Sunday, 28 August 2011

Agnotology: or denialism as policy

When I entered medical school I strongly believed that knowledge was the answer to most, if not all, problems. By the same token I thought that in any debate, just offering your opponent a well-supported argument had to lead to its acceptance.

Not so. Apparently, for psychological reasons humans reject evidence that contradicts strongly held beliefs. Hence the need for denialism. Because of that I coined the phrase: there is no cure for stupidity. As I remarked before, there are two sides to that coin. One, there are those that sincerely refuse to accept scientific facts, mostly through lack of understanding. Eventhough studies show increasing their knowledge does not help, I sincerely hope it does. Unfortunately, they evade venues that offer critical thinking courses.

Unfortunately, there is another group. They do not reject science, they understand and accept it. However, their monetary gains, religious and political powers, are severly damaged should certain scientific facts become known and accepted by the general public. To protect profitable companies, policies, et cetera they attempt to keep uncomfortable information hidden, and are actively aided by politicians. And if that does not work they soften the blow by pointing out the science is not settled, or even making us distrust science.
We were first shown that tactic by the tabacco industry (PDF) , which despite increasing evidence smoking is detrimental to our health, made it possible to stall legislation. Their trick: manufacturing scientific doubt.

Following that success new acolytes appeared: global warming does not exist, vaccination kills, evolution is merely another opinion, the financial industry Ponzi scheme, non-medicine-medicine, only plebeians commit crimes, we guarantee your safety, privacy will be the end of us all, militarism and ignoring the law breeds democracy. The recurring theme is misinformation, misrepresentation, and fullblown denialism.

Putting as many sticks as possible in the wheels of the bicycle called science has become a major strategy which is detailed in Merchants of Doubt. The cause is self-evident: if people hear smoking kills you lose customers, once evolution is accepted and the bible is proven to be a set of fairy tales that book can no longer be used to indoctrinate the rabble, if global warming is true you need to make costly adaptations to factories and cars, if security theatre does not prevent terrorist attacks we won't spent billions on the military-industrial-complex incarnation called security firms.

That technique of creating confusion is known as agnotology. According to Dah Wiki this:
is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.
The term was invented by Robert Proctor in 1992. An example is given by Stéphane Foucart for The Guardian:
A famous internal memo issued by the US cigarette manufacturer Brown & Williamson put it bluntly: "Doubt is our product." The campaign by the tobacco industry to spread ignorance, which became a deliberate ploy in the 1950s, has since been copied in other fields.
Hmm, doubt as a product, where have I heard that before?

Today the intertoobs are a highly effective method of disseminating misinformation. There are numerous echo chambers promoting "alternative views" by experts without knowledge. Countering the deliberate manufacture of debate becomes increasingly difficult. Especially when exposing those fabricating facts results in abuse like the recent unpleasantness.

Not only facts are misrepresented, also language is conscripted  in this war on reason. Something Orwell years ago explained to us, which is why today we call such abuse of language Orwellian.

The sad thing is I expect powerful factions to mislead in order to gain money and power, I have been turned into a cynic by Il Principe combined with a lack of interest in the latest Hollywood gossip. What annoys me is that the one institute whose raison d'être should be exposing such blatant fraud is refusing to do so. Or, in the case of one news organisation, participating in the scheme to mislead us. Commenting on the P.R.-departments we call media David Roberts writes:
There's one thing we haven't learned from climategate (or death panels or birtherism). U.S. politics now contains a large, well-funded, tightly networked, and highly amplified tribe that defines itself through rejection of "lamestream" truth claims and standards of evidence. How should our political culture relate to that tribe?
We haven't figured it out. Politicians and the political press have tried to accommodate the shibboleths of the right as legitimate positions for debate. The press in particular has practically sworn off plain judgments of accuracy or fact. But all that's done is confuse and mislead the broader public, while the tribe pushes ever further into extremity. The tribe does not want to be accommodated. It is fueled by elite rejection.
At this point mainstream institutions like the press are in a bind: either accept the tribe's assertions as legitimate or be deemed "biased." Until there is a way out of that trap, there will be more and more Climategates.
Confronted with such opposition to change, i.e. advancement of knowledge, I am reminded of my school days. During physics lessons Lenz's law was introduced to me.
An induced current is always in such a direction as to oppose the motion or change causing it.
Add to that a pinch of Newton:
To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.
which completes my version of quantum-woo to explain The Force is behind the anti-science movement.

