September 21, 2013
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Related: Some Common Anti-Psychiatry Archetypes, Creationist Anti-Psychiatry: The Worst of Two Worlds.
Creationist anti-psychiatry is a grotesque chimera that combines the unrelenting presuppositional dogmatism of biblical creationism with the rejection of the mainstream scientific account of the risk factors, nature and evidence-based treatments of psychiatric conditions. These individuals are typically substance dualists and subscribe to contra-causal free will, so they cannot accept that brain processes have any profound relevance to the mind. Also, since mainstream evidence-based treatments do not focus on original sin, proponents of creationist anti-psychiatry consider them to be flawed and misleading. This results in the nearly complete dismissal of psychiatry and even clinical neuroscience in general. Debating tactics deployed by anti-psychiatry creationists includes confusing mental health professionals (such as licensed psychiatrists, licensed psychotherapists and licensed clinical psychologists) with quack treatments by “therapists” (a title anyone can use) and misrepresenting psychotherapy as the wholesale rejection of personal responsibility.
The irrational and anti-scientific approach of anti-psychiatry creationism can be found in a post written by Steve Ham that was recently posted on the Answers in Genesis website. Ham rejects the mainstream scientific account of psychiatric conditions, labels them as “spiritual issues”, claims that many psychiatric diagnoses do not correspond to an actual condition (mental illness denial) and asserts that ten cases studies show that biblical scripture is sufficient to treat psychiatric conditions. He promotes the evidence-free notion of biblical presuppositionalism and claims that the efficacy of psychiatric treatments is a “worldview” issue and not a clinical issue. He also supports giving false scientific information to clients so they can summarily dismiss anything their mental health practitioner tells them. In addition, Ham trouts out the classic anti-psychiatry straw man that psychiatric conditions are only related to “chemical imbalance” and he also misrepresents a number of psychiatric diagnoses such as intermittent explosive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder and claims that sinful thoughts are risk factors for psychiatric conditions. He even takes a shot at science-friendly Christian counselors who attempt to bring in real science into their sessions. Read more of this post
September 16, 2013
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Note: This is an addendum to “The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss” article series. It will sum up some of the most abhorrent cases of pseudoscientific nonsense that Bliss has been spreading, discuss how she has reacted to my series and ponder the future. For all the posts in this series, see the introduction post here.
Stasia Bliss, although lacking the scientific knowledge needed to understand the topics she discuss, is a very prolific writer. During the time it has taken me to write this article series of ten installments were I dissected her claims in detail, she has managed to crank out well over 200 blog posts with scientifically questionable content on everything from chemotherapy to urine. It is possible that she could be approaching the impact of Mike Adams (the owner of the largest website promoting quack treatments and conspiracy theories) in the next five to ten years. Although this outcome may be beneficial to Bliss, it could be enormously dangerous to the people she manages to convince of her pseudoscientific ideas.
Some of her most dangerous claims about human health includes:
(1) encouraging individuals with late-stage cystic fibrosis to take vomiting-inducing substances that can cause them to vomit on and off for up to 8 hours. There is no reason to think this works, and it could make breathing even more difficult.
(2) recommending that people stare into the sun for long periods of time. This can seriously damages the eyes make you go blind even if the staring occurs at dawn or dusk. Read more of this post
September 15, 2013
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Note: This is the tenth and final installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will slash through her false claims about the MMR vaccine and measles. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.
We have now reached the final part in this series on the pseudoscientific nonsense promoted by model and freelance writer Stasia Bliss (who calls herself a “master alchemist” and “a High Priestess of Qi Vesta”). In previous installments, several of her claims have been refuted, such as her claim that individuals with cystic fibrosis caused their own disease by eating acidic food and thinking negative thoughts, that colon cleansing and hydrochloric acid supplements are effective against HIV/AIDS, that staring into the sun for long periods of time allows for astral projection and unaided human flight, that DNA has twelve strands, that a vital life force exists, that eating genetically modified foods makes you less humans, that dark matter does not exist, her promotion of quantum woo and her belief in human shape-shifting and death as the result of a psychological conditioning.
