Disingenuous? Stupid? Both?

Let’s talk about Uncommon Descent for a moment. One of the recurring complaints we’ve been hearing from the evolution denialists there is this refrain that whenever a evolutionary explanation for a result gets reevaluated, it’s a sign that we “Darwinists” are somehow being dishonest and fitting any data to the theory of evolution. Evolution, therefore, isn’t falsifiable. For example, two posts, one from BarryA, the other from O’Leary (commenting on this ARN nonsense, wrongly suggesting that results that falsify evolutionary theory have been discovered – like the recent hypothesis the appendix has a function – and that we just ignore the problem.


In Edge, Behe talks about Ernst Mayr’s 1960’s prediction that on Darwinian grounds the search for homologous genes would be quite futile. Now Darwinists use homologous genes as evidence for the theory; after all the existence of such genes was predicted by the theory (after the fact).

What can you say about a theory that can just as easily predict “X” and the opposite of “X”?

I commend to our readers sections 19 and 20 of Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery, in which he discusses “conventionalist stratagems” to rescue a theory from falsification. Popper writes, “Whenever the ‘classical’ system of the day is threatened by the results of new experiments which might be interpreted as falsifications . . . the system will appear unshaken to the conventionalist.” Popper goes on to explain the stratagems the conventionalist will use to deal with the inconsistencies that have arisen between the predictions of the theory and the results of experiments:

And O’Leary:

Despite its name – which means “hanger on” – the human appendix works for a living, according to recent research (helping kill germs). [ed – note she didn’t even read it!]

As British physicist David Tyler notes, despite the claim of evolutionary biologists from Darwin to the present day that the appendix is junk left over from evolution, the appendix actually has a function – and the current crop of evolutionary biologists try hard to avoid acknowledging that they were wrong about that.

I think this warrants further discussion for two reasons. One is that it exposes, again, how the UD cranks just don’t get science. As someone who favors Popper’s view, I’m particularly pissed that the purveyors of the unfalsifiable would use him to promote their crankery. Second, there is often a problem in scientific communication that some people propose sloppy evolutionary speculations for findings that feeds these cranks ammo. First, let’s go over why the statements by our UD cranks are incorrect:
Continue reading “Disingenuous? Stupid? Both?”

Ack! ChopraWoo!

Usually Deepak Chopra’s nonsensical writings at the Huffington post about mind-body healing are so vague and bland I don’t bother addressing them. The mind controls the body, the mind is powerful, blah blah blah, who cares right? Well, today Chopra pulled back the curtain and we see the crank within. It’s a reminder that behind the facade of all the touchy-feely nonsense of the alties is a campaign against science and legitimate medical practice. We start with the standard quack appeal to the individual, which sounds nice, but in practice basically means they have no consistent method to apply their nonsense.

The great promise of mind-body medicine will never be fulfilled as long as the treatments are unpredictable. This has been a major stumbling block in the West, ever since the original excitement over acupuncture in the Seventies and Ayurveda in the Eighties. Patients who have been helped sing the praises of alternative medicine while official clinical trials don’t satisfy the skeptics. In the East it is more easily accepted that each patient is unique, and therefore one cannot expect that the same therapy will lead to the same results in everybody.

You know, I simply don’t believe the alties when they tell us that they treat each patient differently. Whenever I see their writings they are always recommending specific treatments for specific diseases. Where is all this tailored treatment they talk about? And further, what is their method for determining which individuals need which treatment? Reading auras? They should just admit they’re full of it right here.

But then Chopra shows the real objective of altie medicine quacks – the undermining of evidence-based medicine and with standard denialist tactics no less.

Continue reading “Ack! ChopraWoo!”

Holocaust Denier David Irving at Oxford – A report

I actually had thought the debate with holocaust denier David Irving and racist Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union had been canceled, but via Deborah Lipstadt’s blog it turns out they made the mistake of giving the man an outlet for his nonsense. An account is offered by attendee Jonny Wright that I think supports our contention that denialists should not be debated.

Wright takes the side that free speech is always the best way to go, but the mistake here is thinking that free speech means inviting a holocaust denier to use your loudspeaker to spout nonsense. It never should have even been considered. All this does is give Irving a patina of legitimacy, and an opportunity to once again deny the truth, which he clearly does throughout the debate. The deniers will use this as an example of their fake historian being taken seriously, and legitimize the idea that there is an actual debate to be had over whether or not the holocaust happened. The other supporters of the invitation had similarly inane things to say, such as this nonsense

But participant Ms Atkins said controversial views should not be silenced but exposed.

