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How do we resist the rising tide of antiscience and pseudoscience?

The impetus for the creation of this blog, lo these 12+ years ago, was growing alarm at the rising tide of pseudoscience then, such as quackery, antivaccine misinformation, creationism, Holocaust denial, and many other forms of attacks on science, history, and reality itself. I had cut my teeth on deconstructing such antiscience and pseudoscience on Usenet, that vast, unfiltered, poorly organized mass of discussion forums that had been big in the 1990s but were dying by 12 years ago, having turned into a mass of spam, trolls, and incoherence. So I wanted to do my little part (and I’m under no illusion that I’m that influential) in my little way to combat what I perceived to be real problems. The biggest surprise to me is that, more then twelve years later, I’m still at it. I don’t deal with non-medical topics (like the aforementioned evolution, Holocaust denial, and general skeptical topics) so much any more, but I’m still here, and I still post nearly every day.

In 2017, however, the sorts of misinformation I set out to combat in 2004 seem downright quaint, given how much more effectively bullshit was weaponized last year than in years past. It’s basically gotten so bad that once-stodgy journals have been stung enough to see a need to chime in with articles about “What It All Means” and “How Do We Deal with This?” Just yesterday, it was the New England Journal of Medicine chiming in with an article by Lisa Rosenbaum, M.D. entitled Resisting the Suppression of Science. Make no mistake about it; the suppression of “inconvenient” science is what we as scientists and science advocates are dealing with in 2017. She begins by making an analogy that will resonate with physicians:

All doctors encounter patients who express preferences for non–evidence-based therapies — organic food for coronary disease or detox cleanses for cancer, for example. Personally, I’ve never come up with an effective response. I offer facts, and then, sensing that I’m getting nowhere, I offer more facts. I blink rapidly to avoid rolling my eyes. Eventually, I resort to the “I statements” taught in medical school: “I understand that’s what you believe,” though my body language surely gives me away. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had much success in overcoming disbelief of science. And though many physicians may approach this challenge more skillfully one on one, as a scientific community, we often seem trapped in a similar dynamic. Whether it’s the science of vaccines, climate change, or gun control, we tend to endlessly emphasize the related evidence, and when that fails, exude a collective sense of disgust.

This is actually not a bad analogy. I myself occasionally see patients like this. The most dreaded patient for me, as a breast cancer surgeon, is the woman who felt a lump a year or two ago, had a biopsy and was diagnosed with breast cancer, but, instead of choosing standard-of-care conventional science-based medicine to treat it at a time when it had a high probability of long term survival (or, more colloquially, cure), decided to go to a naturopath quack (but I repeat myself) or some other alternative medicine practitioner. A year or two (or three) later, she shows up in the surgeon’s office, with a huge, bleeding, ulcerated mass in her breast that stinks because it’s outgrown its blood supply, leading to tissue death, and because it’s been colonized or even outright infected with bacteria. Fortunately, such patients are few and far between, at least for me. (I understand from conversations with colleagues in other parts of the country that they are not so uncommon for some of my colleagues, such as those in some parts of California and, for example, Scottsdale or Sedona in Arizona, I often wonder what, if anything, anyone could have told such patients when they first presented with their cancers that might have persuaded them to accept science-based medicine.

Still, Dr. Rosenbaum seems to admit that she’s not very good at dealing with patients like this. In fact, as hard as it is to believe, I’m probably better one-on-one. Yes, I’m sarcastic as hell on the blog because I’m venting and being sarcastic is entertaining—and, more often than I would have guessed, effective. In contrast, you’ll never see me act that way dealing one-on-one with a patient. No, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert at persuading the quack-seeking cancer patient to forego elaborate placebo medicine because cancer, unlike diseases with subjective symptoms, laughs at placebo medicine, but I seem to be better able to control my body language and facial expressions better than Dr. Rosenbaum when confronted with these patients. I can even occasionally persuade one at least to consider surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Part of the reason, I think, is that, unlike most physicians, I am intimately familiar with pretty much all forms of cancer quackery under the sun and can deconstruct exactly why they are nonsense and drill right in to the ridiculousness of the claims. I suppose that’s one benefit of 12+ years of blogging about these topics.

But back to the issue of how to deal with the science denial running rampant now. Rosenbaum asks the question:

In the face of suppression of science, should scientists resist, or quietly proceed with their work? Resistance seems essential. That the CDC postponement prompted a coalition to form and organize an alternative meeting (see article by Hunter et al.) reminds us that resistance is as much about ensuring effective dissemination of findings as about continuing to conduct science. But it’s critical to recognize that suppressing science does not cause disbelief; rather, disbelief, particularly of science pertaining to highly politicized topics such as climate change, creates a cultural environment in which suppression of science is tolerated. So the real question is how do we resist effectively? How do we convince a skeptical public to believe in science?

Answering that question requires that we as scientists recognize that the same sorts of deeply embedded characteristics of the human psyche that lead cancer patients to pursue quackery are also the characteristics that fuel science denial. In particular, scientists and science advocates frequently assume that science denial can be remedied by just laying out the facts. It’s a common misconception. In reality, just laying out the facts, while an essential part of any campaign science denial, is not by itself enough. Not nearly. Not by a long shot. Just laying out the facts and deconstructing the nonsense behind a claim rarely work by themselves in isolation.