In this tenth and final part, the claims made by Bliss with regards to measles and the MMR vaccine will be critically examined. Despite her beliefs, measles is a dangerous disease and not a “natural cleansing” or “adventure” and the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. Her misguided reliance on the National Vaccine Information Center (a pseudoscientific anti-vaccine organization) and VAERS dumpster-diving will be exposed. Contrary to Bliss, the Vaccine Court provides individuals who have experienced genuine adverse events from vaccines with compensations in a way that is easy, cheap and fast for those individuals. Like many other anti-vaccine activists, Bliss has difficulty grasping the concept of herd immunity. Her promotion of quack treatments (that lack evidence of efficacy) is based on a misunderstanding of physiology and evolution. She even goes so far as to claim that childhood diseases are a result of too much “toxins” from modern life (thereby embracing germ theory denialism), apparently not understanding that measles existed many hundreds of years before present and the fact that the body has robust systems for elimination actual toxins from the body. Read more of this post
September 14, 2013
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Related: My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, Exposing Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Arno Mayer.
There are two fundamental objections that any conspiracy theory must pass in order to have a shred of plausibility even before we start discussing the specific details of the available evidence. Most conspiracy theories that have been proposed by proponents of pseudoscience (regarding topics such as 9/11, chemtrails, vaccines, evolution HIV/AIDS denialism etc.) fail one or both of these tests. The first objection can be called the no-leak problem and the prediction problem. The no-leak problem points out that a vast conspiracy theory involving hundreds or even thousands of people is very likely to experience leaks to the public. If no such leaks have occurred, then it is likely that the conspiracy theory is false. The second problem can be referred to as the prediction problem. Reality is a collection of enormously complex dynamic systems and prediction is often very difficult, especially years and decades into the future. This means that there are huge risks associated with attempting to pull off the secret agendas believed by conspiracy theorists. If those risks are sufficiently high, it would be difficult to see why any shadowy organization would attempt it. If the operations failed, they would have been exposed and there is presumably a huge incentive for shadowy organizations to stay under the radar.
Holocaust denialism fails to counter any of the two objections. If the Holocaust was a conspiracy, then that would have to involve thousands of scientists, historians, soldiers, journalists and even members of the Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust. If that were true, something would have leaked during the past 70+ years, but no such leaks have been observed. Ergo, this is evidence against Holocaust denialism. Conspiracy theories about the Holocaust also fails the prediction objection: it is clearly very difficult to have predicted what would happen after WWII and certainly decades after Hitler started agitating against the Jews.
In My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, I discussed the tactics and assertions made by a Holocaust denier I met in real life. Fortunately, he was not that sophisticated and his claims could easily be exposed as false. A while back, that post was posted on the Facebook page for Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists. Predictably, a Holocaust denier and other misguided individuals came creeping out of the shadows and posted a couple of comments (now hidden from view because that person was rightfully banned for spamming). No credible arguments were put forward of course, just the same old recycled garbage. Consider this blog post a take-down of those assertions. Read more of this post
August 28, 2013
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Recently, an interesting review paper was published by Lacy and Stark (2013) in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. It discusses how the scientific ignorance of law enforcement personnel, judges and jurors about memory and how it works has detrimental impact on the efficacy of legal system and human lives.
Common misconceptions about memory
There is a lot of common misunderstandings about memory. It is not like a video camera, perfectly recording and storing memory for later retrieval. It can change over time, adding and subtracting details, filling in blanks and become distorted. A popular misconception is that the accuracy of a memory is proportional to the confidence assigned to it by the eyewitness. In reality, the correlation between confidence and accuracy is weak. Hypnosis is not considered to be effective for accurate recall, despite the fact that over half of the general public sampled believe it to be (among the memory expert sample, 0% agreed or strongly agreed).
One striking finding is that people who work within law enforcement and the criminal justice system display only a little less ignorance about memory as do college students, who in turn are not that much better than the general public. This has profound implications for the court system.
How memory can get distorted
There are many different ways that human memory can become distorted. In principle, distortions can occur during perception, encoding, storage and retrieval. Here are some of the main causes of distortion mentioned by the paper.
: memory confidence tends to increase if exposed to positive feedback by law enforcement personnel after the identification or decrease if exposed to negative feedback. Because they are often perceived as authorities, their feedback is taken into account by eyewitnesses in making an estimate of accuracy. This kind of effect can occur even if the post-identification feedback is non-verbal e. g. facial expression and body language if the person conducting the line-up is not blinded to who the police suspects for the crime. Even repeated questioning can increase the confidence in the accuracy of a memory. Read more of this post
August 25, 2013
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Related: Scientific American Stands Against Mandatory Labeling of GM Foods, Unraveling Five Popular Anti-GMO Claims.
Recently, the editors of Scientific American took a stand against the mandatory labeling of food products containing ingredients that have been genetically modified using biotech tools.
