Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

University announces review of woo

Posted in improbable science by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

After the announcement that the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan) was suspending its homeopathy “BSc” course, it seems that their vice chancellor has listened to the pressure, both internal and external, to stop bringing his university into disrepute.

An internal review of all their courses in alternative medicine was announced shortly after the course  closure.   Congratulations to Malcolm McVicar for grasping the nettle at last.  Let’s hope other universities follow his example soon.

I have acquired, indirectly, a copy of the announcement of the welcome news.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “IMPROBABLE SCIENCE”

Yet another really bad day for antivaccinationists: No link between MMR and autism–again

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

Yesterday evening, yet another study failing to find a link between MMR and autism, this time out of Columbia University. Even better, the first author on the study is Mady Hornig, who became a hero of the mercury militia a three years ago with her infamous “rain mouse” study, in which she performed experiments of dubious ethics on some very unlucky lab mice and claimed it was “evidence” that thimerosal caused autism. She was even a common speaker at mercury militia–excuse me, I mean National Autism Association–events, along with hard core members Boyd Haley, Richard Deth, Mark Blaxill, Jeff Bradstreet, and others, as well a speaker for FAIR Autism Media, along with Mark and David Geier, Thomas Burbacher, Boyd Haley (again), Andrew Wakefield himself, and many others. Unfortunately, her experiments were anything but evidence supporting a link between thimerosal and autism. This latest study makes me think that perhaps Dr. Hornig, contemplating her descent into antivaccine pseudoscience, may have had a “come to Jesus” moment and is trying to regain her scientific mojo (although I’ll only really believe that when I see her give up trying to show that thimerosal causes autism using her mouse model). Either that, or she figured out that flirting with the band of pseudoscientists and ideologues making up the antivaccine movement is the surest way to kill her scientific career deader than dead and thereby end up working in the basement of her house like Geier, père et fils. In other words, perhaps she decided that tenure and a continued scientific career meant more to her than the momentary notoriety and adulation that come from being the darling of the mercury militia.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”

Antivax: new evidence shows (again) no link to autism

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

Oh, another blow — among a flurry of them — to people who think vaccines are linked with autism.

Some people were claiming that measles vaccines were linked to incidence of autism. The claim was that the (killed weakened) measles viruses in the vaccines were getting into the childrens’ bowels. The intestines would then react to the virus, lowering vitamin and other nutrient absorption, which in turn could give rise to development disorders including autism. Measle virus RNA was found in the bowels of children with autism, and there was speculation of a link, though tenuous. The media, of course, ran with this story.

However, a new study shows that the measles virus RNA found in the children with autism (who also had gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances) has nothing to do with the onset of autism spectrum disorder:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

An Acupuncture Debate

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

Recently I was invited to write my views on acupuncture for a website called Opposing Views. I pre-published (with permission) my side of the debate on “Does Acupuncture Work” here at NeuroLogica. Taking the pro-acupuncture side is Bill Reddy – his profile states that he is “currently serving on the Executive Committee of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.”

The format of the website allows for moderated comments, which are intended to allow for a written debate with the two sides. Here are my responses to the first round of arguments.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “NEUROLOGICA”

Skepquote of the day #2

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

Yes, I couldn’t resist, so today you lucky focks get a double dose of skepquotes. Enjoy!

Why are the media talking about Palin like she’s some kind of superhero mom?  She’s in the PTA.  She’s governor of Alaska.  She carpools to hockey practice. She cooks moose burgers for her family.  She flew home from Texas to Alaska while she was in labor… on the back of a pegasus… unicorns were waiting for her at the airport to whisk her away to the hospital… she was throwing gold coins at homeless eskimos between contractions… Jesus was her midwife and when the baby crowned, a chorus of five thousand Boticelli angels erupted in chorus, singing a song penned by the Almighty himself about how Sarah Palin is the greatest mother ever to grace His 6,000 year-old universe.

Skepchick.

Intellectual arrogance

Posted in Rationally Speaking, Uncategorized by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

Since my recent post on VP nominee Sarah Palin I have been struck by a number of intemperate comments posted on this blog, on “Uncommon Descent” (the Discovery Institute blog, which reprinted a few lines of my original post), and even via private emails. Now, you might say, what do you expect? You decided to enter the blogosphere, so vitriolic attacks on what you write are to be expected as part and parcel of the “job” (for which, of course, I’m not paid).

