Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Mailbag

Mailbag: Eviscerating More Pseudoscientific Nonsense

mailbag letter

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.

It always amazes me that so many denialists continue to spew out the same old garbage over and over, despite the fact that it has been refuted thousands of times over. At the same time, they so arrogantly dismiss any criticism of their flawed understanding of science as unscientific. It has never been easier to selectively focus on information that only confirms your existing opinion. The Internet has created confirmation bias on steroids. This time, we are going to take on (1) a climate change denialist who deploys the global warming hiatus myth, (2) an anti-psychiatry proponent who tries (and fails) to refute the existence of schizophrenia with pure logic and (3) an anti-immigration proponent who promotes the “white genocide” conspiracy theory.

The global warming hiatus myth is based on cherry-picking intervals

Kevin King writes the following:

This article is cretinous in the extreme. The models tell us the global surface temperature will increase, as well as the ocean temperatures. For almost 20 years there has been no global warming, either on land or in the oceans that we can measure. Even a first year arts student could comprehend this. No you are the denialists and you all belong together in a mocked up moon landing studio somewhere out in the nevada desert with a bunch of creationists. Start using your brains and read some Richard Feynman. Because clearly you haven’t got a scientific bone in your body.

To illustrate how climate change denialists cherry-pick intervals to argue for the flawed notion of a global warming hiatus, consider the following graph:

escalator of doubt

Most denialists fixate at the starting point 1998. This is done because there was an especially powerful El Niño during that year, making the global temperatures quite high during that year in comparison with others. If you draw a trend line from 1998 to today, you can deceptively make it appear as if there has been no warming.

Read more of this post

Mailbag: Countering Miscellaneous Pseudoscientific Nonsense

mailbag letter

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

Mailbag: Creationism and Moving the Goalposts

Mailbag

Time to respond to yet another reader feedback email! 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. For more answers to feedback emails, see the mailbag category.

When we last saw Joe, he had sent me a feedback email were he deployed some common creationist complaints about the mainstream science of modern evolutionary biology: chiefly the equivocation of the “theory” concept, faulty appeals to the second law of thermodynamics and the “random chance” gambit. I explained the flaws in these assertions in greater detail here. After my previous response to him was posted, he decided to send me another feedback email. He starts off by thanking me for my response:

Firstly, I would like to thank you for answering my previous questions. I would like to ask a couple more questions.

Joe thanks me for answering his previous questions. Yet he neither address any of the arguments I made, nor does he state that he now accepts that his creationist objections to modern evolutionary biology are wrong. Instead, he wishes to ask more questions. This is a classic creationist debating strategy: never accept that your arguments have been debunked and keep moving onto other alleged creationist “problems” with evolution. Never retreat, just advance in a different direction. The intellectually honest approach would be to accept that those arguments were wrong and never use them again in any discussion about evolution. However, the typical creationist complain about evolution is very old: the same arguments (like the equivocation of the “theory” concept or appeals to the second law of thermodynamics) are often recycled over and over. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Flawed Race Troll Rhethoric vs. Confounders

Feedback email

Time to respond to yet another reader feedback email! 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. For more answers to feedback emails, see the mailbag category.

Most race realists I encounter online hesitate to directly state their opinions of African-Americans (or other ethnic minorities). If they did, it would be pretty obvious that their position is based on nothing more than lazy stereotyping and ingrained prejudice. This means that they have to attempt to dress up their delusional beliefs in scientific terms to make it appear respectable. As a result, they tend to spread misinformation about scientific topics such as heritability, genetic risk factors, intelligence and aggression. Typically, they also add condescending complains about “cultural Marxism” or “suffocating political correctness gone mad” or something similar. Debunking these allegedly “sophisticated” race realists often demand both deep and broad knowledge covering topics such as adoption and twin studies, genome-wide association studies, haplogroups, principal component analysis, heritability, statistics and the biological influences of behavior. In addition, a lot of patience.

