Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

How to Defeat Technological Filter Bubbles That Skew Your World

Filter Bubbles

With the explosive growth of fake news websites, clickbait ‘journalism’, and hoaxes being shared millions of times on social media every day, we are now entering an extremely aggressive period in the ongoing misinformation wars.

At the forefront of this battle lies technological and social media filter bubbles. These are algorithms and user decisions that alter the priority and existence of material in your feed or search results to cater to your preferences. This might seem harmless at first, but over time this creates ideological isolation where you are being fed materials that confirm your own biases from sources you enjoy. Materials that counter those biases end up further down the feed or are not shown at all. It is a hidden form of confirmation bias and contributes to a radical polarization in our society.

In the past, understanding ideological filter bubbles were a lot easier. Some people read reputable newspapers like The New York Times, while others read gossip or paranormal magazines. It was easy to tell people that maybe they should think twice about believing that some politician got help from alien invaders to win a local election because their source was laughably incompetent, generally low-quality and frankly absurd. Although The New York Times has never been a perfect newspaper, it has a higher credibility and reliability than a random paranormal magazine about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

With the advent of the Internet, things changed. Things changed drastically.

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Use This One Weird Trick to Take Back Control of Your Health

This One Weird Trick

Do you care about your health, but never find time to do anything serious about improving it? Do you feel trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle and do not know what to do to change it? Are you experiencing vague and unspecific symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, or a lack of motivation?

Do you feel like you never know who or what to trust because newspapers and websites change their minds about what is healthy and what is dangerous almost every week? Feel confused and perplexed by strange and conflicting messages that you find on the thousands of health and wellness websites that are out there?

What if there was this one simple trick that you could use to take back control of your own health? What if this trick could potentially save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year that you can spend on important things and people who truly matters? What is this one weird trick is a trick that they do not want you to know about? A trick that they are actively trying to hide from you by spending millions of dollars on misinformation on television, social media and the Internet generally?

Debunking Denialism is proud to expose them and give you the truth. This one weird trick to take control of your health is this: stop using alternative medicine. It is virtually always ineffective and/or untested garbage and can even be dangerous to your health. Throw it all away. Right now.

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8 Skeptical Tricks For Spotting Fake News

Fake news

Fake news have recently rose to prominence as a powerful force of misinformation. It has portrayed random young people as missing, identified people as perpetrators of heinous crimes they never committed, influenced general elections and even started social media fights between nuclear powers. We now live in an age of the misinformation wars. Not just misinformation that floats around passively, but misinformation that has been weaponized to serve political ideology or lining the pockets of charlatans and quacks.

Social media websites like Facebook first denied that there was a problem, then admitted that there was a problem and then promised to take action against the worse of the worst misinformants by cracking down on their ad revenue and even went so far as to promise collaboration with independent fact-checkers. While this is laudable, it will not be enough by any means. Individual users must take a personal responsibility to stop falling for fake news and stop sharing it on social media. The reason for sharing it does not matter as social media algorithms do not care about the reason you had for sharing it. Here are eight skeptical tricks to help you identify fake news.

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A Scientific Skeptic Watches “Born in the Wild” (Utah Episode)

Born in the Wild

During the first half of 2015, the TV channel Lifetime ran a grandiose salute to the narcissistic practice of risking the life of your newborn child by giving birth outside in the middle of nowhere just so the parents could fulfill their own birthing experience dream. It only ran for a single season and consisted of six episodes where different kinds of anti-science mothers were followed by a camera team when they planned and executed a birth in the wilderness of snow, desert or dense forest. In many cases, medical help was a long way from them and had something happened, it could have turned dangerous very, very fast.

Each episodes starts with text on the screen sharing some facts about modern birth at hospitals and why they wanted to make the show in the first place: “Over 98% of all U. S. births take place in hospitals. Some women are choosing to have a very different experience. This shows document their journey.” Because the show is quite graphic in some places, they felt the need to give viewers a notice: “Some scenes may be too intense for some viewers.” The opening introduction has the following voice over: “Modern parents giving birth in the wilderness like their ancestors. No hospitals. No surgical intervention. No drugs. Just a choice. To return to the primal roots of humanity.”

Previous installment covered a mother giving birth in the wilderness of Alaska.

Giving birth on the mountain plains of Utah

The second episode is called “Utah: The Best Laid Plans” and the family that takes the center stage in the second episode is Linda (28) and Lance (30) King from Salt Lake City, Utah. She has two daughters already and is a trained nurse. Surprisingly, an education in medicine is not a guarantee that you take the best medical decisions. The narrator explains that a 2012 paper (probably this one) in the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned against any kind of birth outside medical facilities. Her first birth was in a hospital, but without an epidural. Her second was in bathtub in a birth center.

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A Scientific Skeptic Watches “Born in the Wild” (Alaska Episode)

Born in the Wild

“Born in the Wild” was a television series that ran on Lifetime during early 2015. It consisted of six episodes that featured mothers who rejected mainstream medicine and instead chose to give birth outside hospital or medical centers. Not just a homebirth, but giving birth outside in different hazardous environments, including a remote area of Alaska where it takes a rescue helicopter 30 minutes to reach, in a desert or in the middle of the winter. It was a stunning celebration of scientific ignorance and narcissism where parents prioritized their own birthing experience over the health of their baby.

The show opens up with some facts about hospital births and the rationale for the TV show: “Over 98% of all U. S. births take place in hospitals. Some women are choosing to have a very different experience. This shows document their journey.” They even add a warning: “Some scenes may be too intense for some viewers.” The intro theme has the following male voice over: “Modern parents giving birth in the wilderness like their ancestors. No hospitals. No surgical intervention. No drugs. Just a choice. To return to the primal roots of humanity.”

