Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Race Realism and Racism

Daily Mail Lawyers Spawn Conspiracy Theory By Partially Blocking Sweden

Daily Mail shoddy reporting

Conspiracy theories about nefarious governments spread like wildfire over the Internet. Because people are so bad at fact-checking and critically analyzing things they read, many just carelessly like and share whatever material that appeals to their own ideological biases or provoke emotions such as fear or anger. As the fake information circles the globe, skeptical analyses that disprove the myths and highlight the real facts take a long time to write and gets very little attention.

In January of 2016, a brutal knife attack occurred at a Swedish facility for care and housing. The perpetrator was an asylum seeker and the victim was a 22-year-old woman working there. She died from her wounds and the perpetrator was convicted both in the district court and the court of appeals and sentenced to forced psychiatric care (with special discharge review), expulsion from the country and 33 200 USD in damages. The Supreme Court decided to not hear the case. This case was covered extensively in the Swedish media, starting only 30 minutes after the emergency call and carried on for the rest of the year. In total, there were at least 70 news articles written about the event and the social and legal aftermath on four large Swedish newspaper websites.

Due to a misunderstanding of Swedish law, Daily Mail blocked Swedish visitors from reading three of their low quality propaganda articles about the crime. They thought that they could be liable and sued in Swedish courts for their reporting in the U. K., but this is not true (although the reverse is possible). This ignorant action spawned a massive conspiracy theory where the Swedish government allegedly blocked the Daily Mail articles so that people living in Sweden would be “prevented from learning the truth” about the alleged “harmful effects of refugees and immigration” and that it is “no wonder that Swedes do not know what is going on in their own country”. Needless to say, this conspiracy theory is demonstrably false and is just one of the many conspiracy theories that are being pushed abroad about Sweden and immigration.

Read more of this post

How Anti-Immigration Activists Misuse Lethal Violence Statistics

Lethal violence in Sweden

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has put the combined knowledge mass of the human species in a format that is easily accessible by billions of people hungry for scientific and historical facts about the world. The Internet, however, has also brought with it the possibility of spreading misinformation and nonsense at a rate that was never before possible. Someone can post an incendiary fake news story that inspire fear and anger about some real or imagined event during breakfast and before the evening has set in, the story has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media, provoked and misled millions of people and sometimes even made it into the mainstream media.

Sweden has recently become a target of various political outbursts designed to spread fear, anger and misinformation about refugees and immigrants. In reality, Sweden is a country that has not declared a single war since 1814 and is one of the best countries in the world to live in based on dozens of different metrics such as safety, education, health care, happiness and so on. In the dark and damp places of the Internet, however, Sweden is wrongly portrayed as a hellhole where murder and rape are out of control, criminal gangs have taken permanent control over several dozen areas and the radical feminist government and the media are actively covering it all up.

The reality, of course, is entirely different. Anti-immigration activists abuse rape statistics, the rape definition used in Swedish law has expanded multiple times since the late 1990s, the propensity to report rape has doubled in recent years and the police records each individual case as a separate police report. Two reports published by the Swedish federal police has shown that although there are social problems in especially vulnerable areas, but the idea that they are somehow no-go zones is a propaganda myth and the police works there every single day.

Read more of this post

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. Read more of this post

The Pseudoscientific Fabrications of Mass Murderer Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof was recently convicted on all 33 federal charges (including hate crime) after murdering nine people by shooting 70 bullets at a bible study at a church at Charleston, South Carolina. He now risks the death penalty and sentencing is scheduled to start in January. His words and actions (which likely qualifies as domestic terrorism) have been covered by tens of thousands of news outlets, in-depth articles and social media reactions. They have all made important contributions to the discussion, but it might also be useful to approach his manifesto from the perspective of scientific skepticism.

This involves refuting his pseudoscientific claims about genetics and biology generally, highlighting his ignorance about search engines and exposing his logical fallacies and cognitive biases.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a manifesto written by a white supremacist in the context of providing an explanation to his violent actions. It also discusses the events of his own ideology transformation that started several years prior. Roof mentions the shooting of Trayvon Marin which took place in late February of 2012 whereas the Charleston church mass murder happened in mid-June of 2015. Thus, we should not expect this to be a completely disinterested and objective description of events. In fact, the manifesto contains several discernible attempts to steer the reader into considering certain conclusions about his history and motivations. We do not know to which degree these are true. As always, reader beware.