A huge (yuge?) part of the reason that pseudoscience resonates is because it speaks to something in people, usually a deeply ingrained part of their identity. For instance, quackery is appealing in people who value the “natural” over the “artificial” and particularly among those who distrust the institutions associated with medicine, such as the government, pharmaceutical companies, large corporations and health insurance companies, and the like. Facts alone won’t overcome that. Indeed, thanks to the phenomenon of the backfire effect, just laying out the facts can, in fact, backfire. Basically, when people are forced to confront information that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs, it often results in their holding on to those beliefs even more strongly, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. Then there’s motivated reasoning, it is often the most intelligent people who are the best at cherry picking evidence that supports their pre-existing beliefs and refutes attacks on them.

Indeed, when it comes to persuasion, it’s often the intelligent who are the hardest to persuade:

First, we need to stop assuming that disbelief necessarily reflects a knowledge deficit and can thus be remedied by facts. When doubt is wrapped up in one’s cultural identity or powerful emotions, facts often not only fail to persuade, but may further entrench skepticism. This phenomenon, often referred to as “biased assimilation,” has been demonstrated across a range of issues, from the death penalty to climate change to vaccines.2 One study found that parents hesitant about vaccinating their children became even less inclined to vaccinate when given information debunking the myth that vaccines cause autism. Somewhat counterintuitively, this tendency does not reflect lack of intelligence; in fact, when it comes to climate science, people who demonstrate higher levels of science comprehension are actually also the most adept at dismissing evidence that challenges their beliefs. Moreover, the propensity to dismiss evidence that threatens our identity or beliefs is nonpartisan: liberals, for instance, are far more likely than conservatives to dismiss science suggesting that genetically modified foods are safe. Even within the medical community, whether we’re debating mammography screening, statins, or the credibility of a drug-company–sponsored study, our ideologies affect our assimilation of data.

Indeed, they do. It’s often intelligent, educated people who cling to pseudoscience the tightest and are the hardest to convince. Some of it is a sense of overconfidence that to which intelligent people fall prey in which they think they can master any topic by themselves, but it’s also motivated reasoning. In a way, thinking skeptically and scientifically about various topics is not natural; rather, people tend to start with beliefs and then seek out confirming information and discount disconfirming information. Basically motivated reasoning is confirmation bias on steroids, in which people confirm what they believe and ignore contradictory evidence and data—or actively seek to discredit it. Not surprisingly, educated, intelligent people tend to be better at both activities, which are key to motivated reasoning. As Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber once put it, “Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments,” and as Chris Mooney once put it, “We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”

At times it seems like the proverbial Kobayashi Maru scenario, the no win situation. However, it helps to remember that most science doesn’t threaten deeply held beliefs undergirding identities:

This risk of adding an identity-laden valence to otherwise neutral scientific matters makes resisting science denialism in the Trump era particularly tricky. Because we pay far more attention to contested than to generally accepted science, it’s easy to forget that most scientific facts, and related policies, don’t induce tribalism. You don’t see partisan battles over treatment for myocardial infarction, say, or the dangers of radiation exposure. But as Kahan points out, Trump thrives on making nonpartisan issues polarizing. The indication that he might appoint a vaccine skeptic to head a commission to review vaccine safety is a worrisome example, since vaccine skepticism has thus far been limited to a minority, albeit vocal, fringe. “I have never seen someone so aggressively intent on just increasing the number of issues that feature that sort of antagonism,” Kahan told me. “He is our science communication environment polluter in chief.”

And that’s what we have to beware of. As I’ve pointed out before, support for vaccines and vaccine mandates has been historically bipartisan. For many decades, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, supported vaccination, and those who didn’t were, quite rightly, viewed as being cranks, with antivaccine beliefs being largely equally prevalent on both sides. Antivaxers are still cranks, but, thanks to social media, their arguments are finding wider purchase. But what to do? One thing I agree that we should be careful not to do is this:

This constant quest for identity preservation helps explain why calling vaccine skeptics idiotic or dangerous is, as others have pointed out, likely to backfire, particularly as we face a cultural backlash against academic “elites.” It’s also why, when Trump issues an antiscience provocation over a nonpartisan subject, we should avoid being so strident in correcting misinformation that we further galvanize skepticism based on political identity alone. Even with already-polarizing topics, more measured resistance may be the most effective approach. To that end, circumspect resistance like the rallying of a coalition to relatively quietly reorganize the postponed climate-science meeting may end up being the most effective in these divisive times.

Yes, antivaccine views, for example, are also increasingly caught up in political, ideological, and cultural identity. Basically, thanks to a successful co-optation of the sorts of cultural grievances that led to the election of Donald Trump as President, increasingly the antivaccine movement has become aligned with Trump-friendly politics and the right wing. It is true that this shift in the politics of the antivaccine movement predates Trump, as over the last several years antivaxers have increasingly co-opted the language of “personal freedom,” “parental rights,” and “health freedom,” but the rise of Trump put the transition on steroids. There’s a reason why antivaxers, by and large, love Donald Trump. Even those predisposed to despise him have, for the most part, put aside their distaste to embrace him because he talks the antivaccine talk.

That being said, I’m not entirely sure that being less strident is the answer. Some things are too important. For example, reorganizing the postponed climate meeting feels like a defeat, like giving in to antiscience forces. It will be very difficult to rally the mot enthusiastic boosters of science using tactics like that. It’s also a bad example. Climate science was never truly a nonpartisan topic and has been highly politicized for at least 25 years, with business-friendly conservatives viewing the science of anthropogenic climate change and global warming as a profound threat to their world view and profits, while resonating with environmentalist-friendly liberals. So when Trump blathers his idiocy about climate science—oh dear, was that too strident?—he’s exploiting political division, not creating it. Where he Trump is really issuing antiscience provocations over a nonpartisan subjects is over vaccines, and, worse, he’s contributing to something I fear, the politicization of vaccine policy. If Trump supporters really start viewing antivaccine beliefs and distrust of vaccines as part of their identity, our children will be in serious trouble, and vaccine-preventable diseases will make horrific comeback.