Right, but my issue is not with the personal attacks on me. My skin is think enough, I assure you, or I wouldn’t have been able to survive for a quarter century in academia. (Before you laugh, think of how much rejection is built into the job: most of your job applications will be turned down, most of your papers will be harshly criticized by at least some anonymous reviewer, and most of your grant proposals will be returned unfunded, again anonymously and often rather harshly. If you don’t have an ego big enough to sustain the bruises year after year, you better get out of the game.)

No, my problem is with the all too common accusation of intellectual arrogance being hurled at myself and most of my colleagues who defend science from pseudoscience, be that creationism, intelligent design, UFO claims, psychic powers, astrology or “alternative” medicine. The reasoning, such as it is, goes like this: how dare you, Dr. X (put here any name of any scientist who dares to write for the public), claim that so many people are wrong and you and a small number of other egg-headed intellectuals are right? Who are you to declare the truth of evolution and the falsity of intelligent design? What makes you the arbiter in deciding what is science and what is bunk?

The answer is simple: I am an expert. You shouldn’t trust me on car mechanics, or on civil engineering, or on market analysis. But what I have to say about science counts more than what most people have to say about it because I am a scientist and they are not. The reason I don’t feel any qualms declaring evolution a sound scientific theory and intelligent design as not even junk science is because I am a professional organismal biologist, and pretty much everyone who accepts ID is not. By comparison, imagine how foolishlyou would feel if a thousand car mechanics tell you that you need to change the carburetor in your car and you keep insisting that they don’t know what they are talking about, elitist auto-experts that they are, because carburetors obviously don’t exist!

Intellectual arrogance, in the utmost degree, is being displayed by those who dismiss out of hand the considerate opinion of someone who has studied a field for 25 years only because they cherish a particular religious worldview that has no independent foundation in reality. Arrogance, according to my dictionary, is “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities,” and it seems to me to fit perfectly someone who has no technical background in a given field and yet pontificates endlessly about what is True and what is not.

The idea that someone who has not bothered to study a highly technical area of knowledge turns around and accuses experts in those areas of being arrogant is both ridiculous and a common strategy in certain political quarters. Consider the Obama-McCain contrast of this electoral cycle, or the Kerry-Bush of the last cycle. I don’t know whether Obama or Kerry are “elitist” in any meaningful sense of the word, although as Jon Stewart aptly put it, I want the guy who is running for the most powerful job on the planet to be better than me! But the idea that McCain — who is so rich that he doesn’t know how many houses he owns, or Bush — with a degree from ivy league Yale and a career propelled by his father’s money and connections, are “common folks” who really feel the pain of the people is astoundingly ludicrous. And yet millions of people buy straight into it without a second thought (thought, or lack thereof, being the key word here).

Our national discourse has gotten so bad that demagogues can get away with throwing any amount of mud at their opponents while claiming to have their hands as clean as snow, just like people who have no knowledge or understanding of the matters at hand can gingerly accuse serious professionals of being intellectually arrogant — and feel very much self-righteous about it too. Al Gore, in his most recent book, put it in terms of an assault on reason. To reason, again going by the dictionary, is the ability to “think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” The right wing-fundamentalist axis that has gained so much prominence and political power in the United States over the past several years has truly thrown reason out the window. Now they would like to finish the job by accusing intellectuals of being un-reasonable, obtuse, and conceited.

It is time to reverse the tide and take a stand. If you reject the theory of evolution, or think that there is such a thing as alternative (as opposed to evidence-based) medicine, or claim without evidence that aliens are visiting the planet, or think that the stars influence human destiny, and so on, you are anti-science and live in a dream world with no connection to reality. More damning, you are engaging in the ultimate act of arrogance: to declare something true or untrue not because you have reason or evidence, but only because it makes you feel better. May I suggest that you need a good dose of humility, and that one way to get it is to admit that the universe is not about you, and that some people out there really know more than you do, as unpleasant a thought as this may be?

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on September 4, 2008

If you reject the theory of evolution, or think that there is such a thing as alternative (as opposed to evidence-based) medicine, or claim without evidence that aliens are visiting the planet, or think that the stars influence human destiny, and so on, you are anti-science and live in a dream world with no connection to reality. More damning, you are engaging in the ultimate act of arrogance: to declare something true or untrue not because you have reason or evidence, but only because it makes you feel better. May I suggest that you need a good dose of humility, and that one way to get it is to admit that the universe is not about you, and that some people out there really know more than you do, as unpleasant a thought as this may be?

Massimo Pigliucci

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