Frequent contributor to Fox News Steven Milloy retweeted a Politico story about climate change to suggest that CO2 won’t kill Earth because Venus is made of CO2 — the only trouble is humans don’t live on Venus, as far as we know.
Milloy is no stranger to ignoring accurate and verified scientific truths. A lawyer and frequent commentator for Fox News, he refers to himself as a libertarian thinker and runs a twitter account called @JunkScience through which he ironically, but not facetiously, often peddles what mosts scientists would refer to as junk science. His close financial and organizational ties to tobacco and oil companies have been the subject of criticism from a number of sources going back to the early 2000s, as Milloy has consistently disputed the scientific consensus on climate change and the health risks of second-hand smoke. Having close ties to tobacco and oil, it’s not difficult to understand why.
Among the topics Milloy has addressed are what he believes to be false claims regarding DDT, global warming, Alar, breast implants, second-hand smoke, ozone depletion, and mad cow disease. This time, however, he attempts to equate planet Earth with planet Venus, saying that CO2 won’t destroy the Earth because Venus is largely made up of CO2.
DeFazio on climate: "This is the existential threat to the future of the planet."
For comparison, the atmosphere Venus is 96.5% CO2 — and the planet is still there.
The obvious problem to scientists (and most people with a high school science education) is that humans don’t live on Venus, and couldn’t since it is so darn hot, hailing an average temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s obvious that Milloy is being paid to promote bad science in an effort to persuade Fox News watchers into believing that climate change is a hoax. The trick he uses here is to make it seem like people who believe in man-induced global warming through greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide think the Earth will cease to exist with too much CO2. That isn’t what climate change scientists and activists think at all.
On the contrary, climate change scientists and activists are concerned about human and animal life will cease to exist — the way it doesn’t exist on Venus.
The danger in having to explain this to people is that it’s easier to look at things Milloy’s way. Despite it being wrong, lazy thinkers will read what he tweets and hear what he says on Fox News without doing anymore research or thinking on the matter. When people say convincing things with authority, it usually doesn’t matter if what they’re saying is true or not.
The history of science is also a history of people resisting new discoveries that conflict with conventional wisdom.
When Galileo promoted Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolves around the sun – counter to church doctrine about the Earth being the center of the universe – he wound up condemned by the Roman Inquisition in 1633. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – that new species develop as a result of natural selection on inherited traits – ran into opposition because it contradicted long-held scientific, political and religious beliefs. Alfred Wegener’s 1912 proposal that Earth’s continents move relative to each other – the theory of continental drift – was rejected for decades, in part because scientists held fast to the traditional theories they’d spent careers developing.
But scientists, too, hold their own personal beliefs – by definition, based on old ways of thinking – that may be holding back the innovation that’s at the heart of science. And that’s a problem. It’s one thing for an average Joe to resist evolving scientific theories. It’s quite another if a scientist’s preconceived notions holds us back from discovering the new and unknown – whether that’s a cure for Zika or a cutting-edge technology to combat climate change.
Personal beliefs as publication roadblocks
Real scientific progress occurs when laboratory or field research is reported to the public. With luck, the finding is accepted and put into practice, cures are developed, social policies are instituted, educational practices are improved and so on.
This usually occurs though publication of the research in scientific journals. There’s an important step between the lab and publication that laypeople may not know about – the evaluation of the research by other scientists. These other scientists are peers of the researcher, typically working in a closely related area. This middle step is commonly referred to as peer review.
In a perfect world, peer review is supposed to determine if the study is solid, based on the quality of the research. It’s meant to be an unbiased evaluation of whether the findings should be reported via journal publication. This important step prevents sloppy research from reaching the public.
However, in the real world, scientists are human beings and are often biased. They let their own beliefs influence their peer reviews. For example, numerous reports indicate that scientists rate research more favorably if the findings agree with their prior beliefs. Worst of all, these prior beliefs often have nothing to do with science but are simply the scientists’ personal views.
