Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Another Quack Convicted of Neglecting Her Son to Death


Sick children deserve to get the best possible treatment for their diseases. It is terrible to think about how a young child suffers and dies from severe diseases that could easily be treated because their parents are anti-medicine and believe that ineffective quack treatments work when they actually do not. Deaths due to severe neglect by parents could often have been entirely prevented.

Had they just accepted mainstream medicine instead of relying on pseudoscientific nonsense, their children could likely be alive today. This is probably an extremely ghastly realization, which is why some parents who neglected their children to death do not want to admit this and refuse to take responsibility for their terrible actions.

Thankfully, both scientific skeptics and the justice system are increasingly raising awareness about these issues and tightening the net around parents who engage in criminal neglect with a lethal outcome. The wheels of justice turn exceedingly slowly (and one might say that justice delayed is justice denied), but it is still a victory when these perpetrators are brought to justice and convicted for their crimes.

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Mailbag: Anti-Psychiatry Fallacies and Falsehoods

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact info on the about page.

Anti-science activism takes many forms. They can oppose specific scientific models such as climate change or evolution. They can oppose entire aspects of medicine, such as alternative medicine or cancer quackery. They can promote conspiracy theories on specific historical events such as 9/11 terrorist attacks or the Holocaust. They can oppose specific products developed by researchers such as vaccines or genetically modified crops. They can even be corrupted by specific ideologies such as natural birth quackery or race pseudoscience.

One form of anti-science activism that will be the focus of this mailbag installment is anti-psychiatry. It works virtually the same way that anti-vaccine pseudoscience does: it downplays or neglects the diseases or conditions (mental illness denial versus claiming vaccine-preventable diseases are not really dangerous), it attacks the treatments (rejects medication and therapy versus rejecting vaccines), rejects the mechanism (deny biological risk factors of mental illness versus denying herd immunity) and promote vile hatred of doctors.

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Debunking the Myth of “No-Go” Zones in Sweden

The problem of misinformation is perhaps worse now than ever with the recent surge of fake news and misleading claims about everything from politicians to crime statistics. Human confirmation bias, isolated social media filter bubbles and search engine algorithms all contribute to a growing sense of polarization. The misinformation war that has plagues scientific skeptics and pro-science advocates when it comes to pseudoscience has now invaded politics and political policy issues. Dark forces are more willing than ever to lie and misrepresent statistics to provoke fear, anger and suspicion among people towards others.

Debunking Denialism has taken on several such cases of pseudoscientific bigotry, such as falsely comparing ethnic minorities to poisonous M&Ms, conspiracy theories about alleged white genocide, how anti-immigration activists abuse Swedish rape statistics or data on reported shootings in the Swedish city of Malmö. Now it is time to take on the widespread myth that Sweden supposedly has 55 no-go zones where criminals rule society and police are afraid or incapable of entering. This turns out to be a complete fabrication based on a journalist and his misreading of a police report and metaphorical use of language for exaggerated political discourse. Two police crucial police reports that investigate this issue never use the term and the properties they assign to vulnerable areas directly contradict the “no-go zone” narrative. There is a problem with criminal gangs fighting each other in Malmö, but that started in 2008, almost a decade before the refugee crisis in Europe. Let us take a closer look at the original police reports and relevant news articles on this issue.

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How to Endure the Seemingly Endless War Against Misinformation

How to Endure the War

Sometimes the war against misinformation seems to be both endless and hopeless. Despite being massively contradicted by just about everything we know about physics, chemistry and biology, homeopathy continues to stay alive despite over 200 years of criticism. Fake news stories pop up faster than they can be debunked. Anti-science activists abuse thousands of studies per day to prop up their dangerous nonsense. Americans spend at least 34 billion dollars on fake alternative medicine products every year. Cranks and quacks regurgitate the same stale claims that have been debunked over and over in the past. Sometimes it seems that things are stuck and nothing ever gets better.

However, we must never forget what and who we are fighting for. We must never forget that skeptical activism boosts the signal and pushes out the noise of misinformation. We must never forget that we provide ammunition to allies and create cascade effects. Even if the war against misinformation rages on, we have and continue to win thousands of fights and battles every year. If you had helped to save a friend or family member from a cancer quack or a fake psychic, you would remember and cherish this success for the rest of your life. Do this even if they person you helped save lives on the other side of the planet and is completely unknown to you.

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How pH Quacks Scammed Dying Officer For 77 000 USD

pH quackery

The pH of the blood needs to be around 7.4 to ensure health. Because of key biological processes that depend on blood pH and due to its logarithmic nature, even seemingly minor deviations can be medically serious or even potentially deadly. However, the body has multiple systems that regulates pH and keep it in check. The bicarbonate buffer system balances hydrogen ions against carbon dioxide that can be exhaled, proteins can bind or release hydrogen ions, the affinity of hemoglobin to bind to hydrogen ions depends on carbon dioxide levels, phosphates make up another buffer system and kidneys can excrete hydrogen or carbonate ions to help regulate body pH.

Quacks who promote alkaline diets or other forms of pH quackery are often willfully ignorant about this. Instead, they claim that diseases are caused by, for instance, eating too much acidic food. They also believe that the cure to virtually all diseases (including infectious diseases and cancer) is to ingest or inject substantial quantities of baking soda or other alkaline substances. In reality, that will only make your pee somewhat more alkaline. It is in many ways reminiscent of quacks who constantly hammer on about mysterious and unnamed “toxins” when anyone with a liver and kidneys can handle a ton of different environmental challenges. In the same way, your body can regulate pH just fine on its own using the mechanisms that are already there unless you are really, really sick with very precise conditions. The alkaline diet and pH quackery is, to put it simply, pseudoscientific bullshit.

