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seven signs of bogus science

Over at Sciblogs there's a lengthy comments thread on vaccination, following an excellent post by Darcy on some myths about vaccines. I hesitate to call the thread a 'debate' because, frankly, it's impossible to actually debate someone who practices what evolutionary biologists would call the 'Gish gallop' - firing off so many factoids that you might manage to correct one or two in the time available, but too late! they'll have already moved on to the next set.

On the other hand, this sort of thing can be educational, on several fronts. First up, there's the hope that any undecided lurkers might be swayed by your arguments (which is why both sides continue to engage, I guess). But also - what a rich mine of examples of bogus science!

We have: information being presented via the popular media, rather than offered up for peer review. I use 'popular media' in the broadest sense to include a range of websites. I'm afraid that using 'whale.to' as a source of information to support an argument will immediately win a whole heap of demerit points. There's a big difference between information that's been tested and reviewed, and informaton (or mis-information) that simply represents a particular point of view.

We have: conspiracy theories. Oh boy, do we what! On the Skepticon thread one commenter in particular is big on conspiracies. Vaccines are apparently the result of a government/'big pharma' conspiracy to make us all sick so that the companies can then make even more money selling products to help us get better... For example, our commenter uses the argument from authority in quoting a doctor to support his particular conspiracy-focused view:

“My final conclusion after forty years or more in this business is that the unofficial policy of the World Health Organisation and the unofficial policy of ‘Save the Children’s Fund and almost all those organisations is one of murder and genocide. They want to make it appear as if they are saving these kids, but in actual fact they don’t. I am talking of those at the very top. Beneath that level is another level of doctors and health workers, like myself, who don’t really understand what they are doing. But I cannot see any other possible explanation: It is murder and it is genocide.”

 

... and adds his own coda:

He was obviously referring to the genocidal nature of WHO policy, meaning the WHO is out to kill people – not unsafe needle practices.

 

You actually have to watch out for logical fallacies like the 'argument from authority'. It's easy to pull together a list of names, with PhD or MD after them, to support an argument. With the PhDs, in particular, one could well ask, what is their field of expertise? Darcy's commenter provides such a list: "Dr Eva Snead MD, Dr G Lanctot MD, Dr Kalokerinos, Dr Kris Gaublomme MD, Dr med G Buchwald, Dr J Loibner, Dr H Buttram, Dr R Blaylock MD, Dr R Mendelsohn MD, Dr V Scheibner PhD".

The last on the list, Dr Scheibner, is a retired palaeontologist ie someone with no expertise in vaccine-related science. Dr Loibner appears to be a homeopathic physician who promotes the use of homeopathic vaccines... (Two others appear to be supporters of rather distasteful attempts to see shaken-baby syndrome reinvented as being the result of vaccinations.) Dr Kalokerinos is the source so approvingly quoted by our commenter (above), which rather makes one wonder about his ability to view evidence dispassionately and - as far as possible - without being biased by his own preconceptions.

(Before anyone jumps in - no, I'm not an expert in vaccine-related science either. Which is why I check credentials like this. I need to know that the information I'm using to come to an informed decision is science-based, & for that I need to know something about who's providing me with that information. Not all sources are equally reliable in that regard.)

We have: anecdotes, rather than evidence. But unfortunately the plural of anecdote is not data, it's anecdotes. Humans are pattern-seeking animals & we do have a tendency to see non-existent correlations where in fact we are looking at coincidences. For example, a child may develop a fever a day after receiving a vaccination. But without knowing how many non-vaccinated children also developed a fever on that particular day, it's not actually possible to say that there's a causal link between the two.

I'm still waiting on natural laws, & the wisdom of centuries (ancient being every so much better than modern...)

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16 Comments

I have to admit that the signal-to-noise ratio from the anti-vaccine proponents on that thread (and most anti-vaccine promotion I’ve seen) is rather low.

