Tag Archives: evidence

This (does not equal) That

Lesson: Correlation does not imply causation

Also See: Spurious Correlations


Spurious Correlations(click image for much larger view)

Joe Rogan and Neil deGrasse Tyson on Flat Earth and Conspiracy Theories

Joe and Neil discuss a wide variety of topics, including the flat earth conspiracy theory.

Critical Thinking

Fun stuff.

Critical Thinking – YouTube.

The burden of proof

Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.


Via The burden of proof – YouTube.

Why science is NOT ‘Just a Theory’

By The Royal Institution via YouTube

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.

Subscribe for regular science videos: http://bit.ly/RiSubscRibe

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…

Answering Conspiracy Theorists

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steven_novellaBy via NeuroLogica Blog

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.

matrix-red_02_250pxI 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.

agent smith 928_250pxOf 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.

matrix alternate reality_350pxThis 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  .  .  .

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Don’t believe the hype – 10 persistent cancer myths debunked

Via Cancer Research UK – Science blog

cancer-myths_300pxGoogle ‘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.

[ … ]

Myth 1: Cancer is a man-made, modern disease

Pyramids_250pxIt 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.

While it’s certainly true that global lifestyle-related diseases like cancer are on the rise, the biggest risk factor for cancer is age.

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_250pxBlueberries, 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

Lemon_250pxSome 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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Should we call Conspiracy Theorists “Conspiracy Theorists”?

By via The Soap Box

conspiracies02Of all the things that I have observed about conspiracy theorists one of the things that has always stood out about them to me is that they hate the terms “conspiracy theorist” and “conspiracy theory”. This is for two different reasons:

The primary reason is because they consider the terms to be insulting. This is actually understandable because skeptics and debunkers have used these terms in insulting tones and in an insulting way.

The secondary reason is because they claim that both terms to be “shill” words that were created by the CIA to discourage people from believing in a conspiracy theory (the terms actually first came into use in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and pre-dates the CIA, it only came to be used in a derogatory way in the mid 1960’s, but there is no evidence to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with that). Some even claim that only “shills” use the terms conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist. Whether they actually believe this or are just claiming this in order to get people to stop using these terms and/or to scare a skeptic off is another question entirely.

Regardless of the reasons why, the fact is that conspiracy theorists do not like the terms conspiracy theorist and conspiracy theory, and to be all honest I don’t really like those terms either. The reason for this is that simply put a theory is based off of facts and evidence. Conspiracy theories are rarely made up of facts and evidence, and even the ones that do have some facts and evidence behind them are often mangled by conspiracy theorists and is manipulated into something that it is infact not…

To put it bluntly in my personal opinion using the word “theory” in conspiracy theory (and by extension conspiracy theorist) is actually inaccurate and inappropriate.

So what would be an accurate and appropriate term to replace conspiracy theory and theorist with?

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Bigfoot Hoax – How Far Will It Go?

H/T:

steven_novellaBy via NeuroLogica Blog

I admit I am curious to see how this will ultimately play out. Rick Dyer is at it again. In 2008 Dyer claimed to have found a dead bigfoot. He claimed that scientific analysis was coming, he had the body for investigation, he held a press conference promising evidence.

finding-bigfoot_250pxIt was soon discovered that the bigfoot body was simply a rubber suit – the whole thing was a crude hoax, surprising only the most gullible bigfoot believers.

Amazingly, Dyer is now at it again. He claims to have shot and killed a bigfoot, that he has the body, that the BBC has footage of the whole thing, and that a team of scientists have thoroughly examined the body.

If his claims are true, then Dyer has the smoking gun evidence that bigfoot is real. Of course, at this point no nerd can resist quoting that Klingon saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Does Dyer honestly expect anyone to believe that a proven bigfoot hoaxer really caught bigfoot this time? Where so many have failed before, a hoaxer alone has struck gold.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 9.00.01 PM_250pxAgain we see the same pattern – the promise of stunning evidence, but only tidbits of unconvincing evidence so far. Dyer is showing only a short grainy video he took with his cellphone, and a couple of closeup photos of a furry face and back. You can see these images here as part of this local news interview.

In the interview Dyer is full of the expected excuses. He has promised a press conference, but he is having difficulty organizing everyone’s schedule. You see, if you are the scientist to have performed the first anatomical analysis of a bigfoot, you have to schedule the press conference around your daughter’s soccer game.

He promises that the BBC has stunning video – but they are not going to show it, or even acknowledge it, until their movie comes out.

The scientists are not talking because they all signed non-disclosure agreements.

He says he has the body back now, the scientific analysis being complete, and it is standing in the next room – but his video camera does not reach. I guess he didn’t consider that anyone might want to see it during the video interview.

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Hitchen’s Razor

Hitchen's Razor

Open Up Your Mind and Let Your Brain Shut Off

Sharon_hill_80pxBy via The Huffington Post

People tell me I should be more open-minded.

There is a clichéd saying regarding open-mindedness: “Keep an open mind — but not so open that your brain falls out”.

This piece of advice is most often said to come from physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), but also a slew of other more or less famous people, most of them from the field of science: Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, James Oberg, Bertrand Russell, J. Robert Oppenheimer. It’s plausible that they all certainly said it at one time or another because it applies every time one is presented with a fringe or alternative explanation for something. It’s well worth remembering as a rule of thumb.

Because I peruse paranormal-themed sites and various “water-cooler” forums on the web, I frequently see ideas thrown out there that would qualify as amazing and paradigm-shifting. So, what do I think about this latest crazy thing, people ask?

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The Starchild skull.

Here’s a recent example. With all the recent speculation about “alien” remains, someone on Facebook mentioned Lloyd Pye who contends (for almost 15 years now) that a curiously-shaped skull he has is that of an alien-human hybrid. Called the “star child” skull, Pye promotes the story that this is proof that humans descended from extraterrestrial beings.

The plausibility of this idea is practically nil. There is no decent evidence in support of it except a nifty story. To accept it, we’d have to throw out all of what we know about human history, evolution, and a good bit of well-established physics. Just because of one odd-looking skull? No, thank you. That would be stupid. Thus, to consider such an idea takes me about a minute before I realize that would be unreasonable. It’s an imaginative idea, just like mermaids and remote viewing and time travelers. But in order to accept it, I’d have to discard too much (e.g., my brain and society’s accumulated knowledge). The evidence clearly suggests another more down-to-earth explanation. Since the skull DNA tested as human, and we know that certain genetic conditions can cause the enlargement of the skull in just this way, I’m going to accept the obvious and not some far-fetched story just for kicks.

Calling skeptics closed-minded because we discard wacky ideas is a common ploy. It’s often used as a personal insult because the skeptic has rejected a baseless idea that the promoters fancy. When you don’t have evidence to support your idea, observe that the proponent resorts to derogatory tactics.

But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

“But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.”

It’s not about actually being open-minded towards new ideas. Instead, the proponent is accusing the skeptic of being stubborn, undemocratic and unfair. They see it as the skeptical person, being overly rational, ignoring a possibly worthwhile option to be considered. But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

Let’s take another example: energy healing. I should be open-minded, reiki practitioners say, and try these forms of energy medicine where healing energy gets channeled or manipulated for better health. If someone offers these treatments to me and I just say “OK! Sounds good!” (and hand over my money) is that actually being open-minded? No. It’s swallowing what I’m being fed without a thought. The same would apply to . . .

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