A month ago, a couple of “psychics” did the usual trick of playing the odds and predicted (using psychic powers of course) that a panda at Atlanta zoo would be pregnant:
Atlanta-born psychic Helene Frisch reported she telepathically connected with Lun Lun using "tone vibration," the release said. Frisch said she discerned that not only is Lun Lun pregnant, but she will likely bear a male cub by Sept. 4.
Remember that this prediction wasn’t really that much of a stretch since the panda was artificially inseminated last March: artificially insemination increases the odds of pregnancy.
Nevertheless, they were correct that the panda did turn out to be pregnant, and not that far out guessing September 4th: the cub was born two days later on September 6th. Playing the odds to be sure, but a good guess.
Nothing special so far then – playing the odds guesses worked out OK. Until today. In her guess about the sex of the cub, she had a 50% chance of getting the right answer with her “male cub” guess. Except, we learn today that the cub is female:
The 19-day-old panda cub at Atlanta's zoo was determined Monday to be a girl.
While new mom Lun Lun was in another den, veterinarian Maria Crane weighed the cub -- 1.4 pounds -- and discovered she was a female, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The tiny cub's sex had been unknown because her mother held her so close, the newspaper said.
The “psychic’s predictions” have now been revealed for what they really were – guesses. Don’t expect the psychic to remember this error when she reports she correctly forecast the result.
Of all the woo beliefs, astrology seems the most persistent, the most resistant to evidence, and the most frustrating to debate with believers. I am reminded of Randi’s unsinkable rubber ducks - no amount of contrary evidence will ever un-convince the true believer in astrology. Why does this irrational nonsense continue to flourish despite the complete absurdity of its premises and lack of evidence for its efficacy? This persistent belief in the teeth of evidence would in itself make an excellent psychological study.
I can only explain it in terms of the power of confirmation bias and the forer effect.
Confirmation bias occurs when we selectively notice or focus upon evidence which tends to support the things we already believe or want to be true while ignoring that evidence which would serve to disconfirm those beliefs or ideas. Confirmation bias plays a stronger role when it comes to those beliefs which are based upon prejudice, faith, or tradition rather than on empirical evidence.
Confirmation bias is a godsend to astrology. The many different predictions of astrology, with its numerous aspects to consider, and the different possibly interpretations of the data mean it is child’s play to cherry pick predictions that match the actual characteristics of the person, and ignore those that don’t. No matter who the person is, there will be something in the horoscope that fits, and what doesn’t fit will be forgotten. Confirmation bias means the believers don’t even realize they have done this.
The Forer Effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people.
Psychologist Bertram R. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone.
These two biases (plus some others), convince people that astrology works. Couple this with a strange apparent need for it to be true, and you have your rubber ducks – they just keep bobbing back no matter what you say.
18 months ago I posted my Astrology Challenge. The premise was that we know how we know what we know. That is, if we look into any piece of scientific knowledge, we can always find out how the original people derived it. I asserted that astrology was not derived in the way that (for example) the speed of light was derived, it was just made-up fairy-tale fashion. And, as I wrote back then, if it was made up, it is highly unlikely to be true. At the very least, astrology’s doubtful provenance means we would need extraordinary evidence that it works, before we should accept it does. But we are only offered weak evidence. And when tested, astrology fails again and again. I challenged proponents of astrology to prove me wrong. The post is now closed, but recently I have received emails on this subject from someone calling himself Cassini. The following is his latest email, with my attempts to reason with him. I publish this as a response to Cassini, but also as a general response to astrology believers, in an attempt to get them to think honestly and critically about astrology. (I can only try.) All punctuation, spelling, capitalization and grammar are as in the original. Here goes:
But there are no hard and fast rules -you appear to be regarding astrology a a 'cookbook' its not like that - I will spell it out for you as you have not grasped the concept at all .
ASTROLOGY IS AN EVOLVING PROCESS ,THERE WAS NO ONE MOMENT WHEN SOMEONE CRIED' EUREKA THIS ASPECT MEANS THIS.OR THAT '.