Seriously, there are fairly clear signs when someone is spinning a line to fit their own beliefs rather than working from evidence properly. With that in mind, it’s a timely follow-up. My own response was to go off and write about something less, well, dramatic, like if beached dolphins, and by implication, whales, are deaf. Figured there wasn’t much there for anti-vaccinists to jump on… I hope…

Oh, I dunno - I could imagine some one of them deciding that beaching in dolphins has nothing to do with hearing & everything to do with the ebil vaccine ingredients that have ended up in waterways (through sewage or industrial waste). In fact, if I can imagine it, someone somewhere (only distantly connected to Planet Reality) has probably already come up with the idea :)

… and resting it on that diluted in the ocean, the ebil effects would be made hugely stronger as according to homeopathic 'theory' ;-)

You've obviously given this some serious thought ;-)

rather distasteful attempts to see shaken-baby syndrome reinvented as being the result of vaccinations

You have a whole quadrafecta going on here (if that is in fact a real word), since according to this observer,
Viera Scheibner and Archie Kalokerinos, are considered the leading experts (and expert witnesses) in the vaccine-SBS area.

They seem to have a tag-team thing going on. Scheibner testifies that the cerebral bleeding and the whole "brain-turned-into-spam" found in a post-mortem are in fact side-effects of immunisation (it's amazing how far you can stretch a paleontology degree), while Kalokerinos testifies that the broken ribs are the result of fulminating infantile scurvy, a disease unknown to the rest of the medical world.

I do get the impression that correspondent EA is starting off with a conclusion, and then fitting the evidence around it, even if the 'evidence' takes the form of (say) a compendium of sick-child photographs assembled a century ago by a xenophobic German crank. This approach is a good strategy for finding out what idees fixes are occupying your head but not for finding out anything about the outside world. As one aspect of EA's strategy, when he argues from authority, he has designated individuals as "authorities" not because of any approval they've earned from their peers, but because they agree with what EA already believes.

I had a look at Blaylock's entry on Wikyweedia (picking his name at random from the list) and oh my, that man is a poster boy for Crank Magnetism if ever there was one. Evidently it was not enough for him to entertain just one goofball idea; having started, he couldn't stop. It's almost as if he has rejected the old-fashioned reliance on "evidence" and "facts" as a way of understanding things. Note in particular his membership of the AAPS, a support group for rightwing medical frauds.

Crank magnetism, how does it work?

It is a pity that Darcy closed the comment thread, for there is much I would like to ask argumentative correspondent EA [note subtle attempt to lure him into commenting here instead].

How many times have I pointed out that encountering antigens in the environment is a very different thing from idiot doctors injecting chemical and biological poisons directly into the body’s tissues

Yet EA is equally vehement in his opposition to the rotavirus vaccine, which is oral. So apparently injections are not the key objection after all. I am not getting the sense of a carefully-thought-out intellectually-coherent viewpoint here.

Two more things I learned today:
(1) Only a small minority of doctors at the top of the world health establishment are actively evil, worse than Hitler and Stalin, intent on promoting vaccines so as to exterminate entire populations; the majority are merely obedient functionaries who are blindly administering the vaccines because they have been taught that they work and they are oblivious to the lethal side-effects among their patients.

(2) Pharmaceutical manufacturers are unscrupulous and will promote drugs which they know to have side-effects, as we see from the cases when drugs have been taken off the market after the side-effects were NOTICED BY DOCTORS.

Perhaps we should post some more ridicule of medical quackery over at Riddled, in the hope of luring EA over there. We have a vacancy for a troll.

Perhaps you should :) He would be eviscerated over there - I doubt your regulars would be as polite as we were trying to be. I gave up in the end; it was simply too much effort to be even remotely pleasant.
Strange mindset, isn't it, that's so oblivious to its very own cognitive dissonance?
:)

I am not getting the sense of a carefully-thought-out intellectually-coherent viewpoint here. Ah, no, no, I think that's something that's distinctly lacking. Not helped by the fact that he is apparently unaware of how the active immune system operates, given some of his later comments about antibodies.
(To readers wondering what on earth we're talking about, head on over to the Sciblogs site & follow the comments on Darcy's 'antivaccination in NZ' post: http://sciblogs.co.nz/skepticon/2010/11/01/anti-vaccination-in-nz - as herr doktor as said, quite something. At least we were spared the 'lizard people' conspiracy bit.

