Eisen calls for Elsevier Boycott – but can we all go OA?

Eisen writes

Thus, people joining in the new boycott have no excuses not to follow through. There are plenty of viable OA options and it is simply unacceptable for any scientist who decries Elsevier’s actions and believes that the subscription based model is no longer serving science to send a single additional paper to journals that do not provide full OA to every paper they publish. So, come on people! If we do this now, paywalls will crumble, and we all be better off. So, come on! Let’s do it!

This sounds great. If you remember we were similarly disgusted since Eisen brought the Research Works Act to our attention several weeks ago.
I still have two issues though with all OA publishing. For one, in my field I tend to publish in AHA journals which are not open access but the predominant journals. There is still a relative shortage of OA journals. There are not enough compared to the thousands of subscription options to take on the literature. I think their success has if anything made them more inaccessible with higher impacts. After all, everyone likes the idea of everyone being able to see and read their paper. Either by the fame of the journal or by the advantage of rapid publication and universal access. I once tried to publish a paper in PLoS One but frankly, I don’t think it was really high enough impact, and while not triaged, we were tanked by a reviewer who basically insisted on about 3 more PhD projects worth of work in order to get it in. Finally, what about us poor peons still working for the man? What if the boss says, “I want this journal”? Because after all, it’s pretty difficult to convince the olds to change their ways.
In the end to survive you must publish. I’d say the goal should be that we should all give a right of first refusal to your OA option. If that fails, suck it up and send it to the private publishers. And if anyone has some good vascular/heart/circulation OA alternatives to recommend I’m all ears.

End the occupation

No one likes occupiers. They’re like fish and houseguests, they start to stink after a short period of time. And I worry that as time goes on the movement will only have a more and more destructive impact on progressive politics and political discourse. This isn’t to say they can’t be effective, or haven’t been effective at at least one goal, that is bringing the topic of economic inequality back into the spotlight. However, as time goes on their leaderless, agenda-less actions are becoming more random, and less likely to result in a good outcome in the coming political fight. In fact, several of the occupy actions are now likely to harm a progressive agenda, and seriously alienate would-be allies. For example this video from San Francisco CBS:

Really? Breaking into public buildings and burning the flag? What do actions like this accomplish? That’s like the A-bomb of protest moves, and you’re doing it why? Because you don’t have a job? Because you want rich people taxed more? The reaction seems disproportionate. If you’re going to be burning the flag it better be because the U.S. is tattooing swastikas on puppies and dropping them with C-4 harnesses onto hospitals. Not because your poetry MFA didn’t prepare you for the job market.
Other snippets from around the country include throwing condoms at Catholic School girls, breaking windows and spray painting anarchy symbols on cars, and generally being jackasses. Now, the condom thing is kind of funny to those that think the Catholics stand on contraception is absurd, every sperm is sacred and all that, but doesn’t that exemplify why it’s an error of tactics? You don’t want to alienate an entire religious organization which actually might side with you in terms of working for economic equality. Who runs more homeless shelters, the Catholics or Occupy? These are potential allies, and the lack of focus of Occupy will result in more harm to it and those that may be in place to enact their goals.
A survey by Survey USA now shows a majority of bay area residents opposing OWS with 26% saying they did support them before, but now oppose. This movement is becoming toxic. Where did it go wrong? And is there a better way to protest?

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Are liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives?

Today’s NYT has Thomas Edsall’s What the Left Get’s Right, the follow up piece to last week’s What the Right Get’s Right, and what’s fascinating is how even conservative commentators think liberals get science right more often than conservatives. Or at least they are less likely to view it ideologically:

A few conservative concessions to liberalism’s strengths were made without qualification; others were begrudging. Nonetheless, in the conservative assessment, common themes emerge:

Liberals recognize the real problems facing the poor, the hardships resulting from economic globalization and the socially destructive force of increasing inequality.
Liberals do not dismiss or treat as ideologically motivated scientific findings, especially the sharpening scientific consensus that human beings contribute significantly to climate change.
Liberals stand with those most in need, and believe in the inclusion of such previously marginalized groups as blacks, Hispanics, women and gays.

As I sifted through the responses, it became clear that a widely shared view among contemporary conservatives is that liberals are all heart and no head, that their policies are misguided — thrown off track by an excessively emotional compassion that fails to recognize the likelihood of unintended consequences.

But is this really the case? I disagree, liberals are just as likely to to disbelieve science that challenges their ideology, only the issues where liberals tend to deny aren’t quite as earth-shattering (although anti-vax is a serious public health problem) and not as much in the media spotlight. And recent cognitive studies on why people believe what they believe support the likelihood that all of us, liberal, conservative, or moderate, are poor rational actors in the evaluation of science.
Here’s why…
Continue reading “Are liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives?”

