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bad astronomy

Phil Plait nails it… again.

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy is pretty science-minded (intentionally understated for dramatic effect). One of his latest posts deals with the email "scandal" at the CRU and as usual, Phil makes his point both decisively and eloquently. Here are a few choice bits, but the entire post is well worth reading.

On what the CRU scientists were doing…

What these files do show is scientists trying to deal with data, software, and science, all the while also trying to figure out what to do with attacks on their work that are largely ideologically driven. I don’t think they handled that all that well, and that doesn’t surprise me. They’re scientists, not wonks. Of course, if you look at the files from the point of view of giant conspiracies it seems very racy [...]

On the attitude of the CRU scientists…

As far as the scientists’ attitudes go, much hay has been made of that as well. But I wonder. Imagine you’ve dedicated your life to some scientific pursuit. You do it because you love it, because you want to make the world a better place, and because you can see the physics beneath the surface, weaving the tapestry of reality, guiding the ebb and flow of forces both subtle and gross. Then you find that people start attacking you with flimsy evidence, politically motivated vitriol, and even elected officials say that what you are doing is a "hoax". How do you react?

That’s one of my favorite points. Wanting to stop bad or faulty research from getting published in reputable science journals is not a bad thing. The climate change deniers generally have nothing valid or worthwhile (from a scientific standpoint) to publish.

On how science works…

Science is necessarily conservative. Once something is established as being an accepted model/theory/law, then it becomes the standard paradigm until it is shown to be flawed in a significant way. You may not like it, but in modern climatology, global warming is accepted as the standard. It’s not up to me or anyone to prove it right at this point, it’s up to scientists to show it’s wrong. To do that you’ll need a lot of really good evidence, and from what I have seen and read that evidence is not there. Maybe it’s fair to say not yet there, but in reality it may not be there at all.

On the term "denier" versus the term "skeptic"…

I’ll note that some people are still upset by my use of the term deniers. Again, to be clear: a skeptic is someone who uses evidence and logic to reach a conclusion. A denialist is someone who will say or do anything to deny an issue. I stand by my definition. There are actual global warming skeptics out there — and I would not only support their efforts but praise them — but what I see on the web and in the comments overwhelmingly is denial, not skepticism.

That’s what I usually see as well, though I do see some "skeptic" papers from time to time. Deniers, however, latch on to the irrelevant papers or the quote-mine papers or the artificial drama papers and hold them up as proof positive that climate change is a hoax or a scam. It’s somewhat pathetic and really shows a lack of understanding of science… how it works, and how it’s used.

But I suppose that’s to be expected from deniers.

Goodbye, Smallpox! Thanks, Science!

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the elimination of smallpox, according to Wikipedia. How was it eliminated?


That’s medical science at its best… not “alternative” medicine, not homeopathy, not prayer, not the “Will of God.” Science. Real people doing real research to develop real solutions to real problems.

Nothing works like science.

Phil Plait says it better than I could (as usual).

Newsweek on Inoculation Misinformation

H1N1 Vaccine Newsweek has a great article addressing all the misinformation flying around regarding the H1N1 vaccine. It’s definitely well done and worth the time to read, if only to counter those folks who cry about conspiracies and dangers and government plots to use vaccines to control your mind by enslaving you with a thought-control drug and giving you Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Vaccines are a critical tool in our medical arsenal to combat illness and death. Major diseases have been all but eradicated from the face of the planet due to vaccinations and others have been reduced to the point of near insignificance because of the effect of herd immunity in the world population. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has a great rundown of articles about the benefits and safety of vaccines, including Gardasil, the relatively new HPV vaccine.

Here are the summary points from the Newsweek article about the H1N1 vaccine.

    • The vaccine does have some risks – the same risks as the seasonal flu vaccine. Except for the virus, it is functionally identical to the vaccine that’s given every year.
    • The multidose formulation of the vaccine contains thimerosal, which prevents contamination. Some have accused thimerosal of causing developmental disorders in children, but scientific evidence doesn’t support this.
    • The vaccine does not contain squalene, which has been accused – also without good evidence – of causing Gulf War syndrome.
    • There’s no reason to believe that a vaccination would cause Guillain-Barre syndrome. GBS was associated with several hundred flu vaccinations in 1976, but there’s been no evidence of an association since then, despite close monitoring.
    • While it’s true that a Navy vessel was prevented from deploying because of a flu outbreak, that had nothing to do with the vaccine, which hadn’t been developed at the time. And there were no deaths aboard the ship, as some e-mails claim.
    • Vaccination is not mandatory for the public nationally or in any state, although New York requires that health care providers get vaccinated. Massachusetts legislation granting standby powers in case of health emergencies does not require vaccination or establish quarantine “camps.”

    Read the whole article to hear some of the crazy misinformation flying around… and the actual facts that show why it’s crazy.

    …then tell others.

    Cassini is teh awsum!

    The Cassini spacecraft took this (these?) picture of Saturn on August 12th. It’s actually 75 separate pictures stitched together. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has more info.

    If you check out an uber-sized version, you can see four of Saturn’s moons, too. The image below links to the 1-meg JPG version. There are higher resolution images at the link above. They’re all awesome.

    Saturn imaged by Cassini

    Truer words are rarely spoken

    Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog just recently posted this article about Simon Singh and his current tussle with the British Chiropractic Association. I’ve been following the situation, but what really caught me about this update was Plait’s words in the first two paragraphs about science.

    Science thrives on criticism. Reality, being what it is — real — can withstand the slings and arrows of critics. It’s our methods, models, and interpretation of reality that are subject to withering critique, and through such honing moves us ever-closer to understanding the true nature of the world.

    Any claim that is said to be scientific should be held up to such scrutiny. If it is correct, it will survive. If it is not correct, it can be abandoned or improved. That is in the best interest of everyone.

    That, in my opinion, is beautifully stated.

    Too often, as in the case with the BCA, purveyors of bad “science” will try to quash those who disagree with their statements rather than offer evidence to support their statements. Or, if pressed further (again as in the case of the BCA and as noted in Plait’s post), they will offer up shoddy research, conjecture, invalid evidence, or outright lies.

    There are plenty of other groups that take the same tactics as the BCA (as noted previously here), using every trick they can conjure up instead of simply providing well-researched, corroborated evidence to back up their claims. If they refuse or cannot offer such evidence, they should be brushed aside and ignored until such time as they can step up and take some responsibility for their claims.

    …but I won’t hold my breath.

    Note: Cross posted from Rationality Now.