‘But that’s counter to what I thought…’
How is this a problem for scientific innovation? Let’s look at how some personal beliefs could prevent innovative science from reaching the public.
“Minorities aren’t good at STEM.” The stereotype that “women are not good at math” is commonly held – and also happens to be incorrect. If a scientist holds this personal belief, then he is likely to judge any research done by women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) more negatively – not because of its quality, but because of his own personal belief.
For instance, some studies have shown that female STEM applicants in academia are judged more harshly than their male counterparts. Because of this gender bias, it may take a female STEM researcher more time and effort before her work reaches the public.
However, people often believe that comic books are just low-brow entertainment for kids. If a scientist holds this personal belief, then she’s likely to judge any psychology research using comic books more negatively. Because of this, scientists like me who focus on comic books may not be able to publish in the most popular psychology journals. As a result, fewer people will ever see this research.
“The traditional ways are the best ways.” A final example is a personal belief that directly counters scientific innovation. Often, scientists believe that traditional methods and techniques are better than any newly proposed approaches.
The history of psychology supplies one example. Behaviorism was psychology’s dominant school of thought for the first part of the 20th century, relying on observed behavior to provide insights. Its devotees rejected new techniques for studying psychology. During behaviorism’s reign, any talk of internal processes of the mind was considered taboo. One of the pioneers of the subsequent cognitive revolution, George A. Miller, said “using ‘cognitive’ was an act of defiance.” Luckily for us, he was defiant and published one of the most highly cited papers in psychology.
If a scientist believes the way we’ve always done things in the lab is best, then she’ll judge any research done using novel approaches more negatively. Because of this, highly innovative work is rarely published in the best scientific journals and is often recognized only after considerable delay.
How is this a problem for scientific progress?
Almost by definition, the most important and innovative scientific findings often go against people’s existing beliefs. If research that conforms to personal beliefs is favored, then any research that is based on new ideas runs the risk of being passed over. It takes a leap to imagine a round Earth when everyone’s always believed it to be flat.
How can scientists stop their personal beliefs from impeding scientific progress? Completely removing personal beliefs from these contexts is impossible. But we can work to change our beliefs so that, instead of hampering scientific progress, they encourage it. Many studies have outlined possible ways to modify beliefs. It’s up to scientists, and indeed society as well, to begin to examine their own beliefs and change them for the better.
After all, we don’t want to delay the next revolutionary idea in climate science, pioneering cure for cancer, or dazzling discovery in astronomy just because we can’t see past our original beliefs.
It makes for a sensational headline but NASA didn’t even come close to discovering warp technology.
The mechanism behind their fuel-free propulsion has no clear link to warping space-time. In fact, space-time is not proven or understood to exist as a material substance able to warp. It’s all nonsense. So what really happened?
Richard Feynman once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
You should have been suspicious when the story made the rounds on social media. The headlines were claiming NASA successfully tested something called the EM Drive. The EM drive is awesome, and it’s real science. It’s a propulsion engine doesn’t use propellant, which seems to violate the laws of physics by creating a reaction with no initial action.
First, let’s examine the actual finding. NASA has developed a hollow device that can be pumped full of electromagnetic radiation which reflects back-and-forth, tapped inside the chamber, generates thrust, causing the device to accelerate in a direction based onthe shape of the chamber. You might ahve seen the story or similar reports over the last year because iterations of it have been built by Roger Shawyer (the EM Drive), one from a Chinese group led by Juan Yang, and one from Guido Fetta (the Cannae Drive), all claiming successful thrust. The stories on science news sites claim the acceleration created is caused by warped space of an Alcubierre Drive, the completely fictional “Star Trek” design.
Here are some problems. First off, none of the tests showed results from gadations in power. If this is a viable prototype for an engine, the science behind it hasn’t proven why a tiny acceleration in relation to a huge amount of relative power is worth any sort of real consideration for space travel. It’s a weak engine with no sign of how it can be scaled.
Secondly, the thrust they created is so small it might just be a mistake in mathematics or caused by an unknown factor, unrelated to warp tech. A true test requires an isolated environment, with atmospheric, gravitational and electromagnetic effects removed from the equation.