Their main arguments was that it would only increase the already widespread misconceptions about GM foods, lead to less consumer choice as companies want to avoid labels on their products that may decrease sales, increase food costs for the consumer, give farmers and manufacturers additional administrative work and further stigmatize beneficial technologies that have increased yields and profits for individual farmers and promises to combat deficiency diseases that blinds and kills hundreds of thousands of children. I wrote a blog post about the backlash in the comment section to the Scientific American article, finding the arguments provided by anti-GMO activists to be misguided and inaccurate.
As predicted, the anti-GMO activists were not discouraged one bit by the Scientific American article and tried to drown out the science-based arguments showing that GM foods are stringently tested, heavily regulated and safe, both for human consumption and the environment. This occurred, among other places, on the facebook page Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists when they shared the Scientific American article. Several anti-GMO activists and misguided bystanders swarmed down on in the comment section and started spreading what, at the time of this writing, added up to least twenty-four anti-GMO falsehoods. This article refutes most of them Read more of this post
August 23, 2013
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Genetically modified foods are among the most heavily tested, scrutinized, evaluated and regulated food items in existence. Applications of GM technology reduce the impact of weeds, harmful insects and pathogens. They contain more nutrients like vitamin A precursors, iron, zinc and vitamins. It might even be possible to make edible vaccines. Despite this, there is a lot of anti-GMO sentiment in the public realm, largely based on fear mongering about biotechnology and a dislike for corporations. However, the anti-GMO claims about science tend to turn out to be erroneous and dangerously misguided and the arguments about economics are at best only tangentially relevant. These two facts have not discourages the anti-GMO movement in the slightest.
The editors of Scientific American recently published an article taking a stand against laws requiring mandatory labeling of GM foods. Five major arguments are presented:
Increase misconceptions about the health effects of GM foods: the editors argue that if mandatory labeling of GM foods or foods that contain GM ingredients is required, then this will contribute to the feeding-frenzy about alleged “Frankenfoods” being harmful to human health. In reality, organizations as diverse as the American Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization conclude that genetically modified foods are just as safe for human consumption as conventionally grown food. These conclusions are based on mountains of toxicological and ecological research. Read more of this post
August 7, 2013
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The anti-psychiatry movement resembles the anti-vaccine movement and HIV/AIDS denialism in many ways. Whereas anti-vaccine cranks claim that vaccine-preventable diseases are not that bad and HIV/AIDS denialists often deny the causal link between HIV and AIDS, anti-psychiatry cranks typically deny the existence of mental conditions outright (claiming they are made up or that they are “natural” states) or blame the individuals for “attracting” the illness into their lives with “too much negative thinking”. All three groups attack the underlying scientific models (e. g. mechanisms for vaccine-induced immunity and herd immunity, that HIV cause a reduction in CD4+ T helper cells, the biological basis and neurological mechanisms of mental conditions), the efficacy of the medical product, pharmaceutical companies, the government and the scientific community.
This post is an attempt to summarize seven of the most common clusters of characteristics, beliefs and approaches taken by various types of anti-psychiatry cranks: the creationist, the alt med zealot, the new age ignoramus, the “sophisticated” mysterian, the selective “skeptic”, the conspiracy lunatic and the scientologist. These archetypes are not based on published scientific studies, but rather on experience with debating anti-psychiatry cranks. Some of them overlap and not all features of a given archetype always occur. An interesting observation is that anti-psychiatry can be found across political, religious and philosophical spectra and divides. Even though a lot of the assertions made and rhetoric deployed is consistent across archetypes, different archetypes have different motivations and a slightly different focus.
The Creationist: the anti-psychiatry creationist represents the worst of two worlds: both a rejection of modern cosmology, geology and biology as well as a rejection of modern neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry. These individuals reject psychiatry and related fields because (1) neuroscience considers the mind to be a function of the brain, which is incompatible with the anti-psychiatry creationist’s faith that an immaterial soul is the entity responsible for the mind and (2) treatments of mental conditions does not involve a consideration of original sin, but focuses on medication and therapy. Although not all creationists are anti-psychiatry, those that are reject additional fields of science in order to keep their religious beliefs afloat. Depending on the individual anti-psychiatry creationist, he or she may reject the existence of mental conditions as medical conditions or go so far as to provide a religious description of mental conditions as demonic possessions or gifts from a deity.
