Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Skepchick Olivia James and Obesity Apologetics

Obesity apologetics

Individuals with obesity suffer serious medical, social and legal discrimination compared with their thin counterparts and this should be opposed. However, some misguided obesity apologists tend to deny the mainstream medical consensus that obesity is a disease and appeal to pseudoscientific misinterpretations of scientific research to prop-up their claims. In reality, preventative research on obesity is highly relevant and the disease-status of obesity is important for giving sufficient medical and insurance attention to a considerable and growing public health issue.

Olivia James is a prolific secular, skeptical and feminist blogger and have written thoughtful posts on websites such as Center for Inquiry, Teen Skepchick, and the Skepchick main blog. James recently wrote a post about biases in science, talking about issues such as confirmation bias and discrimination of minorities in science. A topic that also came up was the medical status of obesity and research into preventative treatments for obesity. This could have been an intellectually credible discussion, but James unfortunately descended into outright science denialism by claiming that obesity is not a disease and that researchers should focus on preventing obesity-related diseases rather than obesity itself. In reality, the mainstream medical position is that obesity is a disease and prevention is key to countering this growing health issue.

The dire consequences of weight discrimination are real

People with obesity suffer considerable stigma and discrimination around the world in a wide range of situations. The first part of the introduction section to Sutin and Terracciano (2013) is highly informative:

There is a pervasive stereotype about obesity in American society: People who are obese are often perceived as lazy, unsuccessful, and weak-willed. These beliefs about individuals with obesity are often translated into negative attitudes, discrimination, and verbal and physical assaults. Such bias can have severe psychological consequences, including increased vulnerability to depression, and lower self-esteem, self-acceptance, and life satisfaction. A broad range of research now demonstrates that the effects of weight bias are not limited to psychological functioning but extend to nearly every aspect of an individual’s life, from employment, and salary disparities, to personal relationships to healthcare delivery. In addition, as with other forms of discrimination, weight discrimination may have consequences for physical health.

Victims of weight discrimination do not only have worse mental health outcomes and suffer social consequences. In a cruel feedback process, people who are subjected to weight-based discrimination are also more likely to become or stay obese. This is in partly because coping processes involve binge eating and the avoidance of physical activity. As if this was not enough, jurors are more likely to consider obese individuals guilty of check fraud and have a high likelihood of becoming a repeat offender compared with their thin counterparts (Schvey, Puhl, Levandoski, and Brownell, 2013).

In other words, weight discrimination is extremely real. It should under no circumstances be trivialized by frivolous and ignorant stereotypes. It should be fought with all reasonable methods.

Read more of this post

Jenny McCarthy: Still an Anti-Vaccine Activist

Jenny McCarthy is anti-vaccine

Anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy has taken her own twisted self-delusions to an entirely new level. She has spent years on promoting demonstrably dangerous myths about how vaccines supposedly contain dangerous toxins that cause autism. She has repeatedly appeared on popular TV-shows to spread misinformation about the current vaccine schedule. She has deployed nearly every single gambit in the anti-vaccine play-book. In a move of enormous audacity, McCarthy wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times trying to whitewash her deeply tainted anti-vaccine history. She now claims that she is not anti-vaccine at all and that the media has wrongly trusted “blatantly inaccurate” blog posts. In reality, her words betray her even in the midsts of writing her defense as she continues to parrot classic anti-vaccine distortions.

I am not “anti-vaccine.” This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, “pro-vaccine” and for years I have been wrongly branded as “anti-vaccine.”

If McCarthy is pro-vaccine, then why has she promoted dangerously false anti-vaccine tropes, including the notion that the MMR vaccine cause autism, that the preservative thimerosal cause autism and that multiple vaccines overwhelm the immune system cause autoimmune disease? It is right there, in the transcript of the interview she gave for the PBS documentary The Vaccine War. If she talks like an anti-vaccine activists and distort like an anti-vaccine activists, then she is an anti-vaccine activist. No matter what after-the-fact rationalizations she puts forward.

Let us see how McCarthy betrays herself in the very article she claims to not be anti-vaccine. Read more of this post

Is Donald Trump Scientifically Illiterate?

Donald Trump does not understand climate change

One of the most basic distinctions in climate science is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the instantaneous atmospheric conditions, such as rainy, snowy, sunny and so on. Climate, on the other hand, is about long-term trends. Confusing weather with climate, claiming that we cannot predict climate because we cannot predict weather, or trying to argue against the existence of human-influenced climate change by referencing current weather events is one of the most common tactic used by climate change denier.

Trump fails on climate knowledge

Contrary to Trump, the existence of local anomalies does not refute a general trend. More about the difference of weather and climate can be found on the NASA website.

Donald Trump does not understand vaccines or the immune system

Trump claims to not be anti-vaccine, yet he pulls out a classic anti-vaccine trope:

Too many, too soon? Nope!

While the number of vaccines have increased over time, the number of immunological challenges (“antigens”) have decreased. This is because modern DNA technology has enabled researchers to include only those components that are necessary to produce a good response. In other words, vaccines poses a smaller challenge to the immune system now than it did in the past. For more information, see the Offit et al. (2002) paper in Pediatrics.

Read more of this post

Spell Casting Does Not Cure HIV


I almost never bother to interact with spammers on this blog. Their verbal torrents of incoherent blathering about Michael Kors shoes, Xanax or Viagra are promptly destroyed after being sucked into nothingness by the click of a button. However, some spammers post stuff that are so mind-numbingly stupid that I see it as a civil service to refute it. These spam comments are typically very generic and can be found all over the Internet, especially on blogs or websites that do not use an efficient spam filter. Someone who finds themselves being drawn into this nonsense will hopefully perform a Google search and reach this post.

Spellcasting does not cure HIV

Let us go over this message, point-by-point./p>

“I am here to testify on how [...]“

This is perhaps the most obvious sign of an ideologue whose main goal is to spread his nonsense, rather than inform or discuss. Although typically a feature of religious evangelism, it frequently occurs when listening to ingrained proponents of pseudoscience.

Read more of this post

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

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

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.


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


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