Americans are ignorant fools about evolution

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – there is simply nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists” that have infiltrated the discussion about evolution.

The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record.  In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution.

The scientific theory of evolution is quite easy to understand – it is the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the creationist misinformation about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing scientific research examining other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no scientific disputes about the fact that evolution has occurred over a period of 3.8 billion years until present time. None.

Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Even though rarely successful, unfortunately, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently implemented antievolution legislation. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they defer to a ridiculous political and cultural “debate” while ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus.

Once again, many or most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – thus, politicians, at least in some areas of the country, think they have the political cover to do whatever they want with regards to the teaching of creationism.

Continue reading “Americans are ignorant fools about evolution”

Hey Donald Trump – vaccines do not cause autism

Donald Trump and vaccines

Let me start with this simple fact based on an enormous amount of scientific evidence – vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccines are unrelated to autism. There is no correlation between vaccines and autism. How many different ways should we parse this?

Annoyingly, there is a broad swath of vaccine deniers who continue to make this claim, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence. If this idea weren’t so dangerous to preventing diseases in children, it would be laughable.

The myth that vaccines are related to autism can be squarely blamed on MrAndy Wakefield who fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield published his claims in the Lancet, a mostly respected medical journal who seemed to have forgotten how to do proper peer review. However, it was retracted by the journal, while most of Wakefield’s coauthors disavowed the findings.

Predictably, this lie has had the effect of suppressing vaccination rates in many countries.

Of course, given the dangerous comments about vaccines made by Republican presidential candidates, like Donald Trump, Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before), maybe the new data would disabuse them of their science denialism about vaccines?

Probably not, given that the Republican Party is mostly a science denying party. Sadly, there are a lot of science denying Democrats who agree with Trump on vaccines, unconvinced by real scientific evidence and seduced by logical fallacies. This is why we can’t have good things.

Obviously, we need more investment in research that vaccines do not cause autism – maybe a recently published one will convince the vaccine deniers.

Continue reading “Hey Donald Trump – vaccines do not cause autism”

GMO refusers and vaccine deniers cross–call Big Pharma and Monsanto

growing-vaccine-banana

There is a feeling among many scientific skeptics that the anti-GMO and the antivaccine broadly intersect. Unfortunately for simple generalizations, that assumption is not supported by rational political analysis. In fact, it’s much more complicated than that.

Those of us who are on the political left want to believe that it’s only the right wing (Republicans in the USA, but other countries have their political parties of the same general sentiment) that are science deniers.

One of the memes that I use is that those liberals who deny vaccines or think that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are dangerous, really aren’t all that much different than climate change deniers, who deny basic science, cherry pick only the data that supports an a priori conclusion, or ignore the consequences of their beliefs. But it appears that the vaccine and GMO deniers are cut from different political cloths.

Continue reading “GMO refusers and vaccine deniers cross–call Big Pharma and Monsanto”

Rand Paul vaccine denial – hidden costs

 

There are actually people out there in the world who think there’s a “debate” about vaccines. On one side, the ignorant, the uneducated, and the logical fallacy lovers, without any evidence whatsoever, invent some dubious and truly head shaking nonsense about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

On the other side (as if there really are two sides), are the educated, the logic lovers, and the skeptics who value published scientific evidence as the most important and fundamental guide to determining a scientific consensus. This scientific consensus has determined that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, that all organisms on this earth have evolved from a single organism 3 billion years or so ago, and that vaccines are safe and effective. A scientific consensus exists not because I say it, it exists because a vast majority (not 51-49, more like 99-1) of experts in the field agree to this consensus.

There’s one “writer” on Medium who conflates political consensus with scientific consensus, idiotically assuming that a scientific consensus is based on some vote, political maneuvering, without understanding that a consensus in the US Congress (as if that’ll ever happen) is almost the opposite of how science works, and eventually arrive at a scientific consensus.

If there were a debate about vaccines, the pro-science/pro-vaccine side would score about 1547 points to 1 pity point for the deniers. In other words, it would be a world record victory for the real science side. The journalistic hacks at the Toronto Star, who essentially lied about Gardasil (then mocked and lied about anyone who said they lied) and may have destroyed a lot of positive momentum regarding the cancer preventing vaccine are an example of how the science denier side works–in lieu of real published evidence, lie. Then shower invectives of all sorts on those who point out the lie. I hope the writer and editors from the Toronto Star all end up in prison, but that’s just my opinion.

But let’s move on from this asinine imaginary debate that truly only exists in the heads of F list actors and actresses and lunatic science deniers. We forget that not only is there no debate about vaccines, but they save lives, and by extension, save money. Lots of it. Continue reading “Rand Paul vaccine denial – hidden costs”

Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains

keep-calm-gmo-safe-1From my perspective as a trained scientist, skeptic and observer of political debates, there are four scientific issues that have wandered into the realm of political debate: evolution, climate change, vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) generally with regards to food and agriculture.