OVER MANY THOUSANDS OF YEARS THE ASTROLOGERS OBSERVED AND NOTED THEIR OWN AND OTHERS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AS TO EVENTS HAPPENING AROUND THEM .THEY OBSERVED THAT WHEN THESE EVENTS TOOK PLACE THE PLANETS/STARS IN THE HEAVENS WERE IN CERTAIN POSITIONS. OVER TIME A CORRELATION BETWEEN THESE PLANET AND STAR 'PATTERNS AND EVENTS ON EARTH THAT WERE THE SAME OR SIMILAR TO ONES THAT HAD GONE BEFORE UNDER THE SAME PLANATARY PATTERNS WERE NOTED - THIS IS HOW ASTROLOGY EVOLVED AND IS STILL EVOLVING..
But where was this process “noted”? It’s a nice myth, but you don’t have a shred of evidence that astrology evolved this way. None. The above is just your assumption – you cannot show me any data to support this claim of how the rules of astrology came about. Consequently we cannot examine the process, the data you say were used, to determine if the correct conclusions were reached. In reality, the process you say occurred is absurd. It’s absolutely absurd to suppose, without one shred of evidence, that all the detailed rules of astrology were derived from unbiased observation of hundreds of thousands of events correlated to astrological positions.
You have to keep an open mind in all things
So do you. Is your mind open enough to admit the possibility that astrology doesn’t work, that you have been fooled? If not, you are the closed minded one.
Your argument is a fallacious appeal to be open minded. An open mind is open to all ideas, but it must be open to the possibility that the idea could be true or false. It is not closed-minded to reject claims that make no sense, but if you can’t accept the possibility that astrology might be false, then you are the closed minded one. So please, examine with an open mind, these tests that astrology failed. Tell me honestly how astrology could be real if the expert astrologers recommended by the National Council for Geocosmic Research couldn’t do better than chance in the test they designed themselves?
-realise that astrology is not an exact science in the way you obviously think it is .
I don’t think astrology is an exact science, or even any kind of science. What I have said is that astrology fails when tested scientifically – ie using a double-blind protocol to control for confirmation bias and the forer effect. You appear to be agreeing with me here by saying that astrology cannot be shown to be real using science. This is just an appeal to other ways of knowing – you are claiming there are valid ways of knowing things other than the scientific method. Science has proved to be the most reliable method we know for evaluating claims and figuring out how the universe works – arguably the only reliable method. If you claim there is a better method, it is up to you to explain your better method and justify how it is better – something you haven’t done.
It is not black and white but perceived by the individual who is experiencing a particular transit to his natal chart from his own point of view ,his own life experience .ASTROLOGY doesn't state this will DEFINITELY happen when a certain transit is affecting your chart (in the way that you can reproduce a scientific experiment the same results occurring again and again) What it does do is show you the timings when you MAY experience some of the conflicts , good things , unexpected events that life may throw at you
How convenient to be able to say the predicted things may or may not occur. The way you have described it makes astrology unfalsifiable – according to you it works no matter whether it passes or fails a test. Answer me this please – are the predicted events more likely to happen than pure chance? If you answer yes, then how do you explain the fact that when tested, astrology doesn’t perform better than pure chance? If you answer no – astrology is no better than chance – then if you still insist that astrology “works”, precisely what is your definition of “works”?
How they are experienced by you as an individual is unknown until they occur
Precisely – the predictions of astrology only become apparent after the thing astrology is supposed to predict, has occurred. And a prediction that is only known after the predicted thing has occurred, is a pretty useless prediction. In fact, it is not a prediction. You are fitting what happened after the fact, to some aspect of the horoscope. That’s like shooting a load of arrows at the wall and then drawing the target where most of the arrows hit.
but they will correlate with the meaning attributed to the planatary aspect taking place.
Except the evidence is that it won’t correlate, unless you know in advance what the person’s horoscope is, and therefore you know what to look for. Tell me, why is it that when astrologers try to do this blind, they perform no better than chance?
This meaning as I stated above is the result of millennia of thought and observation by astrologers –the subject is too big to compartmentalize and decimate in the way you are trying to do it .
Then it is too big to have been done at all, ever. Don’t you see this? If you can’t demonstrate now that astrology works, using any kind of test, then it would have been impossible to do in the first place, impossible for those detailed rules to have been worked out. How do you think the originators of astrology did this, and managed to come up with all the detailed rules the way you claim they did, if the subject is too big to compartmentaliz this way?
Im a computer programmer with a maths degree, not some air head new age type .I have a good understanding of scientific principles but I love astrology because it WORKS .
