It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of John Oliver. When my aging body allows me to stay awake late enough on Sunday nights and there’s a new episode on, I’ll almost always be watching. Since starting his own show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on HBO, Oliver’s become quite the expert at using humor to explain and bring attention to injustices that are widely ignored and to skewer politicians and blowhards.

This Sunday, he turned his attention on science reporting:

I certainly would have written about this for yesterday, except that at 11:30 PM on Sunday night there’s only one place for me to go, and that’s to bed to try to rest up for the week to come. So you get this on Tuesday. Of course, I was at an evening meeting last night; so this is a perfect topic for today given that it doesn’t need extensive discussion. Of course, for Orac a “brief” post is usually at least 1,000 words. On the other hand, if you watch the whole video above (and you really, really should, as it’s hilarious), you’ll spend more time than reading even one of my longer posts. It’ll be worth it though.

The key quote from the segment above is one that bloggers all over the place have been citing, and this is one of the rare times that I won’t be contrarian, because I agree. Oliver was particularly harsh on the TODAY SHOW. For example, noting a segment in which co-hosts Natalie Morales and Tamron Hall were arguing about the health benefits of whole milk based on various scientific studies in the news regarding its pros and cons. Al Roker then interrupted them and said something amazingly stupid, specifically, “You find the study that sounds best to you. And go with that..”

To which Oliver bitingly replied:

No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway. That’s religion. You’re thinking of religion.”

Indeed. Not surprisingly, cranks did not like this statement at all. Not at all. Before that, near the beginning of the segment, Oliver noted the plethora of studies about coffee, some showing that it might reverse liver damage, prevent colon cancer, decrease the risk of endometrial cancer, and increase the risk of miscarriage, and used another religion reference:

Coffee today is like God in the Old Testament: It will either save you or kill you depending on how much you believe in its magic powers. After a certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder, is science bullshit? To which the answer is clearly no, but there’s a lot of bullshit masquerading as science.

Indeed. This blog and my not-so-super-secret other blog wouldn’t exist if that weren’t the case. The problem for science communicators, of course, is to distinguish what is good science and what is BS in the context of the avalanche of studies that show up in the news and, more recently, get passed around in social media. If I were to try to analyze and refute all the bad science that shows up in my Facebook feed every day, I’d need to become a full time blogger, and even then I would be able to put much of a dent in the flood of misinformation and questionable science.

Fortunately, for those who don’t read science and medical blogs, Oliver provides a useful primer in a 19 minute segment. First, Oliver points out the problems that result in what a Brit might call dodgy studies showing up in the scientific literature and issues that scientists know about when interpreting scientific studies but that lay people are largely unaware of:

  1. Not all studies are created equal, nor are all journals. There are lots of journals out there that publish weak science because they don’t have the reputation of top tier journals like, say, Cell, Science, or the New England Journal of Medicine.
  2. The pressure to “publish or perish” is intense. I recently went up for promotion (yes, I made it, and my promotion will become official in August). The experience taught me that publishing matters—a lot. Worse, quantity seems to matter more than quality. I have a lot of quality publications, but I finished the process with the distinct sense that I would have been better off come promotion time publishing more articles, even if they were smaller findings in less prestigious journals.
  3. Because of this pressure, there is pressure to come up with eye-catching findings, which can lead scientists, consciously or unconsciously, to tweak their studies. Oliver even brought up p-hacking, the process of collecting lots of data and doing lots of comparisons until a statistically significant comparison is found. I’ve discussed this issue a lot in the context of studies that do many comparisons and don’t control for multiple comparisons. Remember, if the p-value is set at 0.05, even if an experiment is done perfectly 5% of the time any “positive” value will be a false positive. Do a lot of comparisons, and the chance of a false positive approaches 100%.
  4. Replication is important, but happens way less than it should. Of course, that’s because no one wants to fund them or do them. As Oliver put it, there’s no Nobel Prize for fact checking. Of course, I would quibble somewhat about how rare replication studies are. It’s often necessary to replicate another investigator’s results as a prelude to doing experiments that go beyond them, to make sure that the experiments are working on one’s laboratory. Still, Oliver’s point is valid.
  5. Scientists know not to put too much weight on any single study, but that’s not how many of these studies, particularly preliminary studies, are presented to the public. Oliver provided a particularly egregious example that, thanks to a press release, ended up being spun as saying that chocolate as beneficial for pregnancy.
  6. It’s partially our fault. We love studies with interesting conclusions and news directors know it.
  7. Animal studies are often inappropriately extrapolated to humans, sometimes without the fact that a study was carried out in rodents being downplayed in news stories.
  8. Scientists themselves oversimplify and overhype. Oliver even took a swipe at TED Talks, thus endearing himself to me forever.
  9. Then there’s commercial bias. Oliver picked a hilarious example of a study claiming that dehydration degraded driving ability as much as drinking, which was funded by a company that sells rehydration products.

Oliver finished up with a fantastic example, of “everything causes cancer,” complete with a graph. It looks like a figure from John Ioannidis’ famous “cookbook study,” where he examined ingredients in a cookbook and reviewed the literature for studies linking them to cancer. Basically, he found that everything causes cancer and everything prevents cancer.