Eisen Busts Rep Carolyn Maloney parroting Elsevier Publishing's defense of the Research Works Act

At It’s not junk Michael Eisen continues to expose the shameless actions of Carolyn Maloney to sell out science for the sake of publishers like Elsevier. As we remarked last week, it seems that very little money is required to buy a representatives favor towards your industry, even if that means acting against the public interest. Now, in her defense of the Research Works Act, which undoes the public distribution of research findings paid for by the public, her response appears to have been written by Elsevier itself.
Eisen busts her in the act.
Continue reading “Eisen Busts Rep Carolyn Maloney parroting Elsevier Publishing's defense of the Research Works Act”

Is this Product Placement in the Wall Street Journal?

Writing in the Saturday (how to make it look like you’re rich edition) of the Wall Street Journal, Marisa Acocella Marchetto mentions an expensive, branded drug–Nexium–eight times. She even mentions its slogan (“the purple pill”)!

As Mark has written elsewhere, it’s moronic to take Nexium because there are cheaper, efficacious alternatives, such as Prilosec, which is available over the counter. Consumer Reports noted in 2010 that Nexium was the most expensive PPI, at $248 a month, and that cheaper generics and over the counter medicines were available.

In the story, she describes being trapped on an airplane without her precious Nexium and in serious pain (why not try something that would immediately stop the pain, such as Tums?). She begs for Nexium, and lo–another passenger has a doctor misinformed enough to prescribe it. But the evil flight attendant won’t let her have it, falsely believing that Marchetto was having a heart attack. Finally, there is an emergency landing, and an Irish physician treats her and “handed [her] a Nexium.” How convenient!

I wonder why the editors of the Journal allowed this specific and expensive product to be mentioned so many times. Ironically, if she had simply asked for a antacid, she would have had been given Maalox by the flight attendant. Problem solved. The entire article could have been rewritten: “How I caused an international flight to be diverted because I demanded to be provided an expensive prescription drug by a flight attendant and how if I had just asked for an antacid everything would have been fine.”

The article makes me recall the time I was in Atlanta airport, and the person in front of me asked a cashier, “all you have is water–don’t you have Dasani?” It’s that type of stupidity that keeps brands alive and wastes billions of consumer dollars.

Full disclosure: although I mentioned Nexium(R) numerous times in this blog post, I have not received any material support from AstraZeneca nor am I taking the Purple Pill and washing it down with Dasani.

The New Scientist Debates Denialism

Luckily they don’t make the mistake of actually debating denialists. The feature of last weeks issue, “Age of Denial” is a series of articles by skeptics and one laughable rebuttal, discussing the nature of denialism and tactics to use against it. They do quite a good job covering the basics, starting with Deborah MacKenzie and her article “Why Sensible People Reject the Truth“:

Whatever they are denying, denial movements have much in common with one another, not least the use of similar tactics (see “How to be a denialist”). All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism.

All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

Here she has it exactly right. Denialism starts with ideology, which most of us possess to some degree or another, and a conflict between that ideology and reality – at least so far as science allows us to understand it. In order to regain control of one’s beliefs, and protect them from being challenged, one has to prove that the science is wrong. And that requires one to believe in some form of non-parsimonious conspiracy theory, after all, how else could it be that science has come up with such an answer if not for the concerted malfeasance of thousands of individuals, all working together to undermine the TRUTH?

Further she cites these as tactics of denialists:

How to be a denialist
Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).
1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

Sound familiar? That’s because McKee cites us in his paper. We’ll forgive her for not identifying the original source, after all McKee gives the credit.

She does get a few things wrong, likely due to her unfamiliarity with just how absurd some denialists are. For instance when she says:

The first thing to note is that denial finds its most fertile ground in areas where the science must be taken on trust. There is no denial of antibiotics, which visibly work. But there is denial of vaccines, which we are merely told will prevent diseases – diseases, moreover, which most of us have never seen, ironically because the vaccines work.

This is demonstrably false, as we have encountered denialists who do deny the efficacy of antibiotics and all of Western medicine, as their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature. She goes on to describe the work of our good colleague Seth Kalichman and the good things he’s done to fight HIV/AIDS denialism. Overall, a good summary of the problem. I also like how she stays non-judgmental and reflects on how pseudoscience is ultimately a complement to science:

This is not necessarily malicious, or even explicitly anti-science. Indeed, the alternative explanations are usually portrayed as scientific. Nor is it willfully dishonest. It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, this certainly applies to pseudoscience. After all pseudoscience is a reflection of the authority science has as the arbiter of truth. If being on the right side of science wasn’t so important, cdesign proponentsists and global warming denialists wouldn’t fight so hard to warp it to fit their ideology, and by doing so, implicitly seek its approval.

