I’m going for shameless self promotion today, sorry. Listen to my appearance on “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” discussing conspiracy theories. I almost never respond to press inquiries since I don’t think I’m qualified to talk about many things as an expert, but wacky internet conspiracy theories? I’m your man.
Month: November 2012
Christopher Monckton files a questionable affidavit
Via Ed I see that Christopher Monckton, the fake expert in climate change who has been repeatedly told by Parliament to stop calling himself an Member of the House of Lords,, claims he’s the inventor of a magical disease cure of HIV, MS, flu and the common cold, and recently a birther, has now submitted an affidavit (read here) pushing his bogus birther stats argument. The only problem? I think one could argue he’s now opened his factually-questionable statements to legal scrutiny. From his affidavit:
I am over the age of 18 and am a resident of the United Kingdom. The information herein is based upon my ownpersonal knowledge. If called as a witness, I could testify competently thereto. I have a degree in Classical Architecture from Cambridge University. The course included instruction in mathematics. I am the Director of Monckton Enterprises Ltd., a consultancy corporation which, inter alia, specializes in investigating scientific frauds at government level, on which I advised Margaret Thatcher from 1982-1986 at 10 Downing Street during her time as Prime Minister. I have experience in the use of certain mathematical techniques which allow rigorous
assessment of probabilities including the probability that a document has been forged. I have published papers in the reviewed literature on climate science and economics and am an appointed expert reviewer for the forthcoming
Fifth Assessment Report (2013) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
First of all, just because you had a course or two in mathematics while getting a degree in classical architecture, doesn’t make you a mathematician. I took plenty of courses in math while getting my degree in physics, but it doesn’t make me a math expert. But that’s not the biggest problem with his claims. He has repeatedly asserted he has published papers in the peer reviewed literature and recently he’s inflated his resume with the claim he’s an appointed expert reviewer for the IPCC. His claims of scientific contributions have been challenged before, and he’s defended himself with this response at Watt’s up with that:
The editors of Physics and Society asked me to write a paper on climate sensitivity in 2008. The review editor reviewed it in the usual way and it was published in the July 2008 edition, which, like most previous editions, carried a headnote to the effect that Physics and Society published “reviewed articles”. Peer-review takes various forms. From the fact that the paper was invited, written, reviewed and then published, one supposes the journal had followed its own customary procedures. If it hadn’t, don’t blame me. Subsequent editions changed the wording of the headnote to say the journal published “non-peer-reviewed” articles, and the editors got the push. No mention of any of this by the caveman, of course.
What the editors actually wrote was:
The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review, since that is not normal procedure for American Physical Society newsletters. The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007: “Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.”
To claim that this one article, in a newsletter, which the editors have explicitly said was not peer reviewed, constitutes “published papers” (plural) in the “reviewed literature”, is simply not correct. Even if you had thought that this had been peer-reviewed before, surely now that the editors have said “no it was not” is no reason to continue to claim that it was. After searching multiple databases including Google Scholar, Thomson Reuters web of knowledge, and Scirus, I can find little more than a book chapter in a crank textbook suggesting Monckton has ever contributed anything to any “literature”, and has not contributed to a peer-reviewed journal article. This contradicts his assertion that he has contributed multiple times to the peer reviewed literature. The one time he has defended this assertion, he was contradicted by the editors of the newsletter he claimed had peer-reviewed his piece. It makes me wonder if he understands what peer review is, because it’s very clear what it is when you’ve actually done it. Since there is no evidence he has ever has had his writing subjected to true peer review, it’s likely he has no idea what it actually involves, and his statement that it takes “various” forms is clearly based on no personal experience as he has no peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature.
Peer review is straightforward and doesn’t take “various forms”. You submit an article to a journal, it is distributed by the editor to other scientists who publish in the relevant field who then submit critiques. These critiques are addressed or rebutted by the author, resubmitted to the reviewers, and then rinse-repeat until everyone is satisfied that the critiques have been adequately addressed. If he was indeed peer-reviewed in this piece, I’m sure he kept the reviewers critiques? Or the editions before and after review? No? Then you weren’t peer reviewed. He seems to be confusing “edited” with peer-reviewed, in that some brain-dead editor read his article and still somehow thought it was a wise idea to publish it.
