Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Why Postmodernist Glaciology is Pseudoscientific Bigotry

Postmodernist nonsense about glaciers

Are satellite measurements of climate parameters a masculinist attempt at fake objectivity that boils down to nothing other than pornography? Is glaciology just a form of “western science” that actively suppressing other ways of knowing because of its reliance on mathematical models and advanced technological equipment? Are glaciers offended when people cook with grease near them? Will fat turn into another glacier if left overnight? Is the world so chaotic and unpredictable that scientific investigation into glaciers is fundamentally impossible because of the supposed gendered nature of empirical research methods?

Sometimes you run across published papers that are so batshit that you cannot possibly fathom how they were published, passed peer-review or even funded. One such paper is the postmodernist piece “Glaciers, gender, and science” that was written by Mark Carey, M Jackson, Alessandro Antonello and Jaclyn Rushing and published in Progress in Human Geography in 2016. This post takes a closer look at this review paper with particular focus on its rampant abuse and misrepresentation of satellite measurements as a technique to monitor climate change.

Getting the role of ice in climate science wrong

The problems begin at the very start of the introduction. Here, Carey and colleagues (henceforth Carey et al.) charges into climate science and mischaracterize the role of ice and glaciers as means to understand and measure climate change:

Glaciers are icons of global climate change, with common representations stripping them of social and cultural contexts to portray ice as simplified climate change yardsticks and thermometers. In geophysicist Henry Pollack’s articulation, “Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts” (Pollack, 2009: 114). This perspective appears consistently in public discourse, from media to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This is, of course, completely untrue. Glaciers play a crucial role in climate science for a wealth of reasons. They offer a stunning visualization of the effects of warming that does not depend on mathematical models or political biases. If a glacier has been reduced by 40% over a certain period, then that is just a brute fact and no amount of political ideology or climate denialist misinformation can change that.

Water from glaciers also provide freshwater and electricity for many millions of people around the world and has important roles in agriculture. IPCC is aware of these issues and have entire rapports that focus on these very issues. One of the newest such reports is The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report from Working Group II called “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” that can be found here with a shorter summary for policymakers that can be found here.

Indeed, Carey goes on to mention some of these factors later in the introduction, but only as a means to knock down the straw man he has erected in the very first three sentences of the paper. This hows that the Carey paper has an ignorant view of the way glaciers are seen and used in climate science research. Read more of this post

Never Apologize For Fact-Checking

Scientific skepticism

More and more people are becoming aware of the problem with fake news and bad news reporting after the 2016 U. S. general election. This is a welcome development for scientific skeptics who have been warning about the impact of misinformation online about important issues such as vaccines and GMOs.

Mainstream news organizations such as CNN have published guides on how to uncover false news items on social media. After the election, Facebook was at first dismissive of the influence of fake news, but has recently reversed their position and are now looking into ways of fighting it, both with Facebook tools and denying ad revenue to fake news websites. While we in some sense have been taken over by the post-fact tsunami, this might be a turning point if many other large entities follows suit.

However, there is a deeper issue. Most people can probably identify some forms of fake news on issues that they are well-informed about. If you understand how vaccines work and why assertions by anti-vaccine activists are flawed, you will probably not fall for the next conspiracy theory about vaccines. But they might fall for pseudoscience in some other area, believe things that appeal to their fears and emotions or things promoted by their favorite celebrity and politician or issues related to their own ideological tribalism.

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Was Trump’s Victory Just Backlash Against “Political Correctness”?

The Trump backlash

Why did Donald Trump win? How can we understand it from a skeptical perspective? CNN has a list of 24 different explanations for why Trump won over Clinton that include impact of fake news, the power of social media, low voter turnout, because Bernie Sanders was not the democratic candidate, because of third-party candidate, because the liberal elite is out of touch with average people, revenge of the white working class etc. They also highlight a narrative that was discussed in a post on the website of the libertarian magazine Reason that we might label the “backlash narrative”.

Did Trump win because white people got tired of political correctness? While it is true that Trump ran as an anti-establishment and many of his supporters upheld him as the anti-PC candidate, this narrative have some severe limitations. Fewer democrats voted, it ignored the bigotry of the movement, it shifts too much blame, and it ignores social media filter bubbles. Now we need to redouble and reinvigorate our skeptical efforts, make fact-checking part of our social media experience, reach those who are in some sense victims of misinformation, use argumentative minimalism, hold ourselves to a higher standard and combat tribalism.

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Why Scientific Skepticism Should Be Intellectually Global

Make skepticism intellectually global

With the election of Donald Trump, we are now officially living in a post-fact world.

