Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

In Defense of Paranormal Debunking – Part I: Bayesian Self-Defense

Winston Wu's website

Proponents of paranormal claims often feel threatened by scientific skepticism. This is because core skeptical principles erode their scientific pretensions. Instead of trying to back up their original paranormal claims with real scientific evidence, they attempt to deflect by attacking these skeptical principles. Most of the time, they make a hatchet job arguing against principles they misunderstood to begin with. This is because skeptical principles such as extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, Occam’s razor and burden of evidence can be formally stated and defended using basic Bayesian probability theory.

One such individual is Winston Wu, who has compiled a list of thirty sections attempting to defend paranormal claims and attack scientific skepticism. Wu attempts to offer a series of refutations to what he sees as thirty core scientific skeptical positions. Half of them deal with overarching objections to paranormal assertions and discuss topics such as burden of evidence, extraordinary claims, Occam’s Razor and anecdotal evidence. The other half concern specific paranormal beliefs such as psychics, miracles, alternative medicine, answered prayer, precognitive dreams, consciousness, UFOs and creationism.

In this first installment, we take a closer look at confidence in relation to the strength of evidence, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, Occam’s razor, burden of evidence and anecdotes.

Misunderstood principle #1: Confidence should be proportional to evidence

The first argument that Wu objects to is the notion that “it is irrational to believe anything that hasn’t been proven”. This, however, is a straw man. The correct version promoted by serious scientific skeptics is that the confidence in a proposition about the world around us should be proportional to the evidence for that proposition. In other words, the confidence in the atomic theory of matter or the existence of the sun should be high because the evidence is so overwhelming. In contrast, we should have very low confidence in propositions for which the evidence is rare, non-existence or directly contradicting it.

This principle can be formulated using Bayesian statistics. The posteriori probability of a hypothesis given evidence, P(H|E), is proportional to the probability of evidence given the hypothesis P(E|H):

P(H|E) = \frac{P(H)P(E|H)}{P(E)}

The higher P(E|H), the higher P(H|E) becomes (assuming that P(E) is constant). Although the formal description of the principle, it is straight-forward: the more evidence for a claim, the stronger confidence is justified in that claim. The less evidence, the less confidence is justified.

Wu goes to great lengths to misunderstanding this simple principle.

Read more of this post

CDC Fact Sheet Confuses HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer

Bauer, Ethnic group and HIV.

One of the more despicable tactics deployed by some HIV/AIDS denialists is to accuse mainstream medical science of being racist because socially underprivileged groups such as African-Americans have a higher HIV incidence. These HIV/AIDS denialists refuse to accept well-researched statistical and sociological explanations for this observation such as differences in infection base rates, prevalence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that increases transmission probability, knowledge regarding HIV status, time at diagnosis and access to health care etc. Instead, they falsely portray mainstream medicine as racist and genetic determinist with regards to behavior. This goes to show that some HIV/AIDS denialists clearly stop at nothing in their desperate attempts to prop up their pseudoscientific delusions. One such example is that of Henry Bauer and his two recent posts on HIV and ethnic groups.

The pseudoscientific claims made by Henry Bauer has been discussed in great detail on this website. He does not seem to understand the basic biology of viruses or rational risk assessment of medication. He fails to grasp data on population growth and birth rates and does not seem to realize that there are scientific obstacles to developing an effective HIV vaccine. Despite his appeals to the toxin gambit, combined antiretroviral therapy does not increase the risk of death. Astonishingly, he even seems to thinks that HIV should not be able to spread via contaminated needles because needles do not have sex with each other.

Differences in HIV incidence does not mean that HIV tests are racist

People carrying black-African genes test “HIV-positive” at far greater rates than do people without that genetic ancestry. HIV/AIDS theory “explains” that by postulating greater rates of careless “not-safe-sex” promiscuity and infected-needle-sharing drug injection. Thereby HIV/AIDS theory postulates significant genetic determination of behavior, which in other contexts is dismissed as pseudo-science.

The primary reasons for why African-Americans have a higher incidence of HIV is not because of racist stereotypes concerning promiscuity and so on. It has nothing to do with genetic determinism. Rather, there are important statistical and sociological reasons for this difference that cannot be ignored.

