May 29, 2014
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It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.
This round-up installment of the mailbag series will take on a three separate crank comments that were recently submitted to this website. I declined to publish anyone of them because they did not address any of the arguments or evidence that were presented in the articles, they repeated the same old pseudoscientific canards that been refuted thousands of times before and some of them promoted genocide denial.
First up is an anti-vaccine activist going by the name of Bomac. A little later, we will examine the falsehoods promoted by Holocaust denier Jeffrey Stafford and the belief that transgender people are delusional promoted by Obarryon King.
Vaccines are, in general, very safe and effective
Bomac starts off by claiming that:
Many of the claims of vaccine’s success are not true, but for the sake of discussion, presuming they are all true; that was then and this in now. Vaccines have changed today. Manufacturers include all kinds of toxins that are extremely harmful.
This is a common anti-vaccine tactic know as the toxin gambit. Either anti-vaccine cranks refuse to specify what these alleged toxins are, or they list essential vaccine ingredients that are not toxin at the concentrations used in vaccines. Polysorbate 80 is a nonionic emulsifier and is present in higher amounts in common ice cream. Formaldehyde is used to inactivate viruses to prevent them from causing disease and there is more of it occurring naturally in your body. Aluminum salts are adjuvants that increased the effectiveness of vaccines and have been safely used for 70 years. These are not the same as elemental aluminum and aluminum salts in the concentrations used in vaccines do not cause brain damage. Thimerosal, which is not the same as environmental mercury, has been removed from vaccines over a decade ago and only occurs in some multidose vials of seasonal influenza vaccine to protect against contamination. These are just a few examples of anti-vaccine misinformation about vaccine ingredients. Reliable information about vaccine ingredients can be found at the CDC and the FDA.
Just ask 47,000 paralyzed Indian girls that Bill Gates gifted.
The cases of paralysis occurring in India was caused not caused by the polio vaccine or even polio. According to The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there was no reported cases of polio during the time these individuals became paralyzed. In reality, these cases were caused by non-polio enteroviruses, primarily Coxsackie-B and various echoviruses. This shows that anti-vaccine cranks seem to have little issue with exploiting human tragedy in their efforts to vilify vaccines.
Read more of this post
February 22, 2014
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In a misguided effort to promote an “open-minded atmosphere”, another major Swedish morning newspaper has taken a stand in favor of intellectually dishonest conspiracy theories. The newspaper, called Göteborgs-Posten (GP), recently published a couple of opinion pieces by two Bosnian genocide denialist. Together, they trot out a number of classic genocide denial tactics and tropes: denying the existence of a systematic extermination, intentionally underestimating civilian casualties, exploiting historical revisions by actual historians working on the topic, drawing false moral equivalences and promote conspiracy theories about the United States. They even go so far as to put the terms genocide and death camp in scare quotes. Shockingly, these two people are academics at high-profile Swedish universities: professor Lennart Palm at the University of Gothenburg and associate professor of sociology Kjell Magnusson at the University of Uppsala. This is yet another example of the disturbing fact that being a well-educated academics does not make you immune to succumbing to pseudoscience and pseudohistory.
So far, the following opinion pieces have been published in this exchange:
Allowing genocide denialists to promote their flawed conspiracy theories in major newspapers has nothing to do with being “open-minded”. In reality, it is a postmodern appeal to false balance where flawed genocide denial is given the same standing as historical fact in the name of “fairness”. Nothing could be further from being fair. Read more of this post
September 14, 2013
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Related: My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, Exposing Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Arno Mayer.
There are two fundamental objections that any conspiracy theory must pass in order to have a shred of plausibility even before we start discussing the specific details of the available evidence. Most conspiracy theories that have been proposed by proponents of pseudoscience (regarding topics such as 9/11, chemtrails, vaccines, evolution HIV/AIDS denialism etc.) fail one or both of these tests. The first objection can be called the no-leak problem and the prediction problem. The no-leak problem points out that a vast conspiracy theory involving hundreds or even thousands of people is very likely to experience leaks to the public. If no such leaks have occurred, then it is likely that the conspiracy theory is false. The second problem can be referred to as the prediction problem. Reality is a collection of enormously complex dynamic systems and prediction is often very difficult, especially years and decades into the future. This means that there are huge risks associated with attempting to pull off the secret agendas believed by conspiracy theorists. If those risks are sufficiently high, it would be difficult to see why any shadowy organization would attempt it. If the operations failed, they would have been exposed and there is presumably a huge incentive for shadowy organizations to stay under the radar.
Holocaust denialism fails to counter any of the two objections. If the Holocaust was a conspiracy, then that would have to involve thousands of scientists, historians, soldiers, journalists and even members of the Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust. If that were true, something would have leaked during the past 70+ years, but no such leaks have been observed. Ergo, this is evidence against Holocaust denialism. Conspiracy theories about the Holocaust also fails the prediction objection: it is clearly very difficult to have predicted what would happen after WWII and certainly decades after Hitler started agitating against the Jews.
In My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, I discussed the tactics and assertions made by a Holocaust denier I met in real life. Fortunately, he was not that sophisticated and his claims could easily be exposed as false. A while back, that post was posted on the Facebook page for Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists. Predictably, a Holocaust denier and other misguided individuals came creeping out of the shadows and posted a couple of comments (now hidden from view because that person was rightfully banned for spamming). No credible arguments were put forward of course, just the same old recycled garbage. Consider this blog post a take-down of those assertions. Read more of this post
August 27, 2012
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Freedom. How can anyone be against freedom? The simple answer is that people generally are not against freedom. It is often a core value in various political ideologies and play a central role in the law of many counties to the point of being ingrained in our social conscious. Therefore, predictably, a lot of pseudoscientific cranks abuse the notion of freedom for their own malevolent goals. Claims about health freedom is used to attack science-based medicine and promote dangerous and non-effective “treatments”. Holocaust denial is defended by appealing to freedom of speech. Various forms of creationism or climate change denialism is infiltrating education via academic freedom bills.
