Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Twitter Arguments Round-Up

Twitter profile

Over the last few days, I have been arguing a lot of Twitter with different people and organizations. I bickered with the Mayo Clinic on alternative medicine and the prospect of funding based on biological plausibility. They did not seem to get it and claimed that we needed to sift through quack treatments because some of it was good (they neglected to mention which one they thought were effective and provided no evidence). I scoffed at Nature News and Comments because they, yet again, decided to promote the “climate-change-has-taken-a-hiatus-for-the-past-16-years” myth. They responded by denying it, and ironically, asking me if I read the post. Finally, I also tried to discuss reasons for why women drop out of science with a number of people, but one of them called me a racist troll and a misogynist despite the fact that I am a virulent anti-racist (I am regularly called “anti-white” by racists) and have exposed MRA nonsense on a number of times on this blog.

I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not possible to have a coherent and meaningful conversation on Twitter. At any rate, let’s go over each discussion in detail, because they do demonstrate important things about science organizations, science journalism and people who try to argue on Twitter.

The Mayo Clinic: quack treatments and biological plausibility

This exchange started with the twitter account of The Mayo Clinic inviting people on twitter to give them questions about so-called alternative and complementary medicine on their show Mayo Clinic Radio:

Mayo  Clinic Radio advert tweet

I came up with a question I wanted them to respond to. It was about redirecting research money to treatments that have a chance of working instead of wasting it on alternative medicine:

My first response

Now, I doubt that the Twitter account is handled by an actual scientists. Rather, I suspect it is some PR or social media personnel. So we cannot extrapolate their ignorance and unscientific approaches to the Mayo Clinic as an organization. However, here is what the twitter account replied with:

Mayo Clinic responds

There are some good? We need to sift? What alternative medicine qualifies as “good”? Is Mayo Clinic pulling the pharmacognosy gambit? Here is my response:

My response to Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic twitter account did not continue to exchange. I was disappointed that the Mayo Clinic twitter account claimed that there exists alternative medicine treatments that were good without providing any example of evidence. I am disappointed that they probably used the pharmacognosy gambit. I am disappointed that they did not seem to grasp the issue of biological plausibility as it pertains to research funding.

Nature News and Comment: promote climate change denialism, then denies it

Recently, Nature News and Comment published an item that claimed that global warming has taken a mysterious 16-year-long “hiatus” and that this represents “the biggest mystery in climate science today”. The piece correctly claims that in 1998, average global temperatures was high, but then incorrectly claim that it has since stalled. It then goes into some possible explanations for this supposed stalling.

Because I think it is a bad idea that one of the largest science websites promotes classic climate change denialist myths, I tweeted the following to the twitter account of Nature News and Comment:

Nature News Again

One of the links went to the Nature News item and the other went to the refutation of the 16 year hiatus myth over at Skeptical Science.

Here is how Nature News responded. Again, it was probably a PR person and not an actual scientist (certainly not a climate scientist).

Nature News responds

I responded by the obvious:

My response

Here is the famous escalator of doubt:

Escalator of doubt

Climate change denialists abuse short intervals, draw their trend lines and conclude that no warming has occurred. However, once you control for short-term noise, there has been warming during the past 16 years. Here is the changes in global temperature once you adjust for ENSO, volcanic eruptions and solar variations:

Adjusted data

No 16 year hiatus can be seen. Shame on Nature News and Comment for perpetuating the myth of the 16 year hiatus and for calling it “the biggest mystery in climate science”. It isn’t.

My T Chondria: Name-calling and failure to address arguments

To avoid additional misunderstandings, I must emphasize that I accept that there is a large, strong and harmful anti-woman bias in science. They are less likely to be hired and get less pay. This is wrong and should be rectified: women should be equally likely to get hired and get the exact same pay (all other factors constant).

Recently, a correspondence (image here) was posted in Nature stating that family formation (e. g. marriage and giving birth to children) was the biggest factor in losing women in the science pipeline. This is based on published research. This does not mean that anti-women bias does not exist (it does exist). It just means that the biggest reason women leave science is family formation. This seemed like an uncontroversial thing to say, but it would not take long until radical feminists started demanding that Nature publish an apology.

The editors issued the following apology:

Nature has a strong history of supporting women in science and of reflecting the views of the community in our pages, including Correspondence. Our Correspondence pages do not reflect the views of the journal or its editors; they reflect the views only of the correspondents.