These issues are discussed in additional details in various versions of a fact sheet on HIV and African-Americans available at the CDC website. Also note that 2014 PDF version unequivocal states that African-Americans have “levels of individual risk behaviors (e.g., sex without a condom, multiple partners) that are
comparable to other races/ethnicities”. Read more of this post

Half of Americans Believe in Medical Conspiracy Theories

ResearchBlogging.org

Medical conspiracy theories

An interesting study was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Oliver and Wood (2014). They report the results of a YouGov survey that looked at the acceptance of medical conspiracy theories in the United States and what, if any, effect the belief in medical conspiracy theories had on health-related behavior, such as taking herbal supplements, getting a flu shot and preference for organic foods. The results were chilling as almost half of the U. S. population believed in at least one medical conspiracy. Those who held three or more were less likely to go to the doctor or dentist and fewer got vaccinated against seasonal influenza. They were also more likely to take herbal supplements.

The selection of medical conspiracy theories

Oliver and Wood selected six different medical conspiracy theories to include in their research. Although the researchers did not justify their selection, it seems representative and wide as it spanned from FDA and alternative medicine to discredited beliefs about the origin of HIV Read more of this post

The Pitfalls of fMRI-Based Lie Detection

ResearchBlogging.org

fMRI-based lie detection

A while ago, an interesting paper on the promise and pitfalls of fMRI-based lie detection was published by Farah, Hutchinson, Phelps and Wagner (2014) in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. It is part of an ongoing article series by the journal examining the interplay between neuroscience and law. This installment discussed the reliability of observed associations between certain brain areas and deception, current limitations of fMRI-based lie detectors, how U. S. courts have treated appeal to fMRI data put forward as evidence as well as ethical and legal issues with the procedure. This post will also discuss ways of beating an fMRI-based lie detector.

Another article in that series that deals with common misconceptions about memory, memory distortions and the consequence of ignorance was covered here.

How does fMRI work?

An fMRI indirectly measure brain activity by measuring blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) activity. This typically involve a lot of controls to make sure that researchers capture the neural correlates of what they want to study instead of irrelevant confounders. Typically, researchers compare BOLD activity during deception and truth-telling in an attempt to find the BOLD-signature of deception, which would give clues about the neural correlates of deception (i.e. patterns of brain activation associated with deception).

The theoretical rationale for fMRI-based deception is that there is probably a relationship between deception and cognition because deception is more demanding on memory and various executive functions than truth-telling.

What are the neural correlates of deception?

The paper performed a meta-analysis with the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method. This is a way to measure overlap in neuroimaging data based on so-called “peak-voxel coordinate information” and thereby find out how reliable the association between deception and certain brain regions is. After applying their specific inclusion criteria, they identified 23 relevant studies. Their meta-analysis identified several areas as being associated with deception e. g. parts of the prefrontal cortex, the anterior insula and inferior parietal lobule. However, the between-study variation was enormous and no region was always identified.

Limitations

Despite the apparent high identification rate of deception, fMRI-based lie detection has a long list of very important limitations that effectively undermine any confidence in this technique for legal purposes Read more of this post

Sweden Gets a Homeopathic ER

Homeopathic ER

Millions of people have seen the “That Mitchell and Webb Look” video where comedians enact the absurdities of what it would be like at a homeopathic ER. A man with suspected internal injuries is rolled into accidents and emergency department and given extremely diluted substance. However, did you know that Sweden got its first homeopathic ER just a couple of months ago?

It is part of the Salve Health Center situated at the Maria Square in central Stockholm and it opened its doors in early January of this year. Behind the initiative stands three women: Carita Bramstedt, Päivi Barsk and Viveca Wilhelmsson. All of them either run their own homeopathic practices or “education” programs in homeopathy. In this post, we will look at who these people are and their goals, science-based objections to both their individuals claims and the homeopathic ER, their responses to criticisms and recent events.

Who are the people behind the homeopathic ER?

According to her website, Bramstedt considers herself a “classical homeopath” and is the chairperson of the Swedish Academy for Classical Homeopathy (SAKH). She has a three-year degree in civil economics from The Stockholm School of Economics, but became a homeopath after taking a three-year program in classical homeopathy. She has also attended various seminars on homeopathy throughout the years. Beyond that, she has no medical degree or formal training in medicine.

Things looks slightly better for Barsk. She claims to have worked “a couple of years” in the health care system in the 1980s and taken 65 points (65 weeks in the old Swedish system) in basic medicine from Umeå in the late 1990s. Barsk is a classical homeopath and has taken a four-year program. In addition, she has taken courses in various other quack treatments such as Reiki, supplements and reflexology. Like Bramstedt, Barks has no medical degree and no formal training beyond the couple of years she worked in the health care system (presumably as a care assistant?) and ~1.5 years of introductory medicine.