“When you say that the majority view is always right I think that is a deeply dangerous and disturbing thing to say.

“I am not for a moment saying that I agree with David Irving or Nick Griffin but I am saying that once you start having truth by democracy you risk silencing some of the most important prophets we have ever had.”

This is making the false assumption that truth by democracy is what makes people like Irving and Griffin wrong. The issue isn’t what the majority approves of but having standards for honest debate. You simply can’t have that with people who lie and misrepresent science or history to serve a ideological agenda.

The tougher issue, however, is what to do when the denier got invited. The anti-fascist demonstration clearly got out of hand trying to prevent entry of anyone into the debate. Wright categorizes this as anti-free speech and hypocritical (just as hypocritical as “free speech” advocate Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt to silence her), and I agree with that much. But the goal of putting pressure on the Oxford Union not to have the debate in the first place was certainly correct, and protesting outside of the debate and calling the attendees useful idiots of Irving would have been just fine as well. It’s not suppression of free speech to refuse denialists access to your platform though, and that is just what should have been done. After all, the issue is not the content of what Irving discussed that night, but rather the legitimacy that a venerated debate society confers on the denier by virtue of their invitation.

Crank Trifecta Complete

It’s funny, but the crank use of the recent reevaluation of global AIDS statistics by the UN reminds me of a sign you see driving towards Charlottesville from DC. It’s faded wooden thingy that says, “Get the US out of the UN”. About 5 miles up the road is a derelict-looking building with what looks like Santa Claus dressed as a confederate soldier carrying the battle flag, so you get a feel for the general sentiment of the area. For those outside the US, it might be helpful to understand this problem to know that a big part of the hatred is based on the belief of some fundamentalists that the UN represents the beast of revelations. The establishment of world government brings rapture, yada yada. They have a whole series of creepy books about it that, to the US’s everlasting shame, are bestsellers.

So far, Denyse O’Leary and Tim blair used the UN correction to suggest all science is BS, or at least anything believed by that there dirty UN should be suspect. The trifecta has now been sealed by Steve Milloy, denialist extraordinaire.

It should come as no surprise that, according to the UN, 257 years of western development and progress has placed the Earth in imminent danger of utter disaster and that the only way to save the planet is to drink the UN Kool-Aid and knuckle under to global government-directed energy rationing and economic planning.

Oh, and did I mention that the UN says we only have seven years to end the growth of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and 40 years to stop them entirely if we are to avoid killing as many as one-fourth of the planet’s species?

I’d be scared too, if I didn’t know that this is the very same UN that just admitted to inflating the African AIDS epidemic — thereby maximizing the public panic feeding its fundraising efforts — and the very same UN that presided over the corrupt oil-for-food program which gave Saddam Hussein as much as $20 billion in kickbacks while delivering food unfit for human consumption to hungry Iraqis.

Note the conspiratorial tone? The UN didn’t make an epidemiologic error, it was all part of its dastardly plan to create panic and raise money! Because actions of some corrupt members in oil for food means every wing of the UN, even UNicef, is out to rob us!

This is actually a pretty clever tactic for the global warming denialists. The UN is definitely a target of a lot of right-wing hate, and if you can create the false association that climate science = the United Nations, well that right there will gain you the toothless rapture-ready vote. DeSmogBlog has it right I think, it’s more than just the usual crank glee at a perceived failure of science. It’s also a clever political smear trying to unite UN hatred with climate science.

O Pangloss!

Can I tell you how boring I find the fine-tuning argument? Paul Davies is the latest to use it and in the NYT no less. Davies’ argument depends on whether you believe his initial assertion that science fundamentally rests on faith:

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

So let me get this straight, science is a system that accurately describes the order in physical world. So far every finding of science points to a rational universe based on physical laws. Therefore it’s faith on our part that we will continue to find rational explanations? I’m not trying to be dense or anything, but isn’t it the evidence that has pointed towards rational explanations rather than faith?

Davies then goes on to propose the fine-tuning argument:

Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws. If the laws of physics were just any old ragbag of rules, life would almost certainly not exist.