There are many factors behind why Trump won. He got a ton of free advertisement from the mass media, he exploited simmering hostility towards the establishment, a lot of democrats did not vote etc. and people are trying to figure out how it happened and how to process it all. However, it is becoming clearer and clearer that an ignorance of science and critical thinking likely played an important role. Trump promoted a large number of scientific falsehoods and a lot of anti-human bigotry that you could debunk with a minimal knowledge of science and cognitive biases.

However, people either did not do this properly or simply did not care enough about these issues. This means it is high time to restore the cultural authority of science and promote critical thinking of questionable claims. Not only that, scientific skepticism has to go global. Not just in terms of geography, but there also needs to be a push for scientific skepticism as a valid tool in all areas of human endeavor. Pseudoscientific nonsense is pseudoscientific nonsense regardless if it comes from a politician or an alternative medicine quack.

What does this mean in practice?

This post will examine some of the consequences of this commitment to scientific skepticism as an intellectually global priority. It means that there will be no more free passes or no more selective skepticism. It means defending medical ethics and human rights. It means opposing pseudoscientific bullshit from politicians and understanding that bigotry often rely on pseudoscience. It also means pushing for scientific testing of political policy suggestions.

No free passes: no issue should be given a free pass from scientific skepticism and critical thinking. There is no divide between “science and rationality” and “all other issues”. Tear down this wall. Scientific skepticism should be applied just as harshly to claims made by politicians, public policy suggestions, religion, history and ethical claims. No more free passes to pseudoscientific nonsense no matter where they can be found. This farce ends here.

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What Will the Trump Presidency Mean for Scientific Skepticism?

Trump election results

Donald Trump has now been elected as the next President of the United States and Hillary Clinton has conceded the election to him. He won by an estimated 289 electoral votes to the 218 of Clinton. This might slightly change over the coming days as the vote counting is complete, but it is clear that Trump has won. Most polls and models predicted that Clinton would win by a small margin, but they were mistaken. This is partly because of the flawed methodology and partly because the far right is often underestimated in pre-election polls.

What will this mean for science and scientific skepticism? Two major groups of issues is that Trump is against vaccines and climate change, and has also promoted pseudoscientific bigotry against ethnic minorities, immigrants, women and people with disabilities. This post will examine some of the potential consequences and impacts of a Trump presidency for science and scientific skepticism.

Issues

Here are some of the issues that will face science and scientific skepticism during the Trump presidency. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a flavor for the breath and depths of some of the problems we are likely to now face.

Vaccines: Trump has stated on numerous occasions that he thinks that vaccines cause autism. In particular, he has regurgitated the myth of “too many, too soon”. This might have implications for how much resources is being spent on vaccine development, distribution and vaccination rates.

Climate change: Trump believes that climate change is just a hoax invented by the Chinese to make American suffer economically. His rejection of climate science can potentially have disastrous consequences, both when it comes to the Paris agreement and our chance at preventing or mitigating climate change consequences.

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Harbingers of Doom – Part IX: The Pseudoscience Question

Here Be Dragons

Is cryonics unfalsifiable and uses an excessive amount of ad hoc maneuvers? Why are proponents of existential risk research relatively uninterested in submitting their work to a high-quality, peer-reviewed scientific journal? Why does the Doomsday argument seem immune to self-correction? How come there is very little connection between ideas about surviving destructive teleportation or uploading of the mind to the mainstream scientific literature on neuroscience? To what extend do the existential risk crowed overuse hypertechnical language?

Pseudoscience is an imposter of science. An area that superficially might appear to be scientific, but has an intellectually vacuous inside. Now that we are approaching the end of this articles series where we critically reviewed Olle Häggström’s book Here Be Dragons, it is time to sift through the issues and see if we can reach some kind of conclusion of what of it is scientific and what is obviously not.

This will keep us preoccupied in the final two parts of this series. Previous installments of this series has tackled bioweapons, destructive teleportation, self-replicating nanobots, philosophy of science, doomsday scenarios, Dyson spheres and Pascal’s wager. This is the penultimate installment and will investigate to which degree these and many more issues discussed and defended by Häggström qualifies as pseudoscience and the final part will be an addendum and conclusion.

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Stop Calling LGBT People Brain Damaged by Endocrine Disruptors

Mercola on EDCs

The human body is complicated. To make it easier to study and understand, scientists and medical researchers divide the body into different systems, such as the immune system, the nervous system, the endocrine system and so on. In reality, these are not watertight compartments and they overlap and influence each other in both very direct and subtle ways. The endocrine system consists of a large number of glands throughout the body that secrete hormones. These glands can be found in many places, from the brain and thyroid to the stomach and genitals. Some key hormones that are secreted by this system is growth hormone, melatonin, oxytocin, insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, testosterone, estrogen and many others. These have important biological effects and regulate many crucial processes in the human body.