Second, his claim that he’s an appointed reviewer for the IPCC? This is contradicted by the IPCC! Here’s the IPCC response:
Anyone can register as an expert reviewer on the open online registration systems set up by the working groups. All registrants that provide the information requested and confirm their scientific expertise via a self-declaration of expertise are accepted for participation in the review. They are invited to list publications, but that is not a requirement and the section can be left blank when registering. There is no appointment.
An architecture degree does not make you a mathematician or a statistician, a non-peer reviewed commentary in a physics newsletter does not make you a peer-reviewed scientist, filling out an online form does not appoint you to the IPCC, and you’re not an member of the House of Lords if Parliament repeatedly sends you letters telling you to stop calling yourself one.
I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect it might be a legal error to compound these factual mistakes by swearing to them in an affidavit. Filing a false affidavit, after all, is considered perjury.
That any of the denialists in the crankosphere think it’s a good idea to associate themselves with this guy is just another example of the Dunning-Kruger effect – the tendency of the incompetent to be unable to recognize incompetence in themselves or others. This guy is the quintessential fake expert, unless you consider him an expert in resume padding.
He gets the chimp!
Abortion can be lifesaving
While I realize Joe Walsh lost his election bid, it is still worth emphasizing that his infamous statements about abortion are false, especially considering efforts like those in Ohio to pass a “heartbeat bill”. Abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of the mother. Via the Irish Times we hear the sad story of a woman being allowed to get sicker and sicker, while a non-viable but “living” fetus kills her.
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
At this point the story is mostly upsetting because of the pain and distress the patient was undergoing for a nonviable fetus. But in the next sentence the story goes from describing mere horrific, dangerous medical care and patient abuse to total medical incompetence and wrongful death:
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
If this timeline is correct, this sounds like “rigors”, a classic sign of impending sepsis. Her collapse is concerning for impending septic shock. One of the most important factors in preventing worsening sepsis after infection, per the Surviving Sepsis guidelines, is source control. That is, if there is a source for the sepsis – a foreign body, and infected wound, etc., it needs to be removed/drained so that the condition doesn’t worsen. This, in addition to being common sense, is medically imperative to prevent the worsening of symptoms.
However, for the sake of a non-viable fetus in the midst of a miscarriage, source control was ignored, and the patient proceeded to worsen and die.
At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”
At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”
This appears to be death from a critical delay in source control, in the face of septic shock. Removal of the fetus should have occurred emergently when she presented with signs and symptoms of sepsis in order to save her life. This was not done, and she almost certainly died as a result of this delay.
Maternal mortality in pregnancy is very rare thanks to modern medicine. However, when ideology trumps medically-appropriate care we turn back the clock to when women died routinely in childbirth.
Maryland how I love thee
I’m so proud of my home state for affirming equality for all in the ballot box rather than in the courts. I was born and raised in Maryland, although I’ve spent more of my adult life in Virginia, one of the big things I’ve noticed in the divide between the two states (and I love both of them) is that Marylanders do a better job at taking care of each other, and running an effective state with high quality services. Marylanders believe government can work, and generally (outside of Baltimore) it does. Marylanders also reject bigotry, and with question 4 (the Maryland Dream act) and question 6 affirming the rights of LGBT to marry, I’m so proud of my state for rejecting bigotry and electing to give everyone a chance at the dream.
Another lesson learned from this election is to follow Lincoln’s advice, “it’s better to be quiet and be thought of a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Moron fundamentalists’ ideas of how lady parts work and divine rape plans have been extraordinarily costly for the Republicans, and provide hope for the future that voters will reject some of the truly contemptible unscientific beliefs of these bigoted old men running our government. I’m pleased to see there might be an actual limit on the incredibly stupid things one may say, and still expect election to congress. So remember Republicans, you can’t piss off the ladies and expect to keep winning elections. They need to shape up, or at least keep their incredibly stupid ideas to themselves. As women represent more and more of our delegations to congress, hopefully statements like Akin’s and Mourdock’s will just be embarrassing historical footnotes. Although, the continued presence of Michelle Bachmann is reminder that being female is, of course, no protection from believing incredibly stupid things.
Did anyone else snort when Romney mention the “enduring principles on which our society is built” and the first he listed was honesty?
Finally, I’m very curious to see the effect of the decision by Coloradoans and Washingtonians to openly defy Federal law and legalize, not just decriminalize, marijuana use. In this second term of a moderate Democratic president, will this showdown over drug laws finally result in a pull-back in the drug war? The amount of money, time, and jail-space devoted to criminalizing marijuana use is a national disgrace. Maybe these state reversals of marijuana prohibition will result in a more mature national conversation on drug policy?