Thirdly, good science is reproducible. These tests lack a transparent design so no one else can verify that this actually works.
Finally, a real report has to be created that can be peer-reviewed and understood before irresponsibly publishing the claims.
Optimism of this sort, claiming to be able to put people on mars with a warp engine, is not scientifically valid. This latest group declared they have broken the previously-held laws of physics. They assume we can scale up and implement this engine for space propulsion just because of some questionably positive results. They claim to be distorting space, they claim they might be causing light to go faster by approximately 10^-18 m/s. They made these claims without actually proving them, and told the general public, spreading misinfo.
Harold “Sonny” White at NASA, has made extraordinary claims about warp drive in the past. He is totally the kind of guy who would jump to warp drive as a conclusion. There is nothing in NASA’s report that shows they’ve created a warp drive. Sorry, Star Trek and Star Wars fans. Most likely this is a public relations move to get America and the world science communities more excited about space travel and science education.
Clickbait headlines claiming there is poop in people’s beards whipped around social media this week. It’s junk science based on common misconceptions about bacteria.
These headlines are shite: “Some beards contain more poo than a toilet shocking study reveals” – the Mirror “Shock new research reveals some beards contain more poo than a toilet” – news.com.au “Some beards are so full of poo they are as dirty as toilets” – metro.co.uk
Of course, I wanted to read the evidence for myself, like I do with all outrageous, suspicious claims. I couldn’t even find a study cited in any of the articles. All I found was some pretty crappy journalism~!
If there was no legitimate study by respected microbiologists and no instances of unintentional poop in people’s beards, where did this story even come from? As far as I could tell, the story originated from a local tv news segment out of New Mexico, wherein a reporter swabbed some random men’s beards and sent it to a microbiologist to culture for microbes.
To some readers that might sound like legit science. Here’s why it isn’t:
That’s a very small sample size. The reporter pretty much stayed vague about how many beards he swabbed but it was a “handful”. All it would take is a couple unwashed faces to make a petri-dish grow some gross stuff. So, yeah… bad science.
Just because a microbe lives in the guts doesn’t mean it isn’t on your face. Microbiologist, John Golobic called some of the bacteria found “enterics”, meaning bacteria that normally live in the intestines, “the types of things you’d find in faeces,” he said, without telling the reporter or audiences how unbelievably common it is to find these microbes on various surfaces in everyday life, including shaved and unshaven faces. That’s all it took to get the rumor started and people rewrote, retweeted and reshared the story.
Most of the headlines and editorials about this left out that it was merely a bacteria that can also be found inside the intestine, and reported that actual poop was on people’s face, which has nothing to do with the original story and beyond bad science – it’s bad reporting.
Scientists in the microbiology field and pretty much anyone who has followed current thought on the subject know that the human body is home to vast diversity of microbes. Bacteria like E. coli is commonly found all over the body, inside and out.
Readers might remember a similar viral story about unidentified DNA found on swabbed subway cars, implying there are millions of unknown microbes people are being exposed to. In reality everything in the world is covered in millions of microbes, and there isn’t any real danger from being exposed to them everyday.
If you are looking for media that debunks the dangers of microbial paranoia, check out NPR’s articles about probiotics and Mythbuster’s entertaining critique of the “five second rule”.
Bill Maher threw softballs at the most famous anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on”Real Time”
Kennedy isn’t the only prominent vaccine denier but he’s the current media darling for whatever reason. After several hints in the past about vaccine paranoia, Maher took it to the next level and had a notable anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist on the show for a one on one interview. His normally pro-science stance and no-bullshit interview style was strangely abandoned and at one point Maher himself actually went on an anti-vaccination rant, falsely claiming the anit-vaccination crowd has some kind of legit point. I’ll unpack the rant after the video, below.
“Why can’t we have a kind of grand bargain on this?”
