A Simple Comparison

Several huge things have happened in the last 2 week in respect to science. Cosmos, the re-imagining of Carl Sagan’s science vehicle to jumpstart the public’s imagination debuted; gravity radiation (often called gravity waves) has been detected with a 5-sigma threshold from the Big Bang, which, if true, empirically extends our understanding of creation from one second to one billion-billion-billion-millionth of a second after the Big Bang; and, finally, not to mention rather depressingly, Mike Adams the Health Douche issued a public call to the host of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson to admit that mercury in vaccines is poisoning the population.

One of the above three things made me laugh: can you guess which? I implore you to read Mike Adams full screed on the mercury in vaccines that is making the population cognitively deficient, even though there is no mercury in vaccines, and keep a straight face. Seriously, I’ll wait here—and this post will make more sense if you’ve read it.

The point of this post is a simple comparison. Between the way a scientist thinks and an activist commands. Through this, I wish to make a bigger point, which I will get to later on (as well as explore in a future post). So, let me highlight some of the pretend polemics in Adams diatribe.

He starts off by pointing out that both himself and Neil deGrasse Tyson (NDT) are big fans of the sciences—*chuckle*—and Adams is a big fan of Tyson’s “follow the evidence, where ever it leads” mantra. (I’d believe that if he actually did it, but I’ll come to this later.) He goes onto compare his organisation, Natural News, to Copernicus as he attempts to, like Copernicus, fight anti-science dogma. This would be laughable if he wasn’t being so serious.

Quik skeptip #1: if you compare yourself to Copernicus or Galileo (he’ll compare himself soon, don’t worry); one thing becomes abundantly clear, you are nothing like them.

He continues with this doozy:

Part of my mission as a food science researcher, in fact, is to educate people to think more clearly and rationally about nutrition, superfoods and dietary supplements. Like Tyson, I am an opponent of “fuzzy thinking” and a strong advocate of clear, informed thinking.

While I somewhat agree with his being an opponent of “fuzzy thinking” (that is, I don’t think he’s lying or confused), he is definitely not an advocate of “clear, informed thinking”. He is instead an advocate of certainty, and often bases that certainty on a few horrible scientific studies or a priori considerations. Adams has no shame; Copernicus revolutionised our understanding of the universe, while Natural News has only decreased the fitness of the human race with its spiel of anti-gmo, anti-vaxx, and homeopathic nonsense.

He goes on to compare himself to Galileo: “As such, in much the same way that Galileo fought against the faith-based dogma of the Church and its heliocentric mythology of the universe, today Natural News fights against dangerous dogmas and false “scientific” delusions perpetrated under the distorted label of ‘science.’” Too funny. Then, shortly after, more self-promotion: “I am part of a growing group of true science skeptics who embody the real meaning of the term “skepticism.” This means we can safely assume he is not a skeptic. But here is where we get to the meaty stuff:

Modern-day “science” has, in many ways, become the very same Church that Galileo fought against in the 1600′s. Modern “science” is a dogmatic, unforgiving Church which allows no dissent, no intelligent discourse and no questioning of its core beliefs about vaccines, mercury, fluoride, GMOs or pharmaceuticals.

Yes, modern science, with no thought leaders, authorities, and a decentralised body consisting of tens of millions of scientists trying to prove each other wrong is the equivalent of the Catholic Church’s one-thousand year reign with one infallible pope at the head. Makes perfect sense. The health douche knows no bounds of logic. What he is peeved about is the process of scientific consensus. If a scientist makes an extraordinary claim, say, as Adams does, that mercury in vaccines causes autism, he needs to bring to bear a significant amount of rigorous evidence. When a scientist makes that claim unsupported by evidence, the wider scientific community step in to do their job and point out the flaws in the research. In this case: the research shows that it is perfectly safe, so without evidence, you’re a bone-headed nitwit making false assertions! Plain and simple, and it takes a krakens worth of cognitive dissonance to misunderstand that; fortunately, Adams has that in spades. Where he goes wrong, yet again, is because there are a million scientists and science writers responding to his patently false claims, some of whom aren’t so nice to him (here’s looking at you Orac! but I do love your style), the health douche assumes it’s a knee-jerk reflex, even though it isn’t, and, in failing to revise his beliefs, becomes guilty of confirmation and conservatism bias (which are, respectively: only seeking out information that validates your belief; not changing your mind in light of new evidence). This is what he calls a conspiracy: what the rest of us know is simply the scientific method working properly. You’re not Galileo you nitwit, you are Bozo the Clown with one major difference: you actually take yourself seriously!

Quik Skeptip #2: multiple lines of evidence are needed to overturn a consensus; a single line is preliminary…at best

Adams goes on to then challenge NDT on the subject of the—non-existent—mercury in vaccines to find out whether he is a genuine scientist (he is), or a science fundamentalist.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, will you publicly denounce the use of mercury in medicine and join the growing call for mercury-free medicine?

Hilarious. Notice how he words his challenge? This is George Bush speak: you’re either with us or against us. “Do you denounce the use of mercury in medicines,” there’s no mention of evidence, or asking if NDT finds troubling that mercury is in vaccines (which it isn’t, anyway). He rambles on for a bit more and ends up at this gem:

How will history remember Tyson? As a dogmatic zealot, or a true man of science?

I think he should worry more about his own self-image. Tyson is humble enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers; especially on matters outside his expertise. Tyson is not a virologist, immunologist, or epidemiologist; he is an astrophysicist, which means, on empirical matters outside of the realm of relativity and quantum mechanics, he does the rational thing: defer to the scientific consensus, which has been painstakingly built up over the last century. Let’s continue; somehow, despite the ascending nature of his stupidity, he still manages to outdo himself with this shit-storm:

“It is an undeniable scientific truth that every scientist who today promotes mercury in vaccines and mercury in dentistry is also a quack. I state this undeniable truth with the same confidence and courage that Copernicus once exhibited as he wrote that the Earth orbited the sun and not the other way around.

