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?


“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”

I make it a personal rule to avoid anti-science blogs. Simply, it would be a pointless venture. C. H. Spurgeon had it right, long before the Internet was even dreamt up with, “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on”.

Any half-baked idea can be seriously entertained if one avoids scrutiny, hence why the web is a fertile landscape for the dreamer and mad theorist alike. It takes discipline to adhere to strict guidelines of quality control and even more on such a platform as the Internet, which is why I always back up any statements with citation and/or illustrated mathematics for review.

With that in mind, I have no doubt the anti-science dreamers commonly called climate change “sceptics” would no doubt be foaming over Obama’s recent disregarding statement of their movement. That, or the Monckton’s of the world would loftily stick their noses in the air and pompously write his statement off as the rant’s of an extreme lefty matching none other than Fidel Castro (seriously, Monckton has made this insane claim in the past on “Vattelevision”, about 6:25mins into this video; disregarding strong differences between the two’s idea of leadership – for instance, Obama will step down at the end of this term – economic structure, gay rights / marriage equality, etc etc etc).

It’s good to see not only the US finally getting on-board to tackle climate change, but also China – the “final nail” in the coffin* in the argument against action on the basis of the impotence of these two big countries so far. Further, it’s great that Obama understand the difference between equal and fair weighting of a debate – hopefully he can carry that on into the class rooms regarding biology and geology (in other words, another shameful Flat Earth Society: creationism / ID).

This is the type of action that is required from leadership, which helps to undermine frankly anti-science movements (identifiable in their lack of scientific support or criticism of the basic ideas being challenged by such groups). It’s better to be slow rather than late – it gives our children and those beyond the best chance of prosperity and comfort through the actions we take on their behalf.

* Sorry, I just had to use that cliché, so often used against anthropogenic climate change with every typo in an IPCC report or flimsy scientific paper.

Being Wrong: How we deal with it makes all the difference.

I’ve talked a lot about similarities between the so-called “climate sceptics”, anti-vaccination activists and creationists in the past, and much of those similarities could also be shared with the anti-fluoridation camp as well, but there is one aspect of similarity between each of these four groups that I have yet to discuss.

From my experience, each one is happy to name-call and partake in science paper fight – both pointless, ego-centric activities – but yet typically fall silent when one takes their evidence seriously and finds it lacking.

A very public example which many of us witnessed is that between Peter Hadfield and Christopher Monckton. The latter was pompous, bombastic and feverish in his initial replies to Peter’s work, but when Peter offered to debate with him, the only conclusion an observer can make is that Ol’ Chris scampered.

With my own work, I have increasingly come to the realisation that pointing out where the best science stands does little to convince the true believers – it only solidifies their bogus positions through a supposed arrogance / ignorance within established scientific methodology.

This is the fertile grounds for propagating “ivory tower” conclusions or secret agendas.

Rather, I try to critique the counter evidence provided to me and explore this myself within the real world.

I’ve looked at the arguments provided by The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Food and Air inc. president, Merilyn Haines, after I became aware of her through her comment on NewAnthro. All of my work has been, thus far, devoid of any Merilyn “approved” rebuttals.

Equally, the day and half I wasted exploring data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics relating to bladder and lung cancer on the behalf of Dan Germouse, after his comments on NewAnthro, went by without comment.

In the early years of my blogging, I was foolish enough to play into the hands of such trolls and become frustrated by their personal attacks. I did waste countless hours researching papers to provide the scientific reasoning for a given position, or in reply to their proposed argument, only to be hurled back favoured scientific material (regardless of the quality or the actual standing of the paper); what merely descended into a paper war.

These activities, I felt at first to be worthwhile – I was at least engaging them. However, they are emotionally draining and circular; deliberate attempts to wear one down rather than advance understanding.

Developing my work into my current approach, I’ve noticed that such pet theorists are inclined to avoid arguments they cannot refute. Regardless of my efforts to correct and engage Merilyn, from her recent interview on ABC radio, it is clear that she still parrots off the same nonsensical claims. I suppose Dan moved on to greener pastures following my effort, to continue to moan on supposed “pain and suffering” due to water fluoridation.

The hardened and indeed committed “sceptic” to such matters as anthropogenic climate change, vaccination, evolution, fluoridation and whatever other conspiracy ideation you wish to mention will simply side-step an argument they cannot refute rather than acknowledge personal error.

In reality, the biggest insult they produce is entirely upon themselves. Such avoidance of counter-evidence is as debilitating as that we all seem to shake our heads over, such as parents whom deny their child medical assistance on the basis of religion or “natural medicine”. It’s incapacity to accept fault and improve.

I’m not stating that my work on NewAnthro is faultless and know that some of my analyses must include certain caution, acknowledgement of error bars, due to confounders. For instance, with my look into rates of bladder and lung cancer, I assumed that other factors that may confound my results, such as the average age of the population, immigration and emigration, are more or less homogenous between the study groups at a state level.

My analysis largely hinged on exploring Hirzy et al (2013) whom state that there is additional “pain and suffering of citizens” due to “the use of technical grade fluoridation agents”. I expected that, if there is indeed evidence of this, it should be evident within the Australian dataset with Queensland the obvious control group.