Giving birth in the remote wilderness of Alaska

The first episode of the series is called “Alaska: Remote and Unassisted” The episodes opens up with widescreen shots of the Alaska wilderness, snowy mountains, lakes, and coyotes. These tranquil scenery are overlaid with the sound of a woman quivering in pain. Right away, the viewer is thrusted into a tent with a woman giving birth asking “is it moving?” and she is reassured by her husband. Something seems to be wrong. The woman motions with her hand and says that “he should be moving down” and then suddenly she says “help me, help”.

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Skåne Regional Council Indirectly Finances Anti-Vaccine Campaign

Skåne Regional Council

Did you know that a Swedish county council that is responsible for healthcare in the region also indirectly finances anti-vaccine talks and efforts by the anti-dentist quack organization? In a stunning irony, the very government that is supposed to support healthcare and protect people are giving money to a patient advocacy group that fearmonger about dental implants. Sweden has experienced these issues before because they also fund a patient advocacy group that promotes alleged EMF hypersensitivity and even gotten close to redirect mobile antennas that would have made entire areas loose cell service.

Olle Palm at the Swedish Public Television (SVT) recently wrote a news item that exposed how an anti-dentist quack organization called Tandvårdsskadeförbundet used government money to finance an anti-vaccine talk by Swedish anti-vaccine activist Ann-Charlotte Stewart. Stewart previously appeared in a “false balance”-themed debate on Swedish public television that has been covered in detail previously on this website. They merely regurgitated the nonsense that has been refuted before, such as the toxin gambit, the vaccines did not save us gambit, and portraying measles as a harmless childhood disease.

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Key Characteristics of Genocide Denial

Genocide

Genocide is one of the worst crimes against humanity that has ever happened. The UN Genocide Convention that was adopted in 1948 defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Although it seems extremely hard to grasp, there are many groups out there that falsely deny that the existence of certain genocides (and massacres). They do it against all science, reason and evidence and yes, they really believe what they say. This post surveys some key characteristics of genocide denial with a particular focus on the Holocaust, the Bosnian genocide and the genocide in Rwanda. Although not formally designated a genocide, the Nanking Massacre will also be covered because of the deep similarities in the approach taken by e. g. Holocaust deniers and those extreme nationalists in Japan who deny the former. Debunking Denialism has discussed some of these issues before and the references therein are recommended.

The key characteristics of genocide denial covered in this post are: faulty attempts at moral equivalences, abusing initial estimations done by governments, systematically underestimating death tolls, quoting historians out of context, exploiting new discoveries or honest errors, promoting conspiracy theories, insist that they are nearly asking questions, and having clear ulterior ideological motives.

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More Deadly Doctor Gambits: Mortality Rates and Doctors on Strike

a deadly doctor?

Mainstream medicine and medical doctors are increasingly under attack. Homeopaths, naturopaths and other groups pretend to have real medical knowledge and subject vulnerable and sick people to fake “treatments” that has never been scientifically tested or has been tested and shown not to work.

Concerned parents think that a few hours spent reading blogs written by medically unqualified individuals without any credible sources gives them more knowledge and diagnostic skills than medical doctors. Cranks on the Internet who are literally making stuff up about avocados, sun-staring and bleach as a cure for all diseases amass an audience of millions for their nonsense assertions that fly in the face of rational thinking and published scientific evidence.

Even more sinister, quacks attempt to portray medical doctors as a dangerous threat to the health and life of patients. This is often done by deploying the so-called deadly doctor gambit (originally discussed by C0nc0rdance) by falsely claiming that doctors are more dangerous than guns. In reality, this argument falls apart when you realize that there are 33 million hospitalizations per year in the U. S. so the relative risk from guns is much higher than doctors. As an analogy, there are more people who die from car accidents than from motor cycle accidents, but since there are many more people driving cars than motor cycles, motor cycles are more dangerous per capita drivers.

Thus, many of the hateful alternative medicine proponents that would say almost anything to make doctors seem evil really just ignorantly misunderstand and abuse basic statistical considerations.

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Harbingers of Doom – Part X: Summary and Addendum

Here Be Dragons

This is the final installment in a ten-part critical review of the book Here Be Dragons, written by mathematical statistician Olle Häggström.

What began in March of 2016 has now finally come to an end with this summary and concluding thoughts. Throughout this series, we have looked at everything from biological weapons to ancient science, from cryonics to rotten apples, from teleportation to social anxiety, from futuristic Dyson spheres to sustainable and rural living, from climate change to asteroid impacts and many more topics.

It is no secret that most of this review series have focused on the negatives. It has exposed some of the many factual errors in the book and these have mainly been in areas that Häggström is least familiar with. However, there are many parts of the book that are not only decent, but even of extremely high-quality and better than I could ever have written. Thus, this tenth and final installment looks at the good, the bad and the ugly.

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17 Great Science and Skepticism Things in 2016

2016

Many people consider 2016 to be a truly shit year with the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, continued armed conflicts in the world, terror attacks and famous celebrities dying. While the overall trend shows great improvement on just about any metric, it is not impossible for individual years to deviate somewhat from this trend. Thus, we should not lose too much hope because of events that happened during this year. For those of you who are feeling the 2016 blues, try reading this Vox article that feature Steven Pinker explaining how 2016 has made improvements in many areas.

However, let us focus a bit on some of the positive and upbeat events during 2016 that related to science, skepticism or related issues. Ebola is over in Africa and we now have a vaccine. The Paris Agreement was signed and the ozone hole over the Arctic show signs of healing. Sri Lanka is free of malaria and the Americans are free of measles. Gravitational waves were discovered and a new record-breaking small genome was synthesized. The FTC cracked down on homeopathy and the Swedish government will transition towards eliminate special treatment as well. Here are 17 good things that happened in 2016.

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