Here’s what to say to anti-vaxxers!
Joe and Neil discuss a wide variety of topics, including the flat earth conspiracy theory.
Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.
Have you ever heard ‘evolution’ dismissed as ‘just a theory’? Is a scientific theory no different to the theory that Elvis is still alive? Jim Al-Khalili puts the record straight.
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There’s an important difference between a scientific theory and the fanciful theories of an imaginative raconteur, and this quirk of semantics can lead to an all-too-common misconception. In general conversation, a ‘theory’ might simply mean a guess. But a scientific theory respects a somewhat stricter set of requirements. When scientists discuss theories, they are designed as comprehensive explanations for things we observe in nature. They’re founded on strong evidence and provide ways to make real-world predictions that can be tested.
While scientific theories aren’t necessarily all accurate or true, they shouldn’t be belittled by their name alone. The theory of natural selection, quantum theory, the theory of general relativity and the germ theory of disease aren’t ‘just theories’. They’re structured explanations of the world around us, and the very foundation of science itself.
Read the blog post to find out more: http://www.rigb.org/blog/2014/novembe…
We like to categorize and apply labels. This can be helpful in wrapping your mind around complex reality, as long as you avoid the pitfall of allowing labels to become mental straitjackets.
I often discuss various categories of people who are failing, in one or more important ways, to apply critical thinking. These categories are not meant to be dismissive, but rather to help understand various styles of thinking that lead people astray. For example there are deniers, true-believers, ideologues, and cranks.
Perhaps the most interesting category is the conspiracy theorist. I also find them to be the most consistent in their style of reasoning and argument. I do wonder, however, how much of this consistency is due to and underlying reasoning style and how much is culture. When I get the same fallacious argument over and over again, is that because they are all reading the same source material?
I recently came across a conspiracy website offering advice on how to answer “anti-conspiracy theorists” (their word for skeptics). Anyone who has had a conversation with a conspiracy theorist will recognize the style and tone, and now here it is codified in a primer for budding conspiracy theorists.
The article, however, also reveals the logical errors that underlie the conspiracy belief system. Let’s go through each point.
“You sound like a conspiracy theorist.”RESPONSE: “Conspiracy Theorist? Now tell me the truth, where did you hear that term…on TV? (Laugh.) …So let me get this straight. Are you saying that men in high positions of power are not capable of criminal activity and telling lies to the general public? Are you really that naive?” (Laugh as you say this.)
As you can see this is a literal script. Right up front we see what I have found to be the typical attitude of the conspiracy theorists – anyone who does not buy their fantastical theories is “naive,” – said with dismissive laughter. This response is also a straw man.
Of course people in power are capable of lying and criminal activity. There are even genuine conspiracies. The recent lane-closing scandal in New Jersey was a conspiracy of at least several civil servants who lied and conspired to abuse their power to punish their political enemies (heedless of collateral damage).
When we talk about conspiracy theorists we are talking about grand conspiracies. These are conspiracies that involved large numbers of people, a vast expanse of power and control, unbelievable secrecy, and often sustained for years or decades. Of course there is no sharp demarcation between a small and plausible conspiracy and a grand conspiracy, but the larger the conspiracy would need to be, the more implausible it becomes. The largest grand conspiracies simply collapse under their own weight.
Ah, but the author has heard this response before and has an answer:
“You’re absolutely right. I agree with you 100%. It is impossible to totally cover up a conspiracy so massive. That’s why I know about it! What you must understand is that they don’t have to cover it up totally. Even a bucket that has a few leaks can still do the job of carrying water from here to there! They only need to fool 80% of the public, which isn’t hard to do when you control the major networks and newspapers.”
Of course the conspiracy theorists have to have learned about the conspiracy, but this entirely misses the point. Conspiracy theorists don’t have actual evidence. They don’t have leaked information, documents, photographs, or any hard or direct evidence of their specific conspiracy theory. As you will see from later responses – they simply believe they have perceived a pattern in events.
This cuts to the heart of the logical fallacies at the core of conspiracy thinking. The conspirators in grand conspiracies have as much power, control, and reach as they need to pull off the conspiracy. Any missing evidence was covered up by the conspiracy. Any evidence against the conspiracy or for a more prosaic explanation was planted. Any events that would seem to undermine the conspiracy theory were clearly false flag operations.
