Oh, goody! Vox Day wants to play.
You remember Vox “Hey, it worked for Hitler” Day,” don’t you? It’s been a long time. In fact, I had to do a search to find the last time I had a run-in with him, and it appears that it’s been about a year since I last noted him mindlessly parroting antivaccinationist myths and spouting his usual misogyny. Alas, Vox has been a regular irritant to this blog since very early on, when he didn’t like my likening his views towards women to the Taliban for his arguing that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they are “fascists at heart.” Since then, every so often it’s been one thing after another, whether it be parroting antivaccinationist lies as though he understood what he was talking about, in essence labeling Title IX a threat to science, making excuses for rape, rejecting evolution, misrepresenting a scientific study suggesting that moderate housework can decrease a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and attacking “materialist” philosophy. If I had to pick my favorite examples of Vox’s utter vileness it would be obvious which two I’d pick. The runner-up would be when he expressed more admiration for the Nazis than for feminists. But the pièce de résistance of Vox crankitude occurred when he argued that it would be “possible” for the U.S. to solve our illegal immigration problem because the Nazis managed to expel millions of Jews from their territories, a screed that even WorldNet Daily couldn’t stomach and edited to remove the offending Vox-isms.
I’ve often complained about Jenny McCarthy as a sterling example of the “arrogance of ignorance.” Whatever the ignorant hubris that Jenny likes to lay down on a regular basis, however, she is limited by her puny intellect in just how much hubris she can generate, although it is that very same puny intellect that allows her to lay down such bursts of enormous stupidity that threaten to fry the brains of anyone with intelligence greater than one standard deviation below average. Over the years, though, I have noticed that it is not the puny intellects like Jenny McCarthy that are necessarily the most prone to the arrogance of ignorance. In fact, it is those with a modicum of intelligence, who, knowing they are intelligent, mistakenly believe that they are able to understand virtually anything without actually taking the time to do the hard work to learn the topic. Indeed, I rather suspect that’s why Vox is willing to charge into any topic and lay down a blistering barrage of stupid with zero self-awareness, utterly unaware that he is making a fool of himself and at the same time utterly confident that he knows what he is talking about–more than that, utterly confident that he understands a topic better than people who have spent decades studying it and have dedicated their lives to it. Indeed, Vox is proof positive that the arrogance of ignorance is, if anything, far more dangerous and toxic in an intelligent person, so much so that it renders someone like Vox capable of laying down some of the most amazingly stupid rhetoric while simultaneously bragging about how smart he is. It’s also proof positive that high “intelligence” as measured by IQ can in many cases has little or nothing to do with understanding or reason.
But Vox sure thinks it does, which is why he’s decided to tug on Superman’s cape once again, if you know what I mean. Remember that post I did about a week ago about an anesthesiologist who had committed massive scientific fraud over the course of a dozen years or more? Remember how I said that the forces of anti-science would use this incident as “proof” that science is corrupt to its core and that, by extension, they must be correct? Vox Day is only the latest to fulfill this prediction. And, boy, oh, boy, does he ever! Even better, he does so by linking to and quoting my original post, in essence plaintively begging me, hat in hand, for a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence.
Vox should know that I rarely turn down such a sincere and heartfelt request for what I do so well.
True to his being an über-crank, Vox thinks that the Reuben case is some sort of slam-dunk, incontrovertible evidence that his hated science is rotten to the core. But, first, he begins with a sort of a reverse argumentum ad populum:
Actually, Orac is decades out of date with regards to the public’s view of scientists. Scientists no longer occupy any special place in the public’s regard. After more than 30 years of being told to “question authority”, the average non-scientist doesn’t automatically believe a scientific authority any more than he believes any other authority. Scientists aren’t lumped in with completely untrustworthy types such as politicans, used-car salesmen, lawyers, and journalists, but they’re no longer viewed as standing on some sort of objective pedestal and they haven’t been for quite some time. Orac should understand this, after all, is his blog not entitled “Respectful Insolence”
The reality is that scientists aren’t considered much more trustworthy than the clergy, the military, or the police, and are less trusted than doctors and teachers. This is striking when one considers the fact that unlike the other professions, scientists supposedly have the benefit of relying upon what is supposed to be a completely objective system, which means that their constant tendency to play bait-and-switch, wherein they substitute appeals to scientific authority, peer review, and statistical reviews for actual science, has had a more detrimental effect than the otherwise high credibility ratings would appear to suggest.