What determines how much is being secreted? It is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer. To simplify it a bit, it is influenced by both genetics, environment and how much hormone is already in circulation. With the help of e. g. feedback effects, the body is able to keep hormones at a physiologically healthy levels. Hormones typically have their effects by binding to a hormone receptor that activates downstream signalling and biological effects. Hormones receptors are often highly specialized in order to bind to the corresponding hormone to ensure that the system is regulated and not triggered by other things inside and outside of the body. However, this is not a perfect system.

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Climate Science Hero Naomi Oreskes Promotes Anti-GMO Myths

Naomi Oreskes Harvard Bio

Naomi Oreskes is a hero of climate science. She completed one of the earliest database surveys of climate consensus among publishing climate scientists and contributed to the largest ever survey of consensus studies. She has taken on misinformants who think that smoking does not cause cancer, who think that acid rain was not an issue and those who deny that humans are the main contributor behind climate change. If there was a team of climate science superheros, she would be a core member.

However, dark clouds has appeared on the horizon. During the past few years, she has been slowly getting closer and closer to the anti-GMO movement. She downplayed the Green revolution and the scientific consensus on GMOs and even linked to conspiracy websites. This might be innocent mistakes since she did admit that she has not researched the area enough. However, recently Oreskes actively and intentionally promoted the harmful anti-GMO myth that GM crops caused an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers. In reality, empirical data shows that the introduction of GM crops in India has had no impact on suicide rates. As a public intellectual, Oreskes has an intellectual responsibility to avoid spreading anti-science misinformation.

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The Sixth Anniversary of Debunking Denialism

Cupcakes!

Debunking Denialism has now been active for six years. During the past year, a lot of things has been accomplished, but many challenges remain. Anti-science activists hold fake “tribunals” against GMOs, still oppose vaccines despite new outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, talk nonsense about quantum mechanics and abuse statistics for their own ideological goals.

The world has also changed over the past 12 months with direct or indirect connections to scientific skepticism: several large terror attacks occurred Europe, the rise of the alt right in the United States, Radovan Karadžić were convicted and sent to prison for 40 years for crimes against humanity, the Panama documents were released, the UK voted to leave the EU, the Paris agreement was ratified by the U. S. and China as well as 150 nations agreed to get rid of ozone-damaging HFCs.

Highlights

Here are some of the major content that has been covered on Debunking Denialism during the past year:

– One of the largest sellers of bleach as a cure for many diseases, Daniel Louis Smith, was sentenced to 55 months in prison.

– David Stephan and his wife Collet were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month toddler Ezekiel. David got four months in prison and she got house arrest for a few months, but the crown prosecutor is appealing the case due to the lenient punishment.

– The article series refuting a popular anti-skeptic book that defended various paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs was completed. Unlike previous critical commentary for the book, this article series focused both on logical fallacies and its scientific errors.

– The content that got most attention during the past year was undoubtedly the refutations of the poisonous M&Ms or poisonous skittles analogy, where some groups are compared with a bowl of candy. Since apparently some pieces are poisonous, it allegedly makes sense to avoid all of the candy even though most of them are not poisonous. This was originally refuted in 2014 in the post Poisonous M&Ms: The Irrational Monstrosity of Bigotry, but got more coverage in the past year when it metastasized to the Syrian refugee crisis and then exploded into the mainstream.

– Anti-GMO statistician Nassim N. Taleb came out as a defender of homeopathy.

– Debunking Denialism also published several basic coverage of scientific skepticism, such as how to avoid falling for bullshit on the Internet, preventing cranks from benefiting from your online skeptical activism, scientific skepticism in four easy steps, and a guide to how quacks and cranks abuse scientific terminology.

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Official Social Media Pages and Accounts

Twitter

Proponents of pseudoscience and science denial has exploited social media platforms to spread their misinformation, from attacking scientists on Twitter to organized abuse of the reporting function against skeptical Facebook pages.

Recently, I have expanded and become more active on social media websites. Here is a list of official social media pages and accounts related to me and my website on places such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Reddit. I have also included information about the contact email for this website.

Facebook

The official Facebook page for myself is Emil Karlsson (@emilskeptic) and the official page for this website is Debunking Denialism (@DebunkingDenialism). The latter focuses on posting new material that was published on the website and memorable exchanges with anti-science activists, whereas the former is my personal profile page that posts a lot of content on scientific skepticism, science, and critical thinking.

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