Update: Added image borrowed from Waldenswimmer.

Update II: Yet another brilliant picture from Joe Romm, for Think Progress:

Nice flow-chart of The Denier Industrial Complex.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Attack of the anti-science movement

One of the last resorts left to the anti-science crowd is bullying more saner individuals into submission. Since they cannot win the debate on its merits they regularly use the legal system to stifle critique: i.e. those exposing their nonsense. However, it is not the only tactic available, death threats are always a very effective way too to show you are not pleased with science. The similarities in modus operandi with that other group of ideologues, Scientology, is striking. For this post I limit myself to the litigation-crowd. Behaviour that in the past made me remark:
This is because the intrepid ideologue will start by simply denying anything that contradicts his/her erroneous opinion since the Galileo-gambit proves he/she is right. This method is not without risks. More and more people realise they are the victim of propaganda. Another avenue for maintaining your discreditied position is legal bullying. As we have seen, in the case of Simon Singh, litigation -using the U.K.'s libel laws in particular- is a preferred method, employed by cranks, of removing science-based criticism from public discourse.
That post was a response to how this tactic:
resulted in cancelling the publication of Paul Offit's latest book Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.
Based on the past weeks it appears this method of silencing reality-based criticism is on the rise. First, the recently unleashed Google Plus requires users to disclose their true identity. That is, even a well established pseudonym will lead to suspension of your account. Eventhough numerous legitimate reasons exist for people to keep their personal details hidden. Nevertheless, Google is not always in favour of disclosing that type of information:
Yet, it’s precisely for defending three bloggers’ right to anonymity that its Brazilian subsidiary was fined this Thursday by a local judge.
Following that kerfuffle the Overlords at Scienceblogs have also chosen to prohibit anonymous/pseudonymous blogging. Strangely enough both organisations were able to miss the fact that a blogger, named Samuele Riva, was threatened to stop writing about the factually correct observation that there was no scientific support for the claims (pun intended) being made by a producer of homeopathic remedies. In the words of Steven Novella:
this time the international homeopathy producer, Boiron, is threatening a lone Italian blogger because he dared to criticize their product, Oscillococcinum. The blogger, Samuele Riva, wrote two articles on his blog,, criticizing what our own Mark Crislip has called “oh-so-silly-coccinum.”  The blog is entirely in Italian, but he is maintaining a page in English with updates on the Boiron vs Blogzero affair.
As a result of this legal thuggery the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) are begging to be sued too:
We are inviting Boron [sic] to litigate not because we think their suit might have merit; quite to the contrary, such a suit would have absolutely no merit. If sued in any American court, we are confident we will prevail. Homeopathy has no scientific basis. Instead, we are inviting litigation because we do not believe Boron should be able to silence critics by picking on isolated bloggers.
Working on a post documenting this schoolyard approach to science I noticed the most recent incident involving EpiRen, who is a great force for reason. Liz Ditz wrote that his employer, because of legal threats, forced him to stop writing his science-based articles debunking the plethora of claims by the ideology-trumps-science-crowd:
Last weekend, Mr. Najera had a heated exchange with a pharmaceuticals "entrepreneur", Mr. X-- I put that in quotes as Mr. X. made some claims that don't stand up.  Mr. X also made a series of ad hominem attacks on Jen Gunter MD, to which Mr. Najera responded.
Rather than responding to Mr. Najera, Mr. X escalated in a particularly virulent way. Mr. X sent a series of emails--complaining about Mr. Najera's opinions, complaining about Mr. Najera's defense of vaccination,  and threatening legal action--to a great many people senior to Mr. Najera in his department -- starting with Mr. Najera's immediate superior.  Mr. X was able to do so because Mr. Najera was blogging under his own name, named the state in which he worked, and because the name René Najera is rather uncommon -- especially in a small, East Coast state.
Commenting on this incident Orac adds:
René was ordered by his superiors to cease all blogging, Twittering, and other social network activity related to public health.
You will find his blog is no longer available, a truly disgusting result. This tendency to prevent pertinent information from being shared with the general public -i.e. censorship- is the hallmark of ideologues. Why am I not allowed to hear facts that are incompatable with your preferred/perceived version of reality?

