more valuable than real scientific research.
This Google University education utilized by vaccine deniers, really all science deniers, can be frustrating. I frequent a couple of large Facebook groups that try to help on-the-fence anti-vaxxers understand what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t concerning vaccines. Recently, one of the anti-vaccine true believers kept saying she knew more than a nurse with a public health master’s degree. The arrogant anti-vaxxer kept claiming that she “did her research.”
Because of this absurd overvaluing of their Google University research, I want to review a handful of points that every science denier seems to use that make us laugh. All but one applies to any type of science denial, but we’re sticking with vaccines. Because we can.
The claims for acupuncture have any clinical usefulness are vastly overblown with evidence ranging from weak to nonexistent to dangerous. As Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine once wrote, acupuncture is nothing more than “theatrical placebo.” On the long list of ridiculous claims for this pseudoscience is using acupuncture for hypertension treatment – and once again, real biomedical science shows it is worthless.
Pseudoscience is like bubble gum. It tastes pretty good, it’s fun to blow bubbles, and it annoys some people. But eventually, the flavor leaves, and you find that you’re just chewing on some nutritionally dubious substance. Now you have to find a place to spit it out.
Or I guess you can swallow it, and it stays in your intestines for the rest of your life. Oh sorry, that’s more junk science.
If you read something that makes some medical claim, here’s a quick and easy checklist to determine if it’s pseudoscience. Or real science-based medicine. What we all need is an official, Skeptical Raptor endorsed, pseudoscience detector. Continue reading “Your personal pseudoscience detector”
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.
One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is an over-reliance on confirmation rather than refutation of a hypothesis. The antivaccine crowd are well-known for this particular violation of the scientific method. As discussed previously, science works on refutation–creating experiments that might actually disprove a hypothesis as a method to develop evidence in support of it. The anti-vaccination crowd actually hypothesizes (but not in a scientific sense) that a vaccine or set of vaccines was the causal factor in some side effect (autism, death, or whatever else), then they should establish an experiment (double-blinded of course) that would refute that hypothesis. If at some point, the data cannot refute it, then the anti-vaccinationists would have supporting data for their particular supposition.
But instead of actually performing experiments (which cost money, which may show that they are wrong, or which might not be ethical), they resort to mining data to prove their point. Data mining is dangerous, because confirmation bias, that is, finding information or data that supports a belief while ignoring all other data that does not, makes the data suspect or even useless.
So, in that vein, the anti-vaccinationists often mine data from any database they can find, such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a program for vaccine safety, managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS functions as a post-marketing safety surveillance program (similar to other programs for almost every regulated medical device and pharmaceutical) which collects information about adverse events (whether related or unrelated to the vaccine) that occur after administration of vaccines.
VAERS has numerous limitations, including lack of scientifically designed questions, unverified reports, underreporting, inconsistent data quality, and absence of an unvaccinated control group. VAERS is basically a collector of information, but has limited value in making conclusions since it does not provide information that is obtained in a controlled manner. However, it does have some usefulness, in that certain trends may be spotted given enough time and data points. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine lunacy–more lies about Gardasil”
In fact, there are several hallmarks that indicate to most educated individuals as to what is or is not pseudoscience. Real science is a systematic and rational method to organize and analyze “knowledge” into testable explanations and predictions. Sometimes, it appears that the anti-science crowd believes that science is just a word, not a philosophy which is organized as the scientific method. It isn’t some magical system that only smart people in secret ivory towers practice. The scientific method is simply a set of logical steps:
Formulate a question: Based on observations of the natural world. Maybe you notice that sky is blue, and you ask “why is the sky blue?” Or “how do I design a vaccine to encourage the immune system to prevent a virus from causing a disease?” Of course, the questions can become much more complex as we make more detailed observations of the our world.
Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis may be broad or very narrow. One could make a hypothesis that life can evolve on many planets across the universe. Or one could make a hypothesis that a drug can cure a disease in a small population of individuals. A proper hypothesis must include a null hypothesis, that is, the scientist must be willing to test that the null hypothesis is also false (a sort of double negative). This null hypothesis is that the new vaccine does nothing and that any disease prevention are due to chance effects. Researchers must also show that the null hypothesis is false. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. This all sounds complicated, but digested down to its simplest form, it means that a scientist is always willing to attempt to prove that the hypothesis is wrong.
Prediction: Once a hypothesis is developed, then the a prediction (or more than one prediction) is made based on the hypothesis. For example, if a vaccine is supposed to prevent a disease, then the prediction is made that it prevents some some amount of the disease above what would be assumed just by random chance. For example, without the vaccine it might be predicted that only 10% of individuals might be immune to the disease, but with the vaccine, it would be predicted that 85% would be immune. In all fields of science, the hypothesis leads to predictions which are different than what would be found simply by coincidence or randomness. Also, the hypothesis must be powerful enough to create more accurate predictions than alternative hypotheses.
Test: This is the conducting of experiments or investigations to determine whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypotheses. These experiments are observations which will agree with or conflict with the predictions; if they agree, then the confidence in the hypothesis will increase. On the other hand, if there is conflict, the confidence will, of course, decrease. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. Medical and drug experiments utilize double-blind clinical trials to limit confirmation bias, a tendency towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study.
Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and one’s own experience can be incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)”
Science denialism, a form of pseudoscience, is everywhere these days. There’s the oft-discussed vaccination denialists who refuse to vaccinate children because they believe that vaccines cause some condition (usually autism), and Big Pharma hides evidence. Or AIDS denialists who believe that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Or global warming deniers who think that either global warming isn’t happening or, if it is, it’s not caused by human activities. Or evolution denialists, like Ken Ham, who think that one hundred years of scientific research can be ignored for a book that was written 5000 years ago to help illiterate pastoral farmers understand the natural world. It’s not just science, of course, there are Holocaust deniers, who think that no Jews were killed by the Nazis. There are even 9/11 deniers (usually called truthers) who think that Big Government (probably in league with Big Pharma) is hiding the truth about what really happened on 9/11. Continue reading “Identifying science denialism and pseudoscience”
If you ask any biologist or medical researcher about pseudoscience, they would probably talk about creationism, most of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), homeopathy, sasquatch, and a few other things not so much in the public eye. In the physical sciences, we hear about the global warming denialists, the Theory of the Big Bang denialists, and, again, a few other things that aren’t really famous. But in the total world of pseudoscience, it always seemed like medicine gets the bulk of it, but that just may be a matter of perspective rather than reality. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and logical fallacies in geology”
This is a two-part article that partially describes how the science-denialist makes their case, not necessarily why humans accept it so easily. I’m not a psychiatrist, and I certainly don’t play one on TV. I thought we should start with the scientific method, or how real science works.
I always get suspicious when someone makes an argument with the statement of “it’s been proven to work”, “the link is proven”, or, alternatively, they state some negative about scientifically supported therapies. Typically, I hear these kinds of statements from the pseudoscience pushing crowd. For example, real science has debunked the “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and popular pseudoscientific belief. Or that most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies work based on numerous logical fallacies that suspends reason, and accepts “belief” in the therapy, something that evidence-based medicine just doesn’t do. Continue reading “How pseudoscience makes its case-Part 1. Revised and repost.”
We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups: anti-vaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch. The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience” as if it’s a pejorative without foundation. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and the anti-vaccine lunacy”