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science belief

Science is not a belief, not a religion — please get this straight

I get so tired of people who science is nothing more than a belief, rather than a method to understand facts about the natural universe. I don’t believe in vaccines. I don’t believe in evolution. I don’t believe in climate change.

In each of those cases, and much more, I review and accept the scientific evidence that supports a scientific claim, whether it is that evolution is real, that climate change is caused by humans, or that vaccines don’t cause autism. No, I am not an evolutionary biologist (though it’s kind of hard to be a biologist without accepting evolution), a meteorologist, or a vaccine scientist. But I do know how to follow the science in an unbiased manner and I know who are the experts in fields which means science is not a belief to me, but facts supported by evidence.

I like to say that I don’t believe in anything. Not one thing. My statement is always “the evidence supports” any claim that I make. Now, I don’t apply this many other areas of my life. I don’t like Brussels sprouts, and the only evidence I have is that they taste like little pieces of poison. It’s an opinion, one that will not be changed, especially once I found out that Brussels sprouts are frequently cut in half to determine if there is a brood of disgusting worms in the middle. But I have zero scientific evidence supporting my claim that Brussels sprouts were created to destroy human civilization.

Let me get a bit into science and belief so that you understand what I’m trying to say. Because if one more anti-vaxxer claims that “vaccines are a religion based on belief,” I’m going to scream. Or when a creationist tries to claim I am an “evolutionist” trying to make it seem like evolution is merely another set of beliefs.

I am mostly writing this article because I get tired of replying to people that I “believe” in something in science. I keep repeating myself, so I can just drop a link to refute their nonsense. Of course, I’m assuming that they can read what’s in the link.

Read More »Science is not a belief, not a religion — please get this straight
anti-vaccine

Anti-vaxxers don’t want to be called “anti-vaccine” — boo frickin’ hoo

A few days ago, some anti-vaxxer on Twitter complained that she didn’t want to be called anti-vaccine. She said it was a personal attack on her. And that she really wasn’t anti-vaccine.

Well, that’s just an incredibly laughable position that is unsupported by anything in reality. These anti-vaccine activists want to appear rational, thoughtful, and scientific, when, in fact, their position is anything but rational, thoughtful, or scientific.

We call someone anti-vaccine because they refuse to accept the vast scientific consensus about every vaccine on the market. No matter how many times we talk about a large, well-analyzed, unbiased study about a vaccine, they ignore it, and then they give preference to anecdotes and false authorities that confirm their pre-ordained conclusions about vaccines.

Now, just to be clear, parents who sit on the fence because they are confused about vaccines are not anti-vaxxers. They aren’t promoting anti-vaccine nonsense, they are trying to find good evidence to support getting vaccinated. I try to target this group lately because they seem to be working in good faith about vaccines. I’ve had numerous people over time that information I’ve prevented has moved them from “vaccine-hesitant” to pro-vaccine. That’s my mitzvah.

I’m going to write about true anti-vaxxers who present bad information about vaccines while complaining that they are being characterized as “anti-vaccine.” They deserve the label, and I’ll show you why.

Read More »Anti-vaxxers don’t want to be called “anti-vaccine” — boo frickin’ hoo
scientific consensus

Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, evolution, climate change

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgment of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific ideas and conclusions from pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other beliefs.

I often discuss 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. A scientific theory is considered to be the highest scientific principle, something that is missed by many science deniers. In addition, a scientific consensus is formed by a similar method – the accumulation of evidence.

I have written frequently about the scientific consensus because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical scientific issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many other areas of science.

This tome has one goal – to clarify our understanding of the scientific consensus, and how we arrive at it. Through this information, maybe we all can see the power of it in determining what is real science and what are policy and cultural debates.

But the most important thing is that the scientific consensus (and theories, for that matter) are not opinions. They aren’t random thoughts pulled out of the ether. Scientific consensus is based on overwhelming scientific evidence published in respected journals.