In the absence of media that adequately report on pseudoscience -you must know this is a particular peeve of mine- it is frightning to witness the blatant use of threats, instead of reasoned discourse, to get rid of opposing voices. Especially, when it has been repeatedly shown that there is absolutely zero evidence to support those anti-science claims. The fact the anti-science crowd will stop at nothing to hide criticism is one of the main reasons I keep my personal details hidden, though luckily I am hardly important enough for them to bother me.

In light of the above, an article by Glenn Greenwald detailing the war on whistleblowers, combined with an expanding Surveillance State, add a somewhat sinister argument as to why ones identity should be allowed to remain seperated from real world interactions.

Update: The internet has reacted with strong emotions over this incident, since the underlying debate is about the ability to adopt an anonymous/pseudonymous alter ego, for whatever purpose. From Liz Ditz we learn that @epiApril has suggested Epigate for this circus. She also keeps a list of posts by others detailing this thuggery. An excellent observation of these events is written by Dr Judy Stone. The effect the internet has on the age old exchange of ideas amongst the medical profession is reviewed by PalMD. To remind us of the law of uintended consequences Scepticemia discusses the Streisand effect while listing the numerous responses.

Update II: Regarding nymity Chad Orzel adds some points, while Tara C. Smith stresses its importance and asks National Geographic to reconsider the ill-advised Scienceblogs-thingy. Thinking on the methods used by the let's-reinstate-the-Dark-Ages-brigade I am reminded of another type of strongarming. It is defined as:
acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes (took part of the definition to offer my view on what it is)
Which, after my selective quoting, sounds like the definition offered by Lord Lloyd of Berwick:
The use of serious violence against persons or property, or threat to use such violence, to intimidate or coerce a government, the public or any section of the public, in order to promote political, social or ideological objectives.
Obviously, the similarity is a misunderstanding on my part. We all know that only brown people with islamic sounding names embrace such tactics.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Galileo Movement

Last year I, though I was not alone in this, noticed the tendency of cranks to invoke Galileo as proof of the inherent scientific basis of their refusal to accept the scientific consensus.

This time it is discussed by Scientific American as part of the epidemic, involving global warming denialism, in Australia. Apparently there is a new anti-science group Down Under:
Launched in February, the Galileo Movement is getting much of its lift from its influential "patron," conservative radio personality Alan Jones, one of the most popular broadcasters in Australia, who has touted the effort on his daily morning show.
For the casual observer this is yet more evidence that Merchants of Doubt was spot on, which makes Scientific American observe:
By casting doubt on the science, the need for behavior change is blunted – an approach the tobacco industry successfully employed throughout the 1980s and '90s to delay efforts to warn the public of smoking's dangers.
Independent Australia has more details on the who, and what, here and here. This campaign is part of the current non-debate over there on how to tackle the consequences of global warming. As expected there is vocal opposition to science whenever it interferes with ideological and/or monetary interests. As I noted before:
What these "sceptics" fail to notice is that Galileo made observations based in science, something they invariably refuse to do. Since his conclusions contradicted religious dogma, i.e. ideology, the Church attacked him. His findings were opposed not on their merits but by appeal to authority: the bible. Enter the anti-science brigade. The mere fact their stance is rejected too proves they, like Galileo, are persecuted. Wrong. They clearly misunderstand the meaning of the word.
Strangely enough the Galileo Movement missed the discovery that Galileo was wrong, although Ethan Siegel and Orac are less certain of that proposition. For those interested in the less fantasy infested version of reality I suggest visiting Skeptical Science, Open Mind, New Anthropocene, Climate Shifts, and RealClimate.

