Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: climate change

Six Hilarious Pseudoscience Contradictions

Sheep

Pseudosciences are the imposters of real science. They attempt to mimic the activities and language used by scientists, but have no intellectual substance beneath their shallow surface. This is likely because science has such a strong cultural authority and has been responsible for many beneficial and exciting discoveries during the past few centuries. Anything that attempts to parasitize on science can potentially steal some of this authority from science.

Yet, because pseudosciences are not based on credible arguments or evidence, they contain a combination of wishful thinking and stuff that is plainly made up. Because critical thinking and scientific evidence plays very little role (in any), it is not surprising that inconsistencies and contradictions have crept into many forms of pseudoscience. These contradictions do not just occur between different kinds of pseudosciences, such as chiropractors claiming that giving birth is a massive trauma and that newborns must get spinal adjustments while natural birth activists think that giving birth in the wilderness is completely safe. They can also be found within a specific pseudoscience and that produces many great ironies that many quacks and cranks seem completely oblivious to. Let us look at six such hilarious pseudoscience contradictions. Read more of this post

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

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 I: Ancient Maps and Biological Weapons

Häggström and Here Be Dragons

Are we rapidly approaching a technological singularity where intelligent computers and robots recursively self-improve into a superintelligent paperclip maker who annihilate the planet and all life on it in order to fill the universe with more paperclips? Is the apparent cosmic silence strong evidence that the origin of life was nearly impossible? Can the human mind survive destructive teleportation or uploading to computer servers and will self-replicating nanobots consume all life on earth? Or is this just the last in a long list of flawed doomsday prophecies that are based on false empirical premises, faulty logic, technobabble and pseudoscience? Or perhaps somewhere in between?

A recently published book by Olle Häggström, Professor of mathematical statistics at Chalmers University of Technology, called Here Be Dragons attempts to address some of these issues. The different writings by Häggström have been critically examined on this website before, particularly his uncompromising defense of statistical significance, p values and the NHST procedure. In his defense, Häggström has written decisive refutations of the creationist abuse of mathematics, climate change denialists and anti-science postmodernists.

In this first installment, we take a closer critical look at if ancients maps really had dragons designating dangerous places, threat of biological weapons of mass destruction, the case of Stanislav Petrov and faulty warning systems for nuclear attacks, dual use of concern research and the Soviet offensive bio-weapons program, and his objections to the way science funding is done by the Swedish Research Council. Although credit is given where credit is due for his defense of mainstream climate science and his criticisms of geoengineering projects, his uncritical discussion of induced meat intolerance is taken to task.

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Does Naomi Oreskes Harbor Anti-GMO Sentiments?

Oreskes and evidence

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science and currently the Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. In the context of scientific skepticism, she is one of the most important and hard-hitting defenders of climate science against ignorant and misguided attack by climate change denialists. She has written a persuasive essay in the prestigious scientific journal Science detailing the solid scientific consensus that most of the observed warming in the last couple of decades is due to human activities. Together with historian Erik M. Conway, she co-wrote the fantastic book called Merchants of Doubt which exposed the tobacco and climate change denialist industry and their deceptive methods. A recent New York Times portrait of Oreskes called her “a lightning rod in a changing climate”, which could not be a more apt description.

However, dark clouds appear on the horizon. There is a tendency among public intellectuals who are entirely reasonable in some areas to descend into the promotion of pseudoscience is others. The phenomenon is most commonly know among Nobel Prize winners, such as Nikolaas Tinbergen (autism quackery), Kary Mullis (climate change denialism, astrology, HIV/AIDS denialism), Linus Pauling (cancer quackery), but can readily be generalized to the broader community of researchers. This is terribly unfortunate, because they lend their intellectual credibility and academic achievements to pseudoscientific nonsense and causes real harm to science.

For Oreskes, this appears to be genetically modified foods. Fortunately, she has not yet gone so far astray as to be completely shipwrecked in the vicious marshlands of anti-GM pseudoscience so there may still be some hope. This post reviews and comments on three separate cases of anti-GM sentiments expressed by Oreskes. It finishes off by highlighting the intellectual responsibility of public intellectuals.

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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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Is Donald Trump Scientifically Illiterate?

Donald Trump does not understand climate change

One of the most basic distinctions in climate science is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the instantaneous atmospheric conditions, such as rainy, snowy, sunny and so on. Climate, on the other hand, is about long-term trends. Confusing weather with climate, claiming that we cannot predict climate because we cannot predict weather, or trying to argue against the existence of human-influenced climate change by referencing current weather events is one of the most common tactic used by climate change denier.

Trump fails on climate knowledge

Contrary to Trump, the existence of local anomalies does not refute a general trend. More about the difference of weather and climate can be found on the NASA website.

Donald Trump does not understand vaccines or the immune system

Trump claims to not be anti-vaccine, yet he pulls out a classic anti-vaccine trope:

Too many, too soon? Nope!

While the number of vaccines have increased over time, the number of immunological challenges (“antigens”) have decreased. This is because modern DNA technology has enabled researchers to include only those components that are necessary to produce a good response. In other words, vaccines poses a smaller challenge to the immune system now than it did in the past. For more information, see the Offit et al. (2002) paper in Pediatrics.

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Scientific Skepticism and One-liners

skeptical one-liners

The great power many of pseudoscientific myths is that they are often short, simple, memorable, emotionally influential and cognitively attractive. These are beneficial traits in the modern media world, where people can have short attention spans and frequently browse a lot of information. Scientific rebuttals, on the other hand, are usually hard, complex, cold, long-winded and can include a lot of technical information such as crowded graphs, large tables and statistics. It takes a lot of reading effort to get through the material and a lot of cognitive effort to really understand the science. In addition, the problem of different backfire effects looms over any attempt at correcting pseudoscience.

Right from the start, scientific skepticism (and science at large) face uphill terrain. How can the scientific skeptic throttle his or her way out of the situation? Read more of this post

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