Anti-Science Communication: It does not deserve to be placed with non-fiction

Regardless of the chosen subject, from climate to fluoride, the anti-science community pose themselves as a credible counter-weight in the public debate. In one regard, they are correct, but certainly not how they would like you to believe them to be.

There are obvious stepping stones between science and mainstream media, each having a valuable position in public discourse.

  • The first stepping stone is clearly the peer-reviewed scientific method itself. This happens among experts on a given subject well trained to critique and re-evaluate methods and data to test their merits and thus the confidence that can be drawn to a given conclusion.
  • The next stepping stone is a passive form of science communication. This form of communication demands some level of understanding of the science and the capacity to simply convert findings into a language that can be understood to a wider audience.
  • The final stepping stone converts that information into answers responding to the question, “What does it mean to us?”This stepping stone in science communication is the least expert on the topic of science, but is valuable because such individuals are likely to have good understanding on related subjects, such as policies and politics and can place this understanding, drawn from the science into a much broader context.

Where Does Anti-Science come into it?

The anti-science community sits on this third stepping stone, dressing itself up as the middle step which they want their readers to believe actually challenges the first one!

Take for instance Chris Monckton; he talks almost exclusively about what the subject means to us. In his world view, it means a resurgence of a hidden communist party out to take over the world and kill off six people out of seven. This message he dresses with graphs that are supposed to come from the peer-review process (suggesting that he represents the second stepping stone) and somehow challenge the standing confidence in basic principles within the climate science community.

Look at Merilyn Haines; she too speaks of values. She may refer to the odd science paper, which in itself would be an ill-fitting argument, but then wraps it up in anecdotal evidence, fear propagation and inaccuracies (such as the claim that fluoridated water is toxic or that the studies have not been done). It is entirely about what fluoridation means to us, but she pretends to accurately relay the science without bias and then suggests that it somehow challenges the standing conclusions in the body of science on public health.

Take any given anti-science communicator and you will find the same thing. Values – such as control / freedom, family health, prosperity etc – dressed up with unfounded assertions about the reality of scientific understanding. This begs the reader to be convinced of the validity of a counter-conclusion – one that avoids the scrutiny of expert peer-review completely!

Challenging the Denier

For those who choose to respond, it’s a doomed action. How can one prove that Monckton’s invisible enemies do not exist? How can one prove Merilyn’s sister did not get a skin condition from washing in the fluoridated water of Townsville?

Without first proving the invisible to simply not exist at all, how can you reply to the inaccuracies of the full package, which includes their “scientific” argument, in such a way that supporters of this anti-science would re-think their position?

This is why the creationism movement has persisted for so long; because the proof of a god will remain as elusive as the orbiting teapot – how can you prove it wrong? Clever anti-scientists have realised this and so market their message on their own imaginary threat or friend and in doing so render all counter-measures mute.

What we need to remember is that their fundamental argument is not on either of the stepping stones they pretend it to be. It does not challenge the science, because it avoids the scientific process like the plague. It is not the second passive form of science communication, because it is devout to desired values and clearly does not represent the science (it means to challenge the science and so obviously cannot).

It is the third step and based on, you guessed it, anti-science; a counter-argument to unfavourable conclusions drawn within the scientific method, devoid of the same level of scrutiny.

As a movement, it has no legs. It doesn’t draw upon reasonable sources of reliable information. It is untenable, beyond all doubt. Acknowledgement of these anti-science movements for what they are is the only method to respond. We must stop thinking it’s reasonable to see fairies at the bottom of the garden when human ingenuity has all but removed any possibility of such fantasy.

Check out: How does anti-science communication stand up to analysis?

Abbott’s Invisible Best Plan for Emission Reduction

On Monday, Tony Abbott told the crowd, “‘Just ask yourself what an emissions trading scheme is all about. It’s a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.”

However, a few years ago, and still visible on his own website, he wrote, “Then there’s the question of the best mechanism for reducing emissions on which an international agreement might be reached. There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government. It enables an increasing market price to be set for carbon through capping volumes of emissions.”

Consistency…?

Abbott’s “Real Solutions” really lacking fact checking

I’ve downloaded a copy of the LPA’s “Real Solutions” booklet as I expect it to hold up about as well as Abbott’s Direct Action Plan. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find such an obviously misleading point so quickly.

Firstly, I find it funny that the booklet is littered with quotes from Abbott now nearly 20yrs old. Has he not said much of inspiration since? Furthermore, he has made it clear that dredging up old quotes of his that are not in his favour is a mugs game – how is it different here?

