The Holy Merger: creationism and the Loch Ness Monster

Well, it had to happen–one pseudoscience, creationism, is using another pseudoscience, the nonexistent Loch Ness Monster, as proof. Herald Scotland is reporting that a book, produced by the A.C.E. Curriculum Program and called Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education, informs students that Nessie is proof that evolution never happened.

According to the book, 

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

The creationist logic is apparently that this lone plesiosaur got captured in Loch Ness during the biblical flood. Thus, we can assume, Nessie proves that dinosaurs didn’t die out 65 million years ago. Continue reading “The Holy Merger: creationism and the Loch Ness Monster”

Pseudoscience, science and false dichotomy

It’s always interesting to observe how people make arguments to defend their points-of-view or to debunk the opposing point.  In general, arguments will employ various logical fallacies to confuse the other side or even to convince the audience that the other side is wrong.  In the science vs. pseudoscience world, we mostly find that those arguing for a pseudoscience (creationism, anti-vaccination, global warming denialism, homeopathy, and many many others) use logical fallacies to discredit the science. Of course, we can find many instances of science itself using the same fallacies to dispute alternative scientific ideas or theories. Continue reading “Pseudoscience, science and false dichotomy”

Super-sized fleas adapted to feed off dinosaurs

Scientists have found fossils of huge fleas that dined on dinosaur blood.  Modern fleas are about 1-10 mm in length, but Cretaceous fleas were between 8-21 mm (not really big, but a 21 mm flea would devour your pet dog quickly).  Also they have armored jaws, apparently to dig into dinosaur hide.

So the next time you watch Jurassic Park, think of those giant fleas that show up!

via Super-sized fleas adapted to feed off dinosaurs : Nature News & Comment.

Dinosaurs assist the Confederacy in the Civil War

Dinosaurs attacking Union Soldiers.

Recently, documents have been uncovered that have provided evidence that during the Civil War, Union paleontologists found a lost valley in Virginia where dinosaurs still survived 65.5 million years after the last one died.  In a typical move, the Federal Government took over the project and had the Union Army attempt to train the dinosaurs to fight against the South.  The dinosaurs rebelled, killed the Union soldiers and helped the South win the war. Continue reading “Dinosaurs assist the Confederacy in the Civil War”

How pseudoscience makes its case. Part 4.

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.