I wasn’t always a skeptic. Maybe I should rephrase that. I’ve probably always been a skeptic since a young age. It’s just that I didn’t start self-identifying as one until around 1998 or so. Oddly enough, my “gateway drug” into more organized skepticism was refuting Holocaust denial. I’ve told the tale on multiple occasions before, the first time on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (nearly 12 years ago now), about how I first discovered Holocaust denial. I always encourage new readers to read the whole thing, but the CliffsNotes version is I encountered the ravings of a Holocaust denier who claimed that the Nazis were “conducting ethical medicine” at Auschwitz. (English was not his first language.)

My reaction, as you might imagine, was: WTF? Remember that Auschwitz-Birkenau was a combined death camp and concentration camp, where an estimated more than a million people met their ends, either by either by gassing, starvation, disease, or even twisted “medical” experiments. It was a place where untold thousands were subjected to starvation, overwork, and disease, with the intent of getting as much work as possible out of them before they died, while expending as little as possible in the way of food and other resources. This Holocaust denier then went on to tell stories of how when prisoners developed protein deficiency edema (kwashiorkor), the Nazis would pull the prisoner off work detail and force-feed them milk in order to nurse them back to health. Because of my longstanding interest in World War II history, I was immediately able to recognize these claims as complete and utter BS, and I plunged in to refute them. Thus started my path to where I am today. As an aside, I can’t help but note that, after I drifted away from writing much about Holocaust denial, I never expected that the knowledge I had acquired refuting Holocaust denial regarding neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, and various assorted and far-right extremists would come in useful. Sadly, the rise of the alt-right and election of Donald Trump proved me wrong. I find myself using that knowledge every day again.

In any case, it didn’t take long for me to discover parts of the Internet where quackery reigned, and by 2000 or 2001 I was busily refuting medical pseudoscience, quackery, and, eventually, antivaccine pseudoscience on various Usenet message boards. From there, my interests broadened to evolution and conspiracy theories of all kinds, in other words, general skepticism. When I finally first started this blog, way back in 2004, there were lots of posts about evolution and topics other than medicine. Strangely enough, after a few years of a more general outlook, I found myself starting to specialize. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Certainly I didn’t make a conscious decision to go this way. Even so, over the last several years, I basically narrowed my focus almost exclusively to medicine, with a major focus on, of course, antivaccine pseudoscience. I’m not sure why that happened, but it did. Maybe I subconsciously just started to realize that medicine was what I was most interested in writing about and what I was best at.

You might ask at this point why I just spent over 500 words recounting a bit of my background, particularly when long time readers have probably heard it before at some point. I did it to put into context my reaction to an op-ed published in Nature by Phil Williamson, in which he argues that scientists should challenge online falsehoods and inaccuracies — and harness the collective power of the Internet to fight back:

With the election of Donald Trump, his appointment of advisers who are on record as dismissing scientific evidence, and the emboldening of deniers on everything from climate change to vaccinations, the amount of nonsense written about science on the Internet (and elsewhere) seems set to rise. So what are we, as scientists, to do?

Most researchers who have tried to engage online with ill-informed journalists or pseudoscientists will be familiar with Brandolini’s law (also known as the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle): the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it. Is it really worth taking the time and effort to challenge, correct and clarify articles that claim to be about science but in most cases seem to represent a political ideology?

I think it is. Challenging falsehoods and misrepresentation may not seem to have any immediate effect, but someone, somewhere, will hear or read our response. The target is not the peddler of nonsense, but those readers who have an open mind on scientific problems. A lie may be able to travel around the world before the truth has its shoes on, but an unchallenged untruth will never stop.

Obviously, I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’ve written similar arguments myself, particularly about antivaccine pseudoscience. As I’ve pointed out more times than I can remember that my refutations of antivaccine misinformation are not aimed at the hard-core antivaccine activists. I know that the likelihood that I can change their mind is about as infinitesimally small as the amount of starting remedy left in a 30C homeopathic dilution. (See, you need to be a bit of a skeptic to get that simile.) Hard core purveyors of pseudoscience and misinformation have too much of their identity tied up in their beliefs to change. It’s like religion; change, when it comes, usually comes as a result of a personal epiphany due to a life event or, as was the case for Jim Laidler, a gradual accumulation of information or events capped off by an observation that he could not ignore. No, my posts are aimed at the fence-sitters or the vaccine-averse who aren’t too far gone down the rabbit hole of quackery and pseudoscience, such as parents who have encountered antivaccine misinformation and, even if they didn’t necessarily accept it, were sufficiently frightened by it to consider not vaccinating.

However, when I first saw this post a week ago, I found myself thinking something and wanted to blog about it. Unfortunately, I was in San Antonio for the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium last week, and, as a result I missed a day or two of posts, and by the time I found a bit of time to blog again, other things interested me. Then Steve Novella referenced Williamson’s article, in essence “welcoming” scientists to the skeptical movement, with a hint of snark in the welcome. The reason, of course, is that Steve, as is usually the case, didn’t miss a problem with the post, the same problem I noticed. Basically, Williamson seemed blithely and utterly unaware that one of the solutions he was advocating was nothing new, namely his suggestion that scientists engage with and refute online nonsense. Worse, he seemed utterly unaware that there is already a group of scientists who are trying to do just that and even less aware of why so few scientists do it.

Yes, as Steve pointed out, it’s called the skeptical movement.

Apparently, Williamson’s version of my discovery of Holocaust denial was this:

Earlier this year, I had a run-in with Breitbart News — the libertarian website made infamous by the appointment of its former senior executive Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist. It followed an article in The Spectator that criticized research on ocean acidification and contained several in­accuracies, written by James Delingpole, who also edits Breitbart London. To give an idea of the standard of discussion, Delingpole argued that there has been no long-term reduction in ocean pH levels and that future climate change would cause the release of carbon dioxide from the ocean. Acidification is therefore a non-problem invented by ‘climate alarmists’ because there is insufficient evidence for global warming.

I coordinated the UK research programme on ocean acidification and have been involved in national and international evidence assessments. There are genuine scientific uncertainties, but those were not the issues raised by The Spectator. When I complained to the magazine, no acknowledgement was received. I then published a rebuttal in The Marine Biologist, which prompted Delingpole to write on the Breitbart site that my work should be squashed like a slug.

Of course, the situation in the UK with respect to journalism is different than in the US. There is a UK Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to which Williamson could complain, and he did. He hasn’t received a verdict yet. There’s no equivalent organization in the US or in most other countries, and even in the UK, as Williamson recognizes, and even the ISPO can’t control blogs.

Here’s the thing. I entirely support finding ways to get more scientists involved in the effort to combat the tide of science denialism. However, there are major impediments to this effort. First and foremost, professionally, there’s little or no reward for science communication and skeptical activism. Quite the contrary, in fact. Like Steve, I’ve encountered more senior academics who don’t think it’s worth it to confront pseudoscience, that “sinking to their level” only sullies an academic. While it’s not unreasonable to be a bit concerned that wrestling with pigs in mud only results in your getting dirty and the pig liking it, that’s not reason enough to refrain from the fray. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t help that, with few exceptions, there is little or no academic benefit to be had from communicating science and engaging in skeptical activism. It becomes a zero sum game. Time spent confronting misinformation of the sort that Williamson did is time taken away from doing research, teaching, and, of course, writing grant applications to fund one’s laboratory.

I just don’t think Williamson knows enough about what he’s talking about. For instance, he suggests a massive online campaign:

The global scientific community could learn from websites such as travel-review site TripAdvisor, Rotten Tomatoes (which summarizes film and play reviews) and alexa.com (which quantifies website popularity), and set up its own, moderated, rating system for websites that claim to report on science. We could call it the Scientific Honesty and Integrity Tracker, and give online nonsense the SHAIT rating it deserves.

It sounds as though Williamson has never heard of existing online efforts, e.g., Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, where skeptics try to assure that information on Wikipedia, at least, is accurate. Then there are all the blogs, websites, podcasts, and other publicaitons that seek to do just that. What Williamson proposes could potentially be a useful addition to existing online efforts, but it would just be an addition.

Then there’s the abuse scientists can expect if they go against pseudoscience. As far as consequences go, on more than one occasion, antivaccinationists and other quacks have tried to get me fired from my job, starting a mere five months after I first launched this blog and continuing to this year, when uber-quack (and, not coincidentally, Donald Trump supporter and rising star in the alt-right) Mike Adams launched a several month long campaign of 34 defamatory posts about me over a three month period. Worse, he took highly intentional pains to attack my cancer center as well. It was clearly an intentional attempt either to goad me into suing him (he showed up in the comments of one of my posts a while back chuckling about “discovery”) or, failing that, to destroy my Google reputation, something he’s close to accomplishing—or would have, were it not for my Wikipedia entry and this page. Four years ago, antivaccine activists deluged the board of governors of my university with e-mails and calls demanding that they “do something” about me. Suffice to say that my science communication and skeptical activism are more tolerated than celebrated around my university, and I’m grateful for that. Universities have an inherent bias towards academic freedom. If I worked for a private company, I probably would have been forced to withdraw from the fray long ago, lest I lose my livelihood.

