Developing and supporting a scientific consensus

In my writing, I often refer to the scientific consensus, which is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, though disagreement is limited and generally insignificant.

The major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that the theory is essentially fact. It is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it takes an almost ridiculous amount of data to refute it, though it is possible.

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, we often mention scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.” A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation.

We want to focus on the scientific consensus, describing what it is. Take a deep breath, because this is a complicated one.

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Vaccine skeptics – let’s be clear, they are really science deniers

vaccine skeptics

I get so tired of this, the press describing vaccine deniers as “vaccine skeptics.” I wish the press would stop doing this, but no matter how much we say it, we continue to see it. I took the cantankerous Orac’s suggestion to Google “vaccine skeptic” and “Robert F Kennedy.” And, I got over 2 million hits. Two million!!!

Now, you might be asking yourself, “self, why is this feathery dinosaur getting all cranky about whether these people are called skeptics or deniers?” Because skepticism, even to the lay person, implies that the person has some legitimate beef with the science of a topic based on a thoughtful and unbiased review of said science. That is actually the furthest thing from the truth for these so-called vaccine skeptics.

Besides I’ve been cranky and snarky about misusing the term “skeptic” in science for years. And when this feathery dinosaur sees the press lending some legitimacy to the illegitimate beliefs of Robert F Kennedy Jr, it requires some cranky commentary (although the crankier Orac took some wind out of my sails). Continue reading “Vaccine skeptics – let’s be clear, they are really science deniers”

Vaccine open-mindedness – confessions of a science nerd

vaccine open-mindedness

Sometimes a reasonably intelligent anti-vaccine troll will show up to an internet discussion. Although they’re filled with various logical fallacies, like cherry picking, they will often say “you should be open-minded about vaccines causing autism.” The thing is my vaccine open-mindedness is the precise definition of what should be open-minded.

People conflate “open-mindedness” with “you should accept everything stated, because of insert logical fallacy here.”

Let’s use my favorite example, sasquatch, the mythical ape-like creature that inhabits everywhere, as far as I know.

A close-minded person would say, “sasquatch exists, damn the evidence.”

A pseudo-open-minded person would say, “sasquatch exists, because the Federal government is suppressing the evidence. Furthermore, just because we don’t have evidence today, we know we’ll find it tomorrow.”

A real open-minded person would say, “sasquatch does not exist, because of the utter lack of evidence. However, if someone brings irrefutable evidence, I will reconsider my position.”

In other words, a really open-minded person doesn’t have to be open-minded to the hypothesis proposed, just open to the evidence. I am pretty certain that sasquatch does not exist – that’s not being close-minded. Because what I would actually say is that “I reviewed the highest quality evidence, and I found nothing that would support the hypothesis that sasquatch exists.”

As someone once said, “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” In fact, scientific progression is utterly dependent upon open-mindedness.

Continue reading “Vaccine open-mindedness – confessions of a science nerd”

I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability, or to add current research.

The name of this blog, of course, is the Skeptical Raptor. I’m not sure how I invented that name, but I like raptors, either the fossil dinosaur version, or the living dinosaur versions, birds of prey. They both actually work as a metaphor of what I try to do–provide scientific and knowledgeable analyses of the scientific consensus or critiques of beliefs and pseudoscience. Usually one leads to another.

Of course, I don’t pretend to be very nice about my critiques, probably another reason why I chose to put “Raptor” in the blog’s name.

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). A denier is not a skeptic – the former actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really? Continue reading “I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic”

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science

There is an evolving feeling that anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers are nearly the same. They both rely upon  denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism), which is the culture of denying the established scientific consensus despite overwhelming evidence.

Admittedly, some of the denialism is based on political expediency. Climate change denialism is a fundamental aspect of many politically conservative voters across the world, but especially in the United States, where Republican legislatures in the United States have passed anti-anthropogenic global warming legislation. 

But not to be outdone, the left-wing parties across the world have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs. Some may argue that vaccine denialism has a political component which is supported by some liberals, there’s also a lot of evidence that Republicans in the US have the same anti-vaccine belief. Setting aside the politically nuanced anti-vaccine groups, GMOs are the left’s version of climate change denial.

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers share some of the same tactics and strategies, even if they are, for all intents and purposes, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

They both tend to reject science. They both use the same character attacks on supporters. And they both are awfully good at cherry-picking data that buttresses their a priori conclusions. In other words, they look for the data to support their beliefs, rather than the scientific method which is to find what conclusions can be supported by the evidence.

Let’s look at something that just happened which should remove any doubt that anti-science believers use the same tactics, probably because they lack any evidence. It’s apparent that they all meet at some anti-science convention to receive training on how to do this best.