Within my analysis of the Australian Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, I even make a note of criticisms I would expect and attempt to provide my argument in reply.

Being wrong is as valuable as being right, provided you can admit fault and move on. The true believe remains true, entirely at the cost of any credibility they may have held.

“Carbon Tax” Successful Reframing at its Best

I got into a debate over the weekend with a family friend. I learnt fairly quickly that nothing I said could alter the frustration the other felt over the “carbon tax”. This included pointing out an absurdly obvious fact; it’s not a tax.

I shouldn’t need to say it, but we all know the basics of tax. Put simply, a tax collects a fragment of one entity’s wealth for certain reasons, from establishing a “common wallet” to fund public based goods and services to the outright repugnant sequestering of wealth and lands by yesteryears lords and kings to pay largely for their lavish lifestyles.

What we have with carbon is unrelated directly with wealth, but instead the amount of greenhouse gases one’s activities are responsible for. A carbon neutral business could laugh themselves to the bank, because they do not pay, per unit, for their emissions. What we have on carbon is a price paid to emit. It is a price on carbon.

It continually amazes me how the most vocal against the price on carbon tend to want a market-based strategy; when that’s exactly what they bark so feverishly at! At the same time, they tend to be silent in the face of the real cost increases with power supply, of which, the carbon price is small.

As stated above, the cost effective approach is to reduce the emissions one is responsible for or, in other words, reduce one’s overheads! The price on carbon is a good place to start.

Yet, as I found over the weekend, no matter what I said, the word “tax” stuck. People hate tax, obviously (but one wonders how much this hatred compares to that six-month old pothole that has not been repaired due to a loss of public revenue) and so labelling it the “carbon tax” is a wonderful tool to mislead people into thinking that a portion of their hard-earned money has been swiped by the federal government against their will.

In reality, the price on carbon is essentially avoidable. And, if it works well, eventually it would fade itself out of existence.

I’ve harped on about it, however, the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan is entirely funded by the taxpayer, either through increasing taxes or by removing standing services instead. Either way, it is an initiative entirely funded through the taxpayer’s expense. It is, unavoidable regardless how small your carbon footprint is. It is the true tax paid by everyone.

It remains, however, that the spin, “carbon tax” has seem to have worked, without any rationale behind it.

Associating a market-based strategy with mythical overbearing government propaganda has, in this case, switched off the minds of many, to crassly parrot back the same absurdities time and time again.

The Coalition has continually called it a “big fat tax” on everyone and “the economic wrecking ball” (that never was), with Greg Hunt dedicating a blog to the “carbon tax”. Christopher Monckton, too, has enjoyed this bandwagon with his latest tour; Carbon tax, climate scam, Agenda 21: can democracy survive all three? Lord Monckton does due diligence.

The “carbon tax” stands as a success campaign to mislead and ultimately undo the standing political leadership within Australia. It has been an excellent political manoeuvre that threatens to lead us well and truly to a carbon tax paid directly by the taxpayer. Sitting on the sidelines to this crazy affair, I’m amazed at how well the opposition have successfully plugged this bait and switch. They could put many marketing gurus to shame.

Christopher Monckton and the Summer of 98

The LAST (I hope) video I’ll produce on Crazy Chris (although admittedly, he’s an endless source of inspiration).

So, he is now in Australia; if you know of someone about to interview him or planning to waste their money on one of his propaganda presentations, please link them to my videos – remind them of how batty this ol’ chap really is.

The previous videos;

Monckton on the UN Ice Age

I know I’m well and truly last to this party, however undertaking some research for the Monckton videos this week, I came across this little gem of his on this post on WUWT;

“A new global temperature target will aim, Canute-like, to limit “global warming” to as little as 1 C° above pre-industrial levels. Since temperature is already 3 C° above those levels, what is in effect being proposed is a 2 C° cut in today’s temperatures. This would take us halfway back towards the last Ice Age, and would kill hundreds of millions. Colder is far more dangerous than warmer.”

I know it is but one of a series of errors serious enough to demand cognitive dissonance to overlook, however it interested me on a couple levels.

Most obviously, ol’ Chris here demonstrates “real” concern for climate change; regardless of the direction, he admits that a few degrees change to the temperature anomaly can be a bad thing for how we live.

Yet, and I’m certain my fellow readers instantly noticed the absurd point being made; Chris is suggesting that 1 C° above pre-industrial levels is close to an Ice Age (one should note that the report he links to actually has 1.5 C°, but let’s not split hairs). That would logically conclude that the pre-industrial era was even closer to an Ice Age because it was in fact yet another degree cooler again!

Of course, where does he even get the “3 C° above” pre-industrial levels to begin with? Consulting NASA’s climate change information, we find that their official number is 1.5 F° or 0.83 C° above 1880 values. It must be admitted that he thinks NASA is making so much money out of the “climate scam” that they cannot be trusted, but in this case, it would seem that Monckton is the warmest…?

How on Earth do people not notice such face smacking stupidity when it greets them?