Of course, I’m not alone. Steve’s been the subject of a frivolous lawsuit, and I’ve encountered legal threats as well (in one instance, from an unexpected source). I know of many other skeptics who’ve encountered the same sort of attacks. As Steve points out, there are vested interests for whom vested the scientific consensus on many issues is…inconvenient. If you go up against them you do risk being attacked. Hell, I couldn’t believe it the first time a quack (William O’Neill) tried to get me fired, way back in 2005. Basically, what I couldn’t believe was that anyone would consider me important enough to take a run at through my work. Remember, that was back when my traffic was a fraction of what it is now, my real name was largely unknown, and I had basically very little prominence in the blogosphere or skeptical community.

There’s also another issue. I discovered this very, very early on combatting Holocaust denial. It’s not enough to know the science (or history). You have to know the pseudoscience (or pseudohistory) inside and out. You have to know how science has been twisted, the studies that pseudoscientists will reference, and how they will misrepresent them. You have to be prepared for the Gish gallup, in which random studies and “facts” that aren’t are thrown at you so fast that you spend more time refuting them than making your argument. It takes a special skill set to combat pseudoscience and science denialism, and few academics have it. I certainly didn’t in 1998, before I encountered that Holocaust denier. It took me years to acquire the skills before I started this blog. I’m still learning now, after all these years. It’s not as easy as it looks, but some academics like Williamson seem to think they can just jump into the fray. Don’t get me wrong. I welcome him, but preparation is needed beforehand.

Before that can happen, academia must change, as Steve points out:

What we need now is for academia to institutionally wake up. Individuals are welcome, but that is not enough. The institutions of academia need to place a priority on outreach to the public, on engaging with the public conversation, pushing back against pseudoscience, communicating real science, and advocating for higher standards in science news reporting.

This is, in my opinion, a massive problem faced by academia and they are currently failing. Fully engaging with social media is one thing they can do. Fixing their own PR departments is another. Educating scientists on how to communicate with the public, and how to confront pseudoscience, is yet another. Systematically correcting the public record on what is the current consensus of scientific opinion is also critical, as is getting more involved in science education at every level.

Scientists need to be out there, in force, confronting politicians who are advocating pseudoscience, publicly exposing them, and setting the record straight.

More importantly, there need to be professional incentives for scientists to do this. In particular, there need to be ways for such activity to be quantified, just like other academic activity, and for it to count towards promotion and tenure. I know of one department of surgery that has started to count social media engagement towards promotion and tenure.

One area that I don’t think Steve addressed enough in his post is that there is peril in scientists becoming too activist, and that’s the politicization of science, where scientists are no longer viewed as “above the fray” or interested only in science. Another peril is that politicians, confronted with scientists debunking their denialism, could turn hostile, threatening science funding. Of course, that’s already happening to some extent. Strike that, it’s happening a lot, and, with the rise of Donald Trump, his conspiracy-mongering and antivaccine beliefs, it’s likely to get worse, particularly given how the rise of fake news makes it easy for misinformation to go viral.

Has the game truly changed in a way so fundamental that academia needs to change radically to confront pseudoscience and misinformation? I don’t think anything happened in 2016 that didn’t represent the continuation of a trend that reaches back many years, if not decades. It’s good that a scientist like Williamson recognized it and was able to publish an op-ed in a scientificjournal as high impact as Nature advocating action. It’s a start, but it’s nowhere near enough.

Comments

  1. #1 Guy Chapman
    United Kingdom
    December 13, 2016

    You make a very good point. Trump is basically riding the post-modernist “my feels are as valid as your facts” bullshit that gave us “integrative” medicine. The question, I guess, is whether the inevitable scientific backlash against post-factual bullshit will actually cause advocates of abject nonsense to reappraise their own positions on woo.

    Cognitive dissonance is a bitch, my guess is that they won’t, but that they may struggle to find new recruits.

  2. #2 Chris Hickie
    December 13, 2016

    I think we’re at a fight or go home point in this. As an example, I will refer to anti-vaxxers. There are two clear camps for pro-vaxxers. One is actively taking on anti-vaxxers (you, Dr. Paul Offit, Professor Dorit Reiss, Dr. Richard Pan (and others)), while the other camp keeps passively keeps saying huzzah for vaccines with absolutely no engagement of anti-vaxxers–such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Gregory Poland who writes in “MMR Vaccine and Autism: Vaccine Nihilism and Postmodern Science” ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257990/ ):

    “At some point, a point I believe we have well passed, the small group of people who claim such connections, who have no new or credible data, and for which their assumptions and hypotheses have been discredited must simply be ignored by scientists and the public and, most importantly, by the media, no matter how passionate their beliefs to the contrary. Such individuals are denialists at best, and dangerous at worst.”

    Sorry, Dr. Poland, but I don’t believe we have “well passed” that point and by ignoring anti-vaxxers we push that point (if it even exists) much farther into the future. Anti-vaxxers are clearly emboldened by the results of this last election and ignoring them is going to cause us more vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

    As scientists, we ignore science denialism and pseudoscience not just at our peril, but at the peril of our world that so depends on science and technology to keep us alive, healthy and growing.

  3. #3 Murmur
    UK-ia
    December 13, 2016

    *Sigh*

    Delingpole, or, to give him the name many of us over here use, Delingpenis, is one of those folk who if you see their name attached to something it is a ready reckoner for it being complete manure of the bovine and trotting out a fixed ideological position (see also Nick Ridley, amongst others).

    IPSO is utterly useless and most of the mainstream news media here aren’t signed up to it. Its predecessor, the PCC, was about as much use as a chocolate fire guard – I once complained to it about a piece in the Daily Heil which was very close to personal defamation but my complaint was rejected. And who was boss of the PCC at the time? Paul Dacre…Yes, Dacre of The Heil…Which is a pure coincidence…

    Press regulation here is non-existent.

  4. #4 Anonymous Pseudonym
    In Your Head
    December 13, 2016

    Unfortunately for all sceptics and scientists, a simple lie will always beat out a complicated truth for the vast majority of people. Add to that the rampant anti-intellectualism in society and it is truly an uphill battle to remain even at par. Ironically the idiots that are railing against the “lies” perpetrated by scientists are only too happy to use the latest electronic gizmo (made possible by science), use their GPS (An incredible example of General relativity in action), and fill their faces to excess (Modern farming and crops).

    Education is the answer to the problem, but how do you educate people who don’t want to put forth the effort to learn? It’s so much easier to believe the simple pseudo-profundities of Adams and Chopra, then to work to understand the complicated truth from Orac and Novella. Forcing people to think is not possible, but if it were, I’d be willing to pay higher taxes to attain that goal.

  5. #5 Dangerous Bacon
    December 13, 2016
  6. #6 magdalen
    Newbury
    December 13, 2016

    Duty Calls…
    https://xkcd.com/386/

  7. #7 darwinslapdog
    Heading North
    December 13, 2016

    I’m with Anonymous Pseudonym. Without a better understanding of the scientific method, breath is being wasted. A good beginning might be to try to get journalists to require such teaching in their schools. You don’t have to BE a scientist to understand how science works. Not much technical language is necessary to lay down a basic understanding of, and respect for, science. But now with public education itself in danger, the task is made that much more difficult. I expect the goal is to start teaching not only the “controversy”, but creationism itself–if this Betsy person has her way, at any rate.

    Silent Atheist Prayer: Please, Electoral College, do the right thing.

  8. #8 has
    December 13, 2016

    You seem to have spelled “James Self-Fellatingpole” wrong.

    Otherwise, +1 on how our esteemed institutes of higher learning should be doing their damn job of actually teaching people—all people—not just running a degenerate babysitting service for the moneyed few.

  9. #9 Brian Deer
    December 13, 2016

    (Dr, I guess) Williamson reminds me of a friend who came to visit me when I was living in San Francisco. We were driving at night along I-10 and he was getting dazzled by truck headlights coming the other way. And when this happened, he hit the old dip switch to flash back at them.

    “You’re only here for a couple of weeks, I said, from the shotgun seat. “You can’t teach America to drive.”

  10. #10 Sharon Hill
    15 Credibility St
    December 13, 2016

    I advocated for the remaining two national skeptical orgs to address this issue as a priority (instead of science cheerleading or secular freedom) since they are the most well-equipped to tackle these issues. They have a cadre of scientific experts at their disposal and have legal help as well as decades of expertise in having seen it all before. But they don’t. They aren’t focusing on being a media voice that is so sorely needed. It’s not fair to the local skeptic groups or individuals like you or me who have other careers to be trying to push some critical thinking about these problematic topics on the internet. Even when scientists do give interviews, they still use horrid jargon and sound “elitist”, a skeptical organization can adopt best practices to frame issues in a meaningful way and consider the public in their presentation.

    I’m continually flummoxed as to why CFI in particular has for years not put greater effort here.