Oliver is quite correct, though, that Roker’s attitude that you “find the study that sounds best to you and go with that” is the sort of attitude that underlies so much science denialism. It lets antivaccine activists claim that vaccines cause autism when the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they don’t, and it fuels denial that human activity is causing major global climate change. Note that Oliver very clearly says that vaccines do not cause autism and that anthropogenic global climate change is real, both of which are overwhelming scientific consensuses.

I love how Oliver says near the end that if a talk show is going to say “a study says,” it should also have to provide sourcing and context or not mention it at all. Of course, that will never happen. That’s why medicine and science bloggers like me will never lack for topics.

Comments

  1. #1 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    The never ending academic quest for the “least publishable unit”.

    While there are some quality metrics that can be applied to one’s published papers, I dunno if anyone has found a way to really use that efficiently or fairly when weighing a CV so we seem to always revert to what amounts to weighing the CV, if it is over a pound, you are golden!

  2. #2 Peter Dugdale
    homeofhomeopathy
    May 10, 2016

    Never heard of Al Roker à la “You find the study that sounds best to you. And go with that..” before, and the clip cut from him just as he completed his bonmot. Can we be sure he wasn’t just being satirical?

  3. #3 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    May 10, 2016

    In the video (15:17 mark) John Oliver says:

    “…or that vaccines cause autism, both of which the scientific concensus is pretty clear on.

    MJD says,

    John Oliver uses the term “pretty clear” which should deliver much respectful insolence from the minions.

    Orac says in the post above, “I’m a big fan of John Oliver”.

    @Orac,

    Is John Oliver another comedian with antivaccine tendencies?

    Please advise…

  4. #4 Orac
    May 10, 2016

    You’re a very silly man. In context, Oliver is saying how cherry picking studies and distrust of science can lead to people claiming that vaccines cause autism. He clearly means that the scientific consensus is that they do not. Try again.

  5. #5 BKsea
    May 10, 2016

    A quibble on your statement that “even if an experiment is done perfectly 5% of the time any “positive” value will be a false positive”:
    This is a popular interpretation but is in fact wrong. Consider homeopathy. Even perfect studies will occasionally get p<.05 but 100% of those studies will be wrong. This is where prior probability comes in. If prior probability is low, most positives will be false which underlies the need for replication.

  6. #6 Orac
    May 10, 2016

    In this post, I was not referring to homeopathy. I was not referring to CAM. I was referring to traditional medical studies because that’s what John Oliver was clearly discussing. If that wasn’t clear in the context of this post, I will add a sentence or two stating that unequivocally in bold and all caps somewhere in the text that I am not referring to studies of homeopathy, reiki, healing touch, or other magic. I didn’t mention prior plausibility because John Oliver was not discussing studies where prior plausibility is a major concern and I didn’t have the time or the inclination when writing this to go into a prolonged discussion of the difference between science-based and evidence-based medicine, given that I’ve discussed that topic so many times before.

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    May 10, 2016

    In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway.

    Which is why doing your research at Google University is no substitute for looking at the whole picture. It’s easy, especially with a bit of tweaking in your search terms, to find only what you want to find and ignore the rest.

    KayMarie@1: There are other methods for evaluating publication history, mainly involving citation counts and the h-index (the largest value of N such that the statement, “N or more of your papers have each been cited N or more times,” is true). There are other problems with these methods. But that’s off topic, so I won’t pursue this here.

  8. #8 Not a Troll
    May 10, 2016

    Congratulations on the promotion.

    I only see the popular press side of this getting worse (much like reality TV) but do you think data sharing will clear up some of the sloppiness in research on the science end?

  9. #9 Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
    May 10, 2016

    I loved John Oliver on the Daily Show. He should have been Jon Stewart’s successor. I agree with everything you wrote; but just want to point out that even the top journals sometimes publish less than stellar studies, e.g. NEJM article 30 years ago on coffee and pancreatic cancer and, of course, The Lancet’s publishing of Wakefield’s case series in 1998. And I want to emphasize that even the absolute best randomized clinical trials need to be replicated because the randomization process intended to “ensure” that ALL other factors that might affect the outcome are distributed evenly between groups is based on long term repeated randomizations. It is always possible to end up with some unknown, unmeasurable factor(s) not evenly distributed affecting the outcome. The larger the number of subjects in the study the less likely this is; but still a possibility.

    And one can draw “causal interpretations” from epidemiological studies. Something antivaccinationists and others don’t understand. But not from one or two studies.

    Antivaccinationists, for instance, don’t just cherry pick; but use in vitro cell toxicology test (ignoring how the body works as a whole) as well as animal studies.

  10. #10 Orac
    May 10, 2016

    Of course, I’ve discussed how high impact journals often publish research that later turns out to be wrong because such journals are always looking for the most “interesting” and “cutting edge” science. 🙂

  11. #11 darwinslapdog
    The Beagle
    May 10, 2016

    Oliver is so well-informed; I wonder how he came by that? His education isn’t directly science-oriented as far as I can tell from Wikipedia, though his father was a headmaster, whatever that might be worth.