We do not endorse the views expressed in this Correspondence (or indeed any Correspondences unless we explicitly say so). On re-examining the letter and the process, we consider that it adds no value to the discussion and unnecessarily inflames it, that it did not receive adequate editorial attention, and that we should not have published it, for which we apologize. This note will appear online on nature.com in the notes section of the Correspondence and in the Correspondence’s pdf.

They did not specify what was wrong with the correspondence nor did they bother to discuss the actual research.

Radical feminists on Twitter were celebrating. Here was one such example:

My T's first post

My T Chondria seems to consider the correspondence to be misogynistic. How so? My T Chondria does not say. I invite readers to read the correspondence in full here. Where is the misogyny?

Here is my response. Notice that it is polite, makes no personalizations and links the paper showing that family formation was the biggest factor.

My first response

My T Chondria does not respond, so I ask if My T now accepts that family formation is the biggest reason why women leave science. I hoped to get an intellectually productive discussion about the evidence. Sadly, I was mistaken:

My T starts....acting irrational

So right of the bat, a link that supports the conclusion in the correspondence get met by name-calling (“asshole”, “racist” and “troll”). No effort is made to discuss the actual study. It is also very ironic that My T Chondria claims that I am a racist. In reality, I have written over a dozen high-quality refutations of racists: their abuse of heritability, their failure to understand that clustering in PCA graphs do not represent races but rather low sampling density and so on. My post on the heritability of IQ was specifically to debunk racist nonsense about heritability.

I realized that the discussion was going nowhere, so I brought in some tougher rhethoric:

My responses

Again, I want to point out that I accept that science has an anti-woman bias, that this problem is large and should be fought. Women should be hired equally often and get the same pay for the same work. No doubt about it. However, My T Chondria was unable to make a coherent reply to criticisms and engaged in name-calling (after apparently misreading my blog).

What did My T Chondria do now? Did My T Chondria apologize for calling me a racist? Did My T Chondria start engaging the actual arguments I made? No, far from it:

My T out of control

My T Chondria continues:

My T out of control

I try to steer the conversation back in a productive direction:

I offer a last chance...

No response. I decide to write a blog post about this to chronicle our failed exchange and offer one final olive branch:

last chance

My T Chondria decides to spit on it and continue to repeat the mistaken notion that I am somehow a racist.

My T Chorindria refuses peace

My T spirals out of control

Finally, My T Chondria decides to support the taking of my comment out of context:

My T Chondria quotes me out of context

I set the record straight by pointing out that it is only misogyny if I had applied it to all women, which I did not. Also, my remarks were after getting randomly called a racist.

Final response

So to sum up: My T Chondria saluted a warning text on a non-misogynist correspondence. I provided evidence that family formation was the biggest factor. My T Chondria did not respond to arguments, called me a racist, troll, misogynist and peanut. I gave My T Chondria several chances to redeem, but My T Chondria refused. Thus, My T Chondria deserves a place in the Debunking Denialism Hall of Shame for the inability to read and understand blog posts and the failure to respond to arguments without becoming hysterical. I included this exchange for future reference so that everyone can see and appreciate the behavior of My T Chondria.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, arguing on Twitter about science and scientific skepticism is mostly pointless. This is true for individuals as well as science and medical organizations. They will systematically misunderstand you, fail to respond to arguments, ignore your arguments and deny that they ever did something wrong. Even being the bigger person and giving them the option to respond to arguments does not work.

3 responses to “Twitter Arguments Round-Up

  1. Neil Rickert January 18, 2014 at 18:21

    I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not possible to have a coherent and meaningful conversation on Twitter.

    I’ve suspected that all along. And that’s why I have declined to join twitter (or facebook).

    There’s an old saying: Make sure the brain is fully engaged before releasing the tongue.

    I suspect that twitter and facebook are not conducive to following that suggestion.

  2. Emil Karlsson January 19, 2014 at 23:45

    My T Chondria has now decided to complain about me.

    I think most readers realize how intellectually immature such complaints are. Like if a teacher catches a child doing bad things, all they have to say for themselves is: “but what about him?” Pathetic.

    The reasons that the twitter user David Baltrus (@surt_lab) did not make the same Hall of Shame list as My T Chondria are simple: Baltrus did not misunderstand my blog posts, did not arbitrarily call me a racist or a misogynist, make thoughtful objections and responded to my arguments. This was in stark contrast to My T Chondria who made no effort whatsoever towards a polite and mutually constructive conversation. It has nothing to do with gender, just the fact that Baltrus did not act irrational or out of control.

    I am hoping that My T Chondria takes this as an important lesson for future interaction with people who disagree, but I will not hold my breath.

  3. Pingback: Time to Get Rid of Bad Science Journalism | Debunking Denialism

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