More flu woo from Mercola

OK, I never really liked Joe Mercola, but when I read about this story on his website, I was encouraged. Boy, do I feel like a sucker.

He started out so well, telling us about the tragic case of a child who died of influenza this year, and how health officials rapidly responded by increasing vaccine availability. Yea! He finally gets it!

Or not.

After the reasonably good piece of journalism, Mercola hops back on to the bat-shit insane wagon.

Joe’s commentary starts thusly:

This tragic story is, unfortunately, being used for all the wrong reasons; namely to promote the “universal influenza vaccination for all Americans.

Um, he must have read a different story than I. Unvaccinated girl dies of flu—public health officials respond by trying to prevent a similar tragedy.

But being unburdened by logic or truth, Mercola has an explanation:

Continue reading “More flu woo from Mercola”

A leap year Skeptics’ Circle

At Conspiracy Factory.

In particular I like Skepchik’s take on a pretty horrifically sexist Oprah poll which seems to present the only options for women in a stressful situation are to cry now or cry later or act like a big strong man. Hmm.

PalMD has really been fighting the good fight lately with this piece on antivax, but really it’s worth your time to explore his other stuff on Morgellon’s and other crankery.

Good stuff as always, check it out.

Skeptics’ Circle Number 77 – White Coat Underground

White Coat Underground has the overmedicalized edition. I’m pleased to see Happy Jihad House of Pancakes arguing for more skepticism in the humanities as part of the circle. And a great post on epidemiology and autism from Andrea.

Orac had some important things to say about consensus, and just to clarify my position on how a skeptic should regard consensus it’s simple. It is a sign of crankery to attack consensus as a concept, for example see this nonsense from creationist John West whining about consensus on evolution. However, a big part of being a scientist is challenging various consensus views (usually consensus views of lower strength than what the cranks are after – another sign). This is why so many crank arguments about consensus are so laughable to people who have actually worked in science. You don’t get published for writing up studies repeating the same results endlessly, science rewards novelty and new findings. If you have high-quality data that contradicts the consensus, you should attack it and your paper will likely be widely read. While it’s true that in many fields an old guard will defend their view to the death, the history of science is that of the data ultimately saving the day. It’s perfectly OK to attack a specific scientific consensus but you do it by publishing papers, and arguing with legitimate data and high-quality argument. A crank is one who attacks the mere idea of consensus, who acts through political channels to try and change scientific knowledge, who tries to subvert consensus with no data except maybe some cherry-picked nonsense,who uses a bunch of conspiracy theories to explain why no one believes them, and all the while cries persecution if they’re not immediately believed or if their BS isn’t a mandatory part of public school curricula.

Just to clarify.

Finally, of note today, Steven Novella has started a new blog Science Based Medicine that will likely be worthy of note.

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!

Skeptics’ Circle Number 73 – Holford watch

Holford Watch has a form letter for us to fill out for this week’s version of the circle.

My favorite from this week is Action Skeptic’s essay, which I think describes a character flaw common among cranks. That is, it’s not so important for them to operate with scientifically valid rules of evidence or inquiry, but as long always perceive themselves to be right.

It was right then that I realized a major difference between skeptics and woos, between those dedicated to using and promoting the scientific method and those whose ignorance, nihilism, and epistemological hedonism lead them to believe all kinds of total nonsense. We are interested in being justified in our beliefs and claims. They, on the other hand, just want to be right. They need to be right. They hunger and thirst to be right. They have an ideological mental framework that is immune to evidence and so perserves their rightness ’til the bitter end.

That’s why they’re so fucking insufferable when they are right.

But the problem is that it isn’t about being right. This is the same mentality that so many psychics and prognosticators showcase on a daily basis: “If I say Y at time t0, then later on at time t5 Y is shown to be true, I was right.”

No, you were not right. You made a lucky guess. If I hand-pick my lottery numbers and then happen to win, it does not mean I was right. It means I was extraordinarily lucky.

But that’s beside the point. When somebody makes a claim like that, they don’t want to hear that they weren’t right and they won’t listen to you when you say it. What you must ask them is “Who cares?”

Because seriously, who does? If your prediction or claim or opinion is not backed up by any evidence, it doesn’t matter that you were “vindicated” by new studies at a later date. What matters is that you were not justified in holding your original opinion. What matters is that, though I may have doubted your claim at time t0, I was justified in my doubt. Now I’m more than happy to admit that I was wrong, but you think that somehow that means you “won.”

Really a dead-on essay describing a very common behavior that I think we’ve all seen with the crank mentality.