Viera Scheibner and Archie Kalokerinos, are considered the leading experts (and expert witnesses) in the vaccine-SBS area. They seem to have a tag-team thing going on. Hmmm. If you wanted to work that up into a (polite) post, I could mount it on Sciblogs as a guest post on the Bioblog there - might draw him back again???

H. D. Bimler, I think you need to repeat his full name many times, in a sort of incantation. (That way when he searches the internet for this name, it'll match well in google and he'll see it.)

I know what you mean about asking him a few things. Part of me would do, but only if I have the time to patiently drag it out for the weeks it would take. He also mentioned the oral polio vaccine too.

Regards “I do get the impression that correspondent EA is starting off with a conclusion, and then fitting the evidence around it,” - me too. I asked him if he had a religious basis for his anti-vaccine beliefs in an earlier thread (following things I'd read on his Facebook page) & he effectively replied in the affirmative. One way to look at it then is that belief comes first, and (self-)justification to reaffirm his belief, later, as it does for fundamentalist religious people in opposition to evolution. (I have a funny feeling he might oppose evolution too - ?)

Regards “I am not getting the sense of a carefully-thought-out intellectually-coherent viewpoint here.” - if you read his Facebook page, you'll see all sorts of extraordinary things that suggests coherence is indeed lacking. My favourite, that I've repeated on sciblogs is a commenter posted an end-of-times rant from an US-based pastor, in which he makes out vaccines to be an end-times challenge. Erwin replied, saying he understood the pastor's message and offered, of his own volition, that vaccines contain nano-particles for mind control. (I have to admit reading his gave, to me, a new perspective of his mental state.)

(I'm writing from recollection, so there are likely small errors.)

I wondered if the 'lizard people' were lifted from Raelism, but see also David Icke:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Icke

(Note the anti-semitism; EA is Austrian if I recall correctly.: hope that's not a link.)

I thought atsc's last comment to me was totally uncalled-for IMO, too, but 'nuff said.

You mean like 'Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, BEETLEJUICE?? :)

'reading this gave' for 'reading his gave'. (Sloppy typing with laptop in arm chair!)

You mean like 'Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, BEETLEJUICE?? :)

Yes! I've seen that movie too!

I wondered if the 'lizard people' were lifted from Raelism, but see also David Icke
It's Icke's name I've always seen linked with them. Brian Dunning has (as usual) some good stuff to say about our reptilian overlords.

he is apparently unaware of how the active immune system operates, given some of his later comments about antibodies.

That was the weird thing. I mean, EA claims that vaccines do not work, full stop. Apparently if an antigen is introduced to the body by a medical practitioner, rather than through natural causes, then the immune system simply does not develop the immunity to remember that same antigen in the future. Why the hell not?, I wondered. This smacks of poor design, whether the immune system was designed by evolution or by a creator figure.

If you wanted to work that up into a (polite) post

I'll get back to you on that. I suspect that you're after something written in a style that might change the mind of a wavering reader, whereas I specialise more in a style that confirms the author's and the readership's sense of superiority over the normal baseline level of human stupidity.

It's Icke's name I've always seen linked with them.

Let me recommend Jon Ranson's account of meeting Icke and trying to get inside his mind, in Them.

LOL. I came to this page looking for credentials of one of the anti-vaccine "doctors" - he was about half way down the list. So far all these so called "doctors"are homeopaths, naturopaths or chiropractors. hahahaha

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  • Bilbo: LOL. I came to this page looking for credentials of read more
  • herr doktor bimler: he is apparently unaware of how the active immune system read more
  • Alison Campbell: I wondered if the 'lizard people' were lifted from Raelism, read more
  • Grant: 'reading this gave' for 'reading his gave'. (Sloppy typing with read more
  • Alison Campbell: You mean like 'Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, BEETLEJUICE?? :) read more
  • Grant: H. D. Bimler, I think you need to repeat his read more
  • Alison Campbell: Viera Scheibner and Archie Kalokerinos, are considered the leading experts read more
  • Alison Campbell: I am not getting the sense of a carefully-thought-out intellectually-coherent read more
  • Alison Campbell: Perhaps you should :) He would be eviscerated over there read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Two more things I learned today: (1) Only a small read more