The Alt Med Zealot: the alt med zealot embraces anti-psychiatry because he or she wrongly believes in the efficacy and safety of so-called “alternative” treatments for mental conditions. In reality, these alleged “treatments” are quackery and almost never gives any practically significant benefit above placebo. Most of the time, these individuals accepts the medical reality of mental conditions. However, they tend to shuns positions supported mainstream science, usually by ignorantly dismissing it all by shouting about “evil, multinational pharmaceutical corporations” (apparently without realizing the irony that a lot of “alternative medicine” is being produced and sold by large corporations) and accusing all critics of their beliefs of being pharma shills. Read more of this post
August 5, 2013
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Vaccines represents one of the biggest public health victories in human history. Vaccines were responsible for eradicating smallpox and greatly reducing the incidence of new infections of diseases such as polio, diphtheria, measles, rubella, rotavirus and many others. However, vaccines have to some extent been the victims of their own success: when they work, the average person do not come into contact with those diseases anymore, which can lead to complacency and sometimes outright science denialism.
Despite this enormous public health success, irrational anti-vaccine sentiments based on ignorance and fear mongering continues to exist. Often, they appeal to fraudulent studies or to safe but scary-sounding names of vaccines components. Sometimes, they even succumb to grand conspiracy theories involving vaccines and world domination based on nothing but misunderstood quotes taken out of context.
In reality, vaccines and general improvements in health care availability increases the living standards of individuals. As people become better off, they tend to have fewer children. A society having fewer children will reduce the population growth i.e. reduce the rate at which the human population is increasing. This bares no resemblance whatsoever to the irrational conspiracy theories who posit and evil and draconian plan spearheaded by Bill Gates that is somehow going to cause massive depopulation. This post examines and clarifies the quotes by Gates that anti-vaccine cranks take out of context. Read more of this post
July 31, 2013
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Related: The Failure of Mysterian Complaints about Neuroesthetics, Naive Philosophical “Criticism” of Reductionism in Science
Through the shining light of rational science, most reasonable people have stopped attributing epidemics of infectious diseases and natural disasters to deities or demons. Instead, they have come to accept the scientific reality of disease-causing microorganisms and natural processes such as earthquakes and tropical cyclogenesis. Again and again, scientific explanations have replaced alleged mystical or religious claims in fields as diverse as cosmology, astronomy, geology and biology. Although mysterian beliefs about the world has largely cracked under the evidence and retreated from the natural sciences, some people still cling to the misguided notion that the human mind exists independent of and above-and-beyond the brain. These individuals, called mysterians, often come in one of two flavors. The religious flavors rejects mind-brain physicalism because if it was true, that would mean the end of both souls and deities (as they are considered brainless minds). The secular, non-religious flavor rejects mind-brain physicalism because if it was true, they (falsely) believe that it would mean end of moral responsibility, human appreciation of art and beauty, freedom and equality.
Although careful not to go into details about neuroscientific research, journalist and social commentator David Brooks made a similarly unpersuasive case against mind-brain physicalism in his op-ed column called Beyond the Brain. It starts with a straw man of neuroscientific research, claiming that neuroscientists consider it a theory of everything and that humans are viewed as nothing but neurons. It continues to list some important limitations and current neuroscientific research. It finishes off by drawing the unjustified and preposterous inference that these limitations imply that the mind is not the brain.
Scattered through the article are a couple classic anti-psychiatry and neuroscience denialist talking-points, such as the rejection of mind-brain physicalism and the claim that addiction is not a brain disease. Read more of this post
July 29, 2013
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Note: This is the seventh installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will respond her assertions about disease and pathology. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.
So far, Bliss has made quite a lot of disturbing and anti-rational claims. She wrongly believes that that people with cystic fibrosis have themselves to blame because they allegedly caused their own condition through diet and thinking, when in reality, it is a genetic condition. She wrongly believes that eating genetically modified foods makes you less human, when in reality, GM crops are substantially equivalent of conventional crops. She wrongly believes that staring into the sun without protecting your eyes is beneficial, when in reality, it is very harmful and can even make you go blind. She believes that the DNA double helix has 12 strands instead of two, that dark matter is invented by the brain and doesn’t really exist and that quantum mechanics are relevant for human romantic relationships. The amount of pseudoscientific bullshit that Bliss spreads is enormous.
In this installment, we are going to check out her post about the disease concept. Contrary to Bliss, calling a medical condition “disease” or “dis-ease” probably does not matter and certainly does not “create an entirely new reality”. Humans living in the distant past were plagued with disease because modern medicine did not exist to cure or treat them and the body does not chose to have a disease. Becoming sick after getting a diagnosis is most likely due to the disease and not the diagnosis itself, so Bliss is performing the post hoc fallacy. She wrongly claims that human are not their bodies and even gets the placebo effect completely wrong. She also fails to understand why basic hygiene practices are a good idea. Finally, she promotes the falsified notion that there is a vital life force associated with living organisms Read more of this post