Ever so rarely, I come across what we might call an unsophisticated race realist. This simplified archetype typically do not bother to attempt to discuss the details of human genetic diversity or attempt any of the traditional pseudoscientific gambits. Instead, this kind of race realist just blurts out their favorite stereotype about a given ethnic minority Read more of this post

Mailbag: Creationism, Scientific Theories and Entropy

Feedback email

Time to respond to yet another reader feedback email! 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. For more answers to feedback emails, see the mailbag category.

This time, I got a feedback message from Joe who seems to have some issues with modern evolutionary biology. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the problems Joe sees with this scientific discipline is based on the same old creationist misunderstandings that have been discussed and destroyed thousands of times before: the equivocation of the term “theory”, flawed ideas about entropy and evolution, misunderstandings of taxonomy and the impact of culture on intelligence. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Recycled HIV/AIDS Denialism Garbage

mailbag letter

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 time, the reader feedback comes from Paul and the topic is HIV/AIDS denialism.

For those new to this topic, HIV/AIDS denialism is a loosely organized movement of people who oppose mainstream medicine on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Depending on the specific subgroups, common beliefs are:

(1) that HIV does not exist despite the fact that many HIV strains has been isolated and sequences, that scientists have taken scanning electron micrographs of budding HIV and even three dimensional cryo-electron microscopy and tomography of the overall morphology, core, migration and budding sites of native HIV-1 virus particles (NIAID, 2010; HIV Sequence Database, 2010; Public Health Image Library, 2005; Carlson et al, 2010, de Marco et al, 2010, Zhao et al, 2013; Earl et al, 2013).

(2) that HIV does not cause AIDS despite the fact that HIV fulfills Koch’s postulates, is the single strong predictor of AIDS over different populations, that highly specific antiviral therapies against HIV drastically reduces the likelihood of developing AIDS and dying, HIV impairs and destroys CD4+ T cells in vivo and in vitro, leading to severe immune suppression and so on. Together with many other independent lines of evidence (NIAID, 2010), the conclusion that HIV causes AIDS is among the most evidence-based causal links between any pathogen and disease syndrome.

(3) that antiretroviral medication is the cause of HIV, despite the fact that many clinical trails have found huge improvements in delaying the onset of AIDS (two-drug combinations increased it by 50%, three-drug combinations increased it an additional 50-80%) and despite the sad fact that most people with HIV, especially in poorer countries in e. g. Africa, has never gotten antiretroviral medication and despite the fact that antiretrovirals (NIAID, 2010).

With that background information, let us turn to Paul and his comments. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Contaminated Tools and the Tsunami of Unreason

mailbag letter

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 time, the questions comes from the commenter Skeptek. It was a little bit too long, so I have shortened it a bit to distill the main ideas but hopefully I have kept sufficient context for it to make sense. Earlier on the blog, me and Skeptek had a short discussion about the motives of quacks and cranks. Skeptek was leaning more towards considering them as conscious frauds and liars, whereas I more took the position that one should not attribute to malice that which can be credibly explained by human ignorance. Of course there are proponents of pseudoscience that are conscious frauds and liars, but perhaps that should not be our default assumption.

Additionally, you’re not the first wise person to point out, what you see as flaws in my logic – namely that I am making assumptions or improperly speculating about the motives of people who promote pseudoscience, or even their mental health. I see them as willful liars, but most others seem sure they’re simply stupid. I’ve long thought that this simply can’t be true – that my reasoning was faultless [...] I do feel a strong and viscerally emotional reaction to pseudoscience in all forms. I become tense and even get snippy with those around me after reading some of the worst stuff that’s out there. “How dare these ignorant, lazy cowards attack the hard working and noble work of brilliant scientists whom I idolize as heroes?” I’m not really sure what I’m asking here, but you seem to have either been down this road already, or you’ve been able to avoid it altogether, so I’m curious how an experienced skeptic like yourself is able to maintain neutrality as you appear to do.

I detect a certain level of black-and-white thinking in this paragraph, where those who subscribe to some form pseudoscience is grouped up into a category with properties like “willful liars”, “ignorant”, “lazy”, “cowards”. On the other hand, scientists are grouped up in a category with properties like “does noble work”, “brilliant” “target of idolization”. This, however, is a cognitive simplification (a form of demonization). Reality is a lot more nuanced and complex. I have found one insight that is extremely useful for breaking up that kind of thinking: the widespread prevalence of selective skepticism. To exemplify, let us look at three specific discoveries that I had as I began to discover selective skepticism.