  11. #11 Denice Walter
    December 13, 2016

    Orac’s recounting of his history in scepticism ( which I knew of vaguely) shows that we can arrive through many pathways but eventually, we all wind up surveying the same foetid heap of rubbish, wherein diverse topics blend.

    I first became enamored of grandiose BS in the 1990s when I starting looking into New Age religion and alt med nonsense; later ( 2000) my interests focused upon natural health and food woo, anti-vax and hiv/aids denialism:
    although my graduate education was in the social sciences that concentration of pseudoscience didn’t come until later, as did economic woo.

    Of course, recently, I have been following politics and fake news where, serendipitously enough, DTP has provided us with an avenue there that includes Holocaust denialism as well as denialism of just about anything that makes sense.
    The cult of the professionals covers it all.

  12. #12 Andy
    United States
    December 13, 2016

    I’ve been trying my best. I’m a chem prof at a small NY college and I’ve developed 3 courses so far that touch on science and skepticism. Mostly I’ve stayed under the radar in terms of the college and faculty but I get a lot of time to try to build up student’s critical thinking skills where it comes to scientific topics. I’ve also had some minor success in getting our science division to eliminate a 3+1 program we had with a chiropractic college. I do feel isolated though. Most of the science faculty don’t share the same sense of urgency that I do, which distresses me sometimes. If we aren’t teaching our undergrad science majors to think like scientists, what are we really accomplishing?

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    December 13, 2016

    That should be DJT ( not DTP- which sounds like a new drug)

  14. #14 viggen
    December 13, 2016

    As someone who has followed this blog more than a decade, I do miss your more general forays Orac: they inspired me to learn more about logical rhetoric.

    One area that I don’t think Steve addressed enough in his post is that there is peril in scientists becoming too activist, and that’s the politicization of science, where scientists are no longer viewed as “above the fray” or interested only in science. Another peril is that politicians, confronted with scientists debunking their denialism, could turn hostile, threatening science funding.

    An additional danger here in scientists engaging actively with the public is in the combination of smart people who are very confident in their opinions being unable to recognize when they do damage to their ‘own’ side.

    Fact of the matter is that a scientist stepping out to argue with the public always ends up being an Argument from Authority in the eyes of laymen. If you don’t know better, who are you supposed to listen to? People you agree with, or people you don’t agree with? Like our president-elect, most of the public overestimates their own ability to understand things that they are aren’t specifically trained to evaluate and underestimate the quality of skill in people that they don’t know. The actual quality of a given argument can be lost on laymen because they simply don’t know enough to make the necessary evaluation, and can’t be told that they don’t have the requisite skill. But, what’s worse is that scientists are not a big, unified brick wall who agree on everything –the only thing keeping science itself straight is not the doctorate tacked on to any particular expert’s name, but the fact that everybody in a given field is looking objectively at the body of work produced by others and actively trying to refute it. The power of science is in the civil discourse of scientists. In my experience, laymen do not understand that being able to open your mouth is not the same thing as having something to say.

    Now, where scientists talking to the public can be damaging is in the hyper-fact-checky mentality of modern public discourse. I’ve met more than a few scientists who simply do not know where their extent of correctness expires: I’ve met a physicist who was a germ theory denialist (this guy believed that pretty much everything in an immunology textbook was bogus) and at least two others who subscribe to health quackery. I’ve met an protein X-ray crystallographer who was a zealous, evangelical creationist –a pure bred anti-evolutionist. God help me how that woman got through her basic biology! For a point of fact, the article a few weeks ago on this very blog about Deepak Chopra contained evidence of a bonafide astrophysicist turned quantum-consciousness nut-bag. And, we all know about Nobel-syndrome.

    If scientists speak up for what they think, they have to know when to shut up, or they can do a lot of damage by becoming the authority poster-boy for something that represents exactly the opposite of scientific credibility. Who decides that this guy over here should shut up now? And, if a scientist speaks up on one front, there’s nothing to say that an antivaxxer digging around won’t turn up the fact that this scientist thinks black-people/women/other should be banned from the lab because they aren’t as intelligent as white men or don’t keep good notebooks or are too distracting for their biological endowment of breasts. Whatever truth such a scientist says goes out the window the instant someone finds anything to suggest that that scientist isn’t a completely perfect human being –fact-checky culture is not capable of accepting the whole as a sum of parts, but is used by laymen to inevitably engage in slippery slope argument and ad hominem.

    In reality, scientists coming off as ‘above the fray’ really lose the reality that most truly good scientists abide scientific consensus because they haven’t yet figured out how to tear it down. Can we blame the public for trying to follow that model, even if they don’t understand the nature of the implementation? Speaking up can be valuable, but it’s a double-edged sword.

  15. #15 Michael J. Dochniak
    Minnesota
    December 13, 2016

    Orac writes,

    … it’s likely to get worse, particularly given how the rise of fake news makes it easy for misinformation to go viral.

    MJD says,

    The day a posting from Respectful Insolence about anti-vaxxers goes viral is a day that will live in infamy.

    @Orac,

    To go there you’ll have to release years of disrespectful insolence that has been suppressed. Let it out, an Orac out-of-control will show that your willing to lose much to show the selfishness of anti-vaccine..

    Can there be any skin in the game with the repetitive use of respectful insolence?

  16. #16 sadmar
    December 13, 2016

    There is peril in scientists becoming too activist, and that’s the politicization of science, where scientists are no longer viewed as “above the fray” or interested only in science.

    The institutions of science have been anything BUT politicized. There’s a reason ‘the scientist interested only in science’ is a stock character in sci-fi, either as self-deluding tool of the villains, or (revenge!) the fool who gets eaten by the monster first out of desire to study it. Scientists have never been “above the fray”. At best they’ve blindered themselves to stay away from it, in the sort of blatant moral abdication that has gotten us where we are.

    Either you ignore the crapola, or you act against it, which makes you an activist, which means you’re in the fray, which means you’ve just taken off the blindfold, put on the glasses from ‘They Live’ and recognized you’ve been in fray from the get go, buffeted this way and that in your passivity, but now you can see what’s what and maybe do something about it.

    Another peril is that politicians, confronted with scientists debunking their denialism, could turn hostile, threatening science funding.

    What funding? Let’s be real. Debunking isn’t the issue. Y’all are barely NoSeeUms buzzing around the heads of the Bannons, Flynns, Kochs, Mercers, Mattises, Mnuchins, Murdochs, Perrys , Puzders, Theils and Tillersons et al adfinitum. The issue is that established science fact stands in the way of right-wing socio-economic agendas, so ‘conservative’ politicans have already borked science funding. It wasn’t skeptic critique that PO’ed them. It was just some of the output of that “we’re above the fray and only interested in science” science stood in the way of accumulations of capital and authoritarian power. As soon as you just ask a question about something like historic carbon levels in the atmosphere or carcinogenic effects of tobacco or industrial effluents you are right in the fray, by your own choices And while you may fool yourself to the contrary, the forces facing potential difficulties from the facts you may find know better. The target is already on your backs. Get a clue.

    The institutions of academia need to place a priority on engaging with the public conversation, pushing back against pseudoscience…There need to be professional incentives for scientists to do this, for it to count towards promotion and tenure.

    While i couldn’t agree more that these things should be, the use of “need” is completely misplaced. The academy is, in fact, now doing what it needs to do: protecting it’s position within the corporate-governmental complex by maintaining systemic structures that keep critical thinking out of the public conversation as much as possible.ive problem faced by academia and they are currently failing.

    Moreover, raising the point of incentives in the age of Trump is not a good look. What, “We’ll stand up for truth, if we get paid for it!”? Read some history, and contemplate what other people have sacrificed in standing for anything that is right. I shall change one word in this quote from Frederick Douglass:

    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor truth and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

    Finally, Dr. Novella displays the fundamental problem coursing through the skeptic movement that dooms it to political impotence:

    Scientists need to be out there, in force, confronting politicians who are advocating pseudoscience, publicly exposing them, and setting the record straight.

    The problem is that “setting the record straight” – “communicating real science”; “systematically correcting the public record on what is the current consensus of scientific opinion”; “challenging and correcting falsehoods and misrepresentations” – doesn’t confront the politicos, because it does nothing to expose them. Put fact claim against fact claim, and the public gains no understanding of what the f*** is going on. Without understanding, they just move on to the next thing asking for there attention. Homo sapiens are hard wired such that that can’t even comprehend a ‘what’ unless it’s connected to a ‘how’ and most importantly a ‘why’. It does nothing to say ‘that is wrong’. What you need to say is: ‘That is a lie. This is how it’s constructed. And here is why that lie has been put before you as part of effort to f*** you over, exploit you, and keep you under the thumb of the exploiters.’

    For, ultimately, what we need to expose and confront is, for want of a better term, ‘evil’. Without frames that are, at root, moral stands for things like justice, equality and basic human decency, we are just pissing in the wind.

  17. #17 EBMOD
    December 13, 2016

    Timely post, though I find myself despairing lately with all of the national goings on.

