Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism and vaccines

hierarchy of scientific evidence

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 generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, that’s 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 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) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.

Continue reading “Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism and vaccines”

New measles myth from vaccine denier Sherri Tenpenny – not a disease

Yes, you read that right, a new measles myth from the anti-vaccine religion is hitting the interwebs – they’re trying to claim it’s not a disease. Now, there’s a small element of fact in their claim, but the anti-vaxxers are using it to create confusion about the disease.

Of course, you know they wouldn’t bring you scientific facts. They just employ fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to fight the scientific consensus and settled science of vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Now, let’s get into it. Continue reading “New measles myth from vaccine denier Sherri Tenpenny – not a disease”

Anti-vaccine arguments that don’t convince pro-science humans

anti-vaccine arguments

There are so many annoying anti-vaccine arguments that make me laugh and cause my rational brain to explode. The anti-vaccine religious acolytes don’t understand one basic thing – we scientists would accept their claims if they presented actual scientific evidence. They haven’t.

Most scientists and skeptics are open-minded to new ideas and evidence. Yes, they may be resistant, especially if the evidence is preliminary. I was in graduate school during the early 1980s when Luis and Walter Alvarez proposed that the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs and about 99.99% of life on Earth during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event was caused by a huge bolide impact.

When they first proposed it, scientists laughed. Today, it is widely accepted as a scientific fact. But it was accepted because of powerful evidence that kept supporting the original hypothesis, not because of “beliefs.” Being “openminded” doesn’t mean that we accept any silly claim made by random people – it means being openminded to reviewing the evidence, then,  determining if that evidence supports the claims being made.

The anti-vaccine religion screams and yells to push their lies about vaccines because they don’t have evidence. It gets tiresome, and some of us just laugh when we hear it. Yesterday, for example, I wrote about how the anti-vaccine pseudoscientist, Christopher Exley, was banned from receiving funding because his research is both incompetent and false. Yet, the anti-vaccine crowd whined that some nefarious Big Pharma conspiracy was keeping Exley from his money. 

So I’m going to be a nice old carnivorous dinosaur (remember, birds are dinosaurs) and give advice to the anti-vaxxers – I’m going to list the anti-vaccine arguments that aren’t scientific and are worthless. If you want to convince those of us who value science, don’t use these anti-vaccine arguments. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine arguments that don’t convince pro-science humans”

Google University equals research for anti-vaccine pseudoscience

Google University

I’m sure everyone has run into the type – a science denier who thinks their two hours at Google University makes them as knowledgeable as a real physician or scientist. This arrogance manifests itself in ridiculous discussions with anti-vaccine religious nutjobs who claim to have “done the research,” and who believe their pseudoscientific research is more valuable than real scientific research.

This Google University education from vaccine deniers, really all science deniers, can be frustrating. I frequent a couple of large Facebook groups that try to help on-the-fence anti-vaxxers understand what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t with respect to vaccines. Recently, one of the anti-vaccine true believers kept saying she knew more than a nurse with a public health master’s degree. The arrogant anti-vaxxer kept claiming that she “did her research.”

Hang on. The old dinosaur needs to slam his head on the desk.

Because of this absurd overvaluing of their Google University research, I want to review a handful of points that every science denier seems to use that makes us laugh. All but one applies to any type of science denial, but we’re sticking with vaccines. Because we can. Continue reading “Google University equals research for anti-vaccine pseudoscience”

The official 2018 top ten list from the Skeptical Raptor

2018 top ten list

Since it’s the end of the year, and all good bloggers do some sort of 2018 top ten list. Of course, I’ve been doing this since 2012, so it’s a tradition. At least for the last seven years.

My 2018 top ten list actually is voted on by you, the loyal reader. I don’t choose this list, it’s just the top 10 (with a couple of bonuses) most read articles published on this website. Sadly, some of my favorite articles didn’t make it to the top, but maybe what interests me doesn’t interest you. I can live with that.

So here we go. I think there’s a drum roll somewhere.

