Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: denialism

When Creationism and Anti-Vaccine Activism Mesh

Creationism and anti-vaccine activism

One of the more frightening conceptual aspects of pseudoscience is known as the crank magnetism effect. It occurs when someone, who promotes one kind of pseudoscience, becomes more likely of promoting other kinds of crankery. Someone who promotes HIV/AIDS denialism may also promote alternative medicine, someone who promotes conspiracy theories about 9/11 might also believe that chemtrails are real, someone who are against vaccines might advocate for conspiracy theories about condoms and so on. This might occur because of similar core beliefs, such as the alleged severe deceitfulness of the government or because of extreme religious beliefs, or perhaps because of the similar themes and content of many kinds of pseudoscience.

Cornelius Hunter, an intelligent design creationist associated with the Center for Science and Culture (previously named the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) at the Discovery Institute, is a good illustration of the concept of crank magnetism. In two recent blog post, he promoted a number of classic anti-vaccine talking points, but these were not completely unrelated to his intelligent design creationist activism. Instead, he appears to see both of the conflicts as part of a larger culture war between mainstream science (that he calls “scientism”) and various religious and anti-scientific groups and individuals.

Evolution is a strongly evidence-based explanation for the origin of biological diversity

It is extremely common for creationists of various stripes to mischaracterize evolution as something it is not. Evolution is a strongly evidence-based explanatory framework for the origin of biological diversity. It is not about the origin of life (abiogenesis), it is not a worldview, it does not assume philosophical naturalism with respects to the origin of life.

The opposition to science by the forces of pseudoscientific is a fact

Hunter, in an effort to tarnish the combat against pseudoscience, intentionally conflate the current opposition to science by pseudoscientific groups with the historical conflict thesis. The historical conflict thesis, advanced by Draper and White, was the notion that there has been a continuous war between science and religion throughout European history. This turns out to be an inaccurate view of history as the authors cherry-picked and exaggerated their examples. To be true, there were groups of religious individuals who opposed various scientific models and medical advances, but it was rarely the official position of large religious organizations. However, the falsity of the historical conflict thesis does not disprove the true claim that here are currently many conflicts between science and various religious and non-religious groups today.

Denialism is not “thoughtful disagreement”

Hunter writes that:

If you disagree with “science” (as if there is such a monolithic thing), you are not a concerned or thoughtful citizen, you are a denier. In this “we versus them” world, the negative connotation is obvious.

Promoting conspiracy theories about scientists or the scientific community is not the same as being “thoughtful”. Spreading dangerous myths about how vaccines are harming millions of people or that genetically modified foods cause cancer is not the same as being “thoughtful”. Cherry-picking 1998 as a starting point in surface temperature graphs because it had a strong El Niño event in an effort to make it look like there has been no global warming during the past 17 years is not being “thoughtful”. There is a world of difference between being concerned and thoughtful and being a denialist. People are more than welcome to question scientific models and claims. In fact, this is encouraged since science grows by the rejection of ideas that do not work and by the tentative acceptance of models that do work (in terms of making accurate predictions). However, they should not be expected to be treated with silk gloves when they promote anti-scientific ideas that have been debunked thousands and thousands of times before. If you genuinely want to be part of an intellectually honest discussion on scientific topics (such as vaccines, GM foods or evolution) at least try to do some actual reading of credible scientific sources, whether technical or popular.

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The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part VIII: HIV/AIDS

Note: This is the eight installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will take on what appears to be her most despicable and dangerous beliefs I have come across, namely HIV/AIDS denialism. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss and HIV/AIDS

In previous installments of this article series, we have seen Stasia Bliss make some astonishing assertions. She claims that individuals with cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition) caused their own disease by eating acidic food and thinking negative thoughts. She believes that eating genetically modified foods cause corporate mind control via alteration of gene regulation. She encourages people to stare into the sun and states that it will give people supernatural powers, such as astral projection. She asserts that human DNA has twelve strands and that gene transcription turns you into a silica-based life-form. She considers dark matter to be a psychological invention to hide reality. She thinks that quantum mechanics mean that the mind creates reality. She claims that a vital life force exists and does not even understand why basic hygiene practices are a good idea to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