I have no idea why Vox thinks the title of my blog has anything to do with whether or not scientists are held on pedestals anymore (logical fallacy: non sequitur), but I find it very strange that while implying that scientists are viewed in lower esteem by the public than they used to be because of “fraud,” he links to a poll that reports that scientists are actually more trusted now than they were in 2002 and that they are as trusted as they were in 1998. Meanwhile he mentions that scientists are less trusted than doctors or teachers, but doesn’t mention that they only come in third after doctors and teachers. Of course, he neglects the fact that physicians do most biomedical research and that Dr. Reuben is a physician. And what group comes out at the top of most trusted? Doctors. Truly, the stupid, it burns.
For purposes of discussion, I’ll include both scientists and physicians. In fact, if you look at the poll’s numbers, you’ll see that there was an anomalous dip in the public’s trust in scientists and physicians in 2002, but overall the numbers are remarkably stable otherwise. In 1998 79% reported that they would trust scientists; in 2002, it was 68%; in 2006, it was 77%. Given that the range of error is 3 percentage points, there is, statistically, no difference in the number of Americans who trust scientists in 2006 and in 1998. In fact, as I look at the tables in the poll results, what is amazing to me is just how stable those numbers have been. For physicians, the numbers are similar: in 1998, 83% trusted doctors; in 2002, 77%, and in 2006, 85%. In other words, there was no statistically significant difference between 1998 or 2006. I will give Vox and his self-proclaimed superior intelligence credit, though. He cleverly did not list the numbers and cleverly failed to mention that scientists came in #3 among the professions, with physicians coming in #1. Also, by any stretch of the imagination, having such an overwhelming majority of either 85% or 77% saying that they trust your profession to tell the truth is a pretty damned high degree of trust, and that level has been remarkably stable since the 1990s. So not only was Vox’s argument a logical fallacy, but it’s a badly done logical fallacy. I can only conclude that either Vox can’t read or that he didn’t think anyone would actually check the results of the poll that he cited. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on that “superior intelligence” of his.
Let’s count the other logical fallacies. Let’s see. We have the logical fallacy of the straw man argument. We scientists do not claim to rely on a “completely objective system,” and if that’s what Vox thinks science is supposed to be, he’s more of an idiot than I thought. No endeavor devised by human beings can ever be a “completely objective” system. The scientific method, in fact, is designed such that it tries very hard to minimize human biases as much as possible, scientists knowing that such biases can never be completely eliminated. The reason scientific medicine (mostly) rejects anecdotal evidence as anything more than hypothesis-generating is because scientists recognize the possibility of bias and how anecdotes can so easily lead people astray. Humans are pattern-forming animals; we look for patterns in everything. This tendency leads us to be particularly prone to confusing correlation with causation. Yes, even people who like to boast of their supposedly stratospheric IQ. Indeed, in my travels through the blogosphere, I’ve found that it tends to be the IQ-boasting types like Vox who have the hardest time understanding this very basic fact about how humans draw conclusions from observations of their environment. Their inflated sense of their own intelligence and tendency not to realize that they are just as prone to the very same cognitive shortcomings that lead to confirmation bias, confusing correlation with causation, and failing to see regression to the mean is just as great as people of average intellgence lead them to believe that they are “better” than that and that they are too smart to be fooled by such mundane failings of human reason. Oh, no, not them.
The arrogance of ignorance strikes again.
Vox is also full of crap when he claims that scientists rely on arguments from authority–as if that’s all we rely on. There are two reasons. First, science is not about authority. It is about a method for minimizing bias and mistaken inferences. Second, arguments from authority are not in and of themselves a logical fallacy if the authority is legitimate. It’s arguments from dubious or false authority that are logical fallacies. Also, when arguing for a mass audience sometimes it’s necessary to use shorthand like arguing from authority. It may not be ideal, but there’s often no time to go through the often complex scientific arguments. Of course, I could also point out to Vox that one reason I use a pseudonym on this blog is because I want my arguments to stand or fall on their own, without any reference to my credentials or position in the academic world. But we scientists also try to argue the science. Vox ignores or attacks the scientific arguments because he doesn’t like them and whines about “arguments from authority” because they’re easy to attack. Much easier than actually understanding and addressing the science.
