Why Privacy Is What It Is…

The Ponemon Institute and TRUSTe have just released their annual Most Trusted Companies for Privacy report. As part of this report, the groups asked consumers about the factors–positive and negative–that shaped their perceptions of companies’ privacy practices. (Full disclosure: I am a fellow of the Ponemon Institute.)

Bar Charts 3 and 4 in the Ponemon/TRUSTe survey are instructive. In Chart 3, we see that the strongest indicators for trust among consumers is reputation, respect for consumers, and product quality. This explains why certain information-intensive companies, such as Amazon.com and American Express, are routinely top-ranked for privacy trust. A smaller number of consumers is evaluating companies on actual privacy practices–limits on sharing of data, disclosures around policies, and the presence of third-party reputation seals.


Chart 4 shows what factors decrease privacy trust, and the most influential factor is a data security breach. “Irresponsible marketing” is next, which I assume means that one receives some type of advertising pitch from the company. Again, these constitute the information most available to consumers, and are not truly indicative of a company’s respect for consumer privacy.

Studies such as Ponemon’s help us understand why companies do not compete on policies that maximize privacy rights. One problem is that consumers don’t possess the best information to evaluate and compare companies’ practices. Privacy policies go unread, but even when read, they have other shortcomings. They can be beyond comprehension, contradictory, or simply vague about actual practices. As a result, other characteristics of a company are used as shorthand to assess “trust,” and this introduces unfairness and arbitrariness into the evaluation of a company on privacy.

Mike Adams is so stupid it hurts

Yes, I know, I’m stating the obvious again. But I just couldn’t resist when I saw this. In his never-ending quest to attack all science that doesn’t affirm his belief that vitamin D and fruit smoothies will cure all disease, he’s gone after the new new induced pluripotent stem cell findings. As far as I know, he’s the only one to criticize the new technology as a whole, and his reasoning?

Really I can’t believe he’s this stupid. Reasoning, is the wrong word for this.

Let’s ask instead, what is his demented, completely ignorant, insipid, moronic justification?

While less controversial, the stem cells produced by the new technique appear to be carcinogenic. When Yamanaka’s team implanted the cells into mouse embryos, those embryos developed as expected — with the DNA of the original stem cell, not of the embryo. But mice cloned in this fashion eventually developed neck tumors.

“It seems that everyone in the mainstream media is so excited about this new stem cell technique that they forgot to notice the fact that it leads to the growth of cancer tumors,” said consumer health advocate Mike Adams.

That’s right, they cause “cancer tumors”. I’m not sure what I find the most stupid about Adams’ analysis. Is it that he acts like he’s discovered something that everyone, including our blog, has acknowledged is a current problem with the technology? Is it the idiotic assumption that we are already thinking about injecting these cells willy-nilly into embryos? Is it his knee-jerk tendency to attack any legitimate medical advance? Or is it his description of the problem as “cancer tumors”?

Ah well, what can you expect from a guy who publishes germ theory denial on his website. If you want a laugh read the explanation of how raising your blood pH (generally considered a really bad idea – luckily your body won’t let you alter its pH easily) is the solution to all disease.

I can’t really bring myself to do more than just point and laugh at this denialism. I’m too busy studying real medicine.

Casey Luskin asks “Did Darwinism Hinder Research Into Understanding Cancer and Diabetes ?”


It’s the same tired junk DNA argument from the ID creationists. But I find this one particularly funny – you’ll see why. Luskin says:

It’s beyond dispute that the false “junk”-DNA mindset was born, bred, and sustained long beyond its reasonable lifetime by the neo-Darwinian paradigm. As one example in Scientific American explained back in 2003, “the introns within genes and the long stretches of intergenic DNA between genes … ‘were immediately assumed to be evolutionary junk.'” But once it was discovered that introns play vital cellular roles regulating gene production within the cell, John S. Mattick, director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, was quoted saying the failure to recognize function for introns might have been “one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology.”

Wow, now that John S. Mattick has said it, it must be true. I’m sure Mattick’s a good guy, but man is he wrong about this one. It’s either that or our “biggest mistake” was really no big deal, because as I pointed out before the use of the junk terminology didn’t stop people from looking for function in non-coding DNA. Further, the assertion that ID figured out something clever is absurd, it’s just prediction of the past from the future and no great feat.