What’s the answer? I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve always thought that a wide variety of techniques should be used, each tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of individual groups and people. Not everyone is a diplomat, for instance, and sometimes mockery works. Not everyone is a flamethrower, and calm building of alliances and finding common ground likely works even better. Jacqueline M. Vadjunec, a climate scientist who moved from Massachusetts to take a job at Oklahoma State University, the heart of Trump country, notes that her colleagues warned her that she was destroying her career because of Oklahoma’s history with anti-evolution and opposition to climate science, notes that she’s doing well, but recognizes that she’s in a minority when it comes to supporting climate science. She recommends channeling Woody Guthrie:

I realize that in my day-to-day actions in the classroom and in my research with family farmers and ranchers, I probably hold a minority viewpoint on human-induced climate change. In the classroom, I am sensitive to the fact that many of my students have family ties to the oil and gas industry. I regularly see them struggle with the local contradictions. I try to create a place of mutual respect to embrace this struggle on their own terms, while also trying to focus on our role as global citizens facing global challenges. It is not always an easy balancing act; these experiences have taught me that most students care about global environmental change, but often have little previous exposure to such issues — in part because of the decisions of local politicians and school boards. In our debriefing at the end of the semester, students often express frustration that they weren’t exposed to many of the issues surrounding climate change at a younger age.

I also learned that actively listening to (instead of talking at) farmers and ranchers who care about sustaining their land and livelihoods is a good way to open dialogue. We can then find common ground on pressing environmental issues, such as the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, encroachment of invasive and nuisance woody-plant species on pasture lands, and the compounding impacts of long-term cyclical drought. People in Oklahoma care about the long-term sustainability of their natural resources, but they often use language that is different from that of climate scientists and elected officials.

And:

In resisting the mood of anti-science, researchers need to reach out to a diverse public in more accessible ways. We also need to accept different ways of knowing or even talking about climate change: ways that open doors to start a conversation; ways that are more context specific, culturally sensitive and nuanced than science in general might be comfortable with.

This is not and will not be easy, but trying to find common ground is a start. After all, strategies to mitigate climate change tend to align with preserving the environment and sustainability, which many people support, at least in the abstract. No one wants disease outbreaks. We can rarely change the minds of the truly committed, but the vast middle, those “on the fence” are reachable.

I do agree with Rosenbaum that physicians are really not well trained in countering quackery, antiscience, and pseudoscience, or, as she put it “empirically and effectively navigating assaults on truth.” If there’s one good thing about Trump’s victory, it might be that we’re finally shaken out of our complacency and learn to do it right. But first we have to know what “right” is.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

303 replies on “How do we resist the rising tide of antiscience and pseudoscience?”

How about “I know that’s what you been taught, but I would urge you to examine all the evidence, think for yourself, and not go along with the crowd?”

@Christine Rose

Telling people to “think for yourself and not go along with the crowd” isn’t a very effective way to convince people who are arguing for the ‘crank’ positions of anti-vax or against global warming because you are actually asking them to go along with the current consensus.

@Beth Clarkson

Actually, that’s my point. The current consensus is anti-science. Not among actual science, but among the social circles these people move in.

I was thinking the same thing as @2. Part of the person’s identity that makes, for example, antivax appealing is that it’s not “going along with the crowd.” It’s sold as “thinking for yourself” and being “independent” enough to buck the scientific consensus. Unlike all those other sheeple. 🙂

We have, indeed, seen many instances where “Do your own research” (in more or less those words) means, “Look at these websites and come to the same conclusion I have come to.” It won’t convince pseudo-skeptics to adopt a scientific viewpoint because it’s precisely the argument they deploy.

It’s a hard problem because you can’t reason somebody out of an opinion he didn’t reason himself into.

This blog is pretty hilarious. Sure, there are a lot of scientists pointing out the gaping flaws in conventional paradigms–but they’re just intelligent, educated people clinging to pseudoscience, right? All the “official” experts say so. 😀

The answer is pretty simple, and it’s not finding more and better ways to manipulate beliefs: Examine the evidence objectively and civilly, instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks, smear campaigns and selective promotion to manufacture “consensus.” Science doesn’t rely on consensus, not even remotely.

“It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment… The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakeable conviction that snow is black.” — Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952)

@Christine #3

Aside from making an unwarranted assumption about someone’s social circle and it’s norms based on solely on a single issue, you are determining whether or not someone is thinking for themselves by judging which crowd they follow. Admonitions for other people to ‘think for themselves’ are often offensive because of the implication they haven’t yet done so.

Dismissing someone else’s opinion as ‘unthinking’ is generally not a persuasive strategy, particularly if it’s an issue they feel they have put serious thought into and have reached a conclusion opposite to that of the general social consensus.

First we must eliminate antiscience from scientific institutions. Conflict of interests, technicism, dogmatism, bureaucracy, managerialism and competition are not good for science, and lay people are smart enough not to believe what they are told.

I must protest this blog’s snide allusion to Sedona, AZ.

There is an Naturopathic Doctor there who offers a New Patient Comprehensive Consultation for $200-250, but the New Patient Homeopathic Consultation costs $360.

http://sedonanaturopathic.net/services.php

This demonstrates that massively diluting medical care makes it even more valuable, which proves homeopathy’s core principle.