This election has left me optimistic we will take the right steps to shore up our economy, make the right policy on healthcare, and increase the investment in science and research, which are my priorities. It’s been a good day.
Tribalism, Cultural Cognition, Ideology, we're all talking about the same thing here
From Revkin I see yet another attempt to misunderstand the problem of communicating science vs anti-science.
The author, Dan Kahan, summarizes his explanation for the science communication problem, as well as 4 other “not so good” explanations in this slide:
He then describes “Identity-protective cognition” thus:
Identity-protective cognition (a species of motivated reasoning) reflects the tendency of individuals to form perceptions of fact that promote their connection to, and standing in, important groups.
There are lots of instances of this. Consider sports fans who genuinely see contentious officiating calls as correct or incorrect depending on whether those calls go for or against their favorite team.
The cultural cognition thesis posits that many contested issues of risk—from climate change to nuclear power, from gun control to the HPV vaccine—involve this same dynamic. The “teams,” in this setting, are the groups that subscribe to one or another of the cultural worldviews associated with “hierarchy-egalitarianism” and “individualism-communitarianism.”
CCP has performed many studies to test this hypothesis. In one, we examined perceptions of scientific consensus. Like fans who see the disputed calls of a referree as correct depending on whether they favor their team or its opponent, the subjects in our study perceived scientists as credible experts depending on whether the scientists’conclusions supported the position favored by members of the subjects’ cultural group or the one favored by the members of a rival one on climate change, nuclear power, and gun control.
Does anyone else think that maybe they’re unnecessarily complicating this? First, denialism is not an explanation for the science communication problem. It is a description of tactics used by those promoting bogus theories. Denialism is the symptom, ideology is the cause, and what we consider ideology seems more or less synonymous with this “identity-protective cognition”, while being less of a mouthful.
Call it what you will, when you have ideology, or religion, or politics, or other deeply held beliefs which define your existence and your concept of “truth”, conflicts with this central belief are not just upsetting, they create an existential crisis. When science conflicts with your ideology, it conflicts with who you are as person, how you believe you should live your life, what you’ve been raised to believe. And, almost no matter what ideology you subscribe to, eventually science will come in conflict with it, because no ideology, religion, or political philosophy is perfect. Eventually, they will all jar with reality. And what do most people do when science creates such a conflict? Do they change who they are, fundamentally, as a person? Of course not. They just deny the science.
Denialism is the symptom of these conflicts, and this is where the problem with the term “anti-science” comes in. Most denialists and pseudoscientists aren’t against science as the term suggests. I think of “anti-science” as being in conflict with established, verifiable science, without good cause. But most people read it as being against science as some kind of belief system or philosophy, which it usually isn’t. And while some people do promote the “other ways of knowing” nonsense, for the most part, even among denialists, there is acceptance that the scientific method (which is all science is) is superior at determining what is real versus what is not real. That is why they are pseudoscientists. They try to make their arguments sound as if they are scientifically valid by cherry-picking papers from the literature, by using science jargon (even if they don’t understand it), or by pointing to fake experts that they think confer additional scientific strength to their arguments. They crave the validity that science confers on facts, and everyone craves scientific validation (or at least consistency) with their ideology or religious beliefs. It sucks when science conflicts with whatever nonsense you believe in because science is just so damn good at figuring stuff out, not to mention providing you with neat things like longer life expectancy, sterile surgery, computers, cell phones, satellites, and effective and fun pharmaceuticals. This is why (most) pseudoscientists and denialists insist that the science is really on their side, not that science isn’t real, or that it doesn’t work. We know it works, the evidence is all around us, you are using a computer, after all, to read this. Anti-science as a term is too-frequently misunderstood, or inaccurate.
Pseudoscientists and denialists don’t hate science, that’s not why they’re anti-science. They crave the validity that science confers, and want it to apply to their nonsense as well. Sadly, for about 99.9% of us, at some point, science will likely conflict with something we really, really want to be true. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to communicate what it looks like when people are so tested, and fail. And I suspect the majority of people fail, because in my experience almost everyone has at least one cranky belief, or bizarre political theory. Hopefully when people learn to recognize denialist arguments as fundamentally inferior, they will then be less likely to accept them, and when it’s their turn to be tested, hopefully they will do better.