Wilhelmsson has a degree in psychology from the 1970s, yet no medical degree or formal training in medicine either. Looking at her background page, she has spent at least 11 years taking courses and programs in various complementary and alternative practices, including homeopathy. Like Bramstedt, Wilhelmsson can be found higher up in the homeopathic food chain as she is the person behind the program in classical homeopathy at the International Academy.

What do they believe?

Browsing through their various websites sends chills down the spine. These people really do subscribe to ignorant beliefs and they expose sick patients to worthless treatments. They do not have any credible science to back it up. Instead, they used a variety of historical revisions and after-the-fact rationalizations. Here are a couple of the most stunning examples. Read more of this post

Two Swedish Professors Promote Bosnian Genocide Denial

Bosnian genocide denial

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

Neil deGrasse Tyson Invites Anti-Science Activist Mayim Bialik

Holistic Moms Network

Many scientific skeptics may recognize Mayim Bialik from hit TV-shows such as Blossom and The Big Bang Theory. In the latter, she plays the neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler who becomes the girlfriend of the physicist Sheldon Cooper. In real life, she has a PhD in a very similar field as Amy, namely neuroscience. One would think that this provides some protection against being subverted by irrational pseudoscience. However, Bialik is a notorious promoter of a wide range of different pseudosciences, including anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, alternative medicine, Waldorf schools and homebirth quacktivism.

In 2009, Bialik became a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network (here is their description of holistic parenting). On their website, they promote the American anti-vaccine activist Barbara Loe Fischer and recommend homeopathy as an alternative treatment to post-partum depression. In a 2011 interview, Bialik explained that she is homeschooling her children and in a 2012 interview, she confessed to using the Waldorf “philosophy” to attain this goal (which includes not letting her children watch TV or see movies). In a 2009 interview, she admitted to being “a non-vaccinating family” and claimed that she based her decision on “research and discussions with our pediatrician”. In a 2012 post on her blog, she says that she does not want to discuss her beliefs about vaccines, but deploys the classic “too many, too soon” trope. David Gorski discusses her ideas about vaccines in additional details here. In a 2012 article on homebirth, she promoted a number of classic quacktivist beliefs despite the fact that homebirth causes considerable more deaths compared with giving birth in a hospital. She calls these facts “hysteria-inducing” stories and that it is “insulting to any woman’s intuition and intelligence”. In late 2012, she posted the following on her official Facebook page: “California voters: the condoms you approved for sex workers to have to wear (which I voted for too)… maybe I’ll wear them when I eat my unlabeled genetically modified food. Sound good?”

In other words, being a neuroscientist does not, no pun intended, make you immune to pseudoscience.

Recently, American astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson decided to invite Bialik to his talk show StarTalk.

Tyson's screw-up?

He claims that they will be discussing neuroscience. But why is Tyson inviting an anti-science activist such as Bialik? Why is he giving her a platform to spread her pseudoscientific quackery? Is Tyson unaware about her beliefs or does not care as long as he can sell tickets to the show? Clarification is badly needed at this point.

Time to Get Rid of Bad Science Journalism

Nature News

One of the largest obstacles to the public understanding of science is the presence of pseudoscientific crankery that replaces evidence with personal testimony and critical thinking with personal credulity. However, another obstacles has become increasingly apparent during the last few years: the menace of bad science journalism. These practices have even managed to infiltrate high-quality publications such as Nature. Causes may range from cognitive myopia and increasing demands for sensationalism to boost ad revenue but they consequences could be dire. It misleads people, promotes falsehoods about science and damages the credibility of both science and science journalism. In this post, a number of possible causes and potential solutions are discussed.