  12. #12 Not a Troll
    May 10, 2016

    ^ Critical thinking skills go a long way even if you’re not formally trained in science. Knowing what you don’t know goes a long way too.

  13. #13 madder
    May 10, 2016

    Congrats again. A bunch of my friends and colleagues have been through that process lately, and it’s always encouraging to see that people I like and respect are being recognized by their institutions.

    And I thought the “everything causes cancer” graph was from Ioannidis’s cookbook study. It’s one of my favorites; I keep a copy handy to throw at people who chide me for some ingredient or other in my lunch.

    @BKSea, I’m trying to find the difference between what Orac said and your version, and coming up short.

  14. #14 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 10, 2016

    Congratulations, Orac. Clearly Lord Draconis has been pleased with your work.

    Anyone have any thoughts on how pre-print publications will affect the media portrayal of science? This is a topic that came up on This Week in Virology this week, talking about places like bioRxiv that provide pre-print versions of studies (before they’ve gone through all that pesky peer-review).

  15. #15 rhymeswithgoalie
    May 10, 2016

    Re: Peter Dugdale #2

    My reaction to Al Roker’s comment about finding “the study that’s best for you” was also that he was being drily satirical. In a gushy-wushy setting like that, it’s might be the only way to sneak in something thought-provoking.

  16. #16 EvilTwinSelf
    Sweden
    May 10, 2016

    Thanks for bringing this one up. It drives me crazy when I see my friends sharing misinformation about the latest ‘science findings’: Particularly annoying are the seemingly continuous ‘wine/whisky/beer/chocolate is good for you’ tropes that get regurgitated on Faecbook.

    For those who are interested, this site catalogues everything that the Daily Mail has suggested either causes or prevents cancer (or both). The list is huge…

    http://kill-or-cure.herokuapp.com/

  17. #17 Denice Walter
    May 10, 2016

    Eric brings up something important:
    alt med advocates who acquire degrees through the University of G–gle. believe themselves to be well-educated but basically they seek out material that confirms their beliefs.

    It’s interesting how many of those we discuss @ RI are self-taught:
    nearly everyone at AoA and TMR ha nso background at all in medicine or life sciences yet they portray themselves as experts. Have you read Dan’s efforts at re-hinking medical and psychological conditions? Or Teresa Conrick’s posturings ? Mikey is another as is Sayer Ji. Null has a terminal degree that is self-study and mail order.

    Unfortunately ( for them) acquiring knowledge in a field depends upon studying all aspects of the discipline INCLUDING those you aren’t interested in or the results you don’t like. Those who create curricula follow guidelines set by experts: usually, students learn the history of their area of research- so as one of my profs said, ” So you don’t have to go through THAT again”. Of course, many students aren’t exactly pleased as punch with certain subject matter.

    What I’ve observed is that woo-meisters and their followers look for what they agree with, what’s easy to understand ( for them) and how to explain away other results ( why SBM doesn’t agree with their woo)- which most likely involves conspiracies. They need a way to explain why their brilliant theories aren’t accepted and lauded by the mainstream.

    One of the most loony of alties tells his enraptured thralls:
    ” Do your homework!” – in other words, read my books.

  18. #18 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 10, 2016

    Re: Al Roker’s comment

    I think it is from the April 6, 2016 episode of the Today Show. They discussed whole milk then with Dr. Oz. (Hey, Orac! It’s your favorite TV doc!) I haven’t been able to find the full episode video for that, though. The portion discussing the study only has Dr. Oz.

  19. #19 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    @Eric Lund #7

    Sorry if I was unclear.

    I’m aware of the various methods of measuring impact of the papers. Where I am uncertain is if there is solid information on how well the metrics perform and if there is any fair and consistent guidance for determining how to best use those for hiring or promotion and tenure.

    So we still have a lot of the heavier the CV the better regardless of the quality of the papers within.

    Did go to a recent seminar where they discussed how some of the non-traditional means of dissemination could be also included and evaluated. Particularly since I am at an institution which seems to want to encourage a wider spread of research findings and scholarly opinion on current events that are much more accessible to the general public than journals that often live behind pay-walls or require interlibrarly loan.

  20. #20 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    @Eric Lund #7

    Sorry if I was unclear.

    I’m aware of the various methods of measuring impact of the papers. Where I am uncertain is if there is solid information on how well the metrics perform and if there is any fair and consistent guidance for determining how to best use those for hiring or promotion and tenure.

    So we still have a lot of the heavier the CV the better regardless of the quality of the papers within still being an important metric.

    Did go to a recent seminar where they discussed how some of the non-traditional means of dissemination could be also included and evaluated. Particularly since I am at an institution which seems to want to encourage a wider spread of research findings and scholarly opinion on current events that are much more accessible to the general public than journals that often live behind pay-walls or require inter-library loan. In addition to op-ed pieces and those sorts of old media they discussed things like Altmetrics which would indicate if your research went viral, but that then brings us back to just because the journalists wrote about it and it got shared all over the social media may only mean it made good click bait rather than would have a lasting impact on science or health.