A typical defense of quack medicine or anti-vaccination is talking about health freedom. Surely, people should be able to decide for themselves what type of medication they put in their bodies? Sure, but promoting anti-science quackery negates informed consent, because patients are basing their decision on false information. So, in an ironic twist of events, quack medicine is actually incompatible with real health freedom: the ability to decide what treatment is most rational for yourself based on the best available scientific evidence. Real health freedom also means freedom from cranks that exploit you for money and access to the standard of care from modern medicine. For quack medicine providers, health care freedom is a malevolent method for avoiding science-based quality control while still providing substandard care. Often far substandard care. Read more of this post
March 8, 2012
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Like creationists, Holocaust deniers love to take the word of historians out of context in their feeble attempts to demonstrate their position. I dissected one such example in my article about a quote from functionalist historian Arno Mayer, but there are apparently many more such quotations out of context.
Raul Hilberg was considered the most respected Holocaust historian ever lived, especially since he wrote a huge book on the subject called The Destruction of the European Jews back in the early 60s.
Here is the butchered quote that is often presented:
There was a Holocaust, which is, by the way, more easily said than demonstrated.
Holocaust deniers like to use this quote in an effort to show how leading Holocaust historians believe that the Holocaust is an historical reality based on nothing but faith, since they cannot demonstrate it. The quote is from an interview called Is There a New Anti-Semitism? A Conversation with Raul Hilberg in the Logos journal. Now, lets read the context of the quote, which shows something quite different: Read more of this post
December 7, 2011
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While I have spent many hours debating Holocaust deniers and the anti-immigration forces online at various blogs and forums, nothing quite prepares you for the real deal. I had a rather polite conversation with a person I interact with on a daily basis at the place I spend most of my time during the day. He subscribed to various common anti-immigration beliefs and made frequent appeals to “natural” in his justification of the subjugation of women. He also turned out to be a Holocaust denier and a self-professed “racist”. Because it is pretty clear that these particular individuals live trapped in a mirror world of make-belief and post hoc rationalizations, it is quite a surreal experience talking to one face-to-face. Now, this blog post is going to be pretty anecdotal, but I think it is instructive and could hopefully help others experiencing the same thing in the future.
This person was, luckily for me, not that well-read on arguments or debating tactics frequently used by anti-immigration pseudoskeptics or Holocaust deniers. For instance, the he did not object to the question of whether he was a racist or not, but freely confessed it to be the case. A sophisticated pseudoskeptic would probably have rejected the label and said something along the lines of “I am so tired of being called a racist just because I want responsible immigration policies”, thereby making it appear as if he or she was a martyr, being attacked on a personal level for his or her beliefs. In any case, I tried to help him clearly articulate his position, because he was a bit embarrassed when admitting that he denied the existence of gas chambers or the mainstream figure of about 6 million Jewish deaths. Clearly, he realized that the more he spoke about it, the more credibility among the listeners he lost. Granted, it was pretty low-hanging fruit for me and his claims became more and more absurd the more he opened his mouth, but I was able to shoot down most of the arguments he put forward, point out internal contradictions as well as ask him critical questions that he could not satisfactory answer.
Let me go over them, one by one.
1. Gas chambers where not just delousing chambers
One of his major claims, and one of the most common claim put forward by Holocaust deniers is that the gas chambers at the extermination camps where not actually used to kill people in, but just used for delousing infested clothes. There are many problems with this. First, the gas chambers in Treblinka used carbon monoxide, which is lethal because it reversibly binds to hemoglobin in mammals and prevents it from transporting oxygen around the body. However, lice do not have hemoglobin so using carbon monoxide to delouse clothing would be a very ineffective method. Second, some gas chambers in Auschwitz used Zyklon-B and had special chambers inside these that where specifically used for delousing. If the gas chambers where really just “delousing chambers”, why put a specific box for delousing clothing within this supposed “delousing chamber”? Clearly, the evidence supports the mainstream historical account, rather than Holocaust denialism. Read more of this post
September 10, 2011
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It is quite fascinating how different groups of pseudoskeptics from vastly different fields, such as evolutionary biology and 20th century history, tend to apply the same type of deceptive debating tactics. For instance, creationists like to quote the distinguished paleontologist Stephen J. Gould and make it appear as if he is rejecting central concepts in evolutionary biology, when he is fact is merely debating the relative merits of different evolutionary mechanisms. Creationists are thus misrepresenting the internal scientific discussion about how common descent happens, roughly expressed as “punctualists versus gradualists” (although they are not incompatible), as if it was a discussion of whether common descent was true.
As it turns out, Holocaust deniers use the same tactic, although instead of misrepresenting the punctualist Stephen J. Gould, they try to exploit the Holocaust historian Arno Meyer. Similarly to the “punctualism versus gradualism” there is a similar, legitimate discussion within Holocaust history about the exact mechanisms. This debate is usually termed the intentionalist versus functionalist controversy and deals with questions such as “to what degree has the Holocaust planned in advance and to what extent was it a continent historical outcome?”. None of the historians in this discussion denies the Holocaust. They all accept that there was intentionality for genocide, that a highly technical extermination program was implemented using e. g. gas chambers and that roughly 5-6 million Jews where killed. So, in other words, Holocaust deniers misrepresent this legitimate historic discussion as if functionalist historians support Holocaust denial. They do not.
Let us check how Holocaust deniers, such as Germar Rudolf, quote historian Arno Mayer out of context. Read more of this post