The first discovery relates back to when I noticed that many other skeptics (while successfully using the methods of scientific skepticism towards things like creationism and homeopathy) utterly failed to apply the same degree of skepticism towards their favorite unsubstantiated belief. These skeptics that I personally admired turned out to be 9/11 truthers, mental illness deniers, anti-vaccine cranks, anti-GMO activists, climate change deniers and so on (for a specific case, see Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong about Medical Psychiatry and the follow-up article Why Jerry Coyne is Still Wrong about Antidepressants). I was flabbergasted. Completely shocked. I asked them: “can’t you see that you are using the exact same kind of pseudoscientific debating tactics to defend your ideological belief as creationists and homeopaths do to defend theirs?” They did not seem to get it. Others understood my line of thought, but provided feeble rationalizations. Apparently, quoting climate scientist Phil Jones out of context about northern tree rings is not at all the same as Darwin on the eye out of context. Yeah right.

This discovery made it impossible for me to uphold individual skeptics (and the skeptical community at large) as uniformly science-friendly or rational.

The second discovery was when I first read about what is now known as the Nobel disease. As it turns out, not even Noble Prize winners are immune to the tsunami of unreason. Linus Pauling, a quantum chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1954, yet he became a cancer quack claiming that large doses of vitamin C could cure cancer. Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of behavioral ecology and Nobel Prize winner in 1973, was a dedicated Nazi. Nikolaas Tinbergen, who won the prize the same year as Lorenz, supported autism quackery (the notion of refrigerator mothers and an ineffective and coercive treatment for ASD based on restraint) in his Nobel speech. Kary Mullis won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his improvements on the PCR reaction (standard technique in biology labs the world over), yet he became an HIV/AIDS denialist, rejected global warming and embraced astrology. Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for his discovery of HIV, is now a proponent of ideas that resemble homeopathy. These are just a few examples out of a long list of Nobel Prize winners who have succumbed to the allure of pseudoscience.

If Nobel Prize winning scientists cannot withstand the tsunami of unreason, how can the average scientist do it? How can I or other skeptics do it? Read more of this post

Mailbag: Anti-Vaccine Myths, Pharma Shill Gambit and Vaccine Court

Challenge Accepted

Recently, an anti-vaccine activist by the name of “peter” posted a comment on my article Irrefutable Evidence Shows That Anti-Vaccine Activists Still Have No Clue (were I destroyed some anti-vaccine propaganda written by Dave Mihalovic). It did not address any arguments and attacked me directly, yet I think it can still be useful to unravel and debunk his claims about scientific skeptics, vaccines and the U.S. legal system. This exercise also highlights some of the common rhetorical devices that anti-vaccine activists make use of in their efforts to undermine modern medicine.

The basics flaws in his approach are (1) the use of the “pharma shill” gambit, (2) the gross ignorance about the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (also known as “vaccine court”) and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and (3) the deployment of anti-vaccine crankery about the alleged negative health effects of vaccines.

As we shall see, the pharma shill gambit is just a vacuous rationalization to psychologically shield anti-vaccine beliefs, vaccine court / VICP are more beneficial to individuals who have suffered a genuine adverse effect of vaccines (faster, cheaper and requires a much lighter burden of evidence to be met) and the peer-review literature as well as scientific reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and others show that vaccines are not linked to the conditions he claims.

Here is what Peter has to say about me and vaccines: Read more of this post

Mailbag: More Nonsensical Ravings from an Anti-Psychiatry Troll

email icon

I rarely get email via the contact form, but when I do I like responding to them in the mailbag series. This time, a troll by the curious name of You are a moron (I will henceforth refer to this individual as “Moron” for short) sent me an angry email. I previously declined to publish a comment written by Moron on How Skepchick Rebecca Watson Misuses Statistics that containing anti-psychiatry nonsense and I suspect that Moron is one of the resident anti-psychiatry trolls that has been posting comments for many months through many different proxies to evade bans. Moron tends to use emails such as “dsm@dsmisascam.com” and similar.