Sorry Cassini but you have demonstrated you have a very poor grasp of scientific principles and the scientific method. You have invented an absurd process that you think the ancients adopted to derive the rules of astrology, and yet you think modern science is incapable of replicating this process. You do not understand the biases that are fooling you, or that scientists must control for those biases when performing experiments. You do not understand the principle of falsification that guides the scientific method. You think it is beyond the wit of humans to compare the predictions of astrology with what actually transpires. It is not. It has been done and astrology doesn’t work. Perversely, you ignore these studies because you just “know” astrology works. You have no interest in testing astrology to see if it could be proven wrong. Your reasoning is totally contrary to any scientific principle.
Im sure your an Earth sign !!
I’m sure I’m not: I’m Libra which is an air sign. However, I’m equally sure you will now be able to fit some aspect of my personality to that sign, as you would whatever my sign was. And that is why you think astrology works – it is so vague, and there are so many possible combinations of planetary aspects, that you can always find something to fit and ignore what doesn’t.
Cassini, it is a sign of intellectual honesty to answer reasonable questions arising out of what you have written. The following is a list of questions that have arisen from your email: The comments are open below – please use them to answer the questions. Don’t be a rubber duck. If you answer the questions honestly you might learn something about what is really behind astrology.
September 28, 2006 – Edited to add:
The above questions were specifically for Cassini – they arose directly from what he had written. It is clear now that Cassini is not going to even consider these questions, and so I decided to amend this post to leave just one question for astrology proponents to consider. Here it is.
Question for astrology proponents
Look at my tests of astrology summary. Specifically read my summary of one of the tests written up by Shawn Carlson in Nature in 1985:
Test #2: 116 people completed California Personality Index (CPI) surveys and provided natal data (date, time and place of birth). One set of natal data and the results of three personality surveys (one of which was for the same person as the natal data) were given to an astrologer who was to interpret the natal data and determine which of the three CPI results belonged to the same subject as the natal data.
The astrologers chose the correct CPI in only 40 of the 116 cases. This is the exact success rate expected for random chance. The astrologers predicted that they would select the correct CPI profiles in more that 50 per cent of the trials.
Here is the question: why did the astrologers perform no better than random chance?
The comments are open for your answers.
Some advice. Don’t tell me astrology can’t be tested this way, or that astrology is somehow beyond the abilities of science to measure, unless you can explain exactly why this specific test is unsuitable as a means of testing astrology. Don’t reply that I need to study astrology more, or with a list of books I need to read. And above all, don’t reply that I need to approach astrology with an open mind, unless you can demonstrate you have a mind open enough to consider the obvious answer to the question – namely that astrology is nonsense. Ignore this advice and you will be ridiculed. For bonus points you could also tell me (with evidence please) how astrology was derived – although I won’t be holding my breath.
Over to you – answer the simple question.
So was reported by Stephen Judd on his Spleen blog last year, anyway. Apparently this little piece of cardboard fits inside your cell phone and protects you against electro-magnetic fields. Judd took down their absurd claims line by line.
Well, reader Chelfyn alerted me to the apparent fact that the makers of this piece of junk have warned Judd he has 21 days to remove what he wrote about it from his blog or face unspecified legal action in New Zealand. That would seem to be a shame, since his piece looked pretty on the money to me. So just in case Judd does have to remove it, I thought I would reproduce his piece below for posterity. Perhaps some other skeptical bloggers could do the same – I’m sure Andron would love the extra publicity and it’ll be interesting to see how many new countries their private dick will have to travel to with his threatening letters. Here goes:
cellphones and androntech
What do these guys do?
According to them, they "distributes the Shield Me TM Electro-Magnetic Field 'earthing' card designed to safeguard cell phone users from the electro-magnetic field of their cell phones". According to me, they sell you useless cardboard cutouts for $45 each. Through my local chemist, no less.
Here are some claims they make, and my take on them.
"The card has been independently tested..."
The independent testing comprises Kirlian photography and session with an electroacupuncture machine using one subject. Even if the photography or electroacupuncture machines were not bullshit (they are, and we could have a separate and entertaining post on the history of bogus medical machinery), the experiment is not double blind, and has a sample of one. A properly designed experiment would comprise multiple trials, would conceal from the operator of the equipment whether the cellphone was equipped with an Andron Shield Me card or not, would conceal whether the phone was on or not, and would use multiple subjects.