I now invariably take the “do your own research” admonition to mean:
Bore a tap in the intertoobz.
Collect a bucket of effluent.
Process the effluent through Dunning-Kruger and confirmation bias filters.
(and since my hobbyhorse is in need of a canter around the paddock – Ryan Lovett is dead in no small part because his mother did her own research in just such a fashion)

The implication is always that someone who does their own research will become one of the select few cognoscenti who haven’t been mislead by so-called experts who are uniformly greedy and corrupt.

A certain person who produces more socks than Hanes & Fruit of the Loom combined, and shall on this occasion remain nameless, is a fine example of someone who does his own research so he can tell all the rest of us how we’re wrong. He’s pretty good at finding at least reasonably relevant stuff on the net, but time after time has demonstrated that he lacks sufficient general relevant knowledge to understand what he’s found. He typically shows that lack with just a a few words.

My apologies if this is a duplicate post. Something odd happened and it seemed to go off to alt-dimension.

I now invariably take the “do your own research” admonition to mean:
Bore a tap in the intertoobz.
Collect a bucket of effluent.
Process the effluent through Dunning-Kruger and confirmation bias filters.
(and since my hobbyhorse is in need of a canter around the paddock – Ryan Lovett is dead in no small part because his mother did her own research in just such a fashion)

The implication is always that someone who does their own research will become one of the select few cognoscenti who haven’t been mislead by so-called experts who are uniformly greedy and corrupt.

A certain person who produces more socks than Hanes & Fruit of the Loom combined, and shall on this occasion remain nameless, is a fine example of someone who does his own research so he can tell all the rest of us how we’re wrong. He’s pretty good at finding at least reasonably relevant stuff on the net, but time after time has demonstrated that he lacks sufficient general relevant knowledge to understand what he’s found. He typically shows that lack with just a a few words.

When I was very young, I got a reprint of ” A Study of the Anti-Scientific Attitude” from the February 1955 issue of Scientific American, and have had it close at hand ever since with its glorious yellowed edges. This study was my first serious introduction at the time to science, and I have to admit, I have no better answers to the problem than I did in 1955. It reads as if written today where one only has to substitute the word vaccination for fluoridation.The introduction is: “It has been clearly demonstrated that fluoridation tends to prevent tooth decay and does no harm. Then why are many people violently against it? How the question was investigated in Northampton, Mass.

The study is available online behind a paywall: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-study-of-the-anti-scientific-atti/

Even without institutional access, or an existing subscription it is worth the $7.99 to have the digital issue.

Some of this antivaccine and antiscience rhetoric comes from the idea that current science is not based on facts, but rather conspiracies to keep certain parties in positions of power and/or profit. The funny thing is that Trump is the individual in the US with the most power and wealth combined, yet he is still pretending to be this renegade fighting corruption. I stand by my old stance, this won’t go away until something really bad happens, along the lines of a flu epidemic comparable to the early 1900s.

Also quotes aren’t evidence, nor are they logical arguments…just for the record.

This demonstrates that massively diluting medical care makes it even more valuable, which proves homeopathy’s core principle.

To paraphrase Dave Barry: Homeopathy rests on a proven scientific principle, namely that if you can convince somebody that diluting an ingredient to the point where it is no longer contained in the mixture makes a more powerful medicine that will treat his condition, you can get this person to give you money.

(The original version is about astrology, and appeared, IIRC, in Dave Barry’s Guide to Marriage and/or Sex.)

Orac writes,

But first we have to know what “right” is.

MJD says,

In my opinion, medical science continues to disrespect humanity by using and reporting LD50.

Lethal dose (LD50) is the amount of an ingested substance that kills 50 percent of a test sample (i.e. non-human). It is expressed in mg/kg, or milligrams of substance per kilogram of body weight. Common name. Toxin. Lethal doses.

In a more humane and compassionate world, wouldn’t reporting LD10 or LD01 be more appropriate?

My point being, if the dose makes the poison, isn’t it better for medical science to be more sensitive to potential loss-of-life?

Everyone matters, therefore, toxicity studies should be reported to more readily convey this message.

“It has been clearly demonstrated that fluoridation tends to prevent tooth decay and does no harm. Then why are many people violently against it?”

That one is still around, alas. Not too long ago, voters in Portland, OR, turned down an attempt by the city to finally get around to fluoridating its water supply, half a century after Doctor Strangelove ridiculed the idea (spoiler alert: it’s the pretext Gen. Ripper uses to start WWIII).

Edward @15
Thanks for that and is the one. Did not think to check that source.
I have always found the study a fascinating parallel to events from then to today.

In the context of autism I think pseudoscience and outright quackery have always been able to take a strong hold because real science is still honestly fuzzy and uncertain. It is easy to make bold claims about cause and effect when the real cause is less certain. I do wonder though if an attraction to ‘natural remedies’ and ancient exotic treatments such as TCM and Ayurveda is an attempt to fulfill a spiritual void. I find any attempt to engage with or debate with parents opposed to vaccination is scarliy reminiscent of my experience with a classmate at school whose father was minister for a fundamentalist Christian church. Andrew Wakefield and the Vaxxed team arrived in the U.K.recently drumming up support like an evangelical mission and the supporters all talk like converts to a cult. It is fascinating how they totally ignore any information about autism that does not relate to vaccines and ‘severly injured’, very sick children. Those of us who have a different experience of autism are dismissed and I’m often to.d to ‘wake up’ and stop being a sheeple. The fact that I am a healthy survivor ( 6 years ) of conventional treatment for breast cancer with two autistic children who did not have any reaction to vaccines and are now healthy young adults who are neither damaged or diseased is of absolutely no interest to them. It’s obvious that I am a pharma shill. I wish knew how to reach these people, but evidence and logic appear to be of no use.