Because a lot of people will die, many of them children, if we don’t act appropriately. The anti-vaccination rhetoric isn’t just easy to fall for, it’s catchy. People hear the soundbites and repeat them, or share articles off of persistent tabloid sites that feed off of the traffic it causes. Spreading false or controversial medical data isn’t without it’s consequences.
“It just seems like we’re calling each other kooks and liars.”
That’s because spreading fear about vaccines is a kooky lie, since there isn’t any data supporting the accusations that vaccines are dangerous. That’s crazy, and if you participate in the lie, you are, in fact, lying. On other subjects, like, say, Climate Change Denial-ism, Bill Maher would be first in line to tell an anti-science arguer they are being crazy or outright lying. The point is that the pro-vaccine side of the debate has an abundance of reliable data supporting it’s efficacy- so much that neither Maher nor his guest tried to make a case that vaccines don’t work. Vaccines aren’t just safe, they are saving people from untimely, rather unpleasant deaths. Denying that is kooky at best.
“It seems like common sense that vaccines, even thimerosal, probably don’t hurt most people — if they did, we’d all be dead, because they’re in a lot of vaccines that we all took — but some do.”
Saying Thimerisal “contains” mercury is like saying table salt contains a dangerous explosive just because one of the atoms in the molecule is sodium. Sodium explodes violently on contact with water. Is there an anti-table salt movement? nope.
It’s hard to even follow this because Maher’s conversational grammar is confusing. His grasp of the topic isn’t really demonstrated. It appears he thinks thimerisal is the name of a vaccine. Or maybe he left some words out? It’s hard to decipher a position that is illogical and wrong in the first place.
Marketed under the trade name Merthiolate, Thimerisal can be used as a preservative in vaccines. It has several other uncontested uses: immunoglobulin preparations, skin test antigens, antivenins, ophthalmic and nasal products, and tattoo inks. European Union, and a few other countries freaked out about it after an erroneous report of its link to autism back in the 1980’s. The current scientific consensus has repeatedly assured the public that it isn’t dangerous but the rumor of mercury poisoning and other ailments has persisted.
Obviously some minority gets hurt by this stuff.
Uh, no, actually it’s not obvious. What stuff? Thimerisal? Vaccines in general?
I don’t understand why this is controversial?
Because an embarrassingly ignorant internet meme successfully increased every American’s exposure to measles. It’s making people sick, dude.
Why we have this emotional debate about something that– there is science there.
No, There is no science supporting the anti-vaccine side. None.
It astounds me that liberals, who are always suspicious of corporations… and defending minorities, somehow when it comes to this minority that’s hurt…
It’s not about corporations. Liberals want people, including corporate entities to behave ethically. In this situation, the unethical behavior is not on behalf of a corporation. Secondly, there is no wounded minority. No one is getting hurt. Just the opposite.
It’s like, ‘You know what? Shut the fuck up and let me take every vaccine that Merck wants to shove down my throat.’
No, it’s not like that, obviously. If there was any alarming study demonstrating a dangerous aspect of vaccination the anti-science vaccination deniers wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. By putting anti-vaccination talking heads on tv and lending legitimacy to their wolf-cries, Bill Maher is helping to confuse the general public. Bill Maher references a vague minority that doesn’t actually exist. There is no evidence of anyone being hurt by vaccines. Liberals might defend oppressed minorities but there general public, the mainstream are the ones being threatened by a dangerous minority opinion in this case. If liberal America impartially stood up for all minorities, they would be defending climate deniers and Ku Klux Klan members. The fact that the anti-vaccine rhetoric has to put words in an imaginary opposition’s mouth should speak for itself.
I’m surprised Bill Maher took this position but he did hint at it last February, when he told guests and audiences he’s an “anti-flu shot guy” and has a problem with anti-vaccinators being told to “shut the fuck up” and “don’t ask any questions.” It might be appropriate to tell someone in a crowded theater to shut the fuck up if they keep yelling fire, or persistently asking the audience if the theater is on fire despite no smoke or alarms. Yelling fire is dangerous and gives people wrong information that may lead to a percentage of the hypothetical crowd being injured or killed in the ensuing panic.