The official 2018 top ten list of articles

  1. Nick Catone son dies tragically – blaming vaccines with no evidence. An article by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss describing a sad story where parents try to blame vaccines, yet there is little evidence supporting such a belief.
  2. Gardasil facts – debunking myths about HPV vaccine safety and efficacy. This article is a list of everything the feathered dinosaur has written about the HPV vaccine or Gardasil. Let’s summarize – the vaccine is safe and it prevents cancer.
  3. MTHFR gene and vaccines – what are the facts and myths – the MTHFR gene is one of the canards of the anti-vaccine religion – they believe it’s got something to do with vaccines. It doesn’t.
  4.  The Medical Medium – junk medicine with psychic reading – The Medical Medium is one of the most creepy individuals pushing pseudo-medicine. He thinks he can use psychic reading to diagnose and treat serious medical conditions. I’m glad people are reading this article to find out facts about this charlatan.
  5. Colon detoxification – myth versus science. People think that detoxing is useful. It isn’t.
  6. MSG myth – debunked with real science. MSG is just a simple amino acid that is part of the structure of nearly every protein that one consumes. It has no effect on human physiology unless we throw in observation bias and a dash of racism.
  7. Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority. Obukhanych is someone who has what appears to be sterling credentials but denies science to push false claims about vaccines. This is why we should always ignore all credentials.
  8. Marijuana medical benefits – large review finds very few. Marijuana advocates try to push a narrative that cannabis has medical benefits, usually to create some level of credibility for marijuana legalization. However, real science shows us that marijuana only has a few medical uses. And it has no effect on cancer.
  9. Japan banned Gardasil – another ridiculous anti-vaccine myth. This trope, based on really no good information, is one of the favorites of the anti-vaccine world. Gardasil is still available in Japan.
  10. Bananas prevent cancer – debunking another myth about food. This article was first written during the early Cretaceous, yet it is still the most popular article ever written here. It has been read over 120,000 times, which is amazing as blog articles go. The basic facts are that pseudoscience-loving foodies misread an article thinking that bananas contain a protein called tumor necrosis factor. Bananas don’t. Even if they did, you cannot absorb tumor necrosis factor, since it will be broken down in the digestive tract into amino acids. And even if you could absorb it, the factor does not kill cancer. In fact TNF increases inflammation which increases risk of cancer. But it’s not in bananas, so this is all irrelevant.

2018 top ten list – bonus #11

Argument by Vaccine Package Inserts – they’re not infallible – anti-vaxxers constantly misread and misrepresent what is written in package inserts. Why do they do this? Because all of the clinical and epidemiological evidence contradicts their claims, so they resort to cherry picking information out of the insert to support their claims. If only they read this article, they’d understand what a package insert is or isn’t.

2018 top ten list – bonus #12

Gardasil killed Colton Berrett? The evidence does not support this claim. This is another tragic story of a child’s life taken too early. But the parents, manipulated by the Vaxxed fraudumentary team, want to blame the HPV vaccine. But the vast mountain of evidence tells us that it wasn’t the vaccine. We should tire of this fake new pushed by the anti-vaccine religion, but they persist, because, once again, they lack evidence for their claims so they move to blatant emotional manipulation. They’re vile people.

And that’s it for 2018

It’s been a very successful year for the old feathered dinosaur’s blog. We’ve had almost 2.5 million views of articles, and over 10 million hits. It remains one of the most popular websites on the internet, ranking in the top 300,000 websites – I know what you’re thinking, that the old Skeptical Raptor isn’t Facebook or Twitter. And it isn’t. However, since there are over 1.8 billion websites on the internet, it means that this website ranks in the 0.00167% of all of the websites in the world. As I joke frequently to friends, I remember cheering when I hit 100 visitors…for a whole freaking month.

I’m planning to do a few things a bit different in 2019. I’m going to do a weekly article on an interesting clinical or epidemiological study that crosses my desk. These articles will be outside of my normal articles on pseudoscience – they may be on psychiatric or cardiovascular drugs. They may look at new medical technologies.

Finally, I want to thank all of the readers who have made my articles here and the cross posts at the Daily Kos so popular. I really appreciate the support, kind words, and vibrant discussions. Time to watch my undergrad and graduate schools play football games – hopefully, they win. And to cheer against Notre Dame and Alabama. Well, Notre Dame lost badly, so that made me smile.

Everyone, please have a safe and fun New Year’s celebration. And have a Happy 2019. May Trump please be indicted – that will make my year the best.

The reptilian conspiracy and vaccines – a feathered dinosaur confession

reptilian

As you are probably aware, the reptilian conspiracy theory states that one of the signs of a reptilian is an obsession with science. Well, this reptilian tried to hide in plain sight pretending to be an ancient feathered dinosaur (see Note 1), but now I’ve been outed. And it’s time for me to confess to my using reptilian skills to hide the truth about vaccines.