This post takes a closer look at the pseudoscientific fabrications and cognitive distortions of convicted mass murderer Dylann Roof. His manifesto is no longer available at his website because this has been taken down, but it can be found using various Internet caching services. A recent CNN article about the case can be found here.

Neutralization techniques

A neutralization technique is a cognitive defense mechanism used by criminals to quell their inner cognitive dissonance. Typically, these are based on refusing to take responsibility for the crime, claiming that the crime did not cause any real harm, that the victims deserved it and so on. Perhaps surprising to some, many criminals have doubts about their actions, understand the benefits with rule of law and even admire good people. There are also mechanisms that prevent people from committing crime. Many criminal uses neutralization techniques to suppress and overcome these factors.

Read more of this post

The Poisonous M&Ms Analogy Explodes Into Mainstream U. S. Politics

Poisonous M&Ms

Humans have a cognitive tendency to lump people in outgroups together as collectives, but have great appreciation for individualism for people in the ingroup. This is know as outgroup homogeneity bias and the reason why some people think all blonde women or Asians look the same, or why some people are more likely believe in stereotypes of African-Americans or Muslims, but would never lump white feminists with Donald Trump.

Most reasonable people understand that stereotypes exists and that they do not provide the most accurate information about individuals and can certainly misled people into errors. As a result, a lot of people try their best to judge others by their own merits and faults. However, there are some that prefers to stay in the cognitively simplistic world of stereotypes and they typically appeal to pseudoscience, emotional arguments and rhetorical techniques to back this up. One such technique involves superficially acknowledging that no all members of a group conform to the stereotype, but then appeal to fear and uncertainty to prop up the original stereotype.

This has become enshrined in the poisonous M&M trope, whereby people of a certain group is compared to a bowl of M&Ms where a few of them are poisonous. The meme asks the viewers to go ahead and eat a handful of them, since they are not all poisonous. The unstated conclusion is that you should never eat M&Ms because some of them are poisonous. It is just not worth the risk. If this sounds like an intuition pump based on flawed logic and irrational risk analysis, it is because this is precisely what the analogy is. The analogy has been exposed previously on Debunking Denialism. Recent developments have pushed this analogy to the forefront of U. S. politics and social media.

Recent developments for the poisonous M&Ms analogy

On September 19, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out a slightly different version of this meme on his Twitter account, complaining about the “politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first”. Instead of M&Ms, the meme now uses the competitor brand Skittles (presumably a reference to the Trayvon Martin shooting that became a core event for the recent rise of white surpremacism in the United States), but the general message stayed the same: Syrian refugees are like a bowl of Skittles and the terrorists are a few poisonous pieces, and therefore, it is supposedly better to just not take any Skittles. As we saw above, this claim is a flawed intuition pump. The tweet was wildly discussed by both international news networks and various social media outlets.

Since 2014, the analogy had been used by many anti-immigration activists and Donald Trump Jr. probably picked this up from that ideological environment. Had he merely performed a Google search to see if there were any scientific or statistical problems with that analogy, he might have saved himself the embarrassment. After all, it had been debunked on this website over two years earlier. In other words, a substantial failure of fact-checking.

Read more of this post

Mailbag: Water Fluoridation and Human Genetic Variation

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.

Fluoride occurs naturally in many forms of drinking water, because it is leached from the bedrock where it occurs in the form of calcium fluoride and other compounds. Sometimes, fluoride is added into the drinking water where this natural source does not exist or is too little. Water fluoridation in drinking water prevents cavities (and contributes to equalizing dental health across socioeconomic groups), but the concentration is not large enough to cause harm.

There is an important limitation with water fluoridation, and that is that it is typically applied in an one-size-fits-all instead of tailoring the amount to the needs of the community. However, the objections to water fluoridation that you might find on the Internet and social media in particular is batshit conspiracy theories that water fluoridation sterilizes people and lowers their IQ despite the fact that the human populations has exploded in size during the past 100 years and IQ steadily rises over time due to the Flynn effect. Earlier, Debunking Denialism published a refutation of the claim that if you add fluoride, you should supposedly have no problem adding arsenic. This is, of course, completely wrong in so many different ways.