Almost certainly not exist? How does he know? Why is this axiomatic? Maybe our type of life would have difficulty under different physical laws, but how can one positively assert that life could not possibly exist with different building blocks or different rules? I think if anything the diversity of life on this planet, and its ability to penetrate into so many different niches proves the incredible versatility of living things. I even feel the requirement of liquid water as a prerequisite for life is presumptuous. How do we know that no other physical materials could possibly sustain heritable transmission of information?

Part of the justification for SETI, with which Davies is himself is intimately involved, is that life as an organization principle is a powerful force in its own right. On our own planet we’ve found life at the bottom of the oceans, and deep within the earth’s crust, feeding on radiation no less. I don’t think we should underestimate its potential to confound our expectations.

Now Davies goes on to assert that the only way to dismiss the explanation that we exist because of some kind of divine provenance is to believe in a multiverse. After all, in a multiverse why would anyone be surprised to find the preconditions for our existence so neatly arranged? I again dismiss this argument out of hand. You don’t need to believe in a multiverse to justify life coming into existence in this universe. It is based on this false axiom that life can only come into existence with one set of rules, and one set of materials. We simply do not know that this is true, and I believe significant evidence on our planet points to a great deal of creativity in the ability of life to problem-solve.

From these false axioms Davies concludes:

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

Actually no. Monotheistic religions have explanations – but they are just fabricated and not very likely. Talking snakes and a sky-daddy who made the universe in 6 days. Science is an intellectual system with the integrity not to assume it has all the answers in the absence of any data. Further, why should science have to provide a complete account to be without faith? It works! Beyond that, why should we care if it is incomplete? Why does lack of completion of scientific understanding of the universe (if such a thing is possible), indicate faith on the part of those who use science because it’s such an effective tool and process for understanding the world around us?

I do not buy any of these axioms that Davies presents to make his case for faith in science. The worst of which is this fine-tuning argument that I think Voltaire addressed adequately 250 years ago with Candide:

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses.

“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.”

Candide listened attentively and believed implicitly, for he thought Miss Cunegund excessively handsome, though he never had the courage to tell her so. He concluded that next to the happiness of being Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, the next was that of being Miss Cunegund, the next that of seeing her every day, and the last that of hearing the doctrine of Master Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the whole province, and consequently of the whole world.

O Pangloss! This is indeed the best of all possible universes, for we are in it!

Don’t Give Your Friends Fees this Holiday Season!


This may be obvious to the smart readers of Scienceblogs, but let me state this just for the purpose of explaining the waste that is gift cards. You might think giving cash as a gift is tacky, but the nice thing about cash is that it doesn’t expire, incur fees, or become impossible to combine with other forms of payment. All those disadvantages are present in gift cards, and according to Consumers Union, those hassles resulted in $8 billion in unused gifts. Best Buy is even counting unused gift cards as a source of revenue: “…in its fiscal 2006 annual report, the retailer Best Buy revealed a $43 million gain from gift cards that were unlikely to be used.” This has resulted in a number of states passing laws to put rules on gift cards. And so, on Black Friday, if you can’t find a gift for your loved one and decide to give money, give cash instead of gift cards.

74th Skeptics’ Circle – Med Journal Watch

Med Journal Watch has it up.

I must admit some sadness that yet again one of my skeptic colleagues has fallen for Sandy Szwarc’s nonsense though. People, figure this out, she’s not a real skeptic. They don’t make blanket statements like this:

Hearing that a study found some food, exposure or physical characteristic is associated with a 5% to 200% higher risk for some health problem seem like a frightening lot. It’s easy to scare people half to death by citing relative risks that sound big but aren’t actually viable. Such modest risks (RR=1.05 – 3.0) don’t go beyond a null finding by more than chance (the toss of a dice or random coincidence) or a mathematical or modeling error, even if they’re reported as “statistically significant” in an underpowered study. Larger increases in risk are less likely to have happened by chance. False positives are also often due to various biases and confounding factors. Regular JFS readers understand that relative risks below 3 aren’t considered tenable and this knowledge is one of our best defenses from letting the news of the day get our goat. But, even these may be conservative.

This is completely absurd, and it’s interesting how the cranks are raising the bar. They used to deny anything of a RR less than two so they could ignore risks of things like second hand smoke. Now scientists apparently have to show RR’s of 3 or more by Sandy’s fiat.