  21. #21 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    Sorry for the double post.

  22. #22 Sarah A
    May 10, 2016

    Woohoo! I was so hoping that Orac would blog on this segment that I seriously considered leaving a comment on Natural News in hopes of provoking Mikey-drawers into a rant worthy of an Oracian response. Which made me feel kind of weird about myself until I started reading the comments on his latest anti-fluoridation screed – I’m still trying to decide whether its reassuring or terrifying to have found a group of people that make me feel like a completely normal, well-adjusted human being.

    I especially loved the realistic science talk at 17:00 – for those of you who don’t work in science or academia, that is exactly was a real scientific talk sounds like (except most presenters aren’t as engaging as that actor ^^*) Now I’m sort of wondering if Mr. Oliver actually went to a scientific conference for accuracy sake or if he was just trying to make a parody of something incredibly boring and inadvertently hit a little too close to home.

  23. #23 Sarah A
    May 10, 2016

    ^P.S. Congrats on the promotion!

  24. #24 rs
    May 10, 2016

    Out of curiosity I did two searches on the Big G, to see the quality of the returned results.
    1) coffee causes cancer
    2) coffee prevents cancer

    Quickly perusing the first 2 pages of results (20) the first delivered more science-based results than the first. A real, honest science paper did not appear until the second page for both.

    Many of the results were not obviously either science-based or misinformation without clicking through and doing some reading.

    “Prevents” did seem to produce more woo results and questionable MSM & blog articles, while “causes” produced a number of “maybe, maybe not” (balanced?) articles on the topic.

    Not a scientific study but an interesting anecdote. It appears that typing “prevents” leads to a higher proportion of one-sided results. Beware G__ University.

    Also, it was a bit depressing to see the list of popular searches that pop up when you type “coffee prevents” or “coffee causes”.

  25. #25 Skeptical Raptor
    http://www.skepticalraptor.com
    May 10, 2016

    John Oliver’s bona fides on vaccination are pretty solid. When he took over for Jon Stewart over the summer a few years ago, he mocked anti-vaccine people a couple of times. And he humorously and passive aggressively attacks anti-vaccination folks all the time on HBO.

    It would take an anti-vaccine nut job to think that John Oliver is anything but pro-science on all issues that matter to the scientific skeptics around these parts.

  26. #26 mike mcdaneld
    United States
    May 10, 2016

    Maybe in order for a study to be published it must first be replicated?

  27. #27 Jazzlet
    May 10, 2016

    Not available in the UK, boo hiss.

  28. #28 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    @mike mcdaneld

    Not sure how enforced replication prior to publication would work. Mostly from a funding mechanism. As well as delays in publication. We do a 5 year study for a few million dollars then we have to wait…until how does another group we don’t know and didn’t recruit replicates it?

    How do they get the details of work that is not published?
    Who selects and funds the replicators?
    Who gets first crack at publishing?
    How do I convince tenure and promotions that the paper that is embargoed until replicated will be great once it is allowed to be discussed?
    How do I get the next 5 year grant if I can’t publish the last one for another 5 years? Do I need to have two unrelated research programs (or more) so I can work on last replicated stuff until the next replicated stuff is published so I can then submit the next grant. They really don’t like giving money to people who repeatedly can’t get anything published.

  29. #29 Sharon Hill
    United States
    May 10, 2016

    I think you might be able to see it here for non-US residents:
    https://www.facebook.com/LastWeekTonight/videos/896755337120143/

    Anyhow, this is a clear example of a couple things. 1. Science as a topic is popular. We should have more of it, but better. 2. We don’t need science literacy as much as we need science appreciation. How does science work and what does it do for society compared to other “ways of knowing”? We have art appreciation for non-artists, why not science appreciation classes. As far as I know, there is only one of these kinds of classes for college-level (Andrew Read at PSU – http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/appreciating_science_a_new_approach_to_science_in_our_world/) but I sure hope they catch on. Then again, you’re right, we’ll never be rid of garbage science news.

  30. #30 DevoutCatalyst
    May 10, 2016

    Jazzlet,

    Go to youtube and search for this

    9a7WLaYlQJ8

    Someone’s re-upload of the segment, might defeat the UK prohibition. Might not. Worth a try.

  31. #31 Sarah A
    May 10, 2016

    We have art appreciation for non-artists, why not science appreciation classes. As far as I know, there is only one of these kinds of classes for college-level

    That’s a good idea – I think it’d be even better if courses like these were required for high school students. A course in critical thinking, assessing the reliability of sources, etc., would be so much more useful for producing informed citizens (the supposed reason the gov’t funds public education in the first place) than, say, calculus.

  32. #32 MI Dawn
    May 10, 2016

    Congrats on the promotion, Orac. Couldn’t happen to a better doc.

  33. #33 capnkrunch
    May 10, 2016

    Speaking of cherry-picking, the Dachelbot points to Oliver speaking about industry funding then complains that he’s a hypocrite because ALL vaccine studies are industry funded. This ignores that Oliver also said that just because something is funded by industry doesn’t make it automatically bad. It’s also a lie; although to AVers anything not funded by their organizations is tainted by Pharma.

