I have long considered Paul Offit MD as one of heroes and leaders of the public discussion of how vaccines save lives, and how they have made the lives of the world’s children healthier and better. Dr. Offit, together with Edward Jenner (the father of immunology), Jonas Salk (discoverer of the polio vaccine), and Maurice Hillman (inventor of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella), should have statues place outside of every pediatric hospital in the country for the number of lives that they have saved.
The vaccine deniers constantly repeat untruths about Dr. Offit so that those lies eventually evolve into apparent truths, at least for those who hold onto their pseudoscientific anti-vaccine beliefs.
The problem is, of course, that if you’re a new parent who is confused by what vaccines may or may not do, you’d assume you could not accept anything that Dr. Offit says because of those Big Lies, and many of the ridiculous tropes and memes of the vaccine denialists. And this is sad.
The antivaccine hate speech is a fundamental strategy of their vaccine denialism. I’ve spoken about it before, but the vitriolic attacks on Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a frequent contributor here and a renowned expert on vaccines and law, any time she speaks about vaccines has moved into the surreal.
Just as an aside, there used to be an amusing trend on Wikipedia whereby pseudoscience-pushing editors would accuse various editors of being the real Dr. Gorski. One of my sockpuppets was accused of being that, which made me laugh. I am not, nor have I ever been, David Gorski. Though I admit my ego is gratified to be thrown into the same conspiracy theories with an esteemed researcher and physician, even if it’s proposed by tinfoil hat wearing lunatics.
Editor’s note: This article combines elements of several articles about pseudoscience published in 2012 and 2013. It’s been revised to include some newer information and split into several parts to improve readability. See Part 1 here.
This is part 2 of the Pseudoscience and science series.
Pseudoscience and science – the former is bullshit. And the latter is fact based on robust, unbiased evidence. Mostly pseudoscience can be ignored, even if it smells bad.
Pseudoscience is enticing because it’s easy to understand. It’s not nuanced, and it general speaks in black and white terms, often false dichotomies. That view is most prevalent in medicine.
Real doctors will say “this treatment for XYZ cancer is going to be difficult. You’ll lose your hair. You’ll feel sick all the time. You might be in pain. But it gives a 73% chance of putting the cancer into remission, and you have a reasonable chance of living at least five years.”
The pseudo-medicine pusher will say, “drink this juice and have a coffee enema. No side effects. And I guarantee that the cancer will disappear.”
The second choice is so enticing. So easy. But most of us know that treating most cancers is hard. We try to find another way, and hope for the best. Maybe you can choose the junk medicine approach, and get lucky with a spontaneous remission. Or maybe the real medicine worked well enough to cause the remission.
Of course, pseudoscience can make broad claims without the rigorous research required to make those claims. The charlatans who push junk medicine get to say whatever they want, with no consequences usually.
Alternative medicine is bullshit – it is firmly grounded in pseudoscience.
Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.
Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.
But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.
It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit
Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.
And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.
Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.
The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]
This week was a bit depressing to be pro science (and by association, pro-vaccine). As I discussed, Katie Couric employed the full false balance fallacy to the extreme to try to “prove” that the Gardasil vaccine was somehow dangerous, based on the anecdotal, and ultimately unscientific, stories. That’s not science. That’s not good journalism. And that goes against real science and real clinical trials which, startlingly, comes to a conclusion that Gardasil is safe and very effective.
Pseudoscience is enticing partially because it’s easy and partially because it gives black and white false dichotomies about the natural world, including medicine. Pseudoscience tries to make 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. It really has an appeal to it because it digest complex analysis to a simple “yes, this works.”
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.
So, I decided to highlight what separates real science from pseudoscience. We’ll explore what exactly makes an idea scientific (and spoiler alert, it isn’t magic), and contrary to real science, what makes an idea “pseudoscientific.” So sit down, grab your favorite reading beverage, because this isn’t going to be a quick internet meme. I intend to show you the lies of pseudoscience, and how it’s used with creationism, vaccine denialism, alternative medicine, or whatever you want to debunk. Continue reading “How pseudoscience tries to fool you”
I know that your narcissism prevents you from actually participating on most online forums with highly educated scientists, because you couldn’t handle the ongoing mockery and our laughing at your special form of ignorance. But I know you read this shit, so here goes. And remember, I write at an advanced level, and I’m going to use proper terminology for pharmaceutical regulatory issues, so please keep up you dumbasses.
If you actually have evidence that any of us are shills for any Pharmaceutical Company, please, call the FDA, because paying someone to “shill” for a pharmaceutical company would be a criminal act on the part of the company. Why? Most of the comments made by we individuals on the internet about the superior safety and superior efficacy of vaccines are unregulated and are not within proper pharmaceutical labeling. Someone working for Big pharma could never use the terms “superior” and being paid to say it would be unethical, immoral and illegal. Let me be honest, those cheapskates at Big Pharma couldn’t pay me enough money to be unethical and immoral, let alone risk going to prison for them. Hellllll no. Continue reading “An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts”
I am a huge fan of the zombie horror movies, ever since being dragged to see George A Romero’s original and iconic Night of the Living Dead black and white movie while in graduate school. The worst part of my experience of that movie is that my apartment backed up to the largest and oldest cemetery in the city (containing a history of the city going back to the early 1800’s). I believe I’ve seen literally hundreds of zombie movies since then, watching some awfully lousy junk along with some interesting takes on the zombie genre.
There are lots of reasons why I enjoy the zombie movies. The dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures are interesting to comprehend. The director’s viewpoints on how humanity reacts in response to the zombie infested world is also great. And there’s always humor in watching characters do things that we all know will get them killed because, irony of ironies, they don’t appear to have watched zombie movies to avoid dumb situations. Like riding on your horse down the middle of the street in one of the largest cities in the country soon after the outbreak. Seriously? Continue reading “World War Z is not going to be popular with the vaccine deniers”