Vox then demonstrates exactly what I say above about accepting anecdotal evidence over science:
Just as the televangelist and pedophile priest scandals drove down the trustworthiness of the clergy from 90 percent in 2001 to 64 percent in 2002, the credibility of scientists will likely fall below their 2002 low of 68 percent as the AGW fraud – to which I note Orac himself subscribes – becomes ever more apparent to all and sundry, as more scientific charlatans such as Scott Reuben and Hwang Woo-suk are unmasked, and as scientists constantly flip-flop over quotidian matters such as whether red wine is good for you and if it’s a high-fat diet or a high-carbohydrate diet that causes weight gain.
Like the increasingly discredited news media, (journalists are near the bottom at 39 percent), scientists often seem to assume that the public has no memory. This is understandable; most people are short-sighted idiots with little recall. But, even a complete idiot will notice when he gains 20 pounds on a low-fat diet, when a blizzard shuts down the roads for the tenth time that winter, or when an infant screams and slumps unconscious right after being injected by a “perfectly safe” vaccine. Scientists have relied far too long on their reputation rather than their method, and the public has finally begun to take note.
Note the fact- and science-free ranting. For one thing, outright scientific fraud, such as that of Dr. Reuben, is actually very uncommon. As Ben Goldacre notes, there is actual evidence to support this. In 2005 Nature published an anonymous survey of 3,247 scientists, with the following results: 0.3% admitted they had falsified research data at some point in their careers (outright scientific fraud), while 6% admitted failing to present data if it contradicted their previous research (a tougher call, given that doing so is arguably sometimes justified if there is a legitimate explanation for the discrepancy). From my perspective, though, even if it underestimates the fraud, 0.3% a mighty low number. The 6% who would selectively leave out data is somewhat more disturbing but also pretty low.
Be that as it may, once again, Vox clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He just doesn’t like the conclusions of science, be they evolutionary theory, vaccines, how the brain works (in which neuroscience makes belief in Cartesian dualism increasingly untenable), or anthropogenic global warming; so Vox attacks science itself while pretending to understand and support science. He tells himself that scientists are arrogant and “materialist.” Unfortunately for him, his comments reveal that he doesn’t understand the very nature of science itself, as evidenced by his complaining about scientists “flip-flopping over quotidian matters such as whether red wine is good for you and if it’s a high-fat diet or a high-carbohydrate diet that causes weight gain.” Studying such questions in human beings is difficult; it takes time to resolve such questions, because doing such studies is complex. It is not surprising that on such issues there may be a period of conflicting studies, especially if the effects are not much greater than the background noise. In fact, Vox shows that he doesn’t even understand the difference between weather and climate, as evidenced by his about blizzards. Indeed, what comes to mind most of all when Vox calls most people “short-sighted idiots” is: Pot. Kettle. Black.
But Vox is only getting warmed up. If you think what he’s written thus far is dumb, get a load of this supermassive black hole of stupid, which threatens to suck all intelligence out of the galaxy much the way a real supermassive black hole sucks in matter in a galaxy. Truly, beyond the event horizon of this stupid, no intelligence can escape, and even nearby the energy waves of neuron-apoptosing stupid created as intelligence gets sucked into the black hole’s yawning maw are far more than I should ever have to endure just for a single blog post:
Orac and other science fetishists will naturally be tempted to dismiss my words, to take them out of context, and to claim that I am too stupid to understand the miraculous wonders of science. But this will only further undermine their credibility; since I have the benefit of a demonstrably higher IQ than most as well as a seven-year archive containing a high percentage of correct calls on everything from market collapses to housing and gold prices, (yes, there were of course some misses – Hillary! – too), avoiding the subject by calling me names is not going to convince anyone who isn’t already a mindless science groupie.
Translation: Respect my authoritay, because I am Vox Day, Suuuuuuuuper Genius. (Sorry about the mixed cartoon references.)
Of course, the reason I’m marching through nearly all of Vox’s post is exactly because his post reveals his arrogance of ignorance for all to see, with no need at all to cherry pick juicy bits of stupid to be taken out of context. (Trust me, Vox, your idiocy taken in context is more than enough to reveal your intellectual bankruptcy.) In essence, he seems to be expecting me to bow down before him, like one of Khan’s followers in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, proclaiming, “Yours is the superior intellgence.” Orac don’t play that. At least, he don’t play that with someone like Vox, who, whatever his vaunted IQ may be, demonstrates time and time again that IQ does not correlate with understanding, knowledge, or the ability to construct a cohesive argument.