Evolution and human caused climate change (or sometimes called anthropogenic global warming, AGW) are scientific facts supported by literally mountains of data. The arguments presented by evolution deniers is easily refuted. And the myths pushed by global warming deniers are also quickly debunked. Both of these have become a part of the political conversation, with the evolution and climate change deniers being almost exclusively made up of conservative political groups, including Republicans in the USA. There is no debate about these two facts from a scientific point of view, unless someone cherry picks scientifically weak papers published in bad journals to confirm a bias against these scientific facts.

Vaccines aren’t really a scientific principle per se, but the support for the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is pretty much settled by the vast majority of scientists who actually have experience, research and education in the key fields of science related to vaccines, such as epidemiology, immunology, microbiology, virology, etc. etc. The fact that about 95% of children in developed countries (including the USA and most of Europe) indicates that there isn’t even a “political debate” except some blathering and noise from a tiny lunatic fringe. And the 5% of children who aren’t vaccinated don’t exclusively represent active vaccine deniers–most of these unvaccinated children either cannot be immunized for some health reason, have procrastinating parents, or have parents who may be too poor to get their children vaccinated, even if it’s free to most people in developed countries. The only reason most of us get worked up about the approximately 1-2% of parents who actively resist vaccines is because we think all children should be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

On the other hand, GMOs, at some levels, should have some level of public discourse and debate. For example, glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp) resistant crops have raised public concerns, and despite some awful scientific evidence that has been solidly ridiculed in the scientific community, along with solid scientific studies that show no correlation (let alone causation) between human health and glyphosate exposure (see this, this, and this), excessive use of pesticides frighten people.

Personally, I can buy into certain arguments against GMOs. For example, I think that monoculture agriculture is extremely susceptible to an introduced or novel pest, which could be devastating to our food supply. I am also concerned about certain unintended consequences such as evolved pest resistance (but then again this has been a war since the first day genetic modification occurred 10,000 years ago), lower crop productivity, or other issues. So far, science hasn’t uncovered any problems so far, so there’s that.

If the anti-GMO environmentalist community wants to engage in a reasoned conversation about GMOs with those of us who have scientific evidence supporting our discussion points, then they have to quit using five bad arguments, which they seem to pull out of the manual of science deniers everywhere. Because anti-GMO arguments use the same ridiculous “debate” strategies as those who deny vaccines, evolution and climate change. As I’ve joked more times than I care to remember, I feel as all the science deniers attend the same convention to discuss tactics and strategies. It seems ironic to me that those who are anti-GMO make the same exact points as the climate change deniers, yet those two groups have nothing in common except they are both humans.

So what are these five bad arguments? Glad you asked, so here we go. Continue reading “Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains”

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution–Part 2

We have fossils. Evolution wins.One of the more crazy anti-science groups are the evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of science that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. Based on this nearly irrefutable evidence, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science was a democracy, evolution would win in a landslide of epic proportions.

The scientific theory of evolution simply states that there is a change in inherited characteristics of a biological population, over time and generations, through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun or that gravity causes objects to fall to the earth.

There is no genuine scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing scientific discussion regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes, among scientists, about the fact that evolution commenced when the first living organisms appeared over 3.8 billion years. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in any real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Though this legislation is rarely successful, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently passed antievolution bills. The right wing politicians, mostly in southern US states, are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they conflate a ridiculous political and social argument with a scientific debate.  Continue reading “Americans are ignorant fools about evolution–Part 2”

Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana

creationist_wheel_of_misfortuneIn 2008, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. The law contends that “the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.” The law gives permission to Louisiana’s teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” OK, I understand, we need a state legislature to mandate that more critical thinking is necessary for evolution and global warming; and we don’t need any more critical thinking in other areas of science (sarcasm intended).

Though the law sounds like it would help teaching of science in the state, it really was nothing more than an attempt to get creationism (along with global warming denialism) taught in Louisiana’s public schools. Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magical , rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic tenets of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional bookContinue reading “Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana”

Antievolution legislation updates–Indiana and Montana

With respect to evolution denying legislative activities, 2012 was a fairly good year for science. Of course, Tennessee passed the anti-science Monkey Bill, which encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of global warming and evolution. Of course, there is no “scientific weakness,” just political debates that have no scientific relevance. But states like Indiana (through a shrewd maneuver of a Democratic legislator), Oklahoma, Alabama, New Hampshire and Missouri failed to pass proposed antievolution legislation, mostly through parliamentary issues, but also in an up and down vote in New Hampshire.

With the conclusion of the recent Presidential election, newly formed state legislatures are planning their 2013 legislative programs. So that means right wing, anti-science legislators in more conservative states are going to once again push evolution-denying legislation.

In Montana, state Representative Clayton Fiscus (Republican) is going to introduce a bill that will require the teaching of “intelligent design“, a form of creationism. This requirement would be in conflict with the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, where plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the Dover school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The losing lawsuit against the Dover school district cost them over $1 million, money which could have been used for purposes such as teaching children real science. I can only conjecture whether the bill will include funding for school districts that implement this potential requirement to defend against the inevitable constitutional lawsuits.