Continue reading “Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science”

GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Although denial of anthropogenic global warming and evolution tend to be the domain of the right wing, the left-wing have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs (though some think I should include vaccine denialism too).  Global warming deniers and GMO opponents share some of the same tactics and beliefs, even if they are the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

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Australian vaccine denier group changes name–still a lie

 

 

Thanks to StopAVN.
Thanks to StopAVN.

About a year ago, Meryl Dorey, Australia’s infamous American-born vaccine denialist and anti-science promoter, and her Australian anti-Vaccine Network (AVN) was ordered to change its misleading name or be shut down. The New South Wales (an Australian state) Office of Fair Trading left an order at the home of AVN  president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, “labeling the network’s name misleading and a detriment to the community.” Given Dorey’s, and by extension the AVN’s, well known antivaccination stance, this order wasn’t surprising.

Dorey and AVN attempted to fight the order through Australian courts, but lost. And was recently ordered to pay A$11,000 in court costs to cover the legal fees of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network campaigner Dan Buzzard after he appealed against an apprehended violence order she took out against him last year. She actually then went to AVN and begged for money to pay for it, since I guess she does not get the Big Pharma shill money. Amusingly, the group, formerly known as the Australian Vaccine Network, and their leader/mouthpiece, Meryl Dorey, kept prevaricating about changing the name. But finally the Australian government ordered her to change the name or there will be consequences. 

Finally, Meryl and gang renamed their group the Australian Vaccine-Skeptics Network (still abbreviated as AVN). Ironically, Meryl and AVN first tried to name the group the “Australian Vaccine Sceptics Network”, using the Australian English spelling of the word, but a real skeptic (or sceptic) already owned that name. In even more irony, Meryl called the real owners of the trade name, a “hate group.” No, she really said that given Meryl and her group are the definition of a hate group. Continue reading “Australian vaccine denier group changes name–still a lie”

The reasons why I write a blog–and a bit about chocolate

blogging-is-goodIn just a few days, this website and blog will be exactly two years old. In the world of bloggers, I’m a newbie; in the science world of some blogs that have been around since the advent of the internet as we know it, I’m a mere infant. When I first started the blog in January 2012, I had a grand total of 262 visitors. For the whole month! Now, I’ll frequently get over 262 visitors in an hour. I’m just a few page views short of 1 million for the past 2 years. In 2014, I am hoping to exceed 1 million page views for the year.

Right now, according to Alexa (a website ranking service), this website is ranked #277,281. Out of six hundred million websites (give or take a couple), this one is in the top 0.05% of all websites on the internet. I make no pretense that I built this website’s ranking alone, I think I got lucky. I wrote a number of articles, that debunked common pseudoscience myths (wait, pseudoscience by definition is a myth), which became big hits on social media.  

And I have readers from all over the world. Most of my readers are from English-speaking countries like the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But I have boatloads of hits from Germany, France, Israel, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and many other countries. I try to remember that I’ve got an international audience, but I know some of my writing tends to be American focused. I try to resist the urge to use American metaphors, but sometimes it’s just not easy. Continue reading “The reasons why I write a blog–and a bit about chocolate”

Proliferation of fake peer-review journals

peer_reviewScientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to  question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examining of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give  more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.

In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence taken from other sources. Peer review is the evaluation of a scientific work by one or more people of similar competence (usually in the same field) to the producers of the work. Mostly, the peer review is blinded, in that the reviewers generally don’t know the authors (although it may not be difficult to uncover, especially if the paper is in an esoteric field of science). Peer review constitutes a form of self-policing of science by qualified members of a profession within the field of research. It is through this system of criticism and review that makes many journals, and the articles published within, powerful pieces of evidence in science.

In addition to peer review, there are other ways to ascertain the quality of research in a particular journal. Articles in high quality journals are cited more often because high quality journals just attract the best scientific articles. Higher quality journals employ a more meticulous and exhaustive peer-review.

Although somewhat controversial, journals are ranked using a metric called “impact factor” that essentially expresses numerically how many times an average article in a particular journal is cited by other articles in an index of all other journals in the same general field. The impact factor could range from 0 (no one ever cites it) to some huge number, but the largest is in the 50-70 range. One of the highest impact factor journals is the Annual Review of Immunology, which is traditionally has an impact factor in the 50′s–this would indicate that an average article published in that journal is cited by other medical articles an average of 50 times (an outstanding number). Continue reading “Proliferation of fake peer-review journals”

Judging the quality of science sources

science-evidence

Note: this article has been substantially updated, just click the link.

 

Recently, I wrote articles on skepticism and debunking pseudoscience, both of which require large amounts of evidence. And of course, a true scientific skeptic needs to judge the quality of evidence, because individuals who push science denialism often cherry pick seemingly high quality science to support their beliefs.

A good scientific skeptic needs to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles, for example, to determine its validity. We should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others.

With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience, junk medicine pushers. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles in the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.

Continue reading “Judging the quality of science sources”