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It’s difficult to be a real scientific skeptic – let’s make it easier

Since I started this website, nearly four years ago (that’s 50 internet years), I’ve noticed a serious problem – some skeptics, even scientific skeptics, are lazy, trying to take the easiest way to accept or refute a claim. It is difficult to be a real scientific skeptic (see Note 1). It’s not impossible, but it takes more than using some intentional or unintentional bias or fallacy.

This lack of real skepticism has manifested itself in some incredible meta memes: “vaccines are dangerous,” “gluten is dangerous,” and “GMOs are dangerous,” even in groups who are ostensibly “pro-science.” However, if I replied to them, “wow, you must be a creationist too,” generally, their indignant reply would make a sailor blush.

Scientific skepticism is hard, not because of the complex science (even though, that is part of the issue), it’s because searching for the evidence that supports or refutes some claim is often nuanced, and contradictory. And researching it isn’t easy.

Thus, as a self-proclaimed scientific skeptic, I thought I’d write an article to help anyone learn more about what interests them, how to discriminate between bad and good research, and where to find good information. Sit down with your favorite internet consuming device, grab your favorite snack and drink, and enjoy.

Read More »It’s difficult to be a real scientific skeptic – let’s make it easier

Snopes defended Jill Stein

Snopes defended Jill Stein – both are wrong about vaccines

I wish I weren’t spending this much time writing about Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President of the US. She barely breaks 2% in the latest polls, which means, it’s almost as likely as she’s at 0% than at 2%. Yesterday, I stated that she is probably anti-vaccine, but many people pointed out that the usually reliable skeptical website Snopes defended Jill Stein.

I occasionally cross-post my more political articles, along with any article that offends the anti-science left, to the Daily Kos, a liberal political blog. I posted my Jill Stein vaccine article there, where it exploded. It received over 400 comments, which is big time.

One of the comments said that Snopes, which is generally an important website for debunking nonsense, said that Jill Stein is not anti-vaccine. Basically, a few comments said that Snopes trumps the Skeptical Raptor in accuracy. This scaly reptile teared up a bit.

But then I got my mind in the right place, and thought about what I had written. All I care about is evidence, so if Snopes has it right, who am I to fight them? But let’s take a look at this evidence.Read More »Snopes defended Jill Stein – both are wrong about vaccines

The child’s best interest – vaccines and parental rights

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines (generally, but sometimes moving to other areas of medicine), social policy and the law. Her articles usually unwind the complexities of legal issues with vaccinations and legal policies, such as mandatory vaccination and exemptions, with facts and citations.

Professor Reiss also writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

In Kagen v. Kagen (pdf), a Michigan Court of Appeals sided with a father who wanted his children vaccinated and overruled the opposition of the mother, ordering the children to be vaccinated on schedule. The Court found that vaccinating was in the best interest of the children. The Court also discussed which type of evidence can be used in Michigan to support claims about vaccines’ safety or lack thereof, highlighting that anti-vaccine sources are probably not going to cut it.

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The zombie anti-vaccine lie–Peter Doshi and the appeal to authority


Updated 4 November 2014 to add some ironic analysis of Doshi’s “not-an-epidemiologist” background.

A few  months ago, I wrote an article about Peter Doshi, a Ph.D. who is doing some postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University, one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the USA. Doshi is truly not very notable in science, except last year, he wrote an article about flu vaccines, basically employing the Nirvana Fallacy that because flu vaccines aren’t 100% effective they are worthless. Since vaccines are fundamentally a medical procedure to mitigate risk with a very low risk of adverse events, even 50% effectiveness will save thousands of lives. But we’ll get back to that.

The article he wrote is not actually based on real research, but appears to be an opinion paper–kind of like the opinion papers written by creationists who want to convince anyone who will listen that dinosaurs lived with humans. Doshi denies that most flu’s are even caused by the influenza virus. I guess the CDC’s high tech diagnostic tests for influenza are all wrong. But then again Doshi presents no evidence.

Because of the zombie myths of the antivaccination world, myths or papers that are reanimated every few months because the vaccine denier community actually lacks any fresh evidence to support their nonsense. So Doshi’s paper from 2013 is resurrected in the antivaccination press. A few days ago, an obscure pseudoscience promoting website started banging the drum about Doshi’s comments. The article, found in the Realfarmacy website, has this scary headline: “Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines.” Makes it sound like Doshi wrote another article. Which he didn’t.Read More »The zombie anti-vaccine lie–Peter Doshi and the appeal to authority