Read More »Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, evolution, climate change
Researching vaccines

Researching vaccines the right way – the hierarchy of biomedical research

I have made it a point of many articles that anti-vaxxers are not really researching vaccines. They are using logical fallacies, such as cherry-picking, misreading medical research, or anything else instead of really doing research the right way.

Before anyone should take on the scientific consensus on a topic, like vaccines, researching must include an understanding of what is called the hierarchy of biomedical research. It describes what are gold (or even platinum) standards of research. And which of them are nearly worthless.

I am a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.

That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they nearly always try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, it’s actually the opposite of good science.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of instant news made up of memes and a couple of hundred character analyses flying across social media that make it difficult to determine what is real science and what is not. Sometimes we create an internal false balance, assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate when there isn’t one.

When I write about a topic, I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful, and nuanced (with a touch of snark) articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I also know science is hard. It’s difficult.

Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science – and we see that most of what we find on the internet that claims to be science is not. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking about science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.

But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) methods to evaluate biomedical research quality across the internet.

Read More »Researching vaccines the right way – the hierarchy of biomedical research
scientific consensus

Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, climate change, evolution

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgment of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific ideas and conclusions from pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other beliefs.

I often discuss 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. A scientific theory is considered to be the highest scientific principle, something that is missed by many science deniers. In addition, a scientific consensus is formed by a similar method – the accumulation of evidence.

I have written frequently about the scientific consensus because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical scientific issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many other areas of science.

This tome has one goal – to clarify our understanding of the scientific consensus, and how we arrive at it. Through this information, maybe we all can see the power of it in determining what is real science and what are policy and cultural debates.

But the most important thing is that the scientific consensus (and theories, for that matter) are not opinions. They aren’t random thoughts pulled out of the ether. Scientific consensus is based on overwhelming scientific evidence published in respected journals.

Read More »Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, climate change, evolution

The great vaccine debate – only exists in the brains of anti-vaxxers

Frequently, anti-vaxxers like Robert F Kennedy Jr and Del Bigtree demand a great vaccine debate between whomever they’re targeting, like Paul Offit or our friend Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, and themselves. I find it amusing, and if anyone asks, I tell them that a vaccine debate is worthless for lots of reasons.

The problem is that if you pay attention to any scientific topic, like climate change, evolution, and, yes, vaccines, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalency to make it appear that the minority and scientifically unsupported point of view is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is always based on huge amounts of published evidence. And for vaccines, the safety and effectiveness are settled science.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that there is a great vaccine debate. Or an evolution debate. Or a climate change debate. 

There aren’t any debates on any of those (and hundreds of other) scientific topics. Just because someone, like RFK Jr or Bigtree, thinks that there is some “debate,” it doesn’t mean there actually is one. All that happens is one side, almost always the science deniers, use misinformation, lies, anecdotes, and pseudoscience while attempting to scream and yell as loud as possible, then claim they’ve won.

Science can’t be debated. And a corollary is that there is no great vaccine debate.

Read More »The great vaccine debate – only exists in the brains of anti-vaxxers
GMO DNA

GMO DNA transfers to humans – debunking a pernicious myth

I keep reading of an annoying claim that GMO DNA transfers to humans easily, so that’s why we should be scared of it. Some of this belief is based on a poorly designed study that may, or really may not, indicate that plant GMO genes transfer to humans. These “researchers” claim that DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream.

Someone flunked basic human physiology and cell biology when they made this claim since it’s nearly biologically implausible to consider this to be real. Many of us have actually passed these courses so we are very skeptical.

In case you’ve ignored this area of false controversy, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes.

Based on some of the worst science available, the anti-GMO activists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Unfortunately for the anti-science side, there is actually no science supporting these anti-GMO claims, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals, and the environment.

Let’s take a look at this paper that claims that GMO DNA gets into the human bloodstream. 

Read More »GMO DNA transfers to humans – debunking a pernicious myth