Anyway, that’s a side note. What interested me straight away was this graph on page 14.

working days LPA

Okay, initially you might find it reasonable. He’s showing the difference between the last year of the Howard era (blue) against the ALP period (red), showing a steep increase in working days lost. Shame on you ALP!

But, wait a minute. If the climate deniers have taught me anything, it’s to be weary of graphs.

So, I went to the effort of going to the ABS website and downloading the actual working days lost data back until 2001. Here’s what I found;

Working days lost

Incredible! 2006 and 2007 are amazingly among the lowest years. The pretty picture fails as soon as we head back further in time – the Howard era actually has the highest values in the graph!

It must be noted my values are slightly different because I went with calendar years, not financial years.

So there you go, Abbott’s “Real Solutions” on a cursory glance holds real misleading information.

More to come as I wade through it.

UPDATE:

The above is now in an info-graph:

work-days-lost-web

Click to download web-sized and HQ versions. Please share!

Confusing ignorance for the burden of proof: the key to successful anti-science claptrap

kingdom-of-anti

If it is true, where then is the evidence?

It is noble and dignified to stand firm not to an idea but the pursuit of certainty. It is humble to acknowledge the less-than completeness of our knowledge base.

Yet such an enlightened cap is too easily placed on the scalp more fitting a dunce’s cone.

Anti-science is the core kingdom of all phyla of irrationality, be it climate change “scepticism”, 911, Obama birth or moon landing truthism, creation, anti-vaccination and anti-fluoridation. A central trait of this kingdom is wilful ignorance.

Interestingly, the anti-climate-science movement has marketed itself cleverly in this regard through the tacking on of the word “scepticism” to their cause.

However, there are light years between wilful ignorance and this pretence of scepticism.

How Ignorance Differs

Whether it is the creationist demanding for the “missing link”, the climate change sceptic insisting they merely want the evidence, the anti-fluoridation advocate pleading that the science has not yet been done convincingly… whatever the anti-science angle may be; in each case the individual attempts to mask their wilful ignorance behind the burden of proof – a core scientific method.

It sounds reasonable; if the evidence is so compelling, give it to me and make me a believer.

Firstly, it is not a matter of belief, but entirely a rejection of bad belief / ideas. One accepts that all other known alternatives have been tested and found to be erroneous and thus is drawn to the pool of ideas that remain and cannot be refuted – to the best of our current knowledge.

What exposes such people for their position however is not merely that they ignore the body of scientific evidence when presented to them, not simply that they jump feverishly to the odd paper hot off the peer-reviewed press that their media outlets inform them is the “final nail in the coffin” of the given topic and not just that they continue this argument against the scientific literature completely outside of the peer-review / scientific method process; but because they do all these things simultaneously.

Choosing ignorance or to avoid scientific understanding is not scepticism of presented proof at all.

Where the Debate is Now

We have moved pass this burden in the public “debate” or better termed, conversation and are now really talking about the burden of understanding. The ball is in the court of the anti-science advocate – the burden of proof has been fulfilled – and it is not the fault of science if the enthusiast came without a racket.

Simple tests prove what greenhouse gases are and that we emit them. Only slightly more complex tests show that these greenhouse gases we emit are changing their concentration in the atmosphere. Simple tests show the world is warming. More complex tests have removed the solar or astrological radiation or other meteorological processes as the source of this change. Regardless of whether the result will be 1, 2 or 5 degrees Celsius, we are witnessing anthropogenic climate change.

Equally, the fossil record, genetics and geology all place evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, Richard Lenski’s work and the body of ecological science have truly left the ball bouncing around the creationist’s court with their response little better than a Three Stooges slap-stick performance.

Again and again, the various phyla of anti-science prove that they have yet to critically review and illustrate fundamental lapses in the science, but rather attempt to pass off ignorance as valid scepticism of the body of evidence provided as proof.

This is what I spend my time writing about on NewAnthro. The anti-science advocate will not challenge the science, but offer another position instead as a competing idea and suggest that the science isn’t settled. In other words, it’s doubt mongering, it’s a sleight of hand designed to distract and confuse. Yet, I take their hypothesis, test it and show why it fails to provide a convincing argument and avoids the science completely.

Science is not about absolutes, but about drawing reasonable conclusions from the highest level of certainty available… with the error bars noted. The kingdom of anti-science instead doesn’t like the conclusion and would like something else to be concluded instead. And so all anti-science phyla ignore inconvenient evidence to pretend they stroll along the high road; sceptics surefooted on the burden of proof. Of course, the only proof they can accept acknowledges their conclusions and so they are walking backwards, down the road of dark age myth.