Recent examples of the problem

There are plenty of examples of bad science journalism out there, even from magazines such as Nature and Scientific American. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • In the news feature section of issue 7483 on the prestigious journal Nature, Jeff Tollefson promote the false notion that global warming has taken a hiatus for the past 16 years, going so far as to call it the “biggest mystery in climate science today”. In reality, the notion of a global warming hiatus is due to cherry-picking 1998 as a starting point (a strong ENSO year). Once you control for that and other factors, there is a trend toward increased temperatures. In reality, the “no warming for 16-years” is a common climate change denialist trope.
  • In the popular science section called Nature News and Comment, Zeeya Merali wrote a piece suggesting that Stephen Hawking is now claiming that black holes do not exist. She even makes it appear as if she is directly quoting Hawking. In reality, that is a quote out of context. The paper in question merely suggest revising the mainstream account of the event horizon into an “apparent horizon” to make the entities more consonant with quantum mechanics. This story was also carried wrongly on a number of news outlets and presumably her article contributed to it.
  • Scientific American Mind editor Ingrid Wickelgren promoted the notion that diet, stressed parents and watching TV causes ADHD (and that supplements successfully treat symptoms) on her magazine-associated blog. Wickelgren would probably try to defend herself by stating that she only wrote down highlights of a talk and may or may not agree fully with it. However, the fact that she gave a platform to these kind of anti-psychiatry, alternative medicine and arguably anti-scientific viewpoints indicate bad science journalism. There is also no attempt to skeptically investigate the claims made in the video to see if they hold up against published research.
  • Forbes contributor and senior epidemiologist Albert Einstein College of Medicine Geoffrey Kabat recently wrote a pseudoscientific and cherry-picked post denying the association between passive smoking and lung cancer. According to WHO, about 600 000 people die each year from passive smoking. Granted, lung cancer is only part of the health dangers of passive smoking, but it cannot be dismissed in the way that Kabat does.

These are just a couple of recent examples of bad science journalism that contributes to the public misunderstanding of science and the spread of pseudoscientific crankery. There are countless more out there.

Contributing causes

This section discusses some of the potential causes of bad science journalism. Most of these ideas are probably not original to me, and they are not completely fleshed out in detail. Some of them are speculative and some might be less important than others. There may also be contributing causes that have been overlooked and factors may differ depending on the individual case of bad science journalism. They are listed in no particular order and they may be interconnected or overlap.

Deadline pressures: having tight deadlines for science journalism may compromise accuracy in several ways. The journalist may not have enough time to (1) find the relevant limitations of the current research project and thus risk giving a misleading picture or (2) contrast it against what is already known to put it into context. Because it is faster to write a he-said-she-said pieces than to investigate it thoroughly, this may contribute to false balance. Read more of this post

Abusing Heritability: “Libertarian Realist” Edition (Part II)

Libertarian Realist and misuse of heritabilityh

In online exchanges with proponents of pseudoscience, they often tend to derail the conversation by bringing up a large number of peripheral objections not related to the main issues. The reason behind this particular technique is a bit unclear. It could be a method used to hide the fact that substantive arguments are missing or maybe is an act of desperately finding something to object in order to attempt to cast a shadow of doubt over the arguments pertaining to the central issues. Typically, the assertions deployed by proponents of pseudoscience are merely regurgitated and counterarguments are rarely addressed. At this point, further response from scientific skeptics are by no means productive as there are far more deployed distractions than substantive arguments. On the other hand, if you do not respond right away, some may view it like you conceded the argument.

Recently, one of the most active race realists on Youtube (called Libertarian Realist) tweeted me a link to one of his videos. We had a short exchange on Twitter and I wrote a post that exposed his misunderstandings of heritability. First, by the use of deceptive wording, he made it appear as if heritability (the proportion of phenotypic variation in a population and environment that can be attributed to genetic variation) was related to the degree to which genes mattered for a given phenotype. Second, he gave the appearance that heritability estimates were informative about between-group differences (they are not). Finally, he did not seem to understand that heritability estimates depend on the population being studied and what environment they are being studied in. Because a singular, context-free estimate for a given population (especially for composite population) is misleading, this effectively undermined his excessive focus on a particular heritability estimate.

After some time, Libertarian Realist made a video response to my criticisms. However, his response largely lacked substantive content, put an excessive focus on a large number of peripheral objections unrelated to the main issues and he declined to engage with any of my six evidence-based challenges to race realism. This post will examine his response in detail. It is split up into two major sections.

Substantive issues

This first section deals with responses made by Libertarian Realist to the substantive issues I raised in my previous post. This includes topics such as the population and environment dependence of heritability estimates, the non-relevance of with-in group heritability estimates for the causes of between-group differences and the scientific case against race realism.

The bait-and-switch / false dichotomy / straw man combo: Libertarian Realist states that his position is that “genetic differences between Africans and Europeans in the United States account for a significant proportion of the observed differences in IQ distributions between the two groups”. However, he then uses a bait-and-switch tactic when he rhetorically asks viewers “So what is the alternative to the thesis that genetic differences between African-Americans and European-Americans account for a proportion of the observed IQ differences between the two ethnic groups?” Notice how Libertarian Realist has now switched between “significant proportion” and “a proportion”. Although he does not state what he considers this “significant proportion” to be, I suspect that his estimate is more than 0.5 and probably anchored around the within-group heritability estimate for IQ that he holds to (~0.75). Clearly, there are other options besides “significant” (i.e. considerable) and none. For instance, “moderate”, “minor” or “unknown”. Libertarian Realist continues with “the alternative would be that genetic differences play zero role”. In other words, Libertarian Realist tries to portray those who disagree with his position as proponents of an extreme environmental hypothesis.