Back in February, Real Time guest Marianne Williamson, agreed with Maher and objected to anti-vaccination supporters being called “anti-science” or “kooks”, which is silly because it is a blatantly anti-science position and that makes it pretty kooky to give it airtime.
A lot of people really want alternate universes to make sense but they don’t. It makes for great sci fi and it’s a fun thought experiment, but alternate universes might be based on too much assumption to be considered good science: back in October, 2014, Wiseman and Deckert suggested a new take on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum theory: Many Interactive Worlds. It’s hard to see what sets their work apart from predecessors.
I was initially excited by their work, published Winter 2014, but the more I read about the Many Worlds Interpretation the less I bought it. Quantum theory is hard for most people to understand, which makes sifting through conflicting theories and rationalizations a daunting task. I’m going to try and be concise but thorough in my critique of Wiseman and Deckert’s work. I’m sure they are fine people and they’ve certainly put a lot of thought into a very abstract, difficult concept.
First let me get this superficial complaint out of the way: Wiseman and Deckert seem to have just dropped the word “interpretation” from their interpretation. Why? well it certainly wasn’t for clarity’s sake. The Many Worlds Interpretation and Many Interacting Worlds have awkwardly similar acronyms, MWI and MIW. Because quantum theory isn’t confusing enough~!
The Many Worlds Interpretation was the work of Hugh Everett III back in 1957. It gets called the parallel universe theory, the alternate universe theory, and the “many universes” interpretation. It comes back up in science fiction periodically but most quantum physicists don’t count it as a viable explanation of quantum mechanics’ many unanswered questions. Everett postulated all possible outcomes happen causing reality to branch at each decision or quantum observation, creating infinite parallel universes as more an more branches are formed. Everett imagined the observer splitting into what he described as “clones” who live in the different universes. It’s really easy now, in 2015, for a version of the Many Worlds Interpretation to gain traction, because so many people are familiar with the concept from decades of science fiction examples.
So Wiseman and Deckert didn’t make up the idea of multiple universes. What are they saying is different about their new interpretation? In the Everettian model, universes branch off like a tree, never to meet again. Wiseman and Deckert describe a multiverse where particles seem to be able to influence each other and interact despite existing in separate universes. It makes a more classically physical math work out in the examples they chose. Many Interactive Worlds explains “Ehrenfest’s theorem, wave packet spreading, barrier tunneling, and zero-point energy—as a direct consequence of mutual repulsion between worlds.”
The equation they provided can successfully calculate quantum ground states and explains the notorious double-slit interference phenomenon. It sounds so impressive that most science news outlets ran with it despite there being absolutely no evidence of these other universes.
So the Griffith University academics turned heads but they kind of sidestepped the work of many foundational aspects of quantum science. Physical Review X published the work, which is basically a proposal that parallel universes not only exist, but that they constantly interact. They explain this interaction as a force of repulsion between alternate universes. Their equations show this type of an interaction explains some of the most bizarre parts of quantum mechanics – and that is a mathematical breakthrough. It just doesn’t really have any explanation of what this “force of repulsion” is or how it can be measured. They are basically talking about philosophy, not science, but it’s really hard to prove them wrong because it’s so complicated and most people want a solution to the century of unexplainable quantum dynamics.
The bottom line: There is still no experimental evidence to support any multiple universe model, and the Many Interactive World interpretation didn’t change that.
Update: I found a video that explains my point~! Check it out.
Quantum theory can be misinterpreted to support false claims.
There is legit science to quantum theory but misinterpretations justify an assortment of pseudoscience. Let’s examine why.
Quantum science isn’t a young science anymore. This year, 2015, the term “quantum”, as it relates to quantum physics, turns 113 years old. The term as we know it first appeared “in a 1902 article on the photoelectric effect by Philipp Lenard, who credited Hermann von Helmholtz for using the word in reference to electricity”(Wikipedia). During it’s first century of life attempts to understand quantum particle behavior have lead to a bunch of discoveries. Quantum physics has furthered understanding of key physical aspects of the universe. That complex understanding has been used to develop new technologies.