Why I will no longer approve anti-fluoride dishonesty

An excellent example of the anti-fluoride culture: Fringe, batty and quick to irrationality when given the time
An excellent example of the anti-fluoride culture: Fringe, batty and quick to irrationality when given the time

Some time ago, I had a problem with a persistent troll and a fan of his waxing lyrical on their climate change denial nonsense on my space. It proved to be irritating.

As I’m a fan of free speech, I had to do something about this parasite that, like Seymour’s plant, seemed to grow more troubling the more effort I put in; so I quarantined them. I’ve since retired that effort too as it was needless energy expenditure on my behalf.

And then the anti-fluoride trolls moved in.

Last week, I had a couple comments by such individuals awaiting approval and I just couldn’t do so. It was the same dishonest nonsense that I’ve seen time and time again.

I’ve built the anti-fluoride arguments above to make it simple not only for honest websurfers to reply to the flimsy arguments provided by the anti-fluoride movement, but also to provide a platform on which the anti-fluoride advocates can stand upon to “raise their game” should they be able to.

I did not waste this effort simply to have the same dishonest arguments graffiti subsequent posts in complete ignorance to the rebuttals I have already created.

Every single anti-fluoride advocate that has written on NewAnthro has bombastically pronounced me some variant of a “moron” and then cherry-picked their favourite “proof”. If I take the bait and play word warfare, they are only too happy to dance that dance, however if I go to the effort of providing compelling counter-arguments, rather than critiquing this reply, amazingly they go silent.

I am in contact with other communicators and I know for a fact that many of these individuals later resurface elsewhere to comment with what is pretty much a copy-and-paste equivalent to their comments here. They practice avoidance of evidence against their position with amazing tenacity.

Even Merilyn Haines dropped a stink bomb – which led to my greater efforts on the subject – only to fall mute when I’ve illustrated each of her arguments to be misleading, incorrect and cherry picked (for instance).

antiscience-logic

Rather than attempt to fault my efforts, they have simply ignored them. The anti-fluoride advocates are stuck on the insistent belief that they are right and hold no capacity to move the conversation forward and admit to fault that is so easily evident when one takes their claims seriously.

My second video on the subject made the point that they ought to be thanking me for quality controlling their arguments; if fluoridation is a problem, then I could do nothing to deny the fact – the evidence would be compelling. All I have done is remove the bad arguments that in turn weaken their position… Of course, nothing of their argument remains, hence the bile, dishonesty and ignorance I find waiting for approval.

Enough has to be enough.

The anti-fluoride advocates have shown nothing by contempt for my efforts and thus are not welcome to my comment treads.

This is not an attack on free speech as NewAnthro is all about progressing human activity based on the best quality data available; something in contradiction to their goals. Wordpress allows them to build their own soap box elsewhere to pursue that goal.

They are a fringe movement given too much weight in public discourse – amazingly expecting equal weighing for degrees in lab technology and no study history against health advocacy supported by health professionals with expertise in the field of dental and public health.

I can only afford them fair weighting.

As it stands, that means I can give them nothing. In reply to my efforts, they are vacuous and academically, they are just inert  in response to the actual question; the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation at 0.7 ppm in public water.

Health experts DO understand fluoride dose: New anti-fluoride rebuttal

Another fictitious claim made by anti-fluoride advocates attempts to confuse the audience about dose. Merilyn Haines, in a recent interview even went as far as to wrongly claim that health experts do not understand dosage at all!

The easiest way to understand the truth in this situation is to use a familiar substitute; paracetamol. If you had a sprained ankle and were using paracetamol for pain relief, would it be more dangerous to take 10 standard tablets right now or two every four hours over a day?

Clearly having them all at once is a higher dose and more likely to cause you harm than small amounts over a longer period. Yet this is were the anti-fluoride advocate attempts to confuse the listener; they completely ignoring the time factor.

If I were to have one milligram of fluoride over the course of an hour or two (drinking a litre of water) and do so two more times over the course of a day, this is not the same as have three milligrams of fluoride on a teaspoon right now, or to do so and again two more times over a day.

No health expert rejects that at high doses fluoride will have negative impact. Chlorine in high doses is dangerous, but in small amounts in our water it radically reduces the potential spread of disease from drinking water – something that led many generations over history to have their children go straight from the breast to beer!

In fact, everything at high enough doses can have negative health impacts. The literature – generally the only literature anti-fluoride advocates will list – has studied the potential impacts at higher levels of fluoride exposure. As the information within the NewAnthro anti-fluoride debunking list illustrates, these higher levels are not what occurs in fluoridated areas, as supported by the various health organisations, but typically the result of industrial and environmental sources in developing countries.