Update: Borrowed picture from Matthew Francis who also discusses this incarnation of the anti-science movement.

Update II: Found a post by Bycicle User on this topic.

Update III: The Galileo gambit is also explained by The Tracker.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Apps for the iPhone

It is about one year ago that I acquired my first iPhone. It replaced my previous toy which has moved on to a better world. Since then I have been playing around with it, and today it has more or less the apps I like, and need.

For the benefit of future reference, and for those of you who might think it useful, I will discuss what I am currently using.

For starters the iPod-function makes it possible to bring my favourite music with me, although I evade the use of iTunes to sync my music, and as it has an adequate camera-funtion I take my pictures with it too.

The apps I have put in seperate "folders," below I reproduced their names and contents:

  • App Store (for searching and downloading apps)
  • Settings (to personalise the iPhone)
  • Compass (fun, but not sure if it can replace the real thing)
  • Clock (helps me get up in the morning)
  • Battery Life (nice )
  • Flashlight (when your skulking around in the dark this will add some light)
  • Wi-Fi Finder (great for finding free spots, CAVE: phonebill when abroad)
  • Handy Level   
  • Messages
  • Contacts
  • ContactSync
  • PhoneCopy
  • MacMost
  • Find iPhone
  • Remote
  • RDP
  • Discovr Apps, cool way to find new apps
  • 12 Days
  • Echofon, interface for Twitter
  • Facebook, 
  • Google+, new alternative to Twitter and Facebook, for those who want to follow, or add, me: click here   
  • Fring, alternative for Skype, and it works on 3G
  • Foursquare, let people now where you are 
  • Skype, contrary to Fring it only works on Wi-Fi
  • Hoccer
  • Bump
  • PingChat
  • Tango
  • eBuddy XMS
  • AccuWeather
  • MyWeather
  • AeroWeather
  • Weather
  • Skiinfo
  • Ski Club Snow Report
  • Snoveo
  • Snow Report
  • Ski Montagne
  • Tripit, keep track of your travels
  • PF Free
  • FlightStatus
  • Tripwolf
  • iTrailMap
  • MetrO
  • Google Earth
  • Navigon
  • Google Maps
  • SkyView Free
  • Layar
  • AroundMe
  • GPS Tracker
  • EveryTrail
  • Yubify
Television & Radio
  • StreamItAll
  • P4
  • 22Tracks
  • Top 100 Hits
Audio & Video
  • VLC, this allows me to bring my favourite fims with me
  • YouTube
  • TED Mobile
  • Shazam
  • SoundHound
  • iTunes
  • iTalk
  • Voice Memos
  • Nike + iPod
  • Camera
  • Photos
  • Gorillacam
  • Genius Scan
  • Instagram
  • Epicurious
  • VintageChart
  • BigOven
  • DrinksFree
  • Cook's
  • NEJM App
  • PubMed Tap
  • Student BMJ
  • MedCalc
  • Eponyms
  • Skyscape
  • Medscape
  • Groupon
  • IKEA
  • Notes
  • 2Do Lite
  • Easy Note
  • EasyTask
  • UYIH
  • Evernote
  • Camcard
  • Wikipanion
  • Wikipedia
  • Science
  • Planets
  • KnotsGuide
  • SearchIt
  • Merriam-Webster
On the Town

  • myLanguage
  • Google Translate
  • WordPower Norwegian
  • WordPower Spanish
  • Word Lens
  • Book Reader
  • iBooks
  • Poe
  • Shakespear
  • Stanza
  • Audiobooks
  • NeoReader
  • RedLaser
  • Scan
  • ShopSavvy
  • Xe Currency
  • Currency
  • Coverter
  • Stocks
  • MapMyTracks
  • Runtastic Pro
  • RunKeeper
  • Inception
  • Zen Bound
  • Paper Pilot
  • WordFeud
  • Solitaire

Note: Not all applications are linked, so I will be updating that part of the post in the coming days. Second, if any of you know apps I need to check-out let me know.