Furthermore, since the claim is that the card reduces EMF from the phone, a more appropriate test would be to use an standard meter for radio waves (such as an RF strength meter) (or something to measure magnetic fields, like a Gauss meter) on the cellphone itself. Position the meter next to the phone, and measure the signal with and without the card. I wonder why they didn't do that?
"and has been developed by a leading scientist and international health practitioner."
The inventor is not a scientist. The inventor has a bachelor's degree in science and a degree in naturopathy. I note that an earlier version of the website listed Mr Corcoran's qualifications, but they have been removed. Judging by Google results he also has published some interesting pseudoscience, eg a new theory of a light and gravity, which alas has not met with the approbation of actual physicists.
"the Shield MeTM card's matrix is specifically programmed to earth the electro-magnetic field of a cell phone in the cell phone so that it does not earth itself through the head and body."
You cannot use an isolated cardboard sheet to earth microwaves. Nor can you program it. Note that when I viewed their site several weeks ago, it stated that the card was a "programmed cellulose matrix", which is why I refer to it as "cardboard". I note they have since removed the word "cellulose". However, they still advise not getting it wet or exposing it to extreme heat, which seems wise and is perhaps the only really truthful statement about the product.
This disgusts me.
First, most punters don't have enough basic science to tell that this is bullshit, and these guys are taking advantage.
Second, my chemist, who is allegedly a health professional with a university degree in pharmacy, has the gall to sell this as a remedy. I am aware that chemists sell a lot of things that don't work because the public demand them, but $45 pieces of cardboard seem particularly outrageous.
Third, it seems as though actual science in NZ is going down the toilet, so this is especially depressing.
Folks, if you want an equally effective system to protect yourself from your cellphone, I suggest you print out this post, fold it up and wedge it inside your phone. It will work just as well. You can send me $45 if you like too.
Shield me from crap like this.
From The Bad Astronomer I just learned that the “10th planet” UB313, formerly known as Xena has been officially renamed Eris, the goddess of strife and discord.
As I wrote here, astrologers originally speculated that based on the name Xena:
…this new planet will represent the female archetype of sacred warrior. […] The era of matriarchal or patriarchal dominance is over. We enter a period where both are celebrated together, and not one at the expense of the other.
Of course, this new name changes everything. The same astrologer I quoted above now says:
The release of ephemerides for UB313 marks the beginning of the fun for astrologers. As soon as a name is announced, we'll be spending no small amount of time divining the astrological meaning and significance of this new planet. By whatever name, you may expect this process to be fascinating.
The teaching in western astrology, the only astrological system in the world which accepts new planets, is that when a new planet is discovered and named, the archetype of that planet is available to everyone on Earth. The name of the planet counts, so does the planet's mythology and the story of the planet.
Translation – the new name will mean our horoscopes will have to change to reflect (presumably) the “strife and discord” that this goddess was named for. Funny how a group of scientists deciding on a new name for a distant icy rock can change all our individual personalities. Although, rather perversely, this astrologer ends with:
Well, regardless of the name of this planet, I am of the view that the era of matriarchal or patriarchal dominance is over. We enter a period where both are celebrated together, and not one at the expense of the other.
Which sounds like having your cake and eating it. Still, why not? Astrology is just an arbitrarily made-up set of rules, so who cares if it’s replaced with another arbitrarily made-up set of rules or if you keep the original set? It’s crap either way.
One of the skills of critical thinking is to understand logical fallacies – to recognize them in your opponent’s arguments and not rely on them yourself. But it’s easy for beginners to get caught out by them – to misunderstand a fallacy and call it out in error. You certainly need to be sure you understand them before you make a fool of yourself. Nowhere is this more evident than in the link Orac sent me to a post on Hank's "You Bet Your Life" blog. Hank doesn’t think HIV causes AIDS, and in his post AIDS Inc: Common Logical Fallacies he lists what he thinks are the logical fallacies employed by what he calls the “AIDS bunglers”. As an educational exercise I thought I should point out Hank’s errors, which are threefold:
For brevity I’m going to refer to the idea that HIV causes AIDS as the “HIV theory”, and its proponents “HIV theorists”. I will refer to the people who disagree with this as “dissenters”. In this post I’m not going to discuss specific evidence that shows HIV does or does not cause AIDS – I’m going to focus solely on Hank’s misuse of logical fallacies.
If you don't believe that HIV causes AIDS, well, you suck.