I often find that the cover up concerning the dangers of Hydrogen Dioxide to be effective. I mean people literally spray this stuff about, it can cause death and there have been zero long term exposure studies.. Wake up Sheeple!

@ Zach:

Even more ridiculously:
woo-meisters I survey CONSTANTLY tell their thralls that they themselves are battling corrupt and powerful corporate interests that rule the world.
They’re brave, maverick freedom fighters/ paradigm shifters.
( and -btw- corporations themselves)
And loaded down monetarily with ill gotten gains.

I should display Homes of the Woo-fraught Grifters-
so far I’ve seen Wakefield’s, Burzynski’s, Dr Oz’s, Mercola’s and Gary Null’s estates.(Photos easily obtainable on the net)

HOWEVER I think that the rebel identity is very attractive to many people as is the trendy, first-on-your-block innovator.

-btw- I find it hilarious that woo-meisters like Adams and Null are bemoaning the harm that fake news does.

Unfortunately, much of the medical research out there simply can’t be trusted due to conflicts of interest, according to many in a position to know. Such as Dr. Marcia Angell, a longtime editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. She wrote: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/

I wish I could say that, after perhaps a few more large vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the US, parents won’t be fooled by anti-vaccinationists. My concern now with the distortion from our nation’s capital is that such outbreaks will be spun as proof that vaccines don’t work rather then evidence that vaccination rates have gone to low. But remember folks, none of those opposing vaccines are anti-vaccine.

And, as a native and resident of Arizona, I wish I had an explanation why so much woo resides here. Perhaps because Arizona schools are almost always dead last in every rating scale there is, but still a lot of people move here from elsewhere, so there’s something else that draws the kooks and quacks.

Ok, for the record, I did not put any strike through tags on post #26.

@ Chris Hickie; ( I’m responding to your cross-out)

Unfortunately, woo thrives and exists even in centres of art, fashion and culture, jam-packed with universities and international trade.
Money draws woo-meisters.

Admonitions to “think for yourself” or the classic anti-vaccine ploy, “I did my own research” represent an ideal that is essentially impossible for most people. It’s not because they all lack the ability to reason, but that they lack the background in the sciences and the specific knowledge to evaluate an argument such as “vaccines are nearly entirely safe and save many more lives than they take.”

This is one case where elitism is required, in the sense that the specialist professionals are best suited to make recommendations based on a huge amount of information and experience.

If Trump supporters really start viewing antivaccine beliefs and distrust of vaccines as part of their identity, our children will be in serious trouble, and vaccine-preventable diseases will make horrific comeback.

I think that one of the things which helps to sustain antiscience views is that as people interact with what science is telling them, there are no clearly perceivable penalties for being wrong in their judgment about it. They are never faced with a circumstance where a misjudgment truly causes them to question their own competence. With much of science, this is the case: it really doesn’t hurt a creationist to be wrong about evolution because being wrong can never backfire in an existentially threatening manner… there is no way for the revelation of our origins to be a threat, except perhaps in the antibiotic crisis, which is still very slow compared to the passage of one person’s life and can be explained away by splitting hairs, like trying to differentiate macro-evolution from micro-evolution. It also really doesn’t hurt people on the spot to misjudge climate change (again, very slow consequences) or even crazy crankery, like flat-earth beliefs or quantum mysticism since there are no clear outcomes that could affect anybody’s health. This is one place where vaccine science is actually fairly different: there is a potential for a very clear, immediate outcome which could paint the floor red.

The vaccine mandate went through the California legislature because a failure to vaccinate was revealed to have an immediate outcome to the common man. Vaccine preventable diseases can very readily reveal themselves to be non-equal to autism and totally change a value based judgment. I would suggest that the ballooning of antivaccine views is, in many ways, a consequence of the success of vaccination: it does not clearly hurt these days to avoid vaccination. So, the perceived boogieman of autism is as bad or worse than measles.

I think that maybe the failure of herd immunity would have the consequence of reinforcing for the majority of people why herd immunity is necessary. Maybe, it would also lend some credibility to scientists in general. If a large portion of the public finds humiliation in the self-revelation that a failure of herd immunity is easily preventable, maybe they would be more inclined to listen to people who actually know better. At some point, scientists are going to be saying “I told you so,” about climate change… maybe we can soften the need for that day to come by having a huge measles outbreak as soon as possible. Hopeful, I know, but maybe it would work. Nothing like casualties to galvanize action: 3,000 people died in 9/11, and yet the government has had two wars with tens to hundreds of times more casualties as a direct result since.

What is the saying? A small fire is necessary for the health of the forest?

@Jay #22:

You mean Dihydrogen oxide, right? HO2 would be a deprotonated, anionic form of peroxide, which is a superoxide and pretty dangerous.

@ John Marley

It’s the UK’s Friday night, I freely admit to borking that right up. Enjoy your little moment, it will probably be your one and only on here 🙂

“The impetus for the creation of this blog, lo these 12+ years ago, was growing alarm at the rising tide of pseudoscience then, such as quackery, antivaccine misinformation, creationism, Holocaust denial, and many other forms of attacks on science, history, and reality itself.”

-Such as the idea that there are more than two sexes.

