Respectful Insolence

Good math

Here’s an interesting new blog that I discovered via Trackback.

Remember my post yesterday praising a certain commenter who chimed in about the Geiers.

He’s started his own blog called Good Math, Bad Math, which he describes thusly:

…in my experience, one of the most clear ways of identifying a crackpot is through math. No matter the specific subject, the crackpots always either avoid or screw up the math. Whether it’s the “mercuy causes autism” folks, the Velikovskians, creationists, alt-medicine quacks, republican pollsters, or scientologists – you can always recognize the crackpots by their math.

So I’m going to do my best to provide a voice of mathematical sanity – both by showing what’s wrong with the bad math slop pumped out by the loonies, and by showing how good math works.

And he delivers right away, first by adding more commentary about the Geiers’ bad statistics (where he points out another problem with the paper that I missed) and then taking on the concept of cellular automata.

Gee, if he sticks around the blogosphere long enough, I might just have to ask him if he wants to host a future edition of the Skeptics’ Circle.


  1. #1 TheProbe
    March 8, 2006

    I went right over and read his blog…superb. I may even take a math course at night…

    He really does nail several bad aspects of the Geier slop that others missed. The Geiers ARE dangerous, as they have the aura of authority, with nothing to support it.

  2. #2 Hank Barnes
    March 8, 2006


    No matter the specific subject, the crackpots always either avoid or screw up the math.

    Totally, fully, religiously agree. Numbers don’t lie, 2+2 always equals 4, no room for subjective interpretations.

    That’s why I really enjoyed this piece from Dr. Culshaw, a Professor of Mathematics at University of Texas.

    Good math, I think, tends to debunk the autism/thimerosol link.

    But, it also debunks the HIV/AIDS link. Of course, if you’re merely a situational math fan, Orac, used for pet issues alone, conveniently discarded it when strays beyond your preconceived biases, then it probably won’t:)

    Hank Barnes

  3. #3 Dean Esmay
    March 8, 2006

    You know, it’s interesting to me. Today I find myself linking Orac because we share a hatred for holocaust deniers. So even though Orac has shamelessly and viciously called people like me “AIDS denialists,” implicitely comparing us to these vile goons, we at least share one thing: a hatred of holocaust denialists. Which I’ve been writing about semi-regularly since I opened my blog four years ago.

    And what do you know? We also agree that what sets crackpots and pseudoscientists apart, most of the time, is their math. Amazing. What next. Pigs sprouting wings?

  4. #4 Eric Wallace
    March 8, 2006

    Of course the corollary to crackpots using bad math is that they are incapable of recognizing it as such.

    Hank–I read that piece, but I saw a rhetorical argument, not a mathematical one. Am I missing something?

  5. #5 Heathen Dan
    March 8, 2006

    I’m getting a 403 Forbidden error when accessing the Good Math blog. And HIV-AIDS deniers are in the same league as holocaust deniers.

  6. #6 BronzeDog
    March 8, 2006

    I’d say they’re quite bad, based on my very limited experience, but I wouldn’t say the same league… at least not yet.

  7. #7 jre
    March 8, 2006

    I second Eric’s motion.
    Hank, did you in fact discover some mathematical argument in the Culshaw article that you believe “debunks the HIV/AIDS link,” or are you just blowing smoke?
    I read the piece carefully, and it’s my opinion that Dr. Culshaw has done some respectable work modeling HIV transmission, that she has come to the sincere belief that HIV does not cause AIDS — indeed, to the belief that the HIV/AIDS causal hypothesis is actually causing harm — and that she is mistaken.
    If a neutral observer were to read Dr. Culshaw’s article and the material it cites, then compare it to this article and the material it cites, that observer would be forced to conclude that the bulk of the literature supports the position that there is a well-defined thing called AIDS, and that HIV causes it.
    To conclude otherwise requires that we believe that the medical research community has gone badly astray, led by group-think fostered by government sponsorship.
    I don’t buy it.
    In my opinion, there are too many ways for a plausible, well-supported counter-hypothesis to get a hearing, and too many ways in which the counter-hypothesis advanced by HIV denialists is neither plausible nor well-supported, for that argument to be very persuasive.
    In fact I expect that, twenty years from now, the causal link between HIV and AIDS will be even clearer than it is today.

  8. #8 Dean Esmay
    March 9, 2006

    Ah, thank you very much for comparing me to people who would deny the butchery of 6 million Jews and 5 million gypsies, slavs, and other undesirables, when I’ve never once denied that anyone at all has died, and have indeed repeatedly noted the horrors of the scourage of AIDS and the desperate need to do something about it–including possibly re-examining whether we identified the right bug, the right etiology. Yes, yes, that certainly makes it appropriate to lump me in with NAZI SYMPATHIZERS. Such a very APPROPRIATE comparison. Thank you SO MUCH FOR THAT.

    You can look up Professor Culshaw’s papers on HIV in Medline, and order them if you’re so inclined. You want to see other numbers? You know, I could point you to them but I’ve found that people who sling around phrases like “AIDS Denialist” are irrational hatemongering boobs and bigoted pseudoscientistst, and that there’s absolutely no reason to try having a conversation with them. There are numbers aplenty to examine in-depth, but I’ve given up expecting rational discourse on the subject.

  9. #9 Orac
    March 9, 2006

    Guys, regardless of what I think about HIV/AIDS “dissidents” (and any regular readers of this blog know my opinions on that score), comparing them to Holocaust deniers as you have done is something I strongly discourage, because I do not believe that they are motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, and/or a tendency to believing fascist ideology, as Holocaust deniers clearly are.

    Also, Dean was willing to link to THHP, most likely because his hatred of Holocaust deniers is stronger than his dislike of or previous arguments with me, and my opposition to Holocaust denial takes precedence over my quarrel with him. I appreciate his support, regardless of what I think of his views about AIDS.

  10. #10 jre
    March 9, 2006

    Hear, hear!
    Let me add my support, unneeded though it may be, to Orac’s statement of policy.
    Comparisons of ordinarily goofy opinions to Holocaust denial are an extension of the brain-munching Hitler-comparison disorder — sort of like punishing any traffic infraction with summary execution.

    You know how fast you were going there, blogger?

    No, I don’t, officBOOM!

    There’s another just-as-bad-as-Holocaust-denying perp who won’t be bothering honest citizens any more.

    But we should probably agree upon a convention. I used the phrase “HIV denialists” above, even though I was uncomfortable with the echoes it evoked, because I felt that either of the terms “dissidents” or “skeptics” conferred an undeserved respectability on members of a group that collectively doesn’t seem to give a rat’s patoot as to where the bulk of the evidence lies. “Contrarians” does not ring quite right to my ear, but at least the term is mostly uncontaminated by association with the loathsome history of Holocaust denial. I will be happy to go with “HIV contrarians” if that’s the sense of the group. Any other nominations?