    The lack of self-awareness always astounds me.

    Congrats on the promotion Orac. Clearly Lord Draconis was happy with your response to his eternal foe, Mike Adams.

  34. #34 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    May 10, 2016

    Skeptical Raptor says (#25),

    John Oliver’s bona fides on vaccination are pretty solid.

    MJD says,

    Vaccines are an important point of discussion on this blog.

    All decisions about vaccines should be done after a discussion with a licensed health care practitioner.

    Be aware that comedians are simply not knowledgeable about real diagnostic and treatment options, vaccine contraindications, and should always be ignored. 🙂

  35. #35 See Noevo
    May 10, 2016

    “To which Oliver bitingly replied: “No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway. That’s religion. You’re thinking of religion.”

    Well, Jon, at least Christianity is based on *replication* of results (i.e. *Many* eyewitnesses of the same phenomenon – the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.).

    More Oliver:
    “Coffee today is like God in the Old Testament: It will either save you or kill you depending on how much you believe in its magic powers. After a certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder, is science bullshit? To which the answer is clearly no, but there’s a lot of bullshit masquerading as science.”

    I’ll borrow some of Jon’s words and say:
    After a certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder, is Christianity bullshit? To which the answer is clearly no, but there’s a lot of bullshit religion masquerading as Christianity.

  36. #36 JDK
    May 10, 2016

    Be aware that CAMedians are simply not knowledgeable about real diagnostic and treatment options, vaccine contraindications, and should always be ignored.

  37. #37 See Noevo
    May 10, 2016

    “To which Oliver bitingly replied: “No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway. That’s religion. You’re thinking of religion.”

    Well, Jon, at least Christianity is based on *replication* of results (i.e. *Many* eyewitnesses of the same phenomenon – the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.).

    More Oliver:
    “Coffee today is like God in the Old Testament: It will either save you or kill you depending on how much you believe in its magic powers. After a certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder, is science bulls**t? To which the answer is clearly no, but there’s a lot of bulls**t masquerading as science.”

    I’ll borrow some of Jon’s words and say:
    After a certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder, is Christianity bulls**t? To which the answer is clearly no, but there’s a lot of bulls**t religion masquerading as Christianity.

    P.S.
    My original comment was suspended “in moderation”, I guess because I used a certain word the author, Orac, had used.
    Hopefully, this edited version (“bulls**t”) is acceptable to post.

  38. #38 Robert L Bell
    May 10, 2016

    I’ll just make my usual point, that most Christians are not so brain damaged as See Noevo here, then retire for you folks to fight it out amongst yourselves.

  39. #39 Denice Walter
    May 10, 2016

    Today Mikey tells us ( audio @ NN) that research is funded by pharma and is “FOR PROFIT not for the good of humanity”
    Unlike him.
    (Indeed this motive filters down into universities, government and media. All not to be trusted. Esp Wikip—)

    Pharma aims at repeat customers who need their meds for life.
    Unlike Mike.

    People like him are targetted by Pharma

    unlike him and his cohorts who are simply representatives of
    ” truth, light, life, love, enlightenment, empowerment, choice, knowledge, wisdom”
    ( I may have the word order wrong but those are his words)

    (Orac must be high up in the Pharmatocracy if he is rewarded despite Mike’s recent efforts against him
    Best wishes on the promotion!)

  40. #40 Denice Walter
    May 10, 2016

    @ capnkrunch:

    Occasionally, the idiots I survey quote Oliver or play segments of his show.
    So far, not this week.
    I wonder why

  41. #41 MarkN
    May 10, 2016

    I have always suspected that coffee is truly not the devil, but asparagus is nothing more than a deadly toxin that needs to be purged from any dinner plate in my vicinity….second-hand asparagus. ..there should be laws

  42. #42 KayMarie
    May 10, 2016

    @Denice Walter

    IIRC, isn’t one of the warning signs you might be joining a cult that they convince you that they are the sole source of good information and any other information source is tainted, evil, or some combination of those? You know to isolate you so you can’t fact check what you are being spoon-fed?

  43. #43 Derek Freyberg
    May 10, 2016

    @27 (Jazzlet):

    Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” posted on this yesterday, and someone made the same comment.
    One person offered this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJmYgJqyMJs
    If that doesn’t do it, try searching on YouTube – I believe many of his monologues are posted there.

  44. #44 Narad
    May 10, 2016

    I’ll just make my usual point, that most Christians are not so brain damaged as See Noevo here, then retire for you folks to fight it out amongst yourselves.

    S.N. is just desperate for attention, apparently having taken a short break from repeatedly making a fool of himself at Ethan’s joint. There’s nothing to fight out unless PGP yet again starts feeding the troll.

  45. #45 Denice Walter
    May 10, 2016

    @ KayMarie:

    Sounds about right.

    You’ll notice of course that sceptics try to get their audience to delve into their opponents’ material.