But that doesn’t stop Luskin from putting his foot in his mouth, he’s been a one-trick pony lately with this junk DNA nonsense, but, being a crank, he still can’t figure out why this issue is a loser for ID. Luskin gives his evidence that there was some great harm from the junk DNA theory.

Continue reading “Casey Luskin asks “Did Darwinism Hinder Research Into Understanding Cancer and Diabetes ?””

My question for Luskin IV

I officially retract my question to Luskin as it has been answered. When I last asked my question of Luskin in regards to their assertion that the denial of tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez was a matter of “academic freedom”, I really wanted an answer to it. My question was:

Mr. Luskin, is it the considered opinion of the DI, UD etc., that it is never acceptable to discriminate against a professor in a tenure decision based on their ideas?

Now, Tara shows me the answer to my question in her post Why deny only one part of science? IDists branch out into AIDS denial.

I think my question is answered, and it is “no”.

Now, it’s been frequently mentioned on here that prominent IDers Phillip Johnson and Jon Wells have previously stated their “skepticism” of HIV as the cause of AIDS. To their credit, most IDers I know disagree with Johnson and Wells on this point. However, Scot and Cordova buy right into it. Scot:

That said it’s not wholly unlikely that HIV is a symptom rather than a cause of AIDS. From my POV 23 years of considering it the cause of AIDS has not moved us any closer to a vaccine. There are two possibilities in that. The first is that the virus is just too insidious but second is that it isn’t insidious it’s just not the cause so no amount of effort against the virus will prevent the disease. However it does seem incredibly unlikely that AIDS isn’t a transmissable disease caused by infectious element of some sort so if not HIV then what is it? The evidence is circumstantial and compelling but the lack of progress in curing AIDS is also compelling evidence that we’re on the wrong track.

Incredibly likely? Because we have no vaccine? That means that more than 99% of all infectious diseases, then, aren’t infectious.

Cordova, meanwhile:

Even if the dissent is wrong, it would be hard to argue those involved are crackpots. [Cites Kary Mullis, Bernard Forscher and David Rasnick]. Given how I’ve seen Darwinian evolution promoted and how it has created harmful medical and social practices, it’s hard not to be skeptical of all sorts of accepted scientific “truths”.

At least they’re consistent. With Dembski defending a holocaust denier, their AGW denialism from DaveScot, their general evolution denialism, and now HIV/AIDS denialism from at least 4 prominent IDers, I think it’s safe to write of the Discovery Institute and the intelligent design creationist movement as just another clearing house for anti-science and denialism. They clearly wouldn’t have a problem with a virology department hiring an HIV/AIDS denier, or a history department hiring a holocaust denier because they simply aren’t competent to judge what is good science and what isn’t.

Now, people may ask, why is this? Why is there so much overlap between cranks? Why do they not care if a crank has an inconsistent view as long as they’re attacking science? For instance, there is no consistency between the various IDers and their beliefs of what intelligent design covers – Behe is a raging “Darwinist” compared to Dembski for instance. Why are they like this?

Well I think our original post on the Unified Theory of the Crank still has the explanation. The fundamental issue is that of competence. Cranks can not make competent scientific arguments. And because people who are incompetent are not capable of recognizing competence in others (discussed in the post), cranks are not competent to judge the scientific arguments of others. Further, they enjoy anything that attacks perceived scientific “orthodoxy” because they figure if one aspect of the orthodoxy can be attacked, why not the orthdoxy they hate so much? They see science as a uniform enemy to be attacked, and any aspect of science that can be brought into question is an advance of their cause because they are fundamentally anti-science. They want their overvalued ideas to be believed by others, and science is in the way. Therefore science itself is the enemy and any attack on any branch of science is to their advantage.

Thanks Tara!

What Sam Brownback thinks about evolution

In today’s NYT

It’s softer than the outright denial of evolution that was assumed when he raised his hand at the debate, and certainly doesn’t sound like young-earth creationism. It seems to be intelligent design creationism without explicitly mentioning intelligent design – although some keywords are present. He, of course, uses many of the classic denialist arguments.

For instance:
Continue reading “What Sam Brownback thinks about evolution”

Yabba Dabba Science

Given that the NYT piece on the Creation Museum was such fluff, I was gratified to read the LA Times’ more rigid take.