If that was all the HIV theorists had to offer, this would be ad hominem. However, they don’t rely on ad hominem, they rely on the evidence, and if evidence is presented to support your position, you are not relying on fallacious logic. Which brings us neatly to Hank’s next point:
Appeal To False Authority:
The NIH has a great government website, which explains why HIV Causes AIDS
This is not an Appeal To Authority. If the claim was just “the NIH says HIV causes AIDS”, this might be an appeal to authority. But here’s the thing: the actual article Hank links to is a summary of the evidence that HIV causes AIDS, plus rebuttals to the many “HIV does not cause AIDS” myths. Someone could debate these evidences if they wanted to, but they can’t deny that the website does, in fact, list detailed evidence that HIV causes AIDS. Therefore, the website is not relying on the authority of the NIH but on the evidence it lists. Citing evidence is not an appeal to authority, and so citing this website is not fallacious.
This is a classic example of someone who has heard the term “Appeal To Authority”, but has not understood it. If an “authority” lists evidence, it is not fallacious to cite it.
Appeal To Emotion:
Look, millions of poor Africans are gonna die, if you don’t immediately start believing that HIV causes AIDS!!!
That would be an Appeal To Emotion, but the HIV theory relies on evidence not on this Straw Man Hank has created.
Appeal to Fear:
Did you see what we did to Duesberg? If you don't accept that HIV causes AIDS, we will strip away your funding and ostracize you. Now, get smart, will ya?
I’m not sure why this paper from 1987 is cited – it doesn’t really say what anyone “did to Duesberg”, and if this is all that happened in 19 years is this really anything to fear? In any case, Duesberg’s credibility has been damaged because the preponderance of evidence supports the HIV theory and not Duesberg’s largely unsupported claims, not because anyone “did” something to him.
Appeal To Force:
If you don't agree that HIV causes AIDS, we will call CPS and take away your children.
The cited article suggests that children are being experimented on in violation of medical standards, but nowhere in the article is it suggested that the children were taken away because their parents doubted that HIV causes AIDS. Hank’s citing this article is really itself an Appeal to Fear, or an Appeal to Emotion.
Appeal To Majority:
C’mon, everybody’s wearing a red ribbon, why not you?
This is hilariously absurd. The link is to one of Hank’s earlier posts which describes a Seinfeld sketch - the one where Kramer is ostracized for not wearing a red AIDS ribbon. I’m not making that up – check the link. It takes some serious chutzpah to write an article about how your opponents use logical fallacies, and as evidence for this you cite the script of a TV sitcom. I’m not sure exactly what fallacy that would be (argument from authority?) – but it is certainly ludicrous.
The funny thing is that even in the sitcom, Kramer is not saying HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, he just doesn’t want to wear a ribbon – which makes Hank’s citing it a False Analogy too. I think it is probably also a non sequitur, but I’m open to other suggestions of what fallacies Hank is relying on here.
Appeal to Novelty:
Yeah, I know that retroviruses historically haven’t been show to kill cells, but this is a NEW retrovirus from a Chimpanzee in Cameroon via the Castro!
I don’t ever recall any HIV theorists relying on that Straw Man argument.
Appeal To Numbers:
Thousands of scientists think that HIV causes AIDS, why not you?
No. An Appeal to Popularity (as I prefer to call it) is something like “millions believe homeopathy works, so it must work”. But those millions are being fooled by the placebo effect amongst other things, which is why the number of people who believe it is irrelevant. But the “thousands of scientists” are all looking at the evidence.
Appeal To Tradition:
Traditionally, viruses are very bad things, causing many different ailments, why not this virus, too?
Another rather silly Straw Man of the HIV theory. Did anyone ever seriously make this argument for the HIV theory?
Argumentum Ad Nauseum:
HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter. HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter. HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter. HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter. HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter. HIV causes AIDS. You’re a Dissenter.
That might be Argumentum Ad Nauseam (note the correct spelling) if that was all that was offered, but (again), HIV theorists have evidence too.
Begging The Question:
AIDS is the disease that is caused by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Again, if that was all that was offered it would be circular reasoning, but there is that pesky evidence too.
Burden Of Proof:
Can you prove that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS?
Since the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is pretty strong and widely accepted by scientists in the field, I think the burden of proof is back in the dissenters’ camp to show evidence for their alternative.
Have you stopped beating your wife while denying that HIV causes AIDS?
That doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, another Straw Man.
Either you accept that HIV causes AIDS or you're responsible for killing millions of Africans.
This doesn’t really make sense as a false dilemma. A false Dilemma is where two alternatives are held to be the only options, when in reality there exist one or more other options which have not been considered. But “accept that HIV causes AIDS” and “be responsible for killing millions of Africans” are not really alternatives, are they? It’s more an appeal to consequences, but even that doesn’t really work. Either way it’s another of Hank’s Straw Men.
Since HIV is found in all cases of AIDS, obviously HIV must cause AIDS.
If there was no known mechanism for how HIV causes AIDS, or if there was no evidence for the HIV theory, he might have a point.
Look, highly credentialed scientists have usually got it right in the past, so I just know they got AIDS right this time!
No, this is not a Gambler’s Fallacy. The Gambler’s Fallacy refers to random activities, such as coin tossing. For example, if you just tossed a coin three times and got three heads, a gambler’s fallacy would be to say the next toss would be more likely to be tails (since you just got three heads in a row). Of course, the probability of getting heads again would still be 50% since a random event is not less likely to occur because it recently happened. But science isn’t “random”. The reason the “highly credentialed scientists have usually got it right in the past” is not due to randomness – it’s due to the reliability of the scientific method. It is not fallacious to say that scientists are likely to be right, unless you can specifically explain why they are likely to be wrong in this case (which Hank hasn’t done).
Guilt By Association:
You know who else doesn’t believe that HIV causes AIDS?
*(insert pictures of Nixon, Mbeki, Kary Mullis here)*
Would be ad hominem, if the above was the argument presented. Again, it’s one of Hank’s Straw Men.
HIV causes AIDS, because if not, that means we've been lying to people all these years.
More of an Appeal to Consequences, actually. Or perhaps a false dilemma. And if the above was the argument it would be fallacious. But again, there is the evidence.
No True Scotsman:
Argument: "No Scientist questions whether HIV causes AIDS
Reply: " Dr. Kary Mullis questions whether HIV causes AIDS."
Rebuttal: "Ah yes, but no true scientist questions whether HIV causes AIDS.
That would be a NTS, except that I don’t think anyone says "No Scientist questions whether HIV causes AIDS”. After all, we know Duesberg questions it, and he’s a scientist. Another Straw Man.
Post Hoc/False Cause:
Since we’'ve started pumping people with AZT and other toxic drugs, AIDS deaths have decrease 62%. Therefore, HIV causes AIDS.
No, this is not a Post-Hoc fallacy. If there was no theoretical mechanism for how AZT works, and we just randomly noticed that AIDS deaths decreased in correlation with AZT, this would be a post hoc fallacy. But we do have theories of how AZT works, and recipients of AZT and other AIDS drugs have been monitored very carefully since their introduction to determine the results. It is not Post Hoc fallacious reasoning to note that people got better after taking drugs designed to make them better – if it were we would never be able to trial any new drug or therapy, and there would be no point ever to double-blind studies.
Well, you say that to prove HIV causes AIDS, requires extraordinary evidence, because it's an extraordinary claim. Well, we’d like to note that "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence" is itself an extraordinary claim.
Another Straw Man. Extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence, but no one claims that this, is itself an extraordinary claim. In any case, I think the HIV theorists have provided the extraordinary evidence – it is the dissenters who don’t have the evidence.
If you don't accept that HIV causes AIDS, you will do poorly in class, drop out of school, commit crimes, go to prison, and die of AIDS.
Not really a slippery slope; more an Appeal to Consequences, I would have thought. Either way Hank is making another Straw Man.
Just to be clear on this Straw Man business – I’m not claiming that no one ever said anything like the things Hank is claiming; I’m saying these Straw Man arguments Hank is putting forward are not the main arguments put forward by the scientists who support the HIV theory.
Reading Hank’s post I was reminded of something Jason Rosenhouse wrote recently:
… it has never once happened in the history of science that a theory achieves mainstream status, only to fall apart when a clever outsider notices a simple logical oversight.
Of course Jason was writing about Ann Coulter’s supposed “disproval” of evolution, but it occurred to me that it could just as easily apply to AIDS dissenters. They have a lot in common: a poor understanding of science and logic, combined with a religious need for the orthodox science to be wrong. With HIV/AIDS, as with (say) evolution and global warming, you don’t have to understand all the evidence to accept that the orthodox view is probably correct - you can get a pretty good idea just by looking at the position the majority of peer reviewed science is supporting. That doesn’t mean the orthodox position is definitely 100% correct – all science is provisional and anyone can challenge the orthodoxy if they have compelling evidence. But challenging orthodoxy is an extraordinary claim, for the good reason that the orthodoxy is already supported by extraordinary evidence. To overturn this you need even more extraordinary evidence to the contrary, and this misnamed list of fallacies isn’t it.
I just love the snotty emails I get from people who don’t agree with something I’ve written, and who obviously think they are actually going to put me down with a few choice insults. These emails are always nothing but angry assertions (usually that I am some kind of ignoramus for not appreciating their favorite piece of woo), combined with a total lack of any evidence to back up a single thing they say. Standard woo, in other words. I commented about one such piece of pseudo-psychological babble here.
Well today a joker called Henrik Jensen sent me the following piece of blather. (Edited to add: it was in response to my review of What The Bleep Do We Know.) Feel free to engage with him in the intelligent debate that’s sure to follow as he responds further in the comments. Prepare to be unimpressed:
In response to you (sic) BLOG on your website I would like to make the following observations...
My blog is my website, it is not on my website. Not a very intelligent start Henrik.
First of all... clearly you are NOT an educated person... especially in quantum physics... you have not a fraction of understanding or insight to (sic) such matters as the people in the movie....
First off, all my comments on quantum mechanics were reviewed by this PhD Quantum Mechanics professor with this list of QM papers to his name. (The link was on the original post – not that hard to find, Henrik.) Perhaps you would like to email him and tell him how little he understands his subject – I’m sure he would be appreciative of your insights.
Second, I note Henrik was unable to describe a single thing I might have misunderstood or got wrong – surprising if I really understood it so badly. SOP for this type of woo.
Clearly your article is a declaration of your own ignorance in this regard. That’s why no one has bothered to so called (sic) criticize your "article", nobody wants to waste their breath on your stuff…..
Patently false, since Henrik wants to waste time on it. Not very good at this, are you Henrik?
But if you want to brace yourself and gloat about how “bright” (stupid) you really are than fine by me. This most probably goes for the film makers too…. Who cares about your “stuff” on this topic….
You do, obviously.
I bet you 100% that you wont (sic) have the gust (sic) to post this on your precious BLOG in response to your forum….
Lost that bet then didn’t you. That makes you a LOSER.
Many responded to your BLOG on this… that means thar (sic) you too have followers like the organizations you hate so much.
I have no followers, but I do think my readers like to be exposed to rationality and critical thinking. You should try it.
My advice to you is this….. go learn about what you don’t know before you talk…. Don’t talk when you don’t know…..
Have a nice life in your comfortable ignorance….
And that is also my advice to you – word for word. Especially if you want to comment below without making an even bigger idiot of yourself than you already have.
Guardian “Bad Science” columnist Ben Goldacre today criticizes this “tedious” article on “Complementary Medicine” that appeared in his own newspaper. It will be interesting to see if The Guardian publishes Ben’s letter. The article, by Osteopath Nicola Sturzaker, was apparently inspired by the negative response to the recent proposed certification of homeopathic remedies. Her article is the usual collection of fallacies and woolly thinking. She starts by playing victim:
The launch this month of the national rules system, designed to bring homeopathic remedies into line with licensed medicines and allow packaging on homeopathic products to describe the illnesses they claim to treat, brought a predictable collective sneer from the established medical profession.
Yes, but she fails to mention the sneering is predictable only because homeopathic medicine predictably doesn’t work. Sturzaker is claiming this response is unconstructive. If the quoted comments were all that were offered, I would agree – it would just be ad hominem. But the negative comments are backed by numerous studies. For example, this recent review of 110 homeopathy trials published in the Lancet that shows homeopathy is nothing more than placebo. The sneering comments are made following an examination of the evidence that shows homeopathy doesn’t work, and the sneering is because homeopaths and alties in general continue to ignore these studies. What else is left for real doctors to do? Quoting scientific studies is apparently useless as homeopaths just ignore them: sneering at the way homeopaths ignore science is a valid response.
The issue at stake (the lower levels of evidence-based proof that homeopathic treatments have to provide compared with conventional drug treatments) is well worth debating and, in truth, the latest decision in favour of homeopathy may actually have tipped the balance too far.
This is a strange comment. Too far? How does she know? On what basis is it “too far”? And how far “too far” has it gone? Homeopathy either works or it doesn’t; there is either evidence it works or there isn’t. If the evidence is that it doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be certified at all – there is no degree of partial certification that is far enough but not “too far”. And if evidence is not going to be used as the criterion, how does one know how far to go before it is “too far”? This is just woolly thinking.
Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London got his in early: "This is like licensing a witches' brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile," he said, before going on to further dark murmurings about "witchcraft".
Yes, I think that is a pretty good analogy..
The first is the implied infallibility of the mainstream health professions, namely that their methods are always right, and ours are always wrong. Clearly, neither is true. Anecdotally, we all know of cases where GPs failed to notice something serious and doled out take-two-aspirin-and-go-to-bed-early advice when the realities were far more serious.
Here we start with the fallacies – a straw man. No one is claiming evidence based medicine (EBM) is infallible – “always right” as she puts it. What is claimed is that (a) there is evidence EBM works – better than chance and better than placebo, and (b) homeopathy doesn’t work. Of course, it’s easier to attack this straw man version of EBM than it is to show evidence that homeopathy works.
The second half of the paragraph, and much of what follows, is just a fallacious appeal to science was wrong before. Of course doctors are sometimes wrong and they sometimes miss a serious illness, but that doesn’t mean that homeopathy works.
Again and again, doctors refer to evidence bases as their catch-all for ruling out complementary medicine. In practice this is fine - though it comes from the profession that brought you thalidomide and is beginning to wonder whether rushing herceptin through the net was really so wise.
Another appeal to science was wrong before. As Ben writes: “thalidomide pops up from 1957”. It’s just a red herring: she doesn’t describe any alternative to “evidence bases as [a] catch-all for ruling out complementary medicine”. This criticism of “evidence bases” without any alternative demonstrates the vacuousness of Sturzaker’s article and of alties in general.
However, the medical profession is a multi-million pound industry backed by pharmacological giants. The complementary sector cannot compete - we cannot pay for trials, we do not have multi-nationals encouraging treatment dependency.
Nonsense. Homeopathy is a multi-million dollar business with plenty of money for poor studies biased to show it works. They have money for trials, but they shy away from well designed trials because well designed trials all show homeopathy doesn’t work.
It is the exact opposite - if there is a theory underlying all complementary medicine, it is that the human body works quite well on its own and needs tweaking as little and as naturally as possible. If you want clinical evidence - how about millions of years of human history?
LOL – “if there is a theory underlying all complementary medicine…” If? At least she acknowledges this is in doubt. The claim that things were just fine before EBM is just plain absurd: before 1900 life expectancies in the US were in the 30s and 40s, many women died in childbirth and many children died before reaching adulthood. Millions of years of human history, indeed.
Ironically, one of the few areas that a large-scale trial has been done is the area that started this current row. Homeopathic medicine is indeed controversial, as in order for a homeopath to treat a patient, the person's individual symptoms have to be taken into account in order to make an individualised prescription. This means that homeopathy does not perform exceptionally well in random controlled trials - where one group of people are all given the same medicine and another group are given a placebo.
Nonsense. There is a perfectly straightforward way to test homeopathic individual remedies and procedures. The subjects of the trial all visit a homeopath, and all get the full consultation and individualized homeopathic prescription exactly as specified by the homeopath. Then, using a randomized double-blind protocol, half the patients get the specific individualized homeopathic remedy as prescribed by the homeopath, and the other half get sugar pills. (Yes I know they’re both getting sugar pills – you know what I mean.) Not that difficult, really.
When homeopathic trials are based upon individualised prescriptions we see a very different picture. At the end of 2005, the results of a large six-year study of 6,500 patients at Bristol Homeopathic Hospital reported 75% improvement in their health.
Nonsense, again. As Ben points out, the study was not a trial at all. As I wrote here, all that happened is that patients who visited a homeopath were simply asked by the homeopath treating them if they “felt better”, and 75% of them apparently said yes. Big deal. As Ben ends his letter:
It is this level of ignorance about the most basic concepts in evidence based medicine which makes the debate with alternative therapists so fabulously circular.
And, I would add, frustrating. But it’s a debate we can’t shirk.