I mean, for the love of Jebus, she cites Steven Milloy and his anti-science site Junkscience in the article!

Note to future skeptic’s circle hosts – read the damn entries!

Crank Convergence

Keeping quiet for the last few days has given me the advantage of seeing patterns in my firefox tabs. I see news stories in my feed that I’m interested in, open them in tabs and figure maybe I can blog about them later.

Well, the result of doing this for the last week has led to a couple of nice crank convergences.

The first is this crank attack on scientific consensus from John West at ID the future. It follows a pretty standard crank script. First a misstatement of what scientific consensus means

Should the consensus view of science always prevail? Darwinists often claim science isn’t democratic and that students should therefore learn only the evidence which supports Darwin’s theory because that theory is held by the majority of scientists

Only the evidence that supports Darwin’s theory? Here is the problem. The IDers are trying to oppose the scientific consensus on evolution, which would be acceptable, if they actually had evidence. But they don’t. They just have promiscuous teleology.

The rest of the podcast consists of the same old nonsense. Consensus has been wrong before, therefore we should allow dissenting views be presented when the public believes something different yada yada. Which would be fine and scientists agree if those views were based on science.

West then lists three criteria used for silencing debate:

1. Majority of scientists support the theory.
2. Critics aren’t scientists.
3. Critics are religious.

Of course, this is a total straw man attack, and no scientists who are fighting to prevent the teaching of cdesign proponentsists’ nonsense in schools uses these criteria. Except the first of course, which is true, except that it is overly simplistic. The majority of scientists support the theory of evolution because that is what the data supports, it isn’t just some silly belief like a magic man done it. The second two criticisms are frankly absurd. And we don’t object to the religion of the opponents because of their religion, but rather that they are trying to insert religious ideas into the debate without any scientific data to back them up. If they had data, or a cohesive theory that presented a valid explanation for the existing data, we might be able to talk. Instead, cdesign proponentsists have nothing but religious ideology, dishonestly presented as science, with the goal of subverting legitimate scientific education. We here at denialism blog, who believe that debate should be squelched when it is the non-productive squealing of cranks who don’t like science, have a real set of criteria for ignoring the misinformation campaigns of pseudoscience. None of those criteria are of course those that he lists, because it would be to difficult to argue with.

Noting all the recent attacks on the mere idea of consensus by the anti-AGW crowd, I am of course thrilled that the cdesign proponentsists are now also taking this tactic. Although, this is the underlying theme of all Galileo gambits and other crank views of persecution by some bizarre notion of dogmatic science.

The second convergence of crank thinking is also between cdesign proponentsists and AGW denialists, except in this case it’s Denyse O’Leary and Tim Blair converging in their crankery.

Both are crowing about the recent correction by UN health officials of worldwide AIDS statistics, which were mistaken due to a sampling bias.

This is wonderfully consistent with what we know about how cranks operate. Any perceived slight to science is good news because they think it means that their particular brand of nonsense gains in legitimacy when mainstream science is proven wrong. This is of course absurd, this is science correcting itself, which is what legitimate science does. Only cranks react with glee to the denigration of science, a quality Blair has in spades. It’s a sure sign of a crank, along with attacks on consensus, attack on peer review and a persecution complex which we noted long ago in our HOWTO. It’s gratifying to see the consensus theory on cranks fit the data so nicely.

Reprogramming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells – what do these new results mean

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchYou guys might have noticed I’ve been quiet lately, that’s because I’ve scheduled a thesis defense and am under deadlines. However, I couldn’t let these two (1) papers(2) on reprogramming of human adult cells into stem cells slip by without some comment (NYT piece here)

These reports are a follow-up on landmark animal studies that we discussed previously that showed that expressing 4 genes in cells obtained from adult animals you could induce them to form embryonic stem cell (ESC) like cells that researchers dubbed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). At the time we noted several obstacles to the practicability of this technology, and these papers represent success in overcoming the first – transferring the technique into human cells.

I admit I’m surprised they were able to do so so quickly. But this turned out to be a nice example of the discovery of common exploitable pathways between humans and other animals.

Below the fold I’ll go over the differences between these studies and the previous animal studies, the evidence of the pluripotent nature of these cells, unresolved problems with this technology and why this isn’t a victory for the anti-ES cell crusaders.

Continue reading “Reprogramming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells – what do these new results mean”