The very nature of the table of elements, in fact, supports my position of mercury-free medicine, meaning I do not even have to be “right” myself because I have the full power of the laws of physics and chemistry to back me up.” [FJ: You use the phrase laws of physics and chemistry; somehow, I don't think you know what they mean.]

Now, the previous paragraphs on Adams expose have been more for my amusement than anything else. Here is the point of this post. Read not only what he says, but how he says. Words like “Undeniable truth” that have never been uttered by a scientist worth his weight in salt, and “every scientist” overly generalizing among a large group of folks on a singular subject, let alone using “have the full power of the laws of physics and chemistry to back me up.” He compared himself to Copernicus twice, to Galileo once, and self-masturbates just a little more proclaiming his atomic spectroscopy lab makes him a scientist, and states with unequivocal certainty and with nary a shred of evidence or intelligence, that vaccines are cognitively disarming the population. Who’s the real fundamentalist here?

Quik Skeptip #3: if you heard it on Natural News, assume the opposite is true…

The title of this post is “A Simple comparison”, so let me compare. A few days ago, an experimental confirmation of gravitational radiation (gravity waves, or ripples in spacetime) was confirmed. What this means is that our empirical understanding of creation goes as far back as a billion-billion-millionth of a second after the big bang to a 5-sigma error ratio (i.e., there is a 1 in 2 million chance that the detection is due to chance). These results, if true, confirm Andrei Linde’s and Alan Guth’s 1980 theory of Inflation which theorises that between the big bang and time equals one second (t=1) the universe underwent a rapid period of inflation where it grew at many times the speed of light. This was postulated because the entire universe is, for all intents and purposes, in thermal equilibrium (that is, the universe looks, more or less, the same no matter which direction we look), and that wouldn’t happen unless the universe was once very small, and expanded at greater than the speed of light. Before inflation, the various parts of the universe at that time were in thermal equilibrium and expanded so fast that those regions, now separate, had a similar heat signature, and thus evolved more or less similarly. The team of researchers found experimental evidence of that period of inflation for the first time, as well as a further verification of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which postulated gravitational waves. Here is a key difference between the lunatic ramblings of a man who’s constantly told his a genius by nonxperts and a group of scientists who thrive on differential knowledge and criticism. The researchers spend more than a year excluding all other possibilities; they took their results to physicist after physicist to check, double-check, and most likely triple-check their results, then, they still waited until the successor to the detector they were using was installed and showed the same signal before they finally released the results for public peer-review. Note the caution, the constant re-checking of data, the compulsion to prove themselves wrong so other scientists wouldn’t do it for them, but even this is not what I wish to compare the delusions of Adams to.

There is a great video of one of the researchers taking a video crew and going to Andrei Linde’s house and telling him that his theory has been verified after a thirty long year wait. [Three-min video]

After having waited thirty years, he is obviously incredibly excited; yet notice, after his first few minutes taking it in, the following sentence: “if this is true.” Talk about restraint. Here, we have a man who’s waited thirty years for experimental evidence of his theory, yet doesn’t wait more than a few minutes to temper his own expectations and the audience’s. Now that is some intellectual fortitude. He goes on to hope it is not a trick: “what if I’m tricked, what if I believe into this just because it is beautiful.” Imagine if Mike Adams said the same thing!

Wow, just wow. Compare that to the certainties of Adams, with which he has based on ZERO evidence, and Andrei Linde’s almost immediately setting his expectations and not fully believing something that for thirty years has been his baby without replication of the results. Not only that, but certain aspects of the universe as we see them today only make sense if inflation theory is true. The difference is night and day. Mike Adams thinks he is Copernicus reincarnate; he fully expects to go down into the history books. Notwithstanding his delusions of grandeur, a thousand years hence, if the results are confirmed and humanity is still around, it will be Linde’s name alongside Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Feynman. The only place Adams name will show up will be in the semi-education horror book we read little kids: How Never To Do Science. It will tell of an age before science when people hurt, maimed, and killed themselves because they were too proud to see past their own biases.

Here are the reactions of a few other scientists:

The BICEP result, if correct, is a spectacular and historic discovery…In fact, it all seems far too good to be true. And perhaps it is: check back after another experimental team is able to check the BICEP findings, and then we can really break out the champagne. ~ Liam McAllister

“If this holds” is the central question now. ~ Adam Falkowski

We will need to wait and see before we jump up and down.” & “We should be skeptical. Alone this finding is tantalizing, but not definitive. ~ Lawrence Krauss

There is an ever-widening chasm between science and activism, which is a very disappointing thing, and a topic I’ll be exploring further in an upcoming post to be titled Activist Inertia. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I hope Tyson doesn’t take the bait and actually respond to the Health Douche. Sam Harris accurately sums up how any debate would go with those who ignore logic and evidence:

Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. What if someone says, “Well, that’s not how I choose to think about water.”? All we can do is appeal to scientific values. And if he doesn’t share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?

One comment

  1. A terrific post, enjoyed looking at these two very different reactions ~ one logical and the other hysterical. Fortunately, in the end the logical facts of science win and leaves me (and many) wondering about all the damage of those who grab at figments of imaginations.
    Some say science lacks drama, but this “lack” is only due to ignorance; an ignorance that is part of human nature allowing for snake-oil salesmen to create an agenda. In the short term very harmful.

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