Jim Giles contributes an interesting article on an example of how a lie travels twice around the world before the truth gets its boots on with Unleashing a Lie, but then the series gets a bit more problematic with the contributions of noted skeptic Michael Shermer (also anerstwhile global warming denialist and persistent libertarian) and an amusing counterpoint from the otherwise wonderful Michael Fitzpatrick, a British GP who fights the good fight against autism quackery.
Continue reading “The New Scientist Debates Denialism”

Denialism in the Literature

ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s good news though! A description of the tactics and appropriate response to denialism was published in the European Journal of Public Health by authors Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee. It’s entitled “Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?” and I think it does an excellent job explaining the harms of deniailsm, critical elements of denialism, as well as providing interesting historical examples of corporate denialism on the part of tobacco companies.

HIV does not cause AIDS. The world was created in 4004 BCE. Smoking does not cause cancer. And if climate change is happening, it is nothing to do with man-made CO2 emissions. Few, if any, of the readers of this journal will believe any of these statements. Yet each can be found easily in the mass media.

The consequences of policies based on views such as these can be fatal. Thabo Mbeki’s denial that that HIV caused AIDS prevented thousands of HIV positive mothers in South Africa receiving anti-retrovirals so that they, unnecessarily, transmitted the disease to their children.1 His health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, famously rejected evidence of the efficacy of these drugs, instead advocating treatment with garlic, beetroot and African potato. It was ironic that their departure from office coincided with the award of the Nobel Prize to Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi for their discovery that HIV is indeed the case of AIDS. The rejection of scientific evidence is also apparent in the popularity of creationism, with an estimated 45% of Americans in 2004 believing that God created man in his present form within the past 10 000 years.2 While successive judgements of the US Supreme Court have rejected the teaching of creationism as science, many American schools are cautious about discussing evolution. In the United Kingdom, some faith-based schools teach evolution and creationism as equally valid ‘faith positions’. It remains unclear how they explain the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

In particular I found their inclusion of a tactic of inversionism interesting:
Continue reading “Denialism in the Literature”

Angels and Demons – Feeding our love of conspiracies

Tomorrow Angels and Demons comes to theaters across the country. One in a long series of movies that profits from the idea that underneath our regular, ordinary world, there are powerful forces controlling the scenes. I understand the appeal of these movies, it’s an entertaining concept. A fictional conspiracy engages your intellect, creates a mystery, makes you think about the world and who is in control. But we have to remember when we see these films that these are works of fiction for entertainment. The Illuminati are not real, this sadly ludicrous belief still persists for some people but fortunately for most of us has become a joke. The Priory of Sion was conclusively demonstrated to be a hoax decades ago. These groups are, of course, not real because such conspiratorial groups and actions could never be kept secret or hidden in the real world.

The reality of conspiracy theories is very different. These don’t represent any kind of healthy thought process at all. They require one to reach a conclusion, then ignore any information that contradicts it. They attempt to explain, but only create more questions. I like to say they are non-parsimonious. And worse, rather than make people think, they tend only to enforce bigotry and ideology. It is the intellectual equivalent of self-lobotomy.

Films often seem to reinforce non-skeptical thought. We like to be entertained, or scared, or shocked. Hence, every time someone is introduced as an atheist or “skeptic” in a film they’re inevitably exposed to ghosts, or aliens, or whatever unlikely boogeyman serves the script. The skeptic never turns out to be right, as they are in real life. What would be the fun in that? Every movie would turn into an episode of Scooby Doo. It was just old man Withers with a flashlight after all, and a multi-million dollar CGI budget.

So the question is, do films like these make the situation worse? Do they encourage conspiratorial thought or are they recognized by film goers appropriately as entertainment?

I suspect that to some degree our fascination with, and desire to be entertained by conspiracies is encouraged by these films, but for most of us, seeing 1408 or the X-files is just entertainment and that’s OK. I read Angels and Demons and I gotta tell you, it’s a pretty silly, unbelievable book. But that never precludes it from being a good movie.

If instead you want to spend this weekend watching an entertaining movie that deals with conspiracies in a realistic way, those exist too. I can highly recommend Burn After Reading which is the antidote to government conspiracy theories. In a hysterical way it mocks how little we are in control of anything. Or if you like the murder-mystery types, try Blood Simple. Really, anything by Joel and Ethan Coen will be highly entertaining while keeping your skeptic’s circuits sharp. Any other skeptical suggestions for entertainment? Leave them in the comments.

In a just society payday loans would not exist

Via Lessig and as explained beautifully by Colbert, payday loans are evil.

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Being a Democrat is no protection from corruption by corporations, as Congressman Gutierrez demonstrates. I think this is a pretty bad example of the type of corruption that Lessig and Brayton have been having a back-and-forth over. Whatever they want to call it, I think we can all agree it’s wrong.