Conspiracy theories are therefore immune to evidence. They are closed, self-contained belief systems that resist their own critical analysis. That is why they are a mental trap.
Often conspiracy theorists are generally smart people (even if they lack certain critical thinking skills). Smart people, however, are good at . . .
Google ‘cancer’ and you’ll be faced with millions of web pages. And the number of YouTube videos you find if you look up ‘cancer cure’ is similarly vast.
The problem is that much of the information out there is at best inaccurate, or at worst dangerously misleading. There are plenty of evidence-based, easy to understand pages about cancer, but there are just as many, if not more, pages spreading myths.
And it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction, as much of the inaccurate information looks and sounds perfectly plausible. But if you scratch the surface and look at the evidence, many continually perpetuated ‘truths’ become unstuck.
In this post, we want to set the record straight on 10 cancer myths we regularly encounter. Driven by the evidence, not by rhetoric or anecdote, we describe what the reality of research actually shows to be true.
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Myth 1: Cancer is a man-made, modern disease
It might be more prominent in the public consciousness now than in times gone by, but cancer isn’t just a ‘modern’, man-made disease of Western society. Cancer has existed as long as humans have. It was described thousands of years ago by Egyptian and Greek physicians, and researchers have discovered tell-tale signs of cancer in a 3,000-year-old skeleton.
The simple fact is that more people are living long enough to develop cancer because of our success in tackling infectious diseases and other historical causes of death such as malnutrition. It’s perfectly normal for DNA damage in our cells to build up as we age, and such damage can lead to cancer developing.
We’re also now able to diagnose cancers more accurately, thanks to advances in screening, imaging and pathology.
Yes, lifestyle, diet and other things like air pollution collectively have a huge impact on our risk of cancer – smoking for instance is behind a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK – but that’s not the same as saying it’s a modern, man-made disease. There are plenty of natural causes of cancer – for example, one in six worldwide cancers is caused by viruses and bacteria.
Myth 2: Superfoods prevent cancer
Blueberries, beetroot, broccoli, garlic, green tea… the list goes on. Despite thousands of websites claiming otherwise, there’s no such thing as a ‘superfood’. It’s a marketing term used to sell products and has no scientific basis.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t think about what you eat. Some foods are clearly healthier than others. The odd blueberry or mug of green tea certainly could be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Stocking up on fruits and veg is a great idea, and eating a range of different veg is helpful too, but the specific vegetables you choose doesn’t really matter.
Our bodies are complex and cancer is too, so it’s gross oversimplification to say that any one food, on its own, could have a major influence over your chance of developing cancer.
The steady accumulation of evidence over several decades points to a simple, but not very newsworthy fact that the best way to reduce your risk of cancer is by a series of long-term healthy behaviours such as not smoking, keeping active, keeping a healthy body weight and cutting back on alcohol.
Myth 3: ‘Acidic’ diets cause cancer
Some myths about cancer are surprisingly persistent, despite flying in the face of basic biology. One such idea is that overly ‘acidic’ diets cause your blood to become ‘too acidic’, which can increase your risk of cancer. The proposed answer: increase your intake of healthier ‘alkaline’ foods like green vegetables and fruits (including, paradoxically, lemons).
This is biological nonsense. True, cancer cells can’t live in an overly alkaline environment, but neither can any of the other cells in your body.
Blood is usually slightly alkaline. This is tightly regulated by the kidneys within a very narrow and perfectly healthy range. It can’t be changed for any meaningful amount of time by what you eat. And while eating green veg is certainly healthy, that’s not because of any effect on how acid or alkaline your body is.
There is something called acidosis. This is a physiological condition that happens when your kidneys and lungs can’t keep your body’s pH (a measure of acidity) in balance. It is often the result of serious illness or poisoning. It can be life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention, but it’s not down to overly acidic diets.
We know that the immediate environment around cancer cells (the microenvironment) can become acidic. This is due to differences in the way that tumours create energy and use oxygen compared with healthy tissue. Researchers are working hard to understand how this happens, in order to develop more effective cancer treatments.
But there’s no good evidence to prove that diet can manipulate whole body pH, or that it has an impact on cancer.
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