Never mind!
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/02/18/the-idea-of-two-sexes-is-simplistic-biologists-now-think-there-is-a-wider-spectrum-than-that/

it will probably be your one and only on here

Are you suggesting that Marley is actually Travis J. Schwochert alias Fendlesworth, commonly known as Fucklesworth?

Bwahahaha! The Gnat appears to be buzzing about something written by someone other than I. Hilarious. It’s as if he thinks I’m responsible for everything that goes on over on the other blogs in the Sb network.

I’m getting better. I’m also working in my office; so I see when the e-mail notifications for the comments come in almost as soon as they do. 🙂

@Jay #33

Lucky you. I’m still at work…for another hour. No Friday night for me this week. I might get half a cornflake tart when I get home.

For whatever reason, Mr. Crosby has become fully trans-phobic.

Sad, really.

It seems to be common among Trump supporters. Mike Adams, for instance, has also gone all-in on the trans-phobia as well. Some of the posts he’s written about transgendered people are truly disgusting.

Orac, you burst my bubble. I thought that you wrote everything at SB.

Of course a gnat probably can’t tell the difference between SB and bs. He probably likes bs (especially really fresh bs) more because it is warm and sticky. Of course most of us just wipe it off our boots.

I think we could have a real fun contest among the minions: who can best impersonate Travis J. Schwochert.

Please don’t. It causes me enough irritation as it is to keep on stomp on his socks as soon as he finds a new way in. The last thing I need to do is to be dealing with attempts to impersonate him.

“It’s as if he thinks I’m responsible for everything that goes on over on the other blogs in the Sb network.”

No, just when it comes to “attacks on science, history, and reality itself” since your blog supposedly takes those on. Are you going to take on the most heavily trafficked “Science”Blogger’s attack on science, history and reality itself? Or are you too scared that you’ll lose your own platform?

@ Viggen #30: The UK has only just recently returned to pre-Wakefield vaccination rates despite a lot of measles since his fraudulent 1998 Lancet paper. That’s almost 20 years. I’d like to think people in the US would learn from a few vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks sooner than that, but I suspect not. I feel like too many people now, have this attitude that if you or your child gets sick and dies from one of these vaccine-preventable diseases that somehow it was your “weak immune system” or imperfect (by their perfect standards of purity and “natural”) lifestyle that led to the downfall–and that somehow you or your child deserved it. And conversely they believe that if they give their child a perfect diet and toxin-free upbringing that their child will never catch measles/etc, or if their child does catch the infection, their child with, with his/her perfect immune system, just laugh it off like no big deal.

People believe in what they feel works for them (whether it really does or not). Too many people are thinking not vaccinating is working for them, and I think it will take a lot to dissuade them otherwise. So much so that this is why vaccine laws like California’s SB277 arise–which unfortunately then inflames people who would otherwise probably vaccinate into protesting what they will feel is increasing government interference in their lives. I think anti-vaccinationists have cleverly enhanced their membership by appealing to the libertarian streak in Americans when they holler “no forced vaccinations”. That’s not really what anti-vaccinationists are about (and there are not any “forced vaccinations”), but as Orac has shown here many times, anti-vaccinationism makes for the strangest of bedfellows with people who would otherwise not want to be in the same room together standing side by side to promote pseudoscience.

@Jake Crosby

Your response proves you have such limited truth & science to respond with that you’re forced to resort to such a ridiculous reach of an “attack.” It’s kind of desperate and sad, even for you.

Pathetic is a better description, to be honest. The Gnat can buzz, but that’s about it. He clearly doesn’t understand biology.

For whatever reason, Mr. Crosby has become fully trans-phobic.

Sad, really.

Jake has always been intimidated by girls, transgender is just another he is ignorant and fearful of.

who can best impersonate Travis J.

I guess that would be OK as long as we aren’t doing it as sockpuppets. Any more socks around here and we’ll be conjuring up the ghost of Jack Kerouac, saying to himself A donde es me sockiboos? Of course if we might, happily, conjure The Uncommon Sock Eater from the cellars of The Unseen University.

DO. NOT. DO. THIS.

Seriously, don’t. My banhammer has become mighty smashing Travis socks, and I will not think too hard over a suspected Travis sock or example of what looks like Travis impersonating someone because if someone sounds enough like Travis it might well be Travis.

Orac, I retract the idea about fendlesworth.

Please no one do this.

I found this that I thought is appropriate for this post:

Iowa State Senator Chelgren said Thursday he had not thought there was much difference between a degree and a certificate. He said he worked at a Southern California Sizzler in the 1980s, when he was about 19.

A Sizzler certificate now equals a degree, no wonder we have problems.

The Gnat,

Did it not occur to you that sex chromosome mosaicism do exist with plenty of published articles about such? Yes, in humans. Perhaps you should have done a degree in cell & molecular biology instead of wasting your time on a history degree during your undergrad. That said, doing a biology degree wouldn’t garantee that you wouldn’t have wasted your time as you evidently do currently while wasting a perfectly good PhD in epidemiology by trying to validate a bunch of cranks as well as your mother 🙂

Good luck Gnat,

Al

Does anyone else think that this from MJD at (currently) #17 qualify as one of the stupidest things to ever flow from his fingertips?

In a more humane and compassionate world, wouldn’t reporting LD10 or LD01 be more appropriate?

My point being, if the dose makes the poison, isn’t it better for medical science to be more sensitive to potential loss-of-life?

Everyone matters, therefore, toxicity studies should be reported to more readily convey this message.