Indeed, this kind of flawed approach is also taken by people in the comment section of the video.

Youtube comment by White Man

Another case of black-and-white thinking. They apparently reason that either any observed differences is mostly due to genetics, or you have to believe in the blank slate. This is a clear example of false dichotomy. Read more of this post

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. Read more of this post

White Genocide, Eurabia and Other White Supremacist Nonsense

White Supremacist Nonsense

In relation to white supremacist propaganda and race trolls, this website has taken on and refuted (among other things) misuses of heritability, abuses of dated and flawed adoption studies from the 1970s, low sampling density masquerading as discrete racial categories in PCA graphs and frivolous claims about how ethnic diversity in a society is somehow a cause of psychosis and cancer. Yet, some of the core claims of white supremacists has not yet been covered. So without further ado, it is time to drive the stake into the heart of a couple of white supremacy conspiracy theories and errors: white genocide, Eurabia and the failure to understand socio-economic confounders.

Demographic change over time due to population migration is not the same as the intentional physical extermination of entire groups of people. The notion that there is a relative epidemic of black-on-white murders in the United States is based on a failure to normalized for base rates and differential encounter rates. Most of the observed over-representation of African-Americans in crime statistics can be explained by various socio-economic factors and related factors. The Eurabia conspiracy theory fails to understand basic math and also makes a number of false assumptions about fertility rates. Finally, anti-racism is not a secret code word for anti-white because anti-racists tackle many other constellations of racism, such as oppression of the Dalits in India and the Burakumin and Koreans in Japan. Read more of this post

The Anti-Psychiatry Propaganda of Nathan Shachar

The Anti-psychiatry propaganda by Nathan Shachar

Dagens Nyheter (the largest morning newspaper in Sweden) continues to promote pseudoscience. Last month, the newspaper decided to publish a full-page anti-immigration ad with flawed equivocations, ignorance of confounders and the deceptive framing of published statistics. Out of the ashes into the fire, Dagens Nyheter decided to publish a column filled with anti-psychiatry propaganda by Nathan Shachar. He has previously come under fire for his ignorant ADHD denialism, where he fear mongered about the side-effects of ADHD medications, butchered the complex etiology of ADHD and misrepresented scientific reports on ADHD rating scales.

In his latest pseudoscientific screed, Shachar continues to recycle common anti-psychiatry myths. He claims that the FDA and the Swedish counterpart (Medical Products Agency) is bought by pharmaceutical companies, but the FDA charges pharmaceutical companies to ensure fast and high-quality drug review process. He asserts that modern psychiatry holds that all psychiatric conditions are caused by “chemical imbalance”, when the scientific consensus position is that they result from a complex interaction between biological, psychological and social factors. Shachar makes a false comparison between “pure amphetamine” and ADHD medication, completely without insight that it differs in chemical nature, dosage and release rate. He bases his case against modern psychiatry on the writings of Janne Larsson, a member of the Scientology-based organization Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). Counter to the myths promoted by Shachar, several large-scale meta-analysis has found that antidepressants are more effective than placebo even when you take publication bias into account. He continues by showing that pharmaceutical companies sometimes behave unethical, but that is an issue of corporate ethics, not the science of psychiatry or the efficacy of psychiatric medication. Finally, he dismisses ADHD as merely a “maturity” issue, despite the well-known biological underpinnings of the condition. Read more of this post

Dispelling Myths about Human Female Sexual Anatomy and Physiology

Justifiably angry

From virginity-obsessed religious theocrats and fake sex gurus who fetishize over their own misunderstandings of human anatomy for financial gain to serious scientists publishing methodologically flawed research that turn out to be non-reproducible and unscrupulous doctors promoting untested and potentially dangerous surgical procedures, the scientific realities of human female sexual anatomy and physiology has come under fire from a diverse range of sources. Aggravated by media attention and bad science journalism, this area has become filled to the brim with a great deal of distortions and misconceptions. It is time to strike back.