    Those who value STEM definitely need to fight to try and mitigate the damage that will be inflicted upon it, though I am reminded of an interview with Kurt Vonnegut right before the 2003 Iraq invasion:

    “When it became obvious what a dumb and cruel and spiritually and financially and militarily ruinous mistake our war in Vietnam was, every artist worth a damn in this country, every serious writer, painter, stand-up comedian, musician, actor and actress, you name it, came out against the thing. We formed what might be described as a laser beam of protest, with everybody aimed in the same direction, focused and intense. This weapon proved to have the power of a banana-cream pie three feet in diameter when dropped from a stepladder five-feet high.”

    http://inthesetimes.com/article/44/kurt_vonnegut_vs_the

    Sadly, I fear we are headed to the same general effect…

  18. #18 sadmar
    December 13, 2016

    If we aren’t teaching our undergrad science majors to think like scientists, what are we really accomplishing?

    Well, obviously, your curriculum IS teaching your undergrads to think like scientists – “above the fray” fact-fetishists who. like your colleagues, will be ‘hear no evil, see no urgency, speak no critique’ to the webs of politics and power within which science is enmeshed.

    What scientists should we teach them to think like? Edward Teller? William Shockley? Linus Pauling? Ray Kurzweil? Arrogant, anti-feminist, Islamaphobic Dunning-Kruger personified dip-sh*ts like Sam Harris and ‘Dick’ Dawson?

    I applaud your efforts. I really do. I have felt your isolation and frustration (and I’m not a scientist; this isn’t at all an issue limited to the sciences). But if someone really wanted to cultivate critical thinking in a Chem curriculum, the undergrads would learn where chem research funding comes from, to what pragmatic ends that work is directed, and how the whole business has been articulated to the munitions industry and the war economy on one hand, and for-profit environmental disasters like Love Canal on another – in addition to all the pro-social uses of chemistry and how, why, and by whom those efforts are funded.

    The fact that we both recognize the pragmatic absurdity of this suggestion is testament to an even deeper critical thinking deficit, and why we’re in it.

    This guy is either crazy, or playing crazy, but if you want critical thinking about why there’s so little critical thinking, this bit of crazy is pretty much right on the money:

  19. #19 JustaTech
    December 13, 2016

    In an interesting coincidence one of the former ScienceBlogers (Formerly Dr Isis, had to change names and blogs due to international terrorist organization, now “Dreaming of Chickens”) had a post today about the importance of science communication and outreach in physiology. And that sometimes that outreach can directly save lives.

    So it seems like everyone is thinking about it and more than a few people are doing it. We just need more people to do it more.

    (And science communication doesn’t have to be job-threatening. I think sometimes that frightens people away when their branch of science might not generate that much force.)

  20. #20 Mark Thorson
    December 13, 2016

    I like the approach of this guy:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/21/i-ve-been-making-viral-fake-news-for-the-last-six-months-it-s-way-too-easy-to-dupe-the-right-on-the-internet.html

    Don’t know how effective that would be in fighting quackery. Would it really be possible to parody Mike Adams in a way that would help his kind of audience think more critically? I kinda doubt it.

  21. #21 stewartt1982
    Oxfordshire/Ibaraki
    December 13, 2016

    @20 Mark Thorson

    I’d like to think that this approach might work, but having seen reactions on social media to being kindly told that a video/article/tweet is fake … I don’t hold out much hope.

    Over the last few years my brother and I have on occasion gone on tweet fests, replying to
    those tweeting especially egregious examples of fake news.

    An example: “Clinton Foundation Confidential October Accounts Payable Invoice”
    described here http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/16/the-vigilante-faking-wikileaks-docs-to-dupe-trump-trolls.html.

    The creator can claim it is fake on The Daily Beast, and make fun of those who fell for the invoice
    using the same account where he originally posted the fake news, and many will still defend what they have posted as the truth.

    Guessing based on experience the last few years:
    ~10% (generous, it is less) reply with thanks for correcting them and promise to try harder next time.
    ~50% will send it down the memory hole, and either say nothing or something akin to ‘well, it sounded like it could be true’
    ~40% will defend the truth of the fake news no matter what evidence against it presented

    I have hope for that 10% who promise to do better, and perhaps some of those that delete their posting. Hopefully they will learn something. But I fear a large fraction will simply not care if it is fake and believe it no matter the counter evidence.

  22. #22 Mark Thorson
    December 13, 2016

    Part of the difference between the right-wing political audience and the quack medicine audience is that the latter is far more batshit crazy. If you were to claim that Clinton takes supplement pills delivered by UFOs, the former would not believe you and the latter would like to know how they can get these supplements too. (Shh, don’t tell anyone where you heard this, but Gweneth Paltrow sells them.)

  23. #23 Chris Preston
    Australia
    December 13, 2016

    The problem is multifaceted, so no simple approach is going to fix the problem.

    Some of the problem has its roots in the post-modernist concept that there is no fixed reality, only different points of view.

    Some has its roots in the much more ready availability of misinformation with modern technology.

    Much of it has its roots in echo chambers where dissenting facts are not permitted.

    And some of it has its roots in first World arrogance, otherwise known as Dunning-Kruger.

    As a person who does quite a bit of science communication, my big secrets to gaining success are:

    1. Know your subject well enough to be able to communicate it in a person-on-the-street style.

    2. Know the opposing arguments well enough to know where they came from, how they have morphed from the original material and what ‘research’ they are relying on.

    3. Be very aware that your role is not to try and convince the person you are arguing with. That is unlikely. It is the audience watching that is your target. So with tactics like the Gish Gallop, don’t try to take everything on. Pick on one ‘fact’ and comprehensively demolish it. The audience will do the rest.

    4. Don’t loose your cool.

    I think numbers 2 and 3 are the most important.

    I do remember on one occasion after I had appeared on national TV, I ran into a member of the public who had seen the show and recognised me. His comment about my performance was “I don’t agree with anything you said, but you sounded like you know what you were talking about”. That is success.

    There is one new element in this, originally started by the creationists, but popularized by the climate change deniers and that is the creation of a parallel research base. Once upon a time, these would be papers published largely as opinion pieces in strange out of the way journals. The advent of predatory open access publishing has provided the opportunity of this parallel research base to appear in journals with reasonable sounding names. This is probably one of the largest difficulties we are going to have going forward. The public cannot tell the difference between good journals and garbage and the research they have access to on their computers is largely from the garbage. They can indeed now “Do their own research” in places other than facebook and youtube.

    As to trying to embarrass the opposition by getting them to agree to fake and ridiculous ideas. Don’t bother. Given how much nonsense they already accept, a little more nonsense will do no damage at all. They are willing to accept any idea, so long as it agrees with their preconceived ideas.

  24. #24 Chris Preston
    December 13, 2016

    Part of the difference between the right-wing political audience and the quack medicine audience is that the latter is far more batshit crazy.

    Actually, at the extremes they are indistinguishable from each other.

  25. #26 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    December 14, 2016

    There is one new element in this, originally started by the creationists, but popularized by the climate change deniers and that is the creation of a parallel research base.

    Really? I thought Big Tobacco was the originator of that.

  26. #27 Narad
    December 14, 2016

    What would Carl Sagan have said about this?

    That it takes one hell of an asshole to try to hijack the subject line of a job post on the IMMUNI-L mailing list?

    • #28 vinu arumugham
      December 14, 2016

      If you look carefully, I responded to Dr.Scott alone.
      Dr.Scott POSTED it on the list.

  27. #29 Narad
    December 14, 2016

    ^ One might also note that Vinu’s messages were deleted from the archive. In fact, it appears that Vinu was also deleted from the list itself.

  28. #30 janerella
    Oz
    December 14, 2016

    If we aren’t teaching our undergrad science majors to think like scientists, what are we really accomplishing?
    When the cult following of the doomed Jess Ainscough was at its height I came across a young graduating Aussie doctor’s blog. She had just graduated, and was triumphantly heralding her intention to spread the word of wellness to all, citing the amazing Jess Ainscough’s path to beating cancer via nutrition as her inspiration….
    This woman had worked her way through 6 years of a Medical degree and had obviously never come up against anything to test her scientific critical thinking skills. Discussion of this on a skeptic forum via FB resulted in some of her fellow graduates recognising her and holding I guess what essentially was an intervention to advise her of her errant views. THe blog fell silent, and one can only hope she her view was permanently changed.

  29. #31 Robert L Bell
    December 14, 2016

    @Sadmar

    If you would stop screaming at the straw men who live in your bubble world, you would find that a good many chemists (not all, but a sizeable fraction) are already politically and socially aware.

    In fact, if you look around a bit, you might find that there are chemists who have been BEGGING the activists to work with us – some of us, like me, have been so begging for decades – because together we would be a REALLY POWERFUL COMBINATION. Think about it. Chemistry professor and his associates would provide the ironclad technical analysis that would stand up in court against the corporate goons while the activists would take care of the publicity and get the media on our side.

    The only thing that I ask, and I may be really weird about this, is that everything I testify about in court must be demonstrably correct – with supporting evidence and everything.