What next? Should we stop using hertz to describe cycles per second, because it sounds like ‘hurts’, and we shouldn’t want anybody to be hurt?

Johnny, George Carlin still strikes even from the grave. In instead of the crude terms LD50, LD10 or LD1 we should use NLD (Non-Lethal Dose).

It is so much nicer to say NLD99, NLD90 or NLD50. Doesn’t it sound so much better than saying at LD50, 50% of the subjects die versus NLD50 where 50% of the subjects live.

Johnny @55: You know, I do believe that’s the most amazingly stupid non sequitur MJD’s ever had. It’s almost like he doesn’t even know what an LD50 is.
(Though I did once entertain myself by looking up the LD50 of sugar to refute a FoodBabe thing.)

Here, MJD, have a nice bunch of balloons!

[email protected]: The story is even worse than that snippet. Sen. Chelgren is the sooper genius who introduced a bill requiring political balance among professors at state universities in Iowa. Seriously.

I am aware that Republican academics exist, but there is a reason there are so few of them. As Stephen Colbert said, facts have a well-known liberal bias.

@#34

Although The Gnat apparently clings to binary classifications, disorders of sex development are common: for example, about 1 in 250 people have congenital genital anomalies. Despite recent efforts, considerable controversy still attends concerns including the assignment of male or female sex (and the older practice of very early sex reassignment surgery), how to preserve fertility, and predictors of gender identity development. The Gnat has long supported the lunatic Geiers’ chemical castration, but he seems to have a problem with the fact that, not surprisingly, some people with ASD have gender dysphoria-related issues. My wife, an endocrinologist, works with psychologists to try to help people whose existence The Gnat denies.

This debate has been going on for many years, see “persistence of myths” for instance.

What really doesn’t help is when the medical profession itself falls for the pseudo-science and actively promotes things which damage public health, like cycle helmets. All the long term, large scale, reliable data shows clearly that cycle helmets at best make no difference and and worst, increase risk, but the vast majority of medical people and organisations prefer their own opinions, backed up by the pseudo-science of helmet zealots.

This wouldn’t be so bad if all that happened was that the helmet manufacturers made billions (for a product that doesn’t work and can’t be taken back when it fails) but there is a massive impact on public health. The continual emphasis on the dangers of cycling and the inconvenience of carrying a helmet deter many people from cycling, thus losing the overwhelming health benefits: regular cyclists live two years longer on average and suffer less from all forms of illness, including cancer. In the middle of an obesity epidemic largely caused by lack of exercise, helmet promotion and laws are literally insane, but many doctors promote helmets and demand laws.

Physicians heal thyselves perhaps?

It is so much nicer to say NLD99, NLD90 or NLD50. Doesn’t it sound so much better than saying at LD50, 50% of the subjects die versus NLD50 where 50% of the subjects live.

What is even more hilarious is that LD50 is only one value used in toxicology and only for comparative purposes. When the interest is in human risk, the figure used is the LOAEL and NOAEL.

But then MJD…..

Oh and by the way can I third or fourth the not impersonating Travis? I really suck at distinguishing between a few of our regulars and Travis impersonating them – until he completely gives the game away.

Chris Preston from Australia (# 61) writes,

When the interest is in human risk, the figure used is the LOAEL and NOAEL.

MJD says,

In a definition from The Free Dictionary it is written, “lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) (lowest observed effect level (LOEL)) in studies of the toxicity of chemicals, the lowest dosage level at which chronic exposure to the substance shows adverse effects; usually calculated for laboratory animals.”

@ Chris Preston from Austrailia,

If a vaccine safety advocate wanted to estimate the LOAEL of a known allergen, present in a vaccine, is this usually calculated for laboratory animals?

Maybe now Johnny and Just-a-Pig (abbreviation for JustaTech and Politicalguineapig) understand the unpredictable effect of allergens in vaccines?

The article you study is so incredibly flawed I’m surprised it was published.

“He points out that there are a lot of emotion involved, and that epidemiologic studies, because of their inherent imperfections, are probably not capable of resolving the debate.”

It isn’t epidemiological studies which are inherently flawed, it is the case control studies. I think you’ve just proved the basis of the original article above, both with your comment and the article you quote.

According to the Insurance Information Institute:

“(The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says) in 2015 motorcycle helmets saved 1,772 lives. Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries for motorcycle riders (operators) and 41 percent effective for motorcycle passengers.”

http://www.iii.org/issue-update/motorcycle-crashes

Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than nothing.

I’d be interested in seeing what evidence exists that exercise involving in motorcycle riding is as safe and beneficial to health as forms of exercise that don’t involve the risk of getting pancaked in traffic. But it probably won’t be forthcoming from the fanatical anti-helmet crowd.

Dangerous Bacon, you seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, as I was talking about cycle helmets, not motorcycle helmets. There is no exercise benefit from riding a motorcycle, but since I never claimed there was, your point is rather irrelevant.

That said, the evidence for motorcycle helmets is similarly questionable though, and quoting the people who were responsible for introducing the motorcycle helmet law and thus have a massive vested interest, is hardly irrefutable proof.

Pretty much the kind of response I’d expect from the fanatical helmet crowd, but thanks for proving the argument in the article though.

It isn’t epidemiological studies which are inherently flawed, it is the case control studies. I think you’ve just proved the basis of the original article above, both with your comment and the article you quote.

What do you think case-control studies are?

Anti-helmet claims made in reference to bicycle riding don’t stand up any better than the ones cited by some motorcycle riders.

“A new study has put to bed the notion that helmets can make cycling injuries worse or prevent people from riding, researchers say.