HE CREATION MUSEUM, a $27-million tourist attraction promoting earth science theories that were popular when Columbus set sail, opens near Cincinnati on Memorial Day. So before the first visitor risks succumbing to the museum’s animatronic balderdash — dinosaurs and humans actually coexisted! the Grand Canyon was carved by the great flood described in Genesis! — we’d like to clear up a few things: “The Flintstones” is a cartoon, not a documentary. Fred and Wilma? Those woolly mammoth vacuum cleaners? All make-believe.

Science is under assault, and that calls for bold truths. Here’s another: The Earth is round.

The museum, a 60,000-square-foot menace to 21st century scientific advancement, is the handiwork of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the “young Earth” movement. Young Earthers believe the world is about 6,000 years old, as opposed to the 4.5 billion years estimated by the world’s credible scientific community. This would be risible if anti-evolution forces were confined to a lunatic fringe, but they are not. Witness the recent revelation that three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.

Good for the LA Times. And I can’t believe no one else coined “Yabba Dabba Science” yet. Did I miss it? It’s genius.

Comment policy

I’m turning on moderation since the 9/11 truthers have shown up and desire to show me how they’re not cranks by hijacking threads and linking their conspiracy sites.

Sorry about that. But I don’t think it’s a valuable use of time to argue with cranks. I also won’t accept comments that are just drive-by trollings, or thread hijacks.

If my commenters want to take them on, that’s fine, but I have a limited tolerance for futile endeavors.

After the weekend (Chris and I don’t blog much on Saturday and Sunday) when I can monitor things more closely I’ll take moderation off.

What is Denialism?

What is denialism?
Denialism: the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.

Examples of common topics in which Denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming Denialism, Holocaust Denial, HIV/AIDS Denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, tobacco carcinogenecity denialism (the first organized corporate campaign), anti-vaccination/mercury autism denialism and anti-animal testing/animal rights extremist denialism. Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship.

We believe there are five simple guidelines for identifying denialist arguments. Most denialist arguments will incorporate more than one of the following tactics: Conspiracy, Selectivity, False Experts, Impossible Expectations/Moving Goalposts, and Argument from Metaphor/violations of informal logic. Adapted from Give Up Blog’s post with permission.


Suggesting scientists have some ulterior motive for their research or they are part of some conspiracy. The most basic example of this lie is to say that if the scientists discovered contrary findings they would lose their funding. The most severe example is to suggest scientists are engaged in some kind of elaborate “cover-up” or that they are part of the zionist conspiracy against the Aryan race. Whatever, it amounts to the same thing.

Response: These criticisms reflect a total ignorance of how science, especially academic science, works from a practical standpoint. Not only do scientists love to discover things that run contrary to expectations and publish them, but it is precisely the exceptional results that generate a great deal of interest (although they also require a higher degree of skepticism). The papers published in Nature and Science aren’t just essays saying “everything is fine.” They are often revolutionary (and sometimes incorrect) papers describing unusual findings, powerful new findings, or things that represent a major coup of scientific diligence and work. Funding, while often rewarded to projects that don’t take huge risks, is also heavily based on novelty, not maintaining some kind of party line. Further, the idea that scientists would ever work together in uniform to supress some piece of information is laughable. Scientists are in competition with eachother, and if something were being suppressed by a group it is usually only because they want to publish it first, and their competitors would love to beat them to it. Science is quite incompatible with keeping secrets or maintaining conspiracies, and to any actual scientists this is laughable.


Denialists will often cite: a critical paper supporting their idea, or famously discredited or flawed papers meant to make the field look like a it’s based on weak research. Quote mining is also an example of “selective” argument, by using a statement out of context, just like using papers or data out of context, they are able to sow confusion.

Response: I’ve noticed this is common among the AIDS/HIV denialists (who have a discredited paper from 1987 they like to wave around and they pick on Gallo for fudging the initial identification of HIV), but also is a big thing among global warming deniars as described in the Guardian article. Some creationists like Jonathan Wells particularly enjoy using examples of failed theories supporting Darwinian evolution (like Haeckels’ embryos) to suggest that the tens of thousands of other papers on the subject, and the entire basis of genetics, biology and biochemistry are wrong. The biggest problem here is that science doesn’t “purge” the literature when these things are proven false and they stay there forever. It is up to the researcher to read more than the papers that support their foregone conclusion, they have to develop a theory that incorporates all the data, not just the data they like.