For those who wonder if Moron has anything intellectually productive to say, I must be upfront and say that you will be greatly disappointed. The general aim of this post is to (1) demonstrate the breathtaking inanity of some trolls and (2) to expose the specific fallacies and errors in the assertions made by this particular troll.

Kamil, I have been following very intermittently your blog.

Apparently not often enough to get my name right. This is a common tactic used by trolls in order to depersonalize the individual.

You are the prime example of why self proclaimed “skeptics” are perceived as jackasses -whose most likely problem in fact might be a lack of an interesting sexual life.

Notice how Moron decides not to engage any arguments I have made against anti-psychiatry but rather make the assertion that self-proclaimed skeptics are jackasses. However, it does not logically follow that an argument is wrong just because it is presented by a person who is perceived as a jackass. This is the genetic fallacy, where an argument is dismissed because of its origin and not its intellectual merits.

It is also interesting that this troll attempts to condescendingly dismiss scientific skepticism by attempting to associate it with “lack of an interesting sexual life”. This is based on the stereotype of skeptics as humorless and boring men who cannot get laid. In addition, it is a pathetic attempt by Moron to introduce an irrelevant personal aspect (sex life) as a way to rationalize why Moron’s nonsensical ravings are not being taken seriously. Finally, Moron does not present any scientific evidence for the notion that a “lack of interesting sex life” (how should “interesting” be operationalized in this context?) is associated with being perceived as a jackass. Read more of this post

Mailbag: A Concern Troll (?) Tries to Talk About Race and IQ

A reader sent me an email about some arguments put forward by race realists, told me he did not know a good way to refute them and asked me for my take on it. I am not convinced he is a concern troll, but some of the language he used and the fact that the quotes of his opponents cannot be found on the Internet makes me suspicious. However, because it is so hard to tell, I will try to be charitable. The person asked not to have his name posted, so I will just refer to him as “he” or “the reader” below.

Hey there. I found your blog a month or two ago when I started researching the topic of racial IQ differences. Lately, I’ve been debating some people over the internet about this subject using some of the information that you and other egalitarians have provided. As expected, the folks who I was talking with didn’t like what they heard and responded with ad hominem attacks, but there was one point someone brought up that I simply couldn’t respond to.

For me, phrases that stand out here are “racial IQ differences”, “you and other egalitarians” and “one point someone brought up that I simply couldn’t respond to”. The first phrase is suspicious because it associates race with IQ difference, when most individuals who reject race realism thinks that most observed differences are due to other factors besides race. Furthermore, “egalitarian” is a word that reminds a lot about “Darwinism”. It has its uses, but most of the time, it is a concept that those opposing it use to try and make the science-based position appear as if it was an ideology. Finally, The last phrase reeks of concern trolling.

This is not an iron-clad case and we should welcome actual concerns. Also, it is important to respond to the point brought up no matter if the person is a concern troll or a person who has a legitimate question.

The point he “simply could not respond to”

The argument he had trouble with was: Read more of this post

Mailbag: The Absurdity of Race Realism

I am always happy to answer reader emails set to me via the contact form at the About page of this blog. This email comes from “Nigel”. Nigel writes that:

Speaking about denialism, what about politically correct race-deniers? These people are so wrapped up on some ideology of Boasian Cultural Marxism that they regularly try to subvert the truth.

In just this short message, consisting of nothing more than two sentences, Nigel has managed to set off my baloney detector several times. This is because phrases such as “politically correct” and “cultural Marxism” are buzzwords frequently used by extremist right-wing…thinkers, who are often anti-immigration. “Politically correct” designates their belief that they are being suppressed by the establishment and “cultural Marxism” signifies the related idea that the establishment was been taken over by leftists who ignore the truth that race realists think is plain as day. Thus, Nigel has carried out two very common denialist tactics that I described in the article Common Denialist Tactics Defined and Destroyed, namely playing the martyr card and conspiratorial thinking: Read more of this post

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