The University of NSW study presented to an injury prevention conference in Finland this week showed helmets reduced fatal head injuries by about 65 per cent.

Statistician Jake Olivier presented the findings and told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Libbi Gorr the results were overwhelming.

“We collected data from 40 different studies using data from over 64,000 injured cyclists,” he said.

“We found that helmet use was associated with about a 50 per cent reduction in head injuries of any severity, about a 70 per cent reduction in serious head injuries and those are usually skull fractures and inter-cranial injury or bleeding in the brain.”

There was no association between helmet use and neck injuries, Dr Olivier said.

“Most specialists, we’ve known for a long time that bicycle helmets are effective. Usually the arguments against come from groups that are on the fringe.”…

Many who argue against the laws say helmets prevented people from cycling, particularly commuters.

Dr Olivier said there was no credence to the idea.

“We published a study right before this one in the Medical Journal of Australia where we looked back at some really good high-quality studies … before and after helmet laws, and we found there was no change in the number of people cycling,” he said.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-22/cycling-helmets-save-lives-researchers-say/7867904

Excuse me for initially assuming that Mr. Burton* was referring to motorcycle helmets, but some motorbike riders make similar claims about health benefits for their activity.

*loved your performance in “Where Eagles Dare”.

In my practice, it is indeed the most educated clients who can be the most difficult. While they know a lot, they can overgeneralize what they know, and discount my expertise over their confidence in their own understanding.

As a behavior analyst, this can be especially difficult when my recommendations, based in science, run up against their folk wisdom. It becomes hard to convince them because I can see the discomfort activating their defensiveness, and I can’t quite have them go out and take multiple courses in behaviorism to catch up.

What issue are you talking about here–where your recommendations as a behavioral analyst are stymied by the most educated clients allegedly basing their decisions on “folk wisdom”?

Consequences–financial and possibly criminal–might help. You don’t want to vaccinate? Fine. But if your unvaccinated child contracts and is harmed by a vaccine-preventable disease and/or spreads it to others, you will be required to cover the cost of medical care yourself. Taxpayers and insurers should not have to bear the financial burden of your poor decision making. If it leads to death, you will be criminally prosecuted.

“natural” over the “artificial”… distrust the institutions…
And person/family business over government/big company.

I recognised these deep core divisions in opponents minds myself, too. But it’s not so easy to use it for spreading scientific truth.

Anyway I got my opponent falter or hesitate about GMO when I asked if he would accept it from Your local small family company/neighbour (organic) farm instead of huge Monsanto. Former sounds more “natural” and less “secret” than latter.
And I think many antivaxxers would accept vaxx’s developed by local family business if they are known neighbours. (Theoretical question, not practical of course).

@Viggen #30, I suspect that it’ll take both herd immunity failure and a return of polio in the US, in a large, multi-state outbreak to convince them.

@Richard Burton, I have a friend, who invested mightily upon a high quality motorcycle helmet.
One day, he was riding with a friend and encountered an improperly crowned bend in the road, which caused a loss of control and upset of his motorcycle at highway speeds.
He slid along the pavement and his helmet split in two upon contact with the curb. He suffered a skull fracture and was comatose for several days.
Upon recovery, he related as to how severe his injuries would’ve been had he not been wearing that quality helmet – he would have had a depressed skull fracture.

You assume that accident rates remain unchanged that there is no benefit, ignoring that complacency would occur in those protected by those helmets and thereby increase their risk exposure by increasing their risky behaviors.
You fall for the nirvana fallacy, where if all risk isn’t avoided, the efforts to mitigate the risk should be abandoned. By that standard, we should abandon fire departments, police forces, prosecution of criminals, law enforcement in general and shutter every medical practice in the land, as none are 100% effective.
Well, that would be effective in mitigating overpopulation.
Or, we could continue using what mitigation we have, compensate as we can for shortcomings and have a larger part of the population survive.

I didn’t enjoy wearing a 7.5 pound helmet and 48 pound Kevlar vest and ESAPI plates in the army. I didn’t object after fragments that would’ve shredded my lungs only broke a few ribs.

“I understand from conversations with colleagues in other parts of the country that they [cancer patients who delayed science-based treatments and turn up with advanced disease] are not so uncommon for some of my colleagues . . . I often wonder what, if anything, anyone could have told such patients when they first presented with their cancers that might have persuaded them to accept science-based medicine”.

If a high number of these cases were published, complete with all the non-effective treatments used by the patients in the course of their disease, would make a bit of difference? I would like to think it would. But if ‘Big Media’ alerted the general public to the results, as crazy thing is, there are those who would cry “conspiracy”. Whether they reached publication in a medical journal or not, a repository of the cases would be a good start. I recall someone mentioning the existence of a similar repository, but don’t recall the name.

Pardon the botched wording in my last response (#77).

Some of you may already be aware of “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data”, a new course offered at the University of Washington that was filled in 20 minutes. If more colleges offered the course, so much the better. The originators are encouraging others to do so. You can read the syllabus at the site, along with other very useful resources.

BigHeathenMike
March 4, 2017

Go away Fendlesworth.

Pathetic try Travis Schwochert. Please get help; this hobby of yours is really self-destructive.

Orac, would you prefer NOT to have forced-to-moderation comments drawing your attention to his presence?

Fendlesworth does serve a purpose though, keeps the site looking busy, brings lots of noise and ultimately easily beaten.

That and the fact he is such an obviously malignant slimeball, I think, persuades more of the fence sitters to our cause.

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