    As you might have inferred, we have never been able to pull this off and I am getting tired of trying to get you guys to listen to me.

    You, for your part, can go back and reread your little rants and ponder the Big Question of Why This Might Be.

  30. #32 Narad
    December 14, 2016

    If you look carefully, I responded to Dr.Scott alone.
    Dr.Scott POSTED it on the list.

    The actual thread, in normal quoting order:

    On 06/07/2016 10:09 AM, Scott, David wrote:
    Position available for a post-doctoral fellow to work on novel approaches to induce tolerance via engineered human regulatory T cells. . . .

    David W. Scott, PhD, Professor of Medicine
    Vice Chair for Research
    Department of Medicine (MED)
    Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences
    . . .

    How did this guy get access to the Immuni-list? It is clear where he is coming from.

    David

    David W. Scott, PhD, Professor of Medicine
    . . .

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Vinu Arumugham
    Date: Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 11:36 AM
    Subject: Re: Post-doc position at USUHS
    To: “Scott, David” <[log in to unmask]>, [log in to unmask]

    Dr. Scott,

    Research into the mechanisms of tolerance induced via gene therapy with specific human T cells, sounds interesting.
    . . .

    You’re a lousy liar, Vinu.

    • #33 vinu arumugham
      December 14, 2016

      you should stick to your area of expertise, pseudoscience.
      you don’t seem to understand how email works.

  31. #34 Narad
    December 14, 2016

    ^ Basically, you spammed him personally using the post’s title.

  32. #35 Peter Dugdale
    homeofhomeopathy
    December 14, 2016

    Apart from inertia, I could think of a couple of reasons why people don’t get involved:

    – the fear of treading on religious sensibilities;

    – the fear of being associated with the political agenda that many of those who have a lot to say on these things are all too keen to parade;

    – and, of course, the great gods of political correctness, who exclude many commonsensical arguments from the discourse.

  33. #36 sadmar
    December 14, 2016

    Dear Robert Bell:

    I can see you have great skills in making friends outside the sciences. Fine egotistical delusion you have there, imagining I’m talking to you or about you. Well, this is for you: If you were as politcally ‘aware’ as you claim, you wouldn’t be drawing some chemist/activist dichotomy and expecting someone else to do all the heavy lifting while you just certify your ironclad technical analysis.

    Honestly, bro, I have no clue what the spittle about court testimony is referencing. I certainly wasn’t suggesting science folk should falsify anything or talk out of their arses or be anything but ironclad in their technical analyses. If some alleged ‘activists’ have asked or expected you to compromise your integrity– well, there’s no shortage of bozos in politics.

    On the other hand, if we were to define ourselves collectively as ‘activists;, then, yeah some division of labor by expertise serves the common interest. Scientists tend not to be well equipped for publicity and media strategy, and media folk tend not to have much in the way of chops for the natural sciences. Without knowing the details of what sort of alliances you’ve tried to pull off and with whom, I really can’t comment on Why This Might Be. Maybe in your particular neighborhood, all the people who haven’t listened to you are stupid jerks As it happens, in my previous life in academe, all the chemists I dealt with were either apolitical or reactionary. I have a particular personal experience of the latter, which I’ll spare you. But I’ve never fancied all other neighborhoods were identical to mine, so nothing I said was meant to be all inclusive.

    Tell you what, Robert. You say “I’m getting tired of trying to get you guys to listen to me” I’m not aware that you have tried to get me to listen to you, and you have tried, and I missed it, well I’m sincerely sorry. I’m old, and have enough mental cracks that much of keeping up with daily life falls right through. So if you can set aside your straw-manning and ranting, why don’t you try out whatever it is you want someone to listen to on me? Honest, I’m curious about what issues concern you, what you have to contribute about them, what kind of support or alliances you’d like but can’t get… I mean, it might be something so foreign to me I wouldn’t know what to say, and I represent no organization, have no ties/pull/resources… but I do know lots about media… You can contact me off list, if you like. Orac has all our emails so he can set it up.

    You know, Robert, I’ve been commenting here for several years now, and, trust me, when you say “I am getting tired of trying to get you guys to listen to me!” I know exactly how that feels. So, what’s on your mind?

  34. #37 Politicalguineapig
    December 14, 2016

    Peter Dugdale: and, of course, the great gods of political correctness, who exclude many commonsensical arguments from the discourse.

    And what arguments would those be? Most of those who complain about ‘political correctness’ are usually complaining that they can’t say ‘nigger’ or ‘chink’ anymore, or that making rape jokes is usually considered bad taste.* At this point, I assume anyone complaining about ‘political correctness’ either has a conical white hat hanging in their closet or is an MRA who climbed out of the swamp at Reddit.
    So, which are you, aside from having a low enough iq that you can’t safely chew gum and walk at the same time?

    *Sorry if I offended anyone, just trying to make a point to Mr. Dimdale.

  35. #38 JDK
    too bloody cold
    December 14, 2016

    “It ain’t what you know you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain.
    I liked the clip sadmar, and the idea of how a world-view is so unquestioned as to become ‘reality’. The scientific method may be inherently apolitical but the practitioners aren’t but I would also say that we all are sputtering towards truth and have discovered how many things work.
    False factual claims can be countered but the underlying ideology that spawns these lies is much harder to counter. Hard to push against a vague feeling of what is (feels) right. Maintaining a belief system takes reinforcement and the farther the belief is from reality (there’s that word again) the more of an internet or other echo chamber is needed.
    Like CBT, the rational view needs equal or more air-time to compete for the hearts and minds out there.

  36. #39 rork
    December 14, 2016

    I fight quackery (and bad wildlife management) from my blogging chamber in the School of Public Health. I often wish there were 10 or even 5 other people here that would help me out, so that I wasn’t so outnumbered, and so educated and knowledgeable folks could counter all the falsehoods better, and sound more like the majority. If it takes an order of magnitude more anti-bullshit to annihilate bullshit, it may take 100 of us. If it’s really worth trying to persuade people, we should probably coordinate, and have back channels to tell us when there are fires. But that’s problematic in academic settings. We could get accused of conspiring, and it would be true. If the subject is gets anything like close to political discourse, it might be against University policy for me to even write this at lunch time. It would be using the U’s stuff and my work time making political speech.

    OT PS: Just got the tenth reply-to-all congrats-from-the-docs about the just now accepted paper – “excellent work”, “outstanding team”, “fantastic collaboration”, “fabulous job”, they say. I think to myself: the order of presentation is atrocious, the technical stuff not fluent, the writing done worse than my ass chews gum, and “All authors approved the manuscript” a complete lie. *sigh*

  37. #40 sadmar
    December 14, 2016

    CLARIFICATION:
    Robert asked me to reread my rants, and I did, and… did I mention being old and having stuff slip through my mental cracks?

    Like, do you ever just leave a key word out of a thought when typing it out; somehow thinking you keyed it in but though it was in your head your fingers just hopped right past it? And its absence messes up what you meant? Or did you ever just type some phrase, thinking it means ‘X’, which it kind of does, but readers are a lot more likely to read it as meaning ‘Y’?

    Well I sort of combined both of those oopsies in #18. When Andy wrote “teaching our undergrad science majors to think like scientists”, he was obviously referring to the ‘critical thinking’ elements inscribed in the scientific method, which we all pretty much take to be practiced by ‘typical scientists’ at least to one degree or another. I tried to get an unintended irony in his choice of words. I didn’t mean to imply that all scientists are ‘above the fray apolitical fact fetishists’ or even that a majority of scientists engage the world that way all the time. I only meant to observe that this sort of ‘take’ on science is encouraged by typical undergrad science curricula, which are weak on method and critical thought, and strong on mastery of ‘facts’ that can be evaluated by machine-scored tests. I’ll add further, that this curricular bias is hardly determinative. Many students who go through it will find their way to more thoughtful approaches to science by virtue of other in influences.

    So basically I’m just agreeing with Andy that the way we usually teach science is part of the problem…

  38. #41 squirrelelite
    December 14, 2016

    @Sadmar (36) and Robert L Bell (31)

    I’m a passive member of the environmentalist movement since I’ve paid dues to the World Wildlife Fund and Sierra Club a couple times, but I’ve never been active in any of their specific protests or drives and particularly not in the inside group that decides what big problem needs to be solved next or right now.

    Have you, Sadmar?

    That was the group Robert Bell was referring to (I think).

    But, because I have my name on a couple lists, I get an email almost every day wanting my to add my name to save the bees by banning neonicotinoid pesticides or save the Monarch butterflies by banning glyphosate.

    And the people pushing those emails aren’t strong on subtlety and nuance.

    For instance the save the bee group booed the scientist who first reported on colony collapse disorder when he tried to explain that the cause was probably more complex than just neonics.

    And the Monarch butterflies need more milkweed growing in fields. It doesn’t particularly matter which herbicide is killing it where it doesn’t grow.

    But it’s much easier for the activists to rouse the faithful to go full tilt anti-Bayer and anti-Monsanto than it is to engage in a complex negotiation to plan how to make more marginal land available with milkweed or to compare the complex pro’s and con’s of various herbicides.

    And a real chemist trying to explain the complexities to them is likely to get a cold shoulder at best.

    So, we’ve devolved to government by petition and protest, where the activists use those methods to make their most hated method unattainable, even if it is probably the safest, then switch targets to the next best option when it surfaces on their radar.

  39. #42 Andy
    December 14, 2016

    @sadmar

    Thanks for the reply. As it turns out we talked about love canal a few weeks ago in my organic chem class. Spent a good bit of time talking about the balance of environmental impact versus productivity in agricultural use of pesticides, etc. I tend to like Sagan and Feynman, but yeah the critical thinking part like you said. I’ve definitely had some successes with students coming around and getting more interested in scientific issues, which is pretty cool. In the post Trump era it is hard to feel like it is enough.

  40. #43 Peter Dugdale
    homeofhomeopathy
    December 15, 2016

    PGP #36
    For most of us it’s always been a matter of courtesy and common decency not to use the sort of language you’ve used : it didn’t take the advent of PC to teach us that – perhaps in your case it was different.
    PC is a genuine inhibitory phenomenon, I quote the wikipedia page on it :
    “it catches a certain kind of self-righteous and judgmental tone in some and a pervasive anxiety in others – who, fearing that they may do something wrong, adjust their facial expressions, and pause in their speech to make sure they are not doing or saying anything inappropriate. The climate this has created on campuses is at least as bad in Canada as in the United States”

  41. #44 sadmar
    December 15, 2016

    @ squirrelite

    No, I’ve never belonged to an environmentalist organization or been particularly into environmental issues. I’m certainly sympathetic to some. I’ve paid some attention to the beepocalypse, mainly because one of the leading researchers studying it is at the U of Minnesota. I read my old hometown newspaper on the web, and they did an excellent in depth series of pieces on her and the bees. IIRC she’s very concerned about the pesticides, but also caught some flack for being judicious on certain points.

    As I’ve noted here before, I lived in Iowa during the big ‘farm crisis’ years in the ’80s, and I met some ag activists who impressed me quite a bit. But there was also stuff you could see about the farm situation driving around from town to town, and just watching the news and TV commercials. From that experience I take a very dim view of agribusiness (Big Ag), and companies like Monsanto were on my a-holes list since before anyone had heard of GMOs. I do take the word of the science folk I respect that GMO based foods are perfectly safe to eat,. But in other aspects of the operation I do consider Monsanto to be pretty much pond scum. Which is why _I_ get infuriated by the anti-GMO crowd – not because it’s wrong on the science, but because it sucks all the oxygen out of the topic, and obscures what I take as the real issues. I can say that those folks I knew in IA in the ’80s would not have given a cold shoulder to chemists or the complexities they would elucidate. They were serious smart people, not into “petition and protest’. But that was a long time ago, I didn’t get that into then, and haven’t followed it at all since.

    Complexities are not good for gaining attention and mobilizing interest. Orac oversimplifies and rouses the faithful by going full-tilt anti- here all the time. However, in terms of “make the most hated method unattainable, even if it’s the safest” you seem to be talking about activism that is just wrong and mis-targeted, not the distortions that come with polemic zeal.

    If that sort of thing is where you’re getting the brush-off, you may be tapping on the wrong shoulders. The most vocal ‘activists’ are rarely the only activists on any issue. I would wager there are indeed agriculture/environmental groups that understand the pros and cons of different pesticides quite well, including how trying to get out of a frying pan can get you into a fire. After all, that’s the problem with glyphosate. It is clearly less toxic than earlier herbicides, which led to it’s wide embrace as those nastier weed killers were targeted, which has wound up with ‘unforeseen’ consequences that seriously cloud the picture (and no, I’m not referring to GMOs-Frankenfood BS). This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and there are social actors who know the history and account for it, though they may not be showing up in your email.

    And if there is no such on-target activist group in your neighborhood, roll up your sleeves and start one. To paraphrase Joe Hill: Don’t whine. Organize.

  42. #45 sadmar
    December 15, 2016

    @ Peter Dugdale:

    A Wikpedia page clearly edited by butt-hurt frat boys is hardly a definitive authority. Scale down PGPs hyperbole to about 1/100th and she has a point. The people who complain about ‘PC’ are feeling the “genuine inhibitory” constrictions in comparison to a previous of expected position of privilege that is not even remotely shared equally. The whine about the inhibitions they face, without considering the inhibitions faced by others.

    There is a good amount in the ‘PC wars’ that is lamentable. Like pretty much any 63 yo straight white guy, I’ve heard some truly outrageous crapola. Yet, when I step back and look at the big picture, I cannot condemn this as a “bad climate” in some way that pretends the old climate was the good old days. These are growing pains, and yes they can hurt, but it would be folly to expect positive movement without such pain and even worse folly to abandoned the path because we experience a few owies.

    I’ll put it this way – for every ‘PC’ horror story you can cite, I can still find you two horror stories of its inverse that are also at least twice as ‘bad’.

  43. #46 Politicalguineapig
    December 15, 2016

    Dimdale: Nope, I’m actually a very polite person to everyone; I think you missed the part where I said I was only using those words to make a point (which, incidentally, went far over your head). Most of the rhetoric I hear regarding PC basically boils down to ‘wahh I can’t be racist!” or “wah, I can’t sexually harrass women.’` So, my tolerance for that sort of whining is subsequently pretty low. And you haven’t answered the question yet, I notice.

  44. #47 Politicalguineapig
    December 15, 2016

    To cite another example, people are now following and praising neo-nazis as glorious examples of people who are unafraid to be politically incorrect. Which is profoundly stupid, as neo-nazis are feckin’ dangerous as well as being human garbage.

  45. #48 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    December 16, 2016

    There have been several references to “post-truth” in the comments lately. I think that describing the current situation as “post-truth” is inaccurate.
    The fact is, logic and experimentation have always come second to “feels” in human history. Thousands of people were put to death for witchcraft. People believed in werewolves and vampires. It’s only in the last two centuries (a blink in human history) that science has come more to the front.
    “Post-truth” is misleading. We were never really in a “truth” phase.

  46. #50 Narad
    December 16, 2016

    Who needs evidence based medicine when you can have CORRUPTED EMINENCE based medicine?

    You’d be much more entertaining if you switched over to just rambling about dental floss, Vinu.

  47. #51 Rose
    near Atlanta
    December 17, 2016

    Personally….the only medicine most people trust is the one with skin on…their MD’s.

    If you want to change the world, open your mind. I about died when I saw Polly Matzinger. God, I love her….https://list.nih.gov/cgi-bin/wa.exe?A2=ind1606&L=immuni-l&F=&S=&P=36477 She’s probably not “cool”, though, I don’t know. To me, she is. Her mind is open to change, to discovery. Book learning is not the sum total of knowledge, to me.

  48. #52 Narad
    December 17, 2016

    You have to know the pseudoscience (or pseudohistory) inside and out.

    Speaking of which, try playing spot the errors in Laura Hayes’ latest deranged screed at AoA if you’re bored.

  49. #53 sadmar
    December 17, 2016

    @ Julian #48

    Descriptions of the current situation as “post-truth” are not primarily about science/logic/experimentation versus ‘feels’. They are very much about ‘feels’ displacing the kinds of verifiable truth that have existed since the evolution of language brought our species to the state where we could make statements about whether other statements are ‘true’ or ‘false’. Which is basically the standard of clear sensory perceptions by reliable witnesses, either presented personally or in reliable documentation.

    For example, just in the last couple weeks in Trump-world:
    Trump has claimed his election victory was a landslide, despite the fact his opponent received over 2 million more votes.
    John Bolton, the leading candidate for Deputy Secretary of State “claimed that hacks during the election season could have been “a false flag” operation — possibly committed by the Obama administration itself.” It wasn’t Putin; Hilary hacked herself.
    Incoming National Security Agency chief Michael Flynn was revealed to have used Twitter to spread the ‘fake news’ story that Hilary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child sex-slave ring for pedophiles.
    The press reminded us that Monica Crowley, now tapped to be one of Flynn’s deputies, had claimed on a radio show she hosted that Barack Obama is actually of Arab descent and just faking being Black so he can “paint anybody who dares to criticize him as a racist. I mean that is the biggest con I think I’ve ever seen.”

    Of course some people have always been truth-averse, but “post-truth” s both hyperbole and a claim about a social/cultural change that is broad but still limited, and has acquired unprecedented purchase both in the seats of power and within popular communication media.

    You’re correct that we’ve never been in a phase of total truth, but the claim is that we have never before gone backward to such a sharp degree and with such potentially dire consequences.

  50. #54 Politicalguineapig
    December 17, 2016

    Sadmar: You’re correct that we’ve never been in a phase of total truth, but the claim is that we have never before gone backward to such a sharp degree and with such potentially dire consequences.

    How is that not true? Rural areas and suburbs are fact-averse to such a degree that I’m thinking of starting a movement to defund science education and libraries as they’re wasted on the population.Personally, I think progress is done for the next fifty years. It’ll take us that long to undo all the damage of the last two years and the damage of the next four. Might as well let the US become the Weimar republic. It’ll be almost as bad as Julian’s homeland soon.

  51. #55 Faceless Engineer
    December 19, 2016

    Orac,

    I remember you from the days lurking (and occasionally posting) on alt.revisionism and other USENET groups.

    Like you, I’m dismayed that the knowledge and understanding of the views and tactics of the authoritarian far right garnered then is no longer useless trivia.

  52. #56 Thomas Spellman
    United States
    December 19, 2016

    Ah yes the truth. Seems simple enough and yet … It is the SILENCE of the Universities and the Main Stream Media that has us in the box we are in today. In hind sight it is Kennedy’s murder that begins both the use of assassinations as a political tool and the naming of those who question as Conspiracy Theorist. When anyone name calls another who has the power and we know it is not the ones who are being called the name whatever that name is and as we know there has been a litany of them. I guess to be effective it is wise to use the best science to disprove whatever is being suggested as being factual. For example from my observation of the vaccine issue is that some parents notice the change in their child’s behavior immediately or shortly after being vaccinated and or the very small percentage of babies who have a negative reaction that is full acknowledged. How does one explain that to parents that yes your child may have a very bad reaction to the shot that will in fact save his/her life and tens of thousands of other lives as well. It is by acknowledging and then working from there that we will figure out the truth.

    On another issues that has received a great deal of name calling is the question of what happened to three buildings in NYC on that fateful day. Now almost 3000 Architects and Engineers are calling for a new investigation and yet SILENCE even with those who are pursuers of the truth.

    The science and evidence is absolute and clear and simple and yet the denial the silence.

    Peace Thomas Spellman

    • #57 Orac
      December 19, 2016

      Ooh. It looks like I might have roped a big one. Is this the same Tom Spellman who’s on the board of directors of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth? Some serious, serious cranks there, that group is.

  53. #58 Panacea
    December 19, 2016

    What I find interesting about Mr. Spellman, is he seems to think his 9/11 denial-ism makes him an expert on vaccines and autism.

    Dunning Kruger on Dunning Kruger. Wow.

  54. #59 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    December 20, 2016

    Would you like some dressing for that word salad, Mr. Spellman?

  55. #60 Narad
    December 20, 2016

    In hind sight it is Kennedy’s murder that begins both the use of assassinations as a political tool and the naming of those who question as Conspiracy Theorist.

    Given that both existed separately beforehand (see, e.g., The Open Society and Its Enemies for the latter), I can only presume that you’re pointing to the conjunction. Except that assassination doesn’t get mentioned again.

    Could it be… konspiracy krank kanon?

  56. #61 Chris
    December 20, 2016

    Um, wow. To get my degree in aerospace engineering I had to take a materials course. Um, I know the basics of iron, steel, heat and what every medieval blacksmith has known for centuries… the stuff weakens with lots of heat.

    Also I know that aluminum burns. It is used in solid rocket propulsion and “thermite”, which is a favored 9/11 truther “argument”. So, yeah… take an aircraft made of aluminum full of jet fuel and smash it into a building — you are going to get temperatures that weaken structural steel.

    That is basic structural engineering. Mr. Spellman obviously has never take basic engineering materials nor statics classes. He must be an architect… which was verified by a simple Google search.

    Mr. Spellman, when I was seventeen years old I was given a tour of a Girl Scout camp with newly constructed “architect” designed cabins. It included in an area with heavy rain/snow precipitation V-shaped roofs.. hello leaks. mold, etc. Then the final straw was open “window” (no glass, nothing) more than six feet off of the ground… just perfect for a sleepwalker to plunge to the ground (the caretaker had to install railings to keep to state code… something the architect had ignored).

    Yeah, I enjoy your rants. But I passed my engineering classes. Did you? Or did you just choose to forget them?

    • #62 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      December 20, 2016

      Dear Chris

      Good to at least have a real first name. I did pass both my engineering courses in Civil Engineering and my architecture courses for my bachelors degree in architecture. There are a number absolute proof for explosives but for me the easiest one is that 40,000 cubic yards of concrete is broken and much of it pulverized all in less than 15 seconds. If one looks at that fact as a problem to be solved how would you do it? You solve that problem other than with explosives I can go back to sleeping much sounder than I do now. Peace and thanks for using at least your first name. If we are not willing to stand by our names I am not sure of our future.

  57. #63 Politicalguineapig
    December 20, 2016

    Thomas Spellman: If we are not willing to stand by our names I am not sure of our future.

    That’s kind of a bizarre bugaboo you got there. This is the internet,dude. One of the first things any kid gets taught is not to use their real names on the ‘net. Besides, psuedonyms have a long and honorable usage. You’d think we’d have Silas Marnier today if the author used her real name? How about Tom Sawyer, another classic by an author who used a psuedonym?

  58. #64 Chris
    December 23, 2016

    Mr. Spellman: “Good to at least have a real first name. I did pass both my engineering courses in Civil Engineering and my architecture courses for my bachelors degree in architecture”

    Though it looks like you missed out on the materials and thermal strength courses. Probably still have no clue about the oxidation properties of aluminum, and the forces caused by flying airliners.

    Pity.

    Funny, how you obsess about names. Are you frustrated that you cannot stalk those who doubt your words?

  59. #65 Craig Thomas
    January 4, 2017

    “40,000 cubic yards of concrete is broken and much of it pulverized all in less than 15 seconds. ”

    Doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me – a human body falling a couple of hundred metres will splatter in about one piece. The same body falling a couple of hundred metres down a tailings slope ends up as unrecognisable shreds.

    Maybe you could put your engineering training to some use in figuring out what the difference is?

    • #66 Thomas
      United States
      January 4, 2017

      I will leave you to solve the second question since you imply that you know the answer but the body dropping is a good example of what is suggested happened on that fateful day but did not happen. The body once in motion (falling) continued to fall till it hit the ground and on that fateful day we saw a number of people who chose that option vs burning to death and yes their bodies were in large part recognizable and intact. The problem with using that analogy is that if you close your eyes and see the video of the collapse of either tower you will see chunks of stuff falling to the ground but you will also see stuff going up and then down and you will see lots and lots of powder, NOT DUST. Dust is the stuff that is on the piano that is removed with a dust cloth every Saturday. What we all saw was freshly made powder and how is powder made. I will leave that for you to answer Craig Thomas. Yes using a real name is important if trust and respect, which are two of the foundations behaviors of society, are to be experienced/

  60. #67 sadmar
    January 4, 2017

    @ PGP:

    Fwiw, I was objecting to Julian’s claim that we can’t be ‘post-Truth’ because we never were in ‘Truth’ always been post-Truth. I was observing that ‘post-Truth’ is a figure of speech, and the actual claim being made is “we have never before gone backward [on Truth] to such a sharp degree and with such potentially dire consequences.” Which is what Julian would have to argue against to assert that nothing new and meaningful on the ‘Truth’ front has happened lately. Which I think one would have a harder time arguing.

    I was not suggesting that it was not true. I’m not 100% convinced it IS true, but it sure does feel like it.

    You don’t have to start a movement to defund science education and libraries. There already is one. It’s called the Republican Party.

  61. #68 Narad
    January 4, 2017

    Yes using a real name is important if trust and respect, which are two of the foundations behaviors of society, are to be experienced/

    I could’ve sworn that you had already been referred to the Federalist Papers.

  62. #69 Chris
    January 4, 2017

    Narad, it is funny that he did that using only his first name to someone who had it as a last name. 😉

  63. #70 JustaTech
    January 4, 2017

    Oh look, another ghoul, who gets off on devaluing the people who died in 9/11 and defaming everyone who was at all the sites that day.
    Hey Thomas, you smug armchair expert, have you ever actually read the personal accounts of those in the Towers? The people who saw the damn planes, who evacuated the buildings? The ones who lived?

    People got PTSD just from transcribing those interviews. And yet you would have us believe that every single one of those traumatized people is a liar, paid to tell the same lie.

    You are disgusting. May you be utterly forgotten.

    • #71 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 5, 2017

      JustaTech Why are you insulting me? And PS You are more than just a Tech. You have a name and it is possible to have civil conversations even about what happened to 3 building on that fateful day that changed your life and my life. The conversation must begin with a few facts and then build from there. For starters there are 40,000 cubic yards of concrete in the floors of each tower and we know that it was ALL broken and much of it pulverized ALL in less than 15 seconds. ONLY explosives can do that. There is NO MACHINE present that could do that and there are only two ways to make powder 1) mechanical – by machine and the other with explosives. If you know of a third way please tell me about it. See no name calling is necessary Peace

  64. #72 JustaTech
    January 5, 2017

    Mr Spellman, if you do not understand why people use pseudonyms on the internet, then you live a charmed life. Under no circumstances will I let you know my name, because my name, and your name, have no bearing on the facts of the case.

    You want to talk about building 3. What about the Towers? What about the Pentagon? What about Flight 93? Are you saying that those were all explosives planted by the US government as well?

    And I’m going to go back to my statement about the survivors: people lived! They were interviewed extensively. Did any of them report the setting of explosives? Or are they all magically telling the same lie?

    And if you think the only “mechanical” force that can make dust is either a machine or an explosion (which is chemical), then you need to get out more. Gravity makes great crushed rock and dust. Look at any landslide or rock fall.

    I called you a ghoul because a ghoul is a monster who fattens itself upon the dead. In your self-aggrandizing statements (the conspiracy theory that only you can see) you tromp across the dead, the survivors and the victims, to enlarge your image of yourself. Every time one of you “truthers” drags up another 9/11 conspiracy theory that negates the horrifying lived experiences of the people who were there, you drag all those people back through that day, those months and years of recovery. That makes you a sadist, cruel and unthinking.

    And so I say: may the victims and the survivors be remembered. May those who would hurt them for pointless personal gain be forgot.

    • #73 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 5, 2017

      I guess I lead a charmed life. I am talking about about each tower. Each tower as 40,000 cubic yards of concrete in the 110 floors of slightly less than 1 acre each and 4 inches thick. You state “Gravity makes great crushed rock and dust. Look at any landslide or rock fall.” a land slide is a diagonal movement and it stops when the energy is of the moving rocks is converted to movement and to any fracturing of the rocks that are moving. Speaking the TRUTH can NEVER dishonor anyone and so name calling still is of no value. Peace Tom

  65. #74 JustaTech
    January 5, 2017

    Mr Spellman, when you say that every single building was brought down by explosives then you are saying that every single person in those buildings must have lied about 1) seeing hte planes and 2) *not* seeing people work for months to plant those explosives.

    And when you call them liars and gaslight them, people who have experienced one of the most terrible actions of someone wanting to kill you because of where you come from, then you are denying their experiences and their pain and suffering.

    As for your frankly silly statement about landslides: go to the top of a cliff. Drop a concrete block off so it falls vertically. Have someone at the bottom (safely) record the impact, so that you can see the dust. Not that you would do this simple experiment, because you are far to set in your own mind to acknowledge anyone or anything else.

    Ooh, look. I didn’t call you names. But I’m not going to lie and pretend politeness to you.

    • #75 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 5, 2017

      I never spoke of the Planes and all the rest because it all happened as they describe it. The planes and damage caused by the planes and the fires could NOT destroy and did not destroy those buildings.

      You say ” Drop a concrete block off so it falls vertically. Have someone at the bottom (safely) record the impact, so that you can see the dust.” Yes what you say here is TRUE. That is NOT what happened the concrete floors are disintegrating as they fall not when they impact the ground. Now maybe do you see?? Peace Tom

  66. #76 JustaTech
    January 6, 2017

    Mr. Spellman, I present to you a lovely, titanium, Teflon-coated Occam’s Razor. May you learn to use it with care.

  67. #77 Craig Thomas
    January 12, 2017

    There is no way that our Thomas has any engineering expertise whatsoever.
    He readily admits there was 40000 m3 of concrete falling down but somehow thinks it was only going to break if it hit the ground.
    *The majority of it never hit the ground.*
    It was breaking up and being pulverised (look up the etymology of “pulver”) as soon as it started moving, obviously.
    And it started moving as soon as the stresses exceeded the structure’s capacity to withstand them. Any engineer would understand the cascading effect of structural failures.

  68. #78 Politicalguineapig
    January 13, 2017

    Spellman: a land slide is a diagonal movement..

    No, no, it is not. A few years ago, we had a mudslide on the river bluffs, and everything went pretty much straight down. Is the gravity on your world different or something? I think you need to get out more, bud.

  69. #79 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    January 13, 2017

    I once saw this great video on the internet. It was made by a blacksmith who was fed up with the BS spewed by 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
    First he took a rod of steel, then put it into a slot on his anvil and moved the rod around. The anvil moved with it. Then he took a rod (made of the same grade of steel) that he’d heated up in his furnace (but not to melting point) and put that into the same slot on his anvil.
    He could bend the heated rod using his pinky.
    Just because the temperatures weren’t hot enough to melt the steel doesn’t mean they weren’t hot enough to weaken it so that it would collapse.

    • #80 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 13, 2017

      Craig Thomas and Julian Frost First Julian Anyone who has read enough of these comments to come up with the worst suggestion, argument for the failure of 3 buildings on that fateful day gets a personal answer. Yes Julian a half inch in diameter steel rod when heated looses its strength and can be easily bent. Let me assure that there is NO comparison between a steel rod and the steel in all 3 buildings.

      As I have stated before there is 40,000+ cubic yards of concrete in the 110 floors of each Tower and all that concrete is broken and pulverized in less than 15 seconds. ONLY explosives can cause that damage in that time frame.

      And Craig you write “*The majority of it never hit the ground.*
      It was breaking up and being pulverized (look up the etymology of “pulver”) as soon as it started moving, obviously.” Newton would have a problem with this as the apple did not change form until it hit the ground. Thank you for making the correct observation ie that the concete is breaking up immediately ONLY you do not understand change state physic. When a substance changes its form from say solid to power it takes a great deal of energy and a falling object only has energy to fall NOT to change state.

      You go on with a statement that is to give you authority and unfortunately to a person who does not understand basic physic it sound authoritative but it is nonsensical. “And it started moving as soon as the stresses exceeded the structure’s capacity to withstand them. Any engineer would understand the cascading effect of structural failures.”

      I do respond to those who post with a real name. Not that I believe that I have enlightened either of you but as others read it is an opportunity for those who are first discovering after 15 years that ONLY explosives can cause all 3 buildings to collapse as they did on that fateful day. Peace

  70. #81 Lawrence
    January 13, 2017

    Another conspiracy foiled by the need for absolute perfection…..imagine, if you will, a stray piece of debris which happens to slice the wires to portions of the “explosives” which prevent the “demolition” from occurring….or better yet, the fires themselves melting the wires…..

    And why demolish a “third” inconsequential building? What purpose would be served?

    These 9/11 conspiracy nuts can’t think logically at all, can they?

    Even if the towers hadn’t collapsed, they would have most likely been determined to be structurally-unsound anyway and demolished…..

    The very act of terror was enough to generate the response, it had nothing to do with any need to see buildings collapse.

    • #82 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 13, 2017

      Lawrence Now some folks use only on name but … at least it is not some nonsensical name.

      Yes valid questions BUT the evidence is that it did happen and then the question is what caused it to happen. The evidence the visual evidence is clear EXPLOSIVES caused it to happen and it is only the second question is how did the explosives get there. It is the second question and because it happened it must be answered. Good try and as all questions a valid question but not a reason for no explosives.

  71. #83 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    January 13, 2017

    The evidence the visual evidence is clear EXPLOSIVES caused it to happen

    Nope. The evidence is that a plane loaded with fuel crashing into each tower and exploding weakened the structure and started a fire that further weakened the metal to the point that they could not hold up their own weight and collapsed.

    • #84 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 13, 2017

      Nope is not evidence. There is an old saying that we will have to agree to disagree. At some point you will have to come to terms with the truth. I wish you well. Peace

  72. #85 Lawrence
    January 13, 2017

    This particular 9/11 truther should really go somewhere else…his off-topic posts are just annoying.

    • #86 Thomas Spellman
      United States
      January 13, 2017

      That is the amazing thing about the TRUTH and that is all TRUTH it has a way of causing comfortableness when it is encountered. I just used it as an example and there it would have rested but others feel that they must be sure that it 911 TRUTH comments must be answered Peace

  73. […] a very hard time moving forward together in this world.” Orac offers additional advice for battling conspiracy theories and denialism on Respectful Insolence: “It’s not enough to know the science (or history). You have to know […]

  74. #88 Chris
    January 13, 2017

    A little earworm for someone who should be ignored:

    Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin’
    Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin’
    Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin’
    Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin’
    Rawhide!
    Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin’
    Though the threads are swollen
    Keep them comments trollin’,
    Rawhide!

    Move ’em on
    (Head em’ up!)
    Head em’ up
    (Move ’em on!)
    Move ’em on
    (Head em’ up!)
    Rawhide!
    Cut ’em out
    (Paste ’em in!)
    Paste’em in
    (Cut em’ out!)
    Cut ’em out
    Paste ’em in,
    Rawhide!
    Keep trollin’, trollin’, trollin’
    Though they’re disaprovin’
    Keep them comments trollin”,
    Rawhide
    Don’t try to understand ’em
    Just rope, laugh, and ignore ’em
    Soon we’ll be discussin’ bright without ’em

  75. #89 Politicalguineapig
    January 13, 2017

    Thomas Spellman: I do respond to those who post with a real name.

    What is with this bizarre fetish for real names? It doesn’t matter if I or anyone else want to be called Miss Moneypenny the fifteenth, their real name or some other ‘nym on the net. (Actually, it kinda does, because a lot of people are gross, and I’d rather not give them personal info.) I suspect you don’t read much of anything- which is a shame, ’cause there’s some quality literature written under pen names. And it might help with that little iq problem you have.