Similarly, in Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse (Republican) has told a newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill essentially written by the Discovery Institute (a non-profit religious “think tank” famous for its attempts at getting intelligent design taught in American schools). His bill will be similar to the aforementioned Monkey Bill in Tennessee and another one that was passed in Louisiana in 2008, the misleadingly named Louisiana Science Education Act.

I can only hope that as happened last year, either the state legislatures decide that the view of the American electorate has moved on from this anti-science viewpoint, or they just decide there are more important issues on the docket.

 

Forget polls–psychics call election for Obama

Unless you live in Antarctica and the satellite downlink is not working, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article anyways, there is an election in the United States between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And unless you’re completely unaware of the news, you would hear that the election is close. 

Major election analysts, those with long track records in statistical analyses in election polls, are not seeing a close election, and as we get closer to the election date, the errors are becoming smaller, and the confidence in the predictions are getting stronger. Here are the three best:

  • Nate Silver, Five Thirty Eight–As of October 25, 2012, Obama has a 74.4% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College (an antiquated way that the United States actually elects its Presidents), 295-243. 
  • Princeton Election Consortium–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has an 88% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 297-241.
  • Votamatic–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has a >95% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 332-206.

In other words, from a statistical standpoint, and because of the unusual way that the United States elects its president, the President is almost guaranteed to be reelected, barring some strange statistical anomaly or world event that dramatically changes the election scene.

But why use mathematics, when we have psychics and their pseudoscience to help us out, especially since the pollsters have “been universally negligent in addressing the fact that on November 6 at precisely 7:04 PM EST, Mercury goes into retrograde.” The Atlantic, doing yeoman’s service to the political world, has polled psychics to determine their predictions for the upcoming elections.

Now you would suppose that most psychics are New Age liberals, so there would be some bias in this polling. But The Atlantic believes that “they would act in the interest of establishing a record of accuracy, as opposed to saying what they hope happens. Letting personal political leanings interfere with the veracity of their professional analyses also must go against the code of the trade.” Obviously, this is a serious business.

Some of my favorite predictions:

  • “Mitt Romney will not win his home state of Massachusetts.” Well, that was a tough one. If that’s all I would need to do to become a psychic, I’m changing my career.
  • “It might even look like [Romney] will or could win. He may even lead in the poles. But on the day of the election Obama has enough of an astrological edge to beat out Romney.” Is that “poles” or “polls.” You never know. So, this prediction has enough fungibility, that whoever wins, it won’t matter, the psychic will claim that they predicted it. 
  • “In a survey of 172 psychics at Psychic Source71.5 percent saw Obama.” So there’s a poll of psychics. I wonder if Nate Silver incorporated that into his research. 

Well there you have it. Ignore the real scientific polling. The psychics are calling the election. And of course, since Obama is probably going to win based on real evidence, they’re all going to claim that they called it well in advance. Then you can call them up and find out how to win the lottery. Or if you’re going to meet the love of your life. Or when the world is going to end. Don’t waste your money. Please.

 

Texas is officially the most anti-science state in America

As long as the Republican Party runs the state of Texas, then its strategies and beliefs are equal to the beliefs of the state itself. The Texas Republican Party just published its platform of beliefs (pdf), filled with nonsense, craziness, and denialism. I’ll stick with the anti-science junk, but you can amuse yourself with everything from immigration to voter ID.

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists – We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.

Obviously, a knock against global warming, or at least, that Texas’ oil and gas interests take precedence over global warming, endangered species, and the EPA! Apparently, the dune sage brush lizard is of critical importance to the Texas political process!

 RU 486 – We urge the FDA to rescind approval of the physically dangerous RU-486 and oppose limiting the manufacturers’ and distributors’ liability.

It is not physically dangerous, because out of 1.52 million uses, there were around 2200 adverse events (pdf), or around 0.14%. That’s less than smoking. Or drinking. Or walking across the street.

Morning After Pill – We oppose sale and use of the dangerous “Morning After Pill.”

No. Not dangerous either.

Fetal Pain – We support legislation that requires doctors, at first opportunity, to provide to a woman who is pregnant, information about the nervous system development of her unborn child and to provide pain relief for her unborn if she orders an abortion. We support legislation banning of abortion after 20 weeks gestation due to fetal pain.

There is little evidence that a fetus feels pain prior to 30 weeks of gestation. This is merely a method for anti-abortion and anti-women individuals to promote some sort of viability in a fetus.

Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents.

Actually, the First Amendment prevents the establishment of religion by government, which includes government sponsored institutions like public schools. 

Health Care and Nutritional Supplements ― We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription–only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.

Because real medicines that actually do real things require regulation. Vitamins and supplements that don’t do anything and have no evidence supporting their efficacy prefer not to be regulated. And the Republicans want that dishonesty to continue.

Immunizations ― All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

Vaccines save lives. Any other rationalization does not save lives.

Well there’s your Republican lunatics in Texas. Maybe one day the demographics change enough that a more progressive group of people run the state, removing the insanity.