“Fifty top astronauts, scientists and engineers at NASA have signed a letter asking the agency to cease its global warming buffoonery.” -from “NASA rocked by global warming rebellion” by Thomas Lifson in the 11 April 2011 issue of American Thinker.
Category Archives: Bad Science
“The failure to win “the war on cancer” has been blamed on many factors, from the use of mouse models that are irrelevant to human cancers to risk-averse funding agencies. But recently a new culprit has emerged: too many basic scientific discoveries, done in animals or cells growing in lab dishes and meant to show the way to a new drug, are wrong.”
-from “In cancer science, many ‘discoveries’ don’t hold up” by Sharon Begley, 28 Mar 2012 Reuters
The Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) does great investigative work, but its editorials can best be ignored, unless one is looking for good examples of illogical and sloppy thinking.
A recent manifestation is the Times‘ crusade in favor of fluoridation. In its 18 March full-page editorial, “Reverse the decay of common sense” (a plea that ironically can be applied to how it composes its own editorials), the Times spewed out violations of reasoned analysis in a gusher of polluted newsprint:
1. The editorial starts with a blend of grade-school appeals to emotion and ad hominem attacks: “Defining moment,” “Midwestern sensibilities,” “extremism,” “tea party followers,” “conspiracy theorists,” and “tiny antifluoride group.” This pompous puffery is irrelevant to whether or not fluoride in our drinking water is beneficial.
2. The editorial then states: “The evidence that fluoridated drinking water is safe and prevents tooth decay is overwhelming and widely embraced,” followed by a list of two federal agencies, a state agency, and two dental associations.
This is a great example of the fallacy of naming an expert or two, or even a consensus of experts, to support a claim. Citing experts, however, neither supports nor refutes a claim. Experts make claims that are often wrong. Brilliant people, even Einstein, have said dumb things. Plus, experts can be biased or corrupt. It is the science and analysis presented by experts that are important, not the experts themselves.
Although the editorial listed pro-fluoride evidence (the flaws of which I will not dissect here), no informed contrary views were expressed. Not one, in the entire full page. Since it doesn’t take much digging to find some credible professional opinions opposed to fluoridation, this seems inexcusable if one expects a newspaper to hew to the journalistic standard of being fair and balanced.
3. Fallacious economic analysis: “The annual savings [of no fluoridation] per resident works out to 29 cents.” First, viewing the 29 cents in isolation makes it seem like a trivial sum, which is a fallacy of context: numerous government expenditures, when viewed individually, look like trivial sums, although they may accumulate into a mountain of headache for the taxpayer. Second, even assuming that fluoridation is not harmful and is beneficial (not proven anywhere in the editorial), the actual economic question is, is the expenditure of taxpayer money appropriate, particularly when individuals can obtain fluoridation via toothpaste or mouthwash? The Times seems to think that it is fine to force everyone to pay for those few who may not be able to afford fluoridated toothpaste. To properly determine the worthiness of fluoridation, however, would require a review of government spending priorities; e.g., perhaps that 29 cents would be better spent on community policing.
I could continue, but hopefully my point has been made. Also, although my research indicates that there are credible folks with anti-fluoridation viewpoints, please note that I am not taking a position one way or the other with regard to fluoridation. What I am doing is demonstrating that the Times editorial on the issue is rife with logical fallacies and devoid of a balanced scientific discussion. The editorial’s harsh attack on county commissioners opposed to fluoridation was therefore inappropriate.
How can this be? How can the Times crank out such shoddy work, while still claiming to be a clear-thinking community leader? I will try to answer that in a future post.
To solve complex problems, engineers try to identify all of the important variables that might be in play. Working from this list, each variable is analyzed and tested to determine its effect, if any, on the problem, until the root cause of the problem is identified. The root cause is often traced to a dominant variable, a Big Gorilla. Sometimes, however, it’s not possible to clearly identify a root cause, either because an important variable was not on the list, or because the cause is a combination of variables, and that combination was not considered.
Because we are prone to thinking there is always a single silver-bullet solution to every problem (see “The Single-Event Fallacy (Am I Psychic?)” in this post: “I’m Right! (Or Am I?)“), the possibility of a problem being caused by a combination of significant variables is often disregarded, making problem-solving efforts ineffective and even misleading. For example, a scientific study of thimerosal (50% mercury) in vaccinations may conclude that there is no correlation to autism, and the media will then shout, “Vaccinations don’t cause autism!” But this conclusion is not scientifically justified. For example, is there something else in vaccinations — either by itself or in combination with other factors, including thimerosal — that is linked to autism?
Therefore, in addition to all of the standard skeptical questions one should ask about any study (e.g., was there a control group? were statistics used properly? was the study funded by an organization that has a stake in the results?), it’s always good to be cautious about accepting overly broad conclusions from a study where only a single variable was considered.
Regarding autism and vaccinations, researchers have recently identified a correlation between the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine and autism (“Hypothesis: Conjugate vaccines may predispose children to autism spectrum disorders,” discussed here). Hib can now be added to the list of possible significant variables (see “Off Topic: The Autism Epidemic“) that may play a significant role in the perplexing and devastating puzzle of autism.