    I think that through vanity media outlets like NN and prn, they want to expand way beyond health to make their capture of audiences complete. They continuously tell their marks how AWFUL the media is; medicine is corrupt; education/ universities abysmal; professionals are all compromised…

    but they are PURE!
    Energy healers, scientists dedicated to serving mankind, truly spiritual and humble.

    ‘Don’t listen to THEM, listen to ME!’

  46. #46 See Noevo
    May 10, 2016

    Yes, science is in a pretty sad state – what with the lack of replication of results, ease of publishing pabulum, continued failures of the vaunted “peer review”.

    And despite what Orac says (“There are lots of journals out there that publish weak science because they don’t have the reputation of top tier journals like, say, Cell, Science, or the New England Journal of Medicine”), even the elite have passed gas.
    A quick Google of “journal cell retraction” yields this:
    http://retractionwatch.com/category/by-publisher/elsevier/cell-press/

    But let’s do a little survey of the state of ScienceBlog “science”.

    How many here think Greg Laden’s attempt today to tie the fires in Canada to global warming is an example of good science journalism?

    I’ll start things off:
    No. It’s not good science.

  47. #47 alison
    New Zealand
    May 10, 2016

    Congratulations on your well-deserved promotion, Orac. Couldn’t happen to a nicer box of blinky lights 😀

  48. #48 capnkrunch
    May 10, 2016

    Denice Walter@40

    I wonder why

    If they can’t see it, it can’t hurt them.

    I should know not to read AoA comments but I did on the Dachelbot’s post. Check out this one by astute reader Birgit Calhoun:

    Science was first perpetrated in the dark ages. It began with medieval religion.

    Where do these people think modern technology comes from? Nature?

  49. #49 See Noevo
    May 10, 2016

    Boy, it’s gotten awfully quiet around here.
    No votes on Greg Laden’s fire-breathing climate change science?

    How about this:

    Given Jon and Orac’s (and everyone else here) antipathy for religion generally, and I would assume, Christianity in particular, would they be all-in with Harvard Law professor Mark Tushnet?
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/05/10/harvard-prof-urges-liberals-treat-evangelical-christians-like-nazis/

    You want to party like it’s 1939! Don’t you?
    Except under a different name.
    Something like the National Socialist Liberal Anti-Christian party.
    The Nazi LAC party?

  50. #50 Narad
    May 10, 2016

    Toldja.

  51. #51 Opus
    Just north of the buckle on the bible belt
    May 10, 2016

    I’d also like to add my congratulations to Our Box o’ Blinky Lights.

    And to second Narad’s comment #44.

  52. #52 Opus
    May 10, 2016

    Re comment #49 – the reference to LAC reminded me of this:

  53. #53 Opus
    ???
    May 10, 2016

    Don’t know how that happened!!

  54. #54 Narad
    May 10, 2016

    Check out this one by astute reader Birgit Calhoun

    Yah, Birgit’s not a native English speaker as I recall, but her recent comments regarding MMR in pregnancy strongly suggest that she’s not exactly fluent in reasoning, either. Par for the AoA course.

  55. #55 Robert L Bell
    May 10, 2016

    #49 85% of liberals are Christians, according to exit polls in the 2014 Congressional elections. Other metrics exist, but they give similar results. This idea that Liberals are antiChristian storm troopers is an embarrassment, as is the contrary notion that Christians are antiLiberal storm troopers.

  56. #56 Daniel Corcos
    May 11, 2016

    “There are lots of journals out there that publish weak science because they don’t have the reputation of top tier journals like, say, Cell, Science, or the New England Journal of Medicine.”
    What do you call “weak” science? The journals you cite are not characterized by more solid results. Maybe they are more spectacular, but that’s a reason to be dubious. The worst papers I have read in the last years were published in Science and NEJM (one on “luck” and cancer, the other one concluding that breast cancer is a systemic disease). The only way to make science is to accept criticism and to change according to new findings. If we continue to believe in the “publish or perish” and the impact factor fallacies, we cannot do science.

  57. #57 See Noevo
    May 11, 2016

    To Robert L. Bell #55:

    “#49 85% of liberals are Christians, according to exit polls in the 2014 Congressional elections.”

    Do you think 85% of the posters here are Christians?
    …………

    “This idea that Liberals are antiChristian storm troopers is an embarrassment, as is the contrary notion that Christians are antiLiberal storm troopers.”

    How would you characterize this post of the Professor?
    “For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) … the war’s over, and we won.”
    http://balkin.blogspot.it/2016/05/abandoning-defensive-crouch-liberal.html?m=1

  58. #58 Narad
    May 11, 2016

    Do you think 85% of the posters here are Christians?

    I’m willing to bet that 85% of the commentariat doesn’t think that you are a Christian, but I don’t really see any point to this remark otherwise, as your blundering into such ironies has long since become passé.

  59. #59 Helianthus
    May 11, 2016

    How would you characterize this post of the Professor?

    Someone who is wisely putting out that, in order for the average Joes and Janes to live together without too much fuss, liberals should stop bending backward to accommodate the whims and wrong beliefs of religious extremists.

    The telling part is “who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all”.
    IOW, non-liberals are free to have their beliefs, but not free to have their facts. If reality have shown someone to be wrong, then this someone is wrong, period.