I know. I tried to use evidence that I cherry-picked out of systematic reviews and clinical trials, which I claimed were the pinnacle of the hierarchy of biomedical research but were really just produced by the reptilian scientists. This was done to obey the orders the Reptilian Overlords at Big Pharma.  Continue reading “The reptilian conspiracy and vaccines – a feathered dinosaur confession”

Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority

There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.

One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.

For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show a population-level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.

Now the anti-vaccine world has a new hero – Tetyana Obukhanych. Continue reading “Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority”

Harvard vaccine study? Not really, more Tetyana Obukhanych nonsense

Harvard vaccine study

I’ve noticed something about the pseudoscience world – they love to “prove” their point by pointing to a Harvard (or some other prestigious university) research study that they believe supports their claims. It usually doesn’t. Now we have something floating around the anti-vaccine interwebs – there’s a Harvard vaccine study that says that unvaccinated kids are not dangerous to other children.

No, Harvard published no such a study. But our favorite false authority, Tetyana Obukhanych, did make these claims, which we have debunked previously. Basically, the new claims in the anti-vaccine blogosphere are related to a letter she wrote in opposition to SB277, California’s law that eliminates personal belief exemptions for vaccines prior to entering school.

Somehow, the anti-vaccine religion has attached itself to her claims and converted it into the Harvard vaccine study. So, I’m going to take a look at this amazing Harvard vaccine study and how Obukhanych is involved with it.  Continue reading “Harvard vaccine study? Not really, more Tetyana Obukhanych nonsense”

Anti-vaccine James Lyons-Weiler writes about aluminum and autism

James Lyons-Weiler

Here we go again. Another anti-vaccine pseudoscientist publishes a paper that calls into question something about vaccines, and the anti-vaccine religion genuflects in their general direction. The anti-vaccine side has nearly zero evidence supporting their claims, so they have to cling to anything they can get. And a new article from James Lyons-Weiler continues that tradition.

The anti-vaccine religion is littered with these false authorities that have few credentials or experience in vaccines, yet, because of a “Ph.D.” after their name, the anti-vaxxers make it appear they speak for millions of scientists. There’s Tetyana Obukhanych, a former immunologist who has published no peer-reviewed articles about vaccines, who has denied all of her scientific education and training, and who makes egregious and simplistic mistakes about vaccines in all of her proclamations.

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic are multiple-retracted “researchers” who shill for the anti-vaccine religion by publishing weak and easily critiqued research that doesn’t even stand up to the tiniest of criticism. We’ve often speculated as to why the University of British Columbia, where they do their “research,” hasn’t ended their relationship.

Look, I’m not impressed by credentials and degrees. I don’t care if someone is a janitor or a Ph.D. in immunology at Harvard University. If you deny established scientific consensus based on your whims, cherry picking evidence, or rhetoric, you have nothing. You bring nothing to a scientific discussion. If you want to overturn the scientific consensus on vaccines then you better be an expert in the area of vaccines, and you better have a broad, robust body of evidence that shows problems with the scientific consensus.

Now, it’s time to look at this new false authority in the land of vaccines, James Lyons-Weiler. Is he another false authority and pseudoscientist? Or does his new paper give us something new to examine about vaccines? Yes. No. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine James Lyons-Weiler writes about aluminum and autism”

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, oft-retracted anti-vaccine shills

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic

I often put together articles that are indexes of all of my articles on a particular subject – I have ones on the cunning fraud Andrew Wakefield, the safety and effectiveness of HPV vaccines, GMO facts, and legal and public policy articles about vaccines from Dorit Rubinstein Reiss. I produce them as a one-stop resource on important topics that have been posted on this blog. After my recent article about the 4th retraction from the team of Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two “researchers’ who push pseudoscience and misinformation to support their anti-vaccine conclusions, it is time to give them their own index article.

I use these index articles to help the reader. If you link to this article, you can click on it to see the list of articles by the Skeptical Raptor that covers important topics. Now, one could argue that Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic aren’t exactly important – no their “research” fails to meet the minimum standards of quality scientific research, and that’s recognized by the frequency of retractions and the low quality of their research.

Of course, I use them personally because this feathered dinosaur is ancient, and sometimes forgets what was written in the past. Of course, I’ve written over 1100 articles over more than 6 years, so there are many times I say, “oh I wrote that?”

Anyway, let’s give you all the fun information about Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic.  Continue reading “Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, oft-retracted anti-vaccine shills”