I will at this point cull the single non-neuron-apoptosing thing Vox says, something that I actually partially agree with:
Science isn’t some sort of grand mystery approachable only by the elect, it’s merely a process. It’s not difficult to understand; those who claim that it is are merely advertising their own intellectual limitations.
The part that I agree with is that the scientific method should be understandable by almost anyone and that it is a method. However, it’s not at all improper to point out that science itself is also difficult. Although the actual method may not be that hard to grasp, applying the scientific method to specific problems can be quite difficult. That’s because to understand a specific scientific result often you have to have some understanding of the background knowledge that led to that scientific result. There’s a reason that a PhD usually takes around four or five years to obtain. It’s not the learning of the scientific method per se; it’s learning the background knowledge and how to apply that knowledge at a high level to a scientific problem, as well as learning the techniques necessary to do the experiments. Vox’s mistake is that he doesn’t think he needs to know the background behind the scientific work he likes to criticize. In the arrogance of ignorance, he apparently thinks he can identify good or bad science on the basis of his intellect alone, background knowledge be damned.
Too bad the grand finale of Vox’s post reveals that intellect is no substitute for knowledge and understanding. My readers, I have to tell you, this last bit of Vox’s post was such a hunk o’ hunk o’ burnin’ stupid that, were it not for my four years of blogging about pseudoscience and my years before that engaging Holocaust deniers on Usenet, I might have died of a massive wave of neuronal apoptosis (look it up, Vox) due to excess stupidity:
As for vaccines, if he truly wishes to change even a single parent’s mind, Orac and other vaccine champions simply have to stop attempting to wave the increasingly tattered flag of “but science says” in the face of the growing number of science skeptics and think very seriously about why so many people are rejecting the modern American vaccine schedule despite constant pressure from their doctors, schools, and the science fetishists in the media. More pounding the table isn’t going to work, because the parties pounding the table are already considered completely biased and untrustworthy. As I wrote yesterday, show the science! The real science, where the damn hypothesis is actually tested! No more BS “no statistical correlation has been found”, no more “no peer reviewed study has proven”, no more dancing and ducking and evading the obvious solution of actually putting the scientific method to work. Interpolation and extrapolation aren’t sufficient. Statistical analysis isn’t enough. Peer reviewed metastudies are of zero value. Pump 1,000 kids full of
toxinsvaccines according to the complete schedule and leave a control group of 1,000 completely unvaccinated. Then report on how they’re doing every six months. There’s no excuse not to do it, it’s eminently doable.
That, and that alone, will suffice to convince parents that science proves the vaccine schedule is sufficiently safe. And if scientists can’t be bothered to actually do the relevant science and show their work to the public, they shouldn’t be surprised when the public tells them to stick their fraudulent, faux-scientific propaganda up their collective posteriors.
Ow. I mean, “Owwwwwwww!” I hope Nietzche was right when he said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” because the concentrated stupidity and ignorance in the above two paragraphs sure tried their best to kill my brain. Antivaccine canards about children turning autistic right after vaccines meet ignorance about clinical research!
Vox is so utterly clueless about how to do proper clinical trials that he actually thinks such a study would be just hunky dory to do. In suggesting a placebo-controlled trial of vaccines, he demonstrates that his understanding of medical science that is cringe-inducingly simplistic, of the “randomized clinical trials are the only way to answer a question” variety. Vox obviously doesn’t know that clinical trials can never be just about pure scientific method. The reason is very, very simple, but since Vox is apparently ignorant of it, I’ll make it real simple: Ethics. Clinical trial subjects are human beings, and their well-being must come first, part of which is minimizing the risk associated with experimental therapies and providing them with at least the standard of care. All clinical trials, in fact, are a careful balance between human subjects research ethics and scientific rigor. Human subjects protections must be paramount. In fact, they must come first, even if it means doing a trial that may not be “perfect” from a scientific standpoint.
Contrary to Vox’s ignorant blather, there are a quite a few circumstances in which it is unethical to use a placebo control group in a clinical trial, and a randomized, double-blinded “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” study is one of them. I suggest that Vox read the Helsinki Declaration and the Belmont Report, which are two of the major documents that lay down the ethical precepts of modern clinical trials. Of the two, the Helsinki Declaration binds virtually all developed nations to its ethical precepts through mutual agreement. Specifically, according to the Helsinki Declaration, with only very limited exceptions and only with extreme justification both scientifically and ethically, a placebo may not be used unless no current proven effective intervention exists for the condition under study or the condition is so benign that no treatment is not an unacceptable option. That is most definitely not the case in vaccine trials. Proven effective preventatives of severe disease do exist, namely vaccines. In addition, no group is a clinical trial may receive less than the standard of care. It is thus unethical to have a placebo control group in a randomized clinical trial of vaccines. The only exception is when a disease for which no effective vaccine yet exists is being studied.