The second topic in this mailbag is that of human genetic variation. These issues are often misunderstood by so-called race realist who argues that modern genomics have validated pseudoscientific superstitions about human diversity from the 1700s. Why race realists are mistaken on the facts was discussed in Modern High-Throughput Genomics Versus Race Realism and dozens other on this websites.

Read more of this post

Genetic Clusters, Racial Medicine and Fishes

Neurologica Blog

Humans are pattern-seeking animals are are thus prone to detect patterns where none exists. We are also very interested in categorizing things, presumably because it is easier to handle cognitively. Imagine the difficulty we would have if we had to mentally treat each leaf as a separate entity and could not consider them “just a bunch of leaves”! But there is a downside to this as well, because we can be mislead and neglect complicated patterns because our categories are easy and psychological influential. These issues and questions often appear in discussions about human genetic diversity. This is enhanced by the fact that complicated genetic and computational analyses feeds us with visually striking graphs that tickle our imagination, while we do not pay equal attention to the underlying methodology.

However, reality is more complicated. Genetic clusters overemphasize differences, largely ignore similarities and is confounded by low sampling density and geographic distance. Thus, a modern analysis of human genetic variation reveals that it is, with a few exceptions, mostly clinal in nature and that notions of discrete genetic races is not an accurate description.

It is often said that ethnicity is useful in medicine, but this is also more complicated due to confounders such as health disparities, bias, discrimination, healthcare seeking behavior and compliance, as well as socioeconomic status. It turns out that ethnic status is at best a crude proxy for the alleles of a person and sequencing individuals will be much more useful. Finally, a focus on racial medicine has led to misdiagnosis of some diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, thalassemia and cystic fibrosis.

Read more of this post

Mailbag: Modern High-Throughput Genomics Versus Race Realism

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.

With access to constant media reporting from around the world, it is hard to ignore stories about economy, elections, crimes and war. A lot of this news reporting involve coverage that is in some way related to differences within and between countries in terms of poverty and richness, ethnic tensions, scientific progress and lack of basic resources for life. It is understandable that we often ask ourselves about the nature of such differences, how they came about, what they mean, and how we can approach them.

However, dark clouds often appear on the horizon. Political and religious groups claim to have the truth on these matters and that their particular narrative of the nature and causes of, and solutions to, world problems should be preferred over others. These are often based on ideology and beliefs, rather than the result of scientific research and rational thinking. Typically, these narratives have a substantial flaw: they are simplistic and only include a single factor or perhaps a few, while and ignore the multifactorial nature of complex problems. It is tempting to be lured into simplistic explanations for a complex world, because they are cognitively easy and allows us to put blame on one group or a few groups of people. However, they are often as false as they are naive. Instead, we should banish proposed “explanations” that try to explain a complex societal processes with simplistic causes.

After reading some of the articles on Debunking Denialism about the scientific problems with race realism, RH decided to send me an email about some of the issues he was thinking about. The topics involve genetics, heritability, inventions, poverty, national economy, crime, history, and politics.

High-throughput modern genetic studies finds very low between-group genetic variation

RH writes:

I mean how can you argue against racialism/race realism and say humanity is one race when the world just seems to contradict that?

The general answer to this question is that we must not be misled by how the world seems. Instead, we must boldly explore beyond the limited scope of our own personal beliefs and biases by testing them against broad scientific data without being selective and seeing what we want to see.

When scientists carry out high-throughput genomics research and look at 650 000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and close to 400 microsatellites, they find that the vast majority of human genetic variation, ranging from 84.7%-95% depending on the study and genetic elements, occurs within populations (Li et al., 2008; Rosenberg et al., 2002). Only a tiny minority of genetic variation occurs between continental groups. Thus, the available scientific evidence strongly disagree with the race realist position. Instead, human genetic diversity is better described as mostly continuous clines, with a few rare exceptions (Serre and Pääbo, 2004). Certainly, there is still a scientific debate about details as in many other areas, but this is the mainstream scientific position with regards to human genetic diversity.

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: