Archive for the 'Science Denial' Category

May 17 2019

The Climate is Always Changing

Whenever the issue of climate comes up on this blog (or even just in the comments on unrelated articles), climate change deniers make an appearance. Consistently they use terrible arguments – relying on straw men, factually incorrect statements, deliberately confusing and blurring the lines, and committing just about every logical fallacy. They are also the same recycled arguments I see over and over, regardless of how many times they are refuted. That is how you know a position is intellectually dishonest, it never changes. It just moves around to the same repertoire of refuted positions.

A systematic refutation of these bad arguments requires a book, and there are many good resources out there, but I just want to focus on one argument in this article – the notion that the climate is always changing. This, of course, is true. It’s simply not a refutation in any way of the scientific position of anthropogenic global warming.

This is one of the many positions of the deniers. First they will argue that the climate is not changing. When the evidence for that is too irrefutable, then they say that it is always changing. This is also where the unmitigated hubris comes in – they bring up the point that there are natural trends in climate change as if this is news to anyone. Oh really, you don’t say? The climate naturally changes? I wonder if the world’s climate scientists, who have dedicated their careers to thinking deeply and carefully about things like the climate, have ever encountered that notion before. You should tell them.

Or, this is just a suggestion, you can take a moment to try to understand what scientists actually think rather than just swallowing science-denying propaganda whole. If a scientific idea is comprehensible to you as a non-expert, it’s a pretty good bet the experts have thought of it. You certainly shouldn’t assume that they haven’t, or you are somehow smarter than all the climate scientists in the world. Seriously – get some perspective.

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Mar 08 2019

Golden Rice Finally Released in Bangladesh

Published by under Science Denial

Bangladesh has cleared the way for the cultivation of golden rice, with the first plantings 2-3 months away. This is great news. Golden rice is genetically modified to have higher levels of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Bangladesh is a perfect country for use of this crop because of high levels of vitamin A deficiency, and rice is a staple crop.

According to the WHO:

An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

That is a huge health burden, mostly on poor children. In response to this, an international consortium has been working on potential solutions using biotechnology.

Rice is the primary food staple for over half of the world’s population, but it is also a very poor source of essential micronutrients and protein. Accordingly, human micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent in many rice-consuming regions, especially throughout the developing world where poverty exacerbates the problem of insufficient intake of animal products and other nutrient-dense foods. To reduce the global incidence of these nutritional disorders, a transgenic approach will be applied to improve the nutritional value of rice, with a specific focus on combining provitamin A and vitamin E in the rice grain and to increase the protein content to achieve a balanced composition of essential amino acids. Golden Rice will be combined with high iron lines. In addition, the knowledge necessary to enhance the bioavailability of iron and zinc in target crops will be generated. This will be achieved by identifying the corresponding QTLs in the model plant ArabidopsisGolden Rice and other engineered rice lines with stacked traits will be incorporated into ongoing breeding and seed delivery programmes for developing countries. The products generated will be made freely available to low-income farmers to address these deficiencies inherent to rice-based diets on a global scale.

Sounds like a solid plan – fortify staple crops with needed micronutrients and make them freely available to poor farmers. No reasonable person could have a problem with that. But of course ideologues are rarely reasonable, almost by definition. And the propaganda they spread can be very effective at misinformation.

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Mar 05 2019

Study – Still No Link Between Autism and MMR Vaccine

Published by under autism,Science Denial

I know this is old news – or at least it should be – but it bears repeating, especially as we are in the midst of a resurgence of measles. There is no link between the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism, or any neurological disorder. A new study confirms this lack of association. This should go a long way to reassure the vaccine hesitant that the MMR vaccine at least is safe and should not be avoided.

This is a Danish study, and the largest study of the MMR vaccine and autism to date – “657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.” They found:

During 5,025,754 person-years of follow-up, 6517 children were diagnosed with autism (incidence rate, 129.7 per 100,000 person-years). Comparing MMR-vaccinated with MMR-unvaccinated children yielded a fully adjusted autism hazard ratio of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.85 to 1.02). Similarly, no increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination was consistently observed in subgroups of children defined according to sibling history of autism, autism risk factors (based on a disease risk score) or other childhood vaccinations, or during specified time periods after vaccination.

Overall there was no association between getting the MMR vaccine and later being diagnosed with autism. Further, there was no correlation when looking specifically at children who have a sibling with autism, and therefore might constitute a susceptible subpopulation. Further still, there was no clustering of autism diagnosis following the MMR vaccine administration, as might be expected if there was a causal link. This is a very large study with an adequate study design, so that if there were any increased risk of developing autism from the MMR vaccine we should be seeing it in this data – and we don’t.

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Jan 15 2019

Dunning Kruger and GMO Opposition

I have written extensively about GMOs (gentically modified organisms) here, and even dedicated a chapter of my book to the topic, because it is the subject about which the difference between public opinion and the opinion of scientists is greatest (51%). I think it’s clear that this disparity is due to a deliberate propaganda campaign largely funded by the organic lobby with collaboration from extreme environmental groups, like Greenpeace.

This has produced an extreme, if not a unique, challenge for science communicators. Also – there are direct implications for this, as the political fight over GMO regulation and acceptance is well underway. The stakes are also high as we are facing challenges feeding a growing population while we are already using too much land and there really isn’t more we can press into agriculture. (Even if there are other ways to reduce our land use, that does not mean we should oppose a safe and effective technology that can further reduce it.)

A new study published in Nature may shed further light on the GMO controversy. The authors explore the relationship between knowledge about genetics and attitudes toward GMOs.

In a nationally representative sample of US adults, we find that as extremity of opposition to and concern about genetically modified foods increases, objective knowledge about science and genetics decreases, but perceived understanding of genetically modified foods increases. Extreme opponents know the least, but think they know the most.

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Dec 11 2017

Goop Nonsense – Yes It Matters

Paltrow has defended her “lifestyle brand” by saying that they are just giving women choices, and being open. Nonsense – don’t be swayed by such distractions.

I unapologetically support reason and scholarship as critical values for human civilization. This is increasingly true as our world gets more complex, as the stakes get higher, the margins for error lower, and as our culture and economy are increasingly global.

We cannot get by just shooting from the hip. We need people with specific expertise who transparently follow a process that is logically valid and based on evidence. We need standards of scholarship and intellectual rigor that are up to the challenges we face. We also need to make this work within an open and democratic society, where public opinion matters.

What all this means is that it is more important than ever to have a well-educated public, and for our public discourse to respect standards of honesty and excellence. It matters if people understand and accept what experts have to say about vaccine safety and effectiveness, the evidence base for manmade climate change, the safety of GMOs, and the nature of health and disease.

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Sep 18 2017

Update on Arctic Sea Ice

seaice_trends_chartThe extent of Arctic sea ice is an important marker for global climate change. In the last forty years it also has been unequivocally shrinking. NASA has been tracking Arctic sea ice extent at different times of the year, with the September minimum being an important point of comparison. Like any chaotic system there are going to be short term fluctuations, but the long term trend is crystal clear. Look at the graph and look at the video on the NASA site linked above – the shrinking is clear.

The first estimates for September 2017 are in and they are consistent with the overall trend. Arctic sea ice’s most recent maximum for the September minimum was in 1996 at 7.87 million square km. The minimum minimum was in 2012 at 3.62 million sq km – less than half. This year the minimum is estimated to be 4.7 million sq km, slightly more than 2016. All of the last 10 years are below the average for the previous 30 years.

This past year we had a warm winter, which led to the lowest amount of March Arctic sea ice on record, but a cool summer allowed the Arctic ice to rebound a bit.

All of this adds to the strong scientific consensus that the globe is warming and this trend is largely due to human factors (not natural cycles). But as you probably know, there is a well-financed campaign of denial, ideologically and financially motivated, to muddy the waters and create doubt and confusion about this scientific consensus. This is easy to do with complex scientific questions.

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Apr 20 2017

Retreat of the Cryosphere

glacier-retreatPatrick Burkhart and his colleagues recently published a review of their research on the cryosphere, which is a collective term for all the ice on the surface of the Earth. In addition to their review of the science, the new information they add is a photographic project documenting the retreat of glaciers around the globe.

The retreat of the cryosphere is one of the many lines of evidence supporting the idea that the earth has been warming over the last half-century. There are several different ways to look at this. You can look at each pole to see the extent of ice coverage at their peak in winter and minimum in summer. You can look at specific ice sheets, like Greenland. You can look at glaciers. And you can look at total global ice, the cryosphere, which of course is the best single measure.

With regard to glaciers, the authors point out that there are many variables affecting the current size of any individual glacier. It is possible but difficult to account for all these variables and isolate one as a primary cause of melting. However, you can survey glaciers from around the world, which is a good way to control for local variables. When we do this we find there is a significant trend toward glacial retreat.

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