In the US, the recommended drinking water concentration has been lowered from a range of 0.7 – 1.2 to 0.7ppm in the acknowledgement of other sources of intake, such as toothpaste and in some foods and drinks, which has increased over time.

This is entirely an example of expert understanding of dosage.

Fluoridation of drinking water to WHO standards is proven to be safe and effective and clearly the result of health experts research and evaluation of public health and dose exposure which is adjusted over time based on quality data.

Coffs Harbour City Councillors: tilling the soil for northern anti-science propaganda

Cr Nan Cowling

Reviewing the recent fluoride media in Australia, I’ve found that Coffs Harbour city councillors, noted in the article, Nan Cowling, have decided to raise the question of whether to continue water fluoridation to be discussed at the 2013 Local Government Association annual conference in October.

The three noted justifications for this were; cost; “Well, Queensland are doing it”; and a large population of elderly people.

Cost

It’s $65,000 a year, or $1.43 per person per year (with a population of 45,580 according to the 2011 Census for Coffes Harbour, Code UCL112004). Councillor Nan Cowling believes that tooth decay had more to do with access to dentistry, but can we access dentistry for less than $2 a year?

Even if you looked at Code SSC10553 (SSC) instead, the population is only 24,581 and yet the cost is still only $2.64 per person a year.

As I don’t know how much of the Coffs Harbour community is provided the water in question, we have a cost somewhere between $1.43 and and $2.64… Hardly bank busting.

Good in Queensland

In the words of mothers everywhere; “now, if Queensland were to jump of a cliff, would you jump as well?”

Firstly, Queensland has a problem of a very invasive memebase, more commonly known as “The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Air and Food” (QAWF), which has enjoyed success largely because Queenslanders have not had much exposure to fluoride – something new in their waters is scary… especially for their hydrangeas.

Most people in capital cities outside of Queensland don’t give fluoride much thought. They’ve lived with it for decades – including Sydney and Coffs Harbour – without concern.

QAWF is an anti-science movement that repeats debunked claims with complete disregard for counter-arguments and strong scientific evidence to the contrary. You really don’t want to encourage such thinking to propagate or else, before you know it, the Earth is 6000 years old and flat.

How Old is the Coffs Harbour Community?

The point that Coffs Harbour community is mainly elderly is utterly untrue. Again turning to the same 2011 Census data we find the following (very similar regardless of which of the two codes used);

coffs harbour pop

You get a fairly even distribution across the ages, admittedly, but would you expect a far higher group for what is only the first quarter of an expected life span? Nan Cowling herself is on the aging end of the spectrum, which may do better to explain why she disregards more than 25% of the Coffs Harbour community (0-19 yo).

Moreover, fluoride assists with the remineralisation of teeth – a process which is not age discriminant. The entire Coffs Harbour community benefit from drinking water fluoridation – a process that costs them less than $3 each a year!

In essence, the Coffs Harbour city councillors have fallen prey to fear mongering propaganda, with no cost benefits and complete disregard not only for their younger community, but everyone within their region.

Eugenie Scott: Frustrations, distortions and teaching bad ideas in schools

Eugenie Scott is always an interesting and thoughtful communicator. In her recent interview with Inside Climate News, she provided a number of gems, including;

“The thing that frustrates me, and is a constant annoyance, is when you see science distorted. As a scientist, I know the process that scientists go through to come up with the conclusions. It is not like we wake up one morning and say, ‘I think it is getting warmer.’ There is a long process of data collection and analysis, constant questioning from your colleagues, and the back and forth of disputes, and presentations of more data and more models. Finally you reach a consensus. That is the way it was with evolution. That is the way it was with climate change.

But people just show up with an ideological agenda, whether political or religious or something else, and distort the conclusions that have been so hard won. This is the sort of thing that really pisses off scientists, and me.”

and;

“Creationists certainly have a right to challenge the science and present their own views to the public for consideration. And the climate change deniers can do the same thing. It is free speech.

However, you really need to think about the goal of education. We are trying to teach kids the basics of the scientific fields. You barely have time to teach them these basics, so why would you argue that students should be learning information that the scientific community has looked at and rejected as being not valid?

Geographers have concluded that the earth is not flat… just as they’ve concluded that species have common ancestors and that climate change is happening. But you don’t see anyone still arguing that we should teach that the earth is flat.”

Read the full interview here.

Sourced from the current issue of Nature, 'Evolution makes the grade'
Sourced from the current issue of Nature, ‘Evolution makes the grade’ by Lauren Morello

In short, she is ever calling for the fair weight of opposing ideas, not equal weight. Interest groups are entitled to their opinions, but this does not instantly elevate the credibility of their ideas. Such credibility is “hard won” and earned through the scientific process.