    Where the professor is maybe erring is in framing this in liberal vs non-liberal terms; critical thinking should be everybody’s job; including self-criticizing (not looking at anyone here).
    But then, he was specifically addressing liberals on that their job should be..

    @ Narad

    I’m willing to bet that 85% of the commentariat doesn’t think that you are a Christian

    I think we passed the 99% threshold a few months back.

  60. #60 herr doktor bimler
    May 11, 2016

    The worst papers I have read in the last years were published in Science and NEJM (one on “luck” and cancer

    Was that the one arguing that only X% of cancer occurrence could be linked to the number of divisions in a cell lineage , therefore all the rest of the variance must be environmental?

  61. #61 Daniel Corcos
    May 11, 2016

    @ HDB
    “Was that the one arguing that only X% of cancer occurrence could be linked to the number of divisions in a cell lineage , therefore all the rest of the variance must be environmental?”
    or hereditary.
    Yes, I put comments on it in PubMed Commons, and I was not the only one who did.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25554788

  62. #62 herr doktor bimler
    May 11, 2016

    or hereditary.
    You’re right, I mis-remembered and mischaracterised the paper. They argued that cancer risks that increased with the number of cell-line divisions were necessarily ‘environmental’. And everyone read that and thought “Oh noes, mutagens! Carcinogens! Herbicides! GMOs!”

    When in fact the authors used “environment” in a special sense of “all factors that aren’t hereditary” — like random screw-ups in DNA replication, on account of it being an inherently sloppy process.

    It was an annoying paper, seemingly designed for clickbait.

  63. #63 Daniel Corcos
    May 11, 2016

    @ HDB
    It’s even worse. They do not distinguish between heredity and environment. They find a correlation between lifetime risk of cancer and the number of stem cell divisions, which is rather obvious for every oncologist, and with the help of “machine learning methods” they say that they can quantify “luck”.

  64. #64 See Noevo
    May 11, 2016

    To Helianthus #59:

    Lots of questions for you.

    “[Harvard Professor Mark Tushnet] is wisely putting out that, in order for the average Joes and Janes to live together without too much fuss, liberals should stop bending backward to accommodate the whims and wrong beliefs of religious extremists.”

    What would be a prime example of today’s liberals bending backward to accommodate the whims and wrong beliefs of religious extremists?
    ……………..
    “The telling part is “who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all”.”

    What would be a prime example of a position that liberals regard as having a “normative pull”?

    How do YOU define “normative” and on what basis do you determine whether “normative” is good?
    ………..
    “IOW, non-liberals are free to have their beliefs, but not free to have their facts. If reality have shown someone to be wrong, then this someone is wrong, period.”

    What would be a prime example of non-liberals having their facts wrong?
    ………….
    “Where the professor is maybe erring is in framing this in liberal vs non-liberal terms; critical thinking should be everybody’s job…”

    You don’t think the professor erred in implying liberals should demand conservatives’ unconditional surrender (“And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”)?
    …………
    “I think we passed the 99% threshold a few months back.”

    What would be the primary reason 99% of the commenters here don’t think I’m Christian?

  65. #65 a-non
    May 11, 2016

    @darwinslapdog #11:

    I do not have a “science education” by trade, but have the good sense to listen to scientists and understand the scientific method well enough to know when something’s fishy or not. I think even a modest ability to think critically goes a long away.

    • #66 darwinslapdog
      May 11, 2016

      a-non @#65

      Yes, I’m sure you are as competent as you say. I am science literate as well, although my education in not hard science/health science, but heavy on history of science and critical thinking.

      What I meant about Oliver, however, is that he is very savvy about studies and the scientific method. Perhaps he’s made a point of it or he’s just brilliant!

  66. #67 Narad
    May 11, 2016

    No votes on Greg Laden’s fire-breathing climate change science?

    I note that S.N. hasn’t actually posted at Laden’s since February 28. Given that there’s no sign of his being banned in that thread or any mention of him later, it’s all the more bizarre and pathetic that he’s trying to use it to derail the comments here.

  67. #68 JustaTech
    May 11, 2016

    Narad: SN’s also tried to start fights over on the Pump Handle where he’s either ignored, called out immediately, or taken 100% seriously in a way that doesn’t let him troll effectively.

    On Topic: my whole lab has a new set of jokes about p-hacking and phacking to keep us occupied for the next month.

  68. #69 See Noevo
    May 11, 2016

    To JustaTech #68:

    “SN’s also tried to start fights over on the Pump Handle where he’s either ignored, called out immediately, or taken 100% seriously in a way that doesn’t let him troll effectively.”

    I’ll post wherever I can if I have something to say.
    I can’t post on Greg Laden’s blog, as he banned me some time ago. (Kim Krisberg is kind enough to allow me to post, but apparently is so brain-washed on Obamacare that further discussion seemed not worth the effort.)

    On Topic: Do you think Greg Laden’s recent attempt to tie the fires in Canada to global warming is an example of good science journalism?

    I wonder why no one here has answered this on-topic question?