Quantum physics is enigmatic in that it pushes the limits of conceptualization itself, leaving it seemingly open to interpretation. While it is has been used to predict findings and improve human understanding, It’s also been used by charlatans who have a shaky-at-best understanding of science. Quantum physics has been misappropriated to support a bunch of downright unscientific ideas.
It’s easy to see why it can be misunderstood by well-intentioned people and foisted upon an unsuspecting public by new age hacks. The best minds in academia don’t always agree on secondary implications of quantum physics. No one has squared quantum theory with the theory of relativity, for example.
Most people are not smart enough to parse all the available research on quantum physics. The public’s research skills are notoriously flawed on any subject. The internet is rife with misinformation pitting researchers against their own lack of critical thinking skills. Anti-science and pseudoscience alike get a surprising amount of traction online, with Americans believing in a wide variety of superstitions and erroneous claims.
In addition to the public simply misinterpreting or misunderstanding the science, there is money to be made in taking advantage of gullible people. Here are some false claims that have erroneously used quantum theory as supporting evidence:
Many Interacting Worlds
The internet loves this one. Contemporary multiple universe theories are philosophy, not science, but that didn’t stop Australian physicists Howard Wiseman and Dr. Michael Hall from collaborating with UC Davis mathematician Dr. Dirk-Andre Deckert to publish the “many interacting worlds” theory as legit science in the otherwise respectable journal, Physical Review X. This is the latest in a train of thought that forgoes scientific reliance on evidence and simply supposes the existence of other universes, taking it a step further by insisting we live in an actual multiverse, with alternate universes constantly influence each other. Um, that’s awesome but it’s not science. You can read their interpretation of reality for yourself.
Deepak Chopra is a celebrated new age guru whose views on the human condition and spirituality are respected by large numbers of the uneducated. By misinterpreting quantum physics he has made a career of stitching together a nonsensical belief system from disjointed but seemingly actual science. Chopra’s false claims can seem very true when first investigated but has explained key details that Chopra nonetheless considers mysterious.
‘The Power’ and ‘The Secret’ are best-selling books that claim science supports what can be interpreted as an almost maniacal selfishness. The New York Times once described the books as “larded with references to magnets, energy and quantum mechanics.”
The Secret’s author, Rhonda Byrne, uses confusing metaphysics not rooted in any known or current study of consciousness by borrowing heavily from important-sounding terminology found in psychology and neuroscience. Byrne’s pseudoscientific jargon is surprisingly readable and comforting but that doesn’t make the science behind it any less bogus.
There isn’t anything in quantum physics implying a solipsism or subjective experience of reality but that doesn’t stop Scientology from pretending we each have our own “reality” – and yours is broken.
Then there is the oft-headlining, almost post modern psuedoscientific masterpiece of utter bullshit: Scientology.
Scientology uses this same type of claim to control it’s cult following. Scientology relies on a re-fabrication of the conventional vocabulary normal, English-speaking people use. The religion drastically redefined the word reality. L.R. Hubbard called reality the “agreement.” Scientologists believe the universe is a construct of the spiritual beings living within it. The real world we all share is, to them, a product of consensus. Scientology describes, for example, mentally ill people as those who no longer accept an “agreed upon apparency” that has been “mocked up” by we spiritual beings, to use their reinvented terminology. Scientologists misuse of the word reality to ask humans, “what’s your reality?” There isn’t anything in quantum physics implying a solipsism or subjective experience of reality but that doesn’t stop Scientology.
The struggle to connect quantum physics to spirituality is a humorous metaphor for subjectivity itself.
If you find yourself curious to learn more about quantum theory you should read up and keep and open mind, no doubt. The nature of a mystery is that it hasn’t been explained. Whatever evidence that might be able to help humanity understand the way reality is constructed is not going to come from religion or superstition, it will come from science. Regardless of the claims to the contrary, quantum theory only points out a gap in understanding and doesn’t explain anything about existence, consciousness or subjective reality.