The fake expert
: A bought-scientist or scientist/expert from an unrelated field to say that their data, lack of data, proven-flawed data or their expert opinion disproves the validity of the entire field.

Response: The global warming denialists have the greatest amount of money invested in the fake-expert strategy but they all pretty much use this tactic to some degree. Note that creationists and other anti-science types particularly will line up behind MDs to support their crap, because a lot of doctors are graduated in this country, and even though they technically have a degree in science, they’ve never actually done it themselves and it’s never to hard to find some quack with an MD to back up your line of bullshit. I would point you, for example, to the Presidential Council on Bioethics which is full of MDs gleaned for their ideological slant, with no real scientific legitimacy (Krauthammer being the most glaring example). I’m not maligning MD researchers who do exist, but it is a strategy used to give a patina of legitimacy to otherwise laughable ideas.

Impossible expectations/Moving Goalposts:
The use of the absence of complete and absolute knowledge to prevent implementation of sound policies, or acceptance of an idea or a theory. It’s a little bit like argument ad ignorantiam, but more sinister. Basically, the suggestion is made that until a subject is understood completely and totally (usually requiring a level of knowledge only found in deities), no action can be reasonably taken.

Response: This is a big one with global warming deniers. To state the problem metaphorically, it’s like saying until you’ve figured out the exact momentum, moment of inertia, time dilation, length contraction, and relativistic position of a car in several reference frames that is speeding at you, you shouldn’t jump out of the way. Since global warming is very complicated, they use this mixed appeal to ignorance and inaction to suggest until we understand climate 100%, we should do nothing. Never mind that this is impossible, but that is the expectation. A reasonable person would instead suggest that once you have enough data that suggest a change of behavior, or change of policy is warranted, it would be prudent to take that data under consideration and change things before we’re all under water. You don’t need to know the position of every molecule in the galaxy before deciding you need to jump out of the way of a speeding train. Just like we don’t need to have a perfect model of the earth’s climate to understand that all the current data and simulations suggest decreasing carbon output is of critical importance right now, and not when humans have obtained some imaginary scientific nirvana.

The logical fallacy
The fallacies usually used are metaphor/argument from analogy, appeals to consequence, straw men or red herrings. The metaphor, as hopefully I’ve demonstrated, is a useful tool in language to help communicate ideas in common sense terms. However, it isn’t an argument in and of itself. Denialists will often use argument from metaphor or analogy to suggest that scientific data are wrong. For example, creationists will use as an argument the metaphor that saying natural selection leading to humans is like saying it’s probable that you could assemble a jumbo-jet that could fly simply by shaking the constituent parts in a box for 5 billion years. Or that a mousetrap is too complex for evolution because if a single part was missing it wouldn’t work.

Response: I’m not purposefully setting up a straw man here, but this type of argument from false analogy is incredibly common as are other classic logical fallacies. One could argue many things, but it would be a waste of time because the situations described are silly and have nothing to do with human evolution. The analogies ignore the nature of evolution, suggest it’s just totally random, ignore natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, ignore basic biology and create a totally artifical point of reference for a biological discussion. In short, metaphors have nothing to do with biology or evolution, but they are confusing and on the surface their logic sounds correct to many laymen. These are a hallmark of the “irreducible complexity” arguments of the creationist denialists, but other denialists have similar appeals to metaphor. But irreducible complexity arguments are all based on metaphors, while data from siRNA, knockout mice, humans with silent genetic defects, etc., indicate that cells and biological organisms are not irreducibly complex, and often can operate and adapt with less than a full complement of their ideal genetic code. There are quite a few gene knockout mice in which no phenotype has been observed, and anyone who has knocked genes out in cells with siRNA could tell you, an effect is no guarantee. Cells adapt to a number of situations and not all genes are required for healthy, viable offspring. Science is not about who has the best metaphor that makes the most sense to good ol’ common folk. Data trumps metaphors every time.

Recognizing these tactics is the first step towards debunking or just outright dismissing these dismal and distracting arguments that detract from legitimate debate and sow confusion about scientific fact.