  69. #70 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    May 11, 2016

    Blogging is not journalism (Jake’s delusions to the contrary), and nobody has brought up global warming except you – how do you figure your fixation is on topic?

  70. #71 See Noevo
    May 11, 2016

    To Johnny #70:

    “Blogging is not journalism (Jake’s delusions to the contrary)…”

    Who’s Jake, and why should I care about Jake?

    “… nobody has brought up global warming except you – how do you figure your fixation is on topic?”

    Because, Johnny, the topic of Orac’s article above is the problems with science reporting.

    Johnny, do YOU think Greg Laden’s recent attempt to tie the fires in Canada to global warming is an example of good science journalism, er, sorry, good science BLOGGING?

  71. #72 Robert L Bell
    May 11, 2016

    #57 SN has his pet antiChristian leftie as he has his pet brain damaged embarrassment of a christer. Congratulations to you both.

    That does not alter the fact that most American Liberals are Christians, which detonates that claim that there must be a fundamental incompatibility between the two groups. SN tries to define away the problem by setting up a fake “Christianity” that exists only in his head and excludes everyone else as not “Christian,” but we need not concern ourselves with this transparent ploy.

  72. #73 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    May 11, 2016

    Jake is another idiot, like you, who thinks that blogging is journalism or reporting.

    Alden’s blog is a fine blog, but is also not journalism and reporting. I have no particular issue with the post in question.

    I will not further participate in turning this into a discussion of global warming, and apologize to our host and the minions for not ignoring your stupid brain droppings.

  73. #74 Can't remember my nym
    or where I am
    May 12, 2016

    To Sharon #29 – thanks for the link.

    While I agree that science appreciation is a good approach, I think science literacy is at a point where it’s so poor something really has to be done.

    When I was in University one of the first year subjects was called “Human Bioscience”, it was an introduction to cells, membranes, neurotransmitters etc.
    Several years later I was in medical school and was offered the chance to tutor the same subject – well, the name and number were the same but the content was totally different. The students were on their way to becoming midwives. The pracs were so mind-numbingly simple, this was science for primary school not first year uni.
    One ‘experiement’ was: put water in a flask. Add oil. What happens? Now add a surfactant. What happens? I told the students they could skip actually performing the prac if they knew the answer – not one of them did.

  74. #75 See Noevo
    May 12, 2016

    To Robert L Bell #72:

    You: “85% of liberals are Christians, according to exit polls in the 2014 Congressional elections.”

    Me: “Do you think 85% of the posters here are Christians?”

    You: “That does not alter the fact that most American Liberals are Christians…”

    Maybe what you’re saying is that virtually none of the posters here, all liberals, are Christian,
    but that they just don’t vote in Congressional elections.

    “… which detonates that claim that there must be a fundamental incompatibility between the two groups.”

    No. There IS a fundamental incompatibility between liberals and Christians.
    Liberals believe in, for example, gay “marriage”, abortion, ever-expanding government control.
    Christians, true Christians, don’t.

  75. #76 See Noevo
    May 12, 2016

    To Johnny #73:

    Me: “Johnny, do YOU think Greg Laden’s recent attempt to tie the fires in Canada to global warming is an example of good science journalism, er, sorry, good science BLOGGING?”

    You: “Alden’s blog is a fine blog, but is also not journalism and reporting. I have no particular issue with the post in question.”

    I assume you mean Laden’s blog.
    But WHAT’S FINE about it?
    The science? For example, the “science” of tying Canada’s fires to climate change?

    Tell me what drops out of YOUR brain on this.

  76. #77 MI Dawn
    May 12, 2016

    SN says: No. There IS a fundamental incompatibility between liberals and Christians.
    Liberals believe in, for example, gay “marriage”, abortion, ever-expanding government control.
    Christians, true Christians, don’t.

    There you have it, folks. No True Christian , from the mouth of SN himself. That would amuse my many friends who believe in all of the above (well, maybe not the expanding government control), as well as what makes them a Christian – the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ.

    Guess what, SN? I don’t have to identify myself as a Christian to have friends and loved ones who do. Just because they don’t fit into YOUR little box, doesn’t mean they don’t fit into Jesus’ box.

  77. #78 dean
    United States
    May 12, 2016

    (Kim Krisberg is kind enough to allow me to post, but apparently is so brain-washed on Obamacare that further discussion seemed not worth the effort.)

    Actually, she responded to a question you asked (dishonestly, as always, since you never respond to answers) with data and an argument supporting her point and acknowledging some weaknesses. You simply never responded.

    Re – your being banned at Greg’s: as far as can be told, that is a lie.

  78. #79 Helianthus
    May 13, 2016

    @ SN

    What would be a prime example of non-liberals having their facts wrong?

    You.

  79. #80 Renate
    May 13, 2016

    @ MI Dawn
    No, the only ‘real’ Christians are those, who think exactly like SN. Not even the pope is a ‘real’ Christian in the eyes of SN.

  80. #81 palindrom
    May 13, 2016

    The pope may not be Catholic, but he does s*** in the woods.

  81. #82 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    May 16, 2016

    @Helianthus, #79:

    Bahaha – SN walked right into that one!

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