PolitiFact, as we’ve mentioned before (“PolitiFact Earns ‘Pants On Fire’ Rating“), has the annoying habit of claiming to impartially fact-check various statements made by public officials. Unfortunately, PolitiFact does not really analyze (using the accepted science definition of the term), it simply offers two-cent opinions masquerading under the haughty label of “analysis.”
Case in point: PolitiFact claims to have analyzed Herman Cain’s statement that his 9-9-9 plan will result in lower taxes for someone making less than $50,000 a year, and rates the claim “Mostly False.” (“Cain’s ‘9-9-9’ plan no pal of working poor,” headlines the edited version in the 17 Oct 2011 edition of the St. Petersburg Times; the full online version is here).
1. The first major problem with PolitiFact’s analysis is that it was not shown to be objective. PolitiFact selected three tax accountants to provide an opinion, but since Cain’s 9-9-9 plan — if implemented — will substantially reduce the need for tax accountants, they are the last folks that should be asked for an assessment.
(Oddly, after touting the three accountants, Politifact barely mentions them. The newspaper version of the article only cites the comments of one of the three, who happened to be very critical of Cain’s plan. The online version quotes a second accountant who had a positive comment. There is no mention whatever of the mysterious third accountant.)
2. Politifact states in the online version, “For this fact-check, we’ll only be talking about the personal income tax and the sales tax since the business tax directly affects only business owners and corporations.” This assertion is nonsense, however, since everyone’s effective income is directly impacted by the prices that business owners and corporations charge their customers, and those prices are greatly affected by federal corporate and payroll taxes.
PolitiFact completely ignores such taxes, which are often hidden taxes that the Cain plan eliminates. For example, when most folks purchase a loaf of bread, they are aware of the state sales tax that’s added at the checkout counter, but they may not be aware that a portion of the price tag on the bread contains hidden federal taxes; i.e. the basic price is not only what the baker charges to bake the bread, it also includes an extra amount to cover some or all of what the baker has to pay the federal government in taxes.
Bottom line: PolitiFact’s analysis is fatally flawed. Its analysis of Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan does not prove anything, one way or the other.
“…as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.”
From “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science,” by David H. Freedman, 23 Aug 2011, The Atlantic
ET Corollary: Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor probing questions, to challenge his/her assumptions, and to do your own research.
Trying to make a decision based on research, such as the correlation between cell phones and cancer? Click here for a good link that points out the shocking collapse of truthfulness in many “science-based” studies, and how to weed out the corrupted ones.
“Fifty-nine additional scientists from around the world have been added to the U.S. Senate Minority Report of dissenting scientists, pushing the total to over 700 skeptical international scientists – a dramatic increase from the original 650 scientists featured in the initial December 11, 2008 release. The 59 additional scientists added to the 255-page Senate Minority report since the initial release 13 ½ weeks ago represents an average of over four skeptical scientists a week. This updated report – which includes yet another former UN IPCC scientist – represents an additional 300 (and growing) scientists and climate researchers since the initial report’s release in December 2007.
“The over 700 dissenting scientists are now more than 13 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers. The 59 additional scientists hail from all over the world, including Japan, Italy, UK, Czech Republic, Canada, Netherlands, the U.S. and many are affiliated with prestigious institutions including, NASA, U.S. Navy, U.S. Defense Department, Energy Department, U.S. Air Force, the Philosophical Society of Washington (the oldest scientific society in Washington), Princeton University, Tulane University, American University, Oregon State University, U.S. Naval Academy and EPA.”
Science and the public are not well-served when scientists succumb to the financial rewards offered by the government in return for touting politically correct views, rather than true science. Fortunately — as indicated by the uncorruptable scientists mentioned above — science has a correcting mechanism, albeit a lagging one, which tends to elevate the truth over the self-serving interests of scientists that are corrupted by government grants.
Parents of autistic or similarly impaired children are sometimes led to believe that communications with their child are possible with the aid of a skilled intermediary. Typically the intermediary claims that they can communicate with the child through a process termed “facilitated communications,” wherein the intermediary “interprets” the child’s communications efforts by supporting the child’s hand or arm over a keyboard while the child is supposedly typing.
There is zero scientific evidence to support such claims. Nonetheless, and outrageously, charges have been brought against parents based on the notion that “facilitated communications” is scientifically sound.
In 2008, Julian and Thal Wendrow were jailed for allegedly sexually abusing their mute, autistic daughter, based on testimony from a facilitated communications expert. Their children were subsequently placed in foster care for months.
We present our Shameful Behavior award to this “expert” (unfortunately we do not have the person’s name), as well as Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca and assistants Deborah Carley and Andrea Dean, for failing to take the time to scientifically evaluate the fraudulent claims.
Such abuses of prosecutorial power would not occur if our public officials were trained in ET, or would at least consult with those of us who are trained to think rationally and skeptically. It is the height of arrogance and shameful behavior for public officials who have the power to take away our liberty to do any less.