The “evidence” for the existence of a female G-spot consists mostly of anecdotes and a flawed study that did not even save a histological sample, so it is most likely not a general anatomic feature in women. G-spot amplification surgeries have not undergone rigorous clinical testing and carries serious potential risks. Many women cannot achieve orgasm by just having vaginal penetration. Virgin tests are based on discredited notions about vaginal anatomy and virginity. Finally, there is very little credible evidence that menstrual synchronization occurs when women live together for an extended period of time and the fact that most of these studies could not be replicated suggests that initial findings were capitalizations on chance.

Fact #1: The “G-spot” probably does not exist as a general anatomic feature

The G-spot is a hypothesized distinct anatomical area situated in the anterior vaginal wall that is said to incite especially intense sexual pleasure when stimulated. However, it has proved to be elusive to identify this area using scientific methods. Despite this, some women are convinced that this area exists and the notion has been quickly exploited by charismatic sex gurus, popular women’s magazines and unscrupulous surgeons.

However, the scientific state of knowledge differ substantially from popular imagination. Two recent reviews by Puppo and Gruenwald (2013) and Kilchevsky et. al (2012) converge on the general conclusion that the G-spot is a myth without any anatomical reality. Puppo and Gruenwald (2013) state that “All published scientific data point to the fact that the G-spot does not exist” and Kilchevsky et. al (2012) concludes that: 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

Abusing Heritability: “Libertarian Realist” Edition

Libertarian Realist Twitter

With his 250+ videos spread over several accounts, the Youtube user Libertarian Realist is a prolific video creator. Most of his videos center around his obsession with ethnic origin, crime and intelligence. He is an intense advocate of the pseudoscience of race realism and the scientifically flawed thesis that African-Americans are somehow genetically inferior when it comes to intelligence compared with European-Americans.

He also promotes a number of crank ideas from conspiracy theories about water fluoridation quackery, Jews-run-the-globalist-media, anal sex as a potential threat to the future of civilization and anti-immigration falsehoods like Eurabia as well as classic misunderstandings of evolution and ravings about alleged cultural Marxists. Despite these severe and recurrent lapses from rationality, he ironically claims to “follow truth wherever it may lead”.

Recently, I and a couple of other scientific skeptics active on Twitter got a tweet from Libertarian Realist.

Libertarian realist first tweet

It seems to be a way for to advertise a recent video that he uploaded earlier that month called “Race and IQ Denial Explain”. Unsurprisingly, he repeats the same stale falsehoods that have been spouted by race realists and destroyed by scientists and skeptics for many decades. Some of these erroneous claims have been discussed on this website before and others will undoubtedly be discussed in the future. This post, however, will focus on his misunderstandings of heritability and our recent Twitter exchange.

As was discussed in a previous article on this website entitled The Widespread Abuse of Heritability, heritability is “the amount of phenotypic variance (“variation”) in a particular population in a given environment that can be attributed to the genetic variance (“variation”) in that specific population in that given environment, but not a measure of the relative influence of genes on the phenotype of an individual compared to environment and is not informative about between-group differences”.

Yet race realists, out of wishful thinking or willful ignorance, frequently misunderstand heritability. They may occasionally quote the variance ratio definition, but then slip into the bad practice of thinking that heritability tells us anything about the relative influence of genes on an individual’s phenotype or the causes of between-group differences.

In the video he linked, Libertarian Realist makes these errors repeatedly. A representative example occurs at 17:20, where Libertarian Realist claims the following (my transcript):

And then, Evogen accepted the mainstream scientific viewpoint on general IQ heritability. He accepted that IQ was about 75% heritable. Of course, he did not really understand what the term heritability meant [Libertarian Realist laughs - Emil's note]. If you are going to deny that genetic variation plays any role in shaping any extent of any of the group IQ differences within a country, whether they be between blacks and whites, or between east Asians and Hispanics, then acknowledging that IQ variation overall within that country is 75% conditioned by genetic variation within that country pretty much undoes your position. It renders it untenable.

This section shows Libertarian Realist making at least three of the classic race realist fallacies with respect to heritability: (1) stating that general IQ is 75% heritable (instead of stating that the heritability of general IQ is 0.75) insinuates that heritability is informative about the relative merits of inheritance over environment for individual phenotypes, (2) stating a single figure instead of a range of values shows that he does not understand that heritability depends on environment and population and (3) failing to understand that heritability estimates are not informative about the causes of between-group differences. It is also very ironic that Libertarian Realist asserts that his opponent does not understand heritability, when it is himself who so thoroughly misunderstands the concept.

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