Despite knowing that Bliss subscribes to a long list of crackpot ideas and quack treatment, nothing quite prepares you for reading the supreme ignorance contained in her post on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Bliss promotes “natural remedies” such as changes in diets, herbs, drinking water, consuming hydrochloric acid and colonic irrigation despite the fact that these treatments are ineffective and sometimes harmful. She rejects the mainstream mechanism for HIV pathogenesis by stating that HIV only kill a small portion of T helper cells directly, ignoring the fact that this is only the case for resting CD4+ T helper cells and that HIV can infect and kill active CD4+ T helper cells. In the end, HIV cause the decline of CD4+ T helper cells, but not by the mechanisms that Bliss claims.

Her quack explanation for HIV pathogenesis is that the HIV virus lives on undigested proteins in the large intestine, ignoring the fact that a virus needs a host cell to replicate. She claims that the undigested protein adhere to the intestine wall, enters the blood stream and cause chronic inflammation. As this alleged chronic inflammation continues, it exhausted the immune system. In reality, undigested proteins are usually too large to be taken in the digestive system (that is why they are digested), most of the uptake of digested protein occurs in the small intestine and not the large, eating a substance usually provides a tolerogenic response from the immune system rather than an inflammatory and chronic inflammation is not associated with immune suppression (quite the opposite, as immune suppression is used as a treatment for chronic inflammation).

In her post about HIV/AIDS, Bliss promotes pseudoscientific ignorance that is extremely harmful. Read more of this post

An Open Letter to Libertarian Climate Change Denialists

Hello,

I am writing this plea in order to counter the growing tendency for some libertarian groups to reject the science behind global warming and climate change. This is an unfortunate tendency because if libertarianism can be associated with fringe antiscience groups, then this makes libertarianism as a whole an easy target for naive critics. They can ignore the problems with large bureaucratic governments and the reduction in civil liberties and just focus on the fact that certain libertarians reject mainstream climate science and thereby portray libertarianism as an irrational form of antiscience denialism, in the same way many liberals view creationist republicans as intellectually left behind.

Many people would probably object to being labeled as denialists. This is understandable, but it is important to realize that this is not meant as a guilt by association tactic to, for instance, Holocaust deniers. Rather, the term denialism usually refers to the deployment of a dishonest rhetorical debating tactic which makes it appear as if there is a legitimate scientific debate about the topic when the evidence for the mainstream scientific position is overwhelming. This is usually done by quoting scientists out of context, portraying a discussion about how something is happening as if it was a debate on whether it was occurring or not, misunderstanding basic science, peddling conspiracy theories, cherry picking research results while asserting that themselves are being censored when scientists are criticizing them and so on. These tactic are frequently used by opponents of the mainstream scientific position on climate change. To be sure, big government liberals are also guilty of quite a bit of pseudoscience as well, such as postmodernism, opposition to genetically modified foods, animal rights extremists and so on.

One useful realization is that it is important to separate the science behind climate change and global warming from the big government suggestions for mitigating the issues. It is entirely consistent to accept mainstream climate science, yet reject the proposed “solutions” provided by liberal politicians and other organizations. There should be opportunity for investigating free markets solutions and investing in new technology for mitigating climate change. Read more of this post

How 9/11 Gave Rise to a New Generation of Denialists

The horrible events of 9/11 2001 were unique in many ways. In the past, hijacking had most often been a method of trying to acquire political concessions or for monetary extorting, but rarely before had planes been hijacked to be used as weapons in themselves. Despite the incident at Pearl Harbor, the 1993 attack on WTC and the Oklahoma City bombing, the United States had been relatively spared from international terrorism up until then. The attacks against WTC and the Pentagon also lead to never-before-seen security measures on airports, consuming vast sums of money and changing the very core of air travel. It lead to increases in military spending and wars overseas, the Patriot Act and many other major changes on the regional and global scene.

However, there were other consequences of the events that day, namely the rise of a new generation of young and tech-savvy conspiracy theorists and denialists with the world wide web at their fingertips. Read more of this post

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