Now, before Vox goes pontificating again that this isn’t how it’s done in other clinical trials, that’s just plain not true, either. In cancer trials, for instance, new drugs are only rarely compared against placebos alone anymore. Rather, they are usually added to or compared against the best currently available therapy. Ditto antibiotic trials. Ditto trials of many drugs. Indeed, there are many clinical questions for which the use of a placebo control group is either impractical, impossible, or completely unethical. Trials of surgical therapies come to mind, for example. Moreover, ethical restrictions do not mean trials can’t be done; it just makes them more difficult, and it takes more controlling for potential confounding factors to make up for the inability to do randomized clinical trials (RCTs). That’s why any trial of vaccinated versus unvaccinated can’t be a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Under the Helsinki Declaration, a placebo alone control group would be unethical except in the cases of specific diseases for which we do not currently have an effective vaccine. In adults, for example, trials of HIV vaccines using a placebo control group would likely be ethical.
In other words, it’s a massive misunderstanding of science- and evidence-based medicine for Vox to insist that a placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial must be done to verify the safety and efficacy of the vaccination schedule. Indeed, the issues involved in doing a study of “vaccinated” versus “unvaccinated” are far more complex than that supergenius brain in Vox’s pointy little head can possibly imagine. His understanding of the issue is painfully childish.
The bottom line is that Vox simply does not know what he is talking about when it comes to clinical trials and science. His massive IQ and concomitant arrogance of ignorance lead him to think that he does, but he does not. He does not know science; he does not know epidemiology; he does not know clinical trial design; and in particular he is clearly utterly ignorant of the bioethical framework upon which clinical trial design has been built since the horrors of World War II.
The arrogance of ignorance, indeed.
Finally, Vox needs to know that the Helsinki Declaration requires that human subjects research “must conform to generally accepted scientific principles, be based on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature, other relevant sources of information, and adequate laboratory and, as appropriate, animal experimentation.” In other words, for a clinical trial to be ethical, one major condition is that the hypothesis being tested must be science-based and founded on sound and compelling preliminary evidence from basic science, animal work, and clinical observations. Vox seems to think that vaccines aren’t extensively tested for safety and efficacy in addition to the current vaccine schedule. He is about as wrong as wrong can be. (Par for the course.) The hypotheses to be tested, apparently that the unvaccinated group will be so much more healthy than the vaccinated group and that the rates of autism will be much higher in the vaccinated group, have no basis in science. Vox believes the anecdotal reports that vaccines cause all sorts of horrible things, but, again, his arrogance leads him to think that it’s somehow not totally unethical to leave a group of 1,000 children completely unprotected against infectious diseases that could kill them. Such is the reality warp within which Vox lives. Worse, if the hypothesis is that the current vaccine schedule causes autism or greatly increases the risk of autism, statistically it’s not enough children to detect a difference in a condition (autism) that affects only around 1 in 150, which means that the control group would only be expected to have, on average, seven autistic children.
But to Vox what are a few dead babies due to vaccine-preventable disease sacrificed in a clinical trial that is underpowered even to provide an answer to the question it studies? It’s science!
The bottom line is that there are numerous studies that have failed to find even a whiff of a correlation between either thimerosal in vaccines or vaccines themselves and autism or the panoply of health problems blamed on vaccines by the antivaccine movement, of which Vox appears to be a card-carrying member. He (along with the antiscience, antivaccine movement with which he clearly identifies) can deny it all he wants, but, as they say, Vox may be entitled to his opinion but he is not entitled to his own facts.
As for his mention that my blog is called Respectful Insolence, that is true. However, respect must be earned. When I encounter honest disagreement or simple ignorance without arrogance, the “Respect” stays in the Insolence. However, Vox has gone far, far past that point with his numerous ignorant and at times despicable transgressions. When someone (like Vox) repeatedly lays down the most ridiculous and vile antiscience canards and outright lies, the “Respect” leaves the”Insolence.” He hasn’t earned it; he doesn’t deserve it.
Which is why he gets the not-so-Respectfully Insolent treatment. And he always will. All I can hope is that I don’t have to do this again for another year.