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CIA Releases Declassified Documents on Alleged Psychic Experiments

CIA Stargate

Stories of secret government conspiracies and paranormal encounters have captured the imagination of generations of readers as well as movie and television fans all across the world. Meanwhile, in the real world, pseudoscientific movements that involve various conspiracy theories have cropped up in parallel on everything from building collapses and biomedical research to the shape of the earth and the moon landing. They posit highly efficient and competent conspirators and the total absence of leaks but can only present extremely poor arguments often in the face of strongly contradictory evidence.

Many conspiracy theories, such as those relating to supposed UFO sightings, visits by aliens or hidden psychic powers, involve the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This is somewhat predictable because the CIA (and similar organizations) cannot immediately disclose all information available on all possible issues that involve some kind of conspiracy theories due to the secretive nature of international intelligence activities. What makes matters worse is that the CIA has intentionally involved themselves in issues that feature prominently in those conspiracy theories, such as scientific investigations of supposed UFO sightings or people with alleged psychic abilities. This feeds into the conspiracy mindset.

Now, the CIA has released approximately 13 million documents that are part of the CREST database on their website that can be freely read and downloaded by anyone. Not all of these documents are related to conspiracy theories or pseudoscience, but those that are cover experimental tests of alleged physics, secret writings and scientific abstracts. Let us review the CREST database material and look closer at some interesting documents.

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No, Science Hasn’t “Always Been a Bit Post-Truth”

Is science post truth?

Steve Fuller is a Professor of Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick. He is chiefly known among scientific skeptics as an anti-science relativist (or postmodernist or social constructivist) who testified in favor of intelligent design creationists during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School trial of 2005. Although he is not necessarily committed to creationism as an ideology, his arguments and behavior is in many ways reminiscent of the postmodernist science wars. He does not really like scientific realism or the scientific “establishment” and deploys fairly standard relativist arguments.

Recently, he got a post published on the Guardian political science website called “Science has always been a bit post-truth”. Although it starts by discussing the concept of “post-truth” after it became word of the year (Oxford Dictionary) in 2016, the blog post really has nothing to do with the term or how it is used in reality. Instead, it in many ways a traditional postmodernist usage of Thomas Kuhn and his works as anti-science tool. The real goal of the post becomes clearer at the end, where Fuller expressed disappointment that intelligent design creationists were not invited to a recent Royal Society conference on evolution.

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What Happened to Jeffrey Beall’s List of (Allegedly) Predatory Publishers?

Beall's list

Jeffrey Beall is an academic librarian at the Auraria Library at University of Colorado Denver located in Denver, Colorado. He got tenure in 2012 and became an associate professor. For a number of years, he has maintained and curated a blacklist of allegedly (he calls it “potential, possible, or probable”) predatory open access publishers.

Predatory journals can engage in a large number of suspicious activities, such as deceptive journal name, sending massive spam requests to authors and reviewers, falsely claiming to have a higher credibility than they have based on common journal metrics, publish a lot of fake content, do not engage in peer review despite claiming to etc.

The list has received both praise for highlighting these problems and criticism for being unfair. Yet, something strange has now happened with both the list and his website. The list is gone and all content on his website appears to have been purged. Here are the details that are currently available. Because this is a breaking news event, some of the details might change as more information becomes known, but it was accurate when it was posted.

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How Anti-Science Activists Abuse Dictionaries

The dictionary definition of dictionary

Dictionaries can be vital to getting a basic understanding of what words mean. However, anti-science activists have developed several different methods to exploit dictionaries for their own ideological goals. They attempt to use generalized dictionaries to sow confusion about highly specialized terms in science or business. They insist that dictionary definitions determines what is correct or incorrect use of language when in reality, dictionaries are passive recorders of the way language is used and changes over time.

They let semantic issues play the role of arguments in a way that sidesteps issues of facts to prop up their ideology. They attempt to distract with dictionary arguments when discussing current events or new findings where dictionary definitions are not at all relevant. They neglect the fact that dictionaries are brief summaries and never encompass the full diversity of the meaning of words in an effort to deploy a No True Scotsman fallacy or greedy reductionism. Finally, they also ignore the fact that dictionaries can sometimes be wrong or heavily biased in a way that negatively impact their credibility in a substantial way.

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Remorseless David Stephan Continues Selling Naturopathic Quackery

Naturopathic quackery strikes again

David Stephan is a proponent of the quackery of naturopathy that involves treating serious medical conditions with nutritional supplements and refusing real medical treatment. In 2016, he and his wife Collet was convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life after they had refused to take their young toddler Ezekiel (who was suffering and later died from meningitis) to the doctor.

David was sentenced to 4 months in prison and Collet got house arrest for 3 months. They both were ordered to 240 hours of community service. The reason for the difference was because Collet did call a nurse and looked up the disease on the Internet, whereas David just went out and bought more naturopathic fakery and showed extreme remorselessness at trial.

Even during the trial, the Stephan made up various nonsense rationalizations, both to explain away their crime and their trial. David wrongly said that it was somehow impossible to detect that it was meningitis unless they were under around-the-clock medical supervision and that therefore it was not negligent to wait almost two weeks before calling for emergency medical assistant. He also stated that they had “gone above and beyond where he has received exceptional care”, a statement that appears extremely delusional with the facts on the table. After they were convicted (but before sentencing), David created a conspiracy theory about how the government deceived the jury, about how the “flood gates are now open” for the government to criminally prosecute anything who disagree with them on parenting, that he is now worried for Canada was a whole.

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